Dr. Sidney Davis


* Dr. Sidney Davis is president of the Bible Sabbath Association
This article is taken from The Sabbath Sentinel, May-June 2000
The Bible Sabbath Association Web site is


In 321 AD "Emperor" Constantine declared Sunday a civil holiday of the Roman Empire; yet, it was later, at the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicea in Bithynia during June, 325 AD (convened by Constantine), that "the Church" and the State, together, conferred a liturgical sanctification to Sunday: an act which usurped the Sabbath when it expressly denounced and condemned the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Protestant church historians see this event as the beginning of Roman Catholicism as "the State religion." While this is admitted, many are not familiar with the actual document that gives the rationale for this change [from the Sabbath to Sunday]. Understanding the origins of the change might give many a greater appreciation of other truths that were affected by the decision that brought it about.

Why did the action of the Nicene council turn from the established orthodoxy handed down by Christ and the apostles? The answer to this query comes when we see what was at the heart of this issue: an issue which resulted in a great change in church doctrine and beliefs. Such major dogmatic changes continue to affect Christians (even we Sabbatarians) until this very day. (Could it be that we Sabbatarians are also the recipients of this false belief system, and the attitudes that generated it, today?)

Constantine I: On the Keeping of Easter

From the Letter of Constantine Emperor Augustus to the Churches and all those not present at the Council (found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20):

"When the question relative to the sacred festival of Easter arose, it was universally thought that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day; for what could be more beautiful and more desirable, than to see this festival, through which we receive the hope of immortality, celebrated by all with one accord, and in the same manner? It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom [the calculation] of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded. In rejecting their custom, we may transmit to our descendants the legitimate mode of celebrating Easter, which we have observed from the time of the Saviour's Passion to the present day [according to the day of the week]. We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Saviour has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course; and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast. How can they be in the right, they who, after the death of the Saviour, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence, as their delusion may urge them? They do not possess the truth in this Easter question; for, in their blindness and repugnance to all improvements, they frequently celebrate two Passovers in the same year.

"We could not imitate those who are openly in error. How, then, could we follow these Jews, who are most certainly blinded by error? For to celebrate the passover twice in one year is totally inadmissible. But even if this were not so, it would still be your duty not to tarnish your soul by communications with such wicked people [the Jews]. Besides, consider well, that in such an important matter, and on a subject of such great solemnity, there ought not to be any division. Our Saviour has left us only one festal day of our redemption, that is to say, of his holy passion, and he desired [to establish] only one Catholic Church. Think, then, how unseemly it is, that on the same day some should be fasting whilst others are seated at a banquet; and that after Easter, some should be rejoicing at feasts, whilst others are still observing a strict fast. For this reason, a Divine Providence wills that this custom should be rectified and regulated in a uniform way; and everyone, I hope, will agree upon this point. As, on the one hand, it is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord; and as, on the other, the custom now followed by the Churches of the West, of the South, and of the North, and by some of those of the East, is the most acceptable, it has appeared good to all; and I have been guarantee for your consent, that you would accept it with joy, as it is followed at Rome, in Africa, in all Italy, Egypt, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Libya, in all Achaia, and in the dioceses of Asia, of Pontus, and Cilicia. You should consider not only that the number of churches in these provinces make a majority, but also that it is right to demand what our reason approves, and that we should have nothing in common with the Jews. To sum up in few words: By the unanimous judgment of all, it has been decided that the most holy festival of Easter should be everywhere celebrated on one and the same day, and it is not seemly that in so holy a thing there should be any division. As this is the state of the case, accept joyfully the divine favour, and this truly divine command; for all which takes place in assemblies of the bishops ought to be regarded as proceeding from the will of God. Make known to your brethren what has been decreed, keep this most holy day according to the prescribed mode; we can thus celebrate this holy Easter day at the same time, if it is granted me, as I desire, to unite myself with you; we can rejoice together, seeing that the divine power has made use of our instrumentality for destroying the evil designs of the devil, and thus causing faith, peace, and unity to flourish amongst us. May God graciously protect you, my beloved brethren."

This is the wording of the actual historical document which led the institutional church into the apostasy (departure from the true faith) that led to the complete abandonment of the Sabbath. The heart of the issue was the Passover; it is referred to historically as the QUARTODECIMAN CONTROVERSY (Quartodeciman means "the fourteenth"). The change that occurred was one of a radical shift from the Passover, which was observed by the Church according to the Jewish calculation of the calendar (on Abib 14-regardless on what day of the week it fell), to Easter Sunday. In other words the change was from a DATE of the month (the fourteenth of Abib) to a DAY of the week, Sunday.

Making Sunday as a day of special honor for Christians was very attractive to the Romans because the seventh day of the pagan week (named after Saturn) was considered an unlucky day, and also because the Jewish Sabbath had become a special object of ridicule and scorn -- owing to the Roman persecution of the Jewish people. Constantine, both a Roman and a pagan, led "the Christian Church" in this religio/political coup. Thus, we see the rationale for the change of the Sabbath to the legal sanctification of Sunday as having occurred in relation to this change of the Passover to Easter.

From Constantine's letter, it is clear that the basis for this drastic change was not founded upon any Bible doctrine nor any Scriptural proof texts, which Christians (especially Sabbatarians) give as reasons today. The change, for whatever other possible reason, was blatantly based on anti-Judaism, which became anti-semitism (even anti-Israel). This decision, by the ecumenical Nicene council, exempted "the Universal (Catholic) Church," in its opinion, from following the Scriptural commands of the Sabbath and the Holy Feasts-such as the Passover.

"The Church" equated obedience to these scriptural mandates with following Judaism (today called "being under the Law"). They supposed, since the Jews were so proud of observing the Sabbath and Holy Feasts, that if "Christians" also followed these "Jewish" things, then they would be in league with Judaism. Of course, since many in Judaism (but not all) denied the truth of Jesus as the Messiah, "the Church" thought keeping the Sabbath and Passover would be equated as associating with those who deny Christ. (This, of course, was a false doctrine which overcame "the Church.")

Centuries later, almost all Christians and Jews are affected by this apostasy. Most Christians think of Sunday and Easter as Biblically mandated Holy Days, and are totally ignorant of the origin of the false doctrine which they believe. Also, there are many Jewish people who think of Jesus as leader of a Gentile (thus pagan) religion, forgetting His Jewishness and His epic defense of the Torah as a Rabbi.

Both mainstream Rabbinic Judaism and mainstream Christianity stubbornly follow their respective traditions: voicing the idea that to do otherwise would leave one either "not a Jew" or "not a Christian." The few Christians who faithfully keep the Jewish Sabbath and enjoy the Jewish Holy Feasts are consigned to being a cult by mainstream Christianity. They are mostly not respected as real Christians or second class Christians at best. Likewise, the minority of Jewish people who accept Jesus as Israel's valid Messiah are viewed as traitors and apostate Jews by the mainstream Jewish community; by some they are even likened to being "nonpersons."

This "anti-Christian" stigma attached to the observance of the Bible (Jewish) Sabbath has resulted in a strange religious neurosis by some Sabbatarians who, while observing the Sabbath, also observe "Easter" as a way of appeasing their cultic consciences and evangelical suspicions. Even among Sabbatarians, those who observe the Quartodeciman Christian Passover festival (as the early church did) are seen as "Judaizers" (or "under the law"), not realizing that such theological descriptions were used as justification for the anti-Semitism of "the early Church." This anti-Semitism was the inspiration behind a new hermeneutic which distorted the same New Testament Scriptures that were misconstrued as proof text -- not only by Protestant evangelicals against the Bible Sabbath, but also by some Sabbath-keepers against the Biblical Holy Days.

We, as Sabbatarians, must face the truth of this history-if we are to ever effectively confront the threat presented to us by the so-called "New Covenant Theology" (NCT). Our inability to face our history and to acknowledge the consequences that this history has made on our Sabbatarian traditions and doctrines leave us both vulnerable and victims to the NCT. Many Sabbatarians consider the "Church-State" decree of the Nicene Council of 325 AD as the cap stone event or the pivotal point in history that fulfilled the prophecy of the great power represented by a beast with 10 horns (Daniel 7:25), of whom it was said he shall "think to change times and laws." But I think many would balk at the actually meaning of the Hebrew/Aramaic text and the real evidence that points to its actual historical fulfillment.

"And he shall speak great words against the Most High [God], and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change the times [of sacred feasts and Holy Days] and the law" (Daniel 7:25 -- The Amplified Bible; [brackets belong]). Also see Genesius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, p.248 -- "times, a set time... Used of holy times (feast days) Dan. 7:25."

"In determining what days should be regarded as holy, and in the composition of a prayer for national use, Constantine exercised one of the rights belonging to him as Pontifex Maximus; and it caused no surprise that he should do this." -- Drury's History of Rome, Chap. 57, part I, par. 4 from the end, Quoted in A.T Jones' The Two Republics, p. 319.

"I have offered and still offer $1000 to any one who can prove to me from the Bible alone that I am bound, under grievous sin to keep Sunday holy. It was the Catholic Church which made the law obliging us to keep Sunday holy. The Church made this law long after the Bible was written. Hence said law is not in the Bible. Christ, our Lord empowered his church to make laws binding in conscience. He said to his apostles and their lawful successors in the priesthood, 'Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be binding in heaven.' Matt. 16.19. Matt. 18:17. Luke 16.19. The Catholic Church abolished, not only the Sabbath, but all the other Jewish festivals." -- T. Enright CSSR, St. Alphonsus (Rock) Church, St. Louis, June 1905.

Someone should have informed Constantine and the Nicene council that the law was "done away" or that the Sabbath and the festivals were "nailed to the cross." You will note that the Catholic church does not use any of the classic "proof texts" that are traditionally used by Protestant evangelicals against the Sabbath (which, I repeat, are the very same texts used by Sabbath-keepers against holy days and festivals). It was this act (engineered in 325 AD by the Nicene council), that the Catholic church claims for itself, and that inspired a new hermeneutic of "certain proof texts" (traditionally used against Sabbatarians), which justified the anti-Judaism of the early church and the neo-anti-Judaic NCT teaching today.

No one would dare accuse a Christian of being anti-Semitic or anti-Judaic in attitude, doctrine and belief (a real Christian would not admit to such either). Yet, the "Sunday roots" origins, that gave birth to our hermeneutical devices, by which we formed our doctrines-betray us, as Christians generally (and particularly for Sabbatarians), and holds us hostage to a contradictory and inconsistent Sabbatarian theology that commands Sabbath observance on the one hand while condemning festival observance on the other .... Fundamental to this dilemma is how these hermeneutical devices have formed our theology regarding the law of God.

The majority of Sabbatarians even those who observe the Holy Days are unwilling and unwitting victims to a inherited theology of "the law" -- that defines "the law" as two monolithic divisions called "moral" and "ceremonial." These very definitions ascribed to God's law, are not only unbiblical, but were coined by medieval theologians specifically to do away with the Sabbath! And yet, we use these terms designed to do away with the Sabbath in trying to defend it. These very terms and concepts buttress our contradictory Sabbatarian arguments. The logical inconsistency of our traditional Sabbatarian doctrines and our defenses of them are becoming ever increasingly apparent by anyone who is being challenged by the teachings of the NCT.

These are matters that should be of grave and serious concerns to all classes of Sabbath-keepers requiring immediate attention and focus. Discussion forums, Sabbath seminars and conferences that can provide the venue for the airing of these concerns, which bring the issues to the fore and that invite the participation of Sabbath-keepers, are encouraged. There are many things that may divide us doctrinally in the ranks of Sabbath-keepers, but as Sabbathkeepers we will stand or fall on a the Sabbath truth we have in common.

It is time that we come to terms and reexamine our "Sunday roots" if we would make certain of our "Sabbath roots." Let us come together, open our doors, break down the barriers, tear down the walls and come to the table of dialog for our common good. He who has an ear ....

The Sabbath Sentinel, May-June 2000

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