CHAPTER 13: Sabbath-keeping after the apostles (4) - The influence of sun worship
rationale put forward by the post-apostolic church for Sunday observance was
the need to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. However, one may question why they
did not choose another day for weekly observance—such as Friday, for example,
to commemorate Jesus’ death. This has led to a view that there was another
factor influencing the adoption of Sunday specifically—namely, sun worship.
13.2 The veneration of the
ancient civilizations, including Persia, India, Syria, Assyria, Egypt, Greece
and Rome, the sun was an object of veneration and worship. For the Romans, the
solar deity was known variously as Sol, Sol Indiges
(the “Native Sun” or the “Invoked Sun”) and later, Sol Invictus
(“Unconquered Sun”). Interestingly, when Constantine established the seven-day
week in AD 321, he designated Sunday as
the first day.
original Sol, or Sol Indiges, had a shrine on the
Quirinal and an annual sacrifice dedicated to him on 9 August, and another
shrine in the Circus Maximus. Although the cult appears to have been native,
the Roman poets equated him with the Greek sun god Helios.
The worship of Sol assumed an
entirely different character with the later importation of various sun cults
from Syria. The Roman emperor Elagabalus (reigned AD
218–222) built a temple to him as Sol Invictus on the
Palatine and attempted to make his worship the principal religion at Rome. The
emperor Aurelian (reigned 270–275) later
re-established the worship and erected a magnificent temple to Sol in the
Campus Agrippae. The worship of Sol as special
protector of the emperors and of the empire remained the chief imperial cult
until it was replaced by Christianity.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2009
At the end
of the first century BC, the Roman legions
that returned from the east brought back the cult of Mithras.
[T]he worship of Mithra, the Iranian god
of the sun, justice, contract, and war in pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Known as
Mithras in the Roman Empire during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, this deity was honoured
as the patron of loyalty to the emperor.
Britannica Online, 2009
was also a sun god, the cult became assimilated into that of Sol Invictus, such that the two became indistinguishable.
13.3 The adoption of Sunday
by the post-apostolic church
writer, Samuele Bacchiocchi,
puts forward the following theory on how the Sabbath came to be replaced by
valorization of the day of the Sun over that of Saturn, as a result of the
diffusion of the Sun-cults, possibly oriented Christians (who desired to
differentiate themselves from the Sabbath of the Jews) toward such a day. This
choice however, it must be stated again, was not motivated by their desire to
venerate the Sun-god on his day, but rather by the fact that its symbology could fittingly commemorate two important events
of the history of salvation—creation and resurrection…Moreover, the day of the
Sun enabled Christians to explain also the Biblical mysteries to the pagan
world by means of an effective symbology that was
very familiar to them.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, From
Sabbath to Sunday, 1977
he argues that Christians in the post-apostolic era were motivated by a number
of factors: the wish to distance themselves from Jewish practices; a desire to
commemorate God’s act of creation and the Lord’s resurrection; and the need to
explain the Christian faith through the convenient symbolism of the sun.
from the second century, the early church fathers began linking the symbolism
of the sun to God and to Jesus Christ through their writings:
Theophilus of Antioch (second century):
sun is a type of God, and the moon of man. And as the
sun far surpasses the moon in power and glory, so far does God surpass man. And
as the sun remains ever full, never becoming less, so does God always abide
perfect, being full of all power, and understanding, and wisdom, and
immortality, and all good.
Theophilus to Autolycus,
bk 2, chp 15
Alexandria (AD 150–215):
says, you that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and
Christ shall give you light (Eph 5:14)—Christ, the Sun of the Resurrection, He
who was born before the morning star, and with His beams bestows life.
Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, chp 9
Carthage (circa AD 200–258):
Christ is the true sun and the true day, as the worldly sun and worldly day
depart, when we pray and ask that light may return to us again, we pray for the
advent of Christ, which shall give us the grace of everlasting light.
Cyprian, 4, chp 35
Jerome of Stridonium (circa AD
If it is
called the day of the sun by the pagans, we most willingly acknowledge it as
such, since it is on this day that the light of the world appeared and on this
day the Sun of Justice has risen.
In die dominica Paschae homilia,
Series Latina 78, 550, 1, 52.
from the evidence of Tertullian (circa AD
160–220), we learn that the church even developed a practice of praying towards
with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, suppose that the sun
is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray
towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity.
Tertullian, Ad Nationes, bk 1, chp 13
13.4 The origin of Christmas
fourth century, 25 December came to be associated with the birth of Christ. A
popular theory is that it was the result of the Christianizing of the dies solis invicti nati (“day of the
birth of the unconquered sun”), a Roman festival celebrating the end of winter
and the resurgence of the sun. Once the date was widely
accepted, Christian writers began linking the birth of the sun with the birth
of the Son of God.
argument is that the establishment of Christmas was a deliberate strategy on
the part of the Roman Catholic Church to draw pagans into the Christian faith
by allowing converts to keep their winter celebration, on condition that they
accepted its new significance.
the Gospels describe Jesus’ birth in detail, they never mention the date, so
historians do not know on what date he was born. The Roman Catholic Church
chose December 25 as the day for the Feast of the Nativity in order to give
Christian meaning to existing pagan rituals. For example, the Church replaced
festivities honoring the birth of Mithra, the
[Persian] god of light, with festivities to commemorate the birth of Jesus,
whom the Bible calls the light of the world. The Catholic Church hoped to draw
pagans into its religion by allowing them to continue their revelry while
simultaneously honoring the birthday of Jesus.
“Christmas”, MSN Encarta
summary, it appears that one key reason why the post-apostolic church adopted
Sunday as its main day of worship was to differentiate the Christian faith from
the Jewish one. By linking the symbolism of the day to Jesus Christ, it was
able to rationalize and justify the new practice. Sunday observance also had
the benefit of establishing common ground between Christians and pagans within
the Roman empire. In light of the growing hostility
facing the Christians, one could conclude that this was a matter of simple
© January 2012
True Jesus Church.