Was Sunday Observance adopted from Paganism?

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The myth that Sunday was formerly a pagan day of worship of the sun adopted by the church, is a proverbial horse that has been ridden to death. Even worse, this ghostly horse has taken on a life of its own and has moved beyond the religious fringes where it was initially stabled.

The basic idea is this: Sunday was the established day of rest, the weekly holiday in the ancient pagan world. On this day each week, the Romans, Greeks, and other pagans, gathered in temples to worship their pagan gods, particularly the Sun-god—hence the term Sun-day.

This misinformation has been repeated so much that it’s time we threw it in the dustbin for the falsehood that it is.

In two previous articles (one/two), I’ve examined the erroneous claims made by Seventh Day Adventists regarding the Jewish sabbath and the Lord’s day from historical and biblical perspectives.

Now, I still intend to refute the tortuous, incoherent and intellectually suicidal connections they (and other religious groups adhering to the Jewish sabbath) forge between Sunday as a day of worship and ancient Greek or Roman Paganism.

1. Those making this claim of “Sunday stolen from the pagans” usually fail to back it up with historical sources. They will quote virtually anyone but a reputable historian – and by this, I mean someone whose credentials are in History and has published academic works in that field.

If you scan through SDA materials, you will observe the curious absence of citation of primary sources to corroborate their assertion of Sunday being a pagan day. Instead, they conveniently declare this information to be historical “fact” and quickly move on to their next rhetoric.

But on the odd occasion that a source is cited, it’s usually Arthur Weigall’s 1928 work “The Paganism in Our Christianity,” in which he states that the church made Sunday sacred “largely because it was the weekly festival of the sun; for it was a definite Christian policy to take over the pagan festivals endeared to the people by tradition, and to give them a Christian significance” (p. 136).

Aside from the fact that this man had cultic agenda (he was a Unitarian), SDA writers who cite him don’t disclose to their readers that he also declared:

  • The virgin birth is of pagan origin (p. 44)
  •  Jesus’ miracles are of pagan origin (p. 58)
  • Jesus didn’t really die (p. 93)
  • The Jewish Sabbath is of pagan origin (p. 136)

It’s clear that Weigall’s work is a sword that cuts three ways. If it proves Sunday to be a pagan day, it must also prove Saturday to be a pagan day, and if either assertion is to be accepted as valid, then Christianity as a whole would have to be rejected as pagan! Certainly, this is not a source a believer would want to appeal to.

2. A competent study of history and ancient Greek and Roman religions shows that neither the Romans nor the Greeks ever had a regular weekly day of rest from secular work.

Neither did they have a regular weekly festival day. They didn’t have a regular day of the week on which they gathered for pagan worship. These are facts of history.

Dudley M. Canright, a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor, researched these facts early in the 20th century. He sincerely believed Sunday worship came from paganism—since this teaching had been passed on to him. But when he began to look into the subject more fully, he came to a different conclusion.

It was at his time (c. 1913-1914) that he contacted four Greek and Roman history scholars with ten questions that he submitted to them separately. These scholars were:

F. N. Pryce of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum.

R. Rathborn of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

George F. Moore, Professor of Ancient Roman and Greek History, Harvard University in Cambridge.

Prof. W. H. Westerman of the University of Wisconsin.

D. M. Canright reminds us that: “All four of these specialists in ancient history agree in answering these questions though neither one knew that they had been submitted to the others yet all four exactly agree in every particular, though widely scattered … Such a unanimous agreement would settle any question in a court of law.”

These findings were published in his work, The Lord’s Day From Neither Catholics or Pagans. I reproduce here only two of the historians’ answers:

From the world renowned British Museum in London, England, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities

Sir: I am commanded by the Assistant Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities to reply as follows to your questions on the ancient week:

Q. 1. Did the pagan Romans and Greeks ever have any regular weekly day of rest from secular work?
Ans. No.

Q. 2. Did they have any regular weekly festival day?
Ans. No.

Q. 3. Did they have any regular weekly day when they assembled for pagan worship?
Ans. No.

Q. 4. Did they have any special day of the week when individuals went to the temples to pray or make offerings?

Ans. No; both for Greeks and Romans the month was the unit and not the week. The Greek calendar varied in different states but the month was generally divided into three periods of ten days. The Romans reckoned from three fixed points in the month, the Kalend or first, the Nones fifth or seventh, the Ides thirteenth or fifteenth. These subdivisions in themselves had no religious significance.

Also in the Roman calendars were nundinal, or market days, at periods of eight days, or, as the Romans reckoned time. On these days farm work, etc., stopped and citizens flocked into the town markets. To some extent this may be a regular stoppage of secular work.; but it had no religious significance, except that it was considered an evil omen when the nundinal coincided with other festival days, e. g., the: Nones. The nundinal period seems derived from a blundering reminiscence of a quarter of a lunar period, and there seems no connection with the later seven days’ week (see below).

Q. 5. As Sunday was sacred to the Sun, Monday to the Moon, Saturday to Saturn, etc., were those supposed deities worshipped on their own particular days more than on any other days?

Ans. No; the old worship of the gods was disappearing when the seven-day week came about. The significance of the deities’ names was astrological, not religious, e.g., if a person were born on Monday, the moon would influence his horoscope, but the moon was never an object of common worship.

Q. 6. When was our week of seven days first introduced into the Roman calendar?

Ans. There are traces in the literature of the late republic (first cent. B.C.) that the Romans used the week of seven days for astrological purposes, in connection with the many Eastern superstitions of the period. It was probably the third century, A.D. before the seven day week came into common use.

Q. 7. From whom did the Romans learn the week of seven days?

Ans. From the Jews, alternately the Assyrians and Babylonians; the names were probably fixed by the Hellenistic Greeks.

Q. 8. Did the pagan Greeks ever adopt in common life, or in their calendar, the week of seven days?
Ans. No.

Q. 9. Did Apollo, the Sun god, either among the Romans or Greeks, have any special day on which he was worshipped with prayers or offerings more than on any other day?

Ans. There were certain set festivals at various temples; these were annual, not weekly.

Q. 10. Did the pagan reverence for Sunday have anything to do in influencing Christians to select that day as their rest day?

Ans. No; it can hardly be said that there was any special reverence for Sunday in pagan times (see answer to No. 5).

I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,
F. N. PRYCE.

3. The following was the response from George Moore, Professor of Ancient Roman and Greek History, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dear Sir:

There are two seven-day weeks: the Jewish week, with a Sabbath on the seventh day; and the Astrological week, with days named after the sun, moon, and five planets, in our order determined by the theories of astrology, but without any day of rest

The Astrological week first appears in Greek and Latin writings about the beginning of the Christian era … It had no use in ordinary life. Abstinence from labor on the seventh day, or on one day in seven, is a distinctively Jewish institution.

The edict of Constantine (321 A.D.) closing the courts on Sunday and prohibiting some kinds of labor on that day, is the first recognition of a seven-day week in Roman law. The ancient Romans had a market day every eight days, when the peasants came to town to market, but it was in no sense a day of rest.

In the old Roman calendar there were many days when the courts were closed and other public and private business was not done. They had also many festivals on which the people left their ordinary occupation to take part in the celebrations, but these have no periodicity like that of the week

The planetary week in which the days were named from their regents, Saturday, Sunday, etc., was an invention of the astrologers, probably in the second century, B.C., and has no relation to religion or influence upon it. Saturn, for example, was not worshipped on Saturday, nor Jupiter on Thursday. The festivals of the several gods were never weekly festivals, nor did they occur on days fixed by other divisions of the month, say the tenth day …

Private persons went to the temples when they had occasion to offer prayers or sacrifices or to make vows, etc. There were no stated days for such visits-though some days were in some temples luckier than others, and there was nothing like a stated day for the assembling of a worshipping congregation except the festivals of the local calendar.

Very truly yours,
George F. Moore.

4. One of the most detailed works on ancient Roman religion that I’ve read is, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic by Warde W. Fowler (The Project Gutenberg, e-book released in 2009).

In it, Fowler describes Roman festivals in detail but says nothing about a weekly day of worship. This would have been a strange omission if Sunday had been “a venerable day of the sun” observed by pagans in Rome. Instead, the work shows that their festivals were seasonal or monthly.

The Roman annual calendar started on March 1; April was regarded as the month of opening or unfolding vegetation; May was the month of growing and June, the month of ripening and perfecting.

The Roman calendar at the time of Christ was divided into months, not weeks; they didn’t use our modern calendar. Therefore, the idea that the Romans specially worshipped the sun on Sunday, the moon on Monday or Frigg on Friday is a hoax.

5. The Encylopedia Britannica, article “Week” says: “For a time the Romans used a period of eight days in civil practice, but in AD 321 Emperor Constantine established the seven-day week in the Roman calendar and designated Sunday as the first day of the week.”

The Encylopedia Americana on the same topic says, “The Romans and Greeks …were not acquainted with the week till a late period. The Romans had, however, for civil uses, as the arrangement of market days, a cycle of eight days, the ninth being the recurring one, instead of the eighth as with us.”

In other words, the edict of Constantine in 321 A.D. was the first time in Roman law that Sunday was set aside as a holiday. It simply means before then it wasn’t recognized as a pagan holiday of the Empire. Before Constantine, the Roman Empire had eight days in a week (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, then 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.), but he made it into seven (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 then 1, 2, 3, 4 etc)

Assuming the Roman or Greek festivals were observed weekly, this calendar eliminates the possibility of pagans holding a feast for the same deity on the same day of the week, let alone being adopted by the church. Ralph E. Woodrow aptly pointed this out:

“Now this should be carefully noticed. IF pagans gathered on the first day of the week to worship Apollo, Mithra, or some other Sun-god, this would not correspond, week after week, to what we call Sunday. For example: Suppose our calendar had eight days in a week (instead of seven), and we met for Christian worship at seven day intervals. This would require a change of day each week!

“If we met the first week on Saturday, seven days later we would meet on Friday. Seven days later we would meet on Thursday. Seven days later we would meet on Wednesday, etc. There is simply no way that the first day—of an eight-day cycle—will consistently correspond with the first day of a seven-day cycle. This cries out in a loud voice, then, that the pagan Romans did not observe what we call Sunday as a weekly sacred day!” (Did Sunday Worship Come from Paganism? Palm Springs, CA., February 1999, p. 3).

It’s one thing for a denomination to say, “We meet for worship on Saturdays because we believe the New Testament does not really impose any particular day on believers, but gives us freedom to choose our own day of gathering for worship in church” – which is biblically fair. And I personally respect such sincere differences.

But it becomes a totally different ball game when a sect dogmatically says, “Sunday observance came from paganism! It originated from the worship of the Sun god in Rome and it won out because church leaders rebelled against God’s law. Sunday means ‘day of the sun,’ so if you go to a church on a Sunday, you are worshipping the sun god – Satan, and God told us through a 19th century visionary that Sunday worshippers will receive the mark of the Beast!”

This is a rhetoric laden with gross misinformation, falsehoods, fanaticism, poisoning the well, and religious mind control.

5 Dangerous Teachings about Christ

Many Christians are shocked when they learn about the heresies of Seventh Day Adventists (SDAs). This is because the SDAs have a way of making the most unbiblical and heterodox doctrine sound Biblical and orthodox.

There are several areas of disagreements we have (on Biblical and historical grounds) with SDAs, but our objections to their doctrine of Christ is the most paramount. The first standard by which any religious body can be ascertained as true or false, godly or ungodly, is on the basis of what it teaches about Christ. Once a religious body holds to a defective Christology, their gospel message must be questionable.

SDAs derive their doctrines majorly from the visions and teachings of their prophetess, Ellen G. White. Therefore I will quote from her writings (which they hold as authoritative) to see what they say about Jesus.

Jesus the Archangel Michael

It’s an acknowledged fact that in the early days of the SDAs, they rejected the doctrine of the Trinity (they later accepted it). Wherever such doctrinal aberrations occur, there are often “leftovers” of it. This led to the teaching that Jesus was archangel Michael (an error also believed by Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Ellen White wrote:

He [Jesus] was revealed to them as Angel of Jehovah, the Captain of the Lord’s host, Michael the Archangel” (Patriarchs and Prophets, 761).

Moses passed under the dominion of death – but Christ the Savior brought him forth from the grave. Jude 9” (Desire of Ages, 379).

When you check this Jude vs 9 in the SDA’s Clear Word bible, you will see that they have wickedly changed the text to support this heresy. While the Bible says: “Yet Michael the archangel when contending with the devil…” their bible says “the Lord Jesus Christ, also called Michael the Archangel…”

In another place, where the Bible says “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel…” (1Thess. 4:17), their spurious paraphrase says: “When Christ descends from heaven, He, as the Archangel will…”

Why did they have to go to the extent of inserting words into the Bible? Because they too are aware that this heresy is not found in the Bible. I personally have no respect for a sect that adds to the words of God. Jesus created all things, including angels (Col. 1:16), so it’s ludicrous to suggest He was also created. God says of Jesus: “Thy throne O God is forever and ever” (Heb. 1:8). No archangel can ever receive that status. I’ve refuted this heresy elsewhere.

The Semi-Arian View of Christ

Ellen White denied Christ’s eternality by teaching that He was made equal to God at a certain point in time. This is similar to the “created Jesus” teachings of Arius, a heretic in the early church.

The great Creator assembled the heavenly host, that He might in the presence of all the angels confer special honour upon His Son. The Father then made known that it was ordained by Himself that Christ His Son should be equal with Himself.” (The Spirit of Prophecy, 1:17, 18).

On the contrary, the Bible presents Jesus as the eternal Word who is God (John 1:1) and in him all the “fullness of deity dwells” (Colossians 2:9). His throne is also an everlasting one (Hebrews 1:8). Both the Bible and Ellen White’s teachings can’t be right.

The Unsaving Christ

SDA doctrine denies the perfect work of Christ on the cross by teaching that He can’t save those who believe in Him:

Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or feel they are saved. Those who accept Christ, and in their first confidence say, I am saved are in danger of trusting to themselves” (Christ’s Object Lessons, 155).

Those who accept the Saviour however sincere in their conversion should never be taught to say or feel that they are saved. This is misleading. Everyone should cherish faith and hope, but even when we give ourselves to Christ and we know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation...” (Answers to Objections, 402)

But Jesus Himself said “I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed [present tense] from death to life” (John 5:24). He also says “He that believeth the son hath everlasting life…” (Jn. 3:36).

The moment a person believes the Gospel, he becomes saved. Paul said this is the gospel “by which also ye are saved” (1Cor. 15:2) and Christ “according to his mercy has saved us” (Titus 3:5). When a group preaches a “Jesus” that can’t save what type of gospel is it preaching? A false one.

Christ’s Substitutionary Work Denied

It was seen, also, that while the sin offering pointed to Christ as a sacrifice, and the High Priest represented Christ as a mediator, the scapegoat typified Satan, the author of sin upon whom the sins of the truly penitent will finally be placed. Christ will place all these sins upon Satan,… so Satan will at last suffer the full penalty of sin” (The Great Controversy, 422).

Who bore our sins at Calvary, was it Jesus or Satan? Of course it was Christ (Isaiah 53:6, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1Peter 2:24). These passages also speak of Christ’s substitutionary work as an event that had already taken place at the cross. The idea that Satan will at some point in the future also bear the sins of Christians is totally biblical. Ellen White’s visions were clearly deceptive.

A Defective View of Christ’s Atonement

Ellen White claimed to receive a revelation that Jesus entered into the heavenly Holy of Holies in 1844:

I was shown that…the door was opened in the most holy place in the heavenly sanctuary, where the ark is … This door was not opened until the mediation of Jesus was finished in the holy place of the sanctuary in 1844. Then Jesus rose up and shut the door of the holy place...” (Early Writings, 42).

This theory that Jesus entered the holy of holies in 1844 is called “investigative judgement.” According to her, Jesus entered there “to make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits” (The Great Controversy p. 480). Ellen White didn’t explain on what basis we are “entitled to the benefits” of this ‘investigative judgement.’ Such a notion denies the finished work of Christ.

SDAs defend this doctrine by citing the book of Hebrews where Jesus is called the “great high priest” who performs His function in the heavenly “sanctuary” (Hebrews 8:2; 9:1-2; 13:11). To dispel this confusion, the atonement needs to be properly understood. The dictionary defines atonement as a reconciliation that comes about by expiation of or satisfaction for whatever brought enmity between parties.

The Bible makes it clear that our sins have alienated us from God (Is. 59:2) and the “atonement” means “reconciliation with God” through forgiveness of sins. The OT priests “made reconciliation with [animal] blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel” (2Chr. 29:24).

These sacrificial animals were types and shadows of Christ whose shed blood reconciled/atoned for our sins (see Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14) Since His blood was shed on the cross, it was there atonement/reconciliation/remission of sins was accomplished. His blood is not being shed in heaven, so there can be no work of atonement going on there.

Contrary to the “visions” of Ellen White, atonement/reconciliation couldn’t have begun in 1844 in heaven, nor could it be in process now because it has been achieved once and for all by Christ on the cross. We have been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son” and we rejoice in God “through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:10:11)

As our High Priest, Jesus is not involved in the repetition of sacrifices as was the case of the priests under the old covenant (Heb. 7:27), rather, His priestly ministry in heaven is to ever live “to make intercession” for His own (Heb. 7:25, Rom. 8:34). He is our advocate with the Father and propitiation of our sins through the blood of his cross.

The complete redemption of mankind has been accomplished at the cross so why would He need to wait till 1844? If Christ didn’t enter into the Holy of Holies until 1844, that means He wasn’t the High Priest of the New Covenant for 18 centuries! (Heb. 9:11-23) So what happened to all the Christians who died between the cross of Christ and the investigative judgement of 1844?

The Christology of the Seventh Day Adventists is heretical and the Bible warns us against those teaching “another Christ” (2 Cor. 11:4). A set of teachings that misrepresents the nature or the work of Christ is eternally dangerous and must be rejected.