Dies Domini – a response to Samuele Bacchiocchi

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Prof Samuele Bacchiocchi is one of the Adventist Church’s leading scholars. Recently he has written a response to the papal encyclical Dies Domini (The Day of the Lord). In this essay I have responded briefly to some of his claims. I have not done an exhaustive study on the matter, as time does not permit that. Perhaps that will come in time.

My writing is visible in black, and Prof Bacchiocchi’s writing is visible indented and in green.


(1) The Resurrection/Appearances of Christ

In spite of its popularity, the alleged role of the Resurrection in the adoption of Sunday observance lacks biblical support. A careful study of all the references to the Resurrection reveals the incomparable importance of the event, but it does not provide any indication regarding a special day to commemorate it. In fact, as Harold Riesenfeld notes, “In the accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels, there are no sayings which direct that the great event of Christ’s Resurrection should be commemorated on the particular day of the week on which it occurred.”

I will not deal long with this topic, for a simple reason. We all know that there is no link within the Bible to the keeping of Sunday as a memorial to the resurrection. However, as I will show later, there is a definite indication in the New Testament that Sunday was indeed observed. The issue never came up at that time, so no reason was needed, which is why it was not mentioned explicitly in the Bible. This is also a less relevant topic because once it is established that Sunday was indeed kept in the first century, it automatically becomes clear why this was so. By just showing that there is no biblical link between Sunday and the resurrection, does not even slightly prove that there was no link made in the apostolic church of the first century. This argument just makes the volume more impressive, yet has no real impact on the facts.

Moreover, as the same author observes, “The first day of the week, in the writings of the New Testament, is never called ‘Day of the Resurrection’. This is a term which made its appearance later.” Its usage first appears in the fourth century.

I consider this statement to be dishonest. The quoted author is quite correct when he says that Sunday was never called the “Day of the Resurrection” in the New Testament, and he is also quite correct when he says that this terms makes its appearance later. But Bacchiocchi is somewhat dishonest about how much later – he says that its usage first appears in the fourth century. Actually, its first appearance occurs in the first century, some 10-30 years after most of the New Testament was completed, Paul’s writings at least. In 70-90 AD, the Didache refers to Sunday as the day of the resurrection, as does Ignatius in 107 AD, and as does Barnabas in 70-120 AD, and many people after this time, long before the 4th century. It seems that this is a cover-up to hide the fact that there is indeed a very good case for the first century concept of Sunday being linked to the resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, “to say that Sunday was observed because Jesus rose on that day,” as S. V. McCasland cogently states, “is really a petitio principii [begging the question], for such a celebration might just as well be monthly or annually and still be an observance of that particular day.

But when all the evidence is brought forward for examination, and it becomes clear that the first century church did indeed view Sunday as the day of the resurrection each week, it does away with the SDA argument on this matter.

The appearances of Christ do not follow any consistent pattern. The mention of Christ’s appearance “eight days later” (John 20:26), supposedly the Sunday following His Resurrection, can hardly suggest a regular pattern of Sunday observance since John himself explains its reason- namely, the absence of Thomas at the previous appearance (John 20:24).

I really don’t understand the logic in this argument. Sunday observance is a commemoration based on the fact that Jesus rose on Sunday, and appeared to the disciples on two successive Sundays. Had Thomas’ absence been the only reason for his appearance the next Sunday, Jesus could have appeared on any day of the week. Yet he chose, of all the days of the week, Sunday, the day of his resurrection. The Apostles were admittedly probably not gathering on Sunday to keep the Lord’s Supper, they were still in hiding and were probably staying together, as Bacchiocchi suggests. This has no bearing on the case whatsoever – Jesus still chose to sanctify Sunday by rising and appearing on this specific day of the week. The first century church, as is proven by history and writings from the time, saw this as significant, and kept Sunday as a memorial of the resurrection.

Moreover, on this occasion, John makes no reference to any cultic meal …

No, but Luke 24:30-31 does mention this, and it’s on the Sunday of the Resurrection.

Another notable point is that, according to Matthew (28:10) and Mark (16:7), Christ’s appearances occurred not in Jerusalem (as mentioned by Luke and John) but in Galilee. This suggests that, as S. V. McCasland observes, “the appearance may have been as much as ten days later, after the feast of the unleavened bread, as indicated by the closing fragments of the Gospel of Peter. But if the appearance at this late date was on Sunday it would be scarcely possible to account for the observance of Sunday in such an accidental way.”

No-one is saying that Sunday is kept just because Jesus appeared on Sunday, no-one at all. But when you take into account that the most important event in history occurred on Sunday, one can certainly understand why some would want to keep it. I really don’t see what Bacchiocchi is getting at here.

(2) The Day of the Sun and the Creation of Light

Hadrianic Anti-Sabbath Legislation. This development began during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (A. D. 117-138) as a result of the repressive anti-Judaic legislation. In A. D. 135, Hadrian promulgated a legislation that categorically prohibited the practice of Judaism, in general, and of Sabbath keeping, in particular. The aim of this legislation was to liquidate Judaism as a religion at a time when the Jews where experiencing resurgent Messianic expectations that exploded in violent uprisings in various parts of the empire, especially Palestine.

Since Bacchiocchi admits that this legislation BEGAN AFTER 117 AD, during the reign of Hadrian, why does he go on to make it sound like it had an influence on the day Christians kept ? From the writings of writers earlier than Hadrian (Didache, Ignatius, Barnabas) is becomes clear that Christians were already keeping Sunday – they did not need to change because of Hadrian’s legislation. The ONLY effect this legislation would have had would have been to reduce the custom among some Jewish Christians who still kept the Sabbath out of habit.

Sunday and the Creation of Light. The earliest example of this linkage is found in Justin Martyr’s Apology, addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius (about A. D. 150). Justin writes: “Sunday (dies solis) is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

Here we see a reference from before the 4th century saying that Sunday was the day Jesus rose from the dead. Also, we see the first mention of Sunday being linked to the creation of light on the first day of the week. This is very interesting, because it proves that the creation of light is a SECONDARY and not PRIMARY reason for Sunday being kept by Christians. All the evidence that goes before it shows that the resurrection was the primary reason for the first century Christians keeping Sunday, and by the time we reach the 2nd century we see Justin Martyr telling us of the extra way in which Sunday is now seen – that Jesus is our light, and we should keep the day on which it was created as a memorial of the light in our life. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does go to show that this was a later development, and not the primary reason for keeping Sunday.

Evangelistic Considerations. The christianization of the Day of the Sun was apparently designed also to facilitate the acceptance of Christianity by pagans who worshipped the Sun-god, especially on his day of the Sun. For them to adopt the Day of the Sun as their Christian day of worship was not a problem since that day already had special religious significance in their pagan religion.

It is a bit dicy to claim that Sunday was kept in order to convert pagan Sunday keepers. From all the evidence available, it becomes clear that first Sunday was kept because of the resurrection of Jesus on that day, and only later did the day of the week become useful for converting pagans. Christianity never decided to keep Sunday in order to convert pagans – they were already keeping it by the time the Sunday-keeping pagans arrived on their doorstep.

It is noteworthy that the growing popularity of Sun worship led to the advancement of the Day of the Sun from the position of second day of the week (following Saturn-day), to that of first and most important day of the week. The historical sources available indicate that this development occurred in the early part of the second century – that is, at the very time when Christians adopted the Day of the Sun for their weekly worship.

Again, a rather dubious statement from Bacchiocchi. There is plenty of textual evidence to show that Sunday was kept in the first century, and here is Bacchiocchi trying to make it seem as if it only adopted in the second century. He is showing some evidence, avoiding other evidence, and then arriving at conclusions without taking this same evidence into account. To any inexperienced reader it would seem that he had really weighed up the evidence, considered it honestly, and arrived at his conclusion. In fact, he has dishonestly ignored some evidence, made the date for Sunday observance as late as he possibly could without obvious deceit, and made it appear as if it were a valid conclusion arrived at by an objective scholar.

(3) The Religious Gatherings on the First Day of the Week

In his Pastoral Letter, Pope John Paul traces the origin of Sunday worship back to the Apostolic church. He claims that from Apostolic times the first day of the week shaped the religious life of Christ’s disciples. To support this claim, the Pope appeals to three commonly used texts: (1) 1 Corinthians 16:2, (2) Acts 20:7-12, and (3) Revelation 1:10.

1 Corinthians 16:2: Christian Sunday Gatherings? The first-day fund-rasing plan recommended by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 is cited by John Paul as an indication that “from Apostolic times, ‘the first day after the Sabbath,’ the first day of the week, began to shape the rhythm of life for Christ’s disciples (cf. 1 Cor 16:2).” The Pope affirms that “ever since Apostolic times, the Sunday gathering has in fact been for Christians a moment of fraternal sharing with the poor. ‘On the first day of the week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn’ (1 Cor 16:2), says Saint Paul in referring to the collection organized for the poor churches of Judaea.”

The various attempts to extrapolate from Paul’s fund-raising plan a regular pattern of Sunday observance reveal inventiveness and originality, but they rest on construed arguments and not on the actual information the text provides. Observe, first of all, that there is nothing in the text to suggests public assemblies inasmuch as the setting aside of funds was to be done “by himself-par’heauto.” The phrase suggests that the collection was to be done individually and in private.

If the Christian community was worshiping together on Sunday, it appears paradoxical that Paul should recommend laying aside at home one’s gift. Why should Christians deposit their offering at home on Sunday if on such a day they were gathering for worship? Should not the money have been brought to the Sunday service?

Here we have another subtle twisting of the Bible to make it appear to support the Adventist viewpoint. But a closer look will provide a more likely interpretation of this verse. Bacchiocchi is correct when he points out that the funds are collected individually or “by himself.” But to extrapolate this to say that the offering should be deposited at home, as Bacchiocchi implies in his last paragraph, is very subtly dishonest. The kind Doctor had better be careful – his name might be changed to Pinocchiocchi ! The verse is NOT telling us that the money or items be stored up at home – it would be totally pointless for Paul to tell them to do this on the first day of the week if the stuff were to be stored up at home – this could be done on any day of the week. All he is saying is that they must collect the stuff in private, as individuals, by themselves – a) not making a public show of it, and b) not allowing the church community to do the work while they sit back and do nothing. Furthermore, Paul must intend for the food or money or whatever to be gathered together at a central location on the first day of the week – for 2 reasons: a) as I said above, if it were collected and stored at home, it could be done any day of the week, and b) when Paul came he would not want to do a tour of Corinth (or whatever city he might be in) visiting each and every house – he would want it in a central location. This definitely gives an indication that this verse is gathering items for collection together at a central location on a specific day of the week.

Acts 20:7-11: First-Day Troas Meeting. Fundamental importance is attributed to Acts 20:7-11 inasmuch as it contains the only explicit New Testament reference to a Christian gathering conducted “on the first day of the week . . . to break bread” (Acts 20:7). John Paul assumes that the meeting was a customary Sunday assembly “upon which the faithful of Troas were gathered ‘for the breaking of the bread [that is, the Eucharistic celebration].'”

Numerous scholars share the Pope’s view. F. F. Bruce, for example, affirms that this statement “is the earliest unambiguous evidence we have for the Christian practice of gathering together for worship on that day.” Paul Jewett similarly declares that “here is the earliest clear witness to Christian assembly for purposes of worship on the first day of the week.” Statements like these could be multiplied.

Special Farewell Gathering. The context clearly indicates that it was a special farewell gathering occasioned by the departure of Paul, and not a regular Sunday-worship custom. The meeting began on the evening of the first day, which, according to Jewish reckoning, was our Saturday night, and continued until early Sunday morning when Paul departed. Being a night meeting occasioned by the departure of the Apostle at dawn, it is hardly reflective of regular Sunday keeping.

Again here we see Bacchiocchi making some assumptions that are not supported by the Bible or by logic. He says that “the context clearly indicates …” – if it were indeed so clear, why would most of Christianity fail to see this clarity ? I read the passage, and I fail to see what is clear about it. The passage is not at all clear that this is a farewell gathering. He goes on to suggest that the timing of this gathering – the first 9-12 hours of the first day of the week – is not typical of regular Sunday keeping. But he has not looked into history, into how the early Christians kept their holidays. If he had, he would have noticed that it was a widely accepted practice to gather together at night, and not in the day, in order to have a worship service of whatever sort. The reasons for this ? At that time, Christians were persecuted, as is evidenced by several early writings including writings found in the New Testament. Sunday was a working day, and so they could not take the day off work without a) being noticed, and b) it affecting their income. So they did the obvious thing – gathered together on another part of that same day – the night when it started. They would work on Saturday (or rest if they were the Jewish type, or living in a Jewish society) and rest in the evening, gathering later, once the first week day had begun at sunset. They would sing and preach through till the early hours of the morning, and after services, they would go to work on Sunday, sometimes having a few hours to rest or sleep beforehand. This is the same picture presented in Acts 20, and there is no reason to doubt that it was not the same sort of event.

Paul would have observed with the believers only the night of Sunday and traveled during the day time. This was not allowed on the Sabbath and would not have set the best example of Sundaykeeping either.

But, since Sunday was not a day of rest for Christians either, Paul could travel as far and as much as he liked. The rules for the Sabbath did not transfer to Sunday until the 9th century AD.

In the post-apostolic literature, the expression “breaking of bread” is used as a technical designation for the Lord’s Supper. But this is not the common meaning or usage in the New Testament. In fact, the verb “to break-klao” followed by the noun “bread-artos” occurs fifteen times in the New Testament. Nine times it refers to Christ’s act of breaking bread when feeding the multitude, when partaking of the Last Supper, and when eating with His disciples after His Resurrection (Matt 14:19; 15:36; 26:26; Mark 8:6; 9:19; 14:22; Luke 22:19; 24:30; 24:35); twice it describes Paul’s commencing and partaking of a meal (Acts 20:11; 27:35); twice it describes the actual breaking of the bread of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10:16; 11:24); and twice it is used as a general reference to the disciples’ or believers’ “breaking bread” together (Acts 2:46; 20:7).

Bacchiocchi is digging his own grave here. In the first century post-apostolic literature, he is right, “breaking bread” is a technical term for the Lord’s Supper. He goes on to show a list of instances where breaking of bread occurs in the New Testament, EVERY instance of which is either a definite commemoration of the Lord’s Supper, or is a symbol or precursor to the Lord’s Supper. Since the breaking of bread when feeding the multitude is a type of the actual feeding of the children of God at the table of the Lord’s Supper, as the gospel of John makes clear, then it is obvious why the technical term for “Lord’s Supper” is used in connection with this event. There is not one single “breaking of bread” in the entire New Testament that is NOT either a Lord’s Supper event, or a precursor or type of this same event. Thus it must be accepted that “breaking of bread” must also be a technical term for “Lord’s Supper” a few decades earlier than Bacchiocchi admits, at the time of the writing of the New Testament. This makes the breaking of bread seen in Acts 20:7-11 a Lord’s Supper event – it cannot be otherwise.

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