Continuing our series on the Sabbath, this post will look at the thought of the early church father Ignatius of Antioch to see what he thought concerning the Sabbath/Lord’s Day debate.
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch around the beginning of the second century. Most scholars believe that he was martyred under the Roman emperor Trajan around 110 AD. ((Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 2/2.435-72. See also Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 170.)) Ignatius wrote his letters while being taken to Rome for his execution. Ignatius wrote one if his letters to the church at Magnesia, a city found in what is now Asia Minor.
Epistle to the Magnesians 9:1. “If, then, those who had lived according to the ancient practices came to the newness of hope, no longer keeping the sabbath but living in accordance with the Lord’s day [μηκέτι σαββατίζοντες ἀλλά κατά κυριακήν ζῶντες], on which our life also arose through him and his death…” ((Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, 208. ))
A first significance found in Ignatius’ arguments is the “sharp contrast he draws between ‘sabbatizing’ and ‘living according to the Lord’s Day.’” This is the first time in recorded Christian literature that the matter had been put in such a way. ((Rordorf, Sunday, 261.)) Ignatius is not arguing, as Paul often does, with concern for Gentile freedom from the law. Rather, his words betray a “more thorough-going distinction between Judaism and Christianity.” Furthermore,
The Sabbath, for Ignatius, is the badge of a false attitude to Jesus Christ, while Eucharistic worship on the Lord’s Day defines Christianity as salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is an early witness to the dissociation of Christianity from Judaism which characterizes the second century, and to the wholly negative attitude to Sabbath observance that was the corollary of that. ((Bauckham, “Sabbath and Sunday,” in Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, 261.))
Ignatius demonstrates the growing tendency for Christians to separate themselves from Jewish customs and advocates a distinctively Christian practice of Lord’s Day gathering.
A second significance is the clear foundation that Ignatius gives for Lord’s Day observance: the resurrection. The church father, less than a generation removed from the Apostles, shows the beginnings of a Lord’s Day theology that will begin to blossom over the coming centuries.
The next post in the series will look at some other figures in church history to see what they thought concerning the doctrine of the Sabbath.
Jon English serves as Pastor of Discipleship for Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He has earned a Bachelor’s degree from Auburn University Montgomery, a Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Systematic and Historical Theology from SBTS. Jon English is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, a fellow for the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct professor for Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary.
Course taught at CBTS: The Decalogue & the Sabbath in Redemptive History