Justin’s “Apology” was written at Rome about the year 140 A. D. His “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew” was written some years later. In searching his works, we shall see how much greater progress apostasy had made at Rome than in the countries where those lived whose writings we have been examining. And yet nearly all these writings were composed at least a century later than those of Justin, though we have quoted them before quoting his, because of their asserted apostolic origin, or of their asserted origin within a few years of the times of the apostles. 

It does not appear that Justin, and those at Rome who held with him in doctrine, paid the slightest regard to the ancient Sabbath. He speaks of it as abolished, and treats it with contempt. Unlike some whose writings have been examined, he denies that it originated at creation, and asserts that it was made in the days of Moses. He also differs with some already quoted in that he denies the perpetuity of the law of ten commandments. In his estimation, the Sabbath was a Jewish institution, absolutely unknown to good men before the time of Moses, and of no authority whatever since the death of Christ. The idea of the change of the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first, is not only never found in his writings, but is absolutely irreconcilable with such statements as the foregoing, which abound therein. And yet Justin Martyr is prominently and constantly cited in behalf of the so-called Christian Sabbath.

The Roman people observed a festival on the first day of the week in honor of the sun. And so Justin in his Apology, addressed to the emperor of Rome, tells that monarch that the Christians met on “the day of the sun,” for worship. He gives the day no sacred title, and does not even intimate that it was a day of abstinence from labor, only as they spent a portion of it in worship. Here are the words of his Apology on the Sunday festival:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying, Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and, in a word, takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday 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 Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday): and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the sun, having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.” Chap. lxvii.

Not one word of this indicates that Justin considered the Sunday festival as a continuation of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. On the contrary, he shows clearly that no such idea was cherished by him. For whereas the fourth commandment enjoins the observance of the seventh day because God rested on that day from the work of creation, Justin urges in behalf of the Sunday festival that it is the day on which he began his work. The honor paid to that festival was not therefore in Justin’s estimation in any sense an act of obedience to the fourth commandment. He mentions as his other reason for the celebration by Christians of “the day of the sun,” that the Saviour arose that day. But he claims no divine or apostolic precept for this celebration; the things which he says Christ taught his apostles being the doctrines which he had embodied in this Apology for the information of the emperor. And it is worthy of notice that though first-day writers assert that “Lord’s day” was the familiar title of the first day of the week in the time of the Apocalypse, yet Justin, who is the first person after the sacred writers that mentions the first day, and this at a distance of only 44 years from the date of John’s vision upon Patmos, does not call it by that title, but by the name which it bore as a heathen festival! If it be said that the term was omitted because he was addressing a heathen emperor, there still remains the fact that he mentions the day quite a number of times in his “Dialogue with Trypho,"” and yet never calls it “Lord’s day,” nor indeed does he call it by any name implying sacredness.

Now we present the statements concerning the Sabbath and first-day found in his “Dialogue with Trypho the Jew.” The impropriety, not to say dishonesty, of quoting Justin in behalf of the modern doctrine of the change of the Sabbath, will be obvious to all. He was a most decided no-law, no-Sabbath writer, who used the day commonly honored as a festival by the Romans as the most suitable, or most convenient, day for public worship, a position identical with that of modern no-Sabbath men. Justin may be called a law man in this sense, however, that while he abolishes the ten commandments, he calls the gospel, “the new law.” He is therefore really one who believes in the gospel and denies the law. But let us hear his own words. Trypho, having in chapter eight advised Justin to observe the Sabbath, and “do all things which have been written in the law,” in chapter ten says to him, “You observe no festivals or Sabbaths.”

This was exactly adapted to bring out from Justin the answer that though he did not observe the seventh day as the Sabbath, he did thus rest on the first day, if it were true that that day was with him a day of abstinence from Labor. And now observe Justin’s answer given in chapter twelve:

“The new law requires you to keep perpetual Sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you; and if you eat unleavened bread, you say the will of God has been fulfilled. The Lord our God does not take pleasure in such observances: if there is any perjured person or a thief among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true Sabbaths of God.”

This language plainly implies that Justin held all days to be alike, and did not observe any one day as a day of abstinence from labor. But in chapter eighteen, Justin asserts that the Sabbaths - and he doubtless includes the weekly with the annual - were enjoined upon the Jews for their wickedness:

“For we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short, all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you - namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts. For if we patiently endure all things contrived against us by wicked men and demons, so that amid cruelties unutterable, death and torments, we pray for mercy to those who inflict such things upon us, and do not wish to give the least retort to any one, even as the new Law-giver commanded us: how is it, Trypho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us - I speak of fleshly circumcision, and feasts?”

Not only does he declare that the Jews were commanded to keep the Sabbath because of their wickedness, but in chapter nineteen he denies that any Sabbath existed before Moses. Thus, after naming Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, and Melchizedek, he says:

“Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned, though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God.”

But though he thus denies the Sabbatic institution before the time of Moses he presently makes this statement concerning the Jews:

“And you were commanded to keep Sabbaths, that you might retain the memorial of God. For his word makes this announcement, saying. ‘That ye may know that I am God who redeemed you.’” [Eze.20:12.]

The Sabbath is indeed the memorial of the God that made the heavens and the earth. And what an absurdity to deny that that memorial was set up when the creative work was done, and to affirm that twenty-five hundred years intervened between the work and the memorial!

In chapter twenty-one, Justin asserts “that God enjoined you [the Jews] to keep the Sabbath, and imposed on you other precepts for a sign, as I have already said, on account of your unrighteousness, and that of your fathers,” &c., and quotes Ezekiel 20 to prove it. Yet that chapter declares that it was in order that they might know who was that being who sanctified them, i.e., that they might know that their God was the Creator, that the Sabbath was made to them a sign.

In chapter xxiii., he again asserts that “in the times of Enoch” no one “observed Sabbaths.” He then protests against Sabbatic observances as follows:

“Do you see that the elements are not idle, and keep no Sabbaths? Remain as you were born. For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need of them is there now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham.”

That is to say, there was no Sabbatic institution before Moses, and neither is there any since Christ. But in chapter xxiv., Justin undertakes to bring in an argument for Sunday, not as a Sabbath, but as having greater mystery in it, and as being more honorable than the seventh day. Thus, alluding to circumcision on the eighth day of a child’s life as an argument for the first-day festival, he says:

“It is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import, which the seventh day did not possess, and which was promulgated by God through these rites.”

That is to say, because God commanded the Hebrews to circumcise their children when they were eight days old, therefore all men should now esteem the first day of the week more honorable than the seventh day, which he commanded in the moral law, and which Justin himself, in chapter six, terms “the memorial of God.” In Chapter xxvi., Justin says to Trypho that -

“The Gentiles, who have believed on him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts.”

And in proof of this, he quotes from Isa. 42, and 62, and 63, respecting the call of the Gentiles. Upon this (chapter xxvii.), Trypho the Jew very pertinently asks:

“Why do you select and quote whatever you wish from the prophetic writings, but do not refer to those which expressly command the Sabbath to be observed? For Isaiah thus speaks [chap.58:13,14], ‘If thou shalt turn away thy foot from the Sabbath,’”etc.

To which Justin made this uncandid answer: 

“I have passed them by, my friends, not because such prophecies were contrary to me, but because you have understood, and do understand, that although God commands you by all the prophets to do the same things which he also commanded by Moses, it was on account of the hardness of your hearts, and your ingratitude toward him, that he continually proclaims them, in order that, even in this way, if you repented, you might please him, and neither sacrifice your children to demons, nor be partakers with thieves,” etc. And he adds; “So that, as in the beginning, these things were enjoined you because of your wickedness, in like manner, because of your steadfastness in it, or rather your increased proneness to it, by means of the same precepts, he calls you [by the prophets] to a remembrance or knowledge of it.”

These are bitter words from a Gentile who had been a pagan philosopher, and they are in no sense a just answer unless it can be shown that the law was given to the Jews because they were so wicked, and was withheld from the Gentiles because they were so righteous. The truth is just the reverse of this. Eph. 2. But to say something against the Sabbath, Justin asks:

“Did God wish the priests to sin when they offer the sacrifices on the Sabbaths? or those to sin, who are circumcised and do circumcise on the Sabbaths; since he commands that on the eighth day - even though it happened to be a Sabbath- those who are born shall be always circumcised?” And he asks if the rite could not be one day earlier or later, and why those “who lived before Moses” “observed no Sabbaths?”

What Justin says concerning circumcision and sacrifices is absolutely without weight as an objection to the Sabbath, inasmuch as the commandment forbids, not the performance of religious duties, but our own work. Ex.20:8-11. And his often repeated declaration that good men before the time of Moses did not keep the Sabbath, is mere assertion, inasmuch as God appointed it to a holy use in the time of Adam, and we do know of some in the patriarchal age who kept God’s commandments, and were perfect before him.

In chapter xxix., Justin sneers at Sabbatic observance by saying, “Think it not strange that we drink hot water on the Sabbaths.” And as arguments against the Sabbath he says that God “directs the government of the universe on this day equally as on all others,” as though this were inconsistent with the present sacredness of the Sabbath, when it was also true that God thus governed the world in the period when Justin acknowledges the Sabbath to have been obligatory. And he again refers to the sacrifices and to those who lived in the patriarchal age.

In chapter xii, Justin again brings forward his argument for Sunday from circumcision:

“The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath [namely, through], our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.”

Sunday-keeping must be closely related to infant baptism, inasmuch as one of the chief arguments in modern times for the baptism of infants is drawn from the fact that God commanded the Hebrews to circumcise their male children; and Justin found his scriptural authority for first-day observance in the fact that this rite was to be performed when the child was eight days old! Yet this eighth day did not come on one day of the week, only, but on every day, and when it came on the seventh day it furnished Justin with an argument against the sacredness of the Sabbath! But let it come on what day of the week it might (and it came on all alike), it was an argument for Sunday! O wonderful eighth day, that can thrive on that which is positively fatal to the seventh, and that can come every week on the first day thereof, though there be only seven days in each week!

In chapters xliii, and xlvi., and xcii., Justin reiterates the assertion that those who lived in the patriarchal age did not hallow the Sabbath. But as he adds no new thought to what has been already quoted from him, these need not be copied.

But in chapter xlvii., we have something of interest. Trypho asks Justin whether those who believe in Christ, and obey him, but who wish to “observe these [institutions] will be saved?” Justin answers: “In my opinion, Trypho, such an one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men . . . to observe the same things as himself, telling them that they will not be saved unless they do so.” Trypho replied, “Why then have you said, `In my opinion, such an one will be saved,’ unless there are some who affirm that such will not be saved?”

In reply, Justin tells Trypho that there were those who would have no intercourse with, nor even extend hospitality to, such Christians as observed the law. And for himself he says:

“But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses (from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people’s hearts), along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren.”

Justin’s language shows that there were Sabbath-keeping Christians in his time. Such of them as were of Jewish descent no doubt generally retained circumcision. But it is very unjust in him to represent the Gentile Sabbath-keepers as observing this rite. That there were many of these is evident from the so-called Apostolical Constitutions, and even from the Ignatian Epistles. One good thing, however, Justin does say. The keeping of the commandments he terms the performance “of the eternal and natural acts of righteousness.” He would consent to fellowship those who do these things provided they made them no test for others. He well knew in such case that the Sabbath would die out in a little time. Himself and the more popular party at Rome honored as their festival the day observed by heathen Romans, as he reminds the emperor in his apology, and he was willing to fellowship the Sabbath-keepers if they would not test him by the commandments, i.e., if they would fellowship him in violating them.

That Justin held to the abrogation of the ten commandments is also manifest. Trypho, in the tenth chapter of the Dialogue, having said to Justin, “You do not obey his commandments,” and again, “You do not observe the law,” Justin answers in chapter eleven as follows:

“But we do not trust through Moses, or through the law; for then we would do the same as yourselves. But now - for I have read that there shall be a final law, and as covenant, the chiefest of all, which it is now incumbent on all men to observe, as many as are seeking after the inheritance of God. For the law promulgated on Horeb is now old, and belongs to yourselves alone; but thisis for all universally. Now, law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one.”

We must, therefore, pronounce Justin a man who held to the abrogation of the ten commandments, and that the Sabbath was a Jewish institution which was unknown before Moses, and of no authority since Christ. He held Sunday to be the most suitable day for public worship, but not upon the ground that the Sabbath had been changed to it, for he cuts up the Sabbatic institution by the roots; and so far is he from calling this day the Christian Sabbath that he gives to it the name which it bore as a heathen festival.

Chapter 5 Irenaeus - Dionysius - Melito - Bardesane