In the ancient world, the Egyptians and Jews observed a 7 day week. Those in Alexandria, Egypt gave astrological names to each day of the week in line with the gods found in Greek mythology. However during that time, the other parts of the Greek, and Roman Empires did not have a 7 day weekly cycle. This was solely a custom of the ancient Jews, and their closest neighbors the Egyptians, who saw some value in it early on. The “week” later was adopted in other parts of the world in the late 4th century, after Constantine introduced it into legislation March 7, 321 A.D.. However even after this decree, it did not take hold within the Roman Empire, until 40 years after Constantine’s death; after the reign of Theodosius. From then on it became widely accepted through out the other parts of the world.
Although the Greeks did not have a week per say, they did use a division of 10 days in relation to commerce. The Romans, used a division of 8 days in relation to their business trade, that is – until the 7 day week was first introduced to them in the fourth century by Constantine after he embraced Christianity.
Why is this important to understand? All notions that ancient Greeks and Romans worshiped the sun every 7 days on “Sunday” become ludicrous when we recognize that they did not observe a 7 day week at all. It was not commonly recognized in the ancient world, until Christians introduced the 7 day weekly cycle to them.
The “Universal Dictionary of the English Language,” Article “Week,” says: “During the early centuries of their history the Greeks and Romans had not the institution of the week.”
Webster’s Dictionary, Article “Week,” says: “The week did not enter into the calendar of the Greeks, and was not introduced at Rome till after the reign of Theodosius.”
Constantine had been dead over forty years before Theodosius began to reign. So at the time when Constantine issued his Sunday law, A.D. 321, his pagan subjects did not use the week of seven days, hence, could not have, kept the first day of our week till taught it by Christians and required by Constantine’s law.
Prof. A. Rauschenbusch, of Rochester Theological Seminary, quotes Lotz thus: “It is a vain thing to attempt to prove that the Greeks and Romans had anything resembling the Sabbath.
Such opinion is refuted even by this, that the Roman writers ridicule the Sabbath as something peculiar to the Jews. In proof he cites many passages from the Roman poets, and one from Tacitus. Seneca also condemned the Sabbath observance of the Jews as a waste of time by which a seventh part of life was lost.” (“Saturday or Sunday,” p. 83)
Herzog says: “No special religious celebration of anyone day of the week can be pointed out in anyone of the pagan religions” (Article “Sabbath”).
The renowned Max Muller in “Chips from a German Work Shop,” Vol. V, page 116, says: “It is well known that the names of the seven days of the week are derived from the names of the planets, and it is equally well known that in Europe the system of weeks and week days is comparatively of very modern origin. It was not a Greek, nor a Roman, nor a Hindu, but a Jewish or Babylonian invention.”
The early Christian Father, Tertullian, A.D. 200, bears a decisive testimony that the pagans had no weekly festival, did not keep the Lord’s Day with Christians. Reproving Christians for attending heathen feasts, he says: “Oh, truer fealty of the heathen to their own religion which taketh to itself no rite of the Christians. We are not afraid lest we be openly declared to be heathen! If thou must needs have some indulgence for the flesh too, thou hast it and thou hast not only as many days as they, but even more. For the heathen festival is on but one day in every year, thine upon every eighth day. Gather out the several solemn feasts of the heathen and set them out in order; they will not be able to make up a Pentecost.” (Ante-Nicene Lib.,” Vol. XI, pp. 162-163)
I notice that he says the heathen did not have a. festival on the Lord’s Day, nor on Pentecost, and that the heathen festivals came only “once a year” not every week, like the Christian Day.
He says that all their feast days, if gathered together, would not be as much as Pentecost. This is decisive, that the heathen did not have a weekly festival day, nor did they have a festival on the same day the Christians did; viz., on the Lord’s Day.
Johnson’s “New Universal Encyclopedia,” Article “Week,” says: “The Greeks divided the month into periods of ten days, and the Romans gathered the days into periods of eight days; with both, the first day of a period was market day, on which country people came to town and stirred up both business and public life. The period of seven days, the week proper, was introduced to the Romans and Greeks, partly by Christianity, partly by Egyptian astronomy.”
This demolishes the theory that keeping the first day of our Christian week came to Christians from the pagan Romans. Exactly the opposite is true. The Jew and Christians taught it to the pagan Romans.
Schaff, in his “Church History,” says: “The pagan Romans paid no more regard to the Christian Sunday than to the Jewish Sabbath.”
The “Encyclopedia Americana,” Article “Week,” says: “The Romans and Greeks each divided the months into periods, and 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.”
I have before me a book of 160 pages, entitled, “Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day,” by M. H. MacLead, Pueblo, Colo. It is the most exhaustive and scholarly work I have yet found on the history of the Sunday question in the first four centuries. He carefully quotes a large number of high authorities showing that the pagan Romans and Greeks had no weekly day of rest or worship on any day of the week. On the subject of heathen rest days he says: “I have given it an uncompromising consideration. It was not without a study of the matter that I ventured even to myself a final and unchangeable denial of any truth in the claim.” What the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, or other ancient nations believed or did has nothing to do with our question. It is claimed by Adventists that Sunday, as a day of rest and worship, came into the Church from pagan Rome. Hence, that is the only question to settle. The simple fact that Sunday was named from the sun, dedicated to the sun, or was sacred to the sun, does not furnish the slightest evidence that people ceased work on that day.
Every day in the week was named from some supposed deity and was sacred to that god. “The World’s Standard Dictionary” says: “Monday, the day sacred to the moon.” Did pagans worship the moon that day? Did they cease work that day? Saturday was Saturn’s day, sacred to Saturn.
Did they rest that day? So of all the days of the week. If they rested every day named after some god, when would they work? Sunday was no more sacred than any other day and pagans reverenced none.
So plain is the evidence on this subject that some of the best read Adventists have admitted that pagans did not rest from work on Sunday. Thus Elder J. H. Waggoner says of Constantine’s Sunday law, A.D. 321: “Though the venerable day of the sun had long – very long – been venerated by them and their heathen ancestors, the idea of rest from worldly labor in his worship was entirely new.” (Replies to Elder Canright, p. 130) Mark this confession, for it gives up the main pillar of their argument in their effort to prove that Sunday-keeping was taken from the pagans. The pagans never kept Sunday. It was a new idea to them when they were required to cease work that day! Where did they get that new idea? From the emperor who had just recently professed Christianity. He got it from his Christian brethren who had always kept it! See the folly of arguing that the pagans taught Christians to keep Sunday, when the pagans themselves had never kept it.
Source: “The Lord’s Day From Neither Catholics nor Pagans” – D.M. Canright