I am looking for the first extant record of Sunday being referred to specifically as the "Sabbath" or "Christian Sabbath"

I am not asking which day the early church gathered.

I am not asking which day is the Christian Sabbath.

I am not looking for evidence of the transfer of observance or meaning of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, but for evidence of the transfer of title or label of "Sabbath" to Sunday.

I am asking for the first record of Sunday being labeled the Christian equivalent of the Jewish Sabbath.

Context of my question:

It is quite evident to me that in many early church writings that the idea of the Jewish Sabbath is actually rejected. Sunday was certainly a common day of gathering and to the Jewish believers the seventh day would still have possibly been thought of as the Sabbath day. But from Justin Martyr through the Council of Laodicea a Judaizing celebration of any Sabbath is discouraged and the true Sabbath is not any singular day, but as a status in Christ and an attitude of repentance and rest in Him.

I understand many may even disagree with the above statements, but I tell you this so you can understand what kind of statement I am looking for and the question can be answered regardless. At some point in Christian theology someone labeled Sunday not just a day to gather or even a day to rest and enjoy a Sabbath, but someone labeled it as the Christian Sabbath. A true shift of the same Sabbath from the Jewish seventh day to a Christian first day.

Also many may agree with me, even to the point that the idea of Sunday Sabbath seems foreign or wrong. This question remains agnostic on which is right and on what the source may have truly meant.

Finding the earliest record would certainly impact answers to related questions, but all that is outside the bounds of this question.

When is Sunday first recorded as being labeled the Sabbath? Not just a day of rest or gathering or worship.

Contemporary examples

From About Christianity website:

Today, many Christian traditions believe Sunday is the Christian Sabbath day.

Westminster Confession Chapter 21 Article 7:

He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him:[34] which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week,[35] which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day,[36] and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.[37]

A lengthily titled treatise on the Sabbath by John Owen says:

And for a holy day of rest, ...he determined the observation of the first day of the week; ... Now, as God’s rest, and his being refreshed in his work, on the seventh day of old, ... so the rest of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his being refreshed in and from his works, on the first day, is a sufficient indication of the precise day of rest to be observed under the dispensation of the new covenant, now confirmed and established (pp. 409-410).

I'm not entirely sure that is how Owen meant it but that is how that part alone could be understood (the treatise is quite long, the above link is a summary with quotations). So perhaps this is a "missing link" of sorts in the direction of the earlier quotes.


4 Answers 4


The first writer to clearly make this connection appears to be Petrus Alphonsi in the 12th century. This is argued by 17th century historian Peter Heylyn, who writes:

The first who ever used [the word Sabbath], to denote the Lords day, (the first that I have met with in all this search) is one Petrus Alfonsus, he lived about the times that Rupertus did; who calls the Lords day by the name of the Christian Sabbath. (The History of the Sabbath, II, 158)

Heylyn is not controverted by more recent authors, such as James Augustus Hessy (Sunday, 119), nor Kenneth Parker (The English Sabbath, 19). Heylyn quotes Alfonsi's Latin text, Dialogi contra Iudaeos, which does not seem to be available online in full. But the key sentence is:

Dies Dominica, dies, viz. resurrectionis, quae suae salvationis causa exstitit, Christianorum Sabbatum est.


The Lord's day, that is, the day of resurrection, which happened for the sake of their salvation, is the Christians' Sabbath.

Technically the translation of the last phrase as "the Christian Sabbath" is not possible; Christianorum is genitive (indicating posession) and not an adjective. But "the Christians' Sabbath" is so similar that Heylyn considered the phrases essentially equivalent, and we might as well.

Granted, Haylyn is quick to argue that Alfonsi's phrase was meant only analogically, in the sense that Easter is the Christian Passover. But Kenneth Parker relates several other pre-Reformation authors who connected the Sabbath and Sunday (though not with the phrase "Christian Sabbath"), such as a 6th century homilist (18), the author of Dives and Pauper, and Archbishop Arundal (21).

These last comments serve only to provide a bit of context – the first use of a phrase like that requested comes from the 12th century, in the writings of Petrus Alphonsi.

  • Well until new evidence is presented looks like you've got it. Thanks! This really made my day.
    – Joshua
    Sep 22, 2016 at 12:10

When was Sunday first called the Sabbath?

TL;DR: Never, except incorrectly or figuratively or by Protestants.

Any references to Sunday (the fist day of the week) as being "the Sabbath" (the seventh day of the week) are either mistaken or figurative or by Protestants.

Jews have always known Friday sunset to Saturday sunset as the Sabbath day.

The Catholic Church uses the term "Lord's Day" to refer to Sunday (midnight to midnight), and has always recognized that Saturday (sunset to sunset) is correctly known as the Sabbath.

In Italian for instance Saturday is called "Sabato", and in Spanish and Portuguese it is called "Sábado", which clearly mean Sabbath.

This is what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say:


The seventh day of the week among the Hebrews, the day being counted from sunset to sunset, that is, from Friday evening to Saturday evening.

The sabbath in the New Testament

Christ, while observing the Sabbath, set himself in word and act against this absurd rigorism which made man a slave of the day. He reproved the scribes and Pharisees for putting an intolerable burden on men's shoulders (Matthew 23:4), and proclaimed the principle that "the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). He cured on the Sabbath, and defended His disciples for plucking ears of corn on that day. In His arguments with the Pharisees on this account He showed that the Sabbath is not broken in cases of necessity or by acts of charity (Matthew 12:3 sqq.; Mark 2:25 sqq.; Luke 6:3 sqq.; 14:5). St. Paul enumerates the Sabbath among the Jewish observances which are not obligatory on Christians (Colossians 2:16; Galatians 4:9-10; Romans 14:5). The gentile converts held their religious meetings on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) and with the disappearance of the Jewish Christian churches this day was exclusively observed as the Lord's Day. (See SUNDAY.)


Nathaniel's answer suggests that Peter Heylyn's The History of the Sabbath mentions that Sunday was first compared with the Sabbath by Petrus Alfonsus in the early 12th century.

The first who ever used it to denote the Lord’s day (the first that I have met with in all this search), is one Petrus Alfonsus (he lived about the times that Rupertus did:), who calls the Lord’s day by the name of the Christian Sabbath.
Dies Dominica, dies viz. Resurrectionis, quae suae salvationis causa extitit, Christianorum Sabbatum est.
But this no otherwise to be construed than by Analogy and resemblance; no otherwise than the Feast of Easter is called the Christian Passover; and Whitsontide, the Christian Pentecost.

Heylyn - The History of the Sabbath

But, Alfonsus did not refer to Sunday as "the Sabbath", but as "the Christian Sabbath". He was making an analogy, as is explained where the expression is compared to referring to Easter as "the Christian Passover".

The other two items cited in the question are from The Westminster Confession of 1647 and by John Owen in 1671.

Since neither Jews nor Catholics have ever done so, the idea of using the term Sabbath to explicitly and inappropriately refer to Sunday is a development of the Protestant Reformation.

  • 1
    This seems to be either a distinction without a difference or a very slight claim.
    – eques
    Apr 11, 2023 at 21:54
  • 2
    Someone didn't read the question. The question isn't "when did Sunday become the Sabbath", but "when did Sunday get called the Sabbath by someone". It's a history question. Incidentally, there's an answer here that dates to 500 years before the Reformation. Apr 12, 2023 at 1:14
  • @AncientGiantPottedPlant, the 12th century is an example of figurative language; it does not refer to Sunday as "the Sabbath", but as "Christianorum Sabbatum". I've updated my answer to make this more obvious. Apr 12, 2023 at 2:41

The idea of Sunday as rest, like Sabbath, traces back to the first centuries of Christianity.

Eusebius, writing circa 330 CE, "joins" the day of Sunday (aka at that time as the Lord's Day) with its rest, as opposed to the Sabbath.

Accordingly he [Constantine] enjoined on all the subjects of the Roman empire to observe the Lord’s day, as a day of rest, and also to honor the day which precedes the Sabbath; in memory, I suppose, of what the Saviour of mankind is recorded to have achieved on that day. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iv.vi.iv.xviii.html

Synod of Laodicea 29th Canon held in 364 CE determined this also ties the idea of Sabbath rest to Sunday rest.

Canon XXIX. Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.

Notes [to same]. Ancient Epitome of Canon XXIX. A Christian shall not stop work on the Sabbath, but on the Lord’s Day. Balsamon. Here the Fathers order that no one of the faithful shall stop work on the Sabbath as do the Jews, but that they should honour the Lord’s Day, on account of the Lord’s resurrection, and that on that day they should abstain from manual labour and go to church. But thus abstaining from work on Sunday they do not lay down as a necessity, but they add, “if they can.” For if through need or any other necessity any one worked on the Lord’s day this was not reckoned against him. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.viii.vii.iii.xxxiv.html

  • 3
    I'm not sure this answers the question. You seem to point out two examples of Sunday explicitly not being called the Sabbath. The OP is looking for examples of Sunday actually being called "Sabbath".
    – guest37
    Jan 29, 2018 at 16:48
  • True enough, but, very importantly, as I point out the definition of Sabbath as rest or no work was transferred from Saturday to Sunday very early on among early Christian fathers. As well, there are other examples of Sabbath from one day to perpetual rest (Justin Martyr, Tertullian). IOW, it's not a day per se (see also the seven Feast days as Sabbaths), but rather the cessation from rest that defines the day.
    – SLM
    Jan 29, 2018 at 18:41
  • @SLM I think if you consider what the Jews think of the Sabbath, you will see that resting on it is merely something you must do and claiming that that human activity defines the day would be so wrong as to approach denigration of something holy. Aug 9, 2020 at 17:57

The transfer of the Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday was done by the RCC as a mark of its authority though the day of worship is not that important because God will judge us according to the work of our hands. Jesus is the lord of the Sabbath and there are very many instances where Jesus didn't keep the Sabbath and performed healings and miracles which are forbidden on the Sabbath.

I do think they did this because Christ was resurrected on a Sunday morning but God won't condemn anyone because they observed the Sabbath on Sunday but clearly will condemn people who are in this list from the book of Revelation

Revelation 22:14-15

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

Jesus performing miracles on the Sabbath was a message that we are not justified by works of the law but we received justification through grace.

You can read more on evidence that Pope Sylvester transferred the Sabbath to the Lord's Day from Where's the Evidence That the Sabbath Was Changed?.

  • What evidence do you have that this happened by the authority of the Catholic Church?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 18, 2023 at 9:35
  • The text of this answer seems to be directly opposed to the point of the cited reference, in particular, its conclusion: "When God says, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God" (Exodus 20:10), that ends all controversy. We cannot change God's Word for our own convenience. "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15).". Oct 18, 2023 at 21:50
  • @RayButterworth, Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath and we are not saved by works of the law such as as observing the Sabbath but bg grace Oct 19, 2023 at 3:49
  • 1
    @curiousdannii asks "What evidence do you have that this happened by the authority of the Catholic Church?". The linked article contains extracts from the Catechism, beginning with: Q. Which is the Sabbath day? A. Saturday is the Sabbath day., and Q. Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday? A. We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church, in the Council of Laodicea, (AD 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.. Note that it was the solemnity that was transferred; the Catholic Church still calls Saturday the Sabbath day, Oct 19, 2023 at 13:30

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