Lonely Port

Chapter 7

To The Glory of Mithra

It happened in the late summer of A. D. 286.

The Roman army was divided into legions, each one numbering nearly seven thousand soldiers, and Roman legions were scattered all over Europe, North Africa and the Near East in order to keep peace throughout the Empire.

But one legion of soldiers, numbering over 6,600 men, was entirely composed of Christians. It was called the Theban Legion, for all of the men had been raised in Thebais. They were stationed in central Gaul (modern France). In July, the Emperor Maximillan ordered a general sacrifice to be made to the Roman gods, and commanded that every soldier throughout the Empire take part. And, in addition, he ordered them to take an oath to assist him in the annihilation of Christianity.

But the men in the Theban Legion refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, or to promise to kill Christians. Learning of this, Maximillan was so enraged that he ordered every tenth man to be put to the sword. But when it was done, those remaining still refused to submit to the Emperor's requirements. A second time every tenth man was slain.

Now, those still alive wrote an appeal and sent it to the Emperor, declaring their loyalty but maintaining that they must also fear God and could not do this. In a white-hot anger, Maximillan ordered soldiers from nearby stations to go there and slay every one of them.

Out of nearly 7,000 men—not one would deny His faith in Christ. The date: September 22, A.D. 286.  

And yet elsewhere at this very same time, Roman soldiers were fast being won over to a new god. While pledging their allegiance to all the old Roman gods, and to the worship of the emperor, they were now rendering their special devotion to Mithra—the Sun god. And, since new emperors frequently came by popular demand from among the best-known army generals, an increasing number of emperors were also worshipers of Mithra.

This growing trend was destined to change Christianity for all time to come.

The only safe religion is Bible religion. Find out what that is and stay by it. There is no alternative that you or I dare follow. How did the Bible Sabbath on the Seventh day of the week turn into Sunday the first day of the week? It is at Rome that we learn this story.

There have been seven days in the week from time immemorial. After God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh, and hallowed it for worship (Gen 2:1-3), the seven-day week went all over the world-and down through history to our own time. And we know, from the records of historians and astronomers, that the weekly cycle has never changed: the Seventh day of the week is the same now as it was back in Bible times and before.

We can read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and we will find only Seventh-day Sabbath worship. There is nothing about first-day worship in the entire book. Where then did it come from?

In order to discover the origin and growth of worship on the first day of the week, we must look outside the Bible—into the pagan world of Christ's time and afterward. In fact, to locate the origin of the word "Sunday ," we must look to the same source. For first-day sacredness, and the very name "Sun Day", came from the same place.

In the Bible, the days of the week were simply called the first day, the second day, and so on. The last, or seventh day of the week, was called the Sabbath.

But about the time of Christ, the pagans began giving new names to the days of the week: the Day of the Sun, the Day of the Moon, etc., in honor of their planetary gods. This part of paganism is called "the planetary week. "

Each day was ruled over by a different god, but the most important god ruled the first day—and that was "the Lord, the Sun. " It was HIS day—the Lord's Day.

Of course, this was a clever counterfeit by Satan of the True Lord's Day. The Bible Sabbath is the day unto the Lord (Ex 16:23, 25; 31:15; 35:2), the day of the Lord (Ex 20:10; Lev 23:3; Deut 5:4) , and His own day (Isa 58: 13). Jesus, the Creator who gave us the Sabbath and everything else (Eph 3:9; Jn 1:3; CoI 1:16; Heb 1:2; Gen 2:1-3) was the one who said "I am the Lord of the Sabbath day" (Matt 12:8; Mk 2: 28).

Now, although these names for the days of the week were fairly new, the Sun god was not new. The orb of the sun had been worshiped for thousands of years.

"Sun worship was the earliest idolatry."—Fausset, Bible Dictionary, page 666. The Arabians appear to have worshiped the solar disc directly without the use of any statue or other symbol (Job 31:26-27). Abraham was called out of all this when he went to the Promised Land. Ra was the Sun god of Egypt, and On (Heliopolis—City of the Sun) was the city of Sun worship in that country (see the Hebrew of Jeremiah 43: 13).

Entering Canaan under Joshua, the Hebrews again met Sun worship. Baal of the Phoenicians, Molech or Milcom of the Ammonites, and Hadad of the Syrians —and later the Persian god Mithras (Mithra)—all these were ancient pagan Sun gods. Shemish was an important Sun god in the Middle East. Later, in Egypt, Aton was the god of the Sun disc. The famous temple at Baalbek was dedicated to Sun worship.

All through ancient history, Sun worship was the great counterfeit of the true worship of God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

By associating with Sun worshipers, the Israelites frequently practiced it themselves (Lev 26:30; Isa 17:8). King Manasseh worshiped the Sun (2 Kg 21 :3,5). Josiah destroyed the chariots that were dedicated to the Sun god, and then removed the horses consecrated to Sun-worship processions (2 Kg 23:5, 11-12). Incense was burned on Sun altars on the housetops in worship of the Sun (Zeph 1:5). In vision, the prophet Ezekiel was shown the greatest of abominations: direct Sun worship at the entryway to the temple of the true God. This was done by facing eastward to the rising sun (Ezek 8:16-17). In our own time, this practice of worshiping toward the rising sun is to be found both in Christianity and heathenism. The entrance of every major cathedral of Europe faces west. By this custom, borrowed from ancient paganism, the worshipers inside will face the rising sun as they worship God. (In contrast, the ancient Sanctuary of Israel faced east, so that the worshipers would have their backs to the sun.)

It was only a short time before Christ, that the days of the week were dedicated to pagan planetary gods. The first day was the high day for worship: It was "dies Solis"—the day of the Sun. All the other days were subservient to it ("dies Lunae, " the day of the moon, etc.).

All of this was in decided contrast with the religion of the Bible-in which we worship the Creator God of the Universe, and His worship day is the Seventh day of the week, as He commanded in the Ten Commandments.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. But the Seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work: thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it."—Exodus20:8-11. The Fourth Commandment.

The sacred day of the people who believed the Bible was the memorial of Creation—the true Sabbath—the Seventh-day Sabbath: the only weekly rest day given in the Bible. The sacred day of paganism was the memorial of the Sun god. It was the first day of the week. His day was called "the venerable day of the Sun. "

Sunday sacredness is never found in the Old and New Testaments, nor was it commanded there. In the time of Christ and the Apostles, the official religion of the Roman government did not have a sacred day, but gradually many of the heathen in Rome began keeping Sunday.

This was due to the influence of the Roman soldiers. Traveling to far lands in order to fight the wars and keep the peace, they brought back with them new cultures and new religions. But the one they especially preferred was Mithraism.

Mithra (also called Mithras) was originally an ancient god of Persia (where Iran is now located). He had been worshiped as the god of strength and war for centuries. But in the First Century A.D., he was transformed, oddly enough, into the leading Sun god of the Roman Empire.

Mithra was destined to become the leading pagan god of the western civilized world. The Romans gave him a new name—Sol Invictus, which means "the Invincible Sun." He was the great god of the Roman soldiers, and soon the masses began to worship him also.

By the middle of the Second Century, Mithraic Sun worship was the greatest heathen rival of Christianity.

The worship of Mithra was a clever counterfeit by Satan to draw men and women from the worship of the true God. Mithraism imitated the worship of Christ in several ways: It had a dying, rising Saviour god, whose birth and resurrection was celebrated every year. It had special religious suppers, or communion services, when the believers partook of their god. Its converts had to be baptized (by standing under an iron grating, over which a bull was slaughtered). And it had one day in the week that was sacred to its god—the first day of the week—the Day of the Sun.

Mithraism counterfeited the religion of the true God more cleverly than any other religion up to that time in history.

Gradually the new Roman holiday became popular, as large numbers of non-Christians began observing Sunday as a holy day in honor of Mithra. He was especially idolized by the Roman soldiers, for his worship included athletic feats of skill and "warlike manliness.”

When Caesar Augustus became emperor, just before the birth of Christ, Mithraism was already spreading westward from Asia into Europe and the Roman Empire.

But of crucial importance was the fact that Roman generals frequently became the new emperor, upon the death of the Caesar already in power. This greatly favored the rapid acceptance of Mithraism by the people of Rome. Sun worship was rapidly spreading across the empire.

This was to culminate in the rise of an emperor—Constantine—whose family was especially dedicated to the Sun god—and who, as we shall see, was to actively work with the Christian Church leaders at Rome in bringing Mithra's holy day into the worship of the God of Heaven.

Mithra was the strongest rival of Christianity back in those days. Both religions strongly attracted the people. And great numbers in the Empire began keeping the Sun day of Mithra or the Sabbath of Christianity.

Even back in the First Century, when Christ walked this earth, many peoples of the Empire began worshiping on the Seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible. This was in great measure due to their respect for the Christians and the Jews.

But then two important events occurred that shattered this. In A.D. 70 (nearly forty years after the death of Christ), and again in A.D. 135, serious Jewish revolts were put down amid much bloodshed. In reaction, Roman hatred of everything Jewish became intense. Soon after this second Jewish rebellion, Emperor Hadrian issued an edict, strictly prohibiting the observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath. But, fortunately, imperial decrees tended to be short-lived, and Christians scattered throughout the Empire generally disregarded it. However, in the city of Rome itself, the capital of the empire, matters were different.

Anicetus, the local bishop (religious leader) of the Christian church in the city of Rome (men would today call him the "pope"), demanded that all of the Christians everywhere keep holy the first day of the week instead of the true Bible Sabbath, which was on the Seventh day of the week. At the risk of his life, the aged Polycarp of Smyrna (a close friend of the Apostle John before his death about 100 A.D.) traveled all the way to Rome to protest this apostasy. This was about the year 155 A.D. Anicetus, the Roman bishop, listened to what he had to say but refused to change his position. Polycarp returned home and was martyred the next year.

By the middle of the Second Century, Mithric Sun worship was becoming very popular among the Romans. The emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D.) erected a temple to Mithra at Ostai, a seaport town a few miles below Rome. Pius also had his name written at the base of the famous temple of the Sun at Baalbek (Heliopolis) in Syria.

By this time, the teachings of Mithraism were becoming popular among the teachers at the Christian Theological Seminary in Alexandria. (Alexandria, Egypt, was at that time one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire, and next to Rome itself, had the lowest morals.)

Consistently, for the next two centuries, the pattern was this: The worldly instructors at the Christian preacher-training school in Alexandria would adopt pagan and philosophical religious ideas and practices, teach them to their students, and write books on “Christian philosophy." Alexandria was extremely inventive when it came to new ideas. Then, the leaders of the Christian Church in the capital city of Rome would adopt these heathen theories and rituals as “new light"—and begin demanding that all the Christian churches throughout the civilized world practice these errors—just because the Church at Rome had so decreed it!

The purpose of all this was quite simple: The local Christian Church at Rome wanted to gain dominion over all the other local Christian churches throughout Christendom. And they used their demand that new ideas be adopted as a wedge with which to gain this control. And the plan succeeded.

From about 125 A.D. till 325 this concerted effort continued. Finally, with the accession of Constantine to the throne in 312, they gained the help needed for the final take-over. This, in brief, is the story behind the rise of the "Roman Catholic Church" to power.

Gradually, the worship of the Invincible Sun became even more popular and widespread throughout the Roman Empire. Emperor Aurelian (270-275 A.D.), whose mother was a priestess of the Sun, made this solar cult the official religion of the empire. His biographer, Flavius Vopiscus, says that the priests of the Temple of the Sun at Rome were called "pontiffs" They were priests of their dying-rising saviour-god Mithra, and "Vicegerents" (second in command, next to him) of the Mithraic Church. At a later time, the bishops of the local Christian Church at Rome adopted both of these titles as their own—and became the "vicegerents" of Christ and the "pontiffs." before whom all the faithful in Christendom must bow on pain of death.

So it came to be that by the middle of the Second Century-150 A.D. (only 120 years after the death of Christ)—worldly Christians in Alexandria and Rome began keeping Sunday as a holy day. One of the reasons they gave for this practice was that it made them better accepted by their pagan neighbors—and thus made Christianity more appealing to worldlings. The same method of "converting the world" by becoming more like it is still being used today by a number of Christians.

Because Sunday sacredness was pagan and not Scriptural, many of the worldly Christians observing it excused their practice by calling it "the Lord's Day," even though it was obvious that Revelation 1:10 said nothing about Sunday. "Christian" philosophers at the seminary at Alexandria declared that Sun-day was the "Lord's Day" of Revelation 1:10, but the entire Bible reveals that the "Lord's Day" is the Bible Sabbath. (Read Exodus 20:10; 16:23,25; 31:15: 35:2; Leviticus 23:3; and Deuteronomy 5:4.) God, Himself, calls the Bible Sabbath "My holy day" in Isaiah 58: 13.)

Then the ball bounced back the other way. Picking up this idea from the worldly Christians, the followers of Mithra began calling their Sun day, the "day of the Lord Mithra," and "the Lord's day." This led to Emperor Pius' official declaration that the great god Mithra was to be called "Sol Dominus Imperii Romani"-"The Sun, Lord of the Roman Empire." This new title and the name "Sol Invicto" appeared together on his coinage.

Most of the new rituals and theology that came into the Christian Church from paganism in these early centuries (125 A.D. to 350 A.D.) originated in Alexandria, and were then decreed by the local church at Rome upon Christians everywhere. But, for the most part, before Constantine became emperor, many of the other local churches ignored the demands of the Roman bishop as ridiculous. Because of this trend, Egypt and North Africa (heavily influenced by that theological school in Alexandria), and Italy (under the domination of the bishop of Rome), tended to have more errors than the Christian churches in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Central Europe, Britain, Scotland and Ireland, which remained closer to the teachings of the Bible.

Mithraic Sun worship gradually came to dominate the empire as the leading Sun-god religion, until Constantine I defeated Licinius in 323 A.D. After that date, Constantine worked steadily with the Christian bishop of Rome -to make the worldly Christianity of Rome the official religion of the entire Empire.

Within a few short years, Constantine, working closely with the bishop of the Christian church at Rome, demanded a new Roman holiday of Christians everywhere.

And when this happened, Mithraism died—for Satan no longer needed it—for all Rome was now "Christian."

But the changeover was made at great cost to genuine Christianity—For Rome had become the new City of the Sun.