No scriptural authoritative change
It must be said at the outset of this addendum to the sabbath study that there is absolutely no scriptural command or authorization for the sanctified seventh-day sabbath to shift to first-day Sunday. There is none.
And what is yet more surprising is that this lack of authoritative command is widely known and admitted to throughout the bulk of historical data that has come down to us in this generation. The inquisitive seeker can consult any encyclopedia and this information is readily available and agreed to by historical authorities. So why is Sunday worship so pervasive to this day?
The church fathers
Most references to Sunday worship are found not in scripture, but in the writings of the “church fathers” (Justin Martyr, Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, Augustine, and others) and Roman history. They do mention, even as early as the second century (c. 110 A.D.), of logical reasonings of men for worshiping on Sundays as opposed to sabbath. I will not be quoting them at length here, and let the interested reader pursue their quotes, which are readily available online, to gain a further understanding of their man-made conclusions and positions.
Ignatius of Antioch: “Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week.” (Epistle to the Magnesians, chp 9. Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, pg. 62-63.)
Justin Martyr: “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 Savior on the same day rose from the dead” (First Apology 67 [A.D. 155]).
Origen: “Hence it is not possible that the [day of] rest after the Sabbath should have come into existence from the seventh [day] of our God. On the contrary, it is our Savior who, after the pattern of his own rest, caused us to be made in the likeness of his death, and hence also of his resurrection” (Commentary on John 2:28 [A.D. 229]).
Eusebius of Caesarea: “[they] were accustomed to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish customs but on the Lord’s days to celebrate the same practices as we in remembrance of the resurrection of the Savior.” (Church History Ill.xxvii.5)
It cannot be stressed enough that the writings of the church fathers are merely the writings and opinions of men. While they hold value for understanding historical context, they should not be used as dictates of practice over scripture, otherwise we have by default elevated their writings to the level of scripture.
A slow and steady march away from sabbath observance had begun under the “leadership” of men like these in a religious movement growing in corruption with influence and power.
The Emperor has no shame
In 321 CE, while he was a pagan sun-worshiper, the Emperor Constantine made the official declaration that Sunday was to be a day of rest throughout the Roman Empire. The edict reads:
“On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for gain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.”
Look up any historical reference to Constantine, and you will find this is the definitive point when the shift occurred. Therefore, three hundred years after Messiah, a pagan worldly emperor makes a declaration based on a political attempt at uniting a sprawling empire which was weakening with religious diversification, and the solemnity of the day was shifted. With the emperor’s political statement, and the “blessing” of one of the first popes (Gregory I), an already-corrupted Christian faith and false religious hierarchy was overlayed onto a passionately-held pagan sun worship cult of Mithraism, and the result was the syncretistic blending of multiple abominations culminating in what is now known as the Roman Catholic organization.
Another thousand years passed, and passionate disciples of the word (Wycliffe, Tyndale, etc.) began to recognize how pervasive this abominable syncretism was and protested against the idolatrous practices of the “holy Roman church,” ultimately, to their deaths. A Reformation was born.
However, as powerful and influential as the Reformers were in their attempts to break with Rome, they were unable to sever all ties to these pervasive syncretistic traditions, and shadows of Rome and paganism still pervade the evangelical halls to this day: Sunday worship, Christmas, Easter, clergy, obscenely luxurious church buildings, and many other pagan influences are standard fare.
To our shame in this day and age, the Christian church of today bears little resemblance to the God-ordained, called-out assembly we see throughout all the pages of scripture. Rome has triumphed down to our present day.
“The first day of the week”
To assuage our subconscious guilt at abandoning the clear command of God to perpetually honor the seventh-day sabbath and keep it holy, Christians over the centuries have invented some clever but fruitless attempts at somehow demonstrating that there is indeed scriptural evidence for a shift to Sunday.
One of the most common attempts is tied to references to “the first day of the week” throughout the gospels and apostolic writings. This attempt is typically phrased something like this: “Jesus rose on the first day of the week, so the disciples met on the first day of the week in honor of his resurrection, a tradition we carry on today.” What does a scriptural study actually reveal?
In the KJV, there are eight verses, all in the New Testament, which contain the phrase “first day of the week.”
- Mat 28:1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
- Mar 16:2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.
- Mar 16:9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
- Luk 24:1 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.
- Joh 20:1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
- Joh 20:19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
- Act 20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
- 1Co 16:2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
Six of the references are from each of the four gospels. Five of those references refer to events surrounding the women’s arrival at the tomb, all after the resurrection had already occurred. Only one reference says that Jesus actually rose on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9). (I am not attempting here to fix the timing of Jesus’ actual resurrection, just stating a fact from an analysis of the verses above).
Only two of the eight verses actually refer to a gathering of disciples, so let’s look at those a little more closely to see if they represent a shift from sabbath to Sunday worship.
Immediately following the resurrection
John 20:19 can hardly be used to demonstrate the disciples were gathered as a celebration of the Messiah’s resurrection. In fact, it clearly says “the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews,” not to worship. They had no idea what was going on at this point, and apparently believed the Jewish authorities would rout them out now that their leader was believed to be dead. It tells us they were also gathered “at evening” which is closer to the beginning of the second day of the week at sundown.
This verse does not imply or command a switch in the sabbath observance to Sunday.
The other “gathered disciple” passage (Acts 20:7) is a specific reference to one of Paul’s sermons to a group of believers at Troas where he had spent the week. Again, there is no reference that the timing of this gathering was a worship service on the first day of the week. All it tells us is that Paul began speaking to them “when the disciples came together to break bread” which most likely means they were simply sharing a meal. A similar reference is found in Acts 2:46:
“And they [the believers], continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.”
If anything, this implies the disciples met daily and shared meals commonly due to their new-found faith.
Ironically, this verse actually reinforces Saturday sabbath obeservance. Contextually, it is most likely a gathering on what we would call Saturday night after sundown (when the first day of the biblical week begins), and the believers were sharing their evening meal after the completion of sabbath. It also implies Paul was honoring the sabbath, as he planned to leave “on the morrow,” as no travel is allowed on the sabbath.
This passage also does not imply or command a switch in the sabbath observance to Sunday.
Offerings on the first day of the week
The last reference (1 Cor. 16:2) does not have a connection to a gathering of the believers, just a command that believers were encouraged to “lay by…in store” those things in which God had prospered them so Paul could easily gather them up to share with the needy saints in other areas.
Again, if anything, this verse reinforces Saturday sabbath observance, as this laying aside of the “firstfruits” of what God had given them could not be accomplished on the sabbath, as that would involve work of some type. It must be understood this is not necessarily a straight monetary collection, but presumably a collection of preserved foodstuffs and other practicalities as well (clothing, etc.), much like a mission or food bank might exemplify today. Paul would then ensure these gifts would be distributed to the saints (in this case, in Jerusalem where there was a great need, v. 3). Since believers have always been commanded to rest on the sabbath, this laying by in store was encouraged on the first day of the week as the firstfruits of their weekly sustenance, and after the day of rest.
This passage does not imply a command or switch in the sabbath observance to Sunday.
Teaching in the synagogues
Beyond the “first day of the week” references, there is some more implicit evidence that actually reinforces the continuance of sabbath observance throughout the apostolic writings. One of these passages occurs in Acts 13:
Act 13:42, 44 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath…44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
The question that occurs to me when looking at this passage is, if believers were meeting on Sundays at this point (10-15 years after the resurrection of Jesus), why would the inquisitve Gentiles not have just gone to “church” the next day (Sunday) rather than waiting a whole week until the next holy convocation on the following sabbath to learn more?
The simple answer is that sabbath observance was still the common practice, and Paul and the early disciples were teaching about Messiah primarily from the scripture readings in the synagogues.
Which day is the sabbath?
Scripturally, then, if any day of the week would be considered the sabbath, it would be the seventh day, not Sunday. In fairness, most Christians still uphold Sundays in ignorance of the facts presented here, however, that does not negate the truth of what scripture teaches. The apostle Peter encourages us to:
1 Pe 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Jas 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
We are commanded to know not only what we believe but why we believe it, so we can share with others.
It is my sincere desire and prayer that we all may be continually challenged in heart and pricked in conscience by the holy Spirit to recognize the truth of God’s word over the traditions of men.