There has been a perpetual debate concerning the correct day of worship to God. The most traditional choice has been Sundays. However, is that what God intended, or is that another man-made adaptation that has been forced upon Christians? Please read on as we investigate Saturday vs. Sunday worship.
What is Worship?
The investigation begins with the basics: what is worship?
According to The Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, worship is the “Reverent devotion and allegiance pledged to God; the rituals or ceremonies by which this reverence is expressed. The English word worship comes from the Old English word worthship, a word which denotes the worthiness of the one receiving the special honor or devotion.”
So, “Reverent devotion and allegiance pledged to God.” Why does God deserve such devotion and allegiance? Well, because He is our Creator, Master, and Savior. He loves us and He desires our love and devotion to Him. How do we show our love to Him? By obeying His commandments that He has placed before us (Ex.20:6, John 14:15). His command to love Him and obey Him is part of the first of the Ten Commandments which reads, “but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” NIV
Saturday vs. Sunday Worship
Worship is more than a day; worship is a lifestyle. We are to have love and devotion for God in our hearts each and every day. However, God desires for us to set aside a special day strictly for devotion to Him. This is a day when we put aside the daily grind of life and rest in Him. So does it matter which day we set aside for this special day?
The answers to all of life can be found in the Scriptures. Therefore, that is where we must go for the answer to this question as well. Ex. 20:8-11
8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. NIV
This is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. God is very specific with this commandment. First, He said, to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy meaning separate, sanctified, and blessed. Because “the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it Holy.”
Next, “six days” we are to labor and work but on “the seventh day,” we are to honor the Sabbath. Sabbath is a time of rest and worship. It is a time to rest physically from work and worship, which refreshes the soul spiritually. Every man and his entire household are to honor the Sabbath.
Sunday is the first day of the week; Saturday is the seventh and last day of the week. So why are New Testament Christians worshipping on Sunday? The general consensus is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection as the reason for Sunday worship. The following Scriptures are used as a basis for this practice:
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. NIV
There is no mention or sign of Sunday reverence in this text. In addition, there is no reference to any worship of any form. This verse simply states that before sunrise on the first day of the week, these women went to examine the tomb.
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb. NIV
These two verses of Scripture tell us that the first day of the week is behind the Sabbath. They additionally tell us that these women were on their way to the tomb on the morning of the first-day prepared to embalm the body of Jesus, quite a difference for individuals who should have rested if Sunday had any Biblical sacredness. These women had nothing on their minds of Sunday sacredness.
The reason they did not anoint Jesus’ body the day before was that it was the Sabbath—the day of rest.
9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. NIV
Again, there is no reference to a day of rest here. This was quite the opposite, a day of action. This was the beginning of a new era. If it were meant to be a day of rest, it would appear that Jesus would have waited until Monday.
There is no Scriptural reference or hint that these women ever dreamed of a possible change of the Sabbath.
Also for sure, if Jesus had intended that Sunday should be observed as a day of rest commemorating His resurrection, He would have certainly told His disciples. What He did instruct them to do was what we now know as communion in remembrance of Him.
Jesus established the Communion on a Thursday night before His crucifixion. If the Communion service makes a day holy, then we should be observing Thursday as the Sabbath. In addition, the Communion has no relation to the resurrection of Christ, but rather, refers to His death. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26 NIV).
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. NIV
Luke confirms the intention of these close friends and followers of Jesus. They went to the tomb set on giving the body of Jesus a proper burial. In Luke 23:56, the verse right before this one, we are told that these loyal disciples of Jesus the day before by stating, “…they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Therefore, the disciples acknowledged and obeyed the commandment of honoring the Sabbath.
Then, the next day after
the Sabbath, they were ready to engage in a demanding day’s work. There is no hint of the change of the Sabbath to the first day of the week.
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. NIV
This text was written by John the disciple about sixty years after the resurrection of Jesus. Yet he never mentioned any acknowledgment of a change in the Sabbath. The disciple who himself felt closest to Jesus, apparently had never heard of a first-day commemoration of the resurrection with a change of the Sabbath day.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” NIV
Here the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews and the doors were shut. This was hardly a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection!
In Mark 16:14, Jesus admonished His disciples for their inability to believe that He had risen. Again, there is, therefore, no possible chance that they were gathered on this occasion to commemorate the resurrection.
What these verses confirm is the day of the week these events occurred with a focus on the resurrection.
In addition, it is clear that nowhere in the four Gospels is there the tiniest hint of Sunday sacredness. Sunday was a day of work.
Acts 20:7, 11, 13
7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 13 We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. NIV
There is no indication in this passage that this or any day that Paul spoke to people was a sanctified day for worship. He simply spoke to the people because he was departing the next day.
It is very important to note that Jesus Christ Himself sanctioned the Sabbath. In Matt 12:8 Jesus is quoted as saying: For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.
Conclusions Regarding New Testament Sunday Worship
- True Christians regard the Scriptures as God’s Word and the authoritative guide of life.
- There is no Scripture in the New Testament where there is a command to worship on Sunday as a memorial to the resurrection of Jesus or for any other reason.
- Based on that, the disciples did not have any plans to make Sunday a day of worship.
- There is no indication in the New Testament that the disciples or Jesus altered the day of worship from the seventh-day Sabbath to the first day of Sunday.
- Therefore, since there is no scriptural evidence that the disciples changed the worship day of Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, it is evident, that this adaptation must have been adopted by the Christian church subsequent to the writing of the Bible and the death of all the disciples.
But why? How?
The Origin of Sunday Worship
So what happened? Why was the day of worship changed from Saturday the seventh-day Sabbath as God commanded to Sunday the first day of the week? How could this possibly happen?
It goes back to history, AD 312 when the Roman Pagan Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity. During his reign, Christianity began to evolve to become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.
Some scholars claim that his principal goal was to gain unanimous submission and approval to his authority from every class. Therefore, he chose Christianity to conduct his political propaganda, with the impression that it was the most suitable religion that could fit with the Imperial cult
(see also Sol Invictus).
Nevertheless, under Constantine’s dynasty, Christianity grew throughout the Roman Empire, initiating the time of the State church of the Roman Empire. Whether Constantine genuinely transformed to Christianity or continued to be loyal to Paganism
is a subject of debate with historians.
A general consensus is that Constantine’s change to Christianity was just another instrument of realpolitik
in his hands for the purpose of serving his political interest, which was maintaining control of the Empire while keeping it united.
Sunday worship, practiced by the pagans, originated in Babylon where they worshipped the Sun and named the day Sun-day. For some reason, Christians in Rome celebrated this first day of the week also to celebrate Christ. Church historian Socrates Scholasticus (5th century) wrote: “For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries [of the Lord’s Supper] on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this.” This ”ancient tradition” was one of paganism
Notice that according to Socrates Scholasticus and other historians (e.g. Sozomen), this Sunday worship was only practiced by the Christians of Rome and Alexandria. Rome and Alexandria are where the Babylonian religion came to rest.
This is where the practice of Christians worshipping on Sunday originated. [More details on this in a forthcoming article]
Constantine knew that pagans throughout the empire worshiped the sun on “the first day of the week,” known as Sunday and he discovered that many Christians and especially in Rome and Alexandria also celebrated “the first day of the week” because Christ rose from the dead on that day (this was a compromising excuse). Therefore, Constantine as a canny political architect conspired to join Christianity and paganism to strengthen his decaying empire. Therefore, he developed a plan to join both groups on the general platform of Sunday keeping. Consequently, on March 7, 321 A.D., he passed his famous national Sunday law.
In 330 A.D., Constantine relocated his capital from Rome to Constantinople, which is now modern-day Istanbul, consequently preparing the way for the Roman Catholic Popes to be in power in Rome as the successors of Constantine. As the Papal (Catholic) Church increased in power, it opposed Sabbath observance in support of Sunday sacredness and made the day change official in the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 363-364). On this occasion, the Catholic Church mandated 59 Canon laws. Canon law 29 reads as follows: 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, [Worshipping on the Sabbath] let them be anathema [shut out] from Christ.” At this point, Christian Sabbath-keepers were considered to be heretics. This in essence joined church and state.
But on what authority did the Catholic church institute this change? James Gibbons, Roman Catholic Theologian and author of the book “The Faith of our Fathers” wrote: “But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.”
In other words, it is the authority of the Catholic church that changed the observance from Saturday to Sunday, not the New Testament Scriptures. This is an amazing admission! Other religious leaders admit that the Bible nowhere authorizes Sunday as a new Sabbath Day.
Constantine’s plan was a success and his Sunday law for sun worship was accepted by the Papal Church and the Sabbath to Sunday change complete. The systematization of Sunday worship began with Emperor Constantine and concluded with the Papal (Catholic) church. Therefore, it is a tradition of men and not a commandment of God.
History as well as, Scripture substantiate that in pagan Roman times: prior, throughout, and subsequent to the coming of Jesus Christ, Sun-day was the most important day of worship in the Roman Empire. Most of the Christian religions today erroneously presume that this pagan day of worship is holy. It is not! The Holy day of worship is the Sabbath as sanctioned and commanded by God.
God knew from the onset that Satan and man would misrepresent His appointments by altering the time. This particular part of the discussion will also be covered in detail in a forthcoming article.
If Christians could only grasp the fact that the fourth Commandment is just as much an eternal Moral law as the other nine. Again it reads: “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…” Ex 20:8-10
It is time for Christians to acknowledge the truth and obey all of God’s Commandments. This is the best way to receive blessings from God and reap the benefits.
Any questions, comments, and concerns may be left below. You will receive a response!
Blessings to all!