Sunday (the first day) in the New Testament.
Joseph E. Lahud 2008
Many sincere Christians today believe that the Apostles in the first century church kept Sunday as the new day of worship. This belief is founded upon one of the many traditions which have been handed down through the centuries, rather than from a Biblical doctrine. The fact is, an earnest student of the Bible will not find a Biblical commandment or instruction declaring such a change from the Biblical Seventh (Saturday) day of worship, as kept by Christ and His Disciples; it is simply not found in the Bible. When a tradition is kept through many centuries, it can be held as a pillar of truth, rather than be regarded simply for what it is- only a tradition. Traditions can be good, for example, it is sometimes wholesome to hold a tradition to remind us of an event, or an occurrence. My wife and I began a tradition of keeping a “praise box”. This is simply a tin can, decorated colorfully with an opening in the lid. The concept is that throughout the year, we write down in small pieces of paper anything that we esteem as a praise or thanksgiving to our Lord for something He has done in our lives. We place these in it, and add to them as He reveals His faithfulness. Typically at Thanksgiving Holiday we sit around the dinner table and we read what the Lord has done for us. It is very rewarding for our family and guests to see His consistent faithfulness, the written evidence serves to remind us of His love. This tradition is designed to build up our faith and to help us advance in our intimacy with Him. Not all traditions however, are going to help us achieve a closer walk with Him. Anytime man’s tradition trespasses a Biblical Commandment, we have a duty to choose between the keeping of a man made tradition, or obeying God. “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21.
“For laying aside the Commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men…” Mark 7:8. Sunday (the first day) is mentioned only nine times in the entire cannon of Sacred Scripture. It is mentioned one time in the Old Testament in the account of Creation, and it is mentioned eight times in the New Testament. As we examine these accounts you will be very surprised at what we discover. The million-dollar question is: Did the Apostles teach and enforce a new day of worship to the world? Christ commanded them to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15. The Apostles did not claim to originate new doctrines. What was their attitude towards the existing Seventh Day Sabbath? Did they stop regarding it as a sacred institution? Adam and The Patriarchs kept it: “Because that Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My Commandments, My statutes, and My Laws.” Genesis 26:5. This is 550 years before Sinai! The Prophets and sacred writers in the old Testament kept it. As did Christ and His Apostles. In Matthew 24:20, Jesus prophesies a warning to His followers indicating the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. “Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.” Friend, this Christ knew to be 39 years after His crucifixion. Evidently, for the future, our Savior was teaching us to continue to honor the Sacred Seventh day Sabbath. The day He is Lord over. Matt. 12:8.
In His sermon on the mount (Matt. 5-7:29), Christ taught the people to keep the Commandments. The Jewish leaders had in fact accused Christ of Sabbath breaking when He healed on the Sabbath. And when His Apostles had plucked and eaten some heads of corn while traveling through a field, again they accused them of Sabbath breaking. (Matt. 12:1-13). Christ never once told anyone not to keep the Sabbath but how to keep it. “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill”? Mark 3:4. Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” Matthew 23:4. The religious leaders had twisted and perverted God’s Commandments so as to defile God’s Word for their personal profit. At the Temple, Christ’s anger was expressed: “And said unto them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but Ye have made it a den of thieves.’” Matthew 21:13. (In a similar way, many modern day religious leaders such as television evangelists, also pervert the Word of God, extorting millions of dollars from the innocent and the ignorant. All in the name of Christ). In all “For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:8 also: “And He said unto them, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27&28.
On this side of the Cross, did the Apostles now call Sunday, the first day of the week, the new Sabbath? Did they enforce a new Sacred institution to replace the existing Seventh Day Sabbath spoken by Christ at Creation? The only historical record existing in our World of the events and testimony occurring in connection with our Lord’s life, is that given by the four evangelists in their Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are Christian historians. We depend on them for our knowledge of the facts concerning the incarnation and the life of the Son of God. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit; for Christ promised it should bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever He had said unto them. John 14:26. The testimony they have written is for our instruction, they have spoken the truth, calling things by their right names, using the correct language. We are informed by historical accounts that Matthew wrote his Gospel about twenty nine years after Christ’s ascension; Mark, about thirty five years; Luke, about twenty eight years; and John, about sixty three years. Surely if there had been a change given for the Biblical Sabbath, they would most certainly have recorded it, to instruct the Church along the proper path and avoid any error. However, no such change is mentioned in any of their writings. It is believed that the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Hebrews. Here we find a mention of the Seventh day Sabbath rest for the people of God: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…There remains therefore a rest for the people of God…Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:3-11. It should be noted that the “Old Covenant” with the Nation of Israel was: #1. The “Covenant”: required the people to “obey His voice”, #2. The “terms”: were the Ten Commandments. These are two separate actions contained, not to be confused one with the other. Notice that within the Fourth Commandment itself it says: “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 shall not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger [Gentiles] 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.” Exodus 20:8-11. Remember, two separate actions were contained: #1. the Covenant: “Obey My voice” #2.The terms: “The Ten Commandments.” The reason it was “faulty” was because the people did not desire to obey His voice. The Ten Commandments themselves were not faulty. The fault was with the people. “The New Covenant” God promises to “write” His Laws in our “minds”, (the understanding) and in our hearts, (the desire to obey Him.) Hebrews 8:10. The New Covenant is still only with the House of Israel. This “Israel” is “Spiritual Israel,” which we Gentiles and (Christ believing Jews) become. We are adopted as the “seed” of Abraham, by faith through Jesus Christ. See Galatians 3:28&29. We become also the “Branch” that is “grafted in” to the Olive tree, which is Christ. See Romans 11:16-27. If you are uncomfortable with the thought of being regarded as a “spiritual Jew” consider that Christ was a Jew. As well as His Apostles. “Salvation,” said our Lord to the woman of Samaria, “is of the Jews” John 4:22.
If Sunday had replaced the Biblical Sabbath, the historical record of the early years would give great evidence through many instances where this new Sabbath is observed. We should also be able to find evidence in the form of conflict between those who kept the ancient Sabbath as Commanded by Christ in Genesis, which identifies the true Creator, and those that were now honoring the new (Sunday.) Included in this evidence we would find the victories and the struggles which would certainly be experienced for the establishment of such a new and revolutionary doctrine. For example, circumcision became a heated and dividing issue between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul finally settles the matter in his letter to the Church at Corinth: “Circumcision is nothing and un-circumcision is nothing, but keeping the Commandments of God is what matters.” 1 Cor. 7:19. Here is plain and clear evidence that after the resurrection “the Commandments of God” were to be kept. Accordingly, we should also have no problem in finding a great amount of evidence in the form of instruction from leading men in the young Church, commanding the importance and obligation for the people to keep the first day sacred as the “new Sabbath” – if there was such a change. We should find distinct references and plain, correct language of its binding obligation. The Apostle Paul, when addressing the elders of the Church at Miletus regarding the necessary requirements of believers and fundamental principles of the plan of salvation, spoke: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the Church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came unto Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews and Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 20:17-21. Now here is the place where we should certainly find some instruction from Paul admonishing the elders of a change in the Sabbath day, for he adds: “And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparring the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now brethren, I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among those which are sanctified.” Acts 20:22-32. Please take careful notice that Paul has just declared to his beloved brethren that they shall see him no more, in fact, he exclaims in a very solemn manner that he is going to meet his death via the road of Jerusalem. Nero was emperor at this time, a most cruel and perverse tyrant. By Nero’s hand, Paul is beheaded, and Peter is crucified. Paul’s record, without a doubt, would certainly have expounded and emphasized the change of the Sabbath, - had he any knowledge of such a change, for he declared to them (as we have just read,) that he has “kept back nothing” from them that was “profitable,” and “has not withheld” to declare “the whole counsel of God” to them, including the “things” that are needed for “building them up”, and to “receive an inheritance among those that are sanctified.” What! Nothing indicating a change of the Sabbath is mentioned! Paul however, does give a most solemn warning: he warns them that upon his departure “grievous wolves” will come in “not sparring the flock” and even from their own ranks, “Christians”- will arise, “speaking perverse things,” drawing “disciples after themselves.” These dangers are no other than false doctrines which would be introduced. Paul declares to them of the coming corruption in the Church. The word corruption here means that sin will enter into the Church. The only definition of sin in the entire Cannon of Scripture is: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresses also the Law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4. Throughout the centuries, many “traditions” have gradually crept in, establishing themselves into the Church.
We will now examine the evidence written by the Apostles regarding the mention of Sunday, the first day, in chronological order as they appear:
#2. Mark 16:1 & 2. “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, who will roll away the stone from the door for us?” (Another account of the resurrection, no change mentioned of the Biblical Sabbath day of worship.)
#3. Mark 16:9. “ Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” (Here is the first account of the Lord’s appearance to anyone, - with no mention of the Sabbath change given.)
#4. Luke 23:55 & 24:1. “ And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.” (Once more, an account of the resurrection with no change of the Sabbath mentioned. Notice however, the women “rested on the Sabbath (Saturday) according to the Commandment.)
#5. John 19:42 & 20:1. “So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jew’s preparation day, for the tomb was nearby. Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” (Here is the final account of the resurrection at the tomb, again, no change given. What is mentioned is the “preparation day” in readiness for the Sacred Seventh day Sabbath.)
#6. Luke 20:19. “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene came and told the Disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her. 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, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: ‘peace be with you.’” (This passage is often used by those who would have you believe that the Disciples were having a Sunday evening service, “proof” that there was a Sabbath change. Lets carefully examine the evidence: #1- Where is the change mentioned? #2- The Scripture declares that they were assembled together “behind shut doors” on Sunday evening for “fear of the Jews.” They were not having an evening service! They were hiding! Fearful of what the Jews would do to them since they had just crucified their Lord and were enjoying their seeming victory over Christ and His Disciples. Further, the Disciples were mourning the loss of their beloved Lord, and there were rumors that He had risen and had been seen by one of the women and He had spoken to her! Naturally, the disheartened Disciples were pondering these things in their broken, lowly, and confused hearts.) The next account of the Disciples, seeing the risen Lord, is eight days later,- which would be a Monday! See John 20:26.
We have now examined all of the accounts in the Sacred Gospels regarding the Lord’s resurrection, and have found nothing that indicates a change in the Seventh Day Sabbath! Let’s continue:
So we conclude that in order for this night meeting to have been on the first day of the week, it must have taken place on what we call Saturday. That first day began at sundown. These facts, then, must follow: Paul, “as his custom was” (see Acts 17:2) Held a Sabbath day (Saturday) meeting and continued the service into the evening, which would become Sunday. They have a fellowship meal, a going away gathering in which Paul, speaking well into the night, prays for the young man who had fallen out the window, and he is brought back to life. (Fortunately for me, when I have experienced someone falling asleep during my preaching, they were typically sitting in a chair, which prevented them from falling very far.) The fact that Paul traveled on foot to Assos (nineteen and one half miles) during the daytime of that Sunday, Luke and his companions also spending many hours that day traveling by ship to the same point, testifies that Paul and his companions regarded that Sunday as any common workday. Notice that there is no mention whatsoever of Paul holding any kind of religious service during daylight that Sunday. Why is that? That was in the year 59 AD, some twenty nine years after the resurrection! According to the Bible record, all the Apostles, with all the companions and followers of Christ, still regarded the Seventh Day (Saturday) Sabbath as Sacred. Therefore, this account, (Acts 20:7-14) which is regarded as one of the strongest texts to be found in the Bible on behalf of Sunday keeping, testifies just the opposite of what it is intended to prove!
We have examined in detail, seven historical accounts written by the Apostles, from first hand eyewitness experience, of the mention of Sunday (the first day). Six in the Gospels, and one in the Book of Acts. There remains yet one more account for us to examine, we will review this next. But first, lets consider the fact that so far as we have discovered, we have not one instance where the Scriptures provide any evidence that the Apostles, those whom Christ Commanded (entrusting them to carry the message of Salvation and truth to the World), ever recognized Sunday to hold any Sacred value. Sunday Sacredness is not found in the Gospels. Perhaps we will yet find it. Let’s continue: #8. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. “Now concerning the collection for the Saints, As I have given orders to the Churches of Galatia, so you must do also: on the first day of the week (Sunday) let each one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prosper him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality [love gift] unto Jerusalem.” This account, as some would attempt to have you believe, is also used to “prove” that public collections were taken up on that day, during religious services. “Proof” that Sunday Sacredness was at this time being observed. There is a little know fact which is hidden in history, namely, that at this time in Jerusalem, there was not only the sufferings as a result of the fierce religious persecution upon the young Church there, but also a terrible famine which had been raging for some time. #1-Paul was collecting an offering for the brethren in this famished city. #2- “The expression ‘Lay by him in store’, is evidently an act not to be performed in a public gathering, but at home! This is the proper translation from the original Greek. The late Presbyterian missionary J.W. Morton, from his various collected translations we read: Greenfield, in his lexicon, translates the Greek term, ‘By one’s self, i.e., at home.’ Two Latin versions, the Vulgate and that of Castellio, render it ‘with one’s self, at home.’ Three French translations, those of Martin, Osterwald, and De Sacy, ‘at his own house, at home.’ The Great reformer Martin Luther ‘by himself at home.’ Finally, we quote Dr. Justin Edwards, from his ‘Family Testament of the American tract society,’ Pg. 286, says: ‘Lay by him in store; at home; that there may be no gatherings; that their gifts might be ready when the Apostle should come.'” The change of the Sabbath, G.I. Butler. The above quoted authorities are sufficient to settle the question beyond all controversy: that no public collection was intended, but for the contrary, that the act required was to be done at home. Counting your money, bookkeeping work, accounting, business ledgers, etc. are not consistent with our Creator’s Commandment as He instructs us in His Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it Holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but The Seventh Day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shall not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant [employees], nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle [business], nor thy stranger [Gentiles, customers], 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, and Hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11. We have quoted several religious authorities, but must we rely on man’s wisdom? Dear friend, read carefully what the Sacred Scripture declares: “Now concerning the collection for the Saints…” Notice the words “collections for the saints”, Tithes collected for the Church are not regarded as for the Saints. The funds may later be disbursed to some of the brethren in need, but the tithes nevertheless, are God’s tithes. See Malachi 3:8-10. The word “for”, instead would be “of”, if the collections mentioned in the account were to be designated as God’s Tithes for the “local Church” The correct understanding, according to the language used, in harmony with the rest of the Scripture, is that of a special collection being take up to help the brethren in Jerusalem.
Permit me submit to you at this time, in the spirit as: “the noble ‘Bereans’ who received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Acts 17:11. The following evidence will greatly serve to illuminate the matter, concerning whether the Apostles kept Sunday as the new Sabbath. We will begin with some accounts prior to Acts 20:7. The activity of the Apostles as they went about “preaching the Gospel to every creature.” As Commanded by Christ (mark 16:15). We begin with:
Acts 13:14&15. “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath and sat down . And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the Synagogue sent to them, saying ‘Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.’”
Acts 13:42. “So when the Jews went out of the Synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.” (Gentiles have gathered on Saturday, desiring to be taught by Paul on the next Saturday Sabbath!)
Acts 13:44. “On the next Sabbath, almost the whole city came together to hear the Word of God.” (Here are Jews and Gentiles, who desire Paul to teach them the Gospel of Christ, meeting on Saturday!)
Acts 16:13. “And on the Sabbath day, we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.” (What day? The Seventh Day –Saturday. The recognized Biblical Sabbath.
Acts 17:1&2. “Now when they had passed through Ampipholis and Apolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then went Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned in the synagogue with them from the Scriptures.” (This is twenty years after the resurrection! Paul is teaching them from the Scriptures – for three Sabbaths! What day? Saturday- the Sabbath!)
Acts 18:4. “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” (Traditional synagogue worship is on Saturday, as per God’s commandment.)
Acts 18:11. “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” The record states that Paul taught both Jews and Gentiles “every Sabbath” for a year and one half. This would be seventy eight Sabbaths in that period in which the Apostle Luke records the fact that Paul held religious meetings in Gentile cities. These, with the six previously noted, would make some eighty four Sabbaths. The fact that they were not in Judean cities, but in Gentile cities, testifies of the significance. Had they occurred in Jewish cities, this could perhaps be explained away. But the record remains. Paul was faithfully preaching the Gospel according to the Commandment given by Jesus Christ – “the Lord of the Sabbath”, to those who would receive the message of the Gospel, including the Sacredness of God’s true Sabbath Day.
In the book of Acts 5:42, we find: “And daily in the Temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” Question: does the mere mention of this action “preaching daily,” prove that any of God’s Commandments were abolished or changed? Absolutely not. To the honest student in search of the pure gold to be found in the Word of God, the Bible will confirm itself, encouraging one along paths of righteousness and truth. The Old Testament is not in disagreement with the New Testament. God is not divided, He is a God of order. “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the Saints.” 1 Corinthians 14:33.
We have examined the evidence in the Eight times Sunday, the first day, is mentioned in the Bible.
“It has been said that because Christ was risen on Sunday, that we now honor that day, and the Sacredness of the Seventh Day has been transferred to the first day. [Let those who’s claim that is prove it by the Scriptures!] If Sunday had been Divinely appointed because of the redemption that took place for man at the resurrection of Christ, should we not keep also the day He died? If another day were to be appointed to commemorate Christ’s work of redemption at His first advent, should it not be the day of His crucifixion rather than of His resurrection? The Bible nowhere says that we have redemption through His resurrection. But it does say, “In whom we have redemption through His blood.” Ephesians 1:7. Also, ‘Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy Blood.’ Revelation 5:9.” (The change of the Sabbath, G.I. Butler).
The death of Christ is the most incredible event ever beheld in this universe! It is not surprising that the Almighty God should raise His Only Begotten Son from the grave after He died for the sins of mankind.
It is mercy, most astonishing, that He should ever consent that His most precious and only Begotten Son should be humiliated, suffer, and die, such an ignominious death on the cross to redeem those who sinned in breaking His Law. “For sin is lawlessness.” 1 John 3:4.
Only to have men then trample the very Law which caused this tragedy?
And continue to teach others to break His Law?
All in the name of tradition?
“And He said unto them, ‘full well ye reject the Commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.’” Mark 7:9.