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The Sabbath, Sunday Worship and the Early Church

Many Christians have given up the observance of Sunday in favor of the keeping the Sabbath. Sadly, they believe the myth that Sunday observance comes from paganism or they fall for the teaching of cults, that the Sabbath was never fulfilled. As a former Sabbath keeper, I can attest to this fact myself. We believed that Sunday came from Constantine who, by what we had read online, was a sun worshiper. We believed that the Sabbath had been kept by the Early Christians, even well after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. We also thought that Jesus was resurrected on the Sabbath, even though the Bible clearly says it was on the first day of the week.

However, when we began researching on our own, we found that history and the Bible prove all these myths wrong. Sunday was in fact a very important and sacred day to the early Church, even during the first century. And it had nothing to do with paganism. In fact, the Church Fathers were extremely against any practice that came from paganism. To understand why Sunday was so important and why it became a day of observance in the Early Church we need to place ourselves in the position of the early followers of Jesus. First, looking to the Bible, we have examples of Sunday observance by some of Jesus’ earliest followers:

Acts 20:7:

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight.

1 Corinthinans 16:1-2:

1 Now in regard to the collection for the holy ones, you also should do as I ordered the churches of Galatia. 2 On the first day of the week each of you should set aside and save whatever one can afford, so that collections will not be going on when I come.

Some may brush these verses off claiming they they do not prove anything, however both are examples of early assemblies on the first day of the week. If you think about it, it is very hard to deny the similarities in Acts and 1 Corinthians when compared to the practices of the Early Christians as well as the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches today. In Acts, we see Paul giving a “message”, “word” or “logos” (as rendered in some Bibles), along with the breaking of bread. In Corinthians, we see Paul taking up a tithe. Again both events took place on the first day of the week. These are significant details, as the Church Fathers tell us that the Eucharist was often called “breaking bread”. We also know from their writings that the Eucharist was the center of worship to Early Christians as it remains so in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. It was the most important aspect of the Early Church assemblies . It was common to hear a message and give a tithe as well. Sounds a lot like what is going on in Acts and Corinthians right? The Parallels are undeniable. Therefore even though these verses do not come out and say explicitly that these were assemblies on Sunday, we know from the the details that they were.

Next, in Revelation, we see the Apostle John receive extremely important visions on the first day of the week. These are visions that tell the destiny of man kind and how our Lord will come back to Earth:

Revelation 1:10-11:

10 I was caught up in spirit on the Lord’s day and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet, 11 which said, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

This is the only verse in the New Testament that refers to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. I have seen claims that this could be a reference to the Sabbath rather than to Sunday, however history again proves this idea false. We know Revelation was written around 65 to just before 70 A.D. There are other documents from the early church which were written before John wrote Revelation, that prove Sunday was called the Lord’s Day as early as 50 A.D.  Therefore, we know that the Lord’s Day was in fact a reference to Sunday. Writings such as the Didache and The Epistle of Barnabas mention the first day of the week and the Lord’s Day as the same day. Furthermore, these writings also mention celebrating the Eucharist, or “Breaking Bread,” on the first day of the week, which again proves to us historically that it was common to gather for this event on Sunday.

Two of the Most important events in Christian History happened on Sunday:

The Bible lists many occasions on which something significant occurred in relation to Jesus or His Disciples, most of which occurred on Sunday, or the first day of the week. It is apparent that Sunday was a very important day in Christian history. If we look at all of the events that occurred, we can see why Sunday quickly became known as “the Lord’s Day”:

Mark 16:9:

9 But he rising early the first day of the week, appeared first to Mary Magdalen, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

Matthew 28:1:

1 AND in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.

Luke 24:1:

1 AND on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared.
John 20:1:

1 AND on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalen cometh early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre; and she saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

John 20:19:

19 Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you.
Most people are familiar with the verses above; each one states that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first day of the week. To Sabbatarians, this is of little importance since Sunday was not commanded as a day of worship. Some even attempt to manipulate these verses so that Jesus’ resurrection falls on Saturday evening rather than Sunday morning. Remember, we even attempted to do this ourselves when we were in the Hebrew Roots Movement. I can attest to the fact that this is impossible. If you read anything that claims that the resurrection took place on the Sabbath, it is based on theory and not facts. As for the verses above, if you place yourself in the position of the Early Christians imagine what they felt when they found or heard that the tomb was empty. This person who was so brutally beaten and crucified was gone! This would have been huge news. All the claims this Man made were true. He truly was the Messiah and He had actually come back to life! Imagine what death was like back then. There was little medical knowledge, and death was often painful, plus a very fearful thing, as it was permanent. There was yet any solid proof of an afterlife. However, Jesus’ death was not permanent, He had conquered death and the grave. And if you believed and followed Him, you were promised the same thing one day; another life that is better than this one. It is no wonder that the first century Christians began keeping this day in Jesus’ honor as the Lord’s Day.

The Holy Spirit descended upon all the believers in the upper room on Sunday:

Acts 2:1-4:

1 AND when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: 2 And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. 3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
There are several things that make Pentecost an extremely important day. The first thing to realize is that it was the beginning of a new Law (the Law of the Spirit). The original Law (Law of Moses) was a tutor for the Hebrew people, but this new Law was for everyone. There were 3,000 believers in the upper room, all were from different areas, speaking different languages. Together with the Holy Spirit, they could all understand one another, showing the universality of the new Law in Christ.

Next, few people realize that the Old Law had been given to the Israelites on Pentecost. The Law of the Spirit came to those in the upper room on this exact same day. During Moses’ time, God took them from Egypt on Passover, which is also the day that Jesus was crucified, as the Apostle Paul says, “For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Forty days later, Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, while forty days later Jesus went up on the Mount of Olives. Ten days after Moses went up, he came down with the Ten Commandments (old covenant written on stone tablets). Ten days after Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, the Holy Spirit descended on the believers (new covenant written on the heart). As we can see, the establishment of the new covenant is a direct parallel to the Israelites Exodus from Egypt to the receiving of the Law, and all of these events aside from the crucifixion occurred on Sunday.

In Judaism, Pentecost is known as Shavuot; this day occurred 50 days after First Fruits (the waving of the sheaf offering) which-as stated above-was when Moses brought down the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai. First Fruits always occurred “on the day after the Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:11), placing it on Sunday. As we know, there is a direct parallel between Moses (old covenant) and Jesus (new covenant), and the Apostle Paul says, “but now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Paul makes it clear that Jesus rose on the day of First Fruits (Sunday) as the “firstfruit”, and starting from that day and counting 50 days would result in Sunday also. The Holy Spirit was not given on this day by chance, God choose this day for a reason. He choose this day because it represented the completion of one Covenant and the beginning of the Final and New Covenant.

Jesus never commanded us to keep the Sabbath:

Our salvation depends on our belief in and following the teachings of Jesus. The Bible tells us that there is no other way. Since we know that there is no other way, why didn’t Jesus tell us to keep the Sabbath? Jesus goes over almost every commandment; if keeping the Sabbath were a requirement for salvation surely He would not have forgotten this one.

Matthew 19:16-21:

16 Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” 17 He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; 19 honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” 20 The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

In these verses Jesus was asked what was required to obtain eternal life. Jesus gives all of the required commandments, none of which include keeping the Sabbath. The man replies saying he has kept all of them. However, in order to be “perfect” Jesus says, he must sell all of his possessions and give to the poor then “follow [him].” You may notice that Jesus does not give the first three commandments either, however loving God with all your heart, having no other God’s before Jesus’ father, etc would be common sense as Jesus made it clear constantly that he comes from the one true God.

What does Paul tell us about the Sabbath:

Romans 13:9
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, [namely] “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here, we see Paul going over the commandments also Notice he says, “and whatever other commandment there may be.” There is no indication of observing the Sabbath. Each commandment Paul gives are moral Law. Just as each commandment Jesus gave was moral Law. Observing the Sabbath doesn’t fall into the category of “love your neighbor as yourself,” or any other of the moral Laws for that matter. However, persecuting others and manipulating Bible verses in order to persuade others to keep the Sabbath is breaking the commandments. If we are constantly judging others for their beliefs, rewording Bible verses to suit our needs, and denying the Church with the observances that God established, how are we loving others in doing this? Does it really matter to God what day we worship on as long as we are worshiping him and loving others?

Paul says to not judge others in what days they choose to keep:

Romans 14:4-6:

4 Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 [For] one person considers one day more important than another, while another person considers all days alike. Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 Whoever observes the day, observes it for the Lord. Also whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while whoever abstains, abstains for the Lord and gives thanks to God.

In these verses, Paul is telling the believers not to judge one another, but to let each man observe the way he feels necessary. He says that one may consider one day more important and another all days equally important; either way, as long as the days are being given to the Lord, this is what is matters. It is the state of the heart that God cares about. It is how we love each other, care for others and how much we love him. The Sabbath was given to the Israelites as a sign between them and God of their covenant. Due to their hardness of heart, the Israelites needed instruction to keep God in their hearts and on their minds. The Law was given to them as a trainer in the true worship that God desired. Through Jesus we know the worship that God desires and we no longer need a trainer.

Only a shadow but the reality belongs to Christ:

Colossians 2:16-17:

16 Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or Sabbath. 17 These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.
Here Paul plainly states that we are not to be judged for not keeping the festivals, new moon observances, and the Sabbaths of the Jews. Paul lists them in order by yearly, monthly and weekly observances, allowing us to know for certain that he was speaking of Jewish customs. Keeping in mind that Paul says these things are mere shadows while the reality belongs to Christ, let’s look at Hebrews 4:

Hebrews 4:4-11:

4 For he has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this manner, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works”; 5 and again, in the previously mentioned place, “They shall not enter into my rest.” 6 Therefore, since it remains that some will enter into it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience,7 he once more set a day, “today,” when long afterwards he spoke through David, as already quoted:
“Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
‘Harden not your hearts.'”
8 Now if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterwards of another day. 9 Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. 10 And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. 11 Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.

For some these verses can throw us off if we don’t carefully contemplate what Paul means. On the surface it may seem that Paul is telling us that the weekly Sabbath remains. We use to interpret these verses in this way ourselves. However, there is a deeper spiritual meaning to Hebrews 4 that can be found when comparing what Paul is saying here with the verses he references from the Old Testament. Paul starts by telling us of the seventh day rest of God in the beginning, but then he moves on to the fact that the Israelites were not allowed to enter into what he is calling God’s rest or when quoting Psalm it says “My rest”, because of their disobedience. Paul further says that Joshua was not able to give them rest. This should tell people right away that Paul is not speaking of weekly Sabbath. As Jesus says the weekly Sabbath was made for man. God was clearly speaking of His rest as opposed to the carnal Sabbath commandment. Further, the Sabbath had already been given to the Israelites during Joshua’s time, so it is not possible that Joshua could not have given them rest, for they were already observing the weekly rest day. If we go back to the Old Testament we see that God had promised the Israelites rest once they entered Canaan. This was a promise of a different rest, one that was more similar to God’s own rest. However, due to their rebellion against God, the first generation died in the wilderness and did not get to enter that rest. See Deut 3:20; 12:9-10; Josh 1:13-1;Josh 21:43-45.

The land of Canaan was a type or shadow of Heaven. We can see that Hebrews 4 is not referring to the carnal Sabbath day, but instead Paul is telling us the rest that remains is the rest of Heaven. As Paul says, “let us strive to enter into that rest.” There is no striving necessary to enter into a weekly sabbath; all you have to do is wait for that day to come. There may be some preparation involved however it is minor. We need to strive and make every effort to enter into Heaven-the rest that remains-or else we may fall short and not enter that rest just as the first generation of Israelites were not allowed to enter into the promised rest in Canaan.

Sunday worship comes from Paganism:

So finally what about all the claims that Sunday worship comes from pagan Sun worshipers? This is not even true. Pagans worshiped on every day as the week as well. They practically had a holy day every day of the calendar year as well. But for those who believe that Sunday worship is pagan, the same can equally be said of Saturday or any other day of the week. Saturday worship is related to the planet Saturn. Saturn was called the “star of Tammuz” in Babylonia. The word Saturday means “Saturns Day”. The Hebrew word Sabbath is even closely related to the Hebrew word Shabati for Saturn. God told the Israelites to keep the seventh day as a day of physical rest, however nowhere in the Bible are we told that this day was on Saturday.  In Babylon worship of the planet Saturn was common. Moloch, Chiun and Remphan (Rephan, Raephan, Raiphan) were all names for Saturn, as well as Baal. It is highly likely that while in Babylon, Saturday became the Sabbath day for the Jews once they adopted the Babylonian Calendar. We are told in the Bible that the Jews worshiped Saturn:

Amos 5:25-26:

25 Have ye offered to me victims and sacrifices, O house of Israel, forty years in the wilderness?26 Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Raephan, the images of them which ye made for yourselves. (LXXE)

Acts 7:43:

No, you took up the tent of Moloch and the star of (your) god Rephan, the images that you made to worship. So I shall take you into exile beyond Babylon. (NABre)

While it is true that Jesus was resurrected after the Sabbaths, this does not prove that the weekly Sabbath was on Saturday. There were at least 24 sects of Hebrewism/Judaism during Josephus’ time. There was also at least three different calendars during Jesus’ times. The Sabbath would have been on Friday or Saturday during the crucifixion week either way. However, it would not have been on every Saturday on God’s true calendar.

Finally we come to the myth that Constantine established Sunday worship for Sol Invictus:

“In 321 A.D. Constantine made the Christian sabbath, Sunday, the rest day for the Roman Empire, but it was observed by Christians for nearly 300 years before it became law by Constantine.”–Encyclopedia Britannica

It is an inescapable historical fact that the early followers of Jesus kept Sunday in his honor. God chose this day for many special events in the Bible. Further, the NT does not give us any reason to keep the Saturday Sabbath. In fact the Old Testament never once states that the Sabbath was on a Saturday. But we do know that Sunday was the Lord’s day. And even if Saturday was the Sabbath weekly rather than a Sabbath every seven days, the New Testament makes it clear that it is no longer an obligation for the Body of Christ. While some early Christians kept both days, none are recorded to have solely kept the Sabbath. The Sabbath pointed to heaven, which Jesus made a reality for us on the first day of the week. We should not look back to the shadow rather than forward in hopes of obtaining the reality. Our focus is serve God everyday, not just one day a week. We keep Sunday in memory and honor of Jesus and of God’s work in the resurrection.

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