Q. Why do we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday? Is it true that Sunday worship originated in Roman Catholicism?
A. It may be true that some people trace the origin of Sunday worship to Constantine in AD 321. He was the first Roman emperor who was “Christian” in name. He made “Christianity” a state religion and changed the movement from a persecuted, numerically insignificant minority to a wealthy, popular cause. He built St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and showered the church with favors, also making it into something that could advance him. And he appointed Sunday as the official “day of rest.”
But Bible-believing Christians accept that the change from the Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday as the Lord’s Day did not come by Constantine or through an edict from a group like the Council of Laodicea, which others attribute to the change. Rather, it began with the resurrection of Christ, which occurred on the first day of the week (John 20:1). Also on that first day of the week, Jesus appeared to His disciples. Then Jesus appeared to them again on the first day of the next week (John 20:26).
The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost occurred, as well, on the first day (Acts 2:1). This is known because, according to Old Testament law, Pentecost came on the first day of the week (Leviticus 23:15, 16). On this same day the first message in the New Testament church was given (Acts 2:14), the first converts were added to the church, and the first believer’s baptisms took place (Acts 2:37Р41).
Later Paul preached to believers (Acts 20:7) and believers partook of the Lord’s Table—both on the first day of the week. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructed the believers in Corinth to bring their offerings to the Lord on the first day of the week, obviously because they were assembling together on that very day.
So the Scriptures set forth a definite pattern of observing Sunday as the day of collectively gathering together as believers. In addition, the writings of early church fathers affirmed that believers were meeting on Sundays as the Lord’s Day—Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Didache, Ignatius, Dionysius, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian. For example, Justin Martyr, one of the earliest church’s best defenders and foe of Gnosticism, said, “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 Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.” Barnabas said, “Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.” Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “Fall not away either into the sect of the Samaritans or into Judaism, for Jesus Christ has henceforth ransomed you. Stand aloof from all observance of Sabbaths and from calling any indifferent meats common or unclean.” Origin said, “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.” A person can read the statements of these and other early church figures in the church histories of Philip Schaff and other historians.
One by-product of believers’ observation of Sunday instead of Saturday is its separating, or distinguishing, of Christianity from Judaism; that is, they left the unbelieving synagogue for the believing church. The Jews, of course, kept the Sabbath in keeping with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8). Yet following Christ’s death and resurrection, Jesus and the disciples never taught that it is necessary to keep Saturday.
Bible-believing Christians recognize the importance of the principle in having a day of rest, which is what “sabbath” means. Believers should recognize a day of rest on the first day of the week. D. L. Moody said, “The Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since. This fourth commandment begins with the word ‘remember,’ showing that the Sabbath already existed when God wrote the law on the tables of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?” In the Bible the number “seven” is the number of completion, or rest. God rested on the seventh day, following His six days of creation (Genesis 2:1–3). The number “eight” is a symbol of new beginnings. The first day of the week (eighth day) commemorates finished redemption and a new period of blessings on this side of Christ’s finished work on the cross.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send your Bible questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.