Sabbath Worship / Sunday Worship

Aren't we supposed to keep a Sabbath Day? A Jewish Sabbath? A Christian Sabbath?
Saturday vs. Sunday. Why do most churches meet for worship on Sunday?
Didn't the Roman Emperor or the Roman Catholic Church change the day of worship
from Saturday into Sunday?

Two primary questions are in view throughout this article, "Why Sunday?" and "Is Sunday a Christian Sabbath?" These subjects with be dealt with following a brief examination of the Jewish Sabbath, a necessary starting reference point. As always, it's important to look for a truly biblical understanding of an issue rather than allowing feelings and opinions to rule. Certainly we can and must take ancient tradition into account, not as authoritative, but rather to help illustrate how the early church understood these biblical issues and what their common practice was at the beginning of the church. The same Holy Spirit who teaches believers today taught the early church. Our technological innovations, and amassed knowledge, do not, in and of themselves, make us spiritually superior to believers of almost two millennia ago.

The Jewish Sabbath

In Jesus' day the Jewish people were unique in all the world that they carefully followed a seven day cycle, or week, with day seven a very specifically delineated day of rest. The importance of this comes from the fact that the early church was Jewish. The Jewish Sabbath was tied to an entire system of Sabbaths, that not only included one day in seven but certain festival weeks, special days in those festival weeks, and even sabbatical years (i.e. Leviticus 25:4).End Note 1 To be a Sabbath keeper, as defined by the Law, meant keeping the entirety of these Sabbaths and not merely a weekly one. In fact, God, in judgment, pointed out that the Israelites, regardless of maintaining a weekly Sabbath, had failed to keep their Sabbath years (i.e. 2 Chronicles 36:21).

God utilized an historical reference in establishing the weekly portion of the Sabbath system within the Law.

Exodus 20:8-11 "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) [See also End Note 21]

Some have made this reference to creation as a Biblical claim that Sabbaths were instituted in the beginning and practiced (or to be practiced), by all, even before the giving of the Mosaic Law. This is an untenable position. God, in stating the historical fact that He completed creation and ceased from His work on day seven, initially does not anywhere make a prescriptive command that people were to follow suit.

Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (NIV)

God's blessing of the Sabbath day and making it holy does single it out for remembrance but, again, God does not at that early time institute any specific means for doing so.End Note 7 At most, it does appear that it became the basis for maintaining a seven day week cycle, certainly a mean of commemorating creation and its completion for generations to come.End Note 2 Passages such as Exodus 16:5 and 16:22, prior to the giving of the Law, do not show that a Sabbath was already being observed, merely that a seven day week had been preserved. It was on this basis that God established the mandatory weekly Sabbath for the Jews.

Exodus 16:29-30 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out." 30 So the people rested on the seventh day. (NIV)

With the giving of the Law, for Israel, God gave the seventh day a new name, the Sabbath, plus not only specifics for how they were to be observed, but also defined reason for why His people were to observe them.

Ezekiel 20:11-12 I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. 12 Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy. (NIV)

The Sabbath ordinances were a sign between God and Israel, that they were His people - their obedience in following this highly visible aspect of the Law set them apart from the nations around in a manner that could be observed by all (unlike the other major sign, namely circumcision).

Exodus 31:14-18 "'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. 15 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'" 18 When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God. (NIV)

Exodus 35:1-3 Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, "These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death. 3 Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day." (NIV)

On Mount Sinai, God instituted specific punishment for violation of the Sabbath. This was a covenant between Israel and God and not the entire world and God. Punishment by death for violation of this statute may sound severe but, as already stated, it was considered a primary aspect of God's Law showing Israel to be His set-apart people.End Note 20 The temperate climate of the Promised Land (and even the Sinai during the Exodus) would have allowed for God's admonition to not "light a fire" in your dwellings for a day long period. This, along with specific injunctions that the commanded Sabbaths were for Israel, show that God's focus here was very much on the nation of Israel and any who would join with her.End Note 24 This was a people whose worship required a close geographic proximity due to aspects requiring first of all the tabernacle and subsequently the temple in Jerusalem.

It would not be incorrect or farfetched to argue that the entire mandate of the Sabbath, as defined by the Law, was a tabernacle/temple ordinance. All protestations to the contrary come immediately from those who claim a continued mandate for a Sabbath in the Christian era or a Christian Sabbath.

Why make mention of the Sabbath at this point, within the section of Exodus that deals with the tabernacle? Had the Sabbath not already been dealt with satisfactorily in Ex 16:23-19 and especially in the Ten Words/Commandments, that is, Ex 20:8-11? The answer is that the tabernacle was for worship; worship occurred weekly, on the Sabbath; and if the Sabbath were not properly observed, worship would not properly take place; so therefore the tabernacle would not be properly used. (Excerpt from section on Exodus 31:12-17, The New American Commentary, Copyright © 1991-2007 by B & H Publishing Group)

If the Sabbath of the Mosaic Law was a temple ordinance, as with all other temple ordinances, it was abrogated in the fulfilled work of Jesus Christ and ceased to exist with the passing of the last temple (see The Law Fullfilled in Christ). Any establishment or reestablishment of a Sabbath in the New Testament would then have to rest in a new command.End Note 8

Jews understood the Sabbath to be a temple ordinance, something that can be shown by what happened with the destruction of the temple. As with the many of the Sabbaths associated with specific feasts, the weekly Sabbath is described as both a day of rest and a day of sacred assembly.

Leviticus 23:3 "'There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. (NIV)

Assembling together for worship was possible during the Exodus, the entire nation could gather round the tabernacle, God's defined place of worship. In the Promised Land, after a time, God specifically set apart Jerusalem as being the place of worship where His temple was to be built.End Note 3

Deuteronomy 12:4-7 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 16:2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 26:2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name (NIV)

2 Chronicles 6:6 But now I have chosen Jerusalem for my Name to be there, and I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.' (NIV, consider also Ps 48:1-2; 78:68-69; 132:13)

Prior to Jerusalem being specifically identified by God, the fact that Israel had spread out over the land (on both sides of the Jordan) had already limited their ability to have sacred assemblies. Functionally they were reduced to the Sabbaths of a few mandatory festivals each year. This left the weekly Sabbath mostly to be a day of rest.

During the exile, with the destruction of the first temple, Jews had a problem: Where do you go to worship? What resulted was a separation of teaching and prayer from elements that would distinctly make a gathering to be worship, namely any service of praise and, of course, sacrifices.End Note 4 With the removal of these integral elements of worship, the remainder, namely prayer and teaching, needed a new place for gathering.End Note 5 This became the synagogue, truly an invention of the people (i.e. their leaders) as it was never mentioned throughout the Old Testament. It follows that this practice returned to Israel with the people following the exile and, even though the temple worship was restored, remained a part of Jewish practice throughout the nation. There were even synagogues in Jerusalem! It appears that a primary function of the synagogue remained that it was where the people would hear God's word read.End Note 6

Against this backdrop of the Jewish Sabbath, Temple worship, and the Synagogue service, the early church did something far different...

Why Sunday?

The most momentous event in the history of mankind took place early on the first day of the week, what we now call Sunday. While some would say that it was the day of Jesus' death that should be occasioned as that most singular event, this was not the view of the early church. While it was true that Jesus' death paid the just penalty for sin, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, He would have been merely another dead Jewish prophet or teacher. His resurrection proved that He was who He said He was - the Son of God! Jesus' triumph over death proved that He had defeated sin and death and that it had no hold on Him - not to mention that bore witness to Jesus' claim that He could give eternal life.

Matthew 28:1 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)

Mark 16:2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb (NIV)

Luke 24:1 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, also see Luke 24:29, 33, 36)

John 20:1 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)

The apostolic church saw fit to more publicly commemorate Jesus' resurrection than His death. In fact, the church did remember his death, but it was kept "in the family". The church remembered Jesus' death and what He done through it, by the means established by Christ immediately prior to His betrayal. Believers alone celebrated the Lord's Supper. Only those within the fellowship were witness to this; those outside were left primarily knowing that "those believers gather each first day of the week to commemorate a teacher that rose from the dead." It's the fact of Jesus' resurrection that is cause of more inquiry by the lost than ever will be over a death.

The first corporate meeting of the church, following Jesus resurrection, was on Sunday evening. By then they had gathered to talk about the incredible events of earlier that day, namely Jesus' resurrection. It was into this discussion that Jesus made a dramatic entry.

John 20:19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." (NASU)

One week later, the disciples had all gathered there again. Perhaps some or all of them had gathered otherwise during the week, but it was only at this Sunday meeting that Jesus again honored them with His presence.

John 20:26-27 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" (NIV)

Combine the first day of the week with being the day of Jesus' resurrection and with being the day on which He twice met with a gathering of the church and this was the two-fold basis for Sunday becoming the standard day of meeting for the church. It was both a day of commemoration and a day blessed by the appearance of the Lord. Sunday should still be the same, a day when we remember all He did and a day when He is with the church corporately.

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (NIV)

Some, who oppose Sunday worship, claim that Scriptures makes no positive command that the church must gather on Sunday. It is true that there is no direct command for such, but this was not the reason why the church began and perpetuated this practice. It became a uniform way of having a common day of gathering rooted in the example of Scriptures. It is not necessary to have a command when clear example is shown.

1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (NIV)

Philippians 3:17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (NIV)

2 Thessalonians 3:7a For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. (NIV)

Sunday did not initially replace the Sabbath for Jews believers; it was in addition to it. In Paul's case, and most assuredly for other believers, this was an opportunity.

Acts 17:2-4 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. (NIV)

Paul used the synagogue service for what it was intended to be, a place to read and teach Scriptures. This provided a primary venue for evangelism among the Jewish people and many Jewish converts or adherents from the Gentile population, all who had a foundation of Bible teaching from the Old Testament.

Usage of the first day of the week, as being the primary Christian day of gathering and worship, is exhibited in a few additional passages of Scriptures. The first passage, in Acts, implies that the gathering began in the evening, perhaps directly following the pattern of the disciples immediately after the resurrection.

Acts 20:7-11 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. 9 And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him." 11 When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. (NASU)

Acts of worship on a typical Sunday were to include setting aside freewill offerings, especially to help believers struggling in other places. Giving gifts such as these are considered "an acceptable sacrifice" (see Philippians 4:18), i.e. an act of worship, something befitting a day focused on the worship of Christ.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. (NASU)

Sometime before the last book of the Bible was composed, by the apostle John on the isle of Patmos, the first day of the week had been given a name befitting to believer's usage of the day; "the Lord's Day". It is reasonable to assume that the close tie between gathering together corporately and celebrating the Lord's Supper (i.e. 1 Corinthians 11:20, which appears to have been an "every time" occurrence in those early days) is the foundation for the day subsequently being called the "Lord's Day". The parallel between the two expressions is likely far more than a coincidence, making "the Lord's Day" a shorter form of saying "the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord's Supper". This short title is still a useful and appropriate designation even though the proper (or formal) name for the day has long since been changed to Sunday. It became and remains a way of specifically designating Sunday to be different than Saturday, a day that also has a special title, "the Sabbath."

Revelation 1:10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, (NIV)

While not authoritative, as are Scriptures, other writings of the early church show that the Lord's Day had become common and continued practice by the beginning of the second century A.D.End Note 11

1. But every Lord's Day do you gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. 2. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. 3. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations. (Didache, Chapter 14 "Christian Assembly on the Lord's Day.", circa 100 A.D.)

A Roman ruler, called Pliny the Younger, wrote to the Emperor (circa 112 A.D.) over his frustration with a growing number of Christians. Tertullian, a Christian writing about a century later, also makes mention of this:

For the younger Pliny, when he was ruler of a province, having condemned some Christians to death, and driven some from their steadfastness, being still annoyed by their great numbers, at last sought the advice of Trajan, the reigning emperor, as to what he was to do with the rest, explaining to his master that, except an obstinate disinclination to offer sacrifices, he found in the religious services nothing but meetings at early morning for singing hymns to Christ and God, and sealing home their way of life by a united pledge to be faithful to their religion, forbidding murder, adultery, dishonesty, and other crimes. Upon this Trajan wrote back that Christians were by no means to be sought after; but if they were brought before him, they should be punished. (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 2)

A closer examination of the Pliny's letter to Trajan (see below) shows that the "early morning" meetings were actually two-fold or two-part. In his day, there was a morning and an evening gathering of the church; the "fixed day" that is casually referenced was, of course, Sunday. It was not referred to specifically because the Romans did not, at that time, follow a seven day weekly cycle and, as such, didn't have a point of reference for how the day was "fixed".End Note 13

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food - but ordinary and innocent food. (Pliny the Younger's Letter to Trajan, circa 112 A.D)

If the meeting day being referenced by Pliny had been the Jewish Sabbath it is much more likely that he would have referred to it as such. The fixed day for the Jews was well known End Note 25, with synagogues being found in most major Roman cities including Rome.End Note 9 It is probable that Pliny was not yet aware that the Christian day of celebration was always the day following the Jewish Sabbath.

The need for Christians to meet twice on Sunday's in the early church was a practical one. Whether in the Jewish world or the Roman one, believers had to work on Sundays. The only time for common gathering was before and after the work day. How better than to begin the day with what we would call worship (including teaching and singing) and ending it with a common fellowship around a meal (which in all probability also included the Lord's Supper).End Note 10 Persecution appears to be the reason that some congregations within a century or so of the early church reduced Sunday to a single morning gathering.End Note 23

Contrary to those who claim Sunday worship to be a Roman Catholic invention and contrary to the practice of the early church, the reverse is true. The early church universally utilized Sunday as a day of worship and the Roman Catholic church merely followed suit - leaving this one practice unchanged and unadulterated (though the same cannot be said for their practices upon that day). Churches of the east, not directly associated with Rome continued Sunday worship from the very beginning.

While we have typically referred to Sunday as the first day of the week, following the wording of Scriptures, the early church also called it the eighth day of the week, specifically making note that it followed the seventh day (i.e. the Jewish Sabbath). Either terminology was quite legitimate in the Roman world where a seven day cycle was not the norm. The early church spoke often of their day of meeting. For the record I've provided a few more citations from the first centuries of the church:

"Wherefore we also keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose again from the dead." Letter of Barnabas, circa 80-120 A.D.

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death-whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith... (Ignatius of Antioch, circa 85-100 A.D., Epistle to the Magnesians, Chapter 9)

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits... 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. (Justin Martyr, circa 140 A.D., First Apology, Chapter 67 "Weekly Worship of the Christians". Writing circa 160 A.D., in his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin also refers to the "first day after the Sabbath" and the day "Christ appeared from the dead" as being "the eighth day".)

He, in fulfillment of the precept, according to the Gospel, keeps the Lord's Day, when he abandons an evil disposition, and assumes that of the Gnostic, glorifying the Lord's resurrection in himself. (Clement of Alexandria, circa 194 A.D., Book 7, Chapter 12)

In the same way, if we devote Sun-day to rejoicing, from a far different reason than Sun-worship, we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury, though they too go far away from Jewish ways, of which indeed they are ignorant. (Tertullian of Africa, circa 200 A.D., Apology, Chapter 16)

Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself! Not the Lord's day, not Pentecost, even it they had known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear lest they should seem to be Christians. We are not apprehensive lest we seem to be heathens! If any indulgence is to be granted to the flesh, you have it. I will not say your own days, but more too; for to the heathens each festive day occurs but once annually: you have a festive day every eighth day. (Tertullian of Africa, circa 200 A.D., On Idolatry, Chapter 14)

Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity. (Tertullian of Africa, circa 200 A.D., Ad Nationes, Book I, Chapter 13)

Before the eighth day of Jesus Christ, the Lord, came, the whole world was impure and uncircumcised. When the eighth day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ came, immediately we were cleansed, buried, and raised by the circumcision of Christ. (Origen, circa 250 A.D., Palestinian Catena, on Psalms 118) End Note 12

For in respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage; but when Christ came, it was fulfilled in truth. For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord's day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us. (Cyprian of Carthage, circa 250 A.D., Letter 58 "to Fidus", Chapter 4) End Note 12

And on the day of our Lord's resurrection, which is the Lord's day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent Him to us, and condescended to let Him suffer, and raised Him from the dead. Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day to hear the saving word concerning the resurrection, on which we pray thrice standing in memory of Him who arose in three days, in which is performed the reading of the prophets, the preaching of the Gospel, the oblation of the sacrifice, the gift of the holy food? (The Apostolic Constitution, Book II, Section 7, Part 59; complied circa 380 A.D. drawing from a work written in Syria circa 250 A.D.) End Note 14

... on the Lord's day, on which the resurrection of the Lord from death took place, and on which rose also for us the cause of everlasting joy. (Anatolius of Laodicea in Asia Minor, circa 270 A.D., The Paschal Canon of Anatolius 10)

The Sabbath and the rest of the discipline of the Jews they [the Ebionites] observed just like them, but at the same time, like us, they celebrated the Lord's days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour. (Eusebius of Caesarea, circa 300 A.D., Church History, Book III, Chapter 27, Section 5) End Note 17

But the Lord's day we celebrate as a day of joy, because on it He rose again ... (Peter of Alexandria, circa 305 A.D., The Canonical Epistle 15)

... His resurrection on the third day, which we call the Lord's day, the day after the Sabbath, and therefore the eighth, proved the circumcision of the eighth day to be also prophetical of Him. (Augustine of Hippo, circa 400-420 A.D., Against Faustus, Book 16, Chapter 29) End Note 12

All these quotes show that Sunday worship was universally the practice of the early church. Perhaps the greatest change over those first centuries was an increasing legalism that began to prescribe details about how, when and where people were to worship on that day. This easily transitioned into the much later development of claiming Sunday to be a Christian Sabbath. The following section in this article will examine this concept in further detail. Prior to that, two further questions remain...

Is Sunday a mandatory day of worship for the Christian church? The testimony of Scriptures is a resounding "No!" Believers are no longer under the Law, with its minutiae of mandatory regulations and celebrations. Paul was clear to warn Christians to not be re-enslaved, having been set free. We now do what we do out of love for God and love for others (Matthew 22:37-39).

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)

Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (NIV)

Romans 14:5-8 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (NIV)

In the next section, we will also see that the Jewish apostles had clear opportunity to re-impose the Sabbath, or define a new Sabbath, for the Gentile church but clearly and intentionally did not. End Note 16

Does this mean that a believer should not get together with other believers? The resounding command of Scriptures is that believers need to meet with other believers.

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV)

While it is not mandatory that this meeting take place on Sundays, it is certainly the longstanding practice of the church. Since a majority of churches make use of this day, it makes it easier for a believer, traveling anywhere in the world, to know when to meet together with other believers. The elders of any local church have the right to set a common meeting time for their gathering, as they see fit and as will best benefit the believers within their care.End Note 15 Again, for most, this will mean sometime on a Sunday, but not always. For example, some Messianic Jewish believers choose to worship on Saturdays. Certainly this would work better in a country such as Israel where the Sabbath is still a mandated day of rest versus Sunday. If choosing Sunday instead, the church in Israel would have to choose to meet, as did the early church, before work in the morning or after work in the evening.

Myth Busting: Contrary to many Saturday Sabbatarians, the emperor Constantine (circa 337 A.D.) did not force believers to switch from Saturday to Sunday worship. Some even falsely push this claim later to the Roman Catholic Church. The fact remains, there is far too much evidence, as already examined, that the church had adopted Sunday worship from the very beginning. So what did Constantine do? He primarily used governmental authority to make it easier for Christians to gather on the first day of the week. The result was a mandatory day of rest which has been carried into many lands touched by Christianity since.

Considering that the church was struggling into existence, and that a large number of Christians were slaves of heathen masters, we cannot expect an unbroken regularity of worship and a universal cessation of labor on Sunday until the civil government in the time of Constintine came to the help of the church and legalized (and in part even enforced) the observance of the Lord's Day. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church 1995, page 202)

Is Sunday a Sabbath? Must we still have a Sabbath?

Jesus followed the Sabbath, therefore we should too. Statements such as these can be found throughout many churches spanning many years. Unfortunately this is an example of the irrational basis by which select practices have been promoted and defended, including tithing. Jesus was a Jew, living under the Law, who fulfilled every aspect of it in spirit and in truth.

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (NIV )

Jesus offered sacrifices at the temple, yet few would claim that we too need to follow this example. Why? Jesus' fulfilled work abrogated the Law, setting us free to follow a higher law, the Law of Love. All regulation of the Mosaic Law, specifically for those under that old covenant with Israel, no longer applies to the church. The wearing of robes, temple sacrifices and offerings (including tithing), and even Israel's covenant-sign of the Sabbath all no longer apply to the church in the new covenant.

Mark 2:27-28 Then he [Jesus] said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (NIV, also Luke 6:5, parenthesis mine for clarification)

Jesus declared that He had authority over the Sabbath. He had the right to set aside any regulation of the Sabbath for those who were with Him, even as they were set aside for David (see the verses immediately prior to the above passage). This can hardly be taken as a claim that Jesus is making the Sabbath a universal practice. Jesus wasn't trying to turn the Sabbath into a controversy, rather through many events on the Sabbath He was pointing out that the Pharisees had taken it too far and didn't understand what God wanted it to be. If Jesus, by His statement in Mark 2, was attempting to claim the Sabbath as a universal practice for all mankind, this would have been an unnecessary controversial statement as Judaism never held the Sabbath to be a universal ordinance binding on all nations. They believed what the Law and Prophets said, that it was special sign for Israel alone (i.e. Ezekiel 20:12, 20 and Exodus 31:13-17). Jesus upheld the Law and the Prophets! He, during His earthly ministry, was concerned about Jewish conduct on the Sabbath, the conduct of those who were then required to keep it.

Wherein nine of the Ten Commandments are specifically restated within the New Testament, for the church, Jesus and the apostles nowhere restate the command regarding the Sabbath in any fashion that would be binding upon the Gentile world or believers. Jesus' words that "the Sabbath was made for man" at most made clear assertion that man needs rest. Here Jesus was stating that mankind needs a day of rest, as such a "sabbath", but not a legally defined one. This universal truth makes it reasonable and recommended that we have a day of rest, but no specific day is then mandated or established. Likewise there is no mandate here making it compulsory for governments to make Saturday or Sunday a legally mandated day off. Much of the world does not have the luxury of a mandated day of rest and in some countries that do, it does not fall on a Sunday.

A passage in Matthew is used by some to claim that the church must follow and be concerned about the regulations of the Jewish Sabbath (or, in the least, a Christian Sabbath with similar regulations).

Matthew 24:15-25 "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand- 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. (NIV)

Without getting into a discussion of eschatology or preterist views, it can be clearly seen that this event spoken of in Matthew was to have a future fulfillment, sometime after when it was spoken by Jesus. As it had not taken place by the time of Jesus' resurrection and ascension, it obviously was a message for the church. It's is here that some say that because it speaks of the Sabbath it meant that the Sabbath had to still be in view for believers of the future.

In response, consider more closely what Matthew did and did not say. Matthew was writing to primarily a Jewish audience, something that can be seen throughout his gospel in the way he words particular matters. In fact, it is not improbable that the book of Matthew was first written in Hebrew as was testified to by some of the early church Fathers.End Note 18

Matthew, in writing to an audience that was primarily Jewish, knew that those needing to flee would be among people still trying to keep Sabbath travel restrictions. This cannot be taken to mean that Jesus was saying that travel on the Sabbath, especially to escape (i.e. save a life), would be wrong. This would even go against Jesus' message and actions on the Sabbath during His earthly life. At most, if you're trying to flee when a majority around you are holding to legalistic restrictions on travel, it will be a hindrance, as would be being pregnant or nursing or traveling in the winter. Those Jewish Sabbath regulations included shutting the gates and closing all shops from which you would need to get supplies. Even today in parts of Israel it is impossible or difficult to travel on the Sabbath.

Mark, writing primarily to a Gentile audience, also records the same warning with a slightly different set of examples.

Mark 13:14-20 "When you see 'the abomination that causes desolation' standing where it does not belong - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now - and never to be equaled again. 20 If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. (NIV)

Notice that Mark drops the reference to the Sabbath, something that would not be an inconvenience or problem to those in mostly Gentile areas. Winter, pregnancy and nursing are all left in as being possible hindrances. The Sabbath reference would have been irrelevant for his target audience.

If there was any intent by God to reinstitute the Sabbath for believers, whether on the same day as the Jews or even on the first day of the week, the council in Jerusalem (circa 48 A.D.) had that opportunity. The entire dispute, being considered at that council, was over those trying to impose Jewish customs and the Law of Moses onto the Gentile church.

Acts 15:1-29 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." 6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." 12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 "'After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things' 18 that have been known for ages. 19 "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath." 22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. 23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul- 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. (NIV)

The early church was clearly NOT commanded to observe a Sabbath, neither the Jewish Sabbath nor some reconstituted Christian version for Sunday.

It was enslaving regulation and legalism which was slowly added to Sunday worship that over time removed much of the joy that the early church had in their weekly gatherings. Formal toleration of Christianity by the Roman Empire gave way to mandated Christianity and enforced practices. The Roman Catholic Church (as such the successor of the Roman Empire) actually had people tortured and killed for not observing it in the centuries that followed.

Much of the legalistic requirement that was imposed on the church did not fall away in the Protestant Reformation, including in the Church of England, Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Many legalistic mandates were not only maintained - such as mandatory attendance - but others were added to make Sunday out to be the "Christian Sabbath". Perhaps the greatest difference between the Church of England and the Puritans was the former believed the state could regulate and enforce a Christian Sabbath while the latter believed this was up to the church. The Law was not only a schoolmaster to lead people to Christ, it was held to be a guide to right living afterward - of course meaning the Ten Commandments and this gave need to their having a Christian Sabbath. These beliefs and practices are the heritage brought to the New World by the Pilgrims and Puritans. Puritans obviously got over their aversion to using the state to enforce church regulations, as this became the norm throughout much of New England through their efforts.

[Robert Baird] wrote in 1855 that there was no subject on which American Christians were more happily united than that of the proper observance of the Sabbath [i.e., Sunday]. He found that every state in the Union had made laws in favor of proper observance of the Lord's Day, because the whole economy proceeded on the principle that America was a Christian country and because the courts had pronounced Christianity to be "part and parcel of the laws of the Land." He said that he uttered the language of every American Christian when he said: "Woe to America when it ceases to be a Sabbath respecting land." (George M. Stephenson, The Puritan Heritage 1952, page 181)

All the New England clergymen were rigid in the prolonged observance of Sunday. From sunset on Saturday until Sunday night they would not shave, have rooms swept, nor beds made, have food prepared, nor cooking utensils and table-ware washed. As soon as their Sabbath began they gathered their families and servants around them...and read the Bible and exhorted and prayed and recited the catechism until nine o'clock, usually by the light of one small "dip candle" only.... Sweet to the Pilgrims and to their descendants was the hush of their calm Saturday night, and their still, tranquil Sabbath, - sign and token to them, not only of the weekly rest ordained in the creation, but of the eternal rest to come. (Alice Morse Earle, The Sabbath in Puritan New England 1909, Pages 254 & 257)

Outside of New England, the governor of Virginia in 1610 (Lord De La Warr) enforced strict Sunday Sabbatarianism. Incorrigible offenders could even suffer the death penalty for their transgression, though this was never actually carried out.

All were required to attend divine service, preaching, and catechizing on Sunday, and were forbidden to "violate or break the Sabbath by any gaming, public or private abroad or at home." Transgressors suffered the loss of provisions for a whole week. Second offenders lost their allowance and were whipped. Death was the penalty for third time offenders. (Kenneth L. Parker, The English Sabbath, 1988, page 115)

A foundation for this New World belief and practice is found in Reformed Englishmen such as John Hooper, who has been referred to as the author of English Sabbatarianism. His teaching gives abnormal emphasis to the Ten Commandments, again making a Christian Sabbath necessary. In his "Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments", published in 1548, he taught that God founded the Sabbath from creation, and that by raising Jesus from the dead on the first day of the week had changed the Sabbath to Sunday. Denying charges that this was a manmade alteration and observance, he stated "This Sunday that we observe is not the commandment of men." His writings remained a best seller, going through many printings over four decades. By 1570, his teachings had spread throughout the countryside of England creating widespread emphasis on, and practice of, a so-called Christian Sabbath.

Is said credibly in the country that... it is no greater a sin to steal a horse on Monday then to sell him in fair on the Sunday; that it is as ill to play at games as shooting, bowling on Sunday as to lie with your neighbor's wife on Monday. (David S. Katz, Sabbath and Sectarianism in Seventeenth-Century England, 1988, page 5)

While it would be easy to blame reformed churches for this establishment of a Christian Sabbath, there were some that spoke forcefully against. A Thomas Rogers preached a message on December 10, 1599 where:

He declared that it was "anti-christian and unsound" to teach that Christians are bound to keep the Sabbath day. He associated this with Jewish ceremonies.... Asserting that no day was established by scripture, he claimed that the Lord's Day was enjoined by civil and ecclesiastical constitutions and could be called the Queen's Day instead of the Lord's Day, Sabbath or Sunday.... Anyone who objected to his teaching he branded as "sabbatarians and dominicans," and insinuated that their Sabbatarianism grew out of papistry. (Kenneth L. Parker, The English Sabbath, 1988, pages 96-97)

Notably, many of the Calvanistic preachers who supported enforcing a strict Christian Sabbath ignored or downplayed what Calvin himself wrote. An examination of Calvin's "Institutes of Christian Religion" reveals that he encouraged a solemn respect for the Sunday tradition, taught the Ten Commandments as a guide for Christian living, but otherwise believed that God abolished the Sabbath at Christ's death. Some who opposed this new Sabbatarian emphasis were quick to make use of Calvin's writings in this regard.

Still, it was those of the reformed church that held the greatest influence in spreading Sunday Sabbatarianism. Reformed clergy (puritan) had managed to gain political control, or influence, over the parliament in England who needed their support in the English civil war. In this climate these believers were able to virtually make observance of a Sunday Sabbath a test of one's political correctness. In 1646, this led to the drafting of a document known as the Westminster Confession of Faith. This document, which was opposed by many Anglicans, reluctantly accepted (at least in part) by English politicians, was heartily embraced by the Scottish Parliament and Church of Scotland. It was the rural and fully Presbyterian churches of Scotland who had previously embraced a Christian Sabbath and now had it in a major document with legislative power of enforcement. Undeniably, the Westminster Confession of Faith is a major and valuable statement of Christian belief - for the most part supported by good theology and proof texts. But like all documents of man, it can have flaws. The Westminster had two. As such, the weakly defended sections on Infant Baptism and on a Sunday Sabbath, show that these believers allowed longstanding traditions to be embedded into these sections.End Note 19 In the Westminster confession it teaches...

As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord's day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (John H. Leith, editor, Creeds of the Churches, 1982, page 218)

While having someone legally whipped or put to death for violating Sunday sounds really extreme, as with the example from Virginia provided earlier, in reality the death penalty for such a transgression is completely fitting if one accepts that Sunday is a successor to the Jewish Sabbath (Exodus 35:2). Those who claim that the Christian Sabbath is an extension of the Jewish Sabbath, merely on a new day, must show how their observance upholds the first. If that Mosaic Law is still in effect, and applicable to all, then all of it must be in effect (and this would include the Sabbath sacrifices i.e. Numbers 28:9-10). It would then be proper, indeed necessary, to compel others to not work or do business on the Sabbath.End Note 22 Otherwise it must be specifically shown to have been changed by God or reinstituted within a new higher law for the church. The fact is that either the Law continues with all aspects intact or it is a new law. Nine of the Ten Commandments are examples of parts of the Mosaic Law being reinstituted or continued within the royal law of Christ. Sunday cannot be shown to be part of a new law with any enforceable participation or penalties for non-participation. If it's the old Law, then all of it still applies, all penalties must be enforced, and Saturday is the day it must be held. This opposes the clear teaching of the New Testament and especially that of the Apostle Paul (read Galatians!).

Observance of the Lord's Day is nowhere biblically shown to be a continuation of the Jewish Sabbath. It was a wholly new celebration. And while there is wisdom in utilizing that day as a day of rest, it is nowhere mandated to be the only or necessary day of rest. Jesus made it clear that man needs a day of rest (Mark 2:27-28) but He did not make it a new enforceable law, which is why Paul could instruct people to not judge others in this regards (Colossians 2:16-17). The Mosaic Law, complete with its death penalty for Sabbath breaking, was fulfilled in Jesus. The church lives in this new freedom and no longer fears punishment.

Simply put, the Westminster Confession of faith goes beyond Scriptures in mandating doing nothing other than worship on Sunday. Indeed the early church was filled with grave sinners if this was the Scriptural standard (as they all had to go to work on that day). To further ban recreations, as if this could not be rest, is a mandate that goes against the spirit of Jesus' words that we require rest. Playing a game with my children or taking a bicycle ride with my wife is all certainly recreation and rest from my labors. Regardless of how good the remainder of the Westminster Confession of faith is regarding upholding biblical doctrine, the church must call aspects, such as this regarding a so-called Christian Sabbath, what it really is: legalism. To such legalism Paul's words are an apt prescription:

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)

End Notes

1. One commentary, additionally drawing on the writings of another author, provides a quick summary of the Sabbath cycles within the Law.

Archer has well summarized the significance of the number seven, which is derived from the ordained weekly cycle:

The religious year is dominated by the sacred number seven (symbolizing the perfect work of God). Hence (a) every seventh day is a holy sabbath; (b) every seventh year is a Sabbath year of rest for the crop-bearing land; (c) after seven sevens of years the fiftieth year is to be hallowed as a jubilee, in which all mortgaged lands are to be returned to the original family; (d) Passover is held at the end of the second heptad of Abib, on the evening of the fourteenth; (e) the Feast of Unleavened Bread is celebrated for the next seven days; (f) the Feast of Pentecost is celebrated after seven sevens of days following the offering of the wave-sheaf (hence on the "fiftieth" day); (g) the seventh month, Tishri, is especially sanctified by three holy observances: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles; (h) the Feast of Tabernacles is celebrated seven days (fifteenth to twenty-second of Tishri), plus an eighth day for the final convocation.

In addition, there are seven feasts prescribed in Lev 23. During these festivals there are seven days of rest. Moreover, the preeminence of the Sabbath may be observed by the fact that elsewhere in the chapter the Hebrew word "feast," refers only to annual events occurring at the same time each year, whereas the Sabbath is the only weekly observance. Finally, the significance of the Sabbath is evident in that most of the festivals observe days where no work is to be done, thus imitating Sabbath observance. (Excerpt from section on Leviticus 23:2, The New American Commentary)

Passages which tie the weekly Sabbath together with other Sabbatical cycles and festivals, as well as the tabernacle/temple offering system, include:

Leviticus 23:1-8 The Lord said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. 3 "'There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. 4 "'These are the Lord's appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: 5 The Lord's Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6 On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord's Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. 7 On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. 8 For seven days present an offering made to the Lord by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.'" (NIV)

Numbers 28:9-10 "'On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. 10 This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. (NIV)

2. Scholars have spent considerable effort trying to figure out how a seven day weekly cycle came about. Many creative and speculative answers try and give a reason for such a system to "evolve", but the fact remains that there is no visible 7-day cycle in nature from which it could have been observed and drawn on. What archaeology confirms is that a seven-day cycle was in use from the beginning of the Akkadian Empire (24th - 22nd centuries B.C.) in the region of Mesopotamia. Since records are fragmentary before this and no conclusive evidence has yet been found as to the duration of a week in prior times, some have speculated that king Sargon (the first king of the empire) invented and imposed the seven day cycle. This is highly improbable. It is much more reasonable to believe that people in this region had continued to observe the seven day cycle taught by God and passed on to them via their ancestors Noah and his family.

The long standing customary use of a seven day week was carried by Abraham from Mesopotamia into the Promised Land. Its usage may have waned during the captivity of Egypt, since Egypt did not utilize a similar system. The giving of the Law and God's provision of weekly manna, skipping each seventh day, would have reinforced and reinstituted the seven day week for the Jews. This Jewish observance was carried directly into Christianity and subsequently adopted by the Roman world following its formal Christianization in the 4th century A.D. It was officially associated with the Julian Calendar and, of course, the Gregorian Calendar which followed in the 16th century. This seven day cycle is now the norm throughout the governments of the entire world.

3. The Samaritans, which arose during the time of the exile, chose to not believe that Jerusalem was the place God had chosen. They claimed Mount Gerizim instead and even subsequently altered their copy of the Law to help support their assertion, not to mention rejecting all other books of the Old Testament except for their Law. Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan woman provides New Testament confirmation that Jews held Jerusalem to be the place chosen by God in accordance with Old Testament Scriptures.

John 4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." (NIV, see also 2 Kings 18:18-22; 2 Chronicles 32:12; 2 Chronicles 36:7)

4. Is not praise truly a sacrifice, one that continues into the New Testament? Any professed worship service that does not have praise has failed to include something that is integral to worship. See Hebrews 13:15-16 and Psalms 54:6:

Hebrews 13:15-16 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (NIV)

Psalms 54:6 I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good. (NIV)

It appears that instrumental music was excluded from the synagogue, where worship was not permitted prior to the destruction of the temple, likely as it was considered to be part of praise. This type of music was a defined part of the temple worship (i.e. 2 Chronicles 35:15; 2 Chronicles 9:11; 2 Chronicles 5:12). The book of Psalms incorporates a song that specifically refers to music as part of Sabbath worship, but this appears to have been in regards to temple worship.

Psalms 92:1 A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day. 92 It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, (NIV)

5. Philo of Alexandria, Egypt, an educated Jewish leader, referred to synagogues as schools - as such they were the original "Sabbath schools".

Philo (circa 20 B.C.- circa A.D. 50) is apparently referring to synagogues when he says, "So each seventh day there stand open in every city thousands of schools of good sense... But among the vast number of particular truths and principles there studied, there stand out ... two main heads: one of duty to God as shewn by piety and holiness, one of duty to men as shewn by humanity and justice ..." (De specialibus legibus ii.62 f [ch. 15], Loeb translation). The Yiddish term shul, "school," is often used of the synagogue by orthodox congregations. (Excerpt from the article "Synagogue", International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition)

Alfred Edersheim (lived 1825-1889), a Jewish teacher and Bible scholar who converted to Christianity, comments on the teaching element of the Synagogue in ancient times.

Its services were, indeed, singularly elastic. For the main object of the synagogue was the teaching of the people. The very idea of its institution, before and at the time of Ezra, explains and conveys this, and it is confirmed by the testimony of Josephus (Against Apion, ii, 157-172). But perhaps the ordinary reader of the New Testament may have failed to notice, how prominently this element in the synagogue is brought out in the gospel history. Yet the word "teaching" is used so frequently in connection with our Lord's appearance in the synagogue, that its lesson is obvious (see Matt 4:23; Mark 1:21, 6:2; Luke 4:15,6:6, 13:10; John 6:59, 18:20). The "teaching" part of the service consisted mainly in reading a section from the law, with which the reading of a portion from the prophets, and a sermon, or address, were conjoined. Of course, the liturgical element could in such services never have been quite wanting, and it soon acquired considerable importance. It consisted of prayer and the pronouncing of the Aaronic blessing (Num 6:24-26) by priests-that is, of course, not by Rabbis, who were merely teachers or doctors, but by lineal descendants of the house of Aaron. There was no service of "praise" in the synagogues. (Alfred Edersheim, from chapter 17 "The Worship of the Synagogue", Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, 1876)

6. Regarding teaching Scriptures in the Synagogue: The regular reading of the Law, in a fashion that would enable it to be read through in a year, appears to have come from a progression of changes, most probably for convenience. Not only did the localness of the synagogue provide for easier access for all the people (and a place to gather when there was no temple), but it also spread out the readings from the prescribed requirement of the Law that it was to be read through on a single day. At least, in its final form, it met the requirement that people were to have regularly heard the entire Law.

Every seven years, that is in the year of release, during the feast of Tabernacles, the Law was to be read before all the people according to the command found in Deuteronomy 31:10. But this enactment was probably soon found to be impracticable; and thus the Jewish authorities arranged to read on every Sabbath, commencing with the Sabbath after the feast of Tabernacles in one year of release and ending with the feast of Tabernacles in the next year of release, a portion of the Law so calculated that the whole Pentateuch would be read through in seven years. This would in some way the commandment be fulfilled. Some time later, the Jews of Palestine lengthened the sections for each Sabbath in such a manner that the entire Law could be read in three years (Talmud Babylon Megillah, 29b). At present (and this custom seems to go back to the first century B.C.) the Jews have the Pentateuch so divided that they read it through every year, the first Parashah (division) being appointed for the Sabbath after the feast of Tabernacles, and the last chapters for the last day of the feast in the next year, this being the day of "rejoicing in the Law". (Souvay, Charles; The Feast of Tabernacles, In The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912)

7. In response to those who claim the Sabbath to be a "creation ordinance" or something commanded by God at creation, there is no evidence of such within Scriptures. A later, or subsequent, command (i.e. the Mosaic Law) based upon an historical fact, or established upon remembrance of an historical event, does not constitute proof. God did give a direct command to Adam (and Eve), but not in regards to a Sabbath, in this He established a specific law that should not be broken, see Genesis 2:16-17. Without a specific set of regulations concerning what would constitute rest, if Adam and Eve and even the generations that immediately followed were to merely infer it to be a law, it is likely they all could (and would) have unintentionally sinned in this regards. Mankind's sin was fully intentional, something made certain by God who established very clearly what was right and was wrong by direct command, especially to Adam and Eve.

8. Some have elevated the Ten Commandments above all others in the Mosaic Law. The fact remains, they are part of the totality of the Mosaic Law which was fulfilled and abrogated through the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Nine of the Ten Commandments are then restated within the New Testament, therefore to be binding for believers, solely because they are commands rooted and resting in the absolute holiness of God. They are shown to be continued statues that cannot be abrogated, exhibiting our minimum requirement before God. In this they are eternal commands for mankind, unchanged from prior to the Law, during the Law, and after the Mosaic Law. Their inclusion in the Mosaic Law, and especially within the highly significant commands written in stone, was to show their prominence to those under the Mosaic Law. For those who immediately protest that the Sabbath also appeared on those stones, as if this makes it the same, they have missed that the Sabbath was given as a specific sign for Israel (to whom those stone tablets were specifically being given). As long as God's covenant with the nation of Israel was in effect, that sign law was to be observed by them as something written in stone, binding upon all those who were under that covenant. It was never binding on the rest of mankind everywhere.

9. Pliny's information was admittedly second hand as he was not a believer and had not participated in the Christian gatherings. His information was gathered from "research" including the questioning of former professed Christians and the torture of a few practicing ones. All truly had nothing to hide, except perhaps for the meeting locations which were certain to change.

10. It appears to have been a pattern of the early church to eat a meal as part of their gathering and in association with the Lord's Supper. The apostle Paul indirectly confirms this, while rebuking the Corinthian church for its problems and giving clearer instruction for the Lord' Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-33). Paul was not trying to ban the meals, only to have the church remember what their focus was in gathering and that it be done orderly, properly, and equally for all.

11. The apocryphal so-called Gospel of Peter also bears witness to the usage of the term "the Lord's Day" in the first centuries of the church. The person claiming to write as the apostle Peter utilized a terminology that would be commonly used and accepted by his readers. Two relevant excerpts...

But in the night in which the Lord's Day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it [the tomb] two by two in every watch...

Now at the dawn of the Lord's Day Mary Magdalene, a female disciple of the Lord... (The Gospel of Peter, circa 150 A.D. or up to a few decades earlier, from verses 35 and 50)

Apocryphal gospels of the second century, including the Acts of Paul and the Acts of Peter, also made use of the common term "the Lord's Day". In fact, the writer of the Acts of Peter even identifies the Lord's Day as "the next day after the Sabbath" and in a similar fashion the writer of the Acts of Paul presents that apostle as praying "on the Sabbath as the Lord's Day drew near."

12. Origen and Cyprian both reflected a thought developed much earlier by Justin Martyr that the eighth day in the Mosaic Law, when Jewish boys were to be circumcised, was a type of the perfect circumcision of the heart brought about by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Leviticus 12:3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. (NIV, see also Luke 2:21)

The command of circumcision, again, bidding [the Jews] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first. (Justin Martyr, circa 160 A.D., Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 41)

Later writers also utilized this theme.

Therefore God, that the race of man might not be wholly destroyed, through forgetfulness of the things which were good, commanded His own Son to reveal to the prophets His own future appearance in the world by the flesh, in which the joy and knowledge of the spiritual eighth day shall be proclaimed, which would bring the remission of sins and the resurrection, and that thereby the passions and corruptions of men would be circumcised. And, therefore, He called by the name of the eighty virgins the list of prophets from Abraham, on account of the dignity of circumcision, which embraces the number eight, in accordance with which also the law is framed; because they first, before the Church was espoused to the Word, received the divine seed, and foretold the circumcision of the spiritual eighth day. (Methodius of Olympus, circa 290 A.D., Discourse VII, Procilla, 6)

This is the mystery of circumcision, which by the law took place on the eighth day; and on the eighth day, the Lord's day, the day after the Sabbath, was fulfilled in its true meaning by the Lord. (Augustine of Hippo, circa 400-420 A.D., Against Faustus, Book 16, Chapter 29)

13. Cycles that we would call "weekly" varied around the world from 3 to 12 days (ancient Columbia and New Guinea to southern China). These cycles are what are also referred to as market cycles. In the eighth or seventh century B.C., in the area of southern Italy, an eight day market week became the norm. This eight day cycle was inherited by the Roman world and remained in force for seven or eight centuries. There is evidence that the new seven day cycle (especially popularized by Christianity) overlapped in usage with the earlier eight day cycle, as such two competing systems, in both the first and second centuries A.D. Needless to say, the seven day system subsequently won out due to the rapid rise and spread of Christianity. Until Christianity, Judaism's seven day cycle never experience widespread popularity or influence outside of Israel as Judaism did not proselytize or seek to impose their beliefs on other nations.

For more information on weekly cycles, refer to The Seven Day Circle: The History and meaning of the Week by Eviatar Zerubavel, section "The Market Week", pages 45-47; The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

14. An earlier section in the same book provides witness to the importance of reading Scripture in the Lord's Day gathering, before the preaching.

In the middle [of the people], let the reader stand upon some high place: let him read the books of Moses, of Joshua the son of Nun, of the Judges, and of the Kings and of the Chronicles, and those written after the return from the captivity; and besides these, the books of Job and of Solomon, and of the sixteen prophets. But when there have been two lessons severally read, let some other person sing the hymns of David, and let the people join at the conclusions of the verses. Afterwards let our Acts be read, and the Epistles of Paul our fellow-worker, which he sent to the churches under the conduct of the Holy Spirit; and afterwards let a deacon or a presbyter read the Gospels, both those which I Matthew and John have delivered to you, and those which the fellow-workers of Paul received and left to you, Luke and Mark. And while the Gospel is read, let all the presbyters [or elders] and deacons, and all the people, stand up in great silence; for it is written: "Be silent, and hear, O Israel." And again: "But do thou stand there, and hear." In the next place, let the presbyters [elders] one by one, not all together, exhort the people... (The Apostolic Constitution, Book II, Section 7, Part 57; complied circa 380 A.D. drawing from a work written in Syria circa 250 A.D.)

15. Consider a few of the many of the passages in the New Testament that speak of the church coming together, implying the entirety of that local fellowship meeting together at a common time.

Acts 20:7 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. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 5:4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present... (NIV)

1 Corinthians 11:17-20 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat... (NIV)

1 Corinthians 14:23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (NIV)

16. The Jewish church remained "zealous for the Law (Acts 21:20)", but obviously not in a manner where it would be required of all. To require adherence to the Law would have been in opposition to the message of the apostles that salvation was freely available to Greek and Jew, without Gentiles becoming Jews.

While the temple still stood it could be argued that Jews, as part of the physical nation of Israel, were legitimately carrying out the mandates of the Law, and temple ordnances, prescribed for them as a nation. The message of the gospel was that these things were no longer necessary to have fellowship with God; Gentiles did not have to become Jews; believers did not have to go to any temple to worship God.

17. Lest anyone claim that Eusebius' reference to the Ebionites provides proof that a branch of the church held to both Saturday (Sabbath) and Sunday (a day of worship), Eusebius is very clear that they were a schismatic sect. Though not uniform, many held that Jesus was of natural human descent and even those who believed in a virgin birth denied the pre-existence of the Son. Additionally, they believed adherence to the ceremonial Law was necessary to salvation and that the Apostle Paul's writing were to be rejected as one who was apostate from Judaism.

Trivia: A modern Ebionite movement exists which still reflects many beliefs of the earlier. The second paragraph of their Ebionite Manifesto proclaims:

We declare the man Paul of Tarsus, the false teacher against the mark of Covenant and God's Torah, to be outside of the Way taught by Yeshua, the anointed, son of Maria and Yosef. The Ebionite Community is the only real "mission to the gentiles."

Excerpts from the fourth and fifth paragraphs show that they deny Jesus to be the Savior or to have risen from the grave:

To follow Yeshua, may he rest in peace, you must not worship him or any man, but instead be what Yeshua was, a Jew. Yeshua was a man who died and was buried, and finding his bones does not effect the value of many of his recorded teachings... Yeshua is not a god, not a sacrifice for sin, or savior. (Ebionite Community,

18. For more on Matthew being written for a Hebrew audience consider the second footnote from this article regarding a disputed passage in the gospel of John:

19. For the record, I agree with the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith, except in regards to Infant Baptism and a Sunday Sabbath. Charles Spurgeon agreed with the Westminster Confession of Faith in all points expect for Infant Baptism. The seeming piety of a Christian Sabbath is a hard tradition to go against.

20. The law stating that an individual violating the covenant sign of the Sabbath was to be put to death was not merely hypothetical, it was acted upon on God's direct command.

Numbers 15:32-36 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses. (NIV)

21. The law concerning the Sabbath is directly restated in Deuteronomy too:

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 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 ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (NIV)

22. If we are to follow a Sabbath, the original or a Christian Sabbath on Sunday, then the instruction of God's Word is that everyone should not work AND trade with any who would work on that day. Enforcing this could be by compulsion and legal means.

Nehemiah 10:28-31 "The rest of the people - priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand - 29 all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord. 30 "We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. 31 "When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts. (NIV)

Nehemiah 13:15-22 In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this wicked thing you are doing - desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn't your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath." 19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, "Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you." From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. (NIV)

So much for those leisurely Sunday buffets and restaurant meals! It never ceases to amaze me that even those who hold to a Christian Sabbath will go places where it means others will be working, or have to work, to enable their day of leisure. This takes on a decidedly Jewish flavor, not of Biblical Judaism but rather more modern, where observant Jews will hire or ask a Gentile to do what they are banned from doing. Again, if the Law still applies, it applies in its totality and enforcement should be as exampled by God in His word. Merely longing for the Sabbath to end was shown to be violating the Sabbath in spirit...

Amos 8:4-6 Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, 5 saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"- skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, 6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. (NIV)

By this standard virtually every child forced to do nothing but attend church or read Scriptures for the whole of Sunday is guilty of breaking the Sabbath, if this is what the Lord's Day really is.

23. The emperor Trajan (ruled 98-117 A.D.) had ordered a ban on all evening assemblies considering them a source of sedition within the empire. Though it was not a specific attack on Christianity, Christians certainly ran afoul of it. While Pliny the Younger was governor of Bithynia under Trajan, he wrote that believers in his area were meeting morning and night, yet his goal was to force them to respect the ban imposed by the emperor.

The testimony to first-day worship in the post-apostolic age is in every way consonant with this view. By Justin's time (mid-2nd cent.), however, most Christians gathered on Sunday morning, evidently because the emperor Trajan's edict against seditious assemblies proscribed evening meetings. From that time to the present Christians have customarily worshiped on the morning and/or evening of the first day of the week. (From article on "Lord's Day", International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition 1979)

It would follow that some believers would choose to merely meet in the morning, rather than unnecessarily break the ruler's decree, as there is no Scriptural command that there must be two Sunday meetings, let alone that one must be in the evening.

24. For those who would join with Israel under the Old Covenant, the need is to observe the Law fully:

Isaiah 56:6-7 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant - 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (NIV)

Isaiah 58:13-14 "If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob." The mouth of the Lord has spoken. (NIV)

25. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (alt. Seneca, or Seneca the Younger), a Roman statesman who lived circa 4 B.C. - 65 A.D., actually mocked the Jews for resting every seven days as well as stringently adhering to it even when circumstances were grave:

"by introducing one day of rest in every seven, they lose in idleness almost a seventh of their life, and by failing to act in times of urgency they often suffer loss." (Seneca, as cited in Biblical Archaeology "Under the Influence: Hellenism in Ancient Jewish Life" by Martin Goodman, Jan/Feb 2010)


(c) 2009/2010 Brent MacDonald/LTM. Non-profit duplication is permitted as long as the source is cited.
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