I often get the question, “Why do we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday?” Given the high view of the Sabbath in the Old Testament, one can see why people worry. The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. You were punished for breaking it. So why all of the sudden it seems have we switched to Sunday? Was it some conspiracy by the early church? Was it a compromise with the ancient pagan religions? In a series of blog posts where I am going to try to map out why we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday. There are numerous questions that I need to be asked and answered as we study this topic. But my first post is pretty simple. I want to show that Jesus rose on Sunday and that the NT saints worshiped on Sunday. This may seem like an odd place to start. Why not start with the Sabbath itself? We will get into the Sabbath more in some subsequent blog posts. But most Christians understand the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath. The bigger question is how did we get to where Sunday was the accepted day of worship.
The Bible does not give a specific passage showing the transition from Saturday to Sunday as the day of worship. However, several verses show why this transition was made in the New Testament. The primary evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday thus marking a new age in God’s covenant working with his people. Here are the verses that show this:
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.
Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
The phrase translated “the first day of the week,” in the Greek means, “The first of (or from) the Sabbaths.” The Jews did not have names for the days of the week. The only days they named were Saturday, which they called the “Sabbath” and Friday, which they called “Preparation Day.” Because they had no name for the days of the week, they used a number to describe how far a day was from the Sabbath. So Sunday was the first day from the Sabbath, Monday was the second day from the Sabbath and so on.
It is clear from the passages above, especially Luke 23:56-24:1, that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. The greatest event in the history of the world occurred on a Sunday.
This same phrase “the first day of the week” is used a couple of other times in the Scriptures. There is no reason to assume that these three verses are referring to anything other than Sunday. Here are those verses:
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
I Corinthians 16:2
On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
The last two passages show that Sunday was the day the Christians gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (break bread), to hear preaching, and to collect money for the poor. Why meet on Sunday instead of Saturday? Why was Paul telling them to collect money on the first day of the week instead of the last? I think part of the answer is that the Resurrection took place on Sunday, thus marking off that day as unique and special.
Here are two more passages that could indicate that the NT Christians worshiped on Sunday.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Pentecost was fifty days after the Sabbath following Passover. So it was always on a Sunday.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,
The word “Lord’s” is a rare word, used only two times in the New Testament, here and in I Corinthians 11:20 where it refers to the Lord’s Supper. It is hard to imagine that John had anything else in mind other than Sunday. He uses the phrase assuming that his readers know what he means. The Sabbath is not referred to as the Lord’s Day. It is called the Sabbath. It is possible that this phrase refers to the Sabbath, but not likely.
None of this evidence makes a water tight case for the transition from Sabbath to Lord’s Day, but it gets us leaning a certain direction. In my next post I will look at the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath.