San Diego, California
The Christian world has for some time observed two different days. On one hand, most Christians sincerely observe Sunday, the first day of the week, which they believe to be a memorial of Christ’s resurrection. On the other hand, a large group of Christians, equally sincere, believe that the Bible recognizes only the seventh day as the Sabbath and nowhere affirms the sanctity of Sunday.
Does it really make any difference which day we observe as the Sabbath? As sincere people who want to know the truth, we must always ask ourselves: “What matters to Jesus? What does Jesus want me to do?”
After all, we want the assurance of following Bible truth and obeying God’s instruction when He says, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).
In coming to a decision about God’s day of worship, several important questions need to be answered: "Who changed the Sabbath from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, to Sunday, the first day of the week? Did the Bible authorize such a change? If so, did God, Christ, or perhaps the apostles make the change?"
Is there any pronouncement from God that changes the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week? Most Christians accept the Ten Commandments, given by God at Sinai, as a valid guide to live by. Moses reminded Israel:
“These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me” (Deuteronomy 5:22).
The Ten Commandments are the only message God has ever personally written out for the human race. They are so important that He wrote them on stone with His own finger (Exodus 31:18). In the fourth commandment, God instructs us:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work. . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11).
When God created our world, He set apart the seventh day as the “Sabbath of the Lord” by three divine acts (Genesis 2:1-3). God:
Again at Sinai, when He gave the Ten Commandments, God reiterated these same truths. He also made it clear that no human being should revise or edit the instruction from His holy lips. “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
God Himself pledges not to alter His commands: “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips” (Psalm 89:34). The Bible is clear that God did not change the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week.
According to Jesus, the Ten Commandments and all the moral principles in the Old Testament Scriptures are not subject to change; they are to continue to guide His followers:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).
Jesus faithfully honored and observed the Sabbath. He is our example in Sabbath-keeping. “He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16).
Looking to the future, Jesus wanted His disciples to continue experiencing the joys of true Sabbath-keeping. He instructed them to pray that, during the siege, they would not have to flee from Jerusalem on the Sabbath. “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20).
Jesus was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem—an event that took place in A.D. 70, nearly 40 years after His resurrection. Jesus did not change the Sabbath commandment, nor any of the other commandments. In fact, He instructed the rich young ruler to obey the Ten Commandments (Matthew 19:16-22). It is clear from Jesus’ teaching and example that we still need the Sabbath for rest, relaxation, and spending time with God.
Browse: Was the Sabbath nailed to the cross?
Browse: Is Sunday a memorial of Jesus’ resurrection?
James, the first leader of the early Christian church, wrote concerning the Ten Commandments:
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:10, 11).
Luke, a physician and evangelist in the early church, reports:
“On the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there” (Acts 16:13).
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who wrote much of the New Testament, affirms:
“For He [God] has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’ [see Genesis 2:2]. . . . There remains therefore a [Sabbath] rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:4, 9).
Learn More: What did Paul say about the Sabbath in Romans 14:5?
The New Testament book of Acts mentions 84 different Sabbaths observed by the apostles, all of them more than 14 years after the resurrection of Jesus.
John, the last of the 12 apostles to die, wrote five books of the Bible—one gospel, three epistles (letters), and the prophetic book of Revelation. He died about A.D. 100, approximately 70 years after the resurrection of Jesus.
Nowhere in all of his writings does he speak of a change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week. In fact, John himself kept the Sabbath. He wrote: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). According to Jesus, the Lord’s Day is the Sabbath: “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).
A search of the scriptural evidence reveals that the apostles made no attempt to change God’s day of rest from the seventh day (Sabbath) to the first day of the week (Sunday). The New Testament mentions the first day of the week only eight times. In none of these instances is the first day of the week spoken of as a holy day, nor is it even hinted that we should observe it as a day of worship.
A careful examination of the eight texts referring to the first day of the week clarifies what occurred during these Sunday events:
1. The women came to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1).
2. “When the Sabbath was past,” the women brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body “very early in the morning, on the first day of the week” (Mark 16:1, 2).
3. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene “early on the first day of the week” (Mark 16:9).
4. After resting on the Sabbath “according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56), the women came to Jesus’ tomb early “on the first day of the week” (Luke 24:1).
5. Mary Magdalene went to the grave of Jesus and found the tomb empty “on the first day of the week” (John 20:1).
6. The disciples gathered together “for fear of the Jews” (not for worship) on the first day of the week (John 20:19).
7. Paul asked church members to take account of their funds “on the first day of the week,” and “lay something aside” for the poor at Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2). The passage does not mention any religious meeting.
Read more: Does Paul condone Sunday worship in 1 Corinthians 16:2?
8. In Acts 20:7 Luke speaks of the disciples coming “together to break bread” and of Paul preaching “on the first day of the week” at an impromptu farewell meeting. Elsewhere, Luke describes the early Christians as coming together “daily” to fellowship, break bread, praise God, and pray (Acts 2:41-47).
Read more: Did the disciples worship on Sunday in Acts 20:7-11?
None of these verses suggest that the apostles intended to stop observing the seventh-day Sabbath and begin worshipping on Sunday. There is clearly no New Testament evidence for a change of the Sabbath from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, to Sunday, the first day of the week. The change came after the days of Jesus and the apostles, so we must turn to history to see when and how this change came about.
The change from Sabbath observance to Sunday observance took place after the New Testament was completed and all the apostles had died. History records that Christians eventually shifted from worshipping and resting on the seventh day to the first day of the week.
“A history of the problem shows that in some places, it was really only after some centuries that the Sabbath rest really was entirely abolished, and by that time the practice of observing a bodily rest on the Sunday had taken its place” (Vincent J. Kelly, Forbidden Sunday and Feast-Day Occupations, p. 15).
Of course, believers didn’t stop observing the seventh-day Sabbath on a given weekend and then suddenly begin keeping Sunday as the Lord’s Day. The earliest authentic instance of Sunday observance by Christians occurred in Italy, in the middle of the 2nd century after Christ. For a long time after that, many Christians observed both days, while still others kept the seventh-day Sabbath only.
On March 7, A.D. 321, Constantine the Great issued the first civil Sunday law, compelling all the people in the Roman Empire, except farmers, to rest on Sunday. This, with five other civil laws decreed by Constantine concerning Sunday, set the legal precedent for all civil Sunday legislation from that time to the present.
In the 4th century, the Council of Laodicea urged Christians to honor Sunday by abstaining from work on that day if at all possible, and prohibited them from abstaining from work on the Sabbath.