A Christian Guide to Acts by R. David Pogge

Appendix C

Sunday

If you ask a Christian why he or she worships on Sunday, the answer will probably be something like, “I worship on Sunday in honor of the resurrection of Jesus.”  That is an honest, correct answer.

But if you change the question slightly and ask, “Why do most Christian churches worship on Sunday?” you will probably get a factually incorrect answer. The commonly given incorrect answers are:

  • The calendar changed.
  • Jesus changed the day.
  • Jesus abolished the Ten Commandments.
  • The apostles changed the day.

Not one of those answers is historically correct.  The real reason why modern Christian churches worship on Sunday is,

  • It has been our tradition for centuries.

If most Christians knew how and why that tradition began, they might question whether or not Jesus would want them worshipping on Sunday.

Section C.1 - The Calendar Change

Some people think that when the Gregorian calendar was instituted, Saturday became Sunday. Therefore, worshipping on Sunday really is worshipping on Saturday. That error is easily disproved. Wikipedia, or any other encyclopedia, clearly says that the Gregorian calendar was adopted by different countries on several different dates; but in no country did the change affect the days of the week.

[I]n the Papal States, the new calendar was implemented on the date specified by the bull, with Julian Thursday, 4 October 1582, being followed by Gregorian Friday, 15 October 1582. 1

Any calendar-based argument about the change of Sabbath is factually wrong. Saturday has always been Saturday, and Sunday has always been Sunday.

Section C.2 - Foreign Names for Saturday

Of course, Saturday has always been Saturday in English. What about other languages? Here are the names for Saturday in some other languages:

  • Sábado (Spanish/Portuguese)
  • Sabado (Filipino)
  • Sabato (Italian)
  • Σάββατο (Greek)
  • Sobota (Czech/Polish/Slovenian/Slovak)
  • Sabtu (Indonesian)
  • Subota (Croatian)
  • Събота (Bulgarian)
  • Субота (Ukrainian/Serbian)
  • Субботу (Russian)
  • Lørdag (Danish)
  • Lördag (Swedish)

Saturday sounds a lot like Sabbath in 15 languages, and is called Lord's Day in two Scandinavian languages.

Section C.3 - Biblical Days of the Week

Friday and Saturday are the only two days that have nicknames in Hebrew. They are called “Preparation (for Sabbath)” and “Sabbath.” All the other days of the week just have numbers. Sunday is the First Day of the Week. Saturday is the Seventh Day. (And by “Saturday” we mean “sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.” Midnight marks the beginning and ending of each day in civil time throughout most of the world—but in Israel during biblical times, and still today, days began at sunset.)

We know that Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, and that Sunday is first day of the week from the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection.

And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea … came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.  And Pilate … gave the body to Joseph.  [Mark 15: 42 – 45 KJV]

Jesus was placed in the tomb just before sunset on Friday. Mark calls Friday, “the day before the Sabbath.”  The women did not anoint his body on Saturday because it was the Sabbath, the seventh day.  The first day of the week began at sunset Saturday night; but the women didn’t want to go anoint His body, in the dark, in a cemetery, so they waited until the first light on the first day of the week, Sunday morning, to do it.

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.  And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. [Mark 16:1-2 KJV]

Jesus rose on Sunday morning, the day the Bible calls, “the first day of the week,” and that “the Sabbath was passed.”  Jesus died on the cross on Friday afternoon, just before sunset, just before the Sabbath began.  The Bible clearly says the Sabbath is after Friday and before Sunday. Therefore, Sabbath must be Saturday.

Section C.4 - Two Sunday Texts

Did the apostles worship on Sunday instead of Sabbath? There are only two Bible texts that are sometimes used to claim that the apostolic church worshipped on Sunday.  One is in Revelation.

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: [Revelation 1:10,11]

This text doesn’t say, “Sunday” or "First Day of the Week." It says, “the Lord’s day.” Matthew, Mark, and John all say that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, 2 so the Lord’s Day must be Sabbath.  In 1611, when the King James Bible was translated, Sunday was commonly called “the Lord’s day.”  But when John wrote Revelation, “the Lord’s day” was Sabbath—that is, Saturday. John had this vision on Sabbath.

Even if John did have a different vision on Sunday, it would not prove that Sunday was the day upon which he worshiped.

The only other Sunday “proof text” is:

Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. [1 Corinthians 16:2]

Sunday is the first day of the week, according to Jewish reckoning.  Also according to Jewish custom is the notion that the tithe offering to God is the first tenth of one’s income.  So, it is natural that Paul should tell people to set aside the first part of their earnings on the first day of the work week as an offering.

Some people try to twist this verse to say that Paul wanted the Corinthians to bring their offerings to church when they gathered together for worship on the first day of the week, Sunday.  But the verse doesn’t say anything about bringing money to church.  It says to “lay by him in store.”

There are multiple instances in the Book of Acts of the apostles worshipping on Sabbath, and no examples of apostles worshipping on Sunday.

Section C.5 - Every Seventh Day

Some people argue that it doesn’t matter which day you worship upon, as long as you worship every seventh day. They argue that the commandment says,

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. [Exodus 20:9-11 KJV]

They claim that “seventh” is simply a ordinal value, so any seventh day is good enough. It isn’t.

In Hebrew, “the seventh day” is the name of a particular weekday—not a numerical count. It is the name of the day upon which God rested. It is the name of the day God blessed and hallowed.

Section C.6 - The Change

Despite the facts that Saturday is the Sabbath, and the Bible says the apostles worshiped on Sabbath, and the commandment clearly specifies that Sabbath is the day upon which to worship, some people still argue that Sunday is the proper day for Christians to worship because of a change.  In order to determine if it is or not, we need to determine, who changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday, when that change was made, for what reason, and by what authority.

Jesus did not make the change. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said,

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:17-19 KJV]

He did not say, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, EXCEPT THE SABBATH COMMANDMENT."

If Jesus had changed the Sabbath commandment, there would be no need for false witnesses to testify against Him at his trial. He would have been guilty of Sabbath-breaking, which is a capital offense. The same goes for the apostles. Stephen wasn’t stoned for breaking the Sabbath commandment. We know from the Bible without question that Jesus, the apostles, and the Gentile converts to Christianity, all kept the Sabbath commandment and did not worship on Sunday.

We know from history who changed the Christian day of worship, and why.

According to secular history, the Christian day of worship was changed in the Holy Roman Empire during the fourth century.  The first of two relevant decrees is The First Sunday Law of Constantine in 321 A.D.

On the Venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or for vine-planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost--Given the 7th day of March, [A.D. 321], Crispus and Constantine being consuls each of them for the second time.

The second decree is Canon XXIX from the Council of Laodicea, in 337 A.D.

Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day; but the Lord's day they shall especially honour, and as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.

It appears that the Roman emperor, Constantine, made the change first, and the church followed along later.  However, there are some who say that Constantine made the legal change because the church pressured him into doing it, and the church decree 16 years later was simply an endorsement of the civil law that the church promoted.  Whoever gets the credit (or, more accurately, blame) doesn’t really matter.  The Holy Roman Empire was the church-state coalition that made the change in any case.

What really matters is whether or not the Holy Roman Empire was executing a divinely appointed decree, or was doing something opposed to the will of God. Let’s look at the wording of both decrees to see if they appear to be divinely inspired or not.

Constantine’s Sunday Law begins with the words, “On the Venerable Day of the Sun …”.   That’s s-u-n, not s-o-n.  It’s the day honoring the sun god, not the day honoring the Son of God.  The pun only happens in English.  The actual decree was, of course, written in Latin.  The Latin words for the solar object and a male child are not even remotely the same.  Constantine’s law has nothing to do with honoring the resurrection of the Son of God.

The Council of Laodicea began their decree with the words, “Christians shall not Judaize …”.   It later says, “If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.”  If that sounds anti-Semitic, it is because it is!

In the 4th century there were many pagan converts in the church who were accustomed to celebrating Easter, a spring fertility festival named in honor of a pagan fertility goddess. It involved many fertility symbols, including bunnies, colored eggs, chickens, and more adult celebrations of the reproductive process. The pagan converts didn’t want to give up this popular festival. So, some congregations attempted to Christianize Easter by changing it from a fertility festival of birth to a festival commemorating Jesus’ rebirth. This caused a division which was addressed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Here are some excerpts from Emperor Constantine’s letter explaining the decision of the Council of Nicaea. 3 See if you can detect any traces of anti-Semitism.

Constantine Augustus, to the churches. … At the council we also considered the issue of our holiest day, Easter. … It seemed very unworthy for us to keep this most sacred feast following the custom of the Jews, a people who have soiled their hands in a most terrible outrage, and have thus polluted their souls, and are now deservedly blind. Since we have cast aside their way of calculating the date of the festival, we can ensure that future generations can celebrate this observance at the more accurate time. … Therefore have nothing in common with that most hostile people, the Jews. … Let us, most honored brothers, withdraw ourselves from that detestable association. It is truly most absurd for them to boast that we are incapable of rightly observing these things without their instruction. On what subject are they competent to form a correct judgment, who, after that murder of their Lord lost their senses, and are led not by any rational motive, but by an uncontrollable impulsiveness to wherever their innate fury may drive them? … [Y]ou should still be careful, both by diligence and prayer, that your pure souls should have nothing in common, or even seem to do so, with the customs of men so utterly depraved. … [W]e all have a most sacred obligation, to unite in desiring whatever common sense seems to demand, and what has no association with the perjury of the Jews. [Emperor Constantine to all churches concerning the date of Easter, June 325 A.D.]

Anti-Semitism was common and intense in the Holy Roman Empire in the fourth century.  The change of worship from the Jewish Sabbath to the pagan Sunday was motivated by hatred of the Jews, not the love of Christ.  Hatred is a hallmark of Satan, not Christ.  Jesus never used hate as a way to motivate anyone to do anything.

Section C.7 - Why Wasn't it Changed Back?

The Lutheran reformers knew that the day of worship was changed by the Catholic Church, and that the Church had no right to do this.

Moreover, it is disputed whether bishops or pastors have the right to introduce ceremonies in the Church, and to make laws concerning meats, holy-days and grades, that is, orders of ministers, etc. … They refer to the Sabbath-day as having been changed into the Lord's Day, contrary to the Decalog, as it seems. Neither is there any example whereof they make more than concerning the changing of the Sabbath-day. Great, say they, is the power of the Church, since it has dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments!

But concerning this question it is taught on our part (as has been shown above) that bishops have no power to decree anything against the Gospel. [Augsburg Confession, Article 28]

The reformers rejected the claim that bishops or pastors had the authority to introduce ceremonies in the Church, and to make laws concerning meats and holy days.  In particular, they recognized that the Church had no right to change the Sabbath-day, annulling one of the Ten Commandments; but they didn't change it back. After writing 27 articles insisting that the Bible trumps tradition, they knowingly chose tradition over the Bible when it came to the day of worship. Here is their justification:

What, then, are we to think of the Sunday and like rites in the house of God? To this we answer that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church, not that thereby we should merit grace or make satisfaction for sins, or that consciences be bound to judge them necessary services, and to think that it is a sin to break them without offense to others. [Article 28, Augsburg Confession]

The reformers knew that bishops have no power to decree anything against the Gospel; but they thought the bishops are within their rights to change a commandment just for order and convenience? Really? That can’t be the real reason they didn’t go back to worshipping on Sabbath—and it isn’t. The real reason is that anti-Semitism was still strong in the 16th century.

Martin Luther is one of my personal heroes.  God clearly used him to begin a mighty work of reformation, for which the entire Christian world is indebted.  So it truly grieves me to share with you these excerpts from Luther’s Works, Volume 47, published by Augsburg Fortress Press, the publishing ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Let me make it perfectly clear that the Lutheran Church has officially condemned the following statements written by Martin Luther; but history is history. This is the real reason why the Lutherans did not want to worship on the “Jewish Sabbath.”

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? …. I shall give you my sincere advice:

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians.  …

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. …

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. …

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let them stay at home. …

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. The reason for such a measure is that, as said above, they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess.  …

Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow, as was imposed on the children of Adam (Gen. 3 [:19]). For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting,, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants.

In brief, dear princes and lords, those of you who have Jews under your rule: if my counsel does not please you, find better advice, so that you and we all can be rid of the unbearable, devilish burden of the Jews. Lest we become guilty sharers before God in the lies, the blasphemy, the defamation, and the curses which the mad Jews indulge in so freely and wantonly against the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, his dear mother, all Christians, all authority, and ourselves. Do not grant them protection, safe-conduct, or communion with us. …

And you, my dear gentlemen and friends who are pastors and preachers, I wish to remind very faithfully of your official duty, so that you too may warn your parishioners concerning their eternal harm, as you know how to do, namely, that they be on their guard against the Jews and avoid them so far as possible.  …

When you lay eyes on or think of a Jew you must say to your self: Alas, that mouth which I there behold has cursed and execrated and maligned every Saturday my dear Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me with his precious blood. ... [Martin Luther, 1543, Part XI of On the Jews and Their Lies]

This is the reason why the Protestant reformers did not change their day of worship back to Saturday.  The sad truth is that Martin Luther, and practically every other Christian living in the 16th century, hated the Jews, and did not want to worship on the Jewish Sabbath. On the other hand, they did not want to admit that the bishops have the authority to overrule the Gospel. So, they equivocated with this justification for Sunday-keeping:

Of this kind is the observance of the Lord's Day, Easter, Pentecost, and like holy-days and rites. For those who judge that by the authority of the Church the observance of the Lord's Day instead of the Sabbath-day was ordained as a thing necessary, do greatly err. … And yet, because it was necessary to appoint a certain day, that the people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the Church designated the Lord's Day for this purpose; and this day seems to have been chosen all the more for this additional reason, that men might have an example of Christian liberty, and might know that the keeping neither of the Sabbath nor of any other day is necessary. [Article 28, Augsburg Confession]

They aren’t keeping Sunday to be saved, or because the bishops have the authority to change the day of worship. They are voluntarily keeping Sunday just for convenience, to keep order and avoid division, and to prove they are free from the Jewish law and ecclesiastical authority. That is a pretty poor justification for intentionally breaking a commandment every week.

Sunday worship began in the 4th century because of anti-Semitism.  In the 16th century, the Protestant reformers continued to worship on Sunday because the Jews were still hated by Christians.  But that doesn’t mean that modern Sunday keepers are anti-Semitic.  Sunday worship is simply a centuries old tradition whose origin has been forgotten.

Most modern Protestants are ignorant of the true origin of Sunday worship.  Catholics are correctly taught that Sunday worship began in their church in the fourth century; but most Protestants have been incorrectly taught that Sunday worship began with the apostles in honor of Jesus’ resurrection.  Most modern Protestants don’t know the anti-Semitic origin of Sunday-keeping, and really believe they are honoring Jesus by worshipping on Sunday.

Modern Sunday-keepers are sinning out of ignorance, not anti-Semitism. Is God going to punish people who ignorantly break the Sabbath commandment every week by keeping Sunday?  God is a loving, forgiving god, so maybe He will forgive them for keeping the tradition of men rather than the command of God; but I wouldn’t take the chance myself.

Remember the scathing words Jesus said to the Pharisees about traditions:

And he said unto them, “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” [Mark 7:9 KJV]

What might Jesus think about you rejecting the Sabbath commandment just so you can keep the tradition of worshipping on Sunday?

There is no doubt in my mind that you think you are honoring Jesus by worshipping on the day of His resurrection.  You have the best of intentions.  Nobody questions your love of Jesus.  But are you really  honoring Him, showing love and respect to Him, by intentionally disobeying one of his commandments every week?

It isn’t too late.  Ask God to forgive your past transgressions, and dedicate yourself to keeping the Saturday Sabbath in the future.  The good news is that God forgives your sin, if you truly repent.  It doesn’t matter how many times you have broken the Sabbath commandment in the past.  What matters is whether or not you will continue to do so in the future.

Back to Appendix B Table of Contents On to Appendix D

Footnotes:

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar#Difference_between_Gregorian_and_Julian_calendar_dates
2 Matthew 28:12, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5
2 The full text is available at the Wisconsin Lutheran College website, http://www.fourthcentury.com/index.php/urkunde-26