[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
The first day of the week
Christians generally meet on Sunday, the first day of the week, and many even call Sunday “the Sabbath”, or will take a Sabbath rest then; but one sect insists that Saturday is the proper Sabbath, and even that those who meet for worship and who rest on the first day of the week as if it were “the Sabbath” are wrong (even sinning!). This group is called Seventh-Day Adventists, in part because of their insistence on considering Saturday, the seventh day, as the proper day for meeting and worship.
The general case they make is that God instituted the Sabbath with the Law of Moses, and there’s no command to change that, so it must still be in force. [Most Christians would consider the Sabbath not to be still enjoined on Christians, since the Law was done away with in Christ; or at most, that it has moved from Saturday to Sunday.] Some SDA’s go further than that, though, and insist that the New Testament shows a continuation of the Sabbath day worship.
The burden of proof
Here is where knowing who carries the burden of proof is good because the one who makes the assertion is the one who needs to show the proof to back it up. So, where is it proven that Christians worshipped on the Sabbath day in the New Testament?
Most of the instances of “Sabbath” in the NT are in the gospels, and many of the times it’s used about Jesus “breaking” the Sabbath – not that He actually sinned, of course, but rather that He deliberately violated the man-made rules that the religious leaders had built up through the centuries, about the Sabbath. For example, the first time the Sabbath is mentioned in the NT is in Matt. 12:1 (with parallel passages in Mark 1 and Luke 6), where Jesus and His disciples got hungry and took some of the ripe grain from the field, rubbed it in their hands, and ate. It was lawful to help yourself to food in the field, as long as you didn’t take more with you. Most of the rest of the occurrences detail Jesus’s healing various people on the Sabbath and claiming Lordship over the Sabbath.
A few refer to Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, which is hardly surprising, since the Sabbath was when the Jews met for worship, so Jesus was teaching where the people were; however, the gospels constantly report Him preaching, but rarely identify that it was on the Sabbath, so it seems that Jesus taught all the time, and not just on the Sabbath. The remainder of the time that “Sabbath” is used, is in identifying the timing surrounding the crucifixion and the resurrection.
A shadow of things to come
Moving on into Acts, we see that, like Jesus, Paul went to the synagogues to preach to the Jews on the Sabbath (“shooting fish in a barrel” comes to mind), but otherwise, we see “Sabbath” mentioned only once, and that was to identify the distance as being “a Sabbath day’s journey”. In the epistles, the term Sabbath is used only once, in Colossians, to tell the Christians that they should not allow others to judge them “in meat or in drink, or in respect of a holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath”, saying that these things were but a shadow of the things to come.
If the Sabbath in the Law of Moses was just a shadow of things to come, how is it that it is still incumbent upon us to observe, particularly on that same day? Do SDA’s say that we are still in the shadows? Most Christians would consider that we are in the full light of Christ, so have no need of going back to the shadows of the Law, and indeed ought not, lest we turn our backs on Christ (see the entire book of Hebrews for a lengthier treatise on the topic).
Far from showing that Christians continued to worship on the Sabbath day exclusively, by preaching on that day, there are many examples of non-Sabbath-day preaching – and indeed, we see that Sunday is more prominent than the Sabbath, in many respects, after Jesus’s resurrection.
It was, of course, the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday) when Jesus was resurrected, as all the gospels specify; then Luke 24 narrates that Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on that day, then later to the ten disciples (Judas Iscariot and “Doubting” Thomas excepted). John 20 also records this meeting, adding some more detail, and showing also that a week later, Jesus appeared to them all again, with Thomas with them this time. The rest of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are not given a specific date, which means that at the least, it wasn’t important to indicate that Jesus met with His disciples on the Sabbath day!
The Day of Pentecost
Moving into Acts, we see that the first sermon preached was on the Day of Pentecost, which, according to the Law, must have fallen on a Sunday (Lev. 23:16: “Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days”). While the early Christians prayed and worshipped together before this time, the first, true, Christian, post-resurrection sermon was preached on Sunday! Aside from that and the aforementioned times when Paul preached to the Jews in the synagogues, we are not told when the preaching happened, which means it must not have been important that the preaching happened on the Sabbath/Saturday. Otherwise, we are told that the preaching and worship happened every day, or we are told of two episodes of preaching that happened on back to back days, so at least one of those times must not have been on the Sabbath.
There are a couple of times when it is specifically said that the preaching happened on the first day of the week – for example, when Paul met with the Ephesians before going to Jerusalem, it is said to be on the first day of the week. However, I wouldn’t bring this up as proof that the first day was the normative day for worship, because a case could easily be made that Paul preached on this day only because it was the day right before the ship left.
Similarly, when Paul instructed the Corinthians to set aside some money on the first day of the week, it is not specifically said to have been “set aside and given to the church when you meet for worship on the first day of the week”, so again, an argument could be made that the Corinthians were simply privately setting aside the money they made from last week, and even though they were meeting on the Sabbath, they were filling up their piggy banks or the sock under the mattress, so that when Paul came through, they could bring the full amount all at once (and that this would be on the Sabbath).
The Eight Day — a future fulfillment
Taking a step back into the Old Testament, we see that the eighth day (which would be the first day of the week, that is, the Sabbath plus one day) was quite important. Without going into too many details, a simple OT search of “first day” and “eighth day” shows that it is obvious that even under the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant, even while the seventh-day Sabbath was certainly enjoined upon the people of God, the Eighth Day (i.e., the First Day of the Week) looked forward to a future fulfillment.
When joined with the importance that the NT places on the first day of the week (it was the day when Jesus was resurrected, when He first appeared to the disciples on multiple occasions, and the day for the anointing of the church by the Holy Spirit and the first time Christians preached to others), plus bringing in that Paul called the sabbath a shadow of things to come, there is no Biblical reason to insist that we are still under the OT Sabbath, nor that Saturday-worship is somehow the only worship that God accepts.