Why We Worship On Sunday

Answering Seventh-Day Adventists and Other Sabbatarians

Have you been asked yet — either by a Seventh-Day Adventist or a member of other Seventh-Day Sabbatarian groups (and there are many) — why Christians changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday? Quick answer — the Sabbath is still on Saturday. But most (not all) Christians including Catholics, Orthodox and many Protestants observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Sabbath Day…Lord’s Day. There’s a difference. Let’s look at this.

Keep It Holy

When God had completed his creation of the world, he rested on the seventh day. The Hebrew word for “rest” is “Sabbath” or “Shabbat”. But since God is Almighty and has no need to actually rest, we can properly say that God simply ceased all of his work.

Was the World Created in Six Literal Days?

Some fundamentalist communities will make the argument that God created the world in six literal 24-hour days and thus the seventh day is Saturday. However, a closer look at the creation narrative in Genesis finds something very interesting. In Ch. 1:11 we see God command, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation,” (italics mine) and in v. 24, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature”. This means that God allowed the earth to bring forth her great gifts at its own natural pace over time rather than everything coming forth all at once, instantly. We must remember that God created natural law as well as supernatural law.

If the world was not created in six 24-hour days, how then, is it determined that the seventh day was on a Saturday? The Jews (even to this day) have no names for their days of the week. Rather they are simply enumerated and go by First Day, Second Day, Third Day, etc. until they get to Shabbat, the only day with a name. It is thought that when the Jews were exile in Babylon in roughly 597/6 until 538 B.C. they had adopted the calendar of the Babylonians for that is what they had used throughout their exile. Likewise, the Jewish months of the year were also enumerated and not actually named until during the Babylonian captivity. In fact, the months of Nisan, Sivan, Elul, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, and Adar on the Jewish calendar are Babylonian in origin: “The Jews adopted not only Babylonian month names but also the entire Babylonian calendar.” At the end of the Babylonian exile, King Cyrus of Persia (who had conquered the Babylonians) allowed and even encouraged the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple. However, a good number of them opted to stay. It was also in Babylonia where the Jews wrote down and codified the Talmud (known as the Talmud Bavli).

Moses and The Law

Centuries after the creation of the world, God raised up Moses (a type of savior) to go (return) to Egypt to “set my people free”. As they journeyed through the desert toward the Promised Land, God gave to Moses two tablets containing what Christians call the Ten Commandments (and what Jews simply call The Ten Words). Among these is the commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day” (Ex. 20:8). With this commandment God gives instruction as to how this shall be done:  “You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates” (v. 10).  It was the only way that slaves and their owners and beasts of burden could also have rest. In Cecil B. DeMille’s great epic movie The Ten Commandments, Moses is accused of giving the slaves one day’s rest per week from building Pharaoh’s glorious city. Moses says to Pharaoh in response to his brother Rameses’ accusation: “A city is made of brick. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none”. Thus the Sabbath prohibits work.

Going a step further, God gives two reasons for resting on the Sabbath:

  1. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (v. 11; Ex. 31:15-17).
  2. Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deut. 5:15)

No Mandate to Worship on the Sabbath

There is not a mandate to worship on the Sabbath because there was as of yet no place to worship; they were still in the desert and, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “…Communal prayer—that is, liturgy—is hardly found prior to the separation of Israel and Judah”. Further, “there is no mention of the Synagogue in the “Written Torah” (i.e., the Five Books of Moses). The institution of the synagogue is of later, Rabbinic origin”.

Sabbath Worship Optional for Gentiles

The Lord God makes it clear that keeping the Sabbath is optional for gentiles as he himself says through the great prophet Isaiah: For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose (italics mine) what pleases me, and who hold fast to my covenant…” (56:4).

One resource I found about non-Jews and the covenant says this: “God did not require the Gentiles to obey laws they did not have. They were required to obey the law written on their hearts, but they were not required to obey the ritual laws, for such laws have to be specially revealed, and God revealed them only to Israel, and they applied only to Israel”. In fact the rabbis of the various the Jewish sites I reviewed on the internet pertaining to the commandment of the Sabbath insist that the Ten Commandments do not apply to Christians or any other non-Jews.

Jesus and the Sabbath

But didn’t Jesus tell the rich young man to “keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17; Mk 10:19)? Yes, he did…but Jesus was speaking to him as a fellow Jew.

Another objection that Seventh Day Sabbatarians raise is the fact that Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath “as was his custom” (Lk 4:16) and so they insist that Saturday Sabbath is the day for worship.  But Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day (Lk 2:21); he was “presented to the Lord, according to the law of Moses” (italics mine) (Lk 2:22); he wore the prescribed prayer shawl/tallit with its fringes (Deut. 22:12, Mt. 9:20); he followed the custom of praying three times per day; he observed Hanukkah and he offered animals for sacrifice. None of these have been retained in the Christian faith. The requirement for circumcision is direct from the law of Moses, but it finds its fulfillment in baptism. “For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho).

The Council of Jerusalem

Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles speaks of a group of Judaizers who were insisting that Greeks/gentiles who wished to come into the Church must first be circumcised and live as a Jew for awhile: “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved” (v. 1). A council was held in Jerusalem (around A.D. 51) with all of the Church leaders including Peter, James and Paul (to name a few) to discuss the issue. The outcome of the council that was reached is this: ‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit (italics mine) and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right” (v. 28-29).  Nothing at all about mandating them to “keep holy the Sabbath”.

The Sabbath Was Made For Man Not Man For the Sabbath

In performing miracles on the Sabbath, Jesus made it clear that the well-being of people and even animals always took precedence. While the Jews saw them as unlawful works, Jesus took pity upon those who were suffering and refused that they should remain in their suffering even for one more day. As important as the Sabbath was in that no work should be done, Jews allowed for circumcisions to be performed on the Sabbath. Not only was temple sacrifice to be done even on the Sabbath but three sacrifices rather than the two that were required on a daily basis were to be offered on that day — one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The twelve loaves of the bread of (perpetual) Presence (Lev. 24:8) in the temple sanctuary was to be replaced on the Sabbath. It was bread that was hot and so baking was done on the Sabbath. Even carrying on the Sabbath is considered a prohibition…but the bread of Presence was indeed carried into the temple every Sabbath.

The Sabbath is Not a Moral Law

The Jews maintain that the command to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy does not make it a moral law but a ceremonial one for “the Sabbath is to be ‘ot berit’ (a Hebrew term) — “a sign (italics mine) between me and you throughout your generations” (Ex. 31:13).

Jesus as The Fulfillment of All

Catholics, Orthodox and most Protestants observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day and therefore worship on that day. It was — and is — fitting that they (we) should do so.

The Passover is always celebrated on the 14th of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar. It was the day on which Jesus was put to death…slaughtered like the sacrificial lamb. He became our sacrifice…the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29) — a term every Jew at that time would have recognized).

We know that Jesus was in the tomb the entire next day…Saturday, the day of rest. What most people are unaware of is that the 15th of Nisan is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was the day that Jesus “our bread” “rested” in the tomb on that Sabbath.

On the third day, the 16th of Nisan is known as the Feast of the First Fruits — the day when Jews went to the temple to offer the barley harvest as a wave offering. Barley was the first of the many crops grown in the area and thus it was brought in sheaves to the temple as the first grain offering to God. St. Paul calls Jesus the “first fruits” from the ground (tomb) and offered back to God. He then calls us the first fruits of the dead (1 Cor. 15:23)…”we who belong to Christ”.

Jesus’ resurrection took place on Sunday, the first day of the week which is also known as the Eighth Day. It is from this that we get the Greek term Kairos. It is God’s time. Even with the creation of the world, there is no mention of “evening came” for the Sabbath…leaving one to think perhaps of the rest “in” God. It is the day of new creation because Jesus is the new creation…all is fulfilled in him.

New Testament and the Resurrection

After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to the twelve on “the first day of the week”. Jesus breathed on the twelve on that day and gave them power to forgive sins (see Jn 20:22); the apostle John was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10).

Luke speaks of gathering on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 1:6). St. Paul — in his First Letter to the  Corinthians (16:2) — speaks of taking up collections on the first day of the week. Hence, worship on Sundays was already a happening thing.

Some people “accuse” Rome of making the change but Rome was not yet the center of the Church back then…it was still Jerusalem. Most of the change was done because of the Resurrection on Sunday and due to the various sightings of Jesus on the first day of the week — mentioned in a previous paragraph. At first Christians kept both the seventh-day Sabbath worship and the first day of the week was for the breaking of the bread — the Eucharist. But as more God-fearing gentiles were admitted into the Christian community, they were not allowed into the temple for prayers and sacrifices because of their un-circumcision. In fact, this is why St. Paul was arrested…he was accused of bringing uncircumcised men into the temple and thus causing it to become defiled. Then in A.D. 90 Christianity was declared illegal and the Jews added a malediction into one of the daily prayers (the Amidah) of which no Christian would be comfortable praying against himself as a heretic. Thus they gave up temple worship and sacrifice and kept to just Sunday.

The Church Fathers on the Lord’s Day

Here are three quotes from a few of the Church fathers on worshipping on the first day of the week:

St. Ignatius of Antioch:

“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner…. But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, and rejoicing after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days.”

Barnabas (2nd Century A.D. 120):

“We keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”

Justin Martyr (2nd Century A.D. 140):

“But Sunday is the day which we all hold our common assembly, because Jesus Christ, our Saviour, on the same day rose from the dead,” (Justin, I Apol. 67:PG 6,429 and 432).

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):

#2174 — Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eighth day” following the Sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday.

Interlinear note for 2174 — “We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish Sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead”9.

#2175 — Sunday is expressly distinguished from the Sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the Sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish Sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ.

#2178 — This practice of the Christian assembly dates from the beginnings of the apostolic age…

Therefore the First Day of the week…Sunday…the Eighth Day…is indeed the queen and chief of all the days. It is truly first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day.

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Cynthia Trainque is an author who is enrolled in the Master of Arts in Ministry (MAM) for the Laity at St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, MA. She has served the church for several years as a worker, writer, and volunteer and is presently an active member of Our Lady of Lourdes in Worcester, MA. Cynthia is available to come to speak as a guest speaker/teacher on the beauty of the Catholic faith.  She gives talks and also creates/uses PowerPoint presentations. She may be contacted at [email protected].

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