Monday, June 18, 2012

Christian Sabbath is Sunday, not Saturday

I've written previously on the need to keep Sundays holy.  If you have not read those posts, please do (see note at the end of this blog).  I know that some people are very opposed to this teaching.  Some feel it is not biblical to keep the Sabbath, which I have already addressed in my previous posts.  Others believe the Sabbath is supposed to be celebrated from Friday evening to Saturday evening.  So I'd like to address that question here in this post. I will be borrowing largely from research done by someone who identifies herself as "ursinsrforgiven" on the official website of brother Yong Doo-Kim.

She provided the following information, which I have revised here, explaining that the true Christian Sabbath is Sunday, not Saturday.  I will quote her piece directly, as much as possible, interjecting my own comments in between hers:

Emperor Constantine did not change the Christian Sabbath
Some people claim that Emperor Constantine changed the Sabbath from Saturday to the first day of the week. "A little knowledge of history can easily dispel that myth."

First, consider the common practice of Christians before the time of Constantine, who became emperor in the fourth century. "For Christians two important events happened on Sunday. First, the Resurrection of Christ occurred on Easter Sunday (John 20:1ff). Secondly, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:1ff). Also after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles twice, each on Sunday (John 20:19, 26). As a result, Sunday became known as the Lord's Day for Christians." Let's take a close look at those two instances when Jesus appeared to His disciples on Sundays after His resurrection:

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'” (Joh 20:19).

Matthew Henry, a famous Sunday Sabbath keeper, stated in his commentary on this verse:
"Here is a Christian sabbath observed by the disciples, and owned by our Lord Jesus. The visit Christ made to his disciples was on the first day of the week. And the first day of the week is (I think) the only day of the week, or month, or year, that is ever mentioned by number in all the New Testament; and this is several times spoken of as a day religiously observed. Though it was said here expressly (Joh_20:1) that Christ arose on the first day of the week, and it might have been sufficient to say here (Joh_20:19), he appeared the same day at evening; yet, to put an honour upon the day, it is repeated, being the first day of the week; not that the apostles designed to put honour upon the day (they were yet in doubt concerning the occasion of it), but God designed to put honour upon it, by ordering it that they should be altogether, to receive Christ's first visit on that day. Thus, in effect, he blessed and sanctified that day, because in it the Redeemer rested."

"A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!'" (Joh 20:26, NIV).

Matthew Henry commented on this verse:
"He deferred it so long as seven days. And why so? (1.) That he might put a rebuke upon Thomas for his incredulity. He had neglected the former meeting of the disciples; and, to teach him to prize those seasons of grace better for the future, he cannot have such another opportunity for several days. He that slips one tide must stay a good while for another. A very melancholy week, we have reason to think Thomas had of it, drooping, and in suspense, while the other disciples were full of joy; and it was owing to himself and his own folly. (2.) That he might try the faith and patience of the rest of the disciples. They had gained a great point when they were satisfied that they had seen the Lord. Then were the disciples glad; but he would try whether they could keep the ground they had got, when they saw no more of him for some days. And thus he would gradually wean them from his bodily presence, which they had doted and depended too much upon. (3.) That he might put an honour upon the first day of the week, and give a plain intimation of his will, that it should be observed in his church as the Christian sabbath, the weekly day of holy rest and holy convocations. That one day in seven should be religiously observed was an appointment from the beginning, as old as innocency; and that in the kingdom of the Messiah the first day of the week should be that solemn day this was indication enough, that Christ on that day once and again met his disciples in a religious assembly. It is highly probable that in his former appearance to them he appointed them that day seven-night to be together again, and promised to meet them; and also that he appeared to them every first day of the week, besides other times, during the forty days. The religious observance of that day has been thence transmitted down to us through every age of the church. This therefore is the day which the Lord has made."

Moreover, with a bit of research, I easily verified that the first Pentecost in Acts 2 was on the first day of the week (see here).  And the early church continued to assemble together on the first day of the week to break bread, as we read in the book of Acts:

"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.: (Ac 20:7)

"The Romans had an 8 day week with the 8th day being a market day. The Romans never ceased working on their 7th day which they called Dies Solis. In 321, Emperor Constantine issued an edict forbidding work on the Christian Sabbath. That edict never became part of Roman law. In the Theodosian Code, all Constantine did was close the courts on the day he called Dies Solis which just happened to coincide with the Christian Sabbath."

"Constantine and his advisers noticed that the Christian Sabbath corresponded with the Roman Dies Solis or Day of the Sun so they used that to merge Christianity with Roman paganism."

"Christians by this time were already meeting together for worship on the first day of the week. Many, if not most, had been doing so for at least a couple centuries before Constantine arrived on the scene. They did not call this day Sunday, but rather referred to it as the Lord's Day, in honor of Christ's resurrection from the dead. And history does not support statements by the Catholic Church that they changed the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday. This is an inconsistent argument that fails to make any sense."

Emperor Leo I was the first truly Christian Emperor—not Constantine.
"In 469, the Emperor passed legislation outlawing work on the Sabbath and commanding all to observe the day of the Resurrection with reverence. Obviously he wanted all the people to keep the 4th Commandment."

"Leo's coronation as Emperor on February 7, 457, was the first known to involve the Patriarch of Constantinople.  In 469, Leo issued an edict concerning the 'Christian Sabbath or the Lord's Day.' Here is Constitution LIV (54) from the Constitutions of Emperor Leo:"
A law was in force among the disciples of these distinguished men which directed that every kind of labor shall be suspended on the day of the Resurrection. There is, however, another which contradicts this, and provides that all persons shall not be prevented from working upon that day, but that some should be indulged in this respect; for it declares that judges, the inhabitants of cities, and all artisans should rest on this venerated day, but that persons residing in the country can freely engage in the cultivation of their fields, which exception is not founded upon reason. For although, in this instance, the pretext that the crops must be saved can be alleged, this excuse is of no weight, and indeed is futile, as when God gave Us the fruits of the earth he intended that they should be preserved by the effect of the sun, to which, rather than to the industry of the cultivators of the soil, is due the abundance of the crops, and should be so attributed; and as the existence of a law of this kind dishonors the worship of the Lord, and is contrary to what was prescribed by those who, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, obtained a victory over all their adversaries, We hereby decree, in accordance with the 'wishes of the Holy Spirit,' as proclaimed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, that, during the sacred day when Our redemption is celebrated, everyone shall desist from labor, and neither farmers nor anyone else shall be allowed to perform any unlawful work. For if those who observed only the shadow and semblance of the laws had so much respect for the Sabbath as to strictly abstain from every kind of labor, how can those who are enlightened by divine grace, and cultivate the truth, fail to exhibit the same reverence for the one day out of seven which has been consecrated to the glory of God, and on which he has honored Us, and delivered Us from death? And when one day of the seven has been dedicated to Our Lord, does it not evince contempt for religion to refuse to be satisfied with working during the other days and not preserve this one sacred and inviolate for God, nor make a distinction between it and the others by using it for the same purpose? (Constitution LIV).
"We can directly cite the writings of Christians who lived in the first century - centuries BEFORE Eusebius or Constantine. Even though these writings do not have the same authority as the Bible, they are still reliable historical sources - preserving the thoughts, beliefs and lifestyle of Christians during the first century. These writings include the Didache (a church manual written by the Apostles during the 1st century), the Epistle of Barnabas (c. 100 A.D.) and the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred in Rome before 110 A.D. Translations of these classic Christian writings can be found at the local public or university library. The following quotes were cited from Early Christian Writings (Penguin Classics, 1987). According to the Didache, the Apostles wrote:"
Assemble on the Lord's Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. [The Didache 14:1]
"This passage is very similar to Acts 20:7. Also note the connection between the breaking of bread and the Eucharist (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23ff). St. Barnabas in his epistle devotes a whole chapter on the issue of the Sabbath. He concluded by writing:"
And we too rejoice in celebrating the eighth day; because that was when Jesus rose from the dead... [Epistle of Barnabas 15]
"St. Barnabas in using the phrase 'the eighth day' was referring to Sunday. Perhaps the most powerful statement was made by St. Ignatius of Antioch. Before 110 A.D., St. Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians:"
We have seen how former adherents of the ancient customs have since attained to a new hope; so that they have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord's Day instead - the Day when life first dawned for us, thanks to Him (Jesus) and His death. [Epistle to the Magnesians 9]
"This passage indicates that early Christian converts from Judaism began to observe the Lord's Day in honor of Christ's Resurrection. From their writings it is clear that Christians already during the first century were observing the Lord's Day on Sunday."

"As baptism replaced circumcision (Col 2:11-12) for Christians, so does Sunday replace Saturday. Observance of the Lord's Day is not a 'mark of the beast' but the mark of being Christian."

Early Church Fathers' Writings

Epistle of Barnabas 2:4-6 (c. 130 A.D.)
For He has made it clear to us through all the prophets that He needs neither sacrifices nor whole burnt offerings nor general offerings, saying on one occasion: 'What is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?' says the Lord. 'I am full of whole burnt offerings, and I do not want the fat of lambs and blood of bulls and goats, not even if you come to appear before Me. For who demanded these things from your hands? Do not continue to trample My court. If you bring fine flour, it is in vain; incense is detestable to Me; your new moons and Sabbaths (Saturday) I cannot stand.' Therefore He has abolished these things, in order that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is free from the yoke of compulsion, might have its offering, one not made by man.
Epistle of Barnabas 15:8-9 (c. 130 A.D.)
Finally, He says to them: 'I cannot bear your new moons and sabbaths(Saturday).' You see what He means: it is not the present sabbaths that are acceptable to Me, but the one that I have made; on that Sabbath, after I have set everything at rest, I will create the beginning of an eighth day, which is the beginning of another world. This is why we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day on which Jesus both arose from the dead and, after appearing again, ascended into heaven." (11)The Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) 14:1 (c. 70 A.D.)"On the Lord's own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure." (12)
"The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus (c. 260-339 A.D.) is probably one of the most important works on early Church history available, covering the events of its first three centuries. As one born during the early Church period, Eusebius was an able historian who had a close view of the events that helped shape the historical and theological developments of the early Church."

Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 5 (c. 315 A.D.)
For as the name Christians is intended to indicate this very idea, that a man, by the knowledge and doctrine of Christ, is distinguished by modesty and justice, by patience and a virtuous fortitude, and by a profession of piety towards the one and only true and supreme God; all this no less studiously cultivated by them than by us. They did not, therefore, regard circumcision, nor observe the Sabbath (Saturday), neither do we; neither do we abstain from certain foods, nor regard other injunctions, which Moses subsequently delivered to be observed in types and symbols, because such things as these do not belong to Christians. (13)
Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 23 (c. 315 A.D.)
The churches throughout the rest of the world observe the practice that has prevailed from apostolic tradition until the present time, so that it would not be proper to terminate our fast on any other but the day of the resurrection of our Savior. Hence there were synods and convocations of the bishops on this question; and all unanimously drew up the ecclesiastical decree, which they communicated to all the churches in all places, that the mystery of our Lords resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than the Lords day. (15)
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 178 A.D.)
The duty of celebrating the mystery of the resurrection of our Lord may be done only on the day of the Lord. (16)
Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.)
"Justin Martyr lived during the reign of Antonius Pius and suffered martyrdom in 165 A.D. during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He was an enthusiastic evangelist of the Gospel, and after traveling widely throughout the Roman Empire settled in Rome as a Christian teacher. While there, neighboring philosophers plotted against him because of his Christian profession, brought him up before the Roman authorities, who carried out his execution by beheading him."

The First Apology of Justin, Chapter 67
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things ... But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. (17)
"This is the Church of which Christ said 'the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.'" The Lord is quite capable of preserving and/or restoring Truth in His Church over the centuries. "Also, the men who wrote letters such as these to the early Christians were the type of people of whom were spoken of in Hebrews 11. (Hebrews 11:35-40)." 

"Many early Church leaders and followers of Christ such as Ignatius, Polycarp and Justin Martyr, to name a few, suffered severe persecution and eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Romans for spreading the Gospel of Christ. But to keep to the main point, Sabbath-keeping was not a requirement (talking about Saturday, the old Sabbath.) in those days for all Christians, nor was it generally observed."

In the fourth century, John Chrysostom cited Acts 20:7 as testimony. According to this verse in the Bible, the disciples assembled together on Sunday, the first day of the week, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper:

Scripture never mentions any Sabbath day (Saturday) gatherings by believers for fellowship or worship. However, there are clear passages that mention the first day of the week.  "And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled together to break bread [the Lord's Supper], Paul discoursed with them, intending to leave the next morning; and he kept on with his message until midnight." (Acts 20:7)

"Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food or drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath (Saturday). These are only a SHADOW of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)"

"According to these verses, the Hebrew diet, festivals and Sabbaths are no longer obligations for Christians. These were only a FORESHADOWING of things to come in Christ. The focus now is Christ (2 Cor. 3:7-17). Elsewhere Paul told the Corinthians to contribute money to the Church each Sunday (1 Cor 16:1-2)."

"NOW CONCERNING the money contributed for [the relief of] the saints (God's people): you are to do the same as I directed the churches of Galatia to do.On the first [day] of each week, let each one of you [personally] put aside something and save it up as he has prospered [in proportion to what he is given], so that no collections will need to be taken after I come." (1 Cor 16:1-2).

"This would be a strange request, if Christians assembled on Saturdays...According to Rev. 1:10, John was 'in the Spirit on the Lord's day.' This is the only place in the Bible where the phrase 'the Lord’s day' occurs. If his vision occurred on Saturday, St. John would have written 'the Sabbath' instead of using a new [expression]. Even though the disciples may have attended the synagogues on the Sabbath to evangelize (Acts 18:4), there is already a definite transition from the Sabbath to the Lord's Day in the New Testament."

[end of article by "ursinsrforgiven" accompanied by my comments]

The Days of the Week in Other Cultures
Obviously, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Sunday is considered to be the first day of the week. In this tradition, biblical Sabbath corresponds to Saturday, and the day following Sabbath is the first day of the week corresponding to Sunday, which the Hebrews call Yom Rishon (literally "First Day").  Certainly this is the pattern followed throughout all of the Scriptures, including the New Testament.  Both the ancient Jews and the early Christians designated the days by numbers (as was first done in Genesis 1), while the sixth and the seventh were also called ‘the Preparation’ and 'the Sabbath’ respectively.  However, it is interesting to note that not all cultures consider Saturday to be the seventh day.  Some consider Sunday the seventh day of the week and Monday as the first day.

For example, we spent nearly five years in Hungary, where Sunday is the seventh day.  According to Wikipedia, "The Slavic, Baltic and Uralic languages (except Finnish and partially Estonian) adopted numbering [the days], but took Monday rather than Sunday as the "first day".  Therefore, when people become dogmatic that the biblical Sabbath day of worship must be on Saturday, they are doing so from a culturally-centered or traditional point of view.

Moreover, there is further evidence that other cultures of the world consider Sunday to be the day of worship. For example, Wikipedia states that one "Chinese numbering system, found in spoken Mandarin and in southern dialects/languages (e.g. Wu, Yue and Min), refers to Sunday as the 'day of worship' and numbers the other days 'first [day after] worship' (Monday) through to 'sixth [day after] worship' (Saturday). The Chinese word used for 'worship' is associated with Christian and Muslim worship."  Likewise, many European languages, including all of the Romance languages, have changed the name of Sunday to the equivalent of "the Lord's day" in English (based on the Latin dies Dominica). In Russian and Portuguese, their word for Sunday means "resurrection."

These are just a few examples of how certain aspects of the world's languages point to the Truth of God's Word.

The Sun of Righteousness
The fact that Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, rose from the dead on Dies Solis (the "sun's day") is another such redemptive analogy.  The prophet Malachi prophesied four hundred years before Christ:

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves." (Mal 4:2)

As I wrote in my article, Light of the World, "The word for sun in this passage is the Hebrew word , שׁמשׁ, 'shemesh' (sheh'-mesh). It comes from an unused root meaning to be brilliant; the sun. So while the expression 'Sun of Righteousness' sounds like the English expression 'Son of Righteousness,' this is not the case in the original Hebrew language the Scripture was written in. This Hebrew word shemesh is the same word used for the actual sun in our sky, which is the closest star to the earth." It sounds nothing like "ben," the Hebrew word for son.  But the Scripture does not confuse God with the sun, and never does it teach that the sun is God or that we should worship the sun.

The Psalmist wrote, "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." (Psa 84:11)

The apostles, as well as the Church fathers, from Justin downward, and nearly all the earlier commentators understood the "Sun of Righteousness" to be Christ, who is described as the rising sun.  The apostle Paul wrote, "Christ will shine on you" (Eph 5:14b). The apostle Peter wrote of the day dawning and the Morning Star (a figurative reference to Christ as the sun) rising in your hearts (2 Pe 1:19). The apostle John wrote about the New Jerusalem in heaven: "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp" (Rev 21:23). Jesus refers to Himself as "the Light of the World" (Jn 8:12) and "the Bright Morning Star" (Rev 22:16).  Clement of Alexandria wrote of "the Sun of the Resurrection, he who was born before the dawn, whose beams give light". The prophet Isaiah also wrote:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (Is 60:1-3).

Therefore, it's no coincidence that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, known at that time in the Roman empire as Dies Solis (the "sun's day").  He alone is the only sun to be worshiped, which the prophets foretold. Anyone who takes issue with the fact that we worship the Lord on Sunday has missed the intended prophetic significance.

In Conclusion
I think the article by the sister I have quoted above was well-done and sums up my own thoughts on the matter succinctly. 

I acknowledge that there are different opinions in the Body of Christ about which day is the Lord's Day or Christian Sabbath according to the Bible.  I have my opinion, which is that the Christian Sabbath is on Sundays. Unfortunately Seventh Day Adventists teach that keeping Sunday's holy is or will become the mark of the beast, and they dogmatically insist that the Christian Sabbath is on Saturdays (see Seventh-day Adventist Heresies).

However, the focus should always be on the Lord, not on passing judgment on others regarding which day they believe is the Sabbath day.  You cannot rely on your obedience to the Law to save you, because it is only by grace that you are saved through faith (Eph 2:8-10).  Always remember that we can do nothing apart from the Lord Jesus (Jn 15:5).

I think the main reason why it is so important for us to assemble ourselves together for worship on the same day -- the Lord's day -- is for the sake of unity.  When we assemble together in the Lord's name, there is greater power in the spirit than when we pray separately, and the enemy fears this. 

As a believer in Christ, you have a great deal of freedom in this matter, but with that freedom comes a great responsibility.  You will be accountable to God for your decision, and subsequent actions, so make your decision wisely.  If you are a pastor, I recommend you diligently search the Scriptures, pray and ask the Lord for guidance, and then be led by the Spirit in obedience to the Word.  If you are not a pastor, then submit to your leaders and honor the day they designate for worship.

I also recommend reading David Wilkerson's message, Honoring the Sabbath, which I discovered after writing this article.

Please also see my previous posts on this blog about keeping Sundays holy:
Resting from Work
Keeping Sundays Holy - part I
Keeping Sunday Holy - part II
Famous Christian Sabbath Observers
The Lord's Day
Sabbath Period
Light of the World
Seventh-day Adventist Heresies

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted.  

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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