Some friends attend a church that meets on Saturday instead of Sunday. We recently had a good discussion that left me with a lot of questions.
I decided to do a deep and thorough search of the Bible and found some surprising answers.
So who changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday?
The early believers noted Jesus was resurrected on Sunday morning, which also coincided with the Jewish Feast of Firstfruits. They began to meet on Sunday mornings to commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem in the first Century, AD -hundreds of years before Constantine or the first Pope.
Most of the early Christians as well as Jesus Christ and his disciples were Jewish.
Worship on the Sunday was a very big change compared to worshiping on the Sabbath.
But why did they start worshiping God on Sunday instead of Saturday?
It’s interesting to note when the Sabbath was first observed. God first observed the Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3.
After completing the 6 days of creation, he rested on the seventh day.
But the first mention of man observing the Sabbath isn’t until Exodus 16:23 –hundreds, if not thousands of years later!
It was in the Desert of Sin between Elim and Mount Sinai -the same place where the Lord gave quail and manna for the Israelites to eat.
While it’s true God himself rested in Genesis 2:3, he did not institute the Sabbath for man until the time of Moses at Mt. Sinai –after many generations of man had lived on the earth.
In fact, I was amazed to learn there is no record of man keeping the Sabbath all the way from Genesis 2:3 to Exodus 16:23 –a very long span of time!
Why did God wait so long to give the Sabbath law to man?
Sinai happened many generations after Adam and Eve. The Sabbath law didn’t come to Enoch, Methuselah or Noah.
The Sabbath wasn’t given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It wasn’t even given to Joseph.
The house of Israel lived through 430 years in Egypt and they were never given the Sabbath law.
Over one thousand years –and possibly many more years- passed between Eden and Mt. Sinai before God made the Sabbath a law.
Let’s drill down into the details and find out where- and when- the Sabbath was first observed by man.
Is the Sabbath Still on Saturday?
Sabbath comes from a word that means “seven”. The Sabbath is the 7th day of the week.
In Genesis 2:3 we learn that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation.”
God did not rest because he was tired. God rested because he saw that it was good and his creation was perfect.
Seven is the number of perfect completeness, and he rested on the seventh day.
People Also Ask:
Did the Catholic Church [or the Pope] Change the Sabbath? Is the Sabbath on Saturday? Or Sunday? Why Do We Go to Church on Sunday?
All through the first chapter of Genesis it says “and there was evening and there was morning” and then the new day would begin.
Genesis is the first of the books of Moses at the very beginning of the Bible.
These first five books of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew and are called the Torah.
To this day, the Jewish people count their days according to this pattern.
Each day begins at sundown and ends the following day at sundown. When the sun goes down a new day begins.
The Sabbath begins Friday at sundown and ends Saturday at sundown.
The Sabbath has never changed.
Today it is typical for the Jewish people to observe the Sabbath beginning Friday evening.
Jews will go to Synagogue or Temple Friday evening.
Most Messianic Jews attend worship services Friday evening or Saturday, since both days include the Sabbath.
This is quite different from the Western view of days going from midnight until midnight.
Who Was the Sabbath Given To?
As I was searching through Exodus, this was my biggest surprise.
I know there are differing views on the Sabbath day, but what I’m about to share is something I never saw coming, so I was amazed and I know you will be too!
Though most Christian Churches hold Sunday services, there are quite a few Christian churches that insist that Saturday is the correct day because it is the Sabbath.
In fact, the Christian advocates of Sabbath worship like to cite Exodus as the place where God said “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
And for sure, the Sabbath was the specific day of worship since the book of Exodus.
The Sabbath law is a good law. It’s God’s law.
When I came across this other passage from Exodus, it changed everything.
But remember, the Sabbath-worship advocates also point to New Testament passages.
In fact, there’s been quite a debate between Saturday-worshipers and Sunday worshipers about which day is the correct day of worship.
Generally, Saturday worshipers claim their day is correct because it coincides with the Sabbath.
If you want to see a scholarly-but-easy-to-read book on this subject, try “A Brief History of Sunday: From the New Testament to the New Creation” by Justo L. Gonzalez on Amazon.
Sunday worshipers cite the New Testament references to Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday and the references to early believers meeting on the first day of the week as in Acts 20:7.
But the arguments on both sides fall short in light of this nearly forgotten passage in Exodus.
Hardly anybody ever mentions it, but it’s right there for all to see:
12 Then the Lord said to Moses, 13 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. 14 “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15 For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
Of course, I added the emphasis. Do you see it? The Sabbath law was for Israel.
It’s a sign just between God and Israel.
If the Sabbath is just a sign between God and Israel, it looks like it isn’t for other folks like you and me.
Was Jesus Resurrected on Firstfruits?
Jesus Christ was crucified on the feast of Passover, and he rose on Sunday –the first day of the week.
“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” Mark 16:9
While it is well known that Jesus rose on Sunday, what’s not as well-known is that this special Sunday was also a feast day known as the Feast of First Fruits.
Sunday worship began right in and near Jerusalem -at the spiritual and geographical epicenter of the Jewish faith.
There was another feast in between them called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The Passover was a special feast of the Hebrew people (The Hebrews were later known as the Jewish people) that had been given to them as part of the Law of Moses.
During the first Passover, God instructed the Jewish people to eat the Passover lamb:
“This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s Passover.” -Exodus 12:11 NIV.
God announced to Moses that for the families that slaughtered the lamb and spread its blood on the posts and lintel of the door of their house, the Angel of Death would “pass over” them and their family.
Why did the God institute these feasts in quick succession?
Because they were a lesson to them and a prophecy of what was to come.
The Passover foretold the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread told of the cleansing of sin brought by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
Firstfruits is a celebration of Jesus as the First fruit of all the believers who will also enjoy eternal life by believing in him and his works rather than their own works.
Jesus and the Sabbath
Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man. He is the only mediator between God and man, and he came as the perfect sacrificial lamb to take our place in death.
Jesus was resurrected on the Feast of Firstfruits.
Why was the Feast of Firstfruits celebrated? And what is the meaning of this?
Those of us who place our trust in him are the rest of the crop that comes after the Firstfruits.
The Firstfruits were the very first grain to be harvested.
Jesus is also referred to in the Bible as the “Firstborn from the dead.”
18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)
The believer –who has placed his trust in Jesus and his victory over death- looks to the Firstfruits as a “down payment” on the eternal life to come.
So this day –Sunday- is a prophetically important day.
It’s a very special day for the believer to commemorate as Christ’s victory over death on the day that was prophesied through God’s Law as the day when the Firstfruits would come.
Sunday –the first day of a new week- is also the 8th day since the start of the previous week. It’s a new beginning.
Other “eights” in the Old Testament are circumcision (performed on the 8th day) and the number of people saved in Noah’s ark. They both represent new beginnings, and so does the Resurrection.
In the New Testament, Resurrection Sunday is the fulfillment of these new beginnings.
The believer is cleansed and made alive by the resurrection just as circumcision was the removal of dirty flesh.
Are you interested in another Old Testament shadow of a New Testament reality? Here’s a post about the Strange Story of Moses and the Bronze Snake.
Likewise, the believer is saved as the 8 souls in the ark were saved.
Where in the Bible was the Sabbath Changed from Saturday to Sunday?
After the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, believers began assembling on the first day of the week.
The book of Acts records these events:
On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul began to speak to the people, and because he intended to leave the next day, he extended his message until midnight. -Acts 20:7.
So here we see that the believers in the early church were meeting on the first day of the week to break bread –a clear indication they were meeting on the first day of the week (Sunday) with a pastor/teacher present.
But they never changed the Sabbath day.
The Sabbath always began on Friday at sundown and ended on Saturday at sundown, and it still does.
Do you want to dig deeper in understanding the Sabbath and why most Christians attend church on Sunday? Here are some very popular articles: 1) Did the Catholic Church Change the Sabbath? (Also answers “Did the Pope Change the Sabbath?”) 2) Why Do We Go to Church on Sunday? 3) Where Did Christianity Originate? 4) Is Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday?
Did Constantine Change the Sabbath to Sunday?
Some people assume the Sabbath was changed to Sunday by Roman Emperor Constantine on March 7, 321 AD.
Constantine did indeed change the official Roman day of rest to Sunday, but he was only recognizing something after the fact that had already been going on for almost three centuries.
Constantine later made Christianity the state’s official religion.
Did this suddenly make the church grow bigger?
No, he did these things because the church had already grown very large.
Rodney Stark shows in “The Rise of Christianity” (pp. 4-13) (available on Amazon) how the growth of the church -at a steady rate of 40%-per-decade– would have reached explosive numerical growth by the early 4th century AD.
The 40%-per-decade figure is regarded as reasonable, because it is the exact sustained percentage growth rate the Mormon church has maintained for about 15 decades-and-counting.
Early Church Father’s Quotes on Saturday vs Sunday Worship
Some say the early church continued to worship on the Sabbath.
They say the church didn’t begin Sunday worship until the time of Constantine.
But here are the words of some of the early church fathers on the keeping of the Law and the Sabbath in only the 2nd and 3rd centuries, many decades before Constantine:
“Wherefore, Trypho, I will proclaim to you, and to those who wish to become proselytes, the divine message which I heard from that man. Do you see that the elements are not idle, and keep no Sabbaths? Remain as you were born. 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, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham. For when Abraham himself was in uncircumcision, he was justified and blessed by reason of the faith which he reposed in God, as the Scripture tells. Moreover, the Scriptures and the facts themselves compel us to admit that He received circumcision for a sign, and not for righteousness.(The Second Apology of Justin for the Christians Addressed to the Roman Senate. Chapter XXIII.—The opinion of the Jews regarding the law does an injury to God.)
Justin Martyr is telling us approximately 155 AD that there is no more need of Sabbath keeping among the Christian than there was in the time of Abraham before the Sabbath law was given.
This is strong evidence that Christians were already worshiping on Sunday at this time rather than the Sabbath.
Why are these Christians worshiping on Sunday?
Because they –like Abraham- believed the Lord and it is counted to them for righteousness.
Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
“[L]et him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day . . . teach us that, for the time past, righteous men kept the Sabbath or practiced circumcision, and were thus rendered ‘friends of God.’ For if circumcision purges a man, since God made Adam uncircumcised, why did he not circumcise him, even after his sinning, if circumcision purges? . . . Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, consequently his offspring also, Abel, offering him sacrifices, uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, was by him [God] commended [Gen. 4:1–7, Heb. 11:4]. . . . Noah also, uncircumcised—yes, and unobservant of the Sabbath—God freed from the deluge. For Enoch too, most righteous man, uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, he translated from this world, who did not first taste death in order that, being a candidate for eternal life, he might show us that we also may, without the burden of the law of Moses, please God”(An Answer to the Jews Chapter II.—The Law Anterior to Moses. [A.D. 203]).
Tertullian is telling us that God declared these Genesis believers righteous before the Law was given.
Why was righteousness granted? Because they believed God.
Did the Pope Change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?
The Sabbath is still the Sabbath. Christians simply chose to worship on the Lord’s Day because they see the prophetic significance of the resurrection.
And they began worshiping on Sunday hundreds of years before the first Pope, so the Pope did not change the Sabbath.
Where Did Christians First Worship on Sunday rather than Saturday?
Another important thing to ask is “where is the first instance of Sunday worship recorded in the Bible?
What location is it?
Was it in some faraway location? Or some secondary place where some homespun sect might have started their own thing?
No. It was right in Jerusalem.
Right at the epicenter of the Jewish faith.
It wasn’t at some remote locale that was out of contact with mainstream Judaism, but right where it could be seen and understood and contrasted with the historical Jewish faith.
Credited Unto Him as Righteousness
Abraham’s life and times are recorded in Genesis chapters 11-25. But the law –including the Sabbath observance- did not come until hundreds of years later during the time of Moses.
And this applied not only to Abraham, but to all his descendants –Isaac, Jacob, their wives, the 12 tribes and the multitude of people who crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai after leaving Egypt.
If God credited righteousness to Abraham, how did he become righteous without the law?
And how did all those millions of other people who became enslaved in Egypt also get right with God?
Their righteousness before God couldn’t have been through the sabbath, since they never celebrated it.
Jesus is our Sabbath and Christ the Fulfillment of the Law
The answer is now clear. The righteous are justified through faith, not of works lest any man boast.
We do not need to place our faith in a day or an observance, because Jesus is our Sabbath and our faith is in him.
Here are some of the scripture readings that apply:
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath
One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27, NIV
Is the Sabbath for Gentiles?
According to the book of Exodus, the Sabbath is reserved for Israel.
I wondered why Messianic Jews hold their services on the Sabbath and now I’ve got my answer.
12 Then the Lord said to Moses, 13 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. (italics added above)
Is Sunday worship mandatory for the believer?
Consider this verse of scripture:
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. Col 2:16
New Testament worship of the Living God is not based on a day. It is based on a person. The person of Jesus Christ.