Main Menu
Doctrinal Studies

Hebrew Roots
& Sabbath Issues

The Feasts of Israel
Christians & the Feasts
Sabbath or Sunday
Sunday & Early Church
Jesus' Example
The 10 Commandments
The Law of Christ
Hebrew New Testament?
Jesus or Zeus?
Author of Hebrews
Perversion of Repentance
PFRS Home > Doctrinal Studies > Hebrew Roots & Sabbath Issues

Sabbath or Sunday, the Biblical Evidence

Copyright © Tim Warner

Sunday is not a pagan holiday any more than Saturday is a pagan holiday. Sure, "Sunday" was named for the "sun god," and ancient pagans who worshipped the sun worshipped on Sunday. The Romans and Greeks worshipped the celestial bodies, and thought they were gods. So, they named the days of the week after these gods. Sunday is named for the sun, monday for the moon, etc. Saturday is named for Saturn. And pagans who worshipped Saturn worshipped on Saturday. Does this make the Sabbath a pagan holiday? And are Jews idolaters for worshipping on the Sabbath? Are they worshipping Saturn? Then neither are Christians idolaters for worshipping on Sunday.

The clear teaching of the New Testament is that believers have freedom to worship the Lord, or to honor any day they choose, or none at all.

Rom 14:4-14
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.
10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

Likewise, Paul told the Colossian church not to be intimidated by the Judaizers and Sabbath keepers.

Col 2:16-17
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

The practice of meeting for worship on Sunday comes from the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciples met on two consecutive Sundays, beginning with the day of the resurrection.

John 20:19-29
19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."
20 Now when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."
22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!"
27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

This first gathering described is really the very first meeting of a Christian church. Even though the disciples were not fully aware of what was happening, their eternal salvation and inheritance had just been accomplished by Jesus Christ. Luke gives us more information about the first appearance of Jesus on Sunday afternoon. Notice that Jesus took this occasion to give a lengthy exposition of Scripture to His Church. The account picks up with the two disciples, who had spoken with Jesus on the road to Emmaeus, hurrying back to Jerusalem to announce their encounter to the rest of the disciples.

Luke 24:32-49
32 And they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"
33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,
34 saying, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"
35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.
36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you."
37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.
38 And He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?
39 "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."
40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.
41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?"
42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.
43 And He took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me."
45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.
46 Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,
47 "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48 "And you are witnesses of these things.
49 "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high."

Seven weeks later, again we find the disciples assembled on Sunday. The Feast of Pentecost was always on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath following Passover [Lev. 23:15,16]. The word "Pentecost" means "50th" because it was the 50th day after the Passover Sabbath. According to Scripture, it must always fall on a Sunday. It was on this Sunday that the disciples' assembly was interrupted again, not with the physical presence of Jesus as twice before, but with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Peter then took the occasion to preach to the crowds outside who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast. And what a sermon it was! Three thousand Jews from the Diaspora were saved, baptized, and added to the Church on that seventh Sunday after the resurrection.

The next indication we have of the day Christians met, comes from the following passage.

Acts 20:6-7
6 And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.
7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

Verse seven seems to indicate that it was the practice of this church to meet on Sunday. Here is a reference to the "love feast" which was commonly practiced by the early Christians. They would meet together on Sunday to eat, and then worship [1 Cor. 18-34 & Jude 1:12]. The expression "break bread" is thought by some to refer to a normal meal. But, the term most often appears in Scripture in reference to Jesus' "breaking the loaf" at the Last Supper.

Matt 26:26
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

The next occurrence of "breaking bread" is found in Luke's account of the two disciples on the road to Emmeaus on resurrection Sunday [Luke 24:30]. They did not recognize Jesus until he took the loaf of bread and broke it, just as He had done three days earlier at the Last Supper. Luke says immediately they recognized Him, and he vanished from their sight. When they reported back to the other disciples, they said that Jesus was known to them because of His "breaking of bread" [v. 35]. This implies that there was something unique here.

Also, Paul informs us that Christians placed a special significance on "breaking bread" that was associated exclusively with keeping the Lord's Supper.

1 Cor 10:16
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

Even if the term "breaking bread" was common in the first century, it took on a different meaning for Christians.

1 Cor 11:24
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

Notice Jesus' "breaking" the bread was an act symbolizing the broken body of Christ on the cross for us. Notice also, that Jesus told the disciples to repeat the practice of "breaking" the bread as a part of their Communion. He did not merely tell them to eat little crackers. He told them to take a loaf, to brake it, and then to partake of it. That is most significant to the latter usage of the term, "breaking bread" in Acts.

The next time "breaking bread" is mentioned is in reference to the new converts continuing in the "Apostles' doctrine."

Acts 2:42
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

It seems to me that this "breaking of bread" is not simply eating ordinary meals. Of course they continued to eat meals after conversion! It would be rather redundant to tell us they continued eating, because no one supposes that Christians stop eating after conversion! Also, the other things listed in this verse have to do with godly living, not with the needs of the body. This was more than just an ordinary meal. It became the practice of the early Christians to meet together to eat, and to observe the Lord's Supper. Such gatherings were called "love (agape) feasts."

Jude 1:12
12 These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots;

Paul had to rebuke the Corinthian church because of their abuse of the "love feast." Some of the wealthy members had taken to bringing quite an elaborate meal for themselves, and did not share with those who were of meager means, embarrassing them (1 Cor. 13:18-34). He basically told them, "if you're that hungry, eat at home! Don't defile the Lord's supper." At any rate, we see that it was common practice for the churches to meet together regularly for this "love feast" and to observe the Lord's Supper, the "breaking of the loaf."

Therefore, when Acts 20 tells us "upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread," Luke was indicating something that was common practice among the churches. Now, it is certainly possible that they called together a special meeting because of Paul's imminent departure, as Sabbatarians usually claim. But, one wonders why? If they normally met for the "love feast" on Saturday, and if Paul was departing on Monday, there is no logical reason to call the church together on Sunday. They could have their normal meeting on Saturday, and Paul could preach to them, and could then have time to rest before his trip on Monday morning. Since they met for their love feast on Sunday, and Paul preached till midnight, he actually was rather inconvenienced and sleep deprived having to catch his ship on Monday morning! There is simply no logic to their moving the love feast to Sunday as a special meeting, since this would cause Paul inconvenience, and there was no benefit.

Next, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church regarding a special collection to be taken up for the poor saints at Jerusalem.

1 Cor 16:2-3
2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
3 And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem.

Here, Paul told them to set aside their offering on Sunday. One must ask, why Sunday unless this was when they gathered together? Sabbatarians claim that the words "lay aside" simply mean to set their gift aside at home. But, then why Sunday? If Paul was supposing that they do this weekly (as mention of Sunday indicates), then he would be under the impression that they received their wages weekly. If so, it would seem that Fridays would be the day to set aside one's gift. Furthermore, this interpretation ignores Paul's real point. He didn't want to have to deal with collecting the gifts when he came. He wanted them already collected before he arrived. How would setting aside a gift at home each Sunday help Paul's collection of the gifts? It would not! The collection must be done prior to Paul's arrival. That is the whole point. Therefore, "laying in store" is a reference to bringing your gift on Sunday, where they would be collected and stored until Paul's arrival. By telling them to do this on Sunday, Paul was supposing that they would be meeting together on Sundays.

Our final evidence comes from John's use of the expression "the Lord's day." This phrase is a reference to Sunday, the day of Jesus' resurrection. Sabbatarians claim it means the Sabbath. However, the Greek word for "Lord's" in this verse is used only one other time in Scripture, in reference to "the Lord's supper" [1 Cor. 11:20]. This is clearly referring to Jesus. "The Lord's supper" is Jesus' supper, the "breaking of the loaf" practiced weekly by the early Christians. So, "the Lord's day" would most likely refer to "Jesus' day," Sunday, the day of the resurrection. There is really no question that John meant Sunday. We know this from other Christian literature also written in the latter part of the first century by those who knew John personally, which shows that the term "the Lord's day" was a common expression for Sunday. (See our article: Sunday and the Early Church).

There is no example in Scripture of a New Testament local church meeting on the Sabbath. We are not claiming that all Jewish Christians immediately abandoned the Sabbath. Many continued to observe the Sabbath as well as meeting on Sunday. Paul himself said that he was innocent of the charges leveled by the Jews about breaking the Law. However, we get a glimpse into Paul's practice from his own words.

1 Cor 9:18-23
18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.
22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Paul was "observant" of the Law when with the Jews. But, when with the Gentiles, he did not follow the requirements of the Law, including Sabbath observance. Neither did Paul teach the Gentiles to be observant of the Law. In fact, Paul's teaching to the Gentiles became the noose whereby the Jews attempted to hang him at his arrest in Jerusalem. His teaching the Gentiles that they were not under the Law of Moses gave rise to even the Jewish believers in Jerusalem mistakenly assuming that he was teaching the Jews of the Diaspora also that they must forsake the traditions passed down by Moses. And they were not very happy about it. The Apostles in Jerusalem warned Paul of this, and launched a plan to avoid a conflict. However, the plan was ill-conceived and backfired, and Paul ended up being arrested.

Acts 21:18-30
18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;
21 "but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
22 "What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come.
23 "Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.
24 "Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.
25 "But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality."
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.
27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him,
28 crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place."
29 (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
30 And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

In conclusion, the evidence from Scripture indicates that Christians worshipped on Sunday from the very beginning. That some of the Jewish believers also rested on the Sabbath is clear, from the above passage which describes them as "zealous for the Law." But, Sabbath observance was never imposed on the Gentile believers. The Gospel message that was consistently preached by Paul, the "Apostle to the Gentiles," emphasized the fact that the Law, which was given exclusively to Israel, had been superseded by the New Covenant. That Christians continued to worship on Sunday is perfectly clear from the earliest extra-biblical Christian literature as well.

Back to the top