When did the Sabbath change to Sunday?

On September 18, David Anderson posted the following comment on a post that I had made earlier where I mentioned that the culture seems to be invading the church. Specifically I had mentioned the shift of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Here are David's remarks...

The evidence for the change of the Sabbath to Sunday also looks rather scanty to me. I hope you will share your thoughts in a separate thread here in the discussions.

Regardless, God made a special day for our benefit. Why would we not want to pursue such a gift and learn more about it?

To your point, culture is indeed dominating the church rather the followers of Jesus being the light of the world and salt of the earth.

Let us bow in prayer...

With David's suggestion, we'll indeed kick off a new thread... :-)

I'd like to start by saying that I am not trying in any way to be judgmental of those who rest and worship on Sunday. There is a very, very long tradition of resting from our work on Sunday and it's not uncommon for Christians to refer to Sunday as "the Sabbath". Recently I have been focused on how much the church has allowed culture to dictate doctrine and practice, and I got to thinking about exactly when Christians made the transition from Saturday Sabbath observance to Sunday. While the book of Acts does record the early Christians as meeting on the "first day of the week" (Acts 20:7), it does not appear to record any practice whereby those same Christians rested on the first day instead of the seventh day. Typing "Why is church on Sunday?" into Google returns many references to Emperor Constantine's decree of Sunday worship and rest in 321 AD as the tipping point from the seventh day to the first. At least this gives us a starting point for the discussion since after this time it appears that this became the norm.

While I can't say that I've done an exhaustive search of Scripture to see what it has to say on this topic, I have found a few things. First though, I think that we should start in Exodus 20:8-11 to see what God commands...

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Interestingly enough, I think that many people equate the word "holy" in verse 8 with the word "worship", as in what we do on Sunday. Yet is that really the case? I like to take the Bible at face value, so I tend to think that verses 9-11 describe what holiness actually means. Simply put, it means "rest". Hopefully that interpretation should not be shocking as we define "holy" in the dictionary to mean "dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred." Indeed, there seems to be a distinction between a day being holy (blessed by God) and our God being holy. God is holy 24/7 and can be worshipped on any day. So it it unreasonable to think that early Christians still rested on the Sabbath but worshipped on the Lord's Day?

There are those who might contend that Colossians 2:16-17 means that the Christians who came from the Jewish tradition no longer rested on the seventh day. This Scripture reads...

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. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

In this case Paul could have been talking about which day of the week would be "a Sabbath", but could he not have also been talking about Sabbath observance practices as well? Remember the story of Jesus in Mark 2:23-28?

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Because I have been unable to find strong evidence that the fourth commandment has been superseded by first day rest, I have recently begun resting on the seventh day instead. Additionally, I am following Jewish observance for what is called a "day", so for me the Sabbath starts as it did for them - at sunset on Friday night and ending on Saturday night at the same time. This makes complete sense to me as "day 1" in Genesis began with darkness and ended with light. The only adjustment that I have made for modern standards is that instead of looking into the evening sky for three stars to appear before starting the next day, I instead check the time of sunset on the Accuweather app on my iPhone. :-)

Anyway, I want to reiterate that I am not trying to judge anyone for their pattern of rest or Sabbath observance routines. I may be missing something very important that I should be made aware of. I hope that anyone who has more to share will please do so. I have found that with the busyness that comes from worshipping on Sunday that having Saturday as a day of rest is very much welcomed indeed.

May God bless each of you and keep you in His tender care.

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Comments (3)
    • Hey brother, thank you for this keen reply. You have given us much to consider.

      I had been thinking lately about the very text you mentioned. And how I might implement the reality of this special day being appointed for our BENEFIT.

      The Almighty seems to be very jealous of this day:

      13 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

      Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.  

      Isaiah 58:13-14

      Growing up, I recall a Seventh Day church allow a First Day church to use its building. The Sunday Church was in the startup mode, I remember. The location was not far from our home.

      My parents were from a world where stores were closed on Sunday. We did not watch TV unless it was a "nature" program. But we were OK with it and found much else to do.

      Folks can become legalistic about anything. Yet there is something here I feel I might be missing. I like to think that everyday is special in its own way. And every act is to be an act of worship.

      Perhaps I need to take this more seriously and learn more about it. And appreciate REST more than I do. And to appreciate the rhythm of life that God has appointed through a once a week "retreat".

      We often overlook the other part of the sabbath mandate: Six days you should labor. Today, some will not start. Others will not stop.

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      • I first read your response shortly after you posted it. The Isaiah passage caught my eye and I wanted to reflect on it a bit before responding. I must confess that I'm struggling a bit to put this passage into context. The way that it's translated in your post above, as well as in the ESV, the words "finding thine own pleasure" seem to stand out. On the face of it, it would seem that God is saying that fun and the Sabbath are mutually exclusive. And I know many Christians also feel exactly this way. Just recently I saw a picture of a sign at a Christian recreational facility asking people to refrain from using the ballfields on Sunday. This too is the world that I grew up in.

        Digging further into the Isaiah passage, the footnotes in the ESV say that the word "pleasure" can also be translated as "business". But business is such a broad term that it's tough to think of it exclusively as the work that we do to get paid. Perhaps something can be gleaned from the same chapter, verse 3b, "Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.". In the verses leading up to those you cited, it feels as though there is a connection between a day of fasting and the Sabbath. Or maybe I'm just reading something that is not there.

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      • The didacha (1st Ce) document 14th chapter, verse 1 says"but on the Lord's day, after that you have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure!" Ever as they gathering we must remember that this is a mobile church, that they still respected Shabbat (on Saturday). Zola Levitt said, there was both the Creation Shabbat and the celebration of the Lord's day gatherings! Shalom my friend. Roddi 

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        When did the Sabbath change to Sunday?
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