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Eight Sundays

I have been in discussion with people of various Christian faiths who strongly held to the belief that Sunday was established as the new Sabbath because Jesus rose from the tomb on Sunday morning.  They claim that by this token, Jesus now gave us a “New Sabbath” and that we are no longer bound to the “Sabbath of the Jews”, but can now experience the freedom of His new covenant. Sunday is now the “Lord’s Day”……OR IS IT?

My question to such a theology is “Can you prove it from the Bible?” Can you show from the Bible where it clearly teaches that Sunday is now the “Sabbath.” Can you prove, from scripture that Sunday is indeed “The Lord’s Day?” Also, if the sanctity of the seventh day Sabbath was transferred from Saturday to Sunday, the Bible would clearly show this….correct?

Let’s cut to the chase. The Bible refers to Sunday as the “First day of the week.” This phrase is mentioned only eight times in the New Testament. If indeed Sunday (the first day of the week) is the “new Sabbath”, we should be able to find sufficient evidence from reading these passages. Here are the passages (In chronological order):

  1. Matthew 28:1
  2. Mark 16:2
  3. Mark 16:9
  4. Luke 24:1
  5. John 20:1
  6. John 20:19
  7. Acts 20:7
  8. 1 Corinthians 16:2

The first Sunday: Matthew 28:1 reads, “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.” You may read this entire chapter, but will not be able to find any word that appears to exalt Sunday or transfer the sanctity from the seventh to the first day of the week? On the contrary, the phrase, “In the end of the Sabbath” seems to indicate that the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday) was still referred to as the “Sabbath.” In the last two verse Jesus gives His charge or parting words, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” The end! No admonishment is given in regards to Sunday observance. Surely if such a monumental change were made, this would have been the time to declare it, but Jesus says nothing here in regards to such a change. We will now move on to the next passage.

The Second Sunday: Mark 16:2 reads, “And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.” That’s it? Surely there must be more. This is Mark’s perspective of the same event as in Matthew 28:1. If Matthew accidentally messed up in stating this most important transfer of sanctity from the seventh day (Saturday) to the first day (Sunday), we could reason that Mark would pick up the slack, but he too is silent on such a change? In fact, it plainly says in Mark 16:1”the Sabbath had passed” in reference to Saturday, the seventh day of the week.

The Third Sunday: Mark 16:9 reads, “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he (Jesus) appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Now I think we are on to something. Jesus is about to speak. He is about to share with her the wonderful news of the “New Sunday Sabbath”…right? Well, not really! After meeting with the 11 disciples, He scolds them for their unbelief and delivers a brief, but powerful speech similar to that found in Matt. 28:19,20. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:15-18 That is it? Ok, maybe Matthew and Mark simply omitted this important bit of information. Let’s look at the next passage.

The Fourth Sunday: Luke 24:1 reads, “Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.” Jesus does speak in a few places, but nowhere does He even give an indication regarding a change in the seventh day Sabbath. Well, let’s waste no time! Surely this message of the New Sunday Sabbath which has been heralded from the pulpits of so many Christian churches must have a solid and concrete foundation of scripture. Surely there must be an anchor of passages somewhere. Matthew, Mark and Luke, I am disappointed. Let’s go to the next passage.

The Fifth Sunday: John 20:1 reads, “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” Ok once again we are seeing the same scenario played out. Jesus says to Mary, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Wonderful words indeed from the Savior’s lips, but no mention of that great and momentous change. Next chapter…..

The Sixth Sunday: We are almost there. I can almost taste it! John 20:19 reads, “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, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” Ok. Do we have something here? It says “the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews.” Could this have been the first Sunday vespers? Were they conducting a church service here? No friends, the text is plain, they were gathered together with the doors shut tight for fear of the Jews. No more, no less. We cannot use this as an argument for Sunday sanctity….sorry. But have no fear. We have two more passages. I hear the next one is a real clincher and a real favorite amongst Sunday preachers, so fasten your seat belts. Here we go!

The Seventh Sunday: Acts 20:7 reads, “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.” Ok, I believe we may have a winner here! This definitely looks like the first Sunday service ever! They are breaking bread which obviously means they are feasting on the Word of God…right? Well before we go running off to spread the tidings, let’s be absolutely sure. We want to be like the Bereans and study this one out. I mean if we are going to be spreading the word around that the fourth Commandment of God, nestled in the midst of the Ten Commandments; written with the fingers of God amidst terrible lightening, trumpets and impenetrable blackness has been amended, then surely we must make certain that we are correct. But you say, “Sunday preachers have been heralding this message for a long time now. Surely they must be right!” Right? Well they may have been proclaiming this message with great skill and cunning but unless the message can stand up to close scriptural scrutiny, it must be thrown into the compost. Let’s begin our investigation shall we? We will start with the following two verses. Verses 8 & 9 reads, “And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.” In order to understand the significance of the eighth verse, which reads, “And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together” We will have to do a brief study of the way the Jews regarded the unit of a day. Let’s go to Genesis 1:5 which reads, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” Here we see there are two divisions to a unit of day, “light” which is the portion illumined by the sun or what we simply call “day” and “darkness” which is the portion of the unit of day which we simply call “night.” So the unit of day consisted of two separate parts, “light” and “dark.” I hope you are paying attention, because this is vitally important. The next question that needs to be addressed is which part of the day came first? The “light” part or the “dark” part? Let’s look at John 19:30-32 “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. We know that Jesus died on what is referred to as “the day of preparation” or what we now call “Friday.” It was the day before the seventh day or what we now call “Saturday.” We also know that Jesus died on the ninth hour or about 3pm (see Mark 15:35-37). So let’s put it all together. Jesus dies on Friday afternoon at 3pm and the Jews persuade Pilate to remove his body from the cross before sunset, which would really have been the beginning of the Sabbath or seventh day.  A simple exploration of the way the Jews measured a day will reveal to us that the unit of day began at sunset and ended at sunset. So the day actually began with sunset. So when the sunset of the seventh day arrives, we are now into the first day of the week. Sunset marks the end of a day, and the beginning of another, hence the “dark” portion of the day precedes the “light” portion.

Going back to Acts 20:8 we read, “And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.” This was clearly the dark part of the first day of the week, or what we would consider Saturday evening, not Sunday evening. To make sure of this we read about Eutychus falling asleep in the window and falling to the ground below (vs. 9). Verse 10 and 11 are also pivotal in this argument. “And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.”

So let’s summarize; Paul and the disciples are assembled together on a Saturday evening. It is dark, hence the reason for many candles being lit. As he preaches for a long time, Eutychus falls asleep and spills out of the window. After Paul prays over him, he is miraculously healed. Paul and the brethren go back upstairs where he continues to preach until day break or Sunday morning, when He departs and sails to Assos, which is hardly a way to keep a day holy. This is not a text that supports Sunday sacredness at all. Let’s go to the next and final Sunday passage.

The Eighth Sunday: 1 Corinthians 16:2 requires some historical background in order to understand it’s context. Let’s pick it up from verse 1 and then explore what exactly was taking place at the time. This is vitally important in understanding this passage. 1Corinthians 16:1,2 reads, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” This collection Paul was referring to was not your regular church collection of tithe and offering, but rather, a special love or relief offering for the famine-stricken church brothers in Jerusalem (see 2 Cor. 8,9).

In the phrase “let every one of you lay by him in store” the phrase, “by himself” can be simply understood to mean “at home.” The phrase “in store” literally meant, “treasuring up” or “storing up”. Paul was simply asking the members to store up their relief offerings somewhere safe in their homes until he would come by to collect it. The collections should be ready for when he (Paul) arrived. Once again, there is no evidence of a sacred Sunday observance.

Conclusion: We have examined all eight New Testament passages that mention the “first day of the week” and have discovered the following:

  1. Sunday, the first day of the week is not the new Sabbath.
  2. Saturday, the seventh day is still the Sabbath of the Lord and will continue to be so.
  3. Jesus’ crucifixion did not cancel or change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday as so many Sunday preachers are teaching.
  4. Saturday, the seventh day of the week was still referred to as “the Sabbath” even after Jesus’ crucifixion.
  5. The “Lord’s day” has always and will always be Saturday or Sabbath.

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Owen Clarke

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