Which day did Christ and the Apostles observe? Which
day did Paul teach Gentile converts to observe? HOW did the day
become changed from the seventh to the first day of the week?
by Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
WE have been reared in a Sunday-observing world. Naturally, we have taken Sunday-observance for granted. Naturally, the idea of a different day as the true Sabbath-day strikes us as fanatical and absurd.
Yet today some are telling us Saturday is the right day. They insist the Seventh day is the only day the Bible anywhere commands us to keep. They even claim we are sinning – that we have the “Mark of the Beast” and shall suffer the seven last plagues – if we observe Sunday instead of keeping the seventh day.
Many False Prophets
Jesus warned that many false prophets would appear, deceiving many. So what is the truth? How can we know? Let all remember each of us shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ! We shall be judged, not by our sincerity in what we have always believed thru careless assumption, nor by our sincerity in following some new teaching without proof! We shall be judged by the Bible, God’s Word!
How to PROVE the Truth
“All Scripture,” we read in 2 Timothy 3:16, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction.” Again, the command to us is, “prove all things.”
We must be willing to be corrected, if wrong. We must be careful not to be blown about “with every wind of doctrine.” We must free our minds of all prejudice. We must be able and willing to study both sides honestly, laying our ideas and desires on the shelf, prayerfully asking God for guidance. If we already are right, honest investigation will but confirm it.
If we are wrong, we should want to know it. And we shall quickly, willingly, as a little child accept the truth as God reveals it, whatever that truth may be, if our hearts are right with Him! Perhaps this very study may be the test! On the following pages is a brief, terse, outline of one phase of this many-sided question. Explanation of other phases, answering other questions that may come up, will be supplied on request.
These three facts are self-evident:
(1) Sunday is the first day of the week. See any calendar, dictionary, or encyclopedia. Is it, then, by Bible authority, “the Christian Sabbath,” or truly the “Lord’s Day,” as it is popularly called today?
(2) Jesus kept the Sabbath, Luke 4:16. It was His custom. The Sabbath He kept was the same day of the week the Jews observed, for the minister and congregation were all in the synagogue, verse 20, and the Pharisees continually rebuked Jesus for healing on the Sabbath day.
(3) The Sabbath Jesus kept was the seventh day of the week. Three days after His crucifixion, this Sabbath still was the day before the first day of the week, Matthew 28:1. Therefore it was not just any day in seven, it was the seventh day of the week. See also Luke 23:56 and 24:1.
But … was the day changed, by Christ or the apostles, after this, to the first day of the week so that Sunday is now the New Testament Christian Sabbath? Does the New Testament someplace show us that Sunday is the true Lord’s Day and command Christians to observe it? Let us see!
Is “Sunday” Mentioned in the New Testament?
This change could not be made, – a different day, the first day of the week, could not be established by New Testament Bible authority, except in some text or texts employing the phrase “first day of the week,” or the word “Sunday.” The word “Sunday” does not appear any place in the Bible.
But the phrase “first day of the week” is found in the New Testament. It occurs in exactly eight places. So it will not take long to examine these eight texts employing this phrase. If the day was changed by Bible authority, – if Christians are to find any Bible authority whatsoever for observing Sunday as the “Lord’s Day” today, then we must find that authority in one of these eight texts!
Let us acknowledge at the outset, since the seventh day of the week is clearly established as the Bible Sabbath up until the time of the Cross, that there can be no Bible authority for Sunday observance unless we find it clearly and plainly stated in one of these eight New Testament passages.
So let us examine them carefully, honestly, prayerfully.
The Day AFTER Sabbath
(1) Matthew 28:1, “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.” This is the first place in the Bible where “the first day of the week” is mentioned. Matthew wrote these words, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, six years after the New Testament Church came into being. The text says that late on the Sabbath day it was drawing toward the first day of the week. So this Scripture, we must admit, tells us plainly that three days and three nights after all that was done away; had been securely “nailed to the Cross,” the Sabbath was still the day before the first day of the week – still the seventh day of the week.
One point is here plainly proved. Many tell us that the Sabbath command was merely for “one day in seven” – that it did not have to be THE seventh day of the week, but merely the seventh part of time. They argue that Sunday, being one day out of seven, fulfills the command. But here is a passage in the New Testament, inspired by the Holy Spirit six years after the beginning of the New Testament Church, stating in plain language that, three days after all abolished things had been done away, the Sabbath still existed and that it was the seventh day of the week – the day before the first day of the week. That much is proved, and must remain settled for all who honestly seek and accept Bible authority. But, was the day changed later?
(2) Mark 16:2, “And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.” This is merely Mark’s version of the sunrise visit to the tomb. It was written ten years after the crucifixion. This first day of the week, also, was “after the Sabbath was past“, according to verse 1. So this text proves the same thing as the one above – that the first day of the week was not at that time – three days after the crucifixion – but the day after the Sabbath. The Sabbath, then, still was the seventh day of the week.
A Common Work Day
(3) Mark 16:9, “Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils.” This text speaks of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene later the same day, – the day after the Sabbath.
Nothing here calls the first day of the week the Christian Sabbath, we must admit. Nothing here calls it “The Lord’s Day.” Nothing here hallows Sunday or says God made it holy. Nothing here commands us to observe it. Nothing here sets it apart as a memorial of the Resurrection, or for any purpose. No command or example of rest on this day – no authority for observing Sunday here.
(4) Luke 24:1, “Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing their spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.” This text tells the same event recorded by Matthew and Mark, and it shows that on the first day of the week these women came to do the work of a common week-day, after having rested the Sabbath day “according to the Commandment”.
For we read, in the verse just before this, “And they returned and prepared spices and ointments, and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment.” Shall we say these women did not yet know the commandment was abolished? No, we cannot, for this statement was not made by the women, but inspired by the Holy Spirit. And it was written 28 years after the establishing of the New Testament Church! The Holy Spirit then inspired the direct statement that the rest of these women on the Sabbath day was according to the commandment, which statement would not be possible had the commandment been abolished. This text, then, establishes Sunday as a common work day, three days after the crucifixion, and it further establishes that at that time the command to rest on the Sabbath had not been abolished.
(5) John 20:1, “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre.” This, written 63 years after the crucifixion, is merely John’s version, describing the same visit to the tomb. It confirms the facts above.
Was This a Religious Meeting to Celebrate the Resurrection?
(6) John 20:19, “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, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”
Let us examine this carefully, for some claim this was a religious service called for the purpose of celebrating the Resurrection. But notice this is the same first day of the week that followed the Sabbath. It was Jesus’ first opportunity to appear to His disciples. For three and a half years He had been constantly with them, on all days of the week. His meeting with them, of itself, could not establish any day as a Sabbath.
Were they assembled to celebrate the Resurrection, thus establishing Sunday as the Christian Sabbath in honor of the Resurrection? The text says they were assembled “for fear of the Jews.” The Jews had just taken and crucified their Master. They were afraid. The doors were shut because of their fear – probably bolted. Why were they assembled? “For fear of the Jews”, according to this text, and also because they all lived together in this upper room, Acts 1:13. They could not have assembled to celebrate the Resurrection for they did not believe Jesus was risen (Mark 16:14; Luke 27:37, 39, 41). Nothing in this text calls this day “Sabbath,” or “Lord’s Day,” or any sacred title. Nothing here sets it apart, makes it holy. No authority here for changing a command of God!
Lord’s Supper Day – or Work Day – WHICH?
(7) Acts 20:7, “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. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.” Here, at last, we find a religious meeting on the first day of the week. But it was not a Sunday meeting!
Notice, Paul continued his speech until midnight! “And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.” It was after sunset, prior to midnight, the first day of the week. Now at that time the first day of the week did not begin at midnight, as man begin it today. It began, and the seventh day ended, at sunset! All Bible days begin and end at sunset. Throughout the Roman world at that time, and for a few hundred years afterward, days began and ended at sunset. The practice of beginning the new day at midnight was started much later. Therefore this meeting, and Paul’s preaching, took place during the hours we now call Saturday night – it was not a Sunday meeting at all!
WHY Paul Remained Behind
Let us, now, pick up the thread of the narrative related in this passage. Begin in verse 6:
“We sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them at Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. 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.”
Paul and his companions had been in this town of Troas seven days. His companions had left by ship after sunset. Paul remained behind for a farewell meeting. He preached until midnight, “ready to depart on the morrow.” At break of day – sunrise Sunday morning – Paul departed, verse 11. Now notice what his companions had done. “And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot. And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in,”
[Look at this on a map in a Bible Atlas or, as it appears in some Bibles, a map of Paul's missionary or evangelistic journeys. You will see an area called Asia Minor. Look at the top of that area and you will see the region of Mysia. There, at the top of the Aegean Sea, you will see the towns of Troas and Assos.] Paul’s companions had to sail around a peninsula – a distance of fifty or sixty miles, while Paul afoot, walked across, a distance of 19 and a half miles. He was able to walk this distance in shorter time than they could sail the much longer distance, which gave Paul the opportunity to remain behind after they left, for this last farewell sermon and visit.
Now do you see what actually happened? Paul’s companions were engaged in the labor of rowing and sailing a boat while Paul was preaching that Saturday night and early Sunday morning – on the first day of the week. They had set sail Saturday night, after the Sabbath had ended. Paul remained behind for one more last farewell sermon. Then, at break of day Sunday morning, Paul set out afoot, indulging in the labor of a 19-and-a-half-mile walk from Troas to Assos! He waited till the Sabbath was past for this long walk – a good hard day’s work, if you ever tried it! He did it on the first day of the week a common work day!
What “Break Bread” Means
But does this text not say, as many claim today, that the disciples always held communion every first day of the week? Not at all! In the first place, it says nothing about anything being done every first day of the week. It relates the events of this one particular first day of the week, only. It is not speaking of any customs, but of the events occurring as Paul and his companions concluded their seven-day visit in passing by this town.
Jesus had introduced the Lord’s Supper as part of the Passover, at the beginning of the annual “days of unleavened bread.” No longer could they kill lambs or eat the roasted body of Passover Lambs, after Christ, our Passover, had been once slain for us. Yet the Passover was ordained forever, Exodus 12:24. At His last Passover supper Jesus substituted the wine as the emblem of His blood, instead of the blood of the slain lamb. He substituted the unleavened bread for the roast body of the lamb as the symbol of His body, broken for us. The disciples continued to observe Passover annually, now in the form of the Lord’s Supper using only the bread and wine, as a memorial, 1 Corinthians 11:24, of Christ’s death, 1 Corinthians 11:26, showing His death till He come again. They continued to observe the days of unleavened bread, Acts 20:6.
This year they had observed the days of unleavened bread and the Communion service at Philippi, after which they came to Troas in five days where they remained seven days. Disciples often fasted on the Sabbath in those days. Consequently, after the Sabbath day had ended, at sunset, “upon the first day of the week, – the disciples came together to break bread.”
People have assumed this expression to mean the taking of Communion. But notice! Paul preached, and continued preaching until midnight. They had no opportunity to stop and “break bread” until then. When Paul “therefore was come up again” – after restoring the one who had fallen down from the third balcony – “and had broken bread, and eaten.” Note it! “Broken bread and eaten.” This breaking bread was not Communion – simply eating a meal. This expression was commonly used of old to designate a meal. It still is used in that sense in parts of even the United States.
Notice Luke 22:16, where Jesus was introducing the Lord’s Supper, taking it with His disciples. He said, “I will not any more eat thereof until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” Yet, the day after His resurrection, after walking with the two disciples to Emmaus, as “he sat at meat with them [at table with them, for a meal – see other translations], he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them,” Luke 24:30. Here Jesus “brake bread” but it was not the Lord’s Supper, which He said He would not take again. It was a meal – “He sat at meat” [KJV terminology for "food"].
Notice Acts 2:46. The disciples, “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness.” Here again “breaking bread” means eating meat
[KJV terminology for "food"]. Not on the first day of the week, but daily.
Again, when Paul was shipwrecked on the voyage to Rome, the sailors had been fasting out of fright. But “Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, “This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat [food]: for this is for your health – And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat,” Acts 27:33-35. Here Paul broke bread to give to unconverted sailors who were hungry.
The truth is, nowhere in the Bible is the expression “breaking of bread,” or “to break bread,” used to signify observance of the Lord’s Supper. In all those texts it means, simply, eating a meal. So, when we read in Acts 20:7, 11, “the disciples came together to break,” and how Paul had “broken bread and eaten,” we know by Scripture interpretation it referred only to eating food as a meal, not to a Communion service.
What Was This COLLECTION?
We come now to the 8th and last place where the term “first day of the week” occurs in the Bible.
(8) 1 Corinthians 16:2, “Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” Often we see this text printed on the little offering envelopes in the pews of popular churches, and we have been told that this text sets the first day of the week as the time for taking up the church collection for the carrying on of God’s work, paying the minister, etc. Let us begin with the first verse and really catch the true intended meaning of this verse.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order of 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 speaks of a collection – but for whom – for what? Note it! Not for the preacher – not for evangelism – but “the collection for the saints.” The poor saints at Jerusalem were suffering from drought and famine. They needed, not money, but food. Notice Paul had given similar instruction to other churches. Now observe his instruction to the Romans:
“But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia (where the Corinthian Church was located) to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem…. When, therefore, I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain,” Romans 15:25-28. Ah! Did you catch it? It was not money, but fruit that was being sealed for shipment to the poor saints at Jerusalem! [The Greek word translated here as "fruit" can also refer to grains, wines and other products that could be stored for a long time without spoiling.]
Now turn back to 1 Corinthians 16. Paul is speaking concerning a collection for the saints. Upon the first day of the week each one of them is instructed to do what? Look at it! Does it say drop a coin in the collection plate at a church service? Not at all!
It says “let everyone of you lay by him in store.” Note it! Lay by! Store up! Store up by himself – at home! Not lay by at the church house – lay by him – at home. Now why? “That there be no gatherings when I come.” Men gather fruit out of the orchard – they gather vegetables out of the ground, to be stored up. But putting coins in a collection plate at church, or handing in your tithe-envelope could not be called a gathering, but an offering or collection.
Notice further: “And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they (more than one) shall go with me,” verses 3-4. Apparently it was going of require several men to carry this collection, gathered and stored up, to Jerusalem. If it were tithe or offering for the minister or the spread of the Gospel, Paul could have carried the money alone.
So, once again, the last and final text in the Bible where we find “the first day of the week” mentioned, it is a work day – a day for gathering fruit and food out of the orchards and the fields and gardens, and storing it up. It was to be the first labor of the week, hence the first day of the week, as soon as the Sabbath was past!
No Bible Authority
So, finally, we find upon honest examination that not one of the texts speaking about “the first day of the week” sets it apart as a rest day. Not one makes it holy, calls it the Sabbath or by any other sacred title. In every case, the first day of the week was a common work day.
In none of them was there a religious meeting and preaching service being held on the hours we now call Sunday. In none of them can we find a single shred of Bible authority for Sunday observance! There is no record in the Bible of celebrating the Resurrection on Sunday.
Sometimes Revelation 1:10 is used as Bible authority for calling Sunday “The Lord’s Day.” It says: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice.” But this does not say the “first day of the week,” or “Sunday” is the “day” here called “the Lord’s day.” As a matter of fact, it is not speaking of any day of the week at all, but of “the Day of the Lord,” – the time of the coming plagues, climaxing in the coming of Christ, and the millennium. This is the theme of the Revelation. But, if one wants to argue, and insist upon this text applying to some definite day of the week, he shall have to look elsewhere to see which day the Bible calls “The Lord’s Day.” For this text does not designate any day of the week.
But Jesus said He was Lord of the Sabbath, and if He is Lord of that day, then it belongs to Him, and is His day, and therefore the Sabbath is the Lord’s Day, Mark 2:28. Isaiah 58:13 calls the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) “my holy day.” God is speaking. So the Sabbath is the Lord’s Day.
In the original commandment, in Exodus 20:10, we read: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” Not my day, or your day. Sunday is my day. So is Tuesday, and every other week-day, for my labor and my own needs. But the seventh day is not mine – it is the Lord’s! It belongs to Him, and He made it holy, and commanded us to keep it that way. We have no right to use it for ourselves. It is His day!
The true Sabbath of the New Testament
Now briefly let us look thru the New Testament to find which day Paul kept, and taught Gentile converts to keep. Notice which day Paul and Barnabas used for preaching to Gentiles:
(1) Acts 13:14-15, 42-44, “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”
Then Paul stood up, and spoke, preaching Christ to them. “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.”
Now since Paul was preaching “the grace of God,” (v. 43), here was his opportunity to straighten out these Gentiles, and explain that the Sabbath was done away. Why should he wait a whole week, in order to preach to the Gentiles on the next Sabbath? If the day had now been changed to Sunday, why did not Paul tell them they would not have to wait a week, but the very next day, Sunday, was the proper day for this service? But notice what Paul did do … “And the next Sabbath came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” Here Paul waited a whole week, passing up a Sunday, in order to preach to the Gentiles upon the Sabbath day.
Gentiles Met on SABBATH
(2) Acts 15:1-2, 5, 14-21. Study this whole passage carefully. Certain men had come down from Judaea to Antioch, teaching that the Gentile converts there must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to be saved. Quite a dissention arose between them and Paul and Barnabas. So it was decided Paul and Barnabas would go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about the question.
At the conference at Jerusalem, James gave his opinion regarding the guidance received at the conference. ”Wherefore my sentence is”, he pronounced (vv. 19-21) – “that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.”
He did not say they should not keep the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were not in question – but only the Law of Moses, which was an altogether different law. He merely mentioned four prohibitions, and otherwise they did not need to observe the Law of Moses.
But why write this sentence to them? Note it! “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day,” verse 21.
Do you see it? The Law of Moses – the first five books of the Bible – was being taught in the synagogues every Sabbath day. The apostles were writing these decrees, because Gentile converts were going to church on the Sabbath day. They had heard God’s Law read and expounded every Sabbath in the synagogue and did not need further instructions. It shows that the Gentile converts had started keeping the Sabbath day, and went to the synagogue on that day! And the apostles’ letter did not reprove them for this Sabbath-keeping.
This is very significant, since Gentiles normally would have never kept the Sabbath, although some of the them, converted to Jesus Christ, had started keeping the Sabbath as Jewish proselytes. In the meantime, it is something that these Gentiles were doing or had started doing, after they were converted under the teaching of Paul and Barnabas!
A Sabbath in Philippi
(3) Acts 16:12-15. Here we find Paul and Silas at Philippi. And “we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by the river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened … and when she was baptized ….”
Here again Paul and his companions waited until the Sabbath, and then went to a place of worship, and preached, and this woman, probably a Gentile, was converted. The passage indicated it was the custom to meet there on the Sabbath, and that it was custom for Paul and his companions to go to a place of prayer and worship when the Sabbath day came.
Paul Worked Week-days, and Kept the SABBATH
(4) Acts 18:1-11, “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; and found a certain Jew named Aquila … with his wife Priscilla … and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought; for by their occupation they were tentmakers, and he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.”
If we could but find one text in the New Testament giving as strong authority for Sunday observance as this one does for Sabbath-keeping, we should certainly have Bible authority for it! Here Paul worked week-days, but went to church and taught Gentiles as well as Jews every Sabbath.
Paul preached Christ, and the Gospel of the Kingdom. And when the Jews became offended and blasphemed, he turned away from the Jews altogether, and from then on preached to Gentiles only, (v. 6), and he continued there a year and six months (v. 11), – working week days – preaching to Gentiles only – every Sabbath!
What more conclusive proof could we desire? What stronger Bible evidence than this, as to the true Sabbath of the New Testament? For a year and a half Paul continued working week-days – six days – including Sundays – and preaching to Gentiles exclusively every Sabbath! Certainly it was his custom and manner! Certainly He could not have done this had the Sabbath been done away, or changed to Sunday.
Paul commands Gentiles to Keep the Sabbath
To these Gentile-born at Corinth, Paul commanded: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ,”
1 Corinthians 11:1. And Paul “as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures,” Acts 17:2. It was his manner – his custom, as we have seen by ample evidence showing a total of eighty-four different Sabbaths Paul is shown specifically to have kept.
Did he follow Jesus in this? Why, certainly! Jesus, “as his custom was … went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16).
It was Jesus’ custom. Paul followed Him, and commanded the Gentile converts to follow him, even as he followed Christ.
The question for us, today, is, “Are we willing to follow in His steps?” Jesus came to set us an example, that we should follow his steps. If we, like Paul, are crucified with Christ, and he lives his life in us, Christ in us will still keep the Sabbath, for He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever!
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