First day (Sunday) in scripture

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1. Introduction

Sunday (the name means ‘the day of the sun’) observance was given legal support in 321AD when the Roman Emperor Constantine introduced civil legislation to support Sunday as a day set apart.  

Subsequently the church promoted Sunday observance until it became Sunday sacredness, which in time almost universally replaced observance of the seventh day Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment, and is today regarded as the ‘Christian sabbath’.   

However, support for Sunday sacredness cannot be found in Scripture - this is confirmed by no less than the Roman Catholic church (see study: ‘The mark of the beast and the Seal of God’,4.2).

Here we examine the occurrences of First-day in Scripture that some claim are an indication that Sunday sacredness was practised immediately after the Cross, and has the authority of Scripture.

2. First-day

Ancient Israel, apart from the Sabbath, did not name the days of the week; they used: ‘First-day’, ‘Second-day’, and so on to ‘Sixth-day’.  

Sometimes, a ceremonial (annual) sabbath fell on First-day, and the feast of Pentecost (also called the Feast of Weeks) always occurred on First-day (Le 23:15-17,21).  Also, the feast of Firstfruits always fell on First-day (Le 23:10,11), but it was not a ceremonial sabbath.  See study: ‘The seven feasts of the Hebrew year’,2.3.

Mainstream Christianity attempts to use some occurrences of First-day in the New Testament as Scriptural evidence for Sunday sacredness.  Next, we examine these occurrences.

3. First-day occurrences claimed as evidence for Sunday sacredness

3.1 The Resurrection of Jesus

Mk 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.   Also Mt 28:1; Mk 16:9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1

The principal (claimed) justification for Sunday sacredness is that it is a memorial of Christ’s Resurrection. 

Christ rose on the feast of Firstfruits, which always occurred on First-day.  However, as we have seen in section 2, Firstfruits was not a designated ceremonial sabbath.  

Thus the day of Christ’s resurrection has no connection with either a ceremonial sabbath or the weekly Sabbath, and therefore it cannot be used as justification for a change of Sabbath.

3.2 Pentecost: the descent of the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:1-4)

Although the term First-day is not used in the Pentecost account, Pentecost is the New Testament term for the Feast of Weeks, which we know always occurred on First-day (see study: ‘The seven feasts of the Hebrew year’,2.4).  It is claimed that such an important event occurring on First-day is confirmation that First-day sacredness has replaced the seventh day Sabbath. 

There is not a single text of Scripture supporting this claim.  Thus Pentecost cannot be used to justify Sunday sacredness.

3.3 Breaking bread and preaching on First-day

Ac 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. 

It is asserted that as Paul was preaching and breaking bread (it is claimed that this was holy communion) on First-day then it indicates Sunday sacredness was in practice.  

However, holding holy communion on a day does not make that day the Sabbath. For instance, British cathedrals hold holy communion twice on every day, except for December 26th - which day then would be the Sabbath?

In fact, the disciples broke bread every day:

Ac 2:46  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 

Clearly, breaking bread means simply eating a meal.

In Genesis chapter 1 we see that the day consists of evening (dark part) and morning (light part), i.e. the day begins and ends at sunset.  This is how the Jews reckoned their days, and this is how we are to observe the Sabbath (Ge 1:5; Le 23:32).

This means that as Paul was preaching until midnight he was doing so on the first part (the evening) of First-day.   He then intended to start a journey in the morning (the second part of First-day), which he would not have done if First-day was the ‘new’ Sabbath.  

Although Paul was a convert to Christ, he was a Jew and a Pharisee.  As such he would not have exceeded a Sabbath day’s journey, which was the distance from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives: one biblical mile (Ac 1:12).

This incident cannot be used to assert that Sunday sacredness was in practice at that time.

3.4 Laying by in store on First-day

1Co 16:2  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. 

It is claimed that on First-day they took up a Sabbath offering, indicating that Sunday sacredness was in practice.

However, the taking up of an offering on a day does not make that day the Sabbath.  For instance, British cathedrals, as we have seen, hold holy communion twice daily. They also take up an offering each time - thus the taking up of an offering does not designate a day as Sabbath. 

This text clearly refers to a settling of accounts on First-day, which would mean that it could not be Sabbath - settling accounts is secular work.

4. Esteeming a day

Ro 14:5,6  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. 

In the whole passage (Ro 14:1-12) neither the Sabbath nor First-day are mentioned - thus this is not the contention here.  It is about not judging others on their mode of worshipping God - Paul is discussing general principles not specific issues.

When Paul says some esteem all days alike he cannot be including Sabbath or First day sacredness.  All who honour God (Paul is not addressing unbelievers), whether they are Sabbath or First day observers, agree it is a day set apart from all others - they do not esteem all days alike.

Paul is addressing the Jewish converts who were influenced by Jewish tradition (feast days etc.), and who regarded the Gentile converts who did not respect Jewish tradition as lesser, weaker brethren. 

Paul’s point is that Jews and Gentiles alike should respect each other’s worship styles (with regard to food, drink, and special days) because all are honouring God in their worship.

Thus this passage cannot be used to support Sunday sacredness.

5. Required text - if we are to abandon Sabbath for Sunday

All must agree there is not a single New Testament text authorizing plainly that the Seventh day Sabbath has been replaced by Sunday sacredness.  

The Lord gave an extremely plain instruction requiring seventh day Sabbath observance.  If He rescinded that requirement in favour of First-day, He would surely have given an equally plain instruction, such as follows:

‘From henceforth you will cease to observe the seventh day as the Sabbath of The Lord, and you will observe the first day in its place’

If such a text could be found in the Bible translations based on the Textus Receptus, (the KJV et al), the author of this study would gladly admit his error and take up Sunday sacredness.

However, God has declared that He will alter nothing that He has decreed:

Ps 89:34  My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. 

In study: 'The Covenant of Grace',4.1 we see that God's saving Covenant and the Ten Commandments are synonymous - thus God has not altered the seventh day Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment.  

6. Summary

Advocates of Sunday sacredness tend to cite many writings from the first centuries AD, but never a plain text of scripture, which confirms that there is not a single justification in Scripture for Sunday (First-day) sacredness. 

In study: ‘Confirming the identity of the beast’,3 we see how the Papacy claims Sunday sacredness as her own work.  Also, in study: ‘Mark of the Beast and the Seal of God’,4.2 we see how the Papacy claims Sunday sacredness as her mark of authority to change God’s Law.

In Scripture, however, there is just one weekly sacred day, the seventh day Sabbath of the Lord, sanctified, blessed, and commanded by Him, which He has never altered. 

Sunday sacredness, on the other hand, is never sanctified, never blessed, and never commanded. Thus those who knowingly prefer Sunday sacredness are obeying a commandment of men, not a commandment of God.

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