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Christians generally agree that God’s Sabbath in Old Testament times was the seventh day of the week as the Bible clearly states (see Genesis 2:1–3; Exodus 20:8–11). Yet most Christians believe that God changed His Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and that on this side of the Cross, His people should worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. If so, shouldn’t we be able to find a record of the change in the New Testament? Surely God would tell us about something this important. So let’s look at every text in the New Testament that mentions the first day of the week. There are only eight.

Five of these eight New Testament texts refer to the same event—Jesus’ resurrection:

1 Matthew 28:1. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”

2 Mark 16:1, 2. “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb.”

3 Mark 16:9. “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene.”

4 Luke 24:1. “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”

5 John 20:1. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.”

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all agree that Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning. And most Christians who worship on Sunday do so in honor of Jesus’ resurrection on that day. Yet none of the Gospel writers say a word about Jesus’ resurrection making the first day of the week a holy day. They all wrote their Gospels many years after Jesus had gone back to heaven, affording them an ideal opportunity to tell their readers about God’s new worship day and the reason for it. Yet Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are absolutely silent about Sunday being holy because of Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, Matthew clearly says that the first day of the week came only “after the Sabbath”—the seventh day of the week—had passed.

6 John 20:19. “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.”

This text also refers to resurrection Sunday, but it informs us of an event that happened later that day.

Some have suggested that this verse describes a worship service that the disciples held in honor of the Resurrection. But John says that the disciples were together “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” They weren’t holding a worship service. They were huddled together, afraid that the Jews who had killed their Lord would come looking for them! In fact, Mark and Luke make it clear that in spite of what the women had told the disciples earlier in the day, their words seemed like idle tales. Most of them still didn’t believe that Jesus was alive. Only when He appeared to them in the room that evening did they believe(see Mark 16:9–11; Luke 24:9–12, 36–44).

These six texts all refer to the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, but none of them say anything about a change of God’s rest day from the seventh-day Sabbath to the first-day Sunday. This leaves only two New Testament texts that mention the first day of the week. Do they say anything that suggests a change of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week?

7 Acts 20:7, 11. “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. . . . After talking until daylight, he left.”

This text refers to what was clearly a religious meeting held on the first day of the week.* Does this mean that the seventh-day Sabbath has been changed and that Sunday is now God’s holy day for worship? Let’s take a closer look.

  • This is the only known instance where an apostle held a religious meeting on the first day of the week, and the context suggests that this was a special farewell meeting. Paul and his party had been at Troas for a week, and they held this night meeting because they “intended to leave the next day” (verse 7).
  • The New Testament is clear that Paul ’s normal worship custom—when meeting with either Jews or Gentiles—was to observe the seventh-day Sabbath (see Acts 13:14, 44; 17:2; 18:4).
  • Nothing is said in Acts 20:7, 11 about the Sabbath being changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week or that Christians this side of the Cross are to keep Sunday holy.
  • Holding a religious meeting on a particular day doesn’t make that day holy or establish a practice— especially since God has specifically designated the seventh day as His Sabbath. Many churches hold a midweek service on Wednesday evenings, but doing so doesn’t make Wednesday holy or a Sabbath. In fact, Acts 2:46, 42 says that the early Christians met together “every day,” devoting themselves to “breaking bread and to prayer.”

Acts 20:7, 11 is evidence that Paul met once with the believers at Troas to hold a farewell preaching service on Sunday. But to say that this single text demonstrates the practice of the apostles or that it lays down a practice for Christians to follow places more far weight on the text than it can carry.

8 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2. “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of the week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”

This is the eighth and last text in the New Testament that mentions the first day of the week. It is Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian believers about an offering for needy Christians in Jerusalem.

Some have said that this text indicates a weekly religious meeting on Sunday in which offerings were collected. But Paul’s counsel makes it clear that this was not a public collection nor is any church service mentioned. The money was to be “set aside” and saved up privately by each person until Paul came. It is the reckoning of how much to give—the bookkeeping, if you will—that Paul said should be done at the beginning of each week on Sunday.

Like the other texts we have looked at, this one, too, says nothing about a change of worship days or that Christians in New Testament times should keep Sunday instead of the seventh-day Sabbath.

We have now examined all the texts in the New Testament—every one of them—that speak about the first day of the week. And we have seen that they give no hint of a change in God’s holy day or worship. If we take the Bible as it reads, it is clear that the seventh day is still God’s Sabbath, the day Christians this side of the Cross should keep holy.

But there is one other New Testament text we should look at. Although it doesn’t mention the first day of the week, it does speak of the “Lord’s Day”—a title that is often applied to Sunday today. John says, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the spirit” (Revelation 1:10).

John received visions from God on a day he calls “the Lord’s Day.” He doesn’t say which day that was. He doesn’t say whether he is referring to Saturday or Sunday—the seventh day or the first. But Jesus tells us clearly which day is the Lord’s Day. While on earth, He said, “ ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’ ” (Matthew 12:8). If any day can be rightfully called the “Lord’s Day,” it is the day of which Jesus Himself claims to be Lord.

Some say, “Does it really matter? Is the day really important? Isn’t the most important thing that we worship God, not on which day we do so?” And that would make sense— if God hadn’t said otherwise and if God hadn’t set apart and sanctified and blessed a particular day (see Genesis 2:1–3; Exodus 20:8–11).

Jesus said, “ ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ ” (John 14:15). That makes it more than a mere matter of one day or another, doesn’t it? That makes it an issue of loyalty and love.

* Because the Bible reckons each 24-hour day to begin with the dark part (night), followed by the daylight portion (see Genesis 1:5, 8, 13; Leviticus 23:32), some Bible scholars have concluded that this meeting in Acts 20:7, 11 actually took place on what we, today, would call Saturday night (see for example the New English Bible). However, whether the meeting was on Saturday night or Sunday night, the text clearly states that it occurred on “the first day of the week.”

Sunday in the New Testament

by Russell Holt
From the August 2010 Signs