In any culture there are some things we simply take for granted. For instance, Sundays may be set aside for watching or participating in sporting activities. During the summer, Sunday could also mean barbecues in the backyard with friends.
Almost as ingrained in our collective mindset is the idea of people going to church on Sunday. We may visualize a pastor standing at the door greeting everyone, and it seems normal and expected. But has it always been this way? Have followers of Jesus always worshiped on Sunday, and does the Bible teach adherence to Sunday as the day of worship?
In the first century, Jesus went to the local synagogue to worship on the seventh day, called the Sabbath. He often stood up to teach as the Bible says it was his custom to do that on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16).
Paul, too, had a custom of teaching on the Sabbath day in the synagogue—for example, in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–3).
When he and Barnabas went to Antioch in Pisidia, they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and reasoned with the congregation and its leaders. The people were encouraged by their words, and when Paul and Barnabas were finished, the people asked if they would speak to them again the next Sabbath. As it says in Acts 13:44, almost the entire city gathered on the following Sabbath “to hear the word of God.”
If Christ and Paul kept the seventh-day Sabbath and also taught on that day, why do most 21st-century Christians keep Sunday as the day of worship? Is there a scripture that clearly directs believers to ignore the Sabbath command (Exodus 20:8–11) and change the day of rest and worship to Sunday?
You can search the Bible from beginning to end, but you will not find a directive superseding the command to keep the Sabbath as the prescribed day of worship. What you do find are scriptures showing that followers of Jesus should still follow the Sabbath command.
The Bible shows us that when the creation was completed, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1–3). He didn’t rest because He needed to rest but to set an example for us. Verse 3 also states that He “blessed” and “sanctified” the Sabbath. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains defines the Hebrew word translated “sanctify” in terms of dedicating something to God’s service—setting it aside for a special purpose. So the seventh-day Sabbath was set apart for the benefit of those who want to follow the example God Himself set.
Leviticus 23:3 further shows us that our Creator meant the Sabbath to be “a holy convocation”—that is, a sacred time set apart for a formal gathering—and it should be observed that way.
The Gospel of Mark records Jesus showing the Pharisees that they had a wrong view of the Sabbath day. They wanted to put undue restrictions and burdens on their followers with regard to Sabbath observance. Jesus showed them that the disciples were well within the limits of the law to walk through the grain fields and pluck some kernels of grain to eat. He emphatically stated that man was not created for the benefit of the Sabbath; rather, God had created the Sabbath as a benefit for man (Mark 2:23–27).
Jesus Christ is “Lord of the Sabbath” (verse 28; see also Matthew 12:8 and Luke 6:5). He is the one who created it and He is the one who demonstrated proper observance of it to His first-century followers. The Bible shows that He upheld the Sabbath as the day of rest and worship for His followers.
You can read more about the gradual move from Sabbath to Sunday observance in “The Path to Sunday.”
Jerry de Gier