A Few Notes on the Sabbath-Sunday Debate
[Minor edits 11/15/22 to correct some broken links and sentence flow, no essential content added, removed, or changed.
It should be noted that these arguments used are relevant in the context of the Seventh-day Adventist teaching in which I was raised.]
The Sabbatarian demand that Christian worship (which includes the breaking of bread, the apostles teaching, hymns and prayer) ought to take place on the seventh day of the week (the Jewish Sabbath) is unsupported by both the Bible and early Christian history. Whereas there is no controversy over the fact that the Jews have always worshiped on Saturday, there is no biblical command for the Christian church to continue this practice, or Scriptural example that they did so.
The Bible only specifies the week day of one Christian meeting, and identifies it as happening on the “first day of the week” (commonly called Sunday) in Acts 20:7. This accounts for all of the biblical record of the identification of the day of worship in a Christian context (with breaking of bread and preaching). There isn’t a single example of this type a Christian meeting happening on Saturday. I exclude the outreach of the apostles to the Synagogues – these were not Christian meetings.
Surely, if God knew that the act of worship on the first day of the week would be the “mark of the beast” (as Adventists believe), the only record of a Christian meeting for worship would not have been recorded on that day. Also, would He not have provided examples of Saturday gatherings for the purpose of Christian worship within the apostolic church?
Contrary to Sabbatarian misinformation, it was not the Roman Catholic Church that introduced the practice of Christian worship on Sunday. The Eastern Orthodox church received and perpetuated the tradition of meeting on the first day of the week. The Eastern church continues to recognize that Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, which is remains as a memorial of creation, but should not be confused with Sunday, and has not been replaced by Sunday:
“QUESTION: Is it the Orthodox view that Sabbath has been transferred to Sunday? What is the Orthodox view on Sabbath?
ANSWER: The Orthodox believe that Sabbath is Saturday (to this day, the Greek word for Saturday is pronounced ‘sabbado’ – as is the case in many other languages). Hence, Saturday is the old Sabbath and Sunday is the Lord’s Day or the Day of Resurrection. In the Orthodox tradition, Saturday always has the feastly character of the Jewish sabbath; it is never a strict fasting day. Moreover, it has always been the liturgical practice to serve Divine Liturgy both on Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, and this remains the case in Orthodox monasteries. However, Christians are not under the Law and they are not subjects of the Old Creation. The old Sabbath was the seal of the old creation, whereas Sunday is seal of the New Creation, the first or eighth day. For this reason, Gentile Christians have never been bound by Sabbatical laws on the old Sabbath.” – https://web.archive.org/web/20101128112659/http://www.orthodoxanswers.org/answer/10/
The earliest extra-biblical records of Christian worship show that from the late first century, the first day of the week was the preferred day for Christian worship. It was the universal practice of the church in the East to gather on Sunday, centuries before the rise of the Papacy. Even those of Jewish heritage who continued to observe the Sabbath in some form gathered for Christian worship on the first day of the week, while the Gentile church never observed the Sabbath. Sabbatarians are at a loss to explain this clear fact of church history.
Here is a quote from an Eastern bishop, Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius was a direct successor of John the apostle, and a martyr for his faith. He wrote these words about 15 years after the Revelation was written:
Those [Jews] who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death. (Letter to the Magnesians 8, A.D. 10)
The Eastern Orthodox Church (which is the oldest Christian tradition) continues to view the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday) as a holy day, a memorial of creation, as well as of the day that Christ rested in the tomb. However, the Orthodox recognize that Christians are no under the restrictions of Jewish law in regards to its observance.
Rome inherited the practice of Christian gathering for worship from the East, and not vice-versa. The Roman Catholic Church has a different view of Sunday than the Eastern Orthodox Church. Whereas Rome may have attempted to substitute the Sabbath with Sunday, the Eastern church recognizes that these two days are distinct, and that both have a place within Christian thought and tradition.
The institution of Sunday as the “Christian sabbath” is a false concept. It’s origin is likely from the Roman church in the fourth and fifth centuries. It was a genuine Christian tradition (not an obligation or commandment) that Rome attempted to enforce with the authority of the Mosaic law and civil laws in a grab for ecclesiastical and political power.
Rome’s improper treatment of this issue does not change the fact that history records Sunday as the universal day for Christian worship from the time of the apostles in the late first century, and their direct descendants in the early second century. It has, however, given Sabbatarians material to spin into an elaborate conspiracy theory.
The observance of any day as a Christian day of worship is a voluntary act and not a compulsory observance. If a Christian feels that a particular day is a preferred day of worship, this is fully permissible according to conscience (Romans 14:5-6) but should never be a point of judgment or condemnation between Christians (Colossians 2:16-17).
This was the position of the Protestant reformers; for example, Martin Luther wrote:
Does God require us to observe the Sabbath and other holy days of the Old Testament? The Sabbath was a sign pointing to Jesus, who is our rest. Since Jesus has come as our Savior and Lord, God no longer requires us to observe the Sabbath day and other holy days of the Old Testament. Does God require the church to worship together on any specific days? God requires Christians to worship together. He has not specified any particular day. The church worships together especially on Sunday because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. – Small Catechism p. 66-67
About Calvin’s view of the Sabbath, scholar Richard Gaffin writes:
At the coming of Christ, the light in whose presence all shadows disappear, spiritual rest became a full reality; consequently, the weekly Sabbath as a type and sacrament was abrogated. – Calvin and the Sabbath, p. 142