Life Hope & Truth

Did the Early Christians Worship on Sunday?

Did the apostles and first-century Christians change the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday? No, this change is not taught by the New Testament.

A common but mistaken teaching is that the first-century apostles and Christians changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday in honor of Christ’s resurrection. But this change did not originate with the apostles and is not taught by the New Testament.

Later, however, Sunday worship did spread to many churches. Around A.D. 150 Justin Martyr wrote: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read. … Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67; ANF 1:186).

Other church historians document the fact that by the middle of the second century Sunday had become the predominant day of worship. Based upon these secular writings, some have mistakenly concluded that the New Testament must include accounts of worship on Sunday. To see the proper explanations of some of the passages commonly proposed as supporting Sunday, see “Was the Sabbath Changed to Sunday?”

When ancient Israel abandoned the Sabbath, God was not pleased and punished the nation severely for its sins. God has not changed His mind about sin. It is still wrong.But what about the historical records that many began worshipping on Sunday by the middle of the second century? Does this support the validity of the change? We need to understand two important facts.

Sunday does not really honor Christ’s resurrection

First, Sunday does not really honor Christ’s resurrection because Jesus did not rise from the grave on Sunday. When Mary came to the tomb before sunrise on Sunday morning, she found that He had already risen (Matthew 28:1-6). The Bible indicates that He rose from the grave just before sunset on Saturday. (Be sure to read “Sign of Jonah: Did Jesus Die on Good Friday? Was He Resurrected on Easter Sunday?” for further explanation.) 

Secular records do not override the authority of the Bible

Second, we need to understand that secular records do not override the authority of the Bible. Just because a large number of people abandoned the Sabbath in favor of Sunday does not mean that this was acceptable to God. When ancient Israel abandoned the Sabbath, God was not pleased and punished the nation severely for its sins. God has not changed His mind about sin. It is still wrong. It still leads to death (Romans 6:23).

New Testament warnings of deviations from the faith

Furthermore, the Bible indicates that toward the end of the first century, many departed from the faith. As Jude wrote: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (verses 3-4).

Peter likewise warned the Church: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:1-2). Based upon these warnings from faithful ministers at the end of the first century, we should expect the historical record to document deviations from the teaching and practices of Jesus and the apostles.

To learn more, read the article “When and How Did the Change in Worship From Saturday to Sunday Occur?

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