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.
History of Sunday worship
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 detailed explanations of some of the passages commonly proposed as supporting Sunday including Acts 20:7, Romans 14:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, 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. When Jesus gave the sign that He would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40), He meant it. (Be sure to read “Sign of Jonah: Did Jesus Die Good Friday, Rise on Easter?” 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. Breaking any of the 10 Commandments is still sin, and it is still wrong. It still leads to death (Romans 6:23).
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First-century Christian worship continued on the Sabbath
Did the apostles worship on Sunday? No, the Bible again and again records that the apostles and first-century Church continued in the beliefs and practices taught throughout the Bible, including worshipping on the seventh-day Sabbath.
Here are just a few of the examples of observing and remembering the Sabbath in the New Testament. We encourage you to read these in your own Bible to get the context:
- Jesus told the apostles, “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20).
- “So [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16).
- “But when [the apostle Paul and his party] departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down” (Acts 13:14).
- “So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. … On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:42, 44).
- “And on the Sabbath day we [the apostle Paul, Luke and others] went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there” (Acts 16:13).
- “And [the apostle Paul] reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
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 Did the Change From Saturday to Sunday Occur?”