In common Christian thinking, passages such as Acts 20:7,1 Cor 16:2, and Rev 1:10 demonstrate that early believers in Jesus assembled for joint worship on Sundays. However, if we examine these texts closely, we will see that claims about the New Testament origins of Sunday worship are exaggerated.

Revelation 1:10 mentions that the writer was “caught up” and experienced his astonishing visions on the “Lord’s Day” (τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ). It is not clear that this phrase meant Sunday, and even if it did, this verse describes John’s unique experience, rather than Christian worship. It is true that 1 Cor 16:1-2 describes the collection of money for Jerusalem on Sundays: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week, each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.” Paul directed his disciples to collect funds on Sundays but there is no indication this was done during regular worship as a Sunday offering would be taken up today. As most traditional Jews, Paul would be reluctant to handle money on the Sabbath. So his instruction may be merely practical from his perspective.

While the above verses do not describe communal Sunday gatherings, Acts 20:7-8 does depict a meeting of Christ-followers on a Sunday: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together.” In order to interpret these verses, one must know that the inhabitants of the Roman Empire did not follow the seven-day week cycle. They had no weekends or even regularly-scheduled days off (besides the cultic holidays). The notion of a “day of rest” and the seven-day cycle was called σάββατον (sabbaton) or שׁבת (shabbat) was introduced to Romans by Jews and early Christians. 

For Romans, a day began at sunrise; but for Jews, a new day already started at the sunset (Gen 1:5). Since the “week” and the “first day” are Jewish temporal references, the “first day” mentioned in Acts 20:7-8 was Saturday evening, just after sunset, which explains the need for lamps (v.8). Beyond that, the “breaking of bread” (κλάσαι ἄρτον) does not describe the Eucharist, but rather the kind of normal, communal meal that we encounter in the Gospels (cf. Matt 14:19; 15:36; 26:26; Mk 6:41; Lk 22:19; 24:30, 35).

It makes sense that the early Christ-followers met on various days of the week (including Sunday). However, the New Testament never asserts that the followers of Yeshua abandoned the traditional observance of the Sabbath or treated Sunday as their preferred alternative.

68 COMMENTS

  1. I believe that the early believers kept Shabbat. Then, it was only after the sun had set on Saturday evening would the meeting at the synagogue close that ordinary matters begin with discussions about money and provision for the community. Hence, the first day of the week had already started and the believers had taken offerings or distributed alms. At least, that is what I have been taught. I am wondering about why the scriptures mention Yeshua rising on the first day but not that it was the First Fruits? This surely is more important?

    • The authors are not always aware of what their readers know and what they do not know. They certainly cannot be sure of readers from another culture separated by thousands of years. They assume that the reader knows such things because in their world everyone does.

      • I was raised Christian, so many questions over the course of a life time at now age 70. I question the accuracy of many scriptures in the New Test, so I just stick to the Old Test and try to make sense of it. What I read here makes sense!

        • Dear Saundra, I understand the questions. I have many myself, yet my faith is not predicated on the answers to the difficult questions, but on the inescapable fact that the one who gave me the breath of life is real, that he reaches out to us and shows his love. Do not shun the messages from the apostolic era. The problem is not the message (most of it is a repetition of the ideas from the Hebrew Bible) the problem is the twisted interpretation that is applied to those words. You are smart by turning to the earlier revelation. That is the source, the root of all theological thinking and it creates a paradigm for reading the subsequent revelations. The NT simply needs to be re-read.

    • Hello Alexandra – I would say that the scripture do not say that Messiah rose on first day. Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, Matthew 28:1, John 20:19 all speak of people going to the tomb or seeing him, not when he rose.

      Mark 16:9 is often translated to indicate that he rose on first day, but the original text is not definitive and we see some translators rendering it differently, e.g. “Early on the first day of the week, after He had risen, . . .” (HCSB). It’s all the same event, though, so consistency points to Shabbat resurrection.

      • Thank you, interesting, but looking at the timing being at sunrise when they went to the Tomb, surely it’s anytime between sundown on Shabbat and into the night on the first day of the week. I know the creed says that on the third day He arose from the dead. The third day after…? …. Some people say He was cruxified on Thursday as Pesach was Wednesday. Still 3 day till the close of Shabbat. These are things which have tried greater brains than mine. Thank you for that thought.

  2. The Sabbath or Shabbat is clearly the Seventh Day. God made it clear that the 7th day was Holy to Him and should be kept as Holy by those who worship Him. However one can also worship HIm on other days as well.

  3. Prof. Pinchas Shir; I appreciate very much the spirit with which you have answered this sometimes challenging topic. I need to do that more myself.

  4. THE ALMIGHTY Sanctified the Sabbath in Eden and Exodus 20. In Malachi, HE reiterated “I change not “Loved the article! Daniel spoke of a lawless one who would change time and law!Rambling , l know. YESHUA rose on the Sabbath! Love and Shalom.

  5. In genesis God completed His work on the Sabbath so work could be done on the Sabbath like taking care of animals. We do not celebrate dead works but rejoice in the New Covenant. We celebrate grace not works and the transition from works to grace started in the early church in the Book of Acts. So Christians do not celebrate deliverance from slavery in Egypt in the Passover but give thanks for deliverance from sin and hope of eternal life in the Eucharist,or as we say the Breaking of Bread or Communion Service. Forget the works of the law.

    • Sorry, I do not celebrate dead work either. The New Covenant is promised to the nation of Israel in Jer 31 and we embrace it with gladness. Other nations can embrace it together with us… God does not change!

  6. Early Christains called Sunday The Lord’s Day and worshipped on it remembering His resurrection. Search will find them. Justyn Martyr was one

    • Did you read my statement? I am not speaking about post-apostolic, era, but NT specifically. My claim is very specific and clear. I have read Justin Martyr too. 🙂

  7. I worship on sundays not on any other reasons’
    but just our Lord Jesus Christ rose on that day . I belive it is the day of victory….
    ‘what do you say ?
    GOD BLESS .

  8. Rom 14:8 one man considers one day more sacred, another considers everyday alike. Each one should consider everyday alike…. it really is not the day that is to be prioritized it must be our hearts intention that matters most to God. That’s my opinion.

  9. How did you confirm that Saturday of today is exact cycle of Shabbat (7th Day) God rested, in time and space, with days God did His creation? It was a revelation and the Jew were not there when He did create His creation. Bible in 2Peter 3v8 says “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This is to make humans avoid putting God in their pocket and do whatever. We worship God in everything we do, every hour, every day!

    • Amen, we worship God with every breath we take! As to the Sabbath… we walk by faith. God entrusted Israel with Shabbat, told us exactly when it was (Ex 16:23), way after creation. He had plenty of opportunities to correct us if we were off the course. He sent prophets, he set Yeshua, who also respected Shabbat on the say when it was kept. I think we have a pretty good pattern that does not have to be traced to the 1st week of creation.

      • The word is ‘pattern’ not ‘fixed’. The wilderness experience was largely a learning process, about God, people spoon-fed, never really bothered on their own to give God their time, walked by ‘Do’s and Don’ts’. Man is far more advanced with Christ on the scene. Hence ‘Sabbath is for man and not man for Sabbath’ (Mark 2v27), work of righteousness is all time, and worship of God as said is all time. In my view Week Days are a pattern, commemorative of our past, and flexible.

  10. Paul in Corinthians separated worship from the common meal. Acts 20:7 is clearly associated with the preaching of the gospel, and is as clearly (to me) a reference to the Lord’s Supper. The church was established on Pentecost Sunday, and seems to have continued on that day. No Christian is instructed to observe the Sabbath in the New Testament. As you indicated, every day is a holy day to the believer, and each should follow his own conscience. However, it still appears to me that Sunday worship has the edge in New Testament church practice.

    • Dear Eddie, “to break bread” means “to eat” – a very common phrase that can be construed to mean the Lord’s Supper (if one chooses to) but does not actually mean that in common language. The phrase appears many times in NT and each time the context makes it clear it is not Eucharist, just a meal. What Paul might have done in Acts 20:7 does not make a it rule for all other occasions 🙂 P.S. if Messiah rose on Sunday, Pentecost (50 days later) would not be Sunday 🙂

  11. Dear prof,
    I love this article & your responses to the questions/objections.
    By the way, please is it true that Barley is in the ear in the land of Israel already? Should March 7 be the start of the month of Aviv? I know this is off the topic.
    Shalom.

    • Yes, barley should be coming up right now. This is a leap year, so things are a bit different. Nissan/Aviv is not tied to the Gregorian calendar, so March 7 is not a relevant point of reference. I am not an authority on the calendar. I just follow it 🙂

    • Exactly! The “day of worship” idea is something people made up! It is functional, not theological. In Jerusalem Temple sacrifices and prayers were daily and ongoing. There were additional offerings and special worship on Sabbaths and appointed times (holidays) but there was no such thing a “worship day” and others were not.

    • I’m so glad that you’re a part of our forum. Don’t stop here though. Now that you’ve seen the tremendous spiritual value you’re receiving, what stops you from getting equipped even more? I think you should start with either The Stories of Jewish Church I: Acts 1-5 or . Are you with me?

    • Ruth,
      Leviticus 23:3 specifies that (in addition to a day of rest), the 7th day is to also include a set-apart gathering (or “holy convocation”). Some understand that to be a special time of worship, others understand it to just be a special gathering only done on the 7th days.

  12. Best comments and content is the Word of God: Isaiah 58:13,14. God’s Word is the only true commentary on its content. Shalom

  13. For me the key passage would be one not mentioned above, Colossians 2; 16ff – “Let no one pass judgement on you… with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath” Which as I understand it is a pretty comprehensive way of saying Jewish celebrations in general. There is a secular reference in the early C2 about Christians meeting early in the morning one day a week and it seems like that would be Sunday morning in memory of the resurrection. That reference also suggests that the rest of the day would be a normal work day.

    • Yes, Steve, that is a good verse. It tells people not to judge others in regards to observing special days (like Shabbat), though it technically says nothing about Sunday. So my proposal that NT is silent about Sunday worship stands. You are quite right there are many references to Sunday in early patristic literature and in secular sources as well, but not in NT.

    • I’m so glad that you’re a part of our forum. Don’t stop here though. Now that you’ve seen the tremendous spiritual value you’re receiving, what stops you from getting equipped even more? I think you should start with either The Stories of Jewish Church I: Acts 1-5 or . Are you with me?

  14. The word limit curtailed my last post. For me though church and OT Jewish people of God are in continuity (I disagree with ‘supersession’) there is also necessary discontinuity – eg no Christian need for OT sacrifices. Opening the gospel to Gentiles also means, as Paul indicates, sabbaths etc are no longer needed by Christian ‘resident aliens’ in secular states (not running Christian states). Thus no absolute ‘day of obligation’ for worship, Sabbath or ‘Sunday’. Yes an underlying principle of time for rest/recreation for us and dependents, but the detail is flexible. Obligatory Sundays came with the ‘state Church’ idea.

  15. The first reason for keeping the Sabbath, as a Christian, is Genesis 2:1-3. Even the example of Jesus and of his apostles in the New Testament would have no binding authority, if it were not based on the Ten Commandments. But even the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments is based on Genesis 2:1-3, where the Creator made the seventh-day Sabbath and Himself rested as a supreme example for the entire humanity. Jesus Himself, did not claim authority to change the Word of God. There is a most serious warning for all nations to worship the Creator (Rev 11:19; 12:17; 14:6-12).

    • You know, each Friday evening, as we enter Shabbat, we recite Genesis 2:1-3 that you highlighted. Only these verses do not command us anything specific. They reveal what God did! Now having said that, true worshipers should always seek to emulate and imitate the One whom they worship. Not a bad idea, at all. Still, no direct command, so the nations of the world cannot be judged for failing to obey in this.

  16. Hi Prof. Forgive me for deviating, I know what the current topic is all about. However, could you kindly explain Revelation 7:3–8, Revelation 14:1 and Revelation 14:3–5. What is the meaning of 144 000 people; who are these people?

  17. The references you give for “breaking bread” include Matthew 26:26 and Luke 22:19, both of which are the Passover meal. All the earliest Christians were Jews and kept the seventh day as the Sabbath, but they would not have celebrated a uniquely Christian observance at the temple.
    Continued

  18. Nor would they have done so at a synagogue. It is not proven in the NT that they met regularly on the first day of the week as Christians, but Acts certainly hints broadly that this was the case, and I Corinthians certainly doesn’t preclude a Sunday meeting of Christians.

  19. It s my understanding that after the fall of the temple in 70 A.D., Jews blamed Christians for the destruction and Christians were unwelcome at temple/synagogue worship. This would not be reflected in Paul’s writings as they were earlier. My understanding has been that is when Christians went to Sunday.

    • Dear Clint, there were no Christians then, not in any way separable from Jews, anyway. Most Christ-followers were Jews by birth, converts to Judaism or God-fearing non-Jews who considered converting before they understood who Jesus was. And Romans who sacked the temple were clearly pagans. So, no, no one blamed Jesus or his followers for that. Your information is not accurate.

    • Dear Clint, I am familiar with the ideas you put forward. But it seems you may not be familiar with mine. There is a tendency among modern Christians to make the movement of Christ-followers distinct and separate from the rest of Israel on the first pages of Acts. But they were not such in the “apostolic period”. There were no Christ-believing non-Jews till 40’s in the first century. When non-Jews came into the Jesus-believing movement they were a very small minority till 50s and 60s. Apostle Paul called himself a follower of “the way” even after ministering to “Antioch Christians”. After the persecutuon of Stephen things began to change. But even that change was very graduate. The “breaking of bread” is a reference to eating meals together, not to “eucharist mass” or anything of that sort. Yes, they worshipped in the temple and then got together in homes to speak of their common hopes in Christ. That is what many other Jews did on a regular basis, only they did not place their hope in Yeshua in particular, because they did not realize who he was. I highly recommend these courses that put things into a historical perspective https://israelbiblecenter.com/courses/judaism-days-of-jesus-i-understanding-landscape/ https://israelbiblecenter.com/courses/stories-jewish-church-i/

  20. Au contraire, I understand your point about the early “church” being part of Judaism, and I understand that breaking of bread can be used for either. Koinoneia was the mark of the early followers of the Way, and what brought many new “converts.” Are you saying they never observed communion?

    • I am glad we are on the same page. Communion… not never, but not in the way many understand it today (formal sacramental fashion abstracted from the rest of the meal). My point about “breaking bread” is not that it can mean either or (common eating and/or memorial meal) but it is most definitely means simply “eating together” in Greek usage. There may be a rare occasion when it could mean something more, but the normative meaning is simply “a joint meal”. From my study of dining customs, I can see disciples getting together to eat frequently and “remembering” their master in the midst of that eating like a normal, natural part of following Yeshua (honoring him), not in some programmed ritualistic way, though. How often? No way to tell. No concrete data.

      • In the original article at the top of the page, you include Mt 26:26 and Lk 22:19, which are the respective gospels’ accounts of Jesus observing Passover with his disciples, not just a joint meal. To me, Acts 20:7 indicates a regular occurrence: Sunday = we “Christians” gather together.

        • Passover was/is observed via having an elaborate meal. That is what Passover is. You may choose to take Acts 20:7 that way, but if you take a closer look it is not a command, not an admonition, not a teaching or even instruction of any sort. It is a mere mention on the circumstances of one particular gathering in the midst of a much larger narrative. It’s like saying that Acts 16:11 teaches me to regularly travel from Troas “by ship only” and that is what I must do. It does not, of course. The author merely mentions the circumstances of that particular journey, not instructing me to do likewise. I hope you see my point.

          • Not a command, but more a statement of habit. The mere mention of circumstance is that Paul preached a LONG time because he was leaving the next day… not an instruction for preachers to continue until someone falls asleep. I hope you see my point, whether or not you agree.

  21. 50-word limits are not conducive to a full discussion ;-). Jesus said, “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me,” so any/every meal could be considered a remembrance of Jesus…
    The way the Gospels talk about Sabbath shows the increasing rift with Judaism, which ended with Sunday observance.

    • The Sabbath controversies in the gospels do not raise the question of whether the Sabbath needs to be observed and honored, but how it should be observed and honored properly. So what is being challenged are some particular ways of observing the day and not the Sabbath institution itself. I know that is not a tradtional way of seeing it, but that is a hermeneutical fact if one can remove oneself from historical polemic/theological ways in which these passages have been read for ages. Sorry for the word limit… Our students enjoy no word limits! 🙂 Join up!

      • My wife and I teach at a small Christian school and I am too busy to do a regular study. Investing the money for a course would be unwise stewardship of resources at this time, but thanks for the invite.

      • Acts23:23-29 set requirements for Gentiles. It does not include Sabbath-keeping. Jews, of course, continued keeping Sabbath. Colossians2:16 says not to let anyone judge you … with regard to … a Sabbath. Romans14:5 says some consider one day more sacred, others consider all days alike. How is Sabbath required for Gentiles?

  22. Professor, as a Seventh-day Adventist, I find your article resonates with much of my thinking. I like to see you write about how the Sabbath was changed to Sunday as the primary day of worship. Did it start with the Roman Emperor Constantine which then became accepted by Roman Catholics?

    • James, that is not my fight. I just want those who embrace the NT to see that Sunday ideas do not come from the apostles, not in the way many people think they do. There is no such thing as a “designated day of worship” for me. That is not what Shabbat is about, actually. I worship on Sundays privately just as much as I do on Saturdays publically. The difference is how much time I can devote to such things. On Saturdays, I am able to immerse myself with others and worship all day long, and not worry about getting things done, grading papers or answering my emails and etc. It is a different kind of worship, a 24-hour vacation, that’s all.

    • SDA teaching, as I understand it, is that “the day of the sun” is somehow tied to sun worship, which would make Saturday tied to worship of Saturn. I know of nothing in period literature that indicates any special day tied to the worship of a particular Roman god.

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