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.

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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.

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39 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.

    • 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.

    • David, I rarely intend for my articles to tell people what to do. That is not my place. My job is to interpret, but local communities of faith must apply what they learn. In my opinion, any day is appropriate as long as it does not displace Shabbat (which is not officially mandated as a worship day).

  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

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

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Anna Gromova
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