Jack M. Lane
A Bible lexicon is a Bible help that gives a listing of topics, in alphabetical order, with subtopics and breakdowns of each subject, and then lists the scriptures that apply to each heading. I have three Bible lexicons. Nothing fancy, just old, cheap stuff.
Recently I looked up what these three lexicons had to say about the Sabbath, just for review. A lot of it was fairly straightforward, with the usual Protestant slant.
What really caught my eye was that, in each of these books, there were some scripture references given regarding Sunday worship instead of Sabbath observance. One lexicon gave the subheading, "The primitive church kept the first day of the week," and it gave some scriptures. Another said, "Christian Sabbath, called the Lord's day, the first day of the week," followed by a few scriptures. The third book had a section entitled, "Sabbath Law Not Binding on Christians," and there were quite a number of scriptures.
Now, the interesting thing about all this is, each of these books had scriptures to back up their point.
We know that the ultimate authority among Christian-professing churches for having Sunday church services was the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman church, and all of her daughter churches, and those independent churches that sprang up along the same pattern, all credit man, or the church, as having the authority to change the fourth commandment. And, of course, we disagree with that.
But here are three books (and I know there are more out there) which claim to have scriptural authority, and the example of the first century church, to back up their claims that Christ authorized Sunday as the Lord's Day, and that the New Testament church, right from the start, observed Sunday.
[Author's note: In recent years, Pope John Paul II has altered the historical stance of his church. Up until recently, the official Roman position was that, indeed, the Bible does not teach many of the things the church has changed, but that the church has the authority to make these changes. Lately, though, John Paul II has proclaimed that the Bible, after all, is the source of Sunday worship, and the very same scriptures the Protestants have historically used to try to prove Sunday worship are now being used by the Pope, in an effort to show that Jesus Himself changed the Sabbath to Sunday, or did away with the Sabbath altogether.]
I think it would do us some good to review a few of these scriptures. We should be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope that's within us (1 Peter 3:15), especially since our hope is so tied to observing the Sabbath as a sign between God and His people.
If other religions claim scriptural authority when there is none, we should know it, and be able to explain it to others, or at least understand it ourselves, so we won't be fooled, as so many of our former brethren have been.
I'd like to read you a few of these
scriptures that seem to prove conclusively, at least to these various authors,
that Sunday is the Lord's day, the Christian Sabbath, and the day the New
Testament church observed as its day of worship.
DID THE FIRST CENTURY CHURCH OBSERVE SUNDAY?
According to one of these reference books, the primitive church during the apostolic age observed Sunday instead of the Sabbath, and the book gave three scriptures to back up its claim. Let me read you those scriptures.
The first one is John 20:26: "And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, 'Peace to you!'"
Then, Acts 20:7: "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight."
And finally, 1 Corinthians 16:2: "On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come."
Of course, if you take these scriptures out of context, if you're not familiar with these scriptures, you might be fooled. So let's turn to John chapter 20 and get the context of the first example.
John 20:1: "On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb."
There's the time setting -- early on the first day of the week, early Sunday morning, before sunrise.
Verses 11-16: "But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.' Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, 'Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to Him, 'Rabboni!' (which is to say, Teacher)."
Verse 19: "Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'"
Okay, here we have the disciples gathered on the first day of the week; in fact, on the supposed "Easter Sunday"! Was it a religious service? No. Was it an Easter worship service? No. Why were they assembled? For fear of the Jews!
Why? Because Jerusalem was still in an uproar. Jesus, the miracle worker, the prophet, the man of God, the big news item of the day, the hope of Israel, had been arrested, tried in a kangaroo court, and crucified.
Now, just a few days later, His body is missing! All kinds of rumors were racing all over the countryside.
"He promised to free Israel from Rome."
"He was going to restore the throne of David."
"But He was killed!"
"How could He be the Messiah?"
"Was He a fraud?"
"Now His body is missing."
"What are they planning?"
"Are they going to try an insurrection now?"
"Yes, that must be it!"
"But the Romans will come in and destroy all of us!"
"We must stop these disciples!"
So the disciples were hiding out, behind closed doors, for fear of the Jews. And while they cowered there, at the height of fever-pitched terror, when their nerves were stretched to the breaking point, suddenly one of them gasped and cried out, and they all spun around to see --
Jesus, standing in their midst!
Their dead Leader, alive again, just as the women had said! It was probably more than many of their nervous systems could take at that moment.
Did Jesus stand there, sort of glowing, and raise His hand in a benediction, with a pious look and a halo around His head, reciting something like, "May the peace of God dwell with you in all your hearts"? No, I think when it quotes Jesus as saying, "Peace be with you," He was really saying, "Okay guys, calm down. It's okay. It's me. Peace."
Verse 24: "But Thomas, ... one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came."
Thomas may have been running for the hills while the others ran into the locked room. He probably didn't go back to get his "stuff," either! But in verse 25, when the others told Thomas, he refused to believe the other disciples' story unless he was able to see and touch Jesus himself.
So now we come to the verse which is used to show that the early church met on Sundays for church services. Here it is:
Verse 26: "And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, 'Peace to you!'"
This time, Thomas was there. But wait! Was this a Sunday worship service? Let's do a little simple arithmetic.
The previous time, when Thomas was not there, it was late on Sunday, "the same day at evening, being the first day of the week." So, if this second meeting was eight days later, wouldn't that put it on Monday?
Were the disciples so confused that, one week after Christ's resurrection, they were observing Sabbath on Monday?
But it doesn't really say this was eight days after the first meeting. Remember, if Thomas wasn't there, they may not have been able to tell him about it until the next day, or even later. If it was eight days after they found Thomas and told him about it, this next meeting could have been Tuesday or Wednesday!
So, does this verse prove that the
early church observed Sunday? Not even close.
DID PAUL PREACH ON SUNDAY MORNING?
Next, we saw Acts 20:7: "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight."
In my King James Bible, at the beginning of the chapter, in tiny print, the editors have added (for "clarification"), "Paul goeth to Macedonia, celebrateth the Lord's supper, and preacheth."
So here it is. Proof positive. The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. This shows that by the time of Paul, Christians were regularly holding communion services on Sunday mornings. Right?
First of all, take a look at the verses just ahead of this one. In verse 4, we see that Paul was accompanied, not only by Luke, but also by Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus.
Verses 5-6: "These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days."
This was taking place in Troas, in Macedonia, which is ancient Greece, in a Gentile country. Why would Paul mention the Days of Unleavened Bread rather than Easter? That doesn't make sense, unless the holy days were still significant to the church in Paul's time.
Secondly, if Paul began speaking at a Sunday morning service, and went on until midnight, no wonder the poor lad fell asleep in the window! I would have, too! Then, if that wasn't bad enough, Paul took time out for a meal, then he went on preaching until daybreak (verse 11)!
Well, it wasn't quite as bad as it looks. Let's look at verse 7. The word "day" is in italics, which means it wasn't in the Greek manuscripts. It would better be rendered, "And upon the first of the week...."
The church came together for supper on Saturday night, after sundown, which is the first of the week. The Good News for Modern Man translates it that way.
This was a special Saturday night meeting, for the purpose of hearing Paul preach, because he was leaving in the morning. So he preached on into the night -- Saturday night -- because he had so much to tell them in such a short time.
This was not a regular Sunday worship service. It was more like -- a visit from Mr. Waterhouse.
Let's look at some other scriptures
used to "prove" that Sunday is the correct day for worship.
SABBATH NOT BINDING?
Under the heading, "Sabbath Law Not Binding on Christians," one book lists three scriptures.
First, Colossians 2:16-17: "Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival [margin: feast day] or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance [margin: literally, body] is of Christ."
What does the verse say? "Let no one judge you." So what do people do? They use this very scripture to judge us! You don't need a degree in advanced Christian apologetics to see that, just by trying to use this scripture against us, people are violating the very thing it tells Christians to do!
There is literature available on this passage, so suffice it for now to say that the meaning of the verse is, "Don't let anyone be a judge on what you eat or drink, or how you observe holy days or sabbaths. But rather, let the church, the body of Christ, judge you in these matters." That would be a better translation.
Next, in Acts 15:28-29, the headquarters church has issued a decree to the Gentile converts reading, in part, "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourself from these, you will do well. Farewell."
Because the Sabbath is not specifically mentioned, some people think this list somehow excludes the Sabbath from those things required of the church. But if this list contains only those things the church is to do, it is a paltry list indeed. You can't base a religion on these few principles.
And we can also see that, while it does not mention the Sabbath, it also does not mention Sunday!
But notice, the decree said, "It seemed good ... to lay upon you no greater burden then these necessary things...." "No greater burden" means "no additional burden." The body of doctrine of the church, as it came from the Old Testament scriptures, included all the things we know and understand today, including the Sabbath. The Gentile converts were not being given anything additional to what they had been taught, except for these few necessary items, to help them stay away from practices which were part of pagan temple worship.
Far from "pulling the plug" on Sabbath observance, this verse actually reinforces it, because it shows that the church's findings were that the Gentile converts were to obey the same set of rules as the Jewish converts, with the additional prohibition against pagan temple worship.
Thirdly, we are referred to Galatians 4:9-11: "But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain."
What does this mean? Was Paul concerned because those silly Galatians were going back to keeping the Sabbath? And after he had labored so long to get them to switch to Sunday? Is that what it means? Is the Sabbath a "weak and beggarly element"? Someone, somewhere, seems to have forgotten that Galatia was a Gentile area, and Gentile converts never kept the Sabbath to begin with, until they came into the church!
The Galatians were falling back into some of their previous practices, instead of remaining loyal and faithful to the things Paul had taught them, both about God's ways and about their new life in Christ.
Paul had taught them about the Sabbath and holy days. But they were starting to "observe days and months and seasons and years." Does that mean the Sabbath? Of course not.
Do we observe days? Certainly: Thanksgiving Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Pearl Harbor Day. Of course, we don't observe them as religious holidays, but we do observe days.
Do we observe months and seasons? Not in a religious way.
Do we observe years? We don't in the western world so much, but did you know that, in some parts of the world, this is "the Year of the Rat"? We discovered that recently in a Chinese restaurant. This is the Year of the Rat. Maybe that's why so many deadbeat fathers are being arrested now.
But this scripture has nothing to do with doing away with the Sabbath, or with changing to Sunday worship.
There are so many other scriptures we could look at, and we could continue to have fun doing this, but I wanted to share these few scriptures that are misapplied and distorted by certain people who try to make them say things they don't say.
It's a good idea to know the scriptures.
If we all know the doctrines of the church, the traditions we received
from the elders, and why we believe them, we can be ready with an answer.
It's always good to review. Because you never know when someone will
try to corner you with "Sunday Scriptures."
Return to Sabbath Articles Page