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The Sunday Texts in the New Testament

If you have read through the study Five Reasons Why Christians Are Obligated To Keep The Seventh-day Sabbath, you are probably asking yourself, “Why do we go to church on Sunday?” That is a good question. The answer usually given by Sunday keepers is that Christ or the apostles changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. But where are the verses or passages of Scripture that tell us the day has been changed? They do not exist.

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The Sunday Texts in the New Testament
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By Pastor George Rice

If you have read through the study Five Reasons Why Christians Are Obligated To Keep The Seventh-day Sabbath, you are probably asking yourself, “Why do we go to church on Sunday?” That is a good question. The answer usually given by Sunday keepers is that Christ or the apostles changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. But where are the verses or passages of Scripture that tell us the day has been changed? They do not exist.

It is freely admitted that there is no explicit command in the New Testament to worship on Sunday. Indeed, the example set by Jesus (Luke 4:16) and followed by all of the apostles is to observe the seventh-day Sabbath as stated in the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). However, eight verses in the New Testament mention the first day of the week (Sunday) and they are used in an attempt to establish Sunday as the Christian day of worship. Again, there is no explicit command to worship on Sunday. The argument for Sunday built on these texts is developed by deduction.

There are six verses in the gospels that state Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19). Reading these verses in their context will show that they do not say that the disciples were worshiping on Sunday. Nor do they give a direct command to change the time to worship from the seventh day to the first day. These verses simply record a fact of history, Jesus rose from the dead on the first day, the tomb was empty on the first day, and Jesus appeared to His disciples on the first day.

There has been an attempt, however, to make these verses say that the Sunday Jesus rose from the dead was the first of a series of Sabbaths all of which fall on the first day of the week. But grammatically this cannot be done. If you will look at these verses in your Bible you will see that “day” is italicized (day). This indicates that the word day is not in the Greek text and it was added in the English translation. Next we must understand that the Greek word σαββατων can be translated either as week or Sabbath.

With this information, here is why the argument above cannot hold up grammatically. In all six verses listed above you find the same grammatical construction but different words used for “first.” For example in Matthew 28:1, εις μιαν σαββατων. In Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1 and John 20:1, τῃ μιᾳ των σαββατων, while in Mark 16:9, πρωτῃ σαββατου, and in John 20:19, τῃ μιᾳ σαββατων. The word “first” functions as a numerical adjective but it does not modify the word week, and this is where the problem lies for those who wish to make these verses in the gospels support Sunday as the new Sabbath. The rules of grammar state that an adjective must be in the same case, gender, and number as the noun it modifies.

Look at these phrases and consider the cases first. In Matthew μιαν (first) is in the accusative case while σαββατων (week) is in the genitive case. Therefore μιαν is not modifying nor connected with σαββατων. In the other verses, μιᾳ and πρωτῃ (first) are in the locative case and cannot modify week (σαββατων) either. Now consider the gender. All the words translated “first” are feminine and the word “week” is neuter. This is the second reason “first” cannot modify “week.” Finally the number. All of the words for “first” are singular while the word for “week” is plural except in Mark 16:9 where it is singular.

In the English translation, day is added after “first.” Translators did this because they knew that “first” could not modify week. When the gospel authors wrote “the first of the week,” they knew that their readers would understand this to mean “the first day of the week.” Why did they choose to use the feminine gender for “first” and not the masculine or neuter? Because the word to be understood, day (ῆμερα), is feminine in Greek. Therefore the reasoning that states the first-day verses in the gospels introduce the first Sunday sabbath of all Sunday sabbaths that are to follow is not valid.

There are two more verses in the New Testament that mention “the first day of the week.” They are 1 Corinthians 16:2 and Acts 20:7. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructs the Christians in the Corinthian Church to lay aside a systematic donation each “first day of the week” for the famine stricken Christians in and around Jerusalem. The apostle planned to visit Corinth and other churches who were doing the same thing, collect their donations, and buy grain for those who were suffering from the drought. Those who use this text to support Sunday say this offering was taken in church on “the first day of the week,” therefore Sunday is now to be understood as replacing the seventh-day Sabbath.

However, Paul is not talking about an offering at church. Literally the Corinthian Christian was to lay the offering “by himself” (παρ’ ἑαυτῳ). The case is locative of place, or “at home” as a few English translations state it. So this text cannot be used to support Sunday as the Christian day of worship because the people were not in church giving an offering.

The last first-day text in the New Testament is Acts 20:7. Here Paul is presented as preaching to the Christians at Troas on the first day of the week. He is on his way to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary trip. On this night bread was broken and Paul preached until midnight. The reason this event is recorded is because a young man by the name of Eutychus fell asleep during Paul’s sermon, fell off of the window sill where he was sitting, hit the ground three stories below, and died. Paul rushed downstairs and raised him back to life by calling upon the name of Jesus.

Because bread was broken at this meeting the conclusion is that this must have been the communion service, therefore the first day of the week is the now the Sabbath. But the context of this verse does not support this idea. First of all, the purpose for this meeting is expressed by a purpose infinitive, κλασαι “to break” bread. The meeting was not a worship service nor was this first day the Sabbath. Next, the reason for this meeting during which bread was broken and Paul preached was because Paul was about to depart for Jerusalem at daybreak. This is indicated by the causal participle, μελλων “because he was about”.

Now we will look at the argument that breaking bread is the communion service or the Eucharist. The first time the breaking of bread is mentioned is in Acts 2:42. Here Luke records the activity of the 3,000 who had just been baptized on the Day of Pentecost. They followed the apostles’ teaching, had fellowship together, broke bread, and prayed. These four activities form a chiasm. A chiasm is a series of parallels. The Bible is full of them because it was a popular method of communication. Acts 2:42 is a two step chiasm, and it looks like this:

a. Teaching
b. Fellowship
b.’ Breaking bread
a.’ Prayer

A and a’ are parallel to each other and present the spiritual activities of the newly baptized believers in Jesus. B and b’ are parallel and present the social activities. The activities in this chiastic structure is summed up in Acts 2:46, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple [spiritual activity], and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart [social activity].” Notice the breaking of bread was done from house to house and it was their daily rations which they took with gladness and simplicity of heart. The breaking of bread, as introduced in the second chapter of Acts, is not the communion service. It was a social activity. And so it remains thus throughout Acts.

After examining the eight first-day texts in the New Testament, it is clear that not one of them authorizes the changing of worship from Jesus’ Sabbath (Saturday) to another day chosen by men (Sunday).