Who changed the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday Worship?

Did the Roman Catholic Pope change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday worship?

Let’s consider the claims of two Roman Catholic leaders:

What does the Roman church say is the sign of its authority? On January 18, 1563, “the Archbishop of Reggio made a speech in which he openly declared that tradition stood above the Scriptures because the church had changed the Sabbath into Sunday—not by a command of Christ, but by its own authority” (Canon and Tradition, p. 263). http://biblelight.net/bssb-1443-1444.htm

Additionally, the Catholic Mirror of Baltimore, Maryland, published a series of four editorials, which appeared in that paper September, 2, 9, 16, and 23, 1893 as the expression of the Papacy to Protestantism, and the demand of the Papacy that Protestants shall render to the Papacy an account of why they keep Sunday and also of how they keep it. (Rome’s Challenge: Why Do Protestants Keep Sunday?) http://biblelight.net/chalng.htm

Are these two claims true? Did the Roman Papacy change the day from Saturday to Sunday? First off, not only is this claim dubious, it is a historical impossibility in light of the fact that the Papacy did not exist until sometime after the First Council of Nicaea, which was convened by the Roman emperor Constantine in AD 325.

It should be noted that; just because the Roman Catholics claim they changed the Sabbath to Sunday does not prove anything. This claim has to be evaluated Scripturally and historically. The Roman Church likes to make claims of this nature because they think that this proves that their so-called “sacred tradition” is superior or on an equal authority with Scripture.

There are others who claim that the Papacy made this change, such as the Seventh Day Adventists. Contrary to those who claim Sunday worship was a Roman Catholic invention, the early church in the East met on Sunday as the day of worship.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches have observed Sunday worship from the very beginning.

For example, consider the Eastern Orthodox Worship by Rev. Alciviadis C. Calivas, Th.D.

Rev. Alciviadis says the following:

The Day which the Lord has made

The most important day for the Christian community was and continues to be the First day of the Jewish week. For the people of the Old Covenant the First Day was a memorial of the first day of creation, when God separated the light from the darkness. For the people of the New Covenant the first day includes this and much more. The first was the day when the empty tomb was first discovered and the risen Lord made His first appearances to His followers. The first was the day of the Resurrection of Christ and the beginning of the new creation brought about by His victory over death. By the end of the first century the Church gave to this special day of Christ’s resurrection a distinctly Christian name: the Lord’s Day (Kyriake hemera) (Rev. 1: 10).

The Lord’s Day (Sunday) is a Christian institution. It is the Christian festival, founded upon Christ’s resurrection. It is “the day which the Lord has made” (Ps. 117:24). It is a day of rejoicing and holy convocation, when no one is permitted to fast or kneel in sorrow or in penance. In 321 A.D. St. Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, declared it a day of rest. Long before him, however, Christians were already known to observe the day with special solemnity, treating it as a holy day devoted to spiritual things. As a day of rest, the Lord’s Day is not to be abused as a day of idleness and inactivity. For the faithful it is always a day for participation in the communal worship of the Church, for Christian fellowship, for the service of God through works of charity, for personal quiet and meditation, and for the discovery and enjoyment of God’s presence in us, and in the people and the world that surround and touch our lives. (underlining emphasis mine)

Not only do the Eastern Orthodox Christians worship on Sunday, the Armenian, and Coptic Christians also worship on Sunday. The Roman Church has never had much influence in the East. In fact, the Eastern Churches have always opposed the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, separated in 1054 AD in what is know as the “Great Schism.”The Eastern Orthodox Churches first acted on a basic principle of Protestantism by breaking with the Roman Church in 1054 over the filoque controversy. The filoque controversy is where a Roman Catholic Pope, outside of a church council changed the Nicene Creed.

Justin Martyr, who lived at approximately 100 to 165 AD, wrote on the issue of Sunday worship:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But 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 Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, Chap. 67, pp. 354, 355.

The writings of the early church Fathers all point to the celebration of the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week (Sunday; Revelation 1:10):


Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day: 1. But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread.

The Didascalia:

The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation, because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven” (Didascalia 2).

St. Ignatius:

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death (Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter IX).

Note: The Didache (/ˈdɪdəkiː/; Koine Greek: Διδαχή) or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didachē means “Teaching”) is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century

Note: Didascalia Apostolorum (or just Didascalia) is a Christian treatise which belongs to the genre of the Church Orders. It presents itself as being written by the Twelve Apostles at the time of the Council of Jerusalem; however, scholars agree that it was actually a composition of the 3rd century,

As an aside, what about the Emperor Constantine? Did he change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday as some Seventh Day Adventists claim? As noted from the above quote, this claim does not hold up since Christians were already meeting on Sunday, since the time of the Apostles. Constantine did make a decree regarding worship on Sunday.

It should be noted that; Constantine’s decree simply recognized the three hundred year Christian practice and expanded Christian freedom by allowing to keep their shops closed:

On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. (Constantine, March 7, 321. Codex Justinianus lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; translated in Philip Schaff’s, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 380, note 1)

This decree by Constantine simply protected, and guaranteed the civil freedom of Christians.

Where did the Protestant Reformers stand on the Saturday Sabbath and Sunday worship?

During the Reformation, the Protestant theologians did not blindly import theology and practices from the Roman Church. They reformed the church by looking at Scripture and binding themselves to the Scriptures as the final court of appeal. During the counter reformation Counsel of Trent, the Roman Church made many false assertions attempting to undermine Protestant theology. This has done when Roman leaders as seen above, claimed that it was the Papacy that changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. The Roman Church has always tried to undermine Sola Scriptura by elevating tradition to an equal footing with Scripture.

The Reformers on the other hand, looked at continuities and discontinuities in Scripture and concluded that the practice of the early Christians meeting on the first day of week, (Sunday) was a case of a real discontinuity in Scripture.

The Scriptural basis for discontinuity and continuity and its relevancy to the issue at hand:

In the Old Testament, we have certain ordinances and covenants that are said to be perceptual or everlasting. For example, “the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.” Why did the Protestant Reformers call the faithful to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday, when the Scriptures seem to make Saturday the permanent day?

To start, we should note that the Hebrew word “forever,” “olam” can be translated in different ways. Some examples being: forever, perpetual, everlasting, eternal, permanent. The word “forever” does not necessarily mean never ending in scripture, but can also be understood to mean as lasting only as long as a time period or age.

Upon closer examination of the Hebrew word ‘olam, we can raise the question; does this mean that a practice commanded in Scripture will last forever? First, we can admit that it’s possible when dealing with the usage of ‘olam, that a practice mentioned may last forever. However, the context of a passage is important when making this determination. Admitting that ‘olam may literally mean forever does not invalidate the fact the there are numerous indicators that ‘olam can also be used to describe a practice that will end or change forms going from the Older Covenant into the New.

In particular, ‘olam is used regarding ordinances in the Older Covenant which were to be kept by the people of Israel and not carried over into the New Covenant Church practice in their Older Covenant forms. It should be noted that there are significant discontinuities and continuities in redemptive history when moving from the Older Covenant into the New Covenant era.

Examples of the time limitations of ‘olam:

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever. (Exodus 21:6)

In this passage ‘olam stresses permanence and that the man would be a servant forever. This verse is explicit in conveying the idea of a limitation of time. The prima facie limitation in this verse is the life-span of the servant.

Another example is the Feast of Unleavened Bread:

So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. (Exodus 12:17)

The discontinuity is that the New Covenant Church no longer celebrates the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The continuity is that this Feast is fulfilled in Christ.

Consider the Passover:

Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. (Exodus 12:14)

The discontinuity is that the New Covenant Church no longer celebrates the Passover feast. The continuity is that all of the Older Covenant feasts including the Passover find fulfillment in the the Lord’s Supper.

Then there is the example of circumcision:

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. (Genesis 17:7-10)
The discontinuity is that circumcision is no longer required in the New Covenant. The continuity is that circumcision is replaced by baptism in the New Covenant era as the mark of the covenant.

The Sabbath Day to be kept on the seventh day:

Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:16-17)

The discontinuity is that the day has been changed to the First Day of the week in celebration of the resurrection of Christ. The continuity is that God’s people are to still honor Him by resting for our labors after six days of work Hebrews 4:9. In the Greek text, the word for “rest” in Hebrews 4:9 is sabbatismos. It means “a Sabbath rest.” Young’s Literal Translation captures this well when we read: “There doth remain, then, a sabbatic rest to the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9)

As seen in these examples of the translation of ‘olam as forever, perceptual, everlasting, eternal and permanent, we can conclude that there are qualifiers attached that guides our understanding of these passages. In each of these passages, the substance remained, yet the outward form changed moving from the Older Covenant into the New Covenant. The Reformed hermeneutic presumes that unless the New Testament sets aside an Old Testament practice as in the case of the dietary laws, we presume the Scriptural command to still be in force, taking into consideration, legitimate discontinuities as seen above.

Back to the issue at hand:

In light of what has been said above, the first day of the week came to be known as the “Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10), and has been the day on which the church gathered with the blessing of the Apostles (Acts 20:7).

On the day in which Jesus had been raised from the dead, the risen Lord Himself, chose the first day of the week on which to manifest himself to his disciples when they were gathered together (John 20:19, 26).

A quick summary of Scriptural reasons for the day change:

1. The Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 25:1; and John 20:1,19, 26.
2. In the book of Acts we learn more about Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)
3. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul tells us that not only in Corinth but all the churches of Galatia met upon the first day of the week. And, the apostles commanded the observation of this day rather than any other day for Sabbath services.
4. Regarding Sunday, the first day of the week, it can be said: this day is sanctified to be holy to the Lord above any other day, and therefore it has the Lord’s name upon it, and consequently is called the Lord’s day, as is manifest from Revelation1:10.

The astute reader will do well to consult:

From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation
by D. A. Carson

In particular, look at R. J. Bauckham, “Lord’s Day”, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson, pages 221-250:

1. The early church met on the Lord’s Day to commemorate Jesus’ Resurrection (Bauckham, 232-245): All four gospels emphasize Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week. Though it cannot be proven that this was the reason established for Sunday worship, early Christians did connect gathering on the first day of the week with the Lord’s resurrection (Bauckham, 236, 240).

2. By the end of the first century, “Lord’s Day” is seen to be a technical term already in use in reference to the first day of the week/Sunday, the Christian gathering day (Revelation 1:10; see Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 222-232).

3. By the middle of second century, Lord’s Day worship gatherings are the universal practice of the church (Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 230).

We can conclude that:

The Roman Catholic assertion that the Papacy changed the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday worship does not hold up Scripturally, nor historically.

Additional Resources on the change of the day from Saturday to Sunday:

Honoring Jesus as Sabbath King: Historical-redemptive arguments for a Sunday-Sabbath
by Richard A. Ostella

Defining the Debate
by R.C. Sproul

Roman Catholicism
by Matt Slick

Mr. Kettler is the owner of http://www.Undergroundnotes.com where his theological, philosophical and political articles can be read.

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