Who changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday Worship? By Jack Kettler
Did the Roman Catholic Pope change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday worship? In this study, we will seek to answer that question and why the day of worship changed for a majority of Christians to Sunday. If it was not the Pope, are there Scriptural arguments for this day change? If the day of worship changed, are there Sabbath requirements attached to Sunday?
When did Christians start meeting on Sunday? A cursory look at the New Testament.
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7 ESV)
“On the first day of the week” along with the direction given in Corinthians by Paul, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1Corinthians 16:2 ESV). Act 20:7 and 1Corinthians 16:2 is Scriptural evidence that the Church had begun to observe the weekly celebration of the Resurrection on the first day of the week.
Let us 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 4 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
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.
Are these two claims valid? Did the Roman Papacy change the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday? First off, not only is this claim dubious, it is a historical impossibility because of the fact that the Papacy did not exist until sometime after the First Council of Nicaea, which convened in AD 325.
The Roman Church may dispute this, but appeals to historical evidence become increasingly flimsy prior to this council for an established and recognized papal system. The Eastern Churches and Coptic Churches show no acceptance of a papal system during the first three centuries of Church history.
The Seventh Day Adventists also take issue with Sunday worship, connecting it with the Roman Church or to Emperor Constantine.
Contrary to this claim that 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 1st century.
For example, consider the Eastern Orthodox Worship by Rev. Alciviadis C. Calivas, Th.D.
Rev. Alciviadis says the following:
“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.” (1) (Underlining emphasis mine)
Not only do the Eastern Orthodox Christians worship on Sunday, the Syriac, Armenian, and Coptic Christians also worship on Sunday. The Roman Church has never had much influence in the East. The Eastern Churches have always opposed the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. Thus, it is doubtful that Sunday worship in the East was because of the dictates of a Roman Pope.
According to Wikipedia, It was not until the 4th century, the Roman Church started officially worshipping on Sunday. Historically, the Roman Church was a Johnny come lately to the day change for church worship.
Justin Martyr (ca. 100-ca. 165), who lived at approximately 100 to 165 AD, wrote on the issue of Sunday worship enlightens us historically:
“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.” (2)
The writings of the early church Father Justin Martyr point to the celebration of the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week, Sunday; Revelation 1:10.
This flies in the face of the Roman Church’s assertions.
There are other indications of Sunday worship early in Church history. For example:
“1. But every Lord’s Day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” (3)
According to the Didache, Sunday worship started early in church history.
“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.” (4)
According to the Didascalia, Sunday worship started with the apostles.
St. Ignatius, AD 1491 1556:
“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.” (5)
Note: The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles is a brief Christian thesis, dated by scholars to the late first or early 2nd century
Note: Didascalia Apostolorum (or just Didascalia) is a Christian treatise. The Didascalia introduces itself as written by the Twelve Apostles at the time of the Council of Jerusalem. However, scholars agree that it was a composition of the 3rd century,
As an aside, what about Emperor Constantine? Did he change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday as some Seventh Day Adventists claim? 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, thus making it easier for Christians to worship on Sunday, which they were already doing.
As noted, Constantine’s decree recognized the three hundred years Christian practice and expanded Christian freedom by allowing them 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.” (6)
This decree by Constantine protected and guaranteed the civil freedom of Christians for their already ongoing practice.
Where did the Protestant Reformers stand on the Saturday Sabbath and Sunday worship?
To start, the burden of proof is on those who maintain the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath Day, and the day was moved from Saturday to Sunday.
The burden of proof for this will now be met:
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 Counsil of Trent, the Roman Church made many false assertions attempting to undermine Protestant theology. This undermining happened when Roman leaders, as seen above, claimed that the Papacy changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
The Scriptural proof of the day change:
The Older Covenant delineated Saturday as the Sabbath, and it was to be eternal.
How did the Protestant Reformers deal with the eternal covenants in the Old Testament?
The Scriptural basis for discontinuity, continuity, and its relevance to the issue at hand:
In the Old Testament, we have specific ordinances and covenants that are to be 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 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 is 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 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. In addition, the typological significance of Christ in the Old Testament is where types are prefigured or symbolized. This Christological typology is an interpretive factor in some of the following verses.
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 doorpost, and; his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” (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, which was typological:
“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 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.
Now to the Key text in this argument.
The Sabbath Day was 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)
“ἄρα apoleipetai ἀπολείπεται (sabbatismos, a Sabbath rest) τῷ λαῷ λαῷ Θεοῦ.” (Hebrews 4:9)
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9 ESV)
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, which means “a Sabbath rest.”
Young’s Literal Translation captures the text from Hebrew 4:9 perfectly:
“There doth remain, then, a sabbatic rest to the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9)
Consider Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary entry on (Hebrews 4:9), and the sabbatic rest:
“9. Therefore—because God “speaks of another day (see on  Heb. 4:8).
Remaineth—still to be realized hereafter by the “some (who) must enter therein” (Heb. 4:6), that is, “the people of God,” the true Israel who shall enter into God’s rest (“My rest,” Heb. 4:3). God’s rest was a Sabbatism, so also will ours be.
A rest—Greek, “Sabbatism.” In time, there are many Sabbaths, but then there shall be the enjoyment and keeping of a Sabbath-rest: one perfect and eternal. The “rest” in Heb. 4:8 is Greek, “catapausis;” Hebrew, “Noah”; rest from weariness, as the ark rested on Ararat after its tossings to and fro; and as Israel, under Joshua, enjoyed at last rest from war in Canaan. But the “rest” in this Heb. 4:9 is the nobler and more exalted (Hebrew) “Sabbath” rest; literally, “cessation”: rest from work when finished (Heb. 4:4), as God rested (Re 16:17). The two ideas of “rest” combined, give the perfect view of the heavenly Sabbath. Rest from weariness, sorrow, and sin; and rest in the completion of God’s new creation (Re 21:5). The whole renovated creation shall share in it; nothing will there be to break the Sabbath of eternity; and the Triune God shall rejoice in the work of His hands (Zep 3:17). Moses, the representative of the law, could not lead Israel into Canaan: the law leads us to Christ, and there its office ceases, as that of Moses on the borders of Canaan: it is Jesus, the antitype of Joshua, who leads us into the heavenly rest. This verse indirectly establishes the obligation of the Sabbath still; for the type continues until the antitype supersedes it: so legal sacrifices continued till the great antitypical Sacrifice superseded it, As then the antitypical heavenly Sabbath-rest will not be till Christ, our Gospel Joshua, comes, to usher us into it, the typical earthly Sabbath must continue till then. The Jews call the future rest “the day which is all Sabbath.’” (7)
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 guide 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 Sabbath Day is eternal, yet the day of observance changed to Sunday.
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 the week (Sunday) was a case of a real discontinuity in Scripture.
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. If the continuity discontinuity motif is not maintained, it can be alleged that there are contradictions in Scripture.
A Scriptural deduction from the Reformed argument:
1. 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).
2. 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).
From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation by D. A. Carson.
In this work, Carson notes:
“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 about 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 the second century, Lord’s Day worship gatherings are the universal practice of the church (Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” 230).” (8)
A Reformed exposition of the day change by Professor John Murray on The Pattern of the Lord’s Day:
“The Sabbath as a creation ordinance for all time.
If we accept, the witness of Scripture there can be no question that the weekly Sabbath finds its basis in and derives its sanction from the example of God himself. He created the heavens and the earth in six days and “on the seventh God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it” (Gen. 2:2, 3). The fourth commandment in the Decalogue sets forth the obligation resting upon man and it makes express appeal to this sanction. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exod. 20:11).
Many regard this Sabbath institution as a shadow of things to come and, therefore, as an ordinance to be observed, has passed away because that of which it was a shadow has been realized in the full light of the new and better covenant. At this point, suffice it to ask the question: has the pattern of God’s work and rest in creation ceased to be relevant? Is this pattern a shadow in the sense of those who espouse this position? The realm of our existence is that established by creation and maintained by God’s providence. The new covenant has in no respect abrogated creation nor has it diminished its relevance. Creation both as action and product is as significant for us as it was for Israel under the old covenant. The refrain of Scripture in both Testaments is that the God of creation is the God of redemption in all stages of covenantal disclosure and realization. This consideration is invested with greater significance when we bear in mind that the ultimate standard for us is likeness to God (cf. Matt. 5:48; 1John 3:2, 3). And it is this likeness, in the sphere of our behaviour, that undergirds the demand for Sabbath observance (Exod. 20:11; 31:17).
The Redemptive Pattern
It is noteworthy that the Sabbath commandment as given in Deuteronomy (Deut. 5:12-15) does not appeal to God’s rest in creation as the reason for keeping the Sabbath day. In this instance, mention is made of something else. “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and an out-streched arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15). This cannot be understood as in any way annulling the sanction of Exodus 20:11; 31:17. Deuteronomy comprises what was the reiteration of the covenant made at Sinai. When the Sabbath commandment is introduced, Israel is reminded of the earlier promulgation: “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee” (Deut. 5:12). And we should observe that all the commandments have their redemptive sanction. The preface to all is: “I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut. 5:6). So what we find in Deut. 5; 15 in connection with the Sabbath is but the application of the preface to the specific duty enunciated in the fourth command. It is supplement to Exodus 20:11, not suspension. We have now added reason for observing the Sabbath. This is full of meaning and we must linger to analyze and appreciate.
The deliverance from Egypt was redemption. “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed” (Exod. 15:13). It is more than any other event the redemption of the Old Testament. It is the analogue of the greater redemption accomplished by Christ. The Sabbath commandment derives its sanction not only from God’s rest in creation but also from redemption out of Egypt’s bondage. This fact that the Sabbath in Israel had a redemptive reference and sanction bears directly upon the question of its relevance in the New Testament. The redemption from Egypt cannot be properly viewed except as the anticipation of the greater redemption wrought in the fullness of time. Hence, if redemption from Egypt accorded sanction to the Sabbath institution and provided reason for its observance the same must apply to the greater redemption and apply in a way commensurate with the greater fullness and dimensions of the redemption secured by the death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, it is the fullness and richness of the new covenant that accord to the Sabbath ordinance increased relevance, sanction, and blessing.
This redemptive reference explains and confirms three features of the New Testament.
1. The Retrospective Reference
Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (cf. Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). For our present interest the important feature of the New Testament witness is that the first day of the week continued to have _distinctive religious significance_ (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). The only explanation of this fact is that the first day was the day of Jesus’ resurrection and for that reason John calls it “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). The first day took on a memorial significance appropriate to the place the resurrection of Christ occupies in the accomplishment of redemption and in Jesus’ finished work (cf. John 17:4) as also appropriate to the seal imparted by the repeated appearance to his disciples on that day (cf. Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:15-31, 26; John 20:19,26). When Christ rose from the dead he was loosed from the pangs of death (cf. Acts 2:24), he entered upon life indestructible (cf. Rom. 5:10; 6:9, 10), became a “life-giving Spirit” (1Cor. 15:45), and brought “life and immortality to light” (2Tim. 1:10). In a word, he entered upon the rest of his redeeming work. All of this and much more resides in the emphasis, which falls upon the resurrection as a pivotal event in the accomplishment of redemption. The other pivot is the death upon the cross. The sanctity belonging to the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day is the constant reminder of all that Jesus’ resurrection involves. It is the memorial of the resurrection as the Lord’s Supper is the memorial of Jesus’ death upon the tree. Inescapable, therefore, is the conclusion that the resurrection in its redemptive character yields its sanction to the sacredness of the first day of the week just as deliverance from Egypt’s bondage accorded its sanction to the Sabbath institution of the old covenant. This is the rationale for regarding the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. It follows the line of thought, which the Old Testament itself prescribes for us when it appeals to redemption as the reason for Sabbath observance. The principle enunciated in Deuteronomy 5:15 receives its verification and application in the new covenant in the memorial of finalized redemption, the Lord’s Day.
2. The Manward Reference
Under this caption, we have in mind our Lord’ saying: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, 28).
The title our Lord uses to designate himself is one that belongs to him in his messianic identity, commission, and office. The lordship he claims is, therefore, redemptively conditioned; it is his lordship as Mediator and Saviour. As such, in accord with his own testimony, he is given all authority in heaven and earth (cf. John 3:36; Matt. 28:18). So every institution is brought within the scope of his lordship. Since he exercises this lordship in the interests of God’s redemptive purpose, it is particularly true that institutions given for the good of man are brought within the scope of his lordship and made to serve the interests of the supreme good which redemption designs and guarantees. It is this governing thought that is applied in the text to the institution of the Sabbath. The accent falls upon the beneficent design of the Sabbath – it was made for man. “Therefore the Son of man is Lord” of it.
When Jesus speaks of the Sabbath, he is specifying the institution defined by the fourth commandment, and he asserts his lordship over it in precisely this character. There is not the slightest intimation of abrogation. For it is the Sabbath in that identity over which he claims to be Lord. Too frequently this text is adduced in support of an alleged relaxation of the requirements set forth in the commandment as if Jesus on this ground were, in the exercise of his authority, defending his disciples for behaviour that went counter to Old Testament requirements. This totally misconstrues the situation in which the words were spoken. Jesus is defending his disciples against the charge of desecration brought by the Pharisees (cf. Mark 2:24). But in doing so he shows by appeal to the Old Testament itself (cf. Matt. 12:4, 5; Mark 2:25, 26) that the behaviour of his disciples was in accord with what the Old Testament sanctioned. It was not deviation from Old Testament requirements that our Lord was condoning but deviation from pharisaical distortion. He was condemning the tyranny by which the Sabbath institution had been made an instrument of oppression. And he did this by appeal to the true intent of the Sabbath as verified by Scripture itself. Of special interest is the relation of the redemptive sanction of the fourth commandment to the claim of Jesus on this occasion. The lordship over the Sabbath is, as observed, redemptively conditioned and thus only within a redemptive design can his lordship of the Sabbath be understood. This is to say that the Sabbath ordinance in its beneficent character comes to full expression within the realm of our Lord’s mediatorial lordship. The Sabbath is not alien to redemption at the zenith of its realization and blessing. As made for man it continues to serve its great purpose in that administration that achieves the acme of covenant grace. This Jesus’ word seals to us – “the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath”.
3. The Prospective Reference
“There remains therefore a Sabbath keeping for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9)
The context of this passage is all-important for its interpretation and for appreciation of its implications. At verse 4 there is quotation of Genesis 2:2: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” This, of course, refers to God’s – own – rest. At verse 5 there is allusion to the rest of Canaan and quotation of Psalm 95:11 (cf. also vs. 3 and 3:11) in reference to the failure of too many to enter into it (cf. Psalm 95:10). The remarkable feature of verse 5 as of Psalm 95:11 is that this rest of Canaan is called God’s rest (“my rest”). Why this characterization? It is not sufficient to say that it was the rest God provided. The proximity of reference to God’s own rest in verse 4 requires more than the thoughts of mere provision by God. We cannot say less than that God calls it his rest because the rest of Canaan was patterned after God’s rest – it partook of the character of God’s rest. The same kind of identification appears in verse 10 with reference to the rest that remains for the people of God. “For he that has entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” So the rest of Canaan and the rest that remains for the people of God are called God’s rest because both partake of the character of God’s own rest in resting from his creative work on the seventh day. Here is something highly germane to the present topic.
It is clear that the rest of Canaan and the rest that remains for the people of God are redemptive in character. Since they are patterned after God’s rest in creation, this means that the redemptive takes on the character of that rest of God upon which the Sabbath institution for man originally rested and from which it derived its sanction. We cannot but discover in this again the close relation between the creative and the redemptive in the Sabbath ordinance and the coherence of Exodus 20:11 and Deuteronomy 5:15. We are reminded again that likeness to God governs man’s obligation and is brought to its realization in the provisions of redemption. In the consummation of redemption, the Sabbath rest of God’s people achieves conformity to the fullest extent. “For he who has entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (cf. Rev. 14:13). The Sabbath institution in all its aspects and applications has this prospective reference; the whole movement of redemption will find its finale in the Sabbath rest that remains. The weekly Sabbath is the promise, token, and foretaste of the consummated rest; it is also the earnest. The biblical philosophy of the Sabbath is such that to deny its perpetuity is to deprive the movement of redemption of one of its most precious strands.
Redemption has a past, a present, and a future. In the Sabbath as “the Lord’s Day,” all three are focused. In retrospect, it is the memorial of our Lord’s resurrection. In the present with resurrection joy, it fulfils its beneficent design by the lordship of the Son of man. As prospect, it is the promise of the inheritance of the saints. With varying degrees of understanding and application, it is this perspective that dictated the observance of the Lord’s Day in catholic, protestant and reformed tradition. Shall we forfeit in institution so embedded in redemptive revelation and recognized as such in the history of the church of Christ? In the faith and for the honour of the Sabbath’s Lord may we answer with a decisive, no! In devotion to him may we increasingly know the joy and blessing of the recurring day of rest and worship.” (9)
John Murray answers the argument that Romans 14:5 ends the fourth commandment in the New Covenant era:
ROMANS 14:5 AND THE WEEKLY SABBATH
The question is whether the weekly Sabbath comes within the scope of the distinction respecting days on which the apostle reflects in Romans 14:5. If so then we have to reckon with the following implications.
1. This would mean that the Sabbath commandment in the decalogue does not continue to have any binding obligation upon believers in the New Testament economy. The observance of one day in seven as holy and invested with the sanctity enunciated in the fourth commandment would be abrogated and would be in the same category in respect of observance as the ceremonial rites of the Mosaic institution. On the assumption posited, insistence upon the continued sanctity of each recurring seventh day would be as Judaizing as to demand the perpetuation of the Levitical feasts.
2. The first day of the week would have no prescribed religious significance. It would not be distinguished from any other day as the memorial of Christ’s resurrection and could not properly be regarded as the Lord’s day in distinction from the way in which every day is to be lived in devotion to and the service of the Lord Christ. Neither might any other day, weekly or otherwise, be regarded as set apart with this religious significance.
3. Observance of a weekly Sabbath or of a day commemorating our Lord’s resurrection would be a feature of the person weak in faith and in this case he would be weak in faith because he had not yet attained to the understanding that in the Christian institution all days are in the same category. Just as one weak Christian fails to recognize that all kinds of food are clean, so another, or perchance the same person, would fail to esteem every day alike.
These implications of the thesis in question cannot be avoided. We may now proceed to examine them in the light of the considerations which Scripture as a whole provides.
1. The Sabbath institution is a creation ordinance. It did not begin to have relevance at Sinai when the ten commandments were given to Moses on two tables (cf. Gen. 2:2, 3; Exod. 16:21–23). It was, however, incorporated in the law promulgated at Sinai and this we would expect in view of its significance and purpose as enunciated in Genesis 2:2, 3. It is so embedded in this covenant law that to regard it as of different character from its context in respect of abiding relevance goes counter to the unity and basic significance of what was inscribed on the two tables. Our Lord himself tells us of its purpose and claims it for his messianic Lordship (Mark 2:28). The thesis we are now considering would have to assume that the pattern provided by God himself (Gen. 2:2, 3) in the work of creation (cf. also Exod. 20:11; 31:17) has no longer any relevance for the regulation of man’s life on earth, that only nine of the ten words of the decalogue have authority for Christians, that the beneficent design contemplated in the original institution (Mark 2:28) has no application under the gospel, and that the lordship Christ exercised over the Sabbath was for the purpose of abolishing it as an institution to be observed. These are the necessary conclusions to be drawn from the assumption in question. There is no evidence to support any of these conclusions, and, when they are combined and their cumulative force frankly weighed, it is then that the whole analogy of Scripture is shown to be contradicted by the assumption concerned.
2. The first day of the week as the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19) is recognized in the New Testament as having a significance derived from this fact of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2) and this is the reason why John speaks of it as the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10). It is the one day of the week to which belongs this distinctive religious significance. Since it occurs every seventh day, it is a perpetually recurring memorial with religious intent and character proportionate to the place which Jesus’ resurrection occupies in the accomplishment of redemption. The two pivotal events in this accomplishment are the death and resurrection of Christ and the two memorial ordinances of the New Testament institution are the Lord’s supper and the Lord’s day, the one memorializing Jesus’ death and the other his resurrection. If Paul in Romans 14:5 implies that all distinctions of days have been obliterated, then there is no room for the distinctive significance of the first day of the week as the Lord’s day. The evidence supporting the memorial character of the first day is not to be controverted and, consequently, in this respect also the assumption in question cannot be entertained, namely, that all religious distinction of days is completely abrogated in the Christian economy.
3. In accord with the analogy of Scripture and particularly the teaching of Paul, Romans 14:5 can properly be regarded as referring to the ceremonial holy days of the Levitical institution. The obligation to observe these is clearly abrogated in the New Testament. They have no longer relevance or sanction and the situation described in Romans 14:5 perfectly accords with what Paul would say with reference to religious scrupulosity or the absence of such anent these days. Paul was not insistent upon the discontinuance of ritual observances of the Levitical ordinances as long as the observance was merely one of religious custom and not compromising the gospel (cf. Acts 18:18, 21; 21:20–27). He himself circumcised Timothy from considerations of expediency. But in a different situation he could write: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2). Ceremonial feast days fall into the category of which the apostle could say: “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike”. Many Jews would not yet have understood all the implications of the gospel and had still a scrupulous regard for these Mosaic ordinances. Of such scruples we know Paul to have been thoroughly tolerant and they fit the precise terms of the text in question. There is no need to posit anything that goes beyond such observances. To place the Lord’s day and the weekly Sabbath in the same category is not only beyond the warrant of exegetical requirements but brings us into conflict with principles that are embedded in the total witness of Scripture. An interpretation that involves such contradiction cannot be adopted. Thus the abiding sanctity of each recurring seventh day as the memorial of God’s rest in creation and of Christ’s exaltation in his resurrection is not to be regarded as in any way impaired by Romans 14:5.” (10)
Reformed Confessional support for the Sunday is the Christian Sabbath:
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks which day of the seven has God appointed. The Shorter Catechism in Q.59 puts it this way:
“Q.59. Which day of the seven has God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.”
Westminster Confession of 1646: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day
“Chapter XXI. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day with Scriptural proofs
I. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and with all the soul, and with all the might, (Rom 1:20; Act 17:24; Psa 119:68; Jer 10:7; Psa 31:23; Psa 18:3; Rom 10:12; Psa 62:8; Jos 24:14; Mar 12:33). But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture, (Deu 12:32; Mat 15:9; Act 17:25; Mat 4:9-10; Deu 15:1-20; Exd 20:4-6; Col 2:23).
II. Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to Him alone, (Mat 4:10; Jhn 5:23; 2Co 13:14); not to angels, saints, or any other creature, (Col 2:18; Rev 19:10; Rom 1:25): and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone, (Jhn 14:6; 1Ti 2:5; Eph 2:18; Col 3:17).
III. Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, (Phl 4:6); is by God required of all men, (Psa 65:2): and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, (Jhn 14:13-14; 1Pe 2:5); by the help of His Spirit, (Rom 8:26); according to His will, (1Jo 5:14); with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance, (Psa 47:7; Ecc 5:1-2; Hbr 12:28; Gen 18:27; Jam 5:16; Jam 1:6-7; Mar 11:24; Mat 6:12, 14-15; Col 4:2; Eph 6:18); and, if vocal, in a, known tongue, (1Co 14:14).
IV. Prayer is to be made for things lawful, (1Jo 5:14); and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter, (1Ti 2:1-2; Jhn 17:20; 2Sa 7:29; Rth 4:12): but not for the dead, (2Sa 12:21-23; Luk 16:25-26; Rev 14:13); nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death, (1Jo 5:16).
V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, (Act 15:21; Rev 1:3); the sound preaching, (2Ti 4:2); and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, (Jam 1:22; Act 10:33; Mat 13:19; Hbr 4:2; Isa 66:2); singing of psalms with grace in the heart, (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19; Jam 5:13); as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God, (Mat 28:19; 1Co 11:23-29; Act 2:42): beside religious oaths, (Deu 6:13; Neh 10:29); vows, (Isa 19:21; Ecc 5:4-5); solemn fastings, (Joe 2:12; Est 4:16; Mat 9:15; 1Co 7:5); and thanksgivings upon special occasions, (Psa 107; Est 9:22); which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner, (Hbr 12:28).
VI. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the Gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed, (Jhn 4:21): but God is to be worshipped everywhere, (Mal 1:11; 1Ti 2:8); in spirit and truth, (Jhn 4:23-24); as, in private families, (Jer 10:25; Deu 6:6-7; Job 1:5; 2Sa 6:18, 20; 1Pe 3:7, Act 10:2); daily, (Mat 6:11); and in secret, each one by himself, (Mat 6:6; Eph 6:18); so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto, (Isa 56:6-7; Hbr 10:25; Pro 1:20-21, 24; Pro 8:34; Act 13:42; Luk 4:16; Act 2:42).
VII. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him, (Exd 20:8, 10-11; Isa 56:2, 4, 6-7): which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week, (Gen 2:2-3; 1Co 16:1-2; Act 20:7); and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, (Rev 1:10); and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath, (Exd 20:8, 10; Mat 5:17-18).
VIII. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, (Exd 20:8; Exd 16:23, 25-26, 29-30; Exd 31:15-17; Isa 58:13; Neh 13:15-19, 21-22); but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy, (Isa 58:13; Mat 12:1-13).”
The Westminster Catechism and Confession one of Protestantism’ greatest confessions understand the Saturday Sabbath changed to Sunday along with its Sabbath significance.
Conclusion with a 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 1Corinthians 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. Moreover, 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.
In answer to the opening questions, the Roman Catholic assertion that the Papacy changed the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday worship does not hold up historically, nor most importantly, biblically.
Quotes from Protestant theologians:
“And we may boldly say that a man does not love the Lord Jesus Christ who does not love the entire Lord’s Day.” – Robert Murray M’Cheyne
“It is not too much to say that the prosperity or decay of organized Christianity depends on the maintenance of the Christian Sabbath.” – J.C. Ryle
“To profane the Sabbath is a great sin; it is a willful contempt of God … This is to despise God, to hang out the flag of defiance, to throw down the gauntlet, and challenge God himself.” – Thomas Watson
“If we possess any measure of the true spirit of devotion, this sacred day will be most welcome to our hearts.” – A.A. Alexander
“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11. Therefore, they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46); Rom. 9:11).” – Francis Turretin (1623-1687)
“Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with him on the resurrection morn” – B. B. Warfield, (“The Sabbath in the Word of God,” Selected Shorter Writings Vol. 1, (Nutley, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), p. 319.
To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
1. Rev. Alciviadis C. Calivas, Th.D., Encountering Christ in Worship, https://www.goarch.org/-/orthodox-worship
2. Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, Chap. 67, pp. 354, 355.
3. Didache Chapter XIV.11, Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day, 14 [A.D. 70]).
4. Didascalia Apostolorum, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), Chapter 2.
5. Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter IX.
6. (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.
7. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1405-1406.
8. R. J. Bauckham, “Lord’s Day,” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson, pages 221-250.
9. John Murray, The Sabbath, The Pattern of the Lord’s Day, (United Kingdom, Lord’s Day Observance Society), out of print.
10. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 2, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 257–259.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.thereligionthatstartedinahat.com/
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