4. What the Bible Says about
the First Day of the Week
Uses of the First Day in Scripture
The word "Sabbath" is used at least sixty times in the New Testament. In none of these is there any hint that the Sabbath rest was to cease. In contrast, the term "first day of the week" is used only eight times in the New Testament (the words "Sunday" and "Saturday" are never used at all).
Six of these eight occurrences (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19) are simple time references to the exact same first day of the week following Yah'shua's (Jesus') resurrection. There is no hint in any of these verses of the first day of the week replacing the Sabbath.
Assembled Because of Fear
For example, some claim John 20:19 was the first 'Sunday' service (assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Roman Sunday is the same as the first biblical day of the week, which of course it isn't). But the facts are quite to the contrary: The circumstances make it impossible for such to be the case. The text plainly states that they were gathered there "for fear of the Jews." The frightened disciples had already learned that the tomb was empty, and they expected at any moment to be charged with stealing away the body of Yah'shua (Jesus). They huddled together in the locked room for protection and reassurance. The fact is that they did not even believe Christ had been resurrected from the dead! Mark's account reveals that they totally rejected the testimony of Mary and the other disciples who brought word of actually seeing the resurrected Master (Mark 16:10-14).
Not a Religious Celebration
On the basis of these words, we must quietly pass over that embarrassing 'Sunday' afternoon meeting in the closed room. It was not an occasion of unrestrained joy over the resurrection, as some have portrayed it. In fact, there was not even any recognition on the part of the disciples that a miracle had taken place. They were fearful, depressed, and unbelieving. When Yah'shua (Jesus) appeared to them He spoke words of strong rebuke because of their lack of faith and because they had rejected the testimony of their own companions. How misleading it is to make this a happy memorial service honouring the resurrection! Certainly this cannot be construed as some sort of Sunday or first day-of-the-week 'sabbath' celebration. Yah'shua (Jesus) gave not so much as a hint that the first day was to be kept holy (set-apart, qadosh).
Sabbath Still Observed After Messiah's Death
Yah'shua (Jesus) died on the 6th day, and rose on the 1st day. Notice that on this same first day, the women brought spices to the grave of the Saviour. They would not do this on the Sabbath day because of the 4th commandment (Luke 23:56)! This proves that the disciples kept the Sabbath after the death of Yah'shua (Jesus), specifically because of the 4th commandment! So obviously, the disciples still felt the Sabbath was to be observed even after his death!
A Private Collection
Now letís look at the 7th and 8th occurrence. The 7th occurrence of "the first day of the week" is when the Corinthians were commanded to take up a collection for the poor saints of Judea (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). This verse is frequently used as a precedent for Sunday collections at 'church', but it indicates quite the contrary. Paul's use of the phrase "lay by him in store" indicates this was a private inventory activity, not a public religious activity. Whatever was to be done, it was to be done at home - not at a gathering (1 Cor.16:2). The phrase also implies work on the first day of the week - not rest and worship. Apparently Paul wanted them to use the first working day of the week to set aside something for the poor saints at Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-26; Galatians 2:10) - so they didn't need to do so when he arrived.
Not a Christian Tithe-Gathering Service
Did Paul say anything about "tithe" here? No, as we read on, we discover that this was just a donation for poor Christians in Jerusalem, not "tithe." Notice that "tithe" is something completely different. Malachi 3:10 talks about taking the "tithe into the storehouse".
The Believers Weren't Even at a Meeting
This money was to be laid aside privately at home, not at any 'church'. A famine was raging in Judea (Acts 11:28), and Paul was writing to ask the messianic communities ('churches') in Asia Minor to assist their famine-stricken brethren (Acts 11:29). Notice that this collection was not given in 'church' as tithe by followers, but this collection was sent as relief to the elders by only 2 disciples! (Acts 11:30). Why didn't the followers just put this collection in the 'church' themselves? Because they did not go to 'church' on the first day of the week, they worked on the first day of the week, according to the commandment! (Exodus 20:9)
The First Day is Never a Special Holy Day
These Christians all kept the Sabbath holy, so Paul suggested that on the morning of the first day of the week, after the Sabbath was over, they put aside something for their needy brethren so it would be on hand when he came. Notice, also, that there is no reference here to either the first day of the week or any Roman 'Sunday' as a holy day. In fact, the Bible nowhere commands, or even suggests, first day-keeping. He was not teaching that Yahweh's holy (set apart, qadosh) Sabbath day of worship had been changed from the seventh to the first day of the week, let alone from any Roman 'Saturday' to 'Sunday'!
A Farewell Evangelistic Meeting
This brings us to the 8th and final reference which could provide any support for first day sacredness (Acts 20:7). In Luke's history of the early messianic community, he describes the dramatic farewell meeting which Paul had with the believers in Troas. This account in the book of Acts has been grievously distorted by those who grasp for any tiny excuse to justify their disobedience of Yahweh's commandments. Because it is the only record in the New Testament of a religious meeting being held on the first day of the week, we should examine it with special care and interest. There is not a hint that they ever held a meeting upon the first day before or after this day. It was not their custom to meet on this day.
Having an Ordinary Meal vs. Communion
Notice the specific purpose for this meeting was to "break bread," not to institute a new day of worship. Some have equated the breaking of bread in Acts 20:7 with the communion service, but such a view cannot be supported from the Scriptures. The wording seems to indicate that it was a common meal they shared together, "When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten ..." (Acts 20:11). Here we find that eating was associated with the breaking of bread. It is unlikely that the communion meal would be referred to in this manner. Besides, Luke assures us that those early Christians broke bread on a daily basis (Acts 2:46). The Greek term for "to break bread" is klasai arton, a generic term applied to any meal on any day of the week. However, what is not mentioned here in Acts 20:7 is the specific Greek term Christians used for the Lord's Supper: Kuriakon Deipnon (1 Corinthians 11:20). Neither is there any mention of "wine" in this passage, which is required at a celebration of the Lord's Supper. Thus, it cannot be said that the disciples had gathered to celebrate the Lord's Supper that day. There was no requirement to break bread or celebrate the Lordís Supper on that day (1 Cor.11:24-26). If Acts 20:7 is the Lord's Supper, so is Acts 2:46, because "bread" alone is "meat" (Mark 8:8, Matt.15:37, Acts 27:33-36), and the Lordís Supper is "meat" (1 Cor.10:3, John 6:27, 47-56), which would give no credence to the first day of the week let alone any Roman 'Sunday'.
A Midnight Gathering
It had to be a solemn, poignant occasion for the speaker and congregation, because Paul knew he would not see these people again before his death (Acts 20:25,38), and Paul preached until midnight. It is obvious that this farewell meeting was held on the dark part of the first day of the week, there were lights on in the room (verse 8). It is important to understand the biblical way of reckoning time. Days were not counted according to the pagan Roman method, from midnight to midnight, or the modern Talmudic Jewish way, from sunset to sunset. In the Bible the day begins at sunrise, and ends at unrise.
The Lord's Supper and Passover
If a single instance of breaking bread upon the first day of the week was quite sufficient to constitute it a holy day, would not the continued practice of the 'church' breaking bread every day (Acts 2:46) be amply sufficient to make every day a holy day? But even if that farewell meeting had included the Lord's supper, it would not lend any credence to first day observance, because nowhere is the Lord's Supper linked to any particular day except at the conclusion of the annual festival of Passover. It is surely obvious to anyone that Acts 20:7 was not a regular weekly worship service. The chief focus of this story seems to be upon the raising of Eutychus from the dead after he fell out the window, and also in the fact that Paul would never see them again before his death. Luke, the careful historian, does not even record any of the content of Paul's marathon sermon, although he faithfully documents the miracle of the thaumaturgised youth. Apparently, it was the way Eutychus dropped out of the assembly, and not the day on which it happened, that Luke is seeking to establish.
Only Yahweh Can Make a Day Holy
Now, eating together on the first day of the week while telling Paul "good-bye" does not make the first day of the week, let alone the Roman 'Sunday', a sacred day, does it? Nor does it establish the first day of the week as the day on which New Testament Christians worshipped Elohim (God). Think about this, will history record that twentieth-century orthodox Christians abandoned Sunday and, instead, began keeping Wednesday holy because they held prayer meetings on Wednesday evening? Of course not! Only Yahweh can make a day holy (set-apart, qadosh), only Elohim (God) could create the Sabbath. And Elohim (God) established the seventh biblical day of the week, as the Sabbath day (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11). And that is the same day New Testament believers rested from their work and worshipped Yahweh.
No Evidence for Regular First Day Assembly and Worship
The above eight texts are the only ones which speak of the first day of the week. Carefully examined, they prove nothing at all in favour of the first day of the week, let alone the Roman 'Sunday', as a day of worship or rest. In fact, they indicate the opposite.
The only thing that can be said in favour of either first day or Roman Sunday is post-apostolic church tradition! But one who truly loves Yahweh, who has accepted Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) as Master (Lord) and Deliverer (Saviour), will push aside tradition in order to seek his heavenly Father's will in all things. The Scriptures - Old and New Testaments alike - clearly reveal that Yahweh's will for all His children includes the liberty and refreshment of the seventh-day Sabbath.
Next article: The True Christian Sabbath Day
This page was created on 25 June 2000
Last updated on 26 January 2013
Reproduced and adapted with Thanks