8. Reasons Assigned for Sunday Sacredness
WE will now briefly notice the leading reasons given for the supposed change of the Sabbath.
“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, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and says unto them, Peace be unto you.”
It is supposed by many that the disciples were assembled to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, and that when he came among them and said, “Peace be unto you,” he indicated his approval of their act in assembling upon that day, and thus honored the first “Christian Sabbath.” But does the language justify such an inference? From this and other scriptures we draw these conclusions:
1. The reason the disciples were together was “for fear of the Jews,” and not to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
2. The place of their meeting was undoubtedly the upper room where they all abode (Acts 1:13), and not the temple or any other house of worship.
3. The time of this meeting must have been very late in the day, just before sunset. (By the Bible mode of reckoning time, the day closed at evening, or sundown. Genesis 1:5; Leviticus 23:32; Mark 1:32). We are forced to this conclusion from the facts stated by the other evangelists, and because St. John declares it was evening. Luke gives an account of the journey of two disciples to Emmaus, seven and a half miles, that very afternoon, and of how Jesus made himself known to them “as they sat at meat,” after conversing with them and explaining the Scripture predictions concerning himself. Then he vanished out of their sight.” This was “toward evening,” and “the day was far spent.” Then they “returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them.” As they spoke of what had transpired, Jesus appeared. This must be the identical meeting spoken of by John, for he uses the same expression, “Peace be unto you,” and it was at the same time of day. He then asked them, “Have you here any meat?” and ate in their presence. Mark records the same meeting. He gives a brief account of the two as they walked and went into the country, and of his appearing unto them; and states that the other disciples did not believe them. “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” Mark 16:12-14.
4. We are forced to conclude that they could not have been celebrating or honoring Christ’s resurrection, for they did not believe it had occurred.
5. We can see clearly how the disciples regarded this first day of the week, as two of them walked to Emmaus and back, a distance of fifteen miles, and Jesus made the same journey, and not a hint did he give that such a use of the day was wrong. A strange way to celebrate the day, if it was the first “Christian Sabbath!” They simply regarded it as a secular day, and nothing more.
The little flock of disciples were in a retired place, fearing the Jews, who had just crucified their Lord. A few of their number ventured out to the sepulcher to embalm the Savior’s body, and were astonished to find it was not there. A few others went into the country. What a contrast to the origin of the Sabbath of the Lord! The Creator “rested” upon it himself; then he “blessed” it, and set it apart to a sacred use, evidently by telling Adam how to keep it. His example and command were both given in its favor. But how different with this first day, on which Christ rose! If there is any divine authority for keeping Sunday, this day must have been the first of the new order of Sabbaths. But it was a busy day. Christ gave no example of resting upon it; he gave no command for his disciples to rest, nor did he hold any religious service on that day. Some of his disciples traveled fifteen miles on foot upon it, he keeping them company in thus laboring. Not a hint is given in all the Bible that it should be used in any other manner than as a day for labor. Who can believe that God would in such a manner set aside the ancient Sabbath of his own appointment, and put in its place a new day, never giving a hint that the old one was abolished or the new inaugurated?
We next notice the claim that it was customary for Christ to meet with his disciples on the first day of the week, thus giving evidence of his regard for it, and proof of its sacredness. “And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them; then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you.”
This scripture, in connection with the one just noticed, is relied upon to prove that it was the practice of Jesus to meet with his disciples on the first day of the week, between his resurrection and his ascension. It will be noticed that the record does not say that it was on the first day of the week when Christ had this interview with Thomas and the disciples. The statement is that it was “after eight days” from the previous meeting. That previous meeting was at the very close of the first day, most of it probably occurring on the day following. It is claimed that the expression “after eight days” signifies just a week. But what proof is there of this? “After seven days” is the expression employed by inspiration when defining a week. Compare I Chronicles 9:25 with II Kings 11:5. The expression “after six days” (Matthew 17:1) is given by another writer, about an “eight days after.” Luke 9:28. On what grounds, then, shall we conclude that “after eight days” really means seven days or less? From the closing hour of Sunday, a period of time covered by the expression “after eight days,” if the language be taken literally, would reach at least to the Monday night or Tuesday morning of the next week. How, then, can one rightfully claim that this meeting occurred on the first day of the week? It must be evident that this meeting was held because of the presence of Thomas, who was absent on the previous occasion, and not to honor any particular day of the week. Had the latter object been in view, the record would most certainly tell us what day of the week it was, and not use such an indefinite expression as “after eight days.”
But even if we grant all our first-day friends claim, viz., that the meeting in question did occur on the first day of the week, what evidence is thereby furnished in behalf of Sunday sacredness? Our Savior ascended to heaven on Thursday, just forty days from his resurrection. Acts 1:1. Another prominent meeting held with his disciples was on a fishing occasion. John 21:3-25. This was the third occasion that Christ manifested himself to his disciples. Verse 14. Our friends will hardly claim that this visit occurred on Sunday.
There were five first-days between the crucifixion and the ascension. No mention whatever is made of any of these five first-days, excepting the first one, on which he rose from the dead. If we admit that “after eight days” occurred on the second of those five first-days, which we are sure is not true, what could that prove? The evidence would then come far short of proving a custom, since the two following meetings—the fishing occasion and the ascension—were not on that day. A “custom” is a long continued practice. More than two instances are required to constitute a “custom.” The “custom” of our Savior was to honor the Sabbath of the Lord and teach the people on that day. Luke 4:16. It is utterly impossible to establish such a custom of his with reference to Sunday.
Acts 2:1, 2
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is supposed by many to be an evidence in favor of first-day sacredness. The Bible record is as follows: “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
It is well to notice that not a word is said in the text about the first day of the week. Yet this is regarded by the adherents of Sunday sacredness as one of the strongest evidences in its behalf. It is claimed that the disciples were assembled on this first-day Sabbath, and that the Lord poured out his Spirit in honor of the day and of their act, thus adding to its sanctity. To this claim we answer:
1. There is no evidence whatever that there was any first-day Sabbath at that time to commemorate.
2. Their being assembled on that day was nothing more than had occurred on each of the previous nine days, as they were all commanded by the Savior, “Tarry you in the city of Jerusalem, until you be endued with power from on high.” Luke 24:49. They had been thus waiting “with one accord in prayer and supplication,” about one hundred and twenty in number. Acts 1:12-26.
3. There is no hint from the connection that this occurred on the first day of the week. If God had intended to honor that law, he most assuredly would have told us that the occurrence took place then.
4. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit came, evidently, as the antitype of the feast of Pentecost. This is doubtless the reason why that day is mentioned. A strong effort is made by some to prove that Pentecost came that year upon the first day of the week, though this is disputed by a large number of the ablest authors, themselves observers of Sunday. The word Pentecost signifies “the fiftieth,” so many days being reckoned from the Passover. Olshausen, the celebrated German commentator, says: “Now since, according to the accounts given regarding the time of the feast, the Passover, in the year of our Lord’s death, fell so that the first day of the feast lasted from Thursday evening at six o’clock till Friday evening at the same hour, it follows, of course, that it was from Friday evening at six o’clock that the fifty days began to be counted. The fiftieth day fell, therefore, it appears, upon Saturday.”
Jennings, in Jewish Antiquities, concludes his arguments by saying, “The day of Pentecost must fall on the Saturday, or the Jewish Sabbath.”
Dr. Albert Barnes says: “If the views of the Pharisees were followed, and the Lord Jesus had with them kept the Passover on Thursday, as many have supposed, then the day of Pentecost would have occurred on the Jewish Sabbath, that is, on Saturday. It is impossible to determine the truth on this subject.”
Dean Alford, in his New Testament for English Readers, says: “The question on what day of the week this day of Pentecost was, is beset with the difficulties attending the question of our Lord’s last Passover . . . It appears probable, however, that it was on the Sabbath, i.e., if we reckon from Saturday, the 16th of Nisan.”
Prof. H. B. Hackett, D. D., Professor of Biblical Literature in Newton Theological Institute, in his Commentary on the Original Text of the Acts, page 40, thus remarks:
It is generally supposed that this Pentecost, signalized by the outpouring of the Spirit, fell on the Jewish Sabbath, our Saturday.”
Other eminent authors—Lightfoot, Kuinol, Hitzig, Weisler, etc., take the same position. We conclude, therefore, that, taking the authority of first-day authors themselves, it cannot be established that Pentecost came upon the first day of the week at this time, and if it could be so established, it would be no evidence of Sunday sacredness.
Redemption Greater than Creation
Another claim made in behalf of the first day Sabbath is this: Redemption is greater than creation, therefore we should observe the day of Christ’s resurrection in preference to that of the Creator’s rest.
In reply we would say that this is merely human opinion. Who knows that redemption is greater than creation, since both require omnipotent power? Is man prepared to decide the comparative greatness of works that he is wholly powerless to perform, and of which he cannot have any adequate conception? And who knows that God would have us keep a Sabbath to celebrate redemption? Not a hint has he given us in his word to that effect. Would he not have told us so, had he wished us to do it? Paul says that the Holy Scriptures thoroughly furnish us unto all good works. II Timothy 3:17. As the keeping of Sunday as a Sabbath in honor of the work of redemption is in no instance implied in God’s word, we must conclude that it is not a “good work.” Every religious institution of divine appointment, has for it the authority of God’s word. But there is none for the observance of a law to commemorate redemption. Such observance must therefore be merely “will worship.” But we inquire: Is redemption yet completed? Certainly not, while our earth groans under the curse, and the people of God are either waiting in the grave for the final resurrection, or are living in a world of wickedness, longing for immortality. It is most surely out of place to appoint a memorial to commemorate a work yet unfinished. Christ our Advocate still intercedes for us, while we “groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” Romans 8:23. Our friends are at least eighteen centuries too early in appointing their redemption Sabbath.
And even if a day were to be appointed to commemorate Christ’s work of redemption at his first advent, should it not be the day of his crucifixion rather than of his resurrection? The Bible nowhere says we have redemption through his resurrection; but it does say, “In whom we have redemption through his blood.” Ephesians 1:7. Again, “Thou was slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood.” Revelation 5:9. Christ shed his blood (the great agent in our redemption) on Friday, the sixth day of the week. The death of Christ is the most marvelous event ever beheld in this world. It is not surprising that God should raise his Son from the grave after he had died for the sins of men; but it is mercy most astonishing that lie should ever consent that his “only begotten Son” should die that ignominious death on the cross. Shall we therefore keep Friday as a Sabbath to commemorate this sublime act of mercy and love? Oh, no! God has instituted his own memorials to commemorate this as well as other important events. The Lord’s Supper answers this purpose. “As often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come.” I Corinthians 11:26. In baptism we have a beautiful and appropriate memorial of Christ’s burial and resurrection. See Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12. How beautifully fitting is this act to commemorate Christ’s resurrection!
We shall find, if we investigate the subject of God’s memorials in his word, that there is always a peculiar fitness, a likeness, a similarity, between the memorial and the thing commemorated by it. This principle is illustrated by the creation Sabbath, the rest signifying a completed work; the rite of circumcision, a circle cut in the flesh, may signify the surrounding of Abraham’s seed with peculiar providences as his peculiar people. The feast of the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood bring forcibly to view the fleeing out of Egypt, and the act of the destroying angel in passing over the houses of the children of Israel, thus saving their first-born. The feast of tabernacles brings to view their dwelling in tents; the joyful sending of gifts at the feast of Purim shows the gladness felt at their escape from the malice of Haman. So, of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Every Bible memorial is appropriate. But how about this man made memorial of Sunday-keeping? What fitness is there in keeping as a Sabbath one out of every seven days to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, as a part of the work of redemption, when it is yet incomplete? We have seen that the resurrection day was a busy one. The disciples hunted here and there to find Christ, two of them traveling fifteen miles on foot, and Jesus doing the same. It was a day of anxiety, for they did not believe he was risen until just as the day was closing. So there could have been no religious meeting or public speaking. What likeness is there between the day most Christians keep as a Sabbath, and the original day they propose to keep in memory by it? In order for it to be a fitting memorial, it should be true that the work of redemption occupied six days, and that Christ rested the day following something no person ever claimed. As baptism is a memorial of Christ’s resurrection, we would, in that case, have two memorials of the same event—a thing unprecedented in the Scriptures. We therefore conclude that the claim that Sunday is set apart to commemorate redemption, is absurd, and entirely contrary to the facts in the case.