The Theological Connection Between Sabbath and Sunday
The "Biblical" Support for Sunday Observance
The "Biblical" Support for Sunday Observance - Continued
Pope John Paul's Call for Sunday Legislation
Was Sunday Needed? At this juncture I would like to pose respectfully to Pope John Paul some important questions: If the Sabbath had been divinely established to commemorate God’s creative and redemptive accomplishments on behalf of His people, what right had the Catholic Church to make Sunday the legitimate "fulfillment," "full expression," and "extension" of the Sabbath? Was the theology and typology of the Sabbath no longer adequate after the Cross to commemorate creation and redemption? Was not the Paschal Mystery fulfilled through the death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ which occurred respectively on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?
Why should Sunday be chosen to celebrate the atoning sacrifice of Christ when His redemptive mission was completed on a Friday afternoon when the Savior exclaimed "It is finished" (John 19:30), and then He rested in the tomb according to the Sabbath commandment? Does not this fact suggest that both God’s creation rest and Christ’s redemption rest in the tomb occurred on the Sabbath? How can Sunday be invested with the eschatological meaning of the final restoration rest that awaits the people of God when the New Testament attaches such a meaning to the Sabbath? "A Sabbath rest [literally, a ‘Sabbathkeeping’] has been left behind [apoleipetai] for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). Augustine himself recognizes the eschatological meaning of the Sabbath when he eloquently says that on that final Sabbath "we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise."56
May I respectfully suggest that the Pope’s attempt to invest Sunday with the theological meaning and eschatological function of the Sabbath by virtue of Christ’s Resurrection on the first day is well-meaning but misguided. It mistakenly makes Sunday the biblical Sabbath, when in reality the two days differ radically in their origin, meaning, authority, and experience.
(3) The Religious Gatherings on the
First Day of the Week
In his Pastoral Letter, Pope John Paul traces the origin of Sunday worship back to the Apostolic church. He claims that from Apostolic times the first day of the week shaped the religious life of Christ’s disciples.57 To support this claim, the Pope appeals to three commonly used texts: (1) 1 Corinthians 16:2, (2) Acts 20:7-12, and (3) Revelation 1:10. Each of these passages are examined at great length in my dissertation.58 In this context I limit myself to a few basic observations.
1 Corinthians 16:2: Christian Sunday Gatherings? The first-day fundraising plan recommended by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 is cited by John Paul as an indication that "from Apostolic times, ‘the first day after the Sabbath,’ the first day of the week, began to shape the rhythm of life for Christ’s disciples (cf. 1 Cor 16:2)."59 The Pope affirms that "ever since Apostolic times, the Sunday gathering has in fact been for Christians a moment of fraternal sharing with the poor.
‘On the first day of the week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn’ (1 Cor 16:2),says Saint Paul in referring to the collection organized for the poor churches of Judaea."60
John Paul sees in the first-day fundraising plan recommended by Paul in this text a clear indication that the Christian Church gathered for worship on that day. This view is shared by numerous Catholic and Protestant scholars.61 For example, Corrado Mosna argues that since Paul designates the "offering" in 2 Corinthians 9:12 as "service–leiturgia," the collection [of 1 Corinthians 16:2] must have been linked with the Sunday worship service of the Christian assembly."62
The various attempts to extrapolate from Paul’s fundraising plan a regular pattern of Sunday observance reveal inventiveness and originality, but they rest on construed arguments and not on the actual information the text provides. Observe, first of all, that there is nothing in the text to suggests public assemblies inasmuch as the setting aside of funds was to be done "by himself–par’heauto." The phrase suggests that the collection was to be done individually and in private.
If the Christian community was worshiping together on Sunday, it appears paradoxical that Paul should recommend laying aside at home one’s gift. Why should Christians deposit their offering at home on Sunday if on such a day they were gathering for worship? Should not the money have been brought to the Sunday service?
Purpose of the Fundraising Plan. The purpose of the first-day fundraising plan is clearly stated by the Apostle: "So that contributions need not be made when I come" (1 Cor 16:2). The plan then is proposed not to enhance Sunday worship by the offering of gifts, but to ensure a substantial and efficient collection upon his arrival. Four characteristics can be identified in the plan. The offering was to be laid aside periodically ("on the first day of every week"—v. 2), personally ("each of you"—v. 2), privately ("by himself in store"—v. 2), and proportionately ("as he may prosper"—v. 2).
To the same community on another occasion, Paul thought it necessary to send brethren to "arrange in advance for the gift . . . promised, so that it may be ready not as an exaction but as a willing gift" (2 Cor 9:5). The Apostle desired to avoid embarrassing both to the givers and to the collectors when finding that they "were not ready" (2 Cor 9:4) for the offering. To avoid such problems in this instance, he recommends both a time—the first day of the week—and a place—one’s home.
Paul’s mention of the first day could be motivated more by practical than theological reasons. To wait until the end of the week or of the month to set aside one’s contributions or savings is contrary to sound budgetary practices, since by then one finds empty pockets and empty hands. On the other hand, if, on the first day of the week before planning any expenditures, believers set aside what they plan to give, the remaining funds will be so distributed as to meet all the basic necessities. The text, therefore, proposes a valuable weekly plan to ensure a substantial and orderly contribution on behalf of the poor brethren of Jerusalem—to extract more meaning from the text would distort it.
Acts 20:7-11: First-Day Troas Meeting. Fundamental importance is attributed to Acts 20:7-11 inasmuch as it contains the only explicit New Testament reference to a Christian gathering conducted "on the first day of the week . . . to break bread" (Acts 20:7). John Paul assumes that the meeting was a customary Sunday assembly "upon which the faithful of Troas were gathered ‘for the breaking of the bread [that is, the Eucharistic celebration].’"63
Numerous scholars share the Pope’s view. F. F. Bruce, for example, affirms that this statement "is the earliest unambiguous evidence we have for the Christian practice of gathering together for worship on that day."64 Paul Jewett similarly declares that "here is the earliest clear witness to Christian assembly for purposes of worship on the first day of the week."65 Statements like these could be multiplied.
These categorical conclusions rest mostly on the assumption that verse 7 represents "a fixed formula" which describes the habitual time ("On the first day of the week") and the nature ("to break bread") of the primitive Christian worship. Since, however, the meeting occurred in the evening and "the breaking of the bread" took place after midnight (vv. 7, 11) and Paul left the believers at dawn, we need to ask: Was the time and nature of the Troas gathering ordinary or extraordinary, occasioned perhaps by the departure of the Apostle?
Special Farewell Gathering. The context clearly indicates that it was a special farewell gathering occasioned by the departure of Paul, and not a regular Sunday-worship custom. The meeting began on the evening of the first day, which, according to Jewish reckoning, was our Saturday night, and continued until early Sunday morning when Paul departed. Being a night meeting occasioned by the departure of the Apostle at dawn, it is hardly reflective of regular Sundaykeeping.
Paul would have observed with the believers only the night of Sunday and traveled during the day time. This was not allowed on the Sabbath and would not have set the best example of Sundaykeeping either. The passage suggests, as noted by F. J. Foakes-Jackson, that "Paul and his friends could not, as good Jews, start on a journey on a Sabbath; they did so as soon after it as was possible (verse 12) at dawn on the ‘first day’—the Sabbath having ended at sunset."66
The Breaking of the Bread. The expression "to break bread—klasai arton" deserves closer attention. What does it actually mean in the context of the passage? Does it mean that ‘the Christians came together for a fellowship meal or to celebrate the Lord’s Supper? It should be noted that the breaking of bread was simply a customary and necessary part of the preparation for eating together. The act of breaking in pieces a loaf of bread by the host marked the opening action of a meal. In most European cultures, the same function is fulfilled by the host wishing "Buon appetito—Good Appetite" to the guest. This ritual gives permission to all to begin eating.
In the post-apostolic literature, the expression "breaking of bread" is used as a technical designation for the Lord’s Supper. But this is not the common meaning or usage in the New Testament. In fact, the verb "to break—klao" followed by the noun "bread—artos" occurs fifteen times in the New Testament. Nine times it refers to Christ’s act of breaking bread when feeding the multitude, when partaking of the Last Supper, and when eating with His disciples after His Resurrection (Matt 14:19; 15:36; 26:26; Mark 8:6; 9:19; 14:22; Luke 22:19; 24:30; 24:35); twice it describes Paul’s commencing and partaking of a meal (Acts 20:11; 27:35); twice it describes the actual breaking of the bread of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10:16; 11:24); and twice it is used as a general reference to the disciples’ or believers’ "breaking bread" together (Acts 2:46; 20:7). It should be noticed that in none of these instances is the Lord’s Supper explicitly or technically designated as "the breaking of bread." An attempt could be made to see a reference to the Lord’s Supper in the two general references of Acts 2:46 and 20:7. As far as Acts 2:46 is concerned, the phrase "breaking bread in their homes" obviously refers to the daily table-fellowship of the earliest Christians, when, as the text says, "day by day . . . they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts 2:46-47).
Such daily table-fellowship, though it may have included the celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, can hardly be construed as exclusive liturgical celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. The equivalent statement found in Acts 20:7, "We were gathered together to break bread," similarly needs mean no more than "We were gathered to eat together." In fact, there is no mention of a cup, nor of any prayers or reading of a Scripture. It is Paul alone who broke bread and ate. No indication is given that he ever blessed the bread or the wine or that he distributed it to the believers.
Furthermore, the breaking of bread was followed by a meal "having eaten—geusamenos" (v. 11). The same verb is used by Luke in three other instances with the explicit meaning of satisfying hunger (Acts 10:10; 23:14; Luke 14:24). Undoubtedly, Paul was hungry after his prolonged speech and needed some food before he could continue his exhortation and start his journey. However, if Paul partook of the Lord’s Supper together with a regular meal, he would have acted contrary to his recent instruction to the Corinthians to whom he strongly recommended satisfying their hunger by eating at home before gathering to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:2, 22, 34).
The New Testament does not offer any indication regarding a fixed day for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. While Paul recommends to the Corinthian believers a specific day on which to privately set aside their offerings, concerning the celebration of the Lord’s Supper he repeatedly says in the same epistle and to the same people, "When you come together" (1 Cor 11:18, 20, 33, 34), implying indeterminate times and days.
The simplest way to explain the passage is that Luke mentions the day of the meeting not because it was Sunday, but most likely because (1) Paul was "ready to depart" (Acts 20:7), (2) the extraordinary miracle of Eutychus occurred that night, and (3) the time reference provides an additional, significant, chronological reference to describe the unfolding of Paul’s journey.
Revelation 1:10: "The Lord’s Day." The third crucial New Testament passage used by John Paul to defend the apostolic origin of Sunday observance is found in the book of Revelation. John, exiled on the "island of Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev 1:9), writes: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day—en te kuriake hemera" (Rev 1:10).
John Paul claims that this text "gives evidence of the practice of calling the first day of the week ‘the Lord’s Day’ (Rev 1:10). This would now be a characteristic distinguishing Christians from the world around them. . . . And when Christians spoke of the ‘Lord’s Day,’ they did so giving to this term the full sense of the Easter proclamation: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Phil 2:11; cf. Acts 2:36; 1 Cor 12:3)."67
The implication of the Pope’s statement is that New Testament Christians not only called Sunday "The Lord’s Day" but also expressed through such designation their faith in their Risen Savior. Numerous scholars share the same view. For example, Corrado Mosna emphatically writes: "By the phrase ‘Lord’s Day’ (Rev 1:10), John wishes to indicate specifically the day in which the community celebrates together the eucharistic liturgy."68 The phrase "eucharistic liturgy" is used by Catholics to describe the Lord’s Supper celebration in honor of the Risen Lord.
A detailed analysis of this text would take us beyond the limited scope of this chapter. In my dissertation From Sabbath to Sunday I devoted twenty pages (pp. 111 to 131) to an examination of this verse. For the purpose of this chapter, I submit only two basic observations.
First, the equation of Sunday with the expression "Lord’s day" is not based on internal evidences of the book of Revelation or of the rest of the New Testament, but on three second-century patristic testimonies, namely, Didache 14:1, Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians 9:1, and The Gospel of Peter 35; 50. Of the three, however, only in the Gospel of Peter, written toward the end of the second century, is Sunday unmistakably designated by the technical term "Lord’s—kuriake." In two different verses it reads: "Now in the night in which the Lord’s day (He kuriake) dawned . . . there rang out a loud voice in heaven" (v. 35); "Early in the morning of the Lord’s day (tes kuriakes) Mary Magdalene . . . came to the sepulchre" (v. 50, 51).
It is noteworthy that while in the genuine Gospels Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the sepulchre "early on the first day of the week" (Mark 16:2; cf. Matt 28:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter it says that they went "early in the morning of the Lord’s day." The use of the new designation "Lord’s Day" instead of "first day of the week" clearly indicates that by the end of the second century Christians referred to Sunday as "the Lord’s Day."
The latter usage, however, cannot be legitimately read back into Revelation 1:10. A major reason is that if Sunday had already received the new appellation "Lord’s day" by the end of the first century, when both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation were written, we would expect this new name for Sunday to be used consistently in both works, especially since they were apparently produced by the same author at approximately the same time and in the same geographical area.
If the new designation "Lord’s day" already existed by the end of the first century, and expressed the meaning and nature of Christian Sunday worship, John would not have had reasons to use the Jewish phrase "first day of the week" in his Gospel. Therefore, the fact that the expression "Lord’s day" occurs in John’s apocalyptic book but not in his Gospel—where the first day is explicitly mentioned in conjunction with the Resurrection (John 20:1) and the appearances of Jesus (John 20:19, 26)—suggests that the "Lord’s day" of Revelation 1:10 can hardly refer to Sunday.
No Easter Sunday. A second important consideration that discredits the Pope’s claim that Sunday was called "Lord’s Day" in the "sense of the Easter proclamation" is the fact that the book of Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor who did not observe Easter-Sunday. Instead, they observed Passover by the biblical date of Nisan 14. Polycrates, who claims to be following the tradition of the Apostle John, convened a council of the church leaders of Asia Minor (about A. D. 191) to discuss the summon received from Bishop Victor of Rome to adopt Easter-Sunday. The unanimous decision of the Asian bishops was to reject Easter-Sunday and to retain the Biblical dating of Passover.69
In the light of these facts, it would be paradoxical if the Apostle John, who kept Passover by the fixed date of Nisan 14 and who wrote to Christians in Asia Minor who like him did not observe Easter-Sunday, would have used the phrase "Lord’s Day" to express his Easter faith in the Risen Lord. Cardinal Jean Daniélou, a respected Catholic scholar, timidly acknowledges this fact when he writes: "In the Apocalypse (1:10), when Easter takes place on the 14 Nisan, the word [Lord’s Day] does not perhaps mean Sunday."70
The only day that John knew as the "Lord’s Day" by the end of the first century when he wrote the book of Revelation is the Sabbath. This is the only day of which Christ proclaims Himself to be "Lord–kupios." "For the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath" (Matt 12:8).
The immediate context that precedes and follows Revelation 1:10 contains unmistakable references to the eschatological day of the Lord. This suggests the possibility that the "Lord’s Day" on which John was transported in vision was a Sabbath day in which he saw the great day of Christ’s coming. What greater vision could have given courage to the aged
Apostle in exile for his witness to Christ! Moreover, the Sabbath is closely linked eschatologically to the Second Advent. The meeting of the invisible Lord in time on the weekly Sabbath is a prelude to the meeting of the visible Lord in space on the final day of His coming.
Summing up, the attempt of the Pastoral Letter to find biblical support for Sunday worship in the New Testament references to the Resurrection (Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1)—the first-day farewell night meeting at Troas (Acts 20:7-11), the first-day private deposit plan mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, and the reference to the "Lord’s Day" in Revelation 1:10—is not new. The same arguments have been used repeatedly in the past and found wanting.
An important fact, often ignored, is that if Paul or any other apostle had attempted to promote the abandonment of the Sabbath (a millenarian institution deeply rooted in the religious consciousness of God’s people), and the adoption instead of Sunday observance, they would have stirred up considerable opposition on the part of Jewish-Christians, as was the case with reference to the circumcision.
The absence of any echo of Sabbath/Sunday controversy in the New
Testament is a most telling evidence that the introduction of Sunday
observance is a post-apostolic phenomenon. In my dissertation From
Sabbath to Sunday, I endeavored to identify the interplay of social,
political, and religious factors that contributed to this historical
change. In the light of these considerations, the attempt of Pope John
Paul to give a biblical sanction to Sunday worship by tracing its origins
to the Apostolic Church must be viewed as well-meaning but devoid of
Chapter 1, Part 2a
Chapter 1, Part 3
Notes to Chapter 1, Part 2b
Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University