Graham Osborne

Why Sunday is not the Sabbath

Voices June 13, 2018

Since the early days of the Church, Christians have celebrated the Lord’s Day, Sunday, rather than the Jewish Sabbath, writes Graham Osborne. (BCC file photo)

Some claim that Christians should still be keeping the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) rather than worshipping on Sunday. Some even contend that Sunday worship violates the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day – keep it holy,” and represents “the mark of the beast” of Revelation 13:8. How to respond?

The Catholic Church heartily agrees that the Ten Commandments are unchangeable. The Catechism is clear: “the Ten Commandments reveal … grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable ... No one can dispense from them.”

So the disagreement is not about whether Christians should observe a Sabbath (Hebrew for “rest”), but about which day they should observe.

The Catholic answer is that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. For this reason, it became the new Christian “Sabbath” – “the Lord’s Day.”

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and instituted the New Covenant – complete with a new priesthood (himself), a new sacrifice (his death on the cross), a “new” law of Grace , and a new day to worship – the day he completed this New Covenant by rising from the dead – Sunday.

Hebrews 7:11-25 records this covenant change clearly: “When there is a change of priesthood (Old Testament priesthood to Jesus), there is necessarily a change of law as well … a former commandment is annulled … (and) a better hope is introduced.”

Repeatedly, we see Jesus repealing the old Mosaic Law and restoring the natural law written on the heart. For example, in Matthew 19:6-9, Jesus confirms that, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but … I say to you, whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (also Mark 2:23-28, Mark 7:15-21).

Turning to Scripture, it is clear that the Christian Church observed Sunday as the New Covenant sabbath.

For example, in Revelation 1:10, St John is “caught up in spirit on the Lord’s day” to be shown the heavenly worship going on. In Acts 20:7, St. Paul and others gather “On the first day of the week … to break bread,” a term used to signify the celebration of the Eucharist (cf Lk 22:19, Mt 26:26). St Paul also asked for collections to be taken when churches gathered “on the first day of the week” (1 Cor 16:2).

Significantly, Jesus’ Emmaus road appearance also takes place “on the first day of the week,” but his disciples don’t recognize him until the breaking of the bread: “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that … they recognized him” (Lk 24:13-31).

Jesus’ first resurrection appearances to his disciples are on the “first day of the week.” And the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost? On a Sunday.

In addition, in Colossians 2:16-17, St. Paul directly addresses the issue of the Sabbath not being binding on a Christian, calling it merely a “shadow”: “having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands … let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come …”

But perhaps the most compelling testimony comes from the early Church.

As early as 70 AD, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), clearly calls for Sunday worship: “But every Lord’s day … gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving.” Similarly, in 74 A.D., the Epistle of Barnabas records that “we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day Jesus both arose from the dead.”

In 110 AD, St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and disciple of St. John the Apostle, proclaimed: “let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the Resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days.” He also taught that the Jews “have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day.”

In 155 AD, the great St. Justin Martyr insisted that “Sunday is the day … we all hold our common assembly, because Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”

But despite all the Scriptural and historical evidence, some still ask: by what authority could the Christian Church change the day of worship? The short answer is, by the authority Jesus gave it.

Jesus didn’t first write the Bible. He first came to build his Church. He built it on rock and it will never fall (Mt 7:24-25), and the gates of hell will never prevail against it (Mt 16:16-19). To this Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles (Eph 2:19-22) – unarguably and historically the Catholic Church – he gave his authority: the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever it binds on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever it looses will be loosed (Mt 16:19, Mt 18:17-18)

It is by this authority Jesus gave his Church that all Christians can be assured Sunday is the New Covenant day of worship.

But finally, what about the claim Sunday worship is the “mark of the beast” of Revelation 13:18: “(The beast) forced all the people … to be given a stamped image on their right hands or their foreheads … the beast’s name or the number that stood for its name … for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is 666.”

Sunday worship is not even remotely hinted at in these verses, or their context. The “mark of the beast” is either the beast’s name, or a number that stands for his name. And this number “stands for a person,” not the day of Sabbath worship.

The early Church understood this beast to be Caesar Nero (his name in Greek numerically totals 666). Nero fit the description well, being infamous for his radical persecution of Christians. Ironically, people are still using this “beast” to persecute the Church today.