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Constantine, the sabbath, and Sunday worship

Roman emperor Constantine the Great is the one many believe changed church worship from Saturday sabbath to Sunday with his 321 AD Edict of Milan. The biggest sticklers for this bit of history remembersabbathare usually Seventh Day Adventists who use it to claim they are the only ones who worship correctly by observing Saturday sabbath, since Constantine was a sun-worshiping pagan posing as a Christian and all other churches bow to Constantine’s pagan tradition with their Sunday worship.

I’ve never read the Edict of Milan, so I don’t know if Constantine made Sunday worship official or not. Here’s what I do know. God is the one who established sabbath as the seventh day of the week and has never changed that. What did change is that Christians eventually moved away from worshiping on the seventh day and neither the Lord nor his apostles had a problem with that according to the New Testament (NT). This change was made long before Constantine was even born and the NT bears witness to this.

Before I get to what the NT says, I would like to point out that early Christians from the 100s AD, like Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch, stated that the first day of the week, Sunday, was the day believers gathered together to observe the Lord’s day–i.e. the day of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (see Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians, ch. 9, and Justin Martyr’s First Apology ch. 67). Now, to the NT. Jesus prophesied in John 16:2 that his followers would eventually be kicked out of the synagogues, although he and his disciples customarily attended synagogue on the sabbath (Matthew 12:1-9; Luke 4:16).

This happened during the missionary journeys of Paul, who also regularly attended synagogue. Acts 19 is the very last time scripture mentions Paul entering a synagogue. It was at Ephesus. After he preached the gospel in their synagogue, Jewish opposition to the gospel became so intense that Paul “departed from them, and separated the disciples,” (Acts 19:9). In the next chapter, which was several months later, we find that “upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” in Troas (Acts 20:7). So the tradition of believers meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week, had already begun.

Sunday worshipIn 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructs the congregation to collect their offerings for the poor on the first day of the week, which implies that’s when they were all gathered together. The final reference to the “Lord’s day” is by John in Revelation. The Lord’s day is when Jesus gave him the Revelation (Rev. 1:10).

Taking into account what Paul witnessed in Acts, it’s no wonder he said to the Romans:

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. Romans 14

Additionally, he told the Colossians:

14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Colossians 2

Therefore, we can conclude God is only concerned about us setting aside time to worship him, not what day that time occurs on.

Harry A. Gaylord

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7 thoughts on “Constantine, the sabbath, and Sunday worship

  1. We are also told that we can Rest in The Lord which makes everyday a sabbath. Only through Jesus can we find true rest, both physically and spiritually.

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  2. I believe we should worship the Lord every day by calling out to Him in thanksgiving and living Christ-like lives. If we are able to come together more than once a week that is good. In the early church, believers often met in their homes and, I suspect, on every chance they had. It was a good way to stay strong in the faith while going through great persecution. I remember when going to church once a week was an obligation. Now I delight in it.

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    1. Thanks for pointing this out. You’re probably right about them meeting more than once a week since they gave out food regularly to widows and others in need as Acts tells us. I bet they had more of a family feel in the early church.

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  3. DOES the Bible teach that the seventh day Sabbath has been changed to Sunday, the first day of the week, or is it, as the Roman Catholic church teaches, a Roman Catholic institution?
    If the Bible teaches a change it must be shown in the following 9 verses, as these are the only verses in the Bible that mention Sunday…

    Genesis 1:5; Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2, 9; Luke 23:54 – Luke 24:1.
    Genesis shows that the first day is a work day. The next three texts state that by Sunday morning “the Sabbath was past.” (Mark 16:1).

    Is John 20:1, 19 the beginning of Sunday observance?
    On the first day of the week, following Christ’s brutal crucifixion, the disciples were assembled, not for worship but, “For fear of the Jews.” (v 19). Nothing says that the Sabbath had changed to Sunday and there is no evidence that Christians met regularly on Sunday.

    Is Acts 20:7-11 proof that the disciples observed Sunday as a holy day?
    ‘Breaking bread’ doesn’t necessarily refer to a communion service, it was a term commonly used for eating a meal. Early Christians broke bread “daily.” (Acts 2:46).
    Acts 20:7 was not a regular meeting but a final farewell (v 25), which explains why Paul preached right through the night (v 7, 11).
    As Biblical days begin at sunset (Gen. 1:5; Lev. 23:32) this meeting actually took place on the dark part of the first day of the week, or, as the New English Bible translates it, “On the Saturday night.” On the Sunday morning Paul showed that Sunday is nothing special by departing on a 19 mile journey to catch a ship at Assos. (v 11). Nothing says that the Sabbath had changed to Sunday and there is no evidence that Christians met regularly on Sunday. Paul’s regular practice was to attend services on the Sabbath with both Jews and Gentiles. (Acts 18:4, 11; 17:2; 13:42, 44).

    Does 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 speak of Sunday school offerings?
    There is no mention here of a church meeting. “Lay by him in store” means “at home,” as eight translations put it. Nothing says that the Sabbath has changed to Sunday and there is no evidence that Christians met regularly on Sunday.
    Is Sunday the Lord’s day? Rev.1:10
    Many years after Christ’s crucifixion the Apostle John had a vision on “the Lords day.” This first thing this shows is that the Lord still has a day, but what day is it? Some claim that this was Sunday but this cannot be supported by the Bible. The only day the Lord ever claims as His, is His Sabbath – “For the Son of man is LORD even of the Sabbath day” (Matt. 12:8). “…turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day” (Isa. 58:13). “…the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord…” (Exo. 20:8-11).

    Should Christians keep Sunday because Jesus arose from the dead on Sunday?
    Jesus died on Friday and arose on Sunday, the first day of the week, after resting the seventh day Sabbath in the tomb, but nowhere are we told to keep Friday or Sunday holy. The memorial of Christ’s resurrection is baptism (See Romans 6:4).

    Don’t the so-called early ‘church fathers’ speak of Christians meeting on Sundays?
    “The writings of the so-called apostolic Fathers have unhappily for the most part, come down to us in a condition very little worthy of confidence…”* Because there is no biblical proof for Sunday some appeal to these uninspired writers but in doing so they have given up the Protestant principle of the Bible and the Bible alone. Sunday observance did come in slowly (while the Sabbath was also observed) but the Bible nowhere requires the observance of Sunday.
    *Augustus Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church (1854), Vol. 1 Appendix, sec. 4, p657.

    Conclusion
    Roman Catholics are correct. The Bible does not teach that the Sabbath had been changed to Sunday. Those who take the Bible as the final authority on all matters of faith and practice, should not therefore observe Sunday in place of the Lord’s Sabbath.

    The Protestant claiming the Bible to be the only guide of faith, has no warrant for observing Sunday. In this matter the Seventh-day
    Adventist is the only consistent Protestant.

    The Catholic Universe Bulletin, Aug. 14, 1942, p. 4.

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    1. Martin,

      First of all, your opening question is deceptive. I didn’t say anything about anyone changing the seventh day sabbath to Sunday as the sabbath. What I did say was that Christians moved from worshiping on the sabbath to worshiping on Sunday the first day of the week. So basically you set up a straw man.

      And for all your lengthy words, there are at least two New Testament church scriptures that basically blow your legalistic thinking out of the water– the Romans 14 passage and the Colossians 2 passage that I quoted at the end of my post above. Keeping the sabbath does not make a person right with God, nor does it keep them in good standing with God. Salvation is not based on any works that took place before the Mosaic law, during the Mosaic law, or after the Mosaic law–whether it be circumcision or keeping the sabbath. By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16).

      Please stop trying to put a yoke of legalistic, false doctrines of works-based salvation on people. You’re wrong, the Catholic Church is wrong, Seventh-day adventists are wrong, and the Hebrew Roots movement is wrong for that.

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