Why do you suppose Christians chose Sunday to be their “Sabbath” instead of Saturday?
This question was brought up in my morning Bible study yesterday, and we discussed it for a while (until I became too ill to continue the discussion – sorry everyone.) Anyway, I was so fascinated by the question and the resulting discussion that I wanted to revive it on facebook. Does anyone know (or think you know) the answer?
In the Old Testament, when the Sabbath rules were instituted, the Israelites were told, “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest” (Exodus 23:12, which is nearly identical to Exodus 20:8-9). No specific day of the week for the Sababth was given, but the Israelites chose what we now call “Saturday” – remember the names of the week were not the same back then. (NOTE: The Hebrew days of the week, except the Sabbath, did not have names, only numbers.)
When Jesus arrived on the scene, it’s important to remember that he changed quite a bit of what he considered to be “additions” to God’s law as handed down to Moses. About the Sabbath, he even said such things as ” For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath” (Matthew 12:8) and “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). He said these things in response to accusations that he allowed his followers to break the Sabbath laws (which he did.)
After Jesus died, Jesus’ followers included Jews (who continued to follow the Jewish laws) and Gentiles (who did not follow the Jewish laws.) Throughout the New Testament (after the gospels), there is a growing tension regarding whether or not Gentile followers of Jesus were required to follow the Jewish laws. Paul specifically claimed that Gentiles need not follow the Sabbath laws (Colossians 2:16), and Acts 15 describes a council in which the early Church leaders decided Gentiles need not follow most of the Jewish laws, including the Sabbath requirement.)
However, the New Testament never describes a wholesale change of the day of worship – or even the Sabbath – from Saturday to Sunday. We must assume that the early Church observed Saturday as Sabbath. On the point of when and why Christians changed their day devoted to God, we must look to historians, who seem to disagree vehemently.
I’ve read that the switch was widely practiced by the early second century, with no reason given as to why. I’ve read that the Roman emperor Constantine (who reigned from 306-337 AD) instituted the change in order to help the conversion of pagans who already worshipped a different God on Sunday. I’ve read that the change has to do with John’s reference to “the Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10 and that the change had to do with Jesus being resurrected on the 1st day of the week. I’ve read that the change was officially made by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Laodicea in 364AD as a way of discouraging people form practicing the ways of the Jews.
As you can see, there are a great number of theories, but I can’t find any kind of agreement on the exact date of the switch (except that it is documented to have been widely practiced well before Constantine and well before the Council of Laodicea, which seems to debunk any theories with regard to those origins – although it is true that the Council outlawed the observance of the Jewish Sabbath by western Christians, so some must still have been observing it by 364AD.)
What do you think? Does it matter which day we devote to God? Are we still required to follow the laws given to the Israelites, even though we are not the Israelites? And what is the basis for your thoughts? – Pastor Brad