by Richard Prangley
Three of the five major religions of the world each have one day of the week that they set aside as their main day for worshiping their deity. With the Islamic faith, that day is the 6th day of the week – Friday – the day of gathering. For the Jewish faith and a few Christian denominations, the special day of worship is the 7th Day (actually sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening) “the Sabbath ” – the day of rest. For most Christians – Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant denominations – the day of worship is Sunday, the 1st day of the week. Hinduism and Buddhism do not have a special weekly day of worship, but observe festivals and special days based on the lunar calendar and historical dates of prominent events. True believers of any religion believe in worshiping their god(s) and/or revered teachers every day, yet most have one special day of the week where there is a greater emphasis on worship.
Have you ever wondered why Christians worship on the 1st day of the week? And furthermore – why do we even use weeks as a period of time measurement? Let’s take a quick look at how time is measured.
Where Did the Week Come From?
Most time periods that mankind uses are determined by the natural movements of heavenly bodies. For example, a year is the time period it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun. A day is the time it takes for the earth to do a complete rotation on its axis. Hours (1/24th of a day) and minutes (1/60th of an hour) are simply fractions of a day. Months are based approximately on the natural orbital period of the Moon around the Earth (average is 29.53 days).
Uniquely, the 7 day week is not based on any astronomical cycle or movement of a heavenly body. There are basically 2 main ideas given by various proponents of how the week began to be used as a measurement of time. Interestingly enough, both of them are intricately related to worship.
One idea is that somewhere back in time before written history, pagan groups initiated the weekly cycle and named the 7 days after the main heavenly bodies they could see in the sky, and associated them with their early pagan gods. The most important heavenly bodies were the Sun (Sunday) the 1st day of the week and the Moon (Monday) the 2nd day of the week. Some others were Tyr’s day (Tuesday the third day of the week) also associated with the planet Mars; Wednesday was Woden’s Day the fourth day of the week, and was associated with the planet Jupiter; Freya’s Day – Friday the 6th day of the week, associated with the planet Venus. The Greek, Roman, and Norse cultures significantly have influenced the development, attitudes, and traditions of European and American cultures. When one studies Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, one can see there is a lot of overlap between the pagan gods of these cultures. While the later cultures copied a lot from the earlier ones, they also put their bit of cultural creativity on some of the story lines. Look at the following examples of these similarities: Zeus=Jupiter=Woden; Ares=Mars=Tyr; Aphrodite=Venus=Freya; These ‘deities’ are essentially the same identities in their progressive cultures.
The second idea explaining how the 7 day week began goes back in time much further. In the Judeo-Christian Biblical account of Creation in the book of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, the Bible states that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days, and rested on the 7th Day. In this example, it is pretty simple and very clear how the week began according to the Biblical record. It began as the result of an amazing creative event by an all powerful Creator.
Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday?
Now, if one does believe and trust in the Biblical account of creation – which I Richard Prangley do – the next point to consider is why do the majority of Christian groups worship on the 1st day of the week, while Jews and a few Christian groups conduct their primary worship services on the 7th Day of the week? And furthermore, is it really important to conduct worship on a particular day?
There are a multitude of reasons given as to why most Christian groups honor Sunday as the day of worship. It is important to distinguish between reasons why the two main divisions of Christianity – 1) Catholic/Orthodox and 2) Protestant give as to their understanding, although there is some overlap. Let’s start by considering Protestant thought.
Protestants make the statement of ‘Sola Biblia’ which in Latin means ‘The Bible Only’ in terms of their beliefs and practices. Therefore, it would stand to reason that there would be a definitive statement somewhere in the Bible that indicates that Sunday is the Christian day of worship. Most of Protestant statements concerning 1st day worship are made on instances from the Bible that they interpret to mean that Sunday worship began in New Testament (NT) times. It is also claimed by many Protestants that since Jesus rose on Sunday – an irrefutable fact of history – there should be a special day of worship of God in honor of that event.
While the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be regarded to Christians as one of the most honored events in human history, there is there is no mention anywhere in the Bible by Jesus, His disciples, the apostle Paul or any other Bible writer that it should be especially honored as a given day of the weekly cycle. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself gives the prescribed method of remembering His Crucifixion and Resurrection. Jesus told Christians to drink new wine and eat unleavened bread from time to time in thoughtful meditation in remembrance of His death and resurrection. You can read the account of this in the book of Luke 22:13-20.
We can accurately state there are only 8 verses in the entire NT that refer to the first day of the week (Sunday) and 6 of them refer to HIs resurrection. These verses are found in Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1; John 20:19.
The other 2 verses are in Acts 20:7 and I Cor 16:2. In Acts 20:7, Paul is gathered with church members in Troas for a fellowship meal, and is using his time wisely to also encourage them with a gospel message, likely after sunset on the 7th day when the 1st day of the week begins in Biblical language (and in Jewish culture to this day). This is because Paul’s time is short, for he is leaving on a ship in the morning to the city of Assos, which is a stop on the way to his destination to the city of Ephesus. The final Sunday verse – I Cor. 16:2 – tells of Paul’s exhortation to the believers in Corinth that each one should privately ‘lay by him in store’ on the first day of the week a special collection for the persecuted believers at the church in Jerusalem.
Protestant Reasons for Sunday Worship
Over time, Protestant Christian believers have attempted to come up with Biblical reasons that ostensibly demonstrate the validity of special worship on the first day of the week and to justify the Sunday tradition of church worship. While worshiping on the day Christ rose from the dead sounds like a good idea, nothing in the Bible that states the first day of the week is a holy day. Some erroneous theories have been developed to discount the Biblical day of worship and the 7th Day Sabbath when God rested after Creation. Here are a some of them:
- The Biblical 7th Day Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3 to honor God’s resting after the world’s creation was somehow transferred to the 1st day of the week..
- That the 10 Commandments in Exodus are no longer in effect, that they were “done away with” when Christ died on the Cross, so there is no 7th day weekly day of worship.
- That the Biblical account of creation didn’t really happen as described, that it is mythological.
- The ‘Any One in Seven’ concept – that any day you choose for Christian worship is fine as long as it is 1 in 7, and why not Sunday?
- That the 7th Day Sabbath was for the Jews, and the 1st Day of the week is for Christians, that there are separate days of worship for the OT and NT.
- That the 7th day Sabbath is actually the 1st day of the week and is the ‘Christian Sabbath’ or ‘Lord’s Day’.
We won’t go into detail on how the above concepts are arrived at, but suffice to say, these are some of the attempts made at Biblical justification of Christian 1st Day worship. The nexus of Protestantism and 1st day of the week worship is that it is not consistent with the Protestant doctrine of ‘the Bible and the Bible only’ (Sola Biblia).
While it certainly can’t be condemned to engage in good behavior or worshipful actions on any day of the week, there is no written record in the Scriptures of anyone – OT or NT – changing the Biblical day of worship from the 7th day to the 1st day. Now it did become a practice after some time for much of the Christian world to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection on Sunday during the festival now called Easter – which generally coincides closely with the annual time of the spring equinox. All well and good, as there is no prohibition about special events to honor God and His Son Jesus Christ at any time. You must understand though, just as with Sunday worship – there also is no Biblical command for Easter celebration. And you may too wonder how the resurrection of Christ got identified with symbols of fertility like eggs and bunny rabbits and called by the title of ‘Easter’. The Easter pagan holiday to honor the ancient pagan goddess named Ishtar (phonetically similar to Easter) who was the goddess of sexual love and fertility similar to another female pagan god like the earlier mentioned Venus. The worship of Ishtar expanded into also honoring springtime in the northern hemisphere when plants & animals grow and reproduce, and the dead of winter comes alive. The spring & autumn equinox, summer & winter solstice were big holidays and still are for pagan worshippers. This pagan Ishtar/Easter celebration started long before Christianity, and over time got attached to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Interestingly enough, the Christmas holiday has its roots in an agricultural pagan festival on the winter solstice. It got attached to the birth of Christ centuries later by the Romans, and picked up steam in Europe with the legendary St. Nicholas. The supposed Christmas date of the birth of Jesus Christ is not mentioned in the Bible, and it is highly unlikely that he was born around the winter solstice. The Bible does state the town He was to be born in: Bethlehem, which was prophesied in the book of Micah about 700 years before.
Catholic/Orthodox Reasons for Sunday Worship
One can see that human traditions can get started and last for thousands of years, although they morph and adjust over time. And this will lead into the 1st division of Christianity – the Catholic/Orthodox view of why worship for Christians is currently the first day of the week.
The Roman Catholic church is the oldest Christian organization in the world, and the Orthodox church is considered a schismatic organization of the Catholic church by Catholics (but not exactly by Orthodox). Their theological beliefs are similar, but Orthodox Christians don’t believe in the infallibility of the pope. Orthodox split from Catholicism in 1054 AD.
The major difference between Catholic and Protestant beliefs is in regards to church authority. Catholics believe in the authority of the Bible AND equally authoritative are the statements of the church fathers and popes after the Bible was written. In this sense, Catholics are consistent within their church teachings as they believe there has been a long string of church authority and that the pope has divine authority to change the day of worship to Sunday. Protestants, on the other hand, who claim ‘the Bible and the Bible only’ in protest to the papal authority follow the papal claimed authority of Sunday worship. While there has been some dissension between various Catholic authorities, many claim that Vicarius Filii Dei (Latin for ‘In place of the Son of God’) is an official title for the pope. The pope is in essence deified as Christ’s direct representative on earth, and therefore has the supposed power to forgive sins and change times & laws. In the Council of Laodicea in 364 AD, the papacy ratified the change of the Christian day of worship from the Sabbath day to the day of the Sun. This affirmed the Roman Emperor Constantine’s decree earlier in 314 AD of Sunday worship.
Prior to 364 AD, early church father Eusebius (ca. A.D.260-340) makes the first attempt to document 1st day of the week Sunday holy day observance associated between Christian and pagan veneration for the day of the Sun. This pagan connection – along with anti-Jewish sentiment to Jewish practices of which 7th Day worship was one – was instrumental in the eventual change of biblical 7th Day of worship to Sunday. There is little doubt early Christians in the late 2nd to 4th centuries AD – who were known by the Roman empire during those times as simply a Jewish sect – wanted to distance themselves from the Jews who were even less politically popular. In short, this combined with the Roman emperor’s desire to develop some type of shared beliefs and lessen conflict between disparate people groups, i.e. pagan worshippers and the growing number of Christian believers. A combined worship day such as the day of the Sun was an excellent practice to accomplish this, and make ruling the empire easier and more productive. In truth, these changes came over time, beginning sometime in the late 180 AD range, and culminating in the actual pronouncements in 314 AD and 364 AD.
It can be seen that the tradition of Sunday worship in the Christian world is a longstanding tradition. And there have been sincere Christians for the past 1700-1800 years who have worshiped on this non-Biblical day of worship not knowing that there is not a Biblical basis for it. This has been largely due in the past to not being able to access the Bible in their own language. There are many reasons for this, as follows are some of them:
- lack of literacy – in Middle Ages Europe it is thought literacy was 20% or less
- Bibles were largely unavailable, printing press wasn’t invented until 1455
- Church services were in Latin which wasn’t understood by most people
- The idea was promoted that only the elite clergy could understand the Bible.
- Civil & religious power were intertwined; freedoms as we know today didn’t exist.
Today, when we have complete access to the Bible, it is ironic that few people read it much, if at all, while the Bible is the best seller of all time, printed in more languages than any other book ever written. We may ask the question, “What is the difference between not having access to the Bible – and simply not choosing to read it for yourself?”
Biblical Evidence for the Seventh-day Sabbath
The Bible is a book that can be trusted. And in it, there is overwhelming evidence that the 7th Day of the week is the day God designated as His day of rest:
- The 7th Day Sabbath was declared by God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to be a day of rest to remember that God created the heavens and earth in 6 days and rested from His works and made it a holy day to follow Him in resting from our weekly work. Gen 2:1-3
- The 7th Day Sabbath began at the Creation of the world. It wasn’t just for Jews, it was for all who would worship God. The first Jew didn’t come along until thousands of years later (Abraham). Jesus said “The Sabbath was made for man…” Mark 2:27; Isa 56:6. In fact, in John 1:1-4,14 it states Jesus (Son of God) was the active agent of Creation.
- The Sabbath did NOT begin when Moses received the 10 Commandments. It began at creation. It was also kept by the Jews BEFORE they ever reached Mt. Sinai and Moses received the Law. The miracle of the manna on the way to Sinai (Exodus 16:23-30) makes it clear that the Sabbath for God’s people existed before Mt. Sinai.
- There is no record in the Old Testament of any other weekly day of worship from the time of creation onward other than the 7th Day Sabbath. All the men and women of faith in the OT worshiped God on the 7th Day Sabbath. Exodus 20:8 Isa 58:13; Ezek 20:20;
- Nowhere in the Bible does it say the 10 Commandments have been eliminated or made of no effect. Matt:5:17; Rom 3:31
- Jesus confirmed the 10 Commandments in Matt 22:36-40. The first 4 involve our duty to God, and the final 6 our duty to our fellow men and women. In these verses, Jesus was simply quoting OT verses Deut 11:13 and Lev 19:18. Jesus’s words are in complete harmony with OT principles. Many of His sayings are directly from the OT..
- Jesus, the disciples, Paul & apostles all worshiped, taught, and prayed on 7th Day in the NT numerous times. There is no record of them keeping any other weekly day holy other than the 7th Day Sabbath. Mark 1:21; Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16; Luke 4:31; Luke 6:16; Luke 13:10; Acts 13:14; Acts 13:42; Acts 13:44; Acts 16:13; Acts 17:2; Acts 18:14
- Jesus said the Sabbath is His, the Lord’s Day. Matt 12:8; Rev 1:10
- Jesus told his disciples to pray about the Sabbath concerning the future tribulation. Matt 24:20
- Just as Jesus rested at Creation, He rested in between His amazing sacrifice at Calvary for our sins and His resurrection. He and His disciples rested on the 7th Day. Luke 23:56
Tradition dies hard. It is clear from history and the Bible that Sunday worship came out of pagan traditions, along with traditions developed by early Roman political leaders and some early Christian prelates to distance themselves from the Jews. There is no basis for Sunday worship in the Bible, it is entirely a man-made tradition that has lasted for centuries. There is, however, for Christians, a strong Biblical basis to worship God on the 7th Day, for He is our Creator and Redeemer responsible for our existence, and He gives the promise of eternal life for all who love Him.
Lansing Adventist church member Richard Prangley (pictured on the left with Dr. Wagner Kuhn of Andrews University Theological Seminary) wrote this article to a help win people’s hearts over to the Creator of all things and His wonderful day of rest, the seventh-day Sabbath. Richard has led an amazing life. If you are interested in hearing about his incredible early life, a book about Richard was written by John Schneider, former feature writer at the Lansing State Journal. It is available on Amazon.com. Title is “Waiting for Home: The Richard Prangley Story.”