Was Sunday the New Testament Day of Worship?

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Was Sunday the New Testament Day of Worship?

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Three passages lead some to believe that Sunday was the day of rest and worship for the New Testament Church. Let's briefly examine each of them to see whether this is true.

The Lord's Day?

One scripture commonly cited to justify Sunday worship is Revelation 1:10, where John wrote, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day..." Some believe this means John was worshipping on Sunday and had the vision on that day. But nowhere does the Bible define "Lord's Day" as the first day of the week. As a matter of fact, this is the only place this term is used in the Bible, which would hardly be the case if the Church had been observing Sunday for years, as some contend.

If this were referring to a day of the week, we would have to conclude that John meant the seventh day, since God called the Sabbath "My holy day . . . the holy day of the Lord" (Isaiah 58:13) and Jesus Christ said He was the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28, not some other day of the week.

However, the context of John's vision shows that John wasn't referring to a day of the week at all. Instead, he meant that the vision transported him into the future time the Bible elsewhere calls the "day of the Lord," "day of the Lord Jesus Christ" or "day of Christ" (Jeremiah 46:10; Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10).

These terms are not speaking of a specific single day. Instead, they refer to the end-time period when Jesus Christ will return to personally and directly intervene in human affairs. Thus, these terms indicate the end of the age of man's self-rule and the beginning of the age of God's rule over all nations through Christ. This is the theme of the book of Revelation and the "Lord's Day" John saw in vision.

Breaking bread on Sunday?

Another scripture some believe shows the New Testament Church observed Sunday is Acts 20:7: "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight."

A careful look at events recounted in Acts 20:7-14 shows that a Sunday worship service is not described here. It does show Paul participating in a Saturday night meal and talking until almost dawn, after which he walked almost 20 miles on Sunday to rejoin his traveling companions, who had sailed 60 miles from Troas to Assos. In walking that distance, Paul certainly wasn’t keeping Sunday as a day of rest!

Some think that "break[ing] bread" refers exclusively to the ceremony in which Christians partake of bread and wine in commemoration of Christ's death. So they conclude that the verse here concerns a religious service on the first day of the week. However, that commemoration is supposed to take place once a year at the festival of Passover (see the Bible study aid booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.) Moreover, breaking bread is not limited to religious observance, but refers to dividing flat loaves of bread for a typical meal.

"It means to partake of food and is used of eating as in a meal . . . The readers [of the original New Testament letters and manuscripts] could have had no other idea or meaning in their minds" (E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, 1991, pp. 839-840).

This is proven by the fact that after Paul finished speaking they again broke bread and ate (Acts 20:11). Breaking bread to eat a meal is mentioned in Luke 24:30, Luke 24:35 and Acts 27:35.

The timing of the events in Acts 20 helps us to understand more clearly. Acts 20:7-11 describe several events of one night. Since the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, counts days as beginning when the sun goes down, these events began with a meal on Saturday evening after the Sabbath, which would have been the only evening on "the first day of the week." Several translations, including the New English Bible, Revised English Bible, Good News Bible, The New Testament in Modern English and the Complete Jewish Bible, state unequivocally that this occurred on Saturday night.

Paul planned to leave the next day for another city, so he stayed and spoke long into the night. At midnight one young man in the congregation fell asleep, tumbled from the window where he sat and was killed in the fall. Paul rushed to the young man, who miraculously came back to life. After that, the group broke bread and ate again, talking almost until dawn. Paul departed at daybreak.

After speaking and talking all night, Paul the next morning walked almost 20 miles to Assos to meet the rest of the people in his group who had sailed there (Acts 20:11-14). So rather than describing a religious service on Sunday, this passage actually documents Paul walking almost 20 miles on foot on the first day of the week—hardly making it a day of rest and worship for him!

Collection during a Sunday service?

Some people assume that 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 refers to taking up a collection during a Sunday religious service. However, a closer look shows that this is not what Paul means. Although the Bible says the collection took place on the first day of the week, nowhere does it say that a church service was involved.

This was a special collection "for the saints," members of the church in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3). It was part of a wider relief effort involving other members in Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1), Macedonia and Achaia (Romans 15:25-26), as well as those in Corinth to whom Paul wrote. This outpouring of support may have been that described in Acts 11, when a famine prompted members to send "relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea . . . by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11:28-30).

Paul gives no indication that this collection was to be taken up at a religious service. On the contrary, he tells the Corinthians, "Let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come" (1 Corinthians 16:2). These contributions were to be "laid aside" and "stored up" by "each one of you" as an individual act, not brought to a church service and collected there. To say this is an account of a collection taken up during a Sunday worship service is to read into the Bible an unwarranted personal interpretation.

Scripture contains no other passages that mention anything remotely resembling weekly religious services on the first day of the week. The New Testament was written over a span of more than 60 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, and nowhere does it even hint at the day of rest being changed to Sunday.

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