Is Sunday the Sabbath?
One of my more eccentric hobbies is Biblical exegesis -- trying to work out what the scriptures mean without regard to what the churches say they mean: A thoroughly Protestant habit.
And a very obvious question is how come Christian churches hold their Sabbath on the day of the Sun rather than on the seventh day of the week -- which is what the Bible commands? Seventh Day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists remind us that there is an issue there.
I imagine that most Christians assume that some great Christian eminence or Christian council came together in order to switch observance from Saturday to Sunday as a way of separating Christians from Jews. Sunday is seen as part of the New Testament that supersedes the Old.
There is still a lively debate among theologians on the issue and I have read both sides. One lot say that there is nowhere in the NT or anywhere else that commands a change from Saturday to Sunday so the old law still applies and Saturday therefore is the only true Sabbath.
The other lot say that the Apostle Paul released Christians from strict Sabbath observance so we can choose Saturday or Sunday at our discretion. They have two scriptures on their side in that:
Col. 2:16-17. 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:
Rom. 14:5. 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. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
And Christ himself preached flexibility regarding Sabbath observance. Mark 2:27 “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:”
What seems to have happened is that Paul wanted a broad church. In particular, he wanted Jews and Gentiles to be equally welcome in the early Christian congregations. And he had to be emphatic about that. Christians who came from Jewry tended to observe all their Jewish customs. Christ was a devout Jew so that seemed entirely proper.
And the Jewish Christians tended to lecture non-Jews on the matter. They tended to say that the non-Jewish Christians should adopt Jewish practice. And Paul wanted to put a stop to that. He wanted Christianity to be a religion for all, not just another Jewish sect.
So Paul preached tolerance, as we see in the scriptures above. Follow Jewish custom if you like but that is not mandatory.
And that permission was very valuable in the ancient world. Most of that world revered the Sun. They worshipped various idols but were also sun worshippers. And from ancient Sumerian times they had nominated the first day of the week as the sun's day Some respect to the sun became customary on that day.
But the Jews of course have always been a cantankerous people. From Moses on, their prophets have always said so. So the Jews wanted to defy established custom and they did that by making the seventh day, not the first day especially holy
But that was always awkward for diaspora Jews -- i.e. Jews living outside Israel. Their custom made them seem strange to the others about them and even led to a degree of persecution on occasions
So Paul put and end to that. He wanted Christians to be well regarded so that people would listen with some respect when they preached the gospel of the living Lord.
In the circumstances, most non-Jewish Christians probably switched to Sunday observance with alacrity. Purists no doubt still argued for Saturday but Sunday suited most non-Jewish Christians just fine. And as Christianity spread far and wide the Jewish customs just faded out. Like everybody else, Christians now worshipped on the day of the Sun.
There are various mentions of weekly meetings between the early brothers during which food was eaten but they included no mention of which day the meeting occurred. They followed the dictum that the meeting was important, not the day on which it occurred. And in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 Paul was emphatic that the day should be observed with due solemnity and in honour of the original Last Supper of Christ. But Paul laid down the basic form, not the day of Christian observances.
So there was at no time any proclamation from on high. Using Sunday for solemn worship just evolved as a convenient custom for Christians. Though the fact that Christ was resurrected on a Sunday tended to legitimate Sunday observance for some.