The Search for the Missing Sunday Text
How strange it is that tradition often displaces authoritative truth in the minds of multitudes of sincere people. Statements that have been repeated for years finally are approved simply because the repetition has given a stamp of authority. This is especially true in the field of religion. The average Christian, unfortunately, does very little study of the Bible for himself. His convictions have been formed by listening to his pastor explain religion. Now there’s nothing wrong in giving attention to the preacher, but friends, we should put his preaching to the acid test of the Bible. This matter of eternal life is too important to trust to the interpretations of any other person. We’re admonished to search the Scriptures and try the spirits. Notice this text in 1 Peter 3:15. “… be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” Put with that another text in Isaiah 8:20. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
A truly spiritual pastor will urge his flock to study the Bible to test his message. No man’s opinion is worth very much, not even the very best preacher’s. The fact is that leading theologians are drifting farther and farther from the anchor of Bible truth. Thousands of men who occupy leading pulpits today have lost their faith in the historic Scriptures. For this reason, if for no other, the individual Christian should seek to know the Bible truth for himself, letting the Bible explain and interpret itself. He must be able to give an answer for his beliefs and practices. The average church member can only defend his faith by saying, “Well, my preacher said it,” or, “My church teaches that way.” It’s amazing how much religion is taken for granted.
Repeated practice through the generations has ingrained some traditions, making them seem like inviolate truth. Some very common religious practices are not even found in the Bible at all. Oh, most people think they are. They’ve heard misquoted texts and vague references, but the Bible statement itself is missing. One of the strangest cases of this is in the observance of Sunday by millions. The missing text for observing the first day of the week has been the object of long search and study. It is now acknowledged by leading churchmen that no biblical authority exists for the practice. The familiar ten commandments do indeed set aside a day for worship and rest; but, that day is Saturday, the seventh day of the week, not Sunday, the first. Listen to the wording of that law, friends, in Exodus 20:8-11. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work. …”
Notice, it says plainly “the seventh day is the sabbath.” I’m sure that every listener agrees that Saturday is indeed the day specified here. The calendar on your wall confirms this fact. Saturday is the seventh day of the week. How strange then that so many are keeping a different day than God specified. What is the explanation? Friends, here’s a perfect example of church members taking tradition without searching the Bible for themselves.
Jesus and the Sabbath
We’re certainly interested in knowing for sure which day Jesus observed as the Sabbath. We won’t consider our own convenience in this question at all. If Jesus kept Wednesday holy, then we want to keep that same day. If He commanded the observance of Tuesday, we’re all willing to make that our Sabbath. Personally, I’m not particular which day it is so long as I know that it’s the one He blessed and kept.
Our purpose now is to approach the Word of God with an unbiased, sincere mind in order to find the truth on this question and know for sure which day is holy. Which day did Jesus observe? Luke 4:16 tells us, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”
Because most of the Christian world keeps Sunday as a day of rest and worship, we will investigate the Bible authority for this practice. If the Scriptures teach Sunday-keeping, then certainly we ought to be in the forefront to stand right with it. It’s only right and honest that we give careful study to every mention of the first day of the week in the New Testament before making any decision. There are only eight references to Sunday, and we will consider them separately. If there is any authority, it is bound to appear in one of these Scripture texts.
Let’s read first in Mark 16:9. “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Here we have the simple historical account of the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week. The crucifixion, as we know, took place on Friday afternoon, and Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath. Early on the first day of the week, Sunday, he rose from the grave. This forms the basis for the observance of Easter Sunday.
Mary was one of the first to discover that He was risen when she came seeking Him early that morning. Notice verses 1 and 2 of the same chapter. “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.” One interesting thing about this text, friends, is that it contains no intimation that Sunday was to be a special day of rest. The Sabbath was past when the first day of the week had come, making it plain to see that Sabbath and Sunday are two different days altogether.
Now let’s turn to Luke 23:54-56; 24:1. “And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.” This is simply another reference to the events of the resurrection day. The women came to see the body of Jesus on Friday afternoon and then returned to their homes to prepare spices for the actual burying. And what did they do on the next day, Saturday? Notice the wording, they “rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.”
And according to the commandment, “the seventh day is the sabbath,” so these women knew nothing about any change of the Sabbath. They saved their work until the Sabbath was past, then came early the first day of the week to prepare the body for burial. Please remember that this account was written about 35 years afterward, giving plenty of time for any change of the Sabbath to be known by all. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the gospel writers would have made clear any new institution in the matter of Sabbath observance. Since all the gospels contain a consistent record of faithful seventh-day Sabbath-keeping, there is absolutely no intimation of first-day observance.
We now turn to the fourth mention of the first day of the week, found in Matthew 28:1. “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.” We should never forget that when the resurrection day came, the Sabbath was already ended. Still there is no evidence that Sunday is to be kept holy. So we move on to our next text in John 20:1. “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.” This is another narrative record of the coming of Mary to the tomb early on Sunday morning, very similar to the other texts we’ve already considered. Still, no evidence here for Sunday-keeping.
Continuing our honest search for Bible evidence, we turn to John 20:19. “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” This verse has often been misconstrued to mean that the disciples were meeting to honor the resurrection of Jesus. But the truth of the matter is that those disciples didn’t even believe that Christ had risen. It was Sunday afternoon just after the resurrection in the early morning of that day, and they were assembled in great fear behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. You see, the rumor had been circulated that the disciples had stolen away the body of the Lord. No wonder they were afraid.
Now let’s read a text to show that they really did not believe their Master had risen. “And they, when they had heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. And they went and told it unto the residue; neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” This is from Mark 16:11, 13, 14. Therefore, we see how utterly mistaken it is to say the disciples were celebrating a joyful memorial of the resurrection. They would not believe until Jesus Himself came and appeared to them personally.
I’ve heard it said that Jesus always met with His disciples on the first day of the week after He arose from the dead. But the Scriptures reveal quite a different story. His appearance is mentioned in John 20:14, and there is no mention of which day of the week it was, but He came to them when they were fishing on the sea and called them to come to shore and meet Him. So, we’re sure that it wasn’t any rest day or holy day.
The seventh mention of the first day of the week is found in 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2. “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him that there be no gatherings when I come.” Some have believed this to be the record of a church gathering with a regular offering being taken. But closer examination shows that it was not a religious meeting at all. Paul was sending men who would pick up their contributions to take up to Jerusalem—food, clothing, and money was no doubt included. Paul wrote ahead to tell the Corinthian believers to lay aside whatever they could give and have it ready when they came. The supplies were for the famine-stricken believers in Jerusalem. Please note that other translations say “lay by in store at home.” Weymouth also adds these words, “keep any profit he may have made.” So you see, it was a matter of storing up at home whatever they could afford from the profits of their business. In no sense can it be inferred that there was a religious meeting held or an offering taken.
Well, there is only one other text in the New Testament that mentions the first day of the week. And, by the way, it is the only time a religious meeting was held on Sunday. … If there is any authority for Sunday-keeping, it will be found in that final reference.
The Final Text
Now friends, if there’s any authority at all for observing this day, we’ll certainly find it as we look at this final reference. So let’s read in Acts 20:7, 8. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.” All right, let’s pause there for just a moment. Here, as I mentioned a moment ago, we have the only record of a religious meeting being held on the first day of the week. Now if there’s any authority for Sunday-keeping we’re going to have to find it right here in this text. So let’s look at it carefully and let’s look at it honestly.
First of all, it says that they broke bread on that day. Now does the breaking of bread mean that the day was holy and that they were observing it as some Sabbath or sacred occasion? No. In fact, we read in Acts 2:46 that those early disciples broke bread daily. That fact does not imply that it was a holy day at all. If it was, then every day was holy because they surely broke bread daily in the early church. In this instance under consideration, Paul was having a special farewell meeting before going on up to Jerusalem. The people realized that they would never see Paul again alive. In Acts 20:25 he told them that he had the witness of the spirit, that he would see their faces no more. So this was a very, very special occasion for him to be with his people, the people whom he had brought to Christ, for the last time. This explains why Paul preached to them all night long. Certainly that is not a procedure that marked the regular worship services of that day. But, anyway, he preached right on up to midnight. Then the young man was killed, and he continued preaching afterward until the very break of day.
Now let’s ask this question at this point. When did this meeting take place according to our method of reckoning time? As most of you realize, the Bible method of measuring the day is from sunset to sun-set and not midnight to midnight. Our way is a pagan method which came in after the days of Jesus. The evening and the morning were the original elements of a day, as you’ll find in Genesis, chapter 1. Please refer to Leviticus 23:32 and you’ll read there that the Sabbath is to be observed from even unto even, or from evening to evening. When does the evening begin? If we can find that, we’ll know exactly when we should begin keeping the Sabbath. The answer is found in Mark 1:32. “And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased.” Now there it is. The evening is at sundown. And if you’d like to have further evidence on this point, just read Nehemiah 13:19, Joshua 10:26 and 2 Chronicles 18:34. In other words, that day, the Sabbath began at sunset and ended at sunset. And the first day of the week began at sunset and ended at sunset. The first day begins at the time we call Saturday evening, at the going down of the sun on Saturday evening, and it continues until the going down of the sun on Sunday evening. That constitutes the first day of the week.
A Sunday Church Service?
Notice that the text says there were many lights in the meeting place where they were gathered. This means that the service was held in the dark portion of that first day which is what we would call Saturday night. Paul kept right on preaching until midnight and, at that time, you remember a young fellow fell down from the loft—he was sitting in the window, apparently listening to Paul preach—and was killed.
After he went down and brought the boy back to life, it says that he kept on talking for “a long while, even till break of day.” And then what did Paul do, friends, early Sunday morning after that all-night meeting with the church? Acts 21:1 makes it clear that Paul walked about 25 miles across the peninsula to meet the ship at Assos, for there he was to be taken in and go on with them up to Jerusalem. So here we have clear evidence that Paul was not holding a regular service at all and neither did he keep that day holy. This was not a weekly meeting.
It was a special service in which Paul was preaching to them. He would never see them again. He had the witness of the spirit that he was to be put to death, so he simply stayed with them as long as he could and that took him right in through the night even till the breaking of day. I suppose one of the main reasons we have this story in the Bible is because of the mighty miracle when Paul raised that young fellow from the dead and brought him up alive again at midnight.
Well, there it is, friends. We’ve read and considered every single text which mentions the first day of the week in the New Testament. Nowhere have we found any evidence either in command or example that we should sanctify Sunday as a day of rest or worship. On the other hand, teachings and example of Christ and His disciples present irrefutable proof that the Sabbath was to be kept then, and it is also to be kept now—no change has ever been made in it. You’ll not find any text in all the Bible that says there was any change made in the day that was appointed by God for men to use for worship.
What About Paul?
Now what about Paul, that great apostle of the Gentiles? He came much later, of course. He came after Jesus died and after He was resurrected and ascended back to heaven. Did he observe the same Sabbath as Jesus did and that all the other disciples did before Him? Let him bear witness to that in Acts 17:2. “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scripture.” Now there it is. That was Paul’s manner or custom. Just as we read a moment ago that it was Jesus’ custom to go in on the Sabbath to preach and worship, so Paul went regularly to do the same thing.
Now friends, he didn’t go into the synagogue just to please the Jews or to preach to the Jews. In Acts 13:42-44 we find that he also preached to the Gentiles on that day. Let’s read it. “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath … And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.”
Here’s a wonderful place for Paul to put those Gentile Christians straight if he wanted them to keep any other day except the seventh day. After he had been preaching to the Jews on this Sabbath, the Gentiles came to him and said “Now we want you to preach to us.” If there had been some change in that early church as far as the day of worship was concerned, Paul would have said to those Gentile Christians, “Listen, I’ll preach to you tomorrow morning.
That will be the first day of the week and I’ll meet with you on that day for worship.” But Paul didn’t say anything of the kind. In fact, he just said to them, “I’ll meet you next Sabbath and preach to you then” and the whole city came together, the Bible says, and heard him preach the next Sabbath day. He was preaching to the Gentiles. Acts 18:4, 11 tells us of 78 Sabbaths that Paul kept in succession in one certain city. “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” And “he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” So for a year and a half he made tents during the week, and went in to teach them on the Sabbath. And he taught the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Well, somebody brings up the question, “How can I do what is right?” Now, friends, in order to keep the Sabbath—in order to keep any of the commandments of God—we’ve got to get the Lord of the Sabbath into our hearts first. If we have Him abiding within, we’ll have no trouble keeping those commandments. They’ll not be a burden. They’ll not be some hard, laborious thing to do if we love Him and He’s abiding in our hearts. We’ll be able to do it out of love. I hope that’s the way you’re doing it today. And after making this study, why don’t you make your decision right now that by the grace of God, you’re going to follow Him in keeping the Sabbath holy.
– From the Joe Crews Sermon Library (Missing Text Parts 1 & 2)