Sabbath and Sunday – A New Hypothesis

My reconstruction

I agree with
the reasons Maxwell has given, but I wish to add one: Jewish Christians had a practical need for meeting times that
did not conflict with synagogue observance, as mentioned earlier.

second-century writers show that the vast majority of Christians met on Sunday
and did not keep the Sabbath. They give no clues that would suggest that Sunday
was a recent innovation. This suggests that Sunday observance began in the
first century. The widespread nature of Sunday observance also argues for its
antiquity. The second-century church did not have the organization or
communication that might enable them to mandate a particular day of worship
without generating disagreement and controversy. Therefore it is likely that
Sunday observance began before or during the early stages of the Gentile

It is possible
that Sunday observance began in
Thousands of law-observant Jews came into the church.
They attended temple and synagogue functions, yet they also wished to have more
private meetings for believers only. They wished to discuss Scriptures, share
meals, pray and sing Christian hymns. Initially, they met daily (Acts 2:46).
Sabbath restrictions, however, might have made it difficult to prepare meals
and gather large groups on Saturday evenings.

Sundays would
provide opportunities for large Christian gatherings. Scriptures that had been
read in synagogues the previous day would be discussed, especially if they had
messianic significance. These discussions would be particularly interesting.
Sermons would be given; Christians would celebrate Jesus as the Messiah. As
Christianity spread to Jewish communities in Antioch, Alexandria and Rome,
similar situations would foster the development of post-Sabbath Christian

When Gentiles
began to be added to the church, they were God-fearing Gentiles who attended
synagogue readings and would also need an after-Sabbath meeting time for
Christian worship. Eventually Gentiles from pagan backgrounds were also added,
e.g., in Alexandria, Ephesus and Rome. These converts were not in the habit of
attending synagogue, but they would nevertheless meet with the others after the

Thus there
were two groups of Christians: those who kept Sabbath and also met after the
Sabbath, and those who ignored the Sabbath and met only after the Sabbath. This
dual development would have been common throughout the empire, since Jews lived
in many cities, and evangelists preached to the Jews first. But the need for
dual worship meetings would have ceased in most cities as Gentiles became the
large majority. Anti-Jewish sentiment could have accelerated this development.

The custom of
after-Sabbath meetings would have been spread by traveling evangelists, and the
tradition would have been maintained even in areas without Sabbath meetings.
Even in areas with synagogues, meeting on the Sabbath would become less
important, since synagogue readings had to be interpreted, and the
interpretations were given in the after-Sabbath meeting. The desire for
attendance at the synagogue would become further reduced when Christian groups
obtained their own copies of the Scriptures.

The Acts 15
conference had already concluded that Gentile converts did not need to keep the
law of Moses and, judging by rabbinic writings, uncircumcised Gentiles were not
expected to keep the Sabbath. Paul, writing to a church that contained both
Jews and Gentiles, downplayed the significance of days (Romans 14:5). He
explained that the Sabbath (like sacrifices) had typological significance and
was not a matter for judging Christians (Colossians 2:16). And he criticized
any observance of any days that were part of a legalistic obligations
(Galatians 4:10). The writer of Hebrews explained that the Sabbath
typologically prefigured the eschatological rest, and it is that latter rest
that Christians should strive to enter (Hebrews 4:1-10). These NT scriptures
indicate that questions about worship days did arise in the first century, and
that they were resolved at an early stage in church history.

This hypothetical reconstruction explains how an initially
Sabbath-keeping Jewish group could become a Sunday‑keeping Gentile group within
a generation, and it explains how this could have been done throughout the
empire simultaneously with a minimum of controversy: It was part of
Christianity from the beginning.2


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1 I
am open to the possibility that Sunday observance began independently in
Antioch and Alexandria. Similar factors operated in both locations, including
the need for post-synagogue meetings and the association of the first day with
Christ’s resurrection, permitting parallel development. However, as
Christianity spread to more areas, the chances for independent development of
the same practice become slimmer.

2 A
Sabbath-keeper could agree with most of this reconstruction. The Sabbath-keeper
could agree that Christians needed after-Sabbath meetings, and that this need
existed from the very start. It would not be wrong to meet for worship on
Sundays in addition to keeping the Sabbath. However, the Sabbath-keeper would
disagree with the significance of the NT scriptures cited above, and the
Sabbath-keeper would say that it was wrong for believers to eventually abandon
the Sabbath and keep only Sunday. Whether this was apostasy is answered not by
church history but by Scripture.


Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to
Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University, 1977.

———. “The Rise of Sunday Observance in Early
Christianity,” chap. 7 in Kenneth A. Strand, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture
and History,


Bauckham, Richard J. “The Lord’s
Day,” chap. 8 in D.A. Carson, 221-250.

———. “Sabbath and Sunday in the
Post-Apostolic Church,” chap. 9 in D.A. Carson, 251-298.

Carson, D.A., ed., From Sabbath to Lord’s
Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation.
Grand Rapids,
Mich.: Zondervan, 1982.

Charlesworth, James, ed., The Old Testament
2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1985.

Cross, F.L., and E.A. Livingstone, eds., Oxford
Dictionary of the Christian Church,
2nd ed. Oxford, 1983.

Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. Joseph Smith, trans. Ancient
Christian Writers
vol. 16. Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1952.

Maxwell, C. Mervyn. “Early
Sabbath-Sunday History,” in Maxwell and Damsteegt, 136-161F.

———, and Gerard Damsteegt, eds., Source Book
for the History of Sabbath and Sunday.
Berrien Springs, Mich.: Seventh-day
Adventist Theological Seminary, 1992.

Roberts, Alexander, and James Donaldson, eds.,
The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1885, 1987.

Robinson, James, ed. The Nag Hammadi
Library in English.
San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.

Seventh-day Adventists Answer
Questions on Doctrine.
Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine.
Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1957.

Seventh-day Adventists Believe…: A Biblical
Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines.
Adventists Believe…: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines.
Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1988.

Strand, Kenneth A. “From Sabbath to Sunday in
the Early Christian Church: A Review of Some Recent Literature. Part II:
Samuele Bacchiocchi’s Reconstruction,” Andrews University Seminary Studies
17 (1979): 85-104.

———. “The Sabbath and Sunday From the Second
Through Fifth Centuries.” App. B in Strand, The Sabbath in Scripture and

———, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture and
Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1982.

Swartley, Willard M. Sabbath, Slavery, War
and Women.
Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1983.

Vyhmeister, Werner K. “The Sabbath in Asia,”
chap. 8 in Strand, The Sabbath in Scripture and History, 151-168.

Worldwide Church of God. What Do the Scriptures Say About the
Pasadena, CA, 1995.

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