Written in response to a call to explain the occurrences of the first day of the week in the New Testament.
I must admit that while I have had the opportunity to variously address the numerous references to Sunday (usually rendered ‘first day of the week’) in the New Testament I have not until now been called upon to do so in a systematic, unified manner. So thank you for the invitation, and as I am particularly primed this quiet Sunday (how fitting) for writing, allow me to make a humble addressing of the relevance of Sunday from a Scriptural point of view, based primarily of the eight occurrences of it.
1. Matthew 28: 1 – The Glorious Resurrection
The resurrection of Christ, being foretold in the Old Testament, in Psalm 16:10, Hosea 6, as well as typically by the resurrection of Moses, Matthew 28 provides us a vivid, almost cinematic account of Christ’s resurrection, upon the third day after He was crucified.
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.
2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
The account confirms that the resurrection was wrought of God, by showing the instrumentality of the Lord’s messenger in the act of rolling away the object of imprisonment that lay at the mouth of the tomb.
Importantly, the account corroborates the rest of the synoptic in that the resurrection occurred on the third day after the crucifixion. Expectedly, verse 1 shows affirms the Jewish custom of observing God’s Sabbath by describing the approaching of the first day in terms of the ebbing away of the Sabbath.
Many protestants hold this event up as the source of their veneration of the first day of the week. It is well and good to acknowledge that an event that is so monumental to the establishment and sustenance of Christianity occurred on the first day of the week. Why is it good to do so? Because it offers an intellectual assurance of the veracity of prophecy, and plants the Christian of firm ground in the defense of the historical record of the fulfillment of it. Knowledge of the times in which the Saviour lived, taught, died and rose up is crucial for any respectable claim to faith.
However, it is to be admitted that :
- The Lord and Scripture for that matter, give to support to the commemoration of the day of the resurrection as the appointed day of special fellowship with God.
- Even if the Scriptures were to give any worship significance to the first day, they bear no record of the abrogation or substitution of the day that is originally set apart for this purpose.
Hence the best that can be hoped for by any who wishes to observe the first day, is evidence of a consecration or setting apart of Sunday by God, evidence that is conspicuously lacking in the Scriptures. Indeed, a 19th Century Catholic priest is known to have challenged Protestant ministers to prove from the Bible that their keeping of Sunday was based on Scriptural evidence $1000. Till date no one has stepped forth to claim the prize.
The undisputed source (archaeology, history and the documented testimony of both Catholic and Protestant authorities included) of Sunday as a universal day of Christian worship, is the authority of the Catholic Church:
“Sunday is our mark of authority….. The church is above the Bible, and this transference of sabbath observance is proof of that fact.”
– The Catholic Record, London, Ontario, September 1, 1923.
“Perhaps the boldest thing, the most revolutionary change the Church ever did, happened in the first century. The holy day, the Sabbath, was changed from Saturday to Sunday. ‘The Day of the Lord’ [dies domini] was chosen, not from any direction noted in the Scriptures, but from the Church’s sense of its own power….. People who think that the Scriptures should be the sole authority, should logically become [Seventh-Day] Adventists, and keep Saturday holy.”
– Saint Catherine Catholic Church Sentinel, Algonac, Michigan, May 21, 1995.
The only thing wrong with the above quote from the Catholic Sentinel is that the change actually took place in the third, not the first century.
2. Mark 16:2
This account is Mark’s rendition of the creation. The same fundamental evidence of the first day as the resurrection day exists, and the same fundamental lack of any admonition to observe it as the new Sabbath does not.
Discussion: Proper Commemoration of the Resurrection
While we have no Biblical indication that the resurrection gave way to the entrance of a new Sabbath day, we do have a Biblical call to observe the resurrection of Christ.
This call is embodied in the sacrament of baptism. Romans 6:4, 5:
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection
Baptism, meaning immersion, is a symbol of our dying with Christ, and our resurrection with Him into newness of life. We go into the water dead in sins, as Christ went into death with our sins, and emerge from the pool new and pure, and He emerged from death having paid the penalty in full.
In sum, the Scriptures do not waive away, brush aside or in any wise trivialize the resurrection. Indeed, rather than create a new Sabbath on account of it, it creates a sacrament out of the re-enactment of the resurrection, so that men may have the experience of their Saviour, albeit in symbol.
To be continued.