It is Christian custom to meet and worship God on the first day of the week. Interestingly, I haven’t found this practice in the New Testament. There are only 8 verses that use the phrase “first day of the week.” We’ll take a look at these verses and also another phrase commonly thought to refer to the Lord’s Supper, “break bread.”
Note: verses are from the New King James Version of the Bible.
1) Matt 28:1 “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”
It’s useful to remember that Jews consider days differently than we are used to. We think a day is from dawn to dusk (or midnight to midnight). The Jewish people during the Roman era considered dusk to dusk a day as Genesis describes in 1:5. So the Sabbath would begin on the evening of our Friday. The Marys are out on our Sunday morning doing their normal work.
2) Mark 16:1-3 “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?’ “
This is Mark’s account of the same event. Again, they are out working: buying spices and doing labor on a normal workday. All things they can’t do on the Sabbath.
3) Mark 16:9 “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.”
Here, Mary Magdalene sees a risen Jesus after the Sabbath. We cannot be certain if this is the same day as in Mark 16:1-3 because of the odd wording, but in any case events are happening on a workday. There isn’t any command to keep the day special. It simply dates Jesus rose early on the first day of the week. It could very well be a weekafter the resurrection in the verse since Mark didn’t writhe something like, “on the same day.” The main point is, this is just an event, not a command or anything.
4) Luke 24:1 “Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.”
Luke’s account of the Resurrection event. Nothing here about Sunday worship.
5) John 20:1: John’s version of events we already discussed.
6) 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, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.””
Now we are getting somewhere. The disciples are assembled and Jesus shows Himself to them on the first day of the week. Perhaps the disciples were worshiping?
Doesn’t look like it. The doors were shut and locked because they disciples were afraid of their fellow Jews. Why where they afraid? Jesus was killed only a few days (or at most a week) ago. There could very well have been a man hunt for other troublemakers going on in the city. In any case, they couldn’t have been worshiping in the Christian sense since they thought Jesus was dead up until He showed Himself to them. They also tend to all live together according to Acts 1:13.
7) 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.”
Here we go! Sounds like a Christian service here…at first glance. First, meeting on the first day of the week wasn’t special. In fact, the disciples and earliest Christians met everyday to break bread Acts 2:41-43 and Acts 2:46-47. Next, the phrase “break bread” simply means eating together. Many people, such as the authors of the Apologetic Press, believe this phrase refers to the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. If this is true, than Christians are still not practicing properly by observing the Lord’s Supper only on Sundays since in Acts 2:46-47 the earlier Christians “broke bread” daily in the temples. Other verses support the simple interpretation that this was a meal: Luke 24:30 and Acts 27:35.
If we read this passage in context, there were lamps in the room (verse 8) and consider the Jewish day system, this event happened on our Saturday night. In verse 13-19, it is clear that Paul and associates didn’t consider the first day of the week as special. They went about and traveled as they would do on a workday.
This verse also doesn’t say anything about this event being customary, unlike Acts 2:46-47. This verse just accounts a singular event and not a worship practice.
8) 1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”
Here is another verse that is used to support the tradition of giving to the church on the first day of the week. Paul is asking the church in Corinth to “lay in store” every first day so there doesn’t have to be collections when Paul comes. It doesn’t say anything about giving on that day. Notice too that there isn’t anything about a tithe. It is based on how the person prospers on the first day of the week. The verse is asking the Corinthians to lay aside some what they earn on the first day of the week ( a workday) so when he arrives they don’t have to worry about working when he arrives.
The first verse tells us what type of collection is being made: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:” The collection wasn’t for Paul or a church. Paul was asking the churches to collect for the needs of their fellow Christians, the saints. This wasn’t unusual for Paul. In Romans 15: 25-28, he takes fruit he collected from other churches to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. So the verse in Corinthians has nothing to do with giving to the local church and everything to do with laying aside money to help other people.
Some argue that this means a church collection since Paul doesn’t want collections when he arrives. They state that people would have to go to each home and collect money if people lay aside in their homes as the verse suggests ( lay aside and lay in store are reflexive and often literally translated as “lay by him” as in nearby). They also argue that this would be dangerous since there are thieves and temptation to spend. We have to consider that what is being laid in store isn’t always money as Romans reveals. Paul was likely more interested in food than money to give to the needy. There weren’t banks as we know them, so people tend to hide their money in their homes already. Finally, word of Paul’s arrival had to be spread through word of mouth anyway so people can gather. Paul is just asking people to be prepared ahead of time.
As I mentioned before the phrase “breaking bread” refers to eating a meal as opposed to the Lord’s Supper. It is thought that early Christians observed the Lord’s Supper only on the Passover since Jesus instituted the tradition on that day (1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Mark 14, Luke 22). The Passover association has further connections with the idea that Jesus was the lamb of God; a lamb that is killed to protect people from death as accounted in Exodus 12.
The Lord’s Supper is only mentioned in association with the Passover. The phrase “breaking bread” is used in reference to the first day of the week and even daily as I pointed to in Acts 2. If we consider the phrase referring to the Lord’s Supper than Christians need to observe it daily as Acts illustrates. However, if we consider the phrase as simply a meal, the Lord’s Supper falls back to the Passover. Consider the early Christians were primarily Jewish, this is the more correct interpretation in light of Scripture.
So is it wrong to have the Lord’s Supper on every first day of the week or just doing the Passover? What matters is remembering Jesus’s life and sacrifice. As Paul illustrates in 1 Corinthians 11, the important factor is observing the tradition with the right mind: one of gratefulness and mindfulness.
So What does this mean for Sunday Worship?
Sunday, the first day of the week, was just another workday. Early Christians observed the Sabbath and met daily. It seems the Lord’s Supper was either observed daily or only on Passover. There isn’t any monetary collection for the church in Scripture. Paul’s command for collection applied to donations for the poor as I illustrated. Practically speaking, there wasn’t a need for a church wide collection. Early Christians met in small groups in their homes unless someone like Paul was passing through (1 Cor. 16:19, Matt 18: 20, Acts 2:46, and various archeological and documentary evidence: Clement of Alexandria, etc). There wasn’t a public building that needed support. Collections were used, as we’ve seen, to help the needy. The only thing special about the first day of the week, is how that day’s work is to provide what you lay aside to help others.
Bending Scripture to support a tradition is problematic. Although I am sure many readers will accuse me of doing the same. As we’ve seen, the New Testament is silent on first day of the week worship. No where does it explicitly say in the verses above that they were worshiping. We can infer they were, but we can also infer differently as well. At most, they were gathering for what we’d call a Bible Study (see also Acts 1: 12-26). The first day tradition isn’t bad practice. What is important is mindfulness and awareness of how Scripture isn’t clear cut in meaning.