I grew up believing the Lord’s Supper should be observed every first day of the week. While this is a good practice of mindfulness I am not convinced of how scriptural the practice is. Most of the logic I am familiar with is rather shaky and seems to add to the text. The looming Passover holiday on the calendar as I write this brings my doubts to the front on my mind.
First, we all agree that Jesus instituted His Supper during the Passover celebration, which happened on the Sabbath day – Friday evening on the Jewish way of dividing the days. I don’t dispute that…in fact it is the linchpin behind my doubts. Anyway, let us examines the proofs used to support first day of the week Lord’s Supper. I will add my thoughts after, addressing each section and point. (1a for example). My thoughts will also be in blue.
All quotations are taken from the New King James translation.
1) 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.
a) The phrase “break bread” is thought to be the Lord’s Supper. The disciples came together specifically to do this. It is argued that Paul happened to be there so he preached during a normal worship service held on the first day of the week. This means that it was a regular practice to take the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week.
1a) The phrase “break bread” often simply means “eat a meal.” It is argued that sometimes the phrase means this and other times it refers to the Supper based on context. However, given Acts 2:41-43 and Acts 2:46-47, the first Christians practiced steadfastly and daily met in the temple and house to house “breaking bread” and eating their food with “gladness and simplicity of heart.” Was this the Supper? Many would say no since they were eating food. However, this earliest practice doesn’t designate any significance to the first day of the week. Every day of the week was a day of meeting at the temple and breaking bread house to house.
Deciding that the ambiguous phrase “break bread” refers to the Lord’s Supper seems to be adding meaning to a verse that falls in line with common daily practice. Luke uses the phrase “first day of the week,” to denote the timing of their journey. He used the Passover to also denote timing of their journey, which was important. Paul was trying to get to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Luke only sketches until there are main events. Paul reviving Eutychus after falling from a window is an event worth recording. Likewise Paul leaves at daybreak after he had “broken bread and eaten.” They were apparently having a normal evening meal as was the custom.
Jesus instituted His Supper on the Passover and tied it directly to the elements of the Passover: the lamb’s blood and the act of remembrance: Exodus 13:3. The only times the Lord’s Supper is explicitly mentioned is in relation with the Passover: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Mark 14, Luke 22. Attaching the phrase “break bread” with special significance when the Supper is explicitly attached to Passover whenever it appears is adding meaning to Scripture. Could the early Christians be observing the Supper daily when they met house to house to break bread? Certainly. It has as much contextual proof as this phrase from Acts. However, the only direct correlation of the Supper in Scripture is with Passover. Everything else is an effort to bend scripture to “prove” Christian tradition. Of course, weekly or daily mindfulness of Jesus is an excellent thing.
b) Paul also waited to call the meeting until the first day of the week despite being in a hurry to leave (v8-16). Therefore, the Lord’s Supper cannot be held on any other day.
1b) The passage doesn’t show Paul was in any hurry until he left Troas. In fact, Paul wasn’t in a hurry until they arrived at Miletus since in verse 13 Paul decided to walk to the next destination and arrived after Luke did (vs 14). The Troas passage shows Paul wanted to spend a full week with the Christians of that area like he did at Philippi (vs 6). This first day of the week was mentioned because of the special events and the fact Paul was reluctantly departing that day, which was a regular work day since ships were sailing.
c) Also, the phrase “first day of the week” is the only day of the week singled out for worship.
1c) There are 8 instances of this phrase in the New Testament. I wrote this article that examines them. Note that the first day of the week began on our Saturday night at sun down. Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, but that is the only significant event. Important events also happen on other days of the week according to Acts and other books. Also note that the Sabbath is referred to in the New Testament 60 times. The argument that the first day of the week is a significant phrase doesn’t hold in light of how many times the Sabbath is mentioned. Also the early Christians were primarily Jews who still practiced the Sabbath as scriptures makes reference throughout.
2) 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. …So then, my brothers,when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
a) Paul tells the Corinth Church that as often as they come together they are to observe the Lord’s Supper properly. The Supper should be eaten when they assemble, but this isn’t a common meal – he even tells the hungry to eat at home. Since Acts states Christians met on the first day of the week, the Supper is observed at every first day of the week.
2a) Paul doesn’t say exactly when the Corinthian church met. He does attach the Lord’s Supper with the Passover, however. Because this passage is ambiguous with the phrase “as often as you come together” we don’t know if the church met on the first day of the week as often surmised or if they met daily like in Acts 2:46-47. It is also possible that they met far less frequently when they were persecuted.
3) 1 Corinthians 16: 1,2 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
a) Paul tells the church of Corinth to set aside a gift to the church upon the first day of every week.
3a) There are several elements to note in this passage. First, the collection was for the saints, not the church. Paul uses the same phrase in Romans 15: 25-28 where he takes fruit he collected from other churches to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He is asking the Corinthians for a collection to help the poor and hungry, not the local church. Likewise Paul is telling individuals to set aside some of what they prospered/harvested on the first day of the week for this purpose. The grammar of both the New King James and the King James translations point to this if you look at how the verbs relate to their subjects.
He isn’t telling them to donate to the church on the first day. Rather he is telling each church member to store up a little from the first day of work each week. Each member is also responsible for storing the item. The grammar is reflexive and returns back to the subject “each.” Paul doesn’t want any collecting to happen when he arrives. Collecting in this case refers to harvesting when you consider an identical situation in Romans. Paul doesn’t want everyone to wait until the last moment before harvesting for the collection to help the poor. If Paul was just after money, waiting until he arrived to collect the money wouldn’t have been a big deal. However, harvesting foodstuffs would take a lot more time and effort.
I am stating that the evidence used in the New Testament to support first day of the week worship isn’t as solid as it seems. The Lord’s Supper being equated with the phrase “breaking bread” is problematic since the phrase is used for eating meals and isn’t specially reserved. The early Christians broke bread on the first day of the week and also daily. They also broke bread on the Passover. Relying on such a phrase to vindicate tradition isn’t building an argument on solid ground.
Likewise the events with Paul, as I explained, don’t single out particular instances of worship. In fact, 1 Corinthians 16: 1,2 seems to contradict this idea. It is on a a first day of the week’s work that Paul ask something be set aside for the poor. Again, he wasn’t asking the members to set aside anything for their own church.
Finally, even Jesus doesn’t place a specific time for His Supper. While He equates it with the Passover, He also tells the apostles simply to do the Supper in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19). Paul says the Supper should be done as often as a church meets. So that leaves room for the first day of the week, daily, or even just on Passover.
However, there are proof of first day Suppers outside the New Testament. These proofs don’t appear until 90 CE with the Didache, 100CE with the Epistle of Barnabas and 150 CE with Justin Martyr among other extra-scriptural references. The New Testament gives Christians freedom as to when to observe the Supper. It was attached to the first day of the week traditionally because it was the day Jesus was resurrected.
So I’m back at the beginning. The verses of the NT are inconclusive. The reader can infer the verses I mentioned in this article are proofs of worship practice or are closer to what I consider a proper understanding of the context. Practicing the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week is an excellent practice in mindfulness. It starts off the week with a proper mind. Of course, an even better practice of Jesus centered mindfulness would be to follow Acts 2 and observe the Lord’s Supper daily if we want to equate “breaking bread” with it.
In either case, Jesus tells us to remember Him with the Supper. At the least He equated it with the Passover meal He instituted it on. Paul tells the Corinthians to observe it as often as they meet. Finally, tradition says we should do it on the first day of the week. What matters more than the frequency is remembering Jesus properly with mindfulness.