Was the Sabbath changed from the seventh day of the week to the first day? Well, yes and no. Let’s deal with the “no” first.
God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17), does not change (Malachi 3:6). The Israelites received two laws from Moses: the law of Moses, that of ordinances and ceremonies; and the Law of God, embodied in the Ten Commandments, which is an expression of God’s character. If God does not change, neither will His Law. “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips” (Psalm 89:34). “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” (Ecclesiastes 3:14). “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness” (Psalm 111:7, 8).
God gave His Law to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Amid thunder and lightning, a thick cloud covered the mountain, and a trumpet blasted. Smoke billowed up as from a furnace and the whole mountain shook as the trumpet grew louder and louder. Moses led the Israelites out of their camp to meet with God, and every one of them trembled. Then God spoke (Exodus 19:16-19, 20:1). If this Law were to be changed, it would be reasonable to expect God Himself to announce it, and give reasons for its alteration, amid the same amount of ceremony. Yet there is no indication in Scripture of such an announcement.
What About the New Testament?
In the New Testament, the seventh day of the week is called the Sabbath; it is mentioned 58 times. The first day of the week is mentioned eight times. It is simply called the first day of the week, and it is always differentiated from the Sabbath. This in itself is evidence for the continued validity of the seventh-day Sabbath.
The gospel writers record Jesus and the apostles going to the synagogue on Sabbath as their “custom” (Luke 4:16 ). Jesus said, “I have kept My Father’s commandments” (John 15:10). The women who went to anoint His body after his death “rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). Nearly all of the incidents reported of the apostles’ preaching occurred on the seventh-day Sabbath. Of all the accusations the Jews made against the apostles, never once did they accuse the apostles of breaking the Sabbath.
Some teach that after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Old Testament law was done away with and a new covenant took its place. But Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18). The law of Moses, which foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice, was indeed made irrelevant, but Paul maintains that the Law of God is to be kept, though we now be under grace. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31).
How It Happened…
Yet for nearly 2,000 years now, millions of Christians have worshiped on Sunday. So was the Sabbath changed from the seventh to the first day of the week? Let’s look at the “yes” now.
“The Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5). Here Jesus staked His claim and forbade anyone to meddle with the Sabbath. Yet He knew there would be those who would claim the power to change God’s Law. Through Daniel he warned of just such a man. Describing a “little horn power” (Daniel 7:8), Daniel says, “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws” (Daniel 7:25). Paul made a similar prediction: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God, or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7).
Paul warned that this blasphemy was already at work, and that it would come not from an outside influence, but from within the church (2 Thessalonians 2:7, Acts 20:28-30). Sure enough, not long after Paul’s day, apostasy appeared in the church.
About 100 years before Christianity, Egyptian Mithraists introduced the festival of Sunday, dedicated to worshiping the sun, into the Roman Empire. Later, as Christianity grew, church leaders wished to increase the numbers of the church. In order to make the gospel more attractive to non-Christians, pagan customs were incorporated into the church’s ceremonies. The custom of Sunday worship was welcomed by Christians who desired to differentiate themselves from the Jews, whom they hated because of the Jews’ rejection of the Savior. The first day of the week began to be recognized as both a religious and civil holiday. By the end of the second century, Christians considered it sinful to work on Sunday.
The Roman emperor Constantine, a former sun-worshiper, professed conversion to Christianity, though his subsequent actions suggest the “conversion” was more of a political move than a genuine heart change. Constantine named himself Bishop of the Catholic Church and enacted the first civil law regarding Sunday observance in A.D. 321.
On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrate and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however, persons engaged in agricultural work may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain growing or for vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost. —Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, vol. III, chap. 75.
Note that Constantine’s law did not even mention Sabbath but referred to the mandated rest day as a “the venerable day of the sun.” And how kind he was to allow people to observe it as it was convenient. Contrast this with God’s command to observe the Sabbath “even during the plowing season and harvest” (Exodus 34:21)! Perhaps the church leaders noticed this laxity as well, for just four years later, in A.D. 325, Pope Sylvester officially named Sunday “the Lord’s Day,” and in A.D. 338, Eusebius, the court bishop of Constantine, wrote, “All things whatsoever that it was the duty to do on the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) we (Constantine, Eusebius, and other bishops) have transferred to the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week) as more appropriately belonging to it.”
Instead of the humble lives of persecution and self-sacrifice led by the apostles, church leaders now exalted themselves to the place of God. “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).
Recall the ceremony with which God made known His Law, containing the blessing of the seventh-day Sabbath, by which all humanity is to be judged. Contrast this with the unannounced, unnoticed anticlimax with which the church gradually adopted Sunday at the command of “Christian” emperors and Roman bishops. And these freely admit that they made the change from Sabbath to Sunday.
In the Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, we read:
Q. Which is the Sabbath day?
A. Saturday is the Sabbath day.
Q. Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
A. We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church, in the Council of Laodicea, (AD 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday….
Q. Why did the Catholic Church substitute Sunday for Saturday?
A. The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday, because Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday, and the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles on a Sunday.
Q. By what authority did the Church substitute Sunday for Saturday?
A. The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed upon her!
—Rev. Peter Geiermann, C.SS.R., (1946), p. 50.
In Catholic Christian Instructed,
Q. Has the [Catholic] church power to make any alterations in the commandments of God?
A. …Instead of the seventh day, and other festivals appointed by the old law, the church has prescribed the Sundays and holy days to be set apart for God’s worship; and these we are now obliged to keep in consequence of God’s commandment, instead of the ancient Sabbath.
—The Catholic Christian Instructed in the Sacraments, Sacrifices, Ceremonies, and Observances of the Church By Way of Question and Answer, RT Rev. Dr. Challoner, p. 204.
In An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine,
Q. How prove you that the church hath power to command feasts and holy days?
A. By the very act of changing the Sabbath into Sunday, which Protestants allow of; and therefore they fondly contradict themselves, by keeping Sunday strictly, and breaking most other feasts commanded by the same church.
Q. How prove you that?
A. Because by keeping Sunday, they acknowledge the church’s power to ordain feasts, and to command them under sin; and by not keeping the rest [of the feasts] by her commanded, they again deny, in fact, the same power.
–Rev. Henry Tuberville, D.D. (R.C.), (1833), page 58.
In A Doctrinal Catechism,
Q. Have you any other way of proving that the Church has power to institute festivals of precept?
A. Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her. She could not have substituted the observance of Sunday the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday the seventh day, a change for which there is no Scriptural authority.
–Rev. Stephen Keenan, (1851), p. 174.
In the Catechism of the Council of Trent,
The Church of God has thought it well to transfer the celebration and observance of the Sabbath to Sunday!
–p 402, second revised edition (English), 1937. (First published in 1566)
In the Augsburg Confession,
They [the Catholics] allege the Sabbath changed into Sunday, the Lord’s day, contrary to the decalogue, as it appears; neither is there any example more boasted of than the changing of the Sabbath day. Great, they say, is the power and authority of the church, since it dispensed with one of the ten commandments.
God warned that a blasphemous power would “seek to change times and laws,” and the Catholic Church openly admits doing it, even boasts about it. In a sermon at the Council of Trent in 1562, the Archbishop of Reggia, Caspar del Fossa, claimed that the Catholic Church’s whole authority is based upon the fact that they changed the Sabbath to Sunday. Does this not fulfill the prophecies of Daniel and Paul?
“For centuries millions of Christians have gathered to worship God on the first day of the week. Graciously He has accepted this worship. He has poured out His blessings upon Christian people as they have sought to serve Him. However, as one searches the Scriptures, he is forced to recognize that Sunday is not a day of God’s appointment… It has no foundation in Scripture, but has arisen entirely as a result of custom,” says Frank H. Yost, Ph.D. in The Early Christian Sabbath.
Let us ask the question again: Was the Sabbath changed from the seventh day of the week to the first? The Bible is clear: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:3).
“Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). If God intended for another day to become the Sabbath, He must have removed the blessing from the seventh day and placed it on the day which was to replace it. But when God bestows a blessing, it is forever. “…You, O Lord, have blessed it, and it will be blessed forever” (1 Chronicles 17:27). “I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot change it” (Numbers 23:20). Your birthday, a memorial of your birth, can’t be changed, though you may celebrate it on a different day. Neither can the Sabbath, a memorial of creation (Exodus 20:11), be changed, though some may celebrate it on a different day.
God instructed Moses to construct the earthly sanctuary, all its furniture, and the ark according to “the pattern” he was shown. (Exodus 25:9, 40) The ark was called the “ark of the covenant” (Numbers 10:33, Deuteronomy 10:8, Hebrews 9:4), and the “ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25:22), because in it Moses placed the tablets of stone on which God wrote His Law. (Exodus 25:16, 31:18) John, in Revelation 11:19, describes the scene before him when “the temple of God was opened in Heaven.” John saw the ark of the covenant in the heavenly sanctuary. David wrote, “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). It is safe to assume that God’s Law remains, contained within the ark of the covenant in the heavenly sanctuary.
When God says, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:10), that ends all controversy. We cannot change God’s Word for our own convenience. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).