If Paul continued to honor the Sabbath, why do we meet on Sunday?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Would the Jewish leaders just stand by if Paul had been violating God’s law by pushing for a Sunday worship day? They accused Jesus of breaking God’s Sabbath for a lesser infraction… so this would have been a big deal. One would think that after 25 years of openly teaching both Jews and Gentiles “against” God’s Sabbath commandment that the Jewish community would have condemned him for that… yet he kept showing up on the Sabbath. Plus, I don’t see where Paul’s teaching that people are now free to esteem a day or not undoes the Sabbath. If he were teaching that, the Jews would have killed him… right?

Answer: Hello friend. These points are well taken… and I agree with your overarching feelings. Most Christians hold a stronger view of Sunday worship than I do, and this cannot help but squeeze out through the cracks as I respond. That being said, it is wise to graze broadly before ruminating thoroughly, so please also consider the more standard views in addition to mine. The following link is a good place to start:


This is how I understand your question. Since the embedded Jewish religionists of the New Testament were hyper-sensitive to Sabbath-breaking (remembering how they attacked Jesus for ostensibly breaking the Sabbath [Mark 1:24]), if Paul had taught that Christians were to begin meeting on Sunday instead of on the Sabbath they would have stoned him. But Paul continued his mission as a Jewish believer. We do see him keeping the Sabbath — and we do not see him advocating for Sunday worship… so why do we meet on Sunday?

Let me affirm the logic of your proposition because you’ve presented a plausible scenario. But let’s not get the wrong idea about Paul and the Sabbath. Paul kept on keeping the Sabbath… but only sort of.

“As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:42–48, NIV)

That was quite a moment, because... well… shame on those Jews! They missed Jesus… again! But as critical as that moment was for Paul’s ministry, he did not abandon the Jews or the Sabbath. In fact, he continued in the habit of using the synagogues and the Sabbaths for teaching opportunities — even after his “official” change in ministry-focus.

“When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.” (Acts 17:1–4, NIV, emphasis mine)

Christians should note this well: Paul remained a Jew… it’s just that he was a Christian-Jew — a Jew who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. So Paul continued to honor the Sabbath by doing Sabbath stuff. He went to the synagogue, he discussed Scripture, he taught hospitality, giving, love… and he even took a vow! (Acts 18:18) But we never see him performing sacerdotal acts, like offering sacrifices. We know from his teachings on the Law’s fulfillment (Romans 10:4) that his Sabbath-keeping stopped at the ripped veil (Mark 15:38)… and if this is where contemporary Sabbath-keeping Christians truly stop, then we have no quarrel.

You see, although I personally participate in Sunday worship, I do so more to stay away from the Old Testament symbols than I do because the Bible says to meet on Sundays… because it just doesn’t. It would be quite another matter if the Holy Spirit said to Paul, “Now, go to the Gentiles… and, by the way… change the Sabbath to Sunday”… but no such luck. In fact, I am among the commentators who see the biblical case for Sunday worship as weak.

In my opinion, many people are doing poor exegesis by projecting Sunday-worship’s cultural strength back upon certain New Testament appearances of the word Sunday — and upon some events that happened to be on Sunday but were not purposed to be on Sunday. Think about this: everything has to happen on some day (duh!). But the day of the week is rarely the point… and it’s not always meaningful; some events that occurred on Sunday could have occurred on any day without impacting God’s teaching. As such our task is to determine whether the reporting of a named day was incidental (as when a meeting just happened to occur on a Sunday) — or was it purposeful (as when God said, “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…”).

I find it a more than a little amusing, however, that this often contentious issue between Christians was a non-issue for Paul.

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (Romans 14:5, NIV)

Even if the above verse did not have the worship day in view, it reflects Paul’s attitude about such things: the day itself is nothing; the individual’s conscience is everything — and this reflects our freedom in Christ. But a mature believer should be less concerned about his own freedom and more concerned about his brother. So, although there is no right or wrong choice about what you eat or what days you observe, there is a right or wrong choice about considering the needs of the weaker brethren… and we should always remember this as we contend for truth.

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14:13, NIV)

Keeping the Sabbath was formerly a matter of divine command (Dt. 5:12), but now that Christ has fulfilled the Law by his sacrificial death (Matthew 5:17) how we worship him is a matter of Christian conscience. But I readily admit that it is foolish to dismiss the Law’s models… and it is spiritually obtuse to insist upon one’s own view unnecessarily.

As to your question then (and if I understand it correctly) — I agree with you… if not with your finer points. But I do not see where Christendom’s habit of favoring Sunday (while ignoring Saturday) is necessarily problematic — as might be the assumption of some Christian Sabbath-keepers. You see, although the biblical case for Sunday worship is no slam-dunk, keeping the Sabbath as if we were still under the Law (Sabbatarianism) would be an insult to the sacrificial work of Christ! (Hebrews 6:6) So we need to tread carefully here.

Here’s the funny part: there are Christians who meet on Sunday… but who have Sabbatarian leanings, that is, they keep the Law for the Law’s sake — like something a Christian must still do. That is the type of thing that holds my objection, not the choice of days. But we also have the opposite: there are some Christians who meet on Saturday for worship, but who do not keep the Law for the Law’s sake; they behave appropriately for Christ’s sake… which should be every believer’s response to the Law! I would be much more comfortable with this type of Saturday group than I would with this type of Sunday group.

That being said, it’s hard enough to convince people that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and not by works… even when it’s emphasized, taught well and modeled — and the last thing we need is a worship method that sidles back over to the Old Testament symbols! Does one honor the Christ by de-emphasizing that which he has accomplished? A congregation that emphasizes historic revelation at the expense of the completed revelation has a wrong focus. So why go anywhere near the things that could insult Christ when we can opt for freedom in the completed revelation? I say, let’s be careful to emphasize the Lamb of God himself… and more so than the Passover.

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