When, Where, and Why did the Change from Sabbath to Sunday Worship Take Place in the Early Church?

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It is evident that Jesus and his earliest followers all observed the seventh-day Sabbath. After all, the earliest followers of Jesus were all pious Jews. That Luke observes – almost in passing – that it was Jesus’ custom to attend synagogue on Sabbaths (Luke 4:16) is only to be expected. Yet, today, most Christians observe Sunday as the day of worship, not the Sabbath. This article traces the evidence that has been used to answer the key questions, “When, where and why did the change in the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday take place.”

A few writers attempt to trace this change back to the ministry of Jesus, others to the period of the early Church before the writings that make up the New Testament were composed. Yet others look to the early second century, while some look to the time of Emperor Constantine and the Church that emerged under his patronage.

The article provides evidence that much can be said with confidence about when and even where the change of the day of worship took place within early Christianity, but the reason why is not as easily discerned from the available evidence. The process that saw the rise of Sunday observance and the decline of Sabbath observance was a gradual one, that began after the time period in which the New Testament writings were produced, that likely originated at Rome and Alexandria, and that was accelerated considerably under the patronage of Constantine the Great.

sabbath, sunday, worship, early church

McIver, R. K. (2015). When, where, and why did the change from Sabbath to Sunday worship take place in the early church? Andrews University Seminary Studies, 53(1), 15-35.

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