SHOULD SUNDAY BE SPECIAL TO CHRISTIANS ?

Gordon C. Bruner II

It is a tradition within Christendom that Sunday is the "Lord's Day." It is considered to be the divinely selected day for Christians to assemble, worship, and take communion. Some go further and teach that it is the Christian equivalent of the Jewish Sabbath and that engaging in much more than "Christian" activities on that day is inappropriate if not sinful.

Although it is not widely acknowledged in the church today, there is no doubt that treating Sunday special can be traced to Constantine, a Roman Emperor in the early fourth century. In 321 A.D. he made the first day of each week a holiday. Interestingly, he referred to it as "the day celebrated by the veneration of the Sun" (Sunday). Evidently, he never distinguished the worship of the Unconquered Sun (his previous pagan religion) from that of the Christian God!

Some will still argue that while those points are true, Sunday was already special to Christians by the time Constantine formalized the tradition because it was believed Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. It is argued further that Sunday should be continually celebrated by Christians. That position is challenged in this article because there is insufficient scriptural evidence to support a dogmatic assertion that the resurrection was on Sunday!

The following is a brief presentation of the relevant issues and supporting scriptures:

1.Jesus was crucified on Passover which is also "the day of Preparation" for the next day, "the Feast of Unleaven Bread" (Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19: 14, 31).

2.The Feast of Unleaven Bread is itself a sabbath, a special sabbath and is not necessarily on a Saturday (Lev. 23:5, 6; Num. 28:16. 17; John 19: 31).

3.Jesus was dead for a full three days and three nights, not just parts of three days (Jonah 1:17; Matt. 12:40; 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:31; John 2:19-21). This passage is a real problem for those advocating the traditional Friday crucifixion although they tend to squirm around it by saying it could mean some part of three days and three nights. Fine, but where are the parts of three days and three nights? By this reckoning and Jewish time there was Friday daytime (sunup to sundown), Saturday nighttime (sundown to sunup), Saturday daytime (sunup to sundown), and then Sunday nighttime (sundown to sunup). Even with this reasoning, two parts are missing: Friday night and Sunday day. By Jewish time, Friday nighttime (sundown to sunup) would have been before the crucifixion and Sunday daytime (sunup to sundown) would have been after the resurrection.   {Remember, when the women arrived at dawn,   Jesus had already left the tomb !)     This certainly isn't three full days nor is it even part of three days and three nights. The only way   this can be forced to work is if it is twisted to mean   any part of three different days.  

4. The spices used to anoint the body were not bought   by the women until after a sabbath (Mark 16:1). On the day of the crucifixion, there was unlikely to have been enough time to deal with the tragic loss, regain composure, and arrange to get the spices necessary to anoint the body. If the crucifixion was on the traditionally accepted day (Friday) and the women bought the spices after a Saturday Sabbath then that means they could not have pre- pared the spices until Sunday. That seems highly unlikely since they came to the tomb at dawn. Further, that interpretation is inconsistent with the next point.

5.The spices were prepared by the women before a Sabbath (Luke 23:56). If the crucifixion was on a Friday and the Sabbath is interpreted to be a Saturday, then this passage means that the spices were prepared on Friday. That by itself is not a problem but it is incompatible with the previous point. It is illogical to accept an interpretation that says the women prepared the spices before they bought them!

6.The women's trip to the tomb was in close proximity to sunrise on the first day of the week, not sundown (Mark 16:2). This point made by Mark is important because otherwise it might be possible to interpret the above evidence in such a way that the women went to the tomb soon after the "first day of the week" started which would be early Saturday evening by our reckoning. However, this verse makes it clear that they went in the morning rather than the evening.

Given this evidence, there is sufficient reason to draw the conclusion that there were two sabbaths which occurred in that momentous week: the first was a special sabbath (exactly as noted in John 19:31) and the second was the weekly Sabbath (Saturday). The occasion of two Sabbaths during that week was directly attested to by Matthew (28: 1). For example, the Marshall interlinear translation of the Nestle Greek text is "But late of [the] sabbaths, at the drawing on toward one of [the] sabbaths, came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary to view the grave." This critical point has been dropped from the popular versions in English no doubt to support the traditional chronology.

If it is accepted that there were two sabbaths separated by a day, the following chronology can make sense of the apparently conflicting scriptures:

Tuesday - The Passover and "Lord's Supper" held in upper room.

Wednesday - The trial, crucifixion, and burial. All of these events, including those above, occurred in the time frame the Jews considered to be Passover because it was after sundown of one day (Tue.) and before sundown the next (Wed.).

Thursday - The. Feast of Unleaven Bread, a ceremonial sabbath, with the usual restrictions applying to any sabbath.

Friday - The women buy and prepare spices but don't have time to go to the tomb before sundown which begins the weekly Sabbath.

Saturday - The women must wait yet another day because on this day they must rest. Jesus rises late in the afternoon, at the end of the sabbath. This time frame would amount to three days and three nights since Jesus had died on the cross.

Sunday - Around dawn the women arrive at the tomb ready to administer the spices but when the stone is rolled back Jesus is already gone (Matt. 28:2).

Admittedly, the above chronology involves some speculation. However, my purpose is to point out that the traditional chronology involves even more speculation and, in fact, that the scriptural evidence is in direct conflict with the traditional "Friday crucifixion/ Sunday resurrection" thesis. Assuming the events were accurately recorded by the writers of the Gospels, then this raises serious doubts about the tradition if not refuting it completely. Therefore, while I believe we can boldly claim that Jesus was crucified and resurrected, we should not dogmatically teach the traditional chronology since it is not well supported by scripture !

Having said all of this I am not suggesting that the tradition has been totally without merit. Life would be dreary without a cycle of days which included a day or two of rest and diversion. Further, by having a day off it makes it easier for people to find the time in their weekly cycles to sing, pray, and study the Bible whether on their own or in groups.

Finally, I am open minded on this topic and realize that some of the interpretation and logic can be questioned. For those who feel certain that I am wrong my challenge is for you to show from scripture that there is irrefutable evidence that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. Further, point out which scriptures teach that God expects Christians to treat Sunday differently from other days. Otherwise, I think you will come to the conclusion as I have that to hold Sunday above other days and to expect others to glorify the day rather than the Lord is supported by tradition, not scripture. Instead, the New Testament indicates that all days are the Lord's and our worship and fellowship are as proper on one day as they are on another (Matt. 18:20; Acts 16:13; Rom. 14:5; Gal. 4: 10; Col. 2: 16). If Sunday is used out of convenience, so be it, but we should not teach that it alone is the Lord's day and the divinely appointed time for special assemblies and worship!