Who Changed Sabbath to Sunday?

Christ and the Apostles kept the seventh-day Sabbath (Shabbat) and taught others to keep it, so how did the Christian world come to observe Sunday? How did Sunday observance come to supersede Sabbath observance?

During the second, third, and fourth centuries, many documents appeared purporting to be written by the apostles. Among these were the spurious "Apostolic Constitutions." They were circulated to create the impression that man-made traditions had apostolic blessings. Although they were deliberate frauds, these documents express some of the religious teachings during the centuries after the death of the apostles.

The following quotation clearly shows what some ecclesiastical authorities of that day taught concerning the Sabbath and Sunday:

"But keep the Sabbath and the Lord's day festival, because the former is the memorial of the creation, and the latter of the resurrection." "Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbathday and the Lord's day (Sunday) let them have leisure to go to church for instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is an account of the creation, and the Lord's day of the resurrection" (Ante-Nicene Fathers, ch.XXX, pp.469, 449; ch.XXXIII, p.495).


On the seventh of March 321 A. D., the Roman Emperor Constantine issued an unusual edict. This edict effectively legislated the seventh-day Sabbath out of existence as a day of worship for most of the Christian world. It reads as follows:

"On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain sowing or for vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost" (Codex Justinianus, lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; translated in History of the Christian Church, by Schaff, Vol. III, p.380). 

This edict was a purely civil statute. According to historian Hutton Webster:

"This legislation by Constantine probably bore no relation to Christianity; it appears, on the contrary, that the emperor, in his capacity of Pontifex Maximus (all Roman emperors had this title), was only adding the day of the Sun, to the other ferial days of the sacred calendar" (Rest Days, p.122, 123).


In about 365 A.D., a religious convention for ecclesiastical authorities was held in what is today the nation of Turkey. It was called the Council of Laodicea and it was convened to settle, among other matters, the Sabbath question. One of its most famous canons was the twentyninth:

"Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather, honoring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ" (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.XIV, p.148).


Because all historical records point back to the Catholic Church as the religious authority that replaced the seventh-day Sabbath with Sunday, it is important to know if the Catholic Church had the authority from God to make this change.

There are basically two reasons the Catholic Church claims to have the authority to change the teachings of the Bible. The first reason is their belief in the "primacy of Peter" (i.e., Peter was given the authority from God through Jesus Christ to make all the decisions for the physical church). The second is their belief that the Pope is Peter's successor and, therefore, this same authority now resides in him.

Both of these claims are easily disproved by making a quick word study into the scriptures, and a survey of written history surrounding the early Church.


Was Peter the chief apostle? Actually he was not the chief apostle according to both the Bible and secular history.

In Acts 15:5-21, we find a great controversy over whether or not Gentile Christians should be circumcised. The final decision on the matter was given by the apostle James, not Peter (Acts 15:13-21). This scripture shows the apostle James in the position of leadership, not Peter. Even though Peter spoke on the subject, he did not make the final decision. 

The following excerpts from Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield's book Those Incredible Christians, explains the authority of the apostle James:

"Prior to the war in 70 A.D., it is clear from Christian records that the Nazarenes had established at Jerusalem a council which governed all of the followers of Jesus, this government consisting of the Apostles and Elders under the presidency of James, and was directly in opposition to the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Nazarenes saw themselves as loyal Israel which gave their allegiance to Jesus Christ as the rightful Jewish King. They were, therefore, justified, pending the return of Jesus to take the throne, to create a government exercising supreme authority and jurisdiction over all the believers at home and abroad. This council had a political as well as a spiritual significance' (ibid. chp.8).

"The appointment of James to the presidency had been in no small measure a political appointment since he was of the royal blood and brother next in age of the absent monarch Jesus Christ. This could explain why he, rather than Peter, had been chosen' (chp.8).

"According to tradition, James was invested with an office very similar to the president, with Peter and John as his deputies. These three constituted the pillars referred to by Paul in Galatians 2:9. Later Nazorean records list James as the overseer who rules Jerusalem, the holy community of the Hebrews, the communities everywhere . . . (Epistle of Clement to James, prefacing the Clementine Homilies): 'He was of the line of David, being the son of Joseph, and moreover we have found that he officiated after the manner of the ancient priesthood . . . furthermore, he was empowered to wear upon his head the high priest diadem' (chp.8).

"This statement could very well be true because the disciples expected Christ to return in their day and set up his Kingdom and rule as King of kings. So we can see it would be quite natural to have one of his relatives in the position of the presidency representing him as the civil ruler of the nation of spiritual Israel. But we know he didn't come then and as far as we can tell there is no one today who claims to have his royal blood line. So the office that James and his successors had is no longer possible today" (Epiphanius panarion, ixxvii). See also the Messiah Jesus, p.540, ff.

"The Nazoreans called it the Sanhedrin Council. In the book of Acts, chapter 15 we find the Nazorean council, the apostles and others acting exactly like the Sanhedrin of the Jews (Acts 15:16). They sent out officers to supervise new communities of believers: Peter and John to Samaria, Barnabas to Antioch. They dispatched, with the president's commission, a delegation to Antioch to investigate the terms of admission of Gentile converts, and when there was a dispute on this matter, the case was referred back to Jerusalem for final decision. And James the president gave the judgment (Acts 15:13-21).' 

"The verdict was conveyed by letter by envoys of the Council, and was binding on all the Christian communities. The interference with his work and teaching which Paul so much resented was action mandated to its official representatives by the Christian Sanhedrin in accordance with its supreme authority and in due performance of its obligations. This was no unauthorized action by Judaizers. Further, in the Acts and Paul's writings, we find a practice of collecting funds among the communities and transmitting them to Jerusalem, comparable to the payment of the temple tax by Jews of the Dispersion" (Schweitzer, Mysticism of St. Paul, p.156. CP Rom xc.25; Galatians ii10, 2 Corinthians vii-ix).

"Now concerning the sect of the Nazoreans and what happened to them after the war in 70 A.D. Notice that prior to the war they had set up an authority very similar to the Sanhedrin. After the war of 70 A.D., history says that the leader of the Nazoreans was Simeon, son of Cleophas, mentioned in Luke 24:18, he was a Galilean, a descendant of David and was supposed to be a cousin of the Savior because he was a brother to Joseph.'

"On information derived from the second century author Hegesippus, Eusebius relates, that after the martyrdom of James, (brother of Jesus) and the capture of Jerusalem which immediately followed, those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord, who were yet surviving, came together from all parts with those who were related to the Lord according to the flesh. The greater part of them were still living. These consulted together to determine the proper successor to James. They all unanimously declared Simeon son of Cleophas as worthy to be James' successor. After this was settled, the Nazoreans left Jerusalem and settled in Pella.'

"A great deal that was obscure is illuminated when we appreciate the fact that before the war of 70 A.D. and in the formative years of the Christian movement, a Nazorean Sanhedrin had functioned, and this council exercised sovereign powers over the entire body of believers throughout the world. It was, in fact, the national government of Israel, loyal to the Messiah" (Eusebius Eccl. History iii, xi).


The Catholic Church, other quasi-Christian religions, and some true Christians cite Matthew 16:18-19 as their authority to rule over the people of God and determine doctrine. A misunderstanding of the intent and purpose of what Jesus actually said to Peter concerning the keys of heaven has led to the false assumption that men have been given the discretionary power to change and manipulate the laws of God as they desire. Were the keys given to Peter only or were they given to all of the apostles and all elders throughout history? Moreover, what are the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven? 

In order to understand Jesus' statement about the keys to heaven, we need to understand the context in which this statement was made and to whom it was actually made.

Matthew 16:13-20 Paraphrased

"And coming into Caesarea of Philippi, Jesus questioned his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I am, the son of man?" (v13).

Jesus addresses all of the disciples when he first sees them. All of the questions and statements Jesus makes during this event are addressed to all of the disciples, not to Peter only.

"And they said, Some say that you are John the Baptist; and others say that you are Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. And he said to them, But whom do you say that I am?" (vs.14-15).

This question is directed to the entire group of Jesus' disciples.

"Simon Peter answered, and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v16).

In response to Peter's correct answer, Jesus says, "You are blessed Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven revealed it to you" (v17).

This is where most people go astray in seeking to understand to whom Jesus gave the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Just because Jesus directs his next statement to Peter, does not necessarily mean that what he says later is also directed only to him.

"And I say to you, That you are Peter [a pebble], and upon this rock [a large craggy outcropping of rock] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her" (v18).

It is ludicrous to believe that Jesus was going to build his church on Peter. The language clearly shows that the foundation upon which Jesus would build his church was the truth concerning who he was, why he came to earth, and what he taught.

"And I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to you: and whatever you will bind on earth shall occur, having already been bound in heaven: and whatever you may loose on earth shall be loosed, having been already loosed in heaven" (v19).

There is absolutely nothing in the language of verse 19 that shows Jesus only directed this statement to Peter. Jesus' very next statement seems to show that he is addressing all of the disciples.

"Then he warned his disciples that they should not tell anyone that he was the Christ" (v20).

Acts, chapter 15 clearly shows that James, not Peter, was the one who presided over the council of elders in Jerusalem and that all the elders were involved in the decision-making process in order to establish doctrine. Acts 15 also shows that it was James, not Peter, who had the authority to make the final decision concerning matters set before the council of elders in Jerusalem. Moreover, both secular history and the Bible clearly show that Peter did not occupy a position as the overseer of the church, and the Bible clearly shows that the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ.

The Keys

Some people believe the keys of Matthew 16:19 are symbolic of a badge of power or authority and that the individual or the group that possesses these keys, is authorized to lock, unlock, bind and loose things; however, what do these keys actually symbolize?

It is clear that Jesus Christ is the keeper of the keys concerning the House of David (Isa.22:22; Rev.3:7) and the keys that control the abode of the dead and death itself (Rev.1:18). Moreover, he is the one who sends forth the angel with a key to open the abyss (Rev.9:1; 20:1) in order to punish humanity just before he comes to conquer the earth. Therefore, it is logical to look at other things Jesus says about keys in order to understand what unlocks the Kingdom of Heaven to humanity.

In a conversation with the teachers of Jewish traditions and God's law, Jesus explains what the keys are that unlock the way into the Kingdom of Heaven:

Luke 11:46-52 Paraphrased

"Woe to you lawyers! Because you burden men with burdens that are hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers" (v46).

The burdens that the lawyers placed on the Jews were the Jewish traditions and erroneous interpretations of God's law. These false teachings that were enforced on the Jews not only made their physical life difficult but also made the worship of God a burden instead of the joyous experience that obedience to God was intended to be. Because of their arrogance and self-importance, they did nothing to lighten this heavy burden that they and their fathers before them had placed on the people.

"Woe to you! Because you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. So you bear witness and consent to the works of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs" (vs.47-48).

The prophets the Creator God sent to his chosen people had two primary messages. The first message was a call to repentance and a return to the true teachings of God, and the second message was prophetic for future generations. These prophets were killed by the chosen people because of their first message that called for repentance and a return to the true God and his teachings.

"And because of this, the wisdom of God said, I will send prophets and apostles to them, and they will kill and drive out some of them, that the blood of all the prophets poured out from the foundation of the world may be required from this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the House. Yes, I say to you, it will be required from this generation" (vs.49-51).

Although his chosen people continued to rebel against him, God continued to send messengers to call his people to repentance and a return to him and his ways. However, the people and their spiritual leaders continued to reject God's messengers and their message. This is why the people and their spiritual leaders did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. This is also why they did not understand the message he brought from the Father. And for their rejection and murder of the messengers of God, that generation will be held accountable for the death of these righteous men.

"Woe to you lawyers! Because you took the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you kept out others from entering" (v52).

Verse 52 reveals the thing that allows one access to the pathway that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. These spiritual leaders had hidden the key of knowledge. They were afraid of the truth of God so they suppressed it. They did not use this knowledge to enter into the good graces of God and they kept others from the only truth which would have set them free from their bondage to sin.

Jesus gave his disciples the keys to unlock the pathway and door to the Kingdom of Heaven. These keys are the things that comprise the body of knowledge concerning Jesus Christ and the message he brought from his Father, which shows the way to obtain eternal salvation.

How did Peter know that Jesus was the Messiah? And how does anyone the Father calls to salvation know who his Son truly is? Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, because the Father had revealed this knowledge to him. Likewise, those called to salvation today know Christ, because the Father reveals him to them (Jn.6:44,65).

The Mystery of Christ

"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given to me toward you: how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I wrote before in a few words, whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit" (Eph.3:1-5)

The knowledge and understanding of the mysteries surrounding Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to the Father are only the beginning of one's walk with God. After repentance, baptism, and the receiving of the holy spirit, one must continue to gain spiritual knowledge and understanding. Clearly, knowledge and understanding are the keys which were given to all the apostles to pass on to those to whom they ministered in their day. It is these keys that they caused to be recorded for our day.


Stop and think about it for a moment. Would Jesus Christ authorize his apostles and his Church to adopt a pagan day of worship in place of the Sabbath? There is no logical reason for God to transfer this authority to imperfect humans who have shown, through word and deed, their lack of judgment in spiritual matters.

If this authority is now vested in a human, it would be possible for a human to dictate policy to God. Does this seem ridiculous? Well, it is ridiculous! God has never and will never abrogate his authority over his system of worship to any human—man or woman.

No matter how clever or rational the argument for observing the first day of the week in place of the seventh-day Sabbath is, the fact still remains that there is absolutely no scriptural authority to make such a change.


By B.L. Cocherell         b5w9