During our series “The Evolution of Church” we have provided the opportunity to wonder about the development of Christian Worship and the origins of our rituals, customs and traditions. We will answer some of these questions here each week. We begin this week with this question:
What made them want to make church on Sundays?
The Biblical Scholar Eugene Laverdiere observed: “Trying to find the origins of Sunday is like trying to find the source of a great river. The delta at the end, and the long channel flowing into the delta, are easily recognizable. Yet the farther one moves upstream toward the source of the river, the trickier the going….when finally located, the humble source may bear so little resemblance to the massive amounts of water downstream that one will surely wonder what the beginning can possibly have to do with the end.” (Sunday, p. 1)
Having said this, we do have clarity on a few things:
“Sun Day” emerged from the growing understanding of a 7-Day planetary week in the ancient Middle East. The Greeks in the “Hellenistic Age” organized a 7 day week which was fixed around the 7 observable planets which traveled in a pattern through the sky. Each day was named after a planet.
The Jewish week was patterned in a similar fashion with the Sabbath day being the last day of the week. (Day 7, Saturn Day became known as Saturday). The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that the “refraining from work on every 7th day” was also honored by the Roman Empire thus both the Jewish and Roman calendars came into alignment. This meant that “Sun Day” (the day named for the planet Sun) became the 1st day of the week.
The next record historians quote to lift up a focus on Sunday is found in the New Testament: “on the first day of the week, when we met to break bread” (Acts 20:7). From this citation and others like it the custom of worshipping God on the “First Day of the Week” seems to have begun.
(sources: “A brief history of Christian Worship” by James E. White,
“Sunday. A history of the first day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl” by Craig Harline.)