Jerry Bridges is fast becoming one of my favourite Christian authors. In recent weeks I have read two books by Bridges on Christian living, entitled The Pursuit of Holiness and The Practice of Godliness. These books are written in a simple, accessible style, and are full of quotations from Scripture, so advocates of sola scriptura will not be disappointed.
Bridges contributed a chapter to the book I’m currently reading. Entitled Still Sovereign, the book is a compilation of fourteen articles by different authors defending the sovereignty of God from a Calvinistic perspective. The chapter penned by Bridges is entitled “Does Divine Sovereignty Make a Difference in Everyday Life?“ and is my favourite chapter of the book so far (I still have a few chapters left to read).
What I like about Bridges’ chapter is that his thoughts about divine sovereignty line up with my own beliefs in many ways. Throughout the chapter, Bridges quotes from Scripture to demonstrate the plentiful evidence for God’s sovereignty in every aspect of life.
First off, we see from the Book of James that God’s will is active even in the mundane tasks we carry out in our everyday lives:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (4:13-16)
Bridges then explains how many of us say the phrase ‘God willing’ in passing when we’re talking about our plans, even in secular society. But most people don’t realise that it really is true that nothing in our daily lives happens apart from the will of God. To not acknowledge this is described as ‘evil’ in James’ epistle.
Jesus himself also spoke about matters that touch on the issue of divine sovereignty. Here’s a quote that Bridges uses from the Book of Matthew:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (10:28-31)
I love what Jesus says here about the very hairs on our head being numbered, as it shows how God is present even in the tiniest detail of our lives. I often ponder how awesome it is that tiny insects behave in such complex ways (e.g. spiders who weave their webs and ants who build their tunnels and hills). In all the minutiae of life, as well as all the grand thunderstorms and earthquakes, God is in control.
Several pages later, Bridges makes an important confession: “It is of little comfort to me to know that God loves me if He is not in control of the events of my life.” This saying is a breath of fresh air! I get so much comfort myself knowing that God is in control of my life. But there is a flip-side to this knowledge, which Bridges doesn’t mention, which is that if all is under God’s control, there is no hiding place or escape route should God be angry with us and wish to punish us, as He did the Israelites on many occasions in Old Testament times.
Bridges goes on to discuss God’s sovereignty over people, and states “…the concept of divine sovereignty over people seems to destroy the free will of humans and make them no more than puppets on God’s stage.” This should bring a smile to the face of anyone who is familiar with my own writings and philosophy, as I believe this is precisely the truth of the matter and we shouldn’t shy away from it! It seems to me that so many theologians come desperately close to admitting we have no free will, but shy away from ever stating this explicitly, because of the implications in terms of the key Christian message about human responsibility for sin. It has been clear to me for many years that even those things we do which might be considered sinful are under God’s control. We are those puppets. I have never read a theologian brave enough to admit it, as it means we have to look at the fall of man and the atoning sacrifice of Christ in a wholly new light (more about this in my book, Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion).
More scriptural evidence that God controls our lives can be found in Proverbs 21:1, which states “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” This is true of kings and other world leaders and it is also true of all other human beings. As that famous Sunday School song goes, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
If we are going to truly accept the sovereignty of God then we must be prepared to confess He is in control of both good and evil. I recently dedicated a blog post to discussing the evidence in Scripture that this is so, and it seems Bridges is in agreement as he quotes many of the same Scriptures as me to support this view. He also states “…as his children we can be sure that all evil intended against us by other people is either permitted or restrained as he chooses.” Bridges proceeds to explain:
God’s sovereignty over people does not mean we do not experience pain and suffering. It means that God is in control of our pain and suffering, and that he has in mind a beneficial purpose for it. There is no such thing as pain without a purpose for the child of God. (p 301)
In the human “dimension” of reality it still seems as though we do have free will, as we think our individual thoughts and make decisions to go to certain places and do certain things. But I believe that sense of free will is an illusion; it is a mode of mind that is completely under the sovereign control of God. Nevertheless, because we do feel that we are free, we should act responsibly. While he doesn’t completely deny free will, Bridges agrees with me on this point and states,
“…it must be emphasised that belief in divine sovereignty in the everyday affairs of our lives should never cause us to act imprudently or irresponsibly. The Scriptures repeatedly teach us our responsibility for prudent actions. The Book of Proverbs, for example, is filled with this type of teaching.” (p 303)
We should note the compatibilist paradox here – God is in control of all action and yet we are still encouraged in Scripture to make prudent decisions. The way I like to describe this is that whatever you do, God is doing through you.
In conclusion, then, there is ample evidence in Scripture that God is in control of every aspect of our lives. I believe that we can come to know this through intuition, contemplation, and reflection. I have written extensively on the subject of free will on this blog and in my books, and it is wonderful and refreshing to read the perspective of Jerry Bridges, whose views on the subject are not a million miles away from my own.
14 responses to “Jerry Bridges and God’s Sovereignty”
This being the case, do you believe God forced /was behind Hitler’s (and his numerous henchmen) vile, merciless, unjustified murder of the Holocaust Jews…even the thousands of innocent babies and children? Do you believe Hitler; as any other human being, was just randomly picked to carry out those atrocities on God’s behalf?
The Bible tells us satan’s demons ‘got together with’ humans and produced his own bloodline. They do not have free will because they are satan’s from their conception, so they are already programmed to do ‘his’ bidding, not God’s. But knowing this, as The Good Shepherd, God still tries to bring them into His fold…hence God’s Disciples who are willing to lose their own lives in saving all of the living. And why it tells us in the Bible that all the Angels in Heaven rejoice when even one lost lamb is saved.
I agree that God puts Kings and Queens on the throne and priministers and leading MP’s in their positions of power because, God is already aware of their traits; their self-serving dispositions…and why they would therefore suit His purpose in bringing about His Almighty plan.
I’m inclined to venture that: since God knows us even in the womb, He chooses those of the evil seed, inately evil, those already disposed to evil and never likely to repent, to carry out evil works.
Because if we have no choice /no free will, why will there be Judgement…of / for what could we possibly be judged? God says of the truly evil that (I’m paraphrasing here) the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever. And that, in their torment they will wish for death that will never come.
So, in believing we have no free will, as good as renders God totally self-serving, merciless, unjust and loveless…Godless, in fact!
It’s a tricky one to be sure!
Well, there’s quite a lot to cover here, and even more because I told Gregg I would respond to his questions (sent by text) in my reply to you. Gregg asked me a similar question about Hitler, and was also asking if I believe in sin and whether we never have to feel bad about anything because we can just blame God.
Believing as I do that God is in control of all things, I would have to say yes, God was in control of Hitler and is in control of all other people that act in ways we might consider to be ‘evil’. As the above article argues, God is sovereign. So the important question for me is not if God is doing these things but why is God do these things?
Romans 8:18 comes to mind: “For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (NKJV) 1 Peter 5:10 also: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (ESV)
The above scriptures are both about hope in suffering, and that is the main point I wish to make here. It seems to me that God causes suffering, but ultimately brings good out of the hard times. The perspective we have on Earth is so limited, and I believe God is so incredibly vast in His wisdom and His abilities, that He is able to bring good out of any situation which may seem ‘evil’. Perhaps those who suffer a lot on Earth receive abundant blessing in the afterlife?
I believe that although suffering can seem unfair and harsh, God is ultimately merciful, and releases people either by a change of circumstances or into death, which is of course a great mystery. I have a hope (and it must be a hope because I don’t know for sure) that God never lets suffering become too much for any individual (imagine, if you will, how much our infinitely powerful God could make people suffer if He wanted to). I also believe that suffering is a way of God expressing aspects of His nature that He wants to express. The whole of existence is part of God’s ‘play’ and is the way He chooses use the infinite power and authority that is at His disposal. In this post I speculated that perhaps God Himself suffers, and therefore human suffering is a way in which God helps us to understand what ultimate reality is like for Him.
I agree that if we don’t have free will, the idea of judgment seems strange. This is one of the biggest problems I have with the Christian faith. It only makes sense to me in the context that we are like puppets on God’s stage, and judgment is part of the “play” that God is unfolding. As someone said to me recently, we have ‘dependent responsibility’, so God is in control of our sin but there is still a sense in which we are responsible. We feel as though we are free, making decisions and choices, but ultimately these choices are under God’s control. I agree that the idea of God judging humans for what is essentially His own action seems a little crazy, but who says God isn’t a little crazy? (Lord, forgive me!)
I find it difficult to believe that God is damning the billions of people who aren’t Christians to hell to endure agony for all eternity, though I know that God is all-powerful so I can’t deny this is possible. I don’t think it can be justified from my own narrow human perspective, but as the scripture says “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3 ESV) I suggest that we all pray fervently for God to be merciful to all His created creatures, as the idea of hell is utterly horrific and truly frightening.
Gregg asked if the fact that God is in control means that we can do as we please? Well, the first point to make is that because God is sovereign, only things that are willed by Him can happen. So we can only do as God pleases. But in my own experience I have a sense of morality (much of this comes from what I have read in the Bible) and I feel it’s important for me to try to live in accord with God’s commandments. So once again, there are two dimensions here. God is in control but we have the illusion of free will, so we can make moral decisions or we can sin, but whatever we do is essentially guided by God.
I hope I have covered most of the points here that you and Gregg brought up.
I will close with a quote that I love which really encapsulates the essence of how I feel about God and suffering. The following can be found on a tombstone at Elgin Cathedral:
Here lie I, Martin Elginbrodde,
Hae mercy o’ my soul, Lord God,
As I would do were I Lord God,
And ye were Martin Elginbrodde.
Peace and blessings,
I think God needs humans to take responsibility for their divinity. The failure of humans to do this is the failure of God to manifest Himself fully on earth. It seems that by humans engagement with spiritual practices, humans commit to the effort of invoking the Supreme Will on earth. We have dominion and sovereignty over the earth. This is God’s gift to us. But only through doing our best to exercise our will in the name of God, through our commitment and our effort in spiritual practice, do we assist in bringing our human desire into resonance with divine vibration. We must make effort. It is dangerous to assume God does everything without understanding the role of human effort in the evolution of consciousness. All too easily could people misuse that kind of understanding to justify all sorts of evil. God is always pouring out His Grace, but we humans must render ourselves available to it through right action and our commitment to wisdom. It is our commitment to wisdom that turns suffering into something meaningful. We continue to fail and return again to our addictions, but we continue to try and try and keep practicing our love of God and sticking to our spiritual practices. In this way we have hope of overcoming our innate tendencies toward destruction. Nevertheless, it would appear that God intended trauma to certainly be at least a stage in the evolution of human consciousness. Consider our birth into this world. Perhaps trauma is needed as a kind of strengthening process, so that the human nervous system could ground God’s divinity in form. Humans need free will so they can choose God as the result of suffering. Otherwise if they stayed comfortable in luxury they would not turn to God and recognise the mystery of divine love and suffering and that their free will is really a gift God gave in service of His relationship with all life.
Hi Gregg, Steven, Dinos and all,
I look forward to Steven’s posts despite we differ on the ‘free will’ aspect of God’s gifts to us…because Steven always offers much in the way of justifying his assertion that we do not have free will. Clearly, Gregg, you do believe we have free will on the same basis as I in that, we are free to choose whether or not to follow God’s calling.
I do not dispute that God is in control of His universal plan for the saving of mankind in putting chosen kings and queens on the throne, putting politicians in their places of power, judges on their benches etc because they are the adversaries … Ephesians 6: 12 ”For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” … whose dubious behaviour physically shows us the presence of the truly evil element (satan and his demons) then points us in the direction of, the saving Grace of God, our escape and our eventual salvation if we endure till the end.
Those who are ‘of the world’ are not guided by God’s Holy Spirit so happily live their earthly lives within/ benefitting from worldly evil. And therein lys our choice…beat ’em or, join ’em. I for one would never join them despite the hard road I’ve been forced to travel over the past eight years.
My personal experience in fighting the evil system for so long, proves Gregg’s words. But I would also admit in honesty that, although I know 100% that God exists, I often doubt Him as a God of mercy and loving kindness.
Steven, just to say I forgot to click the 2 notification boxes on my last comment which means I won’t be notified of any answers…when in fact, I do wish to be notified.
Thanks for your comments and sorry to hear you forgot to click the notification boxes. Unfortunately, that’s not something I’m able to change.
Jan, it’s easy to forget to tick the notification box after composing your thought, so I always do it first – does that help?
We as Christians should remember Christ’s inclusivity during His earthly existence. Would Jesus want to exclude from a heavenly after-life, those who lead their lives in a Godly manner, but are denied access to The Word because they live in a non-Christian Theocracy, or, because they are illiterate?
If we are addicted to gambling, alcohol, smoking, or some illegal drug, but otherwise do our best to lead Godly lives, should we be excluded from heaven? Do those of us without addictions truly understand how difficult it is for those who are addicted? How far can our empathy and understanding stretch?
Why do we think God wants us to suffer? What do we learn from it? Children who have been abused are much more likely to become abusive parents than those who were not abused – how does that work? Where is the benefit?
I was in dialogue with a woman called Pan on another website where she revealed that her biological father abused her when she was a very young child. He died of alcohol-related disease, and, subsequently, her mother joined a church, and took her and her brother to it to every Sunday. For a while she enjoyed a peaceful life until her mother met an old flame from her past. Below is a pasted copy of what happened to her, in her own words –
June 21, 2016 at 2:11 PM
As I have said I do not mean to offend, I myself have had a very hard live, my father was a soldier and did some horrible things in the name of his country because of this he drank a lot, he abused my brother, my mother and myself. On one of these nights where he became so drunk he hung my mother by her feet from the 10th story from the flats balcony where we lived. I was 4 my brother was 6, both me and my brother tried to stop him, he knocked my brother unconscious and he kicked me away. I started crying and he pulled my mother back up and started apologising. There where some days that we thought that we would die, but we never did. He was not a bad man but the horrible things that he had done warped his mind ultimately. He passed away when I was 6, he never amended his will, my grandparents took everything from us, we where left with nothing. My mothers parents wrote her off when she married my father and she had no family that we could turn to. My fathers parents never wanted my father to marry my mother either and never saw us as part of the family. We had no one to go to.People from a Christian church helped us, my mother worked hard to provide for us and we started going to church, none of it was ever easy, there where nights when she would not eat so that we could. But every time we where faced with the most difficult of situations my mother would pray and ask for help. We received our help, a car was donated to my mother through the church so that she could get to work. Things where going well and we where happy. My mother then ran into someone that she knew from her past. We stopped going to church, my mother spend less time with God and more time with this man, after two years they got married. This man abused me and my brother yet again, we where sent off to boarding school and eventually, my mother caught this man in be with another man, she was heart broken. She was trying to divorce this man, but he would not have it. We where stuck in a very bad situation again, things where going horribly, my mother tried to commit suicide. She was saved by one of her friends. The man that she married tried to use this against her to take me and my brother away from her. Once again the people who had helped us in the binning helped us. My mom was granted her divorce, we started going to church again, things where slowly getting better again. My mother never wanted another man in her life after that, but then she met a man that loved God with all his heart, this man adopted me and my brother, he never wanted any other children because we where enough. He is the best father that I could ever have asked for. Even if I look back now I have no hate for any of the people in my past. Every time that we truly needed help God was there.
If all this had not happened, we would have never met my dad, it made my faith stronger, not weaker. I was one of those children who suffered, I had cracked bones and black an blue bruises every week. I have ever right to question God but I don’t need to. I know that if I did not have the life I had then I would never be where I am now,that also does not mean that because my mom turned away from God that she was punished. She made the wrong decisions and ignored warnings from people who had her best interests at heart. We all suffered the consequences of that.
“There is no need to imagine that God may have a grand plan and that we mere mortals cannot see things from His perspective – this is putting ourselves in a box! If you believe that God has revealed Himself in the scriptures, then, as you’ve said, you will find Him showing that He is wrathful, vengeful and jealous, but these are human traits, not Godly ones.”
You are mistaken to say that we would put ourselves in a box, on the contrary I am able to help more people and also understand their pain and relate. I have extreme companion for those in need and would not have that if I had lead an easy life. “but these are human traits,” We where created in Gods image, meaning they are also traits that describe God.
“and they do not do good deeds to avoid eternal damnation,” see this is the key, you should do good because, it is good. Not because you fear what will happen if you don’t. You should want to be good for your own accord. So as to not inflict suffering on others that is what God wants.
I don’t believe that Pan had to suffer abuse by the hands of both her biological father, and her mother’s second husband, for her to learn to be compassionate to others, and I think the influence from the church, and her mother’s third husband, did her much more good than the bad experiences she had to endure from the other two.
I’m sure that the book you’re reading by Jerry Bridges is of great interest to you as it reinforces your views about God’s Sovereignty and the cosmic animator of all His creatures, but maybe you should also read from authors with an opposing view too? Otherwise, you are selecting literature that reinforces your prevailing views without due care and attention to a balance to keep your mind open to other views and possibilities. As Francis Bacon put it –
“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.”
Peace and love to all,
Dinos, as you advised, I ticked the boxes first; thank you.
With regards to those of us who feel we could be excluded from being saved due to our shortcomings, God doesn’t actually say that, not if you look at the chapters concerning, The White Throne judgement, when ALL will be resurected and given chance to ‘see the light’, come to know ‘The Truth’. Only those who reject God at that time will die the second death.
I mean to say, how are we to know what God’s exact requirements of us are, save obeying every one of The Ten Commandments? But even then…the 4th Commandment requires that we rest and worship God and remember the Exodus (when God delivered us from slavery) on His sanctified ‘Holy’ 7th day weekly Sabbath…which is Saturday. (The Roman Catholic church openly admit to having changed it to a Sunday in A.D 70)
Chapter 4 of, Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews appears to specifically highlight this Commandment; especially v’s 3 – 8: Basically in verse 8 Paul is saying: If God had wanted us to rest on any other day than His Holy appointed 7th day, He would have told us! Also Exodus 20 v 11: And for those who say that The Ten Comandments were abolished (nailed to the cross) in favour of the new Covenant, Deuteronomy 7 v. 9 also states otherwise: ‘…and keep His commandments to 1,000 generations.’ And Mathew 5 v’s 17, 18, 19
Sages and committed students of Bible prophecy say that, those observing the sanctified, Holy Saturday Sabbath day is God’s chosen sign between Him and His True Church…so, what of all those who have always been brought up to attend church on Sundays? Will they be breaking God’s Commandments?
And then, there is Zac Poonen who sermons in many different countries now, and is probably the most widely read, widely believed and well respected Bible teacher on the internet…I eagerly digest his ‘Word for the Week’ and sermons every week and yet, he says, The Ten Commandments were abolished at Christs death and the congregation he pastors in India meet on Sundays for weekly worship.
Despite reading his sermons, which I will continue to do, I observe the Saturday Sabbath every week because, I firmly believe this is required of us(I am not Jewish) by studying my Bible from Friday Sundown to Saturday sundown (No, not all through the night) because there is no church group in my area who observes Saturday Sabbath rest and worship…there are a few in London but I have a medical condition that prevents me from travelling anywhere.
Despite my devotion to God and His Word, I am a smoker. Since smokers are killing themselves surely I am breaking the Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.
Maybe that makes me a hypocrite; that my failure in kicking that disgusting habit …no matter how hard I have tried…renders me less devoted to God than I like to believe myself to be.
And Dinos, those who are illiterate or do not have access to ‘The Word’ will not have rejected God because they will be ignorant of Him, and the Bible says that ONLY those who knowingly reject God will forfeit salvation.
Best to all
Thank you for your response.
I have good reason to be selective about what I believe from the Bible and I do not want to reveal this here as it may harm some people who rely on the Bible for their faith. I’d be happy to let you know because of your fortitude, and I offer my email address if you want to contact me personally – firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe that Christ’s crucifixion freed all of humanity from the bondage of mortality and that we will all be united with God. I don’t accept the White Throne Judgement as described in the link below:
I’ve copied a link that gave scriptural references for believing that we have all been saved by Christ in the topic “God is Love” from the frimmin website on a previous post. My view is that this does not stop us from loving and committing to God. It has been said that: those who believe because they want heaven are merchants; those who believe to avoid hell are servants. Whatever the truth is, I accept that it is really God’s business about what happens after our earthly existence; it’s ours to love God and each other during it.
Your view that the Roman Catholic church changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday in 70 A.D. is not substantiated. The link below is gives a more credible explanation that it was changed in the fourth century A.D:
Whatever the truth is, if we start on Monday, the seventh day is Sunday. What matters is that we reserve a day for worship. Also, the days of the week, a man-made invention, did not exist 13.6 billion years ago when God created the universe.
I was a smoker and gave it up about 3 to 4 years ago. That’s why I mentioned it in my previous post. It’s not easy to give it up, as I’m sure you know.
I’ve asked a lot of questions but got few answers. What do readers think of Pan’s story? Did she need to be subjected to further abuse from her mother’s second husband to become a good Christian, assuming that she is a good Christian? Should we apportion responsibility to the second abusive man, Pan’s mother, or to God, who could easily have caused the death of her second abuser, thus saving her from a second period of abuse, and her mother from a difficult divorce?
Peace and love to all,
Dinos, the following is something I have copied and pasted from the same website under the heading : Catholic Church admits they made the change…but it is extremely long in order that the whole meaning is not taken out of context by my only selecting certain paragraphs. It includes actual quotes which can therefore be verified/ authenticated. I won’t add my own comments at this stage…
Was the Sabbath changed from the seventh day of the week to the first day? Well, yes and no. Let’s deal with the “no” first.
God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17), does not change (Malachi 3:6). The Israelites received two laws from Moses: the law of Moses, that of ordinances and ceremonies; and the Law of God, embodied in the Ten Commandments, which is an expression of God’s character. If God does not change, neither will His Law. “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips” (Psalm 89:34). “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” (Ecclesiastes 3:14). “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness” (Psalm 111:7, 8).
God gave His Law to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Amid thunder and lightning, a thick cloud covered the mountain, and a trumpet blasted. Smoke billowed up as from a furnace and the whole mountain shook as the trumpet grew louder and louder. Moses led the Israelites out of their camp to meet with God, and every one of them trembled. Then God spoke (Exodus 19:16-19, 20:1). If this Law were to be changed, it would be reasonable to expect God Himself to announce it, and give reasons for its alteration, amid the same amount of ceremony. Yet there is no indication in Scripture of such an announcement.
What About the New Testament?
In the New Testament, the seventh day of the week is called the Sabbath; it is mentioned 58 times. The first day of the week is mentioned eight times. It is simply called the first day of the week, and it is always differentiated from the Sabbath. This in itself is evidence for the continued validity of the seventh-day Sabbath.
The gospel writers record Jesus and the apostles going to the synagogue on Sabbath as their “custom” (Luke 4:16 ). Jesus said, “I have kept My Father’s commandments” (John 15:10). The women who went to anoint His body after his death “rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). Nearly all of the incidents reported of the apostles’ preaching occurred on the seventh-day Sabbath. Of all the accusations the Jews made against the apostles, never once did they accuse the apostles of breaking the Sabbath.
Some teach that after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Old Testament law was done away with and a new covenant took its place. But Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18). The law of Moses, which foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice, was indeed made irrelevant, but Paul maintains that the Law of God is to be kept, though we now be under grace. “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31).
How It Happened…
Yet for nearly 2,000 years now, millions of Christians have worshiped on Sunday. So was the Sabbath changed from the seventh to the first day of the week? Let’s look at the “yes” now.
“The Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5). Here Jesus staked His claim and forbade anyone to meddle with the Sabbath. Yet He knew there would be those who would claim the power to change God’s Law. Through Daniel he warned of just such a man. Describing a “little horn power” (Daniel 7:8), Daniel says, “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws” (Daniel 7:25). Paul made a similar prediction: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God, or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7).
Paul warned that this blasphemy was already at work, and that it would come not from an outside influence, but from within the church (2 Thessalonians 2:7, Acts 20:28-30). Sure enough, not long after Paul’s day, apostasy appeared in the church.
About 100 years before Christianity, Egyptian Mithraists introduced the festival of Sunday, dedicated to worshiping the sun, into the Roman Empire. Later, as Christianity grew, church leaders wished to increase the numbers of the church. In order to make the gospel more attractive to non-Christians, pagan customs were incorporated into the church’s ceremonies. The custom of Sunday worship was welcomed by Christians who desired to differentiate themselves from the Jews, whom they hated because of the Jews’ rejection of the Savior. The first day of the week began to be recognized as both a religious and civil holiday. By the end of the second century, Christians considered it sinful to work on Sunday.
The Roman emperor Constantine, a former sun-worshiper, professed conversion to Christianity, though his subsequent actions suggest the “conversion” was more of a political move than a genuine heart change. Constantine named himself Bishop of the Catholic Church and enacted the first civil law regarding Sunday observance in A.D. 321.
On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrate and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however, persons engaged in agricultural work may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain growing or for vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost. —Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, vol. III, chap. 75.
Note that Constantine’s law did not even mention Sabbath but referred to the mandated rest day as a “the venerable day of the sun.” And how kind he was to allow people to observe it as it was convenient. Contrast this with God’s command to observe the Sabbath “even during the plowing season and harvest” (Exodus 34:21)! Perhaps the church leaders noticed this laxity as well, for just four years later, in A.D. 325, Pope Sylvester officially named Sunday “the Lord’s Day,” and in A.D. 338, Eusebius, the court bishop of Constantine, wrote, “All things whatsoever that it was the duty to do on the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) we (Constantine, Eusebius, and other bishops) have transferred to the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week) as more appropriately belonging to it.”
Instead of the humble lives of persecution and self-sacrifice led by the apostles, church leaders now exalted themselves to the place of God. “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).
Recall the ceremony with which God made known His Law, containing the blessing of the seventh-day Sabbath, by which all humanity is to be judged. Contrast this with the unannounced, unnoticed anticlimax with which the church gradually adopted Sunday at the command of “Christian” emperors and Roman bishops. And these freely admit that they made the change from Sabbath to Sunday.
In the Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, we read:
Q. Which is the Sabbath day?
A. Saturday is the Sabbath day.
Q. Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
A. We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church, in the Council of Laodicea, (AD 336) transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday….
Q. Why did the Catholic Church substitute Sunday for Saturday?
A. The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday, because Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday, and the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles on a Sunday.
Q. By what authority did the Church substitute Sunday for Saturday?
A. The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed upon her!
—Rev. Peter Geiermann, C.SS.R., (1946), p. 50.
In Catholic Christian Instructed,
Q. Has the [Catholic] church power to make any alterations in the commandments of God?
A. …Instead of the seventh day, and other festivals appointed by the old law, the church has prescribed the Sundays and holy days to be set apart for God’s worship; and these we are now obliged to keep in consequence of God’s commandment, instead of the ancient Sabbath.
—The Catholic Christian Instructed in the Sacraments, Sacrifices, Ceremonies, and Observances of the Church By Way of Question and Answer, RT Rev. Dr. Challoner, p. 204.
In An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine,
Q. How prove you that the church hath power to command feasts and holy days?
A. By the very act of changing the Sabbath into Sunday, which Protestants allow of; and therefore they fondly contradict themselves, by keeping Sunday strictly, and breaking most other feasts commanded by the same church.
Q. How prove you that?
A. Because by keeping Sunday, they acknowledge the church’s power to ordain feasts, and to command them under sin; and by not keeping the rest [of the feasts] by her commanded, they again deny, in fact, the same power.
–Rev. Henry Tuberville, D.D. (R.C.), (1833), page 58.
In A Doctrinal Catechism,
Q. Have you any other way of proving that the Church has power to institute festivals of precept?
A. Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her. She could not have substituted the observance of Sunday the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday the seventh day, a change for which there is no Scriptural authority.
–Rev. Stephen Keenan, (1851), p. 174.
In the Catechism of the Council of Trent,
The Church of God has thought it well to transfer the celebration and observance of the Sabbath to Sunday!
–p 402, second revised edition (English), 1937. (First published in 1566)
In the Augsburg Confession,
They [the Catholics] allege the Sabbath changed into Sunday, the Lord’s day, contrary to the decalogue, as it appears; neither is there any example more boasted of than the changing of the Sabbath day. Great, they say, is the power and authority of the church, since it dispensed with one of the ten commandments.
God warned that a blasphemous power would “seek to change times and laws,” and the Catholic Church openly admits doing it, even boasts about it. In a sermon at the Council of Trent in 1562, the Archbishop of Reggia, Caspar del Fossa, claimed that the Catholic Church’s whole authority is based upon the fact that they changed the Sabbath to Sunday. Does this not fulfill the prophecies of Daniel and Paul?
“For centuries millions of Christians have gathered to worship God on the first day of the week. Graciously He has accepted this worship. He has poured out His blessings upon Christian people as they have sought to serve Him. However, as one searches the Scriptures, he is forced to recognize that Sunday is not a day of God’s appointment… It has no foundation in Scripture, but has arisen entirely as a result of custom,” says Frank H. Yost, Ph.D. in The Early Christian Sabbath.
Let us ask the question again: Was the Sabbath changed from the seventh day of the week to the first? The Bible is clear: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:3). “Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). If God intended for another day to become the Sabbath, He must have removed the blessing from the seventh day and placed it on the day which was to replace it. But when God bestows a blessing, it is forever. “…You, O Lord, have blessed it, and it will be blessed forever” (1 Chronicles 17:27). “I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot change it” (Numbers 23:20). Your birthday, a memorial of your birth, can’t be changed, though you may celebrate it on a different day. Neither can the Sabbath, a memorial of creation (Exodus 20:11), be changed, though some may celebrate it on a different day.
God instructed Moses to construct the earthly sanctuary, all its furniture, and the ark according to “the pattern” he was shown. (Exodus 25:9, 40) The ark was called the “ark of the covenant” (Numbers 10:33, Deuteronomy 10:8, Hebrews 9:4), and the “ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25:22), because in it Moses placed the tablets of stone on which God wrote His Law. (Exodus 25:16, 31:18) John, in Revelation 11:19, describes the scene before him when “the temple of God was opened in Heaven.” John saw the ark of the covenant in the heavenly sanctuary. David wrote, “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). It is safe to assume that God’s Law remains, contained within the ark of the covenant in the heavenly sanctuary.
When God says, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:10), that ends all controversy. We cannot change God’s Word for our own convenience. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
– Emily Thomsen
I am keen to hear your views on this too, Steven!
My very best to you all
Thank you for your piece and I see why you consider worshipping on Saturday to be an imperative.
I think I did not make my case clearly. I agree that the Roman Catholic Church claims to have changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. That’s their claim and they have to live with the consequences.
My first point is that the Roman Catholic Church cannot legitimately claim to have existed from 30 A.D. 1 Peter was written sometime in the period 50-67 A.D. The foundations for the concept that a pope should be the head of the RC Church were laid by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, in the fourth century, as I said before, but the Papacy came to fruition after the demise of the Roman Empire. Below is a link that describes the process by which this happened:
My second point is that we have come to the general position in the west where those who do not work in service industries, including the N.H.S. in the UK, start the working week on Monday, and finish on Friday; some on Saturday, e.g. retailers that are closed on Sundays. Most calendars have been designed to reflect this pattern of work and make Monday the first day of the week. That’s what I meant when I wrote that if you start from Monday, the seventh day is Sunday. I meant that it is good that we generally reserve a day for worship, if we are worshipful. That has to be better than nothing?
I understand your concerns that Sunday is related to sun worship but I do not consider this to be a valid objection to Christian worship on Sunday and the general use of this day as a day of rest. Do you object to my worshipping God on the other days of the week?
It’s a coincidence that we both selected the same website to make different points!
Below is a link that uses Biblical references to show that the early Christians, including Paul, worshipped on Sundays:
It is a lengthy piece of work, but thorough, of good academic standard, and worth reading.
Peace and love to all,
I forgot to reveal the link where the RC church claims to have originated in 30 AD, even earlier than what you wrote that they claimed their origins back to 70 AD. The link below refers:
And here is the extract from it that shows the claim –
Question: “What is the origin of the Catholic Church?”
Answer: The Roman Catholic Church contends that its origin is the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ in approximately AD 30. The Catholic Church proclaims itself to be the church that Jesus Christ died for, the church that was established and built by the apostles.
We still haven’t discussed Pan’s story and why God allows child abusers to express their free will,in succeeding to do the bad deed, but denies the free will of the victim to prevent it. She could wish the perpetrator dead and God could cause this to happen, for instance.
I might believe that suffering can be of benefit if it was self-imposed, e.g. engaging in many hours of prayer and denying oneself of food and water! But Pan’s story is different, and she got a double helping of abuse, first from her biological father, and then from her mother’s second husband – her stepfather
Peace and love to all,
Dinos, your link showing that Paul etc worshipped on Sundays, doesn’t open.
Never-the-less, God did not forbid worship of Him every single day of the week, as they all did; as lovers of God do so even now. I’m interested in the fact that Jesus Christ, all of the Apostles and the believing Gentiles and believing Jews (there were some) always strictly observed the Saturday Sabbath…the 4th Commandment.
Even after Christ’s death all the same mentioned continued to observe the Sabbath meaning: the Ten Commandments could not have been abolished at Christ’s death…more especially the 4th Commandment.
The Apostle Paul actually alludes to it in Corinthians 2, throughout the whole of Chapter 3
I’m sorry you couldn’t open the link from GRACE COMMUNION INTERNATIONAL. I’ve experienced the same problem as you many times. I’ve saved links and found inconsistency in their opening when I’ve re-visited them on subsequent occasions – very frustrating!
I clicked on the link that I posted several times tonight, (Friday 19 to Saturday 20), and it opened successfully every time. I suggest you try again. Below are some extracts to whet your appetite –
The Origins of Sunday Worship in the Early Church
Thesis statement: Although seventh-day Sabbatarians cite evidence that Jesus and the primitive church kept a seventh-day Sabbath, nevertheless first and second-century church writers show that some Christian communities began to meet on the first day of the week after Jesus’ resurrection, and that worship began to shift from the seventh day to the first day of the week at that time. The early church gave warrants for making this shift from the Gospels and the Pauline writings.
Method of analysis and presentation
We begin with a discussion of the main groups that made up first-century Christianity: Jewish Christians from Judea and Galilee, the Hellenistic Jewish Christians represented by Stephen, and the Pauline churches. We will then look at references Paul made to the Sabbath and Sunday worship. Then we will look at how the Gospel writers (including Luke-Acts) referred to the Sabbath and the first day of the week. The recurring charge we will see against Jesus is breaking the Sabbath. Next, we will move on to post-apostolic writings into the second century to look at the shift from worship on the Sabbath to worship on Sunday.
Now that we have demonstrated that the first day of the week was the Christian day of regular corporate worship in the church in Asia at the end of the first century, we can chart a course backward from Revelation 1:10to see where this practice began. If we view Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 16:1 in the light of second-century writings discussed above, it is likely that they can be viewed as evidence that Sunday worship was the normal practice in the Pauline churches.76
We can then take this trajectory back further. Although no early Christian document explicitly identifies the origin of Sunday worship in the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the Gospel writers considered it important to mention that those appearances took place on the first day of the week and that Jesus met with his disciples on that day.
When the Gospel accounts were written, Sunday was the day of Christian worship and was apparently understood to be a memorial of the resurrection. When Sunday worship was the practice, Christians must have connected it with the Lord’s resurrection on a Sunday.77 This may have also influenced the way the Gospel writers treated the Sabbath controversies as they showed that Jesus was superior to the Sabbath and that his actions offended the Sabbath-observing Pharisees.
We can then take that trajectory back to the time of the historical Jesus and see that his messianic work superseded the seventh-day Sabbath and that as his disciples began to meet on Sunday they could look to the example of Jesus and not feel bound to observe the seventh-day Sabbath.
For endnotes and bibliography, click here.
Thomas C. Hanson Sr.
You should appreciate the arbitrary nature of the concept of yearly calendars and how the year is divided into months, weeks and days. The Jewish calendar relied on the phases of the moon for its observance of months. Below is a link that I hope will open for you and give more information:
If we want to observe the Sabbath as it originated, should we use the Jewish calendar? The Jews had no names for the days of the week as we do, except for the seventh day which was known as the Sabbath. The other days were numbered one to six.
I think it’s a case of being practical. Which calendar do you use – Jewish, Julian or Gregorian? If you live in the western world, most use the Gregorian – some Russian Orthodox Christian churches use the Julian!
As I wrote before, the working week in the UK begins for many on Monday, which is considered to be the first day of the working week. Do you think we should use the Jewish calendar to be consistent with the original days of the Sabbath and the days the people of Israel still use nowadays?
Peace and love to all,