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TorahTimes Messianic Ministry

Teaching Truths about Torah, Time, and Messiah

Is 1 Corinthians 16:2 talking about Sunday?

Abstract: 1 Corinthians 16:2 is another example of “first of the Sabbaths”. First I give an interlinear rendition, then the Passover context of the passage is discussed with its connection to Pentecost. John Calvin (no endorsement implied) has some interesting remarks on the passage and the views of John Chrysostom (no endorsement implied). I then explain the evolution from Gnostic allegorical thinking to a more rationalistic attempt to explain away the passage. The bottom line, of course, is that the resurrection of Messiah was on the Sabbath day at dawn. There was no sanctification of Sunday in the NT by any habit of meeting on that day. Rather everyone met on the Sabbath to make it holy.

Against the first of the Sabbaths let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.
κατὰ μίαν σαββάτων4 ἕκαστος ὑμῶν παρ᾽ ἑαυτῷ τιθέτω
Against first of Sabbaths each of you beside himself let put
pa apcaf-s n-gn-p ap-nm-s npg-2p pd npdm3s vmpa--3s
θησαυρίζων τι ἂν εὐοδῶται
saving up what anyone perchance may be prospering
vrpanm-s apran-s a-ian-s qv vspp--3s

Paul was writing his letter just before Passover (1Cor. 5:7-8), and he expected them to get the letter during the feast of unleavened bread. He tells them to start saving starting with the first of the Sabbaths after Passover. The word κατὰ means “according to”, “with respect to”, “opposite”, “against” or “down from”. It does not mean “each” or “every” as the English might suggest in a multitude of cases. Such a sense is dependent on context, and is not part of the word. Paul is speaking of one particular first of the Sabbaths after which he wants them to start saving.

Paul says that he will not come to Corinth that season, but will stay on in Ephesus until Pentecost (1Cor. 16:8). So once again, the phrase “first of the Sabbaths” is found in a context between the Passover and the feast of Shavuot. This is because it refers to the first of seven sabbaths counted out after Passover (cf. Lev. 23:15).

Calvin’s commentary has an interesting remark that shows it was quite possible to read the Greek text without traditional presuppositions. This is no endorsement of Calvin (who was a heretic and murderer who brought Augustine into the Reformation), but he makes a great argument for the natural sense of the words. It also says a lot that he could get away with saying this 500 years ago. Tradition has gotten such a grip now, that he would be laughed at today as a moron by a lot of traditionalists. Heretic Calvin may be, but he was very intelligent.

2.On one of the Sabbaths. The end is this — that they may have their alms ready in time. He therefore exhorts them not to wait till he came, as anything that is done suddenly, and in a bustle, is not done well, but to contribute on the Sabbath what might seem good, and according as every one’s ability might enable — that is, on the day on which they held their sacred assemblies. The clause rendered on one of the Sabbaths, (κατὰ μίαν σαββάτων,) Chrysostom explains to mean1 — the first Sabbath. In this I do not agree with him; for Paul means rather that they should contribute, one on one Sabbath and another on another; or even each of them every Sabbath, if they chose.2 For he has an eye, first of all, to convenience, and farther, that the sacred assembly, in which the communion of saints is celebrated, might be an additional spur to them. Nor am I more inclined to admit the view taken by Chrysostom — that the term Sabbath is employed here to mean the Lord’s day, (Revelation 1:10,) for the probability is, that the Apostles, at the beginning, retained the day that was already in use, but that afterwards, constrained by the superstition of the Jews, they set aside that day, and substituted another. Now the Lord’s day was made choice of, chiefly because our Lord’s resurrection put an end to the shadows of the law. Hence the day itself puts us in mind of our Christian liberty. We may, however, very readily infer from this passage, that believers have always had a certain day of rest from labor — not as if the worship of God consisted in idleness, but because it is of importance for the common harmony, that a certain day should be appointed for holding sacred assemblies, as they cannot be held every day. For as to Paul’s forbidding elsewhere (Galatians 4:10)3 that any distinction should be made between one day and another, that must be understood to be with a view to religion, (150) and not with a view to polity or external order. (151)

All emphasis mine.

Calvin assigns 1Cor. 16:2 to the seventh day Sabbath. His difference with Chrystostom is twofold, that it means every Sabbath and not just a particular first Sabbath as John Chrysotom says, and that it means the seventh day.

Readers should see the commentary on Acts 20:7. Paul is talking about a seventh day Sabbath in this passages called the “first of the Sabbaths”. He is not referring to Sunday. It should be noted that the tradition relies on many Christians assuming that Sunday is meant without question, which is helped greatly by the mistranslation “first day of the week”. But if the truth be known, they would realize that it is a house of cards built on a foundation of deception.

The savings were put aside at home during the counting for the seven weeks to the feast of Shavuot. At some point the savings were put together and sent to Jerusalem as an offering. It is also noteworthy that the assemblies of Galatia were also ordered to do this by Paul, which shows that in Galatia also there was consciousness of the first Sabbath, and its significance. Paul seems to have the commandment in mind not to show up at the feast of Shavuot empty handed, namely without a gift for Yahweh (Exo. 23:15).

Like many people the Gnostics adopted elements of the true faith because they were convincing or attractive. Everyone wants to believe that the promises of God apply to themselves, but few want to repent and be forgiven as a means to getting rid of their guilty condemnation. They would rather be forgiven without repenting. That, however, does not take care of the guilt, nor the things that remind them they are guilty!

So what was not attractive, though, was the constant reminder that they were unrepentant lawbreakers. And Scripture does not come with just promises. It comes with things that convict of sin. These are things that those with a gnostic philosophy would rather do away with, or reinterpret. Thus Gnostics sought to do away with “first of the Sabbaths” because it reminded them of the Sabbath, and they did not want to keep the Sabbath or feel guilty for breaking it. So that foisted false interpretations of Scripture to justify their position.

A guilty conscience will seize upon any convienient rationalization. Therefore, “first of the Sabbaths” was supposed by one of their brilliant deceivers wishing to assuage their consciences to mean the first of a new series of Sabbaths, namely, the eighth day or the first day of the week. They never really observed the first day of the week. There was no law for it. It was simply an excuse to avoid any obligation to the seventh day or the suffering that went along with it.

The Gnostic influece spread far and wide, but as it did more rationalistic approaches were sought by those who were more honest, and who did not have the guilty consciences of their fathers, because they had been kept in the dark about the deception. Therefore, it was argued that “Sabbath” meant week, or that the idiom meant the first day after the Sabbath. At least this is a linguistic approach and not an allegorical approach. The problem is that they escaped from a homiletical trap only to fall into a rationalistic lie, supposedly based on sound scholarship. We should observe that the lie evolved from allegorial drash, which is reasoning by random association with no historical or contextual checks and balances, to a more grammatical historical approach. But the difference is more or less no different than Hindu reasoning about creation vs. the materialistic evolutionist.

End Notes

Note 1: I have made attempts to find where Chrystostom might have said this, but have not come across it. A nineteenth century scholar says,

Chrystostom, the Golden-mouthed, so called from his brilliant rhetorical gifts, lived about A.D. 398. In a comment on the appointment of the first Sabbath, he says: ‘Hence in these first things God has enigmatically offered us a lesson, teaching that the first day in the cycle of the week is placed above all the rest and set apart for the work of the Spirit.’ It is especially to be noted that this author thus connects the Lord’s day not with the Jewish Sabbath, but with the primal Sabbath of creation.

George Elliot, The Abiding Sabbath: An Argument for the Perpetual Obligation of the Lord’s Day

It appears that Chrystostom is relying on a Gnostic legacy here of identifying the “first of the Sabbaths” with either the first of the new Sabbaths, and the eighth day, or the first Sabbath with the first day of the week, as in the first day of creation (Gen. 1:2) using a drash (homily) approach.

Note 2: It is quite interesting here that Calvin’s debate with John Chrysostom is not whether the Sabbath is mentioned, but whether it is Each one of the Sabbaths and the seventh day, or Against the first of the Sabbaths, and a new name for the first day of the week. Calvin argues for any and every Sabbath. Chrysotom argues for just one particular Sabbath, namely the first Sabbath and then Chrysostom interprets the first Sabbath to mean the first day of the week.

Note 3: I suspect that an editor of Calvin put this reference into the commentary at some point, and not Calvin himself. Calvin, was no doubt, thinking of Romans 14:5 and not Gal. 4:10.

Note 4: The reading here follows that of the Majority Text, also called the Byzantine text type: Κατὰ μίαν σαββάτων. The Aland critical text reads: κατὰ μίαν σαββάτου, which is somewhat anomalous like Mark 16:9: πρώτῃ σαββάτου. Mark 16:8 is the true end of that book: ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ = for they were stunned, amazed, astonished. This is a fittingly abrupt ending in keeping with the style of Mark. It may be suspected that a scribe reduced the plural σαββάτων to a singular because he did not understand that the first of seven counted Sabbaths were being referred to.