Did Christians Originally Gather for Worship on Saturday or Sunday?

Answered by Ustadh Ali Ataie

Question: assalamu alaykum

As we can see in history the original day of worship for Christians was a Saturday up until the year 538A.D when the roman ruler Constantine changed it to Sunday. In the hadith posted below it says Allah made the day of worship for Christians Sunday when in fact history shows that it was the ruler Constantine who made this rule. Can you explain this?

Sahih Muslim Hadith 1862 Narrated by Abu Hurayrah and Hudhayfah
The Messenger of Allah (saws) said: ‘It was Friday from which Allah diverted those (nations) who were before us. For the Jews (the day set aside for prayer) was Saturday, and for the Christians it was Sunday. And Allah turned towards us and guided us to Friday (as the day of Remembrance and Prayer) for us. In fact, He (Allah) made Friday, Saturday and Sunday (as days of prayer). In this order would they (Jews and Christians) come after us on the Day of Resurrection. We are the last of (the Ummah) among the people in this world and the first among the created to be judged on the Day of Resurrection.’

Answer: Assalam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

I hope you are well insha’Allah.

The original Christians, referred to as the Notzrim by the rabbinical council at Yavneh (2nd c. CE) in their Birkat HaMinim, were Torah-abiding sons and daughters of Israel who appeared to have revered the Sabbath (Saturday; yawm shabbat) as a day of remembering God – although there is evidence that their practice of the Mosaic laws and commandments may have been slightly ameliorated by the Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him). The Notzrim (Nazarenes; Nasara) may have even also gathered on Sunday for communal worship – perhaps to commemorate the coming of Jesus Christ in some way. The Didache (1st c CE), an early Jewish-Christian treatise, mentions that the disciples of Jesus met on Sunday to give thanks to God and there is no mention of Jesus’s apparent resurrection or “redeeming blood” anywhere in the text. This was simply to give thanks.

The other strand of “Christianity” at this time, spearheaded by Paul and his congregations, laid almost complete emphasis on the apparent death of Christ on Friday and his subsequent resurrection from the dead – on Sunday. Acts 20:7 as well as 1 Corinthians 16:2 indicate that Pauline Christians met on Sunday, “the first day of the week,” for communal worship. Pauline Christianity (also known as proto-orthodoxy) was eventually adopted by the Roman Empire upon Constantine’s conversion around 318 CE. Thus Christianity today is by and large Pauline.

Therefore, the vast majority of Christians before Constantine gathered together on Sunday to either worship God in praise of resurrecting Jesus from the dead or to praise and thank God for sending Jesus Christ as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. In 321 CE (not 538 as you suggested), Constantine declared, “On the venerable day of the sun, let all the magistrates and people residing in the cities rest.” He wanted to make Sunday a day of rest for the Roman Empire in order to agree with what the Christians were already doing for nearly three centuries.

The Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) spoke the absolute truth in the hadith you quoted; both strands of early Christianity, the Notzrim as well as the Paulists, gathered in congregation to worship and give thanks on Sunday long before Constantine’s imperial edict. And Allah knows best…,,,,,,ll