Veteran artist returns after seven-year hiatus with a feisty new album, Letting Go, while also revealing that she’s gay
Seven years ago, while at the top of her game, Jennifer Knapp announced what seemed to many a sudden decision: She was stepping away from Christian music, taking an indefinite hiatus. Rumors began to swirl—she was burned out, she needed a rest, she was upset about something, she was gay. Turns out that all the rumors were true, as Knapp reveals in this rambling, exclusive interview withChristianity Today. The one-time Grammy nominee ended her hiatus in late 2009with a few small shows, an updated website, and an announcement that she was writing new songs. Many of those songs will be featured on Letting Go, releasing May 11, her first album since 2001′s The Way I Am.
In one of her first extensive interviews since announcing her comeback, Knapp, 36, talks to CT about why she quit music in the first place, her lifestyle choice, her rekindled passion for songwriting, her faith, her new album, and more.
You announced your “hiatus” in 2003. Was that a sudden decision, or was it boiling for a while?
Jennifer Knapp: It was boiling for me. I think people thought I just fell into a hole and disappeared, but I had been trying to get out of being on the road 250 days a year. Lay It Down was a 2000 release, andThe Way I Am was 2001; those records were literally back to back, and I was touring while recording The Way I Am. I was telling people “Man, I can’t keep up the schedule. This is just a little bit crazy.” I didn’t have any space to just be a normal human being. I finally realized nobody was going to make that decision for me, so I just said, “I’m not kidding. I need a break, and it starts now.”
That decision came mid-2001, but my schedule didn’t allow me to stop until September 2002, when I did my last show; I basically still had about a year and a half worth of contracted concerts and other things before I could stop.
A lot of people hit burnout, but I don’t think many think, I’m going to take seven years off. What were you thinking?
Knapp: At the time, I literally thought I was quitting. I needed such a break, and I needed the silence to be deafening. But in the back of my mind I thought, Maybe in a couple of years I’ll come back and give this another go. It was a huge risk to say I may never do this again. It was a real heart wrenching decision.
Once you fulfilled your last obligation, was there a big sigh of relief? Or what?
Knapp: I was scared to death. You just don’t leave something that everyone else says is extremely successful. Some people close to me said I was doing something wrong—that [quitting] was a denial of the gifts I had. I was like, Whoa, hold on a second. I’m just asking for a little bit of time. That was a lot to deal with. It took two or three years to get over the rollercoaster ride of emotions. One day I’d be completely angry; the next day completely heartbroken and devastated; the next raging jealous because somebody’s out there doing something that I love doing and I can’t do it. And some days I was in complete denial. It was almost like a psychological profile of grief. [It took a while] to let the dust settle and figure out what kind of human being was left.
There were rumors that you left music because you were gay.
Knapp: That was a straw [in my decision], but there were many straws on the camel’s back at the time. I’m certainly in a same-sex relationship now, but when I suspended my work, that wasn’t even really a factor. I had some difficult decisions to make and what that meant for my life and deciding to invest in a same-sex relationship, but it would be completely unfair to say that’s why I left music.
Were you involved in a relationship at that time you left?
Knapp: Around 2002, I was starting to contend with this new-found “issue” in my life. But I’d already decided to leave music before I knew I was going to contend with that. I don’t want anyone to think that I ran out of town with my tail between my legs because I had something to hide.
Or that you were run out of town.
Knapp: Or that I was run out of town. Neither is true.
When you wrote The Way I Am, was that a veiled statement about being gay?
Knapp: That record means a lot more to me now than it did at the time. That whole record for me was an exercise in the carnal body of Christ manifested. One of the biggest decisions I was wrestling with then was, If I don’t do Christian music, am I not a believer anymore?
Why come back now? What has changed?
Knapp: At some point [last year] when I started to write again, I realized that the process was rather organic. I started playing at home, and my friends are going, “Oh wow, that’s pretty good. What are you going to do with that?” I said, “What do you mean, what am I going to do with it? Nothing!” The return has been a lot like the way I started music in the first place. We’re doing a four-day run of concerts right now, I’m in a van, I just spent half my afternoon driving, and if I’m lucky I get dinner before I play tonight. There’s something about that process you’ve got to love. I just think it took me a lot longer to figure out if that passion was a safe one for me.
You spent about five of the last seven years in Australia, right?
Knapp: Yes. But I’ve been back in the States since September. During those seven years, I entertained myself for quite some time by traveling. I traveled all through Europe. I traveled through the U.S. for about a year. I was basically a transient for about four years.
Traveling alone or with your partner?
Knapp: With my partner.
Have you been with the same partner for a long time?
Knapp: About eight years, but I don’t want to get into that. For whatever reason the rumor mill [about me being gay] has persisted for so long, I wanted to acknowledge; I don’t want to come off as somebody who’s shirking the truth in my life. At the same time, I’m intensely private. Even if I were married to a man and had six children, it would be my personal choice to not get that kind of conversation rolling.
I understand. But I’m curious: Were you struggling with same-sex attraction when writing your first three albums? Those songs are so confessional, clearly coming from a place of a person who knows her need for grace and mercy.
Knapp: To be honest, it never occurred to me while writing those songs. I wasn’t seeking out a same-sex relationship during that time.
During my college years, I received some admonishment about some relationships I’d had with women. Some people said, “You might want to renegotiate that,” even though those relationships weren’t sexual. Hindsight being 20/20, I guess it makes sense. But if you remove the social problem that homosexuality brings to the church—and the debate as to whether or not it should be called a “struggle,” because there are proponents on both sides—you remove the notion that I am living my life with a great deal of joy. It never occurred to me that I was in something that should be labeled as a “struggle.” The struggle I’ve had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I’ve been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I’ve always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it’s difficult for me to say that I’ve struggled within myself, because I haven’t. I’ve struggled with other people. I’ve struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself.
Are you beyond those struggles?
Knapp: I don’t know. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. But now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m contending with the culture shock of moving back here. There’s some extremely volatile language and debate—on all sides—that just breaks my heart. Frankly, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be making any kind of public statement at all. But there are people I care about within the church community who would seek to throw me out simply because of who I’ve chosen to spend my life with.
So why come out of the closet, so to speak?
Knapp: I’m in no way capable of leading a charge for some kind of activist movement. I’m just a normal human being who’s dealing with normal everyday life scenarios. As a Christian, I’m doing that as best as I can. The heartbreaking thing to me is that we’re all hopelessly deceived if we don’t think that there are people within our churches, within our communities, who want to hold on to the person they love, whatever sex that may be, and hold on to their faith. It’s a hard notion. It will be a struggle for those who are in a spot that they have to choose between one or the other. The struggle I’ve been through—and I don’t know if I will ever be fully out of it—is feeling like I have to justify my faith or the decisions that I’ve made to choose to love who I choose to love.
Have you ever felt like you had to choose between your faith or your gay feelings?
Knapp: Yes. Absolutely.
Because you felt they were incompatible?
Knapp: Well, everyone around me made it absolutely clear that this is not an option for me, to invest in this other person—and for me to choose to do so would be a denial of my faith.
What about what Scripture says on the topic?
Knapp: The Bible has literally saved my life. I find myself between a rock and a hard place—between the conservative evangelical who uses what most people refer to as the “clobber verses” to refer to this loving relationship as an abomination, while they’re eating shellfish and wearing clothes of five different fabrics, and various other Scriptures we could argue about. I’m not capable of getting into the theological argument as to whether or not we should or shouldn’t allow homosexuals within our church. There’s a spirit that overrides that for me, and what I’ve been gravitating to in Christ and why I became a Christian in the first place.
Some argue that the feelings of homosexuality are not sinful, but only the act. What would you say?
Knapp: I’m not capable of fully debating that well. But I’ve always struggled as a Christian with various forms of external evidence that we are obligated to show that we are Christians. I’ve found no law that commands me in any way other than to love my neighbor as myself, and that love is the greatest commandment. At a certain point I find myself so handcuffed in my own faith by trying to get it right—to try and look like a Christian, to try to do the things that Christians should do, to be all of these things externally—to fake it until I get myself all handcuffed and tied up in knots as to what I was supposed to be doing there in the first place.
If God expects me, in order to be a Christian, to be able to theologically justify every move that I make, I’m sorry. I’m going to be a miserable failure.
You’re living in Nashville. Are you in a church these days?
The Christian music industry can be fickle. Fans, radio, and retail were angry at Amy Grant for her divorce, at Michael English and Sandi Patty for adultery. But eventually, they were “welcomed” back. How do you think your fans and radio and Christian stores will react to the news that you’re gay? Or do you care?
Knapp: I do have a soul! (laughs) I care deeply. It’s a very heart-wrenching decision to come into a room knowing that there are many people who just won’t come with me. The Christian bookstore thing is probably not going to happen; this isn’t a Christian record, and it’s not going to be marketed to Christian radio.
K-LOVE won’t pick this one up?
Knapp: I doubt it, but there’s no reason they can’t play it. To me, my faith is fairly evident in what I’m writing, but it’s not a record for the sanctuary. That in itself is a huge risk for me—to be able to write without feeling like I’ve got to manufacture something that’s not entirely genuine, to take a song and feel like I have to make an obvious biblical reference. That’s not there anymore. I’ve actually buried it; for me, it’s an exercise in liberty. In a spiritual context, will God still be evident in me when I write songs? I sort of nervously wring my hands together and go, Please don’t leave me.
You’re saying Please don’t leave me to God, or fans, or whom?
Knapp: To me, and the divine experience of being a musician—that private world of where I integrate that into my life and where it comes out on a public level, as a song. I have a lot of fans who live in real-life scenarios, not just live within the walls of their church. They aren’t surrounded by Christians all day long; they don’t just listen to Christian music. I have a lot of critically thinking fans who are trying to sort out their lives as Christians as best they know how. I think as a result of that, a lot of them have been marginalized; they’re still seeking to be Christians but not always measuring up to the marketed idea of who they should be.
You’re playing live shows again …
Knapp: Yes. My concerts right now include the ultra-conservative hand raisers that are going to make this bar their worship zone. And there’s a guy over on the left having one too many, and there’s a gay couple over on the right. That’s my dream scenario. I love each and every one of them. At the end of the day, it’s music.
Are you still playing your old songs in concert?
Knapp: A bit, yeah.
Knapp: “Martyrs and Thieves” I’ll probably always play off of Kansas. “Fall Down” off of The Way I Am. The songs still have to speak to me. I had to go back and learn my old songs, but that’s been part of my process too—feeling like because I was gay that I couldn’t sing those songs anymore. I even said, “Don’t give me a [live] set longer than what I can play with this new music, because I just can’t play the old music.” I just flat out said I wouldn’t do it.
But you’re already rethinking that?
Knapp: I’m enjoying what I’m playing now. It’s been organic. Amy Courts, a gal who’s joined me on this tour, said she wanted to sing some of the old songs with me. I was like, Man, I don’t know. I swore I’d never play that song again. But we start playing it, and it just hits me right in my heart. It’s like somebody else wrote it. I realized that it comes from a very honest, genuine place. I’ve started to make those connections between the old songs and what I’m doing now. It was an extraordinarily helpful connect, because for a long time I thought it was old life vs. new life. But it’s not. It was a real comfort to me to realize I’m still the same person, that the baggage or new scenarios we pick up along the way are part of the long-term story.
The new record is called Letting Go. Is that a statement?
Knapp: Oh, I love record titles! (laughs) I suppose. There’s a song called “Letting Go,” and it’s basically just a struggle to hold onto the things that have been valuable to me. That was one of the last song I wrote going into this, when I started to have a panic attack going I can’t do this. People are going to chew me up and spit me out and tell me that I’m worthless. I think the process of writing that song was really helpful to realize that I really enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m not going to let go of my faith and I’m not going to let go of the passion to do music the way I want, in case there are other people telling me I can do neither because of personal decisions I’ve made.
In the lyrics to that song, who is the you when you sing, “Holding onto you is a menace to my soul”?
Knapp: It changes nightly. It seriously does. And it can change three or four times while I’m singing it. Some days it’s my faith. Some days I’m singing to God, like You’re a menace, man. It’s hard to keep my faith. Sometimes it’s music, and sometimes it’s being on the road. It’s a lot of those scenarios. That song is a bit of a chameleon, because it’s all of those fearful moments that want to handicap me from not moving forward, when I’d rather move forward with grace and as much kindness as I can—and make my mistakes and hope that grace will follow me.
So it turns out to be the title of the record. I think a lot of folks around this process have been excited about what it’s taken for me to get to this point—to be able to pull a trigger, to be able to go, Okay, really I want to play. A few years back, people were offering me five and six figures to come out and just do one show. I’m like, No, you cannot pay me enough. So that idea of letting go, and just the celebration that this record has felt like—finding music again, finding the passion to face up to a really challenging career but one that’s extraordinarily rewarding, that when you lay your head on the pillow at the end of the night you go, Man, I’m bone tired, but that was good. For me, that’s what it means.
I’m tired of spending hours and hours thinking about what if scenarios—what if nobody wants it, what if everybody is mad, what if I’m a complete disappointment. Now it’s, Here it is. I’ve got to let it go. That’s one of the frustrating parts of my Christian walk, the scenario that if I don’t get it right, that I’ve somehow failed God and failed my faith.
There are a few songs here that I would call angry songs. Is that fair?
Knapp: Which ones do you call angry songs?
Well, there’s “If It Made a Difference,” where you sing, “Sorry I ever gave a damn / Sorry I even tried to waste all the better parts of me / On not just anyone who came to mind.” And “Inside,” where you sing, “I know they’ll bury me before they hear the whole story … / Who the hell do you think you are?” Sounds angry to me!
Knapp: Okay. I’m okay if you call them angry. I prefer to think of them as, well …
Knapp: I’m just really enjoying the opportunity as a writer to be able to put a kinetic energy into what’s been welling up inside of me. It’s great to be able to not feel like I’ve got to turn that frustration into a happy, cheery …
But you’ve never been like that, Jennifer. I don’t listen to your old albums and think Oh, this is all happy, shiny music. I hate happy, shiny music!
Knapp: I think “angry” is probably … I’m not really an angry person. I’m passionate, and I’ve certainly been known to raise my voice and pound my fists, but in the heart of me it’s not a destructive thing. It’s more the type of energy of what it takes when a person’s being thwarted. I wrote “Inside” in complete and utter fear to voices in my head that told me that I couldn’t be a person of faith.
In the song’s third line, you sing, “God forbid they give me grace.” Do you really believe that no believers will show you grace?
Knapp: It’s a much larger picture than that. I don’t want anyone to think the song is targeted at the church, or at the ways we find judgment cast upon us. It’s a challenge to break free of that and to own who you really are. That’s my heart’s cry for anyone I’ve ever met. It’s not on my agenda to convert the world to a religion, but to convert the world to compassion and grace. I’ve experienced that in my life through Christianity.
“Inside” isn’t about the church. It’s about me, and how I struggle to be myself daily—honest and truthful to who I really am. It would break my heart if people got through this [album], especially the Christian audience, and found themselves with another artist that was just angry at the church. That’s not where I’m at. If there’s any anger or frustration on this record, it’s the desperation to hold onto what is honest and true, and let the rest of it just burn.
I would be really sad if people thought this was a sword trying to cut up something I’ve been deeply moved by. Christian music has been a great surprise for me, but I didn’t aspire to be a Christian music artist. I aspired to be a Christian in my private life, and I think it’s a wonderful side effect that can happen with music—that you can get a lot of people to share in that specific experience. So it would be a tragedy if people couldn’t see the forest for the trees, to see the connectivity between Kansasand Letting Go. It’s there for me, gratefully, with a big, huge, massive sigh of relief. It’s not like I left Christian music because Christian music was bad, or that I’m not participating in church because the church is evil. It’s none of those things. For me, it’s the journey that I’m on, trying to figure things about as best I can.
TV stations cave to homosexual lobby, refuse to reveal LGBT agenda
By Chelsea Schilling
Several television stations are caving to pressure from the homosexual community and refusing to run “Speechless: Silencing Christians,” a one-hour paid program sponsored by the American Family Association.
WOOD-TV 8, a television station in Grand Rapids, Mich., has decided against airing the special about the agenda of homosexual activists and their impact on families and freedom of religion.
According to the Grand Rapids Press, “In a letter promoting the program, the American Family Association asserts that most Americans get their ‘information about the homosexual movement from the secular news media and Hollywood, which not only support but promote the gay agenda. What people know is tainted by pro-homosexual propaganda.’”
“Speechless” features stories about Christians who have been arrested and charged with felonies for preaching the gospel. According to the film, many are living in situations where they have been intimidated into silence.
A former lesbian speaks about her conversion to Christianity.
“The gay community wants tolerance,” she said. “They can’t tolerate a story like mine that says, you know, I used to be gay, but with the help of Jesus, I’ve been able to overcome that.”
According to one man in the film, Christians are often portrayed as “mean and hateful.”
“It creates a context where violence is being perpetrated against Christians,” he said.
The special, hosted by talk show host Janet Parshall, emphasizes the media’s role in promotion of homosexuals’ “radical agenda,” and includes examples of how television shows and movies such as “Friends,” “Will & Grace,” “The L-Word,” “The War at Home,” “ER” and “Entourage” attempt to persuade viewers that aversions to homosexuality stem from bigotry and ignorance.
“Speechless” explores the homosexual lobby’s impact on school curriculums. Videos promoted as anti-bullying actually endorsed “gay” lifestyles, and students were forced to view them during school hours. It claims homosexual lobbyists also push for “gay” literature in schools.
According to the program, the homosexual activist agenda demands same-sex “marriage,” teaches children that homosexuality is normal, promotes homosexual service in the armed forces, pushes for hate crime laws that threaten freedom of speech, calls for laws forcing Christian business to hire homosexuals and insists upon reserving minority status and preferential treatment for them.
“If you think that agenda is bad for America, you must do something,” a female voiceover states.
While WOOD-TV 8 moved the original airing from a Monday slot before President Barack Obama’s 8 p.m. news conference to a Saturday afternoon spot, it finally decided against running it altogether.
“We made a gesture of the 2-3 p.m. Saturday time period. It’s been 24 hours and we had no response,” station General Manager Diane Kniowski told the Grand Rapids Press in a statement Wednesday.
“Our station is being bombarded with calls and messages, and we find ourselves in the middle of someone else’s fight. Ours was a fair offer and we are removing ourselves from this matter,” Kniowski said.
The Human Rights Campaign, a pro-homosexual organization, issued a national alert against the film and urged people to call for its cancellation.
“I am so proud of our members who answered the lies and distortions of the AFA and stopped this campaign of hate and deception,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Our community stood up and would not let those lies stand.”
“This should be our wake up call. We are poised to make real progress, for the first time, for millions of LGBT Americans. We know it and so do our opponents,” added Solmonese. “We must stand guard and not allow them to stop these overdue, basic protections by rolling out the same, tired script albeit in new packaging.”
He continued, “Today’s action proves we have the voices and the power to demand a fair fight and a fair debate.”
Centuries-old clash continues over disputed commandment
By Joe Kovacs
This sign at the Mesa Avenue Church of Christ in Grand Junction, Colo., is typical of churches announcing their worship services on Sunday.
Most Christians today think it’s Sunday, when the majority of churches hold services.
But others confidently say it’s Saturday, calling Sunday worship “the most flagrant error of mainstream Christianity,” believing Sunday-keepers are victims of clever deception.
Some high-profile evangelical pastors such as California’s Greg Laurie say it’s simply “wrong to set Saturday apart as a special day for worship.”
Today, some high-school sports teams refuse to play in state tournaments for the sole reason the events are held on Saturday – what they say is God’s Sabbath.
Scottish sprinter Eric Liddell
Conversely, the 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” was based on the true story of Eric Liddell, a Scottish sprinter and Christian missionary who disqualified himself from his best event at the 1924 Olympics because the race was on Sunday – the Sabbath in his view.
Christians seem irreparably split, as this issue goes back to the beginning of time itself.
In the beginning …
There are seven days in a week, but historians have no consensus about the cycle’s origin, since it has no basis in astronomy.
The Bible, though, indicates God created the Earth and its life forms in six days, and then rested on the seventh.
“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.” (Genesis 2:2-3)
Biblically speaking, the first six days of the week had no special name. They were simply identified by ordinal numbers, such as the first, second and third day. But the seventh day was given a unique name. In Hebrew, it’s “shabbat,” meaning “rest.” In English, the word is “Sabbath,” and it’s detailed in the Fourth Commandment.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work … . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
In many languages, the word used for the seventh day of the week – what we call Saturday – is actually the same word used for “Sabbath.” In Greek, it is sabbaton; Italian, sabato; Spanish, sábado; Russian, subbota; Polish, sobota; and Hungarian, szómbat. Even the French “samedi” is from the Latin “Sambata dies,” for “day of the Sabbath.”
Names of days in today’s English come from ancient paganism, where they were originally associated with celestial objects and heathen gods.
Table traces the seven days of the week from their pagan Latin origin through the names of Norse gods to their current names in English
In the King James Version of the Bible, the word “Sabbath” appears 137 times. The word “Sunday” is absent, though its equivalent, the first day of the week, occurs eight times – nine if the “first day” of creation is counted.
Some examples of the use of Sabbath include:
- “Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.” (Exodus 31:15-16)
- “But pray ye that your flight be not in winter, neither on the sabbath day.” (Matthew 24:20)
- “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)
Most biblical scholars have little disagreement when asked what day the Bible specifically calls the Sabbath.
Prof. Richard Bauckham
“The seventh day, Saturday,” says Richard Bauckham, professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “No other day is called the Sabbath in Old or New Testaments.”
In 2001, Jan Marcussen, a Seventh-Day Adventist from Thompsonville, Ill., was so sure there was no Bible verse declaring the first day to be the Sabbath, he offered up to $1 million for clear, Scriptural proof.
“I didn’t get even one response claiming the $1 million from any theologian, bishop, cardinal, pope or anyone else,” Marcussen, author of “National Sunday Law,” told WND. “Why not? Because they can’t. [Observing Sunday as the Sabbath] is the biggest hoax the world has ever seen.”
But while the Bible never calls the first day of the week a Sabbath, the vast majority of Christians today gather for worship then. Many think Sabbath-keeping was either abolished or moved to Sunday once Jesus rose from the grave.
“There’s not a simple answer,” said Dr. Roger Felipe, a Baptist preacher from Marco Island, Fla., who is also director of programs for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, part of Trinity International University. “From [today's] Christian point of view, the Sabbath is Sunday.”
There is little, if any, argument Jesus and His fellow Jews observed the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, as the Bible states, “as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16)
But it’s what took place after His death and resurrection that’s key.
The rising of the Son
One reason many Christians provide for gathering on Sunday is the belief Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week.
“It’s a powerful symbol,” says Felipe.
An angel informs women that Jesus is not in the tomb, but has already risen.
“In the weekly reckoning of time, Sunday recalls the day of Christ’s Resurrection,” the pope stated.
But the idea Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday is not universal.
The Bible is actually silent on the precise moment of resurrection. Jesus’ followers came to His tomb before dawn on the first day of the week (Sunday), but they did not witness Him coming back to life. They merely found an empty tomb.
A tomb with a view
“Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen,” is what an angel told the women. (Luke 24:5-6)
John Pinkston, Congregation of God Seventh Day
“Christ was already gone!” exclaims John Pinkston, a retired Air Force navigator who is founder and president of the Congregation of God Seventh Day in Kennesaw, Ga. “So that shoots in the foot the belief that He was raised on Sunday.”
Pinkston is typical of many Sabbath-keepers, believing Jesus was neither killed on a Friday, nor raised on Sunday. He believes Jesus was actually put to death on a Wednesday, and remained in the grave 72 hours until Saturday evening. When the women came to the tomb early Sunday, they found it empty, indicating Jesus arose prior to their arrival.
Even the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Sunday-keeper and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., agreed with that timetable, telling WND in 2001, “I personally believe He was crucified on Wednesday evening … and rose after 6 p.m. Saturday evening.”
Most Christians today think Jesus died on a Friday and rose on Sunday. They point to Scriptures indicating a Sabbath day followed Jesus’ execution. But Sabbath-keepers claim it was not the weekly Sabbath of Saturday approaching. Rather, they say it was an annual Sabbath, a “high” holy day in the Hebrew calendar known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which supposedly occurred on a Thursday the week Jesus was killed. The Gospel of John mentions that Sabbath was the annual type.
“The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) … .” (John 19:31)
In other words, Sabbatarians say there was more than one day of rest that week. Their timeline has Jesus slain on Wednesday – the day before the “high day” annual Sabbath on Thursday. They believe Jesus was in the grave for a full three days and three nights, finally arising Saturday evening, the second Sabbath of the week.
The mention of “three days and three nights” is important for many, as Jesus used that phrase to prove His divine identity:
“For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so I, the Son of Man, will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” (Matthew 12:40, New Living Translation)
There’s disagreement if that phrase means a full three days and three nights – 72 hours – or merely parts of three days and three nights, leading many to stick with the Friday-evening-to-Sunday-morning timeline.
The last shall be first?
Beyond the resurrection issue, there are several Bible references to “the first day of the week,” none of which are clear on the Sabbath issue.
Prof. Margaret M. Mitchell
“The New Testament evidence is not conclusive, and nowhere ‘ordains’ or instructs [Sunday-keeping],” said Margaret M. Mitchell, professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Mitchell says the “evidence is, historically speaking, tantalizing but not absolutely clear.”
She notes the apostle Paul, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “calls on the Corinthians to treasure up on the first day of the week.”
“He does not explicitly say there whether the envisioned context is a gathering of the assembly, or if this refers to what people do in their own homes,” Mitchell said.
Another mention of the first day is in Acts 20:7, as Paul is shown breaking bread with fellow believers in ancient Troas, a peninsula in modern-day Turkey: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them … .”
Mitchell told WND: “This text appears to show a particular Sunday eucharistic gathering, but it does not tell us if this replaced the Sabbath observance or stood alongside it, [i.e., people observed both].”
Interestingly, while most Bible versions use the phrase “first day of the week” in Acts 20:7, a 1990 word-for-word translation of the same Scripture by Greek experts Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort in the New Greek English Interlinear New Testament from Tyndale House Publishers, actually renders it as “one of the Sabbaths.”
Their version reads: “And on one of the Sabbaths having been assembled us to break bread, Paul was lecturing them … .”
If the Tyndale translation is accurate, it could heighten the Saturday-vs.-Sunday controversy, since this alleged evidence for Sunday worship may not have been a Sunday at all, but the usual Saturday Sabbath.
‘The Lord’s Day’ – or is that ‘Day of the Lord’?
And then there’s something called “the Lord’s Day.” Though mentioned just once in the Bible, many today assume it means Sunday.
The Scripture, written by the apostle John on the Greek island of Patmos, says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” (Revelation 1:10)
Depiction of John on Patmos by Pat Marvenko Smith, (c) 1992. Used with permission. Revelation Illustrated
Some Sabbatarians like Pinkston believe the term has no connection to the first day of the week.
“It’s not talking anything about Sunday,” he said. “It’s talking about the ‘Day of the Lord’ mentioned in the Old Testament. It’s prophecy about when Christ comes back. The Book of Revelation reveals the events of the ‘Day of the Lord.’ It has nothing to do with a worship day.”
Others think it is indeed a worship day, but not Sunday. They suggest “the Lord’s Day” is actually a Saturday Sabbath, noting Jesus called himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28) and that God referred to the Sabbath as “my holy day.” (Isaiah 58:13)
Thus, according to this reasoning, if any day of the week were really “the Lord’s Day,” it’s the seventh-day Sabbath, not Sunday.
However, Prof. Bauckham in Scotland believes there’s good evidence from early Christian sources the phrase does indeed refer to Sunday.
“John probably means that his visionary experience happened during the time when other Christians were gathered for worship,” he said.
“The other interpretation [equating it with the 'Day of the Lord'] doesn’t really make sense because the earlier parts of the vision are not placed temporally at the end of history. That is only approached over several chapters [into Revelation].”
The Encyclopedia Britannica equates Sunday with “the Lord’s Day” in Christianity, stating, “The practice of Christians gathering together for worship on Sunday dates back to apostolic times, but details of the actual development of the custom are not clear.”
The New Testament, penned within the first century, never specifically mentions a Sabbath change.
“From a logical point of view,” says Pinkston, “if the New Testament had intended for us to start worshipping on the first day of the week, then we’d find ample evidence for it. Yet, it’s not in there.”
One example Sabbatarians point to is when Paul is shown preaching to both Jews and Gentiles (non-Hebrews) on a Sabbath, and not Sunday. He’s then asked to preach again on the following Sabbath.
“And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. … And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” (Acts 13:42-44)
The argument is, if there were some kind of worship on the first day of the week, then Paul would have just told the people – especially those with no connection to Jewish customs – to simply come back tomorrow (Sunday) to learn more, rather than wait an entire week for the next Sabbath to arrive.
Man of the Sabbath
A well-known expert on the Sabbath is Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, a retired theology professor at Andrews University in Michigan.
Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi
Bacchiocchi earned his doctorate in Church History at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was awarded a gold medal by Pope Paul VI for his summa cum laude class work and dissertation, “From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity.”
Bacchiocchi, a Seventh-Day Adventist, believes there’s no Scriptural mandate to change or eliminate Sabbath-keeping, and he singles out the Catholic Church for its role in changing the day.
“The Church of the capital of the empire, whose authority was already felt far and wide in the second century, appears to be the most likely birthplace of Sunday observance,” he writes.
In the 1876 book, “The Faith of Our Fathers,” James Cardinal Gibbons, the Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, agreed the shift to Sunday was not based on the Bible, but was solely the work of the Catholic Church.
“You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify,” Gibbons wrote.
Bacchiocchi also told WND: “Anti-Judaism caused the abandonment of the Sabbath, and pagan sun worship influenced the adoption of Sunday.”
He says evidence of anti-Judaism is found in the writings of Christian leaders such as Ignatius, Barnabas and Justin in the second century. He notes these three “witnessed and participated in the process of separation from Judaism which led the majority of the Christians to abandon the Sabbath and adopt Sunday as the new day of worship.”
Bacchiocchi also explains the influence of pagan sun worship provides a “plausible explanation for the Christian choice of Sunday” over the day of Saturn. Its effect wasn’t just limited to Sunday. It apparently led to the placement of Jesus’ birth in late December.
“The adoption of the 25th of December for the celebration of Christmas is perhaps the most explicit example of sun worship’s influence on the Christian liturgical calendar,” Bacchiocchi writes. “It is a known fact that the pagan feast of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – the birthday of the Invincible Sun, was held on that date.”
Christian facts, pagan Mithras
One of the Roman names for this “Invincible Sun” god in the days of the apostles was Mithras. There are striking similarities between the ancient worship of Mithras and today’s Christianity, leading some to think early Christians adopted Sunday worship from heathen customs.
The pagan sun god Mithras, also known as ‘the Invincible Sun’
For instance, Mithraism’s sacred day of Sunday was said to be called “the Lord’s Day.”
Donald Morse, a retired professor at Temple University, wrote a 1999 essay comparing the tenets of Mithraism to modern Christianity, explaining Mithras was worshipped on Sunday; was born of a virgin known as the “mother of God” on Dec. 25; was part of a holy trinity; and had a “Last Supper” with his 12 followers before his death and resurrection at Easter time near the spring equinox.
Mithraists were also taught they had immortal souls that went to a celestial heaven or an infernal hell at death.
“All of these religions intermingled in those days,” Morse, who is Jewish, told WND. “There’s no way to know who stole from whom.”
On the change from Sabbath to Sunday, Morse suggested early Christian leaders including Paul felt “the best way to convert pagans was to not have them change too much. Just accept their [pagan] holidays, as long as they accepted Jesus as Messiah. They didn’t really have to do much more than that.”
There’s no place like Rome
As Christianity spread through the pagan Roman Empire, it was finally given official toleration in the year 312 by Emperor Constantine, who purportedly had a vision that prompted his soldiers to fight under a “symbol of Christ,” leading to a key military victory. The emperor then restored confiscated church property and even offered public funds to churches in need.
Roman Emperor Constantine sees a symbol of Christ in the sky before the battle at Milvian Bridge outside Rome in A.D. 312
Sunday observance received a historic boost when Constantine – himself a pagan who is said to have adopted Christianity at least nominally – established Sunday as the first day of the week in the Roman calendar and issued a mandatory order prohibiting work on that day, in honor of the sun god.
On March 7, 321, he decreed, “On the venerable Day of the Sun, let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.” Farmers were given an exception.
“The importance of the actions of Constantine cannot be overstated,” says author Richard Rives in “Too Long in the Sun.” “During his reign, pagan sun worship was blended with the worship of the Creator, and officially entitled ‘Christianity.’”
Before the end of the 4th century, Sunday observance prevailed over Saturday.
At the Council of Laodicea in 363, the Church of Rome – today known as the Roman Catholic Church – declared: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s Day [Sunday]; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.”
In 380, Emperor Theodosius made Sunday-keeping Catholic Christianity the official religion of the empire, outlawing all other faiths:
We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that the shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics.
While some went along with the decrees, others apparently did not. A letter from Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, possibly reveals Saturday Sabbath-keeping in his own town, while Sunday was being observed in Rome. It led to the well-known proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Once Sunday had the imperial power of the Roman Catholic government behind it, Saturday Sabbath-keepers became less visible, though some Sabbatarian websites have documented mentions of seventh-day observers through the centuries.
For example, the Catholic Church persecuted Sabbath-keepers in the 15th century. At the Catholic Provincial Council of Bergen, Norway, in 1435, it was said:
We are informed that some people in different districts of the kingdom, have adopted and observed Saturday-keeping.
It is severely forbidden – in holy church canon – [for] one and all to observe days excepting those which the holy pope, archbishop, or the bishops command. Saturday-keeping must under no circumstances be permitted hereafter further that the church canon commands. Therefore we counsel all the friends of God throughout all Norway who want to be obedient towards the holy church to let this evil of Saturday-keeping alone; and the rest we forbid under penalty of severe church punishment to keep Saturday holy.
The Catholic Encyclopedia even refers to Sabbath-keeping as “the superstitious observance of Saturday,” noting it was forbidden by that council.
Coming to America
As Christianity headed west, the earliest settlers to America included both Sunday-keepers – such as the Puritans who landed at Plymouth, Mass., in 1620 – and Sabbath-observers like the Seventh Day Baptists, whose first church was founded in Newport, R.I., in 1671.
When the Puritan Christians used the word Sabbath, they would mean Sunday – “the Lord’s Day” – and passed rules enforcing its observance from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday.
Connecticut’s so-called Blue Laws of the 1650s had strict codes of conduct said to include:
- No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from meeting.
- No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave, on the Sabbath day.
- No one shall read Common-Prayer, keep Christmas or saints-days, make minced pies, dance, play cards, or play on any instrument of music, except the drum, trumpet, and the Jews-harp.
- Adultery shall be punished by death.
Instructions for colonists in New Haven, Conn., drafted in 1655 and published in London in 1656 became known as blue laws.
In her 1909 book, “The Sabbath in Puritan New England,” historian Alice Morse Earle documented “lists of arrests and fines for walking and travelling unnecessarily on the Sabbath,” regarded here from Saturday evening to Sunday evening:
A Maine man who was rebuked and fined for “unseemly walking” on the Lord’s Day protested that he ran to save a man from drowning. The Court made him pay his fine, but ordered that the money should be returned to him when he could prove by witnesses that he had been on that errand of mercy and duty. As late as the year 1831, in Lebanon, Conn., a lady journeying to her father’s home was arrested within sight of her father’s house for unnecessary travelling on the Sabbath; and a long and fiercely contested lawsuit was the result, and damages were finally given for false imprisonment.
Spring of 1642: Puritan settlers in New England observe the Sabbath on Sunday, Courtesy the Stamford Historical Society, Stamford, Conn.
Christians observing the Sabbath on Saturday also spread throughout America, but in fewer numbers than Sunday-keepers.
The teachings of the Seventh Day Baptists are said to be instrumental in the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church – which claims a membership today of 15 million – and the Church of God (Seventh Day) – which has more than 200 congregations in the U.S. and Canada and a worldwide fellowship of more than 300,000.
Other Christians promoting Saturday rest include many offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God, such as the United Church of God, Living Church of God, Church of God International, Philadelphia Church of God and Intercontinental Church of God.
Messianic Jews, including Dallas-based Zola Levitt Ministries, are also seventh-day proponents.
Some Sabbatarians, such as Richard Ames of the Living Church of God, produce TV shows like “Tomorrow’s World,” asking, “Which day is the Christian Sabbath?”
On one program, Ames points to Luke 4:16 in the Bible and says, “It was Jesus’ regular custom to worship on the Sabbath, and since that time, and centuries before, the Jewish community has very carefully documented their observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, Saturday. In other words, history demonstrates that time has not been lost, that the seven-day cycle has been accurately recorded to this day.”
In another episode, Ames’ colleague, Roderick C. Meredith, calls Sunday observance “the most flagrant error of mainstream Christianity” and “the most obvious deception of all.”
“Do you realize that this deception is blinding millions of people from knowing God?” asks Meredith.
Despite such rhetoric, many Catholic and Protestant Sunday-keepers reject Sabbath-keeping on Saturday.
Greg Laurie, a WND columnist and senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., one of the eight largest Protestant churches in America, maintains it’s wrong for Christians to observe Saturday, claiming Jesus and the apostles never taught anyone to keep the Sabbath. He says it’s the only one of the Ten Commandments not specifically repeated in the New Testament.
“Of all the New Testament lists of sins, ‘breaking the Sabbath’ is never mentioned,” Laurie said. “That is because it was given to the Jews, not the non-Jews.”
Back in Florida, Sunday-keeper Roger Felipe thinks God is not overly concerned with the Sabbath issue.
“Paul is very clear that we Christians don’t use [one particular day] as a determining factor if someone is right with God,” Felipe said.
At the same time, though, the minister supports the idea of resting one day each week to stay on track with God.
“Humanity has forsaken the importance of Sabbath rest,” he said. “God desires us to be renewed spiritually. We should observe a day … to be consecrated and to be devoted to God, to be renewed and refreshed. In terms of affecting the human quality of life, it would do us very well to observe a Sabbath rest.”
Christian missionaries are “as dangerous as terrorist activities or the illegal drug trade,” Islamic theologians in Uzbekistan declared.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports a new documentary called “In the Clutches of Ignorance,” featuring Uzbek experts, state officials and representatives of Orthodox and Catholic churches in Uzbekistan, claims missionaries pose a serious threat to the Islamic republic.
The Uzbek state film criticized Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Gospel Church and Blagodat (evangelical charity), saying they cause a “global problem, along with religious dogmatism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and drug addiction.”
Jasur Najmiddinov, one of many religious experts interviewed, accused Protestants of being a “political tool” and a “part of geopolitical games,” RFE/RL reported.
“Their center or place of origin traces back to the United States,” Najmiddinov said. “They have even gone so far as meddling in politics. We all know representatives of the Protestant movement played a significant role in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.”
The Uzbek theologian said missionary activities disrupt society because Uzbek families do not tolerate relatives who convert from Islam.
The May 16 documentary featured clips of people praying and claimed Uzbek Christians, who have turned their backs on Islam, could effortlessly betray their country.
Uzbekistan bans missionary activity, religions that are not registered with the government and printing of faith-based literature without state consent.
Norway’s Forum 18, an organization defending religious freedom, reports intolerance of religion is steadily growing in Uzbekistan as police invade private homes, seize Christian literature, arrest converts and deport missionaries.
The new state documentary warns, Christian missionaries seek out “those with low political awareness and weak-willed young people, as well as minors,” and it said they “get funds abroad” to destabilize Islam.
Although the government says its official stance of “religious toleration” is part of its policy, persecution of a wide variety of religious groups is common in Uzbekistan. Human rights organizations say the government incarcerates Muslims for worshipping outside state institutions and calls them extremists determined to bring down the government.
Uzbek imam Obidkhon Qori Nazarov blames the strict government for putting so much pressure on Muslims that it often separates them from Islam, RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reported.
“People are being fired from their jobs or expelled from universities for merely growing a beard or wearing head scarves,” he said. “Some people are even sent to prison. People are afraid of following the most basic Islamic requirements.”
Nazarov claims terrified parents refuse to let their children pray or go to mosques because they fear the government, as it controls all religious activities and even appoints imams.
“It’s like Soviet times,” Nazarov said. “In the Soviet days, we also had mosques and churches everywhere. But in reality, they all operated under the tightest government control.”