In considering a discussion of the Lord’s Day, it is helpful to do so in connection with the Old Testament Sabbath Day. This can help us establish a historical mindset regarding both the significance of the Jewish Sabbath, as well as the Lord’s Day.
The principle of the Sabbath rest goes back to the Creation account. Genesis 2 says God “rested” on the seventh day. That word is shabat and means to rest or to cease. God ceased His work, and rested on that seventh day of creation. This is significant because God sets the pattern of working six days a week, and setting aside one for a day of rest.
The first mention of the Sabbath Day is in Exodus 16 when God provided manna for the people. They were to collect manna for six days, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, they were not to gather any manna. The next occurrence is in Exodus 20 when God gave his Ten Commandments. Commandment number four says that God’s people are to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The Sabbath was already in place by the time of the giving of the Decalogue. The Sabbath was not instigated with the Mosaic Law; perhaps we could say it was institutionalized on Sinai.
The nation of Israel was expected to keep the Sabbath Day holy, or separate, to the Lord. We can observe generally from the Old Testament texts that “in the early history of the Israelites, the Sabbath was a day of welcome rest from labor and of solemn worship at the sanctuary of God.”1 The Sabbath was observed all throughout the Old Testament as well as through the gospel accounts. Jesus attended synagogue worship on the Sabbath in Mark 1, Mark 3, Luke 4, and Luke 13.
As I wrote in an earlier post, the book of Acts chronicles the transition period from the Sabbath observance to the observance of the Lord’s Day. Is the Lord’s Day simply a “carry-over” from the Old Testament observance of the Sabbath, or are we to view those days differently? Today, there are varying views of the Lord’s Day with regards to the Old Testament Sabbath.
One view could be characterized as “Strict Sabbatarianism.” This view holds that the Sabbath Day is still to be honored, as it is said in the Decalogue. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church illustrates this view.
Another view could be described as “Semi-Sabbatarianism.” This view essentially takes the ideas and demands of the Strict Sabbatarians, but applies them to Sunday. Representative of this view is the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which refers to the Lord’s Day as the “Christian Sabbath.” In that document, six questions are given with regards to the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, applying its teaching to the Lord’s Day.2 This is the view that came to the New World through the teaching of the Puritans, who taught that no unnecessary works and no recreation were to be done on the Lord’s Day.
A third view of the Lord’s Day could perhaps be called “non-Sabbatarianism.” This view essentially believes that the fourth commandment regarding the Sabbath was part of the ceremonial law for Israel, but not applicable to the New Testament Church. Along with this view is the notion that there are no regulations regarding work or recreation on the Lord’s Day. This tends to be the predominant view of the Lord’s Day in the modern church.
I do not believe we could put a precise label on the early apostles and followers of Christ in the first century regarding their view of the Lord’s Day. It is clear that they shifted their worship from Saturday to Sunday. In those times of Lord’s Day gatherings we are left to believe that at the least they were set aside for worship and remembrance of the Lord’s death and resurrection. From the first reference to the Lord’s Day in Acts 20:7 we are led to believe that the normal routine of the disciples was to come together to “break bread” a reference to the Lord’s Supper and remembering Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. They gathered on this day as a group of believers, celebrated Christ’s sacrifice for sins, and heard the preaching of God’s Word. We are also led to believe from the text in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 that the early church also set this day aside for giving.
Is there a link between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day? I believe there is. The principle of the Sabbath has been around since Creation, and therefore should be held today by the New Testament Church, though the particular restrictions set in place regarding the fourth commandment of the Decalogue are not for the Church today. Whether we call Sunday the “Christian Sabbath” as the Puritans did, or simply the Lord’s Day, our view of Sunday ought to be different than our view of other days of the week. I believe this can be supported through church history, which will be the subject of the next post.
This essay was originally published here and is reposted by permission from the author.