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The Lord's Day

Christians should set apart every day unto to the Lord as a sacrifice of worship, but the first day of the week has been specifically distinguished from the other six days by God. This special day was prophesied in the Old Testament:

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:21—24).

Christians often use this passage to teach that we should rejoice in every day that God has made. But more correctly this passage speaks of a specific day in which would should specially rejoice. This special day that the Lord has made is the one on which “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Peter explains what this special day is in Acts 4:10—11:

Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

Peter indicates that this special day prophesied in Psalm 118 is the day on which Jesus the Messiah raised from the dead, which all four Gospels tell us was the first day of the week.

This day of Christ’s victory over sin and death is one in which Christians should rejoice in a special way different from the other six days of the week. This special set-apart day is specifically designated as “The Lord’s Day”:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10).

This expression “Lord’s Day” is not the same as other expressions in Revelation rendered “day of the Lord.” The term translated “Lord’s” in Revelation 1 is not the same term used in the other references. This is a unique term of possession indicating that because of Christ’s resurrection, the first day of the week is a special day “belonging to the Lord.”

This same possessive term is used in 1 Corinthians 11:20 with reference to the “Lord’s supper.” This biblical ordinance is a supper “belonging to the Lord” in a special way. It is a supper set apart from other common suppers because it symbolizes the death of Christ. Similarly, the first day of the week is set apart from other common days because it is the day on which Christ arose.

We find clear examples in the New Testament of churches gathering together on the first day of the week:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight (Acts 20:7).

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come (1 Corinthians 16:2).

While it is true that the expression “Lord’s Day” is used only once in the New Testament, and it is not explicitly connected to the first day of the week, testimony of early church leaders, including some friends of the Apostle John, confirm that the first day was called “The Lord’s Day.” For example, Ignatius, a companion of John said, “Let us no more Sabbatize, but let us keep the Lord’s day, on which our Life arose.” Likewise Iranaeus, a disciple of Polycarp who was a friend of John said, “On the Lord’s day every one of us Christians keep the Sabbath, meditating on the law, and rejoicing in the works of God.” Since John’s friends referred to the first day of the week as “The Lord’s Day,” there is no doubt to what John was referring in Revelation 1:10. So well was the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day known in the first centuries that pagan officials would ask, “Do you keep the Lord’s day?” as equivalent to the question, “Are you a Christian?”

So it is clear that for a Christian, the first day of the week should be a special day set apart for him because it is a day especially belonging to him.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

5 Responses to The Lord's Day

  1. The problem with this analysis is it neglects the fact that God created the seventh day (Saturday) as the sabbath – a special day for worship and rest. This concept is found throughout the Bible starting at Genesis. Nowhere does it say that the sabbath will be changed to a different day, or even that man has the right to decide that it should be changed. In fact the very suggestion that the sabbath could change would be anathema to the first believers, who were all Jewish.

    The reference in Acts 20:7 is interesting – in the Jewish culture the day begins at Sunset (because Genesis says God created the evening and the morning…), so as Jamie said, the events in this passage would undoubtedly have been on Saturday night. Jewish people mark the end of the sabbath with a short service called Havdallah (meaning separation) to mark the transition between the one special day and the six regular days, and I am told that in Biblical times the Havdallah ceremony involved the breaking of bread. This is also consistent with Paul speaking until midnight and planning to leave the next day (Sunday) – travel on the sabbath was restricted.

    Rev 1:10 is a bit of a mystery to me (I'll have to ask an expert) , but we shouldn't let a single verse with uncertain meaning detract from a consistent view in the rest of the Bible.

    Regarding the early church leaders, these were notoriously anti-semitic and wanted to rid the church of its Jewish character, so I wouldn't give much weight to their views.

  2. I would be interested to know the source of the quotation from Irenaeus.

    According to a secondary source (The Four Major Cults, German edition, by Dr. Anthony A. Hoekema), the noted NT scholar F.F. Bruce maintained that Luke used the Roman, not the Jewish time reckoning, i.e. a day was from midnight to midnight in Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The primary source may be "Commentary on the Book of the Acts" [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955]. I did not take the time to chase it down.

    I have found your quotation of Ignatius in his Letter to the Magnesians, Section 9, from approximately the year A.D. 107, as quoted by Lightfoot in the Apostolic Fathers. There is some question as to its original formulation, due to textual variants. This should not surprise us, for the copyists would not have been as exacting with regard to non-canonical writings as they were with the Scriptures themselves. If variants were common in copies of the sacred Scriptures, how much more likely must they be with regard to secular works?

    I also found a quotation from the Didache "Teachings of the Twelve Apostles" from the late 1st or early 2nd century, section 5 (paragraph 14): "Now according to the Lord's day, gather together and break bread and give thanks, after acknowledging your wanderings to one another, so your sacrifice would be a clean one."

    Then there is the reference to the "eighth day" from "The Epistle of Barnabas" (15:8-9). The letter itself was quoted as early as the second century by Clement of Alexandria. "Finally He saith to them; Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot away with. Ye see what is His meaning; it is not your present Sabbaths that are acceptable [unto Me], but the Sabbath which I have made, in the which, when I have set all things at rest, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world. Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens."

    From the First Apology of Justin Martyr, chapter 67, written around A.D. 155, we read: "the Sunday is the day on which we all hold our normal assembly". With regard to the Christians from the nations: "the heathen who believe on Him (Christ) … will receive the inheritance … although they neither ever observed the Sabbath, nor were circumcised, nor observed the feasts." (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 26 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, 207 – my translation from a German source)

    I came across a website that had a brief, but interesting consideration of the issue: The group GCI, founded by Herbert Armstrong, has some quirky ideas in their doctrinal statement. Nonetheless, their page about the Lord's Day has interesting information with footnotes that may be useful for this consideration.

    I would also add the following from my own personal study of the subject recently:

    A. The sabbath (or rest) principle existed in terms of example since the creation week (Genesis 2).

    1. God rested.

    2. God blessed it. (1:22, 28; 2:3; 5:3)

    3. God set it apart. (2:3; Exodus 13:2; 19:10, 14, 22-23; 20:8)

    4. God did not call it "Sabbath" at this point, but "the seventh day." (Genesis 2:3)

    5. God did not regulate it, apparently, although He specifically regulated several other matters.

    a) He regulated fruitfulness. (Genesis 1:28)

    b) He regulated the dominion of man over creation. (same verse)

    c) He regulated diet. (verse 29; 2:16-17)

    d) He regulated marriage. (2:24)

    e) He regulated further matters, including bloodshed. (9:1-7)

    B. The sabbath precept had to be taught to the children of Israel. (Exodus 16 – certainly much had to be taught a nation that had spent so much time in heathen Egypt.)

    1. Exodus 20:8 makes reference to "the sabbath day." Its definiteness (“the”) indicates that it was already known to the children of Israel at this point.

    2. It was in fact known to them, but not primarily because of the creation week, but rather because of another situation that was very fresh in their memory. (Exodus 16:5, 22-30)

    a) They should receive twice as much bread from heaven on the sixth day (verse 5)

    b) Yet they were surprised (verse 22)

    c) It was "a sabbath" (verse 25), that is literally "a rest." Translations with the definite article are few.

    d) It became "the sabbath" (the rest) that God had given specifically to them, the children of Israel (verse 29).

    C. The sabbath then became law (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

    1. The holy remembrance of the "rest" prescribed in Exodus 20:8-11

    a) How it was to be observed (verses 9-10)

    b) Who was to observe it (verse 10 – Jews and also non-Jews who were living among the children of Israel)

    c) Why it was to be observed (verse 11) – the example of the LORD. Young's Literal Translation: "therefore hath Jehovah blessed the Sabbath-day, and doth sanctify it." Note the two tenses.

    2. The sanctity of the "rest" according to Deuteronomy 5:12-15

    a) The specific application to the children of Israel: 21 second-person references in 4 verses. (Admittedly second-person references are not absent from the other nine commandments. Romans 2:14-15 indicates that the law was written on the hearts and present in the consciences of the Gentiles. Is sabbath observance intuitive for an unseared, but unregenerated conscience?)

    b) The extent of the application to strangers: "within your gates" (verse 14)

    c) The rationale behind the command: This time not, "the Lord rested," or "the LORD brought [others] out," but "the LORD brought you out … therefore the LORD commanded you to keep the sabbath day." (verse 15)

    3. A further confirmation of the specific Jewish application of this law: Jeremiah 17:22 – "sanctify the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers." Subsequent verses (through verse 27) apply the teaching to the southern kingdom.

    Perhaps this straight-forward approach to the Scripture may help to shed light upon the development of the teaching in the Old Testament, even before the teaching of the New Testament is brought into the picture. (Please excuse my taking up so much space on your website.)

  3. Very interesting and helpful! Thanks! This is an issue that has interested me recently, so I appreciate seeing some of the fruits of your own study.

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