The expression "the Lord's day" is found only once in the Bible. In Revelation 1:10 John relates the beginning of his visionary experience to being in the Spirit "on the Lord's Day." The phrase seems to have become more common in the second century a.d., where it is found in such early Christian writings as Ignatius's Epistle to the Magnesians 9:1 (c. a.d. 108), the Didache 14:1 (c. a.d. 100-125), and the Gospel of Peter 9:35; 12:50 (c. a.d. 125-50).
The presence of the adjective kuriakos [kuriakov"] makes the expression grammatically different from the common biblical phrase "the Day of the Lord, " which uses the genitive form of the noun kurios [kuvrio"]. The adjective is found only one other time in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 11:20, where Paul speaks of "the Lord's Supper." Non-Christian parallels suggest that the adjective was used with reference to that which belonged to the Roman emperor; early Christians seem to have used it, perhaps in conscious protest, to refer to that which belonged to Jesus.
The particular "day" that belonged to Jesus seems to have been Sunday, or, by Jewish reckoning, Saturday sundown until Sunday sundown. According to the Gospels, Jesus was raised from the dead on "the first day of the week" ( Matt 28:1 ; Mark 16:2 ; Luke 24:1 ; John 20:1 ), that is, Sunday. New Testament evidence suggests that by the 50s, if not earlier, Christians were attaching special significance to Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 Paul exhorts the church at Corinth to set aside a sum of money "on the first day of every week" for the church at Jerusalem, as the Galatian churches were already doing. Similarly, Luke notes that when Paul arrived at Troas near the end of his third missionary journey, the church gathered together to break bread "on the first day of the week" ( Acts 20:6-7 ). Although the identification is not made explicit, there is therefore good reason to believe that John has Sunday in mind when he mentions "the Lord's Day" in Revelation 1:10. Certainly the second-century Gospel of Peter, which twice speaks of the day of Jesus' resurrection as "the Lord's Day" (9:35; 12:50), makes the connection. Similarly, the Epistle of Barnabas (c. a.d. 130) notes that Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection of "the eighth day" (15:9; cf. John 20:26 ), or Sunday, which is the day after the seventh day that is, the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday). Justin Martyr affirms that Jesus was raised on "the day of the Sun" (Apology 67).
How quickly the Lord's Day emerged as a specific day of worship for the early church is not clear. Luke observes that in the period immediately following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the earliest Christians met "every day" in the temple courts. Whether their breaking of bread in their homes was a daily or weekly occurrence he does not specify, but the former seems more likely ( Acts 2:46 ). Alternately, Paul's comments to the Corinthians concerning the laying aside of money on the first day of the week do not indicate whether this action was connected with a formal gathering of the church ( 1 Cor 16:13 ). Luke's description of the meeting of believers at Troas is the first clear indication of a special gathering as taking place in the evening, by which he probably means Sunday, using Roman reckoning from midnight to midnight, rather than the Jewish system. By the second century the Lord's Day was clearly set apart as a special day for worship. In a letter to the emperor Trajan (c. a.d. 112), the Roman governor Pliny the Younger notes that Christians assembled before daylight "on an appointed day" (Epistle 10:96), undoubtedly Sunday. The Didache specifically exhorts believers to come together on the Lord's Day (14:1), and the Epistle of Barnabas sees it as a special day of celebration (15:9). Indeed, Justin Martyr (c. a.d. 150) gives a detailed account of typical Sunday worship (Apology 67).
A clear picture of how the early Christians celebrated the Lord's Day emerges only gradually. Luke records that the Christians at Troas came together to break bread, which may well denote a meal that included the Lord's Supper (cf. Acts 2:42 ; 1 Cor 11:20-22 ). That Paul spoke (at great length!) to the assembled believers ( Acts 20:7-11 ) implies nothing about their typical practice, since Paul was a special guest and intended to leave the next day. The Didache makes explicit the connection between the breaking of bread and the Lord's Supper on the Lord's Day but says little else concerning the meeting, apart from mentioning the practice of confession of sin (14:1). Pliny mentions two meetings on the "appointed day": the Christians first meet before dawn to sing a hymn to Christ "as to a god" and to affirm certain ethical commitments; then they depart and reassemble for a meal. Not being a Christian himself, Pliny would not have understood the significance of the meal as a setting for the Lord's Supper; for him it was enough that the meal consisted "of ordinary, innocent food" (Epistle 10:96).
The most extensive account of an early Christian Sunday worship service is provided by Justin Martyr (Apology 67, cf. 65). According to Justin, the gathering begins with readings from "the memoirs of the apostles" the Gospels or the writings of the prophets for "as long as time permits." The "president" then delivers a sermon consisting of instruction and exhortation. Next, the congregation rises for prayer, following which the bread and wine are brought in for the Lord's Supper. After prayers and thanksgivings by the president and a congregational "Amen, " the deacons distribute the bread and wine to those who are present (and then carry some to those who are absent). There follows a collection of "what each thinks fit" for the needy, and, apparently, the end of the service.
Noteworthy in these early texts is the lack of identification of Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath. Luke has little to say about early Christian observance of the Sabbath, apart from recording Paul's preaching on the Sabbath in Jewish synagogues ( Acts 13:14 Acts 13:42 Acts 13:44 ; 17:2 ; 18:4 ; 16:13 ), which perhaps says less about Paul's commitment to Sabbath observance than about his missionary strategy. Indeed, Paul has little interest in observing special days as sacred ( Rom 14:5-6 ; Gal 4:9-11 ; Col 2:16 ). Ignatius contrasts observance of the Sabbath with living for the Lord's Day (Magnesians 9:1). The Epistle of Barnabas views the significance of the biblical Sabbath as being a symbol of the future rest established at the return of Jesus (15:1-8; cf. Heb 4:3-11 ). Justin Martyr speaks of the Sabbath in terms of a perpetual turning from sin (Dialogue with Trypho 12). In 321 Constantine proclaimed Sunday to be official day of rest in the Roman Empire (Codex Justinianus 3.12.3), but this does not seem to have been related to any concern with the Jewish Sabbath. By the end of the fourth century, church leaders such as Ambrose and John Chrysostom were making such a connection, defending relaxation from work on Sunday on the basis of the Fourth Commandment and paving the way for later Catholic and Protestant elaboration on Sunday as the Sabbath.
In the early church, then, the Christians began to give a special place to Sunday as the day on which Jesus was raised from the dead. It soon became a fixed day for worship, a celebration of the resurrection centered around the Lord's Supper. As Christianity distanced itself from Judaism, it is not surprising that eventually the church would see its special day in terms of the special day of the Jews, the Sabbath, and would transfer the provisions of the Fourth Commandment to Sunday. Joseph L. Trafton
See also Worship
Bibliography. P. K. Jewett, The Lord's Day; W. Rordorf, Sunday.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Lord\'s Day, the'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".