|LORD'S DAY |
A designation for Sunday, the first day of the week, used only once in the New Testament (Revelation 1:10). The Greek word for “Lord's,” however, is precisely the same as that used in the term for “Lord's Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20). In fact, the Didache, an early Christian manual for worship and instruction, links the two terms together, indicating that the Lord's Supper was observed each Lord's Day (1 Corinthians 14:1). Herein may lie the origin of the term. Because the first day of the week was the day on which the early Christians celebrated Lord's Supper, it became known as Lord's Day, the distinctively Christian day of worship.
The earliest account of a first-day worship experience is found in
Acts 20:7-12. Here Paul joined the Christians of Troas on the evening of the first day of the week for the breaking of bread (probably a reference to the Lord's Supper). The actual day is somewhat uncertain. Evening of the first day could refer to Saturday evening (by Jewish reckoning) or to Sunday evening (by Roman reckoning). Since the incident involved Gentiles on Gentile soil, however, the probable reference is to Sunday night.
The importance of Sunday to first-century Christians is also intimated in
1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Giving instructions about a special relief offering he wanted to take to the Christians in Jerusalem, Paul suggested that the Corinthians should set aside their weekly contributions on the first day of the week. Paul probably mentioned this day because he knew that his readers routinely assembled on that day for worship and that would be the logical time for them to set aside their offering.
Two other second-century documents also shed light on the significance of Lord's Day for the early church. First, Ignatius in his Epistle to the Magnesians (about A.D. 110-117) stressed the importance of Lord's Day by contrasting the worship done on that day with that formerly observed on the Sabbath (1 Corinthians 9:1). Second, Justin Martyr (about A.D. 150) wrote the first extant Christian description of a worship service. He noted that the early Sunday morning service began with baptism, included Scripture readings, expository preaching, and prayer, and then concluded with the observance of the Lord's Supper (Apology 65-67).
First and second century Christian documents indicate that Sunday quickly became the standard day for Christian worship, but they do not explain how or why this change from Sabbath to Lord's Day came about. The most obvious reason, of course, was the Resurrection of Jesus which took place on that first Lord's Day. Since the earliest collective experiences of the disciples with the risen Lord took place on Easter Sunday evening (Luke 24:36-49;
John 20:19-23), one might naturally expect the disciples to gather at that same hour on subsequent Sundays to remember Him in the observance of the Supper. This pattern, perhaps, is reflected in the service at Troas in
The change in the time of worship from evening to morning, though, probably came about because of practical necessity. Writing to the emperor Trajan at the beginning of the second century, Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, reported that in compliance with Trajan's edict against seditious assemblies, he had ordered that no group, including the Christians, could meet at night. Pliny then described an early morning service of the Christians. Forbidden to meet at night, they met for the observance of the Supper at the only other hour available to them on the first day of the week: early in the morning before they went to work. It is likely that the practice then spread throughout the empire wherever similar regulations against evening worship were in force.
Although some Jewish Christians probably also observed the sabbath, the early Christians saw Sunday as a day of joy and celebration, not a substitute for the sabbath. The use of the term “sabbath” to refer to Sunday did not become common until the English Puritans began to do so after A.D. 1500. Evidence from the early centuries clearly shows that Christians regarded Sunday as a day to rejoice in the new life brought by the resurrection. On other days Christians might fast and kneel when praying, but the joyous character of the Lord's day made those actions inappropriate on Sundays. Soon after Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. Sunday was officially declared a day of rest. See Didache; Lord's Supper; Sabbath; Worship
Fred A. Grissom and Naymond Keathley