Lord's Day

(he kuriake hemera):

See a list of verses on LORD'S DAY in the Bible.

1. Linguistic:

Formerly it was supposed that the adjective kuriakos (translated "the Lord's") was a purely Christian word, but recent discoveries have proved that it was in fairly common use in the Roman Empire before Christian influence had been felt. In secular use it signified "imperial," "belonging to the lord"--the emperor--and so its adoption by Christianity in the sense "belonging to the Lord"--to Christ--was perfectly easy. Indeed, there is reason to suppose that in the days of Domitian, when the issue had been sharply defined as "Who is Lord? Caesar or Christ?" the use of the adjective by the church was a part of the protest against Caesar-worship (see LORD). And it is even possible that the full phrase, "the Lord's day," was coined as a contrast to the phrase, "the Augustean day" he sebaste hemera), a term that seems to have been used in some parts of the Empire to denote days especially dedicated in honor of Caesar-worship.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

2. Post-Apostolic:

"Lord's day" in the New Testament occurs only in Re 1:10, but in the post-apostolic literature we have the following references: Ignatius, Ad Mag., ix.1, "No longer keeping the Sabbath but living according to the Lord's day, on which also our Light arose"; Ev. Pet., verse 35, "The Lord's day began to dawn" (compare Mt 28:1); verse 50, "early on the Lord's day" (compare Lu 24:1); Barn 15 9, "We keep the eighth day with gladness," on which Jesus arose from the dead." I.e. Sunday, as the day of Christ's resurrection, was kept as a Christian feast and called "the Lord's day," a title fixed so definitely as to be introduced by the author of Ev. Pet. into phrases from the canonical Gospels. Its appropriateness in Re 1:10 is obvious, as John received his vision of the exalted Lord when all Christians had their minds directed toward His entrance into glory through the resurrection.

3. In the New Testament:

This "first day of the week" appears again in Ac 20:7 as the day on which the worship of the "breaking of bread" took place, and the impression given by the context is that Paul and his companions prolonged their visit to Troas so as to join in the service. Again, 1Co 16:2 contains the command, "Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store," where the force of the form of the imperative used (the present for repeated action) would be better represented in English by "lay by on the successive Sundays." Worship is here not explicitly mentioned (the Greek of "by him" is the usual phrase for "at home"), but that the appropriateness of the day for Christian acts involves an appropriateness for Christian worship is not to be doubted. Indeed, since the seven-day week was unknown to Greek thought, some regular observance of a hebdomadal cycle must have been settled at Corinth before Paul could write his command. Finally, the phrase, "first day in the week" is found elsewhere in the New Testament only in Mt 28:1; Mr 16:2; Lu 24:1; Joh 20:1,19. The word in all passages for "first" is poor Greek (mia, "one," for prote, a Hebraism), and the coincidence of the form of the phrase in Ac 20:7 and 1Co 16:2 with the form used by all four evangelists for the Resurrection Day 'is certainly not accidental; it was the fixed Christian base, just as "Lord's day" was to the writer of Ev. Pet.

4. Origin:

The hebdomadal observance of Sunday points back of Corinth to Jewish-Christian soil, but it is impossible to say when the custom first began. Not, apparently, in the earliest days, for Ac 2:46 represents the special worship as daily. But this could not have continued very long, for waning of the first enthusiasm, necessity of pursuing ordinary avocations, and increasing numbers of converts must soon have made general daily gatherings impracticable. A choice of a special day must have become necessary, and this day would, of course, have been Sunday. Doubtless, however, certain individuals and communities continued the daily gatherings to a much later date, and the appearance of Sunday as the one distinctive day for worship was almost certainly gradual.

5. Sunday and the Sabbath:

Sunday, however, was sharply distinguished from the Sabbath. One was the day on which worship was offered in a specifically Christian form, the other was a day of ritual rest to be observed by all who were subject? the Law of Moses through circumcision (Ga 5:3; compare Ac 21:20). Uncircumcised Gentiles, however, were free from any obligation of Sabbath observance, and it is quite certain that in apostolic times no renewal of any Sabbath rules or transfer of them to Sunday was made for Gentileconverts. No observance of a particular "day of rest" is contained among the "necessary things" of Ac 15:28-29, nor is any such precept found among all the varied moral directions given in the whole epistolary literature. Quite on the contrary, the observance of a given day as a matter of Divine obligation is denounced by Paul as a forsaking of Christ (Ga 4:10), and Sabbath-keeping is condemned explicitly in Col 2:16. As a matter of individual devotion, to be sure, a man might do as he pleased (Ro 14:5-6), but no general rule as necessary for salvation could be compatible with the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Evidently, then, the fact that the Christian worship was held on Sunday did not sanctify Sunday any more than (say) a regular Wednesday service among us sanctifies Wednesday, noting especially that the apostolic service was held in the evening. For it was felt that Christian enthusiasm would raise every day to the highest religious plane, the decay of that enthusiasm through the long delay of the Parousia not being contemplated.

6. Later History:

The delay occurred, however, and for human beings in the ordinary routine of life there are necessary, not only set periods of worship, but set periods of relaxation from routine to make worship profitable. And the Christian fundamental doctrine of mercy demands that Christianity, where she has the power, shall give to men relief from the drain of continuous toil.

The formulation of general rules to carry these principles into effect, however, belongs to a period outside New Testament times, and so does not come within the scope of this Encyclopedia. It is enough to say that the ecclesiastical rules for Sunday were felt to be quite distinct from the laws for Sabbath observance, and that Alcuin (733?-804) is the first to hold that the church had transferred the Sabbath rules as a whole to Sunday. This principle is still maintained in Roman Catholic theology, but at the Reformation was rejected uncompromisingly by both Lutherans (Augsb. Conf., II, 7) and Calvinists (Helvet. Conf., XXIV, 1-2) in favor of a literally apostolic freedom (Calvin even proposed to adopt Thursday in place of Sunday). The appearance of the opposite extreme of a genuinely "legalistic" Sabbatarianism in the thoroughly Evangelical Scotch and English Puritanism is an anomaly that is explained by reaction from the extreme laxity of the surroundings.

7. Practical:

Sunday was fixed as the day for Christian worship by general apostolic practice, and the academic possibility of an alteration hardly seems worth discussing. If a literal apostolicity is to be insisted upon, however, the "breaking of bread" must be made part of the Sunday service. Rest from labor for the sake of worship, public and private, is intensely desirable, since the regaining of the general apostolic enthusiasm seems unattainable, but the New Testament leaves us quite free as to details. Rest from labor to secure physical and mental renewal rests on a still different basis, and the working out of details involves a knowledge of sociological and industrial conditions, as well as a knowledge of religious principles. It is the task of the pastor to combine the various principles and to apply them to the particular conditions of his people in their locality, in accordance with the rules that his own church has indubitably the right to lay down--very special attention being given, however, to the highly important matter of the peculiar problem offered by children. In all cases the general principles underlying the rules should be made clear, so that they will not appear as arbitrary legalism, and it is probably best not to use the term "Sabbath" for Sunday. Under certain conditions great freedom may be desirable, and such is certainly not inconsistent with our liberty in Christ. But experience, and not least of all the experience of the first churches of the Reformation, has abundantly shown that much general laxness in Sunday rules invariably results disastrously.

See further, ETHICS OF JESUS, I, 3, (1).


For the linguistic matters, Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, 1910, 361-66. Hessey's Sunday (ed 1880) ("Bampton Lectures," 1860) contains a good summary of the history of the problems. Zockler's "Sonntagsfeier," PRE, edition 3, XVIII, 1906, 521-29 is the best general survey. In Sch-Herz this article ("Sunday") is harmed by abbreviation, but an exhaustive bibliography is added.

Burton Scott Easton

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