1. Origin.-Before the apostolic period had wholly passed away ‘the first day of the week’ had become, or was well on the way to become, the stated weekly holy-day of the Christian Church, bearing the distinctive designation ‘the Lord’s Day’ (ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα). It is evident that this day was regarded as of special importance from the beginning, and was placed alongside of the Sabbath in the esteem of Jewish Christians. In the course of time it became a substitute for the Sabbath itself. How this was brought about cannot be exactly stated. We cannot point to any definite act of institution, any such impressive story and legislative sanction as the Pentateuch supplies with reference to the Jewish Sabbath. No authority of the Lord Himself can be cited for it; there is no ‘Jesus said’ to correspond to ‘God spake all these words, saying’ (Exodus 20:1
), or ‘the Lord spake unto Moses, saying’ (Leviticus 19:1-3
The materials afforded us by the NT are scanty indeed. Two things, however, are clear.-(a) In the brief Resurrection stories, as found in all the Gospels, conspicuous emphasis is laid on ‘the first day of the week’ as the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. See Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1
(τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων), Matthew 28:1
(εἰς μίαν σαββάτων), the fragment Mark 16:9-20
(πρώτῃ σαββάτου), John 20:19
(τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἑκείνη τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων). John 20:26,
with its ‘after eight days’ (the octave), is specially interesting, for it has the faint suggestion of a custom-germ, or reflects the early-established practice of a weekly meeting on that day. Th. Zahn calls attention to the particularity with which John notes the days connected with the Passion and Resurrection, and explains it as due to the Christian week-scheme already fully established among the churches of Asia Minor, with which the Fourth Gospel was so closely associated (Skizzen aus dem Leben der alten Kirche, no. 5, p. 178).-(b) Early in the 2nd cent. the first day of the week appears as distinctively the sacred day of Christianity under the name of ‘the Lord’s Day.’
The connexion between (a) and (b) cannot be fortuitous. The tradition that the Lord rose again on the first day of the week naturally invested that day with special interest. Jesus’ Resurrection from the first figured as a dominating fact concerning Him in early faith and evangelism. What wonder that that day should come to be regarded as par excellence the Lord’s Day?
Those who deny the reality of the Resurrection as a unique event are hard pressed to account for the undeniable primitive association of the day with that occurrence. What is there convincing in the following suggestions? ‘It is quite possible that the Christian Sunday was originally fixed-perhaps before the women’s story was generally known-in some other way, e.g. by the events of the Day of Pentecost, or by the first appearance of the risen Christ in Galilee, or by the selection of the first available time after the Jewish Sabbath, and that the connexion of it with the date of the Resurrection was an afterthought’ (J. M. Thompson, Miracles in the NT, London, 1911, p. 164). Later on the same author seems to treat the ‘appearance’ also as a fictitious afterthought grafted on to a Christian time-scheme of amazingly early development: ‘Both the appearances take place on Sunday (John 20). This is another indication of the ecclesiastical and eucharistic atmosphere in which the Resurrection stories grew up’ (p. 199; cf. A. Loisy, Autour d’un petit livre, Paris, 1903, p. 242f.).
The NT itself is not without evidence that this institution began its growth in apostolic times. The passages are few but familiar. In Acts 20:7
the first day of the week is associated with a Christian assembly for religious purposes (συνηγμένων ἡμῶν κλάσαι ἄρτον). If a use of this kind had not already begun, what propriety or moment would there be in stating what day of the week it was? Again, at an earlier point in St. Paul’s career we find him urging the Christians at Corinth to make weekly contributions towards the fund for the relief of the impoverished church at Jerusalem, and to do it on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2
). It has been pointed out, not unreasonably, that this contribution is not represented as an offering to be collected at some meeting for worship (Deissmann, article ‘Lord’s Day’ in Encyclopaedia Biblica ), that, rather, the expression παρʼ ἑαυτῷ simply points to setting aside such a gift at home, and so the passage yields no positive evidence for the observance of the day as in later times. When, however, it is suggested, as an alternative explanation, that the first day of the week is named because probably this or the day before was the pay-day for working folk at Corinth, we need some definite evidence for this which is not forthcoming. And when, as Zahn observes (op. cit. p. 177), we find that in the 2nd cent. there was a wide-spread custom of laying charitable gifts for the poor on the church dish in connexion with public worship, it is difficult not to connect this with St. Paul’s words here. May not his action in this particular instance, indeed, have directly led to the institution of a collection for the poor on the Lord’s Day, and especially in association with ‘the breaking of bread’? It may be added that, as St. Paul urges this course so ‘that no collections be made when I come,’ and as the whole work is described in v. 1 as a ‘collection’ (λογία), it is most natural to infer that there was not only a setting apart of gifts, but also a paying into a local fund week by week. This strengthens the view that 1 Corinthians 16:2
incidentally gives evidence of early movements towards the setting up of the Lord’s Day as an institution, especially when taken along with Acts 20:7
; for when could the contributions of the people be better collected in readiness for the Apostle than at their meetings on the special day of worship?
It is fair also to suggest (with Hessey, Sunday, p. 43) that the ‘assembling’ spoken of in Hebrews 10:25
must have taken place at stated times and that the time is most likely to have been the first day of the week.
The mention of ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα in Revelation 1:10
calls for special notice, as this is the only instance in the NT of the use of the expression that subsequently became so established and familiar. But does it bear in this place the same significance as it came to possess and possesses still? Some have argued that what is meant is not ‘the Lord’s Day’ as we understand it, but ‘the Day of the Lord’ in the sense in which the OT prophets employ the term, and as it figures in the eschatological outlook of the NT (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:2
). Hort (Apoc. of St. John, I.-III., London, 1908, ad loc.) inclines to this view, thinking it suits the context better, and seeing no reason for mentioning the day on which the seer had his vision. He suggests as a possible rendering: ‘I became in the Spirit and so in the Day of the Lord.’ It is not surprising that he only ventures on this ‘with some doubt.’ Deissmann (loc. cit.) also favours this view, identifying ‘the Lord’s Day’ here with ‘the day of Jahweh,’ the day of judgment-in the Septuagint ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου (as also in St. Paul and elsewhere). But here we have an important point telling for the ordinary view. Neither in the Septuagint nor in the NT (nor in other early Christian writings) have we any instance of ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα (if not here) used as = ‘the Day of the Lord.’ The term with this meaning is ἡ ἡμέρα (τοῦ) κυρίου. If the two expressions were equivalent and interchangeable, how strange that the latter should occur so regularly and the former be found in but one solitary instance!
On the other hand, we have an undisputed early example of the use of ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα (in noteworthy abbreviation) as = ‘Sunday’ in Didache, xiv. 1 (κατὰ κυριακὴν δὲ κυρίου συναχθέντες κλάσατε ἄρτον; cf. Acts 20:7
). The expression thus could not have been a new term c.
a.d. 100, since κυριακή alone is used as = ‘Lord’s Day,’ and particularly in the striking collocation κυριακὴ κυρίου. The relevance of this is unaffected even if Turner is right in regarding the Didaċhe as simply a réchauffé of a purely Jewish manual, and the curious phrase ‘the Lord’s day of the Lord’ as ‘only the Christian substitute for the Jewish “Sabbath of the Lord” ’ (Studies in Early Church History, Oxford, 1912, p. 8). Cf. also Ignatius, ad Magn. ix. 1 ‘living in the observance of the Lord’s Day’ (κατὰ κυριακὴν ζῶντες). No difficulty in point of time emerges concerning the use of ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα in Rev., which is reasonably assigned to the reign of Domitian. And it is not used here as a newly-coined term. How much earlier than the time of Domitian it came into use none can say.
It is true we find the simple early name ‘first day’ or ‘eighth day’ continuing in use long after ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα emerges. Note particularly ‘the eighth day, which is also the first,’ used by Justin Martyr (Dial. xli., Apol. i. 67) and still later writers. But evidently there was in ‘Lord’s Day’ an inherent suitability and felicity which caused it to outlive these primitive designations and become the permanent and characteristic Christian name of the day. It passed into Western use, not only figuring as dies dominica in the liturgical scheme of the week, but establishing itself in ordinary modern nomenclature (e.g. in French dimanche and Italian domenica).
2. The epithet κυριακή and its use.-We can hardly wonder that at one time κυριακός was regarded as a word ‘coined by the apostles themselves’ (Winer-Moulton, Grammar of NT Greek9, Edinburgh, 1882, p. 296). In Wilke-Grimm’s Clavis Novi Testamenti3, Leipzig, 1888, it is described as ‘vox solum biblica et ecclesiastica,’ and in Thayer Grimm’s Gr.-Eng. Lexicon of the NT, tr. Thayer 4, Edinburgh, 1892, this is reproduced, save that ‘solum’ is passed over. However, the papyri and inscriptions discovered more recently in Egypt and in Asia Minor abundantly prove that the word was in current use in the whole of the Greek-speaking world; e.g. κυριακὸς λόγος (= Imperial treasury) occurs in a government decree issued in a.d. 68, ὁ κύριος being a designation of the Emperor (cf. similar use of Lat. dominicus). For other examples see Deissmann, Bible Studies, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1901, p. 217f.
But from the fact that early Christians did not coin the term κυριακός, but found it ready to hand in the vocabulary of the day, it does not necessarily follow that they used it as the pagan world used it. They set it in a new connexion. In their use of it they gave it a specific and distinctive character. Thus we find it used in specific association (which became permanent) with the Supper (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον, 1 Corinthians 11:20
), with the Day (as here), with the Sayings of Jesus (λόγια κυριακά, Papias), with the House, the domus ecclesiae (τὸ κυριακόν).
In this connexion the following note from OED
, s.v. ‘Church,’ may be of use: ‘The parallelism of Gr. κυριακόν, church, κυριακή, Sunday (in 11th cent. also ‘church’), L. dominicum, church, dominica, dies dominica, Sunday, Irish domhnach, “church” and “Sunday,” is instructive.’
Deissmann (loc. cit.) dissents from the view advanced by Holtzmann and others that our particular term (ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα or ἡ κυριακή) ‘is formed after the analogy of δεῖπνον κυριακόν.’ He prefers (though, indeed, with a certain amount of caution) to regard this Christian mode of naming the first day of the week as analogous to the custom of the pagan world in Egypt and Asia Minor whereby the first day of each month was called Σεβαστή (= Imperial). Thus the Christian weekly ‘Lord’s Day’ was the direct counterpart of a monthly ‘Emperor’s Day.’ This, to say the least, is not self-evident; and Deissmann may well hesitate, as he does, to maintain that the Christians thus consciously copied the pagan use. We need not, indeed, argue a direct analogy to κυριακὸν δεῖπνον in particular. Perhaps we may more reasonably regard both these expressions and others given above as being independent but co-ordinate examples of the application of the epithet κυριακός. There could be no question from the first as to the κύριος it had reference to. Nor, again, need we suppose that Christians, in thus speaking of Jesus, were directly influenced by the use of ὁ κύριος or ὁ κύριος ημῶν as designating a deity or an emperor in the time of the Roman Empire. They had a sufficient precedent for this in the Jewish use of ’Adônâi for God. At the same time the parallelism in such use among Jews, Christians, and pagans is a matter of some interest.
3. The relation of the Lord’s Day to the Jewish Sabbath.-As shown by the few passages already noticed, the first day of the week evidently began from the earliest times to have a special value in the eyes of Christians. But, whatever the significance and use of that day, the day itself was not confounded with the Jewish Sabbath. Nor is there any sign that in apostolic times there was any thought of superseding the latter by the Lord’s Day.
‘L’idée de transporter au dimanche la solennité du sabbat, avec toutes ses exigences, est une idée étrangère au christianisme primitif’ (Duchesne, Origines du culte chrétien4, p. 46). Similarly Zahn (op. cit. p. 188f.) points out that no one belonging to the circle of Jewish Christians would think of relaxing one of Moses’ commandments; and, even if already in apostolic times Sunday came to be observed, none could think that the Sabbath commandment would be fulfilled through a Sabbath-like observance of another day instead of the observance of the Sabbath itself.
For a considerable time the two existed side by side. The Jewish Christian who met with his fellow-Christians on the Lord’s Day still observed the Sabbath of his fathers. Nothing in the use of the first day of the week as a day for Christian reunions could have been intended as hostile to the old Jewish institution. Clear evidence as to the two-fold observance of both the days is furnished by Ignatius (ad Magn. ix.
), who exhorts Christians to keep the Sabbath, ‘but no longer after the Jewish manner.’ ‘And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days,’ Similarly in the Apost. Const. ii. 59: ‘Assemble yourselves together every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lord’s House (ἐν τοῖς κυριακοῖς) … but principally on the Sabbath day; and on the day of our Lord’s Resurrection, which is the Lord’s Day, meet more diligently,’ etc. We have an interesting memorial of this primitive double observance in the Lat. and Gr. liturgical names for Sunday (dies dominica, κυριακή) and Saturday (sabbatum, σάββατον), the whole liturgical scheme of the week having come down from early times when Christiana discarded the use of day-names associated with pagan gods.
It is true that Justin Martyr in a well-known passage (Apology, i. 67) uses the name ‘Sunday’ (τῆ τοῦ Ἡλίου λεγομένῃ ἡμέρα); but the expression ‘the day called the day at the sun’ clearly indicates that whilst Christians might use the ordinary name in intercourse with non-Christians they did not use it among themselves. Similarly in the same chapter Justin uses ‘day of Saturn’ (Saturday) instead of ‘Sabbath.’ Zahn (op. cit. p. 357) marks this as the only instance he knows of in which a Christian writer uses the term ‘Sunday’ in pre-Constantine times (see also Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , article ‘Festivals and Fasts
As Duchesne (op. cit. p. 396) and others have pointed out, the observance of Sunday is one of a number of elements which Christianity had in common with the religion of Mithras. In Mithraism this was directly connected with the worship of the sun. It was inevitable that some should argue from this a vital connexion between the two religions. This was the case in primitive times. Tertullian (Apol. xvi.) vigorously repudiates the charge that Christians worshipped the sun as their god.
In the course of time, the distinction between church and synagogue growing wider, the Sabbath inevitably became less and less important and eventually fell into complete neglect among Christians, whilst the Lord’s Day survived as their special sacred day of the week. (No institution of like kind was known in paganism.) It must be remembered that St. Paul was opposed to the introduction of OT festivals (including the Sabbath) into the churches he founded among the Gentiles, ‘declaring that by the adoption of them the Gentile believer forfeited the benefits of the gospel, since he chose to rest his salvation upon rites instead of upon Christ (Colossians 2:16
; cf. Galatians 4:10, Romans 14:5
f.)’ (G. P. Fisher, Beginnings of Christianity, 1877, new ed., 1886, p. 561; cf. Zahn, p. 189). We may reasonably conclude, indeed, that St. Paul himself, being one of the ‘strong’ (Romans 14:5
f.), shared the view of those who esteemed ‘every day alike,’ and that all days were alike sacred in his eyes, whether Sabbaths, Lord’s Days, or others.
But the observance of the Lord’s Day must have been a very different thing from that of the Jewish Sabbath. The commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ alone would make a great difference. Whether or not the apostles saw what the issue would be when the first day of the week began to be thus observed (in however simple a way), they must have given the growing custom their approval and welcomed the association of acts of joyful worship and almsgiving with the day. St. Paul could have been no exception in this respect; but apparently he did not foresee that the Christian ‘first day’ might in time assume those very features of the Jewish ‘seventh day’ Sabbath which made him deprecate the introduction of this ancient institution among Gentile Christians (see also article Sabbath).
4. Primitive modes of observing the Lord’s Day.-The fact that for Christians the one raison d’étre of the Lord’s Day was the commemoration of the Lord’s Resurrection made it a weekly festival to be kept with gladness.
Somewhat later on, it is true, other associations were claimed for it as of to enhance the dignity of the day. E.g. a connexion with the first day of Creation and ever, with the Ascension was assumed; though these were trifling compared with some mediaeval developments. Between the 11th and the 15th centuries we meet with a wide-spread fiction of a ‘Letter from Heaven’ inculcating Sunday observance, wherein the largest claims are made for the day: how that on it the angels were created, the ark rested on Ararat, the Exodus took place, also the Baptism of Jesus, His great miracles. His Ascensions, and the Charism of Pentecost (see An English Miscellany, in honour of Dr. Furnivall, Oxford, 1901).
(a) We are frequently reminded by early Christian writers that it was the primitive custom to stand for prayer on that day instead of kneeling as on other days. Tertullian, amongst others, dilates on this (de Orat. xxiii.). Canon 20 of the Council of Nicaea plainly reflects a very old custom, as it enjoins that ‘seeing there are some who kneel on Sunday and in the days of Pentecost … men should offer their prayers to God standing.’
(b) Cessation from all work does not appear to have been required in primitive times as an element in the observance of the day. So long as there were meetings for religious worship, Christians were not expected to cease from manual labour. But so far as Jewish Christians were concerned, if they observed Sabbath in such a way, they would hardly he likely to observe the day immediately following in the same way as well. For the rest it may be questioned whether social conditions made it practicable. We can hardly argue back to apostolic times from customs obtaining in society nominally Christian under nominally Christian government. Old Roman laws in pre-Christian times provided for the suspension of business (particularly in the law courts) on all feriae or festivals. It was the Emperor Constantine who at length ordered that the same rule should apply to the Lord’s Day, thus bestowing honour on the day as a fixed weekly festival (see Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church, bk. xx. ch. ii). It is noticeable that in Ignatius (ad Magn. ix.
) Christians are exhorted to keep Sabbath ‘after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the Law’; and abstention from work in expressly discountenanced, while rest from labour is not demanded for the observance of the Lord’s Day. Later on the practice of using Sunday as a day of rest from work came into vogue; and then it served as a sign distinguishing Christian from Jew.
Considerable light on this point is incidentally gained from the 29th Canon or the Council of Laodicea (4th cent.)-light as to what had long been the practice of Christians who clung to Jewish antecedents, and as to the conditions then prevailing. It reads; ‘That Christians must not act as Jews by refraining tram work on the Sabbath, but must rather work on that day, and, if they can, as Christiana they must cease work on the Lord’s Day, so giving it the greater honour.’
(c) The assemblies connected with the Lord’s Day were two; the vigil in the night between Saturday and Sunday, and the celebration of the Liturgy on Sunday morning. One reason for meeting at such times was most probably the need for precaution in times of persecution and difficulty. An interesting account of Sunday worship of Christians at Jerusalem in the 4th cent. is to be found in a letter written by a Gallic lady who went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The document, written in the vulgar Latin, is given by Duchesne in his Origines du culte chrétien, Appendix 5. No doubt the picture reflects in the main a usage which had existed from much earlier times. A crowd of people (‘all who could possibly be there’) gathers at the church doors ‘before cock-crow’ when the doors are first opened, then streams into the church, which is lit up by a large number of lamps (luminaria infinita). (Not that such zest in church attendance was universal in the early centuries. In a Homily on the Lord’s Day by Eusebius of Alexandria
the slackness of people in coming to church is humorously treated and rebuked.) The worship includes inter alia the recitation of three psalms, responses, prayers, and the reading of the gospel story of the Resurrection. Justin Martyr’s account of worship on the Lord’s Day is also well known (Apol. i. 65-67), while-to go still further back to the very fringe of the Apostolic Age-we have Pliny’s famous letter to Trajan wherein he describes Christians meeting early in the morning to sing hymns to Christ and (v.l.
‘as’) God, and joining in a sacramental act and a common meal. This took place, he says, stato die, and no doubt that fixed day was the first day of the week.
(d) Very possibly the sacramental meal (‘breaking of bread’) was the earliest distinctive feature in the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day, the other exercises of prayer, reading, etc., being added later. ‘To the sacramental meal of apostolic times, understood as a foretaste and assurance of the “Messianic banquet” in the coming Parousia, there was soon prefixed a religious exercise-modelled perhaps on the common worship of the Synagogue-which implied just those preparatory acts of penance, purification, and desirous stretching out towards the Infinite, which precede in the experience of the growing soul the establishment of communion with the Spiritual World’ (E. Underhill, The Mystic Way, London, 1913, p. 335).
5. Modern names for Lord’s Day.-The varying names by which the day has been known in later times reflect the confusion which has attended the history of the Lord’s Day as a Christian institution.
(a) To speak of the day as ‘the Sabbath’ (even the expression ‘Christian Sabbath’ is only admissible on the ground of analogy) is to use a modus loquendi that primitive Christians could never have used. Their distinction between Sabbath and Lord’s Day was as clear as between the first and the seventh day. It arises from the mistaken identification of the weekly festival of the Resurrection of Christ with the Sabbath of the Jews and of the Fourth Commandment in the Decalogue. The sanctions for the observance of the Lord’s Day were wrongly sought in OT prescriptions (see Richard Baxter’s treatise on ‘The Divine appointment of the Lord’s Day proved, etc.,’ in Works, ed. Orme, London, 1830, xiii. 363ff.).
Less than ever is it of service now to appeal to the Fourth Commandment as an authority in urging the due maintenance of the Lord’s Day; though, indeed, the Mosaic institution has its full value as a venerable exemplification of the naturally wise provision for a weekly release from daily business and toil. Christians must rely on other sanctions, and chiefly the definite association of the day with the Resurrection of our Lord, the true instinct by which with great spontaneity the first little Christian communities set the day apart, the continuous usage of the Church, the provision for the function of worship. Others who may be uninfluenced by specific religious considerations, and for whom the very term ‘Lord’s Day’ may have no significance, may yet very well recognize the value of the underlying natural principle of the ‘day of rest.’
(b) Again, the persistence, or survival, of the pre-Christian and pagan designation ‘Sunday’ is a matter of interest, especially since, being tacitly denuded of its ancient associations with sun-worship, it has come to be invested to the Christian mind with all the meaning attached to ‘Lord’s Day,’ and used interchangeably with that name. We have seen how careful primitive Christians were to distinguish between the pa