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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Lord's Day

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1. Name and origin . The title used by St. John ( Revelation 1:10 ), probably to describe the day upon which the Christian Church in Apostolic days assembled for worship. The Acts of the Apostles shows us the disciples of Christ immediately after Pentecost as a closely united body, ‘of one heart and soul,’ supported by daily gatherings together and the Eucharist ( Acts 4:32 ; Acts 2:42 ; Acts 2:46 ). Their new faith did not at first lead them to cut themselves off from their old Jewish worship, for their belief in Jesus as Messiah seemed to them to add to and fulfil, rather than to abolish, the religion of their childhood. This worship of Christians with their Jewish fellow-countrymen secured the continuation of the Church of God from one dispensation to another; while their exclusively Christian Eucharists consolidated the Church and enabled it to discover itself.

The daity worship of the Christian Church would no doubt soon prove impracticable, and a weekly gathering become customary. For this weekly gathering the Sabbath was unsuitable, as being then observed in a spirit radically different from the joy and liberty of the new faith; doubtless also the restrictions as to length of a Sabbath day’s journey would prove a bar to the gathering together of the little body. Of the other six days none so naturally suggested itself as the first. To it our Lord had granted a certain approval; for on it He rose from the grave and appeared to His disciples, and on the following Sunday repeated His visitation; while, if Pentecost that year fell on the first day of the week (which it did if the chronology of St. John be followed), it received a final seal as the special day of grace.

That this day was actually chosen is seen in the NT (Acts 20:7 , 1 Corinthians 16:2 ). And mention of it is found in the literature immediately following the Apostolic writings.

Not the least interesting evidence is found in a report to the Emperor Trajan written by Pliny, a heathen magistrate, not long after the death of St. John, which mentions that the custom of the Christians was to meet together early in the morning on a certain ‘fixed day’ and sing hymns to Christ as a god, and bind themselves by a sacramentum to commit no crime. Ignatius, the earliest of post-Apostolic Christian writers, also speaks of it, telling the Magnesians to lead a life comformable to ‘the Lord’s Day.’

And from then to now a continuous stream of evidence shows that the Church has faithfully observed the custom ever since.

The title by which early Christian writers usually called the festival was ‘the Lord’s Day’; but before long the Church felt no difficulty in adopting the heathen title of ‘ Sunday ,’ realizing that as on that day light was created, and the Sun of Righteousness arose on it, there was to them a peculiar fitness in the name.

The most valuable evidence as to the method by which the early Church observed the day is found in Justin Martyr’s Apotogy (i. 67, a.d. 120), where we read that on the day called Sunday the Christians met together, out of both city and country, and held a religious service at which first the writings of Apostles and Prophets were read; then the president preached; after which common prayers were said; and when these were ended, bread and wine were brought to the president, who uttered prayers and thanksgivings, to which the people said, ‘Amen’; all present then participated in the Eucharist, the deacons carrying it to the absent. Thus it is clear that the early Church continued the Apostolic custom ( Acts 20:7 ) of celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day a custom so wide-spread as to enable Chrysostom to call Sunday dies panis , or ‘the day of bread.’

2. Relation to the Sabbath. The relation of the Lord’s Day to the Sabbath is best defined as one of close affinity rather than of identity. The Sabbath was originally instituted as a provision for deep physical and spiritual needs of human nature. It sprang from the love of God for man, providing by religious sanction for the definite setting apart of the seventh day as a time for rest from labour and for communion with God. Our Lord found the original institution almost hidden beneath a mass of traditional regulations. Thus his action towards the Sabbath as He found it, was to bring men back to its first ideal. This He did by showing that their tradition told how David broke the letter of its regulation and yet was guiltless ( Luke 6:3 ); how charity and common sense led men to break their own rules ( Luke 13:15 ); how the Sabbath was granted to man as a blessing and not laid on him as a burden ( Mark 2:27 ); and how He as Son of Man, fulfilling ideal manhood, was its Lord ( Mark 2:28 ); but while our Lord thus purified the Sabbath, there is no proof that He abolished it. He foreknew its ultimate abolition, as He foreknew the ultimate destruction of the Temple; and He cleansed it as He cleansed the Temple.

We can best see Christ’s will regarding the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in what actually happened. For what happened had its rise in Apostolic times, and has been adopted by the Church universal ever since, and is thus assuredly His will as wrought by the Spirit. The Acts shows us that the Christians who were originally Jews observed both the Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day ( Acts 21:20 f.); and this double observance lasted among them at least until the destruction of the Temple. The Jewish members of the Church were soon outnumbered by the Gentile, and these latter would feel in no way drawn to continuing the observance of the Jewish Sabbath as well as their own Lord’s Day; and this the more so that they had received the gospel under the wider teaching of St. Paul, who had emphasized the danger of an undue observance of days, and had spoken of the Sabbath as ‘a shadow of the things to come’ ( i.e . the Christian dispensation; cf. Colossians 2:16 f., Galatians 4:9-11 , Romans 14:5 f.). But if the Gentile Christian did not observe the Jewish Sabbath, yet he could not be ignorant of its deeper meaning, for he saw the Sabbath observed by his Jewish neighbours, and read in the OT of its institution and uses; and thus imperceptibly the essential principles of the Sabbath would pass into the Christian idea of their own sacred day of rest and worship. Christ’s intention, then, seems to have been to allow the Sabbath to die slowly, but by His Spirit to teach the Church to perpetuate for mankind in her Lord’s Day all that was of eternal moment in the Sabbath. Thus was avoided the danger of pouring the new wine of Christian truth and liberty into the old bottles of Jewish traditional observances.

Charles T. P. Grierson.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lord's Day'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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Thursday, August 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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