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Book Review of “A Brief History of Sunday” by Justo Gonzàlez

 

This brief look at the development of and the practices on Sunday, and its meaning for Christians is the work of a retired octogenarian Methodist minister. Amazing. At 150 pages, this book is easily readable, enjoyable, and informative.

His purpose is to inspire Christians to maintain this badge of Christianity with hope and perseverance much like the early Christians who esteemed their time of instruction and fellowship on Sunday despite difficulties, rejection, and persecution from the world. It is as if González looks at the broad history of Sunday worship and anticipates, perhaps, coming days that echo the early Christian experience.

To do this, he examines the relevant literature and presents it succinctly, methodically, didactically, and for the most part, with integrity. Most of what he presents was already familiar to me, including his assessments of the historical data and competing viewpoints. But again, his focus is on history, not ironing out any theological arguments for the day of the week on which Christian should worship. Yet he does provide the evidence that Christians met on the first day of the week prior to the close of the first century, that the Sabbath on Saturday and the Lord’s Day on Sunday were two different religious institutions, and that Sabbatarianism was a later development in the sixteenth century. The earliest Christians continued to meet on the Sabbath as they transitioned to the Lord’s Day, but he casts this transition as an ad hoc development as opposed to a divinely inspired “tradition.” But at the same time, he notes the relationship to Christ’s resurrection, the new creation, and the symbolism of the number eight. These are the same features that characterize the God-given calendar ceremonies of Israel. If you want to think more deeply about the theological issues brought up in his book, then read my book. His mission is to just tell the story how Sunday began, how it was modified and adapted by extrinsic and ecclesiastic forces, and then came to compete with another day of worship (Saturday/Sabbath). He finishes with the hope of returning to the ideals that hallmarked the Lord’s Day in the earliest centuries.

There were many times that I wish he provided references for some of his statements. In his section for further reading, he did not mention From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, D. A. Carson, ed., which is a seminal work on this topic. As is common nowadays, even Christians attribute the seven-day week to ANE cultures other than the Jews and that it somehow evolved and became acculturated within Judaism, rather than believing what the Bible relates: God gave the Jews the Sabbath. To me, that’s history. And nothing he cited comes close to refuting this claim.

The Lord compelled Israel to record their history, rather His history with them: the highs and the lows, so they could avoid past mistakes and have hope for the future. Likewise, it is beneficial for believers to understand the history of the Christian day of worship for the same reasons. Unfortunately, not many Christians can articulate why they meet on Sunday and the theological importance of this particular day, the first day of the week. I heartily recommend this book to help Christians rethink their Sunday experience and recommit to this essential practice. Another good book review is here: https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2017/07/10/book-review-brief-history-sunday-new-testament-new-creation, but the comments are not helpful.

Another Introduction

In the forthcoming glossaries, I will discuss Covenants, the Law, Mosaic Law/Covenant, the Ten Commandments, Moral Law, Ceremonial Law, Noachide Law, the Gospel/NT and Continuity/Discontinuity. While I did (and am doing) my best to keep these glossary entries short, the topics are quite complex, and that alone necessitates more elaborate expositions. But even then, they are far shorter than other Bible encyclopedia entries. All of these topics bear on one’s understanding of the Sabbath and everyone refers to them as the larger context that frames their view of the Sabbath. So, each person brings their own understanding about these upcoming glossary terms into the Sabbath/Lord’s Day debate and make truth-claims that appear to be obvious to them. My hope is to inspire readers to consider writing out their own personal statement of understanding of each of the above topics based on a thorough review of the Bible. Read literature from differing viewpoints in order to gain an understanding where the points of contention are, to determine what presuppositions are behind the assertions, and what weight is given to certain texts in comparison to other texts. It’s easy to state your case, but then you also have to defend against opposing viewpoints. The net result is to build a coherent theological system based on a rational understanding of the texts (not saying more or less than the text allows), that has consistent internal agreement (not contradictory), and accounts for contextual clues (redemptive-historical analysis). Once I have finished the glossary, I will delve into hermeneutics—the rules for interpretation—and logic—the rules for arriving at valid conclusions. As a reminder, each glossary entry begins with a biblical summary of the topic followed by my discussion how that topic relates to the Sabbath/Lord’s Day discussion.

First-day and Seventh-day Sabbatarians are in general accord about their two main proofs for the continuity of Sabbath-keeping—its (supposed) origin in Genesis and its presence in the Decalogue—however, there is no consensus how to explain Paul’s reference to the Sabbath in Colossians. If the Sabbath is a moral law, does its attributes coincide with the attributes of other moral laws? Whenever the NT uses the word “commandments,” what defense do Sabbatarians have inferring this to mean the “Ten Commandments”? If Sabbatarians understand the concept of ceremonial law, why is it so difficult to see that Jesus’ claim to be the giver of rest is a statement of His fulfillment of the Sabbath? Where in the Bible is there any clear statement that the Decalogue is composed only of moral laws? Or, as Reisinger likes to ask, “Exactly what would a person in your congregation have to do before you would discipline him out of the church for breaking the Fourth Commandment?”[i]

Lord’s Day proponents are certain that the Sabbath is fulfilled based upon a few key texts—the NT treatment of the Sabbath as a shadow-law and the demise of the old covenant—however, they lack clarity about the authority by which first-day assembly came about or why Paul cites the OT as a theological authority if it is indeed abrogated. If Christian worship could have been on any day of the week, why has it remained on Sunday for nearly two millennia? Is there a distinction between the law of Moses and the law of God? If they believe that the Sabbath is fulfilled, why do they cite the Sabbath as a rationale for church worship? Why do they give sermons on the benefits of physical rest? Or why do they occasionally call the Lord’s Day a Sabbath?

In the introduction to my book, The Sabbath Complete, I mentioned that after reading many books and articles by Sunday and Saturday Sabbatarians, I noticed that they “were inconsistent in their analysis, varied in their interpretation of key passages, and derived a wide range of applications from Sabbath law.” Based on my extensive research on this topic, it became obvious that even among expositors of the same general viewpoint about the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy, it is challenging to find two of them who are in full agreement with each other. You the reader may adhere to a particular viewpoint, but you likely hold to some unchallenged biases, presuppositions, and inconsistencies. Give consideration to what I present. Feel free to comment or ask questions of me. Also, it’s alright to be skeptical, but please don’t reply with simplistic credos.[ii] My hope is that your study of the Scriptures will lead to a more accurate understanding of these topics. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Ti 2:15).


[i] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 97.
[ii] Like this statement: “Jesus kept the Sabbath and so should you.” Of course He kept the Sabbath; He kept the whole [Mosaic] law perfectly because He was born under the law. As such, He obeyed both moral and ceremonial laws faithfully and completely. But this statement assumes we agree that the Sabbath is moral; which we don’t. It also assumes that I am under the law in the same way Jesus was; which I am not. So the discussion should focus on the criteria by which Mosaic laws can be classified as either moral or ceremonial. Are there common features among moral laws? Are there common features among ceremonial laws? If the Sabbath is a ceremonial law, then His observance of it is no more instructional for NT believers than His observance of dietary laws, circumcision, feast-keeping, and paying the temple tax. What law/covenant are we under now? In what ways have things changed or are things different, and why? What elements are common between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ?

Book Review of “Theses Sabbaticae” by Thomas Shepard

While reading this book, I decided to learn more about the author and came upon an autobiography published posthumously from his dairy and notes. The author of a book wants to know his audience, but a book reviewer wants to know the author. The editors of his biography remarked that Shepard had a “simple, childlike confidence in God, [a] heartfelt and earnest piety, and . . . an unaffected devotional spirit.”[i] After his death, mourners lauded his treatise, Theses Sabbaticae, “wherin (sic) he hath handled the morality of the Sabbath with a degree of reason, reading, and religion which is truly extraordinary.”[ii] The title of his publication expresses his affinity for Latin which he sprinkles throughout his dissertation on the Sabbath.

Thomas Shepard was born on November 5, 1605, the day it was rumored that supporters of the Roman Catholic Church were to “blow up” the Protestant-controlled English Parliament. His father could not believe that such an act could be done in the name of the church and so named his son Thomas after the incredulous apostle of Jesus Christ. His father, William, married a grocer’s daughter and had three sons and six daughters, but only four of them were alive at the time of his writing. His unnamed mother died when he was four and his father’s second wife died when he was ten. His father took a third wife, who did not like Thomas at all, and she succumbed to sickness as well. Shepard eventually studied at Cambridge University, earning his Master of Arts, and took up ministry in Essex. He eventually married in 1632 “the best and fittest woman in the world” amidst the religious conflicts of the day. Parker mentions Shepard in his book about the parliamentary conflicts about the Sabbath roughly during 1560-1630. Shepard is described as a crypto-papist[iii] who made arguments before the parliament in 1621 that were not well-received. He was but sixteen years of age. Parker summarizes, “Other members attacked Shepard for his abuse of God’s word, and the Commons passed a resolution that he should be ‘cast out of the House as an unworthy member’.”[iv]

In October 16, 1634, he took steps to leave old England with his wife and first son, Thomas, to New England to escape religious turmoil possibly related to his Separatist beliefs. His son died early in the travels before leaving England. His wife bore a second son, whom he also named Thomas. The journey continued in August 1635 through the seas with various terrors and they finally landed in New England in October. His journey was part of the “Great Migration” of Puritans from England during this time providing continued growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His wife, Margaret, died shortly after arriving in 1636. He married a second time in October, 1637. Their first son died. Their second son Samuel was alive during his final years, but his third son, John, died in infancy. Another son was born in April 1646, living but three years. So tender a heart he maintained, that in all these deaths he seemed to believe they were provoked by his own sin.[v] He married a third time in 1647 and had a son who would later become a minister. Thomas Shepard died August 25, 1649 at the age of 44. He was then pastor of the Church of Christ, at Cambridge. His life was brief and full of hardship, yet he served the Lord with all his might and mind.

This great man was familiar with arguments antagonistic to the Sunday Sabbath viewpoint from such authors as Primrose,[vi] Heylin,[vii] Ironside,[viii] Wallæus,[ix] Traske,[x] Gomarus,[xi] Brabourn,[xii] Broad[xiii], and others. These men and their works are described in Robert Cox’s (1865) The Literature of the Sabbath Question. So Shepard determined to defend the Westminster (1632) idea that the Sabbath of the Decalogue is in continuing force not only for the church, but for the world, and that this day was divinely selected to be the first day of the week since the resurrection of Jesus. His writing was also occasioned by King Charles I, who republished in 1632 King James’s 1618 Book of Sports, that conveyed the King’s desire that the populace are at liberty to engage in Sunday pastimes after church, notwithstanding the judgmentalism of Puritans.[xiv]

This may have been a well-respected work in the 17th century, but it makes for difficult reading today. His sentences are long and convoluted, some of them filling nearly a whole page. An example follows.

“The Familists and Antinomians of late, like the Manichees of old, do make all days equally holy under the gospel, and none to be observed more than another by virtue of any command of God, unless it be from some command of man to which the outward man they think should not stick to conform, or unless it be pro re nata, or upon several occasions, which special occasions are only to give the alarums for church meetings and public Christian assemblies—an audacious assertion, cross to the very light of nature among the blind heathens, who have universally allowed the Deity whom they ignorantly worshiped the honor of some solemn duties; cross to the verdict of Popish schoolmen and prelatists, whose stomachs never stood much toward any Sabbath at all; cross to the scope of the law of the Sabbath, which, if it hath any general morality, (not denied scarce to any of Moses’ judicials,) surely one would think it should lie in the observation of some day or days, though not in a seventh day, for which now we do not contend; cross also to the appointment of the gospel, foretold by Isaiah and Ezekiel, (Is. lvi. 4, 6; Ezek. xliii. 27,) made mention of by our Saviour to continue long after the abolishing of all ceremonies by his death, (Matt. xxiv. 20,) who therefore bids them pray, that their flight may not be in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day, which, whether it be the Jewish or Christian Sabbath, I dispute not; only this is evident, that he hath an eye to some special set day, and which was lastly ordained by Christ, and observed in the primitive churches, commonly called the Lord’s day, as shall be shown in due place, and which notion, under pretense of more spiritualness, in making every day a Sabbath, (which is utterly unlawful and impossible, unless it be lawful to neglect our own work all the week long, and without which there can be no true Sabbath;) doth really undermine the true Sabbath, in special set days; and look, as to make every man a king and judge in a Christian commonwealth would be the introduction of confusion, and consequently the destruction of a civil government, so to crown every day with equal honor unto God’s set days and Sabbath which he hath anointed and exalted above the rest, this anarchy and confusion of days doth utterly subvert the true Sabbath; to make every day a Sabbath is a real debasing and dethroning of God’s Sabbath.”[xv]

There were times that I followed his logic and agreed with his conclusions, and sometimes he asked good questions, but didn’t always answer them. Yet conversely he made outrageous statements and non sequiturs. Overall, his arguments for the morality of the Sabbath were barely understandable. He spent little time on the relationship of the Sabbath to ceremonial law, typology, and eschatology. He provided no detailed research regarding the expression of sabbatical natural law in primitive peoples or earlier cultures, and he failed to explain how the Christian church missed this critical doctrine until his time.

“Because the express words of the commandment do not run thus, viz., “Remember to keep holy that seventh day,” but more generally, “the Sabbath day;” it is in the beginning, and so it is in the end of this commandment, where it is not said, that God blessed that seventh day, but the Sabbath day; by which expression the wisdom of God, as it points to that particular seventh day, that it should be sanctified, so it also opens a door of liberty for change, if God shall see meet, because the substance of the commandment doth not only contain that seventh day, but the Sabbath day, which may be upon another seventh, as well as upon that which God appointed first; and that the substance of the command is contained in those first words, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,: may appear from the repetition of the same commandment, (Deut. v.12,) where these words, “As the Lord thy God commanded thee,” are immediately inserted before the rest of the words of the commandment be set down, to show thus much, that therein is contained the substance of the fourth command; the words following being added only to press the duty, and to point out the particular day, which at that time God would have them to observe.”[xvi]

It was hard not to recall in his biography his recollection of former times as a student. “The third yeare wherin I was Sophister (at Cambridge) I began to be foolish & proud, to show myselfe in the public schooles there to be a disputer about things which now I see I did not know then at all but only prated about them.”[xvii] While only occasionally did he mock the ignorance of those with whom he disagreed, he was generally methodical and studious in discussing the multitude of considerations in this debate.

His work is divided into four sections. First, he determines to prove by many infallible proofs, termed “theses,” that a religious rest every seven days is a moral commandment from the beginning of creation. This section is comprised of 207 propositions in which he lays out his powers of deduction and induction. His main argument for the morality of the Sabbath is its presence within the Decalogue. While he discusses the fact that moral and ceremonial laws are often listed side by side in the OT and that how laws are listed is no way to determine the difference between them, he simply asserts that it is not so in the Decalogue—they are all moral. This is a logical fallacy in itself as he assumes to be true what he seeks to prove. He expends considerable ink on the relationship of the morality of the Sabbath to the law of nature, whether the morality is abstract or concrete, general or particular, primary or secondary, moral-moral or moral-ceremonial, private or public, internal or external, and direct or indirect. This was difficulty reading to be sure and offers little for Sabbatarians to draw upon for the defense of the morality of the Sabbath. As he considers the creation week, he makes the outlandish statement that “God never made himself an example of any ceremonial duty, it being unsuitable to his glorious excellency to do so.”[xviii] He states this as if it were a well-known fact, and then claims that this is the reason why the weekly Sabbath is moral and the yearly Sabbath of the Land is not. Shepard fails to observe that God’s seventh day rest was not a recurring Sabbath nor described as such, so His example doesn’t actually demonstrate the weekly Sabbath. Shepard also fails to notice that God gave Adam an example of a bloody sacrifice (Gen 3:21), the foremost of all ceremonial laws. So it certainly is acceptable for God to demonstrate a behavior that has ceremonial implications. The manna was provided in the wilderness at the set times that He willed to provide it, doing so for six days and refraining on the seventh. His example provided the experience necessary to initially teach the Israelites the rules about Sabbath-keeping and He continued to provide manna in the same manner week after week for forty years. The Lord tutored Israel in Sabbath law and He directly involved Himself in the sanctification and sanction of it. God most certainly made Himself an example of ceremonial law.[xix] On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus provided an example during the annual seder of the new covenant meal—the Lord’s Supper—which is not moral but a ceremonial institution, because it had a beginning that very night and will come to a conclusion when Christ comes into his kingdom.

The second focus of his book is in defending the change of the day of week on which the Sabbath occurs, from the seventh day of the week to the first. As a Lord’s Day advocate, I agree with him that the Christians are obligated to assemble on Sunday and that the authority for it came through the apostles and the ground for it due to the resurrection, but I disagree that the Sabbath itself was reassigned to Sunday. I agree that assembling together (“going to church”) is not a matter of Christian liberty, otherwise there would be no sin in forsaking the assembly. So Shepard attempts to explain why the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday is ceremonial and the Christian Sabbath on Sunday is moral. According to Shepard there was a moral Sabbath practiced by the patriarchs and then the Jews were given their Sabbath which is only “accidentally typical”; that is, it was assigned typological attributes specific to the Jews which are not essentially moral. Those typical features may be done away with—and he assures us they were abrogated—but the force of the fourth commandment continues. He asks, “What type is affixed and annexed to the Sabbath?” and answers, “I think it difficult to find out.” Of interest here is that he does not think that by shifting the Sabbath one day that the morality of it is undermined. He explains that the Jews celebrated their Sabbath at the end of six days work and Christians celebrate their Sabbath at the beginning of the week, thus both give the Lord one-seventh of their time, which is the moral requirement. If this is the case, then the Lord required the observation of two consecutive Sabbaths (which disrupted the rhythm of the universe) and He altered the concept of rest as a prelude to work instead of the completion of work. Well, few there be (Sabbatarians included) that can’t help but think of the Sabbath as something to work toward, the fruit of the labor. It remains a rest for having worked. For example, Pink asserts “He who never works is unfitted for worship…Work is to pave the way for worship…The more diligent and faithful we are in performing the duties of the six days, the more shall we value the rest of the seventh.”[xx] But some Sabbatarians disagree. Plonk argues that Adam began his week with worship. “What needs to be emphasized here is that worship comes before work, both in connection with creation and redemption. The day of rest precedes the days of toil.”[xxi] So it is unclear whether Sabbatarians are following the example of God or Adam. Shepard sees the analogy between God’s creation rest coming at the end of His work and Christ’s rest coming at the end of His work, only Christ’s rest was not in the grave on the Sabbath but on the first day of His resurrection. Since “man’s sin spoiled the first rest . . .the day of it might be justly abrogated,” he avers. Taking what he says all together: God’s rest was the last day of the week, but for Adam his rest began the week, and since Adam ruined the last day of the week Sabbath, the Jews were made to follow the example of God by observing the Sabbath on the last day of the week; and this was typological and could be abolished (only that would make God an example of a ceremony); so Christ having paid for sin and completed the work of redemption, rested on the first day of the week and restored the original intent that man begin the week with a Sabbath (even though the Creator’s perfect rest was on the last day of the week).[xxii] The more he babbles, the more the incongruities accrue.

Thirdly, he evaluates various opinions about the timing of the observation of the Sabbath; that is, when it ought to begin and end. This was a fiercely debated aspect of Sabbath-keeping in his day and so the English Parliament in 1656 defined the Lord’s Day as the time between midnight Saturday night to midnight Sunday night.[xxiii] In opposition to this act, Shepard ably demonstrates that the Jewish Sabbath was from “even to even” and deduces that the proper observation of the Christian Sabbath should encompass the same timeframe. “If therefore the Jewish Sabbath ended at even, the Christian Sabbath must immediately succeed it, and begin it then, or else a moral rule is broken.”[xxiv] For Shepard, this is a moral issue, and it is a sin to think otherwise. He is but a step away from seventh-day Sabbatarianism, which incidentally got its first church in England in 1653, less than five years after the publication of his book. And the first Seventh-day Baptist Church was formed in the colonies in 1671.

Lastly, he engages the reader with his thoughts about the manner in which the Sabbath is sanctified. As a preacher at least influenced by Puritanism, he is aghast at the libertarian attitude of Roman Catholics who make Sunday a “dancing Sabbath.” To keep the Sunday Sabbath holy, one must look to the Jewish legislation. “Whatever holy duties the Lord required of the Jews, which were not ceremonial, the same duties he requires of us upon this day.”[xxv] Most readers of Exodus think the Jews were not permitted to cook, make a fire, or gather sticks on the Sabbath—but according to Shepard, these are permissible on the Christian Sabbath, not because these were ceremonial laws now abolished or antiquated civil laws, but because they were never legal restrictions in the first place. He has an entirely different take on these three supposed prohibitions. His exploration of these topics in Theses 6-8 should make Reformed exegetes cringe. He cites Numbers 11:8, which states, “The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil,” and concludes that it was lawful to do this on the Sabbath. He sees in this passage a daily activity. However, Exodus 16:23 states that the Jews were to gather on the sixth day the quantity for two days, only they should “Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.” So it is quite clear that the Lord did not allow them to prepare the manna on the Sabbath. After all, they tried to put God to the test (cf. Ex 17:7), but He turned it around and put them to the test (Ex 16:4). What sort of test would it be if they could go out every day and gather manna every day and cook it every day? The consensus of three thousand years of Judaism and nearly two thousand years of Christianity mean little to Shepard on this matter. Klagsbrun (JSS) says, “Laws regulating the preparation of food for the Sabbath ahead of time would be based on the manna that anticipated the Sabbath.”[xxvi] Kaplan (JSS) states that the use of fire is a prototype of work because it is “one of the prime ways in which man demonstrates his mastery over nature.”[xxvii] Commenting on this passage, Henry (CS) states, “On that day they were to fetch in enough for two days, and to prepare it, v. 23. The law was very strict, that they must bake and seeth, the day before, and not on the sabbath day.”[xxviii] Regardless, Shepard is not so strict about work restrictions, restricting the work restriction only to servile works that are “done for any worldly gain, profit, or livelihood, to acquire and purchase that things of this life by weekday labor… hence buying, selling, sowing, reaping, which are done for worldly gain, are unlawful on this day, being therefore servile work; hence also worldly sports and pastimes.”[xxix] But it is permissible to cook, build a fire, and gather sticks on the Christian Sabbath. However, it is an open question whether presumptuous Sabbath-breakers should be put to death. He addresses the fact that God performs works of maintenance in His good providence, but Shepard disallows sweeping the house, washing clothes, or watering horses. It is interesting to me how the Puritans despised the ceremonies of Judaism, the legalisms of the Pharisees, the superstitions of Roman Catholics, and the doctrinal inventions of Popery, yet their views about the Christian Sabbath are blood kin to them all.

[i] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p.3.
[ii] Ibid., p. 104.
[iii] I could find no actual denominational association for Shepard. He seems aligned with Puritan beliefs, but does not hold to the strictness they are known for regarding the Sabbath; and in his writings, “Puritan” is a pejorative term. There were dissenters, and separatists, and non-conformists at the time, so I gather that he was a Congregationalist.
[iv] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath, p. 171.
[v] Six epidemics of smallpox affected the Boston area from 1636-1698 (Campbell, American Disasters). At this time, the prevailing belief was that calamities were brought on by the will of God.
[vi] Alt. Primerose, David. Minister at Rouen. Authored A Treatise of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in 1636, supportive of the Declaration of Sports.
[vii] Alt. Heylyn; Sub-dean of Westminster and Chaplain to Charles I; Wrote The History of the Sabbath in 1636 with a preface to the king “to show them how much they deceived not only themselves and others, in making the old Jewish Sabbath of equal age and observation with the Law of Nature, and preaching their new Sabbath doctrines in the Church of Christ, with which the Church hath no acquaintance.” He denies that the Sabbath was instituted any earlier than in the wilderness as described in Exodus and that the Lord’s Day is not a Sabbath at all, nor had it ever been during the long history of the church, not until after the Reformation.
[viii] Ironside, Gilbert. Bishop of Bristol; His 1637 book answers seven questions regarding the Sabbath dispute; denies that Adam was given the Sabbath; that the 4th commandment obliges Christians to observe the Sabbath; that devoting one day a week to worship is not natural, nor moral.
[ix] Wallæus, Anthony. Professor of Divinity at Leyden; authored a dissertation on the Sabbath in 1628.
[x]Traske, John. In 1620 published curiously titled “A Treatise of Liberty from Judaism” in which he takes the morality of the Sabbath to its logical end, and advocated Saturday Sabbatarianism, in addition to Jewish food laws. According to Cox, Heylin wrote about Traske, telling of his public whipping and 3 year incarceration, afterward he recanted his “rather humorous than hurtful” opinions and died in obscurity (Cox, p. 153).
[xi] Alt. Gomar, Francis; his 1628 investigation into the origin of the Sabbath denies that the Sabbath was instituted at creation, neither does the 4th commandment oblige all men to religious rest one day in seven.
[xii] Alt. Brabourne, Theophilus; a Puritan minister; reasons that if the 4th commandment is moral, then that affirms the Saturday Sabbath as obligatory upon the church; and further denies the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Those of this theological bent were called “Sabbatarians” for holding to a Saturday Sabbath, but his followers (and of Traske) are now called 7th Day Baptists. Cox states that Brabourne was brought under pressure by a Commission of Charles I, and submitted to orthodox doctrines (p. 162).
[xiii] Broad, Thomas. Issued a tract regarding the 4th Commandment in 1621, advising that the Lord’s Day be kept as it has been since the resurrection of Jesus, without the formalities of the Sabbath.
[xiv] Cox states (p. 163) that when the Puritans got the legislative advantage, “in 1643 it was ordered by the Long Parliament to be burned by the hands of the common hangman… and all having copies of it were required to deliver them up to be thus disposed of.”
[xv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae (1649), reprinted 2002, Dahlonega, GA: Crown Rights Book Company, p. 73-74.
[xvi] Ibid., p. 135.
[xvii] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p. 20.
[xviii] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 38-39.
[xix] This is similar to the statement: “Don’t require of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”
[xx] Pink, Arthur W. The Ten Commandments, p. 28
[xxi] Pronk, Cornelis. “Worship Comes Before Work” March 1995 (Reprinted in “Keeping the Christian Sunday”).
[xxii] The view that the patriarchal Sabbath was on the first day of the week is mentioned in the JFB Commentary on Exodus 16:23-26.
[xxiii] Cox, Robert. The Literature of the Sabbath Question,  p. 254.
[xxiv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 241.
[xxv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 254.
[xxvi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 28.
[xxvii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p. 35.
[xxviii] Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 1 p. 271 (Ex 16:22-31). However, Henry relaxes this law for Christians: “This does not now make it unlawful for us to dress meat on the Lord’s day, but directs us to contrive our family affairs so that they may hinder us as little as possible in the work of the sabbath.”
[xxix] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 257.

Part 2: What are the Terms? The Lord’s Day

Glossary: 6

The Lord’s Day.  From kyriake hemera in Revelation 1:10, the meaning of this hapax legomenon must be deduced first from the limited immediate context, then from the broader biblical context, and finally from the preponderance of extra-biblical data. Among CS and LD communities, the most common and defensible understanding is that kyriake hemera refers to the first day of the week, Sunday, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. “It was simply, by the normative custom of the apostolic church, the day on which Christians met to worship, and, for us, the use of its title, the Lord’s Day, in Revelation 1:10 gives that custom the stamp of canonical authority.”[i] It is to be distinguished from the “day of the Lord”—a yet future period when the Lord shall interrupt the plans of mankind to effect His promise to fully bless, redeem, and sanctify His people; to judge and punish those who rejected Him; and to re-fashion the astrophysical world into the fullness of His glorious kingdom. While the Sabbath was identified by the Lord as “His holy day” (Isa 58:13) the Israelites did not refer to it by anything other than shabbat. Hence, John’s singular use of this term is highly unlikely a reference to the Sabbath. In addition, the LXX does not use this adjectival form for “Lord” at all—not to describe the Sabbath or the Day of the Lord. Whether John’s term was a neologism for Sunday or the particular day on which he received the vision, we cannot know with certainty. However, the beauty of the term is that it assigns Lordly regality to a day—a day that is not the Sabbath. And because of the superiority of that day, it eventually became synonymous with Sunday as it gave due tribute to the victorious King over death and hades. We should not miss the likely association with the Lord’s Supper, which represented the body of believers in Christ who was present with them—“in the Spirit”—when they gathered together (Matt 18:20; ). Rordorf (LD) ably explains: “The name the ‘Lord’s Day’ does, therefore, derive less from the once-for-all historical event of the resurrection than from the experience of the weekly presence of the exalted Lord among the community assembled for the Lord’s Supper, and this practice originated in the appearance [of Jesus to the disciples] on Easter evening.”[ii] CS position: Holds that the term applies to Sunday but as a Sabbath. “I conclude that by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of Christ’s resurrection, the apostles changed Sabbath-keeping to the first day of the week.”[iii] SS Camp: “[The Lord’s Day] rather appears to be a variation of the expression ‘the day of the Lord’ which is commonly employed in the Scripture to designate the day of the judgment and of the parousia.”[iv] “Based on Scripture alone, John’s use of the term ‘the Lord’s Day’ more likely supports the perpetuity of the seventh-day Sabbath than the substitution of Sunday for Sabbath.”[v]

On the seventh day of each week the Jews observed a unique set of laws that the Lord gave them at Sinai. He called the seventh day the Sabbath, signifying complete or absolute rest. Following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the church (mostly Jewish converts) began to assemble together on the first day of the week to hear the apostle’s doctrine, to participate in communion, to pray and fellowship together. By apostolic authority and inscripturated in Revelation, the first day of the week was called the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath occurred the day prior. In giving the first day of the week a title heralding the Lordship of Jesus Christ who arose victorious from the grave and who was mystically present when they gathered together, the apostles promoted the Lord’s Day over and against the Sabbath. The Jews did not have the promise of the Lord’s presence with them at their synagogue gatherings, and there, they remembered the typological redemption of Israel rather than the actual redemption of “Israel indeed” (Rom 2:29; 9:6; Col 2:11-12). The two days of the week stood side by side, and Jewish converts yielded to the one or the other. If they associated with the Christian sect, they were scorned at the synagogue; but if they forsook the Lord’s Day, they risked the displeasure of the Lord (Heb 10:24-29). Because CS believers anchor the rationale for weekly assembly on the Sabbath, they tend to avoid the term “Lord’s Day” in favor of the “Christian Sabbath.”[vi] This should be concerning since “The phrase [Lord’s Day] is clearly and consistently used of Sunday from the second half of the second century on…”[vii] “The idea that Rev. 1:10 implies a Christian observance of the Sabbath is the least likely alternative.”[viii] “Many people sincerely call Sunday ‘the Christian Sabbath,’ but Sunday is not the Sabbath Day. The seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, commemorates God’s finished work of Creation (Ge 2:1-3). The Lord’s Day commemorates Christ’s finished work of redemption, the ‘new creation.’ God the Father worked for six days and then rested. God the Son suffered on the cross for six hours and then rested.”[ix]


[i] Bauckham, R. J. “The Lord’s Day” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 240.
[ii] Rordorf, Willy. Sunday, p. 275.
[iii] Pipa, Joseph A. “The Christian Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, p. 165.
[iv] Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 130.
[v] MacCarty, Skip. “The Seventh-Day Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, p.39.
[vi] Lems, Shane. “The Dangers of Neglecting the Assembly” in Outlook Magazine (66:5), p. 8-11. Not once did the author call the day of Christian assembly the “Lord’s Day”. Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae. Besides his discussion of the term Lord’s Day among several paragraphs, he refers to the Christian’s day of worship as either the Sabbath or the Christian Sabbath.
[vii] Beale, G. K. NIGTC, The Book of Revelation, p. 203.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Wiesbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1. Colorado Springs: Cook Comunications (2001). p. 391 (John 20:19-31).

Why the Term “Christian Sabbath” is Absurd

To say that Sunday is the “Christian Sabbath” is to ignore and undermine the rationale for the early acceptance and use of the term “The Lord’s Day.”[i] The reason the term “Lord’s Day” arose within the Christian community was quite logically because the first day of the week became as significant as the seventh day of the week, if not more so. What were the first Christians to call the first day of the week since the last day of the week was already called the Sabbath (Matt 28:1)? At this time in history, the days of the week did not have distinct names, with two notable exceptions.[ii] The Graeco-Romans called the first day of the week Sunday or the Sun’s day. The Jews called the seventh day of the week Shabbos or Shabbat. Not until the third century is there any evidence of the naming of the days of the week that we are currently familiar with. In the Greek NT, the phrase “first day of the week” is translated from μια των σαββάτων, or “first of the Sabbath,” but it is properly understood as “first [day] of the week.”[iii] Not content to simply call the first day of the week by its Roman title “Day of the Sun”[iv] or by Jewish custom “first [day] of the week,” Christians came to ascribe their preferred day to assemble by the regal title: the Lord’s Day.[v] The name alone speaks of its superiority over the Sabbath. The Sabbath was about resting, but the Lord’s Day was, well, about the Lord! It was a day to render due praise to God and His Son whom the Father has made “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36). Faithful Jewish Christians could not help but recall Psalm 118 as they gathered together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord’s sacrifice in their stead (Acts 4:11; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-9). Entering through the “gates” of a home or gathering place they’d sing: “This is the day that the Lord has made.”

Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord, Through which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
God is the Lord, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
(Ps 118:19-29, NKJV)

The only justification Jewish Christians had to forgo the Sabbath and go for the Lord’s Day, was the annulment of the Sabbath and the institution of the Lord’s Day by the authority and superiority of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.

Imagine what it would be like if Christians started calling January 2 “New Year’s Day.” Not only would it be confusing, it would make Christians out to be fools! And what if they waited a thousand years before calling it “the Christian New Year’s Day” in order to distinguish it from the historical New Year’s Day? In the same way, it would have been utterly confusing to refer to both Saturday and Sunday as the “Sabbath,” if indeed the Sabbath was shifted to Sunday. Perhaps one could counter: It was because the Sabbath was shifted, that the confusion ensued and that the term “Lord’s Day” was derived. But this admits that the early Christians didn’t have the wherewithal to simply call it “the Christian Sabbath” until 1500 years later.[vi] After all, this is the preferred term among some church denominations. The early Christians did not call the first day of the week “the new Sabbath” or the “the Christian Sabbath.” This is because they understood that the symbolism of Sabbath-keeping looked toward the redemptive rest that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, provided by His life, and death, and resurrection.

The old covenant celebrated the Sabbath with regulations affecting work, animals, travel, fire, and temple worship. The Sabbath looked back to the divine rest that was lost due to sin (Ex 20:11).[vii] At the same time, the ritual enactment of the Sabbath symbolized a day when believing mankind could be restored to an abiding relationship with God; but the Sabbath itself could never be the means to realize this. The Sabbath was “a foretaste of the blessedness into which the people of God are at last to enter, the blessedness of the eternal κατεπαυσεν απο των εργων αυτον [rest from our own works].”[viii] The Sabbath—like Canaan, the priesthood, the Mosaic covenant, the temple, and its sacrifices—could not provide what it symbolized (Heb 4:8; 7:11; 8:7; 9:8, 9, 13-14 ). In time, the day that the Sabbath anticipated found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ who embodied and provided redemptive rest. “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). “For we who have believed have entered into rest” (Heb 4:3). Paul asserted that the Mosaic laws regarding food and drink, festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths were predictive shadows of Christ (Col 2:16). Christ is the living Head and we live in Him (Col 2:19). Jesus, our Lord, no longer observes dietary laws or keeps Sabbath, therefore we should no longer subject ourselves to regulations that no longer matter (Col 2:20; Heb 9:9-10). With the Sabbath fulfilled in Christ, the seven-day week took on new meaning. The Sabbath represented the terminus of the old creation, but the Lord’s Day represents the first day light of a new creation (Jn 1:4-5; Rom 6:3-5; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:5-6; Col 2:9-13).

The earliest Christians, who were Jews by heritage, knew the Sabbath was on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Yet they began to assemble together on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2). They already had a religious name for Saturday, and it became imperative to advance a new term for the favored gathering day of Christians. Colson stated the rationale so well.

I see no reason to go outside Christian thought to account for the name Lord’s-day. As we find the Eucharist called by St. Paul the Lord’s Supper (κυριακον δειπνον), and as one of the chief purposes, indeed the chief purpose of the Christian meeting was to celebrate this, nothing seems to me more natural than that the day should also be called κυριακον.[ix]

By the time of the writing of Revelation (90-100 CE), Christians already understood that the first day of the week, or Sunday, was the “Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10). John did not invent the neologism; he was writing to those who were already acclimated to the term. The Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God gave to Him, was transmitted to John, the last living apostle (Rev 1:1) on the Lords’ Day (v. 1:10). The day chosen by the Lord for His final disclosure to John is consistent with His other post-resurrection appearances on the first day of the week (Matt 28:9; Lk 24:13-33; Jn 20:11-18; 19-23; 26-29) and the giving of the Holy Spirit on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1-4).[x] “Christians by apostolic tradition worship on Sunday in memory of the risen Lord, and are commanded never to forsake assembling together.”[xi]

An honest examination of Hebrews 10:24-25, taking into account the theme of the whole letter, will lead to the deduction that the faltering Hebrew-Christians were tempted to return to the “safety” of their traditional observation of the Sabbath and other familiar Jewish customs and laws. We cannot suppose that those absenting themselves from Christian assembly preferred nothing over the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath. That is, Jews were not forsaking both Christianity and Judaism—they were choosing either Christianity or Judaism. One could almost argue, from the perspective of a Christian Sabbatarian, that returning to the Sabbath on Saturday couldn’t be that bad. After all, those insecure Jews who professed Christ initially were still getting their 24-hour rest every seven days, not to mention avoiding commerce and recreation. But the apostle of Christ urges them to choose the higher and better road of gathering together instead on the Lord’s Day in respect for the blood of Christ, His bodily resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of God (Heb 10:26-29). The abstention from work on the Sabbath (i.e., rest) is a shadow cast from the Lord Jesus Himself (Col 2:16; Heb 4:3), who proclaimed to be the true and abiding rest that mankind yearns for (Matt 11:28-10). Look to the substance of Christ who provides true rest—not to the mere shadow of rest.

“Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), and after the completion of His work, He also rested on the Sabbath. But He rose again on the Sunday; and through His resurrection, which is the pledge to the world of the fruits of His redeeming work, He has made this day the κυριακὴ ἡμέρα (Lord’s Day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return.”[xii]

Therefore, the Lord’s Day is not a replacement, repositioned, or remodeled Sabbath, but a new experience of a different order, which is all the more reason to continue steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, the fellowship of the saints, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). Jesus accomplished much to bring Jews and Gentiles together as one body (Eph 2:11-18) on the first day of the week to remember Him. This could not have happened had He not abolished the law with its commandments and regulations (Eph 2:14-16; Col 2:20). He finished His great work of redemption on the cross and then rested in the grave over the Sabbath, thus fulfilling both the creation type and the Sabbath type. The Sabbath of His death is in the past; we now exult in the fact of His resurrected life on the Lord’s Day. This is why the first day of the week took on such a laudatory title. What name for our weekly day of worship could be better? The term “Christian Sabbath” boasts of the church’s ownership of the day and magnifies a shadow-command of the former covenant. Who in their right mind would prefer this instead of “the Lord’s Day?”[xiii]


[i] A search through the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers finds few references to meetings of the church. The earliest document reference is in the Didache (c. 100 CE) which urges the faithful to gather together on “the Lord’s own day.” The Epistle of Barnabas (c.100 CE) mentions “keeping the eighth day” in honor of the resurrection. Ignatius is more explicit, stating the non-observance of the Sabbath, but instead keeping the Lord’s Day “on which also our life has sprung up again.” Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE) describes the practice of Christians gathering weekly on Sunday to read Scriptures, for on the first day God created light and Jesus rose from the dead. Of course, there is no mention of a Christian Sabbath. The Post-Nicene Fathers mention the Lord’s Day about 480 times and Sunday about 150 times. Again, there is no mention of a Christian Sabbath.
[ii] Colson notes that Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE) mentions the “day of Saturn” and “day of the Sun.” As the pagan names for the days of the week became popularized from the third century on, the influence of Christianity made its impact on the calendar as well. In Southern and Eastern Europe Saturday is called Sabbata, and Sunday is called Domingo (or words to that effect) indicating the core belief that the Sunday was the Lord’s Day and Sabbath remained on Saturday.
[iii] Other possible translations are “at the dawning on the first (day) of the seven” or “day one of the Sabbaths.”
[iv] Christians were accused of Sun worship by their pagan peers, simply because they gathered together on Sunday.
[v] There were several Jewish calendar laws that referred to the day after the Sabbath (Lev 23:11, 15, 16, 36, 39; 25:22) or the day following a seven-period (Ex 22:30; Lev 12:3; 14:10, 23; 15:14, 29; 22:27; Num 6:10). So if the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, then the first day of the new week could also be understood as the eighth day. In the Epistle of Barnabas (Ch 15) the day of Christian assembly is described as taking place on the “eighth day” because the Lord was weary of Israel’s Sabbaths (Isa 1:13).
[vi] We have our own modern day example with the holiday season Kwanza. The holiday was devised in 1966 for the African-American community as an “oppositional alternative” to Christmas, but nowadays it stands side-by-side with Christmas and Hanukkah. It has already been called, rather inappropriately, a “Black Christmas” or “Black Hanukkah.” Two points come from this: 1) a new holiday deserves its own name, and 2) if a novel cultural expression of a holiday arises, it is immediately distinguished from the former holiday with a preceding adjective (i.e., “Black”). Christians gathering together on Sunday in view of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and that He rose from the dead on the first day of the week was a new thing and it deserved a new name. It was not based on the Sabbath, otherwise it would have been called the “Christian Sabbath” early in its development.
[vii] In the same way that God blessed the solitary seventh day of creation, God is now blessing the recurring seventh day of Jewish sabbatism. Their observance of the Sabbath does not make the day holy; God chooses to declare the day holy because of what it symbolizes. Even if the Jews observed it perfectly, it would not recapture what Adam and Eve lost. Sadly, the Jews believe that if they did observe it perfectly even once, then the Lord would return. Like the sacrificial system, this is a repetitive ceremony that cannot effect what it symbolizes. Furthermore, the Sabbath is ordained in remembrance of their physical deliverance from Egypt (Deut 5:15). Both their deliverance and the Sabbath are types. The reality is objectified in the Lord who gives both spiritual rest and spiritual redemption. In summary: 1) God declared every seventh day to be holy because He so blessed His seventh day of rest, and 2) God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath according to His prescription because He rescued them from Egypt.
[viii] Keil and Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 399.
[ix] Colson, F. H. The Week, p. 125. (Italics in the original)
[x] A variety of post-resurrection appearances appear in the gospel narratives and Paul provides a summary of such, including even himself while on the road to Damascus (1 Cor 15:3-8).
[xi] O’Hare, T. The Sabbath Complete, p. 243. Apostolic tradition is jure divino.
[xii] Keil and Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400.
[xiii] To the Christian Sabbatarian: The early Jewish Christians gave up their comfortable Sabbath observance and the acceptance of their Jewish community to assemble with Gentiles on the Lord’s Day in the belief that Jesus was the Messiah who was raised from the dead. That’s quite a paradigm shift! As Kaplan said, “Jewish law treats one who does not keep the Sabbath as one who abandons Judaism for another religion” (Sabbath Day of Eternity, p. 7). But you can’t stop calling the Lord’s Day by the misnomer “Christian Sabbath?”

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