Origin of the term
From as early as the first century, many Christians have been interpreting the term “the Lord’s Day” to mean Sunday, attributing its origin to Revelation 1:10 which records the following words of John: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet”. However, there are at least two problems with such a view.
One problem is that nowhere in the Book of Revelation does John equate the Lord’s Day with the first day of the week—the day of Jesus resurrection. Moreover, in his other book, the Gospel of John, he refers to Sunday as simply “the first day of the week” (Jn 20:1, 19).
Another problem relates to the setting of Revelation. The book states that John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10; cf. 4:2). In other words, the Holy Spirit transported him into the spiritual realm, to witness “the things which are, and the things which will take place” (Rev 1:19). These included the Lord’s pronouncement upon the seven churches (chapters 1–3) and visions of an eschatological nature (chapters 6–22). In light of this, it would be more appropriate to interpret the Lord’s Day as the day of divine judgment. This would tally with the concept of a fearsome “Day of the Lord” that is already well documented in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament prophetic books (e.g. Isa 2:12, 13:9; Joel 1:15, 2:1, 11; Amos 5:18; Obad 1:15; Zeph 1:14; see also 2 Pet 3:10).
Did Jesus’ disciples commemorate the resurrection?
One argument relating to the need to observe Sunday in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection is that this is allegedly what the disciples did (cf. Lk 24:33–51; Jn 20:19–23). Proponents point to an account in Luke where two followers returned to Jerusalem to proclaim news of the risen Lord to a gathering of the eleven disciples: “So they rose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together” (Lk 24:33).
The question is, had the eleven disciples actually gathered in worship that Sunday? The Book of John indicates not: “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews…” (Jn 20:19). The reason they were together was because they were frightened. Furthermore, we note that many of the disciples remained sceptical about Jesus’ resurrection, despite having heard the news from others (Lk 24:11). It is hardly plausible, then, that they were holding a service to commemorate, or even to celebrate, the event. It was only later, when Jesus appeared to all of them, that they truly believed and rejoiced (Lk 24:36–43; Jn 20:19–29, 21:1–14).
Did Paul and the believers in Troas observe the Lord’s Day?
Another biblical passage that is commonly cited in support of the Lord’s Day is Acts 20:7–12. However, it is important that we look carefully at the context of the event. The passage records that Paul had been in Troas for a week as part of his third missionary journey and was preparing to leave. On the day before his departure, which was the first day of the week, the disciples gathered to break bread, and Paul took the opportunity to encourage them (Acts 20:7).
The first point to note is that the account depicts a farewell fellowship, not a routine service. This is evidenced by the fact that Paul was “ready to depart the next day” (Acts 20:7). As it transpired, the fellowship lasted until daybreak on Monday (Acts 20:11)—longer than could be expected for a regular service.
A second point is that the breaking of bread took place after midnight (Acts 20:7, 11). As Troas was a Gentile region, this would have been reckoned as Monday morning. Therefore, assuming that the breaking of bread in this context was the Holy Communion sacrament (as opposed to a simple fellowship meal), it did not actually take place on Sunday at all.
Thirdly, we can be confident that if the believers were partaking of the holy sacrament, Paul would have taught them to do so in commemoration of Jesus’ death, not His resurrection (1 Cor 11:24–26).
In light of the above, there is nothing to suggest that the disciples at Troas were commemorating Jesus’ resurrection through a newly established holy day, namely the Lord’s Day. Rather, the evidence points to the nature of the occasion as being one of a farewell fellowship in honour of Paul.
Did Paul instruct the church in Corinth to keep the Lord’s Day?
1Corinthians 16:1–2 simply records Paul instructing the Corinthian believers to set aside a portion of their earnings on the first day of the week so that there would be a fund ready for dispatch to needy believers in Jerusalem by the time of his next visit (see Rom 15:26). There is no mention that he asked them to do this during a service.
Is the Lord’s Day a biblical teaching?
In the Bible, we can find no teaching, either from Jesus or from the apostles, concerning the need to keep the Lord’s Day in commemoration of His resurrection. Moreover, there is no basis for the elevation of Sunday above the Sabbath, despite the seemingly authoritative arguments that emerged in the post-apostolic era.
One argument is that Sunday took on a new significance when Jesus resurrected and appeared to His disciples. However, the counter-argument is that the Bible was merely documenting the fulfillment of prophecy and nothing else—the fact that Jesus would die and rise again after three days (Mt 12:38–40; Lk 18:33; Jn 2:19–22; 1Cor 15:4). In any case, after His first appearance on the Sunday, Jesus continued to show Himself to His disciples on other occasions: eight days later, on a Tuesday (Jn 20:26); on an unspecified day (Jn 21:1, 14); over a period of “forty days” (Acts 1:3).
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). To be saved, we must do God’s will. It entails that we keep His commandments faithfully and not follow the traditions of man.