The Lord’s Day in Early Writings

The Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10

In the conclusion of the most famous defense of Sunday observance, the theologian A.T. Lincoln admits that the entire theology of Sunday worshipers rests upon one verse:

“Of the New Testament texts it is only Revelation 1:10 with its designation of the first day as the Lord’s Day that can indicate the theological significance that was attached to this day.” [From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, pg 384]

But is Revelation 1:10 really referring to Sunday?

The Church at Rome did not call Sunday “the Lord’s Day” until 325 A.D..

Of course, the Apostles did not create any religious days for the Church, they were opposed to that kind of religion, but in 193 AD, the Bishop of Rome cast truth to the ground, when he exalted himself as high as Christ, writing letters of excommunication to the Churches of Asia because they did not accept his doctrine of Easter Sunday.

In response, Polycrates defended the Churches of Asia, saying that many great saints of Asia, who did not observe Easter Sunday, will resurrect on the Lord’s Day.

After he said this, the expression “the Lord’s Day” was used to describe the annual celebration of the saints who will resurrect on the Lord’s Day.

In order to see this, we need to exclude all the false translations of the  phrase “Lord’s Day,” in early writings.

When we come to the Third Century, the expression “the Lord’s Day” is used in no context other than the Passover celebration.  Origen listed the Days of the resurrection season, as, the Lord’s day, the Preparation, the Passover, and the Pentecost.  Tertullian said the Lord’s Day was the anniversary of the birthdays of those who will resurrect. Origen, Tertullian and Irenaeus compared the significance of the Lord’s Day to the Day of Pentecost.

In the Fourth Century, Eusebius defined the Lord’s Days as the time to celebrate “rites like ours in commemoration of the Saviour’s resurrection.”  These rites were not performed on a weekly basis. His expression “Lord’s Days” seems to distinguish annual Lord’s Days, from the real “Lord’s day” that occurs at the end of time.

Below, we address all known references to “the Lord’s Day” in early writings.

As the Day of Resurrection

The Epistle of Barnabas (100 A.D.), compared the seven days of creation to seven thousand years of man, and called the “eighth day,” the beginning of a new world. It compared the seventh day, to “the Day of the Lord,” the last 1,000 years. Much later, Clement of Alexandria (190 A.D.) described the Eighth Day as “the Lord’s Day,” the Day of our resurrection – not the day of Christ’s resurrection.

200 A.D. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: He does the commandment according to the Gospel and keeps the Lord’s day, whenever he puts away an evil mind . . . glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself. (Stromata. Vii.xii.76.4)
200 A.D. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Plato prophetically speaks of the Lord’s day in the tenth book of the Republic, in these words: ‘And when seven days have passed to each of them in the meadow, on the eighth they must go on.” (Miscellanies V.xiv.106.2)

As Easter, in Egypt and North Africa (200 – 230 A.D.)

The comparison of the Lord’s Day to the Pentecost by Tertullian, Origen, and Irenaeus, tells us that “the Lord’s Day” was the name of the annual resurrection celebration.

200 A.D. TERTULLIAN: “The Holy Spirit upbraids the Jews with their holy-days. Your Sabbaths, and new moons, and ceremonies, says He, My soul hates. . . Not the Lord’s day, not Pentecost, even it they had known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear lest they should seem to be Christians.” (On Idolatry, Chapter 4)
200 A.D. TERTULLIAN: “As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours1 (on the Day when we become sons of God). We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from the Passover to the Pentecost.” (De Corona, Chapter 3, the Ante-Nicene translation actually reads, Easter and Whitsunday, in place of the Passover and Pentecost)
200 A.D. TERTULLIAN: “Two weeks of xerophagies* in the year (and not the whole of these — the Sabbaths, to wit, and the Lord’s days, being excepted) we offer to God; abstaining from things which we do not reject, but defer.”2 (On Fasting, Chapter 15)
220 A.D. ORIGEN, OF ALEXANDRIA: “If it be objected to us on this subject that we ourselves are accustomed to observe certain days, as for example the Lord’s day, the Preparation, the Passover, or Pentecost. . .I have to answer, that to the perfect Christian, who is ever in his thoughts, words, and deeds serving his natural Lord, God the Word, all his days are the Lord’s, and he is always keeping the Lord’s day. . .And, finally, he who can truly say, We are risen with Christ, and He has exalted us, and made us to sit with Him in heavenly places in Christ, is always living in the season of Pentecost” (Origen, Contra Celsum, Book VIII, Chapter 22)

As Easter, Everywhere (300-325 A.D.)

Eusebius clearly describes the Lord’s Days (the plural probably differentiates these annual Lord’s Days from the real “Lord’s Day”) as the days to remember the resurrection, when rites were performed in commemoration of the resurrection. He does this in 324 A.D., the year before all Sundays were called “the Lord’s Day.”

As mentioned, Irenaeus’ words were not his own, but someone who paraphrased his writing. In his time, Irenaeus was defending the tradition of the Churches of Asia, which did not observe “Easter Sunday,” rather they stopped their fast on the 14th of the month according the Jewish calendar, which can fall on any week day. The effort of Irenaeus to negotiate the conflict between the Church of Rome and the Churches of Asia, is mentioned by Eusebius in his Church history.3 Irenaeus was from Smyrna, in Asia Minor, and was born in 130 A.D.; shortly after the Apostle John wrote his Book of Revelation to Smyrna.

300 A.D. VICTORINIUS:  “The sixth day [Friday] is called parasceve, that is to say, the preparation of the kingdom. . . . On this day also, on account of the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, we make either a station to God or a fast. On the seventh day he rested from all his works, and blessed it, and sanctified it. On the former day we are accustomed to fast rigorously, that on the Lord’s day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks. And let the parasceve become a rigorous fast, lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews . . . which Sabbath he [Christ] in his body abolished” (The Creation of the World).
324 A.D. EUSEBIUS: “like the former, they (the so-called Ebionites) observed the Sabbath and the whole Jewish ceremonial, but on the Lord’s Days (κυριακαῖς ἡμέραις) they celebrated rites like ours in commemoration of the Saviour’s resurrection.” (Church History Book 3.27)
“The day of his [Christ’s] light . . . was the day of his resurrection from the dead, which they say, as being the one and only truly holy day and the Lord’s day, is better than any number of days as we ordinarily understand them, and better than the days set apart by the Mosaic Law for feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths, which the Apostle [Paul] teaches are the shadow of days and not days in reality.” (Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 4:16:186)
350 AD?: REFERENCING IRENAEUS (193 AD): “This custom of not bending the knee upon (Easter) Sunday, is a symbol of the resurrection, through which we have been set free, by the grace of Christ, from sins, and from death, which has been put to death under Him. Now this custom took its rise from apostolic times, as the blessed Irenæus, the martyr and bishop of Lyons, declares in his treatise On Easter, in which he makes mention of Pentecost also; upon which [feast] we do not bend the knee, because it is of equal significance with the Lord’s day.” (Fragment 7 of the Lost Works of Irenaeus; The footnote in Anti-Nicene Fathers says, “Taken from a work (Quæs. et Resp. ad Othod.) ascribed to Justin Martyr, but certainly written after the Nicene Council. It is evident that this is not an exact quotation from Irenæus, but a summary of his words. The ‘Sunday’ here referred to must be Easter Sunday. Massuet’s emendation of the text has been adopted, ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ for ἐπ’ αὐτῶν.”)

False Translations of the phrase “Lord’s Day”

in all known English Translations

The Didache (80–130 A.D.), Chapter 13 and 14
The Greek reads, “set aside your offering according to (kata) the (Paul’s) commandment. According to (kata) the Lord’s (commandment – implied) those of the Lord should break bread.”

κατα την εντολην κατα κυριακην δε κυριου

In 1912, Kirsopp Lake added the word “Day” after Lord’s.

Ignatius of Antioch letter to the Magnetians (110 A.D.)
The only surviving Greek manuscript, which comes from the eleventh century, reads “living according to (kata) the Lord’s life.” But Ussher in the sixteenth century added the word “Day” to the fifteenth-century Latin version, which said, “living according to the Lord’s” and he ignored the word “life” in the Greek.

In the third century, a fraudulent expanded version of Ignatius’ letter was produced that reads, “let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival.”

Ironically, the message of Ignatius was based on Paul’s text of Colossians 2:8:

“let no one cheat you according to (kata) the traditions of men, according to (kata)the basic principles of this world, and not according to (kata) Christ.”

Dionysius, in Eusebius’ Church History (176 A.D.). Book 4:23 (section 11)
The Greek reads “Lord’s holy Day” (not “Lord’s Day).

κυριακὴν ἁγίαν ἡμέραν 4

Bishop Melito of Sardis, in Eusebius’ Church History (170 A.D.). Book 4.26 (section 2)
The Greek reads, “A Discourse Concerning the Lord’s Word (Logos)” (not Day)

καὶ ὁ Περὶ ἐκκλησίας καὶ ὁ Περὶ κυριακῆς λόγος5

False Apostolic Writings (180 – 200 A.D.)

Some of these writings mention “the Lord’s Day,” but it is doubtful whether the original writings included this phrase, or whether it was added later. All of our manuscripts are from the Fourth Century or later. The writings that mention the Lord’s Day include The Acts of John, The Acts of Peter, The Acts of Paul, The Epistles of the Apostles, and the Gospel of Peter. Of these texts, only the Acts of Paul was regarded by some as legitimate, according to Eusebius (Eusebius Church History 3:25).

It is likely that all of these were written after 180 A.D., because Irenaeus makes no mention of them in his book, Against Heresies. Also, after 180 AD, demon possession, and the deception of Satan through Montanism was common in Asia Minor. This resulted in many heretical writings.

Bishop Serapion of Antioch (d. 211 AD), said, “We, dear brothers, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ, but writings falsely attributed to them we reject, knowing that such were not handed down to us.” He goes on to say that the Gospel of Peter, was written by Docetists, a sect that does not believe that Christ came in the flesh (Eusebius Church History, 6:12).

Below are quotes from these works, all taken from manuscripts of the Fourth Century, or later.

THE ACTS OF JOHN: “And on the seventh day, it being the Lord’s day.”6
THE ACTS OF PETER, Greek Manuscript: Chapter XXX: “Now on the Lord’s day as Peter discoursed unto the brethren and exhorted them unto the faith of Christ…” Chapter XXXI continues, “And they brought (they also brought) unto him the sick on the Sabbath, beseeching that they might recover of their diseases.” Here, it seems that the Sabbath day is the Lord’s Day, but the Latin version below seems to make it the day before?
THE ACTS OF PETER, Latin Manuscript: Chapter XXIX: ”Peter told the people to come unto Marcellus’ house. But the mother of the lad besought Peter to set foot in her house. But Peter had appointed to be with Marcellus on the Lord’s day, to see the widows even as Marcellus had promised, to minister unto them with his own hands. The lad therefore that was risen again said: I depart not from Peter. And his mother, glad and rejoicing, went unto her own house. And on the next day after the sabbath she came to Marcellus’ house bringing unto Peter two thousand pieces of gold.”7
THE ACTS OF PETER, Coptic Fragment: “on the first day of the week, that is ϯⲕⲩⲣⲓⲁⲕⲏ.” This is from the Fifth Century Berlin Codex. By this time, the Coptic word for Sunday had become ϯⲕⲩⲣⲓⲁⲕⲏ, “the Lord’s Day” (ⲚⲦⲔⲨⲢⲒⲀⲔⲎ – Rev 1:10). But Sunday was not the first day of the week that began at sundown.
THE ACTS OF PAUL, Coptic Manuscript: “on the Sabbath as the Lord’s Day drew near” (9:19) The translator Richard Pervo says that 9:16-21 are likely a later addition. “The likelihood that this is a later addition probably inspired by the Acts of Thomas is strong, but not certain.”8
EPISTLE OF THE APOSTLES, Epistula Apostolorum, the Egyptian Coptic Version adds this phrase to the original Ethiopian, “I have it into the Eighth number, which is the Lord’s Day.”
GOSPEL OF PETER: But in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch (35)… Now at the dawn of the Lord’s Day Mary Magdalene, a female disciple of the Lord (50). This manuscript was found in the grave of an Egyptian monk. It is dated to the 7th or 8th Century. We only have one writing, and so it is difficult to know if this was the Gospel of Peter referred to by Bishop Serapion. The original may have also been changed, to include the phrase “Lord’s Day” as we saw in the Epistula Apostolorum, and Acts of Paul. Regardless, the phrase “Lord’s Day” in this context could mean “Easter.” Easter was called the Lord’s Day in Egypt at the end of the Second Century.

Writings after 325 A.D.

The Didascalia Apostolorum, Pseudo Ignatius, and Apostolic Constitutions are now considered to be Fourth Century writings. These all use the expression “Lord’s Day,” for the First Day of the Week.

It has been shown that the longer version of the writings of Ignatius, and the Apostolic Constitutions, were written by a certain Julian, a fourth-century Arian Christian, who forged these writings from 350 to 375 A.D..9

In his recent translation, Alistair Stewart-Sykes assigns the Didascalia Apostolorum, to the first quarter of the Fourth Century, with several pages of explanation.10 The Didascalia Apostolorum forms the basis of the first six Chapters of the Apostolic Constitutions. It pretends to be a writing of the Apostles from Acts 15, and conveys all the thinking of 325 A.D.. It even begins by addressing “the Catholic Church.”

  1. Oblationes pro defunctis, pro nataliciis, annua die facimus.
  2. In the Fifth Century, John Cassian described the Egyptian monks, saying, “from the evening of Saturday which precedes the Sunday , up to the following evening, among the Egyptians they never kneel, nor from Easter to Whitsuntide.” (John Cassian’s Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 18) He actually copied the Latin of Matthew 28:1, Quoe lucescit inm die dominicum, to describe the beginning of “the Lord’s Day” on Saturday evening.
  3. Eusebius, Church History, Book 5, end of Chapter 24
  6. Acts of the Holy Evangelist and Apostle John the Theologian. Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886). Taken from Q. Paris Gr. 1468, an Eleventh Century Greek Manuscript.
  7. The Apocryphal New Testament, M.R. James-Translation and Notes Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924.
  8. Richard I. Pervo Translation, The Acts of Paul: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 2014.
  9. Dieter Hagedon, Der Hiobkommentar Des Arianers Julian
  10. The Didascalia Apostolorum: An English Version with Introduction and Annotation (Studia Traditionis Theologiae: Explorations in Early and Medieval Theology, 1; Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), pp. 49–55