The Sabbath &
the Lord’s Day:
Definition of Terms:
The Sabbath is the Jewish observance of a weekly day of rest and worship, during which Jewish individuals refrain from work from Friday evening to Saturday evening. It’s a fundamental aspect of Jewish tradition, emphasizing the importance of honoring God’s day of rest. The earliest Christians, who were primarily Jewish converts, initially continued to observe the Sabbath, as Acts 13:14 and Acts 17:2-3 mention Paul and his companions attending the synagogue on the Sabbath to preach the Gospel to the Jewish community.
Sunday worship, known as the Lord’s Day, is a distinct day of worship among Christians due to the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. This is reflected in passages like Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2, where believers gather on the first day of the week (Sunday) for breaking bread and offerings. While the Lord’s Day is significant and holds a central place in Christian worship, it is important to understand that it is not intended to replace or abolish the Sabbath, which remains an essential part of Jewish tradition.
Instead, the Lord’s Day is a new celebration that emphasizes the resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of the New Covenant: Matthew 12:8 – “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” The difference between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day lies in their significance, observance, and the theological reasons behind each. The Sabbath, originally established in the Old Testament, is the seventh day of the week (Saturday) and was meant to be a day of rest and worship for the Jewish people. The Lord’s Day, on the other hand, Sunday, is the first day of the week, and differs from the Sabbath in that it;
- commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:1-10, John 20:1-10).
- is a fulfillment of the Day of Rest, which was but a shadow of the rest found in Christ (Col. 2:16-17).
- is celebrated on the first day of the week (or the 8th day), symbolizing a new beginning and a new creation in Christ, who is the New Adam (Rom. 15:12-21, 1 Cor. 15:20-22).
Scripture indicates that the early Christians gathered on the first day of the week (Sunday) to celebrate the Eucharist, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It became a common practice to hold regular communal worship on Sundays, which they called the “Lord’s Day.” Revelation 1:10 – “On the Lord’s Day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” Acts 20:7 – “On the first day of the week, we came together to break bread.” Just as Old Testament sacrifices were a shadow of Christ’s sacrifice and circumcision was superseded by baptism, so also the Sabbath was a shadow of things to come, fulfilled in the Lord’s Day and the ultimate rest that is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).
To address the controversy surrounding the Judaizers, the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 ruled that Gentile converts should not be burdened with the full observance of Jewish laws, including the Sabbath. St. Paul emphasized this in Romans 14:5-6, where he says that whoever regards a day as special “does so to the Lord,” and in Colossians 2:16-17, where he reassures Christians not to let anyone judge them for not observing the Sabbath. As Christianity spread to the gentile nations, the Sabbath would no longer continue to be celebrated due to the theological understanding that with the coming of Jesus Christ, a new covenant had been established, which fulfilled or replaced certain aspects of the Old Testament law.
In Judaism, the number 7 is often associated with completion and perfection, while 8 is a Symbol of a New Beginning. It represents a step beyond the norm, moving from the natural order to the supernatural or divine realm. The 8th day is the designated time for male infants to undergo circumcision as a covenantal act by Divine mandate. This practice is rooted in the Abrahamic covenant, where God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and all male members of his household on the eighth day as a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:12).
In Christianity, the 8th day represents a new beginning or a new creation. It is associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which occurred on the “eighth day” following His entry into Jerusalem. The concept of the 8th day and its relation to Christ is tied to the idea of “recapitulation” or “restoration” found in early Christian theology. Recapitulation is a theological term used to describe how Jesus Christ, as the New Adam, reversed the consequences of the Fall (Adam’s disobedience) and brought about a new creation. The 8th day is seen as a symbol of this new beginning, signifying the resurrection and the restoration of humanity through Christ.
The early Church Fathers saw the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as a cosmic renewal, where He ushered in a new creation (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, Colossians 1:18, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 5:18-19). This understanding is rooted in the Jewish practice of counting the days, where the 8th day is beyond the normal week and signifies a new week or a new era. Jesus’ resurrection on the 8th day is seen as the first day of a new creation, inaugurating an age of eternal life and salvation.
The 8th day is also significant in the context of baptism and circumcision. Circumcision, performed on the 8th day, was a sign of initiation into the covenant community. Similarly, in Christianity, baptism serves as a sign of initiation into the new covenant community in Christ. In Christian baptism, the act of being immersed in water and rising up symbolizes dying to the old self and rising to new life in Christ, akin to Christ’s resurrection on the 8th day.
The concept of the 8th day as it relates to Christ is deeply rooted in early Christian theology, especially Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Justin Martyr. Recapitulation in Christ emphasizes the transformative power of His resurrection and the restoration of humanity through Him. Sunday then supersedes the Sabbath because it signifies a new beginning, a cosmic renewal, and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan in Jesus Christ.
Acts of the Apostles 20:7
“On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.”
1 Corinthians 16:2
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.”
“Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow (Greek: skian) of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.”
“For the law, having but a shadow (Greek: skian) of the good things to come, and not the exact image of the objects, is never able by the sacrifices which they offer continually, year after year the same, to perfect those who draw near”
“One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord.”
Church Father Quotes:
“But every Lord’s day . . . gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned” (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]).
“We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead” (Letter of Barnabas 15:6–8 [A.D. 74]).
“[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e. Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death” (Letter to the Magnesians 8 [A.D. 110]).
“But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead” (First Apology 67 [A.D. 155]).
“The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the holy scriptures, and the oblation [sacrifice of the Mass], because on the first day of the week [i.e., Sunday] our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven” (Didascalia 2 [A.D. 225]).
“Hence it is not possible that the [day of] rest after the Sabbath should have come into existence from the seventh [day] of our God. On the contrary, it is our Savior who, after the pattern of his own rest, caused us to be made in the likeness of his death, and hence also of his resurrection” (Commentary on John 2:28 [A.D. 229]).
“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 [A.D. 300]).
“They [the early saints of the Old Testament] did not care about circumcision of the body, neither do we [Christians]. They did not care about observing Sabbaths, nor do we. They did not avoid certain kinds of food, neither did they regard the other distinctions which Moses first delivered to their posterity to be observed as symbols; nor do Christians of the present day do such things” (Church History 1:4:8 [A.D. 312]).
“[T]he 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” (Proof of the Gospel 4:16:186 [A.D. 319]).
“The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation” (On Sabbath and Circumcision 3 [A.D. 345]).
“Fall not away either into the sect of the Samaritans or into Judaism, for Jesus Christ has henceforth ransomed you. Stand aloof from all observance of Sabbaths and from calling any indifferent meats common or unclean” (Catechetical Lectures 4:37 [A.D. 350]).
“Christians should not Judaize and should not be idle on the Sabbath, but should work on that day; they should, however, particularly reverence the Lord’s day and, if possible, not work on it, because they were Christians” (Canon 29 [A.D. 360]).
“[W]hen he [God] said, ‘You shall not kill’ . . . he did not add, ‘because murder is a wicked thing.’ The reason was that conscience had taught this beforehand, and he speaks thus, as to those who know and understand the point. Wherefore when he speaks to us of another commandment, not known to us by the dictate of conscience, he not only prohibits, but adds the reason. When, for instance, he gave commandment concerning the Sabbath— ‘On the seventh day you shall do no work’—he subjoined also the reason for this cessation. What was this? ‘Because on the seventh day God rested from all his works which he had begun to make’ [Ex. 20:10-11]. . . . For what purpose then, I ask, did he add a reason respecting the Sabbath, but did no such thing in regard to murder? Because this commandment was not one of the leading ones. It was not one of those which were accurately defined of our conscience, but a kind of partial and temporary one, and for this reason it was abolished afterward. But those which are necessary and uphold our life are the following: ‘You shall not kill. . . . You shall not commit adultery. . . . You shall not steal.’ On this account he adds no reason in this case, nor enters into any instruction on the matter, but is content with the bare prohibition” (Homilies on the Statutes 12:9 [A.D. 387]).
“You have put on Christ, you have become a member of the Lord and been enrolled in the heavenly city, and you still grovel in the law [of Moses]? How is it possible for you to obtain the kingdom? Listen to Paul’s words, that the observance of the law overthrows the gospel, and learn, if you will, how this comes to pass, and tremble, and shun this pitfall. Why do you keep the Sabbath and fast with the Jews?” (Homilies on Galatians 2:17 [A.D. 395]).
“The rite of circumcision was venerable in the Jews’ account, forasmuch as the law itself gave way thereto, and the Sabbath was less esteemed than circumcision. For that circumcision might be performed, the Sabbath was broken; but that the Sabbath might be kept, circumcision was never broken; and mark, I pray, the dispensation of God. This is found to be even more solemn than the Sabbath, as not being omitted at certain times. When then it is done away, much more is the Sabbath” (Homilies on Philippians 10 [A.D. 402]).
“And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent him to us, and condescended to let him suffer, and raised him from the dead. Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day . . . in which is performed the reading of the prophets, the preaching of the gospel, the oblation of the sacrifice, the gift of the holy food” (Apostolic Constitutions 2:7:60 [A.D. 400]).
“Well, now, I should like to be told what there is in these ten commandments, except the observance of the Sabbath, which ought not to be kept by a Christian” (The Spirit and the Letter 24 [A.D. 412]).
“It has come to my ears that certain men of perverse spirit have sown among you some things that are wrong and opposed to the holy faith, so as to forbid any work being done on the Sabbath day. What else can I call these [men] but preachers of Antichrist, who when he comes will cause the Sabbath day as well as the Lord’s day to be kept free from all work. For because he [the Antichrist] pretends to die and rise again, he wishes the Lord’s day to be held in reverence; and because he compels the people to Judaize that he may bring back the outward rite of the law, and subject the perfidy of the Jews to himself, he wishes the Sabbath to be observed. For this which is said by the prophet, ‘You shall bring in no burden through your gates on the Sabbath day’ [Jer. 17:24] could be held to as long as it was lawful for the law to be observed according to the letter. But after that the grace of almighty God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has appeared, the commandments of the law which were spoken figuratively cannot be kept according to the letter. For if anyone says that this about the Sabbath is to be kept, he must needs say that carnal sacrifices are to be offered. He must say too that the commandment about the circumcision of the body is still to be retained. But let him hear the apostle Paul saying in opposition to him: ‘If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing’ [Gal. 5:2]” (Letters 13:1 [A.D. 597]).
Martin Luther, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation:
“Christians should be taught that they who observe the Lord’s Day are doing God’s will. In opposition to the Jews, who observe the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day has been appointed for Christians.” -Luther’s Works, Volume 35: Word and Sacrament I.