Sabbath and Lord's Day

The early church observed two separate weekly festivals. Sabbath is the Festival of Creation and Lord's Day is the Festival of the Lord's resurrection.

Sabbath and Lord's Day - Two Different Days


Lord's Day

Festival of Creation Festival of the Lord's Resurrection
Seventh day of the week
Friday night / Saturday
First day of the week
Saturday night / Sunday

In recent times, it has become commonplace to consider Sunday to be the Christian Sabbath, while Saturday is an additional day off work (if you can get it), for recreation, shopping and doing odd jobs. However, this is inconsistent with the history of the church, which has always considered Sabbath and Lord's Day to be two different days, from the first century until about 100 years ago. It is only during the last 100 years that Sabbath has become confused with Lord's Day.

The confusion has arisen because Christians have fallen into the habit of referring to Friday night / Saturday as the "Jewish Sabbath", when there is in fact nothing Jewish about it. This term has arisen solely because the Jews are the only people who have faithfully observed it.

New Testament References to Sabbath and Lord's Day

All four Gospels testify to the Lord's resurrection on the "first day of the week", and in the same context they refer to the Sabbath as a separate day. The term "first day of the week" is a translation of an ambiguous Greek phrase which could mean a number of different things, as I have described in my article on The Resurrection of Yeshua and the Festivals of Firstfruits. Nevertheless, it can be verified from other early church sources that Yeshua rose from the dead on the first day of the week, as we shall see in the section on non-canonical sources.

The Gospel references are:

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. (Matt. 28:1)

And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. (Mark 16:1-2)

And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. (Luke 23:55 - 24:1)

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away ... The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. (John 19:31 - 20:1)

In John's Gospel, the Sabbath is described as a High Day, meaning the Passover festival coincided with the regular weekly Sabbath. This would be consistent with the traditional church view of the Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection, a matter which I have discussed in my article on Three Days and Three Nights.

There is only one occasion in the New Testament where "Lord's Day" is mentioned specifically by name.

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, (Rev. 1:10)

Some commentators believe that Lord's Day should be interpreted "Day of the Lord", as if John had been transported in spirit to a future event, but this would be inconsistent with the many non-canonical writings which use the term to describe the first day of the week, when the Lord was resurrected.

Non-Canonical References to Sabbath and Lord's Day

The Didache, or "The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles", is probably the first non-canonical document to mention the Lord's Day. It was produced somewhere in Syria or Palestine and the date is uncertain, but estimates vary between  60-100 AD. Use the Adobe Acrobat Reader to display this file. The relevant text is in Section 14 as follows:

And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord; In every place and at every time offer Me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, saith the Lord, and My name is wonderful among the nations.

Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch from AD 69 until he was taken to Rome and fed to the lions in 115. On his way to Rome he wrote a number of Epistles to the churches, and in one of them he discusses the crucifixion and resurrection as follows:

Reference to the History of Christ
... On the day of the preparation, then, at the third hour, He received the sentence from Pilate, the Father permitting that to happen; at the sixth hour He was crucified; at the ninth hour He gave up the ghost; and before sunset He was buried. During the Sabbath He continued under the earth in the tomb in which Joseph of Arimathaea had laid Him. At the dawning of the Lord's day He arose from the dead, according to what was spoken by Himself, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man also be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The day of the preparation, then, comprises the passion; the Sabbath embraces the burial; the Lord's Day contains the resurrection.
(Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, Chap IX)

Note: Ignatius is unconcerned that the time from the crucifixion to the resurrection does not numerically add up to three days and three nights. I have discussed this matter in my article on Three Days and Three Nights.

Clearly, he considered the Lord's Day to be the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath, as described in the Gospels.

Ignatius also wrote to the Magnesians as follows:

Let Us Live With Christ
If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things 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--whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master--how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead. If, then, those who were conversant with the ancient Scriptures came to newness of hope, expecting the coming of Christ, as the Lord teaches us when He says, "If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me;" and again, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it, and was glad; for before Abraham was, I am; "how shall we be able to live without Him? The prophets were His servants, and foresaw Him by the Spirit, and waited for Him as their Teacher, and expected Him as their Lord and Saviour, saying, "He will come and save us." Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness; for "he that does not work, let him not eat." For say the[holy] oracles, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread." But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days[of the week]. Looking forward to this, the prophet declared, "To the end, for the eighth day," on which our life both sprang up again, and the victory over death was obtained in Christ, whom the children of perdition, the enemies of the Saviour, deny, "whose god is their belly, who mind earthly things," who are "lovers of pleasure, and not lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." These make merchandise of Christ, corrupting His word, and giving up Jesus to sale: they are corrupters of women, and covetous of other men's possessions, swallowing up wealth insatiably; from whom may ye be delivered by the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
(Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chap. IX)

At the beginning of this passage, Ignatius seems to suggest that those who have a new hope should abandon the Sabbath and observe the Lord's Day instead. But as we read on, it becomes clear that this is not what he means. He is telling them to abandon the idleness of the Sabbath, and observe it as a day of meditation on the law. Then he tells them to observe the Lord's Day as a festival of the resurrection.

The early church writings commonly refer to the "eighth day of the week" as the day of resurrection. The number eight has a spiritual significance, being the number of resurrection, and is used in relation to the eight people in Noah's Ark (see 1 Pet. 3:20). There are seven days in the week, and the eighth day is the first day of the next week. The day of resurrection is likened to the first day of creation, and also the first thousand years of the new heaven and new earth. They were millenialists and believed the traditional Jewish view that the seven days of creation, including the day of rest, represent the seven millenia in which this world exists, and a new world is created in the eighth millenium, a point which I have discussed in my article on Three Days and Three Nights.

Unfortunately, Ignatius is also responsible for the following anti-semitic outburst:

Farewells and Cautions
Let your prayers be extended to the Church of Antioch, whence also I as a prisoner am being led to Rome. I salute the holy bishop Polycarp; I salute the holy bishop Vitalius, and the sacred presbytery, and my fellow-servants the deacons; in whose stead may my soul be found. Once more I bid farewell to the bishop, and to the presbyters in the Lord. If any one celebrates the passover along with the Jews, or receives the emblems of their feast, he is a partaker with those that killed the Lord and His apostles.
(Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians, Chap. XIV)

Although I take no pleasure in quoting this passage, and it is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor 5:8), I have included it because it shows that Ignatius did not encourage observance of the Sabbath for the purpose of ecumenical interfaith dialogue with the Jews, or out of any desire to participate in their festivals. He clearly did not consider the Sabbath to be a Jewish festival, and he is right because it is a Festival of Creation. This does not in any way diminish the importance of Sabbath for the Jews. It simply means that Sabbath is for everybody.

Festival of Creation

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Gen 2:1-3)

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

When did God bless and sanctify the seventh day? Was it when the law was given to the Israelites, and was it for their exclusive benefit? Certainly not. God blessed and sanctified the seventh day immediately after the six days of creation, and at that time there were no Jews and no Israelites. When the law was given, it said that "the stranger that is within thy gates" is not allowed to work. This is the only one of the Ten Commandments that specifically includes the Gentiles. Even the cattle are not allowed to work.

And when is the seventh day? The law tells us to "remember the seventh day", meaning we should remember when it occurs. There are many different calendars around the world, and some of them have been messed up, but the weekly cycle of seven days has been preserved by many cultures which have continued to count the days correctly even in the most traumatic of circumstances. This in itself is a testimony to the truth of Creation, that people who have never seen a Bible are all counting correctly in seven-day cycles. The commandment to "remember the seventh day" is probably the only command that has been observed by all humanity. The problem is, they have not all observed the second part of the command, to "keep it holy". The only thing that has changed in the counting process is the starting point of the day.

Each day of creation consists of an evening and a morning. The evening comes first and then the morning. The day starts in darkness and then comes the light, which is symbolic of the time that the world had to wait for the coming of Messiah. This is why the Jewish day starts at sunset; it is derived from the days of creation. The first day of creation was the darkness of Saturday night followed by the light of Sunday morning (although the names we now use have come from the Greeks and Romans). The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and ends at Sunset on Saturday.

Celebrating the Festival of Creation

How do we celebrate the Festival of Creation? One obvious suggestion is to go out and have a walk in the park, or go out to the countryside or the seaside. But we should also consider how God created the world. He did it by speaking the word.

And God said, Let there be light... Let there be a firmament... Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place... Let the earth bring forth grass... Let there be lights in the firmament... Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life... Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind... Let us make man in our image... Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed... (Gen. 1:3-29).

All the above commands are preceded by "And God said". The importance of the word as the instrument of creation cannot be over-emphasised. In John's Gospel we read that the word is not just a spoken or written command, but is the very person of the Messiah.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

In the book of Hebrews we read about the power of the word, to make things out of nothing.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb. 11:3)

Therefore, to celebrate the creation, we should be preoccupied with the word of God and not just with the creation itself. It is customary among the Jews to spend Saturday morning in the synagogue, then in the afternoon they go out for a walk. In Israel on Saturday afternoons the streets and public places are full of Chassidim in their black hats and long black coats walking around with their wives and children.

It also makes sense that the Sabbath should start on Friday evening rather than Saturday morning. The evening is the best time to start a festival, because everybody finishes work and the family gathers together to have a meal. During the meal, two candles are lit, to represent how we should remember and observe the Sabbath. Then we have the Kiddush bread and wine, which are symbols of God's provision, but for Messianic believers they are also symbols of the body and blood of Messiah. By starting the festival this way in the evening, there is a sense of cohesion within the family and everybody knows that this is a special day. So the order is family first on Friday night, then the congregation and study of the word on Saturday morning, then the enjoyment of creation on Saturday afternoon.

Festival of the Resurrection

To celebrate the resurrection, we go to church on the Lord's Day. For most of us, this means Sunday rather than Saturday evening, although in the early church they had Saturday evening meetings, for example the time when someone fell off a balcony because Paul was preaching too long. (Acts 20:7-12). Then in the morning Paul went off on a journey, as if the Lord's Day activities were finished. Clearly, the tradition of that church was to break bread on Saturday evening and continue late into the night, rather than having a meeting on Sunday morning.

It seems that when the church met on the Lord's Day, whether it be Saturday night or Sunday morning, they remembered the suffering of the Lord by taking communion (as we have seen in the Didache) and they also celebrated the resurrection (as we have seen in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians). The method of celebrating the resurrection was probably by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19, Col. 3:16) and by preaching.

Compromise with Paganism?

Some people believe that Sunday worship came about entirely due to a compromise with paganism during the early fourth century. The story goes that the very early Christians observed only the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship, but as time went on they gradually abandoned Sabbath and worshipped on Sunday instead, as a compromise with the Roman pagans who worshipped the sun. Constantine then made it official by declaring that the "venerable day of the sun" would be observed throughout the empire.

Although the declaration of Constantine is historic fact, it is not true to say that Sunday worship is a pagan activity. The observance of the Lord's Day has been in place from the very earliest days of the church, and has nothing to do with paganism. It is an unfortunate coincidence that it happens to be the same day as the Roman day of sun-worship. It was actually Constantine who compromised, rather than the church. If Sun-Day had been inconvenient, he could have chosen Saturn-Day or Moon-Day instead, or practically any other day of the week. It just happens that the sun is the biggest and brightest object in the sky, so things worked out well for him.


The church has done well to continue observing the Lord's Day, although it has forgotten that the early church observed the Sabbath and introduced the Lord's Day as an additional day of worship, to celebrate the resurrection. Sunday worship has become the all-encompassing event of the church, attended by the whole congregation, and does not emphasise the resurrection unless the leaders choose to do so.

Sabbath is a Festival of Creation and should be observed by all believers. It is not specifically a Jewish festival. The church has completely abandoned the Sabbath and is in violation of the fourth commandment.

Copyright 2000

Mike Gascoigne
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