Anabaptists, Flat Bibles, and the Sabbath

When I was a teenager, on many a weekend we youth from our small church drove for 3-1/2 hours to spend time “down south” with church friends. Then on Sunday afternoon or evening, after a fine (or angst-laden) time in the Kitchener-Waterloo region with friends who sported last names like Bauman, Biehn, Martin, Frey, Horst, Martin, Koch, Weber, Martin, and Zehr, we would reluctantly hit the road north for Parry Sound and home. Usually our homeward journey took us through the little town of Arthur. There we would fill up with cheap(er) southern gas.

Yes, you read correctly. We bought gas on our homeward Sunday journey. I don’t remember ever buying supper in Arthur, however. Gas was a necessity. Food was not. If we were fortunate, our weekend hosts had already stuffed us with food. But not always. I clearly remember the hunger I felt during many long trips home, stomachs rumbling in the car as we rolled past many a welcoming restaurant.

If we timed things just right, the story ended more happily. I also remember many Sunday nights, driving home late after perhaps an evening revival meeting, when we rolled into the city of Barrie just as the clock struck midnight. On such nights–after 12:00 but not a moment before (usually!)–McDonalds was more than a welcome bathroom break. It was also the scene of happy teenagers scarfing cheezeburgers and fries. Ah, the salty satisfaction of stepping out of the sphere of the Law! McDonalds fries never tasted better.

This morning in Sunday School we discussed the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. Our class had an interesting and profitable conversation. But it wasn’t until the sermon that this post started to form in my mind. The sermon this morning was more  of a teaching session, perhaps because the preacher recently returned from several weeks as a Calvary Bible School instructor. His presentation today contrasted Anabaptists and Protestants, explaining how differing theologies have led to differing behaviors. Some such presentations stick in my throat on the way down, but this one contained enough caveats and compassion that I thought it was quite helpful. Beliefs do matter, after all, and different beliefs do tend to produce different results, and I do find myself affirming a higher percentage of Menno Simon’s beliefs than those of Martin Luther.

One of the contrasts between Anabaptists and Protestants that was mentioned today was in our approach to Scripture.  Protestants, we heard, have tended to have a “flat Bible.” That is, they have tended to draw principles and practices from both testaments quite equally. Thus, they while they affirm salvation through Jesus’ blood, drawing this from the New Testament, they usually also affirm that Christians can go to war, swear oaths, and baptize infants–often basing these affirmations on Old Testament precedents. Anabaptists, in contrast, have historically interpreted the OT through the NT, reading all through the “Jesus lens” (as a recent evangelical book encourages us to do!). Thus Anabaptists have rejected practices such as war, oaths, and infant baptism based on the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

This general distinction is historically true. But, while talking with friends after the service this morning, I realized there are important exceptions. For example, my mind drifted back to our Sunday School topic: the Sabbath.

Let me state two theses for the heart of my post:

  1. I think that many conservative Anabaptists today take a very “flat Bible” approach to the question of Sabbath and the Lord’s Day.
  2. I think that this is due, at least in part, to Protestant influence. Update: And also due to much older influence—Constantinian law.

Let me briefly defend my first thesis and suggest research pointers for me second.

Many Anabaptists that I know are much like the teenaged me. Without even thinking about it, we tend to assume that the Lord’s Day replaces the OT Sabbath. More specifically, we believe that, just as the Sabbath was the day of rest for OT saints, so the Lord’s Day is the day of rest for NT saints. But this idea is not taught anywhere in Scripture.

Here are some things I do find in Scripture:

  1. Christians are not bound to “remember the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:8). This command given to the Israelite nation. As NT believers, our general relationship toward the Law of Moses is that we are not under its authority (Rom. 6:14; Rom. 7:6; 1Cor. 9:20; Gal. 3:10, 23-26; Gal. 5:18; Eph. 2:15; Heb. 7:12; etc.). While Jesus reaffirmed 9 of the 10 Commandments as part of new covenant ethics, he never clearly reaffirmed the Sabbath command. If we only had Jesus’ direct words, you might be able to argue fairly convincingly that Christians should observe the Sabbath. But, after his resurrection, Christ clarified many things through his Spirit and his apostles. Paul answers our question very clearly: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in question of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17; cf. Rom. 14:1-6; Gal. 4:9-11). If you want to hang onto the Sabbath law, then please enjoy your kosher meat and your new moon celebrations! The author of Hebrews makes a similar point. In his argument that Christ is “better than” all things previous, he notes that Israel’s rest in Canaan was not the final fulfillment of God’s seventh-day rest (Heb. 4:4-8). Rather, “we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3). And in classic already/not-yet tension, he adds, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:9-11). To supplement our rest in Christ with Sabbath laws makes as much sense as insisting that we must also move to Canaan and rest in that earthly promised land.
  2. We find examples, but no rules, regarding the Lord’s Day. Our Sunday School booklets asked the blunt question: “Is there anything unlawful for us on the Lord’s Day?” To answer this well, we first need to ask, “Does Scripture give any laws about the Lord’s Day?” The answer is “no.” Here are some of the things we do find about the “Lord’s Day.” This term is use only once in Scripture–in Revelation 1:10, where John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” John does not say which day of the week this was. However, based on what we know of early church use of this term, it seems reasonable that he was referring to the first day of the week. Elsewhere in the NT we read of other Christian activities on the first day of the week: meeting to break bread and receive apostolic teaching (Acts 20:7) and setting money aside for collections for poor believers (1 Cor. 16:1-2). It seems reasonable, again based on early church history, that the reason Christians began meeting on the first day of the week was because this was the day that Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1) and also the day when the Spirit was poured out (based on calculations for the date of Pentecost).

In summary, Scripture makes it clear that : (1) Christians are not bound to obey the Sabbath. (2) We are not required to observe any other holy days. (3) Rest in and through Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Sabbath law. (4) The origin of the Lord’s Day is unrelated to the Sabbath. (5) No rules are given for the Lord’s Day.

At this point some of you may be thinking: “But what about Genesis 2? What about God’s example of resting on the seventh day–an example that precedes the Law of Moses?” Good question!

Here is how I think that question can be answered:

  1. It is crucial to note that God’s example does not overturn the clear statements of the NT: Christians are not bound to observe any holy day.
  2. However, I think God’s example–as well as his institution of all sorts of Sabbaths (weekly and otherwise) in the Law of Moses–reflects the reality that all of creation flourishes best with regular times of rest. This is a creation fact, and I know it to be true in my own life: I flourish best with regular days of rest.
  3. However…! (This is where some of you may finally fall off my train.) I don’t think we should expect to enjoy now all of God’s original provisions for our flourishing. Put more bluntly, I don’t think Christians have a right to demand a weekly day of rest. A comparison may help. In Genesis 2:3 we read that God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” And in Genesis 2:18 we hear God say, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” This blessing, the blessing of a wife, is the greatest blessing that God gives to man in Genesis 2. Most men–myself included–generally flourish best if they are married. (I’m speaking here as a male; most of what I’m saying is true for women, too, I think, although I have a hunch that on average single women fair slightly better than single men. Let’s put the lid back on that can!) So we have these two great Genesis 2 blessings provided for humanity: a day made holy because God rested, and marriage. But when we come to the NT, what do we find? Well, what might Paul say? Let’s listen:

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion… 

27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:8-9, 27-35)

This is uncomfortable theology for many of us, but I think Paul possessed exceptional insight. Given life post-Fall, and given the NT call to proclaim the gospel, Paul sees that marriage is not for all. Indeed, for those who can do without, marriage is sometimes actually a hindrance, a distraction from serving the Lord. God said “It is not good that the man should be alone,” but Paul knows we no longer live in the Garden, so he writes, “It is good for them to remain single.”

What does this have to do with a weekly day of rest? Well, back to a question from our Sunday School booklets:

Can resting on the Lord’s Day become laziness? (Consider Proverbs 10:5 in light of Matthew 9:35-38.)

Proverbs 10 teaches that a prudent son will gather during harvest. Matthew 9 records Jesus’ command to pray for more laborers in the spiritual harvest and describes him working hard in this harvest–including on each Sabbath, when he was “teaching in their synagogues.” Jesus did not rest his body on his Sabbath day; he knew there was a harvest urgently awaiting laborers.

Jesus did not have a flat Bible. Neither did Paul. But I fear that conservative Anabaptists sometimes have flatter Bibles that we realize. While discussing this after church, a friend suggested that we also have a flat Bible approach to our understanding of who is or is not authorized to preach. I agree that at least some of our ideas about leadership seem to arise as much from OT kingship and priesthood as from the NT. Our thinking about ordinances has suffered in similar ways. (I have not forgotten that essay.)

What did the early Anabaptists believe about a weekly day of rest? I don’t know, and don’t have time now to check. Edit (5/4/2015): John D. Roth, writing in his book Practices: Mennonite Worship and Witness, summarizes early Anabaptist belief on this topic:

Initially, the Anabaptists do not seem to have elevated any particular day of the week above another for their worship. They gathered for prayer and Bible study throughout the week, and some even went out of their way to work on Sunday as a public expression of their opposition to the Catholic mass. By the end of the sixteenth century, however most Anabaptist groups had settled into a pattern of Sunday worship. Traditionally, Mennonite groups in North America took God’s example of Sabbath rest quite literally. Although practices varied widely, many Mennonite communities prohibited their members from all forms of buying and selling, from participation in sports, and from most forms of entertainment on Sunday. (pp. 157-58)

How did we get to where we are today, so that most of us have grown up believing it is wrong to work on Sunday? Again, I don’t know all the influences. I do know that the Puritans in the 1600s enacted laws prohibiting work and pleasures on Sunday. And I do know that there was a Sabbatarian movement again in the 1800s and early 1900s, when “blue laws” were enacted prohibiting businesses from being opened on Sunday. Both of these are examples of Protestant influence. I also know that this Protestant influence was codified in Anabaptist thinking in part through the efforts of Daniel Kauffman, who wrote the following of the Lord’s Day in his Doctrines of the Bible:

It is a day of rest… This is not a mere arbitrary command, a religious dogma, a scriptural “blue law” to restrain man of his liberties… Let us give this beneficent provision of an all-wise God our respect and obedience by laying all secular labor aside on the Lord’s Day. (pg. 177-78)

Edit (5/5/2015): I now have confirmation that the idea of Sunday as a day of rest goes back far beyond Protestant influences. Dom Gregory Dix, writing in The Shape of the Liturgy (1945), summarizes how early Christians contrasted the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, and how this changed:

It is still too often assumed that the observance of the christian Sunday is a continuation on a different day of the jewish sabbath. It is more than likely that the idea of such a weekly observance was suggested to the first jewish christians by familiarity with the sabbath; hellenism [Greek culture] furnishes no close analogies. But the main ideas underlying the two observances were from the first quite different. The rabbis made of the sabbath a minutely regulated day of rest, the leisure of which was partly filled in by attendance at the synagogue services which were somewhat longer on sabbath than on other days. But though the sabbath rest was emphatically a religious observance, based on the fourth commandment, it was the abstinence from work, not the attendance at public worship, which pharisaism insisted on; and indeed this was the only thing the commandment in its original meaning prescribed.

By contrast Sunday was in the primitive christian view only the prescribed day for corporate worship, by the proclamation of the Lord’s revelation and the Lord’s death till He come… But there was no attempt whatever in the first three centuries to base the observance of Sunday on the fourth commandment. On the contrary, christians maintained that like all the rest of the ceremonial law this commandment had been abrogated; and second century christian literature is full of a lively polemic against the ‘idling’ of the jewish sabbath rest. Christians shewed no hesitation at all about treating Sunday as an ordinary working day like their neighbours, once they had attended the synaxis [gathering for prayers, readings, and psalms] and eucharist [Lord’s Supper] at the ecclesia [church gathering]. This was the christian obligation, the weekly gathering of the whole Body of Christ to its Head, to become what it really is, His Body. It was only the secular edict of Constantine in the fourth century making Sunday a weekly public holiday which first made the mistake of basing the christian observance of Sunday on the fourth commandment, and so inaugurated christian ‘sabbatarianism’.

Early christian documents on the contrary go out of their way to oppose the two observances. So e.g. the so-called Epistle of Barnabas (c. A.D. 100-130) introduces God as rebuking the whole jewish observance of the sabbath, thus: ‘“It is not your present sabbaths that are acceptable unto Me, but the sabbath which I have made, in the which when I have set all things at rest, I will make the beginning with the eighth day, which is the beginning of another world.” Wherefore we (christians) also keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens’. Here Sunday is a festival, but not a day of rest…

It seems likely, therefore, that Sunday was from its first beginnings a christian observance independent of the sabbath, though its weekly observance was probably suggested by the existence of the sabbath… [Dix also suggests that Jewish Christians, probably from the earliest times, observed both a weekly Sabbath and the Lord’s’ Day, but with differing purposes for each.] (pp. 336-37, emphasis added)

Later Dix explains how Sunday’s role was reevaluated during the time of Constantine, as the year-long Christian calendar was developing. With the development of liturgical events such as Holy Week observances, the role of weekly Sunday worship evolved:

A new basis was therefore found for Sunday by making it what it had never been before, a weekly holiday from work. In A.D. 321 Constantine issued an edict forbidding the law-courts to sit upon that day, and the enforcement of an official holiday brought daily life to something of a standstill (as in the case of a modem Bank Holiday). The result was in large part to carry out Constantine’s design of rendering attendance at christian worship possible for all his subjects, christian or otherwise-it was largely a propaganda measure; though the church had difficulty in some places in securing that its provisions were extended to that large proportion of the population who were slaves. (p. 360, emphasis aded)

Thus, the idea of Sunday as a day of rest has a very long history—but a history which is clearly post-biblical in its origin, and unbiblical as a mandated practice.

Well, much more could be said, but this is nearly enough work for one Lord’s Day! Before going to some final exhortations, let me summarize how I now make decisions about work and purchases on the Lord’s Day. In short, I follow two principles:

  1. I remember all the above: I am not under any rules about any holy days.
  2. However, I also remember the multiple NT instructions for believers to gather together regularly for exhortation, teaching, worship, and more. I ask myself, “What can I do to make it as easy as possible for others to gather with God’s people? What can I do to make it easy for both saved and unsaved to gather under the sound of the gospel?”

Since Sunday morning is the time when it is easiest for most people in America to obey these NT commands to gather under the gospel, I do what I can to make it easy for others. I am free in my spirit; I sense no compulsion. If the goals of the gospel will be best accomplished by me working or buying on Sunday, so much the better. Most times I find that it is best to help others to be free from work, and to take Sunday as an opportunity to take a break from my own non-essential work.

Except of course when it is time to do the work of writing a blog post. 🙂  But now I better stop. It’s time to gather again with God’s people to do the work of worship!

If you agree with what I’ve written about Sabbath:

  1. Honor your neighbor. Don’t flaunt your Christian liberty before those who do not yet understand the freedom you possess (Rom. 14:19-20). Remember how long it took for you to reach your current understandings; remember those topics where you are still uncertain about the limits of your freedom. Give your neighbor the same time for growth that you require.
  2. Honor the Holy Spirit. Despite the freedom God has given you, there may still be times when God says, “For you, for the next while, I am calling you to regular Sabbath rest.” You have been freed from the Sabbath law; don’t replace that law with another that forbids the Holy Spirit from ever calling you to Sabbath observance. Even Paul, who thunderously forbade mandatory circumcision (Gal. 5:1-4), still practiced it at times for strategic reasons (Acts 16:3).
  3. Honor God’s Word. From time to time, when you can do so in love, teach others about what the New Testament says about holy days. Share your Scripture-based convictions with others. Don’t let fear of man keep you from honoring God in this way.

If you disagree with what I’ve written about Sabbath:

  1. Honor your neighbor. Your neighbor has been instructed to not “let anyone pass judgment” on him “with regard to… a Sabbath” (Col. 2:16). Make it easy for your brother to obey this verse! Don’t set rules for your neighbor or expect him to live up to your conscience on this matter. But do…
  2. Honor your conscience. Don’t work or buy on Sunday if you truly feel it is wrong to do so. Your conscience is one of the ways that God guides you (Rom. 2:15), and to reject your conscience is to act without faith–to sin (Rom. 14:5, 14, 23). So don’t trample your conscience. Rather, train it: Study and…
  3. Honor God’s Word. Be a Berean (Acts 17:11-12)! You might be surprised to find, as the Bereans did, that the good news is even better than you imagined.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!


Save page
Save in your favorite format (above). Share, email, or print (below).
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

43 thoughts on “Anabaptists, Flat Bibles, and the Sabbath”

  1. I like what you have to say here. I’m still thinking about Gen 2. God said 6 days you shall labor. In our western culture of leisure few of us can say we work 6 days. If we did maybe we would see the need to take a day off to rest. I agree we are not morally constrained by the OT law including the sabbath, but it is instructive. I have found the body hold up much better when I take a day off after a hard weeks work.

    1. Jason, I heartily agree with your observation that we don’t feel the need for a day of rest like many people have and do. I think of the labor conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Twelve and fourteen-hour work days under miserable conditions were common, even for children. This sparked the birth of the Sunday School movement, which was originally an attempt to give these laborers at least a basic academic education. The rest of the time they were too busy working. Given that past right in our own culture, I am very glad for the movement to pass “blue laws” creating a weekly day of rest.

      My aim in this post was to defuse the sense of a legal duty to observe a day of rest. But I am very grateful for each day of rest I am granted. I was too weak to function well long-term without a wife, and I am too weak to function well without regular rest.

      Thanks much for the comment.

  2. I find your observations intriguing. I probably agree more than I disagree. I tend to see a sanctified seventh day as a creation principle. I tend to see the official Sabbath day stemming from that creation principle when God ordained the Sabbath for Israel in Exodus.
    I don’t see the OT Sabbath as ever being intended for anyone other than Israel.
    I do believe, though, that it is spiritually, mentally, and physically beneficial for us to learn how to celebrate a sanctified seventh day in a way that honors God.
    I do not believe that we are under compulsion to do so.
    My understanding of this, as well as many other things, is somewhat in a state of flux.

    1. Wayne, if I ever visit the State of Flux, I will look for your missing understanding. I just might find some of mine there, too. 🙂

      Thanks as always for the comment. I enjoy learning together.

  3. Very timely post for me, Dwight, thanks! A flippant question that I asked my Dad and Lloyd yesterday (Is it OK to buy minnows for ice fishing on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon?) led to a deeper discussion regarding the Lords day, so this has been very helpful!

    Now fishing in freedom,

    Cousin Darin

    1. Glad you found this helpful, Darin. So… does this mean you’ll take me fishing next time I visit? 🙂 (It doesn’t have to be on Sunday.)

      Blessings as you and yours have such conversations!

  4. Amen! I could have written this post. I knew about the man being stoned for picking up sticks on the sabbath. Yet I knew I had dine much more work on Sunday’s. I finally studied this and now I preach a sermon titled. ” Jesus is my Rest”. Hebrews 4. Great post. Thanks

    1. Thanks, John. I wish I could hear your sermon! I preached one once called “Remember the Lord’s Day.” As I explained in the sermon, the title was ironic, for Scripture never says that, even though it sounds rather natural on our ears.

      Thanks again for the comment!

  5. The Christian sabbath is not a day, but The Person of Jesus Christ. As a Christian we become a law breaker for Jesus Christ. (Example) We don’t only break the 4th commandment as Christians. Thou shalt not commit Adultery. Because we say Jesus is first place on our lives, before our wives. And we would go to prison for the sake of Jesus, and break our marriage relationship with our wives for Jesus. Again we become lawbreakers to serve Jesus Christ.

    1. Interesting thoughts, and I think I agree with what you mean to say. Perhaps another way to put it would be that in Christ we are enabled to fulfill the true intent of the Law, rather than pursuing the letter of the Law in ways that distract us from Christ. (Romans 8:4, etc.)

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Perhaps this article is not complete without a few additional thoughts….. 1Cor. 6:20a, “For ye are bought with a price”. Christianity today, including conservative Christianity, has fallen for the concept that subconsciously perceives they have the entitlement to 6 days of their own, and 1 day is the Lord’s. Must we not ask ourselves these questions, “When Christ purchased us, what percentage of us did He buy? If He did not pay for a 100% of us, what percentage did He purchase and who determines what that percentage is?”. I think we get the point. If we work, sleep, and eat IN Jesus, we have truly entered into the Sabbath rest. Is my life governed by what brings glory to my Owner? If so, then what I need to do on the Lord’s Day is sanctified and holy. May we live IN Jesus every day, not in theory but in reality. Further meditations, 1Tim.4:1-6.

  7. Thank you so much for this article. I have struggled with the Sabbath issue for a long time due to the influence of Sabbath keeping friends but somewhere deep down, there was always this question. I agree with what you have written and have concluded already that when we are born again and seek to live a life pleasing to God, we have entered the Sabbath rest and every day is a rest from sin…….

    1. Well said, Sara. Judging from the somewhat overwhelming response to this post (over 300 unique visitors within about 19 hours), your experience of struggling over this issue is quite common. May God give us grace to live out our freedom in Christ wisely, for his glory!

    1. It has been considered that, yes, by some in the history of theology. I thought about that while writing this post, but didn’t have time to research it further. I think some even see this suggestion implied via literary clues in Gospel of John, but I might be remembering incorrectly. Thanks!

      1. I’ve read somewhere, but I don’t remember where, that some writers in perhaps the 2nd generation early church considered the Lord’s day as the 8th day. Seems to me also that they related it somehow to Passover week, but again, I’m not sure anymore.

  8. In The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd Edition, The Epistle of Barnabas, chapter 15 deals with the sabbath among other things. Verses 8&9 read — “Finally he says to them: ‘I cannot bear your new moons and Sabbaths’ (Isa. 1:13). You see what he means: it is not the present sabbaths that are acceptable to me, but the one that I have made; on that Sabbath, after I have set everything at rest, I will create the beginning of an eighth day, which is the beginning of an other world. (9) This is why we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day on which Jesus both rose from the dead and, after appearing again, ascended into heaven”.
    Not sure how much value this has, my understanding is that it is believed to have been written between 70AD and 135AD.

    1. Fascinating! Yes, I read that a while back. I notice he also cites the ascension as happening on the first day of the week. It is also interesting to note that he describes Christians spending the first day in celebration, with no mention of rest. I’d have to check more context to see if that word choice is significant. Thanks.

        1. Thanks Wayne. Interesting. Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) has a few more historical clues here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath_in_Christianity#Origin_of_Sunday_rest

          For example:
          Often first-day worship (Sunday morning or Saturday night) was practiced alongside observance of seventh-day Sabbath rest[10] and was a widespread Christian tradition by the 2nd century;[1][22] over time, Sunday thus came to be known as Lord’s Day and, later, a rest day.

          On March 7, 321, the Roman Emperor Constantine issued a decree making Sunday a day of rest from labor, stating:[23]

          All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon the venerable day of the sun. Country people, however, may freely attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other days are better adapted for planting the grain in the furrows or the vines in trenches. So that the advantage given by heavenly providence may not for the occasion of a short time perish.

          Some church authorities opposed widespread seventh-day Sabbath observance as a Judaizing tendency.[10] For example, the Council of Laodicea (canon 29) required Christians to separate from Jewish laws and traditions, stating that Christians must not Judaize by resting on Sabbath, but must work that day and then, if possible, rest on the Lord’s Day, and that any found to be Judaizers were declared anathema from Christ.[

  9. A funny thought here. There are three places in the Law where it specifies what work should not be done on the Sabbath (by example or direct command) (Exodus 16:23-29, Exodus 35:3, and Numbers 15:32). Interestingly, all of them seem to be about cooking in one way or another. Maybe God wanted to be sure the women got a Sabbath rest too. Contrast this with two beliefs from my upbringing: you shouldn’t buy food on Sunday, and you should eat an especially good meal on Sunday, preferably with company. We Christians do have a way of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we are going to keep.

    1. “We Christians do have a way of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we are going to keep.” Yes, and sometimes we do so without very good theological or exegetical basis! Thanks for your comment.

    2. Will, I would be totally fine not needing to cook on Sunday, ever… I’m not sure what Scripture to base that on.. umm ……Hez 3:16?

  10. Thank you Dwight. This is a topic that I too have wrestled with over the years and I have come out at almost exactly the same place you have.
    I bless you for sharing. And should you ever happen to venture into KW country again I would be honoured to discuss this subject further over a Big Mac. 🙂

  11. Revelation 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,

    It strikes me, Dwight, as I study this passage more closely, the John specifies he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” One could say he was just clarifying the history of the revelation he received, but I think it means more than this. I think John records the “Lord’s Day” revelation to emphasize the importance of setting aside a day/time to be “in the Spirit” beyond the daily walking in the Spirit. He heard the voice behind him. He was not looking at big screen or being emotionally charged with a pumped-up service. He was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when he heard the voice behind him and thus began The Revelation of Jesus Christ. I agree with most of what you say in your post. This verse encourages me to intentionally place myself in situations where I can be “in the Spirit” to hear and/or see what God wants to reveal to me. And what better day to focus on this even more than “The Lord’s Day?” Blessings, Rich

    1. Rich, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Here are three longish excerpts from a commentary by Craig Keener that support some of your thoughts and also suggest another reason or two for why John might have mentioned the day he received his revelation:

      “Most likely the “Lord’s Day” refers to the first day of the week, Sunday. The phrase also appears in Did. 14.1 for the day on which Christians gathered to break bread, and Roman officials also recognized that Christians gathered on a fixed day (Pliny, Ep. 10.96). Christians seem to have assembled together on Sunday from an early period (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), probably to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:19, 26). Because the first Christians were Jewish, they may have also avoided assembling on Friday evening or Saturday morning to avoid conflict with their synagogue services. “The Lord’s Day” here may also involve a play on words: In worship, John was experiencing a foretaste of the future day of the Lord, when believers’ suffering would give way to the kingdom (1:9). John’s contemporaries most often associated the Spirit with prophetic inspiration, and John’s audience would therefore have naturally understood John’s being “in the Spirit” in terms of prophetic inspiration (see Ezek. 2:2; 3:12–14; 11:5, 24).15 But because John was already in the Spirit when the vision began, perhaps “in the Spirit” begins here not with a visionary state, as in 4:2 and 21:10, but initially in worship that led to a visionary state. Such an interpretation helps explain John’s mention of “the Lord’s Day,” likely used for corporate worship (see comment above). Given the usual sense of “in the Spirit” among John’s contemporaries, “worship in the Spirit” (cf. John 4:24; Phil. 3:3) undoubtedly meant Spirit-guided and Spirit-empowered worship. Prophetically inspired worship characterized early Christianity (1 Cor. 14:15, 26; Eph. 5:18–19) and existed in ancient Israel (1 Sam. 10:5; 1 Chron. 25:1–5). John, whose message will be read when the Asian churches assemble on the “Lord’s Day,” probably was himself in worship on that day when the vision came.

      Keener, Craig S. (2009-09-13). Revelation (The NIV Application Commentary) (pp. 83-84). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

      The meaning of “the Lord’s Day” is important for the setting of this section, but has been reapplied in some ways that shed little light on John’s point. Yet our own traditions can lead us to read illegitimate ideas into this text. One area of potential misinterpretation concerning the “Lord’s Day” is that some believe that Sunday is a new Sabbath. When I was in Bible college, my hometown newspaper ran a debate between a traditional pastor and a Seventh-Day Adventist layperson as to the day of the week on which the Sabbath should be honored. The Adventist argued predictably for Saturday, to which the pastor responded, “We’re not under the law, so the Sabbath is on Sunday.” The pastor’s conclusion certainly did not follow from his argument, first because the Sabbath teaching precedes the Law of Moses (Gen. 2:2–3), second because the pastor did not define how he meant “under the law” (a matter of considerable debate today), and worst of all because he simply assumed that not being under the law meant moving the Sabbath one day forward! As early as the second century some Gentile Christians may have contrasted the “Lord’s Day” with the Jewish Sabbath (Ignatius, Magn. 9.1). But within the New Testament itself there is no evidence that the Sabbath was “changed” from Saturday to Sunday. The custom of Sunday as a Christian “Sabbath” became widespread only in a later period, probably after A.D. 321, as church historian Henry Chadwick points out: An inscription found near Zagreb records that Constantine changed the old custom of working for seven days and holding a market-day every eighth, directing farmers to hold their market-day each Sunday. This is the earliest evidence for the process by which Sunday became not merely the day on which Christians met for worship but also a day of rest, and it is noteworthy that in both law and inscription Constantine’s stated motive for introducing this custom is respect for the sun. Some Christians argue that no weekly day of rest remains necessary; we should celebrate every day alike (Rom. 14:5–6) and enjoy Jesus’ Sabbath-rest continually (Heb. 4:9). Others argue that because God built a day of rest into the nature of creation (Gen. 2:2–3), we will function in much better physical and emotional health if we take a day away from our work each week, though the particular day is less important. Those who insist on a particular day, however, cannot insist from the authority of Scripture that the day must be Sunday. Likewise, some of those who argue that the particular day in Scripture is Saturday and was never changed insist that one should attend church on Saturday; but Scripture does not require one to hold church on one’s day of rest. The connections between the “Lord’s Day” and the Sabbath on the one hand and between the Sabbath and church services on the other are postbiblical, and we should be charitable for differences of practice on this point.

      Keener, Craig S. (2009-09-13). Revelation (The NIV Application Commentary) (pp. 86-87). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

      If John was worshiping “in the Spirit” as we have suggested (or in any case overwhelmed by God’s Spirit), this passage suggests to us that we are apt to hear from God most clearly when it is his face and glory we are seeking. My first year in Bible college a student named Lillian prayed for many hours each day—her life so anointed for prayer that every time I even saw her, I felt an urge to run somewhere and pray. Some of her witnessing partners told me stories about her witnessing methods: For example, when a man was mocking her witness, she began listing his secret sins, leading quickly to his repentance. We each have different gifts; Lillian told me whenever she saw me, it made her want to run and read her Bible. But devotion to prayer and worship often opens our hearts more fully to other aspects of the Spirit’s testimony.

      Keener, Craig S. (2009-09-13). Revelation (The NIV Application Commentary) (p. 91). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

  12. You pointed out that the only mention of “the Lord’s day” in the Bible is in Revelation. Have you ever considered that this might not be referring to a particular day of the week, but instead to the day of the Lord’s return? The OT mentions “the day of the Lord” in several places (Isaiah 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; Amos 5:18; etc.), in reference to the time of the coming destruction that ends in the return of Christ.

    1. Good point, Heather. Yes, I mentioned that possibility in my reply to Rich Schwartz above (the comment just before yours), where I quoted Keener making that suggestion. Actually, he suggests that the phrase in Revelation might refer to both the first day of the week and also to the Day of the Lord. I agree it’s quite likely.

      Thanks for the comment!

  13. Good thoughts Dwight.
    Our pastor spoke about Sabbath keeping a few years ago and had similar conclusions. In fact, I came away from that sermon feeling that, if anything we spend too much time resting on Sunday. Perhaps we should spend more time in fellowship with other believers and ministering to others instead of drifting off sleep in our easy chair all afternoon. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Sharon!
      “If anything we spend too much time resting on Sunday.” Apparently some early Christians agreed; see the update to this post that I added just now.

  14. I agree almost entirely with what you wrote. A strong emphasis on Sunday being a day of rest/worship is both the result of and the continued cause of a sort of dualism that divides life into spiritual and secular. The truth is if we are in Christ all seven days are sanctified and given to him.

    Not that we are under some requirement to meet formally every day, yet it seems early believers lives were very integrated all week.

    Dualistic thinking also tends to divide daily labors from more kingdom oriented work, when in fact Jesus spent most of His life as a laborer or possibly as a small business owner, in this way sanctifying daily labor, ie, changing diapers, fixing tires, building furniture, etc, etc. and elevating even such lowly mundane tasks to… kingdom work….

    The same could apply to tithing. In the NT Jesus claims not ten percent, but all. “Render to (Uncle Sam) the things that are (Uncle Sams, or Revenue Canadas) and to God the things that are God’s. I see nothing left for us to claim. That said we are stewards of God’s things.

    Just some of my thoughts… ☺

  15. Dwight, I appreciate your thoughts on if or how to keep the Lord’s Day. As a kid growing up in the NYP world, I remember thinking it a bit strange that we weren’t allowed to do such things as go fishing, swimming, or play softball on Sunday. To me, these things weren’t work.

    I’m kind of surprised that in your article and in all the responses, there is no reference made to Hebrews 3 & 4. Could it be that God desires a weekly “Sabbath’s day rest” for his people to remind them of when we will enter into His rest? Heb. 4:3-6 are especially intriguing. I don’t have a commentary or any kind of exegetical materials in front of me at the moment but I’m just thinking off the top of my head.

    1. Thanks, Conrad, for the comment.

      Actually, there are several references to Hebrews 3 and 4 in the discussion above, both in my post (see point #1 about what I do find in Scripture) and in the comments. I am quite certain that Hebrews 3 and 4 are not speaking of a weekly day of rest. The passage cites the Genesis statement about God resting, observes that centuries later God indicates through David that Israel had not yet joined God in his rest, uses this observation to prove that Joshua did not give Israel true rest when he led them into the promised land, and then urges readers today to enter into the rest that Israel never realized (Heb. 4:1, 3, 11). How do we enter this rest according to the author of Hebrews? Not by merely observing a weekly Sabbath, but by having hearts of faith that do not abandon confidence in Christ (Heb. 3:6, 12-14, 19; Heb. 4:11, 14, 16). This whole discussion about Sabbath comes in the context of proving that Jesus is greater than Moses (Heb. 3:1-6) and greater than Aaron (Heb. 5:1-10). Since Jesus is greater than these two OT pillars, there is no reason to return again to inferior things like the law of Moses and Levitical sacrifices, or to the weekly Sabbath that was specially commanded for Israel under that covenant. As Hebrews later makes clear, we seek the heavenly city to come, not a promised land (or temporal Sabbath) here. “Here we have no lasting city” (Heb. 13:14) and are often denied physical rest as well. So the Sabbath theme in Hebrews is tied into the book’s larger theme about perseverance and maintaining our confidence or faith; if we do this, we will someday experience in full the rest that we taste now only in tiniest portion. “Let us therefore strive [now] to enter that rest [later]” (Heb. 4:11).

      1. OK, sorry I missed those. I understand that the writer of Hebrews is not speaking only about a day of the week. My point was simply that, as you also stated, God gives us “pictures” using earthly symbols to point us toward a reality which we experience in part now and that will be completely fulfilled in the future. Marriage for example. I was just speculating that it is helpful for us to keep a specific day of rest during the week to keep in mind the future reality that will be fulfilled. Understanding that this is not The Sabbath as was outlined to the Israelites and does not have a list of laws about how to keep it. But instead, as a matter of discipline and consecration, purposing in our hearts to keep a day of rest, being thankful for the work of Jesus and looking forward to entering into our eternal rest.

        Again, sorry for overlooking the Hebrew references in the above posts. I was reading this discussion at work when I was supposed to be doing other things:)

        1. Not a problem! 🙂 May your work go well. And perhaps I should clarify again that I have no problem whatsoever with us setting aside regular times of rest. In fact, I think this is very wise, if we can manage it without considering it either our God-given right or a religious duty we impose on others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *