FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY
by Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD
Continued from previous page:
THE LORD'S DAY - REV.1:10
C.W.Dugmore believes that additional support for "the
preeminence of Easter-Sunday over other Sundays is shown in the
fact that catechumens were normally baptised and made their first
communion at Easter." Furthermore, Melito's "Paschal Homily,"
where mention is made not only of the sacrifice but also of the
resurrection of Jesus, according to our author, indicates that
"primitive Christian commemoration of the Cross and Resurrection
was an annual and not a weekly event." 95 But such reasoning is
faulty. To say that Melito's sermon indicates that the
celebration of the "Resurrection was an annual and not a weekly
event" is to fail to recognize that the document does not deal at
all with weekly Sunday observance since it is strictly a Passover
Homily. Moreover, as we have shown earlier, the core of the
sermon is the reenactment of the suffering and death of Jesus,
the resurrection being mentioned only incidentally by way of
J. van Goudoever uses internal evidences of the book of
Revelation to interpret chapter 1:10 as a reference to Easter. He
refers specifically to the harvest scene described in chapter
14:14f., and argues that, since in Palestine harvest did actually
begin on 16 Nisan, then Revelation 1:10 could be a reference to
Easter day. 96 To determine a dating on the basis of
agricultural symbolism is hazardous, since, as aptly observed by
W.Rordorf, in the same chapter (14:17-20) an autumn vintage scene
is described "in exactly parallel terms ... Is it then a question
of spring or of autumn?" 97 The conclusion is obvious.
Apocalyptic imagery of agricultural seasons cannot be used
as valid criteria to justify the interpretation of the "Lord's
day" as a reference to "Easter-Sunday."
K.A.Strand submits additional arguments on behalf of the
Easter-Sunday interpretation of Revelation 1:10. He points out
in the Jewish Boethusian and Essene traditions there was an
"annual Sunday" celebration of the first-fruits wave sheaf
... Since the early Christians considered Christ in His
95 C.W.Dugmore (fn. 45), p.278.
96 J. van Goudoever (fn. 69), pp.169f.
97 W.Rordorf, "Sunday," p.209.
tion as the antitypical First-fruits, that particular
segment of early Christianity which followed the sectarian
rather than the Pharisaic reckoning ... would readily have
adopted an annual Sunday celebration honoring Christ's
resurrection .... By way of contrast, no liturgical or even
psychological background can be deduced from practices in
Judaism for an early Christian weekly Sunday .... We are
readily led to conclude that in the earliest period of
Christian history the only kind of Sunday 'Lord's Day'
observed by the Christian community was indeed an annual
one, and that the weekly Sunday celebration somehow
developed from the annual. 98
While Strand defends the priority of the application of the
term "Lord's day" to Easter-Sunday over the weekly Sunday, at the
same time he wisely recognizes that the foregoing discussion does
not apply to Revelation 1:10, since the document derives from the
Quartodeciman area of the province of Asia. The Christians in
that province to whom John addressed his book, according to
Polycrates, who claims to be following the tradition of the same
Apostle, strongly rejected the Easter-Sunday custom, holding fast
to the Quartodeciman reckoning. 99
98 K.A.Strand, "The 'Lord's Day,'" in "Three Essays on Early
Church History," 1967, p.42. The basic weakness of Strand's
argument is that it assumes that primitive Christianity was
influenced by the sectarian calendar of Qumran in determining its
feasts. We have found no indications of this. On the contrary, it
appears that the earliest Christians followed the normative
calendar of the temple. See our discussion above p.77, fn. 11 and
below pp.148f. Furthermore, Strand assumes that Easter-Sanday was
already widespread in John's time, but we shall show that this is
not the case; see below pp.198-206.
99 Eusebius, HE 5, 24, 6-7. K.Strand (fn. 69), p.180, advances an
interesting hypothesis, namely that the "Lord's day" in Rev.1:10
might refer to the seventh-day Sabbath. He bases this conjecture
on a passage of the "Acts of John" (composed apparently in Asia
Minor in the third century, see E.Hennecke, "New Testament
Apocrypha," 1965, II, p.214), where in describing John's trip to
Rome as a prisoner watched by Roman soldiers, it says: "And on
the seventh day, it being the Lord's day, he said to them: Now it
is time for me also to partake of food" (ANF VIII, p.561). Strand
argues that the seventh day cannot refer to the seventh day of
the journey, since that would mean that John fasted on the
intervening Sabbath, a practice prohibited in the eastern church.
While the observation is valid in general (see below pp.188-9),
it does not seem to apply to this particular document because of
its Gnostic flavor (cf. J.Quasten (n. 71, p.136). We know that
gnostics encouraged Sabbath fasting (see below pp.186-7).
Moreover what excludes Strand's interpretation is another
reference found at the conclusion of the "Acts of John," the
so-called "Metastasis," where it says: "John therefore kept
company with the brethren rejoicing in the Lord. And on the next
day, as it was a Sunday (Greek) and all the brethren were
assembled..." (E. Hennecke, The New Testament Apocrypha, 1965,
II, p. 256). The "Greek" here is translated "Sunday," since it is
followed by the eucharistic celebration described in chapters
107-110. Mario Erbetta, "Gli Apocrifi del Nuovo Testamento,"
1966, II, pp.63-64, provides the following reconstruction of the
Sunday eucharistic service: "(1) preaching (ch.106); (2) prayer
(ch.108); (3) blessing, breaking and partaking of bread (ch.
109); (4) benediction: 'Peace be with you, beloved' (ch.110).
That the expression "Lord's day--Greek" was used at that time in
Asia Minor as a technical designation for Sunday, is attested by
the "Gospel of Peter," 35,50,51 (cited above p.113). This is also
confirmed by a later document, the "Acts of Peter" (dated ca.
A.D.190) where the author even more explicitly affirms: "And on
the first day of the week, that is the Lord's day, a crowd
gathered and many sick persons were brought to Peter that he
might heal them" (Coptic fragment, cf. Mario Inserillo, "Gli
Evangeli Apocrifi," 1964, pp.151-152; also E. Hennecke, New
Testament Apocrypha, 1965, II, p.314).
Therefore, it would be paradoxical if John, who kept Passover by
the fixed date of Nisan 14, wrote to Christians of the same
Quartodeciman area that he "was in the Spirit on Easter-Sunday."
J.Danielou recognizes this fact and timidly admits that "in the
Apocalypse (1:10), when Easter takes place on the 14 Nisan, the
word does not perhaps mean Sunday." 100
The Day of the Lord.
The identification of the "`Lord's day" of Revelation 1:10
with the eschatological day of the Lord understood as the day of
Christ's judgment and parousia appears to us as the most
plausible. 101 Several indications justify such an
The immediate context which precedes and follows Revelation
1:10 contains unmistakable references to 'the eschatological day
of the Lord. In the preceding, verses Christ portrayed as the One
who "is coming with clouds, and every eye will see him}" (v.7)
and as the One "who is and who was and who is to come" In the
following verses John describes the
100 J.Danielou, "The First Six Hundred Years," 1964, p.74. The
failure to recognize the Quartodeciman setting of Asia has misled
Clark into the erroneous conclusion that Easter-Sunday "was
introduced there on the authority of John" ("Clark's Foreign
Theological Library," 1851, XIII, p.91). However, his observation
that "the celebration of the weekly festival is hardly to be
conceived without that of the yearly" (loc. cit.), is valid
indeed. But in the case of the province of Asia where the
Quartodeciman practice was rigorously guarded, this would hardly
bespeak an early introduction of Sunday observance. It could be
argued that John could have designated "Lord's day" Nisan 15, but
we have found no other testimony to support it.
101 Advocators of this view are cited above, see fn. 70.
vision of the glorious and triumphant "Son of Man" who has "the
keys of Death and Hades". (vv.12-18}. The same "Son of Man"
appears again later to John with "a sharp sickle in his hand ...
for the harvest of the,earth" (14:14-15), where unquestionably
the reference is to a future time of judgment. The immediate
context is clearly eschatological. This suggests that John felt
himself transported by the Spirit to the future glorious day of
It could be objected, as Louis T.Talbot points out, that if
John "was projected into 'the day of the Lord,' how, then, could
he write of this present church age, as he does in chapters two
and three?" 102 The same author explains that the answer is
found in verses 10 and 12 of the same chapter:
"I ... heard behind me a great voice and being turned, saw
..." First, he looked forward into "the day of the ,Lord,"
then he turned back, as it were and saw this church age in
panorama, before looking forward again into the future at
things which will surely come to pass. 103
This threefold dimension of the vision of the Lord's day is
brought out in v.19 where John is told, "write what you see, what
is and what is to take place hereafter." From the vantage point
of the Lord's day, then, John is shown first what the glorious
Son of Man is already doing ("what you see" v.19) for the seven
churches which He holds in His right hand (vv.16,20); secondly,
what is the immediate condition of the Church ("the things which
are" v.19); and lastly the events ("what is to take place
hereafter" v.19) that will transpire until the return of Christ
in glory and the establishment of His eternal kingdom.
A thematic study of the content of the book of Revelation
corroborates that the day of the parousia constitutes the focal
point of every vision and the fundamental theme around which the
whole book revolves. 104 The book is introduced in fact as "the
revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his
servants what must soon take place" (v.1). After the dedication
of the book to the seven churches of asia Minor, John announces
the nature of terms: "Behold, He is coming with the clouds and
102 Louis T. Talbot (fn. 70), p.20. Loc. cit.
104 A thematic outline of Revelation is presented in my Italian
dissertation (fn. 73), pp.90-92.
shall see him" (v.7). The same announcement is found in the last
chapter at the conclusion of the revelation received: "Behold, I
am coming soon" (22:7.12); "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come'"
(22:17). The vision of the throne, of the seven seals, of the
seven trumpets, of the woman, the beast and the lamb, of the
seven last plagues, of the harlot and Babylon, of the destruction
of Satan and the establishing of the New Jerusalem, all describe
events leading to or following the coming of Christ. 105 The
context of the whole book then strongly suggests that the "Lord's
day " of Revelation 1:10 represents not a literal 24 hour day day
but rather the great day of the Lord to which John was
transported in vision to be shown by symbolic imagery the events
preceding and following Christ's coming.
That the day is symbolic rather than literal is also presup-
posed by the many scenes which John could hardly have received in
a single session. We note that he is taken in vision "on the
Lord's day" in the first chapter and a chain of visions is shown
him to the very last chapter, where he declares: "I John am he
who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I
fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to
me ..."(22:8). This apparently suggests that the angel showed to
John all the various scenes to the very end, when in gratitude he
fell down to worship him. 106 Were all the visions actually
shown to John in the same day and context, supposedly on a Sunday
morning? Since the scenes are many and with different themes, "it
would seem a rather strange phenomenon," as Fred B.Jensen rightly
notes, "if John's mind could have received this entire revelation
in one day." 107 J.F.Walvoord similarly observes that "it is
questionable in any case whether the amazing revelation given in
the entire book could have been conveyed to John in one
twenty-four hour day and it is more probable that it consisted of
a series of revelations." 108
The expressions like "I saw, I looked, I was shown," which
occur frequently throughout the book, do imply that the scenes
105 Rev.4:8; 6:10,17; 11:15; 14:14; 16:15,20; 19:7,17; 20:11;
106 This is corroborated by the fact that the angel that makes
known the revelation to John in chapter 1:1 appears again at the
close of the revelation in chapter 22:8.
107 Fred B.Jensen, "An Investigation of the Influence of
Anti-Judaism Affecting the Rise o f Sunday in the Christian
Tradition," thesis 1949, p.43.
108 J.F.Walvoord (fn. 7p), p.42.
were shown at different times. In fact in chapter 4:2 John
explicitly mentions for the second time and with the identical
words found in chapter 1:10: "I was in the Spirit - Greek." This
obviously indicates a different time and session in which he was
taken in vision. Therefore it is hard to conceive that "the
Lord's day" on which John was shown the whole series of visions
that comprise the entire book denotes a literal day since, as we
noticed, many scenes with different themes were shown to him on
separate occasions. It appears to be more consistent with the
context to assume that John was transported in vision to the
future day of the Lord and that from that vantage point "he
heard" and "saw" the many scenes that were "showed" him in
Wilfrid Stott objects to this interpretation, because though
the adjective "Lord's--Greek" is employed extensively in the
patristic literature with nouns such as "head, body, flesh, soul,
blood, passion, cross, burial, sayings and teachings, parables,
commands, power and authority and name," only in one instance
does it occur with an eschatological meaning, namely in Origen,
"Commentary S. John" 10:35: "When all these things will be
resurrected in the great Lord's day]--Greek." 109 The
observation is valid indeed, but why not concede an exception in
usage? After all the expression "Lord's Day - Greek " is only a
minor variation from the commonly used phrase "day of the Lord -
Greek (Greek) Greek." 110 The adjective "Lord's--Greek," as we
have noticed, occurs only twice in the New Testament (1 Cor.
11:20; Rev.1:10), an indication thus of a still limited usage in
comparison with the name "Lord - Greek " which is employed over
680 times. It is worth noting that even the phrase "Lord's Supper
- Greek " in 1 Corinthians 11:20 is unique per se and is used
only by Paul in that instance. The rite, in fact, which at first
was referred to as "the breaking of bread," later came to be
known as "Eucharist--Greek." 111 We are confronted here with the
109 Wilfrid Stott (fn. 68), p.71.
110 Furthermore, note that the day of Christ's coming is referred
to in a great variety of ways; see below fns. 113 to 122.
111 Cf., for instance, "Didache" 9:1; Ignatius, "Ephesians" 13:1;
"Philadelphians" 4: "Smyrnaeans" 8:1; Justin Martyr, "1 Apology"
66, l; "Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretienne," 1907, S.V.
"Fractio panis" by F.Cabrol, col. 2105f; "The Interpreter's
Dictionary of the Bible," 1962, S.V. "Lord's Supper" by M.H.
Shepherd: "Christian writers from the second century on (e.g.,
the 'Didache,' Justin, Ignatius, Irenaeus) preferred the title
'Euchharist' derived from the thanksgiving over the principal act
of the Lord's Supper."
of an adjective which has no parallel in the vocabulary of the
New Testament. It would seem legitimate to conclude therefore
that just as the expression "Lord's Supper" was used once by Paul
as an exception of what apparently was known as "the breaking of
bread," it is possible also that the phrase "Lord's day" was
employed once by John as an exception and variation of the common
expression "day of the Lord." The context, as we have seen,
certainly justifies such interpretation.
Additional support for this interpretation is provided by
the fact that John mentions twice again the day of judgment and
of Christ's coming, and in each instance he uses a somewhat
different expression: "the great day of God--Greek" (16:14) and
"the great day of wrath--Greek" (6:17). These variations in the
designation of the day of Christ's coming indicate that the event
was of such a great importance that it could be designated in a
great variety of ways without the risk of being misunderstood. No
less than thirty times John refers explicitly to it in his book.
112 In the New Testament, in fact, the day of Christ's coming,
which is regarded as the foundation and consummation of the
Christian faith, hope and living, is described by a wide variety
of expressions, such as "the day of judgment," 113 "the day,"
114 "that day," 115 "the last day," 116 "the great and notable
day," 117 "the day of wrath and revelation," 118 "the day of our
Lord Jesus Christ," "the day of Christ," 119 "the day of the
Lord," 120 "the great day," 121 and "the great day of God." 122
Christ himself calls the day of His coming "his day--Greek" (Luke
17:24). The fact that such a broad diversity of expressions is
used to name the day of Christ's coming, and the fact that
112 Besides the texts already quoted, see the references given
113 Matt.10:15; 12:36; Mark 6:11; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:7; 1 John 4:17;
114 Luke 17:30; Mat.25:13; Rom.13:12.
115 Matt.24:36; Mark 13:32; 14:25; Luke 10:12; 21:34; 1 Tim.1:12.
116 John 6:39-40; 11:24; 12:48.
117 Acts 2:20.
118 Rom. 2:5; Rev. 6:17.
119 I Cor.1:8; 2 Cor.1:14; Phil. 1:6,10; 2 Thess. 2:2.
120 I Thess.5:2; 2 Pet.3:10.
121 Rev. 6:17; Jude 6 ; Acts 2:20.
John himself refers to it with different appellatives, make it
altogether plausible that "the Lord's day" is simply one of the
many different designations for the same event." 123
Considering the predominant place which "the day of the
Lord" occupies in the thinking and life of the early Christians,
being regarded as the consummation of all their hopes (1 Thess.
4:16-18; 1 Cor.15:23,52), as well as the very incentive for
ethical conduct (1 Cor.1:8; 2 Peter 3:10-12), it would seem
natural that John would refer to it at the very outset of his
work (1:1,7,8) and be taken in vision to that very day (1:10).
What more than the vision of Christ's coming could bring
reassurance to John, who was suffering tribulation "on account of
the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (1:9)? Together with
the souls "who had been slain for the word of God," John
undoubtedly was crying, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how
long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who
dwell upon the earth" (6:10)? "Little wonder," aptly remarks
Walter Scott, "that the gaze of the aged and honored prisoner was
directed onward to the glory and strength of the kingdom, when
right would be vindicated and wrong punished." 124
The use of the adjective "Lord's day" rather than the noun
"day of the Lord" should also be noticed. E.W.Bullinger draws
attention to the fact that in Greek as in modern languages, using
the adjective rather than the noun of the same root does not
change the meaning but the emphasis. The author explains:
The natural way of qualifying a noun is by using an
adjective, as here "Greek--Lord's," and when this is done,
the emphasis takes its natural course, and is placed on the
noun thus qualified ("day"). But when the emphasis is
required to be placed on the word "Lord," then, instead of
the adjective, the noun would be used in the genitive case,
"of the Lord." In the former case (as in Rev.1:10) it would
be "the Lord's DAY." In the latter case it would be "THE
LORD'S day." The same day is meant in each case but with a
different emphasis. 125
John's use of the adjective rather than of the noun may well
reflect his desire to emphasize the very day of Christ's
123 Cf. Gerhard Delling, "Greek," TDNT II, p.952: "In Paul as in
the Gospels, Christ is the Lord of this (Greek) [i.e., day of His
124 Walter Scott (fn. 70), p.36.
125 E.W.Bullinger (fn. 70), p.12
glorious coming into which he was taken by the Spirit. This is
suggested also by the use of the verb "Greek." Its English (RSV)
rendering "I was" does not fully convey the meaning of the Greek
verb, which, though susceptible of a variety of modifications of
meaning, expresses for the most part the idea of generation,
transition, or change of state. In Revelation 8:8 for instance
the same verb is translated "became" ("a third of the sea became
blood"). Our text can be literally translated, "I came to be in
(or by) the Spirit on the Lord's day." Since the verb denotes the
ecstatic condition into which the Seer was brought by the Spirit,
we would expect the "Lord's day" to represent not the time but
the content of what he saw. A somewhat similar parallel can be
seen in Paul's ecstatic experience. He reports, "I fell (Greek)
into a trance and I saw him [i.e. the Lord]" (Acts 22:17; cf. 2
Cor.12:3). The verb used (Greek) is identical and the immediate
result of the vision was for Paul a view of the Lord, while for
John that of the Lord's day.
The immediate hearing by John of "a loud voice like a
trumpet" (1:10) may also be an allusion to the eschatological day
of the Lord. "The Trumpet Voice," as Philip Carrington remarks,
"recalls at once the Angel with the Trumpet who was expected in
Jewish mythology to sound the reveille for the Judgment Day." 126
Though trumpets were used in the Old Testament for calling people
together on several important occasions (Num.10:2,9,10; Ex.
19:19), 127 the instrument was especially associated with "the
day of the Lord" (Joel 2:1,15; Zech.9:14). In Zephaniah "the
great day of the Lord" is called "a day of trumpet blast"
(1:14-16). In the New Testament the trumpet is particularly
associated with the second advent of Christ. It calls the members
of God's Church before Christ (Matt.24:31), it announces Christ's
descent from heaven (1 Thess.4:16) and it resurrects the dead (1
Car.15:52). In Revelation the seven visions announced by the
seven trumpets (8:2,6-8,10,12; 9:1,13; 11:15) present a series of
cataclysmic events which culminate with the sounding of the
seventh trumpet, which proclaims, "The kingdom of the world has
become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall
reign for ever and ever" (11:15).
126 Philip Carrington (fn. 70), p.78.
127 Note that the day of atonement, which was viewed as a day of
judgment, was announced by the blowing of trumpets, Num. 29:1.
This close association between the voice of the trumpet and
the second coming of Christ suggests the possibility that "the
loud voice like a trumpet" (1:10) that John heard "on the Lord's
day" (1:10) was a manifestation of that very event. In fact, as
the Seer turned "to see the voice" (1:12) he gazed in rapture at
the Son of Man in power and majesty in the midst of the churches.
This vision is a fitting prelude to the coming of the "son of man
with a golden crown on his head" (14:14) as "King of kings and
Lord of lords" (19:16).
A final indication of the eschatological nature of "the
Lord's day" is provided by the unique parallelism between chapter
4:1-2 and chapter 1:10. In both instances John "was in the Spirit
- Greek " (1:10 cf. 4:2), heard "a voice like a trumpet" (1:10
cf. 4:1) and was shown a member of the Deity in His glory
(1:12-18 cf. 4:2-11). On both occasions Christ is proclaimed as
the One "who was and is and is to come" (1:8 cf. 4:8). However,
in chapter 4:1 we find an additional helpful detail. Before John
is taken in vision, he is told, "Come up hither, and I will show
you what must take place after this" (4:1). In the very next
statement John says, "At once I was in the Spirit" (4:2). The
reason then for John's being taken up in vision is here clearly
stated: so that he may see "what must take place after this"
(4:1). In chapter 1:10, however, when John is taken up in vision
such a reason is not explicitly expressed but in its stead we
find the expression "on the Lord's day." It would seem reasonable
to conclude, then, by virtue of the striking parallelism found
between the two chapters where similarities of expressions,
context and content occur, that the phrase "on the Lord's day" of
chapter 1:10 ought to be understood in the light of the parallel
expression, "what must take place after this" of chapter 4:1. We
might say that in chapter 1:10, John first names the background
against which he saw the vision - namely, the Lord's day - and
then he proceeds to describe the events related to it, while in
chapter 4:1 John is explicitly told that the ensuing vision has
to do with future events.
In the light of the above considerations, it seems very
unlikely that the phrase "Lord's day" of Revelation 1:10 refers
to Sunday. It rather appears to be a variation of the expression
"the day of the Lord" which is commonly employed in the Scripture
to designate the day of the judgment and of the parousia. We
would therefore concur with J.B.Lightfoot in concluding that
"there is very good, if not conclusive evidence, for thinking
that the day of judgment was intended." 128
The foregoing analysis of the three New Testament references
commonly submitted as proof for Sunday observance in apostolic
times, has shown convincingly that no probative value can be
derived from them. In both 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 and Acts 20:7-12,
we found that the first day of the weak is mentioned to describe
respectively a private fundraising plan and an extraordinary
gathering of the Troas believers with Paul. Similarly we noticed
that the expression "Lord's day" of Revelation 1:10, in the light
of its immediate and wider context can be best interprete as a
designation for the day of judgment and of the parousia.
128 J.B.Lightfoot (fn. 70), p.129; cf. A. Deissmann, "Lord's
day," "Encyclopedia Biblica," 111, p.2815, who similarly
identifies the "Lord's day" with "the day of Yahweh" and "the day
To be continued with "Bacchiocchi on Hebrews 4."