Have you ever wondered how the vast majority of devout Christians came to observe Sunday as “the Lord’s day” instead of the biblical Sabbath, or Saturday? This is not a theological question, but an historical one. What happened? When and where did it happen? Who started it, and why?
This series of short posts will focus on the first three centuries Christianity and identify key factors in the Sabbath/Sunday controversy. The posts are based on research for “The Seventh Day: Revelations from the Lost Pages of History,” a documentary miniseries hosted by Hal Holbrook and featuring more than fifty historians and theologians. (Information at www.theseventhday.tv)
Let’s look back about nineteen hundred years to when an unknown Christian writer introduced a novel idea about the weekly holy day. The proper day for Christians to observe, he suggested, is not the seventh day, as the Ten Commandments have it. It is the eighth day, the day following the Sabbath—the day we know as Sunday—that should be kept holy.
It seems an irrational arithmetic that allows Sunday to be both the first day and the eighth day of a seven-day weekly cycle. If you throw logic to the wind, however, the message is simple: Sunday is superior to Sabbath (Saturday) just as eight is superior to seven.
This elevation of Sunday – which came to be called “the Lord’s day” – over the Old Testament Sabbath is just one small piece of the history of the Sabbath. Some Christians took it for granted that the church could properly transfer the sacred nature of the Sabbath from one day to another. Whether or not the church has ever had that kind of authority is another matter altogether. That’s a theological issue. Here we are dealing with history.