The Ancient Faith
WHEN DOES THE LORD’S DAY BEGIN AND END?
Why is this article so important? First, it involves the Bible and the truth. Second, many of us travel the world, and all churches do not meet in the daylight hours of the Lord’s day. Those churches who cannot meet in the daylight have to be told to either meet after midnight Saturday night and before midnight Sunday night, or from Saturday evening until Sunday evening at the same time. Which is correct? When Don King and I first went to the Philippines many years ago, the first church we met with met at pitch dark early Sunday morning, but after midnight. The reason: many brethren had to work in the rice paddies on Sunday. In Malaysia one of the churches meets Saturday night, before midnight, and I have met with this church. But I would not have met with the brethren if they had met Sunday night at the same night. Why? Because Sunday night at the same time would not have been upon “the first day after the Sabbath,” IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE SECOND DAY AFTER THE SABBATH. In Israel the brethren now meet Saturday night before midnight. This is because the Jews keep the Sabbath and the brethren have to work Sunday. However, they have been known to meet Sunday night, which is unscriptural. So, you can see why this is an important subject.
The word day (Gr. hemera) is a very common word in the New Testament. It occurs 389 times and literally refers to “the period of natural light.” It is also used figuratively. Thayer defines day accordingly: used “I. of the natural day, or the interval between sunrise and sunset.” Under 2, Thayer shows day can refer to “the civil day, or the space of 24 hrs.” (Thayer, p. 227). However, despite the many times this word is found in the New Testament, it is never used once to explain the Lord’s resurrection or to the time in which the church is to meet for the Lord’s Supper, or for when the church is to take up the collection. For those great occasions a much more precise wording is used.
THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
“The first day of the week” is our English translation. The Greek words from which we receive this expression “first day of the week” are very precisely given eight times in the original. Six of these references have to do with the Lord’s resurrection and two with the church. They occur as follows: Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2,9; Lk 24:1; Jno 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7 and I Cor 16:1-2. These words are 1) “mia” (first), 2) “ton” (of), 3) “sabbaton” (Sabbaths). Thayer (p. 566) defines these words to mean the first day of the sabbath, and the wording as found in I Cor 16:2 as meaning “on the first day of every week.” Now with this understanding and definition, we are prepared to study the first day of the week from a Bible point of view. The sabbath itself is the seventh day of the week (Thayer, p. 565), and a week is seven days (Thayer, p. 566).
If we can ever agree upon when “the first day of the sabbath” begins, our subject will be completed. But who can doubt that the first day after the sabbath began in the evening and not at midnight? In short, our Lord was not resurrected on a day that began at midnight. And once we agree to this important point, we will have no trouble understanding when the SAME DAY began in Acts 20:7 and I Cor 16:1-2. Looking the other way, if one can begin the day of Acts 20:7 at midnight, then one can also declare Jesus was resurrected on a day that began at midnight. However, the Lord was resurrected on the FIRST DAY AFTER THE SABBATH.
The ability to keep time in Bible days is not the topic of our subject. Remember, though, God did not ask the Hebrews to do something they could not do, and something they did do successfully for over 1500 years before Christ, that is, keep the Sabbath. From antiquity men of every kind have known about solstices, years, seasons, months, days and hours. The Creator Himself, while on earth, spoke of 12 hours in a day, and the Scriptures often refer to hours and watches. If one desires to make keeping time a point in understanding Acts 20:7, one will probably find oneself in the dark about midnight also.
THE LORD’S DAY
In Revelation 1:10 we read of “the Lord’s day.” It literally means “of or belonging to the Lord, or 2. relating to the Lord, the day devoted to the Lord, sacred to the memory of Christ’s resurrection, Rev 1:10.” (Thayer, p. 365). Such a construction of the word Lord is used only twice in the New Testament. The other time is when we read of “the Lord’s supper” (I Cor 11:20). In short, the Lord’s supper is eaten on the Lord’s day, or the day sacred to the memory of Jesus’ resurrection. However, the day of His resurrection began as soon as the Sabbath ended, in the evening, and not at midnight. The Lord’s supper is not eaten on a day that begins six hours after the day upon which Jesus was resurrected, and ends six hours after the resurrection day, as would be the case using the day that begins at midnight.
Roman time, it is contended sometimes, was used during the days of Jesus on earth, and some believe they can prove by the scriptures that the Jews had adopted this time. Any reasonable person on earth knows the Jews would never adopt Roman time, or midnight to midnight time, for their religious, or God-given days. They have never done that, even to this day.
The reasoning that begins the day at midnight forces the brethren in Acts 20:7 to have met six hours or less from the end of the day. Why? Because the day that begins at midnight has the night split, and ends with the darkness that begins before midnight. Two things we can agree upon. One, the brethren met after dark on the first day of the week, and two, the meeting began before midnight. That they met before midnight is plain. As for the Lord’s supper, it could have well been after midnight. Using the day reckoning that begins the day at midnight, the brethren could not have met Saturday night before midnight, for this would still have been Saturday, not the first day of the week at all, using Roman time. The only alternative, using the Roman day, is to agree they met on what is now called Sunday night. But, just as clearly, Jesus was resurrected on “the first day after the Sabbath,” and the Sabbath ended Saturday evening, and not at midnight.
CONCLUSION TO ACTS 20:7
What happened in Acts 20:7? The brethren met on the first day of the week for the Lord’s supper, or, “the first day after the sabbath,” the day that began in the evening. On this day the night is not split, as with ours and Roman time, but it is first darkness and then daylight. Darkness begins the new day and light ends it. This day is a 24 hour day, beginning Saturday evening and ending Sunday evening at the same time.
In Acts 20, the young man fell out of the window at midnight and was taken up dead. At this point a new day had begun, if we use our present method of beginning a day at midnight. What day was it? Although the brethren came together on the first day of the week to break Bread (Acts 20:7), the actual breaking of bread apparently did not take place until after midnight (Acts 20:11). Are we to believe they met on the first day of the week and broke bread on the next day? If we use this midnight day, this is what we have. After midnight Paul “broke bread and ate.” That is, he partook of the Lord’s supper, ate an early breakfast, visited with the brethren until daylight, and continued his journey on towards Jerusalem with the brethren in the daylight hours of Sunday. Their meeting began and ended on “first day after the sabbath.”
I CORINTHIANS 16:1-2
The Apostles built the gospel of Christ around the Lord’s resurrection (Acts 2:32). This included proving that Jesus was resurrected on “the first day after the sabbath.” It might be assumed that the Jewish Christians continued keeping the day according to the way the Lord gave it to them under the Old Testament, and that the Gentiles continued the day by beginning it at midnight. We do not know when men began keeping the day by beginning it at midnight. We do know how to keep the day “the first day after the sabbath.”
When Paul wrote the Corinthians, he included all Achaia (II Cor 1:1). He had given the same “orders” to the churches in Galatia (I Cor 16:1-2). To all these churches, really brotherhoods, he “ordered” or “commanded” them to contribute upon “every” (see Greek) “first day after the sabbath,” or, upon the “first day of every week.” Only Gentile Christians were ever commanded to give on the “first day after the sabbath.” The Jews, both in and out of the church, already understood clearly the point.
Why do we keep the Lord’s supper every week? Paul commanded the church to assemble on “the first day of every week” (I Cor 16:1-2), and the church was instructed by the same apostle to keep the Lord’s supper when “you come together” (I Cor 11:17), “when you come together in the church” (I Cor 11:18), “when you come together therefore into one place…to eat the Lord’s supper” (I Cor 11:20). And there is a clear inference that this was exactly what the church was doing in Acts 20:7). The first century church kept the Lord’s supper on “the first day after the sabbath,” the resurrection day, and clearly a day that began and ended in the evening.
[Published in November 1, 1997 Issue of the OPA]