The Puzzle Of The Lord’s Day In The Didache

Among the more notable texts in the Apostlic Fathers is the Didache, and this short text, an early manual on practice within Christian communities, presents the reader with a lot of puzzles.  Among those puzzles is section 14 of the text, which reads as follows:  “Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one.  Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice.  For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations. [1]'”

While it is often assumed by Hellenistic Christians that the Lord’s Day refers to Sunday [2], a careful reading of the Bible indicates that this is not the case.  The translator of the passage of the Didache put a heading about Sunday worship to demonstrate their own belief that the day of worship for the early Church discussed in that text worshiped on Sunday, but this need not be the case.  Not only that, but the biblical evidence that one could see indicates that any use of the Lord’s Day cannot be referring in a biblical sense to the first day of the week at all on at least two grounds.  It is worthwhile to discuss those grounds here today as we examine the role of the Didache in serving as a contested text about what Christianity looked like in its early centuries, a task not made easier by widespread hostility to the biblical Sabbath among those who profess to follow Jesus Christ.  As we shall shortly see, this hostility began very early on in Christianity.

The only biblical text that reads The Lord’s Day is not itself specifically referring to a day of the week at all:  Revelation 1:9-11, which reads:  “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”  Here the day that is being spoken of is the Day of the Lord, which is referred to often in the Hebrew prophets, for example, in Zechariah 14:1, which reads:  “Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst.”  Likewise, Isaiah 2:12 reads:  “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, Upon everything lifted up— And it shall be brought low.”  Here we see that prophetic pronouncements about God’s judgment, material contained in spades in Revelation, is viewed as relating to the Day of the Lord, of which the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10 is simply an alternate form.

If there was any day, after all, that would be the Lord’s day, it is the biblical Sabbath.  This inconvenient biblical truth can be found in all three of the synoptic Gospels which all record Jesus Christ saying that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, and not of any other day of the week:  Matthew 8:12 reads:  “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:28 tells us:  “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”  Luke 6:5 states:  “And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”  Even better for the reader, these three Gospels all agree on the same context, in that Jesus Christ is pointing out that eating grain that one picks to fill a hungry belly and healing those who are sick are appropriate ways to serve God on the Sabbath, since God does not wish for our suffering on these days.  This would have been a great time for Jesus Christ to clarify which day he was the Lord of, but he does no such thing, pointing out the proper practice of believers on the Sabbath and the concern we are to have for others that will prevent us from using this day as an excuse not to help others who are in need, as was the tendency of some over-scrupulous Sabbath keepers among the Jews.

Incidentally enough, it is quite possible that the Didache is seeking to claim the Sabbath for Christ rather than consider it the Sabbath of the Jews.  This desire to reclaim practices of the Jews as Christian practices in an environment of mutual hostility can be seen earlier in the Didache, in the beginning of section 8 of the text:  Do not keep the same fast-days as the hypocrites.  Mondays and Thursdays are their days for fasting, so yours should be Wednesdays and Fridays [3].”  We should be at pains to note that it was the plan of the earliest Christians during the time of the Apostles for Christians and Jews to share the same synagogues.  After all, the Council of Jerusalem expected new believers to learn about God’s laws while worshiping on the Sabbath and attending synagogue.  As it is written in Acts 15:  “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”  Unfortunately, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity became greatly tense and eventually there was a parting of the ways, though how early that happened is up to debate [4].  What is clear is that the Didache serves in some points as a polemical text that is hostile to Judaism and that may not be urging worship on Sunday but rather claiming the Sabbath as being owned by Christianity and not Judaism, which would be in line with the competitive attitude between these two diverging faiths.

[1] Staniforth, Maxwell, trans.  Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (London, Penguin Books, 1987) 197.

[2] See, for example:

[3] Staniforth, Maxwell, trans.  Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (London, Penguin Books, 1987) 194.

[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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8 Responses to The Puzzle Of The Lord’s Day In The Didache

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