The Bible leaves no record of the first-century church worshipping or celebrating the resurrection on Sunday. Sometimes Revelation 1:10—"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice"—is used as biblical authority for calling Sunday "the Lord's Day." Notice, however, that this verse does not say the "first day of the week" or "Sunday" is what John calls "the Lord's day."
We must remember two vital facts about the book of Revelation: First, it is a book of prophecy primarily concerning the time of Christ's coming and the events that lead up to it (Revelation 1:1-3, 7). Second, it is written by a Jew steeped in the language of the Old Testament. To him, the phrase en teé kuriakeé heeméra ("on the Lord's day")—and its Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent—would imply what is called in the Old Testament "the Day of the Lord," the time of the coming destruction that climaxes in the return of Christ (Isaiah 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; Amos 5:18; etc.).
In the introduction to E.W. Bullinger's Commentary on Revelation, he explains definitively that the "Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10 is not talking about the first day of the week:
In [Revelation 1:10] we are told that John saw and received this revelation on "the Lord's Day." Leaving the former part of this verse for the present, let us notice the latter expression, "the Lord's Day." 4
The majority of people, being accustomed from their infancy to hear the first day of the week called the Lord's Day, conclude in their own minds that that day is thus called in [Revelation 1:10] because that was the name of it. But the contrary is the fact: the day is so called by us because of this verse.
In the New Testament this day is always called "the first day of the week." (See Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2 2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2.). Is it not strange that in this one place a different expression is thought to refer to the same day? And yet, so sure are the commentators that it means Sunday, that some go as far as to say it was "Easter Sunday," and it is for this reason that Revelation 1:10-19 is chosen in the New Lectionary of the Church of England as the 2nd Lesson for Easter Sunday morning.
There is no evidence of any kind that "the first day of the week" was ever called "the Lord's Day" before the Apocalypse was written. That it should be so called afterwards is easily understood, and there can be little doubt that the practice arose from the misinterpretation of these words in [Revelation 1:10]. It is incredible that the earliest use of a term can have a meaning which only subsequent usage makes intelligible.
On the contrary, it ceased to be called by its Scripture name ("the First day of the week"), not because of any advance of Biblical truth or reverence, but because of declension from it. The Greek "Fathers" of the Church were converts from Paganism: and it is not yet sufficiently recognized how much of Pagan rites and ceremonies and expressions they introduced into the Church; and how far Christian ritual was elaborated from and based upon Pagan ritual by the Church of Rome. Especially is this seen in the case of baptism.5
It was these Fathers who, on their conversion, brought the title "Sunday" into the Church from the Pagan terminology which they had been accustomed to use in connection with their Sun-worship.
Justin Martyr (114-165 A.D.) in his second Apology (i.e., his second defense of Christianity), says, 6 in chap. 67. on "The weekly worship of the Christians," - "On the day called SUN-DAY all who live in the country gather together to one place... SUN-DAY is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of SATURN [i.e., Saturn's day]; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the SUN, having appeared to his apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration."
It is passing strange that if John called the first day of the week "the Lord's Day," we find no trace of the use of such a title until a hundred years later. And that though we do find a change, it is to "Sunday," and not the "the Lord's Day" - a name which has become practically universal.7
Some Christians still perpetuate the name of the Lord's Day for Sunday: but it is really the survival of a Pagan name, with a new meaning, derived from a misunderstanding of [Revelation 1:10].
Objection has been taken to the interpretation of "the Lord's Day" here, because we have (in [1:10]) the adjective "Lord's" instead of the noun (in regimen), "of the Lord," as in the Hebrew. But what else could it be called in Hebrew? Such objectors do not seem to be aware of the fact that there is no adjective for "Lord's" in Hebrew; and therefore the only way of expressing "the Lord's Day" is by using the two nouns, "the day of the Lord" - which means equally "the Lord's Day" (Jehovah's day). It is useless, therefore, to make any objection on this ground; for if a Hebrew wanted to say "the Lord's Day," he must say "the day of the Lord."
In the Greek there are two ways of expressing this (as in modern languages); either by saying literally, as in Hebrew, "the day of the Lord" (using the two nouns); or by using the adjective "Lord's" instead. It comes to exactly the same thing as to signification; the difference lies only in the emphasis.
The natural way of qualifying a noun is by using an adjective, as here - (kyriakee) 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 [Revelation 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.
By way of illustration and proof, we may call attention to the fact that we have the corresponding expressions concerning another "day." In Luke 17:22 we have "the days of the Son of Man," where the emphasis must be on "THE SON OF MAN" (as shown by the context). While in I Corinthians 4:3 we have "man's DAY," with the emphasis on "day," marking that "day" as being actually present, as it now is. This is so clear from the context that it is actually translated "judgment," which is exactly what it means. The apostle says - "It is a very small thing, that I should be judged of you, or of man's DAY." The emphasis is on day, because the time in which we now live is the time, or "day," when man is judging. Another day is coming, and that is the day when the Lord will be present, and He will be the judge. This is the reason why the adjective (anthropinee) man's is used in I Corinthians 4:3; and this is why (kyriakee), Lord's is used in Revelation 1:9. So far from the use of the adjective being an argument against our conclusion, it is an argument in favor of it. For what is the "DAY of the Lord" or "the LORD'S day"? The first occurrence of the expression (which is the key to its meaning) is in Isaiah 2:11.8 It is the day when "the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted.
That is the one great object of all the future events, seen by John in vision, and recorded for us in the Apocalypse.
One other fact has to be stated, and that is the reason why the first day of the week came to be called "Sunday." It was called by the Pagan "Dominus Sol," the Lord Sun. Hence the Latin name "Dies Dominica," used by the early Christian Fathers for the Sunday, and the speedy transition of its name from "the Lord Sun" to "the Lord's Day," and then "Sunday." Bingham (Ant. 10., sec. 5) mentions the fact that it was the custom in the Primitive Church to replace heathen days and festivals by those which were Christian. We see one result of this in our Yule-tide and Christmas. Bingham (Ant. 10., sec. 2) also mentions the fact that the early Christians were charged with being worshippers of the sun. Tertullian also admits that Christians were only looked upon by some as a sect of sun worshippers:9 while some account for this on other grounds: (e.g. the sects of the Gnostics and Basilideans having retained or introduced solar forms of worship). Yet these facts are better and more fully accounted for by the adoption of the name "the Lord's Day" for the Sunday; while it serves to throw light on the transition from the original name of "the first day of the week."
From all this evidence we feel justified in believing that the Apocalypse consists of a series of visions, which set forth the events connected with "the Revelation of Jesus Christ," which will take place during "the Lord's DAY;" that day being so called because it is viewed as being then present; and as it had been called heretofore in prophecy, "the day of the Lord."
4 For further information on this subject see a separate pamphlet on The Lord's Day, by the same author and publisher, 1907.
5 See The Buddha of Christendom, by Dr. Robert Anderson, C.B. Hodder and Stoughton, page 68 and chap. ix.
6 T. and T. Clark's edition, pages 65, 66.
7 The French, Spanish, and Italian nations have retained the Roman Pagan names. The English is tainted with Scandinavian mythology. The 1st day they call Dies Dominica, the Lord's Day (i.e., the day of the lord, the sun). All the Oriental nations called the sun "lord." The Persians called their god Mithra (the sun), i.e., the lord Mithra. The Syrians called it Adonis, which is from the Hebrew Adonai, lord. The Hebrews called it Baal (which means lord) and Moloch. Porphyry, in a prayer to the sun, calls him "Dominus Sol." The Romans kept the Pagan name, Dies Dominica (the day of the lord sun), for the first day of the week; but called the others by the names of the moon and planets to which they were dedicated. Thus we have Dies Lunae (day of the moon), Dies Martis (day of Mars), Dies Mercurii (day of Mercury), Dies Jovis (day of Jupiter), Dies Veneris (day of Venus), Dies Saturnii (day of Saturn).
8 It should be noted that the expression (yom Jehovah, the day of the Lord) occurs (in the Hebrew Bible) sixteen times, viz., Isaiah 13:6, 9; Ezekiel 8:5; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:14; 4:14; Amos 5:18 (twice), 20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7, 14 (twice); and Malachi 4:5 (Hebrews 3:23).
In four other places where we have in the English Bible "the day of the Lord," the Hebrew has the preposition lamed for or to, before the word Jehovah. In Isaiah 2:12; Ezekiel 30:3; and Zechariah 14:1 it means "a day for Jehovah"; and in Zechariah 14:7 it means "a day (known) to Jehovah."
In other places where we have in English "the day of the Lord," there is some other word between yom and Jehovah in the Hebrew (such as "wrath" or "vengeance;" i.e., the day of the wrath of the Lord)! and therefore these cannot be included as examples of this expression, "the day of the Lord."
In the New Testament the expression occurs four times; viz., I Thessalonians 5:2; II Thessalonians 2:2 (according to all the critical Greek texts and R.V., instead of "the day of Christ."); II Peter 3:10, and Revelation 1:10.
It is remarkable that all these occurrences are stamped with the number four, which marks that day has having special relation to the earth. In the New Testament four times. In the Old Testament, with the preposition, four times; and simply yom Jehovah 16 times (i.e. the square of four). This is merely a note in passing, but it is most significant.
9 Tertullian Ad Nationes, Bk. i. chap. xiii., and Apologeticus, C. 16. (Latter half).
If one wants to insist upon this text applying to a definite day of the week, he must look elsewhere to see which day the Bible calls the Lord's Day. Jesus says in Mark 2:28 that He is Lord of the Sabbath, and thus, as Master of that day, it belongs to Him. The only day that belongs to Him is the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Isaiah 58:13 calls the Sabbath "My [the Lord's!] holy day." The other six days are ours to do our work and pleasures.
Finally, in the original commandment in Exodus 20:10, the Lord says, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God." Therefore, if John saw this vision on any day of the week—if it indeed occurred on "the Lord's day"—it was the seventh-day Sabbath!