Sabbath in the Bible
Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2
Key Thought: Paul held a Saturday night meeting, and started off on his long journey Sunday morning. We do not see Sunday keepers today attaching any sacredness to Saturday night,
Assertion: From earliest apostolic days Christians kept Sunday in honor of Christ’s resurrection. This is clearly revealed in two scriptures, Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2.
Evaluating the Assertion: There is no Scriptural foundation for the statement that “from earliest apostolic days Christians kept Sunday,” because there is no proof that Christ instituted Sunday worship on the resurrection day, or during any time that He appeared to His disciples in the forty days before His ascension. Nor is there anything in the Scriptures to show that during that forty-day period the apostles gave any kind of veneration to Sunday.
Therefore, if there is Biblical proof that the apostles kept Sunday, it must be found some decades later. Strange, is it not, that a practice so revolutionary as the keeping of a new weekly holy day, by Jewish Christians as well as Gentile, and thus the abandonment of the seventh day Sabbath, should not have been the subject of extended and repeated discussion in the writings of the apostles? When they said that circumcision was no longer necessary, a hurricane was let loose, and the wind of that controversy blows strongly through the pages of the New Testament. But we are asked to believe that they told the Christian converts that the Sabbath need no longer be kept, and yet no tempest ensued, at least nothing important enough to ﬁnd mention in the New Testament] Yet the Jews were fanatically zealous about the Sabbath! Here is a most singular situation.
In the light of these facts we have a right to be suspicious of the Sunday claim that is based on the two texts cited. And remember, they are the only two in the Bible that mention the ﬁrst day of the week subsequent to the resurrection day. The ﬁrst one reads thus:
“Upon the ﬁrst day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart [from Troas] on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” Acts 20:7. This text is part of a running narrative describing various incidents of Paul’s homeward trip to Jerusalem at the close of his third missionary journey. The whole story requires two chapters. Let us examine ﬁrst the statement about breaking bread. In Acts 2:46 we read that the disciples continued “daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did cat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” If a communion service is implied by “break bread,” in Acts 20:7, it proves nothing distinctive for this particular day in Acts, because the disciples broke bread, “daily.”
Notice that no holy title is used for this day. It is simply called “the ﬁrst day of the week.” Therefore, on what are we to base an argument for Sunday sacredness? Apparently simply on the fact that a religious meeting was held that day. In other words, the logic is as follows:
1. The holding of a meeting on a certain day is proof that that day is holy.
2. Paul held a meeting on the ﬁrst day of the week.
3. Therefore Sunday is a holy day.
Thus stripped of all surplus language, the argument for Sunday that is supposed to reside in Acts 20:7 stands revealed in its true weakness. When we read the whole story of the journey we ﬁnd that Paul preached in various places along the way as he traveled to Jerusalem. Were all these sermons timed to come on Sunday?
Look at the last half of the twentieth chapter, which gives a summary of what was probably one of the most important sermons Paul preached on this trip-at least, it is the only one that is described in detail. An examination of the context, especially verse 15, would indicate that it was probably preached on a Wednesday, certainly not on a Sunday. Therefore shall we conclude that Wednesday is a holy day? That would be the conclusion we could reach from the logic set forth in behalf of Sunday sacredness in this chapter. Really, the logic would force us to conclude that Paul made almost every day of the week holy by this one journey, so many were the services he conducted along the way. No, it takes more than the preaching of a sermon to make a day holy, or to reverse the divine command that “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.”
When the exact time of the Troas meeting is noted, this passage in Acts 20 becomes even less convincing as a proof for Sunday, if that could be possible. The service was held at night, for “there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.” Verse 8. The record declares also that Paul “continued his speech until midnight,” the reason being that he had to “depart on the morrow.” Verse 7. His speech continued past midnight, “even till break of day,” and “so he departed.” Verse 11. The accompanying narrative reveals that Paul had to make a trip across a peninsula from Troas, where he had left his boat, to Assos, where he would embark again.
It is a well-known fact that the Bible reckons days from sunset to sunset, not from midnight to midnight, as we do today. (See Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Ley. 23:32) Therefore the dark part of that “ﬁrst day of the week” was what we would describe as Saturday night. Conybeare and Howson, in their authoritative work, Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul, write as follows concerning the time of the meeting:
“It was the evening which succeeded the Jewish Sabbath. On the Sunday morning the vessel was about to sail.”- Page 520 (One Volume Edition).
Thus we see that Paul held a Saturday night meeting, and started off on his long journey Sunday morning. We do not see Sunday keepers today attaching any sacredness to Saturday night, yet they wish to rely upon this record of a Saturday night meeting as a proof of Sunday sacredness. It was only because Paul preached a very long sermon that this meeting even stretched over into what Sunday keepers regard as their holy day.
Paul abode at Troas “seven days.” Verse 6. Then on Saturday night, the beginning of “the ﬁrst day of the week,” he “preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow.” There is no good reason to believe that Paul refrained from preaching during the “seven days,” and then because “the ﬁrst day of the week” had come, held a service. The account of his journeys reveals that he preached constantly. In this case we are speciﬁcally told why he preached: Because he was “ready to depart on the morrow.” In other words, he took advantage of a last opportunity to speak to them, “when the disciples came together to break bread,” even to preaching “till break of day.” Verse 11. If the record proves anything, it proves that this ﬁrst-day meeting was held, not because of a usual religious custom, but because of an unusual travel situation.
In the light of the whole narrative of Paul’s journey the mention of “the ﬁrst day of the week” is most simply explained as one of several mentions of time to give the reader a general picture of the time involved in that journey. Note these references:
1. “Abode [in Greece] three months.” Acts 20:3.
2. “Sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread.” Verse 6.
3. Came “to Troas in ﬁve days.” Verse 6.
4. “Where we Abode seven days.” Verse 6.
5. “And upon the ﬁrst day of the week.” Verse 7.
6. “Ready to depart on the morrow.” Verse 7.
7. “The next day over against Chios.” Verse 15.
8. “The next day we arrived at Samos.” Verse 15.
9. “The next day we came to Miletus.” Verse 15.
10. ‘Hasted . . . to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.” Verse 16.
11. “The day following unto Rhodes.” Acts 21A.
12. Tarried at Tyre “seven days.” Verse 4.
13. “And when we had accomplished those days.” Verse 5.
14. “Abode with them [at Ptolemais] one day.” Verse 7.
15. “The next day we . . . departed, and came to Caesarea.” Verse 8.
16. “Tarried there many days.” Verse 10.
17. “After those days we … went up to Jerusalem.” Verse 15.
Dr. Augustus Neander, one of the most eminent of church historians, and a Sunday keeper, remarks thus concerning the proof for Sunday sacredness that is supposed to be found in Acts 20:7.
“The passage is not entirely convincing, because the impending departure of the apostle may have united the little Church in a brotherly parting-meal, on occasion of which the apostle delivered his last address, although there was no particular celebration of a Sunday in the case.”-The History of the Christian Religion and Church, translated by Henry John Rose (1831), Vol. 1, Page 337.
If this “passage is not entirely convincing” to a Sunday keeping church historian, it should hardly be expected to prove convincing to a Sabbath keeper who rests his belief on the overwhelmingly convincing command of God: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord.”
For a Sunday advocate to declare that he looks to Acts 20:7 for proof of Sunday sacredness is only to reveal how weak is the case for Sunday in the Scriptures.
The second of the two “ﬁrst day” texts before us reads thus: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you. Upon the ﬁrst day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” 1 Cor. 16:1,2.
We are supposed to ﬁnd here a picture of a religious service when a company is gathered together, and the offering is being taken up. The reasoning, of course, is that if a service was held on Sunday, that proves Sunday is sacred, and, by inference, that the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments has been -abolished.
This is a very great deal to attempt to ﬁnd in one text, especially when the text will not permit of the deductions drawn from it. Instead of describing a church offering, where the communicants pass over their gifts to a deacon, the record says that each one was to “lay by him in store.” The most recent and most widely accepted version of the Scriptures translates the text thus: “On the ﬁrst day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and save, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.” R.S.V. In other words, when the ﬁrst day of the week had come, each one was to decide from the last week’s earnings how much he wanted to set aside for the special collection that Paul was going to take to the poor at Jerusalem. And lay it by in a special place apart from the other money of the house. This was an act of bookkeeping rather than an act of worship.
That this is the correct understanding of this passage is admitted by scholarly Sunday keeping theologians, whose desire to translate the Scriptures accurately exceeds their desire to ﬁnd proofs for Sunday. Take, for example, the typical comment that is found in The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, a commentary on the Scriptures, published by the Cambridge University Press, and edited by Church of England clergymen. Speaking of this text, the commentator declares that, as to the practice of Christians to meet on the ﬁrst day of the week, “we cannot infer it from this passage.” Then follows his comment on the phrase “lay by him”-
“i.e., at home, not in the assembly, as is generally supposed. . . . He [Paul] speaks of a custom in his time of placing a small box by the bedside into which an offering was to be put whenever prayer was made.”-The First Epistle to the Corinthians, edited by J. J. Lias, p. 164.
Certainly it requires much more than the fact that the disciples were gathered together in fear in their abode on the ﬁrst day of the week, or that Paul preached one sermon on that day. Or that he commanded the Corinthians to set aside some money in their homes the ﬁrst of each week-much more than this, we say, to give any believer in the Bible a reason for violating one of the precepts of the eternal Ten Commandments, which declares that “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.”