Sabbatarians often point to the book of Acts as proof that
Paul and the early church faithfully continued to observe the Sabbath of the Law of Moses. The following discussion looks
at every Sabbath text in the book of Acts.
FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Acts 13:5 And when they were at Salamis, they preached
the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
Throughout the book of Acts, whenever possible, Paul began
his preaching in the synagogue. He did this because, as a Jewish man, he had an open pulpit. Just as these actions do not
prove that Paul observed all of the Mosaic Law, neither should they be used to prove that he felt a necessity to worship on
the Sabbath. However, the church conferences in Acts 15 and 21 should prove beyond doubt that neither Paul nor the Jewish
church in Jerusalem wanted to place Gentile Christians under any obligation of
the Mosaic Law.
IN PISIDIA: -51
Acts 13:14 But when they departed from Perga, they came
to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
Acts 13:15 And after the reading of the law and the prophets
the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say
Acts 13:16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand
said, Men of Israel, and you that fear God, give audience.
Again, the primary reason that Paul began his worship on the
Sabbath at Antioch in Pisidia is because, as a Jewish man, he had an open pulpit
in the Jewish synagogue. The congregation was composed of both Jews and Gentile “God fearers.”
Acts 13:39 And through Him everyone who believes is freed
from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
What did Paul mean here? Why did he say it? This is a strong
argument that Paul was teaching against the Mosaic Law and was not worshiping on the Sabbath because he thought that the Mosaic
Law was still in full force. In fact, in Acts 15 and 21, the Jewish church elders made a divisive compromise when they commanded
that Jewish Christians were obligated to observe all of the Mosaic Law, but Gentile Christians were not.
Acts 13:42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people
kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath.
The “people,” not the leaders of the synagogue,
invited Paul to return to their synagogue the next Sabbath to worship again with them. SDAs boast that this proves Paul still
felt obligated to worship on Saturday because he did not change the day to Sunday. However, Paul's
remarks in First Corinthians 9:20-22 and Romans 14: 6 reveal that he was not convicted about either day B Saturday nor Sunday!
Acts 13:43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many
of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the
grace of God.
And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
This is a favorite SDA text used to prove that Paul worshiped
on the Sabbath as part of “continuing the grace of God” even after being ejected from the synagogue. However,
Paul did not consider it “wrong” to worship on Saturday and “correct” to worship on Sunday (1 Cor.
-22; Rom. 14:6). Actually, he did not prefer any day! He went “where”
the people were “when” the people could be found.
Many Sunday worshipers (Sunday Sabbatarians) believe that
Sunday is the moralreplacement in the Ten Commandments for the Sabbath. For
these, the SDA argument is appropriate because Paul did not tell the crowd to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday.
However, many Sunday worshipers (like myself) believe that
the Old Covenant Hebrew-only Sabbath has been abolished. These worship on Sunday merely because they have freely chosen to
worship on that day (or any other day). For these the SDA argument has no effect. Paul merely honored the wishes of the people.
“Continuing in the grace of God” did not include forcing Gentile Christians to observe any particular day in Acts
15:19-29; Acts 21:19-21 and Galatians 4:10-11.
Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas became bold, and said,
It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves
unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
Up until this verse, Paul had been hoping for success with
the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who had been attending the synagogue. He would later write to the Romans, “For I am
not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first,
and also to the Greek” (Rom. ). However, after this verse Paul evidently
left the synagogue and focused primarily on the Gentiles in Antioch in Pisidia.
The Sabbath is not mentioned when only Gentiles were involved.
ICONIUM, LYSTRA AND DERBE: 14:1-23
Acts 14:1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that
they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of
the Greeks believed.
After this verse Jews from Iconium and Antioch of
Pisidia began following Paul to prevent him from using the synagogues on the Sabbath.
CHURCH COUNCIL: ACTS 15
Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from
Judaea [TO ANTIOCHINSYRIA] taught the brethren, and said, Except you become
circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.
Acts 15:2 [The problem is brought to the apostles
and elders in Jerusalem.]
Acts 15:5 But there arose up certain of the sect
of the Pharisees which believed, saying that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
This is an extremely important passage concerning
both the Law and the Sabbath. Jewish Pharisee Christians, not Paul, insisted that Gentile Christians observe all of
the Law of Moses. Note that their definition of the “Law” is not limited to the Ten Commandments. Since the Pharisees
emphasized both circumcision and Sabbath-keeping, then this statement must certainly also include a request that the Gentile
converts also observe the Sabbath!
Acts 15:6‑7 And the apostles and elders came together
to consider this matter. And when there had been much disputing....
This conference occurred approximately twenty (20) years after
Calvary and the question of Gentile observance of the Law of Moses was still being hotly discussed.
Clearly from the nature of the conference, Gentile Christians had not previously been compelled to observe the Sabbath.
[Peter said] “Now therefore why do you tempt God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers
nor we were able to bear?”
The entire Law is being discussed, especially the Pharisees’
favorites B circumcision and Sabbath observance.
[James the leader said] Wherefore my sentence is, that we do not trouble them which from among the Gentiles are turned to
But that we write to them that they abstain from pollutions of idols and from fornication and from things strangled and from
Acts 15:21 For Moses of old time has in every city them
that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Notice that Sabbath observance is NOT placed on the Gentile
Christians in verse 20!!! Neither was circumcision!!! They could not enter the Temple
to worship on the Sabbath as did the Jewish Christians in Acts 21. What is the purpose of verse 21? If Gentile Christians
freely choose to be circumcised and submit to the Law, then they could do so and worship with them on the Sabbath as Jewish
proselytes. At this early time in Christianity the Jewish-Christians were still considered to be Jews first.
DERBE, LYSTRA AND ICONIUM: 16:1-10
Acts 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered
the decrees to keep that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.
Acts 16:5 And so were the churches established in the faith
and increased in number DAILY.
Paul delivered copies of the letter written by James and the
Jerusalem church stating that Gentile Christians were not obligated to observe
any of the Law of Moses. The church increased in number “daily” because the gospel was being preached “daily.”
However, since the letters (decrees) from the Jerusalem church did not release
Jewish Christians from keeping all of the Mosaic Law, we must assume that, at this point in history, many Jewish Christians
also kept observing the Sabbath. For Jewish Christians at least, the change from Saturday to Sunday took many years B at least until Paul=s explanation of the status of the Law in Romans and Galatians had
PHILIPPI OF MACEDONIA:
Acts 16:13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by
a riverside where prayer was customarily made and we sat down and spoke to the women which met there.
Once again Paul chose the Sabbath because he knew that Jews
could be found worshiping on that day.
Acts 16:17‑18 The same [possessed woman] followed
Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which show to us the way of salvation. And
she did this many days......
Note the “many days.” Paul was preaching
and worshiping every day.
Acts 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and
Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews:
Acts 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in to them
and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.
Again, Paul went to “where” the audience was “when”
they gathered to worship because, as a Jew, he had an open invitation to speak. And, again, this does not prove that Paul
went to the Jewish synagogue to worship on the Sabbath because he thought that it was the only correct day to worship.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night to Berea.
When they arrived they went into the synagogue of the Jews
Acts 17:11 These ... searched the scripturesDAILY,
whether those things were so.
Paul’s pattern continued. Upon arriving at Berea,
he went first to the Jewish synagogue where he had an open pulpit. However, Paul=s preaching
and teaching continued “daily” because the Bereans “searched the scriptures daily” as Paul presented
his arguments daily.
Therefore he disputed in the synagogue with the Jews and with the devout persons and in the market DAILY with them that met
Being consistent with his convictions as stated in First Corinthians
9:20-22, Paul worshiped with the Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath and worshiped with the Gentiles in the marketplace every
other day of the week.
Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath
and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
Afterwards (verse 7) Paul left the synagogue and preached
in the house of Crispus where many believed and were baptized (verse 8). Paul stayed in Corinth
for eighteen months (verse 11).
And he came to Ephesus and left them there: but he himself entered
into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
-28 APOLLOS IN EPHESUS
And he [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue.
Apollos wisely used the same pattern as Paul when he took
advantage of an open pulpit on the Sabbath in the synagogue.
Acts 19:8 And he [Paul] went into the synagogue, and spoke
boldly for three months disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom
Acts 19:9 But when some were hardened and did not believe,
but spoke evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing DAILY in the
school of one Tyrannus.
When Paul arrived in Ephesus
the second time, he found Apollos’ disciples who were unaware of Christ and Pentecost. They were allowed to preach for
three months in the synagogue on the Sabbath before being ejected. Afterwards Paul preached “daily” outside of
CHURCH CONFERENCE: ACTS 21
Acts 21:20 And when they [the Jerusalem church leaders]
heard it, they glorified the Lord and said to him [Paul], You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe
and they are all zealous of the law:
Acts 21:21 And they are informed about you that you teach
all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither
to walk after the customs.
These verses tell a sad story. The date is approximately 25
years after Calvary and the status of the Mosaic Law was still hotly contested among Jewish Christians.
Notice that “many thousands” of Jewish Christians around Jerusalem
were still observing ALL of the Mosaic Law, including circumcision and Sabbath-keeping. Those Jewish Christians again accused
Paul of not requiring Jewish (not Gentile) converts to do the same. Whether true, or not, Paul’s opponents
most likely thought that he had instructed neither Jews nor Gentiles to observe the Sabbath, a favorite doctrine of the Pharisees.
Acts 21:24 Take them and purify yourself with them and
pay their expenses that they may shave their heads and all may know that those things whereof they were informed concerning
you are nothing; but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.
This verse makes it absolutely clear that Jewish Christians
-- not Gentile Christians-- were still being circumcised, still worshiping at the Temple and still observing the Sabbath [and
ALL] of the Mosaic Law.
Acts 21:25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we
have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, except that they keep themselves from things offered to idols,
and from blood and from strangled and from fornication.
The compromising decisions of the Jerusalem
councils in Acts 15 and 21 should be enough proof that Gentile Christians were NOT required to, or expected to, observe the
Sabbath. Peter had previously told the first conference, “Now therefore why do you tempt God, to put a yoke upon the
neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (15:10) and James, the leader, had earlier
declared, “Wherefore my sentence is, that we do not trouble them,
which from among the Gentiles are turned to God” (15:19) and “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went
out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying,
You must be circumcised, and keep the [whole] law [including its Sabbaths]: to whom we gave no such commandment”
SDAs who ignore the above texts and insist that the Sabbath
was not an issue (because everybody observed it) are also ignoring two of the key teachings of the Pharisees Bcircumcision and Sabbath-keeping.
Russell Earl Kelly, PH. D., 316 Aonia Road, Washington, Ga 30673