Chapter Twenty Two
THE SABBATH IN ACTS
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.
ANTIOCH IN PISIDIA: 13:13-51
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 on.
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.
Acts 13:44 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. 9:20-22; 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 moral replacement 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. 1:16). 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.
FIRST JERUSALEM CHURCH COUNCIL: ACTS 15
Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea [TO ANTIOCH IN SYRIA] 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.
Acts 15:10 [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.
Acts 15:19 [James the leader said] Wherefore my sentence is, that we do not trouble them which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
Acts 15:20 But that we write to them that they abstain from pollutions of idols and from fornication and from things strangled and from blood.
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.
SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
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 circulated.
PHILIPPI OF MACEDONIA: 16:11-40
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.
Acts 17:10 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 scriptures DAILY, 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.
Acts 17:17 Therefore he disputed in the synagogue with the Jews and with the devout persons and in the market DAILY with them that met with him.
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).
Acts 18:19 And he came to Ephesus and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY: 18:23-21
GALATIA AND PHRYGIA: 18:23
EPHESUS: 18:23-28 APOLLOS IN EPHESUS