The New Testament does not give a single example of Christians conducting their religious services on the Sabbath.
Sabbatarians who read Sabbath verses in ACTS often imagine a church service, where Christians assemble to sing hymns, and the offering plate is passed around and a lovely sermon about the Lord Jesus Christ being preached, by a Christian minister. However, none of these examples were Christian gatherings. Rather they were functions held by the Jews in their places of worship, either in synagogues or open places.
The synagogue services that took place were in accordance with the Torah. Those who gathered to the synagogues in each of the stories were not gathered to glorify Jesus Christ, neither were they worshiping within the parameters outlined for Christians. There were no pastors, elders, deacons etc. The worshipers in the synagogue never partook of the Lord’s supper or baptism. In fact the worshipers were not Christians at all. Rather their religion was Judaism! In each of these instances, Paul disrupts the normal ceremonies practiced by the Jews on the Sabbath and introduces the gospel of Jesus Christ to them for the first time.
A favorite example of Seventh-day Adventist found in the book of Acts is located in chapter Acts 13. So we will begin here. Seventh-day Adventists jump directly to verses 42 through 44 and by doing so fail to see the context of the events.
And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it.
Paul continues to tell the story of the Old Testament from the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness to the first king of Israel, and then on to King David.
Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:
The next Paul speaks about the ministry and John the Baptist, and then continues…
Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.
If anything Paul had just insulted the leaders of the synagogue, who had just moments before finished reading from the law and the prophets. This religious gathering was anything but a Christian worship service. Rather it was a gathering of Jews, and religious proselytes from among the Gentiles who gathered for the customary reading from the Torah on the Sabbath, who would experience something quite unexpectedly, a very bold sermon by the apostle Paul.
And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
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.
On this particular Sabbath, Paul preached the same Gospel which he wrote to the Romans and the Galatians. Salvation, by grace alone. The religious proselytes i.e. the Gentiles felt less loyalty towards the Law of Moses since their national identity was not attached to it, therefore they were better prepared to receive the Gospel which Paul preached faithfully and without apology.
And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.
We must reiterate two facts which the scripture plainly teaches us when we compare this verse to the next.
These Gentiles were not non-religious bystanders, rather they were religious proselytes to Judaism, converts to Judaism, who customarily listened to the reading of the Torah in the synagogues every Sabbath. No heathen non circumcised unclean gentiles were allowed in the synagogues.
Not all the Jews had left. Look at it carefully…
And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. 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.
The complex religious practices within Judaism cannot be unlearned within one sermon. For that reason they needed to hear more, much more about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. However these efforts would not go on with out opposition by the religious leaders to whom this synagogue belonged.
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 (converts to Judaism) 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 never mentioned when only Gentiles (non Jews, not Proselytes) were involved.
And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.
Essentially, Paul hijacked the worship services within the Jewish synagogue in this narrative, and the gospel spread quickly, before Paul and Barnabas were forced to leave. This was not a Christian gathering, rather it was a congregation of Jews and religious proselytes assembled to read the Torah, before the burnt offerings of two lambs were sacrificed, on the festal Sabbath day.
Numbers 28:9-10 And on the sabbath day two lambs of the first year without spot, and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and the drink offering thereof: This is the burnt offering of EVERY sabbath, beside the continual burnt offering, and his drink offering.
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. Let’s turn to Acts 15.
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. This statement includes a request that the Gentile converts also observe the Sabbath!
In case in doubt what the law of Moses is, here it is once again:
”Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (Malachi 4:4)
Deuteronomy 5:2 ”The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb”; ”He declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even Ten Commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone” (Deut. 4:13).
”And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant (Numbers 9:14)
Now we continue with Acts 15
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, including the Pharisees’ favorites 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.
Notice that Sabbath observance is NOT placed on the Gentile Christians in verse 20!!!Jerusalem Council under the direction of the Holy Spirit decided that only four items from the law (three ‘ceremonial’ and one ‘moral’) would be imposed upon the Gentiles (who were never under the law given to Israel) in the interest of a peaceful co-existence between them and Jewish Christians who wanted to retain their culture and continue under the law as a way of life (Acts 15:20). Here the transition into a new covenant is introduced to the church.
SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
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, and other rituals. For Jewish Christians at least, the giving up of the ritual Sabbath day took many years at least until Paul’s explanation of the status of the Law in Romans and Galatians had circulated.
And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.
Another problem with Adventist’s and other sabbatarian movements is that they do not know the culture or history of Jewish worship. Meeting outside was the custom of the smaller Jewish colonies who dwelt in foreign lands during the first century.
According to historians and scholars, Philippi being a Roman colony, the Jews were not suffered to have a synagogue in it; wherefore Paul and his company, whether on the Jewish sabbath, or on any other day of the week, took a walk out of the city; either for the sake of a walk, or rather to converse together, and consider what was to be done, or to look out for an opportunity to preach the Gospel; and they came to a place.
“Where prayer was wont to be made; or as the words may be rendered, “where was thought to be a place of prayer”; a “proseucha”. This greek word was used to describe a place in the open air where the Jews were wont to pray, outside of those cities where they had no synagogue.
Albert Barnes Bible Commentary
”Places for prayer were erected by the Jews in the vicinity of cities and towns, and particularly where there were not Jewish families enough, or where they were forbidden by the magistrate to erect a synagogue. These proseuchoe, or places of prayer, were simple enclosures made of stones, in a grove or under a tree, where there would be a retired and convenient place for worship.”
Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary
By a river side, where prayer was wont to be made – Οὑ ενομιζετο προσευχη ειναι, where it was said there was a proseucha. The proseucha was a place of prayer, or a place used for worship, where there was no synagogue. See this subject considered at large in the note on Luke 6:12 (note). It appears that the apostles had heard from some of the Gentiles, or from some of the Jews themselves, that there was a place of prayer by the river side; and they went out in quest of it, knowing that, as it was the Sabbath, they should find some Jews there.
These women gathered to the proseucha or “place for worship and prayer” to worship the God of Abraham. They were not Christians. The women had their first contact with Christians that morning by the river. Paul understood that people who have had previous exposure and faith in the Law and the Prophets were ideal candidates for the Gospel. It was Paul’s custom to reason from the scriptures, and demonstrate how Christ fulfilled the Messianic prophecies. Jews, and their proselytes already believed in the inspiration of Scripture. Paul thoroughly enjoyed meeting people who put his teachings to the test.
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.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and 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.
This brings us to our next two examples of the Sabbath in the book of Acts, which further proves, that…
The New Testament does not give a single example of Christians conducting their religious services on the Sabbath.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
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 preached to the Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath and worshiped with the Gentiles in the marketplace every other day of the week. There is no Sabbath ever involved with gentiles when Paul met them, for they were never asked to observe the Sabbath nor were they observing it. They worshiped God daily.
And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
Once again, these examples are not Christian gatherings, rather they are taking place in “a synagogue of the Jews.” The purpose of Paul’s visit was to reason with the Jews out of the scriptures concerning Jesus Christ.
“persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” Acts 13:43
“…reasoned with them out of the scriptures,” Acts 17:1-2
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews.” Acts 18:4
Adventists sweep aside Paul’s one and only purpose for visiting the synagogue, and bring the Sabbath to center stage because it serves their purposes. Adventists quote Acts 17:2, apart from its preceding verse in all their seminars because verse 1 reveals that this was a synagogue filled with Jews and their proselytes who were not keeping the Sabbath in the way that Seventh-day Adventists do, but where rather conducting their ceremonies according to the Torah.
Acts 18:26 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 of God.
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 the synagogue.
Seventh-day Adventists admonish us to follow the example of Paul. If I were to literally do that, it would be the same as if I visited the Adventist church to demonstrate to them from the scriptures how the Ten Commandments were the Old Covenant, and that it was replaced by the Law of Christ, which doesn’t have the Sabbath and many other ritual laws. Hey come to think of that, I think that would be interesting! Imagine if I went from city to city and went into the various Adventist churches on the Sabbath just as Paul did, to reason with them from the scriptures, that I would receive the same kind of mixed reaction, with perhaps the exception of being literally stoned.
In any case, Seventh-day Adventists admonish us to follow the example of Paul. But only practice this where it fits their purposes. Following Paul’s example in a strict sense would place us back under law of Moses, which the Adventists themselves recognize were abolished at the Cross. Not only did Paul meet in the synagogue on Sabbath, while in Jerusalem he also performed the ceremonial law of purification which involved animal sacrifices!
The destruction of Jerusalem, in 70 A. D. was a blessing to the local Church, because it forced them to flee, and allowed them to live free from the pressures of the Jewish culture. The Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem prior to its destruction in 70 A. D. had the greatest difficulty breaking free from the Old Covenant requirements.
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:
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. They understood that Paul was instructing Christians not to observe law of Moses, including the custom of Sabbath.
Acts 21:24 THEM TAKE, AND PURIFY THYSELF WITH THEM, AND BE AT CHARGES WITH THEM, THAT THEY MAY SHAVE THEIR HEADS: AND ALL MAY KNOW THAT THOSE THINGS, WHEREOF THEY WERE INFORMED CONCERNING THEE, ARE NOTHING; BUT THAT THOU THYSELF ALSO WALKEST ORDERLY, AND KEEPEST THE LAW.
26 THEN PAUL TOOK THE MEN, AND THE NEXT DAY PURIFYING HIMSELF WITH THEM ENTERED INTO THE TEMPLE, TO SIGNIFY THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE DAYS OF PURIFICATION, UNTIL THAT AN OFFERING SHOULD BE OFFERED FOR EVERY ONE OF THEM.
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.
PAUL EXPLAINS HIS ACTIONS
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And UNTO THE JEWS I BECAME AS A JEW, THAT I MIGHT GAIN THE JEWS; TO THEM THAT ARE UNDER THE LAW, AS UNDER THE LAW, THAT I MIGHT GAIN THEM THAT ARE UNDER THE LAW;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Gentiles were not required to follow the customs of the Jews:
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” (15:24).
Hence, the Bible no where says that Paul or ANY Christian kept the Sabbath according to the commandment after the resurrection.
- What we do have are frequent examples of Paul preaching to non-Christian Jews in THEIR synagogue on THEIR Sabbath day, that they are lost without Jesus, and meeting with the Gentiles DAILY! Should this surprise us? Do Sabbatarians Pastors “keep Sunday” if they preach in a Christian church on the first day of the week? Do Sabbatarians Pastors “keep Friday” if they preach to Muslims on a Friday? Paul’s preaching on Saturday is not an example for Christians to observe the ritual Sabbath as clearly shown in the Bible.
If Paul preaching to Jews on the Sabbath day proves he kept the Sabbath, then it also proves Paul kept synagogue worship as well!
If Paul “kept the Sabbath” because he preached Christ to non-Christian Jews on THEIR Sabbath day in THEIR synagogue:
- then Paul also kept all the other ceremonial laws that the non-Christian Jews practiced while he was there as well. Sabbatarians should too!
The fact that the Bible mentions Paul preaching on the Sabbath proves we must keep it?
- Just because the very first preaching of the Gospel occurred on the day of Pentecost, does not mean Christian must keep Pentecost! Acts 2:1-38
- Paul also rushed to get back to Jerusalem on Pentecost: Acts 20:16
- Pentecost always fell on a Sunday
- Does this mean he was keeping Pentecost feast?
- No! It provided him a great opportunity to teach.
- No where after the resurrection is there an example for “keeping the Sabbath according to a commandment”, neither is a command for Christians to observe it because sabbath ritual has been fulfilled in Christ, and no longer is a command for Christians.
Paul explicitly states in Col 2:16, 17 that Sabbath was a shadow that pointed to Jesus, and that as such it is not the basis for judgment of a Christian. He explicitly states in Romans 14 that Christians are free to observe special days, and Christians are free to treat very single day the same. Paul says explicitly in Gal. 4 that saying a person is required by God to keep special days and times and so forth, puts the Christian back into the slavery he was set free from.