Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A River Runs Near It

Sabbath Study, Part 31

There is one Saturday-Sabbath story in the book of Acts that does not take place in a synagogue. In Acts 16, Paul and his fellow missionaries travel to the city of Philippi. It appears that for some reason the city did not have a synagogue. This didn’t stop the Christians from setting out to find a Jewish gathering where they could preach the gospel.

And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And…she and her household were baptized… (Acts 16:13-15)

Where prayer was customarily made.
This phrase could be translated, “Where there was thought to be a proseuche [i.e., a place of prayer]” (Robert Young).

The sense of this phrase is not that the Christians were in the habit of meeting at a certain place (as I mistakenly used to think). On the contrary, the sense is that the Christians sought out a location frequented by the Jews and proselytes. “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” (Adam Clarke).

“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 proseuchae, 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” (Albert Barnes).

We sat down and spoke to the women who met there.
“Probably this was before the time of their public worship, and while they were waiting for the assembling of the people in general; and Paul improved the opportunity to speak concerning Christ and salvation to the women that resorted thither” (Adam Clarke). “Luke’s use of the first person plural implies that each of the four (Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke) preached in turn, with Paul as chief speaker” (A.T. Robertson).

Lydia…worshiped God.
This woman was a Greek proselyte, not yet a Christian (as is evidenced by what follows). The rest of the women were either Jews or fellow proselytes, or a combination of the two.

The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
She heard Paul preach, and through God’s work in her heart she was enabled to respond to the gospel with saving faith. Following her conversion, “she and her household were baptized.”

For me, this used to be the most confusing story involving Paul’s Saturday missionary activities. It seemed to indicate that Christians gathered together on Saturdays, just like the Jewish synagogue attendees. Learning about the distinction between Gentile Christians and Greek proselytes (see previous post) helped me see the true nature of this and other stories. As we will see in the following posts, genuine Christians met corporately on Sundays, not Saturdays.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
1898 Young’s Literal Translation, by Robert Young
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ministering on the Jewish Sabbath

Sabbath Study, Part 30

The book of Acts includes several instances of Christian leaders attending Jewish Sabbath services to share the gospel with those in attendance. Examples include Acts 13:43; 14:1; 16:14; 17:4, 17; and 18:4. These passages mention the presence of religious Gentiles as well as Jews, leading some to believe that Christian and Jew alike celebrated the Sabbath on the same day. Otherwise, why would Gentiles be participating in the Saturday Sabbath?

At first, this had been my conclusion as well. After digging deeper, however, I realized that, in order for us to really understand who these non-Jewish worshipers are, we need to understand the different types of Gentiles the New Testament deals with. There are at least three groups:

  • Gentile believers
  • Gentile unbelievers
  • Greek proselytes—i.e., Gentile converts to Judaism (divided by some into two sub-groups: “proselytes of righteousness” and “proselytes at the gate”; the former were more fully integrated into Judaism than the latter)

(For more information on Greek proselytes, see here and here.)

When they mention non-Jewish synagogue attendees, the above Sabbath passages in Acts are referring to Greek proselytes. These Gentile adherents to Judaism were bound to certain Mosaic laws and customs—including the Jewish Sabbath. The Greek proselytes are noted as being “devout” (Acts 13:43; 17:4), and the New Testament even describes them as fearing God (10:22) and worshipping God (16:14). Paul uses this terminology in the synagogue in Antioch when he addresses both the Jews and proselytes: “Men of Israel [Jews], and you who fear God [Greek proselytes], listen” (Acts 13:16).

In Acts 14:1, we see a “great multitude” of Jews and proselytes believing in the gospel. When Paul preaches in the synagogue at Thessalonica for three Saturdays in a row, many are persuaded, including “a great multitude of the devout Greeks” (Acts 17:4). We are told in Acts 17:17 that when Paul visits the synagogue in Athens, he reasons with two groups of people: the Jews and the Gentile proselytes. Once again, in the synagogue at Corinth, Paul repeatedly preaches the gospel to “both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

In each of these circumstances, we see a blatantly evangelical intent on the part of Paul and the other Christians. They are not preaching to fellow believers. They are visiting the synagogues to minister to the Jews and proselytes, not to celebrate the Saturday Sabbath with them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Day that Changed Everything

Sabbath Study, Part 29

Jesus was crucified and buried on a Friday. During the Jewish Sabbath, His body remained in the tomb. Early Sunday morning, at the beginning of a new week, Christ arose, victor over sin and death. After first appearing to Mary that morning (Jn. 20:14ff), He met and traveled with two disciples on the road to Emmaus later that day (Lk. 24:13ff). When He vanished from their presence, they realized whom they had been talking with and they immediately returned to Jerusalem. That evening, while they were describing to the other disciples their encounter with the risen Savior (see Lk. 24:36), Jesus appeared to them all.

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

The first day of the week.
John makes a point of mentioning what day it was when Jesus first appeared to them. “Christ arose on the first day of the week, and it might have been sufficient to say here Joh 20:19, he appeared the same day at evening; yet, to put an honour upon the day, it is repeated, being the first day of the week; not that the apostles designed to put honour upon the day (they were yet in doubt concerning the occasion of it), but God designed to put honour upon it, by ordering it that they should be altogether, to receive Christ’s first visit on that day. Thus, in effect, he blessed and sanctified that day, because in it the Redeemer rested” (Matthew Henry).

Thomas was not with the twelve when Jesus appeared to them, and he refused to believe their testimony, citing that unless and until he saw the risen Christ himself he would not believe. He had to wait until the following Sunday, for there is no mention of the disciples meeting corporately until a week later. While we can’t be certain, it seems probable that Jesus gave them instructions on when to gather together again.

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” (John 20:26)

After eight days.
This count of eight days shows that the first Sunday is being considered as well as the second. (It’s similar to the measurement used for Christ’s death: He rose on the third day, with Friday being counted as day one.)

Jesus came.
Scripture teaches some truths explicitly and others implicitly. Implicit truths hold no less authority than explicit ones. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is never mentioned anywhere in Scripture, and yet it is a core doctrine of the Christian faith. Likewise, the New Testament never explicitly states that the Sabbath switched from the last day of the week to the first day of the week, and yet we find sufficient evidence to show that a Sunday Sabbath was designed to be a staple of the church after Christ’s resurrection.

“From this it appears that they thus early set apart this day for assembling together, and Jesus countenanced it by appearing twice with them. It was natural that the apostles should observe this day, but not probable that they would do it without the sanction of the Lord Jesus. His repeated presence gave such a sanction, and the historical fact is indisputable that from this time this day was observed as the Christian Sabbath” (Albert Barnes).

“[The] Lord designedly reserved His second appearance among them till the recurrence of His resurrection day, that He might thus inaugurate the delightful sanctities of THE LORD’S DAY (Re 1:10)” (JFB).

“That one day in seven should be religiously observed was an appointment from the beginning, as old as innocency; and that in the kingdom of the Messiah the first day of the week should be that solemn day this was indication enough, that Christ on that day once and again met his disciples in a religious assembly” (Matthew Henry).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sabbath Preparation

Sabbath Study, Part 28

Jesus, the man characterized by the Pharisees as a sinner (a glutton, a drunkard, and a Sabbath breaker), suffered and died in the place of sinners (including gluttons, drunkards, and Sabbath breakers). Shortly thereafter, Joseph of Arimathea (a member of the Jewish council and a follower of Christ) had the body of Jesus buried in a stone tomb. All this took place on a Friday.

That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. (Luke 23:54-56)

That day was the preparation.
The hurried manner in which Jesus’ body was taken down and buried is due to the approach of the Sabbath. For the Jews, proper observance of the fourth commandment required preparation before the Sabbath day actually arrived. Once more, their days were reckoned from sunset to sunset, not from morning to morning (as we do today). Thus, the Sabbath began on a Friday evening at sunset and ended on a Saturday evening at sunset (see Lev. 23:32).

And the Sabbath drew near.
“Though they were in tears for the death of Christ, yet they must apply themselves to the sanctifying of the sabbath; and, when the sabbath draws on, there must be preparation. Our worldly affairs must be so ordered that they may not hinder us from our sabbath work, and our holy affections must be so excited that they may carry us on in it” (Matthew Henry).

They rested…according to the commandment.
Even in the midst of an event as paradigm-shattering as the death of their Savior, Jesus’ followers still observed the Sabbath rest, in accordance with the law of the God who had walked with them in the flesh for thirty-three years.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blind Man, Blind Leaders

Sabbath Study, Part 27

In John chapter 9, we read of Jesus passing by a blind man on a Sabbath day and stopping to help. He spit on the ground, made mud with his saliva, and anointed the man’s eyes with the mud. Jesus then told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. When he did so, his sight was completely restored. Eventually, the man was brought to the Pharisees to be examined.

They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. (John 9:13-16)

They brought him…to the Pharisees.
With Jesus repeatedly using the Sabbath observance as an object lesson, it almost seems as though He is trying to get under the Pharisees’ skin. I think Matthew Henry’s comments on this passage are helpful, if for no other reason than to provide us with another reminder of what we have already been studying. (And if Jesus felt the need to remind his hearers of the importance of the Sabbath, it would do us well to follow His lead.)

“But it may be asked, ‘Why would Christ not only work miracles on the sabbath day, but work them in such a manner as he knew would give offence to the Jews? When he had healed the impotent man, why should he bid him carry his bed? Could he not have cured this blind man without making clay?’ I answer,

“1. He would not seem to yield to the usurped power of the scribes and Pharisees. Their government was illegal, their impositions were arbitrary, and their zeal for the rituals consumed the substantials of religion; and therefore Christ would not give place to them, by subjection, no not for an hour. Christ was made under the law of God, but not under their law.

“2. He did it that he might, both by word and action, expound the law of the fourth commandment, and vindicate it from their corrupt glosses, and so teach us that a weekly sabbath is to be perpetually observed in the church, one day in seven (for what need was there to explain that law, if it must be presently abrogated?) and that it is not to be so ceremonially observed by us as it was by the Jews? Works of necessity and mercy are allowed, and the sabbath rest to be kept, not so much for its own sake as in order to the sabbath-work.

“3. Christ chose to work his cures on the sabbath day to dignify and sanctify the day, and to intimate that spiritual cures should be wrought mostly on the Christian sabbath day. How many blind eyes have been opened by the preaching of the gospel, that blessed eye-salve, on the Lord’s day! How many impotent souls cured on that day!” (Matthew Henry).

He does not keep the Sabbath.
In actuality, Jesus is the only one to have ever fully and completely honored the fourth commandment. What Jesus perpetually violated was human tradition (which had misinterpreted the Sabbath law).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry

The Letter or the Spirit?

Sabbath Study, Part 26

A couple chapters after healing the lame man by the pool (John 5:1-18), Jesus brings this incident up during His interaction with a Jewish group on the Feast of Booths.

Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work [the healing of the man by the pool], and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

Jesus answered.
“The sabbath day (which is here set before us as a standard of all ceremonies) was not appointed to hinder, but to further and practise God’s works, amongst which the main one is the love of our neighbour” (Geneva Bible Notes).

I did one work.
According to commentators, Jesus had healed the man at the pool eighteen months prior, and yet the Jewish leaders viewed this act with such hatred that their memory of the event remained vivid. That being the case, Jesus used the incident as a reference in order to make His words all the more impactful.

You circumcise a man on the Sabbath.
The command in view was the mandatory circumcision of a male child on the eighth day after birth. “If that day happened to be the Sabbath, yet they held that he was to be circumcised, as there was a positive law to that effect; and as this was commanded, they did not consider it a breach of the Sabbath” (Albert Barnes). In this case, the Jews rightly interpreted the law. Jesus made His appeal using this same interpretation.

Are you angry with me…?
“The argument is this: You blame me for healing an impotent man on the Sabbath; yet you break the Sabbath to circumcise a child if the eighth day after its birth falls on the Sabbath. You say that the law of circumcision was given to Abraham, is older than the Sabbath law, and must be kept if the Sabbath is to be broken. Now the law of love and mercy is older than Moses; why find fault if it is kept on the Sabbath? They should judge righteously, instead of by outward appearances” (B. W. Johnson).

Do not judge according to appearance.
Adhere to the spirit, and not just to the letter, of the law. “In appearance, to circumcise a child on the Sabbath might be a violation of the law; yet you do it, and it is right. So, to appearance, it might be a violation of the Sabbath to heal a man, yet it is right to do works of necessity and mercy” (Albert Barnes).

Whereas the Pharisees were prone to adhere to the letter of the law so rigidly that they violated the spirit of the law, modern-day Christians seem to err in the opposite regard. That is, in an effort to avoid the sin of the Pharisees, we throw out both the letter and the spirit of the law, leaving nothing but an empty command, devoid of meaning, purpose, or application.


Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Geneva Bible Notes (1599 Geneva Bible)
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes
People's New Testament Commentary, by B. W. Johnson

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Working Prerogative of Jesus

Sabbath Study, Part 25

In Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a man who has been debilitated by an infirmity for 38 years. After asking if he wants to be healed, Jesus proceeds to miraculously restore the man’s health.

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:8-18).

It is not lawful.
“In this case a man lying on his bed, away from home, is suddenly healed. Under such circumstances Jewish tradition said that he must either spend the rest of the day watching his bed, or else he must go off and leave it to be stolen. But He who rightfully interpreted the law of his own devising, and who knew that ‘the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath’ (Mr 2:27), ordered the healed one to carry his bed along home with him” (J. W. McGarvey).

My Father has been working until now.
“God created the world in six days: on the seventh he rested from all creating acts, and set it apart to be an everlasting memorial of his work. But, though he rested from creating, he never ceased from preserving and governing that which he had formed: in this respect he can keep no sabbaths; for nothing can continue to exist, or answer the end proposed by the Divine wisdom and goodness, without the continual energy of God” (Adam Clarke). The world will not stop turning if we take a break from our work—precisely because God never ceases to work.

And I have been working.
“He not only said that God was his Father, but he said that he had the same right to work on the Sabbath that God had; that by the same authority, and in the same manner, he could dispense with the obligation of the day” (Albert Barnes). The Jews rightly understood that, by saying this, Jesus was equating Himself with God.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentaries and Topical Studies, by J. W. McGarvey
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes