The First Day of the Week

Sabbath Study, Part 32

In the last two posts, we looked at several instances where Paul and other Christians sought evangelistic opportunities on the Jewish Sabbath. Acts 20 records a different kind of gathering: Paul and other Christians come together and break bread on a Sunday.

Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

First day of the week.
This phrase can be literally translated, “one of the Sabbaths,” leading some to believe that the Sabbath is still on Saturday and not Sunday. A helpful article by William D. Mounce (author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words) helps us see otherwise: “Words are rarely simple; they are usually nuanced and sometimes idiomatic. The fact that every modern translation goes with ‘first day of the week’ [in Acts 20:7] shows that here is an idiom at work, and no theological doctrines should be drawn from this usage (other than the fact that the early church saw no conflict in worshiping on the first day of the week and not the last…).”

Some believe that this practice of meeting corporately on Sunday shows that the Sabbath is no longer in effect. But I would ask: what, then, is the reason for treating one day in seven as special/sacred? The early church’s emphasis may have switched from Saturday to Sunday, but how does that make the foundational principle of the Sabbath null and void? If our Sunday celebration is not a Sabbath rest, what exactly is it?

Came together to break bread.
It is probable that the disciples observed the Lord’s Supper each Sunday. Whatever the case, the atmosphere described here—one of fellowship between believers—stands in stark contrast with the visits Paul made to various synagogues on the Jewish Sabbath. The purpose of those Saturday pursuits was blatantly evangelistic, whereas the purpose of this Sunday meeting was corporate worship.

Continued his message until midnight.
The Jews observed the Sabbath from sunset to sunset. Here, Paul began a message that continued well past sunset on Sunday. Because he was about to depart and (possibly) never see this group of people again, he may have wanted to extend the length of this last meeting. Whether that is the case or not, it seems that the New Testament Christians may not have been as stringent on the starting and stopping times of the Christian Sabbath observance.