I have received the following comment about a post on whether Christians should gather together on the Sabbath day.
I am so disturbed to learn that we as Christians have decided that the Sabbath which was commanded by God can be dealt away with. There is nowhere in scripture we are told to change that. In face Jesus says if you love me follow my commandments. There was no new commandment set by Jesus to abandon the sabbath. He said I came to do my fathers will. Sunday worship comes from Rome and the worship of Roman gods. The same goes for Christmas and Easter. All these are pagan celebrations which has infiltrated the church. The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabath. In the book of Revelation, John declares he saw seven golden candle sticks, a symbol from the old testament and Christ was in the midst of this. The God, Yahweh has never changed and will never changed. His laws remains the same till the end of time. I truly believe its satan worship if we tell Christains to worship on Sunday’s and don’t follow the laws of God. That’s against everything God stands for, if you love me keep my commandments. Which commandments? We still obey the laws because we Gentiles are the spiritual Israelites, but our path way salvation is Christ not just obeying the Law. I dont understand why anyone will teach this to the Christian world that you can disobey the Creator because of what man has decided it’s the new religion. Wake up and come out of Babylon, we are called by God and not by man. There if God says 7th day is the week is the day of worship, nothing changes because Yahweh doesn’t change. The first day of the week is the worship of the Sun God, do some research and you will know Constantine started this with the Roman Church. You cannot change God’s Law or command. Jesus said I came to fulfill, not to change. Jesus said I came to do my fathers will. So there is no where Sunday worship was instituted and declared the Holy Day of the Lord. Brother George ask the Holy Spirit for deep teaching and insight so you don’t deceive his children. Shalom
This post is based on a survey of the instances when the Sabbath day (7th day of the week) is mentioned in the New Testament between Acts and Revelation inclusive. These are the books of the Bible that apply to the Christian church, which began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In the previous books of the Bible (Exodus to John), the Israelites (or Jews) are God’s special people on earth who are commanded to obey the Mosaic law (which included animal sacrifices, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath). Because there is no Jewish temple (with altars for sacrifices) or priesthood, today it is impossible to practice the Mosaic covenant as it was followed in the Old Testament.
We will see that the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.
In this post we look at whether the instances of Sabbath day observance between Acts and Revelation are a command, a model to follow or merely a report of events. Instances of Sunday (1st day of the week) observance will be considered in the same way so the two can be compared.
Is Sabbath day observance a command, a model or a report?
The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not worth following today.
Sabbath observance commanded
I am not aware of any command to observe the Sabbath day between Acts and Revelation in the Bible. It is interesting to note that the other nine of the ten commandments given to Moses are repeated as commandments for Christians in this portion of Scripture, but the 4th commandment isn’t. Also, when they joined the early church which was largely Jewish, the Gentile Christians weren’t commanded to keep the Sabbath (Acts 15:19-20). Furthermore, Sabbath breaking is never mentioned as a sin in this portion of the Bible.
But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?
Sabbath observance modelled
During his first missionary journey, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue at Pisidian Antioch on two Sabbath days (Acts 13:14-49), but the message was rejected by the Jews. Then Paul preached to the Gentiles and they accepted the message. Paul and Barnabas left this town when they were expelled by the Jewish leaders (Acts 13:50-51).
During his second missionary journey, at Philippi Paul went outside the city gate to the river on the Sabbath day, where he expected to find a place of prayer (Acts 16:13-15). Paul must have preached there because Lydia responded to his message. But Paul and Silas had to leave this town after they were imprisoned. According to the NIV Study Bible, there were so few Jews in Philippi that there was no synagogue (ten married men were required), so the Jews who were there met for prayer along the banks of the Pangites river. It was customary for such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water.
Next Paul visited Thessalonica where: “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:2-4). After this the Jewish leaders forced them to leave the city.
When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah” (Acts 18:4-5NIV). But when the Jews opposed him and became abusive, Paul went next door and preached to the Gentiles.
So on his missionary trips Paul had a custom of visiting synagogues on the Sabbath. Why did he do this? What did he do there? From the four accounts summarized above we see that he preached that Jesus Christ was the Jewish Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament. Paul kept on doing this until he was forced to leave because of Jewish opposition. Then he preached to the Gentiles. So the purpose of this custom was to preach the message about Jesus to the Jews because they knew about the Old Testament. Paul only went to the synagogue on the Sabbath because there was an audience there for his message.
What is the example for us to follow? It is about preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity and not about observing the Jewish Sabbath day. The other main occurrence of preaching to the Jews was Peter’s address on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41). This was on a Sunday because the day of Pentecost was the 50th day after the after the Sabbath of Passover week (Lev. 23:15-16). So the apostles preached whenever the Jews were gathered together, whether it was on the Sabbath or on Sunday. The day of the week they preached wasn’t important to them.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that the early church met on the Sabbath. The meetings that Paul attended on the Sabbath during his missionary journeys were meetings of Jews held in a synagogue.
But if Sabbath observance isn’t commanded or modelled for the church, is it reported?
Sabbath observance reported
I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to observance of the Sabbath day. The only other occasions the Sabbath is mentioned are in Colossians and Hebrews.
Paul prohibits Christians being condemned for not following particular food or drink regulations and for not observing particular religious activities that are held on an annual, monthly or weekly basis: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17NIV). The examples given in this passage are arranged in the order of annual, monthly, and weekly. From Numbers 28:9-25 it is clear that the religious festivals were the annual Jewish festivals (such as the Passover), the New Moon celebration was the monthly Jewish offering, and the Sabbath day was the weekly Jewish Sabbath. As Christ has come, there is no value in keeping these things that foreshadowed His coming. Observance of these holy days is no longer required. Today we celebrate the reality, not the shadows.
Also, the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4:1-11, is different to the Sabbath day. This is the spiritual rest of salvation through faith in Christ (Heb. 11:2-3) that is likened to the physical rest of the Sabbath. Christians rest in the completed work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30).
How does this compare with what the New Testament says about Sunday observance?
Is Sunday observance a command, a model or a report?
Sunday observance commanded
I am not aware of any command to observe Sunday (the 1st day of the week) between Acts and Revelation in the Bible.
But if Sunday observance isn’t commanded for the church, is it modelled?
Sunday observance modelled
When they visited Troas during Paul’s third missionary journey, Luke reported “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight” (Acts 20:7). In the previous verse it says that they stayed in Troas for seven days. Although he was in a hurry to travel to Jerusalem over the next month Paul seems to have waited until he could meet with the local church when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6, 16). This is the most likely meaning of the saying “we came together to break bread”. It didn’t mean an ordinary meal, because they would have had these during the rest of the week and because Paul preached and taught as well. The Lord’s Supper and the apostles’ teaching, which are mentioned on this occasion, were two of the corporate activities of the early church (Acts 2:42). Therefore, the statement in the comment that “The true Christians under Paul and Peter never celebrated anything besides preaching on the Sabbath” is false.
Was this an unusual farewell meeting, and not necessarily indicative of normal practice? The fact that Paul spoke to midnight was probably unusual as the reason given for this is “because he intended to leave the next day”. But there is nothing in the passage to indicate that their celebration of the Lord’s supper was unusual or that Paul speaking after this celebration was unusual. In fact the prime reason given for meeting together on Sunday was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There is a spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper and Sunday – the former symbolizes Christ’s death and the latter His resurrection.
So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and carry out other corporate activities.
When Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth he urged them to support needy believers in Jerusalem, “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
Paul doesn’t say exactly how this money is collected, “set aside” or saved up. The Greek noun translated “collection” (Strongs #3048) only occurs I these two verses and none other in the Bible. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexion, in this context it means “money collected for the poor”. The passage seems to promote systematic giving. There was to be a collection each week so that the amount could accumulate over time and there would be no need for a collection when Paul came. So it was a corporate collection, not one done individually (if it was individual, there would need to be a collection when Paul came). If Paul wanted the collection to be done “at home” he could have included this phase as in 1 Corinthians 11:34; 14:35. This means that the finances of the early church were centralized as they were amongst the apostles when Jesus was on earth (Jn. 12:6; 13:29). So it seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians when they gathered together on the first day of the week to collect money from each other to support the needy.
Although Sunday observance is modelled for the church, is it reported elsewhere?
Sunday observance reported
I am not aware of any other verses between Acts and Revelation in the Bible that are related to Sunday observance. The only other possible mention of the first day of the week was when John said he saw a vision of Christ “on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). The only other occurrence of this Greek adjective (Strongs #2960) in Scripture is a reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). According to the NIV Study Bible, “The Lord’s Day” is a technical term for the first day of the week because Jesus rose from the dead on that day. It could indicate that John and the early church treated Sunday in a special way among all days.
Some think that Romans 14:5-6 addresses Sabbath or Sunday observance, but there is no evidence of this from the context of this passage.
Sabbath observance and Sunday observance compared
We have seen that the Greek noun for Sabbath (Strongs #4521) is associated with Paul preaching in the synagogue. It’s an example of Paul adapting to the customs of the Jews in order to win them to the Lord. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Cor. 9:19-20).
On the other hand, the phrase “the first day of the week” (Strong’s #1520 and #4521) is associated with gathering together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). This phrase is also linked in the gospels with Christ’s resurrection (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2; Lk.24:1; Jn. 20:1). So the resurrection of Christ seems to be the reason why the early church met on Sunday and this practice has continued down through the ages. Of course Christians can meet on other days of the week as the Bible doesn’t prohibit this. But there is no spiritual connection between the Lord’s supper (and His resurrection) and the Sabbath day.
I am not aware of any command given between Acts and Revelation in the Bible to the early church to observe either the Sabbath day or Sunday. There is no biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be a day of worship.
It seems as though it was the practice of the early Christians to gather together on the first day of the week in order to observe the Lord’s Supper and to carry out other corporate activities including collecting money from each other to support the needy. But it’s not a day of rest or a holy day like the Sabbath was for the Jews. The only Christian practice in the Bible that’s related to the Sabbath is preaching about Jesus whenever there is an opportunity. As one of the opportunities was when Jews gathered on the Sabbath, that was when Paul preached (until he was rejected by the Jewish leaders). There is no model to follow for the church to meet on the Sabbath. It was only the Jews who held their services on the Sabbath.
A study of the portion of the Bible written about and to the early church (Acts to Revelation, inclusive) shows evidence for Sunday observance of the Lord’s supper and other corporate activities by Christians, but there is no evidence of Sabbath observance.
So the model given in Scripture for the early church was for Sunday observance, which was different to the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance.
Written, September 2015
Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses. Is this true?
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God what does the Bible say about this topic?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
Why the new covenant is better
Is insistence on Sabbath-keeping legalism?
Serving God and people
Before He ascended the Lord told the apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8TNIV). The church which began in Jerusalem was largely Jewish, but God used Paul to bring the Christian faith to the world around the Mediterranean Sea—it spread across the Roman Empire. He also used Paul to record most of the teachings of the Christian faith. What can we learn from Paul’s life?
Paul’s Christian Life
Paul was a strict Jew; a Pharisee who persecuted the Christian church. He was trained in Jerusalem to understand the Old Testament very well. But there was a dramatic change in his life—he turned around 180 degrees and was persecuted for preaching the good news about Jesus Christ. This happened after he had a spectacular encounter with God.
After this time we see that his life was characterized by travel and suffering. After he was saved, we read that “The Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man (Paul) is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’” (Acts 9:15-16).
He probably spent about 15 years of his life on his main missionary journeys to modern Turkey, to modern Greece, to Rome as a prisoner and possibly to Spain. Most of his letters were written to churches he established on these journeys.
When his life was threatened, he escaped from the cities of: Damascus, Jerusalem, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea and Ephesus. But Paul didn’t give up when he faced such opposition; instead he moved to preach in another city. Paul endured much suffering and hardship (2 Cor. 11:23-28) and he was stoned and left for dead at Lystra (Acts 14:19-21). After being miraculously restored he left for Derbe on the next day where he preached and “won a large number of disciples”. Then he returned to Lystra, where he had been stoned, to strengthen and encourage the believers. Clearly, Paul thought that preaching and teaching was more important than his personal safety.
Paul was in prison for at least five years of his life and five of his letters in the Bible were written from prison. When he faced imprisonment he said “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Paul accepted such punishment, but continued to preach the gospel: “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:31).
Unique to Paul
Some aspects of Paul’s life were unique. He was an apostle and a prophet, being one of the founders of the church, which was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20).
As the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul preached the gospel at key cities across the Roman Empire (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13; Gal .2:8; 1 Tim. 2:7). In particular, Paul was a pioneer preacher and teacher who brought new truths to the early church. The Greek word apostolos meant “sent out” or “ambassador”. In the Bible, an apostle was also one who witnessed the resurrection (Acts 1:22; 4:33). In Paul’s case, he had seen the Lord in a vision that blinded him (1 Cor. 9:1-2). The apostles also performed many miracles (Acts 5:12; 19:11-12; 28:3-6; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3-4). These supernatural powers were mainly used to demonstrate to unbelieving Jews the truth of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:22), for example, Paul didn’t heal himself or Trophimus (2 Cor. 12: 7-9; 2 Tim. 4:20). With the completion of the New Testament in written form, the need for such signs largely passed away.
As a prophet, Paul was given the Christian doctrine before it was put into writing—the gospel he preached he received by revelation from the Lord (Gal. 1:12). Direct revelation is not required today as our doctrine should come from the Bible, particularly the books that were written to the early church.
The remainder of this article considers passages of the Bible which say that Paul was an example for us to imitate. They convey this by using at least one of the following Greek words: mimeomai, a mimic or imitator; tupos, a die or stamp or model; and hupotuposis, a pattern.
An Example of God’s Saving Power
A few years before the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy and included his testimony. When writing about his conversion to Christianity he said: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15-16). Here we see that Paul was an example that God can save the worst of sinners. No matter how bad or frequent one’s sins have been, God has the power to forgive them and reconcile the person to Himself, provided there is repentance. Of course, we are all sinners who need God’s saving power.
His Example to the Thessalonians
On his second missionary journey Paul travelled through what is now Greece visiting Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. As a result of his preaching, some accepted the gospel and these new believers made up the first churches in these places. While he was in Corinth Paul heard news from Thessalonica and wrote them two letters to encourage and instruct them in the Christian faith.
When Paul commended them for their faith, love and hope, he wrote: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Th. 1:6). This was preceded by the statement: “You know how we lived among you for your sake” (1 Th. 1:5). So they followed Paul’s example, which was evident from how he lived at Thessalonica.
First, he was bold with the gospel: he said “with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in the face of strong opposition” (1 Th. 2:2). Second, he lived with integrity: he was “holy, righteous and blameless” (1 Th. 2:10). This included being honest: “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Th. 2:4). Third, he cared for them: loving them like a mother and instructing them like a father (1 Th. 2:7, 11). Fourth, he was self-supporting, active and not lazy. He worked hard so as not to be a burden on others (1 Th. 2:9). When he warned them about laziness, Paul wrote, “you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example” (2 Th. 3:7-9). Paul earned his own living while he was preaching the gospel. He wrote, “We did this … in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate”. In particular, he worked night and day in order to pay for his food. He also worked to provide for the needs of his colleagues (Acts 20:34).
His Example to the Corinthians
Three years after Paul visited Corinth he received a letter from them informing him of their problems and asking him questions. When Paul wrote back to them, after dealing with the problems of divisions in the local church, he said “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16). What example is mentioned near this statement?
The previous paragraph says: “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment” (1 Cor. 4:9-13). Here we see that Paul was passionate for Christ (he was willing to be a fool for Christ) and he suffered for Christ (being: hungry, thirsty, in rags, brutally treated, homeless, cursed, persecuted and slandered).
In the following verse we see that Paul practiced what he preached: “He (Timothy) will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). The Philippians were told this as well, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Phil. 4:9). So, they were to also follow what he taught.
After Paul dealt with the problem of eating meat that had been offered to idols he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The example mentioned before this statement comprised two important principles for our Christian lives.
First, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Although Paul endured hardships and suffering when he preached the gospel, he persevered because he wanted to honor and obey God. He was God-centred in all he did, even when deciding what to eat and drink.
Second, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33). Paul was not selfish. He was people-centred, respecting the welfare of everyone, both believers and unbelievers. He did nothing that would hinder an unbeliever receiving salvation or that would stumble the faith of a believer.
His Example to the Philippians
About 10 years after being in prison in Philippi, he wrote to them from another prison in Rome. He urged them to “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Phil. 3:17). Once again, his example is evident from the context of this verse.
In the previous verses we see what Paul gave up when he became a Christian: the family religion of Judaism, his attainments and prestige as a Pharisee (Phil. 3:4-15). He now called these things garbage. From his new perspective they were worthless. Because he gave up what everyone else thought was important, he would have been disowned by his family and friends and he was persecuted by fellow Jews. Furthermore, he didn’t want to feel good by keeping a list of rules as he knew that he was accepted by God because of his faith in Christ. He wanted to live as Christ did and this involved suffering. His willingness to suffer for Christ is seen as being a mature view of the Christian faith.
Paul’s goal in life is described as: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). He wanted to leave behind all his attainments which were listed earlier and make progress in his Christian life. His values had changed and he looked forward to heaven.
Then Paul says who not to follow: “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things” (Phil. 3:18-19). He criticised those who act as though they were going to live on earth forever and never consider their eternal destiny. Their god is their appetite and they boast about things that they should be ashamed of.
His Example to Follow
So, Paul was an example, a model and a pattern for us all to follow. He was saved to show what God can do in a human being. From these passages, we see there are two strands in Paul’s example for us: firstly love for God and secondly love for people. This is like the greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-38).
Paul had a passion for God; he was God-centred, not self-centred; he gave up all his attainments and privileges to live the Christian life; he was willing to suffer for Christ; he was bold with the gospel, and he suffered for preaching to unbelievers; and he did everything for the glory of God.
Paul also had a passion for people: he was self-supporting and not lazy; he lived with integrity; he cared for others; and he respected their consciences.
Lessons For Us
God uses our life experiences. For example, Paul’s travels and imprisonment led him to write many letters to early churches, some of which we can read today in the New Testament. Likewise, we need to let God use our life experiences for His purposes.
Paul was saved to be a pattern to all future believers. Like Timothy and Titus, all believers are Paul’s spiritual children. Are we following his example? Are we following Christ’s example? What are our priorities? Do we have a passion for God? Do we have a passion for people? Do we persevere with these priorities despite the difficulties we may face in life?
Paul told the Philippians, “keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Phil. 3:17). So, God saved us to be a pattern to other believers. Are we an example like Paul? What example are we setting for the next generation?
Let’s beware of the self-centeredness of our times and be willing to suffer for Christ and honor Him in all we do and look at people with compassion though God’s eyes and be bold with the gospel, but treat them with respect.
Written, June 2008