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Did Paul want Christians to Come Together on Saturday or Sunday?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

For nearly two millennia, Christians have been gathering together on the first day of the week to worship God. Both inspired Bible writers and uninspired early Christians viewed Sunday as the day to eat the memorial feast as well as engage in other acts of worship. The apostle Paul instructed the Christians in Corinth (as he had earlier taught the churches of Galatia) to lay a portion of their income aside “on the first day of every week...that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, NASV, emp. added). Luke later wrote how the disciples in Troas came together “on the first day of the week” to break bread in remembrance of the Lord’s death (Acts 20:7, emp. added; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-26). Ignatius wrote in his letter to the Magnesians (believed to be penned around A.D. 110) how Christians “have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day” (1:62, emp. added; cf. Revelation 1:5). And, in chapter 67 of his First Apology (written around A.D. 150), Justin Martyr noted how Christians would gather together “on the day called Sunday” to read the writings of the apostles and prophets, instruct, pray, give, and eat of bread and wine (emp. added).

Still, despite the testimony of these men, some who claim to be Christians are not convinced that Sunday is the set day for Christians to come together and worship God (including, but not limited to, partaking of the Lord’s Supper). One argument set forth by these individuals (who still seek to keep the Sabbath) is that Paul “worshipped” on Saturday rather than on Sunday. They teach:

It was Paul’s custom to use the Sabbath for preaching (Acts 17:2). He did so in synagogues and elsewhere (Acts 13:14-15; 16:13). Gentile believers observed the Sabbath (Acts 13:42,44). For a year and a half in Corinth, Paul worked during the week and reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, teaching the Word of God (Acts 18:4,11) [“The Bible Sabbath...,” n.d.].

Allegedly, since Paul frequented the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath day, Christians have no scriptural authority for arguing that the church should meet on the first day of the week. If he consistently met with the church on the Sabbath throughout his lifetime, why don’t we?

The problem with such reasoning is that Paul’s preaching in the “synagogues and elsewhere” on the Sabbath was an attempt to win souls to Christ, not to engage in corporate worship with the church. It was Paul’s “custom” to offer salvation first to the Jews, and then to the Greeks (cf. Acts 17:2; Romans 1:16). Thus, he frequented Jewish synagogues on a day when a greater number of Jews would be assembled there—the Sabbath. In Acts 13, Paul preached of the death and resurrection of Christ (vss. 27-37), and offered his hearers salvation “through this Man [Jesus]” (vss. 38-39). In Acts 16, Paul gathered with non-Christians again on the Sabbath, taught them the Gospel, and baptized them (vss. 13-15). He was not meeting with Christians on this day to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Paul found individuals who were worshiping God, and taught them the way more perfectly, just as he did on many Sabbaths throughout his ministry (cf. Acts 17:2-4; 18:4-8; 13:27-41).

Some time ago I was asked why those to whom Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel in Antioch of Pisidia did not just show up on Sunday to hear Paul and Barnabas’ message (Acts 13:13-52). After all, if Sunday is truly the day in which Christians “came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7—which entailed, or at least included, the eating of the Lord’s Supper, see Lyons, 2005), then supposedly the people whom Paul and Barnabas taught should have simply shown up on that day rather than on the Sabbath. The reason, however, that Paul preached to non-Christian Jews on the Sabbath, instead of the first day of the week, is two-fold: (1) If they were unbelieving Jews and proselytes, they would not have been accustomed to meeting on the first day of the week; (2) Instead of inviting them to attend the worship of the church on the first day of the week (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2), Paul chose to go where the greatest number of Jews would be gathered. Paul knew that he could reach more lost souls this way than by doing anything else. He used the Jewish day of rest and worship to advance the cause of Christ and spread Christianity among the Jews.

Truly, the day on which Jesus defeated death (Matthew 28:1) is the day Christians gather “to break bread” (Acts 20:7). The law of the Sabbath passed away with the Old Law (cf. Colossians 2:14-17; 2 Corinthians 3:3-13). Although Paul continued to enter the synagogues on the Sabbath after his conversion to Christ, it was not for the purpose of worshiping with the church, but to reason with the lost from the Scriptures. In truth, his method of evangelizing is one that all Christians should emulate: go where the lost are, and teach them, rather than staying put and hoping they come to you.

REFERENCES

“The Bible Sabbath: First Day, Seventh Day or Any Day?” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.biblestudy.org/basicart/sabbsdf.html.

Ignatius (1973 reprint), “Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Justin Martyr (1973 reprint), “The First Apology of Justin,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Lyons, Eric (2005), “‘Breaking Bread’ on the ‘First Day’ of the Week,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/343.





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