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What Was the Apostolic Sabbath?
Good News Magazine
June-July 1983
Volume: VOL. XXX, NO. 6
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What Was the Apostolic Sabbath?
Leroy Neff   
Church of God

Born: November 20, 1923
Died: January 28, 2014
Member Since: 1951
Ambassador College: 1959
Ordained: June 7, 1958
Office: ACE - Evangelist

Did Jesus' apostles change the Sabbath to a different day? Did they preach to Jews on the Sabbath and to gentiles on Sunday? You need to know what the Bible really says.

   Most Bible students know that God's command to keep the Sabbath holy was included in the Ten Commandments as given to ancient Israel.
   Fewer realize that the Sabbath was observed by the faithful even before that.
   But, most realize that the Jews observed this same Sabbath during the time of Christ. They also probably know that Jesus kept the Sabbath.
   Beyond that, some people are in confusion as to what happened concerning the Sabbath.
   Some believe that when Christ was crucified, all the commandments were done away with, but all were then reinstituted with the exception of the Sabbath command. It is commonly believed that the Sabbath was then changed to Sunday.
   Some believe that for decades, maybe longer, the apostles observed two days of worship each week — a Saturday Sabbath with Jewish converts and Sunday with gentile converts. They believe that, over the years, the Sabbath observance gradually died out, until only Sunday observance was practiced.
   We need to know the truth and follow it! We need to know what God preserved in His Word for His people concerning this subject, which is increasingly important as we near the end of this age.

What was Christ's practice?

   Just what does the Bible say? First, we should establish what Christ did, and whether that should have any effect on what happened later.
   The Gospels clearly show that Christ observed the Sabbath. Many of the events during His ministry are recorded as having taken place on the weekly Sabbath.
   Jesus continually showed the religious authorities of His day that they did not properly observe the Sabbath, as they had added to the biblical command many dos and don'ts of which God did not approve.
   One plain text shows that Christ's custom or regular habit was: "So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read" (Luke 4:16). About 60 years later, John, who was apparently the only original apostle still living, made a significant statement: "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:6). John made this statement in the context of discussing obedience to God's commandments (verses 3-5). One of these commands concerned the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11). To walk as Jesus walked means to live the kind of life He lived.
   Peter made a similar statement about 30 years after Christ's death, when he said, "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" (I Pet. 2:21).
   Christ had told both John and Peter to teach all nations to observe all the things He had commanded them (Matt. 28:20). Christ did not say that these commands, which He had taught the apostles for the three and one half years of His ministry, were changed at the cross 40 days before the time He gave them this commission in Matthew 28:20!
   Why would these two apostles make such statements so many years after Christ was crucified, if everything was changed at the cross? If everything had changed, then Christ's example should" have been avoided, rather than followed.
   Some have the false concept that Christ lived a perfect life in our stead instead of living a perfect life and setting us an example to follow. But Jesus Himself said that His followers should follow His example: "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15). The apostles John and Peter were only reaffirming and reiterating this principle in these texts.

Did the Church follow Christ's example?

   With that introduction to the subject of the apostolic Sabbath, what do we find in the actual history and epistles of the apostles? Was there a change?
   To find out, we will first check all those passages in the history, which is recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and then the passages in the epistles that comment on this or related subjects. Nine places in Acts and one place in Colossians mention the Sabbath. We will examine each text.
   Before we start this examination of Acts, it would be helpful to know who wrote the book and to-whom it was first addressed.
   The book of Acts was written by Luke, who also wrote the gospel called by his name. It was addressed to Theophilus (Acts 1:1), who was probably gentile, as his name is Greek rather than Jewish. Possibly Theophilus was a patron who supported or assisted Luke during the lengthy research, correspondence, discussion and writing necessary to compile this official history of the early Church and apostles.
   The book was written no earlier than 30 years after the crucifixion, and possibly even later. By the time of the writing, the Church was scattered far and wide and included many gentiles. The number of Jews as compared to the number of gentiles in the Church at that time cannot be ascertained now, but we know that the audience to whom Acts was directed included Theophilus and many other gentiles. Luke undoubtedly wrote the book in a manner so that both Jews and gentiles would understand the meaning.
   The Sabbath is first referred to in Acts 1:12: "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey."
   This is the only place in the Bible referring to a "Sabbath day's journey." Isn't it strange that Luke would use such a term at the beginning of his book to describe the distance between the Mount of Olives and the city of Jerusalem? Why didn't Luke use a better-known term of distance measurement such as the Latin mile or the furlong (Greek stadion or stadios), which was used elsewhere in the New Testament?
   His readers or hearers must have been familiar with what a Sabbath day's journey was!
   Today, most people have not heard of this term. It was devised by the rabbis in accordance with their interpretation of Exodus 16:29. Even though the distance was not given by God as a maximum distance to walk on the Sabbath, it obviously was a term well-known to Christians during this period. Apparently they understood this term better than they understood the geography of Jerusalem.
   The second place the word Sabbath is used is Acts 13:14: "But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down."
   Would this possibly be some new Christian Sabbath? Obviously not, because it was the same one observed by the Jews of the synagogue. During Paul's sermon on this day we read about the Sabbath again (verse 27). It is obviously the same seventh day of the week, commonly called Saturday, and not the first day of the week, Sunday.
   In verse 42, after the sermon and after the Jews had left the synagogue, gentile converts or proselytes remained: "And when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath."
   Here was Paul's golden opportunity! The gentiles were asking him to preach more about Christ. Paul could have told them that they would not have to wait until the next Sabbath, but that he would meet with them the very next day, Sunday. That is, he would logically have done so if what many people believe to be true were true.
   Instead we read, "And the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God."
   This city of Antioch in Pisidia (now Turkey) was certainly mostly composed of gentiles. Since the Jews of the city rejected Paul and his teaching, Paul said, "Behold, we turn to the Gentiles" (verse 46). From that time on, if there was any change in the day of worship, it surely should be evident.
   During the great Jerusalem conference of about A.D. 49, we find another reference to the Sabbath (Acts 15:21). Obviously, the Sabbath referred to was the same one the Jews observed, not some new Christian Sabbath.
   Several of these texts have mentioned the Sabbath in connection with Jewish synagogue services. Some believe that this is the only reason Paul had anything to do with the Sabbath. They believe he was observing the day just to reach Jews. If that is the reason, then we should expect a drastic change in this next text, as the synagogue is not involved.

First European Christian converted on a Sabbath

   "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" (Acts 16:13).
   As a result of this Sabbath day's activities by Paul, Lydia of Philippi (Greece), probably a gentile, became his first European convert. If Paul had gone the next day, Sunday, this devout woman undoubtedly would have been working at her business of selling Thyatiran purple.
   The eighth place in the book of Acts is found in chapter 17, verse 2: "Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures." Here we again find Paul preaching the crucified Christ to Jews in their synagogue on the Sabbath.
   The last place in Acts is found in chapter 18, where there are several points we should notice. The events mentioned occurred in Corinth, a large, cosmopolitan city, a sort of crossroads of the world at that time. Since Paul was also a tentmaker, he lived with Aquila and Priscilla, who were tentmakers. At times Paul apparently worked at this trade when he was in the process of evangelizing or raising up new churches and did not yet have financial support from a local church.
   Under these circumstances we read, "And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks" (verse 4). Notice that he did this every Sabbath. He probably worked six days (the 40-hour, five-day work week is a recent invention) and preached on the Sabbath.
   After he was rejected by the Jews, Paul stayed in the city for another year and a half, undoubtedly continuing his practice of preaching on the Sabbath and working during the week. Because of this and others efforts, the church at Corinth was raised up. Two epistles were later addressed to this church.
   We have now seen the nine places in Acts where the word Sabbath is used. At no place is there any hint of a change from Sabbath to Sunday. The Sabbath observed by Paul and the gentiles was the same day as observed by the Jews.

What does Acts say about Sunday?

   It may come as a surprise to some, but there is only one reference to Sunday in all of the book of Acts.
   Before quoting and commenting on this text, we should first understand something about the beginning and ending of a day according to the Bible. It is quite different from present practice.
   Today we view days as beginning and ending at midnight, following the Roman practice. God, however, starts the day with the evening (Genesis 1), at sunset (Lev. 23:32). In quite a number of places, even in the gospels, it is clear that in Jewish practice the day began and ended at sunset.
   The Bible never uses the word Sunday. Instead, the term first day of the week is used. But Sunday and the first day of the week are not exactly the same period of time. The first day of the week, according to the way God reckons days, starts at sunset Saturday evening, while Sunday starts about six hours later, at midnight Saturday night, according to the Roman practice.
   With that short background we are ready to see the only text in Acts that mentions the first day of the week: "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).

What does it mean to break bread?

   We need to understand what the term break bread means. It is commonly misunderstood to refer to the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper or the Mass. This text should show the error of that assumption.
   In this passage we read that the disciples broke bread before midnight (verse 7), and again before the break of day before Paul's departure (verse 11). They did not have two Lord's Suppers between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. The latter verse shows that after midnight, but before daybreak, they "had broken bread and eaten."
   It should be obvious that this term refers to eating a meal, not partaking of a small piece of hard bread in a "Lord's Supper" service.
   Now back to verse 7. The activities mentioned here during the first day of the week started at sunset, before midnight, and continued to daybreak, at which time Paul departed.
   What period of time was this, according to the time commonly used today? It started at sunset Saturday night, continued to midnight Saturday night and ended at about daybreak Sunday morning! Otherwise, it would not have been the first day of the week, but some other day of the week.

Paul worked on Sunday!

   Then what did Paul do, starting about daybreak Sunday morning? The next verses tell us that he journeyed on foot from Troas to Assos, which was a distance of about 18 to 20 miles! The day portion of Sunday was a workday to Paul, not a day of religious worship.
   This passage in no way refers to religious services on the day part of Sunday. It only recounts unusual circumstances for Paul and the church at Troas during what is today commonly called Saturday night.
   Outside of the four gospels, the 10th place that refers to the Sabbath is Colossians 2:16-17. This is a favorite text of some who claim the Sabbath was done away: "Therefore let no man judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."
   Some interpret this text to say, "You shall not keep the Sabbath." But it says no such thing! It says that we are not to let men judge us about the things mentioned. Apparently, some people were judging the Christians at Colosse about these things. Who were the Colossians and what were they being judged about?
   The people at Colosse were uncircumcised gentiles who had been converted to Christianity (verse 13). They had observed the religious holidays and rest days of the pagans. They now learned true Christian observance and customs. The people who were now judging or condemning them (verses 8, 18-23) had a false humility based on some form of asceticism or self-denial.
   These opponents were criticizing the people in the Church for what the Church members were eating and drinking on "sabbaths." These "sabbaths" are a "shadow of things to come" (verse 17). The weekly Sabbath is a memorial of creation and a picture of the millennial rest or seventh 1,000-year period in God's plan of salvation.
   The translation in the Authorized Version of the Bible is misleading in verse 17 because of the added word is. In the Authorized Version this word is in italics, which means there is no equivalent word in the Greek manuscripts from which it was translated. The translators have added the word in the belief that this would make the meaning clearer. Exactly the opposite is true. The phrase should properly read "but the body of Christ."

Who is to judge?

   What is the "body of Christ"? Chapter 1, verse 18, answers, "And He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church." In other words, the Body of Christ is that body of believers, the Church, who are doing the same work that the literal "body of Christ" did during His three-and-a-half-year ministry on earth almost 2,000 years ago.
   In summary, these two verses say, "Don't let anyone else judge you in what you eat or drink on the Sabbath, but instead, let the Church judge!" The Colossians needed to look to the Church for such guidance, not religious ascetics who were judging or condemning them.
   When we understand what Paul was writing about here, it becomes evident that these gentile Christians, who knew nothing of God's Sabbath, had now learned about the Sabbath days and, more important, were keeping them. If they were not, no one would have been judging them about how the Sabbaths were observed.
   We have now seen the 10 places referring to the Sabbath, and one referring to the first day of the week. But there is one more text, and only one, that mentions the first day of the week. Here it is: "On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come" (I Cor. 16:2).

Is this a Sunday-morning church collection?

   Some people believe this is an example of taking up collections for the Church during Sunday services. Is that what this text says? The facts are surprising!
   First, notice that this is a collection for the saints, not for the Church: "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also" (verse 1).
   Further, it was specifically for the saints in Jerusalem (verse 3). And Paul had already instructed the churches in Galatia (now a part of Turkey) concerning this same collection (verse 1).
   This collection required someone to travel with the collection to Jerusalem. The collection also required "gatherings" (verse 2, Authorized Version), which were to be done before — not after — Paul arrived.
   You will learn more about this special collection in Acts 11:27-30, Romans 15:25-28, II Corinthians 8 and 9 and elsewhere.
   Putting all these details together, we see that there had been a famine in Judea and that the saints there were in need of food. Paul in this passage was instructing the people in the church at Corinth to satisfy this need by sending food in the form of fruit and vegetables.
   When were they to do the labor and work of picking or gathering this food? On the first day of the week! The first day of the week, then, was a workday, not a day of religious worship and rest.

What is the "Lord's day"?

   Some have assumed that the Sabbath was changed to the "Lord's Day," which they assume is Sunday. What does the Bible say on this subject?
   The only place in the whole Bible where this day is mentioned is in Revelation 1:10: "I was In the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet."
   Notice that this does not specify what day is the Lord's Day, only that John was "in the Spirit" on this day. It does not say that he had all of the vision and wrote all of the material for this book on one day of the week. If that was the meaning, it would have been a monumental task for one day!
   If he were talking about a day of the week, a 24-hour day, what day would he be talking about? If we let the Bible interpret the Bible, we should look at all the scriptures referring to the first day of the week. Do any of them say that God or Christ is Lord of that day? No!
   If we look at all the scriptures about the Sabbath, we find that Christ was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) and that God said the Sabbath was His holy day (Isa. 58:13). Therefore if we use the scriptures, rather than human reasoning, we could only conclude, if we are talking about a day of the week, that the Lord's Day is the Sabbath or Saturday.
   But the apostle John was not talking in Revelation 1:1 a about a day of the week. He was talking prophetically of the Day of the Lord (another term for "Lord's Day," meaning the same thing). The Day of the Lord is what a large part of prophecy, including much of the book of Revelation, is all about. It is the day of God's wrath, when He finally intervenes in the affairs of this world to humble the world and bring human beings to repentance.
   From Revelation 6:17 to the end of the book we read about events during the Day of the Lord. It was that time period that John saw in vision. Therefore the Lord's Day is not Sunday!

Why not remember?

   From all of these texts about the Sabbath, the first day of the week and the Lord's Day, one thing should be evident: The Sabbath was not a major issue during this time. There was no Sabbath question! The apostles and New Testament Church observed the Sabbath instead of Sunday as a day of rest and worship. There was no change in the day of worship for the true Church during this time.
   Obviously, a change has taken place during the last 1,900 years, but not in God's Church! The change took place later and was brought about by a different church only calling itself Christian and described in Revelation 17 and 18 as a "great harlot"!
   We have seen that Christ kept the Sabbath. The early apostles kept the Sabbath, and taught both Jewish and gentile converts to keep the Sabbath. Elsewhere the Bible shows that the faithful kept the Sabbath from the time of Genesis 2:2-3 onward. We could also read in the prophecies that the Sabbath will be kept during the Millennium.
   Since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8) and God says "I do not change" (Mal. 3:6), why not keep God's Sabbath holy today? Why not "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8), even though the world, including a lot of religious people, has forgotten?

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Good News MagazineJune-July 1983VOL. XXX, NO. 6
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