Apostolic NT Practices

Ted Noel

Since we have found that the texts purported to support Sunday observance are incapable of withstanding examination, what evidence do we have of Sabbath observance? Is the NT as silent about Sabbath as it is about Sunday? Or did the apostles leave a record of their Sabbath-keeping?

Acts 17:17

17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

Paul was in Athens, and his time in the synagogue would have been on Sabbath, since that is when the Jews would go to the synagogue. We should note that Luke refers to “God-fearing Gentiles“. These would be converts to Judaism (the original faith in God, not the Pharisaic substitute). They also attended the Sabbath services. Paul was also ready to witness at any moment about the gospel wherever he was, which commonly was the marketplace during the week.

Acts 20:6,16 (on either side of the story of Eutychus mentioned earlier).

6 And we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.

16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus in order that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

1 Corinthians 16:8

8 But I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost;

These texts show that Paul paid special notice to the Mosaic festivals. In particular, we note that he observed Pentecost, which could not exist without the Sabbath. But Paul went further, taking a Nazarite vow. Acts 18:18

18 And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquila. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut, for he was keeping a vow.

He also underwent ritual purification at the Temple. Acts 21:26

26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple, giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

While these specific events show Paul’s respect for Jewish holy days (some of which could not exist without the Sabbath) and traditions, they do not mention the Sabbath. We have to look further. Acts 17:1-2.

1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.
2
And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

It was Paul’s custom to worship in the synagogue on Sabbath. Here we see specific mention of three Sabbaths. This is three more Sabbaths of worship than we have seen Sundays of worship in the NT. We should note that the Greek used for “according to Paul’s custom” is identical with Luke’s usage in Luke 4:16 regarding Jesus’ custom.

16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.

Acts 18:4,11

4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Paul is here recorded as teaching in the synagogue for seventy five Sabbaths! Not once is he recorded as observing Sunday. Not only is he teaching Jews, he is teaching Greeks, who must be converts to the Jewish faith. Clearly, the apostolic church observed Sabbath. This sabbatarianism was widely known. Acts 13:42-44

42 And as Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath.
43
Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.
44
And the next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of God.

The people of Pisidian Antioch had to have been told that the church meeting would be on Sabbath. Otherwise, how would they have known to assemble on Sabbath? And if the apostolic church did not meet on Sabbath, why would they hold a special meeting on Sabbath? The answer clearly is, Sabbath observance was the custom. We know that (Acts 15) a special meeting of the elders of the church was called to deal with certain elements of church teaching. This Jerusalem council was important enough to discuss at length, but the day on which it is held is not mentioned. Yet, every time the Sabbath enters teaching or worship, it is specifically mentioned. We must also consider the Sunday thesis. If the apostles visited the Jews on Sabbath and held their own worship on Sunday, then they would have invited everyone to come the next day, on Sunday, and would not have waited until the next Sabbath. The account in Acts would have reflected this. But since it does not, we must conclude that the apostles kept the Sabbath.

One final point which requires investigation is the record of teaching by the apostles. We have seen how the apostles kept Sabbath. But, did they teach their converts to keep Sabbath? What record exists?

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