9. The Sabbath During the Lives of the Apostles
THE Acts of the Apostles is supposed to have been written more than thirty years after the resurrection of Christ. The book contains the principal historical facts regarding the apostolic church in the days when the Christian church was in a condition of the greatest purity and most glorious success. It has been an invaluable treatise to all Christians for eighteen centuries. In it is given a practical illustration of the principles of gospel religion, exemplified in the labors of all the apostles, and it is in this book that we obtain a view of their understanding of Christ’s teaching. For they continued to teach and enforce what they had learned from him. They did not claim to originate new doctrines. They were to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel” that they had learned from Christ.
What was their attitude toward the Sabbath? Did they treat it as an existing institution, as sacred writers in the Old Testament treated it, and as Christ and themselves had done previous to the resurrection? Or did they call the first day of the week the Sabbath, and enforce that as a new institution, to take the place of the ancient Sabbath? Most certainly, if Sunday did thus enter into the place of the creation Sabbath at the resurrection of Christ, the historical record of the first thirty years would give many instances where this new Sabbath is observed, and it would narrate conflicts between the adherents of the new day and the old, and tell of the struggles this new day had to obtain a position as a Sabbath. We should have statements concerning the efforts of leading men in the church to instruct the people concerning the importance of their keeping sacredly the new day, and have many references to it. We should have some command given concerning it, and plain statements of its binding obligation.
Such was the case with other ordinances, doctrines, and requirements which came into force with the gospel dispensation. For example, notice baptism. Christ commands it. Matthew 28:18; Mark 16:16. St. Peter does the same. Acts 2:38, 10:48. Many instances of its performance are given in which the mode, administration, and necessity of it are intimated. Acts 8:12, 36-38; 16:33; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12, etc. The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ himself, and commanded by divine authority. Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-17; I Corinthians 11:20-26. Other illustrations of the same principle might be presented.
Do we find such illustrations of the obligation of Sunday-keeping? All its adherents claim that it originated with the Christian dispensation. Not a single command can be found for it, not an instance where it was observed as a Sabbath, not a hint that Christ bestowed upon it any sanctity. Indeed, it is mentioned only once in the whole book of Acts:
“We sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow, and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep; and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted. And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul; for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot. And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene.”
We give this narrative in full, because it is considered by first day observers as one of the strongest evidences in behalf of Sunday. This is the only instance given in the New Testament where a religious meeting is said to have been held on the first day of the week.
We learn from this scripture and its connection the following facts: This was a night meeting, “many lights” being necessary, as it continued till daybreak. Eutychus fell out of the window about midnight, Paul went down and healed him, after which he continued to speak till daylight, then departed on his journey to Assos, nineteen and a half miles across the peninsula. Luke and his companions, with the ship, “went before,” i.e., started earlier, intending to go around this point of land, and take in Paul when he reached Assos. In this way Paul gained several hours in which he could speak to the disciples.
To understand this narrative correctly, it becomes important to ascertain whether this meeting occurred on what we now call Saturday night or on Sunday night. It is very easily shown that it must have been the former. We have already stated that in the Bible reckoning of time the civil day began at the going down of the sun. “The evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5), and the same statement is made of other days of creation week also. The Bible is consistent with itself throughout on this subject, and it is impossible to find in it any other time for beginning the civil day. “From even unto even shall you celebrate your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:32. The Sabbath began at the same time as the other days. The evening began at the going down of the sun. “At even, when the sun did set.” Mark 1:32.
No intelligent person will dispute the fact that the Jews, from time immemorial to the present day, have begun the civil day at the going down of the sun. The Bible Dictionary of the American Tract Society says, “The Hebrews began their day in the evening.” We use Roman time, which came into vogue among Christians some centuries this side of the Christian era.
What, then, must we conclude? In order for this night meeting to have been on the first day of the week, it would have to be on what we call Saturday night. That first day began at sundown. These facts, then, must follow: Paul traveled on foot to Assos, nineteen and one-half miles, during the daytime of that Sunday; and Luke and his companions spent still more of the hours of that day in traveling to the same point by ship. This conclusion is inevitable from the record, so plain, indeed, that a large number of first-day observers have felt compelled to admit its truthfulness. We quote from a few of them as follows:
H. B. Hackett, D. D., Professor of Biblical Literature in Newton Theological Institute, in his comments on Acts 20:7, says: “The Jews reckoned the day [in its broad sense, Genesis 1:5] from evening to evening. And on that principle the evening of the first day of the week would be our Saturday evening. If Luke reckons so here, as many commentators suppose, the apostle then waited for the expiration of the Jewish Sabbath, and held his last religious service with the brethren at Troas at the beginning of the Christian Sabbath, i.e., on Saturday evening, and consequently resumed his journey on Sunday morning.” Prof. Hackett tries, however, to make it appear that Luke reckons according to the pagan method in this instance.
Dr. John Kitto says: “The evening of the first day of the week would be our Saturday evening. If Luke reckoned so here, as many commentators suppose, the apostle then waited for the expiration of the Jewish Sabbath, and held his last religions service with the brethren at Troas at the beginning of the Christian Sabbath i.e., on Saturday evening, and consequently resumed his journey on Sunday morning.” (Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, art. Lord’s Day.)
In Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul, it is said, speaking of this meeting, “It was the evening which succeeded the Jewish Sabbath. On the Sunday morning the vessel was about to sail.” And of the journey that day it says: “He [Paul] pursued his lonely road that Sunday afternoon in spring, among the oak woods and the streams of Ida.”(People’s Edition of 1878, page 629)
Professor McGarvey, of the Disciple (Church of Christ) denomination, says: “I conclude, therefore, that the brethren met on the night after the Jewish Sabbath, which was still observed as a day of rest by all of them who were Jews or Jewish proselytes. And considering this the beginning of the first day of the week, spent it in the manner above described. On Sunday morning Paul and his companions resumed their journey.” (Commentary on Acts.)
Other authors might be quoted; but let it be noticed that these are all writers who observed Sunday themselves. They would not make these admissions unless their sense of truth required it. They express the fact that “many commentators hold the same opinion.” Professor McGarvey admits that all the Jewish disciples and proselytes still regarded the Sabbath sacredly as a day of rest. That was in the year 59, some twenty-six years after the resurrection. According to the Bible chronology, all the apostles, Paul included, with all the companions of Christ, still regarded the seventh day as sacred. Surely this is a good admission, coming from a first-day commentator. These apostles had not learned, then, that another Sabbath had taken its place.
We see, therefore, that this scripture, which on the whole is regarded as the strongest text to be found in the Bible in behalf of Sunday, proves just the opposite from what it is cited to prove. This instance is really the second mention of the first day of the week we have seen thus far in the historical record, the day of Christ’s resurrection being the first, on which some of the disciples walked fifteen miles. It is strange that such instances should ever be thought to furnish evidence in behalf of the institution of a new Sabbath.
Should any desire to imitate apostolic example concerning Sunday, they should hold meetings on Saturday night, and work during the light part of the day; for this is precisely what Paul and his companions did.
I Corinthians 16:1, 2
We have now noticed every instance where the first day of the week is mentioned in the New Testament, excepting one, which we here present: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”
This scripture is claimed as evidence for Sunday on the ground that public collections were taken up on that day, hence there must have been public meetings held, and therefore the first day of the week was the day for public assemblies of Christians. But does this language say that public collections were taken up on the first day of the week? The whole question turns upon the expression, “lay by him in store.” Would the act of taking money from the purse or pocket and placing it in a box or plate, be laying by him, i.e., by himself? Most certainly it would be just the opposite; it would be putting the money away from himself. The money would be gone. This is evidently an act to be done, not in a public gathering, but at home. This is most certainly the meaning of the original Greek. Various translations collected by J. W. Morton, late Presbyterian missionary to Hayti, read as follows:
“Greenfield, in his Lexicon, translates the Greek term, ‘by one’s self, i.e., at home.’ Two Latin versions, the Vulgate and that of Castellio, render it ‘with one’s self, at home.’ Three French translations, those of Martin, Osterwald, and De Sacy, ‘at his own house, at home.’ The German of Luther, ‘by himself, at home.’ The Dutch the same as the German. The Italian of Diodati, ‘in his own presence, at home.’ The Spanish of Felipe Scio, ‘in his own house.’ The Portuguese of Ferreira, ‘with himself.’ The Swedish, ‘near himself.’ Dr. Bloomfield renders it ‘by him, Fr., chez soi, at home.’ (The Douay Bible.) ‘Let every one of you put apart with himself.’ Dr. Justin Edwards, in his Family Testament of the American Tract Society, page 286, thus gives it, “Lay by himself in store; at home; that there be no gatherings; that their gifts might be ready when the apostle should come.”
Surely all these authorities, and others which might be cited, are sufficient to settle the question beyond all controversy, that no public collection was intended, but on the contrary that the act required was to be done at home.
Again, the act required is not such a one as would be consistent with Sabbath sacredness. They were to lay by them on the first day of the week as God had prospered them. To tell how God had prospered them during the week past, if a business man, would necessitate the reckoning of accounts. Our first-day friends would hardly relish the idea of finding some of their church members who were merchants, busy reckoning up columns of figures to ascertain their amount of prosperity during the past week, on what they call the “Christian Sabbath.” Yet this is precisely what this command of the great apostle to “lay by him in store, as God had prospered him,” would necessitate in the case of any one who had large business transactions.
Here we see the same fact stated which has been apparent in the other cases where the first day of the week is mentioned. Secular labor is spoken of as being done on that day; and in this last instance the apostle required it. Surely this is not consistent with Sabbath holiness. We therefore conclude that this last mention of the first day utterly fails to prove the practice of holding religions meetings on the first day of the week in the apostolic age, and fails to give the slightest sanction to any claim of sacredness.
Acts 13:4, 42, 44
We next notice references made to the Bible Sabbath during the days of the apostles. “When they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down.” Acts 13:14. After this Paul gave a masterly discourse to those assembled proving that Jesus is the Christ. We learn from this scripture that the day St. Luke called the Sabbath some twelve years after, which many claim had been changed, was still the seventh day, the very day when the Jews met in their synagogues. At the close of this discourse, we read: “When the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath: . . . and the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” Acts 13:42, 44. Here again the inspired word of God positively declares that the seventh day, on which the Jews met in their synagogues, was the Sabbath day in the year A.D. 45.
We are well aware how first-day advocates try to avoid the force of this argument by saying, “It was the Jewish Sabbath, of course,” and “the apostles went into the synagogue to preach, simply because they could not get opportunity to speak to the Jews any other day,” “the apostles did not hold religious meetings with the Gentiles on the Jewish Sabbath,” etc. But the very fact that these men in every case place the word “Jewish “before the word “Sabbath,” when speaking of the seventh day of the week, as a term of reproach, while they speak of the first day of the week as the Sabbath, without any such qualifying phrase, shows the sense in which they speak of that day, as distinguished from the manner in which the inspired writers speak of it many years this side of the cross. Why did not St. Luke speak of the day as the “Jewish Sabbath,” if his practice then was the same as that of many Christian ministers now? We could not persuade these estimable men to speak of the seventh day as the Sabbath day before their congregations in public. They never do it. They would feel at once that all who heard them would draw the conclusion that they considered it a sacred day, should they do so. The observers of the seventh always call it “the Sabbath day,” because they regard it as such.
How shall we explain the fact that St. Luke, whenever he has occasion to speak of the seventh day Sabbath, always calls it by the same name that its modern observers do, and never the Jewish Sabbath, except on the supposition that he observed it himself, and considered no other day of the week the Sabbath day. This writer was a Christian, writing for the Christian dispensation. He calls those institutions which he names, what they really are. He always calls the seventh day, when he has occasion to speak of it, “the Sabbath,” just as writers had been doing for four thousand years, showing that no change had occurred.
He never in a single instance calls the first day of the week by any such title, or by any sacred title whatever. Yet many good people believe that he had been keeping the first day of the week as the Sabbath for thirty years, and not keeping the seventh day as such. We leave it for first-day observers to explain such inconsistency.
We next notice the claim that the apostles did not hold meetings on the seventh-day Sabbath, except with the Jews, for the sake of reaching them. Acts 13:42 implies that this meeting on the first Sabbath mentioned, was a mixed meeting of Jews and Gentiles; for the latter requested that these words might be repeated to them on the next Sabbath. This shows at least that they were somewhat conversant with the discourse. What an excellent opportunity this presented to the apostle to inform them of the first day Sabbath, if there had been any instituted! How readily our modern ministers would have remarked, “You need not wait a whole week: tomorrow is the Christian’s Sabbath, the day in which we instruct the Gentiles.” But not a word of this do we find. They waited a whole week; then nearly the whole city turned out to hear the gospel. Luke says it was “the next Sabbath day” when this great gathering occurred. It was evidently a week later than the other meeting. If it was the next Sabbath day, then most certainly Sunday was not a Sabbath day. Here was a Gentile meeting on the Sabbath day, and no one can truthfully deny it. Here we have two consecutive Sabbath days in which the great apostle held religious services, instructing far more Gentiles than Jews.
“On the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to, be made; and we sat down and spoke unto the women which resorted thither.” Here we have another religious meeting of the apostle to the Gentiles, in the Gentile city of Philippi, on the seventh-day Sabbath. As the Greek language puts it, it was “the Sabbath day,” so called by a Christian writer.
Acts 17:1, 2
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.”
Twenty years after the resurrection we have another in stance, in a Gentile city, of Paul’s using the ancient Sabbath as a day for religious meetings, and of Luke’s declaring to the Christian world that the day in which the Jews met in their synagogues was still the Sabbath day of Holy Writ.
Another very significant remark made by the historian is that it was “Paul’s manner” thus to use the Sabbath day for religious teaching. In this respect he followed Christ’s example perfectly. The same writer declares that it was our Savior’s “custom” to do the same thing. Luke 4:16. All agree that our Lord in doing this was keeping the Sabbath commandment, and showing proper respect for the worship of God on that day. The Sabbath was ordained for that purpose, as a day for religious worship. It would be impossible to show a particle of difference between Paul’s “manner” of treating the Sabbath and Christ’s “custom.” They pursued the same course toward the Sabbath, because their relation to Jehovah’s rest-day was just the same. It was the day appointed for religious instruction. It was obligatory in both cases.
Another very significant point in connection with this text of scripture, is the fact that here we have an account of the origin of the Thessalonian church, to which Paul addressed one of his epistles. We cannot question but that the members of this church were observers of the seventh-day Sabbath. Paul, in his letter to them, uses this language: “You, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus.” You became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost, so that you were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” I Thessalonians 2:14; 1:6, 7. Jesus declared, “I have kept my Father’s commandments.” St. Paul, when he arrived in Rome A.D. 62, called the “chief of the Jews together,” and said unto them, “I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers.” Acts 28:17. None will deny that the observance of the Sabbath was one of these “customs.” Hence we are forced to conclude that Paul kept the Sabbath.
These Thessalonian brethren followed Paul and Christ; therefore they also were observers of the Sabbath. The brethren of Macedonia and Achaia followed the same example. The churches of Judea even, according to the admission of many first-day commentators, still kept the Sabbath. We see, therefore, that the early Gentile Christians imitated them in this practice. We note, also, this fact, which is brought to view in the text we are considering: here were three more Sabbath days in which Paul held religious meetings, making six, with the three previously mentioned.
Acts 18:4, 11
We next notice Paul’s visit to Corinth. “He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks . . . And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.”
Paul taught for a portion of the time in the synagogue; but after the Jews “opposed,” he continued to teach the people at the home of Justus, “whose house joined hard to the synagogue.” The record states that he reasoned in the synagogue, teaching Gentiles as well as Jews “every Sabbath,” and that he continued in the synagogue and the house which “joined hard to” it, a year and six months. There would be seventy-eight Sabbaths in that period, these, with the six previously noted, would make some eighty-four Sabbaths in which Luke records the fact of Paul’s holding meetings in Gentile cities with both “Jews and Greeks.” Paul was the great apostle to the Gentiles: and all these instances of Sabbath meetings mentioned, occurred in Gentile cities and not in Judah. Is not this significant? It would have been much more easy to explain away, if it had been in the Jews’ own country where all these meetings on the Sabbath occurred. We find no instances in which any secular work occurred in connection with any of these Sabbath meetings, no long journeys traveled, no reckoning of accounts.
Sunday observers cite Paul’s night meeting in Acts 20, and dwell upon it with much satisfaction. Yet he and his companions used the light part of that day for ordinary secular business. One night meeting they consider strong evidence for first day sacredness. Yet that very instance really counts more for the Sabbath than for the first day; for the disciples remained there over the Sabbath, and as soon as the light of the first day dawned, they started on their long journey toward Jerusalem. They did not start on the Sabbath, but they did on Sunday. Doubtless the reason why that night meeting was mentioned, was the remarkable occurrence of raising the dead man Eutychus. This was one of the greatest miracles that Paul ever wrought.
But here we have scores of religious meetings on a day which Inspiration declares to be the Sabbath, in which Jews and Gentiles are instructed in the truths of the gospel; and yet men teach that it was not the Sabbath day, but the first, which is never in a single instance called the Sabbath. So hard is it to see a truth which involves a cross.
“The Lord’s Day” Revelation 1:10
We next notice a text which is claimed by first-day observers as evidence in behalf of Sunday, but which we claim affords excellent proof in behalf of the Lord’s holy Sabbath. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind be a great voice, as of a trumpet.”
This language is supposed to have been written in the year A.D. 96, sixty-five years after the resurrection of Christ. It is claimed that by the term “Lord’s Day” is meant the first day of the week, the day on which our Savior rose from the dead. But the very point to be proved is assumed. We want evidence of a substantial character that the first day of the week is the “Lord’s Day.” Not a hint from the Scriptures is ever cited to prove this important point. No sacred writer ever calls it such. In every case where it is mentioned, as we have seen in eight instances, it has the same secular title. St. John himself, in writing his Gospel, some two or three years later than the book of Revelation was written, as is generally supposed, calls it twice “the first day of the week.” John 20:1, 19. If he had intended the first day of the week to be understood by the term “Lord’s Day,” why did he not call it so still later when he wrote his Gospel?
No good reason can be assigned for calling it the Lord’s Day. The Lord never intimated any more regard for it than for any other secular day. The fact that he rose from the dead on it does not entitle it to any higher regard from us than the sixth day, the day of his crucifixion, the one on which our salvation was purchased by his spilt blood. Or Thursday, the day on which he ascended, to become our high priest. Not one well-authenticated instance can be found where Sunday was ever called the Lord’s Day before the year A.D. 194, just about one hundred years later than the time when this was written by St. John—a point where Christianity had become much corrupted.
We confidently claim that this “Lord’s Day” is God’s holy Sabbath day. For four thousand years it had been constantly recognized as a day peculiarly sacred to the Lord. He rested upon it, and set it apart to a holy use, placing his blessing upon it. Genesis 2:3. In the law of God he said, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. . . . The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. . . . The Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11. The prophet says, “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day.” Isaiah 58:13. Surely this language unmistakably identifies which day is “the Lord’s Day.” It can be none other than the one he has always claimed.
But it is sometimes objected that in the original Greek, the term “Lord” used in the text refers to Christ, and not to God the Father; that it is not Jehovah’s day, but a special day which Christ claims as his own. Very well; of what day does Christ claim to be the Lord? “The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:28. Is not the day of which Christ says he is Lord, the Lord’s Day? So we believe. Does he anywhere say he is Lord of the first day of the week? Not a text is ever quoted by any one to show it. We therefore conclude that the day on which St. John had this heavenly vision was the Lord’s holy Sabbath, the seventh day. Let it be noticed by all that at the very close of the first century of the Christian era, the Lord has a day which he still calls his own, which we have shown to be the holy Sabbath. All days, then, are not alike. God claims at the very close of the canon of inspiration, in the book of Revelation, as he did at its beginning, in the book of Genesis, that one day is his own.
The Sabbath in the New Earth
We will quote one text more concerning the time the holy Sabbath will continue, with which to close the Biblical argument of this question: “As the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, says the Lord.” Isaiah 66:22, 23. The new heavens and the new earth are created a thousand years after the coming of Christ. II Peter 3:8-13; Revelation 20:4-15; 21:1. The new earth will be the abode of the saved to all eternity. The holy city, the New Jerusalem, will be in it, and there, also, will be the tree of life, bearing its twelve manner of fruits, and yielding its fruit every month. Revelation 22:2. To this blessed metropolis of the new creation will the saints of God come each month, to partake of its fruits, and each week, on the holy Sabbath, to worship God.
That blessed day which God set apart at creation to serve as a memorial of the works of the Creator, will be still more gladly kept when sin and the curse have been forever abolished. Why should not this blessed institution forever exist as a reminder of the glory of God in creation? Nothing could be more fitting. The word of God positively declares that the holy Sabbath—that Sabbath with which the prophet Isaiah was well acquainted, will be kept in the new heavens and the new earth.
What, then, is the conclusion which the Scriptures compel us to make in reference to the continuance of the Bible Sabbath? The great majority of Christians admit that for four thousand years the seventh day was the only weekly Sabbath. Here we find the same day being kept in Eden restored, continuing to all eternity. Can we suppose that an intermission of about two thousand years occurred between these two eternities? And that another Sabbath was set up to take the place of this great memorial of the work of Christ and Jehovah, which God has ordained to be kept in the eternal world? Can we think such an event probable? Such a conclusion would be unphilosophical, absurd, and preposterous.
The prophet of God in holy vision beholds the Sabbath of the Lord carried far beyond this world of sin. Thus the Holy Scriptures place the seventh-day Sabbath like a grand arch at the beginning of the race of man, spanning the six thousand years of human probation, and reaching into a renovated world after sin is forever destroyed. No place is left for another weekly Sabbath to come in. Few realize the vast importance of the Sabbath institution. It is the golden clasp which binds man to his Maker. It keeps in memory the true God as the creator of all things. Had man always observed it in the true spirit, idolatry could never have had an existence.