CHAPTER 9: How the apostles and early Christians observed the
Testament Scriptures indicate that, after Jesus’ ascension, the apostles
continued observing the Sabbath day. They worshipped in synagogues and other meeting
places, taking the opportunity to preach God’s word to Jews and Gentiles alike.
The new converts also followed this practice. In short, Sabbath-keeping was the
norm for the early church.
9.2 Two Sabbaths in Pisidian Antioch
passage: Acts 13:14–51
they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and
sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the
synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of
exhortation for the people, say on.”
As part of
his first missionary journey (circa AD
46–48), Paul travelled with Barnabas to Antioch in Pisidia
(present-day Turkey). On arrival, they entered a synagogue and sat down to
listen to the reading of the Law and the Prophets. Afterwards, the rulers of
the synagogue invited them to speak. Taking this opportunity, Paul stood up to
preach Jesus Christ. The Book of Acts records the reaction of some of the
people: “And when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that
these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42). In
addition, many of the Jews and proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas (Acts
next Sabbath, a great crowd gathered: “And the next Sabbath almost the whole
city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the
multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they
opposed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:44–45).
response of Paul and Barnabas was to declare that, even though the Jews had the
privilege of hearing the gospel first, it would now be preached to the
Gentiles. On hearing these words, the Gentiles were filled with joy, and many
believed. In contrast, the Jews became angry and stirred up the eminent people
of the city, with the outcome that Paul and Barnabas were expelled from the
region. The latter “shook off the dust from their feet against them” and moved
on to Iconium (Acts 13:51). Despite the hostile
send-off, Paul and Barnabas later made a courageous return journey for the sake
of the new converts (Acts 14:21–23).
episode, we note that Paul and Barnabas observed the Sabbath. Moreover, it was
also the practice of the Gentile believers. We see no evidence, either from the
Book of Acts or from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (which he wrote to the
churches in this region), that the new converts replaced the Sabbath with
9.3 A Sabbath in Philippi
passage: Acts 16:12–15
passage, we see Paul and Silas embarking upon a second missionary journey,
during the course of which they came to Philippi in Macedonia: “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). It was here that the word of God touched the heart of Lydia, a seller
of purple cloth from Thyatira. The outcome was that both she and her household
received water baptism.
event, we learn that the Sabbath was being kept by faithful worshippers in a
Gentile land, despite the absence of a synagogue. Pertinently, Paul and
Silas—two key workers of the church—upheld the custom, and we see no evidence
that they instituted a new practice of Sunday observance.
9.4 Sabbaths in
passage: Acts 17:1–4
passage records Paul and Silas arriving in Thessalonica: “Now when they had
passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia,
they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul,
as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them
from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1–2).
attended the synagogue for three Sabbaths in Thessalonica, taking the
opportunity to preach the gospel. The result was that a number of people
believed, including some devout Greeks and a few leading women.
9.5 Sabbaths in Corinth
passage: Acts 18:1–4
Corinth, Paul became acquainted with two Jews, Aquila and Priscilla, who were
tentmakers. He stayed with them and spent every Sabbath in the synagogue,
reasoning with both Jews and Greeks.
9.6 Sabbath observance was
the norm in the apostolic church
passage: Acts 15:1–29
apostolic church, Sabbath-keeping was normal practice. This fact is revealed in
Acts 15 which records an interesting debate.
after the first missionary journey, some Jewish Christians from Judea came to
Antioch with an erroneous message for the Gentile converts. The Book of Acts
records: “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless
you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’
Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with
them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should
go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question” (Acts
the restrained language of the writer, it is evident that the debate concerning
circumcision developed into a major issue. Moreover, it could not be resolved
locally and had to be referred to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. It was
there that Peter, Paul and Barnabas were called to
present their case.
end, James made this conclusion:
I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning
to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols,
from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has
had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read
in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
apostles and elders followed up with a letter detailing their decision, which
was dispatched to the church in Antioch via Paul, Barnabas, Judas and
From this biblical
account, we gain some important insights. Firstly, we note that the Jewish
Christians from Judea had been arguing about circumcision specifically: they
were convinced that this practice was still necessary for salvation and imposed
their belief on the Gentile converts (Acts 15:1). However, it is pertinent to
note that they had not raised another issue that would have been equally close
to their hearts—the Sabbath. This leads us to understand that the Gentile
converts were observing the Sabbath at that time; otherwise, its negligence
would certainly have caught the attention of the Jewish brethren.
James mentioned the age-old custom of reading from the Books of Moses on the
Sabbath day (Acts 15:21), indicating that this was normal practice in the time
of the early church. Hence, in the Book of Acts, there are many references to
Jews, proselytes (Acts 13:16, 26, 43), Christians (Acts 2:46), workers of God
(Acts 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4) and God-fearing Gentiles (Acts 17:1–4, 12,
17; 18:4) all observing the Sabbath in this manner.
conclusion, the apostles were evidently Sabbath-keepers. They observed this day
faithfully wherever they travelled to, whether it was a predominantly Jewish
area or a Gentile land, and regardless of whether
there was a synagogue or not. Importantly, they led the new Christians
converts, including those from Gentile backgrounds, to do likewise.
© January 2012 True Jesus Church.