An Often Misunderstood Scripture

“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” (Acts 20:7).

Many have been taught, or accepted by tradition, that the Bible says Sunday is a day of worship.  Christ strongly warned about errant tradition (Matt. 15:6, Mark 7:13).  Christ’s strongest condemnations were reserved for those who distorted the Truth of God, while compelling others to accept their errors (Matt. 23:13-36).

In this case, theologians claim that this scripture substantiates their believe that upon the death and resurrection of Christ, the Sabbath was changed to Sunday.

But, is that what the Scriptures say; or, what this Scripture in particular, says?

Fundamental Principles of Bible Study

“. . . Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging . . . that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ” (Acts 17:2-3 – this in Thessalonica, just before Berea).

The Bereans “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).

The Bereans were intellectually honest, trusting in the Word of God to expound the Truth, to verify what Paul and Silas taught—whether it was true.  When Paul and Silas went to Berea, they also went into the synagogue of the Jews (Acts 17:10).

Jesus reminds us, ” . . . the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). One of the most fundamental rules of Bible study is that the Scriptures must be studied in full context.  . . . A primary stumbling block, is the failure to study “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10-13).

And the only Scriptures, that then existed, are now known as the Old Testament!

The Whole Word of God

Of Course, The complete context is the entire Word of God.  Again, as Jesus said, ” . . . the Scripture cannot be broken.” Indeed, the Scripture does not contradict itself.

The Fourth Commandment reads: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-10).

Has anything changed about the fact that “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is”? Has anything changed about the fact that the Lord “rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it”?

Human nature would like to believe that time, which God has sanctified and made Holy (Gen. 2:3), has now become profane; so that there is no obligation to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8).

Of course, one cannot keep something holy, unless it is, indeed, holy.

But what about the immediate context of Acts 20?

Some will insist that the New Testament is completely different than the Old Testament.  They will say “the law is done away” and that the New Testament Scriptures show that the disciples always met on the first day of the week, not the Sabbath.

Let us then, fully understand the historical context—and the immediate context of Acts chapter twenty

The Context of Acts, Paul’s Missionary Journeys

We have seen that Paul “as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures” (Acts 17:2). Some, of “the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few” (Acts 17:4), believed.

In Berea ”Therefore many of them believed; also…honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (Acts 17:12). Of the “women which were Greeks,” Strong’s points out the Meaning: 1) – Greek women 2) – Gentile women, not a Jewess.

In Corinth, “he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

Wouldn’t it be a bit odd, in Gentile country decades after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, to focus on a Sabbath-centric ministry, if the Sabbath were “done away” with?

The previous verses outline Paul’s acquaintance with Aquila and Priscilla.  Notice Acts 18:3 – “So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.” 

Paul worked while on this missionary journey!  He was a tentmaker by trade!  Those who labor, also need weekly day of rest!

The commandment says “Six days shalt thou labor and do all your work” (Ex. 20:9).  Thankfully, then comes the Sabbath rest.

Then, while still in Corinth, Paul “entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue.  And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:7-8).

“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.  And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11).

“(A)fter this (he) tarried there yet a good while . . . then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria” (Acts 18:18).

Based on Paul’s custom of preaching on the Sabbath—his time in Corinth represents well over 75 Sabbathsspentpreaching!

“And he came to Ephesus, and left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will.  And he sailed from Ephesus” (Acts 18:19-21).

The context and chronology of Paul’s missionary journeys indicate that most likely this was the Feast of Tabernacles AD 52.

Some commentators seem to have difficulty in truly understanding, or explaining, Paul’s activities;  they ask why would he meet on the Sabbaths?  And why would he go to Jerusalem to keep a feast?

The plain understanding is that Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), and Who is the very one that gave the law at Sinai and IS the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:4, Col. 1:16-17), has not changed the times that He sanctified and set apart and made holy.  He did become our Sacrificethereby rendering the Sacrificial System obsolete (Heb. 7:12, 24; 8:13), and He has fulfilled the magnification of the Law to its full Spiritual dimension (Isa. 42:21, Matt. 5, 6, 7).

This simply means that we now worship God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24) rather than via physical rituals (Heb. 9:10).  The law of sacrifices and offerings were not the way to spiritually approach or to truly obey God (Heb. 10:5-10, Psalm 40:6-8). Yet, doing God’s willtrue spiritual obedience, from the heartis what God desires. This is what true spiritual conversion is.

The Greek indicates that he must, by all means, “Appear—in public,” and “celebrate” this Feast (in Jerusalem).

The understood reality, is that Paul did make it, to observe this Feast, and then returned to Asia and Ephesus (Acts 19:1).

After Paul again travels throughout much of Asia Minor, strengthening the disciples, we finally come to Acts chapter 20.

The Immediate Context of Acts Chapter 20

After the terrible uproar in Ephesus (latter part of Acts 19), Paul comforts the disciples and heads for Macedonia (Acts 20:1)

Then, after spending three months in Greece, he then purposed to return (again) through Macedonia (Acts 20:2-3).  During this time he had been traveling with Timothy and several Greek Gentile believers—who had already gone ahead, and were waiting for Paul and Luke at Troas (Acts 20:4-5).

Note the “we” in vs. 6.  Luke is the author of Acts.  The plurality shows that at least Luke and Paul “sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days” (Acts 20:4-6).

As we approach the primary verse that we seek to understand, we find two significant indicators:

1) Paul, Luke and any others where were yet with them, stayed in Philippi until after the days of Unleavened Bread (v. 6).

2) Timothy and other disciples preceded Paul and Luke to Troas—planning to stay there until Luke and Paul would arrive.

Once again, the plain view of Paul’s activity shows that he and his disciples were keeping the weekly, and annual, Sabbaths! Paul, Luke and others kept the Days of Unleavened Bread in Philippi; while Timothy and the others who had gone ahead to Troas—naturally also kept the Days of Unleavened Bread.  They helped with the Holyday services for the brethren in Troas.

To those who understand the significance of the Holy Days, Annual Sabbaths God has ordained, this makes perfect sense.

The Holydays are sacred occasions.  Time, which God has ordained and set apart and made holy.  These occasions are also designed to remind us, and to keep us cognizant of, the very Plan of Salvation; the outline of revelation that God has given to His Church—to those called according to His plan and purpose (Rom. 8:28, 1 Pet. 1:12).

For deeper perspective, in the chapter “Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts” (Lev. 23:2 – all of Lev. 23); an attentive reader will note that the first of these “feasts of the LORD,” is the weekly Sabbath—followed by the seven annual Sabbaths.  Indeed, the weekly and annual Sabbaths are bound together!

Understanding Acts 20:7 in Light of Biblical Truth

There are so many Biblical truths conveyed in these few verses.  The understanding truly conveyed is profoundly revealing.

The very first part of the phrase “upon the first day of the week;” is actually: “in the first (day) after the Sabbath” in the Greek.  This very first part of the sentence references the Sabbath!

In fact, in Biblical parlance, first century Christians were so Sabbath-centric that all of the days of the week were indicated by and from the Sabbath!  The first day of the week was “the first (day) after the Sabbath.”  The second day of the week was “the second (day) after the Sabbath” and so forth. The sixth day of the week was “the sixth (day) after the Sabbath.”

Even in the Greek texts written to Greek (Gentile) readers, this was the way that the Disciples referred to days of the week.

So, “when the disciples came together to break bread” this was the “first day after the Sabbath.”

Could the Sabbath be “done away,” when it was used to refer to each and every day of the week and when Paul taught in the Synagogues on every Sabbath (Acts 18:4)?

Those who properly keep the Sabbath, who remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, know that the sixth day of the week is a preparation day.  Food, meals, are prepared and cooked in advance, before sundown, on the sixth day—so that what is needed for the Sabbath is fully prepared and ready!

There was no need to do any heavy lifting, kneading, cooking or baking on the Sabbath Day.  The Sabbath is truly a day of rest when meals are fully prepared; a blessing to allow focus on God to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) — a day that is sanctified and set apartwithout the distractions of common (work) activities or the business of a common day.

Likewise, those who keep the Sabbath know that the prepared food only goes so far—and that it is not until after sundown, at the end of the Sabbath, that one may prepare new meals.

We should remember, that in God’s calendar—days begin, and end—at sundown.  In this altered artificial world, it is easy to forget how God created and has ordained things to be . . . i.e. the way they really are (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 2:1-3).

It was typical to prepare new bread for baking, and fresh meat for cooking, after sundown.  And the term “break bread” meant exactly that.  The common term for eating a meal! 

What they did, was what was and is commonly done—they came together “to break bread”—to eat a freshly cooked meal!

But the Scripture then says that “Paul preached unto them . . . and continued his speech until midnight.”  What about that!?

The word “preached” is actually from the word to “converse, discourse, discuss, argue” – from the Greek word “dialegomai,” which is where we get our word “dialogue” from.

This was “dialogue.”  It was communication, discussion, a two-way discourse; not preaching a sermon—but full interactive communication, as naturally happens during a meal and during meaningful fellowship.

It is equally important to note that this was what is now called “Saturday night,” and was not a Sunday service.  This was a meal—an opportunity for further fellowship and communication about the Gospel, and with urgent continued discussion.

Why would Paul be so intent on making the most of this time with the disciples in Troas?  Paul only had one week with the brethren (Acts 20:6).  This is not really a lot of time, when one considers that Paul was building a foundation for the Church (1 Cor. 3:10).  It was vital that they learn, develop maturity, become fully aware of the adversary’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11-12).

Notice Acts 20:13 – “And we went before to ship”.  The other disciples had now left Paul.  They had gone to set sail for Assos.

Why?  They needed the ship for future travel, and Paul had instructed them to pick him up there, in Assos—for he had made up his mind to go on foot!

In a moment we will see the logic of Paul’s decision. But let’s notice what happens next:

“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.” (Acts 20:8-10).

Let’s realize the magnitude of what just happened here. They were talking until midnight, and a young man – a boy – Eutychus, fell asleep and fell out of a window sill.  It was a very long drop.  The boy was “taken up dead.”  But Paul “fell on him”—which means to rush or press upon him, and he “embraced him”—which means “to embrace completely.”

Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, this boy was restored to life through the action (and no doubt instant internal prayer) of the Apostle Paul.  God would not let an incident like this destroy the life-giving message that Paul was so urgently working to impart to the brethren in Troas!  (Compare Paul’s actions with 1 Kings 17:21-22)

God was, and is, indeed merciful and miraculous—restoring this boy to full life and vitality!  “And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted” (Acts 20:12).

And then what happens?  Paul went up again, and began eating food again, and “talked a long while, even ‘till break of day,” and then “so he departed” (Acts 20:11).

So, Paul conversed all night with the brethren in Troas.  He and they gave a night’s sleep in order to have and hear the Word of God and the Truth of the Gospel expounded to them.

(For those who have been called to the Truth, and who understand the amazing beauty and perfection of God’s holy plan and purpose, there is no mystery here.  Many have conversed late into or through the night—in order to share, hear and rejoice in the Gospel message.  Indeed may we be able to keep this aspect of our first love vibrant throughout all our lives!)

But then let’s think about this further for a moment.  What happened at sunrise on what we call Sunday morning?  Paul began the arduous journey of walking twenty-six miles cross-country, to Assos—where the other disciples would pick him up to continue their journey.  Paul worked on Sunday!  (Those who’ve done twenty-six miles, know it is hours of exercise.)

“And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene” (Acts 20:14).

Please note the inset below, to see and understand exactly what Paul did, for the brethren at Troasto maximize his time and communication with them, and to not delay other journeys:

Paul’s Journey, On Foot, From Troas to Assos:

While the other disciples with Paul had set out after the Sabbath to set sail from Troas and travel around the horn to Assos, Paul remained behind at the end of the Sabbath, to continue his dialogue with the brethren in Troas.  An eventful “Saturday night,” with Eutychus falling out of the window from the third loft, and having been “taken up dead” — but then resurrected by God, via the action and embrace of the Apostle Paul (compare 1 Kings 17:21-22).  Paul then continued conversation with the brethren in Troas until daybreak (Acts 20:11).  Most likely, Paul would have traversed existing Roman roads with bridges rather than traverse cross-country or through the mountains.  That general roadway is highlighted above.  Remnants of the road and bridges remain to this day.  The walk from Troas to Assos was approximately 26 miles.  Paul undertook a full day of walking, on Sunday, the first day of the week, in order to extend his stay with the brethren in Troas for a few more precious hours.

The Scriptures The Word of God

The entire Bible is a Book of separate works, all with a coherent, singular message.  While most scholars note that there are approximately 40 human “authors” of the Bible, the fact is there is One Author.  “. . .prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). “. . . all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). 

The Word of God does NOT contradict (contrary to the beliefs of many purported scholars and critics).  Christ said: “. . . the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).  Yet, it is important to understand the principle; that as it has required God’s Holy Spirit to inspire and direct the human writers, it also requires God’s Holy Spirit to open our understanding and provide the miraculous opportunity to truly hear and rightly understand the Word that God has inspired for us (Luke 24:45, Eph. 1:18)

The Foundational Realization Going Forward

We now read, just a couple of verses from where we had left off: “For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost (Acts 20:16).

This Feast is known also as The Feast of Firstfruits, which begins at the finish of the fifty-day count, which begins with the day following the weekly Sabbath that occurs during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Paul said “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil. 4:9).  Clearly, by Paul’s own example, he kept the Sabbath and the Holydays of God.

The Scriptures do not contradict.  And for the reader who is truly objective, like the Bereans; and who will allow God’s Holy Spirit to open their eyes and understanding—the Word of God becomes an astonishing revelation of His Holy Purpose and Plan for all of humankind.  The Sabbaths, weekly and annual, are instrumental in helping to impart and to fortify that Truth.

May you, the reader, be blessed with understanding and realization, that God’s Plan of Salvation has been foretold from the very beginning.   And, that Time, which God has set-apart and made holy, is designed to be not only a memorial of what has been done by God in the past—but also a vision what God is going to do in the future!  God is a perfect God of meaning and of purpose, and what He has given to us, He has given to us for our own great benefit and blessing.

The Apostle John reminds us “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).  For the sake of showing God that we love Him, in the humble hope of drawing close to Him, to know the length and breadth of His blessing and salvation—let us remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  May God grant the blessing of ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Eph. 1:17-19).

The Plain and Simple Truth

The plain and simple Truth is that Acts 20:7 has nothing at all to do with sanctioning Sunday as a day of worship, or showing a worship service on Sunday.

Acts 20:7 shows continued dialogue during an evening meal with Paul and the brethren at Troas.  This was after the Sabbath, after sundown, on what we call Saturday night.

And this was while Luke and the other disciples who were travelling with Paul had gone to the ship to set sail for Assos.  It was commonly done at nightto have one, or some, take the helm and sail all night for the sake of time efficiencywhile others slept in the ship (see Mark 4:35-41, Matt. 14:23-32).

Paul then walked 26 miles, on what we call Sunday, in order to catch-up with his fellow travelers in Assos, to continue their missionary journey through Chios, Samos, Trogyllium and Miletus (Acts 20:15).

If the reader would like further understanding of the timing of the resurrection, and proof that the Sabbath was not altered nor the first day of the week elevated, please see the article entitled The Only Sign That Was Given, or please see the Sabbath Tab, or the many other articles on the BethelCOG site showing that the Ten Commandments are still in full force and effect!