Acts 17 – do Christians keep the Sabbath in Acts?

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Acts 17:1-5, 16-17

(Act 17:1) Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
(Act 17:2) And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures,
(Act 17:3) Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
(Act 17:4) And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
(Act 17:5) But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

(Act 17:16) Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
(Act 17:17) Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

Adventists state that it was Paul’s manner to witness in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and from that they conclude that he worshipped there too at the same time. The text does not use the word “worship” and the word “manner” does not imply worship either.

Why does Luke actually mention that this was Paul’s “custom” or “manner” or “tradition”? Luke is writing Acts for a Gentile Christian audience. Had they been keeping the Sabbath, they would certainly not have needed such an explanation, telling them that it was his custom to go there on this specific day of the week. Why on earth would a Sabbath keeper, talking about another Sabbath keeper, addressing Sabbath keepers, need to specify that this was Paul’s custom ? The answer – he would NOT have had to. From this we can see that the readers of Acts (and Luke) are unfamiliar with the institution of the Sabbath – they are not themselves Sabbath keepers. And the interesting thing is that they are well established Christians of Gentile origin, and Luke makes no attempt whatsoever to instruct them to keep the Sabbath like Paul or Jesus – all he does is explain their actions as being their custom. See also the section on Jesus’ custom being explained by Luke.

History and this text indicate to us that the Gentile Christians were NOT Sabbath keepers, and that in order to not isolate them from Jesus and Paul by attributing such a foreign practice to them, Luke states clearly that was their custom, one word which explained to them the action, and at the same time showed them that it was ONLY a custom and not a requirement that all Christians were expected to observe.

Further, if we are to believe that Paul worshipped with the unbelievers in the synagogue on the Sabbath, we should be consistent, and believe that he did the same with the unbelievers he talked to in the market place. Alternatively, we can believe that he was witnessing to unbelievers wherever he saw the opportunity – in marketplace gatherings, or in the synagogues. That is what the verse is telling us – about witnessing events, not Christians worshipping alongside unbelievers.

Another Adventist argument is that by this time, 50 AD, it was “well past any permanent change to the first day of the week that would have been made.”

This is entirely irrelevant. Assume scenario A: that the majority of Christians already observed Sunday. Then Acts 17:2 is only saying that Paul attended the Sabbath gatherings at the synagogues/temple because the Jews gathered on this day. This is not refuted by the text, and is actually supported by the rest of the New Testament where Paul denounces the Sabbath observances – Rom 14, Gal 4, Col 2. Acts 20:7 also references a Christian service on Sunday.

But assume scenario B, for which there is zero, zip, nil, no biblical evidence – the Christians still observed the Sabbath as a law they were obliged to keep. First, I can’t accept this because of a complete lack of evidence, as opposed to quite a substantial biblical backing for the abandonment of the Sabbath and acceptance of Sunday. Second, does it make a difference? It was only at the Council of Jerusalem that the issue of circumcision was finally put to rest, and that was also around this time – Acts 15. If circumcision could be abolished – by the power of the Holy Spirit leading the Church to see the truth – then the same could happen at such a date (even later) with the Sabbath. God did not change the Church in a day – he let it grow, he nurtured it, and he taught it in HIS time. Those who want to see Jesus abolishing everything and pronouncing everything we need to know in the Gospels ignore the witness of the rest of the New Testament as to the way the Church was built up by God – BOTH as the Chosen People of the Old Testament, AND as the Ekklesia of the New.

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