Acts 13 – do Christians keep the Sabbath in Acts?

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Act 13:13-44

(Act 13:13) Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.
(Act 13:14) But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
(Act 13:15) And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.
(Act 13:16) Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.

(Act 13:26) Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.
(Act 13:27) For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

(Act 13:42) And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.
(Act 13:43) Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
(Act 13:44) And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.

Here we start looking at texts that Adventists claim show that early Christians kept the Sabbath. They say that these are Sabbath services, and since they were attended by Christians, they show that these Christians were keeping the Sabbath.

Yes, Acts 13 is referring to a Sabbath service, but look where the service is! Is this a Christian service, organised by Christians, for Christian worship? Or is this a Jewish service, organised by Jews, for the usual synagogue service that had been going on in the synagogues for decades prior to Christ’s lifetime? It is not in a Christian home or church, and it is not a Christian service. It is a Jewish service. History shows us that these services were not like today’s Christian services, where generally Catholics go to Catholic churches, Methodists to Methodist churches, Baptists to Baptist churches, etc. It is a historical fact that Jewish services at the synagogue were not restricted to Jews alone – an entire section of the synagogue was built to accommodate non-Jews. The people at the time welcomed any such gathering where religion and morals and philosophy were discussed. So, naturally, they were attended by Jews and Gentiles alike. And they were attended by Christians who wanted to introduce their own Christian perspective on the matters being discussed, in particular doing things like opening a discussion about prophecies about Christ, and how he fulfilled various Old Testament passages. Coming out of Judaism, obviously many Christians still continued their Jewish traditions until they were expelled from the synagogues.

So, no, by preaching to the Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue on the Sabbath is NOT Sabbath observance ANY more than Adventists placing tracts on windscreens of cars at Sunday observing churches is Sunday observance by Adventists. If an Adventist pastor went to a Catholic service to preach to Catholics, would there be any point going on a Saturday? No. If he went on a Sunday, would he be keeping Sunday? No. So you can’t claim that Paul was keeping the Sabbath, simply because he attended a non-Christian service on that day in order to witness to the non-Christians there.

Where does Acts 13 use the word “worship” in relation to the actions of Paul? Nowhere – not one of the words used indicates worship by Paul.

The text of Acts 13 itself demonstrates that Paul is NOT observing the Sabbath. The assumption that his presence in the synagogues on the Sabbath means his observance of it as a holy day is a mistake Sabbatarians make because they want to find texts where the Apostles keep the Sabbath. In fact, there are NO such texts in the entire Bible!

Compare gatherings meant for Christian worship to the gathering Paul is attending here – Christian worship services are restricted to Christians only – see Acts 20:7 for one example. What Paul is doing is going to a Jewish non-Christian service in order to witness to the Jews and Gentiles there. The services at the synagogues were not attended only by Jews, and many Gentiles who followed many other religions also went to the synagogue on the Sabbath – not because they were keeping the Sabbath: they didn’t believe in the Sabbath principle, it wasn’t part of their religion. They went because Saturday was the day of the week when the synagogue was full, and it was on this day that religious and moral and spiritual and philosophical principles were preached and discussed. any person – Jew or Gentile or pagan – would find such an event stimulating, if they were interested in the deeper meaning of life and moral values. And that is the reason many non-Jews did attend the synagogue services. The sabbath gathering of people to the synagogue to discuss matters of religion and morals and proper lifestyle was not restricted to the Jews, and was a common public meeting for people to listen to wise counsel.

What a perfect opportunity for Paul and other Christians to witness to both the Jews and the other people attending. Recognised as a Jew, he could take part in the discussion right up front, and offer Christian interpretations of the texts being discussed, and thereby win people to Christ. But nothing, absolutely nothing in the text even suggests that he attended the synagogue on this day because he felt obliged to keep the Sabbath holy. His own words on the matter of the Sabbath in his letters prove that he believed no such thing – in fact he labels Sabbath keeping a weakness in his letter to the Romans (chapter 14). He was no more keeping the Sabbath by preaching to the Jews on the Sabbath than he is keeping any Roman or pagan feasts by using their gatherings to preach to them, as is recorded in Acts 17, where he refers to pagan altars which he does not reject, but proclaims that they actually refer to the one true God. No, these texts do not refer to Paul keeping the Sabbath. All he did was preach on the Sabbath to people who were gathered on the Sabbath, just as he would preach on a Tuesday to those who gathered somewhere on a Tuesday. The Bible says no more than that, and the context makes it obvious. To read Sabbath observance into these texts is to add something to the Bible that simply is not there.

Also, the Gentiles flocked to hear the Apostles preach wherever they preached, Sabbath or otherwise, so naturally one would expect Gentiles to be present at the synagogue on the Sabbath. They would not be there on Mondays or Wednesdays because there were no gatherings in the synagogue on these days when the Apostles could preach.

The Adventists claim that the Apostles were there for worship and Sabbath observance is faulty for another reason.

(2Co 6:14) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
(2Co 6:15) And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
(2Co 6:16) And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(2Co 6:17) Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

Are we to believe that, contrary to his own advice, Paul worshipped alongside unbelievers? Or should we take the text at face value, without reading a worship service into a text that does not indicate Christian worship, and without meddling with the context of the text? This passage may refer to marriage, but how much more it would apply to true worship.

I should reiterate here my response to the commonly used Adventist argument that they came back again to the Jewish service on the next Sabbath, not the next day to a Christian service. Because it was a set weekly gathering for the Jews, obviously if Paul went along on a Sunday, a Monday, a Tuesday, etc., the place would not have a crowd gathered to listen. It was the Jewish nature of this gathering that made it happen every Sabbath. And it was because Christian worship services were not generally witnessing events that those who wanted to return did not simply attend the next Christian service. Christian services were meant for Christians to worship God and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, while they were not designed to be services to witness to people. Even today, there is a huge difference between a gathering for the purposes of worship, and a gathering for the purposes of evangelisation, and there is a huge difference between the sermon a pastor will prepare for those who are already Christians, and one he will prepare for a group of non-Christian people he hopes to bring the Gospel message to. So the Adventist argument that, had Christians observed Sunday, they would have come for more of Paul’s preaching the very next day, not the next Sabbath, fails, because Adventists fail to consider the difference between a Christian service where Christians worshipped, and an event where they witnessed to unbelievers. The passage from 2 Corinthians puts this in perspective.

So, in summary, I don’t see why this text refers to Christian Sabbath observance.

Addendum

Let’s count the number of groups mentioned in Acts 13:42-44 as they leave the synagogue:

Acts 13:42-44 – And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue [Jews: group 1], the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation [the rest of the congregation: group 2] was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes [those who accepted Paul’s message and followed him: group 3] followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.

Three groups:

  1. Group 1 – Jews who did not believe and did not follow Paul

  2. Group 2 – Others (Gentiles) who did not believe and did not follow Paul

  3. Group 3 – Those who did believe and did follow Paul

Note the timeline.

  1. Group 1 leaves

  2. Gentiles want to hear more the next week

  3. Group 2 leaves – these are the people who wanted to hear more the next week

  4. Group 3 follows Paul

It’s the Gentiles, who do not all follow Paul, that want him to come back the next week. They’d be attending the Jewish sabbath service in the synagogue, and hoped to hear more then. Those who followed Paul and Barnabas immediately didn’t need to wait for the next Jewish service to hear Paul – surely they got to hear more much sooner than that.

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