9. The Sabbath in Acts

Some hold that since Paul preached in synagogues on the Sabbath this proves that the early Christian Church as a whole kept the Sabbath. But is this indicated in Acts? An examination of Acts 13 can shed some light on this matter. Verses 13-14 shows Paul and Barnabas arriving in Antioch and entering the synagogue on the Sabbath day. After the reading of the law and the prophets in verse 15, Paul was invited to address the congregation. In verses 16-41 Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus to the Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism. In verses 42-43, the people invited Paul and Barnabas to come back the following Sabbath to speak to them more about the Gospel, and many of the Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism followed them. They were urged by Paul and Barnabas to hold fast to the grace of God. Verses 44-52 shows Paul and Barnabas returning the following Sabbath to preach the Gospel to nearly all the inhabitants of Antioch, who were eager to hear their message. But they met with stiff opposition from other Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism of the city when they became very jealous of their success with the people, so they expelled Paul and Barnabas from the area. It is evident in Acts 13 that it was not the law that was being preached, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Acts contains a few more examples of Paul preaching the Gospel in synagogues on the Sabbath.

Acts 18:4 "And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks."

Paul also preached at other times and places. One example is his sermon on the Areopagus (or Mars' Hill) in Acts 17:16-34. He seemed to go to the places he knew his intended audience would be to share the Gospel. For Jews and converts to Judaism, the most logical place to meet them would be in the synagogue on the Sabbath. For others, anywhere they might happen to meet. So the fact that Paul preached in synagogues on the Sabbath seems not to prove that the Sabbath was binding on Christians, especially since his audiences in these cases were not Christians. Consider this passage in 1 Corinthians 9 which gives an insight into Paul's method of bringing the Gospel to people.

Gentile converts to Christianity were not required by the early Church to keep the Sabbath. There was a Church council meeting in Jerusalem for the purpose of settling the issue of what was to be required of Gentile converts. The story can be found in Acts 15.

Acts 15:5
"But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses."

But Peter says in Acts 15:8-11
"'And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.'"

James gave the final judgment on the matter in Acts 15:19-21
"'Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.'"

Here is the letter that was written to the Gentile Christians found in Acts 15:22-29
"Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas -- Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them, 'The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.'"

It is interesting to note in this letter that the keeping of the weekly Sabbath, or the observance of any sacred day, was not mentioned among the essential things required for the fellowship of Jewish and Gentile Christians. It is also of interest that there is no command regarding clean and unclean foods, just a command to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, food containing blood, and food resulting from animal strangulation. This letter to the Gentile Christians was written by Jewish Christian leaders who headed the Church in Jerusalem and, as verse 28 indicates, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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