The Early Church Kept Israel's Commanded Assemblies
A Brief Survey of the Sabbaths
in the Book of Acts
You don't have to be a scholar to see that the apostolic
of Jesus was meeting on the traditional
You can read it for yourself in the book of Acts. Luke, who was a
Gentile (!) convert, recorded the facts
Jesus did NOT institute 'alternative' observances
for Gentiles or the Church, different from those
He gave Israel!
Malcolm B Heap
When they arrived at Salamis, they
proclaimed the word of God in the
met every Sabbath. The Sabbaths were the main times the
apostles could preach to many people.
From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath
[lit. the day of the Sabbaths, i.e. Pentecost] they
entered the synagogue and sat down.
about AD 43-45, more than a decade after the death and
resurrection of Jesus. Paul and Barnabas were obviously
keeping the Sabbath themselves.
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the
people [Gentiles – KJV] invited them to speak
further about these things on the next Sabbath.
were Gentiles keeping the Sabbaths. Not just one or two, but
many of them. The next verses confirm this.
When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and
devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas,
who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace
were Gentile converts to Judaism, outsiders to the nation of
Israel who were being drawn to God. Gentile Christians kept
all the same customs as the Jews. They kept the Sabbaths and
annual festivals given to Israel.
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear
the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds [of
Gentiles], they were filled with jealousy and talked
abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and
Barnabas answered them boldly: 'We had to speak the word of
God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider
yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the
Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have
made you [Gk. singular] a light for the Gentiles, that you
[singular] may bring salvation to the ends of the earth [Is
49:6].' When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and
honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed
for eternal life believed.
there were many Gentiles who believed – so many, in
fact, that they outnumbered the Jewish believers. But there
is no suggestion that they kept different days to the
Sabbaths the Jews observed. They observed the same
preposterous to suggest – as some have done – that Gentiles
did not observe the same festival days and Sabbaths as the
Jews. There is no evidence in Acts to that effect.
would have been a recipe for division, not for unity and
He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified
their hearts by faith.
no difference between Jew and Gentile now. Nor has God made
a distinction concerning days of worship. Rom 3:31 Faith
does not nullify the law, rather it upholds it.
For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest
times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.
weekly Sabbath was still the main time of worship, teaching
and fellowship. There was no Sunday observance. This was now
about AD 50-52.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river,
where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and
began to speak to the women who had gathered there.
between AD 51 and 53 in Philippi, a mainly Gentile city of
Macedonia. You can see that Gentiles who sought God kept the
same 'Israelite' Sabbaths.
When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they
came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As
his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three
Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and
rise from the dead.
still Paul's custom after AD 51 to observe the Sabbaths. He
did not keep Sunday, even though he was the apostle to the
Gentiles. There is no mention of Sunday-keeping in the
entire book of Acts! However, there are several references
to the observance of the Sabbath.
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas,
as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few
Greeks outnumbered the Jewish believers. All these new
converts to Christianity kept the Israelite customs. They
had continued to be observed by the early Church.
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he
met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently
come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius
had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see
them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed
and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the
synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Paul, the apostle to Gentiles, preaching to both Jews AND
Gentiles on the Sabbaths.
these days were days God had appointed for Israel to observe
– to keep them in memory of Him and to maintain their
contact with Him – the God-fearing Gentiles were observing
them alongside Jews. Why? Because they were God's
appointed times (not merely Jewish days!) for
believers to meet together for worship (Lev 23:2).
But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook
out his clothes in protest and said to them, 'Your blood be
on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From
now on I will go to the Gentiles.'
this Jewish rejection, Paul's mission to the Gentiles,
however, does not see him change from observing the
traditional Sabbaths. There is nothing in the book of Acts
to indicate that so- called 'Jewish' festivals and Sabbaths
were done away with.
sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread…
AD 58 or
60. Paul is still keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and
Luke (a Gentile) uses it to highlight the timing of his
return visit to Gentile Philippi. This ought not to surprise
us. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the late 50's AD and
reminded them to keep this feast in a holy manner (I Cor
Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time
in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach
Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.
Pentecost is so named because it is counted 50 days from
presenting the firstfruits grain offering (Lev 23:14,16). It
is a stipulated day of rest, an annual Sabbath, a sacred
assembly (v 21). It was still kept in AD 60 by Christians.
Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done
among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard
this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: 'You see,
brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all
of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed
that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to
turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their
children or live according to our customs [these were false
accusations, based on their misunderstandings]. What shall
we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do
what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a
vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and
pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads
shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these
reports about you, but that you yourself are living in
obedience to the law [Paul did not preach antinomian
philosophy]. As for the Gentile believers, we have written
to them our decision that they should abstain from food
sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled
animals and from sexual immorality.
that the rumours about Paul's teachings were false. Critics
wanted to accuse him of preaching against the law which
Moses gave Israel from God.
Paul kept the law. He observed the Sabbaths, the holy days
and the new moons. His emphasis, however, was on the
spiritual meaning of such ceremonies, so he often preached
against the empty ritualistic observance of such things.
This gave unspiritual people the wrong impression, and so
antinomian teachings arose over what Paul said.
later commented about this distortion of Paul's writings (II
Pet 3:16). It is clear that Paul commanded Gentiles to
observe principles from the law (Pentateuch).
specific matters he emphasised here were idolatrous
practices which centred around heathen temple worship –
sexual immorality and eating wrongly prepared meat or that
dedicated to the worship of pagan gods. He did not need to
say anything about Sabbaths. It is clear from other
references in Acts that the Gentiles expected to keep the
same customs as the Jews, and accepted them.
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become
dangerous because by now it was after the Fast.
was the Day of Atonement, a commanded annual fast on the
tenth day after the seventh new moon (Lev 23:26-32). This
day was still kept in AD 60. Had it not been an observed
custom among early Christians, Luke would not have used it
as a point of reference to describe how late in the year it
Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews.
When they had assembled, Paul said to them: 'My brothers,
although I have done nothing against our people or against
the customs of our ancestors…'
knew, Luke knew, and the believers in the early Church knew,
that the customs given to Israel were still binding upon the
new 'Israel' of God, the Church. It was for this reason that
they were regarded as a sect of Judaism.
But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that
people everywhere are talking against this sect.
6:5-7 also corroborates the fact that early Christianity was
very similar to Judaism, unlike that which we see today.
[Paul said] For this reason I have asked to see you and talk
with you [the leaders of the Jews]. It is because of the
hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain. They replied
[the leaders of Judaism], 'We have not received any letter
from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who has
come from there has reported or said anything bad about
the accusations levelled at Paul were false. It was claimed
that he spoke against the customs which God gave Israel. He
did not. Not only did he support them verbally, he observed
them himself. However, what he had to add to them by way of
understanding, unspiritual people could not grasp, and so he
was persecuted. It is no different today. People who do not
have God's mind on the subject, although they claim to be
Christian, speak against the customs God has given His
Church through Israel.
references in the book of Acts provide undeniable evidence
that the early Church – both Jew and Gentile – kept the
Sabbaths and festivals God had given to Israel. Had Sunday,
Christmas or Easter been acceptable Christian alternatives
there would have been ample references to such in Luke's
history. Instead, there are none! It was not until the
second century AD, and later, that these pagan substitutes
illicitly wormed their way into Church tradition! (For more
information, consult Why Keep Sunday? and Our
texts from the book of Acts provide irrefutable evidence that the early
Church – both Jew and Gentile – kept the Sabbaths and festivals God had
given to Israel.
Pentecost was one of
those festivals (Lev 23:15,16,21).
Jesus had told the
disciples to wait in Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 1:4) when something
unusual would occur and they were to be baptised in the Holy Spirit
(1:5). Pentecost arrived (2:1) and the promised Holy Spirit came with
demonstrations of power. If the disciples had not been obediently
observing the 'Israelite' feast of Pentecost (actually it is God's
festival – it is not merely 'Israelite' or 'Jewish') the Holy Spirit
would not have made history that day!
Moreover, if regular
Sunday-keeping, Christmas, or Easter had been godly Christian
alternatives, there would have been ample references to them in Luke's
history. Instead, there are none!
It was not until the
second, third and fourth centuries AD that these pagan substitutes
illicitly wormed their way into Church tradition! They gained acceptance
due to anti-Semitic persecution and the persuasive heresies of deceived
Such highly persuasive
heresies still govern the minds of many Christians today. It is very
difficult for most to see through the specious reasoning which commonly
argues against God's Sabbaths. But such heresies are doctrines of
demons! – which is why they are acceptable to the majority and even to
many in the world.
The fact remains that
the Church Jesus founded was established upon the traditions which God
and these observances are part of the sure foundation God has given to
His people. They are the 'appointed times'
which GOD has decreed for all His people to come before Him in worship.
That is why you read in
Revelation 12:1 of the woman who has a crown of 12 stars on her head,
who is clothed with the sun (God's light and righteousness), and who
stands on the moon. (The moon's cycles determine when these festivals
occur.) She is beautiful in God's sight. She is Jesus' long-awaited
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