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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 Church of Jesus was meeting on the traditional 'Israelite' Sabbaths!
You can read it for yourself in the book of Acts. Luke, who was a Gentile (!) convert, recorded the facts there.
Jesus did NOT institute 'alternative' observances for Gentiles or the Church, different from those He gave Israel!

Malcolm B Heap

Evidence from Acts


Acts 13:5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.

The Jews met every Sabbath. The Sabbaths were the main times the apostles could preach to many people.

Acts 13:14 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.

This was about AD 43-45, more than a decade after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul and Barnabas were obviously keeping the Sabbath themselves.

Acts 13:42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people [Gentiles – KJV] invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.

Here were Gentiles keeping the Sabbaths. Not just one or two, but many of them. The next verses confirm this.

Acts 13:43 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 of God.

These 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.

Acts 13:44-48 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.

Clearly, 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 festivals.

It is 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.

Such would have been a recipe for division, not for unity and common fellowship.

Acts 15:9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.

There is 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.

Acts 15:21 For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.

The weekly Sabbath was still the main time of worship, teaching and fellowship. There was no Sunday observance. This was now about AD 50-52.

Acts 16:13  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.

This was 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.

Acts 17:1-3 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.

It was 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.

Acts 17:4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

The 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.

Acts 18:1-4 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.

Here is Paul, the apostle to Gentiles, preaching to both Jews AND Gentiles on the Sabbaths.

While 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).

Acts 18:6  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.'

After 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.

Acts 20:6  We 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 5:8).

Acts 20:16 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.

Acts 21:19-25 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.

Notice 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.

Yet, 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.

Peter 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).

The 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.

Acts 27:9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast.

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 was.

Acts 28:17 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…'

Paul 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.

Acts 28:22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.

Acts 6:5-7 also corroborates the fact that early Christianity was very similar to Judaism, unlike that which we see today.

Acts 28:20-21 [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 you…'

Clearly, 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.

NB These 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 Sabbath Rest.)

The foregoing 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 church leaders.

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 gave Israel, and these observances are part of the sure foundation God has given to His people. They are the 'appointed times'[1] 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 Bride! 

Copyright © Midnight Ministries 1994

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All quotations from the Bible are taken from the New International Version (NIV), unless otherwise stated.
NKJV indicates the New King James Version.
KJV indicates the King James Version.

[1]  The Hebrew word often translated as 'appointed times' is moedim, and refers to the festival appointments which are catalogued in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16. A fuller explanation of the festivals is provided in The Festivals of God (£1.00) and God's Calendar Revealed to Man (£2.00) from Midnight Ministries, PO Box 29, Aylesbury, HP17 8TL, UK.

Copyright: Midnight Ministries, PO Box 29, Aylesbury, HP17 8TL, UK