Acts 20:7 – “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”
This verse is sometimes cited as evidence that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Let’s look at it more closely.
On careful reading, the verse does not actually say they always gathered to break bread on this day. It also doesn’t say they didn’t. It doesn’t say.
Why had they gathered? We can be certain of a few things.
- They “were gathered together to break bread”.
- Paul intended to depart the next day.
- His prolonged speech tells us he had a lot he wanted to say.
- Paul talked until midnight.
It’s plausible the reason for the gathering could have been to bid Paul farewell. This argument is better supported by the text, but still inconclusive.
Some argue they could have been gathering on Saturday evening or on the weekly Sabbath. Since nearly all English translations render the day as the first day of the week, the theory must assert that nearly all English translations are misleading. Here are the main points of the ‘Saturday evening’ theory.
First, you need to back up one verse and notice the days of Unleavened Bread are mentioned.
The previous verse (Acts 20:6) says, “but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.”
The Feast of Unleavened Bread was part of the annual Passover observance (Leviticus 23:4-8), which kicked off a series of additional observed days (Leviticus 23:9-22). According to Acts 20:6, they would have been in the timeframe of the counting of weeks.
“You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:16)
The weeks after Unleavened Bread involved counting Sabbaths.
With this in mind, we’re primed to run with the next observation. In Greek, the words usually translated “first day of the week” are, “mia tōn sabbatōn” (μιᾷ μιᾷ σαββάτων). Using a readily available lexicon, we find these translations for the individual words.
mia – almost always translated as “one”.
tōn – the
Sabbatōn – usually translated “Sabbath”.
To further the case, the Greek adjective meaning ‘first’ is prótos (πρῶτος, η, ον). This word is not in the Greek text of Acts 20:7. “Aha!”, one might say. Rather than “first day of the week”, Acts 20:7 really means, “one of the Sabbaths” (probably from the counting of weeks).”
And… we would be making a rookie mistake with the Greek. Greek has rules and the rules dictate the intended meaning is “first day of the week”. Bill Mounce is a credible source to explain the rule. He serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), was the New Testament Chair for the ESV, and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek. Click here to read his technical explanation.
Dr. Craig Keener has written the longest commentary on Acts to date. His commentary contains 45,000 extra biblical ancient references and more than 10,000 secondary sources. He said this in a blog post.
“The instructions for the first day of the week in 1 Corinthians 16:2 are for individual members, not about a specified meeting day; the meeting on the first day of the week in Acts 20:7 is probably a Sunday evening gathering (see my Acts commentary for details), and is probably assembled simply because Paul is leaving town the next day.
Churches that insist on following New Testament practice may thus consider a Saturday Sabbath. In Acts, “Sabbath” continues to designate the seventh day (technically Friday sundown to Saturday sundown); although most instances refer to traditional Jewish practice there, there is certainly no indication that the day was changed. Personally, when I discovered the Sabbath principle, I began following it on Saturday, like my Jewish friends. I couldn’t observe the Sabbath on Sundays because, as an associate pastor in a Baptist church at the time, I had special responsibilities on that day. (I took the duties seriously enough that I skipped my doctoral graduation because it would have conflicted with our Sunday service. Although having one’s main worship service on one’s day of rest might be easier for most worshipers, it can be more difficult for some of us with significant ministry responsibilities!)” – (Dr. Craig Keener – Which day is the Sabbath?)
Acts 20:7 definitely says they gathered, ate and listened to Paul until midnight and that Paul intended to depart the next day. But it does not say this was their weekly habit or that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday.