Here is the first passage given to support this notion: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7). This text is part of a running narrative describing various incidents of Paul’s homeward trip to Jerusalem at the close of his third missionary journey. The whole story requires two chapters.
Does the fact that the disciples “came together to break bread” imply a communion service on a holy day? In Acts 2:46,we read that the disciples continued “daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” It appears that breaking bread refers to the disciples eating their meals together, something they did every day.
Notice that no holy title is used for this particular day. It is simply called “the first day of the week.”
Does the fact that Paul held a meeting and preached a message on this day make it a holy day? When we read the whole story of the journey, we find that Paul preached in various places along the way as he traveled to Jerusalem. Were all these sermons timed to come on Sunday? Look at the last half of Acts 20, which gives a summary of what was probably one of the most important sermons Paul preached on this trip—at least, it is the only one that is described in detail. An examination of the context, especially verse 15, indicates that it was probably preached midweek—certainly not on a Sunday. Therefore, shall we conclude that Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday is a holy day? Paul conducted so many services along his journey that this logic would cause us to conclude that Paul made almost every day of the week holy!
Paul’s meeting at Troas didn’t even begin on Sunday, but rather on Saturday night. We know that the meeting was held at night, for “there were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together” (Acts 20:8). The record also declares that Paul “continued his message until midnight” (verse 7). After ensuring that the young man Eutychus was alright, who had fallen asleep and then out the third-story window, Paul continued speaking “even till daybreak” (verse 11). So, the only reason any part of the meeting fell on Sunday was because Paul was so long-winded!
Another reason we know this meeting was held at night was because Paul was “ready to depart the next day” (verse 7). Conybeare and Howson, in their authoritative work, The Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul, wrote: “It was the evening which succeeded the Jewish Sabbath. On the Sunday morning the vessel was about to sail” (One Volume Edition, 520). Paul took advantage of a last opportunity to speak to them, not because of a usual religious custom, but because of an unusual travel situation.
If Paul held this meeting on a Saturday night, why does the Bible call it “the first day of the week?” This is because of the well-known fact that the Bible reckons days from sunset to sunset, not from midnight to midnight, as we do today. (See Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Leviticus 23:32.) For Paul and the believers, the first day of the week, as well as their meeting, had begun at sunset on the seventh day.
In the light of the whole narrative of Paul’s journey, it is clear that “the first day of the week” is mentioned only to give the reader a general picture of Paul’s itinerary, similar to these other mentions of time:
- “Came to Greece and stayed three months” (Acts 20:3).
- “Sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread” (verse 6).
- “In five days joined [a group of believers] at Troas” (verse 6).
- “Stayed seven days” in Troas (verse 6).
- Spoke to the gathered disciples “on the first day of the week” (verse 7).
- “Ready to depart the next day” (verse 7).
- “The next day came opposite Chios” (verse 15).
- “The following day … arrived at Samos” (verse 15).
- “The next day … came to Miletus” (verse 15).
- “Hurrying to be at Jerusalem … on the Day of Pentecost” (verse 16).
Dr. Augustus Neander, one of the most eminent of church historians, and a Sunday keeper, comments on using Acts 20:7 as an argument for Sunday sacredness: “The passage is not entirely convincing, because the impending departure of the apostle may have united the little Church in a brotherly parting-meal, on occasion of which the apostle delivered his last address, although there was no particular celebration of a Sunday in the case” (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, translated by Henry John Rose (1831), Vol. 1, 337).
A Collection for the Saints
Now let us consider the second passage: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2).
Was this a religious service where a collection plate was passed, indicating that it was a holy day? Instead of describing a church offering, where people pass their gifts to a deacon, the record says that each one was to “lay something aside” (1 Corinthians 16:2). In other words, when the first day of the week had come, each one was to decide from the last week’s earnings how much he wanted to set aside for the special collection that Paul was going to take to the poor at Jerusalem. Then he was to keep it in a special place apart from the other money of the house. This was an act of bookkeeping rather than an act of worship.
There are Sunday-keeping theologians who share this interpretation. In The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, a commentary on the Scriptures published by Cambridge University Press and edited by Church of England clergy, the commentator declares that, as to the practice of Christians meeting on the first day of the week, “we cannot infer it from this passage.” Then follows the comment on the phrase “lay something aside”: “At home, not in the assembly, as is generally supposed. … He [Paul] speaks of a custom in his time of placing a small box by the bedside into which an offering was to be put whenever prayer was made” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, edited by J. J. Lias, 164).
The Bible does not mention Christ instituting Sunday worship on the resurrection day nor during the forty days between His resurrection and ascension. Nor is there any Scriptural evidence that during or after those forty days the apostles recognized Sunday as a religious holiday.
The Jews were zealous about the Sabbath that they had kept on the seventh day for millennia. It is strange that a practice so revolutionary as keeping a new weekly holy day, by both Jewish and Gentile Christians, was not the subject of extended and repeated discussion in the apostles’ writings. Following the hotly debated decision that circumcision was no longer necessary for Gentile converts, a hurricane was let loose, and the wind of that controversy ruffled the pages of the New Testament!
Did Christians really keep Sunday in honor of Christ’s resurrection from earliest days of the apostles? The examination of these two passages, the silence of Christ on the topic before He ascended to heaven, and the silence of the New Testament about a new weekly holy day, leave unchallenged the overwhelming authority of the express commandment of God Himself: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God (Exodus 20:10).