Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 16, 1964
NUMBER 49, PAGE 8,12c

The First Day Meeting At Troas

L. A. Mott, Jr.

"And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight." So reads Acts 20:7 in the American Standard Version.

This verse has long been a battleground between those who worship God on Sunday and the modern sabbath keepers. It is a thorn in the side of Seventh Day Adventists and other Sabbatarians, who are unable to bring forward a single text which indicates an assembly of Christians, meeting for any purpose whatever, on the sabbath. Contrariwise, Acts 20:7 definitely describes an assembly of disciples. Moreover, this assembly took place on the first day of the week. And finally, the purpose of this assembly was such as to mark it as a religious assembly, a meeting for worship. These things being true, we may conclude that the early Christians observed the first day of the week as a day of worship.

Purpose Of The Meeting

It is important to emphasize the stated purpose of this assembly. The disciples gathered to break bread, not to hear Paul preach. Paul took advantage of the opportunity to speak to these brethren. Sabbatarians quote passages which indicate that Paul preached on the sabbath. From these they conclude that he was observing the sabbath. If these passages prove that Paul was keeping the sabbath, then he also kept the first day of the week, for Acts 20:7 tells us that he preached on that day. What Sabbatarians must learn if they would avoid this difficulty is that a man's teaching the word on a particular day does not mean that he regards that day as holy. No, Paul's preaching on the first day does not mean he regarded that day as special. But neither does his preaching on the sabbath mean that he regarded the sabbath as a holy day. Certainly, though, whatever inference can be made on this matter in favor of sabbath keeping is equally in favor of Sunday keeping. We should recognize that there is no inference here in favor of either position.

But, to repeat, the purpose of this meeting was not to hear Paul preach, but "to break bread." The words "to break bread," when separated from their connection in this sentence and viewed by themselves, might refer either to a common meal (Acts 2:46; 27:35), or to the breaking of bread which takes place in the observance of the Lord's supper. (I Cor. 10:16) The words do not in themselves give any clue as to which of these applications is intended in any one case. The decision as to which application is intended in Acts 20:7, as well as in all other passages, must be based upon other considerations.

Paul, however, has established for us a principle in 1 Cor. 11:33, 34 which will help to remove the ambiguity of the words in our text. He writes: "Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home." It will be observed that two types of eating are mentioned in these verses: (1) An eating in the assembly — "when ye come together to eat." This refers to the Lord's supper, as the context clearly shows. (2) An eating designed to satisfy hunger; in other words, a common meal. Paul tells the Corinthians that such a meal was not to be eaten in the assembly: rather, "if any man hunger, let him eat at home."

Since Acts 20:7 refers to an eating in the assembly — "when we were gathered together to break bread" — it seems obvious that the writer has the Lord's supper in view. Therefore, this gathering of disciples was for the purpose of remembering Christ and showing forth his death on the cross. It was a religious service. This coming together was for the purpose of worshipping God. It was done on the first day of the week. That makes the first day of the week a day of religious worship and service.

Time Of The Meeting

This meeting was evidently at night. Sabbatarians make a great play on this. According to the Jewish method of reckoning time, the day began at sundown. Compare Lev, 23:32, "....from even unto even, shall ye keep your sabbath." If this method was followed in Acts 20:7, the evening portion of the first day of the week would precede the daylight portion. Assuming that this method was used, Sabbatarians gleefully assert that the meeting was not held on Sunday at all, but on what we would call Saturday night. With great delight they quote The New English Bible, which interprets rather than translating the words involved: "On the Saturday night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread...."

This writer has never been able to see the force of this objection. Suppose the day did start at sundown Saturday night. So what! Still the Bible says they came together on the first day of the week. Sabbatarians do not come together on the first day of the week at any time of day for any purpose. My brethren do come together on the first day of the week to break bread.

I am not at all convinced, however, that Luke was following Jewish time in Acts 20:7. It is absolutely certain that the New Testament writers did not always follow Jewish time. In John 20, for example, John is evidently using Greek time, according to which the day began at dawn. Verse 1 states: "Now on the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet dark, unto the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb." But look at verse 19: "When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week,...." It is very clear that evening follows the daylight portion of the day.

What method of time keeping did Luke follow in Acts 20:7? I am inclined to agree with F. F. Bruce (The Acts of the Apostles, page 372) who argues that Luke was following the Greek method On the basis of the fact that Paul intended to depart on the "morrow" (verse 7), then talked till "break of day" and "departed." (verse 11) If Luke had been reckoning according to Jewish time, that is, the day starting at sundown, then the time of Paul's departure would not have been the "morrow," but the daylight portion of the same day.

This is all very interesting, but personally, I am, so far at least, of the opinion that this part of the controversy has no real important bearing on our duty in this matter. The New Testament writers evidently did not regard the matter of when a day begins as of sufficient importance to designate for us the moment when one day ends and another begins. Neither do we have any information on what hour of the first day of the week to eat the Lord's supper. The Bible does clearly state that the disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread. My brethren do that and urge others to do the same.

If any phase of the above argument contains an error or misapplication of a Bible truth, I will thank the brother who can point it out.

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