Archive for November, 2010

Why do we meet Sunday? part 2

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Thanks to Luisa for pointing out the connection to Pentecost.

Acts 20:7 has more in it than initially meets the eye.  But we don’t see it because we have no background.  Let’s look at the words in question.  First, here is the verse from the King James as we are used to it:

Act 20:7  And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

Notice first of all that the word “day” is italicized.  It is not in the Greek.  It should read “first of the week”, except that “week” in the Greek is plural, according to Robinson’s morphological tags:

Part of Speech: definite arTicle
Case: Genitive
Number: Plural
Gender: Neuter

So it should read “first of the weeks”.  Looking through all the translations in our Bible study program, we find Godbey’s translation has a different reading:

7 And on the first of the Sabbaths we being assembled to break bread, Paul spoke to them, being about to depart the following day, and continued his discourse till midnight:

Where does Godbey get “Sabbaths” from?  First let’s look at Strong’s for this verse:

Act 20:7  AndG1161 uponG1722 theG3588 firstG3391 day of theG3588 week,G4521 when theG3588 disciplesG3101 came togetherG4863 to breakG2806 bread,G740 PaulG3972 preachedG1256 unto them,G846 readyG3195 to departG1826 on theG3588 morrow;G1887 andG5037 continuedG3905 his speechG3056 untilG3360 midnight.G3317

“Week” is G4521:

sabbaton; of Heb. or. H7676; the Sabbath, i.e. the seventh day (of the week): - Sabbath (58), Sabbaths (1), week (9).

So this word “Weeks” is also translated “Sabbaths” when plural (Acts 17:2).  And why would that be important?  Going back a verse to 20:6 we read:

Act 20:6  And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.

So they had been at Philippi for Passover and the feast of unleavened bread, spent the next week traveling, and the week after that in Troas.  From Passover to Pentecost is seven weeks and a day (50 days, Penta is five).

Let’s go to Wikipedia and look up Pentacost:

Pentecost is historically and symbolically related to the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot, which commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai fifty days after the Exodus.

Pentacost is Shavuot.  Let’s look up Shavuot in Wikipedia:

Shavuot (or Shavuos , in Ashkenazi usage; Shavuʿoth in Classical and Mizrahi Hebrew Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. “Weeks”)

In the Bible, Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks (Hebrew: חג השבועות, Ḥag ha-Shavuot, Exodus 34:22 , Deuteronomy 16:10 ); Festival of Reaping (Hebrew: חג הקציר, Ḥag ha-Katsir, Exodus 23:16 ), and Day of the First Fruits (Hebrew יום הבכורים, Yom ha-Bikkurim, Numbers 28:26 ). The Mishnah and Talmud refer to Shavuot as Atzeret (Hebrew: עצרת, a solemn assembly), as it provides closure for the festival activities during and following the holiday of Passover. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Hellenistic Jews gave it the name Pentecost (πεντηκοστή, “fiftieth day“).

So Shavuot is “Weeks”, or the “Festival of Weeks”.   If we understood Jewish holidays and the feasts, this would be easier.  Godbey is correct to use “Sabbaths”, and Luke is counting off the weeks until Pentecost.  Luke still puts the day as the first, so it is the beginning of Sunday (our Saturday evening) but it’s not just noted because it’s Sunday.

Why do we meet Sunday?

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

The question has come up probably millions of times over the centuries, Why do we meet on Sunday?, and has been answered as many millions of times in many ways.  But for us today, not having heard the question before, nor having heard the answers, it is as fresh as the first time it was asked.  This is not a history of Sunday vs. Saturday in the church, that is well beyond my learning, and others have done a better job.  This is a review of the so called “proof texts” of Christendom used to rationalize, justify, or excuse, not following the Sabbath as spelled out in the Law.  Few commandments are so clearly defined by God, with such importance as the Sabbath, few commandments make the Top Ten, in fact only ten.  Yet there it is, proclaiming its importance through its position.  How we managed to stray so far from it to pass laws prohibiting trade on Sunday would be yet another depressing study that we won’t be making right now.So what are these proof texts?  I haven’t consulted any commentaries, at least not yet, to see what the historical ones are.  I will just start by looking up “first day” in the New Testament and seeing what I find. 

Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

Jesus had been put in the tomb three days earlier (on Wednesday evening.  I will here resist the temptation to branch off into the topic of how one can get three days out of Friday and Saturday) .  Since the Jewish day starts at sunset, He was in the tomb Thursday (Wednesday night and Thursday day), Friday (Thursday night and Friday day), and Saturday (Friday night and Saturday day).  He arose Saturday evening at sunset.  If we have trouble accepting a resurrection Saturday night because we can’t picture Jesus wandering around in the Garden for the whole night by Himself with nothing to do while he waited for Mary to show up the next morning, we have a much too limited view of Christ as God.  I’m sure that Christ had a productive night.  Regardless, Mary shows up Sunday morning, the first day of the week.  Actually it is well into the first day of the week as the first day of the week is already half over by the time she gets there.  If we really met on the first day of the week we should meet on Saturday evening.  Our lack of familiarity with Jewish thinking, and the dates of the Passover makes the passage difficult for us.

John 20:19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

This would have been Sunday evening because it was the same day, “that day”, that Mary had met Jesus in the garden.  The disciples at this point were not yet meeting on any day of the week, they were hiding.  Jesus had risen, they were told, but they had not seen him yet.  He appears among them to reveal to them all that He was indeed risen.  The fact that it was Sunday evening was not a result of a new custom, but of the timing of the events.  To make a precedent that now Sunday supersedes the Torah can’t be done from this verse.  And why is the Torah important?  Because these “Christians” are Jews, raised under the Torah, and knowing nothing else.  To meet on another day would not have crossed their minds.


Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.

 We might think that Paul had met with the Christians at Troas on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, but since the day started at sunset, and since the text mentions that he preached all night until morning, we realize that Paul had started preaching in the evening, and since the day starts at evening, he preached all Saturday night.  The case could be made here that since these were Jews, they had met Saturday evening because the Passover was finished and they were free to travel and so came together to see Paul off.  The Torah limits the distance one can travel on the Sabbath.  Whatever the reason, there is no mention that this was their regular meeting time, although it could have been.  It is only mentioned that they met at this time because Paul was leaving the next day.

1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.

This is a traditional request to take up an offering.  There is no inference that it is to be done during a meeting of the church on the first day of the week, unless someone forced it on the text.  Since the Jews are prohibited by Torah from commerce during the Sabbath, I would not be surprised if Paul was simply operating within Jewish custom and suggesting that they set aside money at the first allowable time after Sabbath to do so.  Again, a large part of “Christianity” is Jewish at this time, in spite of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.  We forget that Paul always made a point of first going to the Jews in the Synagogue wherever he went.We have run out of “first day” verses, so let’s expand to see if “day” yields any more texts:

Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts

Acts 5:42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Acts 6:1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.

Acts 16:5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily

Acts 17:11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

In all these references, the Jews (and Gentiles) are meeting every day.  Perhaps we should meet daily.  It would do us good.  Notice several other things while we are here:  they met in the temple courts, where the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost (not in the upper room, as we believe), they met not only in the temple, but in their homes, the original Home Groups.  They ministered to the poor daily.  They taught and gained members daily.  And they studied the scriptures daily.So why do we meet on Sunday?  The reason must be historical, in the sense of happening later in time than the early church, because it certainly isn’t scriptural.  The history of the change must wait for another study on another day.