Out of Context Verse: Acts 20:7

Do you remember that time when the Apostle Paul started preaching at the Sunday morning worship service in Troas, went “a little long”  (way past midnight, actually), and that guy fell out of the window and died?

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. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. – Acts 20:7-9 ESV

Good thing Paul had the power to raise the dead, huh?

This passage is a classic example of taking a Western, Greek view of religion and time, placing it on top of the Biblical story, and getting a really messed up result.  And while the interpretation above is the most extreme version of this, it’s pretty accurate as to how Christianity has interpreted this passage for well over a thousand years.

The first mistake we make is seeing the words, “first day of the week,” and forgetting the way that the Bible views time.  The day doesn’t start at midnight.  Midnight is a Roman invention that has no bearing at all on the Biblical account. Since Genesis 1 –  and continuing through until today – the Biblical day began at sundown.

So, when Luke writes in Acts 20:7 that the Believers in Troas were gathered together on the first day of the week, this could be talking about any time beginning after sundown on what we would consider Saturday.

That fits the story in a much more reasonable way. At least we don’t have Paul starting his message at 10:30am on Sunday morning.  But there’s more.

Going back all the way to before the time of Jesus, the Jewish people have celebrated Sabbath with great enthusiasm. They treat Sabbath like we treat Thanksgiving Day. It truly is the greatest of the Feasts commanded in Leviticus 23, and it is treated as such.  Three meals take place during the Sabbath.

The first meal of Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday evening. It is a family meal that takes place in the home.  It involves special blessings over the lighting of candles, the breaking of bread, the pouring of wine, and the children.  When most non-Jewish people picture the Sabbath, this is what they think of.

The second meal of Sabbath takes place after the synagogue service on Saturday morning.  It is a large gathering of the worshippers from the synagogue, and it most closely resembles the “potluck dinners” of Baptist fame.

But the third meal of Sabbath is often overlooked by Christians, and this is where we get into trouble in Acts 20.  Every evening, at the close of Sabbath, a larger group than just one family and a smaller group than the whole synagogue community, gather together in one of their homes for the final Sabbath meal. It is the Jewish people’s way of prolonging Sabbath as long as possible.  In the first century, after the meal was completed, the men would go into one room and the woman and children into another, and both groups would discuss Torah. If a rabbi was present, he would be given a special honor of addressing the whole group.

Even today, these gatherings can last until 2am or later. Because of their love for Sabbath, the Jewish people do whatever they can to extend it as long as possible.

Now, reread the verses in question, and see if the CONTEXT alters your perspective on what happened:

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. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. – Acts 20:7-9 ESV

So now you’re thinking, “Does that mean you’re saying we should worship on Saturday and not Sunday?”

Yes and no.  I believe we should worship on Saturday.  I believe that God Almighty chose the seventh day of the week to be a day of rest and worship for His people. Without being too brash, this is the only one of the Ten Commandments that Christianity seems to completely ignore.

But I also believe that we should worship on Sunday. In fact, I believe we should worship every day of the week.  The Sabbath may be on Saturday and this may be the day when our Heavenly Father has asked us to stop our struggling and striving and working and rest, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t gather together with other Believers on Sunday to worship and glorify the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But let’s be clear: there’s really not any evidence in Acts 20 that suggests that the Church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  We shouldn’t read into the story what just isn’t there.

Huh…I guess CONTEXT MATTERS.

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