What is the meaning of Acts 20:7?
by Kelly McDonald, Jr.
“6 But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” (Acts 20:6-7, NIV emphasis mine throughout)
Some have said that these verses are an indication that Paul was making a shift away from Sabbath and towards weekly observance of the first day of the week, which we call Sunday today. Notice that there was no recurring or weekly first-day service mentioned before or after this event. No rest or worship is mentioned at all for the day. Paul only taught on the day; he only did this once.
As I often tell people, the text determines context. This one-time teaching episode by Paul on the first day of the week happened because he was leaving the next day. He had to get the message delivered before he left. There are zero references to an ongoing practice of this nature by any of the first disciples before or after this event.
To give further depth to Paul’s actions in these verses, let us start with his example. In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul kept the Sabbath with Jews and Greeks.
Acts 13:14 “14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down….”
Acts 14:1 “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed”
Acts 16:12 “From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.”
Acts 17:1-2: “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures…”
Acts 18:1-4: “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3 and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. 4 Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Before we arrive at Acts 20, there is an established pattern by Paul. It was his custom to attend gatherings on the Sabbath with both Jewish and Greek people.
Too often we use a Roman mindset to understand the Bible. Days do not end or begin at midnight. They end/begin at sunset.
It is important to remember that the Sabbath is from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset. All of us know that at certain times of the year, sunset can be earlier or later. Those of us who honor the Sabbath know that after service is over we typically sit around and fellowship. We pray with each other and talk about the Word of God. This often will go past sunset on Saturday, especially when the sun sets sooner. Potluck meals are often involved.
This is the case with Acts 20:7. At sunset, the Sabbath ended and they had a meal. Why did Paul continue to teach after sunset? The verse tells us plainly, “….because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight…” Paul had an urgent message for the brethren. He preached until midnight to finish sharing his final instructions with the brethren.
The fact that he was already with the brethren before the first day of the week began demonstrates that he was with them during the Sabbath. For someone who might be trying to establish a custom to be practiced every week, one instance does not suffice. The Acts 20:7 meeting is clearly a one-time exception tied to his soon departure. To learn more about Paul’s Sabbath observance, CLICK HERE to read more.
Moreover, look at Acts 20:6. In this verse, we learn that Paul was in Philippi for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread has two annual Sabbaths in it (See Leviticus 23:4-9)! Paul wanted to make sure he honored this feast before he left Philippi.
Paul’s example shows that he continued to honor the Sabbath even with Gentiles for his entire ministry.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org