Acts 13: Did Paul really keep the Sabbath?

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Sometimes out opponants tell us that:

Paul went to the synagogues on the Sabbath just because he was after the Jews!

Steve Rudd and the authors at have a study on their site dedicated to disproving the idea that Paul kept the Sabbath. He finds that Paul attends Jewish meetings on the Sabbath about 84 times in the book of Acts. Under “False Argument # 1” it says, “None of these passages, or any other in the New Testament, ever speak of Christians worshipping on the Sabbath day” (Italics are ours). There are two assumptions within this quote:

Assumption A) The passages in Acts do not prove the Paul or the christians worshiped on the Sabbath day.

Assumption B) No other passage in the New Testament proves Christians kept the Sabbath day.

We wish to challenge him first on assumption A:

Among the passages he lists there are two we are interested in commenting on. They are….

Acts 13:14 and Act 16:12-14.

Here is the first passage with some surrounding context:

Act 13:14-16
(14) But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
(15) And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.
(16) Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.

Now it is claimed by Steve Rudd that Paul’s attending of this Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath day was not him keeping the Sabbath, but rather 100% evangelism towards the Jews. We partially agree with Steve on this one, Paul was always ready, willing and desiring to preach to both Jews and Gentiles at any time and any where. We also agree that it is possible that Paul attended the synagogues on the Sabbath days also (not only) to reach out to the Jews. Yet we want to consider some of the context of the above passage before we take Steve’s word for it and believe he was there simply to preach.

Notice that Paul came into the synagogue, “sat down” and spoke not until the reader said, “Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” We realize that Paul wouldn’t of burst in there and began yelling and preaching without proper manners, yet we find it interesting that Paul did not speak until he was asked to speak. This passage certainly does not prove that Paul kept the Sabbath, but it neither proves he did not keep the Sabbath. With this in mind, we now guild our readers to one of Steve’s quoted passages which proves he did keep it:

Act 16:12-14
(12) And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.
(13) And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.
(14) And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

Yes Steve quoted this passage briefly. We found it interesting that he did not comment on this one as he has on the others. Perhaps because if he did he could not have said, “None of these passages, or any other in the New Testament, ever speak of Christians worshipping on the Sabbath day?” Notice if you will 4 points about these passages:

1) This was a meeting of Christians upon the Sabbath day. We say Christians because before this event, in Acts 11:26 the title “Christian” had been the one placed upon all those preaching Jesus Christ as savior. Paul was among those called Christians (see verse 30).

2) This Sabbath meeting did not occur in the synagogues as we find elsewhere in the book of Acts. Rather it took place outside “the city by a river side.”
Your typical Sabbath day meeting took place here:

-A meeting: This is evident by the use of such words as “we went” and “sat down.”
-Prayer: The verse says, “where prayer was wont to be meet…”
-Preaching: Verse 14 says, “… she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
-Baptism: Verse 15 says, “And when she was baptized, and her household…”

3) There is no indication here that Paul was once again “persuading” the Jews or the Greeks. Rather then evangelizing, Paul’s seems to be at this moment the main speaker for the gathering. We have in this passage a meeting on the Sabbath where the intent does not seem to evangelize as in those other Acts passages that mention the Sabbath, but rather to assemble together.

4) It’s likely that Luke was also here attending this Sabbath meeting because of some of the words Luke used in describing the event. Verse 13 uses the word “we” two times, verse 16 uses this word once. Verses 15 and 16 uses the word “us” about two times, not including the words “us” in italic.

Steve argues that those other 83 passages simply say that Paul was preaching to the Jews and not actually keeping the Sabbath. We submit that while it’s true that he was preaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath days to reach out to the Jews, it does not prove that he did “not” keep the Sabbath as well. Sure, Paul can preach wherever he’d like and whenever he’d like, but we find Jesus preaching on the Sabbath days in the synagogues as well:

Luke 4:16
(16) And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.

Will Steve now say that Jesus’ “preaching” in the synagogues on the Sabbath does not mean that he was actually keeping the Sabbath? Of course, we know Jesus actually kept the Sabbath day holy, but so did Paul the apostle… according to Acts 16:13-15. Yet there are also….

Other passages proving Christians kept the Sabbath

Steve’s quote above also says that none of the passages in Acts “or any other in the New Testament, ever speak of Christians worshipping on the Sabbath day.” We will now challange this part of the quote, which is assumption B:

There are passages in the New Testament which show that the early Christians , besides Paul, did in fact observe the Sabbath day. Note the following passage which our critic does not share with his audience:

Mark 16:1
(1) And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

We find in this passage that these three women, who were followers of Jesus, observed the Sabbath day first before going to anoint the body of Jesus. If they were not observing the Sabbath, we feel they would have anointed his body right after he was placed in the tomb. Yet, they waited until the Sabbath “was past…” to anoint his body with spices, knowing that there was a risk of the body to begin to stink, since only after a few hours after death the body begins to go through rigormordis. These women were not Jewish by faith, but Christian, since they followed Christ and his teachings. Strong’s G5546 for “Christian” means “follower of Christ.” These women, while being Jewess by birth, were by this time Christians. Luke is more specific with how these followers of Christ regarded the Sabbath:

Luke 23:54-56
(54) And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
(55) And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
(56) And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.

The word “rested” in the greek means to “be still, refrain from labor…” Verse 56 says, “And they returned…” showing how they intentionally left Jesus body to first prepare the spices and then to rest… “the sabbath day according to the commandment.” They found it more important to obey God rather then anointing Jesus lifeless body. This in no way dishonors our Lord, but rather it honors him the more, for God desires obedience of all those who truly love him, and keep… “his commandments” (John 14:15, 1 John 5:2-3).


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About The Author

Edwin Cotto

With over 13 years of experience in apologetics, evangelism and youth directing, Edwin has worked with various ministries both in English and Spanish. Having had the opportunity to travel to various states in the USA, and also to Venezuela and Mexico, he has enjoyed the privilege of conducting evangelistic meetings and apologetics seminars. His education includes training in the Medical Field, Adult Education at Valencia College, Biblical Hebrew with the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, and Evangelism with Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism. He is furthering his academic studies in theology while also working as a bible worker for the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Ordained as an elder, Edwin's passion for ministry begins first at home with his wife and kids.

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