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Interpreting Paul

Learning About Paul

Saul and Stephen

Saul's Conversion?

Saul or Paul?

Paul's Self-ID

Paul & the Synagogue

the Day after Sabbath

Paul & the Festivals

Paul-The Day After Sabbath

      There are many things that Scripture designates should be done, or should not be done, on the Sabbath. But when scripture is urging that something be done that is not appropriate on the Sabbath, it consistently assigns it to the following day, the first day of the week.

      A good example is Paul's teaching in I Corinthians 16. It was not considered proper to handle money on the Sabbath. Financial transactions were part of the mundane that was to be avoided on the Sabbath. But Paul wants to urge his readers to put aside money on a weekly basis. So what does he do? Out of respect for the Sabbath, he urges them to put money aside on the first day of the week instead (16:2). Note that this is not in connection with any gathering, just putting money aside at home.

      This is consistent with the teaching of Torah. In Leviticus 23 there are instructions about bringing the first fruits of the harvest. But since Passover can be any day of the week, including Sabbath, it is specified that the sheaf is to be brought on the day after the Sabbath. Carrying sheaves to the tabernacle is definitely not a Sabbath activity. The only way to assure that it doesn't ever happen on the Sabbath is to specify a different day, the day after Sabbath (23:11).

      This same idea holds true in another event in Paul's life. In Acts 20 Paul is staying briefly at Troas before leaving for Jerusalem so that he can be there for the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) as Moses commanded in Deu. 16:16. Now we need to remember that lighting fires and cooking food was forbidden on the Sabbath. Food eaten on the Sabbath was either cold or cooked previously. It is noteworthy that when a farewell feast is planned for Paul in Troas, it is scheduled for the day after the Sabbath, so that there would be no restraints on food preparation. Note that the phrase "to break bread" in Acts 20:7 never refers to a sacrament, but to taking a meal together (cp. 27:35).

      It is traditional in Jewish circles to have a celebration, called Havdalah, to recognize the ending of Sabbath and the reverting back to ordinary time. This takes place shortly after sunset on Saturday evening, and it makes a big deal of lighting a smokey, triple-wicked candle, since kindling flames is not permitted on Sabbath. The gathering in Acts 20:7ff was apparently their Havdalah service; the smoke from the lamps was contributing to the sleepiness of the young man sitting in the window.

      We tend to picture this event as a Sunday evening church service. In reality it was a Saturday evening potluck supper. The first day of the week began at sunset on Saturday and this was obviously an evening event. It was springtime, between Passover and Pentecost, so sunset would have been between 6 and 7 pm. When Paul talked until midnight, then until daybreak, we picture him preaching. The words used, however, seem to indicate him conversing with people.

      Paul was scheduled to depart the next morning (Sunday). He would never have scheduled his departure on the Sabbath, since he was planning to walk the first portion. But here they were in an unidentified building, possibly the synagogue. After the Sabbath was over they lit lamps, cooked hot food, and continued fellowshipping late into the night. Then his companions left by ship and Paul (perhaps after a nap) began his walk to the next town.

      Other than these events, the only other times that the first day of the week is mentioned in scripture are in connection with the resurrection of Jesus. Here also we should think about it in terms of respect for the Sabbath. Rolling the stone from the tomb, whether by Jesus or by an angel, was not something that should be done on the Sabbath. So it's noteworthy that God waited until the day after the Sabbath to raise Jesus from the dead, allowing him to keep the Ultimate Sabbath Observance.

      As we have seen in this essay, every time the first day of the week is mentioned in scripture, it is to distinguish it from the Sabbath, the profane from the sacred. It is never with the intent of denigrating or replacing the Sabbath.

Paul and the Festivals

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