What About a “Saturday night” Observance of the Lord’s Supper?
“A prominent church in Nashville, Tennessee has decided to offer the Lord’s supper on Saturday evening, for those who may be unable to attend on Sunday. The minister defends the practice in the following way. Could you comment on this?”
The New Testament reflects the life of a multicultural church that apparently did not understand the Lord’s Day in our midnight-to-midnight time frame. The majority of New Testament scholars agree, for example, that the assembly “to break bread” at Acts 20:7 took place on what we call Saturday evening. It was a nighttime gathering—complete with “many lamps,” sleepy worshippers, and Paul preaching until midnight! (vs.8-9). The other option for understanding this event is that they met on Sunday night and then shared the Lord’s Supper in the early hours of Monday morning. Either option challenges our modern understanding of meeting together for the Lord’s Supper only during the 24-hour time frame we call Sunday (Rubel Shelly, “The Lord’s Day,” Love Lines, November 5, 2003).
The minister is entirely wrong. We are taking the liberty of reproducing a section from our commentary, Acts of the Apostles — From Jerusalem to Rome (Stockton, CA: Courier Publications, 2000, pp. 262-266), that deals with the context in dispute.
And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered together. And there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, borne down with deep sleep; and as Paul discoursed yet longer, being borne down by his sleep he fell down from the third story, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Make ye no ado; for his life is in him. And when he was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten, and had talked with them a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the lad alive, and were not a little comforted.
With the Disciples at Troas — Acts 20:7
Luke commences this section by discussing a church meeting that occurred on “the first day of the week.” The “first day of the week” is our Sunday. In the 2nd century, Justin Martyr wrote: “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly … Jesus Christ on the same day rose from the dead” (Apology, I.67). The rendition “On the Saturday night,” as reflected in The New English Bible, is entirely inappropriate.
Consider the following facts:
- Christ was raised from the dead on Sunday (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1; Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:1).
- Early on, the disciples began meeting together on the Lord’s day (Jn. 20:26). Robertson says this passage “seems to mean that from the very start the disciples began to meet on the first (or eighth) day” (339).
- The church was established on Sunday (see notes at 2:1).
- The congregation in Troas was meeting on Sunday (20:7).
- There was a regular contribution into the church treasury “every first day of the week” (1 Cor. 16:2 – Greek Text).
- For the first several centuries of the church’s existence, the written testimony is uniform that Christians met for worship on Sunday. “All Christians were unanimous in setting apart the first day of the week, on which the triumphant Saviour arose from the dead, for the solemn celebration of public worship” (Mosheim, I.35). Although Sunday was a workday in the ancient world, the disciples set it apart for worship. It became known as “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10).
Certain texts, as reflected in the KJV, state that “the disciples came together.” Most others have “we were gathered together.” This is another one of those first-person references that indicates Luke’s presence. The expression “were gathered together” is a passive voice form, signifying to “bring or call together, gather a number of persons” (cf. Arndt, 790). The suggestion is that this assembly had been convened by an extraneous directive, i.e., by divine authority. Sunday worship is not merely an arbitrary decision of men.
The primary design of the meeting was “to break bread”; the expression “to break” is an infinitive of purpose (Arndt, 790). The grammar leads one to this conclusion: if the communion is not to be observed weekly, there is no authority for even assembling on a weekly basis.
There have been two prominent errors with reference to the frequency of the Lord’s supper. First, most Protestants have failed to recognize that the communion ought to be observed every Lord’s day. For example Gordon Fee contends that observing the Lord’s supper is a “primary” New Testament truth, but the frequency of the rite “is based upon tradition and precedent” and “surely is not binding” (Fee/Stuart, 98).
But note this:
- It is clear that the church met for worship every Sunday. “On the first day of every week …” (1 Cor. 16:2 – NASB). In this passage, the term
katais rendered as “every.” J.H. Thayer translated the phrase “on the first day of every week” (328). Or, it may be rendered “each first day” (Balz, 2:253).
- The purpose of the meeting was to commune (see above).
- It thus is certain that the supper was eaten every Lord’s day.
Second, others have alleged that the Lord’s supper may be celebrated on any day of the week (Reese, 739). There is simply no Bible authority for that notion. Sometimes Acts 2:46 is appealed to for proof of daily communion, but the passage has to do with a common meal (involving “food”), not the Lord’s supper (Barnes, 59). Moreover, as one scholar has noted, “there is no second-century evidence for the celebration of a daily” communion (Ferguson, 96).
Finally, the elements of the communion call to mind the Savior’s body and blood, while the first day of the week points to His resurrection. To separate the Lord’s supper from the Lord’s day disturbs a vital union of components. Incidentally, “bread” is a synecdoche (the part for the whole) which represents the entire communion (cf. Acts 2:42), i.e., both bread and fruit of the vine (Mt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 10:16-17).
Because he was scheduled to depart the next day, Paul “discoursed” with them, talking right up to midnight. “Discoursed” (“preached” KJV) in the Greek text is
dialegomai (the basis of our “dialogue”); it suggests a presentation that was more conversational in character (Vine, 222). The imperfect form stresses that Paul kept on talking at length — till midnight.
On Sunday evening, not Saturday evening; Luke is not using the Jewish reckoning from sunset to sunset but the Roman reckoning from midnight to midnight: although it was apparently after sunset when they met, ‘break of day’ (vs. 11) was “on the morrow” (vs 7) (Bruce, 408).
Lake declares that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the meeting was on Sunday, not Saturday night (255).
[After the incident regarding Eutychus] Paul went back upstairs, broke bread and ate, and then talked with the brethren until daylight. Was this “breaking of bread” the Lord’s supper? Though some so claim (McGarvey, II.181), there is no evidence for this view, and much against it.
- Only Paul is said to have “broken bread”; others are not mentioned.
- The verb “eaten” means to taste. Vine suggests that this word is a “sufficient reason” to conclude that this was an “ordinary meal” (248). Hervey says the term is “never used” of the eating of the Lord’s supper (144).
- If this was the communion, then it was observed on Monday (see above), in which case the disciples did not do what they assembled to do.
In some Greek manuscripts there is an article accompanying “bread,” which normally might suggest a specific bread, i.e., that of the communion. However, as Middleton observes, in his famous volume dealing solely with the Greek article, this is not conclusive. He argues that this is “ordinary refreshment,” and not the Lord’s supper (288).
The Nashville gentleman’s position is quite without scriptural substance. It reflects an exceedingly superficial approach to the text, and a skewed logic. In Numbers 15:32-35, there is the instance of a Hebrew man who defied the law of Moses and gathered sticks on the sabbath. As he awaited the disposition of his case, how effective do you suppose his defense would have been had he argued that Israel was a “multicultural” nation, and what constituted the “sabbath” to them did not prevail among others? Therefore, he had labored on the “sabbath” with impunity, and was free from culpability. Need an answer be supplied?
The truth is, there are many misguided souls who are obsessed with “will-worship” — an attitude severely condemned in the New Testament (Col. 2:23). New Testament authority for one’s religious practice is of no concern to such people.
- Arndt, William & Gingrich, Wilbur (1967), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago).
- Balz, Horst & Schneider, Gerhard (1991), Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan). Three Volumes.
- Barnes, Albert (1956 Reprint), Commentary on Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker).
- Bruce, F.F. (1954), Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Fee, Gordon & Stuart, Douglas (1982), How to Read The Bible For All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
- Ferguson, Everett (1971), Early Christians Speak (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing).
- Hervey, A.C. (1950 Reprint), “The Acts of the Apostles,” The Pulpit Commentary, Spence & Exell, Eds., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), Vol. 18.
- Lake, Kirsopp & Cadbury, Henry J. (1965), The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapdis: Baker).
- McGarvey, J.W. (1892 Reprint), New Commentary on Acts of the Apostles (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
- Middleton, Thomas (1841), The Doctrine of the Greek Article (London: Rivington & Deighton).
- Robertson, A.T. (1930), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman).
- Mosheim, John Lawrence (1959 Reprint), Ecclesiastical History (Rosemead, CA: Old Paths). Two Volumes.
- Reese, Gareth (1976), A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Acts (Joplin, Mo: College Press).
- Thayer, J.H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).
- Vine, W.E. (1991), Amplified Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Iowa Falls: World).
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.