Torah in the Book of the ACTS of the Apostles: Chapters 19 – 20

Chapter 19 – Paul’s Message –

paul-preaching-in-synagoguePaul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.  But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Acts 19:8-10, NIV

So far, when we have been told specifically what Paul taught, we have been told:

  • he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Y’shua I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. (Acts 17:2-3)
  • they [Barnabas and Paul] proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. (Acts 13:5) [That is to say, they taught from scripture to prove Y’shua as Messiah.]
  • He told them that John the Baptist had announced Y’shua as Messiah, and that Y’shua was the promised Seed of David Who would not see corruption, hence His resurrection. (Acts 13:23-24, 34)
  • He told them that because of the work of Messiah, there was complete and eternal forgiveness for sin. Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Y’shua the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. (Acts 13, especially v. 38Believe in the Lord Y’shua, and you will be saved–you and your household. (Acts 16:31)
  • repentTo the pagans he said, “Repent of your idolatry!”: Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:29-31)
  • Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks [Hellenistic Jews]. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Y’shua was the Messiah. (Acts18:4-5)
  • Now in Chapter 19 we find him arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.’ (Acts 19:8), a message that’s repeated in Chapter 20:25And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God….

Paul’s message was simple: Y’shua is Messiah.  He proved his case by relating John the Baptist’s endorsement, Y’shua’s miraculous resurrection, and Y’shua’s fulfillment of scriptural prophecy.  A king rules a Kingdom, so Paul also preached of His Master’s kingdom.  All of this fell right in line with accepted traditional Jewish understanding.  The only new element to Paul’s message was the marvelous news that through Messiah, complete and eternal forgiveness of sin is available! [1]

We don’t hear anything about being released from Torah. 

That’s because Paul wasn’t trying to change anything about the Jewish faith paradigm – he was simply presenting the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, King of the Eternal Kingdom and source of salvation, as promised in the Tanakh!  Paul was preaching perfected Judaism!   This is why the first believers were considered to be a sect of Judaism, as we will see in Acts 24 (specifically verse 5).

Lest the reader protest, as many do, that Torah remained in effect for Jews but not for Gentiles, we remind them that:

(1) YHVH is just, treating all men as equals and judging all according to the same standards. (Num 15:29, Romans 2, esp. v. 12, Lev 5:17, etc.);

(2) We are told repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments that Gentiles who come to faith in YHVH and Y’shua become part of Israel – we are EX-Gentiles and have been adopted into the Family and Commonwealth (nation) of Israel, and into ‘the covenants of promise‘.  (Isa 56:1-7Gal 3:7, Eph 2:11-13, etc.)  That means that Christians are to live according to Torah standards, too, just like their adoptive brothers, the Jews.

the_way_logo_blue_rgbPaul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned THE WAY. (emphasis added)  Acts 19:8-9, NIV

The records tell us that our forefathers in the Faith referred to themselves as Followers of The Way.

In his psalms, King David continually refers to Torah as ‘Your Way,’ ‘The Way,’ ‘The Way of Righteousness,’ ‘The Way of Life,’ etc.  Apparently he passed that term down to his descendants, the branch of whom included Y’shua’s immediate family. (All the leaders of the early assemblies were relatives of Y’shua.)

From their perspective, with the coming of Messiah, YHVH was honoring His promise to ‘rebuild David’s fallen tent… that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name‘ (the name of YHVH).  (Acts 15:16-17, referencing Amos 9:11-12)   Out of respect for their ancestor, they chose ‘The Way’ for the name of the movement that would restore ‘The Throne of David’ and usher in the Kingdom. (Luke 1:32, Ps 132:11, Isa 16:5, Jer 33:17, etc.)

Scripture usage of the term indicates that ‘The Wayrefers to pure Torah, uncorrupted by the alterations of the rabbis, observance of which must be based on genuine love and trust for YHVH.  No doubt the term had additional meaning in that Y’shua referred to Himself (John 14:6) as “The Way, The Truth, and The Life.”  Each of these terms reflected His view of Himself as embodying the Truth of Torah: see Psalm 119:42, which calls Torah ‘The Truth,’ and Pro 6:23, which calls Torah ‘The Light’ and ‘The Way of Life.’

 Acts 20 – Unleavened Bread and Sunday Worship

And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. Acts 20:6

Once again we find time being marked by reference to the feasts of YHVH rather than by more ‘Gentile-friendly’ terms.

 Saturday vs. Sunday worship

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.  Acts 20:7

This passage is often used to support the teaching that the early believers worshipped on Sunday – the first day of the week – rather than on Saturday, the seventh day of the week.  It was distressing to learn that such teaching merely reveals a very poor understanding of the Hebraic marking of time and ignorance (or purposeful lack of mention) of contemporary histories.

The Western Perspective

Saturday Sunday MondayWe westerners are accustomed to thinking of a day as a 24-hour period which begins at midnight on one night and ends at midnight the following night.  Although the day technically begins at midnight, in practice we tend to think of first light as the beginning of the day and late night as the end of the day.  We give each of these days a name, with Sunday being the first day of the week and Saturday being the seventh day of the week.

Therefore, when we westerners read that the disciples met to break bread ‘upon the first day of the week’ and stayed until midnight, we picture them meeting on Sunday afternoon or evening, and then staying together into the wee hours of Monday morning to hear Paul teach, with Paul leaving on his journey sometime on Monday. This makes all the sense in the world to us.  Unfortunately, we westerners fail to understand one extremely important fact:

The Hebraic Perspective

The Jews tell time in a completely different manner.   To the Jew, a day begins at sundown and ends at the beginning of the next sunset. In addition, he does not name his days: the days are numbered (first day, second day, etc.), with the exception of the seventh day which is called the Sabbath or, in Hebrew, Shabbat.

 jewish watchSince every other time-marking statement in the Book of Acts has used the Jewish system of time, we must infer that the same system is being used in this passage. Therefore, when we read that the disciples ‘came together to break bread upon the first day of the week,’ we must put ourselves into that Hebraic frame of reference.

It’s clear that that the believers met for the evening meal on that first day of the week. The evening is the first part of a Jewish day, not the end of it, as in our western way of thinking. If they met for the evening meal on the first day of the week, it means that they met for dinner at the beginning of the first day of the week.

The First Day of the Week

The next thing we need to know is what ‘the first day of the week‘ meant to First Century folks.  Fortunately, various ancient historians and writers have plainly informed us that ‘the first day of the week’ was the day that the new WORK week began.   It was the ancient equivalent of our modern Monday.  The ‘first day of the week’ was the day that everybody went back to their normal routine after the day of rest.  This was true ALL OVER THE ROMAN EMPIRE!

The Seventh Day of the Week

At this time in history, the Jews had made such an impact on the surrounding nations that the other nations had adopted the custom of observing the seventh day of the week as a day of rest!  Philo reported that the seventh day was “a festival, not of this or of that city, but of the universe.”

Josephus agreed.  He wrote:

Bust of Josephus
Bust of Josephus

There is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the Barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day hath not come! . . . As God himself pervades all the world, so hath our law passed through all the world also.

Josephus, Against Apion, Book 2, chap. 40

In other words, the entire Roman Empire was observing the seventh day as its day of rest.  This remained true until the 4th Century AD, when Emperor Constantine rearranged the days of the week and declared “Sun Day” to be the ‘right’ day to worship God.

Remember that the Jews were the first believers, and it was they who taught newly converted Gentiles.  The Gentiles would have been taught to conform to the worship practices of the earliest believers, who were all ‘zealous for the law,‘ just like Paul. (Acts 21:20)

Now we can picture this as a First Century Christian would picture the events related by this passage:
  • The believers had worshipped in their synagogue on the seventh day, called in Hebrew ‘Shabbat’ (we call it ‘Friday evening and Saturday’). They had had a wonderful time of fellowship with Paul, and they knew that they would be losing him in the morning when he would be leaving on a journey. (He would never have traveled on the Sabbath!)  They wanted to spend as much of the day with him as possible.
  • Since it was Shabbat, a day of rest and a day when food is not cooked, they went to their homes to rest after worship.  As an observant Jew, Paul would have been hosted by one of the leaders of the synagogue and would have studied and rested during the remainder of the day.
  • Reconstructed First Century synagogue in Nazareth
    Reconstructed First Century synagogue in Nazareth

    The men of the fellowship probably went to the synagogue for worship again in the late afternoon, as was customary.

  • At sundown of the day we call Saturday, it stopped being the seventh day of the week and became the first day of the week.  The evening hours following Shabbat are called Motza’ei Shabbat, or ‘the going out of the Sabbath’ – a favorite time for Jews to fellowship before the beginning of a new work week.
  • The group waited until sundown – the beginning of the first day of the week – to meet for dinner because then the ladies would be able to heat food.  The men probably initially met at the ‘twelfth hour’ (sundown, the end of the 7th day) for prayer, after which they would have chatted together while the ladies cooked.  Then they all dined together at their particularly distinctive Love Feast, for which they were famous.  Finally they settled down to hear some good preaching.
    • “…in a letter from Pliny the Younger to Trajan, in which he reported that the Christians, after having met ‘on a stated day’ in the early morning to ‘address a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity’, later in the day would ‘reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal’…” (Wikipedia article, Agape Feast, referencing Pliny, To Trajan, Book 10, Letter 97.)
  • This would be a very typical way to spend the evening following Shabbat. However, because of the special circumstances, this group continued into the wee hours of the first day of the week, not wanting to waste the opportunity to hear Paul teach.
  • The next day, sometime during the daylight hours of what westerners call ‘Sunday’ and the Jews called The First (Work) Day of the Week, Paul left on his journey.
  • It’s important to realize that if the early believers DID consider the first day of the week to be their Sabbath, Paul would never have traveled on that day, and the daylight hours would have been spent in worship and rest.  The reality, which agrees with scripture, is that:
  • back-to-work 2The first day of the week was a work day, comparable to our Monday.  The members of the congregation would have been expected to be at their places of employment on Sunday – the first work day of the week, and Paul was free to travel.
The Sequence of Events

 Shabbat begins Friday Evening -> Shabbat worship on Saturday Morning, Afternoon and Evening -> Saturday Sundown (Sunday begins) -> Dinner -> Paul preaches -> Daylight Sunday morning -> Paul departs on Sunday, the first (work) day of the week

In every detail, this passage fits with a normal Shabbat day and agrees with a Jewish reporting of the passage of time, consistent with the rest of the Book of Acts.  [2]

The Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot)

For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted [hurried], if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. Acts 20:16

In YHVH’s calendar, there are three feasts which today we call “Foot Feasts,” because for each of those feasts, every man in Israel was expected to make the trip to Jerusalem to participate in special offerings and celebrations at the Temple.  The three feasts are Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot, which we call by the Greek name of Pentecost.  This feast involves sacrifices and offerings by the people.

Paul was anxious to get to Jerusalem in time for Shavuot so that he could participate in the feast, as commanded in Torah.

We reiterate: If Paul had been convinced that Y’shua’s ministry had ‘done away with Torah’, he would not have been concerned about getting to Jerusalem in time for Shavuot, which is a Torah-ordained feast.  If Paul believed that the sacrifices had been done away with at Y’shua’s death, Paul would not have participated in them at Shavuot.

Paul was a godly man who ‘knew the Truth, and the Truth had set him free.’ (John 8:32)  If he believed that Y’shua’s sacrifice had ‘set him free’ from Torah, he would not have insulted his Master’s sacrifice by returning to Torah.

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. Pro 26:11

THE BOOK OF ACTSIntroduction * Chapters 1-5 * Chapters 6-10 * Chapters 11-12 * Chapter 13 (Part 1) * Chapter 13 (Part 2)Chapters 14-15 * Chapter 16 * Chapters 17-18 * Chapters 19-20Chapters 21-26 * Chapters 27-28

By John and Sue Wyatt, lambs.servant@gmail.com


© John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Lamb’s Servant Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


FOOTNOTES

[1] For a fuller explanation of this position, please see our article entitled WHY DID Y’SHUA COME TO PLANET EARTH?

[2]  An excellent compilation of information regarding the gradual shift of the church from Sabbath to Sunday worship may be found at www.SabbathFellowship.org, in an article written by Erwin R Gane and entitled How, When and Why was the Sabbath Changed from Saturday to Sunday? (Accessed 9 Jul 2014)   There are countless other articles and books on the subject.  We encourage the reader to do his own research.

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