Sabbatarian "Paul Would Have" Arguments

Ron Dart was a minister in the Armstrongite Church of God, International when I was growing up. I imbibed his arguments for the Sabbath and annual holy days, and I used them in debates with a Church of Christ friend, who didn’t think Christians had to observe them.

Today, I want to interact with some of Dart’s arguments for the seventh-day Sabbath. As in my post, Des Ford Sabbatarian Arguments, I’ll be citing a few of them from memory. But, as with Ford, many of Dart’s arguments are commonplace in Sabbatarian apologetics (although Ford and Dart can be quite original at times!). Thus, I’m not only responding to him when I address them.

In Acts 13:14-44, Paul enters a synagogue in Antioch, Pisidia (which is in Asia Minor). He does so on the Sabbath day, according to his custom (see Acts 17:2). Paul gives a powerful sermon to the Jews and pious Gentiles at the synagogue, and they ask Paul to come back the next Sabbath. When Paul does so, the whole city assembles to hear God’s word.

I’ve heard Dart and other Sabbatarians point out that Paul didn’t tell the Gentiles to keep Sunday (see here). “Why do you want me to come back next Sabbath?,” he could have said. “We Christians celebrate the Lord’s day, which is the day after the Sabbath. Come to hear me then!”

First of all, this argument assumes that Paul was obsessed with the day of worship. And that’s a problem I have with a lot of Sabbatarians: they assume that everyone is walking around with the Sabbath/Sunday controversy on the brain, just because it’s one of their preoccupations. “If Christians were meeting on Sundays, then Paul would’ve told the Gentiles about it,” their argument runs. Who says? Maybe that wasn’t one of Paul’s priorities at the time. There are more important things than one’s day of worship, like, say, the Gospel.

Second, Paul is in the synagogue on the Sabbath. You know, I get the impression that a lot of Sabbatarians like to project their own practices onto the first century church. They envision the early church gathering together for Sabbath morning (or, in the case of Armstrongites, Sabbath afternoon) services. I once read an Armstrongite church’s web site that said something like, “If you went back in time to the first century church and visited it on Sunday, you’d find you were a day late, since their services were the day before.” But Acts doesn’t say that Paul went to church on Saturdays. It says he went to the synagogue, which had a lot of non-believers. How many Adventists and Armstongites visit their local synagogues every Sabbath?

In From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, a pro-Sunday book, one of the articles maintains that there were many Christians who went to the temple or a synagogue on the Sabbath, while they gathered together with their fellow believers on Sunday (or, more accurately, Sunday night, which was when many of them got off work). That’s possible, I guess. I wonder how Adventists and Armstrongites handle this issue: If the early Christians went to the synagogues on the Sabbath, then when did they go to church? Do they think they did a double-shift every Saturday?

A similar “Paul would have” argument that Sabbatarians like to use concerns Acts 21:20-25. There, a group of Jewish-Christians says to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” (NRSV).

And Paul accedes to their request, thereby showing the Jews that he is not opposed to their Torah. I once heard Dart argue that Paul wouldn’t have done this, had he truly believed that Christ nailed the law to the cross. Rather, he would’ve set the Jewish believers straight, telling them that they didn’t need to observe the law.

Again, who says? Maybe Paul was trying to keep the peace, instead of bringing unnecessary persecution on himself (not that he succeeded). He had Timothy circumcised before they visited the Jews of Derbe and Lystra, since Timothy had a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1-3). He didn’t want to make the Jews mad, if he didn’t have to do so.

I can resort to the old “I Corinthians 9:20” argument, which says that Paul was only doing the Jewish customs to win Jews to Christ. And this has some merit, for Paul says in that passage: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.” But Acts presents Paul as a devout Jew. Acts 18:18 says he was even under a vow, presumably a Nazirite one. I can’t see how that would have been a missionary ploy! It was something between him and God.

But I wonder why Sabbatarians like to see the issue as a polarity. The way they frame it, either Paul believed that the Mosaic law was binding on every human being on the face of the earth, or he treated it as worthless garbage that was nailed to the cross. But could Paul have respected the Jewish laws and customs, without thinking that everyone had to observe them? Observe, the Jewish-Christians’ concern was not that Paul was telling Gentiles to forsake the Mosaic law. As far as they were concerned, the Gentiles had their own set of requirements. Rather, they feared that Paul was telling the Jews not to abide by the Torah. And Paul demonstrated that this was not his goal. After all, Paul was pretty tolerant when it came to how others honored God (Romans 14). And he himself felt free to experience God through Jewish rituals.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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13 Responses to Sabbatarian "Paul Would Have" Arguments

  1. Juan says:


    You got me thinking and I have to ask the one question that drives me nuts.

    What does the Law have to do with our Salvation? The Gospel is KEY. Why do so many sour their lives with the LAW and the Sabbath? Why is it their only focus when they talk to nonbelivers?



  2. Juan says:

    One more thing.

    Not sure how this works but Joel at Grace Roots has a great post on rest. This is the rest we all need. We need to walk in love and rest in Christ.
    Here is the link. (this is the part I am not sure about)


  3. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the link, Juan.

    I think that the law still plays a role in the Christian life, since the New Testament has commands and refers to the Old Testament as an authoritative source. The link you provided makes good points, but it doesn’t wrestle with that. I wonder if there’s a way to hold on to its good points, while realizing that the New Testament has law.

    I may do a post on this in the future.


  4. rl says:

    Maybe you should understand that the Jews held their feast and service on the eve of Sabbath. The first christians celebrated also on Sabbath morning and called it the Lord’s day. The Lords day was not transfer to sunday till 325 ad to honor the sun as Jesus

    “The Word by the new covenant translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the morning light and gave us the true rest, viz., the saving Lord’s Day.”

    “On this day, which is the first of light and of the true sun, we assemble, after an interval of six days, and celebrate holy and spiritual Sabbaths, even all nations redeemed by him throughout the world, and do those things according to the spiritual law which were decreed for the priests to do on the Sabbath.”

    “And all things whatsoever that it was the duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s Day as more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath.”

    Source: Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 23, cols. 1171,1172.


  5. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thank you for the reference, rl.


  6. rl says:

    Also in Eusebius’ Quaestiones ad Stephanum et
    Marinum he was totally unaware of a sunday resurrection agruing for late (2nd part of day) or morning over early(1st part) or evening .
    Also maybe you are unaware “one of Sabbaths” is translated first day of week. Actually “first day of week” is never used in the NT. “one of Sabbaths” is just the first week of weeks in the count to pentecost. Matthew’s “Late on the Sabbath” might be the only witness to what day.

    Αλλος δε τις ουδ οτιουν τολμων αθετειν των οπωσουν εν τη των ευαγγελιων
    γραφη φερομενων, διπλην ειναι φησι την αναγνωσιν, ως και εν ετεροις πολλοις,
    εκατεραν τε παραδεκτεαν υπαρχειν, τω μη μαλλον ταυτην εκεινης, η εκεινην
    ταυτης, παρα τοις πιστοις και ευλαβεσιν εγκρινεσθαι.

    But someone else, [someone] who dares to set aside nothing at all in any way of the things that are extant in the writing of the gospels, says that the reading is double, as also in many other [passages], and each to be accepted, not this rather than that, or that than this, as the
    classification of the faithful and the reverent.

    Και δη τουδε του μερους συγχωρουμενου ειναι αληθους, προσηκει τον νουν
    διερμηνευειν του αναγνωσματος· ει γουν διελοιμην την του λογου διανοιαν, ουκ
    αν ευροιμεν αυτην εναντιαν τοις παρα του Ματθαιου· Οψε σαββατων εγηγερθαι
    τον σωτηρα, λελεγμενοις· το γαρ· Αναστας δε πρωι τη μια του σαββατου, κατα
    τον Μαρκον, μετα διαστολης αναγνωσομεθα· και μετα το· Αναστας δε,
    υποστιξομεν· και την διανοιαν αφορισομεν των εξης επιλεγομενων· ειτα το μεν·
    Αναστας, αν, επι την παρα τω Ματθαιω· Οψε σαββατων· τοτε γαρ εγηγερτο. το δε
    εξης ετερας ον διανοιας υποστατικον συναψωμεν τοις επιλεγομενοις· πρωι γαρ
    τη μια του σαββατου εφανη Μαρια τη Μαγδαληνη.

    And indeed, this part granted to be true, it is fitting to interpret the
    mind of the reading. If I at least grasp the meaning of the word, we should not find that it is opposite to the things said by Matthew: Late on the sabbath the savior was raised. For the [statement]: And having risen up early on one of sabbaths, according to Mark, we will read with a pause. And after the [statement]: And having risen up, we will place a
    comma. And we will divide the meaning of those things that are said
    following. Then, on the one hand, the [statement]: Having risen up, might be upon that of Matthew: Late on the sabbath, for then he was raised. On the other hand, that which follows we might join together with the things said after that, which gives rise to other meanings: For early on the one of the sabbaths he appeared to Mary Magdalene


  7. rl says:

    “But could Paul have respected the Jewish laws and customs, without thinking that everyone had to observe them? Observe, the Jewish-Christians’ concern was not that Paul was telling Gentiles to forsake the Mosaic law.”

    Paul never wanted anyone to forsake the Mosaic law but was being falsely accused because he did teach that the traditions of the jews which the jews added to the Mosaic law should only be followed out of ones personal conscience like the 1536 added regulations to the Sabbaths,regulations on how to determine and count the first month plus many more traditions. Salvation is by Grace which all mankind will receive equally at Great White Throne Judgement which come after the promises of God to Abraham and the people of the Covenants .


  8. James, I think your responses to these Sabbatarian arguments from Paul are good ones. I once had an Adventist friend who challenged me that Sunday was not the new Sabbath, I answered, ‘Of course it isn’t.’ He was surprised because he thought all who attended church on Sunday were Sunday Sabbatarian.

    Actually I was raised a Sunday Sabbatarian but came to realize that the Sabbath law was no more binding on Christians that the rest of the law.


  9. rl says:

    Actually the Sabbath or the law was never binding, it was always a choice but there were blessings for those who chose to follow it. One was to be a member of the church(spiritual Israel) which provided blessings in the land and the other was to be heir with Abraham to Inherit All the land promised to him as a possession .
    Nothing whatsoever changed in the blessings except for the priesthood,sacrifice and temple Covenant which was changed back to the order of Melchizedek therefore ending the Aaronic covenant which was faulty and could never make one perfect.
    Only 2nd temple judaism and the oral law made their interpretations of the Law binding.
    You are right in saying there is no such thing as a Sunday Sabbatarian


  10. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi rl. Your arguments are making more sense to me now that I reread my post. My question is this: Do you believe that the scenes in the New Testament in which Jesus or Paul went to the synagogue on the Sabbath occurred at night?


  11. rl says:

    Probably but dont think all the events on the Sabbath took place in evening.
    But It was the custom of the jews to go to synagogue to hear Moses read on the night of the Sabbath .


  12. rl says:

    My point is the feast of the Sabbath was at night but according to Eusebiusit was being celebrated in the morning in honor of the resurrection by some christians. Several early church fathers noted that most did both.One other thing to note is during this period the day started at first light hence the markings on the sundial of that period.
    Here is a longer version of quote which has incense being burned and even the shewbread being presented
    Evidently the first christians equated to the first day of creation.

    “Wherefore as they rejected the Word by the New Covenant, Translated and transferred the feast of the sabbath to the morning light, and gave us the symbol of true rest, viz. The Saving Lord’s Day, the first of the light, in which the Saviour of the world, after all his labours among men, obtained the victory over death, and passed the portals of heaven, having achieved a work superior to the six-days’ creation on this day, which is the first of light and of the true Sun, we assemble, after an interval of six days, and celebrate holy and spiritual sabbaths, even all nations redeemed by him throughout the world, And do those things according to the spiritual law, which were decreed for the priests to do on the sabbath; for we make spiritual offerings and sacrifices, which are called sacrifices of praise and rejoicing; we make incense of a good odour to ascend, as it is said, ‘Let my prayer come up before thee as incense.’ Yea, we also present the shewbread, reviving the remembrance of our salvation, the blood of sprinkling, which is of the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, and which purifies our souls. . . . Moreover we are diligent to do zealously, on that day, the things enjoined in this Psalm; by word and work making confession to the Lord, and singing in the name of the Most High. In the morning, also, with the first rising of our light, we proclaim the mercy of God toward us; also his truth by night, exhibiting a sober and chaste demeanour; And all things whatsoever that it was duty to do on the sabbath these we have transferred to the Lord’s day, as more appriately belonging to it, because it has a precedence and is first in rank and more honourable than the Jewish sabbath. For on that day, in making the world, God said, Let there be light, and there was light; and on the same day, the Sun of righteousness arose upon our souls. Wherefore it is delivered to us [paradodotai, it is handed down by tradition,] that we should meet together on this day ; and it is ordered that we should do those things announced in this Psalm.”


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