ACTS 20:7 AND THE FREQUENCY OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

The Bible doesn’t give a mandated time in which one must take the Lord’s Supper. Jesus first partook of the Lord’s Supper with His disciples on a Thursday night (Mt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-26; Lk. 22:14-23). When Jesus first instituted the Lord’s Supper, He did not mandate a time.

Paul, when writing to the church at Corinth, alluded back to this Thursday night partaking (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Just like Jesus, Paul never gave a mandated time. In fact, Paul said:

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

If Paul wanted to give a specific time and day for the Lord’s Supper, he could have. Instead, he simply instructed that it be done “as often” (1 Cor. 11:26). The word or phrase “as often” never carries with it specificity.

There are several passages that state or imply that the church met on a regular basis (sometimes even daily) to fellowship, evangelize the lost, exhort one another, pray, sing, etc. (Acts 2:46; 4:31; 5:42; 6:1; 11:26; 12:12; 14:1, 21-28; 15:25, 30; 17:17; 19:9; 20:20, 31-32; etc.). Most of the instructions in Paul’s letters show that Christians would be fellowshipping and worshiping together often (e.g., Heb. 3:13; Eph. 5:19, 21; Col. 3:16; etc.). There is no command in the Bible regarding when Christians must partake of the Lord’s Supper.

WHAT ABOUT ACTS 20:7?

In Acts 20:7, the Bible says:

“Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.”

Some teach that Acts 20:7 proves that one must take the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, only on Sunday and every Sunday. Can one deduct so much information from one verse? Let’s examine the context and find out.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BREAK BREAD

While the phrase “break bread” can mean the Lord’s Supper, it can also mean a common meal (Jer. 16:7; Lk. 24:30, 35; Acts 27:34-35; etc.). Because of this, there is some debate as to whether or not Acts 20:7 is the Lord’s Supper. However, as we will find, it doesn’t matter either way. Therefore, for the sake of this article, we will assume Acts 20:7 is in reference to the Lord’s Supper.

EXAMPLES DO NOT BIND METHODS

If Acts 20:7 is indeed an example of Christians partaking of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, then that is all it is—it is an example of what the Christians at Troas did—it is not a mandated law of what every Christian must do. Examples, in and of themselves, cannot bind a method. There are plenty of examples of Christians doing things in Scripture. Here are just a few of those things:

  • Meeting daily (Acts 2:46). Must we meet daily?
  • Fasting (Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 7:5). Must we fast?
  • Selling of possessions to give to the poor (Acts 2:45; 4:34; etc.). Must we sell our possessions? 
  • Washing feet (Jn. 13:14). Must we wash feet? 
  • Preaching until midnight (Acts 20:7). Must our preachers preach until midnight?
  • Using many lamps to worship (Acts 20:8). Can we worship in the dark or dim lighting? 
  • Meeting in an upper room to worship (Acts 20:8). Can we only meet in an upper room? 
  • Gathering and praying on the Sabbath day (Acts 16:13). Must we assemble every Saturday?
  • Singing hymns at midnight (Acts 16:25). Must we sing hymns at midnight?
  • Being baptized in a river (Acts 8:36). Must we be baptized only in a river?
  • Meeting in homes to worship  (1 Cor. 16:19). Can we only meet in homes to worship?
  • Preaching in synagogues on the Sabbath (Acts 17:1-3). Must we find synagogues to preach in?

This list could go on and on. The fact is that examples cannot bind a method. God has given no law in regards to the time or day we must take the Lord’s Supper. Romans 4:15 says, “where there is no law, there is no sin.” We have been commanded to take the Lord’s Supper. We have been commanded to take the Lord’s Supper when we come together. We have been commanded to take of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. However, there is no command or law in Scripture that teaches a fixed, specific time in which one must partake.

Clearly, all of these things are perfectly acceptable. However, none of these examples are viewed as mandated law or obligatory. There is simply no law or mandate in regards to when Christians must take the Lord’s Supper. Acts 20:7 would no more obligate a weekly partaking of the Lord’s Supper than John 13:14 would obligate foot washing.

PAUL WAS IN A HURRY, WHY DID HE STAY?

Some reason that Acts 20:7 proves Sunday is a mandated day because Paul stayed in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper with them. Later in the same chapter, we find out that Paul was in a hurry to make it to Jerusalem (Acts 20:16). If Sunday wasn’t a mandated day, then why wait? Why not take it earlier so Paul could go ahead and leave? Therefore, certainly this would prove Sunday to be a mandated day, right? Not exactly. When I objectively considered this line of reasoning, I found it to be lacking.

First, one could just as easily ask the same question about taking the Lord’s Supper at evening time. If the evening wasn’t the mandated time of day to partake, then why would Paul and the Christians have taken the Lord’s Supper in the evening? Consider also that the time of day always mentioned in the examples of the Lord’s Supper is the evening. Furthermore, the meal itself is called, “The Lord’s Supper.” It isn’t called the Lord’s breakfast or brunch (1 Cor. 11:20). Therefore, with this reasoning, the only authorized time to take the Lord’s Supper would be in the evening time.

If the example of Paul taking the Lord’s Supper in the evening doesn’t mandate evening as the only authorized time to take the Lord’s Supper, then the example of Paul taking the Lord’s Supper on Sunday doesn’t mandate Sunday as the only authorized time to take the Lord’s Supper.

Most importantly, this whole line of reasoning is all assumptive. One cannot prove that the reason Paul stayed was so he could take the Lord’s Supper. We have to be careful that we don’t read between the lines and fill in the details through our own preconceived beliefs. For example, we are not informed that Paul was in a hurry until Acts 20:16. After Paul left Troas he “came on board at Assos” and then they went to Mitylene (Acts 20:14). Then, they “came opposite Chlos” and the following day arrived at “Samos and stayed at Trogyllium.” The next day they “came to Miletus.” It is at this point we are informed that Paul was in a hurry to be “at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:15-16).

When Paul was at Troas, there is no indication that he was trying to leave early, wanted to leave early or needed to leave early. In fact, Paul was sticking to his plan. It says that Paul had intended to leave “the next day” after they broke bread, and that is exactly what he did (Acts 20:7, 12).  The bottom line is that this alleged argument begins with an unproven assumption. One cannot prove that the reason Paul stayed was so he could take the Lord’s Supper. The text never reveals that to us. Therefore, it would be assumptive on our part to conclude such, much less try to bind such as a law.

I have preached Gospel Meetings on every day of the week. In fact, I once preached a one night meeting on Tuesday night when I was in a hurry to travel elsewhere. Does that mean that Tuesday night is now significant, or that the church there believes Tuesday to be a special day? No. It simply means that is when the church in that city chose to have their meeting. I wasn’t going to demand that they change their meeting times because I was in a hurry. If anything, the text reveals that Paul stayed so he could preach to them (Acts 20:7-12). Either way, an example in and of itself can never bind a method.

ISN’T SUNDAY THE LORD’S DAY?

In Revelation 1:10, John says:

“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet.”

The phrase “Lord’s Day” has rendered many conflicting conclusions because there is just not a lot of biblical context to work with when dealing with this phrase. Many Christians believe Sunday is the Lord’s Day while the Sabbath keepers believe the Lord’s Day has to be the Sabbath because Jesus is called the Lord of the Sabbath and Isaiah 58:13 calls the Sabbath day the Lord’s “holy day.”

“For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8).

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable…” (Isa. 58:13).

There is not a single time in Scripture where Sunday is called the Lord’s Day. To assume then that Revelation 1:10 must be referring to Sunday is without proof. If anyone is going to form a doctrine based upon this one verse, which I don’t believe should be done, the Sabbath keepers would have an edge. However, I don’t believe that one can prove the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10 is the Sabbath day or Sunday because this doesn’t fit the context. Attempting to use Matthew 12:8 and Isaiah 58:13 is also quite a stretch since it isn’t the same phrase. My point is that we cannot make doctrines, much less mandate worship days with an ambiguous phrase.

It is my conviction that the phrase “Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10 is not even referring to a specific day of the week. My conclusion is based upon the fact that the phrase “Lord’s day” is not used anywhere else is Scripture, but the aforementioned phrase “day of the Lord” is used quite a bit. When used, this phrase is always in reference to some sort of coming judgment (Please see verses below). Many other verses could also be used to demonstrate this (see: Zech 14; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; Obd. 1:15; Zech 14:1; 2 Cor. 1:14; etc.).

“For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up—and it shall be brought low—” (Isaiah 2:12).

“Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty” (Isaiah 13:6).

“For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that He may avenge Himself on His adversaries. The sword shall devour…” (Jeremiah 46:10).

“Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).

“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

Regardless of one’s view of the Revelation, John’s ultimate message in Revelation was reward for the faithful and destruction/judgment for the wicked (Rev. 20:11-21:27). God gave John a vision in which John was able to see the future coming judgment and write about it. He was “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day” in the sense that he was experiencing, through a vision, the coming judgment.

I believe this conclusion harmonizes with the context of the book of Revelation, while at the same time abstaining from creating a special significance to a specific day of the week.

Furthermore, even if it is granted that Sunday or Saturday was the day John spoke of, one cannot mandate a special significance to those days from this verse. This would still be unwarranted because Revelation 1:10 is not a law mandating that the “Lord’s Day” be kept or that Christians have to come together on the “Lord’s Day.”

CONCLUSION

When considering the times of the Lord’s Supper, we have the biblical example of Jesus taking the Lord’s Supper on a Thursday. We have Paul alluding back to this example in his first letter to the Corinthians. We have Paul saying “as often” as you do it. And we have one possible example of Christians taking the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. When looking at the evidence, we will see that there is no law mandating a specific time or day.

Biblically, when the church first began, Christians met and gathered daily in the first century (Acts 2:46; Heb. 3:13). However as the church matured and Christianity traditionally began to meet on the first day of the week because it was the day Jesus was resurrected. It wasn’t until around the middle of the second century that the first day of the week began being called “the Lord’s day.” The pseudepigraphal work known as the Gospel of Peter is the first undisputed usage of the phrase “The Lord’s Day” when referring to Sunday (The Gospel of Peter, 35, 50; etc.).

There is no law or mandated time found in the New Testament which obligates or restricts a certain time when it comes to taking the Lord’s Supper.  While the church traditionally met on Sunday to worship God, there is no Scripture that teaches nor any law binding Sunday as the “New Sabbath” or a “Holy Day.”

– Kevin Pendergrass

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