The Sunday Supper
It is a question of critical importance whether the Scriptures require members of a local church to assemble to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, or Sunday. If they do not, the frequency of church assemblies then becomes a discretionary matter and churches may arbitrarily choose other days and frequencies of assembly. Given the human tendency to minimize religious obligations, such a conclusion would undoubtedly threaten the vitality, if not the very existence, of churches.
The record of the disciples at Troas gathering to “break bread” (Acts 20:7) is the only New Testament text which makes a direct connection between Sunday and the Lord’s Supper, and the fact that this information is given in an example has presented difficulties. The challenge of examples, vis-à-vis commands, is knowing whether they represent obedience to a command or the exercise of an option under generic authority.
Observing people doing something does not necessarily reveal why they are doing it. For instance, if a person just sees a child bringing his father a glass of water, he does not know why. Perhaps the child is acting in response to a directive from his father or perhaps strictly on his own initiative out of kindness. On the other hand, if he hears the father direct his son to bring him a glass of water, then he knows why the son acted.
Likewise, it is important to know why Christians in the New Testament acted before treating their conduct as something requiring imitation. Since New Testament Christians are sometimes recorded as acting without a specific command, reading about their conduct in the New Testament does not, in and of itself, reveal whether they were acting in obedience to God’s command applicable to other Christians. It must be allowed, in the absence of other information, that, as is true of all Christians, they may have been exercising a choice under God’s generic authority (cf. “go,” Matthew 28:19).
Therefore, before anyone can insist on using the example of the disciples in Troas partaking of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday as a basis for requiring others today to do likewise, he must have some information which makes a compelling case that those disciples met on Sunday because they were acting in response to a divine directive to do so. If this is why they did so, this means that others today must do likewise. This conclusion is based on the premise that what some New Testament Christians did in obedience to a general command is equally applicable to all Christians, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper is a general command applicable to all Christians (I Corinthians 11:17-34).
To return to an earlier point in this discussion, there is an important difference between observing the random occurrences of daily life and reading the examples recorded by New Testament writers, such as Luke. Daily observations of events may occur randomly or uncontrollably, as far as the observer can tell. This is to say that one’s observation of events has no direct or discernible relation to the events themselves. When, or why, something happens is in no way related to one’s observation of it (assuming the actor does not know he is being observed or is not responding to that fact). Events are independent of observation. Again, whether one observes a son bringing his father a glass of water, or does not, is not the reason the son brings his father a glass of water (especially if the son does not know he is being observed).
On the other hand, this is not the case with the record of events or observations. While an observer may not be able to control independent events or whether he sees them, he certainly can choose whether to record them, and if he chooses to record them, it is presumable that he has some purpose in doing so. If he could just as well leave the event unrecorded, then there is no point in him making a record of it. This is especially true in the case of New Testament writers, who were guided by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures should be approached with the presumption that the Holy Spirit had a purpose in every word and event He had recorded in them (II Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, to articulate the question in a way which more appropriately reflects an appreciation of this important point is to ask, not why the disciples in Troas partook of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, but why Luke recorded that they did.
There are about ten elements in Luke’s example of the disciples at Troas (Acts 20:6-16). These include:
- the disciples gathering to “break bread” on Sunday (Acts 20:7),
- the preacher speaking until midnight (Acts 20:7),
- meeting in an upper room (Acts 20:8),
- many lamps in the meeting place (Acts 20:8),
- meeting at night (Acts 20:7,8,11),
- an open window with someone sitting on its sill (Acts 20:9),
- the preacher eating at the meeting place after speaking (Acts 20:11),
- brethren staying up all night (Acts 20:11),
- the preacher taking a walk after speaking or “go[ing] by land” to his next appointment (Acts 20:13-14), and
- the preacher leaving town after speaking (Acts 20:7,11).
It is important to note that it is possible to account with information provided in the text for all of the elements of this example recorded by Luke - except one!
The story line in the paragraphs under consideration centers around the unusual event of Paul raising a young man from the dead. Once this is recognized (along with other information provided explicitly in the context), the purpose for Luke recording the other elements of this example becomes clear, since they relate directly to that fact. The reason why Luke recorded that the disciples met in an upper, or third-floor, room at night in a building with an open window and lamps and Paul speaking until midnight, etc., can be traced all the way back to his inclusion of the story of Eutychus falling out of the window and Paul raising him from the dead. Why did Eutychus die? He fell out of a third-floor window. Why did he fall out of a window? He was sitting on it and fell asleep. Why did he fall asleep? Paul preached late into the night (hence, the lamps). Why did he preach late into the night? He was intending to depart the next day, was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost, and wanted to make the most of his time with brethren he never expected to see again (Acts 20:7, 16, 25).
This is enough information to explain why Luke recorded the various elements of this example, and it has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit in this way instructing other Christians that they are to replicate them! Had the Holy Spirit not wanted to include the story of Paul raising Eutychus from the dead, it is presumable that He would not have seen any more need to include the information about the circumstances under which the disciples in Troas met than He did about the circumstances under which other disciples met. Since the Holy Spirit obviously included the elements of this example for another purpose than that of teaching Christians to replicate them, there is no need for Christians to be concerned with doing so.
However, Paul’s raising of Eutychus from the dead does not account for Luke recording that the disciples at Troas met on the first day of the week. In other words, the fact that it was Sunday night, as opposed to another night of the week has no direct bearing on why Eutychus died. This is to say that, if all of the elements of the story remained the same, except that it was any other night of the week, the results (i.e., Eutychus being killed by a fall from his seat in an open third-floor window of the meeting place) would have been precisely the same. However, remove the nighttime meeting (which necessitated many lamps), for instance, and Eutychus does not have occasion to fall asleep on Paul’s sermon, fall out of the window to his death, and be raised by Paul. On the other hand, Paul raising Eutychus from the dead provides no basis for Luke observing that it was Sunday when the disciples met to “break bread.”
Moreover, there is strong positive evidence that the disciples at Troas met on Sunday because they acted under direct divine command to do so. After all, if God did not require churches to assemble on Sundays to partake of the Lord’s Supper and, therefore, one day of the week is just as good as another for this purpose, there would have been no point in Luke recording this information!
Also, every time New Testament writers name the day of the week when an event occurred, that day is always clearly significant or relevant to the event. New Testament writers specifically mention only three days of the week - the day of preparation (Friday), the Sabbath (Saturday), and the first day of the week (Sunday). Friday is significant because it explains that it was almost the Sabbath and why, therefore, the thieves’ legs were broken while they were on the cross and the women waited until Sunday to bring spices to Jesus’ tomb (Luke 23:54-56; John 19:31). Saturday is important because the Jews met in their synagogues and at other places on that day for religious purposes, and Paul seized the occasion to teach them (e.g., Acts 15:21; 16:13; 18:4). Sunday is mentioned because it was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, the third day after His death, in fulfillment of His word (Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:1,6-7,21,46; John 20:1,19). Without a single exception, there is always a clearly discernible reason why the writers of the New Testament recorded that something occurred on a particular day of the week.
Yet, there is no way to account for Luke recording that it was Sunday when the disciples at Troas met to “break bread” unless they were acting under a divine command to do so. If this information were part of an uninspired account, this question might never have arisen, or if raised, then dismissed as unworthy of attention. After all, uninspired writers make mistakes and record frivolous details. However, what the Holy Spirit chose to record by the hands of New Testament writers cannot be so dismissed, unless one wishes to impugn the wisdom of God.
The example of the disciples at Troas assembling on Sunday to partake of the Lord’s Supper, reinforced by corroborative evidence, is the Lord’s way of directing other disciples to do likewise. This is not a difficult inference to draw, and what this example teaches should be sufficient to all except those with an adversarial attitude. God’s word is not obscure, but it was written to those who have an attitude receptive, and perceptive, of the truth.