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Was Paul a Sabbath Keeper?

by Benard Kagaga

Always, when the Bible is given time as the word of God (II Timothy 3:16-17) to give us the clear way (John 14:6), when our minds reach a point confusion (I Corinthians 14:33), given time with the Bible we will understand. When talking with the Sabbath keepers, we learn they hate Paul’s writing, but they try to give Paul as proof to their claim for Sabbath keeping. Are they true to their claim?

Why do the Sabbath keepers hate Paul’s writings?

Paul said that Christ “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Paul was talking about the Old Testament having been taken away so that we believers may be together in the body of our Lord. Why did the Son of Man take this law away? It “was against us … contrary to us [Gentiles]” for it was only for the Israelites. “And Moses called all Israel [no Gentile included], and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us [Israelites] in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers [none kept those Laws before reaching the foot of mount Horeb], but with us [those who came out of Egypt], those who are here today, all of us who are alive [those who died before reaching mount Horeb did not know those Laws]” (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). So Paul was saying that “So let no one judge you in … regarding … Sabbaths which … [was] … a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

Did Paul contradict himself, if these people are giving him as a proof? What does the Bible say about Paul?

Let us see what Luke wrote when writing the book of Acts, the book these people cite as Paul keeping the Sabbath.

In Antioch in Pisidia.

When Paul and his party…departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down” (Acts 13:13-14). The question then is: did they enter “into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” because they were keeping the Sabbath? Notice: “after the reading of the Law and the Prophets” (Acts 13:15). Why not the New Testament? Because the New Testament was still in the process of being written. The men were invited to speak, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on” (Acts 13:15). Folks, Paul took the advantage he was given and preached Christ “that through this Man [Christ] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38), Paul said that only “by Him [Christ] everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). The Law, including the Sabbath, cannot justify. The Law of Moses is now invalid and cannot save one, but the law of Christ, the gospel of Christ, is "the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). If Paul went into the building as a Sabbath keeper, why does the Scripture says he “persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43)? But because he was not there for the Law of Moses, including Sabbath keeping, “the Jews … were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:45). Why? For Paul said, no one can “be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). But that was what they based all their beliefs upon. Paul preached “the word of God ... but … [they] … reject it, and judge … [themselves] … unworthy of everlasting life” (Acts 13:46). Was Paul a Sabbath keeper? The Scripture says no! Because of Christ Paul and Barnabas preached and “the city, raised up persecution against .. .[them] … and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:50).

In Iconium.

Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). Paul preached in this building and “a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.” Believed what? The Gospel of Christ preached to them, not the Law of Moses including the Sabbath day keeping. Those who did not believe in the risen Christ, the Jews, "stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren” (Acts 14:2). Paul and his team were rejected. It is true that when the true gospel is preached, even among the unbelievers, some will hear and believe. In Iconium the “city was divided: part sided with the Jews [unbelievers], and part with the apostles [believers]” (Acts 14:4).

In Acts 15:5 some false teachers came saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” So, by telling people to keep those Laws these false teachers were attempting to “test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). It is just like taking the freed people back into bondage. The Old Testament Law was a heavy burden.

The truth is the apostle Paul preached the Law of Christ, not telling people to keep the Laws of Moses including the Sabbath keeping. “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law [the Old Testament]" -- to whom we gave no such commandment"” (Acts 15:24). Let us be true to the Scripture, Paul was not a Sabbath keeper! 

The apostle Paul knew what the Old Testament Law was saying more than those who are trying to say he was a Sabbath keeper. He knew the Law said, “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath…It is a sign between Me [God] and the children of Israel forever'” (Exodus 31:16-17) and at the same point he understood the word “forever” in this text. How did Paul understand it? And how do we understand it? Let us give the Bible time to shed light on this. Paul knew that the word "forever" here did not include the Christian age. That is why he said, “let no one judge you in … Sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16).

Let us see Leviticus 23. The feast of Tabernacle was also given to the people of Israel. “Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days. … It shall be a statute forever in your generations.” (Leviticus 23:39,41). Is this feast still being celebrated by Christians? No! Think of another instance when Jonah was in the belly of fish, he said, “I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;” (Jonah 2:6), but for how long was Jonah down there? He “was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

Was Paul a Sabbath keeper in Thessalonica?

Paul and his team “came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17:1), he “went in to” (Acts 17:2) the “synagogue of the Jews” just as he used to. Why? In order to keep the Sabbath? No! But why? To reason “with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2), telling them the right things to do by “explaining and demonstrating that … This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:3). By examining and demonstrating to them, Paul, who knew the Law, must have talked with them that this is the one whom Moses said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me [Moses] from your midst [Israelites], from your brethren. Him you shall hear” (Deuteronomy 18:15). He must have said to them that is not Moses but that “the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead.” The one to be heard as God declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:5). Note that Moses was seen on the mount of transfiguration representing the Law and Elijah representing the prophets, but God said of Christ, “Hear Him!” -- not the Law of Moses or the prophets.

In this building at Thessalonica, Paul preaching Christ crucified, buried and resurrected resulted in “some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks” (Acts 17:4). If Paul was a Sabbath keeper, why did he persuade them into a different belief? Paul was taking them out of Judaism into Christianity. That is what true preachers of the simple and pure gospel of the Son of God are doing today, they persuade people of different cultures and religions, even those who are still holding Judaism as a religion, the Sabbath keepers, to come out and become simply Christians worshiping the Creator “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). For Paul was against what was being done in that synagogue as seen by the “Jews who were not persuaded … attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people … they dragged Jason and some brethren … crying out, "These [Paul and his team] who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:5-6). They accused Paul of preaching something new to their ears. In fact it was not new for in Acts 17:18, when Paul was in Athens, they said, “He [Paul] seems to be a proclaimer [preacher] of foreign gods.” The truth was not that “because he [Paul] preached to them Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18) not gods. The truth was Paul was turning the world upside down, overthrowing the kingdom of darkness by the authority of Christ (Colossians 3:17) giving the right way (John 14:6) on which they were to be “delivered … from the power of darkness [the world of Satan] and conveyed … into the kingdom [the church of Christ] of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). Folks, this is true with those who are preaching the true, sole, simple, and pure gospel of our Lord. They are being accused every now and again by those who are having the same kind of heart the people of Paul’s time had. They call them “unloving,” “judgmental,” “radicals,” and having “a bad attitude.” The writer do not believe so, but these are the accusations against those who are “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) by pointing to the sins in people's lives so that they can “Amend … [their] … ways and … [their] …doings” (Jeremiah 7:3) and “draw near to God” (James 4:8).

Was Paul a Sabbath keeper as today’s Sabbath keepers alleged?

In Athens Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). Paul kept the tendency of speaking about the Lord at every opportunity. He did not waste time but walked “in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4:5) teaching the word of God. Even with many rejections (Acts 17:18), he did not give up. Even though Paul “preached to them Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18), they rejected his teaching and called the gospel “new doctrine” (Acts 17:19). Was Paul a Sabbath keeper? The Scriptures says no! For he brought a “new doctrine” (Acts 17:19) and “some strange things” (Acts 17:20) to the ears of the Sabbath keepers. What was strange to their ears? The “change of the law [Old Testament]” (Hebrews 7:12) to “a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6) because of the death of Christ on the cross. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7), not the Law of Moses, for the blood of Christ flowed backward and forward “for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9: 15). Paul was part of the “better covenant” where there is a “promise of the eternal inheritance.

Bible believers cannot deny the apostleship of Paul as he testified by saying, “If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (I Corinthians 9:2). He affirmed that his apostleship was not by the will of man but by “the will of God” (II Corinthians 1:1). He humbled himself for the call of God to be an apostle for he looked back to his sins and he said, “I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (I Corinthians 15:9). The apostle Paul knew very well the establishment of “a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6), which included having no Sabbath as a day to be kept.

Was Paul a Sabbath keeper in Ephesus?

Was Paul a Sabbath keeper for we see him in Ephesus, in the Sabbath keepers building, reasoning with them (Acts 18:19)? Paul was reasoning with these people, highlighting the “better covenant” and the “better promises” which are “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3-4), mostly to “obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (II Timothy 2:10). Paul, being a preacher of the soul saving gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16), was constantly declaring it to any group able to be taught and to obey the gospel anywhere they could be found (I Corinthians 15:1-2). He persuaded men (II Corinthians 5:11) to obey the Lord and do the will of God (Matthew 7:21).

The apostle Paul was not going into the synagogues to worship according to the letter [the Law of Moses], but to preach the gospel of Christ whereby he “spoke boldly…reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Folks, let us note four things: Paul “spoke boldly;” that is, he preached the gospel of Christ with authority (Colossians 3:17). Just as he said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it [the gospel] is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Why? “For it [the gospel] is the power of God to salvation," To who? “Everyone [anybody] who believes” the power of God to salvation. Folks, the gospel does save (I Corinthians 15:1-2). It saved some in the synagogue and Paul “withdrew the disciples” (Acts 19:9) to another place for further teaching.

Paul was not just speaking boldly but was also “reasoning” as well as “he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:28), and after refuting them scripturally, he persuaded them “concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). In the Scriptures the church of Christ (Matthew 16:18) is the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 16:19), so by Paul persuading them “concerning the things of the kingdom of God,” it included the day of worship “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” (Acts 20:7) and “on the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come” (I Corinthians 16:2), not the Sabbath day. Those who accepted and obeyed the gospel (Mark 16:16) were “delivered … from the power of darkness and conveyed … into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13), the church of Christ. Those who did not want “a change of the Law” (Hebrews 7:12) “were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way [Christianity] before the multitude” (Acts 19:9) so Paul took away the believing “disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.

Amos, the prophet of God, asked a question: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Can Christianity go hand-in-hand with Judaism? No! For there is no agreement. In Judaism, they offered animal sacrifices. “When Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people” (Hebrews 9:19). But in Christianity, Christ is our only sacrifice for “how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14). Christians are under the New Testament. Paul being one said, “Or do you not know that as many of us [the "us" here includes Paul] as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). So “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12). Because of all these changes Paul preached. His accusers said, “Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people [from Judaism]” (Acts 19:26) to the true worship of the creator (John 4:23-24).

Was Paul a Sabbath keeper? No! He was not, for the Scripture says he preached Christ who came and was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Folks, let the Scripture speak for itself. It has said Paul was not a Sabbath keeper and served the Lord under the New Testament. Regarding the Old Testament Paul said, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).