Who changed the seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday? Was it the apostle Paul? What does the Bible say about Paul’s personal example regarding the Sabbath?
Some who argue against keeping the Fourth Commandment acknowledge that Jesus kept the seventh-day Sabbath but contend that He did so because He was a Jew and that He later authorized the apostle Paul to abandon this command when teaching gentiles (non-Jews).
Even though some of Paul’s writings are “hard to understand” and are therefore misinterpreted (2 Peter 3:15-16), his personal example regarding the Sabbath is quite clear. Paul not only observed the seventh-day Sabbath himself, he taught Jews and gentiles on the Sabbath day.
As we will see, the Sabbath was his regular practice—his custom.
The apostle Paul’s continuing custom of observing the Sabbath
As the son of a Pharisee and as one who zealously lived as a Pharisee prior to his conversion to Christianity (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Philippians 3:5), Paul’s practice was to observe the seventh-day Sabbath every week. After his conversion, this part of his life remained the same.
Paul in Thessalonica
When he traveled to Thessalonica and learned there was a synagogue there, “Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3). Note that Paul had the same “custom” as Jesus when it came to keeping the Sabbath (compare with Luke 4:16).
Paul in Corinth
When Paul came to Corinth, Luke records that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
Again, we see that Paul’s habit was to observe the Sabbath by going to the synagogue “every” Sabbath. He told the Corinthians to imitate or follow his actions, including keeping the Sabbath, just as he imitated or followed Christ’s (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul did not have a different form of Christianity than the one taught and practiced by Christ.
Paul in Antioch, again preaching to gentiles on the Sabbath
The scriptural record shows that Paul personally kept the seventh-day Sabbath and that he taught the gentiles to do the same.When gentiles in Antioch wanted to hear God’s Word preached to them, Paul preached to them the next Sabbath.
“So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation has broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:42-44).
Had Sabbath-keeping no longer been God’s expectation of gentiles, Paul could have simply told them that he would preach to them the next day rather than the next Sabbath.
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Gentiles praised for being “imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea”
In writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul praised the members of this largely gentile congregation (1 Thessalonians 1:9) for being “examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything” (verses 7-8).
So did this largely gentile congregation in Thessalonica that set the example for all the other congregations that were being established abandon the Sabbath, or did it follow the example of the Sabbath-keeping congregations comprised primarily of Jews in Judea? Paul answers this question saying, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 2:14).
The churches—whether made up of Jews or gentiles—that were established by Paul’s teaching observed the Sabbath. The scriptural record shows that Paul personally kept the seventh-day Sabbath and that he taught the gentiles to do the same.
Did Paul write against the Sabbath?
Some have pointed to specific passages in Paul’s epistles that they consider to put down Sabbath observance, in spite of all these references to Paul’s practice of Sabbath keeping.
Studying these passages in their full context shows a different story.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, a scholar who wrote several books about the Sabbath, examined Colossians 2:14-16, Romans 14:5 and Galatians 4:10. Dr. Bacchiocchi concluded they “deal not with the validity or invalidity of the Sabbath commandment for Christians, but rather with ascetic and cultic practices which undermined (especially in Colossians and Galatians) the vital principle of justification by faith in Jesus Christ” (The Sabbath in the New Testament, p. 123).
You can study the context of these passage in more detail in our articles:
- “Colossians 2:16-17: Did Paul Warn Christians Against Keeping God’s Law?”
- “Does Romans 14 Prove There Is No Sabbath?”
- “Galatians 5: What Does ‘Yoke of Bondage’ Mean?”
Paul did not teach a different gospel or different approach to the law or grace from what Jesus Christ and the other apostles taught. Paul spoke highly of God’s commandments and his example shows high esteem of the seventh-day Sabbath. Paul did not change the Sabbath.
For more on the Sabbath, read the article “Was the Sabbath Changed to Sunday?”