The Expository Files.


Gathered Together on the First Day of the Week

Acts 20:7,8



Paul was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia when he  set sail from Philippi and came to Troas where he met up with Luke and his companions. The travelers delayed their travels and remained at Troas for seven days, waiting until the first day of the following week so they could assemble with the church there on the Lord's Day to worship together (Acts 20:1-7).

There are several remarkable things that could be said about this. First, we see from the context that Luke, the writer of Acts, was present at Troas and was recording the event first hand, as he did with many of the events recorded in the Book of Acts. Second, we see a listing of the traveling companions by name and the places they were from. These were people that anyone living at that time could speak to and ask about the events Luke records. These are real people and real events.

Another point is that it was the church's practice to assemble together on the first day of the week to worship. This is Sunday. The church did not assemble on the seventh day of the week, or Saturday, though disciples would often go to the synagogues on that day to teach the gospel to unbelievers. If the church had assembled on Saturday, then Paul would not have to have waited until the first day of the week for them to assemble.

Consider this Sunday assembly of the church of Christ at Troas: "And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. And there many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together." (Acts 20:7,8).

The Preacher
"Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight." (Acts 20:7c). It would certainly have been a notable day for the church at Troas to remember. Paul may not have been much to look at, but there was power in that man! He had the confidence of a gladiator, the conviction of a zealot and a love for truth and right that knew no limits. Even as he proclaimed the word on that evening, there were plots unfolding by his enemies to murder him (Acts 20:3).

The Time
"And on the first day of the week... and he prolonged his message until midnight." (Acts 20:7a,c). Some suggest that this is Saturday evening instead of Sunday evening. They say that as the Jews reckoned time, the first day of the week would begin on Saturday evening at 6:00 PM. However, the Romans reckoned time as we do, from midnight to midnight. Troas was a Gentile city, Luke was a Gentile writer, and he writes to "Theophilus," which is a Gentile (Greek) name. So it is almost certain that Roman time is being used. In any case, the Bible says it is on the "first day of the week", not "the seventh day of the week" that the disciples came together. No matter how you cut it, this is an assembly on the "Lord's Day" (The "Lord's Day" is the way early Christians referred to Sunday; cf. Revelation 1:10. This was the day Jesus arose from the grave as well as the day upon which the church began).

The Breaking of Bread
"...when we were gathered together to break bread..." (Acts 20:7b). The stated purpose of the first day of the week assembly was "to break bread." We usually think of this being done in the morning, but there would have been good reason for an evening assembly in the first century. Many of the disciples would have been servants who would be required to finish their day's chores before being granted permission to deal with their own business.

The term "break bread" by itself could either mean to have a common meal, or could refer to the partaking of the Lord's Supper. We must consider the context to see which is being referred to here. We shall see that the context shows that this was something that was only done on the first day of the week (whereas a common meal would occur every day). The Scriptures use the same term "breaking of bread" in a purely spiritual context also in Acts 2:42 (along with "apostles' teaching", "fellowship" and "prayer").

Also remember that Paul and his companions had delayed their journey about a week so they could meet with this gathering (vs. 6). This means we are talking about a once a week occurrence. It also means that the time of this "breaking of bread" would not be moved up a few days for convenience sake. It would have to be on the "Lord's Day." Many people today feel comfortable in moving it to another day or changing its frequency, but not in the first century! Even as noted Presbyterian scholar Albert Barnes noted, "It is probable that the apostles and early Christians celebrated the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day." (Barnes Notes on the New Testament; Acts 20:7). He's right, and so should we celebrate it likewise!

The Lesson
"...Paul began talking to them, and prolonged his message..." (Acts 20:7b). We are not told anything about the content of Paul's message on this occasion  specifically, but we are told about the content of his messages in general.

The word translated "talking" here is sometimes rendered "reasoned" (Acts 17:2). The basis of his teachings was always the gospel. The word of the cross was foolishness to those who were perishing, but to those who were being saved it was "the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18). Paul describes his message this way: "...which things we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." (I Corinthians 2:13). The assembly was orderly (I Corinthians 14:33, 40) so that learning could take place and the brethren could be encouraged to "love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:23-25).

The Atmosphere
"And there were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together." (Acts 20:8). The church at Troas was using an "upper room" in which to assemble. This was probably a good sized room larger than those on lower floors which would be partitioned by more walls. This upper room is actually on the third story (vs. 9). Luke also mentions that there were many lamps in the room. There is no indication here or anywhere else in the New Testament that these lamps were used for any other reason than simply to provide light. Luke's mention of them does provide some insight though. First, such an incidental description reminds us that we are reading an eyewitness account. All the lamps in the room vividly struck him. Secondly, it shows that some preparation had been made ahead of time to make this place as conducive as possible for worship. Perhaps the lamps remained all the time and the upper room was a regular place of worship.

It is on the next day that Paul continues his journey, having met with the disciples at Troas for probably the final time. From Troas he makes his way to Miletus where he meets with the elders from Ephesus and says his farewells to them as well. Then, it is on toward Jerusalem, arrest and imprisonment. Paul had intended to go to Rome, and he would go as a prisoner; but free in Christ.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 2.4; April, 1995

 

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