THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK

One of the difficult things to understand in the Bible is the time reckoning used in Acts 20:7-11. Verse 7 plainly says that they met on the first day of the week to break bread. But the question arises whether they were using Jewish time, reckoning the day from evening to evening, in which case they assembled on what we call Saturday evening and finally broke bread on early Sunday morning, or whether they were using Roman time, reckoning the day from midnight to midnight, in which case they assembled on what we call Sunday evening and finally broke bread on early Monday morning. Some have contended that if the former is the case then it is wrong to partake of the Lordís Supper on Sunday after the sun sets. Let us briefly see what the scriptures have to say about the different ways of reckoning the days.

For the purpose of this article, we will refer to the day which begins in the evening at sundown and goes until the next evening as the "ceremonial day," since the Sabbath was reckoned in this way (Luke 23:54). We will refer to the midnight to midnight day as the "legal day." And there is found in scripture a third way of reckoning the day, from in the morning when the person wakes up until the next morning. This we will call the "practical day," since it is in this way that most of us actually reckon time. In the Old Testament we find the ceremonial day and the practical day side by side. The ceremonial day is the oldest of the two, being found as early as Genesis 1:5 where the evening precedes the morning. The practical day, on the other hand, is seldom mentioned. It is found in Lev. 7:15 and 22:30, where it is said that certain sacrifices must be eaten on the same day that they are offered—that nothing should be left until the morning.

But more important for our purposes is the fact that dates are figured using the practical day, not the ceremonial day. In other words, the evening of the 14th day of a month follows the daylight hours of the 14th rather than preceding them. Thus there were two systems of reckoning going on at the same time—a new ceremonial day started each day at sundown, but it was still considered the same day of the month. This is seen in the references to the Passover week which occurred during the first month of the year. This week may be diagrammed as in the following chart:

14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
  Meal              
Feast of Unleavened Bread
Passover

Passover was on the 14th day in the evening (Lev. 23:5) while the Feast of Unleavened Bread covered the seven day period from the evening of the 14th to the evening of the 21st (Ex. 12:18,19). Numbers 33:3 records that the Israelites left Egypt on the l5th—the day after the original Passover. For this reason the 15th was considered the first day (i.e., daytime) of the Feast of Unleavened Breed (Lev. 23:6; Num. 28:17). In using the ceremonial day, Deut. 16:4 says that the evening of the first day of the feast precedes the morning of that day. Now note that although the Passover evening is part of the first ceremonial day, it is the evening of the 14th, not the 15th (the first day). Dates use the practical day, not the ceremonial day. This is seen in the New Testament also in John 20:19 where it is said that Jesus appeared to the disciples "on the evening of that day, the first day of the week."  Thus in reckoning the date, the evening follows the morning.

Turning to Acts 20:7-11, we see that the evening of the first day of the week would follow the daytime of the first. The practical day is not considered to have come "until daybreak"—the "morrow." Thus when they partook of the Lordís Supper after midnight, it was what we would call Monday morning, but to them it was still the first day of the week. Not having clocks, they were not the legalist clock-watchers that we sometimes are.

In conclusion, the ceremonial day is not in view in Acts 20:7-11 and they partook of the Lordís Supper on what we call Sunday night, not Saturday night.

—Bruce Terry, November 2, 1975

Copyright (c) 1975 by Bruce Terry


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