The Lord's Supper on"Saturday Night"?

Ralph Williams
Pasadena, Texas

The New English Bible published in 1961 renders Acts 20:7: "On the Saturday night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread, Paul, who was to leave the next day, addressed them, and went on speaking until midnight."

This translation causes no small surprise to those used to reading "the first day of the week" in the text of various other translations of the Bible. Why did the N.E.B. translators select "Saturday night"? The answer is they were making an effort "which would best put the reader in possession of the facts." Such is the statement of Dr. C. H. Dodd, General Director of the "New Translation of the Bible".

With all due respect to the translators, "Saturday night" is clearly an interpretation and not a translation of the Greek text. Of course, it is understood that the N.E.B. was not intended to be a literal word-for-word (as far as possible because of difference in languages) translation; rather, a "meaning for meaning" approach was adopted. The reader is encouraged to read the translators' stated "purpose" in the introduction (pages VII to XI) of the N.E.B. in order to understand their goals.

This unfortunate rendering appears to rest upon at least two questionable assumptions; one, the time of the Lord's Supper, and secondly, the time of assembling. Dr. Dodd, in a letter dated May 8, 1964 in response to my inquiry, (Alwyn Winton listed as "Chairman of the Joint Committee" on page VI forwarded my inquiry to Dr. Dodd since he has retired) says:

"The 'breaking of bread' took place after midnight . . . The question is, was it (what we call) Saturday evening, or (what we call) Sunday evening? If we understand it to be (our) Sunday evening, then the 'breaking of bread' took place on Monday morning early. This we thought unlikely We therefore concluded that the congregation at Troas assembled on Saturday evening-- or rather night, since Paul's sermon went on till midnight--which they (if they still followed the reckoning which the Church inherited from Judaism) would call the beginning of the 'first day of the week'. In the earliest hours of the following day (our Sunday) they proceeded to the 'breaking of bread', and later but still early on Sunday morning Paul left for Assos."

The N.E.B. translators are not alone in these assumptions. McGarvey's New Commentary on Acts of the Apostles follows a similar line of reasoning regarding the time element. J. W. Roberts, Greek and Bible Professor at A.C.C., in the Firm Foundation July 25, 1961 (p. 468) says, "The meeting at Troas gathered at night. Paul preached until after midnight; the lad fell out of the window and was healed by Paul. After this (which would be 7our Monday morning if the meeting took place on Sunday night) the group did what it had gathered to do 'on the first day of the week'--it broke bread and celebrated the love feast (Acts 20:11)." (The underscores are mine to indicate assumptions--RW).

Where does the inspired Luke say the church or "the group" broke bread after midnight? Acts 20:11 states "when he (Paul) was gone up, and had broken the bread, and eaten . . .". Luke could have easily written "they" broke bread at that time if such eating involved anyone other than Paul. Since Paul alone is named it appears he ate a common meal to replenish his strength from the long discourse and in preparation of the journey at dawn. Such would not be a violation of 1 Cor. 11:34 because Paul had no "home" in Troas, and the meal may have been eaten in a private residence on the first or second floor of the three story building, or the entire building may have been simply a residence.

Further, the time of Paul's eating seems to be a different occasion than the worship assembly. His activities after raising Eutychus are different than those prior. Until midnight Paul "discoursed" (ASV); the Greek word "dialegomi" is used in Acts 17:2,17; 18:4,19; 19:8; 24:12,25, and in each case a Scriptural discourse is involved. In the seven references cited, "reason" is often the translation, which may include "discuss" (Thayer p.139). Consequently, if Paul's discussion involved answering questions of the Troas brethren about the Scriptures, who's to limit Paul to only four or five hours, which is necessary according to the "Saturday night" 6 p. m.-Jewish-time theory? If a politician can filibuster some twenty hours about nothing, why could not Paul, having waited a week already and not expecting to see these brethren again' discuss eternal truths even ten or twelve hours? There's no question about Paul's physical stamina and love of preaching the Gospel as he did so "morning till evening" in Rome (Acts 28:23).

After midnight, Paul didn't "discourse"-- he "talked" (Greek "homileo," of which Thayer says, p. 444, "to be in company with; to associate with; to stay with", hence "to converse with, talk with" . . . unless one prefer to render it "when he had stayed in their company." In lCor. 15:33 the noun form of the same word is used). So this early morning gathering appears informal, with visiting, and Paul eating; whereas the worship assembly involved the Lord's Supper, worship, and Paul's Scriptural "discourse."

There is another point to consider. Luke writes (verse 13): "But we, going before to the ship. . ." Luke, Trophimus, Timothy and the rest of Paul's company left Troas before Paul. But When? Not before verses 7 and 8 for both include "we" (ASV; KJV incorrectly has "they"). Those sailing by ship for Assos must have left sometime in verse 9 through 12, thus, after midnight. It would be unreasonable to assume they left before or during the worship asembly and Lord's Supper (and Paul's preaching), which some had awaited seven days. The incident over Eutychus would have most likely brought the worship assembly to an abrupt close, and have furnished Luke and company the time for their leaving. Some brethren returned upstairs after the startling mishap, Paul ate and enjoyed the company until dawn and departure.

Admittedly there are assumptions here just as there are some behind the N.E.B. rendering, but this exposition takes into ac- count: (1) the fact Paul alone is said to have broken bread; (2) the difference between "discourse" v. 7 and "associating" v.11; (3) the early departure of Paul's traveling companions sometime prior to dawn; (4) the possibility Paul's preaching and discussing with the brethren may have exceeded six hours, which is the limitation per Jewish computation of time allowing the assembling no earlier than 6 p.m. if Saturday evening; ( 5 ) the recognition that the disciples probably came together to break bread during the natural day, which is what "1st day of the week" implies, when there are no modifying expressions like "evening" (Jno. 20:19) or "very early. . .when the sun was risen" (Mk. 16:1), etc.

A comparison of the Greek text will show this verse should have been translated exactly as 1 Cor. 16:2 with reference to time. The Corinthian passage is "mien sabbaton" while this one reads "mia ton sabbaton". One unfamiliar with Greek can see the close similarity of the words, the difference being simply one of case ending because of the sentence structure. Both passages show identical time, and probably would have been so rendered had not the N. E. B. translators been influenced by opinion arising out of their interpretation of the context.

We do not believe, as Dr. Dobbs suggests, that "Saturday night" is the translation which "best put the reader in possession of the facts." Such a rendering is confusing and misleading to those who are ignorant of Jewish and Greek time-keeping methods. It would seem "Saturday night" hardly conveys the thought of "Sunday" to the average Bible reader. It might unintentionally furnish a perverted "proof text" for an uninformed or unscrupulous Sabbatarian. And also, some isolated seekers after Truth could mistakenly think that only a "Saturday niaht" Lord's Supper is approved.

By making a literal translation ("the first day of the week") Bible readers would know the specific day without regard to precise time of day (which is a mere expedient anyway). Then, should one conclude the Lord's Supper was taken on any day other than the "first day" (Monday morning or Saturday night--our time), the mistake would be faulty exegesis and not improper translation.

Truth Magazine IX, 4: pp. 10-12
January 1965