Tuesday, June 15, 1999

"Sabbath" & "week"

My friend Joe T. wrote to Dr. Erwin Gane on my behalf in June of 1999. Here is the letter he sent, giving my question and its background.

Mr. Gane,

My name is Joe (deleted). I am a member of the (church name deleted). We met last time you spoke there. I had asked you some questions in regards to Greek and Hebrew and Bible translations.

I have a friend of mine who works for Family Radio. She is struggling with the Sabbath issue. She seems to be leaning towards the seventh day, but has been given information by her co-workers and Mr. Camping’s theology that the following verses she that God changed the Sabbath. They says the Greek translates the true meaning and modern Bibles do not. What do you think of this? What does the Greek say in those verses? I am going to forward this to her ASAP once you have written back.

I appreciate your time with this. I really enjoy when you come to speak at our church. Below are the verses. I do not believe this to be correct. Can you give us input? Anything to help my friend. I know no Greek or Hebrew.

God’s peace to you and your family,

Joe (last name deleted)

Joe continues:

How can Mr. Camping say these are proof texts to change the Sabbath by God?

Matthew 28:1 – Which they say should correctly be translated, “In the end of the Sabbaths (plural) as it began to dawn toward the first of the Sabbaths (instead of “week”), came Mary Magdalene…” They say the word for “Sabbaths” is the same as the word translated “week.”

The other verse references they cite are Mark 16:1-2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1, which they also cite as being incorrectly translated in the same way.


I received the following e-mail from Joe with Dr. Gane’s response.

Matthew 28:1, “the first day of the week.”

Sabbaton occurs in the New Testament sixty-eight times, and is translated “Sabbath” fifty-nine times, and “week” nine times. These nine references are Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 18:12, 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2.

All Greek scholars, Jewish and Christian, are in agreement as to the correctness of translating sabbaton by “week.” The following authoritative statements are typical:

“WEEK (Hebrew shabua, plural shabu’im, shabu’ot;…New Testament Greek, sabbaton, sabbata: A division of time comprising seven days, thus explaining the Hebrew name.” --The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 12, p. 481, art. “Week.”

“The expression hebdomas [a Greek word for ‘week’] is not found in the New Testament, but rather sabbaton (e.g. Luke 18:12) or sabbata (e.g. Matthew 28:1), used, however, in the sense of it.” --Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (ed. 1891), vol. 4, p. 2484, art. “Week.”

“Of the two Hebrew names for “week” one is derived from the number seven, and the other is identical with ‘Sabbath,’ the day which completes the Jewish week. The New Testament takes over the latter word, and makes a Greek noun of it.” --Hastings’ Bible Dictionary (ed. 1924), p. 936, art. “Time.”

“The Hebrew shabhua, used in the Old Testament for ‘week,’ is derived from shebha, the word for ‘seven.’ As the seventh day was a day of rest or Sabbath (Hebrew shabbath), this word came to be used for “week,” as appears in the New Testament. (sabbaton, -ta), indicating the period from Sabbath to Sabbath (Matt. 28:1). The same usage is implied in the Old Testament (Lev. 23:15; 25:8).” --The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed. 1915), vol. 5, p. 2982, art. “Time.”

“The plural sabbata…means a week as well as a Sabbath or Sabbaths. (comp. Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; and Matt. 28:1)…Sabbata in the second clause [of Matthew 28:1] certainly means ‘week’ and not the Sabbath day.” --John Peter Lange, “A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures,” translated by Philip Shaff, comments on Matthew 28:1.

In Luke 18:12 sabbaton must be translated “week” in order to make sense. The Pharisee prayed, “I fast twice in the week [sabbatou].” It would have been foolish for him to say that he fasted twice on the Sabbath. The text makes sense only when sabbatou is translated “week.”

Some have tried to argue that Luke 18:12 should read, “I fast two Sabbaths,” that is, two of the fixed Sabbaths in the year. But the Greek will not permit this. The word dis, translated “twice,” is an adverb, and cannot be properly be translated “two.” In this text, the word sabbatou, translated “week,” is in the singular number, which is never translated by the plural form “Sabbaths” in our English Bible.

Some argue that the Greek word for “day” is not found in the phrase “first day of the week.” The Greek phrase in Matthew 28:1 is mian sabbaton. As far back as 1899 a scholarly Sundaykeeper exploded that argument: “No Greek word for ‘day’ occurs in any of the passages [that is, in Matt. 28:1 and parallel passages]. Made for simple readers of English, that statement lacks candor. Said word is there, latent, to a much greater degree than it is in our phrase, ‘The twenty-fifth of the month.’…The adjectival word mian is in the feminine gender, and an immutable law requires adjective modifiers to agree with their nouns in gender. Sabbaton is of the neuter gender, and out of the question. What feminine Greek word is latent in this phrase, and yet so patent as to reflect upon this adjectival numeral its feminine hue? Plainly the feminine word hemera, ‘day,’ as analogously is found in Mark 14:12, prote hemera ton azumon, ‘the first day of unleavened bread.’ Boldly to aver that ‘no Greek word for “day” occurs in any of these passages,’ is to blind the simple English reader to the fact that an inflected language, by its numerous genders and cases, can indicate the presence and force of latent words to an extent undreamed of in English…

“As a vital or corroboratory part of any argument for the sanctifying of the Lord’s day. This travestied exegesis, instead of being a monumental discovery, is but a monumental blunder. Thereby our foes will have us in derision.” --Dr. Wilbur Fletcher Steele, “Must Syntax Die That the Sabbath May Live?” in the Methodist Review (New York), May-June, 1899.

Prof. A.T. Robertson, D.D., one of the most eminent of modern Greek scholars, completely supports the view that sabbaton is correctly translated “week.” “Now about the case of sabbaton in the New Testament. It is the singular, the transliteration of the Hebrew word Sabbath, which was used for the seventh day of the week, as in John 5:9. The plural sabbata, is a transliteration of the Aramaic sabbatha.

“Curiously enough, the Jews used the plural form in two ways, one way was for a single Sabbath, like the singular sabbaton. So in Josephus…Precisely this usage occurs in the New Testament, as in Luke 4:16, ‘on the Sabbath day,’…

“But the word sabbaton, in the singular, was used also for the week which began [ended: Robertson made this correction in the Expositor, October, 1931.] with the Sabbath. So in Mark 16:9, we have proi prote sabbatou, ‘early on the first day of the week.’ Here proi is an adverb, but prote is a feminine adjective, locative, singular, agreeing with hemera (day) understood, while sabbatou is neuter gender, genitive, singular, so that it is impossible to render this ‘early on the first Sabbath.’ See also Luke 18:12.

“But the plural sabbata is also used for week, as in Luke 24:1. In the preceding verse the singular occurs, to sabbaton, ‘they spent the Sabbath’ the verse next words in verse 1 are te de mia ton sabbaton, ‘on the first day of the week.” There we have mia used as an ordinal like prote, as is common in Koine. The same use of both mia for ‘first’ and the plural sabbaton for ‘week,’ we find in Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7.” --The Expositor, August 1931. [Note: Sabbaton, using an omicron is singular. Sabbaton using an omega is plural.]

The translations of the Bible into the English of the King James Version and the more modern versions have been done by eminent Greek scholars. No reputable Greek scholar will translate Matthew 28:1 by “the first of the Sabbaths,” or “one of the Sabbaths.” For a discussion of the Sabbath question, see my book “You Ask, God Answers.”