christine's bible study

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isa 40:8

digging deeper into acts 20:7

Previously: in His presence there is fullness of joy

I procured a Greek New Testament, and have been looking up the instances of Sabbath, and sabbaton, in it. Sabbaton, I said last time, means “Sabbath,” (singular); but my new Greek lexicon says it is plural (i.e, it should read “Sabbaths”). So I looked up our text we were discussing, Acts 20:7, and it is in the Greek New Testament, mia ton sabbaton. That is a little different from my Bible study dictionary.

Mia is the feminine form of heis, and my Bible study dictionary says it means “first.” So, “the first of the Sabbaths.” Well, this is a bit longer than saying, “the First Sabbath,” but it still means the same thing; the first of the special numerated Sabbaths which occur between Unleavened Bread and Weeks.

Next I did a search for the English word “first” in the New Testament Scriptures, cross checking them with the Greek New Testament. I expected to find forms of heis or mia, and found instead that in 99% of the cases, the Greek word for “first” is protos. Ah! So this is where we get words like “prototype” from.

But I did not expect this monkey wrench! I did more digging, and discovered that protos is the ordinal for one, while heismia is the cardinal for one. In other words, in English we have words like one, two, three, four … these are cardinal terms. We also have first, second, third, fourth … these are ordinal terms. So my Greek lexicon is telling me that the cardinal of one, which means “one,” is heismia; while the ordinal for one, which means “first,” is protos.

I thought, Why did my Bible study dictionary tell me that heismia meant “first?” And as I began going through the Gospels, looking up each occurrence of “first,” which turned out to be protos, I discovered that the context was talking about priority, without reference to a numerated series. So I began to think that perhaps heismia was used in place of protos when a numeration, a numerated series, is meant. I was happy with that theory until I came to Mat 22:23-28:

The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.”

Ah! A numerated series, first, second, third, down to the seventh! Time to test my theory! If heismia is to be used to mean “first” when speaking of numeration rather than priority, the word for “first” in the above passage should be a form of heismia. I eagerly looked it up in my Greek New Testament and … it was protos. So I thought, “Well, this is Matthew, and Luke wrote Acts. He also wrote Luke, so while we may account for the different use of protos vs. heismia between Matthew and Acts due to two different authors, we cannot say the same of Luke and Acts. We would expect an educated fellow like Luke to be consistent in his usage.”

This same incident with the Sadducees is also recorded in Luk 20:27-33, also using a numerated series. The Greek word for “first” is also protos here.

There is no escaping the Scriptural evidence so far, that heismia is used for the cardinal of one, just as the Greek lexicon says it is, while protos is used for the ordinal of one, also in accordance with the Greek lexicon. In every instance! So why oh why in Acts 20:7 is heismia translated “first,” i.e., “the first of the Sabbaths”? What I found surprised me!

Continued: mia ton sabbaton, acts 20:7


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