christine's bible study

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

mia ton sabbaton, acts 20:7

Previously: digging deeper into acts 20:7

The word sabbat, the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew shabbat, appears 68 times in the Greek New Testament. Sixty of those times, it is translated “Sabbath” or “Sabbath day,” as in

Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath [sabbatsin σάββασιν], will not lay hold of it and lift it out?” Mat 12:11

(In Greek, the prepositions and parts of speech are indicated by various endings added to the nouns, which is why the beginning of the word looks the same, but the end will vary from instance to instance.)

Eight of those times, however, it is translated differently:

Now after the Sabbath [sabbaton σαββάτων], as the first day of the week [eis mian sabbaton εις μίαν σαββάτων] began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. Mat 28:1

Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week [mias sabbaton μιας σαββάτων], they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. Mar 16:2

‘I fast twice a week [dis tou sabbatou δὶς του σαββάτου]; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ Luk 18:12

Now on the first day of the week [mia ton sabbaton μια των σαββάτων], very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. Luk 24:1

Now on the first day of the week [mia ton sabbaton μια των σαββάτων] Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Joh 20:1

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week [mia ton sabbaton μια των σαββάτων], when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Joh 20:19

Now on the first day of the week [mia ton sabbaton μια των σαββάτων], when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. Act 20:7

On the first day of the week [mian sabbaton μίαν σαββάτων] let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 1 Cor 16:2

In each case, where the word sabbaton or its variant appears with heis, mia, the Greek ordinal for one, the translators have chosen to translate sabbaton as “week” instead of “Sabbath,” as the evidence in the rest of the New Testament clearly indicates it means.

A simple explanation is that mia ton sabbaton is a Hebrew idiom. The pagans all had names for the days which indicated which pagan god was to be venerated on that day. Sunday was the sun god’s day; Monday was the moon god’s day, and so on. The Hebrews, however, did not name the name of pagan gods from their lips, in accordance with the Torah command (Exo 23:13). The days of the week were called by their relation to the Sabbath. So if the first day of the week was meant, they would say, One day from the Sabbath. If the second day of the week was meant, they would say, two days from the Sabbath, and so on.

Therefore, the women went to the tomb mia ton sabbaton, one (day being implied) from the Sabbath, i.e., the first day of the week. To a man, the commentaries say this is Scriptural evidence and precedent that the Christian day of worship was to be changed from the seventh day to the first day. Is that what is really going on here? I do not believe so, and I believe Acts 20:7 and its context provides our clue. To understand it, we need to dive into first century Hebrew culture again …

Continued: sabbath and the first day of the week

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