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Good News Magazine
April 1958
Volume: Vol VII, No. 4
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Can the Bible expression "first day of the week" mean "first of the sabbaths" in the Greek?

   There is a theory circulated among certain Sunday-keeping groups that Sunday became the Sabbath after the resurrection of Christ. As supposed proof, they mistranslate the original Greek phrase, usually rendered "first day of the week," as "first of the sabbaths." They claim that the first Sunday after the resurrection became the first "Christian Sabbath" and that Saturday was the "Jewish Sabbath."
   This idea is absolutely FALSE!
   No competent Greek scholars accept such a translation. But let the Bible itself disprove this fable. If the Sunday after the resurrection were the first "Christian Sabbath" which it never could be then any Sunday thereafter could not be the "first of the sabbaths," but would of necessity be either the "second or third"... or hundredth of the sabbaths!" Now turn to Acts 20:7. The event recorded here occurred in 56 A.D. 25 years after the resurrection! Yet the same original Greek phrase, translated "first day of the week" in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, occurs here! This could not be the "first of the sabbaths" 25 years after the resurrection since, by their theory, the first of the "Christian sabbaths" would have already occurred 25 years before the event recorded in Acts 20:7. Obviously the Greek cannot mean what they say it does!
   Now turn to I Corinthians 16:2. This letter was written in the late winter of 55 A.D. almost 24 years after the resurrection and the same Greek expression occurs here. This certainly was not the "first of the Christian sabbaths!" It would be 24 years too late! The answer is that the only proper idiomatic rendering of the Greek phrase is "first day of the week," not "first of the sabbaths."
   But, it may be objected, is not the Greek word sabbaton, translated "week," the same word often translated "sabbath"? Of course it is, but the inspired Greek word may also mean "week" because the sabbath determines the length of the week. The Greeks had two words for "week": hebdomad and sabbaton. Only the word sabbaton is used in the New Testament. It comes from the Hebrew word meaning "rest," "sabbath," "week," "seven."
   In Luke 18:12 the Greek word sabbaton is translated properly as "week," not "sabbath." The Jews fasted "twice in a week; Monday and Thursday, not "twice on a sabbath." That would be foolish! This verse alone proves that the Greek word sabbaton may mean "week."
   But there is even more proof. The English expression "first day of the week' comes from two different Greek idioms. In Mark 16:9, the original Greek is prootee subbaton. It has only one meaning: "first [day] of [the) week." In this verse sabbaton is the Greek singular possessive form of sabbaton and means "of the week." Prootee means "first."
   But in all other cases (Mat. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2) the Greek word sabbaton, which may mean either "sabbath" or "week," is in the plural. The Greek expression translated "first day of the week" is, in these verses, mia toon sabbatoon. It is an idiom and cannot be translated literally into English. It, too, means "the first day of the week," but it refers to one particular "first day" the Sunday upon which the wave sheaf was offered the Sunday AFTER two sabbaths!
   Since the Greek word sabbaton in these verses is in the plural, it may mean either "weeks," or "sabbaths," Professor Sophocles, a Greek scholar, indicates in his Lexicon, p. 43, par. 6, that the expression means "[day number} one after the sabbaths."
   Which sabbaths? The first high day or annual sabbath and the weekly, sabbath falling within the Days of Unleavened Bread! Here is the proof!
   The same plural form sabbitoosis found in the Greek Septuagint translation of Leviticus 23:15. In this verse the Greek for "the morrow after the sabbath" is epaurion toon sabbatoon and means idiomatically "the day after the sabbaths." The Greek translators understood that you begin counting Pentecost from the Sunday after the weekly sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. They used the plural word sabbatoon, meaning "sabbaths," to make plain that the Sunday on which the wave sheaf was offered followed BOTH the first annual sabbath AND the weekly sabbath in the Days of Unleavened Bread.
   In other words, every New Testament writer was making especially plain which particular Sunday followed the resurrection the Sunday after the two sabbath, which in that year fell on Thursday and, of course, Saturday. In all these verses the original Greek, toon sabbatoon, means idiomatically "AFTER the sabbaths" and cannot be taken literally to mean "of the sabbaths." It is a Greek idiom which uses the possessive plural with the meaning of "after." The Greek translation of Leviticus 23:15 proved it!
   Even in Acts 20:7 and I Cor. 16:2, the day referred to was the day the wave sheaf was offered. In 56 A.D., when the events in Acts 20 occurred, the Passover occurred on a weekly Sabbath. The Days of Unleavened Bread extended from Sunday through the following Sabbath. The day of the wave-sheaf offering in that year immediately followed the Days of Unleavened Bread. That was the day Paul preached until midnight beginning Saturday night immediately after the Festival was over (Acts 20:7). Those with Luke kept the entire Feast in Phillipi. After the feast, Luke and those with him left Phillipi for Troas (Acts 20:6). Paul left Troas on the day the wave sheaf was offered before Luke arrived at Troas. Luke does not say "when we came together, Paul preached unto us" he clearly states "when the disciples come together, Paul preached unto them." Whenever Luke includes himself he uses the "we" form (Acts 20:6, 13).
   Some translations incorrectly insert in Acts 20:7 the pronoun "we." The overwhelming majority of New Testament Greek manuscripts have "they," not "we." The original Greek of Acts 20:13 indicated that Paul "had left arrangements," prior to Luke's arrival at Troas, for Luke to proceed in ship to Assos in order to pick up Paul.
   I Cor. 16:2 also refers to the day the wave sheaf was offered at Jerusalem just another indication that what was laid in store was fruit of the field, not money in a church offering plate! The time those Christians began to harvest was "upon the day after the sabbaths" upon Sunday after the early-morning offering of the wave sheaf.
   This precise history, not usually understood, clearly indicates that the New Testament Church continued to observe the sabbath and the annual festivals God gave, and that they always regarded Sunday as a work day.

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Good News MagazineApril 1958Vol VII, No. 4