Key points: sunday,new testament,mia ton sabbaton,sabbatwn,first day of the week

Well this is a disaster. Mainly for those who want to use any verses from the New Testament to support keeping Sunday, the first day of the week. A study of the Greek texts in the New Testament shows that ALL the verses mentioning the “first day of the week” or “Sunday” have been mistranslated. Every one of these texts contain a phrase which mentions “first” and “sabbath”, referring of course, to the seventh-day sabbath. And in every case the Greek word referring to the seventh-day sabbath is translated as “week.”

The correct translation, is of course, “the first day to the sabbath.” This more correctly follows the Bible naming of days from Genesis, “the evening and the morning were the first day,” the second day, the third day, and so on. It also reflects the current naming of the days by Jews: the first day of or to the sabbath, the second day to the sabbath, and so on. Apparently Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, were all writing the same thing: the first day to the sabbath. This study will show that this translation is correct and is exactly what the Gospel writers were saying in all these verses. Of course the problem this causes is insurmountable. None of these verses can be used any more to justify worshiping on Sunday, the first day of the week. None of the Gospel writers were even mentioning Sunday. They were all unanimously saying something about the seventh-day sabbath instead!

None of these verses can be used any more to justify worshiping on Sunday, the first day of the week. None of the Gospel writers were even mentioning Sunday!

These verses are very familiar and are usually used to support worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. We have:

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. Matt 28:1.
And very early in the morning the
first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. Mark 16:2.
Now when
Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. Mark 16:9.
Now upon the
first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. Luke 24:1.
The
first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. John 20:1.
Then the same day at evening, being the
first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. John 20:19.
And upon the
first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. Acts 20:7.
Upon the
first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:2.

We will now show conclusively that in ALL of these verses the Greek phrase translated “the first day of the week” should more correctly be translated as “the first day to the sabbath.”


So puzzling did Martin Luther find this phrase that he translated it as "on one of the sabbaths"!

The most common form of this phrase appears to be mia twn sabbatwn which we would read as mia ton sabbaton. You can recognize the word for sabbath there pretty clearly. The first Greek word mia means “one or first,” the second word ton means “the,” and the last word obviously is the seventh-day sabbath. It appears to read as “first the sabbath” or with another definite article, “the first the sabbath.” Over the centuries Bible translators have struggled with this phrase trying to make some sense of it.

So puzzling did Martin Luther find this phrase that he translated it as “on one of the sabbaths”! We of course read the current translation for Matthew 28:1 as “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.” As you can see the phrase has been translated here as “the first day of the week.” The word for day has been supplied [shown as italic] and is not in the original text. And the word for sabbath, the seventh-day sabbath, has been translated as “week.” Well we all know it was the first day of the week so the translation is not unreasonable. But it was not what the Gospel writer was saying. In fact, ALL of the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were all saying something about the seventh-day sabbath. The question is, just what were they saying?

Over the centuries Bible tranaslators have struggled with this phrase trying to make some sense of it

We will now investigate the verses further to see just what is really being said.

We are also greatly indebted to Gerhard Kemmerer, a faithful sabbath-keeping Christian who spent many years studying these texts and finally came to this conclusion. He eventually presented his labourious study of this vexing translation puzzle at a Sabbath Conference in Revesby, Sydney, Australia in 1996.1

There are nine texts in the New Testament where the word “Week” occurs, while the Greek text always reads “Sabbaton” [sabbatwn], the Greek word for Sabbath. Specifically, the Seventh-day Sabbath. These are texts about the resurrection, the fast of the Pharisees, and the late night meeting of the Apostle Paul and his request for funds. We will mainly investigate the resurrection texts, the late night meeting, and the request for funds [8 verses]. The Hebrew Sabbath corresponds approximately to our Saturday and more correctly from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.

The Greek word sabbatwn is explained as follows:

Paragraph-1.jpg

The verses are Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; and 1 Cor 16:2.

In EVERY one of these verses the word “day” is supplied and the word for Sabbath is translated as “week.”

Now the actual day being referred to in each of these verses is not in question. We all believe that Jesus was crucified on the preparation day [Friday], spent the Sabbath [Saturday] in the tomb, and rose early the first day of the week [Sunday]. See Matt. 27:62-28:6; Luke 23:52-24:6; John 19:31,38-20:9.

However, when we read the phrase “the first day of the week” in these verses, the Gospel writer is in fact mentioning something about the Seventh-day Sabbath! Martin Luther translated the phrase as “on one of the sabbaths”! Probably all of the translators of the New Testament were no doubt puzzled by this Greek phrase used by the Gospel writers.

Probably all of the translators of the New Testament were no doubt puzzled by this Greek phrase used by the Gospel writers

Realising that the day in question was definitely the first day of the week, and that the word for Sabbath pertains to the week and seven days, they decided to translate the phrase as “the first day of the week.” It was of course a reasonable translation. It is indeed the correct day of the week. But is the translation actually saying what the Gospel writers intended? Just what did they really say that they kept mentioning the Seventh-day Sabbath? If it was just in fact the first day of the week, then why mention the Seventh-day Sabbath at all?

We can check these verses with the use of some Interlinear New Testaments and Lexicons such as Green3, Marshall4, and Thayer5. The verses are as follows.

The first verse we investigate is Matthew 28:1
In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

The interlinears/lexicons give:

Matthew-1.jpg

But late of [the] sabbaths, at the drawing on toward one of [the] sabbaths [=the first day of the week], ... [Marshall]

dawning into [A.V. towards] the first day of the week, Mt.xxviii.1. [Thayer]

The main Greek words of interest here are:
Matthew-2.jpg

The main English words we can construct from this are:
first, to/towards, sabbath

Note: sabbath is plural and this has also been translated as:
on one of the sabbaths

This is very different to “on the first day of the week” !

The next verse we look at is
Mark 16:2
And very early in the morning the first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

The interlinears/lexicons give:

Mark-1.jpg

Mark-2.jpg

The main Greek words of interest here are:

Mark-3.jpg

English words: early, the, first, sabbath

Important note: the words we have to play with here are “early” and “the” and “first” and “Sabbath.” This does not necessarily mean “the first sabbath” but “the” and “first” and “Sabbath.” We know it means [as has been translated] “the first day of the week.” BUT that is NOT what the Gospel writer was strictly saying. The writer was saying something about the Seventh-day Sabbath [which can be translated as the first day of the week]. We are trying to work out just what was being said literally.

The next verse is
Mark 16:9
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

The interlinears/lexicons give:

Mark-4.jpg

And rising early on the first day of the week ... [Marshall]

The main Greek words of interest here are:
Mark-5.jpg

English words: early, [the] first, [the] sabbath

The next verse is
Luke 24:1
Now upon the first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

The interlinears/lexicons give:
Luke-1.jpg

But on the one of the week ... [Marshall]

The main Greek words of interest here are:
Luke-2.jpg

English words: the, but/and, one/first, the sabbath

The fact that the Gospel writers kept using the Sabbath in the Greek must have been a great puzzle to many people who thought the Sabbath was no longer important

The next verse is
John 20:1
The first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

The interlinears/lexicons give:

John-1.jpg

Now on the one(first) [day] of the week ... [Marshall]

Note: this is identical to the same text in Luke 24:1

The main Greek words of interest here are:
Luke-2.jpg text identical

English words: the, and, one/first, the sabbath

The next verse is
John 20:19
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

The interlinears/lexicons give:

John-2.jpg

John-3.jpg

Note: again this is nearly identical to the text in Luke 24:1

The main Greek words of interest here are:
John-4.jpg

English words: the, one/first, the sabbath

The next verse is
Acts 20:7
And upon the first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

The interlinears/lexicons give:

Acts-1.jpg

And on the one(first) of the sabbaths(week) ... [Marshall]

The main Greek words of interest here are:
Acts-2.jpg

English words: on, and, the, one/first, the, sabbath

So far we have for these verses...

The last verse is
1 Corinthians 16:2
Upon the first day of the week sabbatwn bracketed let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

The interlinears/lexicons give:

Corinthians-1.jpg

Corinthians-2.jpg

The main Greek words of interest here are:

Corinthians-3.jpg

English words: at every, one/first, sabbath

So far we then have for all the verses:

Matthew 28:1: first, to/towards, sabbath
Mark 16:2: early, the, first, sabbath
Mark 16:9: early, [the] first, [the] sabbath
Luke 24:1: the, but/and, one/first, the sabbath
John 20:1: the, and, one/first, the sabbath
John 20:19: the, one/first, the sabbath
Acts 20:7: on, and, the, one/first, the, sabbath
1 Corinthians 16:2: at every, one/first, sabbath

If we look carefully at this list, the answer can be seen there, but still needs further verification and a bit of work. It is still not complete. But so far it looks like:

the first, to/towards, the sabbath

If the Greek word used continually was the seventh-day sabbath or sabbaths, why are all these verses translated as week? [that is, “the first day of the week”]??
In other words, the Gospel writers were all saying something about the Seventh-day Sabbath but the translations all fail to mention this and say something else. The phrase “the first day of the week” may be correct as to the day in question, but it does not give us the full meaning as to what the writer was saying in respect to the Seventh-day Sabbath!

The phrase “on one of the sabbaths” has posed difficulties to translators and readers of the New Testament in the Greek. The meaning of this phrase must have been known to the writers of the New Testament in Greek but has been lost in the course of time (Kemmerer, p. 2).

Luther's Translation “on one of the Sabbaths” survived until the year 1892, only then the phrase “on the first day of the week” was introduced. Translations are still not uniform and some have retained the term Sabbath like JP Green and the Latimer Translation of 1962. The latter translates “the day after the Sabbath”, which is like all these translations grammatically wrong but shows the tendency to retain the word Sabbath, not accepting the meaning “week” (Kemmerer, p. 2).

Luther's Translation "on one of the Sabbaths" survived until the year 1892, only then  the phrase "on the first day of the week" was introduced

The translation now widespread “on the first day of the week” is grammatically the only correct one but leaves a question unanswered; if the term week was intended, why did the writers of the New Testament not use the proper term for week, which is in the Greek “hebdomas” and not “sabbaton” at all? (Kemmerer, pp. 2, 3).

So far we have a rough construct: “the first, to/towards, the sabbath.”

But to make more sense of this we will have to look elsewhere [Old Testament Hebrew etc]. Just what is the origin of the phrase: mia ton sabbaton mia twn sabbatwn bracketed ?

How were days counted in the Old Testament?

From Genesis we find that the days of the week were counted as follows:

1:5 the first day;
1:8 the second day;
1:13 the third day;
1:19 the fourth day;
1:23 the fifth day;
1:31 the sixth day;
2:2,3 the seventh day.

Beyond this there appear to be no similar references in the OT to the previous translations in the NT mia twn sabbatwn bracketed.

The difficulties in the translation and interpretation are partially due to the fact, that there are no parallels for it in the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible. An equivalent is found only in the Targum, the edition of Venezia of 1591 in the Book of Esther, here part of a Midrash [homily—sermon, religious discourse] (Kemmerer, p. 3).

However the LXX offers similar phrases as headlines to six Psalms, used by theologians mistakenly to show, that on “sabbaton”, Sabbath, can mean indeed also “week.” The headings are an incomplete list of the Psalms of the Day, “The Shir Shelyom”, the Psalms recited by the levitical priests during the drink offering that accompanied the daily sacrifice the Tamid. This list can be found in various places such as the Talmud [Hebrew civil and canonical laws, traditions etc]. They lead us to the following list, which shows Israel's way of counting the days of the week (Kemmerer, p. 3):

1. echad [one] beth [preposition] shabbath [Note: first is rishon—sometimes used]
2. sheni [the second] beth shabbath
3. shelishi beth shabbath
4. rebi'i beth shabbath
5. chamishi beth shabbath
6. ereb (eve of) shabbath
7. shabbath
8. motzaey (exits of the ) shabbath

(
Kemmerer, p. 3).
Note: the Hebrew letter is beth—so acting as a prefix the word more correctly becomes beshabbath or beshabbat.

From this we can see that the so called weekend shows the days next to the Sabbath to be named or counted in relation to the Sabbath:

Eve of the Sabbath
Sabbath
Exits of the Sabbath

Since the days next to the Sabbath are counted in relation to the Sabbath it would appear that it would be consistent to do the same with the rest of the days of the week (Kemmerer, p. 4).

Judaism doesn't make much distinction between the days of the week, except for Shabbat. The only philosophical oddity is that not only day 7 called "Shabbat", but each day is "of the Shabbat".

The following quote supports this approach:

Question 5.11: What are the different days of the Jewish week?Internet quotehttp://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/04-Observance/section-12.html

Here we are told that each day is “of the Shabbat” and specifically that Sunday is called:

“yom rishon beshabbat” the first day of the shabbat

or

yom [day] rishon [first/one] beth (be)shabbath

This is in agreement with what we found in the previous list.
The suggestion is then that we read “the first day of the week” more correctly as “the first day of the Sabbath”.

But that sounds a little odd. Note from before the Marshall translation for Matthew 28:1 could be read as “first to, towards sabbath” from the Greek word eis—into, to, towards, for, among.

It looks like the Greek word eis is playing the same part as the Hebrew word Beth in these verses. Beth is actually operating as a prefixxbethxto the word Sabbath giving beshabbat. The question is then, just how do we read the prefix to the Sabbath?

Langenscheidt's Pocket Hebrew Dictionary6 gives the following translations for the prefix bethxas:

in, at, to, on, among, with, towards; according to, by, because of. [page 33]

It's not really too hard to see which one [or more] of any of these fit the text in question.

to” and “towards” fit the Marshall translation for eis perfectly.

We then have:

1. echad beth shabbath: first day to the Sabbath
2. sheni beth shabbath: second day to the Sabbath
3. shelishi beth shabbath: third day to the Sabbath
4. rebi'i beth shabbath: fourth day to the Sabbath
5. chamishi beth shabbath: fifth day to the Sabbath
6. ereb (eve of) shabbath
7. shabbath
Note: the Hebrew letter is beth—so acting as a prefix the word more correctly becomes beshabbath or beshabbat.

For the sixth day or eve of the Sabbath, the New Testament also calls this day the Preparation [Mark 15:42].

Well after the Jerusalem council the leaders of the church were still counting the days to the Sabbath.

All the other verses with the phrase mia twn sabbatwn [or similar] translated “the first day of the week” can now be correctly understood in light of Matthew 28:1 which is also translated “the first day of the week.” The correct rendering in comparison with the Hebrew term “echad beth shabbath” is then

the first day to [or toward] the Sabbath

instead of “the first day of the week.”

Note: the first day of the week, though the correct day is not the correct translation. The term

the first day to [or toward] the Sabbath”

is more correct.

Further, this is in line with the command from God:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Exodus 20:8-11.

What a wonderful opportunity the Apostle Paul had to tell the new Corinthian converts that the old Jewish Sabbath was no longer important. But this he did not do.

What better way to remember the Sabbath day than by remembering it every day of the week!—counting each week day in reference to the Sabbath! Though not strictly stated [at that point in time] it is also in line with the list given in Genesis: the first day, the second day, etc. So we now have...

The correct original Biblical names for the days of the week

1. the first day to [or toward] the Sabbath
2. the second day to the Sabbath
3. the third day to the Sabbath
4. the fourth day to the Sabbath
5. the fifth day to the Sabbath
6. the sixth day to the Sabbath
7. the Sabbath

The sixth day to the Sabbath also later became known as the Eve of the Sabbath or the Preparation day. Certainly by the time of Jesus it was being called the Preparation. Mark 15:42.

Why did not the translators pick this up? Why use the term “the first day of the week?” It's not too hard to figure out. The accepted idea was that the old Jewish seventh-day Sabbath was no longer important to the Christian age. The fact that the Gospel writers kept using the Sabbath in the Greek must have been a great puzzle to many people who thought the Sabbath was no longer important. Further, the verses in Acts and Corinthians are extremely unsupportive to any view of getting rid of the old Jewish Sabbath!

Even 8 years past the Jerusalem council here were the Bible writers telling us that:

1. Paul preached to the disciples and broke bread on the first day toward the Sabbath

and

2. a special collection for the saints was to be taken up by Paul at Corinth when he came. His admonition was that the people lay up in store as God had prospered them on the first day to the Sabbath.

Well after the Jerusalem council the leaders of the church were still counting the days to the Sabbath. What a wonderful opportunity the Apostle Paul had to tell the new Corinthian converts that the old Jewish Sabbath was no longer important. But this he did not do. Instead he encouraged them that the first day of the week was in fact still the first day to the Sabbath.

Let us always be faithful like Paul and the early church leaders and remember that the first day of the week is still the first day to the Sabbath.

We are also told that God's people will keep the Seventh-day Sabbath throughout all the ceaseless ages of eternity!

For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.
And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. Isaiah 66:22, 23.

Let us be faithful Christians and be like Paul and the leaders of the early church. Let us not be distracted by the new names of the days of the week. It is not wrong to use them but let us always be faithful and remember that the first day of the week is still the first day to the Sabbath.

Isaiah 66:22, 23


Companion pages:

The Christian Sabbath, The Lord's Day —study investigating if there is a weekly day of worship for Christians; and a comparison of the Christian Sabbath, The Lord's Day in the New Testament with the Jewish Sabbath in the Old Testament.

Which DAY Should Christians Keep?—This study looks at which day is the correct day for Christians to worship on. Most Christians keep Sunday, the first day of the week. There is, however, some disagreement over just which day of the week is the correct day for Christians to worship on. This study is part outdated due to the new studies above but there is a wealth of information here about the days of worship to make this still a very good and very important read!


References
1. Gerhard Kemmerer, The Missing Link in the Sabbath Question of the New Testament.
2. G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 1964, T. & T. Clark, The University Press, Aberdeen, p. 399.
3. Jay P. Green, Sr., Editor, Pocket Interlinear New Testament, 1984, Baker Book House.
4. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, 1978, Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd.
5. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1980, Baker Book House.
6. Langenscheidt's Pocket Hebrew Dictionary to the Old Testament, Hebrew - English,  by Dr. Karl Feyerabend, Hodder and Stoughton [no year given].


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Stephen Buckley
E-mail: stephen@chodesh.info
Last revised: 27 Jun 2014.

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