Matthew 28:1 Sabbath singular not plural?


Some argue the fact that there were not two Sabbaths that week as the Gospels plainly demonstrate. The argument is as follows...


The final verse used to support the idea of two Sabbaths is Matthew 28:1.  Here, the Wednesday supporters claim that, in the original Greek text, the word translated as “Sabbath” is actually plural.  This claim, however, is untrue.  In the Greek language of the first century AD, there were two words which meant a singular Sabbath.  One was “Sabbata” and the other was “Sabbaton” which is the one that’s now thought to be plural.  Now although “Sabbaton” is indeed found in Matthew 28:1, it is also found in Matthew 12:5, Luke 4:16, Acts 13:14, and Acts 16:13 which are all verses that specifically refer to a single Sabbath.


In the first century, “Sabbaton” meant “seventh day” and “Sabbata” meant “day of rest.”  It was only in other generations, and in other Greek dialects that differed greatly from the Koine dialect of New Testament, that “Sabbaton” was sometimes used as a plural word.  When a New Testament writer needed to make reference to multiple Sabbaths, he would write “Sabbath days” (e.g., Matthew 12:12, Luke 4:31, Acts 17:2, etc.).  Thus, Matthew 28:1 is not stating that there were two Sabbaths in the week of Christ’s death.


Answer: Concerning the Greek word "sabbaton" Vines says, "Noun Neuter — sabbaton | sabbata — sab'-bat-on ) the latter, the plural form was transliterated from the Aramaic word, which was mistaken for a plural; hence the singular, sabbaton, was formed from it. The root means "to cease, desist" (Heb., shabath; cp. Arab., sabata, "to intercept, interrupt"); the doubled b has an intensive force, implying a complete cessation or a making to cease, probably the former."

Now the argument states that " It was only in other generations, and in other Greek dialects that differed greatly from the Koine dialect of New Testament, that “Sabbaton” was sometimes used as a plural word." In the Septuagint version of the Bible, read in the first century which is in the Koine Greek, a translation of an Hebraic textual tradition Lev. 23:3 the plural word SABBATA is used where the singular SABBATON is meant, as the 7th day Sabbath only is spoken about.


Lev. 23 verses 26-32 are talking about the annual FAST-REST of the annual feast day of ATONEMENT, the last part of this verse is rendered into English as, "..... from evening to evening ye shall keep your sabbaths. " (The Septuagint Version: Greek and English- Sir Lancelot Brenton - Zondervan publishing). The Greek for "sabbaths" is SABBATA. The Hebrew however is "Shabbath" not "Shabbaton" which both are used in the Greek as "sabbaton." the plural being "Sabbata." For this verse " seems to have a particular respect to the sabbath of the day of atonement" (Gills Commentary). The two Greek words are used for both Shabbath and Shabbaton. "In the Pentateuch and elsewhere the plur. τὰ σάββατα is used both for 'the Sabbath' and 'the sabbaths' : see Thackeray Gr. i. p. the critical text of the NT the form σάββασι occurs frequently" (J.H. Moulton & G. Milligan Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, emphasis added; See also Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the NT.)


Here is what the THEOLOGICAL WORDBOOK OF THE OT says about the word SHABBATON: "In addition to designating the Sabbath (Ex 16:23), this word may apply to the day of atonement (LEV. 16:31; 23:32); to the feast
of trumpets
(LEV. 23:24); and the first and eighth days of tabernacles (LEV. 23:39). The ending - ON is characteristic of abstract nouns in Hebrew...." (Vol.2, p.903).


Brown-Driver and Briggs Hebrew Definitions states: SHABBATON & SHABBATH: 1) Sabbath observance, sabbatism 1a) of weekly sabbath 1b) day of atonement 1c) sabbatical year 1d) of Feast of Trumpets 1e) of the 1st and last days of the Feast of Tabernacles"


The Hebrew for "the sabbath of rest" in Ex 35:2 and Ex 31:15 is SHABBATH SHABBATHON. Here the weekly seventh day is being mentioned. In LEV. 16:3,1 the annual feast day of ATONEMENT is called in Hebrew SHABBATH SHABBATHON Again in LEV. 23:3 the weekly Sabbath is called SHABBATH SHABBATHON and so is the day of ATONEMENT (verse 32). The Hebrew in the last part of verse 32 for "shall ye celebrate your sabbath" is SHABATH SHABBATH.


 We can see how the Hebrew is applied to BOTH the weekly Sabbath and the annual Sabbaths. I refer you to the ENGLISHMAN'S HEBREW AND CHALDEE CON. of the OT, pages 1234, 1235. All of God's REST days (weekly or annually) are SHABBATH - SHABATH days. All of God's days upon which no servile work is to be done are SHABBATHON (Sabbath observance) days. God's weekly Sabbath and God's seven annual Sabbaths are all SHABATA (Hebrew) Sabaton (Greek) days - days upon which we CEASE or REST from our regular secular work.


So one can conclude in the first century Koine Greek Sabbata and Sabbaton can mean either the annual Sabbaths and the weekly Sabbath, and both the plural and the singular were used for both annual and weekly Sabbaths. 


What is the word used in the Koine Greek for Sabbath in Matthew 28:1? A good help in regard to the correct original Greek in the above-quoted Scriptures, including Matthew 28:1, can be found in Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible. It lists, under “Sabbath,” the Scriptures which use the word in the singular (“sabbaton”) and in the plural (“sabbata”). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible is not helpful in this case, as it does not differentiate between the singular and the plural forms. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words is not extremely helpful, either. It does admit that the Greek word “sabbata” is the plural form, but it continues to state rather doubtful artificial reasons for the differentiation between the singular and the plural in the Greek. Quite inconsistently, however, the commentary does admit that the plural is used, and should be translated as such, in passages such as Matthew 12:5 and Acts 16:13.

Further research on the question reveals that the Authorized Version translates many times–but unfortunately not always–the plural for “Sabbaths” as “Sabbath days” (for instance, in Matthew 12:5, 10; Luke 4:31; Luke 6:2, 9; Colossians 2:16; and Acts 17:2). In the original Greek, there is no word for “days”–the correct translation should be “Sabbaths.” The New King James Bible translates most of these passages as “Sabbaths.” 
Unfortunately many translations have incorrectly rendered several New Testament scriptural references to 'sabbaths' as 'Sabbath'. It seems this has largely been due to their lack of awareness of the Old Covenant Law. So, as a result, translators have simply thought any plural sabbath verses were referring to the weekly Sabbath.


The word in Matthew 28:1 according to Young's is "Sabbata" (p.829). The very word the argument above says means multiple Sabbaths! But this word in the Septuagint [Koine Greek] also applies to the seventh day Sabbath as well. This demonstrates that two Sabbaths took place that week. "Sabbata" is applied to both the weekly and annual Sabbaths. 


 Thayers Greek lexicon states: " plural, τά σαββάτων (for the singular) of a single sabbath, sabbath-day (the use of the plural being occasioned either by the plural names of festivals, as τά ἐγκαίνια, ἄζυμα, γενέσια, or by the Chaldaic form שַׁבָּתָא (Winers Grammar, 177 (167); Buttmann, 23 (21))): Matthew 28:1; Colossians 2:16 (Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 23:32 etc.; τήν ἑβδόμην σάββατακαλουμεν, Josephus, Antiquities 3, 6, 6; add, 1, 1, 1; (14, 10, 25; Philo de Abrah. § 5; de cherub. § 26; Plutarch, de superstitione 8); τήν τῶν σαββάτων ἑορτήν, Plutarch, symp. 4, 6, 2; hodie tricesima sabbata, Horace sat. 1, 9, 69; nowhere so used by John except in the phrase μία τῶν σαββάτων, on which see 2 below); ἡ ἡμέρα τῶν σαββάτων, Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14; Acts 16:13 (Exodus 20:8; Exodus 35:3; Deuteronomy 5:12; Jeremiah 17:21f); τοῖςσάββασιν and ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν (so constantly (except Lachmann in Matthew 12:1, 12) by metaplasm for σαββάτοις, cf. Winers Grammar, 63 (62); (Buttmann, 23 (21))) on the sabbath-day: Matthew 12:1(see above),5, 10-12 (see above); Mark 1:21; Mark 2:23; Mark 3:2, 4; Luke 4:31; Luke 6:9 (R G L marginal reading) (1 Macc. 2:38; the Sept. uses the form σαββάτοις, and Josephus both forms). On the precepts of the Jews with regard to the observance of the sabbath, which were for the most part extremely punctilious and minute, cf. Winers RWB, under the word Sabbath; Oehler in Herzog xiii. 192ff (revised by Orelli in edition 2 vol. xiii. 156ff); Schürer, Zeitgesch. 2te Aufl. § 28 II.; Mangold in Schenkel see, p. 123f; (BB. DD., under the word; Geikie, Life and Words of Christ, chapter xxxviii. vol. ii: p. 95ff; Farrar, Life of Christ, chapter xxxi. vol. i., p. 432f; Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, vol. ii., p. 56ff and Appendix, xvii.)."


Josephus (Ant. III. 10, 1) expressly explains the “seventh day” as called “sabbata” (plural form as here, an effort to transliterate the Aramaic sabbathah).

Due to this fact, A.T. Robertson, the well-respected New Testament scholar, says that in any occurrence of sabbata (or its other case forms such as sabbaton) one must inquire if it represents the Aramaic shabbetha, in which case it is singular, or whether it is genuinely the plural of sabbaton, in which case it is [Math 28:1] a plural (see Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical research, pp.95, 105).


Ferrar Fenton says: “This is literally according to the Greek Text: and it’s important to observe that at that particular period [there were] TWO SABBATHS, OR DAYS OF SACRED REST...” (Ferrar Fenton Bible, p.1042, emphasis added).


Here in Colossians it is in the plural “Sabbaths” and according to the proofs above it can mean the weekly Sabbath, the annual Sabbaths or both. “Meaning must always be decided by context…Context is decisive” (The “Sabbath Days” of Colossians, Kenneth H. Wood, Append D.p.339).


What is the context of Matthew 28:1?


 During that week there was an "high day" Sabbath (John 19:31), and the weekly Sabbath Luke 23:56. John makes that clear distinction, and obviously before that was the preparation day of the Passover John 19:14. After Passover 14 of Nisan is the 15th which God deems a Sabbath (Lev 23:5-6) The Holy days of God that have holy convocations are called a Sabbath (Lev 23:32, 35, 39). This is the context of Matthew 28:1!


Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Thayer’s Lexicon correct the English translation and add “Sabbaths.” Strong’s states, “sabbaton Of Hebrew origin [H7676]; the Sabbath (that is, Shabbath), or day of weekly repose from secular avocations (also the observance or institution itself); by extension a se'nnight, that is, the interval between two Sabbaths; likewise the plural in all the above applications: - sabbath (day), week.” (#4521, emphasis added).


Was there an  "the interval between two Sabbaths" that week? Yes! What comes right after the Passover? The first day of Unleavened bread which is called a "Sabbath."


Now notice the argument above that says, "Now although “Sabbaton” is indeed found in Matthew 28:1, it is also found in Matthew 12:5, Luke 4:16, Acts 13:14, and Acts 16:13 which are all verses that specifically refer to a single Sabbath."


Really? According to Young's the word is "Sabbata" (p.829). And yes Luke 4:16. Acts 13:14 and 16:13 it is referring to the weekly Sabbath [notice the plural is used for the weekly Sabbath]. But this word is also in Colossians 2:16 which refers to God's annual Sabbaths.


What of Matthew 12:5? Is it referring only to the Sabbath day? Jesus was referring back to Numbers 28:9-10 where the sacrifices on the weekly Sabbath were doubled and were blameless. But Jesus was also referring to the annual Sabbath of the first day of Unleavened bread. Notice, "In the first day shall be an holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of servile work therein: [A Sabbath]

"But ye shall offer a sacrifice made by fire for a burnt offering unto the LORD; two young bullocks, and one ram, and seven lambs of the first year: they shall be unto you without blemish: 

"And their meat offering shall be of flour mingled with oil: three tenth deals shall ye offer for a bullock, and two tenth deals for a ram; 

"A several tenth deal shalt thou offer for every lamb, throughout the seven lambs: 

"And one goat for a sin offering, to make an atonement for you. 

"Ye shall offer these beside the burnt offering in the morning, which is for a continual burnt offering." (Num 28:19-23).  The Pulpit Commentary states, "i.e; in addition to, and immediately after, the usual morning sacrifice. Even when it is not expressly stated, the presumption is that all the sacrifices here treated of were cumulative. Thus the sabbath of the passover (John 19:31) would have the proper sacrifices." (emphasis added).  So this argument is either put forth due to ignorance or a down right lie!

*Note-In the first century, Jews often used plural and/or singular Sabbaths to refer to a single Sabbath in the same fashion that they used the word Elohim [plural] to refer either to a plurality of gods as well as to the single God Family. This usage of using the plural for the singular in many instances is a peculiarity of the Hebrew language that is even found in the Greek when Jews translated the Hebrew into Greek. Thus, in the account of Christ and his disciples going through the grain fields on the Sabbath, Matthew uses the plural [Sabbaths] in 12:1, and the singular [Sabbath] in verse 2. Mark uses the plural in both instances in chapter 2:23,24, and Luke uses the singular in the first instance and the plural in the second in chapter 6:1,2 which is exactly the reverse of Matthew, and each account records information about the same incident. Like the Bible it's one book but within the bible are many books that make the whole. Like the God family, there is one God, but two persons within that one family. The Sabbath, there is one Sabbath but within that one Sabbath occur annual and the weekly Sabbaths. So one can see why the Sabbath is both plural and singular. It is an echad [Heb "one"] a composite one and not an absolute one, its many members that make up the one (1 Corinth 12:12).