Vol. 7, No. 1
Since You Asked
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The Greek word sabbaton (#4521 in Strong's Concordance) is used in the New Testament 68 times. FIFTY-NINE times it is translated SABBATH, but NINE times the very same word is ARBITRARILY translated "first day of the week."
Contrary to what every good Sabbatarian believes, the hundreds of scholars who over the centuries translated in our English versions "first day of the week" instead of "one Sabbath" correctly represented the Greek into our language. Contrary to what every good Sabbatarian believes, the numerous commentators on the Christian day of worship (beginning with contemporaries to the apostles) correctly represented the Christian's special day of worship as the first day of the week and not as the seventh day of the week. The error of Sabbatarianism has been fought throughout past decades on so many fronts, and those battles may be found in various books, including recorded debates. This present excerpt from a longer email post attempts to defend Sabbatarianism through appeals to the Greek language.
However, first, the standard reference works to which students of the Bible appeal for insight into a better understanding of God's Word do not support Sabbatarianism. The McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia says under the entry, "Lord's Day": "Again, the phrase mia sabbaton is generally understood to be, according to the Jewish mode of naming the days of the week, the common expression for the first day." The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia at the entry, "Lord's Day," notes a Hebraism for the "first day of the week": "The word in all passages for 'first' is poor Greek (mia, 'one,' for prote, a Hebraism), and the coincidence of the form of the phrase in Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor 16:2 with the form used by all four evangelists for the Resurrection Day is certainly not accidental..." Vine's refers to this combination of words, mia sabbaton, as an idiomatic expression. The dictionary definition for the word "idiom" includes: "having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (as Monday week for 'the Monday a week after next Monday')" (Merriam). Resorting to a resource such as Strong's or Vine's for interpretation without consideration of surrounding words that make up an idiom cannot correctly render sabbaton always as "Sabbath."
Second, the way in Greek that Hebrews (Jews) designated various days of the week pertained to a day's relationship to the seventh day or Sabbath. That means that sabbaton appears with other words to designate days in the week other than the Sabbath, or in some cases, in addition to the seventh or Sabbath. Here are some examples. Luke 18:12 reads, "I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." The Greek to express this reference to days in a week is "dis tou sabbatou" or "two days (in) a week" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker), which includes sabbaton with qualifications in other words. Another Greek lexicon comments: "In some languages it may be better to render Lk 18.12 as simply 'for every seven days, I fast two days'" (Louw and Nida). Mark 16:9 reads, "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." A Greek-English lexicon shows these words referring to the first day of week thus: "prote sabbatou on the first day of the week (Sunday)" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker). Further, 1 Corinthians 16:2 reads, "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." The Greek for first day of the week is "kata mian sabbatou every Sunday" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker). Mark 16:2 reads, "And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun." References to the first day of the week here come from "proi mias sabbatou early on Sunday morning" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker). Matthew 28:1 reads, "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." The Greek for first day of the week here is mia sabbaton the first day of the week" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker). John 20:1 reads, "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." The Greek corresponding to the first day of the week is "te de mia tov sabbaton on the first day of the week" (Louw and Nida). Consequently, to refer to the days of the week on which Jews fasted, the Greek reads, "deutera sabbaton kai pempte on the second and fifth days of the week (Monday and Thursday)" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker).
However, in the third place, a second sabbaton appears in the beginning of Matthew 28:1. Notice the verse again: "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." The words "in the end" mean after: "The use of opse as an improper preposition for "after" is now clearly recognized (Arndt, p. 606), so that the translation here should be after the sabbath, in conformity with Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1. Mary Magdalene, the other Mary (Matt 27:56,61), and certain other women came at the break of dawn on Sunday to do the anointing of Jesus's body" (Wycliffe). Barnes' concurs: "The word 'end' here means the same as 'after' the Sabbath-that is, after the Sabbath was fully completed or finished, and may be expressed in this manner: 'In the night following the Sabbath, for the Sabbath closed at sunset, as it began to dawn...'" The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary further concurs: "After the Sabbath, as it grew toward daylight." Another Greek Lexicon writes the same respecting the word for "end" in Matthew 28:1: "after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning" (Louw and Nida).
The first use of sabbaton in Matthew 28:1 pertains to after the Sabbath! The second use of the word sabbaton in Matthew 28:1, reading in the Greek, mia sabbaton, refers to the first day of the week, not to the Sabbath already mentioned earlier in the same verse that had just concluded. Besides, the timeframe for the events chronicled in Matthew 28:1 demand no other understanding than that they transpired on the third day from and including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Friday before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath at 6 p.m. that day. Look at the calendar: Friday, Saturday, Sunday (first day of the week)! Adam Clarke's Commentary is right: "The transaction mentioned here evidently took place early on the morning of the third day after our Lord's crucifixion; what is called our Sunday morning, or first day of the next week."
Every angle from which the Sabbatarian has endeavored to wrangle Saturday or Sabbath worship in the Christian Age miserably fails. This effort, likewise, is useless. It would be far better to worship God according to the plain teaching of the Word of God rather than to invest so much misguided energy in the Scriptures. "...they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16).
Adam Clarke's Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Bauer, Walter, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. CD-ROM. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979.
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989.
McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. CD-ROM. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1993
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody, 1962.
Have you ever heard of "Messianic Jewry"? Do you know anything about this stuff? I can't find anyone in my area that knows anything about it. There was a congregation in my area, that I do not fellowship, that "sponsored" a lecture by a fellow Joseph Baruch Shulam, a Messianic Jew. He has written two commentaries, "The Jewish Roots of Romans" and a two volume set "The Jewish Roots of the Acts of the Apostles". He is about 58 years old and a Lipscomb graduate. His "missionary work" in Israel is sponsored by the North Boulevard Church of Christ in Murfreesboro, TN. You can do a GOOGLE search and quickly find his web site and other numerous web sites about "Messianic Jewry". I think this stuff is a terrible error for folks to get involved in. My own cursory look at North Boulevard's web site tells me they are significantly liberal after the likes of Shelly and Lucado. I've never seen anyone in the Brotherhood address this issue. Is the Brotherhood aware of it? I have an enquiring mind. I'd like to know. Thank you in advance for your time and attention. Sincerely, Gary E. Miller
The Gospel of Christ is for Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 1:16). It is commendable that either non-Jews have an interest in acquainting Jews with the Gospel and Jesus Christ or that Jews express an interest in Jesus Christ.
However, first, a cursory look at Messianic Jewry discovers that it is neither wholly Jewish nor wholly Christian. Messianic Jewry does not attempt to leave Judaism and adopt Christianity, but carves for itself something that neither wholly conforms to Judaism nor Christianity. Consequently, Messianic Jewry establishes independent congregations or synagogues. As such, Messianic Jewry does not acknowledge that when Jesus fulfilled the Old Law that he replaced it with the New Law (New Testament). At best, Messianic Jewry more nearly resembles the Judaizing teachers of the first century, which practiced parts of Judaism and Christianity at the same time.
Second, the churches of Christ and its preachers or other members have no business cooperating with or participating in a religious organization that is not the church of the Bible (2 John 9-11). The Gospel is the Gospel is the Gospel. The church is the church is the church. Simply, the church needs to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles.
Messianic Jewry may be appreciable from the perspective of contemporary Jews expressing an interest in Jesus Christ, but Messianic Jewry is no more biblically correct than any of a number of denominations, other world religions or modern Judaism. The churches of Christ do not need Messianic Jewry to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.