A Greek Falsehood


THEOLOGICAL teachers are fast learning that the English version of the Scriptures cannot be used with any effect among English readers to uphold the doctrine of a Sunday-Sabbath; for with the Bible in their hands, such readers can easily satisfy themselves, whatever inferences and sophisms may be set up to the contrary, that there is absolutely no testimony therein to be found in favor of such an institution. There is no record that Christ ever spoke one word concerning it; and when the apostles came to make up their testimony, they gave no instructions nor counsel in reference to it. They gave no law for it; they never kept it; and they left no example in its behalf. Hence we transgress no inspired authority when we devote it to secular uses. GRFA 1.1

But past generations, we do not now stop to inquire by what means, have introduced through all Christendom the practice of Sunday-Sabbatizing. The Church finds itself to-day with this custom on its hands. Some who wish to know for themselves the foundation of their faith, question the practice and challenge its authority. They appeal to the Scriptures which Protestants profess to acknowledge as the sole authority in such matters. What ought all true Protestants to do in such a case? — They ought to submit the question fully to that tribunal and abide by its decision; and if its authority does not sustain such an institution, then they should discard it as a doctrine of men, and return to the original institution as taught in the word of God, which men have tried to supplant by their new invention. GRFA 1.2

But few, alas! seem ready to take this course, but rather the opposite. Finding themselves, though by no fault of their own, observing Sunday, they seem determined to maintain the practice at all hazards, by fair means if possible (which is all right if it can be done), but if these fail, then by questionable methods, by sophistry, assumption, and false assertion, rather than admit the truth, change their practice, and return with humble and honest hearts to the way which the Lord marks out in his word. This latter is the course to which we object, and which we shall try to expose for the sake of honest souls who may be endangered thereby. GRFA 2.1

Ask yourself, reader, seriously, these questions: Of what avail will error be to me in the great day when men shall be judged according to the truth which has been set before them? And even if by adhering to it, I might for a time enjoy the pleasure of going with the multitude and retaining a good name among men, of what profit will that be to me in the day when the Lord shall make up his jewels, end when he will account as such only those who have preferred his word above the traditions of men, and esteemed his favor more than the friendship of the world? GRFA 2.2

As remarked in the outset, theologians are learning that very little can be done with the English version in behalf of Sunday. But the New Testament was first written in Greek, and people generally are not acquainted with that language; can we not, therefore, manipulate that so as to make it appear to teach the sacredness of the first day of the week? Such is the question which they seem to propose to themselves, and such is the end which those who are either ignorant or dishonest seek to attain. The way in which they attempt this, and the real facts in the case, we propose now to lay fully before the reader. GRFA 2.3

There are eight texts in the New Testament in which the first day of the week is mentioned: Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2. It is of course to these that appeal is made. The construction is exactly the same in all these passages. It will be noticed that in the common version in each instance the word “day” is printed in italic, indicating that that word has been supplied by the translators. We shall show before closing these remarks that this is the right word to supply and that it is really necessary to bring out the sense of the passages in full; but at present these remarks are confined to just what is expressed in the Greek. Omitting that word “day,” we have “first of the week,” for which we have equivalent words in the Greek. GRFA 3.1

But the word rendered “week,” is the Greek word sabbaton in some of its forms, which is also the word for “Sabbath,” and is translated “Sabbath” in numerous instances, when only the seventh day is intended. GRFA 3.2

Learning that “week” in the passages referred to, comes from the same word as “Sabbath,” some, in defiance of the fact that is is sometimes necessary to translate it “week,” propose to discard that translation, and call it “Sabbath.” Then they have this reading, “first of the Sabbath.” GRFA 3.3

This senseless phrase (senseless because they so translate it) does not read quite to their satisfaction, so they attempt to slur it over into “first Sabbath,” and then, “first-day Sabbath,” which is Sunday; and then with a great flourish of trumpets, they proclaim, “Lo! Sunday is called the Sabbath in the New Testament! It is always called so. The inspired writers never called it anything else!” The stupid wickedness of this claim can easily be made to appear. GRFA 3.4

To do this it will be necessary to look at the construction of the Greek; and it will be sufficient to take only one out of the eight passages in question, the construction, as already noticed, being the same in each one. Matthew 28:1 enjoys a certain distinction, in being the first expression of the kind; hence the attention of the reader is invited to that. GRFA 4.1

The following are the Greek words of the passage, with a transliteration into English characters, accompanied with a literal, word-for-word translation:— GRFA 4.2

“Latebutof the Sabbathitbeginning to dawn
intothe firstof the week.”

A word or two in regard to the meaning of this passage, before we enter upon a particular examination of the construction and the terms employed. Some have taken the ground, on the strength of this language, that the resurrection of Christ took place before the Sabbath ended. But this cannot be correct; for it is not a supposable case that Matthew an Mark would directly contradict each other in regard to such an event; and Mark says plainly, referring to the same time, “And when the Sabbath was past” (diagenomenou ton Sabbaton). GRFA 4.3

Accordingly, we find that this word opse is used in reference to what is already past. In the vocabulary to Greenfield’s Greek Testament, the following definition is given to this word: “Adv. late. viz, put for the first watch, at evening, Mark 11:19; 13:35; opse sabbaton, late in the Sabbath, i.e., after, or at the end of, the Sabbath, Matthew 28:1.” GRFA 4.4

Dr. Barnes, in his “Notes,” explains Matthew 28:1 as follows:— GRFA 5.1

Matthew 28:1. In the end of the Sabbath. The word end here means the same as after the Sabbath, i.e., 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.” GRFA 5.2

Bloomfield, in his “Greek Testament with English Notes,” remarks upon this passage as follows:— GRFA 5.3

Matthew 28:1. Opse de Sabb. This must, with Krebs, Wahl, Tittm., Kuin., and Fritz, be explained, ‘after the Sabbath,’ i.e. as Mark more clearly expresses it, diagenomenou tou Sabbaton [the Sabbath being past], which must determine the sense here. Of this signification the commentators adduce examples from Philost., Plut., Aelian, Xenophon.” GRFA 5.4

In the well-known Commentary of Dr. Adam Clarke, under the 28th chapter of Matthew, we find these words:— GRFA 5.5

Verse 1. In the end of the Sabbath] Opse de sabbaton. After the end of the week: this is the translation given by several eminent critics; and in this way the word opse is used by the most eminent Greek writers. Thucydides, lib. IV., chap. 93, tes hemeras opse en — the day was ended. Plutarch, opse ton basileos chronon — after the times of the king. Philostratus, opse ton Troikon — after the Trojan war. See Rosenmuller. In general, the Jews divided their natural day, which consisted of twenty-four hours, into day and night. Their artificial day began at the rising, and ended at the setting, of the sun; all the rest of the time, from the setting to the rising of the sun they termed night: hence the same word, in Hebrew, signifies both evening and night. Genesis 1:5; Mark 6:7. Matthew has employed the word in this extensive sense here, pointing out the latter part of the Jewish night, that which immediately preceded the rising of the sun, and not the first part which we call the evening. 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 week.” GRFA 5.6

Robinson, the standard lexicographer of New Testament Greek, in his lexicon gives the following as the definitions of the word opse:— GRFA 6.1

“1. Absol, late, late evening. Mark 11:19. Put for the evening watch, Mark 13:35.... 2. With a genitive, i.q. at the end of, at the close of, after. Matthew 28:1. opse de sabbaton, at the end of the Sabbath, i.e., after the Sabbath, the Sabbath being now ended, i.q. Mark 16:1. For the genitive, see Buttm., S 132. 5. b.” GRFA 6.2

In the case before us, opse is used with a genitive (sabbaton being in the genitive case), and hence has here the second of the definitions above given. This word occurs in the New Testament but three times, and in both of the instances besides Matthew 28:1, is rendered “even,” referring to the beginning or early portion of the dark part of the day, as Mark 14:35. When used in connection with the word “Sabbath,” it certainly carries us over into the evening, or dark part, of the following day (the evening according to the Bible method of computation being the first part of the day), and shows that the Sabbath was wholly past, as stated in all the authorities above referred to. GRFA 6.3

Let it be noted, then, on the evidence thus far presented, that the language does not teach that one series of Sabbaths there ended to make way for a new series, as some contend, under cover of which they wish to slip in the first day of the week. It only asserts that “when the Sabbath was past,” and it was drawing on toward daylight on the first day of the week, the women came to the sepulcher, etc. GRFA 6.4

Now let us see if this day on which they came to the sepulcher is also called “the Sabbath,” as the new critics so lustily assert. The words on which they make this claim, as will be seen by the foregoing translation, are “eis mian sabbaton.” Let us analyze this construction:— GRFA 6.5

Eis is simply a preposition meaning to, toward, or into. It is regularly followed by the accusative case, as we have in the following word “mian,” which is in the accusative. Mian is an adjective, from the nominative masculine heis, which is the first of the cardinal numbers, meaning “one.” (By a Hebraism it is here used as an ordinal, signifying “first.”) Adjectives in Greek have a declension the same as nouns; and a difference in gender, number, and case, is indicated by a change of form the same as with nouns. A Presentation of the declension of the numeral adjective “one,” in the singular number, will show the reader at once where the form “mian” is found. The adjective is declined as follows:— GRFA 7.1

Nominative case,(heis)(mia)(hen)
Genitive “(henos)(mias)(henos)
Dative “(heni)(mia)(heni)
Accusative “(hena)(mian)(hen)

From this the reader will see that the form mian is found only in that column which marks the feminine gender, and in the line which gives the accusative case. Therefore we say of mian, that it is a numeral adjective, feminine gender, singular number, and accusative case. There must be some noun, either expressed or understood, with which it agrees, and that must be a noun of the feminine gender, singular number, and accusative case, which caused the adjective to be so written; for adjectives must agree with their nouns in gender, number, and case. GRFA 7.2

One word more remains to be considered, and that is Sabbaton a word which our translators render “of the week,” but which the new critics say should be called “Sabbath,” because it is the word which is generally translated “Sabbath.” There are two different words rendered “Sabbath” in the New Testament. The first is sabbaton (short “o” in last syllable), a noun of the second declension; the second is a form in the dative plural, sabbasi, as if from the nominative sabbat, which would be a noun of the third declension. But both words are of the neuter gender. GRFA 7.3

The word generally used in the New Testament is sabbaton in some of its forms; and it is used both in the singular and the plural; but when it is used in the plural form (with the exception of such passages as Acts 17:2 and Colossians 2:16, where it has a plural signification), it means just the same as if it had been written in the singular. (See Robinson’s Greek Lexicon.) The forms for the nominative and genitive, in the singular and plural, are the following: nominative singular, sabbaton, genitive singular, sabbatou; nominative plural sabbata, genitive plural, sabbaton. The reader will note that the genitive plural is distinguished by having the long “o,” omega, in the last syllable instead of the short “o” as in the nominative singular. GRFA 8.1

In what case and number is the word in Matthew 28:1? — It is in the genitive case, plural number, and so it is in every one of the eight texts where the first day of the week is named, except Mark 16:9, where it is in the genitive singular (sabbatou). What is the relation indicated by the genitive case? It shows that relation which is expressed in English by the word “of,” so that whatever definition we give to sabbaton, it must be, “of the Sabbath;” if we call it “week,” it must be, “of the week.” GRFA 8.2

Now what must be the definition of sabbaton in the case before us? If we say it is “Sabbath,” meaning just one day, then we have the expression, “the first of the Sabbath.” The first what of the Sabbath? It cannot be translated “the first Sabbath;” for, as we have seen, the word “of” must come in before the word “Sabbath;” and further, the adjective mian (by a Hebraism used as an ordinal, the first) cannot belong to Sabbath; for it does not agree with it in any particular, mian being of the feminine gender, singular number, and accusative case, while sabbaton is of the neuter gender, plural number, and genitive case! GRFA 8.3

Before following sabbaton farther, let us dispose of mian, and our way will then be still clearer. There is no word expressed with which the adjective mian agrees, hence there must be some word understood, and to be supplied, to bring out the full sense of the passage. What can that word be? There is only one which can be supplied, and that is hemeran, accusative singular of the feminine noun hemera, “day.” Hence Greenfield in his Greek Testament, after the adjective “first,” in all the eight texts, refers to the margin where he says, “Supply hemera [day].” So in all these passages we have “first day’ as a fixed fact; but first day of what? GRFA 9.1

We now come back to sabbaton, which we are gravely told means “Sabbath” in these passages. Then we have “the first day of the Sabbath,” but as the Sabbath consists of only one day, we have “the first day of one day”! We have charity enough for our friends to believe that this is greater nonsense than even they will be willing to father; but they must accept it, or abandon their position. GRFA 9.2

As it must now be apparent to all that we cannot give to sabbaton in these passages the definition of “Sabbath,” the question remains as to how it shall be translated. Does it ever mean “week,” referring to the whole seven days? and can it mean so here? If it can, then all difficulty is removed, the Greek which Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul have given us is vindicated, and a clear and intelligible idea is expressed; namely, “the first day of the week.” GRFA 9.3

Conclusive evidence to show that sabbaton in these instances does mean “week” is all that is further called for in this argument; and this can easily be given. GRFA 10.1

Looking in the lexicons, under the word sabbaton, we find the following definitions:— GRFA 10.2

Greenfield, in his New Testament Lexicon, defines it first as, “the Sabbath, the seventh day, singular and plural,” and secondly, “a period of seven days, a week, singular and plural. Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9, et al,” etc. GRFA 10.3

Pickering, in his Comprehensive Lexicon of the Greek language, defines the word thus: “A cessation from labor, rest, the Sabbath, a day of rest; by synecdoche, a week. Mark 16:9; Luke 18:12; Matthew 28:1,” etc. GRFA 10.4

Bagster’s Greek Lexicon says: “Properly, cessation from labor, rest; the Jewish Sabbath, both in the sing. and pl.; a week, sing. and pl. Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9, et al.” GRFA 10.5

Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon says: “The Hebrew Sabbath, i.e.., rest; hence the seventh day, or day of rest. 2. A week. N.T.” GRFA 10.6

Gesenius, in his Hebrew Lexicon, under shabbath, the equivalent of the Greek sabbaton, says: “4. Sometimes a sabbath is nearly i.q. a week. Leviticus 23:15, 16. Here the seven complete sabbaths are parallel to the ‘seven weeks’ of Deuteronomy 16:9.” He says the Chaldee word for Sabbath also means “week.” GRFA 10.7

Robinson, in his Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, gives as the second definition of sabbaton, “2. By mentonymy a sabbath, put for the interval ‘from Sabbath to Sabbath;’ hence a se’ennight, week; so espec. Luke 18:12, nesteuo dis tou sabbatou [I fast twice in the Sabbath, that is, in the week]. Elsewhere only after numerals marking the days of the week; Mark 16:9, prote (emera) sabbaton. Plur, Matthew 28:1; eis mian sabbaton. Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:19 Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2.... In the Talmudists the days of the week are written echad, i.e., the first, second, third day in the Sabbath (week); see Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. in Matthew 28:1. Comp. Ideler Handb. der Chronol. I., p. 481.” GRFA 10.8

The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, article “Week,” says:— GRFA 11.1

“The enumeration of the days of the week commenced at Sunday. Saturday was the last or seventh, and was the Hebrew Sabbath, or day of rest. The Egyptians gave to the days of the week the same names that they assigned to the planets. From the circumstance that the Sabbath was the principal day of the week, the whole period of seven days was likewise called shabat, in Syriac shabta, in the N.T. sabbaton and sabbata. The Jews, accordingly, in designating the successive days of the week, were accustomed to say, The first day of the Sabbath (that is, of the week), the second day of the Sabbath; that is Sunday, Monday, etc. Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:9; John 20:1, 19.” GRFA 11.2

Cruden says:— GRFA 11.3

“Sabbath is also taken for the whole week. Luke 18:12. I fast twice in the week; in the Greek it is, I fast twice in the Sabbath.” GRFA 11.4

Bloomfield in his Greek N.T. says this fast was on the second and fifth days of the week; but our friends would have the old Pharisee fast twice on the same day, which must, of course, have been between meals! GRFA 11.5

Nevins, in his Biblical Antiquities, p. 174, says”— GRFA 11.6

“The seventh day, which we term Saturday, as styled among them (the Jews) the Sabbath, that is, the day of rest. And because this was the most important day of all the week, the whole week came to be called from its name, a Sabbath; whence the other days were called also the first day of the Sabbath, the second day of the Sabbath, and so on in their order.” GRFA 12.1

The Union Bible Dictionary, art. “Week,” says:— GRFA 12.2

“The Jews called Sunday one of the Sabbath, that is, the first day of the week. Monday was two of the Sabbath.” GRFA 12.3

Calmet says:— GRFA 12.4

Sabbathum is also taken for the whole week.” GRFA 12.5

Young, in his new Concordance, under the word “Week,” says:— GRFA 12.6

“A week (from Sabbath to Sabbath) sabbata.” He then refers to Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2. Again he says:— GRFA 12.7

“A week (from Sabbath to Sabbath) sabbaton,” and then refers to Mark 16:9 and Luke 18:12. GRFA 12.8

But one more query can arise on this subject; namely, inasmuch as the same word, and the same form of it (sabbaton,) is used to signify both the Sabbath and the week, how is it to be determined when it has the signification of “week”? The answer is, Whenever it is preceded by a numeral adjective specifying the day of the week, and agreeing with “day,” understood. Whenever sabbaton is used in such a construction, following such an adjective, it cannot with any sense be translated by any other word than “week.” And this is exactly the construction we find in every one of the eight first-day texts. So easy is it to tell why it should be so translated and when. And the authorities for such a rendering are certainly sufficiently weighty and abundant. GRFA 12.9

It would not have been necessary to enter into this vindication of the common rendering and the revised version of these passages, had not persons of late years taken counsel of their ignorance to find some objection to the Sabbath of the Lord. We trust they may be led to see the folly of their course; or, if that cannot be, that the common people may become so enlightened that said teachers will find no following. U. S. GRFA 12.10