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Why is 'Sabbath' often plural in the Greek text (both LXX and NT) yet translated as if it were singular? In my research online, I've been finding that this issue is hotly debated between Seventh Day Adventist scholars, Nestorian scholars, and those belonging to other Christian traditions (due to the former's 'theological stake' in the issue). I am looking for non-doctrinal analysis of the text only (as far as possible). I am aware that an underlying argument is whether or not relevant portions of the New Testament were translated from Aramaic, but for this question I would like to focus solely on the Greek text and other Greek literature that might shed light on this question.

I am also wondering if the use of 'Sabbath' to refer to 'week' is novel to Christian literature, or if it used like this elsewhere (I am aware of the use in the Didache, but this is Christian literature).

The backdrop to this question is these other questions, if you'd like some concrete examples:

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closed as off-topic by Dan Apr 8 at 22:25

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions about biblical topics but without a specific Bible passage are off-topic as hermeneutical methods cannot be applied when no text is referenced." – Dan
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Is this a question about he Greek language without reference to a particular text? I actually think it should be on topic, sort of in the same way that questions about the Tetragram are on topic (obviously about the Biblical texts and not abstractions of the language), and I wonder if we should even be more liberal in this area, but just curious at the moment whether you even (still) think this one is on topic. – Susan Apr 8 at 21:00
@Susan nope, closed as off topic :P (feel free to reopen if you disagree, I figured no harm, no foul on my own question) – Dan Apr 8 at 22:26
@dan - A.) This is incredibly related to:…; B.) Perhaps asking if a specific reference to "Shabbatot" (plural) - were references to High Holy Days, or "Double Sabbaths" - and if so, which holiday was implied by the text ... It would improve the question, a lot. – elika kohen Apr 8 at 22:48
@Susan - A.) I do agree we should be more liberal in this area - especially when it comes to "thematic issues"; B.) However, I also think that linguistic discussion about any texts should be on topic - like understanding one of Luther's commentaries - in German, but related to a specific text / theological concept. – elika kohen Apr 8 at 22:53
I think if this focused on the usage of the term by a specific author or text it would be fine, but it's too broad as is and doesn't focus on understanding a text. – Dan Apr 9 at 19:52

This form occurs repeatedly in Mark (1:21; 2:23-24; 3:2; etc), though not to the exclusion of the singular; I have yet to determine the pattern. The lexical helps which I own give only sparse comments on it; The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Rogers & Rogers) says at 3:2:

τοῖσ σάββασιν dat. pl. Dat. of time: "on the Sabbath." For the use of pl. for names of festivals s. BD, 78.

BD is there abbreviation for F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, which I do not own at the time of this writing and thus that is a dead-end. However, it seems to coincide with what @H3br3wHamm3r81 has said in his answer.

Thayer, in his lexicon, says a bit more, to the same effect:

...plur. τὰ σάββ. (for the singular) of a single sabbath, sabbath-day, (the use of the plur. being occasioned either by the plur. names of festivals, as τὰ ἐγκαίνια, ἄζυμα, γενέσια, or by the Chaldaic form שַׁבָּתָא...

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Great! Thanks! +1 (but I'm still holding out the green check for someone who finds some instances that occur outside of Christian literature as well). I probably have a resource with some examples but had long since forgotten about this post till now. Thanks again – Dan Oct 1 '13 at 4:05

A recent discussion of this whole complex can be found in a lecture on "The Etymology of ‘Sabbath’", which included the following suggestion:

“It seems possible that σάββατα is in fact a borrowing of the Old Aramaic singular noun in the determined state *šabbatā (Middle Aramaic: šabbṯā), which Greek speakers subsequently reinterpreted as a neuter plural and that the singular σάββατον is a back-formation.”

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That makes the most sense out of anything I've seen yet. Thanks for sharing! +1 – Dan Sep 3 '15 at 22:23
@Dan: It seems plausible, yet the same phenomenon occurred with the names of other feasts, such as τὰ ἐγκαίνια (John 10:22) which is plural (for Channuka, i.e. the feast of Dedication). – Simply a Christian Sep 4 '15 at 20:22
@H3br3wHamm3r81 indeed, and I upvoted your post as well. – Dan Sep 4 '15 at 20:45

Perhaps the same reason Chanukka or the Feast of Dedication is translated into Greek in the plural declension as τὰ ἐγκαίνια (ta enkainia), literally meaning "the dedications," rather than "the dedication" (John 10:22). The Jewish people greatly esteemed their feasts, the Sabbath being one of them.

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Could you elaborate on this a little more? I think you're on to something but I'd like to see some more support or a citation from a scholarly source. – Dan Feb 13 '13 at 16:28
I believe I've heard of this before concerning the godhead referred to as the 'plural of majesty.' – Dan Feb 13 '13 at 20:37
@Dan my answer is also not as complete as I would like but it at least expands on this answer somewhat. – Kazark Oct 1 '13 at 1:15

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