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The word, Sabbatismos occurs in the Greek NT only once.
Strongest Strong's defines it as Sabbath rest; Sabbath observance.
Thayer's/Strong's defines it as a Sabbath keeping. Various English translations render this a special rest, a day of rest, a Sabbath rest. Young's Literal Translation renders it a Sabbatic rest.

What basis do we have for defining this word, Sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9?
Or, more accuratel,y what basis do we have for determining the meaning it was intended to convey. For example:

-Is there a way of tracing the scholars' steps in determining the meaning of this Greek word?
-Is this word used in the Septuagint?
-Do we have insight from other Greek writings that contribute to understanding its meaning?
-How do the grammatical elements of this particular form play into our understanding?
-Do any other traditions/languages play into how scholars understand this Greek word?
-What is the etymology of the Greek word?

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Hey Dan, I want to know what defines this word since it is a word only occurring once in the Greek NT. I do not seek to justify any interpretation. I only want to gather facts about how to interpret the passage correctly. Like, what are the implications of the Greek ending -ismos? The root of this word is obviously Sabbath. I only included Lamasa's translation to show what work I had done in researching this myself. (I know the Aramaic sheds some light on the Greek, even though the way scholars apply the information may vary). If it confuses or diverts attention you can edit that out. –  user2027 Jan 5 '14 at 13:53
@ Dan, I edited out the information about the Aramaic myself as it was obviously distracting. If there are other ways you see I can make it more clear let me know. –  user2027 Jan 5 '14 at 17:13
Correct. I want to know what process the scholars use/used to ascribe meaning to or derive meaning from this word. –  user2027 Jan 5 '14 at 21:23
OK, so you are not asking how to translate it into English, but rather how it came to be transliterated from a Semitic language into Greek and then used in a specific way in this context? –  Dan Jan 5 '14 at 21:29
PS I'm not asking these questions to heckle you or to be annoying. I'm genuinely trying to figure out what you're looking for because I'm interested in giving an answer. –  Dan Jan 5 '14 at 23:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Good question! The Greek ending -σμοσ makes a noun out of a verb. The verb "σαββατιζο", as used by Plutarch and Justin Martyr about keeping the sabbath, therefore becomes "the result of keeping the sabbath". In a similar way, "inflate", the act of increasing the size of something, becomes "inflation", the result of increasing the size of something.

It seems that Heb 4:9 contains the only known use of "sabbatismos" in Greek literature from that era. Thus it must partially be defined by its context. In context,

Heb. 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.
Heb. 4:9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.
Heb. 4:10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Thus "sabbatismos" is related to the other word for "rest" in this passage, "katapausis", and these words are in direct apposition to each other. Is is therefore safe to assume that "sabbatismos" means "sabbath rest" or "rest as during the sabbath". This makes sense in the context, as v4 indicates that the rest is at least related to resting on the sabbath.

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Hermeneutics is not only about the deductive approach to interpreting Scripture (for example, grammar and syntax) but also the inductive approach, which is to infer the generalization from several pieces of information -- sort of connecting the dots. In other words, hermeneutics is both an art (subjective) and science (objective).

The concept of the Sabbath rest described in the Book of Hebrews is one such case where the answer is conceptual, not grammatical. Essentially, David wrote Psalm 95, which was then quoted in Hebrews 4:7. The idea is that David was already in the Promised Land when he had written Psalm 95, so when he admonishes his readers not to have hardened hearts so as to enter the Promised Land, he was not referring to the literal Promised Land (because his readers like him were already there). He was instead referring to the invisible Promised Land, which is the righteousness of the Lord that will result in life after death. David must have been referring to this invisible Promised Land because he was already in the visible Promised Land, which was the real estate conquered by Joshua centuries before David (which is the whole point of Heb 4:8).

So in the literal (visible) sense, observing the Sabbath in the Hebrew Bible was not so much an act of obedience (working!) so much as an act of receiving the rest (not working!), which is the salvation of the Lord. In other words, the geographical Promised Land was the visible salvation of the Lord, which was received by not working (God provided the power)... but in Psalm 95 King David now mentions an invisible Sabbath rest as well, which brings us to address the conceptual versus the grammatical.

For example, Jesus was accused of working on the Sabbath, yet he indicated the concept that he was in fact in the process of creating rest because the Father was "working" through him (Jn 5:16-18). That is, Jesus would provide the invisible eternal life, which would be the Sabbath "rest" of God.

Please note that there was scarce mention of the words "eternal life" in the Hebrew Bible (Dan 12:2 is one explicit exception), but New Testament writers indicate that the theme was evident and was understood in the Hebrew Bible (Tit 1:1-3). In other words, the "rest" of God (whether literal or otherwise) is something you receive by not working. In the Hebrew Bible, you received the "rest" of God (visible) by not working in the geographical Promised Land (place of rest) on specifically designated days; if you disobeyed, then you spurned both the visible rest and the invisible rest that King David mentions as also existing in the equation. This invisible rest was the righteousness of God (received by faith like the Abrahamic Covenant), which is also the basis of the New Covenant, where eternal life finally comes to bear through Jesus Christ -- that is, the "work" which his Father wrought through him. Therefore today you receive the "rest" of God (invisible) by not working -- thus the mention of "dead works" by those who insisted on working as the basis of their faith, which is contrary to this invisible Sabbath "rest" (Heb 6:1 and Heb 9:14).

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This is beautiful. Thank you. –  user2027 Jan 30 '14 at 13:39

About 2 years ago I asked a teacher of ancient Greek. I am not sure what was her first response. I think she said "a doing of the sabbath" or "a doing belonging to the sabbath". But then I said to her that the old translations (KJV, Luther) translate it as "rest". Then she said it means "a rest belonging to the sabbath".

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Thank you Jonah. I appreciate your sharing this. Welcome to BH-SE. –  user2027 Jan 26 '14 at 13:54
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. –  Dan Jan 26 '14 at 15:06
@jonah, Thank you also for your related, and very well articulated question. –  user2027 Feb 21 '14 at 1:43

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