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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
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Good question! The Greek ending -σμος makes a noun out of a verb. The verb "σαββατιζω", 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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This answer is incorrect, as written: (A.) The claim that this is a term used by Justin Martyr needs a citation to substantiate that claim; (B.) The claim that the Greek Morphological Suffix, ("Ism"), is just for the purpose of making nouns out of verbs is incorrect, Greek "ISM"; (C.) The words "Rest" and "Sabbath-ism" are not used in apposition of each to "parallel" each other, but as a juxtaposition, to emphasize a very big distinction between the two. – elika kohen Jun 16 '15 at 5:46

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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Question Restatement

In Hebrews 4:9, what does the word "σαββατισμὸς, sabbatismos" mean, and what is the methodology to interpret / translate this word?

Hebrews 4:9, NASB- So there remains a "Sabbath rest, (σαββατισμὸς)" for the people of God.


  1. Sabbath, is not a Greek expression, but rather a Hebrew one.
  2. The word "rest" is not actually in the Greek.
  3. The word "Sabbatismos" is a transliteration, rather than a translation of the Hebrew word, (seventh).
  4. The transliterated Hebrew expression is then compounded with a Morphologically Greek suffix, (-ism).
  5. This morphological structure of Sabbath is unique.


In Hebrews 4:9, the writer explicitly redefines, and invents the term "Sabbatismos, σαββατισμὸς" by juxtaposing it with two other concepts: (A.) the casual Greek concept of "Rest"; (B.) AND the traditional Jewish concept of seventh day rest, the "Sabbath".

Step 1. Morphology

Arguably, this would not usually be the first step--except for the fact that this word would have been foreign to the Greeks.

Greeks would NOT have immediately recognize this word in, the context of Jewish doctrine, but they would have certainly recognized the suffix.

Given the suffix, the Greek's would have immediately understood that this expression meant to convey a foreign concept, precept, philosophy, or doctrine.

Ultimately from either Ancient Greek -ισμός (-ismós), a suffix that forms abstract nouns of action, state, condition, doctrine; from stem of verbs in -ίζειν (-ízein) (whence English -ize), or from the related suffix Ancient Greek -ισμα (-isma), which more specifically expressed a finished act or thing done, ("ism", Wikipedia Link).

Specifically, in this context, of or relating to the doctrine of "Sabbath Rest".

Step 2, Lexical Semantics: Transliteration, not a Translation

The word "Sabbatismos" is not a Greek word, but rather Semitic, specifically a Hebrew, concept.

Therefore, it must be translated from the Hebrew.

To emphasize the word's origin this, the writer transliterates the word from the Hebrew, rather than translates it. This is also done in English :

Exodus 16:26, NASB - Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, [שַׁבָּ֖ת, Shabbat], there will be none.”

Utilizing Lexical Semantics, this word denotes: a "Seventh Day Rest", a period following six days of work".

Step 3. Pragmatics, Contextual Analysis

The writer is very explicit, and emphatic, regarding their intent: they are conveying a "higher concept", a "new doctrine", and that they are NOT referring to the traditional doctrine of "the Sixth Day rest".

Because the writer is essentially "inventing" their own term, they have two challenges:

  1. This foreign concept must be adequately expressed to Greek audiences.
  2. This concept, though similar to tradition, must be juxtaposed, emphatically, to ensure that the concept is NOT confused with the existing one.

Step 4. Syntax, Juxtaposition between "Traditional Sabbaths" and the Greek Word "Rest, κατάπαυσιν"

Hebrews 4:1, NASB - Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.

  1. Apposite with the Greek concept of "Rest", but with significant concepts from Hebrew and Christian eschatology: a period of time, followed by a period of time, judgment followed by rest, the sense of "finality").
  2. Juxtaposition with the "Sabbath Rest" the people observed in the desert, with some "other rest".
  3. Incredible contrast with the Traditional Sabbath which does not, at all, incorporate a sense of "fear" of the "possibility of not being able to observe the Sabbath"--traditionally, this was a requirement, nor option--not something earned, but mandatory.

Hebrews 4:3, NASB- For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.

  1. "Enter that Rest", is "present tense", to imply an action in progress, juxtaposed with the single action on the "Sabbath day".
  2. Contrasts the "observance" of that rest, as one of faith and a gift, rather than a "Rest" which is commanded.
  3. Juxtaposition with the normal sense of "rest", which followed after God's completion of his works.

Hebrews 4:4, NASB - For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”;

  1. Juxtaposition with the "Rest of God" and "Rest of Man".

Hebrews 4:5, NASB - and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.”

  1. Clarification that God at one point wanted Israel to rest, along with him, in his rest.
  2. Juxtaposition between the "Divine Rest" and the "Statutory Rest", (the 7th day commandment).

Hebrews 4:6-7- 6 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, [from Psalms 95].”

Hebrews 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.

  1. Clarification that entering into the "Promised Land", was not the rest that God had promised--because if it was, God wouldn't have continued to promise Israel a greater rest.

Hebrews 9:10-11, NASB - 9 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

  1. Conclusion of the Greek Syllogism, (Logical Argument), "so then, [based on these evidences],".
  2. The writer concludes, feeling they have persuaded their audience that another, greater rest remains, a divine rest, following a period of earthly labor and final judgment.
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In Elika's Question Restatement above, he chooses to use the doctrine aspect of ismos. He may be choosing that because the result fits his worldview and thus feels right or because Sabbatismos appears only once and thus seems like a coined term thus doctrinal.

Sabbatismos, however appears in other writings, Christian and non-Christian.
- Plutarch, De Superstitione 3, in Moralia 2. 166a
- Justin (the Martyr), Dialog with Trypho 23.3
- Epiphanius, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis 30.2.2
- Martyrium Petri et Pauli 1
- Apostolic Constitution 2.36.2
- Origen, Celsus 5.59
- Origen, Commentarii in Evangelium Joannis 2.33.198
- Origen, Prayer 27.16
- Origen, Selecta in Exodum 12.289.7
- Origen, Excerpta in Psalmos 17.144.31

One of the ways to establish the meaning of a word is to look at the context of other uses of it in writings from the period. All these other uses of the word have the meaning "a keeping of the Sabbath".

Another way to establish the meaning of a word is to look at its roots. Sabbatismos is a nouned verb. The nouned form never appears in the LXX; the verb never appears in the NT. But the verb appears many times in the LXX and in all cases its meaning is "to keep the Sabbath"

As few references to Sabbatismos as there are, it is difficult to determine when a word came in to usage and left. The Plutarch reference, though, is very early, possibly simultaneous with Hebrews, indicating that it may have been a wide spread word at the time. Therefore Hebrews may not be coining the word.

So all uses of Sabbatismos outside of Hebrews agree with the verb's use in LXX that it refers to a physical observance. The only place where Sabbatismos is "spiritualized" and interpreted as "a Sabbath rest" is in Hebrews. Sabbath has the meaning of rest, especially a rest from work (the work we must do to live). Therefore "a Sabbath rest" can be expanded to "a rest from work rest" or simplified to "a rest rest". Seems concocted.

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That said, Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. – ThaddeusB Dec 7 '15 at 4:55
Thank you. I have registered now.Technically speaking a concordance isn't the same as a dictionary, but the difference is small and not important here. How are new words or new meanings for words added to a dictionary? People begin using them that way. How are words added to a concordance? People have used them that way. – Stan Dec 7 '15 at 13:31
Actually, the difference is substantial. A lexicon/dictionary seeks to define how a word is used in all contexts. A translator then chooses a word to translate a specific context. A concordance lists only how it was translated, and thus provides no independent information about meaning. Although you are correct, that people often confuse the two, you'll find that around here we are pretty insistent on not treating Strong's as providing independent evidence of word meaning. See this meta post for more information. – ThaddeusB Dec 7 '15 at 15:39
I removed the reference to Strong's – Stan Dec 7 '15 at 16:07

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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