Hebrews 4:9 (NKJV)

9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.

The author of Hebrews uses the word rest (κατάπαυσις)(abode,reposing down) throughout his letter but in Hebrew 4:9 he changes & uses (σαββατισμός)(Sabbatism) in reference to rest.What could have caused the change

3 Answers 3


If the Scripture is taken literally then the Sabbath was in existence before the Mosaic Law:

27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:27-30 ESV)

Therefore the Mosaic Law extended what was already in existence:

10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exodus 20:10 ESV)

What was initially an ordnance of individual responsibility was extended to include others. In other words, prior to the law a person could observe the Sabbath by their own actions; after the Law a person might also be responsible to see that others, including animals and sojourners within their gates observed the Sabbath.

To rest means not to work; to follow the Sabbath means to ensure the others you are responsible for join you in rest. In may be overly simplifying but the primary distinction is corporate rest in contrast to individual rest.

Now if someone is a child of God, then there will be a corporate rest with God, who is responsible for you. So for the people of God, there remains a Sabbath rest (with God) that He will ensure.


Chapter 4 presents findings with regard to the term katapausis in the LXX where it refers to (1) the Promised Land (Deut 12:9); (2) the temple as the habitation desired by God (Ps 132:14); and finally (3) the Sabbath rest (Exod 35:2; 2 Macc 15:1). In Heb 3, a midrash on Ps 94, the rest the Exodus generation failed to enter was the Promised Land. The formal parallelism between the katapausis of Heb 4:6 and the sabbatismos of 4:9 suggests that sabbatismos is meant to define more precisely the character of the rest. Etymologically sabbatismos derives from sabbatizein in much the same way that baptismos derives from baptizein. Sabbatismos in non-Christian as well as Christian literature is always used literally meaning Sabbath observance, although sometimes pejoratively, with the exception of Origen who uses the term twice figuratively. Hebrews 4:10 describes how the sabbatismos will become possible. The one entering it rested (aorist) from his works just as God rested from his on the first Sabbath in the primeval history of the world. The comparative conjunction defines clearly who is to be imitated when one enters the rest.

The audience of Hebrews does not relapse back into Judaism, but faces a waning commitment to the community’s confessed faith. Since Heb 4:11-16 and Heb 10:19-25 share similar vocabulary, syntax, and genre one can assume that they share also a similar theme. The Sabbath observance remains for the people of God (4:9) and an invitation is extended to “rest” the way God rested from all his works on the seventh-day Sabbath after the six-day creation. Hebrews 10:25-26 seems to talk about an intentional neglect of the church gathering that is best explained by a Sabbath gathering since the background to the willful sin is a rebellious neglect of the Sabbath. Such continuing, willful, intentional neglect equates with trampling underfoot the Son of God (10:29). This is the reason why the author strikes such a serious tone in his elaboration of the matter.

  • Welcome to BH. Please see the Tour and Help regarding the purpose and the functioning of the site. I did not personally follow your answer regarding the question and I am still wondering if you regard the use of the word referred to as literal or figurative. In my own view, a simpler answer would have been more helpful.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 4:51

One interpretation is that he is not referring to a temporal rest from daily activity, but rather the rest that comes from leaving earthly cares behind.

The late Orthodox Archbishop Dmitri Royster, in his 242-page commentary on Hebrews, explains the substitution you observe as follows:

Now the true meaning of rest is revealed, for here the Greek word sabbatismos replaces the katapavsis of the foregoing verses of this chapter. On the other hand, while the frame of reference is the same, the Apostle obviously has a purpose in this substitution. In verses 10 and 11, he will return to the usual term, but here he must have in mind the rabinnical saying that "the Sabbath is the image of the world to come" [see, e.g., Berakoth 57b of the Babylonian Talmud]. The Sabbath rest, the rest which recalls God's resting on the seventh day, does not mean the cessation of all activity, because, as the Savior said in answer to those Jews who criticized His healing on the Sabbath, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). In other words, His care and providence never stop. The final, ideal rest for the people of God obedient to Him is not a state of inactivity, but an end to the struggles of earthly life and doing God's service only.

pp. 62-63

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