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:

  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 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
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 22:26
  • @dan - A.) This is incredibly related to: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/22071/…; 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. Commented Apr 8, 2016 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. Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 22:53
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    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
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 19:52

2 Answers 2


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
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 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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