At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day (σαββασιν - plural) through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day(σαββατω - Singular). But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days (σαββασιν - plural) the priests in the temple profane the sabbath (σαββατον - singular), and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day (σαββατου - Singular). And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days (σαββασιν - Plural)? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day (σαββασιν - Plural), will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days (σαββασιν - Plural). (Mat 12:1-12)

In most cases above the plurals are translated as Sabbath days, and it makes sense that it then means on these Sabbath days "Priests profane the sabbath", "is it lawful to heal" or "to do well", but why in the Greek is the plural form used for the first occurrence (when it is a Specific Sabbath day Jesus is walking in the cornfield)?

The second last occurrence makes sense as a general rule (animals falling into pits sabbath days) but I wonder why it is translated singular in almost all Translations except the Berean and Young's Literal Translations. The first occurrence is strange though because it clearly is a specific day - the seventh.

More examples:

But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day(plural) (Mat 24:20)

In the end of the sabbath (plural), as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. (Mat 28:1)

And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day (plural) he entered into the synagogue, and taught. (Mar 1:21)

And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath (plural), (Mar 15:42)

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day (plural), and stood up for to read. (Luk 4:16)

And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath (plural). (Luk 13:10)

And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day (plural) according to the commandment.(Luk 23:56)

And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath (plural). The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day (plural): it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. (Joh 5:9-10)

But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day (plural), and sat down. (Act 13:14)

And on the sabbath (plural) we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. (Act 16:13)

  • The last two passages are in the Vulgate partitive genitive nouns(one of the sabbaths, i.e. a sabbath). – user21676 Sep 29 '20 at 10:23
  • Excellent question that I had not noticed before. Even when it occurs in the same phrase the number of the noun changes, eg, first day of the week (sabbath) – Dottard Sep 29 '20 at 12:03
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    Additional Research : british-israel.ca/SabbathPlural.htm – חִידָה Sep 29 '20 at 14:34
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    @VisualHermeneutics: This was an excellent resource, thank you. Its final conclusion is definitely a reasonable answer: "Like the Bible it's one book but within the bible are many books that make the whole. Like the God family, there is one God, but two persons within that one family. The Sabbath, there is one Sabbath but within that one Sabbath occur annual and the weekly Sabbaths. So one can see why the Sabbath is both plural and singular. " But I'm not 100% convinced by the arguments that lead up to it -but definitely the best reasoning so far. Thanks! – Pieter Rousseau Sep 29 '20 at 18:07
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The Etymology of ‘Sabbath’
By Professor Francois de Blois

The ancient Greeks did not have the concept of a week and thus there is no word for ‘week’ or for any of the days of the week in classical Greek. But in Greek writings by Jews and Christians we do have such terms. The seventh day is designated by the Hebrew or Aramaic loan word σάββατον (neuter singular) or σάββατα (neuter plural). Although there are a few passages where σάββατα does in fact mean ‘two or more Sabbaths’, in most cases both the singular and the plural forms are used to designate a single Sabbath. In particular, in the Septuagint we can observe that Hebrew šabbòṯ is translated either by σάββατον or by σάββατα without any discernable difference of meaning. 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 sigular σάββατον is a back-formation.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon

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

  • Thank you so much Tony. The transliteration of the Aramaic does make sense, but it does not then explain the use of the singulars. Here is one passage and the same day is referred to by two different words in two subsequent verses: Mat 12:1 and 2. I will look into the Aramaic of this, maybe it will make sense then... I myself think Matthew was originally written in Aramaic... – Pieter Rousseau Sep 29 '20 at 19:24
  • @PieterRousseau: See consonant stems of ancient Greek nouns for a better understanding of why the ending in -ta was interpreted as a neuter plural, rather than a feminine singular. The use of the singular requires no special explanation; logically, the noun was understood to refer to a single day, even when its grammatical form was plural. – Lucian Sep 30 '20 at 4:01
  • @Lucian: Hi Lucian. Thank you for that, I think it is a good explanation, but my point is that it does not explain why Matthew uses two different words for the exact same purpose in the space of two sentences: Dative Neuter - σαββασιν v1 and σαββατω v2. Luke 6 actually have them switched around but in the first case talk about the "second sabbath after the first" and Mark uses both the plural (for which your explanation could suffice. So either I don't understand this explanation or I am giving the Matthew distinctions more meaning than this explanation will handle. – Pieter Rousseau Sep 30 '20 at 7:17
  • @PieterRousseau: You are basically asking why someone uses two distinct words for the same term within a small time frame; the answer is, because he has no reason not to (especially in such cases, where the word itself is grammatically ambiguous). It's like opening up a random YouTube video, and asking why the same speaker uses both ain't and isn't within a short space of time; or both (i)s and (a)re for plurals, within the same time span; or why a Romanian complaining about his sink may use both robinete and robineti for faucets, sometimes within the same phrase or sentence; etc. – Lucian Sep 30 '20 at 7:49
  • @Lucian: Exactly, but with 2 significant differences: here the suggestion is that Matthew (or the Original Greek Translator) is using a transliterated word from Aramaic to refer to the singular Sabbath in verse 1 and then the actual/correct Greek singular in verse 2 (the Aramaic has the same word in both places). This is not the case in the 2 examples you cite. And secondly, because it is the Word of God: the difference can be significant but there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for every distinction. This is a good explanation, but it does not account for the arbitrary distinction here – Pieter Rousseau Sep 30 '20 at 8:04

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