During Paul's first missionary journey, he preaches in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia:

Acts 13:14 (ESV)

but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day [σαββάτων] they went into the synagogue and sat down.

During Paul's second missionary journey, he preaches in a place of prayer outside of Philippi:

Acts 16:13

And on the Sabbath day [σαββάτων] we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.

In both the day on which Paul preached is identified as. σαββάτων, which is the genitive plural.

What does "Sabbaths" mean in Acts 13:14 and 16:13?

  • Does this answer your question? Sabbath, Sabbaths or week? Matthew 28:1
    – Michael16
    Dec 23, 2023 at 18:06
  • check related same questions on the right side.
    – Michael16
    Dec 23, 2023 at 18:07
  • 1
    @Michael16 I think there is a difference between Matthew, which is understood as referring to after the weekly Sabbath. These in Acts seem to be referring to what took place on the weekly Sabbath. Matthew's plural is taken as the first day of the week, which would be the day following the Sabbath. These in Acts are understood as part of observing the weekly Sabbath. Not only does the Matthew passage not answer the question, it leads to this question. How does a word understood to describe the day after the weekly Sabbath describe what is understood as taking place on the weekly Sabbath? Dec 23, 2023 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


The word σάββατον occurs 68 times in the NT in a few forms. It has two distinct meanings (see BDAG)

  1. the seventh day of the week in Israel's calendar, marked by rest from work and by special religious ceremonies, sabbath
  • (a) Singular, eg, Matt 12:2, 8, 24:20
  • (b) Plural: meaning either: more than on sabbath, eg, Acts 17:2; or, meaning a single Sabbath, eg, Matt 12:1, 11, 28:1a, Mark 1:21, 2:23, 3:2, etc
  1. a period of seven days, week
  • (a) Singular: Luke 18:12, Mark 16:2, 9, 1 Cor 16:2
  • (b) Plural: "first day of the week" as in Matt 28:1b, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, 19, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2.

Note that the plural is often used for the singular but never the singular for the plural.

Note the comments of Professor Francois de Blois

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 singular σάββατον is a back-formation.

Therefore, most versions translate the OP's quoted texts correctly, something similar to (my translation):

  • Acts 13:14 - but they, having passed through from Perga, came to Antioch of Pisidia, and having gone into the synagogue of the day of the Sabbath, they sat down.
  • Acts 16:13 - Then, on the day of the Sabbath, we went forth, outside the [city] gate, by a river, ...

In both cases, the word "day" is singular and thus, "sabbath" should be correctly translated in the singular.

In both cases, if using modern language, we might translate, Sabbath, as "Saturday" to use a modern English word, but this would not carry the correct meaning of "Sabbath", a rest day as Luke intended.

We can also observe several other features about the grammar of this word:

  • the phrase, "τοῖς σάββασιν" (literally, "the Sabbaths") ALWAYS means "Sabbath in the singular, eg, Matt 12:1, 5, 10, 11, 12, Mark 1:21, 2:23, 24, 3:2, Luke 4:31, 6:2, 13:10.
  • σάββατα (literally "Sabbaths") occurs only once in Acts 17:2 and means three successive Sabbaths.
  • the phrase μίαν σαββάτων (literally "first of Sabbaths") simply means "the first day of the week", ie, "Sunday" in English, as in Matt 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, 19.
  • the phrase τῶν σαββάτων (literally "the Sabbaths") always means "the Sabbath" (singular) as per, Luke 4:16, Acts 13:14, 16:13.
  • If a writer uses both the singular and plural form of the word, they mean exactly the same thing? Dec 23, 2023 at 21:16
  • @RevelationLad - correct and in some cases, within a short space from each other with clearly the same meaning. This has been recognized for a long time - even Thayer says the same thing which dates from about 150 years ago. Souter says the same thing from 1915.
    – Dottard
    Dec 23, 2023 at 21:24
  • That sounds a lot like “we don’t know.” Personally, I find the position a writer would use the singular and plural of any word and not intend some difference in meaning, astonishing. Dec 23, 2023 at 22:38
  • @RevelationLad - That is untrue - look at all the instances quoted above and see of a plural translation even makes any sense.
    – Dottard
    Dec 23, 2023 at 23:26
  • The examples reflect circular reasoning. It means multiple weekly Sabbaths sometimes but others it means a single Sabbath, because multiple doesn’t make sense (or so it seems). If that were true, Luke should have used the singular. But instead of choosing the word which is explicit in meaning, he eschews the word in order to use a word which which used to mean multiple weekly Sabbaths, but now doesn’t. Dec 23, 2023 at 23:40

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