First of the Sabbaths vs. First Day of the Week

Daniel Gregg vs. Eric Lyons, Master Ministry

       All the resurrection accounts show that Yeshua was raised from the dead on the first Sabbath after Passover (μια των σαββατων; Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; cf. vs. 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; cf. Acts 20:7; cf. 1Cor. 16:2).   In 1 Cor. 16:2 Paul tells the faithful to save up a contribution "down from the first of Sabbaths" (κατα μιαν σαββατων) to send to Jerusalem for Pentecost (1 Cor. 16:8).  The anniversary of the resurrection always falls right after Passover.   It is marked on the "first of the sabbaths" in Acts 20:7 (Εν δε τη μια των σαββατων), when the disciples met to "break bread", which is a near eastern expression for a common meal.  The next day, a common Sunday morning, Paul departed on his journey.  The expression showing the time of the resurrection appears eight times in the Apostolic Writings.  It designates a special Sabbath (cf. Lev. 23:15) along with the regular Sabbaths.  Even John received his vision on the Sabbath (cf. Rev. 1:10).

       Before the Gentiles fell into the Baalistic apostasy that became the proto-Catholic Church and the various Gnostic movements, faithful Messianic Israelites met and worshiped on the Sabbath day, and observed the Jewish feast days (cf. Col. 2:16; 1Cor 5:8; 1Cor 16:8).  The apostates developed a web of deceit to lay as a foundation for their new religion taken from old Babylonia, and then proceeded to persecute the original faith into near extinction with the zeal of Jezebel.  In this article we will look at the lies, half truths, and admitted truths that can be confirmed in an article published by Eric Lyons for Apologetics Press.  Quotations will be from that article which are sourced at the link under Mr. Lyons name.  He writes:

Admittedly, a form of the Greek word for sabbath (sabbaton or sabbatou) does appear in each of the eight passages translated “first day of the week.” For example, in Acts 20:7 this phrase is translated from the Greek mia ton sabbaton. However, sabbaton (or sabbatou) is never translated as “the Sabbath day” in these passages. Why? Because the word is used in these contexts (as Greek scholars overwhelmingly agree) to denote a “week” (Perschbacher, 1990, p. 364), “a period of seven days” (Danker, et al., 2000, p. 910; cf. Thayer, 1962, p. 566). Jesus once used the term “Sabbath” in this sense while teaching about the sinfulness of self-righteousness (Luke 18:9).

     Lyons can barely tell the truth before starting in on the religious propaganda and lies.   We have to eliminate those Greek scholars from the field that learned to translate μια των σαββατων from others who told them that σαββατον meant "week" based on Church tradition.  That's nearly all of them.  Then we have to bring in those scholars of secular Greek and the few honest believing Greek scholars left that have set aside Church tradition to objectively study the matter from its linguistic basis that have correctly concluded that the phrase simply means "one day of the sabbaths".   Notice that Lyons whole argument here is based on appeal to majority and appeal to tradition.  That's not linguistic science in the least.  It's the one argument repeated by the opposition a thousand ways.  It's the one argument guaranteed to lead one into the apostasy of the majority if the slightest credence is placed on it.

      Even so Lyons sources have holes in them.  The first thing that Christians need to learn is that dictionaries and Lexicons are propaganda pieces.  The famed Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) was edited by Gerhard Kittel (1888-1948), "a German liberal Christian theologian who revealed himself to be a virulent anti-Semite who wrote Nazi-influenced nonsense about Christianity" (  Kittel wrote the preface to TDNT in July 1933.  In August 1933, Herbert Lowewe, a Cambridge professor wrote:


       "It gives me great pain to find that so great an authority and leader of thought should give expression to such views. I have read your previous books with pleasure and profit, and I have learned much from them. ... your present pronouncement is quite incompatible with your previous teaching, and it is as unjust to Christianity as it is to Judaism. ... It is a grievous disillusionment to find that one's idol has feet of clay" (ibid, conservapedia)


      One must always keep in mind that human sources may be tainted with primary error or circular reasoning fallacies.  When men come before the throne of God to answer for their sins, the "I was just following orders" defense is not going to work any more than it worked at Nuremburg.  No God will hold them responsible to have done due diligence and have examined primary evidence with taking care to preserve their objectivity in prayerful entreaty to God to show them the truth.

       Perschbacher above is merely a fallacy of the circular reasoning type, his views learned by rumor from the original liar.  However, if we look at a source like Danker (now BDAG, 3rd edition, 2000) we will see that famed Jesuit Scholar Robert North disagrees that Sabbath meant "week", and this linguistic expert attributes it to a mistake by the Church Fathers (BDAG, pg. 910, σαββατον, "The Derivation of 'Sabbath', Biblica 36, '55, 182-201; cf. The New Catholic Encyclopedia, "Sabbath", © 2003, pg. 458; R. North).  Anyone who goes over the same linguistic evidence as North, S.J., will find the smoking gun behind the lie.

         An examination of Thayer's Lexicon will reveal uncertainty in the linguistic basis for the meaning "week":



        How does a speculation like Prof. Sophocles get into Thayer's Lexicon where the word "Sabbath" is given the meaning of "Sabbath"?  The reason is that the entire linguistic basis for sabbath meaning "week" is derived from exactly nine NT texts where everyone has been "told" it means week.   These are exactly nine texts that fail to prove the case from any linguistic view point, and professors like Sophocles knew it.   Nowhere else in all of Greek literature of NT provenance can anyone produce an example of Sabbath meaning week that is not traceable back to these texts.  And on an objective basis, to assert so in these nine texts is simply the most unparsimonious view one can take since the resultant chronology is contradictory.  If any other justification existed, it would be at the bottom of the column in Thayer.  In Luke 18:12, the Greek just means "I fast twice the Sabbath", which is sooner explained as an Hebraism than having the unattested meaning of "week": אני צם פעמים בשבת or לשבת, which means "I fast twice in respect to Sabbath". In light of the chronology of Passion week and the Pious usage in the Mishnah and the Talmud, this is evidently the case. [No longer is this explanation necessary either as new evidence that Jews actually fasted on the sabbath has come forth from a professor at the University of Calgary.  See my article on Luke 18:12.]

        Lyons says "Obviously Jesus was not saying that the Pharisee boasted of fasting twice on the Sabbath day, but twice (dis) a week (tou sabbatou)."  What is obvious?  Only that Lyons is redacting his opinion that Sabbath means week back into the first century.  It is not obvious what this hapax (occurring only once) text means.  There could be some obscure Jewish sect of Pharisee that we don't know much about that made a pious point of skipping two meals on Sabbath, probably Friday evening and breakfast, eating only one meal toward the end of Sabbath after the end of their ascetic exercises for the day.  Lyons argument is therefore purely an argument from silence and the main Jewish tradition. [My speculation has been confirmed by a Professor of Jewish Literature at the U. of Calgary.]

         Every linguist senses, if they do not know it already, that a secondary meaning to a word must be proven by regular and common examples in the language, and that the additional use flows naturally out of the base semantic range of the root word.  With only one supposed enigmatic example, we do not have sufficient basis to be going into the resurrection passages to put a hapax conjecture into texts where the meaning "Sabbath" already makes plain sense.  If one looks at is objectively, one must conclude that the evidence for circular reasoning tomfoolery is overwhelming.

According to R.C.H. Lenski, since “[t]he Jews had no names for the weekdays,” they “designated them with reference to their Sabbath” (1943, p. 1148). Thus, mia ton sabbaton means “the first (day) with reference to the Sabbath,” i.e., the first (day) following the Sabbath (Lenski, p. 1148), or, as we would say in 21st century English, “the first day of the week.” (Lyons).

       The first sentence is a bald faced lie.  The Jews did have a standard way to refer to the week days, and it did not use the word Sabbath.  Only the ignorant can believe it.  The ancient Jews sooner said, "first day," "second day", etc. than ever referring to the Sabbath except when it was Friday, which is "erev Shabbat" (eve of Sabbath) or "Sabbath" itself, and never then does the word mean "week".   William Mead Jones "A Chart of the Week" (annotated) shows the Hebrew Bible counting the days just as above.   [1] The alleged usage only occurs in the Mishnah and Talmud, and even there, it is mixed with the following usage, which is more common.  [2] And sooner than use such forms, the Jewish community said, "one in the seven", "two in the seven", using the Hebrew or Aramaic word for "seven".  This is how the Targums count and even the ancient Syriac after we take Robert North's, S.J. findings into account.

       Now if μια των σαββατων means "first day with reference to the Sabbath" then why don't the translators translate it as such?  Because with such a meaning, μια των σαββατων is not what we expect.  We expect the dative case: μια εν τη σαββατω or accusative μιαν εις το σαββατον.  Another reason they don't do it is that it calls too much attention to the Sabbath.  A pious usage showing recognition of the Sabbath is not something they want to draw attention to on the resurrection day!  No, the phrase μια των σαββατων simply means "one [day] of the sabbaths" in Koine Greek.

After spending years examining Jewish writings in the Babylonian Talmud, Hebraist John Lightfoot wrote A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, in which he expounded upon the Hebrew method of counting the days of the week. He noted: “The Jews reckon the days of the week thus; One day (or the first day) of the sabbath: two (or the second day) of the sabbath;” etc. (1859, 2:375, emp. in orig.). Lightfoot then quoted from two different Talmud tractates. Maccoth alludes to those who testify on “the first of the sabbath” about an individual who stole an ox. Judgment was then passed the following day—“on the second day of the sabbath” (Lightfoot, 2:375, emp. in orig.; Maccoth, Chapter 1). Bava Kama describes ten enactments ordained by a man named Ezra, including the public reading of the law “on the second and fifth days of the sabbath,” and the washing of clothes “on the fifth day of the sabbath” (Lightfoot, 2:375; Bava Kama, Chapter 7). In Michael Rodkinson’s 1918 translation of Maccoth and Bava Kama, he accurately translated “the second day of the sabbath” as Monday, “the fifth day of the sabbath” as Thursday, and “the first of the sabbath” as Sunday. (Lyons)

       First we should find out who Bishop John Lightfoot was (1602-1675).  He was a clergyman in the Church of England with Presbyterian sympathies (i.e. the Calvinist heresy), son of the vicar of Uttoxeter; he was not Jewish and his native language was not Hebrew or any Semitic language.  He learned his Hebraica from Sir Rowland Cotton.   He rejected the thousand year kingdom reign of Yeshua on earth, and sought for "the repression of current 'blasphemies'" (wiki).  He was allegedly the first Christian to call attention to the Talmud, so it may be assumed that he had no peer review on what he found there.  He also did not know his Hebrew very well or chose to suppress it, because what we find in the Talmud is not "One day (or the first day) of the sabbath".  What Lightfoot tried to translate with the word "of" in English does not correspond to the Hebrew ב found in the Talmud.  Further, one merely needs to remove Lightfoot's parenthesis such that we see "One day of the Sabbath" corresponds to the Greek idiom for the Sabbath, "day of the Sabbath(s)" with the word "first" before it.   Lightfoot is also concealing that the Greek is plural, i.e. "Sabbaths".  To see how deceptive this is consider the variant meanings of "first of the month" and "first of the months".   We see that the mere inclusion of the plural "s" at the end of the word changes from enumerating days of the month to the enumeration of whole months.

       This "Hebrew method" reflected only Talmudic and Mishnaic writings and never the popular spoken usage of Jews either in Aramaic or Hebrew.  Further, all of these examples are derived from the post Christian period, and indeed after the first century.  Finally, the pious usage "one in connection with Sabbath" (אחד בשבת) or (חד בשבתא) is clearly confused with the popular usage "one in the seven" (חד בשבא, in which א and ע are transmuted and the ת omitted).  A major problem with citing the Talmud and Mishnah is that it was composed during the time of Jewish and Christian polemics.   It would be self serving of both proto-Catholic heretics and the anti-Messianic Jews to help each other.  The Rabbis would provide the alleged idiom for "first day of the week" to purify Judaism of the Sabbath resurrection and the Church would teach their people that the resurrection was on Sunday to purify Christianity of Judaism.  The Church could then dispense with its Jewish problem, and the Jews with their Gentile problem.  They did not have to consciously implement this.  Help from the otherworld would be sufficient.   However, they did not sow the lie up perfectly neatly.  The Rabbinic usage refused to be introduced into spoken speech, and it still shows traces of the original idiom, "one in the seven," "two in the seven" etc.  The final smoking gun so to speak is the missing ת in the Aramaic idiom for days one to five.  If the word really meant week, then why would they refuse to say שבתא for days one to five?   Doubtless, by being forced into the scholarly literature, the usage has crept into some modern usages.  The only way to solve the issue is to seek out the usage of Nazrene Jews contemporary with the Apostolic Writings using objective linguistic tools and judging the matter semantically and chronologically based on the pure probabilities of the matter without the burden of self serving errant post-second Temple traditions.   And even if it were finally shown that some first century Jews counted days of the week after a pious fashion, it would not prove that μια των σαββατων did not mean "one day of the Sabbaths" or "first Sabbath".  It would only prove the possibility, a possibility which is soundly refuted by the fact that the only sound chronology can be built with the resurrection on the first sabbath after Passover, and the fact that only this agrees with the biblical instruction to count seven sabbaths after Passover according to Lev. 23:15.


Finally, consider the difficulty that would arise with Jesus’ resurrection story if sabbaton was translated Sabbath. “Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first Sabbath (sabbaton), they came to the tomb when the sun had risen” (emp. added). Such a rending of sabbaton in Mark 16:2 would be nonsensical. The Sabbath was over, and the mia ton sabbaton (“first day of the week”) had begun. The passage is understood properly only when one recognizes the Jewish method of reckoning weekdays. (Lyons).

       This is exactly where the probability function of the alternatives to "one day of the Sabbaths" collapses.   This is an argument that has no due diligence behind it.  What is due diligence?   It is the duty of the scholar to make reasonable efforts to determine if his or her arguments cannot be easily circumvented by further facts before presenting them as proof of their position.  When due diligence is not performed, we may suspect a would be scholar to either be trying to deceive us or simply being an ignoramus.   Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with the Wednesday crucifixion and Sabbath resurrection knows that Thursday that year was the annual Sabbath  (cf. Lev. 23:11, 15).  This is what Mark 16:1 is referring to.  Matthew 28:1 confirms this because it alludes to the annual Sabbath reading: οψε δε σαββατων = Later of [the] Sabbaths.   So also John 19:31, which calls the annual Sabbath "great" on account if its being the greatest annual sabbath feast day of the biblical calendar.


Just as second century apologists Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) spoke of Jesus as rising from the dead “on the first day after the Sabbath” (Dialogue..., 41), and equated this day with “Sunday” (“First Apology,” 67), so should 21st century Christians. That Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week” (Mark 16:9), and that Christians gathered to worship on this day (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; cf. Justin Martyr, “First Apology,” 67), is an established fact. Sunday is the first day after the Jewish Sabbath—the “first day of the week.” (Lyons).

        Justin was steeped in Greek philosophy and anti-Semitism.  Modern scholars who used his arguments and who painted the Jews the way he did would be better off joining the Nazi party.  No one can read his writings and compare them with the Torah and Prophets without discerning his massively cultic Scripture twisting and his virulent hatred for things Jewish.  Justin is just another heretic created in the crucible of Hadrian's decrees against Judaism in Rome.




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