"The First of (the) Sabbaths"


(Matthew 28:1) Now after the sabbaths, at dawn toward the first of sabbaths, Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.

(Mark 16:1-2) And the sabbath having passed, Mary the Magdalene, and Mary of James, and Salome, bought spices so that having come they may anoint him. And very early on the first of the sabbaths, they are coming to the tomb at the rising of the sun.

(Luke 23:56-24:1) Then having returned, they prepared spices and ointments, and on the sabbath indeed they rested gaccording to the commandment. But on the first of the sabbaths, at daybreak, they came to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared.

(John 20:1) Now on the first of the sabbaths Mary the Magdalene comes early (there being still darkness) to the tomb, and sees that the stone having been taken away from the tomb.

That phrase there, mian sabbaton/mia ton sabbaton “first (literally ‘one’) [of the] sabbaths” is rendered in most translations as “first day of the week.” Some would latch onto the usage of ‘sabbaths’ at this point and argue that Jesus was actually risen, not on Sunday as is commonly believed, but on Saturday (=Sabbath).

But does this argument really hold water? To quote from a book known as The Sabbath in Scripture and History (“The Sabbath in the New Testament,” by Walter F. Specht):

Sabbaton, the Greek word for “Sabbath,” is found sixty-seven times in the critical text of the Greek New Testament. The plural of this word, sabbata, may be regarded as a transliteration of the Aramaic, shabbeta, the emphatic state of the singular noun, meaning “the Sabbath.”[sup]1[/sup] In its Greek transliteration it was apparently taken as a plural, and hence the singular sabbaton was constructed from it. Another possible explanation is to regard the singular as a transliteration of the Hebrew shabbath, whereas the plural came from the Aramaic.[sup]2[/sup]

Lexicographers recognize two clearly differentiated meanings for sabbaton in the New Testament: (1) Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, and (2) the period of seven days between Sabbaths, i.e. week.[sup]3[/sup] The second meaning is demanded when sabbaton or sabbata is used in a genitive construction with a numeral: a clear example is found in Luke 18:12, where the Pharisee boasts, “I fast twice a week,” dis tou sabbatou. It would obviously not make sense to translate: “I fact twice on Sabbath.” It is well known that the Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. In seven passages (eight if the long ending of Mark is included),[sup]4[/sup] the first day of the week is designated by the numeral “one” and the genitive of sabbaton, mostly in the plural.[sup]5[/sup] The fact that the numeral is feminine indicates that the feminine noun “day” is understood. The regular Greek word for “week,” hebdomas, which had been used in the Septuagint, is not found in the New Testament.

The idiom used for the days of the week occurs in the Greek titles of a few of the psalms in the Greek version. Psalm 24 (Psalm 23, Septuagint) is designated tēs mias sabbatōn, “for the first day of the week.” Psalm 48 (Psalm 47, Septuagint) has in its title deutera sabbatou, “for the second day of the week.” Psalm 94 (Psalm 93, Septuagint) is designated as tetradi sabbaton, “for the fourth day of the week” (Wednesday). Most probably these originally meant the first, second, and fourth days after the Sabbath. Friday, however, was known as prosabbaton, and Psalm 92 (Psalm 91, Septuagint) was, according to the title, used in the temple ritual for that day.

1: A different explanation of the final – a is offered in F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, 1961), par. 141 (2): “Σάββατα = שׁבּת + ά to make it pronounceable in Greek.”
2: A.J. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, 1934), pp. 95, 105.
3: See such standard Greek lexicons as Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, rev. and augm. by Henry Stuart Jones (Oxford, 1940), p. 1579; Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, 1889), pp. 565, 566; Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and augm. by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago, 1957), p. 746; and G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3d ed. (Edinburgh, 1937), pp. 399, 400.
4: A brief summary of the evidence regarding the problem of the ending of Mark is given in Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London, 1971), pp. 122-126.
5: Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2.


As mentioned in the article, the Greek (Septuagint) translation of the Psalms adds labels to various psalms: Psalm 23 (LXX 22) is tēs mias sabbatōn, “for the first of sabbaths” (i.e. Sunday), Psalm 94 (LXX 93) is tetradi sabbatōn “for the third of sabbaths” (i.e. Wednesday) and Psalm 93 (LXX 92) is eis tēn hēmeran tou prosabbatou, “for the day before the sabbath” (i.e. Friday). Psalm 92 (LXX 91) - the only one with a corresponding Hebrew - is eis tēn hēmeran tou sabbatou “for the day of the sabbath” (Hebrew ləyōm haššabāṯ)

The Anchor Bible Commentary on Matthew (co-authored by William Albright and C.S. Mann), while being more ambiguous as whether to the narrative really meant Saturday or Sunday (mainly due to the confused chronology of the gospels), does note that:

xxvii.1 After the Sabbath (Gr. opse de sabbatōn). We must remember that the sabbath ended at sunset on Saturday. This phrase appears to be parallel to Mark’s diagenomenou tou sabbatou (the Sabbath having passed), but Mark then goes on to describe something which happened on the evening after the sabbath (Mark xvi.1) which Matthew does not record. It is hard to understand the opening phrase in this verse as meaning other than “as the sabbath ended,” or “when it had ended.” In context Matthew goes on to describe events which belong in all the traditions to Sunday morning. Thus, the next clause towards dawn must be understood as meaning “when the sabbath had already passed the next day.” The proliferation of recent studies on the calendar, both sectarian and orthodox, prompts us to add a note of caution here. The Greek phrase which we have translated the first day of the week and which is found in all four gospels (mia sabbatou or mia tōn sabbatōn) is not as obvious an indication of a particular “day” of a “week” as the English suggests. By the time we reach the Didache the plural sabbata clearly meant “week,” and the enumeration of the days certainly establishes Sunday as the “first day” of the week; cf. Didache 6. But the notes of time in our gospels concerning the resurrection, together with the confused chronology of Holy Week, make it hazardous to say with any confidence whether the evangelists wished us to understand Saturday or Sunday at this point.

As mentioned, the word sabbatōn is understood as “week” in the Didache:

And let your fasts not stand with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second day of the week and on the fifth (deutera sabbatōn kai pemptē “the second [of the] sabbaths and the fifth;” i.e. Monday and Thursday), but you shall fast on the fourth and on the Preparation (i.e. Wednesday and Friday).


*“The seventh day, therefore, is proclaimed a rest–abstraction from ills–preparing for the Primal Day, our true rest; which, in truth, is the first creation of light, in which all things are viewed and possessed…” *
Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (AD ~200)

Any idea if “Primal Day” is a different Greek construction then first of the sabbaths?


*“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,” *
Rev 1:10
Since Jesus said the day of the Sabbath belonged to Man, the day of the Lord would have to be different day.


By the late 2nd century, the word Kyriakē (“of the Lord;” the word hēmera ‘day’ is implied) has become the common term for Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, as the Gospel of Peter implies.

Now early at the dawn of the Sabbath, a crowd came from Jerusalem and the surrounding region to see that the tomb had been sealed. **But during the night - the dawning of the Lord’s-Day - ** (hē epephōsken hē Kyriakē) as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two every watch, there was a great voice from the heaven, and they saw the heavens open up, and two men coming down having much light and approaching the burial-place. Now the stone which had been cast against the entrance, having rolled away on its own, made way in part, and the burial-place was opened and both the young men entered in.

When therefore the soldiers saw, they awakened the centurion and the elders (because they were also there, keeping guard), and, while reporting what they had seen, again they see three men coming out of the tomb, and the two supporting one, and a cross following them; and of the two the head reached as far as heaven, but that of the one being led out by the hand by them surpassing the heavens. And they were hearing a voice from the heavens, saying, “Have you preached to those who are sleeping?” and obedience was heard from the cross: “Yes.”


Now at daybreak of the Lord’s-Day (orthrou tēs Kyriakēs) Mariam the Magdalene, a disciple of the Lord, fearing on account of the Judaeans since they were burning with wrath, had not done for the tomb of the Lord those which women are accustomed to do for those who had died and were beloved by them. Having taken female friends with her, she came to the tomb where he had been placed, and they were afraid lest the Judaeans should see them, and they were saying, “Even if on that day when he was crucified we could not lament and beat in mourning, yet now at his tomb we will do these. But who will roll away for us the stone that was placed upon the entrance of the tomb, that we, having entered in, might sit by him and do those which are owed; because the stone is great, and we are afraid lest anyone see us. And if we cannot, let us cast at the entrance the things that we bring for his memorial, lament and beat in mourning until we come to our house.”


The term used here is archegonon hēmeran, so no.




This expression can also be found in Acts and in Paul.

Now on the first [of the] sabbaths (tē mia tōn sabbatōn), we having come together to break bread, Paul was discoursing to them, about to depart on the next day, and he prolonged the talk until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

Every first [of] sabbath (mian sabbatou) each of you is to put by him, treasuring up whatever he may have prospered, so that there will be no collecting when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:2)


Perhaps,* mian sabbaton/mia ton sabbaton * could be a reference to the first day of the counting of Omer…the first day in the counting of the seven weeks leading up to Shavuot, or Pentecost.

Colossians 2:11-12 speaks of our baptism/resurrection in Christ as one as being circumcised with Christ, which of course occurred on the eighth day.

And of course, after eight days** again**, Jesus appeared to Thomas. Palm Sunday, or the tenth day of Passover week to Resurrection Sunday, the first day of the counting of Omer (the Feast of firstfruits) is eight days.

closed #10

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.