covenant theology, Reformed Theology, the Lord's Day

The First of the Sabbaths

Although it is sometimes translated as “week” in the New Testament, the Greek word sabbaton is more often used to refer to the Sabbath day.  Of the times when it is translated, “week”, all but three of them refer to the very morning of Christ’s resurrection, where it speaks of the “first day of the week.”  Of the remaining three, two refer to the Lord’s Day, also on the “first day of the week”, in Acts 20 and 1 Cor. 16, and the remaining case is in Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke 18:12, where the Pharisee boasts about fasting twice a week.  It is translated week here instead of Sabbath, because it is hard to conceive of fasting twice in one day. All other uses of the word in the New Testament are translated “Sabbath.”

Scholars say that first-century Jews counted days of the week in terms of their distance from the last Sabbath day, so, “mia ton sabbaton” does mean the first day of the week, and that is how our Bibles translate it.  But this is idiomatic, as the literal rendering is “the first of the Sabbaths.”  In the gospels, when it speaks of the morning when our Lord rose from the grave, the wordplay is obvious in the Greek.  When we look at it in this light, “first of the Sabbaths” takes on a whole different meaning!
Crozieb, Rev. John. “Remarks on the Sabbath”, The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, vol XI, 1873. pp. 82, 83. Google Books.

But the perfectly harmonious testimony of Paul, and the four inspired Evangelists, as it reads in the Greek, is clear and positive proof that the day was changed at the time Christ rose from the dead. In Matt. 28 : 1, the inspired words are: In the end (or closing), “opse Sabbaton—:of the Sabbaths (plural)—as it began to dawn (shine into), “eis mian Sabbaton,” one of the Sabbaths, came they to see the sepulchre. Here the Spirit of God puts forty-eight hours—two whole days of Sabbath time together. The first day of twenty-four hours legally and practically terminated the Old Testament seventh-day Sabbaths, upon the last one of which the Saviour’s body lay lifeless in the tomb. The second day of twenty-four hours which immediately followed, legally and practically commenced—not the heathen or idolatrous Sunday, as the heathen call it, upon which the sun in the firmament was worshipped—but was “mia Sabbaton,” (the first), one of the Sabbaths which Christ brought with him from the tomb, where he left the seventh day dead and buried forever. The testimony of Mark, Luke and John is precisely the same. Mark says, 16:1, 2, ” And when ‘ton Sabbatou,’—the Sabbath (upon which he lay in the tomb) was past, very early in the morning, ‘mia Sabbaton,’ the first one of the Sabbaths, at the rising of the sun, they came to the sepulchre ;” and verse 9th, “Jesus early, ‘prota Sabbaton,’ the first Sabbath, appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” Luke says, 24:1, “Upon ‘mia ton Sabbaton (the first one), of the Sabbaths—very early in the morning they came.” John says, 20 : 1, “Mia ton Sabbaton—the first one of the Sabbaths—”early, while it was yet dark, they came;” and to show that Christ kept Sabbath that whole day, he says, v. 19, “The same day at evening, being ‘mia ton Sabbaton (the first), one of the Sabbaths, he was in the midst of the disciples.”

Matthew 28:1 can be rendered literally as, “at the end of the Sabbaths, as it began to dawn towards the first of the Sabbaths.”  Reformed and covenant theology types have understood this figure of speech to be of profound significance, pointing to the deep truth that God was bringing an end to the seventh day observance and sanctifying the first day as the new Christian Sabbath.  I do not believe this conclusion is based on a too-literal reading of the Greek, because, even without this figure of speech, they would have come to the same conclusion–the first day of the week was consecrated like no other day has ever been consecrated, when God blessed it with the most significant event that ever was–and also with the further Scripture proofs of Christians worshiping on Sunday.  But you can’t help but appreciate the significance of the wording that the Holy Spirit, through the gospel writers, employed in signifying the first Lord’s Day.

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