By Will Kinney
Sabbath day, Sabbaths, week?
I recently got an email from a fellow King James Bible believer who was concerned about a friend who had his faith shaken in the absolute truth of the King James Bible by an article he read about how the KJB supposedly mistranslated the word for Sabbaths.
He writes: Hi Brother Will, Thank you for your ongoing work to demonstrate the authenticity of God’s Word as preserved in the King James Bible. I have come across somebody who’s trust in the King James Bible has been shaken by what they believe is a mistranslation in several verses of the word – σαββατων. The “mistranslation” occurs in Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7, and 1 Cor. 16:2. They believe that this word should be translated as the plural noun – Sabbaths.
The King James Bible is not in error at all in any of these verses. In fact, to translate it as Sabbaths ends up in absurdity as we shall soon see. The Greek word for Sabbath day and “week” is the same word and it can occur either in the singular or the plural form, but both forms (the singular and the plural) can have the same meaning. It can be either σαββατων (the plural form ) translated in almost every English and foreign language Bibles as either “the sabbath day (Mat. 12:1), the sabbath days (Mat. 12:5) or week (Mat. 28:1)” or the singular σαββάτου also translated as “the sabbath (Lk. 6:5), the sabbath day (Lk.6:7) and the week (Lk. 18:12)”.
Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon tells us that both the singular and the plural forms are interchangeable and can mean either “the Sabbath or “frequently in the plural of the single day – the Sabbath.” Both the singular and the plural form can also have the meaning of “the week”. Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford at the Clarendon Press 1968, page 1579.
Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words also tells us that both the singular and plural forms are interchangeable and can either “the Sabbath day or the week”. Pages 993-994.
The Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament affirms the same thing telling us that both the singular and the plural forms can mean either “the first day of the week, the Sabbath or the Sabbath days”. The University of Chicago Press 1957, Page 746.
Likewise Thayer’s 1889 Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament tells us on pages 565-566 that the singular and the plural forms can both mean “the seventh day of each week, a single Sabbath, the Sabbath day and the week.”
Let’s take a look at one of these examples and see what the various Bible translations have done. The first one that presented a problem for this Bible believer was Matthew 28:1. In the Greek this reads: “Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων, τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων, ἦλθεν Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή, καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία, θεωρῆσαι τὸν τάφον.”
The English translation in the King James Bible is – “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.”
There are no textual variants in this verse. Both the UBS critical text and the Textus Receptus are the same. You will notice that the word σαββάτων is in the plural form and it is used twice in this verse. The first time σαββάτων is translated as “In the end OF THE SABBATH” and the second one “εἰς μίαν σαββάτων” is translated as “THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK”. The word μίαν is feminine and implies the feminine Greek word for day ἡμέρᾳ (heemera), and so the whole combination is correctly translated as “the first day of the week”.
Not only does the King James Bible read “OF THE SABBATH” and “THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK” but so also do the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587, Mace N.T. 1729, Wesley’s translation 1755, Webster’s translation 1833, the Revised Version 1881, ASV 1901, the RSV 1952, NRSV 1989, ESV 2001, NKJV 1982, ISV 2010, NIV 1984, 2011, NASB 1995, Common English Bible 2011, Hebrew Names Version Holman Standard 2003, Dan Wallace’s NET version and the Third Millenium Bible 1998.
Foreign language Bible that have translated both instances sabbatoon as did the King James Bible are Lamsa’s translation of the Syriac Peshitta, the French Martin 1744 and French Ostervald of 1996 – “Or au soir du Sabbat, au jour qui devait luire pour le premier de la semaine“, the Italian Riveduta 1927 and the Nuova Riveduta 2006 – “Or nella notte del sabato,quando già albeggiava, il primo giorno della settimana“, the Spanish Reina Valera 1858, 1909, 1960 and 1995 – “Y LA víspera de sábado, que amanece para el primer día de la semana”, the Portuguese Almeida Actualizada – “No fim do sábado, quando já despontava o primeiro dia da semana” and Luther’s German bible of 1545 and the German Schlachter Bible of 2000 – “Als aber der Sabbat um war und der erste Tag der Woche anbrach”.
The only odd ball among them is Young’s “literal” version. It has the non-nonsensical translation of – “And ON THE EVE OF THE SABBATHS, at the dawn, toward THE FIRST OF THE SABBATHS, came Mary the Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.” To (mis)translate the first part as “on the eve of the Sabbaths” would imply that there were several Sabbaths about to occur on this very night, and to (mis)translate the second part as “the first of the sabbaths came Mary Magdalene” would imply that there were NO sabbaths before this one when Mary came to the tomb. Duh. This is a totally absurd translation on the part of Young. Young is also inconsistent in his translations as well. He translated the exact same Greek phrase μίαν σαββάτων (which here in Matthew 28:1 he has as “the first of the Sabbaths”) in BOTH 1 Corinthians 16:2 μίαν σαββάτων and in Acts 20:7 as “the FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK”- τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων!
The King James Bible is NOT in error at all but is right, as always.
For more articles by Will Kinney on the defense of the KJV see the index of his articles on his website here