The True Meaning of Sabbatismos
in Hebrews 4:9
“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (King James Version). As we will see this is an incorrect translation, rooted in bias against the holy Sabbath day of God.
Because of this erroneous translation, and Protestant hostility against the seventh-day weekly Sabbath—the Fourth Commandment—in preference to Sunday, this verse is almost universally misinterpreted and misunderstood. In fact, the true meaning of Hebrews 4:9 is the very opposite of the false interpretation assumed and taught by many churches, ministers and theologians.
Today, mainstream “Christianity” teaches that Christians are no longer required to observe the seventh-day Sabbath, because they deliberately misconstrue this verse to mean, “Christ has given them ‘rest’ (or, as some say, a ‘release’) from commandment-keeping.” This false claim feeds the premise that Jesus has “fulfilled the Law” for them. As a result, people are told, the Christian has entered into a “spiritual rest” from sin, and that Jesus Himself is their “spiritual Sabbath.”
Such absurd reasoning is completely contrary to the Word of God. Jesus Himself said that He did not come to abolish or “do away with” the laws and commandments of God, but “to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17-18). Nor did Christ fulfill any commandment in order to release Christians from their obligation to keep God’s laws. Indeed, He set the perfect example for us in order to free us from committing sin, which is the transgression of the Law (I Pet. 2:21-22, I John 3:4). Jesus did not come to keep the commandments in our stead. Years into his ministry, the apostle Paul said that he was still zealous for the laws of God (Acts 22:3)—which would certainly include the Sabbath commandment.
When we understand and absorb the full meaning of the Greek text of Hebrew 4:9, there is no question that the New Testament upholds the authority of the Fourth Commandment. The Greek word used here for “rest” is sabbatismos (σαββατισµος), which means “Sabbath rest, Sabbath observance” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
This definition is confirmed by other historical works: “The words ‘sabbath rest’ is from the [Greek] noun sabbatismos, [and is] a unique word in the NT. This term appears also in Plutarch (Superset. 3 [Moralia 166a]) for sabbath observance, and in four post-canonical Christian writings which are not dependent on Heb. 4:9” (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, p. 856). This is historical evidence that true Christians were observing the seventh-day Sabbath long after Emperor Constantine falsely declared that Sunday was the “Christian” day of worship in 325 AD.
While sabbatismos is a noun, the verb form of the word is sabbatizo (σαββατιςω), which means, “to keep the Sabbath” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
This definition of sabbatizo is confirmed by its use in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament dating from third century BC. Jews used the Septuagint in synagogues throughout the Roman Empire; Greek-speaking Jewish and Gentile coverts to Christianity used this translation throughout the early New Testament period. This is why the apostle Paul quotes extensively from the Septuagint in his Epistle to the Hebrews, which went to all the true churches of God—Jew and Gentile.
When Paul used sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9, he did so knowing that its meaning was well known to the Greek-speaking believers of that day. After all, its verb form (sabbatizo) is widely employed in the Septuagint—which, as a translation, was as familiar to the Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles of the early Church as the King James Bible is to Christians today.
For example, the use of the verb sabbatizo in Leviticus 23:32 in the Septuagint substantiates its meaning. The Greek English Lexicon of the Septuagint defines sabbatizo as “to keep [a] sabbath, to rest” (Lust, Eynikel, Hauspie). The English translation of this verse in the Septuagint reads: “It [the Day of Atonement] shall be a holy sabbath [literally, ‘a Sabbath of Sabbaths’] to you; and ye shall humble your souls, from the ninth day of the month: from evening to evening shall ye keep your sabbaths” (The Septuagint With the Apocrypha, Brenton).
The phrase “shall ye keep your sabbaths” is translated from the Greek phrase, sabbatieite ta sabbata (σαββατι∈ιτ∈ τα σαββατα ) —Xwhich literally means, ¡§you shall sabbathize the Sabbaths.” The form of the Greek verb sabbatizo is the second person plural sabbatieite, which means, “ye shall keep”— “you all,” meaning everyone shall keep the Sabbath. Throughout the entire Septuagint, the verb sabbatizo is never used except in relation to “Sabbath-keeping.” Understanding this definition, the KJV translators translated sabbatieite as, “shall ye celebrate your sabbath.” However, they deliberately did not translate sabbatismos that way in Hebrews 4:9 because of Sunday keeping bias—following the lead of the Roman Catholic Church, as Rome’s Challenge so forcefully argues.
There is no question that the Greek verb sabbatizo in Leviticus 23:32 is specifically referring to Sabbath observance. This meaning equally applies to the noun form sabbatismos, used by Paul. Thus, the continuity of the Septuagint’s use of sabbatizo and the use of sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9 confirms that Paul was upholding the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath for all true Christians.
The use of sabbatismos in Hebrews 4:9 directly contradicts any false teaching that the Fourth Commandment has been abolished. As the context of Hebrews Four shows, the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath as a day of rest and worship is as binding for the people of God today as it was since creation, the days of King David and for all Israel of old.
It becomes clear that Hebrews 4:9 does not mean that Christians have entered into some sort of “spiritual rest” which exempts them from their obligation to keep the Sabbath, or any other commandments of God. Rather, this verse must be taken as instructive—that Christians are indeed commanded to keep the Sabbath day. Consequently, this verse should be translated correctly as the original Greek meant, “There remains, therefore, Sabbath-keeping for the people of God”—Jew and Gentile alike.
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