Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Plural Sabbaths and the Lunar Calendar
The conclusions reached by Herbert W. Armstrong and others are TOTALLY UNTENABLE because NOWHERE do the gospels suggest that two Sabbaths intervened (one after another, with a day in between) between the day of the crucifixion and that of the resurrection. The proponents of the "3-day and 3-night" theory totally overlook the fact that there were TWO SABBATHS ON ONE DAY -- the weekly Sabbath AND the first high day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread!
by John D. Keyser
The days of the crucifixion, entombment and resurrection are given in CLEAR sequence and with considerable CLARITY in all four gospels as Preparation Day, Sabbath and the first day of the week. There is ABSOLUTELY NO ROOM for two full days to intervene between the crucifixion and the resurrection -- as some believe -- without violating the scriptures by adding or reading into these verses something that is simply not there.
Some among the Churches of God wish to make room for intervening days by claiming there were TWO SABBATHS between a Wednesday crucifixion and a Saturday afternoon resurrection. According to their theory the first Sabbath of this period was the first high or holy day of Passover -- which supposedly fell on the Thursday; and the second was a weekly Sabbath which supposedly fell on the regular Saturday of the week. To support this theory the adherents point to the fact that the Sabbath in Matthew 28:1 is in the PLURAL form and literally reads "at the end of the Sabbaths." This text is viewed by many as "a vital text" that supposedly "proves that there were TWO Sabbaths that week with a day in between." The first Sabbath (Thursday) allegedly was "the annual high-day Sabbath of the Days of Unleavened Bread" while the second was "the weekly Sabbath, Saturday."
It is true that in Matthew 28:1 we find a plural form of the word "Sabbath" that is almost always translated into the singular form: "Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre" (RSV). If you consult the original Greek you will find that this verse should be translated as follows -- "After the sabbaths [σαββάτων -- plural], when it was growing light on the first day of the week..." (The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures) Also, the phrase "toward the dawn of the first day of the week" is translated from the original Greek which literally says "to the [day] lighting up into one [first] of sabbaths" -- notice the plural form again.
Herbert W. Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God noticed the plural form of "Sabbath" in his booklet The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday but, unfortunately, he came to the wrong conclusion --
"A vital text proving that there were two Sabbaths in that week has been obscured by almost every translation into English. Only Ferrer Fenton's version has this point correct.
"Turn to Matthew 28:1. In the common versions it says, 'In the end of the Sabbath,' or more correctly, 'after the Sabbath.' Notice that both of these renderings use the singular -- Sabbath. But in the original Greek the word is in the plural. Fenton renders it correctly by saying, 'After the SABBATHS,' although the remaining part of the verse he has not translated quite correctly. In a footnote to this text, he says, 'The Greek original is in the plural, "Sabbaths" ' "(page 13).
At this point Armstrong jumps the tracks and plunges into the ditch by saying:
"According to Mark 16:1, Mary Magdalene and her companions did not buy their spices to anoint the body of Jesus until after the Sabbath was past. They could not prepare them until after this -- yet after preparing the spices they rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment! (Luke 23:56.)
"Study these two texts carefully.
"There is only one possible explanation: After the annual high-day Sabbath, the feast day of the days of Unleavened Bread -- which was Thursday -- these women purchased and prepared their spices on Friday, and then they rested on the weekly Sabbath, Saturday, according to the commandment (Ex. 20:8-11)
"A comparison of these two texts proves there were TWO Sabbaths that week, with a day in between. Otherwise, these texts contradict themselves" (ibid., page 13).
Unfortunately, Armstrong's theory here is colored by his belief that the Messiah was put to death in the middle of the Gregorian week (Wednesday), which makes him force scripture to fit this erroneous hypothesis. He is right, however, in stating that there were TWO Sabbaths that week -- but there was NOT a day in between -- they were BOTH on the SAME day!
These conclusions reached by Armstrong and others are TOTALLY UNTENABLE because NOWHERE do the gospels suggest that two Sabbaths intervened (one after another, with a day in between) between the day of the crucifixion and that of the resurrection. The whole scenario about the spices has once again been taken right out of context and twisted, pulled, pushed and stomped on to fit the Wednesday-Saturday myth that these people are trying to promulgate! Although we may never know for sure, the explanation for the apparent contradiction in Mark 16 and Luke 23 can be quite simple. Let's view these verses --
"That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and PREPARED SPICES and fragrant oils. And they RESTED ON THE SABBATH according to the commandment (Luke 23:54-56).
"Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome BOUGHT SPICES, that they might come and anoint Him" (Mark 16:1).
Obviously, in Luke 23, the women already had some spices on hand so they were able to start preparing them BEFORE the weekly Sabbath began at sunset. However, they realized they didn't have enough spices on hand to complete the preparation, so "when the Sabbath was past" they went out and purchased some more to complete the job. Nice and straight-forward -- no need to twist and distort the passages to mean something they clearly do not! For more information on this subject, read our article Was Yeshua the Messiah Really in the Grave for Three Days and Three Nights?
Now let's tackle the question of the "two Sabbaths" which, in principle, Armstrong has right! While it is true that the Sabbath in Matthew 28:1 is in the PLURAL, the proponents of the "3-day and 3-night" theory totally overlook the fact that there were TWO SABBATHS ON ONE DAY -- the weekly Sabbath AND the first high day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread!
That the day after Yeshua's death was a weekly Sabbath can be clearly demonstrated by Luke 23:56, which reads: "On SHABBAT the women rested, IN OBEDIENCE TO THE COMMANDMENT." What "commandment" is this? The FOURTH COMMANDMENT of course! In reference to this verse the Jewish New Testament Commentary makes this clarifying statement:
"It is sometimes claimed that the New Testament says nothing about keeping the fourth commandment. This verse contradicts that claim, so it is important for a Jewish understanding of the New Testament. ON SHABBAT THE WOMEN RESTED, IN OBEDIENCE TO THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15; also Exodus 16). Of course they did! They observed Shabbat EVERY WEEK" (David H. Stern, p. 150).
Obviously the WEEKLY SABBATH is the focus of verses 54 and 56.
When correctly translated, Matthew 28:1 should read: "After the Sabbaths, when it was growing light on the first day of the Sabbaths, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to view the grave." The phrase "when it was growing light on the first day of the Sabbaths" is translated from the original Greek which literally says "to the [day] lighting up into one [first] of sabbaths" -- notice the plural form once again.
The phrase "into one [first] of sabbaths" is a reference to the first day from which the count to Pentecost starts -- which is made up of seven Sabbaths or weeks followed by 50 days.
Charles A. L. Totten, in his The Gospel of History: An Interwoven Harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John combines Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:1 and John 20:1 to come up with a very interesting rendering -- notice!
"And early after the-Sabbaths, it-being yet dark, -- in-the deep twilight of-daybreak, upon the first-day of-the first-week, of the seven Weeks [after which the 50-day count begins], -- went Mary the Magdalene, and the other Mary, unto the tomb, bringing what aromatics they-had-prepared [and certain-others with them], to-see-unto the burial" (Destiny Publishers, Merrimac, MA 1972, page 345, section 877).
The exact same thing can be found in Mark 16:2 where the Greek literally says: "And exceedingly early to the one [first] [day] of the sabbaths (σαββάτων) they are coming upon the memorial tomb..." which in the usual English translation reads "And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen" (RSV). We have to be very careful, the English renditions can quite often mask the true meaning of these verses in the original Greek.
The word "Sabbath" is also in the PLURAL in Luke 24:1 and John 20:1, showing that this particular weekly Sabbath was also a high day.
There is one scripture where there are two Sabbaths on the same day -- John 19:31 -- but the original Greek word for "Sabbath" is in the singular (σαββάτω) Notice! "Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (FOR THAT SABBATH WAS A HIGH DAY)..." (RSV). Now what "high day" could this be? My Bible references it to Exodus 12:16 -- the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread! If this day had been a regular week day, John would have said, "FOR THAT DAY WAS A HIGH DAY." But, instead, he said" for that SABBATH was a high day"! In this instance we still have two Sabbaths falling on the SAME day!
Aside from the Bible, the fact that the weekly Sabbath was also the first high Holy Day (Nisan 15) of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, is understood by numerous researchers. Writes Alfred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah --
"The Sabbath about to open was a 'high day' -- it was both a Sabbath and the second Paschal Day [Nisan 15], which was regarded as in every respect equally sacred with the first -- nay, more so, since the so-called Wavesheaf as then offered [the next day] to the Lord" (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 1990, Book V, page 613)
Jack Finegan also noticed this much overlooked fact --
"This day of Preparation for the Passover was also a day of Preparation for the SABBATH which, in this case, COINCIDED WITH PASSOVER DAY and thus was a 'high day' (John 19:31)" (Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised Edition), Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, MA 1998, page 355, section 607).
Samuele Bacchiocchi writes of this scripture in his book God's Festivals in Scripture and History (Part 1) --
"It is interesting to note that in the particular year of Christ's death and resurrection, the two different methods of reckoning concurred on the date of Pentecost. This is because, according to the Johannine chronology of the passion...Passover (Nisan 15 fell on a [weekly] Sabbath, and the offering of the wave sheaf on Sunday (Nisan 16). This fulfilled the Pharisaic interpretation of Leviticus 23:15, which counted...from the day after Passover (Nisan 16). Amazingly, it also fulfilled the Sadducean interpretation, which counted...from the first Sunday [actually, the First Day of the Week -- the term 'Sunday' was unknown at this time] after Passover" (Biblical Perspectives, Berrien Springs, MI 1995, page 170).
H. L. Strack and P. Billerbec, in their book Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash (Munich, 1922-1928) state that in later Rabbinic literature the seventh-day Sabbath is regarded as a "high day" if it falls on Nisan 15, and they show numerous examples in support of this.
Bo Reicke, author of The New Testament Era: The World of the Bible From 500 B.C. to A.D. 100 understood this when he wrote --
Since a holy day was approaching (Mark 15:42), the Jews asked the procurator to have the bodies taken away (John 19:31-37). Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Council, saw to Jesus' burial in a tomb that belonged to him...Immediately after the subsequent Sabbath came the morning of the Day of First Fruits, which had to be observed by the presentation of a sheaf (Hebrew, omer) in the Temple (Lev. 23:11) and which was also the day [Nisan 16] from which the Feast of Weeks...was calculated. On this morning some women sought to show their respect to the Lord by bringing spices and perfumes, but found that he was no longer in the tomb (Matt. 28:6; John 20:2) (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, PA 1981, pp. 187-188).
Yeshua died on the afternoon before the Passover began -- on Nisan 14. At the time of Yeshua's death the Passover (1st Day of Unleavened Bread) fell on the weekly Sabbath -- as it did every year according to the lunar calendar kept by the Judahites during this time. The "preparation" day was for BOTH the Passover AND for the weekly Sabbath.
The One Exception...
We have seen that when the Greek word for "Sabbath" is in the plural form it refers to two Sabbaths on the SAME day -- the weekly Sabbath and one of the annual Sabbaths -- but is this true in every instance in the New Testament scriptures?
There are a number of very important events noted in the New Testament that happened on the Day of Pentecost, which would have gone unnoticed if it were not for the specific use of the phrase "the day of the Sabbaths" (ήμέρα τών σαββάτων). The word used for "Sabbaths" in this phrase is shabbaton (σαββάτων) -- a non-Greek word borrowed from the Hebrew where it is used to describe an annual festival day. What makes the difference are the preceding words in the phrase -- "the day of the" (ήμέρα τών).
The term "shabbaton" (neuter plural) is also used to refer to a "week" of days -- in other words what is referred to as a regular week. Whether "shabbaton" refers to "Sabbath days" (plural) or to a "week" must be determined by the context.
In the New Testament we find the Greek expression "the Day of the Sabbaths" (ήμέρα τών σαββάτων) mentioned three times. While many have claimed this phrase refers to the first Holy Day of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15), it actually refers to the Day of Pentecost. This phrase has also been misunderstood and mistranslated as "Sabbath" (singular) in most English translations. Why is this?
Most people have completely overlooked the fact that these three passages in the New Testament refer to Pentecost.
The first place the expression ("the day of the Sabbaths") is used in the New Testament is Luke 4:16. We read: "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been reared; and, according to his custom on the day of the Sabbaths (ήμέρα τών σαββάτων), he entered into the synagogue and he stood up to read" (The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures). This verse clearly demonstrates that Yeshua's custom was to observe Pentecost!
It should be noted that the synagogue attendant handed Yeshua the scroll of Isaiah. This shows that the synagogue liturgy required Isaiah to be read that day. If so, this indicates that the Messiah read the regular triennial cycle selection from the prophets that accompanied the sequential readings from the five books of Moses. It is interesting that the section that the Messiah quoted was that which paralleled the readings from the Law of Moses for Pentecost on the second year of the triennial cycle. See the chart accompanying the article on the "Triennial Cycle in the Jewish Encyclopedia," Funk and Wagnalls, 1906. This is an indication that this event in the synagogue in Nazareth occurred on Pentecost.
Some people have pointed out that this day could not have been either Passover or Tabernacles (Sukkot) because the Judahites were required by YEHOVAH's Law to be in Jerusalem for these occasions. While this is true -- it also applied to Shavuot or Pentecost. The reason the Messiah is seen here in Nazareth attending a local synagogue, instead of being in Jerusalem on Pentecost, is because the "pilgrimage" law only applied to those Judahites living in the kingdom or province of Judea. Nazareth was in Galilee -- and thus Judahites from here were exempt from traveling to Jerusalem every year to attend the three feasts.
The second place where the phrase "the Day of the Sabbaths" (ήμέρα τών σαββάτων) is found is Acts 13:14:
"They, however, went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia and, going into the synagogue on the day of the Sabbaths [ήμέρα τών σαββάτων], they took a seat (The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures).
Here Paul was observing "THE DAY OF THE SABBATHS" -- better translated "the day of the weeks" -- the very same day as the vast multitude of Judahites did in the synagogues!
The third place where the phrase "the Day of the Sabbaths" is found is where Paul holds services on the banks of a river, because there was no Judahite synagogue in the town. We read:
"And on the day of the Sabbaths [ήμέρα τών σαββάτων] we went forth outside the gate beside a river..." (ibid.).
Here we find Paul and his company celebrating Pentecost with Judahites in a synagogue, and also beside a river because this particular town did not have a synagogue.
Paul said we are to follow him as he followed the Messiah. Paul observed Pentecost on the day that was counted from the day after the weekly Sabbath which happened, as we have seen, to always occupy the SAME DAY as the first Holy Day of Unleavened Bread! The counting started on the First Day of the Week -- which was Nisan 16! This was how all the Judahites started the omer count to Pentecost.
In every case where the word "day" is used, or implied by the context (such as in "THE DAY OF THE SABBATHS [better 'WEEKS'])", one and only one day is meant: the day of Pentecost. However, if the Greek word for "Sabbath" is in the plural (σαββάτων) -- and is NOT preceded by the "day of the" (ήμέρα τών) -- then we should understand that two sabbaths -- an annual Holy Day AND the weekly Sabbath fall on the SAME day.
To try to use the plural form of "Sabbath," found in Matthew 28:1, to support a "Wednesday" crucifixion, and a "Thursday" high Holy Day followed by a "Saturday" weekly Sabbath is totally untenable. When the term "Sabbath" is found in the plural form by itself in the New Testament, it refers to ONE day only and the events that fall within it, i.e. two sabbaths on the ONE day! There is no case for a Passover Sabbath which precedes the weekly Sabbath by several days.
It is a fact that not only did the first Holy Day of Unleavened Bread fall on the weekly Sabbath during the year of the Messiah's death, but it ALWAYS fell on the weekly Sabbath -- every year -- year in and year out! Why? Because the weekly Sabbath is determined by the phases of the moon, just like the annual Sabbath days! For more information on this, write for our articles Have We Been Observing the Sabbath At the Wrong Time All These Years? and From Sabbath to Saturday: The Story of the Jewish Rest Day.
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