Everlasting Kingdom: Unraveling the Bible’s Secrets

Understanding the Sabbath Commandment

—The Rest of the Story!

The Way

Article Preview: If all you do is rest on the Sabbath then you are breaking it! So how does Elohim (God) want us to celebrate His Sabbath? And WHY hasn’t He spelled out the instructions pertaining to the Sabbath in more detail? Why do we personally have to make so many decisions about which activities are acceptable for the Sabbath and which are not acceptable? As usual, this was addressed to a “COG” audience. Frank W. Nelte has unraveled a mystery that has escaped the attention of most Sabbatarians since the (questionable) Vulgate and the Septuagint were written.

We are all Sabbath-keepers. Many of us having been keeping the Sabbath for ten, twenty, thirty or more years. After that many years it seems we should know all there is to know about this one commandment, right? We all know that the Sabbath starts at sunset on a Friday evening and ends at sunset on the Saturday evening.

How does God want us to keep His Sabbath days holy? What conduct does God expect from us? And WHY has God not spelled out the instructions pertaining to the Sabbath in more detail? Why do we ourselves have to make so many decisions about which activities are acceptable for the Sabbath and which activities are not acceptable?

So let’s take another look at what the Bible tells us about the Sabbath.


The Hebrew word for “Sabbath” is “shabbath”, a noun. This word is never used in Genesis, its first occurrence in the Bible being in Exodus 16:23. This Hebrew noun is formed from the primitive root verb “shabath”. And the first occurrence in the Bible of this verb “shabath” is in Genesis 2:2-3, where it is used twice, and it is twice translated as “rested”.

But that is not really a correct translation into English of this Hebrew verb “shabath”!

How Meanings of Words Are Established

When you want to know the meaning of a word, you might look the word up in a dictionary. But what about the people who wrote the dictionary: how do they know what the meaning of a word is?

Well, the way they establish the meaning of any word is by looking at the usage of that word! They can clearly establish the meaning of a word by looking at how the word is used and in which contexts the word is typically used. This is also how scholars of ancient languages establish the meanings of words in those languages-they carefully examine the various contexts in which any given word may appear.

Let’s apply this to the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. Specifically, let’s look at some biblical Hebrew.

To correctly understand the meaning of any Hebrew word that is used in the Old Testament we can either look the word up in a reputable dictionary or lexicon (e.g. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, etc.), or we can very carefully examine how this particular word is used throughout the Old Testament.

Since the second process is the one that is used by the authors of the dictionaries as well, it follows that, if anything, the second approach is going to give us a more reliable picture than the first approach. Also, when the dictionary gives us several different meanings for the one Hebrew word, THEN this process of carefully examining the different contexts in which that word is used will be extremely helpful in narrowing down the correct meaning. This approach will often show us WHY the dictionary has assigned different meanings to the one Hebrew word. So let’s use this approach with our study into the Sabbath commandment.

A point to bear in mind: when a word in Hebrew is not derived from any other word in the language, then it is known as “a primitive root word”. Many different words can be formed from one root word, but the root word itself is never derived from another word.

Next, let’s understand how the meaning of many nouns is established. I’ll use a simple example, which I have used in the past.

In the English language we have the verb “to run” and we have the noun “runner”. This noun “runner” is clearly formed from the verb “to run”. For some foreigner who is starting to learn English to understand the noun “runner” the person must first understand the verb “to run”. Unless a foreigner first very clearly understands what the verb “to run” means, that person cannot understand what the noun “runner” means. Understanding the verb “to run” is really a prerequisite for understanding the noun “runner”. The meaning of the noun “runner” is totally dependent on the meaning of the verb “to run”. Does this make sense?

It’s the same with biblical Hebrew!

Since the noun “shabbath” is formed from the verb “shabath”, it follows that in order for us to understand the noun “shabbath” correctly, we must FIRST very clearly understand what the verb “shabath” means, since the meaning of the noun “shabbath” is very obviously linked to and dependent on the verb “shabath”.

The Meaning of the Verb “To Rest”

You have a pretty clear understanding of what I mean if I were to say: “I want you to REST all of tomorrow”. Or if you ask a colleague at work on a Monday morning: “What did you do yesterday?” and he were to reply: “I spent the whole day RESTING”-you would have a reasonably good idea of how he spent that day.

Webster’s Dictionary gives, amongst others, the following definitions for the verb “to rest”;

a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities;
freedom from activity;
peace of mind or spirit;
free from disturbance; etc.

Now we have already seen that the Hebrew verb “shabath” is translated as “RESTED” in Genesis 2:2-3. However, there are at least 11 different primitive root verbs used in the Old Testament which are at one time or another also translated into English as “REST”. Since none of these 11 words are related to any other word (though there are additional words that are formed from these 11 words), it should be very obvious indeed that they simply cannot all mean exactly the same thing! Since none of these 11 verbs are related to each other, they simply must in some way have meanings that differ from the other words, even if translators do at times translate all of them as “rest”.

This is where an examination of “usage” enters the picture!

While some of these 11 different words can very quickly be eliminated from our investigation, there are five different Hebrew words that we should look at very closely. When we do that, THEN the meaning of the Hebrew verb “shabath” becomes very clear.

Five Hebrew Verbs Translated into English as “Rest”

SHABATH: This verb means TO STOP DOING SOMETHING; stop sinning, stop mirth, stop oppression, stop having leaven in your home, etc. The consequence of stopping these things is sometimes, though not always, “rest”. The main focus of the word is: “to stop doing something that had been going on until then”. Of the 71 times this verb is used in the Old Testament, in the KJV it is translated 47 times as “cease”, 11 times as “rest” and 13 times by various other words. This all by itself already hints at “rest” not being the main meaning of this word.

NUWACH: This verb focuses on RESTING; resting from labor, resting from sorrow, not expending any energy, etc.. The focus is on being refreshed as a result. Of the 64 times this verb is used in the Old Testament, in the KJV it is translated 55 times as “rest”, 1 time as “ease”, and 8 times by various other words. [This is also the root word from which the name “Noah” is formed.]

SHAQAT: This verb also refers to RESTING, but the focus is on an atmosphere of calm, peace and tranquility. Of the 41 times this verb is used in the Old Testament, in the KJV it is translated 16 times as “rest”, 16 times as “quiet”, 4 times as “quietness”, 2 times as “still”, and once each as “appeases”, “idleness” and “settled”.

SHA’AN: This verb is similar to “shaqat” and also refers to RESTING in peace and quiet, with a focus on being freed from troubles and stresses. Of the 5 times this verb is used in the Old Testament, in the KJV it is translated 2 times as “at ease”, 2 times as “quiet” and 1 time as “rest”.

CHADAL: This verb is somewhat similar in meaning to “shabath” in that it refers to stopping doing something; but the focus of this word is specifically to stop causing trouble, stop breaking God’s laws, leave off doing what is wrong, etc.. Of the 56 times this verb is used in the Old Testament, in the KJV it is translated 20 times as “cease”, 16 times as “forbear”, 5 times as “leave”, 5 times as “left off”, 1 time as “rest”, and by various other words for the remaining occurrences.

As we can see, the first four of these five verbs express conditions we would associate with keeping the Sabbath. We tend to think especially of “resting from labor” (“nuwach”) and of “an atmosphere of calm and peace” (“shaqat”) and of “being freed from the troubles and stresses of our normal lives” (“sha’an”) when we think of the Sabbath Day.

Yet God chose to use the verb “SHABATH” to form the noun “shabbath”, which identifies the weekly “Sabbath” for us. God chose to focus the name of this day on “stop doing things you do on the other days” rather than focusing on what we mean by “rest”. The focus of the word “Sabbath” is thus not really “total and absolute rest”-such a focus would have been achieved by a noun formed from either “nuwach” or from “shaqat”. Yet “resting” is certainly intended to be a major part of the Sabbath. This is very clear from the way God worded the actual commandment in Exodus 20. In Exodus 20:11 God Himself said: “... and RESTED the seventh day”.., and here God used the Hebrew word “NUWACH”!

Later we will look at the commandment more closely. But resting is certainly intended to be a major part of the Sabbath.

Now let’s examine the context in which these five verbs are used. Specifically, here are some passages where two or even three of the above five words are used in the same context. This can help to illustrate differences in the focus and the meanings of these different words.

There the wicked CEASE [chadal] from troubling; and there the weary be AT REST [nuwach]. [There] the prisoners REST [sha’an] together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. (Job 3:17-18)

Comment: These two verses show quite clearly that “rest from work” (which is something the “weary” desire) is best described by “nuwach”, and “peace and freedom from stress” (which is what “prisoners” desire) is best described by “sha’an” When you want to talk about what we in English mean by “resting” then the Hebrew verb “shabath” isn’t even used!

And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD SHALL GIVE THEE REST [nuwach] from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve, That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How HATH the oppressor CEASED [shabath]! the golden city CEASED [shabath]! (Isaiah 14:3-4)

Comment: Again, when God wants to focus on “resting from labor and from sorrow”, then He uses the verb “nuwach”. And at the same time God uses the verb “shabath” to refer to “the oppressor” and “the golden city” stopping some activity, which isn’t necessarily the same focus as “resting”.

And they shall burn thine houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women: and I WILL CAUSE THEE TO CEASE [shaqat][shabath] from playing the harlot, and thou also shalt give no hire any more. So WILL I MAKE my fury toward thee TO REST [nuwach], and my jealousy shall depart from thee, and I WILL BE QUIET [shaqat], and will be no more angry. (Ezekiel 16:41-42)

Comment: Again God uses the verb “shabath” to express that He will stop Jerusalem from playing the harlot, which is not really a focus on “resting” After He has executed His judgments against Jerusalem, THEN God will let his fury rest (“nuwach”) and He will again be “quiet and calm” (“shaqat”).

“The mirth of tabrets CEASETH [shabath], the noise of them that rejoice ENDETH [chadal], the joy of the harp CEASETH (“shabath”). (Isaiah 24:8)

Comment: Here there is no focus at all on “resting” even though God uses the verb “shabath” twice. The focus is on something will be stopped! The verb “chadal” with its generally negative connotation fits right into this context.

“And it came to pass, when Baasha heard [it], that HE LEFT OFF [chadal] building of Ramah, and LET his work CEASE [shabath]”. (2 Chronicles 16:5).

Comment: Again, “shabath” is not used to imply any “rest” Rather, the focus is on Baasha stopping something that he had been doing.

“But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, and be not dismayed, O Israel: for, behold, I will save thee from afar off, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob SHALL return, and BE IN REST [shaqat] and AT EASE [sha’an], and none shall make [him] afraid” (Jeremiah 46:27).

Comment: This is the type of “rest” we tend to associate with the Sabbath; yet God here used two of the other verbs rather than “shabath”

Moab HATH BEEN AT EASE (sha’an) from his youth, and HE HATH SETTLED (“shaqat”) on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed. (Jeremiah 48:11)

Comment: Clearly “sha’an” is the verb that refers to “peace and freedom from stress, real rest”, and “shaqat” refers to “being calmly settled”, conditions we tend to associate with Sabbath-keeping. Yet the verb “shabath” is not used here.

Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day THOU SHALT REST [shabath]: that thine ox and thine ass MAY REST [nuwach], and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:12)

Comment: God’s focus here is that on the seventh day we are TO cease from doing things, as a result of which our animals get to rest from labor. It was not really correct for the translators to here render “shabath” as “you shall rest”; they really should have translated this as “you shall cease”, as is quite clear from the other usages we have examined.

In Summary:

1) To focus on what we in English understand by “REST” God uses the verbs “nuwach” and “shaqat” and “sha’an” in the Hebrew Old Testament.

2) When God uses the verb “shabath” it is to focus on “stop doing something”.

3) So the primary focus of the noun “Shabbath” is “stop doing certain things”!

4) It is not that the Hebrew noun “Shabbath” means “rest”; rather rest is a consequence of “stopping to do certain things”.

However, such “rest” is not intended to be “absolute freedom from activity, motionlessness” It is simply “rest from specific activities”.

5) Thus activities like walking (to church services or in a garden, etc.) and eating and studying the Bible (an intellectually demanding task) and fellowshipping with brethren (this is a social activity) and dealing with emergencies (the ox in the ditch principle) and taking care of certain necessities (providing water for domestic animals on the Sabbath, Luke 13:15) and circumcising a baby boy on the Sabbath (John 7:22-23) are not what the word “Sabbath” legislates against. Had that been God’s intention, then instead of forming the noun “shabbath”, He would have formed a noun from the verbs “nuwach” or “shaqat” And there are such nouns. For example, 1 Chronicles 22:9:

Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be A MAN OF REST; and I will give him REST from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and QUIETNESS unto Israel in his days. (1 Chronicles 22:9 AV)

In this verse the expression “a man of rest” is “a man of manuwchah”; the expression “I will give him rest” is “I will give him nuwach”; and the expression “peace and quietness” is “peace and sheqet”. The word “manuwchah” is a noun formed from the verb “nuwach”, and the word “sheqet” is a noun formed from the verb “shaqat”. And both these words really mean what we understand by “rest”. These two Hebrew words refer to “rest from labor” and “peace and tranquility”, things we very closely associate with the Sabbath day.

So The Point Is This:

If God had really intended to emphasize the concept of “rest”, then instead of forming the noun “shabbath” from the verb “shabath” he could have used the noun “sheqet” from the verb “shaqat” or he could have used the noun “manuwchah” from the verb “nuwach”-and “resting” would have been the dominant, over-riding and inescapable concept!

6) So what God is emphasizing with the word “Sabbath” is the cessation of certain activities, but not necessarily ALL activities! We still have to live on the Sabbath. Breathing, sleeping and eating all require some energy from us; walking and talking require some energy from us; reading and intently listening require energy from us; washing and shaving and getting dressed require energy from us. We are constantly expending energy and we are never really “motionless” or “free from ALL activity”.

7) The Pharisees misunderstood God’s real intentions for the Sabbath. They tried to equate the Sabbath with the concepts embodied in the verbs “nuwach” and “shaqat”. These two verbs would indeed have limited all activities-and that is precisely what the Pharisees attempted to do-to limit ALL activities on the Sabbath. So they tried to limit how far one might walk on the Sabbath (the concept of “a Sabbath day’s journey”), how much weight one might be allowed to “carry” (half a dried fig), how many letters one might be allowed to write (less than two letters of the alphabet), etc.

In the Talmud in the section “SHABBATH 73a” it states:

mishnah. The primary labors are forty less one, [viz.:] sowing, 12 ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, 13 grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, bleaching, hackling, dyeing, spinning, stretching the threads, 14 the making of two meshes, weaving two threads, dividing two threads, 15 tying [knotting] and untying, sewing two stitches, tearing in order to sew two stitches, 16 capturing a deer, slaughtering, or flaying, or salting it, 17 curing its hide, scraping it [of its hair], cutting it up, writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters [over the erasure], building, pulling down, extinguishing, kindling, striking with a hammer,18 [and] carrying out from one domain to another: these are the forty primary labors less one. (the Talmud’s own emphasis; the numbers in the text refer to footnotes)

None of the above man-made rules really have anything to do with the instructions that GOD gave for the Sabbath. Yet it was these man-made rules that were behind the accusations of the Pharisees in Luke 6:1-2.

And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples PLUCKED THE EARS OF CORN, and did eat, RUBBING [THEM] IN [THEIR] HANDS. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath days? (Luke 6:1-2 AV)

According to their 39 rules as stated above, these activities by the disciples went against categories 3 (reaping) and 5 and 6 (threshing and winnowing). Obviously the reasoning of the Pharisees was ABSURD! Their rules have nothing to do with God’s actual intentions! But when you have people who argue about carrying more than the weight of “half a fig” (i.e. one ounce or less!) on the Sabbath, then we should really EXPECT their reasoning to be absurd!

Understanding the correct meaning of the Hebrew verbs “shabath” and “nuwach” and “shaqat” and “sha’an” should help us to recognize this wrong focus by the Jews. It is one thing to rest by stopping to do certain things that God does not want us to engage in on the Sabbath. It is another thing altogether to attempt to stop ALL activities, which is emphatically NOT what God had ever intended with the Sabbath command.

Understand that when you hear about some of the orthodox Sabbath practices that are applied in Jerusalem today (e.g. on the Sabbath light switches in hotels are permanently “ON” so you can’t use them, toilet paper is “pre-torn” for you so you don’t have to tear it, the buttons on elevators are covered over so you can’t use them, etc.) you are seeing an example of the pharisaical attempt to limit ALL activities on the Sabbath. And it all goes back to the Pharisees erroneously ascribing the meanings of the verbs “nuwach” and “shaqat” and “sha’an” to the verb “shabath”.

When you clearly understand, from the examination of the usages of these words, what the above five different verbs really mean, then you should also be able to see that in Genesis 2:2-3 almost ALL translations have MISTRANSLATED the Hebrew verb “shabath” as “rested”!

Genesis 2:2-3 really SHOULD read:

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he CEASED on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had CEASED from all his work which God created and made. (Genesis 2:2-3 AV).

And that is actually how it is translated in Young’s 1898 Literal Translation (YLT), as quoted below:

... and God completeth by the seventh day His work which He hath made, AND CEASETH by the seventh day from all His work which He hath made. And God blesseth the seventh day, and sanctifieth it, for in it HE HATH CEASED from all His work which God had prepared for making. (Genesis 2:2-3 YLT)

The English translation of the Greek Septuagint Version has also correctly translated these two verses as saying “CEASED”. This is not to ascribe any form of “inspiration” to the Septuagint Version; it simply illustrates that they correctly understood the Hebrew verb “shabath” to mean “cease” rather than “rest”. The translators of the KJV also understood this, but they chose to translate “shabath” as “rest” in Genesis 2:2-3 because of certain specific biases, as we will see shortly, even though they ELSEWHERE correctly translated “shabath” as “ceased”.

The point to understand is that in Genesis 2:2-3 God was not speaking about what WE understand by “resting”! Rather, God was focusing on “stopping what he had been doing for the previous six days”! That is why it twice uses the expression “from all his work”. The focus is that God was “ceasing from work” rather than “resting from work”. I do not mean to imply that God did not “rest”, because later, in Exodus 20:11, God tells us very plainly that He DID “rest” (and there the verb used is “nuwach”). But the original focus in Genesis 2 is on “stopping what God had been doing” rather than on “resting”.

On that first Sabbath God had ceased doing His creative work and He also “rested”, apparently in the presence of Adam and Eve, to set them an example. The “resting” God did in their presence would no doubt also have involved teaching and instructing them in how God wanted them to conduct their lives, what He expected from them, answering their questions, etc.. The focus in Genesis 2 is on God “stopping certain specific activities”, and later, in Exodus 20:11, God brings into the picture the ADDED FOCUS of God having “rested”.

God does not “get tired” and God does not “rest” the way we human beings think of “rest” “Rest” is something that applies specifically to the physical realm, but it does not really apply to God. As Isaiah 39:28 tells us:

Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, [that] the everlasting God, the LORD, THE CREATOR of the ends of the earth, FAINTETH NOT, NEITHER IS WEARY? [there is] no searching of his understanding. (Isaiah 39:28 AV)

This Brings Us To A Question:

If the meaning of the Hebrew verb “shabath” is really so clear from many other passages, WHY is this verb almost universally translated as “REST” in Genesis 2:2-3? Is there a reason for this mistranslation?

Yes, there is! This is where our “detective work” continues.

Understand Where Bible Translators Are “Coming From”

Around A.D. 250 the Catholic scholar Origen produced “the Greek language Septuagint Version”, (LXX) as we know it today, of the Old Testament. It was based on the Alexandrian minority text base. This LXX became a part of the foundation for all other translations that followed.

Another 150 years later, around A.D. 400, the Catholic scholar Jerome compiled “the Latin language Vulgate Version” of the whole Bible. Jerome relied heavily on Origen’s LXX translation in putting the Vulgate translation together.

For over 1000 years the vulgate reigned supreme!

It was the only version of the Bible that was available anywhere in Europe. When John Wycliffe made his English language translation of the Bible in about A.D. 1380, he did so using the Latin Vulgate as his source document. The profound effect of the Latin Vulgate Version of the Bible on the thinking of all educated men during those more than 1000 years can hardly be overstated. The accuracy of the text of the Vulgate was simply not questioned by anyone! Yet it contains many flaws when compared to the Old Testament Hebrew text and to the New Testament Greek text of the Antiochian majority text base.

All of the early translators of the Bible either used the Latin Vulgate directly as their source document, or else they relied very heavily on the Vulgate translation even when they did use other source manuscripts. The first Bible ever printed (the Johan Gutenberg Bible) was a Latin Vulgate version. Martin Luther relied very heavily on the Vulgate for his German translation of the Bible. The translators of the KJV, while using the Hebrew text for the Old Testament and Erasmus’ Greek text for the New Testament for their translation, also used the Greek LXX and the Latin Vulgate in numerous places. Even in the “Preface to the New King James Version” it is stated:

“The Septuagint (Greek) Version of the Old Testament and the Latin Vulgate also were consulted”.

The Point Is Simply This:

By the time of the reformation (around A.D. 1500) Latin was the language of the Catholic Church and of educated men. All of the translators of the Bible were far more conversant with Latin than they were with Greek or with Hebrew. The Latin Vulgate version was the Bible they all knew well. They were comfortable with the text of the Vulgate. It was only natural for them to heavily rely on this Latin text in preparing their translations into the vernacular languages (English, German, etc.).

We need to be aware of these things because in many instances errors in translation can be traced back either to the Latin Vulgate version or even directly to the Greek LXX version of the Old Testament.

Now we are ready to examine the mistranslation of “shabath” as “rested” in Genesis 2:2-3.

The Historical Trail of “God Rested on the Seventh Day“

We saw that almost all English language translations render “shabath” in Genesis 2:2-3 as “God RESTED on the seventh day”. This is in spite of the same translations elsewhere freely translating “shabath” as “CEASED”. Their past training had biassed them in favor of the verb “rested” for Genesis 2:2-3. For the Hebrew verb “shabath” the English word “rested” is NOT really “a translation”; “rested” is really an interpretation (and a biased one at that) of the Hebrew verb “shabath”.

So let’s now look at the Latin Vulgate text for these verses:

conplevitque Deus die septimo opus suum quod fecerat ET REQUIEVIT DIE SEPTIMO ab universo opere quod patraratet benedixit diei septimo et sanctificavit illum quia IN IPSO CESSAVERAT AB OMNI OPERE SUO quod creavit Deus ut faceret (Genesis 2:2-3 VULGATE).

There are two expressions in these verses we should notice.

The expression “et requievit die septimo” in verse 2 means “and RESTED on the seventh day”, “requiesco” being the Latin verb “to rest”.

The expression “in ipso cessaverat ab omni opere suo” in verse 3 means “in it HE HAD CEASED from all his work”, “cesso” being the Latin verb for “to stop, to cease”.

So while Jerome rendered the Hebrew verb “shabath” in Genesis 2:2 as “God RESTED”, he rendered the same verb “shabath” as “God CEASED” in the next verse. Within the space of two verses Jerome translated the one Hebrew verb (shabath) by two different Latin verbs (requievit and cessaverat).

This use of “requievit” by Jerome is the source of all translations saying that god “rested” on the seventh day!

But we saw that the English language translation of the LXX also correctly translates Genesis 2:2-3 as “God CEASED”. So let’s now look at the LXX for these verses. This is what Jerome would also have looked at when he made his Vulgate translation.

kai sunetelesen ho theos en te hemera te ekte ta ergaautou ha epoiesen kai KATEPAUSEN te hemera te ebdome apo panton ton ergon autou on epoiesen. kai eulogesenho theos ten hemeran ten ebdomen kai egiasen auten hoti en aute KATEPAUSEN apo panton ton ergon autou onerxato ho theos poiesai. (Genesis 2:2-3 LXX transliterated)

You don’t have to know any Greek to understand this. The Greek verb for “stop” and “cease” is “pauo”. Biblical Greek employs 18 prepositions to modify the meanings of words. These prepositions are added as prefixes to words. So the basic verb “pauo” has been used to form two other verbs by using the prefixes “ana” meaning “up” and its opposite “kata” meaning “down”.

This gives us the Greek verbs “anapauo” and “katapauo”, and the nouns “anapausis” and “katapausis”. Now since the prefixes “ana” and “kata” are opposites, it should be clear that “anapauo” and “katapauo” don’t really mean the same thing, even if some dictionaries may assign the same meanings to these two words.

“Katapausis” is the Greek word for “cessation” or “ending”. “Anapausis” is the Greek word for “rest” or “repose”. The positive meaning of “rest” with its implication of peace and tranquility is conveyed by the addition of the prefix “ana”. The word “cessation” is more likely, though by no means always, to carry a negative meaning, and it is conveyed by the addition of the prefix “kata”. Bear in mind that the basic verb “pauo” inherently means “cease”-it is only by the uplifting effect of the prefix “ana” that this is elevated to the state of “rest”.

In the above transliterated LXX text we twice have the Greek word “KATEPAUSEN”, a form of the verb “katapauo”. So the LXX translation quite clearly states twice in Genesis 2:2-3 that God “ceased from His work”. The LXX does NOT say that “God rested from His work”.

There is a clear reason why Origen’s LXX had to use the verb “katapausen” rather than the verb “anapausen” for Genesis 2:2-3. And the reason is that this verse happens to be quoted in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote in Hebrews 4:4-

For he spake in a certain place of the seventh [day] on this wise, AND GOD DID REST the seventh day from all his works. (Hebrews 4:4 AV)

The Greek text here reads: “... kai KATEPAUSEN ho theos”.!

It is because Paul wrote in Hebrews 4:4 (correctly translated) “... AND GOD DID CEASE THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORK” that the Greek LXX Old Testament had to also translate the Hebrew verb “shabath” in Genesis 2:2-3 as “katepausen” rather than as “anepausen”. When Paul had already translated “shabath” as “katepausen” into Greek, it really left Origen no option but to do likewise.

[Comment: It should be clear that the New Testament English translations of Hebrews 4:4 which state “... and God did REST” are also mistranslations! Instead of actually translating the Greek verb Paul used in Hebrews 4:4, they have simply copied their own mistranslations of Genesis 2:2, thereby reading the meaning of “rest” into the Greek verb “katapauo”. Having already mistranslated Genesis 2:2, it should be obvious that there was no way for them to then correctly translate Hebrews 4:4. It is interesting that even Young in his YLT mistranslates Hebrews 4:4 as “... and God did REST in the seventh day”, even after correctly translating Genesis 2:2-3. It just shows how strong a hold ideas that we have accepted since childhood can have. Furthermore, no doubt all translators have been heavily influenced by the Jewish error of ascribing the meaning of “rest” to the verb “shabath”-ascribing the meanings of the verbs “nuwach” and “shaqat” and “sha’an” to the verb “shabath”. You would expect the Jews to at least have the meanings of the words in their own language correct-but unfortunately that isn’t always the case.]

Paul’s quotation of Genesis 2:2 makes quite clear that it is wrong to translate “shabath” as “rest”. Paul’s rendering of “shabath” as “KATEpausen” in Hebrews 4:4 makes quite clear that the meaning is “cease” and not “rest”.

Okay, so we have established that back in Genesis 2:2-3 the Bible does NOT say “... and God RESTED on the seventh day from all His work” (though it does refer to God “resting” later in Exodus 20:11). The Bible really says in Genesis 2:2-3 “and God CEASED on the seventh day from all His work”. And the Apostle Paul confirmed this meaning when he quoted this verse in Hebrews 4:4. But is that really a big deal-whether Genesis 2:2-3 says that “God rested” or whether it says that “God ceased” from His work?

Yes, it certainly is an important fact to understand.

Here is why.

Making the Sabbath a Burden

Changing the meaning of the verb “shabath” to basically take on the meanings of the verbs “nuwach” and “shaqat” and “sha’an” enabled the Pharisees to turn the Sabbath into a burden! This might not be apparent at first sight, because surely those words all mean things that are very desirable-rest, peace, calm and tranquility. And yes, these words DO mean all these desirable things. But they also all go further than the verb “shabath”.

Consider the following.

It was always God’s intention that the Sabbath would be “a delight” for us human beings. And a part of that “delight” would be our opportunity to “rest” as well as “ceasing from our work activities”. “Ceasing from certain activities” applies to the whole Sabbath day! “Resting” is one of the consequences of ceasing from those activities, but resting is not intended for the “whole” Sabbath. When you travel to church services, you are not “resting”; when you diligently pay attention to the sermon, you are also not “resting”; when you spend time in prayer and in Bible study you are again not “resting”; when you fall asleep during the sermon you would indeed be “resting”, but almost all of us would deem such “rest” during a sermon as highly undesirable.

Notice Isaiah 58:13.

If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, [from] doing thy pleasure on my holy day; AND CALL THE SABBATH A DELIGHT, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking [thine own] words: (Isaiah 58:13 AV)

It is not a matter of God FORCING us to say that the Sabbath is a pleasant delight for us; it is a decision that God wants us ourselves to reach with our own free minds-because that is the way the Sabbath really is for us!

It is, however, a fact that the more restrictive something is, the less pleasant it is going to be for us. It is one thing to totally cease from certain categories of activities on the Sabbath, thereby making more time available for other “activities”. But it is something altogether different to attempt to drastically limit ALL activities. There is no way that the latter situation would ever be perceived by us as “a pleasant delight”! We might “endure it”, we might “tough it out”, but we would never call something like that “a delight”.

But the insistence by the Pharisees that “shabath” means “to REST” and that therefore the Sabbath day is to be “a REST day” is the justification for attempting to enforce “a total REST”.

Now it is easy to SAY the right things. It is easy to wax eloquent about how good it is to have the Sabbath to get away from the pressures and stresses of our regular lives. But the bottom line still is that many times we can’t really wait for the sun to go down on a Saturday evening, so we can do something we really WANT to do. And I am not saying that most of us don’t genuinely appreciate the rest and retreat, which the Sabbath day provides for us. But obviously, on those occasions where we can hardly wait for the sun to go down at the end of the Sabbath, on those occasions we hardly perceive the Sabbath as a delight-or we wouldn’t want to get it over with in such a hurry.

Jesus Christ plainly said that the Pharisees turned God’s way of life into A BURDEN for ordinary people, while devising ways in which they could get around the restrictions they officially pronounced for other people to abide by. Notice:

And he said, Woe unto you also, [ye] lawyers! for YE LADEN MEN WITH BURDENS grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46 AV).

For THEY BIND HEAVY BURDENS and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men’s shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers. (Matthew 23:4 AV)

The extreme restrictions the Pharisees invented for Sabbath observance made the Sabbath a burden rather than a joy. Thus:

If your grown children lived more than “a Sabbath day’s journey” (about half a mile) away from you (e.g. perhaps a mile down the road), then you couldn’t get together with them on the Sabbath, a burden that took away from enjoying the Sabbath as a family.

When you had to constantly worry about not carrying more than the weight of “half a dried fig” on the Sabbath, then that was a burden, which also took away from enjoying the Sabbath.

When you could not even write down a single word without supposedly breaking the Sabbath, then that too was a burden, which detracted from enjoying the Sabbath.

When you, while walking through some fields, could not even eat a handful of the ripe produce in the fields (be it a few ears of grain or be it taking three tomatoes off the vine or plucking a couple of apples for yourself and your children to eat) then that was a burden which again detracted from enjoying the Sabbath.

When, in the event that your home was burning down on the Sabbath, you could not even carry out your belongings to save them from being burned up, then that was a severe burden.

Here is a section of the Talmud that explains some of these Jewish Sabbath restrictions:

It was taught: Two letters in ink, two letters on a pen, or two letters in an inkstand [involve culpability].1 Raba asked: What [if one carries out sufficient for] one letter [in the form of] dry ink, one letter on the pen, and one letter in an inkstand? 2 The question stands over.

Raba said: If one carries out [ink sufficient for writing] two letters, and writes them whilst walking, he is culpable: the writing is tantamount to depositing. 3 Raba also said: If one carries out [ink sufficient for writing] one letter [only] and writes it down. and then again carries out [sufficient for] one letter, and writes it down,4 he is not culpable.

What is the reason? By the time he carries out the second, the standard of the first is defective. 5 (Talmud - Mas. Shabbath 80a)

Surely this quotation makes clear just how much of a BURDEN the Pharisees made the Sabbath, when people constantly had to worry about complying with endless picky restrictions? There is no room for “enjoyment” when the Sabbath (supposedly) imposes all these picky restrictions. As an aside: if this restriction was really correct, then none of us would ever be able to takes notes during a church service.

Here is another quotation from the Talmud.

Raba also said: If one carries out half a dried fig and deposits it,6 and then carries out another half of a dried fig and deposits it,7 the first is regarded as though caught by a dog or burnt, and he is not culpable. But why so: surely it is lying there! þ He means this: But if one anticipates and takes up the first before the depositing of the second, the first is regarded as though caught up by a dog or burnt,8 and he is not culpable. Raba also said: If one carries out half of a dried fig and deposits it and then carries out another half of a dried fig over the same route as the first,9 he is liable. But why: surely it does not rest [in the street]? E.g., if he carries it within three [handbreadths]. 10 But Raba said: [An article brought] within three [handbreadths] must, according to the Rabbis, be deposited upon something of small size [at least]? 11 þ There is no difficulty. The latter reference is to throwing; 12 the former is to carrying.13 (same section as above)

How can the Sabbath possibly be “enjoyable” when one has to worry about these sort of restrictions? Or how about the following quotation?


Do these kinds of restrictions make the Sabbath a joy or a burden? When you have to worry about someone passing you some object before you walk out of the house on the Sabbath, does that make the Sabbath a joy or a burden? Surely we can see that this is nothing but endless bickering and arguing.

I could probably pull 30 pages of such restrictive regulations about the Sabbath out of the Talmud, if I had to. But surely we can see that the Pharisees made the Sabbath a burden to the extreme! And they did this because they applied a wrong meaning to the verb “shabath”, a meaning that really belongs to other verbs like “nuwach” and “shaqat”, by claiming that the Sabbath requires “TOTAL REST” rather than cessation of specific activities.

So the mistranslation of Genesis 2:2-3 that God “RESTED” from all His works can have serious consequences. By God only using the verb “rested” (i.e. “nuwach”) in Exodus 20:11 (an event more than 2000 years after the events in Genesis 2) it places the “resting” into a far more balanced perspective.

Now we in God’s Church have always understood, almost intuitively, that all these pharisaical Sabbath-restrictions are a lot of nonsense, and so we have never taken those restrictions seriously, let alone looked upon them as binding. Yet those wrong restrictions are based on mistranslating “shabath” in Genesis 2:2-3 as “RESTED”, making resting the primary focus of the Sabbath when it really should be a secondary focus-the primary focus of “stop working” still leaves scope for numerous enjoyable “activities” like walking through a pleasant park, plucking ripe fruit off a tree for immediate consumption, going to church services at a considerable distance from our homes, engaging in serious Bible study, taking careful notes in a church service, etc.

So How Should We Then Keep the Sabbath?

Now for PART 2:

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Minor update January 9, 2012