Some thoughts on the remaining sabbatismos for the people of God (Heb. 4:9)



Some thoughts on the remaining sabbatismos for the people of God (Heb. 4:9)

taken from my forthcoming book by Founders Press, Getting the Garden Wrong: A Critique of New Covenant Theology on the Covenant of Works and the Sabbath

Copyright © 2016 Richard C. Barcellos. All rights reserved.


That which “remains” is “a Sabbath rest.” The noun “a Sabbath rest” (σαββατισμὸς [sabbatismos]) is used only here in the Bible. Various cognate forms of it are used in the Septuagint (LXX) in at least four places (Exod. 16:30; Lev. 23:32; 26:34; 2 Chron. 36:21). Each use in the LXX, when referring to men, refers to Sabbath-keeping in terms of an activity in the (then) here and now. Lincoln admits this, when he says, “In each of these places the term denotes the observance or celebration of the Sabbath.”[1] This can be seen especially in Exodus 16:30, Leviticus 23:32, and 26:35.


So the people rested (LXX: ἐσαββάτισεν [esabbatisen]; a verb) on the seventh day. (Exod. 16:30)


It is to be a sabbath (LXX: σάββατα [sabbata]; a noun) of complete rest (LXX: σαββάτων [sabbatōn]; a noun) to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep (LXX: σαββατιεῖτε [sabbatieite]; a verb) your sabbath (LXX: τὰ σάββατα ὑμῶν [ta sabbata hymōn]; a noun). (Lev. 23:32)


All the days of its [i.e., the land’s] desolation it will observe the rest (LXX: σαββατιεῖ [sabbatiei]; a verb) which it did not observe (LXX: ἐσαββάτισεν [esabbatisen]; a verb) on your sabbaths (LXX: τοῖς σαββάτοις ὑμῶν [tois sabbatois hymōn]; a noun), while you were living on it. (Lev. 26:34-35)


Something interesting occurs in the LXX version of Leviticus 23:32a. The LXX text reads as follows: σάββατα σαββάτων ἔσται ὑμῖν (sabbata sabbatōn estai hymin). The NASB translates this verse: “It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you.” The word σάββατα in the LXX compliments the verb “to be” (ἔσται). The word σαββάτων (“of complete rest”) modifies σάββατα. Both nouns clearly refer to an activity, a Sabbath-keeping to be rendered by those addressed in the passage. In Leviticus 23:32b of the LXX a verb is followed by its direct object as follows: σαββατιεῖτε τὰ σάββατα ὑμῶν (sabbatieite ta sabbata hymōn [“you shall keep your sabbath”]). Here a Sabbath for the people of God to keep is pressed upon them, explicitly by verbs and implicitly by nouns. Also, in each case the word “Sabbath” is the same used by Moses in Genesis 2:2, “and He rested on the seventh day” (emphasis added). Pertinent to our discussion as well is the fact that God’s creational rest in the LXX of Exodus 20:11 is referred to with the verb κατέπαυσεν (katepausen), the same word translated “rest” in Hebrews 3 and 4. In the LXX, what for the Creator is “rest” implies a Sabbath day to be kept for creatures. Hebrews 3 and 4 seem to follow this septuagintal pattern (see the discussion on divine rests above and the exposition of Heb. 4:10 below).

Robert P. Martin has an excellent discussion on the word “a Sabbath rest” (σαββατισμὸς [sabbatismos]). In the context of interacting with Andrew T. Lincoln, Martin says:


It is interesting that Lincoln acknowledges that “in each of these places [i.e., the LXX texts cited above] the term denotes the observance or celebration of the Sabbath,” i.e., not a Sabbath rest as a state to be entered into but a Sabbath-keeping as a practice to be observed. This, of course, corresponds to the word’s morphology, for the suffix —μoς indicates an action and not just a state. This at least suggests that if the writer of Hebrews meant only “a Sabbath rest,” i.e., “a Sabbath state” to be entered into, he would have used the term σάββατον (“Sabbath”) or continued to use κατάπαυσις (“rest”), for he already had established the referent of κατάπαυσις as God’s own Sabbath rest which is to be entered into by faith (cf., 4:1, 3-4, 11). Thus σαββατισμὸς suggests a Sabbath action, i.e., “a Sabbath-keeping,” although the idea of a “a Sabbath state” is not necessarily excluded because of the overarching theme of the larger context.[2]


Throughout the passage thus far, the word translated “rest” is κατάπαυσις (katapausis). This word is also used in Hebrews 4:10-11. The shift from katapausis to sabbatismos at Hebrews 4:9 is deliberate.[3] But why the change? Joseph A. Pipa suggests the following:


The uniqueness of the word suggests a deliberate, theological purpose. He selects or coins sabbatismos because, in addition to referring to spiritual rest, it suggests as well an observance of that rest by a ‘Sabbath-keeping’. Because the promised rest lies ahead for the New Covenant people, they are to strive to enter the future rest. Yet as they do so, they anticipate it by continuing to keep the Sabbath.[4]


Notice that Pipa includes “spiritual rest” in his understanding of the word sabbatismos. This is an important observation, also made by Martin above (i.e., “the idea of ‘a Sabbath state’ is not necessarily excluded because of the overarching theme of the larger context”).

Though many commentators take sabbatismos as either salvation rest in Christ now and in the future or exclusively eschatological rest, its use here in light of the flow of the contextual argument and its LXX usages suggest a different meaning. The LXX use has already been noted. In the context of Hebrews 4:9-10, the divine rests referred to have at least three things in common:  1) a divine rest after a divine work; 2) a rest to be entered in terms of man’s obedience and worship in light of the divine work/rest; and 3) a day of rest as a pledge and token of the divine work/rest and of man’s entrance into it. Each divine rest as given to the people of God (i.e., at creation and Canaan) both had an abiding rest day remaining once the rest was instituted. If the other two divine rests included rest-keeping in the form of a Sabbath day, it is not without warrant to expect future divine rests (assuming they occur) to include the same. I am suggesting Hebrews 4:9-10 indicates just such a rest.

[1] Lincoln, “Sabbath, Rest, and Eschatology in the New Testament,” 213.

[2] Martin, The Christian Sabbath, 251-52.

[3] See Lincoln, “Sabbath, Rest, and Eschatology in the New Testament,” 213, where he admits this.

[4] Pipa, The Lord’s Day, 117.