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Can you have a “twice Sabbath” (Luke 18:12)? - Mondays with Mounce 271

Categories Mondays with Mounce

This phrase in Luke gives us a great example of how words have bundles of meanings, and you have to move beyond the one or two word glosses in your first year Greek grammar.

In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the arrogant Pharisee parades his accomplishments in his prayer: “I fast twice a week (νηστεύω δὶς τοῦ σαββάτου).” δίς is an adverb meaning “twice,” and in this verse σαββάτου is singular.

A related idiom is the more common, “the first day of the week” (Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων, Luke 24:1; cf. Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7) and “for three Sabbath days” (ἐπὶ σάββατα τρία, Acts 17:2).

Added to the mix is the unusual use of the plural τὰ σάββατα when referring to a single day. σάββατον occurs 68x in the New Testament, 25x in the plural. BDAG does not distinguish a difference in meaning between the singular and plural.

The fact of the matter is that σάββατον can refer to a single day (whether it is singular of plural) and it can refer to a week; this is BDAG’s second entry.

One of the primary tasks in second year Greek is to increase your Greek vocabulary, not just the number of words but also coming to understand the flexibility there is in words.


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. The Mounce Reverse-Interlinear™ New Testament is available to freely read on Bible Gateway.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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