I was asked by a friend a few days about to parse Matthew 28:1. The topic was “How people added to the Word of God”. My friend’s argument was that σάββατον (sabbath/week) should aways be translated as “sabbath”. I told the person that since the word could mean either “sabbath” or “week”, then the context would determine which definition should be used. She disagreed. After the below work up, perhaps we both were correct.
28:1 Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the grave.
Here is my attempt to parse this verse.
Ὀψὲ is an improper preposition with the Genitive (BDAG, 746, number 3). It was used in Greek as “a marker of time” such as “late”. It was also used as “the period of time between sundown and darkness” (twilight). Last of all, it was used as a “marker of a point of time subsequent to another point of time”, (after). This last definition should be used here. Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων (Now/and after the Sabbath). The very next phrase will rule out this alternate translation: “Now late on the Sabbaths”.
The main verb of the sentence is ἦλθεν (came). The phrase that is of interest to us is τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων (with the dawn on the first day of the week). τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ is in the Dative and is being used as a marker in time when the women “came”. It means “to become daylight, to shine forth, dawn” (BDAG, 386). Thus “with the break of light”, “with the dawn”.
The last phrase is a prepositional phrase εἰς μίαν σαββάτων (into/in/on one of week/sabbath). Here, μίαν (one) is “a marker of something”. Here, the marker is “when” in the sabbath/week were the women at the grave. Therefore, it means first. It is also used this way in Luke 24:1, Mark 16:2, John 20:1, Acts 20:7, and 1 Corinthians 16:2 (BDAG, 293).
Now, with all of that said, it is true that σάββατον is the Greek form of the Hebrew word for “sabbath” and was used as such in the NT. Early Christians maintained the use the “count down” to the sabbath, that is the days before the sabbath came. It is in this sense where the word means “week” (Kittle, Volume VII, Page 32). This is what is going on in these passages. So, the 1st day of the sabbath is the first count before the sabbath, which is Sunday. Therefore, it is either an idiom, or it really means “week” sometimes in the NT. But even if we translate the passage in this way (on the first count of the sabbaths), we are still looking at the first day of a seven day week that ends on Saturday. Let’s say that “it’s an idiom”; therefore, what is better? Maintain the idiom, but then footnote it to describe that it means “the 1st day of the week” or just translate out the idiom where the English reader knows what day the passage is referring to?
The answer of course is “both would be appropriate”.