Sabbath of All Sabbaths

Sabbath of All Sabbaths
Exodus 31:15 and context, plus Leviticus 23

Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. (KJV)
Sheshet yamim may work be done; but in the Yom HaShevi’i is Shabbos HaShabbaton, kodesh to Hashem; whosoever doeth any work in the Yom HaShabbos, he shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 31:15, first in the KJV and then in Orthodox Jewish Bible.)

We take note of a phrase given in the King James Version and many other English translations of Exodus 31:15: sabbath of rest

Note above how the Orthodox Jewish Bible presents it: Shabbos HaShabbaton.

This wording, and very similar wording in nearly all English translations of the Hebrew original, deserves some attention and is our Bible Bit.

Here in chapter 31 of Exodus, Moses is once again on Mount Sinai [good exercise: count these trips up and down God’s mountain], receiving instructions from God for his people, along with the final two fingered-writing-into-stone tablet copies of the Ten Commandments.

Of immediate interest at this point, here in the first year of get-out-of-Egypt wanderings, is the building of this new thing called the tabernacle. This multi-space tent construction is vitally important: it is the place of worship, sacrifice and ceremony for Israel’s people of God, and its innermost Most Holy room is the dwelling space for God himself.

However, right after Moses receives these instructions from God on the mountain top, Moses descends to the camp site and finds his brother Aaron and the impatient, disobedient Israelites displaying a newly forged golden, pagan calf. This rebellious episode is handled dramatically with deadly consequences, and a bit later, after Moses displays his shiny face following another in-person meeting with God, one gets the sense that the rebellious nation is now on board with tabernacle preparation and construction.

The several concluding chapters of Exodus (32 through 40) do not explicitly announce that rebellion temporarily ceases, or that national-religious zeal ensues, but it seems to be from the text that enthusiasm rules, and all hands are eagerly pitching in with materials and labor. The concluding chapters itemize the activities of tabernacle preparation and completion, with no further episodes of rebellion in our text. One gets the sense that work may be ongoing ’round the clock, and that the Hebrews are willing to work seven days a week. This is the sense of the situation as we read this section of Exodus. [Read this yourself. Is our assessment correct?]

And so, if our vision of enthusiasm and non-stop work is correct, God’s prior reminder of the sabbath in 31:14-15 comes now into play.

14 Keep my Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Whoever will have polluted it, shall die a death. Whoever will have done any work in it, his soul shall perish from the midst of his people. 15. For six days you shall do work. On the seventh day, it is the Sabbath, a rest sanctified by the Lord. All who will have done work on this day shall die. (Ex 31:14-15, Catholic Public Domain Version)

Comments in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible catch some of this thought:

(regarding 31:12–17) Even though the tabernacle needed to be constructed quickly, that need did not outweigh obedience to observe the Sabbath.

Expositor’s commentary agrees:

(re 31:12-17) Even though the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings was a sacred work, the workmen were not to overlook the sacred institution of the Sabbath. “You must observe my Sabbaths” is emphatic. To violate the Sabbath even for the sake of working on the tabernacle would result in death.

Likewise, Zondervan’s take in their KJV Commentary:

Once a week, all work (v. 15) was to cease. Not even the construction of the holy tabernacle was sufficient reason to violate the Holy Sabbath laws. Disregarding this memorial day would result in capital consequences.

The weekly sabbath and sabbath day are important. Really important.

Let’s see the context:

12 Then the Lord said to Moses, 13 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. 14 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15 For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’ ” (Ex 31:12-17, New International Version)

God sees this 24/7 eagerness and tells his enthusiastic tabernacle builders to hold on for a minute. He tells them, through Moses, that observing the sabbath day trumps working at full speed on the vitally important house of God. “Hey folks,” says the Lord, “put down your tools and observe the paramount day of rest and worship.”

14 and you have kept the Sabbath, for it [is] holy to you, he who is defiling it is certainly put to death—for any who does work in it—that person has even been cut off from the midst of his people. 15 [For] six days work is done, and in the seventh day [is] a Sabbath of holy rest to YHWH; any who does work in the Sabbath day is certainly put to death, (Ex 31:14-15, Literal Standard Version)

There is a lot of heavy doctrinal stuff going on in chapter 31, and also in our smaller section of 12 through 17, and even in our verses 14 and 15. But let’s set this aside for our Bible Bit and again note the wording “Sabbath of holy rest” and “a day of sabbath rest,” as the two translations above (NIV, LSV) put it. Let’s focus on this small bit of two or three words: Sabbath of rest. Sabbath of holy rest. Day of sabbath rest.

For Bible Bits, the English translation of the Hebrew into “sabbath of rest” or “sabbath day of rest” or even “sabbath of sacred rest” seems to miss something, even though in both Hebrew and English, the word sabbath carries the meaning (among others) of rest. And not only does sabbath carry the meaning of plain ol’ rest, it also carries the meaning of “special holy Godly worshiping set-aside particular day of rest.” But even this, we submit, is not entirely what writers God and Moses were going for when they wrote, with deliberate stylistic design, in Hebrew:

שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן = šabāṯ šabāṯôn = sabbath of rest = sabbath of holy rest and worship
= we think best: Sabbath of Sabbaths

Sabbath of Sabbaths. Sabbath of all Sabbaths. Or as the OJB puts it at the top of our post, Shabbos HaShabbaton.

Listen to it. Listen to the Hebrew as you (attempt to) speak it outloud: šabāṯ šabāṯôn Shabbos HaShabbaton

We submit that the wording carries the spoken sound and additional nuanced meaning of sabbath of all sabbaths. It was a sabbath more important than all the other sabbaths. Not only is the sabbath day and its sabbath worship more important than working on the tabernacle, and not only is the sabbath not merely a day off from work (although it can carry this meaning in Hebrew), and not only is it a period of plain ol’ relaxation (although it can carry this meaning in Hebrew), and not only is it a day of sacred worship of God (and of course it carries this meaning in Hebrew), the sabbath of verse 15 is more important than all the other sabbaths. It is — speak this out loud — a šabāṯ šabāṯôn. It is a sabbath of sabbaths. It is a sabbath of all sabbaths. It is the most important of the sabbaths. It is a שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן.

We will continue our thoughts on spoken sound below, but first: what other sabbaths?

The Sabbath Saturday/Sunday was not the only sabbath for the Hebrews. There were others.

Other sabbaths? Really? Who knew!?

From the Pulpit Commentary:

Verse 15. – The sabbath of rest. Rather, “a sabbath.” There were other sabbaths besides that of the seventh day (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:2-12; etc.). By the expression, “a sabbath of rest” – literally, “a rest of resting” – the idea of completeness is given. Perhaps the best translation would be – “in the seventh is complete rest.” Exodus 31:15

(Note, by the way, the Pulpit Commentary’s catch of sound in their “rest of resting.”)

Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary informs:

Noun: שַׁבָּת (šabbāt) … šabbāt means “restfulness,” but it is usually translated as the word is in Hebrew: “Sabbath.” There are several ritually observed rest days noted in the OT: the weekly Sabbath (Exod 16:23), the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:31; 23:32), the first day of the Feast of Trumpets (23:24), the first and eighth days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:39), and the sabbatical year (25:4–5),…

Let’s see these scripture passages cited above by a go-to Greek scholar, William Mounce:

Exodus 16:23, KJV, the weekly “normal” sabbath Saturday/Sunday: And he said unto them, This [is that] which the LORD hath said, To morrow [is] the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake [that] which ye will bake [to day], and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.

Leviticus 16:31, KJV, Day of Atonement: It [shall be] a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.

Leviticus 23:32, KJV, Day of Atonement: It [shall be] unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth [day] of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.

Leviticus 23:24,39 KJV, Feast of Trumpets: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first [day] of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. … 39 Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day [shall be] a sabbath, and on the eighth day [shall be] a sabbath.

Leviticus 25:4-5 KJV, Sabbatical Year: But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. 5 That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: [for] it is a year of rest unto the land.

Now let’s take a look at the entirety of Leviticus chapter 23. In this chapter God announces the several feasts and ceremonial and special events of worship he desires during the Hebrew year. And intertwined with God’s declaration of various feasts and special times is God’s demand for various, multiple sabbaths.

Here we display the Berean Study Bible’s translation of Leviticus 23, and we include the Berean’s section headings plus its cross references (but we’ve removed their nice footnotes). As you read along, please look for the feast events (and ceremonies, etc.), but also for the coupling of sabbath “rests” and “not doing work” with these special days and events. Discover with us the coupling of feast with sabbath, and also become aware that the week-ending sabbath is not the only sabbath on the Hebrew calendar From the BSB:

Feasts and Sabbaths
(Exodus 23:14–19)

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them, ‘These are My appointed feasts, the feasts of the LORD that you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.

3 For six days work may be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, a day of sacred assembly. You must not do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD.

Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread
(Exodus 12:14–28; Numbers 28:16–25; Deuteronomy 16:1–8)

4 These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times. 5 The Passover to the LORD begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6 On the fifteenth day of the same month begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD. For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. 7 On the first day you are to hold a sacred assembly; you are not to do any regular work. 8 For seven days you are to present an offering made by fire to the LORD. On the seventh day there shall be a sacred assembly; you must not do any regular work.’ ”

The Feast of Firstfruits

9 And the LORD said to Moses, 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you are to bring to the priest a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest. 11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD so that it may be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.

12 On the day you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a year-old lamb without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD, 13 along with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil — an offering made by fire to the LORD, a pleasing aroma — and its drink offering of a quarter hin of wine.

14 You must not eat any bread or roasted or new grain until the very day you have brought this offering to your God. This is to be a permanent statute for the generations to come, wherever you live.

The Feast of Weeks
(Acts 2:1–13)

15 From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, you are to count off seven full weeks. 16 You shall count off fifty days until the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD.

17 Bring two loaves of bread from your dwellings as a wave offering, each made from two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with leaven, as the firstfruits to the LORD.

18 Along with the bread you are to present seven unblemished male lambs a year old, one young bull, and two rams. They will be a burnt offering to the LORD, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—an offering made by fire, a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

19 You shall also prepare one male goat as a sin offering and two male lambs a year old as a peace offering. 20 The priest is to wave the lambs as a wave offering before the LORD, together with the bread of the firstfruits. The bread and the two lambs shall be holy to the LORD for the priest.

21 On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly, and you must not do any regular work. This is to be a permanent statute wherever you live for the generations to come.

22 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident. I am the LORD your God.’ ”

The Feast of Trumpets
(Numbers 29:1–6)

23 The LORD also said to Moses, 24 “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly announced by trumpet blasts. 25 You must not do any regular work, but you are to present an offering made by fire to the LORD.’ ”

The Day of Atonement
(Leviticus 16:1–34; Numbers 29:7–11)

26 Again the LORD said to Moses, 27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. You shall hold a sacred assembly and humble yourselves, and present an offering made by fire to the LORD.

28 On this day you are not to do any work, for it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. 29 If anyone does not humble himself on this day, he must be cut off from his people. 30 I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on this day.

31 You are not to do any work at all. This is a permanent statute for the generations to come, wherever you live. 32 It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall humble yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to keep your Sabbath.”

The Feast of Tabernacles
(Nehemiah 8:13–18; Zechariah 14:16–21)

33 And the LORD said to Moses, 34 “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Feast of Tabernacles to the LORD begins, and it continues for seven days. 35 On the first day there shall be a sacred assembly. You must not do any regular work. 36 For seven days you are to present an offering made by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you are to hold a sacred assembly and present an offering made by fire to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you must not do any regular work.

37 These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies for presenting offerings by fire to the LORD — burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its designated day. 38 These offerings are in addition to the offerings for the LORD’s Sabbaths, and in addition to your gifts, to all your vow offerings, and to all the freewill offerings you give to the LORD.

39 On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to celebrate a feast to the LORD for seven days. There shall be complete rest on the first day and also on the eighth day.

40 On the first day you are to gather the fruit of majestic trees, the branches of palm trees, and the boughs of leafy trees and of willows of the brook. And you are to rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 41 You are to celebrate this as a feast to the LORD for seven days each year. This is a permanent statute for the generations to come; you are to celebrate it in the seventh month.

42 You are to dwell in booths for seven days. All the native-born of Israel must dwell in booths, 43 so that your descendants may know that I made the Israelites dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’ ”

44 So Moses announced to the Israelites the appointed feasts of the LORD.
(Leviticus 23, Berean Study Bible)

The Berean Study Bible shown here, and other Bible publishers who provide the help of inserted section heads, make the several special days and times and events clear for those of us who miss this sorta thing. What one might also miss however, when reading through the sleep-inducing regulations, sacrifice types, and specific instructions, is the coupling of a sabbath, and concept of a sabbath, and importance of a sacred, worshiping, God-thanking and God-fearing sabbath of “rest” and “no work” to these several feast and sacred assembly events. And that there are several sabbaths, not just the one at the end of the week.

Here, by the way, is a quick outline of Leviticus 23, which you read above. You may want to follow this outline and read again Lev 23 in your Bible, and look for the coupling of feasts / sacred assembly events with sabbaths:

God says here are my feasts and sacred assemblies: (verses 1-2)
— Saturday/Sunday Sabbath itself!!! (verse 3)
— Here are my feasts and sacred assemblies: (v4)
— — Passover with its Feast of Unleavened Bread, a week of seven days (v5-8)
— — Feast of Firstfruits, a day (v9-14)
— — Feast of Weeks, a day based on seven weeks, 49+1 days (v15-22)
— — Feast of Trumpets, a day (v23-25)
— — Day of Atonement, a day (v26-32)
— — Feast of Tabernacles, a week of seven days (v33-43, where v37 is misplaced, and should be coupled with v44)
— — Verse 37, These are my feasts and sacred assemblies. Repeat of the formula. Conclusion.
— — Moses announces all this for the Lord (v44)

And so, in our Exodus 31:15 Bible Bit, we might choose a translate the Hebrew שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן / šabāṯ šabāṯôn into something like “this sabbath day is the most sabbathy sabbath of all the other sabbaths.”


Now the sound. Sabbath of all Sabbaths. Speak this out loud: šabāṯ šabāṯôn Sabbath of Sabbaths. Sabbath of all Sabbaths.

Here’s a transliteration of verse 15. Read it outloud:

Sheshet yamim ye’aseh melajah uvayom hashvi’i Shabat Shabaton kodesh l’Adonay kol-ha’oseh melajah beyom haShabat mot yumat. (We couldn’t find the original source for this.)

For what it’s worth, let’s look at the Hebrew. Here, from the quasi-official Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, verse 15:

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ יֵעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיֹּ֣ום הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֧ת שַׁבָּתֹ֛ון קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַיהוָ֑ה כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֧ה מְלָאכָ֛ה בְּיֹ֥ום הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת מֹ֥ות יוּמָֽת׃

A screen shot of the same line:

[ image ]

Like you (probably), we cannot read this or speak it. But please do not be afraid of examining the scribbling of Hebrew and Greek words as you study your English translation Bible.

Using Hebrew resources we learn that the words of interest are:

but the seventh
הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י (haš·šə·ḇî·‘î)

must be a Sabbath
שַׁבַּ֧ת (šab·baṯ)

of solemn rest,
שַׁבָּת֛וֹן (šab·bā·ṯō·wn)

The very helpful Blue Letter Bible displays this in their lexicon view:

[ image ]

Any of our readers who actually know Hebrew are invited to weigh-in on this, but we novices hear in this segment of verse something like “hashebi shabbot shabbotown.” This seems to us as a clear sound play by writers Moses and God, which carries with it additional nuance of meaning.

See this sort of sound and transliteration by actual Hebrew scholarship in two interlinears.

First from the wonderful Scripture4All:

[ image ]

And from the superb Study Light:

The straightforward interlinear translation of the Hebrew yields a deliberate repeating of words sabbath of sabbaths or rest or rests or rest day of rest days or worship days of all worship days. This deliberate repeating of words and their sounds is, well, deliberate. The repeating brings emphasis and this repetition informs the listener that God places the utmost importance on this day of all days. When God repeats things (and plays with sound while doing so) he really wants you to really get it.

Note above that even the Hebrew word for “seventh” carries a bit of the sound of the following two “sabbaths.”

A small handful of commentators point out (more or less) the Hebrew sound play:

From the Pulpit Commentary, which we saw earlier (regarding multiple sabbath occassions other than weekly):

The sabbath of rest. Rather, “a sabbath.” There were other sabbaths besides that of the seventh day (Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:2-12; etc.). By the expression, “a sabbath of rest” – literally, “a rest of resting” – the idea of completeness is given. Perhaps the best translation would be – “in the seventh is complete rest.” Exodus 31:15

They almost capture our sabbath of sabbath’s thought in their rest of resting idea. The Hebrew does, or can, translate directly into this rest of resting form.

From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers we find:

The sabbath of rest. — Rather, a sabbath of rest, or a complete rest. The repetition (sabbath sabbâthôn) gives an idea of completeness.

Keil and Delitzsch give:

The kernel of the Sabbath commandment is repeated in Exodus 31:15; the seventh day of the week, however, is not simply designated a “Sabbath,” but שׁבּתון שׁבּת “a high Sabbath” (the repetition of the same word, or of an abstract form of the concrete noun, denoting the superlative;

Matthew Poole sees it, and points out two other plays of word:

The sabbath of rest, Heb. the sabbath of sabbaths, or, of sabbaths, i.e. the great and chief sabbath, as the song of songs is the most excellent song, the holy of holies is the most holy, &c. The Jews had many sabbaths or days of rest, but this is here preferred before them all, by this emphatical repetition of the same word; and by this argument the foregoing duty is pressed upon them. (Poole’s Commentary)



And so, we like the retention of sabbath of sabbath in English translation. Not only is this striking to the ear, it adds emphasis in meaning, and most importantly, it is God’s statement that this particular thing is the most important instance of all His other important particular things of the same type. And so, we claim, “a sabbath of rest” does not carry the full and proper meaning. 🙂

But no translator does it this way.

We find that only the Orthodox Jewish Bible captures this doubling of word and sound. In our survey of many English translations, we find only the OJB retaining the doubling of sound and word in the original Hebrew, with, as they put it: Shabbos HaShabbaton.

Orthodox Jewish Bible, verses 14 and 15: 14 Ye shall be shomer Shabbos therefore; for it is kodesh unto you; every one that is chillul Shabbos (desecrates Shabbos) shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that nefesh shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Sheshet yamim may work be done; but in the Yom HaShevi’i is Shabbos HaShabbaton, kodesh to Hashem; whosoever doeth any work in the Yom HaShabbos, he shall surely be put to death.

But this OJB selection of words at our point of interest in their English document is not a translation, but is instead a transliteration (of some sort). Shabbos HaShabbaton is not a translation into English, but a Hebraism of transliterated sound into “English.” [Jewish friends: is this Yiddish? a Hebraism? what?]

We thought that perhaps other Jewish-based publishers might incorporate šab·baṯ šab·bā·ṯō·wn into their English translation, but the Jewish Publication Society, for example, does not follow our clever thoughts in their JPS Tanakh English translation:

JPS Tanakh (1917): 14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore, for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. (The 1917 JPS Tanakh is in the public domain.)

JPS Tanakh (1988): 14 You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. 15 Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.

Neither does one of our favorites, the Complete Jewish Bible:

Complete Jewish Bible, verses 14 and 15: Therefore you are to keep my Shabbat, because it is set apart for you. Everyone who treats it as ordinary must be put to death; for whoever does any work on it is to be cut off from his people. 15 On six days work will get done; but the seventh day is Shabbat, for complete rest, set apart for Adonai. Whoever does any work on the day of Shabbat must be put to death.

And neither does the Hebrew Names Version. Verse 15:

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Shabbat of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the day of Shabbat shall surely be put to death.

And from Judaica Press, their own translation of the Tanakh:

Judaica Press Tanakh: 14 Therefore, keep the Sabbath, for it is a sacred thing for you. Those who desecrate it shall be put to death, for whoever performs work on it, that soul will be cut off from the midst of its people. 15 Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever performs work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.’


And so, we wonder about our sound doubling thesis. Are we missing something? Does our lack of Hebrew competence cause us to err in our claims?


We collected a fair number of English translations of Exodus 31:15 and present them here.

We should mention that every one of these translations does include God’s emphasis that the rest day is not merely a day of plain ol’ rest and relaxation, for napping, watching football, and grilling hot dogs, but is a day “holy to the Lord” with this or similar wording. This meaning is in the Hebrew, and all translations make this clear in English.

As we mentioned, only the Orthodox Jewish Bible retains our sabbath of sabbath preference. (And the OJB doesn’t actually translate the phrase into English, but merely provides their transliteration of the Hebrew.)

OJB Sheshet yamim may work be done; but in the Yom HaShevi’i is Shabbos HaShabbaton, kodesh to Hashem; whosoever doeth any work in the Yom HaShabbos, he shall surely be put to death.

Some Jewish-oriented Tanakhs and Bibles:

JPS Tanakh (1917): 14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore, for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. (Public Domain)

JPS Tanakh (1988): 14 You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. 15 Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.

Complete Jewish Bible, verses 14 and 15: Therefore you are to keep my Shabbat, because it is set apart for you. Everyone who treats it as ordinary must be put to death; for whoever does any work on it is to be cut off from his people. 15 On six days work will get done; but the seventh day is Shabbat, for complete rest, set apart for Adonai. Whoever does any work on the day of Shabbat must be put to death.

Hebrew Names Version: 15 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Shabbat of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the day of Shabbat shall surely be put to death.

Judaica Press Tanakh: 14 Therefore, keep the Sabbath, for it is a sacred thing for you. Those who desecrate it shall be put to death, for whoever performs work on it, that soul will be cut off from the midst of its people. 15 Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever performs work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.’

Note the definite “the” in Isaac Lesser’s Tanakh:

Isaac Lesser Tanakh 14 And ye shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy unto you; every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work thereon, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days may work be done; but on the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work on the sabbath-day, shall surely be put to death.

The Tree of Life Version, like the Hebrew Names Version and the Complete Jewish Bible, uses Hebrew transliterations (or Hebraisms?) for certain categories of words. Observe how the TLV handles šabāṯ šabāṯôn:

Tree of Live Version: 14 Therefore you are to keep the Shabbat, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it will die, for whoever does any work during Shabbat, that soul will be cut off from the midst of his people. 15 Work is to be done for six days, but on the seventh day is a Shabbat of complete rest, holy to Adonai. Whoever does any work on the Shabbat will surely be put to death. 16 So Bnei-Yisrael is to keep the Shabbat, to observe the Shabbat throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.

We rather like the New International Version’s take of not sabbath of rest, but the more compact (and subtly meaningful) sabbath rest:

NIV …but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death.

Placing “day of rest” in lead caps announces that the New Life Version translators rightly recognize that these are special words:

New Life Version …But the seventh day is a Day of Rest….

Young’s Literal Translation is less literal here at this location than we would have expected, and would have liked. Young chooses not to go down the path of sabbath of sabbaths, or rest of rests, but instead comes up with sabbath of holy rest like most all the others.

Young’s Literal Translation: Six days is work done, and in the seventh day [is] a sabbath of holy rest to Jehovah; any who doeth work in the sabbath-day is certainly put to death,

J.P. Green Literal Translation …and on the seventh day is a sabbath of rest, holy to Jehovah.

Literal Standard Version: 14 and you have kept the Sabbath, for it [is] holy to you, he who is defiling it is certainly put to death — for any who does work in it — that person has even been cut off from the midst of his people. 15 [For] six days work is done, and in the seventh day [is] a Sabbath of holy rest to YHWH; any who does work in the Sabbath day is certainly put to death,

Smith’s Literal chooses the definitive “the” sabbath:

Smith’s Literal Translation: 15 Six days shall work be done, and the seventh day the Sabbath, a holy rest to Jehovah: all doing work in the day of the Sabbath, dying, shall die.

The Wycliffe translation is a curiosity. It (rightly) see’s a parenthetical thought, explaining the initial command:

Wycliffe (2001) 15 Six days ye shall do work; in the seventh day is sabbath, the holy rest to the Lord; each man that doeth work in this day shall die. (For six days ye shall do work; but on the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, which is holy to the Lord; any person who doeth work on this day must be put to death.)

None of the very early English translations choose sabbath of sabbaths. All use some variant of sabbath of rest. In 1395, the Wycliffe original reads as follows:

Wycliffe (1395): Sixe daies ye schulen do werk; in the seuenthe dai is sabat, hooli reste to the Lord; ech man that doith werk in this dai schal die.

Geneva (1587): Sixe dayes shall men worke, but in the seuenth day is the Sabbath of the holy rest to the Lord: whosoeuer doeth any worke in the Sabbath day, shall dye the death.

Bishops (1568): Six dayes shall men worke, and in the seuenth day is the Sabboth of the holy rest of the Lorde: whosoeuer doth any worke in the Sabboth day shall dye the death.

Coverdale (1535): Sixe dayes shall men worke, but vpon the seuenth daye is the Sabbath the holy rest of the LORDE. Who so doth eny worke vpon the Sabbath daye, shall dye the death.

Douay-Rheims (1899 American): Six days shall you do work: in the seventh day is the sabbath, the rest holy to the Lord….

Douay-Rheims 1582: Six dayes shal you doe worke: in the seuenth day is the sabbath, the holie rest to the Lord. Euerie one that shal doe any worke in this day, shal die.

Douay Rheims 1582. Exodus 31 verses 13-18. The seventh day is the sabbath, the holy rest to the Lord. Archive.org.

The Message, with surrounding verses: God spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites, ‘Above all, keep my Sabbaths, the sign between me and you, generation after generation, to keep the knowledge alive that I am the God who makes you holy. Keep the Sabbath; it’s holy to you. Whoever profanes it will most certainly be put to death. Whoever works on it will be excommunicated from the people. There are six days for work but the seventh day is Sabbath, pure rest, holy to God. Anyone who works on the Sabbath will most certainly be put to death. The Israelites will keep the Sabbath, observe Sabbath-keeping down through the generations, as a standing covenant. It’s a fixed sign between me and the Israelites. Yes, because in six days God made the Heavens and the Earth and on the seventh day he stopped and took a long, deep breath.’”

Note that Eugene Petersen emphasizes the above all importance of the sabbath. Note further that at our point of interest, Petersen uses no a or the article at all, but says the seventh day is Sabbath. And Petersen’s sabbaths are not mere ordinary rests, but Godly uppercase utmost in importance Sabbaths. (We added all the underlining and boldface type.)

The loose paraphrase of The Living Bible is rather lacking in substance here. We like paraphrase Bibles, but this one seems to almost implies that Sunday rest is mere rest:

The Living Bible: Yes, rest on the Sabbath, for it is holy. Anyone who does not obey this command must die; anyone who does any work on that day shall be killed.

Easy-to-Read Version: …But the seventh day is a very special day of rest….

Common English Bible: …But the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest….

Contemporary English Version: …but the Sabbath is mine, and it must remain a day of rest….

Good News Translation: …but the seventh day is a solemn day of rest dedicated to me….

International Children’s Bible: …But the seventh day is a day of rest….

Sabbath rest is distinct from plain ol’ rest, as indicated by the NIRV:

New International Reader’s Version: …But the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest. You must rest on it. It is set apart for the Lord….

New Living Translation: 14 You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. 15 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. 16 The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time.

American Standard Version: …but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Jehovah….

Amplified Bible: …but the seventh is the Sabbath of complete rest….

BRG Blue Red & Gold Edition: …but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest….

Christian Standard Bible: …but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest….

Holman Christian Standard Bible: …but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest….

Darby (1890): …but on the seventh day is the sabbath of rest….

Evangelical Heritage Version: …but the seventh day is a sabbath of complete rest….

English Standard Version: …but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest….

Expanded Bible: …but the seventh day is a day of rest….

Hmmm. Simply a day of rest?

Let’s see more from the Expanded Bible:

14 “‘·Make the Sabbath a holy day [L Keep/Guard the Sabbath for it is holy]. If anyone ·treats the Sabbath like any other day [profanes/desecrates the Sabbath] that person must be put to death; anyone who works on the Sabbath day must be cut off from his people [20:8–11]. 15 There are six days for working, but the seventh day is a day of rest, a day holy for the Lord. Anyone who works during the Sabbath day must be put to death. 16 The ·Israelites [L sons/T children of Israel] must ·remember [keep; guard] the Sabbath day as an ·agreement [covenant; treaty] between them and me ·that will continue from now on [L throughout their generations].

Okay. The Expanded Bible, published by Thomas Nelson, adds inline notes regarding literal (L) material, and traditional (T) material the reader might recognize from other well-known translations, and other categories of notes, cross-references and explanatory content.

Rotherham Emphasized Bible: …but on the seventh day, is a holy sabbath-keeping of rest unto Yahweh….

Geneva Bible (1599 with updated spellings): …but in the seventh day is the Sabbath of the holy rest to the Lord….

God’s Word Translation: …but the seventh day is a day of rest—a holy day, a day when you don’t work….

International Standard Version: …but the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest….

Jubilee Bible: …but the seventh, the sabbath of rest….

King James Version: …but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest….

Lexham English Bible: …and on the seventh is a Sabbath of complete rest….

Modern English Version: …but on the seventh is the Sabbath of complete rest….

Names of God Bible: …but the seventh day is a day of worship, a day when you don’t work….

By the way, the translator need not use the Hebrew shabot or the English sabbath to get the point across that the Saturday/Sunday day number seven is the day of Godly worship, avoidance of normal work, prayer, and plain ol’ rest. Also, the Hebrew shabot and its variants do in fact carry the everyday, non-liturgical meaning of not working, and its subtle distinction from the meaning of rest. Yitzak didn’t come in to work today. He is taking a shabot and playing golf. This is one in a rather long list of legitimate meanings of shabot in everyday Hebrew parlance.

New American Bible, Revised Edition: …but the seventh day is the sabbath of complete rest….

World Messianic Bible: Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death.

Translation for Translators: 14 You must obey my rules about the Sabbath days because they are holy/sacred. Those who treat those days in an irreverent way by working on those days must be executed to show that I no longer consider them to belong to my people. 15 You may work for six days each week, but the seventh day of each week is a solemn day of rest, dedicated to me, Yahweh. Anyone who does any work on a day of rest is to be executed because I no longer want them to be able to associate with my people.

New American Standard Bible (1995): 14 ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.

New American Standard Bible (2020): 14 Therefore you are to keep the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it must be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.

New Century Version: …but the seventh day is a day of rest….

New English Translation: …but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest….

New English Bible: …but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of sacred rest,

New Jerusalem Bible: …but the seventh day will be a day of complete rest, consecrated to Yahweh.

World English Bible: …but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Yahweh.

Catholic Public Domain Version: For six days you shall do work. On the seventh day, it is the Sabbath, a rest sanctified by the Lord….

New International Version (1984): …but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest….

New International Version (2011): …but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest….

New King James Version: …but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest….

Revised Standard Version (1971): …but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest….

New Revised Standard Version (1989): Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.

The Voice: You have six days out of every week to do whatever work is needed, but the seventh day is the Sabbath, a day set aside for rest and only rest. It is sacred to Me. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be executed.

World English Bible: …a Sabbath of solemn rest….

= = = = = = = = =

Thanks to the many, many, many publishers of Bible translations and Bible commentaries we consulted for this Bible Bit.

= = = = = = = = = =

We didn’t include material from it here, but Ernest Klein’s Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language (1987) is enlightening regarding the Hebrew word ַׁבַּ֧ת (šab·baṯ) with its variety of meanings, movement into may other languages, and several variants with added pointing and lettering with their own related meanings. Translating the Hebrew word shabot requires choosing from among many possible meanings.

You can find Klein’s serious and thick book in bookstores.


God’s blessings to you! May God bless you with His grace and mercies!

Please read the actual Bible for yourself!

If you wish to comment on this Bible Bit, please cite scripture and good commentary. For this particular Bible Bit, we’d love to receive input from persons who actually know modern and Biblical Hebrew, as we surely do not! 🙂

We love the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Please read them for yourself. 🙂


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