1) Heb 4:9 reads, "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God." What does this text mean? Many Chinese Christians use it to prove that "another rest" is Sunday, because the Chinese translation says, "There remains therefore another rest for the people of God." What is the true meaning of this text?
Answer: People get a wrong impression from this text because Bible translators were not familiar with the ancient Jewish liturgy, so their translations failed to convey the full meaning of the original text. At present two prevailing interpretations of this text take it
(a) to refer to Sunday worship, and
(b) to the future rest in heaven.
The Chinese Union Version as well as other modern Chinese versions all add "another," which leads to the first interpretation, which does not exist in other countries. Readers of English Bibles are on their part misled by the use of an indefinite article, which leads them to think that "a Sabbath rest" refers to a rest other than the seventh-day Sabbath. So this indefinite article in English Bibles has the same effect as "another" in Chinese Bibles. So readers of English Bibles also need to look at the evidence here presented.
It should first be pointed out that the indefinite article is not a grammatical requirement in this text. Here is a statement from A.T. Robertson's A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 796.
"The Greek had no indefinite article. It would have been very easy if the absence of the article in Greek always meant that the noun was indefinite, but we have seen that this is not the case. The anarthrous noun may per se be either definite or indefinite."
A typical case is found in the translation of John 4:24, "God is a Spirit." Here the King James Version supplies the indefinite article, but practically all modern translations render it, "God is Spirit." The anarthrous noun is properly understood as definite.
One is likewise justified in translating Sabbatismos as definite. It is a gerund whose English equivalent is "Sabbath-keeping." The true meaning of the text is, "Sabbath-keeping remains for the people of God." Some modern versions take note of the gerund, but still use the indefinite article, making it read, "There remains a keeping of Sabbath for the people of God."
2) What about the interpretation that takes "a keeping of Sabbath" to mean the future rest in heaven?
Answer: That interpretation is false. In Greek there are two words for "remain." One is apoleipoo, which means to leave behind. Another is apokeimai, which means remain for future use. Here are two examples:
(a) "Trophimus I left (apoleipoo) in Miletus sick." This is an example of "remain behind"
(b) "There is laid up (apokeimai) for me a crown of righteousness." A crown remains for future use.
The "remain" in our text is apoleipoo, meaning that Sabbath-keeping remains behind for the people of God. It plainly does not refer to a future rest in heaven. What has left Sabbath-keeping behind for the people of God? As the Old Testament era passed away, Sabbath-keeping is left behind for the people of God. That is the meaning of this text.
Two other verses reenforce the meaning of "leave behind." Heb 4:1 says, "Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it." Heb 4:3 says, "For we who have believed do enter that rest." Here the Greek verb is in the present tense, meaning that entrance into God's rest is a present experience, not something in the future.
3) For an open-minded person, these texts are proof enough, But many are still reluctant to omit the "another" from the Chinese Bible. They say that verse 8 speaks of "another day." Please explain.
Answer: The whole verse says, "For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day." Why does it mention Joshua here?
The writer of this epistle was a Jew, and must have reckoned that his Jewish readers, who were familiar with the book of Joshua, must recall that it often says that the land enjoyed "rest" after years of warfare. See Josh 1:13,15; 11:23; 21:44; 22:4; 23:1. The word translated "rest" in Heb 4:8, is the same word in the Greek translation of the Hebrew texts in Joshua.
Paul's meaning here is that the "rest" spoken of in the book of Joshua was social tranquility following years of war, not the rest that God spoke of in His oath, "They shall not enter into My rest." Therefore Paul made this remark to meet any unclear thinking. But the next clause, "He would not afterward spoken of another day." remains to be clarified.
Let it first be explained that "another day" could not possibly be Sunday. For there is not the least hint of any other day than the seventh-day Sabbath, as plainly mentioned in Heb 4:3,4, The thought in verse 8 is that Joshua did not give God's rest to Israel. Verse 7 says, "Again He designates a certain day, Today, saying in David after such a long time, as it has been said: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." The Chinese Union version omits the crucial "Today" in verse 7. Probably the translators thought it was superfluous, so deleted it. In the Greek it follows the words, "designates a certain day.," This proves that the "Today" is not any day, but the "Today" of Psalm 95, from which Paul quoted a passage in Heb 3:7-11
4) Please continue to clarify the relation between "Today" and "another day."
Answer: In the translation of verse 7 as rendered above, the "Today" has been placed immediately after "a certain day" to make it agree with the Greek text. The King James version places it after "David." The Chinese Union version deletes it entirely. These liberties taken by the translators reveal that they failed to grasp the train of thought here, and broke the rule of fidelity to the original.
Actually, it is not difficult to see why the writer was making so much of "Today." In verse 4 he says, "For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: 'God rested on the seventh day from all His works.' and again in this place, 'They shall not enter My rest." Here the oath is directly associated with the "Today" at the head of the quotation in Heb 3:7. (The Hebrew text here begins with the word "Today.") and any open-minded reader can see that the "Today" must be the seventh-day Sabbath. For in Heb 4:4 Paul shows how God first sanctified the Sabbath in Gen 2:2, then again in David's Psalm He reiterated His promised blessing "Today" as His people worshiped Him on the Sabbath.
5) Please explain in what manner the "rest" of the Sabbath was connected to "Today," so it can be seen why the Holy Spirit dwelt so much on the word "Today."
Answer: Very well. Please follow me closely. Ps 95 is well suited to Sabbath worship.in synagogues.The first half was written for congregational chanting: "O come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands made the dry land. Oh come, let us worhsip and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand." Here "we" are engaged in worship.
Then "you" are addressed in the second half, which begins with "Today," and it is a message from the Holy Spirit. The prevailing Jewish liturgy in Sabbath worship was to have the congregation chant the first half of this Psalm on the Sabbath, then a cantor on the rostrum starts with a sonorous "Ha-Yom" (Today), and then continues to sing the words that follow. This liturgy is still preserved in some synagogues of Ashkenazic Jews today. The words, "Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." was a message delivered from the rostrum every Sabbath. It left an indelible impression on all who came to worship. So the Holy Spirit used this impression to call God's people to exercise faith and enter into His Sabbath rest.
6) Because the Jews always heard the "Today" passage on the Sabbath, so "Today" meant for them the Sabbath day. Am I right?
Answer: Yes. That was why Paul did not need to write, "'Today' refers to the Sabbath," And only as one recognizes the Jewish practice of using Ps 95 in Sabbath liturgy can one grasp the thought development of this passage on God's rest. Only as one becomes familiar with ancient Jewish practice and the impresssion the "Today" of Ps 95 left in the minds of the Jews, can he grasp the thought development in these two chapters.. The New King James Version rendering of Heb 3:13 is "Exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' " The "Today" is in quotes, indicating that the translators saw that this word did not refer to time, but the quotation. The Hebrew word for "read" is "call." Actually, this text means, "Exhort one another daily, as long as the "Today" passage is read." ("while it is called 'Today'" shows that the translator still misses the full meaning of this clause)
7) You said earlier that the "rest" in Heb 4:9 is a gerund. Please explain it more thoroughly.
Answer: The word sabbatismos in Heb. 4:9 occurs only once in the Bible, and some scholars think that it simply means Sabbath rest. But rest is a noun, and sabbatismos is a gerund--present participle--that is. It is not just Sabbath rest, but rather the act of Sabbath-keeping. Plutarch in his essay De Superstitione, used this word in referring to Sabbath observance by the Jews. It is not a word coined by the author of Hebrews.
8) Some say that the Jews kept the Sabbath anyway, and you didn't have to prove the Sabbath to them..
Answer: True. Paul was not trying to prove anything to them. The message here is one of exhortation, not argumentation. He was using a text familiar to the Jews to drive an exhortation home, to enter God's promised rest. "We who have believed do enter that rest,." is the theme, and "Sabbath-keeping remains for the people of God" is his conclusion. It is unfortunate that Chinese translations have added "another" to the "rest", and have deleted a word "Today" from Heb. 4:7, thus failing to convey the sense of the original text.
9) Some say that "My rest" does not refer to the Sabbath, because the Jews started keeping the Sabbath in Moses day, and in Joshua's and David's time they were also keeping the Sabbath, so "another day" must refer to a day other than the Sabbath.
Answer: Very well. Let us consider the only other two interpretations, and see how much truth is in them,
(a) What can we find in the context that refers to the first day of the week? Not a wrod. Heb 4:4 says, "God rested on the seventh day from all His works." Heb 4:10 says, "He who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from his." Anything to make one think of the first day of the week.? Nothing. If you say that the Jews were already keeping the Sabbath, and God wanted them to switch to the first day. Can you find such an idea here? God says, "My covenant will I not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips." Ps 89:34.
(b) What proof is there that the rest that remains is the rest in heaven? None. Nothing in the context speaks of the future. Heb 4:3 says, "We who have believed do enter that rest." Here "Do enter" is in the present, not future, tense.
(10) Is there any evidence that the Jews in the first century actually used Ps 95 in their liturgy?
Answer: Up to the present no such evidence has been found. But the composition of Ps 95 and the fact that Heb 3:7 says that the Holy Spirit has spoken in the "Today" passage, is the best proof. Two documents preserved by the Jews have been found to show that ancient rabbis also associated the "Today" passage of Ps 95 with the Sabbath. For a few centuries the rabbis used to transmit their traditions orally. Only in the third century did they begin to make wirtten records of them. One Rabbi Levi, who lived around A.D. 300, said:
"As soon as they [the Israelites] observe one Sabbath according to directions, they will be redeemed, as it is written, 'Today, if ye will hear his voice.' and it is said, 'observe the Sabbath.' Deut 5:12. Wunsche, August, Midrash Tehillim, Bd II, p. 92.
Another passage from the Midrash Rabbah indiretly associates the "Today" with the Sabbath. Rabbi. Johanan said, "The Holy One, blessed be He, told Israel, 'though I have set a definite time for the millennium, which will come at the appointed time whether Israel returns to Me in penitence or not, still if they repent even for one day, I will bring it before its appointed time." Hence,'Today (redemption cometh) if ye would but hearken to His voice;' and just as we find the son of David will come as reward for the observance of all commandments (one day), so also will he come for the observance of one Sabbath day, because the Sabbath is equivalent to all the commandments."
These two texts indicate that in the thinking of ancient Jewish rabbis the "Today" of Ps 95 was often associated with the Sabbath due to the habitual use of that Psalm in Sabbath worship. So we believe that Paul, when writing Hebrews, knew of this general awareness, and assumed that his readers were familiar with it too. We close with the following observation Samuel T. Lowrie:
"After the apostles passed away, the Christian form of this Old Testament truth must have been quite unfamiliar in Christian circles, except as this epistle gradually won its way to general canonical recognition. This was long after there had ceased to be churches made up of converted Hebrews, and circumstanced as the original readers of this epistle were. This fact makes it possible that much of our epistle, and especially this, its most unique teaching (concerning the 'rest'), would be read with Gentile eyes, that is, with habits of thought that would miss the points as they would be apprehended by primitive Jewish converts. It is the Gentile interpretation that has been handed down to us as traditional. The fact now alluded to should remind us also how it is possible that, with our best efforts to put ourselves in
the place of the original readers, we still may fail to see and read as intelligently as they. Such considerations have their importance in estimating the merits of conflicting interpretations." Samuel T. Lowrie, An Explanation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 129.