A brother writes that he has been informed that if the original Hebrew is literally translated, part of the Sabbath command will read thus: "The seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord thy God" (Ex. 20:10). He is greatly troubled, because it seems to him that the definiteness of the seventh-day Sabbath thus disappears.
First let me confess that I am not an authority on Hebrew. I must find my answer to the first part of your question by inquiring of someone who is well schooled in this ancient language. The answer is that "a sabbath" is a possible translation of the Hebrew, for the definite article "the" is not present in the original. However, in the Hebrew there are other means of showing definiteness than by the definite article. The construction in Exodus 20:10 is such that definiteness is possible, though in the context, not probable.
However, granting for the sake of argument that "a Sabbath" is a correct translation in this text, this still does not take from the Sabbath command its definiteness. The point of controversy between Sundaykeepers and Sabbathkeepers is not over whether a Christian should rest "not do any work" one day in the week, but which day of the week that should be, the first or the seventh. The commandment answers explicitly, "the seventh day." The command divides the week into two parts: (1) "six days shalt thou ... do all thy work," (2) "the seventh day . . . thou shalt not do any work." And why this prohibition of work on "the seventh day"? Because it is a "sabbath of the Lord." The word Sabbath is from the Hebrew Shabbath, which means "rest." Thus the command prohibits work on the seventh day because it is a rest day of the Lord. This takes us back to the origin of the Sabbath, when God "rested on the seventh day" (Gen. 2:2)
It is therefore plain that the contrast is not between "the" and "a," but between "work" and "rest." "Six days," says the command, are work days, but "the seventh day" is a rest day. That "the seventh day" is uniquely God's rest day is made evident in the opening words of the command: "Remember the sabbath (rest) day, to keep it holy." In this sentence the Hebrew has the word "the."
Luke 2:11 is translated from the Greek: "For unto you is born a Saviour." We do not therefore conclude that Christ was simply one of many saviors. We capture the meaning of the angels'words when we put the emphasis on the word "Saviour." Christ came, not as a military conqueror or an earthly king, but as a Saviour. Numerous other passages deal with the uniqueness of His salvation and with the fact that we can be saved by none other.
Thus with the matter of the fourth command. The seventh day was blessed and set apart, not as a work day, but as a rest (a Sabbath) day.
The variant use of "the" and "a" in connection with the word "sabbath" in the fourth command in Exodus 20 finds a parallel in the statements concerning the Sabbath in Exodus 16. Note for example: "A sabbath unto the Lord" (Ex. 16:25). "The Lord hath given you the sabbath" (verse 29). In the twenty-fifth verse the definite article "the" is not in the original, in the twenty-ninth verse it is, and the translators of our King James Version made their translation accordingly. But the reader of verse 25 is in no doubt as to the particular day intended for the Sabbath. That day is uniformly described in the sixteenth chapter as "the seventh day." (See verses 26,27, 29.)
No, we need not fear that the definiteness of God's holy Sabbath is endangered. (Francis D. Nichol, Questions People Have Asked Me, pages 261-263.)
Francis D. Nichols was editor of The Review and Herald, the official magazine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, when he wrote this article.