Why Colossians 2:16-17 Is About "Sabbaths," Not "The Sabbath"

Learn why Colossians 2:16-17 does not teach that the weekly Sabbath is no longer morally binding upon Christians, but rather refers to temporary "sabbaths."
Sabbath
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Quick Answer

There are two different kinds of Sabbaths.

The "Sabbath" referred to in Colossians 2:16-17 is one of the "Sabbaths" associated with the "new moons" and "feasts" of the Old Testament. These "Sabbaths, new moons, and feasts" were ceremonial, temporary, and typological, unlike the weekly Sabbath described in the Ten Commandments.

The argument

Many argue that Colossians 2:16-17 teaches that Christians no longer need to keep the weekly Sabbath. Here is the passage:

Colossians 2:16-17 - 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

The Answer

In addition to the weekly Sabbath, there were weekly Sabbaths that were temporary and typological

Scripture clearly distinguishes between two different kinds of Sabbaths:

  1. The weekly Sabbath described in the Ten Commandments. This Sabbath is singular—"the Sabbath."
  2. Sabbaths that were associated witih "new moons" and "feast days," which are temporary and typological. This kind of Sabbath is spoken of using plural tense—"Sabbaths."

Here are Scripture passages that associate these plural "Sabbaths" with "new moons" and "feast days."

1 Chronicles 23:31 - and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the Lord.
2 Chronicles 2:4 - Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel.
2 Chronicles 31:3 - The contribution of the king from his own possessions was for the burnt offerings: the burnt offerings of morning and evening, and the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the appointed feasts, as it is written in the Law of the Lord.
Nehemiah 10:33 - for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.
Ezekiel 45:17 - It shall be the prince's duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel.
Hosea 2:11 - And I will put an end to all her mirth,
her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths,
and all her appointed feasts.

"a Sabbath" in Colossians 2:16 is singular simply because it is referring to one of the plural "Sabbaths"

Although this is probably obvious, some might wonder why Colossians 2:16 uses the singular "Sabbath" if we are arguing that it is referring to the plural "Sabbaths" described in the passages above.

The answer is simple—Paul uses "Sabbath" in a singular tense here simply because of the way he has constructed his sentence. He is using the singular tense of "Sabbath," "new moon," and "festival" to refer to one of the regular "Sabbaths," "new moons," and "festivals" that occur.

He could just as easily have written, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to festivals or new moons or Sabbaths."

The key is that Paul is associating "Sabbath" with "new moon" and "festival," which is unique, which is the topic of the next section.

The association of "Sabbath" with "new moon" and "festival" in Colossians 2:16-17 is unique from every other mention of the Sabbath in the New Testament

The noun Sabbath (σαββάτων) occurs eleven times in the New Testament, but only once is it coupled with the terms "new moon" and "festival." This decision by Paul must be intentional—it is clear that Paul intends here to distinguish the kind of "Sabbath" he is referring to in Colossians 2:16-17 from the weekly Sabbath.

The weekly Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, God's permanent and universal moral law, whereas "Sabbaths, new moons, and feasts/festivals" were ceremonial, temporary, and typological

To state the argument in another way, there is another way in which the weekly Sabbath is very different from the "Sabbaths, new moons, and feasts" described in the Old Testament and in Colossians 2.

The weekly Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, which is God's permanent and universal moral law. It shows up along with other permanent and universal laws, such as the prohibitions against idolatry, images, disobedience to parents, murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting. It would be unusual for the fourth commandment to be obsolete today, but not the other nine commandments.

On the other hand, it is clear that the "new moons" and "feasts" of the Old Testament were ceremonial, temporary, and typological. They were part of the "ordinances" that were abolished with Christ.

Ephesians 2:15 - by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

Since the "Sabbaths" associated with the "new moons" and "feasts" were not weekly, but rather had a similar schedule to the "new moons" and "feasts," which were monthly, it is certain that these Sabbaths were also ceremonial, temporary, and typological.

Thus, again, there is a clear distinction between the weekly Sabbath expressed in the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial Sabbaths that were associated with "new moons" and "festivals." They are not the same.

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