Christ and the Sabbath – Purpose

Summary: In the Old Testament people that work on the Sabbath were put to death, but Christ deliberately and publicly disobeyed the Sabbath restrictions.  Christ’s defiance of the Sabbath restrictions was one of the main reasons why the Jews crucified Him.  The purpose of this article is to determine what we can learn from Christ’s Sabbath teachings.

Discussion: In the Old Testament people that work on the Sabbath were put to death (Ex. 31:14-15; 35:2).  In spite of this Christ deliberately and publicly acted contrary to the Sabbath restrictions.  He was actually seeking to provoke controversy through what He did on the Sabbath.

In the view of the Pharisees:

He not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18; see also John 9:16; Luke 4:29; 13:14, 31; 14:1-6).

Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.” (John 9:16)

They sought to kill Him because of what He did on the Sabbath.  Christ’s defiance of the Sabbath restrictions was one of the main reasons why the Jews crucified Him:

Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.  But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” (Mat 12:13-14)

The Sabbath is a huge issue in the Old Testament.  It is also a huge issue in the gospels.  Quite a number of these conflicts between Christ and the Pharisees, with respect to Sabbath observance, are recorded in the Gospels.  The message contained in these conflicts must therefore be important.  The purpose of this article is to determine what we can learn from these Sabbath conflicts.  Why did Jesus act contrary to the Sabbath prescripts?

This article discusses this topic from the perspective of the circumstances and laws in Christ’s days, and ignores the later development after the Church has been established.

 

Back to the Sabbath; Table of Contents

Next:

When was Galatians Written?

SummaryBoth Galatians and Acts mention a visit by Paul to Jerusalem and a dispute between Paul and other Jewish Christians in Antioch, but in opposite sequences.  The visit to Jerusalem in Galatians was a private meeting with a small number of important people, while the visit to Jerusalem in Acts resulted in a large public meeting with a formal church council decision.  For this and other reasons these were two different visits to Jerusalem.  But the two disputes in Antioch are the same.  Both were caused by men that came from the church headquarters in Jerusalem and taught that, unless you (Gentile Christians) are circumcised, you cannot be saved.

On this basis a threefold sequence is proposed: First an informal visit to the leaders in Jerusalem, followed by the public dispute in Antioch, which was resolved through a formal Council decision in Jerusalem.  Since Galatians does not mention the Jerusalem decision, it must have been written before that decision, therefore somewhere in AD48-50.

Purpose – To prepare for a discussion of the early development of the church, this page reconciles events in Jerusalem and Antioch, described in Acts, with the events in the same cities, described in Galatians.  This will help to determine where Galatians fits into the early development of the church.

Dates – See here for a table with dates for key events in the early church.  As indicated by this table, chronologists do not always exactly agree on the dates, but they more or less agree.  For that reason the dates in this article are all approximates.

Galatians mentions:

  • A visit by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (2:1-10)
  • Followed by a dispute between Paul and other Jewish Christians in Antioch (2:11-24)

Acts mentions the two cities in the opposite sequence:

  • First a dispute between Paul and other Christians in Antioch (15:1-2)
  • Followed by a visit by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (15:4-30)

Some argue that Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-10 is the same as his visit to Jerusalem in Acts 15.  There are similarities, such as:

  • The key issue in both visits is whether Gentile Christians must be circumcised (Gal 2:3; Acts 15:5).
  • In both Barnabas went with Paul (Gal 2:1; Acts 15:2).

However, the details of the two visits are too different to refer to the same visit:

  • In Galatians Paul took Titus along as an example of the work he does under the Gentiles (Gal. 2:1, 3), but there is no mention of Titus in Acts 15.
  • In Galatians Paul went to Jerusalem “because of a revelation” (Gal 2:2), but in Acts it was because of a decision of the brethren in Antioch (15:2).
  • In Galatians Paul visited “those who were of reputation” “in private” (Gal 2:2). In Acts “they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders” (15:4), and the entire church council, consisting of the “apostles and the elders” (15:6, 22) decided the matter.
  • In Galatians “those who were of high reputation” (Gal. 2:6, 9) simply “gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship” (2:9). In Acts there was a formal church council decision, where-after leading men from the Jerusalem church were chosen to go with Paul and Barnabas with a formal letter explaining the decision “to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles” (15:23).

Further indications that the visit to Jerusalem in Gal 2:1-10 cannot be the council decision in Acts 15, include:

  • If the visit to Jerusalem in Gal. 2:1-10 was the same as in Acts 15, then the council decision was taken before the incident in Antioch in Gal. 2:11-24 and therefore before Galatians was written. But this is very unlikely because Paul would then have mentioned the Jerusalem decision in the letter to the Galatians, because the entire purpose of Galatians is to argue against the circumcision of Gentiles.
  • If Gal. 2:1-10 was the same as the Acts 15 church council meeting, then James would not have sent men afterwards to Antioch to preach the circumcision of Gentiles (Gal. 2:12).  Also, Peter and the other Jews would not have responded in Antioch the way they did (Gal. 2:12-13).

It is therefore proposed that these two visits to Jerusalem were not the same.

It is rather proposed that the two disputes in Antioch (Gal. 2:11-21; Acts 15:1-2) are the same.  Both disputes were caused by “men (that) came down from Judea” (Acts 15:1) (“from James” Gal. 2:10) and taught “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1) (“the party of the circumcision” – Gal 2:12).

On that basis the following sequence of events is proposed:

  1. Knowing that a dispute would burst out in the open, the Spirit first led Paul to informally visitthose who were of reputation” (Gal 2:2) in Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1-10).
  2. This is followed by the dispute in Antioch, described in both Galatians 2:11-24 and Acts 15:1-2.
  3. This is followed by the more formal visit to Jerusalem, to resolve the dispute through a formal Council decision (15:4-30)

We are now able to date Galatians relative to these three events.  Since Galatians mentions the dispute in Antioch, but does not mention the Jerusalem decision, and since that decision is critical for the topic in Galatians, namely whether Gentile Christians must be circumcised and live like Jews, it is proposed that Galatians was written by Paul while on his way to Jerusalem after the Antioch incident.  Since the Jerusalem council decision is dated to AD48-50 (about 20 years after Christ’s death) it means that Galatians was written during those same years.  It would make Galatians the earliest of Paul’s letters.

This conclusion corroborates with the information in Gal. 2:1-10, namely that the first visit to Jerusalem was “after an interval of fourteen years” (Gal. 2:1).  The key event mentioned in the previous chapter is Paul’s Damascus-conversion (1:16) in AD35.  It is therefore possible that the furst visit to Jerusalem in Gal. 2:1-10 was “fourteen years” after AD35, which will bring it to AD49.  On the assumption that the Antioch-dispute and the Jerusalem church council decision happened within a year or two after the first visit, the Jerusalem council meeting could have been in AD50.

Galatians Table of Content

Next: Building …

Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths

SUMMARY

To show that the phrase “festival … new moon … Sabbath” in 2:16 is a technical phrase from the Old Testament for “all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel”, 9 examples are listed below.   Col. 2:16 therefore does not refer to the Sabbath specifically.

DISCUSSION

The Levites served “whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons and feast days” (1 Chron. 23:31).

to offer all burnt offerings to the LORD, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals” (1 Chron. 23:31).

I am about to build a house . . . for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him … and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God” (2 Chronicles 2:4).

Then Solomon offered up burnt offerings to the Lord . . . according to the commandment of Moses for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the three annual feasts—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths” (2 Chronicles 8:12, 13).

the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the appointed feasts” (2 Chronicles 31:3).

We also take on ourselves the obligation to give … for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts” (Nehemiah 10:32, 33).

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” (Ezekiel 45:17; see also Ezek 46:1-11)

the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies . . . Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates” (Isa 1:13, 14).

I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days — all her appointed feasts” (Hosea 2:11).

Sometimes the order is reversed, but “new moon” is always in the middle.

In 7 of the 9 examples the topic of the verse is the “burnt offerings”.

Similar to Colossians 2:16, in Ezekiel 45:17 and in Hosea 2:11 the pattern is reversed.

We may infer from these listings that the expression festival, new moon and Sabbaths, or in the reverse order, was common ‘shorthand’ to summarize the entire system of special days which God prescribed for Israel, and not to the Sabbath specifically.

Colossians Table of Contents

Back to 2:16 Introduction

Colossians 2:16 Introduction

SUMMARY

The Greek word translated “judge” means to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong. Paul is not asking Christians not to judge; he is asked them not to be influence by people judging them. This implies that it is people outside the church were judging the Christians. The Christians were involved in some activities that were considered unacceptable in that community.

Food or drink“ literally refers to the act of eating and drinking.

Festival refers to the annual festivals prescribed by the Old Testament.  The New Moons were the first days of the months, which determined when the festivals will be held.

The seventh day was sanctified at creation and the Ten Commandments require the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest; a Sabbath. The Law of Moses, which was different from the Ten Commandments, required certain annual Sabbaths.  One question addressed below is whether 2:16 refers to the annual and/or to the weekly Sabbaths.

The phrase “festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” is often used by the Old Testament to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar.  Colossians 2:16 therefore does not really refer to the Sabbath specifically.  Today the relevance of the Sabbath to the Christian is heavily debated, but since Paul uses the word “Sabbath” nowhere else in his letters it is clear that the weekly Sabbath was a not controversial issue in Paul’s time.

2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day

Judge – The Greek word translated “judge” is krino (Strong’s # 2919) and means “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong” (Thayer’s Lexicon).

If Christians were judging one another, Paul would have written “do not judge”.  But since he wrote, “no one is to act as your judge” the implication is that people outside the church were judging the Christians.  It seems as if the Christians were doing something unacceptable in that community.  This was a pagan community (1:27) with strict religious rules with respect to “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (2:23), such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”, and it seems as if the Christians overstep the boundaries of acceptable behavior is this regard.

Food or drink – A more literal translation of the words “food” (brosis) and “drink” would be “eating” and “drinking” (Young’s literal translation).  It therefore refers to the act of eating and drinking.  Brosis is the word used in Matthew 6:19-20 to say that “rust destroys”.

Festival – Seven annual festivals were prescribed by the Old Testament.  The three principal Jewish festivals were Passover, Pentecost (“new grain offering” – Lev. 23:16), and the feast of Tabernacles.  These three were feasts of joy par excellence, commemorating the great acts of mercy which the Lord performed on behalf of His people.  These three also were pilgrimage feasts, when all Jewish males were expected to appear before the Lord.

New Moon – Peoples in ancient times kept track of months by means of the moon. A “new moon” is simply the beginning of a new month, namely when the first slither of the new moon is seen.  The festivals were prescribed for certain days of certain months. Yom Kippur was, for instance, on the 15th day of the 7th month. Since the new moons determined when months begin, they also determined when the festivals will be held. The New Moon in the beginning of the month Tisri (October) was the beginning of the Jewish year, and was commanded to be observed as a festival (Lev. 23:24-25).

Sabbath – The Ten Commandments required the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest (a Sabbath – Ex 16:23).  In addition the Law of Moses required some of the days of the annual feasts to be days of rest. These are annual Sabbaths.  Examples are the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:31; 23:32) and the first and the eighth days of the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:39) (see separate page on Numbers 23).  The annual Sabbaths are therefore similar to our public holidays.  Since there were both annual and weekly Sabbaths, one question that is addressed below is whether Paul is here referring to annual and/or to the weekly Sabbaths.

The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:

The requirement for the weekly Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, which were written by the finger of God on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ex. 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13), and which were put inside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5), implying that the Ten Commandments were the heart of the covenant.

The annual Sabbaths, on the other hand, are described in a book that was written up by Moses, with many other laws (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; Deut. 31:24, 26).  This book became known as the “Law of Moses” (Joshua 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kings 14:6; 2Chron. 34:14; etc.) or the “book of Moses” (2Chron. 35:12; Ezra 6:18; etc.) and was stored “beside the Ark of the Covenant” (Deut. 31:26).  To quote some typical verses:

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses …” (Jos. 8:31).

Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26).

Another important difference between the Seventh Day Sabbath and the Annual Sabbaths is their origins.  The Seventh Day was blessed and sanctified at creation (Gen. 2:1-3) and should therefore be regarded as sanctified for all people for all time.  Christ therefore could say that the Sabbath was made for man (all people) (Mark 2:27).  Many people are unable to believe the creation account, but at least we must agree that some people at the time of Moses believed that the seventh day was sanctified at creation.

Some accept that the seventh day was sanctified at creation, and remains sanctified for all time, but argues that only Israel was commanded to commemorate this day as a day of rest.  This commentary on Colossians has been developed specifically to contribute to the discussion of the relevance of the Sabbath to Christians.

Festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” – The Old Testament uses the sequence “Festival … new moon … Sabbath day” as a technical phrase to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar.  See the analysis below for more detail.

With the exception of the current verse Paul’s letters never use the word “Sabbath”.  (The word Sabbath is also appears in Hebrews 4:9, but the author of Hebrews did not identify himself, while the first word in Paul’s letters is always his own name, “Paul”.)  And since the sequence “Festival … new moon … Sabbath day” is a technical shorthand for the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar, Colossians 2:16 does not really refer to the Sabbath specifically either.  The absence of references to the Sabbath implies that the weekly Sabbath was a not controversial issue in Paul’s time; at least not by itself; either everybody in the church observed the Sabbath or nobody observed it.

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: Colossians 2:16???