The KJV translates Colossians 2:16 to say let no man therefore judge you “in respect of” the Sabbath, but the word translated “in respect of” actually means “part of”. To say that the Colossians were criticized for an aspect of the Sabbath cannot mean that they were criticized for keeping or not keeping these holy days. It can only mean that they were criticized for HOW they observe the Sabbath. This implies that the Colossians did observe these holy days.
The Greek words of Colossians 2:16, and their English equivalents, according to an interlinear translation, are as follows:
Mē Not – oun therefore – tis anyone – hymas you – krinetō let judge – en in – brōsei food – kai or – en in – posei drink – ē or – en in – merei part of – heortēs to a feast – ē or – neomēnias a new moon – ē or sabbatōn a Sabbath
This article focuses on the Greek words ‘en merei’. The KJV translates this phrase as “in respect to”:
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days (2:16).
‘En merei’ is derived from the noun meros. Meros literally means:
- a part something or
- a piece something or
- a portion something or
- one aspect of something, as opposed to a whole.
Nowhere else in the New Testament is meros translated as “in respect to”. Below all 39 instances of the word meros in the New Testament is analyzed:
In the vast majority of instances it indicates a part of something, namely:
- part of a geographical area,
- part of a group of people,
- part of a body,
- part of some assets,
- part of a fish,
- part of a garment,
- part of a body of knowledge,
- part of a period of time,
- part of a city and
- part of human
In a small number of instances it indicates that a person shares in something, namely sharing in God’s kingdom, sharing in an event and sharing in an eternal inheritance. But to say that somebody shares in something still has the meaning of a part of a bigger whole.
Since meros consistently refers to a part of something, 2:16 should be translated as “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in part of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”. Please consider the important difference between “in respect to” and “in part of”:
“In respect to” may imply that the Colossian Christians were judged for keeping or not keeping these holy days OR for how they kept these holy days.
The phrase “in a part of” cannot mean that the Colossians were judged for keeping or not keeping these holy days. “In a part of” can only mean that the Colossian Christians were judged for an aspect of the holy days, not for the holy days as such. This implies that the Colossians did observe these holy days, and that Paul is saying that they should not be judged for any part there-of.
The KJV translation is generally extremely reliable, and it is with unease that I go against the KJV of Colossians 2:16. But it must be pointed out that all translations are interpretations, and that the standard interpretation of theologians is that the Colossian heresy was syncretic in nature; combining Jewish and pagan ideas. They therefore translate meros as “in respect to” because they believe that 2:16 warns against Sabbath observance.
The proposal here is that we read these verses in their context. As discussed in the article on 2:16, the church, less than 30 years after Christ’s death, when the letter to the Colossians was written, still observed the Sabbath and the Jewish Festivals, for the church at first was entirely Jewish, and even today we observe some of the Jewish Festivals, such as Passover (Easter) and Pentecost. The Jews observed these days in anticipation of what these feasts pointed to. Christians keep these feasts to remember what happened 2000 years ago.
In the Jewish tradition the specials days were days of gladness, eating and drinking (See, for instance, Nehemiah 8:9-11). But the Colossian deceivers were ascetic and adhered to principles of “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (2:23), with rules such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”. They were therefore critical of the feasting practices of the Christians in their community. (See Pagan nature of the Colossian Deception). They judged the Christians, not for observing these special days, but for HOW the special days were kept.
Analysis of the use of the word Meros in the New Testament
The following are all the instance of the Greek word meros in the New Testament; 39 verses in total. Only in Colossians 2:16 it is translated as “in respect to”. In most instances it is translated to refer to a part of some larger entity, such as:
- Part of a geographical area, for instance “regions of” or “district” of a larger area (Mat 2:22; 15:21; 16:13; Mark 8:10; Acts 2:10; 20:2), “the upper country” (Acts 19:1), and “the lower parts of the earth” (Eph 4:9).
- Part of a group of people, such as “one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees” (Act 23:6) “the Pharisaic party” (Acts 23:9)(Mat 24:51; Luke 12:46; Rom 11:25; 1Co 12:27) “a place with the unbelievers” (Luk 12:46), “a place with the hypocrites” (Mat. 24:51). Rom 11:25 indicates that “a partial hardening has happened to Israel” this is understood as that a part of Israel is hardened.
- Part of a body (Luke 11:36)
- Part of assets, such as “the share of the estate” (Luke 15:12), “a portion of it (money)” (Acts 5:2); Act 19:26-27)
- Part of a fish, such as “a piece of a broiled fish” (Luke 24:42)
- A part of a garment, such as “His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier” (John 19:23)
- Part of a boat, namely “the right-hand side of the boat” (John 21:6)
- Part of a body of knowledge, such as “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1Co 13:9) and “I know in part, but then I will know fully” (1Co 13:12), “in part I believe it” (1Co 11:18), “I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again” (Rom. 15:15), “you also partially did understand” (2Co 1:14), “of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebr. 9:5 – stated differently: we cannot speak of the parts of these things), “But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case” (2Co 9:3)
- Part of a period of time, such as “enjoyed your company for a while” (Rom 15:24) “each in turn” (1Co 14:27)
- A part of a city, namely “The great city was split into three parts” (Rev 16:19)
- A part of human existence. Acts 19:26-27 refers to idol-worship or the making of idols as “this trade of (part of) ours”
In all of these instances meros is used for a part of something. In the following instances it refers to a small share of something much larger, namely for a person to:
- Share in an event, such as “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection” (Rev 20:6)
- Share in an eternal inheritance, such as “their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev 21:8), or “God will take away his part from the tree of life” (Rev 22:19).
- Share in God’s kingdom, such as “you have no part with Me (Christ)” (John 13:8) “you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1Co 12:27), “from whom …. according to the proper working of each individual part (the whole body)” (Eph 4:16).
To say that somebody shares in God’s kingdom still refers to a small part of something much larger.
The remaining two instances are more difficult to classify. In one instance it means “in some degree”, namely “he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree … to all of you” (2Co 2:5), which is still part of the full possible extent. In the last remaining instance it is used to compare a smaller glory to a larger glory:
“For indeed what had glory (the ministry of condemnation), in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it (the glory ministry of righteousness). (2Co 3:9-10)
It should therefore be clear that:
- 2:16 is the only place in the New Testament where mero is translated as “in respect to”.
- Meros is refers to a part of something.