Colossian 2:16; Annual Sabbaths or Weekly?

The “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the annual Sabbaths, but to the weekly Sabbath, because the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths”:

► Implies an annual, monthly and weekly sequence;
► Includes all of Israel’s holy days, also the weekly Sabbath.
► Already includes the annual Sabbaths in the “festivals”.

Different Laws

The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:

Weekly Sabbath

The weekly Sabbath is required by the Ten Commandments, which God wrote with own His finger on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ex. 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13).  These stone tablets were put inside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5), signifying that the Ten Commandments were at the center of the covenant.

Annual Sabbaths

The instructions for annual Sabbaths were contained in a book which was written up by Moses (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.).  It was kept “beside the Ark of the Covenant” (Deut. 31:26).  To quote 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).

The annual Sabbaths were part of the seven annual feasts, and fell, like our annual holidays, on any day of the week.

Origin

Another important distinction between the weekly and annual Sabbaths is their origin:

The Seventh Day was blessed and sanctified at creation (Gen. 2:1-3).  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 must agree that Moses and Christ believed that the seventh day was sanctified at creation.

The annual Sabbaths were given to the Jews specifically, thousands of years later.

Which Sabbath is intended in Colossians 2:16?

It is sometimes said that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the weekly seventh day Sabbath, but to the annual Sabbaths.

Hebrews 10

This view is argued as follows:

The Sabbath in Col. 2:16 is “a shadow of things to come” (2:17).  A shadow, in this sense, is an image of a major future event.

Hebrews 10:1-10 also mentions a “shadow” and “things to come”.  In Hebrews 10 the “shadow” is the Jewish sacrificial system and the “things to come” are “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebr. 10:10).

The CrossIt is then assumed that the “things to come” in Colossians 2:17 also refer to is “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.

Since “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” is God’s solution to the sin problem, any shadow of His death must have been instituted after the entrance of sin into this world.  Since the Sabbaths in 2:16 are then a shadow of His death, they cannot refer to the weekly Sabbath because the weekly Sabbath was sanctified before sin (Exodus 20:8, 11).  It can only be the annual Sabbaths (Lev. 23).

The flaw in this argument is the assumption that the “things to come” refer to “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.  Colossians 2:16-17, which was written nearly 30 years after Christ’s death, says that the special days and Sabbaths “are (now, today) a shadow of things to come (in the future)”.  This means that the special days in 2:16-17, including the Sabbaths, do not point to Christ’s death, but to His second coming and the renewal of all things.  It is argued below that the festivals and annual Sabbaths do also point to the renewal of all things, but the same applies to the weekly Sabbath.  Hebrews 4 describes the weekly Sabbath as a shadow of the eternal rest in the new heavens and new earth.  The Sabbaths in Colossians 2:16 may therefore include the weekly Sabbath.

Sabbaths (Plural)

A second argument sometimes used, to show that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 refers to the annual Sabbaths, is that the Greek term for Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 is plural in form (sabbaton) and that it is better to apply it to the annual Sabbaths, of which there were many in a year.  But this argument does not hold because sabbaton is quite frequently translated “Sabbath” (singular) because the context indicates that it must be singular, for instance:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 12:1; see also verses 2, 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12).

But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 24:20).

Matthew 28:1, “Now after the Sabbath (Sabbaton)

They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach” (Mar 1:21).

Luke 4:16, “He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath

Acts 16:13, “And on the Sabbath day

It is the Weekly Sabbath.

Further proof that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath includes the following:

Firstly, the sequencefestivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” is found several times in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 2:4; 31:3; Neh. 10:33; Eze. 45:17; Hosea 2:11) and also several times in literature outside the Bible (Jub. 1:14; Jos. Ber. 3:11; Justin, Dialogue 8:4.).  At times the order is reversed, but “new moon” is always in the middle.  Since the festivals were annual and the new moons were monthly, the sequence implies that the Sabbaths were weekly.

Secondly, the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” was used as a composite technical term to refer to all of Israel’s holy days, which means that this phrase must include the Sabbath.   See the separate discussion of “Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths” for more detail.

This is confirmed by Numbers 23, which lists Israel’s holy days, including the weekly Sabbath.  The implication is that the weekly Sabbath was regarded as part of the system of holy days.

Thirdly, all the verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” actually are a summary of the daily, weekly, monthly and annual sacrifices prescribed in Numbers 28.  Many of these verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” refer explicitly to sacrifices, for instance:

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

The Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 at least includes the weekly Sabbaths because Colossians 2:16 is based on Numbers 28, and Numbers 28 include sacrifices for the weekly Sabbath:

  • Daily:a continual burnt offering every day” (v3-8)
  • Weekly:on the sabbath day … every sabbath” (28:9-10)
  • Monthly:at the beginning of each of your month” (new moons) (28:11-15), and
  • Annual: the feast days (28:16-40); “the LORD’S Passover” (v16), “feast, unleavened bread” (v17) and “the day of the first fruits” (v26).

Fourthly, the annual Sabbaths are already included in the “festivals” in the sequence “festivals … new moon … Sabbath day” (2:16).  If “a Sabbath day” meant the annual Sabbaths there would be a needless repetition.

The evidence is therefore that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Meros in Colossians 2:16 – Let no man therefore judge you

Colossians 2:16The 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:

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.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

 

Festival and new moon and Sabbath day in Colossians 2:16

The phrase festival … new moon … Sabbath day in Colossians 2:16 is a technical phrase from the Old Testament for “all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel”,.  Nine examples are listed below.   Colossians 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 day specifically.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

Back TO: 2:16 Introduction

TO: General Table of Contents

Colossians 2:1-4

Summary: The church in Colossae was threatened by a deception.  Fellow-Christians were persuasively trying to merge the church with the mystery religions.  They argued that Christ is only one of many supernatural beings, that the mysteries will allow them to receive secret knowledge that is not available from Christ, resulting in a much better Christian experience.  Paul refutes this, claiming that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells”.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 2:3  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 2:4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.

Struggle – This letter is motivated by Paul’s concern for the Colossians.  God’s actions are always motivated by love. The same is true for His true ministers.

Laodicea was nearby church; probably with similar problems.  Laodicea is also the church to which the seventh letter in Revelation was addressed (Rev. 3:14).

No one will delude you (2:4) – Verse 4 is discussed first because it provides the context for verses 2 and 3.  Colossians has been written to address a specific threat in that church.  In verse 4 Paul refers to a delusion.  Chapter 2 contains four warnings that use the phrase “no one”:

  • I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument … (2:4)
  • See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception … (2:8)
  • Therefore no one is to act as your judge … (2:16)
  • Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by (2:18)

With persuasive argument (2:4) – The implication is that there was someone or some group in that church that was able to argue persuasively and what he said sounded right, but what it was a deception (2:8) and a fraud (2:18). That was not somebody outside the church, but somebody right inside the church.

I say this so that (2:4) – This phrase is important for the interpretation of this letter. It is assumed here that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, are intended to address the specific threat in Colossae, and state the opposite of what was argued by the deception. We do not know exactly what that threat was. We only have 50% of the argument. We only have Paul’s response to the deception and must reconstruct the nature of that deception from Paul’s defense against it.  This principle will be applied to verses 2 and 3.

Academics have researched the historical situation in Colossae for centuries from sources outside the Bible to determine the nature of the Colossian deception, but they fail to agree. The proposal here is that we must limit ourselves to this letter to understand the nature of the deception.

Full assurance (2:2) – Paul wishes the Colossians to have “full assurance” (2:2). This implies that the deception took away from the Colossians their “full assurance” by telling them that they have a less than optimum Christian experience. Christians presumably were led to believe that they do not surrender their faith in Christ by submitting to the Colossian deception, but that they would receive something that would otherwise not be possible. Paul opposes this deception by assuring the Colossians that they can have “full assurance” from “a true knowledge of God’s mystery”, which is Christ (2:2).

God’s mystery (2:2) – It is proposed here that Paul’s frequent use of the word “mystery” in the letter to the Colossians (1:26, 27; 2:2; 4:3) implies that the deception in the church in Colossae was related to the mystery religions that were rising at the very time Christianity was spreading across Roman Empire and reached their peak of popularity in the first three centuries AD:

These were various secret cults. Each had an initiation rite through which cult secrets (the mysteries) were revealed to the initiates (mystai). Initiates were not allowed to reveal particulars of the initiation, the ritual practice or the cult secrets to outsiders. The mysteries also included some sort of promise for a better life after death. Through the initiation, a worshipper became united with the god and thus shared in divine power and, perhaps, immortality. The mysteries religions drew from the myths of paganism “and set forth that the gods were ultimately reducible to a single being considered under different aspects, and that the multiple names by which they were worshipped were the equivalent of that of Helios (the Sun)” (Franz Cumont, “Mystries of Mithra” p.187)

Since Paul describes the Christian faith as similar to the mystery religions, critics of the Bible conclude that Christianity did in fact evolve from the mystery religions. It is proposed here that Paul used the terminology of the mystery religion to describe the Christian faith to thereby show Christianity as superior to the mystery religions.

True knowledge (2:2) – In the current verses and also elsewhere in the letter Paul emphasizes Knowledge. “True knowledge” is “Christ Himself” (2:2). In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). Paul has not ceased to pray for the Colossians that they “may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9), and that they “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge” (3:10). The gospel is “the word of truth” (1:5), explaining “the grace of God in truth” (1:6).

This emphasis on knowledge and truth is significant because these ancient mystery religions claimed to offer true “wisdom and knowledge” that was only available to the ‘mystai’ (initiates).  Paul’s emphasis of “true knowledge” therefore lends further support to the proposal that the deception in Colossae was related to the mystery religions.

In whom are hidden all In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). “By Him all things were created” (1:16). “In Him all things hold together” (1:17). “He … will come to have first place in everything” (1:18).  “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (1:19).  “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9).  Notice how frequently the words “all” and “everything” are used in the description of Christ.  Teachers often comment that Colossians is Paul’s most elevated description of Christ.  But there is a reason for Paul’s “Christology”, as theologians call it, in this letter.  The Colossian deception taught that Christ is but one among many.  They might even have taught that Christ is the most important of the heavenly beings, but still only one among many.  Paul refutes this, claiming that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells”.  Therefore nothing exists and nothing can be found outside of Christ.

Colossians Table of Contents

Next: 2:5-8