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”.
The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:
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.
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.
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.
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).
It 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.
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 sequence “festivals, 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.