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

 

Early Church History – Theological Implications

Early Church history explains Paul’s letters, the dispute over justification in Galatians, unity of Jew and Gentile, the Law of Moses, and the Sabbath.

SUMMARY

The church started as part of Judaism.  John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles were all Jews.  At Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell only on Jews.  In the first few years of its existence the church functioned as a movement within Judaism, consisting only of Jews and proselytes.  They were all circumcised and they all observed the Law of Moses and the traditions.

Only about ten years after the Cross, through divine intervention, did the church for the first time preach the Jesus-message to Gentiles and were the first Gentiles baptized.  The Gentile Christians in the church caused a dispute over whether they must observe the Law of Moses.  This dispute was settled a further ten years later when the church council meeting, recorded in Acts 15, decided that Gentile Christians do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  Jewish Christians, on the other hand, remained zealous for the Law of Moses throughout the period recorded by the Book of Acts.

The history explained in these articles is therefore important context for Paul’s letters, most of which have been written in the decade after the Jerusalem council decision recorded in Acts 15 (see, for instance Bible Hub).  For example:

The dispute raging in the church before the Jerusalem Council decision explains the letter to the Galatians.

The separation made by the Law of Moses between Jewish en Gentile Christians explains the need for Paul’s arguments for unity.

The continued observance of the Law of Moses by Jewish Christians provides background to Paul’s statements that the law was added “until the seed (Jesus) would come” (Gal 3:19), which implies that the Law of Moses is no longer relevant; even for Jewish Christians.

The claim that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1) explains the idea of justification by the works of the Law (Rom. 3:27), which Paul had to contend with in his letters.  Justification by the works of the law is the idea that compliance with the rituals and ceremonies of the Law and the traditions will compensate for one’s sins, in contrast to Paul’s argument that we are “justified as a gift by His grace”.

This history provides important context for Paul’s teaching, or lack of it, with respect to the Seventh Day Sabbath, and for his comments on the observance of “days” (Rom. 14:6; Gal. 4:10).  When he wrote, all Jewish Christians observed the Sabbath while the Gentile Christians probably observed the Sabbath, but the different Sabbath taught by Christ.

OVERVIEW OF THE FIRST 30 YEARS

The church was conceived within its mother religion – Judaism.  John the Baptist was a Jew, calling Israel to repentance.  Jesus was a Jew, and His followers were Jews. He preached in the Jewish countryside, not the Hellenistic cities.  When a Gentile woman once asked for healing for her daughter, Jesus responded (at first)

Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27).

The apostles were all Jews.  At Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell only on Jews.  In the first few years of its existence the church functioned as a movement within Judaism, consisting only of Jews and proselytes.  They were all circumcised and they all observed the Law of Moses and the traditions.  In those first years the church grew exponentially, but it was confined to Jerusalem – the capital of Judaism.

In the earliest stage Christianity was made up of all those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). [David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Amsterdam University Press. p. 709. Retrieved 15 February 2014.]

After the first few years the church was dispersed throughout Judea and Samaria by the persecution of the church by the Jewish authorities.  Many Samaritans accepted Christ and were baptized, but the Samaritans also accepted the five books of Moses.  Consequently all Christians still observed the Law of Moses.

Only about ten years after the Cross, through divine intervention, did the church for the first time preach the Jesus-message to Gentiles and were the first Gentiles baptized.

The Gentile Christians in the church caused a dispute over whether they must observe the Law of Moses.  This dispute was settled a further ten years later when the church council meeting, recorded in Acts 15, decided that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses.  This decision created a double separation:

Firstly, the decision was not relevant to Jewish Christians, who were still the majority in the church.  The Jewish Christians, particularly in Judea, continued to be zealous for the Law of Moses, and continued to live like Jews, as evidenced by Acts 21, which is dated to nearly 30 years after the cross.  There arose therefore a separation between Gentile and Jewish Christians; one group observing the Law of Moses, the other not.

Secondly, this decision erected a permanent barrier between Judaism and the Church.  For the Jews it was a great sin to associate with uncircumcised people.  By associating with uncircumcised Christians, the Jewish Christians became unclean in the eyes of their Jewish friends and families (Gal. 6:12), hastening the separation of the church from Judaism.

The apostles and the other Christian Jews in Jerusalem therefore remained zealous for the Law of Moses throughout the period recorded by the Book of Acts.  The Jerusalem church also had a strong influence over the wider church, as evidenced by the following:

  • The Samaritans only received the Holy Spirit after Peter and John laid hands on them (8:14-17).
  • The Gentiles received the Holy Spirit through Peter (Acts 10).
  • The dispute whether Gentiles must observe the Law of Moses was referred to Jerusalem for resolution (Acts 15).

The influence of the Jewish Christians on the wider church diminished in later years due to various factors, but this is not discussed in this article because the purpose here is to describe the context within which Paul’s letters have been written, at a time when the influence of Jewish Christianity still was strong.

CONTEXT FOR PAUL’S LETTERS

Christians today find it difficult to appreciate the Jewishness of the early Christian church.  They tend to think that the early church was like the church of today; unaware that the past 2000 years have transformed the church from a movement within Judaism—an exclusively Jewish organization—to an almost exclusively Gentile organization.  The consequence is that Christians today read Paul’s letter into today’s context, and then misinterpret what he wrote with respect to issues such as the Law of Moses, the role of the nation of Israel, justification and the Sabbath.

The history explained in these articles is therefore important context for Paul’s letters.  The dispute raging in the church before the Jerusalem Council decision explains the letter to the Galatians.  Even after that decision Paul’s letters had to frequently explain why it is not necessary to observe the law, namely that man is not saved by the works of the Law, but by grace.

This history makes us aware of the sensitivities which Paul had to avoid.  Paul did his best not to offend the Jewish Christians.  In many towns there were Jews and Jewish Christians, and when Paul arrived in a town, he first preached his message to the Jews.  That normally failed. Then he turned to the Gentiles.  With his letters he addressed both groups simultaneously, and he had to be very careful not to offend unnecessarily.

UNITY OF JEW AND GENTILE

One aspect that is explained by this history is Paul’s arguments for the unity of Jewish en Gentile Christianity.

Even 30 years after Pentecost the mother church of Christianity, namely the church in Jerusalem, made distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  It expected Jewish Christians to adhere to the Law of Moses:

Jewish Christians combined the confession of Jesus as Christ with continued adherence to Jewish traditions such as Sabbath observance, observance of the Jewish calendar, observance of Jewish laws and customs, circumcision, and synagogue attendance. [David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Amsterdam University Press. p. 709. Retrieved 15 February 2014.]

1st century “Jewish Christians” were totally faithful religious Jews. They differed from other contemporary Jews only in their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. In effect, the Jewish Christians seemed to regard Christianity as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah. [ McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1-4051-0899-1. Page 174: “

On the other hand, they allowed Gentile Christians freedom from the Law of Moses.  It is not suggested here that Jewish Christians are still subject to the Law of Moses, but rather that this explains the context within which Paul taught that the two groups are made one, such as:

“Neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision” (Gal. 6:15).

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).

He (Jesus) Himself is our peace, who made both groups (Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles) into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:11-14).

He described Israel as an olive tree from which some branches have been broken off (unbelieving Jews), while branches from a wild olive (the Gentiles) have been grafted in, sharing in the wealth of the root (the fathers of the Jewish nation and the promises they received) (Romans 11:11-24).

While the Christian Jews in Jerusalem based their separateness on Moses and his law, Paul taught the unity of two groups in Abraham; both groups are children of Abraham and both share in the promises to the fathers of the nation of Israel (Gal. 3:17).

LAW OF MOSES

This evidence that the large number of Jewish Christians observed the Law of Moses during the entire period during which Paul worked and wrote his letters, explains the context for his statements about the law.  Paul was accused by the Christian Jews in Jerusalem “that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21).  Reading his letters, this was true.  Paul wrote of himself that he is not under the law (1 Cor. 9:20) and that the law was added “until the seed (Jesus) would come” (Gal 3:19), which implies the Law is no longer relevant; even for Jews.  See the discussion of Galatians 3:19-25 for more on this subject.

JUSTIFICATION

This context allows one to better understand the idea of justification by the works of the Law (Rom. 3:27), which Paul had to contend with in his letters:

The Jewish Christians maintained “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (15:1).  That is justification by the works of the law.  It does not mean that one is justified by not sinning.  Justification by the works of the law is the idea that compliance with the rituals and ceremonies of the Law and the traditions will compensate for one’s sins, and put one in a right relationship with God.  This was not a novel idea that developed after the church was established, but a concept which the church inherited from its mother religion – Judaism.

In contrast Peter argued, “we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (15:11).  This is the same as saying that we are “justified as a gift by His grace” (Rom. 3:23), which is something which Paul emphasized.  This means that our sins are wiped away by grace (mercy); not by the rituals and ceremonies of the Law.

SEVENTH DAY SABBATH

This history is also important context for Paul’s teaching, or lack of it, with respect to the Seventh Day Sabbath.

For the first years of the church, when it was still confined to Jerusalem and consisted of Jews only, all Christians observed the Law of Moses, and therefore also the Sabbath.  After the church was dispersed by persecution throughout Judea and Samaria, many Samaritans put their faith in Christ, but since they also based their religion on the five books of Moses, all Christians were still circumcised and observed the Sabbath.  Seven to ten years after the Cross the first Gentiles were allowed into the church (Acts 10).  A dispute arose whether they must observe the Law of Moses (15:1).  About twenty years after the Cross a church decision was made that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses (Acts 15).

But the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem continued to be “zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20).  The Law included the Sabbath.  If the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem observed the Sabbath, then probably all Jewish Christians in Judea and even the Jewish Christians that lived in Gentile nations also observed the Sabbath.

When the first Gentile Christians received the Holy Spirit, about seven to ten years after the cross, the Christian Jews were most surprised.  They thought that the Holy Spirit was for circumcised people only.  What is revealing about the account is that Peter did not convert them to Judaism first through circumcision, and then to Christianity through baptism; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he received them directly into Christianity through baptism. The implication of these events is the then novel idea that Gentile Christians do not ever have to convert to Judaism through circumcision.

The question is what the Gentile Christians were taught about the Sabbath.  The Jerusalem Council decision in Acts 15 mean that Gentiles are not under the Law of Moses.  It is nevertheless proposed here that we should conclude that the first Gentile Christians were probably taught to observe the Sabbath, for the following reasons:

(1) The specialness of the Seventh Day originated at creation.

(2) A seven day cycle was maintained before Moses.

(3) The Acts 15 decision obviously did not free the Gentile Christians from moral laws, and the Sabbath is included in the Ten Commandments with nine other moral principles.

(4) Christ never indicated that the Sabbath was aborted, but argued with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath.  He said the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27), that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12) and that the Sabbath is the preferred day for healing (Luke 13:16).  (See the article What did Jesus teach about the Sabbath? for more information.).

(5) Christ in His teachings already replaced the Law of Moses with the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21).  For instance, in Matthew 5 Jesus several times quoted from the Law of Moses, and then gave His alternative, which is always at a much higher moral level.  This is not something that happened at the Cross.  Christ’s teaching with respect to the Sabbath was therefore not an interpretation of the Sabbath commandment, but a replacement of it.  (See the article on the Law of Christ for more information.)  Consequently, when the church decided that Gentiles do not have to observe the Law of Moses, it simply applied something which Christ already taught twenty years earlier.

(6) Just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

(7) All Jewish Christians in the early church, and therefore the majority of all Christians, observed the Sabbath.  The only teachers that the first Gentile Christians had were these Jewish Christians.  The church in Jerusalem had a strong influence in those days.

(8) the Sabbath, by itself, was not a matter of controversy in Paul’s day, as indicated by the fact that he used the word “Sabbath” only once in all of his letters, and then only as part of a technical term to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar (Col. 2:16 See the article Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths for more information).  The fact that there was no controversy in the early church about the Sabbath, combined with the fact that the Jewish Christians observed the Sabbath, implies that all Christians observed the Sabbath.

However, Jesus taught a different Sabbath.  Christ did more than to interpret the Sabbath commandment; He gave a new meaning to it. He converted the seventh day from a day of compulsory idleness to a day that is filled with purpose, activity and work; a day to show kindness and mercy; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan, to elevate the entire man to God’s ideal; in particular, a day to heal.  This does not mean that Christ taught that the requirement to rest, as given in the Law of Moses, is no longer binding, but the Law of Moses made rest the goal, while Christ shifted the focus to the purpose of the rest, namely healing.  See the article Jesus taught a different Sabbath for more information.

The Gentile Christians would have been taught the seventh day as taught by Christ.  Just like Christ’s Sabbath practices made the Jews so angry (Luke 6:11) that they wanted to kill Him (Mat. 12:14), the Sabbath practices of the Gentile Christians would not have been acceptable to the strict Jewish Pharisees.

The analysis above of the first years of the church is important context for Paul’s comments on the observance of “days” (Rom. 14:6; Gal. 4:10).

TO: General Table of Contents

TO: Early Church Table of Contents

The Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament.

Jesus taught more about the Sabbath than all the other nine commandments put together.  Why would He do that if the Sabbath would expire soon?

One hears, from time to time, preachers claim that nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, and that the only commandment that is not repeated, is the Sabbath.  From that they most often conclude that the seventh day is not applicable to the church.  This argument seems to be based on the view, since Christ lived under the Old Covenant, that the gospels effectively are part of the Old Testament, which would make Paul the primary author and teacher of the New Covenant.

However, although Christ lived under the Old Covenant, His teachings are the foundation of the New Covenant.  After His death the church continued to exist for a few year as part of Judaism, consisting of Jews only.  After a number of years God guided the church to take the gospel to the Gentiles as well.  This caused a controversy in the young church over the question whether believing Gentiles must become Jews through circumcision.  This was the main controversy when Paul started to work, which was about ten years after Christ’s death, causing Paul to write the letter to the Galatians.  In that letter Paul wrote that, through the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit, he was informed that Gentiles are saved without becoming Jews through circumcision.  Paul’s main God-given task was to extract the church from Judaism, but Paul did not introduce a new system of ethics.  As far as ethics (moral laws) are concerned, he followed Christ.  Christ was therefore the primary teacher of the new covenant.

Since the ethics of the New Covenant are based on what Christ taught, and since He taught more about the Sabbath than about all the other nine commandments put together, it is not true to say that the Sabbath commandment is not repeated in the New Testament.  Jesus taught a different Sabbath, but His statements, such as that the Sabbath was made for man, and that to do good is allowed on the Sabbath, implies the continued relevance of the special seventh day.

Why would Jesus spend so much time teaching about the Sabbath, and resisting the traditions of the elders, which corrupted the Sabbath, if the Sabbath would come to an end just a few months later; at His death?

TO: Sabbath; Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents