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.
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