Colossians 2:16 Introduction

Col 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

Summary

The Greek word translated “judge” means to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong. In Colossians 2:16, Paul is not asking Christians not to judge; he advises them not to be intimidated by people who judge them. This implies that people outside the church judged the Christians. What the Christians were doing or not doing was considered unacceptable in that community.

Food or drink“ refers to the act of eating and drinking.

Festivals refer to the annual festivals that were prescribed in the Old Testament.  The New Moons were the first days of the months. These determined when the festivals will be held.

The seventh day was sanctified at creation. The Ten Commandments require the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest; a Sabbath. The Law of Moses does not include the Ten Commandments. It required certain annual Sabbaths.  One question addressed below is whether Col 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.

Discussion of Colossians 2:16

Judge – The Greek word translated as “judge” is krino (Strong’s # 2919) and means “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong” (Thayer’s Lexicon).

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 also the word used in Matthew 6:19-20 to say that “rust destroys”.

Festival – Seven annual festivals were prescribed in 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 in Jerusalem 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 at 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).

Who was judging who?  – It is generally assumed that Christians were judging one another, namely with respect to the Jewish special days, but if that was true, then Paul probably would have written: “do not judge”.

Since he wrote, “no one is to act as your judge”, it seems as if people outside the church were judging the Christians.

This view is supported by what the Christians were judged about.  Christians were being judged with respect to “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (Col 2:23), such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”.  Things such as “severe treatment of the body” are not of Jewish or Christian origin, which means that non-Christians, in the same community, were judging the believers.  Since they were being judged with respect to the Jewish feast days and Sabbaths, it seems as if the eating and drinking that were associated with the Jewish feast days were not acceptable in that community.  This was a pagan community (Col 1:27), and the

It seems as if the Christians overstep the boundaries of acceptable behavior in this regard.

Sabbath – There were two categories of Sabbaths in the Old Testament:

The Ten Commandments required the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest (a Sabbath – Exo 16:23).

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 weekly and annual Sabbaths, one question 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 (Exo 31:18; Deut 9:10; Exo 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 (Exo 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; 2 Chron 34:14; etc.) or the “book of Moses” (2 Chron 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 …” (Josh 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 argue 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 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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