Do Not Let Anyone Judge You Regarding a Sabbath Day: Understanding Colossians 2:14-17
By Stephen N. Allred, J.D., M.Div.
(Downloadable PDF Version: DO NOT LET ANYONE JUDGE YOU REGARDING A SABBATH DAY-UNDERSTANDING COLOSSIANS 2)
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 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: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Colossians 2:14-17, KJV
Some argue that these verses prove that the seventh-day Sabbath of the Ten Commandments was done away with at the cross. However, a correct understanding of this passage in context with the rest of Scripture leads to the conclusion that these verses are not referring to the seventh-day Sabbath but rather to ceremonial Sabbath days that were a shadow of Christ and which were fulfilled in Christ when He redeemed the world by His death on the cross. Christians are not under any obligation to observe those ceremonial, annual sabbath days that were a shadow of Jesus Christ.
A Christian who has experienced God’s salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-10) will know that she is completely helpless to save herself by her own works. No amount of obedience will save her from the wages of her sin – eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Only the blood of Christ is sufficient to redeem the sinner and grant him eternal life. However, a redeemed sinner will recognize the value of the forgiveness which he has received and will want to serve and obey God out of a sense of overwhelming love and gratitude for His gift of eternal life to him.
Jesus highlighted this beautiful truth when He reminded us that “if you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). Later, the Apostle John noted that for a believer who is in love with Jesus, commandment-keeping is not a burden. (“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” 1John 5:3). Paul echoes John when he notes that “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8. Truly, loving service and obedience to all of God’s commands is the fruit of genuine love.
Following are some thoughts that I hope will lead you to a better understanding of the context and meaning of Paul’s words in Colossians 2:14-17. We will take each phrase of this passage and analyze it in its immediate context and within the context of the rest of the Bible.
“BLOTTING OUT THE HANDWRITING OF ORDINANCES”
- The ceremonial law of Moses, including the commands to observe annual sabbath days, was written by the hand of Moses and placed in the side (but not the inside) of the ark of the covenant:
- Deut. 31:9-11, 26 – “And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing…. Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.”
- In contrast to the ceremonial handwritten law, the Ten Commandments, with the seventh day Sabbath commandment at their center, were written with the finger of God (not merely the handwriting of a human being) and placed on the inside of the ark of the covenant:
- Ex. 31:18 – “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”
- Heb. 9:4 – “Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was…the tables of the covenant.”
- By referring to “the handwriting of ordinances,” Paul is writing about the ceremonial law, the law that was handwritten by Moses in a book, and not about the Ten Commandment law, the law written by the finger of God in stone. The ceremonial law was placed in a paper book in the side of the ark (showing the temporary nature of its shadowy requirements) while the Ten Commandments, written by the finger of God on stone tablets, were placed inside the ark (showing the permanent unchanging nature of the Ten Commandments).
- The law of Moses required the observance of annual sabbaths that were exclusively a part of and closely connected to the Jewish temple services with its sacrifices and observances that were instituted after sin came into the world and were shadows that pointed forward to Jesus Christ. These yearly sabbaths were in addition to the weekly seventh day Sabbath that was established at creation and which we are told to “remember” in the fourth commandment of the Decalogue.
“TOOK IT OUT OF THE WAY, NAILING IT TO HIS CROSS”
- The Ten Commandments are never referred to in Scripture as a “shadow” of Christ that would be done away with when He came.
- A shadow is something that points us forward to the real thing. Hebrews 10:1 says it this way: “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” The temple with its sacrifices, ceremonies, feast days and annual rest days (“sabbaths”) were “shadows” of “the good things to come,” namely Jesus Christ and his redemption.
- In contrast to the annual sabbath days connected exclusively to the temple service, the seventh-day Sabbath was established at creation (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:11) before sin came into the world and before there was the need of a savior for sinful mankind. The seventh day Sabbath was not exclusively connected with the Jewish sanctuary but existed before the Jewish nation and temple came into existence. Therefore, the Sabbath was not a “shadow” of our Savior, Jesus Christ since it was not established after sin like the sacrifices and ceremonial annual sabbaths of the Mosaic law. Jesus later noted:
- Matt. 5:17-19 – “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
- To “fulfill” the law in the previous verses does not mean to “destroy” or “do away with” (as it does in some contexts). It means to “fulfill” as in to “obey fully” as in the following verses:
- Romans 8:3-4 – “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
- On the other hand, the law of Moses which contains the laws about sacrifices, meat offerings, drink offerings, and yearly sabbaths (such as the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, etc.), were all shadows that pointed forward to Christ. They were “fulfilled” in the sense that they were destroyed or done away with. When Jesus came, these ceremonial laws were “abolished” and “nailed to the cross.” We are no longer obligated to observe those shadowy ceremonies or annual sabbath days.
- Ephesians 2:14-16 – “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”
“LET NO MAN JUDGE YOU IN MEAT, OR IN DRINK, OR IN RESPECT OF A HOLYDAY, OR OF THE NEW MOON, OR OF THE SABBATH DAYS”
- The word translated “Sabbath” in our English Bible translations comes from Greek and Hebrew words that mean “rest” or “to cease.” Depending on the context of the word, it can refer to the weekly seventh day Sabbath or to one of the annual Jewish feasts that were also referred to as “sabbaths” (whether a word is capitalized in the English translation does not tell us which kind of a “Sabbath” the Bible writer was referring to; however, the context often does tell us). The context is KEY to understanding which kind of Sabbath the Bible writer is referring to.
- The context in Colossians 2:14-17 includes talk about “meat and drink” sacrificial offerings that were connected with the temple. Notice the following verses that connect meat and drink offerings to the ceremonial temple service which also included the ceremonial annual sabbath rest days:
- Ex. 29:41 – “And the other lamb thou shalt offer at even, and shalt do thereto according to the meat offering of the morning, and according to the drink offering thereof, for a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the LORD.”
- Lev. 23:37 – “These are the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his day.”
- A more modern (and better) translation of the word translated “meat” in the previous verses is “food.” Therefore, these were “food and drink offerings.”
“WHICH ARE A SHADOW OF THINGS TO COME; BUT THE BODY IS OF CHRIST”
- The real key here to help us understand which “Sabbaths” this verse is talking about is in verse 17 where it says that these Sabbaths are a “shadow” of Christ.
- Was the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, instituted by Jesus at creation, ever referred to in Scripture as a “shadow” that pointed forward to Jesus, the Savior of the world?
- Gen. 2:2-3 – “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”
- God instituted the weekly Sabbath at creation, before sin came into the world and before there was the need for a Savior. Thus, the seventh-day Sabbath was not a “shadow” of what was to come.
- Notice how the sacrifices and offerings of the Old Testament were referred to as “shadows” that were instituted as a result of sin:
- Heb. 10:1-4 – “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”
- Since the weekly Sabbath was instituted before sin entered the world and before mankind needed a Savior, it could not have been a shadow that pointed forward to the redemption of Christ.
- Contrast the weekly Sabbaths with the yearly sabbaths. There were yearly rest days (sabbaths) that came once a year and were connected with the temple service. These sabbaths (rest days) were in addition to the seventh-day weekly Sabbath of the fourth commandment.
- These annual sabbaths came once a year (like our Christmas or Easter), fell on different days of the week each year, and were connected with the temple and sacrifices that pointed forward to Jesus.
- Lev. 23:4 – “These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.”
- Lev. 23:23-24 – “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.
- Lev. 23:27-28, 32 – “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God… It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.”
- Moses specifically noted that these annual sabbaths were “beside” (in addition) to the Sabbath of the Lord (the weekly Sabbath).
- Lev. 23:37-38 – “These are the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his day: Beside the sabbaths of the LORD, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which ye give unto the LORD.”
- The “sabbath days” that Paul is referring to in Colossians 2:16 are the yearly sabbaths that were “shadows” of Christ. Like the sacrifices of the temple, the yearly sabbath days that fell on different days of the week, such as the Day of Atonement, were “shadows” of Christ in that they pointed forward to His life and sacrifice for sin.
- When Christ came and fulfilled the shadows, the shadows were no longer needed to point us forward to him. That is why Paul wrote to the church at Colosae and told them that they should not allow others to judge them as to whether they observed these annual sabbath days that were connected with the temple service and that were fulfilled in Christ.
- Paul was not talking about the weekly seventh day Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 because of the following reasons:
- The weekly Sabbath was instituted before sin came into the world and was therefore instituted before there was need of a “shadow” to point lost sinners forward to a redeemer. In contrast, the yearly annual Sabbaths of the Mosaic law were instituted after sin came into the world and were shadows that pointed lost sinners forward to their Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and His death on the cross of Calvary.
- The seventh day Sabbath of creation was a part of the Ten Commandments that was never abolished. See: Exodus 20:8-11; Matthew 5:17-19.
- On the other hand, the ceremonial Sabbaths (rest days) such as the Day of Atonement, which came on a yearly basis and fell on different days of the week each year, were shadows that pointed forward to Christ. They were connected with the sacrifices of the temple and when those sacrifices met their fulfillment in Christ those annual Sabbaths were also abolished. Paul is telling the Christians that they no longer need to observe the annual Sabbaths that were a shadow that pointed forward to Christ.
- Prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Jesus noted that His disciples would be concerned about not wanting to flee Jerusalem on the seventh day Sabbath, thereby implying that they would want to keep it holy even after His death and resurrection. See: Matthew 24:20.
- Since Jesus’ disciples kept the Sabbath “according to the commandment” after His death and resurrection, and since there is no record that He ever said anything about changing the Sabbath, it seems obvious that the disciples believed that they were still obligated to keep seventh day Sabbath in New Testament times. See: Luke 23:56.
- Furthermore, it is likely that all of the Gospel accounts were written sometime after A.D. 50. If the Christian church was at that time keeping Sunday as a holy day and not observing the seventh day Sabbath there would have been a mention of this change in day of worship. Instead, we find multiple references to the seventh day Sabbath and testimony to its observance by Jesus and His disciples.
- Since Jesus (and God the Father) proclaimed the Ten Commandments from a mountain top with trumpets blaring and smoke and fire, then wrote those same commandments down on tables of stone, centered around the Sabbath commandment that began with the word “remember,” Jesus would undoubtedly have made some sort of a visible, public proclamation if it was His intention to change the Sabbath day commandment.
- The New Testament Christians observed the seventh day Sabbath after the death and resurrection of Christ. See: Acts 17:2; 18:3.
- The apostles kept the seventh day Sabbath even when there was no Jewish synagogue in town and even when they met with Gentile believers. See: Acts 16:13; 18:4.
- The writer of Hebrews emphasized that a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people in the New Testament times. See: Heb. 4:9.
- The end-time people of God will keep the all of the commandments of God, including the fourth commandment. See Revelation 12:17; 14:12.