The Sabbath: Objection #3

Sabbath Study, Part 6

Colossians 2:16-17 is the last of the three major New Testament passages used to argue against the continuance of the Sabbath rest.

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16, 17)

Let no one judge you.
“The apostle speaks here in reference to some particulars of the hand-writing of ordinances, which had been taken away, viz., the distinction of meats and drinks, what was clean and what unclean, according to the law; and the necessity of observing certain holydays or festivals, such as the new moons and particular sabbaths, or those which should be observed with more than ordinary solemnity; all these had been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, and were no longer of moral obligation. There is no intimation here that the Sabbath was done away, or that its moral use was superseded, by the introduction of Christianity” (Adam Clarke).

“The word Sabbath in the Old Testament is applied not only to the seventh day, but to all the days of holy rest that were observed by the Hebrews, and particularly to the beginning and close of their great festivals. There is, doubtless, reference to those days in this place, as the word is used in the plural number, and the apostle does not refer particularly to the Sabbath properly so called. There is no evidence, from this passage, that he would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind. . . . No part of the moral law—no one of the ten commandments—could be spoken of as ‘a shadow of good things to come.’ These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation” (Albert Barnes).

“The passage does not refer to the Sabbath of the moral law, associated with the commands forbidding theft, murder, and adultery. This weekly Sabbath was never against men or contrary to them, but was always for them, and promotive of their highest good” (Justin Edwards).

“The weekly sabbath rests on a more permanent foundation, having been instituted in Paradise to commemorate the completion of creation in six days” (JFB).

“The observance of the ‘first day of the week’ cannot be justly included under the ‘sabbaths’ here referred to, as the primitive Christians, following the example of the New Testament Writers, scrupulously avoided calling it a ‘sabbath,’ preferring ‘Sunday’ as less objectionable, or better still, ‘the Lord’s Day’” (Robert Young).

A shadow of things to come.
That is, they comprised “an intangible outline caused by, and revealing the approach of, a solid reality” (J. A. Beet). As such, “they had no intrinsic worth in them and . . . they are now done away” (Matthew Henry). “We are to pay no attention to the shadows since Christ has come, but to observe what we find in him and the gospel” (B. W. Johnson). It should be obvious that the Ten Commandments, as moral and natural laws (and not ceremonial), constitute “substance” and not “shadow,” instituted to last and not pass away.

In addition to the above arguments—which by themselves are substantial—there is another reason why I believe these verses do not signal the end of the fourth commandment. That reason is the use of the Greek word translated as “festival.” This word refers to, among other things, the Passover. In fact, the Greek word used here is the same word used for the Passover feast in other Scripture passages.* While it is true that Christians do not observe the Passover as such, we do observe the Lord’s Supper, a sacrament instituted by Christ Himself during a Passover. The Passover as the Jews knew it may be over, but its progeny, the Lord’s Supper, remains. Likewise, while the Sabbath as the Jews knew it may be over, its progeny, the Sunday celebration, remains (a fact we will explore more in-depth once we get through the gospels). So, if this passage is saying that the Passover is null and void while leaving the Lord’s Supper unscathed, it is also saying that the Jewish Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week) is null and void while leaving the Lord’s Day—i.e., Sunday—intact.

Furthermore, J. A. Beet helps shed some light on how a Sabbath rest can still be in effect for the believer while these New Testament passages seem to paint a fairly negative view of Jewish festivals and holidays. “. . . the absence from the New Testament of any express teaching about the relation of the Lord’s Day [Sunday] to the Jewish Sabbath and the Fourth Commandment [is not] difficult to understand. Any such teaching in the Epistle before us would have seriously blunted, by inevitable misinterpretation, Paul’s resistance to the advocates of the Mosaic Law as still binding on Christians. Abundant proofs of this relation were stored in the sacred volume. The inference from these proofs was left to be observed, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the later ages of the Church. And in the meantime, by Christ and by the apostolic Church an unique honour was paid to the first day of the week which marked it out unmistakably as the Day of Days.”

In these last three posts, we have looked at the three major passages used to argue that the fourth commandment is null and void. What we have seen is that none of them provides a conclusive argument. Near the end of our study, we will delve more deeply into the difference between the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) and the Christian Sabbath (Sunday). But first, we will make our way through Scripture and see the various passages that speak on the issue of the Sabbath.

* For example: “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover” (Lk. 22:1); “Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near” (Jn. 6:4); “Now before the feast of the Passover . . .” (Jn. 13:1).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam ClarkeNotes on the New Testament, by Albert BarnesThe Family Bible Notes, by Justin EdwardsJamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
1898 Young’s Literal Translation, by Robert YoungCommentaries on Paul’s Epistles, by J. A. BeetAn Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew HenryPeople's New Testament Commentary, by B. W. Johnson


John M Japp said…
"In these last three posts, we have looked at the three major passages used to argue that the fourth commandment is null and void." At this point I found this statement to be a bit confusing. Perhaps I've forgotten or never completely understood your original premise. It would seem to me that the alternatives before us may not consist of either one extreme or the other: i.e. that the 4th commandment sits before us in all its OT glory and demands upon us OR it is null and void and has no relevance to our lives today. I haven't read those individuals using the passages you discuss to argue that the Sabbath has ended, so it might be helpful to know what they mean by the 4th commandment is rendered null and void.

(is this my Pharisee heart being exposed?)
Cap Stewart said…
Well, I could be wrong, but most modern-day theologians seem to believe that the Sabbath has completely passed away, and that the fourth commandment holds no sway over our lives whatsoever. John McArthur is probably the most prominent example of this. (Shannon has a copy of the McArthur Study Bible and I’ve looked through most of his notes on Sabbath-related passages. With all due respect to the man—and there is much of it—I think his exegesis of this doctrine is sloppy and borderline careless.)

On the other hand, there are others who believe that the Saturday Sabbath rest—i.e., just like that observed by the OT Jews—is still binding on all believers. Some even go so far as to say that Sunday is “the mark of the beast.”

So, I guess my own position is something of a “happy medium.” This study will hopefully show that the Sabbath is still in play—AND that observing the Sabbath (defined in the context of both the Old and New Testaments) is far from the burden most people might think it to be.
STEVEN said…
Hello Cap,
My name is Steven. My daughter Erika turned me on to your blog, she thought it might interest me so I hope you don't mind a little input from a man with a different understanding of the observance of "God's" Sabbath Day. First, I applaud you for stance on God's Commandments!! You don't hear of many believers with the understanding that Jesus did not do away with his Father's Law, but rather he magnified it. I noticed your entire blog comes from the premise and perspective of a first day of the week Sabbath belief. I would love for you to allow me to offer a perspective of a 7th day of the week Sabbath believer. I was raised in the Luthern Church and attended a Methodist Church for a short time. My wife, Elaine was raised a Catholic. We were members of the Worldewide Church of God for 13 years until 1995. When someone asks me what Church I belong to now, my answer is, "the one that Jesus Christ started on that Day of Pentacost in Jerusalem, is there any other"? You can contact me at if you would like, or I could just post comments on your blog if you prefer, or I could direct you to a web site with very good information on Galatians 4, Colosians 2, Romans 14 etc., or I could just go away. :) My aim is not to convert, convict, or judge. My aim is always to "give an answer of the hope that lies within me". Looking foward to hearing from you.
My name is Steven
Cap Stewart said…
Steven, thanks for visiting! I would certainly be interested in looking at the website you mentioned; most Saturday Sabbath websites I visited seemed to be either skimpy on details or quite radical in the broad sweep of their doctrinal claims.

Please feel free to comment on the series as we progress. I doubt we'll agree on everything when all is said and done, but part of the purpose of this study is to provide a dialogue on the doctrine of the Sabbath. Thanks for contributing!
Steven said…
If you will look at Col 2 carefully you might see that Paul did not say these festivals, new moons or Sabbaths were obsolete. He said let no one judge you in the manner in which you eat & drink regarding them not whether you observed them or not. Clean and unclean meats were not mentioned here at all. It states they "are" a shadow of things to come not "were" a shadow... What was "nailed to the cross" was the the "handwriting of requirements". The word handwriting in the Greek is cheirographon this is the only place in the bible it is used. It means the record of debt, a record book of sin it is our debt that we owe for sin. The wages of sin is death it is what we owe. Christ paid that debt and nailed it to the cross. Why would Paul be saying all the Sabbaths or even some of them were nailed to the cross and then instruct the Corinthians in ICor 5:8 "therefore let us keep the Feast not with the old leaven"...speaking here of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover?? In Acts 18:21 Paul stated that "I must by all means keep this coming Feast in Jerusalem".... Zech 14:16 shows Christ requiring all nations to keep the Feast of Tabernacles after his return. Certainly Jesus knew what he "nailed to the cross". What Paul was warning them about was gnostics trying to influence their manner of keeping these days and some Jews were pushing circumcision on them. I will go into more detail on this point later if you like.

As for these quotes from men who make leaps from the seventh day Sabbath to the first day of the week Sabbath are not founded in the scriptures. Jesus said he was "Lord of the Sabbath" in Mark 2:28. Is 58 13-14 "The Holy day of the Lord" Lev 23 God says "these are the Feasts of the Lord" God calls the seventh day "the Sabbath of the Lord". All through the book of Acts Paul shows time and time again he kept Gods Sabbaths. Starting in Acts 2 at Pentecost Acts13:14 Acts 13:42-44 (Paul preached to Jews & Gentiles here and some of them begged Paul to preach to them the next Sabbath and the next Sabbath almost the whole city came to hear him. This would have been a great opportunity to let the gentiles know the Sabbath had been changed to the first day would it not?) Acts 17:1-2 Acts 18:4. There are no scriptures changing the Sabbath to any other day than the seventh. If God were going to make such a monumental change he would have made it very apparent. Whenever God wanted a day observed he was VERY specific on when it would begin and end and what was to be done on it. It would be totally out of his character to do otherwise. The scriptures commonly used to argue the first day of the week Sabbath (Act 20:7, ICor 16:2 and Rev 1:10) never mention the Sabbath it is just plain wrong to assume these scriptures warrant a change in the day of God's Sabbath. The Sabbath would have to be read into what was being talked about in these three scriptures. I will go into these three scriptures in more detail later if you like. This comment is getting a little lengthy so I'll stop at this point. Steven
Cap Stewart said…

That’s an interesting take on Colossians 2. If what you say is true—if the issue is not whether or not those days are observed, but rather the manner in which they are observed—what would you say the implications are? How are people free to celebrate these days as they wish? If these days are, as you say, still to be observed as originally commanded, what kind of liberty/leeway is involved in keeping them? And how does this all fit in with the larger context of Paul trying to keep them from falling into something bad (i.e., heresy)?

Your point about the “handwriting” makes perfect sense. I would agree with that. However, I don’t quite get your jump from there to 1 Corinthians 5:8. In that passage, Paul is being blatantly symbolic. He is not referring to any actual feast day. Instead, he talks about believers being “unleavened” and Christ being “our Passover”; and he makes reference to the leaven “of malice and wickedness” and the unleavened bread “of sincerity and truth.” And in and of itself, Acts 18:21 doesn’t seem to make a strong point—especially considering that the part you quote is lacking in the NU-Text.
I’m not as familiar with that passage in Zechariah (or the book as a whole), but I’m not convinced that description is of the New Heaven and the New Earth, what with the mention of sacrifices being made (although I don’t know for sure).

Regarding the whole first-day Sabbath issue: we’re going to address that topic more fully after we work our way through the gospels.
Steven said…
Thank you for your reply to my comment and thank you for allowing me to expound deeper into Col 2. and I Cor 5. I do not often get the opportunity to voice my understanding of these scriptures that not too many are willing to discuss. I'll try to put this in simple terms because I am really a simple minded person. No degrees here! The Feast days all "are a shadow of things to come" they picture Christ, they all pertain to Christ, hence "the substance is of Christ". All of the Holy Days/Feast of the Lord pictured/shadowed God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread picture Christ Sacrifice for sin and us putting sin (leaven) out of our lives. Pentecost was the day God in the old testament gave the commandments. On the day of Pentecost in Acts God gave the Holy Spirit and wrote his Law on our Hearts. These Feast pictured the redemption Christ came to provide for us. The next four picture future events Jesus will fulfill at his second coming and beyond. They are days of celebration and are a memorial of God's entire plan of salvation. Jesus said in Math 5:17-18 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets I did not come to destroy but to fulfil". Fulfill here in the Greek means to make full, to make perfect, to magnify. He went on in the next verse and said "till heaven and earth pass away one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled". When Christ said "it is finished" it was his redemptive work which was fulfilled. He will be coming a second time (Feast of Trumpets) to set up his literal Kingdom on earth. His first action upon returning and taking control of the kingdoms of this world is to bind Satan (Feast of Atonement) which is actually a day of fasting showing us that if not for God providing for us we would perish. The Feast of Tabernacles (7 days)has been said by some to picture the millennial reign of Christ another understanding I've heard recently is each day pictures 1000 years the 7th day picturing the millennium. During this 1000 yr period which I believe is the latter/fall harvest when the earth is filled with the knowledge of God and Satan is not allowed to deceive the nations and many of those that are left will come to Christ. Then comes the Last Great Day which in John 7 when Jesus stood up and cried out "If anyone thirsts let him come to Me and drink... I'll stop here on explaining the Feast/yearly Sabbaths and get back to answering your question if they are to be observed then how should they be observed. Paul was certainly telling them not allow the Gnostic's/pagans/unbelievers or the Jews who did not understand that the days pictured Christ in what manner they should be observing them. They first of all were Sabbaths so there should be a Holy convocation/assembly just like the weekly Sabbath which is also called a Feast of the Lord (Lev. 23). Just as the word of God was taught and expounded upon on the weekly Sabbath the same would be done on these Feast Days paying special attention to what each Festival pictures in God's plan of salvation for all mankind. I guess you could call it preaching in due season. They were also joyous days hence the title Feasts. Days to remember what Christ did for us and will do for us in the future.
Steven said…
As for 1 Cor 5 this is an example I believe of this new understanding the church (which was made up of Jews and gentiles) of how the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were to be understood. Christ was the Passover Lamb and his body was unleavened (sinless) it was what the bread (Christ's body) they ate pictured. Paul stated that "Therefore let us keep the Feast (speaking of the Feast of Unleavened Bread) not with the old "leaven", nor with the "leaven" (leaven symbolized sin hence "malice and wickedness". The Jews in the church were just understanding this and the gentiles were hearing all this for the first time. There were some serious problems in the church at Corinth as you can see in vs. 1 in vs. 2 Paul says they are puffed up (leaven/sin puffs up) and were not even repenting of this sin. He was saying let stop the sinning purge it out and keep the Feast with sincerity and Truth

If you ever get time Zech 8-14 is an awesome prophecy of God saving Israel and Judah and events leading up to Christ's second coming. Which begins the 1000yr reign on the earth. After which New Jerusalem comes down and the new heaven and earth are made and God the Father comes and dwells with us. It is during the 1000yr reign that Zech 14:16 is taking place. After the New Jerusalem comes down and the New Heaven and Earth is made and God the Father comes to dwell with us that is when all will be fulfilled.
That is my understanding in these matters. Thanks again Cap for the opportunity to speak of the hope that lies within me.