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 There is no intimation here that the Sabbath was done away, or that its moral use was superseded, by the introduction of Christianity” (Adam Clarke).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