Col 2:16 – a weekly sabbath reference or not? Part 1

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Colossians 2:16-17 (KJV) states:

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.

Read this article for broader coverage of the passage. Col 2:14-17 – does this refer to the 7th day Sabbath?

In this post, I’m going to add further information and deal with a specific argument I haven’t discussed here before.

While many recent Adventist scholars, including Samuele Bacchiocchi, acknowledge the fact that this passage refers to the weekly sabbath, there is another argument from other Adventists that claim it does not.

Grumpy womanTheir argument goes like this:

  1. The verse lists three types of celebrations. The first, holy days, refers solely to Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The last, sabbath days, refers to Trumpets and the Day of Atonement.
  2. This is seen by the Greek word Paul uses – heorte (εορτη, G1859 in Strong’s Concordance) for holy days, and sabbaton (σαββατον, G4521 in Strong’s Concordance) for sabbath days. Heorte is never used elsewhere in the New Testament, or anywhere in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament the Apostles quoted from) to refer to either Trumpets or the Day of Atonement. It only ever refers to Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
  3. This therefore limits Paul’s use of heorte to Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
  4. Therefore, if the others (Trumpets and the Day of Atonement) are to be included in Col 2:16, then “sabbath days” must refer to them, and not to the weekly sabbath.

It’s a convenient argument, and helps do away with the otherwise problematic repetition that would be required if Paul were actually saying “annual holy days, new moons, and annual holy days“.

But it’s not without its flaws. While it is true heorte is never used to refer to Trumpets and the Day of Atonement when they are written of individually, it is not true that collectively heorte never includes them, something that seems to be omitted from their arguments, and brushed aside when brought up in discussions.

One of the better online defences of this argument lists “all” the uses of the word heorte in the Septuagint here.

The key chapter we’ll look at is Leviticus 23. The Adventist list above of “all” uses of heorte lists verses 6 and 34. Why does this Adventist list omit the damning evidence in verses 2, 4, 37, and 44 where heorte includes what they don’t want it to include?

Habakkuk, Septuagint fragment

Habakkuk, Septuagint fragment

A brief background to the Septuagint – this is the Greek Old Testament translated into Greek between 300 BC and 132 BC. It was the translation most used in the New Testament when the Old Testament was cited, and the Apostles were therefore very familiar with it.

Heorte in Leviticus 23 – all-inclusive term

Leviticus 23 lists the feasts [heorte] of the Lord. It begins with an instruction to Moses to tell Israel about these feasts. It is then proclaimed that “These are the feasts of the LORD” (v4).

Lev 23:2 contains the instruction to Moses to proclaim the feasts [heorte, used twice]

λαλησον τοις υιοις ισραηλ και ερεις προς αυτους αι εορται κυριου ας καλεσετε αυτας κλητας αγιας αυται εισιν εορται μου

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. (KJV throughout)

The weekly sabbath is then included in this category in verse 3.

Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.

Lev 23:4 introduces them with the word heorte, and the whole chapter encapsulates them between two sets of heorte.

αυται αι εορται τω κυριω κληται αγιαι ας καλεσετε αυτας εν τοις καιροις αυτων

These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.

Festival of Trumpets

Festival of Trumpets

They are then followed sequentially through the year:

Passover/Unleavened Bread – v5-14
Pentecost – v15-22
Trumpets – v23-25
Day of Atonement – v26-32
Tabernacles – v33-36

Lev 23:37 appears to close off the list, using heorte again

αυται αι εορται κυριω ας καλεσετε κλητας αγιας ωστε προσενεγκαι καρπωματα τω κυριω ολοκαυτωματα και θυσιας αυτων και σπονδας αυτων το καθ ημεραν εις ημεραν

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

Shemini Atzeret, or the 8th day, is then added – v39-43 (and includes a repeat of the instructions for Tabernacles)

Lev 23:44 finally closes with “And Moses declared unto the children of Israel the feasts [heorte] of the LORD.

και ελαλησεν μωυσης τας εορτας κυριου τοις υιοις ισραηλ

From this, starting with the heorte in v2 and in v4, and ending with heorte in v37 and v44, we find a clear list that includes all 5 of the feasts (6 if you include the 8th Day), and thus heorte covers Trumpets and Atonement as well.

The exact same usage of heorte can be seen in Numbers 28-29, with Num 28:2 starting off with heorte, then coming a list of daily/weekly/monthly/annual sacrifices for each feast, including Trumpets and Atonement, and then closing off in Num 29:39 with another heorte. (Note that these references are also missing from the Adventist link above that cites the usage of heorte in the Septuagint.)


The term “sabbath” was used in the five books of Moses at times to refer to some of these annual days, but as time progressed, the word became limited to the weekly sabbath. Obviously it was used in translations of the older texts, but we can reasonably expect Paul’s use of it (such as in Col 2:16) to match contemporary use – as a reference to the weekly sabbath.

While heorte was not typically used to refer to certain individual feasts, it was certainly used in Greek nearly contemporary with Paul to refer to the entire set. Given this, it is most reasonable to interpret εορτης (heorte) in Col 2:16 in this way, as referring to the whole set of annual feasts, with σαββατων (sabbaton) meaning the weekly sabbath.

Col 2:16 is therefore best interpreted as:

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an [annual] holyday, or of the new moon, or of the [weekly] sabbath days

… thus following a time-line of annual, monthly, weekly.

Part 2 continues this topic …

Further reading:

Col 2:16 – a weekly sabbath reference or not? Part 2
Col 2:14-17 – does this refer to the 7th day Sabbath?
The Sabbath vs Sunday debate
Gal 4:10-11 – do we need to keep the Sabbath?


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