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

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In part 1, we saw that the Greek word used by Paul for the holy days in Col 2:16 (εορτη, heorte) was used in the Greek Old Testament, with which he was well acquainted, in a way that included all five (or six) annual feasts decreed by God. Given that it was unlikely that he would use the word “sabbath” in his writings to mean something it didn’t mean in contemporary use, and given that it was entirely plausible, given biblical evidence, that he used the term “heorte” to cover all of the annual feasts, Col 2:16 is best interpreted as a sequence of festivals listed by frequency – annual, then monthly, then weekly.

Now we’ll look at several other similar frequency-based sequences in the Bible, and take a look at whether Col 2:17 allows the weekly sabbath to be included as something that was a shadow of what we have now.

Several times in the Old Testament, and twice in the New Testament, we see Israel’s holy days listed in various time-based sequences, usually from frequent to infrequent (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, multi-annual). Not every list covers all 5 frequencies, but you see that they are listed in a logical order.

Sacrifices in Numbers

This sequence is derived from the original lists in the books of Moses, and especially Numbers 28-29, where the sacrifices are explained.

Full moon, NASA

Full moon, NASA

  • Daily sacrifices – Numbers 28:3-8
  • Weekly sabbath sacrifices – v9-10
  • New moon sacrifices – v11-15
  • Passover and Unleavened Bread sacrifices – v16-25
  • Pentecost – v26-30
  • Trumpets – Numbers 29:1-6
  • Day of Atonement – v6-11
  • Tabernacles – v12-34
  • Shemini Atzeret – v35-38

Note again (see Part 1 for details) that the Greek word heorte (εορτη) is used in the Septuagint to encapsulate all these days.

Time-based sequences

Other passages where we see this time-based sequence are:

1 Chr 23:31 (KJV throughout) – And to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the LORD in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the LORD

2 Chr 2:4 – Behold, I build an house to the name of the LORD my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense, and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the LORD our God. This is an ordinance for ever to Israel.

2 Chr 8:13 – Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles.

King Solomon, Russian icon

King Solomon, Russian icon

Here we have something slightly different – three of the feasts (Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) are named, and two (Trumpets and Atonement) are omitted. Here Adventists like to claim that the sabbaths are Trumpets and Atonement, and the solemn feasts are Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. But notice the difference – the previous verse (2 Chr 8:12) lists these as being sacrifices personally offered by Solomon during a certain time, and this has no impact on the meaning of the word heorte, as this is shown sufficiently elsewhere (discussed above and in part 1).

2 Chr 31:3 – He appointed also the king’s portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the LORD.

Ezek 45:17 – And it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the meat offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel.

Here we see them listed in frequency of infrequent to frequent, and then summed up as “all solemnities“.

Hosea 2:11 – I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.

This is an interesting verse. Four events are listed, and not in order of frequency. There are several ways to read this:

  1. her annual feast days (Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), her monthly feast days (new moon), her weekly sabbath, and her solemn feasts (Trumpets and Atonement).
  2. her feasts – i.e. monthly new moons, weekly sabbath, annual holy days.
  3. her annual feast days (all of them, heorte), her monthly new moons, her weekly sabbaths, and everything else.

Adventists who insist (contrary to the evidence) that heorte never includes Trumpets and Atonement would choose the first one. (And, interestingly, some Adventists who cite the list cite it as annual “feast days“, followed by the “new moons“, followed by the other “solemn feasts” – omitting the weekly sabbath.)

Only the third has maintained the usual frequency-based list – annual, monthly, weekly. That itself indicates that the third is the most likely, as all others list them in either ascending or descending order of frequency.

It doesn’t really matter either way – it’s not conclusive evidence for the Adventist position, and, in fact, does their position a lot of harm – there is no way at all to avoid the inclusion of the weekly sabbath in this list – and this verse has been seen by Christians throughout the history of Christianity as prophesying the abolition of all of these days.

Lastly, Gal 4:10 lists the following:

Gal 4:10 – Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

We again see a frequency-based list, indicating specific days (the only days, outside of the sacrifice timetable that included daily sacrifices, not covered already, were the weekly sabbaths), months (new moons), times (times of the year), and years (most likely the multi-annual cycles incorporated into Israel’s calendar).

The weekly sabbath as a shadow

Eve and Mary

Eve and Mary

Lastly, we should briefly look at whether or not the sabbath was a shadow of something greater.

Sabbath:

  1. Memorial of the original creation. Sin marred this creation.
  2. Memorial of the exodus from Egypt. This freed Israel from slavery to the Egyptians.
  3. Finding physical rest from work.

What the sabbath was a shadow of:

  1. The new creation in Christ after being brought to life in his resurrection (2 Cor 5:17, Eph 4:24, Col 3:9)
  2. The freedom from slavery to sin, brought by Jesus (Rom 6:18, Gal 5:1)
  3. Rest in Christ from our spiritual labours (Matt 11:28, Heb 4)

Ironically for Adventists, immediately after saying what he did in Matt 11:28, Jesus and the disciples go on to pick corn on the sabbath, and Jesus has to tell the Pharisees that he is superior to the sabbath, and then goes on to rub it in by healing someone on the same day.

Col 2:16-17, in summary, lists Old Testament holy days in order of frequency, using contemporary Greek to refer to all annual feasts collectively (heorte), the new moon celebration, and the weekly sabbath (sabbaton).

Further reading:

Col 2:16 – a weekly sabbath reference or not? Part 1
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?
Mark 2/Matt 12/Luke 6 – was the Sabbath made for all mankind to keep?

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