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Colossians 2:16





Whenever the question of the Sabbath is discussed, those who do not keep it holy will inevitably appeal to Colossians 2:16 as their authority for disobeying the fourth commandment of God.

What exactly did Paul mean when he wrote:

"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days:"  (KJV)

Yes, when Paul said "Sabbaths" he meant the seventh day Sabbath - but that does not mean that Paul was canceling the requirement for obedience to a commandment of God. What God has commanded only God can set aside.  One may search the New Testament for a thousand years and he will not find a single verse that says God has abrogated one "jot or tittle" of His fourth commandment.

What then was Paul talking about when he said to let no man judge you in respect of Sabbaths? When we look at this verse in its context it soon becomes apparent that Paul was warning about the "Colossian Heresy" which was another gospel based on asceticism and the worship of angels in order to gain assistance from cosmic powers.  The essence of this heresy was that Christ alone was not sufficient to deliver us from our slavery to sin.

As you will see from the following verses, Paul was warning against three things that were being added to the gospel.


1.  Traditions of men.

2.  The worship of angels.

3.  Submitting to doctrines of men.

COL 2:8  Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

COL 2:16  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:

COL 2:18  Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

COL 2:20  Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world,  why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,  (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) AFTER THE COMMANDMENTS AND DOCTRINES OF MEN?



Paul was not doing away with God's commandment;  he was warning against the false teachers who were saying that if believers did not eat and drink the right food and keep the festivals, new moons and Sabbaths ACCORDING TO CERTAIN HUMAN REGULATIONS they would lose their reward.

According to verse :23 below, they were teaching that without these ascetic regulations one could not overcome the flesh:

COL 2:23  These [DOCTRINES OF MEN] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.  (RSV)


One commentator summed up these verses by saying:

"We conclude then that in verse :16, the warning is not against the Sabbath, festivals and dietary laws as such, but rather against those who promote these practices as indispensable aids to Christian perfection and as needed protection from the 'elements [evil spiritual forces] of the
world' thus denying the all sufficiency of Christ." (Samuele Bacchiocchi,  From Sabbath To Sunday)

Now really, doesn't that explanation make a lot more sense than the notion that Christians are no longer required to obey the fourth commandment?   It is a true saying that: "The commandment is not nullified by the condemnation of its abuse.".

The question we need to ask is this:  "Was Paul condemning the Sabbath day, or was he CONDEMNING THE DOCTRINES OF MEN who added ritualistic and ascetic restrictions to faith in Christ?"

In order to answer that dispute, one must look at the broad picture.  There is not a single verse in the New Testament which states that Paul taught a new doctrine that canceled the Sabbath commandment; nor is there any record of a controversy between the Jews and Gentile
Christians over Sabbath-keeping.  If Paul had been teaching that the Sabbath commandment had been repealed, it would have split the church wide open and he would have had to answer the objections continuously in his epistles.

Think about it - if the Jewish believers made such a fuss about circumcision being optional, imagine what they would have said about the Sabbath day being revoked.

At some point we must use common sense and reason to interpret what has been written.  For example, does "Let no man judge you in meat and drink..." mean that Christians can be drunkards?  Of course not,  because you know that God's word forbids drunkenness.  Well, it also forbids Sabbath-breaking!

It is only logical to assume that if God was going to cancel one of His commandments, he would make that fact very clear. Surely, if  someone said to you: "Let no man judge you in respect of murder or adultery"  you would not assume that God had changed His mind about those sins without solid proof. Certainly, you would demand more evidence than one lonely verse in the book of Colossians.   Or would you?    

Harold and Donna Kupp

In addition to the Greek and Latin manuscripts of the New Testament, there is a third text called the Peshitta.   The Peshitta is from ancient Eastern manuscripts written in Aramaic, the natural language of Jesus.  Hebrews 4:9 in the Peshitta text reads:
"It is therefore the duty of the people of God  to keep the Sabbath."  


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