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.
Mainstream Sunday church-going Christians consistently interpret this verse to be against the Sabbaths. They apply this verse to all Sabbaths, both the weekly Sabbath and the annual holy days (which are all called Sabbaths in Leviticus 23, translated as “days of complete rest”). This verse clearly states both the annual Sabbaths (festivals) and weekly Sabbaths. To use this verse against the annual Sabbaths without using it against the weekly Sabbath is an inconsistent application of the verse.
To be consistent, we can interpret this verse as if Paul wrote against all the Sabbaths, or as if he wrote against none of the Sabbaths. If we believe that Paul wrote against all of the Sabbaths, then this verse also shows the weekly Sabbath should no longer be part of a Christian’s life.
In context, I do not believe that Paul wrote against any Sabbaths. I believe Paul wrote against the traditions of men on how to keep the Sabbaths. The principles from Old Testament Sabbath verses teach us that we are to not work, not cause others to work, and not buy/sell. However, the traditions of men about which Yeshua critically spoke include many other rules regarding the Sabbath.
One clue that shows us Paul was not referring to the general keeping of the Sabbath is the fact that he includes the idea of drinks in this verse. God gives no instructions regarding what we can and cannot drink. Paul is definitely referring to a tradition here about drinks, which leads me to believe he is also referring to traditions regarding the Sabbaths, festivals, and new moon days.
Another clue that shows us Paul was referring to the traditions of men is verse 14, in which he specifically states that the ordinances (1) were nailed to the cross, not the law. So we should not let anyone judge us according to these man-made ordinances or standards. These Jewish ordinances not found Scripture were the wall of separation about which Paul wrote.
Other clues that shows us Paul was referring to the traditions of men are in verses 18 and 23, in which he states these same people who want to judge us also worship angels and afflict their bodies during worship. These things are not written as instructions to us, but are only traditions. In fact, these traditions are contrary to Torah.
The language and context of Colossians 2:16-17 so clearly refer to the traditions and also hypocrisy of men (but not the actual keeping of the Sabbaths) that the 2nd century church understood this and gave commentary to this effect:
The apostles ordained, that “we should not judge any one in respect to meat or drink, or in regard to a feast day, or the new moons, or the Sabbaths.” Whence then these contentions? Whence these schisms? We keep the feast, but in the leaven of malice and wickedness, cutting in pieces the Church of God; and we preserve what belongs to its exterior, that we may cast away these better things, faith and love. We have heard from the prophetic words that these feasts and fasts are displeasing to the Lord. (2)
In order to hold the view that the Paul wrote against the Sabbaths is to assume that Yeshua came to abolish the Torah, which he warned us not to assume (Matthew 5). So the real question here is: How much of the Torah and the Prophets are we willing to literally accept and physically do? And how much are we going to attempt to theologically spiritualize in order to avoid actually doing?
- “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees [τοῖς δόγμασιν] against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
- Irenaeus. (trans. 1867). The lost fragments of Irenaeus (Chapter 38). In Philip Shaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Vol. 1, p. 971). Retrieved from http://www.ccel.org/node/70