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

March 31, 2016

By Stephen Korsman

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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.

Their 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 ofheorte 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

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

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 anotherheorte. (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 …

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

April 2, 2016

By Stephen Korsman

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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

  • 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

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 lists these as being sacrifices personally offered by Solomon during a certain time.

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

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


  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).

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