Do Not Judge the Things of the Sabbath

“So, let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths” (Col 2:16 NKJV)

     As a torah-observant Christian, this verse is often thrown at me as theological justification for ignoring the Feast Days of the Old Testament that were commanded by God.  It is also used to make the case that the Old Testament has been “done away with.”  Obviously, these statements don’t exactly sit well with me because many of these feast days were commanded by God to be “statutes forever.”  This seems to suggest that they were meant to be continued. (It is my opinion that the commandments of God didn’t just vanish with the resurrection of Messiah)  This premise tells me that God’s intention, from the giving of the torah (or instruction), has been for us, His people, to continue to observe these holy days.  (And not, subsequently, replace them with ones of pagan origin) However, in all fairness and on the surface, the above-quoted verse seems to really enforce this idea of the “doing away” with the torah.  Even among sabbaterians, this verse has caused some confusion.  I recently read one commentary which states, “Paul’s warning may mean that Christians should not be drawn into keeping ceremonial events—festivals, new moons, and ceremonial Sabbaths as described in the OT.” (1)  This explanation is simply not tenable.  Why?  Because the very first mentioned “feast” in the Old Testament is the weekly seventh day Sabbath. (see Leviticus 23)  Hence, this interpretation by seventh day advocates actually bespeaks against their own observance of the Sabbath.  Something else must be at the heart of this verse.  I believe that there is something else to this verse and it has to do with the interpretation of the Greek.  To begin with, the translation in the NKJV doesn’t get all the meaning of the Greek text.  So, we must dive deeper into the language of the New Testament.

     The verse in Greek reads: 

Mh oun tis umas krinetw en bresei h en posei h en merei eorths h noumhnias h sabbatwn.

     Perhaps a little syntaxical exegetical dissection will shed some light on why this verse is grossly mistranslated.  To begin with, the verse is written in the imperative mood. (The etw on the end of the verb krinetw tells us the mood)  In Greek, this is the mood of commands.  The Mh at the beginning is a negative particle and the verse will begin like this, “Therefore, no one is to judge you.”  The “let” is generally always added by translators when translating the third person imperative but it doesn’t exist in the Greek and oftentimes softens the sense of the Greek command.  What follows this is a string of future third person verbs (as evidenced by the sei on the endings of them) which are translated with the English “ing” on the end of them and are eating and drinking (en bresei h en posei.)  The phrase “merei eorths” is basically a direct translation from Hebrew and means “any particular feast day.”  The word eorths is used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) for the Hebrew word “gj” pronounced “chag” meaning feast day or festival day.  What is interesting about the use here in the Greek is the ending “ths” which will indicate the genitive case of the noun.  This is where the breakthrough will come for us.  In fact, the next two nouns of the verse will also be written in the genitive case, they are the words for new moons and Sabbath. (The ias and the twn ending indicate the genitive case for these nouns in their respective declensions.)  This makes a tremendous impact on how the verse is translated and on how the author intended the verse to be interpreted by the Colossians.

     The genitive case is the case of “possession” or “ownership.”  The expression “The people of God” would be written, in Greek, in the genitive case.  This is making a statement about both the people and about God and their relationship but mainly, that God has possession of the people, they are His.  Let’s now apply this to the verse in question.  The feast days, new moons, and the Sabbaths are in the genitive case which tells us that they have the possession.  So, we must add a “things” to the verse to clarify what the text is saying.  For example, the best English translation of the verse might be, “Therefore, no one is to judge you in eating and in drinking or in any particular things of a feast day and a thing of a new moon or in the things of the Sabbath.” (italics indicates that it is not in the Greek but is added in the English for clarification of what the Greek is saying)  You see, the genitive is almost always translated with “of” in front of it and this gives an entirely different meaning to what the verse is saying.  What Paul is saying is not that all those things are relegated to the past and done away with; on the contrary, he is telling us that we have freedom to observe and keep these holy days as our own conscience is clear before God.  This is the freedom in Christ that Paul is incessantly talking about in his epistles.  He is always telling us that it is not any man’s place to tell another man how they ought to keep the Sabbath.  This was a constant source of tension between the religious leaders of the time and Jesus.  They had constant debate about Sabbath observance and Messiah position was that it is not the business of another man to judge what another man does on the Sabbath as long as that man’s conscience is clear before God.  This verse has nothing to do with getting rid of the statues and commandments that were given by God in the Torah.  It is a point of clarification.  In Colosse, religious teachers were attempting to tell the believers that they had to obey torah in a specific way or they were sinning (Hence, in the beginning of chapter two Paul is talking about the commandments and doctrines of men.  He never mentions the commandments and doctrines of God.)  Paul is saying that it is not their place to tell someone how to keep a particular commandment.  This agrees with the teachings of Jesus on the matter (see my article entitled, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”) Rather than announcing that this verse does away with the law, it actually, when read in the Greek and translated correctly, demonstrates that not only were New Testament gentile believers observing Torah but that they had a freedom to keep the “instruction” as each man conscience led him to before God, who ultimately, will judge him and not his fellows.

      This seems to make much more sense to me.  We know that Jesus kept the instruction (or torah), as did all of the apostles, including Paul.  Hence, this interpretation of the Greek, which is what the Greek actually says, makes much more sense of the entire letter than anything else that I’ve read.

 

Endnotes

  1. 1.       Dybdhal, Jon, (General Editor),  Andrews Study Bible, Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, MI, 2010.
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