In this lesson we shift from considering some common arguments for observing the Sabbath, to some arguments against binding the Sabbath on men living today.
1. Let no one judge.
Colossians 2:16-17 reads, “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.”
Let’s consider this passage. It mentions: (1) Food and drink. This refers to Israelite dietary laws (e.g. Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14; Hebrews 9:9-10 cf. Acts 10:9-16; 1 Timothy 4:4-5). (2) Festival, new moon, and sabbaths. This refers to set observances on the Israelite calendar. Festival refers to a yearly event. New Moon refers to a monthly event. Sabbaths, I would suggest, refers to a weekly event. Yearly, monthly, and weekly observances are frequently mentioned together in the Old Testament (e.g. 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 8:12-13; Nehemiah 10:33; Ezekiel 45:17; Hosea 2:11). Sabbatarians commonly object that “sabbaths” does not refer to the weekly sabbath, but to other “sabbaths” under the law of Moses. There were Sabbath days connected with the Feasts (Leviticus 23). There were also Sabbath years (Leviticus 25). However, the sequence sounds like a weekly Sabbath.
Festivals refer to a yearly event. New Moon refers to a monthly event. Why would Sabbaths not refer to a weekly event? Remember that yearly, monthly, and weekly events are frequently mentioned together in the Old Testament.
Some have reasoned that since it says “sabbaths” (plural), it must not refer to the weekly sabbath days. However, the plural language is commonly used in the New Testament for the weekly Sabbath (e.g. Matthew 12:1, 5, 10, 11, 12; 12:12; 28:1). Marvin Vincent comments, “The weekly festivals… the plural being used for the singular. See on Luke 4:31; Acts 20:7. The plural is only once used in the New Testament of more than a single day (Acts 17:2)” (Vincent’s Word Studies, studylight.org). Walter Martin said this, “It is significant that in 59 of 60 occurrences in the New Testament, Adventists affirm that they refer to the weekly Sabbath; but in the 60th occurrence, they maintain it does not” (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 466).
Some object that what was take away was that which “was against us, which was contrary to us” (Colossians 2:14). The Sabbath, they reason, was not against us (Mark 2:27). However, this misses the point. The Law of Moses demanded obedience (cf. Romans 3:19-20 cf. 4:4-8; Galatians 3:12-13). Furthermore, the Law of Moses did not provide a lasting remedy for sin (Hebrews 10:1-4). It is not that the Sabbath itself was against man. It is that the Law of Moses was against man, because of sin.
Here is a detail from Colossians 2:14 worth pointing out. A.T. Robertson comments on the words, “He has taken away,” saying “The perfect tense emphasizes the permanence of the removal of the bond…” (A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures, studylight.org).
2. Dead to, Delivered From
Romans 7:4 reads, “You also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another…” Romans 7:6 reads, “But now we have been delivered from the law…”
To what law does Paul refer? Romans 7:7 seems to answer this. The law spoken of said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7 cf. Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21).
Some have tried to make this “the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 cf. 6:22-23). However, Romans 7:6 speaks of serving in “newness of the Spirit and not oldness of the letter.” This language is used to contrast the New Testament and the Old Testament (2 Corinthians 3). Moreover, the next reference to law made is to the Ten Commandments (Romans 7:7).
3. Passing Away
2 Corinthians 3:7-8, “But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones was glorious… which glory was passing away, how will the Spirit not be more glorious?” 2 Corinthians 3:11, “For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.”
The contrast seems to be between the Old Testament and the New Testament. (1) What was “written and engraved on stones” refers to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:1, 4 29; Deuteronomy 10:3-5). However, I would suggest that it stands, as a synecdoche, for the entire Old Testament. The Law of Moses had its beginning on stone tablets. It was glorious. It was passing away. James Burton Coffman comments, “Paul seized upon the fact of the vanishing radiance of Moses’ countenance as an allegorical promise that the entire Old Testament would, in time, be discontinued, or taken away.” (2) “The Ministry of the Spirit” refers to the New Testament (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6). The New Testament system had its beginning with the Spirit being poured out on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). It is described as more glorious. It remains.
Some have tried to argue that this refers to something other than the Ten Commandments. However, this appears to be the context.
4. New Covenant
Hebrews 8:8-12 quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 saying, “Behold the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt…” Hebrews 8:13, “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
The covenant made obsolete is the covenant made with Israel when the LORD took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. This sounds like the covenant written on two tablets of stone (1 Kings 8:9, 21; 2 Chronicles 5:10; 6:11).
Some claim that the Ten Commandments are not included. However, the language used suggests otherwise.
5. I am Afraid For You
Galatians 4:10-11 reads, “You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored in vain.”
The context concerns some who were seeking to be justified by keeping the law (Galatians 2:16; 3:1-5; 4:21; 5:4, 7). What law? The law which was given 430 years after the Abrahamic promise (Galatians 3:15-18). The law which was given at Sinai (Galatians 4:21-31).
The law concerned such things as days and months and seasons and years (Galatians 4:10). (1) Months refer to new moons (Numbers 10:10; 28:11-15; Psalm 81:3-4). (2) Seasons (NKJV) or times (KJV) refer to annual feasts. There were set times for Israelite males to appear before the LORD (Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:18). Some of the feasts occurred in the spring: Passover/Unleavened Bread and First fruits/Weeks (Pentecost). Some of the feasts occurred in the fall: Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. (3) Years refer to Sabbath years and Jubilee (Leviticus 25). (4) What about days? If months refer to a monthly event, and if seasons refer to a seasonal or annual event, and if years refer to something occurring on set years in a cycle, then what about days? Wouldn’t they be set days in a cycle? Wouldn’t they occur more frequently than months, seasons, and years? Doesn’t this fit the weekly Sabbath day?