Some argue that Colossians 2:16-17 demonstrates that the Sabbath cannot still be a command for Christians today because it teaches that the Sabbath was “a shadow of things to come.” However, there is a very reasonable interpretation of Colossians 2:16-17 that does not at all contradict the idea that the Sabbath is still a relevant command for Christians today.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
The Sabbath of Colossians 2:16-17 Is Different from the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments
The “Sabbath” that is referred to in Colossians 2:16-17 is different than the Sabbath instituted in the fourth commandment. Whereas the “Sabbath” of Colossians 2:16-17 was part of the ceremonial law— it was “a shadow of the things to come” and is no longer binding upon Christians today—the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments is part of the universal, perpetual moral law, which has always been, and still is, binding upon Christians today. *To read more about the distinction between the ceremonial and moral law, see [[Defending the Threefold Division of the Old Testament Law]]. *To read more about the moral law, or the Ten Commandments, still being in effect for Christians today, see [[Defending the Perpetuity of the Moral Law and Ten Commandments]]. Here, we will focus primarily on defending the position that the Sabbath referred to in Colossians 2:16-17 is different than the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments. Notice that in Colossians 2:16-17, “Sabbath” is grouped with “festival” and “new moon.”
Old Testament References to “Sabbaths,” “new moons,” and “feasts”
The Old Testament contains several references to this same grouping of “Sabbath,” “festival,” and “new moon.”
and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the Lord.1 Chronicles 23:31
Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel. 2 Chronicles 2:4
The contribution of the king from his own possessions was for the burnt offerings: the burnt offerings of morning and evening, and the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the appointed feasts, as it is written in the Law of the Lord.2 Chronicles 31:3
for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.Nehemiah 10:33
It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel. Ezekiel 45:17
And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts. Hosea 2:11
The Sabbath in the Ten Commandments Is Always Singular
When the word Sabbath is used in reference to the command in the Ten Commandments, it is always singular. This is markedly different from the word “Sabbaths” used in the verses above, which is plural. This should lead us to believe that there is a different between the singular Sabbath and the plural “Sabbaths.”
Since the New Moons and Appointed Feasts Were Ceremonical, Typological, and Temporary, We Should Assume the Same for the Plural “Sabbaths”
It is quite clear that the “new moons” and “feasts” in the verses above are no longer in effect for Christians today. This is because they were part of the ceremonial law, or, in other words, they were typological and temporary. Since the plural “Sabbaths” is grouped with “new moons” and “feasts” (or festival), we can justifiable assume that these plural “Sabbaths” were also part of the ceremonial law, and thus were typological and temporary. It is these ceremonial, typological, and temporary “Sabbaths,” “new moons,” “feasts,” and “festivals” that “are a shadow of things to come. Colossians 2:16-17 says nothing about the singular Sabbath instituted in the Ten Commandments.
To read more about the Reformed position concerning the Sabbath, check out the following resources: