Colossians 2:16-17, 20-21 says,

16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”

The New King James Version. (1982). (Col 2:20–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

That entire portion of the end of Colossians 2 talks about the danger of legalism and seems to discourage keeping things such as the Sabbath (at least keeping them legalistically). How do Seventh-Day Adventists and other denominations that keep the Sabbath interpret this passage?

  • 1
    The Apostle Paul insists that nobody should feel a conflict of conscience over the matter of special days. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Romans 14:5.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 16:17
  • 1
    @NigelJ In all matters where principle is involved, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Rom 14:5. But the sacredness of the fourth commandment is forever, once understood it forms part of the great commandment to love God with all thy heart, and also acknowledges the reality of the seven days of creation and God as creator.
    – Beestocks
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 4:28
  • @Beestocks They that have entered into rest have ceased from their works. Now if the sabbath be a rest, I shall have seven of them every week, without any effort at all. But if keeping the sabbath be a work, then I am ceased from it and entered into a New Creation.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 18:31
  • Since there is no day and night in the New Jerusalem and since there is no sun required any more (for the Lord God is the light thereof) then I wonder how anyone will be able to tell either what 'day' it is - for there are none - or how they will be able to tell time at all.since 'time shall be no more'. So I do not see how keeping the sabbath will be possible - after time is no more.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 18:51

7 Answers 7


"That entire portion of the end of Colossians 2 talks about the danger of legalism and seems to discourage keeping things such as the Sabbath"

Actually, it doesn't talk about that. In fact it has quite the opposite meaning.

I once used Colossians as an example of exegesis: https://rbutterworth.nfshost.com/Management/examples/exegesis

If you aren't going to read that article itself, at least be aware of the importance of the context in which Paul was writing.

The Colossian Church was isolated from the rest of Christianity. Most of the people there were Ascetics, who believed that the physical body represented evil while its immortal soul represented good. That soul must be developed by physical suffering, and so, anyone that enjoys themselves, celebrates, eats good food, etc. is obviously an evil carnal person.

The Ascetics were criticising the Christian converts for their religious practices, and Paul was worried that some of them might feel ashamed of their Christianity and revert back to Greek paganism. He warns them to "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard".

Here's the section on 2:17:

2:16-17 resumes the warning about being influenced by the opinions of others:

Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow [prophetic symbolism] of what is to come; but the substance [what casts the shadow, the eventual kingdom of God on earth] belongs to Christ.

The original Greek did not use punctuation, but relied more on sentence structure. This structure is sometimes lost in translation into English (e.g. the original word order is no therefore man you let-judge in meat …, the single Greek word being translated into let and judge with other words intervening). Punctuation was supplied by the translators, who also supplied additional words to make the English read more smoothly or clearly. These added words are marked in italics in the King James version, which translation (with supplied words and punctuation omitted) perhaps provides an even better interpretation of this passage:

        no man
            judge you
                in meat
             or in drink
             or in respect
                        of an holyday
                     or of the new moon
                     or of the sabbath
                  which are a shadow
                      of things to come
        but the body of Christ

A much more obvious meaning immediately becomes apparent: let no one but the body of Christ judge you (the body of Christ being the Church). We should not feel bad about being condemned by non-Christians for our Christian practices such as honouring the symbols of God's promises.

The food and drink, festivals, new moons (monthly sabbaths), and (weekly) sabbaths refer to things that the Christian community is expected to practice, and not, as some suppose, to unclean foods and pagan festivals. The Ascetics were opposed to any form of physical pleasure (often including eating meat of any kind), and such holy feasts and celebrations (which, except possibly for the Day of Atonement, are a time of joy and pleasure to Christians) were a direct insult to their beliefs. But these sabbaths and holy festivals are symbols to Christians of God's plan for mankind, and must be commemorated despite the objections of non-Christians.

In keeping God's sabbaths and festivals, a Christian will be subject to criticism from others, and in particular that criticism may often be of a very morally superior tone, possibly making the Christian feel that he himself might be the one in the wrong.

  • Okay, so your view is that the verse means that it's okay to eat meat, and it's okay to drink, and it's okay to keep holidays, new moons, and sabbaths? Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 22:50
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    It's not only okay, it's part of being a Christian. If a Vegetarian looks down on you for eating meat, especially if they have a morally superior attitude, you shouldn't feel guilt, change your ways, or appologize for doing the right thing. The roast chicken you are eating, the wine you are drinking, and the festival you are celebrating are gifts from God, not things to be ashamed of. Only when "the body of Christ" (the Bible and fellow Christians) suggest that your behaviour is inappropriate should you pay attention. Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 14:33
  • @RayButterworth - your line of reasoning presented in your answer at best supports that Christians are to be judged by other Christians on the matter, but nothing tells you what that judgment is. Claiming that the judgment is "you are to keep the feast days and the Sabbath" requires its own independent logical justification, which is not provided in your answer.
    – user50422
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 2:44
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator, By "Christians are to be judged by other Christians", I mean that Christians should accept moral judgement only from other Christians, not from non-Christians. I'm not saying what that judgement is. ¶ If you drink alcohol and coffee, you shouldn't accept moral criticism of it from an LDS member (I'm not suggesting that they would do so); but if you're so caffeinated that you can't sleep, and you drink so much that you get drunk, you should accept criticism from your own church. ¶ My point, in terms of this question, is that Col 2 is irrelevant to Sabbath keeping. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 13:38

Great Question, It seems on the surface level that this is obviously talking against keeping the Sabbath holy.

However, there are some key aspects of this verse that need to be considered. The list of things not to be judged are.

  • food and drink
  • Festivals
  • new moon
  • sabbaths

These are referred to as a shadow of things that were to come. There are several interesting things to note.

  1. Sabbath is plural.
  2. there is this idea of a new moon (where has that come from
  3. Why is food and drink added to the discussion of these other things that look like events?

Plural Sabbaths? When you hear people referring to the weekly Sabbath, it is usually singular. consider Matthew 12:8 when Jesus says he is Lord of the Sabbath. that is our first hint that this is not as it seems on the surface, and meant something different to how we read it in English.

However, there are these annual Sabbaths that are often grouped together. also referred to as High Sabbaths (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Sabbaths). * Passover * Feast of weeks * Feast of Trumpets * Feast of Tabernacles

you can see that sabbaths, festivals are starting to group together. But new moons and food and drink? Look at numbers 28:11. we see that there is now the concept of sacrifice each month, and a month is represented by a new moon.

lastly is the food and drink, which are a type of offering offered in Israel. What that means is each of the things listed in Colossian's links to a sacrifice. This is not unique in scripture look at Ezekiel 45:17 where it almost quotes verbatim this list in Colossians.

The conclusion, The sacrifices and feasts all point to Christ and we no longer need to keep them as he has fulfilled there purpose.

The weekly Sabbaths are different. They refer to God as a creator and redeemer, which is still a valid reason to worship God on a Sabbath.

Here is a formal article on the same issue. https://www.adventist.org/en/spirituality/sabbath/article/go/-/the-sabbath-in-colossians-2/

  • 1
    “Plural Sabbaths? When you hear people referring to the weekly Sabbath, it is usually singular.” — Patently false. In the LXX and Greek NT, a plural declension of σάββατον more often refers to a singular Sabbath day (cf. Exo. 16:23; Luke 13:10). Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 2:31
  • @DerÜbermensch interesting, I had been relying on the English translations for this, on exploring this I see that there are in fact plurals translated as singular. Why this translation decision was made I am not sure. However, in the case of the Colossian reference and the Ezekiel one, they are plural and often translated as such. Interestingly, many of the Genetive plurals refer to the resurrection weekend, which occurred on a Passover, which would make it a high Sabbath. (and an actual reason for it to be a plural use of the word) This is just an observation at this point.
    – Bluephlame
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 3:25

Legalism is when someone keeps the law thinking that it would save them. This is not why an adventist keeps the Sabbath.

Adventists, like most Christians believe, we are under the new covenant of grace, the old covenant of obeying by our own powers is done away. However, the content of the moral law is still the same as always. By faith through grace God leads us to want to live according to the ten commandment. It is the reason why Christians do not want to murder or commit adultery. The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) specifically says to remember the Sabbath day because God blessed the Sabbath day at creation. Therefore, we do it as an allegiance of love for God.

Exodus 20:11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

The reason why Colossians is not about the seventh day sabbath is because this passage is about the ceremonial laws and Jewish civil laws that were nailed to the cross and done away with. (Col 2:14).

The key here is that it describes these customs as:

Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Colossians 2:17

In other words, these ordinances were ceremonial laws designed to point to Jesus. They were symbolic of Jesus' ministry and were fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross. The holy days and the sabbaths within the holy days are not the seventh day Sabbath, instead they are rest days found during holy days like the passover. These no longer need to be kept.

However, the seventh day Sabbath is entirely different. These were never a shadow of things to come, but a memorial of creation itself.

Think about it, the seventh day Sabbath would exist even if men never sinned! God blessed it at creation, Exo 20:11. Therefore it was not fulfilled at the cross. Ergo, we should be keeping it by faith.

In answer to the claim that at the death of Christ the precepts of the Decalogue had been abolished with the ceremonial law, Wesley said: “The moral law, contained in the Ten Commandments and enforced by the prophets, He did not take away. It was not the design of His coming to revoke any part of this. This is a law which never can be broken, which ‘stands fast as the faithful witness in heaven.’ ... This was from the beginning of the world, being ‘written not on tables of stone,’ but on the hearts of all the children of men, when they came out of the hands of the Creator. And however the letters once wrote by the finger of God are now in a great measure defaced by sin, yet can they not wholly be blotted out, while we have any consciousness of good and evil. Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind, and in all ages; as not depending either on time or place, or any other circumstances liable to change, but on the nature of God, and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other. (The Great Controversy, Ellen White, pg 262)

For more information, read about sabbath and Colossians on https://amazingdiscoveries.org/S-deception-Sabbath_Colossians_ceremonial-law

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    For those interested. Keeping the Sabbath is a joy, especially in today's society where we are constantly connected to technology. We get the day off from work, put away social media, and get to spend quality time with God. There is wisdom in God's ways.
    – Beestocks
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 4:43
  • This is an interesting and well thought out response. Unfortunately it falls because it fails to cite a Bible passage that states why the seventh day Sabbath does not fall under the ceremonial law, or address the other Bible passages that point to all special daysbeing optional for Christians. Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 18:10
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    @DJClayworth Thank you. The very fact that this is the fourth commandment is evidence that it is not a ceremonial law. No where in the Bible does it say the the ten commandments are not ceremonial, yet all of us agree that it is God's moral law, the great law of love expanded. The seventh day Sabbath was not a point of contention in Paul's time because all still worshiped on the Lord's day. Roman 14:5 is again about ceremonial holy days and fast days.
    – Beestocks
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 4:43
  • @Beestocks - "No where in the Bible does it say the the ten commandments are not ceremonial", the terms civil, ceremonial and moral appear no where in the Bible. Those are arbitrary labels that people conveniently assign to specific laws.
    – user50422
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 2:53

Is not Christ our Sabbath that all the Old Testament law, shadows pointed to?

Heb 10:1  For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 

Heb 8:5  Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. 

Heb 9:11  But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 

Col 2:17  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. 

Heb 4:9  There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.  Heb 4:10  For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.  Heb 4:11  Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. 

  • This isn't really an answer to the question as they are looking for the Seventh-Day Adventist perspective. This would be better as a new Question.
    – Bluephlame
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 8:48
  • @Bluephlame The Asker says that "the end of Colossians 2 talks about the danger of legalism and seems to discourage keeping things such as the Sabbath (at least keeping them legalistically)." A valuable point in Ernest's answer is biblical verification of that claim so that nobody can dismiss the Asker's claim. Although a Seventh-Day Adventist perspective is not given by him, various SDA answers show Col. 2:17 requires a particular interpretation. But Ernest's answer shows they would need to interpret the Hebrew verses he quotes not just Col. 2 verses. Will SDAs deal with those Hebrews verses?
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 12:11
  • @Ernest S - Welcome to Christianity Stack Exchange. When you have a moment, please take the Christianity Stack tour to learn more about us: christianity.stackexchange.com/tour This is how we are different to other sites: christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1808/…
    – Lesley
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 13:19

first answer. :)

From my understanding so far of the scriptures, this verse is talking about the burnt, meat & drink offerings of the old testament ordinances

That is why he's mentioning Drink and Food, and Holydays, New Moons & Sabbaths, compare with Ezekiel 45:17

It will be the duty of the prince to provide the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Much Love, Yahshua LIVES

  • Welcome to the site and thank you for participating. I hope you continue to answer. I believe your answer is probably correct, but it would be greatly improved if you could point to a source or two that makes the same argument. Click edit to add that in.
    – user3961
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 20:53

The answer is that Paul is contrasting regulations established by men or angels with those established by God (Christ Jesus). For those who would otherwise observe the 7th day, they point not at the Law of Moses given at Sinai, but rather at the God who established the 7th day set in Genesis.

Paul draws a contrast.

Let no one, then, judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a feast, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths, which are a shadow of the coming things, and the body is of the Christ; Col 2:16:17


which are all for destruction with the using, after the commands and teachings of men, Col 2:22

The idea is that the Law was given by ministrations of angels and by Moses.

Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. Acts 5:53

For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; Heb 2:2

And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. Exo 20:19

(I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying, Deut 5:5

So, those things were nailed to the cross (Col 2:14). But the 7th day rest from work was established long before Sinai.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. Gen 2:3

To be clear, the 7th day is not defined as the sabbath with all of its man-made rules at that time, but as rest from work. What work is in view? The point is to rest from your work of working for your salvation. You have been saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8).


In addition to not working, the Adventist perspective on keeping the Sabbath includes:

  • The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and continues until sunset on Saturday
  • The Sabbath is an appointed time for a holy convocation to the LORD

At the time Adventism began, most Christians agreed a weekly day of no work was to be observed. However, contrary to most Christians, Adventists maintain it was Saturday, and followed the Jewish tradition of beginning the Sabbath at sunset on Friday. Adventists maintain Christians were wrong in moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. At the time Adventism began, Sunday was widely observed as a day of rest on which businesses were closed. Therefore, it should be remembered this dispute primarily centered on when not if and how the Sabbath should be observed. The aspect of "when" is the difference between the "Lord's Day," that is Sunday, and the Sabbath day, that is Saturday.

It may oversimplify the complete dispute, but a primary issue Adventists had was in moving the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. This was contrary to what activities were required on the Sabbath:

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.
(Leviticus 23:3 ESV)

Arguably, the prohibition against work was to make everyone free to meet1with the LORD and participate in the required holy convocation.

The command to observe the Sabbath begins:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)

At the time the command was given, the people had already been observing the Sabbath which had been given to them in the second month (cf. Exodus 16) and which was confirmed by the manna. The Sabbath day was the day on which there was no manna from the LORD and the day on which the previous day's manna would not spoil and could be eaten. Therefore, "Remember the Sabbath day..." is not a general requirement to observe a day of rest, but a requirement to remember the specific day on which the people were to have a holy convocation. In other words, do not gather manna, but gather yourself to the LORD.

Paul's writings are often used to show he gathered with other believers on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath. Without getting into the merits of this exegesis, it cannot be denied Paul was found in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Moreover, when there was no synagogue (i.e. Philippi), Paul went to the "place of prayer" on the Sabbath. In addition, Acts has several references to Paul's intent to observe other Jewish holy days and customs. Regardless of what additional traditions Paul followed, he continued to recognize the traditional calendar of Judaism.

If the Sabbath is a "shadow" of things to come, then Paul understands there is something real in heaven which is responsible for casting the shadow:

4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 4)

So some Christians like Adventist believe in observing the Sabbath as it points to that which is real:

8 For if Jesus had given them rest, he would never have afterwards spoken of another day. 9 There remaineth therefore a day of rest for the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, the same also hath rested from his works, as God did from his. 11 Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest; lest any man fall into the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4 DRA)

1. The "Feasts of the LORD" described in Leviticus are called מוֹעֵד, appointed times or meetings.

  • "… he gathered with other believers on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath". That's literally true, but in modern usage, the statement is misleading. The gatherings were generally on what we would call Saturday evening, after sunset. Paul's group had spent the day honouring the Sabbath with the local Christians, and afterward would meet to discuss plans for the next week, which in Paul's case often meant leaving early Sunday morning to travel to a different city. He and his company would be well rested for the journey after the Sabbath day, when travel would have been inappropriate. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 13:45

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