“So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules were only shadows of the real thing, Christ himself.”- Colossians 2:16-17 (NLT)
To fully understand the above text, we must frame it within the context of the audience Paul was addressing, the historical and religious background when he wrote it, and the Old Testament references of the 2 verses under discussion.
In his whole letter to the Colossians, Paul “is addressing a syncretistic heresy that is a mixture of angel worship and ascetic practices.”* In addition to these, the legalistic Jewish Christians were requiring Jewish law of Gentile believers. (Acts 15: 4- 11 NLT)
In Colossians 2: 16-17, Paul discusses the last 2 Jewish distinctives: 1) food laws, and 2) festivals, new moons, or the Sabbaths. According to Paul “these were part of the system that prefigured, or pointed forward to Christ.” Therefore, they were just a “shadow of things to come.” Christ is preeminent, He is Lord!!
Sabbatarians of every shade and color are quick to point out that the Sabbaths under discussion could not be the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, because it is an eternal institution, and is morally binding on all people for all time. However, I have discovered that this same sentence construction is found in the Old Testament in either ascending or descending order, repeated many times over. The “sabbaths” in this common Old Testament construction always refer to the weekly Sabbath.To make this Colossians passage refer to ceremonial festival sabbaths ignores this construction.
Leviticus 23 lists all the religious feasts, with the seventh- day Sabbath on top, followed by other festivals. (V. 1-4 NLT). Here are a few examples:
… and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the LORD on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the set feasts, by number according to the ordinance governing them, regularly before the LORD. 1 Chron. 23: 30-31 (NKJV)
Behold, I am building a temple for the name of the LORD my God, to dedicate it to Him, to burn before Him sweet incense, for the continual shewbread, for the burnt offerings morning and evening on the Sabbaths, on the New Moons, and on the set feasts of the LORD our God. 2 Chron. 2: 4 (NKJV)
I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, her Sabbaths—all her appointed feasts. And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, of which she has said, ‘These are my wages that my lovers have given to me.’… Hosea 2: 11-12 (NKJV)