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    Sabbaton in Colossians 2:16

    LUTHER LEE, in his “Theology,” p. 375, presents the following criticism on Colossians 2:16. The text reads thus: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”SBTON 12.1

    On which Mr. Lee says: “To what Sabbath does the apostle refer? He uses the Greek word sabbaton, which is everywhere used to denote the seventh-day Sabbath, without giving any notice that he means anything else; and while, by a holy day and the new moon, he includes all other feasts and rests which might be called sabbaths, he leaves nothing but the seventh-day Sabbath to be meant by the sabbath days.”SBTON 12.2

    The arguments which Mr. Lee presents to show that Paul refers to the seventh-day Sabbath in Colossians 2:16, and that consequently, that Sabbath is not binding on Christians, are these: First, the apostle uses the word sabbaton, which everywhere denotes the seventh-day Sabbath; and, secondly, the other terms used in the text cover all other kinds of sabbaths, so that this word must refer here to the seventh-day Sabbath.SBTON 12.3

    He evidently designed to convey to the mind of the reader the idea that the term sabbaton, always and in every place, means the seventh-day Sabbath; and we can see the object of this; for unless it does always have this meaning, his argument on the use of the term here is null and void. But it will be noticed that he does not directly assert this; nor do we think he would be willing to so far risk his reputation as a scholar as to make such a declaration. He says the term sabbaton “is everywhere used to denote the seventh-day Sabbath;” which is true so far as the fact is concerned that whenever the seventh-day Sabbath is spoken of, the term sabbaton or its synonym, sabbata, is used. But it is quite another thing to say that the word sabbaton never means anything else, as he evidently designed to have the reader understand. It may be used to denote the seventh-day Sabbath in every instance where that Sabbath is brought to view; and yet it may have a much wider signification, and be applied, in other places, to other objects.SBTON 12.4

    The question to be decided is, Does the term sabbaton ever refer to the ceremonial sabbaths of the Jews? If it does, then the apostle may have used it in that sense in Colossians 2:16; and the argument of Mr. Lee so far falls to the ground. We therefore refer the reader to Leviticus 16:31; 23:32; and 25:2, 4, 6, as found in the Septuagint, where he will see that the term sabbaton is used in reference to the day of atonement, one of the yearly sabbaths of the Jews, and is even applied to the seventh year in which the land should rest.SBTON 13.1

    This is conclusive on this point. But there is in the New Testament evidence enough that the term sabbaton does not always mean the seventh-day Sabbath. Every lexicon tells us that it sometimes means the whole week, the interval from Sabbath to Sabbath; and Luke 18:12, furnishes an instance where it must have this signification.SBTON 13.2

    So much for his argument on sabbaton. Let us now look for a moment at his other statement, that the remaining terms in Colossians 2:16, namely, the “holy day” and “new moon” include all other feasts and rests which might be called sabbaths, so that the term sabbaton is necessarily restricted to the seventh-day Sabbath. The term translated “holy day” is heorte, which is defined by Greenfield, a “solemn feast, public festival, holy day; specially spoken of the passover.” Robinson adds, “Specially a) The passover, and the festival of unleavened bread connected with it, the paschal festival. b) The feast of tabernacles.” The passover festival occupied seven days, and the feast of tabernacles, eight. The first and last days of these feasts were special days. In them the people were to have a holy convocation, and perform no servile work. They were sabbaths. The other days of the feast were simply holidays, and were designated by this term, heorte; while the solemnity and cessation from labor that pertained to the first and last days called for another title, and they were termed sabbaths. So Kitto says, respecting the feast of tabernacles, “It began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, and continued eight days, the first and last being sabbaths.” The new moon, noumenia, was another kind of festival, and did not include any which could properly be called a sabbath; that is no day was a sabbath, or day of rest, on account of its being the festival of the new moon.SBTON 14.1

    Thus we see that the term, “holy day” and “new moon” are not sufficient, as Mr. Lee asserts, to cover all the subjects which the apostle wished to introduce; namely, the ordinary feast days of the Jew, the new moons, and the sabbaths connected with their feasts; and these latter he designates by the word sabbatone, just as they were designated in the Greek version of the Old Testament then in use.SBTON 15.1

    But there are other considerations which should have been sufficient to save Mr. Lee from so false a criticism upon this text:-SBTON 15.2

    1. The sabbaths here mentioned are those associated with meats, drinks, new moons, and festivals. But the seventh-day Sabbath never was so associated.SBTON 15.3

    2. The sabbaths here spoken of were, like the new moons and feasts with which they were connected, shadows of things to come. But the seventh-day Sabbath never was a shadow; it was instituted before the fall, when, from the very nature of the case, a type could not have existed. This language of the apostle, therefore, in the most emphatic manner, excludes the weekly Sabbath from the days of which he speaks.SBTON 15.4

    3. All that is mentioned in verse 16 is included in the handwriting of ordinances of verse 14, which was against us, and which was blotted out and nailed to the cross. But the seventh-day Sabbath never was a part of these ordinances, as such. It owed its existence to enactments entirely distinct, not being written by the hand of Moses, but being proclaimed by the voice of God from the summit of Sinai, and engraved with his finger upon the tables of stone. And to speak of blotting out such a document would be to say that a person could, with pen and ink, erase the chiseled inscription of the marble monument. If Mr. Lee is correct, Paul did not write by inspiration of God; for that never thus bungles in the use of language.SBTON 15.5

    The word sabbatone is in the plural, and should here be so rendered. If it was in the singular number, it might with propriety be claimed that it referred to the weekly Sabbath. But being plural, it may properly be so rendered; and the context, showing that it must refer to the ceremonial sabbaths of the Jews, demands that the plural rendering be here given it. So if the word days, which our translators have supplied, be omitted, it should be rendered sabbaths. In this manner God speaks of the sabbaths of the Jewish church, when by the prophet Hosea (2:11) he calls them “her sabbaths,” and predicts that they should cease, as Paul here declares that they had ceased. Robinson says sabbaton, in Colossians 2:16, has a plural signification.SBTON 16.1

    Mr. Lee’s criticism thus fails in every particular; for, 1. The terms holy day (or feast day) and new moon do not cover the ceremonial sabbaths of the Jews. 2. The term sabbaton is applied to those sabbaths, and is needed in this text to denote them. 3. The sabbaths of this text are associated with ceremonies. 4. They are shadows, or types. 5. They are blotted out. 6. The word is plural. All which considerations prove that the text has no reference whatever to the Sabbath of the moral law; and hence contains no evidence that we are not morally bound to observe it. U. S.SBTON 16.2

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