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From Sabbath to Sunday

The problem at Rome and Galatia and Corinth

                          FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY

Continued from previous page

     This view is validated by the occurrence of these terms, in
similar or reverse sequence, five times in the Septuagint and
several times in other literature. 60  There is, however, an
exceptional occurrence in Isaiah 1:13-14 where the "new moon" is
found at the beginning of the enumeration rather than at the
middle, but an exception does not invalidate a common usage.
     The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary interprets the
"Greek--sabbath days" as a reference to the annual ceremonial
sabbaths and not to the weekly Sabbath(Lev.23-6-8,15,16,21,24,25,
27,28,37,38). It is a fact that both the Sabbath  and the Day of
Atonement in Hebrew are designated by the compound expression
shabbath shabbathon, meaning "a sabbath of solemn rest" (Ex.31:
15; 35:2; Lev.23:3,32; 16:31). But this phrase is rendered in the
Septuagint by the compound Greek expression "Greek," which is
different from the simple "Greek" found in Colossians 2:16. It is
therefore linguistically impossible to interpret the latter as a
reference to the Day of Atonement or to any other ceremonial
sabbaths, since these are never designated simply as "Greek."
     The cited commentary rests its interpretation, however, not
on the grammatical and linguistic use of the word "Greek" but
rather on a theological interpretation of the Sabbath as related
to "shadow" in Colossians 2:17. It is argued that:

     the weekly Sabbath is a memorial of an event at the
     beginning of earth's history ... hence the "sabbath days"
     Paul declares to be shadows pointing to Christ cannot refer
     to the weekly Sabbath ... but must indicate the ceremonial
     rest days that reach their realization in Christ and His
     Kingdom. 61

     To determine the meaning of a word exclusively by
theological assumptions, rather than by linguistic or contextual
evidences, is against the canons of Biblical hermeneutics.
Moreover even the theological interpretation which the Adventist
commentary gives to the Sabbath is hard to justify, since we have
seen that the Sabbath can legitimately be regarded as the
"shadow" or fitting symbol of the present and future blessing of
salvation. 62  Furthermore we have noticed that the term "shadow"
is used not in a pejorative sense, as a label for worthless
observances which have ceased their function, but to qualify
their role in relationship to the "body of

60 Cf. Septuagint, II Chron.2:4; 31:3; Neh.10:33; Ez.45:17; Hosea
2:11. See also Jub.1:14; Jos. Ber. 3:11; Justin, "Dialogue" 8:4.
61 "The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary" 1957, VII, pp.
62 See above chapter II.

Christ." Another significant indication pointing against annual
ceremonial sabbaths is the fact that these are already included
in the word "Greek--festival" and if "Greek" meant the same thing
there would be a needless repetition. These indications
compellingly show that the word "Greek " as use in Colossi 2:16
cannot refer to any of the annual ceremonial sabbaths.
     Does the plural form "Greek" refer exclusively to the
seventh-day Sabbath? The fact that the plural here as three
meanings, namely several Sabbaths (LXX Ez.46:3; Is.1:13; Acts
17:2), (2) one Sabbath (in spite of the plural - LXX Ex.20:11;
Mark 1:21; 2:23-24; 3:2-4), and (3) the whole week (cf. the
titles of Psalms in the LXX, Ps.23:1; 47;1; 93:1; Mark 16:2; Luke
24:1; Acts 20:7), has led some to believe that in Colossians the
term refers not exclusively to the seventh-day Sabbath but also
to "week-days." 63.  This view deserves consideration since the
enumeration does suggest yearly, monthly, and weekly festivities.
Moreover the fact that in Galatians 4:10 (cf. Rom.14:5), where
Paul opposes a strikingly similar false teaching which insisted
on the observance of "days, and months, and seasons, and years," 
the list begins with "days---Greek" (plural), gives us reasons to
believe that the "sabbaths" in Colossians include other days
besides the Sabbath. In this case Paul is warning against the
observance of yearly, monthly and weekly holy days in general
(including the Sabbath). Support for this interpretation is
provided also by the juxtaposition in which "eating and drinking"
and the observance of sacred times are placed. The same
correlation between eating - not eating and the observance of
days is suggested in Rom. 14:2,5. It is therefore altogether
possible that the "days" of Romans and Galatians, and the
"sabbaths" of Colossians, are interrelated, including besides the
Sabbath other week days characterized by fasting or dietary
     It is well known that not only the Jews but even the early

63 Norbert Hugede (fn. 13), p.144: "A. Bailly in his dictionary,
ad loc., takes pains to point out that if the singular "Greek"
designates the day of rest of the Bible ("Greek" can also have
this meaning sometimes), the plural is the expression used
specifically to designate the week (Anthologie, V. 160); the
author cites N.T. texts where the word has this meaning: Matt.
28:1: "Greek" ( =  the first day of the week); cf. Mark 16:2;
Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7. We see therefore that the
word already in itself, without taking into consideration the
hellenistic context where we are and which orients us, has but
very far relations with the Sabbath day, designated by the
Decalogue as the memorial of creation and of the exodus from
Egypt...." On the three usages of the plural "Greek" see the
explicit explanation of E. Lohse, TDNT VII, pp.7,20.

Christians fasted on fixed days. 64  In sectarian Judaism fasting
was made even more rigorous. Observe that in the "Zadokite
Document" the observance of fasts is enjoined together with that
of holy days: "Keep the sabbath in its every detail, and the
festivals and fasts in accordance with the practice laid down
originally by the men who entered the new covenant in 'the land
of Damascus'" (CD 6:18). We know however that fasting was not
allowed on the Sabbath, among both Jews and primitive Christians.
65  This would mean that if, as some believe, the abstention from
food spoken of in Colossians and in Romans can be legitimately
correlated with the "days" and "sabbaths," then the latter could
not be referring directly to the seventh-day  but rather to
certain fasting days of the week.
     Assuming, for the sake of enquiry that the "sabbaths" in 
Colossians do refer to or include the Sabbath day, the question
to be considered is: What kind of Sabbath observance did the
false teachers advocate?  The data provided by the "Letter to the
Colossians" are too meager to answer this question conclusively.
Yet the nature of the heresy allows us to draw some basic
conclusions. The rigoristic emphasis on the observance of dietary
rules would undoubtedly be carried over to Sabbath-keeping as
well. The veneration of "the elements of the universe" would also
affect the observance of the Sabbath and of sacred times, since
it was commonly believed that the astral powers, which direct the
stars, control both the calendar and human lives. Gunther
Bornkamm comments in this regard:

     Paul mentions New Moon and Sabbath (Col.2:16), days, months,
     seasons, and years (Gal.4:10), i.e. in each case days and
     seasons that do not stand under the sign of the history of
     salvation, but under the sign of the periodic cycles of
     nature, i.e. corresponding to the movement of the stars.
     Thus the

64 "The Didache" (8:1) admonishes Christians not to fast with the
hypocrites on the second and fifth days of the week, but rather
on the fourth and sixth.
65 On Sabbath fasting among Jews and early Christians see above
66 W.Rordorf, "Sunday," p.137: "It is not certain what we should
understand by 'observance of days.' Since the phrase occurs in
the context of abstention from food, we might think of it in
terms of some kind of fast day"; a similar view is held by M.J.
Lagrange, "L'Epitre aux Romains," 1950, p.325; Joseph Huby,
"Saint Paul, Epitre aux Romains," 1957, pp.455-456; James Denney,
"Romans," The Expositor's Greek Testament, 1961, p.702.

     "Greek"  [elements of the universe] provide their content
     and meaning, 6 7

     In the context of the Colossian heresy it appears then that
the Sabbath was observed not as the sign of creation, election or
redemption but, as Eduard Lohse points out, "for the sake of 'the
elements of the universe,' who direct the course of the stars and
thus also prescribe minutely the order of the calendar." 68  Note
that this astrological superstition did not prevail only in
Hellenistic circles but also in Judaism. The Qumran community,
for instance, speculated on the relationship between angels, the
power of the stars, and the strict observance of sacred times 69
     The Jewish-Christian sect of the Elchasaites (ca. A.D.100)
provides another example of how the veneration of astral powers
affected their observance of the Sabbath. Hippolytus reports:

     Elchasai speaks thus: "There exist wicked stars of impiety
     ... Beware of the power of the days, of the sovereignty of
     these stars and engage not in the commencement of any un-
     dertaking during the ruling days of these. And baptize not
     man or woman during the days of the power of these stars,
     when the moon (emerging) from among them, courses the sky,
     and travels along with them ... But, moreover, honour the
     day of the Sabbath, since that day is one of those during
     which prevails (the power) of these stars." 70

     In later Christian polemic against the Jews we find
additional evidence of astral influence on the observance of
sacred days like the

67 Gunter Bornkamm (fn. 13), p.131. 
68 Eduard Lohse (fn. 13), p.115.
69 In the Book of Jubilees, of which fragments have been found in
the first and fourth caves at Qumran, it is said not only that
every kind of angel was created on the first day of creation
along with heaven and earth, but also that it was the angel of
God that revealed the calendar and taught men the signs of the
Zodiac in order to observe the days, month and sabbaths (Jub.
5:15f). The proper and exact observance of days is of supreme
importance. Every misfortune which has befallen Israel is
attributed to negligence of the calendar and festivals.
References to festivals, months, sabbaths, and years similar to
those in Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16 occur for example in
Jubilees 6:32-38; 23:19. The Zadokite Document declares that
"with those that held fast to His commandments - God ever made
good His everlasting Covenant with Israel, revealing to them the
hidden things concerning which Israel in general had gone astray
- even His holy sabbaths and His glorious festivals, His
righteous ordinances, the ways of His truth and the purposes of
His will, the which, if a man do, he shall live" (CD 3:1;
6:18-19; emphasis supplied).

Sabbath. In the "Epistle to Diognetus," for instance, we read
these scathing rebukes:

     But as to their [i.e. the Jews] scrupulosity concerning
     meats and their superstition as respects the Sabbaths, and
     their boasting about circumcision, and their fancies about
     fasting and new moons, which are utterly ridiculous and
     unworthy of notice, - I do not think that you require to
     learn anything from me. 71

     The fragment of the "Preaching of Peter" contains this blunt

     Neither worship ye him as do the Jews, for they, who suppose
     that they alone know God, do not know him, serving angels
     and archangels, the month and the moon: and if no moon be
     seen, they do not celebrate what is called the first
     sabbath, nor keep the new moon, nor the days of unleavened
     bread, nor the feast {of tabernacles?}, nor the great day
     (of atonement). 72

     In the pagan world, as we have already noticed, 73  Saturday
was regarded as an unlucky day because of its association with
the planet Saturn. In view of the prevailing astral superstitions
which influenced the observance of days among both Jews and
pagans, it seems plausible to assume that any Sabbath observance
advocated by the Colossians' ascetic teachers - known for their
promotion of the worship of the elements of the universe - could
only have been of a rigorous and superstitious type. A warning
against such a type of

70 Hippolytus, "The Refutation of all Heresies" 9, 11, ANF V, p.
133; cf. Epiphanius, "Adversus Haereses" 29, 8, 5. Similar
astrological superstitions underlie the Sabbath observance of
Cerinthus (Filastrius, "Haereses" 36, CSEL 38, 19), of Desitheus
of Samaria (Origen, "De Principiis" 4,3,2), of the Simonians
(Ps.-Clement, "Homilia" 2, 35, 3) and of the Hypsistarians
(Gregory Nazianzius, "Oratio" 18, 5, PG 35, 991); cf. E. Lohse,
"Greek" TDNT VII, p.33.
71 "The Epistle to Dionetus" 4, ANF 1, 26.
72 "The Preaching of Peter," quoted in Clement of Alexandria,
"Stromateis" 6, 5, 41, 2, trans. M.R.James, "The Apocryphal New
Testament," 1924, p.17. Aristides writes in his "Apology" 14
(Syriac): "In their [i.e., the Jews'] imagination they conceive
that it is God they serve; whereas by their mode of observance it
is to the angels and not to God that their service is rendered: -
as when they celebrate sabbaths and the beginning of the months,
and feasts of unleavened bread, and a great fast; and fastings
and circumcision and the purification of meats, which things,
however, they do not observe perfectly" (ANF X, p.276). Cf. also
Origen, "Contra Celsum" 1, 26.
73 See above pp. 173f. and p.243.

Sabbath-keeping by the Apostle would have been not only
appropriate but also desirable. But in this case Paul would be
attacking not the principle of Sabbath-keeping but its
perversion. Observe, however, that the Apostle is not admonishing
against the form of these observances, but against their
perverted function. The manner in which a Christian eats, drinks,
of observes days and seasons is (as well stated in Romans 14:5) a
matter of personal conviction to be respected, but the motivation
for observing them is not a matter of personal viewpoint. These
observances are and must remain a shadow pointing to the
substance which belongs to Christ and must never become the
substitute for the reality. It is not therefore the form or
manner of observance of sacred times that Paul opposes but
their perverted function and motivations, which adulterated the
ground of salvation. The information provided by the other two
similar passages (Rom.14:5-6; Gal.4:8-11), which we shall now
consider, corroborates this conclusion.

(Again, interesting view by Bacchiocchi and others, but which I
see fails to take the overall context fully into consideration,
and which would make Paul's teaching much simpler to understand.
So also with the often quoted verses in Romans and Galatians. All
THREE passages I have expounded in-depth with studies found on
this Website. But now back to Bacchiocchi - Keith Hunt)

The Sabbath in Romans and Galatians. 

     In Rome a fanatical (heretical) ascetic group, strikingly
similar to that of Colossae, advocated strict vegetarianism,
abstention from wine and the observance of days (Rom.
14:1-10,21). We suggested earlier that probably Paul is
correlating (as in Colossians 2:16) the eating - not eating, with
the observance of days. If this interpretation is correct, then
the days mentioned in Romans 14:5-6 can hardly include the
Sabbath, since we know that the latter was regarded as a day of
feasting and not of fasting. 74
     The problem in Rome was apparently milder than in Colossae
or in Galatia. The ascetic teachers there were probably a less
influential minority and were not "propagandists for a
ceremonialism that was aimed at the heart of the cross." 75  This
is indicated by the tolerant and restrained language of the

     One esteems one day as better than another, while another
     man esteems all days alike. Let everyone be fully convinced
     in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in
     honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the
     Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains,
     abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God (14:

     The principle of acting according to one's convictions and
of respecting a different viewpoint (Rom.14:3,10,13-16,19-21) on
the matter of diet and days, stands out in Romans in obvious

74 See above fn. 65.
75 John Murray, "The Epistle to the Romans," 1965, p.173.

to the principle of justification by faith. On the latter Paul
adamantly refuses to compromise, on the former he acknowledges
the individual's conscience as the ultimate authority. What
accounts for this obvious difference? The answer is to be found
in Paul's understanding of what is essential and what is
unessential to salvation. That faith in Jesus Christ is the
ground of salvation, is for Paul an unquestionable and essential
principle (cf. Rom.3:22,26,27,28,31; 4:3,13,22-25; 5:1). But
since faith is experienced and expressed differently in each
individual, the way in which faith is practiced is unessential.
"Let everyone," Paul says, "be fully convinced in his own mind"
(14:6). The basic principle repeatedly laid down by the Apostle
to determine the legitimacy of the observance of days or of
dietary rules, is to be sure to be motivated by a conscientious
desire to honor the Lord ("observe to the Lord - "Greek",
14:6,7,18; cf. I Cor.16:31).
     On the basis of this principle, we may ask, could Paul have
advocated the abandonment of Sabbath observance? It is hard to
believe that he would regard such a practice as a hindrance to
honoring the Lord, when he himself "customarily" (Acts 17:2) met
with "Jews and Greeks" on the Sabbath in the synagogue (Acts 18:
4). W.Rordorf argues that Paul assumes a twofold position. With
regard to the "weak" Jewish Christians he grants them freedom to
observe the law including the Sabbath. On the other hand, to the
"strong" Gentile Christians he grants absolute "freedom from any
observance of the law," particularly from the Sabbath. 76  Can
this conclusion be legitimately drawn from Romans 14? Observe
that the conflict between the "weak" and the "strong" over diet
and days is only remotely related (if at all) to the Mosaic law.
The  "weak man" who "eats only vegetables" (14:2), drinks no
wine, (14:21) and "esteems one day as better [apparently for
fasting] than another" (14:5) can claim no support for such
convictions from the Old Testament. Nowhere does the Mosaic law
prescribe strict vegetarianism, total abstinence from wine and a
preference for fasting days. 77  Similarly the "strong man" who
"believes he may eat anything" (14:2) and who "esteems all days
alike" is not asserting his freedom from the Mosaic law but from
ascetic beliefs apparently derived from sectarian Judaism. 78    
     The whole discussion then is not

76 W. Rordorf, "Sunday," p.138. 
77 See above fn. 38.
78 Note that the distinction between clean and unclean food in
Romans 14:14 is different from that of Leviticus 11. In the
latter unlawful foods are designated in the LXX by the word
"Greek" which means "impure." In Romans, however, the term used
is "Greek" which means "common." Apparently the dispute was about
meat which per se was lawful to eat but because of association
with idol worship (cf. 1 Cor.8:1-13) was regarded by some as
"Greek," thus unfit for human consumption.

To be continued



Trying to make 1 Cor.8 Romans 14, Galatians 4, and Colossians 2,
all fit into the same pan is a mistake. Paul was addressing
different false problems in each case. Each were unique and each
had its context and false teaching. Paul was correcting all FOUR
different problems that were causing the respective "church"
groups to fall into false theology. All FOUR false teachings I
have covered in detail with studies on this Website - Keith Hunt.

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