Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Colossians 2:16 Continued Again

In studying the use of the Greek word sabbatos in the entire Bible (and the Hebrew shabbat in the Old Testament), it is clear that sometimes sabbatos means Sabbath, and sometimes it means Sabbaths. Why might this be the case? The reason is that there are two types of Sabbaths in the Old Testament economy. The first is the weekly Sabbath. The principle of this weekly Sabbath is set out in Gen 2:1-3. It is mentioned in passing in Ex 16. It is given in full in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20 and Deut 5). The second type of Sabbath is related to the annual appointed feasts (Lev 23:2). Each of the annual festivals occurred at appointed times during the year. These feasts are set out in schematic form in Lev 23. What becomes clear from that chapter is that there were a number of days during the year that, whether they fell on the weekly Sabbath or not, they were accounted as Sabbaths, because they were appointed holy days attached to each of the appointed feasts. For example, the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were Sabbaths, as ordinary work was prohibited on those days (Lev 23:7-8). Pentecost is likewise identified, even though it, by definition, never occurred on the Sabbath (Lev 23:21). The Day of Atonement is explicitly identified as a Sabbath, even though it rarely occurred on the weekly Sabbath (Lev 23:32).

The two types of Sabbath are thus lumped together in the use of the plural form of sabbatos. Is it possible to distinguish between the two types of Sabbaths? There does appear to be an idiom in the Old Testament in which the use of Sabbaths is explicitly connected with the annual cycle of festivals, thus setting those "special" Sabbaths apart from the ordinary weekly Sabbath. This is the phrase "the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the feasts." Those three terms occur together often enough (though not always in the same order) that it appears to be a shorthand way of referring to the annual festival cycle, without including the weekly Sabbaths. As indicated in this chart,



1Ch 23:31

ἐν τοῖς σαββάτοις καὶ ἐν ταῖς νεομηνίαις καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς

2Ch 2:4

καὶ ἐν τοῖς σαββάτοις καὶ ἐν ταῖς νουμηνίαις καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς

2Ch 8:13

ἐν τοῖς σαββάτοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς μησὶν καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς

2Ch 31:3

εἰς σάββατα καὶ εἰς τὰς νουμηνίας καὶ εἰς τὰς ἑορτὰς

Neh 10:34

τῶν σαββάτων τῶν νουμηνιῶν εἰς τὰς ἑορτὰς

Hos 2:11

ἑορτὰς αὐτῆς καὶ τὰς νουμηνίας αὐτῆς καὶ τὰ σάββατα αὐτῆς

Isa 1:13

τὰς νουμηνίας ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ σάββατα καὶ ἡμέραν μεγάλην

Ezk 44:24

ταῖς ἑορταῖς μου φυλάξονται καὶ τὰ σάββατά

Ezk 45:17

ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς καὶ ἐν ταῖς νουμηνίαις καὶ ἐν τοῖς σαββάτοις

Ezk 46:3

ἐν τοῖς σαββάτοις καὶ ἐν ταῖς νουμηνίαις

Col 2:16

ἑορτῆς ἢ νεομηνίας ἢ σαββάτων·

From a comparison of these passages with Col 2:16, it appears to be the case that Paul is not including the weekly Sabbath, but is rather pointing to the annual cycle of festivals, with its feasts, new moons, and "special" Sabbaths as no longer obligatory on Christians. It is this annual cycle that was the "shadow of the things to come," and which pointed to Christ. The regular weekly Sabbath is in another category altogether.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Colossians 2:16 Continued

In my first post on this text (August 31) I mentioned that the use of the Greek sabbatos is inconsistent in the New Testament, sometime being singular and sometimes plural, though referring to the Sabbath. An examination of sabbatos in the Greek of the Old and New Testaments reveals the following. In the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the Septuagint regularly uses the plural of sabbatos to translate the singular Hebrew word shabbat. In the historical books (2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, and Nehemiah), the Septuagint uses the singular of sabbatos to translate the singular shabbat, and the plural of sabbatos to translate the plural of shabbat. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos follow the practice found in the Pentateuch. Ezekiel follows the pattern of the historical books. In the New Testament, Matthew and Mark are the least consistent. Matthew uses the plural 6 times* and the singular 4 times. Mark uses the plural 6 times and the singular 6 times. Luke primarily uses the singular (only 5 plurals out of 20 occurrences). John uses the singular 11 times, and the plural twice. But the plural occurrences both mean "week" rather than "Sabbath." Acts is somewhat mixed, using the plural four times (once it means "week," and once it is modified by the number three, so would reasonably be plural) and the singular 6 times. The word sabbatos is used only twice in the epistles. In 1 Cor 16:1 it is singular, and means "week." In Col 2:16 it is plural. So the question is, does it mean "Sabbath" or "Sabbaths"? That will be the topic of the next post.

*The English versions regularly translate sabbatos as "Sabbath" whether it is singular or plural, except when it means "week."