The letter to the Colossians mentions “festival,” “new moon,” and “Sabbath,” and concludes, according to most English translations, that these things “are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:16-17, NRSV; cf. NASB; NIV; RSV). Other versions say that “the reality is Christ” (2:17, NET), which implies that the “shadow” is somehow unreal or deficient. These translations lead many readers to think that Yeshua supersedes the Law because everything that came before him was a mere shadow. Yet, the text does not relegate the Mosaic commands to the trash bin in light of Jesus’ arrival. Instead, Colossians alludes to the universal observance of the biblical holidays when the Messiah inaugurates the world to come.

Whereas many translations speak of Jesus as the “substance,” and days like the Sabbath as “only a shadow,” these English renderings are imprecise. First, “only” is an English import that does not have a Greek equivalent in the sentence. Second, the original language is more concrete in its description of Jesus vis-à-vis the shadow. A better rendering of Col 2:17 would be, “These are a shadow (σκιὰ; skià) of the coming [things], but the body (σῶμα; sōma) is the Messiah’s.” Jesus is not the “reality” over against non-reality, nor is he the “substance” in place of the unsubstantial biblical feasts. Rather, Yeshua is the body that casts the shadow; there would be no shadow without the body and vice versa. The body does not replace the shadow; on the contrary, the continued existence of the shadow is contingent on the body. Likewise, Colossians states that the arrival and presence of the Messiah undergirds the legitimacy of biblical feasts.

Moreover, these terms conjure the image of a body casting a shadow—that is, the shadow appearing in front of someone and moving across the sun-soaked ground ahead of the person’s body. This is why Paul speaks of biblical holy days as a shadow of “coming [things] (μελλόντων; mellónton),” rather than that which lags behind the body. Some New Testament readers conclude that the shadow denotes observances for Israel before Jesus came, but this is not what the text says. Rather, it states that the “shadow” of festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths are things still to come. Instead of claiming that Yeshua renders God’s appointed times meaningless, the letter assures Gentile believers at Colossae that they will observe these celebrations the in eschatological future (cf. Isa 66:22-23; Heb 4:9). At present (and always) one’s focus should be on Jesus—the “body”—but the letter to the Colossians also envisions the universal observance of biblical feasts in God’s coming kingdom.

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142 COMMENTS

  1. In other words, if we want to observe biblical holy days such as שהת no one is allowed to judge us but Christ's Body. No one can say: you cannot follow Jewish holidays because you are not Jewish because in Christ we are one body. Great article, I love Isa 66:22-23: "For just as the new heavens and the new earth that I am making will continue in my presence," says ADONAI, "so will your descendants and your name continue. "Every month on Rosh-Hodesh and every week on Shabbat, everyone living will come to worship in my presence," says ADONAI." אמן
    • Thank you for reading, Bogumil. Glad you liked the article, but its only thesis is that Gentiles will keep Sabbath in the eschatological future. Your citation of Isaiah 66 supports this thesis, but the article doesn't argue that non-Jews should observe Sabbath now. That's a broader question that would require further discussion. Certainly, anyone can rest on a Saturday, but this isn't quite the same thing as "observing Shabbat" in the traditional Jewish sense. Yes, Ephesians refers to Jews and Gentiles in Christ as "one new person" (Eph 2:15) but, for Paul, Gentiles remain Gentiles and Jews constitute the people of "Israel" with their own identity-specific observances. Thanks for studying with us.

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    • One of my three daughters and I celebrate the Jewish holidays but my other two daughters don´t agree. I have arguments with them in the past but not anymore. They say that their evangelist taught them that Jesus' last words on the cross were: It is finished.

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  2. For me i do believe that Sabbath keeping is perpetual to the nation of Israel. But to say that it is a Christian observance also i reply no to that, because after resurrection of Christ no one can find any biblical texts that christian Believers were gathered on Sabbath day..
    • There is a verse: “On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.” Acts‬ ‭16:13

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    • In my reading of the book of Acts I see numerous scripture references of believers gathering on sabbath. And we see for certain all through the 4 gospels that Yahushuah (Jesus) did with his disciples. And Paul says to imitate him as he imitates Messiah. 1 Cor. 11:1

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    • I agree, You won't find one biblical text instructing new testament followers of Christ to keep the Sabbath. In all biblical texts where the command to keep the Sabbath is given, the audience is ALWAYS the nation of Israel! Not Christians!

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  3. What is the take away of Col 2:6 ? It is Col 2:20-21 these were basic principles of the world or regulations on diets, unclean animals, bodily hygiene, festivals, sabbaths,. We are not to subject ourselves to these. Peter's vision at Joppa validates that.
    • Col. 2:20-21 does not talk about YHWH's commandments, but commandments and teachings of men. Peter's vision was not inteded for Peter to start eating unclean animals. When we read it in context, we see that Peter got the vision to show him that the Gospel was also for the gentiles.

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  4. I listened to different teachings about the subject for the last 12 years since I left catholic church...What changed my perspective was an inner feeling since my childhood that Saturday was the real day of rest for me and wondering why most evangelical churches cannot actually observe it...logically we can..Blessings
    • Isn't Shabbat included in the 10 Words of G-D, existing as a commandment prior to Mt. Sinai, but included and bound together on the stone tablets..and mentioned again in Revelation...how can what G-D has commanded be done away with by His creation
  5. Greetings in Jesus' Name , Dr. Nicholas J, Schaser, your article is quite mind enlightening ,yet your response to Bogumil seems to suggest that Gentiles today do not necessarily need to observe Sabbath, I however think that they perhaps should, if they are one with Israel by faith in Christ
    • Thanks for your comment. Gentile Sabbath observance is a complex topic. Jesus followers among the nations worship God with God's people Israel (see Romans 15:10), but Gentiles do not become members of Israel. Insofar as the Sabbath was given as a particular "sign" between God and Israel (Exodus 31:13), the question of whether Gentiles should observe Sabbath in the present is debatable and the correct answer is not plainly apparent.

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  6. Well I went to Sabbath in CHURCH OF GOD Medan Indonesia, thiis is need to know so far Thank you God YOU are so Good
  7. Very interesting read about the contrast between shadow and substance. I've seen different takes on the subject with the emphasis being on the abrogation of the Jewish holy days. I believe Paul is not discouraging the observances of such practices but leaving it optional to the believer in Christ.
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