Throughout the New Testament the Sabbath principle retains its binding status. However, Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 4:9-11, and Colossians 2:16-17 are all often cited as evidence that the Sabbath is no longer binding. These texts pose perhaps the most persuasive arguments against the Sabbatarian position, therefore several brief points need to be made regarding their interpretation. While a full Pauline theology of the Law and Sabbath is well beyond the capabilities of a single blog post, I do hope to show that these passages are not as iron-clad as the anti-sabbatarians might argue.
Romans 14:5-6 is in the middle of an argument Paul is building against passing judgment upon weaker brothers, specifically regarding Jewish ceremonial laws. Lloyd-Jones explains regarding these ‘Sabbath days’:
“Jewish religious authorities themselves decided that when a certain great festival was coming, it would be good if the people prepared for it. So they appointed a ‘sabbath’, the day before the festival, as a means of preparation. So quite literally, from their standpoint, they did have Sabbath ‘days’; not only the seventh day of every week, but other holy days that they themselves had introduced in order that their observance of the fast or the festival might be more effective.”
Paul is dealing with the ceremonial and cultic attachments to certain days; he is not abrogating the Sabbath command. Just as people today attach significance to certain days (e.g., Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Lent…), these believers were doing the same. Paul is addressing, “not the Sabbath as such, but certain fast days, certain feast days, certain festival days, that had now become a part of the life of the Jews.” Paul concludes regarding these matters, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5b). Regarding the observance of special days, there is to be charity shown in discussing diverse views. But regarding the ongoing Sabbath command, Paul is not here speaking.
In Galatians 4:9-11, Paul is writing against the keeping of days as a necessity for justification. The entire letter is an argument not to return to Jewish practices, namely circumcision, as a means necessary for salvation. Even though the letter speaks of those who “observe days, months, seasons, and years” (v 10), because of the context of the passage and the letter this does not constitute an argument against keeping a Sabbath for non-salvific purposes.
Colossians 2:16-17 is the more difficult passage of the three because it actually contains the word “Sabbath” (v 16). In the letter Paul is urging the Colossians not to be led astray by those who are ‘judging’ their salvation based on their observances of dietary restrictions and special days. The dietary restrictions can be understood, “in light of both the discussion of ethnic identity of Jewish Christians and the preparatory rites for visionary experiences.” This combination of abrogated Mosaic ceremonial law plus a Jewish cultism was leading the Colossians astray. The reference to a “festival, new moon, or a Sabbath,” clearly indicates some Jewish background to this heresy. These terms are found together in several Old Testament passages. Significantly, “when these terms are listed together in the OT, it often refers to cultic rituals linked with these festal days. If so, Paul is not opposed to the Jewish calendar per se but to the imposition of practices related to these feasts” Similar to the Romans passage discussed above, Paul is not removing the command for one Sabbath day of rest per week. He is addressing the ceremonial and cultic patterns that the Colossians were using to “pass judgment” upon believers.
While a full exploration of Paul’s theology of the Law and the Sabbath is way beyond what a blog post could attempt to accomplish, I hope to have shown some introductory arguments to defend against anti-sabbatarians, many of whom like to cite these verses as the final word against any New Covenant sabbatarian notions.
Jon English Lee
 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 14:1-17 : Liberty and Conscience (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 88.
David W. Pao, Colossians & Philemon: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament v. 12 (2012), 185.
Jon English serves as Pastor of Discipleship for Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He has earned a Bachelor’s degree from Auburn University Montgomery, a Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Systematic and Historical Theology from SBTS. Jon English is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, a fellow for the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct professor for Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary.
Course taught at CBTS: The Decalogue & the Sabbath in Redemptive History