Colossians 2:14-17 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;... 16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
Colossians 2:16 - Is Sabbath plural or Singular?
This is one very controversial verse as it relates to something very important to God and hence it should be very important to us also. Some claim that the reference to sabbath days in Colossians 2:16 is referring to the Seventh day Sabbath of the Lord but Paul states in verse 14 that what is written in verse 16 are the ordinances, which would make Sabbath days the various ceremonial sabbaths. So should the Greek word “sab'-bat-on” in Colossians 2:16 be translated as sabbaths clearly indicating that ceremonial sabbaths are being referred to, or is it singular which would cast doubt for some as to if Paul was referring to the fourth Commandment?
Since the Greek text verifies that Paul is referencing the ordinances (ceremonial law) in Colossians 2:14, then everything else he refers to in this passage is also part of this ceremonial sanctuary system, which was observed when the moral law was broken. So the chances that Paul is referring to the fourth Commandment here is not possible. It just simply does not fit the context of the passage in the slightest. All these points and the above question will now be clearly answered.
Those guilty of antinomianism or anti-sabbatarians often like to quote Bible translations that are not true to the original Greek text to support their argument while falling from truth. It does not necessarily mean these are bad translations as they are sometimes just trying to clarify a verse. The NASB is quite often used by these people, but note how it moves seriously away from the original meaning of the verse. Compare the KJV with the NASB and see which matches the original Greek text using the table below. The Greek New Testament which matches the KJV with Strong's is also given. The KJV gives much more clarity to what is being spoken about such as there is a big difference between “contrary to us” and “hostile to us”. Handwriting and ordinances are very important keywords also. How are people supposed to interpret “having cancelled out the certificate of debt”? What certificate and what debt? Handwriting on the other hand (pardon the pun) has to be Moses who did hand write the ordinances, which can only be the ordinances of the ceremonial law. Before comparing the translations, below is just one of many scriptures that could be quoted that demonstrate this. The King James Version remains more consistent throughout with the use of such important keywords, which helps give much better clarity and understanding and far less confusion.
2 Chronicles 33:8 “Neither will I any more remove the foot of Israel from out of the land which I have appointed for your fathers; so that they will take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the WHOLE LAW and the STATUTES and the ORDINANCES by the hand of Moses.”
Colossians 2:14 Translation chart
The bold writing is the King James Bible translation and the green number underneath is the Strong's dictionary number that corresponds. The row underneath contains the Strong's dictionary definition for each word. Note how well the King James Bible matches the Strong's dictionary Greek definition. It is definitely the most accurate Bible for this passage on Colossians 2:16 regarding the ceremonial law.
Many anti-sabbatarians have also made the argument that since some places in the Bible where the Greek is genitive plural and Sabbath has been translated in the singular, that Colossians 2:16 is therefore also singular. The Greek New Testament definitely shows the declension for sabbath as N-GPN, which stands for Noun-Genitive-Plural-Neuter. It is unfortunate that some modern Bible translations have reflected an anti-sabbatarian stand by insisting that the plural sabbatôn which is translated “sabbath days” in the KJV should really be translated as “sabbath day.” The NIV, for example has “a sabbath day” based on that “though plural, it is often used in the New Testament in a singular sense” (Curtis Vaughan, “Colossians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary) The “Vine’s Expository Dictionary” provides the supposed proof that sabbatôn is singular and the KJV is wrong: “sabbaton … or sabbata: the latter, the plural form, was transliterated from the Aramaic word, which was mistaken for a plural; hence the singular, sabbaton was formed from it.”
But notice what the author is saying. He is saying that someone had mistaken sabbata (an Aramaic transliteration) for a plural word, and therefore came up with the singular sabbaton. But sabbaton is a New Testament word. It may be that Paul is transliterating from sabbata, but it would be extraordinarily strange for him to use the plural genitive form if he meant the singular. As a Greek speaker writing to Greek readers, he would know that they would parse it as plural regardless of whether the word is derived from Aramaic or Hebrew. If Paul had meant the singular, he would have used sabbatou as in Matthew 12:8 “For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.” I believe enough has been said on this point. The KJV Bible has translated the verse correctly. Attempts by anti-sabbatarians to render the verse in such a way as to suggest that Paul had in mind the weekly Sabbath are unsustainable. It would however have been more true to the original Greek if the KJV used “new moon or sabbaths” instead of "sabbath days" but “sabbath days” is still correct.
This is what “Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible” has to say in regards to plural or singular: “Or of the Sabbath days - Greek, “of the Sabbaths.” The word Sabbath in the Old Testament is applied not only to the seventh day, but to all the days of holy rest that were observed by the Hebrews, and particularly to the beginning and close of their great festivals. There is, doubtless, reference to those days in this place, since the word is used in the plural number, and the apostle does not refer particularly to the Sabbath properly so called. There is no evidence from this passage that he would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind. If he had used the word in the singular number - “the Sabbath,” it would then, of course, have been clear that he meant to teach that that commandment had ceased to be binding, and that a Sabbath was no longer to be observed. But the use of the term in the plural number, and the connection, show that he had his eye on the great number of days which were observed by the Hebrews as festivals, as a part of their ceremonial and typical law, and not to the moral law, or the Ten Commandments. No part of the moral law - no one of the ten commandments could be spoken of as “a shadow of good things to come.” These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation.”
Colossians 2:16 Bible verses that translate to plural
Below is a list of Bibles that had no trouble in establishing the context was the ceremonial law and that the Greek is plural i.e. “sabbaths, 4521 N-GPN“. P in N-GPN = Plural. It is good to see that the majority well and truly got this right. The full verse for the more common translations are given at the bottom of this page for those interested.
Colossians 2:16 Bible verses that could be plural or singular
This leaves only 5 of the more modern translations that don’t use plural for Colossians 2:16. But the big question is, do they mean “a weekly Sabbath day” or “a Ceremonial sabbath day” since they do not specifically say “The Sabbath” or the “weekly Sabbath”?
As for the Bible translations that use the singular (sabbath) instead of the plural where the Greek shows the declension to be plural, they are the thoughts of the translators and it does not necessarily mean they are correct in using the singular even though to them it may have seemed right to change it to singular. It is also possible that many of the translators have overlooked that where Sabbath is referenced, it may be referring to both types of the Sabbath i.e. the Weekly “Sabbath of the Lord” in the Ten Commandments or the ceremonial sabbaths as most references to Sabbath are before the cross and so the ceremonial law was not yet abolished. Example: The KJV in Matthew 28:1 translates to sabbath in both places where the genitive is plural (N-GPN). Did the translators get it right? Young’s Literal Translation on the other hand translated correctly to sabbaths. At a glance this may not seem to make sense, yet if we look a bit deeper we will discover that Jesus was crucified on Passover which has a ceremonial sabbath that falls on the weekly Sabbath in this case. Gills commentary gives clarity on the second mention of “the sabbaths” that states the following; “towards the first day of the week, or “sabbaths”; so the Jews used to call the days of the week, the first day of the sabbath, the second day of the sabbath, &c. take an instance or two.” There are only 4 out of 40 verses that the YLT Bible translates to singular that are genitive plural and of those 4 verses the “Literal Translation of the Bible” translates them to genitive plural. So it becomes very obvious that there is a problem when it comes to translating the plural here in the Bible at times. Therefore, the safest thing to always do is to analyse the context of the passage to see what is being said.
There is much more to be covered on this topic of the ceremonial law and Colossians 2:16, so there are links to other web sites that go into more detail that has not been covered here. You can find them in the top left corner under Related Links. If you want to contact us for feedback or questions, please use the Contact Us form.
Colossians 2:16 Translation chart
As per the Colossians 2:14 table, the bold writing is the King James Bible translation and the green number underneath is the Strong's dictionary number that corresponds. The row underneath contains the Strong's dictionary definition for each word. Only the last part of Colossians 2:16 is given here as that is all that is required to see the area of the verse that relates to the plural or singular issue.
Note that almost all Bible translations for Colossians 2:16 translate Sabbath to plural correctly. It is mainly five of the modern translations that work from a less accurate source of manuscripts than what the King James Bible and other older translations use, and they translate to "a Sabbath day" which is a bit vague and could be taken either way.
A Conservative Version “Let not any man therefore judge you in eating, or in drinking, or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths.”
American Standard Version “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day:”
Amplified Bible “Therefore let no one sit in judgment on you in matters of food and drink, or with regard to a feast day or a New Moon or a Sabbath.”
Bible Basic English “For this reason let no man be your judge in any question of food or drink or feast days or new moons or Sabbaths:”
Darby Bible “Let none therefore judge you in meat or in drink, or in matter of feast, or new moon, or sabbaths.”
King James Version “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:”
Literal Translation of the Holy Bible “Then do not let anyone judge you in eating, or in drinking, or in part of a feast, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths.”
New International Reader's Version “So don't let anyone judge you because of what you eat or drink. Don't let anyone judge you about holy days. I'm talking about special feasts and New Moons and Sabbath days.”
New American Standard Revised Bible “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--”
New International Version “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”
New King James Version “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.”
New Revised Standard Version “Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.”
Revised Standard Version Apocrypha “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath.”
The New Living Translation “So don't let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new-moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.”
Youngs Literal Translation “Let no one, then, judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a feast, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths.”