Who is the Apostle Paul referring to when he says, “Therefore let no one judge you in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day (Col. 2:16)?”
Just eight verses previous to this statement, Paul says to believers in Colossae: “Let no one take you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Is the Law of God and the Sabbath empty deception? Is the mind of Yahweh, the Logos, full of elementary principles of this world? Clearly not. Paul is referring to the Gnostic faction. How do we know?
He further clarifies who he is addressing one verse after the Sabbath statement. “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind…” Paul is still talking about those Gnostics.
He makes it even clearer in verse 23: “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
Given the context, what is Paul articulating in this passage: “Do not let anyone judge you in regards to food, drink, festival, or a new moon, or a Sabbath day?” He is telling believers in Colossae not to allow the strict Gnostics to judge “them” in regards to enjoying food, drink, festivals, and the Sabbath day.
The Gnostics thought their righteousness of harsh treatment of the body, their false humility, and “restraining of sensual indulgence” would earn them favor or righteousness with God. The Gnostics were telling believers, just like they called Jesus a drunkard and glutton, not to enjoy festivals or rest on the Sabbath. You see, the Sabbath is meant for our enjoyment.
Ecclesiastes sums it up best: “So I commend the enjoyment of life because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.”
In conclusion, Paul is defending believers in Yeshua not to let the Gnostic faction judge them for maintaining the Sabbath, religious festivals, and eating and drinking for their enjoyment. The key to this verse is the frame of reference. A simple question may stir in your heart to read the context once again. Is Paul telling believers not to judge those who disregard the Sabbath or is Paul telling believers not to let the Gnostics judge them for regarding the Sabbath? Your conclusion makes a difference. It is my hope and prayer you will diligently seek the Lord as you investigate what Paul meant as he contended for the truth of God’s Word 2,000 years ago.