Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Sabbath" in Colossians 2


Here is a simple study about "Sabbaths" in Colossians 2 which I wrote in a comment to a friend who had thought that the "Sabbaths" referred to ascetic practices, pagan mixes with Judaism, worship of angels, etc., instead of referring to the seventh-day Sabbath of the Old Covenant (the Mosaic Law). Simply looking at the passage's internal definitions and comparing it to identical patterns and usages in the Old Testament actually makes things a lot clearer and shows that we can take Scripture at face value without having to search far and wide for alternate explanations. (^_^)

The bulk of Colossians 2 seems to clearly be referring to the same kind of 'Judaizing' Paul addressed in Galatians (which also triggered the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15). All of the latter part of Colossians 2 can easily be found in first century Judaism: the harsh-treatment-of-body comment easily matches extreme Pharisees and Essenes, and the "worship of angels" also matches Jewish myths like the ones found in the deuterocanonical books such as the Book of Tobit. Different sects and factions existed inside Judaism, but it's important to recognize that each of them still clung to the Law (that is, the Law of Moses -- the Old Covenant). No matter what extra beliefs they added on, they all held the Law in common, including all of its feasts as described in Leviticus 23 (which begins the list of feasts with the weekly Sabbath). And more importantly, all the factions of first century Judaism all held *circumcision* in common. That the Colossians 2 devotes so much time to the issue of "circumcision" is perhaps some of the heaviest evidence that the main challenge Paul was defending Christianity against was from something fundamentally "Judaizing" in nature. It was a challenge from people who still said that the Old Covenant was necessary.

While various people make a case to say that the last part of Colossians 2 refers to some more extremist Jewish groups, the evidence is inconclusive (except for people whose already-decided conclusion about Sabbath *necessitates* reading it to mean anything but the weekly Sabbath no matter what the evidence says). However, if we examine the internal evidence in the chapter then several things are immediately clear about the "Sabbath" as it is mentioned there:

1) A list of ordinances including charges against us was nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus Christ

2) Because this list was nailed to the cross, Christians are no longer judged by food, drinks, New Moons, festivals and Sabbaths.

3) Therefore, the reason that we are no longer judged by those things is because they were contained in the "list" that was nailed to the cross. (The word "therefore" at the beginning of verse 16 makes this direct link to the preceding two verses 14-15.)

4) Verses 16-17 state that those things (drinks, foods, Sabbaths, New Moons & Festivals) were shadows of Christ and not the real substance, which is Him Himself.

5) Because they were called "shadows" of Christ, those things had to be part of the original Mosaic Law (Old Covenant) and not mis-interpretations or extra things added on by ascetics or pagans. Just as the sacrifices were called "shadows" in Hebrews 10 (using the same Greek word), in the same way these things were called "shadows" of Christ. Just as the sacrifices were completely fulfilled by the cross, in the same way these things were completely fulfilled by the cross. Just as there is no need for further sacrifices, there is no further need for these things. Therefore we are not judged by them, nor are we to judge one another by them.

Now that we've established that the "Sabbaths" mentioned here are those proscribed by God in the Mosaic Law (instead of some pagan/ascetic thing), the question arises as to what the "Sabbaths" mean. Are they the weekly, seventh-day Sabbaths? Or are they something else? The answer is not difficult because the "Sabbaths" are put next to the monthly festivals ("New Moons") and then the yearly festivals ("feasts"). The pattern is weekly, monthly, and yearly. If we look back in the Old Testament we will see that there at least THIRTEEN references which put "Sabbaths" together with "New Moons" (often including "feasts" as well)...

Link: "Sabbaths and New Moons" in the Bible

The pattern of "Sabbaths, New Moons (and Feasts)" is simply an established pattern that had always been used in Judaism. Paul was using the same pattern in Colossians. The matter Adventism has always tried to dodge is the fact that the "Sabbaths" refer to the weekly Sabbaths, not to the certain appointed festivals. Firstly, if the "Sabbaths" referred to feasts, then Paul was being redundant by mentioning feasts twice ("Feasts, New Moons and Sabbaths [Feasts]"). But more importantly, examination of the 13 Old Testament references of "New Moons and Sabbaths" being mentioned together clearly reveals that the "Sabbaths" always referred to the weekly Sabbaths in the Old Testament. (This is extra-visible when you notice that the sacrifices [offerings] made every weekly Sabbath are often referred to in the same verses).

Check out the above verses as well as these below (and their contexts) to see whether they refer to the weekly Sabbaths or not:

Link: "Sabbaths and offerings" in the Bible

Now of course, what I've written above is to address the charge that "Sabbath" was not included in the "list" nailed to the cross. Obviously from the established Old Testament pattern of mentioning Sabbaths, New Moons and festivals together, Paul was referring to the seventh-day Sabbath and not any other kind of "sabbath".

However, all of what I've written above will mean nothing to the person who has tried to explain away Paul's words by saying that he was referring to "ceremonies instead of the 'moral' law". By the expression "moral law", the objector refers to the Ten Commandments. The objector believes that the Ten were not part of the Old Covenant primarily because of the moral nature of half of the commandments, the call to worship God alone in the other half, and the fact that the Ten were placed inside the ark while the "book of the covenant" was place outside the ark.

This sounds like wisdom, but simply isn't biblical at all. Read more carefully and think about it more carefully:

1) The Ten Commandments were given only to the ancient nation of Israel. This is apparent from the readings both in Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 5 in particular, Moses makes it clear that God did not give the Ten Commandments even to the forefathers of the Exodus generation (in other words, He didn't give the Ten to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, etc.). It is written in Psalms 147:19-20 that God did not give these laws to any other nation but Israel. Some will say that we must keep the literal Sabbath day because "We are spiritual Israel," but then I wonder: if literal Israel kept a literal Sabbath day, wouldn't it make more sense for "spiritual Israel" to keep a spiritual Sabbath day instead of a literal one? The fact is that the Ten Commandments were written to the ancient nation of Israel alone, not to all mankind. This is clearly evident from the command to honor one's parents "so that your life may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you" -- in other words, the promised land of Canaan. In Ephesians Paul recognized and applied the good moral principle behind the command, however he changed the ending completely. We simply cannot take the Ten Commandments literally unless we are ancient Israelites living in or about to enter into the land of Canaan.

2) Numerous times the Bible refers to the Ten Commandments as "the words of the covenant" or as "the tablets of the covenant". In each case it is the entire Sinatic, Mosaic covenant being referred to. I.e., the old covenant (see these three passages, which are a sampling among many).

3) The title Exodus 34:28 gives to the Ten Commandments is "The Words of the Covenant". This is especially appropriate because the Hebrew name for the Ten Commandments is literally "The Ten Words" (the Hebrew word for "commandment" derives from the word "word"). In other words, the Ten Commendments are "The Ten Words of the Covenant" (which Hebrews clearly identifies as the Old Covenant). So now it is appropriate to take a look the full title: "The Ten Commandments of the [Old] Covenant".

4) Throughout the books of the Law the words "covenant" and "testimony" are used interchangeably. Besides the Tablets/Words of the Covenant, there was also the Blood of the Covenant, the Book of the Covenant, the Salt of the Covenant, the Curses of the Covenant, etc. And besides the Tablets of the Testimony, there was also the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the Curtain of the Testimony, the Tent of the Testimony, etc. In other words, it is no accident that the Ten Commandments were called the Tablets/Words "of the covenant" or "of the testimony". They were part of the covenant which also included the tabernacle, the blood, the salt, the curtain, the book, etc.

5) I left out one obvious "of the Covenant" (or "of the Testimony"). The Ark of the Covenant! Yes, it's easy to forget about that one. Just like all of the above articles mentioned were part of the Old Covenant, so also the Ark of the Covenant was indeed the Ark of the Old Covenant! Do you know what this means? It means that it doesn't matter where the Ten Commandments were placed --whether inside our outside the Ark-- because the whole Ark itself is the Ark of the Old Covenant!

6) The entire 613 commands of the Old Covenant (including the Ten) had 'moral' commands all over the place. The list of the Ten is not complete. For example, in the loving-your-fellow-humans department, there are clearly more than the five or six listed in the Ten as demonstrated by Jesus replying to the rich young ruler in the words of a some of the Ten, but then adding "do not defraud" and "love your neighbor", thus showing that those two additional commands were not included in the Ten, at least not in God's mind! (See Mark 10 and Matthew 19 for yourself) Thus Jesus listed things as of critical importance which were both inside and outside of the ark. If Jesus listed them that way, isn't it a bit bizarre for us to title the Ten as "the moral law" when He didn't see the Ten as being the full package of morality?

7) Because Jesus listed "love your neighbor as yourself" as being a separate command apart from the Ten Commandments (see the passages linked above in #2), doesn't it follow that "Love God with all your heart... (etc.)" is also not defined by the first half of the Ten Commandments? If we're going to say that the first half of the Ten Commandments are also "moral commands", is it proper to call the Ten the "moral law" although they don't include the even greater command to "love God"? Jesus said the two greatest commandments were loving God and loving our neighbors. Yet neither of these were listed in the Ten, and were considered separate from the Ten by Jesus Himself. Can we really call the Ten Commandments as "The Moral Law" if they don't include the Two Greatest Commandments in God's mind?

Now back to Paul, there is more obvious problem with the idea that it was simply "the ceremonial law" was nailed to the cross. Objectors point out the truth that the Greek word for "list" refers to the "charge list" (or handwriting) against us. In other words, this was the list of our transgressions that God was blotting out.

We must then ask the obvious question: Were the only transgressions God blotted out on the cross our failure to keep the ceremonies of the Old Covenant?

What a horrifying proposition! Then we would still be in our sins!! But no, hallelu Yah, no! The overwhelming witness of the New Testament is that Jesus died for our sins, yes, even and especially our moral sins!!

Now what was physically nailed to the cross? Was it a list of paper? No, it was a body. It was the body of Jesus Christ! He took all our transgressions and sins in His body. When Paul wrote that the charge list of our transgressions was nailed to the cross, he means it was nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus Christ. All our sins--moral and ceremonial and everything--were nailed to the cross in the body of Jesus Christ who became sin for us.

Now look at the full statement Paul wrote again:

"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

The first part of the sentence connects immediately to the second part. The first part talks explicitly about our "sins". Not the mere failure to keep ceremonial commands. No, our very "flesh" or "sinful nature"! God's forgiveness is for our sins. Our hardcore, guilty-as-sin sins! All the talk of "canceling the list" comes immediately after Paul said this: God forgave us of our sins. The list spoke of our sins and nothing less.

Yes, you could say that it included our failure to keep ceremonial commands correctly. However, as has already been shown, God didn't give those ceremonial commands to any other nation but ancient Israel. While Gentile nations were punished for bloodshed and immorality throughout the Old Testament, no Gentile nation was ever punished for failure to keep the Sabbath day, or the New Moons, or for eating pork, or for not circumcising their children, etc. Gentile nations were never guilty of those failures. Only ancient Israel.

Paul said that we are not judged by those things anymore because Christ died, and the Law (all of it -- ceremonial and moral) died with Him. Paul illustrated this in Romans 7 by using the example of marriage:

"Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man."

Israel was married to God through the Old Covenant (see Jeremiah). She broke the law repeatedly and deserved eternal punishment. But instead the Husband Himself (God the Son) came and died instead, releasing her from her punishment and from that law of marriage (the Old Covenant).

Paul then called his people and all people (Jews and Gentiles) to accept Christ's death, and to themselves see that in Him they all have "died to the law".

"So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God... now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."

Israel was once bound to God through the law, the Old Covenant (and any of us foolish enough to put ourselves back under the Old Covenant were bound the same). But now by dying with Christ, we are freed from that Old Covenant law in order that we might be married to Christ in a better covenant of marriage: the New Covenant! We serve Him in the New Covenant, in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the Old Covenant.

Yes, a lot of morality is easily seen in various commands (from the 613 commands of the old law). But that package is not our guide anymore. Not the 613 package, nor the package of "The Ten", either. Moral and ceremonial were all mixed together. And like the example of the command to honor parents, there are often valuable principles even in commands couched in the situation unique to the ancient Israelites. The moral principles often need to be extracted and interpreted. An example of this is in 1st Corinthians 9 when the Spirit in Paul pulls out a command about oxen and extracts a principle for how to treat one another. We must let the New Covenant interpret the Old instead of forcing Old Covenant commands into the New Covenant. The Spirit is faithful to interpret and lead us into all truth. The New Testament interprets the Old, not the other way around. What is written in the New is written in the light of Christ, while what came before was in parts and shadows. We must read by the Light instead of by the Shadows! Hallelu Yah!


  • At July 26, 2010 5:16 PM, Anonymous Journal said…

    Wow, I now see the true rest of God, because I have now experienced it, and because I have now tasted the true Rest, its only now that I can see how the 7th Day Sabbath is just a shadow. Would I exchange now the Rest of God for the shadow, NO WAY, NEVER AGAIN.

    The Shadow was good but this is AWESOME AND GLORIOUS.

    Hallelu JAH.


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