Difficult Scripture: Colossians 2:16-17

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I. Scripture: Colossians 2:16 "Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, {17} which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."

II. How This Verse Is Misused By Some: Those who argue against the celebration of Godís seven annual Holy Days inevitably find their way to Colossians 2 and verse 16.

III. True Explanation

What is curious about this is that Paul doesn't tell the Colossians that they were not to observe the festivals but simply that they should not let anyone judge them in respect to these matters.

A careful study of the verse, though, reveals some interesting points. First, there are three things in which the Colossians were not to allow themselves to be Judged. In the simplest terms they are "meat," "drink" and "respect" (Greek: "part" or "division"). These three words in the Greek are brosei, posei and merei. All three are in the dative singular and are placed in parallel construction, making a play on words.

The article we are discussing suggests that the meat and drink in this passage are the meat and drink offerings of the law of Moses.

How could the Colossians, Gentiles living in Asia Minor, be involved in meat and drink offerings? Weren't these done at the Temple? In Jerusalem?

This interpretation won't stand up on either a lexical or contextual study. The word brosei, here translated meat, means literally "the act of eating." The word posei, translated drink, means literally "drinking." But who would have been sitting in judgment of the Colossians for eating and drinking? Paul gives us the clue beginning in verse 20: "So if, through your faith in Christ, you are dead to the principles of this world's life, why, as if you were still part and parcel of this worldwide system, do you take the slightest notice of these purely human prohibitions "Don't touch this," "Don't taste that," "And don't handle the other"? "This," "That" and "The other" will all pass away after use! I know that these regulations look wise with their self-inspired efforts at worship, their policy of self-humbling, and their studied neglect of the body. But in actual practice they do honor, not to God, but man's own pride" (Colossians 2:20-23, J.B. Phillips translation).

It was not the law of Moses that was causing a problem for the Colossians, but the various ascetic "ordinances of men" after the "rudiments of the world" that were creating the problem. The Colossians were being judged and condemned for eating and drinking, not for offering meat and drink offerings - how could they do that in Colosse?

But what do the Holy Days have to do with this? Take a look at verse 16 again. The Colossians were told not to allow any man to intimidate them in a handful of issues: eating, drinking, or in a part or aspect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbaths.

The truth is that what Paul is telling the Colossians is that they should not allow men to judge them in the food and drink aspect of their celebrations. Rather than being an abrogation of the holydays, the verse actually implies that the Christians in Colosse were observing them.

We now pass on to Colossians 2:17, which says that the holydays, the new moons, and the Sabbaths "are a shadow of things to come." If we're going to give attention to the tenses of the verbs, we must note at least in passing that this verse says holy days are (present tense) a shadow of things to come. If they had been abolished, we would surely have expected Paul to have said they were a shadow of things to come. Notice also that, if they are a shadow of things to come, then they have not yet been fulfilled. And, if they have not yet been fulfilled, then they have not passed from the law (Matthew 5:17, 18, assuming one takes that view of Jesus' teaching).

What Paul is saying to the Colossians is that the Holy Days and the Sabbaths are shadows, types, images of things to come but that the real substance of these things is Christ. By the same analogy, the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper are shadows of things that have already taken place. They are not the substance of Christ's body and blood, but the images or representations of it.

Merely because something is a "shadow" does not mean Christians should not observe it. It is just another way of saying that some of our observances are symbolic. But now let's consider the wider context of Colossians 2:16.

"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

The New Testament church was beset early on by every sort of heresy. They ranged all the way from the heresies of Simon Magus and Cerinthus to such perverse doctrines as Gnosticism. One thing is abundantly clear from the wording of verse 8, Paul is not talking about the law of Mosses. He could not possibly describe Moses' law as "philosophy," "vain deceit," "the tradition of men," or "the rudiments of the world."

The Greek religions were not without their ascetics, but this heresy was probably Jewish. Paul's allusion to circumcision in verse 11 would lead us to that conclusion.

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The information on this page is from Ronald Dartís book "The Thread" Appendix 2 "In Defense of the Holy Days" pages 277-280.