“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 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; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 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: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:13-17)
Most teachers use these verses as “proof” that God’s yearly Festivals (holydays), monthly New Moons, and weekly Sabbaths outlined in Leviticus 23 have been done away with (nailed to His cross). Their angle is Paul is writing to people who do NOT keep these Festivals and Sabbaths and encourages them to not let anyone else judge them for their refusal to do so. However, as you will see, this angle is completely backwards.
First of all, let’s determine that all of God’s Festivals, including weekly the seventh-day Sabbath, are GOD’S Feast days:
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the Feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are My Feasts.” (Colossians 23:1, 2)
God then outlines all of His Feasts:
- The Seventh-day Sabbath (Verse 3)
- The Passover (Verses 4, 5)
- The Days of Unleavened Bread (Verses 6-8)
- Firstfruits (Verses 9-14)
- Pentecost (Verses 15-22)
- Trumpets (Verses 23-25)
- Day of Atonement (Verses 26-32)
- Tabernacles (Verses 33-44)
To separate the seventh-day Sabbath from being one of God’s Feast days, as many try to do, does injustice to God’s clear word. Some even try to use Leviticus 23:37, 38 as proof:
“These are the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his day: Beside the sabbaths of the LORD, and beside your gifts, and beside all your vows, and beside all your freewill offerings, which ye give unto the LORD.”
They say that the phrase “besides the Sabbaths of Lord” somehow separates the weekly Sabbaths from the annual Sabbaths, meaning, since it was engraved upon the stone tablets, the weekly Sabbath is moral and thus eternal, but the annual Sabbaths were only ceremonial and thus temporary and were done away with at the cross. But that’s not what those verses are saying at all. It is referring to the offerings and sacrifices made upon the Festivals and Sabbaths. If a Festival or an annual Sabbath fell upon the weekly Sabbath, then the sacrifices that were offered upon the annual day will be offered “besides” or “in addition to” to weekly Sabbath offering.
Berean Study Bible: “These offerings are in addition to the offerings for the LORD’s Sabbaths, and in addition to your gifts, to all your vow offerings, and to all the freewill offerings you give to the LORD.”
New Living Translation: “These festivals must be observed in addition to the LORD’s regular Sabbath days, and the offerings are in addition to your personal gifts, the offerings you give to fulfill your vows, and the voluntary offerings you present to the LORD.”
Holman Christian Standard Bible: “These are in addition to the offerings for the LORD's Sabbaths, your gifts, all your vow offerings, and all your freewill offerings that you give to the LORD."
Contemporary English Version: “These festivals must be celebrated in addition to the Sabbaths and the times when you offer special gifts or sacrifices to keep a promise or as a voluntary offering.”
With that in mind, let’s begin to briefly dissect what Paul is talking about in Colossians chapter 2.
Back in verse 8 Paul warns the Colossians to “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” The key phrase here is “after the traditions of men.” Are the Festivals and Sabbaths “after the traditions of men” or are they according to the divine statutes from God? In verse 20-22 Paul continues this thought by saying:
“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?”
Again, are the God-given Festivals and Sabbaths “after the commands and teachings of men”? No. So what is Paul saying? Jesus said something similar in the book of Mark:
“And when they (the Pharisees/religious leaders) saw some of His (Jesus’) disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. … Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Elijah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the Commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the Commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” (Mark 7:2-9)
The issue here isn’t simply washing your hands or dishes for health and cleanliness. The washing the Pharisees are referring to is a ritual washing they imposed upon the people. This was merely tradition and commandments of men and have nothing to do with God’s instructions. So we can see that we are not to exalt the traditions and commandments of men over God’s Commandments. This is exactly what was going on within the Colossian assembly.
By contrasting the Commands of God and the commands of men Paul is encouraging the Colossians for their observance of these Festivals and Sabbaths and warning them not to let anyone judge them “after the commandments and doctrines of men.”
What Were They Being Judged For?
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink.” This phrase in the Greek is simply “eating and drinking” and refers to general food. The Greek words translated “food and drink” are βρῶσις (brosis) and πόσις (posis). These words have nothing to do with Mosaic food and drink offerings that ended with Christ's death. These Greek words are never used with reference to meal and drink offerings in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) or the New Testament. Actually, thusia is the technical word for meat sacrifice, and spendo was the term meaning “to offer a libation or drink offering.” Paul would have used these if his intention was to indicate the meat and drink offerings.
Paul is actually combatting a local esoteric heresy which taught that depriving one’s self of food and water would bring you into a more spiritual enlightenment. This doctrine paved the way to Gnosticism. These Gnostics were judging the brethren for feasting during the Holy Days and having fellowship meals etc.
The Meaning for “respect” in the King James Version:
The word for “respect” in the phrase: “in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” is the Greek word μέρος (meros) and more accurately means “in part of” or “when partaking of.” Let’s look at a couple other examples:
“And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion (meros) with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:51)
“Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part (meros) with me.” (John 13:8)
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part (meros) in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6)
All these instances reveal the word meros is speaking about taking part or not taking part in something. It is the same for Colossians 2:16. The Colossians were being judged by outsiders concerning “eating and drinking” while they were partaking of God’s Festivals and Sabbaths.
“Let no man therefore judge you in eating and drinking when taking part of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”
Please do not miss this important point here. It says nothing about “not” taking part. Most teachers try to read into this their own preconceived idea that the Festivals and Sabbaths were done away with at Christ’s death. They claim the Colossians were being judged for NOT taking part in the Festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths and Paul was trying to encourage them saying that the Festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths were done away with. However, the Greek is clear that the Colossians were being judged for eating and drinking while “taking part” in the Festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths. So, instead of this passage being a proof text in support of the Festivals and Sabbaths being done away with, it is actually a solid reference to the fact that the Festivals and Sabbaths remain! And don’t miss this other point, that the Colossian church was primarily Gentiles (also known as “the uncircumcised”) who had accepted God’s free forgiveness and were taking part in God’s Festivals and Sabbaths:
“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” (Colossians 2:13)
In Acts 20:6 Luke tells us that they observed “the Days of Unleavened Bread” (which included Passover) along with the church at Philippi. The church of Philippi were also primarily Gentiles:
“In fact the few people Scripture specifically mentions in connection with the Philippian church had Greek (Lydia, Acts 16:14-15; Euodia and Syntyche, Phil. 4:2) and Roman (Clement, Phil. 4:2) names … [The book of] Acts clearly indicates that no significant Jewish population existed in Philippi.” (Herbert W. Bateman IV, Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish? P. 42).
In Acts 20:16 Luke says:
“For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
In Acts chapter 13 Luke tells us that both Jews and Gentiles kept the seventh-day Sabbath:
“Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on … And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” (Acts 13:13-15, 42-44)
Isaiah even mentions that we will continue to observe “the New Moon” and “the Sabbath” upon the new earth:
“For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, saith the LORD.” (Isaiah 66:22, 23)
This is why Paul said these Festivals and Sabbaths “are shadows of things to come.” (Colossians 2:17). Jesus told His disciples:
“With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not anymore eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15,16)
In vision Ezekiel and John saw the new earth and the restored tree of life “bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2; Ezekiel 47:1,12). Every month = every New Moon!
We know for a fact that the followers of Christ kept observing the seventh-day Sabbath along with the Festivals long after His ascension back to heaven:
- The Sabbath: (Acts 13:14; 42-44; 15:21; 15:13; 17:2; 18:4)
- Passover/Days of Unleavened Bread: (Acts 12:4; Acts 20:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
- Pentecost: (Acts 2; 20:16)
- The Day of Atonement: (Acts 27:9; this day became known as “the Fast”)
Although these appointed times remained, the meaning and manner by which they were observed changed as God’s salvation plan progressed. For example, the animal sacrifices were offered upon these Festivals and Sabbaths (Numbers 28 and 29). In Hebrews chapter 10 the author points out that, although the animal sacrifices are done away with (see verses 1-18), we are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (verse 25).
So, we definitely see the disciples, along with other Jewish and Gentile believers, still observing the Festivals and Sabbaths long after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and we will continue to observe these appointed times upon the new earth. Scripture is clear they were not done away with.
What Then Was Nailed to the Cross?
So what then was nailed to the cross if it wasn’t the Feast days and Sabbaths? Paul says it was “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us” but what is that? Most teach that it is the “ordinances” of the law of Moses including all the Festivals and Sabbaths. However, the Greek word used here is δόγμα which simply means “dogma” in English. This Greek word is NEVER once used for anything related to God’s law in the Septuagint. Every occurrence of dogma in the Greek Old Testament refers to man-made decrees or rulings. Most often it’s the decrees and judgments of pagan rulers.
The word used for “handwriting” is χειρόγραφον (cheirographon) which means, “a (handwritten) document, legal note, bond.” This is why many other translations use “certificate of debt (or, charges) contained in decrees.”
New Living Translation: “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”
English standard Version: “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Berean Study Bible: “having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross!”
Aramaic Bible in Plain English: “And he has blotted out by his authority the bill of our debts which was adverse to us and he took it from the midst and nailed it to his cross.”
This “handwriting of ordinances” or “charges against us” in no way, can be speaking of God’s Festivals and Sabbaths which are meant as channels to bring us double portion blessings of His Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made FOR man”, not against man (Mark 2:27). We know for a fact that God’s Sabbaths are good statutes:
“Because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols. Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live.” (Ezekiel 20:25, New King James Version)
Clearly God’s Sabbaths are NOT against us. It was because they had profaned God’s Sabbaths that He gave them over to other statutes that were not good. He permitted them to add the “traditions of men” and “commandments and doctrines of men” in order for them to see the error in doing this. By adding additional strict requirements to God’s Festivals and Sabbaths they delved deeper into legalism. God permitted their sin to abound so they would finally reach out and accept His free grace. (Romans 5:20).
By submitting Himself to the death sentence Jesus took our place in death. The charges were placed upon Him instead of us. These were not charges from God against the sinner, but condemning accusations from “the accuser of the brethren” – Satan (Revelation 12:9-10). This is why Paul says “When He [Jesus] had disarmed the rulers and the authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” (Colossians 2:15). These “rulers and authorities” are the “rulers of darkness” and “spiritual forces of evil.” (Ephesians 6:12). Christ did not die as a victim of God’s justice, but submitted Himself to Satan’s justice enforced by man.
This is what Christ was taking away from our mindset. Any MAN-MADE “handwritten ordinance (dogma)” that places a barrier between us and God. We cannot fully enter into God’s rest if we are constantly believing He is a condemning Father who makes us do penance in order for Him to even look at us. We must realize that God did not forgive us because Jesus died. The death of Jesus reveals that God loves us and had already forgiven us “while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8). He had forgiven us from the day sin entered us and has been carrying us from “all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9). “We love Him, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).
The Body is of Christ?
“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: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (King James Version)
If you have a King James Version please notice that the word “is” is in italics. This means that word is not in the Greek and was supplied by the translators. The most common teaching is that all of God’s Festivals and Sabbaths were done away with at the cross. They were only “shadows” while Christ is the reality. They now say it is no longer necessary to observe these appointed times because Christ is now our Sabbath rest.
However, the phrase, “the body of Christ”, without the word “is” refers to God’s people - “the church” (1 Corinthians 12:27) with Christ as “the Head” (Ephesians 5:23). Paul refers to this right in the beginning of his letter to the Colossians when he speaks of “Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24). And we see it again right in the context of Colossians chapter 2 when he says, “And you have been made complete in Christ, who is the Head over every ruler and authority.” (Verse 10).
So don’t let anyone outside the church (the body) condemn you for your faithful obedience to Christ (the Head) in partaking of God’s sacred Festivals and Sabbaths.
For more information to what you've just read, please refer to the book The Times of Refreshing.