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Colossians Chapter 2

(Nailed to the cross or not?)


          There are many passages in the scripture that people incorrectly use to demonstrate that the Law of God is abolished.  Colossians chapter two is one of the more common.  As you will see, through careful study, this passage teaches no such thing.  Before continuing, please read Colossians chapter two.
          The topic for this article starts in verse eight where the Apostle Paul states the purpose of this portion of scripture.  Paul starts off with a warning 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" (Col. 2:8).  It is important to remember that the remainder of the chapter is regarding "philosophy," "vain deceit," "the tradition of men," and, "the rudiments of the world."  With this in mind we will better understand what Paul is trying to warn us of.
          In the next four verses Paul explains the position of the believer in Christ.  We are, "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10), we are of, "the circumcision made without hands" (Col. 2:11), we are, "buried with him in baptism" (Col. 2:12), and we are, "dead in [our] sins" and, "forgiven ... all [our] trespasses" (Col. 2:13).  Clearly the believer has been restored before God for we are, "complete in Him" and need nothing from man to add to what God has done.  The next verse, however, is the verse commonly quoted to show how God's law has been abolished.
          In Col. 2:14 Paul states, that the Messiah, "Blott[ed] 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."  Many take this verse off point and out of context to make their case that the law of God is done away with, but this is simply not true.  We need to understand what, "the handwriting of ordinances" were.  The Greek word for ordinance is "dogma" which means,
"a law (civil, ceremonial or ecclesiastical): - decree or ordinance" (Strong's Concordance), but does this mean Paul is speaking of the law of God?  This was a Greek legal term that references the penalty a sinner had to pay.  If we are still talking about, "vain deceit," "the tradition of men," and, "the rudiments of the world," then I highly doubt he is speaking of God's law.  The ordinances referred to here are the religious, "dogma" of the pharisees.  The Pharisees were a group who sought to judge others by their own tradition (Matt. 12:2, Matt 15:1-3, Matt. 16:11-12).  Their tradition is what was against us.  The Messiah has removed these for us.  In fact, the greek word "dogma" appears five times in the New Testament (Luke 2:1, Acts 16:4, Acts 17:7, Eph. 2:15, Col. 2:14).  The first three are clearly referring to an ordinance of man.  In both Ephesians and Colossians it is commonly assumed that this word refers to the law of God, however, with proper study it will become clear that the word "dogma" always refers to mans ordinances/statutes.  This will become more clear as we continue.
          In Col. 2:15 Paul continues stating that the Messiah, "spoiled principalities and powers," and he, "made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it."  This begs the questions, when did the Messiah do this?  The Greek word for principalities is, "archē" which means, "chief (in various applications of order, time, place or rank)" (Strong's Concordance G746).  The Greek word for powers is, "exousia" which means, "concretely magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control" (Strong's Concordance G1849).  Both these words refer to someone in authority, but who did the Messiah, "make a shew of ... openly" and was in authority?  As always, the scripture has the answer.  In Matt. 5:20, Matt. 9:3-4, Matt. 15:1-9, Matt. 23:26-33, Mark 12:35-37, Mark 12:38-40, Luke 18:10-14 and many more, the Messiah openly and publically challenged the Jewish leaders (Scribes and Pharisees).  In fact, many of his conversations with them could be described as harsh and severe.  I contend that these are they of whom Paul is speaking of.  The Scribes and Pharisees are the principalities and powers.  This fits well for both "archē" and "exousia" are used for many various rulers and leaders, including the rulers and leaders of the Jews (Luke 23:7, Acts 9:14, Acts 26:10, etc.).  With this understanding we can see why Paul is calling their ordinances and laws, "vein deceit," "the tradition of men," and "the rudiments of the world."
          This understanding of the text logically leads to the next statement to, "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" (Col. 2:16).  These are the Holydays of God, not of the world (Lev. 23:2).  This passage is not saying that the Colossians should not practice these holydays, but that they should not let anyone judge them as they learn how to practice them.  This was the tradition of the Scribes and Pharisees.  They added ordinances and statutes to God's law (judging them) to restrict the people of God as to how to follow God's law.  It is important to remember that the believers in Colosse were Gentile believers.  As a result, you can presume that they had little experience practicing God's law.  This is where grace comes into play.  God is extending grace to all those who have faith in the Messiah to learn and practice His law.  As one learns more and more what God's word has to say and how to apply it to his/her life, one needs grace.  This is evidenced by other epistles Paul wrote.  After all, he was the, "apostle of the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13).  In 1 Cor. 5:7-8, Paul, when speaking of the feast of Passover, instructs the Gentile Corinthians to, "keep the feast."  The Corinthians wrote to Paul asking questions in a previous letter (1 Cor. 7:1).  It is safe to assume that among these were questions regarding passover, which is why he answered as he did.
          Why should we practice these holydays, because the Bible says they are a, "shadow of things to come" (Col. 2:17).  Each one of these holydays predicts an aspect of future events.  The first four holydays predict the Messiah's first coming, and the last three predict His second coming.  It stands to reason that since there are three feasts yet to be fulfilled, that we should at least practice those feasts still.  I would contend that we should still practice all of God's feasts.  In fact, according to Psalms 111:10, "a good understanding have all they that do his commandments."  If we want to understand the event foreshadowed by these feasts then we need to practice these feasts.
          Furthermore, in verse 17, we should note that it is the same sentence as verse 16.  The phrase, "which are a shadow of things to come," is a context clue before the conclusion of the sentence.  The conclusion of the sentence is, "But the body is of Christ."  The word "is" is not in the original text, which is why the King James translation has it in italics.  We are to, "Let no man therefore judge [us] in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days, ... but the body of Christ."  Only the body of Christ should judge or determine how we are to practice these holydays.  This thought is echoed in 1 Cor. 5:12-13 where Paul says, "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?  But them that are without God judgeth."  As members of the body of Christ we are to judge ourselves in an attempt to follow God's law and incorporate it into our lives.  Fortunately, God shows us grace as we learn.
          Verses 18 and 19 are repeating what was said in verses eight and nine.  We are not to allow anyone to, "beguile [us] of [our] reward" by convincing us to, "worship angels ... which [we] hath not seen."  This causes us to be, "puffed up in [our] fleshly mind" (Col. 2:18-19).  Since we are, "dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances," (Col. 2:20).  This is more evidence that we are talking about worldly ordinances, and not God's law.  In fact, the next verse demonstrates the mind of the Pharisees when challenging Jesus by saying, "Touch not; taste not; handle not" (Col. 2:21).  This was a mantra of the leaders of the Jews.  You were to, "touch not" the dead body of any man, "taste not" a gnat that accidentally flew into your mouth (Matt. 23:24), and "handle not" anything unclean.  All of this is a distortion of God's law and follows after the tradition of men.   In fact, the next thing that Paul states is that this is all going to perish, "after the commandments and doctrines of men."  The answer is given to us.  Paul is clearly talking about the commandments and doctrines of men, not God.  This is exactly the problem the Messiah faced when He walked the earth.  Over and over the Messiah challenged the religious leaders and their traditions (Matt. 15:2-3, Mark 7:3-13).
          It is clear from the text, that Colossians chapter two in no way removes the Law of God, nor, "nails it to the cross."  What is nailed to the cross is the tradition of the religious leaders that were adding to God's Word.  Pauls starts in verse eight warning us not to follow after the, "traditions of men" (Col. 2:8).  These traditions come from the religious leaders of the day known as the Scribes and Pharisees.  They had numerous writings adding statutes and regulations to God's law.  We have their writings today in a collection we call the Talmud.  It is these types of extra-bibilical writings that we should be aware of.  The appeal here is to stick to the scripture and not to add to or take away from God's law (Deut. 4:2, Deut. 12:32).  Paul even ends this passage the way he began, with an appeal to beware of, "the commandments and doctrines of men" (Col. 2:22).  As the Messiah stated, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18).  If there is an earth beneath your feet and a sky above your head, God's law still remains.  The amazing thing is, God offers grace to all those who practice faith in the Messiah so that we might learn how to practice His law.  For more on the, "ordinances" that were abolished please read my article on Ephesians Chapter Two.


By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV