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Wrestling With the Words of Paul

Posted in Law and Grace

In the course of my Bible study, I’ve run across articles that give reasons why Christians today no longer need to keep the seventh-day or annual Sabbaths. Most of them use writings from the Apostle Paul, who authored much of the New Testament, as their reasons for believing that God’s appointed times are no longer relevant.

What they seem to have in common is that they fail to realize that Paul was not a hypocrite. Since he didn’t adhere to a "Do as I say and not as I do" mindset, there must be a misinterpretation of his writing to form those conclusions. When you read the book of Acts long with Paul’s writings, you see that he repeatedly kept the seventh-day Sabbath (Acts 17:2, etc). He also repeatedly kept the annual Sabbaths with the Gentile churches he founded (Acts 17:19-21 and 20:6; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 and 16:8). So to interpret any writings of Paul (which Peter warns us in 2 Peter 3:16 are difficult to understand and that many wrest with to their destruction) as doing away with the weekly or annual Sabbaths means only one of two things: 1) Paul was a hypocrite, or 2) he is being misinterpreted and the days are still valid. Considering all that Paul endured in his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), it would be quite a stretch to label him a hypocrite, so the only other available option must be correct.

Let’s take a closer look at two passages of Paul’s that are normally quoted as doing away with God’s original appointed times, found in Galatians 4 and Colossians 2, to see what Paul is really saying. Romans chapter 6 will require an entire column, so isn’t addressed here.

The passage in Galatians 4:10-11 says, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” But to which days and times is Paul referring here? By backing up to verse 8, you see that he is not talking about God’s holy days, but rather he is talking about the service they had previously done to their pagan gods, who are not gods at all. Verse 9 says that once they have known the true God, they are turning again to the prior days of bondage. It is those pagan days that the Galatians were still celebrating that made Paul fear he had labored on them in vain. Yet in most of Christendom today, we see people observing days that are not found in Scripture, but which instead revolve around solar cycles and false gods. This passage actually says the exact opposite of what people believe it says, if they believe that it justifies doing away with God’s days. If you have not done so, you should look up Christmas and Easter in the encyclopedia for details on their true origin, which will help you to see how they most certainly do not honor God.

The passage in Colossians 2:14 says, “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.” Verse 16 says, “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.” What is Paul telling us in this passage? Beginning with verse 4, and also in verse 6 and 16, when he is referring to “any man” he is actually speaking of detractors to Christians. He is speaking of any man who would deceive you with persuasive words (vs 4), or though philosophy and tradition, rather than the ways of Christ (vs 8). These are the same men he said we should not let judge us about the holy days (vs 16). The context leading to verse 14 is being baptized, risen with Christ, and being dead in our sins. The “handwriting of ordinances that was against us” comes from a Greek word meaning a monetary obligation of a debtor, a legal document, a bond, mortgage, like an IOU. It was the debt we owe for our sin that was nailed to the cross. Paul is saying that when these detractors try to deceive you, remember that you have triumphed over sin through your baptism and the cross of Christ, and let no one except the body of Christ judge the way you worship. You’ll also note that verse 17 states that the holy days, new moons, and Sabbaths are (not were) a shadow of things yet to come. They were given to us to help us to recognize the unfolding of prophecy as it happens, and Paul in no way indicates that they are past.

In fact, Paul links knowing the times and seasons to not being taken by surprise by the second coming. (I Thessalonians 5:1-6). He states that he had no need to write about these appointed times (since he personally taught and kept these days with the churches he founded), and although we know that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, it should not overtake us as a thief. By understanding God’s appointed times, it equips us so we will not be asleep and taken by surprise by his soon second coming. If that is not a good reason to observe God’s appointed times, I don’t know what is.