Paul’s writing can be difficult to understand, as we are told in 2 Peter 3:16. Some of his writings are frequently cited among people who believe Scripture teaches that the Sabbath days (weekly and/or annual) are now invalid. Scripture teaches that Paul taught everything he was shown to teach (Acts 20:27), that he never taught against Torah (Acts 24:14, 25:8, 26:22, 28:17), that he kept the feasts with Christian converts (Acts 18:21, 20:6, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 16:8), and he was not a hypocrite (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that his confusing passages are not teaching against Torah and the feasts, and we need to study them more carefully to see what they actually do teach.
Probably the most cited text, is Colossians Chapter Two. Before we delve into the most contested verses more deeply, here is a bit of an overview of the chapter:
In verses 1 – 8 Paul has concerns about the church in Colosse. He mentions in verses 4 and 8 about “any man” beguiling them, and spoiling them through philosophy and the tradition of man, putting man’s ways over the ways of Christ. Apparently unnamed unconverted pagans, or possibly Jews who adhere to the oral traditions, were trying to teach the converts that their new ways were wrong, and trying to bring them back to man’s traditions.
Verses 9 – 15 are there to show the true message of Christ (which we’ll study in detail momentarily).
Verses 16 – 18 go back to letting “no man” (the detractors he mentioned previously), judge them or beguile (defraud) them, with respect to their diet, Sabbath keeping, or understanding of angels.
Verses 20 – 23 emphasize that the new converts were free from the doctrines of man, which were ordinances (rules) such as what they could touch, taste, and handle.
Beginning at verse 9, here is my verse-by-verse interpretation of what Paul is saying:
• 9: All the fullness of God’s ways dwell in Yahshua as God in the flesh
• 10: We are complete in him, we need nothing outside of his total rule and authority
• 11: Our sinful nature has been transferred to him through the effects of his circumcision
• 12: Our baptism raised us from our death to sin, into being risen with him through faith
• 13: By being dead to our sin, he has given us life through him, and forgiven us of our trespasses
• 14: By blotting out the debt that we owed for these sins, and nailing them to the cross
• 15: Where (at the cross) he triumphed over principalities and powers (satan)
• 16: Therefore, we should let no man (these aforementioned detractors) judge us in our diets, or in keeping of the holy days, new moons, and Sabbaths
• 17: because those days ARE (not WERE, this is still future tense) an example of things that are yet to come, and only the body of Christ (new covenant believers) are fit to judge these matters
The two key words in verse 14, are Handwriting (5498: a manuscript, spec. a legal document or bond) and ordinances (1378: a law, decree, ordinance)
Here are several different renderings of this verse from various other versions of the Bible:
• “canceling the record that stood against us with its legal demand. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (English Standard Version).
• “erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” (New Revised Standard Version).
• “having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (NIV)
• “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (New American Standard)
What was against us? God’s holy days? No! There are no verses to indicate that anywhere in Scripture. They were given as memorials of God’s plan of redemption, which is the opposite of being against us. Paul even suggests that knowing the times and seasons is what will set us apart from those who are taken by surprise at the second coming (1 Thessalonians 5:1).
What was against us was the debt we owed for our sin, which if unpaid would keep us from the Tree of Life and eternity with our Creator. Here is a quote from a study by Tom Stapleton, titled God’s Festivals:
“In the Old Testament system there were certain penalties that were required to be carried out on the transgressor of the law. For example, in John 8:4, the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, in the very act. According to the law, she should have been stoned. These requirements in the law were to be carried out precisely as prescribed by the law (Deut 17:9-11). These regulations or requirements were handwritten in a book or scroll and were also called curses of the law. In this woman‘s case, the record (trespass) that stood against her was adultery, the legal demand was that this sin was punishable by death; the law demanded that she die.”
Not only are the feast days NOT mentioned in the verse about what was nailed to the cross, we are specifically told two verses later that we should let no man judge us about them. These are the same men who were trying to deceive and beguile just a few verses earlier. We also have to remember that in this verse, the feast days and the weekly Sabbath stand or fall together. If it means the feast days were done away with, it means the weekly Sabbath was, too. They are all lumped together in one breath by Paul. This passage should make us stand up stronger in defense of the feast days, rather than make us treat them as though they were against us and Jesus rescued us from them by his death on the cross. But to say that this passage means the feast days were nailed to the cross is a twisting of Scripture, just as Peter warned us against in 2 Peter 3:16.
Galatians 4:10 is also commonly pointed out as being against the feast days. Here is my paraphrase of this passage:
1-2: The child has no more power in the household than a servant
3: likewise, we were in bondage to the world as children
4: but God sent his Son at the appointed time
5-6: to redeem us to be as sons through the power of His Son
7: so we are no longer like children in bondage
8: Before we knew God, we did service to the (pagan) “no gods”
9: but now that we have known God, how could we turn again to that (pagan) bondage
10: and go back to observing their pagan days (like Sunday and Christmas and Easter)
11: Paul fears that because of their returning to the “no gods” ways, he labored on them in vain, they will be lost to God because they returned again to the bondage of the weak and beggarly elements (9)
This passage actually says the exact opposite of what people claim it says. It is not God’s feast days that are the “weak and beggarly elements”. It is the service to the “no gods” that people are returning to, that were the problem. Paul is trying to bring them out of the pagan days, and into God’s inheritance.
Another oft used text:
Ephesians 2:15-16 “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace. And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”
No doubt, this is one of Paul’s more difficult texts. I’m not going to pretend that I understand it totally or that I’m going to be able to explain it properly. Similarly, we would grapple with this by someone who says it means the commandments, including stealing and murder, are done away with, which is clearly nonsense. So what do we do with ambiguous or difficult texts? We must find undebatable principles, then interpret the difficult texts by them. If this means that God abolished his own laws, then we have other serious contradictions in Scripture, such as: 1) If the law was the problem and needed abolishing, then God made mistakes, plus he lied when he said he would not alter the thing that comes out of his mouth, and 2) If the law was done away with, and the law defines sin, we can no longer say there is any kind of sin that remains, and 3) we make Jesus a liar since he said in Matt 5:17 he did not come to do away with the law, and 4) we make Paul a liar since he said in Rom 3:31 that the law was not made void, and 5) Paul was bipolar since he also says in Romans 7 that the law is holy, just, and good (vs 12), and he delights in the law (vs 22). He says in 1 Cor 7:19 that what matters is the keeping of the law. So unless these five points are true, this passage should not be interpreted as doing away with the law.
Also bear in mind what specifically verse 15 says was abolished? Enmity (hatred). The verb abolished is linked to the enmity, not to the law. What hatred was that?
Vs 11-12: Before Christ, the Jews and Gentiles were separated, and the gentiles were strangers, outside of the covenant and without God
Vs 13: But now through Christ those who were far off are made near by his blood
Vs 14: He has brought peace between the two (Jew & Gentile) making them one, breaking down the “middle wall of partition” (an idiom relating to the wall separating the temple from access by the Gentiles, the same wall Paul was in jail for having been accused of allowing a Gentile to enter)
Vs 15: By his flesh, he abolished the hatred between the two groups, possibly a hatred that rose from the commandments ?? Here is the difficult phrase in Greek: 3551 law (nomos) 1785 commandments (entolee) 1722 in 1378 decree (dogma)
Vs 16: The both Jew and Gentile become reconciled to God by what Jesus did on the cross.
Here’s a second way to consider this passage: In the KJV, as shown by italics, “even” and “contained” are words supplied by the translators, not written in the original text. No doubt the translators also grappled with this text, and possibly their own biases entered in as they attempted to make sense of it, which is why they likely supplied the two words. But often the supplied words alter the text.
Here is how these verses could also read, without the added words and with the alternative meaning inserted: “Having abolished in his flesh the hatred of the law (the commandments and ordinances), making in himself one new man from the two (Jew and Gentile), making peace that would reconcile both in one body to God through the sacrifice, having killed the hatred of the law through his death.” In other words, it may be that Paul was trying to say that Jesus was abolishing the opposition (enmity) to the law, but clearly he could not have been abolishing the law, or the five points above still apply.
Acts Chapter 15
This chapter dealt with the controversy between the converted Jews making demands on the converted Gentiles, specifically circumcision, which other disciples didn’t think were necessary burdens to lay upon them. Paul and Barnabas travelled to Jerusalem to meet with other disciples and church elders. Peter noted that since the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit without circumcision, that a yoke should not be placed upon the new believers that even the Jewish fathers were unable to bear. Paul also shared the miracles that were happening with the Gentile believers. The decision was that the Gentiles would be given four requirements: 1) abstain from food that had been offered to idols, 2) fornication (which some sources indicate was part of their pagan worship rituals, not simply sex between unmarried people in the privacy of their home), 3) eating strangled foods, and 4) eating foods that had blood in it. (Note: none of these items are from the Ten Commandments – they are all statutes. Clearly, the early church acknowledged that statutes were just as valid as commandments, or actually in this instance, of higher standing.)
However, this was not to be considered a complete list, as shown in the next verse Acts 15:21, which said that they would hear Moses being read every Sabbath day. Essentially, the decision was to get the new converts stopping their most egregious transgressions, and the finer matters that applied to them would be taught to them as they studied Torah weekly.
But the people who use this passage to advocate the idea that the feast days are done away with stop at verse 20. They make the argument that those four things are the only things that mattered. The letter the elders wrote stated the new believers did not need to be circumcised or “keep the law”, which is interpreted as doing away with the feast days. Clearly this is incorrect; otherwise you could make the argument that Gentiles could break any commandment as long as they didn’t disobey these four statutes. And we certainly couldn’t justify the continued practice of encouraging church members to tithe, as that was not listed, right? Furthermore, we still have all the same issues with interpreting this against the law that we covered previously – did God make a mistake when he created the law? Did he lie when he says he doesn’t alter the thing that comes out of his lips? Did Jesus lie when he said he didn’t come to do away with the law? Etc. Instead, it is more like when a new Christian comes into a church, we may encourage an unmarried couple living together to get married or move out prior to baptism, and worry about helping them overcome other sins in their life over the ensuing months, as they become more familiar with God’s ways and His will in their lives.
But I see nothing here that sanctions doing away with God’s appointed times, especially substituting heathen practices in their place.
Plus, we need to keep reading: A few chapters later we see Paul keeping the feast at Jerusalem (18:21), keeping Unleavened bread with the Philippians (20:6), leaving Ephesus to keep Jerusalem for Pentecost (20:16), and mentioning the fast (Day of Atonement) in Acts 27:9. Clearly Paul didn’t interpret the meeting in Chapter 15 to do away with the feasts.
Some writers have referenced a Biblical fiction of a transition period where the feasts were kept out of habit but without necessity, but there is no Biblical evidence to support this view. Adding to the Scriptures in this way violates Revelation 22:18.