Colossians 2:15-17

Colossians 2:15-17

by Kelly McDonald, Jr.

“15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival [feast day] or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (NKJV)

Common Arguments:

1) People have used these verses to say that we can celebrate any day we wish as the Sabbath or festival and no one should judge us for it.

2) Others have mis-read this verse to say “let no one judge you for NOT regarding a festival, new moon, or Sabbath.”

3) Another train of thought says that since the Sabbath/Holy Days were shadows, that we don’t need them any more.

4) The Sabbath and festivals are just a shadow; we have the real thing now.

5) We shouldn’t judge people for eating whatever they want.

Think it through: For Arguments 1-3: These arguments have obvious problems. If Paul is saying any celebration is acceptable, then why did he and Christ choose to only celebrate certain days? Why did God and Paul warn us about celebrating pagan celebrations? (Deut. 12:28-32; Gal. 4:8-11). If these arguments were true, then it would mean that there is no objective standard as to what days were holy or common. This viewpoint depicts God as a moral relativist, which means morality is dependent on the individual. This reduces God’s authority to lower than that of a human, which is dangerous.

For Argument #4: The immediate context of the verses has to do with keeping these days. This means that no legitimate interpretation can include the reasoning that we should not do them. Christ is the real meaning; this is why we should not allow anyone to judge us for doing them.

For Argument #5: Paul cannot change the biology of every animal in existence with the stroke of a pen. These animals have had the same characteristics since creation. This argument makes the mistake of allowing Paul to have greater authority than God and overriding His Word. Unclean animals are still mentioned in Rom. 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:17 and Rev 18:2, so they can’t be done away with by this passage.

Short Answers: These verses are proof that Paul wanted us to keep God’s celebrations and not be shamed by others for doing so.

1) The only Sabbaths and festivals supported by the Bible are those celebrated by Christ and His disciples.

2)  Paul said to let no one judge us for our participating in the Sabbath or festivals of the Lord (found in Lev. 23).

3) Christians continued to celebrate these days even after Christ’s resurrection and hundreds of years later; therefore this statement cannot be true.

4) The feasts are all about Christ and that is why we should do them.

5) Paul is referring to clean animals.

Longer Answer: In this excerpt from Colossians, Paul proclaims our triumph over the forces of evil through Jesus Christ. He then shifts to explain that due to Christ’s victory over the enemy, we should not let anyone judge us in food and drink.

The Greek word translated as food is brosei; it refers to the act of eating and by extension refers to food defined by Leviticus 11. To learn more about this subject, read the article: How Does God Define Food(click here to read). 

Paul then takes this attitude towards food and applies it to certain days. The English word “regarding” in verse 16 is translated from two Greek words: en merei. En means in and merei means your share or participation. The believers in Colossae were participating in these special times by eating and drinking. Three specific kinds of special times are mentioned: festival, new moon, and Sabbaths.

How do we go about understanding the terms festival, new moons, and Sabbath? How do we define them?

When we read the Bible, context is key. There are different kinds of context. One of the main forms of context is comparing all verses in the Bible on a given subject. Some people call this “using the Bible to interpret the Bible.” This type of research will generate many references and allow us to better grasp the subject.

It is imperative to understand that the entire Old Testament is the background material for the New Testament. When the apostolic authors, such as Paul, use certain terms they often are derived from their uses in the Old Testament. This is especially true with the subject matter we are considering. The Feast Days, New Moon Celebrations, and the Sabbath are mentioned together multiple times before Paul wrote Colossians 2.  I have listed three below:

I Chron. 23:31 – “and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the Lord on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the set feasts, by number according to the ordinance governing them, regularly before the Lord…”

Nehemiah 10:33 – “…for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.”

Ezekiel 45:17a – “Then it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the New Moons, the Sabbaths…”

Thus, we can see that these three special days are used together in the Old Testament. By the time Paul used these terms in his letter to Colossae, a context of meaning already existed. This does not allow us the opportunity to twist or change the meaning based upon what we want the verse to say (or the celebrations we want to keep), but how the Bible has already defined these terms.

The Greek words used for each of these three celebrations bears witness to this as well. The Greek word translated as festival is heortes. It is used 27 times in the New Testament; all of them reference the feast days God discussed in Leviticus chapter 23. Paul uses the verb form of heortes in I Corinthians 5:8 to instruct the Corinthians to keep Passover and Unleavened Bread.

The Greek word translated as New Moon is neomenias; it is only used once in the New Testament. It refers to the New Moon celebrations (Numbers 28:11-15). Finally, the Greek word translated as Sabbath is sabbaton, and it is translated as Sabbath or Sabbaths. It refers to the seventh-day Sabbath.

The Colossians were partaking in Biblically approved food and drink during God’s appointed times. Other people were judging them FOR their participation in them! This is absolute proof that the early Christians celebrated these days. Another question which arises in this discussion is as follows: Why were they being judged for Biblically accepted behavior?

Colossae was a city in Asia Minor. This area of the world was influenced by the Greek thought for centuries before Paul lived. A common philosophy among the Greeks was called asceticism; this is the belief that spirituality could only come through abstinence from things in life that were physically enjoyable – such as certain kinds of food. Thus, these enjoyable behaviors were considered morally wrong. Some ascetics treated their bodies harshly. They viewed it as a way to subdue their carnal desires as a preparation for spiritual experiences. Some thought angels could be seen through rigorous asceticism. Unfortunately, this man-made philosophy was present among the Colossian congregation.

To confirm this statement further, we will apply another kind of Biblical context. This method involves reading the rest of the chapter, which is verses 18-23: “18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. 20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (emphasis mine throughout)

These verses display obvious references to asceticism, such as spiritual experiences involving the worship of angels. Next, he referenced the doctrines and commandments of men (not the doctrines and commandments of God). Lastly, he described their neglect of the body (some translations say harsh treatment of the body). The human teaching of asceticism cannot truly overcome the desires of the flesh; it temporarily restrains them.

Why did Paul write these words? In the Bible, the Festivals of Leviticus 23 and the seventh-day Sabbath are the most joyous times of celebration and feasting. The believers were eating the nicest foods and drinks available. The ascetics judged the Colossian believers for physical enjoyment during God’s appointed celebrations.

Paul concluded verses 15-17 by saying that these celebrations “…are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” The Greek word translated as substance is soma. It means body. So what is Paul saying? These special times have past and future meaning [the shadow], but the shadow only exists when light shines on a body. The true meaning of these days belongs to Christ’s body. In other words, the essence belongs to Him! In Leviticus 23:2, they are called the Feasts of the LORD, not man or Israelites.

In conclusion, Paul wrote that we should let no one judge us FOR celebrating these special times. Christ followed them on earth; His disciples did for centuries after this. This gives Christians yet another reason to celebrate them.

Kelly is President of the Bible Sabbath Association (BSA). www.biblesabbath.org


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