A follower on Twitter asked me about Colossians 2:16 last week.
I’m including the rest of the chapter here for context:
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Does Colossians 2 Cancel the Torah?
Does this mean all of God’s commandments about food and drink, sabbaths and feast days, etc., have been nullified? Not unless you think God’s instructions are “elemental spirits of the world”, “human precepts and teachings”, and “self-made religion” with only “an appearance of wisdom”. Certainly many atheists would agree with that, but I don’t see how anyone who accepts the Bible as authoritative could.
Have you heard the phrase “Torah terrorist”? It jokingly refers to someone who is always telling other people they’re doing it wrong. Paul was saying, “Don’t let people condemn you for not eating, drinking, or keeping a feast day in exactly the way they think it should be done. It’s okay if you don’t do everything exactly right or if you disagree with someone else about the details of what’s good for food and what isn’t.”
Paul was addressing two categories of erroneous teaching:
- The elevation of the forms of religion over the substance. See verse 17. For example, many people were teaching that new converts must be circumcised in order to be considered truly saved. There is NO commandment in Torah for a grown man to be circumcised in order to be considered an Israelite. You can’t eat the Passover unless you are circumcised, but otherwise, the only commandment is to circumcise newborn boys on the 8th day.
This is directly related to the ruling of the Jerusalem Council in the Book of Acts. New converts shouldn’t be expected to keep the whole Torah perfectly, let alone all of the man-made rules that we have added to Torah. Start with the basics and learn the rest as you go, not letting anyone condemn you for the things you haven’t mastered yet.
- The elevation of man-made tradition over God-given instruction, whether it be Christian, Jewish, or pagan. As an example, consider the rabbinic rule against eating dairy and meat together. Some people will say you are sinning if you eat a cheeseburger, but this is based only on the opinion of some rabbis, not on what the Torah actually says.
Other examples would be the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, mandatory attendance at church, the celebration of Easter, etc. These are man-made traditions with little or no foundation in Scripture, yet many will insist you can’t possibly be a Christian or a Jew unless you follow the Pope or the rabbis or your local pastor instead of the clear commandments of God.
Don’t let those people pile their rules on your shoulders as if you are beholden to their weak consciences. Their rules, no matter how wise they sound, are not even a “shadow of the things to come”, but only a shadow of their own minds.
And don’t let people condemn you for being imperfect. God knows we all sin. We all fall short. I think him all the time that my salvation does not depend on my perfect obedience, but on my repentance and on his grace to forgive.
Live in peace with those people as much as you can, but don’t let them poison your relationship with the Father, with Yeshua, or with your fellow believers.
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6 Replies to “What about Colossians 2:16?”
Thank you for the email update on this article! I am completely with you on this topic.
Again, spot on…Nothing in my opinion has done more damage to peoples faith then man made doctrines, traditions etc. They are nothing but a burden with little to no Scriptural basis, most have more in common with paganism then they do with God’s commandments. Thanks for another clear and accurate article Jay!
You’re welcome, Cindy.
The Mosaic covenant was contextual to a people redeemed from Egyptian slavery, covenanted at Sinai, and thus commanded. The ANE treaties (especially the Hittite treaties that the Sinai arrangement exhibits) were such that the redemptive act by the suzerain was followed by stipulations written on stone, that signified the suzerain-vassal relations. Ignoring this context does harm to the understanding of God’s redemptive metanarrative.
The Mosaic covenant was binding to the Jews and those who wanted to physically identify with their Exile-Promise plan in its physical manifestations. It must be noted that the repeated exile of the Jews whether to Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome were manifestations that Israel itself, though bound by the covenantal stipulations, was indeed not in a relationship with YHWH, and thus proved itself again and again that it cannot keep the stipulations. Thus, the prophets (e.g Jer. 31) looked forward to a day when a new covenant is made, not the Mosaic one, but one conditioned not upon the individual obedience to the Torah (which 1000 years of Israel’s history proved impossible), but on God’s gracious dealings with men.
Thus, when Christ comes, He does not claim to reestablish the Mosaic covenant with its Mosaic Law but to fulfil it and make a new covenant (Luke 22:20). The New Testament unequivocally maintains that the making of the New covenant makes the old one obsolete and ready to vanish away (Heb 8-10). Thus Col 2:16 maintains the same: the Mosaic covenant was a shadow, not binding to the non-Sinaitic community, finding fulfilment in Christ
Any teaching that misses that believers are in a new covenant, unlike the Mosaic one, misses the point both of the Mosaic and New Covenant altogether, confusing shadows with substance. Christ is the only substance there is.
Thanks, Joseph, but I think you should re-read this post. I think you missed the point.
How does God describe the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31? What is the difference between it and the Older Covenant? Not the content of God’s Law, but the medium on which it is written. The Law remains the same.