“LET NO MAN JUDGE YOU THEREFORE IN MEAT OR IN DRINK….” (COL. 2:16)
Does Col. 2:16 tell us that with the beginning of the dispensation of the mystery Israel was no longer under the Law of Moses? Certainly that is what most believe it to say, but is that the correct understanding? I think it is not the correct understanding and this paper will consider this passage as to what it does teach and what it does not teach. The following subjects will be considered:
WAS THE LAW OBSERVED IN THE ACTS PERIOD?
WHAT IS THE POINT OF COL. 2:16?
Let us begin by quoting the entire verse, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”. In terms of understanding what Paul is teaching the word “therefore” is the most important word in the verse. That is to say, the word “therefore” tells us that this verse is the point of what has been said before. It behooves us then to study carefully what has been said before verse 16.
What comes immediately before verse 16 is, of course, verses 14-15 which read, “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 the cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it”.
What are the ordinances that were “against us”? They are explained in verse 16. They are the ordinances concerning eating meat, drinking, holy days, the new moon and sabbath days. It is clear that these “ordinances” are those of the Mosaic Law.
Now let us focus for the moment on the phrase “nailing it to the cross”. This tells us that what is being said in this passage is not limited to the dispensation of the mystery because the dispensation of the mystery did not begin at the cross. That is to say, the ordinances spoken of in this passage were nailed to the cross long before the beginning of the dispensation of the mystery. Therefore, the truths taught in this passage are not truths that are exclusively for the church of the present dispensation, i.e. the church which is His body, they are truths that are equally applicable for those who lived immediately after the cross, i.e. the Acts period.
Many believe that the law was nailed to the cross but that nailing did not go into effect until Acts 28 when Israel was set aside. Col. 2:14-16 is a parallel passage to Eph. 2:14-15 where we read of the abolishing of the law at the cross. Many believe that this abolishing also did not go into effect until Acts 28, but as will be proved in the discussion of Eph. 2 below, the abolishing of the law cannot refer to Acts 28 as the Greek word translated “abolished” does not allow for that interpretation. If the parallel passage cannot refer to Acts 28, neither, in my opinion, can Col. 2:16 refer to Acts 28.
In summary, the ordinances of the Mosaic Law were nailed to the cross. But that does not mean that observance of the law was discontinued at the cross because, as we learn in Acts 21, believing Israel, including Paul, was zealous of the law. Let us consider that passage.
WAS THE LAW OBSERVED IN THE ACTS PERIOD?
We read in Acts 21:20 of “thousands of Jews” that were “all zealous of the law”. But the rumor had been spread that Paul himself was not living in obedience to the law (see Acts 21:21). Then in Acts 21:24 we read of James and the elders in Jerusalem (see vs. 18) giving Paul the following advice, “Them take and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law“. The point of this passage is that Paul went out of his way to prove that he was observing the law. Was he wrong to do so? Surely, if believing Jews were wrong in continuing to observe the law Paul or Peter or James would have corrected them. Because there is no Scriptural evidence to show that Paul and others were wrong to observe the law, we must not assume that they were. (For a more complete discussion of the Law of Moses in the Acts period the reader is encouraged to see the paper on this web-site Was The Law Of Moses Abolished At The Cross?
We have seen that believing Israel was “zealous of the law”. We are now ready to examine the passages which seem to teach that the law was not in effect in the Acts period.
Gal. 3:24-25, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith; But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster”. What did Paul mean when he wrote to the Galatians that they were no longer under a schoolmaster?
The schoolmaster was the law. What was the purpose of the schoolmaster? To lead them to faith, so that they may be justified. Why did they no longer need the schoolmaster? They no longer needed the schoolmaster (the law) because they had already come to faith in Christ. If we add an ellipsis from the immediate context it will help make this passage a bit clearer. Verse 25 would read then, “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster because we have been brought to faith in Christ”. They were no longer under the schoolmaster to bring them unto faith because they already had faith.
If we see this passage as saying that believing Israel was no longer obligated to observe the law we have a very difficult problem. That is to say, in Acts 21 Paul went out of his way to show that he was observing the law, he therefore could not write in an Acts period epistle that believers were not to observe the law without contradicting his own actions. But all is clear when we see that Gal. 3 is not teaching that believing Israel was no longer obligated to observe the law, but that they were no longer under the law for the purpose of bringing those believing Galatians to Christ. So those who had faith, were no longer under the law for the purpose of bringing them to faith. But they, along with Paul, still observed the Mosaic Law.
“For He is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 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”.
What was the “middle wall of partition”? It was “the law of commandments contained in ordinances” which was “enmity” between Jew and Gentile.
Was the law done away with, i.e. “abolished” at the cross? In order to answer that question let us determine what Paul meant when he wrote that it was “abolished”. The Greek word translated “abolished” is” katargeo”. It is also used in II Thess.2:8 where we read of the “wicked” one, i.e. the antichrist. “And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming”. The word is also used in Heb. 2:14 of Satan, “…..that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil”. Consider also the use of the word in Romans 6:6, “Knowing this that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin”. It is clear that the word tells us that it is not a temporary putting aside, it implies a permanent destruction.
Some have suggested that while the law was abolished at the cross, that abolishing did not go into effect until Acts 28. The problem with that suggestion is that the law was only temporarily put aside at Acts 28. That is to say, when Israel was put aside as God’s chosen people at Acts 28 the law, which had been given Her, was also put aside. But it is clear from several Old Testament scriptures that the law would be observed in the millennial reign of Christ. (See Is. 56:7-8, Zech. 14:21, Mal. 3:3 and Ezek. 36:27). Therefore it was put aside only temporarily. Eph. 2:15 speaks of the abolishing of the law, which, as the word is used by the Holy Spirit, is not temporary but permanent. Because the putting aside of the law at Acts 28 is temporary, i.e. until the millennium, Paul could not have been referring to the putting aside of the law at Acts 28 when he wrote of the abolishing of the law at the cross.
We have already learned that Paul and others were obedient to the law throughout the Acts period. To what then was Paul referring when he wrote that the law was permanently abolished at the cross? We have seen in our discussion of Gal. 3 that the law fulfilled the purpose of a school master, as it brought Israel to faith. But once they had come to faith, they were no longer under the law for the purpose of bringing them to faith.
Eph. 2 speaks of the law serving as a partition between believing Jews and Gentiles. But at the cross, the law, which was given, in part, for the purpose of separating Jew and Gentile, was abolished. That is to say, the reason for breaking down the middle wall as described in Eph. 2:16 was to “reconcile both unto God in one body”. So, for the purpose of separation of believing Jew and Gentile the law was permanently abolished at the cross. Just as in Galatians 3 we learned that the law, for the purpose of bringing Israel to faith was no longer in effect, so too in Ephesians 2, the law was abolished for the purpose of separating believing Jew and Gentile.
The reason this passage in Eph. 2 is so widely misunderstood is that most assume that the one body which was established by the cross is the church which is His body. The paper on this web-site The One Body Of Ephesians Two Is Not The Church Which Is His Body will prove from Scripture that they are not the same.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF COL. 2:16?
We have learned that the Law of Moses had been given for several reasons including to lead Israel to faith in Christ (Gal. 3), and for the separation of Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2). We also learned that the purpose of the law, as given in the context of each of these passages, was accomplished at the cross. So when one of the purposes of the law had been accomplished, the law was not to be observed for that purpose, even though believing Israel did indeed observe the law. We are now ready to consider the point of Col. 2:16.
As mentioned above, the ordinances of the law were nailed to the cross, but we know that the Jewish believers of the Acts period, including Paul, did observe the Mosaic Law, indeed, they were “zealous” of it. That tells us that the law was not done away with when it was nailed to the cross. I believe that another of the purposes of the law was accomplished by the cross. Is there something in the context of Col. 2, as there was in Gal. 3 and Eph. 2 that tells us what purpose was accomplished at the cross? Indeed there is.
Let us remind ourselves of Col. 2:14-16, “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 the cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”. The Colossian believers were told to not let anyone judge them in terms of the Mosaic Law because Christ had not only nailed it to the cross, but He had also triumphed over them.
Now let us look at Col. 2:6-10 because, as will be shown, it is a parallel passage to verses 14-15. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him; Rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 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; for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, Which is the Head of all principality and power”.
Believers were told in this passage that they should “beware lest any man spoil you in philosophy and vain deceit”. There is a parallel here with verses 14-16 where they were told to be not judged. There is also a parallel in these passages as to why they should not be judged and to be aware. In verse 14 it was because of what Christ had done, i.e. “blotting out the ordinances” and in verse 9 it is because Who Christ is, i.e. “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”. There is another parallel in these passages. Note that in verse 15 Paul speaks of spoiling principalities and powers, and in verse 10 he speaks of Christ as the head of all principalities and powers. And yet another parallel is found in verses 8 and 20, both of which speak of “the rudiments of the world”.
Now let us carefully consider verse 10 which, in my opinion, is the central point of Col. 2:6-16. That verse reads, “and ye are complete in Him, Which is the head of all principality and power”. In verses 6-10 the Colossian believers are told that because they are complete in Christ they need to beware of philosophies, vain deceit, traditions of men and the rudiments of the world. And in verses 14-16 they are told that they should not be judged in respect to the Mosaic Law because they are complete in Christ.
So the point of Col. 2:16 is not whether or not anyone should observe the Mosaic Law, the point is that believers are complete in Christ and it is the shed blood of Christ on the cross that makes a believer complete in Him. Therefore no one should be judged in respect to the law, and not the philosophies or traditions of men. No, not even the Mosaic Law could make a believer more complete in Christ. In line with Gal. 3 and Eph. 2, for the purpose of making anyone more complete in Christ, the Mosaic Law had been nailed to the cross.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org