The Correct Interpretation of Colossians 2

Among some of the most misinterpreted scriptures in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), Colossians, chapter 2 is near the top of the list.

Here is a good example of applying the five questions of good exegesis. In order to properly interpret any scripture accurately, and properly, we must ask a series of questions. I call these the five questions of good exegesis.

The five questions of good exegesis are:

  1. Who said it?
  2. What was said?
  3. Who was the intended audience?
  4. What is the scriptural context?
  5. What is the cultural context?

Q: Who said it? Who wrote Colossians, chapter 2?

A: Paul

Q: What was said?

A: Let’s start at verse 8.

8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;

10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

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 or a new moon or sabbaths,

17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

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.

Q: Who was the intended audience?

A: The church at Colossae

Q: What is the scriptural context?

A: Paul wraps the whole thing up in the context of the “commandments of men”. In verse 8 he opens this passage by referring to the philosophy, and traditions of men, and the principles of the world. In verses 22-23, Paul concludes the chapter up by reiterating the fact that this passage is about the commandments and doctrines of men. Therefore, the scriptural context of Colossians, chapter 2 is exactly that – the philosophies, traditions, commandments, doctrines, and principles of the world, NOT God.

 Q: What is the cultural context?

Here is where it gets really interesting. The city of Colossae was a very religious city. But it’s religion was Ascetic, and asceticism was wide-spread. It is the belief that in order to get close to God, you must sacrifice all pleasure. They believed that the more pleasure you sacrificed, the closer you get to God.

We can see clear evidence of Colossae’s asceticism in Paul’s letter as he refers to the philosophies of men, empty deceit, and the traditions of men (v. 8), false humility (v. 18), and the basic principles of the world exerting vain limitations and regulations of men (v. 20-22).

We also see evidence of Colossae’s ascetic ideologies in verse 23 as Paul condemns their self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body.

Festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths

The prevailing ascetic religion of the people of Colossae clashed with the church located in Colossae, because the church followed and obeyed the Torah, as did all believers in the Bible. Therefore, they celebrated all of the festivals according to the Torah, which included Sabbaths, New Moons and ALL the Feasts of the Lord.

Seeing that many people in the City of Collosae were engrossed in asceticism, the thought of feasting, or celebrating was considered to be very sacrilegious.

When the church began to grow and the gospel spread throughout the city of Colossae, there was instant opposition from the ascetics. They condemned the practice of celebrating, and feasting as the church of Colossae did during the sabbaths, new moons, and the other feasts of the Lord as such celebrations were frowned upon.

We know that the church of the New Testament believed in celebrating these feasts in obedience to the law of God because it is in scripture, and it is in line with the Word of God that can never be abolished. Consider the fact that in Acts, chapter 2, The Church was celebrating the feast of Pentecost as per Torah, when the Holy Spirit fell on them.

In Acts, chapter 12, two of “the feasts of the Lord” are mentioned—the Passover, and the Days of Unleavened Bread. While everyone was celebrating God’s miraculous power of freedom from slavery in Egypt, God saw it fit to free Peter from prison! Isn’t that just like our God?

Acts 20:6 records Paul, and other Christians waiting until after the Days of Unleavened Bread were over before they set sail. They did not lawlessly disobey, and disregard the feast of the Lord, rather they waited.

In Acts 20:16 we see Paul “hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost”. If the feasts of the Lord as per Torah were only for the Jews and not for Christians, then why were they mentioned as important element for Paul and his ministry partners?

Finally, in Acts 27:9 another feast, the Day of Atonement is mentioned: “Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over …” as per Leviticus 23:27

Nowhere in the Book of Acts do we see even a hint that these feast days and festivals are not to be observed. Nowhere do we see any hint of them being changed, abolished, or substituted with other holidays. Rather, Christians observed them. And they did so with a sense of greater understanding of the spiritual significance of these special days.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica confirms this, stating that “the first Christians … continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed” (11th edition, vol. 8, p. 828). GN

Blotting out the Handwriting of Ordinances

Speaking of Yeshua/Jesus, Paul said, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

In the KJV we read, “the handwriting of ordinances” here.

It is debatable what Paul meant by the “handwriting of ordinances”, or the “handwriting of requirements”. But in this context Paul stated emphatically that whatever those ordinances were, they were “against” them.

There are three main interpretations of what the “handwriting of ordinances” are:

  1. The laws and decrees of man.
  2. The curses that the priest wrote in a book as per Numbers 5:23
  3. The law of God, given by the hand of Moses.

The word translated ordinances/requirements here is from the original Greek word “dogma”. The Greek word “dogma” can mean a few different things: it can mean doctrines, decrees, and ordinances of men. It can also mean the doctrines, decrees, and ordinances of God. But what is the correct interpretation in this passage, considering the scriptural, and cultural context?

Paul said in Romans 7:12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

The Torah gives us a lot of guidelines, and instructions that are for our good. Laws like “thou shalt not murder”, and “thou shalt not commit adultery” are certain good for the general public. Can such commands be “against us”?

The Torah is HOLY, JUST, and GOOD. It is a God’s guidelines and instructions of justice. Can that which brings such goodness, and justice be “against us”?

Can commands such as “thou shalt not bear false witness”, “thou shalt not murder” be against us?

The answer here is obvious: NO!

Clearly, Paul was not talking about the Torah here. It is quite clear in context that he was talking about the decrees, ordinances, and doctrines of the world.

Verse 20 reiterates, and clarifies this truth. Paul said, “20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world…

The ordinances that Paul was talking about here was the ordinances and requirements of worldly laws, given by worldly rulers.

Consider this: The Greek word “dogma” used here for ‘ordinances/requirement’ is the same word used in Luke 2:1 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree (dogma)…”

Also in Acts 17:7 “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees(dogma), saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”

And once again in Hebrews 11:23, “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict (dogma).”

There are other uses of the Greek word dogma in the Septuagint that obviously is referring to the ordinances/decrees/requirements of men. Do we need any further proof?

Context, Context, Context

The bottom line is that when you look at not only the scriptural context here, but the greater cultural context of the people who Paul wrote this letter to, then it all comes together.

Using FULL scriptural context, we see the church in the Book of Acts celebrating the feasts of the Lord… we see Paul warning the church at Colossae about the false doctrines of men, and false-humility, alluding to asceticism… we see how Paul told the church not to let anyone judge them for observing the festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths… we see Paul wrapping it all up by sandwiching all this teaching between verses clearly referring to the laws of the world, not the laws of God.

In conclusion, the passage that the modern-day, ill-informed church leaders use today to “prove” that the law, and the feasts were abolished is actually the same passage that provides great evidence that the church followed the law of God, and celebrated the feasts of the Lord in spite of the “handwriting of ordinances” of worldly-rulers that condemn such practices.

To those who have been blessed by this teaching: Have a great time celebrating the festivals of the Lord, New Moons, and Sabbaths! Shalom

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