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Thoughts on Colossians 2:14-17

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Archives / 1971 / December



Thoughts on Colossians 2:14-17

D. E. Mansell
-Associate Book Editor, Review and Herald Publishing Association, at the time this article was written


THE objection is sometimes raised by those who do not wish to keep the seventh-day Sabbath that this passage teaches that the Sabbath was nailed to the cross and that, therefore, Sabbath-keeping is no longer binding upon Christians.

Let us examine Colossians 2:14-17 in the light of the Scriptures to determine whether there is any validity to the objection.

What is the "handwriting of ordinances?" 2 Chronicles 33:8 says that the "ordinances" were "commanded ... by the hand of Moses." The entire passage reads as follows:

Neither will I any more remove the foot of Israel from out of the land which I have appointed for your fathers; so that they will take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses.

Observe that a distinction seems to be made between what God commanded and what Moses commanded. This distinction is placed beyond question in 2 Kings 21:8 —a passage parallel to 2 Chronicles 33:8— which reads thus:

Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them.

Joshua 1:7, 8 indicates that "all the law, which Moses . . . commanded [Israel, verse 2]" was written in a "book," called "this book of the law." Deuteronomy 31:25, 26 refers to "this book of the law" and declares that Moses ordered that it be put "in the side of the ark . . . that it may be there for a witness against thee," that is, against Israel.

It is in the sense that Moses' book of the law was a "witness against" Israel, that "the handwriting of ordinances" is said to be "against us." In other words, should Israel depart from the ordinances of the Mosaic law, that law would stand as a witness against their apostasy.

It is clear that Moses commanded the handwriting of ordinances. But what did God command? Deuteronomy -1:13 says:

And he declared unto you his covenant, -which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.

These commandments, "written with the finger of God," were "written according to all the words which the Lord spake ... in the mount" (chap. 9:10). Having spoken the words of the Ten Commandments, chapter 5:22 declares that God "added no more"—not even the handwriting of ordinances. These two tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments, and written by God Himself, were placed "in the ark" (chap. 10:5).

The distinction between these two laws is unmistakable: The law Moses commanded, which he wrote in a book, and which contained the ordinances, was placed "in the side of the ark"; but the law God commanded, the Ten Commandments, which He wrote on tables of stone, was placed "in the ark." The former—"the law of commandments contained in ordinances"—was "abolished" (Eph. 2:15), when it was nailed to the cross; the latter— God's Ten Commandment law—was not nailed to the cross. Because it was not, it remains in force, and is therefore binding upon Christians today.

Why was the handwriting of ordinances abolished at the cross? It was abolished for two reasons: First, the types contained in the Mosaic ordinances met antitype when Christ died on the cross. Thus, there was no longer any need for God's people to observe the ordinance that commanded the killing of a lamb for a sin offering after Jesus died, because "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) had been slain. Second, Satan, taking advantage of the Jewish tend ency to be exclusive, made the ordinances of Moses, which were designed to instruct both Jew and Gentile concerning the coming Redeemer, a means of separating them. Having accomplished this purpose, Satan induced the Jews to add burdensome rules and regulations to the Mosaic ordinances until they became a "yoke" that neither the Jewish "fathers" nor their descendants "were able to bear" (Acts 15:10). It is in this sense that Paul declares that the hand writing of ordinances "was contrary to us" (Col. 2:14). But Christ came and died on the cross, and in so doing He fulfilled the types of the Mosaic ordinances. Having been fulfilled, they were abolished. In the same act Christ triumphed over the "principalities and powers" of evil (see Eph. 6:12) who were determined to keep the Gentiles ignorant of God's plan of salvation.

Since the types contained in the Mosaic ordinances met antitype in Christ's redemptive work, Paul declares under inspiration that no one was to "judge" Christians "in meat [offerings], in drink [offerings] (Lev. 23:37), or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days" (Col. 2:16).

If one were to stop with verse 16 of Colossians 2, there might be some justification for thinking that Paul was referring to the seventh-day Sabbath, when he speaks of "the sabbath days," or simply "sabbaths." However, verse 17 clearly states that these sabbaths, or sabbath days, were "a shadow of things to come; but the body [the object casting the shadow] is of Christ." As a shadow ends when it meets the object casting it, so the various ordinances, such as, meat and drink offerings, holydays, new moons, and sabbaths that foreshadowed Christ's redemptive work, ended when type met antitype.

Does the Bible clearly distinguish be tween the sabbaths, which foreshadowed Christ's redemptive work, and the seventh day Sabbath of the fourth commandment? It does. Leviticus 23:24 says, for instance, that "the first day of the [seventh] month" was "a sabbath." Observe that it is not the Sabbath, but a sabbath. Similarly, "the tenth day of this seventh month"—"day of atonement" (chap. 23:27)—was declared to be "a sabbath" (verse 32). Observe that both of these sabbaths could not possibly be seventh-day sabbaths, since they fell on days more than a week apart. Like our birthdays, these typical sabbaths fell on all the days of the week in a course of years. Not so the seventh-day Sabbath. It was not linked to the month, but to the weekly cycle. But the important thing is that chapter 23:37, 38 states that all of the "holy convocations," with their "meat offering," and "drink offerings," were "beside the sabbaths of the Lord."

Which sabbath is the Sabbath of the Lord? Exodus 20:10 declares that "the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord." Did this Sabbath point forward to Christ's redemptive work? No, it points back to Christ's creative work in the beginning. (Compare Ex. 20:8-11 and Eph. 3:9.)

Again the distinction is unmistakable: The typical sabbaths of the Mosaic ordinances pointed forward to Christ's redemptive work; the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth commandment points back to Christ's creative work.

Conclusion: The objection that Colossians 2:14-17 teaches that the seventh-day Sabbath was nailed to the cross does not appear to be valid in the light of the Scriptures. The seventh-day is still "the sabbath of the Lord thy God," and hence, is still binding upon Christians.

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