COLOSSIANS 2:14 is an important and vital pas sage of the Word of God. It appears in the general body of counsel in this chapter, and evidently is intended by the apostle Paul to be a blessing to the saints at Colosse and to solve some of the problems that were troubling their minds.
Through the years there have been many and varied interpretations of this text, both inside and outside our ranks by others in various Christian communions. There is no need to review them, for our approach may be along somewhat different lines. As appeal will be made not only to the New Testament record but also to the Old, especially so be cause most of the converts to the new Messiah doctrine of the early apostles were Jews who passed from Judaism to Christianity and brought with them their religious heritage and background of religious thinking.
There is another New Testament text to which we should give attention, for Colosse was not the only church to which he wrote on this question. We refer to Ephesians 2:15. In this text it looks as though a few of the expressions in Colossians 2:14 are, to some extent, explained. In fact, he was doubtless writing about the same thing, only adapting his language in a way he felt would be better understood by each group. Let us observe the following:
1. Something was "taken away" Col. 2:14
Something was "blotted out" Col. 2:14
Something was "nailed to the cross" Col. 2:14
Something was "abolished" Eph. 2:15
Something was "slain" Eph. 2:16
What was this something?
2. It was "the handwriting of ordinances"—Col. 2:14
It was the law of commandments contained in ordinances Eph. 2:15,16
3. Something was "against us" Col. 2:14
Something was "contrary to us" Col. 2:14
How are we to understand these expressions?
It is obvious that the apostle is using language with which the newly converted Jews are familiar.
They know of the laws, ordinances, statutes, and so on, which they as God's people had received from the Most High through Moses. These things about which Paul wrote were not at all new to them. 1
We will now make an attempt to clarify the various laws, commandments, and ordinances that the Lord gave to His people in ancient days. What we give now may seem to depart from the point at issue, but this approach is vital to an understanding of the two texts under consideration.
1. God's Law for the Great Universe of God
In the Scriptures the word universe is referred to as "the heaven and heaven of heavens" (Deut. 10:14). This is a Hebrew expression that means illimitable expanse. In a Jewish Bible, the Pentateuch,2 this text is rendered as "the heavens to their outer reaches." It is there that the Most High has His throne (Ps. 103:19). Sometimes His domain is called a "kingdom" (chap. 145:13), and this means it has not only a throne but also a law as its foundation. We might ask, What is God's law for His unlimited uni verse? The universe is infinitely greater than our earth, which is but a speck in such a vast, immeasurable expanse. We must remember that it is sinless whereas we are sinful, the only sinful speck at that. Would there be any "thou shalt nots"? Would God's law be couched in negatives in such a domain?
Whatever it is, God has a law, for we read:
The law of God existed before the creation of man or else Adam could not have sinned.3
The law of Jehovah . . . was comprised in two great commandments "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." (Luke 10:27) 4
This was not new teaching in the day of our Lord; it was taught to the children of Israel in the days of Moses. (See Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 10:12.)
Might not this be the law governing an unfallen universe? It could be.
2. God Adapted His Law for Our Sinful World
We have all known of the Ten Commandments the Decalogue but when were they given to our world? Note:
These principles (love to God and love to others) were more explicitly stated to man after the fall; and worded to meet the case of fallen intelligences.5
Would this account for the thou shalt nots in the Decalogue?
3. God's Law of Sacrificial Offerings
Some have called this the ceremonial law, but actually the law by that name was much wider than the law of sacrifices. It embraced ordinances and in junctions not necessarily related to the sacrificial law. For our purpose we shall use the term "Law of Sacrificial Offerings."
This will not mean only sacrifices as such but also include those who administered them the priests as well as the Levites, their attendants in the sanctuary ritual. It included also the place where the sacrifices were offered and ministered the sanctuary, and later the Temple. Then there would be the altars and other articles of furniture as well as the various feast days, such as Passover, New Year, Pentecost, Day of Atonement, with their respective annual sabbaths. The sacrificial offerings were at times called ordinances, as can be seen in Numbers 9:14 relating to the Passover, and in chapters 19:2 and 15:15 to other offerings.
4. God's Further Expansion of the Ten Commandments
It is quite easy to see that many of the enactments given to Israel were really expansions of what is implied in the wording of the Decalogue. Think of the regulations concerning murder (the sixth commandment), robbery (the eighth commandment), adultery (the seventh commandment), blasphemy (the third commandment), and so on. These matters had to be spelled out so as to bring home to the people the serious consequences of deliberate violation of the law of the Lord God of Israel.
5. God's Counsel Concerning Civil Laws
Such regulations became necessary not only under the kingdom of Israel but also under the theocracy. When Moses was their leader he was counseled to appoint judges (Ex. 18:1, 2; Deut. 6:18). And he himself was chief justice (Ex. 18:26). They had courts of law (Judges 5:10), they had witnesses (Deut. 19:5); they had lawyers (Ex. 18:16) to plead cases. The judges had authority to legislate and impose penalties as well as to execute judgment (Ex. 21:22). In all this they were expected to be meticulous in their investigations (Deut. 19:18; 21:2).
6. Israel's Accretions to God-given Ordinances
The danger of adding needless and petty enactments to the God-given precepts is a danger that faces any organization. It faces churches as well as business enterprises, and Israel certainly succumbed to this danger. What burdensome regulations she did place upon Sabbath-keeping! This involved many other things as well, and it finally reached the point where Jesus had to tell them, "Ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition" (Matt. 15:6). The same thing is stated in another place, "Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13). The scribes and Pharisees bound "heavy burdens [on the people] and grievous to be borne" (Matt. 23:4) until such injunctions became a veritable "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1). (See also Lev. 26:13; The Desire of Ages, pp. 395, 396; Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 398; Prophets and Kings, pp. 708, 709; The Acts of the Apostles, p. 15.)
This was the situation when Jesus came to dwell among men. It was the situation the first apostles had to meet in the early days of the Christian church.
7. The Apostolic Use of Things Which Were "Against Us" and "Contrary to Us"
These expressions, it will be noted, are used by Paul in his letter to the church at Colosse. Did he have any historic background for such terms? Ob serve the counsel of Moses to Israel before he laid down his work of leadership:
a. If you persist in disobeying me and show you are against me, I will be against you. Lev. 26:17; Deut. 29:27; 31:17, 19, 21, 26, 27; 28:48, 49 9 times. b. If you are determined to go contrary to me, I will go contrary to you. Lev. 26:21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 40, 41---7 times.
This was clearly understood by some godly Jewish leaders, for they recognized that because of Israel's iniquities God the Lord actually became their enemy. They seemed against one known as "He", for it is written: They have believed the Lord, and said: "It is not 'He' (Jer. 5:17); and they have smitten upon the one known as 'He': but they rebelled, and grieved His holy spirit; therefore He was turned to be their enemy (Isa. 63:10)" Piska 33:13, Vol. II, pp. 660, 661.6
8. A Related Matter in Col. 2:16, 17
Because of what happened at the cross of Calvary, as mentioned in verse 14, the apostle draws a decided and vital conclusion in verses 16 and 17. This was written, no doubt, mainly for the benefit of the newly converted Jewish Christians who constituted the major part of the infant church at that time. It was expressed in language they could easily understand. They were well acquainted with their festivals, their yearly sacrifices, their special sabbaths, and other sacrificial ordinances. Look at the wording of these verses:
Therefore, let none condemn you, as to food, and as to drink, nor in respect to a festival, or new moon, or sabbaths; 7 which were a forecast8 of the future.9 Fenton.
The word which at the beginning of verse 17 naturally refers to what is listed in verse 16. Everything, therefore, is included in the word shadow. Hence, they were all types of what they foreshadowed. When they in reality should come, having served their purpose, they would naturally be set aside, in fact, abolished. No one has any question about this when applied to new moon or festivals. Why the exception when applied to the sabbaths? The Sabbath of the Lord, the seventh day of the week, is a memorial, not a type. The memorial looks back; the type looks for ward. The sabbaths mentioned by the apostle were a part of the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, atonement, and the like. There were seven of them, and they came not every week as does the seventh-day Sabbath but once every year. 10 Just as the festivals and the new moon festivities, they were abrogated when our Lord and Saviour, their Antitype, expired on the cruel cross of Calvary.