Doesn’t Colossians 2:16-17 Suggest That We Can Celebrate God & Jesus in Any Manner That We Want, because of grace through the cross? 

Many people use Colossians 2:16-17 as a supposed proof text that Jesus Christ did away with obeying God’s Eternal Commandments on the cross. That interpretation is certainly popular. It definitely appeals to our lawless and disobedient natures, but is it accurate interpretation of Scripture?

1st,  The problem with that interpretation is that in order for that understanding to be correct, you have to deny other clear portions of Scripture. All Scripture is true. However, if my understanding of one Scripture contradicts other Scriptures, then my understanding cannot possibly be correct, because TRUTH cannot contradict truth and remain true.

So if my understanding of one Scripture causes other Scriptures not to remain true, then that understanding cannot possibly be the correct interpretation. Absolute truth cannot contradict absolute truth, and remain true. Yahweh cannot deny and contradict Himself, (2 Timothy 2:13).

If Colossians 2:16-17 is interpreted to mean that Yahweh does not care if you honor His  Sabbath, He does not care if you keep the feasts of Yahweh; or if it is interpreted to mean that Yahweh doesn’t mind if you mix pagan customs with Christianity, then that popular interpretation also violates and contradicts other absolute truths in Scripture.

It violates (Leviticus 23:1-3; Amos 3:7; Romans 15:4; Matthew 5:17-20; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 10:1-22; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Deuteronomy 5:6-10; Proverbs 3:1; Deuteronomy 12:1-4, 8, 29-32; Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 15:10-15; 1 John 2:1-6; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 14:12; along with virtually countless other Scriptures.

The commonly approved interpretation of Colossians 2:16-17 contradicts so many Scriptures, that the popular interpretation of that passage cannot possibly be correct.

You will say to me, “But wait! It is written:

“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB with NO emphasis added) 

Note: Please notice that italicized words in English translation of biblical texts signifies that the italicized word was not found in the original manuscripts, but added by English translators for “clarity.” That would mean in this case that the word “mere” does not appear in Greek manuscripts So one could read the same verse without the italicized words and be closer to an English translation of the Greek manuscript.

Yes, people do in fact use that passage and try to twist it to say that Paul was teaching that we do not have to honor the Feasts of the Lord anymore. If he had been teaching this he would have been violating his own testimony about his ministry (Acts 24:14-16; Acts 25:7-8; Acts 28:17-21).

Some twist these words to suggest that Paul is saying we can now celebrate God and Jesus Christ in any manner we wish. The problem is that in order to arrive at that conclusion you have to outright ignore verse 8, of the same chapter. For it is also written:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, ACCORDING TO THE TRADITION OF MEN, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (NASB – emphasis added)  

According to verse 8, what exactly was Paul telling his readers to avoid? Was he telling us to ignore the Sabbath instituted by God in Genesis 2? Was he telling them to avoid the feasts that God instituted in Leviticus 23? No, of course not! Paul was strictly addressing not being led astray by the traditions of men.

He is opposing human ordinances and tradition which were added to the Law, and working against the Lord’s highest purpose by human intervention.

He was NOT opposing the Law of God, nor was he suggesting that believers should not honor what God instituted. He was speaking about not being led astray by the traditions of MEN . He said absolutely nothing encouraging people to disobey God’s instructions . That is simply meaning that we have applied in to the text which is NOT what Paul said.  

Was he talking about encouraging people NOT to keep the Feasts of the LORD that God instituted as an eternal ordinance in Leviticus 23? Not at all! He was speaking very clearly against philosophy, empty deception, traditions of men, and the elementary principles of the world. The Babylonian Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter we celebrate today contain far more of these aspects than ever did the Feasts of the LORD, for pity’s sake.

2nd, in order to make Colossians 2:16-17 apply in a manner that we are currently misusing it, we have to ignore the entire context of the time, place, and audience to whom Paul was writing.

The Colossian church was placed in the middle of a Roman province, more than 800 miles north from Judea, (NOT a predominantly Jewish city). So we have to ask, WHO was judging these Christian brothers? WHAT were they being judged and criticized for? Judging by where they were placed and what comprised the dominant population, it is more likely that they were being criticized and judged by the pagan populace.

Among the Roman populace there were 365 deities that the Romans worshiped (one for every day of the Roman solar calendar year). It was extremely common in the Roman world to mix worship practices together. The worship of Solis Invictus, for example was the combining of old sun-god worship in every pagan culture under one umbrella.

IF the people of the Colossian church had already implemented any of the pagan traditions and adapted those into their worship of Jesus Christ; If they had implemented Sun-Day worship, Roman Saturnalia and winter solstice (now called Christmas), practices and decorations, would anyone in the Roman province have noticed or cared enough to criticize them for it?  

Most likely no one in Colossae would’ve noticed or criticized them, because they would have already been doing what was commonly practiced and accepted in that area.  

Do people generally criticize you when you are doing what is already popular and traditionally accepted and commonplace, or are people more likely to judge and criticize, when you are NOT doing the same thing as everyone else does?

If you look at it squarely in the context of the time and place and to the people to whom Paul was writing these words, the only scenario that makes any real sense, is that the Colossian church was in fact KEEPING the biblical feasts of Yahweh, and they were NOT DOING what was commonly accepted in their area. In that particular scenario this would   mean they would have faced  criticism and judgment from both sides.

The traditional pagan culture mean being criticizing them for not practicing paganism anymore, and the traditional rabbinical Hebrew culture of the day would be criticizing them for keeping the feasts in the name of the Messiah which the traditional rabbinical Hebrew wanted to deny. If they were already doing what was commonly accepted, no one would have been criticizing or judging them, so Paul’s comments would not have been necessary.

If they had implemented noticeable aspects of Babylonian Ishtar fertility goddess worship to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as modern Christians  do today, if they gave each other presents, put out baskets of eggs and gave each other rabbits, and baked hot cross buns, and they had called it a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they did it on the first Sunday after the spring equinox, would anyone in their predominantly Gentile pagan city have made enough noise to be noticeable?

No, they would not have even cared or been noticed if that were the case, because in Rome eclectic and adapted worship was normal. There would not have been any noticeable difference between them and a typical Roman citizen. The typical Colossian would not be judging them at all in that case.

If this had been the case, the apostle Paul would’ve rebuked them himself as he did the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 10:1-22; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1), and Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:22); and Rome, (Romans 12:1-2).

Moreover, if they had been doing the traditionally pagan practice of blending the worship of Christ with noticeably pagan things, most Israelites in the city would not have cared, because they just did not consider them legitimate Jews in any case. This would simply signify that it was a bunch of pagans acting like pagans, so if that is what they were doing, then who would have noticed enough to criticize them? Absolutely no one.

The Colossian church would not have received any major criticism in the city to make any noise. They would simply have blended into what was a normal part of life for that city. So what made the Colossian church so noticeably different in the Roman province? The Colossians church was criticized for NOT doing what was commonplace.

3rd, What called attention to these peculiar people, which brought criticism that was seeking to discourage them?

Colossians tells us what they were judged for: In regard to food or drink…… they were most likely keeping biblical kosher food laws which was not typical for Romans and thus would be very noticeable.

In respect to a festival or a new moon…. If they had been living like typical Colossians they would have been basing their feasts and festivals on the typical Roman solar worship system, but they apparently were worshiping according to the Biblical calendar which is more biblical and very different from your typical Roman

Or a Sabbath day…. Apparently they were not worshiping on the venerable day of the sun, as was typical for a Roman province. Apparently they were not worshiping on the Roman Sun-day. They were keeping the biblical Sabbath. This made them stick out like sore thumbs. They were not fitting in with cultures,  and they were being criticized for being noticeably different and not blending into the culture.

The other possibility: On the other hand, they might have been being judged by the few Israelites that were in town because these first century Christians were ONLY keeping the WRITTEN Old Testament, but they were NOT keeping any of the ORAL TRADITIONS associated with the various sects of Judaism.

That’s possible (because first century Christians kept only the written Biblical ordinances but abandoned the traditions which the Pharisees and other sects had added to the law later). So some may have decided that these Christians were not Jewish enough), but this is not as likely. Some might have been saying that if you weren’t going to be a Pharisee and keep our oral tradition, along with the Written Commands of God, then you’re not allowed to keep any of it at all. Many Hebrew sects had this attitude in the first century, but such an attitude was directly against the written Law of God, and the teachings of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 4:2; Leviticus 19:34).

Such a case would be no different than if all of a sudden the Pope decreed that no one could pray the Lord’s prayer out of the Bible without first receiving permission from a Roman Catholic priest. Such an edict would neither be right or biblical.

As biblical Christians, we would in righteousness be obligated to ignore such a ruling and pray the Lord’s prayer anyway, by faith believing that we were only responsible for what was WRITTEN in the Scriptures, NOT what had been decreed by the popes.

Conclusion: So then, we know that the 1st century Colossian church was either being criticized by the pagan cultures around them because they WERE observing the Biblical lifestyle and the Feasts of the Lord and it was so different from the pagan culture around them that they were being criticized and discouraged.

Or they were maintaining the Biblical lifestyle and the Biblical Feasts of the Lord, and others who were engaged in traditional rabbinical Judaism objected and sought to discourage them because while they were observing the Biblical feasts, they were not observing any of the extra non-biblical Hebrew traditions of traditional first century Judaism.

In any event, they were being judged or criticized by people outside the faith of Jesus Christ. Either they did not seem pagan enough for your typical Colossian, or they did not seem “Jewish” enough for some, because while they were obeying the Biblical things they were not following the other additional Jewish traditions, which adding such traditions to the Law were in fact a violation of God’s Law in Scripture anyway, (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32).

In both cases they were being criticized by those who were outside of the church, not by those who would have had concern for their spiritual well-being as Paul another Christian believers would have.

In any event, do we see anywhere that Paul was advising these people to abandon God’s eternally ordained Feasts? On the contrary, they were being encouraged to CONTINUE doing them and not let themselves be discouraged by the pagan world around them! Not only does this interpretation makes sense, but it also fits verses 8 and 17:

Colossians 2:17″These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (ESV) 

Here Paul gives them a one sentence reminder of why they are keeping the feasts that they are  doing. If they were not already keeping the Feasts of the LORD, or had no inclination to do so, a one sentence reminder would not be very helpful to them, would it?

So yes, Colossians 2:16-17 is Scripture, and it’s absolutely true; but Leviticus 23:1-3 is also Scripture, and is also absolutely true, and so is Deuteronomy 8:3; Amos 3:7; Matthew 5:17-20, and every other Scripture is equally absolutely true. Every interpretation of Scripture must fit and be absolutely true with every other Scripture, or the interpretation cannot possibly be correct (Psalm 19:7-14).

Based on the context of the audience, the time, and place and culture in which Paul wrote this letter, the likelihood is that the Colossian church was filled with people who were formerly Gentile pagans, who had turned away from pagan and idolatrous worship practices, and they were now OBEYING the Biblical precepts, and they were honoring the biblical feasts of the LORD, where they had previously been keeping typical Roman worship practices in the past.

If they had been mixing pagan practices with their Christian worship, virtually no one in Colosse would likely have noticed or cared enough to judge or criticize at all. They would not have noticed or paid attention to the Colossian church, because mixing with other pagan religions; this was the typical Roman thing to do anyway.

On the other hand, once they came to faith in Messiah, turned away from the pagan sun’s Day, Ishtar and Roman Saturnalia practices, they would have been NOTICED by the predominantly Roman population, because that would have definitely raised eyebrows among their Colossian neighbors.

Once they started obeying biblical customs, the fact that they were radically different from your typical Colossian would have definitely attracted attention. Being deliberately biblical, as opposed to being traditional, that would be different enough to get them noticed and draw them criticism from your typical pagan Colossian citizen.

So, are you radically different enough in your Christianity that the sinful world would notice a difference, or have you blended so much with the sinful world that no one notices any difference between you and them?

Brother R Michel Lankford