Some claim that Paul (an apostle of Messiah- Romans 1:1) instructed believers to disobey the Messiah and the commandments He taught. They make the slanderous accusation that Paul instructs believers to NOT observe the Sabbath. They often refer to a handful of verses which they misinterpret because they have removed the verses from their Scriptural and historical context. Let's examine some of these passages:
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Those who would use this verse to teach believers to disobey the 4th commandment do so as a result of two specific errors:
1) Pulling a verse or series of verses from their surrounding text can leave their meaning vague and subject to manipulation.
2) Ignoring the historical context can also lead to misinterpretation.
We can remove the errors by examining both the surrounding text and the historical setting in which the passage was given. This chapter in Romans begins with this:
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. - Romans 14:1
The context tells us that Paul is speaking about the opinions of men... not the commandments of G-d.
When we consider Paul's words in verse 5 "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike" we should not view them within the context of our 21st-century debates about Sabbath observance but within the 1st-century context in which it was written.
What was Paul talking about?
Paul was referring to a common debate in his day between the Sadducees and Pharisees regarding when to begin the counting of the omer. "Counting the Omer" concludes with the festival of Shavuot which is also known as the Feast of Weeks. According to Leviticus 23:15-16 the counting should begin "from the day after the Sabbath". The debate then (and even today) is "which Sabbath?" The weekly Sabbath or the Sabbath of Unleavened Bread? When we understand the historical context of Paul's statements as referring to this debate over opinions then we are relieved from the possibility that someone could use this passage to mislead us into disobedience to the commandments of G-d.
However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
Again, let us consider the broader context:
What was Paul talking about?
Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to correct their misunderstanding regarding obedience to the commandments for the purposes of salvation. Paul makes this clear in several places including:
"We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. - Galatians 2:15-16
Paul is speaking against observing the Sabbath for the purpose of being saved. If someone leaves that last part off their statement then they are not giving you the whole truth. Once again, as we understand the context then we are freed from the deception of those who would use this verse to lead others into disobedience.
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. 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.
Here again the context is critical. If we read back a few verses we discover what Paul is speaking of:
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. - Colossians 2:8
"Philosophy". "Empty deception". "Traditions of men". Is this how Paul refers to the commandments of G-d which he had previously described as "holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." (Romans 7:12)? Indeed not!
What was Paul talking about?
Here Paul is delivering a point which has been turned completely on its head. Instead of being an encouragement to believers to let no one as act their judge as they obey the commandments, this verse has been twisted to encourage believers to disobey the commandments. If anyone teaches this then they make Paul out to be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. The very words of Messiah in Matthew 5:19 tell us so:
Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Was Paul teaching the believers at Colossae to disobey the same commandments that Messiah taught his disciples? May it never be!
Paul is warning the believers at Colossae against the teachings of Gnosticism, Jewish legalism, and other forms of mysticism and asceticism. These false religions taught one needed "special knowledge" and that the body was evil and must be treated harshly. Instead of instructing believers to disobey the commandments Paul was telling them to let no one discourage them (act as their judge) as they obeyed the commandments... in their proper form: as an expression of worship and obedience to our Lord and Savior.
Some point to the last verse which seems to dismiss the commandments as a "mere shadow of what is to come" and point to Messiah as the substance. It should be noted that the word "mere" is not present in the Greek of this passage. It is an addition to the passage resulting from the bias of the translators. It should also be pointed out that Paul uses a verb tense to indicate a future event. He says it is a "shadow of what is to come"... not "was to come". Paul is pointing to a date that is still future to his time. Until that time comes we should keep an eye on these shadows.
Some state "now that Christ has come we have the fullness and no longer need the shadow" or they ask "why do you try to hold onto the shadows when you can have the real thing?" Here again we have the matter turned on its head. I think all would agree that (as of the writing of this article) Messiah is not present in the flesh with us. Instead He has given us the Holy Spirit as the Helper (John 14:26) in his absence. Until He does return all we can see of him are the shadows of what He did: obeying the commandments. As the Bride of Christ we should be holding fast to Him. If so then our shadow should be touching and indeed overlapping his. The question for believers should be this: as we walk out our salvation with fear and trembling does our shadow touch the shadow of Messiah or is it far away from it?
Nailed to the cross
One common argument presented by antinomians (those who are against the Law) is that the Law was "nailed to the cross" in Colossians 2:14 (above). A simple example clears up this misunderstanding:
- The legislators of the State of Texas passed a law forbidding the operators of motor vehicles to exceed the posted speed limit.
- "Bob" was driving 65 MPH in a 55 MPH zone.
- "Bob" gets pulled over and is issued a ticket for his transgression of the law.
- "Bob" goes before the judge who finds him guilty based upon the evidence and issues a written ruling indicating that a) "Bob" is guilty and b) "Bob" should pay a fine and court fees totalling $115.
Which of the following from the example above equates to the "certificate of debt" spoken of in Colossians?
- The state law written in a book stored in the state capital.
- The speeding ticket issued by the police officer.
- The judges written ruling indicating guilt and penalty.
- All of the above.
The correct answer is "c".
Messiah did not nail G-d's Law to the cross but nailed the individual rulings of our transgressions of the law (the "documents" that record our guilt and due penalty) to it.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder?
Another argument often presented by those who would encourage disobedience to the 4th commandment is this: "Nowhere in the New Testament is the commandment to honor the Sabbath repeated."
This is an argument from silence and is a very weak way to make a point. Using this same logic we can conclude that the disciples never had a bowel movement since we find no mention of it in Scripture. :) Seriously, though, Messiah does tell us in no uncertain terms that anyone who would annul even the least of the commandments (and I would argue that any commandments that made the "big 10" do not qualify as least) would be considered least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:19). Does it make sense that Paul, the most prolific writer of Scripture of his day, would somehow "run the race in order to win the prize" would strive to somehow become "least in the kingdom" by annulling a commandment that not even Messiah spoke against? No, it does not.
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. - Ecclesiastes 12:13