When we come across a problem verse it is helpful to understand the underlying reason the passage was written. Especially is that important when examining some of the passages Paul wrote that give many readers difficulty.
Colosse: Dominated by Paganism
Situated in Asia Minor, Colosse was the great cultural center of the region. Here Epaphcas had raised up an assembly. Competent Bible scholars believe that Paul had been presented some of the problems of this congregation situated in the very center of worldly wisdom. It was while jailed in Rome that Paul is credited with writing four of his letters, which have come to be known as prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. The date is around 60 C.E.
The assembly at Colosse evidently met in the home of Philemon. Situated in the Lycus valley, Colosse was dominated by Greek civilization and philosophy. With her sister cities of Laodicea and Hieropolis, Colosse made up the part of Phyrgia, considered to be the seat of Greek philosophy. Rome had become dominant in world affairs by the time of Paul, but Oriental philosophy and asceticism continued to permeate the culture of this and other outlying areas.
The people had lapsed into paganism and gross immorality. There was no Jewish settlement as in Tarsus and Laodicea and other cities of commerce and business. Greek culture dominated this part of Asia Minor, today known as Turkey. It was a great cultural center, but strong in heathenism, paganism, and the mystery religions. Pantheism was everywhere.
The teachings of Plato centered on the demiurge. This is the Gnostic term for the Creator of the material world, who was considered much lower than and far removed from the Supreme Being. This was one of the main purposes of Paul’s letter — to prove that Yahshua was the Creator and the head of the Assembly, and not the bottom of the creation ladder (Col. 1).
After explaining the pressures upon the assembly in Colosse being brought by Oriental theosophy and asceticism, McClintock and Strong point out that these pagan teachings “… promised thereby to their disciples a deeper insight into the spiritual world, and fuller approximation to heavenly purity and intelligence than simple Christianity could yield.”
The problem that Paul addressed in his letter to the Colossians was the syncretism of pagan, Oriental asceticism with the truth of the Scriptures. It was the mixing of the Word with worldly philosophy and esoteric wisdom along with spiritualism and mystery religions. As McClintock and Strong point out, it was the combination of Oriental philosophy “and the ascetic practices by which it was supposed that the soul is to be emancipated from the material thraldom under which it at present labors.”
Law Not Against Us
Paul’s concern can be seen in reading the first chapter of Colossians. There in verses 9-10 he desires that they be filled with wisdom and spiritual understanding of the knowledge of Yahweh. In verses 13-20 he shows that Yahshua is the fullness of Yahweh, and that Yahshua Himself was the Creator. He ends the last two verses of the chapter declaring that he is striving to present every man perfect in the Messiah. Paul’s point is that Yahshua is the head of the body, the assembly.
In chapter 2 Paul warns the believers not to be taken in by those who would beguile them (verse 4), nor be spoiled (as spoiled by war) through philosophy and vain deceit by the traditions of men and the elementary teachings of the world, verse 8. In verse 10 Paul points out that the believer who has been baptized is complete in the Messiah, and in verse 13 he says the believer is now living a new life, with his sins forgiven.
Notice that in verse 13 it is the Father who has made the believer alive and has forgiven all trespasses. Yahweh is the subject here. Verse 14 tells how He did it. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing them to the tree” of His Son, Yahshua.
The “handwriting of ordinances” is not the Ten Commandments which were written on two tables of stone by Yahweh’s own finger. These ordinances were handwritten by man. They were not engraved on two tablets of stone as were the Ten Commandments.
In addition, this handwriting of ordinances Paul says is “against us, contrary to us.” This certainly cannot be the Ten Commandments, for they are not against us. David said, “O, How love I Thy Law! it is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). If King David, the patriarchs, and Yahshua Himself kept and obeyed Yahweh’s law, how can His law be “against us, contrary to us?” We might act contrary to His Law, but certainly His Law is not against or contrary to us. The problem was always with man, never with the law.
Yahweh’s law was never blotted out, expunged, or erased. We read that it is still in effect some 30 years later when John wrote the Book of Revelation, 12:17; 14:12; 22:14. Paul elsewhere uses the term tables of stone (2Cor. 3:3), but he does not do so here in the letter to the Colossians. This cannot be referring to the Ten Commandments, which were placed inside the ark (Heb. 9:4). The writer of Hebrews refers to them as the tables of the covenant.
Neither were the ordinances referred to here the sacrificial law of animal offerings. The animal offerings did indeed cease when Yahshua became the complete sacrifice for our sins by offering up His sinless life for us. All the animal offerings and the sacrifices in the O1d Testament pointed to some phase of the redemptive work of the Messiah. The ceremonial law and Temple worship pointed to the Messiah; type met anti-type in Him. The ceremonial law was set in abeyance at that time.
The word from which ordinances is translated is the Greek dogma, and it occurs six times in the New Testament. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says of dogma, “Primarily denoted an opinion or judgment (from dokeo, to be of opinion). Hence, an opinion expressed with authority, a doctrine, ordinance, or decree.” Furthermore, it is used in the Bible to be the doctrine, decree, or teaching of man. “Ordinances” here is a man-made teaching. It is not Yahweh-ordained law.
From the Mouth of Man
Dogma first occurs in Luke 2:1 where the birth of Yahshua is told. The decree (dogma) went out from Caesar Augustus. The term means a man-made teaching or ordinance. It was a decree (dogma) issued by the Roman emperor that all the world should be taxed. Dogma occurs again in Acts 16:4, “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were in Jerusalem.” The decrees were the result of the council recorded in Acts 15. Here James gives his conclusion on what was to be required of the converted Gentiles coming into the Body of Messiah.
Because they were from pagan, heathen backgrounds (worshiping idols, indulging in fornication common with temple prostitutes, eating of things strangled and blood), these things were all a common practice in their prior heathen worship. Noting this, James states that those Gentiles should be especially warned of these things, Acts 15:20 and 29.
These Gentiles were to be especially watchful to avoid such pagan practices. Now that they had turned to Yahweh, they would be attending the synagogues every Sabbath day (verse 21) and would hear the law being read and taught to them.
Verse 23 tells of these letters being written to the Gentile assemblies in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. The decision was also made that it was not necessary to be circumcised and keep the law of sacrifices, verse 24. The decree (dogma) was the judgment of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. This was a human, man-made decree or cautionary edict meant to strengthen the new Gentile converts.
The apostles were accused of turning the world upside down in Acts 17:6. These unbelieving Jews then went on to accuse the converts to the Messiah in Acts 17:7 ” … and these do contrary to the decrees (dogma) of Caesar, saying there is another king, one Yahshua.”
Here again the word translated decree is the Greek dogma — a man-made edict or ruling and in this case by Caesar. These rabble-rousers were trying to thwart the efforts of the early disciples and converts by appealing to a decree of Julius Caesar.
Ten Commandments Gone?
Paul uses the word dogma again in Ephesians 2:15, “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” Some read this and contend that it says that Yahshua abolished in His flesh the Ten Commandments. Nothing of the kind!
Paul says that Yahshua abolished in His flesh the ENMITY, the HATRED of the law contained in ordinances. Yahshua did not do away with the law but by His death he did abolish the ethnic animosity between peoples by breaking down the wall of added rules and prejudicial judgments separating Jew and Gentile. Now both are able to become a part of the Body of Messiah.
These ordinances were evidently the regulations designed to separate and purify the Jews from the nations. Now the antagonism that resulted from these added tenets no longer exists between Jew and Gentile because they both can become one in the Messiah. That is one accomplishment of Yahshua’s death
A Pagan Blend
What exactly were the “handwriting of ordinances that was against us, that was contrary to us” in Colossians 2? The Bible clearly says again that these were man-made rules and regulations that were central to their old worship. The Colossian assembly was a mixture of pagan, heathen culture, and this time these new babes in Messiah were trying to blend back into their worship and continue that old system.
Their heathenism taught that punishment of the flesh helped the soul reach a higher spiritual plane. These are the same kinds of Eastern mystical teachings coming back through the New Age movement today.
There is no doubt that this worldly philosophy and crude teaching of the pagan world are all demonic, designed to draw man away from Messiah.
Twice in chapter 2 Paul warns not to let any MAN beguile or lead us away by philosophy and idle fantasies, verses 4 and 8. This is before he gets to verse 18, where he again warns against allowing MAN to beguile us of our reward by enticing with false teachings. Here it has to do with angel worship, and bragging of visions and being inflated by the human mind.
Knowing that the people in Colosse were pagan and influenced by worldly wisdom, Paul warns in verse 16, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat or drink, in respect of the new moon, or of Sabbaths.” His point here is not to let those of the world pass judgment upon Yahweh’s commands: such as which meats are proper for His people to eat, what they can drink, or what holy days or new moons or Sabbaths a believer in Yahshua should observe.
We are not to allow puny man to make such judgments or determine such things for us.
Outsiders Not to Judge Saints
Paul continues in verse 17, “Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body of Messiah.” Notice that the verb IS does not belong to the original, being italicized. It was added by the translators.
The meaning of the sentence is that the Sabbaths ARE a shadow of things to come. They foreshadow future events. The Sabbaths are prophetic! This includes not only the weekly Sabbath but also the seven annual Sabbaths and the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.
Don’t let corrupt man judge Yahweh’s people, Paul is saying. Humankind is taken up with the ways of the world. They ignore and reject Yahweh’s Name as well as His way of life found in obedience to His laws. Notice the last part of verse 17 reads, “but the body of Messiah” (“is to judge,” which is understood). It is the Body of Messiah that has studied the Scriptures, it has yielded Yahweh’s Word, and it is the true assembly of Yahweh that can make a profound judgment on what meats are proper and fit for Yahweh’s people.
The true assembly is diligently keeping Yahweh’s new moons and Sabbaths. Meat and drink, new moons, holy days, and Sabbaths are all prophetic, for these will all be the supreme law when the Kingdom is established on this earth. We are not to let unconverted, worldly man make judgments on these things, for Yahweh has already told us in His word what will all be observed in His Kingdom.
The ordinances that were blotted out in verse 14 are again mentioned in verse 20. In this latter verse Paul chides the people for not following the Messiah all the way. He asks,
“Wherefore if you be dead with Messiah from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances [dogma]?”
Paul asks, “Why if you people have been put to death through baptism into Yahshua, do you continue to live in and obey the pagan, worldly customs of this world? (Gr. stoicheion).
He is referring to fundamental Gnostic philosophy about how the world is ordered, much as people turn to horoscopes, mysticism and fortune-telling today.
Laws of Pagan Society
The Gnostics were measuring the Messiah through their understanding as men do today, rather than the the reverse—having Yahshua be the measure of all human knowledge. When we are immersed into Yahshua, we are to be a new creature and our lives are to be ordered and governed by His teachings, not human traditions.
But these Colossians had gone right on living as before, still influenced by pagan culture. Why did you subject yourselves to ordinances (dogma) he asks, and then goes on to point out these worldly, ascetic practices such as “Touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the using after the commandments and doctrines of men [Gnostic teachings].”
He brings to mind practices of the Oriental religions, like the Hindu caste system. In verse 23 Paul says such practices pass for wisdom, with their self-imposed devotions, their self-humiliation, and ascetic discipline, but they are of no value; they simply pamper the ego.
Paul says that such punishing of the flesh is of no value in overcoming the old nature. It is a question of attitude, a change of heart. He goes on in chapter 3 to discuss the new life each believer follows after baptism.
The “handwriting of ordinances” was not the law of Yahweh that was nailed to the tree. It was the ordinances of a pagan society, the decrees of a heathen culture, the worldly philosophies. The Satan-inspired worldly religion was nailed to the tree when Yahshua died for the sins of the world.
Now Yahshua’s true spiritual nature rules the hearts of the faithful through His Holy Spirit.
The demands, rites, ceremonies, and religion of the world can be overcome when we turn to Yahshua and make Him the Captain of our life. We no longer have to submit to Satan’s philosophy and worldly teachings of pagan tenets, as many are doing today through mystics and psychics.
Sacrificial Laws Added
Through the sacrifice of the Messiah (the coming Ruler of this world), Satan and his demonic followers were overcome. The evil powers were subdued by the death of the Messiah. Soon Yahweh will send His Son back to this earth to set up His Kingdom and Yahweh’s law, which some try to set aside. His law will reign supreme.
In the Septuagint, the Greek word dogma occurs twice, and in both places it means man-made rules or edicts. In Esther 3:9 we read of Haman’s urging King Ahasuerus to destroy those who were not obeying the king’s laws or dogma. In Daniel 2:13, 15 King Nebuchadnezzar commands the destruction of all the wise men of Babylon by his own decree (dogma).
The word dogma is used in the Scripture to exemplify a man-made law. It is not used for Yahweh’s laws. A proper understanding of the ordinances, that were blotted out gives a clear picture that we are to obey Yahweh’s laws even now. Only the sacrificial laws having to do with physical circumcision and Temple worship have been set aside since the Messiah is now our sacrifice. He is the sacrificial Lamb toward which all the sacrifices pointed.
Therefore, it is only the ceremonial laws that were added because of the breaking of Yahweh’s covenant law. The ritual, ceremonial law was put into motion because of transgressions, we read in Galatians 3:19, and was to impress on men the gravity of their sin.
At first, sacrifices were not commanded, but Yahweh simply wanted obedience to His laws, just as He does today, Jeremiah 7:22.
Give Up Man’s Ways
The blotting out of ordinances (erroneous, man-made notions of conduct) referred to in Colossians 2: 14 has a parallel in 1:21-22, where Paul explains that our previous life of a worldly, hostile attitude has been set aside, taken away.
Yahweh has now forgiven our former way of life. He has reconciled us to Himself even though we were enemies by our wicked works. We are now brought to His very presence through Yahshua’s shed blood.
The “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances” simply means (as in Acts 3: 19) that the sins committed, the human works of the mind and flesh resulting in disobedience to Yahweh’s law have been blotted out. Yahweh has fully forgiven our sins because of the death of His Son on the tree.
Now we are to follow in the footsteps of His Son, our Example. “Away then with the sinful, earthly things; deaden the evil desires lurking within you; have nothing to do with the sexual sins, impurity, lust, and shameful desire; don’t worship the good things of carnal life, for that is idolatry,” Colossians 3:5, Living Bible