The old and new Covenants

             What is the new and old covenant and it's history?  The 10 Commandments are the "words" of the Covenant.  "And He [GOD] wrote upon the tables the words of the Covenant, the ten Commandments." [Exodus 34:28].  Also called the two tables of the testimony [Ex.31:18; 32:15].  The first or old Covenant had also ordinances, and a worldly sanctuary." [Heb 9:1].  The second or new Covenant has a heavenly sanctuary and is called the true tabernacle [Hebrews 8:1,2].

              The old covenant was ratified by the blood of animals [Exodus 24:5-8 and Hebrews 9:19,20] and based upon the promises of the people that they would keep GOD'S law.
The new covenant is based on GOD'S promise to write His law in our hearts and it was ratified with the blood of CHRIST. [Hebrews 8:10 and Jeremiah 31:33,34].

Hebrews 8:10- "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put My laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a GOD, and they shall be to me a people."

Romans 11:27- "For this is the new covenant when I shall take away their sins."

 

 A LOOK AT PASTOR TAYLOR￿S METHODOLOGY


Pastor Taylor introduces his ￿Biblical Journey￿ by setting forth his methodology
which consists essentially of two major assumptions. First, the Old Testament must be
interpreted by the New Testament, because like in human Wills, the latest one
supersedes the previous ones. Second, the latest Will or Testament of God, which is
found in the New Testament, especially the Epistles, teaches us that Christ came to fulfill
much of the Old Covenant, by terminating the function of institutions like the Sabbath. On
the basis of these working assumptions, Pastor Taylor ￿went back to the Old Testament
to see if what is written there agrees with the epistles and Jesus on the subject.￿
The principle of interpreting the Old Testament in the light of New Testament
teachings, is a valid and accepted principle of Biblical interpretation. In many ways, the
New Testament provides the key that unlocks problematic passages and teachings of the
Old Testament. The progressive revelation of the Scripture, makes the New Testament
the prism that sheds lights on many aspects of the Old Testament.
The problem with Pastor Taylor￿s methodology is his arbitrary distinction
between the Old and New Covenants. He compares the two Covenants to two human
Wills or Testaments, where the second supersedes the first one. He writes: ￿The word
Testament or Covenant means the same thing as a Will, or some other legal contract. M y
wife and I have made out several Wills during our marriage. We had a Will before we had
kids. We had a Will made after the birth of our first child. We made another after the second
child, and recently we updated our Will again. Now if we were to die in some tragedy,
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which Will would be binding for our executor to follow? The most recent or newest one of
course. The same is true of the Old and New Testaments or Wills.￿
Are the Old and New Covenants Two Different Wills? Comparing the Old
and New Covenants to two different Wills, is inaccurate and misleading. Wills are legal
documents that give directives on how to dispose of persons￿ estates at the time of their
death. In the ancient world Wills or Testaments were generally drawn when death was
approaching and thus were regarded as Death-Wills. Its terms could be changed while a
person was still alive.
The imagery of a Death-Will can hardly be applied to God, because he has never
given directives on how to dispose of His estate at His death, nor He has ever changed
His provisions of salvation. This is why the Bible speaks of the ￿God of the everlasting
covenant￿ (Heb 13:20). The Old Covenant is not a Death-Will, but an agreement
between God on the one hand, and Israel as the chosen people on the other hand. There
is an abundance of scholarly literature that explores the similarities between God￿s
covenant with Israel and the ancient suzerainty treatises between lord and vassal,
conqueror and the conquered.
Hebrews refers to the covenant with ancient Israel as the ￿first,￿ or ￿old,￿
covenant, and that with Christian believers as the ￿second￿ or ￿new￿ covenant (Heb
8:7,13). Essentially the provisions and objectives of the two covenants are identical. The
major difference is that the ￿old￿ covenant was made with Israel as a nation and taught the
people through the sacrificial system to look forward to Christ￿s atoning sacrifice, whereas
the ￿new￿ covenant is made with individual believers, and teaches them to look back at
the Cross and accept Christ￿s atoning sacrifice.
The ￿new￿ covenant is God￿s ￿everlasting￿ covenant, that is, the plan of salvation
which became operative in Eden when man sinned, and was ratified by Christ￿s blood
shed on the Cross. The ￿old￿ covenant was ratified at Sinai with the blood of animals (Ex
24:3-8) and served as a temporary arrangement to enable the people to receive the
blessings of salvation of the ￿new￿ or ￿everlasting￿ covenant.
Pastor Taylor￿s misunderstanding of the ￿old￿ and ￿new￿ covenants, as two
different ￿Wills￿ or ￿Testaments,￿ derives from the mistranslation of the Hebrew and
Greek terms for ￿covenant￿ (Berith, diatheke). These terms were mistakenly translated b y
Tertullian (about A. D. 200) as ￿Testamentum,￿ which means a ￿ Death-Will.￿ Eventually,
the term ￿Testament￿ was adopted by the Latin translation of the Bible, known as the
Vulgate (about A.D 400), and since then it has become the common designation of the
Bible as ￿The Old and New Testaments,￿ that is,￿ The Old and New Death-Wills of God.￿
Pastor Taylor￿s assumption that the Old and New Covenants are like two
different Wills, in which the new one annuls the old one, grossly misrepresents the
relationship between the two. His assumption reflects the faulty Dispensational
construct, according to which God has offered salvation on different bases to different
people during the course of human history. God started out by offering salvation to
Abraham unconditionally on the basis of faith; but at Mt. Sinai He agreed to save the
Israelites conditionally on the basis of obedience to His commandments. When God
discovered that such an arrangement did not work, because the Law could not change
their hearts, He reverted to the ￿faith arrangement￿ He had with Abraham. To make things
easier, in the New Covenant, God did away with most of the Old Testament laws,
including the Sabbath, and decided this time to work in the heart through the Holy Spirit.
ARE THE OLD AND NEW COVENANTS TWO DIFFERENT METHODS OF
SALVATION?
If this popular dispensational scenario, adopted by Pastor Taylor, were true, it
would surely open to question the consistency and fairness of God￿s saving activities. It
would imply that during the course of redemptive history, God has offered salvation on
two radically different bases: on the basis of human obedience in the Old Covenant and
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on the basis of divine grace in the New Covenant. It would further imply, presumably,
that God learned through the experience of His chosen people, the Jews, that human
beings cannot earn salvation by obedience because they tend to disobey.
Consequently, He finally decided to change His method and implement a New Covenant
plan where salvation is offered to believing persons exclusively as a divine gift of grace
rather than as a human achievement through obedience to commandments.
Such a theological construct makes God changeable and subject to learning b y
mistakes as human beings do. The truth of the matter, however, is that ￿Jesus Christ is
the same yesterday and today and for ever￿ (Heb 13:8). Pastor Taylor fails to understand
that salvation has always been in the Old and New Covenants, first and foremost a
divine gift of grace and not a human achievement. This is why the Bible speak of the
￿everlasting￿ covenant￿ (Gen 17:13; Heb 13:20).
Before examining the four New Testament texts arbitrarily used by Pastor Taylor
to prove that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant package of laws fulfilled by Christ,
it is important to clarify the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. The
question are: Does the Old Covenant differ from the New Covenant in the method of
salvation? To put it differently, is salvation offered in the Old Covenant on the basis of
obedience to the Law and in the New Covenant on the basis of faith in God￿s saving
grace? What aspects of the Old Covenant were terminated by Christ￿s coming?
Pastor Taylor and former Adventists who recently have embraced the so-called
￿New Covenant￿ theology, emphasize the radical distinction in the method of salvation
between the Old and New Covenant. Such a distinction is foreign to the Bible and
contrary to common sense. It ignores that the Sinai Covenant reveals God￿s gracious
provision of salvation just as much as the New Covenant does. God revealed to Moses
His plan to deliver Israel from Egypt and to set her up in the land of Canaan (Ex 3:7-10,
16) because Israel is ￿His people￿ (Ex 3:10). God￿s deliverance of the Israelites from the
bondage of Egypt reveals His gracious provision of salvation just as much as does His
deliverance of New Testament believers from the bondage of sin. In fact, in Scripture, the
former is a type of the latter.
The Israelites responded with faith to the manifestation of salvation: ￿Thus the
Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians . . . and the people feared the
Lord; and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses￿ (Ex 14:30-31). When the
Israelites believed, God revealed to them His covenant plan: ￿Now therefore, if you will
obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all
peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation￿ (Ex 19:5).
These words show the gratuity of the divine election of Israel. God chose Israel
without merit on her part (Deut 9:4ff), simply because He loved her (Deut 7:6ff). Having
separated her from pagan nations, He reserved her for Himself exclusively. ￿I bore you on
eagles￿ wings and brought you to myself￿ (Ex 19:4). Through the Sinai covenant, God
wished to bring people to Himself by making them a worshipping community dedicated to
His service, living by the principles of His Law, and thus revealing His saving grace to
the nations. This divine plan revealed at Sinai was ultimately realized at the Cross when
types met antitypes.
The prophets appeal to the Sinai Covenant with emotional overtones drawn from
human experiences to explain the relationship between God and His people. Israel is the
flock, and the Lord is the shepherd. Israel is the vine, and the Lord the vinedresser. Israel
is the son, and the Lord is the Father. Israel is the spouse, and the Lord is the bridegroom.
These images, as Pierre Grelot and Jean Giblet bring out, ￿make the Sinaitic covenant
appear as an encounter of love (cf. Ez 16:6-14): the attentive and gratuitous love of God,
calling in return for a love which will translate itself in obedience.￿ All of this hardly
supports the assumption of Pastor Taylor and dispensationalists, that something was
seriously wrong with the Old Covenant.
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Faith Is Not Alone
The obedience called for by the Sinaitic covenant was meant to be a loving
response to God￿s provision of salvation, not a means of salvation. After centuries of
faithlessness to their promise to cooperate with God, Israel was allowed to go into
captivity as an indication that the provisions of the covenant were no longer operative
(see Jer 11:1-16; Ez 16; Heb 8:9). Upon returning from captivity, God promised to ￿make
a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah￿ (Jer 31:31-34).
This new covenant is the everlasting covenant which consists in God￿s arrangements for
the salvation of all believers through Christ￿s atoning sacrifice. Note that this new
covenant is already given to the Jews in the Old Testament.
Unfortunately, during the intertestamental period, the Law did come to be viewed
by the Jews as a means of salvation, just as faith alone is considered by many
Christians today as the only basis for their salvation. But a saving faith is never alone
because it is always accompanied by loving obedience (Gal 5:6). Can a person truly
obey God￿s laws without faith? Is there such a thing as a saving faith that is not
manifested in obedience to God￿s commandments? Is the problem of legalism resolved b y
changing the method of salvation? Such distortions can only serve to make both the Old
and New Covenants ineffective for many people.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW COVENANTS
At Sinai, God invited His people to obey His commandments because He had
already saved them, not in order that they might save themselves by observing His
commandments. Moreover, God revealed to the Israelites, not only the principles of moral
conduct but also the provision of salvation through the typology of the sacrificial system.
It is noteworthy that when God invited Moses to come up on Mt. Sinai, He gave him not
only ￿the tables of stone, with the Law and the commandment￿ (Ex 24:12), but also the
￿pattern of the tabernacle￿ (Ex 25:9) which was designed to explain typologically His
provision of grace and forgiveness.
The major difference between the Old and New Covenants is not one of methods
of salvation, but of manner in which salvation was offered. The difference is one of
shadow versus reality. The Old Covenant was ￿symbolic￿ (Heb 9:9) of the ￿more
excellent￿ redemptive ministry of Christ (Heb 8:6). Consequently, it was necessary for
Christ to come ￿once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of
himself￿ (Heb 9:26).
Greg Bahnsen rightly notes that ￿If we allow the Bible to interpret itself and not
infuse it with a preconceived theological antithesis between the Old and New Covenants
(Law and Gospel), we are compelled to conclude that the Old Covenant￿indeed the
Mosaic Law￿was a covenant of grace that offered salvation on the basis of grace
through faith, just as does the Good News found in the New Testament. The difference
was that the Mosaic or Law-covenant looked ahead to the coming of the Savior, thus
administering God￿s covenants by means of promises, prophecies, ritual observances,
types, and foreshadowings that anticipated the Savior and His redeeming work. The
Gospel or the New covenant proclaims the accomplishments of that which the Law
anticipated, administering God￿s covenant through preaching and the sacraments [baptism
and the Lord￿s Supper]. The substance of God￿s saving relationship and covenant is the
same under the Law and the Gospel.￿
The Old Testament does not offer a way of salvation or teach justification
differently than the New Testament. Justification is grounded in the Old Testament in ￿the
Lord our Righteousness￿ (Jer 23:6). The saints of the Old Testament were people of
faith, as Hebrews 11 clearly shows. Abraham himself, the father of the Jews, was a man
of faith who trusted God￿s promises (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6). The prophet Isaiah
proclaimed, ￿In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified￿ (Is 45:25; KJV). Paul came
to understand that in the Old Testament ￿the righteousness of God is revealed through
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faith for faith; as it is written [in Hab 2:4], ￿He who through faith is righteous shall live￿￿
(Rom 1:17. cf. Gal 3:11).
The result of Christ￿s coming is described as ￿setting aside￿ (Heb 7:18), making
￿obsolete￿ (Heb 8:13), and ￿abolishing￿ (Heb 10:9) all the Levitical services associated
with the Old Covenant. It is unfortunate that these statements are interpreted as meaning
that Christ by His coming abrogated all the Mosaic Law, including the Sabbath. This
interpretation, which is at the heart of the misguided thinking about the Law by Pastor
Taylor and most Evangelicals today, ignores the fact that the termination statements found
in Hebrews refer to the Levitical priesthood and services of the Old Covenant, not to the
principles of God￿s moral Law which includes the Sabbath Commandment. Of the
Sabbath the Book of Hebrews explicitly states that ￿a Sabbathkeeping is left behind for
the people of God￿ (Heb 4:9). This important text which affirms categorically the
permanence of seventh-day Sabbathkeeping will be examined in the next newsletter.
Summing up, Pastor Taylor￿s methodology is based on the faulty assumption that
there is a radical distinction between the Old and New Covenant in the method of
salvation. The distinction, as we have seen, is not in the method of salvation, but in
manner in which salvation is offered: typologically through the sacrificial system in the Old
Covenant and realistically through Christ￿s sacrifice in the New Covenant.
PASTOR TAYLOR￿S USE OF PAULINE TEXTS
To defend his assumption that the New Testament teaches us that Christ came to
fulfill much of the Old Covenant, by terminating the function of institutions like the
Sabbath, Pastor Taylor submits as his first text Colossians 2:16-17. Before examining his
interpretation of this controversial passage, a comment must be made again about Pastor
Taylor￿s methodology.
To understand Paul￿s view of the Law in general and of the Sabbath in particular,
Pastor Taylor should have examined first of all the relevant Pauline passages, and then
consider the controversial passages of Colossians 2:16-17, Galatians 3:16-29, Galatians
4:9-11, and Romans 14:4-5. His proof-texts approach hardly does justice to Paul￿s
overall teachings on the Law and the Sabbath.
In chapter 5 of my book THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE, I present an
extensive survey of Paul￿s teachings about the Law. I would urge any reader interested
in this subject to read this pivotal chapter. The conclusion of my analysis is that before
his conversion, Paul understood the Law like a Pharisee, that is, as the external
observance of commandments in order to gain salvation (2 Cor 5:16-17). After his
conversion, he came to view the Law from the perspective of the Cross of Christ, who
came ￿in order that the just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us￿ through the
enabling power of His Spirit (Rom 8:4). From the perspective of the Cross, Paul rejects
the Pharisaic understanding of the Law as a means of salvation and affirms the Old
Testament view of the Law as a revelation of God￿s will for human conduct.
It is important to note that for Paul the Law is and remains God￿s Law (Rom 7:22,
25). The Law was given by God (Rom 9:4; 3:2), written by God (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21;
14:34), contains the will of God (Rom 2:17, 18), bears witness to the righteousness of
God (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with the promises of God (Gal 3:21). Repeatedly and
explicitly Paul speaks of ￿the Law of God.￿ ￿I delight in the Law of God in my inmost self￿
(Rom 7:22); ￿I of myself serve the Law of God with my mind￿ (Rom 7:25); the carnal mind
￿does not submit to God￿s Law￿ (Rom 8:7). Elsewhere he speaks of ￿keeping the
commandments of God￿ (1 Cor 7:19) as being a Christian imperative.
Christ Coming and the Law
For Paul the purpose of Christ￿s redemptive mission, is not to terminate the
function of the Law by substituting it with principles of love, as Pastor Taylor assumes,
but to enable believers to live out the principles of God￿s Law in their lives. The Apostle
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explains that in Christ, God does what the Law by itself could not do￿namely, He
empowers believers to live according to the ￿just requirements of the Law.￿ ￿For God has
done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just
requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but
according to the Spirit￿ (Rom 8:3-4).
The new life in Christ enables the Christian to keep the Law, not as an external
code, but as a loving response to God. This is the very thing that the Law by itself
cannot do because, being an external standard of human conduct, it cannot generate a
loving response in the human heart. By contrast, ￿Christ￿s love compels us￿ (2 Cor 5:14)
to respond to Him by living according to the moral principles of God￿s Law. Our love
response to Christ fulfills the Law because love will not commit adultery, or lie, or steal, or
covet, or harm one￿s neighbor (Rom 13:8-10).
The permanence of the Law is reflected in Paul￿s appeal to specific
commandments as the norm for Christian conduct. To illustrate how the principle of love
fulfills the Law, Paul cites several specific commandments: ￿The commandments, ￿You
shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,￿ and
any other commandment, are summed up in the sentence, ￿You shall love your neighbor
as yourself.￿ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law￿
(Rom 13: 9-10).
Paul￿s reference to ￿any other commandment￿ presupposes the rest of the Ten
Commandments, since love fulfills not only the last six commandments that affect our
relationship with fellow beings, but also the first four commandments that govern our
relationship with God. For example, love fulfills the Sabbath commandment because it
motivates Christians to truly love the Lord by giving priority to Him in their thinking and
living during the hours of the Sabbath.
Central to Paul￿s understanding of the Law is the Cross of Christ. From this
perspective, he both negates and affirms the Law. Negatively, the Apostle repudiates the
Law as the basis of justification: ￿if justification were through the Law, then Christ died to
no purpose￿ (Gal 2:21).
Positively, Paul teaches that the Law is ￿spiritual, good, holy, just￿ (Rom 7:12, 14,
16; 1 Tim 1:8) because it exposes sin and reveals God￿s ethical standards. Thus, he
states that Christ came ￿in order that the just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in
us￿ through the dynamic power of His Spirit (Rom 8:4).
Three times Paul states: ￿Neither circumcision counts for anything nor
uncircumcision;￿ and each time he concludes this statement with a different phrase: ￿but
keeping the commandments of God . . . but faith working through love . . . but a new
creation￿ (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism shows that Paul equates the keeping
of God￿s commandments with a working faith and a new life in Christ, which is made
possible through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
Had Pastor Taylor understood that Paul repudiates the Law as the basis of
salvation (Gal 2:21), but affirms the Law as the standard of moral conduct for the Christian
life, he would have approached the study of the four controversial texts from a different
perspective. He would have fitted whatever Paul teaches in these texts, within the
context of the Apostle￿s overall understanding of the role of God￿s moral Law in the life of
a believer.
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PASTOR TAYLOR￿S INTERPRETATION OF COLOSSIANS 2:16-17
The first text used by Pastor Taylor to support his rejection of the Sabbath as an
Old Covenant institution is Colossians 2:16-17. This is not surprising, because
historically this text has been interpreted as the death knell of the Sabbath. Pastor Taylor
writes: ￿In the book of Colossians, Paul is addressing a syncretistic heresy that is a
mixture of angel worship, and ascetic practices. But mixed into it all is the judaizing element
(Jewish legalists who were pushing Jewish law) that is trying to influence these new
Christians. In the Colossians two passage, the focus is on the Jewish part of the heresy.
Starting with verse 11, Paul focuses on the fact that circumcision has been replaced b y
baptism so circumcision is no longer required. Then He points out that the record of our
sins has been nailed to the cross as soon as we accept Jesus. Finally, Paul discusses
the last two Jewish distinctives. Notice verses 16 and 17. ￿Therefore let no one judge you
in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow
of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.￿￿
For Pastor Taylor in this passage ￿Paul is saying that the Colossians should not
let these Judaizers lay a guilt trip on them about the food laws, or the festivals, new
moons, or Sabbaths because these were part of the system that prefigured or pointed
forward to Christ. . . . These religious holidays, including the Sabbath, were symbols
pointing forward to Jesus. They were typological prefigurations of Jesus. How could the
perversion of a symbol be a shadow or prefiguration of Christ? The most reasonable
rendering of the text is that the weekly Sabbath is included in the ceremonial/sacrificial
system that was FULFILLED IN CHRIST! No other explanation made sense to me. No
other interpretation does justice to the context or the Old Testament construction.￿
There are two major problems with Pastor Taylor￿s interpretation of Colossians 2.
The first is his definition of the Colossian heresy refuted by Paul. The second is his
interpretation of Colossians 2:16-17. Let us take a look at these two problems in their
respective orders.
Pastor Taylor believes that in Colossians 2 ￿the focus is on the Jewish part of the
[Colossian] heresy.￿ He alleges that Paul argues in this chapter that ￿circumcision is no
longer required￿ and that the same goes for food laws and festivals, including the
Sabbath. Is this what Paul teaches in this passage? A careful reading of this chapter
shows otherwise.
The Colossian Heresy
The Colossian heresy refuted by Paul in Colossians 2 contained some Jewish
elements, but was primarily syncretistic, drawn mostly from gnostic speculations. In fact
most of the catch phrases point to gnostic influences. The Colossian heresy had both a
theological and practical aspect.
Theologically, the Colossian ￿philosophy￿ (Col 2:8) was competing with Christ for
believer￿s allegiance. Its source of authority was human ￿tradition￿ (Col 2:8), and its object
was to impart true ￿wisdom￿ (Col 2:3, 23), ￿knowledge￿ (Col 2:2-3; 3:10) and the
assurance access to and participation in the divine ￿fullness￿ (Col 2:9-10; 1:19). To attain
divine fullness, Christians were urged to do homage to cosmic principalities (Col 2:10, 15),
to ￿the elements of the universe￿ (Col 2:8, 20), and to angelic powers (2:15, 18), following
ritualistic ascetic practices (Col 2:11-14,16,17,21-22).
To gain protection from these cosmic powers and principalities, the Colossian
￿philosophers￿ urged Christians to offer cultic adoration to angelic powers (Col
2:15,18,19,23) and to follow ritualistic and ascetic practices (Col 2:11,14,16,17,21,22). B y
that process, one was assured of access to and participation in the divine
￿fullness￿pleroma￿ (Col 2:9,10, cf. 1:19). Essentially, then, the theological error consisted
in interposing inferior mediators in place of the Head Himself, Jesus Christ (Col 2:9-10, 18-
19). Note that none of these beliefs can be traced to Old Testament teachings.
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The practical outcome of the theological speculations of the Colossian heretics
was their insistence on strict ascetism and ritualism. These consisted in ￿putting off the
body of flesh￿ (Col 2:11￿apparently meaning withdrawal from the world); rigorous
treatment of the body (Col 2:23); prohibition to either taste or touch certain kinds of foods
and beverages (Col 2:16, 21), and careful observance of sacred days and
seasons￿festival, new moon, Sabbath (Col 2:16). Note that only the last practice is
derived from Judaism.
Christians presumably were led to believe that by submitting to these ascetic
practices, they were not surrendering their faith in Christ but rather, they were receiving
added protection and were assured of full access to the divine fullness. This may be
inferred both from Paul￿s distinction between living ￿according to the elements of the
universe￿ and ￿according to Christ￿ (Col 2:8) and from the Apostle￿s insistence on the
supremacy of the incarnate Christ. ￿In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily￿ (Col
2:9); therefore Christians attain ￿the fullness￿pleroma￿ of life not by worshipping the
elements of the universe, but through Christ, ￿who is the head of all rule and authority￿
(2:10; cf. 1:15-20; 3:3).
This bare outline suffices to show that the circumcision and the Sabbath are
mentioned in the passage, not in the context of a direct discussion of the Old Covenant
law, as Pastor Taylor assumes. It is surprising that the term ￿law￿ (nomos), which is
fundamental to Paul￿s discussion of salvation, does not appear a single time in
Colossians. The reference to food and festivals appears in the context of syncretistic
pagan beliefs and practices, which included few elements from the Old Testament.
Presumably the latter provided a justification for the ascetic principles advocated by the
Colossian ￿philosophers.￿ We are not informed what type of Sabbath observance these
teachers promoted; nevertheless, on the basis of their emphasis on scrupulous
adherence to ￿regulations,￿ it is apparent that the day was to be observed in a most
rigorous and superstitious manner.
Circumcision and Baptism
To combat the above false teachings, Paul chose to extol the centrality and
superiority of Christ who possesses ￿the fullness of deity￿ (Col 2:9) and provides full
redemption and forgiveness of sin (Col 2:11-14). To emphasize the certainty and fullness
of Christ￿s forgiveness, Paul utilizes three metaphors: circumcision, baptism, and ￿the
written document￿ (Col 2:11-14).
Of the first two metaphors, Paul says: ￿In him also you were circumcised with a
circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of
Christ ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him
through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were
dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of the flesh, God has made alive together with
him, having forgiven us all our trespasses￿ (Col 2:11-13).
To support his contention that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant nailed to
the Cross, Pastor Taylor interprets Paul's reference to the circumcision and baptism in this
passage as indicating that the ￿circumcision has been replaced by baptism so
circumcision is no longer required.￿ The problem with this interpretation is the failure to
recognize that Paul is not discussing the termination of circumcision which was still in effect
for Jewish-Christians, but is affirming the benefits of Christ￿s death and resurrection
through the imageries of circumcision and baptism.
The imageries of circumcision and baptism are used by Paul, not to teach the
replacement of circumcision with baptism, but to affirm the fullness of God￿s forgiveness,
accomplished by Christ on the cross and extended through baptism to the Christian.
Indeed, the proclamation of God's forgiveness constitutes Paul￿s basic answer to those
attempting perfection by submitting to worship of angels (Col 2:18) and of the ￿elements
of the world￿ (Col 2:8) by means of ascetic practices.       

To further emphasize the certainty and fullness of divine forgiveness explicitly
mentioned in verses 11-13, Paul utilizes a legal metaphor in verse 14, namely that of God
as a judge who ￿wiped out, . . . removed [and] nailed to the cross . . . the written
document￿cheirographon.￿
The meaning of cheirographon, which occurs only once in Scripture (Col 2:14), has
been clarified by recent studies on the usage of the term in apocalyptic and rabbinic
literature. The term is used to denote the ￿record book of sins￿ or a ￿certificate of sinindebtedness￿
but not the moral or ceremonial law. By this daring metaphor, Paul affirms
the completeness of God￿s forgiveness. Through Christ, God has ￿cancelled,￿ ￿set
aside,￿ and ￿nailed to the cross￿ ￿the written record of our sins which because of the
regulations was against us.￿ The legal basis of the record of sins was ￿the binding
statutes,￿ or ￿regulations￿ (tois dogmasin), but what God destroyed on the Cross was not
the legal ground (law) for our entanglement into sin, but the written record of our sins.
By destroying the evidence of our sins, God also ￿disarmed the principalities and
powers￿ (Col 2:15) since it is no longer possible for them to accuse those who have been
forgiven. There is no reason, therefore, for Christians to feel incomplete and to seek the
help of inferior mediators since Christ has provided complete redemption and forgiveness.
Some readers will be quick to ask, ￿If God has cancelled and nailed our sins to the
Cross, doesn￿t this act do away with the pre-Advent judgment?￿ The answer is ￿NO!￿
Why? Because Paul is talking about the totality of God￿s forgiveness, and not about the
basis of God￿s judgment. Various images are used in the Bible to reassure believers of
the totality of God￿s forgiveness. We are told that God places our sins in the depth of the
sea (Mc 7:19); He removes our transgresions from His sight as far as the East is from the
West (103:12); He blotts out our sins (Act 3:19). These imageries of the totality of God￿s
forgiveness do not erase the record of our lives kept in heaven for the purpose of the final
judgment. They simply teach believers not to worry about our past confessed sins,
because God forgiving grace has taken care of them. The record of forgiven sins will
vindicate believers on the day of judgment.
Approbation or Condemnation of Sabbathkeeping?
Having refuted the theological speculations of the Colossian false teachers b y
reaffirming the supremacy of Christ and the fullness of His redemption (Col 2:8-15), Paul
turns to some practical aspects of their religious practices, saying: ￿Therefore, let no one
pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new
moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance
belongs to Christ￿ (Col 2:16-17).
Pastor Taylor interprets this passage as a warning against the Old Testament
food laws and festivals, including the Sabbath. He writes: ￿Paul is saying that the
Colossians should not let these judaizers lay a guilt trip on them about the food laws, or
the festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths because these were part of the system that
prefigured or pointed forward to Christ. . . . The most reasonable rendering of the text is
that the weekly Sabbath is included in the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was
FULFILLED IN CHRIST! No other explanation made sense to me.￿
The fundamental problem with Pastor Taylor￿s interpretation is his failure to
recognize that in this text Paul warns the Colossians not against the observances of the
five mentioned practices as such, but against ￿anyone￿ (tis) who passes judgment on
how to eat, to drink, and to observe sacred times. The judge who passed judgment is not
Paul but the Colossians false teachers who imposed ￿regulations￿ (Col 2:20) on how to
observe these practices in order to achieve ￿rigor of devotion and self-abasement and
severity to the body￿ (Col 2:23). Presumably the ￿judge￿ wanted the community to
observe these practices in a more ascetic way (￿severity to the body￿￿Col 2:23, 21); to
put it bluntly, he wanted the Colossian believers to do less feasting and more fasting.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 17 of 24
Approbation of the Sabbath
By warning against the right of the false teachers to ￿pass judgment￿ on how to
observe festivals, Paul is challenging not the validity of the festivals as such but the
authority of the false teachers to legislate on the manner of their observance. The obvious
implication, then, is that Paul in this text is expressing not a condemnation but an
approbation of the mentioned practices, which include Sabbathkeeping.
It is noteworthy that even Douglas R. De Lacey presents this conclusion in what
is regarded as the most scholarly symposium published in defense of Sundaykeeping.
The symposium was sponsored by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research in
Cambridge, England. Seven Sundaykeeping scholars contributed to this symposium,
published by Zondervan under the title FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY: A BIBLICAL,
HISTORICAL, AND THEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION. In spite of his view that Paul
did not expect Gentile converts to observe the Sabbath. De Lacey writes: ￿Here again
(Col 2:16), then, it seems that Paul could happily countenance Sabbathkeeping . . .
However, we interpret the situation, Paul￿s statement ￿Let no one pass judgement on you,￿
indicates that no stringent regulations are to be laid down over the use of festivals.￿18
It is encouraging to see scholars finally recognizing that, contrary to the traditional
and popular interpretation advocated by people like Pastor Taylor, Colossians 2:16 is
not the death knell of Sabbathkeeping in the New Testament. Instead, it is a proof of its
Pauline approbation. ￿Paul could happily countenance Sabbathkeeping.￿ Why does
Pastor Taylor ignore the conclusion of Prof. De Lacey (and others), though he cites the
symposium in his ￿Open Letter￿? Most likely because he does not want readers to learn
about anything that contradicts his anti-Sabbath interpretation of Colossians 2:16. This
methodology is hardly reflective of responsible scholarship which requires the examination
of opposing views before presenting one's own conclusions.
The Manner of Sabbathkeeping
What is the nature of the ￿regulations￿ promoted by the Colossians false teachers
regarding food and festivals, including the weekly Sabbath? Regretfully, Paul gives us
only few catch phrases such as ￿self-abasement and worship of angels,￿ ￿rigor of
devotion . . . severity to the body￿ (Col 2:18, 23) and their teachings￿￿Do not handle, Do
not taste, Do not touch￿ (Col 2:21). These catch phrases indicate that the regulations did
not derive from the Levitical law since nowhere does the latter contemplate such an
ascetic program. Though the designation of the festivals is Jewish, the motivation and
manner of their observance stems from pagan, syncretistic, and gnostic ideologies.
In the ancient world there was widespread belief that ascetism and fasting
enabled a person to come closer to a deity and to receive divine revelation. In the case of
the Colossian heresy, the dietary taboos and the observance of sacred times were
apparently regarded as an expression of subjection to and worship of the cosmic powers
(elements) of the universe.
Paul￿s warning against the ￿regulations￿ of the false teachers cannot be interpreted
as a condemnation of Mosaic laws regarding food and festivals, since what the Apostle
condemns is not the teachings of Moses but their perverted use by Colossian false
teachers. A precept is not nullified by the condemnation of its perversion.
Shadow of the Reality.
Paul continues his argument in the following verse, saying: ￿These are the
shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ￿ (Col 2:17). Pastor
Taylor claims that this text discredits my conclusion just given. He writes: ￿The clear
biblical problem with Bacchiocchi's theory is that the text continues by describing these
Sabbaths and festivals as ￿shadows of things to come,￿ the ￿reality is Christ.￿ These
religious holidays, including the Sabbath, were symbols pointing forward to Jesus. They
were typological prefigurations of Jesus. How could the perversion of a symbol be a
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 18 of 24
shadow or prefiguration of Christ? The most reasonable rendering of the text is that the
weekly Sabbath is included in the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was FULFILLED IN
CHRIST!￿
There are three major problems with Pastor Taylor argument. First, it ignores that
the verb ￿are (estin) a shadow￿ is present tense, NOT past tense. Like many
evangelicals, Pastor Taylor changes the verb into a past tense as ￿were a shadow,￿ in
order to support his contention that their function had absolutely ceased with the coming of
Christ. But the verb is a present tense, not a past tense. This means that whether the
relative pronoun ￿these￿ refers to the five mentioned practices or to the regulations
regarding these practices promoted by the false teachers, Paul is not disputing about their
legitimacy, but places them in their proper perspectives with Christ, by means of the
￿shadow￿body￿ contrast.
The second problem is the failure to define the relative pronoun ￿these￿ (ha in
Greek). Does it refer to the five practices mentioned in the previous verse or to the
￿regulations￿ (dogmata) regarding these practices promoted by the false teachers? Pastor
Taylor lamps them all together, jumping to the conclusion that ￿the weekly Sabbath is
included in the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was FULFILLED IN CHRIST!￿ This
conclusion is unwarranted because Paul is not saying that ￿these￿ (whether they be the
festivals or the regulations) WERE fulfilled in Christ, but rather that they ARE a shadow,
pointing to the realities of the world to come. The orientation is toward the future, not
toward the past.
The third problem is Pastor Taylor￿s failure to recognize that Paul is not warning
against the merits or demerits of the Mosaic law regarding food and festivals, but against
the ￿regulations￿ regarding these practices advocated by the false teachers. Thus, it is
more plausible to take ￿the regulations￿ rather than the actual practices as the antecedent
of ￿these.￿
This conclusion is supported by the verses that immediately follow, where Paul
continues his warning against the deceptive teachings, saying, for example, ￿Let no one
disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement . . .￿ (Col 2:18); ￿Why do you submit to
regulations, ￿Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch￿?￿ (Col 2:20-21). Since what
precedes and what follows that relative pronoun ￿these￿ deals with the ￿regulations￿ of
the Colossian heretics, it is most likely that Paul describes the latter as ￿a shadow of
what is to come￿ (Col 2:17).
The proponents of the Colossian ￿philosophy￿ presumably maintained that their
￿regulations￿ represented a copy which enabled the believer to have access to the reality
(￿fullness￿). In such a case, Paul is turning their argument against them by saying that
their regulations ￿are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to
Christ￿ (Col 2:17). By emphasizing that Christ is the ￿body￿ and the ￿head￿ (Col 2:17,
19), Paul indicates that any ￿shadow￿ cast by the regulations has limited value.
In the light of the above considerations, we conclude that in Colossians 2:16-17
Paul is not declaring the Sabbath to be part of ￿the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was
FULFILLED IN CHRIST.￿ Rather, Paul warns against the regulations about foods and
festivals promoted by the Colossians heretics, by limiting their values to a ￿shadow￿ of
better things to come. It is important to remember that Paul was not against religious
practices which did not undermine the centrality of the Cross. He himself participated in a
sacrificial ritual of purification at the Temple in occasion of his last visit to Jesusalem (Acts
21:22-28). Rather, the Apostle was against the promotion of religious practices as means
of salvation, because such teachings undermined the Gospel, by making salvation a
human achievement, rather than a divine provision.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 19 of 24
PASTOR TAYLOR￿S INTERPRETATION OF GALATIANS 3 AND 4
To support his interpretation of Colossians 2:16-17 that the Sabbath is part of
the ceremonial law fulfilled by Christ, Pastor Taylor turns to Galatians 3 and 4. He
believes that these chapters teach that the Law, and specifically the Sabbath, ￿do NOT
have value because the law was a temporary institution. Christians are accepted on the
basis of Jesus fulfillment of the law and treated as pre-law Abrahamic descendants!￿
For the sake of those unfamiliar with these chapters, it is helpful to summarize
what Paul is saying there, before examining Pastor Taylor￿s interpretation. In Galatians
3:15-25 Paul makes some negative statements about the Law which, taken in isolation,
can lead people like Pastor Taylor to believe that Christ terminated the function of the Law
as a norm for Christian conduct. For example, he says : ￿The Law was added because of
transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made￿ (Gal
3:19). ￿Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian￿ (Gal 3:25).
To understand these passages, it is important to remember that Paul￿s treatment
of the Law in Galatians is conditioned by the crisis caused by the false teachers who had
come in to ￿trouble,￿ ￿unsettle,￿ and ￿bewitch￿ his Galatians converts (Gal 1:7; 31:1; 5:12).
Apparently they were leading his converts astray by teaching that in order to be saved,
one needs not only to have faith in Christ, but must be circumcised. They taught that the
blessings of salvation bestowed by Christ can only be received by becoming sons of
Abraham through circumcision. Faith in Christ is of value only if such faith is based upon
circumcision.
That the message of the agitators was primarily built around the requirement of
circumcision, is underscored by Paul￿s warning: ￿Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if
you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all￿ (Gal 5:2, NIV).
Paul exposes the motives of the false teachers, saying: ￿Those who want to make a
good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason
they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the Cross of Christ. Not even those who are
circumcised obey the Law, yet they want you to be circumcised, they may boast about
your flesh￿ (Gal 6:12-13).
The emphasis of the false teachers on circumcision reflects the prevailing Jewish
understanding that circumcision was required to become a member of the Abrahamic
covenant and receive its blessings. In his response, Paul turns his opponents￿ argument
on its head by arguing that God￿s covenant with Abraham was based on his faith
response (Gen 15:6; Gal 3:6) before the sign of circumcision was given (Gen 17:9-14).
In all probability, the false teachers appealed to the institution of circumcision in
Genesis 17 to argue that circumcision was indispensable to become a son of Abraham.
Paul also points to Genesis￿not of course to Genesis 17 but to Genesis 15:6 which
says: ￿He [Abraham] believed the Lord and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.￿ From
this Paul concludes: ￿So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham￿ (Gal
3:7).
Paul develops this argument further by setting the promise given to Abraham (in
Genesis 18:18) against the giving of the Law at Sinai which occurred 430 years later (Gal
3:15-18). The fact that the covenant with Abraham was one of promise based on faith
excludes the possibility of earning righteousness by works. ￿For if the inheritance is b y
the Law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise￿ (Gal 3:18).
If salvation was by way of promise (faith) and not Law, what then was the role of
the Law in God￿s redemptive purpose? Paul￿s answer is both novel and unacceptable to
Judaism. The Law ￿was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come
to whom the promises had been made￿ (Gal 3:19). The Law was not added to save men
from their sins, but to reveal the sinfulness of their transgressions. In this context, Paul
speaks of the Law in its narrow, negative function of exposing sin, in order to counteract
the exaltation of the Law by its opponents.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 20 of 24
Was the Moral Law Temporary and Terminated by Christ?
From these Galatian passages, Pastor Taylor draws this conclusion: ￿What Paul
is saying is that the promise of Christ came BEFORE the Law. It is independent of the
Law. The Law was ADDED to show us our need of Christ. It was our tutor to bring us to
Christ that we might be justified by FAITH. Clearly Paul is pointing out that the Law was
a TEMPORARY institution to show us our need of Christ. But when we accept Jesus,
we are under the covenant which was pre-circumcision and pre-law, the covenant with
Abraham. The Christian now stands with righteous Abraham, an heir of the promise,
bypassing the entire Law era! I had never seen the significance of this passage before! I
had to read and re-read it. I encourage you to sit down with the book of Galatians and
read and digest this for yourself. The message is so powerful and liberating! ￿
Did Paul really teach that the moral Law given at Sinai, which included the
Sabbath, was a ￿TEMPORARY institution,￿ fulfilled by Christ and consequently no longer
binding upon Christians? If that is what Paul taught, why does he write in 1 Corinthians
7:19: ￿For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the
commandments of God￿? Why does he states in Rom 8:3-4 that God ￿sent his Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh . . . in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in
us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit￿? Why does Paul say:
￿I delight in the Law of God in my inmost self￿ (Rom 7:22); ￿I of myself serve the Law of
God with my mind￿ (Rom 7:25); ￿the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just
and good￿ (Rom 7:12).
A responsible study of Paul￿s view of the Law calls for an analysis of all his
references to the Law, and not only of few Galatian texts where the Apostle speaks of
the law in its narrow, negative function of exposing sin, in order to counteract the
exaltation of the Law, especially circumcision. In Galatians 3 Paul is not speaking of the
broad moral Law, which he characterizes as ￿holy, just, and good￿ in Romans 7:12, but of
the ￿bare Law￿ understood in a narrow sense as the Law seen apart from Christ which
was a temporary custodian until the coming of Christ.
To explain the function of the ￿bare Law￿ before Christ, Paul compares it to a
paidagogos, a guardian of children in Roman and Greek households. The guardian￿s
responsibility was to accompany the children to school, protect them from harm, and keep
them from mischief. The role of a paidogogos is an apt illustration of how certain aspects of
the Law served as a guardian and custodian of God￿s people in Old Testament times. For
example, circumcision, which is the fundamental issue Paul is addressing, served as a
guardian by constantly reminding the people of their covenant commitment to God (Jos
5:2-8). Any Jew tempted to have a sexual intercourse with a pagan woman was
reminded by looking at his circumcision that he belonged to a covenant community, a holy
nation.
When God called Israel out of Egyptian bondage, He gave them not only the
Decalogue that they might see the sinfulness of sin, but also ceremonial, religious Laws
designed to exhibit the divine plan for the forgiveness of their sins. These Laws, indeed,
functioned as a guardian (paidagogos) by protecting and guiding the people until the day
of their spiritual deliverance through Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, the
ceremonial, sacrificial Laws ended, but the Decalogue is written in human hearts (Heb
8:10) by the ministry of the Holy Spirit who enables believers to ￿fulfill the just
requirement of the Law￿ (Rom 8:4).
It is difficult to imagine that Paul would announce the abolition of the Decalogue,
God￿s great moral Law, when elsewhere he affirms that the Law was given by God (Rom
9:4; 3:2), was written by God (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34), contains the will of God (Rom
2:17,18), bears witness to the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with the
promises of God (Gal 3:21). So long as sin is present in the human nature, the Law is
needed to expose its sinfulness (Rom 3:20) and reveal the need of a Savior.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 21 of 24
Three times Paul states: ￿Neither circumcision counts for anything nor
uncircumcision;￿ and each time he concludes this statement with a different phrase: ￿but
keeping the commandments of God . . . but faith working through love . . . but a new
creation￿ (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism shows that Paul equates the keeping
of God￿s commandments with a working faith and a new life in Christ. This means that
Paul distinguished between the temporary aspects of the Law, like circumcision, and the
permanent nature of the Decalogue which reflects the moral standard of a new life in
Christ. We wish that Paul had made this distinction clearer. No doubt this would have
helped sincere people like Pastor Taylor, not accustomed to analyze all what Paul has to
say about the law.
On the basis of the above considerations, we conclude that Paul￿s negative
comments about the Law in Galatians 3, must be understood in the light of his polemic
against the false teachers who were exalting the Law, especially circumcision, as a means
of salvation. In refuting the perverse and excessive exaltation of the Law, Paul is forced
to depreciate it in some measure, especially because the issue at stake was the
imposition of circumcision as a means of salvation.
In his penetrating study on ￿St. Paul and the Law,￿ published in the Scottish
Journal of Theology (March 1964), C. E. Cranfield rightly warns that ￿to fail to make full
allowance for the special circumstances which called forth the [Galatian] letter would be to
proceed in a quite uncritical and unscientific manner. In view of what has been said, it
should be clear that it would be extremely unwise to take what Paul says in Galatians as
one￿s starting point in trying to understand Paul￿s teaching on the Law.￿ It is unfortunate
that Pastor Taylor failed to heed this warning by taking Galatians as the starting point for
defining Paul￿s view of the Law. The tragic result of this mistake is a gross
misinterpretation of Paul￿s view of the Law.
DOES PAUL CONDEMN SABBATHKEEPING IN GALATIANS 4:8-11?
Pastor Taylor believes that Paul continues in Galatians 4 his criticism of the
observance of the law, by condemning specifically Sabbathkeeping. His conclusion is
based on Galatians 4:8-11, which reads: ￿Formerly, when you did not know God, you
were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to
know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and
beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe
days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid that I have labored over you in
vain.￿
Pastor Taylor￿s interpretation of this passage reveals again his tendency to read
into Bible texts his gratuitous assumptions. He writes: ￿I could hardly believe my eyes as
I read this scripture. I had read it many times before, but never understood it. This time the
words seemed to jump off the page for me much like the ￿Hidden Pictures￿ I mentioned in
the letter portion. Could Paul have been any clearer? Knowing the pattern for religious
holidays in the Old Testament, it suddenly clarified for me what was at issue here. The
judaizers had been teaching these new Christians that they had to keep the Sabbaths
and the rest of the feasts as part of their commitment to Christ. The days, months,
seasons, and years follow the same pattern of the Jewish holiday system including the
Sabbath. The judaizers were telling the Galatians that they MUST keep Sabbath and the
other feasts. Paul is clearly saying that observing these holidays is NOT REQUIRED for
Christians. He sees that doing so could be DANGEROUS to their maturity as Christians.
He is saying that these things do NOT have value because the law was a temporary
institution. Christians are accepted on the basis of Jesus fulfillment of the law and treated
as pre-law Abrahamic descendant! The message of Galatians seemed to literally come to
life for me. Those hard to understand passages suddenly made perfect sense!￿
Is Pastor Taylor shedding new light on Galatians 4:8-11? Or is he reading into it
his gratuitous assumptions? Is Paul rebuking the Judaizers for teaching that new
Christians ￿had to keep the Sabbaths and the rest of the feasts as part of their
commitment to Christ￿? To answer these questions we need to determine whether the
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 22 of 24
Galatians￿ observance of ￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿ refers to
superstitious pagan holidays or to the biblical festivals, including the Sabbath.
Pagan Superstitious Days or Jewish Holy Days?
A careful analysis of the context leaves no doubt that Paul is talking about pagan
superstitious days. The Apostle reminds the Galatians that in their pre-Christian days
they ￿were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe￿ (Gal 4:3). The ￿elemental
spirits￿stoikeia tou kosmou￿ have nothing to do with the Old Covenant since the Mosaic
Law was unknown to the Corinthians in their pagan days. Most scholars interpret the
￿elements￿ as the basic elements of this world, such as the earth, water, air, and fire, or
pagan astral gods who were credited with controlling human destiny.
The context clearly indicates that Paul rebukes the Galatians for turning back to
their pagan days by reverting to their pagan calendar. Thus, the issue is not their
adoption of Jewish Holy Days but their return to observing pagan superstitious days.
Two recent articles by Troy Martin, published in New Testament Studies and the Journal
of Biblical Literature, make a significant contribution to the understanding of the passage
under consideration. Martin points out that the time-keeping scheme found in Galatians
4:10 (￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿) is clearly different from that found in
Colossians 2:16 (￿a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths￿). He shows that while the list
in Colossians 2:16 is unquestionably Jewish, because the temporal categories of festival,
new moon, and Sabbaths are characteristic of the Jewish religious calendar, the list in
Galatians 4:10 of ￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿ ￿describes a pagan
calendar unacceptable to Paul and his communities.￿
Martin reaches this conclusion by examining not only the time structure of pagan
calendars, but also the immediate context where Paul condemns the Galatians￿ attempt to
return to their pagan practices (Gal 4:8-9) by reverting to the use of their pagan calendar.
￿As the immediate context clearly states, Paul is worried that he has labored for the
Galatians in vain since they have returned to their former pagan life as evidenced by their
renewed preconversion reckoning of time. Because of its association with idolatry and
false deities, marking time according to this pagan scheme is tantamount to rejecting Paul￿s
Gospel and the one and only true God it proclaims (Gal 4:8-9). Galatians 4:10, therefore,
stipulates that when the Galatians accepted Paul￿s Gospel with its aversion to idolatry
(Gal 4:8), they discarded their pagan method of reckoning time. . . . A comparison of these
lists demonstrates that the Gentile conversion to Paul￿s gospel involves rejection of
idolatrous pagan temporal schemes in favor of the Jewish liturgical calendar.￿
Gentiles￿ Adoption of Jewish Calendar
Troy Martin￿s conclusion, that the Gentiles￿ conversion to the Gospel involved the
rejection of their pagan calendar built upon the idolatrous worship of many gods and the
adoption of the Jewish religious calendar which had been transformed by Christ￿s coming,
represents in my view a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the continuity
between Judaism and Christianity.
Paul￿s time references clearly reflect his adoption of the Jewish religious calendar,
though modified and transformed by the coming of Christ. For example, in 1 Corinthians
16:2, Paul recommends a fund-raising plan for the Jerusalem church consisting of laying
aside at home some money kata mian sabbaton, that is, ￿every first day from the
Sabbath.￿ The fact that Paul refers to the first day of the week by the Jewish
designation ￿first day from the Sabbath,￿ and not by the prevailing pagan name dies
solis￿Day of the Sun, reveals that he taught his Gentile converts to regulate their lives
by the Jewish calendar.
In the same epistle, Paul builds an elaborate argument based upon the festival of
Passover and unleavened bread in order to exhort the Corinthians, ￿Let us keep the
festival￿ (1 Cor 5:6-8). The whole argument and exhortation to keep Passover would
have been meaningless to the Gentile congregation of Corinth unless Paul had taught
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 23 of 24
about the Jewish religious calendar. In the light of these considerations we conclude,
with Martin, that ￿ although the temporal references in Paul￿s letters are sparse, 1
Corinthians provides strong evidence for the Pauline adoption of the Jewish practice that
marked time by festivals and Sabbaths.￿
The Christian adherence to the Jewish calendar is especially evident in the book of
Acts. Repeatedly, Paul proclaims the Gospel in synagogues and in the outdoors on the
Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2). In Troas, Paul speaks to the believers on the first
day from Sabbath (mia ton sabbaton) (Acts 20:7). ￿The portrayal of Paul in Acts,￿ as
Martin points out, ￿supplies clear evidence that Christians mark time by segments of
festivals and Sabbaths.￿ This conclusion is clearly supported by Colossians 2:16 where
we find the standard Jewish nomenclature of annual feasts, monthly new moons, and
weekly Sabbaths.
The fact that Paul taught his Gentile congregations to reject their pagan calendar,
where the days were named after planetary gods and the months after deified emperors,
and to reckon time according to the Jewish religious calendar, does not necessarily mean
that he taught them to practice Jewish religious rituals. The Romans themselves replaced
just before the origin of Christianity their ￿eight day week￿nundinum￿ with the Jewish
seven-day week and adopted in the first century the Jewish Sabbath as their new day
for rest and feasting, without the concomitant adoption of the Jewish rituals. By the same
token, Paul taught his Gentile converts to reckon time according to the Jewish religious
calendar without expecting them to practice the rituals associated with it. A good example
is Paul￿s discussion of the new meaning of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread
in the light of Christ￿s event (1 Cor 5:6-8).44
In the light of the preceding observations, we conclude that the temporal
categories of Galatians 4:10 (￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿) are pagan
and not Jewish, like the list found in Colossians 2:16. To argue, as Pastor Taylor does,
that the Galatians were taught by the false teachers ￿to keep the Sabbaths and the rest
of the feasts as part of their commitment to Christ,￿ means to ignore the immediate context
where Paul speaks of pagan temporal categories to which the Galatians were turning
back again.
The Galatians￿ observance of pagan sacred times was motivated by superstitious
beliefs in astral influences. This is suggested by Paul￿s charge that their adoption of these
practices was tantamount to a return to their former pagan subjection to elemental spirits
and demons (Gal 4:8-9).
Paul￿s concern is not to expose the superstitious ideas attached to these
observances but to challenge the whole system of salvation which the Galatians￿ false
teachers had devised. By conditioning justification and acceptance with God to such
things as circumcision and the observance of pagan days and seasons, the Galatians
were making salvation dependent upon human achievement. This for Paul was a
betrayal of the Gospel: ￿You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the
law; you have fallen away from grace￿ (Gal 5:4).
It is within this context that Pastor Taylor should understand Paul￿s denouncement
of the observance of days and seasons. If the motivations for these observances had
not undermined the vital principle of justification by faith in Jesus Christ, Paul would only
have recommended tolerance and respect, as he does in Romans 14. The motivation for
these practices, however, adulterated the very ground of salvation. Consequently, the
Apostle had no choice but strongly to reject them.
In conclusion, Pastor Taylor￿s attempt to interpret the Galatians and Colossians
texts as a Pauline condemnation of the principle of Sabbathkeeping, is totally devoid of
textual and contextual support. We have seen that what Paul opposes is not the
principle of Sabathkeeping, but rather the perverted use of cultic observances which
were designed to promote salvation as a human achievement rather than as a divine gift
of grace.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 24 of 24
In the final analysis, Paul￿s attitude toward the Sabbath must be determined not on
the basis of his denunciation of heretical and superstitious observances which may have
influenced Sabbathkeeping, but rather on the basis of his overall attitude toward the law.
The failure to understand that Paul rejects the law as a method of salvation but
upholds it as a moral standard of Christian conduct has been the root cause of much
misunderstanding about Paul￿s attitude toward the law, in general, and the Sabbath, in
particular. May this study contribute to clarify this misunderstanding and allow many
sincere people like Pastor Taylor, to discover, as Paul puts it, that ￿the law is good, if any
one uses it lawfully￿ (1 Tim 1:8).
by
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.
Retired Professor of Theology and Church History
Andrews University

The Apostle Paul furthermore alludes to an allegory of the two Covenants.  in Galations chapter four he refers
Agar [KJV] or Hagar [NKJV], the servant maid of Sarah.  Lacking faith, Abraham's wife Sarah coxed him into having sex with the Egyptian maid in order to force the promised seed.  This lack of faith, or trust in GOD"S unfailing promises, is
what constitutes the bondage which Paul also compares to Mt. Sinai.
But, the heavenly Jerusalem is free.  In other words, you cannot see heavenly things, but you must believe them by faith.  The temple/sanctuary in heaven contains the ark of the covenant with the 10 Commandments.
To further emphasize the certainty and fullness of divine forgiveness explicitly
mentioned in verses 11-13, Paul utilizes a legal metaphor in verse 14, namely that of God
as a judge who ￿wiped out, . . . removed [and] nailed to the cross . . . the written
document￿cheirographon.￿
The meaning of cheirographon, which occurs only once in Scripture (Col 2:14), has
been clarified by recent studies on the usage of the term in apocalyptic and rabbinic
literature. The term is used to denote the ￿record book of sins￿ or a ￿certificate of sinindebtedness￿
but not the moral or ceremonial law. By this daring metaphor, Paul affirms
the completeness of God￿s forgiveness. Through Christ, God has ￿cancelled,￿ ￿set
aside,￿ and ￿nailed to the cross￿ ￿the written record of our sins which because of the
regulations was against us.￿ The legal basis of the record of sins was ￿the binding
statutes,￿ or ￿regulations￿ (tois dogmasin), but what God destroyed on the Cross was not
the legal ground (law) for our entanglement into sin, but the written record of our sins.
By destroying the evidence of our sins, God also ￿disarmed the principalities and
powers￿ (Col 2:15) since it is no longer possible for them to accuse those who have been
forgiven. There is no reason, therefore, for Christians to feel incomplete and to seek the
help of inferior mediators since Christ has provided complete redemption and forgiveness.
Some readers will be quick to ask, ￿If God has cancelled and nailed our sins to the
Cross, doesn￿t this act do away with the pre-Advent judgment?￿ The answer is ￿NO!￿
Why? Because Paul is talking about the totality of God￿s forgiveness, and not about the
basis of God￿s judgment. Various images are used in the Bible to reassure believers of
the totality of God￿s forgiveness. We are told that God places our sins in the depth of the
sea (Mc 7:19); He removes our transgresions from His sight as far as the East is from the
West (103:12); He blotts out our sins (Act 3:19). These imageries of the totality of God￿s
forgiveness do not erase the record of our lives kept in heaven for the purpose of the final
judgment. They simply teach believers not to worry about our past confessed sins,
because God forgiving grace has taken care of them. The record of forgiven sins will
vindicate believers on the day of judgment.
Approbation or Condemnation of Sabbathkeeping?
Having refuted the theological speculations of the Colossian false teachers b y
reaffirming the supremacy of Christ and the fullness of His redemption (Col 2:8-15), Paul
turns to some practical aspects of their religious practices, saying: ￿Therefore, let no one
pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new
moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance
belongs to Christ￿ (Col 2:16-17).
Pastor Taylor interprets this passage as a warning against the Old Testament
food laws and festivals, including the Sabbath. He writes: ￿Paul is saying that the
Colossians should not let these judaizers lay a guilt trip on them about the food laws, or
the festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths because these were part of the system that
prefigured or pointed forward to Christ. . . . The most reasonable rendering of the text is
that the weekly Sabbath is included in the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was
FULFILLED IN CHRIST! No other explanation made sense to me.￿
The fundamental problem with Pastor Taylor￿s interpretation is his failure to
recognize that in this text Paul warns the Colossians not against the observances of the
five mentioned practices as such, but against ￿anyone￿ (tis) who passes judgment on
how to eat, to drink, and to observe sacred times. The judge who passed judgment is not
Paul but the Colossians false teachers who imposed ￿regulations￿ (Col 2:20) on how to
observe these practices in order to achieve ￿rigor of devotion and self-abasement and
severity to the body￿ (Col 2:23). Presumably the ￿judge￿ wanted the community to
observe these practices in a more ascetic way (￿severity to the body￿￿Col 2:23, 21); to
put it bluntly, he wanted the Colossian believers to do less feasting and more fasting.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 17 of 24
Approbation of the Sabbath
By warning against the right of the false teachers to ￿pass judgment￿ on how to
observe festivals, Paul is challenging not the validity of the festivals as such but the
authority of the false teachers to legislate on the manner of their observance. The obvious
implication, then, is that Paul in this text is expressing not a condemnation but an
approbation of the mentioned practices, which include Sabbathkeeping.
It is noteworthy that even Douglas R. De Lacey presents this conclusion in what
is regarded as the most scholarly symposium published in defense of Sundaykeeping.
The symposium was sponsored by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research in
Cambridge, England. Seven Sundaykeeping scholars contributed to this symposium,
published by Zondervan under the title FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY: A BIBLICAL,
HISTORICAL, AND THEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATION. In spite of his view that Paul
did not expect Gentile converts to observe the Sabbath. De Lacey writes: ￿Here again
(Col 2:16), then, it seems that Paul could happily countenance Sabbathkeeping . . .
However, we interpret the situation, Paul￿s statement ￿Let no one pass judgement on you,￿
indicates that no stringent regulations are to be laid down over the use of festivals.￿18
It is encouraging to see scholars finally recognizing that, contrary to the traditional
and popular interpretation advocated by people like Pastor Taylor, Colossians 2:16 is
not the death knell of Sabbathkeeping in the New Testament. Instead, it is a proof of its
Pauline approbation. ￿Paul could happily countenance Sabbathkeeping.￿ Why does
Pastor Taylor ignore the conclusion of Prof. De Lacey (and others), though he cites the
symposium in his ￿Open Letter￿? Most likely because he does not want readers to learn
about anything that contradicts his anti-Sabbath interpretation of Colossians 2:16. This
methodology is hardly reflective of responsible scholarship which requires the examination
of opposing views before presenting one's own conclusions.
The Manner of Sabbathkeeping
What is the nature of the ￿regulations￿ promoted by the Colossians false teachers
regarding food and festivals, including the weekly Sabbath? Regretfully, Paul gives us
only few catch phrases such as ￿self-abasement and worship of angels,￿ ￿rigor of
devotion . . . severity to the body￿ (Col 2:18, 23) and their teachings￿￿Do not handle, Do
not taste, Do not touch￿ (Col 2:21). These catch phrases indicate that the regulations did
not derive from the Levitical law since nowhere does the latter contemplate such an
ascetic program. Though the designation of the festivals is Jewish, the motivation and
manner of their observance stems from pagan, syncretistic, and gnostic ideologies.
In the ancient world there was widespread belief that ascetism and fasting
enabled a person to come closer to a deity and to receive divine revelation. In the case of
the Colossian heresy, the dietary taboos and the observance of sacred times were
apparently regarded as an expression of subjection to and worship of the cosmic powers
(elements) of the universe.
Paul￿s warning against the ￿regulations￿ of the false teachers cannot be interpreted
as a condemnation of Mosaic laws regarding food and festivals, since what the Apostle
condemns is not the teachings of Moses but their perverted use by Colossian false
teachers. A precept is not nullified by the condemnation of its perversion.
Shadow of the Reality.
Paul continues his argument in the following verse, saying: ￿These are the
shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ￿ (Col 2:17). Pastor
Taylor claims that this text discredits my conclusion just given. He writes: ￿The clear
biblical problem with Bacchiocchi's theory is that the text continues by describing these
Sabbaths and festivals as ￿shadows of things to come,￿ the ￿reality is Christ.￿ These
religious holidays, including the Sabbath, were symbols pointing forward to Jesus. They
were typological prefigurations of Jesus. How could the perversion of a symbol be a
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 18 of 24
shadow or prefiguration of Christ? The most reasonable rendering of the text is that the
weekly Sabbath is included in the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was FULFILLED IN
CHRIST!￿
There are three major problems with Pastor Taylor argument. First, it ignores that
the verb ￿are (estin) a shadow￿ is present tense, NOT past tense. Like many
evangelicals, Pastor Taylor changes the verb into a past tense as ￿were a shadow,￿ in
order to support his contention that their function had absolutely ceased with the coming of
Christ. But the verb is a present tense, not a past tense. This means that whether the
relative pronoun ￿these￿ refers to the five mentioned practices or to the regulations
regarding these practices promoted by the false teachers, Paul is not disputing about their
legitimacy, but places them in their proper perspectives with Christ, by means of the
￿shadow￿body￿ contrast.
The second problem is the failure to define the relative pronoun ￿these￿ (ha in
Greek). Does it refer to the five practices mentioned in the previous verse or to the
￿regulations￿ (dogmata) regarding these practices promoted by the false teachers? Pastor
Taylor lamps them all together, jumping to the conclusion that ￿the weekly Sabbath is
included in the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was FULFILLED IN CHRIST!￿ This
conclusion is unwarranted because Paul is not saying that ￿these￿ (whether they be the
festivals or the regulations) WERE fulfilled in Christ, but rather that they ARE a shadow,
pointing to the realities of the world to come. The orientation is toward the future, not
toward the past.
The third problem is Pastor Taylor￿s failure to recognize that Paul is not warning
against the merits or demerits of the Mosaic law regarding food and festivals, but against
the ￿regulations￿ regarding these practices advocated by the false teachers. Thus, it is
more plausible to take ￿the regulations￿ rather than the actual practices as the antecedent
of ￿these.￿
This conclusion is supported by the verses that immediately follow, where Paul
continues his warning against the deceptive teachings, saying, for example, ￿Let no one
disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement . . .￿ (Col 2:18); ￿Why do you submit to
regulations, ￿Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch￿?￿ (Col 2:20-21). Since what
precedes and what follows that relative pronoun ￿these￿ deals with the ￿regulations￿ of
the Colossian heretics, it is most likely that Paul describes the latter as ￿a shadow of
what is to come￿ (Col 2:17).
The proponents of the Colossian ￿philosophy￿ presumably maintained that their
￿regulations￿ represented a copy which enabled the believer to have access to the reality
(￿fullness￿). In such a case, Paul is turning their argument against them by saying that
their regulations ￿are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to
Christ￿ (Col 2:17). By emphasizing that Christ is the ￿body￿ and the ￿head￿ (Col 2:17,
19), Paul indicates that any ￿shadow￿ cast by the regulations has limited value.
In the light of the above considerations, we conclude that in Colossians 2:16-17
Paul is not declaring the Sabbath to be part of ￿the ceremonial/sacrificial system that was
FULFILLED IN CHRIST.￿ Rather, Paul warns against the regulations about foods and
festivals promoted by the Colossians heretics, by limiting their values to a ￿shadow￿ of
better things to come. It is important to remember that Paul was not against religious
practices which did not undermine the centrality of the Cross. He himself participated in a
sacrificial ritual of purification at the Temple in occasion of his last visit to Jesusalem (Acts
21:22-28). Rather, the Apostle was against the promotion of religious practices as means
of salvation, because such teachings undermined the Gospel, by making salvation a
human achievement, rather than a divine provision.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 19 of 24
PASTOR TAYLOR￿S INTERPRETATION OF GALATIANS 3 AND 4
To support his interpretation of Colossians 2:16-17 that the Sabbath is part of
the ceremonial law fulfilled by Christ, Pastor Taylor turns to Galatians 3 and 4. He
believes that these chapters teach that the Law, and specifically the Sabbath, ￿do NOT
have value because the law was a temporary institution. Christians are accepted on the
basis of Jesus fulfillment of the law and treated as pre-law Abrahamic descendants!￿
For the sake of those unfamiliar with these chapters, it is helpful to summarize
what Paul is saying there, before examining Pastor Taylor￿s interpretation. In Galatians
3:15-25 Paul makes some negative statements about the Law which, taken in isolation,
can lead people like Pastor Taylor to believe that Christ terminated the function of the Law
as a norm for Christian conduct. For example, he says : ￿The Law was added because of
transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made￿ (Gal
3:19). ￿Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian￿ (Gal 3:25).
To understand these passages, it is important to remember that Paul￿s treatment
of the Law in Galatians is conditioned by the crisis caused by the false teachers who had
come in to ￿trouble,￿ ￿unsettle,￿ and ￿bewitch￿ his Galatians converts (Gal 1:7; 31:1; 5:12).
Apparently they were leading his converts astray by teaching that in order to be saved,
one needs not only to have faith in Christ, but must be circumcised. They taught that the
blessings of salvation bestowed by Christ can only be received by becoming sons of
Abraham through circumcision. Faith in Christ is of value only if such faith is based upon
circumcision.
That the message of the agitators was primarily built around the requirement of
circumcision, is underscored by Paul￿s warning: ￿Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if
you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all￿ (Gal 5:2, NIV).
Paul exposes the motives of the false teachers, saying: ￿Those who want to make a
good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason
they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the Cross of Christ. Not even those who are
circumcised obey the Law, yet they want you to be circumcised, they may boast about
your flesh￿ (Gal 6:12-13).
The emphasis of the false teachers on circumcision reflects the prevailing Jewish
understanding that circumcision was required to become a member of the Abrahamic
covenant and receive its blessings. In his response, Paul turns his opponents￿ argument
on its head by arguing that God￿s covenant with Abraham was based on his faith
response (Gen 15:6; Gal 3:6) before the sign of circumcision was given (Gen 17:9-14).
In all probability, the false teachers appealed to the institution of circumcision in
Genesis 17 to argue that circumcision was indispensable to become a son of Abraham.
Paul also points to Genesis￿not of course to Genesis 17 but to Genesis 15:6 which
says: ￿He [Abraham] believed the Lord and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.￿ From
this Paul concludes: ￿So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham￿ (Gal
3:7).
Paul develops this argument further by setting the promise given to Abraham (in
Genesis 18:18) against the giving of the Law at Sinai which occurred 430 years later (Gal
3:15-18). The fact that the covenant with Abraham was one of promise based on faith
excludes the possibility of earning righteousness by works. ￿For if the inheritance is b y
the Law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise￿ (Gal 3:18).
If salvation was by way of promise (faith) and not Law, what then was the role of
the Law in God￿s redemptive purpose? Paul￿s answer is both novel and unacceptable to
Judaism. The Law ￿was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come
to whom the promises had been made￿ (Gal 3:19). The Law was not added to save men
from their sins, but to reveal the sinfulness of their transgressions. In this context, Paul
speaks of the Law in its narrow, negative function of exposing sin, in order to counteract
the exaltation of the Law by its opponents.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 20 of 24
Was the Moral Law Temporary and Terminated by Christ?
From these Galatian passages, Pastor Taylor draws this conclusion: ￿What Paul
is saying is that the promise of Christ came BEFORE the Law. It is independent of the
Law. The Law was ADDED to show us our need of Christ. It was our tutor to bring us to
Christ that we might be justified by FAITH. Clearly Paul is pointing out that the Law was
a TEMPORARY institution to show us our need of Christ. But when we accept Jesus,
we are under the covenant which was pre-circumcision and pre-law, the covenant with
Abraham. The Christian now stands with righteous Abraham, an heir of the promise,
bypassing the entire Law era! I had never seen the significance of this passage before! I
had to read and re-read it. I encourage you to sit down with the book of Galatians and
read and digest this for yourself. The message is so powerful and liberating! ￿
Did Paul really teach that the moral Law given at Sinai, which included the
Sabbath, was a ￿TEMPORARY institution,￿ fulfilled by Christ and consequently no longer
binding upon Christians? If that is what Paul taught, why does he write in 1 Corinthians
7:19: ￿For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the
commandments of God￿? Why does he states in Rom 8:3-4 that God ￿sent his Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh . . . in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in
us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit￿? Why does Paul say:
￿I delight in the Law of God in my inmost self￿ (Rom 7:22); ￿I of myself serve the Law of
God with my mind￿ (Rom 7:25); ￿the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just
and good￿ (Rom 7:12).
A responsible study of Paul￿s view of the Law calls for an analysis of all his
references to the Law, and not only of few Galatian texts where the Apostle speaks of
the law in its narrow, negative function of exposing sin, in order to counteract the
exaltation of the Law, especially circumcision. In Galatians 3 Paul is not speaking of the
broad moral Law, which he characterizes as ￿holy, just, and good￿ in Romans 7:12, but of
the ￿bare Law￿ understood in a narrow sense as the Law seen apart from Christ which
was a temporary custodian until the coming of Christ.
To explain the function of the ￿bare Law￿ before Christ, Paul compares it to a
paidagogos, a guardian of children in Roman and Greek households. The guardian￿s
responsibility was to accompany the children to school, protect them from harm, and keep
them from mischief. The role of a paidogogos is an apt illustration of how certain aspects of
the Law served as a guardian and custodian of God￿s people in Old Testament times. For
example, circumcision, which is the fundamental issue Paul is addressing, served as a
guardian by constantly reminding the people of their covenant commitment to God (Jos
5:2-8). Any Jew tempted to have a sexual intercourse with a pagan woman was
reminded by looking at his circumcision that he belonged to a covenant community, a holy
nation.
When God called Israel out of Egyptian bondage, He gave them not only the
Decalogue that they might see the sinfulness of sin, but also ceremonial, religious Laws
designed to exhibit the divine plan for the forgiveness of their sins. These Laws, indeed,
functioned as a guardian (paidagogos) by protecting and guiding the people until the day
of their spiritual deliverance through Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, the
ceremonial, sacrificial Laws ended, but the Decalogue is written in human hearts (Heb
8:10) by the ministry of the Holy Spirit who enables believers to ￿fulfill the just
requirement of the Law￿ (Rom 8:4).
It is difficult to imagine that Paul would announce the abolition of the Decalogue,
God￿s great moral Law, when elsewhere he affirms that the Law was given by God (Rom
9:4; 3:2), was written by God (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34), contains the will of God (Rom
2:17,18), bears witness to the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with the
promises of God (Gal 3:21). So long as sin is present in the human nature, the Law is
needed to expose its sinfulness (Rom 3:20) and reveal the need of a Savior.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 21 of 24
Three times Paul states: ￿Neither circumcision counts for anything nor
uncircumcision;￿ and each time he concludes this statement with a different phrase: ￿but
keeping the commandments of God . . . but faith working through love . . . but a new
creation￿ (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism shows that Paul equates the keeping
of God￿s commandments with a working faith and a new life in Christ. This means that
Paul distinguished between the temporary aspects of the Law, like circumcision, and the
permanent nature of the Decalogue which reflects the moral standard of a new life in
Christ. We wish that Paul had made this distinction clearer. No doubt this would have
helped sincere people like Pastor Taylor, not accustomed to analyze all what Paul has to
say about the law.
On the basis of the above considerations, we conclude that Paul￿s negative
comments about the Law in Galatians 3, must be understood in the light of his polemic
against the false teachers who were exalting the Law, especially circumcision, as a means
of salvation. In refuting the perverse and excessive exaltation of the Law, Paul is forced
to depreciate it in some measure, especially because the issue at stake was the
imposition of circumcision as a means of salvation.
In his penetrating study on ￿St. Paul and the Law,￿ published in the Scottish
Journal of Theology (March 1964), C. E. Cranfield rightly warns that ￿to fail to make full
allowance for the special circumstances which called forth the [Galatian] letter would be to
proceed in a quite uncritical and unscientific manner. In view of what has been said, it
should be clear that it would be extremely unwise to take what Paul says in Galatians as
one￿s starting point in trying to understand Paul￿s teaching on the Law.￿ It is unfortunate
that Pastor Taylor failed to heed this warning by taking Galatians as the starting point for
defining Paul￿s view of the Law. The tragic result of this mistake is a gross
misinterpretation of Paul￿s view of the Law.
DOES PAUL CONDEMN SABBATHKEEPING IN GALATIANS 4:8-11?
Pastor Taylor believes that Paul continues in Galatians 4 his criticism of the
observance of the law, by condemning specifically Sabbathkeeping. His conclusion is
based on Galatians 4:8-11, which reads: ￿Formerly, when you did not know God, you
were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to
know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and
beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe
days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid that I have labored over you in
vain.￿
Pastor Taylor￿s interpretation of this passage reveals again his tendency to read
into Bible texts his gratuitous assumptions. He writes: ￿I could hardly believe my eyes as
I read this scripture. I had read it many times before, but never understood it. This time the
words seemed to jump off the page for me much like the ￿Hidden Pictures￿ I mentioned in
the letter portion. Could Paul have been any clearer? Knowing the pattern for religious
holidays in the Old Testament, it suddenly clarified for me what was at issue here. The
judaizers had been teaching these new Christians that they had to keep the Sabbaths
and the rest of the feasts as part of their commitment to Christ. The days, months,
seasons, and years follow the same pattern of the Jewish holiday system including the
Sabbath. The judaizers were telling the Galatians that they MUST keep Sabbath and the
other feasts. Paul is clearly saying that observing these holidays is NOT REQUIRED for
Christians. He sees that doing so could be DANGEROUS to their maturity as Christians.
He is saying that these things do NOT have value because the law was a temporary
institution. Christians are accepted on the basis of Jesus fulfillment of the law and treated
as pre-law Abrahamic descendant! The message of Galatians seemed to literally come to
life for me. Those hard to understand passages suddenly made perfect sense!￿
Is Pastor Taylor shedding new light on Galatians 4:8-11? Or is he reading into it
his gratuitous assumptions? Is Paul rebuking the Judaizers for teaching that new
Christians ￿had to keep the Sabbaths and the rest of the feasts as part of their
commitment to Christ￿? To answer these questions we need to determine whether the
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 22 of 24
Galatians￿ observance of ￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿ refers to
superstitious pagan holidays or to the biblical festivals, including the Sabbath.
Pagan Superstitious Days or Jewish Holy Days?
A careful analysis of the context leaves no doubt that Paul is talking about pagan
superstitious days. The Apostle reminds the Galatians that in their pre-Christian days
they ￿were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe￿ (Gal 4:3). The ￿elemental
spirits￿stoikeia tou kosmou￿ have nothing to do with the Old Covenant since the Mosaic
Law was unknown to the Corinthians in their pagan days. Most scholars interpret the
￿elements￿ as the basic elements of this world, such as the earth, water, air, and fire, or
pagan astral gods who were credited with controlling human destiny.
The context clearly indicates that Paul rebukes the Galatians for turning back to
their pagan days by reverting to their pagan calendar. Thus, the issue is not their
adoption of Jewish Holy Days but their return to observing pagan superstitious days.
Two recent articles by Troy Martin, published in New Testament Studies and the Journal
of Biblical Literature, make a significant contribution to the understanding of the passage
under consideration. Martin points out that the time-keeping scheme found in Galatians
4:10 (￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿) is clearly different from that found in
Colossians 2:16 (￿a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths￿). He shows that while the list
in Colossians 2:16 is unquestionably Jewish, because the temporal categories of festival,
new moon, and Sabbaths are characteristic of the Jewish religious calendar, the list in
Galatians 4:10 of ￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿ ￿describes a pagan
calendar unacceptable to Paul and his communities.￿
Martin reaches this conclusion by examining not only the time structure of pagan
calendars, but also the immediate context where Paul condemns the Galatians￿ attempt to
return to their pagan practices (Gal 4:8-9) by reverting to the use of their pagan calendar.
￿As the immediate context clearly states, Paul is worried that he has labored for the
Galatians in vain since they have returned to their former pagan life as evidenced by their
renewed preconversion reckoning of time. Because of its association with idolatry and
false deities, marking time according to this pagan scheme is tantamount to rejecting Paul￿s
Gospel and the one and only true God it proclaims (Gal 4:8-9). Galatians 4:10, therefore,
stipulates that when the Galatians accepted Paul￿s Gospel with its aversion to idolatry
(Gal 4:8), they discarded their pagan method of reckoning time. . . . A comparison of these
lists demonstrates that the Gentile conversion to Paul￿s gospel involves rejection of
idolatrous pagan temporal schemes in favor of the Jewish liturgical calendar.￿
Gentiles￿ Adoption of Jewish Calendar
Troy Martin￿s conclusion, that the Gentiles￿ conversion to the Gospel involved the
rejection of their pagan calendar built upon the idolatrous worship of many gods and the
adoption of the Jewish religious calendar which had been transformed by Christ￿s coming,
represents in my view a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the continuity
between Judaism and Christianity.
Paul￿s time references clearly reflect his adoption of the Jewish religious calendar,
though modified and transformed by the coming of Christ. For example, in 1 Corinthians
16:2, Paul recommends a fund-raising plan for the Jerusalem church consisting of laying
aside at home some money kata mian sabbaton, that is, ￿every first day from the
Sabbath.￿ The fact that Paul refers to the first day of the week by the Jewish
designation ￿first day from the Sabbath,￿ and not by the prevailing pagan name dies
solis￿Day of the Sun, reveals that he taught his Gentile converts to regulate their lives
by the Jewish calendar.
In the same epistle, Paul builds an elaborate argument based upon the festival of
Passover and unleavened bread in order to exhort the Corinthians, ￿Let us keep the
festival￿ (1 Cor 5:6-8). The whole argument and exhortation to keep Passover would
have been meaningless to the Gentile congregation of Corinth unless Paul had taught
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 23 of 24
about the Jewish religious calendar. In the light of these considerations we conclude,
with Martin, that ￿ although the temporal references in Paul￿s letters are sparse, 1
Corinthians provides strong evidence for the Pauline adoption of the Jewish practice that
marked time by festivals and Sabbaths.￿
The Christian adherence to the Jewish calendar is especially evident in the book of
Acts. Repeatedly, Paul proclaims the Gospel in synagogues and in the outdoors on the
Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2). In Troas, Paul speaks to the believers on the first
day from Sabbath (mia ton sabbaton) (Acts 20:7). ￿The portrayal of Paul in Acts,￿ as
Martin points out, ￿supplies clear evidence that Christians mark time by segments of
festivals and Sabbaths.￿ This conclusion is clearly supported by Colossians 2:16 where
we find the standard Jewish nomenclature of annual feasts, monthly new moons, and
weekly Sabbaths.
The fact that Paul taught his Gentile congregations to reject their pagan calendar,
where the days were named after planetary gods and the months after deified emperors,
and to reckon time according to the Jewish religious calendar, does not necessarily mean
that he taught them to practice Jewish religious rituals. The Romans themselves replaced
just before the origin of Christianity their ￿eight day week￿nundinum￿ with the Jewish
seven-day week and adopted in the first century the Jewish Sabbath as their new day
for rest and feasting, without the concomitant adoption of the Jewish rituals. By the same
token, Paul taught his Gentile converts to reckon time according to the Jewish religious
calendar without expecting them to practice the rituals associated with it. A good example
is Paul￿s discussion of the new meaning of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread
in the light of Christ￿s event (1 Cor 5:6-8).44
In the light of the preceding observations, we conclude that the temporal
categories of Galatians 4:10 (￿days, and months, and seasons, and years￿) are pagan
and not Jewish, like the list found in Colossians 2:16. To argue, as Pastor Taylor does,
that the Galatians were taught by the false teachers ￿to keep the Sabbaths and the rest
of the feasts as part of their commitment to Christ,￿ means to ignore the immediate context
where Paul speaks of pagan temporal categories to which the Galatians were turning
back again.
The Galatians￿ observance of pagan sacred times was motivated by superstitious
beliefs in astral influences. This is suggested by Paul￿s charge that their adoption of these
practices was tantamount to a return to their former pagan subjection to elemental spirits
and demons (Gal 4:8-9).
Paul￿s concern is not to expose the superstitious ideas attached to these
observances but to challenge the whole system of salvation which the Galatians￿ false
teachers had devised. By conditioning justification and acceptance with God to such
things as circumcision and the observance of pagan days and seasons, the Galatians
were making salvation dependent upon human achievement. This for Paul was a
betrayal of the Gospel: ￿You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the
law; you have fallen away from grace￿ (Gal 5:4).
It is within this context that Pastor Taylor should understand Paul￿s denouncement
of the observance of days and seasons. If the motivations for these observances had
not undermined the vital principle of justification by faith in Jesus Christ, Paul would only
have recommended tolerance and respect, as he does in Romans 14. The motivation for
these practices, however, adulterated the very ground of salvation. Consequently, the
Apostle had no choice but strongly to reject them.
In conclusion, Pastor Taylor￿s attempt to interpret the Galatians and Colossians
texts as a Pauline condemnation of the principle of Sabbathkeeping, is totally devoid of
textual and contextual support. We have seen that what Paul opposes is not the
principle of Sabbathkeeping, but rather the perverted use of cultic observances which
were designed to promote salvation as a human achievement rather than as a divine gift
of grace.
Endtime Issues No. 77 Page 24 of 24
In the final analysis, Paul￿s attitude toward the Sabbath must be determined not on
the basis of his denunciation of heretical and superstitious observances which may have
influenced Sabbathkeeping, but rather on the basis of his overall attitude toward the law.
The failure to understand that Paul rejects the law as a method of salvation but
upholds it as a moral standard of Christian conduct has been the root cause of much
misunderstanding about Paul￿s attitude toward the law, in general, and the Sabbath, in
particular. May this study contribute to clarify this misunderstanding and allow many
sincere people like Pastor Taylor, to discover, as Paul puts it, that ￿the law is good, if any
one uses it lawfully￿ (1 Tim 1:8).
by
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.
Retired Professor of Theology and Church History
Andrews University

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