Friday, September 18, 2015

Does Colossians 2 Teach That You Should Keep the Holy Days?

Fall is here, and there’s so much to love about it. Crisp air. Sweaters. Pumpkin spice everything. Colossians 2.

I just might love Colossians 2 as much as I love my pumpkin spice coffee creamer. Until last year, I probably never even turned to it, except when my Church of God pastor would get up and read verses 16 and 17 almost every Holy Day.

“So 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 Christ.”

The COGs routinely quote this passage to support their doctrinal stances on the Holy Days, Sabbath and clean and unclean meats. Although, ironically, not new moons. Last year, COGWA did it. This year, UCG does it, in their latest issue of the Good News magazine:
 “It’s commonly thought that he was telling the Christians of Colossae to disregard Jewish criticism over their not following Jewish observances. But the reality was just the opposite. This was a gentile congregation that had not participated in such observances before. The truth is that Paul was telling the Christian converts to disregard outside criticism over how they were now observing these occasions.”                                                        - “God’s Annual Festivals: Foreshadowing Great Coming Events!” The Good News, September/October 2015.
I wish there was a gentle way to say this, but I can’t find it, so here goes nothing:

Looking closely at the Greek language and the context of the passage shows that UCG’s claims about Colossians 2:16-17 are unfounded.  I was shocked to discover how flimsy the claims were when I studied what COGWA had to say last year, and we all know COGWA and UCG got their misinformation from the same source. As did James Malm just this week on his The Shining Light.

I’m sorry, UCG, COGWA and any other COGs who makes this argument, but it’s commonly thought that Paul was telling the Christians at Colossae to disregard Jewish criticism because he WAS telling them to disregard Jewish criticism. Most of the first Christians were Jews, and many were reluctant to accept Gentile converts as their equals. The COGs are blinded to this fact because they, in large part, hold the same beliefs as the Judaizing Christians in the early church. But the New Testament gives ample evidence that Jewish Christians pressured Gentiles to adopt Jewish traditions and little evidence that the opposite happened, at least during the time frame that Colossians was written. Yes, that came later, and it is a different discussion for a different day. But it is not what Paul addressed at Colossae.

These links specifically address COGWA’s claims about Colossians 2:16-17, but they apply to what UCG and most other Churches of God teach about this passage:
  • The COGs largely ignore the historical and scriptural context of Colossians 2 to fit their narrative.  Contextual clues tell us that Paul was not simply arguing against Gnostic ascetics, but against syncretists that combined elements of Gnosticism, Judaism and Christianity – possibly an Essene sect.
  • The COGs play word games that defy logic to try to make this passage say what they want it to say. They try to shoehorn the rules of modern English into ancient texts.  They invent Greek tenses that do not exist to support their claims.
  • The COGs uphold other practices from Colossians 2:16-17 but ignore new moons, which they logically should keep if the other ordinances listed in Colossians 2:16-17 are still in place. They plead ignorance on how new moons were marked in Christ’s day, while many historical sources, including Josephus, document the 600+ year old Jewish tradition discontinued only years before the temple fell. It's possible to conclude that the Rosh Chodesh fires are only Jewish tradition and not mandatory. But if the COGs contend that Holy Days, the Sabbath and food laws are still required of Christians based on Colossians 2:16-17, then so are new moons, and they need to observe them as commanded. Not sure how? Maybe there's a reason new moons, and potentially the other commands from this passage, are murky when applied today.   But anyway, I'm sure they could find a way if they wanted to - they've established plenty of Sabbath traditions found nowhere in Exodus or Deuteronomy. I'll at least give James Malm bonus points for being consistent and advocating that new moons should be kept today.
Please understand this criticism is not aimed at you, dear reader. I know that you are trying to obey your Creator the best you can. I understand that you are depending upon your spiritual leaders to help determine the best way to do that. I was in your shoes. For decades.

Interestingly, every non-Internet source I cited in my research on Colossians 2 was on our family's bookshelf while I was in the COGs. All of them were recommended by COG ministers, which also means they are likely owned by COG ministers. Who often missed these points because they, in turn, depended upon their spiritual leaders to guide them. This is why it is so important for those in today's COGs, who may have never heard of Herbert W Armstrong, to understand where they came from. The truth - about Colossians 2, about the Churches of God, and about Herbert Armstrong - is out there for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11


Anonymous said...

I really appreciate you. I appreciate that you come at the CoG teachings with humility and respect and gentleness and kindness. Though you may only ever reach a few people or so, I admire your commitment. I do not agree with you on everything, but one day, when I have a lot of time, I will sit down and read every single article and prove for my self, which way is right for each subject. For now, I can only do a little at a time. Thanks, and do please keep it up!

Martha said...

Thank you, Anonymous. You don’t know how much that means to me.

No one here expects you to agree 100 percent. We’re grateful for readers who even give us a fair hearing. The different writers on this site don’t even agree 100 percent, and our understanding often changes as we walk further along our respective journeys out of Armstrongism (that’s the reason for the tagline at the end of each post).

This is the beauty of salvation by grace through faith, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and why I harp on this topic so much – we can have faith in God and trust in Him without perfect agreement, perfect understanding and perfect righteousness in this life because it’s not about what we do, it’s about what He did. God is great, and so, so wise.

Keep reading, when you can, we’ll keep writing when we can, and know that we’ll be praying for you. You can always email us if you have a specific question or read something that just doesn’t make sense.