Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Time To Start Understanding The Bible...Biblically!

About a week or so ago (I don't remember exactly now) on my way home from work, I flipped on the radio (it was around 4:15 p.m. or so) and caught the call in Bible answer program "To Everyone An Answer" - a program of CSN radio hosted by Pastor Mike Kestler. Mike was joined by Jim Tetlow, often the co-host of the radio program.

I just happened to catch the program just as a caller was asking the question of why Christians today worship on Sunday instead of Saturday (the Sabbath). This question has been asked many times on T.E.M.A., and is a subject of much debate, and has been for 2 millenia.

I don't expect to deal with this issue here and now in it's entirety because it is a huge issue with many, many points that need to be addressed. However...what I want to do is begin to address some of the biblical passages that get brought up to show why Christians don't "keep" the sabbath today.

Every time I hear this question get brought up, the "answer" is usually done in typical machine-gun style modern Christian polemic (oops, sorry, "apologetic") where 5-6 verses are thrown out there (without any regard to the CONTEXT of those verses), along with a slew of other various comments, grievances, etc., whether they pertain to the inquirers question or not (for ex. the issue of salvation is ALWAYS brought up, no matter whether the person asking made it an issue or not - ex. "we're not saved by keeping the Sabbath, or anything else...." This is almost always stated, when in fact the issue of salvation is rarely brought up in the matter).

I'd like to start with Colossians 2:16,17 which reads as follows:

"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."

This is usually one of the "big guns" in the arsenal of the Christian Apologist in answering the Sabbath issue, the point being that we should not let anybody judge us for not keeping the Sabbath, or the other Holy days, or eating biblically "kosher" (ie. no pork, shellfish, etc.) because they are simply the shadows of the Messiah, and not the real thing, and so why waste our time focusing on the "shadow" when we can focus on the REAL?!

This is one of the passages that I hear quoted EVERY time I hear the Sabbath issue being discussed (like I said, it is one of the "big guns!").

But let's do a little probing and see if this gun has any bullets in it, or if it's just shooting blanks!

Mike Kestler has a saying he often shares on the program which goes something like this: "use the 20/20 rule - read 20 verses prior to the verse you are looking at, and 20 verses after, in order to get the context." I think that is a great idea; in fact, I believe it will shed a lot of light on the issue!

Because it would make this post much longer, I'm not going to paste the entire passage here (Col. ch. 2), but will highlight several verses prior to v.v 16,17 - and several verses that follow.

If you were to look at just about any N.T. commentary, you would learn that one of the major "issues" being addressed in Colossians was a heresy called "gnosticism" (which comes from the Greek word "gnosis" - "knowledge"). Gnosticism is still around today in various forms, and in a nutshell is the teaching that the physical is evil - only the spirit is redeemable and holy, and we must attain to higher levels of "knowledge" in order to grow closer to the "divine", and even grow in divinity ourselves. In the first century, there were certain characteristics that identified gnostic practice, and the most predominant was an ascetic lifestyle, one marked by long, arduous fasts, often accompanied by self abasement.

Paul, throughout the epistle to the Colossians, continually points out the contrast between The Godhead manifested in the flesh via Yeshua (cf. vs. 9), and the "fullness" of our faith and fellowship found in Him, as opposed to the "philosophy" and "vain deceit" found within "traditions of men" (cf. vs. 8). He continues by sharing the fullness of that which we have obtained through our faith in Him. First and foremost, we are complete in Him. There is no higher, secret, hidden "knowledge" so-called to be obtained through the "philosophy" and "vain deceit." ALL wisdom and knowledge is found in HIM!

Paul continues by sharing that we have been completely forgiven of our sins, and our "rap sheet" so-to-speak ("handwriting of ordinances" or, as the ESV states it, the "record of debt") has been "nailed to the cross." Our salvation is complete in Him, with no need to search the hidden heights of so-called "knowledge", accessible to a select few that find it via their extreme, physically abusive methods.

Basically, we have now come to the "trump card" verses that are used to show why we Christians don't keep the sabbath today. The only problem is, Paul's argument thus far has had NOTHING to do with God's commandments. He has not been speaking against God's word - he has been showing the contrast between the fullness of forgiveness, and our standing with and before God through Yeshua, who is the "fullness of the Godhead bodily", as opposed to the ascetic gnostic beliefs and practices that are obtained through the "traditions of men!"

Paul's statement in v.v. 16,17 are begun with the words "let no man therefore judge you...." In other words, in light of the fact that full and complete forgiveness of sins has been accomplished, and all of the fulness of wisdom and knowledge is found in Yeshua, the "fulness of the Godhead bodily", don't let these gnostic, ascetic people judge you. Judge you for what? Judge you, who are "complete in Him" for "meat" (ie. eating) and "drink" (drinking), or for keeping the sabbath, holy days (mo'edim), etc.

You see, the people being "judged" were not the ones NOT eating and drinking, and keeping the sabbath and holy days, it was the other way around. It was the gnostic people, who believed true wisdom and "knowledge" was obtained by punishing the flesh (which was "evil" in their view) via long fasting and denying of the flesh, that were judging the believers who "ate" and "drank", and kept the sabbath, etc.

Notice that in vs. 17 Paul says that these things are "shadows" of things "to come." At the time that Paul wrote this epistle, Yeshua had long since died, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Yet Paul does not say that the sabbath, and holy days were shadows of things that "had been", or worse yet, shadows of things that "were to come" as the N.I.V. puts it (completely changing the tense of the Greek, something that can be verified by ANYONE simply by looking at the Greek at say, Blue Letter Bible, etc.)!

The Tabernacle, the sabbath, the feast days, the Priesthood, etc. are ALL shadows; they always were, and always will be!

What is the point of a shadow? I mean, why does it even exist? Is a shadow just a happenstance phenomena created by the sun?

We know that God uses the physical (that which can be seen) to teach us, and help us to understand the spiritual (that which cannot be seen). For example, how many times did Yeshua use the picture of a farmer, seed, coins, candles, earth, plants, trees, etc. in His parables in order to teach us spiritual issues? I'd say EVERY time!

So, what can shadows teach us? For one thing, a shadow can show you the general outline, or shape of something, even if the true object is out of your view (the shadow is something "seen" giving you the impression of something that is "not seen").

Imagine that you are walking down the street and are coming up on an alley. Coming out from the alley you see the shadow of a tree. You probably would not think twice about it, but you would know there was a tree there. But what if, instead of a shadow of a tree, you saw a shadow, a figure of a person holding up a knife. Would that catch your attention? The shadow is showing you something that is coming.

Another thing that shadows can show us is time and whereabouts. Survival books can teach you how to figure out the time of day, and your general location (North, South, etc.) using shadows.

So, two things that shadows can show us are the general shape or form of something, and the time and station (place) of something.

The sabbath and holy days are shadows of things "to come...." Let that sink in. Ponder that one for a few.

Is Yeshua still to return? Have we gone through the Millennium yet? Have the new heavens and earth come yet? Has the complete ingathering of Israel happened? Is Yeshua ruling from the Davidic throne in Jerusalem right now? Do we see Israel inhabiting the full scope of the Abrahamic covenant borders that God promised to Him in Genesis? Etc., etc., etc.

There is still MUCH to be fulfilled. Therefore, there is still a need for "shadows", something God intended for His people, and STILL intends for His people. After all, He wants us to be people of "understanding...."

Paul is NOT telling the Colossian believers to not let people judge them for NOT keeping the sabbath, etc., he is telling them the exact opposite! Do not let others judge you FOR doing those things.

You might be wondering at this point how I justify this interpretation. It might become more clear as we continue to look at the verses following v.v. 16, 17.

In vs. 18 Paul tells them to not let anyone "beguile" them of their "reward" (the ESV translates the verse as follows: "Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind....") In contrast to the ones refusing to allow others to judge them (v.v. 16,17) are people who are "ascetic", they "worship angels", and they are "puffed up" by their "sensuous minds." Anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of the "O.T", and God's commandments, will instantly know that asceticism, angel worship, and "sensuality" are not found within His Torah (law)! His law is "holy", "pure", "undefiled", "perfect", etc.

Continuing on, in v.v. 20-23 Paul asks the Colossian believers, the ones in v.v 16,17 who are not to allow the others to "judge" them, that if they have died to the "rudiments of the world" through Messiah, why are they subjecting themselves to ordinances such as "Touch not; taste not; handle not...." Some, nay, many commentators have suggested that what Paul is referring to with "Touch not; taste not; handle not" is the dietary laws found in Lev. 23. This could not possibly be so, because the main issue Paul has been dealing with in ch. 2 is the gnostic heresies that are plaguing the Colossian Church. These are "ordinances" being placed upon them by the gnostic "teachers" - demanding an extremism because, after all, according to their teachings, the flesh is evil, therefore it must be denied/punished. Furthermore, Paul continues by saying, of these practices "which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men." Notice what Paul calls these things - "commandments and doctrines of men." Are God's laws "commandments and doctrines of men!? I don't think so. Paul concludes the argument with this final clause: "Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." The "touch not, taste not, handle not" teaching is being called "commandments and doctrines of men", "will worship", and "[neglect] of the body." All fit perfectly within the framework of the gnostic doctrines Paul had been speaking against, and are in contrast with the biblical commandments God Him self gave that point to Messiah, and are shadows of the things that are "to come."

To conclude, I have to say that Colossians 2:16,17 cannot be used to teach that Christians don't keep the sabbath today. To use these verses to bolster that idea is to completely take them out of context - the very thing we are continually reminded that we are not supposed to do. So, using Mike's "20/20" rule actually renders his use - and anyone else's for that matter - of these verses as isogesis, and especially poor hermeneutic.

I would like to add that this is not meant to be a personal attack on Mike Kestler, Jim Tetlow, or anyone else for that matter. I simply used the T.E.M.A. program as a catalyst to analyze one of the most commonly used passages to try to show why Christians do not worship on the sabbath today. I hope to cover some of the other passages that are used at another time, but for now, I hope I have provoked you to go study your bible! Be willing to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." 1 Thess. 5:21