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Are Ordinances No Longer a Thing? (Colossians 2)

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 40:
“I Can Do All Things through Christ Which Strengtheneth Me”




In Colossians chapter 2, there are some passages that have the potential to be confusing because, as is often the case, Paul is discussing the Law of Moses and we can get the wrong impression if we apply his comments on the Law more generally than they are intended. Beginning at verse 11, referring to Christ, we have

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

The mention of circumcision without hands serves as a thematic marker that Paul is talking about the relationships of the Gentile converts (who are not circumcised) to the Law of Moses, and what he appears to be saying is that the Church is circumcised in Christ and ought to cease from various sins of the flesh, though the Church does not duplicate this action by being circumcised themselves.

12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

This the members of the Church have done, they have been buried in the water in baptism and brought up again out of the water in representation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

The Law of Moses has several main components—Statutes, Laws, Ordinances—so what Paul is communicating is that the Gentiles are not obliged to keep these aspects of the Law. It is not a general rejection of ordained rituals as is sometimes supposed.

15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
16 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:
Paul is again referring to specific aspects of the Mosaic Law including the dietary codes and the festivals, for example, Passover.
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Galatians 3:19 says of the Law that, “it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” and Stephen notes in Acts 7:53 that the Lord’s people, “received the law by the disposition of angels…”. Given the context of a discussion of the Law, the idea of angel worship appears to be an allusion to these events, though some of the particulars are unclear to me.

19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;

Paul here again mentions ordinances and clarifies through a parenthetical that these include “Touch not; taste not; handle not;” which refer to specific Mosaic proscriptions. So throughout this passage, Paul is referring to specific Law of Moses concerns. When trying to understand Paul, it is very important to understand what question he is trying to address or we risk reading ourselves and our issues into Paul rather than finding out what he is actually writing about.

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