When crisis develops among God’s people, sometimes it is necessary to talk about things that we would not otherwise discuss.
Let us begin with a statement from The Desire of Ages, 458. It says, “God does not compel men to give up their unbelief. Before them are light and darkness, truth and error. It is for them to decide which they will accept. The human mind is endowed with power to discriminate between right and wrong. God designs that men shall not decide from impulse, but from the weight of evidence, carefully comparing scripture with scripture.”
The fact that a decision must be made based on the weight of evidence means there is evidence to be considered on both sides of the argument. This also implies that you do not know everything. Because God does know everything, He does not need to make a decision based on the weight of evidence. The apostle Paul said, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part.” I Corinthians 13:9, NKJV.
In weighing the evidence, for what should we look? We are told in The Great Controversy, 595, that, “God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils [all church councils], as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority—not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord’ in its support.”
It is very important to know what the word of God actually teaches and commands. Those who do not understand this principle can get misled on subjects, for example, the state of the dead.
We are living in interesting times. Ellen White said that the time would come when every wind of doctrine would be blowing. I cannot help but wonder if we are not living in that time now. There are many deceptive doctrines floating around today, and our only safety is to stand on the word of God.
There is a Scripture that has been confusing to many Seventh-day Adventists. It is something that we need to understand because we are facing a soon-coming Sunday law crisis, not just in the United States but worldwide, and this passage will be used against all Seventh-day Adventists. For this reason it needs to be understood. Many theologians who have written books believe that the Christian Sabbath has been changed to Sunday, and the passage of Scripture that we are going to study is one of their main proof texts.
To understand this text, attention must be given to the antecedents of the pronouns that are used. Many people get in trouble while reading their Bibles because of the use of pronouns. The apostle Paul is an expert at this, and careful attention must be given to what the pronoun refers or we can draw all kinds of conclusions to the text. We are going to look at the antecedent of the pronoun.
Reading Colossians 2:14 from the Greek New Testament, Paul talks about “wiping away the handwriting of the ordinances which was against us, which was contrary to us. And He took it out of the midst (out of the way), nailing it to the cross. And having stripped the rulers and the authorities, He made a display of them in public, boldly triumphing over them in Himself.”
Immediately you should know that the apostle Paul is not referring to the Ten Commandments here, as they were not handwritten. Moses, the prophets and the apostles all wrote by hand. The Bible is inspired, and handwritten, but the Ten Commandments were not handwritten.
It is recorded only three times in the Bible where God wrote something. Every time it says explicitly how He wrote—with His finger. One time He wrote in stone (Exodus 31:18). One time He wrote on a wall (Daniel 5:5), and one time He wrote on the ground (John 8:6). God doesn’t use handwriting; He writes with His finger.
Some may argue that your finger is on your hand, but your finger is not your hand. My late brother, while a teenager living on a farm, was involved in a tractor accident. His little finger was cut in such a way that it was just hanging by the skin. Though he was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery to sew the finger back on and reattach the nerves, it had been too long since it was cut off, and the next day that finger was dead. So, he had to go to surgery again to have it cut off. Though my brother lost the end of that finger, he didn’t lose his hand. Your hand and your fingers are two different things.
Whatever the ordinance in Colossians 2:14 is referring to, it has been wiped away. The term wipe away means to be abolished, not existent anymore. Not only that, these are called ordinances which could also be translated as decrees. These ordinances, Paul says, were against us, contrary to us, and they were taken out of the midst. In other words, they were removed. They were nailed to the cross.
Are there ordinances that were nailed to the cross? Yes, that is what this Scripture says. These ordinances, Paul says, were against us, they were taken out of the midst, and they were blotted out or abolished. Because of this, the apostle Paul now is going to draw some conclusions. Notice what he says in verse 16: “Therefore [because of what I’ve told you already, this is the conclusion], do not let anyone judge you in food or in drink, or concerning a feast or a new moon or of sabbath days.”
Our Protestant friends get in trouble because they stop right there. We can get into trouble with documents if we just read to the middle of the sentence. Paul has mentioned five things: eating, drinking, feasts, new moons, and sabbaths, but that is just the first part of the sentence. The next part of the sentence, “which are shadows of things to come,” follows in verse 17. He is not condemning eating or drinking or feasts or new moons or sabbaths. What he is saying is, “Don’t let anybody judge you concerning these things which are shadows of things to come, but the body of Christ.” It could be translated, “but the body is of Christ.”
Let us stop there before we continue. In the Old Testament there were ordinances that had to do with eating. At certain times of the year it was forbidden to eat leavened bread. There were even food offerings. Paul told the Colossians not to let anybody judge them in regard to these things with eating, which were a shadow of things to come.
There were also ordinances in the Old Testament in regard to drinking and also feast days. (See Leviticus 23.) Some of these feast days were called sabbaths. There were also ordinances in regard to new moons. Paul says, “Don’t let anybody judge you in regard to these things which are a shadow of things to come.”
He continues, “Let no one pass judgment on you, wishing in humility and worshiping of angels which he has seen.” Verse 18. However, some manuscripts say, “worshiping of angels which he has not seen, pushing in vain, puffed up by his fleshly mind and not holding the Head from whom all the body through the joints and bands having been supplied and having been fitted together will grow with the growth of God. If then you died with Christ from the fundamental principles of the world, why, as living in the world, are you under ordinances?” Verses 18–20.
That’s a serious question. Christ was the fulfilling of these things. Paul is talking about the ordinances he has just mentioned, the ordinances that have to do with eating, drinking, feast days, new moons, and sabbath days which are a shadow of things to come. Then he makes a really strong statement. Do you remember back in the Garden of Eden what God told Adam and Eve about the forbidden fruit? I want to tell you, most Adventists have not come to grips with what we are going to read now in the Bible from verse 21. This is strong. I didn’t write it, but this is how it reads in the literal translation; “Do not touch, do not taste, do not finger.” In other words don’t even touch it with your fingertips. Some translations say: “Do not handle. Do not touch it. Do not taste it. Do not even put your finger on it, which things are all unto corruption in the using according to the injunctions and teachings of men.” Verses 21, 22.
In verse 23, the phrase “which things” is used. What are these things? Well, they are the ordinances that have been nailed to the cross. Paul says, “Don’t touch these things. Don’t taste them. Don’t even put your finger on it. They have a reputation, indeed of wisdom, in self-imposed worship.”
You see, when God hasn’t commanded something and you do it anyway, that is not of God; it is not divinely directed worship; it is self-imposed worship. “Which things have a reputation, indeed of wisdom, and self-imposed worship, in humility, and severe treatment of the body, not in any honor, but for the satisfaction of the flesh.” Verse 23.
These ordinances, that God gave to His people in the Old Testament, had been covered up with a mass of human tradition which made it almost impossible even for the Jews to keep. And then, there were teachers trying to get the Christians to keep all this tradition that the Jews had come up with over several hundred years since the captivity. Paul says not to have anything to do with it for it is man-made.
Many people confuse the moral law with the ceremonial law and use the same argument used by the Roman Catholic Church in their objection to Protestantism. Paul said, “Therefore, brothers, stand and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether through word or letter from us.” II Thessalonians 2:15.
The Roman Catholic Church believes there are two kinds of tradition—verbal and written. They believe that the oral tradition they have that was handed down from the apostles is even more important than the written tradition—the New Testament. There are Adventists today using this same argument, insisting that the feast days should still be kept; however, decisions cannot be based on apostolic tradition but on a “thus saith the Lord.”
Adventists sometimes have done the same thing with Ellen White. I have received material that asks, Did you know that Ellen White, at a certain date, drank some cocoa? The tradition of Ellen White is not the standard of what to believe or how to eat. I look to the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy to find those instructions.
I once read an account of a pope back in the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. He had fathered a child by adultery and attempted to justify himself by claiming he was not more holy than David or Solomon who both made many mistakes and still wrote part of the Old Testament.
There are other texts that people misinterpret. Paul, giving a defense before a judge, said, “And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and the Prophets.” Acts 24:12–14, NKJV. Those advocating keeping of the feasts believe that because the ordinances of feasts were written “in the law and in the prophets,” Paul still kept them. Paul understood what those ordinances pointed forward to, and he kept the ordinances in the antitype, not the type, because Christ had already died on the cross.
Every single one of the feasts has an antitype.
The Passover—This was the first feast of the year. The antitype of the Passover is found in I Corinthians 5, and this is one of the principle passages about which people are really confused. This is the story of a man who was living with his father’s wife. Though Paul was absent, he told them he was there in spirit and very clearly said that the man needed to be disfellowshiped because of his open sin. (See I Corinthians 5:1–5.) In this context he said, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” The little leaven—this man’s sin in living with his father’s wife—would affect the whole lump, the whole church, so he must be removed. “Therefore purge out the old leaven [disfellowship this person] that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.” A church that is unleavened is a church that does not allow a member to be living in open sin and remain a member of that church. “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.” Verses 6–8, NKJV. Taken out of context, some believe this to mean that we are supposed to keep the feast days.
In The Desire of Ages, 652, when Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, Ellen White wrote: “Christ was standing at the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. [One was the Passover and one was the Lord’s Supper.] He, the spotless Lamb of God, was about to present Himself as a sin offering, that He would thus bring to an end the system of types and ceremonies that for four thousand years had pointed to His death. As He ate the Passover with His disciples, He instituted in its place the service that was to be the memorial of His great sacrifice. The national festival of the Jews was to pass away forever. The service which Christ established was to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages.”
Paul speaks of the Lord’s Supper when he says that Christ is our sacrifice. “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Verse 8, NKJV.
“When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul which they could not prove, while he answered for himself, ‘Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all.’ ” Acts 25:7, 8, NKJV. This is claimed as further proof that Paul continued to keep the feasts; however, it is not a clear “thus saith the Lord” and stretches the meaning of the verse like all other passages brought forth in this instance. The apostle Paul well understood what those feast days represented. The Passover represented the sacrifice on the cross.
The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost—This represented the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s children that would occur 50 days after the first.
The Feast of Trumpets—This represented the prediction of prophecy of the worldwide awakening concerning the Second Advent movement that happened in the later part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries.
The Day of Atonement—We believe in keeping this festival in the antitype. We are at present living in the real Day of Atonement. A careful study of the Bible will reveal that we do not get involved in any other feast while in the Day of Atonement. The literal translation from the Greek New Testament of these texts says, “Neither in the law of the Jews, neither unto the temple or Caesar have I sinned anything at all.”
Sin is the transgression of the law—the Ten Commandments. If it was sin to break the ceremonial law, even Jesus Christ would have been a sinner, because in both the gospel and in the book The Desire of Ages He did not keep every aspect or specification of the ceremonial law at all times. For example, Jesus touched a leper, which was not in accordance with the ceremonial law that declared the leper unclean. (See Matthew 8:2, 3; Mark 1:40, 41.)
Another argument in favor of the feasts is Acts 28:17, NKJV, which says, “It came to pass after three days that Paul called the leaders of the Jews together. So when they had come together, he said to them: ‘Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.’ ”
Paul did not lie here if he did not keep the ceremonial law because he did continue to keep those ceremonies, but in the antitype. In Acts 18:21, it does read that Paul kept the ceremonial feast in Jerusalem. However, when I looked up that verse in my Greek New Testament, I was shocked to find the evidence is just not there. The footnote in the Greek New Testament reads that this statement didn’t even appear in any of the ancient manuscripts and is absent from several of the oldest translations.
Another so-called proof text is found in Acts 20:16 where Paul hurried to be in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. To be there was not a command to keep the feast. What if I said to somebody that I want to be in Atlanta for Thanksgiving? Is that a command to keep Thanksgiving as a holy day? Not at all. The Jewish Christians had planned the whole year around these different ceremonial feasts. Time was measured by them, and they would talk about before or after Passover, before or after the Feast of Trumpets, before or after the Atonement. The apostles could use that language and say they would be in such a place by this time. It certainly is not a command to keep these feast days as they were kept prior to their fulfillment at the cross of Calvary.
There are some who say they have evidence from the early Christian literature that the twelve apostles, not Paul but the others, kept the ceremonial law. In the book, Sketches from the Life of Paul by Ellen G. White, she says very clearly that among the Christians, the apostle Paul was thought to be a teacher of dangerous doctrines. She makes it very clear in that book, and also in The Acts of the Apostles, 199, that the apostle Paul had to stand alone amongst even the apostles.
The apostles of Jesus were very slow to understand the significance of what had happened when Jesus was crucified and, as such had fulfilled the ceremonial law, making it no longer in effect. There were many of the apostles that probably continued to keep the entire ceremonial law for the rest of their lives, which was a mistake on their part. Do you want to rest your faith on a mistake that somebody else made?
Ellen White says that the apostle Paul so desired to bring harmony and unity into the Christian church that at the end of his life he made a mistake. It is recorded in Acts 21:20–24 NKJV: “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law [ceremonial law]; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them.’ ” In other words, show respect for the ceremonial law so we can have peace. The apostle Paul did what the apostles suggested, and it was the reason he was taken prisoner, cutting short his ministry.
Ellen White says definitely over and over again that it was a mistake. Do you want to base your religion on a mistake that Paul made or on a mistake that the apostles made?
The apostles were human just like us, and they made mistakes. I would never make a decision whether or not to drink cocoa on the basis that Ellen White at one time was seen to drink a cup of cocoa, would you? That is a dangerous way to make a decision. The answer to the question is, “What does God say in His Inspired word?” That should be the only basis for decisions.
“The very priests who ministered in the temple had lost sight of the significance of the service they performed. They had ceased to look beyond the symbol to the thing signified. In presenting the sacrificial offerings they were as actors in a play. The ordinances which God Himself had appointed were made the means of blinding the mind and hardening the heart. God could do no more for man through these channels. The whole system must be swept away.” The Desire of Ages, 36. This subject here is made clear in very strong language.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts quoted are literal translation.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Free Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.