The True Meaning of Colossians 2:16-17
The erroneous distortion of these two verses has caused Protestantism to denounce the observance of the biblical Sabbath, holy days and clean and unclean meats more than any other passages in the New Testament. Consequently, it has caused ministers and laymen alike to "rummage" through the New Testament in search of other Scriptures to substantiate this misinterpretation—resulting in a myriad of additional false interpretations and beliefs that appear to bolster their practices of Sunday-keeping and observing occult holidays. When one casually reads these verses, it does give the appearance that such an interpretation may be correct—but such is not the case.
In the KJV, Colossians 2:16 reads: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days"—verse 17—"which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."
To add further confusion to this doctrinal puzzle, the New International Version savaged verse 17 with the following deliberate mistranslation: "These are a shadow of things that were to come." In so doing, they reinforced the false idea that, since Christ has already come, the things that were "to come" have been fulfilled. Thus, they cling tenaciously to their mistaken belief that indeed "the life, death and resurrection terminated all these laws and commandments of God."
However, the Greek preposition the NIV translators mistranslated as the English past tense phrase "were to come" is actually a present tense, articular active plural participle, toon mellontoon, which is impossible to translate as a past tense completed action. An honest translation can only reflect the present tense, continuous, ongoing meaning of "the things to come," or "the coming things"—which can only mean the continuous unfolding of prophecy and the plan of God.
Importantly, we know the Colossian church was composed entirely of Gentile converts. Paul preached "the mystery among the Gentiles" (Col. 1:27), and refers to their spiritual circumcision of the heart through Jesus Christ—their conversion—in contrast to their physical condition of "uncircumcision" of the flesh (Col. 2:13).
As we find in Acts 19, Gentile converts forsook their pagan religion and worship of Greek gods and goddesses, when they were met with resistance and ridicule. And in the case of Paul, he was threatened with death because he gave up Judaism. Likewise, when the Colossians were converted, their lives were completely changed. They abandoned their past pagan religious practices, forsook the idol temples, and ceased to participate in pagan religious festivals and days of worship. Instead, they observed the seventh-day weekly Sabbath; and as Paul taught in all the churches, they were faithful to the holy days and festivals of the true God.
This caused those outside the church to make judgments against the Colossian brethren for having abandoned their former religious philosophy and worship of fallen angels. When we understand the circumstances with which Paul was dealing when he wrote Colossians 2:16-17, then the true meaning of the passage becomes clear.
An Analysis of Colossians 2:16-17
Here is an accurate translation from the original Greek of Col. 2:16-17: "Therefore, do not allow anyone to judge you in eating or in drinking, or with regard to a festival, or new moon, or the Sabbaths"— verse 17—"which are a foreshadow of the things that are coming, but the body of Christ."
A Phrase by Phrase Analysis
1)"Therefore, do not allow anyone to judge you…"—means that because they were now converted and had changed their lives to believe and obey the Gospel, and were now keeping the laws and commandments of God instead of their former pagan ways, therefore,they were not to allow anyone outside the Church judge them because of their new way of life.
2) "…in eating, or in drinking…" When they were pagans they ate all meats—clean and unclean. After conversion they no longer ate unclean meats (I Tim. 4:1-5). Likewise, they no longer engaged in drunkenness as in the past, which was also part of their pagan religious practices. Now, because they had changed their ways, they were to ignore the judgments and criticisms of those outside the Church.
3) "…with regard to a festival, or new moon, or the Sabbaths…" Rather than showing that the Colossians were being judged for rejecting the festivals and Sabbaths of God, this phrase means the exact opposite. As in the case of the Galatians, as former pagans they had never observed any of the biblical festivals and Sabbaths before their conversion. Therefore, those outside the Church were not judging the Colossians because they were no longer keeping these things, rather they were judging them because after their conversion they were, indeed, keeping them. A word about "new moon." Since this is in the singular not plural, it refers to the calculated Hebrew Calendar, and must be referring to the Feast of Trumpets, a holy day, because the first day of the seventh month (a new moon) is the beginning date for the calculations of the Hebrew Calendar.
4) "…which are a foreshadow of the things that are coming…" This important phrase shows that true Christians—those obeying God's way of life—will have an understanding of coming events in prophecy as the plan of God unfolds.
5) "…but the body of Christ." This phrase can reflect two meanings. First, since the Colossian brethren were being judged by those outside the church for their new, converted conduct, any judging concerning these matters should only be done in and by the Church, which is "the body of Christ." Second, this phrase can also mean that the reality of observing God's Sabbath and holy days can be found only in the "body of Christ"—the Church—not from outside the Church. In other words, the true knowledge and meaning of such days can be found only in the churches of God. As Jesus said, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [outside the body of Christ—outside the true Church of God] it has not been given…. But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous men have desired to see what you see, and have not seen; and to hear what you hear, and have not heard" (Matt. 13:11, 16-17).
As we will see, the entire chapter of Colossians Two is, in fact, a contrast between the way of God through Jesus Christ and the way of pagans with their religious philosophies and worship of fallen angels. When the verses of this chapter are divided into these two contrasting elements, the true meaning and full intent of what Paul wrote becomes clear. Below, the verses of Colossians Two are divided into: A. Things relating to Christ and God the Father and the Christian way of life; and B. Warnings against paganism, religious philosophy and the worship of fallen angels.
Colossians Two Divided into Elements A and B, beginning with verse One
A. "Now I want you to understand what great concern I have for you, and for those in Laodicea, and as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, unto the knowledge of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (verses 1-3).
B. "Now I say this so that no one may deceive you by persuasive speech" (verse 4).
A. "For though I am indeed absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, be walking in Him; being rooted and built up in Him, and beingconfirmed in the faith, exactly as you were taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving" (verses 4-7).
B. "Beware lest anyone takes you captive through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the traditions of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ" (verse 8).
A. "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, Who is the Head of all principality and power; in Whom you have also been circumcised with the circumcision not made by hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, by which you have also been raised with Him through the inner working of God, Who raised Him from the dead. For you, who were once dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has now made alive with Him, having forgiven all your trespasses. He has blotted out the note of debt against us with the decrees of our sins, which was contrary to us; and He has taken it away, having nailed it to the cross. After stripping the principalities and the powers, He made a public spectacle of them, and has triumphed over them in it [through His crucifixion and resurrection]" (verses 9-15).
B. "Therefore, do not allow anyone to judge you in eating or in drinking, or with regard to a festival, or new moon, or the Sabbaths, which are a foreshadow of the things that are coming, but the body of Christ. Do not allow anyone to defraud you of the prize by doing his will in self-abasement and the worship of angels, intruding into things that he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his own carnal mind and not holding fast to the Head…" (verses 16-19).
A. "[T]he Head from Whom all the body, being supplied and knit together by the joints and bands, is increasing with the increase of God. Therefore, if you have died together with Christ from the elements [see Gal. 4:8-10] of the world…" (verses 19-20).
B. "…why are you subjecting yourselves to the decrees of men as if you were living in the world? They say, 'You may not handle! You may not taste! You may not touch!' The use of all such things leads to corruption. It is according to the commandments and doctrines of men, which indeed have an outward appearance of wisdom in voluntary worship of angels, and self-abasement, and unsparing treatment of the body, not in any respect to the satisfying of the needs of the flesh" (verses 20-23).
When the chapter is taken as a whole—and one examines Paul's contrasting admonitions—it becomes obvious that Paul did not abolish the dietary laws of clean and unclean meats, the annual festivals or the weekly Sabbath, or adopt a pagan calendar system. Moreover, none of God's laws were nailed to the cross. Rather, Paul is clearly affirming that the Gentiles in Colosse were to continue to observe God's laws and commandments as they had been taught. Paul was instructing the Colossians to disregard the criticisms and harsh judgments of those outside the Church, because the observance of God's Sabbath and holy days are a continuous foreshadowing of events yet to occur in God's plan. However, by being faithful and keeping these commandments of God, they would always be worshiping the true God, be built up in Jesus Christ and never lose the understanding of God's plan. By true obedience to God the Father and Jesus Christ, they would never again be deceived by vain philosophies and decrees of men, nor would they be seduced into the worship of fallen angels—Satan and his demons. This is the true meaning of Colossians Two!
Ephesians 2:15-16: Did Jesus Abolish the Commandments?
Now that we have a clear understanding of Colossians Two, it will not be difficult to realize what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:15-16. In these verses the KJV reads: "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby."
The key phrase in this inaccurate translation—which has caused a great deal of confusion—is "abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances." What is the"law of commandments contained in ordinances"? Are these actually the commandments of God contained in the Old Testament, as most assume?
The word translated "ordinances" comes from the Greek dogma (Col. 2:14, 20), which always refers to "decrees, ordinances, decisions and commands of men" (Arndt and Gingrich). Paul is not referring here to the commandments of God contained in the Law of God. Moreover, not once in the New Testament is dogma used in reference to the laws and commandments of God.
To what decrees or dogmas of men is Paul referring? Notice, the context clearly reveals that he was writing about the traditional dogmas, decrees or commands of Judaism. The harsh traditional laws of Judaism created great hostility and enmity between Jews and Gentiles—as well as among the Jews themselves. Of these Jesus said, "For they bind heavy burdens and hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of men; but they will not move them with one of their own fingers" (Matt. 23:4).
In Mark Seven, Jesus Christ strongly rebuked the Jewish religious leaders for adhering to their traditional laws and rejecting the commandments of God: "[T]he Pharisees and the scribes questioned Him, saying, 'Why don't Your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?' And He answered and said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men." For leaving the commandment of God, you hold fast the tradition of men, such as the washing of pots and cups; and you practice many other things like this.' Then He said to them, 'Full well do you reject the commandment of God, so that you may observe your own tradition. For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "The one who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "If a man shall say to his father or mother, 'Whatever benefit you might receive from me is corban (that is, set aside as a gift to God),' he is not obligated to help his parents." And you excuse him from doing anything for his father or his mother, nullifying the authority of the Word of God by your tradition which you have passed down; and you practice many traditions such as this' " (Mark 7:5-13; also see Matt. 23).
Not only were the traditional decrees of Judaism contrary to the laws and commandments of God, they were so strange and harsh that they bred hostility and enmity among the Jewish people. Such traditions especially caused Jews to look down on Gentiles with contempt and disdain. In Ephesians 2:11-16, Paul describes this hostile relationship that existed between Jews and Gentiles before the coming of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel of peace. He emphasizes that the enmity was primarily the result of the Jews' nonsensical traditions.
For example, a major "thorn in the flesh" between the two groups was the Jews' tradition—from their added oral law—that Jews were not to keep company with Gentiles, or even eat with them. This was most certainly not a Law of God. In order to prevent this Jewish bias against Gentiles from becoming rooted in the Church, God revealed to the apostle Peter early on that such traditions of Judaism weretotally unacceptable—and that He was fully annulling those laws and decrees.
When God first began to call Gentiles, Peter was sent through a special vision from God to the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. Cornelius was a Roman Army Centurion who feared the true God and prayed to Him. Notice what Peter said to Cornelius: "You know that it is unlawful for a man who is a Jew [who practiced Jewish traditional law] to associate with or come near to anyone of another race…" (Acts 10:28).
Peter explained to Cornelius and those gathered in his house that God had moved him through a vision to proclaim that such hateful Jewish decrees had been made null and void by God as contrary to His laws and commandments. Peter said, "But God has shown me that no man should be called common or unclean…. Of a truth I perceive that God is not a respecter of persons, but in every nationthe one who fears Him and works righteousness is acceptable to Him" (Acts 10:28, 34-35).
In order to demonstrate to Peter, and hence all the apostles, that God was calling the Gentiles to the same salvation that began with the Jews and Israelites at the temple on the day of Pentecost in 30 AD, He supernaturally poured out the Holy Spirit upon the uncircumcised Gentiles gathered in Cornelius' house before they were baptized. Peter continued, " 'And He [Jesus] commanded us to preach tothe people, and to fully testify that it is He Who has been appointed by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in Him receives remission of sins through His name.' While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came upon all those who were listening to the message. And the believers from the circumcision were astonished, as many as had come with Peter, that upon the Gentiles also the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out; for they heard them speak in other languages and magnify God. Then Peter responded by saying, 'Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have also received the Holy Spirit as we did?' And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they besought him to remain for a number of days" (Acts 10:42-48).
With this background—and an accurate translation of Ephesians 2:11-16—the true meaning of this difficult passage is crystal clear. We see that Paul was in no way abolishing the commandments of God—for no man can abolish the commandments of God any more than a man can destroy the heavens and earth (Deut. 30:16-20; Matt. 5:17-18; Mark 13:31).
Rather, God Himself annulled the ridiculous, hateful, traditional laws of Judaism that were against Gentiles, as they had no place in the Church of God. Notice what Paul wrote: "Therefore, remember that youwere once Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by those who are called circumcision in the flesh made by hands; and that you were without Christ at that time, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off are made near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, Who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition [created by Jewish traditional laws and decrees], having annulled in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments contained in the decrees of men, so that in Himself He might create both into one new man, makingpeace [between Jews and Gentiles in the Church]; and that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, having slain the enmity by it" (Eph. 2:11-16).
Romans 7:1-6—Are Christians "Released from the Law"?
An improper interpretation of this passage gives the appearance that Christians have been "released" from any obligation whatsoever to keep the laws and commandments of God. However, such teachings are, in reality, rooted in carnal-minded lawlessness and enmity against the laws of God (Rom. 8:7; I John 3:4). Those who believe, practice and promote such blatant misrepresentations are lacking in scripturalknowledge and are unskilled in dividing the Word of truth—and thus make Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul lawless ministers of sin!
Beginning in verse one, "Are you ignorant, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know law), that the law rules over a man for as long a time as he may live? For the woman who is married is bound by law to the husband as long as he is living; but if the husband should die, she is released from the law that boundher to the husband.
"So then, if she should marry another man as long as the husband is living, she shall be called an adulteress; but if the husband should die, she is free from the law that bound her to the husband, so that she is no longer an adulteress if she is married to another man. In the same way, my brethren, you also were made dead to the marriage law of the Old Covenant by the body of Christ in order for you to be married to another, Who was raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God. For aslong as we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were through the law, were working within our own members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we have been released from the law becausewe have died to that in which we were held so that we might serve in newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:1-6).
Clearly, the context of this passage is the marriage law which binds a husband and wife together— until death terminates their marriage covenant. Based on this law, Paul makes a comparison— because the covenant between God and the children of Israel was a marriage covenant. The Lord God waslikened to the husband and Israel was likened to His wife. God confirmed this marital covenant relationship when He inspired Isaiah to write, "For your Maker is your husband; the LORD of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall He be called" (Isa. 54:5).
This marriage covenant between God and ancient Israel was based on physical promises of territory, long life, abundant material blessings, national wealth and greatness, and God's protection in exchange for Israel's obedience in the letter of His laws and commandments. Yet Israel was an almost completely unfaithful wife.
Since marriage is binding by law until the death of either the husband or the wife, how could God terminate His marriage with Israel—apart from destroying every Israelite from all twelve tribes? Remember, God keeps His own laws, as they are a reflection of His inherent spiritual righteousness. Indeed, He was bound to Israel by His own immutable law.
However, the Lord God of the Old Covenant was the One Who became the Lord of the New Covenant—Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Lord God Who became Jesus Christ in the flesh was able to terminate the marriage covenant with Israel through His death on the cross. He could not enter into a new espousal covenant relationship with the Church until He had died. This was one of the key reasons He became God manifested in the flesh, so He could release Israel and Himself through His own death from their Old Covenant marriage.
After Jesus' death and resurrection, true Christians could then be espoused as chaste virgins to Jesus Christ as their future husband (II Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33). The marriage of the Lamb, the Husband, and the Church, the wife, will take place shortly after the first resurrection (Rev. 19:7-9).
Consequently, the phrase "released from the law" means that through Jesus' death (and the believer's symbolic death by water baptism), Jewish Christians have been released from their marriage agreement that bound them to the Old Covenant. It does not mean that New Covenant Christians are released from the obligation to keep the commandments and laws of God (Matt. 5:17-20). Rather, they are to obey the laws and commandments of God in the newness of the spirit of the Law, and not just in the letter of the Law (verse 6).
"Justification by Faith"— Is the Righteousness of God Without Law?
In order to determine the actual meaning of the apostle Paul's difficult passages concerning "law/the law" and "righteousness," we need to first understand how Paul used these particular terms.
Paul's Use of the Term "Law": The English word "law" is translated from the Greek word νοµος, nomos, "law." Without the article it means "law" in general; an individual "law"; or the general principal of "law" or "a law." When Paul uses the word "law" with the definite article —ο νοµος ho nomos— it means in the strictest sense the Pentateuch. In some cases it may refer to God's covenant with Israel or to the Ten Commandments. In the book of Hebrews, "the law" can also refer to ritual laws of the temple system. "The law," ho nomos, can also refer to a specific law other than "the law/s of God." For example:
Romans 7:23—"the law of my mind" and "the law of sin"
Romans 8:2—"the law of the Spirit of life" and "the law of sin and death"
Galatians 6:2—"the law of Christ"
"Law" Without the Definite Article: In more than half of the passages where Paul discusses "law," he uses the term without the definite article—a fact critical to understanding his writings. This is especially true where Paul refers to laws of Judaism and decrees of men. Numerous problems in interpreting and understanding Paul's Epistles have resulted due to the KJV and other English translators adding the definite article "the" to nearly all of Paul's Scriptures where he uses only the word "law" (nomos) without the definite article. Moreover, the translators failed to indicate their insertions by italicizing the added definite article—i.e., "the." Thus, Orthodox Christendom has developed many false doctrines based upon misunderstandings caused by these additions
However, in The Holy Bible In Its Original Order—A Faithful Version, when the definite article is added to the English translation of nomos, it is always noted by italicizing the article—as in, "the law." Thus, it is distinguished from ho nomos, where the definite article (ho) is actually translated from the Greek. In such cases the article is not italicized—and simply reads "the law." Those who desire to undertake a more thorough study of this matter will find a Greek New Testament or a Greek-English Interlinear Bible quite helpful.
Below is a listing of the passages where Paul uses "law" and "the law" in his epistles.
1) There is no definite article in the Greek in these passages—simply nomos. If a definite article is added, it should be italicized—"the law." Rom. 2:12, 14, 23, 25, 27; 3:20, 21, 27, 28, 31; 4:12, 14, 15; 5:13, 20; 6:14, 15. In Rom. 7:1-6, all uses of "law/the law" are referring to theprincipal of "law" and the "law" of marriage as it pertains to God's covenant with Israel. Rom. 7:7, 8, 9, 23, 25; 9:31, 32; 10:4; 13:10; I Cor. 9:9, 20; Gal. 2:16, 19, 21; 3:2, 5, 10, 11, 13, 18, 21, 23; 4:4, 5, 21; 5:4, 18, 23; 6:13; Phil. 3:5, 6, 9; I Tim. 1:9; Heb. 7:12, 16; 8:10; 9:19; 10:16
2) These following passages already include the definite article as part of the original Greek—ho nomos. Thus they appear as "the law." Rom. 2:13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 23, 26, 27; 3:19, 21; 4:16; 7:12, 14, 16, 22, 23; 8:2, 3, 4, 7; 10:5; I Cor. 9:8, 9; 14:21, 34; 15:56; Gal. 3:10, 12, 13, 17, 19, 21, 24; 4:21; 5:3, 14; 6:2; I Tim. 1:8; Heb. 7:5, 19, 28; 8:4; 9:22; 10:1, 8
Paul's Use of the Word "Righteousness": In addition to Paul's use of "law/the law," we need to understand the meaning of the word "righteousness" and how he used it. In the New Testament, "righteousness" is translated from the Greek word dikaiosune (δικαιοσυνη), which is used to bring out nine different aspects of "righteousness."
1) The righteousness of the law is obedience in the letter of the law (Deut. 4:1-8; Luke 1:6; Rom. 2:27; Phil. 3:6, 9).
2) The righteousness of law refers to receiving justification of one's sins through Old Covenant sacrifices, rituals, oblations and washings at the temple (Lev. 1-7; 12-15).
3) The righteousness of law refers to a work of law in obedience to the traditional laws of Judaism—including any law of another religion (Mark 7:1-13; Acts 10:28; 11:3; Gal. 2:11-16; Rom. 9:32; Gal. 2:16).
4) The righteousness of God means the personal righteousness of God the Father and Christ—the pure, holy, spiritual conduct of God.
5) The righteousness of God also refers to God's justification of a repentant sinner's past sins—which is a unilateral action of God through His grace that is separate from the Law and the Prophets (Rom. 3:21-24).
6) The righteousness of faith is faithful obedience to the laws and commandments of God in their spiritual intent and meaning (Rom. 2:27; I Cor. 7:19; Phil. 1:11; 2:12-13; 3:9; I John 2:3-6; 5:2-3; II John 2-6; Heb. 10:16; Rev. 22:14).
7) The righteousness of faith also means God's justification of one's past sins through faith and belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His shed blood for the forgiveness of sins by grace (Rom. 2:14; 3:21-31; 4:2; 3:31; 5:1; Gal. 3:8-10; 5:4-5; Eph. 2:4-10).
8) The imputed righteousness of God means the righteousness that God imputes to a believer when he or she believes God and acts upon what He commands with a willing heart (Gen. 15:6; 26:5; Rom. 4:3-5; James 2:14-26).
9) The imputed righteousness of God also refers to righteousness imputed by God upon repentance—because the believer's sins have been forgiven and removed through belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His shed blood. This imputed righteousness does not mean that Jesus has kept the commandments for a person. Neither does it remove one's obligation to keep the commandments of God (Rom. 4:6, 11, 22-23). Indeed, it demands that one keep the commandments and laws of God in their full spiritual intent (Rom. 7:6).
In order to understand what Paul wrote in Romans 3:20-31, we will focus on the "righteousness of God"—meaning God's justification of a repentant sinner's past sins.
The KJV Translators' Great Errors in the Epistle to the Romans
In the book of Romans, the KJV translators added the definite article "the"—though it was not in the original text—when translating the Greek phrase ergon nomou into "the works of the law." Also, they did not make the word "the" italic when writing "the works" or "the law" to show that it was their own addition. The correct translation, a "work of law," is vastly different in meaning from "the works of the law." Many religions require "good works" in order for one to achieve a version of salvation. These are a "work of law." On the other hand, "the work of the law" is commandment-keeping (Rom. 2:14). Usually, Paul talks about a "work of law"—which is far broader than commandment-keeping, and included the traditional laws of Judaism which Christ condemned.
In order to fully understand what Paul is saying in this critical passage in Romans Three, we need to examine the context in which it was written. In so doing, we will come to realize that Paul is talking about how one receives justification by faith, as opposed to justification by a work of a law— whether by temple ritual or justification through a traditional law of Judaism. He is not proclaiming the elimination of the laws and commandments of God as millions claim and believe.
Romans 3:20-31 Examined
Citing these verses, Evangelical Protestants make the claim that it is not necessary for a person to keep the commandments of God—especially the Sabbath and holy days—in order to have salvation. Moreover, they assert that if one keeps the Sabbath and holy days of God, they are attempting to be justified by commandment-keeping rather than by the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Are such claims true? Why should Sunday-keeping—a man-made tradition contrary to the Word of God—not be justification by works as well?
Therefore, we need to ask, What did Paul actually mean in Romans 3:20-31? Does he really advocate the elimination of the laws and commandments of God?
In the KJV, Romans 3:20-21 reads: "Therefore by the deeds [works] of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God WITHOUT THE LAW is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets."
This translation seems to indicate that there is no need to keep the laws of God, and that one can obtain righteousness "without the law"—that is, in the complete absence of law-keeping. But how can one who is "living in sin" also be righteous? Is that not a complete impossibility?
Furthermore, how can one be righteous without Law when the Bible specifically declares, "All Your commandments are righteousness"? (Psa. 119:172). Complicating matters even more, Romans 2:13 says, "The hearers of the law are not just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." What does Paul mean by this?
Romans 3:20-31 is indeed one of the most difficult-to-understand passages that Paul wrote. Did Paul actually mean that one could be righteous without commandment-keeping? How is it possible that "by the deeds of the law no one is justified," yet, "the doers of the law shall be justified"? What are the answers to these perplexing questions?
The Works of the Law: This phrase, "the works of the law" (KJV), is perhaps one of the most misunderstood phrases in the epistles of Paul. The confusion originates from an inaccurate translation of the Greek ergon nomou (∈ργων νο), which literally means "works of law." It does not mean "the works of the law." In the KJV, as well as in other versions, translators have inserted two definite articles into this phrase that are not found in the Greek text. One definite article, "the," has been inserted before the word "works" and the other before the word "law," making it incorrectly read "the works of the law." The definite articles were supposedly added to help clarify the meaning because translators incorrectly thought that ergon nomou referred exclusively to the laws and commandments of God. Consequently, it has been assumed that keeping the commandments of God is not required for salvation because "the works of the law" cannot justify anyone with God. While it is true that "works of law" can refer to the laws of God, Paul undoubtedly intended a far broader application of the phrase ergon nomou.
If the apostle Paul had intended the phrase to read "the works of the law," he most certainly would have written it that way in Greek. In fact, there is one verse, and one verse only, where Paul actually did write the entire phrase "the work of the law". We find this verse in Romans Two: "For when the Gentiles, which do not have the law, practice by nature the things contained in the law, these who do not have the law are a law unto themselves, who show the work of the law written in their own hearts, their consciences bearing witness, and their reasonings also, as they accuse or defend one another" (Rom. 2:14-15).
The Greek phrase in verse 15 is to ergon tou nomou (το ∈ργον του νοµου) which, when translated into English, reads "the work of the law." Here it is quite evident that Paul was indeed talking about the laws of God.
In all places where ergon nomou appears, it should be translated as "works of law" rather than "the works of the law." Paul used ergon nomou—without the definite articles—in seven places, which should all be translated "works of law”, rather than “the works of the law”.
1) Rom. 9:31-32: "But Israel, although they followed after a law of righteousness, did not attain to a law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but by works of law; for they stumbled at the Stone of stumbling."
2-4) Gal. 2:14-16: "But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in the presence of them all, 'If you, being a Jew, are living like the Gentiles, and not according to Judaism, why do you compel the Gentiles to judaize? We who are Jews by nature—and not sinners of the Gentiles—knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but through the faith of Jesus Christ, we also have believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law; because by works of law shall no flesh be justified.' "
5) Gal. 3:2: "This only I desire to learn from you: did you receive the Spirit of God by works of law, or by the hearing of faith?"
6) Gal. 3:5: "Therefore consider this: He Who is supplying the Spirit to you, and Who is working deeds of power among you, is He doing it by works of law or by the hearing of faith?"
7) Gal. 3:10: "For as many as are relying on works of law are under a curse, because it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things that have been written in the book of the law to do them.' "
What Is The True Meaning of "Works of Law"?: It is evident in these passages that Paul is including the traditional laws of Judaism in the phrase "works of law." In Galatians Two, Peter and the others were not following a law of God in eating separately from Gentiles, but were observing a manmade traditional law of Judaism. Peter knew the Jews' traditions because fifteen years earlier he said to Cornelius, "You know that it is unlawful for a man who is a Jew [that is, one practicing Judaism] to associate with or come near to anyone of another race…" (Acts 10:28). There is no question that Peter was referring to a man-made traditional law of Judaism. Therefore, Paul's use of the phrase "works of law" includes all humanly-devised religious decrees, traditional laws of Judaism (Mark 7:1-13), as well as the ritual and sacrificial laws followed by Gentiles in worshipping their gods (Acts 14:8-18).
In addition, the phrase "works of law" can include all the rituals and sacrifices under the Old Covenant, which are separate from the laws and commandments of God. Paul wrote that it was impossible for those rituals and sacrifices to atone for sin before God the Father in heaven. He writes: “For the law, having only a shadow of the good things that are coming, and not the image of those things, with the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, is never able to make perfect those who come to worship. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? For once those who worship had been purified, they would no longer be conscious of sin. On the contrary, in offering these sacrifices year by year, there is a remembrance of sins; because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:1-4).
In summary, "works of law" refers to the works of any law—the laws of God, the laws of Judaism, and the laws of pagan religions. Clearly, Paul used "works of law" in the broadest sense—which included all religious works of law.
Concerning keeping the laws and commandments of God in the spirit, Paul wrote to the Romans that they "might serve in newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter…. [For] the law is indeed holy, and the commandment holy and righteous and good…. For we know that the law is spiritual…" (Rom. 7:6, 12, 14). In these verses, Paul is referring to the spiritual intent of the commandments of God, known as "the spirit of the law." True Christians will obey the laws and commandments of God in newness of the spirit. Not only will their obedience come from their hearts, it will be manifested outwardly in their actions.
After a person has been converted, he or she is to walk in newness of life and do the "good works" of loving God and keeping His commandments. Commandment-keeping in the spirit of the law keeps a person from sinning, because "by the law is the knowledge of sin."
Justification by Faith: When a person is living in a state of sin, he or she is cut off from God. Thus, the sinner is in a completely helpless condition—because no work of any kind or of any law can forgive sin and remove sin from his or her life. No one can justify himself from sin. It is impossible, even as the proverb declares, "Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin'?" (Prov. 20:9).
Only God, Who is the Heart-knowing God and Lawgiver, can—through His mercy and steadfast love—forgive sins and transgressions of His laws and commandments. No man, minister, rabbi, priest or pope, or any other religious potentate, or any law or work of law can forgive sin, because all sin is against God. Therefore, only God Himself personally can forgive sin: "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases…. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is His mercy toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psa. 103:2-3, 11-12).
God grants forgiveness only upon the sinner's genuine repentance toward God, which is accomplished privately through heartfelt prayer, and is evidenced by a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Notice King David's ancient prayer of repentance after He had grievously sinned—after committing adultery with Bathsheba and orchestrating the death of her husband Uriah: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin, for I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done evil in Your sight, that You might be justified when You speak and be clear when You judge…. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part You shall make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psa. 51:1-4, 6-10).
In order to be made right with God and have sins forgiven and removed, the sinner must repent to God the Father and accept the sacrifice of the blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for his or her sins. Notice how Paul expressed it: "[We, as called, true Christians, are] to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us objects of His grace in the Beloved Son; in Whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:6-7).
Again, in writing to the Colossians, Paul shows God's operation of justification through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His shed blood. It is God the Father "Who has personally rescued us from the power of darkness and has transferred us unto the kingdom of the Son of His love; in Whom we have redemption through His own blood, even the remission of sins…. And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things to Himself; by Him, whether the things on theearth, or the things in heaven. For you were once alienated and enemies in your minds by wicked works; but now He has reconciled you in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unimpeachable before Him; if indeed you continue in the faith grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was proclaimed in all the creation that is under heaven" (Col. 1:13-14, 20-23).
The apostle John writes: "If we confess our own sins, He is faithful and righteous, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
This is how God the Father justifies the repentant sinner separate from commandment-keeping. No one can be justified in the sight of God by any work of any law. Rather, justification is graciously granted to the believer based on repentance and faith in the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus Christ. This state of justification is called the "gift of righteousness," or the "gift of justification," which God the Father freely imputes to the repentant believer (Rom. 5:17).
The function of the laws and commandments of God is to show men how to live, as well as to show them what sin is. No law can forgive sin. No law can give eternal life. That is not the function of law. Only God the Father can justify a person from sin through Jesus Christ's sacrifice and shed blood, which is separate from works of law and commandment-keeping. Finally, justification of past sins does not do away with the law or the good works that God requires of true believers. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: "The hearers of the law are not just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Rom. 2:13)
The Righteousness of God: The righteousness of God is shown by His grace in forgiving sin through the shed blood and sacrifice of Jesus. This righteousness places the forgiven sinner in right standing with God. Paul wrote: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; but are being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; Whom God has openly manifested to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, [justification], in respect to the remission of the sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; yes, to publicly declare His righteousness [justification] in the present time, that He might be just, and the one Who justifies the one who is of the faith of Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-26). The righteousness of God that Paul wrote of is the expression of God's love, mercy, forgiveness and justification through Jesus Christ. In a sense, in this context, the word "justification" could be freely substituted for the word "righteousness" because the righteousness of God means the justification that He freely gives to the repentant sinner.
"Without the Law": Now we are ready to understand the phrase "without the law" in the King James Version (Rom. 3:21). It is greatly misunderstood because "without" gives the impression that there is no law at all. In English, "without" conveys "the absence of." Shamefully, this translation has caused too many to believe that Christians can disregard the laws and commandments of God. However, in Romans 3:21, "without" is an incorrect translation of the Greek choris (χωρις), which means "separately, apart from, by itself, without" (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1974). The correct translation of choris is "separate from"—thus the phrase should read, "separate from law." Since the laws and commandments of God have not ceased to exist, the phrase "separate from law" is more precise because it shows that the function of the law is separate from the function of justification by faith—which is only accomplished through repentance and belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The entire operation of justification is separate from and in addition to law and commandmentkeeping. Forgiveness and justification of one's past sins can only come through the life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. NO LAW-KEEPING OF ANY KIND OR ANY ACTION INITIATED BY ANYONE CAN ACCOMPLISH THAT! This is what Paul is writing about—he is not writing about the abolition of God's Law!
Here is the full, correct translation of Romans 3:20-31. It shows that "the righteousness of God" is actually the justification of God through the operation of the forgiveness of a person's sins, because the Greek word for justified is dikiouo , which is the same noun stem as righteousness,dikaiosures .
Paul writes: "Therefore, by works of law there shall no flesh be justified before Him; for through the law is the knowledge of sin. But now, the righteousness [justification] of God that is separate from law has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets; even the righteousness [justification] of God that is through the faith of Jesus Christ, toward all and upon all those who believe; for there is no difference. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; but are being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; Whom God has openly manifested to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness [justification], in respect to the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; yes, to publicly declare His righteousness in the present time, that He might be just, and the one Who justifies the one who is of the faith of Jesus.
"Therefore, where is boasting? It is excluded. Through what law? The law of works? By no means! Rather, it is through a law of faith. Consequently, we reckon that a man is justified by faith, separate from works of law. Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? YES! He is also God of the Gentiles, since it is indeed one God Who will justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.
"Are we, then, abolishing the law through faith? MAY IT NEVER BE! Rather, we are establishing the law [or making it to stand] (Rom. 3:21-31)."
Once a person has been justified of past sins through the righteousness [justification] of God as described by Paul—and one has received the Holy Spirit—then God begins to write His laws and commandments into his or her mind and heart, thereby truly establishing the law, not abolishing it. "For by one offering He has obtained eternal perfection for those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after He had previously said, 'This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days,' says the Lord: 'I will give My laws into their hearts, and I will inscribe them in their minds; and their sins and lawlessness I will not remember ever again' " (Heb. 10:14-17).
Romans 6:14—The True Meaning of the Phrase, "Not Under Law, But Under Grace"
This single verse, Romans 6:14—because it is typically taken out of context—has caused a great deal of confusion among nominal "Christians." Read in isolation, it gives the appearance that Christians are no longer required to keep the laws and commandments of God. Paul writes, "For sin shall not rule over you because you are not under law, but under grace."
However Romans 6:14 cannot be understood in isolation; the entire context of Romans Six must be examined if we are to understand Paul's intent. In fact, the key is actually given in the first two verses of the chapter. Paul asks and answers the question: "What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, so that grace may abound? MAY IT NEVER BE! We who died to sin, how shall we live any longer therein?" (verses 1-2).
Remember that sin is the transgression of the Law (I John 3:4). Obviously, then, if Christians are not to continue living in sin, they must be keeping the commandments and laws of God. However, God's laws are now kept in the spirit—under the grace of God!
Paul goes on in Romans Six to explain that the operation of baptism pictures the "death and burial" of the old sinful man—which justifies one to God the Father and brings forgiveness of past sins. Heexplains it this way: "Or are you ignorant that we, as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death [since Jesus died for our sins]? Therefore, we were buried with Him though the baptism into the death; so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, in the same way, we also should walk in newness of life [now with the Holy Spirit of God—in spiritual obedience].
"For if we have been conjoined together in the likeness of His death, so also shall we be in the likeness of His resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man was co-crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be destroyed, so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin; because the one who has died to sin [through repentance and water baptism] has been justified from sin [through the blood of Jesus Christ].
"Now if we died together with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has any dominion over Him. For when He died, He died unto sin once for all; but in that He lives, He lives unto God. In the same way also, you should indeed reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
"Therefore, do not let sin rule in your mortal body by obeying it in the lusts thereof. Likewise, do not yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin; rather, yield yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
"For sin shall not rule over you because you are not under law [for forgiveness and justification], but under grace [for forgiveness and justification]. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law [for forgiveness and justification], but under grace [for forgiveness and justification]? MAY IT NEVER BE! Don't you realize that to whom you yield yourselves as servants to obey, you are servants of the one you obey, whether it is of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you" (verses 3-17).
Keep in mind that from Romans 3:20 to 6:23, Paul's entire explanation of justification of past sins by grace through the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus Christ is contrasted with the absolute inability of any law to bring true spiritual justification to the sinner. That is the context in which Romans 6:14 was written. When Paul writes that Christians are "not under law, but under grace," he means that we are not trying to achieve justification through law—which is in fact impossible—but through God's grace. This, then, is the true, scriptural meaning of Romans 6:14.
The apostle John further explains the continuous justification and forgiveness of sins that believers have through faith in the sacrifice and blood of Jesus Christ: "If we proclaim that we have fellowship with Him, but we are walking in the darkness [living in sin], we are lying to ourselves, and we are not practicing the Truth ['Your Word is the Truth,' (John 17:17)]. However, if we walk in the light [of God's Word, in love and obedience], as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His own Son, cleanses us from all sin.
"If we say that we do not have sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our own sins, He is faithful and righteous, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And yet, if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father; Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He is the propitiation [continual source of mercy and forgiveness] for our sins; and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 1:6-10; 2:1-2).
John then follows his explanation of forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ with the admonition that we are likewise required to keep God's commandments. This again substantiates that God's merciful grace does not allow anyone to continue to live in sin. Notice: "And by this standard we know that we know Him: if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. On the other hand, if anyone is keeping His Word, truly in this one the love of God is being perfected. By this means we know that we are in Him. Anyone who claims to dwell in Him is obligating himself also to walk even as He Himself walked" (I John 2:3-6). This is the full, true meaning of living in the grace of God.
Romans 10:4—How is Jesus Christ "the End of the Law"?
In the KJV, Romans 10:4 reads: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." If this verse is read in isolation—without considering the context and historical background, or the underlying Greek—it does indeed give the impression that Christ brought the law to an end. But is that what it really means? If so, which law did Jesus end?
Because of this one verse, numerous people assume that all the laws and commandments of God have come to an end. But is this true? Is it possible for a man to end any law of God? Try ending the law of gravity. It can't be done. All things are subject to law and all men are subject to God's Law. Would Christ, Who is the Lawgiver, actually end all of God's law, so that people may freely sin without consequence? Absolutely not! But that's what millions of Protestants embrace from reading this one verse.
Rather than read this verse in isolation, let us examine the context in which Paul wrote the passage. Remember, men divided the Bible into chapters and verses. The context of Romans 10:4 actually begins not with verse one, but with Romans 9:30. Paul wrote: "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not follow after righteousness, have attained righteousness, even the righteousness [justification] that is by faith" (Rom. 9:30).
After one has been justified from past sins, they are to keep the commandments of God in the "spirit of the law." Paul wrote, "Since it is indeed one God Who will justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. Are we, then, abolishing law through faith? MAY IT NEVER BE! Rather, we are establishing law" (Rom. 3:30-31). And again, "So that even as sin has reigned unto death, so also might the grace of God reign through righteousness [justification] unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, so that grace may abound? MAY IT NEVER BE! We who died to sin, how shall we live any longer therein?" (Rom. 5:20-21; 6:1-2).
Additionally, the Jews who rejected Jesus Christ and continued with their temple rituals and observation of the traditional laws of Judaism did not attain to the justification of God by their works of law. True spiritual justification can only come through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins: "But Israel, although they followed after a law [In the Greek text there is no definite article "the" before "law"] of righteousness [justification], did not attain to a law of righteousness [justification]. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but BY WORKS OF LAW [In the Greek text there is no definite article "the" before "works" or before "law"]; for they stumbled at the Stone of stumbling, exactly as it is written: 'Behold, I place in Sion a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense, but everyone who believes in Him shall not be ashamed' " (Rom. 9:31-33).
It is important to note that in the above passage there is no definite article “the” before “law” or before "works of law." Therefore, Paul is not referring to the Ten Commandments. Paul is actually writing about a "justification by works of law"—that is, through the operation of temple rituals and/or traditional laws of Judaism. Anyone who rejects Jesus Christ can never obtain justification of past sins through rituals or Jewish traditional laws, or laws of any other religion, because that would nullify the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul said the Jews stumbled; Jesus was that "Rock of offense"—Whom they rejected. While the Jews attempted to obtain justification of sins through temple rituals and other laws, true spiritual justification of past sins can only come from God the Father through the sacrifice of Christ. This is only obtainable through repentance of sins and water baptism with true faith and belief in Jesus' shed blood—all through the operation of God's grace. This spiritual justification by faith—or "the righteousness of faith"—cannot be obtained by any "work of law."
Notice how Paul explains this in Chapter Ten: "Brethren, the earnest desire of my heart and my supplication to God for Israel is for salvation. For I testify of them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of the righteousness [justification] that comesfrom God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness [justification], have not submitted to the righteousness [justification] of God. For Christ is the end of works of law for righteousness [justification] to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:1-4). In other words, for those who believe, true justification comes through Christ—thus putting an end to futile attempts at justification through ritual works.
So the actual meaning of Romans 10:4 is that Jesus Christ, through His sacrifice for sin, once for all time, ended the temple ritual laws and the traditional laws of Judaism for justification. By writing this, Paul did not unilaterally terminate all the laws of God as millions want to assume. He was emphasizing that true spiritual justification from God the Father is uniquely received through faith in the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus Christ, which is the operation of faith and grace combined, and cannot be procured by any work of any law.
Paul's Teachings on Justification by Faith vs. Works of Law in the Book of Galatians
As we delve into the apostle Paul's writings in Galatians involving "justification by faith" and "works of law," keep these key background points in mind:
1) Paul instructed Christians in Rome that once we have been justified from past sins, we cannot continue to live in sin as a way of life—because sin is the "transgression" of God's Law (I John 3:4, KJV). He wrote: "What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, so that grace may abound? MAY IT NEVER BE! We who died to sin, how shall we live any longer therein?" (Rom. 6:1-2).
2) As Jesus Himself taught, it is sin to observe any humanly-devised, traditional religious law— be it Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, or of any other religion—in place of God's laws and commandments (see Mark 7:1-13).
3) Before Paul's conversion, he was, as Saul, one of Judaism's leading Pharisees. At the behest of the high priest, Saul executed orders to persecute, arrest, imprison and even martyr true Christians (Acts 8:1; 9:1-2; 22:3-5).
In his opening remarks to the Galatians, Paul enumerated how he was "advancing" in Judaism. He writes, "For you heard of my former conduct when I was in Judaism, how I was excessively persecuting the church of God and was destroying it; and I was advancing in Judaism far beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more abundantly zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Gal. 1:13-14).
Galatians Two: Paul wrote that he was forced to rebuke Peter, Barnabas and other Jews publicly for their hypocrisy in reverting back to a traditional law of Judaism that forbade Jews from eating with Gentiles. Peter knew better, as God first used him to preach the Gospel and repentance to Gentiles, beginning with Cornelius and his household (Acts 10).
As will be seen, the account in Galatians Chapter Two does not involve any law or commandment of God—only traditional laws of Judaism, which are sin. Observing such traditional Jewish laws can never bring justification—or put one in "right standing" with God the Father. Let us scrutinize the entire account verse by verse:
"But when Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face because he was to be condemned; for before certain ones came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles. However, when they came, he drew back and separated himself from the Gentiles, being afraid of those of the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews joined him in this hypocritical act, insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
"But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in the presence of them all, 'If you, being a Jew, are living like the Gentiles, and not according to Judaism, why do you compel the Gentiles to Judaize? [That is, to eat separately as do unconverted Jews.] We who are Jews by nature—and not sinners of the Gentiles—knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but through the faith of Jesus Christ, we also have believed in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law; because by works of law shall no flesh be justified [before God from past sins].
" 'Now then, if we are seeking to be justified in Christ, and we ourselves are found to be sinners, is Christ then the minister of sin? MAY IT NEVER BE! For if I build again those things that I destroyed [the adherence to the laws of Judaism], I am making myself a transgressor. For I through law [since the wages of sin is death] died [in the operation of baptism] to law [that is, to Judaism's traditional laws], in order that I may live to God [in love and obedience]. I have been crucified with Christ [by baptism], yet I live. Indeed, it is no longer I; but Christ lives in me. For the life that I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith—that very faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness [justification] is through works of law, then Christ died in vain' " (Gal. 2:11-21).
The whole purpose of repentance, baptism and justification by faith in the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus Christ is to receive the Holy Spirit of God, which is our begettal from God the Father and the "earnest" (pledge or down payment) of our salvation (I John 3:9; Eph. 1:13-14). Paul wrote nothing in this passage that can be construed to mean he was abolishing the laws and commandments of God— for NO MAN CAN DO SO!
Galatians Three: Paul continues in Chapter Three, making it clear that any work of any law is not able to bring about justification for past sins. While God requires Christians to keep His laws and commandments in their full spiritual intent, no law has the power to forgive sin, justify a person to God piritually, impart the Holy Spirit, or bestow eternal life. The function of God's laws and commandments s to define sin: "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you into not obeying the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ, crucified, was set forth in a written public proclamation? This only I desire to learn from you: did you receive the Spirit of God by works of law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected in the flesh [through obedience to carnal laws of Judaism]?… Therefore, consider this: He Who is supplying the Spirit to you, and Who is working deeds of power among you, is He doing it by works of law or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:1-5).
Concerning the laws and commandments of God, Paul demonstrates that they are not contrary to God's promises of eternal life—which can only come through loving obedience and faith in Jesus Christ. "Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? MAY IT NEVER BE! For if a law had been given that had the power to give life, then righteousness [justification] would indeed have been by law. But the Scriptures have shut up all things under sin, so that by the faith of Jesus Christ the promise [of eternal life] might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were guarded under law, having been shut up unto the faith that was yet to be revealed [at Christ's first coming]. In this way, the law was our tutor to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But since faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Gal. 3:21-25).
After repentance, baptism and the laying of hands, God gives the Holy Spirit—which unites with the spirit of man within the believer (I John 3:9) bringing conversion (John 14:17). God, then begins to write His laws and commandments in the mind of the new believer (Heb. 10:16). Instead of the external tutoring of the law, the believer now begins to develop the mind of Christ by the Holy Spirit through faith (Phil. 2:5). This is the internal working of the Holy Spirit to lead the believer into all righteousness (Rom. 8:14).
Galatians Five: Judaism required that Gentile proselytes be circumcised in the flesh before they could enter the synagogue. They were then required to keep the whole law—meaning all of God's laws, as well as all the traditional laws of Judaism. False teachers were causing converts in Galatia to revert back to those teachings, which were mixed with pagan Gnosticism derived from Hellenistic Judaism. This was the "yoke of bondage" of which Paul wrote. On the other hand, the laws and commandments of God were never a "yoke of bondage"—even when kept in the letter of the Law, as required under the Old Covenant (Deut. 4:1-8, 39-40; 5:1-21, 32-33; 6:1-25).
This is the reason Paul admonished the Galatians to remain unyielding in the true faith, warning them not to revert back to "works of law" of Judaism for justification: "Therefore, stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and do not be held again in a yoke of bondage. Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you become circumcised [in the flesh, rather than in the heart by the Spirit (Rom. 2:25-29; Col. 2:13)], Christ shall profit you nothing! Again, I am personally testifying to every man who is being [physically] circumcised that he is a debtor to do the whole law [all the Old Testament laws and the traditional laws of Judaism, thereby eliminating repentance, faith and baptism].
"You who are attempting to be justified by works of law, you are being deprived of any spiritual effect from Christ. You have fallen from grace! For we through the Spirit are waiting for the hope of righteousness by faith" (Gal. 5:1-5). This is also the meaning of Galatians 5:18. "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under works of law.
I Timothy 4:1-5 Did Paul Teach That All Meat Is Good for Food?
There is no question that the apostle Paul believed—and thus taught—"all things that are written in the Law and the Prophets" (Acts 24:14). This certainly included God's commands concerning clean and unclean meats (as found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14). But mainstream Christianity insists that Paul relaxed the biblical injunction against unclean meats. They often site I Timothy 4:1-5, which is misleading in the KJV, which reads: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
Here, Paul warns Timothy of an apostasy to occur in the end times—which would involve various "doctrines of demons." One such "doctrine" commands abstinence from certain meats—which Paul counters by apparently saying that all meat is good for food, that nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving. But is this really what Paul is saying? Is Paul upending centuries of Jewish adherence to Old Testament food laws?
Note first that this particular "doctrine" refers specifically to abstaining from meat that was "created to be received." Conversely, this substantiates that there are other meats which were not "created to be received." Indeed, God created meats which were never designed to be food—thus they are termed unclean. But clean meats were created to be received as food with thanksgiving. Thus, the passage is not dealing with meat in general, but only with clean meats—those "created to be received with thanksgiving."
Next, note that the meat being discussed has been "sanctified by the word of God." Where in the Bible is meat particularly sanctified—set apart—for human consumption? Why, obviously, Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, which lists meats to be avoided and those to be eaten. Thus, Paul did not say that every kind of meat was created by God for food—but that every clean meat was created by God for food.
Without question, Paul upheld the laws of clean and unclean meats as a requirement for Christians. He described the meats that Christians are permitted to eat as those which God has "created to be received with thanksgiving." Paul was actually condemning a false doctrine that prohibited the eating of clean meats. The correct translation helps resolve the matter:
"Now the Spirit tells us explicitly that in the latter times some shall apostatize from the faith, and shall follow deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy, their consciences having been cauterized with a hot iron; forbidding to marry; and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful, even by those who know the truth. For every creature of God designated for human consumption is good, and nothing to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is [already] sanctified [set apart] by the Word of God [in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14] and prayer." (Please note how The Holy Bible In Its Original Order—A Faithful Version incorporates inserted words and phrases in italic type in the appropriate places to make the intended meaning clear. All such insertions are based fully on the contextual meaning of the passage.)
Paul adds that clean meats are also set apart by prayer. Indeed, we have Christ's own example of asking for God's blessing on our food (Luke 9:16; 24:30; etc.). This further sets the food apart as approved and even enhanced by God—but in no way can prayer make unclean meat clean.
Mark 7:1-5—Did Jesus Declare All Meats Clean?
It is a widely held conception of modern "Christianity" that Jesus set aside the laws and commandments of God—including those which prohibit certain meats as "unclean." An incident recorded in Mark Chapter Seven is often used as a proof-text for such a view. In this case, Jesus' disciples were criticized by the Jewish leadership for eating without first washing their hands. This dispute had nothing to do with clean and unclean meats. Rather, it revolved around Jewish tradition of ritual purity, such as ceremonial hand washing.
"Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes from Jerusalem came together to Him. And when they saw some of His disciples eating with defiled hands (that is, unwashed hands), they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews, holding fast to the tradition of the elders, do not eat unless they wash their hands thoroughly. Even when coming from the market, they do not eat unless they first wash themselves. And there are many other things that they have received to observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and brass utensils and tables. For this reason, the Pharisees and the scribes questioned Him, saying, 'Why don't Your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?' " (Mark 7:1-5).
Drawing a sharp distinction between the Jews' traditions and the commandments of God, Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of invalidating the Word of God by their traditions.
"And He answered and said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men." For leaving the commandment of God, you hold fast the tradition of men, such as the washing of pots and cups [and ritual hand washing]; and you practice many other things like this.' Then He said to them, 'Full well do you reject the commandment of God, so that you may observe your own tradition' " (verses 6-9). Jesus sternly rebuked the Jews for "nullifying" the authority of the Word of God by their countless and restrictive traditions (verse 13).
Notice that Jesus' primary response was to defend and fully support the laws and commandments of God. In no way have God's laws been abrogated. Having made that point, He went on to deal with the question of eating with "unwashed hands." Addressing the multitude, He said, "Hear Me, all of you, and understand. There is nothing that enters into a man from outside which is able to defile him; but the things that come out from within him, those are the things which defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear" (verses 14-16).
Obviously, unwashed hands will not particularly defile a person. But Jesus said there was "nothing that enters into a man from outside which is able to defile him." Does that mean unclean meats were no longer prohibited by God's law—that literally nothing can defile a person? What did Jesus mean?
It is important to realize that the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 deal with health and cleanliness—not with spiritual holiness. Eating unclean meats can harm one physically, but they will not defile one spiritually. (However, a careless attitude toward any of God's laws can defile one spiritually.) Jesus is referring to one being spiritually defiled—not by anything eaten but by the thoughts and attitudes a person accepts into one's heart and mind.
Knowing that His disciples did not understand, Jesus said, "Don't you perceive that anything [food, germs] that enters into a man from outside is not able to [spiritually] defile him? For it does not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and then passes out into the sewer, purging all food." Food is simply processed, purged from the body. Jesus was talking spiritually, making the point that even the dirt on one's unwashed hands cannot defile the heart or make a person unholy.
The defilement of which Jesus spoke comes from within: "That which springs forth from within a man, that defiles the man. For from within, out of the hearts of men, go forth evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickednesses, guile, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evils go forth from within, and these defile a man" (verses 20-23). The disputed phrase, "purging all meats" (verse 19, KJV), simply means that all foods are ultimately purged from the body. Clean and unclean meats are nowhere discussed in this passage. The New International Version and a few other translations spuriously add to verse 19, "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean' " (NIV, 1984). This is a deliberate, exaggerated disparity reflecting the translators' anti-law bias, as no such phrase exists in the original Greek texts.
What if Jesus had actually meant to abrogate the laws of clean and unclean meats? Such a position would have easily created one of the biggest controversies of His ministry. Imagine how the Pharisees would have pounced upon such a reversal had Jesus said that swine's flesh was good for food. But there is not so much as a hint in the account that the Jews took Jesus to be nullifying the Old Testament food laws. Quite the contrary. And Jesus' point was not at all missed by the Jewish leadership: Ritual washings are ineffective and unnecessary in preventing spiritual defilement; rather, true spiritual purity is a matter of the heart and mind.
Acts 10—Was Peter Shown that Unclean Meats are Clean?
Obviously, too many assume that the apostle Peter's vision in Acts 10 represents a reversal of God's laws prohibiting unclean meats. However, nowhere in the passage is it ever suggested that God had cleansed unclean meats. Rather, this is something "read into" the section by those with a predisposition against God's laws. When the passage is read properly, it becomes obvious that Peter's vision in no way authorized a change in the laws of clean and unclean meats. In fact, Peter's vision had nothing at all to do with clean and unclean meats.
While staying in Joppa, Peter went up on the housetop about noon to pray. In a vision from God, he saw heaven open and what appeared to be a great sheet descending toward him full of unclean wild beasts, creeping things and unclean birds. A voice came to Peter, saying "Rise, Peter, kill and eat" (verse 13).
Peter did not automatically assume that it was suddenly okay to eat unclean meats. He knew that Christian's were to continue living according to God's Law. His response shows that he obviously did not consider the laws concerning clean and unclean foods to be obsolete.
"In no way, Lord," he replied, "for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." The voice from heaven added, "What God has cleansed, you are not to call common" (verses 14-15).
The sheet of unclean animals went up and down three times. Again, Peter never indicated that he believed it was now permissible to eat unclean meat. Finally, he awoke, wondering what the vision actually meant. But without question, he knew what the vision did not mean—that it in no way reflecteda change in the laws concerning unclean foods.
Subsequently, Peter was led by God to the home of Cornelius, a Gentile. Peter understood that he was to preach the gospel to Cornelius and to his household—and that they would be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. Peter began to realize that God was opening the door of salvation to Gentiles. Suddenly, the meaning of the vision became clear. Talking to Cornelius, Peter said, "You know that it is unlawful for a man who is a Jew to associate with or come near to anyone of another race. But God has shown me [in the earlier vision] that no man should be called common or unclean" (verse 28).
Jewish tradition—based on a perversion of God's laws regarding what is clean and unclean— forbade Pharisaic Jews to have a close association with Gentiles. Jews considered Gentiles to be unclean, unsuitable for physical contact. Peter was quite familiar with these traditions of Judaism.
God was showing Peter and the New Testament Church that Gentiles were being offered salvation—that they could become spiritually circumcised. Thus, the subject matter of Acts Ten has nothing to do with clean and unclean meats. God simply used the vision of unclean animals to emphasize a point to Peter—that when God has spiritually cleansed a Gentile, he is not to be deemed common or unclean.
Ultimately, Peter understood that "God is not a respecter of persons, but in every nation the one [Jew or Gentile] who fears Him and works righteousness is acceptable to Him" (verses 34-35).
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