The Old Law was not from human philosophy, so Colossians 2:16-17 can’t be talking about the Old Law



I saw your article on Colossians 2:16 and had a follow-up question that I have been struggling with after hearing a rebuttal from a Sabbatharian website. They said Colossians 2:14-16 is commonly used to say Christians are not bound to keep Saturday Sabbaths or obey various Old Testament commands given to Israel; however, Paul says let no one take you captive according to philosophy and empty deceit according to “human tradition” and “elemental spirits of the world.” (Colossians 2:8). The Old Covenant Law was not based on "human tradition" or "elemental spirits of the world.”

That's the argument I heard, and I’m not really sure how to counter it. I would really appreciate any help you could give.

Thanks in advance.


The topic was touched on in Were the Colossians being told not to worry about being condemned for keeping the Sabbath? but we will dig into this deeper. What you are seeing is a Shell-Game type of argument. They diverted your attention briefly and you missed the fact that they changed what is being addressed.

Paul was concerned about the Colossians remaining faithful. They came out of the world, but their salvation was dependent on "if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard" (Colossians 1:23).

"I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ" (Colossians 2:4-8).

Paul then continues by showing that Jesus is fully God, something the Jews completely rejected. "The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, 'I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?' The Jews answered Him, 'For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God'" (John 10:31-33). The Jews put their trust in physical circumcision, but Paul emphasized that the Colossians had been baptized -- a circumcision made without hands -- that represented the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The Jews rejected the Gentiles because they were uncircumcised and denied that Jesus was resurrected. The idea that through faith in the work of God that Gentiles could be equally saved was an issue that caused riots several times. "And He said to me [Paul], 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, 'Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!'" (Acts 22:21-22).

Paul told the Gentiles among the Colossians that they were forgiven of their sins because Jesus had canceled the Old Law and nailed it to the cross.

"Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day -- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17).

The conclusion is that they should not get pulled back into following Old Testament practices because they were only temporary -- mere shadows of the truth that is in Jesus Christ. Paul isn't calling the Old Law empty traditions and philosophies of men. He is calling the teachings of those advocating following a law that God had canceled empty traditions and philosophies of men. This should not be surprising, Jesus himself told the Jews similar things (Matthew 15:1-9).

"Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God" (Colossians 2:18-19).

People who claim to have visions or who claim that one can become holy through fastings or self-abuse are not clinging to Christ but to their own imaginations. These claims of authority are empty because they are not from God.

"If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) --in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:20-23).

Going back to decrees from the Old Law, such as the laws of uncleanness, expanded upon by Jewish teachers might look wise but since they are contrary to the actions of God they only form a self-made religion and cannot save a person from sin. God is not behind such teachings -- Satan is.


Thank you, Jeffrey, for your response, it’s a good break down of the text. So the Old Testament Law is not what he’s referring to, it’s the teachings of those people that is according to philosophy and elemental principles. So does this mean Christians are not under the Ten Commandments?


The Ten Commandments were the prologue to the Old Testament laws. See Do the Ten Commandments apply to Christians?

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