Does Colossians 2:14-16 Prove that the Law of Moses Was Removed At the Cross?
Ronnie Wade’s Rejection of Covenant Eschatology Response #11
by Don K. Preston
This is the eleventh in a series of articles responding to Ronnie Wade, a church of Christ minister. Wade has written and lectured against Covenant Eschatology. He is considered by many to be an excellent debater. His real field of “expertise” is debating on whether or not there should be multiple cups used during the Communion service.
Wade ventured into the field of eschatology to condemn Covenant Eschatology as heretical. As a result, I contacted him inviting him to debate me on the question of the coming of the Lord. Wade refused, stating that such a debate would be “unprofitable.”
Wade wrote an article setting forth his objections to Covenant Eschatology. Since he refused to debate the topic in formal public, or written, manner, I am offering a series of articles examining Wade’s objections. This is my tenth in that series.
Wade, as do most amillennialists, has a problem with the concept of a transitional period in the first century, in which God was finalizing His dealings with Israel, while bringing in the church and the New Covenant. And of course, in the mentality of those like Wade, if you differ with them on virtually any issue, then you are a heretic of the worst sort.
Wade spends a good deal of keyboard time commenting on the question of the two covenants. In our first response to those thoughts, we refuted Wade’s contention that two systems could not overlap, without creating a system of “spiritual adultery” as he calls it. Wade then offers brief argumentation based on two other passages. We will examine the first of those two here:
<< If so, (If two systems existed side by side, DKP) Col. 2:13-15 is wrong when it teaches that the removal of the old covenant was at the cross, not A.D.70. This passage makes three very important points i.e. (a) the law was blotted out or removed, (b) it was taken away, removed © it was nailed to the cross. No A.D.70 here.>>
I once accepted Wade’s view of Colossians. However, that changed when I read it for what is actually says, without imposing something on the text that is simply not there. I discovered that I was violating what Paul said. Let me make a few brief observations.
Re: Colossians 2:14-16 – Wade, as is common among many Bible students, mis-reads what Paul says. They understand Paul to be saying that the Law itself was nailed to the cross, when what Paul was saying is that the obligation incurred through Torah, the debt of sin, was removed through the cross. Notice what Dunn has to say: “The expunging of the record confirms that none of the transgressions is any longer held ‘against us.’ That does not mean, however, that the underlying decrees or regulations cease to be of force, that is, that the law no longer functions as God’s yardstick of right and judgment; there is no contradiction here with Romans 2:12-16. It is simply saying that the record of transgressions has been erased, another way of saying he forgave us all our transgressions.”(James D. G. Dunn, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Colossians, Grand Rapids, Paternoster, 1996)166. Paul was not saying that Torah itself was annulled at the cross. He was saying that those who were coming into Christ were dying to the sin debt incurred through the Law.
This is precisely what we saw in Romans 7:4 where Paul said, “You have become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that you might be married to another.” By entering Christ through baptism, they had entered his death (i.e. the power of the cross), and thus, died to the Law. Torah itself was still alive, still present, still binding on those who had not died to it through entering Christ.
So, Wade says, “The Law was nailed to the cross.” However, this claim is false. But, notice something else that Wade and his brethren totally ignore.
Paul says that the Law, with its new moons, feast days and Sabbaths, “are a shadow of good things about to come.” Wade completely ignores Paul’s use of the present tense verbs, as well as the future tenses. But this is not uncommon.
Those who insist that Torah passed at the cross like to appeal to Paul’s use of past tense verbs to speak of, for instance, the passing of the priesthood (Hebrews 7:12). They vehemently demand that we honor these past tenses. However, when one points out the present and future tenses used by the same apostle, to speak of the passing of Torah, all of a sudden there is total silence about the Greek present active indicatives and the future tenses that speak of the passing of Torah.
For more on this, see the Preston- Simmons Debate on the passing of Torah.
In the debate, I examine the use of the Greek tenses. Simmons repeatedly demanded that I honor the past tenses. Yet, when I asked for justification for ignoring or denying the present indicatives and the future tenses, he said not a word in response. This is precisely what Wade must do. He must ignore or deny the meaning of the Greek tenses in Colossians 2.
The fact is that the past tenses are used proleptically, that is, the passing of Torah was so certain to occur and so near that it is spoken of as already past. This is how the NT authors could the present indicative, as well as the future tenses in regard to the Law, as Paul does in Colossians 2. This is the only proper way to deal with and honor all of the Greek tenses in Paul’s discussion.
Paul said that the Law was, when he wrote, a “shadow of good things about to come.” Note especially that he says the new moons, feast days and Sabbaths were, when he wrote, still shadows of those coming good things.
Let me illustrate the problem with Wade’s amillennial view, based on Paul’s appeal to the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths.”
Paul was appealing directly to Israel’s festal calendar. What needs to be understood is that the last three of those feast days: The Feast of Trumpets, Atonement and Feast of Harvest, were feasts that anticipated the eschatological consummation. Trumpets foreshadowed the Judgment. Atonement typified the completion of salvation; Harvest symbolized the Resurrection. At this juncture we need to take a side-bar to some of Jesus’ words. Paul was unequivocally stating that not all of the ceremonial, sacrificial law had been fulfilled.
In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus said: “not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the Law until it is all fulfilled.” The traditional church of Christ position on this– unless they are arguing against proponents of Covenant Eschatology– is that the Law, all of it, was removed at the cross. I have in my library a lectureship book containing several speeches by church of Christ ministers. Each of them affirmed that the Law, all of the Law, was removed at the cross. They likewise rejected the view that the Mosaic Law can be divided into the ceremonial versus moral versus prophetic. All of the speakers who addressed the issue said that the Torah is one united Law that cannot be dichotomized. (The Two Covenants 1996 Power Lectureship, Southhaven, MS, B. J. Clark director, Pulaski, TN., Sain Publishing).This is the traditional view in the churches of Christ, and almost certainly the position of Wade and his brethren.
Now, lately, however, with the growth of Covenant Eschatology, a “new theology” has arisen in the churches of Christ and
in the amillennial world as a whole. (In the postmillennial world also, I might add). Although not entirely “new” it is nonetheless novel in the churches of Christ as a whole. That view is that the “ceremonial and sacrificial” aspects of Torah were removed, but, the prophecies of the eschaton remain valid. Of course, this means that some jots and some tittles of the Law passed away, but some jots and some tittles of the Law remain valid. This is a direct violation of our Lord’s words. Further, this new and novel approach is a self-contradiction.
Again, the argument claims that “the ceremonial and sacrificial” aspects of Torah were abrogated at the cross. (Simmons made this argument in our written debate). Wade and those like him have clearly not thought of the implications of their argument.
Were the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” sacrificial and ceremonial? Undeniably.
Were the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” prophetic? Irrefutably.
Were the things foreshadowed (prophesied) by those ceremonial, sacrificial, “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” fulfilled when Paul wrote Colossians? Not one futurist– and certainly not Wade and his brethren– will affirm that they were!
So, Wade will not affirm that the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” were – past tense- shadows of things that had already been fulfilled because he does not believe that the judgment, the fulfillment of salvation at the parousia of Christ (Hebrews 9:26-28), or the resurrection / harvest has occurred.
Since Wade (and all futurists) say that the judgment, atonement and resurrection have not occurred, then of necessity that means that Israel’s ceremonial, sacrificial feast days, the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” remain as “shadows of good things that are about to come.”
The problem here is two fold:
First, since Paul undeniably said that the new moons, feast days and Sabbaths were, when he wrote, still shadows of good things about to come, then it is irrefutably true that the sacrificial, ceremonial part of Torah was not removed at the cross.
Second, if the judgment, atonement and resurrection have not been fulfilled, as Wade and all futurists claim, thus demanding that the feast days are unfulfilled, then of absolute necessity, this demands that the Torah, all of it, including the ceremonial, sacrificial feast days, remain valid today. After all, Jesus said that not one jot and not one tittle would pass from the Law until it was “ALL” (not some of it, not a little bit of it, not even most of it, but ALL of it) fulfilled.
What Wade and his brethren (as well as Kurt Simmons in our debate) wind up affirming is that what Jesus really meant was, “when some jots and some tittles are fulfilled, then some of the Law will pass away.” They distort Jesus’ words by saying that what Jesus really meant was that SOME of the sacrificial, ceremonial law would pass when SOME of the ceremonial and sacrificial laws (feast days) were fulfilled.
Did Jesus have words in his vocabulary for “some,” “part,” “most.” Yes, he did, but he did not use them.
Did Jesus use words that, taken in their normal definition mean “all” as in comprehensive? Yes, he did. And since the normal definition of “not one jot and not one tittle” would lead one to think that Jesus was speaking comprehensively, then the burden of proof lies squarely on those who would claim that he did not mean “not one jot and not one tittle” to prove that his words do not mean what they seem to mean. And this raises the question: If Jesus wanted to say that not a single jot or tittle could pass until all of the Law was fulfilled, comprehensively speaking, what words could he have used to better communicate “all” and “not one jot or one tittle”?
The burden of proof lies squarely on those who would say that when Jesus said “until it is ALL fulfilled” that he did not mean “until it is ALL fulfilled,” but actually meant, “when some of it is fulfilled.” And where is the proof for that? It does not exist for the simple fact that those who insist that he did mean “some” then turn around and agree that in Colossians, the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” were still unfulfilled. They were still valid. Torah remained, when Paul wrote, an unfulfilled shadow of good things about to come.
So, while Wade and his brethren– and all futurists – say that the Law was removed at the cross, the very fact that they still look forward to the coming of the Lord, the judgment and resurrection falsifies their view. Their claims that Torah was removed demands, absolutely demands, that Christ has come, the judgment has taken place, and the resurrection is past.
Paul’s clear-cut affirmation that the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” remained as shadows of things that were “about to come” when he wrote Colossians falsifies all notions that Torah was removed at the cross.
Finally, observe that Paul uses mello which means “to be about to be,” “to be on the point of” when he spoke of the “new moons, feast days and Sabbaths” being a shadow of good things about to come. The Blass-DeBrunner Greek Grammar says that mellein with the infinitive indicates imminence.” Paul was indubitably anticipating the imminent fulfillment of what those new moons, feast days and Sabbaths foreshadowed. Consider what this means.
The Sabbaths in Torah foreshadowed the “rest” of salvation. Paul said that the Sabbaths were still unfulfilled when he wrote. This is where Wade and all who insist that Torah was removed at the cross err. Paul insisted in Hebrews that, “there remains therefore a Sabbath” (Hebrews 4:10f).
Very clearly, the typology of the Sabbath had not yet been fulfilled, but, the salvation anticipated in the Sabbaths was about to be fulfilled, for they had arrived at Zion, for the ultimate pilgrimage, the consummative fulfillment of Israel’s festal calendar (Hebrews 12:21f). The arrival at Zion is nothing less than a statement that the resurrection was near, for in Messianic prophecy Zion is the locus of the resurrection (Isaiah 25:4-8). This is, in turn, the ultimate fulfillment of the final feast day, the feast of Harvest, alluded to by Paul in Colossians 2. (I am currently working on a book on Israel’s feast days and their relationship to eschatology. This is one of the most fascinating studies I have ever done!)
So, in Colossians Paul told the saints that they had died to Torah by entering Christ through baptism (2:11-12). Therefore, they were not to subject themselves to the types and shadows anymore, for they were living in the time of the fulfillment of those new moons, feast days and Sabbaths. That which was foreshadowed in those festivals was about to come to fruition!
The point of course is that those ceremonial, sacrificial, festal events were not quite fulfilled, but, were still a shadow of good things about to come. Every jot and every tittle had not yet been fulfilled. All of Torah’s shadows had not yet been realized. Torah was “nigh unto passing” (Hebrews 8:13) but would not do so until it was all fulfilled at the destruction of the temple and city (Luke 21:22).
So, in summary, Paul did not say that the Law had been nailed to the cross. He said that the obligation to keep the law- or the obligation of sin incurred through the Law- was removed.
Paul said that the Law remained unfulfilled and thus valid, because it remained as a shadow of good things that were about to come (See Hebrews 10:1f also). The present tense reality of Torah as a shadow, and the future tense of the fulfillment of the shadows of the “new moon, feast days and Sabbaths” (a future that was near, and about to come) demonstrates that the fulfillment of all things, when Torah would pass away, was at
Wade and all others who appeal to Colossians to prove that Torah was removed at the cross are mis-using what Paul said.