Examining Paul's Letter to the Gentiles in Colossians.

I recently had a debate with a friend of mine over the idea that after attaining Salvation through faith, truly following God involves following certain laws that Christians deem "abolished". We specifically focussed on the food laws since we were eating sushi.

It was quite a fun debate, which ultimately ended in a stalemate. We both agreed to disagree and had an awesome evening together. One of my favourite quotes is from Robert Kiyosaki - “Most people think a coin has two sides. But in fact, a coin has three sides – each of the two opposite sides, and the edge. Standing on the edge and being able to see both sides is true intelligence.”

Being able to see both sides is truly powerful.

Coming back to the sushi debate, one of the points he brought up was interesting to me, and one which I had not heard before so I did not have an answer for it - But it was Paul's letter in Colossians. Specifically where he says the phrase "Do not let others judge you for what you eat or drink". So I thought I would write a teaching on this, not only to write for Love Church, but to also learn myself.

The Context

As we do for all our teachings (especially for Paul), we will dissect the passage to establish context, find the true meaning of words (Using the Blue Letter Bible), and see if we can make sense of it.

Col 2:1 I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.

Col 2:2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,

Col 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Col 2:4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.

Col 2:5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

It is widely accepted that Paul wrote this letter from prison. He is writing some encouragements here.

Col 2:6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,

Col 2:7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

Notice how he refers to "human traditions". As we have explained in many teachings, these human traditions are from the Pharisees. They made their own set of laws (About 600) and then gave them the same power as God's Law. These laws are referred to as the Oral Law / Talmud. The laws from the Talmud often contradicted God's Law, and Yeshua rebuked that many times in the New Testament.

So far, it seems Paul is aware that believers in the Colossian Church are being influenced by Pharisees and their human traditions.

brown wooden tool on white surface
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm / Unsplash

Paul continues writing some encouraging points in the next few verses (Not largely important for context)

Col 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,

Col 2:10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.

Circumcision With God

Paul turns and begins talking about circumcision. This was a debated topic amongst the early church, as to whether gentile believers (i.e. new believers, not originally part of Isreal/Jews), should be circumcised to be saved. I will address this in more detail in another teaching, as this is outside the scope of this one.

Col 2:11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ,

Col 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Col 2:13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Col 2:14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Col 2:15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Paul writes, saying that they have been circumcised by God, through Yeshua. This is not a physical circumcision, but a circumcision of the heart. This idea of circumcision of the heart is also written by Paul in Romans 2:29:

Rom 2:29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

heart-shaped red and beige pendant
Photo by Debby Hudson / Unsplash

Why is Paul Addressing Circumcision?

There was a sect of the Pharisees known as the "Circumcision Party", who preached that to be saved, you needed to be physically circumcised. These are who Paul is talking about when he wrote about not falling for human traditions. Circumcision and following the Law were never a pre-requisite for salvation in the New Covenant. It is a commandment from God. This fact was discussed by the apostles and the Jewish council in Acts 15 as well.

In summary, Paul is saying these believers do not have to do any physical acts to be saved and draw near to God.

We now get to the verse in question:

Col 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Does this mean Paul is telling the Gentile believers here to not care what they eat, and directly disobey the commandments of God? No, firstly, because that would make Paul a hypocrite, because he followed God's Law, and he would then be making his own religion if he was preaching otherwise. Secondly, he says "with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day." These are all things from God's Law. A sabbath day is something only kept by God's people.

He is saying to not let the Pharisees judge them for KEEPING the Law!

Christians usually argue the converse of this, Do not let others judge you for NOT KEEPING the Law.

But ask yourself which version makes sense in the context of the passage. Paul is writing to Gentile believers in Colossai, who are being influenced by Pharisees trying to make them follow the Oral laws. It makes more sense that Paul is writing to encourage the Gentiles to stay strong and follow God instead of following the Pharisees and to not be worried about the Jewish authorities judging them for observing a Sabbath or festival. Paul already mentioned that these man-made rules are not valid under Christ. Salvation is a gift, and no law can get you to Heaven.

One of the most interesting takeaways is found in the next verse:

Col 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

These ARE a shadow of things to come - Does this mean that when Yeshua comes back and we live eternally with Him, will we be observing sabbaths, festivals, etc, that were set out by God? I believe so. Either way, being with God will be more than enough.

Paul continues to rebuke the Pharisaic Laws and the leaders behind them: Verse 22 further shows he is speaking about the Pharisaic traditions, and not God's Law, because he states that these rules are based on HUMAN COMMANDS. God's Law is definitely not a human command.

Col 2:18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.

Col 2:19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Col 2:20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:

Col 2:21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?

Col 2:22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.

Col 2:23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.


The letter in Colossians provides some interesting insight into the struggles that Gentile believers went through during the early church. Reading the chapter from start to finish, we saw that Paul was writing to encourage the Gentile believers not to be influenced by laws derived from human tradition. This is a reference to the Oral Law, introduced by the Pharisees and still used today in Judaism.

Paul continues to encourage the Gentiles to not care about obeying God's food laws, celebrating festivals, or keeping the Sabbath. as these Jewish authorities and their rules are not based on God's Law. Paul highlights circumcision in this passage, and that it is not a pre-requisite for salvation, even though the Pharisees said otherwise.

See you in Part 4 of this series! Be blessed!