Understanding Paul

(Number Eight)

From a technical viewpoint Ephesians 5:11-13 is not difficult to understand.  The problem is that it is translated into the English of the early seventeenth century, and for that reason it is easily misunderstood.  It reads:  “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.  For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.  But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.”  Does this mean that it is not permissible to even mention evil practices that are quite common?  Obviously not, because in Ephesians 1: 3-5,  Paul refers to some of them. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.  For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

Other translations of Ephesians 5:11-13 make the meaning more clear.  The New Living Translation states:   “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. For everything made evident is light. . . .”  The Goodspeed Translation gives us this:  “Have nothing to do with the profitless doings of the darkness; expose them instead.  For while it is degrading even to mention their secret practices, yet when anything is exposed by the light, it is made visible, and anything that is made visible is light.”  The Moffatt Translation says:  “Having nothing to do with the fruitless enterprises of darkness; rather expose them.  One is indeed ashamed even to speak of what such men do in secret; still whatever the light exposes becomes illuminated — for anything that is illuminated turns to light.”

The question is:  How can anything evil be exposed without specifying what the evil is?    The key to understanding is the word “secret.”  Paul exposed some of these evil practices in Ephesians 5:3-5, and more so in Romans 1, but in both cases did not go into detail.  There would be no benefit in delving into the details of these evil works when a general understanding is sufficient.

Colossians 2:14-17 has been misconstrued to mean something other than what Paul really said.  The text is as follows:  “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;  And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

In Colossians 2:4 Paul warned the Colossians not to be beguiled by enticing words.  And in verses 6-7 he admonished them to be faithful to what they had received of Christ, as they were rooted and grounded in Him.  Then in verse 8-9, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.  For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”  What were these philosophies, traditions, and rudiments of the world?

Keep in mind the Colossian Church was composed of both Gentile and Jewish converts. The Gentiles had been formerly steeped in pagan concepts of one kind or another.  These concepts were man-made and not the result of God’s revelation.  How vain would one be, for example, if he accepted pantheism — “God is all and all is God” — the idea that everything that exists is divine and, therefore, man is divine?   Gnosticism later developed as the result of this view.  But in addition, there was a Jewish corruption in the form of Jewish opinions.  Both parties, by accepting Christ, were on a new course in life, but this new course was being threatened by interlopers who were attempting to turn them from the truth.  To the Gentiles Paul says:  “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13).

Paul addresses the first issue that affected the Colossians.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.  (Col. 2:14-15).

What was this handwriting of ordinances that was against us?  Most assume this means the Ten Commandments.  But where are the Commandments of God ever spoken of as being against us?  Paul said this:  “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12).

And David extolled the Law of God, illustrating its great value. Below is one of the most profound texts of the Bible  He wrote:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.  Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Ps. 19: 7-11)

The Law of God is not against us.  What was against us is the “handwriting of ordinances.”  What was the handwriting of ordinances that was contrary to us, that is now taken out of the way?  Arndt and Gingrich make the meaning clear in their Greek-English Lexicon. They state that the handwriting of ordinances means the “bond [debt] that stood against us, with its requirements.” Among the meanings for the word “ordinances,” is the word “decrees.” To what ordinances or decrees could this be referring?  Notice Colossians 2:20-22:  “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, [decrees] (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?”

The fact is that the decrees and commandments of men based on vain traditions and rudiments of the world are what is against us.  Because the Colossians followed these instead of the Commandments of God, they had transgressed God’s Law.  The penalty for sin [the transgesssion of the law] is death.  This was the “debt of guilt that was against us,” and this is what was nailed to the cross by the death of Christ. Colossians 2:14 has nothing to do with the Ten Commandments or the Law of God.  Peter also condemned the traditions of men when he wrote: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain [conduct] received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:18-20).

Now Paul addresses the Jewish brethren who were being influenced by Judaizers.  They were being condemned for obeying the terms of the New Covenant.  Paul tells them: Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).  Like most other Scriptures employed by adversaries trying to “do away with” the Law of God, this is also used.  The idea is that since these Colossians are not to be judged over the Sabbath and Holy Days, keeping the Law of God is no longer required.  The problem in the above passage is that the word “respect” is a mistranslation.  It should be translated “part” or “portion.”   Thus the text instructs Christians not to let any man judge you in the meat or drink part or portion of a Holyday, new moon, or Sabbath days. The reference refers to the sacrificial portion of these days, which was clearly abrogated by the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 9:1-14).  Christians no longer are required to observe the sacrificial system, but Judaizers were trying to convince them that they must do so.  Not so, said Paul.

Colossians 2:17 states:  “Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”  Notice the word “is” in  italics.  This means the word “is” was added by the translators to supposedly make the meaning clear, but in reality it is misleading.  The italics in the following text make it clear what Paul is saying:  “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:  Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body of Christ” (v.16). So what do these verses say?  They say that no one is to judge us (v. 16) but the body of Christ (v. 17).  What is the body of Christ?  It is the Church.  So judgment should come only from the body of Christ — the Church, the true believers. Christians should not be influenced by Judaizers who were trying to convince them to go back to the sacrificial system.

1 Timothy 4:4 is often quoted to prove the Bible does not prohibit eating unclean animals.  God described those creatures that are suitable for human consumption in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.  Those that are not suitable are labeled as “unclean.”  The Bible is the recorded Word of God that includes instructions on how man can be healthy.  This knowledge cannot be determined by intellect alone; divine revelation is required.

Beginning in 1 Timothy 4:1, we read the following:

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. (1 Tim. 4:1-5)

Notice that people were being commanded to abstain from meats that God created for man’s consumption.  What meats are these?  They are the clean animals, those that chew the cud and have a cloven hoof, fish that have fins and scales, and birds that are nonpredatory. See Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.   The word for “meats” (1 Tim. 4:3) refers to food — meat or victuals.  One reason a number of people today are vegetarians is because they believe all living creatures are so special that it is sinful to kill and eat them.  Because of man’s greed flesh has been so contaminated by the addition of hormones and additives that it is unhealthy.  This is certainly a legitimate reason for abstaining from certain types of flesh.  Still others believe that animals were once people who have been reincarnated because of bad karma.  None of these reasons is what is considered in 1 Timothy 4:4.  What should be clarified is “For every creature of God is good and nothing to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving.”  What did Paul mean by this comment?

Let us be reminded that the context in which a passage is found often provides the key to understanding.  1 Timothy 4:5 gives the answer.  “For it [meats which God created to be received with thanksgiving] is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”  The meats to which Paul refers have been sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.  “Sanctified” means that which is consecrated, or set aside for a special use.  Where in God’s Word are meats sanctified for use?  The answer: Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14.  Remember, Jesus said man must live by every Word of God (Matt. 4:4).  The Old Testament passages regarding clean and unclean meats are a part of God’s Word and should not be neglected.

Included in this instruction is the word “prayer.”  Christians ask a blessing on the food they are about to eat. By this means it is sanctified [consecrated] by both the Word of God and prayer.  1 Timothy 4:4 in no way does away with the law of clean and unclean meats.

As this series is brought to a close, a recap of the principles of Bible understanding is in order.  First, it is necessary to consider all the Scriptures on a given subject before any conclusion can be drawn.  Second, the Scripture cannot be broken, that is, it does not contradict.  Third, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and must be considered.  And fourth, the Bible interprets the Bible and is not subject to the interpretations of men.  To summarize: It is sheer folly to attempt to interpret Bible passages by the writings of Paul.  Interpretation must be done by comparing Paul’s writings with many clear-cut Bible passages.  Paul’s writings are difficult to understand but do not contradict Christ, the Apostles, or the prophets.