Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
Since the offer was made to make available via email the exchanges of the Sabbath discussion between Dale Ratslaff and myself that began on June 15 on KJSL radio station of St. Luois, MO, well over 1000 people have requested to be placed in the special mailing list of those receiving the text of the exchanges. We are now receiving an average of 50 requests a day. If you find this material valuable, feel free to inform your friends about it. I believe that this discussion provides a unique opportunity to proclaim "the Sabbath more fully" (EW 33) through the internet. Among those requesting to be placed on this mailing list, there are Sundaykeeping believers, Sabbatarian of different denomination, current and former pastors of the Worldwide Chruch of God, and Adventist members who have recently joined newly formed independent community churches which are moving toward Sundaykeeping.
From reading the many messages we have received, it is evident that many people are confused by the renewed arguments being presented to negate the validity and value of the Sabbath for today. It is my fervent hope and prayer that this analysis Ratzlaff's anti-Sabbath arguments (which reflect the popular arguments) will help many to rediscover not only the validity, but also the value of Sabbathkeeping for their physical and spiritual wellbeing.
In the previous three installments I have examined Ratzlaff's arguments regarding the alleged Mosaic origin of the Sabbath as presented in his book THE SABBATH IN CRISIS. He responded to my analysis by posting 15 propositional statements, several of which I found unacceptable because they are based on his radical distinction between the Old and New Covenants. For the sake of those unfamiliar with what has already transpired, let me submit a nutshell summary of Ratzlaff's three basic arguments and of my responses.
SUMMARY OF RATZLAFF' ARGUMENTS AND BACCHIOCCHI'S RESPONSES
Omission of "evening and morning." Ratzlaff argues that the omission in the creation account of "the evening and the morning" in connection with the seventh day, indicates that the Sabbath is not a literal 24-hour day like the preceding six days, but a symbolicperiod of time representing eternal rest. My response to this argument is that the "seventh day" is enumerated like the previous six days. Futhermore, in the Bible whenever "day-yom" is accompanied by a number it always means a day of 24 hours. Finally, the commandment to observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the creation seventh-day in which God rested, would make no sense if the latter was a symbolic, indefinite period of time.
Omission of the word "Sabbath." Ratslaff maintains that the omission of the word "Sabbath" in the creation story indicates that the Sabbath as a day to be observed originated not at creation but later at the time of Moses. My response to this argument is that the use of the number "seventh" day rather than of the name "Sabbath," may well reflect the writer's concern to underline the perpetual order of the day, independent and free from any association with the astrological "sabbaths" of heathen nations, like the Babilonian shabbattu. Furthermore, the cognate verbal form SHABAT-RESTED is used and the latter contains the root of SHABBAT-SABBATH, and possibly alludes to it.
Absence of a command. Ratzlaff argues that the absence in the creation account of a command for mankind to observe the Sabbath shows that the Sabbath is not a creational ordinance for mankind, but a temporary institution introduced later by Moses for Israel alone. My response to this argument is that Genesis is not a book of commands but of origins. None of the Ten Commandments are ever mentioned in Genesis, yet we know that their principles were known because we are told, for example: "Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen 26:5). Furthermore, could God have given any stronger revelation of the moral nature of the Sabbath than by making it a rule of His divine conduct? Is a principle established by divine example less binding than one enunciated by a divine command? Do not actions speak louder than words?
An important point ignored by Ratzlaff is that the seven days week established by God at creation is a human week intended to regulate human life according to the divine pattern of six days of work and the seventh for rest. What this means is that if the seventh days week is creational (a fact that few people deny), equally creational must be the Sabbath, because the week is built on the Sabbath. In the Bible the days of the week are numbered with reference to the Sabbath. The clinching proof of the creational origin of the Sabbath is the the witness of Christ Himself (Mark 2:27) who affirmed that the Sabbath was made for mankind, and not merely for the Jews (Mark 2:27). Equally compelling is the witness of Hebrews 4:4 where the creation origin of the Sabbath is taken for granted.
Ratzlaff emailed me his response to the above analysis in the form comments interspersed within the text of my lengthy post. To make it easier for the reader to follow these exchanges, we agreed that he will repost his comments without republishing my complete text (30k). As soon as I receive Ratzlaff's comments, I will forward immediately to all those who have requested to be placed in the special "Sabbath discussion" mailing list. Anyone who is not on the list yet is welcomed to email us their address and they will be automatically added to the list.
A LOOK AT RATZLAFF'S METHODOLOGY
My original intent was to examine in this installment Ratzlaff's fundamental thesis, namely, that the Sabbath, like circumcision and the sacrificial system, were part of the Old Covenant that pointed to the Messianic salvation to come. Christ allegedly fulfilled the Old Covenant Sabbath and ceremonies by becoming our salvation rest. Consequently, Ratzlaff maintains that in the New Covenant the Sabbath, like circumcision, are no longer needed because they have been replaced respectively by the Lord's Supper and baptism (pp.185-190).
This thesis deserve close examination, because it is held by many Christians. I have decided, however, to postpone the examination of this thesis until my next installment, where I will attempt to show that Ratzlaff's radical distinction between the Old and New Covenants destroys the unity and continuity of the plan of salvation, besides making God guilty of inconcistencies. God would have offered salvation on the basis of obedience to the law in the Old Covenant, only to discover later that such plan did not work. Thus, He would have introduced the New Covenant, that is, a new plan offering salvation exclusively on the basis of divine grace. Fortunately, the God of Biblical revelation is a consistent God who does not learn by mistakes. He "is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb 13:8). To this we shall return in the next post.
Before examining Ratzlaff's covenantal theology, it is necessary to look at his methodology, because in my view the fundamental problem of THE SABBATH IN CRISIS is his faulty methodology that leads to unwarranted conclusions. It is a recognized fact that the credibility of any research is determined by the method of investigation. In the case of Ratzlaff, his methodology ignores what is known as the "spiriling principle" of Biblical interpretation. This consists in examining first the single word, then the sentence, the unit, the book, and finally the witness of the whole Scripture on the topic under investigation. Ratzlaff's failure to respect this accepted principle of Biblical interpretation results in conclusions that are blatantly unbiblical.
A good case study of Ratzlaff's methodology, is provided by his interpretation of Colossians 2:8-22, since he finds in this passage the proof that "the Sabbath is linked with other old covenant convocations"(p. 173), all of which were allegedly nailed to the Cross. This interpretation can be traced back to Marcion (A. D. 150) and has been espoused through the centuries by such people as Agugustine, Luther, Calvin, and a host of others. For a survey see my dissertation FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY pp. 339-342. It is only in recent times that scholars have found this historical interpretation to be openly contradicted by the a correct understanding of the passage. Unfortunately, as we shall see, Ratzlaff ignores the contribution of modern scholarship, evidently because it negates his underlying assumption that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant nailed to the Cross.
To support this assumption, Ratzlaff selects certain "catch phrases" of Colossians 2:8-17 which he interprets on the basis of his own presuppositions, ignoring the immediate context, the larger context, and the contribution of modern scholarship to the understanding of key words of the passage. Before looking at Ratzlaff's method of interpretating certain "catch phrases," it might help to familiarize the reader with the false teaching that Paul refutes in this passage.
The Colossian Heresy
The false teaching promoted by the Colossians "philosophers" is characterized by a THEOLOGICAL and a PRACTICAL error. THEOLOGICALLY, the Colossian "philosophy" (2:8) was competing with Christ for man's allegiance. Its source of authority, according to Paul, was man-made "tradition-paradosis" (2: 8) and its object was to impart true "wisdom-sophia" (2:3,23), "knowledge-gnosis" (2:2,3; 3:10), and "understanding-sunesis" (1:9; 2:2). To attain such knowledge Christians were urged to do homage to cosmic principalities (2:10, 15) and to "the elements of the universe-ta stoicheia tou kosmou" (2:8,18,20).
The context indicates , as Eduard Lohse points out in his commentaty on Colossians, that "the elements of the universe are precisely those demonic principalities who want to exercise their tyranny over men (Col 2:10, 15)" (p. 99). To gain protection from these cosmic powers and principalities, the Colossian "philosophers" were urging Christians to offer cultic adoration to angelic powers (2:15,18,19,23) and to follow ritualistic and ascetic practices (2:11,14,16,17,21,22). By that process one was assured of access to and participation in the divine "fulness-pleroma" (2:9,10, cf. 1:19). The theological error then basically consisted in interposing inferior angelic mediators in place of the Head Himself, Christ (2:9,10,18,19).
The PRACTICAL outcome of these theological speculations was the insistence on strict ascetism and ritualism. These consisted in "putting off the body of flesh" (2:11) (apparently meaning withdrawal from the world); rigorous treatment of the body (2:23); prohibition to either taste or touch certain kinds of foods and beverages (2:16,21), and careful observance of sacred days and seasons-festival, new moon, Sabbath (2:16). Christians presumably were led to believe that by submitting to these ascetic practices, they were not surrendering their faith in Christ, but rather they were receiving added protection and were assured of full access to the divine fulness. This may be inferred both from Paul's distinction between living "according to the elements of the universe" and "according to Christ" (2: 8) and from the Apostle's insistence on the supremacy of the incarnate Christ. "In him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily" (2:9), therefore Christian attain "the fulness-pleroma" of life not by worshipping the elements of the universe, but through Christ, "who is the head of all rule and authority" (2:10; cf. 1:15-20; 3:3).
This bare outline suffice to show that the Sabbath is mentioned in the passage not in the context of a direct discussion on the Old Covenant law, as Ratzlaff claims, but rather in the context of syncretistic beliefs and practices (which incorporated elements from the Old Testament, undoubtedly to provide a justification for their ascetic principles) advocated by the Colossian "philosophers." We are not informed what type of Sabbath observance these teachers promoted, nevertheless on the basis of their emphasis on scrupulous adherance to "regulations," it is apparent that the day was to be observed in a most rigorous and superstitious manner.
Most scholars recognize that in Colossians Paul is refuting not the usual brand of Jewish or Jewish-Christian legalism, but rather a syncretistic "philosophy" which incorporated among others Jewish elements. If this is true, how can Ratzlaff legitimately argue that in this passage Paul teaches that Christians are no longer under obligation to observe the Sabbath because it was part of the Old Covenant law nailed to the Cross (pp. 151-163)? The truth of the matter is, as noted by several scholars, that the term "law-nomos" is totally absent in the Colossian controversy. This is a significant fact, since the explanation of the significance of the law is always an interal part of Paul's presentation of the Gospel. The irrationality of Ratzlaff's conclusions will become self-evident when we examine the methodology he uses to interprets some of the catch phrases of the passage.
"Elementary principles of the world" (Col 2:8)
The first "catch phrase" used by Ratzlaff is Paul's reference to "the elementary principles of the world" found in Colossians 2:8: "See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ" (RSV).
Ratzlaff maintains that "'the elementary principles' are 'the oracles of God'-THE OLD COVENANT WRITINGS [Italic]" (p. 154). How does he reach such a fanciful conclusion? Simply by ignoring the immediate context and by citing three texts completely out of context. The immediate context speaks, not of the Old Covenant, but of the syncrestistic "philosophy" and "empty deceit" promoted by the Colossians false teachers. What about the texts cited by Ratzlaff?
The first text quoted by Ratzlaff to support his Old Covenant interpretation of the "elements of the world" (Col 2:8), is Galatians 4:1-5 where Paul reminds the Galatians that they "were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe." Ratzlaff believes that "here he [Paul] defines the 'elementary things of the world' as the old covenant law" (p. 154), because later in the passage he speaks of Christ who came to "redeem those who were under the law." What Ratzlaff ignores is the context of the passage where Paul reminds the Galatians that "formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods" (4:8). He then proceeds to rebuke them for wishing to "turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more" (4:9). The problem of the Galatians was their temptations to turn back to their pagan worship of "elemental spirits," that is, demonic powers which, Pauls says, "are no gods" (4:8). It is evident that the "elemental spirits" in this context has absolutely nothing to do with "the old covenant law" (p. 154), because they refer to the pagan worship of demonic powers that enslaved them before accepting Christ.
The second text Ratzlaff uses to support his interpretation of the "elementary principles of the world" (Col 2:8) as being "the old covenant law" is Hebrews 5:12: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF THE ORACLES OF GOD, and you have come to need milk and not solid food" (NASB). One wonders, how in the world can Ratzlaff use this text to interpret the "elementary principles of the world" of Col 2:8, when the two pasages are so totally unrelated? In Colossians the "principles of the world" are demonic powers which were supposed to control human lives, while in Hebrews the "principles of the oracles of God" are the basic teaching of God's Word. Ratzlaff's attempt to use the latter to explain the former, reveals a total disregard for the contextual meaning of each passage.
Unfortunately, Ratzlaff is consistent in using texts completely out of context, to support his thesis that the Sabbath is parts of the Old Covenant ceremonies nailed to the Cross. A good example is the third text that he uses, namely Romans 7:4 where Pauls says: "Likewise, my brethren, you HAVE DIED TO THE LAW through the body of Christ." Note how Ratzlaff uses this text to interpret the Colossian reference to the "elements of the world." He writes: "In Colossians Paul speaks of DYING with Christ to the ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES of the world; in Romans He speaks of DYING to the LAW through Christ. Again Paul uses 'elementary principles' in connection with the old covenant law" (p. 154).
Can this conclusion be legitimately drawn from Romans 7:4? Absolutely NOT! Why? Simply because in Romans 7:4 Paul has nothing to say about "the elements of the world," that is, demonic powers that were believed to control human life. Ratzlaff fails to notice that the two passages speak of two entirely different things. In Romans Paul speaks of having died to the law in the sense that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2). In Colossians Paul speaks of the false teachers who through their deceptive philosophy were tempting believers to accept a syncretistic form of worship that included the veneration for demonic powers known as "the elements of the world." To argue that the two texts talk about the same thing is like saying that apples and oranges are the same fruit.
"Circumcision = Baptism."
The next catch phrase that Ratzlaff uses to support his contention that Colossians 2 teaches that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant nailed to the Cross, is Paul's reference to the circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-13 which reads: "In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of the flesh, God has made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses."
Ratzlaff interprets Paul's reference to the circumcision and baptism in this passage as indicating that the Old Covenant, of which circumcision was the entrance sign, has been replaced by the New Covenant, of which baptism is the entrance sign. "Circumcision not only served as the entrance sign to the old covenant, Paul shows how it also pointed forward to Christ, yet it does not continue as a sign in the new covenant. In the new covenant baptism replaces circumcision" (p. 156).
The problem with Ratzlaff's interpretation is his inability or unwillingness to recognize that in this passage Paul is not comparing or contrasting the Old and New Covenants, but merely affirming the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection through the imageries of circumcision and baptism. The purpose of the two imageries is not to teach that the Old Covenant sign, circumcision, has been replaced by the New Covenant sign, baptism, but rather that "God has made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses." The imageries of circumcision and baptism are used by Paul, not to discuss the Old and New Covenants, but to affirm the fulness of God's forgiveness, accomplished by Christ on the cross and extended through baptism to the Christian. The proclamation of God's forgiveness constitutes indeed Paul's basic answer to those trying to attain to perfection by submitting to worship of angels (2:18), of the "elements of the world" (2:8) by means of ascetic practices.
"Decree nailed to the Cross."
Ratzlaff's interpretation of the document "nailed to the cross" mentioned in Colossians 2:14, provides another clear example of his creative ability to read into a text his underlying assumption that the Old Covenant with its Sabbath was nailed to the Cross. The text reads: "Having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (RSV).
This is how Ratzlaff interprets the text. "What was the 'certificate of debt' or 'decrees' which were nailed to the cross? In context, Paul has been speaking of the old covenant. Was the old covenant 'against us'? We should remember from our study of the old covenant that one of its functions was to act as a 'testimony' against Israel if they sinned . . . (Deut 31:26). The cursing associated with the broken law and the ability of the law to condemn were both taken away when christ was nailed to the cross. 'There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus'" (Rom 8:1) (p. 156).
There are several serious problems with this interpretation. First there is the assumption that the Old Covenant was "against us." If that were true, then God would be guilty of establishing a covenant that was against His people. How could a gracious, redeeming God do such a horrible thing? What was against the people was not the covenant, which is God's commitment to save, but the law in the sense that it exposed sin in the life of the people. The reason there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1), is not because Christ nailed the law to the Cross, thus leaving us mankind without moral principles, but because God sent "his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh . . . in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Rom 8:3-4)
Even more serious is Ratzlaff's misinterpretation of the "written document-cheirographon" that was nailed to the Cross. He interprets it to be the Old Covenant including the Sabbath, which God allegedly set aside and nailed to the Cross. This popular and traditional interpretation has largely been rejected by modern scholarship, for at least two reasons. First, because as E. Lohse points out in his Commentary to Colossians, "in the whole of the epistle the word law is not used at all. Not only that, but the whole significance of the law, which appears unavoidable for Paul when he presents his gospel, is completely absent" (p. 116).
Second, this interpretation detracts from the immediate argument designed to prove the fulness of God's forgiveness. The wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial law would hardly provide Christians with the divine assurance of forgiveness. Guilt is not removed by destroying law codes. The latter would only leave mankind without moral principles.
It is significant that this conclusion has been accepted even by Cambridge NT Professor D. R. De Lacey, who has contributed a chapter to the symposium FROM SABBATH TO THE LORD'S DAY, which is largely a response to my research. In my view this symposium is the most scholarly study of the Sabbath/Sunday question produced in recent times by Sundaykeeping scholars. De Lacey writes: "Bacchiocchi lays great stress on the fact that the term nomos [law] is entirely absent from Colossians, and although his own interpretation at times fails to convince, HE IS SURELY RIGHT IN HIS CONCLUSION THAT THIS PASSAGE CANNOT BE INTERPRETED AS STATING THAT THE MOSAIC LAW ITSELF WAS 'WIPED OUT' IN THE DEATH OF CHRIST" (emphasis supplied, p. 173).
What surprises me is that Ratzlaff ignores the analysis of Colossians 2 found in FROM SABBATH TO THE LORD'S DAY, though he is largely dependent upon this symposium for his own book THE SABBATH IN CRISIS. In fact, he asked the editor of the symposium, Donald Carlson, to write a foreword to his book. Why does Ratzlaff sink his head in the sand, like an ostrich, ignoring even studies of Sundaykeeping scholars that negate his conclusions? Most likely because he is not prepared to accept any challenge to his gratuitous assumption that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant nailed to the Cross.
Recent studies on the use of the term cheirographon, literally "handwritten document," which occurs only once in the Scripture (Col 2:14), have shown that this word is used in apocalyptic literature to denote the "record-book of sins" or a "certificate of sin-indebtedness" but never the moral or ceremonial law (See FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY, pp. 348-351). This view is supported also by the clause "and this he has removed out of the middle" (2:14). "The middle" was the position occupied at the center of the court or assembly by the accusing witness. In the context of Colossians, the accusing witness is the "record-book of sins" which God in Christ has erased and removed out of the court.
By this daring metaphor, Paul affirms the completeness of God's forgiveness. Through Christ, God has "cancelled," "set aside," "nailed to the cross" the written record of our sins which because of the regulations was against us. The legal basis of the record of sins was "the binding statutes, regulations" (tois dogmasin -2:20) but what God destroyed on the Cross was not the legal ground (law) for our entanglement into sin, but the written record of our sins.
By destroying the evidence of our sins, God has also "disarmed the principalities and powers" (2:15) since it is no longer possible for them to accuse those who have been forgiven. There is no reason, therefore, for Christians to feel incomplete and to seek the help of inferior mediators, since Christ has provided complete redemption and forgiveness.
We conclude then that the document nailed to the Cross is not the Old Covenant in general or the Sabbath in particular, but rather the record of our sins. Any attempt by Ratzlaff or any other to read into it a reference to the Sabbath, or to any other Old Testament ordinance, is an unwarranted, gratuitous fantasy.
Approbation or condemation of the Sabbath?
Having refuted the theological speculations of the Colossian false teachers by reaffirming the supremacy of Christ and the fulness of His redemption (2:8-15), Paul turns to some practical aspects of their religious practices, saying: "Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (2:16-17).
In his examination of this passage Ratzlaff attempts to show two things: (1) the Sabbath mentioned in this text is the weekly Sabbath and not the annual ceremonial Sabbaths (pp. 157-160). (2) "The context makes it clear that Paul is against those who are trying to force the Colossians to keep the Sabbath and other old covenant convocations. They are to allow no one to make them feel guilty for NOT observing them" (p. 163).
Ratzlaff's first conclusion is accurate, because I have stated in my dissertation "The three words, feasts, new moons and sabbaths, represent a logical and progressive sequence (annual, monthly and weekly) as well as an exhaustive enumeration of the sacred times. This view is validated by the occurrence of these terms, in similar or reverse sequence, five times in the Septuagint and several times in other literature (See FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY, pp. 358-359).
It is unfortunate that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the past has argued that the "Sabbaths" of Colossians 2:16 refer to the annual ceremonial Sabbaths. The weaknesses of this interpretation are discussed on pp. 359-360 of FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY. It is an established fact that the three terms "feasts, new moons, and sabbaths" are used in the Bible and extra Biblical literature to denote the progressive sequence of sacred times. Adventist scholars have long abandoned the past interpretation, because it is untenable.
Ratzlaff's second conclusion, however, is completely wrong. Why? Because the context makes it clear that Paul is not warning the Colossians against the practices of "eating, drinking, festival, new moon, and sabbath," but against those false teachers who were imposing "regulations" on the manner of observing these practices.
The statement "Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you . . ." is interpreted by Ratzlaff as a warning from Paul against the five mentioned practices (pp. 161-162). This interpretation is totally wrong because in this passage Paul is warning the Colossians not against the observances of these practices as such, but against "anyone" (tis) who passes judgment on how to eat, to drink, and to observe sacred times.
Note should be taken of the fact that the judge who passes judgment is not Paul but Colossian false teachers who impose "regulations" (2:20) on how to observe these practices in order to achieve "rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body" (2:23).
Prof. D. R. De Lacey, cited earlier, rightly comments: "the judge is likely to be a man of ascetic tendencies who objects to the Colossians' eating and drinking. The most natural way of taking the rest of the passage is not that he also imposes a ritual of feast days, but rather that he objects to certain elements of such observation" (p. 182). Presumably the "judge" wanted the community to observe these practices in a more ascetic way ("severity to the body"-2:23, 21); to put it crudely, he wanted the Colossian believers to do less feasting and more fasting.
By warning against the right of the false teachers to "pass judgment" on how to observe festivals, Paul is challenging not the validity of the festivals as such but the authority of the false teachers to legislate on the manner of their observance. The obvious implication then is that Paul in this text is expressing not a condemnation but an approbation of the mentioned practices, which include Sabbathkeeping.
It is noteworthy that even Prof. De Lacey reaches this conclusion, in spite of his view that Paul did not expect Gentile converts to observe the Sabbath. He writes: "Here again (Col 2:16), then, it seems that Paul could HAPPILY COUNTENANCE SABBATHKEEPING . . . However, we interpret the situation, Paul's statement 'Let no one pass judgement on you,' indicates that no stringent regulations are to be laid down over the use of festivals" (p. 182; emphasis supplied).
Troy Martin, Professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, comes to the same conclusion in recent article entitled "Pagan and Judeo-Christian Time-keeping Schemes in Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16." The article appeared in the 1996 spring issue of NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES, a respected scholarly journal. Martin concludes: "This essay provides evidence that the Pauline community at Colossae, not the opponents, practices the temporal schemes outlined by Col 2:16. . . . This investigation into the function of the list in Col 2:16 indicates that the Colossians Christians, not their critics, participate in a religious calendar that includes festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths" (p. 111).
It is a welcome relief to see scholars finally recognizing that, contrary to the traditional and popular interpretation advocated by people like Ratzlaff, Colossians 2:16 is not the death knell of Sabbathkeeping in the NT, but a compelling proof of its Pauline approbation. Why does Ratzlaff totally ignores the conclusion of Prof. De Lacey (and others), though he uses the symposium as the major resource for his own book? Most likely because he does not want readers to learn about anything that contradicts from his anti-Sabbath interpretation of Colossians 2:16. This methodology is hardly reflective of responsible scholarship which requires the examination of opposing views, before presenting one's own conclusions.
The manner of Sabbathkeeping promoted by the False Teachers
What is the nature of the "regulations" promoted by the Colossians false teachers regarding food and festivals, including the weekly Sabbath? Regretfully, Paul gives us only few catch phrases such as "self-abasement and worship of angels," "rigor of devotion . . . severity to the body" (2:18, 23) and that they taught: "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (2:21). These catch phrases indicate that the regulations did not derive from the Levitical law since nowhere does the latter contemplate such an ascetic program. Though the nomenclature of the festivals is Jewish, the motivation and manner of their observance stems from pagan syncretistic ideologies.
Eduard Lohse perceptively notes that "In the context of Colossians, the command to keep festival, new moon, and sabbath is not based on the Torah according to which Israel received the sabbath as a sign of her election from among the nations. Rather the sacred days must be kept for the sake of 'the elements of the universe' who direct the course of the stars and also prescribe minutely the order of the calendar . . . The 'philosophy' made use of terms which stemmed from Jewish tradition, but which had been transformed in the crucible of syncretism to be subject to the service of 'the elements of the universe.'" (p. 155).
Paul's warning against the "regulations" of the false teachers, can hardly be interpreted as a condemnation of Mosaic laws regarding food and festivals, since what the Apostle condemns is not the teachings of Moses but their perverted use by the Colossian false teachers. A precept is not nullified by the condemnation of its perversion. Much more could be added regarding the significance of the following verses, but what has been presented should suffice to expose Ratzlaff's faulty methodology.
The foregoing analysis has shown that Ratzlaff's methodology of Biblical interpretation comes short in four major areas. First, he fails to define the meaning of key words and phrases like "cheirographon-handwritten document" or "elements of the world-stoikeia tou kosmou," by examining their usage in Scripture and extra-Biblical literature. Second, he fails to understand the immediate and larger context of the catch phrases that he examines. We hve found that in most cases the context contradicts his interpretation. Third, he supports his interpretation by citing texts out of context, which do not relate to the issue under consideration.. Fourth, he ignores the scholarship even of Sundaykeeping scholars, because they contradict his thesis that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant that was nailed to the Cross.
While preparing this analysis of Ratzlaff's faulty methodology, I was made aware of two things. First, I will have to deal with this problem throughout the duration of this Sabbath discussion, because Ratzlaff has been consistent in using the same faulty methodology throughout his book. Second, I feel saddened by the thought that perhaps our Adventist ministerial training, both at the college and seminary leves, may be partly responsible for Ratzlaff's arbitrary methodology, because after all he is the product of our Adventist ministerial training program. The "proof texts method" that Ratzlaff uses, could well be the only method he learned during his ministerial training. If so, it behooves us to be understanding and forgiving for his hermeneutical problems.
It is a fact that our Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary during the past 20 years has moved from an academic to a more professional preparation. The concern seems to be to teach pastors more how to run successfullly church programs, rather than how to investigate faithfully Biblical or historical truths. Perhaps the problem we are now facing, may cause our administrators to reexamine our priorities.
I shall be waiting for Ratzlaff's response which may take few days, because he is also a very busy man ministering to a newly established congregation.
Feel free to contact me for any question, comment, or if you wish to be added to the list of those receiving the text of this Sabbath discussion.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
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