Colossians 2 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Accusation Without Foundation
The second section of Paul's theological polemic envisions a particular person who apparently is acting as a spiritual umpire, watching to see whether the community observes certain holy days and complies with certain dietary regulations and using these things to determine the quality of their devotion to God. In response, Paul issues here the first of two negative commands (imperative me): Do not let anyone judge you. The verb for judge (krino) is often used of God's final judgment, and it may be that the community's fitness for the new age (even the church's hope for participation in it) is determined in their minds by food and celebrations. The list of these celebrations, which includes a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day, is fairly typical (compare Hos 2:13; Ezek 45:17; Jubilees 1:14). Since the list encompasses annual festivals (such as Passover or Yom Kippur), monthly meetings (such as the New Moon celebration) and the weekly observance of sabbath, it is evident that Paul's opponents required a rather comprehensive obligation. Moreover, within Judaism most of these celebrations were intended to help the community look forward to Messiah's deliverance of Israel from its suffering and to its entrance into God's promised shalom. Thus, for the Christian to participate in these Jewish celebrations was tantamount to a denial of Jesus' messiahship. In addition, the dietary rules that accompanied the holy days had a social (as much as a religious) role: to publicize the community's distinctiveness as a separate people. To eat particular foods and not others symbolized their particularity within the world order. This function also detracted from Christianity's single social marker--its faith that Jesus is Lord Christ.
I should emphasize again that Paul's objection is not to religious celebration per se, and probably not even to a congregation's public expression of worship that borrows from the traditions of Judaism. Rather, Paul's primary concern here is any observance that does not concentrate the celebrants' attention upon Christ's importance for salvation. To observe a Jewish calendar of worship seems foolish to Paul when it does not celebrate Jesus as Lord Christ (compare Lohse 1971:115-16). He argues that it elevates an eschatological shadow (that is, Jewish worship's anticipation of God's salvation) over its reality (that is, the future blessings of God's salvation already experienced by those in Christ). Paul does not employ this shadow-reality dualism--a motif of Hellenistic Judaism--to deny the truth about God's promised salvation that is expressed by Judaism's worship on holy days or in eating patterns; rather, his purpose is to assert that the Messiah has already fulfilled the promise so that the reality is present, not future. Paul is not anti-Jewish; but he is opposed to those who appeal to Jewish practice to measure and even replace the core convictions of the Christian faith.