Was the Torah only a Shadow? (Col. 2:16-17 & Heb. 10:1)

By
James Scott Trimm

Often when I share with Christians that the Torah is everlasting, for all generations, they respond by saying, “But the law was only a shadow.” By this they allude to Colossians 2:16-17 and Hebrews 10:1, two passages which have been very misunderstood.

Lets begin by looking at Col. 2:16-17 as it reads in the KJV:

Let no man therefore judge you
in meat, or in drink,
or in respect of a 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 KJV)

There are three issues we must look at here:

First the passage speaks not only of “meat” but of “drink” so it cannot be speaking about the kosher laws which deal with food not drink. Paul’s opponent here has differing views regarding “meat”; “drink”; “holydays”; “new moons” and “sabbaths”. Clearly his opponent here are the Essene influence within the movement which later re-emerged as the Ebionites. These Essene-Proto-Ebionites were vegetarians, they all took the Nazarite Vow (and thus abstained from wine) and they used a Solar Calendar. Thus they differed with Paul on issues of “meat”; “drink”; “holydays”; “new moons” and “sabbaths”. SO Paul is not speaking here about the validity of Torah, but of his opponents positions on these issues.

Secondly there is the “shadow” issue. Now we know that Passover was a shadow which Messiah fulfilled, yet rather than abolish the observance of Passover as a result, Paul says “therefore let us keep the feast” (1Cor. 5:7-8).

Lastly we must once again look at the KJV’s use of italic here. The italics in the KJV indicate words that are not really there in the Greek, but which the KJV has added to the text. This is supposed to be to help the text make sense in English, but in some cases like this one the italics have been used to completely and radically change the meaning of the text. If we remove the italicized word “is” from the phrase “body is of Christ” we see the familiar phrase “body of Christ” which appears over and over in the New Testament. Why would one disrupt the common phrase “body of Christ” by inserting the word “is”? If we reread the KJV without this word something interesting happens:

Let no man therefore judge you
in meat, or in drink,
or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon,
or of the sabbath:
Which are a shadow of things to come;
but the body of Christ.
(Col. 2:16-17 KJV without itallics)

Suddenly the passage is no longer contesting “shadow” with “body” it is contrasting “man” with the “body of Christ” or “body of Messiah”! The passage is now saying that no individual man has authority to judge in these matters, only the collective Body of Messiah has this authority.

Now lets look at Hebrews 10:1 as it appears in the KJV:

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
(Heb. 10:1 KJV)

It should also be noted that while most manuscripts of Hebrews do read in this verse “not the very substance” the oldest copy of Hebrews (p46) reads:

For the law having a shadow of good things to come,
and the very image of the things.
(Hebrews 10:1 from p46, the oldest copy of Hebrews)

The Hebrew text of Hebrews which Sabastian Munster obtained “from among the Jews” and published in the 16th Century has a conflation in this verse reading “and not the very substance”. Only Munster and p46 have the word “and” in this verse (the word “and” is in the KJV here, but is in italics, meaning that it was not in the Greek). The presence of the word “and” in the Munster Hebrew text could be seen as supporting the reading of p46 and the word “not” could have been added to the Hebrew text later to bring it into conformity with the majority of Greek manuscripts. In any case, it is ill advised to create an entire theology around a word in the text for which the evidence is divided as to whether that word even appeared in the original. And even if we accept that the word “not” belongs in the text, this still does not indicate that the Torah should no longer be kept. Paul here is referring in context to the fact that the earthly tabernacle is a shadow of the heavenly one (see Heb. 8:5; 9:11). This passage does not teach a doctrine that the Torah should not be kept because it is only a shadow, in fact the Torah has always been a shadow of good things to come, even in the days of Moses when the Tabernacle stood and was being used.

Yes the Torah is in fact a shadow of many good things. The tabernacle in the Torah is a shadow of the heavenly tabernacle. The holydays, the new moon and the sabbath day in the Torah are also shadows of things to come. For example the Passover was a shadow which Messiah fulfilled, yet rather than abolish the observance of Passover as a result, Paul says “therefore let us keep the feast” (1Cor. 5:7-8). In fact these elements of Torahs have always been “shadows of things to come” even when Moses was stoning people to death for violating the Sabbath. We should ask ourselves this: When Moses was stoning people to death for violating Sabbath why did they not timidly lift a finger and say “Excuse me Moses, but the Sabbath is just a shadow…”? Clearly then the fact that it is a “shadow” does not mean that it should not be observed, in fact the scripture indicates that the fact that it is a shadow is all the more reason to observe it. Note especially that in Paul’s day these things were still shadows of things to come, there were also still elements of Torah which had not then seen their allegorical prophetic parallels, and in fact many of these parallels still lay in the future, in the last days, the second coming of Messiah and the Millennial Kingdom.

The Torah is a shadow of good things to come, therefore let us keep the Torah!

HaSatan wishes “to steal and to kill and to destroy” (Jn. 10:10) and he knows the time is short and has stepped up his war with those who proclaim both Torah Observance and Faith in Messiah (the two pillars of Nazarene Judaism) (Rev. 12:12, 17; 13:7). But no weapon forged against us will prosper (Is. 54:17).

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