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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
Colossians 2



Other Authors
Verses 1-3

Colossians 2:1-3. PAUL’S DEEP CONCERN FOR THE COLOSSIANS AND OTHER CHRISTIANS UNKNOWN TO HIM, THAT THEY MAY BE UNITED IN LOVE, AND ATTAIN FULL KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST, IN WHOM RESIDE ALL THE TREASURES OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE.— θέλω γὰρ ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι: for the formula cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3, and for a similar formula Philippians 1:12. More frequently the negative is used, οὐ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν. γὰρ introduces the proof of what he has just said, by the illustration from the case of his readers, and thus prepares the way for the warning that follows in Colossians 2:4.— ἀγῶνα: the inward struggle of Paul will embrace his prayers, his anxiety and his earnest meditation on the implications of the false teaching and the best manner of refuting it. Added to this are the difficulties caused by his imprisonment and the fact that the Colossians were personally unknown to him.— λαοδικίᾳ. The members of this Church were probably exposed to the same dangers as their neighbours.— καὶ ὅσοι κ. τ. λ. So far as the words themselves go, they may mean that the Colossians and Laodiceans did belong to the number of those who had not seen him or that they did not. But the latter alternative is very improbable, for Paul would not have joined a general reference to Churches unknown to him to a special mention of two Churches that were known to him. Further, Paul continues with αὐτῶν, which refers to καὶ ὅσοι, but must include the Colossians, since in Colossians 2:4 he says, “This I say that no one may delude you”. This also corresponds to the use of καὶ ὅσοι after an enumeration. The narrative in Acts favours this view, as does the absence of any hint in the Epistle that Paul had visited Colossæ. We may therefore safely assume with almost all commentators that the Apostle was personally unknown to both of these Churches.— ἐν σαρκί: to be taken with τὸ πρ· μου, not with ἑόρ.

Verse 2

Colossians 2:2. παρακληθῶσιν. It is disputed what meaning should be attached to this. Meyer, Ellicott and others translate “may be comforted”. This seems to be the more usual sense in Paul, and is supported by the addition “knit together in love,” which favours an emotional reference. It is more probable, however, that we should translate “may be strengthened” (De W., Alf., Kl(10), Ol., Sod.), for this was more needed than consolation in face of heresy. Oltramare quotes Romans 1:12 (where, however, συμπαρ. is used), 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:17, where this verb is joined to στηρίζειν to show that this sense is Pauline, and in the latter we have παρακαλέσαι ὑμῶν τ. καρδίας καὶ στηρίξαι. Haupt, following Luther, thinks it means “may be warned,” but this does not suit καρδίαι, especially in Colossians 4:8.— αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν. We might have expected ὑμῶν, but καὶ ὅσοι, while not excluding the Colossians, includes other Churches as well. καρδία implies more than our word “heart,” it embraces also the intellect and the will.— συνβιβασθέντες agrees with αὐτοί, understood as the equivalent of αἱ κ. αὐτῶν. In the LXX the word means “to instruct” (so in 1 Corinthians 2:16, which is a quotation from Isaiah 40:14). But joined to ἐν ἀγ. it must have its usual sense, “knit together,” as in Colossians 2:19 and Ephesians 4:16. There may be a reference to the divisive tendencies of the false teaching.— καὶ εἰς πᾶν πλοῦτος τῆς πληροφορίας τῆς συνέσεως: “and unto all riches of the fulness of understanding”. καὶ εἰς is to be taken with συνβιβ., “knit together in order to attain”. συνβιβ. is a verb implying motion, and therefore is followed here by εἰς. It is usual to take πληροφ. as “full assurance,” but the expression “all the riches of full assurance of understanding” has a strange redundance, which seems scarcely to be met, as Klöpper thinks, by De Wette’s remark that πλοῦτ. is a quantitative but πληρ. a qualitative expression. Accordingly it seems better, with Grimm and Haupt, to translate “fulness,” a sense which is possible everywhere in N.T. except 1 Thessalonians 1:5. For συν. see on Colossians 1:9. Insight into Christian truth is meant here.— εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, χριστοῦ. Probably this is in apposition to the previous clause, εἰς πᾶν κ. τ. λ., and further explains it; all the rich fulness of insight, which he trusts may be the fruit of their union in love, is nothing else than full knowledge of the Divine mystery, even Christ. The false teachers bid them seek knowledge in other sources than Christ, Paul insists on the contrary that full knowledge of the mystery of God is all the wealth of fulness of understanding, and is to be found in the knowledge of Christ alone. This makes it probable that the correct interpretation of the true reading is to take χριστοῦ as in apposition to μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ (so Ell., Lightf., Findl., Hofm., Holtzmann, Haupt). It is true that this is curt and harsh, and that we should have expected ἐστιν, but it suits the context better than the translation “the mystery of the God of Christ” (Mey., Gess, Kl(11), Sod., Weiss and apparently Abb.). It is true that Paul uses a similar expression in Ephesians 1:17. But here it would emphasise the subordination of Christ, which is precisely what is out of place in a passage setting forth His all-sufficiency, and against a doctrine the special peril of which lay in its tendency to under-estimate both the Person and the Work of Christ. The grammatically possible apposition of χ. with θεοῦ (Hilary) is out of the question. Christ is the mystery of God, since in Him God’s eternal purpose of salvation finds its embodiment. Hort’s conjecture that the original reading was τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν χριστῷ does not find sufficient support in the textual or exegetical difficulties of the clause.

Verse 3

Colossians 2:3. ἐν may refer to μυστηρίου (Beng., Mey., Alf., Ol., Sod., Haupt, Abb.) or to χριστοῦ (Ell., Hofm., Lightf., Holtzmann, Findl., Moule). The former is defended on the ground that ἀπόκρ. corresponds to μυστ. It is also urged that μυστ. is the leading idea. On the other hand, if Christ is rightly identified with the mystery, there is no practical difference between the two views, and it is simpler to refer to χ. as the nearer noun.— εἰσὶν πάντες οἱ θησαυροὶ τῆς σοφίας καὶ γνώσεως ἀπόκρυφοι. Bengel, Meyer and Alford take ἀπόκρ. as an ordinary adjective with θησαυροὶ, “in whom are all the hidden treasures”. For this we should have expected οἱ ἀπόκρ., and there is no stress on the fact that the hidden treasures are in Christ, yet the position of the word at the end of the sentence is explained as due to emphasis. Generally Chrysostom has been followed in taking it as the predicate to εἰσὶν, “in whom are hidden all the treasures”. But this is excluded by its distance from the verb. Accordingly it should be taken as a secondary predicate, and thus equivalent to an adverb, “in whom are all the treasures … hidden,” i.e., in whom all the treasures are, and are in a hidden manner (Hofm., Ell., Lightf., Sod., Haupt, Abb.). The force of the passage then is this; all, and not merely some of, the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are contained in Christ, therefore the search for them outside of Him is doomed to failure. But not only are they in Christ, but they are contained in a hidden way. Therefore they do not lie on the surface, but must be sought for earnestly, as men seek for hidden treasure. They are not matters of external observances, such as the false teachers enjoined, but to be apprehended by deep and serious meditation. If Lightfoot is right in thinking that ἀπόκρ. is borrowed from the terminology of the false teachers, there is the added thought that the wisdom they fancied they found in their secret books was really to be found in Christ alone. But it is hardly likely that there is any such reference here. Even if the allusion to literature were more plausible than it is, there is no evidence that the word was used in this sense so early. Besides it occurs twice with θης. in the LXX. The distinction between σοφίας and γνώσεως is not easy to make here; the former is general, the latter special. Lightfoot says: “While γνῶσις applies chiefly to the apprehension of truths, σοφία super-adds the power of reasoning about them and tracing their relations”. Moule thinks it is God’s wisdom and knowledge that are here attributed to Christ, but this seems uncertain.

Verse 4

Colossians 2:4. τοῦτο λέγω. Haupt thinks the reference is only to Colossians 2:3, but this verse looks back as far as 2b, and Colossians 2:5 to Colossians 2:1. Generally the reference of τοῦτο is thought to be Colossians 2:1-3, though Soden thinks it is to Colossians 1:24 to Colossians 2:3.— παραλογίζηται means to deceive by false reckoning, then, as here, by false reasoning.— πιθανολογίᾳ: “persuasive speech”. The word has no bad sense in itself, and what bad sense it has here it gets from παραλογ. Classical writers use it with the meaning of probable argument as opposed to strict demonstration.

Verses 4-15


Verse 5

Colossians 2:5. γὰρ is difficult. Meyer thinks that the fact of his spiritual presence is mentioned, in contrast to his bodily absence, as a reason why they should not let themselves be deceived. Ellicott (after Chrysostom) thinks that he is explaining why he can advise them, it is because he thus knows their need. Lightfoot, Soden, Findlay and Haupt think he explains his warning by his personal interest in them.— καὶ goes closely with τῇ σαρκὶ. The dative is one of reference, and τῇ σαρκὶ is equivalent to “in the body”. There is not the least ground for the inference that Paul had ever been to Colossæ.— τῷ πνεύματι: not “by the Holy Spirit,” but “in spirit”. Paul’s own spirit is meant as in 1 Corinthians 5:3-4.— σῦν ὑμῖν εἰμί: not simply among you, but “united with you through the warmest community of interest” (Sod.).— χαίρων καὶ βλέπων. Many take this as if it were equivalent to “rejoicing to see,” but it is questionable if the words can mean this. If the object of his joy is the condition of the Church, we should have expected an inversion of the order, first seeing and then rejoicing at what he saw. Lightfoot explains the order as indicating that he looked because it gave him joy to look. Ellicott assumes a continuation of the words σῦν ὑμῖν, “rejoicing with you and beholding”. Meyer thinks χαίρων means rejoicing to be thus present with you in spirit. It is very difficult to decide as to the meaning, possibly Ellicott’s view is best.— τὴν τάξιν καὶ τὸ στερέωμα. A military sense is often found in both of these nouns, though sometimes (as by Ol.) it is restricted to the latter. Meyer and Abbott deny the military reference altogether. Both words are used in a military sense, but this is suggested by the context, and it is said that “here the context suggests nothing of the kind” (Abb.). Haupt decides for it on the ground of the connexion. If the terms had been general, Paul would not have placed his joy over their order before his mention of their faith. But in representing them as a well-ordered army, and then expressing the same idea under the image of a bulwark which consists in their faith, the order is correct. It is, however, very questionable if an argument from order of this kind is to be pressed. Lightfoot translates στερέωμα “solid front”. It may have simply the sense of firm foundation. Whatever the precise force of the words, it is clear that the Church as a whole remained true to the doctrine it had been taught.— πίστεως: cf. Acts 16:5, 1 Peter 5:9.

Verse 6

Colossians 2:6. ὧς οὖν παρελάβετε. Oltramare translates “since,” and interprets, “since ye have received Christ … it is in Him you must walk”. But probably the usual interpretation “as” is right, meaning the form in which they had received (= καθὼς ἐμάθετε, Colossians 1:7). The sense is, in that case, live in accordance with what you received, and the emphasis is on περιπ., not on ἐν αὐτῷ.— παρελάβετε is practically equivalent to ἐμάθετε, received by instruction, rather than received into the heart.— τὸν χριστὸν ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον. This is frequently translated “the Christ, even Jesus the Lord” (Hofm., Lightf., Sod., Haupt, Abb.). In favour of this is the fact that χ. . is not a Pauline expression, but neither is . κύριος. A further argument in its favour is that χριστός is very frequent in this Epistle, and especially prominent in this section of it. If this is so we must suppose that Paul has chosen the form of words to meet some false view at Colossæ. A reference to a Judaistic conception of the Messiah, held by the false teachers, which failed to rise to the Christian conception of His Person as Lord, is supposed by Haupt to be intended. This is possible, but the other possible view “ye received Christ Jesus as Lord” is no more inconsistent with Pauline usage, and emphasises still more the Lordship of Christ, which it was the chief aim of the Apostle to assert. There seems to be no hint that the Messiahship of Jesus was challenged; at most there was the question what Messiahship involved. More probably there is no reference to the Messiahship at all.

Verse 7

Colossians 2:7. ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ ἐποικοδομούμενοι: “rooted and built up”. The metaphor changes from περιπατ., and again from ἐρριζ., though Lightfoot points out that the term “to root” is not infrequently applied to buildings. More important is the change in tense, the perfect participle expressing an abiding result, the present a continuous process. ἐν αὐτῷ probably belongs to both. We should not (with Schenkel, Hofm.) place a full stop at περιπ. and take the participles with βλέπετε, which would be intolerably awkward.— βεβαιούμενοι τῇ πίστει: “stablished in faith,” also the present of continuous process. Meyer and Lightfoot take the dative as instrumental, but it seems best with most recent commentators to take it as a dative of reference (cf. Colossians 2:5).— καθὼς ἐδιδάχθητε: cf. καθὼς ἐμάθετε, Colossians 1:7. The words define τῇ πίστει.— περισσεύοντες ἐν εὐχαριστίᾳ. Oltramare notes that “thankfulness is a preservative against the new doctrines,” since they remove Christ from His true place. The emphasis on thankfulness is very marked in this Epistle.

Verse 8

Colossians 2:8. Paul once more (previously in Colossians 2:4) begins to attack the false teachers, but turns aside in Colossians 2:9 from the direct attack to lay the basis for the decisive attack in Colossians 2:16-23.— τις. It is not clear that we can infer from the singular that only one false teacher had appeared in the Colossian Church.— ὑμᾶς is placed in an emphatic position, and its force is “you whose Christian course has been so fair, and who have received such exhortations to remain steadfast”.— ἔσται: the future indicative after μή implies a more serious estimate of the danger than the subjunctive. For the construction, τις followed by a participle with the article, cf. Galatians 1:7, Luke 18:9.— συλαγωγῶν. The sense is disputed. Several of the Fathers and some modern writers think it means “to rob”. It is used in this sense with οἶκον (Aristaen., 2, 22), and Field (Notes on the Translation of the N.T., p. 195) says “there can be no better rendering than ‘lest any man rob you’ ”. But, as Soden points out, that of which they were robbed should have been expressed. It is better to take it with most commentators in the more obvious sense “lead you away as prey”. The verb is so used in Heliod., Æth., x., 35 (with θυγατέρα), Nicet., Hist., 5, 96 (with παρθένον), and it may be chosen with the special sense of seduction in mind.— διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας καὶ κενῆς ἀπάτης. The second noun is explanatory of the first, as is shown by the absence of the article and preposition before it and the lack of any indication that Paul had two evils to attack. The meaning is “his philosophy, which is vain deceit”. The word has, of course, no reference to Greek philosophy, and probably none to the allegorical method of Scripture exegesis that the false teachers may have employed. Philo uses it of the law of Judaism, and Josephus of the three Jewish sects. Here, no doubt, it means just the false teaching that threatened to undermine the faith of the Church. There is no condemnation of philosophy in itself, but simply of the empty, but plausible, sham that went by that name at Colossæ. Hort thinks that the sense is akin to the later usage of the word to denote the ascetic life.— κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων: “according to human tradition” as opposed to Divine revelation. Meyer, Ellicott and Findlay connect with συλαγ. It is more usual to connect with ἀπ. or τ. φιλ. κ. κεν. ἀπ. The last is perhaps best. It indicates the source from which their teaching was drawn.— κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου. [On this phrase the following authorities may be referred to: Hilgenfeld, Galaterbrief, pp. 66 sq.; Lipsius, Paul. Rechtf., p. 83; Ritschl, Rechtf. u. Vers,3 ii., 252; Klöpper, ad loc.; Spitta, 2 Pet. u. Jud., 263 sq.; Everling, Paul. Angel. u. Däm., pp. 65 sq.; Haupt, ad loc.; Abbott, ad loc. The best and fullest account in English is Massie’s article “Elements” in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible. To these may now be added St. John Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, pp. 163–170, and Deissmann’s article “Elements” in the Encyclopædia Biblica.] Originally στ. meant the letters of the alphabet, then in Plato and later writers the physical elements, and lastly (but only from the first century A.D.) the rudiments of knowledge. It has been frequently taken in this sense as the A B C of religious knowledge (so recently Mey., Lightf., Ol., Cremer and many others). This explanation had, however, been attacked by Neander with powerful arguments in his discussion of the parallel passage Galatians 4:3. (Planting and Training, i., 465, 466, cf. 323 [Bohn’s ed.].) He pointed out that if στ. meant first principles we should have had a genitive of the object, as in Hebrews 5:12, στ. τ. ἀρχῆς τ. λογίων. Such an omission of the leading idea is inadmissible. Further, Paul regarded the heathen as enslaved under στ. τ. κός. and their falling away to Jewish rites as a return to this slavery. Therefore the expression must apply to something both had in common, and something condemned by Paul, which cannot be the first principles of religion (to which also ἀσθενῆ would be inappropriate), but the ceremonial observances, which were so called as earthly and material. It has been further pointed out by Klöpper that following κατὰ τ. παρ. τ. ἀνθρ. this term introduced by κατὰ and not connected by καὶ must express the content of the teaching, which is not very suitable if “religious rudiments” is the meaning. Nor is it true that the false teachers gave elementary instruction. If this view be set aside, as suiting neither the expression in itself nor the context in which it occurs, the question arises whether we should return to the interpretation of several Fathers, that the heavenly bodies are referred to. These were called στοιχεῖα (examples are given in Valesius on Eus. H. E., v., 24, Hilg. l.c.). This is favoured by the reference to “days, and months, and seasons, and years” in Galatians 4:11, immediately following the mention of στ. in Colossians 2:10, for these were regulated by the heavenly bodies. But it is unsatisfactory, for the context in which the expression occurs, especially in Galatians, points to personal beings. In this passage the contrast of στ. τ. κ. with χριστόν is fully satisfied only if the former are personal. In Galatians 4:3 Paul applies the illustration of the heir under “guardians and stewards” to the pre-Christian world under the στ. τ. κ., and here again a personal reference is forcibly suggested. Still more is this the case with Galatians 4:8-9. In Colossians 2:8 Paul says ἐδουλεύσατε τοῖς φύσει μὴ οὖσι θεοῖς. In the next verse he asks “how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly στ., to which you wish to be in bondage ( δουλεῦσαι) over again?” This clearly identifies τ. στ. with τ. φύς. μὴ οὖσι θεοῖς, and therefore proves their personality, which is suggested also by ἐδουλ.; accordingly they cannot be the heavenly bodies or the physical elements of the world. Hilgenfeld, followed by Lipsius, Holsten and Klöpper, regards them as the astral spirits, the angels of the heavenly bodies. That the latter were regarded as animated by angels is certain, for we find this belief in Philo and Enoch (cf. Job 38:7, James 1:17). But it is strange that the spirits of the stars should be called στ. τ. κόσμου. And while they determine the seasons and festivals, they have nothing to do with many ceremonial observances, such as abstinence from meats and drinks. Spitta (followed by Everling, Sod., Haupt, and apparently Abb.) has the merit of giving the true interpretation. According to the later Jewish theology, not only the stars but all things had their special angels. The proof of this belongs to a discussion of angelology, and must be assumed here. στ. τ. κός. are therefore the elemental spirits which animate all material things. They are so called from the elements which they animate, and are identical with the ἀρχαὶ κ. ἐξουσίαι, who receive this name from their sphere of authority. Thus all the abstinence from material things, submission to material ordinances and so forth, involve a return to their service. We need not, with Ritschl, limit the reference to the angels of the law, though they are included. Thus interpreted the passage gains its full relevance to the context, and to the angel worship of the false teachers which Paul is attacking. The chief objection to this explanation is that we have no parallel for this usage of the word, except in the Test. Sol., ἡμεῖς ἐσμὲν τὰ λεγόμενα στοιχεῖα, οἱ κοσμοκράτορες τοῦ κόσμου τούτου. But this is late. The term is used in this sense in modern Greek. In spite of this the exegetical proof that personal beings are meant is too strong to be set aside. So we must explain, “philosophy having for its subject-matter the elemental spirits”.— καὶ οὐ κατὰ χριστόν must be taken similarly, not having Christ for its subject-matter. χ. means the person of Christ, not teaching about Christ, and is opposed simply to στ., not to παρ. τ. ἀνθρ. The false teachers put these angels in the place of Christ.

Verse 9

Colossians 2:9. ὅτι is connected by Bleek and Meyer with οὐ κατὰ χ., but it is much more probable that it should be connected with the whole warning introduced by βλέπετε. The false teachers represented the fulness of the Godhead as distributed among the angels, and thus led their victims captive. Paul’s warning against the false doctrine thus rests on the fact that it was in Christ that the whole fulness dwelt.— ἐν αὐτῷ is emphatic, in Him and in Him alone.— κατοικεῖ: “permanently dwells”. The reference is to the Exalted State, not only on account of the present, but of the context and Paul’s Christology generally.— πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος: “all the fulness of the Godhead”. πᾶν is emphatic, the whole fulness dwells in Christ, therefore it is vain to seek it wholly or partially outside of Him. πλ. τ. θ. is not to be taken (as by Ol.) to mean the perfection of Divinity, i.e., ideal holiness. Nor can it mean the Church, for which Ephesians 1:23 gives no support, nor yet the universe, either of which must have been very differently expressed. The addition of θεότητος defines πλ. as the fulness of Deity. The word is to be distinguished from θειότης as Deity, the being God, from Divinity, the being Divine or Godlike. The passage thus asserts the real Deity of Christ.— σωματικῶς. This word is very variously interpreted. The reference is usually taken to be to the glorified body of Christ, or (as by Lightf.) to the Incarnation, and the word is translated “in bodily fashion”. Apart from the question whether the word naturally expresses this, there is the difficulty caused by the contrast implied in its emphatic position. This contrast is sometimes thought to be to the pre-incarnate state, but this has no relevance here. A contrast to the angels might be in point, but they were closely connected with bodies, so the contrast in this respect did not exist. But neither is Soden’s view that while the angels have bodies what is expressed in them is only θειότης (Romans 1:20) not πλ. τ. θεότητος, a tenable explanation, since this is just read into the words, not elicited from them; nor could such a distinction have occurred to the readers. This interpretation of σωμ., then, as expressing the indwelling of the fulness in a body, although said by Abbott to be “the only one tenable,” is encumbered with grave difficulties, and has been rejected by several commentators. Many have taken it to mean “really” (recently Bleek, Kl(12), Everling, Cremer). This is supported by the contrast of σῶμα with σκιά in Colossians 2:17, the indwelling is real and not shadowy or typical. But σωματικῶς could hardly express this shade of meaning unless the antithesis was expressed. Oltramare translates “personally, in His person”. But he quotes no instances of the adverb, but only of σῶμα. And Haupt’s criticism is just, that this sense might suggest that in God Himself it dwelt impersonally. After an elaborate examination of the various views, Haupt puts forward the explanation that σωματ. relates to τ. πλ. τ. θ., and is to be translated “in the form of a body”. The meaning he takes to be that the fulness exists in Christ as a body, that is as a complete and organic whole. This suits the context and the general argument better than the reference to Christ’s own body. In contrast to the distribution of the fulness among the angels, or to the view that it dwelt only partially in Him, Paul insists that all the fulness dwells in Him, and not fragmentarily but as an organic whole. This view, like Oltramare’s, is supported only by references to the use of σῶμα. This is not a fatal objectiön, and its harmony with the context makes it the most probable interpretation.

Verse 10

Colossians 2:10. καὶ ἐστὲ ἐν αὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι. This still depends on ὅτι. ἐστὲ is obviously not an imperative. We should, perhaps, reject the view of Ellicott and Lightfoot that there are two predicates. The thoughts thus obtained that they are in Him, and that they are made full, are true in themselves. But, as Abbott points out, the context requires the emphasis to be thrown on the αὐτῷ, so that the sense is “and it is in Him that ye are made full”. πεπλ. is chosen on account of πλήρωμα in Colossians 2:9, but we cannot explain it as filled with the Godhead, because such an equalising of Christians with their Lord would have been impossible to Paul, and would have required καὶ ὑμεῖς to express it. This meets Oltramare’s objection to the translation adopted. He says that if πεπλ. means filled, they must be filled with something, but since the most obvious explanation that they are filled with the fulness of the Godhead is so largely rejected, it is clear that the translation breaks down. He translates “in Him you are perfect,” and urges that this also overthrows the usual interpretation of πλήρ. τ. θεότ. But apart from the fact that πλήρωμα does not mean moral perfection, τῆς θεότ. cannot be supplied. What Paul means is that in Christ they find the satisfaction of every spiritual want. It therefore follows of itself that they do not need the angelic powers.— ὅς ἐστιν κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καί ἐξουσίας: cf. Colossians 1:18. That Christ is the Head of every principality and power is a further reason why they should not seek to them. All they need they have in Christ. Paul does not mention here the thrones or lordships as in Colossians 1:16. But it is a questionable inference that they, unlike the principalities and powers, had no place in the false teaching. The latter are probably adduced only as examples.

Verse 11

Colossians 2:11. The reference to circumcision seems to come in abruptly. But probably it stands in close connexion with what has gone before. For the return to the principalities and powers in Colossians 2:15 shows that Paul is not passing here to a new section of his subject. Judaism, of which circumcision was the most characteristic feature, was regarded as under angelic powers, and the removal of them meant its abolition. It seems probable that the false teachers set a high value on circumcision, and urged it on the Colossians, not as indispensable to salvation, in which case Paul would have definitely attacked them on this point, but as conferring a higher sanctity. There seems to be no suggestion that it was regarded as a charm against evil spirits. The Apostle does not merely leave them with the statement that they have been made full in Christ, which rendered circumcision unnecessary, but adds that they have already received circumcision, not material but spiritual, not the removal of a fragment of the body, but the complete putting off of the body of flesh.— ἐν καὶ περιετμήθητε. A definite historical fact is referred to, as is shown by the aorist. This was their conversion, the inward circumcision of the heart, by which they entered on the blessings of the New Covenant. The outward sign of this is baptism, with which Paul connects it in the next verse. But it cannot be identified with it, for it is not made with hands. The circumcision of the heart is a prophetic idea (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 9:25, Ezekiel 44:7; Ezekiel 44:9). In Paul it occurs Romans 2:28-29, Philippians 3:3.— περιτομῇ ἀχειροποιήτῳ: “with 2 circumcision not wrought by hands,” i.e., spiritual, ethical (cf. Ephesians 2:11, οἱ λεγόμενοι ἀκροβυστία ὑπὸ τῆς λεγομένης περιτομῆς ἐν σαρκὶ χειροποιήτου).— ἐν τῇ ἀπεκδύσει τοῦ σώματος τῆς σαρκός: “in the stripping from you of the body of the flesh”. The expression σῶμα τ. σαρκὸς is unusual. It means the body which consists of flesh, and of flesh as the seat of sin. By the removal of the home in which sin dwelt sin itself was removed. It is one of those cases in which the sense of σῶμα approximates to that of σάρξ. This body of flesh is removed from the Christian at his conversion.— ἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ χριστοῦ. This cannot be the circumcision endured by Christ in His infancy, for that was wrought by hands, and such a reference would be most unfortunate for the polemic against ceremonies and altogether un-Pauline. Usually it is explained as the circumcision of our hearts which comes from Christ. But this has no parallel in the N.T.; further, it practically repeats ἐν κ. περιετ.; and, coming between the removal of the body of the flesh and the burial with Christ, breaks the connexion. Accordingly Schneckenburger (followed by Kl(13), Sod., Haupt) suggested that it was really an expression for the death of Christ. (His view that ἀπεκ. τ. σ. τ. σ. was to be taken similarly has met with no acceptance.) In favour of this it may be said that in the immediate context Paul goes on to speak of burial and resurrection with Christ, and a reference to the death would naturally precede. And circumcision is a happy metaphor for Christ’s death to sin (Romans 6:10). Meyer’s objection that it is inappropriate since Christ endured actual circumcision is not serious, for, if sound, it should have excluded the choice of these ambiguous words altogether, which naturally suggest a circumcision suffered by Christ. But what creates a grave difficulty is that the thought does not seem to run on connectedly. There is a transition from the death of Christ on the cross to the burial of Christians with Him in their own personal experience. Perhaps this interpretation involves taking περιετμήθητε of the death of Christians with Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:14), for it doubles the difficulty if Paul passes from the personal experience of the Christian to the cross, and from the cross back to personal experience. This suggests the possibility that περ. χ. might be interpreted on the analogy of θλίψεων τ. χριστοῦ (Colossians 1:24) as the circumcision of Christ in the believer. This would give a good connexion, and one that would suit the apparent identification of the circumcision of Christ with the putting off of the body of the flesh. The phrase, however, is so strange, and the idea that Christ dies with us so questionable (we die with Him), that it seems unsafe to adopt it. It is, therefore, best to mitigate the difficulty by the view that in these words Paul interpolates, in a concise and obscure expression, a reference to the great fact which underlay the spiritual experiences of which he is speaking. This circumcision, he would say, that is the removal of the flesh, was first experienced by Christ on the cross, and what happened to you ideally then is realised though union with Him now.

Verse 12

Colossians 2:12. συνταφέντες αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ βαπτισμῷ. This refers to the personal experience of the Christian. The rite of baptism, in which the person baptised was first buried beneath the water and then raised from it, typified to Paul the burial and resurrection of the believer with Christ. Burial seems to imply a previous death, but Romans 6:3-4 perhaps shows that the metaphors must not be rigidly pressed. συνταφ. is to be joined closely with περιετμήθητε. If any distinction in meaning is to be made between βαπτισμός and βάπτισμα, it is that the former expresses the process, the latter the result.— ἐν may refer either to χρ. or to βαπ. The former view is taken by Chrysostom (followed by Luther, Meyer and many others). The latter is taken by Calvin and most recent commentators (De W., Hofm., Alf., Ell., Lightf., Kl(14), Sod., Haupt, Abb.). In favour of the former it is urged that the parallelism with ἐν καὶ περιετμ. requires it. But the real parallel is with “buried with Him in baptism,” and this requires “raised with Him in baptism”. Since baptism is not the mere plunging into the water, but emersion from it too, ἐν is not against this interpretation, and διά or ἐξ is not necessary to express it.— συνηγέρθητε expresses the positive side of the experience. That death with Christ, which is the putting off of the body of flesh, has for its counterpart the putting on of Christ (Galatians 3:27), which is followed by a walk with Him in newness of life. It is true that our complete redemption is attained only in the resurrection of the body (Romans 8:23, 2 Corinthians 5:2-4). But there is clearly no reference here to the bodily resurrection at the last day, as some have thought; for that is altogether excluded by the whole tenor of the passage, which refers to an experience already complete. Nor can we, with Meyer, think of the bodily resurrection as already ideally accomplished in baptism. For the preceding context speaks only of a spiritual experience, and it is impossible to pass thus violently to one that is physical. Haupt agrees with this, but thinks the reference is not ethical, but religious, that is forensic. The rest of the passage, he argues, shows that it is not moral transformation, but justification, that Paul has in mind. But however true this may be of χαρισάμενοςσταυρῷ, it is at least questionable for the immediately succeeding context. And since the union covers both ethical renewal and justification, it is natural to find both mentioned in connexion with it, and to hold fast the former here as the more natural interpretation of the words.— διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐνεργείας: “through faith in the working”. Klöpper (following Luth., Beng., De W. and others) makes τῆς ἐνερ. genitive of cause, “faith produced by the working”. He argues that it is strange that in the experience already referred to the faith which proves itself in baptism must be thought of as directed towards the Person of Christ, and so cannot now be spoken of as faith in the working of God; and further, that the whole context has referred to a passive experience, and so this is fitly continued by the assertion that even the faith, which appropriates the death and resurrection of Christ, is the creation of God. But these arguments are insufficient to overthrow the force of Pauline usage, according to which elsewhere the genitive after πίστις, unless it refers to the person who believes, expresses the object of faith. The view of Hofmann that τ. ἐνερ. is a genitive of apposition, and that what is meant is “faith, that is the working of God,” is quite out of the question. For faith directed towards the working of God who raised Christ from the dead, cf. Romans 4:24. God is so characterised, since the working by which He raised Christ will also be effective in our own spiritual experience. Our baptism is therefore not a sign of nothing, but of a real spiritual burial and resurrection with Christ.

Verse 13

Colossians 2:13. Partially parallel to Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5.— καὶ ὑμᾶς: “and you”. Frequently this is taken to mean “you also,” i.e., you Gentiles. But since Paul has been using the second person before, he can hardly be introducing a contrast. We should therefore take καὶ as simply copulative. It means “you as well as Christ,” as is shown also by the verbal parallel between ἐκ τ. νεκρῶν and νεκροὺς ὄντας.— νεκροὺς. Here Paul varies the sense of death. In the preceding verses it is death to the old life, here the old life itself is described as a condition of spiritual death. It is not of liability to eternal death (Mey.), or to physical death as the certain consequence of sin that he is speaking, but of a state of actual death, which can only be spiritual (cf. “sin revived and I died,” Romans 7:9).— τοῖς παραπτώμασιν: “by your trespasses”. The dative is probably one of Cause, but it could be translated by “in”. παραπτ. are individual acts of transgression, of which ἁμαρτία is the principle.— τῇ ἀκροβυστίᾳ της σαρκὸς ὑμῶν: “by the uncircumcision of your flesh”. This is often supposed to refer to literal uncircumcision, i.e., to the fact that they were Gentiles. But we have already seen that there is no emphasis on this fact. And the implied contrast that Jews were not, while Gentiles were, spiritually dead, is impossible in Paul. He cannot have said that they were dead by reason of uncircumcision, and, if the dative is taken otherwise, yet the coupling of τῇ ἀκρ. with τ. παραπτ. shows that physical uncircumcision is not referred to, but an ethical state. And this would not, as Abbott thinks, be unintelligible to Gentile readers, for he had already explained the metaphor in Colossians 2:11. τ. σαρκὸς is accordingly to be taken as an epexegetical genitive, “the uncircumcision which consisted in your flesh”.— συνεζωοποίησεν: to be taken in the same sense as συνηγέρθητε, not in any of the senses wrongly attributed to that word, which are reintroduced here. Chrysostom (followed by Ew., Ell.) makes Christ the subject. This is defended by Ellicott on the ground of the prominence of Christ through the passage, of the difficulty of supplying θεός from θεοῦ, and of referring the acts in Colossians 2:14-15 to the Father. But this last difficulty, urged also by Lightfoot, rests on a probably wrong interpretation of Colossians 2:15. Neither of the others is of any weight against the argument from Pauline usage, which always refers such actions to God. This view would also involve the awkwardness of making Christ raise Himself and us with Him, whereas in Colossians 2:12 His resurrection is referred to God. It is therefore best to regard θεός as the subject, as in the parallel Ephesians 2:4-5.— χαρισάμενος: “forgiving”. Forgiveness is contemporary with quickening.— ἡμῖν: the change from the second person may be due to Paul’s wish gratefully to acknowledge his own participation in this blessing. It must not (with Hofm.) be referred to Jewish Christians.

Verse 14

Colossians 2:14. Partially parallel to Ephesians 2:15. Apparently Paul now passes to the historic fact which supplied the ground for the forgiveness. χαρισ. therefore refers to the subjective appropriation of the objective blotting out of the bond in the death of Christ.— ἐξαλείψας: “having blotted out,” i.e., having cancelled.— τὸ καθʼ ἡμῶν χειρόγραφον τοῖς δόγμασιν. The original sense of χειρόγ. is handwriting, but it had come to mean a bond or note of hand. It is generally agreed that the reference here is to the Law (cf. Ephesians 2:15, τὸν νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν ἐν δόγμασιν). That those under the Law did not write the Law has been pressed against this. It is true that χειρόγ. means strictly a bond given by the debtor in writing. It is not necessary, with Chrysostom and many others, to meet the objection by reference to the promise of the people in Exodus 24:3. There is no need to press rigidly this detail of the metaphor. It is disputed in what sense we are to take the reference to the Law. Some (including Lightf., Ol., Sod., Abb.) think it embraces the Mosaic Law and the law written in the hearts of Gentiles. It is quite possible, however, that καθʼ ἡμῶν means simply against us Jews. But, apart from this, the addition of τ. δογ. points to formulated commandment. This is confirmed by Ephesians 2:15, where the similar expression is used, not of what Jews and Gentiles had in common, but that which created the separation between them, viz., the Jewish Law. Whether, with Calvin, Klöpper and Haupt, we should still further narrow the reference to the ceremonial Law is very questionable. It is true that circumcision and laws of meat and drink and sacred seasons are the chief forms that the “bond” takes. And it might make the interpretation of Colossians 2:15 a little easier to regard the ceremonial as that part of the Law specially given by angels. But this distinction between the moral and ceremonial Law has no meaning in Paul. The Law is a unity and is done away as a whole. And for Paul the hostile character of the Law is peculiarly associated with the moral side of it. The law which slew him is illustrated by the tenth commandment, and the ministry of death was engraved on tablets of stone. It was the moral elements in the Law that made it the strength of sin. It is not certain how τοῖς δόγμασιν should be taken. Frequently it is interpreted “consisting in decrees”. For this we ought to have had τὸ ἐν δόγ. Ellicott says this construction “seems distinctly ungrammatical”. Others (including Mey., Lightf., Sod., Haupt, Abb.) connect closely with χειρόγ., in such a way that the dative is governed by γεγραμμένον implied in χειρόγ. This is questionable in point of grammar. Winer says: “Meyer’s explanation, that which was written with the commandments (the dative being used as in the phrase written with letters), is the more harsh, as χειρόγραφον has so completely established itself in usage as an independent word that it is hardly capable of governing (like γεγραμμένον) such a dative as this”. (Winer-Moulton, p. 275; cf. also Ellicott ad loc.) It seems best then (with De W., Ell., Kl(15), Ol.) to translate “the handwriting which was against us by its ordinances”. For this we should have expected τ. καθʼ ἡμ. τ. δόγ. χειρόγ. or τ. τοῖς δόγ. καθʼ ἡμ. χειρόγ; but this seems to be the best way of taking the text as it stands, and perhaps the position of τ. δόγ. is for emphasis. The Greek commentators, followed by Bengel, explained the passage to mean having blotted out the Law by the doctrines of the Gospel. But δόγ. is a most un-Pauline, because legalist, expression for the Gospel, and by itself could not mean Christian doctrines. Nor is the sense it gives Pauline, for it was not by the teaching of the Gospel, but by the death of Christ, that the Law was done away. Erasmus’ view (followed by Hofm.) that τ. δόγ. should be connected with what follows is very improbable.— ἦν ὑπεναντίον ἡμῖν: stronger than καθʼ ἡμῶν, asserting not merely that the bond had a claim against us, but that it was hostile to us, the suggestion being that we could not meet its claim. No idea of secret hostility is present.— καὶ αὐτὸ ἦρκεν ἐκ τοῦ μέσου. “And it He hath taken out of the midst.” The change from aorist to perfect is significant, as expressing the abiding character of the abolition. Lightfoot thinks that a change of subject takes place here, from God to Christ. His reason is that Christ must be the subject of ἀπεκδ., since “no grammatical meaning can be assigned to ἀπεκδυσάμενος, by which it could be understood of God the Father”. Since, however, no change of subject is hinted at in the passage, and would involve great difficulty, it is more reasonable to conclude that an interpretation which requires Christ to be the subject of ἀπεκδ. is self-condemned.— προσηλώσας αὐτὸ τῷ σταυρῷ: “having nailed it to the cross”. When Christ was crucified, God nailed the Law to His cross. Thus it, like the flesh, was abrogated, sharing His death. The bond therefore no longer exists for us. To explain the words by reference to a custom of driving a nail through documents to cancel them, is not only to call in a questionable fact (see Field, Notes on Transl. of the N.T., p. 196), but to dilute in the most tasteless way one of Paul’s most striking and suggestive phrases. Quite on a level with it is Field’s own suggestion as to “this seemingly superfluous addition” (!) that the reference is to the custom of hanging up spoils of war in temples. Zahn (Einl. in das N.T., i., 335) draws a distinction between what was written on the bond and was blotted out by God, and the bond itself which was nailed to the cross and taken out of the way. We thus have two thoughts expressed: the removal of guilt incurred by transgression of the Law, and the abolition of the Law itself. It is questionable if this distinction is justified. The object is the same, αὐτὸ simply repeats χειρόγραφον.

Verse 15

Colossians 2:15. In this difficult verse the meaning of almost every word is disputed. It is therefore imperative to control the exegesis by strict regard to the context. The main question relates to the character of the principalities and powers. Subordinate questions are raised as to the subject of the sentence and the meaning of ἀπεκδ. The context before and after ( οὖν, Colossians 2:16) requires us to bring the interpretation into close connexion with the main thought, the abolition of the Law.— ἀπεκδυσάμενος τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας. Till recently the principalities and powers have been explained as hostile demoniacal spirits, and this view is held by Meyer, Ellicott, Lightfoot, Oltramare and Weiss. In its favour is the impression made by the verse that a victory over the powers is spoken of. How far this is so can be determined only by an examination of the terms employed. Against this view the following objections seem decisive. ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ. occur several times in the Epistle, but nowhere in this sense. In Ephesians 6:12 the reference to evil spirits is definitely and repeatedly fixed by the context. This is not so here. Further, the connexion with the context is difficult to trace. Bengel says: “Qui angelos bonos colebant, iidem malos timebant: neutrum jure”. Weiss expresses a somewhat similar idea: “It seems that the Colossian theosophists threatened the readers that they would again fall under the power of evil spirits if they did not submit to their discipline”. But not only have we no evidence for this, but this interpretation cuts the nerve of the passage, which is the abolition of the Law by the cross. Meyer’s view is more relevant: the Law is done away in Christ, and since it is the strength of sin, sin’s power is thus broken, and so is the devil’s power, which is exercised only through sin. Gess interprets that the Law through its curse created separation between men and God, and thus gave a point of support for the dominion of evil spirits. “Of this handwriting have they boasted. Our guilt was their strength. He who sees the handwriting nailed to the cross can mock these foes.” But these views are read into the passage, and do not lead up to Colossians 2:16. And where the Jewish Law was absent, as in the heathen world, sin was rampant. Ellicott and Lightfoot do not attempt to trace a connexion with the context, nor on their view of ἀπεκδ. is one possible. All this strongly suggests that we should give another sense to ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ. And this is secured if we identify them with ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ. already mentioned (Colossians 1:16 and Colossians 2:10). In favour of this are the following considerations: (1) Unless we are warned to the contrary it is natural to keep the same meaning throughout. (2) We thus get a thought that perfectly suits the context. This law that has been abolished was given by angels, its abolition implies their degradation. To them was also subject the whole of the observances of eating, drinking, etc. (3) It is a powerful polemic against the worship of angels (Colossians 2:18), which is lost on the other view. In effect Paul says, “You are worshipping angels who were degraded when Christ was crucified”. We may therefore take ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ, as in the rest of the Epistle, as angelic powers, identical with στοιχεῖα τ. κόσμου, and holding a special relation to the Law. The next question is as to the meaning of ἀπεκδ. The translation “having put off His body” may be safely set aside, for Paul must have said this if he had meant it. The Greek commentators, followed by Ellicott and Lightfoot, interpret “having put off from Himself”. The word is used in this sense in Colossians 3:9. They explain that Christ divested Himself of the powers of evil that gathered about Him, since He assumed our humanity with all its temptations. But (apart from the change of subject) the change of metaphor is very awkward from stripping off adversaries, like clothes, to exhibiting and triumphing over them. More cogent is the objection caused by the strangeness of the idea. Christ wore our human nature with its liability to temptation. But that He wore evil spirits is a different and indeed most objectionable idea. The same translation is adopted by some who take the other view of ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ., and the explanation given is that God in the death of Christ divested Himself of angelic mediators. This is free from the impropriety of the other view, but shares its incongruity of metaphor. The more usual translation is “spoiled”. The middle can mean “stripped for Himself,” and this again suits either view of ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ. If evil spirits, they are stripped of their dominion; but if angels of the Law, they are despoiled of the dominion they exercise. This view, though stigmatised by Zahn as “an inexcusable caprice,” is probably best. They are fallen potentates. There is no need to worship them, or to fear their vengeance, if their commands are disobeyed. With the true interpretation of this passage, every reason disappears for assuming that Christ is the subject.— ἐδειγμάτισεν ἐν παρρησία. “He made a show of them openly.” No exhibition in disgrace is necessarily implied. The principalities and powers are exhibited in their true position of inferiority, as mediators of an abolished Law and rulers of elements to which Christians have died. ἐν παρ. is not to be translated “boldly,” for courage is not needed to exhibit those who are spoiled. The word is contrasted with “reserve,” and indicates the frank, open exhibition of the angels in their true position when the bond was cancelled and Christ was manifested as the final revelation of God.— θριαμβεύσας. This seems to express most definitely that the ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ. are hostile powers. Alford, referring to 2 Corinthians 2:14, says the true victory is our defeat by Him. Findlay thinks the reference in the verb (which is not earlier than Paul) is not to the Roman military triumph, but to the festal procession ( θρίαμβος) of the worshippers of Dionysus. In this case God is represented as leading the angels in procession in His honour; in other words, bringing them to acknowledge His greatness and the revelation of Himself in Christ. It is perhaps safest to translate “triumphing over”. This is favoured by other passages in Paul, which imply that the ἀρχ. κ. ἐξ. needed an experience of this kind.— ἐν αὐτῷ may refer to χριστ. or σταυρ. or χειρόγ. The second is best, for there has been no reference to Christ since Colossians 2:13, and it is the cancelling of the bond, not the bond itself, that is the cause of the triumph. It is in the death of Christ that this triumph takes place. Zahn explains the passage to mean that God has stripped away the principalities and powers which concealed Him, not from the Jews, to whom He had revealed Himself, but from the heathen world. Thus He has revealed Himself and these apparent deities in their true character. He has triumphed over them in Christ, and led them vanquished in His train. But this was not accomplished on the cross, but through the preaching of the Gospel among the Gentiles, accompanied with such signs and wonders as in the story of the maid with the spirit of divination and the exorcists at Ephesus. But this is not what is required by the argument, which has the Jewish Law in view.

Verse 16

Colossians 2:16. The connexion with the preceding argument is this: Since the bond written in ordinances has been abolished, and the angelic powers spoiled and led in triumph, allow no one to criticise your action on the ground that it is not in harmony with the precepts of the Law, or cuts you off from communion with the angels. You have nothing to do with Law or angels. At best they were but the shadow, and in Christ you possess the substance.— κρινέτω ἐν: “judge you in,” ἐν meaning on the basis of. Whether a man eats or drinks or not his conduct in this respect supplies no fit ground for a judgment of him. κρ. is not to “condemn,” though the context shows that unfavourable judgment is in Paul’s mind.— βρώσει καὶ ἐν πόσει: “eating and in drinking,” not food and drink, for which Paul would have used βρῶμα and πόμα. The question is not altogether between lawful and unlawful food, but between eating and drinking or abstinence. Asceticism rather than ritual cleanness is in his mind. The Law is not ascetic in its character, its prohibitions of meats rest on the view that they are unclean, and drinks are not forbidden, save in exceptional cases, and then not for ascetic reasons. But these injunctions stand along with ordinances of the Law itself, partly, because they may have been regarded as extensions of its principles, partly, we may suppose, because, like the Law, they were attributed to the angels by the false teachers. In Hebrews 9:10 regulations as to drinks seem to be referred to as part of the Jewish Law. That the false teachers were ascetics is clear from ἀφειδίᾳ σώματος in Colossians 2:23.— ἐν μέρει: “in the matter of,” μέρ. expressing the category. Chrysostom and some others have taken it strangely to mean “in the partial observance of”.— ἑορτῆς νεομηνίας σαββάτων: the Jewish sacred seasons enumerated as they occur yearly, monthly and weekly. The Sabbath is placed on the same footing as the others, and Paul therefore commits himself to the principle that a Christian is not to be censured for its non-observance. σαββ., though plural in form, means a single Sabbath day.

Verses 16-23


Verse 17

Colossians 2:17. This verse contains a hint of the fundamental argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews (cf. esp. Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 10:1).— ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων. Whether or be read, the reference is to the whole of the ceremonial ordinances just mentioned. σκιὰ is “shadow,” not “sketch” (as Calvin and others). It is cast by the body, and therefore implies that there is a body, and while it resembles the body it is itself insubstantial. τ. μελλ. means the Christian dispensation, not (as Mey.) the still future Messianic kingdom, for, if so, the substance would still lie in the future, and the shadow would not be out of date. It is future from the point of view of Judaism.— τὸ δὲ σῶμα τοῦ χριστοῦ: “but the body belongs to Christ”. σῶμα is that which casts the shadow, therefore it existed contemporaneously with its manifestation, and, of course, according to the Jewish view, in heaven. It practically means what we should call “the substance,” and is chosen as the counterpart to σκιὰ, and with no reference to the Church or the glorified body of Christ. Since the substance belonged to Christ, it was foolish for Christians to hanker after the shadow. All that the most sanguine hoped to attain by asceticism and ceremonialism was possessed immediately in the possession of Christ.

Verse 18

Colossians 2:18. This verse gives us our only definite information, apart from which it would have been a highly probable inference, that the false teachers practised angel-worship.— ὑμᾶς καταβραβευέτω. This is commonly translated “rob you of your prize”. The judge at the games was called βραβεύς or βραβευτής, and the prize βραβεῖον. But the verb βραβεύω apparently lost all reference to the prize, and meant simply “to decide”. In the two cases in which καταβραβεύω occurs it means to decide against or condemn. It is best therefore to take it so here, “let no one give judgment against you”; it is thus parallel to, though stronger than, κρινέτω (Colossians 2:16). (Field, Notes on Transl. of the N.T., pp. 196, 197, discusses the word; cf. also Ol. and Abb. ad loc.)— θέλων ἐν ταπεινοφροσύνῃ. This phrase is very variously interpreted. Some assume a Hebraism, and translate “taking pleasure in humility” (Winer, Lightf., Findl., Haupt). The LXX uses this not infrequently (but usually with persons, though otherwise in Psalms 111:1; Psalms 146:10); but there is no N.T. parallel for it, and Paul does not employ Hebraisms. For this idea he uses εὐδοκεῖν. Moreover it yields no relevant sense here. Others translate “wishing to do so in (or by) humility” (Mey., Ell., Sod., Weiss). But for this τοῦτο ποιεῖν should have been added, and on this interpretation θέλων has really little point. The rendering of Alford, Moule and others is not very different from this in sense, but more forcible. It connects θέλ. with καταβραβ., and translates “wilfully,” “of set purpose”. 2 Peter 3:5 is referred to for the construction. Oltramare’s view is similar, but he translates “spontaneously,” so apparently the R.V. mg. and Abbott. The unsatisfactoriness of these interpretations suggests that the text may be corrupt. Hort thinks that for θέλων ἐν ταπεινοφροσύνῃ we should read ἐν ἐθελοταπεινοφροσύνῃ. This word is used by Basil, and a similar compound occurs in Colossians 2:23. It is, of course, as Haupt says, difficult to understand how the copyists should have altered it into the very strange expression in the text. But this is not a fatal objection, and the conjecture is very possibly correct. It would mean “gratuitous humility,” a humility that went beyond what was required. ταπεινοφροσύνῃ is frequently explained as ironical. By a display of humility they beguiled their dupes. But the connexion with the following words makes this improbable. Their humility found an expression in angel worship. It is therefore that lowliness which causes a man to think himself unworthy to come into fellowship with God, and therefore prompts to worship of the angels. Such humility was perverted, but not therefore unreal. It was compatible with vanity towards others.— καὶ θρησκείᾳ τῶν ἀγγέλων: “and worship of angels”. The genitive is objective, though some have taken it as subjective. This has been done most recently and elaborately by Zahn. He takes τ. ἀγγ. with ταπειν. as well as with θρησκείᾳ. The former noun is used, he argues, in a non-Pauline sense, therefore it needs a definition, and that τ. ἀγγ. is intended to define it is made probable by the fact that it is not repeated before θρησκ. What is meant is a mortification and devotion suitable for angels, but not for men who live in bodies, an attempt to assimilate themselves to angels, who do not eat or drink. The chief ground urged for this view is that Judaism was too strenuously monotheistic to admit of angel worship, and Paul could only have regarded it as idolatry. Against this what is said in the Introduction, section ii., may be referred to. The angels worshipped by the false teachers are the στοιχεῖα τ. κόσμου, ἀρχαὶ κ. ἐξουσίαι.— ἑόρακεν ἐμβατεύων. If μὴ is inserted after , we may translate with Ellicott, in his earlier editions, “intruding into the things which he hath not seen”. This should probably be explained with reference to the invisible world, with which they professed to hold communion, but which really was closed to them. Ellicott still thinks this reading gives the better sense, though adopting the other in deference to the external evidence. But Paul could hardly have brought it against them that they had fellowship with what they could not see. For this was so with all who walked by faith. The negative, therefore, is not helpful to the sense, and is definitely excluded by the external evidence. The text without the negative is very variously explained. ἐμβατεύειν means “to stand upon,” then “to come into possession of” a thing, “to enter upon,” “to invade,” then in a figurative sense “to investigate”. Since ἑόρακεν also lends itself to diametrically opposite interpretations, the exegesis becomes doubly uncertain. It may mean the things which can be seen with the bodily eye, or it may refer to visions; they may be condemned as deluded visionaries, or for their materialism. Alford and Ellicott translate “taking his stand on the things which he hath seen,” and explain that he becomes an inhabitant of the world of sight rather than of faith. But the use of the perfect is against any reference to the circumstances of ordinary life, and the thought would have been far more simply and clearly expressed by τὰ ὁρατά. Generally it is supposed that “the things which he has seen” means his visions. Various views are then taken of ἐμβατεύων. Meyer translates “entering upon what he has beheld,” and explains that, instead of holding fast to Christ, he enters the region of visions. Several translate “investigating” (Beng., Grimm, Findl., Ol., Haupt). This is probably the best translation of the words as they stand, for the translation “parading his visions” (Sod. and? Abb.) seems not to be well established. The harshness of the combination, and uncertainty of the exegesis, give much probability to the view that the text has not been correctly transmitted. After it had been conjectured that we should read ἑώρα κενεμβατεύων, Lightfoot independently suggested the latter word, but for ἑώρα suggested ἐώρᾳ. or αἰώρᾳ. [Sod. incorrectly quotes the emendation as αἰῶρα; and in Abb. by a misprint we have αἰώρα. Ellicott not only misreports Lightfoot’s emendation, but does not even mention Taylor’s.] ἐώρα is used sometimes of that which suspends a thing, sometimes of the act of suspension. “In this last sense,” Lightfoot says, “it describes the poising of a bird, the floating of a boat on the waters, the balancing on a rope, and the like. Hence its expressiveness when used as a metaphor.” κενεμβατεύειν does not actually occur, but the cognate verb κενεμβατεῖν is not uncommon. A much better emendation, however, is that of Dr. C. Taylor (Journal of Philology, vii., p. 130), ἀέρα κενεμβατεύων, “treading the void of air”. In his Pirqe Aboth,2 p. 161, he says that the Rabbinic expression “fly in the air with nothing to rest upon” may have suggested the phrase to Paul. This emendation is accepted by Westcott and Hort, and regarded as the most probable by Zahn, who says that the text as it stands yields no sense. It involves the omission of a single letter, and although the province of conjectural emendation in the New Testament is very restricted, yet such a slip as is suggested may very easily have been made by Paul’s amanuensis or a very early copyist. Field urges as a fatal objection that “ κενεμβατεύων is a vox nulla, the inviolable laws regulating this class of composite verbs stamping κενεμβατεῖν as the only legitimate, as it is the only existing, form” (loc. cit., p. 198). Lightfoot, on the contrary, asserts that it is unobjectionable in itself. Even if Field’s criticism be admitted, it would be better to read ἀέρα κενεμβατῶν than to retain the text. If the emendation is correct, Paul is asserting the baseless character of the false teaching; and all reference to visions disappears.— εἰκῇ should probably, in accordance with Pauline usage, be connected with the following rather than the preceding words. It may mean “groundlessly” (Mey., Alf., Ell., Ol., Haupt, Abb.) or “without result” (Sod. and others). The latter is the sense in Galatians 3:4; Galatians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 15:2, Romans 13:4, but, since it does not suit φυς., the former is to be preferred here.— φυσιούμενος: cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1 γνῶσις φυσιοῖ, 1 Corinthians 13:4. They were puffed up by a sense of spiritual and intellectual superiority.— ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ: “by the mind of his flesh”. The mind in this case is regarded as dominated by the flesh. Soden, followed by Abbott, says that the νοῦς as a natural faculty is ethically indifferent in itself, and so may stand just as well under the influence of σάρξ as of πνεῦμα. But in the most important passage, Romans 7:22-25, it is the higher nature in the unregenerate which wages unsuccessful conflict with the σάρξ. At the same time we see from Ephesians 4:17 that it could become vain and aimless and even (Romans 1:28) reprobate. The choice of the phrase here is probably dictated by Paul’s wish to drive home the fact that their asceticism and angel worship, so far from securing as they imagined the destruction of the flesh, proved that it was by the flesh that they were altogether controlled, even to the mind itself, which stood farthest from it.

Verse 19

Colossians 2:19. Largely parallel to Ephesians 4:15-16. Paul proceeds to point out that so far from securing spiritual growth of a higher order, the false teaching, by loosening the hold on Christ, prevented any growth at all, since it obstructed or severed the very channel of spiritual life.— καὶ οὐ κρατῶν τὴν κεφαλήν: “and not holding fast the head”. For this sense of κρ. with the accusative cf. Song of Solomon 3:4, ἐκράτησα αὐτὸν καὶ οὐκ ἀφήκα αὐτόν. It is clear from this that the false teachers were Christians. They did not profess to have no hold upon Christ, but their hold was not firm. All the supplies of life and energy flow from the Head, so that loose connexion with it involves serious loss and not progress in the spiritual life. It is significant that here each member is recognised as having an immediate relation to the Head.— ἐξ οὗ: not neuter, referring to κεφ., for ἐξ ἧς would have been more natural, but “from whom”. It should be connected with both participles.— πᾶν τὸ σῶμα: “the whole body”. Alford takes it “the body in its every part,” but Ellicott denies that any distinction between τὸ πᾶν σῶνα. and πᾶν τὸ σῶνα can be safely drawn. It is the body as a whole that increases, and thus Paul condemns the tendencies to intellectual or spiritual exclusiveness, which cripple alike the body and the members who exhibit such tendencies. As this increase continues each member shares in the body’s progress.— διὰ τῶν ἁφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων. Lightfoot gives a very full discussion of these terms and their use in medical writers. He translates “through the junctures and ligaments”. No doubt Paul’s language is popular, not technical. He is speaking of the means by which the various parts of the body are supplied and knit together. Meyer takes ἁφ. to mean sensations or nerve impulses, but we have no evidence for this meaning; nor is it suitable here, for there is no reason for referring ἁφ. to ἐπιχορ. and συνδ. to συνβιβ. No explanation is given of ἁφ. κ. συνδ. Some think of the Holy Spirit, others of brotherly love, others of ministers. But probably in Paul’s mind they did not correspond to anything definitely.— ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συνβιβαζόμενον. “being supplied and united”. Often the supply is thought to be of nourishment, but perhaps we should interpret more generally of life. ἁφ. κ. συν. are thus the media through which life is communicated and the unity of the organism secured.— αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ θεοῦ: “increaseth with the increase of God”. Generally αὔξ. τ. θ. is explained to mean the growth which God gives (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6). Against this is the fact that Christ is referred to as the source of growth. We may better take it “a growth such as God requires” (Ol., Haupt).

Verse 20

Colossians 2:20. The Apostle, recalling them to the time of their conversion, points out how inconsistent with a death to the elemental spirits any submission to ordinances belonging to their sphere would be. The death of the believer with Christ is a death to his old relations, to sin, law, guilt, the world. It is a death which Christ has Himself undergone (Romans 6:10). Here it is specially their death to the angels, who had ruled their old life, and under whose charge the Law and its ceremonies especially stood. They had died with Christ to legalism, how absurd then for ordinances to be imposed upon them.— εἰ ἀπεθάνετε σὺν χριστῷ: “if, as is the case, you died in union with Christ”. The aorist points to the definite fact, which took place once for all. It was in union with Christ, for thus they were able to repeat Christ’s own experience.— ἀπὸ τῶν στοιχείων τοῦ κόσμου. The use of ἀπὸ with ἀποθν. expresses more strongly than the dative (as in Romans 6:2) the completeness of the severance, and adds the idea of escape from the dominion of the personal powers. On στ. τ. κ. see note on Colossians 2:8.— ὡς ζῶντες ἐν κόσμῳ. For the death of the Christian with Christ includes his crucifixion to the world (Galatians 6:14). The world is ruled by these angels; but Christians belong to the world to come (cf. τ. μελλόντων, Colossians 2:17), which, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, has not been made subject to the angels. Since they were still living in the physical world κός. has evidently an ethical sense.— δογματίζεσθε may be middle, “subject yourselves to ordinances,” or passive. Since Paul nowhere says that the readers had accepted the false teaching, the latter is better: “Why are ye prescribed to?” (Mey., Winer, Hofm., Findl., Haupt.) Alford also takes it as a passive, but thinks it implies a keener rebuke than the middle. The middle asserts rather that they had submitted, the passive need only imply, not their submission, but that their resistance might have been more energetic. If there is blame it seems to be slighter. The verb δογματ. is chosen with reference to τοῖς δόγμασιν in Colossians 2:14.

Verse 21

Colossians 2:21. The precepts here quoted are those of the false teachers, and are, of course, quoted to be condemned, though their meaning is frequently misunderstood. It is not said what things are thus prohibited, but the context supports the reference to meats and drinks, and is confirmed by μηδὲ γεύσῃ. There is no reason whatever to suppose that there is any reference to a prohibition of sexual relations.— μὴ ἅψῃ μηδὲ γεύσῃ μηδὲ θίγῃς. “Handle not, nor taste, nor even touch.” There is perhaps a gradation in the order from coarser to more refined contact.

Verse 22

Colossians 2:22. ἐστιν πάντα εἰς φθορὰν τῇ ἀποχρήσει. Augustine and Calvin took as meaning the ordinances referred to in Colossians 2:20, and explained the words as Paul’s refutation, “all which ordinances lead in their use to spiritual destruction”. But ἀποχ. means much more than use, it means abuse or using up; and refers more naturally to the prohibited things than to the prohibitions; while the sense would be complete if τῇ ἀποχ. were omitted. A much more attractive interpretation is that of De Wette (followed by Grimm, Ol. and others). He regards the words as a continuation of the injunctions of the false teachers, “all which things tend to spiritual destruction in the abuse”. The sense will then be that certain meats and drinks are forbidden, because the abuse of them leads to spiritual destruction. Lightfoot says “this interpretation, however, has nothing to recommend it”. This is perhaps too strong, for on the usual view κατὰἀνθρώπων comes in awkwardly, as its place is at the end of the prohibitions. But it must be rejected. The translation is a little strained, and it would have been much simpler to say “the use of these things is destructive”. It is therefore best to adhere to the common view, and translate “all which things are to perish with the using”. The meaning is, then, that with consumption the forbidden meats and drinks were destined to perish. This interpretation has the advantage of being forcible, for it throws one side of Paul’s refutation into a terse parenthesis. His argument is, these meats and drinks, on which the false teachers lay such stress, are of no such importance, for in the nature of things they perish in their very use. If we can annihilate them they cannot rule us. The words should be included in brackets.— κατὰ τὰ ἐντὰλματα καὶ διδασκαλίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων: to be taken with δογματίζεσθε. This states the other side of Paul’s refutation. The precepts are not only concerned with things destined to perish, they have their source in human commandments. Lightfoot aptly points out the striking parallel between these words of Paul and those of Christ on defilement (Mark 7). Both argue from the perishableness of meats, both treat these things as indifferent in themselves, and both quote Isaiah. Even though these precepts are partially found in the O.T., they are rightly called precepts of men, partly because they went beyond what it enjoined, partly because their object is different.

Verse 23

Colossians 2:23. ἅτινα: i.e., which commandments and teachings.— λόγον σοφίας. This may be taken in the sense of “a word of wisdom,” but with no inner truth. Others translate “appearance of wisdom” (Beng., De W. and others). But this seems not to be a meaning of λόγ. Klöpper’s translation, “reason” or “ground,” yields no very good sense. It is best, with most recent commentators, to translate “a reputation for wisdom”. μέν is not followed by δε, but this is not uncommon (see Winer-Moulton, pp. 719–721).— ἐν ἐθελοθρησκείᾳ καὶ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ καὶ ἀφειδίᾳ σώματος. It is impossible to connect σώμ. with all three datives (Hofm.), it can belong only to ἀφειδίᾳ, with which it is connected as an objective genitive, “severity to the body”. If καὶ is retained before ἀφ. the sense of the earlier datives is not affected. If, however, it is omitted their sense may be affected. It is possible to take ἀφ., then, as an instrumental dative with λόγον ἔχοντα. But it is also possible to take it, with Haupt, as an explanatory apposition to the earlier datives. In this case ἐθελ. and ταπ. have both an ascetic meaning. Against this, however, is the fact that the words cannot be separated from the parallel expressions in Colossians 2:18. This seems to fix the sense of ἐθελ. as a worship of angels, which was not required of them, and ταπ. will mean what it meant in Colossians 2:18. ἐθελοθρ. occurs nowhere else, and was probably coined by Paul. Similar compounds were not unusual, and generally, though not invariably, had a bad sense. This is commonly supposed to attach to this word, but in any case it gets a bad sense from its context. ἀφ. σώμ. is the clearest assertion we have of the ascetic character of the false teachings.— οὐκ ἐν τιμῇ τινί, πρὸς πλησμονὴν τῆς σαρκός. These words, which constitute this verse one of the most difficult in the New Testament, have received very various explanations. It is disputed whether οὐκ ἐν τιμῇ τ. should be connected with the preceding or following words, and also with what πρ. πλησ. τ. σαρκός should be connected. Sumner, followed by Conybeare and Evans on 1 Corinthians 7:2, interpreted πρὸς as meaning “to check,” and translated “not in any value to check the indulgence of the flesh,” connecting οὐκ ἐν τ. τ. with the following words. This view was adopted by Lightfoot, and has been accepted by Moule and now by Ellicott. It has been inserted, with altogether insufficient warning, in R.V. It is a new explanation, and since propounded has found comparatively little favour. Lightfoot quotes numerous examples to prove that πρός after words denoting value, utility, sufficiency, etc., is used in the sense “to check” or “to prevent”. But in these cases the meaning does not lie in πρός, but in πρός after some word which imposes this sense upon it (e.g., φάρμακον), and there is nothing of the kind here. Abbott, in his valuable criticism of this interpretation, points out that πρός means “with a view to,” and if the object is a word signifying action or the production of an effect it will mean with a view to (producing). “Hence it seems to follow that unless πλησμονή be taken in the sense of ‘a state of repletion,’ which would be unsuitable, πρὸς πλησμονήν could only mean to produce πλ.” A further question relates to the use of τιμῇ. Our word “value” is ambiguous, and τιμή may mean “value” in the sense of “price”. But in this interpretation it is used in the sense of “efficacy,” and this sense needs to be established. It seems necessary to reject this explanation on linguistic grounds. But the sense it yields is less good than appears at first sight. For what would be said would be that these things had a reputation for wisdom in “will-worship,” etc., but they had not a reputation for wisdom in any value against the indulgence of the flesh. But obviously this cannot be the meaning. The sense imposed “but have not any value” can only be got out of the words by straining them. Another view, which keeps the same connexion of words, is that the translation should be “not in any honour to it [i.e., the body] to satisfy the [reasonable] wants of the flesh”. This must be rejected because πλ. is not used in this good sense, and σαρκός cannot be used as equivalent to σώματος in a context where σώμ. has been used just before, for the terms must stand in emphatic contrast. Soden and Abbott translate “not in any honour for the full satisfaction of the flesh”. This means that there is no real honour, but what there is, is such as to satisfy the carnal nature. So Meyer, not in any honour, but serving to satiate the flesh. The objection to this view is that ἀλλά at least is required before πρὸς πλ. τ. σαρκός. Alford connects οὐκ ἐν τ. τ. with the preceding words, but πρ. πλ. τ. ς. with δογματίζεσθε. This gives a fairly good sense, and requires no necessary words to be supplied, but the parenthesis is incredibly long. A less lengthy parenthesis is involved in the interpretation of Bähr, Eadie and Weiss: “Which things, having indeed a reputation of wisdom in will-worship and humility and severity to the body, not in any honour, are for the indulgence of the flesh”. If the contrast is between severity to the body and honour to it, we should have expected αὐτοῦ after τιμῇ. It is also strange that ἐν should be placed before τιμῇ and not before ἀφειδ. And the meaning is not probable, for it is implied that Paul thought that a reputation for wisdom ought to rest on honour to the body, which is absurd. Findlay’s view, “not in any honour, against surfeiting of the flesh,” not only yields a thought most obscurely expressed, but must be rejected because of its translation of πρὸς. All these interpretations are open to serious if not fatal objections. It is therefore not unlikely that Hort is right in the suspicion, shared also by Haupt, that we have to do here with a primitive corruption, for which no probable emendation has been suggested. He thinks that the text of the Epistle, and especially of the second chapter, was badly preserved in ancient times.


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Colossians 2:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 27th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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