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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 2

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This entire chapter may be regarded as designed to guard the Colossians against the seductive influence of the false philosophy which tended to draw them away from the gospel. It is evident from the chapter that there were at Colossae, or in the vicinity, professed instructors in religion, who taught an artful and plausible philosophy, adapting themselves to the prejudices of the people, and inculcating opinions that tended to lead them away from the truths which they had embraced. These teachers were probably of Jewish origin, and had adopted many of the arts of a plausible rhetoric, from the prevailing philosophy in that region. See the Introduction, Section 4. Against the seductive influences of this philosophy, it is the design of this chapter to guard them, and though the apostle does not seem to have intended to pursue an exact logical order; yet the argument in the chapter can be conveniently regarded as consisting of two parts: A statement of the reasons why they should be on their guard against the arts of that philosophy; and a specification of the particular errors to which they were exposed:

I. A statement of the reasons why they should not allow themselves to be drawn away by the influence of the prevalent philosophy;Colossians 2:1-15; Colossians 2:1-15. This also consists of two parts.

  1. The importance of the subject; Colossians 2:1-7.

(1)The apostle felt great solicitude for them, and for all whom he had not seen, that they might hold the truth in reference to the divine existence and perfections; Colossians 2:1-2.

(2)All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were in Christ, and it was, therefore, of the greatest importance to hold to the truth respecting him; Colossians 2:3.

(3)They were in danger of being led astray by enticing words; Colossians 2:4.

  1. Paul says that he was with them in spirit, and he exhorted them, therefore, to remain rooted and grounded in the doctrines which they had received respecting the Saviour; Colossians 2:5-7.
    1. Reasons why they should be steadfast and not drawn away by the influence of false philosophy; Colossians 2:8-15.

(1)The danger of depending on traditions and worldly principles in religion; of being “spoiled” or robbed by philosophy; Colossians 2:8.

(2)All that we need to desire is to be found in Christ;Colossians 2:9-10; Colossians 2:9-10.

(3)We have received through him the true circumcision - the putting away our sins; Colossians 2:11.

(4)We have been buried with him in baptism, and have solemnly devoted ourselves to him, Colossians 2:12.

(5)We have been quickened by him; our sins have been forgiven; and everything that hindered our salvation has been taken out of the way by him, and he has triumphed over our foes; Colossians 2:13-15.

II. Specification of particular errors to which they were exposed, or of particular things to be avoided; Colossians 2:16-23.

The chapter closes Colossians 2:20-23 with an earnest exhortation wholly to avoid these things; not to touch or taste or handle them. However plausible the pretences might be on which they were urged; whatever appearance of wisdom or humility there might be, the apostle assures them that there was no real honor in them, and that they were wholly to be avoided.

Verse 1

For I would that ye knew - I wish you knew or fully understood. He supposes that this would deeply affect them if they understood the solicitude which he had had on their account.

What great conflict - Margin, fear, or care. The Greek word is “agony” - ἀγῶνα agōna. It is not, however, the word rendered “agony” in Luke 22:44 - ἀγωνία agōnia - though that is derived from this. The word is rendered conflict in Philippians 1:30; contention, 1 Thessalonians 2:2; fight, 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7; and race, Hebrews 12:1. It properly refers to the combats, contests, struggles, efforts at the public games; the toil and conflict to obtain a victory. It refers here to the anxious care, the mental conflict, the earnest solicitude which he had in their behalf, in view of the dangers to which they were exposed from Judaizing Christians and Pagan philosophy. This mental struggle resembled that which the combatants had at the public games; compare the 1 Corinthians 9:25, note, 27, note. And for them at Laodicea For Christians there, who were exposed to similar danger. Laodicea was the capital of Phrygia, in Asia Minor, and a little south of Colossae. See Introduction, Section 1. 6. Notes, Colossians 4:16. There was a church early planted there - the “lukewarm” church mentioned in Revelation 3:14. Being in the vicinity of Colossae, the church there would be exposed to the same perils, and the rebuke in Revelation 3:14, showed that the fears of Paul were well founded, and that the arts of the false teachers were too successful.

And for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh - That is, evidently in that region. He had, doubtless, a general solicitude for all Christians, but his remark here has reference to those in the neighborhood of the church at Colossae, or in that church. On the question which has been raised, whether this proves that the apostle Paul had never been at Colossae or Laodicea, see Introduction, Section 2, 4. This passage does not seem to me to prove that he had not been there. It may mean that he had great solicitude for those Christians there whom he knew, and for all others there, or in the vicinity, even though he was not personally acquainted with them. He may refer:

(1) To some churches in the neighborhood formed since he was there; or.

(2) To strangers who had come in there since he was with them; or.

(3) To those who had been converted since he was there, and with whom he had no personal acquaintance. For all these he would feel the same solicitude, for they were all exposed to the same danger. To “see one’s face in the flesh,” is a Hebraism, meaning to become personally acquainted with him.

Verse 2

That their hearts might be comforted - Like all other Christians in the times of the apostles, they were doubtless exposed to trials and persecutions.

Being knit together in love - The same word which is used here (συμβιβάζω sumbibazō) occurs in Ephesians 4:16, and is rendered compacted; see the notes at that place. In Acts 9:22, it is rendered proving; Acts 16:10, assuredly gathering; 1 Corinthians 2:16, instruct; and here, and in Colossians 2:19, knit together. It means, properly, to make to come together, and hence, refers to a firm union, as where the heart of Christians are one. Here it means that the way of comforting each other was by solid Christian friendship, and that the means of cementing that was love. It was not by a mere outward profession, or by mere speculative faith; it was by a union of affection.

And unto all riches - On the meaning of the word “riches,” as used by the apostle Paul, see the notes at Romans 2:4. There is a great energy of expression here. The meaning is, that the thing referred to - “the full understanding” of the “mystery” of religion - was an invaluable possession, like abundant wealth. This passage also shows the object for which they should be united. It should be in order that they might obtain this inestimable wealth. If they were divided in affections, and split up into factions, they could not hope to secure it.

Of the full assurance of understanding - This word (πληροφορία plērophoria) means firm persuasion, settled conviction. It occurs only here and in 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22, and is rendered by assurance, or full assurance, in every instance. See the verb, however, in Luke 1:1; Romans 4:21; Romans 14:5; 2Ti 4:5, 2 Timothy 4:17. It was the desire of the apostle that they might have entire conviction of the truth of the Christian doctrines.

To the acknowledgment - So as fully and openly to acknowledge or confess this mystery.

The mystery - On the meaning of this word, see the Romans 11:25, note; Ephesians 1:9, note. The meaning is, the doctrine respecting God, which had before been concealed or hidden, but which was now revealed in the gospel. It does not mean that there was any thing unintelligible or incomprehensible respecting this doctrine when it; was made known. That might be as clear as any other truth.

Of God - Of God as he actually subsists. This does not mean that the mere fact of the existence of God was a “mystery,” or a truth which had been concealed, for that was not true. But the sense plainly is, that there were truths now made known in the gospel to mankind, about the mode of the divine existence, which had not before been disclosed; and this “mystery” he wished them to retain, or fully acknowledge. The “mystery,” or the hitherto unrevealed truth, related to the fact that God subsisted in more persons than one, as “Father,” and as “Christ.”

And of the Father - Or, rather, “even of the Father;” for so the word καὶ kai (and) is often used. The apostle does not mean that he wished them to acknowledge the hitherto unrevealed truth respecting “God’ and another being called “the Father;” but respecting “God” as the “Father,” or of God as” Father’ and as “Christ.”

And of Christ - As a person of the Godhead. What the apostle wished them to acknowledge was, the full revelation now made known respecting the essential nature of God, as the “Father,” and as “Christ.” In relation to this, they were in special danger of being corrupted by the prevalent philosophy, as it is in relation to this that error of Christian doctrine usually commences. It should be said, however, that there is great variety of reading in the mss. on this whole clause, and that many critics (see Rosenmuller) regard it as spurious. I do not see evidence that it is not genuine; and the strain of exhortation of the apostle seems to me to demand it.

Verse 3

In whom - Margin, “wherein.” The more correct translation is “in whom.” The reference is doubtless to Christ, as his name is the immediate antecedent, and as what is affirmed here properly appertains to him.

Are hid - Like treasures that are concealed or garnered up. It does not mean that none of those “treasures” had been developed; but that, so to speak, Christ, as Mediator, was the great treasure-house where were to be found all the wisdom and knowledge needful for people.

All the treasures - It is common to compare any thing valuable with “treasures” of silver or gold. The idea here is, that in reference to the wisdom and knowledge needful for us, Christ is what abundant treasures are in reference to the supply of our wants.

Wisdom - The wisdom needful for our salvation. Notes, 1 Corinthians 1:24.

And knowledge - The knowledge which is requisite to guide us in the way to life. Christ is able to instruct us in all that it is desirable for us to know, so that it is not necessary for us to apply to philosophy, or to the teachings of human beings.

Verse 4

And this I say - Respecting the character and sufficiency of the truth revealed in Christ.

Lest any man should beguile you - Deceive you, lead you away from the truth.

With enticing words - Artful words, smooth and plausible arguments; such as were employed by the Greek sophists and rhetoricians.

Verse 5

For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit - That is, I seem to see you; I feel as if I were there, and were looking upon you; and I have the same solicitude as if I were there, and saw all the danger which exists that your beautiful order and harmony should be disturbed by the influence of false philosophy; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 5:3. The word “spirit,” here, does not refer to the Holy Spirit, or to any inspiration by which the apostle was enabled to see them; but it is equivalent to what we mean when we say, “My heart is with you.” He seemed to be beholding them.

Joying and beholding your order - That is, I rejoice as if I saw your order. He had such confidence that everything would be done among them as became Christians, that he could rejoice as if he actually saw it.

Verse 6

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord - Have received him by faith as your Saviour, or as you were instructed respecting his rank, character, and work. The object here is to induce them not to swerve from the views which they had of Christ when he was made known to them. They had at first probably received their ideas of the Saviour from the apostle himself (see the Introduction); and, at any rate, the apostle designs to assure them that the views which they had when they “received him,” were founded in truth.

So walk in him - Continue in those views of Christ; live in the maintenance of them; let them regulate your whole conduct. The word walk, in the Scriptures, is used to denote the manner of life; and the sense here is, that they should live and act wholly under the influence of the conceptions which they had of the Saviour when they first embraced him. The particle “so” is supplied by our translators, and rather weakens the sense. No stress should be laid on it, as is often done. The meaning is, simply, “Since you have received Christ as your Lord, as he was preached to you, hold fast the doctrine which you have received, and do not permit yourselves to be turned aside by any Jewish teachers, or teachers of philosophy.”

Verse 7

Rooted ...in him - As a tree strikes its roots deep in the earth, so our faith should strike deep into the doctrine respecting the Saviour. See the phrase used here explained in the parallel place in Ephesians 3:17.

And established in the faith, as ye have been taught - To wit, by the founders of the church, and by those faithful ministers who had succeeded them; Notes, Colossians 1:7.

Abounding therein with thanksgiving - Expressing overflowing thanks to God that you have been made acquainted with truths so precious and glorious. If there is any thing for which we ought to be thankful, it is for the knowledge of the great truths respecting our Lord and Saviour.

Verse 8

Beware lest any man spoil you - The word “spoil” now commonly means, to corrupt, to cause to decay and perish, as fruit is spoiled by keeping too long, or paper by wetting, or hay by a long rain, or crops by mildew. But the Greek word used here means to spoil in the sense of plunder, rob, as when plunder is taken in war. The meaning is, “Take heed lest anyone plunder or rob you of your faith and hope by philosophy.” These false teachers would strip them of their faith and hope, as an invading army would rob a country of all that was valuable.

Through philosophy - The Greek philosophy prevailed much in the regions around Colossae, and perhaps also the oriental or Gnostic philosophy. See the Introduction They were exposed to the influences of these plausible systems. They consisted much of speculations respecting the nature of the divine existence; and the danger of the Colossians was, that they would rely rather on the deductions of that specious reasoning, than on what they had been taught by their Christian teachers.

And vain deceit - Mere fallacy. The idea is, that the doctrines which were advanced in those systems were maintained by plausible, not by solid arguments; by considerations not fitted to lead to the truth, but to lead astray.

After the tradition of men - There appear to have been two sources of danger to which the Christians at Colesso were exposed, and to which the apostle in these cautions alludes, though he is not careful to distinguish them. The one was that arising from the Grecian philosophy; the other, from Jewish opinions. The latter is that to which he refers here. The Jews depended much on tradition (see the notes at Matthew 15:2); and many of those traditions would have tended much to corrupt the gospel of Christ.

After the rudiments of the world - Margin, elements. See this explained in the Notes at Galatians 4:3.

And not after Christ - Not such as Christ taught.

Verse 9

For in him dwelleth - That is, this was the great and central doctrine that was to be maintained about Christ, that all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him. Every system which denied this was a denial of the doctrine which they had been taught; and against every thing that would go to undermine this; they were especially to be on their guard. Almost all heresy has been begun by some form of the denial of the great central truth of the incarnation of the Son of God.

All the fulness - Notes, Colossians 1:19.

Of the Godhead - Of the Divinity, the divine nature - θεότης theotēs. The word is one that properly denotes the divine nature and perfections. Robinson, Lexicon. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.

Bodily - σωματικῶς sōmatikōs. This word also is found nowhere else in the New Testament, though the adjective bodily - σωματικὸς sōmatikos - occurs twice; Luke 3:22, “in a bodily shape;” and 1 Timothy 4:8, “for bodily exercise profiteth little.” The word means, “having a bodily appearance, instead of existing or appearing in a spiritual form;” and the fair sense of the phrase is, that the fullness of the divine nature became incarnate, and was indwelling in the body of the Redeemer. It does not meet the case to say, as Crellius does, that the “whole divine will was in him,” for the word θεότη theotē - “godhead” - does not mean the will of God; and it is as certainly true that the inspired prophets were under the control of the divine will, as that the Saviour was. Nor can it mean, as Socinus supposes, that the fulness of divine knowledge dwelt in him, for this is not the proper meaning of the word (θεότης theotēs) “godhead;” nor can it mean, for the same reason, that a fullness of divine gifts was intrusted to him. The language is such as would be obviously employed on the supposition that God became incarnate, and appeared in human form; and there is no other idea which it so naturally expresses, nor is there any other which it can be made to express without a forced construction. The meaning is, that it was not anyone attribute of the Deity that became incarnate in the Saviour; that he was not merely endowed with the knowledge, or the power, or the wisdom of God; but that the whole Deity thus became incarnate, and appeared in human form; compare John 14:9; John 1:18. No language could, therefore, more clearly demonstrate the divinity of Christ. Of what mere man - of what angel, could it be used?

Verse 10

And ye are complete in him - Having no need, for the purposes of salvation, of any aid to be derived from the philosophy of the Greeks, or the traditions of the Jews. All that is necessary to secure your salvation is to be found in the Lord Jesus. There is a completion, or a filling up, in him, so as to leave nothing wanting. This is true in respect:

(1)To the wisdom which is needful to guide us;

(2)The atonement to be made for sin;

(3)The merit by which a sinner can be justified; and,

(4)The grace which is needful to sustain us in the trials, and to aid us in the duties, of life; compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 1:30.

There is no necessity, therefore, that we should look to the aid of philosophy, as if there was a defect in the teachings of the Saviour; or to human strength, as if he were unable to save us; or to the merits of the saints, as if those of the Redeemer were not sufficient to meet all our wants. The sentiment advanced in this verse would overthrow the whole papal doctrine of the merits of the saints, and, of course, the whole doctrine of papal “indulgences.”

Which is the head - See the notes at Ephesians 1:21-22.

Verse 11

In whom - In connection with whom, or in virtue of whose religion.

Ye are circumcised - You have received that which was designed to be represented by circumcision - the putting away of sin; Notes, Philippians 3:3.

With the circumcision made without hands - That made in the heart by the renunciation of all sin. The Jewish teachers insisted on the necessity of the literal circumcision in order to salvation (compare Ephesians 2:11); and hence, this subject is so often introduced into the writings of Paul, and he is at so much pains to show that, by believing in Christ, all was obtained which was required in order to salvation. Circumcision was an ordinance by which it was denoted that all sin was to be cut off or renounced, and that he who was circumcised was to be devoted to God and to a holy life. All this, the apostle says, was obtained by the gospel; and, consequently they had all that was denoted by the ancient rite of circumcision. What Christians had obtained, moreover, related to the heart; it was not a mere ordinance pertaining to the flesh.

In putting off the body of the sins of the flesh - That is, in renouncing the deeds of the flesh, or becoming holy. The word “body,” here, seems to be used with reference to circumcision. In that ordinance, the body of the FLesH was subjected to the rite; with Christians, it is the body of Sin that is cut off.

By the circumcision of Christ - Not by the fact that Christ was circumcised, but that we have that kind of circumcision which Christ established, to wit, the renouncing of sin. The idea of the apostle here seems to be, that since we have thus been enabled by Christ to renounce sin, and to devote ourselves to God, we should not, be induced by any plausible arguments to return to an ordinance pertaining to the flesh, as if that were needful for salvation.

Verse 12

Buried with him in baptism - See the notes at Romans 6:4.

Wherein also - In which ordinance, or by virtue of that which is signified by the ordinance.

Ye are risen with him - From the death of sin to the life of religion; Notes, Romans 6:4-5; compare the notes at Ephesians 2:5-6.

Through the faith of the operation of God - By a firm belief on the agency of God in raising him up; that is, a belief of the fact that God has raised him from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is often represented as the foundation of all our hopes; and, as he was raised from the grave to die no more, so, in virtue of that we are raised from the death of sin to eternal spiritual life. The belief of this is shown by our baptism, whatever be the mode in which that ordinance is performed, and as well shown in one mode as another.

Verse 13

And you, being dead in your sins - Notes, Ephesians 2:1.

And the uncircumcision of your flesh - That is, Gentiles, and giving unrestrained indulgence to the desires of the flesh. They lived as those who had not by any religious rite or covenant brought themselves under obligations to lead holy lives.

Hath he quickened - Notes, Ephesians 2:1.

Together with him - In virtue of his being restored to life. That is, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was the means of imparting to us spiritual life.

Verse 14

Blotting out the handwriting - The word rendered handwriting means something written by the hand, a manuscript; and here, probably, the writings of the Mosaic law, or the law appointing many ordinances or observances in religion. The allusion is probably to a written contract, in which we bind ourselves to do any work, or to make a payment, and which remains in force against us until the bond is cancelled. That might be done, either by blotting out the names, or by drawing lines through it, or, as appears to have been practiced in the East, by driving a nail through it. The Jewish ceremonial law is here represented as such a contract, binding those under it to its observance, until it was nailed to the cross. The meaning here is, that the burdensome requirements of the Mosaic law are abolished, and that its necessity is superseded by the death of Christ. His death had the same effect, in reference to those ordinances, as if they had been blotted from the statute-book. This it did by fulfilling them, by introducing a more perfect system, and by rendering their observance no longer necessary, since all that they were designed to typify had been now accomplished in a better way; compare the notes at Ephesians 2:15.

Of ordinances - Prescribing the numerous rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion.

That was against us - That is, against our peace, happiness, comfort; or in other words, which was oppressive and burdensome; compare the notes at Acts 15:10. Those ordinances bound and lettered the soul, restrained the expansive spirit of true piety which seeks the salvation of all alike, and thus operated as a hindrance to the enlarged spirit of true religion. Thus, they really operated against the truly pious Jew, whose religion would lead him to seek the salvation of the world; and to the Gentile, since he was not in a situation to avail himself of them, and since they would be burdensome if he could. It is in this sense, probably, that the apostle uses the word “us,” as referring to all, and as cramping and restraining the true nature of religion.

Which was contrary to us - Operated as a hindrance, or obstruction, in the matter of religion. The ordinances of the Mosaic law were necessary, in order to introduce the gospel; but they were always burdensome. They were to be confined to one people; and, if they were continued, they would operate to prevent the spread of the true religion around the world; compare 2 Corinthians 3:7, note, 9, note. Hence, the exulting language of the apostle in view of the fact that they were now taken away, and that the benefits of religion might be diffused all over the world. The gospel contains nothing which is “against,” or “contrary to,” the true interest and happiness of any nation or any class of people.

And took it out of the way - Greek, “Out of the midst;” that is, he wholly removed it. He has removed the obstruction, so that it no longer prevents union and harmony between the Jews and the Gentiles.

Nailing it to his cross - As if he had nailed it to his cross, so that it would be entirely removed out of our way. The death of Jesus had the same effect, in regard to the rites and institutions of the Mosaic religion, as if they had been affixed to his cross. It is said that there is an allusion here to the ancient method by which a bond or obligation was cancelled, by driving a nail through it, and affixing it to a post. This was practiced, says Grotius, in Asia. In a somewhat similar manner, in our banks now, a sharp instrument like the blade of a knife is driven through a check, making a hole through it, and furnishing to the teller of the bank a sign or evidence that it has been paid. If this be the meaning, then the expression here denotes that the obligation of the Jewish institutions ceased on the death of Jesus, as if he had taken them and nailed them to his own cross, in the manner in which a bond was cancelled.

Verse 15

And having spoiled - Plundered as a victorious army does a conquered country. Notes, Colossians 2:8. The terms used in this verse are all military, and the idea is, that Christ has completely subdued our enemies by his death. A complete victory was achieved by his death, so that every thing is now in subjection to him, and we have nothing to fear.

Principalities and powers - Notes, Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 6:12, note. The “principalities and powers” here referred to, are the formidable enemies that had held man in subjection, and prevented his serving God. There can be no doubt, I think, that the apostle refers to the ranks of fallen, evil spirits which had usurped a dominion over the world, John 12:31, note; Ephesians 2:2, note. The Saviour, by his death, wrested the dominion from them, and seized upon what they had captured as a conqueror seizes upon his prey. Satan and his legions had invaded the earth and drawn its inhabitants into captivity, and subjected them to their evil reign. Christ, by his death. subdues the invaders and recaptures those whom they had subdued.

He made a show of them openly - As a conqueror, returning from a victory, displays in a triumphal procession the kings and princes whom he has taken, and the spoils of victory. This was commonly done when a “triumph” was decreed for a conqueror. On such occasions it sometimes happened that a considerable number of prisoners were led along amidst the scenes of triumph see the notes at 2 Corinthians 2:14. Paul says that this was now done “openly” - that is, it was in the face of the whole universe - a grand victory; a glorious triumph over all the powers of hell It does not refer to any public procession or display on the earth; but to the grand victory as achieved in view of the universe, by which Christ, as a conqueror, dragged Satan and his legions at his triumphal car; compare Romans 16:20.

Triumphing over them in it - Margin, or, “himself.” Either “by the cross,” or “by himself.” Or, it may mean, as Rosenmuller suggests, that “God Colossians 2:12 triumphed over these foes in him; i. e., in Christ. The sense is substantially the same, that this triumph was effected by the atonement made for sin by the Redeemer. See the word “triumph” explained in the Notes on 2 Corinthians 2:14. The meaning of all this is, that since Christ has achieved for us such a victory, and has subdued all the foes of man, we should not be led captive, but should regard ourselves as freemen. We should not be made again the slaves of custom, or habit, or ritual observances, or superstitious rites, or anything whatever that has its origin in the kingdom of darkness. We are bound to assert and to use our freedom, and should not allow any hostile power in the form of philosophy or false teaching of any kind, to plunder or “spoil” us; Colossians 2:8. The Christian is a freeman. His great Captain has subdued all his enemies, and we should not allow them again to set up their dark empire over our souls. The argument of the apostle in these verses Colossians 2:13-15 is derived from what Christ has done for us. He mentions four things:

(1) He has given us spiritual life.

(2) He has forgiven all our trespasses.

(3) He has blotted out or abolished the “ordinances” that were against us.

(4) He has triumphed over all our foes. From all this he infers (Colossians 2:16 ff) that we should not be made captive or subdued by any of the rites of superstition, or any of the influences of the kingdom of darkness.

Verse 16

Let no man, therefore, judge you - compare Romans 14:10, note, 13, note. The word judge here is used in the sense of pronouncing a sentence. The meaning is, “since you have thus been delivered by Christ from the evils which surrounded you: since you have been freed from the observances of the law, let no one sit in judgment on you, or claim the right to decide for you in those matters. You are not responsible to man for your conduct, but to Christ; and no man has a right to impose that on you as a burden from which he has made you free.”

In meat - Margin, or eating and drinking. The meaning is, “in respect to the various articles of food and drink.” There is reference here, undoubtedly, to the distinctions which the Jews made on this subject, implying that an effort had been made by Jewish teachers to show them that the Mosaic laws were binding on all.

Or in respect of a holy day - Margin, part. The meaning is, “in the part, or the particular of a holy day; that is, in respect to it” The word rendered “holy-day” - ἑορτὴ heortē - means properly a “feast” or “festival;” and the allusion here is to the festivals of the Jews. The sense is, that no one had a right to impose their observance on Christians, or to condemn them if they did not keep them. They had been delivered from that obligation by the death of Christ; Colossians 2:14.

Or of the new moon - On the appearance of the new moon, among the Hebrews, in addition to the daily sacrifices, two bullocks, a ram, and seven sheep, with a meat offering, were required to be presented to God; Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11-14. The new moon in the beginning of the month Tisri (October) was the beginning of their civil year, and was commanded to be observed as a festival; Leviticus 23:24, Leviticus 23:25.

Or of the Sabbath days - Greek, “of the Sabbaths.” The word Sabbath in the Old Testament is applied not only to the seventh day, but to all the days of holy rest that were observed by the Hebrews, and particularly to the beginning and close of their great festivals. There is, doubtless, reference to those days in this place, since the word is used in the plural number, and the apostle does not refer particularly to the Sabbath properly so called. There is no evidence from this passage that he would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind. If he had used the word in the singular number - “the Sabbath,” it would then, of course, have been clear that he meant to teach that that commandment had ceased to be binding, and that a Sabbath was no longer to be observed. But the use of the term in the plural number, and the connection, show that he had his eye on the great number of days which were observed by the Hebrews as festivals, as a part of their ceremonial and typical law, and not to the moral law, or the Ten Commandments. No part of the moral law - no one of the ten commandments could be spoken of as “a shadow of good things to come.” These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation.

Verse 17

Which are a shadow of things to come - See the notes at Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 10:1, note. They were only a dim outline of future things, not the reality.

But the body is of Christ - The reality, the substance. All that they signified is of or in Christ. Between those things themselves which are in Christ, and those which only represented or prefigured them, there is as much difference as there is between a body and a shadow; a solid substance and a mere outline. Having now, therefore, the thing itself the shadow can be to us of no value; and that having come which was prefigured, that which was designed merely to represent it, is no longer binding.

Verse 18

Let no man beguile you of your reward - Margin, judge against you. The word used here - καταβραβεύω katabrabeuō - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is a word which was employed with reference to the distribution of prizes at the Grecian games, and means, to give the prize against anyone, to deprive of the palm. Hence, it means to deprive of a due reward: and the sense here is, that they were to be on their guard lest the “reward” - the crown of victory to which they looked forward - should be wrested from them by the arts of others. That would be done if they should be persuaded to turn back, or to falter in the race. The only way to secure the prize was to hold on in the race which they then were running; but if they yielded to the philosophy of the Greeks, and the teachings of the Jews, they would be defrauded of this reward as certainly as a racer at the games would if the crown of victory should be unjustly awarded to another. In this case, too, as real injustice would be done, though the apostle does not say it would be in the same manner. Here it would be by art; in the case of the racer it would be by a wrong decision - but in either case the crown was lost. This exhortation has the more force from this consideration. Against an unjust judge we could have no power; but we may take care that the reward be not wrested from us by fraud.

In a voluntary humility - Margin,” being a voluntary in humility.” Tyndale renders this,” Let no man make you shoot at a wrong mark, which, after his own imagination, walketh in the humbleness of angels.” The word used here (ταπεινοφροσύνη tapeinophrosunē) means “lowliness of mind, modesty, humbleness of deportment;” and the apostle refers, doubtless, to the spirit assumed by those against whom he would guard the Colossians - the spirit of modesty or of humble inquirers. The meaning is, that they would not announce their opinions with dogmatic certainty, but they would put on the appearance of great modesty. In this way, they would become really more dangerous - for no false teachers are so dangerous as those who assume the aspect of great humility, and who manifest great reverence for divine things. The word rendered “voluntary” here - θέλων thelōn - does not, properly, belong to the word rendered “humility.” It rather appertains to the subsequent part of the sentence, and means that the persons referred to were willing, or had pleasure in attempting, to search into the hidden and abstruse things of religion. They were desirous of appearing to do this with an humble spirit - even with the modesty of an angel - but still they had pleasure in that profound and dangerous kind of inquiry.

And worshipping of angels - θρησκείᾳ τῶν ἀγγέλων thrēskeia tōn angelōn. This does not mean, as it seems to me, that they would themselves worship angels or that they would teach others to do it for there is no reason to believe this. Certainly the Jewish teachers, whom the apostle seems to have had particularly in his eye, would not do it; nor is there any evidence that any class of false teachers would deliberately teach that angels were to be worshipped The reference is rather to the profound reverence; the spirit of lowly piety which the angels evinced, and to the fact that the teachers referred to would assume the same spirit, and were, therefore, the more dangerous. They would come professing profound regard for the great mysteries of religion, and for the incomprehensible perfections of the divinity, and would approach the subject professedly with the awful veneration which the angels have when they “look into these things;” 1 Peter 1:12. There was no bold, irreverent, or confident declamation, but the danger in the case arose from the fact that they assumed so much the aspect of modest piety; so much the appearance of the lowly devotion of angelic beings. The word rendered here “worship” - θρησκεία thrēskeia - occurs in the New Testament only here, in Acts 26:5; and James 1:26-27, in each of which places it is rendered “religion.” It means here the religion, or the spirit of humble reverence and devotion which is evinced by the angels; and this accords well with the meaning in James 1:26-27.

Intruding into those things which he hath not seen - Or inquiring into them. The word used here (ἐμβατεύων embateuōn) means to go in, or enter; then to investigate, to inquire. It has not, properly, the meaning of intruding, or of impertinent inquiry (see Passow), and I do not see that the apostle meant to characterize the inquiry here as such. He says that it was the object of their investigations to look, with great professed modesty and reverence, into those things which are not visible to the eye of mortals. The “things” which seem here to be particularly referred to, are the abstruse questions respecting the mode of the divine subsistence; the ranks, orders, and employments of angelic beings; and the obscure doctrines relating to the divine government and plans. These questions comprised most of the subjects of inquiry in the Oriental and Grecian philosophy, and inquiries on these the apostle apprehended would tend to draw away the mind from the “simplicity that is in Christ.” Of these subjects what can be known more than is revealed?

Vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind - Notwithstanding the avowed “humility,” the modesty, the angelic reverence, yet the mind was full of vain conceit, and self-confident, carnal wisdom. The two things are by no means incompatible - the men apparently most meek and modest being sometimes the most bold in their speculations, and the most reckless in regard to the great landmarks of truth. It is not so with true modesty, and real “angelic veneration,” but all this is sometimes assumed for the purpose of deceiving; and sometimes there is a native appearance of modesty which is by no means an index of the true feelings of the soul. The most meek and modest men in appearance are sometimes the most proud and reckless in their investigations of the doctrines of religion.

Verse 19

And not holding the Head - Not holding the true doctrine respecting the Great Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ; Notes, Ephesians 1:22. This is regarded here as essential to the maintenance of all the other doctrines of religion. He who has just views of the Redeemer will not be in much danger of erring respecting the other points of religious belief.

From which all the body ... - This passage is almost word for word the same as in Ephesians 4:15-16. See it explained in the notes there.

Verse 20

Wherefore - In view of all that has been said. If it be true that you are really dead to the world, why do you act as if you still lived under the principles of the world?

If ye be dead with Christ - If you are dead to the world in virtue of his death. The apostle here, as elsewhere, speaks of a very close union with Christ. We died with him; that is, such was the efficacy of his death, and such is our union with him, that we became dead also to the world; Notes, Romans 6:2, note, 4, note, 8, note, 11, note.

From the rudiments of the world - Margin, “elements.” The elements or principles which are of a worldly nature, and which reign among worldly men; see the notes at Galatians 4:3.

Why, as though living in the world - Why do you allow them to influence you, as though you were living and acting under those worldly principles? They ought no more to do it, than the things of this world influence those who are in their graves.

Are ye subject to ordinances - The rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion; see the notes at Galatians 5:1-4.

Verse 21

Tough not; taste not; handle not - These words seem intended as a specimen of the kind of ordinances which the apostle refers to, or an imitation of the language of the Jewish teachers in regard to various kinds of food and drink. “Why are ye subject to ordinances of various kinds, such as this - Touch not, taste not, handle not?” That is, such as prohibit you from even touching certain kinds of food, or tasting certain kinds of drink, or handling certain prohibited things. The rapid succession of the words here, without any connecting particle, is supposed to denote the eagerness of the persons who imposed this injunction, and their earnestness in warning others from contaminating themselves with the prohibited things. Many injunctions of this kind are found in the writings of the Jewish rabbis; and the ancient Jewish sect of the Essenes (Notes, Matthew 3:7) abounded in precepts of this kind.

See Schoetgen, and Pict. Bib. in loc. “They allowed themselves no food that was pleasant to the taste, but ate dry, coarse bread, and drank only water. Many of them ate nothing until sunset, and, if anyone touched them who did not belong to their sect, they washed themselves as if they had been most deeply defiled. Perhaps there was at Colossae a society of this kind, as there were in many other places out of Judea; and, if there was, it is not improbable that many Christians imitated them in the uniqueness of their rules and observances;” compare Jenning’s Jew. Ant. i. 471, and Ros. Alt. u. neu. Morgenland, in loc. If this be the correct interpretation, then these are not the words of the apostle, forbidding Christians to have anything to do with these ordinances, but are introduced as a specimen of the manner in which they who enjoined the observance of those ordinances pressed the subject on others.

There were certain things which they prohibited, in conformity with what they understood to be the law of Moses; and they were constantly saying, in regard to them, “do not touch them, taste them, handle them.” These words are often used as a kind of motto in reference to the use of intoxicating drinks. They express very well what is held by the friends of total abstinence; but it is obvious that they had no such reference as used by the apostle, nor should they be alleged as an authority, or as an argument, in the question about the propriety or impropriety of the use of spirituous liquors. They may as well be employed in reference to anything else as that, and would have no authority in either case. Intoxicating drinks should be abstained from; but the obligation to do it should be made to rest on solid arguments, and not on passages of Scripture like this. This passage could with more plausibility be pressed into the service of the enemies of the total abstinence societies, than into their support; but it really has nothing to do with the subject, one way or the other.

Verse 22

Which all are to perish with the using - This is commonly marked as a part of the parenthesis, or the quotation; and there is considerable difficulty in ascertaining its true meaning. It seems most probable that these are the words of the apostle himself, thrown in in the rapidity of composition, and that they are not to be connected with the phrase “touch not,” etc. If so, the idea is, that it cannot be of so much consequence as the Jewish teachers supposed, to mark distinctly the difference between meats and drinks. They were all to perish with the use of them. Nothing was permanent about them. It could really then be of no great importance what was eaten, or what was drunk, provided it was not in itself injurious. These ordinances had a value among the Hebrews when it was designed to keep them as a distinct people; but they had no value in themselves, so as to make them binding on all mankind. To suppose this, was the common error of the Jews; and hence, the apostle so frequently labored to show that the Jewish rites had no permanent value; see the Romans 14:1-6 notes; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, note; compare the notes at Matthew 15:17-18. According to this interpretation, Colossians 2:21 should be regarded as expressing the common maxim of the Jewish teachers, and the clause before us as the words of the apostle, and should be marked as a parenthesis. So it is marked in Hahn’s Ed. of the New Testament.

After the commandments and doctrines of men - Many of the ordinances on which the Jews insisted were those which were handed down by tradition. They depended on human authority only, and of course, should not bind the conscience. Others take the words here to mean, “All which things tend to the corruption of religion (Doddridge), or are cause of destruction or condemnation (Robinson, Lexicon), by the use of these things, according to the commandments and doctrines of these men.”

Verse 23

Which things - Which scrupulous observance of the numerous precepts enjoining rites and ceremonies, the observance of days, and the distinctions between meats and drinks.

Have indeed a show of wisdom - Have a great appearance of piety and of regard for the will of God They have a show of “wisdom,” too, or of a deep acquaintance with divine things. They who insist on them appear to be learned in what constitutes religion, and to have a deep insight into its mysteries. Doubtless they who urged the obligation of these things laid claim to uncommon acquaintance with the nature of religion, and urged the observance of these things on the ground of their tendency to promote piety, just as they always do who insist much on the observance of religious rites and ceremonies.

In will-worship - Voluntary worship; i. e., worship beyond what God strictly requires-supererogatory service. Probably many of these things they did not urge as being strictly required, but as conducing greatly to piety. The plea doubtless was, that piety might be promot ed by service rendered beyond what was absolutely enjoined, and that thus there would be evinced a spirit of uncommon piety - a readiness not only to obey all that God required, but even to go beyond this, and to render him voluntary service. There is much plausibility in this; and this has been the foundation of the appointment of the fasts and festivals of the church; of penances and self-inflicted tortures; of painful vigils and pilgrimages; of works of supererogation, and of the merits of the “saints.” A large part of the corruptions of religion have arisen from this plausible but deceitful argument. God knew best what things it was most conducive to piety for his people to observe; and we are most safe when we adhere most closely to what he has appointed, and observe no more days and ordinances than he has directed. There is much apparent piety about these things; but there is much wickedness of heart at the bottom, and there is nothing that more tends to corrupt pure religion.

And humility - Notes, Colossians 2:18. There is a great show of reverence for divine things in the manner in which they pursue their investigations, and in their humble and meek compliance with painful rites and ceremonies; in fastings, abstinence, and penances. Under all this there lurks often the worst kind of pride; because:

“Pride may be pampered while the flesh grows lean.”

And neglecting the body - Putting on sackcloth and ashes; subjecting it to painful fastings and penances; appearing in a form of squalid poverty, as if the body were not worth regarding, and as if the attention were so much engrossed by the nobler care of the soul, as to be entirely regardless of the body. Yet, we may observe,

(1) God made the body as well as the soul, and has shown his care of it by its” being fearfully and wonderfully made,” and by all the provision which he has made for all its needs.

(2) Religion pertains to the body as well as the soul, and should teach a man properly to regard it. Man is bound so to take care of the body, as to have the most health and the longest life possible in the service of his Creator, and so as to be able to employ it in the best manner. There is no religion in ragged or squalid clothing, in a dirty face, in offensive personal habits, in filth and defilement, and in setting at defiance the decencies of life.

(3) Much affected sanctity may exist where there is a most proud and corrupt heart. A long face, a demure countenance, a studied disregard of the decencies of dress and the courtesies of life, as if they were unworthy of notice, may be the exponent of the most hateful pride, and of the basest purposes of the soul. A man should be on his guard always against one who, under pretence of extraordinary sanctity, professes to despise the ordinary dress and usages of society.

Not in any honour - That is, there is no real honor in these things; there is nothing to ennoble and elevate the soul; nothing that is to be commended.

To the satisfying of the flesh - The only effect is, to satisfy or please the flesh; that is, the carnal and corrupt nature, for so the word “flesh” is often used in the Scriptures. The effect of these observances, on which so much stress is laid as if they would promote piety, is merely to gratify pride, self-righteousness, the love of distinction, and the other carnal propensities of our nature. There seems to be a great deal of humility and piety in them; there is really little else than pride, selfishness, and ambition.

Remarks On Colossians 2:0

1. We should feel a deep interest for the welfare of other Christians, even those whom we have never seen; Colossians 2:1-2. All belong to the same family, have the same enemies to contend with, are engaged in the same warfare, are traveling to the same heaven. By our prayers and sympathy, we may often do much good to those whom we shall never see until we meet them in heaven.

2. We should be on our guard against the seductive arts of false teachers. They are often plausible; they can urge arguments which we may not be able to answer; they may have much more learning than we have; and they may put on the appearance of great humility and of real piety; Colossians 2:3-4.Colossians 2:3. It is, in general, a safe rule for a Christian to abide by the views which he had on the great subjects of religion when he became converted; Colossians 2:6. Then the heart was tender and soft - like wax - and received the impression which the Spirit made on it. There are some things in which the heart judges better than the head; and in which we are quite as likely to go right if we follow the former as we are the latter. In relation to the performance of many of the duties of life - the duties of kindness and charity - the heart is often a more safe guide than the head; and so in many things pertaining more immediately to religion, a man is more likely to judge right if he follows the promptings of his feelings in the happiest moments of piety, than he is to wait for the more cool and cautious course of argument. The same thing may be true even of many of the doctrines of religion. When a poor sinner trembles on the verge of hell, he feels that none but an Almighty Saviour can deliver him, and he goes and commits himself to Jesus as God - and he is not in much danger of erring in that. He will be more likely to be drawn aside from the truth by the artful reasonings of the advocates of error, than he will by his feelings at that moment.

4. Our views of the “mystery of God” - of the divine nature, and especially of the rank and character of Christ, will determine all our views of theology; Colossians 2:2. This has been so in all ages; and however it may be accounted for, the fact is undoubted, that if at any time we can ascertain what are the prevalent views of Christ we can easily see what is the prevailing character of the theology of that age. The influence of this will be felt on the views which are held of the native character of man: of regeneration, the divine purposes, the nature of holiness, and the retributions beyond the grave. Hence, the reason why the apostle Paul insisted so much on this, and urged so earnestly the importance of adhering to just views of the Saviour.

5. Christ has laid us under the highest obligations to love and serve him; Colossians 2:11-15. He has enabled us to put off our sins; he has raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life; he has removed the old ordinances that were against us, and has made religion easy and pleasant; he has subdued our enemies, and triumphed over them. He achieved a glorious victory over “principalities and powers,” and has led our great enemy captive. He met the enemy of man when on earth, and overcame his power of temptation; expelled him from the bodies of men; laid the foundation for a permanent victory over him on the cross, and triumphed over him when he rose and ascended to heaven. Satan is now an humbled foe. His power is broken and limited, and the Lord Jesus will yet completely triumph over him. He will return from heaven; raise all the dead; and reascend, in the face of the universe, to his native skies, with all his ransomed hosts - the “spoils” of victory. We should not then fear what Satan can do to us; nor should we fear that the great enemy of the church will ever be triumphant:

Stand up, my soul, shake off thy fears,

And gird the gospel armor on;

March to the gates of endless joy,

Where thy great Captain Saviour’s gone.

Hell and thy sins resist thy course,

But hell and sin are vanquish’d foes;

Thy Jesus nail’d them to the cross,

And sung the triumph when he rose.

Then let my soul march boldly on,

Press forward to the heavenly gate;

There peace and joy eternal reign,

And glittering robes for conquerors wait.

Then shall I wear a starry crown,

And triumph in Almighty grace;

While all the armies of the skies.

Join in my glorious Leader’s praise.

6. No individual has a right to appoint ceremonies and ordinances in the church to be binding on the consciences of others; nor is this authority intrusted to any body of men; Colossians 2:16. What God has enjoined is to be obeyed. What man enjoins beyond that, is of no binding force on the conscience: and it is the solemn and sacred duty of all Christians to resist all such attempts to make ceremonial observances binding on the conscience. Christ has appointed a few ordinances of religion - and they are enough. They are simple, easily observed, and all adapted to promote piety. He appointed baptism and the Lord’s supper; but he appointed no stated festivals or fasts; no days in commemoration of the saints, or of his own birth or death; he enjoined no rites of religion but those which are most simple and which are easily observed. He well knew how those observances would be abused to the purposes of superstition, and obscure the great doctrine of justification by faith. He knew how ready men would be to rely on them rather than on the merits of the great Sacrifice, and hence he appointed no ordinance where that danger could exist.

7. Pride is often united with apparent humility; Colossians 2:18. It is easy to assume the appearance of humility in the outer deportment, but no such assumed appearance reaches the heart. That remains the same, whatever external appearance is assumed, until it is renewed by the grace of God.

8. A meek, modest, and candid demeanor is consistent with great boldness and daring in speculation; Colossians 2:18. The most daring speculators in religion; they who make the most reckless attacks on the truth, are often, to appearance, eminently candid, and even put on the aspect of angelic devotion. Yet they are bold “where angels fear to tread;” and they declaim with confidence on subjects which must be forever beyond the grasp of the human mind.

9. We should not infer, because a man is modest and humble, and because he appears to be endued with uncommon meekness and piety, that, therefore, he is a good man or a safe guide; Colossians 2:18. The teachers in Colossae, against whom Paul warned the Christians there, appear to have been men just of this stamp; and this is commonly assumed by those who would lead their fellow men into error. “Satan is often transformed into an angel of light.”

10. We should not attempt to penetrate into those things which lie beyond the grasp of the human mind; Colossians 2:18. We should not “intrude into those things which are unseen.” There is an outer limit to our investigations on all subjects, and we soon reach it. In life we are to act chiefly on facts; not on the reason why those facts exist. When we have ascertained or established a fact, our feet stand on a solid rock; and there we shall stand securely. We act safely and wisely if we act in view of that fact; we do not act safely or wisely if we disregard that, and act on theory or imagination.

11. Many real Christians are in danger of being “beguiled of the reward” which they might obtain; Colossians 2:18. They are allured by the world; they are drawn into error by the arts of philosophy; they obscure the lustre of their piety by conformity to the world, and thus they lose the high recompense which they might have obtained in heaven. For the rewards of heaven will be strictly in proportion to the measure of our religion here - the zeal, and faith, and love which we evince in the cause of our Master.

12. Many persons are in danger of losing the “reward” altogether - for the “reward” of a life of piety is set before all; Colossians 2:18. Heaven is offered freely to all, and there is no one who might not obtain it. But, alas! how many there are who are drawn aside by the allurements of error and of sin; who are led to defer to a future time the great subject of preparation for death; who spend their lives in disregard of the commands of God and the invitations of mercy, until it is too late to seek salvation, and they sink down to final ruin. Every impenitent sinner is in imminent danger of losing his soul. The great deceiver is endeavoring to blind him and decoy him down to death, and a thousand snares on every side are spread for his feet, into which he is in constant danger of falling. In a world of allurements, where the work of death from the beginning has been carried on chiefly by deception, with what solicitude should man guard himself lest he be “beguiled of heaven” and sink to a world where heaven will be offered no more!

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Colossians 2". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/colossians-2.html. 1870.
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