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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Colossians 2

Verses 1-99

Ch. 2:1 7. His labour of prayer for the Colossians and other unvisited converts: There is need, for errors are in the air

1. For, &c .] He takes up the word “ striving ,” just used, and justifies it by telling them of a certain special “ strife ” of his on their behalf.

I would that ye knew ] Lit. and better, I wish you to know . So 1 Corinthians 11:3 ; and cp. e.g. Romans 1:13 ; 2 Corinthians 1:8 .

conflict ] Agôn . See note on 1:29 (“ striving ”). Here is the present special form of his pastoral “wrestling” on their behalf. It is (see next verse) the “strife” of prayer; “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless” them (Genesis 32:26 ). See, for the efforts of another similar “wrestler,” 4:12 below.

Laodicea ] Cp. 4:13, 15, 16; Revelation 3:14 . “The rich, commercial city of Laodicea, formerly called Diospolis, afterwards Rhoas, and subsequently Laodicea, in honour of Laodice, wife of Antiochus II. [261 246 b.c.], was situated on the river Lycus, about eighteen [eleven?] English miles to the west of Colossæ and about six miles south of Hierapolis, which latter city is not improbably hinted at in [‘ as many as ,’ &c.]” (Ellicott). “The ruins at the present day are of vast extent, and indicate the importance of Laodicea” (Lewin, Life and Epp. of St Paul , i. 357; see an engraved view, ibid ., opposite p. 360). See further, Introd ., p. 13.

and as many as have not seen , &c.] These words, taken with the context , naturally mean that St Paul had never personally visited Colossæ, Laodicea, and their district. The opposite view has been maintained, as e.g. by Mr Lewin (who however withdrew his argument later; see his work just quoted, i. 172 note). No doubt the mere phraseology here is ambiguous; “ and as many , &c. ” may denote equally either a different class of persons from those just named, or the rest of the same class. But the latter alternative is strongly favoured both by the simplicity of reference natural in a passage so fervent and so passing, and by the history. See further Introd ., p. 20.

my face ] “ My parson ” ( persona ), Tyndale, Cranmer; “ my person ,” Geneva. Tyndale no doubt follows Luther’s meine Person .

2. comforted ] Ut consolentur , Latin Versions. But the Greek verb means more than to console; it is rather to hearten, to encourage. Confortatio , the (late) Latin original of our “ comfort ,” is “to make fortis, strong; ” and “ comfort ” long retained this meaning in English. Wyclif here has “ counfortid; ” and in his version of Isaiah 41:7 he actually writes “ he coumfortide hym with nailes , that it shulde not be moued” ( Bible Word-Book , p. 117).

being ] Better, they being ; the Greek participle agrees not with “ hearts ” but with the owners of the hearts.

knit together ] Cp. below ver. 19, and Ephesians 4:16 (a suggestive parallel). The Greek verb always in the LXX. means “ to instruct ”; and the Latin Versions here have instructi (hence Wyclif, “ taughte ”); which however may mean “ drawn up ,” “ marshalled ,” and so may be nearly the same as A. V. The parallels just quoted are decisive for A.V.

in love ] “which is the bond of perfectness,” 3:14. Cp. Ephesians 4:2 , Ephesians 4:3 ; Philippians 2:1-4 .

and unto all riches ] The saints, drawn together in love, would by the loving communication of experience and by other spiritual aid, all advance to a fuller knowledge of the Lord and His grace. On “ riches ” see note on 1:27.

the full assurance ] “ Fulness ” R.V. margin; Latin Versions, plenitudo, adimpletio . The Greek word recurs 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ; Hebrews 6:11 , Hebrews 6:10 :22; and nowhere else in Biblical or classical Greek. In all these passages the word “ fulness ” would give an adequate meaning. But the cognate verb, which is more frequent, appears by usage to convey the idea of, so to speak, an active fulness, a fulness having to do with consciousness. This is an argument for retaining (with Ellicott, Alford, Lightfoot, R.V. text) the A.V. rendering. He prays that they may more and more enter into the “wealth” of a deep and conscious insight into “the mystery of God.”

understanding ] See on 1:9 above.

to the acknowledgement ] This clause is the echo and explanation of the last; “ unto all the riches &c., unto the acknowledgement &c.”

Acknowledgement : epignôsis; see on 1:9 above.

the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ ] “The ancient authorities vary much in the text of this passage” (margin, R.V.). The chief variants are as follows: ( a ) “ the mystery of God ; adopted by Tischendorf in his 7th (last but one) edition of the N.T., and by Alford: ( b ) “ the mystery of God , even Christ ,” or, as the same Greek may be rendered, “ the mystery of the (or, our ) God Christ ; adopted, with the first alternative translation, by Tischendorf in his 8th (last) edition, Tregelles, Wordsworth, Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort, and R.V.: ( c ) “ the mystery of God, which is Christ : ( d ) “ the mystery of God the Father of Christ : ( e ) the reading represented by A.V., which is that of most later mss. Lightfoot in a long and careful note (pp. 318, 319) reasons for the high probability of reading ( b ), and for regarding all others as formed from it either by explanatory addition or by cutting a knot of supposed difficulty by omission. Dr Scrivener ( Introd. to N.T. Criticism , pp. 634 6) also discusses the case, with Lightfoot’s reasoning among other things before him, and inclines to the same reading , though apparently preferring the other rendering given above. His only difficulty lies in the small documentary support given to a reading in itself otherwise so likely. And he says, “The more we think over this reading, the more it grows upon us, as the source from which all the rest are derived. At present, perhaps, [‘ of God the Father of Christ ’] may be looked upon as the most strongly attested, … but a very small weight might suffice to turn the critical scale.”

Adopting the reading thus accepted by Lightfoot and favoured by Scrivener, how shall we render it? Shall we say, “ the mystery of the God Christ ”? The phrase would convey eternal truth; but as a phrase it has no precise parallel in St Paul. To him Christ is indeed absolutely Divine, Coequal in Nature with the Father; but this truth is always seen, so to speak, through His Sonship, so that He is designated rather “the Son of God” than simply “God.” (See however Acts 20:28 ; Titus 2:13 .) Shall we say “ the mystery of the God of Christ ”? Here a near parallel appears Ephesians 1:17 . But the preceding context here (esp. 1:27) distinctly inclines to our connecting “ the mystery ” with “ Christ ,” so that He shall be the Father’s “Secret” of “all spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3 ) for His people; their all-blessed Resource, hidden yet open, for “pardon, and holiness, and heaven.” Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:30 , where “ wisdom ” is in a certain sense equivalent to “ mystery ” here.

So we render, the mystery of God, even Christ .

3. in whom ] Christ, the Secret of God, is now characterized as such; the Secret is Christ as the Treasury of wisdom and knowledge .

are hid &c.] Better, regarding the order of the Greek, in whom are all the treasures , &c., hidden ( there ). The thought that they are “hidden” is emphasized. See below, note on “ wisdom &c.”

all ] So that He is absolutely sufficient, and supposed supplies from elsewhere are a delusion. So “ all riches ” just above; and 1:19.

the treasures ] A rich (and frequent) plural.

wisdom and knowledge ] Words recurring together Romans 11:33 ; 1 Corinthians 12:8 . In such a passage they are scarcely perhaps to be minutely distinguished 1 1 Where wisdom ( sophia ) and knowledge ( gnôsis ) have to be distinguished, the essential difference appears to be that sophia is a moral-mental term, gnôsis a term purely mental, or rather one which fixes attention on the cognition of truth simply as such. Conceivably, the man of “knowledge” may stop with a mere sight of truth; the man of “wisdom” reflects upon it, receives it, in a way affecting character and action. The words “wise.” “wisdom”, in the Greek, are thus “never in Scripture ascribed to other than God or good men, except in an ironical sense” (Trench, N.T. Synonyms , 2nd Series). (as they must be in 1 Corinthians 12:0 ); they blend into the one idea of the resources of the Divine Mind. For surely here, as in Romans 11:0 (a near parallel), it is the wisdom and knowledge of God which are in view; a point not noticed by Ellicott, Alford, or Lightfoot. (There is doubtless a reflected reference here to human speculation, exercised upon the treasures of Divine thought.)

The treasures of this Divine “wisdom and knowledge” are in Christ “ hiddenly ” (Ellicott), inasmuch as they are ( a ) to be found in Him alone, ( b ) to be found therefore only by entrance into Him, ( c ) never, even so, to be “found out unto perfection.” The Greek word, as Lightfoot shews, is in all likelihood borrowed from the heretical vocabulary, and transfigured. The embryo “Gnostic” of St Paul’s days probably, as his successors certainly, gloried in an alleged possession of inner, esoteric, secrets of being and of knowing, treasured in books thence called apocryphal ( secret, hidden ); a word identical with the Greek adjective here ( apocruphoi ). (So that, in the Fathers, by “apocryphal” books are not meant the Jewish religious books we commonly call so, but the “secret” literature of the heretical sects.)

Christ is thus the glorious “Apocrypha” (if we may dare to say so) of the Christian; our “esoteric wisdom” is only an ever-deepening insight into Him revealed. “Jesus Christ is a great Book. He who can indeed study Him in the word of God will know all he ought to know. Humility opens this Divine Book, faith reads in it, love learns from it” (Quesnel).

4. And this I say, lest &c.] He states the precise practical occasion of such a general statement of truth. It is, the danger now surrounding the Colossians, and of which Paul, though absent, is keenly and lovingly cognizant.

beguile you ] Lit., “ reason you aside,” “lead you astray by reasoning .”

enticing words ] Almost, “ a persuasive style ,” as distinguished from the power of solid facts truly presented and received. The pretensions of speculative heresy, always flattering man rather than humbling him, would answer this description exactly. R.V., persuasiveness of speech . “The subtlety of human reasonings has always been the stumbling-block of faith” (Quesnel).

5. For ] He means that he knows the need of such warning, though he is so far away. He is close to them “ in spirit .”

in the spirit ] Is this the human spirit or the Divine? 1 Corinthians 5:4 (with 3) appears to decide for the former. It is scarcely enough to say (as Lightfoot) that this is “the common antithesis of flesh and spirit, or body and spirit;” for in many important passages (e.g. Galatians 5:16-18 ) the antithesis to “ the flesh ” is precisely the Divine Spirit dwelling in the man. And here the meaning might well be (cp. 2 Corinthians 12:2 , 2 Corinthians 12:3 ) that in some way supernatural the Holy Spirit gave him, in spite of bodily absence, a mysterious presence of intuitive consciousness. But the tone of the context is in favour of a simpler meaning; and “ flesh ,” here used evidently in its most literal sense, points the same way. And so the words “ my spirit ” (1 Corinthians 5:4 ) present a true parallel and explanation; though even there a certain mystery seems to be indicated. He is present in the sense of spiritual love and influence. Jerome compares Elisha and Gehazi (2 Kings 5:26 ).

joying and beholding ] The “ joy ” of what he hears of them leads him more vividly to “ behold ” them, as if in actual view. Observe his loving wish to dwell even here on their brighter side.

order … stedfastness ] Both words are military; Lightfoot renders them orderly array and solid front respectively. “The enforced companionship of St Paul with the soldiers of the Prætorian Guard at this time (Philippians 1:13 ) might have suggested this image. At all events in the contemporary Epistle (Ephesians 6:14 sq.) we have an elaborate metaphor from the armour of a soldier” (Lightfoot).

Stedfastness ( solidity ) of your faith : cp. Acts 16:5 (lit., “ grew solid in (or by ) their faith ”); 1 Peter 5:9 (lit., “ whom resist, solid in (or by ) your faith ”). The “solidity” in all these places implies at once the compact spiritual steadiness of the community and (the true and necessary condition to such steadiness) the simplicity and thoroughness of the individual as a believer.

6. As ye have therefore &c.] As if to say, “I see with joy your present stedfast faith and consequent holy union; therefore I entreat you at once to stay there and to grow there, for you will be tempted towards a very different region otherwise.”

Have received : somewhat better, did receive , at their conversion. The Greek word rendered “ receive ” is frequently used of the reception of teaching , learning; and no doubt the reference is mainly to their “reception” from their missionary (1:7) of the revealed truth . See further just below. But Ellicott well says that “the object [Christ] is so emphatically specified” as to imply that “they received … Christ Himself, in Himself the sum and substance of all teaching.” Cp. John 1:12 ; 1 John 5:11 , 1 John 5:12 .

Christ Jesus the Lord ] Lightfoot punctuates and renders, the Christ, even Jesus the Lord ; taking the reference to be to their having learned and welcomed as the true Christ (Messiah) not the speculative “Christ” of the heretics but the historic Jesus of the Incarnation and the Cross. This rendering (in view of the Greek) strongly commends itself to us, though R.V. retains A.V. In any case, however, the solemn emphasis of the whole phrase points in the direction of thought indicated by Lightfoot.

The Lord : doubtless in the highest sense of the word. Cp. Philippians 2:11 .

walk ye in him ] “Let your actual life as believers be guarded and guided by this Lord thus received.” He warns them of the danger, amidst heretical surroundings, of an unapplied orthodoxy. If they would be both firm and vigorous they must put truth into life. On the word “ walk ” see above on 1:10. It occurs often in these Epistles of the Captivity; eight times in Eph., four times in Col., twice in Phil.

In Him : see on 1:2 above.

7. rooted ] A perfect participle. It recurs Ephesians 3:17 , the only other place in which St Paul uses precisely this metaphor, which combines the thought of fixity with that of derived and developing life from a genial source. There, as here, the metaphor of building (more frequent with St Paul) appears, in the Greek, beside this other.

built up ] See the last remark. The Greek is a present participle, to be expressed in (not quite classical) English by, being built up . See for a close parallel Ephesians 2:22 ; and cp. 1:23 above. The compound verb here gives the thought of building upon , and the reference might be taken to be to Christ as the Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11 ). But the phrase “ in Him” just below suggests here another of the many sides of His relation to the “building”; and leads us to explain this of the internal “building up” of the community as new members join it and cohere with it; and also of the individual, as layers (so to speak) of experience and spiritual character accrue in his life and walk. The present participle is thus clearly suitable.

in Him ] as He is the “Stone of the angle” (Ephesians 2:20 ) “in” which the converging lines of structure hold together. Cp. 1:17. But this imagery must not be pressed too far, for “ in Him ” relates here to “ rooted ” as well as “ built up .”

stablished ] Again a present participle.

in the faith ] Omit “ in ,” and render, with Lightfoot, and R.V. margin, by your faith . Their faith, their submissive personal reliance on their Lord, would “strike their root downward” and compact their spiritual structure; and so it would make them continuously more stable. “Faith is, as it were, the cement of the building” (Lightfoot).

as ye have been taught ] Better, as ye were taught , when Epaphras evangelized them. Then they learnt Whom to believe in, and how to believe in Him, for righteousness and life.

abounding ] A favourite word with St Paul. It occurs five times in Philippians. Nothing short of spiritual wealth, and its full employment, ever satisfies him.

therein ] In your faith, regarded as “the sphere” of the sense of “abundance.” Loyal reliance on the all-sufficient Christ was to be largely, fully, exercised.

with thanksgiving ] Lit., “ in thanksgiving .” Thanksgiving was to attend, to surround, this large exercise of faith. It would do so as a matter of reason; for the possession of such an Object of faith was indeed ground enough for holy gratitude. And it would do so also as a matter of experience; for there is no surer secret for a glad thankfulness than full habitual reliance on the Christ of God.

“The words [“ thankful, give thanks, thanksgiving ”] occur in St Paul’s writings alone of the apostolic Epistles. In this Epistle especially the duty of thanksgiving assumes a peculiar prominence by being made a refrain, as here and in 3:15, 17, 4:2; see also 1:12” (Lightfoot).

8 15. Warning against alien teachings: Christ is all for peace and life

8. Beware &c.] Quite lit., “ See lest any one shall be your spoiler ; the positive and imminent risk being indicated by the future tense (“ shall be ”), quite anomalous in such constructions.

any man] “This indefinite [expression] is frequently used by St Paul, when speaking of opponents whom he knows well enough but does not care to name” (Lightfoot). Cp. Romans 3:8 ; 1 Corinthians 11:16 , 1 Corinthians 11:14 :37, 1 Corinthians 11:15 :12; 2 Corinthians 3:1 , 2 Corinthians 3:10 :2, 2 Corinthians 3:12 , 2 Corinthians 3:11 :20, 21; Galatians 1:7 , Galatians 1:9 ; above, ver. 4, below ver. 16; 2 Thessalonians 2:3 , 2 Thessalonians 2:3 :10, 2 Thessalonians 2:11 ; 1 Timothy 1:3 , 1 Timothy 1:6 , 1 Timothy 1:6 :3, 21.

spoil you ] Better, with R.V., maketh spoil of you . The Greek word is not known in earlier Greek literature, but its form leaves no doubt of its meaning. The false teachers would not merely “despoil” the Colossians of certain spiritual convictions and blessings, but would lead them away captives, as their deluded adherents and devotees. Lightfoot compares 2 Timothy 3:6 .

through philosophy … deceit ] We may fairly represent the Greek, sacrificing precise literality, thus: through his empty deceit of a philosophy . No doubt the false teachers posed as great intellectualists, and took care to present their “gospel” as something congruous in kind with existing speculations, Greek or Eastern, about knowing and being. They would say little or nothing like “ Thus it is written , and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise … and that repentance and remission … should be preached in His name” (Luke 24:46 , Luke 24:47 ); but rather “Thus the finite stands related to the Infinite; thus spirit is eternally differenced from matter, and thus it secures its emancipation from its material chain.”

Lightfoot in an interesting note traces the word “ Philosophy ” from its alleged origin in the modesty of Pythagoras (cent. 6 b.c.), who declined the title of “ wise ” ( sophos ), preferring that of “ wisdom-lover ” ( philosophos ), to its later association with “subtle dialectics and profitless speculation,” as in St Paul’s age. And he remarks on two different views about pagan Philosophy represented among the Fathers; that of e.g. Clement of Alexandria (cent. 2 3), who regarded it as “not only a preliminary training … for the Gospel, but even as in some sense a covenant … given by God to the Greeks”; and that of e.g. Tertullian (at the same date) who saw a positive antithesis between “the philosopher” and “the Christian.” Lightfoot remarks that St Paul’s speech at Athens “shows that his sympathies would have been at least as strong” with Clement as with Tertullian. Can we go quite so far? Surely the main drift of his teaching emphasizes the tendency of independent speculation not to discover facts destructive of the Gospel; no such timid misgivings beset him; but to foster mental habits hostile to a submissive welcome to the Gospel. Cp. esp. 1 Corinthians 1:17-3:23 .

“Folly indeed it is,” says Quesnel, “to seek to establish a science wholly Divine on foundations wholly human. And this is what they do who seek to judge of the things of faith by the principles of philosophy.”

tradition ] Paradosis . Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:2 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 , 2 Thessalonians 2:3 :6; for this word used in a good sense, that of apostolic teaching and precept. Strictly, it means what is “ handed on ,” and so may mean, by connexion, either (as here) an esoteric “ deposit ,” passed down as it were along the line of the initiated, or simply “ teaching ,” the conveyance of opinion or knowledge in any way from one mind to another. It is remarkable that in this latter sense, very commonly, the word “tradition” is used by the Fathers to mean simply Scripture; “ evangelic ” or “ apostolic tradition ” denoting respectively the teaching of the Gospels and the Epistles . Here, however, obviously the word inclines to its worse reference; the more or less esoteric teaching about things unseen, “handed on” in the heretical circles, not published in the daylight.

of men ] Whereas the Apostle’s mission and Gospel was “not of men, neither by man” (Galatians 1:1 ) nor “according to man” ( ibid ., 11). He “neither received it of man, nor was taught it, but by revelation from Jesus Christ” ( ibid ., 12). Nothing is more emphatic in St Paul than this assertion of the strictly and directly superhuman, Divine, origin of the Gospel as a message.

rudiments ] Cp. Galatians 4:3 . The Greek word means a first beginning, or principle (see Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon , under στοιχεῖον ), for instance, as a simple vocal sound (that e.g. of the letter r ) is a first element in speech. Hence it comes to mean “ an element ” in knowledge, or instruction; and hence, elementary instruction. The same word also denoted the heavenly bodies , regarded as the first grounds of measurement of time; and many ancient expositors saw this meaning here, as if the Apostle had in view the observance of “days, and months, and seasons, and years” (Galatians 4:10 ). But Lightfoot points out that ( a ) the reference here is to some mode of teaching , ( b ) the observance of “times” was too subordinate a factor in the errors in question to be thus named as a part for the whole. See his note here and also on Galatians 4:3 . The Apostle has in view the pre-Christian ordinances of e.g. sacrifice and circumcision, regarded as temporary, introductory to the Gospel, and now therefore to be laid aside. In their place , they were Divine; out of their place , they are “of the world.”

On the word στοιχεῖον see further Grimm’s N.T. Lexicon , ed. Thayer.

of the world ] Belonging to an order not spiritual but only mechanical, material. See the last words of the previous note. For such a reference of the word cosmos cp. 1 Corinthians 1:20 .

not after Christ ] “Christ is neither the author nor the substance of [this] teaching” (Lightfoot). The holy and necessary exclusiveness of the Gospel cannot admit such “traditions” and “elements” even as subordinate allies. They must absolutely give way before it.

9 . For ] He is about to shew that “Christ” is the antithesis of this false gospel in two respects; ( a ) His glorious Person is all in all as the substance of the true Gospel; ( b ) His code of resulting observance appears not in an ascetic rule but in a life of liberty and purity in union with the Risen Lord Himself.

in him dwelleth &c.] See above on 1:19.

the Godhead ] The Greek word ( theotês ) stands here alone in the N.T. It is as strong as possible; Deity , not only Divinity , which is a word much more elastic and inclusive. The Latin Versions have divinitas here; and the word deitas was coined later, on purpose to express the true force of theotês . See Lightfoot, who quotes Trench’s Synonyms .

bodily ] “ ‘ Bodily-wise,’ ‘corporeally’; with a bodily manifestation ” (Lightfoot). From all eternity the Divine Plenitude had “dwelt” in the Son of the Father. But in the Incarnation of the Son this indwelling dwelling had been, “for us men and our salvation,” conditioned by the fact of the Lord’s true human Body. In that Body, and through it, was manifested His union with us, and was wrought out His work for us in life and death. From Him now exalted, not only as the Son but as the Son Incarnate, Slain, and Risen, radiates to all His members the Holy Ghost (Revelation 5:6 ). So, for us, the Divine Plenitude dwells in Him “bodily-wise”; not circumscribed by His holy human Body, which “is in heaven and not here” (see the last Rubric of the Communion Office), but eternally conditioned, as to our fruition of It, by the fact of His Incarnation.

10. And ye are complete in him ] Lit. and better And ye are (emphatic) in Him filled full ; or perhaps, with Lightfoot, And ye are in Him, filled full two statements in one; you are in Him, and you are filled full in Him. You are in immediate union with Him, and in that union you possess, potentially and as you need it, all grace, as possessing Him in whom is all the Fulness. Cp. Ephesians 1:23 and our notes. The word rendered “ complete ” is a grammatical echo of the word just above rendered “ Fulness ” or “ Plenitude .”

Such are the resources of the believer, and of the Church, in their wonderful union with the Lord. What need then of alien and lower secrets of succour and strength?

which is the head &c.] See on 1:19 above. All the personal Powers of the Unseen, however real and glorious, are but limbs (in their order of being) of this Head; therefore no nearer to Him than you are, and no less dependent on Him. Live then on the Fountain, not on Its streams; use to the full the fulness which in Christ is yours.

11. in whom ] The truth of the holy Union of members and Head is again in view. What he is about to speak of was done by the fact of, by virtue of, their oneness with Christ.

are circumcised ] Better, were circumcised , when you entered “into Christ.” They already had that Divine Reality, the sacred but obsolete type of which the new teachers now pressed upon them. As regarded order, ceremonial, deed and seal of conveyance, they acquired this in their Baptism; as regarded inward and ultimate reality they acquired it by believing on the name of the Son of God. See John 1:12 ; cp. 1 John 5:1 . Baptism is the Sacrament of Faith, and never , in principle and idea, to be dissociated from its Thing ( Res ), as if its work was done where the Thing is not truly present.

made without hands ] It is a thing of the spiritual, eternal, order, the immediate work of the will of God. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:1 . Is this “circumcision” simply holy Baptism? No, surely, but that “inward and spiritual grace” of which Baptism is the sacramental Seal, “a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness” (Church Catechism). It is vital union with Christ, through faith, by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:17 ), viewed as our separation from the condemnation (Romans 6:11 ) and power ( ib ., 12, 13) of sin, and so our real entrance into a position of covenanted peace (Romans 5:1 ) and a condition of covenanted grace. In both these aspects it is the Antitype of the type Circumcision, and the Reality under the seal Baptism.

the putting off ] The Greek is one strong compound word; “ the entire stripping off .” It was, in principle and as regarded the call and grace of God, a total break with the old position and condition; not a reform but a revolution of the man’s standing and state. The physical imagery is drawn of course from the severe Abrahamic rite.

the body of the sins of the flesh ] Omit, on good evidence, the words “ of the sins ” which appear to be a (very intelligible) gloss or comment.

What is “ the body of the flesh ? Elsewhere in St Paul the word “ body ” appears never to mean anything but the physical frame, save in passages referring to the Church; but (in passages at all akin to this) it is that frame viewed as in some sense the vehicle of sin, or rather of temptation. Cp. Romans 6:6 , Romans 6:7 :24, Romans 6:8 :10, Romans 6:11 , Romans 6:13 . As God’s handiwork, the body is good, and on its way, in Christ, to glorification. As the body of man in the Fall, and as man’s means of contact with a sinful external world, if in no other way, it is so conversant with and affected by evil as to be ( in that respect ) an evil. As such it is “the body of the flesh,” that is, the body conditioned by, and reacting upon, our nature fallen and unregenerate. See our notes on Romans 8:4 and Ephesians 2:3 , on the word “ flesh .”

In Christ, “by the Spirit,” the Christian is empowered to “mortify the practices of the body” (Romans 8:13 ). In Christ, “the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body ” (1 Corinthians 6:13 ). In this respect the man, while still liable to physical weakness and weariness, and truly capable of temptation, and as a fact never so using his “fulness” in Christ as to be wholly free (whatever his consciousness) from the burthen of evil in and through “the body of the flesh,” yet stands on such a ground of vantage over the power of that body as to find by faith a noble practical reality in the strong words of this verse. See further, on the other hand, notes on 3:5.

by the circumcision of Christ ] Lit., in &c.; “ as united to, interested in .” What is this circumcision? that given by Christ, or that undergone by Christ? Much may be said for the latter. Our Lord was “circumcised for man,” as the sacramental Seal of His “subjection to the law for man”; and so His historical Circumcision has a deep connexion with our possession, through Him, of acceptance and sanctification, the fruit of His Righteousness and Merits. But in this context the other reference is preferable. We have but just read of a “ circumcision not made with hands ; surely the same is in view here. Christ, Messiah (the word here is not Jesus, which might have better suggested the historical reference), gives us spiritual circumcision when He joins us to Himself (see notes above), and so the circumcision is “His.”

12. buried with him ] Cp. Romans 6:4 ; the only parallel. Union with Christ is primarily union with Him as the Dead and Buried, because His Death (consummated as it were and sealed in His Burial) is the procuring cause of all our blessings in Him, as it is our Propitiation and Peace. The Christian, joined to Him, shares as it were the atoning Death and the covering, swallowing, Grave of his blessed Representative; he goes to the depths of that awful process with and in his Lord.

in baptism ] The form of the Greek word ( baptismos not baptisma in the best reading) perhaps emphasizes the action rather than the abstract institution; it recalls the decisive “Rubicon” which his sacramental Washing was to the convert. See Lightfoot here.

The immersion of the baptized (the primeval and ideal form of rite, but not invariable as a literal action; see Teaching of the Apostles (cent. 1), ch. 7) is undoubtedly here in view. The plunge beneath the water signified identification with the buried Lord, and sealed it to faith. Lightfoot quotes from the Apostolic Constitutions (a book heretical in doctrine but valuable as a witness to usages; cent. 3) the words (3:17), “the plunge is our dying with Him, the coming up, our rising with Him.”

It must be said again (see above on ver. 11) that, in the ultimate reality, not the Sacrament but faith in God’s promises joins us to the Lord in His death. But the Sacrament so seals the faith that the terms appropriate to faith attach to the Sacrament, naturally though secondarily. Cp. Galatians 3:26 , Galatians 3:27 , in the significant connexion of the verses. And see Beveridge on Artt. xxv., xxvii.; and Lombard, quoted in Appendix K.

ye are risen with him] Better, ye rose with Him. The state to which baptism was your sacramental admittance is a state of union with Christ as the Risen One; fellowship in His supreme Acceptance and in His possession of the full wealth of the Spirit as our Mediator and Surety. Baptism seals to faith all our possessions in the now glorified Redeemer.

through the faith of &c.] Better, through your faith in the working ( energeia ) of God . Observe the reference to faith in connexion with the Sacrament; and see next note.

who hath raised him ] Better, who raised Him . Cp. 1 Peter 1:18-21 (especially 21) for a close and instructive parallel. Faith rests upon God as He is viewed specially as the Raiser of the Lord from the dead, because in that character we see Him as reconciled and as actively gracious to us. See further Hebrews 13:20 , Hebrews 13:21 .

13. And you ] It is as if the Apostle would have written, “ and you with Him ” carrying on the last sentence. But he pauses on the word “ you ,” and makes a new statement.

dead in your sins ] See Ephesians 2:1 , and 5, for a close parallel written about the same time.

Dead : devoid of spiritual and eternal life, in its Christian sense. For the truth that unregenerate man is thus “dead” see Ephesians 5:14 ; John 5:24 ; 1 John 3:14 , 1 John 3:5 :12; and cp. John 3:3 , John 6:53 . See also Genesis 2:17 . The state indicated is one not of dormancy, or imperfect development, but one in which a living principle necessary for organization, growth and energy, in reference to God and holiness, is entirely lacking, and in which there is no innate tendency to develop such a principle. The “life eternal” must come ab extra .

in your sins ] Better, in respect of your trespasses ; the conditions and the symptoms of the “death.” On the word rendered “ trespass ” see Trench, N. T. Synonyms , on ἁμαρτία , and our note on Ephesians 2:1 . It has a slight tendency by usage to denote sin in its less grievous aspects; but this must not be pressed here.

the uncircumcision of your flesh ] A phrase explained by the previous passage (ver. 11) where the spiritual circumcision is in view, and “the body of the flesh.” It is the unregenerate state, in which man is separated neither from the guilt of sin nor from its power.

hath he quickened ] Better, He quickened, He raised to life ; ideally, when your Lord rose, actually when you came into union with Him by faith.

The word “ you ” should be repeated after “ quickened ,” by the best documentary evidence.

having forgiven ] Better, forgiving ; at the moment, in the act, of the “quickening.” The Lord’s Resurrection was the expression of the fact of His acceptance by the Father; our entrance on union with Him as the Risen One was the expression of our acceptance in Him.

you ] Better, us ; all believers, not Gentiles only. “St Paul is eager to claim his share in the transgression, that he may claim it also in the forgiveness” (Lightfoot).

all trespasses ] Lit., all the trespasses ; with reference to the recent mention of “your trespasses” (see last note but three). Observe the Divine fulness of the remission.

14. blotting out ] cancelled (Lightfoot). The act of “forgiving” is described under vivid imagery. Cp. Acts 3:19 ; and see Psalms 51:1 , Psalms 51:9 , 109:14; Nehemiah 4:5 ; Isaiah 44:22 ; Jeremiah 18:23 .

the handwriting ] The bond, note-of-hand . The original word, cheirographon , meaning an autograph, is used often in this sense, and oftener (transliterated) in Latin than in Greek. So here the Latin Versions have chirographum decreti . What is “ the bond ”? The question is best answered under the next words.

of ordinances ] Lit., “ with relation to ordinances ; based on them, conditioned by them. “ The bond written in ordinances ; R. V. These “ordinances” ( dogmata ) are not rites but, as the Greek word always means in the N.T., orders, decrees . The reference cannot be solely to the “decrees” of the Jewish Law , for here the case of all believing sinners is in view. The decrees are rather that of which that Law was only one grand instance, the Divine precept of holiness, however conveyed, whether by revelation or by conscience (see Romans 2:12-15 ). Man’s assent, however imperfect, to the lightness of that precept, is as it were his signature of obligation to “the bond”; a bond which his sin has made to be a terribly adverse engagement.

Lightfoot points out that the Greek commentators “universally” interpret the words rendered “of ordinances” quite differently; “ by the dogmata , or doctrines ( of the Gospel )”; the Gospel being the means of the abrogation of the Law. But this, as he shews, is ( a ) alien to the context, ( b ) out of harmony with an important parallel word in ver. 20 below (see notes on that verse), ( c ) not supported by the usage (elsewhere in N.T.) of the Greek word dogma .

contrary ] directly opposed (Lightfoot). The Greek is a single compound word, giving by its form the thought of a close and grappling opposition. The broken Law becomes an active enemy of the transgressor.

and took it out of the way ] Quite lit., and it (emphatic) He hath taken out of the midst ; from between us and God, as a barrier to our peace. “ He hath taken ”: the tense indicates the lasting and present result of the decisive act of atonement.

nailing it to his cross ] Lit., to the Cross . See 1:20 for a previous allusion to the Cross. The Lord was “made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13 ), “made sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ), in other words, treated as Transgression personified, in His atoning death. He there discharged our bond, and thus cancelled it, tore it up as it were; and the tearing up is vividly described as the piercing of it with the nails which had affixed Him, our Satisfaction, to the Cross. There seems to be no evidence for the existence of any legal custom, such as the nailing up an abrogated decree in public, which could have suggested this language. It comes wholly from the Crucifixion.

Observe carefully the free use in Scripture of legal and commercial imagery to convey great aspects of the truth of our salvation.

15. having spoiled ] “ Having put off from Himself ” (R.V.). The Greek verb is apparently unknown before St Paul; classical illustration is impossible. Its literal meaning is “ to strip off ”; and its voice is middle. This voice, it is alleged, compels us to explain it of the Lord’s stripping off something from Himself, divesting Himself . And explanations vary between ( a ) that given in margin R.V., (“having put off from Himself His body ”), supported by the Peshito Syriac version and (among other Fathers) by Ambrose, Hilary, and Augustine (see Lightfoot); and ( b ) that given in text R.V., advocated by Lightfoot, and supported by Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and other Fathers. In this last, the thought would be that the powers of evil swarmed, so to speak, around Him who had taken our place under “the curse of the Law,” and that He in His triumph, stripped or cast them off.

The objection to ( a ) is that it brings in an alien and isolated idea, and in obscure terms. The objection to ( b ) seems to us to be that it presents to us an image very peculiar in itself, and not obviously proper to the next words. To cast off enemies and then at once to exhibit them are not quite congruous ideas.

And why should we reject the A.V. rendering as if ungrammatical? The lawful force of the middle voice would be as well represented by “stripping for Himself ” as “stripping from Himself ”; it makes the subject of the verb to be also in some degree the object of the action. And the Lord did “strip His foes for Himself : “He taketh from him the armour, and divideth the spoils ” (Luke 11:22 ). The imagery is then congruous; the disarmed and despoiled foes are then appropriately, as captives, “ shewn” in triumph . We recommend accordingly the A.V. 1 1 It is objected that below, 3:9, we have the same verb in the same voice used where the meaning clearly is “to strip from oneself .” But classical parallels exist to such a varying use of the middle in neighbouring contexts. See Sophocles, Ajax , 245, 647 (Dindorf). (Note by the Bishop of Worcester.)

The Old Latin Version has exuens se , following explanation ( b ). The Vulgate renders the verb exspolians the immediate original of the A.V.

principalities and powers ] Lit., the governments and the authorities , the recognized enemies of Redemption and the Redeemer. These made their dire hostility supremely felt in that “hour” which He Himself called “the authority of the Darkness” (Luke 22:53 ). The personal adversaries (under their Chief; see the intimations of Luke 4:13 ; John 13:2 , John 14:30 ), who had crossed His path so often as the “demons” of possession, now directly assailed Himself, as they are still permitted in measure to assail (Ephesians 6:12 ) His followers, who meet them in Him the Conqueror. See further above on 1:16.

made a shew of them] Nearly the same Greek verb as that used Matthew 1:19 ; “ make her a public example .” The Latin Versions have traduxit, “led them along ,” as the captives in a Roman triumph.

openly ] Rather, boldly (Lightfoot). The “openness” indicated by the Greek phrase (quite literally, “ in , or with, outspokenness ”) is the openness of confidence . It is used John 7:4 (where Lightfoot explains it to mean “ to assume a bold attitude ”); Ephesians 6:19 ; Philippians 1:20 .

triumphing over them ] The Greek verb ( thriambeuein ) occurs elsewhere (in N.T.) only 2 Corinthians 2:14 ; where it is variously explained “ to make to triumph ” or “ to lead in triumph .” Here it is of course the latter. Philologically it is probably akin to the Latin triumphus .

in it ] The Cross. The margin A.V., “ in Himself ” is quite untenable, though it is countenanced by the Latin, ( in semetipso ), and by Wyclif, Tyndale (“ in his awne persone ”), Cranmer, and Rheims. The Genevan version has “ in the same crosse.”

The Lord’s atoning Death, the apparent triumph of His foes over Him , was His absolute and eternal triumph over them , when it was seen, in His Resurrection, to be the mysterious Ransom of His Church from the curse and from sin, and so His own glorification as its Head. Vicit qui passus est; cui gloria in œternum .

This whole passage while pregnant with primary and universal truth has doubtless a special reference all the while to the “Colossian heresy” with its angelology and angelolatry. He who is King of all orders of good Angels is here presented as Conqueror of their evil counterpart; he, from both points of view, fills the field.

16 23. Christian Liberty and Theories hostile to it

16. therefore ] Such is the Christian’s position in this sacrificed and triumphant Saviour. He stands possessed of the full inheritance of which the Mosaic ritual institutions were at once the shadow and the veil. Now therefore, so far as those institutions are presented to him by any school of teaching as an obligation and bond on Christian practice, he must decline to receive them.

judge you ] Take you to task (Lightfoot). Cp. Romans 14:3 , Romans 14:4 , for a close parallel, full of the principles of both liberty and duty in Christ. See also 1 Corinthians 10:29 .

in meat, or in drink ] Rather better, in eating and in drinking . For the Mosaic laws about food cp. Leviticus 11:17 ; Deuteronomy 14:0 , &c. Of allowed or forbidden drinks little is said in the Old Law; Lightfoot notices Leviticus 10:9 (the prohibition of wine to the priests at special times); 11:34 (the prohibition to drink liquid from an “unclean” vessel); and the law of the Nazirite, Numb, 6:3. Cp. with the text, Hebrews 9:10 . Possibly the Colossian misleaders forbade wine in toto; not at all on modern philanthropic principles, but as a token of abjuration of social life.

in respect of ] Lit., “in the portion of;” i.e. “in, or under, the class of;” and so, idiomatically, with regard to . The Latin Versions render literally, in parte diei festi; and so Wyclif, “ in part of feest dai; ” Tyndale, Cranmer, Geneva, “ for a pece ( peece ) of an holy daye .”

holy day ] feast day , R.V. The Greek word denotes the yearly Jewish festivals; Passover, Pentecost, Atonement, Tabernacles, &c. It is used by the LXX. to translate the Hebrew mô’êd , rendered in A.V. (e.g. 1 Chronicles 23:31 ) “ set feast; ” see Chronicles just quoted for an example of such a threefold enumeration as this of holy times. Lightfoot refers to Galatians 4:10 (“ days, and months, and seasons, and years ”) as a true parallel here; it only adds a fourth observance, the (sabbatic) year .

new moon ] See Numbers 10:10 , Numbers 10:28 :11, Numbers 10:14 , Numbers 10:16 ; and cp. 1 Samuel 20:5 ; 2 Kings 4:23 ; Psalms 81:3 ; Isaiah 1:13 , Isaiah 1:14 .

sabbath days ] Better, sabbath . The original ( sabbata ) is a Greek plural in form and declination, but only as it were by accident. It is a transliteration of the Aramaic singular shabbâthâ (Hebrew, shabbâth ).

It is plain from the argument that the Sabbath is here regarded not as it was primevally (Genesis 2:3 ) “made for man” (Mark 2:27 ), God’s benignant gift, fenced with precept and prohibition only for His creature’s bodily and spiritual benefit; but as it was adopted to be a symbolic institution of the Mosaic covenant, and expressly adapted to relation between God and Israel (Exodus 31:12-17 ); an aspect of the Sabbath which governs much of the language of the O.T. about it. In that respect the Sabbath was abrogated, as the sacrifices were abrogated, and the New Israelite enters upon the spiritual realities foreshadowed by it as by them. The Colossian Christian who declined the ceremonial observance of the Sabbath in this respect was right. An altogether different question arises when the Christian is asked to “secularize” the weekly Rest which descends to us from the days of Paradise, and which is as vitally necessary as ever for man’s physical and spiritual well-being.

17. a shadow ] Cp. Hebrews 8:5 , Hebrews 10:1 . The word suggests the idea of “an image cast by an object and representing its form.” (Grimm’s N.T. Lexicon , ed. Thayer.)

things to come ] from the point of view of the Old Dispensation. The Epistle to the Hebrews is a large apostolic expansion, so to speak, of this sentence; giving us at full length the assurances that the Mosaic ordinances were adjusted with a Divine prescience, to the future of the Gospel; and that the fulfilment of their true import in Christ abrogates their observance. Render exactly, the things to come .

the body is of Christ ] The Fulfilment, the shadow-casting Substance, is “ of Christ ,” is “ Christ’s ,” because it consists of Him in His redeeming Work. His atoning Sacrifice, His Gift of the Spirit, His Rest, are the realities to which the old institutions pointed.

18. Let no man] Another parallel but distinct caution after that of ver. 16.

beguile you of your reward ] Rob you of your prize , R.V. The verb is compounded with the noun brabeion (used Philippians 3:14 ), an athletic prize. Here, as in Philippians, it means the life eternal, “the crown of life” (James 1:12 ; Revelation 2:10 ). The Colossians were tempted to forsake their position and privilege in Christ, found and retained by faith; and, so far, they were tempted to lose their “hold on the eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12 , 1 Timothy 6:19 ) which is in Him alone (1 John 5:12 ). Cp. Revelation 3:11 . What their Lord would do to save them from the fatal step was altogether another matter; their one duty was not to take the step.

The alien teachers are represented here (having regard to the classical usage of the verb) “not as umpires, nor as successful rivals, but simply as persons frustrating those who otherwise would have won the prize” (Lightfoot).

Tyndale and Cranmer curiously render, “ Let no man make you shote at a wronge marke ,” probably influenced by Luther, who has Lasset euch Niemand das Ziel verrücken ; an untenable paraphrase. Geneva, “ Let no man … beare rule over you .”

in a voluntary humility ] The Greek means, quite literally, “ willing in humility ; and some questions arise about the construction. These may be reduced to two main alternatives, ( a ) Is “ willing ” to be connected with the verb just previous, and to be rendered, “let no one rob you of your prize willingly,” “meaningly,” “of malice prepense” ? ( b ) Is “ willing ” to be connected with the words just following, and explained, “ taking pleasure in humility”? Of these ( a ) is easier grammatically, but Ellicott urges the grave objection that it attributes a Satanic and almost incredible malice to the teachers in question. It may be answered that St Paul need not be charging them with “meaning” to rob their followers of heaven, but with “meaning” to rob them of a faith with which as a fact the hope of heaven was bound up. Lightfoot advocates ( b ), and proves that it is a construction supported by the LXX., where it is not used “only with personal pronouns” (as Ellicott says), but with ordinary nouns; see Psalms 110:0 . (Heb. and Eng. 111.) 1, 146. (Heb. and Eng. 147.) 10. The strong Hebraism, without any N.T. parallel, is certainly startling, however; and we recommend ( a ), though doubtfully, with the explanation given above. The rendering would be somewhat thus, in paraphrase: Let no man have his own way in robbing you &c.

humility ] “Humility is a vice with heathen moralists but a virtue with Christian Apostles.… In this passage which (with ver. 23) forms the sole exception to the general language of the Apostles, the divergence is rather apparent than real” (Lightfoot). An artificial, gratuitous, humility is not humility but its parody. And such was the thing in question; an abasement of man before unlawful objects (see next words) of worship; a prostration self-chosen, and also self-conscious.

worshipping of angels ] A practice highly developed in later Judaism, while entirely absent from the apostolic teaching, and indeed clearly condemned here, and Revelation 19:10 , Revelation 22:9 , and implicitly in Hebrews 1:0 It is noticeable that the Council of Laodicea (a.d. 394), so near Colossæ, forbids (c. 35) Christians to leave the Church and go away “to name angels” in secret assemblies, calling this a “secret idolatry,” and apparently connecting it with Jewish influences. Theodoret in his Commentary here speaks of the existence in his time (cent. 5) of Oratories ( euctêria ) to the Archangel Michael in the region of Laodicea and Colossæ, and of their popularity, apparently as rivals to the regular Churches. At this day in Abyssinia Michael has his holyday every month . See further Introd ., pp. 15, 31, 33.

“Angels,” says the saintly Jansenist Quesnel here, “will always win the day over Jesus Christ despised ( anéanti ) and crucified, if the choice of a mediator between us and God is left to the vanity of the human mind.”

For a (doubtful) early sanction of angel-worship see a difficult sentence in Justin, Apology , 1. c. 6. Irenæus, Justin’s contemporary, says (ii. 57) that the Church “does nothing by the invocation of angels.”

Whatever its origin and details, such a worship inevitably beclouds the Christian’s view both of the majesty and of the nearness and tenderness of Christ his living Head.

Worshipping”: thrêskeia; a word akin perhaps in etymology to “ tremble ,” and denoting religious devotion mainly in its external aspect; a cultus . The word or its cognate occurs elsewhere in N.T. Acts 26:5 ; James 1:26 , James 1:27 . Lightfoot quotes a sentence from Philo, the Jewish contemporary of the Apostles, where it is expressly distinguished from piety ( hosiotês ); and he says that “generally the usage of the word exhibits a tendency to a bad sense.” Such a sense is quite in point here; an unauthorized and abject cultus was the natural expression of a counterfeit “humility.”

intruding into those things which he hath not seen ] Quœ vidit ambulans (Old Latin) ; Quœ non vidit ambulans (Vulgate) ; Dwelling in the things which he hath seen ” (R.V.). Here are serious differences of reading and translation, which must be briefly discussed.

( a ) Shall we render “ Intruding into ,” or, “ Dwelling in ”? Classical usage of the Greek verb favours the latter rendering; the word is used e.g. of a god’s haunt in a region or a spot. The usage in LXX. and Apocrypha slightly favours the former rendering; the word is used there of the invasion or new occupation of a country (Joshua 19:51 ; Joshua 1:0 Macc. 12:25, 14:31). The balance must be struck by our conclusions on the rest of the phrase.

( b ) “ Things which he hath not seen : Things which he hath seen .” Is the negative to be omitted or not? “Many authorities, some ancient, insert ‘ not ’ ” (margin, R.V.). Ellicott approves the insertion of “ not ”; Lightfoot advocates the omission. It is difficult to discuss the evidence in a note, and we have attempted to state it in outline in Appendix J. Here it must suffice to say that we venture to recommend the reading which he hath not seen . It seems to us more likely, on a view of the facts, that the negative should have dropped out early than that it should have been deliberately inserted.

If we reject “ not ,” the meaning will most probably be that the erring teacher “ dwells in , or dwells on , what he has seen,” his alleged visions and revelations, the “manifestations” which he says, and perhaps thinks, he has witnessed, and which he prefers to the apostolic Gospel. If we retain “ not ,” the meaning will be that he invades the region of the Unseen with a presumptuous confidence of assertion, as if he had seen it. In either case he might assert his enjoyment of angelic or other visions; but in the latter case the Apostle denies such a claim if made. Cp. Ezekiel 13:3 ; “Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing .”

vainly ] The Greek word means “ at random ,” without reason or cause. Cp. Romans 13:4 ; 1 Corinthians 15:2 . (This meaning in some passages glides into that of “ without result ”; Galatians 3:4 , Galatians 4:11 .) The true Gospel is not so; its loftiest assertion springs from deepest fact and truth.

puft up ] A present participle, indicating habit and development. For the word in a similar connexion cp. 1 Corinthians 8:1 .

by his fleshly mind ] Lit., “ by the mind of his flesh.” “The mind ” ( nous ) here is the merely reasoning faculty as distinguished from spiritual intuition. “ The flesh ” is, as often in St Paul, the unregenerate state, in which the sinful principle dominates. See Ephesians 2:3 and note there in this Series. In that verse “ flesh ” and “ mind ” are somewhat similarly collocated; but the word rendered (in A.V.) “ mind ” is lit. “ thoughts ”; “the mind” in particular action. He is “puffed up” by an exercise of thought characteristic of the unregenerate state.

19. holding ] Holding fast (R.V.). The word is used Acts 3:11 of the healed cripple’s grasp of the Apostles who had healed him. The erring teacher is said “not to hold” the Head, not only as a man but as a teacher .

the head ] “Regarded as a title, so that a Person is at once suggested” (Lightfoot). Angel-worship, and all its ways, was ipso facto a slackening of the soul’s contact with Christ.

On this sacred word “ Head ” see 1:18 and notes; and cp. the close and full parallel, Ephesians 4:15 , Ephesians 4:16 .

from which ] Better, out of Whom . The relative pronoun is masculine, while the Greek word for “ head ” is feminine.

Out of : so in Ephesians 4:16 . The thought conveyed is at once of vital connexion and derivation.

all the body ] Verbatim as Ephesians 4:16 . The emphasis is on the “ all .” No part, no member, must be for a moment out of direct life-contact with the Head.

by joints and bands ] Better, through the (its) joints and ligatures . The phrase is closely akin to that of Ephesians 4:16 , where “ compacting ” and “ joints ” are mentioned. Here as there (see our notes) the thought is of the direct coherence of every part of the Body with the Head . The other cognate thought, of the cohesion of the parts and limbs with each other , is not present, at least not prominent. The Christian has here to be warned that nothing must make him lose or loosen his own direct communion with Christ his Head. The physical imagery must not be pressed. In our body, doubtless, the central forces of the organism affect the remoter structures through the nearer. But the mystical Body is such that, while it is a true organism as a whole, yet all the while individually “the Head of every man ” (in Christ) “is Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3 ; cp. ibid . 6:17). And this was what the Colossian errors tended to obscure.

having nourishment ministered ] Better, simply, being supplied (R.V.). The cognate noun to the (one) Greek word here, a present participle, appears Ephesians 4:16 ; “every joint of the supply .” The thing “supplied” is all the Virtue of the Head; grace in all its forms.

knit together ] Another present participle, indicating a continuing and developing process. The Greek is identical with that rendered “ compacted ,” Ephesians 4:16 . The constant “supply” of the life and power of the Head tends to a constant closer and firmer internal cohesion of the body, in its spiritual development.

increaseth with the increase of God ] Lit., groweth the growth of God . The growth contemplated may mean in part the numerical growth, the attraction of new converts to the manifestly living and holy community. But the more immediate reference is to development from within; the individual’s and the community’s “growth in the grace and knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18 ) of the Head.

The increase of God : His, because He is its Origin, and Secret, and as it were Atmosphere. The brief pregnant phrase conveys this truth with a peculiar grandeur and force.

Lightfoot suggests that we have here also an implied caution against the Jewish errors. “Thus the finite is truly united with the Infinite”; not through intermediate orders of being, but in Christ. In an interesting note he goes on to explain the perfect fitness of St Paul’s imagery of the Head and Body, in the light of modern physiological discoveries. “The volition communicated from the brain to the limbs, the sensations of the extremities telegraphed back to the brain, the absolute mutual sympathy between the head and the members, the instantaneous paralysis ensuing on the interruption of continuity, all these add to the completeness and life of the image.” He then gives instances of ancient scientific speculation on the seat and distribution of vital power in the human body; and concludes: “Bearing in mind all this diversity of opinion among ancient physiologists, we cannot fail to be struck in the text not only with the correctness of the image but also with the propriety of the terms; and we are forcibly reminded that among the Apostle’s most intimate companions at this time was one whom he calls ‘the beloved physician’ (4:14).” Such subsidiary assistance, if used by the Apostle, would leave untouched the authority of inspiration in the resulting language.

20. Wherefore ] The word is certainly to be omitted on documentary evidence. A new and separate theme is now in view, the doctrines of the intruding teachers about duty and morals.

if ye be dead ] Lit. and better, with R.V., if ye died . See on vv. 11, 12. “ If ” assumes the “death” as a fact.

with Christ ] To whom they were vitally joined, through faith, sealed by baptism, for all the purposes of His redeeming work.

from the rudiments of the world ] See above on ver. 8.

living in the world ] Not merely “ being ,” but “ living ;” having your life-power and life-interests of and in the world. Their true “life was hid with Christ” (3:3), and so could not be truly thus conditioned.

are ye subject to ordinances? ] R.V. “ do ye subject yourselves to ordinances? ” Lightfoot, “ are ye overridden with precepts, ordinances? ” The latter rendering is slightly too strong; but both indicate the main point of the Greek. The religion of the Colossians was becoming one of mechanical rule and measure, a round of ordered “practices,” imposed by directors, to expiate or purify by their performance. The life of faith and love was giving way to an arbitrary discipline, far different from the obedience of the heart to the will of God in Christ.

21. ( touch not; taste not; handle not; ] Better (discarding the bracket here), Handle thou not, nor taste, nor touch . This rendering represents exactly the construction of the Greek, and is truer to the shades of meaning of the first and last of the three Greek verbs. The last verb denotes a lighter and less deliberate touch than the first, and so here conveys a climax of prohibition.

The prohibitions in question would be those of the Mosaic law, developed and exaggerated by the Pharisaic schools. Schoettgen ( Horœ Hebr. in N. T .) quotes from the Talmud just such precepts: “ Touch not a vessel, till thou hast washed hands and feet from ( its ) brim; ” “ They say to a Nazirite, Drink not … shave not … &c.” “The Latin commentators, Hilary and Pelagius, suppose these prohibitions to be the Apostle’s own, thus making a complete shipwreck of the sense” (Lightfoot). In much more modern comments the same mistake appears.

Our Lord’s teaching (e.g. Matthew 15:1-20 ) takes the exactly opposite direction to this system of prohibitions, and is a lasting warning to His Church on all kindred subjects. Cp. also 1 Corinthians 8:0 ; 1 Timothy 4:3 .

22. which all are to perish with the using; )] Lit., which are all for corruption in the consumption . I.e., the things which are thus forbidden as soul-tainting are things merely material, not moral, and this is evidenced by their merely material destiny physical dissolution in the course of natural use. Cp. Matthew 15:17 . This clause should be bracketed apart, as in R.V.

Observe St Paul’s instructive opposite use, in an opposite connexion, of the same consideration, 1 Corinthians 6:13 . There an assertor of a distorted “liberty” is met by the thought that alike “meats” and “belly” are to cease to exist with the present order of things; then why for their sake violate real claims of purity?

after the commandments , &c.] The thought returns to the prohibitive formulas; these are not utterances of God’s will, but “ according to ,” of the kind of, on the scale of, merely human rule and principle. Obviously, so far as any of them were Mosaic, St Paul would fully recognize their Divine authority in their own period and for their own purpose . But the period was over, the purpose was fulfilled in Christ. To impose them now was to put God’s edict to man’s arbitrary use.

Of men: ” cp. Matthew 15:9 ; Mark 7:7 ; and see Isaiah 29:13 , the passage quoted by our Lord, and doubtless here in St Paul’s mind. The LXX. there agrees almost verbatim with the words here, more so than with the quotations in the Gospels.

23. which things] More precisely, if the word may be tolerated, which-like things ; the prohibitions given above, ver. 21, and all others which depend on the same principle.

have indeed ] More precisely, do indeed have , with a slight emphasis on the admission. There was a specious and seductive “reasonableness” in the theory.

a shew ] Greek, logos; “word, speech ,” and so “ repute; ” with an implied contrast here between such repute and reality ( ergon ).

of wisdom ] It was a characteristic of Jewish thought at the time to attempt to throw a glamour of philosophic fitness over Pharisaic doctrine and practice. See Introd ., p. 32.

will worship ] The Greek compound noun denotes a self-chosen, self-imposed, service (in the religious sense); a round of supererogatory observance; a parody on the genuine reverence and obedience of the Gospel. The element in the compound represented by “ worship ” is the noun used James 1:27 (and see 26), and rendered “ religion ” in our Versions.

humility ] See above, on ver. 18. The special direction of this false humility here would be, perhaps, that of abject submission to Pharisaic “directors,” mistaken for a true surrender to the will of God. “Who can submit our will to the will of God, save the Spirit of God?” (Quesnel).

neglecting of the body ] Lit., unsparing (treatment) of the body; a severe and active physical asceticism. Something of Oriental dualism may well have influenced this ascetic practice. Scarcely anywhere outside Scripture itself is the true honour of the body recognized in religious systems; the tendency to regard it as merely the burthen, or prison, of the soul appears almost everywhere. And this is a fruitful source of the asceticism which rather attacks than disciplines the body. Cp. Wisdom 9:15: “The corruptible body presseth down the soul.” The Pharisee Josephus ( contra Apion ., 2.24) says that “the soul, by its union with the body, is subject to miseries.” The Alexandrian Philo, a coeval, like Josephus, of the Apostles (as perhaps the author of Wisdom also was) calls the body, “a loathsome prison.” Twelve centuries later Francis of Assisi called his body, “my brother, the ass.” See Dr F. W. Farrar’s note on Wisd. 9, in the Speaker’s Commentary . Contrast 1 Corinthians 6:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , etc.

not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh ] Better, as R.V., not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh . This explanation, fully sustained by the Greek grammar, was long ago advocated by Mr Conybeare (C. and Howson, Life etc. of St Paul , ch. 25, in a note to the translation of the Epistle), and had been suggested still earlier (as he says) by Abp Sumner. It satisfies the context as no other does, supplying just such a counterpart as might be expected (from the use of the word “ indeed ,” μὲν ) to the admission that the system had “a shew of wisdom.” See Lightfoot’s note for full proof that the Greek preposition ( πρὸς ) is rightly rendered (perhaps we may better say explained ) “ against ” in such a context.

Other interpretations are as follows; ( a ) “ to satisfy the ( reasonable ) wants of the body .” But this gives a good meaning to the Greek word rendered by A.V. “ satisfy ,” whereas it has by usage a meaning of excess and indulgence. In this explanation, the words “ not in any honour ” are taken as a clause apart, parallel with the words just previous; “not ( holding the body ) in any honour.” ( b ) An explanation which supposes St Paul to put the case from his opponent’s view-point: “ it being no worthy thing to regard the satisfaction of the flesh .” This is the hesitating exposition of Theodore of Mopsuestia (cent. 4 5). ( c ) An explanation which, like ( a ), breaks the last clause into two: “ not of any ( real ) value , ( but ) tending only to gratify the flesh ,” i.e. , to inflate the pride of unregenerate man. So, on the whole, many modern expositors. But the sentence is thus unnaturally dislocated, and a meaning given to the word “ flesh ” improbable in this context.

As explained above, the words are a pregnant warning against the delusive but specious hope that the human spirit is to be transfigured into moral harmony with the Divine purity through inflictions on the body. The sublime true secret of that transfiguration is given us in e.g. Romans 8:13 ; “If ye by the Spirit mortify the practices of the body, etc.” And see below on ch. 3:4, 5.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Colossians 2". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.