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Colossians 2

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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From the lofty description of Jesus and His redemptive work, which has the false teachers in mind but does not mention them directly, Paul turns to the nitty-gritty of combating the error. He opens with a poignant statement of his concern for the Colossians. Throughout most of the chapter, he seems to switch back and forth between a condemnation of the false doctrines and the great themes of the previous chapter. It is as if Paul can barely pull himself away from those majestic thoughts in order to deal with repulsive falsehoods.

Outline of the Chapter

Verses 1-7 Admonition to stand fast in the faith

Verses 8-15 Warning against the gnostic philosophy

Verses 16-19 Warning against Jewish rituals and worship of angels

Verses 20-23 Comparison of the state of Christianity with that of the world

Verse 1

For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;

For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea: Paul opens his attack on the Colossian heresy with a statement about his anxiety for the church. He apparently knows about the transfer of emotions. Some emotions beget like emotions; for example, love begets love and anger begets anger. Other emotions produce symmetrical responses. Anxiety in one person generally elicits interest and empathy in another.

"Conflict" is a form of the word for "striving" in the previous verse. Both refer to the contests of the Olympic games. The specific meaning here is "intense solicitude or anxiety" (Thayer 10). Because the word "laboring" in Colossians 4:12, which describes Epaphras’ prayers for them, is the same, we may assume Paul is referring to his struggles in prayer.

and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh: The real controversy over this verse is not spiritually consequential. It is over the meaning of the phrase "as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." MacKnight and Clarke believe the statement to mean only that "I have conflict for those who have not seen my face as for those who have" (MacKnight 373-374; Clarke 521). They base their reasoning on such passages as Acts 18:23 that says, "he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples." They reason that if Paul went through all the country and strengthened all disciples, it must have included Colosse. The statement in Acts 18, however, describes Paul’s travels before his long stay at Ephesus, which is believed to be the time the Colossian church is established. Interpreting the phrase to make it give a contrast between those who have seen Paul’s face with those who have not is strained. Those at Colosse, Laodicea, and all who have not seen his face seem to be included in one group.

In addition to the foregoing, it seems clear the Colossians have learned the gospel from Epaphras, not Paul (1:7). Paul hears of their faith through a third party (see notes on 1:4).

Verse 2

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;

That their hearts might be comforted: The word "comforted" means "encouraged or strengthened" (Thayer 483). False doctrine always discourages, and a strong conviction about truth always encourages. The evidence of this fact is easily visible in Christian lives. When faith is strong, persecution cannot stop Christians from living their convictions. When faith is undermined by false doctrine, they fall away with no outside pressures.

being knit together in love: This phrase is almost like a parenthetical expression. Grammatically it is not the cause of their heart’s being comforted, but Paul seems aware that it would be a sure companion. The meaning of "knit together" is "united" (Thayer 595), and it is certain Christian hearts are strengthened when they are united in love. Acts 4:32 describes the young church before any type of dissension arose: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." The following verse states they have witnessed for the Lord with great power and great grace is upon all of them.

and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding: The phrase, "unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding," is difficult grammatically and is debated by scholars; but its meaning seems clear. In my words, the phrase means, "all the rich blessings that come from understanding, and being fully convinced of, the precise knowledge of the mystery of God in Christ." "Riches" is defined as "fulness or abundance" (Thayer 519), but the word is here used as a noun, implying the things one receives. "Understanding" signifies just what its English counterpart would suggest.

to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God: "Acknowledgment" indicates "precise and correct knowledge" (Thayer 237). The "mystery" is explained in Colossians 1:27 and more fully in Ephesians 3:3-6. In the former passage, it is abbreviated as "Christ in you, the hope of glory." In the latter, Paul says it is "that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." These definitions explain why the paraphrase is given. As Ellicott (105) points out, the general meaning of the verse is the same as Philippians 1:9.

and of the Father, and of Christ: The phrase "of the Father" is a source of great controversy among scholars. See Clarke for a discussion of the reasons for the debate (521). Most translations leave the phrase out, making the last part of the verse read, "the mystery of God in Christ," or some variation of that form.

Verse 3

In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In whom are hid: "Hid" means "stored up" (Thayer 64). The word suggests the storing is out of common view and safe. Sometimes translated "secret," it is related to the word "mystery" of the previous chapter. It anticipates "treasures," generally meaning "a casket, coffer or other receptacle in which valuables are kept" (Thayer 291). In this passage, however, the treasury is named to mean the valuable things that are kept within it. It is comparable to "riches" in verse 2. The treasures are kept safe and out of common view; but obviously their location is not unknown to the one who stored them there, who is God, nor to those to whom He has revealed the location. In Colossians 1:25-29 and Ephesians 3:3-5, the earthly recipients of the treasures are described as the apostles and prophets and the saints who heard them.

all the treasures: Paul asserts that "all" treasures are stored for safekeeping in a single repository, and that is Christ Himself. The apostle had pulled himself away from extolling the majesty of the Messiah for a moment, but it seems his mind leaves that lofty subject reluctantly and, thus, reverts at the first opportunity.

of wisdom and knowledge: But what are these treasures, all of which are hidden in Christ and Him alone? They are "wisdom" and "knowledge." The precise difference between these terms is difficult to obtain, but we know they are not simple repetition for effect. The same words are used to describe distinct gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:8. Lenski argues that wisdom, in this verse and in 1 Corinthians 12:8, refers to a full and complete understanding of the gospel plan and that knowledge means a comprehension of the prophecies of the Old Testament and how they relate to the gospel (185). There is nothing in the definitions of the words to assure this interpretation. Thayer explains this "wisdom" is one that belongs to man and is sometimes used of skill in handling human affairs, as it is in Acts 6:3 (581). Because it is a wisdom that shows itself in action, it is said to be the good judgment that tells one how to use the knowledge named in the companion word. "Knowledge," in general, is defined as "intelligence or understanding" (Thayer 119); but here it is objective, meaning "what is known concerning divine things and human duties."

Christians should not fret because the precise meanings of these terms are elusive. What is clear is that all wisdom and knowledge pertaining to our salvation is in Christ. This fact is in stark contrast to the false teachers who claim Jesus needs help from them and their system in saving man.

Verse 4

And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

And this I say: This is the first place Paul has openly acknowledged he has false teachers in view.

lest any man should beguile you with enticing words: The phrase "any man" can mean "a certain man" (Thayer 625), or it may be used more generally to designate "anyone." The particular construction here would not matter; Paul and the Christians at Colosse would know whom he had in mind. "Beguile" means "to deceive, delude or circumvent" (Thayer 484). Ellicott defines it as "to reason into error" (105). That statement is apt in view of the following phrase that describes the type of reasoning used by the one or ones Paul has in mind. "Enticing words" denotes "specious discourse leading others into error" (Thayer 508). These two words are used only here in the New Testament. To lead others astray by honest misinterpretation of the Word is not good, but to deceive with specious argument built on wild speculation deserves special scorn. The phrase "should beguile you" is especially powerful in this verse and suggests determined efforts on the part of the deceiver. Is that not the case with most false teachers?

Verse 5

For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.

For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit: Some have thought Paul has special powers to know what went on at Colosse, perhaps as Elisha saw Gehazi’s duplicity in 2 Kings 5:26. However, it seems better to take it in the natural sense of having received a detailed report from Epaphras.

joying and beholding your order and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ: Having shown the heretics are making a determined effort to seduce the Colossian Christians, Paul hurries to applaud the Christians’ efforts to resist. "Joying" means just to "rejoice or be glad" (Thayer 663). In Colossians 1:24, it is translated simply "rejoice." "Beholding" is used metaphorically to mean "to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to" (Thayer 103).

"Order" and "steadfastness" are terms with military histories. "Order" refers to the "orderly condition" (Thayer 614) of the church. MacKnight thinks it suggests the church was still disciplined in the sense of obedience to their rightful teachers (385). "Steadfastness" means "made firm or firmness" (Thayer 587). In a military sense, it means to present a "solid front" to the enemy. Perhaps Paul conceptualizes the false teacher as the enemy and perceives the church as holding a solid front against him.

The Colossian church’s faith has remained firm "in Christ." False teachers are not teaching error on some small doctrinal point. They have attacked the very foundation of their faith.

If this church is remaining so steadfast against error, why does Paul have such anxiety (verse 1) about them? Lenski says the answer lies in the persistence, noted in verse 4, of the heretic (92). The attack was unrelenting, and Paul wants to reinforce the solid line presented to the determined heretic by the church. The phrase, "present with you," suggests Paul’s wish to support these Christians.

Verse 6

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord: "Therefore" relates to the type of faith, described in the previous verse, that the Colossian Christians had in Christ when they first received Him. The Christ they had received is not a Messiah who needs help from angels with man’s salvation. He is the Christ in all the fullness described in Colossians 1:14-22. The tense of the verb, "received," indicates their reception of Him is strong and decisive.

so walk ye in him: All that is now required is that they continue to walk in the same faith they had initially professed. Lenski notes that "walk," which means the same as in Colossians 1:10 (see note there), is durative and implies "to keep on walking" (93).

MacKnight comments that the principles of Christianity were revealed by God and received by the apostles in their completeness (385). The apostles were not assisted by the Holy Spirit to reason out the gospel piece by piece. In the same way, the apostles "delivered" it to the saints as it was received (see Galatians 1:12-24; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3). The doctrine was given as something to be received and believed, not as topics for debate or philosophical speculation.

Verse 7

Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith: This passage describes the quality of spiritual life that will be built on the type of faith described in verse 5. For Christians to grow from a carnal state into the image of their Master (2 Corinthians 3:18) is a great transformation. Paul knows such changes require a firm foundation. "Rooted" comes from the image of a tree with deep tap roots. Like the description in Psalms 1:3, it will be fruitful and cannot be moved. The tense of the verb suggests something that took place in the past, that is "you were rooted," meaning at their conversion. Then Paul immediately switches metaphors to building a temple or other edifice (see Ephesians 2:21-22). "Built up" pictures a building that is laid on a solid foundation and reinforced all the way to the top. Specifically, it means to grow in spiritual life in fellowship with Christ (Thayer 246).

as ye have been taught: "As ye have been taught" continues a theme of taking the Colossians back to their spiritual roots, a technique for strengthening that Paul uses often. He does so with Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5-6), and John uses it with the Ephesians in Revelation 2:5.

abounding therein with thanksgiving: "Abounding" means "to excel" or "to exceed a fixed number or measure" (Thayer 99). Paul does not want a meager spiritual existence for the Colossians but rather the abundant life described as "the riches of the glory of this mystery" in Colossians 1:27.

The "abounding" noted above is to give rise to "thanksgiving." Because the Colossians have excelled in their spiritual life, thanksgiving would be a natural outcome. It is not so much that Paul is commanding them to feel thankful, but rather actually to express it in prayer. Open expression of one’s feelings confirms them for oneself and for others.

Verse 8

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Beware lest any man spoil you: "Beware" is from the same word as "beholding" in verse 5. The basic meaning, "to turn the mind to," is the same, although the context here gives it a sense of "weighing carefully" (Thayer 103). The Colossians are urged to weigh every spiritual move carefully to see that nothing bad happens. "Any man" is the same as in verse 4 and again has the false teacher in view. "Spoil" is a military term that refers to taking the possessions of captured soldiers as spoils of war. It implies the soldiers themselves are carried away as slaves. Paul’s view of the motives and behavior of the false teacher is clearly not complimentary. An even more explicit description of a false teacher at Corinth is given in 2 Corinthians 11:20.

The following phrases give the first picture of the error Paul is combating. The picture is general and vague. Ellicott thinks Paul is intentionally vague (106). Perhaps he does not wish to dignify the false doctrine with a detailed description. We can get some strong hints of its character from the definitions of the words Paul chooses.

through philosophy: First, the false doctrine is based on "philosophy," which means "love of and pursuit of wisdom" (Thayer 655). While there is infinite wisdom in God’s plan, basing one’s religion on a love of wisdom, as opposed to a personal love for the Lord, is a major mistake. Ellicott points out two errors in the false teacher’s approach (106). The first is considering Christianity as a philosophy. It is more than a search for truth, even truth of the highest type. It is a way of life (Acts 19:9; Acts 24:14) founded on faith in Christ, not man’s own determination of wisdom.

and vain deceit: Second, the heretic sought wisdom in the "vain deceit" of human speculation rather than the revelations of God. Paul says wisdom of any type is dangerous without love. "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth" (1 Corinthians 8:1). How much more dangerous is human speculation without devotion to the Lord.

"Vain" means "empty or devoid of truth" (Thayer 343). Originally it was applied to vessels that contained nothing. "Deceit" means just what the English word suggests. MacKnight (386) thinks both of these words should modify philosophy, making the phrase read "empty and deceitful philosophy."

after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ: "Rudiments" is the most difficult to define of the words in this verse. The same word is used in Galatians 4:3, where it is translated "elements" of the world. The root word means "a row, rank, or series" of things belonging to the same class (Thayer 588). It came to mean basic or first things from which others arise and, thus, was often applied to the letters of the alphabet. Later it referred to the primary principles of any art, science, or philosophy, which seems to be its meaning here. Paul could have had in view the basic teachings of morality as taught in most religions of that time. Some even applied it to the heavenly bodies because they believed them to be the source and control of human life.

Verse 9

For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

For in him dwelleth: This passage is almost a repetition of Colossians 1:19. "Dwelleth" carries the idea of a continuing abode as opposed to a temporary habitation. The same word is used of God’s dwelling in the temple of the Old Testament (Matthew 23:21).

all the fullness: "Fulness" is defined as "abundance or full number" (Thayer 518). It suggests completeness; there is no room for improvement because nothing is lacking.

of the Godhead: "Godhead" is a synonym for deity (Thayer 288), implying the divine attributes of God are fully present in Christ.

bodily: Furthermore, Paul asserts the fulness of divinity dwells in Christ "bodily." The word means "corporeally" (Thayer 611). The fulness of divinity does not dwell in Jesus metaphorically or typically, as the shadows of the Old Testament depicted real things to come, but truly and really in the physical body of our Lord. This is essentially the doctrine of John that "the Word was God" (1:1) and "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (1:14).

Verse 10

And ye are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power:

And ye are complete in him: The word "complete" is a form of the word used of Christ in the previous verse and translated "fulness." Its meaning here is "to make full" (Thayer 517), and several translations (for example, the RSV) give it as "fulness." But the small difference in meanings is significant. Fulness dwells in Christ; Christians are made full by being in Him. Christ is fulness in and of Himself. Of ourselves we are nothing, but in Him we are complete. This glorious principle is apparent in other ways. Paul says that we "shine as lights in the world" (Philippians 2:15). Ellicott argues the word "lights" here means lesser lights of the universe, such as the moon and stars, in comparison to Christ who is the "Sun of Righteousness" (76). Like the moon that shines by reflecting the light of the sun, we shine by reflecting the true light of Christ. And we are full by being filled with Christ’s abundance. As Lenski comments, in Him we have all we need for soul and body for time and eternity (102).

who is the head: Christ is the head of the angels whose help the false teacher claims the Colossian Christians need to be saved. John learns firsthand that angels are not objects of worship (Revelation 22:8-9). When he tries to worship the angel who shows him the visions, the angel says, "See thou do it not...Worship God."

of all principality and power: The words for "principality" and "power" are the same as in Colossians 1:16 where an even more extensive catalog of the powers over which Christ is head of is given.

The thrust of the verse is clearly aimed at the false teacher. If Christians are "complete" in Christ, what need have they of his vain and deceitful philosophy? This passage, and similar ones, settles the worries of Christians about the source of whatever befalls them in this life. The devil, nor all the host of hell, can bring upon us nothing that the "head of all principality and power" has not permitted. And if He has allowed it, then it will, if we allow it, work together for our good.

Verse 11

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

In whom also ye are circumcised: In a literal sense, "circumcision" means cutting off the male prepuce. But its historical significance is in the fact that, through God’s will, it became the sacred rite by which Jewish males were consecrated to Jehovah and introduced into the number of His people (Genesis 17:10-12). By this rite, a man was separated from the unclean world and dedicated to God. The word acquired a wider meaning and denoted the extinguishing of fleshly lusts. That is its meaning here.

with the circumcision made without hands: The phrase, "made without hands," is Paul’s way of indicating that Christian circumcision is neither literal nor performed by humans.

in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh: What precisely is meant by "putting off the body of flesh?" (The phrase "of sins" is not in the best original manuscripts.) It does not mean putting off the physical body; it is to become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Ellicott’s explanation seems best. "Body of the flesh" is like the "body of sin" of Romans 6:6 and the "body of death" of Romans 7:24. It is "the old man with his deeds" of Colossians 3:9 or the body that is made the instrument of an unregenerated (uncircumcised) heart (107).

by the circumcision of Christ: This new "circumcision" is the "circumcision of Christ," meaning that which is given and performed by Him. How Christ performs it is explained in the next verse. Surely the Colossian Christians have no need to wish for the weak and ineffectual circumcision of the Old Testament as the false teacher is urging, having received such a blessed circumcision in Christ.

The passage introduces a beautiful comparison of the blessings of the first and second circumcisions. As is true of other aspects of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13), the circumcision brought by Christ is vastly superior to that of the Old Testament. The first is made by "hands" (Ephesians 2:11), the second "without hands"; the first removes only one piece of flesh, the second puts off the whole "body of flesh"; the first was of the flesh, the second of the heart (Romans 2:28-29); and the first is symbolic while the second is real. Again, as is true in other matters, the circumcision of Christ fulfilled that of the Old Testament. Moses told the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:16) to circumcise their hearts, but they are unable to do so. What the law could not do, however, the gospel of Christ can do and does (Romans 8:3).

Verse 12

Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

Buried with him in baptism: While this passage presents difficulties of interpretation, some important facts are clear. First, baptism for the remission of sins is a burial. That fact is conveyed in the strongest form by two words. "Buried" means "buried together with" (Thayer 605), and "baptism" is defined as "immersion or submersion" (Thayer 94-95). While some English language dictionaries, acknowledging modern usage of the word, include sprinkling in the definition, it is quite certain that Paul does not. Just as Christ was buried, those who wish the blessings of His death are "buried together with" Him in the watery grave.

wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised him from the dead: Second, baptism that is effectual is entered by faith, specifically, faith in the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and, generally, faith in the truth that He is the Son of God. Paul knows the gospel that Epaphras has preached to the Colossians (1:6-8), and he knows it to be the same as Jesus orders the apostles to preach (Mark 16:15-16); thus, he could say "ye are risen with him through the faith." In baptism we are "buried with" Christ and "raised with" Him. It is more than a symbol of His death and resurrection; it is a spiritual joining with Him in these great events so that we fully share in their benefits.

The difficult word in the passage is "operation." It is defined simply enough as "working or efficiency" (Thayer 215), with the notation that, in the New Testament, it is always used of superhuman power. The Revised Standard Version translates the phrase "faith in the working of God." The King James Version renders the word that way in other passages, for example, Colossians 1:29. The New International Version translates it simply as "faith in the power of God." Why the translators of the King James Version chose an obscure word here is not clear. Perhaps they wanted to emphasize the superhuman nature of God’s power that was demonstrated in Jesus’ resurrection. If so, they might have translated it as "faith in the mighty power of God."

There has been a long-running debate about whether baptism is a "Christian circumcision" and, if so, in what ways it conforms to the Old Testament rite (see Lenski 105-110 for a full discussion of the issues). Without attempting an analysis of that debate, it seems certain that baptism is not a Christian circumcision, although many good writers speak of it that way. Paul says our circumcision is "made without hands" while baptism is administered by human hands. Our circumcision of the heart is performed by Christ at the time of our obedience to Him in baptism. Because the two things occur together, there is an intimate connection between them; and, to knowledgeable Christians, the naming of one suggests the other.

In terms of likenesses between the old and the new, there are as many contrasts as similarities. Each marks the entrance of a covenant between God and the individual. But one is physical and the other spiritual; one removes a single piece of flesh, the other the whole (spiritual) "body of flesh." One is complete at its administration; but the new one, it appears, is performed at baptism but fully completed only when we obtain our glorified body at the resurrection. With knowledge of the magnificent benefits of Christ’s circumcision, why would the Colossians find anything to long for in the old type?

Verse 13

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

And you: This passage compares to Colossians 1:21 and to Ephesians 2:1. In all three verses, Paul reminds Christians of how they have changed for the better since their obedience to the gospel. The surest proof of the doctor’s medicine is whether it helps the patient. By contrast, what has the false teacher’s "philosophy" done for them?

being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh: Before their conversion, the Colossians were "dead in...sins and the uncircumcision of [their] flesh." Their deadness was spiritual; they were "destitute of life that recognized and was devoted to God" (Thayer 23). Their lack of life was because of "sins" and the "uncircumcision of the flesh." The word for "sins" is defined as "a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness" (Thayer 485). The definition sounds like a mild transgression (if there is such a thing), but the context shows that is not what Paul has in mind. The Colossians’ former sins caused their spiritual death, which is the regular wages of sin (Romans 6:23).

"Uncircumcision," used figuratively as it is here, refers to that "condition in which corrupt desires rooted in the flesh are not yet extinct" (Thayer 24). Ellicott thinks uncircumcision refers to the fact the Colossians as Gentiles are alienated from God (108). They are alienated, as is true of all Gentiles (Ephesians 2:12), but that interpretation does not seem to fit with the definition of the word, nor with the definition of "flesh" that follows. It means, as in verse 11, "the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin" (Thayer 571). The Colossians’ alienation from God is, indeed, the root of both their sins and their unregenerated nature, but Paul’s focus seems to be more immediate--on the degenerative power of sin and the human passions that produce it.

As Thayer comments, Paul uses the word flesh to refer to any part of the unregenerated human being, or even of any human being when he is speaking only of natural human responses (571). See 2 Corinthians 7:5 where he says his "flesh had no rest" because of the tribulation he was undergoing. However, in 2 Corinthians 2:13 he states, "I had no rest in my spirit" because of worry about Titus.

hath he quickened together with him: The Colossians had been rescued from their spiritual death by being "quickened," which means "made alive" (Thayer 594), with Christ. Verse 12 emphasizes they have been "buried with" and "raised with" Christ. This statement completes the picture by noting they are also "made alive with" Him.

having forgiven you all trespasses: Forgiveness of the Colossians’ trespasses occurred at the same time they were buried with Christ and raised with Him in baptism. The word "forgiven" has various meanings, all of which add to its richness. It may mean "to bestow favors" or "to give graciously." The specific meaning here, however, is "to grant forgiveness or pardon" (Thayer 665). What an unspeakable favor is that gracious pardon!

Verse 14

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Having shown the Colossians their salvation is complete in Christ, Paul proceeds to say that the law, which served as an accuser of them before God, has also been destroyed. This is an especially powerful argument. It is the requirements of this law that the false teacher is urging on the disciples.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances: "Handwriting" means "what one has written with his own hand" (Thayer 668). This word often is used of documents, like promissary notes, on which one acknowledges a debt by his signature. For this reason, some writers have assumed the handwriting refers to a bond denoting the debt we owe because of our sins (Carson 69-70). While that would be a grand meaning, the true meaning is still more majestic. What was "blotted out" was the "handwriting of ordinances." "Ordinances," as Thayer comments, indicates "the rules and requirements of the law of Moses" (154). God had written those commandments, in their original and basic form, with His own hand (Exodus 31:18) as fits with the definition of the word given above. Since God wrote them, He could also blot them out.

The law served as an accuser of Jews and Gentiles before God. Paul indicates that both groups were accused by switching from "you," in the preceding verse, to "us" in this one. This truth is also taught directly. Romans 3:19 shows the law made "all the world...guilty before God." Gentiles were not subject to the ceremonial commandments of the law, such as circumcision or the Sabbath, but its moral aspects, as denoted by Romans 2:11-16, are taught by "nature" and, thus, are "written on the hearts" of all men.

that was against us: The law accuses us before God because it is "against" us. This word is a preposition of motion, suggesting the law is "down upon" us (Thayer 326-327). It is frequently used after a verb that expresses accusation. For example, three times in Revelation 2, God says to churches, "I have somewhat against thee."

which was contrary to us: But the law is not only against us, it is also "contrary" to us. The specific meaning of this word is "opposed to" (Thayer 638), but it carries the idea of being an adversary or enemy. The noun form is translated adversaries in Hebrews 10:27. The law is against us because no one could live up to its requirements. When we fail, it becomes our adversary by putting us under the curse of death (Galatians 3:13).

took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross: Thanks be to God, this adversary no longer accuses us, for Jesus "took it out of the way." This phrase seems even stronger than the kindred one in the first part of the verse. "Blotted out" means "obliterated or erased" (Thayer 221). This one means "to take out of the way or destroy" (Thayer 17). The destruction of the law takes place on the cross. The same nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet and held Him up to ridicule and death held the law up as forever taken away from over men.

Hearing the clarity and force of Paul’s inspired argument, how could the Colossian Christians tolerate a false teacher who wants to put them again under the curse? Indeed, how can some people today tolerate such teachers?

Verse 15

And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

And having spoiled: Paul continues to press his argument against the doctrine of angels and spirits advanced by the Colossian heretic. The spirits that the false teacher urges Christians to placate already have been "spoiled" by Jesus. This word has confused some of the best commentators (see Ellicott 108). Originally it meant "to strip off from one’s self" (Thayer 56), and it is used in that sense in Colossians 3:9, where Paul states we "have put off the old man with his deeds." That definition would be worrisome in this verse. What did Jesus strip from Himself in order to triumph over evil spirits? The problem is solved when we note, with Thayer, that the word can also mean to "strip off [from another] for one’s self" or for one’s advantage (56). Thus, the King James Version’s translation of "spoiled" and the Revised Standard Version’s "disarmed" are quite appropriate. Jesus strips the evil spirits of the authority over men that they had usurped.

principalities and powers: Whom does the Messiah spoil? The same "principalities and powers" Paul refers to in Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10 (see notes there). The first of these words suggests the offices in the kingdom of this world. It is used of ordinary community governments (Titus 3:1), but Paul also uses it of the government of the "prince of the power of the air" in Ephesians 2:2. As is true of the preceding word, "powers" can be used in a good sense (of angels in 1 Peter 3:22) or a bad one (of evil spirits) as is true here and in Colossians 1:16.

he made a show of them openly: The Master does not just quietly disarm the evil powers of the spirit world, He "made a show of them openly." The meaning is "to make an example of" (Thayer 126). Jesus does to evil spirits what Joseph (Matthew 1:19) is unwilling to do to his beloved Mary, even though it appears she has been unfaithful to him. Our Lord does this by openly casting out evil spirits on earth, by giving His disciples power to cast them out (Matthew 10:1), and by giving all Christians of all ages the power through the gospel to live lives free of the devil’s influence.

triumphing over them in it: "Triumphing over them" implies an open celebration of victory. Paul’s metaphor for the whole verse seems to be the practice of the Roman army. When enemy soldiers are conquered, they are stripped of their weapons, clothes, and other valuables, then led behind the victorious army to be pilloried before the citizens of Rome. He pictures Jesus as leading a grand procession on His return to heaven. Behind His golden chariot in chains is the devil with all his angels.

If the devil has been so openly vanquished by the Messiah, how is it that his influence is obviously alive and well in our world? Jesus’ words in Mark 3:27 offer a clue: "No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house." The Lord enters the house of the strong man (the devil) by assuming human form. He binds the strong man and is now spoiling his goods by saving the children of this world. The devil is bound because he no longer can forcefully inhabit a person, even a child (Mark 9:21), against his will. That is the reason we do not see that type of demon possession today. But if one gives himself to the devil (Romans 6:16), his power is as strong as ever. This principle may be illustrated by picturing a vicious dog securely tied with a chain. The animal is harmless to all who stay out of his reach. If one willingly puts himself within the dog’s grasp, he will be devoured.

Verse 16

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days:

This verse is a conclusion, as indicated by the word "therefore." The fact that forms the basis of the conclusion is that the law has been destroyed. There is no longer any basis for judgment on the matters in question.

Let no man: "No man" is an indefinite pronoun, used of persons or things about which one does not want to speak specifically. The word is the same as "any man" in verse 8.

therefore judge you: "Judge" is the key to understanding this verse. It means "to pronounce judgment" upon or "subject to censure" (Thayer 361) and is used of the type of discipline churches impose on one who sins and will not repent. Of the fornicator at Corinth, Paul says, "I...have judged already" (1 Corinthians 5:3). It suggests the severity with which the heretic is pushing his views. Because there is no longer a legitimate basis for censuring one on the type of meats he eats, the false teacher’s condemnation amounts to imposing his own will on the Colossian Christians. Thus, MacKnight and Ellicott are correct when the former translates the phrase "let no one rule over you" (388) and the latter gives it "let no one impose his own laws upon you" ( 109).

in meat: The heretic’s rules about "meat," which is the general word for food of any type (Thayer 106), probably indicates he insists on the distinctions between clean and unclean animals of the old law. Lenski thinks he is going even farther by ordering disciples when to eat, when to fast, and so forth (123).

or in drink: The Jewish law has little to say about what Israelites should and should not drink, except that those who make Nazarite vows are forbidden wine while they are under vows (Numbers 6:3). But some ascetics have gone farther than the law, and apparently this heretic is one of them. He may have argued, "If Nazarites, during a holy separation to the Lord, cannot drink wine, then one who wishes to be truly holy can never do so."

Clean and unclean meats of the old covenant symbolize persons inside and outside the covenant, as shown by Acts 10:9-16. These distinctions are abolished in Christ whose very mission is to break down "the middle wall of partition" between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). For Gentile Christians to observe, out of religious convictions, these distinctions in meats is tantamount to saying, "We are not yet accepted of God." Paul declares, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17).

or in respect of an holyday: "Holyday" probably signifies any of the three main annual festivals of the Jews. These are the Passover or Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is celebrated in Abib, the first month of the year; the Feast of Weeks; and the Feast of Tabernacles, both of which are celebrated during the harvest period (see Deuteronomy 16).

or of the new moon: "New Moon" obviously refers to a monthly celebration. I find no place in the Old Testament in which new moon festivals are described in detail, but Numbers 28:11-14 shows that special monthly sacrifices are made and "new moons" are mentioned numerous times (see for example in 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 2 Chronicles 31:3).

or of the Sabbath days: "Sabbath days" Are the weekly observances enjoined on the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 16, 31). The plural form, "days," may refer to the fact that there are special Sabbaths in addition to the regular weekly observance.

Verse 17

Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Which are a shadow: "Which" means "which things" and refers to the practices described in the preceding verse. These things are but a "shadow," that is, an image cast by the reality. Because a shadow is never as clear or detailed as the thing itself, the meaning is "a sketch or outline" (Thayer 578). While neither Christians nor Jews should disparage the shadow, because it is the basis of faith for the patriarchs (see John 8:56; John 12:41) and the promise of better things to all men, no one in his right mind would prefer the shadow to the real substance. As Clarke notes, the word sometimes is used to speak of things that are imperfect and unsubstantial (524). "Body" indicates those things that are solid and clear. A careless observer can easily mistake shadows for things they are not. The Jews do this. Having supposedly studied the shadows for centuries, they do not recognize the realities when they appear.

of things to come: The "things to come" are the better covenant and its attendant blessings described so elegantly in Hebrews 8, 10. Paul refers to them as "good things to come" in Hebrews 10:1, and his description justifies the title.

but the body is of Christ: "Body" is the same word as in verse 11, but it is a versatile term; and the context here defines it as "the thing itself" (Thayer 611). It is the reality, or substance, that casts the shadow. The body is "of Christ," which means it belongs to Him. One is tempted to say "the body is Christ," but that would not be accurate. The practices described in verse 16 are not shadows of Christ Himself; they are shadows of the better covenant, better sacrifices, and better worship brought by Jesus. These things belong to the Messiah, as Colossians 1:16-19 shows, but they are not the Messiah Himself.

Verse 18

Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Let no man beguile you of your reward: The general meaning of the passage is clear, although some terms require careful definition. "Let no man beguile you of your reward" is a counterpart to the opening phrases of verses 8 and 16. The Colossians stand in danger of being deprived of their reward by allowing the false teacher to push them into the unlawful practices named in the latter part of the verse. "Beguile" means "to decide as an umpire against one" (Thayer 330). Earlier it is used of bribing judges to bring condemnation of the innocent or denial of something one has already earned. The reward is their salvation in heaven. Paul pictures this eternal prize as "laid up" (2 Timothy 4:8) for them, but now it is in danger of being lost.

in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels: The unlawful practices urged by the heretic are "a voluntary humility" and "worshipping of angels." The two words of the first phrase are almost contradictory and must deliberately have been used by Paul to call attention to the absurdity of the practice. "Voluntary" signifies "to take pleasure or delight in" (Thayer 286). The meaning of "humility" is close to the common one, which is "a deep sense of one’s own moral littleness or lowliness of mind" (Thayer 614). The irony is clear. It is akin to saying, "He takes pride in his humility."

Obviously, what is practiced by the heretic and urged on the Colossians is a false presentation of self. The very nature of humility is that one is unconscious of it. He does not "act humble"; he feels humble when he acknowledges his moral poverty, or spiritual destitution, as in the opening statement of Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:3). True humility is incompatible with the arrogant and domineering behavior of this false teacher.

"Worshipping of angels" means just what the English word suggests. "Angel" basically means messenger. It often refers to heavenly messengers whom God uses to do His bidding (Matthew 4:6; Matthew 28:2; Acts 7:35; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 1:13-14). But the word can signify evil spirits who serve the devil (Judges 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4) or human messengers, which apparently is the case with the angels of the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2; Revelation 3). As noted in the Introduction, the false teacher seems to argue that Christians should pray to angels as it would be arrogant to approach God directly. Because prayer is a basic form of worship, such a practice truly constituted worship of angels.

While the idea of not wishing to approach the Father personally is foreign to us, Ellicott shows it is an ancient and common notion (110). The habit of venerating saints, practiced by the Catholics, is not far removed. One also is reminded of the Israelites (Exodus 20), who are frightened by the awesome signs of God’s presence on Mount Sinai. They say to Moses, "Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die."

intruding into those things which he hath not seen: The last part of the verse contains a list of indictments against the false teacher. He "intrudes," which means to "investigate, search into, or scrutinize minutely" (Thayer 206). This term may refer to a detailed cataloging of the spirits, their rank in the heavenly order, and so forth, which the heretic claims to be able to do. Further, he intrudes into "things which he hath not seen." This is a difficult phrase because some good manuscripts omit the "not." If we accept the negative, then the phrase suggests the heretic has meddled into things that could not be seen, the spirit world, and therefore could not be known. If we take the phrase to read "into things which he hath seen," then Paul is probably pointing out, and denying, the heretic’s claims to visions about these matters.

vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind: The last phrase is a blockbuster indictment of the false teacher’s character. He is "vainly" ("inconsiderately, without just cause," Thayer 174) puffed up. "Puffed up" means "to inflate or cause to swell" (Thayer 660). It is close to the common description of "swelled head" for a proud person. One shows no grace to be inflated over real accomplishments; and even less when the arrogance has "no just cause." This arrogance, Paul notes, comes from his "fleshly" (same word as in verses 11 and 13, see note) "mind" or "desires" (Thayer 429), showing its evil motivation.

Verse 19

And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

And not holding the Head: A companion to Ephesians 4:16, this passage climaxes Paul’s indictment of the heretic and names the central error of his doctrine. He is "not holding the head." As most false teachers do, he probably sought to minimize his departure from the true gospel. Paul declares it rather a large departure. "Holding" means "to hold fast...to keep carefully and faithfully" (Thayer 359), something the heretic clearly and deliberately has not done. Thus, the New International Version’s translation of this phrase "has lost connection with" is faulty. The false teacher’s connection with Jesus is not "lost"; he has discarded it. Paul wants his pupils to know when they actively embrace his doctrine, they willfully give up the Lord.

"Head" is used metaphorically to signify Jesus and His headship over His body, the church (1:18). Since loss of the head destroys life, the word was often used in relation to capital punishment. How fitting the images! By "not holding the head," the false teacher’s doctrine amounts to severing the head from the spiritual body of Christ.

from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered: This head and this body are unusual in the sense that the head nourishes the body. Lenski draws out this passage beautifully (134-137). In all nature there is nothing like it. Plants grow from their roots. In humans and animals, the body and head grow together; the head controls but does not nourish the body. In Christ there is life and nourishment for growth to "all the body," meaning all members of the body, solely in Him. Those who have given up their hold on Him are spiritually dead already.

The nourishment that comes from the head is said to be supplied by "joints" and "bands." The definition of the latter word seems clear and means "that which binds together" (Thayer 601). The Revised Standard Version appropriately translates the word as "ligaments." But "joints" is not as easily defined contextually. It means "bond or connection" (Thayer 88). In the human body, nourishment is not supplied by joints, as seems to be suggested by the common reading. The answer is probably that Paul is not referring to a joint such as those in a human body, but rather of the bond the true Christian has with his Messiah. It may also refer to the fact that Christians are bonded to each other and this bond, too, is nourishing. Ephesians 4:16 says the body edifies itself in love.

and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God: This nourishment from the head has a dual result. First, it "knits together" the members of the body. Peace and fellowship are always the Lord’s doing. Division and confusion, like that caused by the heretic at Colosse, are from the devil. The Lord’s nourishment, like wisdom from above, is "first pure, then peaceable" (James 3:17). The knitting together, as Paul shows in Colossians 2:2, is done by love. Jesus lays down the principle in John 15:12. "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." Teachers and Christians in every church should consider well this lesson.

The second result of members’ being nourished by the head is an "increase with the increase of God." This passage speaks of inward spiritual growth in members of the body, not of numerical growth in the church, although that would likely be an indirect result. Paul elaborates this growth more fully in Ephesians 4:12-15. "Till we all come...unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

Verse 20

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

Having completed his attack on the heretic and his doctrine in the preceding verse, Paul now turns his attention to the Colossians. The false teacher would give account for leading disciples astray, but the disciples would not be guiltless if they followed him. They should be able to assess the implications of the doctrine and of their behavior. The joint responsibility of leaders for followers is stated of old. God says to Ezekiel, "Son of Man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: Therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me" (3:17). He continues to say, if anyone fail to warn a wicked man, he will die in his sins; but the one who did not warn will be held accountable for his blood.

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ: "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ" lays down a premise the Colossians apparently understand and acknowledge. Paul indirectly has mentioned their death with Christ in verse 12. To "be dead" here means "to become wholly alienated from a thing, and freed from all connection with it" (Thayer 61). Christians are dead to the world when they have crucified the lusts of the flesh (1 John 2:16) to the extent that those lusts do not move them. Peter refers to this state as being "dead to sins" (1 Peter 2:24). Since this power over ourselves and the world comes through the death of Jesus, Paul says we are dead with Christ. The doctrine of our death to sin and spiritual resurrection through Christ’s death on the cross is beautifully elaborated by Paul in Romans 6:1-18.

from the rudiments of the world: In Christ we are dead from the "rudiments of the world." The same phrase is used in verse 8. "Rudiments" (see notes on verse 8 for definition) is a difficult term, the meaning of which cannot be determined from definition alone. It is translated "elements" in 2 Peter 3:10 and first "principles" in Hebrews 5:12. Both translations fit with the definition discussed in notes on verse 8. Several writers have stumbled over this phrase. For example, the Revised Standard Version translates it "elemental spirits of the universe," apparently thinking it specifically refers to the worship of angels. In this case as always, we are safest to allow the scriptures to interpret themselves.

why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances: Paul’s illustrations in the following verse suggest the "rudiments" he has in mind are ordinances about things that could be touched, tasted, and handled. Thus, they are probably the same rules about meat, drink, touching unclean objects, and so forth referred to in verse 16. Jewish Christians among the Colossians should know that they have died to the old law with its distinctions regarding these things. Gentile Christians in their pagan religions probably have similar ordinances (see MacKnight 390). They, too, have died to such foolish rules in their obedience to Christ. How could these Christians have failed to understand that Jesus says it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out (Matthew 15:11).

Verse 21

(Touch not; taste not; handle not;

The apostle seems to be mimicking the rules of the false teacher. Thayer comments that celibacy must have been in some way among the heretic’s regulations because the word "touch" is sometimes used of intimate relations (1 Corinthians 7:1) (70).

Verse 22

Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

The questions on this passage arise not from the definitions of words but from the placement of clauses in the sentence, which is often a difficult task in translation. We can help ourselves to understand these passages if we note that the "ordinances" of verse 20, the illustrations of the ordinances ("touch not...") of verse 21, the "which all are to perish" of verse 22, and the "which things have a show of wisdom" of verse 23 are closely related. This view is supported by the New International Version that renders "which things" of verse 23 as "such regulations," tying it directly to the heretic’s rules.

Which all are to perish with the using: Lenski persuasively argues that "which all are to perish with the using" refers not to the heretic’s regulations themselves, but to the meat, drink, and so forth with which the ordinances deal (141-142). He bases his construction on the definition of "using," which can mean "being used up" (Thayer 69), as is the case with food. When one uses it, it perishes. He recalls Jesus’ statement of John 6:27, "Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life."

after the commandments and doctrines of men: The clause, "after the commandments and doctrines of men," ends the sentence that began in verse 20. It apparently attaches to "ordinances" at the end of that verse, making it read, "Why...are ye subject to ordinances, after the commandments and doctrines of men?"

Verse 23

Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

This beautiful passage contains important information about restraining fleshly desires. Some of the terms are versatile, making their specific meanings difficult to obtain. However, the general thrust of the verse is clear. There is no advantage in repeating conflicting views on disputed words for fear of diluting respect for the plain and important theme of the passage. These arguments will not be hard to locate for the student who wishes to pursue them.

Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom: "Which things" refers to the contentions and practices of the heretic that have been the theme of the last several verses. "Shew" of wisdom signifies an unearned "reputation" for wisdom (Thayer 381). It is appropriately given as "appearance" in several translations. Three terms follow, illustrating the false wisdom of the false teacher’s practices.

in will worship: "Will worship" means "voluntary, arbitrary worship" and hence that which one devises and prescribes for himself (Thayer 168). The meaning is close to "superstition" and is aptly illustrated by "rules" people impose on themselves because of it. Although the word is not used in Romans 10:3, the charge Paul makes against the Israelites seems precisely the same. They have ignored the righteousness of God and have established their own. He may have had in view some of the very "rules" of behavior they laid down.

and humility: "Humility" is the same word as in verse 18 and, as there, is well translated by the English.

and neglecting of the body: "Neglecting" means "unsparing severity" (Thayer 88) and refers to the ascetical rules, illustrated in verse 21, about satisfying fleshly desires. While no Christian can be unconcerned about the need to restrain sinful passions, Paul labels the heretic’s regulations about food, drink, celibacy, and so forth as "abuse" of the body. In their fanatical zeal, heretics have intruded into areas that are necessary and wholesome when used according to God’s will.

not in any honour: "Not in any honour" is a stilted phrase in English, but the meaning becomes clearer when we note that "honor" means "a valuing by which the price is fixed" (Thayer 624). It is used to mean simply the honor one gives a thing or its price or value. Since it is coupled with a negative, the Revised Standard Version’s "are of no value" seems a good rendering.

to the satisfying of the flesh: "Satisfying of the flesh" is admittedly a difficult clause. Its meaning hangs on the first word. The definition is "repletion, or satiety" (Thayer 519), which fits the King James Version’s translation. But the construction of the whole sentence suggests the correctness of the translation of the Revised Standard Version, which is "in checking the indulgence of the flesh." In other words, the heretic’s rules are of no value in curbing truly sinful desires.

Thus, Paul concludes a scathing indictment of the false teachers’ pretenses to wisdom and their doctrinal errors. They are arrogant, false, and worthless in restraining sinful desires. Instead they emanate from a vain, puffed up, fleshly mind and will cause one to lose his eternal reward. What is of value to spiritual growth since these silly rules are not? It is the truly godly life that Paul begins to describe in the next chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Colossians 2". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/colossians-2.html. 1993-2022.
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