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The False Teaching and its Refutation
4-15. Hold fast to Christ the All-sufficient Saviour.
Paraphrase. ’(4) I emphasise these truths about Christ lest you should be beguiled by plausible persuasions. (5) While I am physically absent from you, I am with you in spirit, rejoicing with you and beholding your order and the firm foundation of your faith in Christ. (6, 7) Let your moral life in Christ Jesus be in harmony with the teaching through which you received Him as Lord; be firmly rooted and built up in Him, established in faith as you were taught, abounding in thankfulness. (8) Let no one lead you away as his prey by any empty sham that he may recommend as ’philosophy’ drawn from human tradition, with the elemental spirits of the world and not Christ for its content. (9, 10) For it is in Christ, not in them, that all the fulness of Godhead dwells, and dwells as an organic whole; and it is in Him that you find every spiritual need completely met, in Him the Head of the angelic powers. (11) You need no physical circumcision, for in your conversion you received a spiritual circumcision, not the mere cutting away of a fragment of the body, but the removal of the whole carnal nature. Really this went back to the death of Christ in which He underwent this spiritual circumcision; (12) and you have not only shared Christ’s burial in baptism, but also His resurrection through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead. (13) You too, though spiritually dead by reason of your trespasses with your carnal nature unremoved by spiritual circumcision; you did God quicken along with Christ, forgiving us all our trespasses (I say ’us,’ not ’you,’ for I cannot be silent about God’s forgiving love to me), because He had cancelled the bond which was against us by its ordinances, the Law which was hostile to us. (14) And He has taken it out of the way, annulling it by nailing it to Christ’s Cross that it might be put to death with Him. (15) He despoiled the angelic forces, and showed them frankly in their true position as givers of an abrogated Law, and rulers of elements to which Christians have died, triumphing over them on the Cross.’
8. Paul is not condemning philosophy properly so called, but the empty doctrines which the false teachers dignified by that name. Spoil] RV ’maketh spoil of you’; the word means to lead away as prey. The rudiments of the world] better, as mg., ’the elements of the world.’ This cannot be the first principles of religion, which could not be well called ’weak and beggarly’ (Galatians 4:9), were not strictly common to Jews and heathen, nor an apt description of the false teaching which was something very different. Here they are contrasted with Christ; in Galatians 4:8-9 they are identified with those who by nature are not gods; and in Galatians 4:8 compared with ’guardians and stewards.’ They must then be personal beings, not however the spirits of the stars, but the elemental spirits that animate the material world. The false ’philosophy’ had these angels not Christ for its subject-matter.
9. The reference is to the exalted Christ.
Bodily] usually explained to mean in bodily fashion. Probably we should render ’in the form of a body,’ and explain it to mean as an organic whole. The fulness of the Godhead is not distributed among the angels, but exists in all its completeness in Christ.
11. The body of the sins of the flesh] RV ’the body of the flesh.’ The carnal nature, the old self, is meant. The circumcision of Christ] probably an expression for the death of Christ, in which the Christian ideally died to sin.
12. RV ’Through faith in the working of God.’
13. The uncircumcision of your flesh] not physical, as if he meant, ’because you were uncircumcised Gentiles,’ for the circumcised Jews also were, in Paul’s judgment, spiritually dead. He means the spiritual uncircumcision, which consisted in the possession of a carnal nature.
Forgiven you] RV ’forgiven us.’ Paul cannot leave himself out.
14. Handwriting of ordinances, that was against us] RM ’the bond that was against us by its ordinances.’
15. Principalities and power] mean here precisely what they mean elsewhere in this Epistle. They are not evil spirits, but the angels who gave the Law that brought Christ to His death, and that rule over the material elements. God is the subject throughout the passage.
16-23. Hold fast the treasure of which the false teachers would rob you.
Paraphrase. ’(16) Since then the Law no longer exists for you, and the angels have been deposed from their rule, let no one pass judgment on you in the matter of food or sacred seasons. (17) These things are a mere shadow; it is Christ who possesses the substance. (18) Let no one give judgment against you in the matter of gratuitous humility and angel worship, vainly speculating and inflated with fleshly pride. (19) Such a man has no firm grasp of Christ the Head, from whom the whole body of the Church draws and maintains its unity by the joints and ligaments and grows with such growth as God requires. (20) If your conversion meant that in union with Christ you died to the elemental spirits that ruled the old order, why do you act as if you still belonged to it and were subject to them, and permit yourselves to be dictated to in such terms as these, (21) ’You must not handle nor taste nor even touch’? (22) What folly, when every one of the things prohibited is so unimportant that we annihilate it in the very act of use! These prohibitions have their source not in divine, but in human precepts and teachings. (23) They confer, it is true, a reputation for wisdom in respect of gratuitous worship of the angels and humility and ascetic severity to the body, but confer no true honour, and tend to the indulgence of the flesh.’
16. The Jewish character of the false teaching comes very plainly into view here.
17. In Christ they have all in reality which they think they have in Judaism. This v. might almost serve as a text for the Epistle to the Hebrews, which sees in Christianity the religion of eternity realised in time in the person and work of Jesus, but casting its shadow before it into the world in the form of Judaism.
18. Text and translation are alike very uncertain. We should probably correct the text and render: ’Let no one give judgment against you in voluntary humility and worship of the angels, treading the void of air, groundlessly puffed up by the mind of his flesh.’
Intruding into] If the text is right, ’investigating’ would be a better rendering. Which he hath not seen] The negative should certainly be omitted with the best MSS. If the text is right, the meaning of the clause seems to be, ’investigating his visions,’ but the text is probably incorrect, and we should read with a very slight alteration of the Gk., ’treading the void of air.’ They leave the solid ground of fact and experience for the insubstantial bubbles of speculation. Fleshly mind] a sharp warning to men who fancied they were achieving the destruction of the flesh by worshipping angels and severity to the body; these practices had their origin in the flesh, which dominated their whole nature, mind and all.
19. Severance from the Head cuts off the supply of spiritual life.
20. Death with Christ is death to the old order of things, to the world and the Law and the angels who ruled them both. The false teachers would have them revert to a stage they have left below them.
21. Precepts of the false teachers.
23. Shew of wisdom] better, ’reputation for wisdom.’ Will worship] a worship not required of them, the worship of angels. Neglecting of] RV ’severity to.’ Not in any honour, etc.] This clause is extremely dificult, and no satisfactory explanation has been given. The RV rendering, ’but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh,’ is highly questionable. Hort, our chief textual critic, and Haupt, the best commentator on the Epistle, are agreed that the text is corrupt. Perhaps some words have been accidentally omitted.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Colossians 2". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30