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II. POLEMICAL PART: BE NOT LED AWAY FROM CHRIST THE HEAD.
(1.) General warning against being led away through the philosophy of the false teachers (Colossians 2:1-15). (2.) Two special warnings enforced(Colossians 2:16-23).
Colossians 2:1. For I would have you know. ‘For’ introduces an illustration and proof of the ‘striving’ just spoken of (chap. Colossians 1:29).
How great (an unusual word, indicating quality as well as extent) a conflict. The term corresponds with ‘striving;’ comp. also chap. Colossians 4:12. It refers to the Apostle’s anxiety, not to his external suffering St still less to any actual contest with false teachers.
For you. The best authorities read here the same preposition as in chap. Colossians 1:24: ‘in behalf of you;’ the common text means simply: ‘about you.’
And from them at Laodicea; a neighboring Church (see Introduction, Section 1); probably in the same danger; comp. also Colossians 4:16.
And as many, etc. This adds the general class to which the readers (and the Laodicean Christians) belonged. The obvious inference is that he had not been in Colosse and the neighboring city. To take this phrase as referring to another class confuses the entire thought of the context (comp. Colossians 2:2; Colossians 2:4: ‘their hearts,’ and ‘you’).
In the flesh. This qualifies ‘face,’ = my bodily presence; ‘a concrete touch added to enhance the nature of his struggle; it was not for those whom he personally knew and who personally knew him, but for those for whom his interest was purely spiritual and ministerial’ (Ellicott).
1. Warning Against being Led Away through the Philosophy of the False Teachers.
This section, which is most directly in opposition to the errors at Colossae, is introduced by a paragraph, expressing the anxiety of the Apostle respecting the believers in and near Colossae (Colossians 2:1-3). He then exhorts them to continue in the truth they had been taught, praising them for their order and steadfastness (Colossians 2:4-7). Having already hinted at their danger (Colossians 2:4), the Apostle utters a distinct warning against the false teachers and their ‘philosophy and vain deceit’ (Colossians 2:8). He then sets forth the Person and Work of Christ (Colossians 2:9-15) over against these teachings which are ‘not after Christ.’ Christ the Head (Colossians 2:9-10) triumphs over angelic might (Colossians 2:15); the true circumcision is that of Christ whose redeeming work (Colossians 2:11-13) cancelled the law of ordinances. In these two directions the warning is continued in the remainder of the chapter.
Colossians 2:2. That (in order that, as the purpose of the conflict) their hearts may be comforted. The word rendered ‘comfort’ also means ‘exhort,’ and may include the idea of confirming; but the usual sense is preferable (comp. Romans 1:12; 2 Corinthians 1:6), especially in connection with the word ‘hearts.’ The Apostle regards the danger of these Christians as an affliction (so Chrysostom), and by intimating this prepares the way for his exhortation.
They being knit (the better supported reading yields this sense) together in love. This describes the manner in which the comforting should take place: by their being closely joined together ‘in love,’ brotherly love, which is here represented, not as the instrument, but as the element of this union.
And unto (as the end of this knitting together) all riches of the full assurance of understanding. The purpose of this union in love (‘unto’) is the entire possession (‘all riches’) of full certainty of Christian insight (‘full assurance of understanding’). The ‘assurance’ here spoken of is commonly termed ‘assurance of knowledge,’ not ‘assurance of faith.’ ‘Fulness’ is not a satisfactory rendering, although allowable in Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22.
Unto the full knowledge (not, ‘acknowledgment’), etc. This clause is exactly parallel to the preceding one describing further the purpose of the union in love, but emphasizing the object of the under-standing and ‘full knowledge,’ namely, the mystery of God, even Christ. The reading is very doubtful; the variations numerous. The two most probable readings are: ‘the mystery of God,’ supported by one uncial manuscript and a few later ones, and the one given above supported by the Vatican manuscript, and expressly by one of the Fathers. The longer reading followed in the E. V. is well supported, but it is difficult to account for the variations on the theory that this was the original reading. Among other forms are: ‘of God which is Christ;’ ‘of God the Father of Christ.’ Evidently all the variations might have arisen from either of the two preferred readings, but ‘of God, Christ’ is the better supported of the two. It must be remarked, however, that this reading can also be explained: ‘The mystery of the God of Christ;’ ‘of God, even of Christ’ Both are unusual expressions, and seem alike harsh and unnecessary. The mystery of God is Christ, so one of the various readings explains, and correctly, it would seem. On the word ‘mystery,’ see Ephesians 3:3, etc., and comp. chap. Colossians 1:27. Here it includes not only the mystery of the Incarnation, but that of Redemption as involved in the Incarnation; comp. Colossians 2:3.
Colossians 2:3. In whom; or, if the briefer reading in Colossians 2:2 be accepted, ‘in which,’ i.e., mystery. But the sense is the same, if we read and render: ‘even Christ,’ since this presents Christ Himself as the mystery of God.
Are stands in emphatic position; notice the order as emended.
All the treasures of (consisting in) wisdom and knowledge. ‘ Wisdom’ is the more general term; ‘knowledge,’ the more special. Various more exact discriminations have been suggested, but it is difficult to maintain any one of them. These treasures are in Christ (or the mystery of God), but hid , not known until revealed. Hence the Apostle’s purpose that they should attain to fall knowledge of this mystery. They could not know Him, until revealed, because the treasures were ‘hid,’ they could have ‘full knowledge,’ because in Him were ‘all the treasures’ (comp. ‘all riches,’ Colossians 2:2). The term rendered ‘hid’ is transferred into English as ‘ Apocrypha,’ and was applied by early teachers of error to certain hidden writings for which special authority was claimed. Some such secret doctrine of the Colossian false teachers may be here referred to, but the figure is quite apt. The hid treasures could become theirs: they did not need ‘more than Christ, but more of Christ.’
Colossians 2:4. And this I say; referring to Colossians 2:1-3; the remainder of this verse answering to Colossians 2:2-3, and Colossians 2:5 reverting to the sympathy expressed in Colossians 2:1.
That no one may beguile you, deceive you by sophisms.
With (lit., ‘in’) persuading speech. The word here used is compounded of the two occurring in 1 Corinthians 2:4 (‘enticing words’ E. V.); the idea in both cases is that of insinuating sophistical reasoning, but this expression is the stronger of the two. In classical usage the reference was to argument as contrasted with mathematical demonstration (Light-foot).
Colossians 2:5. Absent in the flesh, etc. External bodily presence is contrasted with spiritual presence; with you in the spirit. ‘Spirit’ is here used in the psychological sense = the human spirit, in contrast with flesh (= body). This contrast is usually expressed by Paul in other terms (see mare, references), since ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ are used by him especially in a technical theological sense.
Joying and beholding. This describes how he was present in the Spirit. The connection of the two words is variously explained; but it seems best to take them together, the second being a mere special and explanatory addition to the first, and both governing the following words as objects. ‘This must not be regarded as a logical inversion. The contemplation of their orderly array, although it might have been first the cause, was afterwards the consequence of the Apostle’s rejoicing. He looked, because it gave him satisfaction to look’ (Lightfoot). ‘His joy on this account enchains him, so that he stands there as a spectator’ (Braune).
Your order. A military figure, readily suggested to a Roman prisoner, and referring to the external department of the Church.
And the stedfastness; also a military term, meaning the firm, solid basis, rather than the quality of firmness. It points to the internal condition of the Church.
Of your faith in Christ. Belonging to your faith, or, presented by your faith. ‘After these words we have no reason for doubting that the Church of Colossae, though tried by heretical teaching, was substantially sound in the faith’ (Ellicott).
Colossians 2:6. As then (in view of this order and stedfastness) ye received, i.e., by instruction from your teachers, not, ‘as ye accepted.’
Christ etui the Lord. He was the object in which the instruction centred; the emphasis resting, as the full phrase shows, upon His Person. They had been taught ‘Him;’ comp. Ephesians 4:20.
walk in him. He is the element of your life; let the life correspond with the teachings you have received,
Colossians 2:7. Rooted and built up. This is to be closely joined with Colossians 2:6 , as defining the command, ‘walk in Him.’ The first participle points to taking root once for all and continuing rooted; the second to the progressive building up. The figures occur elsewhere.
In him. Christ is here set forth first as the soil, and then as the cornerstone; not strictly as the foundation, since ‘upon Him’ would be used to express that thought; comp Ephesians 2:20.
And stablished by your faith (lit., ‘the faith’), or, ‘as to your faith.’ ‘In your faith’ is the reading of good authorities; but the simple dative is to be preferred, which may be instrumental, or may point to what is strengthened. The former gives the more appropriate sense; ‘faith’ being subjective, as the English possessive pronoun serves to indicate. ‘Faith is, as it were, the cement of the building’ (Lightfoot).
As ye were taught; in accordance with the teaching of Epaphras (chap. Colossians 1:7).
Abounding in thanksgiving. Many authorities read ‘in it’ (i.e. , your faith), but the evidence of the Sinaitic manuscript has turned the scale against the acceptance of it ‘In’ is more literal than ‘with,’ and points to ‘the field of operation in which that abundance is manifested’ (Alford). Here, as everywhere, the Apostle emphasizes the privilege of thanksgiving (comp. in this Epistle, chaps. Colossians 1:12; Colossians 3:15; Colossians 3:17; Colossians 4:2).
Colossians 2:8. Take heed. The word is usually rendered thus.
Lest there shall be; the peculiar form of the original is thus reproduced, marking an impending danger quite certain to come upon them.
Any one. This indefinite expression does not imply that Paul did not know who these false teachers were (comp. Galatians 1:7).
Maketh you his booty; not, ‘rob you.’ Ellicott: ‘The false teachers sought to lead them away captive, body and mind; the former by ritualistic restrictions (Colossians 2:16), the latter by heretical teaching (Colossians 2:18).
Through his (lit, ‘the’) philosophy and vain deceit. The two terms apply to the same thing, as the original indicates; the ‘philosophy’ of the false teachers was ‘vain deceit.’ The article shows that the Apostle means ‘not philosophy in itself and in general, however much it had, in its decay and according to its manifestation in that age, proven itself to the Apostle as folly in comparison with the wisdom of the gospel, but the definite speculation, known to his readers, which obtained in Colossse and that region, and which consisted of Gnostic theosophy blended with Judaism (Essenism), designated by the name philosophy, on account of its ontological character, and in general, irrespective of its relation to the truth rightly so called; but perhaps put forward also by the false teachers themselves under this designation, which is the more probable, since Paul uses the word only in this passage’ (Meyer). Comp. Introduction, § 2.
After the tradition of men. ‘ Such a description was peculiarly appropriate to a mystic theosophy like this of the Colossian false teachers. The teaching might be oral or written, but it was essentially esoteric, essentially traditional. It could not appeal to sacred books which had been before all the world for centuries. The Essenes, the immediate spiritual progenitors of those Colossian heretics, distinctly claimed to possess such a source of knowledge, which they carefully guarded from divulgence’ (Lightfoot).
After the rudiments (or, ‘elements’) of the world. ‘ Elements’ is the proper rendering. In 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12, but in Paul’s Epistles (see mare, references) the term has a didactic sense: rudimentary instruction. The Fathers indeed explained this passage of the heavenly bodies as regulating festivals, but this is quite out of keeping with the fact that a mode of instruction is here referred to. The phrase suggests more than Jewish ritualistic observances, since ‘world’ includes the whole sphere of material things, and the Apostle is giving the category to which the false teaching belonged. To go back to rudiments was to show themselves children (comp. Galatians 4:3).
And not after Christ. This is in contrast with all that precedes: Christ is source, substance, norm and end of Christianity. What is ‘not after Christ’ is rudimentary, not ‘advanced;’ all teaching that does not make Him the centre only serves to lead men captive. Culture apart from Him is an illusion and deceit.
Colossians 2:9. Because in him (in the Personal Christ, and in none other) dwelleth (now and permanently) all the fulness of the Godhead (comp. chap. Colossians 1:19) bodily. The emphasis rests on the word ‘bodily,’ which does not mean ‘really,’ or ‘entirely,’ or ‘essentially,’ but ‘in bodily fashion,’ pointing to Christ’s human body, not to the Church or to the created world. The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him as the Eternal Word (chap. Colossians 1:19), and because of this when the Word became flesh (John 1:14) the fulness dwelt in Him ‘bodily’ (not strictly ‘in His body’). The reference is therefore to the now glorified Christ, but could have no validity were He not the Eternal Word, since ‘all the fulness of the Godhead’ means all the perfections of Deity; i.e., the Divine Essence. (In Romans 1:20, ‘Divinity’ points rather to the Divine quality.) The various attempts to weaken the sense scarcely deserve mention. Some peculiar form of error taught at Colossae is doubtless opposed by the language of the Apostle.
Colossians 2:10. And ye are made full in him. ‘ Ye are in Him, and being in Him ye are made full and continue thus.’ This is closely connected with Colossians 2:9; because of the fulness which dwells in Christ, those in fellowship with Him are made full. The divine gifts thus obtained are ample, hence they ought not to seek to supplement this sufficient supply by looking to other sources.
Who is the head of all principality and power. The repetition of these terms indicates that the false teachers presented the angels as mediators, or in manner which detracted from the sufficiency of Christ. This affirmation of the absolute superiority of Christ to the angelic world meets this error. Nor is this superiority simply one of position, since the head is in vital connection with the members, which derive their life from it; see marginal references.
Colossians 2:11. In whom ye were also circumcised. ‘ Also’ belongs to the verb, not to ye, and a past fact is spoken of (comp. Colossians 2:12-13); hence ‘were’ instead of ‘are.’
With a (not, ‘the’) circumcision, etc. The absence of the article is rhetorical. ‘This higher circumcision ‘is distinguished, as regards first its character, secondly its extent, and thirdly its author’ (Lightfoot).
N ot wrought by hands, contrasted with that ‘wrought by hands’ (see Ephesians 2:11; comp. marg. references. This circumcision of the heart consists: in the putting off the body of the flesh. (The phrase ‘of the sins’ is wanting in the best manuscripts, in other authorities, and is rejected, as a gloss, by all recent editors.) The word ‘putting off’ is rare (comp. Colossians 2:15 and chap. Colossians 3:9), implying both an unclothing and a putting away. The various reading and the context also point to the ethical sense of ‘flesh’ as the necessary one (see Excursus, Romans 7:0). But why is the word ‘body’ used? Paul never teaches that the body is the specifically fleshly ( i.e., sinful) part of our being, nor is the reference to the material earthly body an apt one; that body we do not put off at baptism. Hence it seems best to explain the phrase as referring to the organism of sin (comp. Romans 6:6; Romans 7:14). The figure of circumcision naturally suggests this expression. Meyer and others take ‘flesh’ in the ethical sense, but ‘body’ in the material sense; the body consisting of the flesh, in its depravity. But even these writers guard their explanation against the notion that the body is the source of sin; the same body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, is no longer ‘in the flesh.’
In the circumcision of Christ. Parallel to the preceding clause; the E. V. (‘by’) is misleading. Of this circumcision Christ is the originating cause: ‘Christ by union with Himself brings about the circumcision and imparts it to believers’ (Ellicott). It is incorrect to weaken this into Christian circumcision, or to refer it to the circumcision of the child Jesus, or to regard the circumcision as directly wrought by Christ.
Colossians 2:12. Buried with him; a single past act is referred to, but as that act took place when they ‘were circumcised,’ etc., ‘having been buried’ is not a necessary emendation, and may lead to the false notion that baptism precedes ‘the putting away of the body of the flesh,’ etc.
In baptism; comp. Romans 6:3-4. The fellowship with Christ finds its sign and seal in the rite of baptism, which, as then administered, had its external resemblance to the burial and resurrection of Christ. This resemblance is not exact, since fellowship in the death of Christ is the main thought, and the immersion does not of itself suggest this. The passage shows that immersion was the mode in the Apostle’s mind; that he meant to represent it as the only mode is denied by most commentators. The agent in this burial is God, as the next clause indicates.
Wherein, etc. Some prefer to render ‘in whom (as in Colossians 2:11) ye were also raised together,’ taking this clause as suggesting a further step. But it seems more natural to connect it closely with what precedes. The baptism signified and sealed a fellowship with the resurrection of Christ; comp. Romans 6:1-11.
Raised with him; ‘ not your material, but your spiritual resurrection is in the foreground: it is bound on, it is true, to His material resurrection, and brings with it in the background, yours; but in the spiritual, the material is included and taken for granted, as usual in Scripture’ (Alford).
Through your faith (lit., ‘the faith’) in the operation (inworking) of God, who (‘hath’ is incorrect) raised him from the dead. God’s working is here set forth as the object of the believing, not as its cause. In this connection it was natural to characterize God as one ‘who raised Him from the dead.’ Only through faith in such a God as able and willing to raise us up spiritually can we partake in this new life.
Colossians 2:13. And you, being dead; when you were dead, while in this state; comp. throughout Ephesians 2:1.
By (or, ‘on account of’) your trespasses. The preposition ‘in’ is rejected by recent critical editors on sufficient authority; the phrase is then precisely as in Ephesians 2:1, where, however, ‘sins’ is added. Here the previous context naturally suggests the addition: the uncircumcision of year flesh. This is the spiritual application of a literal fact. They were Gentiles, as such uncircumcised; this external condition fitly indicated their depraved, carnal condition. ‘Flesh’ has its ethical sense, though not without an allusion to the physical flesh, their ‘uncircumcision’ was once the sign of their fleshly condition, but now they had received circumcision of the heart (Colossians 2:11).
You (repeated in the Greek according to the best authorities) did he quicken together with him. It is God who quickens; comp. Ephesians 2:5. The reference here is the same as in ‘raised with Him’ (Colossians 2:12), probably the future resurrection is slightly more prominent
Having to-given us all our trespasses. The manuscript authority for ‘us’ is decisive; ‘our’ is the proper rendering of the Greek article here, while ‘having forgiven’ points the act which necessarily preceded the quickening, God’s act of reconciliation and justification, passed upon those who believe. The objective ground of this gracious forgiveness is set forth in Colossians 2:14. As most commentators accept a change of subject in the close of this paragraph, some have placed the transition at this point; but it seems better to make the change coincide with the change in construction in Colossians 2:14. Notice, however, that while God is still the subject, the language is strictly applicable only to God in Christ, so that the transition to Christ as the subject is easy.
Colossians 2:14. Having blotted out, i.e., erased or cancelled, since the tense is the same as ‘having forgiven.’ But it does not follow that this act is contemporaneous. This refers to the objective redeeming work, which must precede the appropriation of it by believers who are thus forgiven. If referred to the same time, the forgiveness must be regarded as taking place (ideally) at the death of Christ
The handwriting of ordinances, etc. The word ‘handwriting’ had the technical sense of a bond, obligating the signer against whom it was held. The bond in this case was the law , which was written in, took the form of ‘ordinances,’ i.e., specific commandments. These, expressed in the Mosaic law, constituted an obligation that was against us, all men, Gentiles as well as Jews. To apply it to an unwritten law is to destroy the force of the figure, and to limit it to the ceremonial law is to weaken the thought of the entire passage. God’s law, thus definitely expressed in ordinances, was the uncancelled moral obligation that bound all men. This God cancelled by the redeeming work of Christ. Some explain: ‘the bond that was against us by its ordinances,’ but to this there are several obligations, while the view given above is sustained by Ephesians 2:15.
Which was contrary to us. This is an emphatic expansion of ‘against us;’ doubtless to oppose more strongly the legation of the false teachers. ‘It was hostile not merely in its direction and aspects, but practically and definitely’ (Ellicott).
And he hath taken it out of the way. The change of construction justifies the insertion of ‘He,’ which will serve to indicate that Christ is now the subject. ‘Hath taken’ is literal and exact: the bond was removed and continues to be ‘out of the way.’
By nailing it to the crocs. ‘By nailing’ indicates more plainly that this was the method by which the bond was forever removed. ‘It was the law rather than Christ, which was slain and done away with on the cross, because He bore the curse of the law, took away its condemnation. Men slew Christ, but the Lord slew the law on the cross; Galatians 2:13; Galatians 2:0 Pet. 2:24’ (Braune). The figure need not be pressed in its details.
Colossians 2:15. Having put off from himself, or, ‘having despoiled.’ A third interpretation: ‘having put off from Himself his body, he made a show of,’ etc., confuses the metaphors, and is otherwise objectionable. The second view (comp. E. V.) agrees well with the context, but it is doubtful whether the word used has this sense; comp. chap. Colossians 3:9 and Colossians 2:11, where the corresponding noun occurs. Meyer, however, defends this view, taking God as the subject. The more exact sense: ‘having put off from himself,’ present difficulties. It cannot be applied to God, but in what sense can it be applied to Christ? In itself the phrase, the principalities and the powers, may refer either to all angelic powers, or only evil ones. But how can Christ be said to divest Himself of these, in either reference? The most satisfactory answer refers this to the victory over evil spirits: the powers of evil had power against Christ, as mortal in His flesh: He divested Himself of His flesh, by thus doing He divested Himself of them. Others include all spiritual powers, in view of the Colossian error (Colossians 2:18), which ‘associated the Jewish observances in some way with the worship of angels’ (Alford); but this seems remote from the present train of thought. Lightfoot: ‘The final act in the conflict began with the garden of Gethsemane; it ended with the cross of Calvary. The victory was complete. The enemy of man was defeated. The powers of evil, which had clung like a Nessus robe about His humanity, were torn off and cast aside forever. And the victory of mankind is involved in the victory of Christ. In His cross we too are divested of the poisonous clinging garments of temptation and sin and death.’
He made a show of them, as victor displaying them as captives.
With boldness. ‘ Openly’ does not fully express the sense, and is already indicated in the verb, confidently, in the assurance of victory.
Triumphing over them in it. This carries out the figure. ‘Them,’ i.e., the principalities and the powers; ‘in it,’ i.e., the cross, certainly not, ‘in Himself’ (E. V. margin). ‘The Redeemer conquered by dying. See His crown of thorns turned into a crown of laurels. Never had the devil’s kingdom such a mortal blow given to it, as was given by the Lord Jesus’ (Henry). The symbol of sorrow and shame was the place of victory and triumph.
Colossians 2:16. Let no man therefore judge you. ‘Therefore’ bases these practical admonitions on the positive truths set forth in Colossians 2:8-15. ‘Judge,’ sit in judgment, condemning you if you do not respond to their demands.
In eating, or in drinking; the words occur in Romans 14:17, referring to the acts of eating and drinking, not to food and drink. A few authorities read: ‘and’ instead of ‘or.’ This makes of the two a single category, while ‘in respect of’ introduces a second class. But the evidence for ‘and’ is not strong enough to warrant the substitution. The Mosaic law had prohibitions respecting food alone (Leviticus 7:10-27), forbidding wine to Nazarites (Numbers 6:3) and to priests in service (Leviticus 10:9); hence the Phrygian ascetics had probably gone beyond the law (so Meyer, followed by most recent commentators). Comp. Romans 14:0.
Or in respect of a festival. The first term refers to yearly feasts, the second to monthly, the third to the weekly Sabbath; a sabbath day is the usual rendering of the plural form here used, and joined with two other terms in the singular number. The Jewish Sabbath was kept by many of the early Christians as well as the Lord’s Day, and the practice was finally condemned at a council in Laodicea. It has been asserted that Paul’s language is inconsistent with the lasting obligation of the Sabbath, in any form, on the Christian Church, But this is too sweeping. The Lord’s Day is in a different position, has a fresh sanction, and should have its higher observance. The need of such a day is written in man’s body, and experience proves that Christianity is the loser by the neglect of a religious observance of one day in seven. Here the Lord’s own words hold good: ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27).
2. Two Special Warnings Enforced.
This brief section is both an application of the obligations resulting from the truths stated in Colossians 2:9-15, and a warning against certain specific errors which threatened the practical Christian life of the Colossian believers, ( a.) The first warning, against ritual prohibitions (Colossians 2:16-17), applies the truth of Colossians 2:11-14; ( b.) the second, against angel worship (Colossians 2:18-19), applies that of Colossians 2:9-10; Colossians 2:15. (c.) Both are enforced by recalling the fact that they died with Christ (Colossians 2:20-23) and hence were freed from these earthly ordinances, which are utterly futile for ethical purposes (Colossians 2:23). Chap. Colossians 3:1-4 is closely connected with the last paragraph.
Colossians 2:17. Which are a shadow of the things to come. All the matters spoken of in Colossians 2:16 are referred to; the whole system of prohibitions and festivals has a typical significance, pointing to ‘the things to come,’ namely, the new dispensation. Meyer limits this to the future kingdom of Christ after the Second Advent, but this deprives the next clause of its proper meaning.
The body is Christ’s, belongs to Him; the reality of these observances is found in the new dispensation. In this substantial reality there is a place for the Lord’s Day, which is ‘now to be a season of loftier joy, as it commemorates a more august event than either the creation of the universe, or the exodus from Egypt’ (Eadie). On the thought in its details, comp. Hebrews 8:1-5; Hebrews 10:1-18.
Colossians 2:18. Let no man. The singular number in these warnings does not point to a particular person, but gives emphasis.
Rob you of the prize. The figure, borrowed from the games, suggests an unfair decision of the umpire in awarding the prize; but it need not be pressed further than to mean depriving the Christian of his ‘prize,’ which is future blessedness, eternal life. The false teachers, by their errors, might prevent their obtaining this.
Of his own will, lit., ‘willing.’ This expression is very difficult to interpret satisfactorily. Some (among them, Lightfoot) explain: ‘delighting in humility,’ etc. But this is a harsh and unusual Hebraism, and the word ‘willing’ rarely, if ever, has the sense of delight ‘Willing,’ or ‘willingly,’ as we must express it, a qualification of the verb ‘rob you of the prize,’ but three senses have been given it. (1.) Willingly, of his own choice or impulse; this is almost equivalent to ‘arbitrarily,’ and agrees best with the exact sense of the Greek word. The E. V. seems to have endeavored to give a similar thought. (2.) ‘Desiring to do it, which presses the word somewhat. (3.) ‘Purposing to do it;’ a sense that the word would bear, but not so natural as the first. The context referring to the human origin of the precepts of the false teachers (Colossians 2:22) and to their ‘will-worship,’ etc., seems to favor (1), which gives emphasis to the purely human impulse. The methods they adopt to de-fraud you of the prize have their origin in their own choice, not in any objective truth. (On the exact sense of the word ‘willing,’ comp. my note in Lange, Ephesians, p. 42.)
By (lit., ‘in,’ pointing to the sphere of the actions) humility. The word, occurring elsewhere always in a good sense, in this chapter (comp. Colossians 2:23) seems to point to something blameworthy: ‘a false and perverted lowliness, which deemed God was so inaccessible that He could only be approached through the mediation of inferior beings’ (Ellicott).
And worship of the angels. This was the outward evidence of the false humility. The word ‘worship’ refers properly to the external rites of religion, and so get to signify an over-scrupulous devotion to external forms’ (Lightfoot). It was at Colossae that special worship was given in after days to the archangel Michael for an alleged miracle, Jewish influences might have led to this worship of the angels.
Dwelling in, or, ‘taking his stand upon,’ the things which he hath seen. The weight of authority has led recent editors to reject ‘not;’ and the sense ‘intruding’ is inappropriate with the reading. Of the two explanations given above, the former is preferable, both on lexical grounds, and from its aptness in this connection, pointing to the false teacher as continually poring over the visions (‘which he hath seen’), his ‘illusions,’ but ‘delusions’ in their influence. The ‘spiritism’ of modern times naturally suggests an illustration of the meaning.
Vainly puffed up; puffed up with pride despite the show of humility, and that without ground.
By the mind of his flesh. As ‘the flesh’ has a body, so it has a ‘mind;’ the unrenewed nature is personified (comp. Romans 8:6), and its ‘mind’ is represented as causing the pride of the false teacher. There may be a reference to some favorite phrase of the errorists.
Colossians 2:19. And not holding fast the Head (Christ); comp. Ephesians 1:22, etc. Not to hold Christ as Head is to let go of Him altogether. This is virtually the cause of the conduct described in Colossians 2:18.
From whom, referring to Christ personally, as in Ephesians 4:16. ‘Which’ would point to Christ in this relation as Head.
All the body; including every member of it, not ‘the whole body,’ since the false teachers did not deny the unity of the Church, but slighted the fact that each member for himself must hold fast to the Head.
Through the joints and bands. ‘Joints,’ as in Ephesians 4:16, refers to the nerves and all those points of contact through which the common life passes; ‘bands,’ to all the ligatures which bind the parts of the body.
Being supplied and compacted. The first participle (comp. ‘the joint of the supply’), derived from the leading of a chorus, suggests a generous supply; the second, occurring in the parallel passage, suggests solidity; both point to a continued process. It is not necessary to connect ‘joints’ with the first participle, and ‘bands’ with the second, although the former are chiefly means of supply, and the latter of solidity. In Ephesians the close connection of the parts is emphasized, here the vital connection with the Head.
Increased with the increase of God; effected by Him. ‘God being the first cause of life to the whole, and carrying on this growth in subordination to and union with the Head, Jesus Christ’ (Afford). ‘The discoveries of modern physiology have invested the Apostle’s language with far greater distinctness and force than it can have worn to his own contemporaries’ (Lightfoot). The experience of eighteen Christian centuries have abundantly illustrated the pertinence and truthfulness of the figure, when thus enlarged, as applied to the members of the Church, Vital union with Christ for each is the essential matter; to be without this is to die; having it growth is not only possible, but certain.
Colossians 2:20. If ye died, as is actually the case, since they died with Christ (see references). When baptized their death with Christ was signified and sealed (comp. Colossians 2:12). ‘Wherefore,’ though a correct gloss, is sustained by but one ancient manuscript, and the insertion of it can readily be accounted for.
From the rudiments (or, ‘elements’) of the world; see Colossians 2:8. They died ‘from’ these, because they were separated from them. ‘The law and all its ordinances were wiped out by the death of Christ (Colossians 2:14), they who were united with Him in His death shared with Him all the blessings of the same immunity’ (Ellicott). Here, as everywhere, the Apostle finds in the facts of salvation the motive for believers.
Why, as though living in the world; ‘world’ being used in its technical theological sense = ‘in the flesh.’ They were not yet relapsed into this state, but obedience to the false teachers would make them live as if they had.
Are ye subjected to ordinances. One word in the Greek, derived from ‘dogma,’ i.e., decree. It is doubtful whether the exact sense is: subjected by yourselves, or by others; but the difference is mainly one of expression. It is a curious instance of change in language that ‘subject to dogmas’ would now refer to doctrines, whereas then it pointed to practical rules of life.
Colossians 2:21. Handle not, nor taste, nor touch. ‘Nor’ is almost = nor even. The E. V. mistranslates the first and last words, and improperly includes the verse in parenthesis. The climax is reached in ‘do not even touch.’ The prohibitions are specific in form, and refer to certain kinds of food and drink, as appears not only from the word ‘taste,’ but from Colossians 2:16 and (especially) Colossians 2:22. Defilement by contact with impure objects may be included, but is not suggested by the context. This series of condemned prohibitions cannot be used in support of total abstinence from intoxicating liquors, except through culpable ignorance or dishonesty.
Colossians 2:22. This verse is parenthetical, and describes the character of the objects prohibited: which all are to perish with the using: all of them appointed to destruction by being used up. This language cannot be fairly applied to the prohibitions, since it is inapplicable. Nor can it be regarded as part of the statement of the false teachers, still less can moral corruption be intended. The view here advocated is accepted by the best recent commentators, and agrees with our Lord’s own words in Matthew 15:17; Matthew 7:18-19; comp. 1 Corinthians 6:13.
After the precepts and doctrines of men. This is to be joined with Colossians 2:20, defining further the subjection to ordinances. ‘Doctrines’ is a term of wider signification than ‘precepts;’ but both are united here and described as ‘of men,’ in contrast ‘with God’s law and word in Christ, indeed with the law of Moses, beyond which they have gone’ (Braune).
Colossians 2:23. Which things, a ‘set of things which’ (Ellicott), have indeed a show of wisdom, have the reputation of wisdom, but lack the reality; this being obviously the meaning. The Apostle thus describes the entire class of human precepts, to which the Colossian prohibitions belonged.
In, governing all three following nouns, points to the sphere in which this reputed wisdom manifests itself.
Will-worship; self-imposed arbitrary worship; comp. Colossians 2:18.
And humility; external, ostentatious humility, hence only apparent.
And harsh treatment of the body; through ascetic practices. ‘Such mortification is based upon contempt of the creatures, or false views of matter as the seat of sin. The first substantive denotes the religious aspect of their conduct; the second, the ethical in relation to men; the third, the same as respects earthly things. In such ways they gained a repute of wisdom’ (Braune).
But are not of any value against the satiety of the flesh, i.e., to check its desires after full indulgence. This is, on the whole, the least objectionable explanation of this difficult passage. But ‘flesh’ must be taken in its full ethical sense, without limiting the phrase to grosser forms of sensual indulgence. For while chap. Colossians 4:5 suggests these, Colossians 2:2 points to earthly things in general as the objects of the ‘flesh.’ Ascetic rules cannot restrain these desires. The view above presented preserves a simple construction of the Greek, and is not open to serious lexical objections. ‘Value’ is a frequent sense of the word thus rendered, and the preposition (lit., ‘to’), in this connection, may mean directed towards, i.e., ‘ against’ Another view, favored by Meyer and many others is: ‘not in any honor, serving - only to the satiety of the flesh.’ This cannot be objected to properly as too strong, since experience shows that asceticism fosters carnality, in the wide Pauline sense. But it accepts a harsh construction, and makes an unnecessary ellipsis. Still more harsh is the view of Alford, who explains ‘not in any honor’ (to the body); and connecting the last clause with Colossians 2:20: ‘subjected to ordinances to the satiety of the flesh. All interpretations are false which take ‘body’ and ‘flesh’ in the same sense, and give a good meaning to ‘satiety,’ i.e., a satisfying of the proper needs of the flesh. (The E. V. apparently gives this sense.) Nor can the clause be regarded as part of the View of the false teachers, since their words (in Colossians 2:21) are too remote. Accepting the first view, and giving ‘flesh’ its full sense, we find here an appropriate close to the polemical portion of the Epistle: You died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, do not be subject to ordinances, which have no authority from Christ, and which with all their appearance of religion and morality, utterly fail to hinder the empire of the flesh. Depravity, sensuous always, and so often sensual, in its manifestations, is not checked thus. How and why it is overcome the Apostle proceeds to show in the next chapter. ‘Asceticism degenerates into mere mechanical morality, casuistic hair-splitting about the divine law, an externalizing of self-discipline and self-exertion, a stirring up of spiritual pride. Under austerity respecting externals is concealed effeminacy with regard to heart-emotions, and in the unsparing treatment of the body the flesh is fondled’ (Braune). The history of monasticism is a sufficient commentary. The connection between asceticism and the worship of angels seems a natural one. Monasticism and the adoration of the saints flourished together; and the devotees of modern ‘spiritism’ are not far removed, in locality and thought, from the fanatics about food and drink. Both alike minister to spiritual pride.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Colossians 2". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29