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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 2

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Colossians 2:0


Paul's Ministry to the ChurchNot Philosophy, But ChristPaul's Interest in the ColossiansPaul's Work as a Servant of the ChurchPaul's Concern for the Colossians' Faith
(Colossians 1:24-5)(Colossians 1:24-7)(Colossians 1:24-3)
Colossians 2:1-10Colossians 2:1-3
Colossians 2:4-5Colossians 2:4-5
Fullness of Life in ChristFullness of Life in ChristLive According to the True Faith in Christ, not According to False Teaching
Colossians 2:6-15Warning Against False TeachingColossians 2:6-7Colossians 2:6-7
Colossians 2:8-15Colossians 2:8-10Colossians 2:8
Christ Alone is the True Head of All Humanity and the Angels
Colossians 2:9-10
Not Legalism But Christ
Colossians 2:11-23Colossians 2:11-15Colossians 2:11-13
Colossians 2:14-15
Against the False Asceticism Based on the Principles of This World
Colossians 2:16-19Colossians 2:16-19Colossians 2:16-19Colossians 2:16-19
The New Life in ChristDying and Living with Christ
(Colossians 2:20-17)
Colossians 2:20-4Colossians 2:20-23Colossians 2:20-4Colossians 2:20-23

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Describe the false teachers' doctrine. Why were they so dangerous?

2. Who or what are the "elementary principles" (stoicheia, cf Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:15)?

3. Is Jesus God or man? Why is this so important?

4. How is Jesus related to the angelic powers?

5. Why is legalism-asceticism so dangerous (cf. Colossians 2:16-23)?

6. List the Gnostic catch words in this section.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 1:24-5 24Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. 25Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. 2:1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

Colossians 1:24 "I rejoice in my sufferings for you" Paul saw his imprisonment as benefitting the church (cf. Philippians 2:17 and 2 Corinthians 1:5). Paul saw his life as an offering to God on behalf of the church. This is part of the Good News we don't like (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 5:3; Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; Philippians 1:29, Philippians 1:2:17; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 5:8; 1 Peter 1:7-8; 1 Peter 4:12-16)! As Jesus suffered on behalf of others, so must His followers (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:16). Only the Spirit can turn persecution into joy!

"in my flesh" See Special Topic at Colossians 1:22.

"in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions" This emphatic double compound verb (anti, ana, plçroô) is found only here in the NT. The prepositions strongly affirm "on behalf of" or "and to fill completely." This is a very difficult sentence to interpret. Some theories about the meaning of this verse are:

1. Christ's atonement was not sufficient without the church, i.e., Roman Catholicism's merits of the saints

2. believers, as the church, share Christ's sufferings, (not vicariously), but by doing the Father's will in a fallen world (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Mark 10:39; John 16:1ff; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:10)

3. Christ suffers with believers (cf. Acts 9:4-5; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Isaiah 63:9)

4. suffering is needed for maturity (cf. Hebrews 5:8)

5. we must fulfill the "birth pains" for the new age (cf. Mark 13:8)

6. Paul was refuting a Gnostic catch phrase

This term for "suffering" was never used in the NT for Christ's death on the cross. The context of Colossians 1:13-18 totally rules out #1! I like #5 best!

"the church" Ekklesia was from two Greek words, "out of" and "to call." It is used in Koine Greek to describe any kind of assembly, such as a town meeting (cf. Acts 19:32). The Church chose this term because it was used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Pentateuch, written as early as 250 B.C. for the library at Alexandria, Egypt). This term translated the Hebrew term qahal which was used in the phrase "the assembly of Israel" (cf. Numbers 20:4). The NT writers asserted that they were the "divinely called out ones" who were to be the People of God in their day. They saw no radical break between the OT People of God and themselves, the NT People of God. Believers must assert that the Church of Jesus Christ, not modern rabbinical Judaism, is the true heir of the OT Scriptures.

In Ephesians, a circular letter, the term "church" always has a universal meaning, but in Colossians it has a local meaning. The church is both corporate, referring to all of the people of God, and individual, referring to a local congregation of believers. In this text Paul is obviously referring to the universal aspect of the church. See Special Topic: Church at Colossians 1:18.

Colossians 1:25 "I was made a minister" Paul is referring to his Apostolic call to preach to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15; Acts 22:21; Acts 26:17; Romans 1:5; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:16; Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:7; Ephesians 3:1-2, Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 4:17). However, Paul viewed his calling and giftedness as a servant, a slave, a steward! In the Bible leadership is servanthood.

"according to the stewardship from God" Believers are all stewards or trustees of the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Ephesians 3:2, Ephesians 3:9; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10). Paul uses this term in several different senses.

1. an Apostolic commission to proclaim the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25)

2. an eternal plan of redemption (cf. Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:3:9; 1 Corinthians 4:1)

3. training in the plan of redemption and its accompanying lifestyle (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4)

NASB"that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God" NKJV"to fulfill the word of God" NRSV"to make the word of God fully known" TEV"fully proclaiming his message" NJB"that of completing God's message"

This is the same root term "to fill" (plçroô) used in Colossians 1:24. Paul's imprisonment and preaching were accomplishing God's purpose for the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15-16; Acts 22:21; Acts 26:17; Romans 11:13; Romans 15:16; Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:7; Ephesians 3:2, Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 4:17).

Colossians 1:26 "the mystery" See Special Topic at Ephesians 3:3.

"which has been hidden from the past ages and generations" This is a perfect passive participle, it had been and continued to be hidden by God (implication) in the past. This mystery was kept secret from (1) the Gentiles, (2) the Jews, and (3) even the angels (cf. 1 Peter 1:12). The prophets had glimpses of it, but never the full truth (cf. Hebrews 1:1). The phrase "ages and generations" was used by the Gnostics to refer to the angelic levels (aeons).

"but has now been manifested to His saints" This is an aorist passive indicative of a verb that means "to clearly reveal" or "bring to light" (cf. Colossians 1:27; Romans 3:21; Romans 16:26). That which was hidden has now been fully revealed. The gospel is clear and open to all, not just a select few! See Special Topic: Saints at Colossians 1:2.

"the riches of the glory" Paul often uses the term "riches" to describe the benefits of the gospel (cf. Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:2; Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8, Ephesians 3:16; Philippians 4:19).

"Christ in you" It is grammatically possible that this could be translated "Christ among you," which would refer to the mystery of the gospel and not the indwelling Christ. The same Greek preposition, en, is translated "among" in the preceding phrase, "among the Gentiles." This seems to fit the context best.

There is a fluidity between the work of the Son and the Spirit. G. Campbell Morgan said the best name for the Spirit is "the other Jesus." The following is an outline comparison of the work and titles of the Son and Spirit.


Colossians 1:27 "the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles" Paul has used "riches" several times to describe God's gracious acts and provision for fallen man (cf. Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:2; Romans 2:4; Romans 9:23; Romans 11:33; 2 Corinthians 8:2; Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:16).

God has always had a plan to unite Jews and Gentiles in salvation (cf. Ephesians 2:11-13). The beginnings of this plan of redemption can be seen in

1. God's promise in Genesis 3:15, which applies to all the children of Adam

2. God's call to Abraham which would bless all people (cf. Genesis 12:3)

3. God's calling a kingdom of priests to reach the world (cf. Exodus 19:5)

4. even Solomon's temple had implications for the Gentiles to repent and believe and be a part (cf. 1 Kings 8:43, 1 Kings 8:60)

5. the numerous references in the prophets (especially Isaiah) to God's universal reign and invitation to all mankind

"the hope of glory" This refers to Resurrection Day when the saints will receive their new glorified bodies (cf. 1 John 3:2). Election, justification, and sanctification will result in glorification (cf. Romans 8:29-30). See fuller note on "glory" at Ephesians 1:6.

Colossians 1:28 "We proclaim Him" Christianity is not primarily correct theology, ethical standards, or religious ritual, but a personal relationship with Jesus. Once this is established, the other aspects have their appropriate place (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

"admonishing" This word is used of "child training" in the Septuagint (cf. Job 5:17). In the NT it is used of believers exhorting each other (cf. Acts 20:31; Romans 15:14). It often carried a negative connotation of warning about inappropriate Christian behavior (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:15).

"every man" This phrase is used three times in this verse for emphasis. This inclusiveness is so different from the exclusiveness of the false teachers. The gospel is for all humanity (cf. John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

"with all wisdom" God's wisdom is so different from the exclusivism and secrecy of the false teachers' so-called knowledge.

"that we may present every man" God's goal for the church is that every believer be mature in Christ (cf. Colossians 4:12; Ephesians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Philippians 3:15). There are no special groups, ranks, gifts, knowledge, or privileges in Christ's body, just servants!

NASB"complete" NKJV, NJB"perfect" NRSV, TEV"mature"

This is the Greek term telos (also commonly used in Gnostic literature of the second century), which meant "fully equipped for an assigned task" (cf. Ephesians 4:12). It was used of

1. broken limbs being healed and becoming useful again

2. fishing nets being mended and thereby being able to catch fish

3. ships being fitted with ropes and sails for the sea

4. chickens that had grown large enough to be taken to market. It does not imply sinlessness, but functional maturity

Colossians 1:29 "I labor, striving" These same two strong Greek terms are used together in 1 Timothy 4:10 to describe Paul's ministry.

"struggling" This is a Present middle (deponent) participle. This is either an athletic term (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7) or a military term (cf. Colossians 2:1; John 18:36). We get the English term "agony" from this Greek root. Church work is not easy!

"His power, which mightily works within me" This is a present middle participle. It is God's power, not the believer's, that "energizes" all ministry (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:0; Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:7, Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:12) This noun and participle are from the same Greek root which means, "His energy energizes me."

Verses 6-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 2:6-7 6Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

Colossians 2:6 "as you therefore have received Christ" The verb used here (paralambanô, aorist active indicative) has two connotations.

1. the welcoming of a person (cf. Matthew 1:20; John 1:11; John 14:3

2. the receiving of "tradition" (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:1, 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:9, Galatians 1:12; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6)

The Colossians heard the content of the gospel through Epaphras' preaching; then they personally welcomed the Person of the gospel (John 1:12). Biblical faith is a covenant. God sets the agenda and makes the first contact (cf. John 6:44, John 6:65), but individuals must respond by repentance, faith, obedience, and perseverance (Colossians 2:6)! The false teachers' message distorted the theology of both the content and the Person of the gospel.

"Christ Jesus the Lord" "Jesus is Lord" was the early church's public profession of faith at baptism (cf. Romans 10:9-13; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 2:11). It was an affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the OT Messiah and incarnation of Deity (cf. Philippians 2:6-11).

"so walk in Him" This is a present active imperative. Christianity is not a theological creed only; it is also a lifestyle of faith ("walk" cf. Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2, Ephesians 5:15). Salvation is not a product believers possess but a person who possesses them! Paul here focuses on the personal aspect of the Christian faith as does the Gospel of John (cf. John 1:12; John 3:16; John 6:40; John 11:25-26).

Colossians 2:7 This verse contains four participles (used as imperatives) which describe the worthy walk (cf. Colossians 2:6):

1. "having been firmly rooted" This is perfect passive which is an accomplished state of being produced by God. This agricultural metaphorical expression was unique to Col. and Eph.(cf. Colossians 3:17).

2. "being built up in Him" This is present passive which is an ongoing process produced by God. Paul often used this construction metaphor to describe the people of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 2:20, Ephesians 2:22). It might refer to the saints as a temple (individually, 1 Corinthians 6:19 and corporately, 1 Corinthians 3:16).

3. "established in your faith" This is another present passive which is an ongoing process produced by God. The noun ("confirmation") is found in Philippians 1:7; and Hebrews 6:16. The verb implies "to confirm" (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:6, 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 1:21), "to strengthen," and "to verify" often by argument (cf. Romans 15:8, 1 Corinthians 1:8).

The phrase "in your faith" can be understood as (1) subjective faith, trusting in Christ or (2) objective faith, the doctrines about Christ (cf. Jude 1:3, Jude 1:20).

4. "overflowing with gratitude" This is a present active which is an ongoing process produced by God. The Christian life is a life of thanksgiving to God for His grace in Christ. This is expressed by joyful obedience and perseverance! To know the gospel is to rejoice with inexpressible joy (cf. Colossians 1:12) and to live appropriately (cf. Colossians 1:10-11) with thanksgiving (cf. Colossians 3:17). See Special Topic: Abound (Perisseuô) at Ephesians 1:8.

Verses 8-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 2:8-15 8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Colossians 2:8-15 This is one long sentence, one sustained presentation in Greek.

Colossians 2:8

NASB, NRSV, TEV"see to it" NKJV"beware" NJB"make sure"

This is a present active imperative . Christians must continue to guard their freedom in Christ from false teachers while yielding it to weaker brothers (cf. Romans 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 8:0; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33). It is often difficult to tell the difference between these two groups. False teachers pervert truth, while weak brothers advocate personal preferences.

"that no one takes you captive" This is a negative present active participle. This strong Greek term, used only here in the NT, meant (1) to kidnap, (2) to seduce (2 Timothy 3:6), or (3) to take as a slave. False teachers always want control!

"through philosophy" This is not a condemnation of human rational thinking. Humans are created in the image of God and must worship Him with their entire being, including their minds (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:27). This is the rejection of the speculative philosophy/theology of false teachers (cf. Colossians 2:23; 1 Corinthians 1:26-8; Ephesians 4:13; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Timothy 6:20).

"empty deceptions" This term can be translated "deceit, deception, or delusion" (cf. Matthew 13:22; Ephesians 4:22; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; Hebrews 3:13). False teachers are often sincere, but deceived!

"according to" This is the Greek term kata. It is repeated three times to define "philosophy and empty deception":

1. "to the traditions of men" So much of human's religiosity is cultural, not biblical (cf. Isaiah 29:13; Colossians 2:23). Often we pass on what we have received without checking the Bible for ourselves!

2. "not according to Christ" It is based on human reasoning, experience, or speculation.

3. "the elementary principles" Most words develop from a literal, physical sense to a metaphorical extension. This term (stoicheia) originally referred to something in a row, a series. It developed into several connotations:

a. The basic physical building blocks of the world (air, water, earth, and fire, cf. 2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12).

b. The basic teachings of a subject (cf. Hebrews 5:12; Hebrews 6:1 for Judaism).

c. The angelic powers behind the heavenly bodies (cf. I Enoch 52:8-9; the early church fathers; Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 15:24) or the angelic ranks (aeons) of the Gnostic false teachers (cf. Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 3:10).

d. Angels hostile to mankind who tried to stop the giving of the Law to Moses (cf. Acts 7:38; Hebrews 2:2)

e. Possibly the impersonal structures of our fallen world that allow fallen mankind to appear independent from God (education, government, medicine, religion, etc. (cf. Galatians 4:3, Galatians 4:8-9 and Hendrik Berkhof's Christ and the Powers by Herald Press, p. 32).

"rather than according to Christ" This was the third use of kata. The problem with the world's philosophy is that it defines truth by a standard other than God's revelation, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is human discovery, not divine revelation.

Colossians 2:9 "in Him" This phrase is in an emphatic position. "In Him" was a key phrase in Paul's theology ("in whom" Colossians 2:3; " in Christ" Colossians 2:5; "in Him" Colossians 2:6, Colossians 2:9, Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:11; "with Him" Colossians 2:12, Colossians 2:13). Notice, also, Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:12, Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14). Paul returns again to Christology as he did in Colossians 1:15-20. This is the main issue and the main issue is a person!

"all the fullness of Deity" This dual aspect of Christ's nature refuted the false teachers, (cf. Colossians 1:15-20). They agreed that He was fully God, but denied that He was fully human (cf. Colossians 2:1 and 4:1-3). The term "fullness" (plçrôma) was a Gnostic term for the angelic levels (aeons) between a high good god and evil matter (cf. John 1:16, Colossians 1:19, Ephesians 1:23, Ephesians 1:3:19; Ephesians 4:13).

This abstract term for "deity" (theotâs) is only used here in the NT. Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God, not the angelic levels (aeons) or the false teachers' secret knowledge. It is possible that this was one of the Gnostic teachers' key terms. Paul often uses their terminology to describe Christ.

"dwells" This is a present active indicative. Some of the Gnostic false teachers believed that the "Christ spirit" came upon Jesus for a limited period. This verse asserts that Jesus' two natures were in permanent union.

"in bodily form" This was a truth that Gnosticism could not affirm because of their Greek dualism between a good god and evil matter. It is crucial in Christianity (cf. 1 John 4:1-3).

Colossians 2:10 "you have been made complete" This is a perfect passive participle of plerôma (cf. Colossians 2:9; John 1:16; Ephesians 3:19). The Christian has been and continues to be filled by Him and for Him! Jesus has made us complete!

"He is the head over all rule and authority" This refers to the Gnostic false teachers' view of salvation. For them salvation consisted in secret knowledge ( a password or secret name) which allowed them to move through the angelic spheres between matter (world) and spirit (God, cf. Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12). Paul asserted that salvation is in Christ. He is the head of all angelic/demonic realms (cf. Romans 8:38-39)! See Special Topic: Angels in Paul's Writings at Ephesians 6:12.

George Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament, has an interesting paragraph about Paul's terminology:

"A study of the language Paul uses to designate these angelic spirits suggests that Paul deliberately employed a vague and varied terminology. This is seen particularly in his alternation between the singular and the plural forms of several of the words. It is impossible successfully to group this terminology into clearly defined orders of angelic beings, nor is it at all clear that by the various words Paul purposes to designate different kinds or ranks of angels. Probably Paul was facing views that elaborated distinct orders of angels, and he purposed by his exceedingly flexible language, which may almost be called symbolic, to assert that all evil powers, whatever they may be, whether personal or impersonal, have been brought into subordination by the death and exaltation of Christ and will eventually be destroyed through his messianic reign"(p. 402).

For "authority" see Special Topic at Colossians 1:16.

Colossians 2:11 "you were circumcised with a circumcision" Paul is using the OT covenant sign (cf. Genesis 12:8-14) in a spiritual sense (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3). This must be figurative language or else the false teachers had some Judaistic tendencies. There is so much that is unknown and uncertain about the heretical groups of the NT. In some ways these false teachers are a combination of Greek Gnosticism and Jewish legalism (cf. Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:16, Colossians 2:18). The commentator Lightfoot asserted they were similar to the Essenes (the Dead Sea Scrolls community which was a separatist group of sectarian Jews of the first century who lived in the desert).

"a circumcision made without hands" This is a metaphorical use of circumcision as the covenant sign in the OT. The "new" circumcision is a new heart and a new relationship with God through Christ (cf. Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3). Even in the OT when the new covenant is discussed (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-38), circumcision was never even mentioned, much less emphasized.

"the removal of the body of the flesh" This refers to the old fallen nature, not the physical body (cf. Romans 6:6; Romans 7:24; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:5).

Colossians 2:12 "having been buried with Him in baptism" This is an aorist passive participle of a syn compound which means "co-buried." This is the metaphor of baptism as immersion analogous to burial (cf. Romans 6:4). As believers share Jesus' sufferings, death, and burial, they will also share His resurrection and glory (cf. Colossians 2:12b; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 2:5-6).

For Paul baptism was a way of asserting death to the old life (old man) and the freedom of the new life (new creature, cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) to serve God (cf. Romans 6:2-14; 1 Peter 2:24).

"you were also raised up with Him" This compound with syn is parallel to "having been buried" (cf. Colossians 2:13; Colossians 3:1; Romans 6:4-5; Ephesians 2:6). Believers' burial and resurrection are linked as two sides of a complete event. They were "co-buried" and "co-raised" in Ephesians 2:5-6, also, using syn compounds, which meant "joint participation with."

"who raised Him from the dead" Jesus is the first-fruit of the Resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23). The Spirit that raised Him will also raise believers (cf. Romans 8:10-11, Romans 8:23).

This phrase is an excellent opportunity to show that the NT often attributes the works of redemption to all three persons of the Godhead.

1. God the Father raised Jesus (cf. Acts 2:24; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:30; Acts 10:40; Acts 13:30, Acts 13:33, Acts 13:34, Acts 13:37; Acts 17:31; Romans 6:4, Romans 6:9)

2. God the Son raised Himself (cf. John 2:19-22; John 10:17-18)

3. God the Spirit raised Jesus (cf. Romans 8:11)

This same Trinitarian emphasis can be seen in Colossians 2:9-10.

Colossians 2:13 "When you were dead" This is a present participle meaning "being dead." This reflects the results of the Fall-spiritual death (cf. Genesis 3:0; Romans 5:12-21; Ephesians 2:1-3). Gentiles were sinners cut off from the covenant people (cf. Ephesians 2:11-12). The Bible speaks of three stages of death.

1. spiritual death (cf. Genesis 3:0; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 7:10-11; Ephesians 2:1; James 1:15)

2. physical death, (cf. Genesis 5:0)

3. eternal death, "the second death," "the lake of fire" (cf. Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6, Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8)

"uncircumcision of your flesh" This was a way of referring to Gentiles (cf. Colossians 2:11).

"He" This must refer to the Father. If so, the pronouns through Colossians 2:15 refer to the Father.

"made you live together with Him," There are three syn compounds in Colossians 2:12-13 (co-buried, Colossians 2:12; co-raised, Colossians 2:12; and co-quickened, Colossians 2:13) which show what had already happened to believers spiritually (aorists). This is very similar to Ephesians 2:5-6. In Ephesians God has acted on behalf of Jesus in Ephesians 1:20 and Jesus has acted on behalf of believers in Ephesians 2:5-6.

"having forgiven us all our transgressions" This is an aorist (deponent) middle participle. "Forgiven" is from the same word root as "grace" (cf. Romans 5:15, Romans 5:16; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). Notice God freely forgives "all" sin through Christ (except unbelief)!

Colossians 2:14

NASB"having canceled out the certificate of debt" NKJV"having wiped out the handwriting of requirements" NRSV"erasing the record" TEV"canceled the unfavorable record of our debts" NJB"He has wiped out the record of our debt to the Law"

This rather cryptic language probably relates somehow to the false teachers. It refers to the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Ephesians 2:15, which could be characterized as "do and live"- "sin and die" (cf. Deuteronomy 27:26; Ezekiel 18:4). Paul clearly teaches the sinfulness of all mankind (cf. Romans 3:9, Romans 3:19, Romans 3:23; Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22). Therefore, the OT became a death sentence to all mankind!

The term "certificate" was used of (1) a signed IOU, (2) a signed confession, and (3) a legal indictment. The OT was a curse! This Greek term comes into English as "autograph" (self written).

"He has taken it out of the way" This is a perfect active indicative. This same verb is used in John 1:29 and 1 John 3:5 to refer to the removal of sins. Jesus lived under and fulfilled the Mosaic covenant's requirements. He performed what sinful, fallen mankind could not do. His death was, therefore, not for personal sin, but He became a perfect sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 1-7) for sin. He became "cursed" (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23) that mankind might be delivered from the curse of the Law (cf. Galatians 3:13)!

"nailing it to the cross" This referred to either (1) a public notice or (2) the charges placed over a crucified person. The cross (Jesus' death) overcame the Law's hostility (OT decrees, cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Colossians 2:15

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"disarmed" TEV"freed" NJB"stripped"

This is a rare term, an aorist middle (deponent) participle. Its basic etymology was to take off clothing. It seems to have meant "to strip away from." It referred to taking weapons from dead soldiers (cf. Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 82. In this context it relates deity's (the Father and the Son) destruction of the powers of the spiritual realm that was hostile to mankind. The believer's victory is of God through Christ and by the Spirit.

If this rare verb is interpreted as middle voice then the TEV expresses the thought "freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers." If it is interpreted as active voice then "He disarmed the rulers" (cf. NASB, NKJV, NRSV).

"the rulers and authorities" These terms were used by the Gnostics (false teachers) for the angelic levels (aeons, cf. Colossians 2:10; Ephesians 1:21, Ephesians 1:3:10; Ephesians 6:11-12; Romans 8:38-39; 1 Corinthians 15:24). See Special Topics at Colossians 1:16 and Ephesians 6:12.

NASB"He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him" NKJV"He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" NRSV"made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it" TEV"he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession." NJB"and paraded them in public, behind him in his triumphal procession"

The historical background to this was a triumphal parade into Rome for a victorious general (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14). The captives were marched behind him in chains. By His death on the cross and His resurrection Jesus overcame (1) the curse of the Law and (2) the hostile angelic powers.

As is obvious from the modern translations that the pronoun at the end of the verse can be understood in two related ways: (1) to Christ or (2) to the cross. It is neuter and most translations relate it to Christ's victory over evil by means of His sacrificial death.


"public display" See Special Topic below, second paragraph.


Verses 16-19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 2:16-19 16Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day- 17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

Colossians 2:16-23 Verses 16-23 are the strongest condemnations of religious legalism in Paul's writings. When Paul was dealing with "weak" believers he was gentle (cf. Romans 14:1-13; Romans 1:0 Cor. 8-10), but when he was addressing religious self-righteous legalists (i.e., false teachers) he was uncompromising. This self-righteousness was what brought such condemnation from Jesus on the Pharisees and Scribes. Paul knew well performance-oriented religion. His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:0) changed everything!

There were two types of Gnostic false teachers: (1) salvation is through secret knowledge and, therefore, it does not matter how you live (antinomian libertines) and (2) salvation through secret knowledge plus a very restricted lifestyle (legalists).

Colossians 2:16

NASB"let no one act as your judge" NKJV"let no one judge you" NRSV"do not let anyone condemn you" TEV"let no one make rules" NJB"never let anyone criticize you"

This is a present imperative with the negative particle, which meant to stop an act already in process. This referred to (1) matters of food (cf. 1 Timothy 4:3); (2) special days (cf. Romans 14:5; Galatians 4:10); or (3) the worship of these angelic levels (cf. Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:20). There is an obvious parallel between Colossians 2:16 ("act as your judge") and Colossians 2:18 (act as "umpire"). Be careful of religious legalism whether Jewish, Greek, or modern.


Colossians 2:17

NASB, NRSV"but the substance belongs to Christ" NKJV"but the substance is of Christ" TEV"the reality is Christ" NJB"the reality is the body of Christ"

There is a contrast between "shadow" (skia, Colossians 2:17a) and "substance" (sôma, lit. "body," Colossians 2:17b). Religious ritual, devotion, and special days of worship are not bad in themselves unless they become ultimate issues. Christ, not human performance in any area, is the focus of the gospel.

Paul saw the religious ritualism and required religious performance of the false teachers as a mere shadow of real spirituality. The interpretive question is what does "the body of Christ" mean? The two main theories are: (1) Philo of Alexandria and Josephus interpret "body" in the sense of "substance" (NASB, NKJV) or "reality" (TEV), "true spirituality in Christ" or (2) true spirituality is manifested in the Church which is Christ's body (NJB, cf. Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Corinthians 12:27).

The author of Hebrews also used the term "shadow" (skia, Colossians 2:17a) to compare the Mosaic covenant to the new covenant in Christ (cf. Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 10:1).

Colossians 2:18

NASB"Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize" NKJV"Let no one defraud you of your reward" NRSV"Do not let anyone disqualify you" TEV"Do not allow yourselves to be condemned by anyone" NJB"Do not be cheated of your prize by anyone"

This is a present imperative with negative particle, which meant to stop an act already in process. This term is used only here in the NT. This is one of Paul's athletic metaphors for the Christian life (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24, 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 2:2; Philippians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:7). Believers must not let legalists act as umpires robbing them of their freedom in Christ (cf. Romans 14:1-13; Romans 1:0 Corinthians 10-12. The Williams translation of the NT catches the athletic thrust, translating this "defraud you as an umpire"). The "prize" is true freedom in Christ (cf. Galatians 2:4; Galatians 5:1, Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 2:16)! Freedom to serve God, not self. Freedom from past fears and taboos, freedom from, not freedom to (Romans 6:0)!

NASB"delighting in self-abasement" NKJV"taking delight in false humility" NRSV"insisting on self-abasement" TEV"insist on false humility" NJB"who chooses to grovel to angels"

This phrase is theologically related to Colossians 2:23. In the ancient Greco-Roman world asceticism was seen as religious devotion. This was part of the Gnostic depreciation of the physical. For them, and Greek thought in general, the body was evil. Therefore, to deny the body was a sign of spirituality. This view is still alive in the church!

This Greek word, translated by NASB as "self-abasement," means "lowliness," "modesty," "humility" and is not a negative term in the NT. Paul used it in a positive sense in Acts 20:19; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12. It is the motive that turns it into a spiritual charade!

"and the worship of the angels" This obviously refers to the Gnostic angelic levels (cf. Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:15). It is also possible that this related to a Jewish theological obsession with the angelic realm. The "New Age" movement in our own day seems to be headed in this direction. Angels are "ministering spirits" for redeemed humanity (cf. Hebrews 2:14).

"taking his stand" This term was used of initiates into the Mystery religions (cf. Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, p. 206). It refers to the so-called secret revelations or passwords of the Gnostics which they thought brought salvation through the angelic spheres so as to reach the presence of the high, holy god.

"on visions he has seen" This possibly refers to the false teachers' claims of special revelations. The King James Version adds a negative, making the verse imply what they had not seen but only claimed to have seen. This, however, is a later scribal addition to the manuscripts א2 and D2. The ancient Greek manuscripts P46, א*, A, B, and D* do not have the negative. The UBS4 rates the shorter text as "B" (almost certain).

"inflated without cause" This is a Present passive participle. Literally it means "in vain puffed up." Paul uses this term often in his first letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 4:18, 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 13:4). The unexpressed agent of the passive voice was their own fallen minds. Unbelievers and false teachers are often sincere and enthusiastic.

"by his fleshly mind" For Paul there is an obvious dichotomy between the thinking of the fallen world and the Christian. Believers have received the mind of Christ which is in conflict with the mind-set of a world operating and functioning apart from God (cf. Colossians 1:21; Romans 7:22-23; Romans 8:5-7; Romans 11:34; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 4:17-23). See Special Topic: Flesh (sarx) at Colossians 1:22.

These legalistic religionists are to be rejected for three reasons.

1. their insights are mere shadows of reality (Colossians 2:17)

2. their visions are false because they are informed by a fleshly mind (Colossians 2:18)

3. they have stopped holding on to Christ (Colossians 2:19)

Legalistic false teachers are still with us! Beware! Be informed!

Colossians 2:19 Paul again stressed the major truth of fallen mankind's need for a relationship with Christ (individual) and also with His body, the church (corporate, cf. Colossians 2:8; Ephesians 4:16). We need salvation from sin and wisdom from God on how to live. Christ provides both!

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"not holding fast to the Head" TEV"have stopped holding on to Christ" NJB"has no connection to the Head"

This is a negated present active participle. The implication is that at one time the false teachers were holding on to Christ. This can be understood in several ways.

1. they were like the two seeds in the Parable of the Sower (cf. Matthew 13:20-23) that germinated but fell away and did not bear fruit

2. they were like "the believers" of John 8:31-59 who turned against Jesus

3. like the church members who left in 1 John 2:18-19

4. they were like the believers in the church of Ephesus who abandoned their "first love" (cf. Revelation 2:4)

"the Head" Paul often uses the analogy of the people of God as a body (cf. Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Corinthians 12:14, 1 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 4:4, Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 3:15), but it is only in Ephesians (Colossians 1:22; Colossians 4:15; 5:23) and Colossians (Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19) that Christ is specifically identified as "the Head" (see Special Topic: Head at Ephesians 5:23).

This whole verse speaks of Christ as the indispensable founder, leader and sustainer of the Church.

Verses 20-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Colossians 2:20-4 20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21"Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with using)- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. 3:1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Colossians 2:20 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which was assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Believers are united with Christ and should be separated from the powers and structures of this fallen world system.

"you have died" This is an aorist active indicative. This death is symbolized in baptism (cf. Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:4), and is an image of the believer's death to the old life and the resurrection to the new life of God-eternal life. Baptism, like circumcision, is an outward sign of an inner spiritual reality (cf. Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:13).

Daily death to personal ambition and personal preferences is a mandate of effective ministry (cf. Romans 6:7; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 3:16). However, this is not a legalism of rules, but a freedom from the tyranny of the fallen self! Daily spiritual death to self brings true life!

"with Christ" This is another use of the Greek preposition syn, which means joint participation with. These three grammatical features: (1) syn compounds; (2) the aorist tenses of Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:12, Colossians 2:13, Colossians 2:15, Colossians 2:20; and (3) the first class conditional sentence of Colossians 2:20 show what believers already are in Christ!

NASB"to the elementary principles of the world" NKJV"from the basic principles of the world" NRSV"to the elemental spirits of the universe" TEV"from the ruling spirits of the universe" NJB"to the principles of this world"

This term (stoicheia) is defined as

1. fundamental principles (cf. Hebrews 5:12. Hebrews 5:6:1)

2. basic elements of the world, such as earth, wind, water or fire (cf. 2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12)

3. elementary spirits, (cf. Galatians 4:3, Galatians 4:8-9; Colossians 2:8; Ephesians 6:10-12)

4. heavenly bodies (cf. Enoch 52:9-10 and the early church fathers who thought it referred to the seven planetary spheres, cf. Baur, Arnt, Ginrich, Danker's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 776)

The basic etymology was "something in a series" or "row." See note at Colossians 2:8.

Paul viewed life as a spiritual struggle (cf. Ephesians 2:2-3; Ephesians 6:10-18). Humans were beset by evil from within (a fallen nature, cf. Genesis 3:0), by a fallen world system (cf. Genesis 3:0) and by personal evil (Satan, the demonic and the stoicheia).

James Stewart's, A Man in Christ, has an interesting comment:

"Sin was not something a man did: it was something that took possession of him, something the man was, something that turned him into an open enemy of the God who loved him. It brought outward penalties: 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' But far more appalling than these were its inward results. It tormented the conscience: 'O wretched man that I am!' It brought the will into abject slavery: 'the good that I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.' It destroyed fellowship with God: men were 'alienated,' 'without God in the world.' It hardened the heart, and blinded the judgment, and warped the moral sense: 'God gave them over to a reprobate mind.' It destroyed life itself: 'the wages of sin is death.'

Such is the apostle's estimate of sin's overwhelming gravity. And through it all, even where sin is regarded as an external force waiting to take advantage of human nature in its frailty, he will allow no blurring of the fact of personal accountability. Principalities and powers may lie in wait, but in the last resort man's is the choice, man's the responsibility, and man's the doom" (pp. 106-107).

For "world" see Special Topic: Paul's Use of Kosmos at Colossians 1:6.

"decrees" This term has the same root as Colossians 2:14. Christ did not release believers from the Mosaic Law to become entangled again in Gnostic rules or any humanly mandated requirements. Oh, the freedom believers have in Christ! Oh, the pain of well-intended religious legalists!

Colossians 2:21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" This series has no verbs and no connectors, which makes it emphatic! It may have been a slogan of the false teachers. These are examples of human religious rules which did not bring true righteousness. Humans have always had an ascetic, legalistic tendency (cf. Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:10-12; Mark 7:19; Romans 14:17, Romans 14:21), but it is a hollow religion of self effort, self glory and self sufficiency (cf. Colossians 2:22-23).

Colossians 2:22 "(which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)" In Matthew 15:7-20 and Mark 7:6-23 Jesus discusses this same type of issue in relation to the food laws of Leviticus 11:0.

"perish" See Special Topic below.


Colossians 2:23 "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and the severe treatment of the body" This was Jesus' condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. Isaiah 29:13).

Paul describes the false teachers religious practices by three terms:

1. NASB "self-made religion"

NKJV "self-imposed religion"

NRSV "self-imposed deity"

TEV "forced worship of angels"

NJB "The cultivation of the will"

This term is used only here in the NT. It may have been coined by Paul or earlier Christians. The NASB seems to have caught the essence of the term, "self-made religion." TEV assumes that it reflects Colossians 2:18.

2. NASB "self-abasement"

NKJV, TEV "false humility"

NRSV "humility"

NJB (combines the second and third terms)

This same Greek word is used in Colossians 2:18. Literally it means "humility," but the context favors the NKJV and TEV translation.


TEV "severe treatment of the body"

NKJV "neglect of the body"

NJB "a humility which takes no account of the body"

This reflects the ascetic religious view that to deny one's bodily needs showed or developed religious piety. Examples are (1) denying the body food; (2) celibacy; (3) lack of clothing in winter, etc. This followed the Greek view that the body (matter) was evil.


Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Colossians 2". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/colossians-2.html. 2021.
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