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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Colossians 2

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Colossians 2:2. Read mg. There is probably a controversial reference in what follows. The Divine secret or "mystery" and the treasures of "hidden" knowledge are to be found in Christ, and not in Gnostic speculations.


Verses 1-3

Colossians 1:24 to Colossians 2:3. Paul's own Relation to them and to the Gospel.—At this very time, in the midst of his sufferings, Paul is rejoicing for their sakes, and in return for their loyalty he fills up the cup of whatever tribulation he must still endure in his own person as Christ's servant on behalf of His body, i.e. the Church, whose servant he was constituted in virtue of the Divine stewardship which was given him toward the Gentile world. This is the duty of fulfilling God's word—that secret purpose long hidden from ages and generations, but now disclosed to His holy people, to whom God desired to make known how rich was the glory of this purpose amongst the Gentiles; to wit, Christ in them, the hope of glory. Christ is the subject of the preaching at least of Paul and of his associates: and their admonitions and teachings, moreover, are addressed to all men equally; there is no reserve of wisdom held back for a favoured few; their object is the presentation of all men equally as complete initiates in Christ. To that end Paul labours even to weariness, striving, like an athlete in the arena, up to the full measure of the mightily-working energy of Christ that is in him. He is anxious that they should realise how great is the stress which he is undergoing on behalf of Colossians and Laodiceans and others not personally known to him. May they be comforted, knit together in love, unto all wealth of fulness of understanding and knowledge of the Divine "mystery," viz. Christ, in whom are all God's treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.

Colossians 1:24. fill up on my part: the word means "fill up in return."—afflictions of Christ: probably "afflictions which befall me as a follower of Christ" (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 4:10, Philippians 3:10). Perhaps, however, Paul regards Christ's own personal sufferings as incomplete, and holds that the tale of them is made up through the sufferings of himself and others in the Body mystical.

Colossians 1:26. Cf. Ephesians 3:9.

Colossians 1:27 b. The indwelling Christ is both a present glory and a pledge of glory to come. The sense of "in you" should not be watered down to "amongst you" or "in your midst."

Colossians 1:28. we proclaim: "we" is emphatic. A contrast is suggested between the teaching of the Pauline mission and that of the new Colossian pundits. The thrice-repeated "every man" has the same implication, and so also the phrase "all wisdom." The word "perfect" is such as would be used of complete initiation in a pagan "Mystery." Here this suggestion is combined with that of ethical "perfection" and spiritual maturity.


Verses 4-23

Colossians 2:4-23. An Urgent Warning against a Degrading Theosophy.—Let them not be led away by false reasonings, however persuasive. They must think of Paul, despite his bodily absence, as being with them in spirit (1 Corinthians 5:3 f.*), as a sharer of their joy, and a spectator of the ordered line and steadfast front of their loyalty to Christ. As, then, they received the Messiah, Jesus the Lord, so let them walk in Him, true to the instruction they received, rooted and built up in Him, strong in loyalty, overflowing in thanks-giving. Let them, even so, be on their guard against the very real danger that some person may make a prey of them by means of a philosophy which is mere empty deceit, based not upon Christ, but on human tradition and the doctrine of elemental spirits. The truth is that the entire "fulness" of the Godhead resides concretely embodied in Christ. To Him as head every "rule" and "authority" is subordinate, and it is in Him that they were circumcised—with a circumcision not wrought by hands—when they stripped off the body of fleshliness in the circumcision-rite of Christ, namely, their burial with Him in baptism; just as in Him and with Him they were also raised, through faith in God's working who raised Him from the dead. Them also, (spiritually) dead by reason of their trespasses and the "uncircumcision" of their fleshly state, God brought to life with the bringing to life of Christ, when He forgave us all our trespasses, cancelling the score against us arising from the decrees (of the broken Law). God has taken away the score from between us and Him, and nailed it to Christ's Cross. The "rulers" and "authorities" He thereby stripped (of their usurped dominion), openly stigmatising them and leading them vanquished in the triumph-train of Christ.

The Colossians must not, therefore, allow themselves to be criticised on the basis of religious rules about food and drink, festivals and Sabbaths—such things only had a value as foreshadowings of Christ; His is the substance to which they pointed. No one must be allowed to pronounce a condemnation against them, wishing . . . on the score of humility or a cultus of the angels, "taking his stand upon" what he has "beheld" (in some mystic initiation?), being in fact puffed up without justification by a mind dominated by his own fleshly nature, and so failing to hold fast the Head, in dependence on whom the body as a whole, supplied and united through joints and ligaments, grows with the growth that is of God.

The death they died with Christ set them free from subjection to elemental spirits. Why, then, as if living still in the order of this present world, are they subjected to prohibitions—based on mere human teachings and commandments—as to what they may handle, touch, or taste, of things that perish in their very use (and therefore cannot, in the nature of the case, be of permanent spiritual significance)? Religious usages of this kind carry with them, no doubt, a reputation for wisdom, on the score of self-imposed devotions, humility, and bodily asceticism . . . not in any honour . . . with a view to the indulgence of the flesh.

Colossians 2:5. order and steadfastness are apparently military metaphors.

Colossians 2:8. The word translated "rudiments" (stoicheia) means (a) letters of the alphabet, (b) the physical "elements," (c) the "elements" of knowledge. Here and in Galatians 4:3* it is often taken as = "a mere ABC of religious knowledge." More probably Paul is attacking in both passages a belief in elemental spirits of the Cosmos. Heathen mythology regarded the stars as animated by astral spirits, and late Jewish belief knew of "Holy Ones above" and angelic "Powers" ruling "on the earth" and "over the water."

Colossians 2:9. all the fulness: the completeness of the Divine Being—resides for Paul in Christ bodily, i.e. in concrete actuality, and the cultus of angelic powers is thereby excluded: He is in fact the "Head" of all such. [The Divine fulness is not split up and distributed among a number of angels, but exists indivisibly in Christ as an organic whole.—A. S. P.]

Colossians 2:11 f. in whom . . . in baptism: cf. Ephesians 2:11. The Christian form of circumcision is for Paul an ethical and spiritual renewal—a "putting off of the body of the flesh," i.e. the abandonment of the fleshly life—which is mediated, not by a literal surgical mutilation, but by baptism, its Christian analogue (cf. Romans 6:3 f.).

Colossians 2:13. Cf. Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5.

Colossians 2:14. the bond: the word means a written document; commonly it is here taken to mean the Jewish Law (cf. Ephesians 2:15). But it seems rather to denote the written record of our transgressions, an indictment based upon the "ordinances" of the broken Law of God, which "told heavily against us" until cancelled in virtue of the Cross. The commercial metaphor (cancelling of a debt) as applied to the Atonement thus seems to go back to Paul (cf. Matthew 18:23 ff.).—out of the way: render "out of the midst."

Colossians 2:15. put off from himself: translate, "He stripped" or "despoiled." The subject of the verbs throughout the passage is God, not Christ; and the "principalities and powers" are identical with the "rudiments of the world" in Colossians 2:8. They have no rightful title to human worship, and the "decisive battle" of Calvary meant the end of their dominion (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:20 f.). The writings of the Apologists (e.g. Justin Martyr) make it plain that the evident power of Christianity to deliver men from servitude to "demons" was one main source of the strength of its appeal in early times. Cf. Edghill, The Revelation of the Son of God, pp. 70ff.—in it: translate "in him."

Colossians 2:17. A shadow is cast by a body and therefore implies that there is a body; but the body belongs to Christ."—the things to come: i.e. the new Messianic régime, which was future from the point of view of Judaism, but is now present; the significance of "foreshadowings," e.g. the religious usages of Jewish and pagan asceticism, is, therefore, at an end.

Colossians 2:18. rob you of your prize: the verb means to decide against a competitor in the games, and should here be translated "give judgment against you."—voluntary humility: the Greek is really untranslatable, and it is best to assume that there is a lacuna in the text, and that some word or words with the general meaning "to gain a reputation for spirituality" have dropped out after the word "wishing."—dwelling in . . . seen: see the paraphrase. There may be a reference to the secret spectacle of some sacred drama revealed to initiates in a quasi-pagan "Mystery." The word translated "taking his stand upon" (mg.) has been shown to be a technical word for "entering upon" the higher initiation in the Mysteries at Klaros in Phrygia. (See W. M. Ramsay, The Teaching of S. Paul, pp. 288ff.) But the text may be corrupt; various emendations have been proposed.

Colossians 2:19. Cf. Ephesians 2:21.

Colossians 2:23. but are not . . . flesh: it is very doubtful whether this meaning can really be got out of the Greek, and it appears more reasonable to assume a corruption of the text. The general sense is perhaps a warning that ill-judged asceticism may lead to over-indulgence by way of reaction. For Paul himself as an ascetic, see 1 Corinthians 9:27.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Colossians 2:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/colossians-2.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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