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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Colossians 2

 

 

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Verses 1-3

Colossians 2:1-3. I would, &c. — The apostle having declared, in the latter part of the preceding chapter, the commission which Christ had given to his apostles to preach salvation to the Gentiles through his death, and having described his own labours as an apostle in preaching that great blessing, and thereby having shown what great obligations mankind were under to him for communicating and perpetuating such interesting discoveries; he begins this second chapter with expressing an earnest desire that the Colossians knew what a great concern he was under for their establishment in grace, and that of others, to whom he had not personally ministered. That ye knew what great conflict — Of care, desire, prayer; I have — The original expression is taken from the athletic exercises of the Greeks, and expresses the great solicitude, or agony of mind, the apostle was in on their account. For you — Not only for the members of such churches as I myself have been the instrument of planting, and among whom I have exercised my ministry in person, but for those among whom I have not so ministered; and for them at Laodicea, and as many as have not seen my face, &c. — For my concern for the spread of the gospel, and the salvation of the heathen, is influenced, not by considerations of personal friendship for those whom I particularly know and love, but by a benevolent regard for the good of mankind in general, known or unknown, that they may receive and retain this glorious revelation, and have it delivered to them with all possible advantage. It appears to have grieved the apostle to think how incapable he was rendered of serving them otherwise than by his letters and prayers. And should not this language inspire every minister who reads this, with an earnest desire to use his liberty to the best of purposes, and to exert himself as much as, under such confinement, he would wish he had done? That their hearts may be comforted — With the consolations of the Holy Ghost, and animated to every holy affection and beneficent action. This the original word implies, signifying, not only to have consolation administered under affliction, but to be quickened and excited to zeal and diligence; being knit together — συμβιβασθεντων, compacted; in mutual Christian love — To the whole body, and to Christ the head of it; unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding — That is, unto the fullest and clearest knowledge of the gospel, here termed the mystery of God, even of the Father, and of Christ, in whom — Or in which mystery, (as may be intended,) and not in any or all of the heathen mysteries; are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge — Christ being himself the wisdom of God incarnate, and his gospel the most perfect and glorious revelation which God ever made, or will make to mankind.


Verse 4-5

Colossians 2:4-5. And this, I say — Concerning the perfection of Christ and his gospel, and the treasures of wisdom and knowledge contained therein; lest any man should beguile you (see the margin) with enticing words — Of human philosophy, and science falsely so called, and should draw you off from a proper attachment to the truth as it is in Jesus. For though I be absent from you in body, yet I am with you in the spirit — The apostle not only seems to mean that his heart was much interested in all their concerns, but that God now, by the revelation of his Spirit, gave him a particular view of their circumstances, as he gave Elisha to see Gehazi running after Naaman, and receiving a present from him, 2 Kings 5:25-26. Not that there is any reason to suppose that either the apostle or Elisha possessed any permanent gift, whereby they had the knowledge of all the things done in their absence by those in whose conduct they were particularly concerned. The anxiety which St. Paul felt on various occasions, from his uncertainty as to the affairs of different churches, is inconsistent with such a supposition respecting him; and we have no reason to suppose that Elisha possessed a gift of this kind superior to what was conferred on the apostle. But a particular revelation on some certain occasions either of them might have; and such a one the latter seems to have had at this time concerning the state of the church at Colosse; as other apostles probably had respecting other churches, persons, or things. See Acts 5:3; Acts 5:8. Joying and beholding — Or, beholding with joy; your order — That is, your orderly walking; and the steadfastness of your faith — Which your enemies in vain endeavour to shake.


Verse 6-7

Colossians 2:6-7. As, or since, ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord — Have acknowledged Jesus of Nazareth to be the true Messiah promised to the Jews, and consequently a divinely-commissioned Teacher, Mediator, Saviour, and Lawgiver; yea, the great Prophet, Priest, and King of his church, and therefore your sovereign Lord, and the final Judge of men and angels; so walk ye in him — Let your spirit and conduct, your dispositions, words, and actions, be in perfect consistency with this acknowledgment; walk in the same faith, love, and holiness, in which you received him, steadily believing his doctrines, obeying his precepts, relying on his promises, revering his threatenings, and imitating his example; rooted — In him, as trees in a good soil, or as the graft is rooted in the stock; and built — Upon him, the only sure foundation of your confidence and hope for time and eternity; and established in the faith — In your persuasion of the truth and importance of the gospel in all its parts; as ye have been taught — By those that have preached it to you; abounding therein — Making continual progress in your acquaintance with it and conformity to it; with thanksgiving — To God, for having made you partakers of so great a blessing.


Verse 8

Colossians 2:8. Beware lest any man spoil you ΄η τις υμας εσται ο συλαγωγων, lest there be any one who makes a prey of you; through philosophy — The pretended wisdom of the heathen philosophers; and vain deceit — Sophistical and delusive reasonings, and unprofitable speculations. “The apostle,” as Macknight justly observes, “does not condemn sound philosophy, but that kind of it which had no foundation in truth; and, being formed merely from imagination, aided by the pride of human reason, was supported by tradition; that is, by the affirmation of the inventors, handed down from one to another. Of this kind was the philosophy of the Platonists concerning demons, whom they represented as carrying men’s prayers to God, and as bringing back from God the blessings prayed for. They spake of them likewise as governing the elements and all human affairs, by a sort of independent power.” It seems some teachers had crept in among the Christians at Colosse, either of Gentile or Jewish extraction, who endeavoured to blend deceits of this kind with the gospel of Christ, and that this is what the apostle here condemns; 1st, Because it was empty and deceitful, promising wisdom, but giving none. 2d, Because it was grounded, not on truth, or solid reason, but on the vain and false traditions of men. 3d, Because, as the apostle here says, it was after the rudiments, στοιχεια, the elements, of the world — Such as the Jewish ceremonies, or the pagan superstitions. The ceremonies of the Mosaic law have this appellation, (Galatians 4:3,) being but a carnal worship in comparison of the more spiritual ordinances of the gospel; and but an elementary kind of institution, (like the alphabet to children, or the first principles of science,) fitted to the infancy of the church; and not after Christ — According to his institution and doctrine, but tending to withdraw the heart from him.


Verse 9-10

Colossians 2:9-10. For in him dwelleth Inhabiteth, κατοικει, continually abideth; all the fulness of the Godhead — Believers may be filled with all the fulness of God, Ephesians 3:19; but in Christ dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead, the most full Godhead, Colossians 1:19; bodily — Really, substantially. The very substance of God, if one might so speak, dwells in Christ in the most full sense. “It is plain,” says Dr. Doddridge, “that the Godhead is an anglicism equivalent to Deity. Compare Acts 17:29. And I cannot think that these wonderful words are intended merely to signify that God hath lodged in the hands of Christ a fulness of gifts, to be conferred upon men, as if the passage were merely parallel to John 1:16-17, as Mr. Pierce explains it; while Socinus sinks it yet lower, as if it only referred to his complete knowledge of the divine will. I assuredly believe, that as it contains an evident allusion to the Shechinah, in which God dwelt, so it ultimately refers to the adorable mystery of the union of the divine and human natures in the person of the glorious Emmanuel, which makes him such an object of our hope and confidence, as the most exalted creature, with the most glorious endowments, could never of himself be.” And ye are complete in him — You have in and from him every thing necessary to your salvation, all the wisdom and knowledge, the righteousness and strength, the holiness, support, and comfort that you stand in need of, to enable you to glorify God on earth, and to prepare you for being glorified with him in heaven. But the original expression, εν αυτω πεπληρωμενοι, is literally, ye are filled by him. See on John 1:16. Christ is filled with God, and ye are filled with, or by, Christ. The fulness of Christ overflows his church, Psalms 133:3. He is originally full, but our fulness is derived from him. Who is the head of all principality and power — Of angels as well as men. Not from angels, therefore, but from their Head, are we to ask whatever we stand in need of. The supremacy of Christ over all created beings, is asserted in many other passages of Scripture. See the margin. A doctrine this which affords the greatest consolation to the people of God, as it assures them that nothing befalls them without his permission, and that all things shall work together for their good.


Verse 11-12

Colossians 2:11-12. In whom also ye are circumcised — Ye have received the spiritual blessings signified of old by circumcision; with the circumcision made without hands — Namely, an internal, spiritual circumcision; in putting off — Not a little skin, but the whole body of the sins of the flesh — All the sins proceeding from your corrupt nature; by the circumcision of Christ — The circumcision of the heart, which Christ requires and effects. Buried with him, &c. — That is, which he wrought in you when you were, as it were, buried with him in baptism — The ancient manner of baptizing by immersion is as manifestly alluded to here, as the other manner of baptizing by sprinkling, or pouring of water, is, Hebrews 10:22. But no stress is laid on the age of the baptized, or the manner of performing it, in one or the other place; but only on our being quickened, or renewed, through the powerful operation of his Spirit in the soul, which we cannot but know assuredly, if we really are so: and if we do not experience this, our baptism has not answered the end of its institution. Wherein — Or rather, by which; ye are risen with him — From the death of sin, to the life of righteousness; through the faith of the operation of God — Faith wrought in you by God: see on Ephesians 2:8; or, through faith in the energy of God, as some render δια της πιστεως της ενεργειας του θεου; who raised him from the dead — They who put this latter sense upon the passage explain it thus: “The circumcision which Christ performs being accomplished by the influence of the doctrines of the gospel upon the minds of believers, and their belief of these doctrines being founded on their belief of the resurrection of Christ, their belief of that great miracle is justly represented as the means whereby they are made new creatures.” The doctrines of the gospel, however, will produce no such effect, unless they be accompanied by the influence of the Holy Spirit.


Verses 13-15

Colossians 2:13-15. And you — Believing Gentiles; being formerly dead in your sins — Under the guilt and power of your sins, (see on Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5,) and the uncircumcision of your flesh — Your corrupt and unrenewed nature, your uncircumcised heart and affections; hath he — God the Father; quickened — Brought you out of that state by infusing into you spiritual life: together with him — Through the merit of Christ’s death, and in conformity to his resurrection; having forgiven you all trespasses — In consequence of his having atoned for them. Blotting out the handwriting — Where a debt is contracted, it is usually testified by some handwriting. And when the debt is forgiven, the handwriting is destroyed, either by blotting it out, taking it away, or tearing it. The apostle expresses in all these three ways God’s destroying the handwriting which was contrary to us. And perhaps, as Macknight thinks, in the expression, nailing it to the cross, he alludes to “an ancient custom of abrogating laws, by driving a nail through the tables on which they were written, and hung up to public view.” The word δογματα, here rendered ordinances, is used by the LXX., Ezekiel 20:26, for the rites of the ceremonial law, as it is also Ephesians 2:15, and that law is evidently here meant. St. Paul says, it was against us; meaning, 1st, The Jews, who had been under an obligation to fulfil it, and whose guilt and liableness to punishment it testified. It was also, 2d, Against and contrary to the Gentiles, as being a middle wall of partition, hindering them from coming to God, and putting an enmity between them and the Jews. This Christ took away by abolishing the obligation of it, and admitting the believing Gentiles to be fellow-heirs with the believing Jews, of the promises and blessings of the gospel, without their becoming subject to it. See notes on Ephesians 2:14-18. And having spoiled principalities and powers — The evil angels, of their usurped dominion, in consequence of his having conquered them. For in the original expression, απεκδυσαμενος, which signifies having stripped off, there is an allusion to the ancient custom of victors, who were wont to strip the vanquished of their arms and clothes. Hence the word is taken to signify spoiling in general. That the evil angels are here said to be spoiled by Christ’s dying on the cross, seems evident from what we read elsewhere. Christ, speaking of his death, said to his disciples, (John 12:31,) Now shall, ο αρχων, the prince, or ruler, of this world be cast out; and, John 16:11, ο αρχων, the prince of this world is judged. See also Ephesians 4:8. And by spoiling them we may understand, with Hammond, Whitby, and others, the destruction of idolatry, the silencing the heathen oracles, and the banishing of those grievous superstitions, with which mankind had been so long oppressed. Some others, however, by these principalities and powers understand the Jewish rulers and great men, who in the first age grievously persecuted the disciples of Christ. But this interpretation seems unnatural, and certainly was not verified by fact at the time when the apostle wrote this epistle, the Jewish sanhedrim and rulers being still in power. He — God the Father; made a show of them openly — Before all the hosts of hell and heaven; triumphing over them in or by it — Even that cross whereby they hoped to have triumphed over him, God turning their counsels against themselves, and ruining their empire by that death of his Son which they had been so eager to accomplish. Or the clause may be rendered, triumphing over them in him; in Christ. By turning the heathen from the power of Satan to God, it was shown that the evil spirits, who formerly ruled them, were vanquished and stripped of their power. It is supposed, that in this and the preceding clause there is an allusion to the Roman triumphs, of which see on 2 Corinthians 2:14; and that St. Paul represents Christ himself, or his apostles, as riding in triumph through the world, with the evil spirits following the triumphant car in chains, and exposed to public view as vanquished enemies.


Verse 16-17

Colossians 2:16-17. Let no man, therefore, &c. — Seeing these things are so, and the ceremonial law is now abolished, let no one, who is in a bigoted manner attached to it, judge and condemn you Gentile Christians; that is, regard none who judge you, in regard to the use of meat or drink — Forbidden by it; or in respect of a holyday η εν μερει εοπτης, in respect of a festival. The festivals, distinguished from new moons and sabbaths, meant days of rejoicing annually observed. Of these some were enjoined in the law, others by human authority, such as those instituted in commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews by Esther, and of the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabeus. Or the new moon, or the sabbath days — The weekly Jewish sabbaths; which are but a lifeless shadow emblematical of good things to come — Intended to lead men’s minds to spiritual and evangelical blessings. But the body — Of those shadows; is of Christ — The substance of them is exhibited in the gospel of Christ, in whom they all centre; and having the latter, we need not be solicitous about the former. “The whole of the ceremonial law of Moses being abrogated by Christ, (Colossians 2:14,) Christians are under no obligation to observe any of the Jewish holydays, not even the seventh-day sabbath. Wherefore, if any teacher made the observance of the seventh day a necessary duty, the Colossians were to resist him. But though the brethren in the first age paid no regard to the Jewish seventh-day sabbath, they set apart the first day of the week for public worship, and for commemorating the death and resurrection of their Master, by eating his supper on that day; also for the private exercises of devotion. This they did, either by the precept or by the example of the apostles, and not by virtue of any injunction in the law of Moses. Besides, they did not sanctify the first day of the week in the Jewish manner, by a total abstinence from bodily labour of every kind. That practice was condemned by the council of Laodicea, as Judaizing.” — Macknight.


Verse 18-19

Colossians 2:18-19. Let no man beguile you of your reward — Of future glory, however eagerly or artfully he may attempt it. According to Pierce, who pleads the authority of Demosthenes, the word καταβραβευετω, here rendered beguile you of your reward, should be translated condemn you: others, because the verb βραβευω, without the preposition, is translated to rule, (Colossians 3:15,) are of opinion that the expression may be translated enslave you. But as the original word comes from βραβειον, a reward, the compounded verb certainly more properly signifies to hinder a reward from being bestowed, an evil which the worshipping of angels, here guarded against, as more powerful mediators than Christ, would have occasioned. For if on any pretence these Colossian believers had forsaken Christ, and attached themselves to angels, they must have lost the whole benefit of Christ’s mediation. In a voluntary humility θελων εν ταπεινοφροσυνη, an expression which Whitby renders, pleasing himself in his humility; or affecting humility, and so not addressing God immediately, but only by the mediation of angels. In proof of which interpretation, the same author refers to several passages of the LXX., in which the word θελω means to be pleased with, or to delight in, a person or thing: there are also passages in the New Testament in which the word seems to bear the same meaning. See Matthew 20:26-27; Mark 12:38. And worshipping of angels — It evidently appears, from several passages in Philo, to have been the opinion of that learned Jew, that angels were messengers who presented our prayers to God, as well as brought down his favours to us. He represents this view of the matter as most humble and reverential, and there is no doubt but it prevailed among other Jews. See Tobit 11:14; Tobit 12:12; Tobit 12:15. It was undoubtedly because the Jews entertained so great a respect for angels, on account of their supposed agency in human affairs, that the apostle, in this epistle, and in that to the Hebrews, took so much pains to show that the Son of God is greater than all angels. It is justly remarked by Bishop Burnet, that had it been the apostle’s intention to give the least encouragement to any religious addresses to saints and angels, this would have been a very natural occasion of introducing the subject, and adjusting its proper boundaries. Intruding into things which he hath not seen — With great presumption, and pretending to discover wonderful secrets, relating to their various ranks, subordinations, and offices. “The apostle’s meaning,” says Macknight, “is, that the false teachers, of whom he speaks, presumptuously penetrated into the secrets of the invisible world, and talked of them with an air of certainty, without having any knowledge of the things which they affirmed; particularly that the angels intercede with God for men, and that to worship them is acceptable to God.” Vainly puffed up by his fleshly — His corrupt and carnal; mind — With the conceit of things which it is impossible he should understand, and a desire of introducing novelties into religion. And not holding the Head — Not adhering to, and relying on Christ, the Head of his church, by whom all the true members of it are not only guided and governed, but from whom, having spiritual nourishment ministered by joints and bands — By various means of instruction and grace, or by the several talents and gifts of its members, employed for the good of the whole; and knit together — By love and mutual sympathy; increaseth — In knowledge, holiness, strength, stability, and usefulness; with the increase of God — That increase which comes from him, is approved by him, and tends to his glory. What the apostle here says against the worshipping of angels, concludes equally against the worshipping of saints. Indeed, it is absurd to suppose that any being can be a proper object of worship, which is not both omniscient and omnipresent, which certainly neither angels nor saints are. It is a just remark of a judicious divine, that the apostle’s exhortation in this verse is a good caution to us to beware of all refinements in Christianity, which have any tendency to derogate from the authority, office, and honour of Christ, as Head of the church.


Verses 20-23

Colossians 2:20-23. Wherefore — The inference begun Colossians 2:16 is continued. A new inference follows Colossians 3:1. If ye be dead with Christ — As by receiving the ordinance of baptism ye profess to be; from the rudiments, or elements, of the world — See on Colossians 2:8. From those ceremonies, which persons among the Gentiles or the Jews are apt to place so much dependance on; why, as though living in the world — In the manner you formerly did, and being still influenced by the spirit of the world, and associated with worldly people; are ye subject to ordinances — To mere human institutions, heathen or Jewish? Why receive ye or use ordinances, which Christ hath not enjoined, and from which he hath made his followers free? Or the sense may be, Since you professed yourselves at your baptism to be spiritually dead with Christ, and by his death to be freed even from the ceremonies of the law, (though of God’s own institution,) why should you submit to superstitious rites and ordinances of the like kind invented by men? Touch not — Any unclean thing; taste not — Any forbidden meat; handle not — Any consecrated vessel. Most commentators suppose that the Jewish ceremonies only are here referred to, and that this was directed to the Jewish converts at Colosse: but “as I have no doubt,” says Macknight, “that it was intended for the Gentiles, I think the ordinances of which the apostle speaks were the rules of the Pythagoreans respecting abstinence from animal food, and of the Platonists concerning the worshipping of angels, condemned Colossians 2:18, which it seems some of the church at Colosse had actually begun to follow; perhaps at the persuasion of the Judaizing teachers, who wished to subject them to all the rites of the law.” Which all are to perish in the using — All which things cannot be used, but they must perish in and by the use of them, being made merely for the body, and with it going to corruption, and having therefore no further use, no influence on the mind. The original expression, however, εις φθοραν τη αποχρησει, may be rendered, tend to corruption, in, or by, the abuse of them; and the word φθορα being often used by St. Peter, not for a natural, but a moral corruption, (see 2 Peter 1:4; 2 Peter 2:12; 2 Peter 2:19,) the meaning of the verse may be, that when these ceremonies are observed in compliance with the commands and doctrines of men as things necessary, they corrupt men who thus abuse them. Thus Doddridge: “All which things tend to the corruption of that excellent religion into which you have the honour to be initiated, by the abuse of them, according to the commandments and doctrines of mistaken and ill-designing men, who insist so eagerly upon them, as if they were essential to salvation.” Which things indeed have a show, a pretence, of wisdom — Of being an excellent doctrine, or wise institution, and are, in that view, gravely insisted upon, especially by the more rigorous sects; in will-worship — A worship, or service, which they themselves have devised. “The word εθελοθρησκεια nearly resembles the phrase found Colossians 2:18, θελων εν θρησκεια, delighting in the worship. But it can hardly be literally translated, so as to express the same idea. But the meaning is, a worship of human invention, consequently performed from one’s own will.” And in an affected humility and neglecting of the body — Greek, αφειδια σωματος, a not sparing of the body; namely, by subjecting it to much mortification, in denying it many gratifications, and putting it to many inconveniences. Not in any honour — Namely, of the body; or not of any real value, as τιμη may be rendered, namely, before God: to the satisfying of the flesh — Nor do they, upon the whole, mortify, but satisfy the flesh. They indulge man’s corrupt nature, his self-will, pride, and desire of being distinguished from others. Doddridge reads, to the dishonourable satisfying of the flesh; their severity to the body, rigorous as it seemed, being no true mortification, nor tending to dispose the mind to it. On the contrary, while it puffed men up with a vain conceit of their own sanctity, it might be said rather to satisfy the flesh, even while it seemed most to afflict it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Colossians 2:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/colossians-2.html. 1857.

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