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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Colossians 2

 

 

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Verse 1

5. The apostle’s solicitude for their unity and stability, Colossians 2:1-5.

1. What great conflict—His deep anxiety of soul; an agony of striving. Laodicea was a wealthy commercial city on the border of Phrygia and Lydia, about eighteen miles west of Colosse, the seat of one of the seven Churches of Asia. (See on Revelation 3:14.) The Christians there were evidently exposed to the same danger with those at Colosse. Most of them, in both cities, seem never to have seen their apostle, as was doubtless true of other neighbouring Churches.


Verse 2

2. Acknowledgment—Rather, full knowledge. The apostle’s struggle was that, being closely united together in Christian love, which is a great safeguard against false doctrine, they might by intellectual conviction and the inward working of the Holy Spirit, have a clear and complete persuasion of the truth, or, in other words, a full knowledge of this great mystery of God, so that in their souls finding conscious rest therein, they would be strong against all attempts to shake their faith. The readings of the MSS. of the concluding words greatly vary. του θεου χριστου seems to be the best supported, and we would read, the mystery of God, even Christ; that is, Christ is the mystery.


Verse 3

3. In whom—Christ, the revealer of God and the truths relating to him. They are in him, hid, until revealed. The great questions of human thought of all the ages centre here, and only in Christ is their solution possible.


Verse 4

4. Beguile you—The statements of the three preceding verses are intended to guard them against being deceived by false reasoning or artful rhetoric.


Verse 5

5. Your order—As yet they were a compact, well-organized body, standing in solid phalanx firmly in the faith. No wonder that Paul rejoiced, as with his mind’s eye he saw them.


Verse 6

a. Conclusion based upon their experience of salvation.

6. Ye… received Christ Jesus the Lord—In this statement of fact the argument culminates. It appeals to their experience. They received the doctrine of Christ from Epaphras, they received Christ himself into their hearts by faith, and it was that Christ the Lord, Creator, and Saviour, who is so fully described in the preceding chapter. They had therein found their soul’s salvation. Their experience verified the doctrine, and furnished a firm basis for the exhortation to walk in him. Continue the life you have begun.


Verse 7

7. Rooted—Changing the figure, but always keeping Christ as the element in which this life is lived, we are rooted in him as a tree strikes its roots deep into the soil and becomes better nourished and more immovable, built up in him, as a building upon a rock, adding stone to stone, thus steadily and solidly growing; established, confirmed in the way of faith, just as it was taught at the outset; and abounding in that faith with deep gratitude to God.

The apostle having thus unfolded the divine idea of redemption, and reminded the Colossians of their experimental knowledge of its verity, proceeds next to an examination of the particular system offered them in its stead.


Verse 8

II. THE PROPOSED “PHILOSOPHY” CONSIDERED, Colossians 2:8-23.

1. Its characteristics, Colossians 2:8.

8. Beware… Take heed—Pointing to some well-known person who urged upon them his philosophy, as he termed it, as a substitute for Christ, which the apostle pronounces an empty cheat. To spoil means to carry off as plunder. Thus would the false teacher, if possible, carry them off, body and soul. The caution is not against all philosophy, nor is the Greek philosophy referred to, but a peculiar Colossian system which combined Oriental spiritualistic speculations (Colossians 2:18) with Jewish ritualism, (Colossians 2:16,) and set itself in opposition to the gospel. From the apostle’s point of view, its characteristics were, first, positively, it was given by tradition of men, and so was of human origin; it was made up of rudiments of the world; elementary religious ideas gathered from various non-Christian sources; and, second, negatively, it was not according to Christ, as all true philosophy is. Philosophy is a search for the truth. Within the domain of revelation it heartily accepts its authority, and is always in harmony with the truth revealed by Christ.


Verse 9

2. Transcended by Christ, Colossians 2:9-10.

9. In him—And in none else, now in heaven as well as when he was on earth, dwelleth really, permanently, and never henceforth to be separated from his humanity, the fulness of the Godhead, the totality of the attributes and perfections of the divine nature. The word translated Godhead means nothing less than the divine nature and essence. Bodily, not as a charism, as in Colossians 1:19, but corporeally, manifested in his glorious body. Angels have no such glory of person or authority as teachers. Nor was that indwelling Godhead reduced to the dimensions of a human soul, so as to be the human soul of Jesus. It was the fulness of the Godhead.


Verse 10

10. Complete—The statement is double. First, Ye are in union with him; second, in virtue of that union, ye are filled full, as the word complete means, with all the plenitude of his gracious gifts. An empty philosophy can add nothing to this, and is therefore needless. Perfectly conclusive as this is, it is confirmed by the relation of Christ to the angels whom it is proposed to worship. He is the head of every order of them. As the unincarnate Son, he created them, Colossians 1:16; through his death (Colossians 2:15) he has brought them under the Headship of the divine-human Christ. He is their Lord, and alone to be adored, and they depend on him.


Verse 11

3. The advantage offered already obtained in Christ, Colossians 2:11-13.

11. Ye are circumcised—The aorist were. The “philosophy” enjoined certain Jewish legal observances, of which circumcision is taken as the representative. But in their union with Christ, they had, at their conversion and baptism, already received the real, spiritual circumcision in their regeneration, of which the outward rite was only a symbol. The former was without hands, and divine; the latter with hands, and human. In the latter a small portion of flesh was cut off; in the former the whole body of the…

flesh, spiritually speaking, was put off in the solemn renunciation of a life of carnality and sin. The circumcision of Christ is that which he works in our spiritual renewal through union with himself.


Verse 12

12. Buried—Rather, having been buried, coincident in time with the above, were circumcised and the were raised (as are risen should read) below. This death to sin as a controlling power, the burial which consummated it, and the resurrection which followed, were ideally in connexion with their baptism, when they openly professed a renunciation of sin, and promised to lead a new life. Really, the mighty transformation had its efficiency in their union with Christ, their baptism attesting their identification with his death, burial, and resurrection.

Risen—By faith in the same mighty power which raised Christ from the dead. Where the resurrection is holiness and faith is its instrument, what must the burial be? Only he who is prepared to affirm the power of faith to lift one from submersion in water can say that the burial is immersion. To infer it from this passage is to make the apostle’s argument against ritualism supply a new yoke for Christian necks. See also notes on Romans 6:1-4.


Verse 13

13. And you—This is an appeal again to their experience, as in Colossians 1:20. It is the argumentum ad hominem, showing that what has been said generally in Colossians 2:11-12, is true in them specially. Their old state was one of spiritual death: they were wicked and heathen— uncircumcised Gentiles. God quickened them, made them alive through the life of the risen Christ. To complete and point the argument, it is further added that with this new life was given them the free, gracious forgiveness of all their transgressions, and which, without the imposition of the physical rite of circumcision, as the next verse shows, was no longer in force. Through Christ alone, without accessories, they were saved.


Verse 14

4. The legalism sought to be imposed is abolished, Colossians 2:14.

14. Blotting out—Rather, having blotted out. The interpretations of this verse are very various, and many of their difficulties arise, as we think, from a failure to observe its logical connexion. We conceive it to be a simple statement that God had wiped out the whole ritual system. Circumcision could not, therefore, be required as a condition of spiritual life, and they themselves had found that life without it.

Handwriting of ordinances—The Mosaic ceremonial law: the obligatory bond, whose numerous minute decrees were difficult and oppressive.

Contrary to us— Peter expressed the same when he styled it “a yoke… which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” Acts 15:10. We cannot interpret it of the decalogue, for that was not abolished by Christ’s death, as was the ritual, whose provisions pointed to and were thus fulfilled in him. It was, doubtless, the best possible system for the period of its enactment; but it had accomplished its purpose, and the time had come for it to pass away. Its precepts were obliterated; it was as if nailed to the cross, and thus, as a document, destroyed. As the cross was the instrument of death, when Christ died it died. Ritual circumcision is, therefore, at an end.


Verse 15

5. The angels themselves subjected to Christ, Colossians 2:15.

15. Having spoiled—The verse relates to that feature in “the philosophy” which pertains to the worship of the holy angels. It is wholly irrelevant to say, with most commentators, that Christ in his death conquered and triumphed over the infernal powers: it proves nothing on the point in hand. The principalities and the powers refers us back to Colossians 2:10, where Christ is said to be their Head. We, therefore, hold the holy angels to be meant, as is absolutely essential to a conclusiveness in the argument. The verse closely connects with the preceding one. The Mosaic ritual was given through the ministry of angels, (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2,) who were thus the revealers of God in that shadowy dispensation. He now took away that handwriting, first, suspending it on the cross that it might die, and, second, he divested himself (instead of spoiled) of the principalities and the powers as promulgators of his law, and subjected them to the incarnate Son as their Head, through whom alone, thenceforth, he will reveal himself. He then openly—at the ascension—exhibited them as subject to Christ, and as if following him in triumphal procession as their Lord. Whatever power, then, the false teacher supposed the angels to have had in revealing God, their office in that respect was at an end. Nor could the worship which belonged to Christ be given to them.


Verse 16

6. Deductions from the foregoing, Colossians 2:16-23.

a. Caution against legal observances, Colossians 2:16, Colossians 2:17.

16. No man… judge you—As to the right or wrong of your conduct, in eating, or in drinking, or in the observance of the annual, monthly, or weekly festivals. In these matters there is no obligation. A divine authority was claimed for them; but Paul insists that they were but a shadow whose substance is Christ. The Jewish seventh-day Sabbath is here meant, and not the Christian first-day Sabbath. The Jewish aspects of the Sabbath are done away, but not the day itself as enjoined in the decalogue, which was given, not through the ministry of angels, but by the audible voice of God himself, and which the Saviour taught is “for man” universally. Note, Romans 14:5-6.


Verse 17

17. Things to come—Not future when Paul wrote, but when the law was given. They all pointed to Christ; all their virtue was derived from him, and they who are united to him realize all the good which they foreshadowed.


Verse 18

b. Caution against angel-worship, Colossians 2:18-19.

18. Beguile—The marginal judge against you, is more accurate. The allusion is to the judge who, presiding at the games, fraudulently deprives him of the prize to whom it should be awarded. The false teacher would deprive them of their rightful reward of the incorruptible crown by misleading them in the way of attaining it. His character is described in four particulars. 1. He wills, or delights in, a pretended humility which held God to be so unapproachable and incomprehensible that the mediation of inferior spiritual beings was necessary. Worshipping of angels would readily fall in with this theory. Notwithstanding the apostle’s labour and caution, this evil took so deep root in Phrygia and Pisidia, that three centuries later the Council of Laodicea forbade the practice by a special decree, condemning it as idolatry and an abandonment of Christ. 2. He stands upon what he has seen, and pretends to a profound knowledge of the heavenly world by wonderful visions. Most recent critics omit the word not. 3. Believing that he has fathomed the mysteries of the spiritual world, he is, though pretending to humility, really but without reason inflated by his own spiritualized sensualism.


Verse 19

19. Not holding—A fourth particular is, he does not hold fast the Head, who is Christ, and so not only derives no life from him, but exalts his creatures to a level with him, thus denying him his rightful eminence.

Increaseth—As the human body strengthens and grows by its joints and sinews being properly nourished and knit together, so the body of Christ, from him as the source, and holding him fast as the means, grows with the increase which God works.


Verse 20

c. Caution against asceticism, Colossians 2:20-23.

20. Dead with Christ—Better, if ye died with him, in your baptism; see on Colossians 2:12. The rudiments of the world, here and in Colossians 2:8, are identical with the handwriting in Colossians 2:14, which was claimed to be still in force. It died with Christ, and you so share in his death that you are removed from its authority.

Why—The expostulation is very pertinent. As…

living in the world—In things outside of Christ.

Are ye subject—Literally, why do ye allow yourselves to be dogmatized to? St. Paul thus shows the arrogance of the attempt to bring them under the old wiped-out system, and rebukes the Colossians for listening to it. While they were in imminent danger, it is not clear that any of them had as yet fallen.


Verse 21

21. Touch… not—These expressions are quoted from the false teacher, as specimens of the ordinances referred to.


Verse 22

22. Which all… perish—The things thus forbidden, were made to be eaten and to perish with the consumption of them. This verse, thus far, with the preceding one, should be read as a parenthesis.

Commandments—Connects with Colossians 2:20, and is a part of the question. These ascetic impositions sought to enslave their consciences by commands and systems of men, and were not made obligatory by God.


Verse 23

23. A show of wisdom—The reputed and real character of the sort of things spoken of are now put in final contrast. The system embraced will-worship, a voluntary, self-imposed service, called, in Colossians 2:18, worshipping of angels; a so-called humility which pretended a fear of drawing near to God, joined, in Colossians 2:18, with angel-worship; and a rigorous austerity of the body, abusing it under pretence of sanctity, and withholding from it its proper care. It purported to be a system of self-abnegation, and so before the popular eye it had the show, or reputation, of a true and profound wisdom, while, really, it was far from its substance. Not in any honour, but rather dishonour, of the body, which they affected to despise, but which, in St. Paul’s view, was to be cared for as a temple of the Holy Ghost. The true effect of the whole system was the satisfying of the flesh, the sinful nature, feeding it to satiety, and inflating it by the conceit and pride which it engendered.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Colossians 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/colossians-2.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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