The Apostle Paul and his coworker Timothy wrote this letter to the church at Colossae (v. 1), a small city in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Paul had not visited Colossae, but had received reports from Epaphras, the missionary who most likely founded the church there (1:7).
Paul speaks positively of the Colossian Christians’ faith, love, and hope (1:4-5) and acknowledges that the Good News is bearing fruit and growing in them (1:6). However, Epaphras has apparently brought Paul news of serious problems at Colossae—problems with false teachings that some scholars have labeled “the Colossian Heresy.” Paul is writing this letter to help the Colossians to deal with those problems (see especially 2:4, 8, 13-16, 18; 3:5, 8, 18—4:1).
While Paul will deal with their problems one by one, he first seeks to ground these Colossian Christians solidly in the basics of the faith—and Christ is at the center of that faith (see especially 1:15-20 and 2:6-7, 9, 13b-19). If these Colossian Christians can better understand the nature and mission of Christ—who Christ was and is—and what Christ came to do for them—that understanding will give them a firm footing to deal with the problems with which Paul is concerned.
This passage deals with a number of those problems:
• Being robbed by “philosophy and vain deceit” (v. 8).
• Following “the tradition of men” and “the elements of the world” rather than Christ (v. 8).
• Requirements to observe food laws, feast days, new moon, or Sabbath days (v. 16)
• “Worshiping…angels” (v. 18).
• Being “puffed up by (a) fleshly mind” (v. 18).
• “Not holding firmly to the Head” (v. 19).
COLOSSIANS 2:6-7. AS YOU RECEIVED CHRIST JESUS
6 As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk (Greek: peripateite from peripateo) in him, 7rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving.
“As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord” (v. 6a). Jewish rabbis talked about Moses having received the Torah from God’s hands. The Torah, of course, was God’s provision for guiding and directing the life of Israel in accordance with God’s will—so that Israel might enjoy God’s favor—so that Israel might experience salvation at God’s hands.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul described the Torah as a pedagogue (Greek: paidagogos) (Galatians 3:24-25). We might think of a paidagogos not only as a teacher, but also as one responsible for bringing up children in the way that they should go—a leader—a disciplinarian—a coach. Paul said that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people as a paidagogos “to bring (them) to Christ, that (they) might be justified by faith” rather than by adherence to Jewish law (Galatians 3:24-25).
Now Paul talks about these Colossian Christians as having received Christ—just as Moses had earlier received the Torah. Christ, too, is God’s instrument of salvation—but a more perfect instrument. Having received Christ, the Colossian Christians are “children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Using a metaphor from modern science, we might say that they have Christ’s genes at the core of their being. They have received Christ’s DNA. They are like Christ in ways that go beyond mere behavior or appearance.
“walk (peripateo) in him” (v. 6b). The Greek word peripateo literally means “walk around” (peri means “around”—as in our English word “perimeter”).
From very early times, Jews used the word “walk” to speak of the manner in which one conducted one’s life:
• Enoch and Noah walked with God (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9).
• God challenged Abram, “Walk before me, and be blameless.”
• The Psalmist said, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners” (Psalm 1:1; see also Psalm 119:3).
• God executed judgments on the Israelites for failing to walk in his statutes—for failing to keep his laws (Ezekiel 5:6-8).
Now Paul calls the Colossian Christians to walk in Christ—to bind themselves to Christ—to live as Christ would have them live—to follow his commands as the Jews (at their best) had tried to follow Torah law. It is appropriate that they do so, because they have been “born again” or “born from above” (John 3:3) by their burial and resurrection in the waters of baptism (Romans 6:3-14; Colossians 2:12). Having been “raised together with Christ, (they should) seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. (They should set their minds) on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For (they have) died, and (their lives are) hidden with Christ in God” (3:1-3).
“rooted and built up in him” (v. 7a). Paul uses two very different metaphors here—rooted and built up—but both metaphors support his point that these Colossian Christians have gained all that they are through their connection to Christ—that they owe their very nature and being and strength to that connection.
First, these Colossian Christians are “rooted” in Christ. As every gardener knows, plants depend on their roots for nurture and sustenance. The roots might be underground—invisible to the casual observer—but they are absolutely essential to the well-being of the plant.
But much also depends on the soil in which the roots are rooted. If the soil has moisture and nutrients, the roots will extract those and feed the plant—so that the plant can prosper. However, if the soil contains no moisture or nutrients, the roots will be helpless—unable to support the life of the plant—and the plant will die.
Paul tells these Colossian Christians that they need have no worries about the spiritual soil in which their roots are rooted. They are rooted in Christ, whose spiritual resources are literally infinite. Whether times are good or bad, they can depend on their roots to bring them life-giving support—because their roots are solidly planted in Christ.
Second, they are “built up” in Christ. The Greek word used here, oikodomeo, is usually associated with the building trades—with the construction of a house or a tower or a barn. When Paul tells these Colossian Christians that they are “built up” in Christ, he is saying that they are the handiwork of the master builder—the one who learned carpentry from his earthly father, Joseph—but whose true gifts come from his connection to his heavenly Father. Paul is telling these Colossian Christians that they can be assured of having a sturdy foundation—and strong walls—and a solid roof. If I may borrow from an old children’s story here, Paul is assuring them that the big, bad wolf can huff and puff all day, but they have nothing to fear. Christ has designed them to survive times both good and bad (keep in mind that prosperity ruins as many people as adversity).
“and established (bebaioo) in the faith, even as you were taught” (v. 7b). This Greek word bebaioo has to do with constructing something to be both strong and reliable—and is therefore appropriate for use both with “rooted” and with “built up” (v. 7a). These Colossian Christians are rooted in Christ, so they are as strong as any living creature can be. They are also the product of the master builder—the great architect—a genius structural engineer—the perfect carpenter—and are therefore prepared for whatever adversity life might bring.
These Colossian Christians are well established because they “were taught” well. In recent decades, the deceiver (Satan) has convinced many people that it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we are sincere. That runs counter both to scripture and to our everyday experience.
• Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) tells us that our beliefs are absolutely central to our well-being, both here and in the hereafter.
• That is confirmed by our experience. People tend to act based on their beliefs. If they believe things that aren’t true, they will act on those false beliefs and will suffer the consequences. If they have been well taught, so that they believe those things that are true, they will benefit immeasurably by their teaching—and by their true beliefs.
We need to be careful lest we make excuses for those who make bad decisions—decisions based on false beliefs—decisions that lead inexorably to bad outcomes. In our desire not to be judgmental, we want to say that it isn’t their fault—that they are victims of this or that. While it is true that some people are victims of this or that, people are very often victims of their own thinking—of foolish beliefs that lead to foolish actions that result in a good deal of suffering. Jesus said, “The truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The opposite is also true. Living according to untrue principles can rob people of their freedom.
Therefore, we in the church need to be sure that we are teaching the truth. The truth that we are tasked to teach is that which Christ taught us to observe. To learn what Christ taught, we need to look first to scripture, especially the New Testament, and not to pop psychology or politically correct thought—or even to pronouncements of denominational authorities.
The reformers said “sola scriptura”—scripture only:
• Practiced rightly, this means that all other authorities are subordinate to scripture—must be measured by their adherence to scriptural teachings.
• Practiced rightly, this means that our teaching will often be unpopular—out of synch with the popular culture—because Christ calls us to speak the truth, but popular culture often bases its beliefs on attractive fictions. Jesus warns us that we cannot serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). If we try, we will soon find ourselves serving only mammon.
But Paul tells these Colossian Christians that they have nothing to fear. They have been established—made strong in the faith—by the right teachings that they have been taught.
“abounding (perisseuo) in (faith) in thanksgiving.” (v. 7c). The Greek word perisseuo has to do with excess—superabundance—what the Psalmist meant when he said, “My cup runs over” (Psalm 23:5)—what Jesus described when he said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Paul is calling these Colossian Christians to give thanks with that kind of superabundant faith and thanksgiving.
Why should they be so superabundantly thankful? Is Paul simply asking them to put on a happy face? No! They have cause to be thankful. After all, they are rooted in Christ. Christ, the master builder has built them up. He has established them in the faith—the faith that is their assurance of salvation. Abundant thanksgiving is simply a natural response to that which they have received.
COLOSSIANS 2:8-10. DON’T LET ANYONE ROB YOU
8 Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, 10 and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power;
“Be careful (blepo) that you don’t let anyone rob you” (v. 8a). This Greek word blepo means “to see” or by extension “to discern.” Paul is warning these Colossian Christians to keep their eyes wide open and their hand on their wallet. He is calling them to keep their heads clear so that they might recognize falsehood when it is packaged attractively and marketed aggressively. He is reminding them that there are people in their midst who are not sympathetic to the Christian faith—people whose belief systems run counter to the Christian faith. Those people—at least some of them—will not be satisfied until they have managed to derail a Christian’s faith.
Some years ago, I worked in a drug rehabilitation center for heroin addicts. There I learned is that addicts hate to see another addict try to get help. They will go to great lengths to smuggle drugs into a drug rehab center to undermine rehab. They will give free drugs to people who are trying to quit. They will do whatever they can to maintain the cohesiveness of their group—or to enlist another person into their group. They are highly evangelistic, because they see “straight” people as a threat.
Unfortunately, many Christians are not nearly that passionate about their faith. They scared to death that they might offend someone if they mention Jesus. Druggies and false prophets have no such scruples. They “love the darkness rather than the light, for their works (are) evil” (John 3:19-20). Loving darkness, they do everything possible to snuff out light wherever they find it.
In this verse, Paul warns the Colossian Christians not to let Jesus’ enemies snuff out the light of their faith.
“through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ.” (v. 8b). This gets to the heart of the problems that affect the Colossian church. Some of their members have been seduced by philosophies—and vain deceits—and traditions of men—and the elements of this world.
The word “philosophy” comes from two Greek words—philos (love) and sophia (wisdom). There is, of course, no conflict between the Christian faith and the love of wisdom. We should love wisdom—true wisdom—but we should not love philosophies that are incompatible with the Christian faith. That is the problem that Paul is dealing with here—philosophies and vain deceits that are incompatible with the Christian faith and dedicated to subverting it.
What is a “vain deceit”? The Greek words are kenes (empty, in vain) and apates (delusion or deceit). The word kenes (empty) is not really needed, because delusions or deceits or lies are by their very nature empty—vain—sure to disappoint. Jesus promised that “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The opposite is also true. That which is not true—delusions, deceits, and lies—might look attractive, but its’ attractiveness is like the bait in a trap—intended to snare the unsuspecting.
“after the tradition (paradosis) of men.” Pharisees treasured what they called “the tradition of the elders”—teachings handed down over the years to help people understand what Jewish law required in particular circumstances. We are familiar with these traditions, because the Pharisees treated them as if they were authoritative, often coming into conflict with Jesus as a result.
As one example, Pharisees criticized Jesus because his disciples failed to observe “the tradition of the elders” with regard to washing hands before eating bread (Mark 7:5). This had nothing to do with hygiene, but was a religious ritual required, not by Torah law, but by Pharisaic tradition.
Jesus responded by telling the Pharisees that Isaiah had been speaking about them when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-7).
Jesus went on to give an example of the Pharisees using their traditions to sidestep the requirements of Torah law—“making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down.” While Torah law required them to honor their fathers and mothers—which included financial assistance in their old age—Pharisees would announce that their money was dedicated to God and was therefore unavailable for supporting their parents. Jesus said, “You do many things like this” (Mark 7:13).
Now Paul is calling Colossian Christians to avoid the same error. He is calling them to reject the temptation to elevate rabbinic traditions (or any traditions) to the same level as Torah law—to reject making the tradition of the elders authoritative in faith and practice.
The temptation to elevate human traditions to a place equal to or higher than scripture has not gone away. It is a serious problem in most Christian denominations today. Every denomination has traditions and decrees that have much in common with the tradition of the elders.
• These denominational traditions and decrees were made with good intent—to clarify what Christians should believe and practice in particular situations. However, we should note that Pharisaic traditions were developed for this same reason. Good intentions don’t guarantee Godly results.
• Furthermore, these denominational traditions and decrees quickly harden into dogma—things that denominational members (particularly clergy) are required to believe and practice. This also parallels exactly how Pharisees treated the tradition of the elders.
Traditions (standardized beliefs, rules, and practices) can be helpful, because they simplify our lives. Without them we would have to go back to ground zero every time we needed to make a decision. But problems arise when we attach ourselves too firmly to traditions—when we come to rely on them rather than scripture to determine our faith and practice—and especially when we use them to subvert Biblical tenets of faith and practice.
For a corrective to this problem, see my comments above on verse 7b regarding sola scriptura (scripture only).
“For in him all the fullness (pleroma) of the Godhead dwells bodily” (v. 9). In this verse, Paul affirms the Incarnation—God dwelling among us in human form.
A century later, the church would have problems with Gnosticism, which believed that the spiritual is good and the physical is bad. As a result, Gnostics had a problem with the Incarnation—God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. They said that the fullness (pleroma) of God could reach us only through emanations or angels—being gradually drained of its pleroma as it approached our earthly existence.
Some scholars believe that the church at Colossae was already infected with this kind of Gnostic, dualistic viewpoint. For instance, Paul criticized Colossian Christians for subjecting themselves to rules such as “Don’t handle, nor taste, nor touch” (2:21)—and for seeking spiritual enlightenment by practicing “severity to the body” (2:23)—ascetic practices consistent with Gnosticism. Now, in this verse, Paul seeks to correct this sort of error by presenting Christ as one in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.
“and in him you are made full (pepleromenoi), who is the head of all principality and power” (v. 10). Note the parallel between “the fullness (pleroma) of Christ” (v. 9) and “you are made full” (pepleromenoi) (v. 10). The Christ who embodies the Godhead in all its fullness also fills his disciples—makes us complete—restores in us the image of God that was defaced when we sinned.
The Christ who makes that possible “is the head of all principality and power.” Principalities (archai) represent preeminence—that which is before all or above all. Powers (exousia) have the authority and ability to accomplish things. However, as impressive as principalities and powers might be, Christ is more impressive. He is not subject to principalities and powers, but is instead their head. See the comments below on verse 15.
COLOSSIANS 2:11-12. A CIRCUMCISION NOT MADE WITH HANDS
11 in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
“in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands” (v. 11a). When Paul spoke of “philosophy and vain deceit” (v. 8), he was addressing a problem that had its roots in the Colossians Greek heritage. Now, speaking of circumcision, he addresses a problem that comes from their Jewish roots.
Torah law required Jews to circumcise baby boys on the eighth day after their birth as a sign of their membership in the covenant nation of Israel (Leviticus 12:2-3).
However, as Christians, we have no need of circumcision, because we have been “circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands”—an act of God rather than man—a spiritual rather than a physical circumcision—a circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29; see also Acts 15:1-29; Galatians 2:1-10). As Paul notes in verse 12, this is related to our baptism—to our burial with Christ in the waters of baptism and our resurrection to a new life—life lived in the presence of Christ.
“in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh” (sarkos—from sarx) (v. 11b). “Of the sins” doesn’t appear in the best manuscripts, so this should read, “in the putting off of the body of the flesh.”
The word sarx (flesh) is most often used in the New Testament to refer to that which is not spiritual—that which is worldly—sinful.Paul says that “the works of the flesh (sarx) are…adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21a). He warns that “those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21b).
“in the circumcision of Christ” (v. 11c). At our baptism—as we were buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and were resurrected with him—Christ stripped away the sarx—the fleshly concerns that encrusted our hearts and threatened to undo us. He marked us as members of the covenant community, the people of God—just as circumcision had earlier marked Jews as the people of God.
“having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (v. 12). This verse closely parallels Romans 6:3-5, where Paul says that we were buried in baptism into Christ’s death “that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection.”
This verse and Romans 6:3-5 portray baptism as a burial and resurrection with Christ—imagery supported only by immersion baptism. Many churches today require immersion baptism, and their number is growing. Many—perhaps most—New Testament scholars acknowledge that immersion baptism was the practice of the New Testament church. The Greek word baptizo means to immerse or overwhelm. To my knowledge, all churches accept immersion as valid baptism, but many churches do not accept sprinkling or pouring as valid baptism.
COLOSSIANS 2:13-15. CHRIST MADE YOU ALIVE
13 You were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us; and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross; 15 having stripped the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
“You were dead through your trespasses (peraptoma) and the uncircumcision of your flesh. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (v. 13). Paul contrasts our condition prior to becoming Christians (dead) with the transformation that Christ has wrought in us (alive and forgiven).
The word peraptoma is the milder or two words for sin (the other being parabasis) Peraptoma indicates some sort of mistake or wrongdoing that is neither willful nor terrible. Parabasis refers to willful, intentional sin.
The point here is that even these less than terrible trespasses are sufficient to bring about spiritual death. But Christ, through his work on the cross, “has forgiven us all our trespasses,” and has thereby brought us back to life.
“wiping out the handwriting (cheirographon) in ordinances which was against us” (v. 14a). The word cheirographon is a combination of cheir (hand) and grapho (to write), so “handwriting” is a literal translation.
In its original context, this word would have indicated a handwritten record, such as a record of debt that would obligate a debtor to pay a creditor. Paul suggests that each of us had such a handwritten record in the heavens somewhere—a record of our guilt—our debt to God. That record that was bound to persist despite our best efforts, because we could not, by our own work, erase what God had recorded. Even though we might become better in the future than we were in the past, we could never become perfect—nor could future perfection erase the record of past guilt.
But now Christ has wiped out the handwriting that once condemned us. Our slate is clean. Our sins have been forgiven and forgotten.
“and (Christ) has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross” (v. 14). This is an allusion to the accusation that Pilate had nailed to Jesus’ cross, which said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).
The death of a prisoner would cancel the debt that he owed society, because death would be the ultimate punishment. Christ’s death also cancels the indebtedness of those who follow him. What we could not do by our own efforts, Christ has done for us. He has nailed the record of our indebtedness to his cross.
At one time, I fanaticized that God might require me, when I get to heaven, to sit through a video of my life. That would be excruciatingly painful, because I would have to relive all the times I behaved badly—all the times I hurt others with unkind words or deeds—all the times I could have done right but chose to do wrong—all the times I behaved foolishly.
But more recently, I have been comforted by the promise that Christ has nailed my guilt to his cross—has canceled my debt. I am now convinced that if God requires me to relive my life, the only parts that will show will be the good parts. The bad parts are gone—sunk in the deepest ocean. If I were to ask God about one of them, he would reply, “I don’t remember that.”
“having stripped the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (v. 15). As noted above, principalities (archai) represent preeminence—that which is before all or above all. Powers (exousia) have the authority and ability to accomplish things.
We are familiar with principalities and powers. Our lives are subject to them. They tax us. They establish rules to which we are subject. They punish us when we fail to live according to their standards. Sometimes these principalities and powers are benign. After all, we need people to govern the many institutions that affect our lives. But in the history of the world, principalities and powers have more often than not been selfish and brutal. Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”—and we don’t have to look far for confirmation that he was right.
Christ allowed principalities and powers to have full reign over his life when he went to the cross. They beat him, publicly humiliated him, tortured and killed him. However, their victory over him was temporary. He came roaring back in the resurrection, turning the tide and defeating the principalities and powers—this time permanently.
“he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (v. 15b). When Roman generals won a victory over their foes, they would then return to Rome with their defeated enemies in tow—celebrating their victory and humiliating their enemies. Paul says that Jesus has done the same thing with regard to the principalities and powers. He has made a show of his triumph over them to demonstrate that he, not they, has the final word. Principalities and powers are now helpless, and Christ is the royal sovereign.
COLOSSIANS 2:16-17. LET NO ONE JUDGE YOU
16 Let no one therefore judge you in eating, or in drinking, or with respect to a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day, 17 which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s.
In verses 16-18, Paul deals with several issues that are part of what later scholars have called the Colossian Heresy:
• Observance (or not) of food laws (v. 16a).
• Observance (or not) of certain special days (v. 16b).
• Worship of angels, etc. (v. 18).
• Not holding firmly to the Head (the Head being Christ) (v. 19).
“Let no one therefore judge (krino) you in eating, or in drinking” (v. 16a). The Greek word krino(judge) means to distinguish between good and bad. Used as it is in this verse, it would usually involve a negative opinion.
Paul says that these Colossian Christians should not allow others to judge them—to render a negative opinion of them. Nobody can stop another person from judging them, of course. What Paul probably means here is that these Colossian Christians should not allow the opinions of others to affect their decisions, their self-esteem, and their lives.
Paul turns to several specific issues that Colossian Christians have been tempted by. The first has to do with rules concerning eating and drinking.
Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 spell out foods that are clean (religiously approved for consumption by humans) and food that are unclean. Observance of these dietary laws was important to Jews as a means of obedience to Yahweh. These laws were also important as a way of keeping the people of Israel separate from surrounding pagan cultures.
The first Christians were Jews who observed Jewish food laws. However, that requirement soon came to an end. The story of Peter’s vision in Acts 10 tells of the conversion of Peter, a man zealously committed to keeping Jewish food laws. In that vision, the Lord showed Peter all sorts of animals, and commanded him to rise and eat. Peter demurred, saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. The Lord responded, “What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean” (Acts 10:13-15). The lesson was that God intended to open the church to Gentiles as well as Jews—and did not require Gentiles to convert to Judaism as a condition of membership in the church.
It is significant that, in the book of Acts, Peter (very Jewish) was the key disciple through chapter 12, but Paul (the apostle to the Gentiles) assumed that role from chapter 13 onward.
Paul deals with the Christian response to Jewish food laws in 1 Corinthians 8; 10:23-33. He laid down the principle that Christians are not subject to those laws, but do need to be sensitive to less sophisticated people whose faith might be shaken if they saw Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols—or doing other things that the less sophisticated people might construe as behavior inconsistent with the faith.
Of course, eating and drinking, as used in this verse, could be a proxy for all Jewish laws. Paul’s letter to the Galatians speaks in detail about whether or not Christians should be required to observe Jewish laws—circumcision in particular. He strongly affirms that Christians are not subject to such laws. In fact, the opposite is true. He says, “Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2).
“or in drinking” (v. 16a). Other than the proscription against eating or drinking blood (Leviticus 17:14; see also Acts 15:29), Jewish law didn’t regulate drink—except that priests were prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages while on duty in the sanctuary (Leviticus 10:9)—and Nazarites were prohibited from using any alcoholic beverages (Numbers 6:2-4). People today who insist that Christ requires total abstinence from alcohol should take note. That stance is not Biblical. The requirement for abstinence from alcohol owes more to Carrie Nation than to the New Testament.
“or with respect to a feast day” (v. 16b). Jewish law required observance of a number of feast days (such as the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” (Romans 14:5-6a).
“or a new moon” (v. 16c). Astronomers today define a new moon as the first phase of the moon—a time when the moon is totally dark. Historically a new moon was just a bit later, when a sliver of a crescent became visible.
The Jewish calendar was based on lunar cycles, and people observed the new moon in much the same way that they observed the sabbath (Numbers 29:6; 1 Samuel 20:5, 18, 24, 27; 2 Kings 4:23; Ezra 3:5; Psalm 81:3; Isaiah 1:13; 66:23; Ezekiel 46:1, 6; Amos 8:5).
Christians are free to observe or not to observe new moon festivities. We are not free to require such observances.
“or a Sabbath day” (v. 16d). One of the Ten Commandments required the Jewish people to remember the sabbath and to keep it holy. They were to abstain from work on the sabbath, because God rested on the seventh day of creation (Exodus 20:8-11; Genesis 2:2-3).
The early church began to observe “the first day of the week” or “the Lord’s Day” instead of the sabbath—Sunday rather than Saturday (see Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10). That shift took place gradually—but it did take place. That’s why we worship on Sunday today.
“which are a shadow of the things to come” (v. 17a). Paul is saying that the Jewish observances mentioned in verse 16 were just a shadow of things to come.
“but the body (soma) is Christ’s” (v. 17b). When used as it is here—contrasting that which is shadow to that which is soma—the Greek word soma means body, substance, or reality.
Therefore, what Paul is saying in this verse is that the observances of verse 16 were merely the shadow of the substance that the Colossian Christians already enjoy—the soma (body, substance, reality) of Christ.
COLOSSIANS 2:18-19. LET NO ONE ROB YOU
18 Let no one rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshiping of the angels, dwelling in the things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding firmly to the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and ligaments, grows with God’s growth.
In these two verses, Paul outlines five problems with leaders who threaten to lead the Colossian Christians astray:
• They effect voluntary (but false) humility.
• They encourage angel worship.
• They claim authority based on visions that they have not seen.
• They are vainly puffed up by a fleshly (carnal) mind.
• They don’t hold to the head, which is Christ.
“Let no one rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshiping of the angels” (v. 18a). Paul believes that some of the Colossian Christians are in danger of losing the prize of salvation through Christ. They are subject to being “taken in” by people who make a show of their humility—and those who would persuade them to worship angels.
We need always to be sensitive to false piety, whether ours or someone else’s. False piety is usually intended to impress people so that the “pious” person can manipulate them.
Angels are God’s messengers (Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 1:1), but are not God. They are part of the created order, and not the creator (1:16). They are subject to judgment for wrongdoing (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). Paul says that humans will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Angels deserve respect (1 Corinthians 11:10; 1 Timothy 5:21; Hebrews 2:7, 9)—but Christ is far superior to angels (Hebrews 1:4-6, 13; 1 Peter 3:22). Thus, we should worship God, rather than angels. To worship angels is to run afoul of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 2:3; see also Matthew 4:10).
Gnostics worshiped angels as intermediaries between God and humans—but Paul says that angel worship can result in their losing the prize of Christ.
The worship of angels is still a problem today. Angels appear on television and in movies. They are popular images for notecards. There are collectible angels. While that can be harmless, it also has the potential to segue into a form of idolatry.
Most popular media today portray angels as lovely, delicate, and feminine, but Biblical angels either had masculine names or there was no clue to their gender. They were often fearsome.
As is true with many things, we need to be careful lest we be seduced by the popular culture. We need to insure that we are worshiping God and not angels—the creator and not the creation.
“dwelling in the things which he has not seen” (v. 18b). The false teachers at Colossae are claiming authority based on visions they claim to have seen—visions that Paul says they haven’t really seen.
We need to be careful of people who claim to have seen visions or to have been given some sort of personal authority from God. All too often, such people prove to be unreliable—sometimes with tragic results. Examples include Jonestown, where more than 900 of Jim Jones’ followers either committed suicide or were murdered. David Koresh of the Branch Davidians is another example.
We have no need of special visions. In the past God spoke through the prophets. Today he speaks through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).
“vainly puffed up by his fleshly (sarx) mind” (v. 18c). These false leaders are puffed up—prideful and conceited—because of their fleshly (sarx) minds.
As noted in the comments on verse 11b above, the word sarx (flesh) is most often used in the New Testament to refer to that which is not spiritual—that which is worldly—sinful.
“and not holding firmly to the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and ligaments, grows with God’s growth” (v. 19). The Head which these false leaders have ignored is Christ, who is the head of the church, which is his body (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 2:10). Christ is also the source of our fullness (2:10).
Paul notes the relationship between head and body. Just as our physical bodies are dependent on signals sent from our heads, so also the church is dependent on Christ and the directions he would set for us. Our growth as Christians and as a church depend on a strong connection with Christ.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2013, Richard Niell Donovan