Colossians 2A Commentary on the Second Chapter of Colossians
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By A. J. Fecko

Scripture References:

Matthew 22:37-40
Romans 13:8
2 Corinthians 3:6
Ephesians 2:15-16
Colossians 2:1-23

In this chapter of Colossians, the apostle Paul expresses his concerns that the faithful at Colossae not be led off track by certain teachers preaching observances of legal ordinances no longer required under Christ.

"who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." 2 Corinthians 3:6

Colossians 2:

1 For I want you to perceive what the contest amounts to which I am having for your sakes and for those in Laodicea, and whoever have not seen my face in the flesh,

2 that their hearts may be consoled, being united in love, and to all the riches of the assurance of understanding, unto a realization of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ,

3 in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are concealed.

4 Now I am saying this, that no one may be beguiling you with persuasive words.

5 For even if, in flesh, I am absent, nevertheless, in spirit, I am with you, rejoicing and observing your order and the stability of your faith in Christ.

6 As, then, you accepted Christ Jesus, the Lord, be walking in Him,

7 having been rooted and being built up in Him, and being confirmed in the faith according as you were taught, superabounding in it with thanksgiving.

8 Beware that no one shall be despoiling you through a philosophy and an empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ,

Paul is concerned that those at Colossae will maintain their life rooted in Christ. The word "philosophy" has led some to think of Greek Philosophy. But that's deceptive, for one thing, Greek culture was ubiquitous in the eastern part of the Empire in the 1st century. Plus the people in Colossae would, no doubt, have referred to any worldview and way of life for which there were persuasive reasons to follow as "a philosophy". Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor at the Lyceum, called the Jewish People “a Nation of Philosophers.” People of that day and place would not consider the word "philosophy" as being something negative. Nor does Paul in this case. It is only when ones "philosophy," their beliefs and way of life, are not in accord with Christ that they must be rejected. In Galatians, and elsewhere, the term "elements" is connected with ritual observance of Mosaic Law.

9 because in him resides bodily all the sum of divinity.

10 And you are complete in Him, Who is the Head of every ancient and authority,

11 in Whom you were circumcised also with a circumcision not made by hands, in the putting off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ.

12 Being entombed together with Him in baptism, in Whom you were awakened together also through faith in the operation of God,

13 Who awakened Him out of the dead, you also being dead to the offenses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He quickens us together jointly with Him, dealing graciously with all our offenses,

14 erasing the handwriting of the ordinances against us, which was hostile to us, and has lifted it out of the midst, nailing it to the cross,

15 putting off the ancients and authorities, with boldness He makes a show of them, having triumphed over them in it.

Paul explains that through the cross Jesus has removed "the handwriting of the ordinances against us" As he also wrote:

"having abolished in the flesh the enmity, 'even' the law of commandments 'contained' in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, 'so' making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:" Ephesians 2:15-16

The phrase "ancients and authorities" (Colossians 2:15) is used often and in a peculiar way in Paul's Epistles. Sometimes references to them seem somewhat positive, and other times they're negative. Here perhaps they are fallen angels or maybe punishing angels. Their authority to punish is removed with Jesus' triumph over the ordinances of the Law. We raised to a new life to follow the Law spiritually:

"Now He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole understanding. This is the great and foremost precept. Yet the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two precepts is hanging the whole law and the prophets." Matthew 22:37-40

Colossians 2:

16 Let no one, then, judge you in eating and in drinking, either in respect of a feast, or of a new moon, or of Sabbaths,

17 that are a shadow of the coming things, even the body of Christ.

The first "n" [eta] of Colossians 2:16 should be translated as "either" according to the following lexicons and Greek dictionary: Liddell and Scott, Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, Woodhouse, Dana and Mantey, Thayer, and the Barclay-Newman Greek Dictionary (BibleWorks 4.0).

Paul is not objecting to abstinence generally. His real concern is the belief that observance of the Law is required of gentile converts. He wants to make clear that his converts are not required to follow Mosaic Law.

18 Let no one beguile you of your prize, delighting in humility and a religion of the angels, walking in appearances, vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh:

19 And not holding the head, from which the whole body, by joints and bands, being supplied with nourishment and compacted, grows into the increase of God.

20 If then you be dead with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as living in the world, are you subject to ordinances?

Paul may have in mind the same group he was dealing with among the Galatians. In his epistle to the Galatians he specifically makes the point that the Law was delivered through the angels. This point is also made by Stephen in Acts. Jerome seems to have thought that Paul here was referring to Mosaic Law. The more common modern interpretation is that Paul is dealing with a Gnostic heresy with Jewish overtones. The fact is, the text is ambiguous on the group with which Paul is dealing.

Unfortunately, often modern interpreters have assumed that Paul is opposing all forms of voluntary piety, and considers food abstinence to have little value. What here is actually being objected to is the subjection (the belief in the requirement to follow) to the ordinances regulating the feasts, new moons, and the Sabbath as proscribed by the Law, and in process loosing sight of the prize that the Lord had won for them.

21 You should not touch, nor taste, nor contact anything

22 that is unto corruption with use according to the commandments and teachings of men,

23 which are, indeed, possessing a word of wisdom in voluntary religious acts, and humility, and abandonment of the body. But not when it gives any honor unto fulfillment of the flesh.

The statements "You should not touch," (v. 21) etc. most likely refer to regulations of the Law, possibly including Halakhah i.e. the commandments instituted by the rabbis, and binding customs. The rules are commandments of men if they are addressed to Gentiles who are not required to keep all of the Laws.

He starts this way to say in what ways these things are admirable. They possess a "word of wisdom" that is, "good advice" (not the "show of wisdom" of the commentaries). They are good as "voluntary religious acts," that is, if not done with the belief that they become ritually unclean if they don't fulfill them, or that they are required to observe certain days as required in the Old Covenant. "eqeloqrhskeia" is said in some of the commentaries to have been coined by Paul, which would make it impossible to know for sure what it means. But a similar word in Greek means voluntary servitude. So this suggests that this word means "voluntary ritual" or "voluntary religious acts." Many commentaries have this "self-invented worship." There are three types of behavior; what is required, what is forbidden, and what is permitted.

To be voluntary is not the same thing as unwanted. Many translations and commentaries lean toward a view that Paul is frowning on asceticism generally, as well as any kind of religious innovation. This isn't warranted by the text. Though my view is that the statements "You should not touch" etc., refer to the requirements of the Old Law; Ambrose, Hilary, and Pelagius considered these to be Paul's own suggestions. Not in any honor for the fulfillment (satisfaction, or gorging) of the flesh.

The Darby translation has something like this when it has "not in a certain honour,) to [the] satisfaction of the flesh." The rules of the Old Law are good advice as voluntary behavior and in curbing the flesh (our lower nature), but not in the ways it fulfills the flesh (But not when it gives any honor unto fulfillment of the flesh).

How does the Law satisfy the flesh? Some examples are easy divorce, or when it tells us to vindicate ourselves, or the many others that involve taking life, both human and animal, including the sacrifices which are abolished in Christ our Passover. That's because the Law is a pedagogue, but not itself the source of life. Therefore not every portion of the Old Law is appropriate for the Christian to observe.

We are being called in this wonderful epistle to live the Law spiritually. As the apostle Paul wrote:

"Owe no one anything, unless to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

See the following related articles and commentaries:
Reflections on Romans 14
Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8
When Did Animal Sacrifices Begin?
When did the Church abandon animal sacrifice?

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