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Colossians 2:6-23 NOTES

Colossians 2:6-19 - EXEGESIS


CONTEXT:  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. e.g. :

  • 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).


Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

 "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.


See to it that there is no one who takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception in accordance with human tradition, in accordance with the elementary principles of the world, rather than in accordance with Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over every ruler and authority;


"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.


11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision performed without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by 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.


13 And when you were dead in your wrongdoings and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our wrongdoings, 14 having canceled the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.


"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 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.


16 Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food and drink, or in respect to a festival or a new moon, or a Sabbath day- 17 things which are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Note:  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.


18 Take care that no one keeps defrauding you of your prize by delighting in humility and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding firmly to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.


Note:  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.


20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)-in accordance with the commandments and teachings of man? 23 These are matters which do have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and humility and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.


v. 20: If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world: Remembering this is the key to living above legalism. Our identification with Jesus in both His death and resurrection (as mentioned before in Colossians 2:12) becomes the foundation for our Christian life, instead of "elementary principles of the world." Here in Paul points out that having died with Christ we also died to the "elementary principles of the world." This is the same phrase Paul used back in verse 8 and is a positive result of our dying to sin.  Paul is speaking about foundational religious practices, and perhaps in particular, the ceremonial aspects that are part of the means by which the religion is instilled into its adherents.  These elementary principles, which were part of both paganism and Judaism, were presented as the means to godliness, but they are actually worldly since they are human efforts to achieve what can only be truly accomplished by the spirit of God.

v. 21: Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch Do not... do not... do not: This is a perfect description of legalistic religion, defined more by what we don't do than by what we do. Christianity is a moral religion; it does have clear moral boundaries. But at its foundation, Christianity is a religion of positive action. These were ascetic dogmas about things they were not to touch or eat.  

v. 22a: (which all refer to things destined to perish with use): "They are things which come to an end in the very act of being used. Handling them, eating them, or the like involves their destruction. Food, once eaten, ceases to be food. These are not the things that matter most; these are not the ultimate realities." (Bruce). Whatever the specific prohibitions were, they were all things that were temporal that would be consumed with the using.  The things that concerned these ascetics were of no eternal consequence.  Asceticism seems to be a branch of most religions, which makes sense since it is an effort to achieve piety by self effort instead of receiving it from God by faith.

v.22b:  in accordance with the commandments and teachings of man?: One aspect of legalism is that the doctrines of men are promoted as the laws of God.

v. 23 : These are matters which do have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and humility and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.: We might regard this as the greatest indictment against legalism in the Bible. At the bottom line, legalism's rules have no value in restraining the indulgence of the flesh.

  1. All such legalistic rules may have an appearance of wisdom, but they have no real value. Legalism doesn't restrain the flesh; it feeds the flesh in a subtle, powerful way. "In fact, the most rigorous asceticism can coexist with insufferable spiritual pride, one of the subtlest and most intractable of the 'works of the flesh.'" (Bruce)
  2. Self-imposed religion is man reaching to God, trying to justify himself by keeping a list of rules. Christianity is God reaching down to man in love through Christ. The commandments and teachings that come out of what Paul refers to here as self-made religion, self-abasement and severe treatment of the body as well as the legalism, mysticism and ritualism he corrects earlier in this chapter always seem to have at least a veneer of wisdom in pursuit of practical holiness. However, none of them can bring about true holiness. Legalism, mysticism and ritualism all fit under the category of what Paul refers to here as self-made religion. Asceticism can also fit within that category, but the references to self-abasement and severe treatment of the body are part of various forms of asceticism which in turn may be part of the various forms of legalism, mysticism and ritualism. These things are often mixed together in various ways.  Mysticism seems to be so spiritual since the illusion is given that there is such a close relationship with God, but is in reality a perverted idea that substitutes self-will for God's will and never produces holiness.

R. Wilson:  Freedom from Legalism (Colossians 2:6-23)

Paul is about to confront head-on the false teaching that has tempted the Colossians to revert to a speculative and mystical form of Judaism. But first he reminds them of the beauty of the gospel which they had first received in the early days of the church, a few years before. Paul had described this early in the letter.

We begin this lesson with a "therefore" (NRSV, KJV) or "so then" (NIV)1 based on what Paul has said so far:

  • Paul's thanksgiving for their faith and love,
  • Christ's preeminence over any created being, and
  • Paul's sacrificial ministry to bring the gospel to their area....

Characteristics of our Relationship with Christ (2:6-7)

"6 So then, just as you received2 Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."  (2:6-7)

Paul appeals to their strong past in Christ, as a way to hold them steady for the present and future. Christ has been your Lord, he says. You "live" (NIV) or "walk" (NRSV, KJV) in him, that is, conduct your life in Christ's way and in his path.3

Paul highlights four characteristics of their walk or journey with Christ as their Lord. Each of the images depict what it's like to become mature in Christ.

  1. Rooted in Christ. They were once tender transplants, but now they have taken firm root, figuratively, they have been "put on a firm foundation, fix firmly." 4
  2. Built up in Christ. Paul uses a word from the construction trades to describe their growth: "to engage in a building process of personal and corporate development, edify, build up, build on." 5
  3. Strengthened in faith. The word comes from the root basis, "foot" (from which we get our word "basis"). It means "to make a person firm in commitment, establish, strengthen," 6 to make them firm upon their foundation.
  4. Overflowing with thankfulness. The imagery here is having abundance, being rich. Here the idea is to "be outstanding, be prominent, excel" in thankfulness.7

Deceptive Philosophies (2:8)

You've come a long way, Paul is saying. Don't let the wonderful place you have be replaced with a kind of bondage.

"8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."  (2:8)

The false teachers' motives are not benign, Paul warns. They want to "take you captive." The word is sylagōgeō, "to gain control of by carrying off as booty, make captive of, rob." 8 The imagery is of carrying someone away from the truth into the slavery of error. KJV uses "to spoil" in the archaic sense of "to despoil." The false teachers want to take from you the treasure that you have in Christ.   

But the replacement they offer isn't what they claim. Rather, it is hollow, empty.9 They make it look grand, but there is no substance. What they offer is nothing compared to what you already have. What's more, their approach is deceptive.10 They're not telling the truth.

 Paul characterizes the false teachers' doctrine as "philosophy" is philosophia, literally philos, "love"+ sophia, "wisdom." The Greek word goes back to the sixth century BC, of those who strive for knowledge, especially worthwhile knowledge of a comprehensive nature. Various Greek philosophical schools arose -- Sophists, followers of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus, Stoicism, and others. Paul's letters sometimes use terminology that arose in philosophical schools. But here Paul uses "philosophy" with a negative connotation to refer to the belief system of the false teachers in Colossae, who made claims about their weighty authority. Paul disparages them by calling their philosophy "hollow and deceptive," that is, both empty and false.11

The pillars that uphold the false teachers' philosophy are not of Christ. They are not Messianic truths, Paul warns. Rather, the hidden supports for their doctrine are two-fold:

1. Tradition,12 concepts and accepted truths that have been passed on from one generation to another -- but are nevertheless devoid of truth.

2. Elemental spirits (NRSV). This is a difficult word to translate into our culture and worldview. Stoicheion refers to the "basic components of something, elements." Here it may refer to "transcendent powers that are in control over events in this world, elements, elemental spirits." 13 Paul is probably alluding to evil spirits who are under the control of the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), the spirits who are behind worldly philosophies.14

What the false teachers offer sounds good, but it is hollow, deceptive, and part of the "same old, same old" combination of tradition and false beliefs that the enemy has been propagating for millennia. See it for what it is, says Paul. The Fullness of Deity in Bodily Form (2:9-10)

Contrast the empty philosophy that the false teachers offer with who Christ is, says Paul. There is no comparison!

"9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority."  (2:9-10)

Wow! Say these two verses over to yourself a few times to grasp their breadth and import. The false teachers are offering fulfillment and fullness by laying hold of something beyond Christ the Messiah. But there is nothing and no one closer to God, no experience fuller, than knowing him and walking with him.

Let's spend a few minutes examining the words in these two key verses.

First, it says that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." The word "lives" (NIV) or "dwells" (NRSV, cf. KJV) is katoikeō, "to live in a locality for any length of time, live, dwell, reside, settle (down)." 15 In ancient Greek it refers to long-time residence, "settle in, colonize." 16 In the New Testament the word is used in a literal, geographical sense to refer to people "living in" Jerusalem, of Abraham's family "living in" Haran, of Jews "living in"Damascus.17 But the word has a special sense to refer to God's Spirit inhabiting a human being:

"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith."  (Ephesians 3:17)

"... The Spirit he caused to live18 in us."  (James 4:5)

"And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling19 in which God lives by his Spirit."  (Ephesians 2:22)

The word is used twice in Colossians of Christ himself.

"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him."  (1:19)

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form."  (2:9)

God dwells in his Son, the Messiah, the Christ. He does not dwell in us in the same degree as he dwells in his Son. We are merely His creatures, fallen from God's perfect creation, who are being gradually restored by the Spirit to our full glory (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:16-17). But Christ is not a created being, but the Creator himself, for "all things were created by him and for him" (1:16). Jesus is "one" with the Father (John 1:30), glorified with the Father before all creation (John 17:5). He is God in the flesh (John 1:14), the "only begotten God" (John 1:18, NASB).

God in the Flesh

Because Jesus himself is God, God dwells in him completely, fully, in the flesh.

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form."  (2:9)

The nature of this indwelling is spelled out in several Greek words:

1. Quality of Christ's Deity

 "Deity" (NIV, NRSV) or "Godhead" (KJV) in 2:9 is theotēs, a word which occurs only here in the New Testament. It means, "the state of being god, divine character/nature, deity, divinity." The King James' translation "Godhead" over-translates the word, since the concept of "head" or  "headship" isn't included in the Greek meaning of the word.20 However, this word theotēs, "deity," is to be distinguished from theiotēs, "divinity," "an attribute which might conceivably be possessed by a being of lesser standing than God himself." 21

2. Degree of Christ's Deity

"Fullness" is plērōma, which we saw in 1:19, "sum total, fullness, even (super) abundance." 22 So the Divinity doesn't dwell in Jesus partly, or in some measure, like he does in us. In Christ, God dwells completely, expressed by the phrase "all the fullness of the Deity." 23

3. Expression of Christ's Deity

The manner of dwelling is described as: "in bodily form" (NIV), "bodily" (NRSV, KJV). This is the adverb sōmatikōs, "bodily, corporeally," as opposed to noncorporaelly, from sōma, "body." 24 Paul is talking about the incarnation, which means literally, "in-fleshment" (from in + carne, "flesh, meat"). Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh, deity in bodily form.

4. Authority of Christ's Deity

Verse 10 talks about the authority of Christ's deity.

"... Christ, who is the head over every power and authority."  (2:10)

Earlier in his letter, Paul has explained that Christ is "head" over the church. But his headship extends over everything he has created -- including the evil spiritual powers that are opponents of the Church that we discussed previously. In Paul's letter to the Ephesians -- penned about the same time as Colossians and with many similar themes -- Paul says:

"[God] seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church...."  (Ephesians 2:20-22)

In these verses kephalē, "head," is used to denote superior rank of a being of high status over another.25 The Colossians have nothing to fear from spiritual powers, nor does a mystical Judaism have anything over Christianity, for Christ has authority over all powers in heaven and on earth.

Complete in Him! (2:10)

This powerful passage concludes with Paul's assurance to the Colossians about their standing in Christ. See how various versions translate it:

"And you have been given fullness in Christ...."  (NIV) "And you have come to fullness in him...."  (NRSV) "And in Him you have been made complete...."  (NASB) "And ye are complete in him...."  (KJV)

The verb is plēroō, "to make full, full(fill)," used of persons, "fill" with powers, qualities, etc.26

What a wonderful truth -- we are made complete and find our fulfillment in Christ and in him alone. We don't need to add anything more. In him we are completed! You can rest in the sufficiency of Christ's love and redemption. Relax and enjoy him. You are complete in him!

If Paul's letter to the Colossians has a center, a central thesis, it is here! The false teachers are trying to deceive members of this young church that they need something more. Paul's answer? A resounding, "No!" You are complete in Christ!

I know I've spent some time on these two verses, but the truth is so important and life-changing that it is crucial that we grasp it. Spiritual Circumcision (2:11-12)

Now Paul brings up the subject of circumcision, probably because the Jewish false teachers were telling the Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised in order to be truly saved. Not so, says Paul.

"11 In him you were also circumcised,27 in the putting off28 of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with29 him in baptism and raised with30 him through your faith in the power31 of God, who raised him from the dead."  (2:11-12)

Verses 11 and 12 are a difficult sentence to understand, so I've broken it down logically. You don't need anything more, says Paul, because...

1. In Christ your hearts were purified (symbolized by circumcision):

  • This circumcision was not in human flesh, but spiritual, in that your sinful nature (literally, sarx, "flesh") was dethroned.
  • This was not some human ritual like circumcision, but a supernatural work done by Christ.

2. AND you were united with Christ (symbolized by baptism):

  • Baptism is a symbol of both spiritual union with Christ in his death and in his resurrection.

We could spend more time here, but the images are confusing to the twenty-first century mind, so we'll move on.32

Made Alive in Christ (2:13-14)

As we mine verses 13 and 14 we find a rich vein of gold.

"13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross."  (2:13-14)

Paul uses three figures to describe our state before our salvation:

  1. Spiritually dead.
  2. Uncircumcised, that is unpurified in the "flesh" (sarx).33
  3. Unforgiven, that is, "in your sins."

He uses three figures to describe the results of Christ's salvation:

  1. Made spiritually alive.34
  2. Forgiven35 of all our sins.36
  3. Freed from the law.

The Written Code is Cancelled (2:14)

 This last act of salvation, being freed from the law, needs further explanation. Look carefully at verse 14 again:

"... Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross."  (2:14)

The question here is what is the Christian's relationship to the Mosaic law and its requirements. Jesus had said clearly in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill37 them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." 38 (Matthew 5:17-18)

By "accomplished," Jesus seems to be referring to all the events that must take place that have been prophesied for the Messiah, especially his death in our place, his burial, and his resurrection. "Nailing39 it to the cross" suggests that it has been fulfilled on the cross.

Two words describe the removal of the law.

  1. " Cancelled" (NIV), "erasing" (NRSV), "blotting out" (KJV) is exaleiphō. The primary meaning is, "to cause to disappear by wiping." Here it has the more specific meaning, "to remove so as to leave no trace, remove, destroy, obliterate." 40 Elsewhere we read that the law has been annulled because it has become weak, useless, and obsolete (Hebrews 7:18; 8:13). A number of times the scripture talks about blotting out sins and transgressions (Psalms 51:1, 9; Isaiah 43:25; Acts 3:19), but here the written code41 that stood against us42 -- the Mosaic law itself is erased -- a strong word.
  2. " Took away" (NIV), "set aside" (NRSV), is rendered quite literally by the KJV as "took out of the way." "Way" is mesos , "midst, from among." The verb is airō. The word originally meant, "lift up, take up, pick up." But here, it means, "to take away, remove, or seize control" without suggestion of lifting up. In the case of "a bond, note, certificate of indebtedness, "destroy." 43

Did Jesus substitute a soft, squishy law of love for the hard, unrelenting demands of the Mosaic Law? No! He fulfilled the Mosaic Law on our behalf, drinking its bitter cup down to the very dregs on the cross. This is no cheap grace. The demands of the law have been fulfilled totally in Christ's death. Now that Messiah has come and his Spirit has been poured out, the Law is no longer our guide; the Holy Spirit is. The Old Covenant's role is over in this age of the New Covenant, made possible by the shedding of Christ's blood. It is finished!

Disarming the Evil Spiritual Powers (2:15)

Now we read a fascinating statement:

"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."  (2:15)

"Disarmed" (NIV, NRSV), "spoiled" (KJV) is apekdyomai, an emphatic word. A related word, apodyō/ynō was used by Homer (especially in the Illiad) of stripping armor from the slain.44 "Triumphing" is thriambeuō, "lead in a triumphal procession." 45 The image is of a public46 triumphal parade following a decisive military victory, with the disgraced47 and defeated foe marching behind the victor, as alluded to in Ephesians 4:8 (quoting Psalm 68:18).

The final clause is a little hard to translate accurately.

"... triumphing over them by the cross."  (NIV)

"... triumphing over them in it."  (NRSV, KJV)

The Greek text contains a masculine pronoun "it" or  "him," not "cross," which the NIV supplies to bring out the meaning better. There are two possible referents for the pronoun:

 "The cross" (verse 14)

  "Christ" (verse 13)

There's no way to be absolutely sure which Paul meant, nor does it matter greatly. "Cross" is the closer referent, while the entire sentence is about Christ's work.

The real question, of course, is: In what sense did Christ disarm these evil powers? How complete was the victory? The letter to the Colossians doesn't answer this question. We have a few passages in the New Testament that may shed some light on this, however.

  • Binding the strong man. Jesus relates a parable that points to his overpowering Satan and taking his goods (Matthew 12:29; Luke 11:22).
  • Satan falling from heaven. Jesus alludes to Satan's fall from heaven when the 70 report their ability to cast out demons, but the time frame isn't specified (Luke 10:18).
  • Prince of the world driven out seems to be tied to Jesus' death (John 12:31).
  • War in heaven is a vision in Revelation, where Satan is thrown out of heaven when he tries to destroy the Messiah and the church (Revelation 12).
  • Satan is bound for 1,000 years, then released, fights the final war against the Messiah, and is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20).

If Christ disarmed and conquered the principalities and powers on the cross, why do we still have to fight them (Ephesians 6:10-18)? We don't know fully. The decisive battle was won on the cross. Satan was weakened and the church given power over him, but Satan has not been fully destroyed. This is part of the "now and in the future" nature of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is here now, but will come in its fullness -- and Satan will be defeated completely and utterly -- after Christ returns. Discarding the Shadow for the Reality (2:16-17)

We've focused most of our time on what Paul says about who Christ is and what he has done in us and for us. But now Paul gets specific about some of the elements of false teaching with which the mystical Jewish sect in Colossae was tempting the young church:

"16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."  (2:16-17)

In verse 16 Paul mentions four elements of Judaism by which the false teachers were putting down and criticizing the church:

  1. Food regulations. Since the time of Moses, the Jews had observed complex rules concerning clean and unclean animals, outlined in Leviticus 11, and then expanded upon and interpreted by rabbis over the centuries. The Council of Jerusalem decided not to require Gentile Christians to observe Jewish food laws (Acts 15:1-21; Romans 14:14; 1 Timothy 4:3-5; Matthew 15:11).
  2. Religious festivals,48 probably including Passover, Pentecost, etc. Early Jewish-Christians (and Paul, on occasion; Acts 20:11) observed these festivals, but they were not part of the life of the Gentile church (Galatians 4:10).
  3. New Moon celebrations49 were common in Judaism (Numbers 10:10; 28:11; Nehemiah 10:33; Psalm 81:3; Isaiah 1:13).
  4. Sabbath day.50 Though the Sabbath day was enjoined in the Ten Commandments, Gentile Christians celebrated the first day of the week (John 20:19; 20:26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2), the day on which Christ had risen, which they called the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10).

Paul sees these Jewish practices as intended to teach and prepare God's people for the reality that was to come when the Messiah appeared.

"These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."  (2:17)

We see also this language of shadow and reality (or substance)51 in relation to Judaism and Christ in the Book of Hebrews (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). This may sound a bit like Plato's idealism, his allegory of the cave, in which shadows projected on a wall appear to be real, while they are only shadows of the actual people,52 but clearly Paul's root ideas are based in the Old Testament.

Mystical Jewish Practices (2:16-18)

So far, Paul has explained why Gentile followers of the Messiah have no reason to adopt Jewish practices. Now he attacks the specific practices of the mystical Jewish sect around Colossae that is trying to entice the Christian believers.

"Do not let anyone who delights53 in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions."  (2:18)

 Just like the writer of Hebrews, Paul sees returning to Judaism of any sort a step backward, and a denial of the Messiah. The phrase "disqualify for the prize" (NIV), "disqualify" (NRSV), "beguile of your reward" (KJV) is katabrabeuō, "'decide against' (as umpire), and so rob of a prize, condemn," from kata-, "against"+ brabeuō, "to be an umpire in a contest." 54

 Verse 18 mentions three characteristics of this sect:

  • False humility. The false teachers put on a guise of humility (perhaps including ascetic practices such as fasting55 ), but in fact they were full of pride56 about their supposed spiritual prowess. They projected an aura of spirituality, but in fact were "unspiritual." 57
  • Worship58 of angels. Other sources attest to the worship of angels in Phrygia and Pisidia in the early centuries of the Christian era.59 Angel worship wasn't standard in Judaism as a whole, but probably was present in Colossae through syncretism with local religious beliefs, perhaps in a belief that angels would protect them from evil.60
  • Visions (NRSV) or "what is seen" (NIV)61 were a third characteristic of the local brand of mystical Judaism. The false teachers would go into great detail62 about these visions.

Connection with the Head (2:19)

Paul warns the Colossians about such false teachers:

"He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow."  (2:19)

The NIV's "lost connection" is perhaps too strong, suggesting that the false teachers had once held to Christ. Closer to the Greek are "not holding fast" (NRSV) and "not holding" (KJV).63

Christ is the one who makes sense out of faith. So many churches are just religious shells. They have their ritual and their rites, based solidly on their traditions. But they have lost an intimate connection to him who gives life. Even right doctrine (in contrast to the false teachers in Colossae) can't substitute for a close, personal connection to the Head. All growth comes by means of nourishment from him, and him only.64

The Emptiness of Human Regulations (2:20-23)

In place of a relationship to Christ, the false teachers had imposed all sorts of rules. Paul asks his readers:

"20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles65 of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules:66 21 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? 22 These are all destined to perish67 with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance68 of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."  (2:20-23)

Paul makes three points in these verses:

  1. The picky rules are not spiritual, but related to temporal matters -- foods, etc. -- that will pass away. In baptism, the Colossians had died to their old way of life. Now they were being enticed to trade their new path for the old. The rules Paul writes against seem to reflect Jewish laws about ritual purity regarding unclean foods. Their world was limited by what they were not allowed to do.69
  2. The rules don't come from God, but from human commands and traditions. Paul refers to them as a "self-made religion." 70
  3. The rules don't bring about spiritual transformation. The false teachers possess a kind of pious humility71 and asceticism -- "harsh treatment of the body." 72 Like all highly legalistic religions that are scrupulous to keep all the rules, the false teachers assume that they are somehow more spiritual. After all, they can document their faithfulness by the multitude of observances. However, none of this is of value in really changing from a body-centered life to a spiritual life. The phrase "restraining sensual indulgence" (NIV), "checking self-indulgence" (NRSV), and "the satisfying of the flesh" (KJV) translate two words sarx, "flesh" and plēsmonē, "process of securing complete satisfaction, satiety." 73

Legalistic religions are attractive. After all, their adherents seem serious and observant. But the real question is: Do they help a person draw closer to Christ in their daily life, their character, and their actions? If not, they are empty and deceptive, for they promise something they can't deliver.

Christianity at its very core is a connection to Jesus Christ -- Creator, Messiah, Son of God, Redeemer, Lover of our souls. Various spiritual practices may aid our devotion, but they are not the core. Jesus is! In this lesson Paul has put the spotlight on Jesus Christ himself. Union with Christ by faith and baptism completes us. We don't need other observances to complete us. They are external, man-made traditions. The real substance is Christ himself. We are complete in Him. Hallelujah!


Father, help us see Jesus more clearly than we ever have before. Help us to see him as our Completor, in whom we find completion. Thank you for your love and salvation that plucked us out of our confusion and brought us to Christ himself. In his holy name, we pray. Amen.