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. :
COLOSSIANS 2:6-7. AS YOU RECEIVED CHRIST JESUS
6 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.
"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:
"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.
"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.
▪ 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.
"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.
COLOSSIANS 2:8-10. DON'T LET ANYONE ROB YOU
8 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.
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
COLOSSIANS 2:11-12. A CIRCUMCISION NOT MADE WITH HANDS
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).
"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."
"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."
COLOSSIANS 2:13-15. CHRIST MADE YOU ALIVE
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 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.
"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.
"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.
"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 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:
"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.
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.
"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).
"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.
COLOSSIANS 2:18-19. LET NO ONE ROB YOU
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:
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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).
COLOSSIANS 2:20-23 - SELF-MADE RELIGION
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.
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:
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.
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):
2. AND you were united with Christ (symbolized by baptism):
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:
He uses three figures to describe the results of Christ's salvation:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.