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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

Colossians 2

This division of the Colossian letter is, of course, quite arbitrary; as someone said, Paul did not write four chapters, but wrote one letter! Nevertheless, the game plan in this series calls for going with the traditional divisions. After all, those divisions are already known to millions, and any new division would probably be just as inadequate and arbitrary as the old ones.

This chapter deals with Paul's refutation of false doctrine, in which the emphasis by the apostle lies squarely upon the eternal power and Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ. Morgan said, "The central declaration of the epistle is found in this chapter (Colossians 2:9-10)." F1 This chapter also exposes to some degree the nature of the false teachings Paul was refuting. True, he does not explain the error, but the refutation may be taken, at least partially, as the opposite of the error; and from this, a fairly accurate idea of it is derived. It is perfectly clear that a strong Judaistic character marked the Colossian errors; but they were colored by pagan misconceptions also. That there may have been traces of incipient gnosticism at Colossae is likely; but the notion that Colossians is principally a response to gnosticism should be rejected. The peculiar characteristics of the Colossians' error most visible in the epistle are Jewish, not Gnostic.


 
Verse 1
For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh.

This verse is usually cited as meaning that Paul had never seen any of the Christians at Laodicea and Colossae; but since Hierapolis is the only one of the tri-cities not mentioned here, it is more logical to assume that Hierapolis might have been the location of those addressed in the last clause. As Peake declared, "So far as the words themselves go, they may mean that the Colossians and Laodiceans did belong to the number of those who had not seen him or that they did not." F2 The ambiguity of this verse is insufficent foundation for the postulations about Paul's never having seen the Christians addressed in this letter.

As many as have not seen my face ...
Barry referred to this thus: "This description doubtless indicates Hierapolis"; F3 but despite this, he accepted on other grounds the thesis that Paul had not seen the Colossians. To this writer, however, there are certain circumstances in this reference that almost demand a differentiation between the status of Colossae and Laodicea on the one hand, and Hierapolis on the other. Those towns were all three sister cities, tri-cities as they would be called today. It is inconceivable that Paul would have named two of them, omitting the other, without some good reason for the distinction.

Very well. What was that distinction? There existed churches at all three places (Colossians 4:13); Paul addressed letters to Colossae and Laodicea (Colossians 4:16) but apparently did not address a letter to Hierapolis. This can be logically explained only on the premise that Paul was well acquainted in two of these cities and unacquainted in Hierapolis. Added to this, there is the omission of the name of Hierapolis in Col. 2:1. Nielson concurred in this explanation, as follows:

The strife in which Paul finds himself involved concerns both those whom he knows at Colossae and Laodicea, the neighboring town, and those whom he does not know. F4

Macknight identified those who had not seen Paul's face as "all the believing Gentiles everywhere to the end of the world." F5 If Paul did not know the Colossians, why would he have been writing them a letter? The impossibility of answering this while denying that Paul was acquainted at Colossae has led some of the commentators to add another theory, to the effect that although Paul had not been to the tri-cities, many from the tricities had visited Paul in Ephesus or other places! F6 This is perfectly possible, of course; but the simple answer is usually the best; and the simple explanation is that like most people in all ages, Paul wrote to people whom he knew and loved.

There is something sad about those tri-cities. The only mention of any of them in Scripture outside this letter is in Rev. 3:14-22, where Laodicea stands in perpetual infamy as the Church of the Lukewarm. Today there is no trace of Colossae, not even any ruins, with its very location unknown. The other two cities, according to Barry, "played an important part in the subsequent history of Christianity in Asia Minor ... leaving behind magnificent ruins." F7


 
Verses 2, 3
That their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of under standing that they may know the mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.

An unusually incisive and penetrating analysis of the whole paragraph which began at Col. 1:24 and ends with these verses was written by Morgan thus:

We find reference to a threefold mystery: (1) the church which is the body of Christ; (2) the secret of life in the individual believer, "Christ in you, the hope of glory"; and (3) the deepest mystery of all, "the mystery of God even Christ. F8

As frequently pointed out, the "mystery" of the New Testament is exceedingly large and extensive, no less than three facets of it appearing in the single paragraph before us; and yet, strangely enough, all parts of this mystery are wrapped, entwined and fitted together in the most amazing unity.

In whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden ...

Nielson read the meaning of this to be: "In Jesus Christ are hid all the attributes of Deity." F9 The word "hidden" he construed as meaning "Contained, waiting to be revealed in their time." F10 George A. Buttrick wrote extensively on "Jesus Christ as the Truth" (John 14:6), declaring that "The ultimate wisdom for mankind is not another formula, another gadget or a new discovery ... Every door man opens discloses not the answer, but another corridor with other doors opening into still other corridors, etc." F11 Buttrick illustrated this by pointing out the Copernican discovery. He concluded with a grand proposition that for mankind the ultimate answer is not a mathematical formula, an intricate scientific gadget, nor some startling new discovery - it is a Person; that Person is Christ! Paul discovered this long ago and thundered the message in this verse.


 
Verse 4
This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech.

Delude ... persuasiveness ...
These are two of the 34 words peculiar to Colosmans, as mentioned in the introduction; several others appear in this chapter. These new words are just as Pauline as all the rest of his writings, being required by the special circumstances addressed by Paul in this epistle.

The scholars usually understand this as directed against the advocates of gnostic speculations, as follows:

To beguile (delude) here is "to reason into error"; enticing words are "words of persuasion" rather than reason or revelation. It would be difficult to describe more accurately the marvelous fabrics of Gnostic speculation, each step claiming to be based on some fancied probability or metaphysical propriety, but the whole as artificial as the cycles and epicycles of the old Ptolemaic astronomy. F12

While such observations appear to be true enough, it cannot be denied that the same words are applicable to the insistent claims of aggressive Judaism.

No one ...
This is the springboard from which some speculators identify the Colossian heresy as advocated by one man, called "the false teacher" by many writers; but as Guthrie said, "It is more likely that Paul is using the term generally in the sense of anyone." F13

It is of significance that in this verse it appears that the error at Colossae arose from false speech, rather than from immoral or false practice.


 
Verse 5
For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.

In the spirit ...
By not capitalizing spirit, the translators indicate that the "Holy Spirit" is not referred to here. Again, this verse is the language of a man who knows the people whom he is addressing. "I am absent in the flesh ...

Is it necessary to write this to people one does not even know?

Order ... stedfastness ...
Here are two more of the unusual words of Paul used in Colossians; and most scholars declare them to be military words. Barclay, for example, said, "These two words present a vivid picture, for they are both military words." F14 If such is the truth, then it is easy to suppose that Paul's close association with the military in Rome during his imprisonment might have led to his use of these terms here. "Order ..." means soldier discipline; and a church should stand against all enemies with the solidity of a military phalanx. However, a word of caution is proper concerning the military background of the words Paul chose in this verse. "Meyer and Abbot deny the military reference altogether." F15 Abbot admitted that the words can be used in a military sense, provided that the context indicates it; but here, he said, "The context suggests nothing of the kind." F16

The ideas of order, or discipline and stedfastness, however, are vital to all spiritual development. Paul's statement here that he was "beholding" such qualities among the Colossians appears to be a reference to the good report of them which Paul had received from Epaphras (Colossians 1:7).

Your faith in Christ ...
Again, it is evident in context that Paul has no reference here to the merely subjective act of "believing," in the manner of current usage of the term "faith." It is the sphere in which that faith is working which lends importance to it, that being "in Christ," as attested in the next verse, as well as being implicit in this one.


 
Verses 6, 7
As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

In him ... in him ... in your faith ...
These are all references to the Christian's fidelity "in Christ Jesus," that is, as bona fide members of his church, fully identified as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rooted and builded up ...
Barry pointed out a significant change of tense: "Having been rooted in him once for all, and being built up continually on that foundation." F17 Guthrie's significant analysis of these two verses is:

To receive Christ is but the beginning. The following is to live in him, which is described as involving four aspects, the first three very similar: (1) rooted, (2) built up, and (3) established ... from a building metaphor ... The fourth aspect is abounding in thanksgiving, which echoes the apostle's own enthusiasm to give thanks. F18

Abounding ...
This was one of Paul's favorite words. As Hendriksen said:

Paul does not pray that the Colossians may begin to be thankful, but rather that the ocean of their gratitude may constantly overflow its perimeter. Paul is never satisfied with anything short of perfection. Hence, he loves to use this word overflow or abound. F19


 
Verse 8
Take heed lest there be anyone that makes spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Through his philosophy and vain deceit ...
It appears that the translators have softened Paul's words in this verse by the insertion of the pronoun "his," thus avoiding a blanket condemnation of philosophy and limiting the warning to the particular philosophy advocated at Colossae. Interlinear Greek Testaments have the following:

Take care that no one make a prey of you through philosophy and empty deceit. F20
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit. F21

In keeping with the evident intention of watering down Paul's denunciation here, the following comments are typical of hundreds that are made in this context:

The apostle does not condemn sound philosophy. F22
Paul is not condemning philosophy properly so-called. F23
Clearly the apostle condemns false philosophy. F24
Empty deceit stands in qualifying apposition with philosophy. F25
Such philosophies as the Jewish and Gentile teachers used. F26

Isn't it too bad that the apostle just did not know how to make it clear? Despite the temptation to do so, however, this writer does not wish to get on that bandwagon. An incredibly large amount of destructive influences are operative in this very generation, influences which are grounded in human philosophy; and there is no way to deny the gentle words of the immortal Lipscomb, who said:

All the philosophies of men, all the deceits of human wisdom, and all the rudiments of the world discovered by human reason spoil men, ruin their souls, and lead them to everlasting death by leading them away from God and his salvation. F27

If it be objected that Lipscomb's analysis is harsh or unkind, such an allegation is refuted by the far different tone of what even the most noted philosophers say of each other. Only one of these will be quoted, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, referred to by Will Durant as the most influential of the 18th century philosophers, and one eminently qualified to give an objective and unbiased appraisal of philosophers and philosophy as it existed seventeen centuries after Paul's appraisal. It reads as follows:

I consulted the philosophers ... I found them all alike proud, assertive, dogmatic; professing - even in their so-called skepticism - to know everything; proving nothing, scoffing at one another. This last trait ... struck me as the only point in which they were right. Braggarts in attack, they are weaklings in defense. Weigh their arguments, they are all destructive; count their voices, each speaks for himself alone ... There is not one of them who, if he chanced to discover the difference between falsehood and truth, would not prefer his own lie to the truth which another had discovered. Where is the philosopher who would not deceive the whole world for his own glory? F28

With deep and poignant sorrow, this student of many modern critics and commentators on the New Testament finds some of them to be like the philosophers consulted by Rousseau. One false premise being exposed, they immediately take refuge in another, exposing themselves as enemies of truth and righteousness. Christianity Today some time ago had an editorial on this which is reproduced in this series of writings see my Commentary on Luke, Luke 21:20.

After the tradition of men ...
In this, Paul is in perfect consonance with the repeated denunciations of the Lord Jesus Christ against the Pharisaical keepers of tradition during his ministry. A vast portion of present-day Christianity is not based upon the New Testament at all, but upon human tradition, supported, of course, by vain and empty speculations exactly like that Paul condemned here. See discussion of "Traditions" in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 15:5ff.

After the rudiments of the world ...
The RSV translation of this as "elemental spirits of the universe" simply cannot be correct. As Foy E. Wallace, Jr., pointed out:

The same terminology in Gal. 4:3 refers to the rudiments of Judaism, as the connection of Gal. 3:24-29 very clearly shows ... so here "after the rudiments of the world" refers to the rudiments of heathenism. F29

See Gal. 3:24-29; Gal. 4:3, this volume.

And not after Christ ...
This is the summary of all Paul was saying against the evil teachings and evil teachers of that generation. Whatever human system of thought, religion, politics, or anything else that is not held in reference to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and in full conformity to his revealed will, must be classified as secondary in the affections of Christians. It is freely admitted that this is not the way it is among countless Christians of this generation; but it is still affirmed that this is the way it should be.


 
Verse 9
For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the godhead bodily.

This is an unequivocal declaration of the deity of the Son of God, a thesis repeated at least a dozen times in the Greek New Testament, and reinforced by literally hundreds of other intimations and mandatory deductions throughout the entire New Testament. See my Commentary on Heb. 1:8.

Godhead ...
Ellis noted that "The Greek word for Godhead or deity is the abstract noun for God and includes not only the divine attributes, but also the divine nature." F30 Barry declared that "almost every word of this verse is emphatic." F31 Thus the meaning is intense, thus:

All the fullness of the Godhead ... not a mere emanation from the Supreme Being ...
Dwells and remains forever ... not descending on him for a time and then leaving again ...
Bodily ... that is, as incarnate in his humanity. F32

Guthrie stated that "The word deity ([Greek: theotetos]) occurs only here in the New Testament and denotes the divine essence." F33 However the Greek language had other words for God, and one of them is used of Jesus Christ in Titus 2:13, "Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ."

Bodily ...
This is viewed as a reference to the incarnation of our Lord, his becoming a man and dwelling on earth as a human being. The Gospel of John (John 1:1,14) is parallel with what is said here; also see in my Commentary on Hebrews under Heb. 10:5 and under Heb. 2:16. Hendriksen objected to this interpretation on the grounds of the "present tense"; F34 but the ordinary significance of verb tenses disappears when applied to him who is the same "yesterday, today, yea and forever."


 
Verse 10
And in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power.

This is further elaboration of the power and Godhead of Jesus Christ. The Greek philosophers, or Gnostics, who might have been speculating on emanations from God, or beings operating independently of God, or as the Jewish errorists might have been advocating the worship of angels, or whatever - Paul unequivocally presented Christ as "the head of all principality and power," with the words of Matthew's Great Commission in the background of his thought, namely, "That all authority in heaven and upon earth" was in the hands of Jesus Christ. The angels are all servants of Christ, doing service for the followers of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-14); and angels, like Christians, worship him.

In him ye are made full ...
Peake has a most interesting observation on this clause. Quoting Oltramare, he translated this verse, "In him ye are made perfect," F35 which in the light of Col. 1:28 is probably the correct rendition. As is well known, the Greek text in this part of Colossians is somewhat difficult.


 
Verse 11
In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ.

Circumcision not made with hands ...
The reference to baptism in the next verse has sent some of the commentators into orbit, alleging all kinds of wild speculations designed to eliminate Christian baptism as the gateway to all "spiritual blessings in Christ." It is refreshing to find Ellis cutting the bud out of such notions with the following:

There is no direct analogy between Christian baptism and the "old age" rite of circumcision. Circumcision here is the death of Christ (clearly a metaphorical reference - JBC), by which he wrought severance from the old age, cleansing from sin, and reconciliation to God. F36

If circumcision should be made a type of baptism, then only men could be baptized; it would have to take place on the eighth day of their lives; there could be no prior conditions such as faith, repentance or confession; and it could be received only by those already in covenant relationship with the Lord; and how could that be applied to an eight-day-old infant?

The obvious reference to the death of Christ (which was the metaphorical circumcision referred to) in this verse naturally raised the question in Paul's thought of just how men are enabled to participate in the death of Christ, share its benefits, and receive its blessings. That prompted the immediate reference to baptism. (Compare with Romans 6:3-5).

THE CIRCUMCISION IN CHRIST

Col. 2:11 is more easily understood if the intermediate phrases are omitted from the principal statement in the passage which is:

"In whom (Christ) we were also circumcised ... in the circumcision of Christ."

The Christian is dead "in Christ." "If one died for all, then all died" (2 Corinthians 5:14). This means that the penalty of death (due to all sin) was paid by Christ who died for all. As members of his "spiritual body," Christians are, in a genuine sense "in him," identified with him, and as Christ they are dead, having been crucified with him, a status they received when they were baptized into his death."

Christians are also "perfect" in Christ (Colossians 1:28,29). This perfection, like his death, belongs to Christians, not through achievement by themselves, but through their status "in Christ."

Exactly the same is true of the circumcision mentioned here. "In Christ," Christians were not merely "circumcised"; but they also kept perfectly the entire Law of Moses, not by actually observing all those regulations, but by being "in Christ," totally identified with him, being actually his "spiritual body." All of this is plainly said when Col. 2:11 is read without the descriptive phrases. Our circumcision is "in the circumcision of Christ."

See my Commentary on Romans, Rom. 4:11 for more on circumcision.


 
Verse 12
Having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Buried with him in baptism ...
Note that nothing is said here of baptism being accomplished without human hands, the same being an obvious impossibility. Note too that there is here the plainest reference to immersion as the action recognized by the apostles as being required in the baptism commanded by Christ. One may read bales of sophistry on this subject, but the simple truth is easy to see. See the parallel Pauline reference in Rom. 6:3-5, together with comments in my Commentary on Romans.


 
Verse 13
And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.

Trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh ...
The deadness indicated by this denotes the preconversion, or unregenerated state of Christians before they became followers of Christ. Such deadness was often spoken of by the apostles in reference to the unbaptized. Such deadhess, however, upon their conversion, was followed by the new life in Christ.

You did he make alive ...
When does the new life come to the Christian? Fortunately, we do not need to rely upon human opinion regarding so important a question as this. Note the following:

We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
Wherefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Even in the sequence of verses before us, baptism is mentioned in Col. 2:12 and the being made alive in the next verse, where it logically belongs. Before leaving these three verses, it is proper to note certain widespread, persistent and stridently vocal errors regarding what the New Testament says concerning Christian baptism, or rather, what it does NOT say! Nowhere in the New Testament is it declared that:

Baptism is a symbol
Baptism is a token
Baptism is a type
Baptism is a figure
Baptism is a sign
Baptism is an outward sign
Baptism is optional
Baptism is unessential
Baptism is unnecessary
Baptism is a physical action alone.

In these studies, the old cliche that "Baptism is the outward sign of an inward grace," if encountered once, has been encountered a hundred times; but it is not, in any sense, true. In the New Testament, baptism is said to be the reality of which even the salvation of Noah and his family was only "the figure" (1 Peter 3:21).

Furthermore, it is a gross error to suppose that baptism in any true sense whatever is accomplished without the existence of the prior conditions of faith, repentance and confession. One is surprised that even Lipscomb would declare that "Baptism avails nothing without faith." F37 Without faith, no one was ever baptized, although of course he might have been wet. Although it is correct to say that "Immersion avails nothing without faith," which is presumably what Lipscomb meant, the distinction should be made clear to all. It is feared that many have misunderstood the true teaching on this question, which in no sense whatever would substitute immersion for faith as a prior condition of membership in Christ's kingdom, but which requires of all who would be saved that they "believe, repent and be baptized" in order to be saved. This is what Christ commanded when he said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." This distinction between "immersed" and "baptized" may appear too finely drawn to some; and it is freely admitted that there is a sense in which the words mean exactly the same thing; but baptism as compliance with the prior conditions of redemption "in Christ" is never accomplished except with the prior conditions of faith and repentance having already appeared in the candidate's heart before he is immersed, that is, before he can be baptized.

Hawng forgiven us all our trespasses.. "This is, of course, a reference to the forgiveness of all the old sins of which the believer was guilty at the time of his conversion. The apostle Peter mentioned this "cleansing from his old sins" in 2 Pet. 1:9. Sins committed after one has become a Christian are forgiven upon the conditions of repentance and prayer of the Christian.


 
Verse 14
Having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

Bond written in ordinances ...
This is a reference to the Decalogue and to the entire Law of Moses. Widespread denial of this is ill-founded and inaccurate. Peake's skilled exegesis on this question is pertinent:

Distinction between moral and ceremonial Law has no meaning in Paul. The Law is a unity and is done away as a whole. For Paul, the hostile character of the Law is peculiarly associated with the moral side of it. The Law which slew him is represented by the 10th Commandment, and the ministry of death was engraved on tables of stone? F38

Written in ordinances ...
as in this verse, signifies the tables of stone inscribed by the finger of God. As Wallace pointed out, it is deplorable that "By omission of `handwriting of ordinances' the revisionists break this connection." F39 The words certainly belong as a sure testimony that the Decalogue is here indicated.

Taken it out of the way ... nailing it to the cross ...
These terms indicate the absolute cancellation and abrogation of the Law of Moses. Also, the fact should not be lost sight of that the heresy at Colossae was deeply involved with the Law of Moses, practically all of this chapter being particularly applicable to it.

The special application of this verse, as inclusive of the moral part of the Law of Moses, was discussed thus by Macknight:

The moral precepts of the Law of Moses are called the Chirograph, or handwriting of ordinances, because the most essential of these precepts were written by the hand of God on two tables of stone; and the rest Moses was directed to write in a book. F40

Sabbatarians make two profound mistakes: (1) in their understanding of the sabbath day commandment as in any sense a part of the moral law, and (2) in their insistence that the moral portion of the Law of Moses is still in effect; whereas nothing could be more emphatic than the New Testament declarations that the Law, not part of it, but all of it, has been changed, abrogated, taken away, nailed to the cross, etc.


 
Verse 15
Having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

The principalities and the powers ...
These are understood to be the ranking members of the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem, and also inclusive perhaps of the Roman procurator who in Paul's time had already come to receive the eternal infamy of the lines, "Suffered under Pontius Pilate."

Of course, this view is disputed. Peake noted that "almost every word in this verse" is disputed by scholars. F41 On the identification of "principalities and powers," Nielson thought they were "demonic forces"; F42 Dummelow was sure that "they were the angels who gave the Law"; F43 and Guthrie thought they "were spiritual enemies." F44

In it ...
is also disputed, some thinking it means "in him"; but we shall offer the exegesis on the basis of the translation before us. Here, too, if this is allowed, the antecedent of "it" becomes a factor in the interpretation. Since the overall subject of this whole section is the Law of Moses, we shall take the Law itself as the antecedent of "it," making the passage read that Jesus triumphed "over them in it." The them, of course, as already noted, is seen as reference to the religious and political rulers before whom the ministry and Passion of Jesus were enacted. This interpretation has the great advantage of being backed up by the entire Sermon on the Mount, and by all of those astounding events that frustrated and defeated the hierarchy of Israel.

Jesus Christ took up the great moral commandments of the Decalogue, one at a time, quoted each one, opposed his own authority against it, showing that one could indeed keep every command in the Decalogue and yet remain a scoundrel and a rogue; if there were ever a case of Jesus triumphing over the Pharisees in the Law of Moses, that has to be the time. Furthermore, he triumphed over them in the Law on another salient front. They repeatedly accused him of sabbath-breaking; but Jesus destroyed their sabbath regulations by showing that they were of men and not of the Father; and by the time of the confrontation before Pilate, the Pharisees no longer even alleged that Jesus broke the sabbath. (It is still alleged by some, quite erroneously, that Jesus broke the sabbath "for sufficient cause.") For a full discussion of "Jesus' Triumphing over the Hierarchy in the Law of Moses," see my Commentary on Matthew, under that title. It is the opinion of this writer that this interpretation removes all difficulties of understanding this admittedly difficult passage, and avoids the near-impossible task of showing how Jesus triumphed "openly" over either angels or devils.


 
Verse 16
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day.

So Paul continues to speak of Jewish things. Gnosticism is not in one hundred miles of this passage. We deplore a statement like this:

The church at Colossae was no exception. Instead of its members being harassed by Judaizers, as were the Corinthians, they were in danger of being corrupted by the Gnostics. False teachers were seeking to deprive the Colossians of that simplicity which is in Christ. F45

While there evidently were traces of incipient gnosticism, it was the Judaizers who were refuted in these verses. As Dummelow said, "The Jewish character of the false teachers comes very plainly into view here." F46

Meat ... drink ... feast day ... new moon ... sabbath day ...
All of these refer to Jewish observances; as Macknight said, "Some of these were enjoined in the Law, and others by private authority." F47 Of particular importance is the appearance of the sabbath commandment in this list. "Although the article the is not in the Greek, it clarifies the meaning; Paul was resisting the Judaizers who insisted on legalistic sabbath observance." F48 As F. F. Bruce expressed it, "It is as plain as may well be that Paul is warning his readers against those who were trying to impose the observance of the Jewish sabbath upon them." F49 The sabbath observance is here placed upon the same footing as the other things abolished, and "Thus Paul commits himself to the principle that a Christian is not to be censured for its non-observance." F50

SABBATH ABOLISHED

There is no sabbath commandment in Genesis; there is not even an indication that Adam knew anything about God resting on the sabbath day (Genesis 3:2). In Genesis, Moses was merely stating, generations and millenniums after the fact, what God had done in the remote ages long before Moses wrote Genesis. Historically, the very first revelation of any such thing as the sabbath came not to Adam, but to Moses. Note:

Thou camest down also upon Mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, true laws, good statutes and commandments: And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath ... by the hand of Moses thy servant" (Nehemiah 9:13-14).

Conclusion: The sabbath observance did not antedate the Law of Moses; the sabbath was unknown prior to Moses, else God could not have revealed it to him.

Significantly, the reason God assigned for requiring Israel to keep the sabbath was not prior existence of the institution but their deliverance from bondage.

Thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore, the Lord thy God commandeth thee to keep the sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15).

The sabbath is said to be a sign, not between God and all men, but between God and the Jews. "It is a sign between me (God) and the children of Israel" (Exodus 31:17).

Took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross ...
In what sense did God nail the sabbath to the cross of Christ? The words of course are highly figurative and symbolical. A day could not actually be nailed to anything. Still, there is a marvelous connection. Many centuries before Christ, some tradesmen who resented keeping the sabbath day came to Amos and demanded to know:

When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances of deceit? (Amos 8:5).
The prophet answered this question with words which to the prophet might have seemed to say that the sabbath would never be removed; but here is the word that God actually put into the mouth of Amos:
And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in a clear day (Amos 8:9).

Very well; these Scriptures teach that the sabbath day was to be abolished when God darkened the earth in a clear day and the sun went down at noon. This of course happened when Jesus was crucified; thus the sabbath day was nailed to his cross. See more on this in Matthew, my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:51ff, where significant additional detail is provided. Also see my Commentary on the Ten Commandmants, for the entire chapter on the Fourth Commandment.


 
Verse 17
Which are a shadow of the things to come, but the body is Christ's.

A shadow of things to come ...
Again we are confronted with an amazing coincidence of thought with that of the author of Hebrews who devoted two entire chapters (Heb. 9 and Heb. 10) to many things in the institution of Moses which were designed to foretell and illuminate the realities in the new covenant.

The body is Christ's ...
means that the substance, as contrasted with the shadows, pertains to the institution of Christ and the church.


 
Verses 18, 19
Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels, dwelling in the things which he hath seen, vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind, and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God.

This passage is another admittedly difficult one, the rendition of various words and clauses being variously advocated; but such technical disputations lie without the perimeter of this work; and we shall content ourselves by undertaking an exegesis of the text as it stands in this version. We rely in part upon the affirmation of F. F. Bruce to the effect that the most accurate of the versions is the ASV.

Rob you of your prize ...
The prize is eternal life; and the promise of it is jeopardized for everyone who turns from the worship of the one and only Saviour to worship angels, or any other creatures.

Voluntary humility and worshiping of angels ...
As Peake said:

Their humility found expression in angel worship. It is therefore that lowliness that causes a man to think himself unworthy to come into fellowship with God, and therefore prompts the worship of angels. Such humility was perverted. F51

Dwelling in things which he hath seen ...
Paul made a sharp distinction between the things "that are seen" and things "that are unseen," that is, between the visible and the invisible, the latter being permanent, the other transient, mortal and ephemeral. See full treatment of this in my Commentary on 2 Corinthians under "Seeing the Invisible." The error at Colossae was founded upon the visible, as contrasted with the invisible. This of course resulted in their being vainly puffed up in the fleshly mind.

Not holding fast the Head ...
The Head is Christ; and any consideration, of any kind whatsoever, that results in the severance of the Christian from his perfect union with Christ, the same results immediately in his spiritual death. "Severance from the Head cuts off the supply of spiritual life." F52


 
Verse 20
If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances?

The rudiments of the world ...
has reference to the forms, shadows and ceremonial ordinances of Judaism. See comment on this under Col. 2:14.

As though living in the world ...
A Christian is committed to a different life-style, in which the value-judgments of the world are rejected; and for a Christian to undertake all the ceremonies of Judaism, such would be diametrically opposed to his new life in Christ.

Why ... subject ... to ordinances ... ?
The ordinances here have no reference whatever to the great ordinances of the Christian religion, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper, the obligation to keep which lies squarely upon all who ever hope to be saved. The ordinances which the Colossians were admonished to leave off were the Jewish ordinances like those mentioned in Col. 2:16. The blindness, or perversity, or both which leads some commentators to read this verse as applicable to the Christian ordinances is most deplorable, and traceable, as to its cause, to the great Reformation heresy of salvation by faith alone. May God open the eyes of Bible students. An example of the kind of ordinances Paul meant was immediately given in the next verse.


 
Verses 21, 22
Handle not, nor taste, nor touch (all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men?

Again reference is made to the great Magna Carta of the Christian religion in the Gospel of Matthew, where the Saviour equated human traditions with the precepts of men, saying, "In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:9). Paul was confronted at Colossae with some of the same punctilious attention to human traditions as that which marked the conduct of the Pharisees and drew from the Saviour himself the denunication just quoted. See Matt. 15:9 with comments in this series. It is futile to inquire just what traditions Paul referred to. We do not know. His words apply to all "precepts and doctrines of men," including those which are being received, preached and practiced in our times. All alike are condemned. Worshipers indulging such things are worshiping "in vain," according to the Lord himself.


 
Verse 23
Which things have indeed a shadow of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and severity to the body, but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.

Some things are startlingly clear in this passage so often disputed. Note these conclusions:

Whatever human precepts and ordinances may exhibit as to their "wisdom," it is a delusion, for "they are not of any value."
Will-worship means the kind of actions engaged in because they please the worshiper, and not because they were commanded by the Lord.
Humility is a fine thing, if it is true humility; but a false humility pretending to be too God-fearing to approach God as God has directed, and then seeking to approach through some angel, or human mediator, or through some deceased saint, such so-called humility is actually spiritual arrogance.

THE WORSHIPING OF ANGELS

Of course this is condemned in the New Testament, not merely in this chapter, but throughout. Even the apostle John "fell down before the feet of an angel to worship him" (Revelation 19:10), but was forbidden to do so. Then, later, the apostle made a distinction between "falling down to worship the angel" and falling down in the presence of the angel to worship God, only to be ordered not to do either one! (Revelation 22:8,9). Thus is established the principle that a Christian may neither worship such a being as an angel, and certainly not any such thing as an image, and that it is also sinful to bow down before either on the pretext that we are not worshiping the angel (or the image) but are worshiping God!

The angel worship Paul was combating in this chapter was the Jewish apostasy from the worship of God supported by the same specious reasoning by which the medieval church sought to justify the adoration of images in Christian worship. Barry has an illuminating paragraph on this:

This (the worship of angels) is closely connected with the voluntary humility Paul mentioned. The link is supplied by the notice in the ancient interpreters, of the early growth of that unhappy idea, which has always lain at the root of saintworship and angel worship in the church ... "That we must be brought near by angels, and not by Christ, for that were too high a thing for us" (Chrysostom).
Since the Law had been given through the ministration of angels, it was held that angels might be worshiped, probably with the same subtle distinction with which we are familiar in the ordinary pleas for the veneration of saints? F53


Footnotes for Colossians 2
: Ibid.
1: G. Campbell Morgan, An Exposition of the Holy Bible (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1959), p. 497.
2: A. S. Peake, Expositor's Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 518.
3: Alfred Barry, Ellicott' s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. III, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 105.
4: John B. Nielson, Colossians in Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1965), p. 394.
5: James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles with Commentary, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 521.
6: William Hendriksen, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 102.
7: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 105.
8: G. Campbell Morgan, op. cit., p. 496.
9: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 396.
10: Ibid.
11: George A. Buttrick, Christ and Man's Dilemma (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), pp. 29ff.
12: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 105.
13: Donald Guthrie, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1146.
14: William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 131.
15: A. S. Peake, op. cit, p. 520.
16: Ibid.
17: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 106.
18: Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1146.
19: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 108.
20: Emphatic Diaglott (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), p. 677.
21: Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English Testament, The Nestle Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 794.
22: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 526.
23: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 983.
24: Ernest G. Ashby, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 486.
25: G. G. Findlay, Colossians in Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1950), p. 85.
26: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (London: Carlton and Porter, 1929), Vol. VI, p. 522.
27: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., A Review of the New Versions (Fort Worth, Texas: Foy E. Wallace Jr. Publications, 1973), p. 448.
28: Will and Ariel Durant, Rousseau and Revolution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 183.
29: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., A Review of the New Versions (Fort Worth, Texas: Foy E. Wallace Jr. Publications, 1973), p. 448.
30: E. Earle Ellis, Wycliffe New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 791.
31: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 106.
32: Ibid.
33: Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1147.
34: William Hendriksen, op. cid, p. 111.
35: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 524.
36: E. Earle Ellis, op. cit., p. 792.
37: David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 280.
38: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 527.
39: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., op. cit., p. 449.
40: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 534.
41: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 528.
42: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 404.
43: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 983.
44: Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1147.
45: Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings from Paul (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), p. 222.
46: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 983.
47: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 538.
48: John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 405.
49: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 109.
50: A. S. Peake, op. cit., p. 531.
51: Ibid., p. 532.
52: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 983.
53: Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 111.
54: William Hendriksen, op. cit, p. 88 footnote.
55: James Burton Coffman, The Mystery of Redemption (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1976).
56: Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 486.
57: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 436.
58: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 63.
59: David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol. IV (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1964), p. 194.
60: B. C. Carlin, op. cit., p. 64.
61: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 437.
62: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 141.
63: Ibid., p. 143.
64: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 974.
65: Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 769.
66: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 50.
67: Ibid., p. 48.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Colossians 2". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=col&chapter=002>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.