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Colossians 2:823comment (0)

May 5, 2011

By Cecil Taylor

Related Scripture: Colossians 2:823

Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Colossians 2:8–23

In this section, Paul trained his guns on the “Colossian heresy” to which he earlier alluded. Actually what is known of this heresy comes from data mentioned in these verses. Clues to the heresy’s nature come in the form of warnings against certain of its components.  

False Philosophy (8–15)
First he warned against being taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.” “Takes you captive” describes a vigorous abduction, i.e., kidnapping. Those who peddled their heresy in Colossae were men-stealers who wanted to seize the Colossians and drag them away into spiritual slavery. In the ancient world, “philosophy,” literally “love of wisdom,” had to do with ideas about God, the world and the meaning of life. Paul’s words did not condemn all philosophy. “Hollow and deceptive” philosophy was the problem.

Three other phrases characterized this system. First it depended on “human tradition.” These, not divine revelation, formed the basis of the philosophy taught by the errorists at Colossae. Second it rested on “the basic principles of this world.” The term translated “basic principles” (“stoicheia”) had multiple meanings but here probably meant “the elemental spirits” of the world, i.e., angels and demons. Probably Paul meant the false philosophy had the elemental spirits as its subject matter (cf Col. 2:18). Third this system was not based “on Christ.” The heretics’ teaching did not match up with the truth revealed in Christ. No system can stand unless it conforms to the revelation God gave in Him.

Paul’s warnings grew from the facts of Christ’s unshared supremacy (9) and His complete adequacy (10–15).
The fullness of deity makes its home in Christ “bodily.” “In Christ,” i.e., in union with Christ, believers are “made full.” In Him, every spiritual need is met. He is the head over all that exists. There is no need to turn to any other source for anything.

Three things come to the person “in Christ.” First he or she has true circumcision, a mark not in the body but on the heart. Second he or she has forgiveness of sins. “My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross.” Third he or she has victory over the forces of evil.

Legalism (16–17)
“What you eat or drink” probably referred to the food rules of the law of Moses, i.e., clean and unclean. “A religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” surely pointed to annual, monthly and weekly Jewish holy days. Some in Colossae tried to force these observances on Christians. Paul declared Christians free from all such obligations. These legal stipulations were but “shadows” of the reality that came in Christ. There was no need for the Colossians to be bound by them.

Angel Worship (18–19)
These verses are puzzling but the ideas seem clear. Through fake humility and harping on “what he has seen,” perhaps “visions,” false teachers led Colossians into angel worship. All the while, they “lost connection with the Head (Christ).” Lacking vital contact with Christ, the errorists lacked life and could not help the church grow.

Asceticism (20–23)
Ascetics believe the body is evil. A believer must treat the body as an enemy, punishing and abusing it in the interest of nourishing the spirit/soul. At times, this called for denying the body food and rest. The ascetic spirit led some to demean marriage and even normal human contact (e.g., monks in a monastic order who do not marry, have no contact with the outside world and even abstain from speaking to each other).

It is not clear exactly what forms asceticism took at Colossae, but Paul urged Christians there to reject it as a way of life. He offered three reasons. First, having “died” to the world, a believer must not permit life to become again a round of rules. Second these rules are founded not on divine revelation but are strictly human in origin. Third punishing the body to the maximum cannot rid the heart of lust and sin.

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