Colossians 2





So far the contents of the letter have been of a general and preparatory character.

Now Paul begins to indicate the special purpose he has in view by declaring, in

connection with his concern for the welfare of the Gentile Churches at large

(ch. 1:24-29), the deep anxiety which he at present feels respecting the

Colossian and neighboring Churches.


1   “For I would that ye knew what great conflict (strife) I have for you, and

for them at Laodicea,” -  (ch. 4:12-13; II Corinthians 11:28-29; Romans 1:9-13;

Philippians 1:8, 25-30;  I Thessalonians 2:17-18; Galatians 4:20). The apostle has

dwelt at such length and so earnestly upon his own position and responsibilities

(ch.1:24-29), that the Colossians may feel how real and strong is his interest in

their welfare, though personally strangers to him (see next clause). His solicitude

for them is in keeping with the toil and strife of his whole ministry. “I would

have you know;” a familiar Pauline phrase (I Corinthians 11:3; Philippians 1:12;

Romans 1:13).  Ηλίκον – helikon – great - has, perhaps, a slightly exclamatory

force, as in James 3:5 (only other instance of the word in the New Testament), and

in classical Greek. For “strife,” see note on “striving” (ch. 1:29): the energy and

abruptness of language characterizing this second chapter bear witness in the inward

wrestling which the Colossian difficulty occasioned in the apostle’s mind. (On the

close connection of Colossae with Laodicea, compare ch. 4:13-17)   The danger

which had come to a head in Colossae was doubtless threatening its neighbors.

The words, “and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;” (v. 5;

ch.1:8; Romans 1:11; Galatians 1:22; Acts 20:25), raise the question whether Paul

had ever visited Colossae. The language of ch. 1:7 (see note) raises a strong

presumption against his being the founder of this Church, and the narrative of the

Acts scarcely admits of any visit to this region in former missionary journeys.

The apostle is the more anxious for this endangered Church, as the gifts that his

presence might have conveyed (Romans 1:11) were wanting to them. He says,

“in flesh,” for “in spirit” he is closely united with them (v. 5; ch.1:8: comp.

I Corinthians 5:3-4). The object of his strife on their behalf is:


2   “That their hearts may be comforted (encouraged),”  - ch.4:8; Ephesians

6:22; I Thessalonians 3:2; 4:18; II Thessalonians 2:17; II Corinthians 13:11).

For the mischief at work at Colossae was at once unsettling (vs. 6-7; ch.1:23) and

discouraging  (ch.1:23; 2:18; 3:15) in its effects, Παρακληθῶσιν,  - paraklaethosin –

being consoled - a favorite word of  Paul’s, means “to address,” “exhort,” then

more specially “to encourage,” “comfort,” (II Corinthians 1:4), “to beseech”

(Ephesians 4:1; II Corinthians 6:1),or “to instruct” (Titus 1:9). The heart, in Biblical

language, is not the seat of feeling only, but stands for the whole inner man, as the

“vital center” of his personality – compare Mark 7:19, 21-23; I Peter. 3:4; Romans

7:22; Ephesians 3:16-17) -  “being knit together in love, and unto all (the) riches

of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery

of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.”  (v. 19; ch.1:9; 3:10,14; 4:12;

Ephesians 1:17-18; 3:17-19; 4:2-3, 15-16; Philippians 1:9; 2:2; I Corinthians 1:10;

II Corinthians 13:11). In the best Greek copies “being knit together”  is nominative

masculine, agreeing with “they,” the logical subject implied in “their hearts” (feminine).

συμβιβασθέντων– sunbibasthenton – knit together - has the same sense in v. 19 and in

Ephesians 4:16; in I Corinthians 2:16 it is quoted from the Septuagint in another sense;

and it has a variety of meanings in the Acts. “Drawn together” expresses the double

sense which accrues to the verb in combination with the two prepositions “in” and

“into:” “united  in love,” Christians are prepared to be “led into all the wealth of Divine

knowledge.” This combination of “love and knowledge” appears in all Paul’s letters

of this period (compare Ephesians 4:12-16; Philippians 1:9; and contrast I Corinthians

8:1-3; 13:1-2, 8-13). “The riches of the full assurance,” and “the knowledge of

 the mystery” are the counterpart of “the riches of the glory of the mystery,” of

ch. 1:27; the fullness of conviction and completeness of knowledge attainable

by the Christian correspond to the full and satisfying character of the revelation he

receives in Christ (compare Ephesians 1:17-19). (On “understanding,” see note, ch.

1:9.) (πληροφορία – plerophoria - “Full assurance,” or “conviction”) is a word

belonging to Luke and Paul (with the Epistle to the Hebrews) in the New Testament

(not found in classical Greek), and denotes radically “a bringing to fall measure or

maturity.” Combined with “understanding,” it denotes the ripe, intelligent

persuasion of one who enters into the whole wealth of the “truth as it is in

Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21) - compare ch.4:12, Revised Version; also Romans 4:21 and

14:5, for corresponding verb). In this inward “assurance,” as in a fortress, the

Colossians were to entrench themselves against the attacks of error (ch. 1:9; 3:15,

and notes). Eἰς ἐπίγνωσιν  – eis epiginosin -  into the acknowledgment -is

either in explanatory apposition to the previous clause, or rather donotes the further

purpose for which this wealth of conviction is to be sought: “knowledge of

the Divine mystery, knowledge of Christ” — this is the supreme end, ever

leading on and upward, for the pursuit of which all strengthening of heart

and understanding are given (ch. 3:10; Ephesians 3:16-19; Philippians 3:10).

The object of this knowledge is the great manifested mystery of God,

namely Christ (ch.1:27).   The words thus read have been interpreted “mystery

of the God, Christ”  Ephesians 1:17; John 20:17; Matthew 27:46); — both

interpretations grammatically correct, but unsuitable here, the apostle, if

this be his meaning, has expressed himself ambiguously; but compare 1:27 (see

note); also I Timothy 3:16, “The mystery, who was manifested in flesh.”


3   “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” 

(Ephesians 1:8-9; 3:8; Romans 11:33; I Corinthians 1:5-6, 30; 2:7;

II Corinthians 4:3). In Him the apostle finds what false teachers

sought elsewhere, a satisfaction for the intellect as well as for the heart —

treasures of wisdom and knowledge to enrich the understanding, and

unsearchable mysteries to exercise the speculative reason. “Hidden” is,

therefore, a secondary predicate: in whom are these treasures, — as hidden

treasures.  (For a similar emphasis of position, compare “made complete,” v. 10,

and “seated,” ch. 3:1.)  This word also belongs to the dialect of the mystic

theosophists (see note, 1:27: compare I Corinthians 2:6-16; Isaiah 45:3;

Proverbs 2:1-11). (On “wisdom,” see note,  1:9.) (γνῶσις – gnosis –

Knowledge is the more objective and purely intellectual side of wisdom

(compare Romans 11:33). 


4   In this verse the apostle first definitely indicates the cause of his anxiety, and the

Epistle begins to assume a polemic tone. This verse is, therefore, the prelude of the

impending attack on the false teachers (vs. 8-23). “And this I say, lest any man

should beguile you with enticing words.” - (vs. 8, 18, 23; Ephesians 4:14;

I Corinthians 2:1, 4,13;  I Timothy 6:20; Psalm 55:21). This was the danger which

made a more adequate comprehension of Christianity so necessary to the

Colossians (vs. 2-3).  Πιθανολογία –- pithanologia – enticing; persuasiveness –

one of the numerous hapax legomena (a word which occurs only once in either

the written record of a language, the works of an author, or in a single text.

While technically incorrect, the term is also sometimes used of a word that occurs

in only one of an author's works, even though it occurs more than once in that work.

Hapax legomenon is a transliteration of the Greek  ἅπαξ λεγόμενον - hapax legomenon

-meaning "(something) said (only) once".  It is only used here in the New Testament),

and compounds into one word the πειθοῖ λόγοι - peithoi logoi - persuasive words -

of I Corinthians 2:4 (compare “word of wisdom,” v. 23). In classical

writers it denotes plausible, ad captandum reasoning (unsound argument used to

try to capture the gullibility of the naïve among the listeners). Παραλογίζομαι 

paralogizomai – beguile; deceive; delude (only here and James 1:22 in the New

Testament) is “to use bad logic,” “to play off fallacies.” The new teachers were

fluent, specious reasoners, and had a store of sophistical arguments at command.

The tense of the verb indicates an apprehension as to what may be now

going on (vs. 8, 16, 18, 20; ch.1:23). We shall see afterwards (vs. 8-23) what

was the doctrine underlying this “persuasive speech.”


5   “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit,” -

I Thessalonians 2:17; I Corinthians 5:3-4). The connection of this verse with the

last is not obvious.  It seems it is a general explanatory reference to the previous

context, a renewed declaration (v.1) of watchful interest in these distant brethren

and a hearty acknowledgment of their Christian loyalty. The tone of authoritative

warning just assumed (v. 4) is thus justified, and yet softened (compare the

apologetic tone of Romans 15:14-15). The phrase, “though I be absent,” does

not imply a previous presence (see note, v. 1) – “joying and beholding your

order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.”  (Philippians 1:4-8, 27;

I Corinthians 1:5-8;  I  Thessalonians 2:13; II Thessalonians 1:4). Paul dos not say,

“rejoicing in beholding.” The consciousness of union with brethren far

away, whom he has never seen (v. 1), is itself a joy; and this joy is heightened by

what he sees through the eyes of Epaphras (ch.1:4, 6-8: compare I Corinthians 7:7)

of the condition of this Church.  Τάξις – taxis – order -  and στερέωμα 

 stereoma – a support; foundation; which denotes strength, steadfastness –

 both are military terms, denoting the “ordered array” and “solid front” of an

army prepared for battle.  Compare Ephesians 6:11; Philippians 1:27. Others find

the figure of a building underlying the second word —  Vulgate, firmamentum

 (“solid basis”) — and this is its more usual meaning, and agrees with v. 7 and

 ch.1:23 (compare II Timothy 2:19; I Peter. 5:9; Acts 16:5; also Psalm 18:2, Septuagint,

for the noun, not found, elsewhere in the New Testament). The precise expression,

“faith in Christ” (literally, into — εἰςeis -  not ἐν en as in ch.1:4, see note)

occurs only here in the New Testament; in Acts 24:24 read “in Christ Jesus.”

In such passages as Romans 3:22, 26 (where πίστεως pisteos faith; firm

persuasion - is followed by the genitive), Christ appears as object of faith; in

such as ch.1:4 and here.  He is its ground or substratum, that in which it rests

and dwells, into which it roots itself.


6   “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in

Him.”  (Philippians 1:27; 2:9-11; I Thessalonians 4:1; II Thessalonians 2:13-15;

I Corinthians 15:1-2; Galatians 3:2-4; 5:1; Hebrews 3:6; 4:14; 10:23; John 7:17;

15:5-10; Romans 3:11). Such a walk will be consistent with their previous

steadfastness, and will lead them to larger spiritual attainments (ch. 1:10; see

note). “Ye received” (παρελάβετε –paralabete – to receive from another;

to accept -  not δέχομαι – dechomai -  as in ch. 4:10: compare I Thessalonians

2:13) reminds the Colossians of what they had received (compare “ye were taught,”

v. 7 and ch.1:7) rather than of the way of their receiving it.  “Christ Jesus the Lord,”

 is  literally, the Christ Jesus, the Lord — an expression found besides only in

Ephesians 3:11 (Revised Text). The prefixed article points out  Christ Jesus in His

full style and title as the Person whom the Colossians had received, and received as the

Lord. “The Lord” has a predicative force, as in I Corinthians 12:3 (Revised Version);

II Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 2:11. “Jesus is Lord”  was the testing watchword

applied in the discerning of spirits; (I John 4:3) - “Jesus Christ is Lord”

is to be the final confession of a reconciled universe; and “Christ Jesus is Lord” is

the rule of faith that guides all conduct and tests all doctrine within the Church

(compare  v. 19; Romans 16:18). It is “a summary of the whole Christian confession.”

To vindicate this lordship, on which the Colossian error trenched so seriously, is the

main object of the Epistle (ch.1:13-20). The writer has already used “Christ Jesus”

as a single proper name at the outset (ch.1:1, 4); and it was the lordship of

Christ Jesus, not the Messiahship of Jesus, that was now in question. In

Acts 18:5, 28 the situation is entirely different. In the following clause, “in Him” is

emphatic, as in v. 7 (compare the predominant αὐτός –autos – Him - of ch.1:16-22;

2:9-15). Hence the contradiction of figure, “walk, rooted, and builded up,”

does not obtrude itself. (On “walk,” see note, ch.1:10; and on “in Christ” in

this connection, see notes, 1:4; 2:10; and compare Romans 6:3-11; 8:1;

II Corinthians 5:17; John 15:1-7.)


7   “Rooted and built up in Him,” – (ch.1:23; v.5; Ephesians 2:20-22; 3:18; 4:16;

I Corinthians 3:9-12;  Jude 1:20; Luke 6:47-48). “Rooted” is perfect participle,

implying an abiding fact (“fast rooted”); while “builded up” (literally, upon or unto)

 is in the present tense of a continued process, the prefix ἐπὶ - epi - also implying

growth and gain (ch. 1:6, 10; 2:19). The ideas of planting and building are

similarly combined in I Corinthians 3:9; Ephesians 3:18; and rooted is a figure

applied to buildings in other Greek writers.  Christ is the ground for the roots

below, and the foundation for the building above!  -  “and stablished in

the faith, as ye have been taught,” -  (ch.1:5-7, 23; I Corinthians 1:6-8;

I Thessalonians 3:2; 4:1; II  Thessalonians 2:13-15; I Peter 5:9-10).  “Stablished”

(βεβαιούμενοι – bebaioomenoi - being kept firm) is present in tense, like

“builded up” (v. 6, see note): compare Romans 4:16; Philippians 1:7; Hebrews 3:6;

6:19; 13:9; and distinguish from στηρίζω - sterizo - to make stable, fix firmly.

In “as ye were taught” the apostle reminds his readers again of their first lessons

in the gospel (ch.1:5-7, see notes; II Thessalonians 2:15) -  “abounding therein

with thanksgiving.” -  or, abounding in thanksgiving (ch. 1:3,12; 3:15,17; 4:2;

Ephesians 5:4, 20;  I Thessalonians 5:18; Hebrews 13:15).           





The apostle has first defined his own doctrinal position in the theological deliverance

of ch.1:15-20, and has then skillfully brought himself into suitable personal relations

with his readers by the statements and appeals of Ibid.1:23-2:7. And now, after a

general indication in v. 4 of the direction in which he is about to strike, he unmasks the

battery he has been all the while preparing, and delivers his attack on the Colossian

 error, occupying the rest of this second chapter, he denounces


  • its false philosophy of religion (vs. 8-15);
  • its arbitrary and obsolete ceremonialism (vs. 16-17);
  • its visionary angel worship (vs. 18-19);
  • its ascetic rules (vs. 20-22; v. 23)


reviewing the whole system in a brief characterization of its most prominent and

dangerous features. It will be convenient to treat separately the first of these topics,

under the heading already given, which indicates the positive truth developed by

Paul in antagonism to the error against which he contends — a truth which is the

practical application of the theological teaching of the first chapter.


8   “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,” 

(vs. 4, 18, 23; Ephesians 4:14; I Timothy 6:20; I Corinthians 2:1, 4; Galatians 1:7;

Acts 20:30). “Beware;” literally, see (to it), a common form of warning (ch. 4:17).

The future indicative “shall be,” used instead of the more regular subjunctive

“should be,” implies  that what is feared is too likely to prove the case (compare

Hebrews 3:12 and [with another tense] Galatians 4:11). “Some one who maketh

{you} his spoil (ὁ συλαγωγῶν – ho sulagogon – carry off as spoil; make

spoil of ) is an expression so distinct and individualizing that it appears to single

out a definite, well known person.  The denunciations of this Epistle are throughout

in the singular number (vs. 4, 16, 18), in marked contrast with the plural of

Galatians 1:17, and that prevails in the apostle’s earlier polemical references. It is in

harmony with the philosophical, Gnosticizing character of the Colossian heresy that

it should rest on the authority of some single teacher, rather than on Scripture or

tradition, as did the conservative legalistic Judaism - Συλαγωγῶν, a very rare word,

another  hapax legomenon (as in v. 4) in the New Testament, bears its meaning on its

face. It indicates the selfish, partisan spirit, and the overbearing conduct of the false

teacher. Against such men Paul had forewarned the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29-30).

“And empty deceit” stands in a qualifying apposition to “philosophy:”

“His philosophy, indeed! “It is no better than a vain deceit.” This kind of

irony we shall find the writer using with still greater effect in v. 18. Deceit is empty

(κενός – kenos – empty; vain) compare Ephesians 5:6; I Thessalonians 2:1;

I Corinthians 15:14; distinguish from μάταιος mataios -  fruitless, vain), which

deceives by being  a show of what it is not, a hollow pretence. From the prominence

given to this aspect of the new teaching, we infer that it claimed to be a philosophy,

and made this its special distinction and ground of superiority. And this consideration

points to some connection between the system of the Colossian errorists and the

Alexandrine Judaism, of which Philo, an elder contemporary of Paul, is our chief

exponent.  The aim of this school, which had now existed for two centuries at least,

and had diffused its ideas far and wide, was to transform and sublimate Judaism by

interpreting it under philosophical principles. Its teachers endeavored, in fact, to

put the “new wine” of Plato into the old bottles” of Moses, persuading themselves

that it was originally there (compare note on “mystery,” ch.1:27). In Philo, philosophy

is the name for true religion, whose essence consists in the pursuit and contemplation

of pure spiritual truth. Moses and the patriarchs are, with him, all “philosophers;” the

writers of the Old Testament” philosophize;” it is” the philosophical man” who holds

converse with God. This is the only place where philosophy is expressly mentioned

in the New Testament; in I Corinthians 1:21 and context it is, however, only verbally

wanting - “after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not

after Christ.” (vs. 17, 20, 22; Galatians 1:11-12; 4:3, 9; I Corinthians 1:20-21;

3:19-21; Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:8;  I John 4:5;  I Peter 1:18).   This clause qualifies

“making spoil” rather than “deceit;” human authority and natural reason furnish the

principles and the method according to which the false teacher proceeds.

“Tradition’’ does not necessarily imply antiquity (compare I Corinthians 11:2;

II Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6); “of men” is the emphatic part of the phrase. These

words are characteristic of Paul, who was so profoundly conscious of the

supernatural origin of his own doctrine (see Galatians 1:11-17; I Corinthians 11:23;

I Thessalonians 4:15: compare John 3:31-35; 8:23-24;  I John 4:5) - [remember –

repetition is the way we learn – CY – 2011] -  Similarly, “the rudiments of the

 world” are the crude beginnings of truth, the childishly faulty and  imperfect religious

conceptions and usages to which the world had attained apart from the revelation of

Christ (compare Galatians 4:3, 9; also Hebrews 5:12, for this  use of στοιχεῖα -

stoicheia- rudiments; i.e. elements)  - It is not either Jewish

or non-Jewish elements specifically that are intended. Jew and Greek are

one in so far as their religious ideas are “not according to Christ.” Greek

thought had also contributed its rudiments to the world’s education for Christ:

hence, comprehensively, “the rudiments of the world “  (compare I Corinthians

1:21). The blending of Greek and Jewish elements in the Colossian theosophy

would of itself suggest this generalization, already shadowed forth in

Galatians 4:3.  Some hold to the view that prevailed amongst the Fathers, from

Origen downwards, reading this phrase, both here and in Galatians, in a physical

sense, as in II Peter 3:10-12; the elementa mundi, “the powers of nature,”

(Dear Reader, this afternoon, Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011, I watched videos

on TV of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan which occurred a couple of months

back – basically, those people’s lives were turned upside down – cars, boats,

airports, buildings were swept away – Christ warns of such events in Luke 21:25;

those people were helpless, many lost their lives, the narrator mentioned that what

was going on was of Biblical proportions.  Now imagine what it will be like

when the Lord God really gets serious – [see Isaiah 24:17-23] -   Jeremiah

said “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee,

then how canst thou contend with horses?  and if in the land of

peace, wherein thou trustest, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou

do in the swelling of the Jordan?   Jesus said, “And when these things

begin to come to pass, then LOOK UP AND LIFT UP YOUR HEADS

 for your redemption draweth nigh............When ye see these things come

to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” {Luke 21:28,31}

- CY – 2011)  were “heavenly bodies,” etc., worshipped by the Gentiles as gods,

and which the Jews identified with the angels (v. 18; Hebrews 1:7) as God’s agents

in the direction of the world. This interpretation has much to recommend it, but it

scarcely harmonizes with the parallel “tradition of men,” still less with the context

of v. 20, and is absolutely at variance, as it seems to us, with the argument

involved in Galatians 4:3. Not the doctrine of Christ, but Christ Himself is the

substitute for these discarded rudiments (vs. 17, 20). His Person is the norm

and test of truth (I Corinthians 12:3; I John 4:1-3). The views combated were

“not according to Christ,” for they tried to make Him something less and

lower than that which He is.


9   “For in Him dwelleth all the fullness (or, completeness) of the Godhead

bodily.”  (ch.1:19; Philippians 2:6-8; Romans 1:3-4; 9:5; John 1:1, 14). In

ch.1:18-20 we viewed a series of events; here we have an abiding fact. The whole

plenitude of our Lord’s Divine-human person and powers, as the complete

Christ, was definitively constituted when, in the exercise of His kingly prerogative,

“He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3)

“From henceforth” that fullness evermore resides in Him (compare note,

ch.1:19). The undivided pleroma  now reveals its twofold nature: it is “the fullness

of the Godhead,” and yet “dwells corporeally in Him.” “Godhead” (θεότης

theotetos – divinity) is the abstract of “God” (θεός –Theos – God), not of the

adjective “Divine” (θεῖος theios  - divine) – compare Romans 1:20; Acts 17:29;

and denotes, not Divine excellences, but the Divine nature. The apostle unmistakably

affirms that the Divine nature, in its entirety, belongs to Christ. The adverb

 σωματικῶς - somatikos – bodily - (always literal in classical usage, along with its

adjective) occurs only here in the New Testament; the adjective “bodily” in

I Timothy 4:8; Luke 3:22. “The body of His flesh” in ch.1:22 affords a truer parallel

than the language of v. 17, where σῶμα – soma – body - bears an exceptional sense

(see note). Elsewhere Paul balances in similar fashion expressions relating to

the twofold nature of Christ (see parallels). The assertion that “all the

fulness of Deity” dwells in Christ negatives the Alexandrine “philosophy,’’

with its cloud of mediating angel powers and spiritual emanations; the

assertion that it dwells in Him bodily equally condemns that contempt for

the body and the material world which was the chief practical tenet of the

same school (compare notes on ch. 1:22 and 2:23).


10   “And ye are complete in Him,” -  or fulfilled (Ephesians 1:3, 7-11, 23;

3:18-19; 4:13; Philippians 4:19; Galatians 3:14, 24; 5:1, 4; I Corinthians 1:30; 2:2).

A complete Christ makes His people complete; His pleroma-fullness is our

plerosis-completeness. Finding the whole fullness of God brought within our

reach and engaged in our behalf (Philippians 2:7; Matthew 20:28) in Him, we

need not resort elsewhere to supply our spiritual needs (Philippians 4:19).

“In Him” is the primary predicate - compare v. 3:  “Ye are in Him” is the

assumption (Romans 8:1; 16:7); “(ye are) made complete” is the inference.

(On the verb πληρόω – plaeroo – fulfill - (the basis of pleroma), used in perfect

participle of abiding result, see notes, ch.1:9, 19.) This completeness includes the

furnishing of men with all that is required for their present and final salvation

as individuals (vs. 11-15; ch.1:21-22, 28), and for their collective perfection as

forming the Church, the body of Christ (vs. 2, 19; ch.1:19; Ephesians 1:23; 5:26-27);

for this twofold completeness, compare Ephesians 4:12-16 – “which  is the Head of

all principality and power.” (vs. 15, 18; ch.1:16; Ephesians 1:21; Philippians 2:10-11;

I Corinthians 15:24; Hebrews 1:6,14; I Peter. 3:22). (On “principality,” see note on

ch. 1:16.) The Colossians were being taught to replace or supplement Christ’s offices

by those of angel powers (see notes, vs. 15, 18). Philo (‘Concerning Dreams,’ 1. §§

22, 23) writes thus of the angels: “Free from all bodily encumbrance, endowed with

larger and diviner intellect, they are lieutenants of the All ruler, eyes and ears of the

great King. Philosophers in general call them demons (δαίμονες – daimones –

demons - the sacred Scripture angels, for they report (διαγγέλλουσι  deanggelousi –

declare; preach; signify)  the injunctions of the Father to His  children, and the

wants of the children to their Father.… Angels, the Divine words,

walk about [compare II Corinthians 6:16] in the souls of those who have not yet

completely washed off the (old) life, foul and stained through their cumbersome

bodies, making them bright to the eyes of virtue.” In such a strain the Colossian

“philosopher” may have been talking. But if Christ is the Maker and Lord of these

invisible powers — (ch.1:15-16), and we are in Him, then we must no longer look

to them as our saviours.


11   In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without

hands,” (Ephesians 2:11; Philippians 3:3; Galatians 5:2-6; 6:12-15; Romans 2:25-29;

4:9-12; I Corinthians 7:18; Acts 15:l, 5; Deuteronomy 30:6). Circumcision was

insisted on by the new “philosophical” teacher as necessary to spiritual

completeness; but from a different standpoint, and in a manner different from that

of the Pharisaic Judaizers of Galatia and of Acts 15:1. By the latter it was preached

as matter of Law and external requirement, and so became the critical point in

the decision between the opposing principles of “faith” and “works.” By the

philosophical school it was enjoined as matter of symbolic moral efficiency.

So Philo speaks of circumcision (‘On the Migration of Abraham,’ § 16) as “setting

forth the excision of all the pleasures and passions, and the destruction of impious

vain opinion” (see also his treatise ‘On Circumcision’). From this point of view,

baptism is the Christian circumcision, the new symbolic expression of the moral

change which Paul and his opponents alike deemed necessary, though they

understood it in a different sense from him (see vs. 20-23). In this respect

the Christian is already complete, for his circumcision took place “in putting

off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ:”

(ch. 3:5, 8-9; Ephesians 4:22-25; Romans 6:6; 7:18-25; 13:12; I Peter. 2:1;

4:1-2). The inserted “of the sins” is an ancient gloss. Ἀπ-έκ-δυσει ap-ek- dusei –

denotes both “stripping off” and “putting away.”  It is a double compound,

found only in this Epistle (see corresponding verb in v. 15; ch. 3:9),“The stripping

off of the body” was the ideal of the philosophical ascetics (see note on “body,”

v. 23, and quotations from Philo). The apostle adds “of the flesh;” i.e. of the body

 in so far as it was the body of the flesh (vs. 13, 18, 23; ch.3:5). “The flesh” (in ch.

1:22 that which Christ had put on; here that which the Christian puts off: compare

Romans 8:3) is “the flesh of sin,” of Romans 8:3; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 2:3, etc.

“The body,” while identified with this “flesh,” is “the body of sin” and “of death”

(Romans 6:6; 7:24; sin inhabits it, clothes itself with it, and presents itself to us in its

form; and this being the normal condition of unregenerate human nature, the sinful

principle is naturally called the flesh. So “the (bodily) members” become “the

members that are upon the earth,” employed in the pursuit of lust and greed,

 till they become practically one with these vices (ch.3:5, see note; also

Romans 7:5, 23). Yet “the body” and “the (sinful) flesh,” while in the natural

man one in practice, are in principle distinguishable (v. 23: compare ch.1:22, and

separable (Romans 6:12). The deliverance from the physical acts and habits of

the old sinful life, experienced by him who is “in Christ” (v. 10; Romans 8:1-4;

II Corinthians 5:17), is “the circumcision according to the Christ,” or here

more pointedly “of Christ” — a real and complete, instead of a partial and

symbolic, putting away of the organic life and domination of sin which made the

body its seat and its instrument. The genitive “of Christ” is neither objective

(“undergone by Christ”), nor subjective (“wrought by Christ”), but stands

in a mere general relation — “belonging to Christ,” “the Christian

circumcision.” The occasion of this new birth in the Colossians was their



12  “Buried with Him in baptism,” -  (v. 20; ch. 3:3; Romans 6:1-11;

Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 4:5; 5:26; Titus 3:5; I  Peter 3:21).  Βάπτισμα

 baptisma – baptism -  “baptism”  stands for the entire change of the man

which it symbolizes and seals (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27). The double aspect

of this change was indicated by the twofold movement taking place in immersion,

the usual form of primitive baptism — first the συνταφέντες – suntaphentes – being

entombed together; i.e. buried with)  the descent of the baptized person beneath the

symbolic waters, figuring his death with Christ as a separation from sin and the evil

past (v. 20).  (Last year I was at a church in Louisville which had a live shot on a

screen from a different angle – it was as if you were to the side and above the person

being baptized – you could look down and see him close his eyes, laid down in the

water and coming up, after which he opened his eyes – all a very fitting picture of

the resurrection – CY – 2011) — there for a moment he is buried, and burial is

death made complete and  final (Romans 6:2-4); then the συνήγειρεν  sunaegeiren -

the raising of Ephesians 2:6 and  Συνετάφημεν sunaegerthaete – together raised

here - the emerging from the baptismal  wave, which gave baptism the positive side

of its significance – “wherein also ye are risen with

Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the

dead.” (ch. 3:1; 1:18;  Ephesians 2:6, 8; Romans 6:4; 4:24-25; I Peter 1:21). We

prefer the relative pronoun to the immediately antecedent “baptism,” although the

previous ἐν ῷ  - en ho – in which - refers to “Christ” (v. 11: compare Ephesians 2:6)

and some good interpreters follow the rendering “in whom.” For the Christian’s being

raised with Christ is not contrasted with his circumcision (v. 11) — that figure has

been dismissed — but with his burial in baptism (v. 12); “Having been buried”

is replaced in the antithesis by the more assertive “ye were raised” (compare vs.

13-14; ch.1:22, 26). “With” points to the “Him” (Christ) of the previous clause

(compare Ephesians 2:6; Romans 6:6). Faith is the instrumental cause of that which

baptism sets forth (compare Galatians 3:26-27), and has for its object (not its cause:

“the working” (ἐνεργεία energeia – energy) see note on ch.1:29; also Ephesians 1:20;

3:20) “of God.” And the special Divine work on which it rests is “the resurrection

of Christ” (Romans 4:24-25; 10:9; I Corinthians 15:13-17): compare note on

“Firstborn out of the dead,” -  ch. 1:19. Rising from the baptismal waters, the

Christian convert declares the faith of his heart in that supreme act of God, which

attests and makes sure all that He has bestowed upon us in His Son (ch. 1:12-14:

compare Romans 1:4; also I Peter. 1:21; Acts 2:36; 13:33, 38). Baptism symbolizes

all that circumcision did, and more. It expresses more fully than the older sacrament

our parting with the life of sin; and also that of which circumcision knew  nothing —

the union of the man with the dying and risen Christ, which makes him “dead

unto sin, and alive unto God.” (Romans 6:11)  How needless, then, even if it were

legitimate, for a Christian to return to this superseded rite! To heighten his readers’

sense of the reality and completeness of the change which as baptized (i.e. believing)

Christians they bad undergone, he describes it now more directly as matter of

personal experience.


13   “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh,

hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses;”

(Ephesians 1:7; 2:1-5; Romans 5:12-21; 6:23; 7:9-13, 24-25; 8:1-2,6,10;

I Corinthians 15:56; John 5:24; 6:51; I John 3:14; Genesis 2:17). (For the transition

from “having raised” (v. 12) to this verse, compare Ephesians 1:20 — 2:1; also

ch.1:20-21.)   Again the participle gives place to the finite verb: a colon is a sufficient

stop at the end of v.12. Death, in Paul’s theology, is “a collective expression for

the entire judicial consequences of sin” - θάνατος – thanatos – death and

νεκρός nekros - dead  - of which the primary spiritual element is the sundering of

the soul’s fellowship with God, from which flow all other evils contained, in it. Life,

 therefore, begins with justification, (Romans 5:18). “Trespasses” are particular

acts of sin (Ephesians 1:7; 2:1, 5; Romans 5:15-20; 11:11); “uncircumcision of

the flesh” is general sinful impurity of nature. The false teachers probably stigmatized

the nuncircumcised state as unholy. The apostle adopts the expression, but refers it to

the pro-Christian life of his readers (see vs. 11-12), when their Gentile uncircumcision

was a true type of their moral condition (Romans 2:25; Ephesians 2:11). These sinful

acts and this sinful condition were the cause of their former state of death (Romans

5:12).  The Revisers rightly restore the second emphatic “you” — “you,

uncircumcised Gentiles” (compare ch. 1:21-22, 27; Ephesians 1:13; 2:11-18;

Romans 15:9). It is God who “made you alive” as He “raised Him (Christ),”

(v. 12); the second act being the consequence and counterpart of the first, and faith

 the subjective link between them - Χαρίζομαι charizomai – gracing; to

show grace; an act of forgiveness -  used of Divine forgiveness only in this and

the Ephesian Epistle (ch.3:13; Ephesians 4:32: compare Luke 7:42-43; II Corinthians

2:7,10; 12:13), points to the cause or principle of forgiveness in the Divine grace

(Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 3:26; 5:17). In “having forgiven us” the writer

significantly passes from the second to the first person: so in Ephesians 2:1-5

(compare Romans 3:9,30; I Timothy 1:15). The thought of the new life bestowed

on the Colossians with himself in their individual forgiveness calls to his mind the

great act of Divine mercy from which it sprang (the connection corresponds, in

reverse order, to that of ch.1:20-21; II Corinthians 5:19-20), and he continues:


14   “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which

was contrary to us,” - Ephesians 2:14-16; Romans 3:9-26; 7:7-14; II Corinthians

5:19; Galatians 3:10-22; I Corinthians 15:56; Acts 13:38-39). The ancients

commonly used wax tablets in writing, and the flat end of the pointed stylus drawn

over the writing smeared it out (expunged) and so cancelled it (compare Acts 3:19;

Psalm 51:9; Isaiah 43:25, Septuagint). “God,” not “Christ,” is the subject of this verb,

which stands in immediate sequence to those of vs. 12-13 (compare II Corinthians 5:19).

It is the receiver  rather than the offerer of satisfaction who cancels the debt: in

Ephesians 2:15 (compare 1:22) a different verb is used - Ξειρόγραφον 

cheriographon – handwritten; -  a word of later Greek, only here in the

New Testament) is used specially of an account of debt, a bond signed by

the debtor’s hand. This bond (with its decrees) can be nothing other than

“the law” (Ephesians 2:14-16; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:20; 7:25;

Galatians 3:21-22); not, however, the ritual law, nor even the Mosaic Law

as such, but law as law, the Divine rule of human life impressed even on

Gentile hearts (Romans 2:14-15), to which man’s conscience gives its consent

(Romans 7:16, 22), and yet which becomes by his disobedience just a list of

charges against him; see the latter on Galatians 2:19).  Exodus 24:3 and

Deuteronomy 27:14-26, indeed, illustrate this wider relation of Divine

law to the human conscience generally - Τοῖς δόγμασιν  – tois dogmasin –

the decrees; ordinances - is dative of reference either to καθ ἡμῶν

kath haemon - against us  - qualifying or explanatory — in respect of its

decrees) or to the verbal idea contained in χειργόραφον  (see above -

“written in,” or “with decrees”). The Greek Fathers made it instrumental dative

to ἐξαλείψας – exaleiphas – to wipe, to wash or to smear completely –

understanding by these δόγματα – dogmata - the doctrines (dogmas)

of the gospel by which the charges of the Law against us are expunged.

But this puts on δόγμα a later theological sense foreign to Paul, and

universally rejected by modern interpreters. In the New Testament (compare

Luke 2:1; Acts 16:4; Hebrews 11:23), as in classical Greek, dogma is a decree,

 setting forth the will of some public authority (compare note on δογματίζεσθε -  

dogmatizesthe – ordinances - v. 20). The added clause, “which was opposed to

us,” affirms the active opposition, as “against us” the essential hostility of

the decrees of God’s law to our sinful nature (Romans 4:15; Galatians 3:10:

compare Romans 7:13-14). The emphasis with which Paul dwells on this point

is characteristic of the author of Romans and Galatians -  Ψπενάντιος  -  

hupenantioscontrary - occurs besides only in Hebrews 10:27; the prefix

ὑπὸ  - hupo - implies close and persistent opposition – “and took it out of

the way, nailing it to His cross.”  - (ch.1:20-22; Ephesians 2:18;

II Corinthians 5:19; Romans 3:24-26; 5:1-2; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 1:3;

John 1:29;  I John 4:10). A third time in these three verses (12-14) we note the

transition from participle to coordinate finite verb; and here, in addition, the

aorist tense passes into the perfect (“hath taken”), marking the finality of the

removal of the Law’s condemning power (Romans 8:1; Acts 13:39): compare

the opposite transition in  ch.1:26-27. The moral deliverance of v. 11 is traced

up to this legal  release, both contained in our completeness in Christ (v. 10).

The subject  is still “God.” Cancelling the bond which He held against us in

His Law, God has for ever removed the barrier which stood between mankind

and Himself (II Corinthians 5:19). Christ’s place in this work, already shown in

ch. 1:18-23 (in its relation to Himself), is vividly recalled by the mention of the

 cross. And the abolition of the Law’s condemnation is finally set forth by a yet bolder

metaphor — “having nailed it to the cross.” The nails of the cross in piercing

Christ pierced the legal instrument which held us debtors, and nullified it; see

Galatians  3:13 (compare Galatians 2:19-20);  Romans 7:4-6 - Προσηλώσας  -

prosaelosas – nailing; -  may suggest the further idea of nailing up the cancelled

document, by way of publication. At the cross all may read, “There is now no

 condemnation” – (John 3:18-19; Romans 8:1) - compare the “making a show”

of v. 15; also Romans 3:25; Galatians 3:1). For vs. 11-14, compare concluding

remark on ch.1:14.)


15  “And having spoiled principalities and powers,” -  (ch. 1:16; v.10;

Acts 7:38, 53;  Galatians 3:19;  Hebrews 1:5, 7, 14; 2:2, 5; Deuteronomy 33:2;

Psalm 68:17).   Απεκδυσάμενος apekdusamenos – having spoiled; has been

rendered, from the time of the Latin Vulgate, “having spoiled” (exspolians), a

rendering which is not less a violation of Paul’s usage (ch. 3:9) than of grammatical

rule. It is precisely the same participle that we find there and the writer has just used

the noun ἀπέκδυσις - apekdusis (as in v. 11denotes both “stripping off” and “putting

away” -   (v. 11) in a corresponding sense (see note in loc. on the force of the

double compound). He employs compounds of δύω duo -  in the middle voice

seventeen times elsewhere, and always in the sense of “putting off [or, ‘on’] from

 one’s self;” and there is no sure instance in Greek of the middle verb bearing any

other meaning.  Yet many cling to the rendering of the Vulgate and our Authorized

Version; and not without reason, as we shall see. The Revised margin follows the

earlier Latin Fathers and some ancient versions, supplying “His body” as object of

the participle, understanding “Christ” as subject. But the context does not, as in

II Corinthians 5:3, suggest this ellipsis, and it is arbitrary to make the participle itself

mean “having disembodied Himself.” Nor has the writer introduced any new

subject since v. 12, where “God” appears as agent of each of the acts of salvation

set forth in vs. 12-15. Moreover, “the principalities and the dominions” of

this verse must surely be those of v. 10 and of ch.1:16 (compare the “angels” of

v. 18). We understand Paul therefore, to say “that God [revealing himself in Christ;

‘in Him,’ 15b] put off and put away those angelic powers through whom He had

previously shown Himself to men.” The Old Testament associates the angels with

the creation of the world and the action of the powers of nature (Job 38:7; Psalm

104:4), and with its great theophanies generally (Ibid. 68:7; Deuteronomy 33:2;

II Kings 6:17, etc.); and its hints in this direction were emphasized and extended

by the Greek translators of the Septuagint. Acts 7:38, 53 (Stephen); Galatians 3:19;

Hebrews 2:2, ascribe to them a  special agency in the giving of the Law.

Hebrews 1 and 2 show how large a place the doctrine  of the mediation of angels

filled in Jewish thought at this time, and how it tended to limit the mediatorship

of Christ. The mystic developments of Judaism among the Essenes and the

Ebionites (Christian Essenes), and in the Cabbala, are full of this belief and it is a

cornerstone of the philosophic mysticism of Alexandria. In Philo

the angels are the “Divine powers,” “words,” “images of God,” forming

the court and entourage of the invisible King, by whose means He created

and maintains the material world, and holds converse with the souls of men.

This doctrine, we may suppose, was a chief article of the Colossian heresy.

Theodoret’s note on v.18 is apposite here: “They who defended the Law taught

men to worship angels, saying that the Law was given by them. This mischief

continued long in Phrygia and Pisidia.” The apostle returns to the point from which

he started in v. 10.  He has just declared that God has cancelled and removed

the Law as an instrument of condemnation; and now adds that He has at the

 same time thrown off and laid aside the veil of angelic mediation under

 which, in the administration of that Law, He had withdrawn Himself. Both

these acts take place “in Christ.” Both are necessary to that “access to the Father”

which, in the apostle’s view, is the special prerogative of Christian faith

(Ephesians 2:18; 3:12;  Romans 5:2), and which the Colossian error doubly barred,

by its ascetic ceremonialism and by its angelic mediation.  We are compelled, with all

deference to its high authority, to reject the view of the Greek Fathers according to

which “Christ in His atoning death [in it; ‘the cross,’ ver. 15b] stripped off from

Himself the Satanic powers.” For it requires us to bring in, without grammatical

warrant, somewhere “Christ” as subject; it puts upon” the principalities and the

dominions” a sense foreign to the context, and that cannot be justified by Ephesians

6:12, where the connection is wholly different and the hostile sense of the terms

is most explicitly defined; and it presents an idea harsh and unfitting in itself.  It is

one thing to say that the powers of evil surrounded Christ and quite another thing

to say that he wore them as we have worn “the body of the flesh” (v. 11; ch. 3:9) -  

“He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”  (Ephesians

1:21-22; Philippians 2:10;  I Peter 3:22;  Hebrews 1:5-6;  John 1:51;  Matthew 25:31;

26:53; Revelation 19:10; 22:9).  In this, as in the last verse, we have a finite verb

between two participles, one introductory (“having stripped off”), the other

explanatory, ἐδειγμάτισεν - edeigmatisen - to make a show or example,

occurs in the New Testament besides only in Matthew 1:17, where it is

compounded with παρα - (Revised Text), giving it a sinister meaning of not

belonging to the simple verb. With the angelic “principalities,” etc., for object,

the verb denotes, not a shameful exposure, but “an exhibition of them in their

 true character and position,” such as forbids them to be regarded superstitiously

(v. 18).  God exhibited the angels as the subordinates and servants of His Son (v.10:

compare Luke 1:26; 2:10, 13; Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43; Matthew 28:2). “Openly”

(ἐν παρρησίᾳ |- en parraesia - literally, in freedom of speech, boldness; openly;)

 a favorite word of Paul’s) implies the absence of reserve or restraint, rather than

mere publicity (compare Ephesians 6:19; Philippians 1:20) - Θριαμβεύσας

thiambeusas – “having triumphed;” -   II Corinthians 2:14 only other instance of the

verb in  the New Testament; its use in classical Greek confined to Latinist writers,

referring, historically, to the Roman triumph) presents a formidable difficulty in

the way of the interpretation of the verse followed so far. For the common

acceptation of the word “triumph” compels us to think of the “principalities,”

etc., as hostile (Satanic); and this, again, dictates the rendering “having spoiled”

for ἀπεκδυσάμενος (as above). So we are brought into collision with two fixed points

of  our former exegesis. If we are bound lexically to abide by the reference to the

Roman military triumph, then the angelic principalities must be supposed to have

stood in a quasi-hostile position to “the kingdom of God and of Christ,” in so

 far as men had exaggerated their powers and exalted them at Christ’s expense,

 and to have been now robbed of this false pre-eminence. The writer however,

ventures to question whether, on philological grounds, a better, native

Greek sense cannot be found for this verb. The noun θριαμβεύσας - thriambeusas -

triumphing, on which it is based, is used, indeed, in the Latin sense as

early as Polybius, a writer on Roman history (160 B.C.). But it is extant in

a much earlier classical fragment as synonymous with dithyrambos,

denoting “a festal song;” and again in Plutarch, contemporary with

Paul, it is a name of the Greek god Dionysus, in whose honor such songs

were sung, and whose worship was of a choral, processional character.

This kinder triumph was, one may imagine, familiar to the eyes of Paul

and of his readers, while the spectacle of the Roman triumph was distant

and foreign (at least when he wrote II Corinthians). We suggest that the

apostle’s image is taken, both here and in II Corinthians 2:14, from the

festal procession of the Greek divinity, who leads his worshippers along as

witnesses of his power and celebrants of his glory. Such a figure fittingly

describes the relation and the attitude of the angels to the Divine presence

in Christ. Let this suggestion, however, be regarded as precarious or

fanciful, the general exposition of the verse is not thereby invalidated. The

Revisers omit the marginal “in Himself” of the Authorized Version, which

correctly, as we think, refers the final ἐν αὐτῷ - en auto - “in Him” to Chris

(v. 10), though incorrectly implying “Christ” as subject of the verse. It was not

only  “in the cross” that God unveiled Himself, dispensing with angelic

theophanies, but in the entire person and work of His Son (ch. 1:15;

II Corinthians 4:4;  John 1:14,18; 14:9). “Which veil” (for here we may

apply the words of II Corinthians 3:14) “is done away in Christ.”

So the whole passage (vs. 10-15) ends, as it begins, “in him:” “We are

 complete in Him” — in our conversion from sin to holiness set forth in

baptism, and our resurrection from death to life experienced in forgiveness

(vs. 11-13); and in the removal at once of the legal bar which forbade our

access to God (v. 14), and of the veil of inferior and partial mediation which

obscured His manifestation to us (v.15).



            THE CLAIMS OF THE FALSE TEACHER  (vs. 16-23)


16   “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink,” - (vs. 21-23;

I Timothy 4:1-5; Romans 14:17; Hebrews 9:10; 13:9; Mark 7:14-19). The new

teachers dictated to the Colossians in these matters from the philosophical, ascetic

point of view (see notes on “philosophy,’’ “circumcision,” vs. 8, 11), condemning

their previous liberty. (For the adverse sense of “judge,” compare Romans 14:4,

10,13.) The scruples of the “weak brethren” at Rome (Romans 14) were partly of

an ascetic character, but are not ascribed to any philosophic views. In I Corinthians

8:8 and ch.10 the question stands on a different footing, being connected with that of

the recognition of idolatry (compare Acts 15:29). In Hebrews 9:10 it is purely a point

of Jewish law. In one form or other it was sure to be raised wherever Jewish and

Gentile Christians were in social intercourse. V. 17 shows that such restrictions are

“not according to Christ” (v. 8), belonging to the system which He has superseded.

“Therefore” bases this warning upon the reasoning of the previous context. Tertullian

(‘Against Marcion,’ 5:19) supplies the link connecting this verse with vs. 10, 15, 18,

when he says, “The apostle blames those who alleged visions of angels as their

authority for saying that men must abstain from meats.” The abolishing of angel

mediation (v. 15) robs these restrictions of their supposed authority. The Essenes

found in the Nazarite life and the rules for the ministering Jewish priest (Numbers 6:3;

Leviticus 10:8-11;  Ezekiel 44:21) their ideal of holiness. Philo also attached a high

moral value to abstinence from flesh and wine, and regarded the Levitical distinctions

of meats as profoundly symbolic – “or in respect of an holy day, or of the new

moon, or of the sabbath days.”  (Romans 14:5-6; Galatians 4:9-10). The yearly

feast, the monthly new moon, and the weekly sabbath (I Chronicles 23:31;

Isaiah 1:13-14) cover the whole round of Jewish sacred seasons. These the Colossian

Gentile Christians, disciples of Paul through Epaphras, had not hitherto observed

(Galatians 4:9-10). Philosophic Judaists insisted on these institutions, giving them a

symbolical and ethical interpretation (see Philo, ‘On the Number Seven;’ also, ‘On

the Migration of Abraham,’ § 16, where he warns his readers lest, “because the feast

is a symbol of the joy of the soul and of thanksgiving towards God,” they should

imagine they could dispense with it, or “break through any established customs which

divine men have instituted”).


17   “Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

(Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4; II Corinthians 3:11,13; Hebrews 7:18-19; 9:11-14; 10:1-4).

The apostle’s opponents, we imagine, taught in Platonic fashion that these things were

shadows of ideal truth and of the invisible world (compare Hebrews 8:5), forms

necessary to our apprehension of spiritual things. With  Paul, they shadow forth

prophetically the concrete facts of the Christian revelation, and therefore

are displaced by its advent. The singular verb (literally, is) quite grammatically

combines the particulars of v. 16 under their common idea of a foreshadowing of

the things of Christ; and the present tense affirms here a general truth, not a mere

historical fact. How this was true of the “sabbath,” e.g., appears in Hebrews 4:1-11;

compare I Corinthians 5:6-8; John 19:36, for the Christian import of the Passover feast.

The figurative antithesis of “shadow” and “body” is sufficiently obvious; it occurs in

Philo and in Josephus: to refer to v. 19 and ch.1:18 for the sense of body, is misleading.

For “the things to come” (the things of Christ and of the new, Christian era, now

commencing), compare Romans 4:24; 5:14; Galatians 3:23; Hebrews 2:5; 10:1. This

substance of the new, abiding revelation (II Corinthians 3:11) is “Christ’s,” inasmuch

as it centers in and is pervaded and governed by Christ (ch.1:18; 3:11; Romans 10:4;

II Corinthians  3:14). Nothing is said here to discountenance positive Christian

institutions, or the observance of the Lord’s day in particular, unless enforced in a

Judaistic spirit. The apostle is protecting Gentile Christians from the re-imposition of

Jewish institutions as such, as impairing their faith in Christ (compare Galatians 5:2-9),

and as, in the case of the Colossians, involving a deference to the authority of angels

which limited Christ’s sovereignty and sufficiency (vs. 8-10, 18-19). This verse

contains in germ much of the thought of the Epistle to the Hebrews.


18   “Let no man beguile you of your reward” - (ch.1:5, 23; 3:15; Philippians 3:14;

Galatians 5:7;   I Corinthians 9:24-27; II Timothy 4:7-8;   James 1:12;  I Peter 5:4;

Revelation 2:10; 3:11). These eight words represent but three in the Greek.  (On

καταβραβευέτω - katabrabeueto - figurative) to defraud (of salvation);  beguile of

reward.  Βραβούω – brabouoo- to rule is used again in ch. 3:15 (see note), meaning

primarily” to act as βραβεύς brabeus - an arbiter or umpire of the prize in the public

games; βραβεῖον - brabeion –  the prize, is also figuratively used in Philippians 3:14,

and literally in I Corinthians 9:24, and is synonymous with the “crown” of other

passages.  The prefix  Κατὰ gives the verb a hostile sense; and the present tense,

as in vs. 4, 8, 16, 20, implies a  continued attempt. Let no one be acting the umpire

against you, is the literal sense. The errorist condemns the Colossian Christian for

his neglect of Jewish observances (v. 16), and warns him that in his present state

he will miss the heavenly prize, “the hope” he had supposed to be “in store for

him in heaven” (v. 5: compare notes on ch.1:5 and 3:15; also Ephesians 1:13-14) –

“in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels,” – or “delighting in lowliness

of mind and worship of the angels”  - (v. 23; Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9; Judges

13:17-18).  By these means the false teacher impressed his disciples. His angel worship

commended itself as the mark of a devout and humble mind, reverent towards the

unseen powers above us, and made purely Christian worship seem insufficient.

“Delighting in” is the rendering of θέλων ἐν  – thelon en – desiring, willing -and

is preferable to that of several Greek interpreters who supply the sense of the

previous verb “desiring (to do so) in lowliness etc.; and to that followed in the

Revisers’ margin,which puts a sort of adverbial sense on θέλων  “of his mere

will, by humility,” etc. This latter rendering underlies the paraphrastic

“voluntary humility” of the Authorized Version, and agrees with the common

interpretation of ἐθελοθρησκεία -  ethelothreskeia – will worship - in v. 23

(see note). Θέλων ἐν  is, no doubt, a marked Hebraism, and Paul’s language is

“singularly free from Hebraisms” (compare, however, the use of εἰδέναι to know,

 in I Thessalonians 5:12; the similar εὐδοκέω eudokeo en – well pleased –

is well established, I Corinthians 10:5; II Corinthians; 12:10; II Thessalonians 2:12).

This very idiom is frequently used in the Septuagint, and occurs in the ‘Testament of the

Twelve Patriarchs,’ a Christian writing, of the second century. The apostle may

surely be allowed occasionally to have used a Hebraistic phrase, especially when so

convenient and expressive as this - Ταπεινοφροσύνη – tapeinophrosune -

lowliness of mind; humbleness, a word, perhaps, compounded by Paul himself,

is almost confined to the Epistles of this group (compare v. 23; ch. 3:12;

Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; also Acts 20:19;  I Peter 5:5). This quality is ascribed

ironically to the false teacher (compare the “puffed up” of the next clause,

and for similar irony see I Corinthians 8:1-2; Galatians 4:17) - Θρησκεία  -threskeia

is “outward worship” or “devotion:” compare note on v. 23; elsewhere in New

Testament only in Acts 26:5 and James 1:26-27. “Worship of the angels” is that

paid to the angels – “intruding into those things which he hath not seen,

vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” - (II Corinthians 12:l,7; I Corinthians 8:1;

I Timothy 6:3-5; II Peter 2:18;  Jude 1:16). For ἐμβατεύων – embateuon – to

dwell, to step in, or on; intrude -  we adopt the sense which it bears in  later

Greek generally, viz. “to search into,” “examine,” “discuss” . The rendering

“proceeding” or “dwelling on,” though near the radical sense of the word (“to

step on” or “in”), wants lexical support.  The same may be said of the rendering

“intruding into,” which suits the Received reading, “which he hath not seen.”

The “not” of the relative clause is wanting in nearly all our eldest and best witnesses,

and is cancelled by the Revisers. Its appearance in two different forms (οὐχ

 ouch - not, nay - and μὴ - mae – no) in the documents that present it, makes

it still more certain that it is a copyist’s insertion. The common reading gives,

after all, an unsatisfactory sense; it is not likely the apostle would blame the

errorist simply for entering into things beyond his sight (compare II Corinthians

4:18; 5:7). The best explanation is “which he hath seen,” supposing the writer

to allude ironically to pretended visions of angels or of the spiritual world, by

which the false teacher sought to impose on the Colossians. This view is suggested

by Tertullian in the passage cited under v. 16. Such visions would be suitable for

the purpose of the errorist, and congenial to the Phrygian temperament, with its

tendency to mysticism and ecstasy (see Theodoret, quoted under ver. 15, who

also says that angel worship was specially forbidden by the Council of Laodicea,

A.n. 364). If the false teacher were accustomed to say with an imposing air, “I have

seen, ah! I have seen!” in referring to his revelations, the apostle’s allusion

would be obvious and telling. The language of II Corinthians 12:1 (Revised Version)

suggests a similar reliance on supernatural visions on the part of the apostle’s earlier

opponents. This pretentious visionary is, however, a “philosopher” and a “reasoner”

first of all (vs. 4, 8). Accordingly he investigates what he has seen; inquires into the

import of his visions, rationally develops their principles, and deduces their

consequences.  So far, the apostle continues in the ironical vein in which the first

words of the verse are written, setting forth the pretensions of his opponent in his own

terms, his irony restraining itself till, after the word ἐμβατεύων (see above), the

indignation of truth breaks forth from it in the caustic and decisive “vainly”  -

εἰκῇ - eikae – without cause; to no purpose - qualifies the foregoing participle

Thus it signifies “idly,” “to no purpose,” as everywhere else in Paul (Romans 13:4;

I Corinthians 15:2; Galatians 3:4; 4:11); not “without cause,” as joined to

φυσιούμενος  – phusioumenos -  puffed up, whose force it could only weaken.

“Vainly” stigmatizes the futility, “puffed up” the conceit, and “by the

reason of his flesh” the low and sensuous origin of these vaunted

revelations and of the high-flown theosophy which they were used to

support. (For the sarcastic force of “puffed up,” compare I Corinthians

4:6, 19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4). The “reason” (νοῦς – nous - mind) is, in Greek

philosophy, the philosophical faculty, the power of supersensible intuition; and in

Plato and Philo, the organ of the higher, mystical knowledge of Divine things. The

Colossian “philosopher” (v. 8) would, we may imagine, speak of himself

as “borne aloft” in his visions “by heavenly reason,” “lifted high in angelical

communion,” or the like. Hence the apostle’s sarcasm, “Exalted are they?

say rather, inflated: lifted high by Divine reason? nay, but swollen high by

the reason of their flesh.” Some such allusion to the language of the

errorists best accounts for the paradoxical νοῦς τῆς σαρκός  –nous taes

sarkos – mind of the flesh - contrast with Romans 7:25, and compare the

disparaging reference to διανοία dianoia – thinking through; comprehension;

 ch. 1:21 (note). This is a difficult passage.


19  And not holding the Head,” -  (vs. 6, 8; ch.1:15-20; Ephesians 1:20-23;

Philippians 2:9-11;  Romans 9:5; 14:9; I Corinthians 8:6; Revelation 19:16). In the

last verse the errorist was judged “out of his own mouth,” and the intrinsic hollowness

of his pretensions was exposed. Now he appears “before the judgment seat of

Christ,” charged with high treason against Him, the Lord alike of the kingdoms of

nature and of grace. So the apostle falls back once more (compare v.10) on the

foundation laid down in ch. 1:15-20, on which his whole polemic rests. Both in

creation and redemption, the philosophic Judaists assigned to the angels a role

 inconsistent with the sovereign mediatorship of Christ (see notes on vs. 10 and 15) -

“from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered,

and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” ch. 1:18; Ephesians

1:22-23; 4:15-16; John 15:1-6; I Corinthians 3:6). Disloyalty to “the head”

works destruction to “the body,” which in this case “proceeds from”

(“grows out of)  αὔξει  – auxei – to grow or increase)  its Head, while it depends

upon Him. Gnosticism from the beginning tended to disintegrate the Church, by the

caste feeling (ch.1:28, note; 3:11) and the sectarian spirit to which it gave birth (v. 8;

Acts 20:30). Its vague and subjective doctrines were ready to assume a different

form with each new exponent, Here lies the connection between this and

the Ephesian letter, the doctrine of the Church following upon and growing

out of that of the person of Christ, each being threatened — the latter

immediately, the former more remotely — by the rise of the new Judaeo-

Christian mystic rationalism. Colossians asserts the “thou in me” of

John 17:23; Ephesians the corresponding “I in them;” and both the

consequent “they made perfect in one” (compare especially, Ephesians

3:14-21; 4:7-16; compare with ch.1:15-20 and vs. 9-15). (On “body,” see

note, ch 1:18.)   ἁφῶν  - haphon – joint; to fit - signifies, not “joints” as

parts of the bony skeleton, but includes all points of contact and

connection in the body.  The συνδέσμων - sundesmon – bands; fetters;

(compare ch.3:14) are the “ligaments,” the stronger and more distinct connections

that give the bodily framework unity and solidity. So, by the organic cooperation

of the whole structure, the body of Christ is furnished with its supplies,

enabled to receive and dispense to each member the needed sustenance;

 and “knit together”  (v. 2), drawn into a close and firm unity. “Supplied”

(compare II Corinthians 9:10; Galatians 3:5) indicates a sustenance both required

and due. In ch. 1:6 we read of the increase of the gospel, in Ibid. v.10 of the

individual believer, and now of the Church as a body) - Ephesians 2:21; 4:16).

“The increase of God” is that which God bestows (I Corinthians 3:6), as it proceeds

“from Christ” (ἐξ οῦ - ex hou – out of whom - v. 10; ch. 3:11; John 1:16), in whom

is “the fullness of the Godhead” (v. 9: compare Ephesians 1:23 and 3:17-19). In

Ibid. 4:16 the same idea is expressed in almost the same terms.  There, however, the

growth appears as proper to the body, resulting from its very constitution; here, as a

bestowment of God, dependent, therefore, upon Christ, and ceasing if the

 Church ceases to hold fast to Him.





20   “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world,”

(vs. 8, 10-13; ch. 3:3; Romans 6:1-11; 7:1-6; II Corinthians 5:14-17). This warning,

like those of vs. 16,18, looks back to the previous section, and especially to vs. 8,

10,12. It is a new application of Paul’s fundamental principle of the union of the

Christian with Christ in His death and resurrection (see notes, vs. 11-12).

Accepting the death of Christ as supplying the means of his redemption

(ch.1:14, 22), and the law of his future life (Philippians 3:10; II Corinthians 5:14-15;

Galatians 2:20), the Christian breaks with and becomes dead (to and) from all other,

former religious principles; which appear to him now but childish, tentative gropings

after and preparations for what is given him in Christ (compare Galatians 2:19; 3:24;

4:2-3; Romans 7:6). On “rudiments,” see note, v. 8. There these “rudiments of

 the world” appear as general (“philosophical’’) principles of religion, intrinsically

false and empty; here they are moral rules of life, mean and worthless substitutes

 for “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:2) - For the

Pauline idiom, “died from (so as to be separate, or free from),” - compare Romans

7:2, 6; Acts 13:39 – “why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to

ordinances,” - (Galatians 4:9; 5:1; 6:14; II Corinthians 5:17). To adopt the rules

of the new teachers is to return to the worldly, pre-Christian type of religion which

the Christian had once for all abandoned (Galatians 4:9). “World” bears the

emphasis rather than “living” (“having one’s principle of life:” compare I Timothy

5:6; Luke 12:15). Standing without the article, it signifies “the world as such,” in its

natural character and attainments, without Christ (v. 8; Ephesians 2:12;

I Corinthians 1:21) - δογματίζεσθε  – dogmatizesthe – subject to ordinances –

(the verb only here in the New Testament) is passive rather than middle in voice;

literally, why are you being dogmatized, overridden with decrees? Compare

“spoil” (v. 8), “judge” (v. 16), for the domineering spirit of the false teacher.

The “dogmas” or “decrees” of ver. 14 (see note) are those of the Divine Law;

these are of human imposition (vs. 8, 22), which their authors, however, seem

to put upon a level with the former. In each case the decree is an external

enforcement, not an inner principle of life.


21   This verse gives examples of the decrees which the Colossians are blamed for

regarding and in this respect more than in any other they seem to have yielded to the

demands of the false teacher.  (“Touch not; taste not; handle not;” -  (vs. 16, 23;

I Corinthians 6:12-13; 8:8; 10:25-27, 30; Romans 14:14-17;  I Timothy 4:3-5;

Titus 1:15). These rules form part of a prohibitory regimen by which sinful tendencies

to bodily pleasure were to be repressed (v. 23), and spiritual truths symbolically

enforced (v. 17; see note on “circumcision,’’ v. 11). θίγης - thigaes – handle –

the last of the three verbs, appears to be the strongest, forbidding the slightest

contact -  ἅψῃ  - hapsae – touch - is better rendered “handle” (compare

John 20:17); by itself it will scarcely bear the meaning it has in I Corinthians 7:1.

The next verse seems to imply that all three verbs relate to matters of diet.


22  The first clause of this verse is the apostle’s comment on these rules, in the form

of a continuation of their terms. Do not touch “Which all are to perish with

the using;) - things which are an intended to perish (literally, for corruption) in their

consumption (Matthew 15:17; Mark 7:19; I Corinthians 6:13; 8:8; I Timothy 4:3-5),

which, being destroyed as they are used, therefore do not enter into the soul’s life,

and are of themselves morally indifferent; so the Greek Fathers, and most modern

interpreters. This is the position which Christ Himself takes in regard to Jewish

distinctions of meats (Mark 7:14-23). We note the same style of sarcastic comment

on the language of the false teachers as that exhibited in v. 18. Augustine, Calvin, and

some others render, “which (decrees) tend to (spiritual) destruction in their use;” but

ἀποχρήσει - apochraesei -  never means simply “use,” but is a strengthened form

of  χρῆσις  - cheresis – a using, and signifying a misuse;  sexual intercourse

 (as an occupation of the body -  things which tend to (spiritual) destruction in

their abuse (as in carnality in Romans 8:5-6 - CY -2021),putting the words in the

mouth of the false teacher, as though he said, “Abstain from everything the use of

which may be fatal to the soul.” But this ascribes to the errorist an argument which fails

short of his principles (see note on “hard treatment of the body,” v. 23); and to which,

specious as it is, and in harmony with the apostle’s own teaching (I Corinthians 6:12;

9:26-27), he makes no reply – “after the commandments and doctrines of men.”

(Isaiah 29:13, Septuagint; Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; here - v. 8; I Corinthians 1:20; 2:5,

13); the only passage in this Epistle which distinctly alludes to the language of the

Old Testament. But the words are, we may suppose, primarily a reminiscence

of the language of Christ, who uses them in connection with His announcement

of the abolition of the sacred distinctions of meats (compare Mark 7:1-23). This

clause points out the method after which, and direction in which, the new teachers

were leading their disciples, on the line of a man-made instead of a God

given religion. “Commandments” (or, “injunctions’’) include the prescriptions

of v. 21 and all others like them; “doctrines” embrace the general principles

and teachings on which these rules were based. So this expression, following

“rudiments of the world” (v. 20), leads us back by a rapid generalization from

the particulars specified in v. 21 to the general starting point given in v. 8 (see note),

and prepares us for the brief and energetic summary of the whole Colossian

error which we find in the next verse.


23  “Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom” - (vs. 4, 8; I Corinthians 2:1,4,

13; 12:8). The antecedent of “which things” is “commandments and doctrines”, not

decrees.”  (v. 21). For v. 22 supplies the immediate antecedent, and the wider sense

thus given is necessary to support the comprehensive and summary import of v. 23.

The Greek “are having” brings into view the nature and qualities of the subject, in

accordance with ἅτινα – hatina – which things – the qualitative relative

(compare ἥτις – haetis – which is – ch. 3:5). A certain “word of wisdom” was

ascribed to the false teachers in v. 4 (note the play upon λόγος  – logos – word -

in Paul’s Greek). They were plausible dealers in words, and had the jargon of

philosophy at their tongue’s end (v. 8, compare note on ἐμβατεύων, v. 18).

On this the apostle had first remarked in his criticism of their teaching, and to

this he first, adverts in his final resume. “Word of wisdom” is one of the “gifts

of the Spirit” in I Corinthians 12:8; but the disparaging μὲν - men - indeed, with

the emphatic position of λόγον – logon – word - throwing σοφίας – sophias –

wisdom - into the shade, in view also of the censures already passed in vs. 4, 8,

puts a condemnatory sense upon the phrase: “having word indeed of wisdom” —

“that and nothing more, no inner truth, no pith and substance of wisdom.”  

“Word and deed,” “word and truth,” form a standing antithesis (ch.3:17;

Romans 15:18; I Corinthians  4:19-20; I John 3:18), the second member of which

supplies  itself to the mind; and the solitary μὲν (indeed)  in such a connection is

a well established classical idiom. It is superfluous, therefore, as well as confusing to

 the order of  thought, to seek in the sequel for the missing half of the antithesis. Both in

this Epistle and in I Corinthians the writer is contending against forms of error which

found their account in the Greek love of eloquence and of dexterous word-play.

While the first part of the predicate, therefore, explains the intellectual

 attractiveness of the Colossian error, the clause next following accounts for its

religious fascination; and the third part of the verse strikes at the root of its

ethical and practical applications. (Shown) “in will worship (devotion to or,

delight in voluntary worship) and humility,” (lowliness of mind v. 18) -

The preposition“in” brings us into the moral and religious sphere of life in which

this would-be wisdom of doctrine had its range and found its application. The

prefix ἐθελο  - of  ἐθελοθρησκεία  -  ethelothreskeia -  will-worship - ordinarily

connotes” willingness” rather than “willfulness;” and the “delighting in worship”

of v. 18 (see note) points strongly in this direction. Only so far as the worship

in question (see note, v. 18, on “worship”) is evil, can the having a will

to worship be evil. The other characteristics of the error marked in this

verse seem to be recommendations, and “devotion to worship” is in

keeping with them. This disposition, moreover, has an air of “humility,”

which does not belong to a self-imposed, arbitrary worship. There is a

love of worship for mere worship’s sake which is a perversion of the

religious instinct, and tends to multiply both the forms and objects of

devotion. This spurious religiousness took the form, in the Colossian

errorists, of worship paid to the angels. On this particular worship the

apostle passed his judgment in v. 18, and now points out the tendency

from which it springs. In v. 18 “humility” precedes; here it follows

“worship,” by way of transition from the religious to the moral aspect of

the new teaching – “and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the

satisfying of the flesh.” (vs. 16, 21-22; Philippians 3:19-21; I Timothy 4:3;

I Corinthians 6:13-20; 12:23-25;  I Thessalonians 4:4).   The sense

appears to be that it was its combination of ascetic rigor with religious

devotion that gave to the system in question its undoubted charm, and

furnished an adequate field for the eloquence and philosophical skill of its

advocate - ἀφειδεία – apheidia -  extravagance; unsparingness, and

πλησμονή - plaesmonae – a filling up; saiety; indulgence — both

found only here in the New Testament — and along with them “body” and

“flesh,” stand opposed to each other. This clause, therefore, contains a

complete sense, and we must not look outside it for an explanation of the

included words, “not in any honor.” As we have seen, the first clause of

the predicate (“ having word indeed,”) needs no such complement. The

clause “not .... flesh” is a comment on the words, “neglecting/unsparing

treatment of the body.” On this topic the apostle had not yet expressed his

mind sufficiently. He has in vs. 16, 20-22 denounced certain ascetic rules as

obsolete, or as trifling and needless; but he has yet to expose the principle

and tendency from which they sprang. He is the more bound to be explicit

on this subject inasmuch as there were ascetic leanings in his own teaching,

and passages in his earlier Epistles such as Romans 8:13; 13:14;

I Corinthians 7:1; 9:27, which the “philosophical” party might not

unnaturally wrest to their own purposes. He could not condemn severity to

the body absolutely, and in every sense. The Colossian rigorism he does



  • as not in keeping with bodily self-respect, which is the

            safeguard of Christian purity; and


  • as not in reality directed against sensual indulgence, the

            prevention of which is the proper end of rules of abstinence.


These two objections are thrown into a single terse, energetic negative

clause, obscure, like so much in this chapter, from its brevity and want of

connecting particles. In I Thessalonians 4:4 the phrase, “in honor,”

occurs in a similar connection: “That each one of you know how to ‘gain

possession of his own vessel” (i.e. “to become master of his body:”

Romans 1:24) “in sanctification and honor” (compare I Corinthians

6:13-20 for the apostle’s teaching respecting the dignity of the human

body; also Philippians 3:19-21). The contempt of Alexandrine

theosophists for physical nature was fatal to morality, undermining the

basis on which rests the government of the body as the “vessel” and

vesture of the spiritual life. Their principles took effect, first, in a morbid

and unnatural asceticism; then, by a sure reaction, and with equal

consistency, in unrestrained and shocking license. See, for the latter result,

the Epistles to the seven Churches of Asia (Revelation 2. and 3.); in the

Pastoral Epistles, the two opposite effects are both signalized - πλησμονή -

plaesmonae –has been taken in a milder sense “satisfaction” “(legitimate)

 gratification.” So the apostle is made to charge the false teachers with

“not honouring the body, so as to grant the flesh its due gratification.”

But this rendering confounds the “body” and the “flesh,” here contrasted,

and gives πλησμονή a meaning without lexical warrant. And the sentiment

it expresses errs on the antiascetic side, and comes into collision with

Romans 13:14 and Galatians 5:16. πλησμον in the Septuagint and in Philo,

as in earlier Greek, denotes “physical repletion,” and is associated with

drunkenness  and sensual excess generally. The saying of Philippians 3:19

(“whose god is their belly, and their glory in their shame”) contains the

same opposition of “honor” to “fleshly indulgence” as that supposed here,

possibly suggested by the phrase, “surfeiting of dishonor” of the Septuagint in

Habakkuk 2:16. Here, then, the apostle lays hold of the root principle of the false

teachers’ whole scheme of morality, its hostility to the body as a material

organism. Such a treatment, he declares, dishonors the body, while it fails, and

for this very reason, to prevent that feeding of the flesh, the fostering of sensual

appetency and habit, in which lies our real peril and dishonor in regard to

this vessel of our earthly life.


Here we have a suitable starting-point for the exhortations of the next

chapter, where the apostle, in vs. 1-4, shows the true path of deliverance

from sensual sin, and in vs. 5-7 sets forth the Christian asceticism —

“unsparing treatment” of the flesh indeed!


“Pale and wasted, and reduced to skeletons as it were, are the men devoted

to instruction, having transferred to the powers of the soul their bodily vigor also,

so that they have become, as we might say, dissolved into a single form of being,

that of pure soul made bodiless by force of thought [διανοία - dianoia – thinking

through; comprehension;see ch.1:21, note].  In them the earthly is destroyed and

overwhelmed, when reason [νοῦς - nous - mind v.18], pervading them wholly,

has set its choice on being well pleasing to God.”




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Vers. 1-7. — Sect. 4.

The apostle’s concern for the Colossian Church.

Already the apostle has breathed out his “heart’s desire and prayer to God”

for these Colossians (<510109>Colossians 1:9-12), “unknown by face” to him

(vers. 1, 5), and yet so dear because of their faith and love (<510104>Colossians

1:4, 8; 2:6, 11-13; 3:1-3, 9, 10, 15), and the loyalty they have hitherto

maintained (ver. 5), and the objects of so much anxiety on account of the

insidious and deadly nature of the assault being made upon their faith, of

whose real character they seem to have been little aware. We expect,

therefore, in this passage a recurrence of the strain of thought pursued in

the prayer of the first chapter. We find a like prominence given to

knowledge, the chief desideratum of this Church, and to the need of a

Christianly instructed understanding as a safeguard against the subtleties

and plausibilities of error. At the same time, the view now presented of this

object has gained greatly in fulness and depth by the development of the

apostle’s argument in the intervening paragraphs of his letter. The teaching

of this section we may summarize in the words of <610318>2 Peter 3:18, as

setting forth the nature and the elements of —


AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. (Vers. 2, 3, 6, 7.)

1. St. Paul has spoken of the. Church as “the body of Christ”

(<510118>Colossians 1:18, 24), and so he must needs desire that its members

may be knit together in love (ver. 19; <490416>Ephesians 4:16; <460110>1

Corinthians 1:10), Without such union the Church is no longer a body, and

its members, broken and scattered, become an easy prey to error. The

salvation of individual souls is but half the work of Christ. “He loved the

Church, and gave himself for her” (<490525>Ephesians 5:25; <442028>Acts 20:28).

He seeks to build the redeemed, regenerated units of mankind as “living

stones” into “a holy temple” (<490220>Ephesians 2:20-22; <460316>1 Corinthians

3:16, 17); to integrate them into the “one body” of which he is the Head

and his Spirit is the Soul (<490403>Ephesians 4:3-6): comp. sect. 2, II. 4

(homiletics). Of this union, love is the bond (<510314>Colossians 3:14;

<490402>Ephesians 4:2; <431334>John 13:34, 35). In all true and lasting union

amongst men some sympathetic affection must exist, either as a basis for

the fellowship or as generated by it. Mere identity of beliefs or of interests

will never hold men for long together. The heart must love or hate, must be

attracted or repelled, in some degree, by every personality around it. And

the union of souls in Christ, being the most deep and spiritual of any, must

be thoroughly pervaded and determined by love. Moreover, the growth of

Christian knowledge and the perfecting of personal character depend much

more largely than we are apt to suppose, in this age of exaggerated

individualism and selfish culture seeking, on the soundness and

completeness of cur Church life, of our Christian social life. To St. Paul’s

mind the “perfect man” and the perfect Church — the perfection of the

part and of the whole — are reciprocally dependent, and all but identical

(<490411>Ephesians 4:11-16).

2. But love without knowledge, heat without light, will not suffice. As

“faith, being alone, is dead” (<590217>James 2:17), so love in like condition is

blind and easily falls into error. “I pray that your love may abound yet more

and more in knowledge and all discernment” (<500109>Philippians 1:9). The

apostle declared that “God willed to make known to his saints the riches of

the glory of his mystery” (<510127>Colossians 1:27); accordingly he desires for

them “all riches of the full assurance of the understanding,” “unto the

knowledge of the mystery” (ver. 2).

(1) The former is the subjective counterpart of the latter. The

understanding that is enlightened and informed in the truth belonging to the

revelation of God in Christ, that ranges freely, yet reverently, through “the

breadth, and length, and height, and depth” of this mystery, and learns to

comprehend it (<490318>Ephesians 3:18), is itself enriched, assured, and

satisfied thereby.

(2) The object which the mind contemplates, into which it seeks to

penetrate ever more deeply, is Christ, the mystery of God. “To know him”

is its supreme aspiration (<500310>Philippians 3:10), in which intellectual

inquiry is guided by spiritual sympathy and inspired by love

(<500307>Philippians 3:7; <431421>John 14:21). To know him as an historical

Person is something; this knowledge supplies the material and the basis for

all other knowledge of Christ (<441036>Acts 10:36-43). To know him as a

living, present Saviour is the essential knowledge, the one thing needful

(<500308>Philippians 3:8-11); it is to “gain Christ, and be found in him.” But it

is yet more than this to know him as the mystery of God — to discover his

secret indwelling in nature and in history; to understand how “to him give

all the prophets witness;” to hear the footfall of” the coming One” echoing

along the silent chambers and winding corridors of the ages past

(<510121>Colossians 1:21); to find in him the centre of all life and law, uniting

God and the world, eternity and time (<510115>Colossians 1:15-17); to behold

in “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” at the same

time “the outbeaming of the Father’s glory, the very Image of his

substance, through whom also he made the worlds, and who upholds all

things by the word of his rower” (<580102>Hebrews 1:2, 3), the “Firstborn of

all creation,” the “Heir of all things.” Here is knowledge indeed, and for

him who is grounded in it, speculative theories of nature and of God and

the mystic dreams of theosophy will have but little charm. This mystery of

God surpasses and includes all others; for Christ, in nature and in grace, in

history and personal experience, “is all and in all.” In view of this Mystery,

no wonder that the apostle says that we are “being renewed unto

knowledge” (<510310>Colossians 3:10). We can conceive no object worthier of

the pursuit of the loftiest and greatest minds than “the excellency of the

knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord” (<500308>Philippians 3:8; <490309>Ephesians

3:9-11; <600112>1 Peter 1:12). By it “the heart,” the whole “inward man”

(<490316>Ephesians 3:16), is “stablished” (ver. 7) and “encouraged” (ver. 2) by

the “comfort of love” (<500201>Philippians 2:1) and “the treasures of wisdom

and knowledge” (ver. 3) that are “in Christ.”

3. Love and knowledge must bear fruit in practical obedience. Christ Jesus

was received by the Colossians as “the Lord” (ver. 6; <510321>Colossians 3:21;

4:1). He is a Master to be obeyed (<451409>Romans 14:9; <431313>John 13:13;

14:15), as well as a Mystery to be known and a Saviour to be loved. In him

we must walk. The whole conduct of life must be governed by his Spirit

(<450814>Romans 8:14; <480525>Galatians 5:25) and directed toward his ends

(<500120>Philippians 1:20, 21; <470515>2 Corinthians 5:15). He “in all things”

claims to be “pre-eminent” (<510118>Colossians 1:18; <461525>1 Corinthians 15:25;

<471005>2 Corinthians 10:5). Every desire, affection, pursuit, of the Christian

must “acknowledge him to be the Lord.” By such true obedience the soul

grows in strength and security, and is ever being more completely “builded

up in him” (ver. 7. comp. <510110>Colossians 1:10).

4. And the root of this life of advancing knowledge and obedient love is

faith. By this the soul is first “rooted in him” (vers. 5, 12; <510103>Colossians

1:3, 23; <500309>Philippians 3:9; <490208>Ephesians 2:8; <450501>Romans 5:1, 2, etc.).

From this root springs love (<480506>Galatians 5:6), obedience (Romans 6.;

8:3, 4), satisfying knowledge (<490317>Ephesians 3:17-19), every good word

and work (<520103>1 Thessalonians 1:3; <530111>2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2:16, 17). If

this fails, everything fails (<480301>Galatians 3:1-5). Whatever strengthens,

comforts, and upbuilds the Christian, does so by ministering to his faith. A

growing knowledge, a quickened love, a more steadfast obedience, enable

his faith to strike deeper root — stablish him in his faith (ver. 7). In this

world he never ceases to “walk by faith” (<470418>2 Corinthians 4:18; 5:7); and

his abounding in it is the greatest gain which the furthest advancement in

the life of God can bring him. Yet faith, again, has its outward instrument

and condition. It “comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”

(<451017>Romans 10:17). The Colossians are to be “stablished in their faith,”

“even as they were taught” (ver. 7: comp. <510105>Colossians 1:5, 7). To that

instruction they owe all they possess in Christ, even their own selves

(<570119>Philemon 1:19).

5. And he who abounds in faith will abound in thanksgiving also. The

more strongly the Christian believes in the Son of God and enters into the

mysteries of his kingdom, the more joyfully and constantly will he offer his

tribute of praise. This, too, is a fruit of faith — “ the fruit of the lips”

(<581315>Hebrews 13:15; <281402>Hosea 14:2), the only fruit of all his mercies

which we can directly render to the great Giver. Of such thanksgiving,

called forth by the contemplation of the “mystery of God” in Christ, St.

Paul’s own act of praise in <490103>Ephesians 1:3-14 is a noble example

(comp. <451133>Romans 11:33-36; 16:25-27; <540112>1 Timothy 1:12-17; <600103>1

Peter 1:3-5; <660105>Revelation 1:5-7; <401125>Matthew 11:25-28. See sect. 1, III.

2, homiletics).


1. There was one thing that specially endangered Christian life and the well

being of the Church at Colossal. It was the charts of perverted eloquence

(ver. 4). A clever tongue and a popular style are gifts by no means

incompatible with the faithful and spiritual preaching of Christ; but they

have their peculiar dangers for their possessor, and for the Church in which

they are exercised. St. Paul appears to have admired gifts of this kind in

Apollos, but he felt that a plainer and severer method became himself, in

which the sheer might and majesty of the truth should stand forth without

adornment of rhetoric or drapery of graceful diction that might distract

attention from the all important theme of his address (<460201>1 Corinthians

2:1-5). The possession of such powers made the men whom he is

denouncing at Colossae so formidable. Perhaps their very gifts had proved

a snare to them; and there are indications in St. Paul’s description of them

(vers. 8, 16, 18, 23: comp. <442029>Acts 20:29, 30) of the arrogance and selfseeking

spirit, and the intellectual dishonesty, into which men of popular

powers are liable to fall

2. On the other hand, there was one specially hopeful feature in the state of

this Church — the good order which it had maintained (ver. 5); contrast

with <460111>1 Corinthians 1:11, 12; 11:2-18; 14:40. So far, these “deceitful

workers” had not succeeded in disturbing the Church’s unity or stirring up

insubordination against its officers. In every organized body it is a first

condition of strength and safety that its members should “obey them that

have the rule” (<581317>Hebrews 13:17), should “all of them be subject one to

another” (<490521>Ephesians 5:21; <600505>1 Peter 5:5), each in his place and rank

keeping step and time with the movement of the whole.

Vers. 8-15. — Sect. 5.

The Christian’s completeness in Christ.

I. A FALSE PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION. (Vers. 4, 8,11, 16-23.) “Not

according to Christ (ver. 8) is the fatal sentence which the apostle

pronounces upon the system of doctrine that was finding entrance at

Colossal. However plausible in argument (ver. 4) or lofty in its intellectual

pretensions (vers. 8, 23), however skilfully it may avail itself of the

venerable rites of ancient faith or of the popular predilections and

tendencies of the day (vers. 11, 16, 18), and whatever the apparent sanctity

and austerity of its professors (vers. 18, 20-23), the religious system which

sets him aside and professes to lead men into communion with God and to

the moral perfection of their nature otherwise than “in him,” must after all

be, at the heart of it, “a vain deceit.” For he is “the Way, the Truth, and the

Life,” the Lord and Life of nature and the Light of men (<510115>Colossians

1:15-17; <430103>John 1:3, 4), the “Beginning” of the “new heavens and the

new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness;” he is simply “all things and in

all” to the Church of God. All true philosophy, though standing on natural

grounds and drawing its premisses from natural experience and intuition,

yet, rightly understood, must needs harmonize with the Christian faith, and

will be “according to Christ.” For no two truths, however differently

grounded or expressed, can really be contradictory. And the facts on which

philosophy rests, the menial and material constitution of things concerning

which it theorizes, “were created” and “consist in him” (<510116>Colossians

1:16, 17). “In Christ” must lie, therefore, the ultimate rationale of the finite

universe. The Colossian error presented itself as philosophy, advanced on

rational grounds, and claiming the attention of men of thought and culture

within the Church. It inculcated the religious traditions of the Jew under

the forms and methods of the Greek intellect, seeking to reanimate both by

the aid of the new spiritual fervour and lofty moral aspirations of the

Christian faith. There was nothing in itself blameworthy in such an attempt.

Endeavours must be continually made, though they can never be final, to

harmonize the current philosophy of the age with the Divine revelation as

received in the Church. St. Paul himself makes large contributions in this

direction. But those who take this work in hand should understand both

sides of the question. This the Colossian errorists failed to do. They tried

to fit Christ into some place in their preconceived philosophy, instead of

allowing themselves to be led, as St. Paul would have taught them

(<510115>Colossians 1:15-20), through Christ to a deeper and more sound

philosophy. Hence their teaching, put forward as Christian truth and

claiming to be the Christian theory of life, is condemned as “philosophy and

empty deceit.”

1. It was according to the tradition of men. It could claim only human

authority for its principles. They were not found in Christ’s doctrine, and

had received no authentication from his lips (<480111>Galatians 1:11, 12), no

Divine attestation or proof of their being “from heaven” (<402125>Matthew

21:25, 26; <580104>Hebrews 1:4). And any scheme of religion, whether calling

itself “philosophy” or not, that is in this position, stands self condemned.

“The world by wisdom knew not God” (<460121>1 Corinthians 1:21). What he

is, how he is disposed towards the children of men, it is for him to say.

They know full well that they have lost his favour and defaced his image in

their souls; but how their recovery is possible is to them “past finding out.”

And therefore, to fix and measure the nature of God and the relations he

may assume to us, “according to the tradition of men,” is the height of

ignorance and presumption. But Christ is “the faithful Witness,” “the Word

who was in the beginning with God” <660105>Revelation 1:5; <430102>John 1:2);

and an authentic voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, my chosen:

hear ye him” (<420935>Luke 9:35; <430118>John 1:18).

2. And such systems, leaving the clear and firm ground of obedience to the

supremacy of Christ, are compelled to fall hack, in some form or other, on

the rudiments of the world. Their advocates discover that the influence of

human names and the force of general reasoning do not command the

deference of the conscience or stir the spiritual emotions, are indeed

without that “power of God” (<460124>1 Corinthians 1:24, 25; <520105>1

Thessalonians 1:5) which attends the word of Christ. They return,

therefore, to the dead forms of old religions, putting, as they suppose, a

new meaning into them. They are at once “advanced,” and reactionary.

They dress up the newest rationalism in the cast-off garments of faith’s

childhood. They combine a puerile ritualism, borrowing its forms and

practices from the mere rudiments of an age of sensuous “feeling after

God,” with the most bare and abstract, the most arid and joyless,

conceptions of his nature, or of a nature that is their substitute for him.

The combination of “philosophy” and “circumcision” (vers. 8, 11), of

eloquent and subtle reasonings with minute and arbitrary rules as to “eating

and drinking,” and the physical culture of the soul (vers. 4, 16, 20-23), is

after all not unnatural; and is apt to repeat itself, to a greater or less extent,

in every attempt at religion that is not essentially spiritual, and that departs

from the “one foundation, which is Jesus Christ” (<460311>1 Corinthians 3:11).

3. We must also mark the arrogant and overbearing temper of the new

teachers at Colossae, their exclusiveness and their endeavour to form a

personal party within the Church. They are men speaking perverse things,

to draw away the disciples after them” (<442030>Acts 20:30). They would

make simple Christians their booty (ver. 8). They set up to judge their

brethren in matters of diet and outward observance (ver. 16). They assume,

in this character of judges in the Church, to deny to Christian men, walking

in faith and love (<510104>Colossians 1:4) and having Christ’s peace within

their hearts (<510315>Colossians 3:15), “the prize of their calling” (ver. 18),

because they will not accept their notions and practices. They issue their

decrees, “Touch not, taste not,” etc., as if they were the very law of God

(vers. 22, 14). They are “humble” before the powers of the invisible world,

and zealous to offer them a worship which they repudiate and abhor (ver.

15; <661910>Revelation 19:10; 22:9); but rob Christ of his honour (vers. 18, 19,

23), and are proud and self willed towards their brethren “whom they have

seen.” They heap upon the body invented and misdirected severities (ver.

23), while they are governed by “the mind of the flesh” (ver. 18). They

aggrandize themselves, while they destroy the Church of God (ver. 19).


For the Christian everything depends on what he thinks of Christ and

makes him to be. Christ’s glory is his security. His greatness and the

greatness of our interest in him are commensurate. For “he gave himself

for us” (<480220>Galatians 2:20). Our salvation is not merely a work of Christ,

a something wrought out for us, and (externally) conferred upon us; it is

“Christ in us” (<510102>Colossians 1:2; <490317>Ephesians 3:17; <480116>Galatians

1:16; <431420>John 14:20; 17:26). And St. Paul virtually says, “In robbing

Christ of his glory, your new teachers are robbing you of your salvation.

By so much as his position is lowered, his fulness diminished, by so much is

your spiritual life imperilled and impaired. Whatever is taken away from the

completeness of his Person and the sufficiency of his mediation, is taken

away at the same time from your assurance of pardon (ver. 13;

<510114>Colossians 1:14) and your motives for holiness (<510301>Colossians 3:1,

2), from the ground of your faith (vers. 6, 7), and the certainty of your

heavenly prize (ver. 18; <510123>Colossians 1:23; 3:15). Whatever touches his

person touches the centre and vital spring of your life in God, the anchor of

your immortal hopes, and the foundation on which rests the whole fabric of

the Church” (ver. 19; <490220>Ephesians 2:20-22; <401615>Matthew 16:15-18). 1.

(1) In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead. Then he is not a partial,

or an approximate, or temporary manifestation of God — like previous

theophanies — a mere phase of the Infinite. He does not rank and share

with angels and the various orders of created being in mirroring by

scattered, broken rays the glory of God. As the Son, he stands at an infinite

distance from, and holds an absolute supremacy over, all creation

(<510115>Colossians 1:15; <580102>Hebrews 1:2-4; 3:6). God is what he shows

himself to be in Christ, and no other. There, if we could but behold and

receive it, is “all the fulness of the Divine nature.” In him we know the only

true, the real, veritable God (<431703>John 17:3). At last we grasp the

substance of truth and no longer chase its shadows (ver. 17). Here is

nothing transient, to be displaced by further evolution: this fulness dwells

in him; we reach finality, truth absolute, determinate; and he who knows

and has Christ may say, “This is the true God and eternal life” (<620520>1 John


(2) And this fulness dwells in him bodily. For the Divine Word “became

flesh,” and in a human body “made his tabernacle amongst us” (<430114>John

1:14). He was “born of a woman, born under the law” (<480404>Galatians 4:4),

suffered our bodily ills and temptations, wrought with human hands,

looked through human eyes, and spoke in the language of men; sat as a

friendly guest at our tables, and stood as a mourner by our gravesides; died

a human death, “in the body of his flesh” (<510122>Colossians 1:22), by the

hands of men, and was laid in an earthly grave; he rose, “the same Jesus,”

in that same body, and ascended into heaven (<510118>Colossians 1:18, 19;

3:1-4), “far above all principality and power” (ver. 10; <490120>Ephesians 1:20-

23), where he sits a radiant body, “appearing in the presence of God for

us” (<580924>Hebrews 9:24), and whom one day we shall see (<510301>Colossians

3:1-4; <500320>Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Peter. 1:8, 9; <620302>1 John 3:2; <440111>Acts

1:11) — “the Man Christ Jesus,” “who is over all, God blessed forever”

(<450905>Romans 9:5). This was the vision that dying Stephen beheld in the

presence of Saul of Tarsus (<440755>Acts 7:55-60), which ere long appeared to

himself (<440903>Acts 9:3-6) and was henceforth evermore before his eyes.

And since he has assumed it, Christ’s humanity is also permanent. The

fulness of the Godhead still dwells in him bodily. He will not cease to be

man any more than he can cease to be God. His relationship to his human

brethren, and the remembrance of his earthly sorrows, of” the wounds that

he received in the house of his friends,” are too precious to him for that.

He is still “the Lamb, in the midst of the throne,” who is” the Shepherd” of

his heavenly flock (<660717>Revelation 7:17), the “Firstborn out of the dead”

among the “many brethren” that have eternal life in him (<510118>Colossians

1:18; <450829>Romans 8:29). And heaven for us is “to be where he is,” “to see

him as he is” (<510304>Colossians 3:4; <500123>Philippians 1:23; <470508>2 Corinthians

5:8; <431226>John 12:26; 17:24; <620302>1 John 3:2) — “the Man Christ Jesus,”

“the Lord of glory”! “All the fulness of the Godhead, in bodily form!” — a

mystery compared with which the contradictions that so often baffle and

vex us are trifles indeed; and yet an indubitable fact, that astonishes heaven

(<490310>Ephesians 3:10; <600112>1 Peter 1:12) and glorifies the earth, and that fills

struggling, sinful mortals with a sense of Divine sympathy, an assurance of

forgiveness and help that make all things possible.

2. But Christ’s fulness does not simply “dwell in him,” terminating in

himself; it is an active, out flowing fulness, that seeks to make us in turn

complete in him (ver. 10; <490123>Ephesians 1:23; 3:19; 4:8-13; <430114>John

1:14, 16; 17:22, 23, 26). The Judaizers of Colossae, as we understand their

position, were urging on their Gentile disciples that they should complete

their imperfect Christian state by circumcision and the adoption of various

ritual observances (including worship of the angels along with Christ) and

bodily austerities (vers. 16-23). These requirements they enforced by

philosophical reasoning, under considerations of the symbolic meaning of

ancient rites and the beneficial effect upon the soul of the regimen

prescribed as cleansing and elevating to its proper level man’s spiritual

nature. St. Paul acknowledges by implication that, to a certain extent (but

see ver. 23 b), the aim of this teaching is right; but the means it inculcates

he utterly disallows, being “not according to Christ.” The whole tendency

of the system was to draw away attention and trust from Christ. Other

objections, such as might easily present themselves, he does not care to


(1) In him ye were circumcised. “The inward reality of which this rite was

the imperfect and prophetic symbol, the consecration of the present life to

God, the putting off of the old sinful nature, the body of the flesh, has

already taken place in you. This is the circumcision of Christ, the change

from sin to holiness, from moral filthiness to purity; and you know that you

have passed through it, if you are in him (<460611>1 Corinthians 6:11;

<480327>Galatians 3:27; 5:24; <451314>Romans 13:14). Do not grasp at the shadow

when you have the substance. Be content to believe that in this, the ‘one

thing needful,’ you are complete in him.”

(2) From this point the apostle goes a step further back, exactly on the line

of his previous teaching in Romans 6., respecting the connection of

sanctification with justification, when he adds, “having been buried with

him in your baptism, wherein also ye were raised with him.” For a state of

sinfulness is a state of death. The sinner lies immediately under the wrath of

God (<510121>Colossians 1:21; 3:6; <490203>Ephesians 2:3; <450510>Romans 5:10); and

that anger, with the sense of alienation it brings and the shadow of

condemnation it casts upon the conscience, is virtually death, is the death

of death (comp. <450724>Romans 7:24, 25 and 8:1, 2). There is no cleansing of

the soul of a dead sinner till this sentence is repealed, and “the love of

God” is again “shed abroad in his heart” (<450505>Romans 5:5). Christ gives

life that he may give purity (<510121>Colossians 1:21, 22; <450613>Romans 6:13;

<560214>Titus 2:14; 1 Peter. 2:24) — purity with life. And life comes through

his resurrection; by the same law, the same power, which “raised Jesus our

Lord from the dead,” are our souls also raised from their death of sin. The

operation in both cases is equally supernatural and Divine. The first event

is the warrant and the pledge of’ the second. The return of our Surety and

Champion from the grave assures us that his sacrifice is accepted and his

victory complete (<510118>Colossians 1:18; <450425>Romans 4:25; <440232>Acts 2:32-

36; 13:34-39; <432019>John 20:19, 20). On this fact our faith in him as Lord

and Saviour rests (<450424>Romans 4:24; 6:7-11; 10:9; <470414>2 Corinthians

4:14); it is a “faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.”

Through this faith we are justified — forgiveness becomes curs (ver. 13;

<510114>Colossians 1:14; <450501>Romans 5:1); and in this consciousness of

pardon sinful man first comes to know the life of God (<490201>Ephesians 2:1-

5; <450607>Romans 6:7-11); he is reconciled, and a new existence of peace and

purity is born within him (<470517>2 Corinthians 5:17-21), to culminate in his

final presentation perfect in Christ (<510121>Colossians 1:21, 22, 28).

(3) Of this passing from death to life, not circumcision, but baptism, is the

appointed and proper Christian symbol. Therein the believer is “buried

with Christ” in his grave (ver. 12; <450603>Romans 6:3, 5); his old self, his

former condemned existence, is put off and washed away forever. He

emerges from the cleansing stream, “a new creature in Christ Jesus.” All

this baptism sets forth and sets forward, so far as the picturing and outward

acting of the matter may. And being the authoritative public sign of the

grace of a new life, it seals that life on the consciousness and memory of

the believing and understanding recipient, and binds its obligations upon

him before God and man; so that henceforth he can only “reckon himself to

be dead. unto sin, but living unto God in Christ Jesus” (<450611>Romans 6:11).


the individual Christian now realizes for himself in Christ — his new life in

God and the cleansing and sanctifying of his nature — is but the personal

appropriation of that which was revealed to the whole world and addresses

itself to the wants of human nature everywhere. It meets the conditions

brought about by God’s previous dealings with mankind (<510123>Colossians

1:23, 26-28; <450102>Romans 1:2-5; 16:25-27; <441415>Acts 14:15-17; 17:26-31;

<580101>Hebrews 1:1, 2). In two respects the apostle signalizes the earlier

relations of men to God as imperfect: two hindrances there were to that

“access to the Father” now secured (<490218>Ephesians 2:18; <450502>Romans 5:2;

<580719>Hebrews 7:19; 10:19-22) — hindrances congruous in nature and

effect., felt in the quick and instructed religious consciousness of Judaism

more keenly than elsewhere — that are “taken out of the way” in Christ.

There was the law with its condemning voice for the conscience, and the

angelic mediation with its terrors and its mysteries for the heart and

understanding. The first guilty pair “hid themselves from the presence of

the Lord among the trees of the garden” (<010308>Genesis 3:8); and a sinful,

weak-hearted people, chosen to be brought near unto him, said, “Let not

God speak with us lest we die” (<022019>Exodus 20:19). And God in mercy

and in justice heard their prayer. He veiled himself behind his laws and his

providence, behind the forms of nature, and the oracles of prophecy, and

the progress of history, and the flashing forth of his glory in the angels of

his presence, until Law, the paidagwgo>v,” ordained through angels,”

should have done its work, “and the fulness of the times should be come”

(<480319>Galatians 3:19-24; <450520>Romans 5:20).

1. Till then it was increasingly felt that the law with its decrees was against

us. It “wrought wrath” (<450415>Romans 4:15). It brought us “under a curse”

(<480310>Galatians 3:10). It stirred up and brought to its crisis in an agony of

self despair the conflict between the better nature and the worse in man

(<450707>Romans 7:7-25). It invoked death with its anticipatory terrors as the

seal to its authority and the witness to our guilt (<450512>Romans 5:12-14, 21;

7:24; <461556>1 Corinthians 15:56). The list of its commandments is but a

catalogue of our offences, a tale of debts, not one of which we are

prepared to meet, and yet which must be discharged “to the uttermost

farthing.” In Christ’s cross, God has, at a stroke, wiped out the whole bill

of our offences. He has removed it from between us and himself; and

nailed it, with Christ’s body, to the cross, where he bids us read, “There is

now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (<450801>Romans 8:1;

3:26). This the apostle had taught already, and it is the glory of his earlier

Epistles, addressed to Churches infested with Pharisaic Judaism and its

teaching of salvation by works of law, to have established this truth in the

understanding and the faith of the Church for all time.

2. But the philosophic Judaism with which he has now to deal requires him

to insist more strongly on the immediate revelation of God himself to the

world that is made in Christ. Now that One has been “manifested at the end

of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (<580926>Hebrews 9:26;

<235902>Isaiah 59:2), it is possible to behold God by a nearer vision. With the

revelation of his pardoning mercy and sin-avenging justice in Christ, “the

Son of his love” (<490204>Ephesians 2:4; <450326>Romans 3:26), he makes known

his inmost name and nature. To Israel, in comparison with other nations,

“God was nigh” (<050407>Deuteronomy 4:7; <032026>Leviticus 20:26); and yet

even Israel complains, “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself”

(<234515>Isaiah 45:15). He “came with ten thousand of his holy ones, and from

his right hand went a fiery law for them” (<053302>Deuteronomy 33:2); and

“the earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God”

(<196808>Psalm 68:8). “He made the clouds his chariot; “his” way was in the

sea, and his path in the great waters, and his footsteps were not known”

(<197719>Psalm 77:19, 20). The mystic veil that screened his presence was as

splendid as the law by which he ruled the consciences of men was stern and

terrible. But in Christ, he “laid his glory by.” God appeared in the Babe of

Bethlehem, in the Man of sorrows, in Christ crucified, as the Father of the

children of men. He bids all his angels worship and wait upon the lowly

form of the Son of man, and the elements of nature (more closely linked

with the angelic powers, perhaps, than we can imagine) are made to do his

bidding, “that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father”

(<430523>John 5:23). “They shall call his name Immanuel, God with us”

(<400123>Matthew 1:23). None had “seen God at any time;” the angels that had

been his ministers, the glories of the created world in which he robed

himself (<19A226>Psalm 102:26; 104:2), these could not utter his Name: “the

only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, the Word made

flesh, he declared him” (<430114>John 1:14, 18). “The veil is done away in

Christ.” But “the same veil,” which in St. Paul’s day hung between the

Jewish mind and the true knowledge of God, “remaineth unlifted” for

those who will not behold “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”

(<470314>2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:3-6). God at once “reconciled the world unto

himself” and unveiled himself to the world in him. This is the sum of these

two verses.

Vers. 16-23. — Sect. 6.

The claims of the false teacher.

The Colossian error is the earliest Christian heresy, understanding the word

in its stricter sense as denoting a movement in the direction el’ error,

originating within the Church itself. It first answers to the terms of St.

Paul’s prediction in <442029>Acts 20:29-31. The powerful Judaizing reaction

with which St. Paul and the Gentile Church had previously to struggle, and

which drew from him the Galatian and Roman Epistles, was negative and

retrograde in its character, originating from without rather than from

within the Church, and stimulated by the increasing violence and

desperation of Jewish national feeling. But here we discern the rise of a

heterodox school of thought within Christianity itself. At this point, first of

all, were those elements of error introduced, those seeds of division sown,

which ripened into the wild and disastrous Gnostic apostasy of the second

century; and that may be said to have persisted to the present day. For our

inveterate and multiplied ecclesiastical divisions and our deeply rooted

doctrinal differences, with the animosities and prejudices that attend them,

show too plainly that the rents which then began to open in the Church’s

unity are far from being closed. Accordingly, the Colossian error presents

heresy in its germinal form. It contains and combines in itself the root

principles and incipient forms of those errors which have most widely

prevailed in after ages. It unites evil tendencies which afterwards parted

asunder and became opposed to each other, which seem indeed to be

radically inconsistent. But this was an age of eclecticism and amalgamation.

Moreover, there is a latent contradiction inherent in falsehood and error. It

must needs be inconsistent and witnesses against itself. Its principles, when

carried forward and pushed to their issues in logic and practice, become

mutually destructive; and the system built upon them and the party which

has espoused them of themselves break up into contending fragments.

Hence the shifting phases and combinations of religious error — Protean,

many headed — under which the same elements constantly reappear,

identical in essence, incessantly varying in form. “The truth as it is in Jesus”

is alone self consistent, harmonious, and enduring. But who will assure

himself that he has in all things, so far as he might, truly ascertained and

followed it?

THE FIRST HERESY. We have distinguished in the Colossian heresy four

elements of error, which may be roughly designated under the names of

rationalism, ceremonialism, mysticism, and asceticism. They are the

heresies, respectively, of the intellect, of the religious instinct, of the

spiritual consciousness, and of the moral will, — aberrations, each of them,

of functions belonging to the highest and divinest part of man’s nature.

1. The false teachers are evidently rationalists. It is this characteristic

which the apostle first expressly specifies (vers. 8, 23), and to which the

whole tenor of the Epistle bears witness (see, especially, <510109>Colossians

1:9, 28; 2:2-4; 3:10, 16; and compare the introductory remarks in our

homiletics, sect. 2, I. and sect. 5, I.). They construed Christianity in terms

of their preconceived philosophic theory. They were philosophers first, and

Christians afterwards, or only Christians so far as their philosophy

permitted. Christ was not the centre of their thoughts, the Master of their

intellect and heart (<510219>Colossians 2:19; 3:11); but they made an idol of

their intellectual system, and he must perforce be made to pay homage to it

and fit himself into some limited and vacant space where it might he able to

make room for him! Not in Christ, it appears, but in themselves and in “the

tradition of men,” were “the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” out of

which the Christian teaching, in its uncultured crudeness and poverty of

thought, must have its errors corrected and its deficiencies supplied! But

the philosophy of these Colossian illuminati was clearly wrong in its views

both of the world and of human nature; and no one would be found now to

advocate it. Their attempts to recast and rationalize Christianity proved an

utter failure, and bore fruit in the next age only in immorality and schism.

Their wisdom was but a “wisdom of words” (vers. 2, 3); they were “ever

learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (<550307>2

Timothy 3:7). Every system of philosophy, every scheme of human life,

which attempts to patronize and to pervert to its own purposes the

Christian teaching, has, we may be sure, a like doom awaiting it. St. Paul

does not seek to check the rationalistic movement at Colossae by mere

repression, by discouraging intellectual inquiry. On the contrary, he

impresses on his readers again and again the necessity of a better

understanding, a deeper knowledge of “the mystery of God”

(<510106>Colossians 1:6, 9, 10, 25-23; 2:1-4; 3:10, 16). It was their slight and

imperfect Christian education which laid them open to the attacks of

sophistry and a shallow philosophy. The letter is one that appeals to and

stimulates Christian thought in an extraordinary degree, and is itself a

theological discipline. The spurious and plausible guests, “the knowledge

falsely so called” (<540620>1 Timothy 6:20), which was fascinating the

Colossians, could be cast out only by the epignosis, the advanced and

perfect knowledge (compare homiletics, sects. 1, III. and 4, I., II.). What

Lord Bacon said of atheism may apply with equal truth to heresy: “A little

philosophy inclineth men’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy

bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”

2. With their philosophical, a priori interpretation of Christianity, the false

teachers of Colossae combined a love of ceremonialism and a devotion to

the externals of worship. Here we note the Jewish element in their training,

while their Greek sympathies and habits of thought betray themselves in

their fundamental philosophic bias. The motive of their religiousness was,

however, radically different from that of the traditional Jewish legalism,

and St. Paul deals with it in quite another method from that which he

follows in Galatians. The “philosophers” of Colossae valued Jewish ritual

for its expressiveness and symbolic truth, and practised it as a means of

spiritual self culture rather than in mere obedience to law. Hence they

insisted much on the sacred seasons and feasts, on the distinctions of meats

(vers. 16, 17), on circumcision (ver. 11), and studied greatly the art of

worship (vers. 18, 23); while, like the Essenes, they attached little

importance to the sacrificial system of Judaism. So, at least, we should

infer from the apostle’s silence on these latter topics, as contrasted with the

leading part they play in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Their system was

Jewish in its materials, but wholly different from the Jewish in spirit and

tendency. But their piety was wanting in spiritual depth and reality, or they

could scarcely have failed to recognize in Christ “the Image of God”

(<510115>Colossians 1:15), and the “new and living way” to the Father. God

was to them so far off that they would not seek to approach him directly in

the Person of his Son, but supposed a whole hierarchy of mediators

necessary, to make worship possible. He was, in their view, a great abstract

Infinitude, no “living Father,” no listening, answering Presence. Their

religion was an elaborate artifice, beneficial chiefly in its reaction on

themselves; and their God was shrouded, like an Oriental monarch, behind

a multitude of vague and fugitive mediators, whom practically they

worshipped instead of him. A like result ensues wherever the idea of a

personal God is obscured and weakened in the minds of men, whether by

philosophical reflection making him a formula, or by superstitious

ignorance treating him as a fetish. For true worship is the converse — “in

spirit and in truth” (<430423>John 4:23, 24), of the human children with their

living Father in heaven. And this cannot well be maintained where an

ornate ceremonialism overpowers the senses and fills the imagination with

its external pomp; or where the living God “in whom we live,” and Christ

the “one Mediator” (<540205>1 Timothy 2:5), are so distant from the

realizations of faith, that angels, or departed saints, or the blessed virgin

mother, or earthly priests and confessors, are thrust in to fill the void, and

are made in reality to intercept the soul’s reverence and devotion. There

may be a sincere “zeal for worship” in the anxious study of ecclesiastical

dress and decoration, and under the sensuous impressiveness of a splendid

and elaborate ritualism. But this is not what “the Father seeketh” (<430423>John

4:23, 24), and such aids to devotion often hinder his children from seeking

him. Our worship must, indeed, have its forms; and order and propriety

(<461440>1 Corinthians 14:40) must he studied in their regulation, and in all the

appointments of the house of God. And men of varying temperament and

mental habit are aided by a greater or less degree, and by different kinds, of

outward expression in their worship. But when the form is cultivated for its

own sake, and the sensuous and the artistic predominate over and displace

the spiritual, the end of worship itself is frustrated, and the service that

professes to be rendered to the Most High becomes a mockery to him, and

a blind to his worshippers that effectually hides him from them. Yet this

tendency has often a strong attraction for devout and humble spirits,

“delighting in humility” (vers. 18, 23); who love to worship, and readily

bow before any superior influence, but are not so anxious to “worship what

they know” (<430422>John 4:22). A multiplying of the objects of worship (ver.

18) very commonly attends the excessive elaboration of its forms; for both

are due to the same cause, and are the manifestations of a religion weak in

spiritual faith in God. The dissatisfaction and emptiness of soul which

ensue on seeking God thus, lead to our making still more cumbrous and

exacting the forms of devotion, and to our resorting to new mediators and

new methods of approach to him, till Christian worship sinks into a round

of ritual performance and semi-idolatry, and becomes an imposture in itself

and an aversion to thoughtful, truth-seeking men.

3. There was, in the third place, a strong vein of false mysticism in the

Colossian heresy. This element, in the nature of the case, is more difficult

to distinguish and to delineate than those already set forth. The mysticism

of Greece was chiefly derived and fed front Oriental sources. Pythagoras,

in the latter half of the sixth century B.C., founded a school of mystical and

ascetic philosophy, whose principles were largely adopted in the

comprehensive system of Plato. The Pythagorean and Platonic mysticism

was at this time greatly in vogue, especially in Asia Minor and in Egypt,

where it found a congenial soil. The Alexandrine school of Philo imported

its principles into Judaism. The Neo-Platonism, in which, in the fourth and

fifth centuries A.D., pagan philosophy made a last splendid struggle for

existence, and which has left deep marks of its influence on the

development of Christian thought, was a revival of Greek mysticism in a

more intense and religious form. The Montanism of the second century, a

product of the same Phrygian soil on which the Colossian heresy sprang

up, attested the persistence of the mystic tendency within the Church. Its

later manifestations, as allied now with pantheistic rationalism, now with

devout ceremonialism, now with rigid asceticism, we cannot endeavour

here to follow. There has always been in the Church a mystical school, side

by side with the rationalistic, and the ritualistic or sacerdotal. And, within

certain limits, the mystic principle has its rights, and must be recognized as

essential to spiritual religion. To mysticism, the spiritual consciousness of

the individual is the source and the test of truth. God is to be reached by

intuition. Meditative contemplation, aided by suitable initiatory and

disciplinary symbolic rites, is the way of salvation, whoso goal is

absorption in the Divine nature. Such was the teaching of ancient mystics

generally; and the esoteric doctrines introduced at Colossae were,

doubtless, of the same stamp. That God, indeed, reveals himself by his

Spirit to the individual consciousness, is the teaching of St. Paul, and, as

we believe, of the whole Bible (<450816>Romans 8:16; <480116>Galatians 1:16;

Psalm 139., etc.). But when the inner consciousness, the spiritual reason, is

regarded as in itself the primary source of revelation, then error begins and

hallucination supervenes. The mind turns itself in upon its own selfgenerated

phantasies, instead of fixing its gaze on the historical revelation

of God and seeking to comprehend and mirror its glory (<470318>2 Corinthians

3:18; 4:6; <450120>Romans 1:20; Psalm 19., etc.). The Colossian errorist,

walking in the light of his self confident, self contemplating reason, saw

visions of angels as he imagined, and heard messages and teachings that

were but the echo of his own speculations. With these deceived and

deceiving subjective imaginings the apostle confronts the actual historic

Person and work of Christ, as the supreme Object of contemplation and of

trust (<510113>Colossians 1:13-15, 21, 22, 27-29; 2:6, 7; 3:11, 15-17). Only

through “belief of the truth” come the testifying and sanctifying visitations

of “the Spirit of the truth” (<530209>2 Thessalonians 2:9-14; <490113>Ephesians

1:13; 14; <440233>Acts 2:33; 19:1-7). The objective revelation of God to the

soul and the subjective attestation and experience of its power are

reciprocally linked together, and advance pari passu. Compare the

teaching of Christ in promising the Holy Spirit to his disciples (<431415>John

14:15-24). The doctrine of the Holy Spirit was indirectly but vitally

affected by the Colossian error; and this topic, though not brought forward

in this Epistle, is prominent in the Ephesian letter, which is in many

respects a complement to this and, in our belief, is “the letter” to be sent

“from Laodicea” for the perusal of the Colossian Church (<510416>Colossians

4:16). “Christ the Mystery of God,” “Christ in you the hope of glory,” —

this is the apostle’s mysticism, the true mystery that is to expel the false,

unhallowed mysteries, that seek by self-directed intuitions and self-invented

lustrations and incantations to penetrate the secrets of the spiritual world

and to enter into union with the Infinite.

4. In the sphere of morals and practical life, the Colossian, errorists

inculcated a strict asceticism. This part of their system is consistent with

each of the other three, though it proceeded rather from its philosophical

and mystical than from its Judaistic and ceremonial constituent factor. In

the early Christian ages, asceticism was frequently associated with

theoretic rationalism; in later times, it has been more frequently the ally of a

sacerdotal type of Christianity. Asceticism was a thing foreign to Judaism.

It was a religion too healthy and practical for that. Psalm cxxviii, expresses

what has always been the true religious feeling of Israel in regard to the

blessings of this life. The Pharisaic yoke was indeed “grievous to be borne,

and pressed on the externals of life with the weight of a slavery; but, after

all, it concerned matters which habit makes comparatively easy, and its

spirit was that of a formal legalism, aiming at precision in the performance

of all external acts, and by no means valuing hard treatment of the body in

itself. But the latter was the distinguishing feature of the new Colossian

ethics, as of the ethics of Eastern mysticism and of Christian monachism,

and, in some sort, of Puritanism too.

(1) Asceticism is the perversion of a true and noble impulse. In it the

maxim, Corruptio optimi pessima, has its saddest illustration. How natural

it is for an earnest soul, striving after purity and fellowship with God, to fill

into a hatred of the body and the material world! How all but irresistible

must this tendency have been in the midst of the reeking impurities and the

social dissolution of the pagan and barbarian worlds!

(2) Moreover, the very nature of religious language, with its necessities of

figurative expression, lends itself to misconstruction of scriptural truth in

this direction. Witness the interpretations still prevalent of St. Paul’s own

terminology. It is difficult, both in thought and in practice, to distinguish

always between the body, which Christ raised, which becomes the temple

of his Spirit, whose members are to be instruments of righteousness, which

is the symbol of the Church the bride of Christ, which nature itself teaches

every man to nourish and to cherish (<460612>1 Corinthians 6:12-20;

<450612>Romans 6:12-14; 8:11; <490522>Ephesians 5:22-30), and the flesh, which

has to be stripped off, to be put to death, to be crucified with its affections

and lusts, by all who are “of Christ Jesus” (<510211>Colossians 2:11; 3:5;

<480524>Galatians 5:24).

(3) With the Colossian errorist, as in the Alexandrine theosophy, the body

was the source of sin, the prison in which the soul is shut up and severed

from God. To break the chains of sense, to cast off the burden of the flesh

and become pure spirit, and thus to rise towards God, — this was the

aspiration of the ancient mystics. Matter and spirit were the two opposite

poles of being; and the distinction between moral good and evil, for them,

merged itself in this. They declared indiscriminate war against the physical

life and natural enjoyment as itself sinful or tending to sin. Their conception

of holiness it was, of course, impossible absolutely to realize; but he would

approximate to it the most nearly who maintained himself in as feeble and

impoverished a bodily condition as was consistent with active thought.

(4) Such doctrine was, we may be sure, more often preached than

practised. But it took effect, within a little time, in the denunciation of

marriage (<540403>1 Timothy 4:3; <581304>Hebrews 13:4), as among the Jewish

Essenes, with the dishonouring of the family life and the weakening of

social bonds which necessarily ensue. To this source we trace that false

ideal of Christian purity which, before many centuries, became prevalent in

the Church Catholic, and the rise of the gigantic and baleful institution of

monasticism and the celibate priesthood, which, by withdrawing from the

world the most powerful elements of Christian character and influence, and

by the immorality and social disorganization which it engendered, has

blighted the Church’s history and delayed indefinitely the conversion of

mankind to the faith of Christ.

(5) Let us listen to our heavenly Intercessor, who asks the Father, “Not

that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest

keep them from its evil!” who bids his disciples be “the salt of the earth,”

“the light of the world” (<431715>John 17:15; <400513>Matthew 5:13, 14). Let us

have faith in the power of his Spirit, who can so sanctify our mortal body

that “sin shall not reign in it” (<450612>Romans 6:12; <460619>1 Corinthians 6:19,

20); and can so hallow the temperate and grateful use of the natural

blessings God bestows upon us (<540403>1 Timothy 4:3-5; <510321>Colossians

3:21, 22) that, “whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do,” we shall

“do all to the glory of God” (<461031>1 Corinthians 10:31; <510317>Colossians

3:17). Let us hear St. Paul, while he teaches us to “make not provision for

the flesh to fulfil its lusts” (<451314>Romans 13:14), yet to “abide with God,”

each in that secular state “wherein he was called” (<460724>1 Corinthians


(6) God’s Law regulates, does not suppress, the natural life. The home, the

field, the mart, the senate, all that belongs to the natural fabric and

constitution of human life, is his creation, the arena for the exercise of his

superintending providence, and the field of probation in which he trains his

children for their spiritual manhood. He sent his Son to be the Saviour of

the world, not of the individual soul alone, but of human society in its

widest sense, including business and politics, art and science, all the public

interests and constituent elements of collective human life, which are to

find their sanctification, that is, their perfection and their unity, as they are

penetrated and ruled by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” So

“the kingdom of the world” shall “become the kingdom of our Lord and of

his Christ” <661115>Revelation 11:15)

(7) The Gospel puts high honour on the human body The fact that Christ

was “born of a woman” redeems its birth from dishonour and contempt.

The Incarnation is fatal to all theosophy based on the hostility of the

material to the spiritual, and to the false spiritualism which would seek God

by fleeing from the body. Christ has incorporated our flesh with his own

Divinity, and in the body of his flesh (<510122>Colossians 1:22) be redeemed

us, and reconciled the world to God. To the meanest human person there

belongs an unspeakable dignity and sacredness as partaking of that “blood

and flesh” in which he shared (<580214>Hebrews 2:14), and through which he

“poured out his soul unto death” (<235312>Isaiah 53:12). Christ’s work will be

completed and “the travail of his soul satisfied” only by “the redemption of

our body,” which will consummate our “adoption” and will bring with it

the deliverance of “the creation itself” from “the bondage of corruption

“(<010818>Genesis 8:18-25). For this end, we still “wait for a Saviour, the Lord

Jesus Christ,” descending from heaven (<500320>Philippians 3:20, 21). So

waiting, we shall keep pure and clean this “earthly house of our tabernacle”

(<470501>2 Corinthians 5:1; <620303>1 John 3:3). Nothing that belongs to it can we

“call common or unclean” (<441015>Acts 10:15), “body of humiliation” though

it is (<500321>Philippians 3:21). We occupy it for Christ our Master. It is the

“temple of the Holy Spirit” — the Spirit of delicate purity, the Spirit of

order and of beauty, the Spirit of health and unity, whose “communion” is

the Church’s breath of life, and the secret, pervasive atmosphere and

inspiration that brings all that is pure and healthful into the society of men.


Vers. 1-3.

Nature and objects of the apostle’s struggle on behalf of the saints.

“For I would have you know how great a struggle I have for you and for

them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh.”

His object is to justify his urgency in writing to a people whom he had not

known personally.


1. His intense anxiety on their account. “Fears within as well as fightings


2. His anxious labours in defending the simplicity of the gospel against

the corrupting devices of false teachers.

3. His striving in prayer for the saints. (<510412>Colossians 4:12.) Ministers

who “please not men, but God,” have often a great “fight of affliction” on

behalf of their flocks, especially when they have to encounter men who

“resist the truth” and “withstand the words” of faithful men and “do much

evil” (<550308>2 Timothy 3:8; 4:14, 15). The Judaeo-Gnostics had inspired him

with a deep concern for the religious integrity of the Colossians, the

Laodiceans, and, perhaps, the Christians of Hierapolis, who all dwelt in the

valley of the Lycus. What a blessing to them that they had the prayers and

the labours of an apostle who had never seen one of them in the flesh!


maybe comforted, they being knit together in love, and unto all riches of

the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the Mystery of

God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge

hidden.” He thus indicates how the threatened danger was to be averted.

Their hearts were to be comforted and strengthened so that they might

stand fast in the faith.

1. The manner in which the comfort was to reach them. “They being knit

together in love.”

(1) Love is itself “the bond of perfectness” (<510314>Colossians 3:14). The

want of love often breaks unity. It is by love “we keep the unity of the

Spirit in the bond of peace” (<490403>Ephesians 4:3).

(2) It seeks a fuller fellowship with the saints in the gospel (<500105>Philippians

1:5; 2:1).

(3) It leads to a union of judgment to the exclusion of everything like

“contention and vain glory” (<500502>Philippians 2:2, 4). Love is “to abound in

knowledge and all judgment,” and is thus able to “discern things that are

more excellent” (<500109>Philippians 1:9, 10). It is thus a protection against

error and seduction. This love always springs out of “a pure heart” (<540105>1

Timothy 1:5).

2. The end of the consolation and the object of the union in love. “And

unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know

the Mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom

and knowledge.”

(1) Love gives insight to the understanding. Therefore the apostle prays

that the Philippians’ “love may abound in knowledge and all judgment”

(<500109>Philippians 1:9), and that the Ephesians may be “rooted and grounded

in love,” so that they may know that love “which passeth knowledge”

(<490317>Ephesians 3:17-19). As we grow in grace we grow in knowledge.

The two growths go on together helping and developing each other. There

is a necessity that the saints should seek, not merely knowledge, but “a full

assurance of intelligence” respecting, not alone the doctrines of the gospel,

but the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The knowledge of a personal

Saviour is Christianity in its essence.

(2) The mystery for the Christian understanding that solves the problem of

humanity is “Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and

knowledge hidden.” It is not Christ, but Christ containing these treasures.

Above, it was “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (<510127>Colossians 1:27);

here it is Christ with these precious treasures.

(a) The knowledge of Christ is the first and the last thing in religion. The

apostle counted all things but loss for “the excellency” of this knowledge

(<500308>Philippians 3:8). Eternal life is involved in it (<431703>John 17:3;

<235311>Isaiah 53:11). It is the knowledge of him which leads to great boldness

and sincerity. “Nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have

believed” (<550112>2 Timothy 1:12).

(b) Access to Christ gives access to all his treasures. The treasures of the

Gnostics were hid from nil but the initiated; the treasures hid in Christ are

made accessible to all, so that we can know “the heavenly things” which he

alone knows “who is in heaven” (<430312>John 3:12, 13). It is thus he reveals

to us the Father, brings life and immortality to light, and enriches the

Church with “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (<660101>Revelation 1:1). The

treasures are twofold.

(a) Wisdom. There is “a word of wisdom” as well as “a word of

knowledge” given by the Holy Spirit (<461208>1 Corinthians 12:8). Wisdom

reasons about the relations of things, and applies to actions as well as

doctrines. Christ is made to us “Wisdom” (<460130>1 Corinthians 1:30). The

wisdom that is “from above” has many noble qualities (<590317>James 3:17),

essentially moral in their nature. What but ignorance of Christ leads men to

listen to deceivers?

(b) Knowledge. This is more restricted than wisdom applying to the

apprehension of truths. “Though I understand all mysteries and all

knowledge” (<461302>1 Corinthians 13:2). This was the very word that the

Gnostics took as their watchword, but the apostle here significantly makes

it secondary to wisdom. It is a right thing for believers to sound forth the

praises of Christ’s wisdom and knowledge. — T. C.

Vers. 4, 5.

A warning against deceivers.

“This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech.” It

is necessary to say this which he has just said concerning the great

“mystery of God,” because there is danger of deception.


1. One method is to reason men into error, as the word here signifies.

Gnosticism was essentially rationalistic in its method, gossamer like in its

webs of speculation, and full of intellectual pride. The subtle seducer is

often more dangerous than the persecutor.

2. Another is to use persuasiveness of speech in the application of this

reasoning. They use “fair speeches and flattering words to deceive the

hearts of the simple” (<451618>Romans 16:18). The arguments were false and

sophistical, but they were made to appear true through arts of rhetoric.


1. It is the duty of ministers to warn their people against them. How often

did the apostle say, “Be not deceived;” “Be not carried about with every

wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby

they lie in wait to deceive” (<490414>Ephesians 4:14)! Ministers are thus to

“take heed to the flock of God, over which the Holy Ghost hath made them

bishops” (<442028>Acts 20:28).

2. We must “try the spirits” ourselves (<620401>1 John 4:1), and try them,

above all things, by the standard of God’s Word (<230820>Isaiah 8:20).

3. We must retain the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ as the treasure

house of all wisdom and knowledge. The knowledge of his excellency is a

preservative against seducing spirits.

4. We must live under the constant power of the Word, which is “able to

build us up.” (<442032>Acts 20:32.)

5. We must walk purely in the fear of God. For “if any man will do his will,

he shall know of the doctrine” (<430717>John 7:17).


“For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying

and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” He

was anxious lest such a solid fruit of orthodoxy should be broken down by

the arts of plausible teachers.

1. True love rejoices in the work of grace wherever it is discerned. The

apostle heard from Epaphras good tidings of Colossian faithfulness and

firmness, and was glad, as Barnabas was glad at Antioch when he saw “the

grace of God” (<441123>Acts 11:23). The Apostle John likewise says, “I

rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth” (<630104>2 John

1:4). “A holy mind can rejoice in the good things of those he warneth and


2. Order and steadfastness are signs of soundness in the faith. These

words have military associations which may have been suggested by the

presence of the Praetorian soldiers with the apostle (<500113>Philippians 1:13).

(1) Order marks the outward relation of Church fellowship. The Colossians

did not break rank or “walk disorderly.” We are to “walk by rule”

(<480616>Galatians 6:16); “to guide our feet into the ways of peace” (<420179>Luke

1:79); and generally to “order our affairs with discretion” (<19B205>Psalm

112:5). As God is “a God of order,” we are to do all things “discreetly and

in order” (<461440>1 Corinthians 14:40).

(2) Steadfastness of faith marked their state as inwardly considered.

(a) This must always be our principle of resistance to the devil; “Whom

resist, steadfast in the faith” (<600509>1 Peter 5:9).

(b) It is necessary to our success in prayer, for we are to pray “in faith,

without wavering” (<590106>James 1:6).

(c) It is the means of our greater victory over, the world (<620504>1 John 5:4).

(d) It is, above all, our surest protection against errorists (<650103>Jude 1:3).

(e) It causes good men to rejoice. “Now we live if ye stand fast in the

Lord” (<520208>1 Thessalonians 2:8). — T. C.

Vers. 6, 7.

The principle of a consistent Christian walk.

“As ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.”



1. This includes the reception of him doctrinally, as the historical Person

Jesus, and the acceptance of him as Lord. The false teachers

misrepresented his true character in these respects.

2. But it expressly points to a believing reception of himself as at once the

sum and substance of all teaching and the foundation of all hope for man.

Those who thus receive him

(1) become sons of God (<430111>John 1:11, 12);

(2) receive the promise of an eternal inheritance (<580915>Hebrews 9:15), are

co-heirs with himself (<450817>Romans 8:17);

(3) receive the very Spirit of Christ (<450809>Romans 8:9);

(4) receive rest for the soul (<401128>Matthew 11:28);

(5) possess security that he will save to the uttermost (<580725>Hebrews 7:25).


RECEPTION. “So walk ye in him.” This implies:

1. That we are carefully to guard the true doctrine of Christ’s person. One

apostle rejoiced to hear that his children” walked in truth” (<630104>2 John

1:4). There were men who “walked not after the traditions which they

received of the apostle” (<530306>2 Thessalonians 3:6). Let us give earnest

heed to what has been “received of the Lord” and. is delivered “to his

apostles” (<461123>1 Corinthians 11:23). Let us not “lose what we have

wrought” (2 John1:9).

2. That we are to walk in all holy obedience to Christ’s commands. “Ye

are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (<431514>John 15:14).

3. But the passage essentially means that we are to walk in Christ as the

sphere or element in which our life is to find development. We are to walk

in him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and our life is to be the life of

faith in the Son of God (<480220>Galatians 2:20). All our strength, guidance,

motives, are to be found in him. “His grace will be sufficient for us,” as he

“dwells in our hearts by faith.”


been rooted and being built up in him, and being established in your faith,

even as ye were taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” There is

here an expressive variety of metaphor.

1. The believer must be firmly rooted in Christ. This is done once for all in

regeneration. It is a past act. The tree may shake in its topmost branches,

but its roots are firm because they grasp the solid earth. So the firmness of

believers is due to Christ (<431028>John 10:28, 29), and his sap makes them

fruitful (<431505>John 15:5). The believer is to “cast forth his roots as

Lebanon,” and thus he will “grow up unto him in all things.”

2. He must be built upon Christ as the Foundation.

(1) There is no other foundation (<460311>1 Corinthians 3:11). As the

foundation upholds the house, so is the believer upheld by Christ

(<401618>Matthew 16:18).

(2) The building is progressive — “being built up in him” (<460309>1

Corinthians 3:9-15). The believer is to receive “the strengthening of his

faith” in Christ. Thus the body of Christ “maketh increase of itself in love.”

3. He must be established in faith. “Established in your faith, even as ye

were taught.”

(1) Faith is the great means of giving stability to life. “It is a good thing

that the heart be established with grace” (<581309>Hebrews 13:9).

(2) Faith itself needs stability. The Gnostics exalted knowledge above faith,

but faith holds the key of the soul’s position. “Therefore be not faithless,

but believing;” “Lord, increase our faith.” The strong faith of Abraham

gave him the stability that marked his singularly consistent and holy career.

(3) Faith must have constant reference to its grounds in the Word — “even

as ye were taught.” The Colossians were not to follow the false teachers,

but Epaphras, their teacher.

4. There must be an abounding faith mingled with thanksgiving.

“Abounding therein with thanksgiving.”

(1) We cannot trust God too much. We ought, therefore, to pray

continually, “Lord, increase our faith.” We ought also to add to our faith

every other Christian grace (<610105>2 Peter 1:5).

(2) Our faith must overflow with thanksgiving. We must be sensible of our

mercies and privileges, and thus we shall get the comfort and benefit of

them by “giving of thanks.” — T.C.

Ver. 8.

A warning against speculative deceivers.

“Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his

philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments

of the world, and not after Christ.” Mark —


philosophy inseparably connected with “vain deceit.” There is a philosophy

which is highly serviceable to religion, as it is the noblest exercise of our

rational faculties; but there is a philosophy prejudicial to religion, because it

sets up the wisdom of man in opposition to the wisdom of God.

1. The apostle refers to the Judaeo. Gnostics who regarded Christianity

mainly as a philosophy — that is, as a search after speculative truth, and

not as a revelation of Christ and a life of faith and love in him. The apostle

claims for the gospel that it is thus “the wisdom of God.”

2. He refers to the speculative result of such a philosophy. It tends to

“vain deceit;” it is hollow, sophistical, disappointing, misleading. It is the

“science falsely so called” which “puffs up” and cannot edify. It always

tends to undermine man’s faith in the Word of God.

II. THE ORIGIN OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. “After the tradition of men.”

It had its source in mere human speculation, and could not appeal to

inspired books. Our Lord condemned the Pharisaic attachment to traditions

(<401502>Matthew 15:2, 3, 6; <410708>Mark 7:8, 9). This later mystical tendency

was strong in its traditions, which it reserved for the exclusive use of the



rudiments of the world.” This seems to point to ritualistic observances

worthy only of children, but not adapted to grown men. They belonged “to

the world” — to the sphere of external and visible things. These rudiments

were “beggarly elements,” done away in Christ.


1. It had not Christ for its Author; for it followed “the tradition of men.”

2. It had not Christ for its Subject; for it displaced him to make way for

ritualistic ordinances and angelic mediators. No philosophy is worthy of the

name that cannot find a place for him who is the highest Wisdom (<460130>1

Corinthians 1:30).

V. THE DANGERS OF THIS PHILOSOPHY. “Take heed lest there shall

be any one that maketh spoil of you.” It would have an enslaving effect,

tartly by its ritualistic drudgeries and partly by its false teaching. There are

worse losses than the loss of property or even children. This false

philosophy would involve:

1. The loss of Christian liberty. (<480501>Galatians 5:1.)

2. The loss of much of the good seed sown in Christian hearts.

(<401319>Matthew 13:19.)

3. The loss of what Christians had wrought. (2 John 10.)

4. The loss of first love. (<660201>Revelation 2:1.)

5. The loss of the joys of salvation. (<195112>Psalm 51:12.) — T.C.

Vers. 9, 10.

Christ the Fulness of the Godhead, and our relationship to him.

“For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and in him ye

are made full, who is the Head of all principality and power.” The apostle

is here condemning one of the false principles that underlay the teaching of

the Gnostics — the substitution of angelic mediators for Christ.


1. He is no mere emanation from the supreme God, but “all the fulness of

the Godhead.” All the infinite perfections of the essential being of God are

in him. The Gnostics taught that the fulness of the Godhead was distributed

among many spiritual agencies. The apostle teaches that it is in Christ as

the eternal Word. “The Word was with God, and was God.”

2. This fulness “dwells” in him now and forver. It is a blessedly abiding

fact. It is a permanent indwelling.

3. It dwells “bodily;” that is, with a bodily manifestation. The false

teachers, imagining that matter was essentially evil, could not brook the

thought of the Divine Redeemer linking himself forver with a human body,

and they, after Docetic theory, either denied the reality of his body or its

inseparable connection with him forver. But “the Word was made flesh”

(<430114>John 1:14), and “The spirit which confesseth not that Jesus Christ is

come in the flesh,.., is the spirit of antichrist” (<620403>1 John 4:3).


him ye are made full, who is the Head of all principality and power.”

1. Christian life is union with Christ.

(1) We can obtain nothing from Christ till we are in Christ (<620520>1 John

5:20). “In him we have life” (<620511>1 John 5:11), as in him we are chosen

(<490104>Ephesians 1:4).

(2) We cannot, therefore, look for life from subordinate mediators.

2. Christian life is the enjoyment of his fulness.

(1) Therefore nothing is to be looked for from angelic mediators. “Out of

his fulness have we all received, and grace for grace” (<430116>John 1:16). His

fulness is not finite, hut infinite. There can never, therefore, be lack of


(2) It ought to be our prayer to receive more largely of this fulness. The

apostle prayed for the Ephesians that they might be “filled up to all the

fulness of God,” and “grow unto the measure of the stature of the fulness

of Christ” (<490319>Ephesians 3:19; 4:13).

(3) To share in this fulness is no privilege of an esoteric few, but is that of

all who are united to Christ by faith.


FULNESS TO OUR FULNESS. “Who is the Head of all principality and

power.” He is more than Sovereign over the powers. He is the Source of

their life and activity. This headship over angels is asserted elsewhere

(<580101>Hebrews 1:1-14). Angels are not, therefore, mediators for man,

displacing “the one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus”

(<540205>1 Timothy 2:5). They are but fellow servants under the same Head

(<662208>Revelation 22:8, 9). Therefore we do not seek our fulness in them,

but in our Head. — T.C.

Ver. 11.

The true circumcision.

The Colossians did not need the rite of circumcision to make them

complete, for they had received the spiritual circumcision, of which the rite

was only a type. “In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision

not made with hands, in the putting off the body of the flesh, in the

circumcision of Christ.” The apostle censures the ritualistic ideas of the

false teachers by showing what is the nature and effect of the true


I. ITS NATURE. It is not external, but internal, wrought by the Spirit and

not by the hands of men. It is “of the heart in the spirit, and not in the

letter” (<450229>Romans 2:29). It is “the circumcision of the heart,” so often

spoken of even in Old Testament times (<051016>Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6;

<264407>Ezekiel 44:7; <440751>Acts 7:51), which ought to have accompanied the

external rite. The Colossians, as Gentiles, were circumcised in this spiritual

sense on the day of their conversion.

II. ITS EXTENT. “In the putting off the body of the flesh; “not in the

mere cutting off of a part of the body, as in the external rite of Judaism.

This language marks the completeness of the spiritual change and its

effects upon both body and soul.

1. The body of flesh is more than the mere body, which is not “put off,” for

it is not evil, but becomes “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (<460316>1

Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). It is the body in its fleshliness, regarded as the seat

of the lusts which war against the soul and bring forth fruit unto death. The

expression is similar to “the old man which is corrupt” (<490422>Ephesians

4:22), “the body of sin” (<450606>Romans 6:6), and “sinful flesh,” or, literally,

“the flesh of sin” (<450803>Romans 8:3). The spiritual circumcision implies, not

the mere putting off of one form of sin, but the putting off the whole of the

power of the flesh.

2. The putting off of the body of flesh implies deliverance from the

dominion of sin — dying to sin as a controlling and regulating power, so

that the body, hitherto “the instrument of unrighteousness,” becomes “an

instrument of righteousness unto God” (<450613>Romans 6:13).

III. ITS AUTHOR. “In the circumcision of Christ;” that is, the

circumcision wrought by Christ through his Spirit. Its Author is not Moses

or Abraham, but Christ himself, by virtue of our union with him. The

formation of Christ in the soul as the Author of a new spiritual life is “the

circumcision of Christ;” it is the new birth, which, under the power of the

Holy Spirit, casts off the power of corruption. It is wrought by the Lord

the Spirit (<470318>2 Corinthians 3:18), and is the result of Christ dwelling in

us by faith (<480220>Galatians 2:20; <490205>Ephesians 2:5-8). This is the true

circumcision, “whose praise is not of man, but of God.” — T. C.

Ver. 12.

The import of Christian baptism.

Circumcision has passed away, something has come in its place in Christian

times. The two ordinances of circumcision and baptism have a correlative

significance. “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.”

I. THE IMPORT AND DESIGN OF BAPTISM. It solemnly attests that

fellowship with Christ in his death and resurrection on which all personal

interest in the blessings of his salvation depends. “Baptism is the grave of

the old man and the birth of the new.” The whole process of spiritual

renovation — the death of the corruption of nature and the rise to newness

of life — is practically represented and sealed in baptism. We are identified

with Christ:

1. In his death. “Buried with him in baptism” unto death. Our baptism

unites us to him, so that we died with him. We are “planted in the likeness

of death;” but here the apostle asserts a participation in his death.

2. In his burial. After “he died for our sins according to the Scriptures”

(<461503>1 Corinthians 15:3), “he descended into the lower parts of the earth”

(<490409>Ephesians 4:9). So “we are buried with him,” shut off from the

kingdom of Satan, as the dead in their graves are shut off from the living

world; and thus we have with him severed our connection with the old

world of sin.

3. In his resurrection. For “we rose with him,” that we might henceforth

“walk in newness of life.” We must share in his death, that we may share in

his life. Justification is in order to sanctification. Union with Christ in the

one carries with it participation in the other.


BLESSINGS SIGNIFIED IN BAPTISM. “Through faith in the working of

God, who raised him from the dead.” This shows how the outward is based

on the inward, and how it derives from it whatever vitality it possesses.

Faith appropriates the act of God’s mighty power in Christ when he raised

him from the dead, as an act that imparts its virtue to all who in faith

realize it. The physical power in raising Christ is the guarantee and

assurance of the spiritual power which is exerted in us in regeneration,

Faith is necessary to the effect of baptism as it is to salvation. “If thou

believest in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be

saved” (<451009>Romans 10:9). It is by faith we obtain the benefits of the

spiritual resurrection and come to “know the power of his resurrection.”

The grace is received through faith. In New Testament times faith preceded

baptism — a proof that baptism is not regeneration. The earliest cases were

naturally those of adult baptism, in which there was a profession of faith in



working of God, who raised him from the dead.” This power to us is made

possible and actual by his resurrection; for “in that he liveth, he liveth unto

God.” His resurrection involves both our bodily and our spiritual

resurrection. — T. C.

Vers. 13-15.

The atonement and its blessed results.

“And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of

your flesh, you, I say, did he quicken together with him, having forgiven us

all our trespasses.” These words add no new thoughts to the passage, but

are a more detailed explanation of the matters involved in the work of

Christ in the soul.



1. The condition of all men by nature — spiritual death. This death is

viewed in two aspects.

(1) In relation to definite acts of transgression, as showing the power of sin

and the fruit of an evil nature.

(2) In relation to the root of the evil — “the uncircumcision of your flesh;”

your unsanctified, fleshly nature marked by alienation from God (see

homiletical hints on <490201>Ephesians 2:1).

2. The quickening energy of God. “You did he quicken together with him.”

Spiritual death is put away by the quickening energy of God, which flowed

into your hearts out of the risen life of Christ. You are brought up with him

objectively in his resurrection, subjectively in his application of the power

of his resurrection (see homiletical hints on <490201>Ephesians 2:1).


QUICKENING. The pardon of sin. “Having forgiven us all our

trespasses.” Thus spiritual life is connected with pardon, and presupposes

pardon. The sins of men must be pardoned before life could properly enter.

Our Lord could not have been quickened till we, for whom he died, were

potentially discharged (<450425>Romans 4:25). So, indeed, the quickening

presupposes at once pardon, the blotting out of the handwriting, and the

victory over Satan.


THIS PARDON. The removal of the condemning power of the Law.

“Having blotted out the handwriting in ordinances that was against us,

which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his


1. The mature and effects of this handwriting in ordinances.

(1) It is not the mere ceremonial law, though its ritual observances were

symbols of deserved punishment or an acknowledgment of guilt. We

cannot limit it to this law, though the outward observances of ver. 20 were

specially in view; for the apostle is not here distinguishing between Jews

and Gentiles.

(2) It is the whole Law, moral and ceremonial — “the Law of

commandments contained in ordinances” — which fastens upon us the

charge of guilt, and is the great barrier against forgiveness. It was

immediately against the Jews, mediately against the Gentiles. It is the Law,

in the full compass of its requirements.

(3) The hostility of this Law to us. It was “against us; it was contrary to


(a) Not that the Law was in itself offensive, for it was holy and just and

good” (<450712>Romans 7:12); but

(b) because our inability to fulfil it or satisfy its righteous demands exposed

us to the penalty attached to an undischarged obligation. It was, in a word,

a bill of indictment against us.

2. The blotting out of the handwriting. It was blotted out, so far as it was

an accusing witness against us, by Christ wiping it out, taking it “out of the

way, and nailing it to his cross.” It was not done by an arbitrary abolition

of the Law; moral obligations cannot be removed in this manner; but by the

just satisfaction which Christ rendered by his “obedience unto death.” It

was nailed to his cross, and thus its condemnatory power was brought to

an end. Strictly speaking, there was nothing but Christ’s body nailed to the

cross; but, as he was made sin, taking the very place of sin, “bearing our

sins in his own body on the tree,” the handwriting, with the curse involved

in it, was identified with him, and thus God condemned sin in Christ’s flesh

(<450803>Romans 8:3). Christ exchanged places with us, and thus was

cancelled the bill of indictment which involved us in guilt and



VICTORY OVER SATAN. “Having put off from himself the principalities

and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in

it.” It was the cross that gave the victory over the principalities and powers

of darkness, because sin was the ground of their dominion over man and

the secret of their strength. But no sooner had Christ died and extinguished

the guilt lying on us, than the ground of their successful agency was

undermined, and, instead of being at liberty to ravage and destroy, their

weapons of warfare perished. Christ on the cross, as the word signifies, reft

from him and from his people those powers of darkness who could afflict

humanity by pressing homo the consequences of their sin. He cast them off

like baffled foes (<431231>John 12:31), made such a show of them openly as

angels, if not men, could probably apprehend. He made the cross a scene of

triumph to the irretrievable ruin of Satan’s kingdom. — T. C.

Vers. 16, 17.

Condemnation of ritualistic observances and ascetic severities.

The apostle draws a practical inference from the view he had just given of

the work of Christ. “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink,

or in respect of a feast day, or of a new moon, or of a sabbath day: which

things are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s.”

I. THE PROHIBITION. It is twofold, respecting first the distinction of

meats and drinks, and then the observance of times.

1. The distinction of meats and drinks.

(1) This distinction was made in the Mosaic .Law as to things clean and

unclean. There was no prohibition as to drinks, except in regard to

Nazarites and priests during their ministration (<031009>Leviticus 10:9;

<040603>Numbers 6:3). It is probable that the Colossian errorists, like the

Essenes, forbade wine and animal food altogether; for they imposed a

rigorous asceticism upon their disciples.

(2) The distinction is abolished by the gospel.

(a) Our Lord hinted at the approaching abolition (<410714>Mark 7:14, 19).

(b) There was a formal annulment of the distinction in Peter’s vision

(<441011>Acts 10:11, etc.), where the distinction between those within and

those without the covenant was being done away.

(c) The abolition is implied in <580910>Hebrews 9:10, where the rule as “to

meats and drinks” is said to have been “imposed until the time of


(d) It is also implied in the action of the Council of Jerusalem, and in the

language of Peter respecting “the yoke which neither we nor our fathers

were able to bear” (<441510>Acts 15:10).

(3) The attitude of Christians towards this distinction. “Let no man..,

judge you in respect of” them.

(a) Christians are not justified now in making such a distinction or in

imposing it upon others. Thus the Roman Catholics are condemned for

their distinction of meats: “Commanding to abstain from meats, which God

hath created to be received with thanksgiving” (<540403>1 Timothy 4:3). It is

not “that which teeth into the mouth that defileth the man” (<401502>Matthew

15:2, 11).

(b) Christians in apostolic times had a liberty in these matters which they

were to exercise for edification.

(a) It was allowable for a believer neither “to eat flesh” nor to

drink wine “so long as the world standeth” (<460813>1 Corinthians


(b) It was allowable in the transition state of the Church, while, it

consisted of two diverse elements — Jews and Gentiles — for

liberty to be exercised in these matters, with a due regard to the

rights of conscience (<451402>Romans 14:2).

(c) But we in our different circumstances must resist any attempt to impose

upon us a distinction of meats. “Let no man.., judge you in meat, or in

drink.” It is not in man’s power to make that a sin which God has not

forbidden. “It is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of

man’s judgment” (<460403>1 Corinthians 4:3). “Why dost thou judge thy

brother?” (<451403>Romans 14:3, 10). Besides, we must remember the spiritual

nature of Christianity: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but

righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (<451417>Romans 14:17). We

must “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made his people free”

(<480501>Galatians 5:1).

2. The observance of times and seasons. “Or in respect of a feast day, or of

a new moon, or of a sabbath day.” The apostle said to the Galatians, “Ye

observe days, and months, and times, and years” (<480410>Galatians 4:10).

(1) There was a provisional and temporary discretion allowed likewise in

the matter of days. “One man esteemeth one day above another: another

esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own

mind” (<451405>Romans 14:5, 6). The apostle leaves the matter of days an

open question.

(2) Yet no man was to be taken to task for refusing to observe them. The

times were entirely Jewish.

(a) The “feast day” referred to the annual festivals, like Pentecost and


(b) The “new moon” referred to the monthly festival.

(c) The “sabbath day” referred to the Jewish sabbath, which was always

observed on the Saturday. “But does the apostle not seem to strike at the

obligation of maintaining the observance of one day in seven for the

worship of God, and sunder the connection that exists between the Jewish

sabbath and the Christian Sunday?” We answer that:

(a) The observance of the Lord’s day never came into question in apostolic

times. It was universally observed from the beginning both by Jews and

Gentiles. It cannot, therefore, be affected by anything said as to “days” in

<451401>Romans 14:1-6 or in this passage.

(b) The devotion of a seventh part of our time to God rests on

considerations as old as creation, for the sabbath was made for man even

before sin entered the world.

(g) The sabbath of the Jews was typical, and therefore was abolished in

Christ, and therefore, as well as for other reasons, the Lord’s day, which

took its place from the beginning of the gospel dispensation, was changed

from the last to the first day of the week. The sabbath day was so long and

so deeply associated with the stated feasts, the sabbatical year, and the

jubilee year of Judaism, that it partook of their typical character, and thus

passed away with the other institutions of Judaism. But this was not the

original aspect of the sabbath, which had nothing in it typical of

redemption, for it began while there was no sin and no need of salvation.

Thus, just as baptism is the Lord’s circumcision according to ver. 11, the

Lord’s day is the sabbath of Christian times.


shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s.” They were useful

as shadows before the Substance came, but after it they were useless.

1. The shadow. The word implies:

(1) The dimness, the unsubstantiality of these Jewish ordinances or

institutions. The light they projected forward into Christian times was


(2) Their temporary nature. The shadow disappears when the substance is


2. The substance. “The body is Christ’s;” that is, belongs to Christ. The

reality is verified in Christ and the benefits of the new dispensation. The

blessings they prefigured are to be realized by union with Christ. — T. C.

Vers. 18, 19.

A warning against angel worship.

The apostle now notices the theological error of the false teachers, which

was the interposition of angelic mediators between God and man. “Let no

man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of

angels, dwelling in the things he hath seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly



1. The angel whom John would have worshipped, said, “See thou do it not,

for I am thy fellow servant.., worship God” (<662209>Revelation 22:9).

2. God will not share his rights with another. “I the Lord thy God am a

jealous God.” The first commandment forbids all other worship.

3. There is but one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus

(<540205>1 Timothy 2:5, 6). Papists say that the apostle merely condemns such

worship of angels as excludes Christ, but the condemnation is most

absolute and simple. Besides, Christ is declared to be the one single and

only way to the Father, to the exclusion of all angelic mediators. “No man

cometh unto the Father but by me;” “If ye shall ask anything in my Name, I

will do it” (<431406>John 14:6, 14). “We offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable

to God, by Jesus Christ” (<600205>1 Peter 2:5).

4. The worship of angels implies an omniscience on their part which

belongs only to God. God only knows the hearts of men (<140630>2 Chronicles


5. Our Lord’s superiority to all angels, as asserted in Hebrews 1. and it

implies the same condemnation; for they are merely “ministering spirits,

sent to minister to the heirs of salvation.”

II. THE MOTIVE OF THIS ANGEL WORSHIP. “A voluntary humility.”

The idea of the false teachers, like that of modern Papists, was that God

was so high and inaccessible that he could only be approached through the

mediation of inferior beings. It was remembered that the Law was given

“by the ministration of angels” (<440753>Acts 7:53), and that angels exercised a

certain tutelary guardianship (<271010>Daniel 10:10-21). But it was, after all, a

mere parade of humility to approach God through the mediation of such

inferior creatures. It implied, besides, a serious misrepresentation of the

fitness of the one Mediator, of whom it was said, “It behoved him to be

made like to his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High

Priest in things pertaining to God” (<580217>Hebrews 2:17). He surely can

sympathize with us even more closely than angels, for he shared our human

nature. It was, therefore, a false and perverted humility that sought the

intercession of angels.


WORSHIP. “Dwelling in the things he hath seen, vainly puffed up by his

fleshly mind.”

1. The false teachers claimed to have visions of the heavenly world and a

knowledge of angels which they could not possibly possess. They claimed

to know the secrets of a region which they had never seen.

2. They were filled with great self conceit, notwithstanding their parade of

excessive humility. “Vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” The Gnostic

tendency was always associated with an assumption of superior

knowledge, but it was an utterly groundless assumption. It was “in vain.” It

was without reason or ground. God would resist it (<590407>James 4:7); men

would not regard it (<201102>Proverbs 11:2); and they themselves would

inherit nothing by it but folly (<201408>Proverbs 14:8; <540604>1 Timothy 6:4).

Even where real visions are vouchsafed, there is a temptation to self

elation, as in the case of the Apostle Paul (<471207>2 Corinthians 12:7). But, in

the case of false visions, the tendency would be still more manifest. The

mind would be “the mind of the flesh,” as it is literally; not “the mind of the

Spirit.” It was “the carnal mind that is enmity with God.” Let us rather

seek to become “fools that we may be wise” (<460318>1 Corinthians 3:18), and

not be “puffed up one against another.” It is knowledge that puffeth up

(<460801>1 Corinthians 8:1); it is only love that edifieth.


WORSHIP. “Not holding the Head from whom the whole body, being

supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the

increase of God.” The Colossian errorists invented angel worship because

they did not see in Christ the true and only Mediator who was to bridge the

chasm between God and men. They put inferior beings in the place of him

who is the only Source of spiritual life. They did not “hold the headship’

doctrinally; they had no individual or vital adherence to the Head as the

Source of life to them.

1. Jesus Christ, as the Head, is the true Source of spiritual life and

energy. He who is “at once the lowest and the highest,” who is “the Word

made flesh,” “raises up man to God, and brings God down to man” The

fulness of the Godhead resides in him bodily, and out of that fulness he

communicates freely to us.

2. The relation of the body to the Head. “From whom the whole body,

being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands.”

(1) The care of Christ extends to every member of the body. We must

likewise learn to extend our love to all the saints.

(2) There is a double effect produced by the relation of Head and members.

(a) The supply of nutriment. Christ is the sole Source of supply to our

souls — “through the joints.” God calls us “to this fellowship with his Son”

(<620107>1 John 1:7).

(a) We can have no spiritual nutriment from Christ till we have

believed in him.

(b) The joints through which our supply of grace comes cannot be

broken. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

(<450839>Romans 8:39).

(g) It is through these joints we receive Christ’s “unsearchable

riches” (<490309>Ephesians 3:9); all spiritual blessings in heavenly

places” (<490103>Ephesians 1:3); so that we come behind in no spiritual


(b) The compacting of the frame into a perfect unity — “knit together by

bands.” Christ is the Source of the Church’s unity. “He hath made both

one” (<490214>Ephesians 2:14). There is a unity of faith, a unity of spiritual life,

a unity of ordinance, a unity of love, a unity of final destiny, in the Church,

by virtue of her connection with her Head.

3. The end of this relation. “Increaseth with the increase of God;” that is,

with the increase which he supplies.

(1) The body grows extensively, by the addition of new members; it grows

intensively in grace, knowledge, and the practice of all holy duties.

(2) he First Cause of all this growth is God. Paul may plant, and Apollos

water, but “it is God who gave the increase” (<460306>1 Corinthians 3:6). Thus

through Christ, God and man are linked together; the finite and the Infinite

are reconciled; the great problem of speculation has been at last practically


V. THE DANGER OF ANGEL WORSHIP. “Let no man rob you of your

prize.” The apostle implies that the prize of eternal life — “the prize of the

high calling of God in Christ Jesus” — would be lost by turning aside from

the Head to angelic mediators. We must not “lose what we have wrought”

in this way (<630110>2 John 1:10). “Let no man take thy crown”

(<660311>Revelation 3:11). Let us, therefore, avoid “profane babblings and

oppositions of science falsely so called” (<540620>1 Timothy 6:20), and hold

fast “the faith once delivered to the saints” (<650104>Jude 1:4). — T. C.

Vers. 20-23.

A warning against asceticism.

The apostle now proceeds to deduce the practical consequences of our

fellowship in the death of Christ. “If ye died with Christ from the rudiments

of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves

to ordinances, Handle not, nor taste, nor touch (all which things are to

perish with the using) after the precepts and doctrines of men?”



1. Fellowship in Christ’s death. “We are buried with him by baptism unto

death” (<450603>Romans 6:3-9). We are united with Christ in his death.

Community in death involves community in life, and thus our death with

Christ involves not only

(1) death to sin (<450602>Romans 6:2),

(2) death to self (<470514>2 Corinthians 5:14, 15); but

(3) death to the Law (<450706>Romans 7:6; <480214>Galatians 2:14),

(4) death to the world (<480614>Galatians 6:14), and

(5) death “from the rudiments of the world” (<510220>Colossians 2:20).

2. The inconsistency of this fellowship with a mere ritualistic religion.

(1) Such a religion is rudimentary, disciplinary, designed for the infancy of

the Church, not for its period of adult experience and privilege. Christ by

his death wiped out these rudiments which have their sphere in the visible

life of the world. They are but “weak and beggarly elements,” from which

we are forever separated by the death of Christ. In him all things have

become new. Christians cannot, therefore, live in that which Christ died to

take away. Besides, Christians are living no longer in the world. “They are

not of the world;” yet, if they submitted to its ordinances, they were “as

though living in the world.” They had been called out of the world to be of

another body, of which Christ is the Head. Therefore they were not to be

conformed to the fashion of the world (<451202>Romans 12:2).

(2) A ritualistic religion is usually negative rather than positive in its

character, being strong in the clement of prohibition: “Handle not, nor

taste, nor touch.” The apostle repeats the prohibitions of the false teachers

in their own words. They, believing that matter was essentially evil,

resolved upon reducing our contact with it in its most familiar forms to a

minimum. The prohibitions here referred to go far beyond the Levitical

enactments, which had no ascetic tendency. The Essenes, who were

forerunners of the Colossian errorists, shunned oil, wine, flesh, meat, and

contact with a stranger. Mark how rigorous and precise these errorists

were in their outward observances. They were like the Pharisees of old,

who cared not for the weightier matters of the Law, but tithed mint and

anise and cummin. They attributed an intrinsic value to things that were

fleeting: “All which things perish in the using;” leaving no spiritual result:

“For meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the

better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse” (<460808>1 Corinthians 8:8).

Our Lord himself said it was not that which “entereth the mouth which

defileth a man “(<401516>Matthew 15:16,17).

(3) A ritualistic religion is always marked by “the precepts and doctrines of

men.” Many of the Jewish ordinances were handed down by tradition and

had no warrant in the written Word of God. Therefore our Lord said,

“They teach for doctrines the commandments of men” (<401509>Matthew



RITUALISM. “Which things, indeed, have a show of wisdom in will

worship, and humility, and severity to the body, but are not of any value

against the indulgence of the flesh.”

1. Its reputation for wisdom. It had a show of wisdom without the reality,

for it affected an air of extreme piety, of profound regard for God, and of

deep knowledge in Divine things. All its ritualistic observances would be

recommended by the plea that they tended to promote piety. The repute of

wisdom was manifested in three things.

(1) Will worship, or service beyond what God requires — in a word,

superstition. This is the origin of penances and pilgrimages and festivals in

Romanism. They are supposed to promote piety, but they have “a mere

show of wisdom.” They charge God with folly, as if be did not know what

was most conducive to piety, and they involve a tacit claim to amend

God’s ordinances. But God loves obedience better than sacrifice (<091522>1

Samuel 15:22), and may well ask such ritualists, “Who hath required this at

your hands?” (<230112>Isaiah 1:12). Will worship has been the great corrupter

of pure religion.

(2) Humility. It is a studied and affected humility, not resting on a basis of

faith and love, but consciously cultivated, and therefore not inconsistent

with spiritual pride. “Pride may be pampered while the flesh grows lean.”

(3) Severity to the body.

(a) There seems a show of wisdom in this habit, because an apostle found

it wise “to keep his body under” (<460927>1 Corinthians 9:27), and the

Colossian ascetics might have pleaded that they could thus enhance their

spiritual insight.

(b) But such severity to the body is expressly condemned.

(a) Religion belongs to the body as well as the soul. The body, “so

fearfully and wonderfully made,” becomes “a temple of the Holy Ghost”

(<460619>1 Corinthians 6:19). Its members are to be “yielded as instruments of

righteousness unto God” (<450613>Romans 6:13). We are to offer our bodies

as “living sacrifices,” not dead or mutilated or maimed sacrifices. There is,

therefore, nothing religious in whipping the body, like the Flagellants, or in

denying it necessary food, or in arraying it in dirty or ragged clothing. “The

sacrifice of God is a broken spirit,” not a macerated body. We must keep

up our bodily vigour for the discharge of the duties of life, so that the body

may serve the Spirit.

(b) There may be a corrupt heart under an ascetic habit of body. Spiritual

pride may dwell there in power.

2. Its failure to accomplish its chief end. “But are not of any value against

the indulgence of the flesh.”

(1) This ascetic rigour is designed as a check upon sensual indulgence.

There seems “a show of wisdom” in such a method.

(2) But it is no check to such self indulgence, as the history of asceticism

proves. The monastic life, while it seemed hostile to self indulgence, made

way, as by a sort of back door, to all sorts of sensual extravagance. —



Vers. 1-7.

The Trinity as the source of Christian love and consolation.

It would appear that Paul had not only the interests of the Colossians and

Laodiceans at heart, but also as many as had not seen his face in the flesh.

He did not act on the worldly principle, “Out of sight, out of mind;” but on

the gospel principle, “Though out of sight, though never yet seen, yet kept

in mind.” We are thus brought at once to —

I. PAUL’S COSMOPOLITAN SPIRIT. (Ver. 1.) The selfish soul leaves

out of consideration all but his own little circle; the Christian leaves out of

consideration none but his own little circle. The gospel made a

cosmopolitan of Paul the Pharisee. He who had been of the straitest sect

becomes the man of broadest spirit. Besides, the problem of the world

produced a “conflict” within him. He was in an agony of earnestness for

unseen, uncounted millions. His great soul throbbed at Rome in sympathy

for all who were under Caesar’s sceptre. As the “apostle of the Gentiles”

he magnified his office by making all mankind his spiritual care.



the gospel does not commit the care of the universe to a “lonely God,” but

to a Triune Jehovah, who, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, has the

elements of social happiness within himself. A social Trinity presides over

the universe. Now, so practical a truth is this of the Trinity that, as Paul

here puts it, the consolation of the heart and Christian unity depend upon

it. It is sometimes insinuated that the doctrine of the Trinity is a profitless

and unpractical speculation. Any one who thinks so would do well to read

such an essay as Mr. Hutton’s on ‘The Incarnation and Principles of

Evidence.’ It will be seen from such a line of thought that there are deep

longings of our nature which only an incarnation, and by consequence only

a Trinity, can supply. But even apart from such subtle disquisition we may

see in the sociality of the Trinity as distinguished from the awful loneliness

of the Socinian hypothesis an element of consolation and of union. If God

be a lonely being, and Martineau is driven to the term “lonely God;” if he is

satisfied in his loneliness, — then there gathers round him that repellent

element which we associate with the unsocial among men. I am not

encouraged to come to this lonely and infinite One. He can do without me,

and it repels me to think he can. But when I learn that God is not a lonely

One, but has been, so to speak, a “family Being” from all eternity, rejoicing

as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the satisfaction of his social qualities,

then I am encouraged to come to him and to satisfy in him the longings of

my heart. It will be found, then, that consolation is promoted by the

realized truth of the Trinity in a way that cannot be secured by rival

hypotheses. No unitarian abstraction can do for men what the social Trinity

can. It will be found also that unity among Christians is promoted by this

mighty truth. God as our Father gathers around him through the mediation

of his Son Christ Jesus, and through the gift of his Spirit, the scattered

members of the human family, and they feel united in a sense of sonship

and sociality. A social Trinity secures a united society. Hence we find such

a great thinker as John Howe preaching item ver. 2. a fine discourse for

“union among Protestants.” Now, it is when Christ is preached in all his

fulness that “the treasury of wisdom and knowledge” to be found in him is

opened up and the mystery of the Triune God becomes plain. It is in this

full preaching of Christ that the present and eternal interests of the human

race lie.


PROPER CHRISTIAN WALK. (Vers. 4-7.) He tells the Colossians that

he is with them in spirit, taking notice of their order and conversation. He

calls upon them, therefore, to walk in Christ Jesus the Lord as they have

received him. This brings before us the fact that Jesus Christ, when

received by faith, becomes the tenant of the human heart. He becomes the

recognized Lord of the conscience, and to his sovereignty all things are

submitted. The morality secured by the gospel is therefore the simple

morality of pleasing the indwelling Christ. We may here follow the sainted

Henry Martyn, who thus describes what the Christian walk is. It is

(1) to continue to apply his blood for the cleansing of our

consciences from guilt;

(2) to live in dependence on his grace;

(3) to follow his example; and

(4) to walk in fellowship with him.

And this morality will be pervaded constantly by the grateful spirit. In

truth, gratitude is the spirit and morality is the form assumed by the gospel

as it lays hold of the minds of men. God having in his gospel done so much

for us, we feel that we ought to do all we can for him. We consequently

walk before him in love and strive gratefully to do the things which please

him. — R.M.E.

Vers. 8-15.

Christ our All.

Having laid down the truth about the Trinity as the great want of the race,

Paul proceeds to warn the Colossians against the so called philosophers.

“There are certain men,” it has been well observed, “who, because they

possess somewhat more learning than others, think, when they become

converts to the gospel, that they are great acquisitions to the cause; they

officiously extend the shield of their learning over their more unlearned

brethren, and try to prove where others believe; but, while they think they

promote the cause, they generally spoil what they touch.” Against such

philosophers God’s people in all ages require to be warned.


AWAY FROM CHRIST. (Ver. 8.) Paul warns the Colossians against a

philosophy which led men back to rudimentary forms and ceremonies

instead of forward to Christ. Now, every argument which leads to a

ceremony for hope instead of to Christ has some flaw in it. It may be a

subtle flaw, not easily detected, but we may be quite sure it is there. There

is no better rule, then, than this. Christ is the embodied truth, and we have

missed the road if we are not led to him (<431406>John 14:6).



Jesus Christ Divinity has expressed itself in human form. We can see, hear,

and handle the Divine Being in the person of Christ. The Incarnation gives

to men the true philosophy they long after. Christ is all and in all. Hence we

are resistlessly drawn to him for the solution of our doubts and difficulties

as well as for the salvation of our souls. No wonder that an acute writer

entitled one of his volumes ‘The Knowledge of Jesus the Most Excellent of

the Sciences.’


ACCEPTANCE. (Ver. 10.) The great question which man must ask is,

“How can sinful man be accepted with God?” Philosophy replies, “By

certain solemn ceremonies, by sacrifices, by circumcision, by baptism,” etc.

The gospel replies, “Acceptance is secured in Christ; we are complete in

him,” or, as the Revised Version has it, “In him are ye made full.” Now, it

has been insinuated that merit cannot in the nature of things pass from one

person to another. The fact is, however, that we are constantly being kindly

treated for the sake of others. Children, for example, receive consideration

for the sake of respected parents: individuals receive consideration for the

sake of respected friends; and the whole array’ of letters of introduction,

vicarious influence, and the like, is based upon the recognition of the fact

that the merit of others can overshadow and benefit those in whom they are

interested. The acceptance which we receive from the Father for the sake

of Jesus is on the line, therefore, of natural law. It is the application of a

principle upon which men are acting every day.


(Ver. 11.) Circumcision was among the false teachers the initial ceremony

which secured a Jewish standing for the Gentile proselyte. Their insinuation

was that Gentiles who remained uncircumcised could not possibly be

saved. It was this which Paul combatted constantly. Hence he shows, in

this eleventh verse, that the real circumcision is secured in Christ for all

who trust in him. It is a circumcision not made with hands, a circumcision

of the heart, a circumcision which secured “the putting off of the body of

the sins of the flesh.” If the Gentile converts realized this, then they need

not concern themselves about the outward circumcision. It surely teaches

us that, not by mechanical, but by spiritual means we may vanquish the

power of sin within us. It is said that circumcision circumscribes lustful

tendencies and keeps them within mechanical bounds. Whatever truth may

be in this, it is certain that Jesus can so restrain us by his indwelling and

grace as to deliver us from the whole body of the sins of the flesh.




(Vers. 12-15.) The ritual of Judaism typified in its various aspects the

atoning work of Jesus Christ. The sacrifices pointed to the one great

sacrifice on Calvary. The long list of ordinances, therefore, conducted the

intelligent mind to Christ’s cross and received their fulfilment there. Hence

it was that those who by faith passed through resurrection with Christ

became as free from the obligation of these ceremonies as the risen Jesus

was himself. Could any one have gone to Jesus after his resurrection and

asked from him, with any show of reason, a fulfilment of the ceremonial

Law? Is it not felt by every intelligent thinker that Jesus had so fulfilled the

ceremonies in the actualities of atonement that more ceremony from him

would be unmeaning? A similar emancipation, Paul here insists, from the

obligation of ceremonies is the property of Christ’s believing people. A

careful study of the cross is the great protection, therefore, against

improper emphasis being laid on ceremonials. — R.M.E.

Vers. 16-23.

Legalism exposed.

The apostle, having shown in the last section how much Christ is to the

believer, proceeds in the verses now before us to expose the false use of

ceremonies, or, in modem phraseology, ritualism. The false teachers were

anxious to entangle the Gentile converts in a tedious round of ceremonies

— to make them, in fact, Old Testament ritualists. They could even adduce

what seemed to them philosophic reasons for such practice. But Paul

scatters their false philosophy to the winds by the magic power of his

Redeemer’s cross.



APPRECIATED. (Ver. 16.) The Judaizers insisted on the Gentiles entering

into the scrupulosity of the Jews about meat and drink, about holy days and

new moons, and about the seventh-day sabbath, for the word is singular as

the Revised Version has it, and not plural as in the Authorized Version.

Now, it was quite possible for Jews and Gentiles to enter upon the keeping

of these ceremonies without ever considering their signification. A

ceremony may be kept just to be able to congratulate ourselves upon the

keeping of it; that is to say, a ceremony may be kept in a self righteous

spirit instead of intelligently. When ceremonies minister to self

righteousness, when they lead to pride, when they are entertained in order

to furnish a fancied claim, they are mere superstitions. It is to be feared that

no other rationale can be given of a large proportion of modern

ceremonial. It is a mere blind and leads souls away from Christ to self

righteousness. It may, indeed, have the appearance of great humility. There

may be apparent awe and regard for the angels, and the visible may seem to

so impress the soul as to secure deepest humiliation; but when the issue of

the ritual is self congratulation and a fancied independence of Christ’s

merits for acceptance, the whole process is simply a deceptive superstition.

It matters not how aesthetic the ritual may seem: the Jew of the apostolic

age could have pleaded aestheticism like his modern counterpart; but the

true analysis of the whole process is that it is self righteousness cultivating




SHADOW. (Ver. 17.) If ceremonies cease to lead souls to Jesus, then they

are meaningless and condemned. The ceremonial laws of Moses were so

constructed as to lead the thoughtful worshipper on to the promised

Messiah. Meat must be bloodless, because blood was to be the atonement

for sin, when Messiah came. The blood was forbidden, because the blood

of Jesus Christ was to be shed in due season. The regulations about drink

and holy clays and new moons pointed, as may easily be shown, in some

way or other to Christ. The seventh-day sabbath was the type of the

spiritual rest to which Jesus conducts us (<580409>Hebrews 4:9-12). Christ is

the Substance, and these ceremonies simply shadowed forth some aspect of

his mission. But when men kept the ceremonies without ever thinking of

their relation to Christ, when they kept them and made saviours of them

instead of seeing in Jesus their only Saviour, they became not only

meaningless but prejudicial to the interests of souls. Let Christ, then, be

our test forvery ceremony to which men summon us, If it is a substitute for

Christ, or if it has no relation to Christ, then we are bound to dismiss it

flora our thoughts as simple superstition.



CEREMONIES. (Vers. 20-23.) When Jesus died upon the cross every

ceremony was fulfilled. The ceremonial Law had no further claim upon

him. In the same way, when the Gentile converts so appreciated the

Crucifixion that they were able to say they were “crucified with Christ” and

so “dead with Christ,” then the ceremonies of circumcision and the like

were no longer obligatory upon them. They had fulfilled them in their

Substitute and so were free from them. It was this liberty for which Paul so

earnestly contended.



Certainly not. The Gentile converts were not encouraged by the apostles to

set all ceremony at defiance. Though taught that the ceremonies of

Judaism were fulfilled in Christ, they were directed not to eat blood, not to

eat things strangled; they were directed to celebrate baptism and the Lord’s

Supper, and to keep the Lord’s day. But what kept them right in these

ceremonies was what will keep us right in ceremonies — the simple

determination whether or no they foster reverence for and deepen our

interest in the atoning work of our blessed Lord. What really conducts the

soul to Jesus is safe; but what only nominally does so and really ministers

to self righteousness is dangerous and deadly error. Let Jesus be our test

continually, and we shall be kept safe. — R.M.E.


Vers. 1-7.

Introduction to the polemical part of the Epistle.


1. Paul’s striving. “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.” There is an advantage in the Revised translation, in carrying

forward the word “strive” from the preceding verse. Having declared his

striving in general, the apostle now shows (“for”) how his striving was

specially directed.

(1) His striving was remarkable as directed toward those who had not

seen his face in the flesh. Among these are plainly included the Colossians.

With them are associated their neighbours the Laodiceans. The

Hierapolitans (to whom there is reference at the close of the Epistle) are

not mentioned. But it is added generally, “as many as have not seen my

face in the flesh.” Spiritually present he had been (as he tells us in the fifth

verse), and he must have had indirect modes of intercourse with them, yet

they wanted the impression of his presence in the flesh — they wanted the

impression of his personal ministry among them. It can be made out that in

none of his journeys before this time did his route naturally lie by the valley

of the Lycus. It is difficult to have an interest in those, whose faces we

have not seen. There is something in the expression of the countenance, as

also in the touch of the hand, the sound of the voice. We like these, not as

substitutes for the spirit, but rather as helps to our getting at and fixing our

impressions of the spirit. Paul, in the quickness of his sympathy, got over

this difficulty. He had associations in many cases with countenance, with

hand, with voice. But he reserved a portion of his sympathy for those, like

the Colossians, with whom he had no such associations. His concern was

simply founded on the fact that they had been rescued from heathenism,

that they were exposed to perils, and on the information which he received

from time to time regarding their condition.

(2) His difficulty in the circumstances in giving them any right impression

of the greatness of his striving. “How greatly I strive.” There was no

ordinary conflict in his mind. There was the vehemence belonging to an

intensely earnest nature. But how could he convey the impression of what

his striving was (the moral fulcrum on which he depended for moving

them) to persons in the position of the Colossians? If they had had an

impression of his personal ministry, then he might have revived that

wherewith to oppose the heretical teachers; but he had never been at

Colossae. If he had been able then to go to the rescue, he might have given

them an impression of his intensity in the way in which (like a good athlete)

he grappled with those teachers. But he was in an imprisoned condition in

Rome; and his conflict would be none the less because he was imprisoned

and far away from them. Was he, then, like a bird beating its wearied breast

against the wires of its cage? No; there was outlet for the struggle within.

He could relieve himself at the throne of grace, and there, by his earnest

pleading, move the hand that could move them. But that was not enough;

he wished to have influence with them in impressing on them what his

striving was, and so he writes; and, as he writes, feeling the difficulty that

arose from their not having seen him in the flesh, he exclaims, “I would

that ye knew how greatly I strive for you.”

2. The end of his striving. “That their hearts may be comforted.” There are

positions in which Churches and individuals stand in need of heart comfort.

Our English word “comforted” is etymologically “being made strong.”

“Fortified” belongs to the same root. And the one meaning passes into the

other. If our hearts are sad, we feel unnerved for work. But if, amid our

trials, we have comfort, we feel strong for work.

(1) Comforted in the way of having unity of feeling. “They being knit

together in love.” It is no ordinary union of Christians that is pointed to

here. It is such a welding of them together as is not easily torn asunder.

What an uncomfortable thing is division! How much to be desired in the

way of comfort when, however assailed, Christians can present a united

front! And the union which is not easily broken up can only subsist in love.

And the love must not be a mere negative, or pretence; but must be a deep,

pervading feeling. It is only when love avails to break down selfishness, to

excite mutual interest between the members of a Christian society, that

there is knitting together or the strong bond that is referred to in the third


(2) Comforted in the way of having unity of sentiment. “And unto all riches

of the full assurance of understanding.” Unity of feeling he desired for

them; but as the cause (not the consequence) of unity of sentiment. When

there is unity of feeling in a high degree, these questions can be calmly,

patiently looked at without risk of a rupture. We have to aim at a right

state of the understanding. “Give me understanding” is the repeated prayer

of the psalmist. Our understanding is given us to examine into facts, to plan

aright for our conduct, to avoid mistakes, to detect errors. And we are

constituted so that we can not only judge, but have the assurance that we

are judging correctly. There is an assurance which is begotten of ignorance,

of self conceit. That is very different from the assurance which is the result

of patient investigation, of steady contemplation. There is a self evidencing

power of the truth. The words of God, when we closely examine them,

shine in their own light, There is a peculiar satisfaction in our being sure of

our seeing the truth. When our eyes have been enlightened by the Spirit,

we can say with confidence,” One thing I know, that whereas I was blind,

now I see.” It is this certainty extending over a wide range that is here

represented as being the wealth of the understanding. This is of far more

value than material riches which men heap up and know not who shall

gather them. What a man gains in the way of clear convincing perception

of things he can never lose. He who engages in the pursuit of these riches

shall gather them in his own everlasting being. And, having begun to have

an assuring view of truth, he shall go on to all riches of the full assurance

of understanding. “That they may know [unto the thorough knowledge of]

the Mystery of God, even Christ, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom

and knowledge hidden.” This is parallel to the foregoing, and points to the

Christian state of the understanding. All things are dark to us at first; we

have, by reflection, to clear away the darkness. There is one thing which is

pre-eminently dark, which we could never have found out for ourselves; it

is here called “the mystery,” and is explained to be Christ. He is the

Mystery of God in this sense — that in him lay hidden all the thought and

purpose of God. The theosophists spoke of hidden things, and made much

of wisdom in general and also of a special insight. The apostle declares that

all the treasures that they pretended by their sophia and gnosis to discover

are hidden in Christ, and that it is by coming to the thorough knowledge of

him that we get possession of the hidden treasures. The object, then, of the

apostle’s striving for the Colossians, as for others, was (in view of what

follows) this, that, unitedly, in the use of their understanding, they might

come to such an appreciation of Christ as would lay open to them all the

hidden treasures. If they had that, then they would be carried away by no

false sophia and ghosts.


1. Exposure of the Colossians. “This I say, that no one may delude you

with persuasiveness of speech.” He directs himself specially to the

Colossians. He has been telling them about his great striving for them, and

about the key to the hidden treasures, in order to put them on their guard.

They were in the presence of danger. There were teachers (of whom we

shall hear more) that had designs on them, They used a persuasive form of

speech (in a bad sense). They had not the persuasiveness that comes from

the truth. They were conscious of no basis of reality for their speech. They

taught a system for which there were not proofs. They pretended by their

sophia and gnosis to open up hidden things; but it was only pretence. Their

fine phrases, their plausible representations, their large promises, were

delusive, leading away from reality, leading away from Christ in whom

alone are the hidden treasures.

2. Spiritual presence with them. “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet

am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the

steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” The spirit is freer than the body. The

apostle was present in the spirit, where he was absent in the flesh. This

spoke to a certain cognizance of them, from all that he had heard of them,

and especially from the intensity of his sympathy with them. Transferred, as

it were, to Colossae, his feelings (and to this prominence is given) were

those of joy. He was not repelled (as from what was disagreeable), but was

rather enchained. It especially gave him joy to observe two points which

were important in reference to his purpose.

(1) Their order. They were (to take one of the associations of the word)

like a well-appointed regiment. They were well organized as a community.

They were organized for the advancement of the cause of Christ among

themselves and beyond themselves. Hitherto they had been free from

divisions. There was no disorderliness, such as there was in the Church of


(2) The steadfastness of their faith in Christ. Their outward state (which

was one of order) was conditioned inwardly by faith. They had an

immovable object for their faith. “If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for

he cannot deny himself.” Their faith in some degree corresponded. It had

such a hold on Christ that it was, as the word is, something firm, like a

piece of solid masonry (in a fortification) not easily battered down. It

would stand, he hoped, the assaults made on it by the false teachers.


POINT. He does not bestow praise without giving exhortation (in view of

the danger). The spirit of the exhortation is given in the words of the Lord

to the Church of Smyrna (where danger, however, had not been well met),

“Remember therefore how thou hast received, and didst hear.” In the force

of the apostle’s thought there is a certain disregard of metaphor (walk,

tree, building). It is, therefore, necessary to present the thought (in our

division) without keeping to metaphor.

1. We are to think and act from day to day in accordance with our first

reception of Christ.” As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so

walk in him.” There is an emphatic specification of the object. They

received Christ (the person of Christ being in dispute). Whom did they

receive as Christ? The historical Jesus (partaker of humanity). This Jesus

they received and worshipped as the Lord (with supreme power over the

universe and the Church). And the apostle holds rightly that they were

bound by their past action. Having thus received Christ, they were not to

cast him off. They were not to think and act according to their pleasure or

according to the suggestion of heretical teachers. Bat their thoughts and

actions (specially the former in the present instance) were to be controlled

by Christ and his laws.

2. What is added in our development is to be in accordance with its

beginnings. “Rooted and builded up in him.” The change of tense is not

brought out in the translation. It is literally, “Having been rooted and being

builded up in him? They got a rooting in Christ at the beginning, viz. under

Epaphras, who presented Christ plainly to them, giving them line upon line

and precept upon precept, until they came to a clear conception of the

truth. This rooting was effectual in the subsequent development. To change

the figure with the apostle, they got a grounding in Christ (as we get a

grounding in a language or science). Every successive layer was to be in

accordance with their grounding. The building was to rise up in, and to

take form from, that Christ in whom they had been so well grounded.

3. Our faith is to be established in accordance with our early teaching.

“And stablished in your faith, even as ye were taught.” All early teaching is

not good, and the development is often hindered by imperfect or faulty

grounding. The early teaching enjoyed by the Colossians was proved to be

good by the subsequent development. There is a missing of the thought by

Meyer and Ellicott, who interpret, “Taught to become established in [or,

‘by’] the faith.” The idea rather is that, under the teaching of Epaphras,

they got a right hold of Christ. From him thus laid hold of by them they

were not to be moved away, The whole carrying forward of their faith in

the way of stability was to be toward no false Christ, but toward Christ

Jesus the Lord. Subjoined exhortation to thanksgiving. “Abounding in

thanksgiving.” This comes in with a certain abruptness. But the duty of

thanksgiving is so frequently (five times) introduced as to form a

subordinate feature of the Epistle. An overflowing of thanksgiving to God

for the faith by which they came in their early teaching, and for all the

blessing opened up to them by faith (the hidden treasures in Christ), would

be helpful to their faith being stablished in view of present danger. — R.F.

Vers. 8-15.


I. FALSE PHILOSOPHY. “Take heed lest there shall be any one that

maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit.” It was a real

danger (as the expression bears) against which the apostle warns the

Colossians. He refers indefinitely to the teachers (any one), but he

strikingly describes what their work would be. The work of the Christian

teachers on them in their heathen state, as described in <510113>Colossians

1:13, 14, had been a deliverance, a redemption; the work of those teachers

on them in their Christian state would be a leading them into captivity, a

making a booty of them. He does not define what this teaching was, but he

characterizes the substance of it (as distinguished from the form, which is

characterized in the fourth verse) as a philosophy which was a vain deceit.

This is not a characterization of all philosophy, but only of the philosophy

with which these teachers would have made spoil of the Colossians. A

philosopher is literally a lover of wisdom, and in that sense a Christian is a

philosopher. The origin of the name, as given by Cicero, is as follows:

Pythagoras once upon a time, having come to Phlius, a city of

Peloponnesus, displayed in a conversation which he had with Leon, who

then governed that city, a range of knowledge so extensive that the prince,

admiring his eloquence and ability, inquired to what art he had principally

devoted himself. Pythagoras answered that he professed no art and was

simply a philosopher. Leon, struck by the novelty of the name, again

inquired who were the philosophers, and in what they differed from other

men. Pythagoras replied that human life seemed to resemble the great fair

held on occasion of those solemn games which all Greece met to celebrate.

For some, exercised in athletic contests, resorted thither in quest of glory

and the crown of victory; while a greater number flocked to them in order

to buy and sell, attracted by the love of gain. There were a few, however

— and they were those distinguished by their liberality and intelligence —

who came from no motive of glory or of gain, but simply to look about

them, and to take note of what was done and in what manner. “So,

likewise,” continued Pythagoras, “we men all make our entrance into this

life on our departure from another. Some are here occupied in the pursuit

of honours, others in the search of riches; a few there are who, indifferent

to all else, devote themselves to an inquiry into the nature of things. These,

then, are they whom I call students of wisdom, for such is meant by

philosopher.” The philosophy in question in Colossae was no humble

endeavour to ascertain the nature of things, but a pretentious system

without any basis in observed facts, or in reason applied to them (certainly

without any basis in revelation), and therefore only vain. It had two marks

of a false system.

1. It was purely traditional. “After the tradition of men.” Our sacred books

have been handed down to us, but we do not rest their authority on mere

tradition. There is evidence (to which we make our appeal) that they do

not owe their origin to men, that they are a Divine revelation, that they

have been first handed to men by God. Tradition has been a frequent

device in connection with systems that have imposed on the human mind.

The answer to questionings has been that it was so handed down from

remote antiquity (occultly, for the traditional and occult generally go

together). A remarkable instance was a later development named cabbala,

or tradition. The mystic elements in this were not essentially different from

those which were operating around the Colossian Church. The primary

substance, the Cabbalists said, is an ocean of light. There was a primitive

emanation, named Adam tadmon, from which proceed decreasing stages of

emanations, named Sephiroth. Matter is nothing but the obscuration of the

Divine rays when arrived at the last stage of emanation. This (and much

besides) was to be received on the ground that it had been secretly handed

down from Moses. But it is no sufficient evidence of a system being true

that it has been handed down; we must submit it to farther examination,

and such examination the philosophy at Colossae could not stand.

2. It was purely mundane. “After the rudiments of the world.” What was

handed down had no high genesis. Very crude were the first attempts to

solve the riddle of the universe. Empedocles taught that all things were

formed out of the four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, by a process of

mingling and of separation, set in motion by the two principles of love and

hate. The postulation of intermediate agents in a descending series down to

one who could create matter was very rudimentary. The apostle was sorry

that such meagre and earth born philosophizings should be palmed upon

men as all that was needed to make them perfect. The standard of

condemnation. “And not after Christ.” What is tradition when we have

Christ to give form to our thoughts? What are the rudiments of the world

(all that earth can produce of a philosophy) when we have the perfect

revelation from heaven?

II. THE TRUE PHILOSOPHY. There are two cardinal points.

(1) The fulness of God in Christ. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the

Godhead bodily.” By the pleroma of the Godhead we are to understand the

totality of the Divine attributes, the sum of the Divine perfections. We are

to think of the pleroma as residing first in God and then in Christ (just as

we think first of Father and then of Son, first of original and then of copy).

The pleroma resides in the Second Person necessarily and eternally, but

nineteen hundred years ago (such is our creed) it began to reside in him

bodily wise, that is to say, a connection was mysteriously formed between

the pleroma in him and (what was far removed) a human body. In the body

he took to himself he tabernacled on earth, and not only so, but in it now

glorified he permanently resides (such is the force of the Greek word), that

is to say, the time will never come when there will be a separation of the

pleroma in him from our humanity. Such is the apostolic teaching, but on it

reverence forbids that we should dwell.

(2) The fulness of Christ in us. “And in him ye are made full.” It is an

advantage in the Revised translation that “full” is carried forward from the

preceding thought (not “fulness” and then “complete,” when the word is

the same). The pleroma in Christ is communicated to us. Out of his

pleroma have all we received. Christians collectively are called the pleroma

of Christ. This is no mere refinement of thought. The comfort of it is that

Christ in his redemptive work, in the fulness of his atoning merits, has

made it possible for us to have more than mere beginnings or husks. There

must be allowance for difference of essence, but, allowance being made for

that, then all that is in Christ can be communicated to us. We can think out

the Divine thought. We can be under the impulse of the Divine love. We

can have strength to perform the Divine purpose. We can come out into

the Divine liberty. It is only Christ actually working in us that can remove

all moral impediments, and educe to the full the God-given tendencies of

our being. And, therefore, the truest philosophy is to preserve a state of

openness towards him. This philosophy is all sufficient.

1. It enables us to dispense with what intermediate agents may be

supposed to do for us. “Who is the Head of all principality and power.”

Christ is not only placed over all that can be called principality and power,

but he is the Source of all the vital force that belongs to them. What of the

pleroma may be dispersed, fragmentary in them, is undispersed, unbroken

in him. There is no need, therefore, of supplementing what he can supply.

2. It enables us to dispense with circumcision. It would seem that in the

false philosophy with which the Church at Colossae was threatened, there

was a Judaistic as well as a mystic element. The combination of the two

was called Essenism.

(1) Circumcised with Christ in his circumcision. “In whom ye were also

circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, ‘n the putting off of

the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ.” They had no need of

the circumcision made with hands (the material circumcision); they had

been circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands (a spiritual

circumcision). They had got the inward reality corresponding to the

outward rite. This is presented here as the putting off of the body of the

flesh. There was the putting off as of a garment. The word in the original,

being intensive, points to a complete putting off. The putting off applied to

the body as a whole. The body of the flesh points to our old impure

condition (in which the flesh is the dominating principle). It could only be

ideally that we were thus circumcised, for there is still actual impurity in

our condition that needs to be put off. When in the past are we to

understand this circumcision as timed? The general opinion is that we are

to take the time from the baptism referred to in the next verse. It seems

more natural to interpret the circumcision of Christ as the circumcision

undergone by Christ, and to take the time from that event. It is not

unnatural to pass from the spiritual circumcision described to the

circumcision of Christ so understood, unless its spiritual significance is left

out. That event was more than a mere honouring of the Mosaic rite, it

pointed to (though it did not actually effect) its fulfilment. Did it not point

to Christ putting off in his death the body with which our sin was

associated? It could be said then that when Christ was circumcised we

were spiritually circumcised in his circumcision. A cogitate thought is

added for the purpose of further elucidation.

(2) Baptized with Christ in his baptism. As we interpret the circumcision

of Christ of the circumcision undergone by Christ, so we interpret baptism

here of the baptism undergone by Christ (not their baptism). It could be

said that when he was baptized we were baptized in his baptism. There are

two sides of baptism.

(a) A going down into the water. “Having been buried with him in

baptism.” There is similar language employed in <450604>Romans 6:4. We were

buried with him through baptism into death. The language is evidently

taken from immersion. It is said of Jesus that he came up out of the water,

so we are to understand that he went down into the water. There was, as it

were, a burial under the waves. And as the coming up out of the water is

connected in what follows with the resurrection of Christ, so we are to

understand that the burial in baptism is connected with the burial of Christ.

In baptism we are represented as burying what Christ may be said to have

put away in his grave — the old state of sin. The language employed here

tells in favour of immersion as a scriptural mode. There is every reason to

believe that it was the mode followed in Palestine in our Lord’s day. It has

an advantage over sprinkling in pointing so strikingly to the burial of the

old nature as in the grave of Christ. The only reason that can be urged

against it is that it is not suitable in a cold climate. The use of water being

all that is essential, the mode may be accommodated to altered conditions.

On the other hand, there is an identification of baptism with circumcision.

What is the putting off and laying aside of the body of the flesh in the one,

is the burial in the other: And thus the language of the apostle seems to tell

in favour of infant baptism.

(b) A coming up out of the water. “Wherein ye were also raised with him

through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” The

language is taken from the coming up out of the water which is associated

with our Lord’s baptism, but none the less truly does it point to the fact of

Christ’s resurrection, which is clearly referred to. Christ went down into

the grave, but came up again. So the believer disappears under the waters

of baptism, but comes up to sight again. This is a side that is not presented

in circumcision. In baptism there is an impressive exhibition of the fact that

we are regenerated. This new life we get in union with Christ. The working

of God was signally displayed in raising Christ from the dead. But that was

more than a display of omnipotence. It is to be taken in connection with the

removal of the cause that operated in Christ’s death and burial, viz. sin.

Christ rose from the dead the possessor of a new and endless life. And if

we take as the object of our faith the working which raised Christ from the

dead, we shall become sharers with him in the same new and endless life.

3. Parenthetical application of the being raised with Christ to the

Colossians and to the Gentiles generally. “And you, being dead through

your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he

quicken together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” There is

a difficulty started here regarding the subject of the remainder of the

paragraph. Meyer, Alford, and Eadie make God the subject; Eilicott makes

it Christ. Lightfoot makes it a case of a sudden change of, subject. It can be

said in favour of Christ being “subject,” that he has been prominent in the

apostle’s thought in the context as in the Epistle as a whole. It can also be

said that the putting off from himself the principalities and powers is

language which can only be applied to Christ. On the other hand, it is

unnatural, with Ellicott, to pass from the thought of Christ being raised by

God to the thought of Christ quickening himself. Nor is it satisfactory

simply to say that there is a sudden change of subject. The most natural

solution of the difficulty seems to be to regard this verse as parenthetical.

The apostle applies the thought of being raised with Christ, and, having

done so, he proceeds with Christ as the subject as though the application

had not been interjected, The Colossians had been in a state of deadness.

Their deadness was caused by their trespasses. There is nothing of the

pantheistic element here that was so prevalent in the East. They had

committed personal trespass against a personal Lawgiver, and thus were

thrown into a state of deadness. Their deadness through trespasses is

associated with the uncircumcision of their flesh. They had not the sign of

circumcision on them. And so they had that deadness which in circumcision

is represented as being put away. Being dead, God quickened them

together with Christ, gave them the reality of circumcision or the reality

corresponding to the coming up out of the waters of baptism. This

presupposed the exercise of forgiveness toward them. They (and not only

they) had been forgiven their trespasses. And thus, the cause of deadness

being removed, they could be quickened.

(1) How circumcision can be dispensed with. “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.” Our obligation to keep

the Law of God (so we are constituted) is compared to a bond. It is as

though we had subscribed it with our own hand. The word is handwriting.

In the case of the Jews it was in the form of well-known ordinances (of

which circumcision was one). In the case of the Gentiles the public sense of

right also found expression in ordinances. The bond was against us in this

sense, that it contained obligation which had to be met by us. It was not

only against us in that sense (which it was from its very nature), but in its

actual incidence on us in our fallen condition it was contrary to us. It

could, as it were, be brought into a court of law to effect our conviction.

There it was with our autograph. We had not met our obligation and had

no manner of meeting it. What Christ did with the bond was to cancel it.

His pen, as it were, was drawn through it. Or the writing was erased that it

could never again be brought as evidence against us. To make it more

emphatic, it is added that he took it out of the way (so that it could never

again be found). “He took it out of the midst,” it is literally, so that it could

never be produced between us and God. And to make it still more

emphatic, it is added that he nailed it to his cross. It was so affixed to the

cross that when he was crucified it was treated similarly and completely

made an end of. His crucifixion was a meeting the bond, discharging all our

obligations to the broken Law. There is thus, therefore, no bond that can

be produced for our conviction, but there is a discharged bond which can

be produced for our justification.

(2) How the help of intermediate agents can be dispensed with. “Having

put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of

them openly, triumphing over them in it.” The principalities and powers

were those that sought to thwart Christ in his great undertaking, to prevent

the salvation of men. They began to gather around him at his temptation.

Especially at the close did they obtain power. These evil principalities and

powers clung to him like a garment. It was only by his thus allowing them

to come into close contact with him that they could forver be put off from

men. It is said, regarding Hercules, the most celebrated of all heroes of

mythology, that he came by his end by putting on a robe that had been

steeped in the blood of Nessus, whom he himself had shot with a poisoned

arrow. When it became warm round him the poison penetrated into his

system. He attempted to wrench it off, but it tore away his flesh. And he

hastened his end by placing himself on a burning pile. It was sin that made

the principalities and the powers like a poisoned clinging robe. But he put

them off from himself. So complete was his victory that he held them up

publicly to view as spoils. This triumph he obtained on the cross. It was

there that the principalities and the powers had him at a terrible

disadvantage. They had, as it were, power given them against him. But he,