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).  hJli>kon helikongreat - 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, Paraklhqwsin~ - 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).

Sumbiba>zw sunbibazoknit together - has the same sense in v. 19 and in

Ephesians 4:16; in I Corinthians 2:16 it is quoted from the LXX 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.) (plhrofori>a 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, R.V.; 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). Eijv ejpi>gnwsin 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.) (gnw~siv – 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).  Piqanologi>a –- pithanologiaenticing; 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  apaz legomenon meaning "

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

and compounds into one word the peiqoi~v sofiav lo>goiv (“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). Paralogi>zomai

paralogizomaibeguile; 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.  Ta>xiv – taxis – order -  and stere>wma

 stereomaa 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, LXX,

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

“faith in Christ” (literally, into — eijveis -  not ejnen 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 pi>stiv pistisfaith; 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” (paralabete paralabeteto receive from another;

to accept -  not de>comai 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 (R.V.);

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 aujto>v –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 ejpi< - 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

(bebaiou>menoi 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 sthri>zw - 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



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 (oJ sulagwgw~n – ho sulagogeocarry 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 - sulagwgw~n, a very rare word,

another  hapax legomenon 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

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

I Corinthians 15:14; distinguish from ma>taiov 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 (stoicei~a

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 mention 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” (qeo>thtov

theotetosdivinity) is the abstract of “God” (qeo>v TheosGod), not of the

adjective “Divine” (qei~ov 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

 swmatikw~v - somatikosbodily - (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 sw~ma – 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 plhro>w pleroofulfill - (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 (dai>monev daimones

demons - the sacred Scripture angels, for they report (diagge>llousi

deanggelousideclare; 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. Ape>kdusei apekdusei

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).  Baptismati

 baptismatibaptism -  “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 sunqaptw –- burial –

 (suntafentev suntaphentesbeing 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 sunegeirw the raising -  (sunhgerqhte

sunaegerthaete together raised) - 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 ejn w=| - 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” (ejnergei>a energeiaenergy) see note, 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” - qa>natov thanatosdeath and

nekro>v 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 - cari>samenovcharisamenosgracing; 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, LXX). “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 - ceiro>grafon

cheriographonhandwritten; -  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 - toi~v do>gmasin tois dogmasin

the decrees; ordinances - is dative of reference either to kaq hJmw~n

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

decrees) or to the verbal idea contained in ceirgo>rafon (see above -

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

to ejxalei>yav exaleiphasto wipe, to wash or to smear completely –

understanding by these do>gmata – dogmata - the doctrines (dogmas)

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

But this puts on do>gma 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 dogmati>zesqe,

dogmatizestheordinances - 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 -  uJpenanti>ov -  

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

uJpo<  - 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 - proshlw>sav -

proseloosasnailing; -  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).   Apekdusa>menovapekdusamenoshaving 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 ajpe>kdusei - apekduseidenotes 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 du>w – 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 LXX. 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, edeigmati>sen - edeigmatisen - to make a show or example,

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

compounded with para - (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”

( ejn parrhsi>a|: 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) - qriambeu>sav 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 ajpekdusa>menov. 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 qriambeu>w –- thriambos -

triumph, 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 ejn aujtw~|  - “in Him” to Christ (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. (mhdei>v

uJma~v katabrabeu>w maedeis humas katabrabeueto) -   Brabou>w brabouoo-

to rule is used again in ch. 3:15 (see note), meaning primarily” to act as brabeu>v

brabeus - an arbiter or umpire of the prize in the public games; brabei~on, - 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  kata< 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 qe>lwn ejn 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 qe>lwn “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 ejqeloqrhskei>a -  ethelothreskeiawill worship - in v. 23

(see note). Qe>lwn ejn is, no doubt, a marked Hebraism, and Paul’s language is

“singularly free from Hebraisms” (compare, however, the use of eijde>nai to know,

 in I Thessalonians 5:12; the similar eujdoke>w ejn 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 LXX, 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 - tapeinofrosu>nh 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) - qrhskei>a  -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 ejmbateu>wn embateuonto

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 (oujc

 oukh - not, nay - and mh< - maeno) 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 (R.V.) 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 ejmbateu>wn, the

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

eijkh~ - eike 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

fusiou>menov 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” (nou~v – 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 nou~v th~v sarko>v –nous taes

sarkosmind of the flesh - contrast with Romans 7:25, and compare the

disparaging reference to dianoi>a – dianoiathinking 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,”  au}xei 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.)   aJfwn  - haphonjoint; to fit - signifies, not “joints” as

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

connection in the body.  The sundesmon> - sundesmonbands; 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” (ejx ou= - ex houout 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) - dogmati>zesqe dogmatizesthesubject 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). qi>ghv  - thigaeshandle –

the last of the three verbs, appears to be the strongest, forbidding the slightest

contact -  aJyh|  - hapsaetouch - 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 ethers render, “which (decrees) tend to (spiritual) destruction in their use;” but

ajpocrh~sei  - apochraesei -  never means simply “use,” but is a strengthened form

of  crh~seiv  - cheresisa using, and signifying a misuse -  things which tend to

(spiritual) destruction in their abuse, 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, LXX; 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 a[tina hatinawhich things – the qualitative relative

(compare h[tiv haetiswhich is – ch.3:5). A certain “word of wisdom” was

ascribed to the false teachers in v. 4 (note the play upon lo>gov – 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 ejmbateu>wn, 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 me>n – men - indeed, with

the emphatic position of lo>gon – logon – word - throwing sofi>av 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 me<nindeed - 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 ejqelo- of  ejqeloqrhskei>a -  ethelothreskeia -  will-worship - ordinarily

connotes” willingness” rather than “wilfulness;” 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 - afeidei>a apheidia -  extravagance; unsparingness, and

plhsmonh> - plesmonea 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



            safeguard of Christian purity; and


            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 - plhsmonh< -

plesmone 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 plhsmonh< 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. Plhsmonh>, in the LXX 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 LXX 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 [dianoi>a: see ch.1:21, note].

In them the earthly is destroyed and overwhelmed, when reason [nou~v - v.18],

pervading them wholly, has set its choice on being well pleasing to





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