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Colossians 2



Paul's Ministry to the Church Not Philosophy, But Christ Paul's Interest in the Colossians Paul's Work as a Servant of the Church Paul's Concern for the Colossians' Faith
(1:24-2:5)   (1:24-2:7) (1:24-2:3)  
  2:1-10     2:1-3
      2:4-5 2:4-5
Fullness of Life in Christ     Fullness of Life in Christ Live According to the True Faith in Christ, not According to False Teaching
2:6-15   Warning Against False Teaching 2:6-7 2:6-7
    2:8-15 2:8-10 2:8
        Christ Alone is the True Head of All Humanity and the Angels
  Not Legalism But Christ      
  2:11-23   2:11-15 2:11-13
        Against the False Asceticism Based on the Principles of This World
2:16-19   2:16-19 2:16-19 2:16-19
The New Life in Christ     Dying and Living with Christ  
2:20-3:4   2:20-23 2:20-3:4 2:20-23

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


 1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

2:1 "how great a struggle" "Struggle" is an athletic or a military term (cf. 1:29; 4:12). Here it is used as (1) a metaphor for intercessory prayer or (2) Paul's work on behalf of all Gentiles.

▣ "Laodicea" This was a nearby city, only 10 miles away from Colossae, in the same valley (cf. Col. 4:13, 15,16; Rev. 3:14). Epaphras apparently started a church in each of the cities of the Lycus River Valley-Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (cf. 4:13). This letter was to be read in each one.

▣ "all those who have not personally seen my face" Paul did not start this church nor the other two in the Lycus River Valley. It was started by Epaphras (cf. 1:7). Yet Paul agonized in prayer for them. Paul loved the Church, and the churches!

2:2 "that their hearts may be encouraged" This is a purpose clause with an aorist passive subjunctive. It is from the same root as "paracletos," which is used of the Holy Spirit in John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7 and of Jesus in I John 2:1. Its basic meaning is to "call alongside for help and encouragement." It was a metaphor from the Roman legal system; the concept of defense lawyer comes from this word.


▣ "having been knit together" This is an aorist passive participle of a syn compound. It was used in the Septuagint for "instruction" (cf. Isa. 40:13; I Cor. 2:16). In Paul's writings it is used as a metaphor from the physical body growing into a mature unity (cf. 2:19; Eph. 4:16). This growth and unity are possible (passive voices) only in Christ, in the Spirit and in love. Unity was so important in a heretical situation (cf. Eph. 4:1-6).

NASB"all the wealth"
NKJV, NRSV"all the riches"
TEV"the full wealth"
NJB"they are rich"

Paul often uses the term "riches" to describe the love of God in Christ (cf. Rom. 2:4, 9:23; 11:12, 33; Eph. 1:7, 18; 2:7; 3:8, 16; Phil. 4:19; Col. 1:27; 2:2). Believers are spiritually wealthy (cf. James 1:9) because of God's wealth and generosity in Christ (cf. II Cor. 8:9; 9:15). Here the "wealth" ("all the treasures," cf. v. 3) is the believers' understanding of the gospel. Stop just a moment and think about the gift of revelation!

▣ "the full assurance of understanding" Paul continues to use terms and concepts used by the Gnostic false teachers. In this phrase, "full assurance" is a compound of plērōma, which the heretics used to refer to the angelic levels.

The term "understanding" (sunesis) is also a syn compound. It is linked to plērōma in 1:9. Its etymological origin was the coming together of streams of thought. These false teachers were attempting to make Christianity understandable, relevant, and applicable to Greek society and culture. This same motive draws many modern heretics to force the gospel into modern thought forms or categories.

▣ "true knowledge" Again this must be viewed against the backdrop of the false teachers' emphasis on and claim to "secret" ultimate knowledge concerning salvation. For Paul, "true knowledge" (epignōskō) was found only in the gospel of Christ, who is the "mystery of God."

TEV"a secret truth"
NJB"a hidden reason for all of this"

God has a unified purpose for humanity's redemption (cf. Eph. 2:11-3:13) that even preceded the fall (cf. Genesis 3). Hints of this plan are revealed in the OT (cf. Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6 and the universal passages in the prophets). However, this full agenda was not yet clear until the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. I Cor. 2:1-8). With the coming of Jesus and the Spirit it begins to become more obvious. Paul used the term "mystery" to describe this total redemptive plan (cf. I Cor. 4:2; Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3; I Tim. 3:9). See Special Topic at Eph. 3:3.

"hearts" See Special Topic: The Heart at 2:1.

NASB"that is, Christ Himself"
NRSV"that is, Christ Himself"
NKJV"both of the Father and of Christ"
TEV"which is Christ Himself"

There are several Greek manuscript variations. The unusual syntax of P46, "of God, of Christ," best explains the origin of all the other variations (cf. Appendix Two, II. B. 1-6). The mystery of God is Christ-His life, teachings, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and Second Coming! The mystery of the Father's eternal, universal plan of redemption is implemented by the incarnated Son.

See Special Topic: Mystery in Paul's Writings at Eph. 3:3.

2:3 "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" This verse refutes the emphasis of the false teachers and magnified the person of Christ. God's mystery (revelation) is a person, God's plan is a person (cf. NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV), and God's salvation is a person, not human knowledge or effort.

It is grammatically possible that this opening phrase is neuter ("in it"), not masculine ("in whom") and therefore, refers to the mystery (cf. NJB).

2:4 "that no one will delude you with persuasive argument" This is a purpose clause with a present middle (deponent) subjunctive. This verb was used in two ways: (1) to deceive or delude oneself (cf. James 1:22) and (2) to reason falsely, defraud or distort.

This delusion was done by means of eloquent reasoning, plausible arguments and/or persuasive speech. False teachers are always logical, attractive, persuasive individuals (so different from Paul cf. I Cor. 2:1-5).

2:5 "even though" This is a first class conditional sentence which was assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Paul was obviously not with them physically, but he prayed for them and felt one with them. 

▣ "absent in body" this is literally "absent in the flesh." See Special Topic: Flesh (sarx) at 1:22.

▣ "I am with you in spirit" Paul's heart and prayers were constantly with this isolated, small, persecuted outpost of the Kingdom of God! Here the word "spirit" refers to the human person's true self. This same expression is used in I Cor. 5:3.

NASB"good discipline. . .stability"
NKJV"good order. . .steadfastness"
NRSV"moral. . .firmness"
TEV"the resolute firmness with which you stand together"
NJB"well ordered. . .firm"

These are (1) military terms for organization and steadfastness (cf. Eph. 6:10-17) or (2) construction terms for a solid, sure foundation (cf. II Tim. 2:14-19; I Pet. 5:9). These terms describe the faith of the Colossian believers even amidst the attacks and confusion of the false teachers.

 6Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

2:6 "as you therefore have received Christ" The verb used here (paralambanō, aorist active indicative) has two connotations.

1. the welcoming of a person (cf. Matt. 1:20; John 1:11; 14:3)

2. the receiving of "tradition" (cf. I Cor. 11:23; 15:1,3; Gal. 1:9,12; Phil. 4:9; I Thess. 2:13; 4:1; II Thess. 3:6)

The Colossians heard the content of the gospel through Epaphras' preaching; then they personally welcomed the Person of the gospel (John 1:12). Biblical faith is a covenant. God sets the agenda and makes the first contact (cf. John 6:44,65), but individuals must respond by repentance, faith, obedience, and perseverance (v. 6)! The false teachers' message distorted the theology of both the content and the Person of the gospel.

▣ "Christ Jesus the Lord" "Jesus is Lord" was the early church's public profession of faith at baptism (cf. Rom. 10:9-13; I Cor. 12:3; II Cor. 4:5; Phil. 2:11). It was an affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the OT Messiah and incarnation of Deity (cf. Phil. 2:6-11).

▣ "so walk in Him" This is a present active imperative. Christianity is not a theological creed only; it is also a lifestyle of faith ("walk" cf. 1:10; Eph. 4:1,17; 5:2,15). Salvation is not a product believers possess but a person who possesses them! Paul here focuses on the personal aspect of the Christian faith as does the Gospel of John (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; 6:40; 11:25-26).

2:7 This verse contains four participles (used as imperatives) which describe the worthy walk (cf. v. 6):

1. "having been firmly rooted" This is perfect passive which is an accomplished state of being produced by God. This agricultural metaphorical expression was unique to Col. and Eph.(cf. 3:17).

2. "being built up in Him" This is present passive which is an ongoing process produced by God. Paul often used this construction metaphor to describe the people of God (cf. I Cor. 3:5; Eph. 2:20, 22). It might refer to the saints as a temple (individually, I Cor. 6:19 and corporately, I Cor. 3:16).

3. "established in your faith" This is another present passive which is an ongoing process produced by God. The noun ("confirmation") is found in Phil. 1:7; and Heb. 6:16. The verb implies "to confirm" (cf. I Cor. 1:6,8; II Cor. 1:21), "to strengthen," and "to verify" often by argument (cf. Rom. 15:8, I Cor. 1:8).

The phrase "in your faith" can be understood as (1) subjective faith, trusting in Christ or (2) objective faith, the doctrines about Christ (cf. Jude 3, 20).

4. "overflowing with gratitude" This is a present active which is an ongoing process produced by God. The Christian life is a life of thanksgiving to God for His grace in Christ. This is expressed by joyful obedience and perseverance! To know the gospel is to rejoice with inexpressible joy (cf. 1:12) and to live appropriately (cf. 1:10-11) with thanksgiving (cf. 3:17). See Special Topic: Abound (Perisseuō) at Eph. 1:8.


 8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

2:8-15 This is one long sentence, one sustained presentation in Greek.


TEV"see to it"
NJB"make sure"

This is a present active imperative . Christians must continue to guard their freedom in Christ from false teachers while yielding it to weaker brothers (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13; I Cor. 8; 10:23-33). It is often difficult to tell the difference between these two groups. False teachers pervert truth, while weak brothers advocate personal preferences.

▣ "that no one takes you captive" This is a negative present active participle. This strong Greek term, used only here in the NT, meant (1) to kidnap, (2) to seduce (II Tim. 3:6), or (3) to take as a slave. False teachers always want control!

▣ "through philosophy" This is not a condemnation of human rational thinking. Humans are created in the image of God and must worship Him with their entire being, including their minds (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:27). This is the rejection of the speculative philosophy/theology of false teachers (cf. 2:23; I Cor. 1:26-2:8; Eph. 4:13; 5:6; I Tim. 6:20).

▣ "empty deceptions" This term can be translated "deceit, deception, or delusion" (cf. Mt. 13:22; Eph. 4:22; II Thess. 2:10; Heb. 3:13). False teachers are often sincere, but deceived!

▣ "according to" This is the Greek term kata. It is repeated three times to define "philosophy and empty deception":

1. "to the traditions of men" So much of human's religiosity is cultural, not biblical (cf. Isa. 29:13; Col. 2:23). Often we pass on what we have received without checking the Bible for ourselves!

2. "not according to Christ" It is based on human reasoning, experience, or speculation.

3. "the elementary principles" Most words develop from a literal, physical sense to a metaphorical extension. This term (stoicheia) originally referred to something in a row, a series. It developed into several connotations:

a. The basic physical building blocks of the world (air, water, earth, and fire, cf. II Pet. 3:10, 12).

b. The basic teachings of a subject (cf. Heb. 5:12; 6:1 for Judaism).

c. The angelic powers behind the heavenly bodies (cf. I Enoch 52:8-9; the early church fathers; Col. 2:8, 20; I Cor. 15:24) or the angelic ranks (aeons) of the Gnostic false teachers (cf. Col. 2:10, 15; Eph. 3:10).

d. Angels hostile to mankind who tried to stop the giving of the Law to Moses (cf. Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:2)

e. Possibly the impersonal structures of our fallen world that allow fallen mankind to appear independent from God (education, government, medicine, religion, etc. (cf. Gal. 4:3, 8-9 and Hendrik Berkhof's Christ and the Powers by Herald Press, p. 32).


▣ "rather than according to Christ" This was the third use of kata. The problem with the world's philosophy is that it defines truth by a standard other than God's revelation, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is human discovery, not divine revelation.

2:9 "in Him" This phrase is in an emphatic position. "In Him" was a key phrase in Paul's theology ("in whom" v. 3; " in Christ" v. 5; "in Him" vv. 6,9,10,11; "with Him" vv. 12, 13). Notice, also, Eph. 1:3,4,7,9,10,12,13,14). Paul returns again to Christology as he did in 1:15-20. This is the main issue and the main issue is a person!

▣ "all the fullness of Deity" This dual aspect of Christ's nature refuted the false teachers, (cf. 1:15-20). They agreed that He was fully God, but denied that He was fully human (cf. I John 1 and 4:1-3). The term "fullness" (plērōma) was a Gnostic term for the angelic levels (aeons) between a high good god and evil matter (cf. John 1:16, Col. 1:19, Eph. 1:23, 3:19; 4:13).

This abstract term for "deity" (theotās) is only used here in the NT. Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God, not the angelic levels (aeons) or the false teachers' secret knowledge. It is possible that this was one of the Gnostic teachers' key terms. Paul often uses their terminology to describe Christ.

▣ "dwells" This is a present active indicative. Some of the Gnostic false teachers believed that the "Christ spirit" came upon Jesus for a limited period. This verse asserts that Jesus' two natures were in permanent union.

▣/span> "in bodily form" This was a truth that Gnosticism could not affirm because of their Greek dualism between a good god and evil matter. It is crucial in Christianity (cf. I John 4:1-3).

2:10 "you have been made complete" This is a perfect passive participle of plerōma (cf. v. 9; John 1:16; Eph. 3:19). The Christian has been and continues to be filled by Him and for Him! Jesus has made us complete!

"He is the head over all rule and authority" This refers to the Gnostic false teachers' view of salvation. For them salvation consisted in secret knowledge ( a password or secret name) which allowed them to move through the angelic spheres between matter (world) and spirit (God, cf. Col. 1:16; 2:15; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:10; 6:12). Paul asserted that salvation is in Christ. He is the head of all angelic/demonic realms (cf. Rom. 8:38-39)! See Special Topic: Angels in Paul's Writings at Eph. 6:12.

George Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament, has an interesting paragraph about Paul's terminology:

"A study of the language Paul uses to designate these angelic spirits suggests that Paul deliberately employed a vague and varied terminology. This is seen particularly in his alternation between the singular and the plural forms of several of the words. It is impossible successfully to group this terminology into clearly defined orders of angelic beings, nor is it at all clear that by the various words Paul purposes to designate different kinds or ranks of angels. Probably Paul was facing views that elaborated distinct orders of angels, and he purposed by his exceedingly flexible language, which may almost be called symbolic, to assert that all evil powers, whatever they may be, whether personal or impersonal, have been brought into subordination by the death and exaltation of Christ and will eventually be destroyed through his messianic reign"(p. 402).

For "authority" see Special Topic at 1:16.

2:11 "you were circumcised with a circumcision" Paul is using the OT covenant sign (cf. Gen. 12:8-14) in a spiritual sense (cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3). This must be figurative language or else the false teachers had some Judaistic tendencies. There is so much that is unknown and uncertain about the heretical groups of the NT. In some ways these false teachers are a combination of Greek Gnosticism and Jewish legalism (cf. vv. 11,16,18). The commentator Lightfoot asserted they were similar to the Essenes (the Dead Sea Scrolls community which was a separatist group of sectarian Jews of the first century who lived in the desert).

▣ "a circumcision made without hands" This is a metaphorical use of circumcision as the covenant sign in the OT. The "new" circumcision is a new heart and a new relationship with God through Christ (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3). Even in the OT when the new covenant is discussed (cf. Jer. 31:31-34 and Ezek. 36:22-38), circumcision was never even mentioned, much less emphasized.

▣ "the removal of the body of the flesh" This refers to the old fallen nature, not the physical body (cf. Rom. 6:6; 7:24; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5).

2:12 "having been buried with Him in baptism" This is an aorist passive participle of a syn compound which means "co-buried." This is the metaphor of baptism as immersion analogous to burial (cf. Rom. 6:4). As believers share Jesus' sufferings, death, and burial, they will also share His resurrection and glory (cf. v. 12b; Rom. 8:17; Eph. 2:5-6).

For Paul baptism was a way of asserting death to the old life (old man) and the freedom of the new life (new creature, cf. II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15) to serve God (cf. Rom. 6:2-14; I Pet. 2:24).

▣ "you were also raised up with Him" This compound with syn is parallel to "having been buried" (cf. 2:13; 3:1; Rom. 6:4-5; Eph. 2:6). Believers' burial and resurrection are linked as two sides of a complete event. They were "co-buried" and "co-raised" in Eph. 2:5-6, also, using syn compounds, which meant "joint participation with."

▣ "who raised Him from the dead" Jesus is the first-fruit of the Resurrection (cf. I Cor. 15:20,23). The Spirit that raised Him will also raise believers (cf. Rom. 8:10-11, 23).

This phrase is an excellent opportunity to show that the NT often attributes the works of redemption to all three persons of the Godhead.

1. God the Father raised Jesus (cf. Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30,33,34,37; 17:31; Rom. 6:4,9)

2. God the Son raised Himself (cf. John 2:19-22; 10:17-18)

3. God the Spirit raised Jesus (cf. Rom. 8:11)

This same Trinitarian emphasis can be seen in vv. 9-10.

2:13 "When you were dead" This is a present participle meaning "being dead." This reflects the results of the Fall-spiritual death (cf. Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12-21; Eph. 2:1-3). Gentiles were sinners cut off from the covenant people (cf. Eph. 2:11-12). The Bible speaks of three stages of death.

1. spiritual death (cf. Genesis 3; Isa. 59:2; Rom. 7:10-11; Eph. 2:1; James 1:15)

2. physical death, (cf. Genesis 5)

3. eternal death, "the second death," "the lake of fire" (cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8)


▣ "uncircumcision of your flesh" This was a way of referring to Gentiles (cf. v. 11).

▣ "He" This must refer to the Father. If so, the pronouns through v. 15 refer to the Father.

▣ "made you live together with Him," There are three syn compounds in vv. 12-13 (co-buried, v. 12; co-raised, v. 12; and co-quickened, v. 13) which show what had already happened to believers spiritually (aorists). This is very similar to Eph. 2:5-6. In Ephesians God has acted on behalf of Jesus in Eph. 1:20 and Jesus has acted on behalf of believers in Eph. 2:5-6.

"having forgiven us all our transgressions" This is an aorist (deponent) middle participle. "Forgiven" is from the same word root as "grace" (cf. Rom. 5:15, 16; 6:23; II Cor. 1:11; Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). Notice God freely forgives "all" sin through Christ (except unbelief)!


NASB"having canceled out the certificate of debt"
NKJV"having wiped out the handwriting of requirements"
NRSV"erasing the record"
TEV"canceled the unfavorable record of our debts"
NJB"He has wiped out the record of our debt to the Law"

This rather cryptic language probably relates somehow to the false teachers. It refers to the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Eph. 2:15, which could be characterized as "do and live"- "sin and die" (cf. Deut. 27:26; Ezek. 18:4). Paul clearly teaches the sinfulness of all mankind (cf. Rom. 3:9,19,23; 11:32; Gal. 3:22). Therefore, the OT became a death sentence to all mankind!

The term "certificate" was used of (1) a signed IOU, (2) a signed confession, and (3) a legal indictment. The OT was a curse! This Greek term comes into English as "autograph" (self written).

"He has taken it out of the way" This is a perfect active indicative. This same verb is used in John 1:29 and I John 3:5 to refer to the removal of sins. Jesus lived under and fulfilled the Mosaic covenant's requirements. He performed what sinful, fallen mankind could not do. His death was, therefore, not for personal sin, but He became a perfect sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 1-7) for sin. He became "cursed" (cf. Deut. 21:23) that mankind might be delivered from the curse of the Law (cf. Gal. 3:13)!

"nailing it to the cross" This referred to either (1) a public notice or (2) the charges placed over a crucified person. The cross (Jesus' death) overcame the Law's hostility (OT decrees, cf. II Cor. 5:21).



This is a rare term, an aorist middle (deponent) participle. Its basic etymology was to take off clothing. It seems to have meant "to strip away from." It referred to taking weapons from dead soldiers (cf. Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 82. In this context it relates deity's (the Father and the Son) destruction of the powers of the spiritual realm that was hostile to mankind. The believer's victory is of God through Christ and by the Spirit.

If this rare verb is interpreted as middle voice then the TEV expresses the thought "freed himself from the power of the spiritual rulers." If it is interpreted as active voice then "He disarmed the rulers" (cf. NASB, NKJV, NRSV).

"the rulers and authorities" These terms were used by the Gnostics (false teachers) for the angelic levels (aeons, cf. 2:10; Eph. 1:21, 3:10; 6:11-12; Rom. 8:38-39; I Cor. 15:24). See Special Topics at Col. 1:16 and Eph. 6:12.

NASB"He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him"
NKJV"He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it"
NRSV"made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it"
TEV"he made a public spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his victory procession."
NJB"and paraded them in public, behind him in his triumphal procession"

The historical background to this was a triumphal parade into Rome for a victorious general (cf. II Cor. 2:14). The captives were marched behind him in chains. By His death on the cross and His resurrection Jesus overcame (1) the curse of the Law and (2) the hostile angelic powers.

As is obvious from the modern translations that the pronoun at the end of the verse can be understood in two related ways: (1) to Christ or (2) to the cross. It is neuter and most translations relate it to Christ's victory over evil by means of His sacrificial death.


"public display" See Special Topic below, second paragraph.


 16Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day- 17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

2:16-23 Verses 16-23 are the strongest condemnations of religious legalism in Paul's writings. When Paul was dealing with "weak" believers he was gentle (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13; I Cor. 8-10), but when he was addressing religious self-righteous legalists (i.e., false teachers) he was uncompromising. This self-righteousness was what brought such condemnation from Jesus on the Pharisees and Scribes. Paul knew well performance-oriented religion. His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9) changed everything!

There were two types of Gnostic false teachers: (1) salvation is through secret knowledge and, therefore, it does not matter how you live (antinomian libertines) and (2) salvation through secret knowledge plus a very restricted lifestyle (legalists).


NASB"let no one act as your judge"
NKJV"let no one judge you"
NRSV"do not let anyone condemn you"
TEV"let no one make rules"
NJB"never let anyone criticize you"

This is a present imperative with the negative particle, which meant to stop an act already in process. This referred to (1) matters of food (cf. I Tim. 4:3); (2) special days (cf. Rom. 14:5; Gal. 4:10); or (3) the worship of these angelic levels (cf. vv. 8,20). There is an obvious parallel between v. 16 ("act as your judge") and v. 18 (act as "umpire"). Be careful of religious legalism whether Jewish, Greek, or modern.



NASB, NRSV"but the substance belongs to Christ"
NKJV"but the substance is of Christ"
TEV"the reality is Christ"
NJB"the reality is the body of Christ"

There is a contrast between "shadow" (skia, v. 17a) and "substance" (sōma, lit. "body," v. 17b). Religious ritual, devotion, and special days of worship are not bad in themselves unless they become ultimate issues. Christ, not human performance in any area, is the focus of the gospel.

Paul saw the religious ritualism and required religious performance of the false teachers as a mere shadow of real spirituality. The interpretive question is what does "the body of Christ" mean? The two main theories are: (1) Philo of Alexandria and Josephus interpret "body" in the sense of "substance" (NASB, NKJV) or "reality" (TEV), "true spirituality in Christ" or (2) true spirituality is manifested in the Church which is Christ's body (NJB, cf. Rom. 12:4-5; I Cor. 10:17; 12:12,27).

The author of Hebrews also used the term "shadow" (skia, v. 17a) to compare the Mosaic covenant to the new covenant in Christ (cf. Heb. 8:5; 10:1).


NASB"Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize"
NKJV"Let no one defraud you of your reward"
NRSV"Do not let anyone disqualify you"
TEV"Do not allow yourselves to be condemned by anyone"
NJB"Do not be cheated of your prize by anyone"

This is a present imperative with negative particle, which meant to stop an act already in process. This term is used only here in the NT. This is one of Paul's athletic metaphors for the Christian life (cf. I Cor. 9:24,27; Gal. 2:2; Phil. 3:14; II Tim. 4:7). Believers must not let legalists act as umpires robbing them of their freedom in Christ (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13; I Corinthians 10-12. The Williams translation of the NT catches the athletic thrust, translating this "defraud you as an umpire"). The "prize" is true freedom in Christ (cf. Gal. 2:4; 5:1,13; I Pet. 2:16)! Freedom to serve God, not self. Freedom from past fears and taboos, freedom from, not freedom to (Romans 6)!

NASB"delighting in self-abasement"
NKJV"taking delight in false humility"
NRSV"insisting on self-abasement"
TEV"insist on false humility"
NJB"who chooses to grovel to angels"

This phrase is theologically related to v. 23. In the ancient Greco-Roman world asceticism was seen as religious devotion. This was part of the Gnostic depreciation of the physical. For them, and Greek thought in general, the body was evil. Therefore, to deny the body was a sign of spirituality. This view is still alive in the church!

This Greek word, translated by NASB as "self-abasement," means "lowliness," "modesty," "humility" and is not a negative term in the NT. Paul used it in a positive sense in Acts 20:19; Eph. 4:2; Phil. 2:3; Col. 3:12. It is the motive that turns it into a spiritual charade!

"and the worship of the angels" This obviously refers to the Gnostic angelic levels (cf. vv. 8,10,15). It is also possible that this related to a Jewish theological obsession with the angelic realm. The "New Age" movement in our own day seems to be headed in this direction. Angels are "ministering spirits" for redeemed humanity (cf. Heb. 2:14).

▣ "taking his stand" This term was used of initiates into the Mystery religions (cf. Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, p. 206). It refers to the so-called secret revelations or passwords of the Gnostics which they thought brought salvation through the angelic spheres so as to reach the presence of the high, holy god.

"on visions he has seen" This possibly refers to the false teachers' claims of special revelations. The King James Version adds a negative, making the verse imply what they had not seen but only claimed to have seen. This, however, is a later scribal addition to the manuscripts א2 and D2. The ancient Greek manuscripts P46, א*, A, B, and D* do not have the negative. The UBS4 rates the shorter text as "B" (almost certain).

"inflated without cause" This is a Present passive participle. Literally it means "in vain puffed up." Paul uses this term often in his first letter to the Corinthians (cf. I Cor. 4:6,18,19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4). The unexpressed agent of the passive voice was their own fallen minds. Unbelievers and false teachers are often sincere and enthusiastic.

"by his fleshly mind" For Paul there is an obvious dichotomy between the thinking of the fallen world and the Christian. Believers have received the mind of Christ which is in conflict with the mind-set of a world operating and functioning apart from God (cf. 1:21; Rom. 7:22-23; 8:5-7; 11:34; I Cor. 2:16; Eph. 2:3; 4:17-23). See Special Topic: Flesh (sarx) at 1:22.

These legalistic religionists are to be rejected for three reasons.

1. their insights are mere shadows of reality (v. 17)

2. their visions are false because they are informed by a fleshly mind (v. 18)

3. they have stopped holding on to Christ (v. 19)

Legalistic false teachers are still with us! Beware! Be informed!

2:19 Paul again stressed the major truth of fallen mankind's need for a relationship with Christ (individual) and also with His body, the church (corporate, cf. v. 8; Eph. 4:16). We need salvation from sin and wisdom from God on how to live. Christ provides both!

NRSV"not holding fast to the Head"
TEV"have stopped holding on to Christ"
NJB"has no connection to the Head"

This is a negated present active participle. The implication is that at one time the false teachers were holding on to Christ. This can be understood in several ways.

1. they were like the two seeds in the Parable of the Sower (cf. Matt. 13:20-23) that germinated but fell away and did not bear fruit

2. they were like "the believers" of John 8:31-59 who turned against Jesus

3. like the church members who left in I John 2:18-19

4. they were like the believers in the church of Ephesus who abandoned their "first love" (cf. Rev. 2:4)


 "the Head" Paul often uses the analogy of the people of God as a body (cf. Rom. 12:4; I Cor. 10:17; 12:12,14,20; Eph. 4:4,16; Col. 3:15), but it is only in Ephesians (1:22; 4:15; 5:23) and Colossians (1:18; 2:19) that Christ is specifically identified as "the Head" (see Special Topic: Head at Eph. 5:23).

This whole verse speaks of Christ as the indispensable founder, leader and sustainer of the Church.

 20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21"Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with using)- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. 3:1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

2:20 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which was assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Believers are united with Christ and should be separated from the powers and structures of this fallen world system.

▣ "you have died" This is an aorist active indicative. This death is symbolized in baptism (cf. v. 12; Rom. 6:4), and is an image of the believer's death to the old life and the resurrection to the new life of God-eternal life. Baptism, like circumcision, is an outward sign of an inner spiritual reality (cf. vv. 11, 13).

Daily death to personal ambition and personal preferences is a mandate of effective ministry (cf. Rom. 6:7; II Cor. 5:14-15; I John 3:16). However, this is not a legalism of rules, but a freedom from the tyranny of the fallen self! Daily spiritual death to self brings true life!

▣ "with Christ" This is another use of the Greek preposition syn, which means joint participation with. These three grammatical features: (1) syn compounds; (2) the aorist tenses of vv. 11,12,13,15,20; and (3) the first class conditional sentence of v. 20 show what believers already are in Christ!

NASB"to the elementary principles of the world"
NKJV"from the basic principles of the world"
NRSV"to the elemental spirits of the universe"
TEV"from the ruling spirits of the universe"
NJB"to the principles of this world"

This term (stoicheia) is defined as

1. fundamental principles (cf. Heb. 5:12. 6:1)

2. basic elements of the world, such as earth, wind, water or fire (cf. II Pet. 3:10, 12)

3. elementary spirits, (cf. Gal. 4:3, 8-9; Col. 2:8; Eph. 6:10-12)

4. heavenly bodies (cf. Enoch 52:9-10 and the early church fathers who thought it referred to the seven planetary spheres, cf. Baur, Arnt, Ginrich, Danker's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 776)

The basic etymology was "something in a series" or "row." See note at 2:8.

Paul viewed life as a spiritual struggle (cf. Eph. 2:2-3; 6:10-18). Humans were beset by evil from within (a fallen nature, cf. Genesis 3), by a fallen world system (cf. Genesis 3) and by personal evil (Satan, the demonic and the stoicheia).

James Stewart's, A Man in Christ, has an interesting comment:

"Sin was not something a man did: it was something that took possession of him, something the man was, something that turned him into an open enemy of the God who loved him. It brought outward penalties: 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' But far more appalling than these were its inward results. It tormented the conscience: 'O wretched man that I am!' It brought the will into abject slavery: 'the good that I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.' It destroyed fellowship with God: men were 'alienated,' 'without God in the world.' It hardened the heart, and blinded the judgment, and warped the moral sense: 'God gave them over to a reprobate mind.' It destroyed life itself: 'the wages of sin is death.'

Such is the apostle's estimate of sin's overwhelming gravity. And through it all, even where sin is regarded as an external force waiting to take advantage of human nature in its frailty, he will allow no blurring of the fact of personal accountability. Principalities and powers may lie in wait, but in the last resort man's is the choice, man's the responsibility, and man's the doom" (pp. 106-107).

For "world" see Special Topic: Paul's Use of Kosmos at 1:6.

▣ "decrees" This term has the same root as v. 14. Christ did not release believers from the Mosaic Law to become entangled again in Gnostic rules or any humanly mandated requirements. Oh, the freedom believers have in Christ! Oh, the pain of well-intended religious legalists!

2:21 "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" This series has no verbs and no connectors, which makes it emphatic! It may have been a slogan of the false teachers. These are examples of human religious rules which did not bring true righteousness. Humans have always had an ascetic, legalistic tendency (cf. Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:10-12; Mark 7:19; Rom. 14:17,21), but it is a hollow religion of self effort, self glory and self sufficiency (cf. vv. 22-23).

2:22 "(which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)" In Matt. 15:7-20 and Mark 7:6-23 Jesus discusses this same type of issue in relation to the food laws of Leviticus 11.

▣ "perish" See Special Topic below.


2:23 "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and the severe treatment of the body" This was Jesus' condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. Isa. 29:13).

Paul describes the false teachers religious practices by three terms:

1. NASB "self-made religion"

NKJV "self-imposed religion"

NRSV "self-imposed deity"

TEV "forced worship of angels"

NJB "The cultivation of the will"

 This term is used only here in the NT. It may have been coined by Paul or earlier Christians. The NASB seems to have caught the essence of the term, "self-made religion." TEV assumes that it reflects v. 18.

2. NASB "self-abasement"

NKJV, TEV "false humility"

NRSV "humility"

NJB (combines the second and third terms)

This same Greek word is used in v. 18. Literally it means "humility," but the context favors the NKJV and TEV translation.


TEV "severe treatment of the body"

NKJV "neglect of the body"

NJB "a humility which takes no account of the body"

This reflects the ascetic religious view that to deny one's bodily needs showed or developed religious piety. Examples are (1) denying the body food; (2) celibacy; (3) lack of clothing in winter, etc. This followed the Greek view that the body (matter) was evil.



This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Describe the false teachers' doctrine. Why were they so dangerous?

2. Who or what are the "elementary principles" (stoicheia, cf 2:8,15)?

3. Is Jesus God or man? Why is this so important?

4. How is Jesus related to the angelic powers?

5. Why is legalism-asceticism so dangerous (cf. 2:16-23)?

6. List the Gnostic catch words in this section.


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