Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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COLOSSIANS - Chapter 2

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Colossians 2

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE PRE-EMINENCE OF CHRIST  1, 15 -- 2, 3 (continued)

1, 24 -- 2, 3:  Center of Preaching (continued).    1.  Consequently he has at heart the spiritual welfare even of communities not founded directly by himself.    2.  When they have learned to love one another for God's sake, their Christian life will become richer in their perceiving fully God's purpose in revealing Himself in the person of Christ (John 17, 21-23.26).    3.  Hidden: in Christ all spiritual wealth lies, not concealed, but buried, awaiting discovery by those who ask for it in seeking Him.

II.  WARNINGS AGAINST FALSE TEACHERS  2, 4 -- 3, 4

2, 4-7:  A General Admonition.    4.  Persuasive words: the false teachers boasted of their views as embodying a higher form of religion.  See 8, 18, 23.    5.  Orderly array, steadfastness: the Greek words are military terms, which may have been suggested to St. Paul by the soldiers under whose guard he was placed.  The condition of the Colossians reported by Epaphras was good (1, 3-8); though there was danger, the cancer of heresy had not yet developed beyond the first warning stages.    7.  Rooted, built up: like a tree, drawing nourishment from the ground through its far-reaching roots, the Colossians derive their life of faith from Christ; He is the solid foundation of their spiritual edifice.  For the same metaphors see Eph. 2, 20-22; 3, 17.

2, 8-15:  Speculative Errors.    8 f.  Philosophy: it is likely that here St. Paul takes up, in order to refute them, the very terms under which the Colossian heretics proposed their errors.  They called their system of religious teaching "philosophy"; but it was mere sophistry, inefficacious and deceptive, based on the teaching of  men, not on a revelation from God.  Elements of the world: see Gal. 4, 3.9.  The world is this earth as the kingdom ruled by Satan (John 12, 31); the Elements are rebellious angels, thought of as controlling not only the simple substances of earth, air, fire, and water; but also the sun, moon, and stars, and through them the destiny of man.  The Greek word for elements had, in the first century, been turned from its original meaning to designate these demons.  St. Paul, too, speaks of them as rulers of this world (1 Cor. 2, 6.8; Eph. 6, 12).  In the oriental  mystery cults it was pretended that the initiated could by various ceremonies and renunciations placate these spiritual powers, free themselves from cosmic influences, and rise to a higher sphere of life, thus achieving "fullness" of being.  With beliefs of this nature some Phrygians, perhaps of Jewish origin, had combined practices borrowed from the Old Testament into a system that neglected the fundamental revealed truths of Christ's divinity and His sole mediatorship.  There is a true sense of "fullness," the sum-total of divine being in Christ.  Bodily: in Him the divine nature resides through union with a human body in the person of the Word (John 1, 1.14).

10.  Head: used here in a sense different from that in 19 and 1, 18.  Christ as God is the chief, the leader and ruler of the angels (they are not members of His Mystical Body).  In the next four verses St. Paul reminds the Colossians of various aspects of our participation (John 1, 16; 2 Pet. 1, 4) in the fullness of the Godhead of Christ.

11 f.  The physical circumcision, of which the false teachers perhaps boasted and to which some Colossians may have been attracted, St. Paul's readers do not need; for they too were circumcised, in a spiritual sense, when they threw off the tyranny of the body and its sinful desires.  A similar contrast between an outward and an inward circumcision, an external rite and a moral change, is made in Rom. 2, 25-29.  Renouncing sin is the Christian circumcision.  Received at Baptism (for the symbolism of death and resurrection see Rom. 6, 3-6), its effect must be sustained through mortification (3, 5; Rom. 8, 13).    13.  The uncircumcision of your flesh: as pagans they were enemies of God, (1, 21), spiritually dead, not only because of their evil deeds, but also because lacking the circumcision, both physical and spiritual.  See the more detailed statement of the thought of this verse in Eph. 2, 1-12.

14.  St. Paul speaks of the obligation men owed to God as of a decree or bond that stood against them, a note of indebtedness which they had countersigned.  The Jews were bound in a special manner by the Law of Moses, signed when they agreed to observe the conditions of the Sinaitic pact (Ex. 19, 8; 24, 7); the Gentiles were indebted to God, in a more general sense, by the law written in their hearts (Rom. 2, 12-15).  In cancelling our bond, God not only forgave us our sins (debts, Matt. 6, 12), but did away with the instrument of our indebtedness.  This benefit God conferred on us when He suffered His Son, who took our sins upon Himself, to be nailed to the cross (1, 14.20 f; John 3, 16).  Thus was the curse of the Law annulled, the ancient Covenant abolished (Gal. 3, 13; Eph. 2, 15 f).    15.  But Christ's death on the cross effected even more: the evil angels were deprived of their power over men (John 12, 31).  To bring home this truth St. Paul here uses two metaphors: that of a victorious leader setting up or otherwise displaying the weapons of his conquered enemy as a trophy, and of a triumphal procession in which the vanquished are led chained to the victor's chariot.

2, 16-23:  Erroneous Practices.    16 f.  From the Mosaic religion, it would seem, the Colossian heresiarchs had taken over the observance of weekly, monthly, and annual holydays, and restrictions in eating and drinking; they condemned faithful Christians for not following them in these practices.  The distinction in the Law between clean and unclean animals was binding on all Jews; restrictions in matters of drink were imposed on priests when serving at the sanctuary or incurred by the vow of Nazirites (Num. 6, 3).  St. Paul warns his readers that since they possess the reality, the Christian life, foreshadowed by the feasts and fasts of the Old Testament, they must not submit to the false teachers.    18.  Worship of Angels: a cult paid not to good, but to fallen angels (Matt. 25, 41; 2 Pet. 2, 4; Jude 6; Apoc. 12, 7), evil spirits, by whom it was imagined the heavenly bodies and the earth's constituent elements were animated.  See 8 f.  By their self-imposed asceticism and the keeping of seasonal feasts regulated by the planets, the Colossian heretics sought to win the favor of these hostile spirits.  They pretended thus to have a higher knowledge of spiritual things than was preached in the gospel, an attitude quite foreign to the true humility that leads to the acceptance of God's revelation.    19.  See Eph. 4, 15 f.  The false teaching, finally, is a denial of the truth of Christ's Mystical Body (1, 18; 2, 10): from our head, who is God, we, the members, derive our life of grace and our spiritual growth.  We do not become divine; but with God's help, we can perfect our nature through the practice of virtue, thus becoming more like to God.

20 f.  Lay down the rules: in Greek the verb is passive, and can be translated: "Why do you submit to ordinances?" The Latin suggests that the Colossians had begun to apply such rules to one another.  Since by dying with Christ (2 Tim. 2, 11) the Christians are freed from the angelic powers that dominated the world through sin, the asceticism by which men denied themselves food and drink to placate them serves no purpose.    22.  A parenthesis: food and drink are destined for the use of man.  The quotation is from Isa. 29, 13; our Lord, too, uses it in repudiating a similar false teaching of the Pharisees (Mark 7, 7).    23.  The religion of the heretics is superstition (in the Greek: a self-chosen form of worship), their asceticism self-imposed, their attitude toward the body unnatural.  In the end their practices, centering the mind as they do on material things rather than on moral principles, lead to giving way to sensual appetite.


Confraternity Bible:

1 For I wish you to know what great concern I have for you and for the Laodiceans and for all who have not seen me in the flesh; 2 that their hearts may be comforted, and they themselves well equipped in charity and in all the riches of complete understanding, so as to know the mystery of God the Father of Christ Jesus, 3* in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

A General Admonition  4 Now I say this so that no one may deceive you by persuasive words.  5 For though I am absent in body, yet in spirit I am with you, rejoicing at the sight of your orderly array and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.  6 Therefore, as you have received Jesus Christ our Lord, so walk in him; 7 be rooted in him built up on him, and strengthened in the faith, as you also have learnt, rendering thanks abundantly.

Speculative Errors  8 See to it that no one deceives you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ.  9* For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, 10* and in him who is the head of every Principality and Power you have received of that fullness.  11* In him, too, you have been circumcised with a circumcision not wrought by hand, but through putting off the body of the flesh, a circumcision which is of Christ. 12* For you were buried together with him in Baptism, and in him also rose again through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.  13* And you, when you were dead by reason of your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought to life along with him, forgiving you all your sins, 14* cancelling the decree against us, which was hostile to us.  Indeed, he has taken it completely away, nailing it to the cross.  15* Disarming the Principalities and Powers, he displayed them openly, leading them away in triumph by force of it.

Erroneous Practices  16 Let no one, then, call you to account for what you eat or drink or in regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  17 These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.  18 Let no one cheat you who takes pleasure in self-abasement and worship of the angels, and enters vainly into what he has not seen, puffed up by his mere human mind.  19 Such a one is not united to the head, from whom the whole body, supplied and built up by joints and ligaments, attains a growth that is of God.

20 If you have died with Christ to the elements of the world, why, as if still living in the world, do you lay down the rules: 21 "Do not touch; nor taste; nor handle!"--- 22 things that must all perish in their very use?  In this you follow "the precepts and doctrines of men," 23 which, to be sure, have a show of wisdom in superstition and self-abasement and hard treatment of the body, but are not to be held in esteem, and lead to the full gratification of the flesh.
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3: Only the Son can impart true knowledge concerning God the Father (John 1, 18).  Those who pretend to have received further revelations, derived from sources other than Christ, are false teachers.

9-15: St. Paul adduces three points against the false teachings: (1) Christ is superior to the angels for in Him the divine nature is incarnate: through Him, not through angels, we may become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1, 4).  (2) Our sins are forgiven, not through the agency of angels, but in our receiving at Baptism a spiritual circumcision.  (3) Through His death on the cross Christ brought to an end the rule of Satan and his hosts over the world.