Colossians Chapter 2: Warning about False Doctrines

Nov 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Colossians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Colossians Chapter 2: Warning about False Doctrines

Col. 2:1 For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;

Paul had great “conflict,” that is, fear and care, for the brethren at Colosse and Laodicea. His use of the word “conflict” indicates that he was troubled over what might happen to them. He urged them to keep their focus on the primacy of Christ. Laodicea was very close to Colosse, almost a stone’s throw away. From the right vantage point at Colosse, one could even see the white cliffs of Hierapolis, which were on the other side of Laodicea.

Paul gave much thought to the nature of this letter, as will be seen. Evidently, someone new in the class at Colosse, perhaps an Alexandrian Jew, introduced wrong doctrine. He was subtly undermining the class by introducing teachings they could not cope with unless they received additional knowledge and understanding. In this epistle, Paul prepared the class at Colosse by providing the proper reasoning to refute this error.

Epaphras, originally from Colosse, was more or less responsible for founding the church there, but he had gotten the gospel message from Paul earlier in Ephesus. Ephesus was the natural center for the brotherhood at that time.

While Paul had not been to Colosse to see the brethren in the flesh, he was thoroughly aware of them and their progress. Epaphras was now with the Apostle Paul, describing the situation, and this letter manifested the apostle’s interest in and concern for them. Incidentally, some of the Colossians would have seen Paul’s “face in the flesh” if they had gone to Ephesus or its suburbs earlier.

Col. 2:2 That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;

Col. 2:3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The phrase “and of the Father” is spurious according to the Revised Standard Version and the Diaglott.

Verse 2 gives a clue as to what was on the apostle’s mind—the general thrust or slant—when he wrote this epistle. He was preparing or helping the Colossians with a particular experience they were having; namely, an Eastern philosophy known as Docetism was making inroads.

Webster’s definition of Docetism is “a belief opposed as heresy in early Christianity that Christ only seemed to have a human body and to suffer and die on the cross.” Docetists regarded brotherly love as an evidence of weakness and a lack of understanding. They were sophists; that is, they felt they were in the deep secrets of God, whereas actually they were leading away from Christ and the Father.

It is surprising that this heresy entered Christianity within a century. Its adherents believed that Jehovah was not the Almighty God but a secondary being, that Christ was one of many and not the way or the truth, and that other angels or powers could be tapped into to get valuable insights into truth. This philosophy was introduced very subtly.

A letter from Hermogenes to Titus was reproduced in the Reprints, showing the superior attitude that some with this philosophy adopted. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians provides an idea of the error that crept into the Church. Many gave a listening ear to this erroneous philosophy because of the boldness of its proponents. Their teaching led away from Christ as the only way. Consequently, many made shipwreck of their faith. Hermogenes is mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:15 as having turned away from Paul. The apostle’s second letter to Timothy was written after Colossians.

Eventually Docetists deprecated Jehovah of the Jew, but they did it cleverly by befriending the Jew at first. As time went on, they embraced some radical beliefs. A number of sects developed that respected Christ with different degrees of intensity (or laxity).

Now we can understand Paul’s use of superlatives in verses 2 and 3: “all riches,” “full assurance of understanding,” and “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In God and Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Docetists assumed the posture that truth was even greater than Jehovah God of the Hebrews and Jesus the Messiah. God and Jesus were regarded as just manifestations of the direction of truth, rather than being the source of truth.

This philosophy was just beginning to enter the early Church as Paul was phasing out. Later the Apostle John wrote defensively in his epistles when a great number had entered the Church with this Asian thinking. He used a tactic that was different from that of Paul; namely, he used a practical approach. When he spoke of love, he was not referring to what is secretly in the heart but was saying that the very acts of kindness were absent. These proponents of error were cruel; right in front of brethren, they said evil things. They looked down on brethren not in “their category.” Thus literal problems were occurring. Therefore, by spiritualizing John’s epistles, we lose the point of what he was saying. He was stating obvious things, not things that require deep meditation. Paul said, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (1 Cor. 16:22). The Docetists made statements deprecating Jesus, claiming there was a step higher. They thought of him as a way-shower but by no means the end. They might generously consider Jesus as the beginner but not the finisher of their faith.

Therefore, Paul concentrated on Jesus’ role throughout this Epistle to the Colossians, as indicated in the first chapter (Col. 1:14-22). Paul was showing the importance of Jesus—that he is “all, and in all” to the Christian (Col. 3:11).

The Colossians and others of the early Church were having trouble with brethren. Some dared to demote John as an apostle, let alone Paul. False teachers expelled from the class any who sympathized with John (3 John 9,10). Hence John more or less told the faithful brethren to meet elsewhere.

“In whom” in verse 3 refers to both God and Jesus but especially to Jesus, for he sent out the apostles. Jesus is the Messiah—he died on the Cross. As recorded in the Gospels, Jesus gave parables and sermons, so the burden of the apostles’ message was, first, to acquaint those with a hearing ear with Jesus and, second, to show that the primacy was with God as the Author.

The apostles were preaching a new doctrine—that Jesus was “sent” of God (John 3:17; 5:23,30; 6:39; etc.). Jesus is the true way, the path of light and understanding. Jesus is God’s representative. Many believed in a god or many gods and ascribed various characteristics and messages, so they needed proper instruction.

Paul was emphasizing that the religion which came from Israel in the person of Jesus was the truth. Jesus espoused that he was sent of the Father and that the words he spoke did not originate with him but had been received from the Father. From this standpoint, one who goes to Christ is led to God in a very emphatic way.

Reprint No. 2963, “Hermogenes to Titus,” under the section “Views from the Watch Tower,” purports to be a letter written by Hermogenes to Titus. It exposes the error Hermogenes was introducing.

Hermogenes to Titus

“Perhaps the best article which has yet appeared in the religious press bearing upon the higher criticism, came out in the last number of The Wesleyan Christian Advocate over the title of ‘The Epistle of Hermogenes to Titus,’ written in archaic style, belonging to the apostolic days and purporting to explain many passages of Scriptures which have furnished the bones of contention in recent controversies. Every Bible student will enjoy reading it. In part, the article reads as follows:

“‘Hermogenes, a servant of God, and a minister of Christ, and a teacher of the true faith of the Gospel, according to the ripe judgment of the present age; to Titus, mine own brother, whom I greatly love in the truth: Grace, mercy and peace be unto thee. “‘Thou hast heard, beloved, of our aged brother Paul, that he hath written epistles to Timotheus; and I hear, also to thee; in the which he hath set forth many things in exhortations unto each one of you. In some of these he hath sought to hinder my usefulness with thee, and with many others. Remember, brother, that he is old and hath divers infirmities, and hath little knowledge of sound philosophy  which edifieth.

Therefore, I bear no malice toward him. But I write to set in order for thine instruction a more reasonable Gospel, which will make thee wise and will enable thee to instruct others also.

“‘Thou hast heard how our brother Demas hath written Timotheus, to teach him how  he may gain favor with them that be somewhat in authority above us; and, moreover, with high esteem among them that will not endure the hard doctrines declared by Paul in his preaching and epistles. I know thee, thy promise and great talent, and earnestly desire that thou mayest rise above this Timotheus. Thou hast gifts many, and I would that thou mightest be a bishop over the church. Give heed, therefore, to my counsel.

“‘This Paul hath a lively imagination, such as maketh him exceedingly superstitious concerning the Scriptures, and an unsafe guide for such as would be wise; whilst I am yet young and have had long training in the schools of men skilled in reasoning concerning divine things, being in their company no less than sixty and seven days.

Those great men instructed me fully in the approved laws, by the which we may know of the things which cannot be taken; wherefore, I think myself able to lead thee in a broad way. I will now set in order unto thee that which I have learned.

“‘The fathers did teach that Moses hath written how God made the heaven and the earth, having been instructed in this of God. Know thou, therefore, that Moses did beguile them. He obtained many accounts of a tradition of creation among several ancient peoples, and did patch them together for the Hebrews. That Paul accepteth this book of Moses as true history, doth show him to lack sound judgment.

“‘Thou knowest also that it hath been taught that the law and the prophets were given by inspiration of God. Herein is grievous error. The priests of the people of Israel, greatly desiring to lead our fathers into righteousness and to make of them a great nation, devised those great books. It is true, I cannot make known unto thee by which way this is proved; but beware of questioning my knowledge in this thing; thou wilt show thyself ignorant shouldest thou at all call in question our judgment. None but the instructed can fully understand these matters. The simple and unlearned must needs believe what we teach. If they fail to hearken, they are blind and cannot see into the deep things of our wisdom.

“‘We now conclude that at the least one thousand scribes were required to devise the law and the prophets; and peradventure, if that number doth not appear sufficient we can enlarge it to be even five thousand. It was a great work of imagination, and God must needs have many men to imagine each a little. Moreover, in these books the wise find many things contrary to sound reason. I will inform thee concerning some of them, in order that thou mayest be able to explain them to thy people. The writing which beareth the name of Moses doth declare that God did feed our fathers in the wilderness with manna from heaven. It is most confidently taught among us who are wise that they did lick with their tongues a honey, which is found on the leaves of the trees in the wilderness, and named it manna. The rock which gave forth water when this Moses did strike it flowed from a deep well, which he and his servants bored through a great rock by night while the people slept. The great pillar of cloud by day and fire by night which followed the people was produced by cunningly mixed powders. Moreover, this Moses was a wise magician, and did charm these people into a deep sleep, and while they slept, with his chosen helpers, he prepared many vessels into which, when full of water, they did cast a fine powder. After this they soaked the garments of all the people in the vessels of water, and it was so that they could no more wear out. Give heed concerning what we declare to be the truth of the record of the walls of Jericho, how they fell. They that be searchers after truth set forth that the horns and trumpets which the men of Israel did blow, mightily made a great commotion in the air, insomuch that the walls began to tremble greatly, which continuing many days they were shaken down and did fall. Know thou also that Joshua did, by cunning magic, cause the ignorant people to imagine that the sun obeyed him to stand still. They were deceived, for their own good, that it might profit them withal. Joshua did cause their memory to stand still. But we are wiser than to teach men that reason that this record is more than a fable.

“‘I will instruct thee, moreover, concerning the book which beareth the name of Esaias.

The learned now show unto us that many men did bear that name, and every one a little part hath written; how many it doth not yet appear. When the searching in the matter hath ended, it may be shown that peradventure a score of scribes had part in making the book as it now is. We are now assured that Esaias prophesied nothing

concerning the sufferings and glory of Christ. He spake only of the sufferings of all Israel for the sins of King Ahaz. (Why Israel should be called to suffer because of wicked Ahaz’s sins, or why Esaias did write of this, it doth not concern us.) The book speaketh nothing of Jesus Christ. Then we say, and if any teach otherwise, he is thereby shown to be in ignorant company, with Paul and Peter and John, who have fallen into error, and teach old wives’ fables, which the instructed reject.

“‘We have, also, a deep knowledge of the truth of Daniel and his prophecy, which will greatly edify thee, and will satisfy those who doubt concerning the miracles. Daniel was a man acquainted with many strange secrets. He knew how to charm the lions that they should not devour him when he should be cast into their den. So he feared not to pray; and when he was thrown to the lions, he cast a spell over them, that they could not bite or hurt him. Thou seest he saved himself, and gave God the praise. The record of the three Hebrew children and their trial in the fiery furnace hath also been shown to be according to reason. It hath been made known unto us by the teachers of science at whom Paul doth only sneer, that at the center of the hottest fire there doth always remain a cool place which will neither burn nor scorch garments, nor flesh. These Hebrew children were aforetime instructed regarding this; and therefore they feared not the wrath or power of the king; and when cast into the fire they knew immediately the place of safety and so were protected. See how reason doth make clear things hard to be believed, brother….

“‘Finally, I declare unto thee the true explanation of the record of Jonah. He fled before the Lord that he might not perish at Nineveh. He had not sought that appointment and rebelled against going. When he took ship, the Lord ordered a vessel bearing the name “Great Fish” to follow Jonah’s ship. So when the sailors did throw Jonah overboard he was picked up by the crew of the “Great Fish” and tarried with them three days. These earnestly persuaded him to accept his appointment, and had such weight with him that he consented, and so went to Nineveh.

“‘Thou seest, brother, how our views do appeal to reason and sound judgment. I am assured that thou wilt gladly accept them, and assist us in spreading them, especially since Paul hath proven himself unable to lead the thinking classes of this great age. Thou mayest now be a leader in our school and get unto thyself a great name, for much learning, if thou dost act with us in this great warfare of the wise against the dull and ignorant. Paul hath had the help of Peter, John, James and Jude in this contention against us, but we faint not and continue to teach the people everywhere this doctrine, which maketh faith an easy matter. Meditate on these things I have written, and thy profiting will appear to all. When thou hast fully understood this, I will instruct thee in the correct knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ in another epistle. The salutation of me, Hermogenes, by mine own hand. Farewell.’”

This Reprint article is a gross example of “higher criticism.” Gnostics (meaning “I know”) claimed to have superior knowledge. No wonder those at the health center in Pergamos, where this type of thinking prevailed, used hypnotic spells and had a tunnel of whispering voices. The leaders felt it was all right to do any kind of trickery in the name of religion.

Flattery was used plus the suggestion that there was a higher echelon of knowledge. As time went on, even Almighty God was downgraded. Things went from one extreme to the other (from asceticism, or flagellation of the flesh, to the opposite extreme of debauchery). With regard to debauchery, the argument was that God was pleased with the new creature and disregarded the flesh. This thinking, which separated the old creature from the new creature, led to all kinds of gratification of the flesh, for which the new creature was considered not accountable. These proponents of error selectively used Paul’s writings out of context to justify their error.

Notice the boldness of Hermogenes and his condescending attitude toward Titus. If Titus wanted to be a bishop, he was to listen to Hermogenes. Paul was discredited as aged and infirm, and his sufferings and persecutions were regarded as meaningless, rather than as marks of his apostleship and being a slave of Jesus Christ.

Hermogenes suggested that most were in “grammar school” and that for a Christian to go on to “college,” he must adopt this higher thinking. Flattery encouraged others to study the wrong philosophies. It is obvious why Paul worried that this error would creep into the ecclesia and influence the brethren.

Hermogenes wrote this letter to the same Titus whom Paul addressed in his epistle—and also the same Titus who ultimately forsook the way (2 Tim. 4:10). Apparently, Titus listened to this wrong counsel, although we do not know the whole story. At any rate, it does not look good for him. Paul wrote to Timothy, “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes” (2 Tim. 1:15).

The proponents of error did not regard morals as being especially important. “Knowledge” was stressed but not purity of morals. The mind was deemed important—it soared above the body—whereas the flesh was considered common, not worthy of consideration. What an evil strategy—like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, which ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree and was wise above all other creatures, thus giving the lie to what God had said.

In time, the thinking of Hermogenes developed into clericalism, whereby the Nicolaitan spirit lorded wisdom over the majority. The elite element claimed that the “mystery” belonged only to them, and they, in turn, revealed it to the common communicants. Thus the communicants became “children of the church” rather than brethren with only Jesus as their Master. Only the ordained clergy of different levels—cardinals, bishops, etc.—were considered brethren.

The Greeks loved wisdom, which was a national trait. In many cities in Asia Minor, the Grecian influence was considerable. Hence Greek philosophies were a temptation to early Christians.

Morals are part of knowledge, not separate from or subordinate to it. “Doctrine” includes morals. In fact, “doctrine” pertains to everything in God’s Word, including dispensational truth, chronology, Christian living, and understanding mysteries.

Col. 2:4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

Flattery is dangerous. “If you want to be above Timothy,” wrote Hermogenes, establishing a rivalry. Paul sent Timothy to Corinth earlier, but Timothy, who was a faithful representative, was not nearly as well received as Titus later. Many prefer more lenient teaching whether scriptural or not. The Diaglott interlinear warns against deceiving with “plausible speech,” that is, with seemingly believable speech.

Col. 2:5 For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.

“Order” means “harmony.” At this point, the class was still harmonious, but some ideas were starting to be presented that concerned Paul. Although there was no adverse effect in the class to date, eventually a serious problem developed regarding the vain philosophy Paul was cautioning against (verse 8).

Paul got this news from Epaphras, a resident of Colosse who was instrumental in starting the class originally. Probably he was in Ephesus sometime during Paul’s three-year stay there.

Epaphras accepted the truth and then returned to Colosse and started the ecclesia.

Col. 2:6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

Verse 6 shows that progression and development are expected of the Christian. Those of Laodicea and Colosse had received the truth and had an understanding of the responsibilities of being a Christian. Now Paul was advising them to fulfill those responsibilities—to “walk” in Christ and make progress.

Notice, Paul was not talking about minor doctrines, but as they had received Christ Jesus the Lord, they were to walk in him as the Lord. Their trial came subsequently when some denigrated Jesus.

Col. 2:7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

Paul emphasized “rooted,” “built up,” and “stablished”—and mixed in “thanksgiving.” A good Reprint article entitled “Trees of Righteousness,” No. 5557, amplifies the switch in Paul’s analogy to a tree that has roots going down deep into the soil to get nutriments and water so that the branches will grow heavenward and develop fruit. “Fruit” signifies fruits of the Holy Spirit, and “nutriments” are the Word of God and the water of truth. Excerpts from “Trees of Righteousness” follow.

Trees of Righteousness

“… the Apostle then uses a forceful illustration to show how we are to progress in Christ. Turning from the figure of a man walking in Christ as a member of his body, St. Paul gives us the picture of a tree, the root of which goes downward and the trunk of which reaches upward, to obtain that nourishment which will give it strength and stability. As the roots of a tree push themselves downward and imbibe the nutriment of the soil, while at the same time the trunk and the branches reach up into the atmosphere to obtain through the leaves the necessary elements of growth, so the mentality of the Christian takes hold of the great and precious promises of the Word of God, while at the same time he is building character through his heart appreciation of these promises, in connection with the experiences of life. The roots of faith push down deep into the knowledge of the divine plan, while the tree of character grows higher and higher, developing and maturing the rich fruits of the holy Sprit of God; for instruction is a form of construction.

“While the Christian is thus growing up in character likeness to our Redeemer, and his roots of faith are reaching deep down into the deep things of the Word of God, he is becoming established, settled. A tree that is well rooted in the earth is hard to uproot. It has a wonderful strength, a wonderful hold upon the earth, and requires years to die out. So it is with the Christian whose faith has been properly established; he should be so fixed, so established in the promises of God’s Word, that no wind of doctrine could overturn his faith….

“As a tree does not breathe the same element at all times, and as it is not always flooded with sunshine, but needs also the rains and storms for its development, so the child of God needs varied experiences and sometimes change of environment to best develop all the fruits of the holy Spirit. The great Husbandman knows just what experiences and surroundings each one of his ‘trees’ needs—how much sunshine, how much rain, how much cold and how much heat, how much pruning—and he will supply just what is best adapted to each case. He knows how to vary these conditions, environments, etc., without disturbing the process of rooting and upbuilding, but developing it. This we do not know how to accomplish, but would bring upon ourselves spiritual disaster. So we need to keep ourselves continually under the care of the skillful Husbandman and earnestly cooperate with him, that we may grow and become strong and immovable— firmly established.

“The depth and the spread of the roots of a tree are shown by the vigor and fruitage of the tree. A tree that is not deeply and firmly grounded can neither bring forth rich, luscious fruit nor furnish cool, refreshing shade to man. Depth of root is absolutely essential. So the Christian’s faith must be deeply grounded in Christ; and thus shall we also grow up into him, learning more and more what is the divine will as expressed in him. The rooting process is unseen, and can be judged only by its outward manifestations. When there is luxuriant foliage there is good rooting. But the growth must not stop there; fruit must be borne. And so the spiritual life of the child of God will manifest itself more and more in its likeness to Christ. To vary the figure, the Christian will not only be a branch in the vine, but will bear rich clusters of fruit, which should become more choice in quality and size year by year….

“The general sentiment among the teachers of false doctrine, and even among the world in general, who do not believe in the necessity or the advisability of being established in faith, is that to be established is to be bigoted. Those who are so unfair in mind as to receive and tenaciously hold what they have never proven, either by sound logic or by the authority of the Word of God, are rightly called bigots. But one who in simple, childlike faith accepts and firmly holds to what God has inspired, what he has caused to be written in his Word for our instruction, is not a bigot, but a strong, established character, and will stand when all the structures built upon the numerous theories and imaginings of men shall have fallen….

“The difference between a strong and steadfast Christian and a bigot is that one is established in truth, and the other is established in error….

“Only by continual scrutiny of ourselves in the light of God’s Word can we make real progress in the narrow way in which our Master walked. Truth is to become brighter and fuller and more luminous as we go onward. To this end, we must keep close to the Word and in line with his program. The Lord will not accept little, undeveloped sprouts for the kingdom, but he wants those that have grown and matured—strong, sturdy ‘trees of righteousness.’—Isaiah 61:3.

“Delve into the promises of God more and more. As you do this, the roots of faith will draw up the nutriment and send it out into your life, and you will grow, just as a tree grows, because nourished, fed. Thus alone will you become established in The Faith, and not in your imaginings nor the imaginings of others. Our faith is to grow stronger and more vigorous day by day. It is not to be a faith in ourselves or in anything apart from the Lord. Faith is what we started with in the beginning, and we shall need it in increasing measure as we go on in our upward way—faith in God and in his sure Word.

All that we know as children of the Lord has come to us through the channel of Jesus, his holy apostles, and the prophets of old, and we are to continue feeding at this same table with thanksgiving.”

The progression is in two directions: downward and upward. Growth downward is essential for growth upward. Downward growth, or “rooting,” indicates our responsibility to search the Scriptures for instruction on the Christian life. We must dig for knowledge and understanding that are so essential to our Christian walk, growth, and maturity. As we get understanding, we become capable of growing upward. We look into the Word for “nutriment” (instruction and information). As we apply this instruction, we grow upward, are “built up.”

“Stablished in the faith” means “not wavering.” We are not to be blown about by “every wind of doctrine” but are to strive for maturity (Eph. 4:14). In the beginning of our walk, we desire the sincere milk of the Word. A baby searches for the mother’s breast to get the nutriment, but as the baby grows, he desires stronger food, stronger meat. Desire is essential to make progress, but the desire must be satisfied. Thus the Christian searches the Word for instruction, help, guidance, etc., as to how to be Christlike. The process is progressive. One starts as an infant and keeps desiring food unto the meat of the Word to, hopefully, become mature and established up to the capacity of his understanding. (Note: The variety of understanding should never cease.) We should become mature in essential doctrine along the lines of dispensational truth, morals, etc. In that regard, we can reach “perfection” as individuals, that is, up to each one’s capacity. Therefore, if one is in the process of being rooted and built up, the hope is that he will reach a level of maturity as a “tree.” A tree is first a seed, then a sprout, next a sapling, and eventually a sturdy, mature “tree” of righteousness, fully “stablished in the faith.”

The “rooting” and growing (or being built up) are progressive, whereas the condition of being  “stablished in the faith” is a fixed state. One who is established is, hopefully, not moved, for he is mature with a heart fixed in Christ and in God.

“Abounding therein with thanksgiving.” This should be our attitude toward God regardless of the circumstances around us. Let nothing happening around us—within or without the Church—cause a depressed state. We should always abound in thanksgiving no matter what others may or may not do. Our overall joy in the Lord should not be affected. Think of all that Paul experienced and endured, yet he could make this statement. And this was written near the end of his ministry. After so much persecution and trial, he still abounded in thanksgiving and rejoiced.

The word “knowledge” is the Greek gnosis, and the gnosis philosophy prevailed in the early Church. It was just beginning at the end of Paul’s ministry but gained prominence and prevailed during John’s subsequent ministry and onward. Paul was now being phased out, that is, at the time of this letter to the Colossians, and John, the second messenger, was being prepared to follow the work of Paul. John moved to Asia Minor and lived to be 100 years old or more. The problem Paul was hinting at became prominent after his death, and John had to combat it. Gnosis is a different type of knowledge, not the knowledge of Scripture. Some use the text “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” to prove that those with too much scriptural knowledge get heady, but that is not what Paul was saying (1 Cor. 8:1). Gnosis knowledge was dangerous and later became known as Gnosticism. Gnostics taught about the “mysteries” of God, but they were not the ones in the Bible. They used human theories and applications and felt superior to the other brethren. This fancied “superiority” was not in the

Scriptures or in Christ but in other subjects.

“Love” is not what we think it is but what the Bible describes. We should strive for God’s love, for even the unconsecrated can have maternal love and be noble, for example. To have God’s love, we must study His Word, His actions. It is wrong to say that love is always nice. The general characteristic is that love is nice, but there are exceptions.

Col. 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

“Rudiments” are basics and principles. Paul was telling the Colossians to avoid the philosophies of the world. The phrase “rudiments of the world” has a wider application that includes the Law, for a Christian is under grace. If the Christian is a Jew, he has been released from his former condemnation under the Law and should, therefore, not go back under the Law. The Christian—Jew or Gentile—is not to observe the holy days, dietary restrictions, etc., of the Law. Paul was zeroing in on what he saw to be the gravest danger at that particular time. Later both the Alexandrian and the Eastern philosophies infiltrated the Church. In John’s day, the Eastern philosophy made headway. In Paul’s day, the Judaizing influence, or element, caused the most problem.

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.” Proponents of these wrong philosophies boldly and vainly considered themselves to be superior, as several epistles show. They doubted Paul’s apostleship but not their own position. They doubted Paul because he was not with Jesus during the 3 1/2 years of his ministry. They downgraded him and tried to advance themselves. Therefore, the “vain deceit” aspect was very manifest in Paul’s day.

And later Diotrephes would not receive the Apostle John and associates and forbid others in the ecclesia to do so (3 John 9,10). This was another example of “vain deceit” because Diotrephes considered himself superior not only to an apostle but also to the apostle’s advice.

“Beware lest any man spoil you … after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world.” Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “Instead of God’s commandments, you teach the doctrines and traditions of men” (Mark 7:9,13 paraphrase).

Col. 2:9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

“For in him [Jesus] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead [Deity] bodily.” Verse 9 is almost a repeat of Colossians 1:19. A theme of this epistle was to show the relationship of the Father and the Son. Trinitarians use this Scripture to say that the “Godhead” is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,” yet in both the RSV and the Diaglott, the word “Deity” is used and is correct.

The word “bodily” is important because the proponents of the later erroneous philosophy did not regard Jesus as the only way of salvation. They did not see his coming in the flesh as necessary for paying the Ransom. Instead they considered him a manifestation of God in the sense of a way-shower but thought that others should be similarly so regarded. In fact, the leaders of this philosophy each wanted to also be considered the way of salvation. Thus many of the heresies in the early Church had personalized names of those who claimed to be the way of salvation (for example, Manichaeism). This temptation is a great danger to all of us but especially to those in a teaching capacity. Some televangelist personalities attach undue importance to their own work. In other words, they advocate listening to them personally and to what they think the Bible teaches as being the only way, but we must search the Scriptures ourselves. We look to others as teachers if they are in harmony with the Bible, but our faith must be substantiated by the Scriptures. Leading personalities often encourage the thought that if we do not follow with them, we are on the outside. They do not promote the thought that there can be individuals in Christ apart from them. Unfortunately, the Truth movement is developing a similar attitude. “The truth” is interpreted as Pastor Russell, the Reprints, etc., but our consecration is to Christhe is our Teacher and Head. We are to follow Christ no matter where that path might lead. “Thus saith the LORD” should be our proof, not “thus saith Pastor Russell.” True, we look for the advice of others, and especially of the seventh messenger, but the advice should be compared with the Bible and retained only if we can prove it. Of course sometimes we can misunderstand the Bible, and that is why we need help from various individuals. If we are truly Bible Students, we should be as familiar with the Bible as with the writings of any man. The Volumes organize thinking along a certain line and then supply Scriptures as substantiation. In perhaps 98 percent of the cases, the thought is correct but not 100 percent. The Volumes should be a reference, not a final word of proof.

Paul was harping on the theme of Jesus’ physical body prior to his crucifixion. In Jesus dwelled all the fullness of the Deity bodily. Colossians 1:22 stresses the same point: “In the body of his flesh through death.” Jesus came in the flesh, and he actually died. Two major theories counteracting these points existed in the early Church. It is interesting that Paul brought up both of them near the end of his ministry. When John’s ministry gained such prominence subsequently, he was right in the thick of these erroneous beliefs.

Jesus had the Holy Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Therefore, if all the fullness of the Deity was in Jesus, then all wisdom and understanding have to be considered in the light of Jesus and his instructions, and we do not have to go to outside sources. Since Jesus authorized his apostles to also teach and since he spoke favorably of the prophets, those are all that are needed—that is, the Bible. Messengers aid us in studying the Bible, but the apostles were the “sent out ones” of Jesus. He appointed the Twelve after praying to the Father in regard to their selection and approval. Then he gave them nicknames such as Cephas and sons of Boanerges.

In his Epistle to the Colossians, Paul was emphasizing the importance of Jesus’ role in his ministry of 3 1/2 years while here on earth in the flesh (Col. 1:19-22; 2:9). Paul talked of the risen Lord on other occasions, but his words here were particularly slanted to rebut the erroneous philosophy he anticipated would intrude into the class at Colosse. Some said that Jesus was only a messenger of truth and not the representative of God. They said he did not really suffer or die on the Cross, that his death was only a pretense. Proponents of this heresy looked down on those who were persecuted and/or poor temporally. Suffering for Christ and for righteousness’ sake was not seen as an evidence of faithfulness. In an effort to combat this error, Paul had to state that all of his sufferings and persecutions were marks of his apostleship.

Instead the erring element regarded the sufferings as indications of disfavor. Principles of true Christianity were compromised, and eventually, many just blindly followed a leader.

Col. 2:10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

Verse 10 continues the thought started in verses 6 and 7, namely, that as we have received Jesus, we are to walk in him, being rooted and built up in him, for in him dwelled the fullness of the Deity bodily. And Colossians 1:18 states that Jesus is the Head of the Church, the beginning of the New Creation, the firstborn from the dead. In all things, he has the preeminence.

A danger was threatening the area of Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. In this epistle, Paul was trying to warn Christians in all three towns (Col. 4:13,16). The thrust of his warning in verse 10 is that there was no need to consult other principalities and powers because, in the gospel, we deal directly with Jesus and we petition the Heavenly Father through Jesus. We have direct access to Christ. If he is the top, or Head, of all principalities and powers, then the erroneous philosophy of consulting angels detracted from Christ’s role as Advocate for the

Christian (1 John 2:1). We “are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.”

Incidentally, this Eastern philosophy, which is still inherent in the Roman Catholic Church, has given birth to praying not only to Mary and Joseph but also to different saints. Anciently, angels were prayed to and names were assigned to them. Today a person in an automobile is supposedly protected by having a statue of a particular saint on the dashboard. When an individual “consecrates,” he is specially dedicated to a saint. This thinking is purely human speculation, for the Christian is dedicated to Christ and is complete in him.

Col. 2:11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

This portion (and onward) of Colossians may seem puzzling because Paul was addressing the whole ecclesia. The church at Colosse was mixed, containing both Jews and Gentiles. Paul was not addressing just one segment but the entire ecclesia, both Jew and Gentile.

If faithful to his covenant, the Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, is spiritually circumcised. The words “of the sins” are missing in some manuscripts. Paul was emphasizing more than just this one aspect.

Col. 2:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

Both Jewish and Gentile Christians were buried with Christ in baptism. To try to apply these verses to only one segment causes conflicts and problems, for all Christians (Jew and Gentile) are baptized with Christ into his death.

Col. 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

Verse 13 likewise applies to both Jews and Gentiles. The Jew, who was physically circumcised, and the Gentile, who was not physically circumcised, were both spiritually uncircumcised prior to consecration. Physical circumcision pertains to only a small portion of the body, whereas spiritual circumcision includes the whole body. Therefore, when the entire body of flesh is considered, both Jew and Gentile were “uncircumcised” prior to becoming Christians.

As children of Adam, the Jews were dead in sins and the uncircumcision of their flesh. However, since Jews and Gentiles were both children of Adam, the death penalty upon the body of flesh was equally on both. In another epistle, Paul argued from a different standpoint, namely, that Abraham was circumcised before the Law even came into existence. Not until Moses’ day, when the Law was inaugurated, was the ritual of physical circumcision required on the eighth day, yet circumcision existed previously.

Col. 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

The “handwriting of ordinances” was the Law Covenant. To those Jews who accepted Christ, these ordinances were no longer obligatory. They did not have to keep the letter of the Law regarding the ritualistic ceremonies. Paul was trying to show that all fullness was in Christ regardless of one’s background. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, bond nor free (Gal. 3:28).

Col. 2:15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

Christ is the Head of all principalities and powers (Col. 2:10). “Principalities and powers” are unseen superior beings, both good (the holy angels) and evil (the fallen angels). In other words, Christ is the Head of all the holy angels, and he is also the Head of all the fallen angels in that they are incarcerated in chains of darkness, awaiting the “judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Paul referred to principalities and powers several times in his epistles, sometimes meaning the holy angels, sometimes the demon powers, and sometimes both.

“Spoils” were the booty, or prizes, of war. The victor got the spoils; that is, the spoils were accomplished with regard to captivity.

In all of the heathen religions, the deity, or god, was pictured as terrible and awesome—as a being that must be appeased, or placated. In the Eastern religions, there was a pressure on conscience. The worshippers were constantly reminded that they must pay a penalty again and again. The connotation was that the deity was opposed to them; therefore, different levels of pacification were sought. Various angelic orders and beings were consulted to intercede on their behalf and appease the wrath of the deity.

Paul was saying that these principalities and powers, which bore down on the early Christian Church when the Asian philosophies entered, made some brethren think extra gospel works were needed, extra penalties. The Law appealed to them because animal sacrifices were needed to appease God, but they failed to realize that the animal sacrifices were merely pictures, not the reality, and that the animals represented spiritual things in the gospel dispensation. They took the letter of the Law to justify them in thinking that sacrifices were needed to appease God. They contended that one of the sacrifices was to obey the Law, that is, holy days, feasts, cleansing from death, dietary restrictions, etc. (see verse 16).

“Principalities and powers” could be either spiritual or human; they were any element that was trying to exact a control over the early Church and draw brethren away from the primacy of Christ. That was the point in a nutshell. Paul was even hinting that an individual in the class was promoting and introducing this error. The individual was not named but was referred to.

Verse 8 says, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.” Verse 16 reads, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.” And verse 18 states, “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.” Paul gave these warnings, even though at this time, the class as a whole was faithful. Not only had Paul received a good report, but he admired the Colossians’ steadfastness of faith (verse 5). In other words, the Colossians were trying to hold to what they had learned as the truth—that they were separate from the condemnation of the Law. But the other party in their midst was continually bringing up this matter. Paul was fearful that eventually the individual would gain control of the class, and that is what happened later—a little after John’s day. In that very locality, the Christians began to worship angels. History records this deviation as a fact.

Q: Was there enough of a time gap that some of these brethren Paul was writing to were off the scene and a second generation of converts embraced such error?

A: Yes, that is correct.

The famous church council that was held at Laodicea denounced the worship of angels—and even singled out Colosse as being a center of angel worship. Another account tells of a church that was built to honor the archangel Michael, who had “delivered” them. Angel worship became a definite problem, and it detracted from Christ.

Incidentally, in Java, Sumatra, India, and Burma, etc., multiple spirits, gods, and deities were worshipped. In India, for example, there were ten leading spirits. To be complete, one had to be in harmony with all ten. Each person had to be well schooled in the meaning of the ten spirits and what they represented. Paul was saying, “We are complete in Christ alone. There is no need to study others.” Of the principalities and powers, the unholy angels inculcated the doctrines of demons in the early Church, fostering and prospering them. Paul was trying to remove that kind of fear and show that our relationship is in Christ alone. Although opposition cannot be avoided, we must not fear it but, instead, must fight it.

This erroneous element used the condemnation of the Law as a weapon. By this means, many were brought under their control, thinking they had to observe a lot of rituals. But faith in Christ and the Law cannot be mixed. We are first justified by faith; then that faith must be accompanied by some works to prove it is a living faith, but faith is what justifies us.

Col. 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat [food], or in drink, or in respect of an holyday,” etc.

The false teachers, the Judaizing element, said the Christian had to obey the Law as well as Christ. This faction called attention to those who did not observe the Law, making comments such as “You are eating pork” or “You did not observe the holy day.” They condemned those who remained loyal to the original teaching that the Christian is no longer under the Law. The Judaizing element used the Old Testament to emphasize condemnation for the one who would not observe the ritualistic ordinances. They also bore down on the conscience of the Christian to make him feel he was sinning. Fear of sin was used as a weapon of control. The believers, fearing that maybe this element was right, submitted in many cases. (Similarly, fear of hellfire has subsequently been used as a weapon of control over religious bodies of people.) Here Paul was talking about only one faction that introduced false doctrine. He talked about other factions a little later.

How does one judge “in meat,” etc.? The Judaizing element tried to force the Christian to be under the restrictions of the Law as well. “Meat” restrictions included meat offered to idols and the meat of unclean animals. “Drink” restrictions meant that the Judaizing element tried to force Christians to take the Nazarite vow. This vow was to be voluntary and could be taken for varied lengths of time up to one’s whole life, but it was part of the Law, not the gospel dispensation. Those who drank wine were thus condemned by the Judaizing element.

There were many holy days under the Law and many prohibitions and restrictions attached thereto. For example, the soul was to be afflicted on the Day of Atonement. The Passover entailed slaying a lamb and applying the blood to the lintels and the doorpost of the home. Not only did “sabbath days” occur once a week, but there were weekly sabbath days and holy high sabbath days.

The “new moon” referred to a blowing of trumpets at the beginning of the new month with attendant sacrifices. In counteracting the false teachings of the individual in Colosse, Paul answered in fullness. Probably this individual was not advocating animal sacrifices, but Paul gave a comprehensive answer in case another aspect of the Law was stressed later on. In other words, Paul not only answered the specific problem at the moment in Colosse but also warned against possible future problems.

Col. 2:17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Verse 17 shows the superiority of the gospel. Everything that happened under the Law was to teach a lesson pointing forward to Christ. Why should Christians go back to the “shadow” when the substance, the reality, had come? The shadow pointed to and was supplanted by the reality in Christ. To return to the Law would be to return to the lower basic lessons, which were important but in a lesser category.

Col. 2:18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

“Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility” means in a humility without reason, that is, with excessive, unauthorized, demonstrative humility. Excessive humility in putting oneself down was regarded as a sign of real piety. Some went around with just the clothing on their backs and depended on others for support, food, and lodging, yet were not necessarily preaching the gospel. Their faith was considered strong, but the premise was faulty.

The holy men of India sit and pray all day, and others are expected to feed them, for example. They are falsely regarded as very holy. This principle also applies to nuns and priests, who are expected to wear particular garments, take certain vows, shut themselves away in monasteries, etc. The world tends to regard as religious those who take ridiculous vows, sealing themselves off from humanity and society. Such a life may seem to be great humility, but the Scriptures do not authorize it. Christians are to let their lights shine (Matt. 5:16).

Later on in this same Epistle to the Colossians, Paul spoke of the need for humility. Humility is in order but not excessive, demonstrative humility that is designed to impress others with how humble and religious a person is.

“Let no man beguile you of your reward in a … worshipping of angels.” In principle, we use this Scripture to prove we should not exalt messengers (human beings) as leaders, but Paul was referring to literal angels back there. Mythology had numerous unseen gods. A multitude of deities was worshipped to gain certain things or to get help. There was actually a man in the Colossian class who was teaching these ideas and thus was intruding “into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” Paul was saying that this individual was preaching nonsense, that he was speaking about things of which he had no knowledge.

They were fantasies of his imagination.

In what sense was the man “vainly puffed up”? He thought he had the ideal spiritual walk. His being “vainly puffed up” ties in with the next verse in that he was “not holding the Head” but was promoting himself into a position of preeminence. Not only did he promote himself as an authority, but he centered attention on other unseen spiritual powers.

So much enlightenment is available today that the present danger is worshipping an individual in the Church more than Christ. Back there the reference was to the more obvious literal angels, but now an individual could be worshipped and almost considered equivalent to a “Thus saith the LORD.” Mariolatry and worship of the office of the Papacy are two examples.

Gnosticism and Docetism were prevalent in the early Church, but here the warning was against those who punished the body. Another group went to the other extreme by indulging in all sin. They believed that they became knowledgeable by experiencing all types of sin, and they felt that knowledge justifies. Consequently, the lack of morality in one’s personal life was considered immaterial. This type of thinking is a common practice in heathen worship.

Thus there are all kinds of extremes. One extreme is becoming monks and going out to live in the desert isolated from society or to sit on a mountain or in a cave all alone. The other extreme is actually indulging in sin in the belief that doing so enables one to speak with authority. The confessional booth permits all kinds of indulgences of the flesh. One can sin flagrantly and then just go to the priest for forgiveness. Even gangsters are given a church funeral.

Col. 2:19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

Christ is the center of Christian development, the only way of approaching God.

Col. 2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

“Rudiments” are pagan ordinances and worldly philosophies, basics, and principles—all of which are in opposition to the thinking of the Lord. “Rudiments” and “ordinances” are somewhat synonymous in this verse.

The Law Covenant is not included in these “rudiments” because they will all “perish” (see verse 22), and the Law will not cease from the standpoint that its principles and some of the ceremonies will be applied in the next age. True, the Old Law Covenant will perish but not the New Law Covenant, which will be much like the old.

Col. 2:21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;

Col. 2:22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

Verse 21 shows a progression of increasing contact or involvement with the arena the Christian should avoid: (1) touch not, (2) taste not, and (3) handle not. Paul was saying, “Do not get involved in these rudiments, even to the least extent. Verse 21 and the first half of verse 22 are a parenthetical statement: “(Touch not; taste not; handle not; … all [pagan ordinances, rudiments, and worldly philosophies] are to perish with the using;).” From another standpoint, the implication is that those who did the touching, tasting, and handling—thus becoming completely involved—would perish.

The main thought starts with verse 20 and concludes with the last half of verse 22. “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, after the commandments and doctrines of men?”

Paul was warning the Colossians to refrain from exploring the unseen, the mystical, the supernatural—to not touch, taste, or handle such things. In some respects, a natural inquisitiveness or creativity seems to be implanted in the minds of men, but this quality can be controlled if the Christian is totally submissive to the Word of God. The Scriptures are the foundation, the guide.

From another standpoint, Paul was warning against making the commandments and doctrines of men mandatory. If a false messenger, or teacher, made multiple beliefs mandatory, the danger was the setting up of creeds. The exception would be fundamental teachings such as God is the Creator and the Author of the divine plan of salvation, Jesus is the Head of the Church, Jesus gave his life a Ransom for all, and Jesus is the Mediator between God and men.

To go much beyond these fundamentals allows human philosophy and the commandments of men to enter. As Jesus said, the scribes and Pharisees made “the word of God of none effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).

Col. 2:23 Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

In verses 20-23, Paul was speaking of that which originated not with God but with man. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:6). Therefore, the “rudiments” could include Jewish worldly traditions, which are of man and not of God.

“Will-worship” is self-devised worship. It would be doing one’s own will or the will of others, rather than God’s will, in matters of worship.

“Humility” is good if sincere, but humility is not good when it is done to be seen of and to impress man. Verse 18 mentioned “voluntary humility,” which is humility that is unwarranted or without reason. For example, one could go beyond respect for Pastor Russell and have a form of “voluntary humility” toward him, which would be manifested by a blind acceptance of his statements without reasoning on and proving them. Respect, consideration, and recognition are one thing, but reverence is another. And this is true not only of the seven messengers but also of any individual who is loyal, faithful, and well versed in the Scriptures.

However, “voluntary humility” is more of an abject or unreasonable submission.

A “show of wisdom” would be an outward demonstration for an ulterior motive of wanting to impress others.

“Neglecting of the body” is punishing the body. Some actually physically punished themselves to be seen of men as performing an act (or acts) of piety. This practice occurred on various occasions in the first few centuries of early Church history.

Punishing the body was a perverted twist of the thought of keeping the body under (1 Cor. 9:27). It was like an outward flagellation of the flesh where one tortured his body or fasted abnormally to be seen by others. Another example would be to go to a monastery and sleep on a board or wear burlap. In other words, “neglecting of the body” is any open show to call attention to the fact that one is depriving himself.

“Not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” Self-flagellation, for example, can be gratifying to the flesh in that it puffs up the individual with a feeling of piety and self-worth. The flesh is tortured, but the ego expands. What we eat, how we dress, etc., are all important. We must make sure our motives are pure. Some wandered from place to place, not working but depending on the donations of others for food, lodging, etc.

Verse 23 helps to clarify the term in verse 22 “commandments and doctrines of men,” which were the teachings of various philosophers. Some advocated punishing the body, for example.

Paul wrote these admonitions because this philosophy was beginning to be broached in the class at Colosse. Evidently, an individual in the class was promoting these ideas on the side.


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