Colossians 2 Study Notes
2:3 Christ is the only source required for wisdom and knowledge; the Colossians did not need to look to any other philosophy. Hidden does not mean secretive (1:26) but plays on the word treasures. Jewish writers often used this imagery to encourage seekers to dig deep when looking for truth.
2:4 For the first time in the epistle, Paul directly stated his opposition to the false teaching. The words deceive and arguments that sound reasonable imply the use of misleading or faulty reasoning, which is contrasted with the truth of the gospel (see note at 1:5-6).
2:6-7 Paul’s practical concern was that believers would grow in spiritual maturity. The basis of their conduct is Christ’s lordship (1:15-20) and indwelling (1:27). The command to continue to live in him, (cp. “walk” in 1:10) is followed by expressions of what this involved: (1) being rooted (firmness; cp. Eph 3:17); (2) built up; (3) established in the faith (a legal term meaning “confirmed”); and (4) overflowing with gratitude (cp. 1:3,12; 3:15-17; 4:2).
2:8 Be careful is a strong warning to watch out so believers are not taken captive and enslaved to false doctrines through philosophy and empty deceit. “Human tradition” implies human origin (whether Jewish or Gentile) as opposed to the divine nature of the gospel. The elements of the world were most likely astral deities, spirits, and/or angels commonly associated with pagan worship, astrology, and magical practices (see vv. 15,20; 1:16; Gl 4:3,9; Eph 1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 6:12).
2:11 The reference to circumcision indicates the Jewish nature of this false philosophy. Circumcision was established and mandated by God for entrance into the covenant community of his people. But the circumcision of Christ was spiritual and associated with “circumcision of the heart” (Dt 10:16; 30:6; Jr 4:4; Ezk 44:7; Rm 2:29). Here the reference is to the death of Christ, not the literal OT practice of circumcision.
2:12 Baptism relates to Christ’s death and burial (Rm 6:3-8); it is not the NT equivalent of OT circumcision. Believer’s baptism symbolizes union with Christ in death and complete separation from the former way of life. Likewise, believers are raised with him through faith (1:23; Gl 2:20) according to God’s power.
2:13 Prior to their faith in Christ, the Colossians were spiritually dead in trespasses (cp. Eph 2:1-3) and cut off from God’s people because they were Gentiles (Eph 2:11-12). However, in Christ, God made them alive and forgave all their sins (Eph 2:4-8).
2:14 The certificate of debt may refer to a handwritten document or to the Mosaic law. Paul typically viewed the law’s purpose as revealing the guilt of sinners (Dt 27:26; Rm 7:13; 1Co 15:56; Gl 3:10). In the OT God is viewed as keeping a record of people’s sins. He likewise has the power to erase or blot out sins (Ps 51:1,9). Paul gives a vivid picture of this action that is God’s exclusively. Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, God erases the sinner’s certificate of debt and removes it by nailing it to the cross.
2:15 The phrase disgraced them publicly relates to God humiliating these spiritual rulers in a public spectacle of shame and defeat. The word triumphed (see note at 2Co 2:14) evokes the imagery of a triumphal procession where a victorious general would lead a parade to display the treasures and prisoners of war from his conquest.
2:16 Because God has completely reconciled believers to himself, they are free from condemnation and from practicing customs required for God’s covenant people in the past (Rm 8:1). Against this, the Colossian believers were apparently pressured by some in the church to observe Jewish dietary laws and holy days.
2:17 Paul used the words shadow and substance to contrast the incomplete nature of these former obligations with the fullness brought about by Christ. God instituted the dietary laws and holy days as a means to foreshadow the coming reconciliation in Christ. The actual contrast comes from Jewish eschatology (what was to come) rather than a Platonic dualism (material vs. immaterial). This is another way of saying that he is the fulfillment of the law (Rm 10:4; Heb 10:1).
2:18 Ascetic practices translates the word humility, but in the context of the false teaching it most likely refers to harsh treatment of the body (i.e., self-humiliation). The worship of angels may be understood as worship improperly rendered to angels, or as worship of God performed by angels. “Ascetic practices” and “worship of angels” are joined, suggesting that through asceticism the participants believed themselves to be partaking in angelic worship. This worship was conducted through entrance into the visionary realm. Paul, however, identified these visions as egotistical delusions of a carnal mind.
2:21 Paul quoted some of the purity and dietary laws imposed by the false teachers, who were judging and disqualifying believers.
2:22 These dietary regulations were merely physical and temporal because once food is consumed it is destroyed. Although the false teachers believed that their obligations promoted spirituality, Paul identified these regulations as human commands and doctrines (alluding to Is 29:13; see note at Col 2:8).
2:23 Paul conceded that these regulations had a reputation for wisdom in that they appeared to provide enlightened spiritual understanding (1:9), but in reality these practices offered no help in dealing with self-indulgence. The term for “self-indulgence” or “gratification” may play on the word fullness. This false philosophy promised a fullness of wisdom through severe asceticism, but it failed to achieve its intended goal.