5. False teaching exposed and defeated, 2:8-3:4

ii] Freedom from nomism


Paul has just stated in v19 that the victory of Christ's cross sets aside the binding principles and authority of the Law as a pathway for blessing. The promised blessings of the covenant are found in union with Christ through faith and not by obedience to the Law. Paul now expands on the nomistic heresy of the Judaizers that he touched on in v8, a heresy to be rejected because it is "not according to Christ." The heresy is human in orientation, works-focused, self-abasing and separated from Christ. Only in Christ can we nourish and grow a healthy Christian life.


i] Context: See 2:8-15


ii] Background: See 1:1-2 The Colossian heresy.


iii] Structure: Freedom from nomism:

Warning, beware the claim that law-obedience facilitates fulness in the Christian life:

Resist those who erode Christian freedom, v16-20:

by moral blackmail, judging on matters of food and special days, v16.

Such is a shadow of reality, v17a;

Reality is found in Christ, v17b.

by promoting matters of asceticism and ecstatic worship, v18a.

Such is merely a human way of thinking, v18b;

A Christian walk disengaged from Christ, v19a.

Christ is the only means by which we nourish and grow a healthy Christian life, v19b-20.


iv] Interpretation:

In 2:8-15 Paul establishes that Christ is the supreme Lord of the universe and as such he stands over and above all other authorities. Although phrases like the "elemental spirits of the universe" cause the exegete some difficulty, it is more than likely that Paul is addressing the authority of the Law, of the Torah; so Dunn, Moo, ... Christ has done everything necessary to achieve fullness / the full appropriation of God's promised blessings, so a believer is complete in Christ apart from law-obedience.

So, in "defense of Christian liberty", Martin, so also Bruce, Masson, Paul in 2:16-20 denounces the moral pressure exerted by the Judaizers, members of the circumcision party, on the Colossian congregation. It seems that these nomists are seeking compliance on matters of religious piety, as though such provides a benefit apart from Christ. In this sense, they align with the Pharisees who believed that by their dedication to what Jesus described as "gnat" / insect law (moral law is too hard to comply with!!) they progressed sanctification / holiness for divine blessing. By doing this, the nomists deny the completed work of Christ. Such a misguided teaching of "human precepts and doctrine" is nothing more than the product of teachers "bursting with the futile conceit of worldly minds", REB. To this end, Paul gives a "blow-by-blow rebuttal of their pretentious claims", Lohse.

Text - 2:16

A defense of Christian liberty, v16-20: i] Resist those in your Christian fellowship who would have you comply with devised extensions of the Law which are but a mere shadow of the eternal reality which is found in Christ, v16-17. Note the similarity with the Pharisees who, in practice, were more attentive to the tradition of the elders (insect law) than the moral law. With the moral law, they redefined it in order to subvert it (Mk.7:11), or reduce its demands to the point where it is easily obeyed, eg., divorce. By this means, as children of grace / the elect children of God, they sought to confirm their status and progress it for the full appropriation of the promised covenant blessings. Yet, as we know, it was a fruitless exercise.

oun "therefore" - Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion from the previous argument covering v8-15. A believer is complete / full in Christ "therefore ....."

mh krinetw (krinw) pres. imp. "do not let [anyone] judge" - do not let [anyone] judge [you]. "Pass judgment on you" may fall on the light side, so "take one to task", Lightfoot, "never let anyone criticize you", NJB, but possibly stronger, so "pronouncing God's judgment on them", Moo. The negation may here depict "action that must always be avoided", Harris, cf., BDF #335/6[3].

en + dat. "by" - in [eating and drinking, or] in [respect to a feast, or new moon, or sabbaths]. The preposition is probably adverbial, reference / respect; "with respect to what you eat and drink." The following en merei, + gen., expresses the same adverbial idea, "with respect to / with regard to / concerning."

brwsei ... posei "what you eat [or] drink" - eating or drinking. The iV suffix of these nouns indicates nouns of action, "eating" rather than "eat", "drinking" rather than "drink". Clearly the false teachers were advocating some sort of abstinence from food and drink. Note that Paul addresses a similar issue in Romans 14:2, 5. The drink is most likely wine and the food is probably meat, possibly meat tainted by an association with pagan worship, as was the case of most meat purchased in the market place - it wasn't kosher. Possibly even "the renunciation of animal flesh and of wine and strong drink in a Nazirite fashion", O'Brien. A Jewish background for this abstinence is likely, although it is rather strange that Paul doesn't provide the link here.

eJorthV (h) gen. "religious festival" - festival. This, and the following genitives, are adjectival, partitive. As for the celebration of religious days, the religious festivals, new moon celebrations and Sabbath day observances, these seam more observably Jewish in background, although Lohse argues for a Jewish pagan mix, a product of syncretism.

neomhniaV (a) gen. "a New Moon celebration" - Religious Israel followed a lunisolar calendar, with celebrations on the first of the month guided by the phases of the moon, but with adjustments to fit the solar calendar year. The issue most likely centered on the observance of these festivals, but like the debate in England between the Roman and Celtic traditions, it may have been over the calculations as to when to celebrate something like Easter.

sabbatwn (on) gen. "a Sabbath day" - sabbaths. Sabbath observance is obviously the issue at hand. The issue would be not so much over taking a day off from work, but over strict requirements in its observance for the promotion of holiness. Christian slaves would find it very difficult to to comply with strict Sabbath observance.


These examples of the minutia of the law are but a shadow of eternal reality; reality is with Christ, the one who "embodies the heavenly reality which lies beyond and sustains the perceptible cosmos", Dunn.

a{ pro. "these" - which [is (collectively) = are a shadow]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. The antecedent is surely all the minutia of the law referred to in v16; "these things", Barclay.

twn mellontwn (mellw) gen. pres. part. "of the things that were to come" - of the about to, of the coming things. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, attributive, limiting "shadow"; "a pale foreshadowing of what was to come", Cassirer.

to ... swma (a atoV) "the reality" - [but/and] the body = substance, reality is [of the christ]. Nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be. "As opposed to an insubstantial shadow", Moule. It is unlikely that Paul is referring to "the body", namely "the church", Wilson, Pokorny, etc.; see "of Christ" below.

de "however" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point; "but the substance belongs to Christ", ESV.

tou Cristou (oV) gen. "is found in Christ" - of the christ. The verb to-be estin must be assumed, as NIV. The translation "is Christ" is unlikely, particularly the idea, "the body is Christ", ie., "the church is Christ", or "the reality is the body of Christ", NJB, or that "it is as the members of the body of Christ that his people now possess the substance", Bruce, so also Wilson. The genitive is likely to be adjectival, possessive, "the substance belongs to Christ", ESV, or better, "the Christ", "the one who is the fulfillment of Jewish eschatological hope", Dunn. "The reality is with Christ", Dunn, "found in Christ, NIV.


In line with v16, Paul encourages his readers to resist those who would erode Christian freedom, cheating them out of their eternal prize by promoting, "as a substitute for his gospel, a system of religion which is the product of their own minds", Martin, v18. This verse is somewhat complex, both in its concepts and Greek. "Don't be cheated out of your standing in Christ by those who delight in asceticism and false spirituality, who pursue their own fantasies, who are inflated with the importance of secular ideas, and (v19a) who are now disengaged from him who is the head of the church."

mhdeiV ... katabrabeuetw (katabrabeuw) pres. imp. "do not let anyone ..... disqualify [you]" - let no one deprive [you] of the prize. Usually taken in the sense of "disqualify", as NIV, with the false teachers functioning as "self-appointed umpires", Barclay, but the more negative sense "defraud", Berkeley, "cheat you", Phillips, is possible

qewn (qelw) pres. part. "who delights [in]" - by willing, wishing, delighting [in]. See Harris for his selection of five possible ways to treat this participle. We are best to follow Moule who argues that qelein en is used in the LXX to express the sense "to delight in", so Dunn, O'Brien ... Here the nominative participial construction "delighting in", although anarthrous, is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting "no one", so those "who delight in ...", as NIV, so Campbell. The following three participle are also best treated as adjectival; "do not let anyone who delights in ..... who enters into .... who is puffed up ..... (v19, kai, "and") and who is not holding fast ... disqualify / cheat you." Possibly adverbial, modal / instrumental / temporal; the false teachers disqualify / cheat the Colossian believers "delighting in / by delighting in / when they delight in."

tapeinofrosunh/ (h) dat. "false humility" - humility, modesty. Normally regarded as a Christian virtue, but here "either a false or a misguided humility", Wilson, eg., Uriah Heep. Moo indicates some evidence for the word being used in connection with fasting, so prompting the translations "asceticism", ESV, "self-abasement", NASB.

twn aggelwn (oV) gen. "[the worship] of angels" - [and veneration, worship] of the angels. The sense is illusive, prompting endless speculation. The genitive is usually read as verbal, objective, "worship offered to the angels", but Dunn suggests a subjective genitive, following the argument put forward by Francis in Humility and Angel Worship in Colossae. As a subjective genitive, the sense is "the worship offered by angels to God." Extant literature of the time refers to those who utter the language of angels and with them worship God. How this may have manifested itself in worship at Colossae is anyones guess. It could express itself in any form of spiritual discipline within the worship service, even possibly tongue speaking. The Colossians would know exactly what Paul was referring to; we on the other hand, can only but speculate.

embateuwn (embateuw) pres. part. "such a person goes into great detail about" - entering into, delving into. This second participial is again nominative in agreement with the subject mhdeiV, "no one = [do] not [let] anyone [..." Again anarthrous, but like the first, and the following two participles, it is best treated as adjectival, attributive, limiting "anyone"; "anyone ..... who enters into ....." The sense is illusive, prompting numerous translations. Dunn is surely right when he suggests that Paul is explaining something more of participation in the worship of angels - they are entering into a visionary state through spiritual disciplines (tongue speaking??) to share in the worship of angels in heaven; so the ESV translation "going into great detail about visions."

a} neut. pro. "what" - which things [he had seen]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to see." Another example of a neuter plural pronoun / relative following a feminine noun.

fusioumenoV (fusiow) pres. mid./pas. part. "they are puffed up with idle notions" - being vainly puffed up = proud without reason. The participle, as above, adjectival, attributive, limiting "anyone". "Their minds, dominated by a false idea of the importance of external things, inflate them with a senseless conceit", Barclay.

uJpo + gen. "by" - by. Expressing agency; "by his sensuous mind", ESV. "Mind" in the sense of "intellect".

thV sarkoV (x koV) gen. "unspiritual [mind]" - [the mind] of the flesh [of him]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "mind" = "a flesh type of mind" = "sensuous mind", "worldly mind", Cassirer, as NIV.


Paul has been describing those who undermine the Christian freedom of the Colossian believers, and now, in a final point, he notes that they are believers who are disengaged from Christ; they are those "who have lost connection with the head." Paul goes on to develop the idea of Christ as the head of the church. "It is under the direction of Christ, then, that the various parts of the body function harmoniously together, since they share his common life and grow to maturity under the fostering care of God", Bruce. Those who have neglected the headship / lordship of Christ have brought disruption to the local church.

ou kratwn (kratew) pres. part. "they have lost connection" - [and] not holding [the head]. The participle, as with the other three in v18, is adjectival, attributive, limiting "anyone", v18; "and who are disengaged from the head." The negation mh would be expected with a participle. O'Brien suggests that ou is used because a positive slant is intended; "he is letting go of, or rejecting."

ex + gen. "from [whom]" - from [whom the whole body]. Expressing source / origin.

epicorhgoumenon (epicorhgew) pres. mid./pas. part. "supported" - being supplied [and united]. The participle, as with sumbibazomenon, "being united together", is adjectival, attributive, limiting to swma, "the body"; "the whole body which is nourished and knit together by means of the joints and ligaments."

dia + gen. "supported and held together" - through [the joints and ligaments]. Instrumental, expressing means, "through / by means of."

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God causes it [to grow]" - [increases / grows the increase / growing] of god. The noun thn auxhsin, "the increase, growing", accusive of content, being a verbal noun, is usually taken as prompting the subjective genitive, "of God", ie., God causes the growing, "grows as God intends it to grow", Moule, so NIV. Of course, as Harris notes, other possibilities exist, eg., ablative, source / origin, "grows with a growth from God", or adjectival, attributive, "a divine growth."


Colossians Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]