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

iii] The consequence of dying with Christ


Paul has established that a believer is complete / full in Christ through faith and so he encourages his readers to resist those who promote a law-obedience-for-blessings line. Paul now gets close-up and personal with his readers. Given that they have died with Christ and so died to the law, why do they still submit to its regulations. Much of the law was designed by pietists to take the fun out of life; don't do this, don't do that. None of it will make you a better person.


i] Context: See 2:8-15.


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


iii] Structure: The consequence of dying with Christ:

Consequent upon dying with Christ, v20-23:

A believer having died with Christ, has died to the law ("the elementary principles of the world"), why then (tiv, rhetorical question) submit again to its regulations? v20;

The "do not handle, .....", v21.

Such are human in design and

destined to destruction, v22;

Although possessing the appearance of wisdom,

"promoting self-made religion, asceticism, severity",

the law is unable to restrain sin, v23.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul asks the Colossians why they still live as though subject to the conditions of this age, bound under subjection to the law, when, in Christ, they have been set free. Why be bound by rules and regulation which supposedly purify, when a believer is already pure in Christ? Rules of piety may seemingly promote purity, but in truth, "they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."


"The elements of the world", twn stoiceiwn tou kosmou, cf., 2:8. The preposition apo is often translated "to", as NIV, but the sense is one of "separation from", so in dying with Christ the believer has "departed from / been separated from" the "elements of the world" = the principles that underlie the natural order = "the basic principles"; "You have died with Christ and he has set you free from ....", NLT. But what is the believer set free from? As detailed in v8, these notes rest on the proposition that "the basic principles" are the ethical rules of Judaic law, the Mosaic Law, the Torah with its accumulated traditions, the minutia of the law, now including Christian piety (wowserism!!!!). Paul happily follows Jesus is setting aside the minutia of the law, "gnat" / insect law. The moral law, on the other hand, is not set aside, although its function is limited: The Law can serve as a reminder of the human condition, prompting an ongoing reliance on grace through faith, and it can guide the life of faith; what it can't do is condemn, or purify. The law cannot curse a believer, nor can it make us holy, because in dying and rising with Christ we are set free from condemnation and already stand perfect in the sight of God.

Text - 2:20

The consequence of dying with Christ, v20-23. We are dead to the guilt of sin because by identifying with Christ our sin becomes his and he, in our place, bears the consequence of that sin, namely, the righteous condemnation of God. We are also dead to the power of sin because in Christ, the one who fulfills / completes the law, the law is no longer our taskmaster, making sin more sinful / empowering sin. So, why submit again to the law's regulations?

ei "since" - if [as is the case, you died with christ from the basic principles of the world, then why, as living in world, do you obey rules]? Introducing a 1st. class conditional clause where the proposed condition is assumed to be true. Given that in English "if" implies doubt the "if, as is the case," can be expressed as "given that"; "since", NIV.

sun + dat. "with [Christ]" - Expressing association / accompaniment ; identification with Christ's death. In dying with Christ we die to the guilt of sin and the power of sin.

apo twn stoiceiwn + gen. "to the basic principles / the elemental spiritual forces" - Expressing separation. See "Interpretation" above and 2:8.

tou kosmou (oV) gen. "of this world" - of the world. The genitive is adjectival, probably possessive, "elementary principles belonging to this world", but possibly an attributive sense is intended, "worldly principles", or even ablative, source / origin. Law is of this age and not the age to come.

tiv pro. "why" - Interrogative pronoun.

wJV + part. "as though" - as. With the participle zwnteV, "living", adverbial, giving a concessive sense, "as if / as though." This usage gives "the subjective motivation of the subject of the discourse or action (= "with the assertion that, on the pretext that, with the thought that")", BDF #425[3].

en + dat. "to" - in [world]. Local, expressing space / sphere; "as if you were still part-and-parcel of this world's system", Phillips, but possibly "as if you still lived in a worldly way", O'Brien. "Why do you allow yourselves to be dictated to by regulations which have no authority?", Martin.

tiv .... dogmatizesqe (dogmatizw) pres. mid./pas. "why ...... do you submit to its rules" - why submit to regulations. "Why do you still submit to the rules and regulations which belong to this age?"


mh aJyh/ (aJptw) aor. subj. "do not handle" - do not grasp [nor taste, nor touch]. As with "do not taste" and "do not touch", subjunctive of prohibition.


The intended shape of this verse is not overly clear, but it seems that Paul is supplying two critical comments about the "don't do this and don't do that" version of the law promoted by the false teachers: a) The law, particularly its minutia, is destined to perish - the law is not made up of eternal verities, only love is destined to survive. b) Much of the Law + (ie., the Torah + tradition of the elders + particular applications promoted by the false teachers), particularly its minutia, is human in design. Note the parallel with the Pharisees, Mk.7:7-8, ref. Isa.29:13.

a{ def. rel. pro. "these / these rules, which" - which things [are all to / for decay, corruption, destruction in / with / by use]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. The antecedent is likely to be v21; all such rules "perish as they are used", ESV. The "commandments and teachings of men", Isa.29:13, making up the minutia of the law, have no permanence in themselves, they are not eternal. Like regulations over food, it goes through us, is used up and perishes.

eiV "destined" - to = for. End-view / goal, here disadvantage. As NIV; "destined to perish."

th/ apocrhsei (iV ewV) "with use" - by using up. The dative is instrumental, expressing means, "by means of use", "by being used", Moffatt, "with use", NRSV, but possibly temporal, "as they are used", RSV.

kata + acc. "are based on" - according to. Expressing a standard; "corresponding to, in accordance with"; the rules and regulation are in compliance with human teachings / ideas / principles / ideals, they belong to the "traditions of men" and are not kata, "according to", Christ.

twn anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "human / merely human" - [the commandments and teachings] of men / people. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the commandments and teachings", as NIV, TNIV.


Paul now makes a third critical comment about the law - it is unable to restrain sin (the point may even be that it promotes sin; see estin .... exonta below). This is a self evident truth ignored by those who think that they can restrain sin and so progress sanctification by a strict application of the law. The problem is that law makes sin more sinful; it gives sin oxygen. This truth is self evident in that we know from experience that if we tell a child not to touch the stove because it might burn them, they will inevitably touch the stove and burn their finger. It is interesting to observe, in the secularization of Western society, the increasing moralizing on progressive issues, all undertaken without any recognition of original sin. In an anti-bullying program in Australia, TV adverts identify difference and press for acceptance. I had friends at school who had eczema, but it never crossed my mind that they were dirty, until one of these TV adverts told me that I mustn't think that they are dirty!!! See Moule for alternative approaches to this "obscure" verse, p109.

aJtina indef. rel. pro. "these rules" - which things. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. Although this pronoun is indefinite, it most likely carries the same sense as the definite pronoun a{, "which things", v22, the antecedent being the rules and regulations; "I know these regulations look wise ...", Phillips.

estin ... exonta (ecw) pres. part. "have" - are having. A present periphrastic construction possibly emphasizing durative aspect; "these regulations have ....." O'Brien, following Reicke, suggests that the participle is adverbial, concessive, given that he ignores the presumed men .... de construction. He sees the verb to-be estin linked to proV plhsmonhn thV sarkoV, "to the gratification of the flesh", rather than the participle exonta, "having"; "which things lead - though having a reputation for wisdom in the spheres of voluntary worship, humility and severe treatment of the body, without any value whatsoever - to the gratification of the flesh." With this interpretation, the rules and regulations actually promote sin, rather than just fail to restrain it.

men "indeed" - on the one hand, [an appearance of wisdom, but on the other hand, are stupid]. Possibly emphatic as NIV, but it is more likely that we have an anacoluthon here, a broken syntactical construction with the apodosis introduced by de, "but", missing, so indicating an adversative comparative construction (but note above); "These regulations have an appearance of wisdom, but they are actually stupid, with their self-imposed religious regulations and humility ...."

sofiaV (a) gen. "of wisdom" - The genitive is probably adjectival, epexegetic, specifying the "word", or attributive, the rules and regulations have, on the one hand, the appearance of being "a wise word." Most commentators take logon, "word", + part. + gen. to give the unique sense "have the appearance of wisdom", Wilson, "pass for wisdom", BAGD 477b, "reputation", Lightfoot. They have "an air of wisdom about them", Cassirer.

en + dat. "with" - in [self-imposed religion and humility and severe treatment of the body]. The preposition here may be instrumental, expressing means, "by / with", as NIV, or reference, "with respect to ....", or causal, "because of." "with their self-inspired efforts at worship, their self-humbling, and their studied neglect of the body", Phillips.

kai "and [their harsh treatment]" - Variant. If not original, the dative phrase "harsh treatment of the body" is likely to be appositional, explaining what Paul means by tapeinofrosunh/, "humility"; "and humility, that is, harsh treatment of the body."

swmatoV (a atoV) gen. "of the body" - The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective, by receiving the action of the verbal noun afeidia/, "harsh treatment."

en + dat. "they lack any value in" - [not] in = with [any honor = worth, value]. Probably here expressing association / accompaniment, "not with any value"; "they are of no value", ESV.

proV "restraining" - toward. Expressing end-view / purpose, here disadvantage, "against"; "of any value against indulgence of the flesh" = "in the struggle against sensual indulgence", Barclay.

thV sarkoV (x koV) gen. "sensual [indulgence]" - [satisfaction, gratification, indulgence] of the flesh. The genitive is best taken as adjectival, attributive, limiting "indulgence", as NIV, but verbal, objective is proposed by some, "the indulgences of the flesh", ESV, even subjective, as Cassirer, "indulgences which spring from the carnal side of our nature."


Colossians Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]