The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Colossians Chapter 2

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 27, 2019

WHY ST PAUL WRITES TO UNKNOWN CHURCHES 

A Summary of Colossians 2:1-7~St. Paul writes to the Colossians and their neighbors of Laodicea, though he has never seen them, in order that they may be united in charity and have a full understanding of that divine secret of which he has been speaking. The secret is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). The Apostle is anxious about his unknown readers, because of the specious errors that are abroad among them. Though absent in body, he is spiritually present with them, and he rejoices at the solid battle front their faith is presenting to the enemy. They have learned the truth about Christ, and may they show it in their lives, and ever abound in thanksgiving!

Col 2:1. For I would have you know, what manner of care I have for you and for them that are at Laodicea, and whosoever have not seen my face in the flesh:

The first three verses of this Chapter are intimately connected with the end of the preceding Chapter, and they explain St. Paul’s “labor” and “striving” in behalf of the Colossians and their neighbors whom he had not seen. The Apostle’s zeal and solicitude went out to all Christian communities, and especially those of Gentile origin (2 Cor 11:28).

Care means rather “struggle,” according to the Greek.

Laodicea. See Introduction to this Epistle, No. II.

Col 2:2. That their hearts may be comforted, being instructed in charity, and unto all riches of fullness of understanding, unto the knowledge of the mystery of God the Father and of Christ:

The Apostle here tells the purpose of his solicitude and prayers for his unknown correspondents, namely, “that their hearts may be comforted,” i.e., that they may be admonished and strengthened in faith, as there is question of doctrine and of guarding against errors; that “being instructed in charity,” or rather, “being bound together in charity” (i.e., in Christian love), they may attain to a full understanding of the mystery which God the Father has revealed to us in Christ. The phrases “unto all riches, etc.” and “unto the knowledge of the mystery, etc.” are parallel, one to the other, and explain each other.

The last words of this verse, “of God the Father, etc.,” are variously read in the MSS., versions, and Fathers; but the sense is clear in any reading. Perhaps the best reading is that of the Vatican MS. and St. Hilary: του θεου χριστου.

Christ is in apposition with “mystery.”

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

The Mystery of God which St. Paul would have his readers grasp is none other than Christ, in whom are contained all the riches of divine and human wisdom and knowledge. As God, Christ possessed infinite wisdom and knowledge, and as man His knowledge was superior to that of men and angels. The faithful, therefore, need not go to other teachers or masters, nor give heed to the doctrines preached by the false teachers in the name of angels; let them hear and follow in all things Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. “Jesus Christ is a great Book. He who can indeed study Him in the word of God will know all he ought to know. Humility opens this Divine Book, faith reads in it, love learns from it” (Quesnel, quoted by Moule, h. l.).

Col 2:4. Now this I say, that no man may deceive you by loftiness of words.

The Apostle comes now to the case of the Colossians, showing that what he has been saying was intended to put them on their guard against the false teachers, who have been trying to deceive them by plausible arguments.

Now this I say, doubtless refers to what he has said in the verses just preceding about the mystery and wealth of knowledge which are in Christ.

In place of in sublimitate, other good MSS. of the Vulgate have in subtilitate; the Greek has, “in persuasiveness of speech.”

Col 2:5. For though I be absent in body, yet in spirit I am with you; rejoicing and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith which is in Christ.

St. Paul knows the state of things at Colossse, and, though absent in body, he is present wiith the faithful in mind and heart; and he rejoices at the resistance they are offering to the false teachers.

Order . . . steadfastness. Better, “orderly array . . . solid front.” These are military terms, perhaps suggested by the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard by whom in their turn the Apostle was surrounded at this time.

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

As therefore, referring to what he has just said about their firm faith. In this and the following verse the Apostle is stressing the need of continuing united to Christ, or persevering in the faith which the Colossians received from Epaphras, their apostle and master, and of shaping their lives according to its teachings.

The Lord. This expression shows that the historic Jesus was also the Christ, the Messiah, and the sovereign and universal Master. See on Eph 3:11; Phil 2:11.

Col 2:7. Rooted and built up in him, and confirmed in the faith, as also you have learned, abounding in it in thanksgiving.

Rooted . . . built, two metaphors—one taken from a tree firmly fixed in the ground and the other from a house strongly constructed—to enforce again the necessity of adhering to Christ, the sole principle of the supernatural life; and the means of this union is the faith, as they “have learned” it from Epaphras. See on commentary on Eph 3:17, and the commentary on Eph 2:22.

In it, i.e., in faith, producing the full fruit of faith.

The Vulgate in illo should be in ea, to agree with the Greek, though some MSS. have simply, “abounding in thanksgiving,” It was entirely becoming that the faithful should be abundantly grateful for the gift of faith and for the rich blessings it brought them.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FALSE TEACHERS IS OPPOSED TO CHRIST 

A Summary of Colossians 2:8-23. St. Paul now directly considers the so-called philosophy of the false teachers among the Colossians, and he finds it is in opposition to Christian principles in doctrine and in practice. It is based on human traditions and worldly elements, instead of following Christ, in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead, in whom the Colossians will find all they need for salvation, and who is superior to all powers. In Christ they have received the true circumcision, which is of the heart, having been buried with Him in Baptism and risen with Him through faith to a new life. Yes, when they were dead in their sins, God gave them new life in Christ, pardoning them their offences and liberating them from the burdens of the Law. It was the victory of the cross that cast off the principalities and powers, and led them away in triumphal defeat (Col 2:8-15). Therefore, the Colossians must not be judged by regulations and observances which were only shadows of the reality which is Christ. Nor let them be cheated of their prize by a wrong asceticism and worship of angels which would lead away from Christ, the head of all; for it is through Christ alone that the Church attains that full growth which is of God. Since, then, the Colossians have died to the elements of the world, they should pay no need to those things which perish in the using. These precepts and doctrines of men have an outward appearance of value, but they are really impotent against sensual indulgences (Col 2:16-23).

Col 2:8. Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy, and vain deceit: according to the traditions of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ:

Cheat you. Better, “make you his spoil,” or “spoil you.”

Philosophy here is to be understood in a wide sense, as embracing a system of teaching in religious matters. Thus it was often used in antiquity, as when Philo speaks of the Jewish religion and the Law of Moses as a philosophy (Leg. ad Caium, 23, 33); and Josephus applies the same name to the doctrines of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes (Ant., xviii. i, 2). There is no thought in this passage of belittling true philosophy, which is the fruit of correct reasoning from sound principles.

Vain deceit. The false teachers pretended to have a superior wisdom to communicate, but which in reality was empty and far removed from truth. Instead of coming from God, or divine revelation, or the use of right reason, their so-called philosophy was based on “the traditions of men” (i.e., mere human opinions) and “the elements of the world” (i.e., certain Jewish rites and institutions, which were regulated by the Jewish calendar, such as new moons, sabbaths, and other recurring festivals). See below, on Col 2:16. Other authorities think the term “elements” here is used in a technical sense “for spiritual beings supposed to animate and preside over the elements of the physical universe, and generally conceived as resident in the heavenly bodies” (so Dodd, in Abingdon Bible, h. l.). It seems best to say with Fr. Rickaby that “it was not the mere observance of Jewish festivals, but beyond that the positive cultus of the heavenly bodies or of angels as controllers of those bodies, that displeased St. Paul” (Further Notes on St. Paul, h. l.).

Col 2:9. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead corporally;

The faithful must not seek spiritual knowledge and help outside of Christ, for in Him dwells the “fullness of the Godhead,” i.e., the totality of deity.

Corporally, i.e., corporally, totally, entirely. See on Col 1:19 above. Others explain “corporally” to mean, not figuratively, but substantially and personally; or with a bodily manifestation (Lightfoot).

Col 2:10. And you are filled in him, who is the head of all principality and power:

As the fullness of deity is in Christ, making Him all-perfect, the faithful can find in Him all they need for their salvation and religious perfection; they need not seek elsewhere. Christ is the “head of all principality, etc.,” i.e., all angels are subject to Him and inferior to Him.

Col 2:11. In whom also you were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the despoiling of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ:

The false teachers were advocating circumcision of the body as a means to spiritual perfection; but St. Paul reminds the Colossians that in virtue of their union with Christ they have already received the real, interior, spiritual circumcision, which is of the heart, and which alone counts before God. This spiritual circumcision consists “in the despoiling, etc.,” better, “in the stripping off of the fleshy body,” i.e., in the cutting away of the lower instincts and appetites in man, in the putting ofif of the old man of sin (Rom 6:6).

The word sed in the Vulgate should be omitted.

Col 2:12. Buried with him in baptism, in whom also you are risen again by faith in the operation of God, who raised him up from the dead.

The Apostle explains when and how the Colossians received the circumcision of Christ. It took place at the time of their Baptism, when their immersion in the water signified their death and burial to sin, and their coming out of it represented their resurrection to a new life of grace. See on Rom 6:4 flf.

By faith, etc. In order that Baptism may confer spiritual life, faith in the power of God who raised Jesus to life is required in adults who have the use of reason (Rom 1:17).

Who raised him, etc. The Apostle mentions the resurrection of Jesus, because this mystery is fundamental to Christianity.

Col 2:13. And you, when you were dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he quickened together with him, forgiving us all offences:

Such is the circumcision of Christ, which is conferred through Baptism; and now the Apostle will apply to the Colossians what he has been saying on this subject, recalling first to their minds their former miserable condition of soul as pagans.

The uncircumcision of your flesh means their unregenerate state, in which they obeyed the promptings of the flesh (Eph 2:3).

He quickened, etc., i.e., God the Father raised you to new, spiritual life, “with him” (i.e., with Christ), when by faith you became united to Christ in Baptism.

According to the best Greek MSS., the Vulg. should read donans nobis; the forgiveness of sins was something common to all converts, Jewish and Gentile.

Col 2:14. Blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he hath taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the cross

Blotting out, etc., is parallel to the preceding phrase, “forgiving us all offences” (ver. 13), and means that God had cancelled the indebtedness which our sins had caused to be registered against us.

Handwriting of the decree. Better, as in R. V., “the bond written in ordinances,” i.e., the signature of obligation to observance, whether expressed in the “ordinances,” or “orders,” or “decrees” of the Mosaic Law for the Jews (Deut 27:15-26); or in the dictates of the natural law and conscience for the pagans (Rom 2:12-15).

The reference then is primarily to indebtedness incurred by the Jews in violating the decrees and prescriptions of the Law of Moses, but secondarily also to that incurred by the Gentiles in violating the law written on their own hearts. Therefore, when the Apostle says, “which was contrary to us,” all are included, all were under the curse of law, Gentiles as well as Jews. See on Eph 2:15. Now God, through Christ, has destroyed this account that stood against us, taking it “out of the way,” in which it stood between us and God; and this He did by “fastening it to the cross” of Christ, on which our Lord suffered and atoned for all our sins and transgressions.

The Vulgate chirographum decreti should be made to agree with the Greek, which has τοις δογμασιν  (dative); hence we should read decretis, and understand a chirographum which was expressed in or based on “decrees,” or “orders,” or “ordinances.”

Col 2:15. And despoiling the principalities and powers, he hath exposed them confidently in open shew, triumphing over them in him.

As God through Christ has quickened us, forgiving our offences and blotting out the handwriting that was against us (ver. 13-14), so has He spoiled, exposed to contempt and derision, and triumphed over the hostile powers that had held man captive. It was through the Law that those principalities and powers were able to enslave man (Gal 3:19, Gal 4:9-10); and hence those agencies met their defeat when our Lord by His death on the cross abolished the Law, bringing it to an end.

Principalities and powers. These two terms are used above (Col 1:16, Col 2:10) in a favorable sense for good angels, but here they are taken in an evil sense for demons, as in Eph 6:12.

Exposed them confidently. Better, “made a show of them with outspokenness,” i.e., exposed them publicly to ridicule and contempt, leading them as captives in triumphal procession (θριαμβευσας αυτους).

The Latin confidenter and palam are a rendering of the Greek  εν παρρησια (“confidently in open show”); and in semetipso should be in eo (εν αυτω), i.e., in Christ, or In the cross. It is not certain whether the subjects of the verbs in verses 13-15 should be understood to be God or Christ, but it seems better, in the light of the context, to take God as the subject. God triumphed over the enemies of man through Jesus Christ by means of the cross of Christ.

Col 2:16. Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a festival day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath,
Col 2:17. Which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.

So far, in verses 8-15, St. Paul has been opposing the erroneous speculations of the false teachers, and now, in verses 16-23, he will attack their false asceticism. He warns his readers not to be disturbed about their neglect of outworn Mosaic observances regarding food and drink, the Jewish festivals, such as the New Moon, the Sabbath, and the like, the importance of which the false teachers were stressing and magnifying. All these things were good in their day, under the Old Law, as foreshadowing the reality to come, which was Christ; but now that Christ has come, these things are done away; they are a hindrance to be avoided.

The Vulgate sabbatorum is according to the Greek, but σαββατων, though plural in form, is singular in meaning (Matt 12:1; Mark 1:21, Mark 3:2; Luke 4:16, etc.).

Col 2:18. Let no man seduce you, willing in humility and religion of angels, walking in the things he hath seen, in vain puffed up by the sense of his flesh,
Col 2:19. And not holding the head, from which the whole body, by joints and bands, being supplied with nourishment and compacted, groweth unto the increase of God.

18-19. Here the Apostle admonishes the Colossians to beware of the pretentious humility and superstitious cult of angels advocated by the false teachers.

Let no man seduce, etc. Better, “let no one rob you of your prize,” i.e., of eternal life (see Phil. 3:14), by tempting you to forsake Christ.

Willing in humility, etc., i.e., delighting in an artificial, voluntary self-abasement and an obsequious service of angels. Those “heretics” taught that man was so miserable and far removed from God that intermediaries between him and God were necessary; and consequently to these intervening beings, whom they called angels, they attributed a part in the work of man’s creation and redemption which was as absurd as it was untrue.

Walking in the things, etc. More literally, “taking his stand on things he has seen,” i.e., preferring his alleged visions and revelations to the Apostolic Gospel. Such is the best reading of this passage, though other good authorities think a “not” has dropped out of the text before “seen,” and that we should read, “taking his stand on things he has not seen,” i.e., pretending to a knowledge of angels and of the spirit world which has no real basis. This is the reading followed by the Vulgate.

In vain puffed up, etc. Better, “foolishly puffed up with his fleshly mind.” The false teachers were full of pride, and, while alleging superior knowledge about spiritual things, their thoughts in reality were low and carnal, mere earthly dreams.

And not holding the head, etc., i.e., not keeping intimately united to Christ, the head of the Church, from whom the members derive their organic unity, power and growth.

From whom the whole body, etc. Better, “from whom the whole body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is of God.” The meaning is that all vital unity and spiritual growth among the members of the Church must come from Christ, who is the head of the Church and the only source of spiritual supply. See commentary on Eph. 4:16.

Col 2:20. If then thou be dead with Christ from the elements of this world, why are you under decrees as though living in the world?
Col 2:21. Touch not, taste not, handle not;
Col 2:22. Which are all unto destruction by the very use, according to the precepts and doctrines of men.

In verses 20-23 the Apostle shows the futility of the ascetical practices preached by the “heretics” at Colossse.

If then you are dead, etc. The connective “if” here, as later in Col 3:1, does not express doubt or conjecture, but rather assumption; it assumes the death in question to be a fact. Since the faithful in Baptism have mystically died with Christ and so have been freed “from the elements of this world” (see above, onC ol 2:8), why should they still continue to live as if subject to these ancient rites and ceremonies, which enjoined that they should “touch not, taste not, etc.” (Lev. 11:4 ff., 15:1 ff.)? These prohibitions, which the false teachers were endeavoring to enforce, did not affect permanent moral principles, but rather things material that perished with the using; and now that the Law of Moses has been abrogated, they have no divine authority or sanction, but are “according to the precepts and doctrines of men,” i.e., according to human opinions and human traditions.

Which are all unto destruction by the very use. This sentence is best treated as a parenthesis.

The quid decernitis of the Vulgate (ver. 20) is passive in Greek; hence we have rendered, “why are you under decrees?” The precepts of verse 21, ne tetigeritis, etc., are singular in Greek, which better expresses the ridiculousness of the practices for each individual.

Col 2:23. Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in superstition and humility, and not sparing the body; not in any honor to the filling of the flesh.

Which things, etc. These precepts and doctrines of the false teachers had an external appearance of wisdom by reason of the worship of angels, humility, and bodily rigor, which they superstitiously and pretentiously implied; but they were of no value with God, and rather tended to serve than to curb the full gratification of the passions of man, since they were only external and separated from the true source of all genuine spirituality, which is Christ.

Not in any honor, etc. Far better in the R. V., which reads: “Not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Such seems to be the meaning of a difficult verse, the text of which has probably been corrupted in transmission. See Knabenbauer, h. I.; also Sales, Moule, and Crafer in A New Com. on Holy Script., h. I.

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