This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of Colossians chapter 2, followed by his comments on Colossians 2:6-15. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.
ANALYSIS OF COLOSSIANS CHAPTER 2
The Apostle commences this chapter by expressing his anxious solicitude for the Colossians, as also the object of this solicitude, which was to afford them the consolation that would result from their close union in the bonds of charity, and their perfect knowledge of the leading truths of Christian faith (1, 2).
He next cautions them against the deceitful wiles of the false teachers, both Gentiles and Judaizers. Against the former, he shows that Christ is the great fountain of all knowledge (3.) He encourages the Colossians to guard against their false reasoning, and by closely adhering to Christ, to persevere in the faith and Christian life, which they had embraced (4–8). He points out the means which the Gnostics would employ to seduce them from the faith, viz., false and erroneous philosophy, opposed to the true principles of Christian faith. These false principles of Pagan philosophy, they should reject, and have recourse to Christ, in whom, as God, was eminently contained all knowledge, who is also the ruler of all the hosts of angels, and, therefore, to be adored before them (8–10). Against the Jewish zealots, who proclaimed the necessity of circumcision, and the legal ceremonies, he reminds the Colossians that the circumcision which they received in baptism as far surpassed that of the Jews, as the reality exceeds the sign (11, 12).
He ascends to the source of their spiritual blessings, viz., redemption through Christ, and graphically describes the mode in which redemption was accomplished, and the triumph which Christ achieved over the whole hosts of demons, driving them before his triumphal car, as so many trophies of victory (13, 14, 15). From the foregoing he infers, that the Colossians should pay attention neither to the Judaizers, who endeavoured to turn them aside from these real blessings to vain, empty shadows (16, 17), nor to the Simonians or Gnostics, who encouraged the false worship of angels (18)—and adhered not to Christ, the head of the Church, from whom she derived all graces (19). He concludes the chapter, by mildly rebuking the Colossians for attending to the false teaching of either the Gnostics or Judaizers.
Col 2:6 As therefore you have received Jesus Christ the Lord, walk ye in him:
As, then, you have been instructed in Christ Jesus; so persevere in his doctrine and in the observance of his precepts;
“Jesus Christ the Lord.” In Greek, Christ Jesus the Lord. He tells them to persevere in the faith of Christ, taught them by Epaphras, at their conversion. See Col 1:3-8.
Col 2:7 Rooted and built up in him and confirmed in the faith, as also you have learned: abounding in him in thanksgiving.
Having been engrafted on him as the stock and root, and reared on him as the foundation, and confirmed in the faith which you have learned; nay, advancing in grace and faith, with thanksgiving for so many distinguished favours.
Under a twofold similitude of a tree, and of an edifree, the Apostle represents their close connexion with Christ. He is the foundation: they, the superstructure, He is the root, and the stock; they, the tree or branches. This verse is connected with the preceding, thus: persevere in his doctrine, &c., having been ingrafted on him, &c., so as to increase and advance in faith and grace with thanksgiving.
“Abounding in him.” In Greek, abounding in it. The Vulgate reading is found in some of the chief manuscripts.
Col 2:8 Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy and vain deceit: according to the tradition of men according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ.
(Since, then, by ceasing to be in connexion with Christ, you would be as so many trees without roots, edifices without foundations); Take care, lest any person deceive you, and rob you of your faith, by the display of false philosophy, which is no better than empty fallacy, calculated to impose upon us; the teachings of which are not derived from the authority of God, but founded on the corrupt and false opinions of men, and grounded on elementary principles either false in themselves, or falsely applied, and altogether at variance with the doctrine of Christ, and, therefore, to be rejected.
The philosophy condemned here by the Apostle is not the science of philosophy, the knowledge of human things derived, by legitimate reasoning, from certain fixed principles; he only condemns the false and erroneous systems of Pagan philosophy, wherein were contained the most monstrous errors in matters appertaining to God and religion. It was a philosophy which, in reference to religion, was nothing but “vain deceit,” which inculcated systems of belief, founded only on the corrupt inventions of men, transmitted from generation to generation; founded on elementary axioms, either false or falsely applied, and outstripping the proper limits to which they could be applied. See, for example, the abuse which they made of the logical axiom, quæ sunt eadem uni tertio, sunt eadem inter se, in reference to the mystery of the Trinity. See, also, the moral axiom current with the philosophers, expedit populos decipi in negotio religionis. The “elements of the world,” may, according to some, refer to the carnal outward precepts of the ceremonial law of the Jews, in which sense, the word “elements” is employed, chapter 4 verse 3, of the Epistle to the Galatians (Gal 4:3); in this interpretation, he is here alluding, partly, to the errors of the Judaizantes.
“But not according to Christ.” In this, he condemns the system of religion introduced by the Gnostics and Judaizantes; because, they were opposed to the purity of the gospel.
“Beware lest any man cheat you.” The Greek for “cheat,” συλαγωγων, means, to despoil, or lead away captive.
Col 2:9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally.
Let no one seduce you from Christ: for, in him, the entire plenitude of the Godhead dwells, really and substantially, or personally, in a manner somewhat resembling the dwelling of the soul in the body.
The Apostle assigns the reason, why they should follow Christ, as teacher, in preference to those opposed to him, viz., because he is God: and hence, in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He adds this rather than repeat the third verse, because it is the truth announced in this verse, viz., that Christ is God, which verifies verse 3. Hence, no other is to be heard before him. “Corporally,” i.e., personally. The divine Person has really assumed the human nature of Christ, so that the divine Person is alone the Person of this perfect humanity.
Col 2:10 And you are filled in him, who is the head of all principality and power.
And you are abundantly filled by him with all gifts and knowledge necessary for salvation without recurring to the law of Moses or the philosophy of the Gnostics. And he is the head, the ruler and master of all the angels, and hence, to be adored in preference to them.
“Who is the head of all principality and power.” He is the head of all the good angels, represented by the two orders referred to, inasmuch as he is their Lord, and rules them, to promote their happiness. This is added by the Apostle in opposition to the Gnostics, who inculcated the adoration of angels. This verse is more fully expressed (Ephesians, 1).
Col 2:11 In whom also you are circumcised with circumcision not made by hand in despoiling of the body of the flesh: but in the circumcision of Christ.
In whom, also, you have received circumcision, not like the Jewish circumcision, made by hands consisting merely in taking away the foreskin from the body of the flesh, but a spiritual circumcision, consisting in the destruction of sin, and of sinful passions, of which the circumcision among the Jews was but a mere type or figure.
He cautions them against the Jewish zealots, who endeavoured to superadd the rite of circumcision to the Christian religion, and says, we have a circumcision which as far surpasses that in use among the Jews, as the reality, or thing signified, exceeds the sign and the figure. In the Greek, the particle, “but,” is omitted, and the word “sins,” added to the preceding clause, thus: in despoiling of the body (of the sins) of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; a reading, according to which, the entire verse is understood without any antithesis of the circumcision of Christ, thus: by whom you were circumcised with a circumcision not made by hands, which consists in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, in other words, in entirely laying aside the old man of sin, which is the circumcision of Christ, and not of Moses. This is a very probable interpretation.
Col 2:12 Buried with him in baptism: in whom also you are risen again by the faith of the operation of God who hath raised him up from the dead.
You received this spiritual Christian circumcision, when in receiving baptism you were buried, and consequently dead to your sins, with Christ, in which baptism also, while emerging from its waters, you rose to a new spiritual life of grace, of which spiritual resurrection, faith in the omnipotence of him who raised Christ from the dead is required as a necessary condition.
He shows how this circumcision is effected by baptism. The immersion in baptism—the form, in which it was conferred in the time of the Apostle—is a type of our burial, and consequently of our death to sin, which death to sin it also operates as well as signifies; and the emersion from the waters of baptism is also a type of our spiritual resurrection to a life of grace, which resurrection it also effects, requiring as a condition, faith in the omnipotence of him who raised Christ from the dead.
Col 2:13 And you, when you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he hath quickened together with him, forgiving you all offences:
And you, when dead in your sins, both actual and original, together with the passions flowing from original sin, were raised by him to spiritual life, by an effort of the same power by which he raised Christ from the dead, pardoning all your sins, through his merits.
When they were dead in their actual and original sins as well as in all the evils flowing from original sin, he raised them spiritually, with Christ, and made them desert their former vicious ways, and live to God, “and the uncircumcision of your flesh,” the sign, for the thing signified, the foreskin, for original sin, and the evils following from it.
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.
Having first blotted out and abolished the sentence of eternal death, which had been recorded against us all, by the decree of God after the sin of Adam, and the same sentence he took out of the way and annulled, by nailing it to his cross, i.e., destroying it, by the atonement and satisfaction which he made on the cross.
In this verse, some Expositors say, there is reference to the abolition of the obligation which every Jew had contracted to observe the law of Moses. Hence, by “handwriting” they understood the liability to observe “the decree,” or Mosaic law. Others, following the Greek reading, which is, τοῖς δόγμασιν, by decrees, understood it to have the same meaning that it has in the passage to the Ephesians (2:15), “the law of commandments in decrees,” which refers to the abolition of the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, and the substituting of “the decrees,” or precepts of the Christian faith, in their stead. This interpretation, however, does not well accord with the next verse; for, how can it follow from his abolishing the Mosaic ceremonial law, that he was “despoiling principalities,” &c.? (15). Besides, the Mosaic law is never called a “decree;” and if we desert the Vulgate reading, to which the Ethiopic version is conformable, and read, “by decrees,” we must confine it to the Jews; whereas, it is clear that the Apostle refers to all, by saying, “you,” verse 13, “us,” this verse. Hence, the common interpretation is far the more probable, which makes “handwriting” refer to the liability to eternal death pronounced against us by the “decree” of God after the sin of Adam, of which, by an unsearchable judgment of God, we were all made sharers; and this liability or sentence is called “a handwriting,” either because we ourselves, by actual sin, subscribed to the justice of this sentence of punishment, or probably, to signify that it is as certain against us as is the debt against the debtor, whose bond or note of hand is in the possession of the creditors. “Fastening it to the cross;” this refers to the ancient custom of annulling bonds or covenants, by driving a nail through them. Hence, the words may be translated, driving a nail through it by his cross, i.e., by the satisfaction made on the cross. All this, therefore, refers to the atonement which Christ made for the sins of all mankind, by his death on the cross.
Col 2:15 And despoiling the principalities and powers, he hath exposed them confidently in open shew, triumphing over them in himself.
And stripping the entire host of infernal spirits, who were to be the executioners in carrying out this decree, of the dominion and power they had over man, he exposed them publicly to the gaze and derision of men and angels, triumphing over them thus prostrate and vanquished, by his own power.
These words are very expressive of Christ’s triumph over his prostrate enemies; he first stripped them of the power which they had over mankind, during the time that this sentence of death was hanging over their heads. He afterwards publicly exposed them to derision, dragging them after his triumphal car, or rather driving them before it, as so many trophies of victory. This public exposure of the devils is now made before angels and men, who see it by faith; but it will be evidently seen, on the great day of judgment. The two orders, of “principalities” and “powers,” are put for all the orders of demons. There is but one word in the Greek corresponding with the words “confidently” and “open show,” εν παρρησια. The word, however, bears both the significations, given to it in our English version, after the Vulgate.