Heretical Problems facing the Colossians (2:1-3:4)
B. The Peril of Error and the Sufficiency of Christ (2:4-23)
Paul now turns to problems facing the Colossians. This is a turning point in the epistle from a doctrinal to a polemical focus. There is a Colossian heresy that is described under the broad term “philosophy and empty deceit” (2:8). There is a debate concerning the exact nature or the identification of this philosophy. The only source of its nature is the epistle itself. Paul does not specifically identify the heretical philosophy. Bruce observes that; “Paul does not give a detailed account of it, because his readers were presumably familiar with it already; he contented himself with pointing out some of its defects and assessing its character in the light of the gospel.” There are important clues as to the impact of this philosophy and empty deceit among them:
· The problem they are facing was one that predated their conversion. Colossians 2:8 indicates that they had at one time been subject to these forces. They had not completely separated from the old.
· A major part of the problem is centered around submitting to prohibitions (2:21). They had not fully grasped the sufficiency of Christ.
· There was a mixed Jewish and pagan element to this philosophy, including the worship of angels (2:18) and observance of new moons, and the Sabbath. It should be noted that some of the festivals and new moons were pagan elements as well.
However, these clues give us only the characteristic of the philosophy, not its exact identification. In setting forth the dangers he exhorts them in the faith, but also as a means of protection. Keathly says; “he warns them regarding the danger of being kidnapped by their empty philosophy.” The warnings are centered upon around the main characteristics of the error or errors. It is clear that these errors were designed by false teachers to undermine the truth of the Gospel which Paul was given. The warnings include a number of emphatic statements or instructions:
· Do not be deceived (2:4)
· Do not be trapped (2:8)
· Do not be judged (2:16)
· Do not be defrauded (2:18)
· Do not submit (2:20)
Peril of Persuasive Error (2:4-8a)
Paul opens this section with the words—“This I say” (2:4). This serves as an attention getter, and reinforces the point that is about to be made or aim of what he is about to say. In this section there are three elements:
1. The Warning—“so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (1:4-5). The key word is delude (beguile—KJV) and is the Greek word paralogizomai, meaning to make a false reckoning; to impose on; deceive; or circumvent. It is used only twice (cf. James 1:22) in the NT. Here the word is used of external forces imposed on one to false thinking. In James it is used of internal deception. This external force comes by persuasive speech of false teachers. The Greek word is pithanologia (used only here), meaning persuasive or plausible discourse, rather than demonstrable argument. Johnson points out this is a legal term: “It is a word of the law court and refer’s to the lawyers persuasive speech and its power to influence an audience towards an unjust verdict.” They are arguments that sound good, but may not be so in reality. The may be well-argued, fine-sounding, and well-crafted, but nevertheless false. The essence of the warning is not to be taken in by their deception because of their false reasoning. A modern terminology equivalent may be—not be talked into anything. “Many such teachers are simply high-pressure salesmen who succeed in selling a poor product at an exorbitant price” says Baker. The verse indicates two great tactics of the false teachers: (1) They beguile their subjects by deception. (2) The method is to use enticing words.
“For” at the beginning of verse 5 gives us the reason or ground for the urgent warning. Paul now uses the absence-present formula as an expression of concern. These would be powerful words since Paul had never been to
. It would be a
touch of empowerment to the readers to read of his confidence in them. He may
have never been with them physically, “nevertheless
I am with you in spirit” (2:5). This reveals the heart of every Pastor. I
think of past churches I ministered to that I am present in spirit with and
rejoice with (and hurt with) them as through I was physically present. Colossae
In spite of the dangers, they had not surrendered to the false philosophy. Paul commends them for two things:
First, “To see your good discipline” (2:5). The word discipline (taxin) meaning order; or well regulated conduct. It is a military term indicating staying in rank and file. In the Jewish world, it used of the orders of the priest (Heb.5:6; 17:11) to convey dutifully carrying out their responsibilities. Its idea of faithfulness stands behind the word.
Second, is “the stability of your faith in Christ” (2:5). The concept of firmness and stability is connected by the conjunction “and” (kai) which indicates an interrelationship between the two. Stability is the Greek word stauroo (used only here), meaning that which is solid, firm, steadfast, or constancy. Related forms are found in connection with strengthening (Acts 16:5), and firmness (2 Tim. 2:16). Stability is modified by their faith. Their establishment is in their faith in Christ. It also carries the idea of strength and being united against the enemy.
Paul is reiterating that the safeguard of the Christian life is the incorporation of believers in Christ—in whom we are to remain firm or strong and stable or united.
To be continued
 F.F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems: Part 3: The Colossian Heresy,” BIBLOTHECA SACRA, July 1984, 196.
 J. Hampton Keathly III, PAUL’S LETTER TO THE COLOSSIANS: AN EXEGETICAL AND DEVOTIONAL COMMENTARY, [Biblical Studies Press, www. Bible.org, 2001], 106.
 S. Lewis Johnson, Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, VI. Beware of Philosphy”, (BIBLIOTHECA SACRA, October, 1962), 304.
 Baker, UNDERSTANDING THE BODY OF CHRIST, 131.