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COLOSSIANS 2:6-23

______________________________

A Paper
Presented to:
Dr. Matt Arnie
In Partial fulfillment of the requirements of Hermeneutics I

___________________________________________________________

By Jeff Hunt
The Southeastern Bible College
Box: 180
10/15/2008
COLOSSIANS 2:6-23

Introduction
Colossian is a color. Or rather it was a color.1 Specifically, it was a deep purple reddish
color2 that the Colossians used to dye their sheep’s wool with. The Colossians made a great deal
of money off of their trade of this wool with traveling merchants and the nearby towns of

Laodicea and Hierapolis resulting in a prosperous and large city.3 However the region was prone
to earthquakes4 and this is probably why, by at least the time of Paul’s writing Colossians, the
city had suffered and dwindled into only a “town”5. One doesn’t have to look far to imagine the

way this must have affected the citizens. On the one hand, they might have grown accustomed to
having everything tumble once they had got it back up again. This might actually lead them to
seek a faith that would create both outward devotion and inward contentment “whatever my lot”

thus creating a fertile ground for a message like the gospel. On the other hand, consider
Birmingham, Alabama, the hometown of the student. It was once an industrial glory but, in its
decline, the native citizens now suffer from a fierce inferiority complex in contrast with their

Atlanta and Nashville neighbors. Laodicea was the Atlanta of the Lycian region (named so
because of the Lycan River that flowed along the boarders of these two cities). As a result,
Birmingham generally tends to look for quick fixes that fizzle, never restoring glory, only

making the attempt look amateurish and silly from the outside. One only has to google “Vision
Land” for proof of this sort of thing. It is just in the DNA down here. And perhaps this tendency

1
Strabo, The geography of Strabo 5. Books X – XII, The @Loeb classical library, 211, (Cambridge, Mass.
[u.a.]: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988), 578.
2
Pliny 25. 9.67 and 21. 9.27.
3
Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon; A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to
Philemon. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 8.
4
Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon; A Revised Text with
Introductions, Notes and Dissertations. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1959), 3.
5
Ibid, 8.
1
2
was in the Colossian’s DNA as well, contributing to their possible susceptibility to the
problems that faced them and that gave rise to Paul’s admonitions in the text of Col. 2:6-23.
The epistle from whence this passage is derived was penned by Paul the apostle. Some

attribute it to one from the supposed post-Pauline school and others hypothesize the possibility of
Timothy writing it and then submitting it to Paul for approval since Timothy was listed as a
contributor (1:1). The internal evidence is supposedly conflicting since the author obviously

claims to be Paul but according to Dunn the epistle’s “flow of thought and rhetorical technique
are consistently and markedly different from those of the undisputed Paulines”6. Well C. S.
Lewis wrote both the Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. One can easily point out the

difference in flow of thought and rhetorical technique but nobody is dismissing that Lewis wrote
any of the two. There are enough scholars as reputable as Dunn who support the authentic
Pauline authorship for this student to have confidence in it7 (not to mention the inerrant book

claims it!).
Paul sent the epistle by way of Tychicus and Onesimus traveling a long distance from
Rome where Onesimus presumably had fled thus creating the occasion of the letter to Philemon.

So it is not hard to imagine that they carried both letters in hand. If they were carrying both
letters to Philemon then the Colossian church was probably the church that met in Philemon’s
house (Phlm 2). Onesimus was Philemon’s slave and, at that time, only the very wealthy were

slave owners8. Therefore, it can be assumed that Philemon was wealthy. The Colossian church
was meeting at a rich man’s house which would be larger. The need for a larger meeting space
could be an indication that this young church was growing. The tone in the first chapter of the

6
James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon A Commentary on the Greek Text.
(Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans [u.a.], 1996), 35-39.
7
See Peter Thomas O'Brien, Colossians, Philemon. Word biblical commentary, v. 44. (Waco, Tex: Word,
1982.), xli-xlix. and N. T Wright, The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon: An Introduction and
Commentary. The Tyndale New Testament commentaries. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.), 31.
8
Matt Arnie, Class notes, Hermeneutics I, (SEBC, Birmingham, AL., 10/6/08) .
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epistle is generally excitement and this might be the type of good news that Epaphras was
bringing to Paul.
Paul had never met the Colossians face to face but he had received news of them from the

man only known today as Epaphras, one of Paul’s fellow workers in the proclamation of the
gospel and the one who started the church in Colossae (2:1; 4:13; 1:7). He had also been put in
prison with Paul (Phlm 23). The fact that they were fellow prisoners would bring up the question

of where and thus when they were imprisoned. While Paul was imprisoned on several occasions
(2 Cor. 6:5 and 11:23), there are only two or three times when Paul is thought to have written
from prison (in Ephesus, in Caesarea, and in Rome). In order to sideline that discussion the

student is going to say that he has good reason to choose Rome9. If it was written from Rome,
then it would have been written in or around 62 A.D.10. If indeed it was written in 62 A.D. then it
was written only six years before Neronian persecution in 68 A.D.11. In order for something to
be persecuted it has to have a presence. Christianity was creating a “buzz” and that indicates that
these were exciting times to live in. the gospel was on the move (1:6)!

Preceding Context
The text leading up to this point is filled with the excitement of one who has just heard
fresh good news. This is the news from Epaphras about the church in Colossae. But as is the case
with the delivery of good news, bad news almost always accompanies it. What this bad news is

exactly is not entirely clear but from the beginning of the epistle Paul seems to be combating it.
In all of Paul’s epistolary greetings he begins with a Christianized version of the Hellenistic

9
James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon A Commentary on the Greek Text,
(Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans [u.a.], 1996), 39-41.
10
Markus Barth, Helmut Blanke, and Astrid B. Beck, Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and
Commentary. (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 126.
11
Carl Rasmussen, Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Regency Reference Library,
1989), 87.
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greeting (cairein): “cavriVV uJmin kai; eijrhvnh ajpo; qeou patro;JV hJmwn kai; kurivou Ijhsou
Cristou” The only two big exceptions in the New Testament are in Thessalonians and
Colossians. Why the variation here? Schreiner suggests that any variation in this form ought to

alert the reader to central themes that will be developed in the letter12. This might shed some
light on themes addressed in the epistle. For instance, what special action does Paul ascribe to the
Father later in the Epistle? Is it not God who qualifies the believer to share in the inheritance of

the saints by transferring the saint from the realm of darkness and into the kingdom of the son he
loves? This shows that salvation is really a work of the Father. And this lends weight to Paul’s
argument in 2:6-23 against trying to please God by means of our own piety. This turns out to

actually be a major theme in the book! There is a certain possibility that a certain singular issue
was driving Paul’s admonitions however its plausibility is uncertain.
After the address and the greeting Paul begins by exclaiming his gratitude to God for the

work being done in Colossae and their “ajgavphn ejn pneuvmati”. Even while imprisoned he is
excited over this young church’s faith. One can sense the air of adventure in his voice when he
writes of the gospel bearing fruit and growing throughout the world and in Colossae. This

adventurous excitement must have been overwhelming because Paul states that this caused him
to pray ceaselessly for them.
The prayer ends with Paul desiring that they would be “eujcaristounteς tw/ patri;”

(1:12a). His prayer shifts to imperatives about the Father’s work. He is the one who qualified
them to share in the saints’ inheritance. He is the one who delivered them from the grip of sin
and thus placed them in the Kingdom over which his son is sovereign. Paul declares that it is in

this son that saints have redemption and share in this inheritance. Paul has gone from expressing
his excitement over their young faith to praying that they would be strengthened in it, and then to
“put feet” to that prayer he reinforces their faith with sound doctrine in the form of the

12
Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. Guides to New Testament exegesis, 5. (Grand
Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1990), 28.
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imperatives. What happens next is quite notable and there is a lot that has been written on it.
After speaking about the Son to whom this kingdom belongs, Paul inserts, of all things, a hymn –
and what a hymn! This Hymn was already in use by Christians for years already and the

Colossians may have been familiar with it13. Some of the greatest theologians in history were
hymn-writers and all of the greatest preachers have been hymn-singers. Grudem has placed a
hymn at the end of every chapter in his theology book. When a preacher, in the middle of his

sermon, quotes, in his finest rhetorical tone, the lines “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy
One comes down/Brethren pray and holy manna will be showered all around”. The
congregation’s familiarity with the lines coupled with their relevance to the sermon makes for a

potently powerful moment. Paul may be going for one of those powerful moments by quoting
this hymn. The hymn ends by emphasizing that it is through Jesus that God reconciled all things
to himself “eijte ta; ejpi; thς ghV/eijte ta; ejn toiV oujranoiV.” He then takes this cosmological

ending and brings it into their neighborhood to where it hits home (1:22). This reconciliation is
conditional on their remaining in the faith.
Paul then shifts focus a bit towards his own mission but it is still in relation to his

excitement over the lengths at which the gospel is spreading. But of course it hasn’t spread far
enough for Paul and so he writes verses 1:24-2:1. There is a controversial passage here about
Paul filling up in his body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. There is not enough room

to go into detail about that here but, when it is considered that Paul is speaking about his mission
here and his struggle, his vocation comes into view. Paul was a missionary. He was an evangelist
that would not give up and what he meant by filling up in his body what was lacking in Christ’s

sufferings was that all those for whom Christ had died had not yet turned to Christ the Lord. To
make a brief point of application here, Christ will have the reward for his sufferings, those for

13
Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon; A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to
Philemon. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 42.
this is an implication from Lohse. He is not explicit.
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whom he died! We are his subjects and so his willing agents in that work. This is the mission
Paul was identifying with here and he spoke of it for a reason. It connected back to his
enthusiasm about the gospel’s spread which he talked about in the first chapter and his desire for

them to know at what length he is struggling for them, presumably because he has never met
them in person (2:1).
His first goal is that they would be encouraged and his second goal is that they might have

“pan ploutoV thV plhroforiaV...”. He wishes this because he does not want them to fall prey
to the heresies among them. Concluding this section and bridging into the section of warnings,
Paul reaffirms them of his confidence in their faith by appealing to their encouraging morale.

Immediate Context
Verses 6-23 are employed to warn the Colossian church about problems that were made
aware to him, probably by Epaphras. This was likely a large church and so there is no telling

how pervasive these problems were proportionately although apparently they were significant
enough to warrant Paul’s attention. Paul begins verse 6 with the word “wJV” referring back to the
previous notions of excitement about the stir that the faith was making there and the prayer, the

doctrine, and the hymn and the whole context preceding this. Then following “wJV” he
summarizes all of that in a couple of verses possibly to bring it back to memory. Verse 8 is
where the warnings really kick in. Here the text strikingly carries the tone of an older brother

concerned for a younger sister’s purity. This is especially seen in Paul’s use of the word
“sulagwgei:n”. This word is significant because it is used nowhere else in the New Testament
and it lends itself to the protective tone of the passage because it indicates seduction and the

capturing and carrying off of booty14.


Perhaps one of the largest and most confusing questions in Colossians is the nature of the
empty and deceitful philosophy that Paul counters15 In verse 8 Paul says that this empty

14
Ibid, 94.
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philosophy is based on “thn paravdosin tw ajnqrwpwn kata; ta; stoixeia tou kosmou ouj
kata; Cristovn”. It seems that the human tradition was not a reference to a Jewish hedging of the
Law, as some have said, because of the “kata”. These traditions were coinciding with the

elemental spirits. If the elemental spirits were the basic forces of the world that control the world
– water, wind, earth, and fire - then a traditional hedging interpretation of “thn paravdosin tw
ajnqrwpwn” wouldn’t seem to coincide with such cosmological terms. This seems to have been

the meaning that Paul used for stoiceia in Galatians 4:3 and 4:9. Also Diogenes Laertius, an
ancient Greek historian, used this term in the same way to describe a teaching of Zeno of Citium
who is considered the founder of Stoicism16. Citium was in Cypres which is not far from the

Lycan region where Colossea was to be found. So, this use of the word holds a geographical
claim as well. What then, was the nature of the human traditions? Well this cosmological use of
stoiceia described here is also used in a book that would probably normally be overlooked. This

book is the Sheperd of Hermas and is included in collections of writings by the Apostolic
Fathers. The Apostolic Fathers were thought to have possibly lived during the later parts of the
apostle’s lives and then outlived them by many years. Also, most scholars do indeed date The

Shepherd in between 110 and 140 A.D.17. This is way too late to consider any connection to
Paul, the Colossians, and their times. However, one scholar and a student disagree. The scholar is
Carolyn Osiek and her opinion matters because she is suspected to have done more research and

writing than anyone on The Shepherd to date. She claims that the Shepherd was actually based
on an oral tradition that was compiled and written by someone in the second century18. There is

15
Eduard Schweizer, The Letter to the Colossians: A Commentary, (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Pub.
House, 1982), 125.
16
Diogenes Laertius. Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers, (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
University Press, 1980)
17
Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers II. Loeb classical library. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University
Press, 2003), 168.
18
Karl P Donfrie, and Peter Richardson, Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome. (Grand Rapids,
Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), 151-172.
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no reason to suspect the word was not used in the oral recitations is there? The student is now
postulating that the occasion for Paul’s warnings were actually a result, directly or indirectly, of
the oral form of Hermas’ so called visions and the distress it caused the Colossian’s faith. The

support for this will be brought out as it is found in the text. If this hypothesis is true and the
nature of the philosophy is based on the visions of Hermas, then this verse makes good sense
because of the context in which one finds stoiceia in The Shepherd. The reader of The Shepherd

is exhorted to fully repent in accordance with the four elements that uphold the world19. The use
of the word fully might imply that repentance is need above and beyond the norm. If one
continues to read The Shepherd then he will find that this repentance, as prescribed by the Angel,

is quite harsh and resembles the things that Paul combats in this passage. However, the main
point of verse 8 was that these traditions were not according to Christ. Paul constantly steered the
congregation, by the contents of this letter, towards Christ. Christ’s lordship coupled with the

congregation’s submission to it is the main theme of the passage.


Paul then begins the “in him” section. The Colossians were not to be deceived by things
that were not according to Christ because in all things they were found and were to be found “in

him”. Verses 9-15 express this while simultaneously reminding the Colossians of their initiation
into the faith and its basis. He did this in accordance with the protective and caring nature of the
epistle (remember “sulagwgei:n” in 2:8; like an older brother looking out for a younger sister).

He was reminding the church of where they came from much like a father tells a son who is
moving away for the first time “Remember who you are, whose you are, and where you come
from”.

In verse 14 Paul mentioned that Christ nailed all that they owed to God onto the cross.
Christ disarmed the rulers and authorities and in so doing he made a public spectacle of the by

19
Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers II. Loeb classical library. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University
Press, 2003), 226.
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triumphing over them. But exactly how he triumphed over them is a point of disagreement. The
text reads “ajpekdusavmenoV ta;V ajrca;V kai; ta;V ejxousivaV ejdeignavtisen en parrhsiva/
qriambeuvsaV aujtou;V en aujtw/” (2.15). The disagreement is over how to translate the “en

aujtw”. Woodenly, it translates as “in him”, him being Christ. However it is apparent from verse
14 and in keeping with the ironic nature of the picture here that the cross was the antecedent of
aujtw/ and thus the two words can be translated as “in the cross”20.

Based on the rich Christology displayed in verses 9-15, Paul, in verse 16, introduces to the
Colossians, by means of a “wJV” , what they are to do and not to do. Because the Colossian
church was found in Christ and Jesus had indeed won the victory on the cross, the Colossians

had no need of heeding any judgment other than God’s own judgment of his son. Therefore, Paul
tells them to disregard the judgment of those who are imposing strict practices onto them. These
practices very much resemble the Jewish practices of the judaizers. Circumcision had already

been mentioned in 2:13 where Paul clearly spiritualized it. And these practices - food, drink,
feast and Sabbath days, were very Jewish. They also really resemble Jewish type practices found
in The Shepherd21. Paul pointed out that these things were not bad in themselves, only that they

pointed to Christ who is the substance of what those things once represented, and can still
represent when not abused as they apparently were being.
The next verse is strange because it mentions the worship of angels. Paul wrote as if he

knew the person who was delighting in humility and the worship of angels (Possibly Hermas of
Romans 16 come to Colossae from Rome?). The shepherd of The Shepherd of Hermes was
actually an angel. And here this man is worshiping angels and presumably calling others to as

well? The shepherd angel in The Shepherd was the one who prescribed all of these harsh

20
H. O. Maier, 2005. "A Sly Civility: Colossians and Empire". Journal for the Study of the New Testament.
27, no. 3: 323-349, 326.
21
Carolyn Osiek, and Helmut Koester, Shepherd of Hermas: A Commentary. Hermeneia--a critical and
historical commentary on the Bible, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 37.
10
practices in the story. Could this be the same “angel”? Paul seems to think this person had
never actually seen an angel because he wrote that this person was going on about what he had
supposedly seen. It is also worth noting that in The Shepherd the books are organized according

to different “visions” supposedly seen by Hermas. And here a man was going on about what he
had supposedly seen. Paul dismissed the man by insisting that he was puffed up by his fleshly
mind. Paul begins making dichotomies between the spirit and flesh here that will be important in

chapter 3. Paul, who seems to know this person well, whether by Epaphras’ testimony or his own
personal knowledge, points out that this person has not even been found in Christ as they have.
Verse 20 echoes Galatians in its use of stoicon. Paul was reminding the young church that

their home was the Kingdom of God and not this world. Thus he indicted their submission to the
spirits of this world. In verse 22 Paul points out that these rules which they were being judged by
were based on human foundations, thus further annihilating the idea that they came from some

angel. I Paul’s view the wisdom behind these commands were based on a harsh treatment of the
body which was practiced out of a false humility and thus this wisdom actually resulted in the
indulgence of the flesh that it was trying so painstakingly to deny.

Succeeding Context and Conclusion


In Chapter 3 Paul went on to provide a remedy for the Colossian church’s fleshly
indulgence based on earthly things and that was to set their minds on heavenly things rather than

earthly concerns. Chapter 4 mirrors Ephesians very closely and is perhaps a teaching that Paul
often gave and thus saw as very important to church life, especially the life of such a fresh new
work as the Colossian church.

It can be seen, if the Hermas Hypothesis ever proves true, that Paul was against this type
of teaching which may actually reinforce our confidence in its exclusion from our cannon of
scripture. Other points of application would be that, just because things appear holy, doesn’t
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mean they are. God has given us the Holy Spirit and instead of a wisdom with no true value
(2:23), we have a wisdom given liberally by God himself (James 1).
Let us also rejoice with Paul in the continuing spread of the Gospel. How would the

churches look if its members could be as excited about this still relatively young yet age-old
movement? This excitement can only come out of the suffering of filling up in our bodies the
sufferings of Christ which is evangelism with the satisfaction of Christ in mind. Also we ought to

share Paul’s concern for our churches, that those men who are elders and leaders in the home and
church might be concerned with the purity of the church and be about preparing a spotless and
chaste bride for Christ our Lord.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Matt Arnie, Class notes, Hermeneutics I. SEBC, Birmingham, AL., 10/6/08

Barth, Markus, Helmut Blanke, and Astrid B. Beck. Colossians: A New Translation with
Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Bratcher, Robert G., and Eugene Albert Nida. A Translators [I.E. Translator's]
Handbook on Paul's Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Helps for translators, v. 20.
Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1977.
Diogenes Laertius. Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Cambridge, Mass:
Harvard University Press, 1980.
Donfried, Karl P., and Peter Richardson. Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome.
Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.
Dunn, James D. G. The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the
Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 1996.
Ehrman, Bart D. The Apostolic Fathers II. Loeb classical library. Cambridge, Mass:
Harvard University Press, 2003.
Harris, Murray J. Colossians and Philemon. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman,
1991.
Lightfoot, Joseph Barber. Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon; A
Revised Text with Introductions, Notes and Dissertations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House,
1959.
Lohse, Eduard. Colossians and Philemon; A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians
and to Philemon. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible. Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1971.

Maier, H. O. 2005. "A Sly Civility: Colossians and Empire". Journal for the Study of the
New Testament. 27, no. 3: 323-349.

O'Brien, Peter Thomas. Colossians, Philemon. Word biblical commentary, v. 44. Waco,
Tex: Word, 1982.

Osiek, Carolyn, and Helmut Koester. Shepherd of Hermas: A Commentary. Hermeneia--a


critical and historical commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.

Rasmussen, Carl. The Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Regency
Reference Library, 1989.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. Guides to New Testament exegesis,
5. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1990.

Schweizer, Eduard. The Letter to the Colossians: A Commentary. Minneapolis, Minn:


Augsburg Pub. House, 1982.

Strabo. The geography of Strabo 5. Books X - XII. The @Loeb classical library, 211.
Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988.
Wright, N. T. The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon: An Introduction and
Commentary. The Tyndale New Testament commentaries. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity
Press, 1988.