Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The apostle shows his great concern for the Church at Colosse and at Laodicea; and exhorts them to steadfastness in the faith, and to beware of being seduced by specious and enticing words, Col 2:1-5. And to walk in Christ, as they had been taught, and to abound in faith and holiness, Col 2:6, Col 2:7. To beware of false teachers, who strove to pervert the Gospel, and to lead their minds from him in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells; with whom they were filled; by whom they had received spiritual circumcision; and into whom they were baptized and were quickened, and raised from a death of sin to a life of righteousness, Col 2:8-12. He points out their former state, and the great things which Christ had done for them, Col 2:13-15. Warns them against particular tenets of the Judaizing teachers relative to meats, drinks, holydays, festivals, and the specious pretences of deceivers, Col 2:16-19. And shows that all the things taught by these, though they had a show of wisdom, yet perished in the using, and were the commandments and doctrines of men, Col 2:20-23.
What great conflict - The word αγων, which we here render conflict, is to be understood as implying earnest care and solicitude, accompanied, undoubtedly, with the most fervent application to the throne of grace in their behalf. The αγωνιζομενος of the preceding verse gave the apostle occasion to use the word αγων here. He agonized with God, and his agony was for them.
Laodicea - A city of Asia Minor, on the borders of Caria, Phrygia, and Lydia. It was originally called Diospolis, or the city of Jupiter, and afterwards Rhoas; but obtained the name of Laodicea from Laodice, the wife of Antiochus. It is now called Ladik. It was formerly celebrated for its commerce, and the fine black wool of its sheep. Colosse, or the city of the Colossians, lay between it and Hierapolis. This Hierapolis was also a town of Phrygia, famous for its hot baths: it is now called Bambukholasi.
As many as have not seen my face in the flesh - From this it has been conjectured that St. Paul had never been at either Colosse or Laodicea, and this, from the letter of the text, appears probable; and yet, his having passed more than once through this country, preaching and strengthening the Churches, renders it very improbable. It is, therefore, most likely that we should understand the apostle as speaking collectively; that he had the most earnest concern, not only for the welfare of those Churches with which he was acquainted, such as Colosse and Laodicea, but also for those to whom he was not personally known.
That their hearts might be comforted - That they might have continual happiness in God, having constant affiance in him.
Being knit together in love - The word συμβιβασθεντων, or συμβιβασθεντες, which is the true reading, but both of equal import here, signifies being united, as the beams or the timbers of a building, by mortices and pins. The visible Church of Christ cannot be in union with God unless it have unity in itself, and without love this unity is impossible.
Unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding - That is, that they might have the most indubitable certainty of the truth of Christianity, of their own salvation, and of the general design of God to admit the Gentiles into his Church. This is the grand mystery of God, which was now laid open by the preaching of the Gospel.
And of the Father, and of Christ - These words are variously written in different MSS., versions, and fathers: The mystery of God - of God in Christ - of God who is in Christ - of God concerning Christ - of God who is Christ - of the God Christ - of God and Christ - of God the Father of Christ - of God the Father, and our Lord Christ - of God and the Father of Christ - of God the Father, in Christ - of the God Christ Jesus, Father and Lord, etc., etc., etc.
This great variety of versions leaves the strongest presumption that the words in question are glosses which have crept into the text, and are of no authority. Griesbach has left them out of the text.
In whom are hid - Or rather in which; referring to the mystery mentioned above. In this glorious scheme of Christianity all the treasures - the abundance and excellency, of wisdom and knowledge are contained. No scheme of salvation, or Divine knowledge, ever equalled in its depth and excellency the Gospel plan. A scheme which the wisdom of God alone could devise, and which his power and infinite mercy alone could accomplish.
Lest any man should beguile you - The word παραλογιζηται means to deceive by sophistry or subtle reasoning, in which all the conclusions appear to be fairly drawn from the premises, but the premises are either assumed without evidence, or false in themselves; but this not being easily discovered, the unthinking or unwary are carried away by the conclusions which are drawn from these premises. And this result is clearly intimated by the term πιθανολογια, enticing words, plausible conclusions or deductions from this mode of reasoning. The apostle seems to allude to the Gentile philosophers, who were notorious for this kind of argumentation. Plato and Socrates are not free from it.
For though I be absent in the flesh - It is hardly possible that such words as these in this verse could have been used to perfect strangers; they argue a considerable knowledge of the people, and a knowledge founded on personal acquaintance. The original is exceedingly soft and musical: -
Ει γαρ και τη σαρκι απειμι,
Αλλα τῳ πνευματι συν ὑμιν ειμι,
Χαιρων και βλεπων ὑμων την ταξιν, κ.τ.λ.
The whole verse shows that this Church was sound in doctrine, and strict in discipline. They had steadfast faith in Christ, and regular order or discipline among themselves.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus - Many persons lay a certain stress on the words as and so, and make various fine heads of discourses from them; viz. As ye received Christ in a spirit of humility, so walk in him; as ye received him in a spirit of faith, so walk in him, etc., etc. This may be all proper in itself; but nothing of the kind was intended by the apostle. His meaning is simply this: Seeing ye have embraced the doctrine of Christ, continue to hold it fast, and not permit yourselves to be turned aside by sophistical or Judaizing teachers.
Rooted and built up in him - It is not usual with the apostle to employ this double metaphor, taken partly from the growth of a tree and the increase of a building. They are to be rooted; as the good seed had been already sown, it is to take root, and the roots are to spread far, wide, and deep. They are to be grounded; as the foundation has already been laid, they are to build thereon. In the one case, they are to bear much fruit; in the other, they are to grow up to be a habitation of God through the Spirit. See the notes on Eph 2:21, Eph 2:22 (note); Eph 3:17 (note).
Abounding therein with thanksgiving - No limitation is ever set to the operations of God on the soul, or to the growth of the soul in the knowledge, love, and image of God. Those who are brought into such a state of salvation should abound in gratitude and loving obedience, as they grow in grace.
Beware lest any man spoil you - The word συλαγωγων, from συλη, prey, and αγειν, to lead or carry away, signifies to rob, or spoil of their goods, as if by violence or rapine. Their goods were the salvation they had received from Christ; and both the Gentile and Jewish teachers endeavored to deprive them of these, by perverting their minds, and leading them off from the truths of Christianity.
Philosophy and vain deceit - Or, the vain or empty deceit of philosophy; such philosophizing as the Jewish and Gentile teachers used. As the term philosophy stood in high repute among the Gentiles, the Jews of this time affected it; and both Philo and Josephus use the word to express the whole of the Mosaic institutions. So the former: Ὁι κατα Μωσην φιλοσοφουντες· "Those who embraced the philosophy of Moses;" Phil., De Nomin. Mutand. And the latter; Τρια παρα Ιουδαιοις ειδη φιλοσοφειται· "There are three systems of philosophy among the Jews," (Bell. Jud., lib. ii. cap 8, sec. 2), meaning the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, as immediately follows. The Jewish philosophy, such as is found in the Cabala, Midrashim, and other works, deserves the character of vain deceit, in the fullest sense and meaning of the words. The inspired writers excepted, the Jews have ever been the most puerile, absurd, and ridiculous reasoners in the world. Even Rabbi Maymon, or Maimonides, the most intelligent of them all, is often in his master piece (the Moreh Nevochim, the Teacher of the Perplexed) most deplorably empty and vain.
After the rudiments of the world - According to the doctrine of the Jewish teachers; or, according to the Mosaic institutions, as explained and glossed by the scribes, Pharisees, and rabbins in general. We have often seen that העולם הזה haolam hazzeh, this world, of which του κοσμου τουτου is a literal translation, is frequently used to express the Jewish system of rites, ceremonies, and institutions in general; what the apostle calls the tradition of men, namely, what men, unauthorized by God, have taught as doctrines received from him. Our Lord frequently refers to and condemns these traditions.
Not after Christ - Not according to the simple doctrine of Christ, viz.: He died for our offenses; believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.
For in him dwelleth all the fullness - This is opposed to the vain or empty doctrine of the Gentile and Jewish philosophers: there is a fullness in Christ suited to the empty, destitute state of the human soul, but in the philosophy of the Jews and Gentiles nothing like this was found; nor indeed in the more refined and correct philosophy of the present day. No substitute has ever been found for the grace of the Lord Jesus, and those who have sought for one have disquieted themselves in vain.
By the Godhead or Deity, Θεοτης, we are to understand the state or being of the Divine nature; and by the fullness of that Deity, the infinite attributes essential to such a nature.
Bodily - Συματικως signifies truly, really; in opposition to typically, figuratively. There was a symbol of the Divine presence in the Hebrew tabernacle, and in the Jewish temple; but in the body of Christ the Deity, with all its plenitude of attributes, dwelt really and substantially: for so the word σωματικως means; and so it was understood by the ancient Greek fathers, as is fully shown by Suicer, in his Thesaurus, under the word.
"The fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Christ 'bodily,' as opposed to the Jewish tabernacle, or temple; truly and really, in opposition to types and figures; not only effectively, as God dwells in good men, but substantially or personally, by the strictest union, as the soul dwells in the body; so that God and man are one Christ." See Parkhurst.
And ye are complete in him - Και εστε εν αυτῳ πεπληρωμενοι· And, ye are filled with him. Our word complete quite destroys the connection subsisting in the apostle's ideas. The philosophy of the world was empty, κενη, but there was a πληρωμα, or fullness, in Christ; the Colossians were empty - spoiled and deprived of every good, while following the empty philosophy and groundless traditions of Jewish and Gentile teachers; but since they had received Christ Jesus they were πεπληρωμενοι, filled with him. This is the true meaning of the word, and by this the connection and assemblage of ideas in the apostle's mind are preserved. No fanciful completeness in Christ, of a believer, while incomplete in himself, is either expressed or intended by St. Paul. It is too bad a doctrine to exist in the oracles of God.
The head of all principality - See the notes on Col 1:16-17 (note).
In whom also ye are circumcised - All that was designed by circumcision, literally performed, is accomplished in them that believe through the Spirit and power of Christ. It is not a cutting off of a part of the flesh, but a putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, through the circumcision of Christ; he having undergone and performed this, and all other rites necessary to qualify him to be a mediator between God and man; for, being made under the law, he was subject to all its ordinances, and every act of his contributed to the salvation of men. But by the circumcision of Christ, the operation of his grace and Spirit may be intended; the law required the circumcision of the flesh, the Gospel of Christ required the circumcision of the heart. The words των ἁμαρτιων, of the sins, are omitted by ABCD*EFG, several others, by the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, and Itala; and by Clement, Athanasius, Basil, Cyril, and several others. Griesbach has omitted them.
Buried with him in baptism - Alluding to the immersions practised in the case of adults, wherein the person appeared to be buried under the Water, as Christ was buried in the heart of the earth. His rising again the third any, and their emerging from the water, was an emblem of the resurrection of the body; and, in them, of a total change of life.
The faith of the operation of God - They were quickened, changed, and saved, by means of faith in Christ Jesus; which faith was produced by the operation or energy of God. Believing is the act of the soul; but the grace or power to believe comes from God himself.
And you, being dead in your sins - See the notes on Eph 2:1, etc.
The uncircumcision of your flesh - This must refer to that part of the Colossian Church which was made up of converted heathens, for the heathens alone were uncircumcised.
Blotting out the hand-writing of ordinances - By the hand-writing of ordinances the apostle most evidently means the ceremonial law: this was against them, for they were bound to fulfill it; and it was contrary to them, as condemning them for their neglect and transgression of it. This law God himself has blotted out.
Blotting out the hand-writing is probably an allusion to Num 5:23, where the curses written in the book, in the case of the woman suspected of adultery, are directed to be blotted out with the bitter waters. And there can be little doubt of a farther allusion, viz., to the custom of discharging the writing from parchment by the application of such a fluid as the muriatic acid, which immediately dissolves those ferruginous calces which constitute the blackening principle of most inks. But the East India inks, being formed only of simple black, such as burnt ivory, or cork, and gum water, may be wiped clean off from the surface of the paper or parchment by the application of a wet sponge, so as to leave not one legible vestige remaining: this I have often proved.
Nailing it to his cross - When Christ was nailed to the cross, our obligation to fulfill these ordinances was done away. There may be another reference here to some ancient mode of annulling legal obligations, by nailing them to a post; but I do not recollect at present an instance or example. Antiquated laws are said to have been thus abrogated.
And having spoiled principalities and powers - Here is an allusion to the treatment of enemies when conquered: they are spoiled of their armor, so much the word απεκδυειν implies; and they are exhibited with contumely and reproach to the populace, especially when the victor has the honor of a triumph; to the former of which there is an allusion in the words εδειγματισεν εν παρῥησιᾳ, making a public exhibition of them; and to the latter in the words θριαμβευσας αυτους, triumphing over them. And the principalities and powers refer to the emperors, kings, and generals taken in battle, and reserved to grace the victor's triumph. It is very likely that by the αρχας και εξουσιας, principalities and powers, over whom Christ triumphed, the apostle means the נשיאות nesioth and רשות roshoth, who were the rulers and chiefs in the Sanhedrin and synagogues, and who had great authority among the people, both in making constitutions and explaining traditions. The propagation of Christianity in Judea quite destroyed their spiritual power and domination; just as the propagation of Protestantism, which was Christianity revived, destroyed, wherever it appeared, the false doctrine and domination of the pope of Rome.
In it - The words εν αυτῳ refer rather to Christ, than to the cross, if indeed they be genuine; of which there is much reason to doubt, as the versions and fathers differ so greatly in quoting them. Griesbach has left them out of the text.
Let no man - judge you in meat, or in drink - The apostle speaks here in reference to some particulars of the hand-writing of ordinances, which had been taken away, viz., the distinction of meats and drinks, what was clean and what unclean, according to the law; and the necessity of observing certain holydays or festivals, such as the new moons and particular sabbaths, or those which should be observed with more than ordinary solemnity; all these had been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, and were no longer of moral obligation. There is no intimation here that the Sabbath was done away, or that its moral use was superseded, by the introduction of Christianity. I have shown elsewhere that, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, is a command of perpetual obligation, and can never be superseded but by the final termination of time. As it is a type of that rest which remains for the people of God, of an eternity of bliss, it must continue in full force till that eternity arrives; for no type ever ceases till the antitype be come. Besides, it is not clear that the apostle refers at all to the Sabbath in this place, whether Jewish or Christian; his σαββατων, of sabbaths or weeks, most probably refers to their feasts of weeks, of which much has been said in the notes on the Pentateuch.
Which are a shadow - All these things were types, and must continue in force till the Christ, whom they represented, came; the apostle therefore says that the body - the substance or design of them was of Christ - pointed him out, and the excellent blessings which he has procured. The word σκια, shadow, is often used to express any thing imperfect or unsubstantial; while the term σωμα, body, was used in the opposite sense, and expressed any thing substantial, solid, and firm. The law was but the shadow or representation of good things to come; none should rest in it; all that it pointed out is to be sought and obtained in Christ.
Let no man beguile you - Μηδεις ὑμας καταβραβευετω· Let no man take the prize from you which the βραβευς, brabeus, or judge in the contests, has assigned you, in consequence of your having obtained the victory. This any reader will see, is an allusion to the Olympic and Isthmian games, and to the prizes assigned to these who had obtained the victory in one or more of the contests which there took place. The Colossians had fought and conquered under the direction of Christ, and he, as the sole judge in this contest, had assigned to them the prize; the false teachers, affecting great modesty, humility, and sanctity, endeavored to turn them aside from the Gospel, and to induce them to end in the flesh who had begun in the Spirit. Against these the apostle warns them.
In a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels - This is a difficult passage, and in order to explain it, I shall examine the meaning of some of the principal terms of the original. The word θελειν, to will, signifies also to delight; and ταπειμοφροσυνη signifies not only lowliness or humility of mind, but also affliction of mind; and ταπεινουν την ψυχην, Lev 16:20, Lev 16:31, and in many other places, signifies to afflict the soul by fasting, and self-abnegation; and θρησκεια signifies reverence and modesty. Hence the whole passage has been paraphrased thus: Let no man spoil you of the prize adjudged to you, who delights in mortifying his body, and walking with the apparent modesty of an angel, affecting superior sanctity in order to gain disciples; intruding into things which he has not seen; and, notwithstanding his apparent humility, his mind is carnal, and he is puffed up with a sense of his superior knowledge and piety. It is very likely that the apostle here alludes to the Essenes, who were remarkably strict and devout, spent a principal part of their time in the contemplation of the Divine Being, abstained from all sensual gratifications, and affected to live the life of angels upon earth. With their pretensions all the apostle says here perfectly agrees, and on this one supposition the whole of the passage is plain and easy. Many have understood the passage as referring to the adoration of angels, which seems to have been practised among the Jews, who appear (from Tobit, xii. 15; Philo, in lib. de Somn.; Josephus, War. lib. ii. cap. 8, sec. 7) to have considered them as a sort of mediators between God and man; presenting the prayers of men before the throne; and being, as Philo says, μεγαλου Βασιλεως οφθαλμοι και ωτα, the eyes and ears of the great King. But this interpretation is not so likely as the foregoing.
And not holding the Head - Not acknowledging Jesus Christ as the only Savior of mankind, and the only Head or chief of the Christian Church, on whom every member of it depends, and from whom each derives both light and life. For a farther explanation of these words see the notes on Eph 4:16, where the figures and phraseology are the same.
If ye be dead with Christ - See the notes on Rom 6:3, Rom 6:5 (note).
From the rudiments of the world - Ye have renounced all hope of salvation from the observance of Jewish rites and ceremonies, which were only rudiments, first elements, or the alphabet, out of which the whole science of Christianity was composed. We have often seen that the world and this world signify the Jewish dispensation, or the rites, ceremonies, and services performed under it.
Why, as though living in the world - Why, as if ye were still under the same dispensation from which you have been already freed, are ye subject to its ordinances, performing them as if expecting salvation from this performance?
Touch not; taste not; handle not - These are forms of expression very frequent among the Jews. In Maccoth, fol. xxi. 1: "If they say to a Nazarite, Don't drink, don't drink; and he, notwithstanding, drinks; he is guilty. If they say, Don't shave, don't shave; and he shaves, notwithstanding; he is guilty. If they say, Don't put on these clothes, don't put on these clothes; and he, notwithstanding, puts on heterogeneous garments; he is guilty." See more in Schoettgen.
Which all are to perish with the using - These are not matters of eternal moment; the different kinds of meats were made for the body, and go with it into corruption: in like manner, all the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion now perish, having accomplished the end of their institution; namely, to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
After the commandments and doctrines of men? - These words should follow the 20th verse, of which they form a part; and it appears from them that the apostle is here speaking of the traditions of the elders, and the load of cumbrous ceremonies which they added to the significant rites prescribed by Moses.
Which things have indeed a show of wisdom - All these prescriptions and rites have indeed the appearance of wisdom, and are recommended by plausible reasons; but they form a worship which God has not commanded, and enjoin macerations of the body, accompanied with a humiliation of spirit, that are neither profitable to the soul, nor of any advantage to the body; so that the whole of their religion is nothing worth.
What is here termed will-worship, εθελοθρησκεια, signifies simply a mode of worship which a man chooses for himself, independently of the revelation which God has given. The whole system of Deism is an εθελοθρησκεια, a worship founded in the will or caprices of man, and not in the wisdom or will of God; and it is just as profitable to body and soul as that of which the apostle speaks. God will be served in his own way; it is right that he should prescribe to man the truths which he is to believe, and the ordinances which he is to use. To refuse to receive his teaching in order to prefer our own fancies, is to light a farthing candle as a substitute for the noonday sun. From the beginning of the world God has prescribed the worship which was best pleasing to himself, and never left a matter of such moment to man. The nations which have either not had a revelation, or refused to receive that which God has given, show, by their diversity of worship, superstition, absurdity, and in many cases cruelty, what the state of the whole would have been, had not God, in his infinite mercy, blessed it with a revelation of his will. God has given directions concerning his worship; and he has appointed the seventh day for the peculiar exercises of spiritual duties: other times he has left to man's convenience; and they abuse the text who say that the appointment of particular times and places for religious service is will-worship. God prescribes the thing, and leaves it to man, except in the case of the Sabbath, to appoint the time and the place; nor is it possible to be too frequent in God's worship, any more than to be too fervent.