The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Nov 9, 2019

Studying Colossians part 2: Two Themes

I have the privilege of currently working on Sunday School material for my church, Falls Baptist Church, from the book of Colossians; I have personally benefited greatly from this study. In Part 1 I discussed key resources (I reiterate: David Pao's commentary is the overall best commentary). Now I will discuss two key themes that really stood out to me.

"Vision for the Cosmos with Christ as center"--these words by Scot McKnight (2018 NICNT commentary) provide, in my opinion, an excellent summary of Colossians' greatest theme. Indeed, the supremacy of Christ in all things resonates throughout the book. Michael J. Gorman (Apostle of the Crucified Lord) well states that Colossians "exalts Christ as the cosmic sovereign, the preexistent Wisdom of God in whom God's fullness dwells, whose death has liberated those who believe from the hostile powers of the universe, and whose resurrection has raised them to sit with him above the defeated powers."

Consequently, the first major motif in Colossians is nothing more than "in Christ." Notice how consistently this expression or a related one occurs in the epistle: 1:2 ("in Christ"), 1:4 ("in Christ"), 1:14 ("in whom we have . . ."), 1:16 and 17, "by Him" (Greek en autō), 1:19 ("in Him"), 1:28 ("in Christ Jesus"), and that's all only in the first chapter! In addition, we have the amazing rhetorical reversal in 1:27, that Christ is in us!

In Jesus Christ dwells deity (2:9), "in Him" we are complete (2:10), and "in Him" we are spiritually circumcised, precisely because Jesus Christ's entire body was "circumcised" (i.e., "cut off," meaning "killed") on the cross for our sake! Consequently, Jesus' death and resurrection (2:12-15) have demonstrated that the entire universe revolves around Him, and that we can be participants with His glory.

This lays the foundation for the Apostle Paul's attack against the false teachers threatening the Colossian (and Laodicean) believers. [In the paragraphs below I am borrowing some general ideas from Pao's commentary, McKnight's commentary, and Köstenberger/Kellum/Quarles NT Intro The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown] The second key theme of Colossians is related to the first but develops as a reaction against the false teachers, namely, that spiritual maturity is unattainable without being "in Christ."

The problem with the false teachers was that they were striving to attain to the "heavenlies" by "earthly" means. For them, spiritual enlightenment could be attained by personal self-discipline, mystical-spiritual experiences ("worship of angels" in 2:18 is probably a subjective genitive, i.e., the angels' worship of God; the false teachers thought they could attain to the heavenly realm and worship alongside angels), combined with strict Torah-observance. In other words, the key to being spiritual was "Torah + self-discipline + mystical spiritual experiences."

All of this the Apostle Paul vehemently rejects, simply because they are based on "earthly" things (2:8, 20; ironically enough, since the false teachers wished to attain to "heavenly" things!) They all miserably fail, and are even ineffective in countering the temptations of the flesh (2:23, "no value when faced with the indulgence of the flesh").

Consequently, Colossians gives us the key to evaluating all teaching, good and bad. As Pao writes, "Any teachings that challenge the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ are to be unmasked to reveal their true nature as personal spiritual forces that threaten the Christian community."

The question we ask must be, "Does this teaching exalt Christ above all others?" For the false teachers, Christ was merely a footnote to spiritual maturity, which was attained through self-effort. With this in mind, we are in better shape to analyze various doctrines in the world:

·       To the heretics trying to seduce the Colossians, the Apostle Paul says, “Why are you seeking in the Torah and self-effort what is abounding over in Jesus Christ?” 
·       To the Roman Catholics of today we might say, “Why are you seeking in Mary and church tradition what can come only from Jesus Christ?” 
·       To the Mormon we might say, “Why are you looking for ‘another revelation’ [Book of Mormon] when Jesus Christ has already revealed Himself to us?” 
·       To the hyper-charismatic we might say, “Why are you seeking spirituality in tongues when true spirituality can only come from listening to Jesus?”
·       To the Buddhist we might say, “Why are you seeking enlightenment from meditating in search of a higher spirituality when He Who is true Enlightenment has robed Himself in the flesh to come seek you?”

·       To ourselves, we might say, “Why am I rooting my own identity and value in what have or have not accomplished, or what other people think of me, when my value and worth come from being rooted in Jesus Christ?!” (Col 2:10).