Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Contextual Considerations, Colossians 2:8-9
12/13/2005 - James WhiteFinally home and have a few moments to do what I had hoped to do numerous times over the weekend...
The artificial chapter division between chapters 1 and 2 is actually fairly well placed. Paul is concerned about the infant churches, and expresses that concern in 2:1-2. He has a "struggle" on their behalf (avgw/na, agwna), and for all those who had embraced the faith "second generation," i.e., as a result of hearing the message from his own children in the faith. What is his concern? He desires that their hearts be encouraged and knit together in love. Note the corporate nature of this desire: not simply that each individual be a super-Christian, but that they be knit together as a body, in love, at the most fundamental level. But, as it is in all of divine writ, the balance is perfect: knit together in love, attaining all the riches of full assurance of understanding, and the true knowledge of God's mystery: Christ Himself. True love is concerned about truth; truth without love isn't Christian. Paul desires these churches to have the only possible foundation that can last: one that has a Spirit-borne balance of love and truth.
The Christ he wishes them to have a true knowledge of is the one "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (v. 3). What an incredible statement! How odd these words are to most today! A Galilean peasant, the very definition of wisdom and knowledge, a treasure-trove of all that is true and wise? How absurd! And absurd it would be...if what he says in 2:9 were not absolutely true. But it is the centrality of Christ as Creator (a truth laid out in 1:16-18) that lays the foundation not only for this statement, but for what is to come. Since it is in Christ that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden, then only when we have a true knowledge of Him can we have real, lasting, godly wisdom and knowledge.
And it is this true knowledge of the centrality of Christ that provides the basis for defense against delusion and error (v. 4). Men can produce "plausible arguments," (evn piqanologi,a|), and if one does not have this foundation, one that is two-fold: in the heart (relational) and the mind (true knowledge), one can be washed away. Of course, here is another reason why I am Reformed (I guess I take a deeper view of the term than some): unless you believe salvation is the work of God, involving the unstoppable work of the Spirit of God in creating a "new man" and a "new heart," these words really make little sense. When the Spirit brings about regeneration, the resultant faith I have is of the kind Paul describes: my heart is knit together in love with my fellow believers (see the witness of faith this past weekend with my fellow believers in Tampa...or with my dear friend Roger in London...or my dear fellow pastors in Brazil, etc.) and I have a true knowledge of Christ as the Son of God, my Creator, so that the persuasive arguments of men find no foothold, not because my mind has shut down, but because of just the opposite! I see the world (and its arguments) in light of its true center, Jesus Christ, its Creator, so that I can recognize the errors of those arguments in the proper light. My mind is not suppressing the knowledge of God, but instead I think in the light provided by acceptance of who I am and of who He is. I am reminded at this point of one of my favorite quotes from John Flavel, "I know there is nothing in the Word or in the works of God that is repugnant to sound reason, but there are some things which are opposite to carnal reason, as well as above right reason; and therefore our reason never shows itself more unreasonable than in summoning those things to its bar which transcend its sphere and capacity."
Paul is concerned for the growth in grace and truth of these his fellow believers. He rejoices with their "good order" and the stability, firmness, of their faith in Christ. Notice that Paul gives warnings to those he is confident about: it is so often the case that people argue that if you give warnings, you must think those you are warning are in danger of falling, yet, warnings are often the very things used to strengthen, guide, and direct, as here.
We come now to the "immediate" context of our memorization passage. Paul commands ("walk" means to live, behave, act on a daily basis, and it is in the imperative, peripatei/te) the believers to live the Christian life as they began it. As they received Christ Jesus the Lord, they are commanded to walk "in Him." Please note something, since it passes us by so easily. We received Christ Jesus to.n ku,rion, the Lord. Not Christ Jesus the self-image repairer, Christ Jesus the assister out of financial woes. Paul knows nothing of non-Lordship salvation. Nothing. Never heard of it, wouldn't recognize it. To walk in Christ Jesus is to walk in Christ the Lord. The Lordship of Christ defines the Christian life. Paul is going to warn us in our memorization passage that to live as if Christ is not Lord, the risen God-man, is to be subject to the empty traditions of men.
It is because Christ is our Creator and King that we are able to be "rooted and built up in Him." Such words are utter nonsense if they are uttered about a mere creature, no matter how exalted that creature might be. Rooted and built up are construction terms. Paul is exhorting us to stability, firmness, unmovability. He knows the winds of opposition and persecution will blow. We need a firm foundation. But the only foundation we can have is Christ Himself, and the two-fold relationship he noted earlier, that of the whole man: heart and mind, knit together in love, with a true knowledge of Christ. This was what he had taught those who had taught them, and they had faithfully passed on his teaching. I could preach a sermon right here about the need to remain faithful to the apostolic message, but I will leave that for another time.
It is not merely an add-on for Paul to say we are to abound in thanksgiving, for a thankful heart is, in fact, a true Christian virtue. There is no true understanding of what God has done for us in Christ if we are not as a result filled with thanksgiving. The person who is always discontent, always griping, never showing thanksgiving, is a fruitless plant, and will surely wither and die in time.
Finally we come to our memorization text! I may end up writing a commentary if I don't get to it soon! Here are some items to keep in mind as you have by now memorized the verses:
"See to it" (Ble,pete) is a command. We are to expend effort. This is not a suggestion. It is our duty, a command from on high.
The next phrase is somewhat idiomatic. Literally, Paul says to make sure no one makes you "the captive." Just as there were those seeking to enslave the Galatians to a false gospel, so the world is regularly seeking to enslave believers to a false epistemology, a false world-view. A Christian with a non-Christian worldview is like a Mac trying to run Win XP---wrong operating system! What are the means by which the enemy seeks to capture us, rob us of our freedom, make us ineffective? Specifically, "philosophy and empty deception" is listed first. Now, this is not a blanket condemnation of "philosophy" as a whole, for there is clearly a Christian love of wisdom, and hence a "Christosophia." But I will be blunt: I have seen a love of man's philosophy cool, and in fact destroy, many a professing believer. Philosophers tend to exalt human wisdom and subject Scripture to over-riding concerns derived from their own minds, in my experience. Rare is the philosopher I have encountered who professes the full inspiration and yes, inerrancy, of Scripture, and who gives it primary place. Philosophy can be used to capture the believer. Empty deception is a striking phrase as well, that which deceives but has no substance, no real meaning. I have seen people tripped up by some of the most amazingly facile arguments. I remember one alleged convert from Mormonism who became an agnostic upon reading Thomas Paine, and the arguments he used were so inane, so easily refuted (Paine's work is truly laughable on any scholarly level), that they were truly descriptive of Paul's words here: empty deception. Smoke and mirrors.
Next we have another means of capture: the traditions of men. I won't comment too much here since, quite honestly, I have commented on this concept so often in debates and books, I've said all I need to say. Man's traditions are always subject to God's higher revelation. Tradition itself is not a bad thing: its origin, its nature, its content, and the authority granted to it---those are the issues.
The elementary principles of the world is a phrase that has been debated a great deal in the scholarly literature. The term stoicei/a (stoicheia) refers to "elements" and probably, in this context, has a more specific reference to the elementary teachings of the gnostics regarding the world, its allegedly dual nature, etc. See Lightfoot's commentary for a fuller discussion of the possible range of referrents for stoicei/a.
All of these things are placed in one group, contrasted with the only true ground of knowledge, that which is "according to Christ." What an amazing assertion! Christ, the canon, standard, rule, of knowledge and wisdom? Yes indeed, for, as the next verse says, He is the God-man, the Incarnate one! It is in Him that all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form! Each term is important, and we can, in fact, learn something from Paul's example here: he uses terms that the proto-gnostics coming into Colossae themselves used. The term "fullness" (to. plh,rwma) was a favorite Gnostic word used to describe the intermediate "emanations" that were between God and the demi-urge that created the world (see my discussion of Gnosticism in The Forgotten Trinity in the commentary on this very passage). The fullness of deity dwells in Christ "in bodily form." Again this would have caused the gnostic who heard it hives, for here Paul is saying Christ, in whom the very fulness of deity dwells, possesses a resurrected body. No self-respecting Gnostic could possibly accept such a thought! And that is Paul's whole purpose for using it, of course, and for innoculating the believers against their heresy.
But finally, we come to the main term I wish to emphasize, the one that will make up the substance of our memorization for this week: the Greek term qeo,thtoj, theotetos, pronounced "thay-AH-tay-toss". Let's start in just getting the term down, and in my next installment, I'll go over the term and explain how you might wish to work it into your citation of the verse in dealing with one of Jehovah's Witnesses, for example. For now, memorize it and recall it means "Deity," but that it is not the same term translated "divine nature" at Romans 1:20 (despite the KJV using "Godhead" as the translation at both places--this is a KJV error). You can get a handle on it by remembering it means "that which makes God, God." More on that next time.