Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 17 September 2013; Revised 18 May 2015
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the chapter. The Scripture text for this commentary is based on the American Standard Version (1901), which is in the public domain. Some minor changes have been made to update English style and reflect the Jewish character of the author and text. All other Scripture quotations are from the NASB Updated Edition (1995), unless otherwise indicated. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament) and incorporate other appropriate Hebrew and Jewish terms. (See the glossary.)
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Parsing information for Greek words is taken from Anthony J. Fisher, Greek New Testament. Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Paul's Ministry of Intercession, 2:1-5
1 For I would have you know how greatly I strive for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;
At the end of the previous chapter Paul described his ministry of suffering and preaching. Now he mentions a third ministry. I strive for you: Grk. agōn, struggle. The picture is that of an athletic contest which is strenuous and demanding. The struggle here is not the struggle against God but pictures the intense effort of the one praying as he struggles within himself and against those who oppose the gospel (Rienecker).
and for them at Laodicea: Grk. Laodikeia was a prosperous city located in the fertile Lycus Valley in the province of Phrygia in western Asia Minor. The city is named six times in the Besekh, four times in this letter and twice in Revelation (1:11; 3:14). It was about 40 miles east of Ephesus and about 10 miles west of Colossae. Laodicea was founded by Antiochus II (261-246 BC) of Syria, who named it for his wife Laodike, and who populated it with Syrians and with Jews who were transplanted from Babylonia to the cities of Phrygia and Lydia. Though Laodicea stood at the junction of several important trade routes, it was of little consequence until the Roman province of Asia was formed in 190 BC. The city boasted three marble theatres, had a vast wall to protect against invaders and, like Rome, was built on seven hills (Henry).
The city was also known for a prominent school of medicine and extensive banking operations, but especially its garment industry, which relied on the raven-black wool produced by the sheep of the area. In the year 60 the city suffered a severe earthquake, but being economically self-sufficient, the city leaders refused aid from Rome for rebuilding. as many as have not seen my face: Scholars generally assume that Epaphras, Tychicus, and Mark assisted in bringing the gospel to Laodicea based on Colossians 1:7; 4:7-15 (HBD, ISBE, NIBD), but these passages make no such claim. In reality there is no firm information concerning who first proclaimed the gospel in Laodicea and organized a congregation. Paul is clear that he had never conducted any ministry in the city, and indeed God had forbidden Paul to "speak the Word in Asia" (Acts 16:6).
2 that their hearts may be comforted, they being knit together in love, and for all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God, of Messiah,
that their hearts: pl. of Grk. kardia, the pumplike organ of blood circulation, here used metaphorically as the center for personhood, character, cognition, emotion and volition. may be comforted: Grk. parakaleō, aor. pass. subj., call to be at one's side. In various contexts the word can have degrees of urgency or firmness, such as entreat, comfort, or to encourage performance. The word was used in classical Greek of exhorting troops who were about to go into battle (Rienecker). they being knit together: Grk. sumbibazō, to cause to fit together, to unite. in love: Grk. agapē, a relatively high level of interest in the well-being of another, affection, esteem, love. God's nature and actions are the epitome of agapē. The common factor in every passage employing the agapē word-group is the willingness to sacrifice, which sets it apart from the affection of phileō, the family loyalty of storgē and the passion of eros.
and for all riches: pl. of Grk. ploutos, wealth in a material sense, but here used figuratively of abundant supply. of the full assurance: Grk. plērophoria, state or condition of nothing lacking, fullness. Mounce gives the meaning as full conviction, firm persuasion, assurance. of understanding: Grk. sunesis, faculty of perceiving readily with the mind, resulting in discernment, understanding, comprehension or insight. that they may know: Grk. epignōsis, knowledge with the connotation of personal acquaintance, insight or perception. the mystery: Grk. mustērion, which in common Greek usage meant a secret rite or secret teaching. Yeshua first used the term “mystery” when he explained why he taught in parables (Matt 13:11), but the concept of God’s secrecy was originally explained to Moses, “the secret things belong to the Lord” (Deut 29:29).
In Scripture a mystery is a reality or plan that God kept concealed from his people but finally revealed to his apostles (cf. Eph 3:5). God had communicated several mysteries (cf. Dan 2:28f; Matt 13:11; 1 Cor 4:1; 13:2) to his prophets, but the meaning remained obscure, in effect hidden in plain sight. God’s secret counsels were necessary because man cannot really be trusted (John 2:24f) and Satan engages in unceasing warfare against God’s kingdom and would certainly use any intelligence to hinder God’s workings (John 10:10; cf. Eph 6:12; 1 Thess 2:18; 1 Pet 5:8). Paul mentions the mystery of the Messiah here, but does not really explain it as he does in Ephesians 3.
of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. In secular Greek writings a number of deities, always represented in anthropomorphic form, were called theos. In ancient polytheistic culture theos was not one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, Creator and ruler of the universe and certainly not spirit as described in Scripture (John 4:24). All of the gods and goddesses of polytheistic pantheons were strictly non-personal, which stands in sharp contrast to the Hebraic view that God loves and desires a relationship with men.
In the LXX theos renders the generic designations of God, El (which occurs over 200 times, including combinations such as El Bethel, El Elyon, El Roi, El Olam, and El Shaddai) and Elohim (which occurs over 2300 times), as well as the tetragrammaton YHVH, over 300 times. As with many other Greek words the LXX infused new meaning into theos (DNTT, II, 67-70). The TLV renders theos here with Adonai, assuming that the name refers to the tetragrammaton YHVH, the name Jews were not to pronounce. (See my web article The Blessed Name.)
of Messiah: Grk. Christos (a translation of Heb. Mashiach, "Anointed"), the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messianic Priest-King (Ps 2:2 and Dan 9:25-26). Yeshua's anointing was not in the customary manner. He was first anointed with the Holy Spirit to fulfill the ministry prophesied in Isaiah 61:1 (Matt 3:16; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38). Then he was anointed with nard in preparation for the ministry of being an atoning sacrifice (Mark 14:3-8; John 12:3). Finally he was anointed with the power of resurrection to assume his rightful place on the throne of David as King and Judge over the earth (Luke 1:32; Acts 3:18-26; 10:40-42; 13:30-34; 17:31; Eph 1:18-23). Christos does not mean "second person of the triune Godhead" nor is it a last name. Christos is a Jewish title of kingship. Yeshua is both King of the Jews (Matt 2:2; 27:11, 37) and King of the nations (Gen 49:10; Rev 15:3). For an expanded discussion on the Jewish title see my commentary on Mark 1:1.
3 in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden.
in whom are all the treasures: Grk. thēsouros may mean (1) a place for safekeeping, container or chest; or (2) that which is stored in a safe place, treasure, whether material or what transcends the earthly, as in this verse. of wisdom: Grk. sophia, exceptional endowment of discernment, understand and insight, wisdom. In Greek culture sophia referred to practical knowledge, e.g., the sophia of a carpenter, but later incorporated theoretical knowledge (DNTT, III, 1027). In the LXX sophia was used to translate the wisdom possessed by a specialist in a particular field (Ex 36:1f), or economic shrewdness (Prov 8:18). Over and above these elements sophia is concerned with the learned and perceptive ability that enables a man to master life (Prov 8:32-36) (DNTT, III, 1028).
and knowledge: Grk. gnōsis, knowledge and understanding with special reference to insight relating to matters involving God and spiritual perception. The term is especially used as an attribute of God and in Scripture knowledge of God is always linked with God's acts of self-revelation. In the LXX gnōsis generally renders Heb. da'at (e.g. Josh 23:13; 1 Sam 2:3; 1 Chron 4:10; Ps 19:2; 73:11; 94:10; 119:66; 139:6; Prov 2:6; 8:9), which may refer to general knowledge received from God or others, knowledge possessed by God, prophetic knowledge or knowledge by man of God (BDB 395). The usage of gnōsis in the LXX clearly demonstrates that Paul did not borrow pagan terminology to write this letter. hidden: Grk. apokruphos, secret or hidden. Mounce interprets the word as meaning "stored up." The term occurs only three times in the Besekh (Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17), referring to what is kept from nonbelievers.
4 This I say, that no one may delude you with persuasiveness of speech.
delude: Grk. paralogizomai, pers. mid. subj., to delude through specious argument or reasoning. you with persuasiveness of speech: Grk. pithanalogia, speech that sounds convincing. Paul alludes to the danger of false teachers and the errors that he will shortly rebut.
5 For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the Spirit, rejoicing and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Messiah.
For though I am absent: Grk. apeimi, pres. ind., to be absent or away, not be present, not be there. in the flesh: Grk. sarx, "flesh," has both literal and figurative uses in Scripture: (1) the tissue that covers the skeleton of a human or animal; (2) the whole body viewed as a substance; (3) man of flesh and blood in contrast to God and supernatural beings; (4) human or mortal nature, with its limitations; (5) corporeality, physical limitations, life here on earth; (6) the external or outward side of life; (7) theologically the willing instrument of sin that stands in opposition to the Spirit; and (8) the genitals without any suggestion of sinfulness connected with it (BAG). Sarx is a key word in Paul's writings, occurring over 75 times.
In the LXX sarx stands for Heb. basar, which denotes flesh as (1) the food of men, Gen 41:2; (2) tissues or parts of the human body, Gen 2:21; (3) the human body in its entirety, specifying the part for the whole, Ps 63:2; and also figurative of close relations, Gen 29:14, and even all mankind, Job 34:15 (DNTT, I, 672). Frequently basar emphasizes man's essential nature in contrast with God, e.g., man's transitoriness, frailty, dependence or incapacity (2 Chron 32:8; Ps 78:39; 119:120; Prov 5:11; Isa 31:3; 40:6, 8; Jer 17:5). Here sarx serves as a euphemism for the lack of Paul's physical presence.
yet am I with you in the Spirit: Grk. pneuma, wind, breath or spirit. The presence of a definite article would identify pneuma as the Holy Spirit. Many versions translate pneuma with the lower case "spirit," implying that Paul is referring to himself and describing shared attitudes and values. But, he goes on to explain how he is with them in the Holy Spirit. rejoicing: Grk. chairō, pres. act. part., be in a state marked by good feeling about an event or circumstance, be happy, glad, delight, rejoice. and beholding: Grk. blepō, pres. act. part., to see, to have inward or mental sight. your order: Grk. taxis may mean (1) a position or turn in an orderly sequence of activity; (2) arrangement for activity; or (3) the condition of being orderly. The last definition fits this context best. The term was used in the military sense of ranks or orderly array.
and the steadfastness: Grk. stereōma, firmness, used only here in the Besekh. The term may reflect a military metaphor and mean "a solid front," "a closed phalanx" (Rienecker). of your faith: Grk. pistis (corresponding to Heb. emunah) means (1) constancy in awareness of obligation to others, thus faithfulness or fidelity; and (2) belief or confidence evoked by another's reputation for trustworthiness, thus faith, trust or confidence. Thus, biblical faith is composed of two elements, neither of which can be completely separated from its usage. The first element of faith is confidence or trust (Heb 11:6; cf. Heb 4:2). True faith leads one to seek God and then trust Him to respond with His good gifts. The second element of true faith involves commitment, constancy or faithfulness, which includes following God’s direction for life and producing works of righteousness (cf. Eph 2:8-10; James 2:17-18).
in Messiah: Grk. Christos. See the note on verse 2 above. Paul frequently uses the preposition "in" to emphasize the believer's commitment to Yeshua and appears in such expressions "in Messiah," "in Yeshua," and "in the Holy Spirit." The preposition reflects the Jewish concept of dveiqut or "bond," meaning the believer is, as it were, glued or joined to the will of God (Santala 154).
Paul's Ministry of Exhortation, 2:6-7
6 As therefore you received Messiah Yeshua the Lord, so walk in him,
As therefore you received: Grk. paralambano, aor. act., to receive to one's side. Messiah: See the note on verse 2 above. Yeshua: Grk. Iēsous, perhaps "yay-soos," transliterates the Hebrew name Yeshua ("Jesus" in Christian Bibles). Greek does not have a letter with the "sh" sound, so "s" is substituted for the Heb. letter shin, and the Greek word ends with a sigma ("ς") because an ending with alpha ("α") would make the name feminine. Iēsous does not translate the meaning of Yeshua. Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua, which means “YHVH is salvation" (BDB 221). Yeshua has the same Hebrew root as yoshia (“He will save”) and is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word yeshu‘ah, ("salvation”) (Stern 4). In the LXX both Yeshua ("Jeshua") and Y’hoshua ("Joshua") were common names and rendered as Iēsous.
The name of Yeshua was given to six men in the Tanakh and translated as "Jeshua" in modern English versions, four of whom were of the tribe of Levi (1 Chron 24:11; 31:15; Ezra 2:6; 3:2; Neh 3:19; 8:7). In the Besekh three men bear the name Yeshua. There is Bar-Yeshua (Acts 13:6), a Jewish false prophet and magician whom Paul cursed so that he became blind (Acts 13:11), and Yeshua called Justus, a fellow minister of Paul (Col 4:11). By far the most important of the three is the Yeshua of Nazareth, the Son of David, Son of Man and Son of God. The English spelling of "Jesus" originated with the Mace New Testament in 1729. For many Jews the name "Jesus" is a distinctly Christian word. Sadly, for many Christians the name "Jesus," while precious, does not evoke the reality of his Jewish identity.
the Lord: Grk. kurios may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. In personal address kurios may be translated as "sir" to express recognition of or submission to superior rank. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, principally to translate Heb. words for God. In the overwhelming majority of instances (over 6,000 times), kurios replaces the Heb. Sacred Name Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey and stands in for the divine titles Adonai, Elohim, El and Eloah (DNTT II, 511). Kurios is the principal title by which disciples and members of the public addressed Yeshua during his earthly ministry, over twice as many times as any other title (e.g., Rabbi, Teacher, Master). The frequent use of kurios to address Yeshua in the flesh would not have considered deity. Unbelieving Jews would have called him kurios out of respect. However, expectant Jews would call Yeshua adon because the Messiah would rule over Israel.
so walk: Grk. peripateō, pres. act. imp., engage in pedestrian activity and fig. to engage in a course of behavior, here of conduct morally acceptable. in him: To walk "in him" is idiomatic to live in a manner pleasing to Yeshua.
7 rooted and built up in him, and established in your faith, even as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
rooted: Grk. rizoō, perf. mid. part., cause to take root or to become firmly rooted or fixed. The word was also used in the metaphor of the building and pictured the firm and solid foundation (BAG). The perfect tense points to completed action in the past with continuing results in the present. and built up: Grk. epoikoidomeō, pres. pass. part., to build up, to build up upon. in him, and established: Grk. bebaioō, pres. pass. part., to put beyond doubt, confirm, establish, validate. Danker sees a commercial characteristic in the term. BAG points out its idiomatic character of "faithful disciples." The present tense gives the idea of being more and more established (Rienecker). As he does in 1:23 Paul uses three verbs that refer to the sound construction of a building structure. Taken together they may allude to the earthquakes which occasionally did severe damage in the Lycus Valley.
in your faith: Grk. pistis., lit. "the faith." See the note on verse 5 above. Rienecker suggests that pistis would be the cement of the building. Given the dual nature of pistis, and the connection to the preceding verb, the sense here would be "the kind of trusting faithfulness that marks disciples of Yeshua." even as you were taught: Grk. didaskō, aor. pass., to teach or instruct. abounding: Grk. perisseuō, pres. act. part., to be above or beyond in number, amount or quality, to abound or excel. in thanksgiving: Grk. eucharistia may mean (1) a quality indicative of appropriate attitude toward a benefactor, 'gratitude;' or (2) an expression of thankfulness, 'thanksgiving,' perhaps in prayer. Regardless what misfortune may come that would "shake up" their lives, they must make thanksgiving a part of their lives (cf. 1 Thess 5:18).
Warnings Against Error, 2:8-23
The outline below suggests four specific errors, but Paul likely intends only one threat to the congregation. Think of it as a false teacher (similar to a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon missionary) coming to Colossae with a false doctrine. All the errors addressed below are interconnected. Commentators typically see a blend of Hellenistic Gnosticism and Jewish legalism as the heresy. The problem with this interpretation is that Gnosticism flourished in the second and third centuries A.D., not the first century (Skarsaune 204). In fact there is no literary evidence for the existence of Gnostic systems in the first century. Some Gnostic texts are dated in the second century, but most are dated in the third and fourth centuries (Ibid. 249). The Church Fathers regarded Gnosticism as a Christian heresy.
Christian commentators appear fond of resorting to the Gnostic boogey-man in order to rob Paul's letters of their Jewish character. The terminology Paul uses is not unique to the Gnostics. Indeed some of the terms commentators claim to be favored of Gnostics are found in the LXX (completed at least a century before Yeshua) and other contemporary Jewish literature, such as Philo and Josephus. In my view, the issues addressed reflect the tension between Hebraic Jews and Hellenistic Jews and the predictable impact on Gentile God-fearers and proselytes, as well as the tension between synagogue leadership and Messianic Jews.
The only Hellenistic philosophy mentioned in Scripture in connection with Paul occurred when he went to Athens. While there he carried on a vigorous discussion with Epicurean and Stoic [Greek] philosophers (Acts 17:18-20). Contrary to being influenced by them, he called the Greek philosophers to repent and believe in the Jewish Messiah.
The Error of Tradition, 2:8-15
8 Take heed lest there shall be one that makes you prey through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Messiah:
Take heed: lit. "see to it." lest there shall be: Grk. eimi, fut. ind., to be, to exist. one that makes you prey: Grk. sulagōgeō, pres. act. part., the ordinary sense of leading someone off as prey or booty, to captivate. Mounce interprets fig. as "make victims of fraud." through philosophy: Grk. philosophia, impressive devotion to inquiry, sophisticated argumentation, philosophy. The word occurs only here in the Besekh Danker points out that the close association here with "vain deceit" suggests to some a negative connotation for philosophia in what amounts to learned blah blah. BAG treats the usage of philosophia here as "false teaching."
The word philosophia does not occur in the LXX, but it is found in other Jewish literature (4th Maccabees; Philo; and Josephus) (BAG). While Josephus wrote much of Greek philosophy, he also spoke of the "philosophy of our nation" (Against Apion, II, 4) and the "philosophy" of the Essenes, Pharisees, Saduccees and Zealots (Ant., XVIII, 1:1, 2, 4, 6). Josephus described Philo as skillful in philosophy (Ant., XVIII, 8:1). In 4th Maccabees 5:11 the tyrant Antiochus terms the Jewish religion a phluaros ("foolish") philosophia. Indeed the Greeks had no general term for religion and the closest Hellenistic word for describing the beliefs and practices of the Pharisees was "philosophy" (Moseley 108). Moseley goes on to point out several characteristics of the Pharisees that were similar to the Greek philosophers.
1. the Pharisee teachers, like the Greek philosophers, taught without pay;
2. like the philosophers, they had disciples who followed them and served them;
3. like the philosophers, in addition to their private employment, they were supported by gifts from their admirers;
4. like the philosophers, they were exempt from taxes;
5. like the philosophers, they could be distinguished on the street by their walk, their speech, and their peculiar clothing;
6. like some of the philosophers, they practiced a simple lifestyle; and
7. the Pharisees discussed the same sorts of questions the philosophers discussed and reached the same sorts of conclusions the philosophers reached (109).
Although the Pharisees separated from the Essenes, the Sadducees, and other groups, they had many differences among themselves, and it is unlikely that what we now call "orthodox Judaism" actually existed in the first century. Some Zealots accepted the Pharisaic interpretation of tradition and believed in restoring the fortunes of Israel by war; others focused on spiritual reform. In short, anyone who believed in the entirety of the Scriptures, the Oral Law, resurrection of the dead, angels, and eternal judgment was considered to be of the Pharisaic philosophy.
and vain: Grk. kenos, devoid of contents, without substance. deceit: Grk. apatē, deception in quality or instance, deception, trick, fraud or sham. according to the tradition: Grk. paradosis, tradition, whether long-standing or relatively current. The term occurs in passages of Pharisaic traditions (Matt 15:2-3; Gal 1:14) and apostolic traditions (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:18; 3:6). of men: pl. of Grk. anthrōpos, human being, used generally of male or female, and in the plural of people or mankind. This same phrase ("tradition of men") in Greek occurs on the lips of Yeshua in Mark 7:8 in his description of Pharisaic tradition.
after the rudiments: pl. of Grk. stoicheion, part of a complex whole, element, part, which may refer to miscellaneous rules or basic instruction or cosmic powers. Mounce defines the word as an element or rudiment of any intellectual or religious system. Bible versions are divided over translation, some favoring a human activity (AMP, CEB, GW, HNV, KJ21, KJV, MW, NASB, NKJV, NLV, OJB, TLB, TLV), and others favoring a demonic activity (CEV, CJB, ESV, GNT, HCSB, LEB, MRINT, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). Stern sees stoicheion as pagan tradition, because it is comparable to the usage of stoicheion in Galatians 4:3 (606). This term may be contrasted with Jewish traditions (Matt 15:2–6, Mark 7:3–13, Gal 1:14) and with Messianic tradition (Rom 6:17; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6).
of the world: Grk. kosmos has a variety of uses in the apostolic writings, including (1) the planet upon which mankind lives; (2) mankind; (3) the world and everything in it as that which opposes God and is ruined and depraved of character (BAG). and not after Messiah: Grk. Christos. See the note on verse 3 above. After considering the Jewish usage of the above terms the interpretation that Paul is borrowing from Gnostic philosophy and vocabulary is without foundation. The combination of the words "philosophy," "tradition of men," "rudiments of the world" and "not after Messiah" likely point to the belief system of the Pharisees and alludes to the controversies between them and Yeshua.
The Pharisees (Grk. Pharisaios; Heb. P'rushim, “separatists”) were a lay movement that separated themselves from the common people of the land who did not tithe, were ritually impure and knew nothing of the Torah (Law). They traced their roots to the Hasidim ("pious ones") organized in the time of Ezra. There were many aspects of Phariseeism with which Yeshua would have agreed. They believed in resurrection and immortality, and the importance of living a holy life. They regarded Greek ideas as abominations. The Pharisees accepted the traditions of the Sages as having equal authority as the written Torah.
The principal error of the Pharisees has been labeled "legalism." A typical Christian definition of "legalism" is (1) a dependence on law keeping as the means of salvation, and/or (2) an excessive bondage to the letter of the law which misses its intent and which fails to be motivated by love" (Richard S. Taylor, ed. Beacon Dictionary of Theology, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1983, p. 311). Unfortunately, there is no Hebrew or Greek word in Scripture that means "legalism," and these two assumptions do not accurately reflect Yeshua's criticism of the Pharisees as recorded in the Gospels.
The first assumption is easily rebutted in the fact that Jews had election and a sacrificial system that assured salvation. The annual Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) was a constant reminder that Israelites required cleansing of sin through a blood sacrifice. Many Jews in the first century would have ascribed to the notion of the meritorious nature of good works, particularly almsgiving, prayer and fasting (cf. Matt 6:1-5; Rom 10:3). In particular, giving alms could gain atonement and forgiveness for past sins (Tobit 12:8-9; Sirach 3:14).
There was a rabbinic saying: “Greater is he who gives alms than he who offers all sacrifices.” Almsgiving was the best good work a person could do. This is the epitome of loving your neighbor and in so doing loving your God. Even loaning money without interest or helping a poor man to some lucrative occupation was considered a form of almsgiving. Yeshua agreed so far as to say that done for the right reason the Father would reward these good works (Matt 6:1, 4, 6, 17-18).
The essential offense of legalism was the unlawful use of the Law (written or Oral) or using God’s Law in a way he never intended, as Paul says, “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim 1:8). The misuse of the Law, as practiced by certain Pharisees, was at least fourfold.
· The casuistic application of Torah, i.e., pitting one commandment against another or elevating some commandments over others. Yeshua condemned the hypocrisy of rigorous observance of tithing and the Sabbath while neglecting the "weightier matters" of the Torah (Matt 12:1-12; 23:23).
· Treating man-made traditions and rules as equivalent to or more important than the written commandments given to Moses. Neither Yeshua nor Paul had any dispute with following the traditions that had been created to help foster respect and obedience to Torah (Matt 23:1-3; Acts 23:6; Gal 1:14). However, Yeshua strenuously objected to using a tradition to enable disobedience of core commandments (Matt 15:1-6; 23:14).
· Treating Torah commandments as a wall to separate the righteous from the sinners (cf. Matt 9:11-13; 23:13). In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), the Pharisee congratulates himself on being better than the worst sinners and the tax collector who was despised for his association with the hated Romans. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the priest and Levite ignore the needs of an injured man to maintain ritual purity.
· Parsing the meaning of words in the Torah in order to excuse selfish decisions and injustice, such as divorcing wives for personal expedience (Matt 19:3) and classifying healing as work and thereby condemning Yeshua's ministry on the Sabbath (Matt 12:10).
9 for in him dwells all the fullness of the deity bodily,
for in him dwells: Grk. katoikeō, pres. act. ind., to inhabit, to have an abode. all the fullness: Grk. plērōma, that which is there as result of filling. In application the term may mean (1) that which fills up the contents; (2) that which is full of something; (3) that which is brought to fullness either as the full number or sum total; (4) fulfillment and (5) the state of being full, such as the fullness of time. Everything that is in the Father is in Yeshua. of the deity: Grk. theotēs, a general term for deity or divinity. Some versions (ASV, DRA, HNV, KJ21, KJV, NKJV) translate the term as "Godhead," to which Stern objects as distinctly non-Jewish. Judaism (and Scripture) speaks of the personal God, not an abstract and impersonal “Godhead” (606).
bodily: Grk. sōmatikōs, in embodied state, bodily. The word indicates the full humanity of Yeshua, not a humanity that was simply a covering for his deity (Rienecker). Yeshua's body was not an imitation of one or an appearance of a human body, but real in every respect. Paul essentially repeats the theological statement made in 1:19 and anticipates the declaration of 1 John 1:1, "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life." The point of this verse following on verse 8 is to assert the superiority of Yeshua over those promoting their philosophy and tradition. Yeshua in the flesh spoke with the full authority of God and his assessment of human tradition must be heeded.
10 and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power:
and in him you are made full: Grk. plēroō, perf. pass. part., to cause to abound in content to a maximum, to fill or to bring to fruition or completion. The perfect tense accentuates the abiding results of believers' completeness through union with the exalted Lord (Rienecker). In him all needs are met. who is the head: Grk. kephalē, , the head as an anatomical term. In Greek literature and Scripture kephalē has a metaphorical use to refer to the life of an individual, but also to refer to someone superior in rank who merits respect by virtue of that position. Even so, in Greek culture kephalē was not a title for the head of a community (DNTT, II, 157). The language of "headship" was common within Hebrew thought. In the LXX kephalē frequently translates the Heb. rosh ("head") and is used to denote one who occupies a position of superiority in the community (cf. Judg 10:18; 1 Kgs 21:12).
of all principality: Grk. archē, a multi-purpose word with the basic meaning of priority with these applications: (1) the point of origination, i.e., beginning; (2) one who enjoys preeminence in earthly or supra-terrestrial realm, often plural, i.e., ruler, authority; (3) an assigned position or sphere of activity, a position, domain or jurisdiction. Archē is derived from archō, and the word group in the LXX renders over 30 Hebrew words (DNTT, I, 164), including these significant words:
· nasi ('chief,' 'captain,' BDB 672), used to refer to tribal chiefs or leaders of the community (e.g., Ex 16:22; 34:31; Josh 9:15; 22:32).
· rosh ('head,' BDB 910), used of command or military unit command (Judg 9:34; 1 Sam 11:11).
· sar ('chieftain, chief, ruler, official, captain, prince,' BDB 978), used of leader, nobleman, ruler (Gen 12:15; Judg 8:3; Amos 1:15), but also of celestial beings who represent the nations in the world of spirits, whether hostile to God's people (Dan 7:27; 10:13, 20) or defending God's people as Michael (Dan 10:13, 21).
In the Besekh archē is used as a general term for rule and authority without further specification (1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; Col 2:10); for a political ruler (Luke 20:20; Titus 3:1); for a synagogue ruler (Luke 12:11); and for angelic or demonic powers (Eph 3:10; 6:12). The early English versions, as well as some modern versions render the term with the unfamiliar "principality." A principality (or princedom) refers to a sovereign state, ruled or reigned over by a monarch with the title of prince or princess. Most versions translate the term either as "rule" or "rulers."
and power: Grk. exousia, authority, absolute power, jurisdiction, especially the ruling or official power as exercised by kings and officials (BAG). The basic idea is having the right to speak or act in a situation without looking or waiting for approval. Yeshua has all earthly power under his control. God puts rulers in place and removes them (Ps 75:6-7; Dan 2:21; 4:17, 32; Acts 17:26; Rom 13:1). God has a purpose for those He establishes in power and He directs them in whatever way He wishes (Prov 21:1; Isa 44:28; Rom 9:17).
11 in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Messiah;
in whom: the personal pronoun refers to Yeshua. you were also: The description that follows implies that "also" means the audience of this verse would be either Jews or proselytes. circumcised: Grk. peritemnō, aor. pass., to cut off the foreskin of the male penis, circumcise. Circumcision, performed at eight days of age was the sign of belonging to the seed of Abraham and the chosen people (Gen 17:11-14; Lev 12:3). The significance of the time is not stated in Scripture but modern medical researchers discovered that the two main blood clotting factors, Vitamin K and Prothrombim, reach their highest level in life, about 110% of normal, on the 8th day after birth. These blood clotting agents facilitate rapid healing and greatly reduce the chance of infection. Any modern circumcision done earlier requires an injection of Vitamin K supplement.
Along with it came all the promises given to Abraham. Failure to perform circumcision would result in being "cut off" from one's people (Gen 17:14). Rabbinic authority later determined that this restriction only applied to those serving as priests and did not disqualify one from being considered Jewish (Sanh. 22b). Although the requirement for circumcision was given to Abraham (Acts 7:28), circumcision in the apostolic writings refers to a religious service designed by Moses (Acts 15:1) called Brit Milah ("Covenant of Circumcision"). The apparent purpose of turning a simple surgery into a religious rite with spiritual meaning was probably to emphasize God's desire for circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6). By custom the infant's father (Heb. avi haben) is responsible to perform the commanded circumcision (Gen 17:23; 21:4).
However, due to the natural reticence of fathers to carry out this duty the office of mohel (circumciser) developed. The mohel was (and is) specially trained in circumcision and the rituals surrounding the procedure. The mohel might be a doctor or rabbi. While the surgery was normally performed in a private setting, the celebratory service included certain b'rakhot (blessings) and the naming of the child. In Paul’s time the three elements of a Gentile proselyte’s initiation into Judaism were getting himself circumcised (men), immersing himself in a mikveh (“ritual bath”) and offering a sacrifice at the Temple. These three elements are set forth here in verses 11-15 as having been effected for Gentiles who trust in Yeshua, even though they have not become Jews (Stern 608).
with a circumcision: Grk. peritomē, the surgical removal of male foreskin as a religious rite. not made with hands: Grk. acheiropoiētos, not of human production. An idiomatic expression of a spiritual experience. in the putting off: Grk. apekdusis, putting off, removal, used in imagery of a change of garment from a fleshly body to a spiritually motivated body (Danker). The word is found nowhere independently of Paul (BAG), suggesting that he coined the term. The word was likely formed from the preposition apo ("from") and the verb ekduō, to strip or take off, which does occur in the LXX and Philo. of the body: Grk. sōma, body, normally of a living body of a human or animal in Grk. literature. While Greek dualism distinguished between the soul and the body, in Hebraic thought the body represents the whole man. There is no Hebrew equivalent to sōma, but the LXX does use sōma to render Heb basar ("flesh"), signifying man in his individual corporeality (DNTT, I, 233). This usage is different than sarx (mentioned next).
of the flesh: Grk. sarx, "flesh," which has both literal and figurative uses (1) the tissue that covers the skeleton of a human or animal; (2) the whole body viewed as a substance; (3) man of flesh and blood in contrast to God and supernatural beings; (4) human or mortal nature, with its limitations; (5) the external or outward side of life; (6) theologically the willing instrument of sin that stands in opposition to the Spirit; (7) the genitals without any suggestion of sinfulness connected with it.
Sarx is a key word in Paul's letters, occurring well over 70 times, and that usage has led to much disagreement among interpreters over its meaning, especially in Romans seven and eight. Paul the Jew and Pharisee heavily depends on the Tanakh for his theology for his view of man. In the LXX sarx stands for Heb. basar, which denotes flesh as (1) the food of men, Gen 41:2; (2) tissues or parts of the human body, Gen 2:21; (3) the human body in its entirety, specifying the part for the whole, Ps 63:2; and also figurative of close relations, Gen 29:14, and even all mankind, Job 34:15 (DNTT, I, 672). Frequently basar emphasizes man's essential nature in contrast with God, e.g., man's transitoriness, frailty, dependence or incapacity (2 Chron 32:8; Ps 78:39; 119:120; Prov 5:11; Isa 31:3; 40:6, 8; Jer 17:5).
Commentators generally view "flesh" in a negative light, the willing instrument of sin that stands in opposition to God's Law and the Spirit. In light of new understanding of Paul and his writings this definition must be reexamined. Christian interpretation of Paul has historically been too much influenced by the dualism of Hellenistic philosophy with its negative view of the material. It may well be that in Paul's lexicon sarx is shorthand for the complete phrase "flesh and blood," used first by Yeshua and then later only in Paul's writings (Matt 16:7; 1 Cor 15:50; Gal 1:16; Eph 6:12; Heb 2:14). Perhaps this phrase should be translated as "the weakness of your humanity."
in the circumcision of Messiah: Stern suggests that Paul depicts Yeshua as the believer’s spiritual mohel (Hebrew for “circumciser”) and uses the physical surgery of circumcision as a metaphor, with the foreskin representing a person's sins and his old nature (608). Such spiritualizing of ritual circumcision was not invented by the apostles; the Tanakh does the same thing when it speaks of circumcised hearts (Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 9:25; Ezek 44:7, 9), ears (Jer 6:10) and lips (Ex 6:12, 30). Stephen in his defense sermon before the Sanhedrin made use of the metaphor, accusing them of uncircumcised "heart and ears" (Acts 7:51).
Another layer of meaning is that the phrase refers to the fact of Yeshua's own circumcision (Luke 2:21). As required by Torah Yeshua was circumcised on the 8th day from his birth, although Luke does not report the location or who performed the ritual surgery. The word picture of being circumcised in the circumcision of the Jewish Messiah is comparable with Paul's word picture of Gentiles being grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel (Rom 11:17). Both word pictures reflect the testimony of Ruth, "Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" (Ruth 1:16).
12 having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faithfulness of the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
having been buried: Grk. sunthaptō, aor. pass., to bury with or bury together. The verb only occurs twice in the Besekh (also Rom 6:4). Josephus mentions a custom in Daniel's time of burying together the kings of Media, Persia and Parthia in a certain tower (Ant. X, 11:7). Of course, among Hebrews burying family members together was an old custom (Gen 25:10; 47:30). with him: Yeshua's immersion portended his death, which was accomplished in accordance with the Torah requirement (Deut 21:22-23). Contact with a dead body resulted in uncleanness (Num 19:14-19). The Nazirites in particularly were absolutely forbidden to come near a dead body (Num 6:6). Yet, Paul introduces this shocking concept of not just touching Yeshua's dead body, but being buried with him.
in baptism: Grk. baptismos, from the verb baptizō, (to wash or purify; or to immerse, dip, or plunge into a liquid). The noun occurs only four times in the Besekh, primarily in reference to ritual washing (Mark 7:4; Heb 6:2; 9:10), but here alludes to the self-immersion of Yeshua in the Jordan in preparation for his ministry (Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Paul did not intend to espouse a sacramental theology of believer's immersion as developed in Christianity, but his use of the analogy demonstrates a common understanding of its purpose and mode of practice. Otherwise the analogy loses its force. Stern is correct when he says that these verses support immersion as the preferred form of baptism, since baptism is compared here with burial, and burial resembles immersion but does not resemble pouring or sprinkling.
Beasley-Murray offers this concurring analysis of the biblical term.
"Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizō, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant "immerse," and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains. The use of the term for cleansing vessels (as in Lev 6:28; Mark 7:4) does not prove the contrary, since vessels were normally cleansed by immersing them in water. The metaphorical uses of the term in the NT appear to take this for granted…. The Pauline representation of baptism as burial and resurrection with Christ is consonant with this view, even if it does not demand it." (DNTT, I, 144)
Although many Christians practice infant baptism (whether opting for sprinkling, pouring or immersion), the apostles only spoke and wrote of adult believer's immersion. Advocates of infant baptism cite passages where a "whole household" was baptized (Acts 16:15, 31-33; 1 Cor 1:16). This interpretation reflects common misunderstanding of the Jewish context and the practices imposed by the Jewish apostles. Among Jews ablutions of all kinds were not performed by people under bar/bat mitzvah age. It was at that age that a boy or girl became fully accountable to the Torah.
The earliest extra-biblical instruction for baptism occurs in Chapter Seven of the Didache (c. 100), which concerns only adults since it requires that the person to be baptized should fast beforehand. The earliest mention of infant baptism dates from the middle second century. Irenaeus (c. 130–202) speaks of infants being "born again to God" (Against Heresies, 2.22.4). Later mentions by church fathers reflect the practice as commonplace. Church fathers justified infant baptism as being of apostolic origin, but their rationale was theological, not biblical.
In truth infant baptism reflected Christianity's effort to expunge any trace of Judaism from its religious practices, treating baptism as a substitute for circumcision. In addition, the doctrine of sin articulated by Augustine assumed the body to be evil and therefore to guarantee eternal life for an infant baptism must be performed as soon as possible after birth. Infant baptism, while well-intentioned and beautiful in its sentiment, reflects only the faith of the parents (if indeed they have faith) and does not represent the function of baptism to mark the transition from a life of sin to a life of righteousness. Indeed, the baptized infant who grows up without embracing discipleship sullies this sacred ceremony.
Another factor not generally considered in Christian discussion of baptism is that Jewish immersion was (and is) self-immersion, and gender-specific. That is, men were not present when women immersed (a rule worthy of consideration in Christian practice). While someone might witness the immersion, no one was allowed to touch the one immersing himself or herself. They did not need a “clergy person” to put the new believer under for it to be valid. The only role of a witness was to insure the person went completely under the water. In one fascinating piece of evidence, there is an ancient drawing from a Roman catacomb which depicts John and Yeshua at Yeshua's baptism. John is standing on the bank of the Jordan River extending a hand to Yeshua assisting him from the water (R. Steven Notley, John's Baptism of Repentance, Jerusalem Perspective Online, 2004).
Another element in Jewish immersion was the number of times the person submerged. The high priest would immerse five times on the Day of Atonement. Conversion immersions for Jewish proselytes were typically three times. By apostolic instruction immersion to reflect confession, repentance and identification with Yeshua only needed to be performed one time (Acts 2:38; Eph 4:5). The practice of rebaptism by those who had been baptized as infants is certainly understandable and laudable, but for a church to require rebaptism of an adult who had been baptized as an adult in another church would be totally abhorrent to the apostolic mind and has no biblical support.
wherein you were also raised with: Grk. sunegeirō, aor. pass., to cause to rise up along with, raise up. Emerging from the baptismal water is offered as a picture of sharing in the resurrection of Yeshua. him through faith: Grk. pistis. See the note on verse 5 above. of the working: Grk. energeia, productive activity, with a focus on outward exhibition of inner resources. Mounce defines as energy, efficacy, or power. of God: Grk. theos, the God of Israel. The Greek phrase is pisteôs tēs energeias tou Theou (Marshall). Each word in this phrase is in the genitive case, which is the case of definition or description; adjectival in function. The genitive qualifies the meaning of a preceding noun and is typically translated with “of.”
Rendered as a subjective genitive, it would mean that Theou performs the action. Rendered as an objective genitive, Theou receives the action. Almost all Bible versions treat the genitive case of pistis as an objective genitive and translate as "faith in". However, Stern argues persuasively for treating the phrase as a subjective genitive, describing the action of God (CJB). After all, the disciple cannot raise himself. The same kind of phrasing may be found in Mark 11:22; Romans 3:22, 26; 10:2; 11:15; 15:30; Galatians 2:16; 3:22, 26; Ephesians 3:12, Philippians 3:9 and Jacob ("James") 2:1; Revelation 12:17; 14:12; 15:3; 19:10.
who raised: Grk. egeirō, aor. act. part., to move from an inert position or state, to rise or raise. him from the dead: Grk. nekros, one without life, dead, normally used of physical death, but also figuratively of spiritual death. The phrase points to the result of the Father raising our Messiah Yeshua from the dead. Paul's theology of believer's immersion is that (1) believer's immersion is likened to death and resurrection generally and (2) then as a symbol of Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Paul's statement is comparable to his teaching in Romans 8:11, "“if the Spirit of the One who raised Yeshua from the dead is living in you, then the One who raised the Messiah Yeshua from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you” (CJB).
Stern goes on to point out that this is the only passage in the Besekh where circumcision is identified with immersion (609). Paul is thinking in terms of Jewish initiation requirements and intends to reassure Gentile believers that they are fully initiated members of God’s people. But the comparison is with Gentile proselytization into Judaism, not with B'rit-milah for the sons of Jewish parents. Spiritually, all three of the Gentile proselyte initiation requirements—circumcision, immersion, and sacrifice—are fulfilled when one trusts in and is united with Yeshua. Spiritual circumcision is accomplished at the time of one’s physical immersion in water, which is also a spiritual immersion by and into the Messiah, a union with him in his death. This union continues on through the present and into the future, culminating in the resurrection on the last day.
13 And you, being dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made alive together with him, having forgiven us all the trespasses;
And you, being: Grk. eimi, pres. part., to be, to exist. dead: Grk. nekros. See the previous verse. Paul intends spiritual death, which is the result of being cut off from God, the source of life. in trespasses: Grk. paraptōma, a false step, transgression, a falling along side (Rienecker). The word points to violation of Torah commandments. The term does not imply the degree of intention. This statement reinforces the truth that the Torah had not been canceled, since Torah is the standard by which sin is defined (Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7). Many Christians prefer the Torah to be canceled in order to make themselves the final arbiter of morality and exercise the freedom to choose which commands of Yeshua and the apostles to obey. To cancel the Torah is nothing less than an excuse for sinning.
and the uncircumcision: Grk. akrobustia, prepuce of the penis, foreskin, to have a foreskin and therefore never circumcised. It was "a reproach" for an Israelite to be uncircumcised (Gen 17:14; Josh 5:9). Hence the Heb. name arēlim (uncircumcised) became a term of contemptuous reproach, denoting the Philistines and other non-Israelites (Jud 14:3; 1 Sam 14:6;17:26; 31:4; 2 Sam 1: 20), and used synonymously with Heb. tamē ("unclean") for heathen (Isa 52:1). The Heb. word arēl ("uncircumcised") is also employed for "unclean" (Lev 26:41). The term was even applied to fruit trees that were restricted for three years from the time of planting (Lev 19:23). These verses show how abhorrent it was for a Jew not to be circumcised and their desire to maintain distance from the uncircumcised.
of your flesh: Grk. sarx. See the note on verse 5 above. The term here refers to the male genitals, but used figuratively of the person's spiritual condition. he made alive together: Grk. suzōopoieō, aor. act. ind., to make alive together. with him: A person takes on new life by connection to the resurrected Messiah. having forgiven: Grk. charizomai, aor. mid. part., to grant as a favor, to give graciously to, to discharge from obligation, including forgiveness, whether a financial obligation or liability for offense or wrongdoing. us all the trespasses: Grk. paraptōma. The assertion is not simply that God has forgiven all of my sins, but God through Yeshua now forgives all sins, an allusion to the fact that under the Torah not all sins could be forgiven. The Day of Atonement cleansed "all your sins" (Lev 16:30), but only those committed unintentionally (Lev 4:1-3).
According to the Mishnah there are thirty-six transgressions for which the Torah specifies the punishment of karet ("cut off," K'ritot 1:1; cf. Ex 30:33; 31:14; Lev 7:25-27). These transgressions included murder (Lev 17:4), the prohibited sexual unions of Leviticus 18, blasphemy (Num 15:30), idolatry, necromancy (Lev 20:6), refusing circumcision (Gen 17:14), profaning Shabbat (Ex 31:14), certain violations of ritual purity laws (Lev 7:20-21, 25; Num 19:13), eating chametz (leaven) during Pesach (Ex 12:15), not “humbling” oneself on Yom Kippur (Lev 23:29), anointing a layman with priestly oil (Ex 30:30), duplicating priestly perfume (Ex 30:38), and eating blood (Lev 17:14). (Stern 270)
The Torah provided no means of atonement or restoring fellowship for deliberate offenses. Punishment as determined by a court varied between flagellation, not to exceed forty strokes (Deut 25:2-3), and the death sentence as specifically prescribed for some of the offenses. However, the transgression must be committed defiantly (Num 15:30) or presumptuously (Deut 17:12-13) to be subject to karet. If committed unintentionally (by mistake or in ignorance), a sin offering may be brought (Lev 4:2-35; 5:15-18; 22:14; Num 15:27-29; Isa 6:5-7).
14 having blotted out the certificate against us in the ordinances, which was contrary to us: and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross;
having blotted out: Grk. exaleiphō, to wash over, to wipe out. The word was used for wiping out a memory of an experience or for cancelling a vote or annulling a law or cancelling a charge of debt (Rienecker). the certificate: Grk. cheirographon, handwriting or written declaration. It was used as a technical term for a written acknowledgement of debt, an I.O.U. personally signed by the debtor. Clarke suggests that blotting out the hand-writing is probably an allusion to Numbers 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. in the ordinances: pl. of Grk. dogma, a pronouncement or declaration with binding force, imperial ordinance, decree.
which was contrary: Grk. hupenantios, hostile, opposed, against. to us: and he has taken it: Grk. airō, perf. act. ind., to take away. The perfect tense stands in contrast to the aorist in this section ;and fixes attention on the present state of freedom resulting from the action of Yeshua (Rienecker). out of the way: Grk. mesos means midst, middle, or center. Most versions translate mesos here as "way" in the sense of taking out of everyone’s sight or out of the midst of everyone. Papyrus debt records reveal that the two actions of "blotting out" and "cancelling" to be a popular practice of cancelling debts in ancient times (Bruce 109). The practice is illustrated in two successive petitions in the Jewish prayer Avinu Malkeinu, used principally on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Awe: "Our Father, our King, wipe away our willful sins and errors from Your sight. Our Father, our King, erase through Your abundant compassion all records of our guilt" (The Complete Artscroll Siddur, 3rd ed., Mesorah Publications, 2001; p. 121).
nailing: Grk. prosēloō, to nail or fasten to. it to the cross: Grk. stauros, a structure used in carrying out a death sentence, cross. The term does not specifically imply the nature of its construction. In early Classical Greek writers (e.g. Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon) the stauros referred to an upright stake, especially a pointed one (Thayer). The corresponding Hebrew word is tzelav (Gruber-Notes 8), but stauros does not occur in the LXX at all (DNTT, I, 393). However, the verb stauroō does occur in Esther 7:9 in reference to the hanging of Haman. Josephus, in referring to Esther 7:9 uses stauros for the Hebrew word ets ('tree,' 'gallows') (Antiquities of the Jews, XI, 6:10-11).
The Roman stauros was a vertical wooden stake with a crossbar, usually shaped more like a “T” than the Christian symbol. Roman citizens were exempt from this form of execution, but would be beheaded for a capital crime. Crucifixion was common among Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians and Babylonians, but never among Jews. Jewish law specified four methods of execution—stoning, burning, beheading and strangling (Sanh. 7:1). Thus, many Jews had difficulty accepting a crucified Messiah, because the Torah identifies a man executed by hanging from a tree as accursed (Deut 21:22-23; cf. Gal 3:13). Actually, the curse would apply to being executed for a capital crime regardless of the means. (For a description of crucifixion see the ISBE article Cross.)
To many Christians the cross represents all they hold dear and it is an apt symbol of faith in Yeshua. But for centuries Jews were killed under the sign of the cross by persons claiming to be followers of the Jewish Messiah and for some Messianic Jews it symbolizes persecution of Jews. David Stern, preferring not to represent New Covenant faith by the word "cross," renders the word as "execution-stake" in the Complete Jewish Bible. Daniel Gruber, taking a similar viewpoint, uses "stake," "deathstake" and "tree of death" instead of "cross" in his Messianic Writings. The Orthodox Jewish Bible has "etz shel hakarav atzmo (tree of self-sacrifice). In contrast the Messianic versions Hebrew Names Version and Tree of Life: New Covenant do use "cross."
When a criminal was executed on a stake, it was customary to nail a list of his crimes on the stake (Stern 609). The sign placed above Yeshua’s head declared him to be the King of the Jews (John 19:19–22). Some interpreters take this verse to mean that God a nailed the Mosaic law with all its decrees to the cross with Yeshua and thereby it died with him. Others refer to only the ceremonial law as being the ordinances no longer having authority. Such an interpretation is ludicrous and at odds with all the post-crucifixion statements affirming the continuing authority of the Torah. See my web article Under the Law for a complete list.
The point of Paul's argument in this verse, combined with the previous, is that the debt of our sins was nailed to the cross. Bruce eloquently says,
"The sins which have now been forgiven represented, so to speak, a mountain of bankruptcy which those who had incurred it were bound to acknowledge but could never have any hope of discharging. They had violated the ordinances of the law, and nothing they could do could afford redress. But Christ wiped the slate clean and gave them a fresh start. He took that signed acknowledgment of indebtedness which stood as a perpetual witness against them and canceled it by his death."
15 having disarmed the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
having disarmed: Grk. apekduomai, aor. mid. part., to strip off from oneself or to disarm. Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), in his classic treatise On War, said, "War is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will...In order to attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed, and disarmament becomes therefore the immediate object of hostilities in theory (Penguin Books, 1968; p. 101). the principalities: Grk. archē. See the note on verse 10 above. and the powers: pl. of Grk. exousia. See the note on verse 10 above. Paul no doubt uses the plural form of the archē and exousia to mean supra-natural powers as in 1:10, specifically those aligned with Satan's organization. he made a show: Grk. deigmatizō, aor. act. ind., to expose or disgrace. of them openly: Grk. parrēsia, adv., openness to the public, plainly, openly.
triumphing over: Grk. thriambeuō, aor. act. part., to lead in triumphal procession (cf. 2 Cor 2:14). It was customary for Roman victors to lead their captives in a procession and make a public spectacle of them (Stern 610). them: Grk. autos, personal possessive pronoun, 3rd pers. pl. accusative case and masculine. in it: Grk. autos, third pers. sing., and may be masculine "he" or neuter "it" (Grammar 316). Versions are divided over whether to translate the pronoun as neuter, referring to his act of disarming, or masculine, referring to Yeshua, although this interpretation would seem a tautology. All of Satan's powers were arrayed to orchestrate Yeshua's death, but they were powerless to prevent Yeshua's death from being an atoning sacrifice and even more so they were impotent to prevent Yeshua's resurrection. The latter is probably what Paul had in mind by the public triumph.
The Error of Legalism, 2:16-17
16 Therefore let not anyone judge you in eating and in drinking, or in the matter of an appointed festival or new moon or sabbaths:
Therefore: Grk. oun, an inferential conj., used indicate a conclusion connected with data immediately preceding - so, therefore, consequently, then. let not: Grk. mē, a particle of qualified negation; not. anyone: Grk. tis, an indefinite pronoun, someone, anyone. judge: Grk. krino, pres. act. imp., to subject to scrutiny and evaluation of behavior, to judge. The word-group often has a legal connotation. This is the same word Paul uses in Romans 2:1 to condemn judgmentalism. The command does not to give permission for "everyone to do what was right in his own eyes" (Judg 21:25). Rather the command is to ignore the judgment of others that that is not based on the Torah or the instructions of Yeshua and the apostles. Followers of Yeshua all too often judge others based on personal convictions or norms of one's family or faith community.
you in eating: Grk. brōsis, eating, the act of eating, or food. and in drinking: Grk. posis, drinking. Paul is purposely general in identifying the context of judging. There were eight specific occasions in which judging occurred relevant to eating and drinking. First, Pharisees condemned Yeshua's disciples for eating with unwashed hands (Mark 7:1-5). Second, Yeshua was judged because he participated in celebratory feasts, which included consumption of wine, in contrast to Yochanan the Immerser who lived as a Nazarite (Luke 7:33-34; cf. 1 Cor 9:4). Third, Pharisees judged Yeshua because he ate with sinners (Mark 2:16; Luke 7:5-7). Fourth, Pharisees judged Yeshua and his disciples for eating grain from a grainfield on the Sabbath, because not only were they working but they were farther than a Sabbath-days journey from their home (see my commentary on Mark 2:23).
Fifth, disciples of Yochanan the Immerser and Pharisees judged Yeshua's disciples for not fasting (Matt 9:14). (See my web article Fasting in the Bible.) Sixth, the apostles were judged for eating with Gentiles (Acts 10:28; 11:2; Gal 2:12). Seventh, legalistic believers judged other disciples for not restricting the diet to vegetables only or some other food restriction (Rom 14:2-4; 1 Tim 4:1-4). Paul classifies this judging as a doctrine of demons. Eighth, pagans judged disciples who did not follow the hedonistic philosophy of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die" (1 Cor 15:32-33; 1 Pet 3:16; 4:3-4; 2 Pet 2:2). See my related commentary on Romans 14.
Paul's instruction here in no way abrogates Torah food laws and there is no permission anywhere in the Besekh for Jewish disciples to set aside their kosher diet. See my web article Did Yeshua Cancel Torah Food Laws? There are two principles laid down by the apostles concerning food and drink (i.e., wine). First, disciples were to refrain from consuming blood, eating food sacrificed to idols and eating what had been strangled (Acts 15:28-29; 1 Cor 10:14-22; Rev 2:14, 20). Second, Gentile disciples were to respect the Torah food restrictions required of Jews and not offend them by expecting them to eat non-kosher food (1 Cor 10:32). The modern expectation of Christians for a Jew to "eat a ham sandwich" as proof of conversion is without biblical foundation.
Another related issue for modern Christians is the consumption of alcohol. Drinking wine (or other alcoholic beverages) was not an issue in the Church until the temperance movement of the late 19th century. The campaign for social change deemed all alcoholic beverages, regardless of whether fermented, brewed or distilled, to be dangerous and poisonous to drink and therefore evil. Some Bible expositors even asserted that the Hebrew and Greek words used to mean "wine" in the Bible actually referred to grape juice. The lack of the word “wine” in the apostolic narratives also imply that fresh grape juice was used. Motivated by biblical and scientific arguments, Protestants searched for a way to make unfermented grape juice. The Welch family solved the scientific problem and eventually grape juice became preferred for the communion table of most Protestant churches.
However, the biblical words for "wine" do, in fact, mean the fermented beverage. After all, the pasteurization process to prevent fermentation of grape juice wasn't discovered until the 19th century. The expression "fruit of the vine" in the Last Supper narratives does not mean unfermented grape juice, but is an allusion to the kiddush, the Jewish blessing recited over wine. Beverages containing alcohol are not prohibited in Scripture; only addiction and drunkenness. The warnings against drunkenness in Scripture exist because fermented wine was an important part of Jewish culture and some people overindulged. In addition, Scripture sets forth the accepted use and health benefits of wine (Gen 14:18; 27:28; Ex 29:40; Deut 7:13; 14:26; 16:13; Ps 104:15; Prov 3:10; Matt 9:17; Luke 7:33-34; John 2:3-11; 1 Tim 5:23). An important consideration in this matter is self-control and a disciple's public witness. As Paul instructed concerning food and drink, "Do not let what is for you a good thing, be spoken of as evil (Rom 14:16).
or in the matter of: Grk. meros, in respect to, in the matter of. Paul effectively grants an apostolic dispensation regarding the calendar. Contrary to Christian assumption Paul does not annul the Torah calendar, but instead grants freedom in observance. In reality, the Torah instruction for observing special days is sparse (see Leviticus 23). Yet, the Pharisees had developed a rigorous set of rules for observing these days. Since all the special days were sabbaths (i.e., days of rest), then the prohibitions of avoiding the 39 categories of work would apply (Shabbat 7:2). Even though Paul may have rigorously followed these rules he nevertheless offers a midrashic interpretation of Yeshua's words, "ben-adam is adōn of Shabbat" (see my comment on Mark 2:28). Christians generally assume that Yeshua was speaking of himself, reflected by the capitalization of "Son," "Man" and "Lord," but "son of man" was a common idiom for "human being." Thus, Yeshua meant that the individual disciple is given authority by God to determine his manner of observance (cf. Matt 9:8).
an appointed festival: Grk. heortē, a religious festival and in the Besekh always of a joyous gathering of the Jewish people for celebrations of the calendar prescribed in the Torah, generally with a focus on sacrifices and communal eating. (See my web article God's Appointed Times.) In the LXX heortē renders Heb. chag, feast, festival-gathering, pilgrim feast or festival sacrifice of Israel (BDB 290). The phrase "the festival" (or "the feast") was used as shorthand of only one of the appointed times, a usage that occurs in the Tanakh (1 Kgs 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chron 5:3; 7:8; Neh. 8:14; Ezek 45:25), as well as the Mishnah and other Jewish literature (e.g., Maas. 3:7; Bikk. 1:6, 10; Shek. 3:1; 6:3). Yeshua and the apostles faithfully observed the festivals prescribed by the Torah and no instruction in the Besekh cancels God's calendar. The religious calendar followed by Christianity generally reflects an effort to expunge any hint of Judaism from Christian religion.
or a new moon: Grk. neomēnia (for Heb Rosh Chodesh, "head of the month"), the first day of the lunar month, a time for special religious celebration (Ex 40:12; Num 29:1, 6; 1 Sam 20:4-24). A new moon is not visible to an observer on the earth for 18 to 48 hours afterward. Among Jews the first of the month would have been set once a sliver of the moon became visible and reported by witnesses to the Sanhedrin. For observational reasons the 30th day of the month was treated as part of Rosh Chodesh. The day after the moon appeared was a festival, announced with the sounding of the shofar, commemorated with solemn convocations, family festivities and special sacrifices. The importance of this holiday in ancient times should not be underestimated. The entire calendar was dependent upon these declarations; without the declarations, there would be no way of knowing when holy days were supposed to occur.
or sabbaths: pl. of Grk. sabbaton, for Heb. shabbath, from the verb shabath, cease, desist or rest (BDB 991), the name given primarily to the seventh day of the week, occurring first in Exodus 16:26. The term in this verse is actually plural to encompass all the appointed times on the Hebrew calendar, including the first and last days of week-long festivals (Lev 23), because they were days of rest. Only a small number of versions translate the word as plural (CEB, DRA, KJ21, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, TLB, YLT). Of importance is the fact that Yeshua and the apostles observed the Sabbath faithfully. The Lord's Day or first day of the week did not replace the Sabbath, but was simply added to it for observance by early disciples. See my web article Remember the Sabbath.
17 which are a foreshadowing of the future and the body of Messiah.
which: Grk. hos, a relative pronoun used as an introduction to specification through identification, function or significance of data that precedes; who, which, what, that. are: Grk. eimi, to be. Paul is not speaking of what the appointed times were in the past but what they are in present time. a foreshadowing: Grk. skia, shade, shadow, or foreshadowing (Mounce). The term occurs in the LXX, Philo and Josephus, so it is not a Gnostic term (BAG). Many Christian versions insert "only" or "mere" in an apparent effort to demean the observance of the Torah calendar, but such is not Paul's purpose here.
of the future: Grk. mellō, pres. part., a future oriented verb with a pending aspect, being in the offing, be about to, be going to, lit. "of things coming" (Marshall). The participial usage indicates "in the future, to come" (Danker). The point of the clause is what is yet to come, not what has already come as found in some Bible versions. In reality clause alludes to the age to come, the Messianic age after the second coming of Yeshua. The Torah festival calendar will not cease with the end of the present age. and: Grk. de, conj., used to indicate (1) a contrast to a preceding statement or thought, "but;" (2) a transition in presentation of subject matter, "now, then;" or (3) a connecting particle to continue a thought, "and, also, so" (BAG). Most versions treat the conjunction as a contrast, translating as "but." I believe "and" serves equally well if not better.
the body: Grk. sōma. See verse 11 above. of Messiah: Grk. Christos, lit. "of the Messiah." See the note on verse 2 above. Bible versions generally treat the phrase "body of the Messiah" figuratively as the real thing in contrast to shadow or what produces the shadow. Some versions translate as "substance" (ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, RSV) and other versions have "reality" (LEB, MOUNCE, NET, NIV, NLT, OJB, TEV, TLV). Stern suggests that it is the body which casts the shadow, the reality behind it, because it is of the Messiah (cf. Heb 8:5; 9:23–24; 10:10). For example, Philo, the Jewish philosopher, wrote, "The shadow of God is His word, which He used like an instrument when He was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things" (Allegorical Interpretations, III, XXXI).
Being "of the Messiah" is a reminder that the God of Israel instituted the calendar (not Moses), and also means that all the festivals in God's calendar reveal some aspect of the Messiah and portend his first (and even second) coming. Contrary to Christian assumption the festivals are certainly not eliminated in God's plan. We should also consider that Paul uses "body of Messiah" to complete the thought of what is being foreshadowed and in this verse is figurative of the people who believe in and serve the Messiah (as in Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:12-13; Eph 2:16; 4:12; Col 3:15).
In Ezekiel’s vision of the millennial kingdom, the temple is restored and the body of Messiah will celebrate Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and the appointed feasts of Leviticus 23 (Ezek 46:1-11). Other prophets repeat the same theme (e.g., Isa 33:20; Zeph 3:18). Isaiah prophesied that all mankind would celebrate Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat (Isa 66:23). Zechariah prophesied the renewal of Sukkot (Feast of Booths) (Zech 14:16). Yeshua’s promise of not drinking the cup again until the kingdom is fulfilled (Matt 26:29) points to the continuation of Pesach (Passover). The promise of "reclining at table" with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 8:11) refers to the pilgrim festivals, since festival meals were the only times Jews reclined to eat.
The Error of Empty Religion, 2:18-19
18 Let no one rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worship of the angels, which he has seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
Let no one: Grk. mēdeis, adj., 'no' or 'nobody.' The adj. is masculine so some versions have "no man." The word "let" belongs with the verb following. rob you of your prize: Grk. katabrabueō, pres. imp., to disqualify, an imagery of arbitration (Danker). Rienecker has "to decide against someone or give judgment against someone. Mounce defines as "to give an unfavorable decision as respects a prize." BAG identifies a range of meaning with 'to decide against (as umpire),' 'rob of a prize,' or 'condemn.' DNTT gives the basic definition as "decide against or condemn (I, 648).
If the reader recalls that Paul is writing in Jewish Greek then there is one other consideration about this verb. The connection to a prize is found in the Classical Greek and the verb is formed from the nouns kata (against) and brabeion (prize). The related verb brabeuō ("award a prize"), was also used frequently and metaphorically for "to lead, determine or rule." However, the Hebrew culture altogether lacks the idea of the prize and brabeion and katabrabueō occur in the LXX not at all. The verb brabeuō does appear in the LXX only in Wisdom of Solomon 10:12 where Wisdom was the umpire at Jacob's struggle with the angel (Gen 32:24-26) (DNTT, ibid.). The verb katabrabueō occurs only here in the Besekh.
Bible versions are clearly divided over the translating the verb as being robbed of a prize or avoiding a negative effect without reference to the idea of "prize." Modern versions that include the word "prize" or a synonym, such as "reward," include CJB, GW, HNV, NASB, NIRV, NKJV, NLV and OJB, and WEB. Versions that use "defraud," "condemn" or "disqualify" without mention of "prize" are the CEV, ESV, GNT, HCSB, MW, NCV, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV and TLV. The GNT may capture Paul's intent best with "Do not allow yourselves to be condemned by anyone who claims to be superior."
by a voluntary: Grk. thelō, pres. part., to wish, will or desire. This word is a verb, not an adjective. Rienecker says that "the verb here followed by the preposition could be taken as a septuagintism and translated "being bent upon." The intent of the verb is probably "feigned," that is, wishing to give the appearance of a virtue without possessing it. Paul would later warn Timothy about those with a "form of godliness" but lacking true spirituality (2 Tim 3:5). humility: Grk. tapeinophrosunē, self-abasement. The Greek word comes from the verb used in the LXX of Lev 23:27 for the humility (=fasting) required on the Day of Atonement. and worship: Grk. thrēskeia, as punctilious expression of devotion to transcendent beings (Danker). Mounce has simply religious service. BAG defines the word as the worship of God, religion, especially as it expresses itself in religious service or cult.
of the angels: pl. of Grk. aggelos means messenger. In Greek culture aggelos originally referred to an ambassador in human affairs who speaks on behalf of another, including as a messenger of the gods (DNTT 1:101f). The corresponding Hebrew word is malak also means messenger, and may be translated as representative, courier or angel. The messenger may be human or angelic, which must be determined from the context. A malak was responsible to carry a message, perform some other specific commission and to represent more or less officially the one sending him (TWOT §1068).
Post-Tanakh Judaism developed an elaborate angelology (Stern 824), primarily the Essenes and Pharisees. The Saduccees did not believe in angels (Acts 23:8). Josephus said that the Essenes in particular preserved the names of the angels (Wars, Book II, 8:7). In particular Gabriel (mentioned in Dan 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26) and Michael (mentioned in Dan 10:13, 21; Judah 1:9; Rev 12:7) are included in a list of seven archangels, called the "angels of the presence" in 1 Enoch 9:1. The remaining five archangels are Uri’el, Rapha’el, Ragu’el, Saraka’el, and Remi’el. According to 1 Enoch 20:1-7; 40:1-9 each angel is assigned a special function that either serves God or His people Israel.
Scholarly opinion is divided over Paul's meaning with these interpretations offered:
· "Worship of angels" could refer to the worship of the angels themselves before the heavenly throne, treating the genitive case of angelos as a subjective genitive. Seraphim and angels do engage in praise of God (Ps 103:20; 148:2; Isa 6:1-3; Heb 1:6; Rev 5:11; 7:11), but this interpretation does not really fit the context.
· "Worship of angels" could refer to a religious practice based on Gnosticism with its belief in intermediaries. As mentioned above the problem with this interpretation is that Gnosticism flourished in the second and third centuries A.D., not the first century (Skarsaune 204). In fact there is no literary evidence for the existence of Gnostic systems in the first century. Some Gnostic texts are dated in the second century, but most are dated in the third and fourth centuries (Ibid. 249). The Church Fathers regarded Gnosticism as a Christian heresy.
· "Worship of angels" may be an idiomatic expression that refers to a worship format that pretended to imitate the worship of heaven and thus was superior to what the Colossians had been doing. The false teacher may have embellished the doctrine with "pretended visions of angels." Thus, Paul's words would be that of sarcasm and has the effect of demeaning such egotism.
· Another consideration is that the public minister of the synagogue (Heb. chazan) was called "angel of the church" (Lightfoot, II, 90-91). His duties included praying publicly, coordinating the reading of the Torah and sometimes preaching. In addition, aggelos is used in Revelation of the seven congregational overseers. "Worship of angels" could be thus translated as "religion of synagogue leaders" and represent the doctrine of Jewish anti-missionaries, trying to lure Messianic Jews away from Yeshua (cf. Heb 10:32-39).
Even with the above alternative interpretations "worship of angels" does appear to refer to a liturgical practice that venerated angels or regarded angels as mediators with God. Mention is sometimes made of the fact that the Synod of Laodicea (343-381 A.D.) issued Canon XXXV, which condemned the invocation of angels. Yet, later writers give a different meaning to the condemnation. The Ancient Epitome of Canon XXXV interpreted the canon to mean giving names to angels. In the same vein Gill claims that "worshipping of angels" was a notion and practice of the Jews and cites a few references from late Talmudic and Medieval Jewish literature. Clarke notes that some attribute the "worship of angels" to Jews (citing Tobit 12:15; Josephus, Wars, Book II, 8:7; and Philo, On Dreams).
Clarke interprets the problem as originating from the Essenes, "who were remarkably strict and devout, spent a principal part of their time in the contemplation of the Divine Being, and affected to live the life of angels upon earth." As for the above references Tobit 12:15 is actually similar to depictions of angelic activity in Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4. The reference in Josephus is to the practice of attributing names to archangels. Philo discusses the dream experience of Jacob to illustrate God's use of angels as special messengers that serve His people. However, there is no specific mention anywhere in Scripture of any humans worshipping angels, although idolatry included the worship of supra-natural intermediaries.
That being said, Meir Berlin (1880– 1949), a Russian scholar and Orthodox Rabbi in Jerusalem, argued at length in a private paper (see Works Cited below) that there is substance to the polemical claims of early Christians that Jews in the first century did pray to angels. According to Berlin several examples of post-Talmudic prayers to angels can be found in the Jewish service even today.
which he has seen: Grk. horaō, perf. act. ind., perceiving with the organ of the eye and figuratively of extraordinary mental perception. vainly: Grk. eikē, adv., without sufficient reason or good cause, to no purpose. The adverb suggests that some persons are puffed up by whatever comes into their heads. puffed up: Grk. embatueō, pres. mid. part. The verb occurs only here in the Besekh and is much disputed. BAG lists three principle meanings with citations from Jewish literature: (1) to set foot upon, to enter or to visit; (2) to come into possession of, even by force; and (3) enter into in order to investigate closely.
With the third meaning BAG suggests perhaps the meaning is "entering at length upon the tale of what he has seen in a vision." Rienecker suggests the verb may refer to the entering into heavenly spheres as a sort of superspiritual or ecstatic experience. by his fleshly: Grk. sarx. See the note on verse 5 above above. mind: Grk. nous, the understanding, the mind as the faculty or way of thinking. In other words, the false teacher bases his doctrine on an ecstatic experience for which he claims divine inspiration, but the cause is really his inflated imagination. The experience could also be demonically inspired.
19 and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increasing with the increase of God.
Paul repeats the imagery of 1:18, although he adds terms of the internal structure, joints and ligaments. He uses the same metaphorical language of the congregation as a physical body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12-16; 5:23.
The Error of Asceticism, 2:20-23
20 If you died with Messiah from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances,
If you died: Grk. apothnēskō, aor. act. ind., to die physically, here used figuratively of the spiritual condition symbolized by immersion in verse 12 above. with Messiah: Grk. Christos, the Jewish Messiah. from the rudiments: pl. of Grk. stoicheion. See the note on verse 8 above. Stern suggests, in observing that the same expression is used at 2:8 and Gal 4:3, 9, those three verses, like this one, have as their context Gentile observance of Jewish practices (612). Such could be the situation, but even Jews could be involved in the danger of the ascetic practices of the next verse. of the world: Grk. kosmos. See the note on verse 8 above. why, as though living: Grk. zaō, pres. act. part., the state of being alive, in terms of physical existence, but here used figuratively to pass one's life.
in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances: Grk. dogmatizō, pres. pass. ind., to make subject to regulations or rules. The present tense points to an ongoing condition. Paul speaks incredulously to point out the inherent contradiction between the freedom found in Messiah and legalism of human traditions.
21 Handle not, nor taste, nor touch
These three verbs summarize the nature of the regulations being imposed by the false teaching, implying that extreme fasting will make one more spiritual. The God-given commandments in the Tanakh certainly do not fit this description. Of course, the restrictions could have been applied to other situations besides food and drink. Eventually Christianity started emphasizing not only fasting but abstinence from all enjoyments of life, including marriage, as an act of devotion to God. Then in the Middle Ages abstinence was transformed into asceticism, making abstinence not merely a discipline but essential to holiness. Asceticism believes that mortification of the flesh will perfect the soul for a higher state of bliss for which they believe it to be destined in the next life.
From the Jewish point of view, since God created everything for our enjoyment, nothing is profane. This view is expressed in no uncertain terms by the Rabbinic saying: "Man in the life to come will have to account for every enjoyment offered him that was refused without sufficient cause." (TJ Kiddushin, iv.). Accordingly we find asceticism, or exaggerated abstinence, condemned in the Talmud.
"Why must the Nazarite bring a sin-offering at the end of his term? (Num 6:13-14). Because he sinned against his own person by his vow of abstaining from wine," says Eliezer ha-Kappar (Sifra, ad loc., and Nedarim 10a), drawing his conclusion from this passage: "Whosoever undergoes fasting and other penances for no special reason commits a wrong." "Is the number of things forbidden by the Law not enough that you venture to add of your own accord by thy inconsiderate vow?" says R. Isaac (TJ Ned. ix. 41b). The habitual faster was called a sinner (Ta'anit 11a.).
The apostle Paul’s condemnation is even stronger in 1 Timothy 4:1-3.
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (NASB)
22 (all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men?
Paul illustrates the absurdity of ascetic fasting and extreme food restrictions (for religious reasons) by pointing out their temporal nature. after the precepts: pl. of Grk. entalma, instructions given with magisterial claim, commandment, rule or order. and doctrines: Grk. didaskalia, the act of imparting information or instruction, teaching. of men: Paul labels the expected rules as a product of men's imaginations and not God. Men (including churches) do not have the authority to impose practices that replace or nullify God's Word.
23 Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in self-imposed worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Paul alludes to the purpose of extreme self-denial as curtailing the desires of the flesh, which could be interpreted as either normal human desires or the sinful expression of those desires. In reality spiritual change requires a work of the Holy Spirit in cleansing the inner man. Paul wrote that he exercised self-discipline (1 Cor 9:27), but by this he meant his refusal to indulge in the sinful pleasures easily available and his willingness to accommodate the needs and preferences of others in order to gain a hearing for the gospel. Beyond this principle Paul was no ascetic.
Copyright © 2013 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.