Colossians 1:1-13: The Colossian deception told believers that they are incomplete. Paul responds that Christians are already in the kingdom of His beloved Son.

SUMMARY

Paul in chainsPaul wrote the letter to the faithful believers Colossians, with Timothy’s assistance, from prison in Rome around AD 60-63.  This was about 30 years after Christ’s death.  Paul was sent by Christ by the will of God our Father.  He therefore had the authority to write this letter.

Paul himself had not worked in Colossae.  Even while Paul was in a Roman prison, the gospel, travelling through the earth, has reached Colossae via Epaphras; one of Paul’s faithful co-workers and a native of the city.

The gospel is the message of God’s merciful kindness; His free gift, particularly through the Person and teachings of Christ, as recorded in the four gospels.  The gospel includes the promise of the eternal inheritance which believers will receive from God when Christ is revealed.  Paul added clarity with respect to the relevance of the Jews and their Law, but Christ and His message is the core of the Christian message; not Paul.

Epaphras, when he visited Paul in prison in Rome, informed Paul of the Colossians’ faith, but also of the false teaching that was threatening his church.  Paul did not give us a neat description of that false teaching, but only his rebuttal of the deceptions.  From this we have to infer what the deception was.

Paul in prayerPaul was a man of prayer.  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God.  He assures the Colossians that he is continually praying for them, asking that they may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians, from which we understand that the Colossian false teaching claimed to have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  This commentary assumes that the points that Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, indicate the nature of the deception in Colossae.

Verses 1 to 3 and verses 12 and 13 focus on God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the Father who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints, through Jesus Christ. It is the Father who rescued us from the domain of darkness (the supernatural beings that are hostile to God) and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  Christ is the Means, but it is the Father that accomplishes all of this.

The deceivers in Colossae judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and will only become spiritually complete if they submit to “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  Paul therefore respond with a three-fold message:

  1. In Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (2:9).
  2. Therefore Christians, since they are “in Christ” are already complete (2:10-15).
  3. Therefore they do not have to submit to the demands of the false teaching (2:16-23).

These three points are particularly clear from chapter two, but chapter one also contains traces there-of.  In 1:12-13 we see that the believers are already qualified, already rescued and already transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  This is the second of the three points above, namely that Christians, since they are “in Christ” are already complete.

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother

Paul: According to the custom in that day of writing letters, the author’s name is given first. Paul wrote the letter probably from Rome at around AD 63, which was about 30 years after Christ’s death.

An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God: Paul was qualified to write this letter of instruction to the Colossians because he was an apostle.  Literally apostolos means ‘one sent’, but at its deepest level it denotes an authorized spokesman for God; one commissioned and empowered to act as His representative.  Paul is an “apostle of Jesus Christ”, which means he is sent by Christ, but it is “by the will of God”.

And Timothy our brother: Timothy was an honored companion of Paul, but he was not an apostle because he did not receive a direct instruction from Christ.

1:2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: grace to you and peace from God our Father.

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ:Saints and faithful brethren” are the same people; not two different classes of Christians.  Every true Christian is a saint. It is possible that Paul adds “and faithful brethren” to contrast the saints with those who embraced the false teaching that concerned Paul so much in this letter.

Who are at Colossae: The city of Colossae is not mentioned in the Book of Acts. All our Biblical information about the church there comes from this letter and a few allusions in the letter to Philemon.  Historically, Colossae was a prosperous city, yet by Paul’s time the glory it had as a city was on the decline.  The city of Colossae was probably the smallest and least important city that Paul ever wrote to.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father: Grace is God’s unconditioned goodwill and mercy.

1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

We give thanks to God: We receive grace and peace from “God our Father” (1:2), and in return we thank “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).  That is the true circle of life: He gives us everything we need and we love and praise Him for that.

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: The focus in verses 1 to 3 is on the Father, not on Christ.  For instance, Paul was an apostle “by the will of God” (1:1) who is identified as the “Father” in verses 2 and 3.  As in the prayer which we received from our Lord, God is “our Father” (1:2), which means that He deeply cares for us and continually protects us.  The Father is the active Force behind Paul’s work (1:1) and behind Christ’s sacrifice (1:12; 2:13, 15).  God is also “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  As Jesus said, “‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17)

Praying always for you: Although he probably had never met them, the Christians of Colossae were on Paul’s prayer list. He prayed for them not only often, but always.

1:4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints:

Genuine faith in Jesus will always have a true love for God’s people as a companion.

1:5 Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

The hope laid up for you in heaven:Christ in you” is “the hope of glory” (1:27), namely the hope for “the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:3-4).  These were not merely theological ideas to Paul; but dominated his thinking as a Christian.  It is also our privilege to have this hope.

In verses 4 and 5 we notice the familiar triad of faith, hope, and love:  “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel: The four gospels were written decades after the Cross as tools to teach the believers what Christ taught.  The gospel of John was one of the last books of the Bible to be written; about 50 years after the Cross.  To teach Jesus means to teach what He taught, as recorded in the gospels.  Some people today hold the letters of the New Testament up high, but the basic teaching in the first century was what Jesus preached.  Paul added clarity with respect to the relevance of the Law of Moses and the relationship between Jew and Gentile, but his teachings are not core; what Christ taught is the core of the Christian message.

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians to oppose a specific distortion of the truth (2:4, 8, 16, 18).  Perhaps for that reason we find early on in this letter an emphasis on “truth” (1:5, 6).  Because we do not live in that time and place, we do not know what the specific issues were.  Paul, in his letter, only gives us one side of the story; we only have his rebuttal of the deceptions.  From this we have to infer what the deception was.

1:6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it: and understood the grace of God in truth:

The Gospel is represented as a traveler, whose object it is to visit the whole earth.  So rapid is this traveler in his course, that he had already gone nearly through the whole of the countries under the Roman dominion, and will travel on until he has proclaimed his message to every people, and kindred, and nation, and tongue (Rev. 14:6).  The phrase “in all the world” was a legitimate hyperbole, for the gospel was spreading all over the Roman Empire.

Grace is God’s merciful kindness; His free gift.  Everything we receive from Him is His free gift.  The kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  We are saved by His merciful kindness; we can never earn it as a wage.

1:7 Just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf:

Learned it from Epaphras: Paul himself had not worked in the area of Colossae (1:4, 7-9; 2:1).  Apparently, Epaphras, one of his helpers, established a group of believers there (1:7; 4:12, 13).  He was a native of the city (4:12).

Who is a faithful servant (KJV – minister): The word “minister doesn’t mean that Epaphras was superior to the other Christians in Colossae. The word minister means servant.  Paul probably wrote the letter because of a visit of Epaphras from Colossae.

1:8 and he also informed us of your love in the spirit:

It seems as if, while Paul was in prison in Rome, Epaphras visited him, informing him of the spiritual growth of the Colossian church (see also 2:5), but also of the “deception” (2:8) troubling his church.

1:9 for this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you:  and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding:

Not ceased to pray for you: Paul was a man of prayer (1:3, 9).  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God (1:9).  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

Knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding: Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians.  According to 2:3 all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.  It is particularly important to note that Paul wrote this “so that no one will delude you” (2:4).  This is understood to mean that some people in Colossae were trying to delude the believers, claiming that they have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  The interpretation in this commentary is based on the assumption that the points that Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, indicate the nature of the “deception” (2:8) in Colossae.

1:10 So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord: to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Paul also prayed that they would walk (live) according to the same knowledge they received.  Our life is based on our knowledge of God and our understanding of His will.

1:11 Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously:

His strength is there to help us meet all of life’s challenges, and to endure and overcome problems with patience and joy.  God is the source of all power.  Whatever power we have, or hope to have, we only have because He gave it to us.

1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light:

The Father is mentioned as the active Force of redemption. He initiated the plan of the ages.  It is the Father who qualifies us, through Jesus Christ.

The ESV and other translations render 2:18 as “Let no one disqualify you”.  It is there quite possible that Paul, in 1:12, is contradicting the Colossian deception.

1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son

He rescued us from the domain of darkness: The domain of darkness is Satan’s domain.  Jesus referred to “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53) that led to His arrest, suffering and death.  The power of darkness are the supernatural beings marshaled against God and His followers for combat in the spiritual realm.  “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).  These “rulers and authorities” are a particular emphasis in the letter to the Colossians (1:15; 2:15, 18), implying that the deception involved such supernatural beings.

Note the contrast between the light in verse 12 and the darkness in verse 13.  Light allows us to see; to receive “knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9).

And transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son: According to Barclay, the word translated “transferred” had a special significance in the ancient world. When one empire conquered another, the custom was to transfer the entire population of the defeated empire to the conqueror’s land. It is in this sense that Paul says we have been transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

His” in these verses (1:9, 11, 13) consistently refers to “the Father” (1:3):

Verse 9, for instance, refers to “knowledge of His will”, which is explained by verse 1 as “the will of God”, who is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

His glorious might” (1:11) refers back to “God” in 1:10, who is identified in verse 3 as “the Father”.

Verses 12 and 13 therefore continue the focus of verses 2 and 3 on the Father. Some Christians think of Christ as their Savior, but these verses inform us, as already indicated by 1:2-3, that the Father is the Active Force that “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  The kingdom belongs to “His beloved Son” (1:13), but it is the Father that “rescued us from the domain of darkness”.  In Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14), but it is the Father that “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).

Note Christians are already rescued and already transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  This is another emphasis in the letter to the Colossians.  It is related to 2:10, where Paul states that Christians are complete in Christ.  The deceivers in Colossae judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and will only become spiritually complete if they submit to “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  In response Paul wrote that they are already qualified (1:12), rescued and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).

TO: General Table of Contents

God is not our Enemy; we were His enemies. God was not angry; He initiated salvation through Christ. Christ’s death did not reconcile God to us, but reconciled us to God; the Source of all Life. The death of His Son did not change God; it changed the on-looking universe.

SUMMARY

What it means, that God reconciled us to Himself, is discussed below.  In summary:

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy, committing evil deeds as acts of aggression against God.   But God reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).  How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained differently by different people:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God; God is not hostile to man.  And it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.

God is not angryIt is often said that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God.  In other words, man changed; not God.

In is also said that God’s righteousness demands that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, but this seems inconsistent with God’s wise and loving character.

How Christ’s death reconciled people to God is explained here as follows:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must live in His presence.  If we become separated from God, who is the Source of Life, we will become corrupted and eventually die.
  2. Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures, but worship must be an act of free will.  Forced worship is no worship at all.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.
  3. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, in free will rebelled against God and withdrew their worship from Him.
  4. When Satan deceived our first parents, this rebellion was expanded to earth. Since that event we lived outside God’s presence.  This caused sin, degeneration and death.
  5. God did not reject mankind.  God continually sent prophets to earth to turn people to Him.
  6. While God accepted repentant people back in His kingdom, He rejected Satan. Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return to God.
  7. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment, pointing to the sins of God’s people.
  8. Satan is extremely talented, and the angels could not understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan. A lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.
  9. God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment, but Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  10. Even heavenly beings were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”. By providing proof of His justness—through the Cross—also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, allowed the heavenly beings to fully return to a trust (faith) relationship with God.

In the end God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually erupt in another rebellion.  God is resolving the conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issues in the universe-wide conflict have been made clear, and He is able to subject His enemies to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

For an explanation of how the Cross provided this proof, please see the related article titled God Disarmed the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Col. 2:15).

For more information on the “War in Heaven”, please see that separate page.

To understand why are we still at war if the cross made peace, please refer to the discussion of the discussion of the Seven Seals, where John saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth until the bond-servants of our God have been sealed on their foreheads (Rev. 7:1-3).

MORE DETAILED DISCUSSION

Colossians 1:22 reads;

yet He (God the Father) has now reconciled you in His (Christ’s) fleshly body through death”.

Before one comes to believe in God, he is God’s enemy: “you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Col. 1:21).  We previously “were enemies” (Romans 5:10).  “Evil deeds” are acts of aggression against God.  It is not God that was hostile to man; God’s intelligent creatures were hostile towards God.  Belonging to the race of Adam, we are born alienated from God.

But God made “peace” (Col. 1:20) and reconciled believers to Himself through Christ’s death (Col. 1:22).

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED DIFFERENTLY BY DIFFERENT PEOPLE:

Some say that Christ, by His death, paid the required price, but to whom was the price paid?  It was not payable to God, because we were held prisoner by Satan.  Neither was it payable to Satan, for what does God owe to Satan?

Others say that God was angry and that Christ died to pacify God, but it is people who are hostile to God (Col. 1:21-22); God is not hostile to man.  The Father is not angry with His enemies; His enemies are angry with Him.  They try to exclude Him from their lives in all possible ways.  A common method is to insult God by using His name in vain, and even to use His name as a swearword.

Furthermore, it was God that took the initiative to reconcile man to Him (Col. 1:22); man did not reconcile himself to God.  His enemies are angry, and God seeks reconciliation.  God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  Colossians 1:20-22 uses the word “through” four times, focusing on what God did through Christ.  Christ was the Means of reconciliation, but it was the Father that made reconciliation.  It is the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints (Col. 1:12) and that delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son (Col. 1:13).

One often hear people say that God was reconciled to His creatures, as if God was changed by Christ’s death on the cross, but the word translated reconcile is used a number of times in Paul’s writings, and always it says that people are reconciled to God; never the other way round.

To reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20)

Reconcile them both (Gentiles and Israel) in one body to God through the cross” (Eph. 2:16)

While we were enemies we were reconciled to God” (Rom. 5:10)

God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18)

We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20)

In other words; God was not changed by the cross; it is man that was changed.  Christ’s death did not change the Father’s attitude towards people,

In reformed circles it is usually said that God’s righteousness demanded that someone had to suffer, and that Jesus suffered what we deserve, therefore we receive what He deserves.  But the Bible reveals God as supremely wise and loving.  The concepts in the Bible are infinitely high above the thoughts of unregenerate man, and continually elevates the mind of man.  To say that the wrath of God would be satisfied by the suffering of an innocent person seems inconsistent with His character.

HOW CHRIST’S DEATH RECONCILED PEOPLE TO GOD IS EXPLAINED HERE AS FOLLOWS:

First, some general principles:

  1. For creatures to live eternally, they must remain sinless, because sin, by definition, is something that destroys.  To remain sinless, intelligent creatures must live in His presence, and the natural response to being in the presence of the infinite One is to love and worship Him.  Worship is the blood vessel that conveys life from the Source of life to His creatures.  If we break that link, we will become corrupted and will eventually die.
  2. Worship and love, to be worship and love, must be an act of free will. God forces no one to worship Him.  Forced worship is no worship.  Love cannot be forced; it always must be voluntary.

Next, how the crisis in the universe developed:

  1. A large number of the intelligent beings in the heavens (many of the angels), under the leadership of Satan, rebelled against God and withdrew from His presence.  Why this happened cannot be explained.  To find a reason for it, is to excuse it.  There was no fault in God’s governance that could justify it.  God created mankind and angels free to make their own decisions, and in their freedom these angels withdrew from God.  Isaiah 14 describes fall of the king of Babylon (v3), but seems to use words from the fall of Satan:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn! …

13 “… you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.

  1. This rebellion was expanded to earth when Satan deceived our first parents. Since then we lived outside God’s presence, which caused sin, degeneration and death.
  2. God did not reject mankind.  God did not leave mankind to suffer the natural consequences, but continually sent prophets to turn them to Him: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
  3. While God remained willing to accept man back in His kingdom, God rejected Satan. Satan has gone too far to return to God.  Satan’s character was permanently changed and he cannot return.  Therefore God rejected him.  We must remember that Satan was not just any angel; he was the one that stood in God’s immediate presence.  He was Lucifer, which means Morningstar (Is. 14:12); the one who taught the other angels about God.  The only way that God can draw sinful creatures to Himself, is to reveal more of Himself, but already Satan knew everything about God that an angel can know.  He rebelled with full knowledge of God.  Therefore it is impossible for his to return.  Therefore God rejected him: “And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire”. (Ezekiel 28:16)

Ezekiel 28 describe the king of Tyre (v12), but seems to go beyond this king to a description Satan:

12 “… You had the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering: …
And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets,
Was in you. …
14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, …
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 “You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
16 … You were internally filled with violence,
And you sinned;
Therefore I have cast you as profane
From the mountain of God.
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the stones of fire.
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;

This seems to be more than a description of an earthly king; it describes, a “covering cherub” that was “blameless” and had “the seal of perfection”; “perfect in beauty”.

  1. Satan responded by accusing God of unfair judgment. God “passed over the sins previously committed” by His people on earth (Rom. 3:25).  Satan, pointing to the sins of God’s people, accused God of unfair judgment (Rev. 12:10).
  2. Satan is extremely talented and previously held a very high position. This made it impossible for the other angels to understand who is telling the truth; God or Satan.  And according to God’s principle of freedom, God allowed him full access to the heavenly beings to argue his point.  The angels were not able to conclude who is right; a lingering doubt remained even in the hearts of God’s loyal angels.  This mystery is symbolized by the sealed book of Revelation.  “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev. 5:3).
  3. But the Cross demonstrated the justness or fairness of God’s judgment (Rom. 3:25) “so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God would not force the sinless beings of the universe to accept His judgment.  God reign over a universe where everybody is completely free to form their own opinions and do whatever they want.  Christ’s sacrifice convinced God’s loyal heavenly beings of the rightness of God’s judgment when He accepts people into His kingdom simply on the basis of their faith, while Satan was rejected.
  4. The Cross is therefore important for mankind, but even the heavenly beings also needed the Cross. Colossians 1:20 indicates that they also were reconciled to God “through the blood of His cross”.  By providing proof—through the Cross—of His justness, and that in everything He does He is motivated by love; also when He rejects the most loved angel of all time, namely Satan, God reconciled them to Himself.  The Cross has shown that God loves and protects His creatures.  We may not able to see this, but the heavenly beings are able to perceive this.  “Reconcile” in Col. 1:20 may therefore be understood as returning to a trust-relationship; to know for certain that God loves you and will protect you.

The influence of the Cross is felt throughout the entire universe.  The war that was started in heaven, is concluded on earth.  The spiritual war that we are involved in has cosmic consequences.

Some theologians (e.g. Bruce, Moo) argue that we must understand “reconcile” and making “peace” in Col. 1:20 as “pacify”; in other words, that God will eventually subject all hostile beings to His will.  But if it was God’s intention all along to “pacify” His enemies, why did He not do it right from the start?  The reason is that, to subject His enemies to His will, when the loyal beings are unsure of the rightness of His judgment, will eventually result in another rebellion.  God wishes to resolve the current conflict in such a way that rebellion will never again arise.  God will subject all hostile beings to His will, but only when all the issue in the universe-wide conflict has been made clear, and He is able to subject them to His will with the full support of all of His loyal subjects.

NEXT: Disarmed the rulers and authorities

TO: General Table of Contents

Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths

SUMMARY

To show that the phrase “festival … new moon … Sabbath” in 2:16 is a technical phrase from the Old Testament for “all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel”, 9 examples are listed below.   Col. 2:16 therefore does not refer to the Sabbath specifically.

DISCUSSION

The Levites served “whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons and feast days” (1 Chron. 23:31).

to offer all burnt offerings to the LORD, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals” (1 Chron. 23:31).

I am about to build a house . . . for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him … and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God” (2 Chronicles 2:4).

Then Solomon offered up burnt offerings to the Lord . . . according to the commandment of Moses for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the three annual feasts—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths” (2 Chronicles 8:12, 13).

the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the appointed feasts” (2 Chronicles 31:3).

We also take on ourselves the obligation to give … for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts” (Nehemiah 10:32, 33).

It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 45:17; see also Ezek 46:1-11)

the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies . . . Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates” (Isa 1:13, 14).

I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days — all her appointed feasts” (Hosea 2:11).

Sometimes the order is reversed, but “new moon” is always in the middle.

In 7 of the 9 examples the topic of the verse is the “burnt offerings”.

Similar to Colossians 2:16, in Ezekiel 45:17 and in Hosea 2:11 the pattern is reversed.

We may infer from these listings that the expression festival, new moon and Sabbaths, or in the reverse order, was common ‘shorthand’ to summarize the entire system of special days which God prescribed for Israel, and not to the Sabbath specifically.

Colossians Table of Contents

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Colossians 2:16 Introduction

SUMMARY

The Greek word translated “judge” means to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong. Paul is not asking Christians not to judge; he is asked them not to be influence by people judging them. This implies that it is people outside the church were judging the Christians. The Christians were involved in some activities that were considered unacceptable in that community.

Food or drink“ literally refers to the act of eating and drinking.

Festival refers to the annual festivals prescribed by the Old Testament.  The New Moons were the first days of the months, which determined when the festivals will be held.

The seventh day was sanctified at creation and the Ten Commandments require the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest; a Sabbath. The Law of Moses, which was different from the Ten Commandments, required certain annual Sabbaths.  One question addressed below is whether 2:16 refers to the annual and/or to the weekly Sabbaths.

The phrase “festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” is often used by the Old Testament to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar.  Colossians 2:16 therefore does not really refer to the Sabbath specifically.  Today the relevance of the Sabbath to the Christian is heavily debated, but since Paul uses the word “Sabbath” nowhere else in his letters it is clear that the weekly Sabbath was a not controversial issue in Paul’s time.

2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day

Judge – The Greek word translated “judge” is krino (Strong’s # 2919) and means “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong” (Thayer’s Lexicon).

If Christians were judging one another, Paul would have written “do not judge”.  But since he wrote, “no one is to act as your judge” the implication is that people outside the church were judging the Christians.  It seems as if the Christians were doing something unacceptable in that community.  This was a pagan community (1:27) with strict religious rules with respect to “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (2:23), such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”, and it seems as if the Christians overstep the boundaries of acceptable behavior is this regard.

Food or drink – A more literal translation of the words “food” (brosis) and “drink” would be “eating” and “drinking” (Young’s literal translation).  It therefore refers to the act of eating and drinking.  Brosis is the word used in Matthew 6:19-20 to say that “rust destroys”.

Festival – Seven annual festivals were prescribed by the Old Testament.  The three principal Jewish festivals were Passover, Pentecost (“new grain offering” – Lev. 23:16), and the feast of Tabernacles.  These three were feasts of joy par excellence, commemorating the great acts of mercy which the Lord performed on behalf of His people.  These three also were pilgrimage feasts, when all Jewish males were expected to appear before the Lord.

New Moon – Peoples in ancient times kept track of months by means of the moon. A “new moon” is simply the beginning of a new month, namely when the first slither of the new moon is seen.  The festivals were prescribed for certain days of certain months. Yom Kippur was, for instance, on the 15th day of the 7th month. Since the new moons determined when months begin, they also determined when the festivals will be held. The New Moon in the beginning of the month Tisri (October) was the beginning of the Jewish year, and was commanded to be observed as a festival (Lev. 23:24-25).

Sabbath – The Ten Commandments required the seventh day of every week to be a day of rest (a Sabbath – Ex 16:23).  In addition the Law of Moses required some of the days of the annual feasts to be days of rest. These are annual Sabbaths.  Examples are the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:31; 23:32) and the first and the eighth days of the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:39) (see separate page on Numbers 23).  The annual Sabbaths are therefore similar to our public holidays.  Since there were both annual and weekly Sabbaths, one question that is addressed below is whether Paul is here referring to annual and/or to the weekly Sabbaths.

The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:

The requirement for the weekly Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, which were written by the finger of God on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ex. 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13), and which were put inside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5), implying that the Ten Commandments were the heart of the covenant.

The annual Sabbaths, on the other hand, are described in a book that was written up by Moses, with many other laws (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; Deut. 31:24, 26).  This book became known as the “Law of Moses” (Joshua 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kings 14:6; 2Chron. 34:14; etc.) or the “book of Moses” (2Chron. 35:12; Ezra 6:18; etc.) and was stored “beside the Ark of the Covenant” (Deut. 31:26).  To quote some typical verses:

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses …” (Jos. 8:31).

Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26).

Another important difference between the Seventh Day Sabbath and the Annual Sabbaths is their origins.  The Seventh Day was blessed and sanctified at creation (Gen. 2:1-3) and should therefore be regarded as sanctified for all people for all time.  Christ therefore could say that the Sabbath was made for man (all people) (Mark 2:27).  Many people are unable to believe the creation account, but at least we must agree that some people at the time of Moses believed that the seventh day was sanctified at creation.

Some accept that the seventh day was sanctified at creation, and remains sanctified for all time, but argues that only Israel was commanded to commemorate this day as a day of rest.  This commentary on Colossians has been developed specifically to contribute to the discussion of the relevance of the Sabbath to Christians.

Festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” – The Old Testament uses the sequence “Festival … new moon … Sabbath day” as a technical phrase to refer to the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar.  See the analysis below for more detail.

With the exception of the current verse Paul’s letters never use the word “Sabbath”.  (The word Sabbath is also appears in Hebrews 4:9, but the author of Hebrews did not identify himself, while the first word in Paul’s letters is always his own name, “Paul”.)  And since the sequence “Festival … new moon … Sabbath day” is a technical shorthand for the entire system of special days on the Jewish calendar, Colossians 2:16 does not really refer to the Sabbath specifically either.  The absence of references to the Sabbath implies that the weekly Sabbath was a not controversial issue in Paul’s time; at least not by itself; either everybody in the church observed the Sabbath or nobody observed it.

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