Summary: The Colossian deception was man-made pagan philosophy; not Old Testament law. It presented Christ as only one of many mediators between God and man, and therefore claimed that Christians may receive from God via other supernatural beings. Paul’s message is that Christ is everything and that everything which Christians receive from God, they receive through Christ. Him they must seek and trust and from Him they must expect the full grace of God.
2:5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. 2:6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 2:7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
In Christ (2:5) – A key phrase in these verses is “in Him” (2:6-7) or “in Christ” (2:5). Paul encourages the Colossian Christians to be rooted “in Him” (2:7) and walk “in Him” (2:6). ‘Symbolically the Christian must remain “in” Christ, where “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are (2:3). The phrases “in Him” and “with Him” will be used several times in the verses that will follow.
This emphasis should be understood against the background of the deception. On the basis of the principle that the points which Paul emphasizes are intended to address the Colossian deception (2:4 – “I say this so that …”), it is proposed here that Paul emphasizes the all-sufficiency of Christ because the deception denied the all-sufficiency of Christ, namely that the deception presented Christ as only one of many mediators between God and man, and therefore that Christians may receive from God via other supernatural beings. This anti-Christ nature of the deception is mentioned explicitly:
The deception is “according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (2:8).
The deceiver delighted in “visions he has seen… and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body (Christ – 1:18) … grows” (2:18-19).
Therefore Paul’s first main message in this letter is that Christ is everything. (See discussion of 2:1-4 and 2:9). Paul’s second main message, which follows from the first, is that Christians are “complete” in Christ (2:10). In other words, everything they must receive and can receive from God, they receive through Christ. In Him they must remain. Perhaps we can understand the phrase “in Him” as “faith in Christ”, i.e. seek Him, trust Him, keep your eyes on Him and expect from Him the full grace of God.
Walk (2:6) – Walk” describes how one lives (1:10; 2:3). In 1:10 Paul advices the Colossians “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”.
No one (2:8) – This is the second of four warnings in this chapter that uses the phrase “no one”, calling the threat a delusion (2:4), a “deception” (2:8) and a fraud (2:18).
Philosophy (2:8) – Philosophy accepts as truth that which seems right to the human mind. Judaism and Christianity are religions of the book. These religions accept as truth a source of information outside the human mind, namely the Scriptures. Scripture and philosophy are therefore logical opposites. The critical method of Bible interpretation, where Scripture is judged on the basis of human wisdom, is the result of the mixture of Scripture and philosophy. In some universities Theology is a sub-department of Philosophy. The danger is that students are taught Theology as a Philosophy, subjecting the Bible to what seems right to the human mind.
Tradition of men (2:8) – The Colossian “philosophy” (2:8) was “the tradition of men” (2:8), “the commandments and teachings of men” (2:22) and a “self-made religion” (2:23) that developed over many generations. Since it was man-made, this was not an instance where Christians were forced to obey Old Testament laws.
The Jews had an elaborate system of traditions—”the tradition of the elders” (Matt 15:2; Mark 7:3, 5)—which they developed as a fence around the Law of God. The repeated mention of non-Jewish elements in this chapter, such as “mystery” (2:3), “philosophy” (2:8), “knowledge” (2:3), “worship of the angels” (2:18) and “severe treatment of the body” (2:23) implies that the Colossian traditions had a pagan origin.
The elementary principles of the world are explained in more detail in 2:20-23. See the discussion below.
Colossians Table of Contents