What does Colossians chapter 2 mean?Chapter 2 addresses various false teachings which threatened the Colossian believers. These include a reliance on human, worldly-based philosophy (Colossians 2:1–10), Jewish legalism (Colossians 2:11–17), mysticism (Colossians 2:18–19), and ascetic living (Colossians 2:20–23). These ideas are all consistent with a philosophy known as Gnosticism, one of the earlier heresies troubling the church.
The first section of this chapter (Colossians 2:1–10) begins with Paul's concern regarding the Colossian believers (Colossians 2:1–5). His goal was for them to be established in the faith (Colossians 2:7). They were not to be taken "captive" by philosophy (Colossians 2:8), but were to remain focused on Christ (Colossians 2:8–10). Paul's trouble here is not with all philosophy, or all deep thinking. Instead, he refers to an approach dependent on explicitly anti-Christian principles.
The second section (Colossians 2:11–17) deals with issues related to Jewish legalism. Paul discusses the Jewish rite of circumcision, noting that believers receive the "circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11) and so do not require human circumcision to please God. Food, drink, and special days were also noted as only a "shadow of the things to come" (Colossians 2:17).
The third section (Colossians 2:18–19) addresses areas of mysticism. This included ascetic living, worship of angels, and visions. This self–made religion was of no value in following Christ. In fact, such practices contradict both the commands and the example of Jesus.
The fourth section (Colossians 2:20–23) discusses ascetic living or human rules about spiritual or religious matters. Paul said these have the "appearance of wisdom" (Colossians 2:23) but do not keep a person from sinning. It is Christ alone that can change the heart. A primary characteristic of Gnosticism was the belief that the physical body was evil, and so anything connected to the flesh, in any sense, was to be shunned. Overly pious self-denial is not what we were created for, nor is it how God wants us to relate to our physical selves.