What does Colossians 2 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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.
Verse Context:
Colossians 2:1–5 explains the entire purpose behind Paul's letter to the Christians in Colossae. Paul's desire is to fight—spiritually—for these fellow believers, but this is difficult from a distance, and from prison. While Paul is happy to hear that the Colossians are standing strong in their faith, he sees potential problems. Paul writes this letter to strengthen their faith against particular false teachings. These deceptions are mostly based in attractive, but untrue, arguments. This passage is Paul's springboard into a defense against the tricks being used against his readers.
Colossians 2:6–15 describes Christ's superiority in defeating sin. This is shown in stark contrast to the failure of the unbelieving world. Paul encourages the Colossians not to be tricked by deceptive arguments. This passage also explains the drastic nature of salvation. Those who put their faith in Christ are ''spiritually'' circumcised and are identified with God through their faith. This act of forgiveness by God frees us from the eternal penalty of sin, restores our relationship, and defeats the evil forces fighting against us.
Colossians 2:16–23 is an application of the ideas Paul mentions in the previous verses. Verses 6 through 15 explained the supremacy of Christ over deceptive, human-based thinking. In this passage, Paul explicitly states that rules, rituals, and self-denial are not the path of spiritual growth. Trying to grow, spiritually, through these efforts is as impossible as a body part developing naturally while severed from the head! Living under severe rules might look good to others, but it's not how God has called us to relate to Him as Christian believers.
Chapter Summary:
In this passage, Paul warns Christians not to be taken in by deceptive arguments. These claims are attractive, but are merely tricks: they sound true, but they are not. Arguing for self-denial, legalism, visions, and other practices only looks good to observers. None of these are the real source of spiritual growth. Paul emphasizes the way Christ accomplished everything we need to be justified before God. As a result, there is no reason for believers to pursue these false, shallow ''shadows.'' We have the real substance: Jesus, so we should follow Him.
Chapter Context:
Chapter 1 introduced Christ as supreme over all of creation. Chapter 2 refines this argument by showing how the salvation offered through Jesus is superior to false, alternative systems. Paul specifically refutes several ideas, such as legalism, asceticism (self-denial), and mysticism. These are not how God intends us to grow, spiritually. Later chapters will contrast these false, external attempts with the true, inner spiritual growth which comes only by faith in Christ.
Book Summary:
The book of Colossians describes Christ as superior to all other teachers, faiths, and philosophies. In this letter, written from prison, Paul once again tackles false teachings. Among these errors are claims that Christians need to give up all physical enjoyments, that they should worship angels, and that they need to rely on the wisdom of an elite few. These problems are consistent with an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism. In response, Paul explains that Christ is supreme, and sufficient for our salvation.
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