The Epistle to the Colossians – Part 8

The caution The character
of the intruder
The method adopted The answer – Christ is the answer in each case
vv. 4-7 ‘Lest any man’ The clever deceiver Beguiling ‘with enticing words’,
v. 4.
‘Christ Jesus the Lord’, v. 6
'faith in Christ’, v. 5
‘walk ye in him’, v. 6
'rooted and built up
in him’, v. 7
vv. 8-15 ‘Lest any man’ The vain philosopher Spoiling ‘through philosophy and
vain deceit’, v. 8.
‘In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead
bodily’, v. 9
'after Christ’, v. 8
'in him’, vv. 9, 10
'in whom’, v. 11
'by … Christ’, v. 11
‘with him’, vv. 12 (twice), 13
vv. 16, 17 ‘Let no man’ The legal judge Judging in
'meat … drink … holyday’, v. 16.
‘The body is of Christ’, v. 17
vv. 18, 19 ‘Let no man’ The idol worshipper Worshipping ‘of angels’, v. 18.
‘Holding the head’, v. 19

Editor’s note: The table above corrects the version printed in the previous issue.

Warnings and answers, 2. 4-19 (continued)

The vain philosopher, vv. 8-15 – spoiling ‘through philosophy and vain deceit’

In the last paper, we concluded our discussion on the first major warning and noted the dangers in this second. It is essentially motivated by cosmic powers that control the world; basically, it is intellectualism with unhealthy motivation.

It was shown that the answer is again to be found in Christ, with three significant antidotes to the philosophical troublers: the supremacy of Christ, vv. 9, 10; the significance of their baptism ‘with him’ based on a new circumcision, vv. 11, 12; and the total triumph of Christ at Calvary, spoiling the controlling powers behind the pagan philosophy, and publicly shaming their empty illusions, vv. 13-15. The powers of evil are totally defeated. The first antidote was considered in the last article. The latter two are considered here.

The appeal to their baptism based on a new circumcision, vv. 11, 12

The essential lesson is that they mustn’t depend on the flesh any more, in contrast to the vain philosophers, but rather on their link by baptism to Christ. If baptism was to be a reality there must first be the cutting off of the flesh.

The circumcision envisaged links them with a new dispensation, ‘in whom’, v. 11. It is an additional (to the three we saw last time in verses 5 to 7) intrinsic link with Christ, ‘in whom also ye are circumcised’. However, the nature of the circumcision is distinctive; it is ‘made without hands’. It is clear that this is not the literal circumcision that was given as the basis of the covenant to Abraham in Genesis chapter 17 but rather a spiritual circumcision as, for example, indicated in Deuteronomy chapter 10 verse 16, ‘Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked’, cp. Jer. 4. 4. The true nature of this circumcision is detailed in Romans chapter 2 verses 28 and 29, ‘For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God’. Elsewhere, Paul could say, ‘For we are the circumcision … and have no confidence in the flesh’, Phil. 3. 3. The physical act is now superseded (it was restricted to males!) and a new sign given in Christian baptism, v. 12.

The result of the circumcision is clearly indicated, ‘putting off [divesting] of the body of the flesh’, v. 11 JND. This means divesting and discarding acts associated with the old life. The word ‘body’ has the idea of wholeness or totality as used, for example, in the term ‘the body of truth’. Here it means the full gamut of fleshly activity (the totality of carnal and evil propensity in self). It can be compared to the ‘body of sin’ in Romans chapter 6 verse 6. Note that the word ‘flesh’ in the New Testament can mean the physical body, humanity or inherent evil – here it means the latter.

The sphere of the circumcision is indicated at the close of the verse, namely, ‘by [en = in as the sphere of its operation or basis of its effectiveness] the circumcision of Christ’. This, of course, has no reference to the literal circumcision of the Lord as an infant of eight days; it is figurative of His crucifixion. The idea, therefore, is that of ‘the inward cleansing brought about by His death, resurrection, and indwelling presence in those who are united to him by faith’.1

In verse 12, the apostle now applies the lessons from their spiritual circumcision. The evidence of their death to sin, i.e., ‘divesting the body of the flesh’, is now seen in their burial, ‘buried with him in baptism’. Since only dead people are buried, their participation in Christ’s burial (aorist tense indicating their participation – in the purpose of God this has already been accomplished) is setting the seal on His death and ours, cp. Rom. 6. 3, 4. Thus, there is death to sin, to self and to the world.2

The evidence of new life is seen in the fact that we are ‘risen with him’. Baptism is seen here as death, burial and resurrection, cp. 3. 1; Eph. 2. 6. The power to effect this in the life of the believer is seen in the balance of the verse. What God has done for Christ He has done for us. In our case there is a necessary expression of faith in the operation (energeia, power) of God. Thus, the power of God is the subject of faith and is available for the believer to walk in newness of life, cp. 3. 1. The evidence of that divine power has been displayed in the resurrection of Christ, cp. Eph. 1. 19, 20. His resurrection was also a display of the glory of the Father, Rom. 6. 4, ‘The glory of the Father demanded it and the power of God performed it’.3

The triumph of Christ, vv. 13-15

In this third section, giving the antidote to the illusory philosophers of verse 8, the apostle shows that the subtle controlling powers behind their pagan philosophy have been totally conquered. The Colossian believers, and we too, have been linked ‘with him’ in His triumph!

There were, however, two conditions requiring transformation for this link with His triumph to be effective. They were ‘dead in … sins’, and part of the ‘uncircumcision of … flesh’, i.e., symptomatic of the condition of Gentiles, cp. Eph. 2. 1, 11, 12. Transformation was necessary, and it was effected; they were ‘quickened together with him’, sharing in new life with Christ. Note the repetition of the intimate link ‘with Christ’. This quickening took account of their ‘dead’ condition. The interesting development should be noted: in verse 20, ‘dead [died JND] with Christ’, cp. Rom. 6. 8; in verse 13, ‘quickened together with him’; in verse 12, ‘risen with him’, all aorist tenses.

While the quickening took account of their first condition requiring transformation, there was still the need to account for their ‘uncircumcision’. This was answered in the forgiveness of all trespasses, v. 13. These trespasses are explained in verse 14 as ‘the handwriting [word found only here and meaning a legal signed document] of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary [used only twice in the NT; on the other occasion translated “adversary"] to us’. The ‘legal demands’ [ESV] of the law are seen as the signed acknowledgement of an accumulated ‘mountain of bankruptcy’ incurred by violating the law and cancelled by His death.4,5

The twofold method adopted to effect forgiveness is, first, by ‘blotting out’ the ‘mountain of bankruptcy’ so as it can no longer to be seen; ‘out of the way’; the slate is wiped clean. This is the private aspect known by the individual. The second method is by ‘nailing it to his cross’. This is the public aspect seen by others. It is an ‘act of triumphant defiance’; the accusation against His people is made public, as His was, to show their liberation from bankruptcy and bondage.6

The final triumph of Christ is seen in verse 15 as the spoiling of ‘principalities and powers’. Thus, the controlling powers of those who were bankrupt are totally defeated, and that publicly, He ‘made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it’, ‘stripping them of the armour in which they trusted, and held them aloft in his outstretched hands, displaying to the universe their helplessness and his own unvanquished strength … the shameful tree has become the victor’s triumphal chariot, before which his captives are driven in humiliating procession’.7

The ultimate triumph of Christ is thus affirmed and He shares it with us, cp. 2 Cor. 2. 14, ‘God … always causeth us to triumph in Christ’. There is no need for the Colossians to listen to the vain philosophers; they, and we, have someone far superior who has destroyed their motivating power!

The legal judge, vv. 16, 17 – judging ‘in meat … drink … holy day’ – ritualism

The apostle now seems to be addressing Judaizing teachers still wanting to maintain the legalistic requirements of certain Old Testament restrictions with respect to food and holy days. However, there was no place for these restrictions in their new resurrection life. Note the ‘therefore’; their practice was to be determined by the doctrine just enunciated, not to be called into question by legalizers.

The questions addressed, v. 16

The subject of food and drink was one of serious consideration at that time.8 There was the necessity for consideration of the tender conscience of a weaker brother and the permission of liberty – think of the weak. On the other hand, in the question of food there was the need to avoid legality. To others, the question of festivals was important – holy days (annual, e.g., the Day of Atonement); new moon (monthly) and sabbaths (weekly).9

The reality affirmed, v. 17

The apostle asserts that restrictions relative to meat and drink and the matter of festivals were looking forward as ‘a shadow of things to come’. However, the reality was Christ – He was the substance.10 The term ‘of Christ’ indicates that the members of ‘His body’, the church, enjoy the reality; there is no need to indulge in the shadow!



F. F. Bruce, The epistle to the Colossians, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1984.


Rom 6. 11; Gal. 6. 14; Gal. 2. 20; Col 2. 11.


A. Leckie, What the Bible teaches – Ephesians, John Ritchie Ltd 1983.


cp. Exod. 24. 3 for the Jew and Rom. 2. 15 for the Gentile.


F. F. Bruce, The epistle to the Colossians, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1984.






cp. Rom. 14. 3; 1 Cor. 8-10; 1 Tim. 4. 2, 3.


See, e.g., Lev. 16; Num. 10. 10; 28. 11-15.


See John 1. 45; 5. 46; Heb. 8. 5.