Bibliotheca Sacra 141 (Jan. 1984) 195-208.

          Copyright © 1984 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



                                          Colossian Problems

                                                     Part 3:



                        The Colossian Heresy




                                                   F. F. Bruce




                                              A Human Tradition


            By "the Colossian heresy" is meant the "philosophy and

empty deceit" against which the Colossian Christians are put on

their guard in Colossians 2:8. Did this "philosophy and empty

deceit" denote some specific form of false teaching which was

finding acceptance at Colossae? Or was the church there being

warned against certain ideas which were "in the air" at the time

and which its members might conceivably find attractive if ever

they were exposed to them?

            Perhaps one need not ask these questions if Morna Hooker,

in whose eyes not even the most "assured" result of biblical study

is sacrosanct, had not ventilated it 10 years ago in a paper

entitled "Were There False Teachers in Colossae?" She did not

return a dogmatic "no" to her own question, but suggested that

the data could be accounted for if Paul was guarding his readers

against the pressures of contemporary society with its prevalent

superstitions, more or less as a preacher today might feel it

necessary to remind his congregation that Christ is greater than

any astrological forces.1 Paul's language, however, points to a

rather specific line of teaching against which his readers are

warned, and the most natural reason for warning those readers

against it would be that they were liable to be persuaded by it. So

to Hooker's question this writer is disposed to give the answer,

"Yes, there were false teachers in Colossae."




196     Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1984


            The only source of information about their false teaching is

the Epistle to the Colossians itself. Paul does not give a detailed

account of it, because his readers were presumably familiar with

it already; he contented himself with pointing out some of its

defects and assessing its character in the light of the gospel.

            Some scholars suggest that Paul's polemic was not always

well informed, that he was prone to misunderstand the positions

he attacked. The implication is that those modern scholars who

charge him with misunderstanding are better informed than he

was about this or that position which he attacks, whether it be

the Corinthian disbelief in future resurrection or the Galatian

reliance on works of a certain kind as the ground of their

justification.2 On this it can simply be said that even those schol-

ars are dependent on what Paul says about the controverted

positions. So if he was misinformed, no more trustworthy source

of information is available. So far as the Colossian heresy is

concerned, it may be assumed that Epaphras (or whoever Paul's

informant was) brought an accurate account of it, and that Paul

himself was well enough acquainted with current trends of

thought to grasp its essential character.

            This "philosophy and empty deceit," then, is said by Paul to

follow "the tradition of men, according to the elementary princi-

ples of the world, rather than according to Christ" (Col. 2:8). The

Colossian Christians, it seems, had at one time been subject to

those "elemental forces," those stoixei?a, but through union with

Christ by faith they had "died" in relation to those forces and so

were no longer bound to obey them (Col. 2:20). The "elemental

forces" play much the same part here as they do in the argument

of Galatians 4:3, 9, where Christians (whether Jewish or Gentile

by birth) who submit to circumcision and similar requirements

of the Jewish Law are described as reverting to slavery under the

"elemental forces." So, according to Paul's present argument

with the Colossians, submission to the prohibitions "Do not

handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" (Col. 2:21) involves re-entry

into the state of bondage from which believers in Christ have

been delivered by Him.

            The context makes it clear that these prohibitions refer to

things that are ethically neutral, not to things that are inherently

sinful. Food, according to Paul, is ethically neutral,3 and "Do not

handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" is a vivid way of denoting

various kinds of food restrictions. Voluntary self-denial in mat-

ters of food can be a helpful spiritual exercise, and may on


                                The Colossian Heresy               197


occasion be recommended by considerations of Christian char-

ity; but what is deprecated here is a form of asceticism for asceti-

cism's sake, cultivated as religious obligation. Its association

with angel worship (Col. 2:18) — whether that means worship

offered to angels or by angels — and with "would-be religion"

(Col. 2:23), if that is what e]qeloqrhskei<a means, might provide

further help in the identification of its nature and purpose.

            But the chief help is probably provided by the reference to

"festival or new moon or a Sabbath day" (Col. 2:16). Festivals and

new moons were observed by non-Jews as well as Jews, but

Sabbaths were distinctively Jewish. As the Galatians' observance

of "days and months and seasons and years" was a sign of their

renewed and untimely subjection to the elemental forces which

they had served before their conversion (Gal. 4:9-10), the same

could be said of their fellow-Christians in Colossae (or anywhere

else) if they allowed themselves to be dictated to in matters like a

"festival or new moon or a Sabbath day."

            Another Jewish reference might be recognized in Colossians

2:11, where the inward purification symbolized by Christian

baptism is called "a circumcision made without hands" — prob-

ably in deliberate contrast to Jewish circumcision.


                                    Possible Affinities


            When an attempt is made by means of such indications to

reconstruct the outlines of the CoIossian heresy, one is prompted

to ask if the reconstruction bears any resemblance to systems of

thought of which something is known.

            Calvin showed the acuteness of his well-informed mind in

identifying the false teachers as Jews — but Jews of a speculative

tendency, who "invented an access to God through the angels,

and put forth many speculations of that nature, such as are

contained in the books of Dionysius on the Celestial Hierarchy,

drawn from the school of the Platonists." By Platonists he meant

what are today called Neoplatonists, although Pseudo-Dionysius

developed his thought along lines which set him apart from the

general run of Neoplatonists as much as of Platonists.4 His "celes-

tial hierarchy" comprised nine orders of angels, by whose media-

tion God ordained that human beings should be raised to closer

communion with Himself.5 Pseudo-Dionysius' presentation of

this scheme reflects a much later outlook than that of the first

century, but the idea of a gradation of intermediaries which he


198      Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1984


elaborated certainly seems to have been present in the Colossian


            In more recent times scholars have tended to see Pythago-

rean rather than Platonic influence here. In 1970 Eduard

Schweizer found analogies to the Colossian heresy in a

Neopythagorean document of the first century B.C., in which he

recognized the concentration of all the themes of the heresy with

the exception of Sabbath observance. Sabbath observance in

Colossae suggested to him that it was a Jewish brand of

Neopythagoreanism in which a central place was given to the

purification of the soul from everything earthly and to its ascent

to the upper ether, the dwelling-place of Christ.6 (One of the

themes of the Neopythagorean text sexual abstinence, is not

explicitly included among the data of Colossians, but one would

expect it to be understood along with the other forms of asceti-

cism indicated.)

            Others have sought to see the origin of the heresy in the

Iranian redemption myth, the outlines of which were recon-

structed by Reitzenstein in 1921.7 In his Iranische Erlosungs-

mysterium Reitzenstein indeed cited various passages in Colos-

sians to illustrate his reconstruction, but with the passage of

years it has become increasingly evident that the Erlosungsmys-

terium was more his invention than his reconstruction.

            In a careful study published as long ago as 1917, but first

accessible in an English translation in 1975, Dibelius traced

detailed resemblances to the Colossian heresy in the record of

initiation into the Isis mysteries preserved in the Metamor-

phoses of the second-century Latin writer Apuleius of Madaura.8

He did not conclude, of course, that it was initiation into the Isis

mysteries that was attracting the Colossian Christians, but he

did bring out a number of interesting analogies. What these

analogies amount to is simply this: no matter into what mystic

cult or secret society people were initiated, there was a generic

likeness between the various initiatory actions or terminology.

            But did initiation, in this sense of the word, play a part in the

Colossian heresy? One phrase in particular has been thought to

show that it did. That is found in Colossians 2:18, where Paul

described someone who professes an advanced degree of spir-

ituality as "taking his stand on visions" or as trusting in "the

things which he has seen at his initiation" however a{ e[o<raken

e]mbateu<wn is to be translated. At one time this phrase was

thought to be so difficult that conjectural emendations were


                                  The Colossian Heresy                         199


favored; but in 1912 and 1913 Dibelius and Sir William Ramsay,

almost simultaneously, concluded that the verb e]mbateu<w here

bore a sense which it had been discovered to bear in inscriptions

from the temple of Apollo at Claros, a few miles northwest of

Ephesus.9 In these inscriptions it apparently signifies not the

initiation itself but the next stage, the initiate's entrance into the

sacred area in order to see the mysteries, which, however, could

well be described in more general terms as "the things which he

has seen at his initiation."10  The readers would readily catch the

suggestion that the person alluded to had formally entered on his

higher experience like someone being admitted to secret rites

(from which the uninitiated were excluded) and was now appeal-

ing to that superior enlightenment in support of his teaching.


                                    Gnostic and Essene Traces


            Some of the Gnostic movements of the second century in-

volved a kind of initiation (the Naassenes, e.g.11) and it is easy to

categorize the Colossian heresy as a first-century form of "incip-

ient Gnosticism." It is not so easy, however, to relate it to any of

the particular forms of developed Gnosticism known today from

Irenaeus and Hippolytus or more recently from the Nag Hammadi

texts. As suggested in the second article in this series,12 perhaps

the Christological use of the noun plh<rwma in Colossians was

designed to refute Gnostic ideas associated with that term in the

heresy, but even if that were so, this does not give much help in

ascertaining what those Gnostic ideas were.

            Nothing would be extraordinary in a system of incipient

Gnosticism expanding in such a way as to make room for Chris-

tian elements within itself. An analogy to such an expansion has

been detected in the relationship of two of the Nag Hammadi

texts Eugnostos the Blessed and The Sophia of Jesus Christ.

Eugnostos is a didactic letter addressed by a teacher to his dis-

ciples; the Sophia is a revelatory discourse delivered by the risen

Christ to His followers. While Eugnostos has no explicit Chris-

tian content, its substance is incorporated in the Sophia and

Christianized by means of expansions adapted to its new


            But Gnosticism and even incipient Gnosticism must be de-

fined before they can be used intelligently in such a discussion. A

suitable definition of Gnosticism was proposed by Scholem. It is

suitable in that he had in mind especially what he called "Jewish


200      Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1984


Gnosticism." He defined Gnosticism as a "religious movement

that proclaimed a mystical esotericism for the elect based on

illumination and the acquisition of a higher knowledge of things

heavenly and divine," the higher knowledge being "soteric" as

well as “esoteric.”14

            Some circles in Paul's mission field set much store by knowl-

edge in the sense of intellectual attainment. To discourage such

attitudes he told the Corinthians that, by contrast with the

upbuilding power of love, knowledge merely inflates: "If any one

supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he

ought to know" (1 Cor. 8:1-2). Socrates commented that the

Delphic oracle, in calling him the wisest of men, must have

meant that he knew that he did not know, whereas others equally

did not know but thought they knew.15  But when knowledge was

cultivated for its own sake, as it was in the church of Corinth, it

can be appreciated "into how congenial a soil the seeds of Gnos-

ticism were about to fall."16

            As has been said, the Colossian heresy was basically Jewish.

Yet the straightforward Judaizing legalism of Galatians was not

envisaged in Colossians. Instead it was a form of mysticism

which tempted its adepts to look on themselves as a spiritual


            Certainly movements within Judaism cultivated higher

knowledge. Those who were caught up in such movements were

unlikely to remain immune to contemporary trends like incip-

ient Gnosticism and Neopythagoreanism. One body of Jews

which laid claim to higher knowledge and special revelation was

the Essene order. Lightfoot, with characteristic acumen, dis-

cerned elements of Essenism in the Colossian heresy; indeed, his

three discourses "On Some Points Connected with the Essenes"

appended to his commentary on Colossians, written over 100

years ago,17 provided one of the most reliable accounts of the

Essenes until the discovery of the Qumran texts and the

identification of the community which produced them as being

at least a branch of the Essene order (an identification which

may now be regarded as well established). But if the Qumran texts

document the Essene order from within, one can see more clearly

the kind of knowledge that was cultivated there. Repeatedly the

members of the Qumran community thank God that they have

been initiated into his "wonderful mysteries" which remain con-

cealed from the uninstructed majority.18 But in doing so the

initiates seem to have in mind the insight they enjoyed into God's


                             The Colossian Heresy                              201


secret purpose and the epoch of its fulfillment. His purpose had

been communicated to the prophets of earlier days, but many of

its details remained in obscurity until the time of fulfillment

approached. The time of fulfillment was now approaching, they

believed; this had been revealed to the Teacher of Righteousness,

together with other details of the interpretation of the prophetic

oracles, and what was revealed to him he imparted to his

followers.19 With regard to these mysteries Daniel had been told,

"None of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight

will understand" (Dan. 12:10); the Teacher and his disciples

believed that they were "the wise" (the MyliKiW;ma. ) to whom this

promise was made good.20

            There are parallels to this here and there in the New

Testament, 21 but not in the references to the Colossian heresy. It

is unlikely that the Qumran community had members, even

associate members, among the Jews of Phrygia; to follow any-

thing like the Qumran way of life in a pagan environment would

have been difficult indeed. But the Qumran community, and the

wider Essene order of which it was apparently a branch, repre-

sented a phase of a far-flung tendency sometimes called Jewish

nonconformity.22  This tendency is attested as far west as Rome;

some features of Jewish practice in that city were markedly

"nonconformist in character, and persisted in later generations

in Roman Christianity.23

            To look to movements within Judaism for the source of the

Colossian heresy is a wiser procedure than to postulate direct

influences from Iranian or Greek culture. Some religious syncre-

tism was no doubt present in the Jewish communities of Phrygia,

but some of the features of the Colossian heresy that have been

thought to point to syncretism are in fact features that tend to be

common to mystical experiences, regardless of the religious tradi-

tion within which they occur. And not only in Jewish noncon-

formity but in what was to establish itself as the mainstream of

Rabbinical Judaism there was present as early as the first cen-

tury B.C. a form of religious mysticism which was destined to

endure for centuries.


                                    Merkabah Mysticism

            This is commonly called merkabah mysticism, because of

the place which it gave to religious exercises designed to facilitate

entry into the vision of the heavenly chariot (hbAKAr;m,), with


202      Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1984


God visibly enthroned above it the vision granted to Ezekiel

when he was called to his prophetic ministry (Ezek. 1:15-28).24

For the gaining of such a vision, punctilious observance of the

minutiae of the Mosaic Law, especially the law of purification,

was essential. Moreover, in addition to what the Law required of

every pious Jew, a period of asceticism, variously estimated to be

12 or 40 days, was a necessary preparation. Then when the

heavenly ascent was attempted the mediatorial role of angels was

indispensable. It was important therefore not to incur their hos-

tility, for the ascent was attended by great perils.

            Rabbinical tradition includes a well-known account of the

privilege of entering paradise once granted to Rabbi Aqiba and

three of his colleagues. Aqiba was the only one of the four to

return unscathed. Of the others, one died, one went mad, and one

committed apostasy.25 The apostasy of Elisha ben Abuyah per-

haps illustrated the dangers of the mystical ascent even more

than what befell his two companions: even for one who came

through physically unharmed there was the risk of being so

unbalanced by the experience that one could no longer distin-

guish truth from error. Nor is this surprising: it is true to this day

that people who have mystical experiences tend to attach more

importance to what they saw or heard in they course of such an

experience than to the sober truth of the Word of God.

            In this context it is impossible to forget that Paul himself

once had a mystical experience of this kind, when he was caught

away into paradise (2 Cor. 12:2-9). So far as can be judged from

his account, the experience came to him unsought with no

ascetic preparation. He could not and dared not divulge what he

heard on that occasion. The accounts of Paul's conversion have

echoes of Ezekiel's inaugural vision26  but (quite apart from

chronological difficulties) Paul's experience cannot be identified

with his conversion experience. He was quite ready to tell what he

heard on the Damascus Road—the command of the risen Lord to

be His apostle to the Gentile world. But for the rest of Paul's life he

carried with him a memento of his ascent into paradise in the

form of a humiliating and recurring "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor.

12:7). Paul learned to accept this physical affliction, whatever its

precise nature, as a prophylactic against the spiritual pride that

was prone to beset those who had made the heavenly ascent. If

ever he was tempted to rely on the "abundance of revelations"

received then, the thorn in the flesh would remind him to rely on

the Lord alone, apart from whose grace he would be useless.


                             The Colossian Heresy                              203


            The risk of excessive elation from which Paul experienced

such a painful deliverance maybe related to the terms in which he

describes the self-reliant adept in Colossians 2:18, as "inflated

without cause by his fleshly mind."

            Merkabah mysticism, according to Gershom Scholem, the

leading 20th-century authority on the subject, was originally "a

Jewish variation on one of the chief preoccupations of the second

and third century gnostics and hermetics: the ascent of the soul

from the earth, through the spheres of the hostile planet-angels

and rulers of the cosmos, and its return to its divine home in the

fullness’ of God's light, a return which, to the Gnostic's mind,

signified Redemption."27  Recalling Scholem's definition of

Gnosticism, already quoted, merkabah mysticism could well be

described, in his words, as "Jewish Gnosticism." The throne-

world into which the merkabah mystic endeavored to enter was

to him "what the pleroma, the ‘fullness,’ the bright sphere of

divinity with its potencies, aeons, archons, and dominions is to

the Hellenistic and early Christian mystics of the period who

appear in the history of religion under the names of Gnostics and


            Perhaps the earliest description of the heavenly ascent in the

literature of this mystical tradition is found in 1 Enoch 14:8-23,

belonging probably to the early first century B.C. Here Enoch

describes his upward flight to the dwelling place of God, the "great

Glory" seated on the chariot-throne, attended by the cherubim.

His description is based partly on Ezekiel's account of his

inaugural vision and partly on Daniel's vision of "the Ancient of

Days" (Dan. 7:9-10).

            As time went on the details were elaborated. Enoch speaks of

two celestial houses, the throne-room of God being situated in

the second and higher of the two; but later descriptions of the

ascent speak of the seven heavens which have to be passed

through, each controlled by its archon, while within the seventh

heaven itself the mystic must pass through seven halls or palaces

(hekaloth), each with its angelic gatekeeper.29 Only after these

had all been safely negotiated was it possible to see the throne of

glory. Before the throne of glory stood the angels of the presence,

singing the praise of God; to participate in their worship and

repeat their hymns was a privilege highly valued by those who

completed the ascent. This is certainly part at least of what is

involved in the "worship of angels" (qrhskei<a tw?n a]gge<lwn,

Col. 2:18). That the genitive (tw?n a]gge<lwn) is subjective is


204        Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1984


maintained among others, by F. O. Francis and A. J. Bandstra:

sharing in the angelic liturgy, they hold, is what is meant.30  But,

high as this privilege may be, nothing in it is reprehensible;

otherwise the Christian church would be at fault for taking over

the Trisagion ("Holy, Holy, Holy") from the seraphim whose words

made such an impression on Isaiah. It is not improbable that in

the Colossian heresy some tribute of worship was paid to the

angelic powers.

            It cannot be proved that merkabah mysticism was cultivated

by some and recommended to others in the Christian communi-

ties of the Lycus Valley. But the heavenly ascent which is implied

in Colossians 2:18 appears to have been of the same character as

the experience which the merkabah mystics sought. And if their

system had the slightest tendency to syncretism, it was almost

inevitable that the seven heavens under their respective archons,

or the seven palaces guarded by their respective gatekeepers,

should be correlated with the seven planetary spheres ruled by

their respective lords. Those who passed through the realms

where such powers held sway would be careful not to offend them;

otherwise they would be hindered in the completion of their

upward journey, or else impeded in their return to earth.


                            The Elements of the World


            When the lords of the planetary spheres are mentioned, the

question is naturally raised, is there possibly a relationship be-

tween them and the stoixei?a or elemental forces against which

Paul warns his readers (Col. 2:8, 20; cf. Gal. 4:3, 9)? The use of

the term stoixei?a with regard to heavenly bodies is not otherwise

attested before the second-century Diogenes Laertius, who seems

to use it of the signs of the zodiac.31  But if regard be paid to the

context in which the term appears in the Pauline writings, one

can see why Nock said that "in the stoixei?a Jewish and planetary

ideas meet.”32  He pointed out an analogy between bondage to the

stoixei?a, against which the Galatian and Colossian churches are

warned, and bondage to the planetary powers, in other words, to

fate. From these powers, according to the first Poimandres trac-

tate in the Corpus Hermeticum, human beings can escape by

receiving the knowledge of the truth.33

            However, quite apart from such an analogy (which does not

amount to an identity), the Pauline context (especially in Gal.

4:9-10) suggests a close connection between bondage to the


                              The Colossian Heresy                             205


stoixei?a and the observance of "days and months and seasons

and years" as matters of religious obligation. These divisions of

time, according to Genesis 1:14, were regulated by the lights

placed by God "in the firmament of the heaven" (the sun and

moon were the two principal planets in ancient reckoning of

time). But when these lights, or the forces believed to control

them, were given independent status, and the calendar which

they controlled was treated as a binding element in divine

worship, then the allegiance due to the Creator alone was in

danger of being paid to His creatures. Of course Paul did not

think there were such beings as lords of the planetary spheres,

but he knew that to those who believed in them they could

become enslaving forces, just as an idol, which was "nothing in

the world" to a believer in the living and true God, could neverthe-

less be an instrument of demonic oppression to pagans (1 Cor.

8:4, 7; 10:19-21). Such enslaving forces might well be numbered

among the stoixei?a of the world, from which the gospel liberated

the souls of men and women.

            Some people today, as then, love to make a parade of excep-

tional piety. They claim to have found the way to a higher plane of

spiritual experience, as though they had been initiated into

sacred mysteries which give them an almost infinite advantage

over the uninitiated. Others are all too prone to be impressed by

such people. But Paul warns them against being misled by such

lofty claims. Those who make them, for all their lofty pretensions,

for all their boasting of the special insight which they have

received into divine reality, are simply inflated by unspiritual

pride and are out of touch with Him who is the true Head and

Fount of life and knowledge.

            If people practice various forms of abstinence and find their

spiritual health improved thereby, that is their own responsibil-

ity. But if they make their abstinence a matter of boasting, and if

they try to impose it on others, they are wrong. As for those who

draw public attention to their abstinence so as to gain some

measure of veneration, they must learn that there is no necessary

connection between such impressive asceticism and the true

humility of Christ. By contrast with the spiritual service which

the gospel enjoins in conformity with the will of God, which is

"good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2), this would-be

religion is a "self-made cult," as Deissmann rendered it,34 or a

"faked religion," as H. N. Bate put it.35

            The compound e]qeloqrhskei<a implies that those who prac-


206      Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1984


ticed it thought they were presenting to God something over and

above His basic requirements — a supererogatory devotion by

which they hoped to acquire merit in His sight. But far from

being of any avail against the indulgence of the "flesh," as its

proponents claimed, it could coexist with arrogant self-conceit,

making it difficult for those who accepted it to acknowledge that

before God they were sinners in need of His saving grace. When

they commended harsh treatment of the body as a specific

against fleshly indulgence, they thought in terms of a Platonic

antithesis between body and soul. But this is not Paul's point of

view. When he speaks of severity to the body he means the body

in its ordinary sense, but when he refers to "indulgence of the

flesh," he means unregenerate human nature in its rebellion

against God. A chief ingredient in that rebellion is the proud

spirit of self-sufficiency which has nothing to do with the body in

the ordinary sense, but springs from the will. The asceticism

recommended by the false teachers at Colossae feeds this par-

ticular indulgence of the "flesh" instead of starving it; hence the

need of spiritual transformation which Paul insists is by "the

renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).



1 Morna D. Hooker. Were There False Teachers in Colossae?" in Christ and

Spirit in the New Testament, eds. B. Lindars and S. S. Smalley (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press. 1973). pp. 315-31.

2 Cf. W. Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth. trans. J. E. Steely (New York: Abing-

don Press. 1971). pp. 261-66: Paul and the Gnostics. trans. J. E. Steely (New York:

Abingdon Press. 1972). p. 18: and W. Marxsen. Introduction to the New Testament.

trans. G. Buswell (Oxford: Blackwell. 1968), pp. 55, 58.

3 Cf. 1 Corinthians 8:8.

4 John Calvin. The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians. Ephesians.

Philippians and Colossians (1549). trans. 'F. H. L. Parker (Edinburgh: Oliver &

Boyd. 1965). pp. 297-98.

5 Pseudo-Dionysius Celestial Hierarchy 1.1.

6 Eduard Schweizer. "Die'Elemente der Welt' Gal 4. 3. 9: Col 2. 8.20." in Verborum

Veritas. O. Bocher and K. Haacker. eds. (WuppertaLBrockhaus. 1970). pp. 245-59.

7 Richard Reitzenstein. Das iranische Erlosungsmysterium (Bonn: Marcus &

Weber. 1921).

8 Martin Dibelius. "The Isis Initiation in Apuleius and Related Initiatory Rites"

(1917). in Conflict at Colossae. eds. F. O. Francis and W. A. Meeks (Missoula. MT:

Scholars Press, 1975). pp. 61-121.

9 Martin Dibelius. An die Kolosser (Tubingen: Mohr. 1912). on Colossians 2:18:

William M. Ramsay. "Ancient Mysteries and Their Relation to St. Paul."Athenaeum.

January 25. 1913. pp. 106-7: idem. The Teaching of Paul in Terms of the Present

Day (London: Hodder & Stoughton. 1913). pp. 286-304.

10 The classical sense of e]mbateu<w is "investigate": if that be the sense here, then


                                      The Colossian Heresy                                 207


the majority reading a{ mh> e[w<raken e]mbateu<wn ("investigating what he has not seen") is


11 Cf. Hippolytus Refutation of Heresies 5.8.4.

12 F. F. Bruce, "The 'Christ Hymn' of Colossians 1:15-20," part 2 of Colossian

Problems, Bibliotheca Sacra 141 (April–June 1984): 99-111.

13 These two treatises, in D. M. Parrott's English translation, are set conveniently

in parallel columns in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. J. M. Robinson

(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977), pp. 206-28; the Christian expansions in the Sophia are

thus easily recognized. Cf. M. Krause, "The Christianization of Gnostic Texts," in

The New Testament and Gnosis, eds. A. J. M. Wedderburn and A. H. B. Logan

(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1983).

14 Gershom G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Tal-

mudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America. 1960), p. 1.

15 Plato Apology of Socrates 21A-23B.

16 R. Law, The Tests of Life. 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1914), p. 28.

17 J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (London:

Macmillan & Co., 1879), pp. 347-419, reprinted in his Dissertations on the Apostolic

Age (London: Macmillan & Co., 1892), pp. 323-407.

18 1QH 2.13. etc.

19 1QPHab 7.1-5 (on Hab. 2:3); CD 1.11-12.

20 1QH 12.11-12.

21 Cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12.

22 Cf. M. Black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins (London: Thomas Nelson,

1961), pp. 75-88. 164-72. See also Edwin M. Yamauchi, "Qumran and Colosse,"

Bibliotheca Sacra 121 (April–June 1964): 141-52.

23 Cf. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, "On the Baptismal Rite according to St. Hippolytus,

Studia Patristica 2 = Texte and Untersuchungen 64 (1957): 93-105.

24 In addition to the work cited in note 14 cf. Gershom G. Scholem. Major Trends

in Jewish Mysticism, 5th ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), pp. 39-78: "Merka-

bah Mysticism," Encyclopaedia Judaica 11 (Jerusalem: n.p., 1971), cols. 1386-89.

For the importance of this element in the thought-world of early Christianity, see

C. Rowland, The Open Heaven (London: SPCK, 1982).

25 Tos. Hagigah 2.3-4: TB Hagigah 14b: TJ Hagigah 77b; Song of Songs

Rabba 1.4.

26 Cf. Seyoon Kim, The Origin of Paul's Gospel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans

Publishing Co., 1982), pp. 206-23.

27 Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 48.

28 Ibid., p. 43.

29 From these "palaces" some of the principal mystical treatises receive their

names: the Lesser Hekhaloth; the Greater Hekhaloth (edited with an English

translation by H. Odeberg: 3 Enoch or The Hebrew Book of Enoch (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press. 1928]): the Treatise of the Hekhaloth (German transla-

tion by A. Wunsche in Aus Israels Lehrhallen [Leipzig: E. Pfeiffer, 19091, 3:33-47).

30 F. O. Francis, "Humility and Angel Worship in Col. 2:18," in Conflict at Colos-

sae, pp. 176-81; A. J. Bandstra, "Did the Colossian Errorists Need a Mediator?" in

New Dimensions in New Testament Study. eds. Richard N. Longenecker and

Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), pp. 329-43.

From Qumran and Masada have come portions of an angelic liturgy which takes up

the theme, "Praise God, all ye angels," and exhorts the angels, under many names, to

offer various forms of worship to God. The exhortation formed part of the liturgy of

the burnt offering Sabbath by Sabbath throughout the year: the liturgy of the people

of God on earth was designed to reproduce that presented to Him on high by the

heavenly host. See J. Strugnell, "The Angelic Liturgy at Qumran: 4Q Sirot Olat


208       Bibliotheca Sacra — July-September 1984


Hassabbat," Supplements to Vetus Testamentum (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960),

pp. 318-45.

31 Diogenes Laertius Lives of Philosophers 6.102 (going back to a first-century


32 A. D. Nock, Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background (New

York: Harper & Row, 1964), p. 98, n. 4.

33 Corpus Hermeticum 1.15.19-26.

34 Adolf Deissmann, Paul: A Study in Social and Religious History, trans. W. E.

Wilson (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1926), p. 118. He contrasts it with the

logikh> latrei<a of Romans 12:1.

35 H. N. Bate, A Guide to the Epistles of St. Paul (London: Longmans & Green,

1926), p. 143.





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