Bibliotheca Sacra 151 (October-December 1994) 440-54.

           Copyright © 1994 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                                      Doctrinal Issues in Colossians

                                                 Part 4 (of 4 parts):

 

 

                      THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

              ACCORDING TO COLOSSIANS

 

                                           H. Wayne House

 

 

            A muscle will not function properly if the bone to

which it is attached is broken or is in a state of degeneration. The

same is true of the Christian life. Orthodoxy serves as the skeletal

framework for the saint of God. If that framework is faulty and

does not affirm truth, the result will be a defective lifestyle.

            In the Epistle to the Colossians Paul demonstrated this point.

The Colossian congregation was under attack by syncretistic

Jewish mysticism, which promoted "legal ordinances, circumci-

sion, food regulations, the Sabbath, new moon, and other prescrip-

tions of the Jewish calendar."1 In response to this heterodoxy, the

Apostle Paul sought to make clear how the infection of false doc-

trine would affect their Christian living. This article examines

the union between doctrine and practice by noting four themes in

the Book of Colossians: walking in divine wisdom, living in

Christ, putting off sinful works, and putting on Christ.

 

                        WALKING IN DIVINE WISDOM (2:6-10)

 

            In Colossians 2:6 Paul affirmed the association between cor-

rect theology and correct living. The Colossians, or at least some

of them, were abandoning the doctrines espoused by Paul and

were pursuing theological opinion in addition to deprecating the

superiority and efficacy of Christ. Paul reminded them to live ac-

cording to the truth they had been taught them.

 

H. Wayne House is Professor-at-large, Simon Greenleaf University, School of Law,

Anaheim, California.

* This is article four in a four-part series, "Doctrinal Issues in Colossians." Parts

one and two were published in the Bibliotheca Sacra January 1992 and April 1992

issues, and part three was published in July—September 1994.

1 The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1979 ed., s.v. "Colossians," by

F. F. Bruce, 1:733.

 



      The Christian Life according to Colossians                       441

 

HOLDING TO TRUTH, NOT OPINIONS (2:6-7)

            Paul was concerned that the Colossians might succumb to a

philosophy completely estranged from his apostolic message. In

2:1 he said he wanted his readers to know of his willingness to

suffer for the saints. He did this so the Colossians would come to

experience "all the wealth that comes from the full asurance of

understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery,

that is, Christ Himself" (v. 3). He wanted to prevent their being

led astray by malignant "persuasive" speech (piqanologi<a, v. 4, a

word that means persuasive speech that is plausible yet false2).

However pleasing and logical this new philosophy seemed, it was

heresy, not truth. The Greco-Roman world of the first century did

not lack an abundance of views, philosophies, and religious

trends. The populace was probably accustomed to hearing rhetoric

and oratory promoting one cause or another.

            Paul urged them to live in accord with the fact that they had

received Jesus Christ: "As you therefore have received

[parela<bete3] Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him" (v. 6).

Paul's concern was not that they simply possess the right Chris-

tology and theology in general, but that they also live in accord

with it (v. 7). The Colossians were to be rooted and established in

the truth. Ellicott remarks that the two words "rooted"

(e]rrizwme<noi) and "established" (e]poikodomou<menoi) refer to "the

image[s] of a root-fast tree (hence the perf. part.), [and] a continu-

ally uprising building (hence the pres. part.) marking the stable

growth and organic solidity of those who truly walk in Christ."4

The authority and priority of orthodoxy serves as a filter through

which any grain of wisdom, whether true wisdom or false, must

be strained.

 

AVOIDING PHILOSOPHIES THAT REJECT CHRIST (2:8)

            The Colossians were also warned not to allow anyone to take

them captive through philosophy and empty deception. The verb

 

2 Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lex-

icon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed., rev. F.

Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1979), 657.

3 "Early Christianity took over from rabbinic Judaism the idea of transmitting

and safeguarding a tradition (the verbs ‘receive,’ ‘accept,’ paralamba<nw, and

‘transmit,’ paradi<dwmi, correspond to the rabbinic terms qibbel and masar)" (P.

O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary [Dallas, TX: Word,

1982], 105).

4 C. J. Ellicott, The Epistles of St. Paul, 2 vols. (Andover, MA: Draper, 1884),

2:160.

 



442     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1994

 

"take captive" translates sulagwge<w, "to carry off as booty or as a

captive, rob."5 In employing the term figuratively, Paul symbol-

ized Colossians being carried "away from the truth into the slav-

ery of error."6 The pundits who harbored this wayward philosophy

were an imminent threat to the Colossian congregation. In the

Greco-Roman world the word "philosophy" included a broad

spectrum of religious and intellectual perspectives. "In Hellenis-

tic language usage the word ‘philosophy’ (filosofi<a) was used to

describe all sorts of groups, tendencies and points of view and

thus had become a rather broad term."7 This deviant and mysti-

cal philosophical skew not only posed a threat to the intellectual

understanding of the Christian faith but also served as a potential

barricade against true Christian virtue.

            The heresy in Colossians 2 echoes a form of Jewish mysti-

cism known as Merkabah mysticism,8 which was characterized

by supposed ascents of the initiates to heaven to converse with be-

ings in the heavenly realm. The name "Merkabah" comes from

"the literary tradition that associates these celestial revelations

with the biblical accounts of angelic figures surrounding the

Throne of Glory (Eze. 1:22-28) and the chariot (1 Chr. 28:18) on

which it descended."9 This early phase of Jewish mysticism grew

out of Palestine and eventually became grafted into Christian

Gnosticism and Greek mystery religions.

            Merkabah mystics yearned for religious experiences apart

from the Scriptures. "To experience God, i.e., to behold him, the

mystic must undergo a total transformation induced by ascetic

practice and the recitation of hymns declaring the holiness and

majesty of God."10 Along this journey angelic beings would at-

tempt to expel the mystics from the realm of the heavenlies. To

avoid confrontation and expulsion it was necessary for the mys-

tics to know the names of all the angels. In Merkabah, "there was

 

5 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

and Other Early Christian Literature, 776.

6 Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), 94.

7 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 109.

8 This is not to advocate that the Colossian heresy was Merkabah mysticism, but

to provide an example for comparitive purposes only in order to demonstrate the

delinquency of syncretism. For a list of opinions on the nature of the heresy see J.

J. Gunther, St. Paul's Opponents and Their Background: A Study of Apocalyptic

and Jewish Sectarian Teachings (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 3-4.

9 Keith Crim, ed., The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions (New York:

Harper & Row, 1989), 477.

10 Ibid.

 



            The Christian Life according to Colossians                       443

 

no love for God nor a desire to attach oneself to him, but only the

ecstatic, albeit passive, vision of God and his realm."11

            Scholars do not agree on the exact nature of the Colossian

heresy.12 However, the view that it involved a Jewish form of

mysticism is held by Bornkamm, Lightfoot, Lyonnet, and Fran-

cis.13 Lexical evidence in Colossians 2 may indeed point to a

Merkabah-like experience, particularly the use of the word e]mbat-

eu<wn,14 which occurs in the New Testament only in Colossians

2:18. (The New American Standard Bible renders it "taking his

stand on," and the New International Version translates it, "goes

into great detail about.") The Jewish-Gnostic philosophy of the

Colossian heretics suggests that e]mbateu<wn means "to approach

something with a view to examining it."15 "What they try to

achieve by way of ecstasy and asceticism is for Paul opposed to

adherence to the exclusiveness of Christ the Head in whom all

wisdom and knowledge are given."16 " ]Embateu<wn is to be taken as

a quoted word, containing a sarcastic reference to the man of the

mysteries with his false worship and fleshly mind."17

            The earthly and fleshly orientation of this heretical view-

point was not at all amenable to the Christian life as it had been

proclaimed by Paul. It is clear that Paul's tenor in 2:8 is polemi-

cal. He referred to this philosophical stream as "empty deceit"

(kenh?j a]pa<thj), originating from men and from the "elementary

principles [or ‘elements’] of the world" (kata> ta> stoixei?a tou?

ko<smou).

            Concerning the phrase kenh?j a]pa<thj O'Brien states that Paul

"exposes it as a hollow sham, having no true content, seductive

and misleading," using a phrase that "can describe the seduction

 

11 Ibid.

12 For a discussion of various views see H. Wayne House, "Heresies in the Colos-

sian Church," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (January–March 1992): 45-59.

13 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, xxxiii-xxxvi.

14  ]Embateu<w was employed as a technical term in mystery religions (Bauer, Arndt,

and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early

Christian Literature, 254).

15 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "e]mbateu<w," by Herbert

Preisker, 2:536. Reinecker and Rogers suggest, "Perhaps the meaning here is the

entering into heavenly spheres as a sort of superspiritual experience" (Fritz Rie-

necker and Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament

[Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980], 576).

16 Ibid.

17 James H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Tes-

tament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-literary Sources (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930), 206.

 



444     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1994

 

which comes from wealth, Mark 4:19; the deceitfulness of sin,

Heb. 3:13; wicked deception generally, 2 Thess. 2:10; or deceptive

desires, Eph. 4:22."18 Though the heretical leaders may have pos-

sessed the ability to charm people, their tantalizing ideas parted

company with doctrinal soundness. There was no inherent value

in accepting concepts that were void of substance and lacking

worth.

            Also the apostle considered this heresy mundane as opposed to

celestial, for it was confined to the depraved ingenuity of the hu-

man mind, a mind inclined to earthly and carnal things of no

spiritual and eternal import. This heresy was in keeping with

"the tradition of men" (kata> th>n para<dosin tw?n a]nqrw<pwn, Col.

2:8). Through this phrase "Paul rejects any suggestion of divine

origin. This was a human fabrication standing over against the

apostolic tradition which centered on ‘Christ Jesus as Lord.’"19

The clause kata> ta> stoixei?a tou? ko<smou ("according to the ele-

mentary principles of the world") parallels and emphasizes the

idea of human origination and tradition.20 "Elements [stoixei?a]

is a common word in the language of the philosophers when they

treat of the matter or the elements out of which every thing is

formed."21 "Elements" can also imply "the fundamental princi-

ples which provide the basis for every thing that is to be built upon

it."22 It seems plausible that Paul employed "elements" in this

fashion. In Colossians 2 Paul emphasized establishing a credible

basis for theology and life and refuting any that were groundless.

            The apostle asserted that the false philosophy did not find its

roots in Christ Jesus (ou] kata> Xristo<n). If everything were built

on a faulty foundation of speculation and deceit, the lifestyle of

the Colossian believers would no doubt reflect the fallacy of this

thinking. Verse 16 serves as an indicator of what the logical end

of this fallacious reasoning would be. The result would be the

needless practice of customs and sacerdotal mannerism meant to

appease angels. Paul implored the Colossians not to allow anyone

to entice or browbeat them into ascetic practices or make them feel

obligated to participate in feasts, new moon festivals, or rites

pertaining to the Sabbath.

 

18 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 110.

19 Ibid.

20 Para<dosij is used of "the tradition preserved by the scribes and Pharisees"; cf.

Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:5 (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the

New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 615).

21 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 96.

22 Ibid.

 



            The Christian Life according to Colossians                       445

 

            Paul wanted the Colossians to be established in Christ Jesus

and to grow in Him. Christ was to be the basis of every aspect of

life. The only way to ensure this was to beseech the Colossians to

reject any doctrine or teaching that did not have Christ as its

bedrock. In addition the teaching concerning Christ had to do

with what they had received originally (2:6). Thus the door would

be closed to any wayward religious idealism that attempted to in-

filtrate Colossae by merely using the name of Christ. Any inter-

pretation of Christ proffered by advocates of Jewish mysticism or

any other Gnostic-like mystery religions was not to be toler-

ated.23

            Syncretism posed a great threat to the integrity of the Chris-

tian faith. The shared nomenclature of the mystery religions and

Christianity made doctrinal interference and confusion easy.

For example plh<rwma ("fullness," "completeness") was a word

common to the mystery religions; however, Paul utilized the

same term to reflect the completeness of the deity of Christ.24

Since such lexical congruities existed, heretics sought to redefine

the Person and work of Christ in terms that mitigated His role in

both salvation and sanctification. Therefore Paul emphasized the

superiority of Christ over and above that of angels (2:10; Eph.

2:20-21).

 

ENJOYING THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST (2:9-10)

            The Colossian saints were to live the Christian life by adher-

ing to the soundness of the apostle's Christ-centered message. The

resonance of this doctrine was rich and full. There was no need

for any philosophical or esoteric embellishments. Furthermore,

when one's life is based on Christ, the result is virtue and not

"false humility" associated with the worship of angels (2:18).

            Christ is to be regarded above all. The causal o!ti ("because"),

with which verse 9 begins, introduces the reason He should be the

ground for "Christian philosophy": "In Him all the fullness of

Deity dwells in bodily form." "The high Christological statement

serves as the basis for the application to the particular needs of the

congregation."25 Colossian believers needed to know that Christ

is superior to all, even above the angels who were the objects of

worship for the heretics. Since Christ possesses in Himself "all

 

23 See Scholem's comments on the origin of Gnosticism from Jewish roots

(Gershom C. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic

Tradition [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1965], 1-8).

24 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 51-52.

25 Ibid., 111.

 



446     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1994

 

the fullness of Deity," He is to be revered, honored, and obeyed.

Moreover, this fulness was not shared, certainly not with lesser

beings such as angels. As O'Brien states, "the expression ‘the en-

tire (pa?n to>) fullness’ is tautologous and this suggests Paul is

writing polemically to underscore the point that the ‘pleroma’ is to

be found exclusively in Christ."26

            The Colossian heretics worshiped angels as intermediaries

between God and man. Paul's counterattack focused on the fact

that Christ is the sole intermediary and that access to the plh<rwma

("fullness") was through Christ and Him alone. The words th?j

qeo<thtoj ("deity") refers to the "quality of being divine."27

Swmatikw?j ("in bodily form") underscores the reality of Christ's

incarnation. Paul then associated the fullness of Christ with the

fullness the Colossians had, in Christ because of the symbiotic re-

lationship they shared with Him. This can be seen through the use

of the root plhr- in Christ's fullness (plh<rma) and in the participle

peplhrwme<noi ("have been made complete," v. 10), which refers to

the believer's position in Christ as complete.28 The passive voice

of the participle peplhrwme<noi indicates that the action of making

the believer "full or complete" was accomplished by an outside

agent, namely, God.29 Thus the status and well-being of the

Christian life is predicated solely on Christ Jesus, who indwells

the saints (cf. 1:28). Compared to Christ, all other entities ("all

rule and authority," v. 10, or, "powers and principalities") are in-

ferior, irrelevant, and impotent.

 

LIVING IN CHRIST (2:11-23)

            Because believers are in Christ, who has forgiven them, they

are to conduct themselves in a holy manner while laying aside

all rules of conduct based on terrestrial principles concocted by

false teachers.

 

POSITIONAL TRUTH (2:11-12)

            Two of the many benefits of being in Christ are treated in

Colossians 2:11-12. The first benefit was that of having a circum-

 

26 Ibid.

27 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 100.

28 Bullinger defines the use of root repetition of this sort as "paregmenon" (E. W.

Bullinger, Figures of Speech in the Bible [London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1898;

reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968], 304).

29 Peplhrwme<noi is a "divine passive," that is, no agent is stated; rather the agent of

the action is implied and understood to be God.

 



            The Christian Life according to Colossians                       447

 

cision "not done with hands" (a]xeiropoih<t&). Circumcision in the

Old Testament was a sign of consecration. Abraham was cir-

cumcised to demonstrate his relationship with God and the effi-

cacy of the promises of God accompanying that relationship. In

Israel's history circumcision grew from a sign of a relationship

with God to a "stumbling block" for Jews. As Unger states,

"circumcision became the pride of Israel, they looking with con-

tempt upon all those people not observing it (Judg. 14:3; 15:18; I

Sam. 14:6; Isa. 52:1, etc)."30 However, the circumcision men-

tioned here in Colossians was different. In Ephesians 2:11 Paul

belittled the legitimacy of "the circumcision done in the flesh by

hands." "Hand-made" righteousness was of little use to God.

Lincoln remarks, "This term [xeiropoih<toj] and its opposite are

frequently used in the NT for the contrast between external mate-

rial aspects of the old order of Judaism and the spiritual efficacy

of the new order (cf. Col 2:11; also, for example, Mark 14:58; Acts

7:48; Heb 9:11, 24)."31 The circumcision of the Jews was but a

shadow of things to come, but the circumcision Paul discussed

here was the real thing, namely, spiritual consecration.

 

            The circumcision of Christ which every member of the community

            has experienced is nothing other than being baptized into the

            death and resurrection of Christ. The formulation of the sentence

            depends on expressions used in the primitive Christian teaching

            on baptism. Such expressions also underlie Rom 6:4f. Christianity

            believes and acknowledges that Christ died for our sins, that he

            was buried and that God raised him from the dead (1Cor 15:3-5).32

 

            A second benefit of being in Christ is that the believer partici-

pates in the death of Christ ("buried with Him") and the resulting

ramifications of His resurrection ("raised up with Him," Col.

2:12). The burial of Christ served as proof of His death. The result

of His death was that a penalty had been paid on the cross for the

remission of sin. Christ's death removed the requirement of sen-

tencing for all who receive Him as their Savior. Therefore since

an individual, at the moment of belief, participates in Christ's

burial, the penalty for his or her sin is considered paid. No fur-

ther charges can be brought against the one who believes in Christ

(Rom. 8:11, 31-34).

            Christ's resurrection, then, indicated that all matters of di-

 

30 Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody, 1988),

238.

31 A. T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1990),

136.

32 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 103.



448     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October–December 1994

 

vine justice were settled and a new day could commence. The be-

liever therefore is to live according to his resurrected life, because

his old life met its demise in Christ. In Romans 6:2 Paul pon-

dered the question, "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"

The connection between a believer, born from above in Christ,

and sin is an unnatural relationship. Death has no fellowship

with life.

 

NEW LIFE AND FORGIVENESS (2:13-15)

            God's forgiveness of the believer is the impetus for a new posi-

tion and outlook on life. The believer acquired this newness not

through any merit of his own. Paul's perspective was that al-

though "you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircum-

cision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, hav-

ing forgiven us all our tresgressions" (v. 13). A dead person has

no means of raising himself from his grave. This is especially

true of sinners who are dead in their sin. Thus forgiveness,

which enables the believer to enjoy spiritual life, should be exem-

plified in his daily conduct.

            The forgiveness provided for by Christ is final (v. 14). "God

has not only removed the debt; he has also destroyed the document

[xeiro<grafon, ‘certificate of debt,’ NASB] on which it was

recorded."33 A xeiro<grafon was a note of indebtedness in one's

own handwriting as proof of one's obligation.34 The mention that

this certificate of indebtedness was nailed to the cross was notifi-

cation that the debt was paid in full by Christ's death.

            As Lohse explains, this means that on the cross Christ di-

vested the "powers and principalities of their authority" (v. 15).35

Thus Paul was implying that the heretics' practice of worshiping

angels or elevating their status beyond that of Christ was wrong.

 

THE RESPONSE OF FAITH TO WORKS (2:16-23)

            In 2:16-23 Paul wrote against succumbing to standards of liv-

ing inappropriate for Christians. In no way were the tenets of the

Colossian heresy requisites for a genuine Christian experience.

Asceticism and the observance of festivals were only "shadows"

of reality. The mysterious tactics used by the heretics produced

false humility and arrogance. Paul remarked that such practices

caused them to be "inflated" (fusiou<menoj, literally, "puffed up")

in their earthly minds (u[po> tou? noo>j th?j sarko>j au]tou?, literally,

 

33 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 124.

34 Ibid.

35 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 112.

 



            The Christian Life according to Colossians                       449

 

"by the mind of his flesh"). Christian virtue fosters true humility

and meekness in light of the forgiveness of God, not arrogance.

Living in light of forgiveness helps sustain believers in both

doctrinal orthodoxy and orthopraxis. A Christian who neglects

the truth of his or her marvelous position in Christ and of the for-

giveness wrought through Him is opened to influence by "every

wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14) and empty, deceitful philosophy.

 

                  PUTTING OFF SINFUL WORKS (3:1-11)

 

THE BELIEVER'S POSITION IN CHRIST (3:1-4)

            Because of the believer's participation in the death and resur-

rection of Christ and his victory over "the elements of the world,"

he is to "keep seeking the things above" (ta> a@nw zhtei?te, 3:1).

This continual, ongoing process of seeking, suggested by the

present imperative, is to be the consequence of having "been

raised up with Christ." For Paul there was no reason for anyone to

be "seeking the things above" if he had not been raised with

Christ. The road to the heavenly realm was through Christ, not

through asceticism or mysticism.

            The believer's position in Christ is his only hope of glory.

There should be no boasting of a meeting with God apart from

Christ. The believer is to "set" his "mind on the things above" (v.

2), that is, to seek spiritual wisdom and guidance from the One

who sits "at the right hand of God" (v. 1). This wisdom from above

is superior to the traditions of men and "the elementary princi-

ples of the world" (2:8). The contrast is striking. From Christ, the

Source above, there is wisdom. On the other hand the world and

all that is a part of it ("the things that are on earth," 3:2), are under

a curse and doomed for destruction. Believers are to have a

mindset that avoids all that is at enmity toward God (cf. Rom.

8:6).

            The believer's death in Christ terminated his relationship

with the old self and the things of the earth. To ensure its safety,

the new life is protected and vouchsafed in Christ. As Paul wrote,

"your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). "The verb

ke<kruptai (‘hidden’) is a perfect tense, in contrast to the preceding

aorist, a]peqa<nete (‘you died,’ drawing attention to the specific

occasion of their death with Christ), and stresses the ongoing and

permanent effects: your life has been hidden with Christ in God

and it remains that way."36

            When Christ will return ("when Christ, who is our life, is re-

 

36 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 165.

 



450     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1994

 

vealed," v. 4), the believers' glory will be disclosed as well,

Meanwhile they can live life to the fullest because of Jesus' power

sustaining them.

 

THE BELIEVER'S RESPONSE TO HIS POSITION IN CHRIST (3:5-11)

            In light of their security, believers pursue righteousness

while putting to death (nekrw<sate) "the members of [their] earthly

body" (literally, "the members that are on the earth"). This com-

mand means to "put to death whatever in your nature belongs to

the earth"37 (cf. Rom. 6:11; 8:10). "Man cannot distance himself

from his actions; he is so intimately bound up with them that his

actions are a part of himself. Only through the death in which the

old self dies, can the way to new life be opened."38

            With the aorist imperative nekrw<sate, Paul moved from the

theological to the practical, into the realm where the believer is re-

sponsible for his actions. Five things Christians should exclude

are fornication (pornei<an), impurity (a]kaqarsi<an), lust (pa<qoj),

evil desire (e]piqumi<an kakh<n), and greed or covetousness

(pleoneci<an). The order of these terms in Colossians 3:5 moves

"from the outward manifestations of sin to the inward cravings of

the heart, the acts of immorality and uncleanness to their inner

springs."39 These sins emerge from a heart that feeds on earthly

philosophies of living. Because of such filth God's wrath will

come on those who willfully disobey Him (v. 6). This includes not

only flagrant unbelievers, but also those in the Colossian congre-

gation who said they believed in Christ but who actually were un-

believers as their evil actions revealed. As already noted, Paul

wrote this epistle to dissuade some who might delude themselves

with alleged visions of glory through mystic encounters. Though

false teaching may be enticing, it is bankrupt with respect to life-

sustaining principles and as a result, the heresy leads to moral

turpitude.

            The apostle reminded the Colossian believers that moral

misconduct was part of their former demeanor: "in them you also

once walked" (v. 7). The words "but now" (nuni> de>) which begin

verse 8, introduce temporal contrast, pointing to the fact that the

Christian life must contrast with the person's former life (cf.

1:21-22).40

            Paul commanded the Colossians to "put . . . aside" (a]po<qesqe,

 

37 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

and Other Early Christian Literature, 501.

38 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 137.

39 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 179.

40 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 140.

 



            The Christian Life according to Colossians                       451

 

"rid themselves"41) of other vices, including wrath (o]rgh<n), anger

(qumo<n), malice (kaki<an), slander (blasfhmi<an), and foul talk

(ai]sxrologi<an). The aorist imperative a]po<qesqe emphasizes that

"the process and repeated efforts which lead to a transformed

daily walk are all incorporated into the imagery of ‘putting off the

old life with its deeds’ and ‘putting on the new life’ of righteous-

ness and Christ-likeness."42

            Believers are to discard their old repulsive habits like a set of

            worn-out clothes. Apoti<qhmi, meaning to "put away," was used lit-

            erally with reference to clothes at Acts 7:58 (cf. 2 Macc 8:35;

            Jos[ephus] Ant[iquities of the Jews] 8, 266) and in a metaphorical

            and ethical sense at Romans 13:12; Ephesians 4:22, 25; Hebrews

            12:1; James 1:21; and 1 Peter 2:1.43

 

            Believers also are not to lie to each other. The present tense in

the prohibitive imperative mh> yeu<desqe ("do not lie," Col. 3:9) con-

notes an action that is to be habitual. In Ephesians 4:15 the present

participle a]lhqeu<ontej ("being truthful") demonstrates this same

idea. Dishonesty characterized the former life, the "old self,"

which was crucified and buried with Christ, but now honest speech

and conduct are to characterize believers.

            Since the "old self" (palaio>n a@nqrwpon, literally "old man")

and his proclivities are to be purged, a new and invigorating

"self" or lifestyle must fill the void left by the absence of the old

(Col. 3:10). The new life is to be lived in conformity to the image

of the One who created it (kat ] ei]ko<na tou? kti<santoj au]to<n). Thus

Christ alone starts as the Christian's paradigm.

            This newness also implies that former distinctions of race or

social caste bear no significance on the status of saints as image-

bearers of God. In verse 11 Paul emphatically denounced the no-

tion that one group had any greater advantage in Christ than any

other. Greeks and Jews were adversaries. Greeks viewed Jews as

unsophisticated and lacking wisdom, and Jews viewed the

Greeks as uncircumcised aliens estranged from "the covenants

of promise" (Eph. 2:12). Barbarians and Scythicans were viewed

as crass and repulsive peoples, the scorn of Greco-Roman society.

Slaves and masters in general bore mistrust and animosity to-

ward one another. Yet the enmity between these groups departs

when these individuals come to Christ. An unregenerate life

 

41 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

and Other Christian Literature, 101.

42 Buist M. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek (Oxford: Clarendon,

1990), 363.

43 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 186.

 



452     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October–December 1994

 

gives birth to racism and classism, attitudes stemming from the

heart. By contrast, it is improper for believers to harbor disdain

for races and classes of people different from their own (cf. Rom.

3:22; 10:12). Being renewed at salvation to a new perspective and

knowledge (e]pi<gnwsin, Col. 3:10), the believer's conduct is to be

"in conformity with the Creator's will."44 Skin color and socioe-

conomic status, being merely aspects of external appearance and

circumstance, are inadequate barometers of character.

 

 

                        PUTTING ON CHRIST (3:12–4:6)

            The believer's new life, based on his status in Christ, means

that every relationship and activity is to be patterned after the

model set forth by Christ.

 

GENERAL ADMONITION (3:12-17)

            Believers are to "put on" (e]ndu<sasqe, literally, "clothe them-

selves") in righteousness and its accompanying amenities. Eph-

esians 6:11 uses the same word in reference to believers clothing

themselves with the armor of God, in order to be victorious in

spiritual warfare. The redeemed are to don spiritual garb fitting

for God's elect (e]klektoi).

 

            The phrase "as God's chosen ones" (w[j e]klektoi> tou? qeou?) is not

            meant as a comparison, as if Christians try to become equals of

            the heavenly elect. Rather the community is addressed as the

            chosen, holy and beloved people of God. Just as Israel had been

            singled out by God as his possession (Dt 4:37; 7:7; Ps 33:12, etc.)

            and the Qumran community understood itself to be the assembly

            of the chosen ones.45

 

            The Christian's attire is to include "compassion, kindness,

humility, gentleness and patience" (Col. 3:12). Furthermore

Christians are to be lovingly tolerant of each other and forgiving

in the same manner as Christ forgave them (v. 13).

            Love, however, is the supreme virtue (v. 14). This is the same

love God manifested on the Cross (John 3:16). Peace, which comes

from Christlikeness,46 serves as an umpire (brabeue<tw) on all the

fields of endeavor for Christians (Col. 3:15). This peace can be

understood as subjective inner peace and also as objective peace

in reference to interpersonal relations. That is, the lives of

 

44 Ibid., 192.

45 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 146.

46 The phrase tou? Xristou? may be a subjective genitive, implying that Christ is the

One who brings peace to believers.



            The Christian Life according to Colossians                       453

 

Christians who apply the blessings brought to them by virtue of

their position in Christ are marked not by a chaotic, argumenta-

tive demeanor, but by harmony and rapport. In addition their

lives are to be characterized by gratitude (mentioned in each of

the three verses of 3:15-17), appropriation of God's Word (v. 16),

worship that expresses itself in music (v. 16), and conduct that is

focused on "the name of the Lord Jesus" (v. 17).

 

PRACTICAL OUTWORKING OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE (3:18—4:6)

            The houserules (3:18-4:1). There is no greater testing ground

for the authenticity of one's faith than the family. For this reason

Paul set forth rules of conduct for Christian households. "Luther

called this scheme of household duties a Haustafel, which means

a list of rules for the household,’ but it is usually translated into

English as ‘house-table.’"47 This "house-table" governed the

rules of order and conduct in the Christian household. In Greco-

Roman society emphasis focused on three major relationships:

husband and wife, parent and child, and master and slave. All

these relationships were in the home. Paul contrasted the rela-

tionships in Christian households with secular families.48 For

example fathers held extensive control over their sons.49 This ex-

tensive control coupled with a depraved nature could make for

some harrowing experiences between fathers and their offspring.

The Christian household, however, was to have no such discord

(vv. 20-21). The impetus for maintaining better parent-child re-

lationships rests on the fact that Christian fathers and sons are to

exhibit Christlike qualities already addressed in verses 12-17.

            Though Paul had much more to say about the union of hus-

band and wife in Ephesians 5:22-33, the gist of the content is the

same in Colossians 3:18-19. Wives should respect their husbands

because "it is fitting in the Lord" (w[j a]nh?ken e]n kuri<w). The goal

is to do what the Lord expects and not what society accepts. Hus-

bands are commanded to love their wives and not to treat them

with bitterness or harshness (mh> pikrai<nesqe). In Ephesians 5

Christian husbands are challenged to follow Christ as their

model. They are to hold their wives in the highest esteem, view-

ing them in the same way Christ views the church.

            The master-slave relationship was also to differ from the

secular order (Col. 3:22-4:1). Slaves had no rights. Their well-

 

47 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 215.

48 Lincoln, Ephesians, 398-99.

49 Ibid.

 



454     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October—December 1994

 

being was totally in the hands of their masters on earth (literally,

"lords according to the flesh"; cf. Eph. 6:5). One of the most vivid

examples of how this relationship was to differ from the secular

world is seen in the Epistle to Philemon. In the Roman world

Philemon, a master, had every right to punish his runaway slave,

Onesimus, even to the point of death. Yet Paul, appealing to

Philemon's faith and appreciation for the sovereignty of God, en-

couraged him to rejoice in his spiritual obligation to forgive.

"Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while

was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave,

but better than a slave, as a dear brother" (Phile. 15-16, NIV). The

believer's position in Christ transforms the nature of relation-

ships, for the power of Christ overshadows even the most despica-

ble institutions in society.

            Christian attitudes and graces (4:2-6). The attitudes and

graces of the Christian community serve as an excellent "public

relations tool" for the gospel. The Christian life is to be expressed

in a mode of thanksgiving (e]n eu]xaristi<%, 4:2; cf. 3:15-17).

Within this attitude of thanksgiving believers are to devote them-

selves to alertness and prayer so that the mystery of the in-

dwelling Christ may be proclaimed (4:2-4). Paul implored the be-

lievers at Colossae to live wisely before "outsiders" (tou>j e@cw lit-

erally, "the ones outside"), a reference to unbelievers (4:5). They

were to make the most of every opportunity for spiritual gain "by

redeeming the time."50

 

                                    CONCLUSION

 

            The Book of Colossians clearly mandates that all facets of

one's Christian experience must be in harmony. The basis of this

harmony is correct theology regarding Christ Jesus. One cannot

redefine or mitigate the role of Christ in salvation and expect to

enjoy right practice. Correct living is driven by hope and convic-

tion stemming from the work of Christ. A proper understanding

of Christ serves as the platform for the Christian life. With the

Cross in view believers are enabled to strip away behavioral

characteristics of sinners, and to clothe themselves in the righ-

teousness befitting those who have been redeemed.

 

50 Ibid., 341.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:     y

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204           www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu