- 1 θέλω γὰρ ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι ἡλίκον ἀγῶνα ἔχω ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν καὶ τῶν ἐν Λαοδικείᾳ καἰ ὅσοι οὐψ ἑόρακαν τὸ πρόσωπόν μου ἐν σαρκί,
The initial γάρ indicates that the sentence (vv.1-3) continues the discussion from v.29, providing additional explanation. Paul has just described how difficult the struggle to communicate the gospel is for him and now he presses home the point to the Colossian believers. In 1:24 he has shared what joy he experiences in his sufferings for them. The main verb (θέλω) expresses a desire and is completed by the perfect infinitive εἰδέναι (to know). ὑμᾶς defines the subject of the infinitive, being in the accusative case. The following subordinate clause is introduced by ἡλίκον (adjective introducing indirect questions with the sense “how great, how big”) and the indirect question serves as the direct object of the infinitive, i.e. what Paul wants them to know. This adjective modifies the noun ἀγῶνα (cf. use of the cognate verb in 1:29), which serves as the object of ἔχω. Note the use of the present tense, indicating that continuation of a current situation.
The preposition ὑπέρ + genitive identifies those on behalf of whom Paul is struggling, namely the Colossian believers (ὑμῶν), believers in Laodicea, and ὅσοι (relative pronoun meaning “what sort of, what kind of”), which normally would follow a word such as πόσων, τούτων, or τοσούτων. The perfect verb ἑόρακαν describes a state or condition resulting from a prior action. Paul emphasizes that there are believers in the Colossae and Laodicea area who have not met him personally. This probably includes the city of Hierapolis. Laodicea is ten miles down the river from Colossae and Hierapolis is fifteen miles distant.
- 2 ἵνα παρακληθῶσιν αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν συμβιβασθέντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ καὶ εἰς πᾶν πλοῦτος τῆς πληροφορίας τῆς συνέσεως, εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ,
Paul continues, using a ἵνα clause to explain his purpose in wanting them to understand his struggles. The main verb is παρακληθῶσιν, aorist passive subjunctive, third pers. pl. It means to be encouraged, to be comforted. Presumably his letter in his absence will provide this encouragement/comfort to Jesus followers who hear its contents. They will know of his personal commitment to do whatever it takes to help them live christianly. The subject of this verb is αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν and refers to the center of human cognition and decision-making. In Col. 4:8 Paul says that he is sending Tychikos in order that “he might encourage your hearts” (παρακαλέσῃ τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν), using the same idiom.
Thus far Paul’s meaning is fairly clear. What follows bristles with challenges. First, the aorist passive participle συμβιβασθέντες, functioning adverbially, is nominative plural masculine, but the subject of the main verb in the ἵνα clause is a feminine plural noun, καρδίαι. One option is to see the ἵνα clause end with αἱ καρδίαι αὐτῶν and then consider the previous ὅσοι (masculine plural nominative) as the referent for the participle. If this is the way Paul wants us to understand his text, then it make believers “who have not seen his face” a particular concern, even as he recognizes their instruction in the Gospel. If this reading is rejected, then only other alternative, in my view, is to see Paul referring to αἱ καρδίαι but through metonymy considering “hearts” as equal to people. A second issue is how to understand the sense of the aorist participle. Notice that it follows the verb and so elaborates the meaning of that verb. Did Paul intend it to express reason (because), communicate a concessive sense (even though, although), means (by, as), or a temporal idea (when, since, having been). Because this aorist participle follows the main verb which is either perfect or aorist, depending upon which is chosen, it could describe something contemporaneous with the main verb or antecedent to it.
Thirdly, the semantic sense of this verb can be construed as “united, joined together” or “instructed.” You can find supporters of either idea. The verb occurs in 2:19 and in that context has the sense of “joined together” as it describes how a body is coordinated through its sinews, muscles and ligaments (as in Eph. 4:16). Yet the sense “instructed, taught” (cf. Acts 19:33), in my view, coheres in 2:2 with the concepts of σύνεσις and ἐπίγνωσις that immediately follow, as well as the concept of encouragement. The phrase ἐν ἀγάπῃ describes the manner in which the instruction is given, i.e. in an loving manner. Dibelius in his commentary notes that this is how the Latin Vulgate interpreted this expression.
Fourth, we have to discern how the following prepositional phrases introduced by εἰς relate to what precedes. Most consider them to introduce additional “purposes,” somehow parallel with the initial ἵνα clause. However, this seems to break the syntax to an extraordinary degree, in my view. It would be simpler to take them as adverbial prepositional phrases modifying the participle, i.e. “having being instructed in a loving manner and for the complete wealth produced by conviction arising from understanding, for the full knowledge of God’s mystery, Messiah.” This regards the genitive συνέσεως as subjective. If one takes these phrases as expressing essentially additional purposes, then you have to follow the strategy of the NIV which adds the verbal expressions “so that they may have…in order that they may know.” I think taking the participle to mean “instructed” avoids the problem of supplying implied verbs.
The actual text τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ, Χριστοῦ created considerable difficulty in the early church as the many textual variants demonstrate. Should we consider Χριστοῦ appositional to θεοῦ or to τοῦ μυστηρίου τοῦ θεοῦ?
Consider carefully previous uses of ἐπίγνωσις and μυστήριον in Colossians (especially 1:9-12, 27).
- 3 ἐν ᾧ εἰσιν πάντες οἱ θησαυροὶ τῆς σοφίας καὶ γνώσεως ἀπόκρυφοι.
This verse is a relative clause probably related to Χριστοῦ, though any of the three prior nouns could theoretically be the antecedent for ἐν ᾧ, but in the end it is the Messiah who is in focus. The subject is defined by a compound genitive bound together by a single article (τῆς σοφίας καὶ γνώσεως), indicating the content of the treasures. How we should interpret the predicate adjective ἀπόκρυφοι is open to debate. It could mean that all the treasures “are hidden” in the Messiah; or it could mean that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in him, but they are hidden and need to be discerned. This last sense may coincide with the interpretation of συμβιβασθέντες as “having been instructed,” such instruction being the means by which these treasures are discerned and accessed.
My proposed, translation for v.1-3 would be:
For I desire you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and on behalf of those in Laodocia and (on behalf of the many) who are of the kind that have not seen my face in the flesh — in order that their hearts might be encouraged – having been instructed in a loving manner and into the complete wealth produced by conviction arising from understanding, into God’s mystery, the Messiah, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge reside in hidden form.
This presumes that Paul is defining his own struggles on their behalf, as well as acknowledging the good instruction that they have already received from others and in which they need to persevere.
v.4. τοῦτο λέγω ἵνα μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς παραλογίζηται ἐν πιθανολογίᾳ.
This is an independent sentence which has no connecting particle, which gives it a certain forcefulness. The initial τοῦτο λέγω could refer back to the content of vv.1-3 or it may be anticipatory of the content of the ἵνα clause that follows, acting as an indirect imperative structure. Given my proposal regarding the understanding of vv. 1-3, I think Paul is moving forward, but warning that even with their prior instruction, whether given by him or others, they still need to be on their guard against false teaching and this danger explains the nature of his struggle on their behalf. The form of the negative personal pronoun μηδεὶς coincides with the subjunctive mood in the clause.
The verb παραλογίζηται is present middle subjunctive, modified by the object ὑμᾶς and by the prepositional phrase ἐν πιθανολογίᾳ. The aspect of the present suggests something that currently is being attempted and the middle voice adds a sense of deliberateness to this action. The verb means to deceive or delude. The noun πιθανολογία is a compound noun formed from πιθανος (persuasive, plausible) and λογια (argumentation, reason) and occurs in a few Classical Greek contexts with the sense “persuasive or plausible argument.” The preposition ἐν is probably identifying instrumentality (by means of, with). Whether Paul is using these terms pejoratively or at face value can be debated. He regards the threat as significant and will address it further.
- 5 εἰ γὰρ καὶ τῇ σαρκὶ ἄπειμι, ἀλλὰ τῷ πνεύματι σὺν ὑμῖν εἰμι, χαίρων καὶ βλέπων ὑμῶν τὴν τάξιν καὶ τὸ στερέωμα τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως ὑμῶν.
Paul provides additional evidence of his concern for them in this γάρ clause. The sentence begins with a first class condition (εἰ…καὶ + present indicative in the protasis), with a concessive sense “even though I am absent…,” assuming the reality of the condition. The apodosis begins with ἀλλά which here has the sense “certainly, at least.” The contrast between τῇ σαρκὶ…τῷ πνεύματι expresses probably a dative of respect. I am not sure we can distinguish in this case between the Holy Spirit and the human psychological domain expressed by “spirit” (cf. 1 Cor. 5:3-4). Σάρξ here is equivalent to σῶμα.
The main clause has two present active participles attached (χαίρων καὶ βλέπων) which define what Paul is doing to be with them in Spirit. Note that they follow the main verb. The present tense form indicates his current activity – “as I rejoice and see….” Presumably, Paul has some means of communication that enables him to be aware of their spiritual development, even though he is under imprisonment in Rome as he writes. The two participles gain definition by a compound object τὴν τάξιν καὶ τὸ στερέωμα. Although these terms can be used in military contexts to define the orderly array of the rank and file and the solidity of the defenses, whether soldiers or bulwarks, Paul has not to this point employed military language in his letter. So probably, we should consider these terms to have a more general sense, namely “good order and firmness.”
Finally, there is the genitive phrase τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως ὑμῶν “of your faith directed towards Messiah. While this phrase only occurs here in Paul’s letters, we do find it in Paul’s speeches in Acts 20:21; 24:24; 26:18 (cf. Phlm 5) and it does reflect a more frequent πιστεύειν εἰς Χριστόν. Full confidence in the truth about the Messiah is necessary for an orderly and firm commitment to the Messiah. The sense of this phrase is that the faith/confidence exercised is by believers in the Messiah.
- 6-7 ὡς οῦν παρελάβετε τὸν Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον, ἐν αὐτῳ περιπατεῖτε, ἐρριζωμένοι καὶ ἐποικοδομούμενοι ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ βεβαιούμενοι τῇ πίστει καθὼς ἐδιδάχθητε, περισσεύοντες ἐν εύχαριστίᾳ.
Paul continues with further instruction that builds from his prior requirement. It is introduced by the conjunction οὖν, which signals continuity and development, sometimes with an inferential sense. ὡς + indicative introduces a comparative clause, modifying an imperative περιπατεὶτε. The verb παρελάβετε is aorist and aspectually considers the action as a whole and completed. This word often occurs in contexts that describe the reception of traditions (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23; 15:1-6; Gal. 1:9,12; 1 Thess. 2:13). The object in this case is τὸν Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν τὸν κύριον (“the Messiah, Jesus the Lord”) and probably refers to the teaching about the Messiah, not the equivalent to our contemporary expression “receive Jesus as Saviour.” Paul here talks Gospel, combining the two great confessions of the early church: Jesus is Messiah, Jesus is Lord. The present imperative implies a continued “walking” or living “in him,” i.e. in the sphere of his authority (ἐν αὐτῷ = ἐν Χριστῷ).
Paul completes his command with a series of four participles, the first is a perfect participle and the last three are present participles, all functioning adverbially. All are nominative plural masculine and thus defining how the subject of the imperative will comply with the command successfully. Three are passive and the last is active. Altogether they define key aspects of Christian spirituality. ἐρριζωμένοι as a perfect passive participle describes an action of rooting that has already occurred and continues. The passive voice suggests some external agent, at this point undefined, but probably divine. ἐποικοδομούμενοι is a present passive participle and may shift the image to more of an architectural sense. Agency is not defined. The Jewish religious leaders were sometimes referred to as “builders” because of their teaching (cf. Mark 12:10-11). This describes the continuing action of development upon the foundation/roots already established (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-14). Both are modified once more by ἐν αὐτῷ referencing Jesus Messiah as the critical factor. The third participle is βεβαιούμενοι is another present passive formation, with the sense of “being fully assured/guaranteed” (commercial language) τῇ πίστει (by means of faith – both confession and obedience). Agency is again undefined. Paul notes the source of this assurance in the comparative clause καθῶς ἐδιδάχθητε. Presumably this refers to the prior evangelism and pastoral work conducted by Epaphras and other leaders in the Colossian, Laodicean, and Hierapolitan churches (cf. 2:2). The aorist passive indicative defines this as a completed action. Finally, we have περισσεύοντες, the third present participle, but this time active in voice. These believers “are overflowing with thanksgiving” (cf. Paul’s prayer in 1:12). Is this Paul’s definition of active discipleship?
- 8-13 βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς ἔσται ὁ συλαγωγῶν διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας καὶ κενῆς ἀπάτης κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων, κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου καὶ οὐ κατὰ Χριστόν·  ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ κατοικεῖ πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς,  καὶ ἐστ[ε ἐν αὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι, ὅσ ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης καὶ ἐξουσίας.  ἐν ᾦ
καὶ περιετμήθητε περιτομῷ ἀχειροποιήτῳ ἐν τῇ ἐπεκδύσει τοῦ σώματος τῆς σαρκός, ἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ,  συνταφέντες αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ βαπτισμῷ, ἐν ᾧ καὶ συνηγέρθητε διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ένεργείας τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν·  καὶ ὑμᾶς νεκροὺς ὄντας [ἐν] τοῖς παραπτώμασιν καὶ τῇ ἀκροβυστίᾳ τῆς σαρκὸς ὑμῶν, συνεζωοποίησεν ὑμᾶς σὺν αὐτῷ, χαρισάμενος ἡμῖν πάντα τὰ παραπτώματα.
We begin an extended sentence which starts with a strong word of warning βλέπετε μή. The negative particle μή introduces a clause of fear or caution. It is exceptional to find the future indicative rather than a subjunctive in this context (but cf. Gal. 4:11). Whether it strengthens the cautionary note or not is debated. The pronoun ὑμᾶς is in a peculiar word order, being the object of the adjectival participle ὁ συλαγωγῶν which modifies τις. It received prominence through this placement. Paul juxtaposes τις ὑμᾶς for contrast. Paul does not identify who this person is, but seems to regard him as a specific individual who is responsible for this perverse teaching. The verb συλαγωγέω means to gain control of by carrying off as booty, by making captive of, by robbing someone. This is its only use in the NT. It is in the present participle formation and substantival (being predicate nominative), indicating the person who is in the act of doing this as Paul writes. The prepositional phrases διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας καὶ κενῆς ἁπάτης define the means by which the captivity is carried out. What this type of wisdom taught is not defined at this point, other than to describe it as “ philosophy and empty deceit.” This teaching has nothing to offer the believer who already possesses “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” because he or she belongs to the Messiah. This other “philosophy” is “in accord with the tradition of human beings,” a phrase that Jesus used in Mark 7:8 to characterize the principles of Pharisaism. In other words “philosophy” could include some aspects of Jewish teaching. These believers in contrast have “received the Messiah Jesus, the Lord.” They need nothing else. Paul continues by adding another κατά phrase (κατὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου). In Galatians 4:9 he accused the opponents of urging believers to “turn again to the weak and impoverished fundamental principles” of Judaism and paganism. I am not sure whether στοιχεῖα means “elemental principles” or “elemental forces/spirits.” However we interpret this word, these are in complete opposition to the Messiah (καὶ οὐ κατὰ Χριστόν).
- 9 This verse is a subordinate ὅτι clause providing an explanation (“because”), incorporating an indicative verb κατοικεῖ in present tense form. It explains why these “human traditions” are not appropriate, but the truth “according to the Messiah” is. Paul fronts the phrase ἐν αὐτῷ giving it emphasis. The verb has the idea of “take up residence, dwell” (cf. Col. 1:19; Eph. 3:17), with a sense of permanence. It is in the present tense. The object of the verb is πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος (cf. Col. 1:19). In Eph. 3:19 Paul claims that every believer πληρωθῆτε εἰς πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ θεοῦ. I am not sure what the distinction between τοῦ θεοῦ and τῆς θεότητος (only occurrence in NT) might be. θεότης has the sense of deity in its essence. Paul adds a final adverb σωματικῶς, which describes the current, post-incarnational reality. The Messiah remains eternally God and human. So this is one reason to trust the Messiah and not other sources of human knowledge. The juxtaposition of θεότητος σωματικῶς must have been jarring to the ear of Jew and non-Jews alike.
- 10 This verse offers a second reason that is pertinent to believers. Paul uses a periphrastic formation ἐστὲ…πεπληρωμένοι, employing the present tense from ἐστὲ in conjunction with a perfect passive participle. This combination would emphasize the current, continuing state/condition of the subject – “you are in a state/condition of being filled.” The two identical phrases in vv. 9-10 ἐν αὐτῷ mean two different things. In v. 9 it refers to the location of deity “in the Messiah.” In v. 10 believers find their “fullness” because they are located “in the Messiah.” The verse ends with a relative clause that defines the Messiah as ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ έξουσίας. This is a statement about his current status. Usually Paul used this term ἡ κεφαλὴ to describe the Messiah’s position in the church (cf. Col. 1:18; 2:19). In this context, however, the supremacy of Jesus is expressed in terms of “every power and authority.” While we might limit this to spiritual forces, I am not sure Paul would limit it to that category. This same pair occurs in 2:15 in the plural.
- 11 Paul turns his attention to the implications of Jesus Christ’s deity and headship for those who are “in him” (ἐν ᾧ), using another relative clause. The καί indicates this is an additional benefit of their involvement in Christ. We do not know exactly the ethnic composition of the Colossian church. However, Paul has in 1:27 mentioned specifically the mystery of the Gospel “among the nations, which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory.” In chapter 4 we find only a few people mentioned by name in the Colosse church, apart from Archippus. If indeed the majority are non-Jews, then this verse and the next make very significant statements about the status of non-Jewish Christians. The primary metaphor Paul chooses here is περιτομὴ τοῡ Χριστοῡ. This circumcision is ἀχειροποιήτῳ — performed without hands. This adjective in Scripture usually refers to a divine action. Idols, for example, are made with human hands; Herod’s temple is one “made with hands” as opposed to the temple Jesus prophecies that is “not made with human hands.”
The main verb περιετμήθητε is an aorist passive tense form indicating that the action is complete and that there is an implied agent. Is that agent in this instance God? The nature of the circumcision is defined by the additional phrase ἐν τῇ ἀπεκδύσει τοῦ σώματος τῆς σαρκός (cf. 1:22 and its linkage with death). Circumcision as practiced in Judaism involved the cutting away of flesh. The noun ἀπεκδύσει means removal and often applies to the removal of clothing (cf. cognate forms in Mk. 15:20; Lk 10:30). Here it may refer to the death and resurrection of Jesus – the removal of the body of flesh – and this is “the circumcision of the Messiah.” We know from Luke 2 that Jesus was officially circumcised on the eighth day as a Jewish infant. So this reference is not to that event, but some other event in the Messiah’s experience. Its relationship to the Messiah is then made explicit in the following phrase. However, others argue that this refers to the believer’s spiritual circumcision, which is made possible “in/by the circumcision of the Messiah,” with the genitive viewed as a subjective genitive, i.e. in/by a circumcision done by the Messiah.
There is controversy within exegetes of Colossians as to whether the application of this metaphor to the believer’s experience refers to conversion or baptism. Note the reference in v.12 explicitly to baptism as a ritual of death and resurrection.
- 12 The adverbial participle that begins this verse is part of the prior relative clause, being nominative plural in formation, further defining action experienced by the subject of that clause. The relationship of the action in the participle to that of the main verb needs some definition. Is it causal, temporal, attendant circumstance or conditional? The participle is aorist passive with the dative modifier identifying the person with whom the subject “was buried.” The context of that burial is then defined as ἐν τῷ βαπτισμῷ. You will have noticed the repeated use of ἐν + person and ἐν + action noun (e.g. ἀπεκδύσει, περιτομῇ, βαπτισμῷ) in vv. 9-12. The first refers, in my view to location/sphere and the second to manner or means.
The second part of this verse is another relative clause which is parallel in structure to 11a. However, whether the referent to the relative pronoun here is the Messiah or baptism needs to be determined. Although an argument can be made for this clause to refer to baptism (cf. Romans 6 and Paul’s use of language), I think the parallelism here is an important factor. It is our connection with Jesus that makes resurrection possible. The main verb is aorist passive with implied agent whom I think is God. The immediate means is identified in the phrase διὰ τῆς πιστεῶς which presumably is that exercised by the believer “in” τῆς ἐνεργείας τοῦ θεοῦ — God’s active work (cf. Paul’s reference to the divine activity in his life in 1:29). Paul ends this clause with an adjectival participle defining God as responsible for the completed action (aorist participle) of the Messiah’s resurrection. ἐκ νεκρῶν is a standard collective expression meaning “the realm of dead people.”
- 13 It is difficult to discern whether Paul intends this clause to be closely connected with the preceding relative clause to create a compound relative clause or whether it is an independent clause. The subject of the main verb presumably is God, the one who raised Jesus from the dead (cf. v. 12b). The verb form is aorist active, referring to a completed action. The object (καὶ ὑμᾶς) is placed at the beginning of the clause for emphasis, and then repeated after the verb because of the separation between the verb and its object. The object is defined by an adverbial, concessive participle (ὄντας) which has a predicate adjective (νεκροὺς), meaning “You also, although you were dead…he made you alive with him (Christ)….” The nature of this death is defined in the compound ἐν phrases. The terms παραπτώμασιν and ἀκροβυστίᾳ demonstrate that Paul’s audience primarily is non-Jewish. From a Jewish perspective non-Jews had no connection with God and thus were ‘dead.’ Consider Paul’s definition of their state in Eph. 2:11-13. When these people through faith identified with the resurrected Jesus, God made them alive “with him.” The preposition σύν picks up its usage in the compound verb. Three σύν compound verbs are used by Paul in vv. 12-13 to emphasize the believer’s involvement with the Messiah in death, resurrection and new life. The Messiah’s circumcision in death deals with their spiritual uncircumcision and the forgiveness offered through his personal sacrifice deals with their transgressions. Paul ends with the aorist middle participle that marks this action of forgiveness. No transgression is omitted in this transaction. Note the reversion to first person plural pronoun ἡμῖν and the repetition of the noun παράπτωμα.
- 14 ἐξαλείψας τὸ καθ’ ἡμῶν χειρόγραφον τοῖς δόγμασιν ὃ ἦν ὑπεναντίον ἡμῖν, καὶ αὐτὸ ἦρκεν ἐκ τοῦ μέσου προσηλώσας αὐτὸ τῷ σταυρῷ·
This verse is an independent clause with ἦρκεν serving as the main verb. It is the perfect active indicative of αἴρω, I take away, remove. In the expression καὶ αὐτὸ which precedes the main verb, the καί is adverbial, not conjunctive and αὐτό probably refers back to τὸ χειρόγραφον and serves as the object of the main verb. Again there is contention about whether God continues to be the subject of this clause.
It is also unclear whether the initial adverbial participle goes with the preceding clause or with the following. The punctuation in UBS aligns it with v. 14b. ἐξαλείψας is an aorist active participle (ἐξαλείφω: remove, obliterate, destroy; wipe out, erase, cause to disappear), presumably defining an action that precedes the state/condition expressed in the main verb. What has been erased is τὸ καθ’ ἡμῶν χειρόγραφον. The noun frequently refers to an account of debts owed. In this case it would be the debt created by sinful activity that God has “written against us,” but which he has erased in and through the crucifixion of the Messiah. Paul defines more specifically the content of this written account by the dative plural τοῖς δόγμασιν which may refer to the rule book that created the debt in the first place, i.e. the law. ὑπεναντίον is a predicate adjective meaning “opposed” and its sense is completed by the dative pronoun. So perhaps it means “having obliterated the account of debts related to God’s rules, he indeed removed it from the midst by nailing it to the cross.”
In the main clause the perfect verb ἦρκεν describes a current state – God has removed it. ἐκ τοῦ μέσου seems to be an adverbial phrase meaning “from the midst.” The last expression is an adverbial aorist participle προσηλώσας from the verb προσηλόω meaning to “nail something.” What is nailed is in the accusative and what it is nailed to is in the dative. Presumably the image is that God nailed our debt account to the cross, by which means it has been erased. The death of the Messiah becomes the means by which our human debt to God has been covered.
- 15 ἀπεκδυσάμενος τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας ἐδειγμάτισεν ἐν παρρησίᾳ, θριαμβεύσας αὐτοὺς ἐν αὐτῷ.
The main verb ἐδειγμάτισεν is an aorist tense form meaning to expose, make an example of, mock (cf. Matt. 1:19; John 8:3ff). Presumably God continues as subject. This is done ἐν παρρησίᾳ, publicly, boldly. The initial participle ἀπεκδυσάμενος is an aorist middle form indicating action in which the subject is involved in some way for his interest, either prior to or concurrent with the main verb, but probably expresses attendant circumstance (“by stripping, despoiling, disarming”), with τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ἐξουσίας being the object of this divine action accomplished at the cross (cf. 2:10). The final participle is also aorist active participle θριαμβεύσας, lead in triumphal procession. ἐν αὐτῷ in this reading refers to Jesus or the cross, as the means or instrument in whom this action gets implemented.
- 16-17 μὴ οὖν τις ὑμᾶς κρινέτω ἐν βρώσει καὶ ἐν πόσει ἢ ἐν μέρει ἑορτῆς ἢ νεομηνίας ἢ σαββάτων· ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλοντων, τὸ δὲ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
Paul moves to a series of commands, mostly prohibitions. The structure μή + present imperative (κρινέτω) is a normal construction and may convey the sense of “stop what you are doing” or “keep on avoiding this action.” He is questioning the legitimacy of this judgment. Paul connects this prohibition with the preceding section using the connecting particle οὖν which communicates continuity with development (Runge) and can be rendered as “then” or “therefore,” expressing an implication of the prior actions. The placement of the object ὑμᾶς before the verb puts some emphasis upon it (note the order τις ὑμᾶς again (cf. 2:8)). Κρίνω means to judge, assess, evaluate. The matter about which a judgment is being made is expressed in the following ἐν phrases. The shift from the conjunction καί to ἤ indicates that the first pair is viewed as being in the same category, but the third introduces a new category, i.e. ἐν μέρει = “in the matter of.” The noun σαββάτων frequently occurs in the plural even though it may have a singular reference (cf. Mk. 1:21).
Paul continues with a relative clause that defines these various cases (e.g. food, drink, feast, etc.). The main verb is ἐστιν, a singular form because the subject is a neuter plural pronoun ἅ. The articulated participle functions as a substantive with τῶν μελλόντων referring to “future things.” This is contrasted with the noun phrase τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Note the use of the article, which defines and the particle δέ which may mean here something like “but.” What does σῶμα mean here? If it is contrasted with σκιά (shadow), then Paul is probably comparing the shadow cast by a body, with the body itself. In this case, it is the “Messiah’s body,” which could refer to the incarnation, to the “Messianic assembly” or perhaps suggest a more general reference, “but the reality is Messiah.”
- 18-19 μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς καταβραβευέτω θέλων ἐν ταπεινοφροσυνῃ καὶ θρησκείᾳ τῶν ἀγγέλων, ἃ ἑόρακεν ἐμβατεύων, εἰκῇ φυσιούμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ.  καὶ οὐ κρατῶν τὴν κεφαλήν, ἐξ οὗν πᾶν τὸ σῶμα διὰ τῶν ἁφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συμβιβαζόμενον αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ θεοῦ.
This is Paul’s second prohibition, employing the negative pronoun μηδεὶς + the present imperative καταβραβευέτω. The object of the verb occurs before the verb (as in v.16), giving it prominence. This verb means “to rob of a prize or condemn.” A βραβεύς is an umpire or arbitrator. With the prepositional prefix κατα- the sense is to make a decision as an arbitrator against someone. Perhaps it has the sense of “disqualify.” Four adverbial present participles follow, defining more carefully various aspects of this “disqualifying activity” – θέλων, ἐμβατεύων, φυσιούμενος, κρατῶν. The first, θέλων, describe a motivation, i.e. because that person delights in humility and worship of angels. It is possible that ταπεινοφροσύνη describes a type of humility that Paul is not endorsing (cf. v.23). However, Lohse argues that this noun means “readiness to serve” in cultic rituals, which makes more sense in its linkage with θρησκεία, than as a description of a disposition. It is debated whether τῶν ἀγγέλων is subjective genitive (worship offered by angels) or objective genitive (worship offered to angels). If these angels are viewed as intermediaries between humans and an absolutely transcendent god, then the genitive is probably objective. The second participle, ἐμβατεύων, is linked with cultic activities at various Grecian oracles and in other inscriptions means “to enter into” a place, a city or a sanctuary. Often “entering into the inner sanctuary” comes after initiation into the cult. So this would refer then to consulting the oracle after being initiated into the specific cult. It is difficult to know whether the participle is modifying the verb ἐόρακεν (which things, entering in, he has seen) or modifies καταβραβευέτω (disqualify you, entering into things which he has seen).
The third participle φυσιούμενος comes from the verb φυσιόω, meaning to puff up, inflate, make proud. Paul fronts it with the adverb εἰκῇ “in vain, without cause.” The agent of the passive participle is ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς, which is located τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. One might translate “groundlessly conceited by the kind of mind guided by his fleshly senses.” The final participle is modified unusually by the negative οὐ (κρατῶν), which BADG (733) states marks a “strong emphasis or contrast.” The verb with the negative indicates either “losing grip” or “outright rejection.” In this case the connection with “the head” no longer occurs.
In the last clause, a relative clause, the noun κεφαλήν gains further definition. The initial phrase ἐξ οὗ designates source (from which). The essence of the clause is πᾶν τὸ σῶμα…αὔξει τὴν αὔξησιν τοῦ θεοῦ. Presumably σῶμα is metaphor for the Messianic assembly, of which the Messiah is the κεφαλή (as in 1 Corinthians 12). The verb and the object are cognate forms. The verb form αὔξω according to B-D-F §101 is always intransitive in the NT. If this is so, then the accusative αὔξησιν is not marking direct object, but a cognate accusative marking a qualitative idea, i.e. “grows with the growth provided by/sourced in/defined by God.” The genitive τοῦ θεοῦ could define source, agency, or quality.
The noun σῶμα is modified adverbially by the present participles ἐπιχορηγούμενον καὶ συμβιβαζόμενον, which in turn are defined by the prepositional phrases διὰ τῶν ἀφῶν καὶ συνδέσμων (joints and ligaments). This cluster of participles and phrases enables us to understand how the body is able to grow. The participles are passive forms. The first means “being furnished, supplied, supported (providing what is necessary)” and the second means “unite, bring together as one unit” (note use in Col. 2:2 to mean instruct). Presumably the source of this supply and unity is ἐξ οὗ, i.e. “from the head, from the Messiah.” So the Messiah “supplies and unites through joints and ligaments” and the growth is encouraged in some significant way by God himself. What do the joints and ligaments represent as things provided by the Messiah? Are these gifted individuals given to assist the body build itself (i.e. apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers, pastors, etc.) or all the believers who form the body in all of its diversity?
- 20 Εἰ ἀπεθάνετε σὺν Χριστῷ ἀπὸ τῶν στοιχείων τοῦ κόσμου, τί ὡς ζῶντες ἐν κόσμῳ δογματίζεσθε;
In v. 12 Paul had referred to believers as those who had been buried together with Christ in baptism. He picks up this theme in v.20, bringing together the transformation that conversion has generated with the problem of being made subject to rules. He uses a first class condition, assuming the reality of the condition, expressed in the aorist verb ἀπεθάνετε. For the phrase ἀπὸ τῶν στοιχείων τοῦ κόσμου see v.8. The preposition emphasizes the sense of separation. Presumably this means these “cosmic elements” have no power over the one who has “died with Messiah.” Rather the believer is under the control of his “head,” the same person who also is the “head” of these powers. The apodosis is an interrogative, introduced by the adverb τί = why. The indicative verb δογματίζεσθε is in the present middle/passive form. BDAG suggests that the passive means “permit yourselves to be put under rules and regulations.” The verb means to “to establish or publish a decree,” “to proclaim an edict,” or “to represent and affirm an opinion or tenet.” The sense is of a renewed enslavement to decrees or edicts. The comparative particle ὡς suggests the sense “as if” in tandem with the present participle ζῶντες (“as if living in the sphere of the world’s power”). Does ἐν κόσμῳ contrast with ἐν Χριστῷ?
- 21-22 μὴ ἅψῃ μηδὲ γεύσῃ μηδὲ θίγῃς·  ἅ ἐστιν πάντα εἰς φθορὰν τῇ ἀποχρήσει, κατὰ τὰ ἐντάλματα καὶ διδασκαλίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων,
Paul gives three examples of such edicts expressed by this “philosophy.” These prohibitions are all aorist subjunctives. They express ascetic taboos of a religious nature. What the difference might be between touching (ἅψῃ) and handling (θίγῃς) is not explained directly. A relative clause follows, giving additional information about such regulations and perhaps defining those things which should not be touched, tasted or handled. Within the relative clause the relative pronoun ἅ is the subject of ἐστιν and is also modified by πάντα (“all of which things are for corruption by consuming”). The noun ἀπόχρησις describes the action of “consuming, using up.” Perhaps the sense is that God has intended all of these things “for corruption by consuming,” i.e. to be eaten and consumed. Such regulations are merely humanly constructed “commandments and teachings” (cf. Isa. 29:13 = Mark 7:7). Paul undoubtedly was familiar with such matters from his time as a Pharisee.
- 23 ἄτινά ἐστιν λόγον μὲν ἔχοντα σοφίας ἐν ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ καὶ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ [καὶ] ἀφειδίᾳ σώματος, οὐκ ἐν τιμῇ τινι πρὸς πλησμονὴν τῆς σαρκός.
Paul adds another relative clause, using the pronoun ἅτινά which has the sense “things of this sort which….” The participle ἔχοντα may be a periphrastic construction linked with ἐστιν, emphasizing the current aspect “Things of the sort which have….” The noun λόγος again is interpreted variously – appearance, reputation, etc. For example the expression λόγος σοφίας occurs in 1 Cor. 2:4,13; 12:8. In Col. 2:23, however, it seems to have the sense “regulations of the sort which have on the one hand (μέν) a reputation of wisdom….” The two nouns joined under the preposition ἐν define how this wisdom is being expressed. The first noun ἐθελοθρησκία (cf. the construction in 2:18 θέλων ἐν…θρησκείᾳ) is similar to other formations such as ἐθελοδουλεία “voluntary slavery” (BDF § 118) or ἐθελοσοφία “would-be wisdom” (MH 290). In such formations “the first element ‘governs’ the second” (BDF § 118). So perhaps the sense is of “voluntary worship” or “self-chosen worship” “willful worship” (e.g. ἐθελοδιδάσκαλος self-chosen teacher or ἐθελόδουλος one who wills to be a slave). Ταπεινοφροσύνη may mean humility or “readiness to serve” (cf. 2:18). The noun phrase ἀφειδίᾳ σώματος refers to ascetic practices, with the head noun meaning “sparing very little for” or “treating severely.” It is unclear textually whether καί #2 is original or not. If it is not, then this noun phrase may define how this wisdom finds expression, i.e. in harsh treatment of the body.
The last phrases are prefaced with οὐκ which signals a negative judgment on such practices. Perhaps it conveys contrast to the prior μέν. Adhering to such regulations is “not with any honour or value.” Πλησμονή means “satisfaction or gratification.” Such practices have no value for “the indulgence of the flesh.” Perhaps as BDAG suggest, this is a negative statement indicating that these regulations cannot deal with the temptations of the flesh. Πρός has an extended sense of “against.” However, this phrase may be an independent element defining what this “apparent wisdom” results in, i.e. the gratification of the flesh.
 Other occurrences of this expression in Paul’s letters are found in Rom. 1:13; 11:25; 1 Cor. 10:1; 11:3; 12:1; 2 Cor. 1:8; 1 Thes. 4:13).
 Paul mentions similar struggles for the Gospel and the advancement of the Messiah’s mission in Phil. 1:30; 1 Thes. 2:2; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7).
 C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek (Cambridge University Press, 1971), 145.
 Blass, Debrunner, Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1961), §448(5). This is a usage found in Classical Greek.
 Although some do apply this to the believer.
 What knowledge of the crucifixion of Jesus might this analogy suggest Paul possessed?
 We have seen Paul use this kind of structure several times. He introduces a key thought in the main verb and then defines its implications more specifically through a series of following adverbial participles.
 Many manuscripts read μη εορακεν which denies that these religious pagans had seen anything significant or had any ecstatic religious experience. However the earliest and usually sound texts do not read this negative.