False religions / Head and body (2:8-23)

(false religions / head and body) 

False religions

Paul expresses his concern for the Colossians: “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men (「人間的遺傳」), after the rudiments of the world (「世上的小學」), and not after Christ.” (2:8) Paul also expresses a similar concern in Ephesians: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men (「中了人的詭計」), and cunning craftiness (「欺騙的法術」), whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (E 4:14) But Paul elaborates more on the kinds of false doctrines that are affecting the Colossians. The Colossians are being influenced in their minds by different theories or religious beliefs:

1. “philosophy” 
Philosophy is common in a Greek civilized world. Philosophy leads people to seek explanations to hard questions, especially about truth. However, truth is not found in human wisdom or the minds of philosophers. As Paul said before, in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”  (2:3).

2. “tradition of men” 
Jesus has once rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for transgressing the commandment of God by their tradition. (Matt 15:3) He said, “in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”. (Matt 15:9) He rebuked them and said, “even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matt 23:28) Each race has its own custom and tradition that is often in conflict with Christian faith. The Colossians are vulnerable to their own traditions.

3. “the rudiments of the world” 
In Paul’s eyes, the worldly theories or beliefs are considered rudimentary, compared with the profound knowledge of Christ. In C 2:20-21, Paul uses this term “the rudiments of the world” again, referring to certain human doctrines of prohibition such as "touch not, taste not, handle not”. In Christ, we have the full knowledge about truth; there is no need to append any worldly belief to it. Hence, in C 2:9-10, he says, “for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power”. Moreover, any power from the nature is subdued under Christ. To worship any form of power other than Christ is a folly.

There are other unhealthy beliefs that make Paul worry about the Colossians’ faith:

4. Circumcision 
“In whom (Christ) also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” (2:11) In the section of “the Son”, we have discussed the confusion made by the circumcised Jews who stipulate that the Gentiles need be circumcised to become a church member. Paul has explained clearly what he means by “true” circumcision in Rom 2:28-29.

5. Legalism 
There are those legalistic Jews who stick to the law of Moses and deliberately put extra burdens on the Gentiles. In terms of the forgiveness of sin, Jesus has fulfilled what is required by law: “having forgiven you all trespasses, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” (2:13-14) In Ephesians, Paul says the same thing: “having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances. (E 2:15) The righteousness of law is substituted by righteousness of faith, and the righteousness of God is attained. (Rom 3:21-22) It is not necessary to abide by any ordinance to obtain salvation. Therefore, Paul says, “let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.” (2:16)

Paul has argued over the issue of eating idol food, and advised, “If any man say unto you, ‘this is offered in sacrifice unto idols’, eat not for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake…Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other; for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?...Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor 10:28-31)

The author of Hebrews points out that the first tabernacle, “which was a figure for the time then present (「作現今的一個表樣」), in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect…which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” (Heb 9:9-10) He continued, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” (Heb 10:1) “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, ‘Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.’ ” (Heb 10:4-5) "By the which will (God's will) we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Heb 10:10) Hebrews' explanation of the sign (figure, shadow) of law and ordinances is in accordance with Paul's word here in C 2:17, "Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ (「那形體卻是基督」)."

Sabbath day is a holy day. In Exo 35:2, God says, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.” However, the author of Hebrews also points out that the “first” Sabbath is a “figure” of speech. He says in Heb 4:9 that “there remaineth therefore a rest (NRSV, “a Sabbath rest still remains”) to the people of God.” (「必另有一安息日的安息為神的子民存留」) Jesus even plainly points to himself that “the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.” (Matt 12:8) Blindly keeping the Sabbath without acknowledging this key point is meaningless.

6. “Voluntary humility” 

Paul warns that “let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility (「故意謙虛」)…” (2:18) “Voluntary humility” is a form of self-debasement, similar to asceticism (禁慾主義) practiced in Paul’s era. In the following verses, Paul mentions again this kind of belief: "why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not, taste not, handle not, which all are to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." (「這些規條使人徒有智慧之名,用私意崇拜,自表謙卑,苦待己身,其實在克制肉體的情慾上,是毫無功效。」) (2:20-23) In early church days, Gnosticism (智慧主義 or 諾斯底主義) is a popular religious belief, which generally takes the form of dualism or mystical wisdom or knowledge (the Greek word "gnosis" means knowledge). Dualism leads the believers to two different behavioral extremes: self-restraint or self-indulgence. This is what Paul rebukes as "a show of wisdom in will-worship" and “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (「隨著自己的慾心,無故地自高自大」)(2:18). The reasoning behind it is that the Gnostics uphold human spirit and degrade the flesh of the body, because they believe that sin remains in the body only. Some restrain the body from committing sin while the others indulge the body to sin since the spirit is kept intact.

7. "Worshipping of angels" (2:18) 

As said previously, Gnosticism can be some sort of believing in mystical wisdom. Since angels are commonly believed to be wiser than humans, the Gnostics do worship angels. Hence, Paul says that these fellows are “intruding into those things which he hath not seen” (2:18). Some even believe Christ a bit more superior than angels but lower than God. That prompts Paul to keep reminding the Colossians of the equality of Christ with God the Father.

Head and body

While denouncing all those human wisdom and false religions as “not after Christ” (2:8), Paul stresses the deity of Christ and our relationship with Him. In C 2:9-10, he says, “for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power”.  Christ is the “head” of the church and the head of everything—this is the main theme of this epistle. Two other places to state that Christ is the head of the church: "He is the head of the body, the church” (1:18); “And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered”. (2:19)

In terms of our relationship with Christ, we have discussed 2:11-13 in the section “the Son” about our past and present status when speaking of His effect of reconciliation. When we are buried with him and raised with him, our new life is not only dead to sin but dead to law. Any ordinance that confines us he has nailed on the cross. (2:14) “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it (the cross)(「就仗著十字架誇勝」).” (2:15) As a result, he “is the head of all principality and power” (2:10) and “the head of the body, the church” (1:18). He is “the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together (「筋節得以相助聯絡」), increaseth with the increase of God (「就因神大得長進」) ”. (2:19) This is a description of our human body functioning under the head. In E 4:15-16, after mentioning the craftiness of human doctrines, Paul says, “speaking the truth in love, (we) may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part (「全身都靠他聯絡得合式,百節各按各職,照著各體的功用彼此相助」), maketh increase of the body (「便叫身體漸漸增長」) unto the edifying of itself in love.” In E 4:13, Paul says that the church is to grow up like a human body “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (「滿有基督長成的身量」).” How does the church grow? It grows or “increases” by having the church members “knit together” (2:19) “in the unity of faith” (E 4:13) and in the love of Christ. This is precisely the hope and purpose of Paul’s writing this epistle: “For I would that…their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love (2:1-2)