- Locate the Passage
2:8-15 continues Paul’s hortatory instructions to the Colossians and gives a warning against the false teaching in Colossae. This is part of a larger section (2:8-23) warning the believers about the danger of turning aside to the heresy. Each paragraph employs grounds for the exhortation to remain faithful. 2:8-15 is a generic warning while 2:16-23 gives a more specific expanded warning against the false teaching.
- Identify the Genre
The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is hortatory.
- Determine the Structure of the Passage
The passage has a grounds-exhortation structure, where the exhortation in 2:8 (“don’t be taken captive”) finds its grounds or reasoning in 2:9-15. The first grounds is given in vs. 9, signaled by the conjunction hoti, that “the fullness of God’s nature dwells in Christ in bodily form.” The second grounds is given in vs. 10, connected to vs. 9 with the conjunction kai, that “you have come to completeness in Him who is the head over every ruler and authority.”
Vs. 11-15 is an expansion of the grounds in vs. 10 and describes how it is that the Colossians find their spiritual completion in Christ. Specifically, vs. 11-12 describes the spiritual circumcision of the believer, which is the first way the believers are made complete in Christ; and vs. 13-15 describes how God makes the believer alive, despite being dead in trespasses, which is the second way the believers are made complete in Christ. There are two participles in vs. 13-14 that describe the means of this resurrecting work, charisamenos (“forgiving”) and exaleipsas (“having erased”). The second participle could be read as a simple restatement of the first, but more likely expresses the means by which the first is accomplished. Thus, the argument could be summarized as follows: Believers can be made spiritually alive despite their sin because God forgives their sins by erasing the certificate of debt against the believer. Vs. 15 is an inclusio with vs. 10, where “rulers and authorities” in vs. 15 corresponds to “every ruler and authority” in vs. 10. The connection between vs. 14 and vs. 15 seems to be an implicit reference to the result of Jesus’ work on the cross, namely, that in addition to canceling the debt of our sin, Jesus also triumphs over the rulers and authorities.
- Exegete the Passage
Vs. 8 gives a warning that parallels with vs. 4 but is stated more strongly here. Paul urges the Colossians not to be taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit.” Paul is not here condemning philosophy as a category but more probably the particular philosophy (Paul uses the definite article tes, so this could be translated “the philosophy”) that was circulating in Colossae that threatened to draw the Colossians away from Christ. This philosophy is not of Christ but is according to the “elements (stoicheion) of the world.” Stoicheion is an obscure word best understood as “principles” or “propositions.”
Vs. 9 gives the first grounds for the exhortation: “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ.” Once again, Paul polemically addresses the common Greek concept of the pleroma (“the fullness of deity”), a system of thirty aeons (see note on 1:19). Jesus, not the deities of the Greeks, is the fullness of deity. Jesus is God incarnate; therefore, to be taken captive by another philosophy is indeed “empty deceit.”
Vs. 10 gives the second grounds for the exhortation: “…and you have been filled by Him who is the head over every ruler and authority.” Paul states that the Colossians find their spiritual completion or fulfillment in Christ. Therefore, to abandon Him is to turn from all that God desires to complete in them.
Vs. 11-15 describe the two means through which the Lord accomplishes this work of spiritual completion in them. First, in vs. 11-12, they are spiritually circumcised (“you were circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands”) in the circumcision of Christ when they were buried and raised with Him. What does “the circumcision of Christ” mean here, if not referring to physical circumcision? It should be noted that in the Old Testament, circumcision had both a negative and a positive connotation. The Jews could be “cut off” for God or from Him, based on their covenant obedience or disobedience. Physical circumcision was a physical sign of a spiritual commitment to be separated unto the Lord. The Lord would bless obedience and curse disobedience. If disobedient, the Jews would be “cut off” from the Lord. Paul is likely using a word play here. Christ was “cut off” from God because of our disobedience. In His circumcision, we also experience circumcision, but in the positive sense: we can be cut off for God because Jesus was cut off from God, not because of His own sin but because of ours.
Vs. 13-14 describes the second means through which the Lord accomplishes the work of spiritual completion in the Colossians. They are made spiritually complete because although they are spiritually “dead in trespasses…He made you alive with him” (vs. 13a). Vs. 13b describes how those who are spiritually dead can be made alive: “forgiving us all our trespasses.” This is followed by another participle describing the means through which our sins are forgiven: “having erased (exaleipsas) the certificate of debt with its obligations that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross” (vs. 14). If a person committed a crime or owed a debt in the Roman world, they would be imprisoned and a “certificate of debt” listing their offense as well as the price that must be paid for their offense would be posted over the door of their cell. Using a vivid analogy, Paul says that this certificate of debt was taken from over the heads of the Colossian believers and placed over the head of Christ who paid the debt of their sin in full, thus enabling God to extend them pardon. God can forgive the sins of those who were spiritually dead because Jesus paid the penalty of their sin in their place. This is significant – God does not decide merely to forgive without cost. Rather, He pays the cost for their forgiveness Himself. The forgiveness of sins, which is necessary to being made spiritually alive, is a result of the cross.
Vs. 14 is one of the clearest examples in Scripture of penal substitutionary atonement. God can declare sinners forgiven because Jesus died as their substitute.
Vs. 15 gives an additional result of the cross, namely, the victory of Christ over the rulers and authorities over which He has previously been described as the head (vs. 10). Vs. 10 and vs. 15 serve as book-ends to mark off the work Paul describes as the spiritual completion of the believers. Paul employs the language associated with the ancient Roman triumph parade. In military victory, the conquering general would return to his city, publicly shaming the commanders of the defeated armies. In a similar way, the cross, which was very much a public display of shame, was actually the means through which God triumphed over the rulers and authorities, shaming them.
- Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Structure of the Sermon
- Warning: Don’t be taken captive… (2:8)
- Because Jesus is God (2:9)
- Because You are Spiritually Complete in Him (2:10)
- You are made spiritually complete by a spiritual circumcision (2:11-12)
- You are made spiritually complete when He makes you spiritually alive (2:13-15)
- This happens because of the forgiveness the cross brings (2:13-14)
- This happens because of the victory the cross brings (2:15)