The Colossian Heresy

Crazy Colossians eating kosher on Saturday and worshiping angels 

            Colossae, was a city of Phrygia in Asia Minor in the upper part of the basin of the Maeander, on the Lycus; Hierapolis and Laodicea were in close proximity (Smith). The book of Colossians was written around A.D. 60 by the apostle Paul.  Most likely Paul wrote this letter while in Rome during his first imprisonment.  Colossae was about 100 miles east of Ephesus, and some scholars believe had never been visited by Paul (1:7, 2:1).  Some scholars believe that the Church in Colossae may have been founded by Epaphras (1:7,4:12,13; Phile. 23) (Scofield).  Other scholars believe that Paul had visited Colossae and founded the Church there on his third missionary journey (Smith).

 

The letter to the Colossians is written approximately six years after it was founded with the sole purpose of exposing the heretical teaching that had been spreading there (Criswell).  It is possible that Epaphras visited Paul during his imprisonment in Rome, and he informed Paul of the false teaching that was being propagated in Colossae.  After hearing of this dangerous yet growing movement in the city of Colossae, Paul springs into action.  From studying internal evidence it seems as though someone arrived in Colossae and began to teach a very dangerous philosophy.  Today we know this philosophy as Gnosticism.  Paul attacks the heresy straight on by identifying its characteristics.  Paul points out that the heresy is very persuasive, and it allures men to apostate teaching (v. 4).  The false teaching comes from human tradition not from divine revelation (v. 8).  The heresy is legalistic.  It is a religion consisting of laws concerning food and drink.  It also religiously governs the observance of holydays, times, festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths.  The strict adherence to these outward activities is taught to be essential to holiness (v. 16).  The Colossian heresy also promoted the worship of angels (v. 18).  It is mystical, reportedly to have visions and revelation, and led to a spiritual aristocracy being formed (v. 18).  This heretical teaching also calls for self-abasement, and neglect of the body (v. 23).  “The main object of the epistle is to warn the Colossians against a spirit of semi-Judaic and semi-Oriental philosophy which was corrupting the simplicity of their belief, and was noticeably tending to obscure the eternal glory and dignity of Christ.” (Smith’s Bible dictionary)  “No passage in the N.T. more fully sets forth the eternal glory of the preexistent, omnipotent, exalted, and eternal Son of God than 1:15-23” (Scofield). 

There seems to be somewhat of a distinction of origin in verses 16 and 17.  Paul cautions the Colossian believers to be wary of “Judaizing” teachers, who would try to place a “yoke” of the ceremonial law.  The Bible lets us know that the law of Moses consisted of many laws concerning meats and days.  There were many people that were still trying to keep these commandments even after Jesus Christ came in the flesh, namely the orthodox Jews of the day.  Many people were accepting Christ, and still trying to hold onto the requirements of the law of Moses.  No matter how bad the circumstances are the Jews seem to always cling to their religious customs and observances.  Even after accepting Christ they still seem to struggle with letting go of the external observances of the law, and the customs that they had practiced all of their lives as Jews.  As a result of this struggle the Jews who had lived by the law all of their lives, look at the pagan Gentiles and look at them as “unclean.”  In verse 16, “the present tense of the imperative (krineto) indicates that the heretics and their converts constantly had been criticizing the lack of legal conformity in the church,” (Gannett).   Paul lets the Colossians know that God had made them free, and they do not need to adhere to the legalism of the Jews, or to their ceremonial customs.  So from the text we see that there is a danger of being ensnared by legalism, ritualism, rites, and ceremonies that are derived from Judaism.  Paul says these are the things are a “shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ (v. 17).  Paul lets them know that these outward religious acts are just a picture of the greater fulfillment that we see in Christ.  All of the outward acts are the shadow, and Christ is the One that creates the shadow.  “Why look at the shadow when we can look to Christ, the Author, and the Finisher of our faith?  These ceremonies are shadows, superseded, and should be abandoned.  Since Christ is come, we no longer need the symbols (Heb 8:13; 10:1) (Falwell).” 

There is also a distinction in verses 18 and 19.  From studying these two verses it seems as though this particular portion of the heresy emanates from within Oriental mysticism.  Mysticism embraces three areas of apostasy: carnal humility, carnal worship, and carnal pride.  “The mystics’ carnal humility was expressed by their false humility in their worship of angels, which, says Warren Wiersbe, is ‘the belief that a person can have an immediate experience with the spiritual world, completely apart from the Word of God and the Spirit of God (Gannett).” This error of worship through angels comes from the pagan belief that God is too high, and too holy for sinful people to have access to Him.  As a result of man being too sinful, they invent this level of intermediaries which are angels.  This is a very common belief in mythology, that someone or something has to speak on your behalf to God.  “In the Gnostic initiation, which depicted the redemption from the material world, the awakening from the spiritual sleep was connected with the revelation of the light and with the unveiling of humanity’s true situation under the dominion of angels and demons, against whom the light is able to protect (Ap. John, NHC II/1; 30:11-31:25) (Pokorny).  “Mysticism ultimately derives its authority from a self-actualized, self-authenticated light rising from within.  This irrational and anti-intellectual approach is the antithesis of Christian theology.  The false teachers claimed a mystical union with God,” (MacArthur).  The heretics gave the Colossians a set of rules, and disqualified the church for not abiding by them.  It seems as though the heretics placed themselves in the role of referee between the Colossians and God.  By placing angels as intermediaries between man and God, the heretics reached into their past of mythology, and created a new pattern for prayer to saints in the present day.  Paul reminds the Colossian believers that they can boldly go before the throne of God, to speak to the Lord Himself (Heb 4:16). 

The second area of apostasy with the mystics is in the area of carnal worship.  They claimed that they had a more intimate religious experience because they spoke to the angels, and abstained from certain things, making them more “worthy” before God (v 18,23).  They claimed to have a more complete knowledge of spiritual things, because of their encounters with angels.  These experiences most likely had to do with visions, and other “revelations.”  This causes more problems, because these experiences are completely apart from God’s Word. 

The third area of apostasy with the mystics is that they were “puffed up.”  They had carnal pride.  They didn’t “hold to the Head,” (v 19).  This literally means that they don’t consider Christ to be Lord.  They just think of Him, as possibly an angel, or some king of spiritual intermediary.  “The mystic does not cling to Christ.  He fails to see that Christ is all-sufficient for salvation, and that all that treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him (Colossians 2:3, 9, 10) (pg. 69, Gannett).  This mysticism seems to have a very strong Gentile influence.  The Gentiles had lived all of their lives with these superstitious practices, and they now see this heresy as something very familiar.  Paul recognizes this as another very dangerous error, the heretics are teaching the Colossians that Christ is not very important.  Without Christ there is no redemption from sin, and Paul points out in verse 19, that Christ is the center of everything, and without Him there is nothing. 

The Colossian heresy seems to have a very strong Jewish influence in verses 16 and 17 with the observances of Jewish customs and practices.  In verses 18 and 19 the Colossian heresy seems to have a very strong Gentile influence.  The history of Christianity shows the merging of two very different groups of people; the Jews and the Gentiles in one Christ.  I believe this is how the Colossian heresy came about, and Paul being empowered by the Holy Spirit “tore the tar paper shack down.”

 

           

 

           

         

                                                            Works Cited

 

Criswell, W.A. “Colossae.” Believer’s Study Bible, Logos Library System, 4pp.

(Nashville: Thomas Nelson) (1997): by the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies.

Falwell, Jerry. “Colossians.” King James Bible Commentary, Logos Library System, 1p.  (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) (1997)

Gannett, Alden A. Christ Preeminent: A Commentary on Colossians . Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1998.     

Henry, Matthew. “Chapter 2.” Commentary on Colossians. (1995): 2pp. Online. Internet. 30 October 2002: www.ccel.org

Hubbard, David A. Colossians: Speaks to the Sickness of our Times. Texas: Word Incorporated, 1976.

MacArthur, John. “Colossians and Philemon.” The MarArthur New Testament Commentary. Illinois: Moody Bible Institute, 1992.

Pokorny, Peter. Colossians: a Commentary. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

  

                                   

  

                       

           

           

 

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