Colossians 2:6-15


The Judaizers in the Galatian congregations, the Gnostics in Colosse, the works-righteousness of Rom and the charismatics today have this in common: faith in Christ is not enough. Something needs to be added. But that spells death to true Christianity.

The authorities differ in their assessment of the false teaching at Colosse. Some say it was a form of Judaistic teaching. Others feel that it was a combination of Judaism and incipient Gnosticism. Evidently Epaphras was baffled by the false teaching. He travelled from Colosse to Rome to consult with Paul. Perhaps the false teaching was as nebulous to Epaphras and Paul as it is to us today.

In verse 4 we get the first clear indication of the false teaching which was bothering the Colossian Christians. What was this false teaching? As mentioned above, it is difficult to describe with precision. It was a form of Gnosticism, legalistic, pietistic and certainly was downgrading Christ. It is as difficult to describe as some aspects of the charismatic movement today which really has no definite doctrines because it is so subjective.

The division of Paul's Epistles into paragraphs is seldom easy. Some have suggested:

Verses 6-7: Living in Christ is sufficient;

Verses 8-10: Beware of false teaching;

Verses 11-15: The centrality of the atonement.

Colossians 2:6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,

"So then" points back to the idea of "stable faith" introduced in verse 5. Verses 6-7 constitute one sentence. The main clause is the last words in verse 6.

Kretzmann: The true Christians are not looking for some new doctrine that may tickle their fancy, for some new leader to show them a new way to heaven; they abide by the old doctrine of sin and grace, as they have been taught.

Incidentally, Paul is talking about what they have been taught, not about oral tradition.

Colossians 2:7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

This verse is built around four adverbial participles which modify the verb in verse 6. They show us why the Christian can live as Paul commands them to live.

"Rooted" is a passive, a metaphor from agriculture. Christians are firmly rooted, lastingly so.

"Built up" is another passive, another metaphor taken from the building trade. Christians are constantly being built up. How? In faith.

"Faith" denotes the faith relationship to Christ. Paul says: "How? Namely, in faith." Faith as teaching, or doctrine. "Being strengthened in the doctrine just as you have been taught." "Strengthened" is also passive.

Bengel: This constitutes and shows the lawful and joyful use of things, which some load with prohibitions.

True. That is very important here because Paul clearly indicates later in the Epistle that the false teachers claimed that abstinence from certain things made the people more religious. False religion very often either revels in materialism or despises material. Asceticism feeds the flesh rather than starves it. True Christianity uses all gifts of God rightfully with thanksgiving.

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Verses 8-10 comprise one section. In this section Paul warns the Colossian Christians concerning the false teaching and then bridges over to the antidote: what Christ means for us.

The versions vary in the number of sentences they have. But they all agree that verse 8 is a single verse.

The use of the indicative mood here likely indicates that the danger is very real. What is the danger? The final indictment of the false doctrine is that it does not accord with the truth as it is revealed in Christ.

Paul is not here condemning the use of philosophy. Matthew 15:8-9 is a good commentary on this phrase. By the way, Ephesians 5:6 explains the earlier part of the verse. On the second part look at Colossians 2:20 and Galatians 4:3 and 9.

Whatever the false teaching in this congregation was, it was "other than Christ." And what this phrase means becomes clear in verses 9-15. Evidently the false teachers were denying or at least obscuring the clear teaching about the person of Christ and His Work.

Bruce: We cannot be sure that we have grasped all the features of the controverted teaching. . . . It appears, however, to have included elements of both Jewish and pagan origin. . . At Colosse, while the legal element is prominent, it is associated with an asceticism which was not characteristic of the main stream of Jewish life. . . . The effect of such a system of thought was the undermining of the basic Christian doctrine of creation and of the incarnation and mediation of Christ.
The Apology, Tappert p. 167: Moreover, the Scriptures predicted that human traditions and the teaching of works would obscure the righteousness of faith in this way. So Paul often complains that even then there were some who in place of the righteousness of faith taught that men were reconciled to God and justified by their own works and devotions, not by faith for Christ's sake.

Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,

Some non-Lutheran commentators want to refer this verse only to Christ's state of exaltation, but the verse does not say that.

Bengel: The fullest Godhead dwells in Christ, not merely the divine attributes but the divine nature itself.

On this verse look at John 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 3:16. Paul annihilates the feathery, deceitful, worldly religion of the false teachers by simply saying: "The total divinity of God dwells in Christ bodily."

Bruce: If the fullness of deity resided in Him, His fullness was imparted to them.
Kretzmann: In this fullness the believers take part. And it is in Him that you are made full, who is the Head of all principality and power. In Christ the believers reach their full life.

We need nothing but the true Christ.

The Formula of Concord,  Tappert p. 597: In him the divine and human are personally united in such a way that in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and in this personal union they have such an exalted, intimate, and ineffable communion that even the angels marvel at it and find their delight and joy in looking into it, as St Peter testifies in 1 Peter 1:12. . . . We therefore hold and teach with the ancient Church, as it explained this doctrine on the basis of Scripture, that the human nature in Christ has received this majesty according to the manner of the personal union, that is, because the fullness of deity dwells in Christ, not as in other godly human beings or in the angels, but 'bodily,' as in its own body. This fullness shines forth with all its majesty, power, glory, and efficacy in the assumed nature, spontaneously and when and where he wills.

Colossians 2:10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

"And therefore." The first part of verse 10 grows out of verse 9. It is the result of verse 9. His fullness fulfilled me. He made me complete. That is so only because of what He did and is. I receive it all by grace through faith. This verse says: "You need absolutely nothing else than Christ."

From here on Paul tells us exactly what Christ did for all of fallen mankind which is always seeking delusion rather than Christ. Paul is speaking of the universal atonement.

The Apology, Tappert p 131: He writes to the same effect in Colossians 2:10: "You have come to fullness of life in him.' It is as though he were saying, 'Though you are still far away from the perfection of the law, still the remnant of your sin do not condemn you, because for Christ's sake we have a firm and sure reconciliation through faith, though sin still stick to your flesh.

The latter part of verse 10 means that Christ is the head of all created power. The God-man, Jesus Christ, is Lord of creation and redemption. Everything is subject to Him. He has created me. He has redeemed me. Nothing can hurt me. Let no one ever tell a simple believer in Christ that he is not a "completed Christian." Objective justification, objective reconciliation, the universal atonement, covers all people. "In Him you are complete" covers everybody. They realize it when they come to faith. But let no one ever tell that person that he is an incomplete Christian.

It is remarkable that in verses 11-15 the verbs and participles which denote what Christ did for mankind are all in the active voice but that the verbs and participles which denote what was done to the individual Christian are in the passive voice. Furthermore, verse 13 speaks of natural man as being dead in his sins. Verse 15 ends with a note of triumph over man's worst enemies. All synergism is eliminated.

Colossians 2:11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,

"In him" of course refers to Christ. Verse 10 spoke of objective justification. Verse 11 speaks of the subjective appropriation of what Christ did objectively for all men.

Here Paul compares what happened to the Old Covenant people in circumcision which was a sign and seal of the righteousness of God. From verse 12 we know that Paul is speaking of baptism.

To be circumcised means to be cut off from sin. This verse speaks of spiritual circumcision, which is baptism. It amounts to putting off the body of the flesh. The dominion of the sinful flesh is in the body. In baptism this dominion is actually put away. We still have a sinful flesh but its dominion is broken. It is a Christian circumcision. Christ is the cause of it. His power lies behind it. Since Paul is drawing a comparison between circumcision and baptism here, isn't he definitely condoning infant baptism? I can't be otherwise.

The Apology, Tappert p 188: Wherever Paul describes conversion or renewal, he almost always names these two parts, mortifying and quickening. Colossians 2:11, "In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.' And later on, 'You were also raised with him through faith in the working of God' There are two parts here. The one is putting off the body of sins, the other is being raised through faith. Mortifying, quickening, putting off the body of sins, being raised -- we are not to understand these terms in a Platonic sense as counterfeit changes; but mortification means genuine terrors, like those of the dying, which nature could not bear with the support of faith. Thus what we usually call contrition Paul calls 'putting of the body of sins' because in these troubles our natural lust is purged away. And quickening should not be understood as a Platonic figment but as consolation truly sustaining a life that flees in contrition.

Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Romans 6:4 speaks of the same truth here. It surpasses our comprehension and must simply be believed. In our baptism we are actually buried and raised with Christ. With Christ we die to sin and with Christ we rise to newness of life. Notice the passive verbs.

Baptism is so powerful that it causes us to be raised from the dead. How does that come to us? Through faith. "Through faith produced by the power of God." Faith is worked in our hearts through the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Apology, Tappert p 143: Such a faith is not an easy thing, as our opponents imagine; nor is it a human power, but a divine power that makes us alive and enables us to overcome death and the devil. Just so Paul says that through the power of God faith is efficacious and overcomes death.

Be careful here, at this point Tappert quotes the RSV which takes "the working of God' as objective genitive, thus negating the very point which the Apology is making.

Bengel: Paul's expression here is remarkable. Faith is of divine working, and divine working is in believers. See Ephesians 1:19; 2:8; and 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Lenski: Luther heads the list of those who regard the genitive as a genitive of cause: 'The faith which God works.' So this passage has come to be a strong proof against synergism. The fact that faith is completely God's production is the teaching of all Scripture.

Only the Lutheran Church in its teaching clearly understanding what justifying faith is.

Colossians 2:13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Spiritual death was caused by sin. Christ's physical resurrection bears fruit in the spiritual resurrection of the person who is baptized. Christ left no sin unforgiven.

Colossians 2:14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

This verse tells us what Christ did for us on the cross. The accusations and condemnation of the Law put us into a situation from which we could not possibly rescue ourselves.

The Apology, Tappert p 188: The handwriting is the conscience denouncing and condemning us; it is the voice that says with David in 2 Samuel 12;13: 'I have sinned against the Lord.'
Lenski: Not only the writing was stricken out, the very document itself perished on the cross. . . . Christ was so nailed to the cross, and in him the law was nailed to it; Christ, when nailed up, died; so did the law. Christ rose again, but NOT the law; Christ rose because his death killed the law forever.

Colossians 2:15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

This verse means that Christ completely stripped all evil, spiritual powers of their armor and publicly showed Himself Victor over them when He descended into hell. As in a Roman Triumph He declared Himself Victor over them.

Lenski: This is historical, the verbs state facts that occurred. When? When Christ descended to hell, see 1 Peter 3:18-19. Then he took captivity itself captive, Psalms 68:18; Ephesians 4:8, crushed the serpent's head, Genesis 3:15.

This verse should do away with modern man's fear and despondent preoccupation with demonic forces and fate. However, look at television, astrology, cults, morbid books, the threat of war, pornography, etc, etc, to find that preoccupation. It is demonic.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 49-53. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index