John T. Willis

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Human Philosophy--Colossians 2:8-15

God created human beings with many amazing capabilities. One of these amazing capabilities is philosophy, "the love of wisdom," the science which investigates the facts and principles of reality and of human nature and conduct; the science which comprises logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and the theory of knowledge. Philosophy includes the idea of a body of philosophical principles, especially the body of principles underlying a certain branch of learning or major discipline, a religious system, a human activity, or the like, for example, the philosophy of history or the philosophy of science. Several centuries before Christ, Greek philosophers proposed the study of philosophy. The more famous philosophers are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Plotinus, etc., in the Medieval Period, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Abelard, William of Occam, and in more recent times, Schleiermacher, Teilhard de Chardin, Hume, Bultmann, Whitehead, etc. Philosophy has made a significant impact on human thought through the centuries, continues to do so, and will continue to do so. This approach is essentially academic, rational, and human centered. Some thinkers talk about God, but usually as an abstract subject, not as a real person who actually created the universe, sustains the universe, and constantly works in the world. God is another "topic" of discussion, not the creator of human beings who think and reason as a gift of the creator.

In Colossians 2:8-19, Paul addresses a type of "philosophy" (see Colossians 2:8) current in his day. Scholars debate over the specific nature of this philosophy. The context of Colossians 2:8-19 indicates the issues Paul has in mind. This blog is an attempt to study Colossians 2:8-15 briefly verse by verse. This section emphasizes the sharp contrast between a human rational way of thinking and a receptive acceptance of God's creativity and revelation throughout history and finally through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I. There is great deception in rational thinking. It is rooted in "HUMAN traditions" [see Mark 7:1-8; Matthew 15:1-9; Acts 17:16-21] in contrast to God's "traditions"--see 2 Thessalonians 2:15. It is motivated by "elemental spirits of the universe" [see Galatians 4:3, 9]--that is, demonic principalities ["rulers and authorities"] who want to exercise their tyranny over human beings--see Colossians 2:10, 15. The Bible teaches that God created numerous angelic beings, and these beings had free will to follow God or reject God. Those who reject God are Satan and his angels--see Matthew 25:41. These invisible spirits are constantly at work among human beings, and one of their methods is to "capture" or "captivate" human hearts by rational thinking without the revelation and work of God. People of follow these spirits and their human agents are "not according to Christ." Verse 8.

II. As in Colossians 1:19, Paul reminds the Christians at Colossae and Laodicea that "in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." The entire fullness of deity [see Romans 1:20] exists in Jesus Christ. Verse 9.

III. The people of God ["you" here is plural] have been "FILLED" in Christ alone. See Romans 15:13; Philippians 1:10-11; John 1:16; Ephesians 1:23; 3:19; 4:13. Thus, there is no "room" or "need" for additional human "philosophy" to satisfy the human heart. Verse 10.

IV. In Christ, all Christians were "circumcised" spiritually by putting off of the body of the flesh. Many Old Testament passages emphasize that true "circumcision" is a heart work, not a physical work [see for example, Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:3-4; 6:10; 9:25-26], and New Testament speakers and writers re-state this same truth--see Romans 2:25-29. Biblically, physical circumcision has always been a "sign" of the "real" truth of "circumcision of the heart." At certain times through history, Jewish teachers and believers have insisted that "physical circumcision" is what is important. Jesus, Paul, and all true biblical teachers and preaches oppose such an idea. "Circumcision" is a putting off of sin by the act of God. Verse 11.

V. Baptism, as an external "sign" or "act," is circumcision in God through Jesus Christ. Baptism consists of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ spiritually re-enacted in every human Christian heart. In this way, God puts off the old person and puts on the new person in this mysterious experience. See 1 Corinthians 15:3-5; Romans 6:1-8. This is not a human act, but an act of God "through faith in the POWER of God," not in the power of human works or activity. Verse 12.

VI. Every person "WAS DEAD" in trespasses and sins, that is, the "uncircumcision of the flesh," but by God's power in Christ Jesus, God "made that person alive together with Christ when he forgave all of us all our transgressions." See Colossians
1:14; 3:13. Verse 13.

VII. On the cross, God through Jesus Christ "erased the record that stood against us with its legal demands," "set this aside," and "nailed" it to the cross. This metaphorical language is rooted in common practices in the first century A. D. according to which the debtor issues a certificate of indebtedness in his own hand as an acknowledgment of his outstanding debts. Rabbi Akiba, Abinu Melkenu, and other Jewish rabbis in the Medieval Period described the relationship between human beings and God as that between a debtor and a creditor. Colossians 2:14 has nothing to do with the later view of certain Christians that this has to do with a pact between human beings and the devil or Satan. Rather, our indebtedness is before God. The teaching of the "philosophers" demanded of their adherents (see Colossians 2:20-21) that they observe the "regulations" which, as legal ordinances, minutely govered the lives and conduct of men--much like the Pharisees whom Jesus Christ exposes in Matthew 23. Such "regulations" gave the legal grounds for entanglement in a debt which human beings are unable to pay. God declares through Jesus Christ that God has forgiven all sins and blotted out indebtedness. See Acts 3:19; Revelation 3:5; 7:17; 21:4. God nailed this to the cross of Jesus Christ. Verse 14.

VIII. On the cross, God "stripped" the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, thus divesting them of their entire power and exposing them of whom they are. In this way, God has "triumphed" over all these demonic powers in the cross. In a triumphal procession God parades [see 2 Corinthians 2:14] the powerless powers and principalities to manifest to all the magnitude of the victory. Their rule has come to an end, they no choice now but to worship the victor--God through Jesus Christ alone. What matters now is Christ alone--no one else, nothing outside or alongside him. Verse 15.

YOU will constantly struggle with human "philosophy" of this or that type. This ia a part of human life. It is inevitable. Above the fray, the Bible calls for faith in God through Jesus Christ as a revealed mystery through the word of God testified in the Bible.

What are YOUR thoughts? Share YOUR insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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