Notes on the Study of Colossians; Pt. 2

secondary_series2013ColossiansE. THE COLOSSIAN HERESY

  • The Colossian heresy was apparently a mixture of Jewish, Greek, and pagan ideas. We really know nothing about it, except from the implications in the epistle itself. We suppose that the ideas and practices criticized by Paul in Colossians are indications of beliefs and practices actually current among the Colossians.
  • Basically the Colossian heresy was a denial of the adequacy and perfect supremacy of Christ. See Col. 1:15; Col. 1:19; Col. 2:2; Col. 2:9. Thus Paul attacks the heresy by telling of Christ’s true nature, glory, and work.Every heresy that has ever existed has involved in some way a denial of Christ’s perfection and adequacy. Can you think of any heresy that has not in some way downgraded Christ, or rejected part of what the scriptures say about Him?
  • It denied Christ’s part in creating the material world (Col. 1:16-17). It denied that Christ came in a physical body (Col. 1:22; Col. 2:9).
  • It had numerous Jewish teachings: circumcision (Col. 2:11); laws about meats, drink, feast days, new moon, and Sabbath days (Col. 2:16).
  • It had an emphasis on Philosophy, a Greek emphasis no doubt. (Col. 2:8). It exalted human wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:3).
  • It had an element of snobbishness in it (Col. 1:21; Col. 1:28). It gave its devotees a feeling of superiority over the rest of the poor unenlightened masses. This is a natural feeling for any people who adopt a religion based on human wisdom and philosophy.
  • It included various forms of asceticism. Asceticism is deliberate severe treatment of the body for religious purposes. Thus fasting (not eating), or wearing uncomfortable or nonconformist clothing, or placing oneself in painful positions for long periods of time, are all types of asceticism. The Colossians thought there was religious merit to be gained by obeying such human laws as “Handle not, nor taste, nor touch.” (Col. 2:16; Col. 2:21; Col. 2:23). They had forgotten that the only merit we can claim is the merit of Christ.
  • In the fact of the real snobbishness produced by the Colossian heresy, there was a deliberately practiced false humility, which was exhibited by acts of severity to the body. (Col. 2:23).
  • There was a worship (or devotion to) angelic and demonic beings. (Col. 1:16; Col. 1:10; Col. 2:15; Col. 2:18).
  • Some interpreters (e.g., Wm. Barclay) say that the Colossian heresy included astrological teachings and worship of the heavenly bodies. They maintain that the word rudiments in Col. 2:8; Col. 2:20 refers to the signs of the zodiac. This is by no means a proved fact. The term rudiments may just as probably refer to the Jewish law (as it does in Gal. 4:3), or to pagan religious ideas, which are very rudimentary when compared to divine truth, even though they ate expressed in big philosophical words.


  • Gnosticism was a terrible heresy that infected the church very deeply in the first century after Christ, and even more so in the second century. Those who believed in Gnosticism were called Gnostics (pronounced NAHSS-tix). The Colossian heresy resembled Gnosticism in some respects, and that is our reason for considering it here.
  • The name Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis, which means knowledge. Thus the Gnostics considered themselves the knowing ones, the enlightened ones. To them salvation was not a matter of faith, obedience, and holiness, but came by knowing certain mystical information. It was purely an intellectual approach to life and religion.
  • The primary idea of Gnosticism seems to have been that spirit and matter are opposed to one another. Spirit (to them) was all good, and matter completely evil. The two could never come into direct contact.
  • Matter was eternal, they thought.
  • God, being spirit, is all good. He can have no contact with material things, for they are matter. God cannot have been the creator, for that would have involved him in contact with the material world. The supreme God was sometimes called the pleroma, or fulness. Compare Col. 1:19.
  • Jesus, being divine, could not really have come in a human body, for that would have involved mixing spirit and matter. He only seemed to have a material body. Some of the Gnostics were later called Docetists, from the Greek verb doeko, which means to seem; for they said that Christ only seemed to have a material body. (Observe that this teaching is apparently condemned in Col. 2:9; Col. 1:22; 1Jn. 4:2-3; 2Jn. 1:7.)
  • Between God and man there was supposedly a long series of intermediary beings, which were called aeons. These intermediary beings became less and less spiritual, and more and more material the farther they got from God. Christ Jesus was supposedly one of these aeons, a high one evidently. The lowest aeon, called the demiurge, was the creator of the earth and material things.You will observe that Colossians contradicts these ideas, and affirms that Christ was both the very image of God, and yet also the creator of everything. (Col. 1:15-19).
  • Because matter is evil, and because our human bodies are matter, they are evil. Therefore God, being spirit, is not involved with our bodies.This idea produced two quite opposite practical results:

(1) It produced asceticism in some. Some Gnostics said that since the body was evil it should be abused and subjugated by fasting and self-denial. This seems to be reflected in Col. 2:20-23.
(2) It produced licentiousness in others. These Gnostics said that since God is not concerned with the body, we could do with it as we pleased. Thus they freely committed sins of all types. This belief and practice seems to be condemned in Colossians, chapter three.

  • Several second century Christian writers (e.g., Irenaeus) wrote strongly against Gnosticism. Recent archaeological discoveries of Gnostic writings in Egypt have given us a clearer idea of the actual teachings of Gnosticism, and have shown us why Paul and the faithful early Christians opposed it so bitterly. (See the Biblical Archaeologist, Feb. 1961, pp 10–13, for revealing information.)
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