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May 04

Christ Vs The Cosmic Forces

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“Jesus is nothing more than a superhuman being”. “He is insufficient, incomplete and weak”. “If you really want deliverance, then recite this magical spell and invoke these angels”. “You can’t really expect Christ to keep you safe”. “Christianity would be okay, but it needs some work”. What if someone at church made some comments like these, or a preacher in the pulpit? What if you heard someone teaching this in a bible class? What if this was the basic view of Christ, that your congregation held?

Christology is the study of Christ, or the teachings about Christ. One can further divide Christology into two main subcategories; the person of Christ and the work of Christ. Over time, many different schools of Christology have arisen. Churches have split, religions were created, and the precious lives of people were affected; for, either a healthy or distorted Christology. The question remains: “Why would it be necessary, to have a correct perception of Christ?”  In the book of Colossians Paul addresses Christian’s who were threatened, from within with distorted, useless philosophies about Christ.

Did these believers or others in the surrounding provinces believe in the deity of Christ, or did they believe he was just some supernatural being? Did they see Christ as the unique creator of the entire universe, or was he himself a part of creation? What exactly was Paul’s Christology asserting? What images was he trying to paint in the minds of his audience?  This research will dissect the poetic portrait of Christ as “firstborn over creation” (verse 15-20), and how this passage relates to the various false teachings. To unpack this phrase, this paper will examine and explain Paul’s Christological assertions, as well as some of the explicit and implicit heretical teachings that he was trying to combat.

 

 

“Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colossae belonged to the province of Asia. Majority of its inhabitants were Phrygian and Greek settlers, but in the early part of the 2nd century B.C. two thousands Jewish families from Babylon and Mesopotamia settled in the region (Josephus Ant. 12.3.4 147-153).  By time of Paul’s day the city was considered a busy populous were many different cultures combined” (O’Brien “Colossians”). The Church at Colossae probably began from the outgrowth of Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19; 20:17–38). So effective was the witness of the church at Ephesus that “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). This would include people in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Wiersbe “Colossians”)

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After beginning with greetings (1:1-8), Paul expresses his continued prayers for the Church (1:8-13); while asking God to give them knowledge, spiritual understanding, and wisdom. The reason why he prays for these specific things is so that they can lives in a worthy manner compared to Christ, and become productive.

Next, Paul introduces a prose; in order to warn the believers, refute false teachings, and instruct them on the proper understanding they should have.[1]here are many compelling arguments on where and how many stanzas to divide this passage into. Some believe that this passage is not a hymn, because of the lack of any clear metonym or meter. At a glance, the repetition of words or phrases in corresponding positions, rich imagery, and parallelism, it is evident this was intended to be piece of poetic mastery. Whether one considers it a liturgical hymn, doxology, or a simple piece of prose; Paul’s goal is clear: “to tap not only into the intellect of his audience by providing logical discourse; but into their emotions through a beautiful piece of poetry as well” (Martin, Ernest.  61).

I. Stanza: exalting Christ as supreme  (the Image of God, Sovereign Creator)

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of  All creation.

16 For by him All things were created,

in heaven and on earth,

visible and invisible,

whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—

All things were created through him and for him.

 

Bridge: Christ the central figure (preexistent, sustainer, and head of Church)

17 And He is before All things, and in him All things hold together.

18 And He is the head of the body, the church.

 

II. Stanza: Christ work as redeemer/ reconciler ( His unique resurrection, absolute  superiority , deity, his reconciliation).

18b He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

that in Everything he might be preeminent.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20

and through him to reconcile to himself all things,

whether on earth or in heaven,

making peace by the blood of his cross.

Capture

 

Within the book of Colossians, there are at least twenty words of assurance and affirmations;[2] in contrast to at least eight rebuttals, or condescending words[3]. This observation illustrates a very practical principle: while it is important to prohibit behavior, it is more important to provide positive reinforcement.   In order to understand the dangerous heresy that threatened the Church during this period it is necessary to have basic idea of the religious background of this region.  Like any other city in the Roman Empire at this time, Colossae was religiously pluralistic. This is evident in the variety of gods and goddesses depicted on a few discovered coins that were originally minted in the city. Some of the “deities” worshiped in Asia Minor n were: Artemis, Zeus, Men, Cybelle Selene, and the Egyptian Isis.  It was common at this time not only to practice polytheism (worship of many gods or goddesses), but to also borrow ideas and aspects of other religions and blend them together; this is know as syncretism (Arnold 370-372).

Describing the common peoples’ fear of the gods, worry of demonic attacks, a 1st century historian wrote an entire essay[4]. The people he wrote about experience dreadful dreams and witness frightening visions. They also live in fear of life beyond the grave. This deep seated anxiety drives some to wear protective amulets and use magical spells (Plutarch, “Des  Superstitiones” lines 164-166)[5]. They generally believed that various spirits and deities held power of ones fate and influenced the affairs of daily life. In addition, numerous inscriptions also show that Jews and Gentiles in Asia Minor tended to invoke various spirit beings for protections and deliverance[6].

Another dangerous element of the Colossian heresy the high value placed on secret wisdom and special revelation  (2:2-4, 2:18). The visionary experience was a core feature of some of the mystery; whose pppp rimary purpose was to enter into a spiritual realm to seek special visions from the gods. Notice the repletion of words like “you will see”[7]

“Draw in breath from the rays, drawing up three times as much as you can, and you will see “yourself being lifted up and (540) ascending to the height, so that you seem to be in mid-air. You will hear nothing either of man or of any other living thing, nor in that hour will you see anything of mortal affairs on earth, but rather you will see all immortal things. For in that day (545) and hour you will see the divine order of the skies: the presiding gods rising into heaven and others setting. Now the course of the visible gods will appear through the disk of god………. And you will see the gods staring intently at you and rushing at you………… Then you will see the gods looking graciously upon you and no longer rushing at you, but rather going about in their own order of affairs (PGM lines 539-585)”(Arnold “Colossians” 391).

 

One of the final aspects of the religious atmosphere of Paul’s audience is the manifestations of extreme forms of behaviors within the context of worship. This is best illustrated by the nature of the worship directed to the mysterious rituals of Cybele and Attis. Worshippers often engaged in dietary restrictions, sever fasting, abstinence from ones’ spouse, and perhaps even self mutilation,  and other extreme bodily abuses” (Arnold, “Colossians” 372-375).

In spite of attempts to label these false teachings as Gnosticism[8], Paul never explicitly describes the false teaching that threatens his audience. To deduce the nature of the heresy, one must infer from the counterarguments Paul made to the false teachers. When one looks at the composite sketch of the statements against the backdrop of Judo- mysticism, and oriental occultism then they can understand the nature of the heresy (Kenneth L Barker, “Intro to Colossians”). One could label the Colossian heresy as a precursor to Gnosticism. However,the evidence more accurately points to several regional or tribal cult practices. The spiritual climate in Asia Minor can best be described as syncretism (blending of different religious ideas and practices) (Arnold, “Colossians” 370-375). Hippolytus describes the teaching of a Christian leader named Elchasai who lived at the end of the 1st century although he was not from Colossae here is an example of how one could mix Christianity, Judaism, and Pagan occultism together[9].

“For Elchasai speaks thus: There exist wicked stars of impiety. This declaration has been now made by us, O you pious ones and disciples: beware of the power of the days of the sovereignty of these stars, and engage not in the commencement of any undertaking during the ruling days of these. And baptize not man or woman during the days of the power of these stars, when the moon, (emerging) from among them, courses the sky, and travels along with them. Beware of the very day up to that on which the moon passes out from these stars, and then baptize and enter on every beginning of your works. But, moreover, honor the day of the Sabbath, since that day is one of those during which prevails (the power) of these stars. Take care, however, not to commence your works the third day from a Sabbath, since when three years of the reign of the emperor Trojan are again completed from the time that he subjected the Parthians to his own sway,— when, I say, three years have been completed, war rages between the impious angels of the northern constellations; and on” (Hippolytus “Refutation of All Heresies” 9.11)

(See chart on the next page  for a summary of Paul’s Counter arguments against the teaching)

A analytical chart on the elements of the Colossians Heresy follows on the next page.[10]

 

 

Paul’s counter arguments or  instructions Elements of the teaching
1:15, 19, 2:9,,  2:17 “Image of the Invisible God”, “whole   fullness of deity dwells bodily”,  These passages seem to suggest   that these teachings, either  striped   him of his deity, or  reduced Christ to   a mere superstitious entity or angel. They did not fully ….understand who He   was, or there was a complete rejection of the person and work of Christ. This   is all implied by Paul’s high “Christology” in this entire book.
2:2-4 “… to reach all the riches   of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s   mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom   and knowledge”.2:18 “…..going on in detail   about visions, puffed up without reason by his carnal mind”.  It appears that one of teachings   of this heresy was the seeking of some secret knowledge; either  as a way to prove their devotion to God, or   as the agent  of their salvation. 
2:11, 2:16 …”questions of food   and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath”.  Strict  observances of certain rituals. They were   probably folk religion which combined aspects of Judaism an various pagan   practices[11].    The New moon refers to astrological   occult practices.
 2:4, 2:8, 2:22. …. in order that no one may   delude you with plausible arguments, 8 See to it that no   one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human   tradition”.   A reliance upon and promotion of human   philosophies and special knowledge , again viewing them as the agent of   salvation.
2:18, 2:21, 2:23. “These have   indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and   asceticism and severity to the body”. Asceticism (False Humlity),   treating body harsh to obtain a sense of spirituality. Severe fasting, self   mutilation, forbidding of marriage.
2:18,  “Let no one disqualify you… asceticism and   worship of angels”.

Worship (calling on) angels for   protection and deliverance..
1:14, 2:8,2:20. “See to it that   no one takes you captive by philosophy..to the elemental spirits of the   world” . Superstitious belief, and common   fear in spirits and demonic forces.

 

 

Throughout humanity’s entire existence, man sought to understand the universe. In vs15-17, Paul attributes eternal lordship over his creation, to Christ the beloved son (v 15-17). Unlocking the grammatical usage of this genitive phrase: “Firstborn of All creation” (Protokos pases ktisis )  is the first step, that helps us decipher the message that  Paul was trying to convey to his audience.

Many have misinterpreted the phrase “firstborn over all” to mean that Christ was the first created thing or the first creation. If this were the meaning that Paul was trying to communicate, then he would have used a different word “Protoktisis” which means literally first creation, or first created things (McDowell 93).

Most Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God was alone in eternity until he began his creative process at a certain time (Rev 3:4).  Christ is the beginning of creation, and God’s first created being. After His creation, he then became God’s agent in the creative process. Rutherford a well-noted author of the Watchtower Society refers to Christ the Word as a spirit creature, while referring  to God as a spirit being(11-16).  He also believes that Christ was a son of God parallel to Lucifer, and the highest class of angels (Rutherford  48-49).

The first issue of importance, is the meaning of the word firstborn “prototokos”. The English word “firstborn” is translated from the Greek word “prototokos”.  In this passage alone, it used twice (Mounce, “Firstborn”). It is interesting, that at least two other forms of the root word “proto”[12] appear in this passage; but for now, we only focus on the word “prototokos”. During classical Greek the word “prototokos” was derived from the word “protos” which means first and the aorist root “tek” which means: one who is born, or a descendent. The active form of prototokos means: to give birth to ones first born; while the passive form refers to the one who is born first. In the LXX[13] the word prototokos is used in one of the two ways. The first usage is in a literal sense of both man and animals, often as a noun in the neuter singular. When this word appears in this context, it is usually paired with the phrase “which opens the womb” (Exod. 13:2)[14].

In ancient times, the first-born carried a place of importance, because they insured the existence of the family into the next generation. Typically the firstborn son inherited his father’s strength (Gen 49:3); as a result they were given a special position in the law (Deut 21:15). Because of this position, the firstborn was usually the recipient of special love and favor from the father. This is evident in the relationship that existed between Isaac and Esau[15] (Bartels “Prototokos” 667).

The second way in which this word can be used is in a figurative sense. In this usage, the two roots from which this word is derived[16] no longer play an important role in the meaning of the word. The more accurate meaning being depicted is the bestowing of special legal rights and honors. In Rabbinic Judaism, the Torah is referred to in a comment on Prov 8:22-23 as the “first created thing i.e. the first born of the way of Yahweh and the earliest of his works”. This means that the Torah holds a special place of favor and prominence in God’s heart (Bartels “prototokos” 669).

The word “firstborn”  aaalso attributes  a uniquely symbolic value of  importance, prominence, and power. One of Job’s friends Bildad, referred to Job’s horrendous condition as him “having his limbs devoured by death’s firstborn” Job 18:13 NIV. He is saying that Job encountered the strongest and most renowned foe that death could send against him. In this usage, we see the concept of firstborn moving from the literal idea of the first one born; to figurative usage of importance or superiority. Interestingly, this phrase is used in the Old Testament[17] when God says to David that he will appoint him as His firstborn, while exalting him as the most exalted amongst all kings of the earth[18]. David was not the first born in his family, nor was he the first king of Israel. Therefore, the usage here refers to position of importance (Ryken, “Firstborn”, Dictionary of Biblical imagery).

In the NT, this word is used eight  times: Luk 2:7, Rom 8:29, Heb 1:6, Heb 11:28, Heb 12:23 Rev 1:5, Col 1:15, Col 1:18[19] (Swanson “GK4758”). Luke states that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son (2:7). The context in this passage provides the clear evidence that the word prototokos carries the literal meaning of the first child physically born[20] (Bromiley 967).

In Rom 8:29, the usage now shifts from the literal, which is mentioned in the above passages, to the figurative. Contextually Paul briefly summarizes the end time for Christians. Within in this view of the after life is the hope of a better future; where the salvation process will be completed.  Based upon this theme of hope, redemption, and glory in the after life, Paul’s line of thought for “firstborn” here is the completion of the fellowship with Christ that is based upon his resurrection. This will not be complete until the final resurrection (v27-29). Paul doesn’t want Christians to forget that Christ is by far no equal to us. Christ as God’s son remains above all other brethren in rank and majesty, while possessing a unique relationship with God (Langkammer  “prototokos” 190)

The assembly of the firstborn ( ecclesia[21] prototokon) in Heb. 12:23 is not the company of angels nor Israel. This assembly is given a title of honor (firstborn), and is in enrolled in heaven. Because the word firstborn here in this context is a plural genitive noun; it is not a reference to the assembly, which belongs to the firstborn (i.e the ecclesia that belongs to Christ), rather firstborn is a description of the “ecclesia”. Likewise this passage is not setting the church alongside Christ in an unparalleled sense. While the author makes it clear that the sons and the Son are closely linked (Heb 2); the fact still remains that he still superior (2:10) (Bartels “prototokos” 669). Since the O.T. righteous are seen in Heb 11 as witnesses, and since the author here is addressing the N.T. community the usage of first born here is attaching a special title of glory, honor and position to the Church (i.e. Ta Ecclesia).

In Col 1:18 the firstborn carries a slightly different meaning, as Christ is now introduced as the beginning of a new series: (the beginning and firstborn from among the dead). Paul views Jesus’ resurrection as superior to either all those who have arisen before or those that are to come. It is important to point out that while he is “the firstborn from the dead”, he is not the first to be resurrected[22]. Therefore, it is obvious that Jesus as firstborn in this passage has nothing to do with order (being the first one resurrected). Instead, this phrase refers to the quality and uniqueness of his resurrection. What is so unique about Jesus resurrection is that it serves as the basis for the general resurrection of all, thus establishing hope for life after death (1Cor 15:1-10,15:20-45); while simultaneously destroying the power, fear, and punishment of death for those who believe (Heb 2:14-18). “While others arose still doomed by corruptibility; Christ arose incorruptible. They arose with no change to their constitution; he arose in a significantly different form[23]. Jesus himself was raised never to die again Acts 13:32” (Elwell 1122).

In v15 Christ is now given the title and position of firstborn over all creation.  the “for” clause of v16 that  depends  on verse 15, expounds upon  this thought .(Langkammer “prototokos” 190).  The point then is not that Christ is the first creature, this would demand a stress on the –tokos and would also bring birth into conflict with creation. What is stated is Christ’s sovereignty  over creation. The term prōtótokos is used, then, because of its importance as a word for rank or superiority. (Bromiley “prototokos” 968). As a result in v15 the word firstborn carries the symbolic meaning of chief,  superiority, uniquely set above etc.

We will now turn our attention the latter part of this phrase: “pases Ktisis”. This phrase could be a partitive genitive, a genitive of reference or a genitive of subordination. If this phrase is not  partitive genitve (as some who follow the Arian logic of interpretation believe), then Christ is a part of creation himself. As a result this interpretation  would reduce Christ to a created being himself (Helyer, “Arius revisited”  63). A partitive Genitive is one that refers to whole of which the head noun is part.  A genitive of reference indicates that in reference to which the noun or adjective it stands related to is true. This usage is not that common. Key words such as : “with reference to” or “with respect to” can be supplied in these cases.  This type of genitive usually modifies the adjective. The third option “Genitive of Subordination” specifies that which is subordinated to or under the dominion of the head noun. This type of genitive usually suggest dominion, priority, or authority.  This type of genitive is depends upon the head noun; it is only used with specific nouns that imply authority or dominion, such as: lord (Kurios), king (basileus ) ruler (archon) etc.   (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond.. 84,104,128). Given the context, ( The substantival genitive “firstborn”, and his role in creation indicated by v17 )  this is a genitive of subordination; although the genitive of reference could fit  in this category as well.  The relationship in view is Christ and creation more specifically all creation. The implicit affirmation of the text is reflected in the NEB’s translation “His  is  primacy over all created things o  r  “the firstborn over all creation”(HCSB) (Martin, Ernest 62). In addition other translations such as the KJV’s rendering  “firstborn of every creature”, is a inadequate translation which can lead some to believe that Christ is nothing more than created being with special powers.

The phrase “because in him” (Hoti en autōi v16) begins a new group of words that support and affirm both his title of deity and his title of sovereign creator. The word “Hoti” (because) indicates the reason why he is considered sovereign, as it functions  as a causal clause. The NIV and ESV both translate this phrase as “by him”, while the NRSV translates it “In Him”; however the most  accurate translation is “In him”. (en autōi), “In Him” in this text, could be an instrumental dative, (which is why some translation use the by him), or could be locative; as others use “in Him”.  The instrumental dative points to Christ as the means by which creation was accomplished. However when ev  er en + dative is used the instrument is usually an inanimate object. Since through him (dia autou ) is also used in this text to indicate personal agency; the best possible fit would be a locative dative. The locative dative indicates the sphere or location in which creation was accomplished were all things created. The phrase “through him” (dia autou ) declares that Christ was the living and active agent in the entire creation process. “Eis auton” for him is an accusative of purpose; not only is he the location where creation takes places and exist, not only is he the living active agent of creation; ultimately he is the reason for creation. (Wallace The Basics of New …. 164-167). From these three phrases (In him, through him, for him), Paul establishes that in Christ is the realm where the creation activity takes place. Christ is also the agent, through which God works, and the goal or purpose for creation; for All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3).

Another interesting literary feature of this verse is how the two verb forms of “create’ (Ktizo) form a bracket around the rest of the material. The first verb “were created” is an aorist passive indicative. This declarative indicative stresses the entire completed action of the verb, the second form is a perfect passive indicative; in this tense, the action is completed in the past, but the emphasis is on the present results of this action.  The point being is that is Christ not only the beginning of creation, but also the very one whose results of the creative process remain presently active. Another way of rendering this passage could be: “all things have been created, and remain in existence” (Black 107-111). Within his creation Paul leaves nothing from under his authority. He expands the concept of “all things” and lists them: in heaven, on earth, visible, invisible. What exactly are these powers and rulers that Paul is referring in the next line[24]? Contextually he could be referring to earthly position of power and authority, however based upon the religious background of this letter; he was more than likely aiming more at the various spiritual powers, and rulers. The range of terms used to describe these spiritual, and angelic creatures reflect the Jewish mysticism of his day. There was a well-developed concept of a hierarchy of Angels as evident by these Jewish documents: 1Enoch 61:10

‘And HE (God) will summon all the forces (Dynameis) of the heavens, and all the holy one above, and the forces of the Lord, the Cherubim,Seraphim Ophanim, all the ruling angels (Archai), … and the other forces (Exousiai)’.

And the Testament of Levi

‘There with him (God), are the thrones (thronoi) and authoriters (exousiai); there praises to God are offered eternally’.

While these texts refer to the angelic hierarchy around the throne of God; Satan the god of this world (2Cor 4:4) has a similar  hierarchy of demons serving him . Even the  Bible itself uses this same concept of a organization structure of wicked spiritual beings[25]. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  (Eph 6:11) (Arnold, Powers of Darkness. 90-94). The Jews, Greeks, Romans, Asians, and Egyptians all believe in spirits who populate the heavens, the underworld an the even the earth (Arnold, Powers of Darkness pg 19)

As verse 17 provides a parallel thought to the previous verses it also functions as a transitional bridge into Paul’s next line of thinking in verses 18-20. The personal pronoun in the Greek text is used for emphasis: “And He Himself”(kai autos estin), “is before all things” Another way of translating this passage is   “Christ absolutely” or “Him and none other”.  This verse summarizes Christ as the preexistent, eternal, Supreme Lord over creation, and the very means through which everything continues to exist[26] . Another passage which bears striking similarity is Hebrews 1:1-3:

Heb 1:1-3 Col 1:15-17
V2whom he appointed the heir of all things V16 all things were created through him and for him.
V3 through whom also he created the world.  V15firstborn of all   creation. For by him all things were created, things in……..
V3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact   imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the V15  He is the   image of the invisible God
V3 and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.   V17 And he is   before all things, and in him all things hold together

In a manner similar to Colossians, the book Hebrews is written to Christians who were making Christ seem inferior to angels, Moses, and the law. The high Christology of Hebrews attributes the same sovereignty over creation and unique deity that Colossians attributes.

In Popular belief during the time of Paul, astrology was more of a religion than a science. People believed that the stars and astral bodies were deities or disembodied spirits. The known planets were even named after deities. As a result the planets and constellations are not only cosmic forces; they were also deities who saw and herd who were glad or sad who had a voice sex could be prayed to and called upon. As a result, astrology became closely linked to other mystery cults and magic. The large number of zodiac signs on statues and temples of pagan worship confirm this. For example, a marble slab of the Ephesians Artemis was found dating back to the first or 2nd century A.D., is depicted wearing a necklace of the different constellations. (Arnold, Powers of Darkness 50-52). Some believed that they could tap into the power of these celestial spirits to aid and assist them; by conjuring up spells during the various zodiac periods of the season:

“A memory spell Take Hieratic Papyrus and write the prescribed names with Hermaic ink. And once tou have written them as they are prescribed, wash them off into spring water from 7 springs and drink the water on a empty stomach for seven days while the Moon is in  the east. (Betz. PGM[27] I.232-47)”

Certain grouping of stars or constellations were often invoked to help them in various circumstances. The following is a magical spell which they invoke one of the star constellations[28]

(The Bear is the constellation Ursa Major, which represents the soul of Typhon)

Formula: “ I call upon you he greatest power in Heaven appointed by the Lord God to turn with a strong hand the Holy Pole, NIKAROPlex. Listen to me, Helios hear the Holy prayer, you who hold together the universe and bring to life the whole world. (Detz. EPMLiber II. XVI[29].)

 

In the next chapter Paul mentions “Elemental Spirits”, many scholars dispute over Paul’s usage of the phrase “Elemental spirits of the world” (2:8 ). This is evident in various translations:

Referred to as personal beings

NRSV: “elemental spirits of the universe.

ESV: “elemental spirits of the world”.

NCV: ruling spirits of this world.

Refereed to as impersonal entities

NIV: “basic principles of this world”.

NASB :“ elementary principles of the world”.

KJV: “Rudiments of the world”.

There is a degree of difficulty translating “Elemental spirits of the world” (stoicheia), into an accurate English; mainly  because of its wide range of meaning. The context of Colossians implies that the “stoicheia” are associated with hostile, cosmic spirits. This interpretation is supported by outside usage of this word in Jewish mythology, religious texts, magical papyri, astrological texts and so on. The Testament of Solomon, (which is a Jewish Apocryphal book) uses this word five times to refer to spirit entities closely linked with zodiac stars:

“72. And I commanded another demon to come before me. And there came before my face thirty-six heavenly bodies  ‘stoicheia’, their heads shapeless like dogs….. And I Solomon, on hearing and seeing them, wondered, and I asked them and said: ‘Who are you?’ But they, of one accord with one voice, said: ‘We are the thirty-six elements “Stoicheia”, the world-rulers of this darkness’ 73 came forward, and said: ‘I am the first decans of the zodiacal circle, and I am called the ram…’ ” (T.Sol 18 lines 72-73)

Paul’s audience would have definitely understood this word to mean evil spirits, or angelic powers. As Paul degrades the cosmic forces, spiritual entities and all others that are hostile, he places them under Christ. By implication, Christ is Lord, so it is unnecessary to rely on these powers. Instead, their trust should be placed in the one who creates all, sustains all, and rules over all.

It is obvious that elements of this philosophy taught a very low view of Christ. Through out this entire epistle Paul expands his Christology, just as a mason lays brick upon brick to build a luxurious home. As this epic cosmic struggle between good and evil (1:13-14) grows increasingly hostile, Paul exalts Christ as the Uniquely Sovereign Lord. Important Christological statements abound throughout this entire epistle: v1:13 the Beloved son, 1:15 Image of the invisible God, v17 Christ the Eternal Sustainer,  the Head of the church , v18 the uniquely resurrected Lord, v18 the Absolute Chief (preeminent), v19 the one in which God’s fullness dwells, v20 the Sacrificial reconciler of all, 2:2 the Mystery of God, 2:3 the source of true wisdom and knowledge, 2:9 God incarnate, 2:10 Ruler of all powers, 2:13, the source of new life, 2:17 Substance, 2:19 Source of nourishment, and the victorious triumphant Lord who,  demolished all hostile spirits and powers.

As Paul finally reaches the climax, he displays Christ as the champion by using three phrases in (2:15): “He disarmed the rulers and authorities”, “put them to open shame”, and “triumphing over them” . The word “disarmed” (apekduomai) literally means take off or strip off clothing—‘to undress, to disrobe, to strip of (Louw & Nida 49.20). The allusion is a general  disarming the defeated army by stripping them of their weapons and armor;  implying that defeated army would be to weak to defend themselves. These “powers and authorities” (2:15) are in fact the same powers and authorities mentioned in 1:16;  Paul does not see them as completely taken away, but presently existing; however they are totally striped of their power. Some translate this phrase as “having stripped himself of his flesh” because of the middle passive form of this verb; however, because of its deponent lexical form it can be translated as active. Further since the “ rulers and authorities” are in the accusative case functioning  as the object,  it is correct to apply the action to the object thus “having disarmed”… is the correct translation  (Arnold Colossian Syncretism 78).

The second image “put them to open shame,” continues his portrait of the victorious Lord.. Christ thwarted their efforts to claim deity, by showing that they themselves are subject to the creator. Their effort to defeat Christ was  ruined  by the cross and the empty tomb; their wisdom was proven useless, and their authority to compel worship and trust in them was destroyed.  Christ publicly humiliated them by showing the  inability of these powers  to effectively hinder the plans of God. Paul was correct to refer to the “Stoiecha” (elemental spirits of the world), as  weak and miserable (Gal 4:9) (Arnold 281).

The last image Paul uses is the triumphal processional (sometimes called the triumph). The successful general would celebrate his victory in battle by leading the defeated nation’s army and prisoners in a parade. The army that won would eat, drink, and sing hymns of victory while taunting their prisoners. All the treasures that was taken from the captives would be divided up and put on display; this included the defeated kings children, friends, soldiers and family. Jospehus  describes in explicit detail a triumphal procession led by three Roman leaders who  had recently defeated Jewish revolt and destroyed completely destroyed Jerusalem.

“(96) Now Titus Caesar tarried some time at Berytus, as we told you before. He thence removed, and exhibited magnificent shows in all those cities of Syria through which he went, and made use of the captive Jews as public instances of the destruction of that nation ….

Now a tribunal had been erected before the cloisters, and ivory chairs had been set upon it, when they(the Emperors) came and sat down upon them. Whereupon the soldiery made an acclamation of joy to them immediately, and all gave them attestations of their valor…..

(131) there it was that they tasted some food, and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theaters, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes…

Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus… for it was the Romans’ ancient custom to stay, till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain….. (154) This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head…and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along,”( “Jewish wars”  book 7 chapter 5)

 

The purpose of the triumphal processional was to completely humiliate the defeated nation, and mentally subdue them; in order to discourage any future revolts. This parade also reassured  the citizen’s of the winning army that they can  trust in their government to protect and serve from all threats.

Paul ends this cosmic battle with a grand finale: the powers are defeated and degraded, while Christ is exalted and praised. What began as poetic praise of Christ supremacy, ended with the snapshot of him as the victorious general.  It is obvious that the various teachings that included: worship of angels, calling on various spirits for help, human regulations and etc. All of these elements require believers to place their trust in them, thus giving these cosmic forces a elevated status. Contrastingly, Paul’s poetic praise of Christ the Sovereign Lord, and Christological affirmations lifts Christ up,

Paul wanted to have a correct Christology (correct understanding of who Christ is, and what he has done, is doing, and will). A distorted Christology often leads to a distorted perspective that leads to warped doctrine. Defective doctrine leads to a damaged faith that ultimately manifests itself in behavior and application. In other words if the foundation is faulty then the entire house will have problems, like a person trying to complete an algebraic equation, after their initial arithmetic is incorrect. No matter how many times they try, the solution to equation will constantly be incorrect. Paul was informing his audience of the proper knowledge they were to understand; while  simultaneously refuting  the false teachings that were spreading around from Church to Church. Christ is absolute ruler over creation; he is completely divine sharing the very same attributes and nature of God. Therefore, Christians have no need to submit to any spirits, or fear any demonic forces 2:9. Christ has triumphed over them in victory on the cross 2:17.  The Christian has been delivered from the realm of darkness 1:13. As a result these spirits that are now at work in the disobedient (Eph2:1-4) are defeated (Heb 2).  Do not submit to them, do not be held captive, do not even listen any vain philosophy, which some might confuse as true knowledge 2:18, and spiritual vision (2:18). Everything we need, all that we will become can only be found when we know Christ; both intellectually and experimentally.  As a result, Paul urges them to submit to Christ, and allow him to govern every aspect of their life from the way the think, how they relate to others, and how they behave on a regular basis (Chp 3-4)

If all things in heaven and on earth  were created by him and are subject to him then Christians have no  need to fear any powers.  If Christ is supreme over the entire universe , then they should not allow there hope in Christ to waiver when presented with false teachings that degrade Christ while exalting  other things. If Christ sustains the entire universe then he can sustain the individual believer as well as the Church as a whole. If God’s plan of salvation was to reconcile all things through Christ actions, and this plan has not been revised then there is no need for a new plan of salvation (2:16-23) that insist on human traditions (Garland 95).

As Christians, we have a hero, who is present in the lives of the Church. This Hero is Christ the Supreme Sovereign Lord. Not only have we been delivered from the realm of darkness and hopelessness (1:13-14); Christ is sufficient to keep us safe and secure, if we remain in him (2:6), and continue to set our affections, and mind on him.

For he is our Cosmic Conqueror.

 

 

 

 



[1] See following page for a contextual overview in a chart format.

[2]  For example: 1:15, 1:22, 2:3,2:6,2:9, 3:1-2

[3] 2:4,2:8,2:16,2:18,2:20,3:5.

[4] There are other  biblical accounts that attest to superstitious, mysticism that existed: Acts 19:13-20, 16:16-20, 8:1-29, 13:1-12  (Although, in a different region they still shared the same basic presuppositions).

[5] sometimes known as or Des Daimonia (On the dread of the gods).

[6] Betz. PGM XXXVI.161-172.

[7] This is apparent in the so called Mithras Liturgy’s  repetition of the verb see, this is the same verb that is used in Col 2:18.

[8] There is no concrete evidence  that an official Gnostic religion existed this early, The earliest writings of Nag Hammadi date back to at least 2nd century A.D.

[9] For more archaeological evidence pointing to syncretism in Greco-Roman world see Curse Spells and Binding Tablets.  Pg. 230,206.

[10] For a detailed analysis of theses elements within their historical context see Clinton E Arnold’s Colossian Syncretism.

[11] His mentioning of  Sabbaths points to Jewish elements of this heresy. The New moon either refers to the local deities associated with the moon such as the Phrygian moon god Men, & the goddess Selene who was also associated with Artemis; or certain mystery cults were purification rituals were performed on a new moon. The festivals could have been both Jewish and Pagan in background  (Arnold, Colossian Syncretism 216-217) .

[12] Vr 17 pro panton (before all things), Proteuo (preeminent).

[13] LXX= Septuagint.

[14] The Following expressions are confined to humans: prototokas hyios (firstborn son) Gen25:25, Exod 4:22. It can also be joined to a proper name (Num 3:2) (K.H Bartels “Prototokos” 667).

[15] See Genesis chps.25-27.

[16] Protos, which means first of several, and; Tekein which means descendent or child.  

[17] Ps 89:27.

[18] LXX 88:28-29.

[19] This research will only exegete five of these.

[20] . Of itself it does not necessarily imply that Mary has other children; for it is not the same as monogenas (only one born to Mary).

[21] Ecclesia means those who are called out. It can be used in a generic sense applied to any group of people.  When used in the Christian context it can refer to either a specific congregation, or gathering; All congregations; All born again believers everywhere; or even a group of congregations in a specific region (Swanson 1711 )

[22] Elijah raised a boy (1 Kgs 17:8–24), Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son (2 Kgs 4:18–37), Jesus raised both Jairus’s daughter (Mk 5:35–43) and Lazarus (Jn 11:17–44), all before Jesus Christ resurrection.

 

[23] When the Lord arose, three significant things happened to him. He was glorified, he was transfigured, and he became spirit. All three happened simultaneously: (see Lk 24:26). (Phil 3:21).  (1 Cor 15:45).

[24] “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities”v16.

[25] Rom 8:35-39, Eph 1:21,

[26] See Heb 2:1-3,John 1, 1Cor 8:6, Rom 11:36.

[27] Payri Graecae Magicae

[28] Also see PGM IV lines 1323-30.

[29] Ecloga Papryis Magicis.

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