In the last post, I introduced and defended my idea that the Colossians were being troubled by one particular charismatic false teacher. By the way, I did not mean to say that no one else has ever had that idea, which is unlikely. I may even have read it, in 35+ years of loving and reading on Colossians. But I honestly don't recall anyone advancing the position, and I do continue to see and hear the plural + Gnosticism as the standard, default position.
As TruthStands observed in the last post's meta, Colosse was ideally situated for syncretism. In case that's not a regular word for you, syncretism is basically playing religious mix-n-match. You take a bit from various religions and mix it together, so that what you have is a little of several religions, but not any particular religion — until it itself becomes a religion. I'd say that Christian Science, Religious Science, and Roman Catholicism are three syncretistic religions, for example. You could name others.
Why was it ideal for syncretism? Here is where introductory matters matter, in interpretation. As I observed in the first post, Colosse hosted travellers going to and from Rome and the Euphrates Valley, and was home to native Phrygians, Greek settlers, and Jews — specifically Jews who had been imported not from Israel but from Babylonia and Mesopotamia.
What that means is that the populace featured folks presumably influenced by paganism, Greek thought, and Judaism that had been uprooted from the holy land and put through a wringer for a few centuries. It was not singly rooted anywhere, nor in anything. It was eclectic, and not in the best sense of the word. The framework would have been not to have a framework.
Kind of like us.
One can over-generalize and say that false teachers can come at Christianity in one of two ways.
- Confrontation. They can initiate a frontal, head-on collision, trying their mightiest simply to undo Christian truth-claims. "Not that, but this" would describe this stance. Atheists, Orthodox Jews, Islam today are often of this stripe.
- Assimilation. This approach tries more at collusion than collision. Assimilators labor to give the impression of shared common-ground, so as to make room for their bringing in what really matters to them. Mormons are attempting this today, as are many Roman Catholics. This apparently was the approach of the Judaizers in Galatia. They were not kin to apostate Jews today who would try to discredit Jesus' Messianic claims. They would affirm faith in Jesus as a terrific starting-point... and then say "here is what you really need to be fully saved."
The Colossian teacher was of the second variety. Piecing together what clues we have in Colossians, it does not appear that he flatly denied Jesus. I gather that from the fact that Paul did not deal with him by asserting the truthfulness, or the reality, or the qualifications of Christ.
Christ just wasn't enough. Having Jesus alone didn't get you all the way there. Christ wasn't everything one needs.
To get all that, you needed what the false teacher was bringing, which he would be delighted to share.
This is why Paul's pro-active response is not to stress the truthfulness of Christ, but the absolute sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Next time, Lord willing, we'll get into the specifics of the false teacher's doctrines. After that, we'll begin looking at Paul's response, in overview.