Last time we laid the base for understanding the Colossian error as syncretistic in nature. Now, the specifics as I glean them from Paul's hints in Colossians. I note five (all translations are my own), which I present briefly in overview:
Though I put this first (because of its importance), it might better be placed last, because it is the upshot of all the rest. One might obscure a large object in a room by walking up to it and trying to pick it up and carry it away. Or one might accomplish the same end simply by crowding the room with so many other things, that the main thing is sidelined and obscured.
Thus it is with virtually all heresy. This teacher may have said something like, “You trusted in Christ? Great! Now do you want to have fullness of life? Do you desire special revelation, special knowledge and understanding? Do you yearn for a deeper life, greater reality, and a deeper level of spirituality? Do you long for greater holiness and intimacy with God. I have discovered the secret! I can show you how!”
SECOND: an imposition of Jewish rules and rituals. See 2:16 — "Therefore, stop letting someone judge you in eating and in drinking, and in respect to a festival or new moon or sabbath day."
As disciples of Paul and his Lord, Epaphras and the church would have revered the OT revelation. If their teaching hadn’t gone very deep, hadn't been very comprehensive — and particularly if this man were a Jew — they might very well have been made to feel like second-class citizens in light of Israel’s great position in the plan of God, and the great promises that Israel had and has.
The false teacher may very plausibly have said, “If you want in on the whole package, you need to keep the law of God too!”
My suggestion may find additional confirmation in 4:11, because Paul specifically names the authorized, on-target Jewish believers. That is, in saying "only these who are of the circumcision are fellow-workers for the kingdom of God," Paul may well be implying "—as opposed to that guy, who is not."
THIRD: asceticism (i.e. extra rules for holiness, applying to diet and all). See 2:18a, 20b-22 — "Stop letting anyone rule you out, delighting in humiliation...why, as though living in the world, do you permit yourselves to be regulated — `Handle not, neither taste, nor even touch’ (all of which things are destined for destruction by consumption) — in accord with the commands and teachings of men?" The false teaching tried to lessen the evil impact of the flesh. But in so doing, it concentrated on the flesh, tailored itself to the flesh, and actually preened and promoted the flesh.
FOURTH: angel-worship. See 2:18 — "and worship of the angels." One might reasonably doubt that any Jew or Jew-oid would have taught such a thing. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls show that the Qumran community was one Jewish sect that was very interested in angelology.
Remember, too, that the Jews of Colosse originally came from Mesopotamia, not Israel. Many religions put forth many mediators, objects of worship. His was, it appears, another one. Therefore this appears to be a mixture of a sort of Judaism and paganism, as Christian Science is a mixture of Christianity and Eastern mysticism.
FIFTH: a dependence on this man’s own special revelation and teachings. First, note 2:8 — "Keep looking out lest there shall be someone who takes you hostage through empty, deceptive philosophy, in accord with the tradition of men, in accord with the rudiments of the world, and not in accord with Christ." Then, 2:18 — "Stop letting anyone rule you out, ...going into detail about things he has experienced, being inflated without cause by the mind of his flesh." I take it that this teacher stressed their getting information that they could get nowhere else, apart from him. This arcane information does seem to be a prominent feature, since Colossians features different terms for knowledge in 14 verses, and “wisdom” in 7 verses.
The Greek is interesting and challenging here. Perhaps we'll dig in deeper, when and if we get to chapter two. The upshot: the false teacher is his own proof-text! Whatever else God may have made available to all Christians, he had something special. The only way they could access it was by dependence upon him. The whole tenor of his teaching would turn them from what God had done and provided for all His people in Christ, to this man's special goods.
In verse 4 Paul's warning could be hypothetical, since Paul phrases his fear in the subjunctive mood ("that no one should delude you"). Then in verse 8 he moves to the indicative mood, but now the tense is future ("Keep looking out lest there shall be someone who takes you hostage through empty, deceptive philosophy").
Yet in neither case does the grammar mean that the attempt is not in progress, only that it is has been (and must remain) unsuccessful. They are not being deluded, they are not being taken hostage — but someone is sure trying.
However, in v. 16 it is possible that Paul should be translated "stop letting someone judge you," indicating that it was going on; and in v. 18 "Stop letting anyone rule you out," as well as v. 20's incredulous question "why, as though living in the world, do you permit yourselves to be regulated...?" Both are in the present tense, more than hinting that the action was in progress.
Pause. At present, we're just introducing the book and doing an overview. If I (A) live, and (B) continue to be allowed to blog here, and (C) continue in this series, then perhaps we will examine each of those more closely when we get to chapter 2.
For now: what modern equivalents do you think you see?
Next time, Lord willing, we'll start looking at how Paul responded.