04 March 2010

Colossians studies 5: the false teacher's teaching (2)

by Dan Phillips

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:
    FIRST: reduction of Christ. This was doubtless the subtlest. It could not have been an outright rejection of Christ, or the false teacher himself would have been rejected out-of-hand by Christians. Satan is seldom so frontal. At least, not with professed believers.

    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.
      One real guy? I do think (for reasons I argued two posts ago) that it was one teacher, and that he was both a real presence and a real danger.

      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.

      Dan Phillips's signature


      JackW said...

      “what modern equivalents do you think you see?”

      How about churchianity in the form of a bloated constitution and bylaws?

      mike said...

      too vague. what is bloated constitution and bylaws?
      is it a worship of tradition, then yes, bad.
      is it membership, discipline, creedal, and dare i say Biblical, then not bad.

      more specific;
      church growth by marketing (almost too many names to list)
      word faith (again)
      prosperity (ditto)
      feel good, encouragement prosperity light (Houston, Texas)

      "new kind of christianity" through social gospel and earth worship (EM)

      What all of these have in common, is the lack of necessity of a crucified and risen savior. Refer back to Dan’s point 1. Call them what you want, any form of religion that does not believe in, on, and about the Christ of the Bible is not Christian.

      mike said...

      i missed the hyper charismatic liberal movements (Dan's favorite)

      wouldn't want to miss them

      Stefan Ewing said...

      "What modern equivalents do you think you see?"

      A widespread form of nominal Christianity where one:

      * Measures one's own faith by the intensity of one's experiences (a sort of "faith in faith," as someone put it on another thread);

      * Seeks the comfort or intercession of beings other than the Triune God, no matter how "holy" or "saintly" they may seem;

      * And/or validates one's religiousness by how well one keeps rules that may not even be Biblical.

      Adherents can range anywhere from mis-taught born-again believers to non-believers who profess a pop-culture version of Christ.

      Verification word: "checkedn." "I checked'n to the blog today."

      Stefan Ewing said...

      My list was not meant to be exhaustive, of course.

      And the Lord God knows that we have probably all lapsed into one or another aspect of "religiousness" (rather than Biblical faith) at one point or another.

      David Regier said...

      I am not meaning this as a cop-out, but here goes:

      It is universally applicable. These tendencies are always and everywhere incipient. Anywhere that pride exists, there will be the temptation for leaders and teachers to bring something new to the table and make new rules to go with it.

      It happens with charismatics, fundamentalists, pomo emergers, church growth gurus, the Reformdest of the reformed, the ultra-missional, and guess what - me.

      Now, in this country, we've thrown off the reins in a particular way and refuse to be corrected. But to say, "There! That man there! Heeee's sinning worse!" seems to lead us into some deeper gospel problems.

      I think that's why Paul didn't name names.

      James Scott Bell said...

      #5 points me to this: the prophecy scams. Any ministry that focuses on identifying signs today is, IMO, off the beam, and leading people the same way.

      But here's the thing: they make money. It's a guaranteed profit (note my clever play on words) to be seen as the ONE GUY who has insight into all these things, because you can draw a huge market of the gullible who latch onto YOU as the voice of God.

      Death or Glory Toad said...

      I suggest:
      "Christian psychology"

      Very subtle. Inserts rules and explanations that undermine trust in Christ, Biblical conduct and lifestyle. Easily obscured by overt practices that are Biblical.

      donsands said...

      Thw worship of Angels, sort of fits the RC Church's teaching of Michael.

      I remember praying to St. Michael the arch angel when I was a wee lad; and even latter on as a nominal Catholic.

      And I also attended a Holiness Full Gospel Pentecostal church, where they said, "Do not drink, go to movies, nor where short pants, nor allow pants on women."

      Thanks for the study this lesson was very thorough and full. Thanks.

      mike said...

      sure, of course, but...

      if i have a mustang, and join a mustang club, and you show up in a trans am. well, arguably yours is in many ways better, and obviously you like it, but dude, this be a mustang club, and yours is not a mustang.

      would we be deemed hatefull and bad to point that out?
      then, why are we so very hesitant to clarify those among us who by word and deed do not share the foundations of Christianity.

      mike said...

      and to clarify, not sin, i and this passage are talking about false (wrong) teaching.

      intentional or not blind is blind.

      ~Mark said...

      These things have actually been trends in common "Christianity" over the years. Angel focus and prayers, following a man and believing him over the written words of Christ, following a set of rules to prove oneself worthy, following one's experiences without submitting them to the Scriptures.

      It seems like these things never stopped with the Colossians.

      olan strickland said...

      In this highly syncretistic age in which we live there are many modern equivalents that have parts of these erroneous teachings if not all in some form or fashion.

      While all cults and all apostate ministries are marked by varying degrees of these unsound teachings, one of the biggest threats to Protestant Christianity is the Purpose Driven Church and the Purpose Driven Life.

      David Regier said...


      I take your point.

      But here's what I mean. The root of false teaching is sin. False teaching can arise from pride, the desire to allow for the flesh, the envy of others, the desire to please men, all kinds of things, but in all these things, the root is sin. And guess what: the fruit matches the root.

      The problem is that we're usually not dealing with the guy with the Trans Am in our Mustang club. We usually want to point out the faults of the Trans Am club while ignoring the fact that most of our members (who claim to love Mustangs) are actually driving Pintos.

      Or something like that.

      The Bill Streger article that came out today points to this pretty well (it's linked in Phil's twitter sidebar).

      All that said, the gracious corrective to all sin and false teaching is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

      Anonymous said...

      FIFTH: a dependence on this man’s own special revelation and teachings.

      I was thinking of "The Shack" or as James De Young of Western Seminary dubbed it "the hut of deception.”

      Young's tri/tetra-theistic theology is ultimately dependent upon William Young being a prophet with the truth about the Godhead (sounds like Joseph Smith to me!).

      If you challenge his followers/readers directly about this book it becomes "just a inspiring novel." However, when they are allowed to share what they really believe they just gush all over you with excitement about it!

      This is a very subtle attack on sola scriptura!

      Peter says, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."

      Yet Young claims precisely this...that God not only spoke private interpretation to Him but by no less than four separate persons of the Godhead/circle of friends/equals, "Papa, Jesus, Sarayu, and "Sophia!" Wow...way more communications than Paul or Peter ever received...hmmm!

      What is even scarier are the ringing endorsements by so-called "Christian" celebs (which tells us more about them than it does about Young).

      Unknown said...

      Dan’s question about modern equivalents just opened the flood gates. If what follows is inappropriate, well, then I’ll let the admin types delete it.

      What Dan said that opened the flood gates was the following:

      "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 how you how!""

      I recently left a church after the entire church studied Pete Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” (EHS). [By entire church, I mean Sunday School, Sermon and Small Groups were talking about what was in this book.]

      In this book Scazzero says (p.44),

      “Few Christians committed to contemplative spirituality integrate the inner workings of emotional health. At the same time few people committed to emotional health integrate contemplative spirituality. Both are powerful, life-changing emphases when engaged in separately. BUT TOGETHER, THEY OFFER NOTHING SHORT OF A SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION TRANSFORMING THE HIDDEN PLACES DEEP BENEATH THE SURFACE. When emotional health and contemplative spirituality are interwoven together in an individual’s life, a small group, a church, a university fellowship, or a community, people’s lives are dramatically transformed. They work as an antidote to heal the symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality described in chapter two. (begin emphasis) MOREOVER, THEY PROVIDE A MEANS TO DECISIVELY CONQUER THE BEAST WITHIN US AND IN OUR CULTURE."

      What is the “BEAST WITHIN US”?

      The beast is defined on p. 42 as “the culture of their generation” and on p. 43 as “the chaotic blur of energies, the seemingly uncontrollable forces of sinful nature.”

      Scazzero discusses how to implement seven METHODS he believes will “conquer the beast within us”. Not a single one of his methods depends on Christ’s work on the cross to atone for our sin, His resurrection from the dead, His advocacy for us before the throne of God, and His promises to us. Scazzero doesn’t need the Spirit because there are no promises to believe, just effort to exert. (BTW, it almost seems to me that his methods are predicated on living in light of curses rather than in light of the promises that are YES in Christ. For example, Ex 20: 4-6 is the explicit basis for one his methods.)

      His methods are based on the principles of this world since they driven by psychological principles and from the belief that we don’t need God’s grace in order to grow in righteousness: from my reading of the book, Scazzero believes that Christ is not necessary for our sanctification! (Rom 8:1ff).

      In fact, as you read the book it is clear that in Scazzero’s mind he believes that without EHS we CAN NOT overcome our sin. (Don’t let the fact that he used the indefinite article “a” when he said “. . .they provide A means to decisively conquer the beast within us . . .” fool you. In Scazzero’s book, there is nothing else but these seven methods that can heal or change us!)

      In short, Scazzero’s book is Christless, Spiritless, Powerless (Col 2:20-23), Insufficient because he denies the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness (2 Pet 1:3), Heatless because it doesn’t deal with the real matters of the heart (Rom 8:7, James 4:4) and gives me no confidence to come before God: I can not come near the throne of God because his methods do nothing to assuage my guilty conscience. (Heb. 10:19ff)

      A sad reality (the saddest?) about this book is that so many churches are gravitating towards it. It appears that this Colossian syncretist, who ever he is, has not yet died. :(

      DJP said...

      Jonesy, I don't even remotely know the book you're analyzing, so I can't say a peep about your accuracy.

      But the kind of thinking you're doing is exactly what I think needs to be done, and validated by Colossians.

      mike said...

      absolutely, or we just say lets get a bigger tent, keep the name mustang club, but ammend the entrance exam to guys who have seen cars.

      i believe that is the absolute truth, so then why are some of the guys who wear the "gospel hardline" badges showing up at their trade show?

      i was recently recommended a book by Scazzero, and was crushed for my friend who made the recommendation. sad and frustrating.

      i thank God that if i am to be saved, He will do it. that is my only hope.

      jmb said...

      My story intersects with Jonesy's in some ways.

      I attend a Messianic Congregation, approx. half Jewish believers and half Gentile believers. We recently had a Congregational Leader who, while granting that no one was saved other than by believing in Jesus, nevertheless insisted that Jewish believers were under the authority of the Mosaic Law to obey it, and that obedience to the specific commands resulted in rewards and that disobedience resulted in curses (although he rarely spoke about the latter).

      There was, not surprisingly, much confusion. For example, some Jewish believers wondered if they were REALLY saved since they didn't obey all (any?) of the commands perfectly. His only response was that you had to keep trying and keep failing (unfortunately, I'm not making this up).

      Messianic Congregations are particularly vulnerable to this type of thing, which Arnold Fruchtenbaum labels "Galatianism." Perhaps it could also be called "Colossianism."

      olan strickland said...


      the answer to your question is found in Colossians. They have been taken captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (2:8).

      Pragmatism rules the day and as John MacArthur has said, "The most compelling question in the minds on the lips of many pastors today is not 'What's true?' but rather 'What works?' Evangelicals these days care less about theology than they do about methodology. Truth has taken a backseat to more pragmatic concerns" (The Truth War, 147-148).

      The eclessiology of The Purpose Driven Church is worldly philosophy rather than biblical theology hiding under the pretense of abiding by biblical principles. It however violates sound ecclesiology as set forth in Ephesians.

      mike said...

      so when a man who reports to seek first the kingdom, yet is captive to temporal success, and resists any and all correction by any and or all of the council of Godly men… what does this man appear to be?
      do we continue to call him an over exuberant brother? Or at what point do we say, any man, regardless of intentions as a child, who travels by direction of a white cane, yet insists in leading the march… that man is a blind guide, and all that follow must at some point end up in the ditch?

      Aaron said...

      I immediately thought of Roman Catholicism, The Church of Christ, and messianic Jews. The messianic Jews seem most vulnereable because they seem to have a difficult time fully transitioning to the new covenant. But at least they have some rationale reason, whereas RC seems mostly superstitious.

      jeff miller said...

      I would argue there is much in the text that points to judaizing teachers, plain and simple, and nothing that disqualifies this reading. worshiping of "angels" could be a reference to Old Testament "messengers" like Moses himself being held in inappropriately high regard (a concern in Hebrews..."having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a much better name than they. For to which of the messengers hath he said, 'Your throne O God...")in relation to the Son through whom God has spoken to us in these last days.

      And "philosophy" is a word famously applied to an Orthodox Jewish love of wisdom which will hold on to submission to the law as the standard when being challenged by Gentile compromise in Maccabees.

      This way the reader is not left to speculate about the characteristics of the opponents. Jews who to some degree or another refuse to acknowledge Jesus in His superseding authority.

      Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...


      That was my question exactly, though you were able to flesh it out better than i tried to. God desires truth in the inward parts, and I don't know about you guys, but when the Word of God has gone out, and I am found wanting in an area, I come to a point of repentance (sometimes it takes a while, but I come nonetheless). What did Jesus say to do with a brother who sins? Go to him personally, with other witnesses who know as well as you do what he's doing, then take him before the elders, and if even then he won't repent to consider him as a gentile. Someone whose heart is soft will repent before the conviction of the Spirit and the Word of God as it is revealed from each of these groups - and it may take going to the higher group to get that person to repent. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Jesus in essence saying that if you've gone to the highest human authority in the congregation, the offense has been validated by the witnesses and the Word, and that person refuses to submit to the truth, then you need to consider that person as an ubeliever?