Brit Hadashah Reflections 32
Hebraic understanding of the Apostolic letters
Colossians 1 : 1 to 2 : 23
The township of Colossae no longer exists, not even the ruins! It stood (until it was destroyed in the 12th century) about 15 miles from Laodicea (of luke-warm fame), and about 100 miles inland, east of Ephesus. It is unlikely that Paul ever visited the place but he wrote because he had ‘heard of their faith’, and in order to counter influences from those of Gnostic and Ascetic persuasion.
The main focus of this Epistle is ‘Christ is the head’ of the “ekklesia”. Paul had become aware of their existence and their faith (possibly through meeting Philemon, but more likely from Epaphras, a Colossian who worked with Paul in Ephesus). In any event this “ekklesia” was on Paul’s prayer list! His prayer for this community of believers is classic in content and expression. He says “We do not cease to pray for you and to ask that you be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may have a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God …” A prayer that we would do well to copy in our intercession for others we know, and even for ourselves!
Paul then continued with the statements emphasizing the pre-eminence of Yeshua, our Lord and saviour. He is the One worthy of our adoration and worship. He is the One presented as the very image of God Himself. He is above all, through all, in all. Everything created was through Him and for Him. He was with God before creation. And it is by Him that sinful man has access to the Throne Room of Almighty God. It was important to Paul that he lay the foundation of Yeshua’s deity and pre-eminence before them because of the issues he knew they were encountering. Paul was not the ‘founding Apostle’ of this “ekklesia”. He had not had the opportunity to teach them, as he had in some other “ekklesia” in that region. And so it was that they had been influenced, according to reports received by Paul, by the heretical beliefs of Gnostics and Ascetics. They held views about multiple and competing deities, all of whom, they said, had equal claim on man’s time and worship. (That, at least is the simple explanation!).
That, of course, was not Paul’s view, and neither is it ours. So Paul then established his own authoritative credentials as the then present day representative of the gospel of Messiah Yeshua. It had been a mystery for centuries that the God of the Jew is also the God of the Gentile (pagan) who turned to Him in faith, as these “Colossians” had done. But there was to be no compromise with ‘other gods’ (as the philosophical heretics taught). Now put on your “Hebraic” hat, because what follows in Colossians 2 is taught today as a justification, (from this Jewish Rabbi Sha’ul no less) for the obsolescence of Torah commands for the church! This presents a grave misunderstanding of Paul’s actual words to this “ekklesia”. And the words are important to our understanding. Paul says “I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” Do you recall the Jerusalem Council telling Paul to demonstrate his orderly walk and keeping the ‘law’ in Acts 21:24? It’s the same order! And there is more. He continues “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ”. Friends, Paul has Gnosticism and Asceticism in his sights here, not the Torah of God.
And he gets right to the point in saying “Let no-one judge you in food and drink or regarding festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Space does not allow a fuller explanation here, but the “mo’edim” of God, His appointed times, the festivals, were presented as a shadow, a practice, a forerunner, an example, of things to come! (some of which have already been completely accomplished in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua, as has the giving of the Holy Spirit of God. The, as yet unfulfilled, “mo’edim” of Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur and Feast of Tabernacles will be fulfilled when Yeshua returns to rule and reign from Jerusalem).
When Paul declares “Therefore if you died with Christ, from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations -.” Now the anti-Judaic early years of Christendom (specifically since the Council of Nicea in 324 C.E.) has tied these words of Paul into the spurious argument of ‘grace v law’. But it is classic Asceticism to which he is referring. See how he continues. “These things have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, ….” This has nothing to do with Judaism, as is supposed by some, but there is enough similarity there to throw many off the track.
If we get it straight about Paul’s testimony of ‘conversion’, from Pharisaic Judaism to Messianic Judaism, it becomes clear that Paul was never an anti-Torah teacher. Why? Because he is a faithful follower of his Master, Yeshua, who is, after all, the living Torah and example to us all.