What Was the Colossian Heresy and What Can We Learn from it?

In comments on the last post Philip mentioned Milton Jones’ interpretation of the Colossian heresy as something comparable to post-modernism. I have a great level of respect for Milton Jones. I haven’t read his book (that Philip linked to in his comment) but I did think this would be an interesting point to respond to in a post rather than a comment. In January I started writing curriculum on the prison letters of Paul. I really believe it is important to understand the occasion of an epistle if we are going to spend time teaching it and discussing it. So I really wrestled with the Colossian heresy for a while. After sitting at the feet of everyone from N.T. Wright to Benny Three Sticks and Peter O’Brian via their excellent commentaries, here was my take on the Colossian heresy from my Prison Letters of Paul small group curriculum,

“The Jews believed angels were involved in giving the law (Gal 3:19 for instance). It seems false teachers had come in and said that it was necessary to please these angels, principalities and powers if God was to hear their prayers (see 2:16-23). In order to please them they were taught to follow strict dietary (2:21)and holiness guidelines as well as the observance of special days (2:16). Paul is teaching them that such teachings are false and that Christ is still supreme with full authority over everything in creation that they don’t need to lean on such hollow and deceptive teachings (1:15ff, 2:8).”

I can’t say with certainty that I have it all right but that is the best I can come up with thanks to borrowing from a few scholars I highly respect and trying to put these pieces together in my own mind. It seems more appropriate to me to read their Jewish worldview into the text rather than to read a 21st century worldview into it. It makes more sense that Paul would be referencing things from their culture and not ours. Application can certainly still be made and the parallels connected appropriately to teach us something today about our own world. But as for interpreting what the actual heresy was we have to be careful to read the text from the right direction and not interpret it in light of the first “hollow and deceptive” teaching that we can think of in the world we live in.

If this interpretation of the heresy is correct, how do we make application in our world today? First, we have to listen to what Paul did say about the truth concerning Christ because Paul believed that if we have the truth we won’t be led astray by false teachings (Col 2:8-15). Postmodernism in and of itself is not a false teaching, as some have claimed. It is a worldview. It can lead to false teaching but it can also lead to some very profound insights regarding our faith. We cannot let our worldview “kidnap” (Col 2:8) us by leading us away from Christ and to something claimed superior or more sufficient than Christ. If we allow any worldview to do that we are in grave danger. That can happen with postmodernism but it can happen with any worldview, even modernism. You can get so caught up in figuring everything else, from the modern perspective, that you fail to see a need for Christ in your life. That is Paul’s point in the next verses (Col 2:9-10). The Gospel doesn’t need anything more to make it sufficient to bring us life and godliness because Christ is head over all things. In Col 2:11-15 Paul lays out all that Christ has done for us. When we read through that great list we should realize that our worldview must draw us closer to God and not further away from Him.

PS – If you don’t read Philip’s blog you should have a look. He is a great friend and a very insightful guy.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

One Response to What Was the Colossian Heresy and What Can We Learn from it?

  1. Good write-up. But I could’ve used more references to Benny Three Sticks.

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