Colossians 2:8-12

Sunday Morning Bible Study

April 26, 2009


C. S. Lewis warned us, “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.”

Up to this point we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about good theology.  Today we’re going to spend some time talking about the bad stuff.


Historically, the roots of Gnosticism began 100 years before Christ.

The Gnostic perversion of Christianity would take hold around 100AD, entering through Colosse, but eventually be gone by the Middle Ages.

Gnosticism has raised its head over the last few years.

Quite a few of the ideas in the movie/book “The DaVinci Code” come from Gnosticism. In fact they made some subtle claims that Gnosticism was the true Christianity of the early church.

The ancient Gnostic texts like “The Gospel of Thomas” and “The Gospel of Judas” have been in the news the last couple of years.


Something new

I don’t know about you, but I like “new” things.
I’d rather drive a new car than an old one.  My computer may only be a year old, but if you offered me a newer, more powerful one, I’d jump at it.

I’m always looking for something bigger, better, faster, stronger, NEWER

People are always curious about finding something “new” or something that’s a “secret”. In reality, there’s very little that’s actually new.  Many of the old pieces of garbage we’ll look at today can be found in all sorts of “new” things today.
Be careful about wanting to find something “new”.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s because they don’t want to believe what’s “old”.
People don’t want to be reminded of the old truth that they’re sinners who need to take care of their sin.  They would rather look for something else.

One of the main concepts of Gnosticism was that all material things are evil and good can only be in spiritual, non-material things.

They had a difficult time thinking that a God who was Spirit could create something evil like this physical universe.

A Gnostic Glossary:

You’re going to see that many of the terms used in Gnosticism are used by Paul.

It’s possible that the Gnostics stole their terms from Paul and the Scriptures. It’s also likely that Paul was trying to attack their heresy and speak the truth about these terms.

This is one of the characteristics of various cults. They will use the same kind of language you will hear in church, but they mean something different.


The word means “knowledge

To the Gnostics, it’s a very special kind of knowledge that’s important. Everything you can see or touch is evil, and only invisible, spiritual things can be good. With the right kind of knowledge, the “spiritual you” can be lifted out of this evil universe to be one with the true God. Jesus was a spiritual being who didn’t have a real body, and He came to give this special secret knowledge that can make you eternal.

Paul used this word in:

(Col 2:3 NKJV) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The Gnostics taught you needed special knowledge that only came from them. Paul said that the only special knowledge you needed was in Jesus.


The word means “fullness

In the Gnostic mind, this was a codeword used to describe God.

The pleroma described all of who God was. It described a region of “light” that was different from our material universe.
The Gnostics called this God “The One”, or “The Monad”, “The Complete Aeon”, “The Deep”, or “the Light”. A related term in Gnosticism is “Godhead”, another way of referring to the more perfect God.
The Gnostics taught that the “fullness” was so perfect that it could have nothing to do with this evil material world.

Paul used this word in:

(Col 1:19 NKJV) For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,
There is a kind of “fullness” about God. And it’s not separate from this material world. It’s all found in Jesus.


The word means “eternal”.

The Gnostics taught that these were beings created by emanations from the pleroma. Each aeon might create other aeons, and with each new generation of aeons, they had a little less light, and were a little more flawed. They believed in many gods.

The Gnostics considered the God of the Old Testament to be the most flawed of these beings, one who was evil enough to be able to create the physical universe. Some Gnostic traditions consider the God of the Old Testament to be “satanic”.

Paul used this word to talk about the mystery of Christ coming to the Gentiles, the mystery that Jesus would actually dwell in our hearts:

(Col 1:26 NKJV) the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
Could Paul have been hinting that the Gnostic “aeons” were clueless? Or perhaps he just was talking about the ages past…


The word means “wisdom”.

For the Gnostics, this was a female goddess, the second to the last of the aeons, she was still a little bit good.

She’s the one that gives birth to Yahweh, the god who created the universe.

Paul uses this word six times in the book of Colossians. Paul will use this word to describe what was in Jesus:

(Col 2:3 NKJV) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Sophia is not a “her”, it’s actual wisdom. And it’s found in Jesus.


The word means “skilled laboreror “worker for the people”

The Gnostics used this term as the title for the son of Sophia, the fellow who was evil enough to create the physical universe.

Some called him “Yahweh”, the God of the Old Testament.
When God said,
(Isa 45:18 NKJV) …"I am the LORD, and there is no other.

The Gnostics say that Yahweh was being evil and proud and denying the fact that there were other gods.

The writer of Hebrews used this word to also describe God when talking about Abraham:

(Heb 11:10 NKJV) for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
The Bible does call God a “skilled laborer”. He is the maker of heaven itself, not just a flawed wicked world.


The word means “beginning”, or “principality

The Gnostics used this term to describe lesser beings created by the demiurge. They ruled over this evil material world. We call them angels and demons.

Paul has used this word as well:

(Col 1:16 NKJV) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
(Col 2:10 NKJV) and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Paul uses this word to describe angelic beings created by Jesus.

:8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit,

cheatsulagogeo (“to rob” + “to lead”) – to carry off booty.  Pirates?

There’s a helping verb (estai) not translated, but it’s future in tense – they will in the future be trying to get you, they’re coming to take you away!

The word is “singular” in number, the idea is that in Colosse there was one person who was deceiving others in the church.

philosophyphilosophia – love of wisdom

I don’t think that Paul is saying that all “philosophy” is bad. There have been some great Christian philosophers and thinkers such as C.S.Lewis or Francis Schaeffer.

There are also some dangerous philosophies out there.

Wisdom, or the love of wisdom is not wrong. Jesus is all about wisdom:

(Col 2:3 NKJV) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
In June we’ll begin a 13 week video series “The Truth Project”

But some types of “wisdom” are nothing but empty ideas. People who follow the wrong ideas may know a lot, but it’s a lot of empty ideas.

(1 Tim 6:20 NKJV) O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge;

emptykenos – empty, vain, devoid of truth

deceitapate – deceit, deceitfulness

There are religions out there that are not based in truth, but based in deceit. Jesus said,

(Mat 7:15 NKJV) "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

There is going to be an “emptiness” with deception.

:8 according to the tradition of men,

traditionparadosis – giving over, passing on.

Some traditions are good.

(2 Th 2:15 NKJV) Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

Some traditions can cause problems. This word is often used to refer to the “oral tradition” that the rabbis claimed were from Moses, the Mishna.

The Jews don’t believe that the first five books of the Bible were all that Moses received from God. They also believe that God told him a lot more things, things that were passed down from rabbi to rabbi until they were finally written down 200 years after Jesus. These teachings – six volumes - are called the Mishna.
There was an entire volume just covering laws for the Sabbath. They had laws about what you could carry on the Sabbath – a tailor had to be careful he didn’t have a needle in his pocket because that was considered carrying a burden. You could pour cold water to drink, but you couldn’t pour it into a kettle to heat it. You could tie a knot in your girdle, but you couldn’t tie a knot on the rope to lower a bucket into the well.
These were the things that Jesus was constantly rebuking and correcting in His teaching. Like:
(Mat 15:1-6 NKJV) Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, {2} "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."

There was a tradition for washing hands before and during the meal. Exact amounts of water were to be poured out and your hands were to be rubbed in a certain way. It was not about germs, it was about ceremony.

Breaking this tradition was a pretty serious thing:

“whoever eats bread without washing of hands, is as if he lay with a whore” and, says R. Eleazer, whoever despiseth washing of hands, shall be rooted out of the world.” (Gill)

{3} He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? {4} "For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' {5} "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God"; {6} 'then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

God’s command was to honor your parents. That ought to mean taking care of your parents’ needs when they get older. But the Pharisees had a “tradition” that gave them a loophole. If they had taken all their money and declared that it was “God’s money”, then they didn’t have to use any of it to help their parents.

They traded their traditions for God’s ideas.

{7} "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: {8} 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. {9} And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"
There is a difficulty built into the Roman Catholic church.
They teach that Church tradition is as important as God’s Word.

When the Pope declares that Mary saves you and was a virgin all her life, you’re supposed to believe that.

When the Pope declares that you don’t receive grace by faith, but you get it by going to church and taking communion, you supposed to believe that.

You can be cheated and deceived through tradition

:8 according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

basic principlesstoicheion – any first thing, primary and fundamental principles

It can refer to elementary things like the letters of the alphabet, the basic elements of the universe, or the elements of a belief system.

The ancient Greeks used this word to refer to “the elemental spirits of the universe, the angels that influenced the heavenly bodies.”

It was one of the words in the vocabulary of astrology of that day.
The Gnostics believed that the angels and the heavenly bodies influenced people’s lives

Paul warns the Colossians against the kinds of demonic heresies that will lead them away from Jesus.

We know that demons can sometimes be the driving force behind false teachings.
This may be what Paul referred to when he wrote,

(Gal 4:3 NKJV) Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.

He may have been talking about the demonic influence we were under before coming to Christ.

Christians ought to be careful to not get caught up in things like horoscopes, astral charts, Ouija boards, and other spiritist practices.
The Christian who dabbles in these things is only asking for trouble.

:9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;

dwellskatoikeo – to settle; inhabit; to be “at home”

fullnesspleroma – that which is (has been) filled; a Gnostic word

Godheadtheotes – deity; the state of being God, another Gnostic word

bodilysomatikos – bodily, corporally

Docetism a doctrine found in Gnostic writings. It is the teaching that Jesus did not have a physical, fleshly body. They thought that Jesus was just a spirit being. They didn’t think He’d leave a footprint or that you could touch Him. Yet John (who also wrote against Gnosticism) writes,

(1 John 4:3 NKJV) and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

The Gnostics could never conceive that a Holy God could live in physical flesh.

But He did. Paul says He was even quite “at home” with it.

:10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

completepleroo – to make full, to make complete in every particular, to render perfect

Perfect participle – done in the past but results continue into the present. In the Greek, the form of the word is “pepleromenoi” (no, not “pepperoni”), it even sounds a little like “pleroma”.

The Gnostics might think that we could be “complete” after we get liberated from our fleshly body. Paul says that it’s already happened.

principalityarche – remember the “archons”?  Jesus is their Boss.

powerexousia – power of choice; the power of rule or government (the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed); the leading and more powerful among created beings superior to man, spiritual potentates


Jesus is all I need

The Gnostics were right about God being awesome, they just missed it in identifying who He was and how He relates with us.
When His fullness is in me, I am full.
We get led astray when we start thinking that we need something else besides Jesus.
The Amazon River is the largest river in the world.  The mouth is 90 miles across.  There is enough water to exceed the combined flow of the Yangtze, Mississippi and Nile Rivers.  So much water comes from the Amazon that they can detect its currents 200 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.  One irony of ancient navigation is that sailors in ancient times died for lack of water... caught in windless waters of the South Atlantic.  They were adrift, helpless, dying of thirst. Sometimes other ships from South America who knew the area would come alongside and call out, "What is your problem?"  And they would exclaim, "Can you spare us some water?  Our sailors are dying of thirst!"  And from the other ship would come the cry, "Just lower your buckets.  You are in the mouth of the mighty Amazon River."

Lower your bucket.  Jesus is all you need.

:11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

circumcisedperitemno – to cut around; to circumcise

Circumcision was a ritual that started with Abraham (Gen. 17).  It involved cutting a certain piece of the male anatomy. It was supposed to be a sign with Abraham and all his male descendants that they were going to follow God. 


There were five houses of religion in a small Florida town: The Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church and a Jewish Synagogue. Each was overrun with pesky squirrels. One day, The Presbyterian Church called a meeting to decide what to do about the squirrels. After much prayer and consideration they determined that the squirrels were pre-destined to be there and they shouldn't interfere with God's divine will. In The Baptist Church, the squirrels had taken up habitation in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a cover on the baptistry and drown the squirrels in it. The squirrels escaped somehow and there were twice as many there the next week. The Methodist Church got together and decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God's creation. So, they humanely trapped the squirrels and set them free a few miles outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back. The Catholic Church came up with a good solution. They baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the church.... Now they only see them on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter. Not much was heard about the Jewish Synagogue. They took one squirrel and had a short service with him called circumcision and haven't seen any other squirrels on the property since.

Circumcision was always intended to paint a picture – the picture of living a life not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. A man identifies with Abraham and God’s call on Abraham when he’s had his flesh “cut away”.

The picture was always intended to be of something deeper, not just affecting a man’s skin, but his heart. Even Moses wrote,

(Deu 10:16 NKJV)  "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.

Paul wrote:

(Rom 2:28-29 NKJV) For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; {29} but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

made without handsacheiropoietos (“not” + “hand” + “to make”)  not made with hands

The Gnostics were big on ceremony.  They were “sacramentalists” (not “Sacramento-ists”).  They thought that secret, magic ceremonies were the hot ticket.

But Paul is not talking about literal circumcision; he says it’s a spiritual one.
Paul is saying that as a believer in Christ, something has happened to you.  The power of sin has been cut away from your heart.

putting offapekdusis – a putting off, laying aside

:12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

buried withsunthapto (“with” + “bury”) – to bury together with

It’s a picture of you being buried with someone else.  And it happens with …

baptismbaptisma – immersion, submersion

The Jews practiced baptism before the time of Jesus.

When John the Baptist came on the scene, he didn’t have to explain to the people what he was doing. They saw it as a ritual that cleansed them from their sins.
The Temple in Jesus’ day had ritual “miqvaot” (plural for “miqvah”), baths where people could experience a ritual washing.  Some of the houses of the priests in Jerusalem might have their own built in miqvah.  The Essene community of Qumran had ritual miqvaot where they would practice what we would call “baptism”.
Note:  The concept of baptism meant total immersion, not sprinkling.

raised withsunegeiro (“with” + “raise”) – to raise together

Just as circumcision was meant to be a picture, so was baptism.

The Jews saw it as a picture of cleansing.  Christians saw it as much more.
Baptism as a Christian is a picture of you identifying with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
As you are lowered in the water, it’s a picture of you being “buried with Him”, dying with Him.  As you are raised out of the water, it’s a picture of you being raised with Jesus.

faith pistis – conviction of the truth of anything, belief

The vehicle through which we have a new life, a resurrected life.

We are saved by grace through faith.
You are not saved by the ritual of baptism. 
Baptism is only a picture.  You are saved by putting your trust in Jesus Christ.

the workingenergeia – working, efficiency; power in exercise, operative power; used only of superhuman power, whether of God or of the Devil

who raised Him from the dead – if you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then you can know that God will give you a new life.


Complete through death and resurrection

How are we “complete” in Him (vs. 10)?  Paul says there’s been a change that’s taken place – something has died, something has come alive.
There is a sense that our “death” with Christ has removed the power of sin over our lives.
There is a sense that our being raised with Christ gives us strength to live for Him.
Jesus changes lives.
That’s not to say that we don’t have to do anything ourselves – we still must walk in obedience.
But the change comes from God when you put your faith in Jesus.

Has Jesus changed your life?  Will you let Him?