The Menace Of Heresy - Colossians 2:8-23

Emmitt Channell

These verses have often been called “The Colossian Heresy.” What was this heresy? Many theories have been put forth including the thought that this was the beginning of Gnosticism, a second and third century “heresy that denied the deity of Christ, excused evil conduct on the supposition that the body is evil, encouraged asceticism, limited the sufficiency of redemption through Christ, and gave rise to ritualism, speculation, and low standards of righteousness.” (Russell Bradley Jones, Survey of the Old and New Testaments, p. 332). 

First century Christianity and Gnosticism were two very different approaches to Christianity. In fact, they were so very different from each other as to be incompatible. What Paul describes at Colosse was incompatible with what is taught elsewhere in the New Testament. Likewise, teachings today that have the elements of Gnosticism or the Colossian Heresy are incompatible with New Testament Christianity. 

How seriously did Paul consider the threat at Colosse? Obviously, he thought it was serious enough to include his refutation of it in his teaching on the preeminence of Christ. Paul knew that teachings which change the nature of Christ are a serious threat to Christianity. We need to know the truth about the nature of Christ, and we must be prepared to answer false teachings concerning Him.

Exactly what was the Colossian Heresy? All that we know about it is what Paul writes in these verses. He was certainly writing about something that was happening at Colosse, but this was not an isolated case. It may have been a departure with certain characteristics, but it was not unique to other New Testament books.

Paul wrote that the differences (factions) among the Corinthians served the purpose of demonstrating “which of you have God’s approval.” (1 Cor 11:19 NIV) Some were not approved of God and the brethren needed to know who they were.

Peter wrote “there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1) As at Colosse, some of the false teaching Peter mentions had to do with Christ.

We are to “mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them.” (Romans 16:17) (cf 1 Corinthians 5:4-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14)

Paul warned Timothy of those who would “depart from the faith” and “not endure sound doctrine.” (1 Timothy 4:1-4; 2 Timothy 4:1-4)

“Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son. If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works.” (2 John 9 -13)

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)

Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:8-23 is in complete harmony with other New Testament warnings about accepting some teaching other than that which has been revealed by inspired writers.

My lesson in the WV Christian Lectureship will focus on the threat of heresy, ancient and modern. –1339 S. Hanover St., Pottstown, PA 19465.

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