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Does Paul Spiritualize the Concrete?: The Great Shift Exemplified in Colossians 2:8-3:4


Click for Text Here: Colossians 2:8-3:4

Gospel Precedents and Biblical Background of Spiritual Elements in Colossians 2


I. One of the great markers of the New Testament Gospels is the translation of concrete and historical Old Testament realities into spiritual and historical realities:

A. Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb.

1. OT: Abraham begins to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14)

NT: John the Baptist of Jesus–“Behold, the Lamb of God.” (John 1:29, 36)

2. OT: Passover blood of the sacrificial lamb on the lintel (Exodus 12:7)

NT: Jesus sacrificed during Passover (Luke 22:7-8)

B. Jesus becomes the temple.

1. OT: (2 Chronicles 7:11-12)

NT: (John 2:19-22)

C. Concrete worship becomes spiritual.

1. OT: God commanded a certain location where he was to be worshiped (Deuteronomy 12:2-7)

NT: Jesus changed a specific, physical (concrete) location of worship into a spiritual locus of worship with no physical correspondence (John 4: 20-24)

2. OT: God gave the Israelites manna to keep them alive in the wilderness (Exodus 16)

NT: Jesus gives his followers spiritual blood and spiritual bread (spiritual representations of his own physical–i.e., concrete–body) to keep them spiritually alive (John 6:30-35, 49-58)

D. God called Israel his son Text Arrow God calls Jesus his Son

OT: (Hosea 11:1)

NT: (Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22)

E. The Old Covenant becomes the New Covenant

1. OT: The many OT covenants had physical (concrete) markers

a. the Noahic Covenant, marked by a rainbow, in which God promised not to physically destroy all living flesh by water (Genesis 9:12-17)

b. covenant with Abraham marked by the sacrifice of a physical ram (Genesis 22:9-18)

c. covenant with Israel through Moses (Exodus 24:3-8) marked by sacrificial blood (“This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.” Exodus 24:8) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:8, 12; 25:16; 34:28)

d. covenant with David and his house (Psalm 89:3-4; 2 Samuel 7:13) marked by the establishment of his kingdom

2. NT: Jesus gives a New Covenant marked by the concrete (physical) sacrifice of his own body on a cross and the symbolic remembrance of that sacrificed blood in communion (“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20

II. The New Testament epistles continue to replace concrete (physical) realities with spiritual realities sometimes marked by concrete symbols:

A. Continuation of Jesus’ blood as a symbolic marker of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25)

B. Continuation of the spiritual temple motif (Hebrews 10:19-20)

C. Continuation of spiritual worship (John 4:23-24; Philippians 3:3; Revelation 21:22)

D. Scripture continues to refer to Jesus as God’s son (Acts 8:37; Romans 1:1-4; 2Peter 1:17) and to his followers as sons (includes daughters) of God (Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26; Hebrews 12:7)

E. The epistles continue to refer to the New Covenant as having replaced the Old (in prophecy Jeremiah 31:31-34; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8-13; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24)

Paul’s Movement from Concrete (Physical) to Spiritual in Colossians


I. In matters of food, drink, festivals, new moon, a sabbath

Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

A. Paul’s list includes all concrete substances (food and drink) or practices (celebrating a festival, a new moon, or a Sabbath).

B. He calls these a “shadow,” but Christ is the “substance,” or the reality that casts the shadow. Not being physically present on Earth at this time, Christ is Spirit, present by means of the Holy Spirit, who lives in believers and among them.

C. Paul calls these concrete religious practices “elemental spirits” or “elementary principles” as in the NAU. (Gr: στοιχεῖον) (Colossians 2:20)

D. They fall within the category of what Paul labels “flesh” or “fleshly,” (Colossians 2:18; 3:22) what this post refers to as “concrete” or “physical.”

E. These practices concern concrete (physical) items, such as food and drink, which perish as they are used–i.e., they have no eternal value–and they are not useful in helping one to achieve the spiritual practices God desires (Colossians 3:23). The spiritual practices which God desires Paul begins to present in 3:5.

II. Paul moves circumcision from concrete to spiritual

Colossians 2:11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

III. Baptism, itself a concrete action, signifies a spiritual correspondence to and spiritual identification with Christ’s death and resurrection

Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

IV. In a spiritual way, the record of debts owed under the Old (First) Covenant was nailed to the cross with Christ and thereby cancelled, forgiven (2:13)

Colossians 2:14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

V. Paul’s point is that the Colossians, as believers in Christ, have moved from the old, concrete form of worshipping God to the new, spiritual form of worship.

Colossians 2:20a If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,

They are therefore free of the old ways, having died with Christ to them, and having been raised with him into newness of life under the New Covenant of Spirit

and no longer need to follow these old, concrete (physical, fleshly) ways of worship and thinking and living

Colossians 2:20b why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–

VI. Paul’s Alternative to the Old Ways Concrete_Spiritual

A. His rationale

Colossians 3:1a Since, then, you have been raised with Christ

Colossians 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

B. His conclusion

Colossians 3:1b set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

C. How should the Colossians’ thinking change?

Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

D. What will the end result be?

Colossians 3:4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

VII. Paul begins to answer the question, How then shall we live?

NIV  Colossians 3:5a Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (your concrete, fleshly body)

[not in text: and begin to live to the spiritual in the following ways, which he begins to state in 3:5b]


Link: Concrete to Spiritual: How Jesus Changes the Old Testament to the New

Paul: You Colossians Already Have It All

Tracing Out a Single Strand in Paul’s Letter


Corbis Getty Image Hair

His Argument


I. The Colossians’ Position in Christ

Paul's Syllogism

  1. The Colossians have faith and love (1:4).
  2. They heard the gospel and fully understood and recognized (ἐπιγινώσκω) the grace of God in truth (1:6).
  3. They learned this true gospel from Epaphras, a faithful minister of Christ (1:7).
  4. They are no longer estranged (1:21) but are now reconciled and will be presented by God holy, blameless, and irreproachable before him (1:22),
  5. IF they continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel they heard (1:23) (and again in 2:6).
  6. They currently have good order and firmness of faith in Christ (2:5).




II. Exhortations


A. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live (walk) in him (2:6) (Having come full circle–inclusio–this verse repeats 1:23).

  • How? (2:7)
    • rooted in Christ
    • built up in Christ
    • established in the faith (as you were taught in the gospel by Epaphras)
    • overflowing with thanksgiving


B. Don’t do this:

  • Don’t let others deceive and draw you astray into their cul-de-sac of false belief (2:8),
  • Because you don’t need them:
    • Christ is everything (2:9)
    • and you have been:
      • filled in Christ (he is the presence with which you have been filled)  (he is the agent) (you are located in him) (2:10)
      • spiritually circumcised in Christ(2:11)
      • buried and raised with Christ (2:12)
      • made alive with Christ (2:13)
      • forgiven (2:13)
    • You are debt free (2:14)
    • Your creditors have been defeated and publicly shamed by God through Christ (2:15)


C. Don’t let this happen:

  • That anyone should pass judgment on you in regard to food, drink, festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths (2:16).
  • Because
    • You died with Christ (cf. 2:12) to all these worldly things (2:20)
    • and have been raised with Christ (cf. 2:12) (3:1).


D. But do this:

  • Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (3:1).
  • Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (3:2).
  • Because
    • you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3) [!!!!!]
    • when Christ our life appears, you will appear with him in glory (3:4).


III. Paul Continues Explaining in Detail How the Colossians Should Live (3:5-4:6)

The New Reality = Change: Old and New Contrasted in Colossians

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him

Colossians Contrasts the Old and New in Christ

Easy Scripture Lookup at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search

Old (Before Christ)

New (Since Christ)

1:13  authority of darkness

1:13  kingdom of the Son–Love

1:21  estranged, hostile in mind,

doing evil deeds

1:22  reconciled, holy, blameless, irreproachable

1:23  living by faith

1:26  mystery hidden for ages and generations

1:26  the mystery now made open, manifest

 1:27 the mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory

2:8  philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, elemental spirits of the world

2:8  Christ

2:9 fulness of deity in a human body

2:10  fulness [of life (RSV)], completion (nothing missing)

2:11  [not circumcised] [living in the body of the flesh]

2:11  circumcised [in heart]; body of flesh put off

2:12  [dead] buried in baptism

2:12  raised from the dead

2:13 dead in trespasses and uncircumcision

2:13  alive with Christ, forgiven

2:14  a bond existed against us with legal demands

2:14  released from debt

2:15  [we lived defeated by] principalities and powers

2:15  principalities now disarmed; believers triumph over them

2:16-17 living in the shadows, where food, drink, festivals, new moon, and Sabbath observances judged essential

2:17 living in substance, which belongs to Christ

2:20 alive to the elemental spirits of the world and submission to regulations based on human commands and teachings

2:20 dead to those with Christ

3:1 not raised, subject to death

3:1 raised with Christ and seated at the right hand of God

3:2 minds set on things on earth

3:2 ability to set mind on things above

3:3 alive to self alone

3:3 dead to self and one’s life hidden with Christ in God

3:4 “with Christ” includes his future glory

3:5-9 walking and living in behaviors that require God’s wrath: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, lying

3:9, 12-23 have put off the old nature and put on the new; being renewed in knowledge after the image of God, practicing: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, thanksgiving, and many more

3:11 divisions among classes of people

3:11 Christ all and in all—therefore, no classes and distinctions among people

3:25 living under the threat of punishment

3:24 living with knowledge of the future reward of inheritance

4:1-6 more new behaviors

Old vs New Scriptures

1. Given by Christ

shrunken cloth vs unshrunk: Mark 2:21

old wine/new wine: Mark 2:22

old wine/new wine: Matthew 9:17

taste of old wine/new wine: Luke 5:39

2. Given by Paul

law vs Spirit: Romans 7:6

leaven vs unleavened: 1 Corinthians 5:7

old vs new creation: 2 Corinthians 5:17

3. Given by the Writer to the Hebrews

old vs new covenants: Hebrews 8:6



For Further Reflection: Think of the many Gospel stories you know. Can you find elements of changed lives in each one?

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