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By Christina M Wilson. Previously published at https://justonesmallvoice.com/covenant-to-a-race-isaiah-devotional-2-12/.
What Does “Covenant to a Race” Mean?
From the Septuagint
6 … ἔδωκά σε εἰς διαθήκην γένους (Isaiah 42:6, LXX)
6 … I have given you as a covenant to a race… (NETS, Silva)
6 … I have given thee for the covenant of a race… (LXE, Brenton)
6 … I will… give You as the covenant of a race… (LXE, SAAS)(1)
From the Masoretic
6 … וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם (Isaiah 42:6, WLC)(2)
6 … I will give you as a covenant for the people… (Isaiah 42:6, ESV)
6 … I will appoint You as a covenant to the people… (Isaiah 42:6, NASB20)
6 … I… will make you to be a covenant for the people… (Isaiah 42:6, NIV)
6 … I… make you a covenant mediator for people… (Isaiah 42:6, NET)
Israel Singular and Israel Plural
God speaks directly to his Servant in Isaiah 42:6-7. The context indicates that the Servant is a singular person (Cf. Isaiah Devotional 2.9). The use of the word “servant” here in Chapter 42 differs from its use in Chapter 41. There, the word “servant” referred to the group of believing Israelites-“the seed of Abraham, whom I loved” (Isaiah 41:8). We know that Chapter 41 referred to a group of believers, because context determines the word’s particular meaning. In the context of the passage, Septuagint verse 14 (Isaiah 41:14) describes Israel as “few in number.” The Masoretic writes, “you men of Israel.”
In Chapter 42, however, all the pronouns are singular from verses 1 through 7. Note especially that the pronouns “you” and “your” in verse 6 are singular. But even more than the grammar, the context indicates that “Israel” in Chapter 42 refers to a singularly outstanding person. The content of verses 1 through 16 describes someone who is uniquely wonderful. Israel the people, even at the best of times, never lived up to this description. However, the promised Messiah will.
And This Is Why It Matters
The text of Isaiah 42:6 teaches that Messiah, a Person, is a covenant to a people. The Septuagint captures this meaning in all three of its translations. Of the Masoretic translations included above, the NIV does not shrink back, but boldly proclaims the plain meaning of the grammar, “I… will make you to be a covenant for the people.” The ESV, the NASB20, and the older KJV also give this meaning.
But I want to contemplate a note in the NET Bible for this verse. Note 15 flatly declares, “A person cannot literally be a covenant,” (see link to NET note). Then, the translation adds the word “mediator” to the text in verse 42:6. This word is not in the text. The NET Bible translators add it to the text. Presumably, this is to cause the text to conform to the editors’ hermeneutical principle that Old Testament prophecies must remain “literal,” or physically concrete. But, rather than make such an assertive presupposition, — that Isaiah spoke on a purely literal level, I will ask, “How can a person be a covenant?”
How Can a Person Be a Covenant?
In order to begin to approach answering the question, “How can a Person be a covenant?” I want to ask a further series of questions.
- How can a Person be literal bread? “I am the bread of life.” John 6:48
- How can a Person be literal light? “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12; Isaiah 42:6
- How can a Person be a literal door? “I am the door of the sheep.” John 10:7
- How can a Person be the literal resurrection? “I am the resurrection…” John 11:25
- How can a Person be literal life? “I am… the life.” John 11:25
- How can a Person be a literal way? (a road, a path) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
- How can a Person be literal truth? “I am… the truth,” John 14:6
- How can a Person be a literal vine? “I am the vine,” John 15:5
- How can a Person be the literal Word? “In the beginning was the Word… the Word became flesh,” John 1:1, 14
- How can a literal Word create? “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:3
- How can a Person be literal peace? “For he himself is our peace,” Ephesians 2:14
The answers to the above questions are all the same. Jesus was not speaking (or being spoken about) concretely (“literally”). For example, Jesus’s body in John 10:7 is not a concrete doorway (a physical, “literal” doorway) through which sheep may pass. Nor does he physically lay his body down on the ground so that people can walk over him, John 14:6. Jesus, of course, speaks spiritually in these texts.
John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
But for some reason, certain biblical scholars tell us that prophets living in Old Testament times were incapable of speaking spiritually, even with God’s guiding hand–his Spirit–directly upon them. Why else would they actually change the biblical text by adding words that are not there? The NET Bible adds the word “mediator” in Isaiah 42:6, NET. “Mediator” is not present in preserved texts written in the original Hebrew language. Nor is it present in the Septuagint, the earliest known translation of the Hebrew. Is the reader supposed to believe that NET Bible translators are better interpreters of God’s intended meaning to Isaiah than Isaiah himself? Isaiah was God’s chosen prophet.
As another example of NET Bible’s literalistic presupposition (their philosophy of interpretation), let’s consider the last portion of verse 6 combined with verse 7.
Isaiah 42:6 “I am the LORD… I will give you as… a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
We believers in New Testament times know what this verse means, because Jesus Christ is the direct fulfillment of it.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (ESV)
And of course we know that Jesus is speaking spiritually. Nevertheless, the NET Bible notes accompanying verses 6 and 7 in Isaiah chapter 42 choose to portray a concrete, physical, (“literal”) interpretation of the biblical imagery. First, the NET note for verse 6 appears acceptable. They write, “sn Light here symbolizes deliverance from bondage and oppression;” (Link to NET note 16). That note interprets “light” as a metaphor (whether or not their explanation is correct). That may seem all well and good. But second, the notes interpret the phrase, “to open the eyes that are blind,” in verse 7 in an entirely concrete, i.e. physically literal, way. Further, they say, the prisoners are actual prisoners in literal dungeons.
18 sn This does not refer to literal physical healing of the blind. As the next two lines suggest, this refers metonymically to freeing captives from their dark prisons where their eyes have grown unaccustomed to light. 19 sn This does not refer to hardened, dangerous criminals, who would have been executed for their crimes in ancient Near Eastern society. This verse refers to political prisoners or victims of social injustice. (Link to NET notes 18 and 19)
What the NET notes state is that God informs his servant that at some future time, he–the servant–will free literal prisoners from literally dark prisons. Note number 18 explains that these captives have been in the dark prison for so long that their physical eyes have grown unaccustomed to the light. I guess that is supposed to mean that their eyes are no longer capable of seeing properly. For all intents and purposes, these prisoners are physically blind. God will be sending his servant to these Gentile (verse 6) prisoners to physically remove them from prison.
Is That What God Really Meant to Say?
Now how can this contrived textual interpretation possibly be more acceptable than simply acknowledging that God in these verses gives Isaiah spiritual words to speak? (See the above paragraph.) Or, does Isaiah, in contradiction to the Apostle Peter, not have the Spirit of God when he prophesies?
1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things angels long to catch a glimpse of. (NET)
Peter directly claims that these Old Testament prophets did have “the Spirit of Christ within them” indicating what would later happen to Christ. Also, who were their audience? Notice that Peter flatly states that these Old Testament prophets were not primarily writing for an audience in their own timeframe. They were in fact, according to Peter, writing for listeners in the New Testament timeframe, “serving not themselves but you…”
Are we then who read Isaiah’s words–we to whom the Holy Spirit has been given when we believed (Ephesians 1:13; Acts 19:2-6)–are we not permitted to consult that Spirit because of an unstated NET hermeneutical principle that flatly proclaims that all Old Testament prophecy must be interpreted physically (concretely, i.e., “literally”)?
But What About Jeremiah?
Yet, somehow, the prophet Jeremiah, still solidly embedded within the Old Testament timeframe, is permitted to speak spiritually.
Jeremiah 31:33 I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts… (see Isaiah 31:31-33)
I’m wondering why the NET notes don’t state that God’s law cannot be literally written on people’s hearts? Is the use of language here so very different than what Isaiah writes in Isaiah 42:6-7? If a law can be written on people’s hearts, why can’t God give his Servant to be a covenant for people? Why can’t God give his Servant to be a spiritual light to Gentiles who are spiritually blind and locked up in spiritual prisons?
The Underlying Issue
Indeed, many people who lived in Israel during Isaiah’s timeframe were locked into the same stolidly literal hermeneutic that NET Bible notes so often use. What did Isaiah write concerning his own people?
Isaiah 59:10 We grope along the wall like the blind, we grope like those who cannot see; we stumble at noontime as if it were evening. Though others are strong, we are like dead men. (NET)
And didn’t Jesus agree with God’s prophet Isaiah?
Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (ESV)
And John the Apostle understood that Israel’s religious leaders were spiritually blind.
John 12:37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. (ESV)
Blessedly, Jesus healed both the physically blind and the spiritually blind.
A Basic Question
Since the religious leaders of the Israelites in Jesus’s day misunderstood their own Scripture to the extent that they missed their own Messiah, why should we, who have the Holy Spirit, limit ourselves to their blind lack of understanding, interpreting their Scripture wrongly, as they did? We also have the hermeneutical key to the Old Testament that Jesus gave his disciples–himself! (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). And, we have the example of all the New Testament writers who wrote about Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Why then should we make the same literalistic mistakes that unbelieving Israel did?
We have no reason today to suppose that Isaiah had no spiritual understanding. Even if the bulk of his listeners may not have, can we not grant that God’s Spirit broke through to Isaiah? Otherwise, why would he be quoted so often in the New Testament? I believe that the New Testament quotes Isaiah so often because Isaiah prophesied the Christ, and that One’s words are Spirit and life.
John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
1 SAAS: “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
2 WLC: Westminster Leningrad Codex
By Christina M Wilson. Republished from https://justonesmallvoice.com/concrete-and-spiritual-lxx-isaiah-journal-vol-2-1/.
God Calls His People a City
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith God. 2 Speak, ye priests, to the heart of Jerusalem; comfort her, for her humiliation is accomplished, her sin is put away: for she has received of the Lord’s hand double the amount of her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2 LXE)
In Isaiah 40:1-2, God commands the priests to speak the comfort of reconciliation to his people, Jerusalem. In verse one, he refers to his people as, “my people.” In verse two, he refers to this same group as “Jerusalem.” God commands the priests to speak to “the heart of Jerusalem.” He says to them that Jerusalem’s humiliation is over. “Her sin is put away, for she has received of the Lord’s hand double the amount of her sins.” Would any honest person argue that by “Jerusalem” God means the pile of rubble that the Babylonians left behind? (Do rocks and stones and wooden pillars “sin”?) In these verses, God equates in a figure of speech the city “Jerusalem” with “my people.” In verse 2, God refers to Jerusalem as a female, singular. God calls his people by a singular, female appellation. The point is that if “Jerusalem” means the people of Jerusalem here, then it may also mean so later in the book of Isaiah.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
How readers interpret Scripture is called “hermeneutics.” Hermeneutics is the study of the underlying assumptions and interpretive principles different readers bring to a text. Isaiah is an example of poetic prophecy. Characteristic of Isaiah and other books of prophecy (see Zechariah, for example), the writer uses imagery whose referents are not always clear. In other words, when readers, especially readers today, read certain prophetic passages, they often come away not knowing who or what or when specifically the passage is about. It is common for readers and biblical commentators to fill the gaps with their own presuppositions, their own hermeneutical preferences.
Scripture informs us that not knowing the specific referent was sometimes the case even for the Old Testament prophets themselves. Peter writes:
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1Peter 1:10-12 ESV)
God himself was the original source, the origin, of the words the prophets spoke.
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2Peter 1:20-21 ESV)
The entire passage, 2 Peter 1:16-21, is good and relevant to Isaiah 40:1-5. Peter’s point is that Jesus Christ is the main point of the prophetic witness. He tells how the booming voice from heaven revealed to himself and others on the Mount of Transfiguration that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The “Holy Spirit sent from heaven,” further verifies to all believers Christ’s identity as Messiah, Son of God. This knowledge from the future is highly relevant to this portion of Isaiah.
What Do Readers Know About God’s People?
Both Testaments speak of God’s having chosen a “people.” In the Old Testament, God’s people are the community whose native or adopted land is Israel. God chose to “reside” in the temple constructed in Jerusalem, the religious and governmental capital of the land of Israel. But even in the Old Testament, after the dispersion to Babylon and elsewhere, people who identified with Israel and its religion considered themselves the people of God.
In the New Testament, God’s people are those who believe in and display loyalty to Christ, their King. Jesus Christ of Nazareth was Jewish. His first followers were Israelites, the people of Israel. But New Testament authors, especially Paul, expanded the Old Testament concept of “God’s people” to include all peoples everywhere who follow Christ. God’s people includes Jewish folk and Gentile folk alike. Paul teaches that Abraham’s children are those who believe in Christ (Galatians 3:22-29). He teaches that non-Jewish believers in Christ have been “grafted in” to the native “olive tree” of Israel (Romans 11:17-24). Now, by faith in Christ, God’s people are Israelites (Jewish people) and Gentiles (non-Jewish people) together as one (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Concrete or Spiritual?
The New Testament identity of Jerusalem is a touchy subject. For example, will Old Testament prophecies concerning Jerusalem be fulfilled literally, that is, with physical concreteness concerning bricks and mortar? Or, will these prophecies find fulfillment in a spiritual way that includes all believers, rather than ethnic Israel exclusively?
The framing of the question is important. Those who frame the question as though inclusion of Gentile believers in Christ excludes “ethnic” and “national” Israel are misinterpreting Scripture and their rhetorical opponents. Both Testaments are very clear that God discriminates against no one, no one, according to ethnicity or national citizenship. The following is a quotation from a study Bible.
“Interpretive challenges…on whether Isaiah’s prophecies will receive literal fulfillment or not, and on whether the Lord, in His program, has abandoned national Israel and permanently replaced the nation with the church…”
“… He [God] would not reject the people whom He has created and chosen…”
“…To contend that those yet unfulfilled [prophecies of Isaiah] will see non-literal fulfillment is biblically groundless… disqualifies the case for proposing that the church receives some of the promises made originally to Israel. The kingdom promised to David belongs to Israel, not the church.”
The quotations above are taken from “The MacArthur Study Bible,” by John MacArthur, Author and General Editor, published at Nashville, et al., by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Copyright 2006, page 935.
I think it’s important to let God interpret his own Scripture. As a Christian, I do allow the New Testament to expand, clarify, and enlighten the Old. God is so much larger than all of us combined. Our understanding of his ways is meager, and paltry, and minimal at best. I do not believe it is necessary to set up an either/or hermeneutic as the above writer and many others have done. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD,” (Isaiah 55:8 ESV).
I believe that God is infinite. Our logic and best efforts to restate God in our own words falls infinitely short of his power and grace. I believe that God will honor his promises to the fathers of Old Testament Israel and he will honor his promises to New Testament saints at one and the same time. These are not mutually exclusive. God can be faithful to the Old Testament fathers and faithful to his Gentile believers now. The two are no longer distinguishable.
One thing I do know, a particular Study Bible does not have the final word on either God or his outcomes. Saying, This is what God means and what he must be bound to, does not make it so. That is human interpretation. I will not be robbed of portions of God’s biblical promises to David because a certain interpreter says, that as a Gentile believer, I have no stake in these promises. Nor would I rob anyone else. This is for God to settle, not we his people.
However, as far as this blog is concerned, I pray that I will always take the high road of placing Christ, not physical Jerusalem, at the center. I pray that I will place Christ, not ethnic Israel, at the center of my interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Application to Isaiah?
What do the biblical books of Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians have to do with the book of Isaiah? Simply this. When I, as a 21st century non-Jewish Christian, read God’s words, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” can I apply these words to myself? I believe that the New Testament teaches that yes, I can. God is also speaking to me. And, the Holy Spirit within me says, yes, I am God’s child, every bit as much as his Old Testament people. For I, as a believer in Christ, am one of “God’s people.” This is basic Christianity.
To say that the New Testament church is co-partaker with God’s Old Testament people, Israel, by no means implies an either/or situation. All the promises in Christ are yes (2 Corinthians 1:19-22). Because God through Christ grafted Gentiles into Israel’s native olive tree does not by any means imply that Israel will no longer receive God’s promises. However, I believe that those who wish to make an application of any of God’s promises to Israel only, excluding the church, are misreading Scripture and making assumptions that God never intended.
What does it mean when Scripture says, he who is our peace “made us both one” (Ephesians 2:11-22)? The context of these words is ethnic Jewish believers and ethnic Gentile believers. Doesn’t the plain sense of the words indicate that literally, concretely, both of these groups in their entirety are one in Christ? Paul makes no disclaimers. He does not say, “I am speaking spiritually here. I do not mean that “literally” they are one. Of course literally they are still separated. Only in the Spirit are they one.” Paul did not write that.
That is not what the biblical text states. Christ does not say yes yes and no no (2 Corinthians 1:17-19). Scripture does not say to the church, yes to the “spiritual” and no to the “concrete”. Using plain words, Isaiah did not distinguish–this is “literal,” and this is “spiritual.” Those who see such distinctions are reading their own desires into Scripture. For we are all one in Christ. In plain English, one means one.
Paul follows Isaiah. He clearly states, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise,” (Galatians 3:29 ESV). Paul does not qualify his statement by explaining that he means, “heirs of the spiritual blessing that accompanied the Abrahamic Covenant.” (1) Paul states, “heirs according to promise,” not, Heirs of spiritual [only] blessing. I repeat, God is big enough to fulfill all the biblical promises he has ever made at every level, spiritual and concrete, without excluding anyone. It is a shortage of insight and love that causes some to set these prophecies up as an either/or situation.
The Very Next Verses Introduce the Church
Volume 2 of Isaiah opens with Isaiah 40:1-2 announcing comfort to God’s people and the perfect, complete putting away of Jerusalem’s sin [i.e., the people of Jerusalem’s sin]. Why does the Lord introduce the church in the very next verse? Someone might say, “But where is the church?” Verses 3-5 announce the Incarnation of the Lord God, and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” (verse 5).
This would be a very odd juxtaposition if verses 1 and 2 apply only to the ethnic people of God and a physically destroyed Jerusalem, both in the prophet’s own day. The introduction of Messiah at this point signals a much grander plan, a fuller pardon, and a far wider scope than a purely local fulfillment to be accomplished by the return of the exiles to their native land.
Nor does Isaiah specify when or by what means God’s pardon occurs. He does not state the specifics of when or how Jerusalem’s having received “double” for her sins has transpired. I believe God placed the next three verses to indicate that Messiah is for all ages and all people. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Christ’s atonement works for all peoples of all times. His atonement worked backward to the prior centuries of Israel’s guilt and forward to our time. Why else would Scripture place this prophetically clear announcement of Christ’s birth just here? (See Matthew 3:3, 11:10; Mark 1:2,3; Luke 1:76, 3:4, 7:27; John 1:23; and Malachi 3:1.)
This post is long, I realize. Nevertheless, the first five verses of Isaiah chapter 40 are a unit. They should be read together. They deal with the same topic: God’s pardon and plan of salvation for his own people and for all humanity, at one and the same time. What is amazing is that Scripture can pack so much into so few words. Truly, God is to be praised.
Because I have dealt so fully with my biblical preferences and biases (presuppositions) here, perhaps I will not need to do so as we progress through Isaiah, Lord willing.
1 MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, page 1763.
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)
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)
OT: (Hosea 11:1)
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)
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)
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)
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–
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]