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In discussing the first topic these particulars present themselves :
(a) Were the false teachers at Colosse of one sect or class, or did they belong to different and distinct parties?
(6) Were they Jews or Christians ?
(a) When the various features ascribed by the apostle to these errorists are collected into one portrait, they appear at first sight so contradictory as not to belong to the same individuals. Rather do they seem to describe minds whose psychology is diverse. Hence Heinrichs attributes the characteristic traits enumerated to persons of various parties, - judaists, gnostics, and other heretics. In like manner Whitby thinks, that they point partly to Essenes, and partly to Pythagorean philosophers. Nothing improbable appears in the supposition that a judaising tendency is depicted in the words :- Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days;' and a gnostic propensity in the following :'Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,' (ii. 16, 18.) The writer does not affirm that all the errors he condemns were held by the same persons. No part of the epistle is directly or decidedly opposed to the hypothesis, that those who disseminated false doctrines among the Colossians belonged to classes essentially distinct ; although, at the same time, a line of separation is not drawn between different parties. But when we reflect that Colosse was of comparatively small extent*—that the Christians there were not very numerous; and that the apostle uniformly censures the church as a whole, not certain individuals in it; that the errors in question are snecessively depicted without any intimation that they belonged to various factions; it is probable, that all the features unite in one portrait, and find their
It is often stated, that Colosse was a large, wealthy, populous city, and thence inferred that the church there was large and flourishing: This does not appear to be correct. In the time of Herodotus and Xenophon, it certainly was so; but not in the time of Paul. The former historian calls it Tróles peyaan (vii. 30); the latter, evồaiuwv kai jeya,n,( Anab. I. 2. 6). But its ancient greatness sank when Laodicea and Hierapolis rebelled against the yoke of the Seleucidæ, and afterwards of the Romans. Strabo (xii. 8.) calls it Fólioua, a little town, in opposition to Laodicea which was extensive and populous. Ptolemy has taken no notice of it in his catalogue of cities. It is true that Pliny reckons it one of the celeberrima oppida Phrygia,( Nat. Hist. v. 41). but oppidum means only a town ; and the reason why he styles it very celebrated is obscure. His authority is of little weight against that of Strabo. VOL. XVII.
appropriate position in the same persons., A comparison of our epistle with the pastoral letters shews, that similar errors had been promulgated in Crete and Ephesus. It is therefore better to assume, with the majority of modern interpreters, that only one class of heretical teachers is depicted in the epistle.
(6) Eichhorn maintains, that they were Jews, not Christians; a hypothesis afterwards modified by Schneckenburger, and adopted as so modified by Feilmoser. In support of it Eichhorn adduces the phrase, ‘not holding the head, (ii. 19), which is explained, not believing in Christ. This, however, is obviously incorrect. Had they been mere Jews, there would have been no significancy in affirming that they did not believe in Christ.
Not holding the head' must therefore denote, not holding fast by the head, not maintaining a belief in His essential dignity and power, but virtually lowering his pre-eminence by adopting and disseminating views in regard to his person, inconsistent with its true glory. Had they not made a profession of Christianity, the apostle would hardly have described, or warned the Colossians against them, with such particularity.
The case would have been too obvious to require so much opposition on the part of an inspired writer. Jews would have been at once charged with absolutely rejecting the promised Messiah in the person of the Saviour, and thus condemned for their unbelief. It is manifest from the tenor of the epistle, that they were Christians not Jews, else the pains taken to refute them appear to be superfluous.
(c) In Phrygia, there was a mixture of the oriental and occidental tendencies. The national character of the people appears to have been strongly tinctured with the enthusiastic and the mystical. Such a propensity, turned in a heathen direction, may be observed in the fanatical worship of Cybele; while in the direction of Christianity, it appears in the Montanism of the second century. During the apostolic age, many Jews were dispersed through Asia Minor. Considerable numbers had taken up their abode there previously to the birth of Christ. According to Josephus, Antiochus the Great ordered two thousand Jewish families, with all their effects, to be transplanted from Babylon and Mesopotamia into Phrygia, (Antiq. xii. 3.) Nor were the Jews who had established themselves in this region of one party alone ;—they belonged to all the sects into which the nation was divided. Now the people of that time, both Jews and heathens, were prone to speculations respecting the invisible world. Eager to stretch their view beyond the material, they pushed their inquiries into the region of spirits and higher intelligences. It may be readily conceived, that the thirst after such aërial knowledge was accompanied by considerable dissil. tisfaction, because the votaries arrived at no definite conclusions, nor attained to a full solution of their doubts. In the domain of their shadowy speculations, they found no substantial restingplace. This was the prevalent propensity of the human mind, especially of the Phrygian, at the period in question. Amid the general desire for superior wisdom, and communion with higher orders of being, Christianity was embraced all the more readily, as the means of affording that relief to the spirit which it had elsewhere sought in vain, inasmuch as this new religion professes to release mankind, in some degree, from the bondage of the body, and to communicate a divine knowledge.
But we must consider the tendencies of the Jewish mind itself prior to the reception of Christianity, and the different phases which it presented, before the result of the contact of such mind with the simple doctrine of the New Testament can be rightly developed. There is in mind generally, the practical and the speculative tendency. The former predominated among the Pharisees; the latter among the Essenes,-a contemplative class, who lived secluded from the world, exhibiting a theosophic spirit in union with an ascetic bias. The Essenes, however, were not the only Jews who manifested this mental bias. Many others exhibited a mystic-ascetic direction. At first sight, asceticism might appear inconsistent with the theoretic spirit. It might seem improbable, that the practical and the speculative should be united in the same individuals. But a false asceticism, so far from being incongruous with the theoretic propensity, is nearly allied to it. When once the mind turns aside in a wrong direction, or tries to penetrate into the region of clouds and shadows, it engenders notions in regard to the material, which partake of the illusions gathered amid airy speculations. It will then be felt more keenly, that the body is a clog upon the heaven-born spirit, by preventing it from assimilation to angels and spirits, or by obstructing its desires after the invisible and immaterial. Hence the outward frame will be neglected and macerated, and its natural appetites unduly restrained, as though they directly tended to hinder communion with the spiritual world. If we reflect, moreover, that strict asceticism, as in the case of the false teachers at Colosse, often rested on the belief that matter was essentially evil, we shall readily perceive the alliance between phi losophical speculation and rigid abstinence. The elements of theosophic ascetism were already contained in the Jewish Cabbala. It is true that these elements with which the apostolic age was deeply imbued, had not been incorporated into a formal organism, but they were in active operation, and widely diffused notwithstanding. Soon after the apostolic period, they were wrought up into complete and compacted systems.
Let it be remembered too, that before and during the time of our Saviour, Alexandria was the metropolis of philosophy. There Jewish theosophy assumed various garbs, and was extensively cultivated. Allegorical interpretation was fashionable. To the outward symbols of Judaism a higher meaning was attached. A hidden sense was extracted from every part of the Old Testament. Contemplating the external as thus connected with the internal, the learned Jews of Egypt desired to penetrate through it into the recesses of the latter, and so to arrive at profound mysteries which it was the privilege of the initiated alone to apprehend. Such was the class to which Philo belonged -a class resembling the persons to whom reference is made in the present epistle. Now the influences emanating from Alexandria were extensive. A place where philosophical Judaism found its central point, must have had no ordinary effect upon the Jews resident in other, and especially, in neighbouring regions. Doctrines passed through it from the east into the west. Between the developments of the eastern and western mind, it must be regarded as the principal centre of union. Here were many contemplative Essenes or Therapeutæ, and thence came forth a powerful stimulus to the intellectual appetite of Jewish brethren, and even of cultivated heathen, who had not the good fortune to reside at the fountain, and to catch the enthusiastic spirit fresh from its source. It is unnecessary, on the present occasion, to develop the prevailing elements of the Alexandrine theology about the time of our Lord's advent, especially those peculiar elements which constituted the prominent part of Philo's creed. There was a twofold tendency to mystical speculation ; viz., the Grecian-philosophic and the Oriental-theosophic; the former more apparent in Philo; the latter, in the case before us.
When Jews addicted to such theosophic-asceticism were led to embrace christianity, they could not easily abandon their previous bias, however opposite to the simplicity and purity of the gospel. Ignorant, perhaps, of the extent and reality of the self-denial which the gospel demands, they adopted it as offering spiritual freedom, and affording farther insight into that immaterial world in which their imaginations loved to luxuriate. But christianity grasped by minds of mystical and enthusiastic tendencies, must have partially disappointed their hopes, especially since they were averse to the renunciation of that boasted wisdom which must be laid at the foot of the cross. In these circumstances it was natural for theorizers to modify and adapt the gospel to their wonted modes of thought,--to bring it into union with their mystical notions, and to cast it anew in the mould of their own theosophy. Hence,
pure christianity was disfigured. It cannot be associated with the heterogeneous speculations of oriental theosophy without deterioration of its genuine character. The house where the ark of the Lord is placed, cannot allow a rival occupant. Dagon must fall to the ground. Such was the mode in which it was sought to incorporate a theosophic religion with christianity. The false teachers in question were Jewish gnostics, whose previous tendencies had not been subdued by the all-pervading influence of genuine truth. They therefore modified the gospel to suit their particular views.
We are now prepared to pronounce a decision upon the question whether the so-called philosophy consisted of elements foreign to Judaism, or of materials emanating from that religion alone. We have seen the kind of religious notions current among some of the Jewish sects. Josephus and Philo, who are the principal* sources of information in regard to this point, shew, that philosophical speculations identical with those inculcated by the errorists at Colosse, occupied the minds of the inquiring Jews, and were propagated as matters of recondite knowledge concealed from the mass of mankind. It has been thought difficult, however, to find among the Jews of that period evidence of the fact that the worship of angels (ii. 18) was held by any sect in the time of Paul; and again, to discover such sentiments as the apostle confronts, by declaring Christ to be the head of all principality and power (ii. 10), having spoiled principalities and powers, made a shew of them openly, and triumphed over them in his sufferings (ii. 15), i. e., peculiar sentiments in regard to orders of angels, and subordinate deities supposed to possess creative energy. Josephus, indeed, speaks of the three different forms in which the Mosaic religion had been moulded as different philosophical directions. The term philosophy therefore does not necessarily lead the inquirer beyond the bounds of the Old Testament religion, although it is too narrow to confine it, with Tittmann and others, exclusively to the Jewish law. According to the account given of the Essenes, we should have expected that they, if any of the sects, should have reverenced angels or celestial spirits. Perhaps, however, it will not be needful even here to travel beyond the limits of Judaism. The mental propensity which has been already described as belonging to the Jews in Phrygia, is nearly allied to an angelological tendency. In consequence of their proneness to the mysterious and the magical, they were eager to cultivate a connexion with superior beings. It is generally admitted that the Jews brought many notions concerning spirits and demons from Babylon; and there is little
* See also Pliny, Nat. Hist. v. 15 (17).