Commentary on Colossians, 2:18 (Cling to the Truth)

Colossians 2:18


“Let no one disqualify you, delighting in humility and worshipping of angels, dwelling on the things which he has seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,”


(Very difficult verse for scholars to translate)


“disqualify”  ( Gr. katabrabeuo – 2603)


(Only occurrence in the NT)


To act as a judge or as an umpire against someone, to disqualify by judgment, to deprive by fraud, to decide against, to declare unworthy, to condemn.


Vine’s:


“To give judgment against, to condemn:  Said of false teachers who would frustrate the faithful adherence of the believers to the truth, causing them to lose their reward. Another rendering closer to the proper meaning of the word, as given above, is “let no one decide for or against you” (i.e. without any notion of a prize); this suitably follows the word “judge” in v. 16, i.e., “do not give yourselves up to the judgment and decision of any man” (kjv, marg., “judge against”).”


Paul is telling the Colossian Christians not to allow anyone to act as an umpire against them, to act as their judge. No one has the right to tell them, or to make them feel that what they’ve been taught will “disqualify” them. Many believe that this Greek word involves an allusion to the Olympic Games, where one could be judged and disqualified in regard to the “prize.”


Thus they see this word as a disqualification of the rewards we will receive when we stand before Jesus. This idea is conveyed in translations such as the ASV, NAS, KJV, NKJV, and NIV. While this Greek word may include the idea of non-attainment of a rewards, it’s not necessarily so, as the Vine’s (above) and the following Commentary indicates:


Expositor’s Bible Commentary:


“Paul’s third warning brings before us two of the most puzzling verses in the NT. The Greek expression for “disqualify you” (hymas katabrabeueto) has been rendered in many different ways: KJV, “beguile you of your reward”; Knox “cheat you”; ASV, “rob you of your prize”; BV, “defraud you of salvation’s prize,” etc. The literal meaning of the clause is “let no one act as umpire against you,” that is, give an adverse decision against you. Perhaps it is only a stronger and more picturesque way of saying, “Let no one judge you” (cf. v.16). The essential meaning is, “Let no one deny your claim to be Christians.”


In light of Vine’s and Expositors explanation, limiting this Greek word to the disqualification of rewards (prizes) is not something one can be dogmatic about, and is probably best to view this word in the more general sense:  “Let no one decide for or against you” (Vine’s) and “Let no one act as an umpire against you” (Expositor’s). The following translations convey that understanding: ESV, LEB, HCS, NLT.


I believe the context itself supports the more general sense of the word, and refers not to rewards, but to salvation. The Colossian Christians had been influenced by the false teaching of the Judaizers (or perhaps pagan food laws and celebrations and other beliefs: Col 2:8,11,16,20-23), which insisted upon adding things to faith in Christ. That amounts to a false gospel. Salvation is through Christ alone through faith alone. When someone trusts in their works in addition to their faith in Christ, it results in a false conversion. God will not accept the one who comes to Him with a divided faith: faith in Christ and faith in himself.


The influence of the Judaizers and worldly philosophy among the Colossians is evident. This whole chapter suggests a seriousness that goes beyond simply a loss of rewards, and involves one’s very salvation. Other than this one Greek word, there is nothing in this chapter to suggest that Paul was talking about rewards at all. In fact, Paul’s whole discussion in this chapter is about how this type of teaching leads away from a pure gospel and a pure faith in Christ. Read this chapter carefully, and you will see that theme clearly presented. This chapter is not about rewards, but about salvation and the assurance of salvation.


That said, even if this Greek word involves the idea of reward, it would be in the sense of some sort of gain, and not necessarily something that is earned. There’s no justification for assuming that Paul had rewards for faithful service in mind. Again, that idea is completely missing in this chapter.


Furthermore, there’s no reason to take the analogy of the Olympic Games, necessarily, to its fullest extent. In other words, “since athletes receive prizes for their achievements, then Paul cannot be talking about salvation, since salvation doesn’t depend on our own achievements.” However, just as winning in the Olympic games results in prizes, so does our faith in Christ result in our salvation. Just as winning in the Olympic Games gains the prize, so does faith in Christ gain our salvation. I believe that is all Paul has in mind here. Paul’s whole discussion confirms that idea.


Therefore, Paul is instructing and encouraging the Colossian Christians not to allow all this false teaching to disqualify them in regard to their salvation, but to cling to their faith in Christ as they had been taught (Col 2:4-9). The Galatian Christians had a similar problem in their church, and Paul went to great lengths in his letter to turn them away from the false teaching that was going on among them. That he was concerned for their salvation, there cannot be any reasonable doubt (please read my commentary on Galatians). I think here too, Paul is concerned about where the Colossians Christians were headed.


There are many who believe that Paul didn’t teach conditional security, that we can forfeit our salvation. However, I believe Paul actually had much to say about that, and as I work my way through this commentary on the New Testament, I will take every opportunity to discuss that.


“delighting in humility”  (Gr. thelo – 2309)


To will, to have in mind, to take delight or pleasure in, to insist upon.


The false teachers among the Colossians, “delighted in” and “insisted” on a form of humility, that amounted to what was actually a false humility. When one delights in humility, it’s no longer true humility, but a mere outward show of it. Kind of like the person who wears his “Most Humble Award” button to church. This “show” of humility is something these false teachers tried to impose upon the Colossians.


“worshipping of angels”


Involved in this false humility, was the worshipping of angels. Apparently, they viewed approaching God directly as a form of pride, so they directed their worship toward angels instead. That was something they took “pride” in. Furthermore, to refuse to approach God by the means that He has provided, is pride. It’s always prideful to try to reach God through our own ways. Through Christ (Jn 14:6), we have the freedom to go before God’s throne with boldness (He 4:16). True humility depends upon Christ, and goes through Christ, when approaching God.


“dwelling on the things which he has seen”


“dwelling on”  (Gr. embateuo – 1687)


(Only occurrence in the NT)


To frequent, to enter into, to investigate, search into, dwell on, intrude, take a stand on.


These false teachers also dwelled upon their so-called visions, “the things which he has seen.” These visions, if they had them at all, were not visions from God, but would have been demonic in nature. To have a vision “from God” would certainly tend to make one prideful, and so this is something they dwelled on and talked about frequently. I’m sure they thought that having these visions gave them some sort of credibility, and that people needed to pay attention to what they had to say.


“vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,:


The outward shows of humility, the the worshipping of angels, and the so-called visions from God that they had, made them feel pretty good about themselves. They swelled with pride, but it was all vain (empty) in the eyes of God. What they believed and what they practiced and what they experienced, was not of the Spirit of God, but was of the old, fleshly, sinful nature.


It’s evident that the Colossian Christians were being influenced by both the Judaizers and pagans. However, as Paul indicates, not all were falling for their teaching (Col 2:5), but there were apparently enough that Paul became concerned for the spiritual well-being of the overall assembly. False teaching in any church needs to be stopped dead in its tracks before it has a chance to spread and cause great damage. That is what Paul was trying to do here.


This all goes back to what I say all the time, that we MUST be diligent students of the Word of God, or we can become deceived about so many things. The evidence of that fact abounds in churches today.