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Paul’s Answer to Heresy (from The Preeminence and All Sufficiency of Jesus Christ)

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In his epistle to the Colossians, Paul highlights the divine Person and creative and redemptive work of Christ against devaluation of Christ by a particular heresy that threatens the church at Colossae. Then Paul draws out the practical implications of this high Christology for everyday life and conduct.

The Colossian heresy blends Christianity together with Jewish legalism, Greek philosophic speculation, and Oriental mysticism. Perhaps the location of Colossae on an important trade route linking East and West contributed to the mixed character of the false teaching. This joining of religions together in exotic hybrids is happening today in both Eastern and Western countries with the increasing “globalization” of religion.

All we know of the false teachers is contained in a few brief references to their errors; these references are not systematically given as an analysis of their doctrine, but only as occasion required and for the purpose of confirming the opposite truths. It is likely that the false teachers had at that time no fully developed system (although this did happen later in certain forms of Gnosticism), but only a few prominent tenets, such as those which Paul condemns. They were probably only the exponents of certain prevailing tendencies, rather than the originators of a clearly defined and formal heresy (as contrasted with Acts 15:1[1]).

Moreover, the false teachers’ purpose was not to deny Christ, but to dethrone Him with teachings of the angels being the true mediators between God and man, and Christ being one of many “Emanations” of God. Their doctrine did not deny His death but undervalued it, in promoting the pursuit of peace through ceremonial and ascetic practices. Their conscious purpose was not to subvert Christianity but only to perfect it. They were not trying to convert the Church to Judaism or to paganism, but to introduce into the Church certain mystical views and practices, and certain forms of “super-spiritual” and elite piety. They were promoting alternate and “higher” paths to spiritual maturity.

These teachers were not like the Pharisees or Judaizers with their outward formality, ostentation, judgmentalism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness obtained from obeying the mere letter of the law. They were more like the Essenes: mystics in doctrine, ascetics in practice, endlessly speculating about hidden truth and esoteric spiritual realities.

Paul looked at what was happening in Colossae and, by virtue of his apostolic gifting (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10), recognized these, albeit undeveloped, tendencies and corrected them. His corrections are pertinent to us today.

The general characteristics of the heresy were:

The Colossian heresy was of the same order of seriousness as the Galatian heresy, except that it centered about the Person of Christ, rather than about salvation by works versus salvation by grace. Paul’s answer to the heresy lay not in extended argument, but in a positive presentation of the preeminence and all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s theology is always practical. He is more interested in doing theology than in merely knowing it. Thus, the book has two main sections: doctrine (Chaps. 1-2) and exhortation (Chaps. 3-4). In the doctrinal section, Paul develops his high doctrine of Christology. In the exhortation section, he shows how that union with Christ in His death, resurrection and ascension forms the basis for Christian living. Believers are to adopt God’s perspective by regarding themselves as dead in Christ to sin and alive in Him to righteousness.Get your copy of The Preeminence and All-Sufficiency of Jesus Christ here. To purchase more of our books, visit

[1] Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

[2] Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

[3] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a Gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8)

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