Colossians 2:15

Monday, 24 April 2017

Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. Colossians 2:15

This commentary will be a bit long, but it it is hoped that you will receive it gladly, despite the length.

The first word of this verse in the Greek has brought about innumerable commentaries of great length and of endless speculation as to its true meaning. It is apekduomai. It comes from two separate words, joined together by Paul, to make a new word. Apo means “away from,” and ekdyo means “go down and completely away from.” Thus it means “to strip oneself.” HELPS Word Studies notes that, “The double prefixes (apo, ek) strongly emphasize the depth of the renouncing. This ‘renunciation (stripping right off) is very emphatic.’” Paul uses this word which he coined one more time in the New Testament, in Colossians 3:9. In that verse, there is little disagreement as to its intended translation –

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,”

Because of the context of the words of this verse, scholars and translators alike have tried to come up with words which agree with their presuppositions about what Paul must be saying. As it is in the middle voice, it is to be taken as meaning “from,” not “for.” In other words, it would not mean, “He stripped for Himself something,” but rather “He stripped from Himself something.” The Pulpit Commentary notes that Paul employs compounds of dyo in the middle voice seventeen times elsewhere, and they are always in the sense of “putting off [or ‘on’] from one’s self.”

As noted, there are a long list of ideas as to the meaning of the first clause because of this unusual word. Some see this as having “put off the body of His flesh.” This would mean that He put off His physical body, and in the process He disarmed the principalities and powers which held sway over the physical body. This then would closely align with the thought of Colossians 3:9 above where the old man is stripped away. However, Christ did not possess “the old man” in His flesh. He is the new Man. The context cannot be speaking of this.

Others see this as having stripped away the angelic hosts through which the law was given. This would stand against the false teaching of the Judaizers. Others see this as Christ having divested the armor of the “infernal powers of darkness” (Gill). But this would not suit with the middle voice of the verb. On and on commentators have gone, attempting to translate this verb in order for it to make sense. Charles Ellicott gives one possible translation as, “…having unclothed Himself, He made a show of principalities and powers.” After saying this, he goes on to say that there is want of a connection to the phrase except to define it as “putting off the flesh” as was noted above. But, as we have shown, this makes no sense. Christ was sinless.

What needs to be done is to take the verb in its obvious, simple form. This is what Ellicott has done, except he then made an incorrect supposition as to what is “stripped.” It should thus be translated as, “Having stripped Himself, He made a show of principalities and powers.” With this translation, there is no need to then allegorize the action by saying it must be referring to the flesh of His body. Instead, it should be taken exactly as one would expect – He stripped Himself, and was thus naked. Instead of there being a want of a connection, the connection is perfectly obvious if aligned with the fall of man in the first place –

And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2:25

This lack of shame was because of their state of innocence in regard to sin. But after the fall, this was no longer the case –

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” Genesis 3:6-11

Immediately after the giving of the law, these words were spoken by the Lord to Moses –

Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.” Exodus 20:26

In this verse of Exodus 20, it is not speaking of mere physical nakedness, but of what that nakedness implies, based on what occurred in Genesis 3. Shame of nakedness is how sin first manifested itself. And it was the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life by which that sin came about. Man wanted to be like God, rising to His level. The earthen altar of Exodus 20 was to be without steps because man cannot rise to the level of God.

The higher the altar, the greater the sin is revealed, and thus the more nakedness is exposed. God instead made it known that He would condescend to become a Man and meet us on our own level. In Revelation 3, as Jesus speaks to the churches, He says this –

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” Revelation 3:18

The nakedness of the body only pictures our revealed sin. Christ came to take that away and to cover us with His righteousness. It was He who hung naked on Calvary’s cross so that we could be covered by Him. This is what Paul is referring to here. It is a literal stripping of Himself, exposing the innocence of the Lamb of God who bore no sin. In this He did make a show of “principalities and powers.”

Christ’s sinless nature, seen in His exposed flesh, thus exposed the darkness of these forces for what they truly are. In so doing, “He made a public spectacle of them.” What Adam and Eve had attempted to hide, and what the priests of Israel were commanded to keep hidden from the presence of an infinitely holy God, is the sin-nature of man. What Christ demonstrated was a sinless nature, proving He is God. His naked, body, there on the cross, demonstrated this to them. He publically shamed those powers and thus in stripping Himself, He stripped them, “triumphing over them in it.”

The final words of this verse in Greek are en auto. They are translated one of two ways, “in it,” or “in Him.” “It” would refer to the cross itself; “Him” would refer to Christ. As God is the subject throughout the passage, it is certainly referring to Christ, and it should be translated as “in Him.” God made a public spectacle of the principalities and powers, triumphing over them in Christ. The Seed of the woman, promised just a few verses after the account of the hiding of the nakedness of Adam and Eve, had done exactly what the Lord had promised. The head of the serpent was crushed, sin was defeated, Christ had prevailed. This then is the correct translation and interpretation of what is otherwise a wholly misunderstood verse –

Having stripped Himself, He made a show of principalities and powers; He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in Him.”

Life application: Isn’t the word great! It tells us of the marvelous work of Jesus, promised since the beginning of time. And He came right on time to do what was promised. Take time today to thank the Lord for this marvelous gift we call the Bible which in turn tells us of the most marvelous gift of all – our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord God, at the very fall of man, You promised that You would send the Messiah to come and restore all that we had so terribly fouled up. It was our disobedience which brought about all of the pain and suffering since then. But in Christ, that is now over. We have an eternal hope of dwelling with You in a paradise once again. Hallelujah for what You have done. Great things lie ahead for Your redeemed. Thank You, O God, for our Lord Jesus Christ who makes all things new! Amen.

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