Saturday, 13 May 2017
…where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Colossians 3:11
Paul, still showing remarkable consistency with his other letters, now gives a verse reminiscent of Galatians 3:28 –
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Like in Galatia, he here explains the universality of the Gospel message. He begins with, “there is neither Greek nor Jew.” The words are in opposite order to those written to Galatia. In Galatia, there was an insipid infection of believing that the Judaizers were more spiritual than those in Galatia. The Judaizers forced their adherence to the Old Testament on the Gentile believers, and those Gentiles swallowed it up. This was less problematic in Colossae, and so he says “Greek nor Jew.” The Gentiles were on the same level as the Jews.
As distinctions go, this is where the greatest of all lay in the mind of the Jews. They were on one side; the Gentiles were on the other. The term “Greek” here is being applied to any non-Jew. Because of the conquests of Alexander, the Greek culture, influence, and language had permeated the known world. Within that sphere, the Jews remained Jews though. In order to then show that this distinction was now void, he begins his list with this. To the Colossians, it was an admonishment that they were not to look to the Jews for their doctrine, but to God. They were not to insert the false teachings of the Judaizers, but to submerse themselves in the truth of the gospel.
He then further defines this category by saying, “circumcised nor uncircumcised.” The addition is not unnecessary. One could say, “Being a Jew may not be a big distinction anymore, but being circumcised is.” Paul spent a great deal of time on the issue of circumcision in Galatians, but he has not done so in this letter. Therefore, he is noting simply and directly that the rite of physical circumcision means nothing.
His next words say “barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free.” The barbarian is an uncultured person. In comparison to others, he is uncivilized, unpolished, and looked at as contemptible. In the world at large, such a person would be considered less notable, but in Christ, all are on the same level. This also included the Scythian. This is the only time the Scythian is noted in the New Testament.
They were those people who lived on the north and northeast coast of the Black and Caspian seas. This region extended well into Asia. It included the lands of the Mongols and Turks of our more modern age. They were considered a savage people, and were uncivilized and ferocious. However, even such seeming enemies of the cultured areas of Paul’s evangelism were to be considered on the same level if they were in Christ.
Paul finishes the list with, “slave nor free.” The free people of the Roman Empire were considered on a completely different level than the slaves. This distinction was so great that Paul’s words here could hardly be imagined by either class when considering the other. But once in Christ, the distinctions were removed. The letter of Philemon gives important insights into this.
After the list, Paul then finishes with, “…but Christ is all in all.” The presence of Christ in a believer is all that matters. In Him, all distinctions are swept away, and all are on an equal playing field. We cannot hold grudges against race, creed, culture, ethnicity, etc. by saying that they are not deserving of Christ. All are, and all are welcome.
It is of note that Paul does not include “male nor female” here in his letter to the Colossians. This may have been considered a problem in Galatia, and so Paul addressed it to ensure that that it was understood that women were on an equal footing concerning salvation. However, in the Greek culture, this was not a problem. In fact, including them could cause the possibility of the growth of licentiousness. The attitude of men towards women might jump to an unintended extreme. Therefore, Paul simply left the matter unstated.
Understanding these things, his words of this verse actually imply that these distinctions still exist in the world in which we live. When naming categories, it shows that the categories are there to name. No one reading his words would say, “That person isn’t circumcised” if he was actually circumcised. The same is true with those who are slaves and those who are free. The differences exist, but Paul’s point is that they have no bearing on being in Christ. And yet, those who believe the church has replaced Israel ignore the categories that Paul mentions first – Greek and Jew. In doing so, replacement theologians have even made the claim that those in the church are the true Jews, even if they are Gentiles! This is both unbiblical and irrational.
To state the names implies there is a difference. Though there is now no distinction between them “in Christ,” there is a difference between them “in the world.” The church is not comprised of only Jews.
Life application: If you are a Jew in Christ, you remain a Jew. If you are a Gentile in Christ, you remain a Gentile. There is no distinction between the two, but the differences remain. Don’t call yourself what you are not!
Lord God, You have swept away all supposed divisions of people in Your church. In Christ, there is now no distinction between Jew or Greek, barbarian or one who is cultured, and the visible differences of black, white, yellow, brown, and red make no difference to You. What matters is not an external identification, but an internal change of the heart. When one calls on Jesus, they become a part of this great body which You have established. Thank You that You would even call someone like me. Praises to You, O God. Amen.