Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review of McKee's Colossians Commentary (Partial Outline)

What follows is a partial outline for my review of McKee's Colossians commentary:

"13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him," (Colossians 2:13-15)

Common Presupposition:  "...Colossians 2:14 ["certificate of debt...nailed to the cross"] is commonly used to assert that 'the Law of Moses has been nailed to the cross,'" (pg. 60).

Contextualized Exegesis:  But was it the Law of Moses that was nailed to the cross?  The following scholars disagree that the "certificate of debt...nailed to the cross" was in fact the Torah of Moses:

Dunn:  "...[W]e should note that it is not the law which is thought of as thus destroyed, but rather its particular condemnation...of transgressions, absorbed in the sacrificial death of the Christ (cf. Rom. 8:3)," [emphasis added] (pgs. 62-63). 
Ben Witherington III:  "Here [the term 'cheirograph'] seems to be a reference to the heavenly book of deeds in which a record of one's wrongdoings is kept.  In fact in Apocalypse of Zephaniah 3.6-9; 7.1-8 the same word is used for that book..." (pg. 63). 
McKee concludes:  "It is perfectly legitimate to recognize how the 'certificate of debt' that has been paid by Yeshua's sacrifice, is the condemnation and record of human sin.  The power of this condemnation was found in various 'decrees against us,' the stated death penalties for high crimes as specified in the Torah.  It is not at all incorrect to recognize that by His death and shed blood, our relationship to the Torah has certainly been changed, but that does not mean that the Torah is to be thrown by the wayside and never studied or meditated upon (Psalm 119:15, 27).  The Torah remains relevant instruction that is to be upheld and taught as a standard of God's righteousness and holiness (Romans 3:31)..." (pg. 66).  Lastly, McKee notes that the term nomos ("law") is noticeably absent from the passage.

"16 Therefore no on is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Messiah," (Colossians 2:16-17).

Common Presupposition 1:   The false teachers taught a pure, unadulterated form of Judaism.  They judged the Colossians Believers for refusing or neglecting to keep these standard Jewish observances. 

"Many Christian lay readers simply conclude that the false teachers in Colossae were judging Paul's readers for not observing these various rituals," (pg. 68).

Contextualized Exegesis:  " it at all possible that the Colossians were told not to accept judgment for not keeping these things in the manner that the false teachers did?" (pg. 68) [emphasis added].  In other words, McKee here suggests that the standard by which the false teachers were so presumptuously judging was in fact a paganized (and minority-held) version of Judaism.  He finds corroboration from the following scholars:

Moo:  "We should therefore at least keep open the possibility that the Colossian false teachers' abstinence from food and drink had its origins elsewhere, since many ancient Greco-Roman philosophical and religious traditions also featured prohibitions of meat and wine,' (pg. 69).  "Only Sabbath observance that is connected inappropriately to a wider religious viewpoint is here being condemned.  These interpreters [who agree] are quite right to emphasize the importance of interpreting contextually and historically.  And they are also right, we have suggested, to argue that Sabbath was taken up into a larger, syncretistic mix," (pg. 70).
Lincoln:   "...the false teaching at Colossae...was a fusion of Jewish and pagan elements..." (pg. 48) "[T]here is no indication here that the motivation for abstinence from food and drink was due to observance of Torah....Instead, it is probable that in the philosophy they were linked to a desire to please the cosmic powers," (pg. 69).
O'Brien:  "There are various reasons why abstinence from food and drink was practiced in the ancient world:  the belief in the transmigration of souls might prevent a person from eating meat.  Some practiced asceticism since it was bound up with their views of purity.  Others thought that by fasting one served the deity, came closer to him or prepared oneself for receiving a divine revelation, a point that is important in the light of verse 18....For Israel the keeping of these holy days was evidence of obedience to God's law and a sign of her election among the nations.  At Colossae, however, the sacred days were to be kept for the sake of the 'elemental spirits of the universe,' those astral powers who directed the course of the stars and regulated the order of the calendar.  So Paul is not condemning the use of sacred days or seasons as such; it is the wrong motive involved when the observance of these days is bound up with the recognition of the elemental spirits,"  (pgs. 69-70). 
F.F. Bruce:  "[The Colossian false teaching] appears to have been basically Jewish, but to have included features of pagan affinity...associated with an asceticism which was not characteristic of the mainstream of Jewish life," (pg. 52).

Common Presupposition 2:  Some people read v. 17 as Paul denouncing Jewish observances as unhelpful "shadows."

"The NIV Study Bible is about as far as many Christian  laypeople go in examining the meaning of Colossians 2:17.  Its brief commentary describes, 'The ceremonial laws of the OT are here referred to as shadows...because they symbolically depicted the coming of Christ; so any insistence on the observance of such ceremonies is a failure to recognize that their fulfillment has already taken place,"  (pg. 71).

Even certain Messianic Jewish teachers have used the "shadows" reference to argue that the Biblical Appointed Times are unhelpful for non-Jews.  Stern writes "For Gentiles...[these] Jewish practices are in most cases nothing more than a shadow, insofar as they do not arise out of their own national experience....these shadows are irrelevant to Gentiles, since God did not give these commands to Gentiles..." (pgs. 75-76).

Contextualized Exegesis 2:  But is Paul really using the "shadow" language to undermine the legitimacy or helpfulness of Biblical Appointed Times?  Or might he simply be noting an incongruity--that false teachers were judging others when they themselves had not even grasped that Yeshua was the source reality behind the instructionary shadows?  McKee suggests that the false teachers were "only able to go after shadows with their philosophy of error," (pg. 74) because their philosophy rejected Yeshua's Divinity:

"8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Messiah.  9 For in Him all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority," (Colossians 2:8-10).

And given that the false teachers had used such observances (e.g. Shabbat) as a time for starvation-induced hallucinations and ecstatic angel-worship, it seems that the false teachers had undermined even the shadows themselves:

"Paul says that the false teachers were advocating tapeinophrosune [Col. 2:18]...most often related to fasting--or in this case, an extreme fasting..." which was "designed to give them ecstatic hallucinations" (pg. 77, 76).  In short, McKee writes that the false teachers had "perverted [the Appointed Times]," (pg. 76).


  1. Hi Peter,

    I looks like you are appreciating the commentary! A friendly reminder, this is a commentary on both Colossians *and* Philemon. Many forget that the same people who extend greetings to the Colossians, also extend greetings to Philemon. We need not forget this second composition by Paul, after all--especially if we can read it (25 verses) in about 5 minutes.


    1. Yes, I'm enjoying it very much. I'm actually reading it simultaneously with "One Law for All" which I'm also thoroughly enjoying.

      Good point about Philemon. It is fitting that a commentary on Colossians should be combined with Philemon.

      Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication!



    2. Thanks to J.K. Mckee as well, I appreciate your commentaries and One Law perspectives!

      Thanks to Peter for putting these reviews together. :D

  2. Outline looks good so far Peter. Let me know when it's done. And keep up the good work. :)