October 27 – November 3, 2023

Friday, October 27

Philippians 3.1-11: I have argued that Philippians was written relatively early in Paul’s ministry, at some time during his three years (52-55) in Ephesus. This dating would put it close to the composition of Galatians.

In the present section of Philippians, in fact, the reader is much reminded of the double principal theme of Galatians, salvation by faith and freedom from the works of the Mosaic Law. For example, in Paul’s comments about his communion with Christ, one can hardly fail to observe the resemblance between verses 8 to 10 and Galatians 2:20.

There is a difference between Philippians and Galatians in this respect, however, and the difference is this: Whereas Galatians was written for a congregation that had already begun to succumb to the teachings of the Judaizers (namely, that the Gentiles were obliged to be circumcised and to observe the Mosaic Law), in Philippians this teaching is regarded as a threat only, not an immediate and critical danger. The Judaizing errors that had already reached Galatia had not yet found their way to Philippi.

Hence, there is a difference in tone between these two epistles; nor do we find in Philippians the shock and harshness of reprimand characteristic of Galatians. One thinks of Paul’s “foolish Galatians” (Galatians 3:1) in contrast to the Philippians, whom he calls “my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and my crown” (Philippians 4:1).

In discussing the Judaizers in each of these epistles, Paul waxes autobiographical, but here too there is a difference between the two works. In Galatians Paul narrates the circumstances of his conversion, particularly his relationships to the other apostles (Galatians 1:17—2:17), a motif rendered necessary by the way in which the Judaizers in Galatia claimed the authority of those apostles. It is not necessary for Paul to go into these particulars at Philippi, where he was the only apostle known to the congregation. Instead, Paul concentrates his biographical comments on a contrast of “before” and “after” his conversion. The tone is accordingly more serene in Philippians than in Galatians, though he does use some pretty tough language to describe the Judaizers themselves (verse 2).

2 Chronicles 4: We come now to the furnishings of the Temple. It will have, first of all, a brazen altar, mizbach nechosheth, the counterpart of the Mosaic altar at Gibeon (verse 1; 1:6; Exodus 38:30), but larger.

In front of this altar will stand a large basin with a diameter of roughly seventeen feet, calculated to hold ten thousand gallons of water (verses 2,5). Indeed, Rabbinical commentators believed that the priests, who used it for bathing (verse 6), completely immersed themselves in it. The water in this basin was also dipped out to clean the sacrificial animals (verse 7).

A “sea” this basin was called, a name that Josephus ascribes to the sheer size of the thing (Antiquities 8.3.5), but an object so large and with so suggestive a name is not long in assuming a more complex symbolism. Solomon’s sea seems to symbolize those primeval waters of Creation, over which the Spirit of God hovered at the beginning of Genesis.

These two appointments of the Temple, the altar and the sea, both have their counterparts in that heavenly tabernacle made without hands: the golden altar on which are offered the prayers of the saints (Revelation 6:9; 8:3-5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7), and the glassy sea (Revelatoin4”6; 15:2), near which gather the twenty-four ancients that symbolize the twenty-four divisions of the priesthood (Revelation 4:4; 1 Chronicles 24:1-19).

Saturday, October 28

Philippians 3.12—4.1: Especially among converts from paganism (which was by and large the case at Philippi, where there was not even a synagogue), there was a great need for types and models of behavior. More than for Jews who accepted the Gospel, conversion for the gentiles was bound to entail a more radical—even dramatic—change in personal behavior. Whereas good Jews already lived lives in conformity with God’s Law, especially in the areas of sex and economics, this was often not true of gentile converts (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Hence the need for role models in this latter group.

The elaboration of a Christian lifestyle, after all, cannot be accomplished from scratch. It is largely put together by the imitation of other Christians. (Indeed, it is imperative that all Christians live in such a way as to serve as models for one another. What we do as Christians we do not do for ourselves. How we speak, how we conduct ourselves, the moral choices we make — all of these things have to do with the spiritual benefit of our brothers and sisters.) Christians learn how to be Christians by observing other Christians whom they believe to be better at it.

Paul especially plays this theme when writing to his converts in Macedonia (verse 17; 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2:14; 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9), though he touches it elsewhere as well (Galatians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 4:14-16; Acts 20:18-21,31-35).

Paul’s exhortation that the Philippians imitate him means more than choosing him as a model because he happens to be available. We should bear in mind that this was something Paul had taught the Philippians long before he sent them epistles (2 Thessalonians 2:17). Paul emphasized that, not only had the congregations learned from watching him, but that he had intentionally given them an example (2 Thessalonians 2:19). His example was part of the “tradition” that he had bequeathed to them (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

This is also the point here in Philippians. It is not that Paul happened to be a good Christian worthy of imitation. His role as a model is part of his authority. He is a “type” by reason of his ministry. The congregation’s imitation of him pertains to their recognition of his authority over them. The imitation is based on paternity (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:14-15). In the sense that Paul speaks of it here, Christian imitation is not simply the replication of a model; it is the enactment of obedience to a standard.

Sunday, October 29

2 Chronicles 6: The darkness of the cloud of the divine presence is thematically linked to Solomon consecratory prayer that fills this chapter. The Temple, this “exalted house” in which God’s “name” (verses 6,7,9,10,20) dwells forever (verse 2), is associated with that mysterious cloud by which He guided His people through the passage of the Red Sea and the Desert of Sinai (verse 1). The cloud on Mount Sinai becomes the cloud on Mount Zion (cf. Exodus 20:21; Hebrews 12:21).

For purposes of analysis, we may divide Solomon’s prayer into four major parts.

The first part is a benediction, a blessing of the Lord God of Israel(baruch Adonai ’Elohei Isra’el–verse 4), in which the king also “blessed the whole assembly of Israel” (wayebarek ’eth kol qahal Isra’el–verse 3). That is to say, Israel is blessed in the act of blessing God.

This benediction concentrates on the promise that God made to David respecting His “house” (bayith–verses 7,9,10).

This House is associated with three covenants. First, there is the covenant with Abraham, already indicated by its construction on the very site of Abraham’s sacrifice (3:1) and quietly suggested here by Solomon’s reference to the command that that ancient patriarch received from the Lord (verse 14; Genesis 17:1). Next, there is the covenant of Mount Sinai mediated through Moses at the time of the Exodus (verse 5) and enshrined in the Ark of the Covenant (verse 11. Finally, the Temple is associated with the Lord’s covenant with David (verse 10).

These latter two covenants are again tied together in the closing lines of the prayer (verses 41-42), which indicate the indissoluble bond between the Ark of the Covenant and the throne of David. The Chronicler well knew that both institutions suffered the same fate in the summer of 587, when the Babylonians razed the Temple and abolished the monarchy.

The second part of Solomon’s prayer, in which he turns toward the altar, kneeling and spreading his arms in prayer (verses 12-13, lines proper to the Chronicler), again invokes the Davidic covenant and prays for its confirmation (verses 15-17). Specifically Solomon prays that the new Temple will be a sort of gathering place for all the prayers offered, from any part of the world, in its direction (verses 18-21; Daniel 6:10; 9:19).

In the third section of his prayer (verses 22-39), Solomon runs through a list of hypothetical situations of distress in which God’s servants may at any time find themselves. (Compare Psalms 106 [107], with its repeated instances of such prayer, along with its double refrain, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” and “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!” (ESV)

Monday, October 30

Luke 19.1-10: This story of Zacchaeus tells the second of the two events that Luke narrates in Jericho; it immediately follows the healing of the blind beggar. Luke alone tells this story, so we are well advised to look into for those points of emphasis that are proper to Luke. We want to say three things about this man in the tree.

First, this is the second story in a row about men who wanted to see Jesus but were unable. The blind man could not see Jesus for the simple reason that he was blind! In this respect Zacchaeus is like the blind man; he couldn’t see Jesus either. Zacchaeus could not see Jesus, because he was too short, and Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. In neither of the two cases were the men able to see Jesus.

We observe that both men made themselves conspicuous. In the case of the blind man, he took to shouting out a prayer to Jesus for mercy. He made himself so conspicuous that the crowd attempted to silence him. One imagines that because the blind man could not see Jesus, he feared that maybe Jesus would not see him. He obliges Jesus to stop, as it were, and attend to him. He was bold in his prayer.

In the case of Zacchaeus, on the other hand, he could actually do something about his inability to see Jesus: He could climb a tall tree in order to get a better view, and this is exactly what he did. Putting aside all sense of self-respect, he managed to get himself up that tree and look over the heads in the crowd.

In both cases, these men put aside all sense of shame and embarrassment. They wanted to see Jesus, and they did whatever was necessary. They did not care what anyone thought of them. Zacchaeus thought a great deal less of his own dignity than he did about seeing Jesus. He was prepared to sacrifice his pride, his reputation, and his self-respect in order to look at Jesus. So in lowliness of heart he climbed the sycamore tree, ironically attaining the exaltation promised to those who humble themselves. He did what only the humble can do. He gazed upon Jesus. That is why he shared in the grace given to the blind man. They both received the gift that only Jesus can give.

Second, unlike the blind man, this publican’s name is given in the Gospel of Luke. To learn the name of the blind man, we must go to the Gospel of Mark, who tells us that his name was Bartimaeus. Luke does not tell us. He does tell us, however, the name of the tax in the tree. Indeed, he tells us that Jesus summoned this man by name: “Zacchaeus, come down!”

In the case of the blind man, the practical initiative seems to be from the side of the blind man. He is the one who forces Jesus to stop. He is the one that cries out for mercy.

The story of Zacchaeus is quite different in this respect. Here we see Jesus taking the initiative. It is now Jesus that stops the movement along the road by calling Zacchaeus to himself, and calling him by name. This detail tells us a great deal. It tells us that Zacchaeus is one of the Lord’s own sheep, because the Good Shepherd calls each of His own by name,

Obviously the Lord did not look for much. Zacchaeus still had a long way to go; he was far from perfect. Indeed, he was perhaps a bit of a stuffed shirt and braggadocio. Truly, there is something embarrassing about his boast: “I give half my goods to the poor!” Apparently he had not yet learned that those who follow Jesus are called to give up everything, not just half. No matter. Zacchaeus was halfway along the way of the Cross, and our Lord accepted him as he was. He already demonstrated that he had taken his first steps on the path of humility, and that was sufficient. A man does not have to be perfect before Jesus calls him by name.

Third, this road through Jericho is the same southbound road along which Jesus met the blind man. It was the road to the Cross, the “redemption in Jerusalem.” Jesus, when He arrives at Jerusalem, will also climb a tree, where He will give His life for the salvation of both Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus, and for all mankind. The Good Shepherd not only calls each sheep of His flock by name; He also lays down his life for them.

In the final words of this story (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus proclaims, “the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.” This is, after all, a story about the Good Shepherd finding a lost sheep named Zacchaeus, and.

It was the wisdom of both Zacchaeus and the blind man that they would not let himself get lost in the crowd. They both made a point of standing out by humility, self-abasement, and the need for divine mercy. Jesus, Himself meek and humble of heart, was able to read their hearts, and He found those hearts to be like unto His own.

These are the last two men to join the company of Jesus before His arrival at Bethany, to raise Lazarus from the dead and begin the drama of Holy Week. They are the final fruits, as it were, of His public ministry outside of Jerusalem. Jesus is now drawing nigh unto the Holy City and the Cross that awaits Him there.

Tuesday, October 31

Colossians 1:19-29: The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (e.g. Wisdom 1:7) teaches that God’s Wisdom permeates the entire created order. This total permeation, this “fullness” (pleroma), says St. Paul abides in (katoikesa) Christ (verse 19). The redemptive work of Jesus Christ, including the shedding of His blood (verse 20) and His Resurrection from the dead (verse 18), affects the entire cosmos. He alone is the world’s mediating link with God; there are no other intermediaries.

Because man’s fall alienated the full created order from God (verse 20; Romans 8:19-23), the reconciliation wrought by Christ pertains to that entire order of Creation.

All of us, prior to our coming to Christ, were alienated from God, and this alienation included not only our ontological state, but also the sinful nature of our actual deeds (verse 21).

“Yet now” we have been reconciled and are presented to God, “holy and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” The basis for this reconciliation is the death of Jesus on the Cross, the sacrifice of His very body (verse 22; cf. Ephesians 1:4).

There is nothing automatic or predetermined about this reconciliation, nonetheless. It demands of believers that they “continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (verse 23). Indeed, it was in the hope of preventing such a defection among the Colossians that Paul wrote this epistle. If real defection from the Christian faith were intrinsically impossible, there was no need for Paul to write any of his epistles!

Paul’s entire ministry was devoted, in fact, to this proclamation of what God has wrought in Christ. And, if Paul suffered as a result of this ministry, his sufferings took their place with the sufferings of Christ Himself, because he suffered for the sake of the Church, as did Jesus (verse 24).

Paul had earlier written of this close association between the apostolic ministerial experience and the Passion of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:14-16; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; cf. Acts 5:40-42).

Thus, “to fulfill (plerosai) the word of God” (verse 25) means “to fill up (antanaplero) . . . what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” If this is something that experiences in his own flesh, it is for the sake of Christ’s body, “which is the church” (verse 24). It was for the sake of this latter body that Christ died “in the body of His flesh” (verse 22).

The “mystery” proclaimed by Paul is the destiny of the world itself, unknown until revealed to the Church. This hidden mystery is the calling of the nations (ethnesin) to share in the glory of God (verse 26).

This glory is already present in hope, because the risen Christ abides in His saints. The final revelation will be the unveiling of this hidden presence (verse 27).

This mystery is not secret in the sense of being reserved for a few chosen initiates. It is, rather, the common doctrine handed down in the Church as a public record, available to “every man” (three times in verse 28).

Paul’s struggle (agonizomenos in verse 29; agoni in 2:1) for this cause involves more than his human effort. He is sustained, rather, by God’s “energy energizing” him “in might” (energeian . . . energoumenen . . . en dynamei).

Wednesday, November 1

Revelations 7.1-17: This reading, chosen as appropriate for the feast of all the saints, continues John’s imagery of the “seals” opened by the Lamb. The opening of the first six seals has unleashed enormous sufferings on the earth, so prior to the opening of the seventh the vision of St. John faces the question, “Who shall stand? Who will be able to endure? Who will persevere to the end?” And John’s answer is, “the servants of God.”

Prior to the releasing of the final tribulation, therefore, the servants of God must be sealed. Their number, 144,000, is a massive combination of the perfect number twelve (3 x 4, or the divine number 3 multiplied by the human number 4; that is to say, the multiplied combination of God and man) multiplied to a gross and then multiplied again by a thousand. That is to say, a very big number that no man can count to (verse 9; cf. Genesis 15:5).

The final preservation of God’s elect was foreshadowed in their deliverance at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Because of a prophecy that told them all to flee (cf. Eusebius, Church History 3.5.3), no Christians were in Jerusalem when the city came under siege. Although up to a million Jews perished during the horrors of that siege and downfall, not one of them was a Christian. The physical deliverance of those Christians thus became the symbol of the spiritual deliverance of God’s elect in the final tribulation. (And this latter deliverance is spiritual, not physical. There is no suggestion in the Book of Revelation that believers will be “raptured” away and spared the sufferings of the rest of the earth. Indeed, Revelation has a great deal to say about the sufferings of Christians during the final times.)

In order to be spiritually spared, they must be sealed. This sealing of God’s servants is done with the mark of the “tau,” the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Ezekiel 9:1-7), which at that time was still cruciform. That is to say, God’s servants are sealed with the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, which in fact was a very early part of the rite of baptism (cf. Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.22). To be thus sealed was a sign that Christians belonged to God (cf. Isaiah 44:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 6:17; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; John 6:27).

This sealing with the mark of the true Paschal Lamb fulfilled the promise contained in that earlier marking of Israel with the sacrificial blood of its type (Exodus 12:21-23). Both Ezekiel and Exodus are important for the understanding of this seal. Ezekiel’s reference was to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., of which everyone was aware who saw the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The passage in Exodus 12 had to do with the last of the ten plagues visited upon Egypt, the slaying of the firstborn sons. This sealing in Revelation, then, involves a new Exodus, in which God’s people will be delivered, not left to share in the sin of the earthly Jerusalem.

Beginning with an “amen” by which they respond to the acclamation of the saints in verse 10, the angels begin to join their voices in the praise of God (verse 11).

In John’s perspective, this vision is simultaneously past, present, and future. Inasmuch as the vision already contains fulfillment, its verbal tense is past. The “great tribulation,” moreover, has already started (for it is simultaneous with the “last times”), and therefore the present verbal tense, the ongoing perspective, is likewise proper. But inasmuch as there are still events to come (quickly!), John’s view is also directed toward the future.

One of the elders clarifies for the seer the identity of those clad in white robes (6:11; 7:9). They have already passed through the great tribulation, he tells John (verse 14; cf. Daniel 12:1; Mark 13:19), a description suggesting that the great tribulation, at least from their perspective, is already past. Yet, that tribulation itself will not be narrated until 13:7-10.

They are called “martyrs,” but this designation should be interpreted in a broader theological perspective that regards the call to martyrdom as implicit in the very nature of baptism. Indeed, from earliest times the white robe has been associated with baptism, that rite by which believers are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Christians do not receive their white robes in heaven; on the contrary, they will not even be admitted to heaven unless they are already wearing those white robes (22:14). To wear the white robe means to live “in the blood” (Romans 3:25; 5:9; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2,19; 1 John 1:7).

The true servants of God, moreover, are engaged in His unceasing worship (verse 15; 21:5; 22:5); thus, they share already in the life of heaven. In the final two verses of this chapter the verbs return to the future tense, indicating that there still remains an unfulfilled history through which God’s servants must pass. The image also shifts from the Lamb to the Shepherd, both images being essential to a complete Christology.

Thursday, November 2

2 Chronicles 10: This chapter is one of several places where the Chronicler clearly presumes his readers’ familiarity with certain historical facts that he leaves unsaid. Here, for instance, he omits the detailed introduction to Jeroboam found in 1 Kings 11:23-40. If the Chronicler thinks it unimportant to relate those details, it is partly because he can rest assured that his readers already know them. That is to say, he can safely tell this story of the schism of 922 in his own way, because is he can safely presume that the facts of the case are already well known.

With respect to Rehoboam (922-913), the son and successor of Solomon (with whom he shared co-regency from 931), there is not much good to be said. He was almost the perfect example of what the Bible means by the word “fool.” Because he was the son of Solomon, Israel’s wisest king, furthermore, this foolishness was a matter of irony as well as tragedy.

After Solomon’s death, this heir to Israel’s throne traveled to Schechem, to receive the nation’s endorsement as its new ruler (verse 1). The move was especially necessary with respect to Israel’s northern tribes, a people touchy about their traditional rights and needing to be handled gently. Even David, we recall, had to be made king twice, first over Judah about the year 1000 (2 Samuel 2:4,10) and then over the north some years later (5:4-5).

Those northern tribes, for their part, seemed willing to be ruled by Rehoboam, but they craved assurance that the new king would respect their ancient traditions and customs (verse 4). This is the first time the Chronicler even hints at popular unhappiness with the reign and policies of Solomon. The plaintiffs sought from his son, therefore, a simple pledge that their grievances would be taken seriously in the future. A great deal depended on Rehoboam’s answer.

The new king apparently took the matter seriously, because he sought advice on what to say. He began by consulting the seniors of the royal court, the very men who had for forty years provided guidance for his father (verse 6). These were the elder statesmen of the realm, those qualified to give the most prudent political counsel.

Significantly, these older men urged Rehoboam in the direction of caution and moderation with respect to the northern tribes: “If you are kind to these people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever” (verse 7).

Rehoboam, nonetheless, eschewing the instruction of his elders, followed the impulses of his younger companions, who encouraged him to stand tough and not let himself be pushed around (verse 8). Indeed, they urged Rehoboam to be insulting and provocative to the petitioners (verse 9-11). Pursuing this foolish counsel, then, he immediately lost the larger part of his kingdom (verses 12-19).

As I suggested above, there is great irony here, for it may be said that one of the major practical purposes of the Book of Proverbs, traditionally ascribed to Solomon, was to prevent and preclude exactly the mistake committed by Solomon’s son. According to Proverbs, the fool is the man who ignores the counsel of the old and follows the impulses of untried youth.

Many a life has been ruined—-and in this case a kingdom lost—because someone preferred the pooled stupidity of his contemporaries to the accumulated wisdom of his elders. Those whose counsel Rehoboam spurned, after all, were not just any old men. They were the very ancients who had provided sound guidance to the man whom the Chronicler regarded as Israel’s most sagacious monarch.

Friday, November 3

Colossians 2:10-23: The realm of angelic beings, “all principality and power,” is subject to Christ, who is the Head of the Church (verses 10,15).

Paul now goes on to discuss our communion with Christ, initiated through Baptism, the sacrament that fulfills and replaces the Old Testament initiatory rite of circumcision (verse 11). Although Baptism is a bodily thing, it does not, like circumcision, leave a bodily mark. The “mark” of Baptism is visible only to God. The flesh of the baptized Christian looks exactly like all other flesh. His real life is “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).

Yet, Baptism does involve a definite “putting off” (apekdysis, a word found only here in the New Testament) of “the body of the flesh.” This latter expression, as is indicated by the (textually unreliable, alas) reading “sins of the flesh” found in the King James Version, means the ascetical life of the believer, who lives no longer under the dominance of the fleshly passions.

Paul’s point here, then, is a contrast between circumcision, whereby the initiate lose only part of his flesh, and Baptism, by which the believer completely abandons a fleshly way of life.

This latter way of life is a spiritual circumcision (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3), here called “the circumcision of Christ.” The following chapter will spell out what this spiritual circumcision means in practice.

Baptism is no mere ritual (much less, merely a symbol), because through it the believing initiate is mystically united to the burial and Resurrection of Christ Himself (verse 12; cf. Romans 6:1-11). To be baptized, therefore, is a supreme act of faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. (Baptism actually accomplishes that which it symbolizes, which is the definition of a sacrament. It is not a “work” performed by the believer. It is a work of the living Christ Himself. No matter who the minister of Baptism is, it is always Christ who baptizes.)
This union with Christ in Baptism is indicated by the preposition and prefix “syn-,” meaning “with.” Thus, we believers died “with Christ” (syn Christo—verse 20), were buried “with Him” (syntaphentes avto), were raised “with Him (synegerthete—verse 12), and were “made alive with Him” (synezoopoisen . . . syn avto—verse 13, cf. Ephesians 2:5).

Unlike the Baptismal imagery of dying and rising in Romans 6, where the Christian’s resurrection is described in terms of the end of history, the accent here in Colossians is on union with Christ in the here and now. (Indeed, this difference of perspectives, from the future to the present, is in general one of the chief ways in which Colossians and Ephesians differ from Romans.) Even now this union with Christ is accomplished by the divine energy (energia tou Theou) at work in us. Paul has ready recourse to this word energia in Colossians (here and 1:29) and Ephesians (1:19; 3:7; 4:16).

The “handwriting of requirements that was against us”—or, more literally, “the bond written against us in decrees”—refers to the burden of the Mosaic Law, particularly those parts of the Torah threatening punishment to those who fail to observe its precepts (verse 14; Ephesians 2:15; cf. Deuteronomy 30:19). Christ assumed this burden and debt upon Himself, when He was nailed to the Cross, laying down His life in atoning sacrifice on our behalf (cf. Isaiah 53:4-5).

At this point in Colossians the expression “principalities and powers” does not refer to angelic beings in general, but to those demonic forces — fallen angels — by whom humanity without Christ is held in bondage (verse 15).

The “in it” of verse 15 should more properly read “on it” (exactly the same preposition in Greek), referring to the Lord’s Cross. It was on that Cross that Jesus was victorious over the demons by His blood-bought abolition of our sins. The death of Christ not only altered our relationship to God; it altered our condition with respect to the demons. That is to say, the Cross of Christ was not only expiatory, but it was also triumphant.

Knowing all these things, Christians must avoid any avenue leading them back to subjugation to angelic spirits that would again enslave them (verse 18). Such an avenue would be a return to the observance of the Mosaic rituals (verse 16) and dietary laws (verse 21).

In speaking of Christian liberation from the Mosaic Law, Paul seems especially to have in mind the rabbinical interpretation of that Law, which he calls “the commandments and doctrines of men” (verse 22). Here we observe a resemblance to the view of Jesus, who quoted Isaiah in condemnation of those who taught “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:23). The weakness of those observances was that they were of “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (verse 23).

Christians have been set free from the Mosaic regulations that served only as a “shadow of things to come” (verse 17). Indeed, those ordinances were but the early shadow cast ahead of time by “the body of Christ.”

This body of Christ is at once the flesh he assumed in the Incarnation and the visible, social, institutional body of the Church, of which Christ is the Head (verse 19). The “joints and ligaments” of this body are those myriad and structured ways through which the Church is joined together, one part to another. Paul knows nothing of an invisible, non-institutional church. He has in mind here the concrete, definable congregations to whom he ministers and for whom he writes these epistles. These congregations do not exist in social isolation; they are concretely united by certain “joints and ligaments,” of which the present epistle, carried by Tychicus and destined to be shared with other churches (cf. 4:16) is itself an example.