The Deception of Words (2:4)

As Paul introduces the content of the false teaching which he will argue against, he bids his readers remember what he has just said about his divine commission and Gentile mission (1:23—2:3). The opening phrase I tell you this reminds his readers that the commentary that follows comes from one who has been commissioned by God (1:25-26) to "teach and admonish" them (1:28—2:1). His autobiographical statement implies that his instruction (rather than that of the false teacher) should form the theology of Colossian Christianity.

Even in his opening thanksgiving, Paul's petition (1:9-10) hints that the problem facing his readers is that they have trusted outsiders for the "word of truth" about God's grace. Paul has in mind a particular kind of deception—the fast line and smooth talk. People are conned every day by appearances. We are easily deceived by those who seem nice and sincere, who look good or who provide us with appropriate references and credentials. The false teacher in Colosse is a con artist who uses Christian cliches and slogans to deceive immature believers.

The two words Paul selects to introduce the first error, deceive (paralogizomai) and fine-sounding arguments (pithanologia), share a common element, logos, or "word." Paul's first emphasis is what congregational leaders say and teach. Ironically, the second word is usually used in the positive sense to characterize compelling and convincing arguments. Here, however, especially when coupled with deceive, the word takes on a pejorative sense, characterizing arguments that seem persuasive but upon closer analysis are actually facile, lacking in both christological content and spiritual effect (see 2:8).

The validity of such judgments is measured by two criteria: (1) whether the content of the teaching fits with what the apostles teach about Christ, and (2) whether the resulting behavior fits with what the Spirit empowers believers to be and to do. The reports Paul has received about the Colossian situation (whether from Epaphras or some other source) have apparently convinced him that what is being taught there fails on both scores. He makes this clear in what follows.

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