Paul's Prison Epistles: Paul And The Colossians


Colossian Problem III—Angels: Colossians 2:18

That the Colossian church was courting the worship of spiritual powers is evident in at least three ways: First, Paul wrote of the worship of angels. Second, he addressed the matter of rulers and authorities. And third, he dealt with problems related to the basic principles of this world. We should begin by looking at his mention of angel worship.

According to the Bible, angels are God’s servants. And they have always played a role in creation. God delegates many jobs to them, from spiritual warfare, to influencing national politics, to delivering messages to his people, to caring for the earthly needs of believers. And the early church was well aware of these roles. As we read in Hebrews 1:14:

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14).

Angels really are ministering spirits, and it is important to recognize their work. But according to the false teachers in Colosse, angels were much more than ministers; they were cosmic powers, oracles that revealed mysterious teachings to those who would perform their cultic rites and worship them. Paul directly condemned these practices in Colossians 2:18 where he wrote:

Do not let anyone who delights in … the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions (Colossians 2:18).

The false teachers claimed to have received visions from angels, and on this basis they encouraged other Christians to complete the proper rituals so that they might receive similar visions. 

And perhaps the false teachers really had experienced visions, though these would have been from demons rather than from God’s holy angels. Alternatively, they may simply have experienced self-induced or even drug-induced ecstatic trances. Or they might even have been lying. 

Whatever the case, this exaggerated view of the power and influence of angels was not uncommon in the ancient world. Some Jewish teachers maintained comparable ideas about angels. And some Greek philosophies taught similar things about their oracles and astral powers. Sadly, the familiarity of these ideas to the Colossian Christians probably made the false teachings sound reasonable, allowing these false doctrines to gain a foothold in the Colossian church.