The letter to the Christians at Colossae is written from Paul and Timothy. Paul explains to the Colossians that God has "rescued us from the domain of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son, through whom our release is secured and our sins are forgiven." Then Paul describes in detail how the Son has "primacy over all creation." He is "the image of the invisible God," in him "everything in heaven and on earth was created," and he "exists before all things, and all things are held together in him." It seems likely that the author of the gospel of John wanted to express the same conviction when he wrote the first chapter of his gospel. Perhaps he knew of this letter by Paul.

Paul warns the Colossians, however, to be on their guard: "let no one capture your minds with hollow and delusive speculations, based on traditions of human teaching, and centered on the elemental spirits of the universe and not on Christ." Obviously, some Christians are pushing a different teaching. As Paul follows his warning with the affirmation that "it is in Christ that the Godhead in all its fullness dwells embodied," we may assume that other Christians disagreed. But who are these opponents? "Allow no one," Paul writes, "to take you to task about what you eat or drink, or over the observance of festival, new moon, or sabbath." Once again, Paul's opponents are Jewish Christians, who teach that Gentile converts need to keep Jewish law.

These false apostles, Paul tells us, "go in for self-mortification and angel-worship and access to some visionary world." They are filled with the Spirit and seek purification through keeping the tenets of the Jewish law. Their witness, bearing the authority of the church in Jerusalem, is obviously a powerful obstacle to Paul's ministry, and so he is scathing in his attack on them. "Why let people dictate to you: 'Do not handle this, do not taste that, do not touch the other’ — referring to things that must all perish as they are used? That is to follow human rules and regulations. Such conduct may have an air of wisdom, with its forced piety, its self-mortification, and its severity to the body; but it is of no use at all in combating sensuality."

The Jewish Christians from Jerusalem preach an ascetic gospel that seeks perfection by fulfilling the commandments of the law. They justify their teachings by the authority of the first apostles, by visions and revelations in the Spirit, and by the healing and miracles that they are able to perform. As we see the fruits of their mission in almost every letter Paul writes, we must conclude that they were formidable adversaries. Paul fights back by defending his own call as an apostle, by emphasizing the practical rather than the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, and by asserting that Jesus Christ is the source of all revelation, all healing, all miracles, all faith, all salvation, even all creation.

Because Paul argues that Christ is "the image of the invisible God," we may safely assume that the Jewish Christians were claiming for themselves an actual vision of God. Moreover, because Paul asserts that Christ is the "first-born of all creation," and pre-eminent over "the invisible order of thrones, sovereignties, authorities, and powers," we may also assume that the Jewish Christians were teaching a contrary gospel based on revelations involving these heavenly powers. Finally, because Paul holds that in the Son "God in all his fullness chose to dwell," we may conclude that the Jewish Christians believed otherwise. Perhaps they thought the Spirit of God entered Jesus at the time of his baptism, which is a way of understanding the story of John the Baptist that is included in all four gospels of the New Testament. © Robert Traer 2016