misquoted verses – false humility

Col 2:23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

Colossians 2:23 has a reference to “false humility”. Pastors, when they address this verse or are doing a sermon on humility, like to point to this verse and say that people need to have their heart in the right place, not just act humble. The problem with this is twofold. The first is that the word “false” is not in the Greek. Anyone can check their Bible. The word is italicized, meaning it is a translator supplied word. Some translator looked at this verse, thought “humility is a good thing” and then decided to reverse the meaning by adding in “false” in front of humility. That was an editorial addition. In reality, the verse should read:

Col 2:23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

The second problem is that the humility addressed in Colossians is not what Americans call humility. In the Greek world, people neglected their bodies and lived in squalor. Porphyry tells us of one such neglector of the body, Plotinus.

Plotinus disdained the flesh and earthly desires. He was a vegetarian. He was very hesitant to letting himself be drawn and sculpted; he hated his earthly image and could not understand why he should make an image of an already flawed image. Plotinus refused medicine of any kinds and let his body be eaten by disease. He died a sickly withered man in his bed, Porphyry records, by a snake bite.

Platonists, such as Plotinus lived “humble” lives. They let their bodies be destroyed and lived destitute because it made them feel holy. Colossians is the only book of the Bible that mentions “philosophy”. It was these philosophers that Colossians was written to counter.

The context makes this clear.

Col 2:16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,

Paul is setting up a defense of people indulging themselves, the opposite of “humility” shown by the pagan philosophers. He starts with the obvious: food and drink, and parties. He also adds some Orthodox Jewish claims against his converts. He continues:

Col 2:18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
Col 2:19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

Again Paul focuses on the body. He talks about the body growing, and that growth is from God. The pagans disdained growing, healing, and the body. Just to make it clear, Paul continues:

Col 2:20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—
Col 2:21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”
Col 2:22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?

Paul’s focus is on people abstaining from the pleasures of life. That is the false humility. He tells his readers they can touch, taste and handle. He calls the ordanances against this,the “doctrines of men”.

Col 2:23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

He says they have the appearance of wisdom (like the monks of the Middle Ages taking a vow of poverty). He links this to neglect of the body. The last part of the sentence is an odd translation in the NKJ. The NKJ translates like Paul concludes that people should refrain from indulging. The KJ reads: “not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” The KJ reads as if satisfying the flesh is part of the list of items the pagans believe. The text flows better with the KJ. Besides, Paul uses a few coming verses to list out fleshly actions which his believers should avoid. “Satisfying the flesh” is not one of them.

In Colossians, Paul is countering “humility”. That is “neglect of the body”. When Christians try to equate this with proud and boastful individuals, they are missing Paul’s message.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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