The Spoiling of Principalities and Powers: A Critical Monograph on Colossians 2:15 -- By: Wendell E. Kent

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 03:1 (Winter 1962)
Article: The Spoiling of Principalities and Powers: A Critical Monograph on Colossians 2:15
Author: Wendell E. Kent

The Spoiling of Principalities and Powers:
A Critical Monograph on Colossians 2:15

Wendell E. Kent

Pastor, Cherry Valley Brethren Church
Beaumont, California

Abridged by the Author

“And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Col 2:15)

The verse of Scripture quoted above is one of those verses which does not yield its value by a surface investigation, but upon greater effort it reveals a wealth of meaning. One writer has called this verse “perhaps the most obscure verse in the New Testament.”1 Another says, “In This difficult verse the meaning of almost every word is disputed.”2 With this to caution us against a hasty conclusion as to its meaning, let us seek to discover the truth which the apostle Paul was endeavoring to present in this verse.

A bit of background is essential to the understanding of the verse regardless of the final conclusions that may be drawn. The Epistle to the Colossians was written by Paul the Apostle, evidently while he was imprisoned in Rome. It is doubtful whether Paul at the time of his writing the epistle had ever visited Colosse. The question as to who was the founder of the church at Colosse may perhaps never be settled. At any rate, Paul obviously knew of the problems that existed in this church and he wrote this epistle to combat them. The three great errors about which he was concerned were as follows.

First, Lightfoot observes: “A mere glance at the epistle suffices to detect the presence of JUDAISM in the teaching which the apostle combats.”3

Second, it seems very probable that the philosophy known as Gnosticism (later to be so widely accepted) was beginning to find its way into the Colossian church. As yet, the philosophy was only in its rudimentary stages, and its elaborate doctrines of aeons, the Demiurge, syzygies, and emanations did not develop until the second century. But the foundations were laid and already “we discover a tendency to interpose certain spiritual agencies, intermediate beings, between God and man as the instruments of communication and the objects of worship.”4 The reader should keep this quotation in mind as it has a direct bearing upon our conclusions concerning the meaning of the text in question.

Finally, Essenism was evidently a part of the Colossian heresy. As Vincent states, “The Essenes combined the ritualism of the Jew with the asceticism and mysticism of the Gnostic...

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