The False Teaching.
Hooker's (1973 ) view that there was no systematic false teaching at Colossae does not really account for the language of 2:8–23 . Paul is reacting to a doctrinal problem, which has been described in at least forty-four different ways (Gunther 1973: 3–4)! There is a useful survey of the more notable opinions in O'Brien 1982: xxx-xxxviii. A decisive breakthrough was made by Francis's (Francis and Meeks 1973: 163–207) lexicographical work on tapeinophrosynê and embateuô in 2:18 , which provided a basis for an understanding of the genitive in ‘worship of angels’ as subjective. His outline of Jewish ascetic mysticism, which is the socio-religious framework of his hypothesis, has been developed thoroughly by Sappington (1991 ). The polemic material in 2:8, 16–23 contains both direct and indirect references to the content, function, and medium of revelation, as well as to the prerequisites for its attainment. Sappington (ibid. 170) concludes, ‘the Colossian error is strikingly similar to the ascetic-mystical piety of Jewish Apocalypticism. The errorists sought out heavenly ascents by means of various ascetic practices involving abstinence from eating and drinking, as well as careful observance of the Jewish festivals. These experiences of heavenly ascent climaxed in a vision of the throne [of God] and in worship offered by the heavenly hosts surrounding it. It seems that these visions also pointed to the importance of observing the Jewish festivals, probably as evidence of submission to the law of God.’ There is no evidence that this attitude towards religious experience was systematically propagated at Colossae. Some of the converted Gentiles must have been God-fearers, who brought it with them from the synagogue, and proposed it as a supplement to the teaching of Epaphras.
This reconstruction implies that the problem with which Paul had to deal at Colossae was in no way similar to the situation he had faced in Galatia. There he had to counter a direct attack on his authority, and a vision of Christianity which in practice gave the law greater importance than Christ. Here he has to deal with a fashionable religious fad without intellectual depth, whose proponents floated in a fantasy world. His concern is to restore a sense of reality, to set the feet of the misguided on solid ground. They grasped at shadows. He had to show them that Christ was substance ( 2:17 ). The approach adopted by Paul in Galatians would have been completely inappropriate at Colossae. Understandably, therefore, the themes and terminology typical of Galatians are lacking in Colossians.