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In Colossians 2:18, Paul warns his readers, "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize" (NIV emphasis mine). Of course, that it is in the genitive case means that we can take in two ways. Either it refers to worship directed to angels or worship done by angels. Is there any reason to prefer one or the other here?

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Nice job pointing out the difference between the "subjective" and "objective" genitive. – swasheck May 30 '12 at 14:37
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Hard Question, Soldarnal

Peter O'Brien says of this verse in his Colossians commentary:

This verse has been described as one of the most contested passages in the NT, presenting great difficulties in language and content.

And Douglas Moo, in his:

This verse furnishes the most important evidence about the false teaching, but it is also arguably the most difficult verse in Colossians to interpret.

(The difficulties of this verse of course go far beyond this particular phrase.)


Both interpretations have been argued. If the subjective genitive position (angels worshiping God) is taken, the idea would be that the angels are mediating in some sense for the humans.

The objective genitive is the more obvious and traditional reading of the text.

The phrase has normally been taken to denote "the worship directed to the angels." —O'Brien

However, O'Brien concludes after a complex discussion that

the false teachers claimed to have joined in the angelic worship of God as they entered into the heavenly realm and prepared to receive visions of divine mysteries.

Which I frankly think is convoluted. (O'Brien is thorough but sometimes prefers esoteric renderings.) Good ol' Moo comes to the rescue, giving a simple rebuttal of O'Brien's complex discussion. It is worth quoting at length:

The more traditional interpretation should probably be preferred. First, from a purely linguistic point of view, the phrase is more likely to mean "worship offered to angels" than "worship offered by angels." Second, while many Jewish apocalyptic texts refer to angelic worship, and some refer to humans observing or imitating that worship, very few speak of humans joining with angels in such worship. It is questionable, in other words, whether the simple (and very ambiguous) phrase "worship of angels" would have been capable of connoting such a relatively rare concept. Third, as we have noted, a key concern of Colossians has been to accentuate the superiority of Christ over spiritual beings (1:6, 20; 2:10, 15). Such a concern to minimize the significance of the angels would make very good sense if, indeed, the false teachers were worshiping them. Fourth, Clinton Arnold has suggested a plausible background for Paul's accusation that the false teachers were worshiping angels. He notes the importance of invoking angles as a means to ward off evil in the ancient world in general and the geographic region of Colossae in particular. Paul would be characterizing this calling on angels for protection as a tantamount to the worship of angels.

As an aside, Richard Gamble makes an argument from Hebrews 9-10 that Christians do actually join with angels in the worship of God, which makes the subjective genitive seem even less likely.

"Worship of angels" indicates men worshiping angels.

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KaZark answered this well.

I am just throwing some common sense to support his answer. If you notice how people like to worship Saints in our day , it's not hard to imagine before Christ people liked to worship angels. When you consider how the Law was delivered by angels (Heb 2:2) and that in the Old Testament angels appearing was the greatest thing ever. Naturally the fleshly mind would have invented a host of superstitions about different angels, their names, how you could invoke their blessing, etc. they were probably all puffed up making pretend rules about things they no nothing of. They probably had various fake practices of humility in the way they pretended to be religious in their superstitions. Apparently even many Jews must have had a very high view of angels and commonly fell into this kind of thinking, for Hebrews starts by arguing how Jesus is superior to angels. If we could argue to superstitious people of our day who prefer to go to Mary, or St. so-and-so, rather than the eternal Priest, who knows how to empathize with our weakness, we would probably find very similar attitudes and ideas. Then it was angels, now it is Saints.

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St.Paul warns about worshiping God's servants, because God's servants are equal to angels. Ref: Zechariah 12:8. St.Paul clearly not mentioning about angels of heaven, for example Gabriel, Michael and others and as well as not about the fallen angels too. Because it was addressed to Colossians who are strong in doctrine. Today too believers are fond of worshiping such angels as the worldly people worships Singers, Sportsmen and Movie stars. Instead of honoring and listen to their doctrine these people start to worship them and unfortunately some of the God's servants too allow them unknowingly or wantonly. Such acts bring God's wrath on them.

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Is this the verse you meant to reference? "On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them." (Zechariah 12:8 ESV) – Jon Ericson Mar 12 '13 at 18:14

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