In Colossians 2:20-23, is the author of Colossians saying that precepts from the Torah are of human origin?:

ISV Col 2:20 If you have died with the Messiah to the basic principles of the world, why are you submitting to its [the world's] decrees as though you still lived in the world? Col 2:21 "Don't handle this! Don't taste or touch that!" Col 2:22 All of these things will be destroyed as they are used, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Col 2:23 These things have the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion, humility, and harsh treatment of the body, but they have no value against self-indulgence.

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    I agree with Dick that these should be separate questions. The two texts are by two different authors in very different situations. The Mark passage should also be expanded to get Jesus' full argument: Mk.7:9-23.
    – Schuh
    Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 3:18

2 Answers 2


First, Paul used the term "died with Christ" to refer to baptism, and the author of Colossians follows Paul's meaning closely here. For example:

Romans 6:2-4: God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Most Bibles translate στοιχείων as 'principles', which may camouflage our author's real meaning. Perhaps a better translation is 'rudiments' or 'elements', with reference to the every day things of no lasting importance.

Colossians is saying that rules like ""Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" were written for the unbaptised, but if you have died in Christ (having been baptised) then they no longer apply.

At this stage, perhaps the KJV happens to be a clearer translation:

Colossians 2:20-23: Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21(Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

The essence of the question is in verse 22, which Christopher R. Seitz (Colossians (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) says is "so sufficiently compressed that it is difficult to perceive the meaning."

Although this may rest uneasily alongside the Old Testament, verse 2:22 can perhaps be read as saying that these rules came from men, but this seems by no means an indisputable interpretation. In any case, John Gill gets around this ambiguity by saying that the laws originally came from God, but that the imposition of the law comes from man (if that makes sense):

... even the ceremonial law, being now abolished, originally of God, yet the imposition of it, as necessary to salvation, was a commandment and doctrine of man's; and particularly the traditions of the elders, and the various rules and decrees, which the doctors among the Jews obliged men to regard, were human inventions and devices.

On the other hand, Barnes' Notes to Colossians 2 says that "these ordinances had a value among the Hebrews when it was designed to keep them as a distinct people; but they had no value in themselves, so as to make them binding on all mankind," going on to say, "They depended on human authority only, and of course, should not bind the conscience."

This takes us back to Seitz' comment that it is difficult to perceive the meaning of this verse. For the author, the meaning of this clause may not have been important, as long as it paralleled the words he believed Paul might have used. Whether verse 22 implies that the Jewish law was originally of God or were simply of human origin is subject to debate.

  • I think something of Paul's meaning in Romans 6 may be obscured by failing to translate 'baptise'. At this point in history 'baptism' is still a new buzzword, and not something enshrined in centuries of doctrine: whilst it was still the word the early church was using for its initiation practise, it would retain at least a dual meaning as 'immersion'. Therefore the term 'died with Christ' still literally means 'died with Christ', and isn't just dogma: "so many of us as were immersed into Jesus Christ were immersed into his death. Therefore we are buried with him by immersion into death."
    – Steve can help
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 12:35
  • (+1) for adding useful information.
    – user10231
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 13:55

The word only occurs once in the NT -- δογματίζω dogmatizō

In context it refers to only dogmatic superstition practices like do not touch this; do not go there at that time. Such a negative and demeaning description cannot be assumed for the Torah itself; though it can be said for the Rabbinic additional rules. It is about ascetic and stoic ordinances or regulations. Paul maintains Torah was good and holy, and given by God.

  • Thanks for calling attention to that word. It is a passive verb which in this context means "submit to rules". The rules in view are in vs. 22, both "commands and teachings of men". But does he include Kosher laws in verse 21?
    – user10231
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 14:08
  • 2Co 6:17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
    – user10231
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 14:09
  • Its about regulations ordinances in general of the pagans. The superstitious set of regulations. Mosaic law was not such man made regulation. Kosher dietary law has been abolished completely which Paul repeatedly teaches through the ref of circumcision. In 2cor6:17 “unclean thing” is identified with the whole system of heathenism [Ellicott]. @WoundedEgo
    – Michael16
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 8:38

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