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Enjoying God Blog

Paul issues a stringent warning about those who are engaged in the “worship of angels” (Col. 2:18b). This is a notoriously controversial statement due to the ambiguity of Paul's words. I'll try to briefly explain the options for its interpretation.

On the one hand, it could refer to the worship that the angels themselves offer to God (cf. Revelation 4-5). If so, the false teachers were claiming to be extraordinarily spiritual because their worship of God was not in association with that of other, merely human, participants, but was an elevated and exceptionally unique experience in which they joined with the angelic hosts in heaven to praise God.

I'm not inclined to accept this view for two reasons. First, although it is grammatically possible it is not probable. But second, and more important, why would it be regarded as illicit for Christians to join with the angels in the worship and honor of God? On what grounds would a select few claim that they alone had this privilege? We are told in Hebrews 12:22 that we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering . . .” The latter may well refer to angels engaged in worship.

And there is no indication in Revelation 4-5 that John was in danger of sinning were he to have praised God in the midst of the myriads of angelic hosts who were doing so. So, I find it a stretch to say that Paul was denouncing the idea of worshipping with angels. This would only be grounds for rebuke if it were a claim made by an exclusive and elitist inner circle who insisted they had access to the heavenly celebration which other, lesser saints, did not.

Then, of course, Paul could mean that these heretics were worshiping angels, giving to them the praise and honor that only God is due (cf. Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). However, if this were the case, why didn't Paul more severely and explicitly denounce such a practice as the blasphemous idolatry that it is?

There is another option. David Garland points out that “some have claimed that the Colossian errorists understood these angels to be involved in creation and the government of the world, and they worshipped them as their link to God. These angels could be regarded as malevolent and needing appeasement or as benevolent and bestowing blessing. Their so-called 'worship' may only have involved propitiating them to ward off their evil effects or beseeching them for protection” (177).

In other words, the word translated “worship” could well mean something more along the lines of “invoke” or “conjure.” These folk, then, are guilty of engaging in the somewhat magical solicitation of angels to ward off evil or to provide physical protection or to bestow blessing and success on their daily endeavors.

In any case, there was in Colossae (and often times in our own day) an excessive and inappropriate preoccupation with angels and their involvement in human life that Paul regarded as detracting from the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ. We would do well to heed his warning!


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