Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

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Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Jason Hare » January 24th, 2013, 3:59 pm

Colossians (SBL) 2:16-17 reads:

Μὴ οὖν τις ὑμᾶς κρινέτω ἐν βρώσει ἢ ἐν πόσει ἢ ἐν μέρει ἑορτῆς ἢ νουμηνίας ἢ σαββάτων, ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων, τὸ δὲ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

My question pertains to the relative clause ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων. The NIV translates the participle of μέλλω with past reference: "These things are a shadow of things that were to come."

Given the context of the phrase, would you say that understanding that in the past is better than in the future? Is he talking about things that are yet to come (perhaps the second advent, etc.) or things that were to come (that is, Christ and his accomplished work)? Do you feel that the Greek limits this in anyway, keeping in mind that the aorist of this verb is not used in any form in the New Testament.

I'd really appreciate your feedback, as it pertains to a discussion that I'm having with someone on another forum.

Thanks!
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 24th, 2013, 4:26 pm

I've always assumed that it is a reference to the writer's future, as many other translations take it. I don't know what justifies the NIV's rendering. How would that work?
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Jason Hare » January 24th, 2013, 4:42 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:I've always assumed that it is a reference to the writer's future, as many other translations take it. I don't know what justifies the NIV's rendering. How would that work?


Hi, Stephen.

There is no doubt that ἅ μέλλει or τὰ μέλλοντα would generally refer to future realities for the NT writers. For example, Paul uses the phrase τὴν μέλλουσαν δόξαν in Romans 8:18 to refer to the future glory of believers.

In this specific case, however, he is writing about Old Testament customs that were intended (according to NT writers) to point to the coming of Jesus. The laws about clean and unclean foods, feasts, the new moons, the Sabbath days – he understood all of it as pointing to the coming of Jesus, and since the arrival of Jesus all of that is just a shadow, since Jesus himself is the reality.

The question is, though, whether τῶν μελλόντων is referring to Jesus and the things associated with his coming – as it seems to me in this specific context. Can you (or anyone else) see any reason why this could or should not be the way that we understand this phrase?

I would understand it as future from the vantage point of the establishing of the laws, since they are the things pointing to the future (to Jesus). That's how the entire New Testament brings this teaching out.

Thanks for jumping in. :)
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 24th, 2013, 4:55 pm

How do you deal with μὴ οὖν τις ὑμᾶς κρινέτω? It seems like practicing the food laws and the Jewish festivals is an ongoing issue; they have a current reality to them. It's not clear to me that Paul's really talking about their establish rather than the current practice.
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Marc Possoff » January 24th, 2013, 5:02 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:How do you deal with μὴ οὖν τις ὑμᾶς κρινέτω? It seems like practicing the food laws and the Jewish festivals is an ongoing issue; they have a current reality to them. It's not clear to me that Paul's really talking about their establish rather than the current practice.


Hello I'm new here and a beginner.

Are you saying that the Colossians were practicing the food laws and Jewish festivals and Paul was ministering to them to let no one judge you in the practices?
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Jason Hare » January 24th, 2013, 5:10 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:How do you deal with μὴ οὖν τις ὑμᾶς κρινέτω? It seems like practicing the food laws and the Jewish festivals is an ongoing issue; they have a current reality to them. It's not clear to me that Paul's really talking about their establish rather than the current practice.

The fact that the Jews were still practicing these things – and Paul was telling his readers not to be worried about their judgments upon those who were not – doesn't change that he was referring to the past and their pointing to Jesus in the first place. It was this fact (that Jesus had come and fulfilled the law) that took away the power of the condemnation for anyone who would not practice them. He states that such practices are only a shadow, while Christ is the substance. There is a relation here between the two things – the one being a shadow, no substance, only pointing to a reality; the other being the reality itself that is seen in the shadow. In other words, the religious practices were termed insubstantial, incorporeal and non-binding in light of the work of Jesus. That's how I read what it says. Do you see it otherwise?
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 24th, 2013, 6:00 pm

Mark Possoff wrote:
Stephen Carlson wrote:How do you deal with μὴ οὖν τις ὑμᾶς κρινέτω? It seems like practicing the food laws and the Jewish festivals is an ongoing issue; they have a current reality to them. It's not clear to me that Paul's really talking about their establish rather than the current practice.


Are you saying that the Colossians were practicing the food laws and Jewish festivals and Paul was ministering to them to let no one judge you in the practices?


Welcome to the forum, Mark. I am reading this in light of Rom 14:1-12, with Paul's advice to the weak and the strong, e.g., in v.10 where the one who eats only vegetables (before the food laws make eating meat almost impossible in the Diaspora) judges his brother who doesn't follow the food laws to the letter. Paul's side in Romans is with the strong in the faith, and I don't see an reason to read Col any differently, so I don't think the Colossians as a whole were practicing the food laws.

Let's do try to keep the focus on the Greek.
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 24th, 2013, 6:08 pm

Jason Hare wrote:The fact that the Jews were still practicing these things – and Paul was telling his readers not to be worried about their judgments upon those who were not – doesn't change that he was referring to the past and their pointing to Jesus in the first place. It was this fact (that Jesus had come and fulfilled the law) that took away the power of the condemnation for anyone who would not practice them. He states that such practices are only a shadow, while Christ is the substance. There is a relation here between the two things – the one being a shadow, no substance, only pointing to a reality; the other being the reality itself that is seen in the shadow. In other words, the religious practices were termed insubstantial, incorporeal and non-binding in light of the work of Jesus. That's how I read what it says. Do you see it otherwise?


Thanks for the fuller explanation. I agree with almost all of it, but I still don't see any hint in the Greek that Paul's pointing to past acts, rather than an on-going practice that the Colossians are dealing with. But then again I understand Paul to be fairly apocalyptic, so maybe that's the reason I'm not seeing any problem with a future reading. Perhaps there's enough grammatical wiggle-room to permit a future-in-the-past reading, but I don't really see anything linguistic in the text that leads me in that direction. It's not an obvious way to express that.
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Jason Hare » January 24th, 2013, 6:13 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:Thanks for the fuller explanation. I agree with almost all of it, but I still don't see any hint in the Greek that Paul's pointing to past acts, rather than an on-going practice that the Colossians are dealing with. But then again I understand Paul to be fairly apocalyptic, so maybe that's the reason I'm not seeing any problem with a future reading. Perhaps there's enough grammatical wiggle-room to permit a future-in-the-past reading, but I don't really see anything linguistic in the text that leads me in that direction. It's not an obvious way to express that.


My apologies for the further push (and I do hope that we have other participants in this thread as well), but how do you think it would be better expressed if Paul had wanted to say that the festivals and such were shadows pointing to the cross and Jesus' passion? I mean, would there have been a different form that you would expect rather than the present participle?
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Re: Colossians 2:17 - ἅ ἐστιν σκιὰ τῶν μελλόντων

Postby Stephen Carlson » January 24th, 2013, 6:23 pm

Jason Hare wrote:My apologies for the further push (and I do hope that we have other participants in this thread as well), but how do you think it would be better expressed if Paul had wanted to say that the festivals and such were shadows pointing to the cross and Jesus' passion? I mean, would there have been a different form that you would expect rather than the present participle?


You can keep the present participle, but if the main verb were ἦν instead of ἐστιν then I'd feel better that he was talking about the past, and, with the sense of the μέλλω, the future-in-the-past.
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