Man-made, religious rules have no value to curb the real problem of our fallen human nature.
Published February 13th, 2017
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The "if" in v. 20a is a "rhetorical if". The Colossians have indeed died with Christ (cf. 3:3) and there is no legitimate reason for them to go on living under the influence of the world system (20b) which is governed by the elemental spirits (20a) and imposes man-made external rules (21). These rules which seem to be keys to successful religion (23a) have no value to curb the real problem of our fallen human nature (23b).
Εἰ ἀπεθάνετε σὺν Χριστῷ ἀπὸ τῶν στοιχείων τοῦ κόσμου,
( Since ) with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,
τί ὡς ζῶντες ἐν κόσμῳ
( in other words ) you are no longer alive in the world,
( therefore there is no legitimate reason for you to submit to regulations—
(here are three examples of the regulations:) “Do not handle,
( and ) do not taste,
( and ) do not (even) touch”
ἅ ἐστιν πάντα εἰς φθορὰν τῇ ἀποχρήσει,
( Reason #1 for not submitting to such regulations:) they refer to things that all perish in the using
κατὰ τὰ ἐντάλματα καὶ διδασκαλίας τῶν ἀνθρώπων,
( Reason #2: the rules) are based on human precepts and teachings
ἅτινά ἐστιν λόγον μὲν ἔχοντα σοφίας ἐν ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ καὶ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ [καὶ] ἀφειδίᾳ σώματος,
( Reason #3) ( although ) these (rules) have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self- made religion and asceticism and severity to the body,
οὐκ ἐν τιμῇ τινι πρὸς πλησμονὴν τῆς σαρκός.
( neverthelss ) these (rules) are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.