I received the following question:

Colossians 2:13 – I need a more detailed explanation of this verse. I understand from Eph. 2:1 and 5 that it should read “being dead TO sins.” Why is it not the same in Col. 2:13? The whole context of Colossians, written to believers, seems to support the reading of being dead TO sins, not dead in sins. The Greek word suzoopoieo occurs only in Eph. 2:5 and Col. 2:13. Why would Paul say in Eph. 2:15, “We also being dead TO the offenses, makes us alive together in Christ Jesus,” and then tell the Colossians believers, “And you, being dead IN your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses”? It seems to me that all believers, having been made alive together in Christ Jesus, would necessarily be dead TO sins and not dead IN sins. The Companion Bible notes on verse 13 says “being, i.e. at that time.” But I don’t see anything in the Greek to indicate their past condition. Please enlighten me on this verse.

I start off by quoting Mr. Sellers’ Resultant Version of this verse, along with the notes, and my commentary on the verse.

The Resultant Version (13) You also, being dead in your offenses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made you alive jointly A with Him, dealing graciously B with all your trespasses;

2:13 (A) The Gk. is suzoopoieo, occurring only here and in Eph. 2:5. (B) God’s present attitude toward our sins is to deal graciously.

Nathan’s commentary: Now Paul speaks of us, the believers in Christ today, further. We were dead in the offenses we had committed against God, and in the uncircumcision of our flesh. Yet the word “uncircumcision” is the Greek word akrobustia, and is an epithet that Israelites living in the land would often hurl against those ancestral Israelites who were living outside the land of Israel, and therefore were not capable of keeping all the ceremonies of the law in the temple, as required. The word literally means “foreskinners,” and was a crude and insulting way of hurling their unfortunate status in their faces. Remember, circumcision was not just the physical act even for Israel, but was a pledge to keep and follow all the law from then on. Those Jews outside the land who had taken this pledge could not fulfill it, as they could not do the things that necessitated being in the land, like visiting Jerusalem three times a year at the feasts, or dedicating their newborn babies at the temple. Therefore, the Jews in the land who could keep the law would hurl this epithet “foreskinners” against them, mocking their circumcision since they had not proven able to back it up.

Yet this said, we must admit that this epithet would really only have been meaningful to a Jew, an ancestral Israelite, who truly desired to please God and keep the law. A Gentile who never was under God’s law to Israel and was never asked to perform circumcision would not really have been affected by it. They were probably quite proud that they did not “mutilate” their young boys using that freakish Jewish ritual. To call one of them a “foreskinner,” then, would hardly be an appropriate insult. This epithet was generally used of Jews who were foreigners in Israel, not of Gentiles.

This would suggest to us, then, that Jews might largely be in mind throughout this passage. After all, they were the ones who generally did circumcise their children, so a new circumcision not made with hands would be of much more interest to them. They were the ones who were baptized by John and others, and so they would be interested in a new baptism, again not done by hands, but having to do with an identification resulting in a merger with Jesus Christ. And they were the ones who were dead in their offenses and the akrobustia of their flesh, since they lived as Jews and yet often offended against the law due to living their lives outside the land. This passage seems to be aimed at Israelites, and not at the common believer of today.

Yet this said, there can be no doubt but that these things apply to us as well. We are living in the same dispensation as the Colossians, and so these same things are true of us even if we are not Jews who believe. We are identified with Christ in His burial and resurrection. We are cut off from the substance of the sins of the flesh through our relationship with Him. And we too were dead in our sins, but have been made alive jointly with Him. These statements may have originally been intended for an audience other than us, but we can still learn from them, and discover from them glorious things which are true of us.

Now we read that we have been made alive jointly with Him. The word is suzoopoieo, and has the prefix “sun” attached to the front of the word zoopoieo, which means “to make alive.” Sun is the prefix used three times in Ephesians 3:6 to say that the nations are now joint-heirs, joint-bodies, and joint-partakers of His promise in Christ. In other words, though we have not personally died, as many other believers already have down through the ages, yet already we have been identified with Him in His death, and though we have not yet been resurrected we are also identified with Him in being made alive jointly together.

Moreover, God has dealt graciously with us in all our trespasses. This is not the word for “forgiving,” as the New King James has it, but it is charisamenos, related to charis or “grace.” God has dealt graciously with all our trespasses. As Ephesians 2:8 says, it is God’s grace that has saved us. It is not our faith that saves us, but God’s grace, which comes to us through faith. In other words, faith is the channel through which the grace flows to come to us and save us. Praise God for the marvelous gift of His grace!
That said, neither Mr. Sellers nor I dealt with the issue you bring up in particular. I note the following in my brief commentary on Ephesians 2:1:

“When being dead in sins is meant, the Greek uses the preposition “en” + sins. See John 8:21, 24; and I Corinthians 15:17. When being dead to sins is meant, the Greek uses the dative case of “sins.” See Romans 6:2, 10, 11; and Ephesians 2:1! Therefore, this passage is talking about those who are dead TO sins, not dead IN sins.”

In this case, the phrase is the word for dead, the preposition “en” + offenses. The word “sins” does not occur, which is why I did not mention it in my commentary on Ephesians. The words “offenses” and “sins” occur in Ephesians 2:1, and just “offenses” in Ephesians 2:5. Yet I think the reality of this passage is clear: with the word “en” plus the word for offenses, the idea is that we were “being dead in your offenses” at the time before we were made alive. That is why Mr. Sellers translates it as he does in his Resultant Version, and I would agree with this. The Greek construction favors “dead in sins” in this case.

As for the context, I would look at it that the things being mentioned: our being cut off with a cutting off not made with hands (verse 11), our having been buried with Him in identification (verse 12), our being made alive jointly with Him (verse 13), and the handwriting of the decrees that was against us being erased (verse 14), all took place at our salvation and identification with Him. Therefore, I would think that salvation is in view in the passage. The “at some time or other” pote of our current tendency to be pulled back into the course of this world that Ephesians 2 is talking about does not seem to be in the context here. That word only occurs in Colossians in chapters 1 and 3, and I don’t think it is talking about the same thing as Ephesians 2 in either place.