Brett Petrillo, one of my co-workers at Bear Valley, showed me a word (in Colossians 2:20) I did not know was in the Bible. Actually, it’s in the Greek Bible, and the word is “δογματίζω (dogmatizo). According to BDAG, it means “to put under obligation by rules or ordinances; obligate” (Arndt, et al, 254). Kittel adds that these are rules that seem to be right but are put forward as if “to establish a decree” or “to publish an edict” (Kittel, et al, 178). The shorter form, “dogma,” is found a few times and simply means a formal, governmental decree that may or may not be in accordance with God’s will (Lk. 2:1; Acts 17:7; Heb. 11:23; it’s also used of the Old Law in Eph. 2:15 and Col. 2:14, translated as “ordinances” or “decrees”). In Colossians 2:20, the longer, verb form is translated “submit yourselves to decrees” (NASB), “submit to regulations” (ESV), “subject to ordinances” (KJV), and “submit to (the world’s) rules” (NIV).
It was dogmatic people asking these Christians to submit to their rules. Paul describes and defines the specific rules in the circumstances plaguing the Colossians. Some were acting as their judge regarding food, drink, festivals and days (16), adding fleshly (and, in some cases, heretical) requirements (18), and making rules which did not originate with Christ (21) that he describes as “the commandments and teachings of men” (22). Paul condemns such rule making (19,23).
How does this teaching apply to us today? We are right to point out those who tell us we don’t have to obey things which God requires of us. Lessening God’s requirements in areas He holds us responsible for is spiritually fatal. This is replacing divine commands for human ordinances.
Yet, we cannot miss the point that the other extreme is just as wrong. To make laws, regulations, and commands and bind them upon brethren is still to replace divine commands for human ordinances. This very context points out how God feels about this.
The Lord does not need our help. He knew what His will for us was, and we cannot improve upon that. We must make sure that we’re not pressing our opinion, preference, tradition, or judgment, saying that such is the more righteous, spiritual, or godly course of action. If it is a matter of divine indifference, we should never make it a test of fellowship. Those who decide differently from us are not “less sound” or somehow “suspect.” A humble effort to follow God’s revelation will truly make us “people of the book.” To obligate people to more than that is to be “dogmatic.”