AUTHOR AND TITLE

Paul and Timothy are explicitly named as the authors of Colossians (1:1). Timothy probably served as Paul’s secretary (amanuensis) since the first person singular (“I”) is used throughout the letter (e.g.,1:24). The title indicates that Paul wrote the letter to Christians living in the small city of Colossae.

Some scholars have doubted Paul’s authorship based on (1) a style of writing that they deem inconsistent with his uncontested letters, and (2) a set of theological statements that they regard as more developed than what he wrote in previous letters. The latter objection is readily answered by the unique situation reflected in the letter, leading Paul to address these particular concerns with the most relevant theological emphases. There is nothing in the theology that is inconsistent with what he wrote elsewhere, and many of his statements are simply logical developments of previous thoughts. The argument about style is much weaker since there is, in fact, strong continuity of style between this letter and his other letters. It is also quite precarious to make a judgment about authorship based on such a small sampling of letters. It is inappropriate to expect an author to demonstrate stylistic uniformity throughout all his works.

DATE

The letter was probably written c. a.d. 62. Paul wrote it at roughly the same time that he wrote Philemon and Ephesians. All three letters were sent with Tychicus (see Eph. 6:21) and Onesimus. This date assumes that the imprisonment Paul speaks of is his Roman imprisonment that followed his harrowing voyage to Rome (Acts 27–28).

THEME

Christ is Lord over all of creation, including the invisible realm. He has secured redemption for his people, enabling them to participate with him in his death, resurrection, and fullness.

PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND BACKGROUND

The church at Colossae apparently got its start during Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus (a.d. 52–55). During this time, a Colossian named Epaphras probably traveled to Ephesus and responded to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel (see Acts 19:10). This new believer returned to his hometown and began sharing the good news of Christ, which resulted in the birth of the Colossian church (Col. 1:7). At the time of this writing, Epaphras is with Paul in Rome and has likely shared the bad news that there was a dangerous teaching threatening the church at Colossae (4:12). Paul writes this letter to respond to this situation and to encourage these believers in their growth toward Christian maturity.

Scholars have long been puzzled over the precise nature of the destructive teaching facing the Colossians. This uncertainty does not, however, hinder accurate interpretation of the letter’s rich theological teaching. A previous generation of scholars thought that the problem at Colossae was Gnosticism, an early heresy that taught that the world was created by an inferior god, that the material world is evil, and (in some cases) that asceticism should be practiced. But an improved understanding of Gnosticism, aided in part by the discovery of Gnostic documents in Egypt, has led most scholars to discount this interpretation. Missing from Colossians is any polemic against the Gnostic view that there is an unknown god who is distinct from the creator God. There is also no discussion of the Gnostic conviction that matter and material existence are inherently evil.

The fact that there are many distinctively Jewish elements to the false teaching (such as Sabbath observance, Jewish festivals, and an interest in angels; see 2:16–18) has led a number of scholars to contend that the competing teaching had something to do with Judaism. Some have suggested that a form of Jewish mysticism had influenced the church, resulting in Colossian Christians engaging in ascetic practices (such as fasting) in preparation for a visionary ascent to heaven where they would join the angels in worshiping God at his heavenly throne (see 2:18). This is a possibility, but it does not provide the most convincing explanation of the “worship of angels” and some of the other elements of the false teaching (2:18).

Others advocate a similar view, contending that the principal problem at Colossae was not a dangerous teaching from within the church but one coming from outside. They suggest that the local Jewish synagogue was mounting a campaign to discredit and denounce the Christian assembly, especially because this group of predominately Gentile believers was now claiming a Jewish heritage in the OT. One of the problems with this view, however, is that the role of the Jewish law is never mentioned in Colossians. It also does not adequately take into account the role of other syncretistic elements from other local religions.

The best explanation for this dangerous teaching is that it comes from the context of the local Jewish and pagan folk belief. A central feature of the local folk belief was a tendency to call on angels for help and protection from evil spirits. This characteristic is well attested in many inscriptions and ancient documents. For instance, a magical stone amulet designed to be worn around the neck for protection from evil spirits reads, “Michael, Gabriel, Ouriel, Raphael, protect the one who wears this. … Flee, O hated one, Solomon pursues you.”

What likely happened at Colossae is that a shaman-like figure within the church had attracted a following and was presenting himself as something of a Christian spiritual guide (cf. “his sensuous mind,” 2:18). This person probably claimed to have superior insight into the spiritual realm and was advising the Colossian Christians to practice certain rites, taboos, and rituals as a means of protection from evil spirits and for deliverance from afflictions. When Paul hears of the spreading influence of this teaching that devalues Christ and fails to appreciate the new identity of believers “in Christ,” he writes this letter of warning and encouragement. He does not minimize the threat presented by the demonic powers but emphasizes the supremacy of Christ over all powers. He asserts the unity of Christians with the exalted Christ, which entails their sharing in his power and authority.

Paul also takes the opportunity to encourage these believers to press on to maturity in Christ by continuing in their battle against sin, pursuing holiness in Christ, and learning to live as distinctively Christian households.

KEY THEMES

1. Jesus Christ is preeminent over all creation, Lord over all human rulers and cosmic powers.1:15–20; 2:9–10; 3:1
2. God has worked through Christ to secure redemption and reconciliation for all who put their faith in him.1:13–14, 20–22
3. Believers are in Christ and thus participate in a relationship of solidarity with Christ in his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his new life, and his fullness.2:9–14; 3:1–4
4. Christ has defeated the powers of darkness on the cross, and Christians share in his power and authority over that realm.2:10, 15; see also 2:8, 20
5. Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish expectation, and Christians now share in the heritage of the old covenant people of God through their union with him.1:12, 21–22, 27
6. Believers are called to grow in maturity in Christ by getting rid of sinful practices and cultivating Christian virtues.1:10–12, 28; 3:1–4:6

HISTORY OF SALVATION SUMMARY

Christians are to hold fast to the one way of salvation in Christ, in contrast to false teaching. (For an explanation of the “History of Salvation,” see the Overview of the Bible.)

LITERARY FEATURES

Colossians closely follows the epistolary conventions of Paul’s other letters to congregations in the early church. The letter opens with the customary greetings, including thanksgiving and prayer. The main body of the letter is divided fairly equally between theological exposition and practical application (including household instructions), followed by personal greetings that reinforce the relationship between the writer and his correspondents. Because of its polemical (persuasive and argumentative) thrust, Colossians also takes the form of a disputation in which the apostle argues the gospel side of a debate between the all-sufficiency of Christ and the spurious claims of man-made religion. The lines of praise given to Christ in 1:15–20 have the form of a hymn or creed celebrating him.

As one of the most thoroughly Christ-centered books in the Bible, Colossians finds its essential unity in the divine and exalted person of the preeminent Christ. The letter presents variations on this central theme, with Christ celebrated as the object of the believer’s faith, the image of the invisible God, the creator of all dominions, the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead, the unifier and reconciler of all things, the Savior through his sufferings on the cross, the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge, the triumphant victor over sin and Satan, the exalted Lord of life and glory, and the true pattern for the life of Christian faith. The letter is also unified by Paul’s pastoral concern to dissuade the Colossians from getting caught up in useless religious regulations and to awaken exaltation of Christ and exultation in him. Paul writes with stylistic flair and aphoristic brilliance.

TIMELINE

Timeline

THE SETTING OF COLOSSIANS

c. a.d. 62

Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians during a time of imprisonment, probably in Rome. The church at Colossae was likely established during Paul’s third missionary journey as he ministered for three years in Ephesus. It appears that Paul did not personally establish the church there, but instead a Colossian named Epaphras traveled to Ephesus, responded to Paul’s gospel message, and returned to share the good news in Colossae.

The Setting of Colossians

OUTLINE

  1. Greeting (1:1–2)
  2. Thanksgiving (1:3–8)
  3. Prayer (1:9–14)
  4. Praise to Christ (1:15–20)
  5. Christ is Lord of creation (1:15–17)
  6. Christ is Lord of redemption (1:18–20)
  7. Reconciliation of the Colossians to God (1:21–23)
  8. The Apostle Paul’s Labor for the Gospel (1:24–2:3)
  9. Paul’s suffering and stewardship of the mystery (1:24–28)
  10. Paul’s labor for the Colossians (1:29–2:3)
  11. The Dangerous Teaching at Colossae (2:4–23)
  12. Warning about a deceptive teaching (2:4–8)
  13. Help for the danger: resources in Christ (2:9–15)
  14. Additional warnings about the teaching (2:16–23)
  15. The Proper Focus: Christ and the Life Above (3:1–4)
  16. Instructions on Living the Christian Life (3:5–4:6)
  17. Dealing with the sins of the past (3:5–11)
  18. Putting on the virtues of Christ (3:12–17)
  19. Living in the Christian household (3:18–4:1)
  20. Persistence in prayer (4:2–4)
  21. Good behavior toward those outside the community (4:5–6)
  22. Personal Greetings and Instructions (4:7–17)
  23. Remarks about the messengers carrying the letter (4:7–9)
  24. Greetings from Paul’s associates (4:10–14)
  25. Greetings to the Christians in Laodicea (4:15–17)
  26. Letter Closing (4:18)

THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS

CHAPTER 1

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,

2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

5 For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

6 Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

7 As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;

8 Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;

11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;

12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled

22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:

25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;

26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:

27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:

29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

CHAPTER 2

1 For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;

2 That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;

3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.

5 For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.

6 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;

22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

CHAPTER 3

1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:

7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;

10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

22 Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.

25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

CHAPTER 4

1 Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;

3 Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:

4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

5 Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

7 All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord:

8 Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts;

9 With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.

10 Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

11 And Jesus, which is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

13 For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.

17 And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

18 The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

¶ Written from Rome to the Colossians by Tychicus and Onesimus.

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