New Testament Survey: The Book Of Colossians
The Book Of Colossians
- Paul (Col 1:1,23)(Col 4:18)
(For more on Paul see: Survey: Biography Of Paul)
- Some have questioned the Pauline authorship of this book because there are a number of Greek words and phrases used in this Epistle that are not found in any other Epistle written by Paul. For example:
- “spoil” you (Col 2:8)
- “making a shew of them openly” (Col 2:15)
- “beguile you of your reward” and “intruding” (Col 2:18)
- “in will worship” and “satisfying” (Col 2:23)
- “filthy communication” (Col 3:8)
- However, it seems clear, based on parallels with both Ephesians and Philemon, which nearly all scholars agree were written by Paul (especially Philemon), that denying the Pauline authorship of Colossians is not logical. For example:
As we mentioned in the survey of Ephesians, out of the 155 verses in that letter, about half are also found in Colossians in varying degrees.
Colossians was sent by the same messengers as Ephesians:
Tychicus (Col 4:7)(Eph 6:21)
Philemon: Onesimus (Col 4:9)(Phile 1:10)
The people that Paul mentions as being with him in Colossians and Philemon are exactly the same (with the exception of Justus: Col 4:11):
|Timothy||(Col 1:1) / (Phile 1:1)|
|Aristarchus||(Col 4:10) / (Phile 1:24)|
|Mark||(Col 4:10) / (Phile 1:24)|
|Epaphras||(Col 4:12) / (Phile 1:23)|
|Luke||(Col 4:14) / (Phile 1:24)|
|Demas||(Col 4:14) / (Phile 1:24)|
|Archippus||(Col 4:17) / (Phile 1:2)|
|Onesimus||(Col 4:9) / (Phile 1:10)|
- The thought, doctrine, and style of writing are also the same as Paul’s other Epistles.
- The early church fathers (Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Eusebius) agreed that Paul authored this book.
- As was the case with most of his letters, Paul apparently dictated this letter, writing the end with his own hand to authenticate that it was from him (Col 4:18).
- Most agree that this was the 8th of the 13 Epistles that Paul wrote.
- Chapters: 4
- Verses: 95
- 60-62 A.D.
- Rome (while in prison: Col 4:3,10,18)
- This was the second (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians) of what are often referred to as the “Prison Epistles” because they were written during Paul’s 1st imprisonment in Rome which lasted 2 years (Acts 28:30).
- The church at Colosse
(Col 1:15-20)(Col 2:9-10,16-17)(Col 3:1-2,17)(Col 4:5-6)
- The primary purpose of Colossians was to confront the heresies that were being taught by false teachers that had invaded the church at Colosse.
- These heresies contained a mixture of Jewish elements, and an early form of Gnosticism.
- The Jewish element taught that in order to obtain salvation one must observe: circumcision (Col 2:11), the Mosaic law (Col 2:14-15), special days (Col 2:16), and asceticism (“do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”) (Col 2:21-23).
- Gnosticism was a false teaching that had its early roots in the 1st century, but did not fully develop until the 2nd century. Gnosticism came out of something that was originally called “dualism,” which made a distinction between spirit (which was good) and matter (which was evil). Gnosticism carried this out to teach that man was body and soul (both bad) and spirit (which was good), and what was essential for salvation was for the spirit to be awakened by special knowledge (“gnosis” in Greek = knowledge)(limited to a small group of people) of God and spiritual truth.
(Of course, this allowed for all kinds of sinful behavior, since it didn’t matter how they lived because their bodies were “matter” and evil anyway.)
- In addition, because matter was sinful, the humanity of Jesus Christ was called into question. However, Gnostics also denied the deity of Jesus, teaching that he was simply one of a host of higher beings (including angels) that came from God and “mediated” between God and man. Angels were also worshiped (Col 2:18).
- Paul confronted these false teachings by focusing on the “preeminence” (Col 1:8: the only time used in Paul’s Epistles) of Christ in all things. He set before the Colossians their true standing in Christ (exclusive of all other heavenly beings), the majesty of His person, and the completeness of His redemption. Paul taught that they ought to be conformed to their risen Lord, and to exhibit that conformity in all areas of life.
About The City:
- Colosse was a city of Phrygia, located in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). It was situated on the Lycus River, which flowed into the nearby Meander River. Mt. Cadmus (8013′ high) stood above the city.
- Colosse was about 100 miles east of Ephesus, 13 miles south of Hierapolis, and 10 miles south of Laodicea.
- Around the 5th century B.C., Colosse was a large and important city, situated at the crossroads of North/South and East/West trade routes. However, by Paul’s time, the road had shifted towards Laodicea, and Colosse became a minor city of little importance. Nonetheless, it was often linked with Hierapolis and Laodicea (i.e. Col 4:13,16).
- Colosse was perhaps best known for producing a black wool (some say purple) called “collossinus.”
- Shortly after Paul wrote his letter to Colosse (app. 60-62 A.D.), a large and devastating earthquake hit the Lycus Valley and the cities in it. While most of the cities were rebuilt, Colosse never was.
- Today, the ruins of the city (including a large theatre, a church, and cemetery) can be seen near a town called Chonus.
About The Church:
- Paul did not start the church at Colosse, and it appears that he had never personally been there, nor met them (Col 1:4,8-9)(Col 2:1). He hoped to get there after his release from prison in Rome (Phile 1:22), but he never made it.
- The church apparently was founded by a man named Epaphras (Col 1:7)(Col 4:12), possibly with the help of Archippus (Col 4:17)(Phile 1:2) (believed by some to be the son of Philemon).
- Epaphras likely became a Christian while Paul was in Ephesus for 3 years during his 3rd missionary journey (Acts 19: particularly Acts 19:10 “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks”)(Also see: Acts 19:26). After being converted, Epaphras carried the Gospel back to Colosse and started the church.
- The church met in the house of Philemon (Phile 1:1-2), a wealthy man who lived in Colosse. Onesimus had been his slave, and ran away taking money with him. After doing so, he met Paul and became a Christian. Paul wrote the letter “Philemon” to ask Philemon (who Paul had also led to the Lord: Phile 1:19) to forgive him. Onesimus delivered the letter personally (Phile 1:12).
- Shortly after the church was planted, it came under attack by the heretical teachers, which prompted Epaphras to visit Paul in prison in Rome and explain what was occurring (Col 4:12-13) (Phile 1:23).Even though Paul hadn’t started the church, he was greatly burdened by their struggles (Col 2:1), and wrote this letter to confront these false teachings. He sent the letter back with Tychicus and Onesimus (Col 4:7-9).
(We can also gather from [Col 4:12] and [Phile 1:23] that Epaphras apparently stayed in Rome with Paul for a period of time after the letters were sent.)
- However, even though they were under attack, Paul said, I am “rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (Col 2:5).
- The church was primarily composed of Gentiles (Col 1:21,27)(Col 2:13: “the circumcision” which was used to describe Gentiles [Rom 2:24-27][Eph 2:11]). History also tells us, however, that there was a significant Jewish population as well.
- This is probably the most Christ centered book in the Bible. To confront the heretical teachings, the preeminence of Christ is emphasized in this letter: “He is” “He has” “in Him” “through Him” “for Him” “with Him.”
- In contrasting Colossians with Ephesians, Ephesians focuses on the “church” as being Christ’s body (Eph 2:16)(Eph 3:6)(Eph 4:4)(Eph 4:12,16), while Colossians focuses on Christ being the head of the body [“church”](Col 1:18)(Col 2:10,19).
- The Epistle is in seven divisions:
1. Introduction, 1:1-8.
2. The apostolic prayer, 1:9-14.
3. The exaltation of Christ, Creator, Redeemer, Indweller, 1:15-29.
4. The Godhead incarnate in Christ, in whom the believer is complete, 2:1-23.
5. The believer’s union with Christ in resurrection life and glory, 3:1-4.
6. Christian living, the fruit of union with Christ, 3:5-4:6.
7. Christian fellowship, 4:7-18.
(Survey from Scofield Reference Notes [1917 ed.]: Public Domain)