AUTHOR, PLACE AND DATE OF WRITING
This letter presents itself as being from Paul. Today, however, a number of scholars consider it to be pseudonymous (a forgery attributed 26:3; to Paul). Some have argued that the letter's style is unlike Paul's—an argument that is difficult to demonstrate in so short an epistle. Some point out that the exalted and cosmic language used of Christ in 1:15-20 goes beyond what we see in Paul's other letters, but in reality such ideas appear in passages such as 1 Corinthians 8:6. Other objections to Pauline authorship of Colossians (e.g., that it lacks Paul's 317 3 emphasis on faith versus works) are weak.
Similarities to Ephesians suggest that Paul wrote the two letters at nearly the same time. Colosse was in the Lycus valley, inland from Ephesus and not far from Laodicea, and Paul evidently sent out the letters to a number of churches in the area, with Ephesians perhaps being a circular letter (see The Letter From the Laodiceans" on p. 1940 and "The Authorship of Ephesians" on p. 1919). Paul 11.9 was in prison at the time Colossians was written (4:3)—most likely in Rome but possibly in Caesarea. A date of writing of about A.D. 60 seems probable.
This letter was written to the believers in Colosse. The church there had been planted by Paul's coworker Epaphras (1:7; 4:12), who joined 12:9 Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome (4:12; Phm 23; see Ac 28:16-31), during which time the apostle likely wrote this letter.
CULTURAL FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
Epaphras had just brought a report to Paul on the situation of the churches in the Lycus Valley. Although much of the news was good, certain matters concerned Paul. A brand of false teaching had arisen in Colosse, but it is unclear whether this was a unified body of false 9:11, doctrine or an amalgam of errors, superstitions and misunderstandings. Elements included taboos about food and holy days, devotion to .7.15 angelic beings and a pseudo-sophisticated theology that may have had something to do with the later Gnostic heresies (ch. 2). A large 2.4 portion of the letter, however, is taken up with general exhortations to Christian living.
AS YOU READ
Look for an eloquent passage on the supremacy of Christ, note the basic standards for Christian living and family interactions and take to heart Paul's warning against mixing elements from various religions.
DID YOU KNOW?
Colossians includes the following themes: 1. A warning against heresy. Paul labeled the Colossian heresy a vain deceit based on human tradition and the "basic principles of this world" (2:8,20). It denied Christ's sufficiency and belittled Christian hope in his finished work on the cross. 2. The supremacy of Christ. Paul affirmed that: (a) Christ is God (1:15; 2:9); (b) he is the Creator of all things (1:16); (c) all the fullness of God dwells in him (1:19; 2:9); (d) Christ is superior to the angels (2:10,15); (e) Christ is the head of the church (1:18), through whom believers have "fullness" (2:10); (f) in Christ all the requirements of the Mosaic Law have been met (2:11,16-17); (g) asceticism has no value (2:23), while a life "hidden in Christ" (3:3) brings glory (3:4); and (h) Christ himself is the "mystery of God" (2:2; see 1:25-27; 4:3); no other secret knowledge is necessary. 3. Christian living. Paul insisted that the believer's union with Christ (3:1-4) results in holy living. He outlined clear standards (3:5-17) that prescribe attitudes that are to govern relationships within family and church. Leadership is to be exercised, but domination is unacceptable.
II. Christ Is Supreme (1:15-23)
III. Paul's Ministry (1:24-2:7)
IV. Freedom From Human Regulations Through Life in Christ (2:8-23)
V. Rules for Holy Living (3:1-4:6)
VI. Final Greetings and Conclusion (4:7-18)
COLOSSIANS 1 Colosse (or Colossae) was located in the Roman province of Asia Minor in the Lycus valley about 120 miles (194 km) east of Ephesus in today's south-western Turkey.2 An ancient city of Phrygia, it was situated on the southern bank of the Lycus River, about 11 miles (18 km) from Laodicea and 13 miles (21 km) from Hierapolis. The site is currently unoccupied and has not been excavated, although a few surface inscriptions have been found.What little we know of Colosse comes from numismatics (the study of coins and related objects) and from comments made by ancient writers, but until the city can be excavated our understanding of its history will remain clouded.
The historian Herodotus (History, 7.30) referred in 480 B.C. to Colosse as"a great city of Phrygia," and Xenophon (Anabasis,1.2.6) described it in 400 B.C. as large and prosperous. Colosse, standing on the most important trade route from Ephesus to the Euphrates, was a place of great importance from early times. The Persian king Xerxes visited it in 481 s.c., as did Cyrus the Younger in 401. By the time of Paul the city may have diminished somewhat in significance. Its economy depended upon trade and textiles, and particularly on a distinctive purple wool called colossinus.
The church at Colosse was established on Paul's third missionary journey, during his three years in Ephesus, not by Paul himself (2:1) but by Epaphras (1:7,12-13),a native of Colosse and an evangelist in nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis (see 4:13). Paul loved and admired him,calling him"our dear fellow servant," "a faithful minister of Christ" and a "fellow prisoner" (Phm 23). Epaphras was the one who told Paul at Rome about the Colossian church problem and thereby stimulated Paul to write this letter.The name Epaphras is a shortened form of Epaphroditus (from "Aphrodite," the Greek goddess of love), suggesting that he was a convert from paganism. He is not the Epaphroditus of Philippians 2:24 and 4:18. Archippus also exercised a fruitful ministry in Colosse (Col 4:17; Phm 2). Philemon was an active member of this church, as was Onesimus (Col 4:9).
Colosse lost its importance due to a change of the road system, after which Laodicea became the greater city. During the seventh and eighth centuries its open posi-tion exposed it to the terrible raids of the Saracens, and the people moved to Chonae (now called Chonas), a fortress on the slope of Mount Cadmus, about three miles (five km) farther south. During the twelfth cen-tury A.D. the Turks destroyed the city. Archaeologists have unearthed ruins of an ancient church.
COLOSSIANS 2 Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy may be divided into several schools or traditions in the first century A.D.:
COLOSSIANS 3 Mystery religions were secret cults that flourished during the Greco-Roman period and involved the worship of deities from Greece, Egypt and the Near East. Unlike official religions (such as the imperial cult),' which involved little more than pledges of loyalty, these religions offered personal salvation and a sense of belonging to a community. Members participated in rituals and were expected to keep both the rites and the teachings secret; hence the designation "mystery religions." Famous examples are the Greek Eleusinian and Dionysian mysteries,2 the Mithras mysteries and the Egyptian cult of Isis and Osiris.
Each cult was distinct, but many mystery cults shared a motif of death and afterlife.The Eleusinian mysteries centered upon the myth of the annual descent of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, into Hades and her subsequent return to the land of the living. The cult of Isis and Osiris was similar. In Egyptian religion Osiris, the lord of the dead, was also believed to be a source of life and renewal. Osiris had been murdered by his brother Set, but his wife/sister, Isis, had located his scattered remains and effected for him a kind of resurrection.
Some cults focused on cosmic power. The Mithras cult, which became popular with Roman men around the second century A.D., is widely thought to have been Persian in origin, but recent research indicates that its teachings may have been indigenous to the Greco-Roman world. Worship was carried out in a small, cavelike chamber called a Mithraeum, which contained cryptic inscriptions and symbols, the primary clues to the nature of the religion. The central motif centered around a man, Mithras, who had purportedly slain a bull. In the iconography Mithras is accompanied by a dog, a snake, a raven and a scorpion. All of these creatures equate to constellations (Taurus, Canis Minor, Hydra, Corvus and Scorpio, respectively), and thus the cult may have been astrological in orientation and based upon the belief that Mithras was the ruler of the cosmos. Members of the cult ascended through a hierarchy of seven ranks, corresponding to the seven planets; solar and lunar icons are invariably found in a Mithraeum.
The cults frequently focused upon fertility, were often accompanied by erotic symbolism and included secret rituals that were sometimes either gory or orgiastic.The Dionysian mysteries, which involved a kind of ecstatic madness, were in fact for a time out-lawed by the Roman Senate. Popular fear of and fascination with the bacchanalian frenzy is reflected in ancient literary works such as The Bacchae by Euripides and the Metamorphoses by Ovid. In many mystery religions the initiate underwent a ritual death and rebirth through either ecstatic frenzy or secret ritual. One inscription in a Mithraeum describes the initiate as having been "piously reborn." Some have suggested that Paul may have been influenced by these cults in his understanding of the "mystery" of the gospel of Christ. It is more likely, however, that the apostle used the term "mystery" to refer to the fact that the Old Testament prophecies, which include much that is mysterious, find their meaning and fulfillment in Christ. Certainly nothing indicates that converts to Christianity were sworn to keep its tenets or practices a secret. In addition, Paul probably did want to communicate to his Gentile converts that the true way to rebirth and resurrection is through Christ, and the word "mystery" helped him to convey that reality.
COLOSSIANS 4 In Colossians 4:16 Paul instructed the Colossians to read the "letter from Laodicea." Most likely Paul was referring to a letter he had written to the believers in that city. Attempts to identify this letter have included suggestions that it was an Apocryphal Latin document, Paul's letter to the Ephesians or a text that no longer exists.