Colossians

Colossians

Κολοσσαείς

Reading 0,13 - 4 Chapters - 95 verses - 1,998 words

Vital Statistics

Author, Date and Place of Writing

That Colossians is a genuine letter of Paul (1:1) is usually not disputed. In the early church, all who speak no the subject of authorship ascribe it to Paul. In the 19th century, however, some thought that the heresy refuted in ch. 2 was second-century Gnosticism. But a careful analysis of ch.2 shows that the heresy referred to there is noticeably less developed than the Gnosticism of leading Gnostic teachers of the second and third centuries. Also, the seeds of what later became the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century were present in the first century and already making inroads into the churches. Consequently, it is not necessary to date Colossians in the second century at a time too late for Paul to have written the letter.

Instead, it is to be dated during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, where he spent at least two years under house arrest (Ac 28:16-31). Some have argued that Paul wrote Colossians from Ephesus or Caesarea, but most of the evidence favors Rome as the place where Paul penned all the Prison Letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon). Colossians should be dated C. A.C. 60, in the same year as Ephesians and Philemon.

Cosse: The Town and the Church

Seven hundred years before Paul's day, Colosse had been a leading city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). It was located on the Lycus River and on the great east-west trade route leading from Ephesus on the Aegean Sea to the Euphrates River. By the first century A.D. Colosse was diminished to a second-rate market town, which had been surpassed long before in power and importance by the neighboring towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis (4:13).

What gave Colosse NT importance, however, was the fact that, during Paul's three-years ministry in Ephesus, Epaphras had been converted and had carried the gospel to Colosee (1:7-8; Ac 19:10). The young church that resulted then became the target of heretical attack, which ed to Epaphras's visit to Paul in Rome and ultimately to the penning of the Colossian letter.

Perhaps as a result of the efforts of Epaphras or other converts of Paul, Christians churches had also been established in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Some of them were house churches (4:15; Phm 2). Most likely all of them were primarily Gentile.

The Colossian Heresy

Paul never explicitly describes the false teaching he opposes in the Colossian letter. The nature of the heresy must be inferred from statements he made in opposition to the false teachers. An analysis of his refutation suggests that the heresy was diverse in nature. Some of the elements of its teaching were:

1. Ceremonialism. It held to strict rules about the kinds of permissible food and drink, religious festivals (2:16-17) and circumcision (2:11; 3:11).

2. Asceticism. "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" (2:21; cf. 2:23).

3. Angel worship. See 2:18.

4. Depreciation of Christ. This is implied in Paul's emphasis on the supremacy of Christ (1:15-20; 2:2-3,9).

5. Secret knowledge. The Gnostics boasted of this (see 2:18 and Paul's emphasis in 2:2-3 on Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdoms").

6. Reliance on human wisdom and tradition. See 2:4,8.

These elements seem to fall into two categories, Jewish and Gnostic. It is likely, therefore, that the Colossian heresy was a mixture of an extreme form of Judaism and an early stage of Gnosticism.

Purpose and Theme

Paul's purpose is to refute the Colossian heresy. To accomplish this goal, he exalts Christ as the very image of God (1:15), the Creator (1:16), the preexistent sustainer of all things (1:17), the head of the church (1:18), the first to be resurrected (1:18), the fullness of deity in bodily form (1:19: 2:9) and the reconciler (1:20-22). Thus Christ is completely adequate. We "have been given fullness in Christ" (2:10). On the other hand, the Colossian heresy was altogether inadequate. It was a hollow and deceptive philosophy (2:8), lacking any ability to restrain the old sinful nature (2:23).

The theme of Colossian is the complete adequacy of Christ as contrasted with the emptiness of mere human philosophy.

How to read Colossians

The best way to spot a counterfeit is to study the real thing. Paul shines the spotlight on the glory and majesty of Christ and the life he’s given us as the best antidote to the toxic counterfeit teachings in the culture surrounding this young church. Jesus—who he is, what he’s done, what it’s like to live in him—are center stage. Paul uses the richest language to try to capture the amazing qualities of our extraordinary God!

In the first two chapters, Paul confronts heresy with a one-two punch. First, he declares that Jesus is not only the Creator and Sustainer of everything, but he is in fact the exact representation of God. Nothing less than “all the fullness” dwells in him (Col 1:17-19). Second, Paul exposes the false idea that philosophy and religiosity can successfully combat evil desires (Col 2:23). He reminds the Colossians that believers already have what they need for spiritual victory through “union with Christ” (Col 2:10).

In the last two chapters, Paul makes it clear: If you want to do the will of God, set your mind on Jesus and focus on the life we have received “in him.” As you read, be prepared! Your relationship with Jesus could be raised to a whole new level. As you acknowledge Jesus as Lord over your attitudes and actions and place your life under his rule, you will grow in holiness. Soak it all in! As you embrace him, your obedience and faith will take off! The message of the gospel is all true. All other substitutes pale in comparison to the real thing!

Colossians Interpretive Challenges

Those cults that deny Christ’s deity have seized upon the description of Him as “the firstborn over all creation” (1:15) as proof that He was a created being. Paul’s statement that believers will be “holy...without blemish and free from accusation” if they “continue in [their] faith” (1:22, 23) has led some to teach that believers can lose their salvation. Some have argued for the existence of purgatory based on Paul’s statement, “I fill up … what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (1:24), while others see support for baptismal regeneration (2:12). The identity of the “letter from Laodicea” (4:16) has also prompted much discussion.

Outline

Colossians Horizontal

God's character in Colossians

  1. God is accessible - 1:21, 22

  2. God is invisible - 1:15

  3. God is just - 3:25

  4. God is powerful - 1:11; 2:12

  5. God is reconciling - 1:20

  6. God is wrathful - 3:6

Christ in Colossians

The message of Colossians affirms the believer's perfect completion in Christ (1:28). Paul stressed the deity of Jesus against those who attacked the Person of Christ with "philosophy and empty deceit (2:8, 9). Accepting the fullness of Christ as God allows believers to come to fullness of life in Him (2:10)

Notes