Introduction to Colossians
AUTHOR: The apostle Paul, joined in his salutation by Timothy (1:1), and signed by Paul himself at the end of the letter (4:18). Early sources in church history that attribute this letter to Paul include: Eusebius (300 A.D.), Origen (250 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (200 A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), Irenaeus (200 A.D.), and the Muratorian Fragment (180 A.D.).
THE CITY OF COLOSSE: The city was located about 100 miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Together with Hieropolis (4:13) and Laodicea (2:1; 4:13-16; Re 3:14-22), Colosse made up a tri-city area. Each city had its own distinction:
- Hierapolis, a place for health, pleasure, and relaxation
- Laodicea, known for its commercial trade and politics
- Colosse, known simply as a small town
Colosse was mostly a pagan city, with a strong intermingling of Jews (in 62 B.C., there were 11,000 Jewish freemen in the tri-city area). This may explain the nature of some of the problems that arose among the church in Colosse (problems with both pagan and Jewish origin).
THE CHURCH AT COLOSSE: The establishment of the church is uncertain. At issue is whether Paul himself had ever been there. Some suggest that Paul may have done some work there during his third journey, on the way to Ephesus (cf. Ac 18:23; 19:1). Others point out that Paul's comments imply that he had not personally been in Colosse (cf. 2:1). One possibility is that the church was established during Paul's extended stay at Ephesus, where the effect of his work spread throughout Asia Minor (cf. Ac 19:8-10). It may not have been Paul himself, but one of his co-workers who went out to Colosse. Paul's remarks in the epistle indicate that Epaphras was the one who preached the gospel there (1:5-8) and in Hierapolis and Laodicea (4:12-13). Though he was with Paul at the time the epistle was written, Epaphras is identified as "one of you" (4:12), suggesting that he may have originally been from Colosse.
Other members of the church at Colosse included Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus, who may have been father, mother, and son. By comparing the epistle to the Colossians with that written to Philemon, it is reasonable to suppose that the church at Colosse met in their home (cf. 4:17 with Phe 1-2, and the references to Archippus). If Philemon and his family were hosts of the church at Colosse, then Onesimus (Philemon's slave) would have also been a member there upon his return (cf. 4:7-9 with Phe 8-16).
TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING: Colossians is one of Paul's four "prison epistles" (4:18; cf. Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon). The general consensus is that these epistles were written during Paul's imprisonment at Rome (cf. Ac 28:16,30-31). If such is truly the case, then Paul wrote Colossians around 61-63 A.D. from Rome. The indication is that the epistles to the Colossians, Philemon and the Ephesians were carried to their destination by Tychicus and Onesimus (cf. 4:7-9; Phile 10-12; Ep 6:21-22).
PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE: Paul had received a report of the situation at Colosse by way of Epaphras (1:7-8). This report was for the most part favorable (2:5). But the subject matter in the epistle strongly suggests that the church was facing a two-fold danger:
- The danger of relapse into paganism with its gross immorality (cf. 1:21-23; 2:6; 3:5-11)
- The danger of accepting what has been come to known as "The Colossian heresy". This heresy was a syncretism involving four elements of both pagan and Jewish origin:
- Philosophies of men - which denied the all sufficiency and pre-eminence of Christ (2:8)
- Judaistic ceremonialism - which attached special significance to the rite of circumcision, food regulations, and observance of special days (2:11,16-17)
- Angel worship - which detracted from the uniqueness of Christ (2:18)
- Asceticism - which called for harsh treatment of the body as the means to control its lusts (2:20-23)
To guard against these dangers, Paul writes to:
Warn the Colossians against relapse (1:21-23)
Warn them against the "solution" being urged upon them by those denying the all-sufficiency of Christ (2:8-23)
Direct their attention to the "Beloved Son", the "All-Sufficient and Pre-Eminent Savior" (1:13-18; 2:8-10)
THEME OF THE EPISTLE: With the focus on Jesus Christ as the answer to the "Colossian heresy", the theme of this letter is clearly:
CHRIST - THE FULLNESS OF GOD, AND THE PRE-EMINENT, ALL-SUFFICIENT SAVIOR
KEY VERSES: Colossians 2:9-10
"For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power."
- Salutation (1-2)
- Thanksgiving and prayer (3-14)
- THE PREEMINENCE OF CHRIST (1:15-23)
- IN CREATION (1:15-17)
- The image of the invisible God (1:15a)
- The first-born over all creation (1:15b-17)
- IN REDEMPTION (1:18-23)
- The head of the body, the church (1:18a)
- The beginning, the first-born from the dead (1:18b)
- That He might have preeminence in all things (1:18c)
- In Whom all the fullness dwells (1:19)
- In Whom all things are to be reconciled to God (1:20)
- The Colossians as a case in point (1:21-23)
- THE APOSTLE OF CHRIST (1:24-2:7)
- PAUL'S SERVICE (1:24-29)
- His joy in suffering for them (1:24)
- His ministry (1:25-29)
- A stewardship to proclaim the mystery of God now revealed (1:25-27)
- A labor to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (1:28-29)
- PAUL'S SOLICITUDE (2:1-7)
- His great concern for them (2:1-3)
- Reasons for this concern (2:4-5)
- Exhortations to be firmly established in Christ (2:6-7)
- WARNINGS AGAINST THE "COLOSSIAN HERESY" (2:8-23)
- WARNING AGAINST PHILOSOPHY (2:8-10)
- Beware of being cheated by philosophy and empty deceit (2:8)
- In Christ dwells the fullness of God, and you are complete in Him (2:9-10)
- WARNING AGAINST JUDAISTIC CEREMONIALISM (2:11-17)
- In Christ you have a circumcision made without hands (2:11-12)
- You are made alive in Christ, and the handwriting of requirements that was against us has been taken away at the cross (2:13-15)
- Therefore don't let anyone judge you in regards to food, festivals, or sabbath days (2:16-17)
- WARNING AGAINST ANGEL WORSHIP (2:18-19)
- Don't let anyone defraud you of your reward by appealing to angel worship and imagined visions of a fleshly mind (2:18)
- Such people do not hold fast to Christ as the Head, and from whom true divine nourishment comes (2:19)
- WARNING AGAINST ASCETICISM (2:20-23)
- Having died with Christ to the world, there is no need to submit to human ordinances (2:20-22)
- While having appearances of wisdom, such practices have no value in controlling the indulgences of the flesh (2:23)
- THE CHRISTIAN SOLUTION (3:1-4:6)
- SET YOUR MIND ON THINGS ABOVE (3:1-4)
- Since you were raised with Christ, seek those things above (3:1-2)
- For you have died and your life is now hidden in Christ, to be revealed when He appears (3:3-4)
- PUT OFF THE OLD MAN (3:5-9)
- Put to death your members here on the earth, for the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience (3:5-7)
- Put off the old man with his deeds (3:8-9)
- PUT ON THE NEW MAN (3:10-17)
- Put on the new man, renewed in the image of our Creator (3:10-11)
- As God's elect, put on Christ-like qualities (3:12-14)
- Let God's peace rule in your hearts, and be thankful (3:15)
- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another with song and singing with grace in your hearts (3:16)
- Do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, with thanksgiving (3:17)
- FAMILIAL RESPONSIBILITIES (3:18-4:1)
- Wives toward their husbands (3:18)
- Husbands toward their wives (3:19)
- Children toward their parents (3:20)
- Fathers toward their children (3:21)
- Servants toward their masters (3:22-25)
- Masters toward their servants (4:1)
- EXHORTATIONS TO PRAYER AND PROPER CONDUCT (4:2-6)
- Devote yourselves to prayer (4:2-4)
- Walk in wisdom and let your speech be with grace (4:5-6)
- PAUL'S COMPANIONS (4:7-14)
- COMMENDATIONS OF HIS MESSENGERS (4:7-9)
- Tychicus, a faithful servant who will inform them of Paul's circumstances (4:7-8)
- Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother (4:9)
- GREETINGS FROM HIS FRIENDS (4:10-14)
- Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, fellow workers for the kingdom of God (4:10-11)
- Epaphras, one of them, and a servant of Christ (4:12-13)
- Luke the beloved physician, and Demas (4:14)
- Greetings to those in Laodicea, and to Nymphas and the church in his house (4:15)
- A command to read and exchange the epistles from Paul (4:16)
- A personal exhortation to Archippus (4:17)
- A personal signoff from the hand of Paul, with a request for remembrance and a prayer in their behalf (4:18)
Review Questions for the Introduction
- Who had taught the Colossians the truth concerning God's grace? (Co 1:6-7)
- From where and when did Paul write Colossians?
- From Rome, sometime around 61-63 A.D.
- What three other epistles were written about this time? What are the four epistles sometimes called?
- Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon
- The "prison epistles"
- What two potential dangers prompted the writing of this epistle?
- The danger of relapse into paganism with its gross immorality
- The danger of accepting the "Colossian heresy"
- What four elements make up the "Colossian Heresy"?
- Philosophies of men
- Judaistic ceremonialism
- Angel worship
- What is the "theme" of this epistle?
- "Christ - the fullness of God, and the pre-eminent, all-sufficient Savior".
- What serves as the "key verses" of this epistle?
- According to the outline above, what are the five main subject divisions in this epistle?
- The preeminence of Christ
- The apostle of Christ
- Warnings against the "Colossian Heresy"
- The Christian solution
- Paul's companions