Easton's Bible Dictionary
was written by Paul at Rome during his first imprisonment there ( Acts
28:30 ), probably in the spring of A.D. 57, or, as some think, 62, and soon
after he had written his Epistle to the Ephesians. Like some of his other epistles
(e.g., those to Corinth), this seems to have been written in consequence of information
which had somehow been conveyed to him of the internal state of the church there
1:4 - 8
). Its object was to counteract false teaching. A large part of it is directed
against certain speculatists who attempted to combine the doctrines of Oriental
mysticism and asceticism with Christianity, thereby promising the disciples the
enjoyment of a higher spiritual life and a deeper insight into the world of spirits.
Paul argues against such teaching, showing that in Christ Jesus they had all things.
He sets forth the majesty of his redemption. The mention of the "new moon" and
"sabbath days" ( Colossians
2:16 ) shows also that there were here Judaizing teachers who sought to draw
away the disciples from the simplicity of the gospel.
Like most of Paul's epistles, this consists of two parts, a doctrinal and a practical.
The doctrinal part comprises the first two chapters. His main theme is developed
in chapter 2. He warns them against being drawn away from Him in whom dwelt all
the fulness of the Godhead, and who was the head of all spiritual powers. Christ
was the head of the body of which they were members; and if they were truly united
to him, what needed they more?
The practical part of the epistle (Colossians
3 - 4)
enforces various duties naturally flowing from the doctrines expounded. They are
exhorted to mind things that are above ( Colossians
3:1 - 4
), to mortify every evil principle of their nature, and to put on the new man
3:5 - 14
). Many special duties of the Christian life are also insisted upon as the fitting
evidence of the Christian character. Tychicus was the bearer of the letter, as
he was also of that to the Ephesians and to Philemon, and he would tell them of
the state of the apostle ( Colossians
4:7 - 9
). After friendly greetings (Colossians
4:10 - 14),
he bids them interchange this letter with that he had sent to the neighbouring
church of Laodicea. He then closes this brief but striking epistle with his usual
autograph salutation. There is a remarkable resemblance between this epistle and
that to the Ephesians (q.v.). The genuineness of this epistle has not been called
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
was written by the apostle St. Paul during his first captivity at Rome. ( Acts
28:16 ) (A.D. 62.) The epistle was addressed to Christians of the city of
Colosse, and was delivered to them by Tychicus, whom the apostle had sent both
to them, ( Colossians
4:7 , 4:8
) and to the church of Ephesus, ( Ephesians
6:21 ) to inquire into their state and to administer exhortation and comfort.
The main object of the epistle is to warn the Colossians against the spirit of
semi-Judaistic and semi-Oriental philosophy which was corrupting the simplicity
of their belief, and was noticeably tending to obscure the eternal glory and dignity
of Christ. The similarity between this epistle and that to the Ephesians is striking.
The latter was probably written at a later date.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
This is one of the group of Paul's epistles known as the Captivity Epistles (see
PHILEMON, EPISTLE TO, for a discussion of these as a group).
|1. External Evidence:
The external evidence for the Epistle to the Colossians, prior to the middle of
the 2nd century, is rather indeterminate. In Ignatius and in Polycarp we have
here and there phrases and terminology that suggest an acquaintance with Colossians
but not much more (Ignat., Ephes., x.3, and Polyc. x.1; compare with Colossians
1:23). The phrase in Ep Barnabas, xii, "in him are all things and unto him are
all things," may be due to Colossians 1:16, but it is quite as possibly a liturgical
formula. The references in Justin Martyr's Dialogue to Christ as the firstborn
(prototokos) are very probably suggested by Colossians 1:15, "the firstborn of
all creation" (Dial., 84, 85, 138). The first definite witness is Marcion, who
included this epistle in his collection of those written by Paul (Tert., Adv.
Marc., v. 19). A little later the Muratorian Fragment mentions Colossians among
the Epistles of Paul (10b, l. 21, Colosensis). Irenaeus quotes it frequently and
by name (Adv. haer., iii.14, 1). It is familiar to the writers of the following
centuries (e.g. Tert., De praescrip., 7; Clement of Alexandria, Strom., I, 1;
Orig., Contra Celsum, v. 8).
2. Internal Evidence:
The authenticity was not questioned until the second quarter of the 19th century
when Mayerhoff claimed on the ground of style, vocabulary, and thought that it
was not by the apostle. The Tubingen school claimed, on the basis of a supposed
Gnosticism, that the epistle was the work of the 2nd century and so not Pauline.
This position has been thoroughly answered by showing that the teaching is essentially
different from the Gnosticism of the 2nd century, especially in the conception
of Christ as prior to and greater than all things created (see V below). The attack
in later years has been chiefly on the ground of vocabulary and style, the doctrinal
position, especially the Christology and the teaching about angels, and the relation
to the Ephesian epistle. The objection on the ground of vocabulary and style is
based, as is so often the case, on the assumption that a man, no matter what he
writes about, must use the same words and style. There are thirty-four words in
Colossians which are not in any other New Testament book. When one removes those
that are due to the difference in subject-matter, the total is no greater than
that of some of the acknowledged epistles. The omission of familiar Pauline particles,
the use of genitives, of "all" (pas), and of synonyms, find parallels in other
epistles, or are due to a difference of subject, or perhaps to the influence on
the language of the apostle of his life in Rome (von Soden). The doctrinal position
is not at heart contradictory to Paul's earlier teaching (compare Godet, Introduction
to the New Testament; Paul's Epistles, 440 f). The Christology is in entire harmony
with Php (which see) which is generally admitted as Pauline, and is only a development
of the teaching in 1Co (8:6; 15:24-28), especially in respect of the emphasis
laid on "the cosmical activity of the preincarnate Christ." Finally, the form
in which Paul puts the Christology is that best calculated to meet the false teaching
of the Colossian heretics (compare V below). In recent years H. Holtzmann has
advocated that this epistle is an interpolated form of an original Pauline epistle
to the Colossians, and the work of the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians
(which see). A modification of this theory of interpolation has recently been
suggested by J. Weiss (Theologische Literaturzeitung, September 29, 1900). Both
these theories are too complicated to stand, and even von Soden, who at first
followed Holtzmann, has abandoned the position (von Soden, Einleitung., 12); while
Sanday (DB2) has shown how utterly untenable it is. Sober criticism today has
come to realize that it is impossible to deny the Pauline authorship of this epistle.
This position is strengthened by the close relationship between Colossians and
Philemon, of which Renan says: "Paul alone, so it would seem, could have written
this little masterpiece" (Abbott, International Critical Commentary, lviii). If
Philemon (which see) stands as Pauline, as it must, then the authenticity of Colossians
is established beyond controversy.
II. Place and Date.
The Pauline authorship being established, it becomes evident at once that the
apostle wrote Colossians along with the other Captivity Epistles, and that it
is best dated from Rome (see PHILEMON, EPISTLE TO), and during the first captivity.
This would be about 58 or, if the later chronology is preferred, 63 or 64.
The epistle was written, on the face of it, to the church at \COLOSSAE\ (which
see), a town in the Lycus valley where the gospel had been preached most probably
by Epaphras (Colossians 1:7; 4:12), and where Paul was, himself, unknown personally
(Colossians 1:4,8,9; 2:1,5). From the epistle it is evident that the Colossian
Christians were Gentiles (Colossians 1:27) for whom, as such, the apostle feels
a responsibility (Colossians 2:1). He sends to them Tychicus (Colossians 4:7),
who is accompanied by Onesimus, one of their own community (Colossians 4:9), and
urges them to be sure to read another letter which will reach them from Laodicea
IV. Relation to Other New Testament Writings.
Beyond the connection with Ephesians (which see) we need notice only the relation
between Colossians and Rev. In the letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-) we have
two expressions: "the beginning of the creation of God," and "I will give to him
to sit down with me in my throne," in which we have an echo of Colossians which
"suggests an acquaintance with and recognition of the earlier apostle's teaching
on the part of John" (Lightfoot, Colossians, 42, note 5).
V. The Purpose.
The occasion of the epistle was, we may be sure, the information brought by Epaphras
that the church in Colosse was subject to the assault of a body of Judaistic Christians
who were seeking to overthrow the faith of the Colossians and weaken their regard
for Paul (Zahn). This "heresy," as it is commonly called, has had many explanations.
The Tubingen school taught that it was gnostic, and sought to find in the terms
the apostle used evidence for the 2nd century composition of the epistle. Pleroma
and gnosis ("fullness" and "knowledge") not only do not require this interpretation,
but will not admit it. The very heart of Gnosticism, i.e. theory of emanation
and the dualistic conception which regards matter as evil, finds no place in Colossians.
The use of pleroma in this and the sister epistle, Eph, does not imply Gnostic
views, whether held by the apostle or by the readers of the letters. The significance
in Colossians of this and the other words adopted by Gnosticism in later years
is quite distinct from that later meaning. The underlying teaching is equally
distinct. The Christ of the Colossians is not the aeon Christ of Gnosticism. In
Essenism, on the other hand, Lightfoot and certain Germans seek the origin of
this heresy. Essenism has certain affinities with Gnosticism on the one side and
Judaism on the other. Two objections are raised against this explanation of the
origin of the Colossian heresy. In the first place Essenism, as we know it, is
found in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, and there is no evidence for its establishment
in the Lycus valley. In the second place, no references are found in Colossians
to certain distinct Essene teachings, e.g. those about marriage, washings, communism,
Sabbath rules, etc.
The Colossian heresy is due to Judaistic influences on the one hand and to native
beliefs and superstitions on the other. The Judaistic elements in this teaching
are patent, circumcision (Colossians 2:11), the Law (Colossians 2:14,15), and
special seasons (Colossians 2:16). But there is more than Judaism in this false
teaching. Its teachers look to intermediary spirits, angels whom they worship;
and insist on a very strict asceticism. To seek the origin of angel worship in
Judaism, as is commonly done, is, as A. L. Williams has shown, to miss the real
significance of the attitude of the Jews to angels and to magnify the bitter jeers
of Celsus. Apart from phrases used in exorcism and magic he shows us that there
is no evidence that the Jew ever worshipped angels (JTS, X, 413 f). This element
in the Colossian heresy was local, finding its antecedent in the worship of the
river spirits, and in later years the same tendency gave the impulse to the worship
of Michael as the patron saint of Colosse (so too Ramsay, Hastings, Dictionary
of the Bible (five volumes), under the word "Colossae"). The danger of and the
falsehood in this teaching were twofold. In the first place it brought the gospel
under the bands of the Law once more, not now with the formality of the Galatian
opponents, but none the less surely. But as the apostle's readers are Gentiles
(Colossians 1:27) Paul is not interested in showing the preparatory aspect of
the Law. He simply insists to them that they are quite free from all obligations
of the Law because Christ, in whom they have been baptized (Colossians 2:12),
has blotted out all the Law (Colossians 2:14). The second danger is that their
belief in and worship of the heavenly powers, false ideas about Christ and the
material world, would develop even further than it had. They, because of their
union with Him, need fear no angelic being. Christ has triumphed over them all,
leading them as it were captives in His train (Colossians 2:15), as He conquered
on the cross. The spiritual powers cease to have any authority over the Christians.
It is to set Christ forward, in this way, as Head over all creation as very God,
and out of His relation to the church and to the universe to develop the Christian
life, that the apostle writes.
The argument of the Epistle is as follows:
|Colossians 1:1 , 2
Colossians 1:3 - 8
Thanksgiving for their faith in Christ, their love for the saints, their hope
laid up in heaven, which they had in and through the gospel and of which he had
heard from Epaphras.
Colossians 1:9 - 13
Prayer that they might be filled with the full knowledge of God's will so as to
walk worthy of the Lord and to be fruitful in good works, thankful for their inheritance
of the kingdom of His Son.
Colossians 1:14 - 23
Statement of the Son's position, from whom we have redemption. He is the very
image of God, Creator, pre-existent, the Head of the church, preeminent over all,
in whom all the fullness (pleroma) dwells, the Reconciler of all things, as also
of the Colossians, through His death, provided they are faithful to the hope of
Colossians 1:24 - 2:5
By his suffering he is filling up the sufferings of Christ, of whom he is a minister,
even to reveal the great mystery of the ages, that Christ is in them, the Gentiles,
the hope of glory, the object of the apostle's preaching everywhere. This explains
Paul's interest in them, and his care for them, that their hearts may be strengthened
in the love and knowledge of Christ.
Colossians 2:6 - 3:4
He then passes to exhortation against those who are leading them astray, these
false teachers of a vain, deceiving philosophy based on worldly wisdom, who ignore
the truth of Christ's position, as One in whom all the Divine pleroma dwells,
and their relation to Him, united by baptism; raised through the faith; quickened
and forgiven; who teach the obligation of the observance of various legal practices,
strict asceticisms and angel worship. This exhortation is closed with the appeal
that as Christ's they will not submit to these regulations of men which are useless,
especially in comparison with Christ's power through the Resurrection.
Colossians 3:5 - 17
Practical exhortations follow to real mortification of the flesh with its characteristics,
and the substitution of a new life of fellowship, love and peace.
Colossians 3:18 - 4:1
Exhortation to fulfill social obligations, as wives, husbands, children, parents,
slaves and masters.
Colossians 4:2 - 6
Exhortation to devout and watchful prayer.
Colossians 4:7 - 18
Salutations and greeting.
Lightfoot, Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon; Abbott, Ephesians and
Colossians, International Critical Commentary; Peake, Colossians, Expositor's
Greek Testament; Maclaren, Colossians, Expositor's Bible; Alexander, Colossians
and Ephesians, Bible for Home and School; Moule, Colossians, Cambridge Bible;
Haupt, Meyer's Krit. u. Exeg. Kom.; von Soden, Hand-Kom. zum New Testament.
C. S. Lewis
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of colossians, define, epistle to the colossians, new testament, onesimus, paul, tychicus