Colossians

“Introduction to Colossians, 1:1-2”

Posted on February 24, 2011. Filed under: Colossians |

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

 Read 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers  in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Colossae the city: Colossae was an ancient city in Phrygia, in the Roman province of Asia, (modern day Turkey) in the Lycus River valley along the main trade route from Ephesus (about 100 miles west of Colossae) on the coast, to the Euphrates River. The Persian King Xerxes (husband of Queen Esther) visited Colossae in 481 B.C. on his way to fight the Greeks (King Leonidus of Sparta and his 300 warriors) at The Battle of Thermopylae in 480. Cyrus the Younger also visited Colossae in 401B.C. during the march of the “10,000” as recorded by the Greek Historian, Xenophon, in his famous book, The Anabasis. Curtis Vaughan writes, (p.163) “During the periods of the Persian and Greek empires, Colosse was a city of considerable importance. Both Herodotus (fifth century B.C.) and Xenophon (fourth century B.C.) speak of this fact, the former calling Colosse ‘a great city of Phrygia’ and the latter describing it as ‘a populous city, wealthy and large.’” By Paul’s time the city of Colossae had long since been bypassed by a newer road that went through Laodicea 11 miles away, thus the city was much smaller and less significant. It was famous for its wool, however.

 J.B. Lightfoot writes, (p.24-25), “…while Laodicea and Hierapolis both held important places in the early records of the church, Colosse disappears wholly from the pages of history. Its comparative insignificance is still attested by its ruins, which are few and meager…It is not even mentioned by Ptolemy, though his enumeration of towns includes several small places. Without a doubt Colosse was the least important church to which any letter of St. Paul is addressed.” So why then did Paul take the time to write a letter to the Colossians and another one to Philemon in Colossae? Paul was humble and personal enough to deal with a runaway slave, Onesimus, and with a dangerous heresy in a small town. A dangerous heresy even in a small, out of the way place, can still turn into a major problem. Paul did not let it alone just because it was in a small town.

 The city was probably damaged severely by an earthquake in AD 60 that also damaged Laodicea and it was greatly harmed by the muslims in the 7th and 8th centuries and the citizens fled to Chonae about 3 miles further up the river, on the slopes of Mt. Cadmus. Colossae was finally destroyed by the muslim Turks in the 12th century and was never resettled and is in ruins to this day. Archeologists have done some excavation and have located an ancient church in the ruins.

 Paul the author: How do we know that Paul is the author of Colossians? Paul refers directly to himself in 1:1; 4:18 and his other references to himself being in prison sound clearly Pauline in 4:3, 10. The ancient church fathers never disputed whether Colossians was Pauline. Vaughan writes (p.164) that there may have been allusions to Colossians in the writings of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Barnabas while Justin (c.100-c.165) may have actually used it. Irenaeus (c.125-c.202), Clement of Alexandria (d.215), and Origen (c.185-c.254) specifically say that Paul wrote it. Colossians is also cited by Marcion (c.146) and it is found in the Muratorian Canon (c.170). Questions about Pauline authorship began to arise in the middle of the 19th  century, but none of the arguments have ever had a lasting support. The twentieth century arguments seem to focus on Colossians having a different vocabulary than other epistles. Words like justify, believe and salvation are not as prevalent and there are several words that are unique to Colossians that deal with the heretical beliefs he is writing against (Vaughan, p.164, mentions that there are more than 50 words in Colossians not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters. “Therefore, it is not unlikely that at least some of these words were borrowed from the errorists for purposes of refutation; naturally, then, they would not be used in other totally different contexts.”) Considering that Colossians and Philemon both include the names of Paul, Timothy, Onesimus, Archippus, Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, it would be ridiculous to accept Philemon as Pauline but not also Colossians.

 Epaphras and the Church at Colossae: In all likelihood the Church at Colossae was begun by Epaphras after he presumably heard the Gospel preached by Paul in Ephesus (AD 52-55), recorded in Acts 19:1-20:1. Paul calls Epaphras “our beloved fellow servant…a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.” And Paul calls him, “one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus” in 4:12. Paul likely never went to Colossae personally (Col. 1:4; 2:1). Why Epaphras was in Rome is not made clear, although it is likely he went there to encourage Paul, but ended up becoming a fellow prisoner with Paul according to Philemon 23. Paul mentions that Epaphras (Col.4:12) is struggling in his prayers for the church at Colossae.

 Date and Occasion: Paul wrote from prison (4:3, 10) and this is likely his first prison stay in Rome, about AD 62 and it was very likely written along with Philemon and Ephesians too, since Tychicus is mentioned as being sent by Paul in both Ephesians (6:21) and Colossians (4:7) and Onesimus is mentioned in Col. 4:9 and Philemon v.10.

 Paul probably writes after Epaphras shows up to encourage him and tell him about the church. Though Paul does not name the heresy or the teachers involved, the letter is designed to refute a false teaching and there are various clues about the false faith given throughout the epistle. Scholars in the early to mid 20th century thought that the heresy at Colossae was Gnosticism which did not develop until late in the 1st or early 2nd century. That late date for Gnosticism caused some of the scholars to say that Paul could not have written the letter. Now there is a better understanding of Gnosticism and the heresy at Colossae does not quite fit. Basically, this heresy is a local combination of Jewish mysticism, asceticism and pagan folk belief.

 Characteristics/Themes/Difficulties: The main theme is clearly Christ, the firstborn over all creation. The heavy emphasis on Christology shows that the heresy affected the Colossians’ understanding of Christ and his work. This is very applicable to us today because many people today do not believe that Christ is God incarnate, but rather, view him as just a man, just a moral teacher, a created being.

 Another major theme is how to live out their faith since they are raised with Christ. Paul includes many ethical and moral teachings in the latter half of the epistle.

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