Study Notes—Chapter 1
To the Colossians: Titles like this were apparently not part of the original text. Ancient manuscripts show that they were added later, doubtless to make it easy to identify the books.—See study note on 1Co Title.
Paul . . . and Timothy our brother: Or “From Paul . . . and Timothy our brother.” Paul is the writer of this letter to the Colossians, but he includes Timothy in the opening greeting. Timothy was with Paul in Rome when this letter was written, during Paul’s first imprisonment about 59-61 C.E. Paul calls Timothy “our brother,” referring to their spiritual relationship. It appears that like Paul, Timothy endured imprisonment in Rome sometime within this period.—Php 2:19; Heb 13:23.
an apostle of Christ Jesus: See study note on Ro 1:1.
the holy ones: See study note on Ro 1:7.
Colossae: A city in SW Asia Minor that in Paul’s day was in the Roman province of Asia. (See Glossary, “Asia”; App. B13.) Its location in the Lycus River valley put it on a major trade route that connected cities on the Aegean Coast with cities to the E. By the first century C.E., neighboring Laodicea and Hierapolis had also become major cities in this region. Colossae continued to be a well-known textile center, noted for its fine wool dyed a reddish-purple, a color that was called colossinus. The remains of the ancient city, located 4 km (2.5 mi) from the Turkish town of Honaz, have not yet been excavated.
May you have undeserved kindness and peace from God our Father: See study note on Ro 1:7.
We always thank God . . . when we pray for you: Or possibly, “We thank God . . . always praying for you.” Some Bibles connect “always” to “thank God,” while other Bibles connect it to “pray.” The Greek text may be understood either way.
Epaphras: A faithful minister in Colossae who visited the apostle Paul in Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment there. It appears that at the time of writing his letter to the Colossians, the apostle had not visited Colossae (Col 2:1) and that Epaphras was instrumental in establishing the congregation there (Col 1:6-8; 4:12, 13). The name Epaphras is an abbreviation of Epaphroditus. However, Epaphras is not to be confused with Epaphroditus from Philippi. (Php 2:25) Epaphras from Colossae is also mentioned at Phm 23.
minister: See study notes on Mt 20:26; 1Co 3:5.
in a spiritual way: Lit., “in spirit.” This expression describes the kind of love shown by the Colossian Christians. It is the unselfish, principled love that God’s holy spirit produces in people who submit to its influence.—Ga 5:22.
the accurate knowledge: In this context, the expression “the accurate knowledge” appears twice, here and in the following verse. Paul prays that the Colossian Christians may be filled with accurate knowledge about God and His will.—For a discussion of the Greek term rendered “accurate knowledge,” see study note on Eph 4:13.
spiritual comprehension: That is, an understanding of spiritual things imparted by God’s spirit. It includes “the accurate knowledge of [God’s] will.” The person with such spiritual understanding sees things as Jehovah does.
to walk worthily of Jehovah: The expression “to walk” is here used figuratively in the sense of living one’s life or conducting oneself. A number of times in his letters, Paul uses the expression “to walk” with a figurative meaning. (Ga 5:16; Eph 5:2; Php 3:17; Col 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1Th 2:12; 4:1) One reference work says that in such contexts, this term refers to the “walk of life.” Such usage has its background in the Hebrew Scriptures. One example is found at 2Ki 20:3, where King Hezekiah said: “I beg you, O Jehovah, remember, please, how I have walked before you faithfully.” So to walk worthily of Jehovah means to live in a way that reflects well on his name and is in agreement with his righteous standards. At 1Th 2:12, Paul uses a similar phrase.—For the use of the divine name in this verse, see App. C3 introduction; Col 1:10.
the authority of the darkness: Or “the power (domain) of darkness.” Jesus similarly spoke of “the authority of darkness” governing his opposers when he was arrested on the night before his execution. (See study note on Lu 22:53.) Here Paul stresses the spiritual darkness that envelops the system of things under Satan’s control.—Eph 4:18; 6:12; compare 2Co 4:4 and study note.
transferred: Paul here says that Christians were rescued from darkness and were now in a better place. He uses a Greek word that can also mean “transplanted.” (1Co 13:2 and study note.) The same Greek word was sometimes used by non-Biblical writers regarding the transfer of entire populations from one land to another. Paul reminds the Colossian Christians how blessed they are to have been lifted out of Satan’s dark domain and transferred to a vastly better kingdom.
the kingdom of his beloved Son: Paul here speaks of a kingdom that was then in existence, since the verse shows that Christians had already been transferred into it. This kingdom is therefore different from the heavenly Messianic Kingdom, which the Bible shows would not be established until well after Paul’s day. (1Co 6:9, 10; Eph 5:5 and study note; 2Pe 1:10, 11; Re 11:15; 12:10; compare Lu 19:11, 12, 15.) So Paul is referring to a different “kingdom,” one made up of spirit-anointed Christians who are prospective heirs of the heavenly Kingdom. (Jas 2:5) Christ became King, or Ruler, of that kingdom at Pentecost 33 C.E. That spiritual kingdom will exist on earth until the last one of the anointed is taken to heaven. After such spirit-begotten Christians receive their heavenly reward, they will no longer be earthly subjects of the spiritual kingdom of Christ; rather, they will be kings with Christ in heaven.—Re 5:9, 10.
the firstborn of all creation: That is, the first creation by Jehovah God. Seven of the eight occurrences of the Greek term for “firstborn” (pro·toʹto·kos) in the Christian Greek Scriptures refer to Jesus. The usual Scriptural meaning of the term “firstborn” is the one born first in order of time, such as a firstborn child. Because Jesus was “the firstborn” child of Mary, he was presented at the temple in accordance with Jehovah’s Law. (Lu 2:7, 22, 23; Mt 1:25) At Col 1:18 (see study note), the same Greek word is used of Jesus, “the firstborn from the dead,” that is, first in order of time. (Compare Ro 8:29.) Likewise, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the expression “firstborn” is most often used in the sense of “the oldest son of a father.” The same Greek word occurs in the Septuagint at Ge 49:3, where Jacob says: “Reuben, you are my firstborn.” (See Glossary, “Firstborn.”) Some who claim that Jesus was not created say that “firstborn” here means one who is preeminent in rank, not part of the creation, and they render the phrase “the firstborn over all creation.” While it is true that Jesus is preeminent in relation to all other creatures, there is no basis for the assertion that the term “firstborn” here takes on a meaning other than its usual one. A similar statement at Re 3:14 calls Jesus “the beginning of the creation by God,” confirming that here “firstborn of all creation” is used in the sense of being the first one created by God.
by means of him all other things were created: God used “his beloved Son” (Col 1:13) in creating the things “in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible.” This would include the millions of other spirit sons in Jehovah God’s heavenly family, as well as the physical universe. (Ge 1:1; Da 7:9, 10; Joh 1:3; Re 5:11) Jesus was Jehovah’s firstborn Son and the only one created directly by God. (Heb 1:6; see study notes on Joh 1:14 and Col 1:15.) Logically, it was to this firstborn Son that Jehovah said: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”—Ge 1:26.
all other things: A literal rendering of the Greek text would be “all things.” (Compare Kingdom Interlinear.) However, such a rendering could give the impression that Jesus was not created but was the Creator himself. And that idea would not agree with the rest of the Bible, including the preceding verse, which calls Jesus “the firstborn of all creation.” (Col 1:15; compare Re 3:14, where Jesus is called “the beginning of the creation by God.”) Also, the Greek word for “all” can in some contexts have the meaning “all other,” as for example at Lu 13:2 (“all other”); Lu 21:29 (“all the other”); Php 2:21 (“all the others”). This agrees with Paul’s inspired teaching found at 1Co 15:27: “God ‘subjected all things under his [Christ’s] feet.’ But when he says that ‘all things have been subjected,’ it is evident that this does not include the One who subjected all things to him.” So both the Bible’s teachings as a whole and the probable meaning of the Greek word used here support the rendering “all other things.”—Compare study note on Php 2:9.
thrones or lordships or governments or authorities: Here Paul refers to positions of authority within Jehovah’s administrative arrangement. Such positions exist among God’s human servants and, as indicated here, also among his perfect spirit creatures. (Ezr 10:15-17; Isa 6:2; 1Co 6:3; Eph 3:10; Heb 13:17; Jude 8, 9) These positions were not simply permitted by Jehovah; rather, they were created by God. He is the Source of these arrangements, and his Son was the active agent in setting them up. The positions of authority mentioned in this verse were “created through him [Jesus] and for him,” and therefore they cannot refer to human governments.
created through him and for him: Although God’s firstborn Son, Jesus, is here said to have been involved in the creation of all things, the Scriptures do not call him the Creator. The preceding verse says that he is “the firstborn of all creation,” and at Re 3:14, he is called “the beginning of the creation by God.” After his own creation, Jesus, personified as “wisdom” in Proverbs chapter 8, became Jehovah’s “master worker.” (Pr 8:1, 22, 30) Jesus’ involvement with creation is described at Pr 8:22-31, which says that Jehovah’s master worker “rejoiced over [God’s] habitable earth, and . . . was especially fond of the sons of men [or, “mankind”].” It is in this sense that Col 1:16 says: “All other things have been created through him and for him.”
the head of the body, the congregation: Both in his letter to the Colossians and in the one to the Ephesians, Paul likens the Christian congregation to a “body,” of which Christ is the head. (Eph 1:22, 23) According to one reference work, this metaphor “suggests not only vital union with the Head, but that the will of the Head is exercised through the members. They are His instruments.” Jesus is also the head, or ruler, of the kingdom that Paul calls “the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son.”—Col 1:13 and study note.
He is . . . the firstborn from the dead: Bible accounts tell of other humans who were resurrected prior to Jesus, but he was the first to be raised from the dead to endless life. His resurrection was “in the spirit” (1Pe 3:18) to a higher position than the one he held in the heavens before coming to earth. He was granted immortality and incorruption, which no human of flesh and blood can have. Jesus was “exalted above the heavens,” and in all the universe, he is second only to Jehovah God. (Heb 7:26; 1Co 15:27; Php 2:9-11) He was resurrected by Jehovah God himself!—Ac 3:15; 5:30; Ro 4:24; 10:9.
to have all fullness to dwell in him: Jesus Christ is the key figure in the fulfilling of God’s purpose, and he occupies the foremost place in the congregation. In addition to “the blood he shed on the torture stake” to reconcile mankind (Col 1:20), Jesus provides everything (“all fullness”) that Christians need for guidance and instruction. Jesus is also the very embodiment of divine qualities, including wisdom. His example and teachings are perfect, lacking nothing that must be supplemented by human philosophies and traditions. (Col 2:8-10) Hence, he is the one to whom Christians look as their Exemplar and source of instruction.
to reconcile to himself: The Greek verb here rendered “to reconcile” has the basic meaning “to change; to exchange.” It came to mean “to change from hostility to a friendly relationship.” Paul here explains that the reconciliation is accomplished “through the blood he [Jesus] shed on the torture stake.” By this means, mankind will be brought back into harmony with God. This change will allow the relationship between God and man to be friendly again.—See study notes on Ro 5:10; 2Co 5:18, 19.
torture stake: Or “execution stake.”—See Glossary.
the things on the earth or the things in the heavens: Paul here describes those who are reconciled by means of the blood Christ shed on the torture stake. “The things in the heavens” are the spirit-anointed Christians, called to reign with Christ in heaven. They are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb 3:1) and are “to rule as kings over the earth” as joint heirs with Christ in God’s Kingdom (Re 5:9, 10). “The things on the earth” are humans who are reconciled to God and who will live on earth as subjects of this heavenly Kingdom.—Ps 37:29; see study note on Eph 1:10.
was preached in all creation under heaven: Paul is not indicating that the good news had literally reached every land around the globe. Rather, he is describing in broad terms how far the good news had spread. (Ro 1:8; Col 1:6) By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, the Kingdom message was widely known throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. In fact, nearly 30 years before that time, Jews and proselytes who embraced Christianity at Pentecost 33 C.E. carried the message at least as far as Parthia, Elam, Media, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Asia Minor, the parts of Libya toward Cyrene, and Rome—encompassing the world known to Paul’s readers. (Ac 2:1, 8-11, 41, 42) However, Paul’s own words in Romans chapter 15 show that his statement was not meant to be taken literally. There he stated that the good news had not yet been preached in the then “untouched territory” of Spain.—Ro 15:20, 23, 24.
his body, which is the congregation: See study note on Col 1:18.
the sacred secret: The term “sacred secret” is mentioned several times in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.—Col 1:27; 2:2; 4:3; see study notes on Mt 13:11; 1Co 2:7; Eph 1:9.
the past systems of things: Or “the past ages.”—See Glossary, “System(s) of things.”
complete: Or “mature; perfect.”—Compare 1Co 2:6 and ftn.