Bible Book Number 51—Colossians
Place Written: Rome
Writing Completed: c. 60–61 C.E.
1. Where was the town of Colossae located?
LEAVING Ephesus behind them, two men traveled east through Asia Minor along the Maeander (Menderes) River. On reaching the tributary called Lycus, in the country of Phrygia, they swung southeast to follow the river up through the mountain-enclosed valley. Before them was a beautiful sight: fertile green pastures with large flocks of sheep. (Wool products were a principal source of income for the region.*) Proceeding up the valley, the travelers passed, on the right, the wealthy city of Laodicea, center of Roman administration for the district. To their left, across the river, they could see Hierapolis, famous for its temples and hot springs. There were Christian congregations in both these cities and also in the small town of Colossae, about ten miles [16 km] farther up the valley.
2. (a) Who were the two envoys sent by Paul to Colossae? (b) What is known concerning the Colossian congregation?
2 Colossae was the destination of the travelers. They were both Christians. One of them, at least, knew the region well, as he was from Colossae. His name was Onesimus, and he was a slave returning to his master, who was a member of the congregation there. Onesimus’ companion was Tychicus, a freeman, and both were envoys from the apostle Paul, carrying a letter from him addressed to the “faithful brothers in union with Christ at Colossae.” As far as we know, Paul never visited Colossae. The congregation, which consisted mainly of non-Jews, was probably founded by Epaphras, who had labored among them and who was now with Paul in Rome.—Col. 1:2, 7; 4:12.
3. What does the letter of Colossians itself reveal regarding the writer, as well as the time and place of writing?
3 The apostle Paul was the writer of this letter, as he states in its opening and closing words. (1:1; 4:18) His conclusion states also that he wrote it from prison. This would be the time of his first imprisonment in Rome, 59-61 C.E., when he wrote a number of letters of encouragement, the letter to the Colossians being dispatched along with the one to Philemon. (Col. 4:7-9; Philem. 10, 23) It appears it was written about the same time as the letter to the Ephesians, as many ideas and phrases are the same.
4. What testifies to the genuineness of Colossians?
4 There are no grounds for doubting the authenticity of the letter to the Colossians. Its presence with other Pauline epistles in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46) of about 200 C.E. shows that it was accepted by the early Christians as one of Paul’s letters. Its genuineness is testified to by the same early authorities who testify to the authenticity of Paul’s other letters.
5. (a) What prompted Paul’s writing to the Colossians? (b) What does the letter emphasize?
5 What prompted Paul to write a letter to the Colossians? For one thing, Onesimus was going back to Colossae. Epaphras had recently joined Paul, and no doubt his report on conditions at Colossae provided a further reason for the letter. (Col. 1:7, 8; 4:12) A certain danger threatened the Christian congregation there. The religions of the day were in the process of dissolution, and new religions were constantly being formed by fusing parts of old ones. There were heathen philosophies involving asceticism, spiritism, and idolatrous superstition, and these, combined with Jewish abstinence from foods and observance of days, may have influenced some in the congregation. Whatever the problem, it appears to have been sufficient reason for Epaphras to make the long journey to Rome to see Paul. However, that the congregation as a whole was not in immediate danger is indicated by Epaphras’ encouraging report on their love and steadfastness. On hearing the report, Paul came strongly to the defense of accurate knowledge and clean worship by writing this letter to the Colossian congregation. It emphasized the God-given superiority of Christ in the face of heathen philosophy, worship of angels, and Jewish traditions.
CONTENTS OF COLOSSIANS
6. (a) What prayer does Paul make in the Colossians’ behalf? (b) What does Paul discuss as to Jesus’ position and ministry in connection with the congregation?
6 Have faith in Christ, the head of the congregation (1:1–2:12). After the opening greetings from Timothy and himself, Paul gives thanks for the Colossians’ faith in Christ and for their love. They have learned of the undeserved kindness of God as a result of Epaphras’ preaching the good news among them. Since hearing the report concerning them, Paul has not ceased praying that they may be filled with “the accurate knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah” and “to endure fully and be long-suffering with joy.” (1:9-11) The Father has delivered them into “the kingdom of the Son of his love,” who is the image of the invisible God, and through whom and for whom all things have been created. He is the Head of the congregation and the firstborn from the dead. Through Jesus’ blood, God saw good to reconcile all things again to himself, yes, including the once alienated Colossians, ‘provided, of course, that they continue in the faith.’—1:13, 23.
7. What is Paul preaching, and for what purpose?
7 Paul rejoices in filling up the sufferings of the Christ in behalf of the congregation, whose minister he became. This was in order to preach fully in their interest the word of God concerning ‘the sacred secret, the glorious riches of which God has now been pleased to make known to his holy ones.’ ‘It is Christ we are publicizing,’ says Paul, ‘admonishing and teaching in all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in union with Christ.’—1:26-28.
8. Why does Paul struggle in behalf of his brothers?
8 Paul’s struggle in behalf of the Colossians, the Laodiceans, and others is in order that they may be comforted and harmoniously joined together in love, with a view to their gaining ‘an accurate knowledge of the sacred secret of God, namely, Christ, in whom are carefully concealed all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.’ He does not want to see them deluded by persuasive arguments, but, rather, they should go on walking in union with Christ, “rooted and being built up in him and being stabilized in the faith.” Paul now sounds a warning. “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men.”—2:2, 3, 7, 8.
9. Against what kind of worship does Paul warn, and why should the Colossians not subject themselves to the Law?
9 Become dead to works of the flesh but alive to Christ (2:13–3:17). Though they were dead in their trespasses and uncircumcision, God has made them alive together with Christ, blotting out the handwritten document of the Law, which was against the Jews. “Therefore let no man judge” them with respect to the Law or its observances, which are but a shadow of the reality, Christ. Also, if they have died together with Christ toward the elementary things of the world, why do they subject themselves to the decrees: “Do not handle, nor taste, nor touch,” according to the commands and teachings of men? A showy self-imposed form of worship, mock humility, severe treatment of the body—these are of no value in combating desires of the flesh.—2:16, 21.
10. How may one keep seeking the things above and be clothed with the new personality?
10 Rather, Paul counsels: “Go on seeking the things above, where the Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth.” This can be done by stripping off the old personality and putting on the new personality, which through accurate knowledge makes no fleshly distinction between Jew and Greek, for “Christ is all things and in all.” It means becoming clothed “as God’s chosen ones” with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. Says the apostle: “As Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.” In word or in work, everything should be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through him.”—3:1, 2, 11-14, 17.
11. (a) What counsel is given concerning family and other relations? (b) What greetings are conveyed in conclusion?
11 Relationships with others (3:18–4:18). As to family relationships, let wives be subject to husbands and let husbands love their wives, let children obey parents and let not fathers exasperate their children. Slaves are to be obedient to their masters in fear of Jehovah, and masters are to deal righteously with their slaves. Let all persevere in prayer and go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside. Tychicus and Onesimus will relate to them personally the things concerning Paul and his fellow workers for the Kingdom of God. They send greetings to Colossae, and Paul also greets the brothers at Laodicea, asking that they exchange the letters he is sending. Paul writes a concluding greeting in his own hand: “Continue bearing my prison bonds in mind. The undeserved kindness be with you.”—4:18.
12. What refreshing truths did Paul’s letter to the Colossians provide, and with what benefit to the congregation?
12 We can imagine how quickly the news of the arrival of the two brothers from Rome circulated among the brothers at Colossae. With keen anticipation they would assemble, possibly at Philemon’s house, to hear the reading of Paul’s letter. (Philem. 2) What refreshing truths it provided on the exact position of Christ and the need for accurate knowledge! How clearly were philosophies of men and Jewish traditions put in their place, and the peace and the word of the Christ exalted! Here was nourishment for mind and heart for all in the congregation—overseers, husbands, wives, fathers, children, masters, slaves. Certainly there was good advice for Philemon and Onesimus as they entered once again into the relation of master and slave. What a fine lead was given to the overseers in restoring the flock to right doctrine! How Paul’s words sharpened the Colossians’ appreciation for their privilege of working whole-souled as to Jehovah! And the upbuilding counsel to the Colossians on getting free from the enslaving thoughts and practices of the world remains as a living message for the congregation today.—Col. 1:9-11, 17, 18; 2:8; 3:15, 16, 18-25; 4:1.
13. What does Paul admonish with regard to gracious words, prayer, and Christian association?
13 Excellent advice for the Christian minister is set out at Colossians 4:6: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” Gracious words of truth will prove appetizing to honesthearted persons and will work to their permanent benefit. Also, the wide-awake prayer of the Christian, expressed from an appreciative heart, will bring rich blessings from Jehovah: “Be persevering in prayer, remaining awake in it with thanksgiving.” And what joy and upbuilding refreshment is to be found in Christian association! “Keep on teaching and admonishing one another,” says Paul, “singing in your hearts to Jehovah.” (4:2; 3:16) You will find many other gems of sound, practical instruction as you search through the letter to the Colossians.
14. (a) What reality is highlighted in Colossians? (b) How is the Kingdom hope emphasized?
14 Concerning the observances of the Law, the letter says: “Those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.” (2:17) It is this reality of the Christ that is highlighted in Colossians. The letter refers frequently to the glorious hope reserved in the heavens for those in union with Christ. (1:5, 27; 3:4) Such ones can be most thankful that the Father has already delivered them from the authority of the darkness and transplanted them “into the kingdom of the Son of his love.” Thus they have become subject to the One who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities.” This One is eminently qualified to rule in righteousness in the Kingdom of God. Thus, it is that Paul admonishes the anointed Christians: “If, however, you were raised up with the Christ, go on seeking the things above, where the Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”—1:12-16; 3:1.
The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, 1970, page 181.