COLOSSIANS, LETTER TO THE
The inspired letter of the apostle Paul to Christians in Colossae. As usually placed in modern English versions of the Bible, it is the twelfth book of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
WRITER AND REASONS FOR THE LETTER
Paul identifies himself as the writer of this inspired letter by opening it with the words: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through God’s will, and Timothy our brother to the holy ones and faithful brothers in union with Christ at Colossae.” (Col. 1:1, 2) The apostle’s writership is also established by the final greeting, written in his own hand.—Col. 4:18.
Besides Paul’s own statements in the letter itself, external testimony to his writership is furnished in the works of early authorities such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen. Internal evidence is also very strong, the style certainly being Paul’s. There is quite a similarity between Colossians and Ephesians, another of Paul’s letters. While this may be due to the close proximity in the time of composition and the possibility that similar circumstances prevailed in each of these cities, such correspondency would also mean that if Paul is accepted as the writer of Ephesians, he must also be acknowledged as the writer of Colossians. (For example, compare Colossians 1:24-29 with Ephesians 3:1-7; Colossians 2:13, 14 with Ephesians 2:1-5, 13-16; Colossians 2:19 with Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 3:8-10, 12, 13 with Ephesians 4:20-25, 31, 32; Colossians 3:18-25; 4:1 with Ephesians 5:21-23; 6:1-9.) Furthermore, the inclusion of the letter to the Colossians with other letters of Paul in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (of the third century C. E.) clearly shows that the early Christians viewed Colossians as one of Paul’s inspired writings.
Two factors apparently motivated Paul to write his letter to the Colossians. For one thing, Epaphras had brought the apostle a report of the congregation’s spiritual state. Some of the information caused concern; but there was good news too, for Paul said Epaphras “disclosed to us your love in a spiritual way.” (Col. 1:7, 8) Though there were problems in the congregation, the situation was not critical and there was also much to commend. Then, too, Philemon’s slave Onesimus was returning to his master in Colossae. So Paul took advantage of this circumstance by sending his letter to the congregation there by means of Onesimus and his companion Tychicus.—Col. 4:7-9.
PLACE AND DATE OF COMPOSITION
Where Paul was when he wrote to the Colossians is not directly stated. Some have suggested Ephesus. However, the letter indicates that the apostle was in prison (Col. 1:24; 4:10, 18), and there is no Scriptural account of his being incarcerated in Ephesus. The comments Paul makes at Colossians 4:2-4, 11 seem to be most compatible with the apostle’s circumstances during his first imprisonment in Rome (60-61 C.E.). True, Paul was in prison at Caesarea (Acts 23:33-35), and Felix ordered that the apostle have some relaxation of custody. (Acts 24:23) But evidently this was not as great as the freedom Paul had during his first imprisonment in Rome, when he remained for two years in his own hired house and was able to preach the kingdom of God to those who visited him there.—Acts 28:16, 23, 30, 31.
Another factor that seems to point to the letter’s composition in Rome is that Onesimus was present at the place where Paul wrote it and was going to accompany Tychicus in delivering it to Colossae. Certainly Rome, with its teeming population, would be a very likely refuge for a fugitive slave. The letter to the Colossians was evidently written toward the end of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, or about 60-61 C.E., when he also composed the letter to Philemon. Tychicus and Onesimus delivered not only the letter to the Colossians but also the apostle’s letter to Philemon. (Philem. 10-12) Since Paul expresses hope in Philemon (vs. 22) of being released, it may be concluded that, like Philemon, the letter to the Colossians was written toward the end of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome.
FALSE VIEWS COUNTERED
A deceptive philosophy was being fostered by false teachers in Colossae. Emphasis was being placed on the observance of ordinances of the Mosaic law. The practice of asceticism was also being urged. The apostle warned Colossian Christians to look out, so that someone would not carry them off “as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) Paul also urged his fellow believers to let no one judge them in eating and drinking “or in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.” (Col. 2:16, 17) The apostle recognized mock humility for what it was and scored asceticism, saying: “Those very things are, indeed, possessed of an appearance of wisdom in a self-imposed form of worship and mock humility, a severe treatment of the body; but they are of no value in combating the satisfying of the flesh.”—Col. 2:20-23.
Paul placed emphasis on the God-given position of superiority Christ enjoys. (Col. 1:13-20) This truth would counteract paganistic philosophy, Jewish tradition and another practice, “a form of worship of the angels.” (Col. 2:18) The Scriptures do not say whether those involved in it pretended to carry on the form of worship angels were supposed to practice, thought they were emulating the reverential attitude of angels, or were actually worshiping those spirit creatures.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Position of Christ, head of the congregation
A. Paul gives thanks for Colossians’ faith in Christ and love (1:1-14)
1. Prays they be filled with accurate knowledge
2. They have been transplanted into kingdom of the Son
B. He is the image of God, firstborn of creation, head of congregation (1:15-20)
C. Through him reconciliation to God is effected (1:21-23)
D. As minister of the sacred secret, Paul works to “present every man complete in union with Christ” (1:24-29)
II. Wisdom, knowledge, concealed in Christ; “reality” belongs to him
A. Paul struggles that they gain knowledge of Christ (2:1-5)
B. Urges that they walk in union with Christ and not be misled (2:6-12)
C. God forgave those once “dead”; blotted out document of the Law (2:13-17)
1. Should let none judge them in eating, drinking, observances
2. These are a shadow, but “the reality belongs to the Christ”
D. Should let no man deprive them of prize (2:18-23)
1. Self-imposed worship, mock humility, and severe treatment of body, valueless in combating the satisfying of flesh
III. Seek things above; clothe selves with new personality
A. Deaden body members on earth; put on new personality (3:1-11)
B. Clothe selves with compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, long-suffering, love (3:12-17)
1. Let the peace of Christ control; aid one another
2. Do everything in Jesus’ name, thanking God through him
C. Instructions given to wives, husbands, children, slaves (3:18-25)
IV. Further exhortation and personal greetings
A. Masters urged to deal righteously and fairly with slaves (4:1)
B. Admonition given to pray, walk in wisdom, and on how to answer (4:2-6)
C. Tychicus and Onesimus being sent; will report “all the things here” (4:7-9)
D. Paul and associates send greeting; he closes with instruction and the wish that undeserved kindness attend the Colossians (4:10-18)