The Epistle to the Colossians
1.Recipient, Author, and Time of Writing
Colosse was not a very large town in Phrygia, a region in the south of Asia Minor (i.e., today's Turkey) close to the two cities mentioned in this epistle, Hierapolis, and Laodicea. We do not know when and how the first Christians started meeting there as an assembly. The apostle Paul did not go there on his missionary journeys (Col 1:4; 2:1). During his three-year stay in Ephesus, many people from the wider area, perhaps also from Colosse, had heard the gospel (Acts 19:10). From Colossians 1:7, however, it seems that a Christian by the name of Epaphras, who himself originated from Colosse, was God's instrument for the conversion of the Colossians (cf. Col 4:12.13). Like almost everywhere else in the early days of the church, the assembly in Colosse consisted of converted Jews and Gentiles (cf. Col 1:27; 2:13.16.17; 3:11).
In Colossians 1:1.23; 4:18 the Apostle Paul names himself as the author. He was in prison, as can be seen from chapter 4:3.10.18. Despite the obvious conclusion, based on a long tradition, that all the so-called "prison epistles” (i.e., the epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) were written during Paul's two-year imprisonment in Rome, there are more recent researchers who believe that the Epistle to the Colossians was written earlier, namely during an imprisonment not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. This would have been on his third journey in Ephesus. This view, however, makes a speculative impression. On the other hand, historical-critical theology denies Paul's authorship at all and ascribes the letter to an anonymous author from a later period.
In the Epistle to the Colossians, the apostle Paul does not yet speak of the hope of a soon coming release as he does in the Epistle to the Philippians. It can therefore be assumed that he wrote this epistle like the ones to the Ephesians and Philemon in the early days of his imprisonment in Rome, i.e., around 61/62 AD.
There are already hints of this in earlier church fathers, in Irenaeus (around 140 - 202) the first quotation by name from the Epistle to the Colossians. Also, Clement of Alexandria (around 150 - 215) and the Muratori Canon (end of the 2nd century) recognise it as an epistle of the apostle Paul.
2. Subject and Purpose of Writing
The Epistle to the Colossians is closely related to the Epistle to the Ephesians. In both epistles the privileges and blessings of the of God's assembly are described as in no other epistle of the NT. They lead us to the highest spiritual level. However, while in the epistle to the Ephesians the assembly as the body of Christ is paramount, in Colossians it is Christ as the head of this body (Col 1:18; 2:19), which must be held in faith. In this respect these two epistles complement each other in a wonderful way. The epistle to the Colossians, however, does not go as far as the epistle to the Ephesians as regards the Christian position. Only in these two epistles are believers considered to be raised with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). While in Ephesians, believers in Christ are considered in the full possession of the blessings in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3; 2:6) they are exhorted in Colossians to reach out for the heavenly blessings in Christ (Col 3:1.2). - Typologically, the people of Israel found themselves in this position when they crossed the Jordan and were about to enter the land of Canaan (cf. Jos. 4 - 5).
In the first, more doctrinal part of the letter (Col 1 and 2) in chapter 1, after the introduction, the Lord Jesus is described as the beloved Son of the Father, the Creator of all things, the Head of the body and Redeemer, who in all respects is due the primacy.
In chapter 2 the apostle exposes the folly and futility of philosophy, religious exercises, and seemingly higher wisdom in contrast to this Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden, in whom the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, in whom the believer also finds his full satisfaction and whom it is therefore necessary to hold fast in faith.
In the second, more practical part of the epistle (Col. 3 and 4) follows exhortations and encouragement to put all this into practice: the origin, source of strength and goal of the life of faith is Christ at God's right hand in heaven. Only by this can the Christian on earth live correctly in communion with other Christians, in marriage, in the family and at work. The epistle concludes with personal messages and greetings from Paul.
The purpose of this epistle, then, is to present and recall the Lord Jesus Christ and His great glory - especially as the Head - to the believers in in Colosse. Obviously, they were in danger of not holding fast enough to Him in their practical life of faith (Col 2:19).
What might have been the things in Colosse that distracted the believers there from Christ? Much thought has been given to this question. Without going too far we may assume the following: The Colossians were inclined to philosophical thoughts and religious speculations (Col. 2:8), through which certain seducers apparently promised to impart a "higher knowledge". This apparently also involved certain rules of conduct and the preoccupation with the invisible world (Col. 2:16-23).
Often these influences mentioned in Colossians are called Gnosticism (Greek for "knowledge"), however, this so-called knowledge only came to its pernicious development in the second century, so that we can only speak of the beginnings of it here. In any case, Jewish, pagan and Greek-philosophical influences seem to have amalgamated into a syncretism (mixture of religions) that is difficult to reconstruct. The target of these satanic efforts in Colosse was first in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and the faith of the Colossians in Him and His work. That is why Christ occupies a particularly prominent place in this letter.
Christ in the Epistle to the Colossians
In the Epistle to the Colossians the Lord Jesus is mentioned 45 times, that is, in proportion to its length, more often than in the other epistles (apart from Philippians). The reason for this is that the Colossians were in danger of losing sight of Christ. That is why He is presented to them again and again. The most common term is "the Christ" which is used most frequently and expresses that He, who was rejected by the Jews as the Messiah (Christ = the anointed one) was "made Lord and Christ" by God in a completely new way after His raising from the dead and His ascension (Acts 2:36). As the fulfiller of the Father's counsel, He now sits glorified at the right hand of God in the glory of heaven. He is already the Head over all things, that is, the whole of creation. But He is also the Head of His Assembly, which is His fullness. Six alone of the seventeen different names or titles of Christ occur only in the Epistle to the Colossians (cf. list at the end).
I. Colossians 1-2: What Christ is for the believers and for the assembly.
Verses 1 – 8 Introduction
Verses 1.2 Greeting
Verses 2 – 5a Thanksgiving for the faith and love of the Colossians
Verses 5b – 8 The word of the truth of the Gospel with the Colossians
Verses 9 – 23 Glory and greatness of Christ
Verses 9 – 11 Request for knowledge of His will and growth in the knowledge of God
Verses 12 – 14 Thanksgiving to the Father for the blessings of salvation (v. 13: "the Son of His love")
Verse 15 The place of the eternal Son in creation
Verse 16 The Son as Creator of all things
Verse 17 The Son as Sustainer of all things
Verse 18 The glorified Man as "Head of the body" (which is His assembly), as the “Beginning” and “Firstborn from the dead”, Who has primacy in all things
Verses 19 – 20 The whole fullness of the Godhead in Christ brought about the reconciliation of all things (not of all people!) through the blood of His Cross
Verses 21 – 22 The believers are reconciled and holy and blameless before God
Verse 23 Responsibility (Paul as a minister of the gospel)
Chapter 1:24 – 2:3 Christ and Paul's ministry
Verses 24 – 25a Joy in suffering for the assembly (v. 25: Paul a servant of the assembly)
Verses 25b – 27 The revelation of the mystery (v. 27: "Christ in you, the hope of glory") T
Verses 28 – 29 The proclamation
Chapter 2:1.2a Paul's spiritual struggle for the Colossians
Verses 2b – 3 Goal of the effort (v. 2: "knowledge of the mystery of God")
Chapter 2:4 - 23 Warnings against distraction from Christ
Verses 4 – 5 Paul's concern for the believers
Verses 6 – 7 Encouragement
Verse 8 Warning against philosophy and vain deceit
Verses 9 – 10 The believers are perfected in Christ, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (cf. Col. 1:19)
Verse 11 "Circumcision of Christ" = His death and our death with Him
Verse 12 Buried with Him in baptism
Verse 13 Made alive with Him as the spiritually dead ones
Verses 14 – 15 Removal of the obligation imposed by the law
Verses 16 – 17 No observance of obligations by the law (v. 17: "which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ")
Verses 18 – 19 Warning against straying (central verse 19: "not holding fast the head")
Verses 20 – 23 Those who have died with Christ no longer have a relationship with the
things of the world and the doctrines of men.
II. Colossians 3-4: What Believers are to Christ
Chapter 3: 1 - 4 Character of the new life
Verses 1 – 2 Those who are risen with Christ are to seek the things that are above
Verses 3 – 4 Their life is now hidden with the Christ in God but will be revealed with Him in glory
Chapter 3: 5 – 17 Putting off and putting on
Verses 5 – 7 Putting to death the excesses of the old nature
Verses 8 – 9a Putting off the impulses of the old nature
Verses 9b – 10a The old man is put off and the new man put on
Verses 10b – 11 Renewal of the new man through Christ
Verses 12 – 13 Putting on the qualities of the new man
Verses 14 – 15 Love and peace with one another
Verse 16 The word of Christ in us
Verse 17 "Doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus"
Chapter 3:18 - 4:6 The daily life of the Christian
Verses 18 – 19 Women and men
Verses 20 – 21 Children and fathers
Verses 22 – 25 Slaves
Chapter 4: 1 Masters
Verses 2 – 4 Prayer, especially for Paul and the Word
Verses 5 – 6 Wisdom and grace against those who are outside
Chapter 4:7 - 18 Conclusion
Verses 7 – 9 Personal circumstances of Paul
Verses 10 – 14 Greetings from six brethren
Verses 15 – 17 Greetings and miscellaneous orders
Verse 18 Paul's personal greeting and blessing
The Names and Titles of the Lord Jesus in Colossians
|1. the Christ||Ch. 1:7.24; 2:6.11.17; 3:1(2x).188.8.131.52.16; 4:3||13|
|2. the Lord||Ch. 1:10; 3:18.20.22-24; 4:1.7.17||9|
|3. Christ||Ch. 1:2.27.28; 2:5.8.20; 3:11||7|
|4. Christ Jesus||Ch. 1:1.4; 4:12||3|
|5. Our Lord Jesus Christ||Ch. 1:3||1|
|6. The Lord Jesus Christ||Ch. 1:2||1|
|7. The Lord Jesus||Ch. 3:17||1|
|8. the Lord Christ||Ch. 3:24||1|
|9. the Beginning||Ch. 1:18||1|
|10. the Head||Ch. 2:19||1|
|11. the Firstborn from the dead||Ch. 1:18||1|
Only in the Epistle to the Colossians:
|12. the Christ Jesus, the Lord||Ch. 2:6||1|
|13. the Son of His love||Ch. 1:13||1|
|14. the Image of the invisible God||Ch. 1:15||1|
|15. the Firstborn of all creation||Ch. 1:15||1|
|16. the Head of the body||Ch. 1:18||1|
|17. The Head of every principality||Ch. 2:10||1|