Epistle to the Colossians

The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, usually referred to simply as Colossians, is the 12th book of the New Testament. It was written, according to the text, by Paul the Apostle to the Church in Colossae, a small Phrygian city near Laodicea and approximately 100 miles from Ephesus in Asia Minor.[1]

Scholars have increasingly questioned Paul's authorship and attributed the letter to an early follower instead.[1] The authenticity of the letter, however, has been defended with equal strength.[1]

Contents

Composition

During the first generation after Jesus, Paul's epistles to various churches helped establish early Christian theology. Written in the 50s while Paul was in prison, Colossians is similar to Ephesians, also written at this time.[2] Increasingly, critical scholars ascribe the epistle to an early follower writing as Paul. The epistle's description of Christ as pre-eminent over creation marks it, for some scholars, as representing an advanced christology not present during Paul's lifetime.[3] Defenders of Pauline authorship cite the work's similarities to Philemon, which is broadly accepted as authentic.[1]

Date

The letter is supposed (or intended) to be written by Paul at Rome during his first imprisonment. (Acts 28:16, 28:30) If the letter is not considered to be an authentic part of the Pauline corpus it might be dated during the late 1st century, possibly as late as the 80s.[4]

Authorship

Like some of his other epistles (e.g., those to Corinth: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians), this seems to have been written in consequence of information which had been conveyed to Paul of the internal state of the church there by Epaphras[1:4-8]. Epaphras was a faithful minister to the Colossians who was visiting Paul when the epistle was written[1:7][4:12].

Published in 1563, comments in Polish Calvinist translation in the Brest Bible point Tychicus and Onesimus to be authors of the epistle.

The letter's author claims to be Paul, but authorship began to be authoritatively questioned during the 19th century.[5] Pauline authorship was held to by many of the early church's prominent theologians, such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen of Alexandria and Eusebius.[6]

The first page of Colossians in Minuscule 321 gives its title as προς κολοσσαεις, "to the Colossians".

However, as with several epistles attributed to Paul, critical scholarship disputes this claim.[7] One ground is that the epistle's language doesn't seem to match Paul's, with 48 words appearing in Colossians that are found nowhere else in his writings and 33 of which occur nowhere else in the New Testament.[8] A second ground is that the epistle features a strong use of liturgical-hymnic style which appears nowhere else in Paul's work to the same extent.[9] A third is that the epistle's themes related to Christ, eschatology and the church seem to have no parallel in Paul's undisputed works.[10]

Those who are advocates of Pauline authorship defend the differences that there are between elements in this letter and those commonly considered the genuine work of Paul (e.g. 1 Thessalonians). It is argued that these differences can come by human variability, such as by growth in theological knowledge over time, different occasion for writing, as well as use of a different secretaries (or amanuensis) in composition.[11] As it is usually pointed out by the same authors who note the differences in language and style, the number of words foreign to the New Testament and Paul is no greater in Colossians than in the undisputed Pauline letters (Galatians, of similar length, has 35 hapax legomena). In regards to the style, as Norman Perrin, who argues for pseudonymity, notes, 'The letter does employ a great deal of traditional material and it can be argued that this accounts for the non-Pauline language and style. If this is the case, the non-Pauline language and style are not indications of pseudonymity.'[12] Not only that, but it has been universally noted that Colossians has indisputably Pauline stylistic characteristics, found nowhere else in the New Testament.[12][13] Advocates of Pauline authorship also point out that the differences between Colossians and the rest of the New Testament is not as great as it is purported to be.[14]

Content of the letter

The last page of Colossians in Codex Claromontanus

Colossae is in the region of the seven churches of Revelation 1-3. In Colossians 4:13 there is mention of local brethren in Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. Colosse was approximately 12 miles from Laodicea and 14 miles from Hierapolis. Members of the congregation at Colosse had incorporated pagan elements into their practice, including worship of elemental spirits. The Epistle to the Colossians declares Christ's supremacy over the entire created universe and exhorts Christians to lead godly lives. The letter consists of two parts: first a doctrinal section, then a second regarding conduct. In both sections, false teachers who have been spreading error in the congregation are opposed.[3]

Doctrinal sections

In its doctrinal sections, Colossians explains that there can be no need to worship anyone or anything but Christ because Christ is supreme over all creation. All things were created through him and for him, and the universe is sustained by him. God had chosen for his complete being to dwell in Christ. The "cosmic powers" revered by the false teachers had been "discarded" and "led captive" at Christ's death. Christ is the master of all angelic forces and the head of the church. Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity, the unique agent of cosmic reconciliation.

The doctrinal part comprises the first two chapters. Its main theme is developed in chapter 2, with a warning against being drawn away from Him in whom dwelt all the fullness of the deity[2:9], and who was the head of all spiritual powers. Christ was the head of the body of which they were members; and if they were truly united to him, what more did they need?

Colossians praises the spiritual growth of the recipients because of their love for all the set-apart ones in Christ[1:4][1:8]. It calls them to grow in wisdom and knowledge that their love might be principled love and not sentimentality[1:9-11]. "Christ in you is your hope of glory!"[1:27].[3]

Conduct

Colossians denounces ascetic practices or avoiding certain foods because Christ's death put an end to such distinctions. Believers are one in Christ, not divided between circumcised and uncircumcised, slave and free, and so on. He then calls on his audience to fulfill all domestic and social obligations.

The practical part of the Epistle, 3-4, enforces various duties naturally flowing from the doctrines expounded. They are exhorted to mind things that are above [3:1-4], to mortify every evil principle of their nature, and to put on the new man [3:5-14]. Many special duties of the Christian life are also insisted upon as the fitting evidence of the Christian character. The letter ends with customary prayer, instruction, and greetings.[3]

The Prison Epistles

Colossians is often categorized as one of the so-called "prison epistles" that include Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. Colossians has some close parallels with the letter to Philemon—names of some of the same people (e.g., Timothy, Aristarchus, Archippus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke, Onesimus, and Demas) appear in both epistles.

Tychicus is named as the bearer of the letter, just as he is in Ephesians and Philemon, and he is to tell the recipients of the state of the apostle[4:7-9]. After friendly greetings[4:10-14], he bids them exchange this letter with the one he had sent to the neighbouring Laodicean Church. (The apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans was almost certainly forged based on this instruction.) He then closes the letter with the usual salutation.

Colossians calls, in several places, for faithfulness to be recognized:

  • 1:2. "to the faithful brethren"
  • 1:7. "Epaphras...our dear fellowservant...faithful minister"
  • 4:7. "Tychicus...faithful minister and fellowservant"
  • 4:9. "Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother"

See also

  • Textual variants in the Epistle to the Colossians

References

This article incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.

  1. ^ a b c d "Colossians, Epistle to the." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  2. ^ May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977.
  3. ^ a b c d Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "Colossians" p. 337-338
  4. ^ Mack, Burton L. Who Wrote the New Testament? San Francisco:Harper Collins, 1996.
  5. ^ “The earliest evidence for Pauline authorship, aside from the letter itself ... is from the mid to late 2d cent. (Marcionite canon; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.14.1; Muratorian canon). This traditional view stood [usually] unquestioned until 1838, when E. T. Mayerhoff denied the authenticity of this letter, claiming that it was full of non-Pauline ideas and dependent on the letter of Ephesians. Thereafter others have found additional arguments against Pauline authorship." New Jerome Biblical Commentary
  6. ^ For a defense of Pauline authorship for Colossians see: Authenticity of Colossians
  7. ^ "The cumulative weight of the many differences from the undisputed Pauline epistles has persuaded most modern [also some XVI century] scholars that Paul did not write Colossians ... Those who defend the authenticity of the letter include Martin, Caird, Houlden, Cannon and Moule. Some... describe the letter as Pauline but say that it was heavily interpolated or edited. Schweizer suggests that Col was jointly written by Paul and Timothy. The position taken here is that Col is Deutero-Pauline; it was composed after Paul’s lifetime, between AD 70 (Gnilka) and AD 80 (Lohse) by someone who knew the Pauline tradition. Lohse regards Col as the product of a Pauline school tradition, probably located in Ephesus." [TNJBC 1990 p. 877]
  8. ^ Koester, Helmut. History and Literature of Early Christianity, Introduction to the New Testament Vol 2. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co, 1982,1987.
  9. ^ Kummel, Georg Werner. Introduction To The New Testament, Revised English Edition, Translated by Howard Kee. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973,1975
  10. ^ “The theological areas usually singled out for comparison are christology, eschatology and ecclesiology. The christology of Col is built on the traditional hymn in 1:15-20, according to which Christ is the image of the invisible God... These themes are developed throughout the letter and other christological statements that have no parallel in the undisputed Pauline writings are added: that Christ is the mystery of God... that believers have been raised with Christ ... that Christ forgives sins... that Christ is victorious over the principalities and powers..." New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Compared to undisputed Pauline epistles, in which Paul looks forward to an imminent Second Coming, Colossians presents a completed eschatology, in which baptism relates to the past (a completed salvation) rather than to the future: “The eschatology of Col is described as realized. There is a lessening of eschatological expectation in Col, whereas Paul expected the parousia in the near future (I Thes 4:15; 5:23; I Cor 7:26)... The congregation has already been raised from the dead with Christ ... whereas in the undisputed letters resurrection is a future expectation... The difference in eschatological orientation between Col and the undisputed letters results in a different theology of baptism... Whereas in Rom 6:1-4 baptism looks forward to the future, in Col baptism looks back to a completed salvation. In baptism believers have not only died with Christ but also been raised with him.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Union Theological Seminary, New York; NY, Maurya P. Horgan (Colossians); Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. (emeritus) The Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC, with a foreword by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, S.J.; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1990 1990 p. 876
  11. ^ Richard R. Melick, vol. 32, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1991), 166
  12. ^ a b Perrin, Norman. The New Testament: An Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. Harcourt College Pub., 1974, p.121
  13. ^ Kummel, W.G. Introduction to the New Testament. 1966, p.241: 'Pleonastic "kai" after "dia touto" (Col 1:9) is found in the NT only in Paul (1 Thess. 2:13; 3:5; Rom. 13:6)..."oi agioi autou" Col 1:25=1 Thess. 3:13, 2 Thess. 1:10, "charixesthai"=to forgive (Col 2:13, 3:13) only in 2 Cor 2:7, 10, 12:13' etc.
  14. ^ P. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982), xiv

Bibliography

  • R. McL. Wilson, Colossians and Philemon (International Critical Commentary; London: T&T Clark, 2005)
  • Jerry Sumney, Colossians (New Testament Library; Louisville; Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008)
  • TIB = The Interpreter’s Bible, The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard versions with general articles and introduction, exegesis, [and] exposition for each book of the Bible in twelve volumes, George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, Walter Russell Bowie, Associate Editor of Exposition, Paul Scherer, Associate Editor of Exposition, John Knox Associate Editor of New Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Samuel Terrien, Associate Editor of Old Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Nolan B. Harmon Editor, Abingdon Press, copyright 1955 by Pierce and Washabaugh, set up printed, and bound by the Parthenon Press, at Nashville, Tennessee, Volume XI, Philippians, Colossians [Introduction and Exegesis by Francis W. Beare, Exposition by G. Preston MacLeod], Thessalonians, Pastoral Epistles [The First and Second Epistles to Timothy, and the Epistle to Titus], Philemon, Hebrews
  • TNJBC = The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Union Theological Seminary, New York; NY, Maurya P. Horgan [Colossians]; Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. (emeritus) The Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC, with a foreword by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, S.J.; Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1990

External links

Online translations of the Epistle to the Colossians:

Epistle to the Colossians
Preceded by
Philippians
New Testament
Books of the Bible
Succeeded by
First Thessalonians


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