Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4


Introduction to Colossians: Authorship, Date, Audience, Purpose, Theme and Content, Comparisons, Authenticity

(Reference a similar introduction to Ephesians.)

As a general introduction to Colossians, readers always face the questions of who wrote the letter, when, who is the intended audience, what is the purpose for writing, what are the themes, how does this writing compare with other writings, and what is the letter's authenticity?  As to the latter question of authenticity, its genuineness has been, as Daniel Wallace points out, "assailed on critical grounds" by T. Mayerhoff, F.C. Baur and the Tübingen  school (See Wallace below). General consensus seems to suggest Colossians was written by Paul, or should have been since it so closely structures a Paulinian theology, in the end 50's to early 60's during Paul's first Roman imprisonment.The purpose for the letter seems to have been to combat new and popular teaching that would subvert the pure gospel. New Advent says Colossians was written to combat a number of worldly teachings:

Colossians was written as a warning against certain false teachers, about whom St. Paul had probably heard from Epaphras, his "fellow-prisoner" and the founder of the Church of the Colossians. The most diverse opinions have been held regarding these seducers. They were called philosophers by Tertullian, Epicureans by St. Clement of Alexandria, Jews by Eichhorn, heathen followers of Pythagoras by Grotius. They have also been called Chaldean magicians, Judaizing Christians, Essenes, Ebionites, Cabbalists, Gnostics, or varying combinations of all these (see Jacquier, Histoire, I, 316; Cornely, Introduction, III, 514). 

As for purpose, themes, and scope for why Colossians is written, the following succinctly summarizes:

In scope, Colossians presents the all supremacy, all sufficiency, uniqueness, and the fullness of the person and work of Jesus Christ as the God-man Savior, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the total solution for man’s needs both for time and eternity. It is a cosmic book, presenting the cosmic Christ: the Creator/Sustainer and Redeemer/Reconciler of man and all the universe.

Finally, a clear resemblance exists between Ephesians and Colossians, as remarked upon by John Nelson Darby:

If the Epistle to the Ephesians delineates the privileges of the body, that to the Colossians reveals the fullness that is in the head, and our completeness in Him. Thus in that to the Ephesians the church is the fullness of Him who filleth all in all; in that to the Colossians, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily, and we are complete in Him.


1. The New Advent Catholic introduction to Colossians ( identifies the letter as one of four written by Paul during his imprisonment in Rome (Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians being the other three). 

2. AUTHOR: This letter was written by the Apostle Paul about the same time as Ephesians and Philemon. Tradition says it was written during Paul's imprisonment in Rome, recorded in Acts 28. Paul never visited Colossae himself (2:1), and we believe the church there was started with contact with Epaphras and possibly even Philemon while Paul was preaching for two years at Ephesus, 90 mines west of Colossae.

3. Who wrote the Letter to the Colossians? What does Col 1:1 indicate about the authorship of the Letter to the Colossians? It indicates that the author of the Letter to the Colossians was Paul, along with Timothy.

4.  Daniel Wallace 

Most NT scholars accept the genuineness of Colossians, though it has been assailed on critical grounds from some circles. Beginning with T. Mayerhoff (1838) and F. C. Baur (1845) and the Tübingen school, Colossians has found itself outside the pale of undisputed Pauline books.

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1. Between A.D. 61 and 63 (New Advent)

2. David Malick

II. LOCATION AND DATE: FROM ROME IN AD 60-61. A. Location:11 Paul's (first) Roman Imprisonment: 1. Until recently, Rome was considered by most to be the location from which Paul wrote12 2. Caesarea: Some13 understand Caesarea to be the location of writing, but this is unlikely for the following reasons: a. It is unlikely that a runaway slave (Philemon) would have fled to Caesarea to escape detection and would have found access to Paul like he would have in Rome (where Paul was under house-arrest) b. Paul expects to be released in the near future since he requests Philemon to prepare him lodging (Phm. 22) and this probably would not have been the case at Caesarea where Paul knew that his only hope was to appeal to Caesar c. It is unlikely that Caesarea was the home of active missionary work requiring such a large staff of Paul's co-workers of Gentile origin for Philemon to seek refuge, and it does not seem that this small harbor city was the center of vigorous propaganda suggested in Colossians 4:3,414 3. Ephesus:15 Some16 understand Ephesus to be the location of writing, but this is unlikely for the following reasons: a. No evidence exists to affirm that Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus (Acts 19)17 b. It is unlikely that a runaway slave (Philemon) would have fled to Ephesus and remained there long enough to know Paul since it was no more than 100 miles away from Colossae c. The "we" sections of Acts do not allow for Luke to have been with Paul while he was in Ephesus (Acts 16:10ff; 20:6,13ff; cf. Col. 4:14) 4. Rome:18 The most probably location of writing was probably Rome for the following reasons a. This is a known imprisonment of Paul's which allows for the events reflected in Colossians and Philemon b. Acts supports Luke's presence in Rome with Paul (the "we" sections; Acts 27:2ff) c. Paul was under house-arrest in Rome which would have allowed him visitors such as co- workers and Onesimus d. The imperial capital would have allowed the run-away slave Onesimus to seek anonymity and then asylum in Paul's presence there e. No other imprisonment in Acts seems to be a real alternative (Philippi in Acts 16:23-40; Caesarea in Acts 24:27) f. Travel between Rome and the east was frequent and not too formidable a task to make the communications between the prison epistles possible g. Although not determinative, the doctrinal outlook of Colossians seems to belong to a later rather than to an earlier period supporting a Roman origin over one in Ephesus19 h. It is very probable that Aristarchus accompanied Paul to Rome (Acts 27:2; cf. Col. 4:10) and thus shared in his imprisonment i. Even though Paul intended to go on to Spain from Rome (Rom. 1:10ff; 15:19ff) it is not possible to know with certainty what he did upon his release. He could have changed his mind, or at least changed his immediate plans and thus gone to Colossae B. Date: If the Roman hypothesis is accepted, then it is likely that Paul wrote Colossians early20 in his (first) Roman imprisionment (i.e., AD 60-61)

Parallel Ephesians and Colossians Text

3.When was the Letter to the Colossians written?

3.1. What do Col 4:3, 10, 18 imply about Paul's situation at the time of writing the Letter to the Colossians?

These passages imply that Paul was in prison when he wrote the Letter to the Colossians.

3.2. From what you know about Pauline chronology, when could Paul have written the Letter to the Colossians? (It must be remembered that Paul was in prison in Caesarea for two years sometime during the period of 56-60, and his first Roman imprisonment, lasting at least two years, occurred sometime during the period of 58-62.) 

Depending on whether he did it during his Caesarean or his first Roman incarceration, Paul may have written the Letter to the Colossians as early as 56 or as late as 62.  (It is also theoretically possible that Paul wrote the Letter to the Colossians during his second Roman imprisonment, which would place it around the mid 60's.)

Where was the Letter to the Colossians written?

4.1. If he wrote the Letter to the Colossians while in prison, where most likely was Paul when he wrote?

Paul could have written the Letter to the Colossians from Caesarea or Rome, because he was in prison in both places long enough to write a letter.

4.2  It has been argued that Paul wrote the Letter to the Colossians during an incarceration in Ephesus, of which Luke says nothing in the Book of Acts (All Luke says is that there was a riot in Ephesus) (see R. Martin, New Testament Foundations, 2.216-22; Martin is dependent on G. S. Duncan, St. Paul’s Ephesian Ministry, 1929).  Although this hypothesis is possible, the evidence in favor of an Ephesian provenance for the letter is far from compelling.

4. Daniel Wallace

This letter was sent while Paul was in prison in Rome (59-61 CE). Since the apostle gives no indication that he will be released soon (contra Philippians), it is likely that this was written before the end of his imprisonment. Further, it is obvious that it was sent along with the letter to the Ephesians and the letter to Philemon. Once the occasion for the writing of Colossians/ Philemon is established, it can be reasonably supposed that all three letters were written sometime during the middle of Paul’s imprisonment—hence, c. 60 CE. But more than that can be said here.

Philemon 22 seems merely to be an expression of the hope of release from prison, without giving any indication as to when. If this is read as an expression of imminent release, then the relative dating of Ephesians-Colossians-Philemon in relation to Philippians may need some revision. But other considerations certainly suggest that Philippians is the last of the so-called prison epistles: (1) Phm 22 may be a somewhat exaggerated statement (intended to reflect Paul’s positive attitude more than the reality of imminence), for if Paul was in Rome, it would take him several weeks to travel to Asia Minor; (2) Epaphras is mentioned in Phm 23, as someone known to Philemon (cf. also Col 4:12), without any mention of his illness (cf. Phil 2:25ff.)—even though news of his illness was know to Christians outside of Rome (ibid.); (3) Only Timothy is with Paul when he wrote Philippians (Phil 2:19-21), while Luke, Demas, Aristarchus, Mark, and Epaphras are with him when he wrote Colossians-Ephesians-Philemon (cf. Col 4:10-14; Phm 23-24). Whatever else this indicates, it is evident that Philippians cannot be dated at the same time as the other three epistles; (4) the final proof is that Paul sends Epaphroditus to the Philippians (Phil 2:25-30) with the epistle, while he is still with Paul when the apostle wrote the other three letters. All of this evidence points to Philippians being written not only at a different time than the other three prison epistles, but at a later time. Hence, a date of c. 60 CE is most appropriate for Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

5. Jason Dulle A Comparison of Colossians and Ephesians

The epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians are very similar in content. At the same time, however, there are many differences between the two. This paper will focus on these parallels and distinguishing marks on both a macro and micro-level.

The two epistles seem to have been written and delivered at the same time to the same general area and by the same individual. Paul describes himself as being in prison in both epistles (Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Col 4:3). Ephesus and Colossae were fairly close in proximity, which would make it easy for both of them to be delivered on the same trip. Both epistles designate Tychicus as the bearer of the epistle to the designated churches, who would 'tell of Paul's state of affairs upon arrival' (Eph 6:21-22; Col 4:7). If Paul's imprisonment is the one referred to in Acts 28, then Tychicus would have delivered the epistles from Rome. If Paul did write these letters at the same time, it might explain why they are so similar in content.

6. Dr. Grant Richison Campus Crusades

* Author:
The Apostle Paul.
* Date of Writing:
About A.D. 61 while imprisoned in Rome.
* Theme:
Christ as the head of the universal church.
* Reasons for Writing:
During Paul's absence from the Lychus Valley an insidious error crept into the Colossian Church. Epaphras went to Rome to report the inroads of this heresy (Colossians 1:7-8). The heresy was a combination of Judaism and incipient gnosticism (anything material was sinful).

These errors led to two practical problems:

  1. Asceticism (2:21-23) -- flee from the world
  2. License (3:5-17) -- indifferent to the world

Paul had two primary purposes in writing this letter:

First, to set forth Christ as pre-eminent (1:18;2:9). This is God's answer to error. Jesus is no angelic being from God; he possesses a real body (cf. 1:16-17). In that body is all the fullness of the Godhead. Angels are subject to him. There is no need for any other mediation than Christ between God and man (1:19-20).

Secondly, to warn against the false philosophies of tradition, legalism, mysticism and asceticism (2:18-23).

7. Abide in Christ

AUTHOR: The author claims to be Paul the apostle (1:1). There is no real doubt to this conclusion. It has every mark of Paul’s style and "there is no evidence that anyone else took Paul’s name to palm off this striking and vigorous polemic."

DATE: This letter was "sent at the same time with the Epistle to Philemon and the one to the Ephesians since Tychicus the bearer of the letter to Ephesus (Eph. 6:21f), and the one to Colossae (Col. 4:7f) was a companion of Onesimus (Col. 4:9) the bearer of that to Philemon (10-12). If Paul is a prisoner (Col. 4:3; Eph. 6:20; Philemon 9) in Rome, as most scholars hold, and not in Ephesus. . . the probable date would be A. D. 63. I still believe that Paul is in Rome when he sends out these epistles. If so, the time would be after the arrival in Rome from Jerusalem as told in Acts 28 and before the burning of Rome by Nero in A. D. 64. If Philippians was already sent, A. D. 63 marks the last probable year for the writing of this group of letters."

OCCASION: The letter was written upon the arrival of Epaphras in Rome from Colossae with news of the state of the church there (1:7-9; 4:12f). One very disquieting feature of the new teaching there "was a strong inclination on the part of the Christians to accept an attractive line of teaching which (although they did not suspect it) was calculated to subvert the pure gospel which they had believed and bring them into spiritual bondage."

"Grievous wolves" have descended upon the churches in the Lycus Valley (Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea) and are leading many of the believers astray. These false teachers and deceivers were later called Gnostics. The culture of Paul’s day was full of the teachings of the mystery cults which professed new thought with a world view that "sought to explain everything on the assumption that matter was essentially evil and that the good God could only touch evil matter by means of a series of aeons or emanations so far removed from him as to prevent contamination by God and yet with enough power to create evil matter." These Gnostics (hoi gnostikoi, the knowing ones) with their philosophic speculations applied their theory of the universe to the Person of Christ. Many today are content to deny sin, disease, death and evil in spite of the evidence to the contrary. The issue was so grave that Epaphras journeyed all the way to Rome to seek Paul’s wisdom and help

8. J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M.

    Author and Title:

Because of the greetings in 1:2, Colossians became known as Pros Kolossaeis, “To the Colossians.” As with the other epistles of Paul surveyed thus far, both the external and internal evidence strongly support Paul’s authorship. But the authorship of this epistle has been doubted by some on the grounds of the vocabulary and the nature of the heresy refuted in this epistle. Expositor’s Bible Commentary has an excellent summary of the key issues involving the authorship and date of Colossians.

That Colossians is a genuine letter of Paul is not usually disputed. In the early church, all who speak on the subject of authorship ascribe it to Paul. In the 19th century, however, some thought that the heresy refuted in ch. 2 was second-century Gnosticism. But a careful analysis of ch. 2 shows that the heresy there referred to is noticeably less developed than the Gnosticism of leading Gnostic teachers of the second and third centuries. Also, the seeds of what later became the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century were present in the first century and already making inroads into the churches. Consequently, it is not necessary to date Colossians in the second century at a time too late for Paul to have written the letter.

Instead, it is to be dated during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, where he spent at least two years under house arrest (see Ac 28:16-31).58

Date: A.D. 61

Paul wrote all four prison epistles during his first Roman imprisonment. This means he wrote it in A.D. 60-61 (see the discussion on the date of Ephesians and Philippians).

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1. New Advent Catholic

Three cities are mentioned in Colossians, Colossæ (i, 2), Laodicea, and Hierapolis (iv, 13.) These were situated about 120 miles east from Ephesus in Phrygia, in Western Asia Minor, Colossæ and Laodicea being on the banks of the Lycus, a tributary of the Mæander. All three were within two or three hours' walk from one another. Sir William Ramsay has shown that these towns lay altogether outside the routes followed by St. Paul in his missionary journeys; and it is inferred from Coloss., i, 4, 6, 7, 8 and ii, 1, that they were never visited by the Apostle himself. The great majority of the Colossian Christians appear to have been Gentile converts of Greek and Phrygian extraction (i, 26, 27; ii, 13), though it is probable that there was a small proportion of Jews living amongst them, as it is known that there were many scattered over the surrounding districts (Josephus, Ant., XII, iii, 4, and Lightfoot).

2. Intervarsity Press

Paul's glad greeting of his readers as those who possess the prospect of being transformed in Christ also intends to draw them together into a community for Christian witness. Wright stresses the importance of the parallelism between in Christ and "in Colosse" (unfortunately obscured in the NIV translation, at Colosse): those who are faithful believers in Christ are also responsible citizens in Colosse, and the two worlds must never be separated. Their public witness to Christ in the town of Colosse must always reflect their participation with him in the power of God's salvation (1986:47). In drawing this parallelism, Paul has the Colossian conflict in mind, for this congregation of saints is struggling to connect their life in Christ with their life in Colosse. In fact, their religious observance tends toward moral asceticism and spiritual mysticism, which actually disconnect them from the world around them. Added to these tendencies, their interest in philosophical speculation has given rise to a variety of Christian devotion that is much too private and esoteric, and largely irrelevant to unbelievers in Colosse.

Because Paul is writing to a congregation that specializes in theological abstraction, his advice often takes on a similar cast. Colossians is difficult to preach and teach because it is the ideas of faith that are at stake, not the actions of faith. Yet we will find that Paul always holds the two together. All that he writes envisages the parallelism "in Christ" and "in Colosse," which is the focal point of Christian life: those in Christ who are made holy and faithful by divine grace must live "in Colosse" as public agents of divine grace.

3. David Malick

AN INTRODUCTION1 TO THE BOOK OF COLOSSIANS I. AUTHOR: THE APOSTLE PAUL2 A. External Evidence: Paul is strongly affirmed to be the author of Colossians 1. Colossians was undisputedly Pauline until the nineteenth century a. The Later Church Fathers accepted it3 b. It was not disputed in the later decades: 1) It was probably used as early Justin4 2) It was included in Marcion's canonical list (c. 140) and in the Muratorian canon (c. 170) 2. This letter is included in the Chester Beatty papyri (P46)5 B. Internal Evidence:6 Even though there are concerns by modern, critical scholars about Pauline authorship, the evidence for Pauline authorship is not overturned: 1. The primary objections to Pauline authorship are the divergence in literary style, vocabulary, and syntax from Paul's other writings.7 Also it was believed that Paul was combating the heresy of second-century GnosticismBut literary differences can be explained by appealing to the new content of the letter, the heresy which he is addressing, and Paul's adaptation of traditional material. Also, there is no need to understand the heresy as a second-century Gnosticism (see below) 2. There are close links between Colossians and Philemon (the latter of which is generally unquestioned as a genuine work of Paul): a. Both include Paul and Timothy's name in the opening greeting (Col. 1:1; Phm. 1) b. Both include greetings from those with Paul at this time, namely, Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas (Col. 4:10-14; Phm. 23,24) c. Archippus is called a "fellowsholdier" in Philemon 2 and directed to fulfill his ministry in Colossians 4:17 d. Onesimus, concerning whom Philemon is written, is mentioned in Colossians 4:9 as being sent with Tychicus and as bring "one of you" 3. Paul is specifically identified in the letter to the Colossians: a. The mention of Timothy along with Paul in the prescript is customary in the undisputed letters of Paul8 b. The author follows the Pauline practice of conveying his personal greetings from his fellow workers to the congregation by means of a dispatched message (4:8) c. The author follows the Pauline practice of closing the letter with his personal signature, as well as, making mention of his own situation as prisoner9 d. Paul is identified in the body of the letter (1:23ff) e. Paul ties his apostleship to the same tradition of Jesus Christ (1:23ff; 2:6) f. The expression, "I, Paul" is typical in the Pauline corpus to render his persona10

4.   Mark Copeland

AUTHOR: The apostle Paul, joined in his salutation by Timothy (1:1), and signed by Paul himself at the end of the letter (4:18). Early sources in church history that attribute this letter to Paul include: Eusebius (300 A.D.), Origen (250 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (200 A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), Irenaeus (200 A.D.), and the Muratorian Fragment (180 A.D.).

TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING: Colossians is one of Paul's four "prison epistles" (4:18; cf. Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon). The general consensus is that these epistles were written during Paul's imprisonment at Rome (cf. Ac 28:16,30-31). If such is truly the case, then Paul wrote Colossians around 61-63 A.D. from Rome. The indication is that the epistles to the Colossians, Philemon and the Ephesians were carried to their destination by Tychicus and Onesimus (cf. 4:7-9; Phile 10-12; Ep 6:21-22).

5. To whom was the Letter to the Colossians written?

2.1. What do Col 1:2 and Col 4:16 indicate about the intended readers of the Letter to the Colossians?

These passages indicate Paul wrote the Letter to the Colossians to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae and intended that the letter be read by the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis, nearby cities.

2.2. Colossae was a Phrygian city in the Roman province of Asia.  It was situated in the Lycus River valley, and populated by Phrygians, Greeks and even dispersed Jews (Josephus says that Antiochus the Great moved 2, 000 Jewish families from Babylonia and Mesopotamia into the regions of Lydia and Phrygia [Ant. 12.147-53]).  From what Paul says in Col 2:1 what do you conclude about Paul's relationship with this church (or lack thereof)?

It appears that Paul had never been to Colossae at the time of writing, so that he knew the members of the church only indirectly.

2.3. From Col 1:7; 4:12-13, what do you conclude about the beginning of the churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis?

The church was actually founded by Epaphrus, as were the churches in Hierapolis and Laodecia (nearby cities); Col 1:7 implies that Epaphrus was commissioned by Paul to preach there.

2.4. What do Col 1:8; 4:12  indicate about Epaphrus' whereabouts at the time of the composition of the letter?  Who was to carry the letter to the Colossians, according to Col 4:7?

These passages indicate that Epaphrus was with Paul; Tychicus was to carry the letter.

2.5. According to Philemon 23, why is Epaphrus with Paul, and not in Colossae or somewhere else?  (This assumes, correctly, as we shall see, that Paul writes his Letter to the Colossians and his Letter to Philemon during the same period of time.)

In Philemon 23, Paul describes Epaphras as his "fellow prisoner," implying that he also is in prison.  How and why Epaphras ended up incarcerated is not clear.

5. Daniel Wallace 

Paul addressed this epistle to the church at Colossae, a church which was one hundred miles inland from Ephesus, in the heart of the Lycus Valley. The apostle had never visited the church (1:4; 2:1). Most likely, the church was founded by Epaphras (cf. 1:7; 4:12-13) who was, in turn, converted by Paul when Paul was at Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:10).

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1. Colossians was written as a warning against certain false teachers, about whom St. Paul had probably heard from Epaphras, his "fellow-prisoner" and the founder of the Church of the Colossians. The most diverse opinions have been held regarding these seducers. They were called philosophers by Tertullian, Epicureans by St. Clement of Alexandria, Jews by Eichhorn, heathen followers of Pythagoras by Grotius. They have also been called Chaldean magicians, Judaizing Christians, Essenes, Ebionites, Cabbalists, Gnostics, or varying combinations of all these (see Jacquier, Histoire, I, 316; Cornely, Introduction, III, 514). 

 Here, philosophy in general is not condemned, but only the philosophy of those false teachers (Hort, Jud. Chr., 118). This was not "according to Christ", but according to the "tradition of men", and was in keeping only with the very alphabet of worldly speculation (kata ta stoicheia tou kosmou -- see Gal, iv, 3). Josephus and Philo apply the word "philosophy" to Jewish teaching, and there can be no doubt that it was applied so in Coloss., ii; some of its details are given in 16-23: (1) The false teachers wished to introduce the observance of Sabbaths, new moons, and other such days. (2) They forbade the eating and drinking and even the very tasting and touching of certain things. (3) Under the false pretence of humility they inculcated the worship (threskeia) of angels, whom they regarded as equal or superior to Christ. The best modern commentators, Catholic and non-Catholic agree with St. Jerome that all these errors were of Jewish origin. The Essenes held the most exaggerated ideas on Sabbath observance and external purism, and they appear to have employed the names of the angels for magical purposes (Bel. Jud. II, vii, 2-13, Lightfoot, Col. and Dissertations). Many scholars are of opinion that the "elements of this world" (stoicheia tou kosmou) mean elemental spirits; as, at that time, many Jews held that all material things had special angels. In the Book of Henoch and the Book of Jubilees we read of angels of the stars, seasons months, days of the year, heat, cold, frost, hail, winds, clouds etc. Abbott (Eph. and Coloss., p. 248) says that "the term properly used of the elements ruled by these spirits might readily be applied to the spirits themselves, especially as there was no other convenient term".

2. David Malick

V. PURPOSES FOR COLOSSIANS: A. To provide advice about the dangerous heresy which had arisen in Colossae and was threatening the security of the church in all of the Lycus valley (cf. 4:16) B. To answer the heretical issues by asserting the absolute, direct, and continuing supremacy of Christ over all of creation (1:15--3:4) C. To encourage his readers to live life (personally, within the church, in the home, and in their relationships) in view of Christ as supreme over all of creation (3:5--4:6) D. To encourage the churches in the Lycus valley to maintain their orderly Christian lives as well as their stability in the faith in the face of the threat of the false teachers 2:2-530

III. THE COLOSSIAN HERESY21 A. The Nature of the Heresy--Explicit and Implicit Indications about the Colossian Problem:22 1. Explicit Teaching of the Opponents: a. It emphasized abstinence from certain foods and some types of drink 2:16,22 b. It required the observance of Jewish feasts and sabbaths at different intervals 2:16 c. It stressed "self-abasement" and visions 2:18,23 d. It involved angelic worship--either as the object of worship or as the subject of worship (i.e., doing worship) 2:18 e. It taught the need for some kind of worship which was human in origin, a "self-made religion-worship 2:23 f. It praised the value of treating the body severely 2:2323 g. It was depicted by Paul as "Philosophy and empty deceit" espousing the "elementary principles of the world" (2:8) 2. Implicit References in the Book: a. It demoted Christ from his supreme place 1:13- 20; 2:9ff b. It seems to have as a catchword the term/phrase "fullness" [of deity] 1:19; 2:9 c. It claimed to promote higher spirituality. Paul counters with the argument that they are spiritually complete in Christ (2:10) and warns that the rules and regulations of this religious system only promote the indulgence of the flesh 2:23 d. It probably required circumcision of adherents 2:11; cf. 3:11 e. It may have misconstrued the death-burial- resurrection motif 2:12,13,20; 3:1-5 f. It cast doubt on the completeness of forgiveness in Christ 1:14; 2:13-14; 3:13 B. Possible Sources of the Heresy:24 1. Essenism: a. B. Lightfoot was the major proponent of this position affirming many parallels between the Heresy and the asceticism of this Jewish group25 b. Even though there are some parallels, there is no evidence that they lived in the western portions of Asia Minor c. While this explains the emphasis on higher knowledge and special revelation, it fails to explain the mystical experiences which are apparent in the epistle 2. Greek Pagan Cults: a. There are many theories along this line of thinking: Neopythagoreanism, mystery religions, pre-Christian Gnosticism, the Iranian Redemption myth, the initiation into the Isis mysteries b. This is an attempt to emphasize the Hellenism on the church at the time c. While some of these "cults" actually fight against one another, there is no doubt that the Heresy in Colossae was influenced by the Hellenism of their day; it is difficult to be even more specific 3. Gnosticism: a. Gnosticism was a "religious movement that proclaimed a mystical esotericism for the elect based on illumination and the acquisition of a higher knowledge of things heavenly and divine"26 b. However, there was not a pre-Christian Gnosticism and it is doubtful that the biblical writers were fighting a known foe called Gnosticism c. There may well have be roots of a Christian Gnosticism (incipient Gnosticism) which later became the Gnosticism of the second and third centuries AD 4. Syncretistic Religion: a. The heresy contains a combination of parts of many of the above views wherein Jews and Gentiles are attempting to advance beyond apostolic Christianity b. This view is very possible and perhaps even diplomatic 5. Jewish Mysticism--the Merkabah Mysticism27 a. The merkabah mysticism consisted of "religious exercises designed to facilitate entry into the vision of the heavenly chariot (hb*K*r+m#) with God visibly enthroned above it--the vision granted to Ezekiel when he was called to his prophetic ministry (Ezek. 1:15- 28)"28 b. In order to obtain such a vision it was necessary to observe: 1) The Mosaic Law concerning purification 2) A period of asceticism of 12 to 40 days 3) The mediatorial role of angels when the heavenly ascent was attempted c. There are possible parallels to this concept in rabbinic experience, Paul's experience (2 Cor. 12), other Jewish writings like 1 Enoch 14:8-23, Daniel 7:9-10, and later Gnostocism29 6. Conclusion: a. A definitive conclusion about the source of the heresy is not possible since so many possibilities exist b. It is very possible, however, that the view of Jewish mysticism is more closely tied to the heresy in view of the Jewish elements which are certainly involved c. Perhaps this Jewish mysticism became a later expression of Gnosticism .

3. Mark Copeland

PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE: Paul had received a report of the situation at Colosse by way of Epaphras (1:7-8). This report was for the most part favorable (2:5). But the subject matter in the epistle strongly suggests that the church was facing a two-fold danger: * The danger of relapse into paganism with its gross immorality (cf. 1:21-23; 2:6; 3:5-11) * The danger of accepting what has been come to known as "The Colossian heresy". This heresy was a syncretism involving four elements of both pagan and Jewish origin: * Philosophies of men - which denied the all sufficiency and pre-eminence of Christ (2:8) * Judaistic ceremonialism - which attached special significance to the rite of circumcision, food regulations, and observance of special days (2:11,16-17) * Angel worship - which detracted from the uniqueness of Christ (2:18) * Asceticism - which called for harsh treatment of the body as the means to control its lusts (2:20-23) To guard against these dangers, Paul writes to: Warn the Colossians against relapse (1:21-23) Warn them against the "solution" being urged upon them by those denying the all-sufficiency of Christ (2:8-23) Direct their attention to the "Beloved Son", the "All-Sufficient and Pre-Eminent Savior" (1:13-18; 2:8-10)

4. PURPOSE: The main purpose for writing this letter was to correct some wrong ideas about Christ that were being taught in the towns of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (4:13). The teachers of these false doctrines were usually called "Gnostics." The word "gnostic" comes from a Greek word which means "to have a special knowledge of God."

5. Daniel Wallace

Assuming that Epaphras and Epaphroditus are one and the same,17 we can begin to get a picture as to the occasion. In our introduction to Philippians, we suggested the following reconstruction.

(1) When Paul appealed to Caesar in the summer of 58 CE (after having been imprisoned in Caesarea for over two years), he sailed for Rome for trial (Acts 25:10-12; 27:1). News of his appeal would certainly have spread to his churches. The Philippians would have wanted a share in his expenses (Phil 4:10).

(2) They dispatched Epaphroditus to Rome with their gift (Phil 4:18). But Epaphroditus came with more than money: he also had questions for the apostle about the church’s opponents, and the members’ own poverty (cf. Phil 3:2, 18-19; 4:6, 19).

Now, as we intersect these date with Colossians a fuller picture emerges:

(3) Epaphroditus apparently did not go directly to Rome, but went back to Colossae, his home church.18 He would have wanted to check on this church which he founded, and if there were any issues at stake, he would seek out Paul for advice. When he arrived at Colossae he discovered that a new heresy had arisen. Consequently, he went post haste to Rome.

(4) Once he arrived in Rome, he reported to Paul the news of the Colossian heresy and of the Philippians’ desire to have Timothy come back to them.

(5) At about the same time Onesimus arrived, seeking refuge.19

(6) Paul could not spare Timothy, but was apparently able to dispatch other assistants as needed.20

(7) The apostle could send Tychicus to Asia Minor, with letters to Philemon (about Onesimus), the Colossians, and the circular letter (known as “Ephesians”) which he had been preparing for some time.

(8) Hence, because of the long and exhausting journey, Paul could not send Epaphroditus back to Philippi until he had rested up. Further, the situation in Philippi, though important to address, was not as urgent as the situation in Colossae.21

(9) After Paul dispatched Tychicus, and after his other assistants had been dispatched or had abandoned him for whatever reasons (cf. Phil 2:19ff.), Paul intended to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians. Unfortunately, he became ill—even to the point of death.22 Paul could not send him until he was well, and this presumably took several months (for the Philippians knew of his sickness).

6. Lewis R. Donelson, review of The Hope of Glory: Education and Exhortation in the Epistle to the Colossians by Walter T. Wilson (Society of Biblical Literature):

The recent trend in scholarship on Colossians has been to emphasize the Jewish character of both the text and its context. Walter T. Wilson, while acknowledging the Jewish context of much of Colossians, moves against this trend by reading Colossians through the lens of Hellenistic philosophical paraenesis. In fact, Wilson's main thesis is that Colossians participates in specific Hellenistic conventions of moral education and philosophical paraenesis in both its form and content. And he makes a good case.

Wilson argues, furthermore, that understanding these paraenetic conventions explains many of the curious rhetorical strategies of the letter. For example, this kind of paraenesis is directed primarily to the novice whose conversion needs further maintenance. Thus, the focus on conversion, baptism, and remembrance in Colossians is not a unique Christian form of argument but is, on the contrary, typical of philosophical paraenesis. Doctrinal material in paraenesis is not typically presented by way of full systematic articulation but by way of reminders of what has been learned earlier. It evokes a larger system that remains unstated. Thus, the often-noted gaps in the theological logic of Colossians denote not true gaps in the system but adherence to the conventions of philosophical paraenesis. Philosophical paraenesis wants to reinforce the worldview of the new school; it wants to contradict any contrary worldview; and it wants the novice to actualize this new worldview in behavior. Thus, all philosophical paraenesis will be animated by affirmation, correction, and exhortation. Wilson notes how beautifully Colossians fits this pattern. He even outlines the literary structure of Colossians in these three categories: 1:3-2:7 is paraenetic affirmation, 2:8-23 is paraenetic correction, and 3:1-4:6 is paraenetic exhortation.

7. Abide in Christ

PURPOSE OF WRITING: Paul wrote to counter the Gnostic attack on the Person of Christ. The Docetic (dokeo, to seem) held that Jesus did not have a real human body, but only a phantom body. He was an aeon and had no real humanity. The Cerinthian Gnostics (followers of Cerinthus) "admitted the humanity of the man Jesus, but claimed that the Christ was an aeon that came on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove and left him on the Cross so that only the man Jesus died."

Paul confronted both false teachings with "his full-length portrait of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man (both deity and humanity) in opposition to both types of Gnostics." Cf. Phil. 2:5-11.

Colossians is just as relevant today when men try to rob Jesus Christ of his death as when Paul wrote it. It speaks to the New Age Movements, the legalists, as well as the "licentious element that let down all the bars for the flesh while the spirit communed with God."

8.  J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M.

    Theme and Purpose:

The theme is the fruitful and effective power of the gospel message which heralds the supremacy, headship, and the utter sufficiency of Christ to the church which is His body. In this little epistle, we see Paul’s “full-length portrait of Christ.”59 Colossians demonstrates that because of all that Jesus Christ is in His person and has accomplished in His work, He, as the object of the believer’s faith, is all we need for in Him we are complete (2:10). In scope, Colossians presents the all supremacy, all sufficiency, uniqueness, and the fullness of the person and work of Jesus Christ as the God-man Savior, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the total solution for man’s needs both for time and eternity. It is a cosmic book, presenting the cosmic Christ: the Creator/Sustainer and Redeemer/Reconciler of man and all the universe.

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Themes and Content

1. Paul explains and demonstrates the preeminence of Christ in creation, redemption, and the relationships of life in this letter to the Colossians. Christians are complete in Christ. Paul wrote this letter around A.D 60-61. This book is perhaps one of the most Christ centered books in the Bible. This book centers around the Head of the Church which is Jesus Christ. The two major themes in this book are the supremacy of Christ in Chapters one and two and the submission to Christ in Chapters three and four.

2. Mark Copeland

THEME OF THE EPISTLE: With the focus on Jesus Christ as the answer to the "Colossian heresy", the theme of this letter is clearly: CHRIST - THE FULNESS OF GOD, AND THE PRE-EMINENT, ALL-SUFFICIENT SAVIOR KEY VERSES: Colossians 2:9-10 "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power."

3. THEME: The Pre-eminence of Christ. #12; RELEVANCE: The message of this book is greatly needed today. In a time when Christ is scorned and his teaching rejected, we need to hold forth the grand truth of this inspired letter penned by the apostle Paul. It was written when false teachers (the Gnostics) and Judiazers were attacking the gospel, and Christians themselves were not living up to principles it set forth.

4. Bible Notes

COLOSSIANS : This book is a letter from Paul and Timothy to Christians in the city of Colosse -- to the ones that will be "in the kingdom of light." Paul said that in their prayers (i.e., the apostles -- implying for these Christians to use this way also) they begin by thanking "God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Implying that Christ existed before God made anything at all (was the "firstborn over all creation"), Paul continued, "He is the Head of the Body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy." (Colossians 1:18) Further, "...through Him to reconcile (i.e., to settle or resolve) to Himself all making peace through His blood, shed on the cross..."(Colossians 1:20)

Several of Paul's other points include:

  1. "...the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you (i.e., in your minds and hearts), the hope of glory." (Colossians 1:27)
  2. "and you have been given fullness in Christ , who is the head over every power and authority." (Colossians 2:10)
  3. "...buried with Him (i.e., Christ) in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the Power of God who raised Him from the dead." (Colossians 2:12)
  4. "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things...When Christ appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." (Colossians 3:2-4)
  5. "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach...and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude (i.e., thankfulness) in your hearts to God." (Colossians 3:16)

    Paul also instructed them to forgive others, let love be your guide; husbands and wives should be loving; children, obeying; parents, minimizing scolding children; slaves, obeying masters; masters, being just and fair to slaves.

5. Daniel Wallace

The letter’s theme, seen in the light of the rising heresy, is the sufficiency of Christ.

The apostle Paul, with Timothy, begins the letter with a greeting to the saints at Colossae (1:1-2).

The body of the letter begins at 1:3.27 Paul begins on a positive note in which he outlines the sufficiency of Christ (1:3–2:7). He follows this with a negative statement in which he argues against the views of the heretics at Colossae, who especially imbibe in christological heresy (2:3–3:4). The body is concluded with a call to live the Christian life in light of Christ’s sufficiency (3:5–4:6).

The first major section, on the positive presentation of the sufficiency of Christ, involves four parts. (1) Paul’s thanksgiving for the Colossians because of their positive response to the gospel (1:3-8), coupled with a prayer for them to grow in knowledge and productivity (1:9-14). This prayer deals, though very subtly, with the heart of the epistle: the heretics claim to have a superior knowledge, yet their very philosophy chokes out any productivity for God (cf. 2:20-23). (2) Without so much as an “Amen” to the prayer, Paul continues with a recital of an early Christian hymn in which Christ is magnified as Deity in the flesh, the Creator incarnate (1:15-20). (3) The hymn, which ends with a note on Christ as reconciler of “all things,” serves as a bridge to Paul’s next theme: Christ has reconciled the Colossians to God—a ministry of reconciliation which Paul has proclaimed (1:21-23). (4) Finally, Paul addresses his own ministry in greater detail: (a) he has been commissioned with proclaiming “the mystery” (again, borrowing terms of his opponents)—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27)—so that “we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (1:24-29); (b) he is presently concerned about the believers in the Lycus Valley, especially that they might not be “deceived by fine-sounding arguments” (2:4) which deny the sufficiency of Christ (2:1-7).

After having established both the sufficiency of Christ and Paul’s commission and concern, he now must turn, in this major section, to the heart of the matter: Heretics in Colossae have denied the sufficiency of Christ and this heresy has already affected the believers in the church (2:8–3:4). In essence, Paul’s argument is not to make an exclusively frontal attack, but to intertwine this attack with a subtle table-turning technique. That is, he uses the language of the heretics to affirm his gospel, showing that their view is insufficient, and that Christ is sufficient. Paul develops three primary points: (1) He restates the sufficiency of Christ (2:8-15)—in the light of the heretics’ wrong views (2:8), addressing three issues: (a) as the theanthropic person (“in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” [2:9]), he has ultimate authority (2:9-10); (b) the power which raised Christ from the dead is available to believers (2:11-12); and (c) the death of Christ is not defeat, but triumph—over our heart (2:13), over the law (2:14), and over “powers and authorities” (2:15).

He now turns to the influence that the heretics have had on the Colossians (2:16–3:4). This can be viewed in two ways (hence, our second and third points). (2) The heretics’ combination of Jewish legalism and mysticism (2:16-19) is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ, for such a heretic “has lost connection with the Head” (2:19). (3) Since believers have died (2:20-23) and risen with Christ (3:1-4), their return to human regulations (2:20-23) and lack of real appreciation for the true mystery, Christ himself (3:1-4), are a contradiction of their corporate life in Christ.

In the third and last major section, Paul addresses paraenetic concerns (3:5–4:6). But these are not to be disconnected with the preceding discussion in any way. Rather, Paul’s concern now is to show that Christ is sufficient not only for salvation, but also for sanctification. This third section, in effect, becomes a preemptive handling of the heretics’ charges concerning the pragmatics of Paul’s gospel. For although these heretics emphasized the inadequacy of Christ coupled with the adequacy of knowledge, they also put a premium on living a holy life (cf. 2:20-23, etc.). This syncretistic Jewish-Greek heresy needed response then at both levels: philosophically and pragmatically.

Paul outlines three areas in which Christ’s sufficiency does enable and should motivate believers to grow in grace. Although Paul packages this entire section with imperatives, beneath the surface is the fact of Christ’s sufficiency for sanctification (or else the commands would be irrelevant). (1) His sufficiency enables believers to grow individually—that is, in relation to the flesh (3:5-17). This is because believers have already put off the old man (3:5-11; cf. 3:9) and have put on the new man (3:12-17; cf. 3:10). Thus, their battle against sin is rooted in their changed nature—a direct result of the sufficiency of Christ applied. (2) Christ’s sufficiency enables believers to act responsibly in the extended home (3:18–4:1). Wives should submit to their husbands (3:18) and husbands should love their wives (3:19); children should obey their parents (3:20) and fathers must not embitter their children (3:21); slaves should obey their masters (3:22-25) and masters should take care of their slaves properly (4:1). (3) Christ’s sufficiency enables believers to focus on the needs of others (4:2-6). Thus, they are required to be devoted to prayer for Paul and his companions—especially that they might gain opportunity in their evangelistic efforts (4:2-4); and believers should themselves make the most of their opportunities in sharing their faith (4:5-6).

The epistle closes with final greetings in which the letter-bearer, Tychicus, is commended (4:7-9), and Paul’s co-laborers (4:10-14) and Paul himself (4:15-18) send their greetings.

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Comparison between Ephesians and Colossians

1. David Malick

EPHESIANS COLOSSIANS Emphasizes the Body (Church) Emphasizes the Head (Christ) The spirit is pastoral The spirit is polemical The emphasis is on oneness in The emphasis is on Christ completeness in Christ.

2. John Nelson Darby

If the Epistle to the Ephesians delineates the privileges of the body, that to the Colossians reveals the fullness that is in the head, and our completeness in Him. Thus in that to the Ephesians the church is the fullness of Him who filleth all in all; in that to the Colossians, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily, and we are complete in Him. There is another difference however, which it is important to remark. In the Epistle to the Colossians we do not- save in the expression, "love in the Spirit "- find any mention of the Holy Ghost. He is fully brought forward in the Ephesians. But on the other hand, we have Christ as our life far more fully developed, of equal importance in its place. In Ephesians we have more largely the contrast of heathenism with christian privilege and state. The formation of the soul in living likeness to Christ is largely developed in Colossians. It is more, in the well-known expressions, Christ in us than we in Christ, though these cannot be separated. A further important difference is that in Ephesians the unity of Jew and Gentile in one body holds a large place. In Colossians the Gentiles only are in view, though in connection with the doctrine of the body. These differences well noted, we may say that the two epistles have a great resemblance in their general character.


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Daniel B. Wallace ( provides the following evidence for and against Pauline authorship, concluding no good reason exists to doubt the authenticity of Paul's authorship. He divides his discussion into two broad catergories: external and internal evidence. For external evidences, he provides the following:

Ignatius has several reminiscences from Colossians, though no explicit quotations. Polycarp and Barnabas also seem to allude to it. Justin Martyr’s allusions are stronger still, and Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen explicitly call it Paul’s letter. Both Marcion’s canon and the Muratorian canon list it, and it is found in P46, the earliest MS containing any of the corpus Paulinum. Normally dated at c. 200 CE, this papyrus has been recently reassessed: Young Kyu Kim gives it a date of sometime before the reign of Domitian (70s CE).1 Although the external evidence for the authenticity of Colossians is not as good as for 1 Corinthians or Galatians, it is nevertheless quite strong. “In fact, the external testimony for it is so ancient and consistent as to obviate any doubts regarding its authenticity.”

For internal evidence, he uses two categories to argue both against and for Paul's authorship: Linguistic and Literary, and Theological. Arguments against Paul's being the author of Colossians is its different style (labored with subsidiary clauses, and different genitive, preposition, and participle styles). Different vocabulary is used, for example, justification by faith.  Wallace notes that Mayerhoff argued that Colossians depended on Ephesians but that most today argue the reverse.

Arguments for Paul's authorship include the possibility of using Ephesians in draft form as the basis for Colossians. This suggests the authenticity of both books:

Concerning the hypothesis of literary dependence on Ephesians—a view which most would not adopt today—either Colossians is dependent on Ephesians or Ephesians is dependent on Colossians. Regardless of which came first, as we pointed out in our introduction to Ephesians, such literary dependence does not at all argue against authenticity (especially since it is so free most of the time, without much exact agreement).

The second category is theological. An argument against Paul's authorship is that Colossians--about wisdom, philosophy, fullness, perfection, and incarnation of the anthropic person--suggest the writers opposes gnosticism:

 Most scholars today would regard the theological argument (originally articulated by Baur) as bearing the real force in the argument against authenticity. In our discussion of the heresy at Colossae we will see that the most that can be said about the heresy is that it is incipient gnosticism. That is to say, what Paul is opposing is not the full-blown gnosticism of the second century. 

Another argument against Paul's authorship is the relationship to Ephesians issue: if Ephesians is genuine, Colossians must be genuine. In rejecting one or the other, Wallace says scholars tend to reject Ephesians:

 if Colossians were not genuine, then we would have the completely unparalleled situation of a pseudepigraphist using another pseudepigraphist’s work—which he himself believed was genuine—in order to pass off his work as genuine.10 In that case, Colossians must have been regarded as genuine well before 90 CE.

Yet another reason for authenticity is the relation of Colossians to Philemon; Wallace quotes Guthrie:

1. Both contain Timothy’s name with Paul’s in the opening greeting (Col 1:1; Phm 1).

2. Greetings are sent in both letters from Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke and Demas, who are all clearly with Paul at the time (Col 4:10-14; Phm 23-24).

3. In Phm 2 Archippus is called a ‘fellow-soldier,’ and in Col 4:17 he is directed to fulfill his ministry.

4. Onesimus, the slave concerning whom the letter to Philemon is written, is mentioned in Col 4:9 as being sent with Tychicus and is described as ‘one of you.’

In the light of these data it is impossible to imagine that the two epistles were sent at different times, and since the authenticity of Philemon is generally unquestioned it carries with it the high probability that Colossians is a genuine work of Paul.12

In sum, there is no good reason to doubt the authenticity of Colossians. Precisely because of this, most NT scholars accept it as genuine.

The Catholic New Advent provides similar arguments based upon external and internal evidence.

2. New Advent

The external evidence for the Epistle is so strong that even Davidson has gone to the extent of saying that "it was unanimously attested in ancient times". Considering its brevity, controversial character, and the local and ephemeral nature of the errors dealt with, it is surprising how frequently it was used by early writers. There are traces of it in some of the Apostolic Fathers and it was known to the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas, to St. Polycarp, and Theophilus of Antioch. It was quoted by Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, etc. From the Muratorian Fragment and early versions it is evident that it was contained in the very first collections of St. Paul's Epistles. It was used as Scripture early in the second century, by Marcion, the Valentinians, and by other heretics mentioned in the "Philosophoumena"; and they would not have accepted it had it originated among their opponents after they broke away from the Church.

New Advent in looking at internal evidence points to the close connection with Philippians and Philemon, both admitted to be genuine letters of Paul. Further the last two chapters' moral position fits with similar moral arguments from other epistles and fits with the details of Paul's life.

As the historical evidence is much stronger than that for the majority of classical writings, it may be asked why its genuineness was ever called in question. It was never doubted until 1838, when Meyerhoff, followed by others, began to raise objections against it. It will be convenient to deal with these objections under the following four heads: (1) Style; (2) Christology; (3) Errors dealt with; and (4) Similarity to Ephesians.

Advent then agrees the style of Colossians is heavy and complicated and without the usual Pauline eloquence. The counter though is that Paul wrote this in his advanced age after years of confinement. Other works also contain long and involved sentences:

 It has also to be observed that many of the old Pauline expressions and methods of reasoning are most naturally and inextricably interwoven with the very tissue and substance of the Epistle. Ample proofs for all these statements and others throughout this article, are given in works mentioned in the bibliography. Dr. Sanday has voiced the opinion of fair-minded critics when he says that nobody can view the Epistle as a whole, without being impressed by its unbreakable unify and genuine Pauline character.

(t is objected that the Epistle contains many strange words, nowhere else used by St. Paul. That, however, is precisely what we should expect in an Epistle of St. Paul. Every Epistle written by him contains many words employed by him nowhere else. Alford gives a list of thirty-two apax legomena in this Epistle, and of these eighteen occur in the second chapter, where the errors are dealt with. The same thing occurs in the earlier Epistles, where the Apostle is speaking of new subjects or peculiar errors, and there apax legomena most abound. This Epistle does not show more than the ordinary proportion of new words and in this respect compares favourably with the genuine II Cor. Furthermore, the compound words found in the Epistle have their analogues in similar passages of the authentic Epistle to the Romans. It would be most absurd to bind down to a narrow and set vocabulary a writer of such intellectual vigour and literary versatility as St. Paul. The vocabulary of all writers changes with time, place, and subject-matter. Salmon, Mahaffy, and others have pointed out that similar changes of vocabulary occur in the writings of Xenophon, who was a traveller like St. Paul. Compare the earlier and later letters of Lord Acton (edited by Abbot Gasquet) or of Cardinal Newman.

New Advent also says the authenticity of Pauline authorship is questioned on the basis of Christology in Colossians

It has objected that the exalted idea of Christ presented in the Epistle could not have been written by St. Paul. In answer to this it will be sufficient to quote the following passage from the genuine Epistle to the Philippians: "Who [Christ Jesus] being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (ii, 6, 7, etc. See Romans, i, 3, 4; Gr. text, viii, 3;I Cor., vii, 6; II Cor., viii, 9; Gal., iv, 6, etc.). That the Christology of the Epistle does not differ in any essential point from that of St. Paul's other Epistles is seen from an impartial study of these latter.

New Advent also agrees that gnostic language is used to argue against Paul's authorship but says the terms employed by the Gnostics were used in a way quite different from Paul's use of them.

The errors of Judaic Gnosticism, condemned in the Epistle, were quite embryonic when compared with the full-blown Greek Gnosticism of the second century (see Lightfoot, Coloss., etc.).

A final argument  by New Advent is Colossians' similarity to Ephesians. The theories are quite intricate:

  • Davidson stated that out of 155 verses in the latter Epistle 78 were identical with Colossians. De Wette held that Ephesians was but a verbose amplification of Colossians. Baur thought Ephesians the superior letter, and Renan asked how can we suppose the Apostle spending his time in making a bald transcription of himself. But as Dr. Salmon pointed out, an Apostle might write a circular letter, that is, he might send to different places letters couched in identical words. Many theories have been elaborated to explain these undoubted resemblances.
    • Ewald maintained that the substance was St. Paul's, while the composition was left to Timothy.
    • Weiss and Hitzig had recourse to a theory of interpolations.
    • But the theory that has gained the greatest amount of notoriety is that of H.J. Holtzmann. In his "Kritik der Epheser- und Kolosser-Briefe " (1872) he instituted a most elaborate and exhaustive comparison between the two Epistles. He took a number of passages which seemed to prove the priority of Ephesians and an equal number which were just as conclusive that Colossians was the earlier. The natural conclusion would be that all these similarities were due to the same author writing and dispatching these Epistles at one and the same time. But Holtzmann's explanation was quite different. He supposed that St. Paul wrote a short epistle to the Colossians. From the study of this epistle a later writer composed the Epistle to the Ephesians. Then taking St. Paul's short Epistle to the Colossians he made interpolations and additions to it from his own composition to the Ephesians and thus built up our present Epistle to the Ephesians, and that with such success that the thing was never suspected until the nineteenth century. This intricate and complicated theory did not gain a single adherent, even amongst the most advanced critical school.
      • Hilgenfeld rejected it in 1873; but its best refutation is von Soden's detailed criticism of 1885. He held that only about eight verses could be regarded as interpolations.
      • Sanday in Smith's "Dict. of the Bible" (I, 625) pointed out that von Soden's lines of demarcation were purely imaginary,
      • and Pfleiderer showed the inconsistency involved in his rejection of these verses. The results of these criticisms and of further study convinced von Soden, in 1891, that the whole Epistle was genuine, with the exception of a single verse -- a verse now generally held to be genuine.
      • In 1894 Jülicher stated that the best solution was to admit the authenticity of both Epistles, though he speaks more hesitatingly in "Encyc. Bibl." 1889. J. Weiss made an abortive attempt to resuscitate Holtzmann's moribund theory in 1900.
  • The expressions supposed to have come from Colossians occur quite naturally in Ephesians, but by no means in the same context and connection, and vice versa. As Holtzmann's hypothesis has completely broken down, his study of the Epistles shows such close relationship between them that there can be only one other possible explanation: that both are the genuine writings of one man, and that man was St. Paul. Paley, who wrote his "Horæ Paulinæ" in 1790, set forth this side of the argument long before these objections were thought of; and the fact that he can still be quoted, without qualification, in this connection, is the best proof of the futility of all such objections. He says (Horæ Paulinæ, London, 1790, 215):
  • Whoever writes two letters or discourses nearly upon the same subject and at no great distance of time but without any express recollection of what he had written before will find himself repeating some sentences in the very order of the words in which he had already used them; but he will more frequently find himself employing some principal terms, with the order inadvertently changed, or with the order disturbed by the intermixture of other words and phrases expressive of ideas rising up at the time, or in many instances repeating not single words, nor yet whole sentences, but parts and fragments of sentences. Of all these varieties the examination of our two epistles will furnish plain examples, and I should rely on this class of instances more than on the last, because although an impostor might transcribe into a forgery entire sentences and phrases, yet the dislocation of words, the partial recollection of phrases and sentences, the intermixture of new terms and new ideas with terms and ideas before used, which will appear in the examples that follow, and which are the natural products of writing produced under the circumstances in which these epistles are represented to have been composed -- would not, I think, have occurred to the invention of a forger, nor, if they had occurred would they have been so easily executed. This studied variation was a refinement in forgery which I believe did not exist, or if we can suppose it to have been practised in the instances adduced below, why, it may be asked, was not the same art exercised upon those which we have collected in the preceding class?



Easton's Bible Dictionary


Colossians, Epistle to the
was written by Paul at Rome during his first imprisonment there (Acts 28:16,30), probably in the spring of A.D. 57, or, as some think, 62, and soon after he had written his Epistle to the Ephesians. Like some of his other epistles (e.g., those to Corinth), this seems to have been written in consequence of information which had somehow been conveyed to him of the internal state of the church there (Colossians 1:4-8). Its object was to counteract false teaching. A large part of it is directed against certain speculatists who attempted to combine the doctrines of Oriental mysticism and asceticism with Christianity, thereby promising the disciples the enjoyment of a higher spiritual life and a deeper insight into the world of spirits. Paul argues against such teaching, showing that in Christ Jesus they had all things. He sets forth the majesty of his redemption. The mention of the "new moon" and "sabbath days" (2:16) shows also that there were here Judaizing teachers who sought to draw away the disciples from the simplicity of the gospel. The doctrinal part comprises the first two chapters. His main theme is developed in chapter 2. He warns them against being drawn away from Him in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead, 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 needed they more?


  • 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. Tychicus was the bearer of the letter, as he was also of that to the Ephesians and to Philemon, and he would tell them of the state of the apostle (4:7-9). After friendly greetings (10-14), he bids them interchange this letter with that he had sent to the neighbouring church of Laodicea. He then closes this brief but striking epistle with his usual autograph salutation. There is a remarkable resemblance between this epistle and that to the Ephesians (q.v.). The genuineness of this epistle has not been called in question.


  • In the sense of soil or ground, the translation of the word adamah' . In Genesis 9:20 "husbandman" is literally "man of the ground or earth." Altars were to be built of earth (Exodus 20:24). Naaman asked for two mules' burden of earth (2 Kings 5:17), under the superstitious notion that Jehovah, like the gods of the heathen, could be acceptably worshipped only on his own soil.

    (2). As the rendering of 'erets , it means the whole world (Genesis 1:2); the land as opposed to the sea (1:10). Erets also denotes a country (21:32); a plot of ground (23:15); the ground on which a man stands (33:3); the inhabitants of the earth (6:1; 11:1); all the world except Israel (2 Chronicles 13:9). In the New Testament "the earth" denotes the land of Judea (Matthew 23:35); also things carnal in contrast with things heavenly (John 3:31; Colossians 3:1,2).