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The Book of Colossians

The Book of Colossians

Aims of the Class: By studying the apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, one of his four ‘imprisonment letters’, we gain access to the historical, cultural and theological understanding of the early Christian ministry. We learn not only the pre-eminence of Christ but also the importance of the true Gospel and the Holy Spirit in our work for the Lord. In the matter of the doctrines of salvation, we know how to repudiate the false teaching, and in our Christian life, the Colossians teaches us that the ever-renewing life in Christ is the assured victory we can have in this degenerate world.

Method of Class Instruction:  Exegetical exposition 75%; discussion and oral report 25%. A final essay due toward the end of the class is required as a fulfillment of the course.

I.       General Remarks:

Cultural Geography: Colossaie was situated in the Lycus valley of SW Phrygia about 80 miles east of Ephesus. Hellenised and partly Romanised in a gradual process of assimilation to its neighbors, Colossae shows a city of cultural importance, especially by the excavation of its inscriptions and coins.

Paul and the Church at Colossae: Paul did not establish church at Colossae. Epaphras (1.7) working under the direction of Paul during the latter's Ephesian ministry founded the church and the neighboring communities of faith.

The occasion for the Epistle: The epistle was to be carried by Tychicus and Onesimus (4.7,9), a slave to be returned to his master Philemon in Laodicae (or Hierapolis, or perhaps Philadelphia (Phm 10,12, cf. Col 4.17).  The apostle writes to combat a dangerous local heresy and to buttress the church (emphasis on the 'truth' 1.5f, 1.23, 2.4,7f, 16,18). The warnings may be aimed at one false teacher who has already made serious inroads (2.20, 22).

II.    Authenticity

During the second century Colossians seems to have been accepted by all the churches as a genuine part of the Pauline corpus, and this view held the field until 1838. Weighty considerations against its authenticity stem from the perspectives of vocabulary and style, its very 'high' Christology, and the large element of Gnosticism or proto-Gnosticism in it,

People may argue that 1) thirty-four words are peculiar to Colossians, in which ten are common to Colossians and Ephesians alone and fifteen used also in Ephesians appear in no other genuine Pauline letter; 2) important Pauline theological terms like righteousness, fellowship, laware missing; 3) like Ephesians, it contains long sentences, many participles, genitives which are piled up, explanatory infinitives, and so on.

But (in our judgment) it is abundantly plain that this author is writing to real and specific people and the document is full of authentic personal touches (1.2, 5-8, 27; 2.1, 16, 20, 4.3, 7ff).

People, who see the doctrine of Christ in Colossians as compatible with 1 Cor 1.24, 2.7ff, 4.1, 4.6; 2 Cor 4.4-6, 5.18f; Rom 5.10, 8.3; Phil 2.6-11, may argue that Colossians appears to go somewhat beyond these other texts in the direction of a theory of Incarnation. But it is not at all inconsistent with the Pauline Christology as a whole.

Furthermore, people may argue that the Gnostic favor in Colossians seems to point to a non-Pauline writing. But the words and ideas of Colossians are certainly not post-Pauline at all. In this Epistle, Paul might have borrowed from the heretical vocabulary in order to refute his opponents.

Let us sum up. Significant parallels between Phil and Col help to substantiate the genuineness of Colossians. It is a brilliant defense of the all-sufficiency of Christ as the redeemer and revealer. Paul writes vigorously, with powers undimmed. By any reckoning Col is one of the precious gems of the NT.

III.   Date

Probably sent from Rome about 61-63, before the writing of Phil, for Paul does not appear to contemplate his imminent death.

IV.  Content Analysis

1.1-2.1    The Address

1.1-2.2    Thanksgiving

1.13-23    The Pre-eminence of Christ

1.24-2.5   Paul’s Ministry as an Apostle of the Lord

2.6-15      An Answer to False Teaching: (A) the Victory of Christ

2.16-23   An Answer to False Teaching: (b) the Irrelevance of Legalism

3.1-4       An Answer to False Teaching: (c) the True Source of New Life

3.5-17      The Old Life and the New 

3.18-4.1   The Christian Family

4.2-6        Final Instructions

4.7-18      Messages and Greetings

V.     Study Questions:

1.       What is the COLOSSIAN HERESY implied in this epistle? 

The heresy  contained doctrinal and practical elements: 1) Christ as related to a relatively minor place, and certain angelic principalities (Gk. stoicheria) were necessary to the fullness of knowledge and life, i.e. to salvation; 2) It was argued further that salvation also depended on the observance of festivals and dietary rules, and esoteric rituals of a sensual type. Visions too played a part (2.8-23).

On the whole, the mixture of liturgical, ascetic, and mystery cult disciplines points to a syncretistic form of Christianity, with strong Jewish as well as proto-Gnostic constituents. The Jewish side has close affinities with the Essene piety of Qumran. For the Jewish-Gnostic elements of truth, knowledge, wisdom, times, humility, angles and mysteries, see G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (1962, 72-78, 89, 150-53, 170, 186-91, 210-13).

As an extension, heretic teachings mentioned in the New Testament can be summarized:  2Cor 11.4; 1 Tim 4.1ff; 1 Jn 4.1ff; Jude 3-8; 11-16; Rev 2.2.14f.

What are the characteristics of the false teachers and what do they teach?

What is the best strategy for us to win a spiritual battle over the falsehood and evil spirit?

2.       Discuss how the mystery of God lies in Christ, which exemplifies the fullness of God (1.15-23). Consider the divine wisdom as God’s first-born in Prov. 8.22, Gen 1.1; Christ as the very eikon (image) of God in Hebrews 1.1-3, the incarnate Word as a manifestation of the invisible God in John 1.1-18;. Discuss how the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ reconciles the entire universe of things and angels and men to God, so as to make peace also in Eph 1-2, Php 2.6-11 (cf. Rom 5.6-8).

3.       That Christ is the head of the Church (1.18) can be also found in Eph 1.23 and 1 Cor 12.12-17.

4.       In what ways Paul was a deacon (minister) of the church, a preacher of the Word, a watchman, a teacher of wisdom, a pastor who presents to God a people holy and mature?  Refer to Acts 19.8-12; 20.17-35; Rom 1.9-12; 1 Thess 2.3-8; 11-13; 1 Cor 11.1; Phil 4.8-9.

5.       Discuss the ethical instruction in Colossians 3.1-11 (a new life in Christ); 3.12-17 (love, holiness); 3.18-25 (family and social relationship); 4.1-6 (watchful, prayerful, and wise) as a key to a commendable Christian way of life which has a direct bearing on our ultimate salvation  (cf. Eph 4.17-24; Rom 12.6-12; 1 Thess 4.1-12; Heb 13.1-9).

Publisher: True Jesus Church