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New Testament

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].



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]


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


Like some of his other epistles (e.g., those to Corinth), 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). Ephaphras was a faithful minister to the Colossians who was visiting Paul when the epistle was written (Colossian 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 the authorship was also questioned in XIX 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.

However, as with several epistles attributed to Paul, critical scholarship disputes this claim.[6] 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.[7] A second ground is that the epistle features a strong use of liturgical-hyminic style which appears nowhere else in Paul's work to the same extent.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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 hapaxlegomena). 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.'[11] Not only that, but it has been universally noted that Colossians has undisputably 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

Colosse 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. Paul declared Christ's supremacy over the entire created universe and exhorted Christians to lead godly lives. Like most of Paul's epistles, this consists of two parts: first a doctrinal section, then a second regarding conduct. In both sections, Paul opposes false teachers who have been spreading error in the congregation. [3]

Doctrinal Sections

In the doctrinal sections, Paul 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. His main theme is developed in chapter 2. He warns them 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 needed they more?

Paul could see that they had grown spiritually because of their love for all the set-apart ones in Christ (1:4 & 8). He knowing this wanted 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]


Paul 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 letter ends with customary prayer, instruction, and greetings.

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

The prison epistles of Ephesians, Colossian, Philippians, and Philemon were all written around the same time. Colossians has close parallels with the letter to Philemon. Names of the same people (e.g. Timothy, Aristarchus, Archippus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke, Onesimus, and Demas) appear in both epistles indicating that both were written by the same author (Paul) at around the same time.[15]

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 Laodicean Church. (The apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans is almost universally believed to be a forgery based on this instruction.) He then closes this brief but striking epistle with his usual autograph salutation.

In Colossians, Paul makes articulations in several places to recognize the attribute of faithfulness:

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

See also


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

  1. ^ a b "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. ^ "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]
  7. ^ Koester, Helmut. History and Literature of Early Christianity, Introduction to the New Testament Vol 2. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co, 1982,1987.
  8. ^ Kummel, Georg Werner. Introduction To The New Testament, Revised English Edition, Translated by Howard Kee. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973,1975
  9. ^ “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
  10. ^ Richard R. Melick, vol. 32, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1991), 166
  11. ^ Perrin, Norman. The New Testament: An Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History. Harcourt College Pub., 1974, p.121
  12. ^ ibid.
  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
  15. ^ MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville:Thomas Nelson. 2005.


  • N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale IVP 1986 (ISBN 0-8028-0309-1)
  • 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
  • A.C.= The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present Authorized Version. Including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a Commentary and Critical Notes. Designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings. By Adam Clarke, LL.D. F.S.A. M.R.I.A. With a complete alphabetical index. Royal Octavo Stereotype Edition. Vol. II. [Vol. VI together with the O.T.] New York, Published by J. Emory and B. Waugh, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, at the conference office, 13 Crosby-Street. J. Collord, Printer. 1831.

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Preceded by
Books of the Bible Succeeded by
1 Thessalonians

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Colossians is a book in the Bible. The following English translations may be available:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS, the twelfth book of the New Testament, the authorship of which is ascribed to the Apostle Paul. Colossae, like the other Phrygian cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis, had not been visited by Paul, but owed its belief in Jesus Christ to Epaphras, a Colossian, who had been converted by Paul, perhaps in Ephesus, and had laboured not only in his native city but also in the adjacent portions of the Lycus valley, - a Christian in whom Paul reposed the greatest confidence as one competent to interpret the gospel of whose truth Paul was convinced (i. 7; iv. 12, 13). This Epaphras, like the majority of the Colossians, was a Gentile. It is probable, however, both from the letter itself and from the fact that Colossae was a trade centre, that Jews were there with their synagogues (cf. also Josephus, Ant. xii. 149). And it is further probable that some of the Gentiles, who afterwards became Christians, were either Jewish proselytes or adherents who paid reverence to the God of the Jews. At all events, the letter indicates a sensitiveness on the part of the Christians not only to oriental mysticism and theosophy (cf. Sir W. M. Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, and Church in the Roman Empire), but also to the Judaism of the Diaspora.

Our first definite knowledge of the Colossian Church dates from the presence of Epaphras in Rome in A.D. 62-64 (or A.D. 56-58), when Paul was a prisoner. He arrived with news,. perhaps with a letter (J. R. Harris, Expositor, Dec. 1898, pp. 404 ff.), touching the state of religion in Colossae. Paul learns,. to his joy, of their faith, hope and love; of the order and stability of their faith; and of their reception of Christ Jesus the Lord (i. 4, 8; ii. 5-7). He sees no sign of an attack upon him or his gospel. On the contrary, loyalty to him and sympathy with him in his sufferings are everywhere manifest (i. 9, 24; ii. 2; iv. 8); and the gospel of Christ is advancing here as elsewhere (i. 6). At the same time he detects a lack of cheerfulness and a. lack of spiritual understanding in the Church. The joy of the gospel, expressing itself in songs and thanksgivings, is damped (iii. 15, 16), and, above all, the message of Christ does not dwell richly enough in them. Though the believers know the grace of God they are not filled with a knowledge of his will, so that their conduct is lacking in that strength and joy and perfection, that richness of the fulness of knowledge expected of those who had been made full in Christ (i. 6, 9-11, 28; ii. 2, 7, io). The reason for this, Paul sees, is the influence of the claim made by certain teachers in Colossae that the Christians, in order to attain unto and be assured of full salvation, must supplement Paul's message with their own fuller and more perfect wisdom, and must observe certain rites and practices (ii. 16, 21, 23) connected with the worship of angels (ii. 18, 23) and elementary spirits (ii 8, 20).

The origin and the exact nature of this religious movement are alike uncertain. (1) If it represents a type of syncretism as definite as that known to have existed in the developed gnostic systems of the 2nd century, it is inconceivable that Paul should have passed it by as easily as he did. (2) As there is no reference EmeryWalkcr sc a.


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Kentucky ' 'From survey by Edgar Vaughan and W.L. Marshall. ' 'with additions by John M.Nelson ti Dome to celibacy, communism and the worship of the sun, it is improbable that the movement is identical with that of the Essenes. (3) The phenomena might be explained solely on the basis of Judaism (von Soden, Peake). Certainly the asceticism and ritualism might so be interpreted, for there was among the Jews of the Dispersion an increasing tendency to asceticism, by way of protest against the excesses of the Gentiles. The reference in ii. 23 to severity of the body may have to do with fasting preparatory to seeing visions (cf. Apoc. Baruch, xxi. I, ix. 2, v. 7). Even the worship of angels, not only as mediators of revelation and visions, but also as cosmical beings, is a wellknown fact in late Judaism (Apoc. Bar. lv. 3; Ethiopic Enoch, lx. 11, lxi. Io; Col. ii. 8, 20; Gal. iv. 3). As for the word "philosophy" (ii. 8), it is not necessary to take it in the technical Greek sense when the usage of Philo and Josephus permits a looser meaning. Finally the references to circumcision, paradosis (ii. 8) and dogmata (ii. 20), directly suggest a Jewish origin. If we resort solely to Judaism for explanation, it must be a Judaism of the Diaspora type. (4) The difficulty with the lastmentioned position is that it under-estimates the speculative tendencies of the errorists and ignores the direct influence of oriental theosophy. It is quite true that Paul does not directly attack the speculative position, but rather indicates the practical dangers inherent therein (the denial of the supremacy of Christ and of full salvation through Him); he does not say that the errorists hold Christ to be a mere angel or an aeon, or that words like pleroma (borrowed perhaps from their own vocabulary) involve a rigorous dualism. Yet his characterization of the movement as an arbitrary religion (ii. 23), a philosophy which is empty deceit (ii. 8), according to elemental spirits and not according to Christ, and a higher knowledge due to a mind controlled by the flesh (ii. 18); his repeated emphasis on Christ, as supreme over all things, over men and angels, agent in creation as well as in redemption, in whom dwelt bodily the fulness of the Godhead; and his constant stress upon knowledge, - all these combine to reveal a speculation real and dangerous, even if naive and regardless of consequences, and to suggest (with Julicher and McGiffert) that in addition to Jewish influence there is also the direct influence of Oriental mysticism.

To meet the pressing need in Colossae, Paul writes a letter and entrusts it to Tychichus, who is on his way to Colossae with Onesimus, Philemon's slave (iv. 7, 9). (On the relation of this letter to Ephesians and to the letter to be sent from Laodicea to Colossae, see Ephesians, Epistle To The.) His attitude is prophylactic, rather than polemic, for the "philosophy" has not as yet taken deep root. His purpose is to restore in the hearts of the readers the joy of the Spirit, by making them see that Christ fulfils every need, and that through faith in Him and love from faith, the advance is made unimpeded unto the perfect man. He will eliminate foreign accretions, that the gospel of Christ may stand forth in its native purity, and that Christ Himself may in all things have the pre-eminence.

The letter begins with a thanksgiving to God for the spiritual growth of the Colossians, and continues with a prayer for their fuller knowledge of the divine will, for a more perfect Christian life, and for a spirit of thanksgiving, seeing that it is God who guarantees their salvation in Christ (i. 1-14). It is Christ who is supreme, not angels, for He is the agent in creation; and it is solely on the basis of faith in Him, a faith expressing itself in love, that redemption is appropriated, and not on the basis of any further requirements such as ascetic practices and the worship of angels (i. 15-23). It is with a full message that Paul has been entrusted, the message of Christ, who alone can lead to all the riches of fulness of knowledge. And for this adequate knowledge the readers should be thankful (i. 23 - ii. 7). Again he urges, that since redemption is in Christ alone, and that, too, full redemption and on the basis of faith alone, the demand for asceticism and meaningless ceremonies is folly, and moreover robs Christ, in whom dwells the divine fulness, of His rightful supremacy (ii. 8-23). And he exhorts them as members of the Body of Christ to manifest their faith in Christian love, particularly in their domestic relations and in their contact with non Christians (iii. 1 - iv. 6). He closes by saying that Tychichus will give them the news. Greetings from all to all (iv. 7-18).

A letter like this, clear cut in its thought, teeming with ideas emanating from an unique religious experience, and admirably adjusted to known situations, bears on the face of it the marks of genuineness even without recourse to the unusually excellent external attestation. It is not strange that there is a growing consensus of opinion that Paul is the author. With the critical renaissance of the early part of the 19th century, doubts were raised as to the genuineness of the letter (e.g. by E. T. Mayerhoff, 1838). Quite apart from the difficulties created by the Tubingen theory, legitimate difficulties were found in the style of the letter, in the speculation of the errorists, and in the theology of the author. (I) As to style, it is replied that if there are peculiarities in Colossians, so also in the admittedly genuine letters, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians. Moreover, if Philippians is Pauline, so also the stylistically similar Colossians (cf. von Soden). (2) As to the speculation of the errorists, it is replied that it is explicable in the lifetime of Paul, that some of the elements of it may have their source in pre-Christian Jewish theories, and that recourse to the developed gnosticism of the 2nd century is unnecessary. (3) As to the Christology of the author, it is replied that it does not go beyond what we have already in Paul except in emphasis, which itself is occasioned by the circumstances. What is implicit in Corinthians is explicit in Colossians. H. J. Holtzmann (1872) subjected both Colossians and Ephesians to a rigorous examination, and found in Colossians at least a nucleus of Pauline material. H. von Soden (1885), with well-considered principles of criticism, made a similar examination and found a much larger nucleus, and later still, (1893), in his commentary, reduced the non-Pauline material to a negligible minimum. Harnack, Julicher and McGiffert, however, agree with Lightfoot, Weiss, Zahn (and early tradition) in holding that the letter is wholly Pauline - a position which is proving more and more acceptable to contemporary scholarship.

Authorities. - In addition to the literature already mentioned, see the articles of Sanday on "Colossians" and Robertson on "Ephesians" in Smith's Bible Dictionary (2nd ed., 1893), and the article of A. Julicher on "Colossians and Ephesians" in the Encyclopaedia Biblica (1899); the Introductions of H. J. Holtzmann (1892), B. Weiss (1897), Th. Zahn (1900) and Julicher (1906); the histories of the apostolic age by C. von Weizsdcker (1892), A. C. M`Giffert (1897) and O. Pfleiderer (Urchristentum, 1902); and the commentaries of J. B. Lightfoot (1875), H. von Soden (1893) T. K. Abbott (1897), E. Haupt (1902), Peake (1903) and P. Ewald (1905). (J. E. F.)

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