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NT Survey 111 Seminar 13 Colossians

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                                     29th June 2007

New Testament Survey NTES 111

Seminar 13


The Epistle to the Colossians

Irving L. Jensen Jensen’s Survey of the New Testament 1981, Moody Press, Chicago Ch 16

Libronix DLS

Guthrie, Donald  New Testament Introduction  Apollos, Leicester, England 4th Ed  1990 Ch 15

Discuss the origin and occasion of the Church:

There is no doubt from Acts 19:10 and 26 that during Paul’s ministry at Ephesus on the third journey (52-55 AD), over a space of more than two years, “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks”.

During this time three Churches (amongst others) were established in the Lycus Valley of Phrygia (Colossians 4:13: Hierapolis, Laodicea and Colossae). Perhaps Epaphras (see below) was converted under Paul’s ministry at Ephesus during this period and subsequently evangelised this valley.

            “A significant feature of the Lycus valley cities, including presumably Colossae, was the presence of a substantial Jewish minority.”[1]  “In the same connection we should note that residents of Asia and Phrygia are reported among the crowd gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:9–10,” [2] indicating a free communication between the Jews of Canaan and Asia, facilitated by the good roads and the extensive trade; a natural route for Paul to take on his land missionary journeys through Ephesus, although the three cities of the Lycus Valley are not mentioned in Acts at all.

            Two verses in Colossians imply that Paul had never personally visited them (1:4, 4:2) although that does not mean that he did not pass through at any time. Others under the patronage of Paul appear to be more “hands on” regarding church establishment there (see below).

            From 500 years BC Colossae was “the great city of Phrygia” but when the trade route between Ephesus and the Euphrates was diverted away from Colossae its importance rapidly diminished, so that in Paul’s day it was a small place (Jensen p 336), while Laodicea, still on the route, grew (ibid Map U).

            Epaphras, Paul’s “dear fellowservant” (Colossians 1:7) and a member of the congregation at Colossae (4:12-13), may have established or have been the original appointed pastor to the Colossian Church (and founded the churches at Laodicea and Hierapolis? 4:13), although it is likely that at the time of writing this letter, Epaphras was with Paul (in Rome - Colossians 1:8, 4:12) and in the same prison (Philemon 23)! This is supported by 4:17 and Philemon 2 which suggest that at writing, Archippus was on the ground as the Colossian pastor and that they were meeting in Philemon’s house in Colossae.



Analyse the heresy dealt with in the epistle:

            Epaphras has reported to Paul in Rome (in spite of the risk of his own imprisonment) the love of the Colossians in the Spirit (1:8) but also their heresies (2:8-23) presumably because he needed Paul’s advice about them. The subtlety of heresy and the assumed humility of heretics is often difficult to combat:

  • Judaistic traditional legalism involving the significance of circumcision (2:11; 3:11), ceremonial ordinances (2:14), food, drink, special days (2:16)
  • A severe asceticism (2:16, 20-23) which was supposed to allow the evil influence of the flesh to fall away and cause the unfettered mind to reach up to God (Gnosticism). Paul opposes this by a statement on the superiority/pre-eminence/fullness of Christ (1:15-19) ie no need to be ascetic, Christ has already totally achieved communion with God for you. In any case, asceticism has no power to stop self-indulgence (2:23)
  • Worship of angels (2:18) - not Christ, ‘because He had emptied himself of holiness in order to come down to earth, thus making angels His superiors’ (from Jensen Chart 89 p 343). Guthrie states: “It was the direct result of Jewish transcendental theology, which demanded an efficient mediatorial system to bridge the ever-widening gap between man and God.”[3] Guthrie also mentions that this “would have been strongly resisted by orthodox Jews with their tenacious monotheism.”[4] In other words, worship of angels as pushed by Jews would be a significant departure from their traditional theology.
  • Glorification and worship of human knowledge (2:8) ‘for this was the only way that man could claw his way up to God’ (as in our current  rationalism/humanism/New Age/evolutionary philosophies attempt to do)

Guthrie makes an argument for the source of these heresies as a  syncretism between Judaism and the local Asian idolatries which is perhaps not unreasonable,[5] but he also puts a case for Iranian, Phrygian and Essenic roots. It would seem that the origins of the heresies, while of academic interest, have little bearing on the Holy Spirit’s need to inspire Paul to write and correct them.

Paul is immediately concerned by the situation and he demolishes these beliefs by emphatically restating the truth about Christ in His Person and Work eg 2:2, 5-7, 9-15, 17, 19-20. A summary of this restatement is in the key verse 3:11:  “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”[6] Paul has also reminded his readers that the intention of God is to present “every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (1:28); all they have to do, now that they have “received Christ Jesus the Lord” (2:6), is let Him.



Interpret purpose and authenticity:

            The purpose of the writing of this letter is well represented by 3:11 “but Christ is all, and in all”. Paul is writing about a Person - the Christ - not a religion or philosophy or creed. The heresy of the false teachers is destroyed by preaching the deity of Christ, the efficacy of His death on the Cross, the power of His resurrection, His sovereignty and Lordship, and His current intercession for each one before the Father (from Jensen p 338). When these truths are compared with the weaknesses of the heretical teachings, their impotence is revealed.

            Paul states these facts with boldness and positivity from a position of spiritual maturity and authority as an apostle; but he combines this with a tone of compassion as he “breathes the spirit of tender love and joy in the midst of sorrow and affliction” (Jensen p 339).

            Jensen simply accepts Pauline authorship on the basis of Colossians 1:1, with which I agree. Guthrie opens with “Although most scholars accept the genuineness of this epistle, there are some who do not, and the problems must consequently be briefly stated”. [7] Why? The only justification for such a digression is to massage the egos of those involved.


Articulate place and date of writing of the epistle:

            As with Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon - Paul’s place of writing is from Rome during his first Roman imprisonment about 61 AD (Jensen Chart 1 p 20). Tychicus bore Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, Epaphroditus to the Philippians, and Onesimus to the Colossians (with Tychicus) and the letter to Philemon.

            Guthrie explores the same issues regarding Ephesian and Caesarean imprisonments for the place of writing as he has previously (Seminars 11 and 12, Ephesians and Philippians) and the movements of Epaphras and Onesimus as they seek to find Paul. No new data is offered and he eventually sides with the probability of the traditional view - the period of house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30) during the first Roman detention about 61 AD.



Critique the epistle’s introduction 1:1-12:

            1:1-2 Paul addresses this letter “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae”. This is specific and does not allow for speculation as to addressee, but Paul goes on to ask them to have this letter read at the Church in Laodicea (4:16) as well. Hierapolis is not included in this. It is not clear what Paul is referring to by “the epistle from Laodicea” in the same verse, but presumably it was written by Paul or at least came with his approval. There is no evidence suggesting that Paul was/was not ever in Laodicea.

            It should be noted that Paul’s concern for Laodicea was no less than his concern for Colossae (2:1) with regard to the heresies that troubled the region (but Hierapolis is again omitted. Why?). This concern does not entirely explain the letter from (ek = ‘out of’) Laodicea. Neither Jensen nor Guthrie have anything useful to add. Discuss.

            Timothy is included in his greeting although there is neither further mention of him nor of a potential ministry for him at Colossae in the rest of the letter. This is not the pattern followed in the letters to Corinth, Philippi or Thessalonica (1 Thess) in each of which Timothy is included in the greeting and has a subsequent ministry. In common with Colossians, 2 Thessalonians and Philemon, Timothy is also included in the greeting but has no other mention. So why mention him at all? Discuss 

            It should also be noted in these two verses that Paul encourages the Colossians to have grace and peace from God, without any hint in the whole of the first chapter that there are issues about them that weigh heavily on his mind. Perhaps he is preparing them for the solution to what must follow.

            1:3-12 Jensen divides this passage into 1:3-8 ‘Thanksgiving’ and 1:9-12  ‘Intercession’ without further elaboration.

            Guthrie surmises on the basis of 1:7-8 that thanksgiving to God is due on account of Epaphras’ ministry there.[8]

            1:9-12 is a powerful intercessory prayer of Paul’s on behalf of the Colossians that they would focus on God the Father, as a necessary preparation for receiving the criticisms of their heretical doctrines to follow.


Examine the Person and Work of Christ 1:13-2:3:

            This passage exalts the Lord Jesus as God and Saviour, a positive position that displaces any angel or doctrine from being superior to Him.

            The key verse here is 1:17: “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”[9] The Greek word translated “before” is pro in the sense of ‘above’, and the English “consist” is the Greek sunistemi which implies a setting or bringing together ie in the sense of creating. Sunistemi is in the perfect, active, indicative showing that the creation is a once-off completed action; it is not in the present tense which might suggest a continuously necessary action on God’s part.

However I agree with Jensen’s suggestion (p 342 see footnote 3) that the fundamental of all physical matter, the atom and its parts, are held together by the continuing power of God, for there is no good scientific reason why they should not fly apart. This point of view is better expressed by Hebrews 1:3 (“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;”[10] “Upholding” is present tense, active, participle, corresponding well with the concept of Christ constantly ‘bearing’ the creation.

If it be objected that the parts of the atom are held in place by centrifugal forces and mutually attractive charges, etc, then this is a good sequential logical argument for the existence of the First Cause. Discuss? It may also logically follow that ‘splitting’ the atom is releasing the power placed within it by God.

It must be remembered that it is also the spiritual realm that is ‘consisted’ and ‘upheld’ by the power of God - even sinners and fallen angels owe their continued existence to Him (not that the saved have any innate reason to deserve this).

Guthrie’s summary of this section is useful and is reproduced in full:

“A positive statement (1:13–2:7)

Before dealing with the false teaching which was affecting the church at Colossae, Paul presents his doctrine positively and makes the following assertions about Christ.

1. Through him comes deliverance and redemption for sinners (1:13–14).

2. He is described as ‘the image of the invisible God’ (1:15).

3. He is the Source and Upholder of the material creation (1:16–17).

4. He is Head of the church, the spiritual creation, and by virtue of the indwelling fullness of the Godhead he has become the Reconciler of all things to himself (1:18–20).

5. What he has done for the universe he has done for the Colossian Christians. They have been reconciled through Christ in order to be presented without fault to God. Paul’s own ministry consists, in fact, in proclaiming this gospel of hope. It involves suffering for Christ’s sake, but he would nevertheless toil with all his energy to preach this open mystery of the indwelling Christ (1:21–29).

6. The readers, together with the Laodicians (sic) and all others who have not seen Paul’s face but who possess knowledge of this mystery, are exhorted to be firmly established in the faith (2:1–7).”[11]



Survey the heresies that are exposed in 2:4-3:4:

            See above.

            Paul has specific individuals in mind as he describes their detrimental effects on the congregation at Colossae (2:4, 8, 16) but does not name them.

            The fundamental of these heresies is the ‘great gulf’ problem (Jensen Chart 89 p 343) and was an expression of the impediments of the world (2:20-23), the flesh (2:8, 14, 18) and Satan (2:15) on man’s relationship with God, all of which are conquered by the relationship which Christ’s death and resurrection provide for free (2:5-7, 9-15).

            Guthrie errs by stating “Since the believer’s life is hidden with Christ in God, the aspirations of his mind must be focused on higher things in harmony with his Lord”[12]  as if it were possible that human effort achieved divine results. Christ is not on my team; I am on His.


Survey Christian living in personal life 3:5-17:

            Jensen summarises so far (p 344): Paul has dealt with true doctrine (1:3-2:3), false doctrine (2:4-3:4) and now turns to the practical application of both of these in 3:5-4:6:

  • Christian living in personal life (3:5-17)
  • Christian living in domestic life (3:18-4:1)
  • Christian living in relation to the world (4:2-6).

Colossians 3:1-4 are a restatement of the “know, reckon, yield” of Romans 6 and therefore the instructions of Colossians 3:5-17 to put off the old, put on the new “and above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (3:14) are similar to the Roman instructions to lead a mature and growing personal Christian life in faith. Multiple other qualities are to be pursued eg mortify your members as they push us toward disobedience (3:5), cast off any expression of named sin (3:8-9), and put on Godly qualities (3:12-17).



Explain Christian living in domestic life 3:18-4:1:

            The foregoing principles have laid the bases for domestic life and relationships. There are instructions for wives and husbands (vv 18-19), children and their relationship to their fathers (vv 20-21), servants ie employees (vv 22-25) and masters ie employers (4:1). This has already been covered in detail under Ephesians 5:22-6:9 in NTES 111 Seminar 11 pp 8-9.




Evaluate Christian living in relationship to the world 4:2-6:

            A Christian is encouraged to show prayerfulness with thanksgiving (4:2), intercession for opportunities to share the Gospel (4:3), with clarity (4:4), wisely approaching the unsaved without wasting anybody’s time (4:5), and using grace but speaking the truth in love to achieve effective communication (4:6).



Outline what is Christian fellowship 4:7-18:

            As Jensen points out, the word ‘fellow’ in this passage is compounded so that it has multiple meanings and applications. In 4:7 Tychicus is described as ‘fellowservant’ ie ‘one who serves the same master with another’.

            In 4:10 it is ‘fellowprisoner’, and in 4:11 ‘fellowworker’ all of which are different Greek words fleshing out the meaning of the relationship between Christian workers who are actively focused together on God’s goals. This focus flows from the fundamentals of a saved relationship with Christ - previous death (2:20), and current resurrection (3:1):

  • Colossians 2:20 “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ……..”[13]
  • Colossians 3:1 “If ye then be risen with Christ…….”[14]

In this passage Paul expresses Christian fellowship without mentioning it as a subject. He uses the whole as an example of how fellowship should operate. This involves close communication in all Godly matters, the praising of those who have done well, the greetings of those especially wishing to be remembered, the recommendation of named workers who may come to visit personally, the ministries of prayer and intercession, greetings to common acquaintances and fellow saints, and encouragement to specific officers who have difficult jobs.




[1]James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon : A Commentary on the Greek Text, 21 (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996).

[2]ibid 22

[3]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 568 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).

[4]ibid 567

[5]ibid 570

[6]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

[7]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 572 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).

[8]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 582 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).

[9]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

[10] ibid

[11]Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, Series taken from jacket., 4th rev. ed., The master reference collection, 582 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, c1990).

[12]ibid 583

[13]  The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

[14] ibid

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