Where the world comes to study the Bible

Colossians: Introduction, Argument, Outline

Related Media

I. Introduction

A. The Author

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.

1. External Evidence

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 ∏46, 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.”2

2. Internal Evidence

a. Arguments Against Pauline Authorship

There are two primary arguments against Pauline authorship, linguistic/literary and theological. As C. F. D. Moule stated the issue, “A decision turns largely on whether or not one can imagine the type of error implied by Colossians having appeared already in St. Paul’s lifetime, and can conceive of St. Paul dealing with it in this way and in these words.”3

1) Linguistic/Literary

a) Linguistic. Colossians betrays a different style, and a different vocabulary stock than the undisputed Pauline books. The style “is more laboured, with many more subsidiary clauses than in Paul’s earlier letters . . . ”4 Not only this, but the genitive, preposition, and participle uses are somewhat different from the undisputed books. “The general impression left by the Greek style of Colossians is that it is very ragged.”5

As for vocabulary, a number of terms are used which are not found in Paul’s undisputed letters. Further, the author leaves out major motifs which are found in the Hauptbriefe (e.g., justification by faith).

b) Literary. Mayerhoff argued that Colossians is dependent on Ephesians. Most today would argue the reverse however. But if Mayerhoff is right, then the arguments used against Ephesians’ authenticity on the basis of its dependence on Colossians could now be used against Colossians’ genuineness.

2) Theological

The basic doctrinal problem is the apparent presence of gnosticism in the Colossian church. This doctrinal problem was the main argument in Baur’s rejection of Colossians. The discussions in the letter on wisdom, philosophy, fullness, perfection, and the insistence on the incarnation of the theanthropic person all suggest that the author was fighting full-blown gnosticism.

b. Arguments for Pauline Authorship
1) Counter-Arguments

a) Linguistic/Literary.

(1) Stylistically, this epistle is indeed somewhat different from Paul’s undisputed books. But as we suggested for Ephesians, (a) a different amanuensis would account for many of the differences; and (b) if Paul wrote Ephesians first (as we suggested earlier)—at least in draft form—with its contemplative and reflective mood, employing the same kind of “more laboured” style for Colossians is what we would expect. That is to say, even though Colossians is addressed to a specific situation, the amanuensis borrowed from a draft he had been working on for some time (Ephesians), retooling the language to fit the occasion. The net result is that even though Colossians is addressed to a crisis in the church, its language looks contemplative, labored, reflective. Rather than arguing against authenticity, this actually argues for authenticity—for both Ephesians and Colossians.

(2) Regarding vocabulary, not only would a different amanuensis account for many of the differences, but also the new situation certainly would. The heresy needed to be addressed—and in terms which drove home their point. Besides this, as Thompson has rightly pointed out,

…the occurrence of new words and phrases can be a very insecure guide in deciding whether a work is written by a particular author. For example, it is difficult to judge from the amount of Paul’s writing that has survived how rich and wide his vocabulary might be. The range of a writer’s vocabulary can also be extended by his own widening experience, and new words may be brought into use in new situations.6

(3) Concerning the hypothesis of literary dependence on Ephesians—a view which most would not adopt today7—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).8

b) Theological. 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. As Guthrie rightly points out,

Too much early criticism proceeded on the unreal assumption that similar language implied identical meaning. Consequently if similar terms were found in New Testament writings and Gnostic heresies, the New Testament content was assumed to be identical with the Gnostic and those parts containing it removed to the second century. But the most important question, whether the respective authors intended them to be used in a similar sense, was bypassed . . .9

2) Positive Arguments for Authenticity

a) The Relation of Colossians to Ephesians. First, if Ephesians is genuine, then Colossians must also be genuine, in spite of the protests of Synge and Mayerhoff. Scholars who reject Ephesians almost always do so because they accept Colossians. And the vast bulk of scholars, if they are to reject one, reject Ephesians. Yet, if Ephesians is genuine (admittedly our arguments are more labored for its authenticity), then Colossians must be too. Second, even on the assumption that Ephesians is not genuine, this is a strong argument for authenticity for Colossians. For if Ephesians were written by c. 90 CE (as the critical assessment suggests), and if it used Colossians by far more than any other Pauline letter, Colossians must have existed some time before this date. Yet, if so, 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.

b) The Relation of Colossians to Philemon. “The strongest arguments in support of its authenticity are the indisputable nature of the external evidence and the inseparable connection of the epistle with Philemon.”11 Guthrie summarizes the relationship nicely:

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.

B. Place of Origin

The traditional view that this letter was written while Paul was in a Roman prison has been assailed from two corners: some claim Ephesus is a better starting point, others suggest Caesarea. Before deciding on this issue, it must first be recognized that, on the assumption of authenticity, where Paul was when he wrote Ephesians is where he was when he wrote Colossians and Philemon. This can be seen by several pieces of evidence: (1) the commendation of Tychicus, as the bearer of the letter, found in exactly the same form in both Eph 6:21-22 and Col 4:7-8, surely indicates that he was sent with both epistles at the same time; (2) the strong verbal overlap between Colossians and Ephesians must, if authentic, indicate that the two were written at the same time; (3) Colossians is inseparable from Philemon—that is, they must both have been sent at the same time. Hence, all three letters were written and sent at the same time. Consequently, if there is anything in either Colossians or Philemon which helps to narrow down where Paul was imprisoned at the time of writing, such would equally apply to Ephesians.

1. Caesarea

A Caesarean imprisonment is improbable for two reasons: (1) Onesimus, the runaway slave, would hardly have gone to Caesarea. Not only would he not have escaped notice as easily, but he would most likely not have had very good access to Paul. In Rome, however, Paul was under house arrest and had relatively free mobility.13 (2) In Phm 22 Paul requests Philemon to prepare lodging for him, in anticipation of his release. This would hardly be the case in Caesarea, however, for Paul appealed to Caesar, prolonging his imprisonment by more than two more years.

2. Ephesus

On behalf of Ephesus are two arguments (both negative in character): (1) the great distance between Rome and Colossae (1200 miles each way) suggests that Onesimus would hardly have made the journey; it would be easier for him to travel to a nearby city; (2) in Phm 22 Paul asks Philemon to prepare him lodging, suggesting that he intended on returning to Asia Minor after his release. But he had written the Romans a few years earlier of his plan on going westward, even to Spain (cf. Rom 1:10ff; 15:19ff.). It should be noted that both of these arguments only help an Ephesian imprisonment, not a Caesarean (because Caesarea is far from Asia Minor and because Asia Minor would conceivably be en route to Rome and Spain from Caesarea).

In response: (1) There is just as much likelihood that Onesimus would want to travel to Rome, because it was far away as Ephesus because it was close by—especially since he robbed Philemon, giving himself travel funds.14 Not only this, but he would surely have been detected in Ephesus by other Christians, perhaps even by some of Paul’s traveling companions. But whether he would have been able to visit Paul before being detected is doubtful. (2) Paul could easily have changed his mind about going to Spain, or he might have wished to visit his friends in Asia Minor before journeying westward—especially to gain emotional strength after having suffered imprisonment for several years.

Not only this, but an Ephesian imprisonment is improbable: (1) We have no positive evidence that Paul was ever imprisoned in Ephesus. (2) If the “in Ephesus” in Eph 1:1 is original, then this view is almost impossible; even if not original, there is the strong possibility that Ephesians was sent to the churches in Asia Minor (with Ephesus being the port of entry, giving cause for the traditional view). And if so, then Paul most likely was elsewhere when all three letters were sent.

3. Rome

Both because of Paul’s known imprisonment in Rome, and because of the tradition of a Roman imprisonment for these letters,15 the burden of proof must rest with a non-Roman origin. As we have seen, the arguments against the Roman theory are not convincing. On behalf of Rome, however, is an important internal clue: Luke is with Paul during his imprisonment (Col 4:14; Phm 24). Luke’s presence with Paul is supported by Acts while Paul was in Rome, “whereas the Ephesian ministry of Paul does not occur in a ‘we’ section and it may reasonably be doubted whether Luke was with Paul during this period.”16

In conclusion, the traditional view that Paul was in Rome when he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, is still the most reasonable view.

C. Date

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.

D. Destination

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).

E. Occasion and Purpose

1. Historical Reconstruction

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).

2. Method of Composition

While Paul was sitting in prison, contemplating his upcoming trial and potential work in the west, he began formulating some parting comments to make to the churches of Asia Minor. As he dialogued with his amanuensis over its contents, a rough draft of Ephesians was probably put together in outline form. The amanuensis then began to fill in the details.

Then, startling news from the east came: there was a new heresy in Colossae which was infecting the church there. At about the same time, Onesimus appeared before Paul with his confession of abandoning and robbing his owner, Philemon.

At this juncture, Paul decided several things: (1) write to the Colossians with appropriate warnings, though taking the material mostly from a letter which already addressed some of the very same issues in a larger perspective; (2) write to Philemon, urging him to take Onesimus back, as a freeman—and even to prepare a room for the apostle himself; (3) finish the letter to all the churches in Asia Minor and have it sent with the other two letters.

If this reconstruction is correct, it fits several pieces of the puzzle: (1) the reason Ephesians looks so much like Colossians is because one letter was intentionally used as the basis for the other, with some necessary modifications made to fit the occasion. (2) The reason Ephesians does not look like the rest of Paul’s letters (except Colossians) in style or vocabulary is because (in part) it was done as a contemplative piece, originally intending to be something of a swan song, summing up Paul’s theology for the churches in Asia. (3) Since Colossians is an occasional letter, written with some urgency, the only way for a contemplative letter like Ephesians to have been sent at the same time is for Ephesians to have been written (at least in draft form) prior to Colossians. (4) When Paul learned of the new influx of heresy he changed his plans of going westward and decided to visit Asia one more time. This would not alter the fact that Ephesians was intended to be a reflective summary of his theology, but the initial occasion for the writing of Ephesians was a short-lived one which evaporated with news from Colossae.

3. Occasion/Purpose

Colossians was written explicitly to combat the heresy that had arisen in Colossae and was threatening the life of the church. It was occasioned, as we have argued, by news brought by Epaphroditus. But rather than sending Epaphroditus back, a fresh courier, Tychicus, was dispatched. He took along with him Onesimus and, after visiting Ephesus and depositing Paul’s circular letter there, he went straight to Colossae.

F. The Opponents in Colossae

One of the difficulties in trying to reconstruct the heresy which plagued the Colossian church is that we only have Paul’s response to it; that is, we do not have a record of Epaphroditus’ report. The difficulty in determining what the heresy looked like is akin to listening to one half of a telephone conversation—or worse, reading someone else’s mail when that person is writing a response. Consequently, any reconstruction must be quite tentative—and for this reason to deny apostolic authorship on the basis of what the heresy must have looked like is going far beyond the data.

In spite of this, we can see traces of several tenets of this heresy in Paul’s response: (1) a defective Christology, especially in denying his humanity (a docetic tendency) (cf. 2:9), but apparently not subscribing to his full deity either (cf. 1:15ff.); (2) its philosophic character (“fullness,” “knowledge” etc. are terms which seem to be used in Colossians as buzz words—i.e., to reveal its nature) (cf. 1:19; 2:3); (3) its Jewishness, with an emphasis on circumcision (2:11; 3:11) and traditions (2:8); (4) its asceticism (2:21-23).

All of these data suggest that “the heresy was of [a] syncretistic Jewish-Gnosticizing type.”23 From this it certainly cannot be concluded that the heresy was full-blown gnosticism, such as is found in the second century.24 Further, in light of its strong Jewish element (which is not surprising given the large Jewish population in the Lycus Valley), “it seems undeniable that the heresy in question is closer to Essenism than to developed second-century Gnosticism”25—or, in the least, some form of Jewish asceticism wedded to Greek (Stoic?) philosophy.

G. The Letter from Laodicea

Although not commonly held nowadays, we have already argued that the letter referred to in Col 4:16 is not lost, but may well be the letter to the Ephesians.26

H. Theme

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


II. Argument

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.


III. Outline

I. Salutation (1:1-2)

II. Orthodoxy: The Sufficiency of Christ Explained (1:3–2:7)

A. Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Colossians (1:3-14)

1. Thanksgiving  for the Colossians’ Faith (1:3-8)

2. Prayer for the Colossians’ Knowledge and Growth (1:9-14)

B. Hymn to Christ the Lord (1:15-20)

C. Affirmation of Christ the Reconciler (1:21-23)

D. Paul’s Commission concerning the Mystery of Christ (1:24–2:7)

1. Paul’s Past Labors Aimed at Perfection in Christ (1:24-29)

2. Paul’s Present Concern regarding Defection from Christ (2:1-7)

III. Heterodoxy: The Sufficiency of Christ Denied (2:8–3:4)

A. The Sufficiency of Christ Restated (2:8-15)

1. Statement against Heretics (2:8)

2. Restatement of Christ’s Sufficiency (2:9-15)

a. Christ our Authority (2:9-10)

b. Christ our Power (2:11-12)

c. Christ our Victor (2:13-15)

B. The Colossians’ Practices as a Denial of the Sufficiency of Christ (2:16-19)

C. The Colossians’ Practices as a Contradiction of their Corporate Life in Christ (2:20–3:4)

1. Death with Christ Means Death to Human Regulations (2:20-23)

2. Resurrection with Christ Means New Perspective (3:1-4)

IV. Orthopraxy: The Sufficiency of Christ Experienced (3:5–4:6)

A. Experienced Individually (3:5-17)

1. Negative: Putting off the Old Man (3:5-11)

2. Positive: Putting on the New Man (3:12-17)

B. Experienced in the Home (3:18–4:1)

1. Wives and Husbands (3:18-19)

2. Children and Parents (3:20-21)

3. Slaves and Masters (3:22–4:1)

C. Experienced in Relation to Others (4:2-6)

1. In Relation to Paul (4:2-4)

2. In Relation to Unbelievers (4:5-6)

V. Final Greetings (4:7-18)

A. Commendation of Tychicus (4:7-9)

B. Greetings from Paul’s Co-Workers (4:10-14)

C. Greetings from Paul (4:15-18)


1See our discussion in the introduction to 2 Peter for discussion of this article.

2C. Vaughan, Colossians (EBC), 164.

3C. F. D. Moule, Colossians and Philemon, 13.

4Guthrie, 574-75.

5G. H. P. Thompson, Colossians (Cambridge Bible Commentary), 106.

6Thompson, Colossians, 105.

7But cf. F. C. Synge, Philippians and Colossians, 51-57.

8For detailed argumentation, see our introduction to Ephesians. What may be of interest to note is that in our reconstruction Ephesians actually did come first (at least in draft form), and to this extent Synge’s criticism that Colossians is but a pale reflection of Ephesians has some warrant. But if Colossians can be established on other grounds, this equally argues that Ephesians is authentic, too.

9Guthrie, 575, n. 4.

10Though I have not seen this argument in print, I find it quite compelling. The author of Ephesians becomes the first one to use Colossians and must therefore be added to the external testimony. Not only this, but all the external testimony on behalf of Ephesians can now, indirectly, be used on behalf of Colossians. And to suppose that the author of Ephesians can now, indirectly, be used on behalf of Colossians. And to suppose that the author of Ephesians did not think that Colossians was authentic is to ruin the entire raison d’être for his letter—viz., to pass it off as authentic. Further, to argue that the church later canonized Colossians because of its similarity to Ephesians finds no parallel in the early church: this would be similar to saying that Jude was written by Peter since (as it has been assumed) Jude is used by 2 Peter—yet the authorship of Jude has never been questioned on that score.

In the mid-80s Prof. Ernest Best came to Dallas Seminary and addressed the NT doctoral students. His message was an exegesis  of Ephesians 2:1-10 (as part of his then forthcoming commentary) in which he argued, among other things, that on the basis of stylistic considerations and dependence on Colossians, Paul could not have written Ephesians. In the discussion afterward it was pointed out that if Ephesians is a forgery, it is unparalleled in that it relies almost exclusively on one Pauline epistle—and a not-too-well-known one at that. To this, Prof. Best replied that Colossians may well be a forgery as well. It would seem that our cirticism above would nullify Prof. Best’s views to a large degree, for he wants to have his cake and eat it too.

11Guthrie, 576.

12Guthrie, 576-77.

13Cf. Guthrie, 577.

14Cf. Guthrie, 578.

15Marcion’s Prologue places Paul in Ephesus for the writing of Colossians, but it places him in Rome for the writing of Philemon. Yet, since both of these must surely have been written at the same time, Marcion can only be half right. The rest of the external testimony puts Paul in Rome for the writing of these epistles.

16Guthrie, 579.

17Analogous to Silas/Silvanus, Simeon/Simon, etc. Cf. BAGD, 283-84.

18It is of course equally possible that Epaphroditus began his journey from Colossae and, en route, went to Philippi. That the Philippians do not seem to know him as well—nor to desire him (for they wanted Timothy to return)—seems obvious from Phil 2. All this would argue that he began his journey in Colossae. Further, to go to Colossae from Philippi is to go away from Rome. Yet, two points argue that Epaphroditus began the trip to Rome in Philippi: (1) The problem in Philippi, though important, was not nearly as urgent as the heresy sprouting in Colossae. If Epaphroditus began in Colossae, would he linger in Philippi, with such a pressing need in Colossae? (2) In Phil 2:25ff. Paul is clearly sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi. The text does not sound as if he is merely a messenger, but that he is to take up (or resume) ministerial duties in Philippi. Most likely, then, though Epaphroditus established the church at Colossae, he, like several assistants of Paul, took on the role of itinerant pastor and simply plugged the gap where necessary.

19More than likely, Onesimus arrived some time before Epaphroditus did, for he was able to return to Colossae as soon as Paul penned his letters. Presumably, one would normally have to rest for a few weeks after such a long and arduous journey.

20Phil 2:19-20 suggests both that Timothy was needed in Paul’s dark hour and that several of his friends had deserted him. It is doubtful that Luke had deserted him (since he seems to be in Rome at the end of Paul’s imprisonment according to the Acts record), though he may have been involved in the trial preparations too much to spend time with Paul. But Demas apparently had deserted Paul, unless this desertion came later (cf. 2 Tim. 4:10).

21This is not to say that the heretics mentioned in 3:2 were not an urgent matter. Rather, a careful reading of Philippians suggests that these heretics had not yet infiltrated the church. Paul, then, is writing a preemptive warning in Philippians, while in Colossians he is addressing a heresy which had already taken root.

22That his illness occurred after Colossians and Philemon had been sent is obvious from the fact that no mention of it is made in those letters, even though he is mentioned.

23Guthrie, 569.

24R. McL. Wilson argues that “a considerable leap of faith is involved in the assumption that these pre-Christian ideas already carried with them the full implicaitons of the alleged Gnostic Redeemer-myth” (cited in Guthrie, 569, n. 2).

25Guthrie, 570.

26Cf. our introduction to Ephesians for discussion.

27It is equally possible to begin the body of this epistle at 1:15, since 1:3-14 involve Paul’s usual thanksgiving and prayer. However, since this section is so integral to the theme of this epistle, it was considered more appropriate to begin the body at 1:3.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines