Study of Colossians



Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul and is usually dated between A.D. 60 and 61, perhaps even as late as A.D. 62. Colossians was one of four New Testament epistles penned by Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome. These four, which are known as the Prison Epistles, include Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written at the same time and were carried to their destinations by the same individuals; whereas, Philippians was written at a different time.

Although Paul had not proclaimed the gospel in Colosse, he was familiar with what had taken place there. A man named Epaphras had brought news to Paul about the situation in Colosse. At the time Paul wrote Colossians, Epaphras was with him in Rome and is mentioned as sending greetings to the believers in Colosse. He is described as one of you, which suggests that he was from Colosse or that he had at least lived there for some time. Similarly, in Colossians 4:9; Onesimus is also described as being one of you, and it is clear that he had been a slave belonging to Philemon who lived in Colosse. Although he may not have been a native of Colosse, he had at least lived there for a while. How or where Epaphras met Paul and how or where Epaphras was saved is not clear and is open to speculation. Colossians 4:12-13 says,

(12) Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

(13) For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

It appears that Epaphras had recently visited Colosse and brought word to Paul regarding things which were taking place there. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:3-9,

(3) We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

(4) Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

(5) For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

(6) Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

(7) As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;

(8) Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

(9) For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

Paul was delighted to hear of their salvation and of their love in the Holy Spirit, but he was apparently concerned about the effects of false teaching in Colosse and prayed that they might be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

It appears that as a result of Epaphras' report to Paul, Colossians was written to counteract the dangers of this Gnostic heresy.

Gnosticism took a number of different forms, but the various groups of Gnostics had a common belief that all matter was evil and that only that which was spirit was good. This heretical thinking came into conflict with Christianity in beliefs regarding the creation and the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It also resulted in extremes of behavior in asceticism, antinomianism, and licentiousness. John dealt with its effect on the person of Christ in his writings, and Jude dealt with its resultant licentiousness in his epistle. In addition, a Jewish element was mixed with Gnosticism in Colossians.

How could a holy God create matter which was evil? In Gnostic thinking, He could not. Therefore, they believed that He created a being who was slightly less god than He was. This emanation or angelic being then created a second being who was slightly less god than he was. This second emanation or angelic being created a third emanation or angelic being who was slightly less god than he was, and this process continued on and on until eventually there was a being who was so far removed from being God that he could create matter without contaminating God. Christ is viewed by these heretics as one of these angelic beings, somewhere in the middle between God and man. This christ was not God but was instead a created being who had a beginning in time. He was not the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune Godhead.

According to the Gnostics, humanity could not approach God directly but had to approach Him through this angelic hierarchy. Likewise, God had to approach humanity by going through this angelic hierarchy. Therefore, it was necessary for mankind to worship these angelic beings in an apparent attempt to remain on good terms with them.

Asceticism was also practiced in Colosse in that some would deny themselves any and all physical pleasures in order to make themselves holy. This is reminiscent of the modern practice of Lent during which people afflict themselves to make themselves holy. In Colossians 2:18-21 Paul wrote,

(18) Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

(19) And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

(20) Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

(21) (Touch not; taste not; handle not;

(22) Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

(23) Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

Others went to the opposite extreme and threw off all restraints against sin (antinomianism), believing it to be all right to practice all kinds of sin (licentiousness) since it was only the body which was already wicked in and of itself. Jude deals with this aspect of Gnosticism.

A Jewish element was found in the Gnosticism found in Colosse. Paul referred to the Jewish element in 2:16,

(16) Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.

Whether the situation in Colosse with the Gnostic heresy or the return of Onesimus to Philemon was the main reason both Colossians and Philemon were sent at this time is not clear. Either one could have been the main reason and the other a secondary reason.

An Outline of Colossians

Introduction - 1:1-14

A. Paul's greeting - 1:1-2

B. Paul's thanksgiving for the Colossian believers - 1:3-8

C. Paul's prayer for the Colossian believers - 1:9-14

I. The truth of the person and work of Christ versus the Colossian heresy - 1:15 - 2:23

A. The pre-eminence of Christ - 1:15 - 2:3

1. Christ is the image of the invisible God - 1:15

2. Christ is the firstborn of every creature - 1:15

3. Christ is the creator of all things - 1:16

4. All things were created for Christ - 1:16

5. Christ is before all things - 1:17

6. By Christ all things consist - 1:17

7. Christ is the head of the body, the church - 1:18

8. Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead - 1:18

9. Christ is pre-eminent in all things - 1:18

10. In Christ all fulness dwells - 1:19

11. Christ has reconciled the Colossian believers - 1:20-23a

12. Paul's ministry on behalf of the pre-eminent Christ - 1:23b - 2:2

a. Paul is a minister of Jesus Christ on behalf of the Colossian believers - 1:23b-29

b. Paul has great conflict for the Colossian believers and others - 2:1-2

13. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge - 2:3

B. The Colossian believers must abide in the truths they have been taught - 2:4-15

1. Beware lest any man beguile you with enticing words - 2:4-5

2. As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him - 2:6-7

3. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit - 2:8

4. In Christ dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily - 2:9

5. You are complete in Christ, the head of all principality and power - 2:10

6. You are circumcised in Christ - 2:11

7. You are buried with Christ in baptism and also risen with Him - 2:12

8. You have been made alive together with Christ and forgiven all trespasses - 2:13

9. The law has been removed and nailed to Christ's cross - 2:14

10. Christ has despoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, and triumphed over them in His cross - 2:15

C. Warnings against the false teachings in Colosse - 2:16-23

1. Legalistic prohibitions - 2:16-17

2. Angel worship - 2:18-19

3. Asceticism - 2:20-23

II. The implications of Christ's person and work for believers - 3:1 - 4:6

A. Seek those things which are above - 3:1-4

B. Put off things characteristic of the old sin nature - 3:5-11

C. Put on things characteristic of the new, Christlike nature - 3:12-17

D. Household relationships - 3:18 - 4:1

1. The duties of wives and husbands to each other - 3:18-19

2. The duties of children and parents to each other - 3:20-21

3. The duties of servants and masters to each other - 3:22 - 4:1

E. Concluding exhortations - 4:2-6

1. Continue in prayer - 4:2

2. Watch in prayer with thanksgiving - 4:2

3. Pray for us - 4:3-4

4. Walk in wisdom toward unbelievers - 4:5

5. Redeem the time - 4:5

6. Use graceful speech, seasoned with salt - 4:6

Conclusion - 4:7-18

A. Tychicus and Onesimus - 4:7-9

B. Greetings from Paul's fellow laborers - 4:10-14

C. Greetings and blessings from Paul - 4:15-18