Notes on the Study of Colossians; Pt. 1

secondary_series2013Colossians

A. IMPORTANCE OF THE EPISTLE

TO THE COLOSSIANS

  • Colossians is the most Christ-centered epistle in the New Testament. Colossians enables us to see clearly what it means to be in Christ. No other book is so concerned with the exaltation of Christ. With its emphasis upon the supremacy of Christ Colossians contains the very heart of the Christian message.  With the modern day pressure of non-Christian religions and of non-religious civilization, we need to see clearly the place of Jesus Christ in God’s plan. (See study H, Christ in Colossians.)
  • Colossians presents a strong criticism of the heresies current in Asia Minor in the first century. We could accurately say that the theme of the book is “Christ’s supremacy vs. Heresy.” We do need to know why some teachings are wrong, as well as why some are right. In our age with its emphasis upon ecumenicity, and its deemphasis upon fixed beliefs, we need to look again at books like Colossians, to see what the apostles of Christ really taught, and to see if we have surrendered the true foundation of Christianity. To many people today such concepts as the authority of Christ and the finality of the Christian faith are myths. The book of Colossians is a powerful rebuttal to such an attitude.

B. FACTS ABOUT THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS

  • It was written by the apostle Paul.
  • It was written from Rome, about A.D. 62/63.
  • It was delivered to the Christians in Colossae by Tychicus. (Col. 4:7)
  • Tychichus delivered the epistle to the Ephesians on the same trip during which he delivered the epistle to the Colossians, (See Eph. 6:21-22)
  • Tychichus travelled with Onesimus when he delivered the Ephesian and Colossian letters. (Col. 4:9) Onesimus was a runaway slave, who had fled from his master Philemon. Philemon lived at Colossae. Paul won Onesimus to Christ in Rome, and sent him back to his master Philemon, bearing the short letter to Philemon. (See Introductory Sections on Philemon.)
  • While Paul was in Rome he had learned from Epaphras, the preacher from Colossae, about the affairs of the Colossian church. The church there was being disturbed by false doctrines. (See Study E, The Colossian Heresy.). This was Paul’s primary reason for writing and sending the letter of Colossians.
  • “Christ’s Supremacy Vs. Heresy” is the overall theme of the epistle.
  • Some objections have been raised to Paul’s authorship of Colossians. However the book itself says that Paul wrote it, and there are no really solid grounds for objecting to Paul’s authorship.

(1) Some scholars have said that the vocabulary in Colossians includes numerous words not used elsewhere in Paul’s writings. This in true; however such other epistles of Paul as Ephesians and Romans also contain words not used elsewhere in Paul’s epistles. The reason in each case is that Paul was discussing matters not dealt with in other epistles, and hence different words were required.

(2) Also some have objected to the authorship of Paul because they feel that the false teachings condemned by Paul in Colossians are apparently Gnostic ideas, and these teachings did not become very influential until the second century (100–200 A.D.). It is true that Gnosticism reached its height in the second century, but some of the basic ideas of Gnosticism were being sown in the first century, long before they made their greatest growth in the second century. Furthermore the heresy at Colossae was by no means limited to Gnostic ideas. (See Study F, Gnosticism.)

(3) Some have further objected to Paul’s apostleship on the grounds that the theology in Colossians is too advanced to have been written in the mid-first century. These people feel that such sublime ideas as Christ’s being the creator (Col. 1:16), and the one through whom God will reconcile all things (Col. 1:20) took a long time to evolve in the thinking of the early church, and did not develop until after the time of Paul.
Those who believe that Paul received his message by revelation from God (as we do) will have no difficulty in accepting “advanced” ideas from the pens of tentmakers like Paul or fishermen like Peter. The ideas did not have to evolve in men’s thinking; God revealed them.

C. FACTS ABOUT COLOSSAE AND THE LYCUS VALLEY

  • Colossae (pronounced Ko-LOSS ee) was a city in what is now called Turkey, in Asia Minor. See map, p. x.
  • It lay about 100 miles east of Ephesus, which was on the western seacoast of Asia Minor (called Asia in New Testament times). Colossae was about 1000 miles from Rome by the route that ships had to follow.
  • Two prominent nearby cities were Laodicea and Hierapolis. (Col. 2:1; Col. 4:13; Col. 4:15-16; Rev. 3:14.)
  • Colossae straddled the Lycus river (also called the Little Meander). About twelve miles downstream lay Hierapolis and Laodicea, on opposite sides of the river, about six miles apart.
  • The Lycus river ran into the Meander river; which flowed on eastward and emptied into the Aegean Sea just beyond Ephesus.
  • The region around Colossae is very mountainous. The Cadmus range rose behind Colossae.
  • Colossae was very important in ancient times because it commanded the roads leading to the mountain passes.
  • The area of the Lycus valley was known for earthquakes. Severe earthquakes still frequently occur in Turkey.
  • The area had a rich volcanic soil. Its rich soil made sheep-raising profitable. Laodicea was famous for its production of fine woolen garments.
  • The waters of the Lycus river carried much powdered chalk. this caused several effects: (1) It deposited curious white formations and encrustations, which could be seen from far off. (2) It was not good for irrigation because it destroyed some vegetation. (3) It caused the waters of the river to be extra good for dying. The chalk in the water made the dyes take hold of fabrics well.
  • Colossae was in the ancient country of Phrygia, located in central Asia Minor. (Act. 2:10; Act. 16:16; Act. 18:23). The name Phrygia was derived from a Thracian tribe that in early times invaded and drove out (or absorbed) the earlier inhabitants (including Hittites). Many Phrygian ruins remain in the area today, including tombs bearing the names of kings Midas and Gordius.
  • The Phrygians absorbed many religious superstitions from the Asiatics they contacted. Almost every known pagan religion could be found in Phrygia. This may be the reason why the Colossian heresy was such a mixture of ideas.
  • The Phrygians were known as a lazy race, and were sometimes referred to as a race worthy only of being slaves.
  • The Syrian king Antiochus the Great imported 2000 Jewish families into Phrygia about 170 B.C. These Jews multiplied until it is estimated (by the amount of money they sent annually to the Jerusalem temple as taxes) that there were 50,000 Jews in the area in New Testament times. Paul encountered much Jewish opposition in this general area during his missionary trips. The presence of so many Jews in the area may explain why the Colossian heresy included some Jewish ideas, and also why the nearby Galatian Christians were affected by Judaism.
  • In Roman times (the New Testament period) there was no country of Phrygia as such. The land of the Phrygians had been divided to that part of it (the larger part) was in the providence of Asia and the rest in Galatia. However the line was not sharply drawn between them.
  • Also by New Testament times Colossae had dwindled in importance until it was a very insignificant city. It has been called the most insignificant city to which Paul ever wrote a letter. Hierapolis, and particularly Laodicea, had far overshadowed it. Hierapolis had a famous spa. Laodicea had become the highway center, the trade center, the center of the wool business, and the government administrative center of the district.
  • Not a trace of the city of Colossae remains visible today.

D. FACTS ABOUT THE CHURCH IN COLOSSAE

  • Paul himself had never visited Colossae or Laodicea. (Col. 2:1)
  • Possibly some Colossians were included among the Phrygians who were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when the church was established. (Act. 2:10)
  • During Paul’s third missionary journey, during which he spent three years at Ephesus, all those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of God. (Act. 19:10), Probably the effects of this ministry extended to some of the area around Colossae.
  • The Colossians had learned of Christ from a minister named Epaphras. (Col. 1:6-7)
  • Epaphras had labored in Hierapolis and Laodicea, as well as in Colossae. (Col. 4:13)
  • Apparently Epaphras was still their minister when Paul wrote the epistle to the Colossians. (Col. 1:7; Col. 4:12-13)
  • The Colossian church was mainly made up of Gentiles. (Col. 1:21; Col. 1:27; Col. 3:5-7)
  • One of the Colossian Christians was Philemon, the master of Onesimus the slave. Apparently the church in Colossae met in Philemon’s house. (Phm. 1:19)
  • The Colossian church had faith and love. (Col. 1:4; Col. 1:8). They also had order and steadfastness. (Col. 2:5)
  • The Colossian church had been infected by the many religious ideas being circulated in their area. (See Study E on the Colossian Heresy.)
  • Apparently Epaphras had gone to Rome for some cause. There he visited Paul and reported to him about the situation in Colossae. (Col. 1:7-9). Paul wrote his epistle to them following this visit of Epaphras.
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