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Bible Commentaries

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

- Colossians

by Adam Clarke

Preface to the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians

Colosse, or rather Colassa, (see on Colossians 1:1 (note)), was a city of Phrygia Pacatiana, now a part of Natolia, in Asia Minor, seated on an eminence on the south side of the river Maeander, now Meinder, near to the place where the river Lycas enters the earth, and begins to run under ground, which course it continues for about three-quarters of a mile, before it emerges and falls into the Maeander. Of this ancient city not much is known: it was situated between Laodicea and Hierapolis, and at an equal distance from either; and to this place Xerxes came in his expedition against Greece.

The government of this city is said to have been democratic, and its first magistrate bore the title of archon and praetor. The Macedonians transferred Colosse to the Persians; and it afterwards passed under the government of the Seleucidae. After the defeat of Antiochus III., at the battle of Magnesia, it became subject to Eumenes, king of Pergamus: and when Attalus, the last of his successors, bequeathed his dominions to the Romans, this city, with the whole of Phrygia, formed a part of the proconsular province of Asia; which division subsisted till the time of Constantine the Great. After the time of this emperor, Phrygia was divided into Phrygia Pacatiana, and Phrygia Salutaris: and Colosse was the sixth city of the first division.

The ancient city of Colosse has been extinct for nearly eighteen hundred years; for about the tenth year of the Emperor Nero, about a year after the writing of this epistle, not only Colosse, but Laodicea and Hierapolis, were destroyed by an earthquake, according to Eusebius; and the city which was raised in the place of the former was called Chonos or Konos, which name it now bears. See New Encyclopedia. On modern maps Konos is situated about twenty miles NE. of Degnizlu, in lat. about 38 north, and in long. 29 40' east of London.

The epistle to this city appears to have been written about the same time with that to the Philippians, viz. towards the end of the year 62, and in the ninth of the Emperor Nero.

That the two epistles were written about the same time is rendered probable by the following circumstance: In the Epistle to the Philippians, Philippians 2:19, St. Paul purposes to send Timothy to Philippi, who was then with him at Rome, that he might know their state. As Timothy joins with the apostle in the salutation at the beginning of this epistle, it is evident that he was still at Rome, and had not yet been sent to Philippi; and as St. Paul wrote the former epistle nearly at the close of his first imprisonment at Rome, the two epistles must have been written within a short space of each other. See the preface to the Epistle to the Philippians.

When, or by whom, Christianity was first preached at Colosse, and a Church founded there, we cannot tell; but it is most likely that it was by St. Paul himself, and during the three years in which he dwelt at Ephesus; for he had then employed himself with such zeal and diligence that we are told, Acts 19:10 : "That all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." And that Paul preached in Phrygia, the district in which this city was situated, we learn from Acts 16:6 : "Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia;" and at another time we find that "he went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples;" Acts 18:23. It has, however, been argued, from Colossians 2:1, of this epistle, that Paul had never been at Colosse; for he there says: I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh. But the consequence drawn from these words does not absolutely follow. Dr. Lardner alleges a variety of considerations which induced him to believe that the Churches of Colosse and Laodicea were founded by St. Paul, viz.

1. That the apostle was twice in Phrygia, in which were Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. See the places above quoted from the Acts of the Apostles.

2. That he does in effect, or even expressly, say that he had dispensed the Gospel to the Colossians, Colossians 1:21-25. See particularly the 23rd, 24th, and 25th verses.

3. From several passages in the epistle it appears that the apostle does not speak as to strangers, but to acquaintances, disciples, and converts. Some think that Epaphras, who is called their apostle, Colossians 1:7, was the first who planted Christianity among the Colossians.

But the arguments drawn from Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23, referred to above, are quite invalidated, if we allow the opinion of some learned men, among whom are Suidas, Calepine, Munster, and others, that the Colossus, a gigantic statue at Rhodes, gave its own name to the people among whom it stood; for the ancient poets call the inhabitants of the island of Rhodes, Colossians; and hence they thought that the Colossians, to whom St. Paul directs this epistle, were the inhabitants of Rhodes. This opinion, however, is not generally adopted. From a great similarity in the doctrine and phraseology of this epistle to that written to the Ephesians, this to the Colossians has been considered an epitome of the former, as the Epistle to the Galatians has been considered an abstract of that to the Romans. See the concluding observations on the Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 5:17 (note)); and the notes on Colossians 1:4 (note), and elsewhere.

Whether the Colossians to whom the apostle addresses this epistle were Jews or Gentiles, cannot be absolutely determined. It is most probable that they were a mixture of both; but that the principal part were converted Jews is most likely. This, indeed, appears to have been the case in most of the Asiatic and Grecian Churches; for there were Jews, at this time, sojourning in almost every part of the Roman empire, which then comprehended the greatest portion of the known world.

The language of this epistle is bold and energetic, the sentiments are grand, and the conceptions vigorous and majestic. The phraseology is in many places Jewish; and the reason is obvious: the apostle had to explain subjects which never had a name in any other language. The mythology of the Gentiles could not furnish terms to explain the theology of the Jews; much less, the more refined and spiritual system of Christianity.

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