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Bible Commentaries

Heinrich Meyer's Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament


- Colossians

by Heinrich Meyer



Introduction [1]

[1] See Hofmann, Introduct. in lectionem, ep. P. ad Col. Lips. 1749; Böhmer, Isagoge in ep. ad Col. Berol. 1829; Mayerhoff, Der Brief an d. Kol. kritisch geprüft, Berlin, 1838; Wiggers, d. Verh. d. Ap. P. zu d. christl. Gem. in Kol. in the Stud. u. Krit. 1838, p. 165 ff.; Leo Montet, Introd. in ep. ad Col. 1841; Klöpper, De orig. ep. ad Eph. et Col. 1853; Weiss in Herzog’s Encykl. XIX. p. 717 ff.; Schenkel in his Bibellex. III. p. 565 ff.; Holtzmann, Krit. der Epheser- und Kolosserbriefe, 1872.


W ITH the exception of the Epistle to the Romans, the letter now before us is the only one of all the epistles of Paul that have been preserved, which is addressed to a church that was neither founded by Paul himself nor even subsequently visited by him in person (see on Colossians 1:7 , Colossians 2:1 ), although the Colossian Philemon was his immediate disciple (Philemon 1:19 ), and the Book of Acts relates that the apostle passed through Phrygia on two occasions (Acts 16:6 ; Acts 18:23 ). There, in Phrygia Magna on the Lycus, was situate Kolossae , or Kolossae (see the critical remarks on Colossians 1:2 ). It is designated by Herodotus, vii. 30, as πόλις μεγάλη , and by Xenophon, Anab . i. 2. 6, as εὐδαίμων κ . μεγάλη ; but, subsequently, as compared with the cities of Apamea and Laodicea which had become great ( μεγίσταιπόλεις , Strabo xii. 8, p. 576), it became so reduced, that it is placed by Strabo, l.c ., only in the list of the Phrygian πολίσματα , and by Pliny, N. H . v. 41, only among the oppida , although celeberrima . According to the Eusebian Chronicle and Oros. vii. 7, it also was visited by the earthquake which, according to Tacit. Ann . xiv. 27, devastated Laodicea. This took place not so late as the tenth year of Nero’s reign (Eus. Chron.), or even the fourteenth (Orosius), but, according to Tacitus, in the seventh about the same time with the composition of our epistle, perhaps shortly afterwards, as the earthquake is not mentioned in it. In the Middle Ages the city was again flourishing under the name Chonae (Theophylact and Oecumenius on Colossians 1:2 ; Constant. Porphyr. Them . i. 3); it is in the present day the village of Chonus (see Pococke, Morgenl . III. p. 114; and generally, Mannert, Geogr . VI. 1, p. 127 f.; Böhmer, Isag . p. 21 ff.; Steiger, p. 13 ff.).

By whom the church which consisted for the most part of Gentile Christians, Colossians 1:21 ; Colossians 1:27 , Colossians 2:13 was founded , is not unknown; Epaphras is indicated by Colossians 1:7 f. as its founder , and not merely as its specially faithful and zealous teacher . See the remark after Colossians 1:7 f. That it had received and accepted the Pauline gospel, is certain from the whole tenor of the epistle. It may be also inferred as certain from Colossians 2:1 compared with Acts 18:23 , that the time of its being founded was subsequent to the visit to Phrygia in Acts 18:23 . From the address (Colossians 1:2 ) we are not warranted to infer (with Bleek), that the body of Christians there had not yet been constituted into a formal church; comp. on Romans 1:7 . It was so numerous, that it had a section assembling in the house of Philemon (Philemon 1:2 ).


The apostle had received through Epaphras, who had come to him (Colossians 1:7 f., Colossians 4:12 ; Philemon 1:23 ), detailed accounts of the condition of the church, and of its perils and needs at that time, whereby he found himself induced and the removal of Epaphras from the church at the moment certainly made the matter appear all the more urgent to despatch Tychicus , an inhabitant of Asia Minor (Acts 20:4 ), to Colossae, and to send with him this epistle (Colossians 4:7 f., comp. Ephesians 6:21 f.). Tychicus was also to visit the Ephesians, and to convey the letter written at the same time to them (see on Eph. Introd. § 2). Tychicus was despatched at the same time with Onesimus , the Colossian slave (Colossians 4:9 ), who had to deliver to his master Philemon the well-known letter from the apostle (Philemon 1:11 f.). Doubtless Onesimus also who had come, although still as a heathen, from Colossae to Paul brought with him accounts as to the state of matters there, as he had been a servant in a Christian household amidst lively Christian intercourse (Philemon 1:2 ).

In accordance with these circumstances giving occasion to the letter, the aim of the apostle was not merely to confirm the church generally in its Christian faith and life , but also to warn it against heretical perils by which it was threatened. The false teachers whom he had in view were Jewish-Christians; not, however, such as those who, as in Galatia and in the neighbourhood of Philippi (Philippians 3:2 ff.), restricting themselves to the sphere of legal requirement and especially of the necessity of circumcision, did away with Christian freedom, the foundation of which is justification by faith, but such as had mixed up Christian Judaism with theosophic speculation . While they likewise adhered to circumcision (Colossians 2:11 ), and to precepts as to meats and feasts (Colossians 2:16 ), to the prejudice of Christ’s atoning work (Colossians 2:13 ff.), they at the same time and this forms their distinctive character put forward a philosophy as to the higher spirit-world , with the fancies and subtleties of which (Colossians 2:18 ) were combined, as practical errors, a conceited humility, worship of angels , and unsparing bodily asceticism (Colossians 2:20-23 ) extravagances of an unhealthy Gnosis , that could not fail to find a fruitful soil in the mystico-fanatical character of the Phrygian people, which served as an appropriate abode formerly for the orgiastic cultus of Cybele, and subsequently for Montanism. [2] These theosophists, however, came most keenly into conflict with the exalted rank and the redeeming work of Christ, to whom they did not leave His full divine dignity (as εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ κ . τ . λ ., Colossians 1:15 ff.), but preferred to assign to Him merely a rank in the higher order of spirits, while they ascribed to the angels a certain action in bringing about the Messianic salvation, entertaining, probably, at the same time, demiurgic ideas as to the creation of the world. We must not conclude from Colossians 1:18 , Colossians 2:12 , that they also rejected the resurrection of Christ; into such an important point as this Paul would have entered directly and at length, as in 1 Corinthians 15:0 But that in dualistic fashion they looked on matter as evil, may be reasonably inferred from their adoration of spirits, and from their asceticism mortifying the body, as well as from the at all events kindred phenomenon of later Gnosticism.

[2] The theosophic tendency, which haunted Colossae, may help to explain the fact that Paul does not make use, as in the Epistle to the Galatians, of arguments derived from the O. T. The epistle contains no quotation from Scripture.

Attempts have been made in very different ways to ascertain more precisely the historical character of the Colossian false teachers, and on this point we make the following remarks: (1) They appear as Jewish- Christians , not as Jews (in opposition to which see Colossians 2:19 ), which they were held to be by Schoettgen, Eichhorn, and others, some looking on them as Pharisees (Schoettgen; comp. Schulthess, Engelwelt , p. 110 f.); others, as indirect opponents of Christianity through the semblance of more than earthly sanctity (Eichhorn); others, as adherents of the Alexandrine Neo-Platonism (doctrine of the Logos) (so Juncker, Kommentar , Introd. p. 43 ff.); others, as Chaldaeans or Magians (Hug); others, as syncretistic universalists , who would have allowed to Christ a subordinate position in their doctrinal structure and passed Christianity off as a stage of Judaism (Schneckenburger, last in the Stud. u. Krit . 1832, p. 840 f.; in opposition to him, Rheinwald, de pseudodoct. Coloss . Bonn, 1834). Just as little were they adherents of a heathen philosophy , whether they might be looked upon as of the Epicurean (Clemens Alexandrinus), or of the Pythagorean (Grotius), or of the Platonic and Stoic (Heumann) school , or of no definite school at all (Tertullian, Euthalius, Calixtus). (2) The right view of these false teachers, in accordance with history, necessarily carries us back to Essenism . In opposition to the opinion that they were Christian Essenes (so Chemnitz, Zachariae, Storr, Flatt, Credner, Thiersch, histor. Standp . p.270f., Ritschl, Ewald, Holtzmann, et al .), it is not to be urged that the Essene washings , and various other peculiarities of Essenism, remain unnoticed in the epistle; or that the secluded and exclusive character peculiar to this society, and the limitation of their abode to Syria and Palestine, do not suit the case of the Colossian heretics; or that the hypocrisy, conceit, and persuasiveness which belonged to the latter do not harmonize with the character of the Essenes, as it is otherwise attested. These difficulties are got rid of by comparison with the Roman ascetics (Romans 14:0 ), who likewise were Essene Jewish-Christians, only more unprejudiced and inoffensive than these Asiatics, whose peculiar character, which had already received a more Gnostic development and elaboration, was of a philosophic stamp, addicted to rhetorical art, full of work-piety and hypocrisy, and therefore fraught with more danger to Pauline Christianity, the greater the opportunity they had, just then whilst the great apostle was himself far away and in bonds, of raising their head. Now, if at that time the Essene influence was not at all unfrequent among the Jews, and thence also among Jewish-Christians (see Ritschl, altkath. Kirche , p. 232 ff., and in the Theolog. Jahrb . 1855, p. 355), and if, beyond doubt, the theosophy of the Essenes kindred with the Alexandrine philosophy, although in origin Jewish and their asceticism (see Joseph. Bell . ii. 8; Philo, Quod omnis probus liber , p. 876 ff.; Euseb. Praep. ev . viii. 11 ff.), as well as their adherence to their tradition (Joseph. l.c . ii. 8. 7; comp. Credner, Beitr . I. p. 369), are very much in accord with the characteristic marks of our heretics (comp. generally Keim, Gesch. Jesu , I. p. 286 ff.), the latter are with justice designated as Jewish-Christian Gnostics , or more accurately, as Gnostics addicted to an Essene tendency. [3] This designation, however, is not to be taken in the sense of any subsequently elaborated system, but must be understood as intimating that in the doctrines of our theosophists there were apparent the widely-spread, and especially in Essenism strongly-asserted, elements of Gnosticism, out of which the formal Gnostic systems were afterwards gradually and variously developed (comp. Böhmer, Isag . p. 56 ff.; Neander, Gelegenheitsschr . p. 40 ff.; Schott, Isag . p. 272; Weiss, l.c . p. 720; Grau, l.c.; Holtzmann, p. 296 ff.; Clemens in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr . 1871, p. 418 ff.). Among the latter, the Cerinthian doctrine in particular is, in various points, closely allied with that combated in our epistle (comp. F. Nitzsch on Bleek, Vorles, p. 15 f.; Lipsius, d. Gnosticismus , 1860, p. 81 f.), although we are not justified in considering with Mayerhoff that this polemic was already directed against Cerinthus and his adherents, and thence arguing against the genuineness of the epistle. A similar judgment is to be formed regarding their relation to the Valentinians , who often appealed to the Epistle to the Ephesians; and Baur leaps much too rapidly to a conclusion, when he thinks ( Paulus , II. p. 4 ff.) that in the Colossian false teachers are to be found the Gnostic Ebionites (who no doubt originated from Essenism) thereby making our epistle a product of the fermentation of the post-apostolic age, and connecting it as a spurious twin-letter with that to the Ephesians. Holtzmann forms a much more cautious judgment, when he takes his stand at a preliminary stage of Gnosticism; but even this he places in the post-apostolic age, a position which the less admits of proof, seeing that we have no other letter from the later period of the apostle’s life before the letters of the captivity and subsequent to that to the Romans, and possess for comparison no letter of Paul at all addressed to those regions where the Gnostic movements had their seat. The false teachers have, moreover, been designated as Cabbalistic (Herder, Kleuker, Osiander in the Tüb. Zeitschr . 1834, 3, p. 96 ff.); but this must likewise be restricted to the effect that the theosophic tendency generally, the special Essene-Christian shape of which Paul had to combat, may have probably been at bottom akin to the subsequently developed Cabbala, although the origin of this Jewish metaphysics is veiled in obscurity. (3) We must decidedly set aside, were it only on account of the legal strictness of the men in question, the assumption of Michaelis, that they were disciples of Apollos , to whom Heinrichs adds also disciples of John , as well as Essenes and other Judaistic teachers, and even a malevolum hominum genus ex ethnicis of which, in itself extremely improbable, medley the epistle itself contains no trace. (4) In contrast to all previous attempts to classify the Colossian false teachers, Hofmann prefers to abide by the position that they were Jewish Christians, “who, starting from the presupposition that the Gentile Christians, in their quality as belonging to Ethnicism, were subject to the spirits antagonistic to God which ruled therein, recommended with a view to complete their state of salvation, which, it was alleged, in this respect needed supplement a sanctification of the outward life, based partly on the Sinaitic law, partly on dogmas of natural philosophy.” But this cannot be made good as an adequate theory by the explanation of the characteristic individual traits, since, on the contrary, that theosophico-Judaistic false teaching presents sufficient evidences of its having its historical root in Essenism, and its further development and diversified elaboration in the later Gnosticism, provided that with unprejudiced exegesis we follow the apostle’s indications in regard to the point; see especially on Colossians 2:16-23 .

[3] Comp. Gran, Entwickelungsgesch. d. n. t. Schriftth. II. p. 145 ff.; Lipsius in Schenkel’s Bibel-Lexic. II. p. 498.

In date and place of composition our epistle coincides with that to the Ephesians, and is, like the latter, to be assigned not, in conformity with the usual opinion, to the Roman , but to the Caesarean captivity of the apostle. See on Eph. Introd . § 2. In opposition to this view, [4] de Wette, Bleek, and others attach decisive importance specially to two points: (1) That what Paul says in Colossians 4:3 ; Colossians 4:11 of his labours for the gospel harmonizes with Acts 28:31 , but not with his sojourn in Caesarea, Acts 24:23 . But Colossians 4:11 contains no special statement at all as to the labours of the apostle in captivity, and as to Colossians 4:3 we must observe that he there expresses the longing for future free working. The latter remark applies also in opposition to Wieseler ( Chronol. des apostol. Zeitalt . p. 420) and Hofmann, who likewise regard Colossians 4:3 f. as decisive in favour of the Roman captivity, while Hofmann finds the statement as to Mark and Jesus contained in Colossians 4:11 incompatible with the situation in Caesarea (but see in loc .). In assuming that the conversion of the Gentile Onesimus (Philemon 1:10 ) is incompatible with the statement in Acts 24:23 , Wieseler infers too much from the words τῶν ἰδίων αὐτοῦ (Acts 24:23 ), especially as the intention of a liberal custody is obvious in the arrangement of Felix. (2) That in Rome Paul might have thought of the journey to Phrygia hoped for at Philemon 1:22 , but not in Caesarea (comp. Hofmann, p. 217), where, according to Acts 19:21 , Romans 1:13 ; Romans 15:23 ff., Acts 23:11 , he had the design of going to Rome, but a return to Asia Minor would have been, after his language in Acts 20:25 , far from his thoughts. But although certainly, when he spoke the words recorded in Acts 20:25 , a return to Asia was far from his thoughts, nevertheless this idea might subsequently occur to him just as easily at Caesarea as at Rome; indeed more easily, for, if Paul had been set free at Caesarea, he could combine his intended journey to Rome with a passage through Asia. There is no doubt that when at Rome he expressed the hope (Philippians 2:24 ) of again visiting the scene of his former labours; but why should he not have done the same when at Caesarea, so long, namely, as his appeal to the emperor had not taken place? See also on Philemon 1:22 ,

If our epistle was written in Caesarea, the time of its composition was the year 60 or 61, while the procuratorship was still in the hands of Felix.

[4] Which, with Hausrath, Laurent, and others, Sabatier also ( l’apôtre Paul , 1870, p. 193 ff.) prefers, while Weiss leaves the point undecided. Hofmann rejects our view, and Holtzmann does not find it the more probable.

As regards the contents of the epistle, after the salutation (Colossians 1:1 f.), a thanksgiving (Colossians 1:3-8 ), and intercessory prayer (Colossians 1:9-12 ), Paul passes on (Colossians 1:12 ) to the blessedness of the redemption which his readers had obtained through Christ, whose dignity and work are earnestly and very sublimely set before their minds with reference to the dangers arising from heresy (Colossians 1:13-23 ). Next Paul testifies to, and gives the grounds for, the joy which he now felt in his sufferings as an apostle (Colossians 1:24-29 ). By way of preparation for his warnings against the false teachers, he next expresses his great care for his readers and all other Christians who do not personally know him, as concerns their Christian advancement (Colossians 2:1-3 ), and then subjoins the warnings themselves in detail (Colossians 2:4-23 ). Next follow moral admonitions (Colossians 3:1 to Colossians 4:6 ); a commendatory mention of Tychicus and Onesimus (Colossians 4:7-9 ); salutations with commendations and injunctions (Colossians 4:10-17 ); and the conclusion appended by the apostle’s own hand (Colossians 4:18 ).


Even if it be allowed that the apparent allusions to our Epistle which one might find in the apostolic Fathers (Clement, Barnabas, Ignatius) are uncertain, and that even the mention of πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως in Justin Mart. c. Tryph . p. 311 (comp. p. 310, 326), and Theophil. ad Autol . ii. 31, may be independent of Colossians 1:15 , still the external attestation of our Epistle is so ancient, continuous, and general (Marcion, the school of Valentinus; Irenaeus, Haer . iii. 14. 1 and v. 14. 2, who first cites it by name; Canon Murat.; Clem. Al. Strom , i. p. 277, iv. p. 499, v. p. 576, vi. p. 645; Tert. Praescr . 7, de resurr . 23; Origen, c. Cels . v. 8, etc.), that no well-founded doubt can from this quarter be raised.

But modern criticism has assailed the Epistle on internal grounds; and the course of its development has been as follows. Mayerhoff ( d. Brief an die Kol. mit vornehml. Berücksicht. d. Pastoralbr. kritisch geprüft , Berl. 1838) assumed the genuineness of the Epistle to the Ephesians, to the prejudice of our Epistle (de Wette inverts the procedure to the prejudice of the Ephesian Epistle); Baur, on the other hand ( Paulus , II. p. 8 ff.), rejected both the cognate Epistles; comp. also Schwegler, nachapost. Zeitalt . II. p. 325 ff. According to Weisse ( philos. Dogmat . I. p. 146), our Epistle, like most of the Pauline letters, is pervaded by interpolations. Hitzig also ( zur Kritik paulin. Briefe , 1870, p. 22 ff.) asserts their presence, and ascribes them to the author of the (un-Pauline) Ephesian Epistle, who, after the composition of his own work, had manipulated afresh a Pauline letter to the Colossians, the genuine text of which he misunderstood. In assigning his reasons for this view, Hitzig does not go beyond the bounds of bare assertions and misunderstandings on his own part. Hoenig (in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr . 1872, p. 63 ff.), after comparing the two kindred letters, propounds the view that all those passages of the Epistle to the Colossians are to be regarded as interpolations, regarding which it can be shown that the author of the (not genuine) Epistle to the Ephesians did not know them. But Hoenig has reserved to a future time the exhibition of the detailed grounds for this bold view, and has consequently for the present withdrawn it from criticism. After thorough investigation, Holtzmann ( Kritik d. Epheser- u. Kolosserbriefe , 1872) has arrived at the hypothesis of a great series of interpolations, the author of which was none other than the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians written, according to Holtzmann, somewhere about the year 100, who, with the help of this writing of his own, had worked up the short and genuinely Pauline letter to the Colossians, which he found in existence, into a new and amplified form, and thereby rescued it in a second enlarged edition from oblivion. But neither can the course of interpolation thus set forth be exegetically verified, nor can it seeing that all the witnesses from the beginning prove only the present shape of the letter, and no trace has been left of any earlier one be without arbitrariness rendered critically intelligible, as in fact such a procedure on the part of an interpolator, who had withal so much mastery of free movement in the sphere of Pauline thought and language that he could write the Epistle to the Ephesians, would yield a laborious and as overlaying and obscuring the given nucleus somewhat clumsy mosaic patchwork, which, from a psychological point of view, would be hardly conceivable.

Mayerhoff, in order to characterize the Epistle as a production of possibly the second century epitomized from the Epistle to the Ephesians with the addition of some controversial matter, lays stress on ( a ) differences in language and style, ( b ) deviations from the Pauline character both of conception and of representation, ( c ) the comparison with the Epistle to the Ephesians, and ( d ) the supposed reference of the polemics to Cerinthus. But, first, the stamp of language and the style are so entirely Pauline, that particular expressions, which we are accustomed to in Paul’s writings but do not find here ( δικαιοσύνη κ . τ . λ ., σωτηρία κ . τ . λ ., ἀποκάλυψις , ὑπακοή , ἄρα , διό , διότι , ἔτι et al .), or ἅπαξ λεγόμενα which occur (as ἐθελοθρησκεία , πιθανολογία , et al .), cannot furnish any counter argument, since, in fact, they are fully outweighed by similar phenomena in epistles which are indubitably genuine. There is the less ground for urging the occurrence only six times of γάρ ( Text. Rec .), as even in the larger Epistle to the Ephesians it occurs only eleven times, and in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians only five times. And how little are such mechanical standards of comparison at all compatible with a mind so free in movement and rich in language as was that of Paul! In his case even the order of the words Ἕλλην καὶ Ἰουδαῖος (Colossians 3:11 ) cannot seem surprising, nor can the combining of designations similar in meaning (as Colossians 1:6 ; Colossians 1:10 , Colossians 2:18 ; Colossians 2:23 ) appear as a strange hunting after synonyms. See, besides, Huther, Schlussbetracht . p. 420 ff.; Hofmann, p. 179 f. Secondly, un-Pauline conceptions are only imported into the Epistle by incorrect interpretations; and the peculiar developments of doctrine, which Paul gives only here, but which are in no case without their preliminary conditions and outlines in the earlier Epistles, were suggested to him by the special occasion of the letter (as, in particular, the development of the relation of Christ to the angel-world). And if the Epistle is said to lack in its dogmatic portion the logical arrangement which is found in the hortatory portion (the reverse being the case in the genuine Epistles); if Pauline freshness and vigour are said to be wanting, and poverty of thought to prevail; these are judgments which in some cases are utterly set aside by a right exegesis, and in others are of a partisan character and aesthetically incorrect. The complaint, in particular, of “poverty of thought” is characteristic of the procedure of such criticism towards its victims, no matter how precarious a subjective standard must ever be in such questions, or how various may be the judgments which are put forth as based on taste (according to Böhmer, Isag . p. 160, our Epistle is “ viva, pressa, solida, nervis plena, mascula ”). Thirdly, the affinity of our Epistle with that to the Ephesians in style and contents is explained by their composition at the same time, as respects which, however, the priority lies with our letter, and by the analogy of the circumstances giving occasion to write, which in either case the apostle had in view. [5] See on Eph. Introd. § 3. Lastly, the assertion that Cerinthus is assailed is erroneous a critical prothysteron; see § 2.

[5] The assertion is being constantly repeated, that Paul could not have copied himself. But, in fact, we have not among the apostle’s letters any other two, which were written so immediately at the same time, and to churches whose wants were similar. If we had had two such, who knows but that they would have presented an analogous resemblance?

Baur, [6] who describes the Epistle to the Ephesians and that to the Colossians, which are held at any rate to stand or fall together, as un-Pauline, and places the former in a secondary relation to the latter, looks upon this latter as combating an Ebionitism, which would have nothing to do with a recognition of the universalism of Christianity at the cost of renouncing everything that was incompatible with the absoluteness of the Christian principle. He holds, however, that this universalism was not that based on the Pauline anthropology, but only the external universalism, which consisted in the coalition between Gentiles and Jews effected by the death of Christ, and in which, alongside of the forgiveness of sin, the Clementines placed the aim of Christ’s death. Thus, according to Baur, the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians are to be placed in the post-apostolic period of a conciliation between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. The highest expression of this conciliatory destination is the Christology of the Epistles, in so far, namely, as Christ appears as the primordial principle of all being, and His whole work onward to His exaltation as the self-realization of this idea, according to which the pre-existence is the main point of the Christology. The arguments of Baur are mostly derived from the Epistle to the Ephesians; those that particularly affect our Epistle, and are supposed to attest a Gnostic stamp impressed on it (such as the idea of Christ as the central point of the whole kingdom of spirits, the notion of the πλήρωμα , etc.), will be shown by the exposition to be a homogeneous development of elements of doctrine already presented in the earlier Epistles. [7] Concerning these Christological doubts, see, moreover, especially Raebiger, Christol. Paul . p. 42 ff., and generally Klöpper, de orig. epp. ad Eph. et Coloss . Gryphisw. 1853; Hofmann, p. 181 ff.; Rich. Schmidt, Paul. Christol . p. 196 ff.; Sabatier, l’apôtre Paul , p. 207 ff. [8] It may be observed in general, that if our Epistle (and that to the Ephesians) is nothing more than a pseudo-apostolic movement of Gnosis against Ebionitism, then every other Epistle is so also, since every other writing in the N. T. may, with almost equal justice, be brought under some such category of subjective presupposition; and that it is in reality inconsistent, if the whole N. T. is not (and for the most part it has already been) made out to be a collection of later books written with some set purpose, which, by means of their pseudo-epigraphic names, have succeeded in deceiving the vigilance of centuries. The fabrication of such an epistle as that to the Colossians would be more marvellous than its originality. “Non est cujusvis hominis, Paulinum pectus effingere; tonat, fulgurat, meras flammas loquitur Paulus,” Erasmus, Annot. ad iv. 16.

[6] Planck, Köstlin, Hilgenfeld, Höckstra (in the Theolog. Tijdschrift, 1868), as well as Schwegler, agree in substance with Baur.

[7] The exegesis of the Epistle will also dispose of what Hilgenfeld, who rejects the genuineness of the Ephesian and Colossian letters, adduces by way of establishing his assertion, that “the new and characteristic feature of the Colossian Epistle consists simply in this, that it represents Paulinism no longer merely in contradistinction to Jewish Christianity, but also in contradistinction to Gnosticism (proper);” see Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr. 1870, p. 245 f. We see, he says, Paulinism in this case not merely repelling, but even in part adopting, Gnostic elements. For Baur’s Gnostic interpretation of the πλήρωμα , see especially his Paulus, II. p. 12 ff., and Neutest. Theol. p. 257 ff.

[8] Compare, also generally, in opposition to the hypothesis of a positive influence of Gnosis on N. T. doctrinal ideas, Heinrici, d. Valent. Gnosis u. d. heil. Schr. 1871.

Ewald has modified the theory of its composition by the apostle in a peculiar way. In his view, the Epistle is indeed planned and carried out quite after the manner of the apostle; but after the contents had been settled by preliminary discussion, Paul committed the composition to Timothy (Colossians 1:1 ), again, however, towards the end, dictating the words more in person, and adding the final salutation (Colossians 4:18 ) with his own hand. But, first, this hypothesis is already rendered doubtful by the fact that it is not made to extend uniformly to chap. 4. Secondly, it may be urged against it, that a Timothy himself, even after preliminary discussion with the apostle, could hardly have appropriated or imitated the completely Pauline stamp in such measure, as in this Epistle it recurs at every sentence and in every turn. Thirdly, the conjectured course of procedure does not appear in any other of Paul’s Epistles, and yet the present was one of the shortest and the easiest to be dictated. Fourthly, such a procedure can scarcely be reconciled with the high value and authority, well understood by the apostle, which an Epistle from him could not but possess for any Christian church, especially for one not founded by himself. Fifthly, we cannot but naturally regard the concluding salutation by his own hand (Colossians 4:18 ) as simply the token of his own, and not of a merely indirect, composition (2 Thessalonians 3:17 ). Sixthly, according to Colossians 4:16 , a similar merely indirect composition on his part would have to be attributed also to the Epistle to the Laodiceans, since the two Epistles, as they were to be read in both churches, must have been, as it were, cast in the same mould, and of essentially the same import. Lastly, the peculiar dangerous character of the spiritualistic Judaism, which had to be opposed in the Epistle, was precisely such as to claim the undivided personal action of the apostle, which was certainly, even in the enforced leisure of his imprisonment, sufficiently within his power for the purpose of his epistolary labours. The grounds on which the foregoing hypothesis is based [9] and in the main the assailants of the genuineness have already used them are in part quite unimportant, in part framed after a very subjective standard, and far from adequate in the case of a letter-writer, who stands so high and great in many-sided wealth both of thought and diction and in its free handling as Paul, and who, according to the diversity of the given circumstances and of his own tone of feeling, was capable of, and had the mastery over, so ample and manifold variety in the presentation of his ideas and the structure of his sentences. Nor do those linguistic difficulties, which Holtzmann, p. 104 ff., has brought forward more discreetly than Mayerhoff, and to some extent in agreement with Ewald, with a view to separate the portions of the letter pertaining to the genuine Paul from those that belong to the manipulator and interpolator, suffice for his object. [10] They could only be of weight, in the event of their exhibiting modes of expression beyond doubt un-Pauline, or of the interpolated character of the passages in question being already established on other grounds.

[9] Ewald appeals (presupposing, moreover, the non-genuineness of the Epistle to the Ephesians) to the longer compound words, such as ἀνταναπληρόω , ἀποκαταλλάσσω , ἀπαλλοτριόω , παραλογίζομαι , ἐθελοθρησκεία , ὀφθαλμοδουλεία ; to Unusual modes of expression, such as θέλω ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι (Colossians 2:1 ), ὅ ἐστιν for the explanatory that is (Colossians 1:24 [27], Colossians 2:10 , Colossians 3:14 ), in connections capable of being easily misunderstood; to the circumstances, that in the progress of the discourse and in the structure of sentences we entirely miss “the exceedingly forcible flow and the exultant ebullition, and then, again, the quick concentration and the firm collocation of the thoughts;” that the words δέ , γάρ , and ἀλλά are lese frequently found, and that the sentences are connected more by simple little relational words and in excessively long series, like the links of a chain, alongside of which is also frequently found the merely rhetorical accumulation of sentences left without links of connection (such as Colossians 1:14 ; Colossians 1:20 ; Colossians 1:25 f., Colossians 1:27 , Colossians 2:8 ; Colossians 2:11 ; Colossians 2:23 , Colossians 3:5 ); that we meet delicate but still perceptible distinctions of thought, such as the non-mention of δικαιοσύνη and δικαιοῦν , and the description of the Logos by the word πλήρωμα itself (Colossians 1:19 , Colossians 2:9 ); that we find a multitude of words and figures peculiarly Pauline, but that we miss all the more the whole apostle in his most vivid idiosyncrasy throughout the main portions of the Epistle; and that many a word and figure, in fact, appears imitated from the Epistles of Paul, especially that to the Romans.

[10] When we take fully into account the singularly ample storehouse of the Greek language, from which the apostle knew how to draw his materials with so much freedom and variety in all his letters, we shall not be too hastily ready to hold that such expressions, phrases, or turns, as have no parallels in the undisputed letters, at once betray another author; or, on the other hand, to reckon that such as are characteristic of, and currently used by, the apostle, are due to an assumption of the Pauline manner.