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Bible Commentaries

International Critical Commentary NT


- Colossians

by S.R. Driver, A.A. Plummer and C.A. Briggs




Colossae (or Colassae, see 1:2) was situated in Phrygia, on the river Lycus, a tributary to the Maeander. Herodotus speaks of it as πόλις μεγάλη (730); Xenophon, as πόλις οἰκουμένη καὶ εὐδαίμων καὶ μεγάλη (Anab. i. 2. 6). Strabo, however (128), only reckons it as a πόλισμα. Pliny’s mention of it amongst the “oppida celeberrima” (H. N. v. 32, 41) is not inconsistent with this. It is after enumerating the considerable towns that he speaks of “oppida celeberrima, praeter jam dicta,” thus introducing along with Colossae, other small and decayed places. Eusebius (Chron. Olymp. 210. 4) records its destruction (with that of Laodicea and Hierapolis) in the tenth year of Nero. Tacitus (Ann. xiv. 27) states that Laodicea, “ex illustribus Asiae urbibus,” was destroyed by an earthquake in the seventh year of Nero. (See Introduction to Ephesians.)

The Church at Colossae was not founded by St. Paul, nor had it been visited by him (1:4, 7-9, 2:1). These indications in the Epistle agree with the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, which represents his journeys as following a route which would not bring him to Colossae. He is, indeed, related to have passed through Phrygia on his second and third missionary journeys; but Phrygia was a very comprehensive term, and on neither occasion does the direction of his route or anything in the context point to this somewhat isolated corner of Phrygia.

In his second missionary journey, after visiting the Churches of Pisidia and Lycaonia, he passes through τὴν Φρυγίαν καὶ Γαλατικὴν χώραν (Acts 16:6), i.e. the Phrygian region of the province of Galatia, or the Phrygo-Galatic region. (The τήν before Γαλατικήν in the Text. Pec. is not genuine.) Thence he travelled through Mysia (neglecting it, παρέλθοντες) to Troas. Thus on this journey he kept to the east of the valley of the Lycus. On his third journey, he founded no new Churches in Asia Minor, but confined himself to revisiting and confirming those already founded (Acts 18:23). From the Galatic and Phrygian region he proceeded to Ephesus by the higher lying and more direct route, not the regular trade route down the valleys of the Lycus and the Maeander. On this Lightfoot and Ramsay are agreed, the former, however, thinking that Paul may have gone as far north as Pessinus before leaving Galatia; the latter (consistently with his view of the meaning of “Galatian” in Acts) supposing him to have gone directly westward from Antioch to Ephesus. Renan supposes him to have traversed the valley of the Lycus, but without preaching there, which is hardly consistent with the form of expression in 2:1. The founder of the Church at Colossae was apparently Epaphras; at least it had been taught by him (see 1:7, where the correct reading is καθὼς ἐμάθετε, not καθὼς καὶ ἐμάθετε).

The Church appears to have consisted of Gentile converts (1:21, 27, 2:13); certainly there is no hint that any of the readers were Jews, and the circumstance that the founder was a Gentile Christian would have been unfavourable to the reception of his preaching by Jews. But they were clearly exposed to Jewish influences, and, in fact, we know that there was an important Jewish settlement in the neighbourhood, Antiochus the Great having transplanted two thousand Jewish families from Babylonia and Mesopotamia into Lydia and Phrygia (Joseph. Antt. xii. 3. 4), thus forming a colony which rapidly increased in numbers. See Lightfoot, The Churches of the Lycus, in his Introduction. He gives reasons for estimating the number of Jewish adult freemen in the district of which Laodicea was the capital in b.c. 62 at not less than eleven thousand (p. 20). The Colossians were now in danger of being misled by certain false teachers, whose doctrines we gather from the counter-statements and warnings of the apostle. That there was a Judaic element appears from 2:11, 14, 16. It does not appear, indeed, that circumcision was urged upon them as a necessity, or even as a means of perfection. There is nothing in the Epistle even remotely resembling the energetic protest against such teaching which we have in the Epistle to the Galatians. The ascetic precepts alluded to in the Epistle were not based on the Mosaic law, for St. Paul says they were derived from the tradition of men. The law, too, laid down no general precepts about drinks (2:16). These rules seem to have been connected with the worship of angels (2:16-21). The false teachers claimed an exclusive and profound insight into the world of intermediate spirits, whose favour it was desirable to obtain, and by means of whom new revelations and new spiritual powers might be attained. It was with a view to this that the body was to be treated with severity.

In the three points of exclusiveness, asceticism, and angelology, the Colossian heresy shows affinities with Essenism, which, as Lightfoot remarks, had an affinity with Gnosticism, so that it might be called Gnostic Judaism. Historically, indeed, we do not know of any Essenism outside Palestine. But there is no need to assume an identity of origin of the Colossian heresy and Essenism; the tendencies were not confined to Palestine. And Phrygia provided a congenial soil for the growth of such a type of religion. It was the home of the worship of Cybele, and Sabazius, and the Ephesian Artemis. In philosophy it had produced Thales and Heraclitus. The former declared τὸν κόσμον ἔμψυχον καὶ δαιμόνων πλήρη (Diog. Laert. i. 27).

The natural phenomena of the region about Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae were well calculated to encourage a belief in demoniac or angelic powers controlling the elementary forces of nature. There was, for example, at Hierapolis (and still is) an opening, called the Plutonium, which emitted a vapour (sulphuretted hydrogen) fatal to animals which came within its range. Strabo relates that the eunuchs employed about the temple were able to approach and bend over the opening with impunity—holding in their breath (μέχρι ποσοῦ συεχόντας ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ τὸ πνεῦμα), yet, as he adds, showing in their faces signs of a suffocating feeling. See Svoboda, The Seven Churches of Asia, 1869, p. 29 sqq.; Cockerell apud Leake, Journal of a Tour in Asia Minor, 1824, p. 342. A comparison of Cockerell and Svoboda’s experiments shows that, as Lavorde also implies, the vapour is not always equally fatal. The region was noted for earthquakes.

Notwithstanding its affinities with Gnosticism, the Colossian heresy must be regarded as belonging to an earlier stage than the developed Gnosticism usually understood by that name, even earlier, indeed, than Cerinthus. There is, for example, no allusion to the aeons of later Gnosticism, nor to the properly Gnostic conception of the relation of the demiurgic agency to the supreme God. “That relation (says Lightfoot) was represented, first, as imperfect appreciation; next, as entire ignorance; lastly, as direct antagonism. The second and third are the standing points of Cerinthus and of the later Gnostic teachers respectively. The first was probably the position of the Colossian false teachers. The imperfections of the natural world, they would urge, were due to the limited capacities of these angels to whom the demiurgic work was committed, and to their imperfect sympathy with the supreme God; but, at the same time, they might fitly receive worship as mediators between God and man; and, indeed, humanity seemed in its weakness to need the intervention of some such beings less remote from itself than the highest heaven.” Hence the references in the Epistle to the ταπεινοφροσύνη in connexion with this angel worship.

St. Paul assures his readers, with an authority which he clearly expects them to accept, that the gospel they had learned from Epaphras required no such addition as the false teachers pressed upon them. He points out to them that they are members of a body of which the Head, Christ, was supreme above all these angelic powers of whatever kind.


There is no certain trace of the Epistle in Clemens Romanus or in Hermas. Barnabas, however, has a distinct allusion to Colossians 1:16 in 12:7, τὴν δόξαν τοῦ Ἱησοῦ, ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ πάντα, καὶ εἰς αὐτόν. Ignatius, Eph. x. 3, has ἑδραῖοι τῇ πίστει, and so Polycarp, x. 1, doubtless from Colossians 1:23. Probably also the division into ὁρατοὶ καὶ Smyrn. vi. 1, may be another allusion to 1:16. The connexion also of idolatry and covetousness in Polyc. xi. 2 may have been suggested by Colossians 1:23, Colossians 1:20, Colossians 1:3:5. Justin, Dial. p. 311 (lxxxv), calls Christ πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, after Colossians 1:15 (cf. πρωτότοκον τῶν πάντων ποιημάτων, p. 310); also p. 326 (xcvi), πρωτότοκον τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ πρὸ πάντων τῶν κτισμάτων. Considering the frequent use of the Epistle to the Ephesians, it is remarkable that the traces of this Epistle previous to Irenaeus are so few and uncertain. Its shortness seems an inadequate explanation. Probably the true account is that, the Epistle being so largely controversial, its use would be less familiar to those who had no concern with the heresies with which it deals. About its early and uncontroverted reception as the work of St. Paul, there is no doubt. Irenaeus, iii. 14. 1, says: “Iterum in ea epistola quae est ad Colossenses ait: ‘Salutat vos Lucas medicus dilectus.’ ” In the following section he quotes Colossians 1:21, Colossians 1:22, and, indeed, he cites passages from every chapter.

Clement of Alexandria, Strom. i. 1, says: κἂν τῇ πρὸς Κολοσσαεῖς ἐπιστολῃ· νουθετοῦντες, γράφει, πάντα ἄνθρωπον, κ.τ.λ. = Colossians 1:28, and again in several other places he cites the Epistle.

Tertullian also cites passages from each chapter. Origen, contra Cels. v. 8, quotes 2:18, 19, as from St. Paul to the Colossians.

Marcion received the Ep. as St. Paul’s, and the school of Valentinus also recognised it.

In the Muratorian Canon it has the same place as in our MSS. The external evidence for the genuineness is in no wise defective, nor was any question raised on the point until Mayerhoff (Der Brief an die Kolosser, u.s.w. 1838) contested it on the grounds of vocabulary, style, and differences from St. Paul in thought and expression; and, in addition to these, its relation to the Epistle to the Ephesians, which he considered to be genuine, and its supposed reference to Cerinthus. Many critics followed his lead, including Baur, Hilgenfeld, Pfleiderer, etc., rejecting, however, the Epistle to the Ephesians also. Ewald, partly followed by Renan, explained what seemed un-Pauline in the Epistle by the supposition that Timothy wrote it under the apostle’s direction,—an hypothesis excluded by 1:23, 2:1, 5. De Wette replied to Mayerhoff’s arguments, rejecting, however, the Epistle to the Ephesians.

Holtzmann, as we have seen in the Introduction to the latter Epistle, regarded the present Epistle as an expansion by an interpolator of a short, genuine Epistle, being led to this conclusion by a careful critical examination of certain parallel passages in the two Epistles, the result of which was to show conclusively that it was impossible to maintain either, with Mayerhoff, the priority in every case of Eph., or, with De Wette, that of Col_1Col_1

As a specimen of his restoration of the original nucleus of the latter Epistle, the following may suffice. Ch. 1:9-29 reads as follows:—

Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς οὐ παυόμεθα ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι περιπατῆσαι ὑμᾶς vv. 3, 12, 13, 17.

This is a very ingenious abridgment, and supposes extreme ingenuity on the part of the interpolator, who so cleverly dovetailed his own work into St. Paul’s that, had Eph. not existed, no one would have suspected Col. of being interpolated. It would be strange, too, that the interpolated letter should so completely displace the Pauline original. It would seem, in fact, as if we were compelled to suppose it known only to this interpolator “who rescued it from oblivion” (Kritik, p. 305) only to consign it thither again. Holtzmann’s theory is, as Jülicher says, too complicated to be accepted. In such a case, for example, as Colossians 1:27 compared with Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10, and 3:8, 9, 16, 17; or, again, Colossians 3:12-15 with Ephesians 4:2-4, Ephesians 4:32, it is involved in inextricable difficulties. And as this seems to be generally felt, if is not necessary to examine his instances in detail.

Von Soden, in his article in the Jahrb. f. Protest. Theol. 1875, limited the interpolations to 1:15-20, 2:10, 15, 18 (partly). In his Commentary he still further reduces the interpolation to 1:16b, 17, i.e. τὰ πάντα to συνέστηκε, which he regards as a gloss (Einl. p. 12).

Against the genuineness is alleged, first, the absence of St. Paul’s favourite terms and turns of expression, together with the occurrence of others which are foreign to the acknowledged Epistles. For example, δίκαιος with its derivatives, Php_1 Thess.; νόμος not in 2 Cor. or Thess. Again, as to the conjunctions, ἄρα does not occur in Phil., while ἄρα οὖν, frequent in Rom., is not used in 1 or 2 Cor., and only once in Gal. διό occurs only once in Gal. (4:31, where Rec. has ἄρα), and διότι once in 1 Cor., not at all in 2 Cor. γάρ is hardly more frequent (relatively) in Eph., which Mayerhoff accepted, than in Col. Its comparative infrequency in both as compared with Rom. and Cor. is clearly due to the more argumentative character of the latter Epistles.

As to the ἅπαξ λεγόμενα, they are not more numerous than was to be expected in an Epistle dealing with novel questions. In addition to ten words found only here and in Eph., there are fortyeight which do not occur elsewhere in St. Paul. But as Soden remarks, Paul had for a considerable time been under the new linguistic influence of Rome. Salmon quotes a very pertinent remark of Dr. Mahaffy, who compares St. Paul to Xenophon in this matter of varying vocabulary. He says: “His (Xenophon’s) later tracts are full of un-Attic words, picked up from his changing surroundings; and, what is more curious, in each of them there are many words only used by him once; so that on the ground of variation in diction each single book might be, and, indeed, has been, rejected as non-Xenophontic. This variation not only applies to words which might not be required again, but to such terms as εὐανδρία (Comm. iii. 3. 12), varied to εὐψυχία (Ven. 10. 21), εὐτολμία (quoted by Stobaeus), Anab. vi. 5. 14), all used only once. Every page in Sauppe’s Lexilogus Xen. bristles with words only once used in this way. Now, of classical writers, Xenophon is perhaps (except Herodotus) the only man whose life corresponded to St. Paul’s in its roving habits, which would bring him into contact with the spoken Greek of varying societies.”

The long sentences, such as 1:9-20, 2:8-12, are not without analogy in other Epistles, e.g. Romans 1:1-7, Romans 1:2:Romans 1:5-10, Romans 1:14-16, Romans 1:3:Romans 1:23-26; Galatians 2:3-5, Galatians 2:6-9; Philippians 3:8-11. The series of relatives in 1:13-22 and 2:10-12 is remarkable, but not without parallel; and in both cases the connexion shows that what is added in the relative clauses, though evident, had been overlooked by the heretical teachers. It was therefore properly connected by a relative. Anacolutha are particularly frequent in St. Paul. There are also many turns of expression which are strikingly Pauline, as: 2:4, 8, 17, 18, 23, 3:14, 4:6, 17. In comparing the general tone of the Epistle with that of the other Epistles, it must be observed that St. Paul had not here to contend with any opposition directed against him or his teaching, nor had he to defend himself against objections, but was simply called on to express his judgment on the novel additions to the gospel teaching which were being pressed on the Colossians. This new teaching had not yet gained acceptance or led to factious divisions amongst them. Nor has he any longer occasion to argue that Gentiles are admitted to the Christian Church on equal terms with Jews; this question is no longer agitated here; St. Paul’s own solution of the problem is assumed. Nor was he concerned here with the conditions of salvation, whether by faith or by the works of the law. If he does not adduce proof from the O.T., neither does he do this in Phil., where there might seem to be more occasion for doing so.

The greater stress laid here on knowledge and wisdom is explained by the fact that the false teachers were endeavouring to dazzle their hearers by a show of profound wisdom to which the apostle opposes the true wisdom. Hence, also, his frequent use of such words as μυστήριον, ib. Philippians 1:3, Philippians 1:7, Philippians 1:9, Philippians 1:10, Philippians 1:11, Philippians 1:15, Philippians 1:20, Philippians 1:24, Philippians 1:25.

An objection to the genuineness of the Epistle, which would be serious if well founded, is that the Epistle combats certain errors of a Gnostic character which cannot have existed at so early a date. It is not enough, however, to show that errors of an analogous kind, but more developed, existed in the middle of the second century; it is necessary to show that they could not have existed in the time of St. Paul. But we have absolutely no materials for forming an opinion on this point, except in the New Testament itself. The earliest Gnostic writer of whom we have definite information is Cerinthus.

Indeed, Mayerhoff supposed the writer’s polemic to be directed against him. But although there is an affinity between the errors of Cerinthus and those of the Colossian teachers, a closer examination shows that the latter belong to an earlier stage of development. There is no trace in the Epistle of the notion of creation by a demiurge ignorant of the supreme God, still less of that by one opposed to Him (as in the later Gnostics). Nor did the teaching of Cerinthus include asceticism. As to the view of Christ held by the Colossian false teachers, it was clearly derogatory, as we may infer from the emphatic assertions in 1:19, 2:9; but the generality of the language there used shows that their opinions had not been stated with such precision as was the case when St. John wrote his Gospel, or, not to assume his authorship, when the Gospel bearing his name was written.

Baur, on the other hand, regards the Epistle to the Colossians (as well as that to the Ephesians) as written from an early Gnostic point of view, at a time, namely, when Gnostic ideas first coming into vogue still appeared to be unobjectionable Christian speculation. The errors combated were, he thought, those of the Ebionites, who maintained circumcision, abstained from animal food, observed the Jewish Sabbath, and attached high importance to the doctrine of angels and religious worship of them, and, lastly, considered Christ to be only one of these: ἐκτίσθαι ὡς ἕνα τῶν Haer. xxx. 16).

In which of St. Paul’s Epistles, says Baur, do we find τὰ ἐπουράνια classified as they are in Eph. and Col.?

The reply is obvious; the classification of the celestial hierarchy which we find in these Epistles is not Paul’s at all (as will be shown in the exposition), but that of the false teachers.

In reference, again, to the assertion in Col. and Eph., that Christ is the creative principle of everything existing, and therefore that to Him is attributed absolute pre-existence, Baur remarks that “it is true that we find certain hints of similar views in the homologoumena of the apostle, but they are no more than hints, the meaning of which is open to question; while here, on the contrary, the absolute premundane existence is the dominating the pervading element within which the whole thought of these Epistles moves.” For the idea that Christ’s activity comprehends heavenly and earthly things at once and in the same degree, there is, he says, no analogy in Paul’s writings, but we are here transported to a circle of ideas which belongs to a different era, namely, the period of Gnosticism (St. Paul, Eng. tr. p. 7). The Gnostic systems, says Baur, rest on the root idea that all spiritual life which has proceeded from the supreme God has to return to its original unity, and to be taken back again into the absolute principle, so that every discord which has arisen shall be resolved into harmony. And so in these Epistles Christ’s work is mainly that of restoring, bringing back, and making unity. His work is contemplated as a mediation and atonement whose effects extend to the whole universe.

Accepting Holtzmann’s caution (p. 296), that when critics like Baur and himself speak of Gnostic colouring in the Epistle, they do not mean Gnosticism proper, we may reply, first, that according to the above statement of Baur, the root idea of Gnostic systems includes the emanation of inferior spiritual existences from the Supreme; and this can hardly be separated from the idea of the creation of matter by the inferior spirits, since it was just to explain the evil of matter that the theory of emanations, etc., was devised. Of these ideas there is no trace in the Epistle except by way of opposition. The notion of successive evolutions from the Divine nature, forming the links of a chain which binds the finite to the Infinite, is utterly opposed to the teaching of the Epistle; nor is it conceivable as a later development of anything that the writer himself says. It is, however, quite consistent with the teaching that he condemns. Secondly, the idea of reconciliation is wholly different from that of return to the unity of the Divine nature of that which has emanated or been evolved from it.

Baur, indeed, admits the possibility that the conception of the work of Christ which is exhibited in these Epistles may be harmonised with the Pauline Christology and doctrine of atonement; yet it is certain, he adds, that with Paul these ideas never assume the prominence which they have here. It is a transcendental region into which Paul looked now and then, but of which he had no definite views, and which he never introduced into his Epistles from a taste for metaphysical speculation.

“As even the Christology of these Epistles bears unmistakably the impress of Gnosticism,” says Baur, “we meet also with other Gnostic conceptions”; and he draws attention especially to πλήρωμα. The Gnostic πλήρωμα is not the Absolute itself, but it is that in which the Absolute realises the conception of itself. According to the doctrine of the Valentinians, it is the sum of the aeons by which the original Divine source is filled.

Now this, says Baur, is just the conception of the Pleroma which we find in both our Epistles; the only difference being that there is no express mention here of a plurality of aeons as the complement of the Pleroma, and that not the supreme God Himself, but Christ, is the Pleroma, since only in Christ does the self-existent God unfold Himself in the fulness of concrete life. He finds a further remarkable agreement with the Valentinians in the comparison of the relation of husband to wife with that of Christ to the Church, since, according to the Valentinians, the aeons were divided into male and female, united in pairs called syzygies. Hence he explains how as Christ is the πλήρωμα, so also is the Church—that is to say, she is the πλήρωμα of Christ; since He is the πλήρωμα in the highest sense, she is τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσι πληρουμένου.

The latter suggestion scarcely merits a serious refutation. To compare the position of Christ as viewed by the writer with that of one of the aeons of the Valentinians, is to contradict the fundamental thesis of the Epistles, namely, that Christ is exalted far above all existences, earthly and heavenly, by whatever name they may be called. Equally remote from the writer’s thought, and irreconcilable with it, is the conception of ἐκκλησία as an aeon co-ordinate with Christ. Indeed, the whole system of syzygies or duads was devised as a theory of successive generation. Nothing in the remotest degree resembling this appears in the Epistles. Throughout both, the relation of Christ to the Church is that of the head to the body; the figure of marriage is introduced only incidentally, not with the view of illustrating or explaining the union of Christ and the Church by that of man and wife, but in order to set forth the love of Christ as the Head, for His Body, the Church, as a pattern for the Christian husband; and it is the headship of Christ that is used to illustrate the headship of the man—“For we are members of His body.” The idea of the thing illustrated reacts in the writer’s mind on the conception of that with which it was compared, and so there grows up a new representation of the relation of Christ to the Church.

As to the word πλήρωμα, so far is the conception in our Epistles from being just the same as that of the Valentinians, that the difference which Baur himself mentions is a vital one. What the writer so emphatically asserts is that the whole πλήρωμα resides in Christ, not a mere fraction of it, not a single Divine power only, as the Gnostic use of the word would suggest. That some such view as this, of a part only of the πλήρωμα residing in Christ, was held by the Colossian false teachers, may be fairly inferred from the writer’s insistence on πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα, κ.τ.λ. It is simple and natural, then, to suppose that he purposely employs a term common to himself and them in such a way as to combat directly their erroneous views. How can such a fact be supposed to indicate a Gnostic tendency on the part of the writer?

In fact, once it is admitted that the thoughts expressed in this Epistle (or that to the Ephesians) are capable of being reconciled to those of St. Paul, it is no longer possible to use the (supposed) Gnostic colouring as an argument against the genuineness of a writing which bears the name of Paul, and which in addition has such strong external support. It is true these thoughts have more prominence and are more developed here than in the acknowledged Epistles, but this is fully accounted for by the nature of the errors with which the apostle had to contend. The circumstances of Rome, Corinth, and Galatia were not such as to call for such an exposition as we find here; indeed, in the Epistles to the last two Churches, at least, it would have been singularly out of place. It is not to a taste for indulging in metaphysical speculation that we are to trace its presence here, but to the exigencies of the case. But, then, it is said that although St. Paul did now and then look into this transcendental region, he had no definite views of it. What then? If the Epistles are genuine, several years had elapsed since the writing of the four great Epistles. Was the apostle’s mind so rigid that we cannot conceive his views becoming more developed and more distinct in the interval of five or six years? Nothing was more likely to further their development than the presence of erroneous teaching. Just as the articles of the Church’s creed took form only gradually as errors sprang up, so in an individual mind, even in that of the apostle, a particular truth would be more distinctly recognised and more precisely formulated when the opposing error presented itself.

It may be remarked that Baur found traces of Gnostic thought in the Epistle to the Philippians also, the genuineness of which has, however, been acknowledged by almost all subsequent critics, including Hausrath (who supposes it made up of two Epistles), Hilgenfeld, Holtzmann, Pfleiderer, Reuss, Renan, Schenkel. Indeed, it may be regarded as practically beyond question. This is not without importance for the Epistle to the Colossians, for it supplies an answer to the objections to the latter Ep. founded on the loftiness of the attributes assigned to Christ. For it contains nothing that goes beyond Philippians 2:6-11. On the other hand, the Epistle to the Colossians, as Renan observes, cannot be separated from the Epistle to Philemon. The coincidence in some of the names mentioned might be explained by the hypothesis that the forger of the longer Epistle made use of the shorter. But the differences exclude this supposition (see Salmon, Introduction, ch. xx.). Col. mentions Jesus, surnamed Justus, an otherwise unknown person, in addition to those mentioned in Philem., while Philemon is not mentioned at all. Again, while Aristarchus and Epaphras are mentioned in both Epp., it is the former that is called fellow-prisoner in Col., the latter in Philemon. But there is nothing in the Ep. to Philemon to suggest Colossae as the city of his residence. We learn his connexion with it only by finding his runaway slave Onesimus mentioned in Col. as “one of you.” Having learned this we observe further that Archippus, who in the private Epistle appears as an intimate, perhaps son, of Philemon, is mentioned in Col. in such a way as to suggest that he held office either there or in Laodicea. Certainly the way in which his name is introduced there is as unlike as possible to the contrivance of a forger. That Onesimus alone should be mentioned as Paul’s messenger in the letter to Philemon, but Tychicus with him in the public Epistle, is perfectly natural.

Now the genuineness of the Epistle to Philemon is beyond question; in fact, in the whole range of literature there is no piece which bears more unmistakably the stamp of originality and genuineness. To quote Renan: “Paul seul, autant qu’il semble, a pu écrire ce petit chef d’oeuvre.” Baur, indeed, felt himself compelled to reject it in consequence of its intimate connexion with Col. and Eph., and then set himself to confirm his rejection by an examination of the diction of the Epistle and of the circumstances supposed. His argument is valuable as a reductio ad absurdum of his whole method.

V. Soden remarks that there is a striking correspondence both in language and thought between the Ep. to the Colossians and to the only other document which we possess from the apostle’s hand during his Roman imprisonment, viz. the Ep. to the Philippians (as he does not accept Eph.). Thus as to language he compares πληροῦν in Col. three times, in Phil. four times: σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ, Colossians 3:12, Philippians 2:1: λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ, Colossians 1:25, Philippians 1:14: περιτομή (figurative), Colossians 2:11, Philippians 3:3: Colossians 2:1, Philippians 1:30: Colossians 2:5, Philippians 1:27: δεσμοί, Colossians 4:18, Philippians 1:7, Philippians 1:13 f., Philippians 1:17: τὰ κατʼ ἐμέ, Colossians 4:7, Philippians 1:12: ταπεινοφροσύνη, Colossians 2:23, Colossians 3:12, Philippians 2:3: καρποφοροῦντες, Colossians 1:10, πεπληρωμένοι καρπόν, Philippians 1:11: ἄμωμος, Colossians 1:22, Philippians 2:15: τέλειος, Colossians 1:28, Philippians 3:15: κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν, κ.τ.λ., Colossians 1:29, Philippians 3:21: ἄνω, Colossians 3:1, Philippians 3:14: τὰἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, Colossians 3:2, ἐπίγεια, Philippians 3:19: βραβεῖον, Philippians 3:14, καταβραβεύειν, Colossians 2:18. As to style, he compares the brevity of Colossians 4:17 and Philippians 4:2; the introduction of a judgment by a relative, Colossians 2:23, Philippians 1:28, Philippians 3:19: the sentences, Colossians 1:9, Philippians 1:11: the prayer for ἐπίγνωσις, Colossians 1:9 f.; Philippians 1:9: the wish καὶεἰρήνη, κ.τ.λ., Colossians 3:15, Philippians 4:7: the similar ideas, Colossians 1:24 and Philippians 3:10; Colossians 2:18 and Philippians 3:3; Colossians 1:24 and Philippians 2:30: the references to what the readers had heard, Colossians 1:7, Philippians 4:9: and, lastly, the close correspondence of some peculiar dogmatic expressions; see 1:19 ff.


For these see Introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians where it is shown to be probable that the Epistle was written from Rome about a.d. 63. The occasion seems to have been the information furnished by Epaphras of the dangers to which the Church at Colossae was exposed from heretical teachers.


For the relation to the Epistle to the Ephesians, see the Introduction to that Epistle.

The relation to the Apocalypse deserves particular notice. It is especially in the Epistle to Laodicea, Revelation 3:14-21, that we find resemblances. In that Epistle, St. John, speaking in the person of the Lord, declares almost in the language of St. Paul that He is the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, ἡ Colossians 1:15, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως. Doubtless there still remained some trace of the heresy which St. Paul combated. Again, Revelation 3:21, δώσω αὐτῷ καθίσαι μετʼ ἐμοῦ ἐν τῷ θρόνῳ μου, κ.τ.λ., is very parallel to Colossians 3:1 and Ephesians 2:6, and here again there is nothing similar in the other Epistles. “This double coincidence (says Lightfoot), affecting the two ideas which may be said to cover the whole ground in the Epistle to the Colossians, can hardly, I think, be fortuitous, and suggests an acquaintance with and recognition of the earlier apostle’s teaching, on the part of St. John” (p. 42).


List of ἅπαξ λεγόμενα in the Epistle to the Colossians

ἀθυμεῖν, αἰσχρολογία, Ephesians 6:10), ἐθελοθρησκεία, εἰρηνοποιεῖν, ἐμβατεύειν, εὐχάριστος, θεότης, καταβραβεύειν, μετακινεῖν, μομφή, νουμηνία, ὁρατός, παρηγορία, πιθανολογία, πλησμονή, προακούειν, προσηλοῦν, πρωτεύειν, στερέωμα, συλαγωγεῖν, σωματικῶς, φιλοσοφία, χειρόγραφου. More than half of these (18) are in ch. 2. only.

Words which occur in other Writers of the N.T., but not in St. Paul


Pauline Words

The following are found only in St. Paul:

Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Alting (J.), Analysis exegetica in Ep. ad Coloss. Opp. Amstel. 1687.

Aretius (Bened.), Comm. Morgis. 1580.

Bayne (Paul), Comm. on Ep. to Colossians. Lond. 1634.

Bugenhagen. See Ephesians.

Byfield (Nicholas), An Exposition on the Ep. to the Col. Lond. 1617, al.

Calixtus. See Ephesians.

Cartwright (Thos.), Comm. Lond. 1603.

Crellius, Comm. et Paraphrasis in Col.

Davenant (John, Bp. of Salisbury), Expositio Ep. Pauli ad Coloss. Cantab. 1627; transl. Lond. 1831.

Daillé or Dallaeus (Joannes), Sermons sur l’ Epistre aux Col_3Col_3 tom. Gen. 1662; transl. Lond. 1672, again Lond. 1841.

D’Outrein (Joh.), Sendbrief, etc. Amst. 1695. (In German) Frankf. 1696.

Elton (Edw.), Exposition of the Ep. to the Colossiansin Sundry Sermons. Lond. 1615, al.

Ferguson (Jas.), A brief Exposition of the Epp. to the Phil. and Col. Edinb. 1656, al.

Grynaeus (Jo. Jac.), Explicatio … Basil, 1585.

Melanchthon (Phil.), Enarratio Epistolae Pauli ad Coloss. Witenb. 1559.

Musculus (Wolfg.), Comm. in Epp. ad Philip. Coloss. etc Basil, 1565.

Olevianus (Gaspar), Notae, etc. Gen. 1580.

Quiros (Aug. de), Comment. Lugd. 1623.

Rollock (Rob.), In Ep. Pauli ad Col. Comm. Edin 1600

Slichtingius, Comm. in plerosque N.T. libros. Eleutherop. 1656.

Schmid (Seb.), Paraphrsis super Ep. ad Col. Strassb. 1696, al.

Suicer(J. H.), In Ep. S. Pauli ad Col. Comment. crit. exeget. theolog. Tiguri, 1669.

Woodhead. See Ephesians.

Zanchius (Hier.), Comm. Opp. Gen. 1619.

Zuinglius (Ulr.), Comm. Opp. Tiguri [1545].

Eighteenth Century

Baumgarten. See Ephesians.

Boysen, Erklärung, u.s.w. Quedlinb. 1766-81.

Gleich, Predigten. Dresd. 1717.

Hazevoet, Verklaering. Leyden, 1720.

Koning, Openlegging. Leyden, 1739.

Lutken, Predigten. Gardel. 1718, al.

Michaelis. See Ephesians.

Peirce (Jas.), A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epp. to the Col. Phil. and Heb. after the manner of Mr. Locke. Lond. 1727, al.

Roell, Ep. Pauli ad Col. exegesis. Traj. 1731.

Storr (Gottlob Chr.), Dissertatio exegetica in Epistolae ad Col. partem priorem [et poster]. Tübing. 1783-87; transl. Edinb. 1842.

Streso, Meditationes. Amst. 1708.

Til (Salomon v.). See Ephesians.

Zachariae (G. T.). See Ephesians.

Nineteenth Century

Alexander (Wm., Archbishop of Armagh), Commentary; in the “Speaker’s Commentary.” London

Bähr (Felix), Comment. über d. Brief Pauli au die Kol. mit stäter Berücksichtigung d. ältern u. neuern Ausleger. Basel, 1833.

Barry. See Ephesians.

Baumgarten-Crusius. See Ephesians.

Beet. See Ephesians.

Bisping, Erklärung. Münster, 1855.

Bleek. See Ephesians.

Böhmer (W.), Theol. Auslegung des Pauli Sendschreiben an die Col. Breslau, 1835.

Braune. See Ephesians.

Dalmer (Ed. Fr.), Auslegung, u.s.w. Gotha, 1855.

Decker, Bearbeitung. Hamb. 1848.

Eadie (John), Commentary on the Greek Text of the Ep. of Paul to the Colossians. Edinb. 1855, 1884.

Ellicott (C. J., Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol), A Critical and Grammatical Comm. on St. Paul’s Epp. to the Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon, with a Revised Translation. Lond. 1857, al.

Ewald. See Ephesians.

Findlay (G. G.), “Colossians” in Pulpit Commentary.

Flatt (J. F. v.), Vorlesung. über d. Br. Pauli an die Phil. Kol. etc. Tübing. 1829.

Gisborne (Thos.), Exposition and Applicationin Eight Sermons. Lond. 1816.

Heinrichs (J. H.), In Koppe’s Nov. Test. Graec. etc. Götting. 1803, al.

Hofmann (J. Chr. v.), Die Briefe Pauli an die Col. u. an Philemon. Nördlingen, 1870.

Huther (Joh. Ed.), Comm. u.s.w. Hamb. 1841.

Junker (Friedr.), Histor. Krit. u. philolog. Comm. München, 1828.

Kähler (C. R.), Auslegung. Eislehen, 1853.

Klöpper (A.), Der Brief an die Kolosser. Berlin, 1882.

Lightfoot (J. B., Bishop of Durham), St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, A Revised Text with Introductions, Notes, and Dissertations. Lond. 1875, al.

Maclaren (Alex.), “Colossians” in The Expositor’s Bible.

Messner, Erklärung. Brixen, 1863.

Moule (H. C. G.), “The Epp. to Colossians and to Philemon” in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Camb. 1893.

Schnedermann. See Ephesians.

Steiger (W.), Der Brief Pauli an die Epheser; Uebersetzung, Erklärung, einleitende u. epikritische Abhandlungen. Erlangen, 1835.

Thomasius (G.), Praktische Auslegung, u.s.w. Erlang. 1869.

Watson (Thos.), Discourses. 3rd ed. Lond. 1838.

Wilson (Dan., Bishop of Calcutta), Lectures, etc. Lond. 1845, al.

Wiesinger (J. C. Aug.), In Olshausen’s Comm. Königsb. 1850; transl. Edinb. 1851.

Wohlenberg. See Ephesians.

Weiss. See Ephesians.

1 For a list of the principal passages compared, see Introduction to the EP. to the Ephesians.