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Bible Commentaries
Colossians 4

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verse 1


Wives, be in subjection to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter towards them.

Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged.

Servants, obey in all things your lords according to flesh, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever ye do, work from the heart as for the Lord and not for men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance. The Lord Christ, ye serve. For he that acts unjustly will receive the injustice he has done: and there is no respect of persons. Masters, the just thing and equality render to your servants, knowing that ye have a Master in heaven.

After putting before his readers in § 12 virtues appropriate to, and binding upon, all Christians alike, Paul remembers that many of his readers bear one to another special relations, involving special and mutual obligations. Of these mutual relations of certain classes of his readers, he now speaks: viz. of wives and husbands in Colossians 3:18-19; of children and fathers, in Colossians 3:20-21; of servants and masters, in Colossians 3:22 to Colossians 4:1. In each pair of relations, the subordinate member is put first as being under a more conspicuous obligation.

Colossians 3:18-19. Literally, Women, be in subjection to the men: for the Greek language has no distinctive terms corresponding to our words wife, husband. But the reference to married persons is unmistakable.

Be-in-subjection: not worse in quality but lower in position. Same word in Luke 2:51; 1 Corinthians 15:28, the divine pattern of subordination; and in Titus 2:5; Titus 2:9; 1 Corinthians 14:34; Romans 13:1; Romans 13:5, etc. It suggests arrangement and order.

Fitting in the Lord: such subordination being an appropriate acceptance on their part of the position given by Christ to women. A fuller account of this suitability is given in Ephesians 5:22-24.

Literally, as above, Men, love the women.

Bitter: contrasted in James 3:11 with sweet. Cognate word in Revelation 8:11; Revelation 10:9-10. Similar words in all languages denote acute unpleasantness of word, demeanour, or thought. The stronger party, having nothing to fear from the weaker, is frequently in danger of acting or speaking harshly. To refrain from such harshness, even towards those we love, is sometimes, amid the irritations of life, no easy task. But it is binding upon the Christian.

Colossians 3:20-21. Obey: literally, listen from below, i.e. listen to, and obey, their commands. The wife must place herself in a lower position as compared with her husband: children must pay attention to their parents’ bidding.

In all things; cannot include sinful commands: for even a parent’s command cannot excuse sin, although it may mitigate the blame attaching to the child. Sometimes, but very seldom, a command evidently unwise is not binding on a child. But such cases are abnormal and do not come within the horizon of Paul’s thought. The universality here asserted embraces the entire activity of the child in all ordinary cases. A sinful command lays no obligation upon wife, child, or servant. This exception reveals the imperfection of all verbal precepts. They must be interpreted, not always according to the letter, but in the light of the inborn moral sense. This is specially true of positive commands.

Well-pleasing: without any limitation as to the person pleased. (So Titus 2:9.) Obedience is beautiful in itself and therefore pleasant to God and man.

In the Lord: as in Colossians 3:18. The child’s obedience to his parents must have Christ for its encompassing and permeating element. See further under Ephesians 6:1.

Then follows the corresponding obligation to the fathers. These only are mentioned, as being the chief depositaries of parental authority.

Provoke: conduct calculated to arouse either action or emotion. In the former and in a good sense, in 2 Corinthians 9:2 : here in the latter and in a bad sense. Paul forbids irritating commands or action. Close parallel with the injunction in Colossians 3:19. It notes in each case a frequent fault of the stronger party.

That they be not discouraged: motive for the foregoing. Irritating commands cause little ones to lose heart: and than this nothing is more fatal to their moral development.

Such are the duties involved in the tender relations of life. Wives must take a lower place, and children must listen to their parents’ commands. And in each case this must be in the Lord, i.e. as part of their service of Christ. Such conduct befits the wife’s actual position, and is beautiful in the child. It is, to both wives and children, the real place of honour. But they to whom this submission is due are themselves bound by corresponding obligations. They must pay the debt of love; and must refrain from making their superior strength a means of gratifying a vexatious spirit, and thus causing pain.

Colossians 3:22. From relations implying social equality, Paul now passes to a most important social relation implying inferiority; a relation already treated casually but forcibly in 1 Corinthians 7:21 f.

Servants, or slaves: see under Romans 1:1.

Obey: a duty binding alike on children and slaves.

In all things: same words and compass and limitation as in Colossians 3:20.

Lords: ordinary Greek term for masters. Cp. Galatians 4:1; 1 Peter 3:6. It is the exact correlative to servants. The one works at the bidding and for the profit of the other. See under Romans 1:1. This common use of the word lord gives definiteness to it when applied to Christ. He is the Master whose word we obey and whose work we are doing. See especially Colossians 4:1.

Lords according to flesh: their domain being determined and limited by the outward bodily life. Same phrase in Romans 9:3; Romans 9:5; 1 Corinthians 10:18. This limitation suggests that there is another department of the slave’s life not controlled by an earthly master.

Not with etc.: description, negative and positive, of the kind of service to be rendered.

Eye-service: found only here and Ephesians 6:6. It is work done only to please the master’s eye. All such servants look upon themselves as men-pleasers. To please men, is their aim: and therefore naturally their work is only such as falls within the range of human observation. Such merely external service is utterly unworthy of the Christian. For it brings him down to the level of those whose well-being depends on the smile of their fellows. A close parallel from the pen of Paul in Galatians 1:10.

Singleness of heart: exact opposite of eye-service, which is a hollow deception and does not come from the heart.

Fearing the Lord: i.e. Christ, the One Master. Where true reverence of the Master is, there is singleness of heart: for His eye searches the heart. Where the all-seeing Master is forgotten, we seek as our highest good the favour of men: and our service sinks down to the external forms which alone lie open to the eye of man. Thus fear of the Supreme Lord saves even the slave from degrading bondage to man.

Colossians 3:23. Another exhortation, without connecting particle, expounding and supporting the exhortation of Colossians 3:22.

Whatever ye do, or be doing: emphatic assertion of a universal obligation.

From the heart: literally from the soul, i.e. the seat of life. Same phrase in Ephesians 6:6; Mark 12:30; Deuteronomy 6:5. That which we work with our hands must not be mechanical but must flow from the animating principle within.

As for the Lord: the worker’s view of his own work, in contrast to a lower view of the same, as men-pleasers. Our work must be done to please the One Master, and not men, each of whom is but one among many. [The negative ουκ, where we might expect μη, embeds in an exhortation a virtual assertion. The work ye do is not for men.]

Colossians 3:24. Knowing that etc.: a favourite phrase of Paul, e.g. Romans 5:3; 1 Corinthians 15:58. It introduces a reason for the foregoing, based on known reality.

From the Lord ye shall receive: counterpart to for the Lord.

The inheritance: eternal life, looked upon as awaiting the slave in virtue of his filial relation to God. So Romans 8:17. And inasmuch as the blessings of eternal life are in proportion (2 Corinthians 5:10) to the faithfulness of his service of Christ, they are spoken of as the recompense of the inheritance. This will come from the one Master. Knowing this, and doing all our work for Him, we do it from the heart.

Ye-serve or serve-ye the Lord Christ: either an emphatic reassertion of an objective truth underlying Colossians 3:22-24, or an exhortation to make this truth subjectively the principle of our own life. The former exposition tells the slave his privilege: the latter bids him claim it; cp. 1 Corinthians 7:23. As Colossians 3:24 a is a statement of known fact, perhaps the former exposition is better: but the practical difference is slight.

Colossians 3:25. He that acts-unjustly; seems to refer specially to unjust masters, although it would include slaves. The same word in Philemon 1:18 refers to a slave’s dishonesty. But that Paul refers here to the master’s injustice, is made likely by the fact that this assertion of just recompense is given to support the foregoing assertion that Christian slaves are servants of Christ: for he that etc. That they are such, is more easily understood if they remember that even their master, at whose caprice they sometimes seem to be, will himself receive exact retribution for whatever injustice he has done. A very close coincidence of thought and phrase in 2 Corinthians 5:10. This chief reference to the master is also supported by the word respect-of persons: same word in same connection in Romans 2:11. For the master has very much more of the outward aspect which might seem to claim exemption from just retribution than has the slave. Moreover, a reference to masters is a convenient stepping stone to Colossians 4:1, where we learn that even slaves have claims upon their masters’ justice.

Colossians 4:1. The corresponding duties of masters, already suggested in Colossians 3:25.

The just-thing; recognises rights between master and slave. Similarly, in Matthew 18:23-34 we have commercial transactions between a master and his slaves. The specific application to the slave of the essential principles of justice, Paul leaves to the master’s own sense of right.

The equality: a word frequent in Greek for even-handed justice, almost in the sense of our word equity. And this is probably its meaning here. Not only the just thing, viz. that which law demands, but also equity, that even-handed dealing which can never be absolutely prescribed by law. It has been suggested that Paul here bids masters treat their slaves as equally with themselves members of the family of God: so Philemon 1:16. But this would need a more definite indication than we have here, whereas the exposition adopted above is suggested naturally; by the foregoing word just. We may therefore accept it as the. more likely.

Knowing that etc.: cp. Colossians 3:24. The action of the master, as of the slave, must rest upon the same basis of intelligent apprehension of objective reality. As in Colossians 3:22, so here, we have a contrast between the many lords and the One Lord. This must influence both slaves and masters.

The longer space given to slaves than to masters is easily accounted for by their greater number in the Church. The fuller treatment of the case of slaves as compared with that of the relations mentioned in Colossians 3:18-21 is explained by the greater difficulty of the subject. Possibly it was suggested to Paul by the conversion and return of Onesimus, a runaway slave. But, apart from this, the immense importance of the bearing of Christianity upon the position and duty of slaves justifies abundantly this careful treatment of the subject.

It is easy to apply to the relation of employers and hired servants, domestic and commercial, Paul’s teaching about a relation which has now happily in this country passed away. For morality rests, not upon exact prescription, but upon broad principles. The worth of specific prescriptions is in the principles they involve. This gives to moral teaching a practical application far wider than the actual words used. Modern masters and workpeople who think only of the money each can make from the other sin against both spirit and letter of the teaching of this section.

Paul has now dealt specifically with the more conspicuous and important social relations, and has shown how the Gospel bears upon each. Those in subordinate relations must accept their position as a part of their relation to Christ; as must those who occupy superior positions. Even slaves must remember that their hard lot is in a real sense sacred. In that lot they are serving, not men, but Christ. Moreover, their service is not vain. As recompense, they will receive in the kingdom of God the inheritance which belongs to His sons. Paul bids them live up to this glorious position, to look upon themselves as servants of Christ, and to render to Him with joyful hearts such service as His piercing eye will approve. On the other hand, masters must remember that they owe to their slaves not merely what the law demands but even-handed fairness.

Verses 2-6


CH. 4:2-6.

Continually devote yourselves to prayer; watching therein with thanksgiving; at the same time praying also about us, that God may open to us a door of the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, because of which also I am bound; in order that I may make it manifest, as I must needs speak.

Walk in wisdom towards those outside, buying up the opportunity. Let your word be always with grace, seasoned with salt, to know how ye must needs answer each one.

Continuously-devote-yourselves to prayer, or persevere in prayer: same words and sense in Romans 12:12; Acts 1:14. They suggest a continuance which requires effort.

Watching: same word in 1 Corinthians 16:13. It is the opposite of sleep: Matthew 26:40; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:10. In our persistent prayers, our spiritual faculties must be in active exercise. We must, while we pray, be keenly alive to our own needs and dangers and to the promises of God.

With (or in) thanksgiving: appropriate accompaniment, or surrounding element, of these watchful prayers. Close coincidence with Colossians 3:17; Colossians 3:15; Colossians 2:7. Ceaseless prayer combined with ceaseless praise was the atmosphere of Paul’s spiritual life.

Colossians 4:3-4. Beside prayer in general, to which in Colossians 4:2 Paul exhorts, he now places specific prayer for himself and his companions: at the same time praying also about us. He includes doubtless Timothy and other companions who share Paul’s toil and need.

That God may open etc.: precise object for which Paul would have his readers pray.

A door of the word: a door for the Gospel to go through, i.e. an opportunity of preaching it. Cp. Acts 14:27. Such opportunity has already been given to Paul at Ephesus and Corinth: 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12, He desires it now. His request implies that the events of life, on which such opportunities depend, are under the control of God.

To speak etc.: purpose of the desired opportunity. It expounds the door of the word.

The mystery of Christ: as in Ephesians 3:4; cp. Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:2. It is the secret which pertains to Christ, and lies hidden in Him, a secret known only to those to whom God reveals it. That this secret has been committed to Paul and that therefore he is able to speak the mystery of Christ, makes him eager for an opportunity of doing so.

Because of which I am also bound, or lie bound: the hostility of the Jews, which caused his arrest. having been aroused by his faithful proclamation of salvation for all men. Paul remembers the price he has paid for the privilege of preaching the Gospel.

Make-manifest: set publicly and conspicuously before the eyes of men: see under Romans 1:19. It is the correlative of mystery: Colossians 1:26; Romans 16:25. Another slightly different correlative is reveal: Ephesians 3:5; Romans 16:25. Paul desired so to speak as to set before all men the Gospel in which lies hidden, ready to be revealed to those who receive the word in faith, the great secrets which to know is eternal life. For this end he desires that God may open for him a door of the word.

As I must needs speak: not obligation but absolute necessity. Same word in same sense in Colossians 4:6, and in Ephesians 6:20; Romans 1:27; Romans 8:26; 1 Corinthians 8:2. The needs of the world and the grandeur of the Gospel were to Paul an imperative necessity leaving him no choice but compelling him as if by main force to preach the word wherever he could and at all cost. This felt necessity forces from him now this cry for the help of his readers’ prayers.

Notice here a marked characteristic of Paul, viz. constant desire for the prayers of Christians. So Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; Ephesians 6:19. This desire is the strongest possible proof of his confidence in the power of prayer.

The open door for which Paul begs his readers to pray must have included the opening of his prison door: for in prison he could not preach the Gospel as the world’s need demanded. But the progress of the Gospel, not personal liberty, was the real object of his desire. Indeed, personal liberty was to him of value chiefly as a means of preaching the word.

Colossians 4:5. Preaching the word reminds Paul of those outside the Church, and of the influence upon them of everything done by members of the Church.

In wisdom: as in Colossians 1:28; Colossians 3:16.

Those outside: as in 1 Corinthians 5:12. In our various relations to these, we must choose our steps in the light of knowledge of the eternal realities.

The opportunity or season: the fit time for action: same word in Galatians 4:10; Galatians 6:9-10. Paul thinks either of life as an opportunity of advancing the Kingdom of God, or of any opportunity which may from time to time arise. Since life is made up of opportunities, and from these derives its worth, the practical difference between these expositions is hardly perceptible.

Buy-up: same word as redeem in Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5. By using well an opportunity we make it our abiding enrichment: and the effort required in doing so is the price paid for the enrichment. The greatness and value of the possibilities of life, the opportunities it affords for influencing the unsaved, and the difficulty of seizing them as they pass, demand that every step be taken with wisdom.

This verse closely resembles Ephesians 5:15-16.

Colossians 4:6. Your word: especially to those outside, as is suggested by the end of the verse.

With grace: same words as in Colossians 3:16. But here apparently we have the frequent classic sense of gracefulness. Same word in this sense in Ecclesiastes 10:12, The words of a wise man’s mouth are grace; and Psalms 45:2, Grace is poured in thy lips. The discourse of Christians should ever be clothed with moral attractiveness. (The common associations of the word grace remind us that this attractiveness is by the undeserved favour of God.)

Seasoned, i.e. made pleasant to the taste, with salt: same words together in Mark 9:50; Luke 14:34. To the idea of attractiveness to the eye suggested by the word grace, these words add that of piquancy to the intellectual taste.

To know how etc.: further account of the discourse Paul desires in his readers.

To answer each one: either objecting, or asking information.

Must needs answer: to Paul’s thought a good answer is an absolute necessity. He desires his readers to know how to give an answer which in each case will meet this necessity. The same necessity rests upon all who advocate the Gospel among those who professedly reject it. Cp. 1 Peter 3:15.

DIVISION IV. shows how the doctrinal teaching of Christ bears on morals and quickens into beauty even the common and little things of life. Christ requires from His servants a complete separation from all evil, and bids them put on a new life marked especially by kindness and forbearance. The Gospel, which places all men on one spiritual level as children of God, does not obliterate social distinctions; but makes each of them an opportunity of serving Christ. Even the great Apostle begs for his readers’ prayers that he may have opportunity to speak the word as it needs to be spoken. And he remembers that in their words to others they need wisdom and the ornament of a Christian spirit.

Verses 7-9



All the matters referring to me, Tychicus will make known to you, a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord; whom I have sent to you for this very thing, that ye may know the things about us and that he may encourage your hearts, with Onesimus our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. All the things here, they will make known to you.

Colossians 4:7. The matters referring to me: same words in same sense in Philippians 1:12. All matters personal to Paul, Tychicus will tell the Colossian Christians. It is therefore needless for Paul to say more about his condition or surroundings.

Minister: see under Romans 12:8. The same word denotes the office of a deacon in Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:12; and possibly Romans 16:1. But its various uses make it unlikely that standing here alone it has this technical sense. This would require further specification, as in Romans 16:1. Nor is it probable that the word alone would bear the sense of minister of the Gospel or of Christ; as in Colossians 1:7; Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:25. It is easiest to suppose that Tychicus was Paul’s minister or assistant; according to the simplest meaning of the word, e.g. Matthew 20:26; Matthew 23:11, and the corresponding verb in Philemon 1:13; Romans 15:25; Hebrews 6:10. In this sense Mark was useful to Paul for ministry: 2 Timothy 4:11. That Tychicus belonged to a band of helpers surrounding Paul, is made likely by the fact that Paul sent him, as here stated, to Colossæ, also (Ephesians 6:22; 2 Timothy 4:12) to Ephesus twice; and had thoughts of sending him (Titus 3:12) on another mission. An important coincidence with all this occurs in Acts 20:4, where Tychicus is one of a small band of companions travelling with Paul. In this last passage he is said to be a native of Asia, of which Roman province Ephesus was the capital: another important coincidence. The above references are our only sources of information about Tychicus. But he was a beloved brother and trustworthy helper. While speaking of him thus, Paul remembers that both himself and Tychicus are servants of one divine Master; and therefore calls him a fellow-servant: same word in Colossians 1:7. Similar transition of thought in Philippians 2:22.

In the Lord: embracing probably the entire description of Tychicus: same words in Philippians 1:14; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:21. The one Master was the surrounding element of the whole brotherhood, of the assistance to Paul, and of the joint service.

Colossians 4:8. Whom I have sent: so Paul frequently sent to various Churches his trusted helpers: 1 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 9:3; Philippians 2:19; Philippians 2:23; Philippians 2:25; Philippians 2:28; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:5. In this mission, the matters referring to himself were Paul’s first thought: Colossians 4:8. But, remembering that others share his perils and toils and the interest and affection of the Christians at Colossæ, he passes from the singular in Colossians 4:7, touching me, to the plural here: that ye may know the things concerning us.

Encourage your hearts: as in Colossians 2:2. Thus Tychicus had a double errand, to take information about Paul and his companions and to cheer and stimulate the Colossian Christians.

Colossians 4:9. Onesimus: only here and Philemon 1:10. This passing mention of him receives light from, and casts light upon, the Epistle to Philemon.

See Introd. v.

Faithful or trustworthy: specially suitable as a commendation of a runaway slave.

One of you; implies that in some way Onesimus came from Colossæ, either as a native or as a former inhabitant.

All the things here; marks the completion of the matter opened by similar words at the beginning of Colossians 4:7.

The mention of Tychicus in Colossians 4:7 and of Onesimus in Colossians 4:9 links this Epistle closely with those to the Ephesians and to Philemon. The references to Tychicus here and in Ephesians 6:22 are valuable comments on the character of a good man about whom we know very little. Thus this casual insertion of these two names both helps us to reproduce in thought the surroundings of the Apostle, and affords some confirmation of the genuineness of the Epistles which bear his name and of the historic truthfulness of the Book of Acts.

Verses 10-18


CH. 4:10-18.

There greets you Aristarchus, my fellow-prisoner; and Mark the cousin of Barnabas, about whom ye have received commands, if he come to you receive him; and Jesus who is called Justus. Of those who are of the circumcision, these only are fellow-workers for the kingdom of God, men who have become a help to me.

There greets you Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, always wrestling on your behalf in his prayers, that ye may stand mature and fully assured in every will of God. For I bear him witness that he has much labour on behalf of you and of those in Laodicea and those in Hierapolis.

There greets you Luke, the beloved physician; and Demas.

Greet ye the brethren in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the Church in their house. And when the letter has been read among you, cause that it be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans, and that ye read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

The greeting of me Paul by my own hand Remember my bonds. Grace be with you.

Colossians 4:10-11 a. Aristarchus: another companion of Paul, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. He was with Paul in the tumult at Ephesus, and on the return journey from Corinth through Macedonia to Jerusalem, and on his voyage as prisoner to Rome: Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; Acts 27:2. He sends a greeting to Philemon: Philemon 1:24. He is here called a fellow-prisoner, a title given in Philemon 1:23 to Epaphras, while Aristarchus is called only a fellow-worker. Similarly in Romans 16:7 two kinsmen of Paul are called his fellow-prisoners. The word thus used means accurately a prisoner of war. (Cp. Philippians 2:25, fellow-worker and fellow-soldier.) Its precise significance here would be explained by Tychicus: but it is unknown to us. The transference of the title from Aristarchus to Epaphras is specially puzzling, the more so as the letters seem to have been written at the same time. Whether these men voluntarily shared in turn the discomfort of Paul’s prison, or through loyalty to him were themselves actually imprisoned, we have no means of knowing. But in any case this term is a title of high honour. Little did these faithful friends of Paul dream that their imprisonment, of whatever kind it was, would be to them on the imperishable page of Holy Scripture a title of honour as wide as the world and more lasting than time. This cursory mention of Aristarchus reminds us of the great multitude, not thus recorded, whose record is with God.

Mark: Philemon 1:24 : another link connecting the Epistles. Evidently the same man as in 2 Timothy 4:1, where be has a commendation similar to that in Colossians 4:11. There is no reason to doubt that he was the man referred to by Peter (1 Peter 5:13) as Mark, my son. Apparently he was John, surnamed Mark in Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; Acts 15:37, who in Acts 15:39 is called, as here, simply Mark. The mother of this last had a house at Jerusalem to which Peter went when released from prison Acts 12:12. And the Mark here mentioned was (Colossians 4:11) a joy to Paul. This identification is confirmed by the explanation it affords of Barnabas’ strong wish to keep him as his companion after he had once proved faithless: Acts 15:37-39. For in that case they were cousins.

And the references to Mark here and in 2 Timothy 4:11 are pleasant proofs how completely the timid one had regained the friendship and approval of Paul.

Eusebius (Church History bk. ii. 15) says that the Mark to whom Peter refers was the author of the Second Gospel; and (bk. iii. 39) quotes Papias, a writer of the second century, to the same effect, Similarly Irenæus (bk. iii. 10. 6) quotes the beginning and end of the Second Gospel as written by Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter. Eusebius says also (bk. ii. 16) that he founded the Church at Alexandria.

Cousin: the constant sense, except in very late Greek where it has the sense of nephew, of the common Greek word here used. So in Numbers 36:11 (LXX.) it is used as a rendering of their uncle’s sons. And Eusebius (Ch. Hist. iii. 11) speaks of Simeon, second bishop of Jerusalem, as said to be cousin of Christ, on the ground that his father Clopas was brother to Joseph.

Barnabas: the last mention in the N.T. of this valued friend of Paul.

About whom: i.e. Mark, the chief person in Paul’s thought now.

Received commands: already conveyed, as is implied in the past tense. Whether by messenger, or by a lost letter, we do not know. The plural number, commands, in view of the frequent rise of the word in the singular, e.g. Ephesians 6:2; Romans 7:8-13, suggests that Paul’s will was conveyed in more ways than one. Notice the apostolic authority implied in this word, The tenour of these commands is evidently given in the words following.

If he come to you; suggests that Mark had been sent on a mission, and that Paul was uncertain whether in discharging it he would visit Colossæ. Very similar injunction in 1 Corinthians 16:10, if Timothy come, see that etc.

Receive him, welcome him in whatever aspect he presents himself, whether as Paul’s delegate or simply as a brother Christian. Same word in same sense in 2 Corinthians 7:15; 2 Corinthians 11:16; Galatians 4:14.

Jesus: the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, and used for the ancient leader in the LXX. constantly, and in Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8. The same name is also found in the genealogy of Christ: Luke 3:29. Its use here as a designation of an obscure Jewish Christian proves that the Eternal Son bore on earth, not merely a human name, but a name given to ordinary men.

Justis: a Latin name meaning fit or righteous, and common as a Jewish surname. It is the name given by Eusebius (Ch. Hist. iii. 35) to the third bishop of Jerusalem, a Jew. Same name in Acts 1:23, undoubtedly of a Jew; and in Acts 18:7 of a proselyte.

Colossians 4:11 b. The words who are of the circumcision are joined by A.V. and R.V. to the foregoing. This punctuation makes the words following an absolute assertion, and excludes even Epaphras from the number of Paul’s helpers. But this is plainly contradicted by Colossians 4:12 and Colossians 1:7. The words above must therefore be joined to those following, as nominative absolute, limiting the assertion therein contained. Evidently, Paul means that these three men were Jews, and were the only Jews who by joining with him in work for the Kingdom of God, had been a comfort to him. This meaning is best reproduced by rendering Of those who are of the circumcision, these only etc.

Of the circumcision: same phrase in Romans 4:12; Galatians 2:12; Titus 1:10; Acts 10:45; Acts 11:2. It describes their origin by pointing to the visible sign of the Covenant which of old God made with their race.

These only; reminds us of the wide-spread hostility of the Jews to Paul. Cp. Titus 1:10.

Fellow-workers: as in Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:3 : cp. 2 Corinthians 8:23, ‘fellow-worker for you.’ They laboured together each with each and all with Paul, for the advancement of the Kingdom of God; i.e. for the eternal kingdom, over which God will reign for ever, and of which His servants, rescued from the grave to die no more, will be citizens, every citizen sharing its glory and blessedness. For that kingdom Paul and his companions toiled, by drawing men to Christ and thus making them even on earth citizens of this heavenly kingdom, and by teaching each citizen to labour for the same object. They were thus fellow-workers, co-operating harmoniously. Since the work of God needs the co-operation of many workers, a chief Christian excellence is that spirit of harmony which enables one to work well with others. It is the willing subordination of the individual to the general good. Absence of this spirit of brotherhood has frequently hindered the usefulness of able men.

Men who etc.: a larger class to which these three, and of Jews these only, belonged; viz. those who were, or became, a comfort or encouragement to Paul.

Such were Paul’s three Jewish friends at Rome: Aristarchus from Thessalonica, in some way a sharer of his imprisonment; Mark from Jerusalem, himself once a deserter and a cause of contention between Paul and his old friend Barnabas, but now a valued helper; and a brother unknown to us but bearing the sacred name. All these joined with Paul in his toil for the Kingdom of God; and each was to the Apostle, amid the hardships of that toil, a joy in sorrow and a stimulus to exertion. Mark was soon to leave him, and would possibly visit Colossæ. But about him Paul had already sent directions that he receive a worthy welcome.

Colossians 4:12. Another greeting, from Epaphras, the founder of the Church at Colossæ: see under Colossians 1:7.

Who is one of you: same words and sense as in Colossians 4:9. Like Onesimus, Epaphras came from Colossæ either as a native or as a former inhabitant.

Servant of Jesus Christ: a title of highest honour, though shared by all Christians. For the faithfulness of our service of Christ is the measure of our spiritual stature.

Always etc.: further description of Epaphras.

Wrestling: same word as contend in Colossians 1:29.

Wrestle in prayers: same words in Romans 15:30. The effort of Epaphras’ prayers was like the intense effort of a Greek athlete contending for a prize. The appropriateness of this phrase is felt by all to whom prayer is a reality. And to Epaphras this intense effort was ceaseless: always wrestling. He thus exemplified the exhortation in Colossians 4:2.

Stand: maintain our position and erectness in spite of enemies or burdens threatening to drive us back or crush us. So Ephesians 6:1; Ephesians 6:13-14; Romans 5:2; Romans 11:20, etc. That the Colossian Christians might thus maintain their position in spite of the snares of false doctrine and the hostility of open enemies, was the definite purpose of the earnest prayers of Epaphras.

Mature or full grown: as in 2 Corinthians 2:6, where see note.

Fully-assured: same word and sense as in Romans 4:21; Romans 14:5. A cognate word in Colossians 2:2; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 10:22. While praying that the Christians at Colossæ may firmly hold their own, Epaphras remembered that only full-grown men in Christ can do this, and that of this Christian maturity assured faith in Christ is an essential condition.

In every will of God: in everything God desires us to do and to be, this looked upon as the spiritual locality of Christian firmness, maturity, and confidence. Epaphras prayed that his converts might know without doubt whatever God would have them do and be, that every element of His will might be realised in their spiritual growth, and that thus they might maintain their spiritual position.

Colossians 4:13. Confirmation of the foregoing by Paul’s direct testimony.

Much labour; confirms and strengthens the most conspicuous point in Colossians 4:12, viz. that the prayers of Epaphras involved intense effort.

Laodicea and Hierapolis: other cities of the valley of the Lycus: see Introd. iv. This statement suggests that in these cities also the Gospel was first preached by Epaphras. And the nearness of the cities, and the main road passing through all three, would make it easy to carry the good news of salvation from one to the others.

Colossians 4:14. A third greeting.

Luke: mentioned by name only here, and Philemon 1:24 where he and Demas are called Paul’s fellow-workers, and 2 Timothy 4:11. Probably he wrote the Third Gospel: see my Corinthians p. 493. Now Colossians 4:11 implies that he was a Gentile: Perhaps he was the only Gentile N.T. writer. Notice that, of the four Evangelists, Mark and Luke were with Paul at Rome. Only here do we learn that Luke was a physician. Possibly this term was added merely for definiteness, or more likely in remembrance of medical help kindly rendered by Luke to Paul. Luke was with Paul on his second and third missionary journeys and on his voyage to Rome, as we learn from the first person we and us in Acts 16:10-17; Acts 20:5 to Acts 21:18; Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16. That they are together now at Rome, and again (2 Timothy 4:11) during Paul’s second imprisonment there, is a coincidence worthy of note. Luke seems to have been his almost inseparable companion. Hence the affection expressed here: Luke, the physician, the beloved one.

The absence of any commendation of Demas here is an unfortunate, though perhaps undesigned, coincidence with his later desertion of Paul recorded in 2 Timothy 4:10. There was nothing to move Paul to say anything about him, even when speaking in warm terms of Luke. But in Philemon 1:24 he is counted, with Mark, Aristarchus, Luke, among Paul’s fellow-workers.

Colossians 4:15. After three greetings to the Christians at Colossæ, now follows a greeting to a neighbouring Church.

Laodicea: the nearer of the two other Churches for which (Colossians 4:13) Epaphras prayed so earnestly.

Nymphas: evidently a member of the Church at Laodicea. For, had he been at Colossæ, in the Church to which this letter was sent, this greeting to him could hardly have been put after that to brethren twelve miles away. Paul’s reason for singling him out of the Church at Laodicea, in this special way, is probably to be found in the words following.

The Church in their house: same words in Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19, where see notes. Cp. Philemon 1:2. That Nymphas opened his house for worship, accounts for his special mention here.

The Sinai. Alex., and Ephraim copies read in their house. So R.V. text. The Vatican MS. reads her house. So R.V. margin. Some later uncials and most cursives read his house. The first reading has best documentary support. If genuine, it might easily have been altered by a copyist who could not understand a plural pronoun after the one name Nymphas. And, if so, the substituted pronoun might be of either gender: for the Greek name may be either masculine Nymphas, or feminine Nympha. Thus the better attested reading their would account for both the others. We may therefore accept it as the more likely. Paul wrote their house probably because in entertaining the Church others, perhaps his wife and family, were associated with Nymphas. So was Prisca with Aquila: Romans 16:5.

Colossians 4:16. This injunction suggests that the same errors were prevalent both at Colossæ and Laodicea.

The Epistle: that now concluding, as in Romans 16:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:27.

That from Laodicea: not written from Laodicea. For it was to be read by the Christians at Colossæ as well as by others: also ye read. And these others must have been the Christians at Laodicea. It could only be a letter to the Church there; to be sent from Laodicea and read at Colossæ. And, if so, this injunction suggests very strongly that it was written by Paul. Doubtless the letter was to be left at Laodicea by Tychicus as he passed through on his way to Colossæ; and if so it would be at Laodicea, when this letter reached Colossæ. Paul bids that each letter be sent to, and read in, the other of the two Churches.

What was this letter of Paul to the Church at Laodicea? Two suppositions are possible. It may have been lost; sharing the fate which, under 1 Corinthians 5:9, we saw reason to believe had overtaken an epistle to the Corinthian Church. If we had no epistle meeting the conditions of the case, we might accept this suggestion with some confidence. But another explanation is at hand. We shall see, under Ephesians 1:1, that the Epistle to the Ephesians, although sent expressly to the Church at Ephesus, the metropolis of the Roman province of Asia which included Laodicea and Colossæ, was probably designed also for other Churches in the same province. If so, it is quite conceivable that Paul gave orders to Tychicus to leave at Laodicea, for the Church there, a copy of the Epistle to the Ephesians. And this copy would be the letter from Laodicea which Paul wished the Colossians to read. This wish we can well understand. For the two Epistles, though closely related in thought and phraseology, are yet quite distinct. Each supports the other. The letter to Ephesus deals chiefly with the Church: that to Colossæ expounds the dignity and work of Christ, and rebuts certain special errors. This suggestion is so free from objection, and meets so well all the facts of the case, that with our scanty information we may accept it as probable. It has also an advantage over the former suggestion in not requiring us to believe that Paul wrote at the same time and sent by the same messenger to the same province four epistles.

Colossians 4:17. Archippus: mentioned elsewhere only Philemon 1:2, where see note. The word say-ye suggests that he was close at hand to hear what was said; and was therefore probably a member of the Church at Colossæ. Indeed it is most unlikely that a warning to a member of another Church would be thus sent. And this agrees with his apparent relation to Philemon, who also seems to have been a Colossian. That this word to Archippus is put after a direction about Laodicea, is very small presumption that he was a Laodicean. For, apart from locality, Paul may have thought fit to reserve this warning to be the last of his injunctions. That Archippus is called in Philemon 1:2 a fellow-soldier of Paul, suggests that he had shared with the Apostle the peril of Christian work. And this agrees with the work in the Lord referred to here.

The ministry which thou hast received; may be the office of a deacon, as in Romans 12:7, where it is distinguished from prophecy and teaching but is joined with them as requiring each a special gift. Or, it may have been some other permanent position in the Church, as when Paul in Colossians 1:23 calls himself a minister of the Gospel. Or, some temporary work committed by the Church to Archippus, like ‘the ministry fulfilled’ by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25) when they took a contribution in money from Antioch to Jerusalem. Between these alternatives we have nothing to guide us. This warning is no presumption of unfaithfulness on the part of Archippus. For it may be that his work was specially important, or had been lately entrusted to him. Indeed this last is rather suggested by the words which thou hast received. It is remarkable that this warning was sent to Archippus through the Church as a whole: say ye to Archippus. Perhaps Paul thought thus to inspire in him a sense of responsibility to the whole Church.

In the Lord: as in Colossians 4:7; Philippians 2:29, etc. This work for the Church was a part of his service of Christ.

Fulfil it: as in Acts 12:25 : fill up by actual and faithful service the outline of work sketched out by this Commission.

Colossians 4:18. The greeting by the hand of me, Paul: word for word as in 1 Corinthians 16:21; 2 Thessalonians 3:17. At this point the chained hand of the prisoner takes the pen from the friend who was writing for him, whose name probably we should know, and adds as a mark of genuineness the few words which follow. And the chained hand bids us remember the bonds of him who writes. This reference to himself claims for the warnings he now sends the loving and grateful respect due to the prisoner in the Lord.

Grace: the undeserved favour of God through Christ. Paul desires that this divine smile be his readers’ companion: be with you.

The personal details of DIVISION V. link the doctrinal and practical teaching of the Epistle with the actual life of Paul. They remind us that the Gospel is not mere abstract truth but touches the every-day life of actual men. This historic setting of the Gospel, which we find in many casual notices in Paul’s Epistles and in the narratives of the Book of Acts, by affording matter for historical criticism, furnishes proof of the historic truth of the statements on which the Gospel rests. It also helps us, by reproducing the surroundings and the inner and outer life of the Apostle, to understand and better appreciate the thought embodied in the doctrinal parts of his Epistles. Time spent in bringing together, and endeavouring to interpret, these scanty notices will bear abundant fruit in a clearer conception of his inner thought and of the Gospel which permeated and moulded and ennobled his entire inner and outer life.

THE ERRORS AT COLOSSÆ. Since this Epistle was professedly (Colossians 2:4) written to guard the readers against error, it can be fully understood only by reproducing in some measure the errors it was designed to counteract. To do this, is no easy task. For the errors combated are not formally stated. Paul endeavours to meet them not so much by direct disproof as by asserting and enforcing positive and contrary truth. This method leaves us in considerable doubt about the nature of the errors refuted. But it has the immense advantage of making exact knowledge of them a matter of secondary importance. For we can understand and appreciate the positive teaching of the Epistle, even while somewhat uncertain about the precise nature of the specific errors against which this positive teaching was adduced. At the same time whatever knowledge we can gain about the error combated will shed light upon the argument and thought of the Apostle. We will therefore gather together all the indications the Epistle affords of the nature of these errors; and then compare them with similar teaching in the rest of the New Testament and in other early literature.

Our thoughts go back at once to another letter written by Paul to counteract serious and definite error, the Epistle to the Galatians. The points of comparison and contrast in the two Epistles will help us to understand, after our study in a previous volume of the errors in Galatia, those with which Paul is now dealing.

We notice at once the entirely different tone of the two Epistles. The news from Galatia was altogether bad. Paul’s one thought about the Christians there was wonder at their early desertion of the truth. But the news about Colossæ evokes gratitude to God. And with this gratitude no sorrow is mingled. This does not prove that the errors at Colossæ were in themselves less deadly than those in Galatia. But it proves clearly that the peril was not so near. In Galatia the defection was (Galatians 1:6) already going on: in Colossæ Paul hopes to ward off what at present is only a danger. Moreover the stronger language of the earlier letter may have been prompted by Paul’s closer relation to the Churches addressed, and to the fact that his authority as an Apostle had been directly attacked by the false teachers. On the other hand whereas the Churches of Galatia had been founded by Paul himself and the news of their defection reached him years afterwards, the news of the danger among the Colossians was brought by the man who first told him the story of their conversion. This would naturally soften the language of the Epistle before us.

Both in Galatia and at Colossæ one element of error was observance of the sacred seasons of the Law of Moses: Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16. With this were associated at Colossæ, and doubtless in Galatia, restrictions of food. And at Colossæ as at Rome (Romans 14:3) some were ready to judge others according as they observed or neglected these restrictions. The false teachers in Galatia strenuously asserted the abiding obligation of circumcision: Galatians 5:3; Galatians 6:12. And the references to circumcision in Colossians 2:11; leave little or no doubt that the rite was insisted upon by the false teachers at Colossæ. Here then we have an element common to the two cases, viz. the continued validity of the ancient law. In other words, both errors were of Jewish origin. But the whole tone of both Epistles proves that the false teachers were members of the Church. Jews who rejected Christ would have no common ground of approach to the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor. We must therefore suppose that in both cases the false teachers were Jewish converts who maintained that all Christians were bound to keep the whole Law of Moses. Possibly, the false teachers here referred to were not members of the Church at Colossæ but Jewish Christians moving about in Asia Minor and exerting an evil influence.

Amid these errors already familiar to us there appears at Colossæ, as disproved by Paul, other teaching of which we find no trace in the Epistle to the Galatians.

Except to Nazarites and priests ministering at the altar, the Law of Moses laid no restrictions on drink. But in Colossians 2:16 we find men who made both eating and drinking a standard of judgment about their fellow-Christians. Similar persons seem to be referred to in Romans 14:21. The words of the false teachers quoted in Colossians 2:21 prove that these prohibitions of food and drink were very stringent. And from Colossians 2:22 we learn that they were of merely human origin. All this proves that the teachers in question added to the Divinely commanded restrictions of the Law of Moses other restrictions of their own. With the refusal to eat certain kinds of food stands in close connection the general description in Colossians 2:23 of such needless and useless abstinence as hard treatment of the body. We may safely say that in the error feared at Colossæ an ascetic element, going far beyond the Mosaic prohibitions, occupied a conspicuous place.

It is also worthy of note that, whereas to the Galatians Paul speaks of the advocates of circumcision as seeking to be justified by works of law and rebuts their error by proclaiming justification through a faith like that of Abraham, his disproof of the errors at Colossæ makes no reference to justification, but is prefaced by a profound exposition of the dignity of the Son of God and of His relation to the created universe, to the Church, and to the work of salvation. This different method of reply suggests that the error at Colossæ differed from that in Galatia as being specially derogatory to the unique dignity of the Son of God as the Creator and Ruler of the universe and as the one sufficient Saviour of men. We notice also that the restrictions referred to in Colossians 2:21 are over turned by reference to the original purpose of the food needlessly forbidden.

Other elements are easily detected. With asceticism is ever associated professed humility. And in the warnings to the Church at Colossæ worship of the angels is a marked feature. This accounts probably for the mention in Colossians 1:16 of the different ranks of angels as created by the Son, and in Colossians 2:15 as being led in triumph by Him. Now angels have their place of honour in the Old Testament; and are mentioned by Paul and by Christ. But nothing in the Bible affords ground for offering them worship. Such worship. therefore implies fuller information: and this could be obtained only by visions of the unseen world and its mysterious and glorious inhabitants. We therefore are not surprised to find that the false teacher claimed to have had such visions, and pretended (Colossians 2:18) to investigate what he had seen.

Such were some of the outward forms of the religion practised by the teachers in question. We may conceive them asserting the abiding validity of the Law of Moses, going beyond its restrictions by ascetic prohibitions of merely human origin which refused to the body its rightful nourishment, performing a ritual of angel-worship, and doing all this on the ground of supposed revelations of the unseen world.

Under these outward forms of religion lay other elements. The worshippers claimed to be philosophers. Their philosophy must have been, like that of Greece, an attempt to reach the realities underlying the phenomena around. That the attempt was complete failure, Paul declares by calling their philosophy empty error. Like the prohibitions of food and drink, this teaching consisted, as did much ancient philosophy, of unproved assertions, true or false, passed on from one to another. It had therefore for its source and standard only the tradition of men. And since these purely human additions to the Divine revelations of the Old Testament could not rise above their source, they were shaped by the rudiments of teaching common to the whole world. It cannot be doubted that this theoretical teaching was the foundation both of the ascetic restriction of food and drink and of the worship of angels. For philosophy without visible embodiment would have little attraction for the comparatively uneducated Christians at Colossæ; and we are told by Paul that self-imposed worship and neglect of the body had repute of wisdom.

The absence throughout the Epistle of any mention of righteousness or justification-a very marked contrast to the Epistle to the Galatians-suggests that these prohibitions of certain kinds of food, this worship of angels, and philosophy, were not proposed as a means of obtaining the favour of God. And that they were proposed as a means of attaining a higher Christian life, is suggested by Paul’s frequently expressed desire that his readers attain true knowledge and wisdom, and by his assertion that all such knowledge dwells in Christ, and that in Him His people are complete: Colossians 1:9; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 2:2-3; Colossians 3:10; Colossians 3:16; Colossians 4:5. We may conceive these teachers admitting that confessed faith in Christ is the one means of obtaining the favour of God, and yet professing a deeper philosophy and practising a stricter regimen of life and additional modes of worship as means of attaining a spiritual elevation beyond that of the Church in general. In other words, the teaching which Paul opposes was a counsel of perfection for a select few.

Traces of similar error, further developed, are found in Paul’s later Epistles. In another letter to the province of Asia (1 Timothy 4:3) we notice a prohibition of certain kinds of food, a prohibition set aside by a development of the argument in Colossians 2:21. With this is coupled prohibition of marriage: and the whole is said to be a teaching of demons. Of empty Jewish error under the guise of philosophy, we find abundant traces in the Pastoral Epistles; and of the disputes to which naturally it gave rise. So, in Titus 1:14, We have Jewish myths and commands of men. And that these commands were connected with needless prohibitions, probably of food, we learn from Titus 1:15 : All things are pure to the pure; but to the polluted and unbelieving nothing is pure. In 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 1:8 we read of myths and endless genealogies connected with unlawful use of the Law. Other similar references in 1 Timothy 6:4, 2 Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9. The darker description in these Epistles as compared with that to the Colossians suggests that during the interval the evil seed had taken root and borne hurtful fruit.

From all this we infer that at Colossæ were professed Christians who not only taught the abiding validity of the Law but added to it further prohibitions of merely human origin, professing thus to point out a way to loftier purity; that with this ascetic element was associated theoretical teaching vainly attempting to explain the phenomena around, teaching based upon supposed visions of the unseen world; that the would-be philosophers practised a ritual in honour of the heavenly beings whom they professed to have seen; and that all this was prompted, not by humility, as was pretended, but by an inflated self-estimate which was in reality a form of self-indulgence. The argument of the Epistle before us proves plainly that this teaching was derogatory to the unique dignity of Christ and inconsistent with the full salvation to be obtained by union with Him.

THE GNOSTICS. The above-noted scanty indications of the errors combated in this Epistle recall at once a very conspicuous feature of Church life in the second century, the chaos of beliefs and sects known as Gnosticism. These later beliefs will help us to understand both the meaning and the importance of Paul’s argument in the Epistle before us.

This strange medley of opinions is well known to us from early Christian writings, the sole records of beliefs which otherwise would long ago have been forgotten. The great work of Irenæus quoted in my Romans (Introd. ii.) contains a full account of the various forms of Gnostic teaching, with elaborate disproof. Clement of Alexandria refers to the same frequently and by name. The longest work of Tertullian is Against Marcion, a conspicuous Gnostic. We have another account of Gnosticism, anonymous but probably by Hippolytus, a later contemporary of Tertullian. The earnestness of these refutations proves how wide-spread and how serious in the eyes of conspicuous members of the early Church were the errors refuted.

The name Gnostic, or knowing-one, a curious contrast to the modern name Agnostic, i.e. one who does not know, marks out the Gnostics as claiming superior knowledge. And that they adopted this as their name, suggests that they looked upon knowledge as man’s highest good. This recalls the warning in 1 Timothy 6:20. Indeed this warning is embodied in the title of Irenæus’ great work: Refutation of the knowledge falsely so called.

The rise of this intellectual movement is not difficult to understand Before Christ came, even outside the sacred nation, men had sought to grasp the realities underlying the phenomena around them, and thus to explain the origin of these phenomena. In their search, two great questions had claimed their attention: Whence came the world? Whence came evil? The first of these questions was discussed by the early Greek philosophers. Their answers are clearly embodied in abundant writings which have come down to us. Of these, the Timæus of Plato is a good representative. A favourite belief was that the world was made by subordinate but superhuman beings created by the Supreme God and acting more or less under His direction. The second question received from the Greeks, who carefully discussed morals from a practical point of view, only scanty and indefinite answers. Put the answers given to it in Persia and in India reveal the large place it occupied in the thought of those nations. In Persia, the followers of Zoroaster, a somewhat mythical person who lived possibly in the days of the early Persian kings, taught that good and evil are alike eternal, and have their source in two eternal persons, from whom respectively come all things good and bad. This teaching is embodied in the sacred books of Persia, of which the oldest, the Avesta, dates perhaps from the third century after Christ, and certainly preserves still earlier traditions. The Indian answer is that matter is essentially evil, and unreal, and opposed to mind; that the world has come into being by successive emanations from the Supreme, each lower and worse with increasing distance from its origin.

An important element common to the Persian and Indian answers is the all-pervading sense of duality and opposition, viz. of good and bad, and of spirit and matter.

The above answers to these great questions were widely disseminated far beyond the limits of the nations which seem to have given them birth. Especially were the philosophies of Greece stimulated and moulded by the speculations of the East.

At the time of Christ Jewish thought was greatly influenced by the Gentile thought around. The influence of Greek writers is very conspicuous in the writings of Philo, an Egyptian Jew contemporary with Christ, who under the form of an allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament introduces very much of the teaching of Plato. On the other hand, the Essenes, a brotherhood said by Philo to be in his day 4,000 strong and described by Josephus as one of the three sects or philosophies of the Jews, (the others being the Pharisees and the Sadducees,) taught that pleasure is evil, and that sin must be overcome by ascetic refusal of pleasure; ideas conspicuously Oriental. In agreement with this belief, they not only obeyed most rigorously the prescriptions of the Law but added to them prescriptions of merely human origin. They despised wealth; and lived together with a common purse and common table in the utmost simplicity. They forbade or discountenanced marriage, recruiting their numbers from the children of others. They believed firmly in an immortal life beyond death; but did not expect a resurrection of the body, looking upon material clothing as a bondage to the spirit. The Essenes had secret doctrine and sacred books of their own: and they paid a certain adoration to the sun; and had secret teaching about, and reverence for, the angels. They gained respect by their strict morality, their simplicity of life, and mutual concord. Many of them were reputed to have the gift of predicting future events: a gift implying special intercourse with the unseen world. All this we learn from contemporary descriptions of them by Philo, especially (vol. ii. 457-459) The good man always free §§ 12,13; and by Josephus, especially Jewish War bk. ii. 8. 2-13.

These two forms of Jewish belief present, as the reader will notice, many points of contact with the errors at Colossæ. And we can easily believe that, even where there were no Essenes and no one familiar with the writings of Philo, these modes of thought would exert an influence co-extensive with Jewish nationality.

Into the Jewish nation thus influenced by Gentile thought, Christ was born; and from Jerusalem, carried by Jews, went forth the good news of salvation for all mankind. The Gospel must needs come into contact with, and take up a definite relation to, the religious thought then prevalent. And inasmuch as the Gospel itself professed to explain in some measure the mystery of being and of the world around, it must necessarily, according to the disposition of each who felt its influence, either supplement or correct or displace this earlier teaching, or be itself moulded by it. Gnosticism was a reaction of the existing religious thought of the world, in part Greek but chiefly Oriental, upon the new truth proclaimed by Christ.

The Gnostics were divided into many sects known by various names, for the more part those of their leaders, and each presenting a distinct type of teaching. The sects grouped themselves according to their affinities. But all had conspicuous elements in common. All Gnostic schools agree to give honour to Christ as the Teacher and Saviour of men. But along with this great truth, all teach two great errors, viz. that matter is essentially or practically evil; and that the Creator of the world, who is also the Lawgiver of Sinai, is distinct from, and inferior to, the Supreme God who sent His Son to save the world. The Gnostics favourable to Judaism represent the God of Israel as a deity subordinate to the Supreme, and the Old Testament as imperfect only because preparatory to the New. On the other hand, the anti-Jewish Gnostics represented the God of Sinai as essentially hostile to the God who revealed Himself in Christ.

Of the Jewish Gnostics, Cerinthus is a good example. His date is fixed by a statement of Irenæus (bk. iii. 3. 4) that in his own day there were some who had heard Polycarp say that once the Apostle John, going to a bath, saw Cerinthus within, and fled from the bath in fear lest it should fall. Whatever this story be worth, it is complete proof that Cerinthus lived long before Irenæus, and affords a fair presumption that he was a contemporary of the Apostle John. In his teaching therefore we have a form of Gnosticism almost or quite as early as the days of the Apostles. It is thus described by Irenæus, bk. i. 26. 1: “A certain Cerinthus in Asia taught that the world was made, not by the Supreme literally, the First) God, but by a certain power altogether separated and distinct from that Supreme Power which is over the universe, and ignorant of Him who is God over all things. He represented Jesus, not as born from a maiden-for this seemed to him impossible-but as a son of Joseph and Mary like all other men, and as being much greater than others in justice and prudence and wisdom. He taught that after Baptism Christ descended into him, from that Supreme Power which is over all things, in the figure of a dove; and that then he announced the unknown Father, and wrought miracles; and that at last Christ flew back from Jesus, that Jesus suffered and rose but that Christ continued without suffering, a spiritual being.” Epiphanius (Against Heresies xxviii.) says that Cerinthus taught that the Law and the Prophets were inspired by angels, and that the giver of the Law was one of the angels who made the world.”

An extreme example of Anti-Jewish Gnostics is found in the Ophites, or followers of the serpent; who taught that the Creator of the world was evil, and that therefore the so-called fall of man was really emancipation from the rule of evil, and the tempter a benefactor of mankind.

Another Gnostic, Saturninus, from Antioch in Syria, taught (Irenæus bk. i. 24. 1, 2) that there is “one Father unknown to all, who made angels, archangels, powers, authorities; that the world and all things in it were made by certain seven angels; that man is a work of angels… He taught that the Saviour was without birth and without body and without form, a man only in appearance. He said that the God of the Jews was one of the angels; and that, because the Father wished to destroy all His princes, Christ came for destruction of the God of the Jews and for the salvation of those who believe him… He said that there are two races of men formed by angels, one bad and the other good; and that because the demons helped the bad, the Saviour came for destruction of bad men and demons and for salvation of the good. They say that marriage and procreation are from Satan. Hence also the more part of them abstain from animal food; by this assumed self-control leading away some into their own error.”

More fully developed Gnostic systems, and somewhat later than the above, were those of Basilides, Valentinus, and Marcion. All these flourished in the former half of the second century.

The moral influence of Gnosticism took two opposite directions. On the ground that matter is evil, many Gnostics taught that all pleasure derived from matter is also evil, and that only by refusing such pleasure can men rise above bondage to evil. Of this ascetic side of Gnosticism, the Encratites are an example: Irenæus bk. i. 28. 1. Others, looking upon matter as worthless, taught that man’s relation to it is of no moment, and that the spirit within, as being essentially superior to matter, is not soiled by any bodily sin. In this way Gnosticism gave rise to wildest immorality. Of this immoral direction, the Carpocratians are an example: Irenæus bk. i. 25.

Another practical outworking of Gnosticism was that inasmuch as matter was in their view essentially evil, the Son of God could not have entered into any real relation to a material body. All Gnostics therefore taught either, with Saturninus and the Docetæ, that His body was a mere appearance; or, with Cerinthus as quoted above, that the Son of God was united only for a time to the personality of the man Jesus.

The above extracts and descriptions may give some slight conception of the infinite chaos of strange beliefs, held by countless sects which began to assume definite form at the close of the first century and reached its full development about the middle of the second.

It is at once evident that these strange perversions of the Gospel stand in some real relation to the Epistle to the Colossians. The points of contact are too many and too close to be accidental. Evidently the Epistle is a foregoing protest against the teaching common to all the Gnostics and especially against the early form of Gnosticism which was favourable to Judaism. The statement in DIV. II. that the universe, including the successive ranks of angels, was created by the agency of the Son meets beforehand the Gnostic teaching that creation and salvation had different, and in some measure antagonistic, sources. And the warnings in DIV. III. against mere human prohibitions, and against empty forms of worship based on fancied revelations of the unseen world, might have been written to guard against the practical and ritual sides of Gnosticism. In deed the warning in Colossians 2:8 is a correct description of the Gnostic teaching of the second century.

All this has been made an argument against the genuineness of the Epistle. Some have said that the letter itself implies the existence of Gnosticism in a form which did not exist till the second century. But we have seen that Cerinthus, whose teaching comes nearest to that of the errors rebuked here, was probably a contemporary of the Apostle John. It is also worthy of note that the Fathers with one consent trace Gnosticism to Simon Magus whom Peter rebuked in Samaria apparently before the conversion of Paul: so Irenæus bk. i. 22. 1, 2. This tradition proves the very early date of the errors in question. Moreover, a system of belief so widespread and so various as Gnosticism reveals a deep-seated cause, one existing long before its various known manifestations. In the speculative teaching of Philo and in the asceticism of the Essenes we have already found, in the time of Christ, a soil ready for such a growth as the errors combated in this Epistle. All this makes very precarious any argument based on the unlikelihood of these opinions existing during the lifetime of Paul; and makes such argument utterly worthless when opposed to the abundant evidence internal and external (see Introd. § ii.) that the Epistle is genuine. Moreover, the references to Gnosticism, sufficient as they are for identification, are far from definite. Had this letter been written in the second century, the references would almost certainly have been more precise.

It is not difficult to suggest an explanation of the indisputable connection between this letter written by Paul in the first century and the errors so prevalent a few years later. We can easily conceive that, soon after the first preaching of the Gospel, as men began to ponder the new teaching and to compare it with their previous beliefs, these last would tend unconsciously to appropriate, or rather to modify so as to harmonize with earlier teaching, the new truth learnt from Christ. Specially would this be the case with those who boasted more profound knowledge, and were therefore not satisfied with teaching given even to the most ignorant. This innate tendency of human nature was the real source of Gnosticism, and may easily even in the days of Paul have revealed itself in early forms sadly prophetic of a fuller subsequent development. These germs of evil so serious would naturally attract the attention of the weary Apostle. It is not unlikely that they were specially prominent at Colossæ. For Phrygia, to which in the popular geography Colossæ belonged, is spoken of by Hippolytus (bk. v. 7-9) as a cradle of Gnostic teaching. The quotations above from the Pastoral Epistles show that the incipient peril was, a few years later, present to the Apostle’s anxious thought. The simplest explanation of the whole case is that when the Gospel was first preached there were in the minds of many, Jews and Gentiles, elements of thought which must either be transformed by the Gospel or must themselves mould and pervert it; that this latter possibility soon became in some cases actuality; and that this defection and the peril of further similar defection evoked the warnings contained in the Epistle before us.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Colossians 4". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/colossians-4.html. 1877-90.
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