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Bible Commentaries

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

- Colossians

by James Martin Gray


Colosse was an important city of Phrygia in Asia Minor, east of Ephesus. It is not definitely known that Paul visited it, and yet it is assumed he did so on his third journey. The epistle was written while he was a prisoner at Rome (Colossians 4:8 ) and sent by Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-8 ).

Colossians bears a somewhat similar relationship to Ephesians as that of Romans to Galatians. That is, it makes a pair with that epistle, the two being written almost simultaneously. It was sent by the same messenger also (compare Ephesians 6:21-22 ) and contains some of the same expressions (compare Colossians 1:4 with Ephesians 1:15 ; Ephesians 1:14 with Ephesians 1:7 ). See also the prayers in the two epistles and the references to the Body of Christ.

The central theme of Colossians is Christ, while that of Ephesians is the church. In the former we have the head of the church, and in the latter the body of the church, and both are seen exalted on high (Colossians 1:18 ; Ephesians 2:6 ). Perhaps it would be well to designate the theme of the epistle as, The Believers’ Union or Identification with Christ.


It was occasioned by the fact that the spiritual life of the church was threatened by false doctrine, a mixture of Judaism (2:16) and Oriental mystic speculation (2:18). That there were Jews in large numbers in that region is certain, and that there was a Jewish sect precisely answering to the false doctrine condemned in this epistle is certain. The sect was the Essenes, who, unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, do not appear in the Gospel narratives, because their principles withdrew them from the daily life of the Jewish people and immured them in convents. They were essentially a Gnostic sect, and Gnosticism, under whatever variety, was characterized by three features:

1. An Exclusive Spirit. The word means one who claims preeminent knowledge. It was an intellectual caste, with a process and oaths of initiation.

2. Speculative Tenets on Creation, Evil, Emanations, Angels. Creation was not by the Supreme God, according to them, since He could have nothing to do with matter which is inherently evil, but must have been by one or more of angelic emanations from him. Those emanations or angels are to be worshipped.

3. Ethical Practice. Either a rigid asceticism, because of matter being the abode of evil, or unrestrained licentiousness, on the principles of not condescending to care at all about a thing so inherently evil as matter.

Paul assails the exclusive spirit of intellectual caste (Colossians 1:28 ), and as in his other epistles, insists upon the free offer of the Gospel to all men, but now from a different point of view. Here it is as opposing intellectual exclusiveness, and not, as in Galatians, national exclusiveness. “Perfection” was a great Gnostic word, and that word the apostle here appropriates to the position in Christ of every believer. He also attacks the speculative tenets of angelology and the idolatrous practice of angelolatry (Colossians 1:15-19 ; Colossians 2:18 ), opposing to them both the true ideas of Christ in His Person and His mediation. And he utters his condemnation of a very peculiar ethical practice (Colossians 2:16 ; Colossians 2:23 ), protesting not alone against “holy days, new moons, and Sabbaths” (strictly Jewish observances), but against the asceticism with regard to “drinks,” and the “neglecting of the body” (which was wholly of Gnostic origin): and opposing to both of these Jewish and Gnostic practices the believers’ life in Christ.

It has been well said that the Colossian heresy was no vulgar falsehood. At the bottom of it there was an earnest, unsatisfied desire of the soul; a sense of need unrequited; an aching void the world had never filled. In its doctrine of the mediation of angels and the consequent removal of God from contact with the inherent evil of matter, it claimed to honor the supreme majesty of the Deity, and at the same time to show forth its own humility, as shrinking amid the evils of human nature, from any direct converse with God while yet in its asceticism it honored itself and ministered to the pride and vanity of self-righteousness. It was human nature as essentially displayed everywhere and in all ages; the circumstances and the particular tenets ever changing, but the affectation of humility and the proud, self-righteous spirit ever remaining the same. And thus it is that the Colossian heresy was an anticipation of the errors of today, and that the apostles’ confutation of it supplies the needed instruction for ourselves.


1. Have you examined the map for Colosse?

2. Define the relationship of this epistle to Ephesians.

3. How does its theme differ from Ephesians?

4. What two forms of false doctrine is here touched upon?

5. Describe the Essenes.

6. What three features characterized Gnosticism?

7. What makes this epistle of practical value today?

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