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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical


- Colossians

by Johann Peter Lange

to the
General Superintendent At Altenburg, Saxony







I. ADDRESS AND SALUTATION (Colossians 1:1-2)


1. Thanks to God for the faith and love of his readers from the beginning (Colossians 1:3-8). Paul prayerfully gives thanks for the faith of the Colossians in Christ and their love to the brethren, which rests upon Christian hope (Colossians 1:3-5 a), and in joy at the preaching of the gospel, which they had forthwith embraced (Colossians 1:5-6), as brought to them by Epaphras, who had told the Apostle of it (Colossians 1:7-8).

2. Earnest supplication for the progress of the church in true knowledge, especially of the Being and Work of Christ (Colossians 1:9-23). The immediate object of the supplication is fuller knowledge of the Divine Will (Colossians 1:9), in order to upright Christian walk in gratitude (Colossians 1:10-12) for the Redemption in Christ (Colossians 1:13-14), whose Person is then set forth as to His inmost Being (Colossians 1:15), His efficiency in creation (Colossians 1:16) and Providence (Colossians 1:17) and as Head of the Church (Colossians 1:18), in order to mark how heaven and earth were embraced in the Redemptive Work of Him (Colossians 1:19-20), in whom they also have now a part (Colossians 1:21-23).

3. Joy of the Apostle in his sufferings and labors (Colossians 1:14-29). Paul rejoices that the sufferings of Christ are becoming ever more complete through his own (Colossians 1:24), and sketches his ministerial relation in furtherance of Christ’s cause (Colossians 1:15-20).

4. Anxiety of the Apostle lest they be led away through false wisdom (Colossians 2:1-15). After a free expression of his concern about the spiritual health of the church (Colossians 2:1-3), he briefly sketches the situation (Colossians 2:4-5), then exhorts to faithfulness in walk (Colossians 2:6-7), warns against apostasy (Colossians 2:8) and praises the glory of Christ and His Work (Colossians 2:9-15).

5. Two special warnings (Colossians 2:16-23): against carnal legal service (Colossians 3:16-17), against superstitious angel-worship (Colossians 3:18-19), with a comprehensive conclusion (Colossians 3:20-23).

EXHORTATION TO TRUE VITAL SANCTIFICATION (Colossians 3:1 to Colossians 4:6).

1. The foundation and prospect of a genuine Christian sentiment and walk (Colossians 3:1-4), Fellowship with the exalted Redeemer points to “things above” (Colossians 3:1-3) and has an elevating prospect (Colossians 3:4).

2. General Exhortations (Colossians 3:5-17): a) negatively, to put off the carnal nature (Colossians 3:5-11), first and fundamentally, as respects the lusts and possessions of earth (Colossians 3:5-7), then in social relations with one another (Colossians 3:8-11); b) positively, to practice Christian affection toward each other, and to glorify Christ in word and work (Colossians 3:12-17). The social virtues of the new man are set forth (Colossians 3:12-14), their tone given (Colossians 3:15) and helps described (Colossians 3:16-17).

3. Special Exhortations (Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1);

a) to wives (Colossians 3:18) and husbands (Colossians 3:19);

b) to children (Colossians 3:20) and fathers (Colossians 3:21);

c) to servants (Colossians 3:22-25) and masters (Colossians 4:1).

4. Concluding Exhortations (Colossians 4:2-6) in relation to prayer (Colossians 4:2-4), conduct (Colossians 4:5), speech (Colossians 4:6).

IV. CONCLUSION. (Colossians 4:7-18.)

1. Personal intelligence (Colossians 4:7-9).

2. Salutations and Messages (Colossians 4:16-17).

3. Closing words (Colossians 4:18). [Autograph salutation, exhortation and benediction.–R.]

2. The fundamental thought, as Bähr justly remarks, is: “Christ the Head of all things.” Upon this Paul places himself in open antagonism to error (Colossians 2:6-23), as well as to deduce clearly and definitely thence the lines, both of his doctrine—quietly arranged without expressed antithesis (Colossians 1:9-23)—and of his directions respecting Christian walk (Colossians 3:1 to Colossians 4:1). The Epistle to the Ephesians on the other hand sets Him forth as “the Head of the Body.” In both Christ is the centre, with this modification only, that in this Epistle the Christliness [Christlicheit] is more prominent than the churchliness [Kirchlichkeit], the life of the church more than its nature.


1. What is said of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Introd. § 2, 1) is applicable here with this difference: there the overflowing fulness of the thought struggles with the expression, here in parallel passages we find a briefer, acuter, indeed a more clear and mature encasing of the thought.2 The independence of the author is quite unmistakable. We find evidence of it in the pithy brevity which controls both thought and language, while it is not less apparent in the ἅπαξ λεγομένοιζ, 3 which are either altogether without analogy (Colossians 2:8 : συλαγωγε͂ιν Colossians 2:18 : καταβραβεύειν), or remind us of parallel passages only that we may recognize his gift of language as Colossians 2:4 : πιθανολογία (2 Corinthians 2:4); Colossians 1:23 : μετακινεῖν (1 Corinthians 15:58); Colossians 3:1 : σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ (Philippians 2:1); compare also the order in Colossians 3:11 : Ἕλλην καὶ Ἰονδαῖος, which is altogether exceptional.

2. References more or less definite to the situation of the Apostle (Colossians 1:24-29; Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:3; Colossians 4:10; Colossians 4:18), and to his relation to the Colossian Church (Colossians 1:4; Colossians 1:9; Colossians 2:1), to its origin (Colossians 1:7-8), its full membership (Colossians 3:18; Colossians 4:1) and simple organization (Colossians 4:17), its external relation to neighboring Churches (Colossians 4:13), to friendly and sympathizing persons (Colossians 4:9-14), as well as to its internal condition as respected Christian life (Colossians 1:4-6; Colossians 1:8-9; Colossians 2:6-7) and threatened danger from false teachers (Colossians 2:8-23), afford a firm basis for a clear sketch of the situation. (See § 4.)

3. In contrast with the Universalism of the Epistle to the Ephesians, there prevails in our Epistle a Monism: the Person of Christ, and again and again the Person of Christ, and this exclusively. Hence instead of “the Word of God” (Colossians 1:25; Romans 9:6; 1 Corinthians 14:36; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2), or “of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 2:19), “of truth” (Colossians 1:5), “of wisdom,” “of knowledge” (1 Corinthians 12:8), “of the Cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18), ‘of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19), we find here alone (Colossians 3:16) “the Word of Christ.” The Epistle is thoroughly Christological; Christ’s Person is the Lord of Eternity, ruling heaven and earth, the visible and invisible (Colossians 1:14-16; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9), who by entering into our race and the history of humanity (Colossians 1:18), has reconciled all things and all classes to God (Colossians 1:20-21), has so spanned all centuries of development, that out of Him and before Him even the highest mental culture and noblest morality are but rudiments, elements of the world which pass away (Colossians 2:8); in Him are given Peace (Colossians 1:20), Life (Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:13; Colossians 3:1-3), Salvation and Bliss (Colossians 1:22; Colossians 3:4), likewise all virtue (Colossians 3:5-14) in all the moral relations of life (Colossians 3:18; Colossians 4:1), and this is done by the ethical method of faith (Colossians 1:23; Colossians 2:13), in obedience to His word (Colossians 3:16), in vital fellowship with Him (Colossians 2:11-15; Colossians 3:1-4), and in prayer (Colossians 4:2), so that Christ for us becomes Christ in us (Colossians 2:13-15; Colossians 3:3-4).

4. The judgments respecting this Epistle confirm the preceding statements, as well as mark its significance. This is in part the same as that of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Introd., § 3), so far as they coincide, but consists peculiarly in this, that Christianity is here set forth as the full bloom of true wisdom and the norm on which all false wisdom is put to shame, and at the foundation is placed the connection of the most profound truth with the simplest Christian walk.—Calvin calls it on account of the first chapter: an incomparable storehouse; Cocceius: brevis epistola, sed nucleum evangelii continens et opposita omnibus postea subingressis completis.—Bahr: “vivacity and strength, depth and fulness of thought, often struggling with the words, great natural talents, which however are pervaded, illuminated and exalted by the Spirit of God. But a pithy, compact brevity appears as especially characteristic in this Epistle. It breathes the spirit of tenderest love and joy in all sorrows and afflictions. Although bowed down by external circumstances, which made it impossible for him to go into all the world, bearing the name of Jesus unto all the Gentiles, the inward joyousness and elevation of the great Apostle to the Gentiles increased but the more.”—Böhmer. (Isagog., p. 160) passes this judgment on our Epistle: viva, pressa, solida, nervis plena, mascula.—Steiger finds this Epistle fresher, the connection with the news just received not effaced, and sees in the Epistle to the Ephesians only echoes from this.—Even De Wette uses the “rich brevity” of the Colossian Epistle to condemn that to the Ephesians as a “verbose expansion” of it.—Schenkel remarks that the structure of words and sentences throughout is original.—The opposing, dissenting judgments are partly in regard to details, partly based upon pre-conceived views (see § 3) rather than upon the Epistle itself, and hence cannot be deemed of any weight.—[Alford, comparing it with that to the Ephesians, calls it:” his caution, his argument, his protest; so to speak, his working-day toil, his direct pastoral labor. “Hence we have here “system defined, language elaborated, antithesis and logical power.” Wordsworth, in making the same comparison, says: “The Apostle is both a builder and a soldier. He builds up the truth in one Epistle, and he wars against, error in the other. He has his sword girded at his side in the Epistle to the Church of Colosse.—Almighty God, in His Wisdom and love, controlled and overruled these evils for endless good to the Colossian Church, and to the Church Universal of every age and country, by the ministry of St. Paul in the present Epistle.” Davies even suggests, that these errors, as reported to him, gave a stimulus to his thoughts, and made him “aware of depths in the gospel of Christ and of aspects of the Person of Christ which he had not so clearly apprehended before.” Certainly these twin Epistles are the most profound of all the Pauline Epistles. This not less so than the other, for here Christ’s Person is more prominent, there Christ’s Body.—R.]


1. The Epistle itself specifies the Apostle Paul as its author, both in the address (Colossians 1:1) and in the text (Colossians 1:24), as in Ephesians 3:1 (comp. Introd., § 4), and in the conclusion (Colossians 4:18). It refers to the sufferings he had to endure as an Apostle (Colossians 1:29), and especially from the Jews as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Colossians 4:11), to his imprisonment (Colossians 4:3; Colossians 4:10; Colossians 4:18), refers particularly to the same circle of companions, as Philemon 1:24, men who are known otherwise as his friends, such as Timothy (Colossians 1:1), Epaphras (Colossians 1:7-8; Colossians 4:12-13), Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-9), Onesimus (Colossians 4:9), Luke (Colossians 4:14), as well as to two others, Mark (Colossians 4:10) and Demas (Colossians 4:14), one of whom had been the cause of serious blame and decided contention, indeed of separation from his companion Barnabas (Acts 13:13; Acts 15:37-40), while the other afterwards forsook him (2 Timothy 4:10). Finally the Epistle sets forth the fundamental features of the same errors, which are combatted by the Apostle in the Epistle to the Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles, and yet in such a way that the points of agreement and diversity are readily perceived (§ 4, 5).—Accordingly the Epistle, both in form and contents, bears the stamp of Pauline origin.

2. The testimony of the early Church, as in the case of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Introd., § 4, 2) is in favor of the Pauline authorship. The occurrence of πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (Colossians 1:15) in the writings of Justin, who suffered martyrdom A. D. 163, and of Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, who died A. D. 181, may be of more importance for the history of doctrine, than for historical criticism upon this Epistle, yet the fact must be noted in connection with the testimony of the Canon of Muratori (Eph. Introd., § 4, 2), which was drawn up about A. D. 160, a catalogue of what was generally received. This cites our Epistle as Pauline. Irenæus († 202), who quotes Colossians 4:14, Clemens Alexandbinus († 220), Tertullian († 220), Origen († 254) cite it as Pauline; Eusebius reckons it among the ὁμολογούμενα. It is even found in the Canon of Marcion, and the Gnostics did not question its genuineness. Bähr is right in saying: “It could not occur to any considerate person to doubt its genuineness or make a critical plaything of it.” [Alford: “That this Epistle is a genuine work of St. Paul, was never doubted in ancient times: nor did any modern critic question the fact, until Schbader (der Apostel Paulus, V. 175 sq.) in his commentary pronounced some passages suspicious, and led the way in which Baur and Meyerhoff followed.”—R.]

3. Meyeehoff (der Brief an die Kolosser mit vornehmlicher Berücksichtigung der drei Pastoralbriefe kritisch geprüft. 1838) accepts the Epistle to the Ephesians as genuine, to contest the genuineness of that to the Colossians, while Baur (Paulus, 1845, pp. 417–457) rejects both as an unpauline pair. The charge that the language is unpauline fails in view of the “original many-sidedness” (Schenkel) of the Apostle; the charge of poverty in thought and quotation from the Epistle to the Ephesians, as well as that of controversy against Cerinthus, are met by correct and discriminating exegesis of the passages in question. If Baur finds in the false teachers at Colosse, according to this Epistle, later post-apostolic Ebionites, and in its doctrinal drift, as in that of the Gospel of John, a Gnostic tendency, so that it is to be regarded only as a pseudo-apostolic movement of Gnosticism against Ebionitism, it may be replied, that the doctrine respecting Christ as the centre of the entire spiritual world, and the idea of the πλήρωμα are not sufficient to prove the presence of unpauline Gnosticism, since we find here, only that more fully developed and advanced Christology, the foundation of which was already laid in Romans 1:3-4; Romans 8:34; 2 Corinthians 4:4; nor is the opposition to the necessity of circumcision to salvation, and to exaggerated asceticism, evidence of post-pauline origin, since the former had already been opposed in Galatians 2:3-4, and the latter in Romans 14:1-2. The thought that in the death of Christ, all diversities and antitheses are abrogated, must not be taken in the sense of a mere external Universalism, separated from the Pauline anthropology and restricted to a coalition of Gentiles and Jews. It is not foreign to the Apostle, but occurs also in Galatians 3:27-28; Galatians 6:14-15, where there is also a reference to baptism as symbolizing death. It would be difficult to receive or justify the opinion, that in the mention of Mark and Luke (Colossians 4:10; Colossians 4:14), there was a purpose of recommending their Gospels and giving prominence to their harmony with each other and with Paul. The open antagonism of the Epistle to the Judaizing tendency directly contradicts the assertion that its main design was to mediate between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Whatever may be peculiar and special in this as compared with other Pauline Epistles, affords no just ground for denying that it is a product of the same author, especially of this vivacious and spirited Apostle.—Ewald (Sendschreiben des Apostel Paulus, p. 466 sq.) finds the plan, thoughts and argument Pauline, but takes exception to such words as ἐθελοθρησκεία, ἀνταναπληρόω, to the infrequent use of inferences and causal particles, also to the reference of the reconciling work and death of Christ to angels (Colossians 1:20), and hence is of the opinion, that after a preliminary conference about the contents, the composition of the Epistle was left to Timothy as co-author, Paul, how ever, dictating the words towards the conclusion and adding his autographic salutation. But according to Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:25; Colossians 2:1; Colossians 2:5, this view is inadmissible, and, notwithstanding 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Philemon 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1, inapplicable to those Epistles also. It will appear from the exegetical remarks that peculiarities of language are not unpauline, because not occurring in antecedent Pauline Epistles.—Meyer, with a reference to Erasmus (non est cujusvis hominis Paulinum pectus effingere; tonat, fulgurat, meras flammas loquitur Paulus), aptly remarks: “The forging of such an Epistle as ours would be more wonderful than its genuineness.” [For a detailed answer to Meyerhoff’s objections, see Eadie, Liter. III., though, as he concludes, “the attacks on this Epistle are of no formidable nature.” Ellicott forcibly remarks: “To class, such an Epistle, so marked not only by distinctive peculiarities of style, but by the nerve, force, and orginality of its argument, with the vague productions of later Gnosticism, is to bewray such a complete want of critical perception that we can scarcely wonder that such views have been both very generally and very summarily rejected.” See Davidson, Introd., Vol. II., p. 427 sq.—R.]


1. Topographical Remarks: Colosse, in the vicinity of Laodicea and Hierapolis, was the locality of the Church addressed in this Epistle. This is evident from Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:13; Colossians 4:16. The opinion of Erasmus and others, that Rhodes is meant, the inhabitants of which are termed Κολοσσαεῖς, on account of the Colossus, is singular enough [and were there any evidence to support it, the variation in the title of the Epistle (see below) would overthrow it.—R.]

Colosse is situated in the southwestern part of Asia Minor, in Greater Phrygia (Phrygia pacatiana), on the river Lycus, near the spot where it disappears in a chasm, out of which it soon emerges again to empty itself into the Meander. At the distance of half a day’s journey were several populous cities. The most prominent among these, especially in the time of the Romans and in Church History, was Laodicea; Strabo (1st century, A. D) counts it among the μέγισται πόλεις. Herodotus calls Colosse: πόλις μεγάλη εὐδαίμων καὶ μεγάλη, but Strabo includes it among the smaller towns (πολίσματα), which lay near Laodicea (Theodoret: μητρόπολις αὐτῆς (Colosse) καί γείτωνΛαοδίκεία); though Pliny counts it among the celeberrimis oppidis, yet he names it only among the oppidis. Orosius, who describes the earthquake of the time of Nero in the year 66, mentions Laodicea and Hierapolis first and Colosse last, among the cities affected by it; whether because the smallest, or the least injured by it, is doubtful (tres urbes—terrœ motu conciderunt). Tacitus misstates the date of the earthquake (60), but expressly mentions Laodicea only, as soon recovering itself without the help of the State or foreign aid, and flourishing anew. Theophylact († after the middle of the 11th century) calls it Χῶναι; it is now named Chonas. [Alford: “For a minute and interesting description of the remains and neighborhood, see Smith’s Dictionary of Anc. Geography, sub voce. From what is there said it would appear that Chonæ is in reality about three miles south from the ruins of the city.” See also Pauly, Realencycl., Vol. II., p. 518; Steiger, Einleitung, p. 1–33; Eadie, Col. p. 10., and Conybeare and Howson, St. Paul, Vol. II., p. 383, note, and p. 390, note. The authors last named refer to a legend respecting the opening of the chasm, mentioned above, by the archangel Michael during an inundation from the Lycus, and the church built in his honor, as a curious illustration of the tendency to “angel-worship” rebuked by the Apostle, Colossians 2:18.—R.]

Whether the name should be written: Κολοσσαίor Κολασσαί is doubtful. Codex Sinaiticus [א.] gives the former in the title4 and Colossians 1:2 (Κολοσσαεῖς), but in the headings of the pages and the subscription Κολασσαεῖς. The former is found upon coins and in classical authors, and seems to be the correct form, the latter appears to be the vulgar form, afterwards the more common one. [All modern editors apparently adopt this explanation of the variation. Lachmann, Tischendorf, Ellicott give a throughout; Alford and Wordsworth follow the varied spelling of א. and B.—R.]

2. Missionary History. Paul came to Phrygia in his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6 : “throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia”), also in his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23 : “over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples”), visiting the churches which he had founded in his second journey. Hence, there is a possibility, or even probability, that Paul had been in the valley of the Meander and Lycus at Laodicea and Colosse, but nothing more, especially as Phrygia had many divisions: Pisidian Phrygia, mountainous Phrygia, the districts of Amorium, Eumenia, Synnada, and the region about and beyond Laodicea to Apamea and yet further. On the contrary our Epistle, in Colossians 1:23, where mention must have been made of the fact, if Paul had ever been in Colosse, says nothing of it, but rather expresses (Colossians 2:1), and in several other places (Colossians 1:3-7; Colossians 2:5), pre-supposes that Paul had not been there and that the Church had not been founded by him. This takes away all weight from that possibility or probability, which Schulz, Wiggers and others, following Theodoret, have accepted as fact. For the acquaintance with Philemon, Epaphras and other individuals can readily be accounted for; this acquaintance might easily have been formed at Ephesus and other points, in consequence of the extended movement produced by the gospel, or during business journeys made to these points, with which Colosse was connected by commercial ties. [Dr. Lardner is the principal English supporter of the view that Paul was the founder of the Church; his argument is given in full and answered by Eadie and Alford. Wordsworth also adopts this view. See his Introduction to the Colossians. Barnes deems it “in the highest degree probable.” But it seemed attended with more difficulties than the other view, which is now held by most biblical students. See Davidson, Introd., Vol. II., p. 396 sq.; Alford, III. Proleg. p. 35 sq.; also Exeg. notes on Colossians 2:1.—R.]

3. Local affairs. a) Epaphras, a Colossian (Colossians 4:12 : “one of you”), who had probably been won to the gospel by Paul during his two years’ residence in Ephesus, which was connected in various ways with the important city of Laodicea, had proclaimed the gospel and founded churches in Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12-13). He is certainly no unimportant personage; Paul describes him as his helper (Colossians 1:7), refers to his correct teaching (Colossians 1:4; Colossians 1:7; Colossians 2:6), to his indefatigable, energetic zeal (Colossians 4:12), which had impelled him not merely to prayer to God (Colossians 4:12) on behalf of the Church, but also to go to the Apostle at Rome and share his imprisonment (Colossians 1:8; Philemon 1:23), and which made him shun no labor for the neighboring churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis also (Colossians 4:13).

b) The Church was composed mainly of Gentile Christians (Colossians 2:13), for which reason Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles regarded it also as his Church and labored for it (Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:1-2. Comp. Romans 15:20; 2 Corinthians 10:15-16). He had already made or caused to be made to them certain written or oral communications now unknown to us, “touching” Mark (Colossians 4:10). Although allusions to the Mosaic law are not entirely wanting (Colossians 2:10; Colossians 2:13-14; Colossians 2:16; Colossians 2:21), there is neither quotation, nor proof, nor even a reminiscence from the Old Testament.—Paul praises the Church, which (Colossians 2:16) stands better than the Galatians (Galatians 4:10), for their Christian deportment (Colossians 1:2; Colossians 1:4; Colossians 1:6; Colossians 2:5); his relations with them were altogether undisturbed (Colossians 1:8; Colossians 1:25; Colossians 4:7-10); but they needed admonition (Colossians 1:9-12; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 2:20; Colossians 3:1-4; Colossians 4:12). False teachers, whom the Church yet in its first love opposed, threatened to ruin it. We cannot, however, infer from Colossians 3:16 that worship had degenerated into lip-service (Theophylact), nor from Colossians 3:13, that there was variance in heart (Schenkel).—The Apostle wrote only “to the saints at Colosse” (Colossians 1:2), not “to the Church” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1), nor does he add, as in Philippians 1:1, “with the bishops and deacons,” but through the Church exhorts a certain Archippus. Ecclesiastical relations seem to be as yet in an incipient state. According to Colossians 1:5; Colossians 1:9; Colossians 2:6, the Church had been formed not long before, probably toward the close of Paul’s stay in Ephesus, some time before A. D. 60, about four or five years before the Epistle was written; had it been formed earlier, Paul would certainly have visited it from Ephesus.

4. Ethnography and Religious history give us data respecting the kind of false teachers at Colosse and the consequent danger. The Phrygians, an ancient people, were highly gifted, and surrounded by a corresponding grandeur of nature. They were skilful not only in agriculture and trade, in the manufacture and dyeing of woolen stuffs, but also in arts and sciences, especially in music and the art of healing. Besides the mother-tongue, the language of the Greeks and other neighboring nations were in use among them. They had their grammarians and rhetoricians. Resembling their neighbors, the Ionians, in susceptible, impressible, mobile disposition they readily adopted the various elements of culture. The worship of nature, of the great mother, Gaia, of the tower crowned Cybele, and of Bacchus, was domesticated among them. Here Hellenic Philosophy, which proceeded from the earliest school, the Ionic, and sought the fundamental principle of all things in nature, first in the path of Materialism, then of Idealism, oscillating between Dualism and Pantheism, hostile not to religion, but to Polytheism, came in contact with the Oriental Philosophy. Here the syncretism of that period of transition from the old to the new, Christian age, found ample nourishment. Besides under Antiochus the Great two thousand Jewish families had been transplanted into Phrygia and Lydia. There was in addition a tendency to serious and sombre fanaticism, and to reliance on physical, especially telluric and sidereal influences. [As a further indication of their tendencies, Eadie notes the fact that “the reveries of Montanus originated there about the middle of the second century, and spread rapidly and extensively. The leading features of Montanism were a claim to ecstatic inspiration, the gift of prophecy, the adoption of a transcendental code of morality, and the exercise of an austere discipline. Its votaries were often named Kataphrygians, from the region of their popularity.”—R.]

5. With these data we may now learn from the Epistle itself, what was the heresy of the false teachers at Colosse. The polemics of our Epistle point: First, to perverted and perverting doctrine within the Church (Colossians 2:19 : “not holding the Head”), as the admonition also is not respecting apostasy from the Church, but disturbance of the growth in Christ, of the progress in Christian knowledge and Christian life (Colossians 1:23; Colossians 2:6). Secondly, these false teachers have a Judaistic tendency, they would cling to Jewish laws of food and feasts and seasons (Colossians 2:16), they recommend circumcision (Colossians 2:11) and teach Jewish separatism. Thirdly, an asceticism is required, severe and astringent indeed, but Fourthly, resting upon a Dualistic view, since it identifies matter with evil, regarding it as eternal, and seeks not sanctification of the life and character by ethical means, but subjugation, mortification of the flesh by physical or chemical or dietetic methods (Colossians 2:23; Colossians 3:6). Fifthly, with this is connected the idea that angels as immaterial beings are objects of adoration (Colossians 2:18), and an Ebionite view of Christ appears, which mistakes and denies His relation to God the Father, to the spiritual world and to creation at large (Colossians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9), and mistakes and degrades the significance of the objective fact of the crucifixion, that makes peace and reconciliation (Colossians 1:20; Colossians 1:22; Colossians 2:14). Sixthly, the heresy appeared in the form of a speculation, adapted to the spirit of the age, with the pretensions of a system, which would profoundly, acutely and triumphantly present the entire truth (Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:18).

Accordingly we are not to regard them as Jews, either with Pharisaical tendencies (Eichhorn) or with a syncretic leaning to Christianity after the manner of the Chaldean Magi or Alexandrian Neo-Platonists (Hug, Schneckenburger), or as Essenes (Chemnitz, Flatt, Thiersch and others). Nor can we regard them as heathen philosophers in general (Tertullian), or in particular as Epicureans (Clemens Alex.), Pythagoreans (Grotius), Platonists or Stoics (Heumann); nor yet as Gnostics who represented a definite system. Nor was Cerinthus intended (Meyerhoff), nor Ebionite Gnosticism (Baur), and Cabbalism (Herder, Osiander) as little. The errors were rather incipient, occasioned by the thoughts, with which the atmosphere of both the age and the people was charged. This much is true: that in Simon Magus we have a personage, in whom the attempt had been made at a systematic combination of Christianity with the Oriental theosophy (Pressense; Die ersten drei Jahrhunderte, 2, pp. 128–136); he is the first heretic and Cerinthus the next. But in our Epistle, as in those to the Ephesians, to Timothy and Titus, all is still in flow; here and in the Epistle to the Ephesians as yet within the Church, in the pastoral Epistles without it, and afterwards more widely, sharply and solidly developed. [Eadie: The winged seeds were floating in the atmosphere, and falling into a soil adapted to them, and waiting as if to receive them; in course of years they produced an ample harvest.—R.] Comp. Mangold: Die Irrlehrer der Pastoralbriefe, 1856. [See Davidson, Inrod., Vol. II., pp. 407–424, and Eadie, Introd. to Col. Comp. Davies’ Essay on the traces of foreign elements in the doctrine of this and cotemporaneous Pauline Epistles. The same author says: “a meeting of the Persic or Zoroastrian religion with Judaism was sufficient to account for all the dangerous teaching referred to in the Epistle to the Colossians—traces of such a meeting are to be found in the Jewish literature antecedent to the time of Christ.” As he indicates that this is the germ of subsequent Gnosticism, he uses it to oppose those who claim a post-apostolic date for this Epistle, on the ground of its opposition to Gnosticism, “Whatever may have been the origin of these theosophic tendencies, Phrygia was the region where Judaism and Orientalism would most readily combine in errors such as are opposed by the Apostle.—R.]


Compare § 2, 1 and Introd. to Eph. § 6.

[Braune there claims priority for the Epistle to the Ephesians Undoubtedly both were written about the same time. Which was first is almost entirely a matter of conjecture. Yet the probabilities, as set forth in the Introd. to the Ephesians, outweigh those drawn from “the nature of the contents of this Epistle” by Alford, Ellicott and Davidson. “The more directly systematic and doctrinal” Epistle might precede quite as readily, as “the more directly individualizing and polemical” one.—R.]


Besides the more general works mentioned Introd. Eph., § 7, the following must be named: Melanchthon: Enarratio epistolœ Pauli ad Col. Corpus Reform XV. pp. 1221–1282.—Junker: Histor. krit. und philol. Commentar über den, Brief Pauli an die Kolosser, 1828.—Böhmer: Isagoge in ep. a Paulo ad Col. data theologica, historica, critica, 1829, and Theologische Auslegung of the same Epistle, 1835.—Especially we mention: Bähr: Commentar über den Brief Pauli an die Kolosser, 1835.—Steiger: Kleine Paulinische Briefe, Thl. I.: Der Brief an die Kolosser, 1835.—Huther: Commentar über den Brief Pauli an die Kolosser, 1841.—Compare also: Rheinwald: De pseudo-doctoribus Colossensibus, 1834.—Schneckenburger: Besträge zur Einleitung in’s N. T.—Besides the practical expositions which include this Epistle (Introd. Eph. § 7): Steinhofer: Tägliche Nahrung des Glaubens aus der Erkenntniss Jesu nach den lehrhaften Zeugnissen des Briefs an die Kolosser.—Schleiermacher: Sermons on the Colossians (Works, Vol. II. 6, pp. 191–401).—Kähler: 36 Betrachtungen über den Brief Pauli an die Kolosser.—Passavant: Praktische Auslegung des Briefes Pauli an die Kolosser (a posthumous work), 1865.

[For a list of commentaries on the whole Bible and the New Testament, see Lange’s Com. on Matthew, General Introd. p. 19. Of especial value for this Epistle: Calvin, De Wette, Meyer, Bengel, Henry, Barnes, Alford, Wordsworth. On the Epistles of St. Paul: Macknight, Conybeare and Howson (London and New York). Of special English works, the oldest are Byfield: Expos. Col., London, 1615.—Elton: Exposition, London, 1620.—Bishop Davenant (member of the Synod of Dort): Learned and exhaustive prelections in Latin, 1727 (translated into English, 1831).—Daille, Sermons, translated by John Owen, 1672, also Edinb., 1865, and Philadelphia, Presb. B. Pub.—Watson: Practical Discourses, 1834.—Bishop Dan. Wilson, Expository Lectures, London, 1845, with special reference to prevailing errors.—Cartwright: Notes of Sermons, Edinb., 1864. These are all mainly practical.—Later exegetical works of great value: Eadie: Commentary on the Greek Text of the Colossians, London and Glasgow, 1856. (Very full and reliable.)—Ellicott: Critical and Grammatical Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, with a revised translation, London and Andover, from 2d Eng. ed., 1865. (Clear, discriminating and judicious, fully sustaining the author’s reputation as a critic, grammarian and exegete, largely used in the additions to the present work.)—J. Llewelyn Davies: The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, the Colossians and Philemon; with introductions and notes, and an essay on the traces of foreign elements in the theology of these Epistles, London, 1866. (An attempt to use the Oriental studies so common in England in elucidating these Epistles which seem to have encountered ancient Oriental tendencies.)—There are no special American works on this Epistle.—R]


[1] [The following is a popular summary:

1. The doctrinal part: Colossians 1:1 to Colossians 2:3 (corresponding with Ephesians 1-3).

2. The warning: Colossians 2:4-23 (with no parallel in Eph.).

3. The practical part: Colossians 3:4. (corresponding with Ephesians 4:6).—R.]

[2] Col.






Colossians 1:4.

Ephesians 1:15

Colossians 1:15.

Ephesians 1:7.

Colossians 3:12-13.

Ephesians 4:2-3; Ephesians 4:32.

Colossians 1:5.

Ephesians 1:13.

Colossians 1:18.

Ephesians 1:21.

Colossians 3:16.

Ephesians 5:19-20.

Colossians 1:9.

Ephesians 1:8; Ephesians 1:17.

Colossians 2:19.

Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 4:18.

Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1.

Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9.

Colossians 1:10.

Ephesians 4:1.

Colossians 3:5-6.

Ephesians 5:5-6.

Colossians 4:2-6.

Ephesians 6:18-20.

Colossians 1:11.

Ephesians 4:9-10; Ephesians 1:19.

Colossians 3:8.

Ephesians 4:31.

Col 5:15; 4:29.


Colossians 1:13.

Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12; Ephesians 1:6.

Colossians 3:9-10.

Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:25.



[3][Alford, New Testament, Vol. III. Proleg., p. 40, gives a list of ἅπαξ λεγόμενα, thirty-five in number, and then remarks the fact that nineteen or twenty occur in the second chapter—introduced there by the nature of the subject. At the same time he attributes many to Paul’s style, to the σεμνότης of controversial tone.—R.]

[4][Alford, ΙΙΙ. Proleg. p. 34 and p. 196, 4th ed., gives Κολασσαεῖς as the reading of א. in the title. A consultation of the Imp. Ed. in the Library of the Union Theo. Sem., N. Y., proves the correctness of Braune’s statement in every respect.—R.]