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Address and Greeting
Comp. on Ephesians 1:1-2, which closely resembles this passage.
Colossians 1:1. Paul, etc. The writer designates himself in precisely the same terms as in Ephesians 1:1. On the Pauline greetings, see Romans, chap. Colossians 1:1-7, and the references there.
Timothy the brother. ‘Timothy’ is mentioned in the address of seven of Paul’s Epistles (1 and 2 Cor., Phil., Colossians , 1 and 2 Thess., Philemon), and he is doubtless in-eluded in Galatians 1:2. In 2 Cor., and Philemon also, he is designated as ‘the brother.’ This simply means that he was a Christian brother, well-known as such. It does not follow that Paul and Timothy had been at Colossae. ‘So well-known was he as “he brother,” doing the Apostle’ work, carrying his messages, bringing correspondence to him, endeared to him in so many ways, and representing him in his absence, that the Church of Colossæ could not wonder at his name being associated with that of Paul (Eadie). Notice that Paul, who claims to be an Apostle ‘through the will of God,’ terms the younger believer ‘the brother.’ All Christians, as children of God, are brethren, ‘that most important office of the Church, the apostolate, is but an accident of the brotherhood’(Braune). But the mention of Timothy shows also that among the multitude of Christians there must be room for special personal affinities and companionships. Timothy is not named in Ephesians, the third of the Epistles sent from Rome by the same messenger. From this it has been inferred that he was temporarily absent from Rome when that Epistle was written. See further, Introduction to Ephesians, § 2.
Colossians 1:2. Faithful, or, ‘believing,’ brethren, etc. The word translated ‘faithful,’ used as a noun in Ephesians 1:1, is here an adjective joined with ‘brethren.’
In Christ qualifies ‘brethren,’ or the phrase ‘faithful brethren,’ indicating ‘the limitin g element, in which the readers are believing brethren, and outside of which they would not be such in the Christian sense’ (Meyer). Christians are brethren, notwithstanding differences of age and position (Paul and Timothy), in spite of distance and of degrees in knowledge and piety (Paul and the Colossians); because they are brethren in Christ Colossæ. On the name and place, see Introduction, § 1.
The peculiarity of the greeting consists in the omission of the phrase ‘and the Lord Jesus Christ,’ which is found everywhere else, and has good support here also. But, despite the testimony of Aleph in its favor, most modern editors reject the phrase, since the early scribes would make the briefer reading conform to the more usual greeting. The testimony of Chrysostom and Theophylact is decidedly against it. The latter assigns as the reason for the omission: ‘Lest the Apostle should revolt them at the outset, and turn their minds from his forthcoming argument,’ which is absurd, in view of the fact that Christ has been named, twice already, and is mentioned again in Colossians 1:3-4.
Colossians 1:3. We give thanks, etc. The Apostle usually begins with thanksgiving; comp. his earliest Epistle (1 Thessalonians 1:2) which exactly corresponds. The plural (‘we’) is probably occasioned by the mention of Timothy (Colossians 1:1); but in 1 Corinthians 1:4, Philippians 1:3, the singular occurs after others have been named in the address. The plural does not stand for the singular, but is used when the Apostle, in thought, associates others with himself. Some extend the reference here to the church in the house or place where the Apostle was; which seems uncalled for.
To God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ‘ And’ is to be omitted, although found in Aleph and A (retained by Tischendorf), because the copyists would be far more likely to insert it than to omit it. With this reading the sense is precisely the same as in the E. V., and as that of the alternate rendering given in Ephesians 1:3, though some nice grammatical questions are involved in the discussion of the Greek.
Always. This is connected by some with ‘praying,’ but since the thanksgiving is the more prominent point, it seems better to join it with ‘give thanks,’ there being no serious grammatical objections to this view. Comp. 1 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Philemon 1:4.
When praying. The force of the participle is better expressed by supplying ‘when.
For you ’ The better supported reading here gives a different preposition from that usually occurring in this connection. But the difference ‘is extremely slight, if indeed appreciable’ (Ellicott). Although the Greek order would allow us to connect the phrase with ‘give thanks,’ it receives greater emphasis when taken with the word ‘praying,’ according to the usual view.
I. The Apostle's Thanksgiving for the Faith and Love of his Readers.
This section might be termed ‘introductory,’ because of its personal character. Yet even here the doctrinal motive is apparent Paul usually begins with thanksgiving on behalf of his readers; but as he omits even such implied commendation in the Epistle to the Galatians, it may be inferred that the Colossian Christians, as a body, had not yet wandered from the truth.
But his thanksgiving to God (Colossians 1:3) for their faith and love (Colossians 1:4) and on account of the hope laid up for them (Colossians 1:5) has a deeper ground in the truth of the gospel, which had come to them (Colossians 1:6) through Epaphras (Colossians 1:7) who had brought tidings of them to the Apostle (Colossians 1:8). He joins the objective truth of the gospel and the subjective appropriation of it; together they are the occasion of his thankfulness to God. Thus be prepares the way for fuller statement of that truth and for admonitions to hold it fast.
I. DOCTRINAL PART: CHRIST THE HEAD OF ALL THINGS.
This division of the Epistle resembles the doctrinal part of Ephesians (chaps, 1-3.); but here the Person of Christ is more prominent; there Christ as the Head of the Body. The liturgical tone is less obvious here, and the style less involved. But in both thanksgiving and supplication occur: He teaches doctrine best who prays as he teaches. The following subdivisions will be found convenient: (1.) The Apostle’s thanksgiving for the faith and love of his readers (Colossians 1:3-8). (2.) The Apostle’s supplication for their progress in the knowledge of Christ as Head of all things (Colossians 1:9-23). (3.) The Apostle’s joy in his sufferings and labors for Christ (Colossians 1:24-29). The entire division, in both the personal and doctrinal statements, well prepares for the second (polemical) part of the Epistle, to which chap. Colossians 2:1-3 furnishes an appropriate transition. Many commentators therefore include these verses in the doctrinal part of the Epistle.
Colossians 1:4. Having heard. ‘ After hearing,’ rather than, ‘since we heard,’ or, ‘ because we heard.’
Your faith in Christ Jesus. He is the sphere and object of the faith; comp. Ephesians 1:15.
The love which ye have to all the saints. The Italics of the E. V. are unnecessary, since the better supported reading gives ‘which ye have,’ thus emphasizing the tact that they possess it.
Colossians 1:5. On account of, etc. This verse is to be closely joined with what precedes. ‘Which ye have on account of,’ etc. It is improper to connect it with ‘give thanks.’
The hope, i.e., the thing hoped for, the hope as respects its contents, since only in this sense could it be defined by the clause: which is laid up for you in heaven. ‘ Laid up’ suggests the thought of a treasure set aside for future use and securely placed. ‘In heaven’ is not strictly local here, but may point to the future kingdom of heaven.
Whereof ye heard before. The exact reference of ‘before’ has occasioned much discussion. It is perhaps safest to take it indefinitely: of this hope they previously heard (when the gospel came to them), since it was prominent in the gospel preaching. Other views: before the Epistle was written; before the hope was cherished; before the fulfilment of the hope. In any case the clause suggests that the ‘hope’ was not an unfounded fancy, but was based upon the proclamation of the truth.
In the word of the truth of the gospel. Comp. Ephesians 1:13. ‘The word’ refers to the preaching, the substance of that preaching was ‘the truth,’ and this truth was specifically that contained in ‘the gospel’ (so Meyer, Ellicott, and others). ‘Gospel’ is not in apposition with ‘the word of the truth’ as in Ephesians 1:13. The hope of which they heard before was ‘in’ (as an essential part of) this ‘word.’
Colossians 1:6. Which. This refers directly to ‘the gospel.’
Is come, lit, ‘is present,’ unto you. There are two ideas suggested here: its reaching them (‘unto you’) and its abiding with them (‘is present’).
As it is in all the world. This need not be limited to the Roman world, or the chief places, nor be taken literally. ‘The expression is no hyperbole, but the repetition of the Lord’s command. Though not yet announced to all nations, it is present in all the world,
the whole world being the area in which it is pro-claimed and working’ (Alford). See notes on Romans 1:8; Romans 10:18.
Bringing forth fruit and increasing. The second participle is abundantly supported, by the five earliest manuscripts, the Vulgate and other authorities; but ‘and’ should be omitted before the participles, which define how the gospel is in all the world. ‘The figure is borrowed from a tree which both bears fruit and grows (Matthew 7:17; Matthew 13:32; Luke 13:19). The former word refers to the faith, the love, the Christian virtues, which the gospel produces in the internal and external life; the latter to the extension and the multiplication of its adherents; Acts 6:7; Acts 12:24; Acts 19:20 ’ (Braune).
As it doth among you also. This points to Colossæ as part of the field in which the gospel is fruitful and growing, furnishing a proof of its efficiency. ‘Among’ seems therefore preferable to the more literal ‘in.’
Since the day ye heard it. Some regard ‘the grace of God’ as the object of both verbs, but it is far more natural to supply ‘it,’ i.e., the gospel. ‘Of it’ (E. V.) is objectionable, since they must hear it, in order to allow it to work among them.
And knew the grace of God in truth. ‘Knew’ is a stronger word than that usually thus rendered, pointing to a fuller knowledge. ‘The grace of God’ forms the contents of the gospel; by hearing the gospel they came to know this grace. ‘In truth’ suggests more than ‘truly,’ pointing to the element in which they knew the grace of God. The phrase does not qualify ‘heard,’ since this makes Colossians 1:7 seem tautological (Ellicott); see above also.
Colossians 1:7. Even as, ‘ according as,’ explaining ‘in truth.’
Ye learned of Epaphras. A resident of Colossæ or its neighborhood (chap. Colossians 4:12), a ‘fellow-prisoner’ of Paul at Rome (Philemon 1:23). This verse indicates that be was the founder of the Church at Colossæ, or one of the first preachers in that city. ‘Also’ (E. V.), which is based upon a poorly supported reading, obscures this point. Some have held that this person was identical with Epaphroditus, the Macedonian, who is mentioned in Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:18. The identity of names is possible, though not established, but that of persons is improbable, since the fields of labor indicated were so far apart Lewin (Life and Epistles of St. Paul, ii. 246), in defending the identity, says: ‘The reason for calling him Epaphras to the Colossians and Philemon, and Epaphroditus to the Philippians, was that to the former he was known as a fellow-countryman by the abbreviated and familiar name, but to the Philippians, to whom he was a stranger, he was designated by the formal name at full length.’ But the mention of Epaphroditus in Philippians does not suggest any such formality. The view that there were two persons is preferable.
Our dear fellow servant, etc. This commendation of Epaphras is related to the purpose of the Apostle. What the Apostle would oppose was the error which had sprung up since the true gospel was preached to him by Epaphras. ‘Fellow servant,’ as related to Christ, their common Lord.
Who is, not, ‘was.’ The continuance of his position as ‘faithful minister’ is thus emphasized.
On our (or, ‘your’) behalf. The Sinaitic manuscript has given a decided preponderance of authority to the reading ‘our,’ although even in that codex a later corrector has altered the single letter which changes the sense to ‘your.’ ‘On our behalf.’ while not in itself equivalent to ‘in my place,’ suggests this thought. The original connects the phrase with ‘faithful,’ but it is difficult to reproduce this in English. ‘He was one acting faithfully as the Apostle’s deputy, and there-fore not lightly to be set aside in favor of the new and erroneous teachers’ (Alford).
Faithful minister of Christ. Whether the faithful service was on the Apostle’s behalf or on behalf of the Colossians, it was service of Christ. Because he was a minister ‘of Christ’ he could properly minister in their behalf. Only the minister of Christ can be thus faithful, but he always should be faithful.
Colossians 1:8. Who also declared unto us. Epaphras was with Paul at Rome (chap. Colossians 4:12), and had brought tidings respecting the Colossian Christians.
Your love in the Spirit. This ‘love’ is that spoken of in Colossians 1:4, but here described as to its source and sphere; it was in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; comp. Romans 15:30, ‘love of the Spirit,’ i.e., wrought by the Spirit. The phrase is not to be limited to love to the Apostle, nor weakened into ‘spiritual, sincere love.’ Notice: the Apostle commends where he can, even when he must also rebuke. Comp. the words of praise in chap. Colossians 2:5, preceding the most earnest warning. The mystical (Gnostic) errorists in every age have frequently deserved similar praise, but this should not hide, or excuse (still less be turned into argument in favor of) their errors. Epaphras, from whose teachings some of the Colossian Christians had swerved, gladly declared what was commend-able in the congregation.
Colossians 1:9. For this cause; referring to the entire preceding paragraph (Colossians 1:3-8), because of what had been heard respecting the Colossians.
We also; comp. Colossians 1:3. ‘Also’ marks the change of subject: ‘we on our part’ as well as others, probably with special thought of Epaphras who has just been named (Meyer).
Since the day we heard it; comp. Colossians 1:4. ‘The receipt of the intelligence produced immediate results and led to prayer. The effect was instant and it was not spent with a single impulse’ (Eadie).
Do not cease, etc. Comp. Ephesians 1:16: ‘an exactly similar affectionate hyperbole’ (Ellicott).
Praying for you and asking. The former participle points to prayer in general, the latter to direct petition; ‘for you’ belongs to both words, and the former points to constant habitual action.
That, etc. On ‘that’ after verbs of asking, see on Ephesians 1:17. This clause is joined with ‘asking’ (as the punctuation of the E. V. suggests) and not with both participles. It gives the purport and purpose of the petition.
Ye may be filled. The verb ‘filled’ occurs five times in this Epistle; it suggests the imperfect state of those prayed for.
with the knowledge of his will ‘Knowledge’ here is ‘full knowledge,’ being a stronger form corresponding with the verb used in Colossians 1:6. The reference is of course to God’s ‘will,’ and, as Colossians 1:10 indicates, His will respecting the walk of the Christian; but not this exclusively, since Christian life is based on a wider knowledge than this.
In all spiritual wisdom and understanding. This phrase indicates the mode in which this being filled was to take place; not through human, fleshly wisdom, but wisdom and understanding wrought by the Holy Spirit. ‘Spiritual’ (comp. Ephesians 1:3) qualifies both nouns, not ‘understanding’ alone (E. V.). ‘Wisdom’ is a more general term than ‘understanding,’ but both refer to practical wisdom.
2. The Apostles Prayer for their Progress in the Knowledge of Christ as Head of all Things.
The Apostle’s thanksgiving is naturally followed by the mention of his petition for the Colossians. The immediate object of his prayer is that they may have fuller knowledge of God’s will (Colossians 1:9), which has as its aim a walk worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10-12). The motive to this walk is set forth by a description of God’s redeeming act in Christ (Colossians 1:13-14). The Apostle's mind, troubled by the danger which threatened the Colossians, seizes upon this occasion to present most fully the positive truths which can meet the entering error. He, therefore, within the limits of the same sentence, begins a description of the Son of God's Love, which forms the culmination of his Christological teaching. In Colossians 1:15-19 the Person of Christ is set forth, first, in His preexistent relation to God and the world (Colossians 1:15-17), secondly, in His relation to the Church, His body (Colossians 1:18-19). Grammatical and logical considerations alike justify this distinction. The relation to the Church naturally leads to a presentation of the work of Christ (Colossians 1:20-23), as reconciling all things through the blood of His cross; a truth applied so directly to the Colossian Christians as to confirm the view, that the motive for this sublime Christological passage is to be found in the errors which were creeping into the Phrygian churches. The Apostle connects these statements respecting the Person and work of Christ with his petition for a worthy Christian walk. In his view there is a vital connection between Christian truth and Christian life.
Colossians 1:10. To walk. The best authorities omit the subject (answering to ‘ye’) of the Greek infinitive. Hence it is best to render by the English infinitive, especially as this verse does not depend on ‘asking,’ but explains the purpose of being thus filled.
Worthy of the torn, i.e., Christ, since Paul seems always to use the term with this reference, except in citations from the Old Testament. Christians belong to Christ, and hence their conduct should correspond. The relation to Him furnishes a motive to imitate Him.
Unto all pleasing; to please Christ in all things is the true end (‘unto’) as well as the manner of the Christian walk.
Being fruitful, etc. As the phrase ‘in every good work’ comes first, some have joined it with ‘unto all pleasing;’ others join it with both of the participles. But the view indicated by the E. V. is preferable, since it preserves the symmetry of the construction. The figure here is the same as in Colossians 1:6. The sphere of the fruitfulness is every good work, by which ‘we all understand, works required by the will of God, growing out of faith, demanded, not merely by law, but by relations, circumstances, by the inward impulse of the conscience and the Holy Ghost’ (Braune).
And increasing by the knowledge (‘full knowledge’) of God. Some authorities read: ‘unto the knowledge of God,’ but the dative is much better supported. This may mean ‘by,’ or, ‘with respect to.’ The latter sense is that suggested by the E, V. (‘in’); but the instrumental sense is preferable. ‘It is the knowledge of God which is the real instrument of enlargement, in soul and in life, of the believer not a knowledge which puffeth up but an accurate knowledge which buildeth up’ (Alford). This view joins the phrase with ‘increasing,’ not with both participles. But the two thoughts are not disconnected: ‘the tree grows healthfully while its fertility is so great’ (Eadie).
Colossians 1:11. Strengthened with (lit., ‘in’) all strength. The noun is usually rendered ‘power,’ but to do so here destroys the verbal correspondence which is found in the Greek. ‘With all strength;’ by means of every form of strength imparted by God (Meyer). Some take ‘in’ as pointing to the element in which the strengthening occurs, giving to ‘strength’ a subjective sense. But the former view seems preferable.
According to the might of his glory; not, ‘glorious power’ (E. V.). The word rendered ‘might’ occurs in Ephesians 1:19, referring to power which manifests itself; here it is that might, ‘which is the peculiar characteristic of His glory’ (Ellicott), and this is the measure (‘according to’) of the strengthening which underlies a walk worthy of the Lord,
unto all patience and longsuffering. Toward these graces, in every form, the strengthening leads. ‘Patience’ (patient endurance) endures meekly what cannot be changed; ‘longsoffering’ bears with what might be avenged. Other distinctions have been made, but this is most satisfactory. To endure this, Divine strength is needed, especially to endure with joy, a characteristic of Christian patience; comp. Romans 5:3 -In such trials ‘the Christian is glad, and certain of the victory of his cause, of his reward with God both in his own heart and in heaven’ (Braune). From early times, however, some have connected this phrase with the next verse, mainly on the ground of the parallelism of the structure of the clauses (in Greek). But the preposition ‘with’ occurs here, instead of ‘in’ (as in the other cases), pointing to an accompaniment, which would scarcely take the first place in a clause.
Colossians 1:12. Giving thanks, etc. This is parallel with ‘being fruitful,’ and the other participles, defining still further the worthy walk. It is fruitful, growing, strong to suffer, and grateful: the last is the most distinctively Christian characteristic.
Unto the Father, i.e., of our Lord Jesus Christ, since this is not only the usual conception, but required by Colossians 1:13. The word ‘Father’ is never applied by Paul to God in an abstract sense (Meyer).
who made us meet for the portion. This is a more literal rendering than that of the E. V. ‘Made meet’ points to a past act (at the time of receiving the Holy Spirit) which rendered Paul and his readers (‘us’) capable (as a matter of grace, not ‘worthy,’ as a matter of merit) of obtaining this ‘portion’ (or, more literally, ‘share’). This ‘portion’ is part of the inheritance (or, ‘lot’) of the saints in light. The figure is borrowed from the Old Testament: ‘as the chosen people obtained Canaan through the grace of God, and each Israelite his part in the distribution of the land, so the Christian obtains his portion in and of the kingdom of heaven’ (Braune). This inheritance is possessed by ‘the saints,’ which term includes all Christians, over against the less extended ‘us’ The main question is respecting the connection of the phrase ‘in light.’ Meyer regards it as instrumental, connecting it with ‘made meet;’ which is unnatural, and opposed by the contrast in Colossians 1:13. Bengel joins it with ‘portion,’ as defining the locality; which is scarcely justified by the Greek order. Others join it with ‘saints’ as indicating their abode; which is not ungrammatical, but liable to be applied too exclusively to the saints in heaven. Ellicott joins it with ‘inheritance of the saints;’ which seems on the whole preferable. The inheritance of the saints is ‘in light,’ and they enter even here upon the enjoyment of it (comp. Colossians 1:13). For ‘light’ suggests not merely the glory of this inheritance, but the purity and power and life which increasingly come to those made meet for partaking of it.
Colossians 1:13. Who ( i.e., the Father) delivered us. A strong expression, suggesting snatching from danger, as wretched captives (so Theophylact).
Out of the power of darkness. ‘Darkness’ is personified, as it were, and ‘power’ refers to the dominion, more literally ‘authority,’ which the darkness possesses. The ‘world’ is thus represented, as under the dominion of evil and sin, over against the kingdom of Christ, which is ‘in light.’
And translated us. This is the positive side; the figure of transferring is a natural one.
Into the kingdom, etc. ‘Kingdom’ in contrast with ‘power,’ referring not to the future Messianic kingdom, nor to the Church, nor to the inward workings of grace, but to the kingdom of Christ as a rule already begun on the earth, and to be completed hereafter. Matthew 13:0 plainly suggests this present reference.
Of the Son of his love. This expression, ‘which recalls Ephesians 1:6, both in phrase and connection, occurs only here, and sets forth the Son with the greatest emphasis as the Object of His love, upon whom His entire love flows, and through Him therefore upon us’ (Braune). So the best of recent commentators. Other explanations have been suggested; none of them more objectionable than that of the E. V. (‘His dear Son’).
Colossians 1:14. In whom. Comp. Ephesians 1:7, which closely resembles this verse. Here, however, the phrase ‘through His blood’ is to be rejected, since it is sustained by no ancient Greek manuscript.
The forgiveness of our sins. In Ephesians 1:7: ‘trespasses,’ which points more to the outward acts; the term ‘sins’ is more general. Redemption and forgiveness are ours only ‘in Christ.’
Colossians 1:15. Who is. In Colossians 1:15-20 we have a description of the person of Christ (‘the Son of His love’), well adapted to counteract the errors which the Apostle wishes to oppose. The subject is the Son of God, but ‘in Colossians 1:15-17, the reference is rather to the pre-incarnate Son in His relation to God and to His own creatures, in Colossians 1:18-20 to the incarnate and now glorified Son in His relations to His Church’ (Ellicott). The clauses beginning ‘because’ (Colossians 1:16; Colossians 1:19, ‘for,’ E. V.) give the proof respectively for the two leading thoughts in Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18. Meyer, however, says: ‘The only correct reference is to His whole Person, which in the theanthropic status of His present heavenly Being is continuously what His Divine Nature (considered in itself) was before the Incarnation, so that by virtue of the identity of His Divine Nature, we can attribute the same predicates to the Exalted One as to the Logos.’ But this virtually concedes all that is claimed above. On the entire passage, comp. Hebrews 1:3, etc.
The image of the invisible God. This indicates the relation to God, immanent and permanent. On this relation rests the actual revelation of God in the Person of Christ, but the immediate reference here is not to the latter. It is true that ‘invisible,’ which is emphatic in the original, suggests that the image becomes visible, as indeed all the terms used to express the relation of the Son to the Father seem to imply revelation (‘word,’ ‘effulgence,’ ‘very image,’ ‘form’), but a careful comparison of all such expressions forbids our making this the essential thought. The Fathers generally regard these words as an assertion that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, against the Arians. Meyer and others, who refer the verse to the Exalted Christ, still admit the correctness of this patristic explanation.
The firstborn of (or, ‘before’) every creature (or, ‘all creation’). ‘The first born with respect to every creature; He was born before every creature. He is not the first created, the previous clause as well as the terms here chosen forbid such a view. ‘Every creature’ is a more exact rendering than ‘all creation.’ The former individualizes, the latter sums up as a whole. The polemic purpose of the Apostle also sustains the former sense. The term ‘first born’ expresses here priority in time, although there maybe an inferential reference to superiority in rank. The objections to making the latter the main thought are: (1.) that it gives the preference to a secondary and figurative meaning, where the primary one is very appropriate; (2.) it throws into the background the relation to the Father, which is not only indicated by the word itself, but given decided prominence by the close connection with the preceding clause. Hence those who adopt this view of ‘first born’ consistently refer that clause also to the revelation of the Father in Christ rather than to the relation of the Son to the Father. But it must be added that while His priority in time shows His independence of creation, creation is not independent of Him, as He is here described. In this relation of the Son to the Invisible God is to be found the ground or condition of the whole creation. The next verse asserts that He is the conditional cause of the Universe, but this one seems to intimate that in virtue of His immanent relation to the Father, as the ‘Image’ and ‘First born,’ He holds the relation to the creation, which is subsequently defined. Although not included in the category of ‘creation,’ He is most intimately linked with ‘every creature.’
Colossians 1:16. Because (more exact than ‘for’, giving a reason for Colossians 1:15, in him (the emphatic phrase), as the conditional element of the creation, preexistent and all-including, were all things (taken collectively as a whole = the created universe) created. The reference here is to the past fact, in the last clause of the verse the present is emphasized. Since ‘all things’ is expanded in what follows, the verse abundantly sustains the view taken of Colossians 1:15. The Person there referred to cannot be a part of the creation.
That are in the heavens, etc. (The article is omitted in this pair, according to the best authorities.) On the terms themselves, comp. Ephesians 1:10. Obviously, the heavens and the earth are themselves included, as part of the creation.
Things visible and things invisible. To the distinction of place, that of nature is added. There is no necessity for making this pair correspond exactly with the last, although ‘things invisible’ refers mainly to the heavenly world of spirits, which are classified in what follows: whether thrones, etc.
In Ephesians 1:21, where, however, different terms are used, the order seems to be from the higher to the lower rank of angels. Hence it has been inferred that ‘thrones’ here points to the highest grade of created spirits, a view confirmed by Rabbinical usage.
Dominions. According to Meyer, these form the lowest class, principalities and powers, the intermediate classes (comp. Ephesians 1:21, where ‘dominion’ comes last); if indeed ‘all such distinctions are not to be deemed precarious and presumptuous’ (Ellicott). ‘Whether’ suggests that there may be other classes, but that all are meant, whether named here are not. There is no reference to bad angels, who were not created as such. Earthly empires, civil orders, etc., cannot be meant. Many other fanciful interpretations have been suggested.
All things have been created through him and unto him. ‘All things’ is solemnly repeated, but besides the fact of creation we have here the permanent result (‘have been created’ and continue to be). This result has Him as its end; hence ‘unto Him’ is added. All three phrases are needed to indicate the relation of the Son to creation. Comp. Romans 11:36, where the same terms (‘through’ and ‘unto’) are applied to the Father; ‘but of Him’ is never applied to the Son. To interpret the passage of a new moral creation is forbidden by the single statements as well as by the connection of thought Colossians 1:17-20 set forth more fully that all things have been created unto Him, and the new moral creation is part of the fulfilment of this design. Comp. Romans 8:19-23.
Colossians 1:17. And he (emphatic) is before all things. ‘Before’ in time, preexistent to ‘all things,’ not simply ‘all beings.’ He did not become thus preexistent, but ‘is’ prior in time.
And in him all things subsist, more literally, ‘stand together.’ This is not a repetition of the first clause of Colossians 1:16: there the fact of creation is mentioned; here a more permanent relation is set forth. He keeps in organic permanence what was created in Him, through Him and unto Him; comp. Hebrews 1:3. ‘Christ is the Living Centre, to which all things in creation converge, the Divine Keystone in the arch of the universe, on which the whole fabric leans’ (Chrysostom). The fulness of Paul’s statement here, taken in connection with chap. Colossians 2:18-19, indicates that the Colossian Church was in danger from false teachings respecting the relation of Christ to the creation, especially to the angels. How far this seed of heresy had developed cannot be determined, nor can its connection with the later Gnostic and Ebionitic speculations be positively affirmed (comp. Introduction, §2).
Colossians 1:18. And he (emphatic, as before) is the head of the body, the church. The emphasis resting on ‘He’ suggests a reference to the errors prevalent in the Colossian Church (see above). Here the subject is the now glorified Christ; comp. Ephesians 1:22-23, where the same idea is expressed, also Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:15-16, and similar passages, which leave no doubt that the rendering given above is correct. The emphasis rests on the word ‘Head;’ their mistake was not respecting the Church, but respecting its Head; comp. chap. Colossians 2:19.
Who is the beginning. Since Christ’s relations to the Church are here set forth, it is true that ‘He is the “beginning,” in that in Him is begun and conditioned the Church’ (Alford). Meyer, however, joins ‘from the dead’ with this term. In any case priority in time, not in rank, is indicated, and the reference to the Church seems a natural one, though perhaps not the primary or exclusive one.
The firstborn from the dead. ‘First born’ here also indicates priority in time, but the connection suggests a series of which He is first. Moreover He is first born ‘from the dead,’ not simply ‘of’ them. ‘He left their realm and came again as with a new be-getting and new birth into life’ (Ellicott). Here too there is a reference to the Church, since this victory over death, as Paul everywhere indicates, is the fundamental fact in His giving life to His Church.
That (in order that) in all things; ‘on all sides, in wisdom, holiness, might, death-over-coming power, dominion and glory, as respects the world as well as the Church’ (Braune). To render ‘among all’ sadly mars the passage.
He, emphatic again. He and none other, the very one who rose, might have the preeminence, become the first in rank; the word occurring only here in the New Testament. This is God’s purpose, partially fulfilled already, to be entirely fulfilled at His coming. The central place Paul assigns to the Person of Christ is the proper place in all Christian thought.
Colossians 1:19. Because; in proof of the last clause: ‘that in all things,’ etc.
It pleased the rather, etc. The construction has led to much discussion. ‘All the fulness’ may be the subject of ‘pleased,’ or of ‘dwell’ The sense is substantially the same in either case, since ‘God’ (or, ‘the Father’) is evidently in the Apostle’s mind, and is the subject in Colossians 1:20. To supply ‘the Son’ is far less natural. ‘Fulness’ here means that with which anything is filled, possibly suggesting the accessory idea of ‘plenitude’ The other senses of the word (comp. on Ephesians 1:10) are obviously inappropriate here. But ‘fulness’ of what? Some supply ‘of the Godhead’ from chap. Colossians 2:9 (comp. Ephesians 3:19); others ‘of the universe,’ or even ‘of the Gentiles.’ Of these the first alone is admissible; but as the Apostle’s thought now concerns Christ’s relation to the Church, it seems better to refer the phrase to the fulness of Divine grace which is in Christ and from which all supplies of grace proceed to us (so Beza). This fulness could dwell only in the Son, ‘the image of the invisible God,’ etc. But the fact that it did thus dwell in the Incarnate Word is that on which the salvation of the Church rests. This fulness of ‘habitual grace’ (as the scholastic theologians term it) shows the certainty of the fulfilment of the Divine purpose: ‘that in all things He might have the preeminence’ (Colossians 1:18). Ellicott suggests that the use of this term had ‘special reference to some vague or perverted meaning assigned to it by the false teachers or theosophistic speculators at Colossæ;’ comp. chap. Colossians 2:9.
Colossians 1:20. Through him (as the instrument in Redemption as in Creation) to reconcile all things unto himself; lit, ‘unto Him,’ but the reference to God seems necessary; comp. Ephesians 2:16, where moreover the word ‘reconcile’ occurs in the same form. Here, as there, it seems best to take the term as a strengthened form, rather than as meaning ‘reconcile again.’ The latter sense might be deemed appropriate here, especially in view of the similarity to Ephesians 1:10, where that thought is more fully expressed. But the statements are not identical, and ‘all things’ must be needlessly limited if the idea of restoration is accepted. The thought is: ‘Through Christ the entire universe is reconciled with God’ (Meyer). How this takes place in many cases we do not know; but that there is obviously a difference in the application to different parts of the universe. Wild speculations have been made on this topic, but this should not lead us to limit the great thought of the Apostle, either to the Church, or to men, or even to intelligent beings. ‘The absolute totality of created things shall be restored into its primal harmony with its Creator’ (Ellicott). Neither here nor in the more specific parallel passage (Ephesians 1:10) is there any implication of the restoration of fallen angels and of the finally impenitent
Making peace through the blood of his cross. Comp. Ephesians 2:14-16. This is the means of the reconciliation; ‘by making peace,’ rather than ‘having made peace.’ The E. V. has transposed the clauses, probably to indicate that ‘the father’ is the subject, which the original unmistakably indicates. ‘Through the blood of His cross,’ i.e., by means of the blood shed upon the cross; comp. Romans 3:25.
Through him, I say. The phrase in Italics is needed even more when the clauses are placed in the correct order. The repetition of ‘through Him’ gives emphasis to the Person of the Mediator, who by His death on the cross effected the work of reconciliation. Apart from His Person there is no efficacy in the shedding of blood.
Whether things on the earth, etc. The words are the same as in Colossians 1:16, but in reversed order with the article (hence the rendering, ‘things’), and probably because the death of Christ took place ‘on the earth. ‘All things’ which are reconciled unto God are thus distinguished. The reconciliation is evidently not between these two parts, nor are the terms to be narrowed or spiritualized in sense. ‘The one Reconciler is the Head of these vast dominions, and in Him meet and merge the discordant elements which sin had introduced. The humanity of Jesus bringing all creatures around it, unites them to God in a bond which never before existed a bond which has its origin in the mystery of redemption. Thus all things in heaven and earth feel the effect of man’s renovation’ (Eadie). The reconciliation will not be complete until the coming of Christ.
Colossians 1:21. In Colossians 1:21-23 the Apostle indicates how the Colossians share in this reconciliation.
And you. Comp. Ephesians 2:1. A new sentence begins here, and the construction is regular, according to the better supported reading.
Being once, i.e., formerly, alienated; comp. Ephesians 2:12, where the same term occurs. But here the reference is to alienation from God; comp. Ephesians 4:14.
And enemies; not only alienated but hostile to God. The word in itself might mean the objects of God’s wrath (comp. Romans 5:10; Eph. 2:23), but what follows favors the other sense.
As to your mind. The word ‘mind’ (or, ‘understanding’) refers ‘to the higher intellectual nature, especially as shown in its practical relations’ (Ellicott), hence not to the exclusion of ethical and religious relations, which are here involved. Their ‘mind’ was the special seat of this alienation and hostility.
In your evil works; this was the sphere in which the alienation and enmity were manifested. The word ‘evil’ is emphatic ‘The phrase includes all works which are done contrary to God’s command, or, if formally in accordance with the law, yet prompted by fleshly appetites and propensities’ (Braune).
Yet now hath he reconciled; lit., ‘did He reconcile,’ by one act, namely, the atoning death of Christ. But English usage will not permit us to join ‘now’ with the simple past tense. (The Vatican manuscript reads: ‘ye were reconciled,’ a variation that can be readily accounted for; it deserves mention only as a curiosity.) Here, as throughout, God is the subject, reconciliation is His act, through Christ.
Colossians 1:22. In the body of his flesh. Historically and locally ‘in’ the human body of the Son of God made flesh, the reconciliation was effected. The peculiar phrase is due, either to the emphasis thus placed upon the historical Person on earth, or to some false teachings prevalent at Colossæ, which attributed to angels a share in the work of redemption (comp. chap. Colossians 2:23).
Through death; lit., ‘the death,’ i.e., ‘His death,’ which is the reading of some early manuscripts. The Person of the Incarnate Word is emphasized in the first phrase, but His work in the second. His sacrificial death on the cross was the means of reconciliation.
To present you, etc. This is the end of the reconciliation, as respects the readers. A single act is suggested by the infinitive, and the time doubtless the day of Christ’s appearing.
Holy and without blame and unreprovable, i.e., unaccusable. The first and second adjectives occur in Ephesians 1:4, and represent the positive and negative sides of holiness; the third is also negative, but apparently stronger than ‘without blame.’ Some explain it as ‘unaccused by their neighbors,’ which seems tame.
Before him. As in Ephesians 1:4, this refers to God, and points to His final verdict respecting those sanctified in consequence of the reconciliation effected through the death of Christ. Some refer this phrase to Christ, but this is only allowable if the reading ‘ye were reconciled’ (Colossians 1:21) is accepted.
Colossians 1:23. If indeed; the same particle as in Ephesians 3:2; Ephesians 4:21; it does not express doubt, but calls attention to the necessity of faith, in order to be presented thus before God (Colossians 1:22).
Ye continue in the faith. ‘ The faith’ does not mean Christian doctrine, but Christian believing. What they believed is indicated below. This verse, which is virtually an exhortation, indicates that God’s act for and upon them (Colossians 1:21-22) is not carried out to a blessed consummation without subjective advance and personal activity’ (Braune).
Grounded and steadfast (so 1 Corinthians 7:37; 1 Corinthians 15:58). These two terms describe their remaining in the faith on its positive side: ‘grounded’ suggests having a foundation on which they still stand (comp. Ephesians 3:18); ‘steadfast’ points to internal stability, as of a building firmly united,
without being moved away, etc. The E. V., by inserting ‘be,’ suggests that this clause is parallel with ‘continue;’ it is parallel to the words immediately preceding, describing the negative side. The form used points to a possible danger threatening them, thus preparing for the warning of the second chapter.
From the hope (the subjective hope, not the thing hoped for) of the gospel (called forth by the gospel). Others explain: ‘the hope belonging to the gospel,’ but the other seems more appropriate; comp. Ephesians 1:18. ‘From’ indicates that this hope is the foundation of the continuance in the faith. Others regard it as the aim held up before them; but this confuses the hope with the thing hoped for.
Which ye heard, etc. The remainder of the verse in effect enforces the implied exhortation that precedes: (1.) The Colossians had heard the gospel, hence had no excuse for being moved away from the hope it presented; (2.) the gospel had been universally proclaimed and hence had universal validity; (3.) the writer, who was closely related to Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), was a preacher of this gospel (so Meyer, followed by Ellicott and Alford). ‘Heard’ points to the time when it was first preached (Colossians 1:7).
And which was preached to (lit, ‘in’) every creature, ‘In the whole creation’ seems an ungrammatical rendering, since the article is wanting in the Greek. ‘In’ is here equivalent to ‘with,’ ‘in the presence of.’
Which is under heaven limits the previous phrase to earthly creatures. The wide extension of the gospel made this a natural hyperbole; comp. Colossians 1:6; Romans 1:8. ‘The Apostle prophetically sees as accomplished what has as yet only begun, and thus marks the universality of Christianity’ (Braune).
Whereof I Paul became a minister. Comp. Ephesians 3:7, where similar language is used. The tense points to the historical fact of his call to the Apostleship. Notice here, as in Ephesians, the humility with which he speaks. Even he, the inspired Apostle , is a minister (servant) of the gospel. The section means nothing, if it does not mean that to cease believing in the gospel Paul preached is to let go of Christ, the Head, and to lose a share in all that is glorious in His Person and blessed in His work. (A period should be placed at the close of this section; since the correct reading in Colossians 1:24 disconnects it grammatically from this verse.)
Colossians 1:24. Now I rejoice. The reading ‘who,’ which is not well supported, can readily be accounted for. ‘Now’ is not to be taken as a conjunction: ‘at the present time,’ as a prisoner, contrasted with his previous preaching, not with a previous time of sorrow.
In my sufferings; lit, ‘the sufferings;’ the possessive pronoun is poorly sustained, but the article has here the same force. His joy was not on account of his sufferings, but ‘in’ them: while thus suffering he yet rejoiced.
In behalf of you. Comp. Ephesians 3:1, which is parallel. He suffered because of his Apostleship to the Gentiles, but his afflictions turned out to their advantage.
And fill up. The verb occurs only here, and means ‘fill up fully.’ Some explain: ‘fill up in my turn,’ i.e., as Christ suffered for me, so I now suffer for Him; but the best commentators adopt the former sense, finding in the compared word a contrast between the defect and the supply which meets it.
That which is lacking (so rendered elsewhere in E. V.) of the afflictions of Christ. Ellicott: ‘And am filling up fully the lacking measures of the sufferings of Christ.’ It is generally agreed among recent commentators that the last phrase means ‘afflictions belonging to Christ;’ Christ mystical, not Christ corporeally, is suggested by the latter part of the verse. The Apostle represents himself as filling up the deficiencies of the full measure of these sufferings. There is no thought of vicariously atoning by means of such afflictions. Meyer: ‘Paul describes his own sufferings, according to the idea of “the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13; comp. Matthew 20:22; Hebrews 13:13) as “the afflictions of Christ,” in case the Apostolic suffering was of essentially the same kind which Christ had endured (the same cup of which Christ had drunk, the same baptism with which Christ had been baptized). The sum of these afflictions is conceived of as a definite measure, as is frequent in classical usage in similar figurative representation: “I rejoice in my sufferings which I endure for you, and how great and glorious is that which I am engaged in accomplishing through these sufferings! the full completion of that which is lacking on my part in the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ.”‘ He might well term them ‘the afflictions of Christ.’
In my flesh. This is to be connected with ‘fill up,’ and the ‘flesh,’ the seat of physical weakness and pain, is the seat of this filling up.
In behalf of his body. The individual affliction is for the benefit of the whole Body; comp. Ephesians 3:13.
Which is the church; comp. Ephesians 1:23. Alford: ‘Whatever the whole Church has to suffer, even to the end, she suffers for her perfection in holiness and her completion in Him; and the tribulations of Christ will not be complete till the last pang shall have passed, and the last tear have been shed. Every suffering saint of God in every age and position is in fact filling up, in his place and degree, the afflictions of Christ, in his flesh, and on behalf of His body. Not a pang, not a tear is in vain. The Apostle, as standing out prominent among this suffering body, predicates this of himself especially.’ So substantially many of the best ancient and modern commentators.
3. The Apostle’s Joy in His Sufferings and Labor for Christ.
The need of stedfastness (Colossians 1:23) had been enforced by a reference to the Apostle’s personal relation to the gospel. This thought is naturally enlarged upon by the ‘prisoner of Christ Jesus in behalf of you Gentiles’ (Ephesians 3:1). He describes his joy in suffering (Colossians 1:24), the joy and suffering alike having their occasion in his relation to the mystery of Christ (Colossians 1:25-27), namely, to make Christ known to the Gentiles; hence he speaks of his labors in the fulfilment of this ministry (Colossians 1:28-29), the labors having as their immediate aim the spiritual perfection of each and every Christian (Colossians 1:28), and the struggles being maintained through the inworking of Christ’s power (Colossians 1:29). Apart from Christ his life had no significance; here was another indirect blow at the Colossian errors.
Colossians 1:25. Whereof (of which Church) I became a minister. As minister of the gospel (Colossians 1:23) he became also minister of the Church which proclaims the gospel. In the Church there is no true ministry apart from the ministry of the gospel.
According to the dispensation, etc. The word ‘dispensation’ has here its more usual sense of ‘Stewardship.’ His Apostolic office is thus described as of God, belonging to God. In the Church, the house of God, he exercises the function of a steward.
Which was given to me. The emphasis rests on the fact that God had entrusted him with this office, rather than on his having received.
To you-ward. His office was that of Apostle to the Gentiles; comp. Ephesians 3:1-2, etc.
To fulfil the word of God. This presents the design of the giving, and further explains ‘to you-ward.’ The reference seems to be to carrying the word of God to the Gentiles as a whole, thus filling out the full measure of its universal destination. Thus the duties of Paul’s stewardship would be discharged. This sense accords with what follows (Colossians 1:26-27) and with the emphasis which Paul everywhere places upon this idea; comp. Ephesians, chaps. 1-3 through out. Many other explanations (all objectionable) have been given: to give the full contents of the gospel; to complete it; to fulfil the promises of God; to realize the word of God; to bring you to full faith.
Colossians 1:26. Even the mystery, etc. Comp. Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 3:4-9. Here as there the reference is not merely to the salvation of the Gentiles, but to Redemption in Christ as belonging to the eternal plan of God.
Hath been hid from the ages and from the generations. This particular phrase is peculiar (but comp. Ephesians 3:5). ‘Beside the ages of the world, the generations of men living in them are brought into special prominence, and thus the concealment from the beginning of human history is marked’ (Braune).
But now it hath been made manifest ‘ Now,’ in this present dispensation, it was made manifest. The tense points to the single past act, but our English idiom requires ‘hath been.’ In Ephesians 3:5 the contrast is one of degree; here it is absolute. Moreover the change of construction (not indicated in the E. V.) sharpens the contrast. Since ‘made manifest’ is more general than ‘revealed,’ or, ‘made known,’ it is properly referred to the entire historical manifestation, which took place in different ways, partly by revelation, partly by preaching and exposition, and partly by all combined (Meyer). This is favored by the mention of Paul’s preaching (Colossians 1:28).
To his saints. To all Christians, since the specific terms found in Ephesians 3:5 are wanting here. On the word ‘saints,’ see Colossians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Romans 1:7.
Colossians 1:27. To whom God willed; ‘ it was His will,’ etc. ‘Would’ is not strong enough; both ‘desired’ and ‘purposed’ are inexact. ‘Free grace’ may be interred from the term, but is certainly not expressed. God’s design in thus making manifest the mystery to the saints was to make known what (both in degree and kind) is the riches, etc. Comp. on Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:16. As in the parallel passage, Meyer renders: ‘What the riches, etc., is among the Gentiles.’ But this seems forced.
The glory of this mystery. Some take ‘glory’ here as identical with ‘glory’ in the last clause of the verse; but the latter seems to have a more special reference, while here a wider sense is more appropriate, including both the grace and glory of God revealed by this gospel mystery and the glorious effects upon men (the Gentiles). The latter alone is allowable, if the word has the same reference in both clauses.
Among (lit, ‘in’ ) the Gentiles. Calvin: ‘What could be more deserving of admiration than that the Gentiles, who for so many ages had been sunk in death, and whose condition might seem altogether desperate, should suddenly be received into the family of God, and receive the inheritance of salvation?’
Which (‘mystery,’ or better, ‘the riches of the glory of this mystery) is Christ in (or, ‘among’) you. As the preposition is the same, and ‘you’ refers to those who were Gentiles, it is more natural to translate ‘among you;’ so the best commentators from Bengel to Meyer and Ellicott. The thought of Christ’s dwelling in them individually is so true, and so useful for homiletical purposes, that ‘in you’ will probably be preferred by most readers.
The hope of glory. In apposition with ‘Christ,’ who is Himself the hope of glory, i.e., future blessedness. ‘In Him we have here as seed, what we shall have in Him there as harvest’ (Braune).
Colossians 1:28. Whom we set forth, or, ‘announce,’ not the word usually ‘rendered preach.’ ‘We,’ the preachers of the true gospel, in contrast with errorists, referring (as in Colossians 1:3; Colossians 1:9) to Timothy, but to others also.
Admonishing every man, etc. This indicates the manner of their declarations respecting Christ. Meyer regards ‘admonishing’ and ‘teaching’ as corresponding respectively with the injunctions to repent and believe. Other discriminations have been made, but this seems the best. Comp. chap. Colossians 3:16, where the words occur in reverse order.
In all wisdom; ‘in every form of wisdom.’ Comp. Ephesians 1:8. The phrase may qualify both ‘teaching’ and ‘admonishing,’ since each requires ‘wisdom’ as its characteristic element
That we may present (at the day of Christ’s appearing) every men. ‘Notice the emphatic triple repetition of every man, showing that the Apostle was jealous of even the least invasion, on the part of the false teachers, of those souls with whom he was put in charge. At the same time it carries a solemn individual appeal to those thus warned and taught’ (Alford).
Perfect in Christ. The reference is to sanctification, not to justification. This perfection is not in knowledge merely, but in life and character; it can exist only ‘in Christ.’ The last phrase, so common in the Apostle’s writings, does not necessarily suggest a contrast to the false methods of the heretical teachers. Notice the special care of souls implied here, an example for all preachers of the word.
Colossians 1:29. Whereunto ( i.e., for the end just named) I labor also. Besides preaching, he labors in every way. ‘I,’ not, ‘we,’ since Paul’s individual toils and struggles were doubtless before his mind.
Striving. The earlier commentators referred this to external contests (1 Timothy 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; Philippians 1:30), but chaps. Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:12, point to internal struggles. Possibly both are included.
According to his ( i.e. , Christ’s) working which worketh in me mightily; lit, ‘in power.’ The reference to Christ is upheld by most modern commentators (comp. Philippians 4:13). In his struggles Christ’s strength was his. The working of miracles is not indicated by the phrase ‘in power,’ though it need not be excluded. ‘Mightily’ is a good rendering. The ample energies of such a working ‘clothed him with a species of moral omnipotence’ (Eadie). ‘The minister of the Word labors with the Eternal on the Eternal “for eternity,” more than the artist; but only when He who has contrived eternal Redemption works upon him and he does not resist Him’ (Braune). When laboring for this end and with this power, we must succeed, as God accounts success, though men regard our lives as failures. Often the truest success springs from the severest conflicts and from apparent defeat.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Colossians 1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17