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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(shortened probably from Epaphroditus, but not to be identified with the evangelist so named)

Epaphras was a native or citizen of Colossae (Colossians 4:12), the founder, or at least an early and leading teacher of the Church there (Colossians 1:7, where καί, ‘also,’ is omitted in the oldest Manuscripts ), who had special relations with the neighbouring churches of Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). St. Paul had not yet visited this community when he wrote Col.; but if the reading ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν (‘on our behalf,’ ‘as our delegate’) be accepted in Colossians 1:7 (as by Revised Version on the authority of the three oldest Manuscripts ), the Apostle, during his long residence at Ephesus, when ‘all who dwelt in Asia heard the Word’ (Acts 19:10), must have specially commissioned Epaphras to evangelize Colossae in his (St. Paul’s) name (Colossians 4:12-13). Epaphras’ intimate association with St. Paul is shown by the designations ‘beloved fellow-bondsman’ (Colossians 1:2) and ‘fellow-captive’ (Philemon 1:23). The latter word (cf. Colossians 4:10, Romans 16:7), if it be not here used metaphorically, suggests either that Epaphras’ friendship with St. Paul created suspicion and thus led to his arrest, or that he voluntarily shared the Apostle’s captivity (Lightfoot, Colossians3, 1879, p. 34f.).* [Note: Jerome (Com. on Philemon 1:23) mentions, without endorsing it, a tradition that St. Paul and Epaphras, in boyhood, were carried together as captives in war from Judaea to Tarsus.]

When Col. was written, Epaphras had recently arrived in Rome, and had given St. Paul a report of the Church of Colossae. The Apostle assures the Colossian Christians of Epaphras’ great zeal as well as fervent prayers for them; and he conveys to them the friendly greeting of their townsman, who remained in Rome with St. Paul (Colossians 4:12-13). The report about the Church of Colossae was on the whole favourable. Epaphras testifies to the spiritual life and fruitfulness of its members; to their conspicuous faith, hope, and charity (Colossians 1:4-6). There was, however, a disquieting account of a peculiar heresy, which had broken out in the community-a combination of Judaistic formalism with Oriental theosophy (see Colossians). Epaphras, filled with anxiety, had wrestled (ἀγωνιζόμενος) in prayer for his converts ‘that they might stand fully assured in all the will of God’ (Colossians 4:12). Probably one reason of his visit to Rome was to consult St. Paul about this new peril. The solicitude of Epaphras was shared by the Apostle, who, amid thanksgiving for the spiritual progress of the Colossians, admonishes them (Colossians 1:23) to abide in the truth, ‘grounded and stedfast.’ Epaphras sends salutations to the household of Philemon, the letter to whom was dispatched along with the Epistle to the Colossians. Thenceforth Epaphras disappears from reliable history; later traditions represent him as ‘bishop’ of Colossae, as suffering martyrdom, and eventually having his bones interred under the Church of Sta. Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Literature.-J. D. Strohbach, de Epaphrä, 1710; Commentaries of Lightfoot, Ellicott, Eadie, Abbott, Wohlenberg, Maclaren, Haupt, etc., on Colossians; F. Vigouroux, Dict. de la Bible, 1891-99; article ‘Epaphras’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , and Encyclopaedia Biblica .

Henry Cowan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Epaphras'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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