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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Colossians Epistle to the
Epistle to the Colos´sians. That this Epistle is the genuine production of the Apostle Paul is proved by the most satisfactory evidence, and has never indeed been seriously called in question. It is less certain, however, when and where it was composed by him. The common opinion is that he wrote it at Rome during his imprisonment in that city (; ), and although it has been controverted, the balance of evidence is decidedly in its favor. The Epistle to the Ephesians and to Philemon are supposed to have been written about the same time.
In what order these three epistles were written, it is not possible clearly to determine. Between that to the Colossians and that to the Ephesians the coincidences are so close and numerous that the one must have been written immediately after the other, while the mind of the Apostle was occupied with the same leading train of thought. By the greater part the priority is assigned to the Epistle to the Colossians. The Epistle to Philemon being a mere friendly letter, intended chiefly to facilitate the reconciliation of Onesimus to his master, was probably written immediately before the departure of the party by whom it was to be carried.
The Epistle to the Colossians was written, apparently, in consequence of information received by Paul through Epaphras concerning the internal state of their church (; ). Whether the Apostle had ever himself before this time visited Colosse is matter of uncertainty and dispute. From , where he says, 'I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh,' etc. it has by some been very confidently concluded that he had not. To this it is replied by Theodoret, Lardner, and others, that Paul does not intend to include the Colossians and Laodiceans among those who had not seen his face, but specifies the latter as a distinct class; as is evident, they think, from his using the third person in . This latter consideration, however, is of no weight, for the use of the third person here is easily accounted for on the principle that the pronoun takes the person of the nearer noun rather than that of the more remote (cf. ); and it certainly would be absurd to maintain that all contained in the second verse has no relation to the Colossians and Laodiceans, notwithstanding the reference to them in , and again in . As respects the words in , they will, in a mere philological point of view, bear to be understood in either way. It has been urged, however, that when, in , the Apostle says, 'though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit,' etc. his language is strongly indicative of his having formerly been among the Colossians, for the verb rendered 'I am absent' is used properly only of such absence as arises from the person's having gone away from the place of which his absence is predicted. In support of the same view have been adduced Paul's having twice visited and gone through Phrygia (; ), in which Colosse was a chief city; his familiar acquaintance with so many of the Colossian Christians, Epaphras, Archippus, Philemon (who was one of his own converts,; ), and Apphia, probably the wife of Philemon [APPHIA]: his apparent acquaintance with Onesimus, the servant of Philemon, so that he recognized him again at Rome; the cordiality of friendship and interest subsisting between the Apostle and the Colossians as a body (;; , etc.); the Apostle's familiar acquaintance with their state and relations (; , etc.); and their knowledge of so many of his companions, and especially of Timothy, whose name the Apostle associates with his own at the commencement of the Epistle, a circumstance which is worthy of consideration from this, that Timothy was the companion of Paul during his first tour through Phrygia, when probably the Gospel was first preached at Colosse. Of these considerations it must be allowed that the cumulative force is very strong in favor of the opinion that the Christians at Colosse had been privileged to enjoy the personal ministrations of Paul. At the same time, if the Colossians and Laodiceans are not to be included among those of whom Paul says they had not seen his face, it seems unaccountable that, in writing to the Colossians, he should have referred to this class at all. If, moreover, he had visited the Colossians, was it not strange that he should have no deeper feeling towards them than he had for the multitudes of Christians scattered over the world whose faces he had never seen? In fine, as it is quite possible that Paul may have been twice in Phrygia without being once in Colosse, is it not easy also to account for his interest in the church at Colosse, his knowledge of their affairs, and his acquaintance with individuals among them, by supposing that members of that church had frequently visited him in different places, though he had never visited Colosse?
A great part of this Epistle is directed against certain false teachers who had crept into the church at Colosse. To what class these teachers belonged has not been fully determined. Some contend that they were disciples of John the Baptist; others, with more show of reason, conclude that they were Essenes. The most probable opinion is that they were a party of speculatists who endeavored to combine the doctrines of Oriental theosophy and asceticism with Christianity, and promised thereby to their disciples a deeper insight into the spiritual world, and a fuller approximation to heavenly purity and intelligence, than simple Christianity could yield. Against this party the Apostle argues by reminding the Colossians that in Jesus Christ, as set before them in the Gospel, they had all that they required—that He was the image of the invisible God, that He was before all things, that by Him all things consist, that they were complete in Him, and that He would present them to God holy, unblameable, and unreprovable, provided they continued stedfast in the faith. He then shows that the prescriptions of a mere carnal asceticism are not worthy of being submitted to by Christians; and concludes by directing their attention to the elevated principles which should regulate the conscience and conduct of such, and the duties of social and domestic life to which these would prompt.
In the conclusion of the Epistle, the Apostle, after sending to the Colossians the salutations of himself and others who were with him, enjoins the Colossians to send this Epistle to the Laodiceans, and that they likewise should read 'that from Laodicea.' It is disputed whether by these concluding words Paul intends an Epistle from him to the Laodiceans or one from the Laodiceans to him. The former seems the more probable interpretation of the Apostle's words, for supposing him to refer to a letter from the Laodiceans to him, the questions arise, How were the Colossians to procure this unless he himself sent it to them? And of what use would such a document be to them? To this latter question it has been replied that probably the letter from the Laodiceans contained some statements which influenced the Apostle in writing to the Colossians, and which required to be known before his letter in reply could be perfectly understood. But this is said without the slightest shadow of reason from the Epistle before us; and it is opposed by the fact that the Laodicean epistle was to be used by the Colossians after they had read that to themselves. It seems, upon the whole, most likely that Paul in this passage refers to an epistle sent by him to the church in Laodicea at the same time with that to the church at Colosse. It is probable also that this Epistle is now lost, though the suggestion of Grotius that it was the same with the Canonical Epistle to the Ephesians has found some advocates [EPHESIANS, EPISTLE TO THE]. The extant Epistle to the Laodiceans is on all hands allowed to be a clumsy forgery.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Colossians Epistle to the'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/c/colossians-epistle-to-the.html.