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Colossians, Epistle to the

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the seventh of the Pauline epistles in the New Test. (see Davidson's Introd. to the N.T. 2:394 sq.). (See EPISTLE).

I. Authorship. 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. The external testimonies (Just. M. Trypho, p. 311 b; Theophil. ad Autol. 2, p. 100, ed. Colossians 1686; Irenaeus, Haer. 3. 14, 1; Clem. Alex. Strom. 1, p. 325; 4, p. 588, al., ed. Potter; Tertull. de Praescr. ch. 7; de Resurr. ch. 23; Origen, contra Cels.v. 8) are explicit, and the internal arguments, founded on the style, balance of sentences, positions of adverbs, uses of the relative pronoun, participial anacolutha, unusually strong and well defined. It is not right to suppress the fact that Mayerhoff (Der Brief an die Kol. Berl. 1838) and Baur (Der Apostel Paulus, p. 417) have deliberately rejected this epistle as claiming to be a production of the apostle Paul. The first of these critics, however, has been briefly, but, as it would seem, completely answered by Meyer (Komment. p. 7); and to the second, in his subjective and anti-historical attempt to make individual writings of the N.T. mere theosophistic productions of a later Gnosticism, the intelligent and critical reader will naturally yield but little credence (see Rabiger, De Christologia Paulina, etc. Vratisl. 1852; Klopper, De origine Epp. ad Ephesios et Collossenses, Gryph. 1853). It is, indeed, remarkable that the strongly-marked peculiarity of style, the nerve and force of the arguments, and the originality that appears in every paragraph, should not have made both these writers pause in their ill-considered attack on this epistle (see Tregelles, in Horne's Introd. new edit. vol. 3).

II. It is less certain, however, when and where it was composed. The common opinion is that Paul wrote it at Rome during his imprisonment in that city (Acts 28:16; Acts 28:30). Erasmus, followed by others, supposes that Ephesus was the place at which it was composed; but this suggestion is obviously untenable from its incompatibility with the allusions contained' in the epistle itself to the state of trouble and imprisonment in which the apostle was whilst composing it (Colossians 1:24; Colossians 4:10; Colossians 4:18). In Germany, the opinions of theologians have been divided of late years between the common hypothesis and one proposed by Schulz in the Theologische Studien und Kritiken for 1829 (p. 612 sq.), viz., that this epistle, with those to the Ephesians and Philemon, was written during the apostle's (two years') imprisonment at Caesarea previous to his being sent to Rome. This opinion has been adopted and defended by Schott, Bottger, and Wiggers, whilst it has been opposed by Neander, Steiger, Harless, Ruckert, Credner, and others. In a more recent number of the same periodical, however, the whole question has been subjected to a new investigation by Dr. Wiggers, who comes to the conclusion that, of the facts above appealed to, none can be regarded as decisive for either hypothesis (Stud. u. Krit. 1841, p. 436). The above opinion that this epistle and those to the Ephesians and to Philemon were written during the apostle's imprisonment at Caesarea (Acts 21:27 to Acts 26:32), has been recently advocated by several writers of ability, and stated with such cogency and clearness by Meyer (Einleit. z. Ephes. p. 15, sq.), as to deserve some consideration. It will be found, however, to rest on ingeniously-urged plausibilities; whereas, to go no further into the present epistle, the notices of the apostle's imprisonment in Colossians 4:3-4; Colossians 4:11, certainly seem historically inconsistent with the nature of the imprisonment at Caesarea. The permission of Felix (Acts 24:23) can scarcely be strained into any degree of liberty to teach or preach the Gospel, while the facts recorded of Paul's imprisonment at Rome (Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31) are such as to harmonize admirably with the freedom in this respect which our present epistle represents to have been accorded both to the apostle and his companions (see chap. Acts 4:11, and comp. De Wette, Einleit. z. Coloss. p. 12, 13; Wieseler, Chronol. p. 420).

Finally, the foundation for this opinion is taken away by the fact that the imprisonment of Paul at Cesarea was not so long as commonly supposed. See PAUL. It is most likely, therefore, that it was written during Paul's first imprisonment at Rome, probably in the spring of A.D. 57, and apparently soon after the Epistle to the Ephesians, with which it contains numerous and striking coincidences. In support of this date the following facts may be adduced: Timothy was with Paul at the time (Colossians 1:1; comp. Philippians 2:19); Epaphroditus (Epaphras) had lately come from Asia Minor (1, 4, 7, 9; comp. Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:18), and was now with Paul (Colossians 4:2); Paul was in prison, and had been preaching in his confinement (Colossians 4:3; Colossians 4:18; see Acts 28:30-31); various friends were at this time with him (Colossians 4:7-14; these had therefore had time to gather about him, and it was not a season of danger); Tychicus (on his second journey) and Onesimus carried the letter (Colossians 4:7-8; and subscription; comp. Ephesians 6:21; Philemon 1:12). From this last circumstance, it would appear that the epistle could not have been written very early in his imprisonment, as the letter to Philemon (doubtless written not long after) speaks confidently of a speedy release (see Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul. 2:384).

"The striking similarity between many portions of this epistle and of that to the Ephesians has given rise to much speculation, both as to the reason of this studied similarity, and as to the priority of order in respect to composition. These points cannot here be discussed at length, but must be somewhat briefly dismissed with the simple expression of an opinion that the similarity may reasonably be accounted for,

(1) by the proximity in time at which the two epistles were written;

(2) by the high probability that in two cities of Asia, within a moderate distance from one another, there would be many doctrinal prejudices, and many social relations, that would call forth and need precisely the same language of warning and exhortation. The priority in composition must remain a matter for a reasonable difference of opinion." (See EPHESIANS) and (See PHILEMON) (Epistles to).

III. Design. The Epistle to the Colossians was written, apparently, in consequence of information received by Paul through Epaphras concerning the internal state of their church (Colossians 1:6-8). Whether the apostle had ever himself before this time visited Colossa is matter of uncertainty and dispute. From Colossians 2:1, 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. It has been urged, however, that when, in Colossians 2:5, 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 amongst the Colossians, for the ἄπειμι is used properly only of such absence as arises from the person's having gone away from the place of which his absence is predicated. In support of the same view have been adduced Paul's having twice visited and gone through Phrygia (Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23), in which Colossae was a chief city; his familiar acquaintance with so many of the Colossian Christians, Epaphras, Archippus, Philemon (who was one of his own converts, Philippians 13, 19), and Apphia, probably the wife of Philemon; his apparent acquaintance with Onesimus, the slave 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 (Colossians 1:24-25; Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:7, etc.); the apostle's familiar acquaintance with their state and relations (Colossians 1:6; Colossians 2:6-7, 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 Colossae.

Of these considerations it must be allowed that the cumulative force is very strong in favor of the opinion that the Christians at Colossa 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 Colossae, is it not easy also to account for his interest in the church at Colossae, 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 Colossae? (See LAODICEANS (EPISTLE TO).)

A great part of this epistle is directed against certain false teachers who had crept into the church at Colossae (see Rheinwald, De pseudo doctoribus Colossensibus, Bonnae, 1834). To what class these teachers belonged has not been fully determined. Heinrichs (Nov. Test. Koppian. VII, 2:156) contends that they were disciples of John the Baptist. Michaelis and Storr, with more show of reason, conclude that they were Essenes. Hug (Introd. 2:449) traces their system to the Magian philosophy, of which the outlines are furnished by Iamblichus. But the best opinion seems to be that of Neander (Planting and Training, 1:374 sq.), by whom they are represented as 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. (See below.) 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, unblamable, and unreprovable, provided they continued steadfast 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. (See Jour. Sac. Lit. vol. 3) (See PHILOSOPHY).

What these dangerous tendencies therefore were that had appeared in the doctrine and practice of the Colossian Church we discover more particularly from three specifications:

1. A pretentious philosophy, which affected an esoteric knowledge, received through tradition, and which, abandoning Christ the Head, indulged in unhallowed speculations on the number and nature of the spiritual beings with which the invisible world is peopled (Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:18).

2. The observance, if not the asserted obligation (for this does not appear), of Jewish ordinances (Colossians 2:16; Colossians 2:20-22).

3. The practice of ascetic regulations (Colossians 2:23). A question here at once arises, Were these various errors found united in the same party or individual? At first sight they seem mutually to exclude each other. The pharisaic Judaizers exhibited no proneness either to a speculative gnosis or to asceticism; the Gnostic ascetics, on the other hand, were usually opposed to a rigid ceremonialism. It is so improbable, however, that, in a small community like that of Colossae, three distinct parties should have existed, that we are driven to the conclusion that the corrupt tendencies in question did really exist in combination in the same persons; and the difficulty will perhaps be alleviated if we bear in mind that in the apostolic age two classes of Judaizing teachers, equally opposed to the simplicity of the apostolic message, though in different ways, busied themselves in sowing tares among the wheat in the visible Church. The former consisted of the rigid formalists, chiefly Pharisees, who occupy so prominent a place in the history of the Acts and in several of Paul's epistles, and who contended for the continued obligation of the law of Moses upon Gentile converts; the latter were speculative adherents of the Alexandrian school, whose principle it was to subordinate the letter to the spirit, or rather to treat the former as a mere shell, which the initiated were at liberty to cast away as worthless, or intended only for the vulgar. With this false spiritualism was usually combined an element of Oriental theosophy, with its doctrine of the essential evil of matter, and the ascetic practices by which it was supposed that the soul is to be emancipated from the material thraldom under which it at present labors.

To angelology, or the framing of angelic genealogies, the Jews in general of that age were notoriously addicted; in the pastoral epistles (see 1 Timothy 1:4) we again meet this idle form of speculation. That persons imbued with these various notions should, on becoming Christians, attempt an amalgamation of them with their new faith is but natural; and the ill-assorted union seems to have given birth to the Gnosticism of a subsequent age, with its monstrous tenets, the product of an unbridled imagination. Teachers then, or perhaps a single teacher (Colossians 2:16), of this cast of Judaism had effected an entrance into the Colossian Church, and seems to have there experienced a favorable reception. In a Gentile community like this, pharisaic Judaism could not so easily have gained a footing; but the mixture of mystical speculation and ascetic discipline, which distinguished the section of the Alexandrian school alluded to, was just adapted to attract the unstable, especially in Phrygia, from time immemorial the land of mystic rites, such as those connected with the worship of Cybele, and of magical superstition. From this congenial soil, in a subsequent age, Montanism sprang; and, as Neander remarks (Apostelgeschichte, 1:442), it is remarkable that in the 4th century the Council of Laodicea was compelled to prohibit a species of angel-worship, which appears to have maintained its ground in these regions (Can. 35). We must not, however, suppose that these tendencies had worked themselves out into a distinct system, or had brought forth the bitter practical fruits which were their natural consequence, and which, at a later period, distinguished the heresiarchs alluded to in the pastoral epistles, and the followers of Cerinthus. The corrupt teaching was as yet in its bud. The apostle therefore recommends no harsh measures, such as excommunication: he treats the case as one rather of ignorance and inexperience; as that of erring but sincere Christians, not of active opponents; and seeks by gentle persuasion to win them back to their allegiance to Christ. (See GNOSTICISM).

IV. Contents. Like the majority of Paul's epistles, that to the Colossians consists of two main divisions, one of which contains the doctrinal, the other the practical matter.

After his usual salutation (Colossians 1:1-2), the apostle returns thanks to God for the faith of the Colossians, the spirit of love they had shown, and the progress which the Gospel had made among them as preached by Epaphras (Colossians 1:3-8). This leads him to pray without ceasing that they may be fruitful in good works, and especially thankful to the Father, who gave them an inheritance with his saints, and translated them into the kingdom of his Son his Son, the image of the invisible God, the first-born before every creature, the Creator of all things earthly and heavenly, the Head of the Church, He in whom an things subsist, and by whom all things have been reconciled to the eternal Father (Colossians 1:9-20). This reconciliation, the apostle reminds them, was exemplified in their own cases; they were once alienated, but now so reconciled as to be presented holy and blameless before God, if only they continued firm in the faith, and were not moved from the hope of which the Gospel was the source and origin (Colossians 1:21-24).

Of this Gospel the apostle declares himself the minister; the mystery of salvation was that for which he toiled and for which he suffered (Colossians 1:24-29). Nor were his sufferings only for the Church at large, but also for them and others whom he had not personally visited, even that they might come to the full knowledge of Christ, and might not fall victims to plausible sophistries; they were to walk in Christ and to be built on him (Colossians 2:1-7). Here the apostle brings in the particular theme of the epistle. Especially were the Colossians to be careful that no philosophy was to lead them from Him in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead, who was the Head of all spiritual powers, and who had quickened them, forgiven them, and in his death had triumphed over all the hosts of darkness (Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:15). Surely with such spiritual privileges they were not to be judged in the matter of mere ceremonial observances or beguiled into creature-worship. Christ was the head of the body; if they were truly united to him, what need was there of bodily austerities? (Colossians 2:16-23.)

In the latter half of the epistle the apostle enforces the practical duties flowing from these truths. The Colossians were, then, to mind things above spiritual things, not carnal ordinances, for their life was hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:1-4): they were to mortify their members and the evil principles in which they once walked; the old man was to be put off, and the new man put on, in which all are one in Christ (Colossians 3:5-12). Furthermore, they were to give heed to special duties; they were to be forgiving and loving, as was Christ. In the consciousness of his abiding word were they to sing; in his name were they to be thankful (Colossians 3:13-17). Wives and husbands, children and parents, were all to perform their duties; servants were to be faithful, masters to be just (Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1).

In the last chapter the apostle gives further special precepts, strikingly similar to those given to his Ephesian converts. They were to pray for the apostle, and for his success in preaching the Gospel; they were to walk circumspectly, and to be ready to give a seasonable answer to all who questioned them (Colossians 4:2-7). Tychicus, the bearer of the letter, and Onesimus would tell them all the state of the apostle (Colossians 4:7-9): Aristarchus and others sent them friendly greetings (Colossians 4:10-14). With an injunction to interchange this letter with that sent to the neighboring church of Laodicea (Colossians 4:16), a special message to Archippus (Colossians 4:17), and an autograph salutation, this short but striking epistle comes to its close. (See EPISTLE).

V. Commentaries. The following are expressly on this Epistle (including, in some instances, one or more of the other Pauline letters), the most important being designated by an asterisk (*) prefixed: Jerome, Commeint. (in Opp. [Suppos.] 2); Chrysostom, Hoan. (in Opp. 2:368); Zuingle, Annotationes (in Opp. 4:512); Melancthon, Enarrationes (Wittenb. 1559, 4to); Zanchius, Comment. (in Opp. vi); Musculus, Commentarius (Basil. 1565, 1578, 1595, fol.); Aretius, Commentarii (Morg. 1580, 8vo); Olevianus, Notae (Genesis 1580, 8vo); Grynaeus, Explicatio (Basil. 1585, 8vo); Rollock, Commentarius (Edinb. 1600, 8vo; Genev. 1602); also Lectures (Lond. 1603, 4to); Cartwright, Commentary (Lond. 1612, 4to); *Byfield, Exposition (Lond. 1615, fol.; also 1627, 1649); Elton, Exposition (Lond. 1615, 4to; 1620, 1631, fol.); Quiros, Commentarius (in Disput., Lugd. B. 1623); Crellius, Commentarius (in Opp. 1:523); Cocceius, In Ep. ad Colossians (in Opp. 12:213); Alting, Analysis (in Opp. iv); *Davenant, Expositio (Cantab. 1627, fol.; also 1630, 1639, fol.; Genev. 1655, 4to; in English, London, 1831, 2 vols. 8vo); Calixtus, Expositio (Brunsw. 1654, 4to); Daille, Sermons (in French, Genesis 1662, 2d ed. 3 vols. 8vo; in English, Lond. 1672, fol.); and Exposition (Lond. 1841, 8vo); Fergusson, Commentarius (Lord. 1658, 8vo); Martin, Analysis (in Opp. 4:389); *D'Outrein, Sendbrief, etc. (Amst. 1695, 4to; in German, Frankfort, 1696, 4to); Schmid, Commentarius (Hamb. 1696, 4to; also 1704).; Suicer, Commentarius (Tiguri. 1699, 4to); Streso, Meditationes (Amst. 1708, 8vo); Gleich, Predigten (Dresden, 1717, 4to); Lutken, Predigten (Gardel. 1718, 1737, 4to); Hazevoet, Verklaering (Lugd. B. 1720, 4to); Van Til, Commentarius (Amst. 1726, 4to); Roell, Exegesis (Traj. 1731, 4to); Peirce, Paraphrase (London, 1733, 4to); Koning, Openlegging (L. B. 1739, 4to); Storr, Interpretatio (in his Opusc. Acad. 2:120-241); Boysen, Erklarung (Quedlb. 1766-1781); Jones, Version (London, 1820,12mo); Junker, Commentar (Mannheim, 1828, 8vo); Bohmer, Auslegwng (8vo, Berl. 1829; Breslau, 1835); Flatt, Erklar. ed. by Kling (Tub. 1829, 8vo); *Blhr, Commentar (Basel, 1833, 8vo); Watson, Discourses (Lond. 1834, 8vo; also 1838); Steiger, Uebers. u. Erklar. (Erlang. 1835, 8vo); Schleiermacher, Predigten (Berlin, 1835, 2 vols. 8vo); Lange, Homilien (Barmen, 1839); Decker, Bearbeitung (Hamb. 1848, 8vo); Hither, Commentar (Hamb. 1841, 2 vols. 8vo); *De Wette, Erklarung (Lpz. 1843, 1847, 8vo); Wilson, Lectures (London, 1845, 8vo; also 1846); Baumgarten-Crusius, Commentar (Jena, 1847, 8vo); Meyer, Handbuch (Gott. 1848, 8vo, pt. ix); Kahler, Auslegung (Eisleb. 1853, 8vo); Bisping, Erklarung (Munst. 1855, 8vo); *Eadie, Commentary (Glasg. 1856, 8vo); Dalmer, Auslegung (Gotha, 1858, 8vo); *Ellicott, Commentary (London, 1858, 1861, 8vo; Andover, 1865, 8vo); Gisborne, Exposition (Lond. 1860, 12mo); Messmer, Erklarung (Brixen, 1863, 8vo); Passavant, Auslegung (Basel, 1865, 8vo); *Bleek, Vorlesungen (Berlin, 1865, 8vo). (See COMMENTARY).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Colossians, Epistle to the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/c/colossians-epistle-to-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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