Book Summaries

One of 4 letters by Paul written, as is generally agreed, from Rome toward the close of his 1st imprisonment there, about the year a.d. 62. The other prison epistles are Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. In each of these he speaks of "bonds" or calls himself a "prisoner" (Eph 6:20; Php 1:13, 14; Col 4:3, 10, 18; Phm 1, 9). That at least 3 of these epistles were written at approximately the same time is shown by the fact that the same persons are listed as being with Paul at the time the epistles were written (Eph 6:21; Col 4:7 ­9; Phm 10 ­19). During the course of his 3rd Missionary Journey Paul had laboured at Ephesus for 3 years (see Acts 19:1 ­41). Although it is not known whether he ever visited Colossae, a little more than 100 mi. (c. 160 km.) to the east, the influence of his ministry during this time extended far beyond the immediate vicinity of Ephesus. Demetrius protested that "almost throughout all [the Roman province of] Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people" (v 26). At least one resident of Colossae, Philemon, had found Christ through Paul's ministry (Phm 19), and possibly also Epaphras, who was in charge of the church there (Col 1:7). They may have heard the gospel in Ephesus and carried it back with them to Colossae, since Paul seems not to have laboured there himself (ch 2:1, 5). When Paul wrote to the believers at Colossae, Epaphras had but recently arrived with a report of the love and zeal of believers there (ch 1:7, 8), and it was this report that prompted the writing of the epistle. Tychichus, a companion of the apostle, together with Onesimus, Philemon's slave, was dispatched with the letter (ch 4:7 ­9). Whatever the case, Paul considered himself as spiritual father and founder of the church at Colossae, and thus responsible for its welfare.

According to the epistle a twofold error was threatening the church at Colossae. The exact nature of this error is not clearly stated, but we can infer its general nature from what Paul writes in warning against it. On the one hand, an effort was apparently being made to persuade Gentile Christians at Colossae to adopt the rites and ceremonies of Judaism (Col 2:11 ­16) and certain ascetic tendencies (vs. 18 ­23). On the other, there is evidence of a speculative type of philosophy that resembled the later Gnostic heresy (vs. 4, 8, 18, 20). Some have traced the Colossian error to the Essenes, or the Qumran sect, who are known to have held and practised certain of these teachings. What is said of "angels" closely resembles the intermediary beings or "emanations" of Gnosticism (Col 1:16; 2:18). The Greek words for "mystery" (ch 1:26, 27), "fullness" (v 19), and "knowledge" (ch 2:3) appear as technical terms in ancient Jewish and pagan religious and philosophical literature. Here, Paul uses them in a Christian sense.

The apostle meets the errors in the Colossian church by setting forth the pre-eminence of Christ, as infinite God and Creator and Sustainer of all things (chs 1:15 ­17; 2:8, 9), as the author of salvation and the perfecter of Christian character (chs 1:20 ­27; 2:7; 3:1 ­3), and as head of the church (ch 2:17, 18). Belief in Christ, therefore, excludes ceremonialism and speculative philosophy. All the mysteries man needs to know have been revealed in Christ, whom the apostle presents as the Christian ideal (ch 3:12 ­24).

The epistle logically falls into 6 principal sections: (1) The introduction: salutation, commendation, and statement of purpose (Col 1:1 ­13). (2) The doctrinal section exalting the pre-eminence of Christ to the Christian (chs 1:14 to 2:3). (3) A warning against error (ch 2:8 ­23). (4) Exhortations to imitate Christ's exemplary life (ch 3:1 ­17). (5) Duties of social relationships (chs 3:18 to 4:6). (6) The conclusion: salutation and greetings (ch 4:7 ­18).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.