- Introduction (1:1-14)
- Doctrinal concerns (1:15 - 2:23)
- The new life versus the old life (3:1 - 4:6)
- Conclusion (4:7-18)
Authorship, date, and background
Colossians, like Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon, was one of the "prison letter" of the apostle Paul. Caesaria, Ephesus, and Rome have been suggested as the places from which they were written. No good reason can be given for supposing it was other than Rome where Paul suffered imprisonment. The date for the composition of this letter is in the general time frame of A.D. 60-61. Similarities between Colossians and Ephesians have occasioned some to suppose that Colossians was written by someone other than Paul. However, such similarities should be expected when the two letters were sent to two different churches in different localities.
The town of Colosse was located in Turkey, not far from Laodicea and Hierapolis. It had been a thriving commercial city, but it declined as Hierapolis and Laodicea grew in importance. It was noted for its glossy black wool taken from sheep which grazed in the surrounding hills. Paul had never visited Colosse, although the church was founded during the time of his Ephesian ministry. Since Epaphras was a native of this city in the Lycus Valley, it was probably he who preached there and started a church (see Acts 19:10; Col. 4:12). Philemon and his slave Onesimus came from that city, and Paul told Philemon to have a room ready or him when he visited Colosse as he hoped to do (Philemon 22). He also sent Philemon greetings from Epaphras, whom he identified as his fellow prisoner (Philemon 23).
The Colossian church had been deeply infiltrated by teachings foreign to the Christian faith. As a result, the people became syncretists who added to Christianity elements from non Christian sources such as Gnosticism, paganism, and Judaic speculative philosophy. Some whorshipped angelic powers, some said asceticism was essential to salvation, and still others had an inordinate liking for knowledge and wisdom of a secret sort. As a result of these practices and persuasions, the person and work of Jesus Christ were downgraded. These wrong customs in the church occasioned the writing of this letter by Paul, in which he set forth clearly and passionately the correct view of Jesus Christ and His pre-eminence.
Characteristics and content
Paul's hymn or prayer of praise to Jesus Christ stands out in the Colossian letter (1:15-20). Whether Paul writes this himself, gets it from an earlier Christian liturgy, or whether it comes directly from the Holy Spirit makes no difference. However it came to be part of the letter, it clearly assigns to Jesus Christ expressions which belong to deity alone - that is, to God. Paul's superb and dazzling statement sums up his teaching about Jesus, when he says, "For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (2:9). This is the Jesus he describes in chapter one as bearing "the image of the invisible God," as the One through whom all things were created, as the One who by His power holds everything together as the Head of the body, the church...so "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence" (1:15-20).
Paul goes on to destroy the idea of the syncretistic faith by knowing that Jesus and Jesus alone is all the believer needs, so that nothing can or should be added to what He has done and what He commands. He warns the Colossians against the wrong beliefs which have crept into their midst, even as he sweeps away the legalism to which they have become attached. Paul urges them to put off or do away with things which hinder them and to put on those things which mark them as true believers in Christ. He carefully delineates what the relationships should be between husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves.
The letter closes with exhortations, a commendation both of Tychicus and Onesimus, as well as greetings from Luke and Demas. He asks that they pass his letter on to the church at Laodicea, which suggests that that group faced similar problems. He also speaks of a letter he has written to Laodicea which is no longer extent.