Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the letter of Colossians in conjunction with this article.
The Book of Colossians
As we begin the month, we enter into a new study with a new book. This month is the epistle of Colossians. It is considered by most to be penned by Paul, the apostle who considered himself “born out of due time”1 and one of his prison epistles.2 No matter the audience, whether the original recipients or a modern day reader, Paul seems to always challenge the individual to a serious self-examination of their Christian knowledge base and their own discipleship behavior. This Colossian letter is no different.
Some Colossian History
Colosse (Colossae) was located in Asia Minor. It was situated somewhat between Ephesus and Lystra, with Ephesus to the Northwest and Lystra to the Northeast. By the time Christianity spread to the city, Colosse had lost its place of importance in history that it had under the Grecian Empire. It has been speculated that general city growth of Lycos Valley led to the decline of Colosse, but its loss of prominence may be directly related to “a change of the road system, after which Laodicea became the greater city.”3
It is believed that this region was called home by those of Greek, Roman and Jewish descents; which helps give background to the discussion of Paul in Colossians 2 addressing what is called the “Colossian Heresy”. It is not known if Paul ever visited this congregation, but some of those who worked alongside him also worked closely with the saints in Colosse, those being Ephaphras and Onesimus.4 But interestingly enough, an earthquake in A.D./C.E. 61 devastated the valley and “probably ended occupation of the city.”5
The Colossian Heresy
While students and scholars are not certain of the identity of the actual heresy within the church of Colosse, it is believed that chapter 2 provides insight into the general tenets of those heretical teachings. The teachings at Colosse seemed to demand legalistic adherence to mosaic teachings (2.16-17); the worship of angels (2.18) and Asceticism6 (2.20-23). The general sense for any reader is that all of these instances try to blend other teachings into the premise that in Jesus everything is provided for the church, from knowledge to salvation.
Sometimes it is tempting to relegate to history the challenges faced by those brethren and to act as if modern Christians are no longer influenced by rationalistic and spiritualistic teachings. Reality is that philosophies contrary to “the perfect law of liberty”7 have been intermixed and troublesome to the church since the beginning. The difficulty for twenty-first century believers is two-fold. One is to recognize when we (as an individual disciple, or collectively as a congregation) are influenced by a philosophy that blends or imposes a belief structure contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures. The second is to be willing to change our individual and collective actions once we learn of the philosophical influence.
Some Colossian Trivia
As we close, let us see some factoids from the book of Colossians. Paul specifically mentions a man by the name of Onesimus. Paul describes this man as faithful, a beloved brother, and from Colosse.8 This Onesimus is believed to be the same Onesimus mentioned in the Philemon epistle9 which describes Onesimus as a spiritual son of Paul and yet a slave10 who is owned by Philemon.11
It is from the NIV Archeological Study Bible12 that we will take the remainder of our Colossian factoids:
- “Written Code” [handwriting of ordinance – KJV] was a business term, referring to a certificate of indebtedness in the debtor’s own handwriting (2:14).
- Disarming the enemy is a picture of conquered soldiers stripped of their clothing and weapons to symbolize their total defeat (2:15).
- The central error of the Colossian heresy was a defective view of Christ, in that he was believed to be less than deity (2:19).
- A “barbarian” referred to someone who did not speak Greek and was on that basis thought to be uncivilized (3:11).
- I Corinthians 15.8 – “Out of due time” is the KJV rendering, the ASV translates this as “untimely born” and the CJB translates it as “born at the wrong time”.
- The prison epistles are considered to be written during Paul’s two-year house arrest in Rome (AD/CE 62-63), Dickson New Analytical Study Bible, King James Version, p. 1343, ISBN 0-529-06194-5. Depending on source, the prison epistles include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
- Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, Archaeological Sites: Colosse, p. 1935, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X
- Epaphrus – Colossians 1.7-8 and Onesimus – Colossians 4.9.
- Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The City of Colossae, ISBN 080542836-4, p. 318.
- Asceticism defined by wikipedia.com, “a life-style characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures… often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals”, May 1, 2008.
- James 1.25, 2.12
- Colossians 4.9.
- Philemon 1.10, ESV translation, “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.”
- Philemon 1.15-16
- Philemon 1.1
- Archaeological Study Bible, New International Version, p. 1934, ISBN-10: 0-310-92605-X.