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Introduction to Colossians


Summary of the Book of Colossians

This summary of the book of Colossians provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Colossians.

Author, Date and Place of Writing

That Colossians is a genuine letter of Paul (1:1) is usually not disputed. In the early church, all who speak on the subject of authorship ascribe it to Paul. In the 19th century, however, some thought that the heresy refuted in ch. 2 was second-century Gnosticism. But a careful analysis of ch. 2 shows that the heresy referred to there is noticeably less developed than the Gnosticism of leading Gnostic teachers of the second and third centuries. Also, the seeds of what later became the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century were present in the first century and already making inroads into the churches. Consequently, it is not necessary to date Colossians in the second century at a time too late for Paul to have written the letter.

Instead, it is to be dated during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, where he spent at least two years under house arrest (see Ac 28:16-31). Some have argued that Paul wrote Colossians from Ephesus or Caesarea, but most of the evidence favors Rome as the place where Paul penned all the Prison Letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon). Colossians should be dated c. a.d. 60, in the same year as Ephesians and Philemon.

Colosse: The Town and the Church

Several hundred years before Paul's day, Colosse had been a leading city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). It was located on the Lycus River and on the great east-west trade route leading from Ephesus on the Aegean Sea to the Euphrates River (see map, p. 2288). By the first century a.d. Colosse was diminished to a second-rate market town, which had been surpassed long before in power and importance by the neighboring towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis (see 4:13).

What gave Colosse NT importance, however, was the fact that, during Paul's three-year ministry in Ephesus, Epaphras had been converted and had carried the gospel to Colosse (cf. 1:7-8; Ac 19:10). The young church that resulted then became the target of heretical attack, which led to Epaphras's visit to Paul in Rome and ultimately to the penning of the Colossian letter.

Perhaps as a result of the efforts of Epaphras or other converts of Paul, Christian churches had also been established in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Some of them were house churches (see 4:15; Phm 2). Most likely all of them were primarily Gentile.

The Colossian Heresy

Paul never explicitly describes the false teaching he opposes in the Colossian letter. The nature of the heresy must be inferred from statements he made in opposition to the false teachers. An analysis of his refutation suggests that the heresy was diverse in nature. Some of the elements of its teachings were:

    1. Ceremonialism. It held to strict rules about the kinds of permissible food and drink, religious festivals (2:16-17) and circumcision (2:11; 3:11).
    2. Asceticism. "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" (2:21; cf. 2:23).
    3. Angel worship. See 2:18.
    4. Depreciation of Christ. This is implied in Paul's emphasis on the supremacy of Christ (1:15-20; 2:2-3,9).
    5. Secret knowledge. The Gnostics boasted of this (see 2:18 and Paul's emphasis in 2:2-3 on Christ, "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom").
    6. Reliance on human wisdom and tradition. See 2:4,8.

These elements seem to fall into two categories, Jewish and Gnostic. It is likely, therefore, that the Colossian heresy was a mixture of an extreme form of Judaism and an early stage of Gnosticism (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism; see also note on 2:23).

Purpose and Theme

Paul's purpose is to refute the Colossian heresy. To accomplish this goal, he exalts Christ as the very image of God (1:15), the Creator (1:16), the preexistent sustainer of all things (1:17), the head of the church (1:18), the first to be resurrected (1:18), the fullness of deity in bodily form (1:19; 2:9) and the reconciler (1:20-22). Thus Christ is completely adequate. We "have been given fullness in Christ" (2:10). On the other hand, the Colossian heresy was altogether inadequate. It was a hollow and deceptive philosophy (2:8), lacking any ability to restrain the old sinful nature (2:23).

The theme of Colossians is the complete adequacy of Christ as contrasted with the emptiness of mere human philosophy.


I.           Introduction (1:1-14)

A.   Greetings (1:1-2)

                    II.        The Supremacy of Christ (1:15-23)

  1. Paul's Labor for the Church (1:24;2:7)
    • His Ministry for the Sake of the Church (1:24-29)
    • His Concern for the Spiritual Welfare of His Readers (2:1-7)

                  IV.        Freedom from Human Regulations through Life with Christ (2:8-23)

    • Warning to Guard against the False Teachers (2:8-15)
    • Pleas to Reject the False Teachers (2:16-19)
    • An Analysis of the Heresy (2:20-23)

V.           Rules for Holy Living (3:1;4:6)

    • The Old Self and the New Self (3:1-17)
    • Rules for Christian Households (3:18;4:1)
    • Further Instructions (4:2-6)

VI.           Final Greetings and Benediction (4:7-18)

──New International Version


Introduction to Colossians

This epistle was sent because of some difficulties which arose among the Colossians, probably from false teachers, in consequence of which they sent to the apostle. The scope of the epistle is to show, that all hope of man's redemption is founded on Christ, in whom alone are all complete fulness, perfections, and sufficiency. The Colossians are cautioned against the devices of judaizing teachers, and also against the notions of carnal wisdom, and human inventions and traditions, as not consistent with full reliance on Christ. In the first two chapters the apostle tells them what they must believe, and in the two last what they must do; the doctrine of faith, and the precepts of life for salvation.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Colossians

Colossians General Review
AUTHOR:  The apostle Paul, joined in his salutation by Timothy (1:1),
and signed by Paul himself at the end of the letter (4:18).  Early
sources in church history that attribute this letter to Paul include:
Eusebius (300 A.D.), Origen (250 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (200
A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), Irenaeus (200 A.D.), and the  Muratorian
Fragment (180 A.D.).
THE CITY OF COLOSSE:  The city was located about 100 miles east of
Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  Together with Hieropolis 
(4:13) and Laodicea (2:1; 4:13-16; Re 3:14-22), Colosse made up a 
tri-city area.  Each city had its own distinction:
   * Hierapolis, a place for health, pleasure, and relaxation
   * Laodicea, known for its commercial trade and politics
   * Colosse, known simply as a small town
Colosse was mostly a pagan city, with a strong intermingling of Jews 
(in 62 B.C., there were 11,000 Jewish freemen in the tri-city area).  
This may explain the nature of some of the problems that arose among 
the church in Colosse (problems with both pagan and Jewish origin).
THE CHURCH AT COLOSSE:  The establishment of the church is uncertain.
At issue is whether Paul himself had ever been there.  Some suggest
that Paul may have done some work there during his third journey, on 
the way to Ephesus (cf. Ac 18:23; 19:1).  Others point out that Paul's 
comments imply that he had not personally been in Colosse (cf. 2:1).  
One possibility is that the church was established during Paul's 
extended stay at Ephesus, where the effect of his work spread 
throughout Asia Minor (cf. Ac 19:8-10).  It may not have been Paul 
himself, but one of his co-workers who went out to Colosse.  Paul's 
remarks in the epistle indicate that Epaphras was the one who preached
the gospel there (1:5-8) and in Hierapolis and Laodicea (4:12-13).
Though he was with Paul at the time the epistle was written, Epaphras
is identified as "one of you" (4:12), suggesting that he may have 
originally been from Colosse.
Other members of the church at Colosse included Philemon, Apphia, and
Archippus, who may have been father, mother, and son.  By comparing the
epistle to the Colossians with that written to Philemon, it is
reasonable to suppose that the church at Colosse met in their home (cf.
4:17 with Phe 1-2, and the references to Archippus).  If Philemon and
his family were hosts of the church at Colosse, then Onesimus
(Philemon's slave) would have also been a member there upon his return
(cf. 4:7-9 with Phe 8-16).
TIME AND PLACE OF WRITING:  Colossians is one of Paul's four "prison
epistles" (4:18; cf. Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon).  The 
general consensus is that these epistles were written during Paul's 
imprisonment at Rome (cf. Ac 28:16,30-31).  If such is truly the case, 
then Paul wrote Colossians around 61-63 A.D. from Rome.  The indication
is that the epistles to the Colossians, Philemon and the Ephesians were
carried to their destination by Tychicus and Onesimus (cf. 4:7-9; Phile
10-12; Ep 6:21-22).
PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE:  Paul had received a report of the situation
at Colosse by way of Epaphras (1:7-8).  This report was for the most
part favorable (2:5).  But the subject matter in the epistle strongly 
suggests that the church was facing a two-fold danger:
   * The danger of relapse into paganism with its gross immorality (cf.
     1:21-23; 2:6; 3:5-11)
   * The danger of accepting what has been come to known as "The 
     Colossian heresy".  This heresy was a syncretism involving four
     elements of both pagan and Jewish origin:
      * Philosophies of men - which denied the all sufficiency and 
        pre-eminence of Christ (2:8)
      * Judaistic ceremonialism - which attached special significance
        to the rite of circumcision, food regulations, and observance 
        of special days (2:11,16-17)
      * Angel worship - which detracted from the uniqueness of Christ
      * Asceticism - which called for harsh treatment of the body as
        the means to control its lusts (2:20-23)
To guard against these dangers, Paul writes to:
   Warn the Colossians against relapse (1:21-23)
   Warn them against the "solution" being urged upon them by those
   denying the all-sufficiency of Christ (2:8-23)
   Direct their attention to the "Beloved Son", the "All-Sufficient and
   Pre-Eminent Savior" (1:13-18; 2:8-10)
THEME OF THE EPISTLE:  With the focus on Jesus Christ as the answer
to the "Colossian heresy", the theme of this letter is clearly:
                    CHRIST - THE FULNESS OF GOD,
KEY VERSES:  Colossians 2:9-10
   "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and
   you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality
   and power."
   1. Salutation (1-2)
   2. Thanksgiving and prayer (3-14)
   A. IN CREATION (1:15-17)
      1. The image of the invisible God (1:15a)
      2. The first-born over all creation (1:15b-17)
   B. IN REDEMPTION (1:18-23)
      1. The head of the body, the church (1:18a)
      2. The beginning, the first-born from the dead (1:18b)
      3. That He might have preeminence in all things (1:18c)
         a. In Whom all the fullness dwells (1:19)
         b. In Whom all things are to be reconciled to God (1:20)
         c. The Colossians as a case in point (1:21-23)
   A. PAUL'S SERVICE (1:24-29)
      1. His joy in suffering for them (1:24)
      2. His ministry (1:25-29)
         a. A stewardship to proclaim the mystery of God now revealed
         b. A labor to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus 
      1. His great concern for them (2:1-3)
      2. Reasons for this concern (2:4-5)
      3. Exhortations to be firmly established in Christ (2:6-7)
      1. Beware of being cheated by philosophy and empty deceit (2:8)
      2. In Christ dwells the fullness of God, and you are complete in
         Him (2:9-10)
      1. In Christ you have a circumcision made without hands (2:11-12)
      2. You are made alive in Christ, and the handwriting of 
         requirements that was against us has been taken away at the 
         cross (2:13-15)
      3. Therefore don't let anyone judge you in regards to food,
         festivals, or sabbath days (2:16-17)
      1. Don't let anyone defraud you of your reward by appealing to
         angel worship and imagined visions of a fleshly mind (2:18)
      2. Such people do not hold fast to Christ as the Head, and from
         whom true divine nourishment comes (2:19)
      1. Having died with Christ to the world, there is no need to
         submit to human ordinances (2:20-22)
      2. While having appearances of wisdom, such practices have no 
         value in controlling the indulgences of the flesh (2:23)
      1. Since you were raised with Christ, seek those things above
      2. For you have died and your life is now hidden in Christ, to be
         revealed when He appears (3:3-4)
   B. PUT OFF THE OLD MAN (3:5-9)
      1. Put to death your members here on the earth, for the wrath of
         God is coming on the sons of disobedience (3:5-7)
      2. Put off the old man with his deeds (3:8-9)
   C. PUT ON THE NEW MAN (3:10-17)
      1. Put on the new man, renewed in the image of our Creator 
      2. As God's elect, put on Christ-like qualities (3:12-14)
      3. Let God's peace rule in your hearts, and be thankful (3:15)
      4. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and 
         admonishing one another with song and singing with grace in 
         your hearts (3:16)
      5. Do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, with thanksgiving
      1. Wives toward their husbands (3:18)
      2. Husbands toward their wives (3:19)
      3. Children toward their parents (3:20)
      4. Fathers toward their children (3:21)
      5. Servants toward their masters (3:22-25)
      6. Masters toward their servants (4:1)
      1. Devote yourselves to prayer (4:2-4)
      2. Walk in wisdom and let your speech be with grace (4:5-6)
      1. Tychicus, a faithful servant who will inform them of Paul's 
         circumstances (4:7-8)
      2. Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother (4:9)
      1. Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, fellow workers for the kingdom
         of God (4:10-11)
      2. Epaphras, one of them, and a servant of Christ (4:12-13)
      3. Luke the beloved physician, and Demas (4:14)
CONCLUSION (4:15-18)
   1. Greetings to those in Laodicea, and to Nymphas and the church in
      his house (4:15)
   2. A command to read and exchange the epistles from Paul (4:16)
   3. A personal exhortation to Archippus (4:17)
   4. A personal signoff from the hand of Paul, with a request for 
      remembrance and a prayer in their behalf (4:18)
1) Who had taught the Colossians the truth concerning God's grace? 
   (Co 1:6-7)
   - Epaphras
2) From where and when did Paul write Colossians?
   - From Rome, sometime around 61-63 A.D.
3) What three other epistles were written about this time?  What are 
   the four epistles sometimes called?
   - Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon
   - The "prison epistles"
3) What two potential dangers prompted the writing of this epistle?
   - The danger of relapse into paganism with its gross immorality
   - The danger of accepting the "Colossian heresy"
4) What four elements make up the "Colossian Heresy"?
   - Philosophies of men
   - Judaistic ceremonialism
   - Angel worship
   - Asceticism
5) What is the "theme" of this epistle?
   - "Christ - the fullness of God, and the pre-eminent, all-sufficient
6) What serves as the "key verses" of this epistle?
   - Colossians 2:9-10
7) According to the outline above, what are the five main subject 
   divisions in this epistle?
   - The preeminence of Christ
   - The apostle of Christ
   - Warnings against the "Colossian Heresy"
   - The Christian solution
   - Paul's companions


--《Executable Outlines