THE LETTER TO THE COLOSSIANS. The church at Colossae was in one of the tri-cities (Hierapolis and Laodicea) of the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor. Colossae was at the junction of five large roads. Five centuries before Christ, it was hailed as “the great city of Phrygia.” By Paul’s time, it was just a small town. Ephaphras may have been the founder of its church, Archipus its current pastor, and members met at the house of Philemon.

Colossae was facing a crisis of false teaching raising its head in the church so Paul wrote to stabilize the church and refute error. He wanted to strengthen and confirm the Christians and to crush heretical teaching and practices. The previous generation of scholars assumed the crisis at Colossae was “Gnosticism.”

GNOSTICISM is “to know” superior knowledge of spiritual things. The Gnostics taught that God is holy and matter is evil, and that between spirit and matter there was a great gulf. This gave rise to the “doctrine of Aeons,” or intermediate beings (including angels) between God and the world. So God created somewhat lower beings or emanations and one of them created the world. Since Christ had a human body, He was a created emanation of God.

However, it is unlikely that Gnosticism as a religion of redemption existed at this early stage and clearly the letter does not take on some of the key features of Gnosticism, such as the two-god theology.

Other scholars have suggested that the problem reflects a Jewish mysticism involving a visionary ascent to heaven and glimpses of angels surrounding the heavenly throne. This view is more on the right rack because there appears to be clear Jewish aspects to the teaching, such as the observance of Sabbaths and new moon festivals (Colossians 2:16). Yet, this perspective does not explain all of the evidence, which suggests the influence of local religions and practices. The Colossian problem is best described as syncretism—a blending of religious ideas from a variety of local traditions.

The crisis at Colossae is “Shamanism.”

SHAMANISM—the term denotes, especially a man or woman who is regarded as having direct access to, and influence in, the spirit world, which is usually manifested during a trance and empowers them to guide souls, cure illness, etc. (Oxford English Dictionary).

Shamanism involves:

1. Visionary Experience (Trance and Ecstasy)
2. Asceticism (fasting, “taboos,” etc.)
3. Knowledge of Spirits
4. Use of Knowledge to Bring Healing and to Deal with Evil Spirits
5. Serving a Community with this Special Knowledge

Paul wrote this letter to counteract the inroads of anew and dangerous teaching of a Shamanist in the church at Colossae. He denounces the teaching as empty, deceitful, and in accordance with elemental spirits (Colossians 2:8). There appears to be the emergence of a spiritual guide and leader, whose teaching is characterized as “philosophy” (Colossians 2:8). One of the distinctive features of his teaching was “calling on angels” for assistance and protection (2:18). Paul alludes to his unique spiritual insight, using a very rare word that was part of the technical vocabulary of a local cult.

His arrogance leads him to exploit the church with dangerous teaching. Hence, the saints at Colossae should reject this person’s spiritual leadership (2:6, 8, 16, 18). They should hold on tight to Christ (2:19) and immerse themselves in the Word of Christ (3:16) and grow in their knowledge of who Jesus is and who they are in Him (1:9; 2:2-3; 3:10).

The Christology of Colossians is much like “the Logos” doctrine of John. This letter is slow and labored, without the swift and rushing movement of earlier polemical letters of Paul. He is older and more mellowed—and it shows in his writings.

Colossians: The All-Sufficient Christ

Writer: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus. Secretary: Timothy, our brother

Bearer of the Letter: Tychicus, Colossians 4:7

Addressee: “To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.” The city of Colossae was one of the “tri-cities” (Hierapolis and Laodicea) of the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor. Colossae was at the junction of five large roads. Five centuries before Christ, Colossae was hailed as “the great city of Phrygia.” By Paul’s time, it was just a small town. Epaphras may have been the founder of its church (2:1, 7; 4:12) and Archippus its current pastor (4:17) and some members met in the house of Philemon (Philemon 1:2).

Date and Place Written: Autumn of A.D. 60. Paul was a prisoner at Rome. It was composed the same time as Ephesians and Philemon.

Occasion and Purpose: To reinforce reconciliation with the return of Onesimus to Philemon (Colossians 4:9) and deal with the crisis of false teaching raising its head in the church. In addition, Paul deals with:

1. Stabilization — To strengthen and confirm the Christians, Colossians 1:3-8; 2:5-7
2. Refutation — To crush heretical teaching, especially Gnosticism, 2:8
3. Legalism, 2:16-19
4. Asceticism, 2:20-23

Key Verses: Colossians 3:11 (Christ is all and in all); 2:10 (Made Full in Him); 1:27 (Christ in You)

Key Phrases: In Christ (7 times); In Him (5); In the Lord (3); In Whom (2) = 17

Key Words: All (29 times); Know/ledge (11); Faith/ful (10); Body (7); Perfect/Complete/Full/y (7); Pray/er/ing (7); Love (6); Wisdom (5); Mystery (4)


A. Thematic Theme: Make Christ the Center and Circumference of Life:
1. Objective Side of Salvation — What God Does, Colossians 2:11-12
We Died with Christ, 2:20
We Rise with Christ, 3:1

2. Subjective Side of Salvation — What We Do
We are to Live in Christ, 2:6-7
We are to Put on Christ, 3:5, 11-17

B. Primary Themes: Deity, Preeminence and the All-Sufficiency of Christ:
1. Christ our Inheritance, Colossians 1:12
2. Christ our Redeemer, 1:14; 2:13; 3:13
3. Christ our God, 1:15; 1:19
4. Christ our Creator, 1:16
5. Christ our Head, 1:18; 2:19
6. Christ our Peacemaker, 1:20-22
7. Christ our Indweller, 1:27
8. Christ our Treasure, 2:2-3
9. Christ our Sufficiency, 2:10
10. Christ our Life, 3:4
11. Christ our Motivation, 3:17
12. Christ our Rewarder, 3:24
13. Christ our Master, 4:1, 7

C. Subordinate Themes:
1. Plea for Spiritual Maturity, Colossians 1:9-12
2. Preeminence of Christ, 1:15-20
a. Christ the Image of God
b. Christ Supreme over Creation
c. Christ the Head of the Church
3. True Doctrine, 1:1-2:3
4. False Doctrine, 2:4-3:4
5. Christian Living, 3:5-4:6
6. Christian Fellowship, 4:7-8

Style: It is slow and labored, without the swift and rushing movement of earlier polemical Letters. Paul is older and more mellowed. The Christology of Colossians is much like the Logos doctrine of John.

This letter’s thematic theme is unmistakable: Make Christ the center and circumference of life.

Colossians is permeated with the doctrine of salvation. For example:

Objective Side of Salvation—What God Does, 2:11-14

We Died with Christ, 2:20-23
We Rise with Christ, 3:1-4

Subjective Side of Salvation—What We Do

We are to Live in Christ, 2:6-7
We are to Put on Christ, 3:12-17

God has reconciled believers to Himself in Christ. Hence, the all-sufficiency of Christ permeates the letter: Christ is our Inheritance, Redeemer, God, Creator, Head, Peacemaker, Indweller, Treasure, Sufficiency, Life, Motivation, Rewarder, and Master.

A basic outline of Colossians:

DOCTRINAL: Deeper and Fruitful Life in Christ, 1:1-2:7
POLEMICAL: Higher and Complete Life in Christ, 2:8-23
SPIRITUAL: Inner and Risen Life in Christ, 3:1-17
PRACTICAL: Outer and Transformed Life in Christ, 3:18-4:15

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