COLOSSIANS: ANTIDOTE TO GNOSTICISM, RITUALISM, AND LEGALISM IN ANY AGE
Gnosticism did not fully develop until the second century of the Church Age. However, Gnostic type beliefs were evident during the Apostolic Age, and Paul was quick to deal with it in the Colossian Church, lest it become accepted belief. Paul recognized that a little seemingly innocuous error, not corrected, would blossom into full blown heresy thereby consigning generations to a false message without a path to genuine salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
Paul uses the term “fulness” (pleroma) in 1:19 to refute gnostic belief and show that Jesus Christ was the “fulness” of God, that in Christ no other intermediaries are necessary. The Greek word “pleroma” was a word closely associated with the embryonic gnostics of that era, and Paul used it only twice in his writings. Here and in his letter to the church at Ephesus (Eph 1:22,23) he shows that Christ is all in all and that neither angels, nor other spirit beings are necessary for the fullness Christ offers.
Docetic Gnosticism held that Jesus was a divine being who only appeared to be human. Ignatius early in the first century battled this heresy. It propounded the idea that everything created is tainted, or evil, and every spiritual is good. So, since Jesus belongs to the spiritual world, He could not have actually been truly human. Many scholars believe John was combating this heresy when he proclaimed in John 1:14, “...the Word was made flesh...” These Docetic Gnostics believed that Jesus did not leave footprints in the dust of Palestine, because He could not touch the created world. Whether or not this form of Gnosticism had reached full bloom during the time of Paul, there is little doubt that he foresaw where these beginnings could lead.
The very word “Gnostic” relates to knowledge and the Gnostics believed they had fuller knowledge of spiritual things and the mysteries of life than Scripture and the Apostles doctrine provided. Gnostics distrusted the world to such an extent that they promoted an extreme asceticism and self-abasement along with the worship of angels. Paul seems to combat both these errors in 2:18. Some scholars take the 2:16-18 passage to argue that Paul was primarily concerned with Jewish heresy because they had their special days and venerated angels. These Jewish half-believers were not devoted to Christ and believed the Law remained the path to salvation.
I believe Paul was dealing with both heresies in this letter. He commonly dealt with a multiplicity of problems when he wrote in his apostolic authority. One thing is certain, many were offended by his teachings and warnings. In 4:11 Paul mentions how few support him.
Some debate has developed over the authorship of the book as scholars have looked at syntax and noted the long sentences, and the absence of many words like “so” and “but.” Some also claim that because the author did not call attention to the soon return of Christ, Paul might not be the author. I believe those to be spurious arguments which neglect the purpose of the letter and fail to account for The Holy Spirit’s leading in the formulation of Paul’s writings. Thereby subtly making them of little more authority than those of inspired secular writers, such as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Poe, et al.
The fact that the book begins with a salutation from Paul and was accepted by the early church as being a missive from him, is enough for me. However, his inclusion of Timothy in the salutation and his mention of Onesimus, on whose behalf he wrote a letter to Philemon should convince the most recalcitrant skeptic. Add to this Paul’s allusions to Christ’s return and the end times in 3:4 and 3:24, and you find a Pauline like epistle, I believe.
The theme of the missive is that Jesus Christ is unique. It is through Him, and in Him that Genuine Believers come to rest in the assurance of salvation. He is the fullness of the God. Just as much God as if He were no part man, yet fully man at the same time. Paul makes no attempt to prove the humanity of Christ because this was not an issue for these Believers. Rather, they seemed much like the followers of Islam and the Jehovah’s Witnesses of this age in that they accepted Christ’s humanity but couldn’t accept His deity. Therefore, Paul emphasizes Christ’s sonship very early. (1:3) He continues that theme by showing Him to be a sufficient sacrifice so that sinful man could be justified before Holy God. Christ is all one needs, and will satisfy every need of one’s existence. Therefore, Paul argues, one might be “...filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power...” (1:9-11)
Paul wants them to understand that the worthy walk which pleases the Lord can only be accomplished by the power of Christ. No amount of mysticism, legalism, or ritualistic ceremonies can substitute for the indwelling power of Christ in whom “...dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (2:9) Such a worthy walk involves relationships, and Paul gives some practical applications of the interaction of the one who walks worthily within those relationships.
If the epistle was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, which I believe to be the case, its date would be between 60 and 64. J.B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) make a very strong case for this traditional position, and I’ve seen no solid evidence to the contrary.
The occasion for the writing of Colossians was the visit of Epaphroditus to Rome to see the Apostle Paul, who was then a prisoner. Perhaps his purpose was to seek Paul’s help in dealing with the error beginning to gain a foothold in the churches there. Epaphroditus was probably the Pastor of the church in Colossae and possibly Laodicea as well. Many commentators believe that Philemon lived in Colossae and it was there that he had his house church.
Colossae was located 120 miles east of Ephesus in the Lycus River Valley in ancient Phrygia, part of the Roman territory of Asia Minor. It was one of three cities at the foot of Mount Cadmus, the others were Laodicea and Hierapolis. Paul had never visited the city and most speculate that Epaphroditus was the founder of the church there. Some suggest that in Colossae’s proximity to Ephesus one might deduce it’s beginnings during the time Paul preached in Ephesus for two years on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:10). Both the church at Laodicea and Colossae could have been founded by the same person during those days, but both were obviously closely connected (4:16). It is conceivable that both Philemon and Epaphroditus were saved through the preaching and teaching of Paul during his ministry in Ephesus. However, there is no concrete information to validate that, and one does well not to speculate too much where Scripture is silent.
This introduction is necessarily a compilation of information I have gleaned from gifted scholars I trust. I make no claim that I have the knowledge to provide such background information apart from my gleanings of those works. A professor of preaching at what was then Baptist Bible Institute in Graceville, Florida, Dr. Leroy Benefield, was wont to say, “Read widely and preach from the overflow.” That is also my practice in writing and teaching. Should you discover that something I’ve included was originally yours, remember, you got it somewhere. I do affirm that the compilation is my work alone, and feel certain that others will not want to claim it.
Because Christ Still Reigns!