Fausset's Bible Dictionary

The Epistle to the Colossians

Colosse properly Colossae. A city on the Lycus, an affluent of the Maeander. To the Christians there was addressed Paul's epistle, before he had seen their face (Col 2:1; Col 1:4; Col 1:7-8). Epaphras probably founded the Colossian church (Col 1:7; Col 4:12). Colosse was ethnologically in Phrygia, but politically then in the province of Asia. On the site of the modern Chonos. The foundation of the church must have been subsequent to Paul's visitation, "strengthening in order" all the churches of Galatia and Phrygia (Act 18:24), for otherwise he must have visited the Colossians, which Col 2:1 implies he had not. Hence, as in the epistle to the Romans, so in the epistle to Colosse there are no allusions to his being their father in the faith, such as there are in 1Co 3:6; 1Co 3:10; 1Co 4:15; 1Th 1:5; 1Th 2:1.

Probably during Paul's "two years" stay at Ephesus, when "all which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus" (Act 19:10; Act 19:26), Epaphras, Philemon (Phm 1:2; Phm 1:13; Phm 1:19), Archippus, Apphia, and other natives of Colosse (which was on the high road from Ephesus to the Euphrates), becoming converted at Ephesus, were subsequently the first preachers in their own city. This accounts for their personal acquaintance with, and attachment to, Paul and his fellow ministers, and their salutations to him. So as to "them at Laodicea" (Col 2:1). He hoped to visit Colosse when he should be delivered from his Roman prison (Phm 1:22; compare Phi 2:24). The angel worship noticed in Col 2:18 is mentioned by Theodoret as existing in his days.

A legend connected with an inundation was the ground of erecting a church to the archangel Michael near a chasm, probably the one noticed by Herodotus. "The river Lycus, sinking into a chasm in the town, disappears under ground, and, emerging at five stadia distance, flows into the Maeander" (Col 7:30). Two streams, one from the N. the other from the S., pour into the Lycus, both possessing the power of petrifying. The calcareous deposits on the plants, and obstructions which the stream met with, gradually formed a natural arch, beneath which the current flowed as Herodotus describes; the soft crust was probably broken up by an earthquake. In the 4th century the council of Laodicea (in the same region) in its 35th canon prohibited calling upon angels.

EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS: written by Paul during his first captivity at Rome (Act 28:16), in that part of it when as yet it had not become so severe as it did when the epistle to the Philippians (Phi 1:20-21; Phi 1:30) was written (probably after the death of Burrhus, A.D. 62, to whom Tigellinus succeeded as praetorian prefect). Its genuineness is attested by Justin Martyr (contra Tryphon, p. 311 b.), Theophilus of Antioch (Autol., 2:10), Irenaeus (3:14, section 1), Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 1:325), Tertullian (Praescr. Haeret., 7), Origen (c. Celsus, 5:8). Object: to counteract the Jewish false teaching there, of which Paul had heard from Epaphras (Col 4:12), by setting before them their standing in CHRIST ALONE, exclusive of angels. the majesty of His person (Col 1:15), and the completeness of redemption by Him.

Hence, they ought to be conformed to their risen Lord (Col 3:1-5), and exhibit that conformity in all relations of life. The false teaching opposed in this epistle (Col 2:16; Col 2:18, "new moon ... sabbath days") is that of Judaizing Christians, mixed up with eastern theosophy, angel worship, and the asceticism of the Essenes (Col 2:8-9; Col 2:16-23). The theosophists professed a deeper insight into the world of spirits and a greater subjugation of the flesh than the simple gospel affords. Some Alexandrian Jews may have visited Colosse and taught Philo's Greek philosophy, combined with the rabbinical angelology and mysticism, afterward embodied in the Cabbala. Alexander the Great had garrisoned Phrygia with Babylonian Jews.

The Phrygians' original tendency had been to a mystic worship, namely, that of Cybele; so, when Christianized, they readily gave heed to the incipient gnosticism of Judaizers. Later, when the pastoral epistles were written, the evil had reached a more deadly phase, openly immoral teachings (1Ti 4:1-3; 1Ti 6:5). The place of writing was Rome. The three epistles, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, were sent at the same time. The epistle to Colossians, though carried by the same bearer, Tychicus, who bore that to the Ephesians, was written earlier, for the similar phrases in Ephesians appear more expanded than those in Colossians. The "ye also" (as well as the Colossians) may imply the same fact (Eph 6:21).

The similarity between the three epistles written about the same date to two neighboring cities (whereas those written at distant dates and under different circumstances have little mutual resemblance) is an undesigned coincidence and proof of genuineness. Compare Eph 1:7 with Col 1:14; Eph 1:10 with Col 1:20; Eph 3:2 with Col 1:25; Eph 5:19 with Col 3:16; Eph 6:22 with Col 4:8; Eph 1:19; Eph 2:5 with Col 2:12-13; Eph 4:2-4 with Col 3:12-15; Eph 4:16 with Col 2:19; Eph 4:32 with Col 3:13; Eph 4:22-24 with Col 3:9-10; Eph 5:6-8 with Col 3:6-8; Eph 5:15-16 with Col 4:5; Eph 6:19-20 with Col 4:3-4; Eph 5:22-23; Eph 6:1-9 with Col 3:18; Eph 4:24-25 with Col 3:9; Eph 5:20-22 with Col 3:17-18.

Onesimus traveled with Tychicus, bearing the letter to Philemon. The persons sending salutations are the same as in epistle to Philemon, except Jesus Justus (Col 4:11). Archippus is addressed in both. Paul and Timothy head both. Paul appears in both a prisoner. The style has a lofty elaboration corresponding to the theme, Christ's majestic person and office, in contrast to the Judaizers' beggarly system. In the epistle to the Ephesians, which did not require to be so controversial, he dilates on these truths so congenial to him, with a fuller outpouring of spirit and less antithetical phraseology.


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)