Archibald Thomas Robertson
The Epistle to the Colossians
From Rome A.D. 63
By Way of Introduction
The author claims to be Paul (Col 1:1) and there is no real doubt about it in spite of Baur’s denial of the Pauline authorship which did not suit his Tendenz theory of the New Testament books. There is every mark of Paul’s style and power in the little Epistle and there is no evidence that any one else took Paul’s name to palm off this striking and vigorous polemic.
Clearly it was sent at the same time with the Epistle to Philemon and the one to the Ephesians since Tychicus the bearer of the letter to Ephesus (Eph 6:21.) and the one to Colossae (Col 4:7.) was a companion of Onesimus (Col 4:9) the bearer of that to Philemon (Phm 1:10-12). If Paul is a prisoner (Col 4:3; Eph 6:20; Phm 1:9) in Rome, as most scholars hold, and not in Ephesus as Deissmann and Duncan argue, the probable date would be a.d. 63. I still believe that Paul is in Rome when he sends out these epistles. If so, the time would be after the arrival in Rome from Jerusalem as told in Acts 28 and before the burning of Rome by Nero in a.d. 64. If Philippians was already sent, a.d. 63 marks the last probable year for the writing of this group of letters.
The Epistle itself gives it as being due to the arrival of Epaphras from Colossae (Col 1:7-9; Col 4:12.). He is probably one of Paul’s converts while in Ephesus who in behalf of Paul (Col 1:7) evangelized the Lycus Valley (Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea) where Paul had never been himself (Col 2:1; Col 4:13-16). Since Paul’s departure for Rome, the “grievous wolves” whom he foresaw in Miletus (Act 20:29.) had descended upon these churches and were playing havoc with many and leading them astray much as new cults today mislead the unwary. These men were later called Gnostics (see Ignatius) and had a subtle appeal that was not easy to withstand. The air was full of the mystery cults like the Eleusinian mysteries, Mithraism, the vogue of Isis, what not. These new teachers professed new thought with a world-view that sought to explain everything on the assumption that matter was essentially evil and that the good God could only touch evil matter by means of a series of aeons or emanations so far removed from him as to prevent contamination by God and yet with enough power to create evil matter. This jejune theory satisfied many just as today some are content to deny the existence of sin, disease, death in spite of the evidence of the senses to the contrary. In his perplexity Epaphras journeyed all the way to Rome to obtain Paul’s help.
Purpose of the Epistle
Epaphras did not come in vain, for Paul was tremendously stirred by the peril to Christianity from the Gnostics (hoi gnōstikoi, the knowing ones). He had won his fight for freedom in Christ against the Judaizers who tried to fasten Jewish sacramentarianism upon spiritual Christianity. Now there is an equal danger of the dissipation of vital Christianity in philosophic speculation. In particular, the peril was keen concerning the Person of Christ when the Gnostics embraced Christianity and applied their theory of the universe to him. They split into factions on the subject of Christ. The Docetic (from dokeō, to seem) Gnostics held that Jesus did not have a real human body, but only a phantom body. He was, in fact, an aeon and had no real humanity. The Cerinthian (followers of Cerinthus) Gnostics admitted the humanity of the man Jesus, but claimed that the Christ was an aeon that came on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove and left him on the Cross so that only the man Jesus died. At once this heresy sharpened the issue concerning the Person of Christ already set forth in Phi 2:5-11. Paul met the issue squarely and powerfully portrayed his full-length portrait of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Son of Man (both deity and humanity) in opposition to both types of Gnostics. So then Colossians seems written expressly for our own day when so many are trying to rob Jesus Christ of his deity. The Gnostics took varying views of moral issues also as men do now. There were the ascetics with rigorous rules and the licentious element that let down all the bars for the flesh while the spirit communed with God. One cannot understand Colossians without some knowledge of Gnosticism such as may be obtained in such books as Angus’s The Mystery-Religions and Christianity, Glover’s The Conflict of Religion in the Early Roman Empire, Kennedy’s St. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, Lightfoot’s Commentary on Colossians.
Taken from "Word Pictures in the New Testament" by Archibald Thomas Robertson