AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF COLOSSIANS
Colossae was an important city in the province of Phrygia in Asia Minor, situated to the east of Ephesus. It is not definitely known that Paul visited it, but it is quite possible that he went there on his third missionary journey. Most probably, this letter was written by Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome, about A.D. 62, and delivered by Tychicus (Col.4v7-8).
Colossians is the sister epistle to the Ephesians, just as Romans is to Galatians. It was written almost simultaneously by Paul and sent through the same messenger, Tychicus (Eph.6v21-22). The central theme of Colossians is Christ, while that of Ephesians is the Ekklesia (GSN1577)
The Colossian heresy combined philosophical speculations, astral powers, reverence to angelic intermediaries, food taboos, and ascetic practices with Judaistic borrowings (Col.2v8-23).
Paul does not confront the heresies that existed in Colossae point by point, but, in a positive manner, he presents related truth. From the subjects he touches upon, we conclude the following: (1) Inordinate attention was being given to the powers of the spirit world to the detriment of the place given to Christ. In Col.2v18 he speaks of "worshiping of angels," and in other references to the relation of the spiritual creation to Christ (Col.1v16, Col.1v20; Col.2v15). (2) Undue attention was given to outward observances such as feasts and fasts, new moons and sabbaths (Col.2v16f), and probably also circumcision (Col.2v11). These were presented as the true way of self-discipline and the subjection of the flesh (Col.2v20ff). (3) They were definitely also influenced by Gnosticism, a heresy that plagued the early believers in the first 200 years. The word is derived from the Greek word (GSN1108 - gnosis) meaning "knowledge". This heresy was repudiated not only by the writers of the New Testament Epistles but also by the church fathers who followed the early church. It is from them that we acquire a knowledge of its general tenets.
The Gnostics separated matter from thought. They considered matter as evil and thought (knowledge) as the ultimate for salvation. This is why they did not want to attribute humanity to Jesus Christ, since humanity (being material), to them, was evil. From this false doctrine the Docetic heresy arose. They believed that the body of Christ was only something that "appeared" to be material, but in reality it was not. Such a belief led to an immoral life from which the human spirit was entirely separate and not responsible for the acts of the body. This is the reason why Paul stressed in Col.2v9 that in Jesus Christ, as He appeared on earth, all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt "bodily." He was truly God in the flesh. As a result of the Gnostic philosophical concept of the evil of the body, the Gnostics ignored or diminished the significance of the historic facts of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as not being real, but only allegedly apparent. To them, all the secrets of God were in the mind--an non-material identity. The result developed in two divergent directions, one being a complete denial of sexual and other bodily appetites, i.e. virtual asceticism; and stemming from the same premises, the practice of unrestrained indulgence of the body (libertinism).
In this letter, Paul counters the teaching which stressed that the way of holiness was through an asceticism that promotes only spiritual selfishness. Paul emphasizes that spirituality is not achieved by self-centered efforts to control the passions, but by putting on Christ, setting one's affections upon Him, and so stripping off all that is contrary to His will (Col.2v20ff; Col.3v1ff).
Furthermore, Paul stresses that, as far as non-material knowledge is concerned, true wisdom is not a man-made philosophy (Col.2v8), but the "mystery" (revealed secret) of God in Christ, who indwells all who receive Him (Col.1v27), without distinction of persons (Col.3v10f).
The occasion of the writing and sending of this letter was that of Paul sending a messenger to Philemon in Colossae in connection with Philemon's runaway (but now converted) slave--Onesimus (Col.4v7-9). In addition, Epaphras had brought Paul a report about the congregation in Colossae which included many encouraging things (Col.1v4-8), as well as some disturbing news about the false teaching that threatened to lead its members away from the truth of Christ.
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