Introduction to the Letter to the Colossians

July 22, 2019 

Authorship Paul is imprisoned (Ephesus, 52-55; Caesarea, 57-59, Rome 60-62?), “for the sake of the gospel” (4: 3, 10). Epaphras, a minister in the Colossian church, has come to visit Paul. In response, Paul writes a letter. The timing of the letter, then, depends to what “imprisonment” Paul is denoting, though most scholars assume it is when he is in Rome.

The City of Colossae Colossae was located in Phrygia, in Asia Minor. It was located 15 km southeast of Laodicea on the road through the Lycus Valley near the Lycus River at the foot of Mt. Cadmus, the highest mountain in Turkey’s western Aegean Region, and between the cities Sardis and southeast of the ancient city of Hierapolis.

Although during the Hellenistic period, the town was of some mercantile importance, by the 1st century it had dwindled greatly in size and significance. Paul’s letter to the Colossians point to the existence of an early Christian community. The town was known for its fusion of religious influences (syncretism), which included Jewish, Gnostic, and pagan influences that in the first century AD were described as an angelic cult. This unorthodox cult venerated the Archangel Michael who is said to have caused a curative spring to gush from a fissure in the Earth. The holiness and healing properties associated with the waters of Colossae during the Byzantine Era continue to this day, particularly at a pool fed by the Lycus River at the foot of Mt. Cadmus. Locals consider the water to be therapeutic.

The Church’s Growing Pains While Paul had probably passed through Colossae on his second missionary journey, he didn’t found the church at Colossae – directly. Rather, it was founded by Epaphras, whom Paul mentions in this letter (1: 7-8; 4: 12-13).

A belief system was introduced into the church, called a “hollow and deceptive philosophy”, (2:8), tradition-based, “depends on human tradition” (2:8, 22), where elemental spiritual forces underlie the system (2:8). It is not Christ-centered, the teaching doesn’t “depend on … Christ” (2:8). Food restrictions and Jewish “holy days” are involved (2:16) and ascetic disciplines are encouraged (2:18, 23). Angel worship is central (2:18), visionary experiences are touted (2:18). Pride characterizes the proponents (2:18) and losing connection with Christ is the result (2:19).