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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

The Letter of Paul to the Colossians - Introduction

Colossians is a mixture of liturgical * elements (a prayer in 1.9–12 , a hymn in 1.15–20 , and baptismal * reminiscences in 3.1–4.6 ); typical features of letters ( 1.2; 4.17–18 ); and exhortations * on fidelity to correct teachings. True Christian maturity depends on fidelity to enduring spiritual wisdom and understanding, not to limited, human regulations and rituals that give only the appearance of wisdom ( 2.16–23 ). Furthermore, the true wisdom of the community's foundational teachings is the full, sufficient, and exclusive basis for its new life in Christ ( 2.9 ). The letter also shares much with Ephesians (see introduction to Ephesians), particularly the portrait of the cosmic lordship of Christ, the head of the church ( 1.18; see Eph 1.22 ). Where the letters agree, however, it is likely that Ephesians is commenting on Colossians.

The congregation at Colossae was gentile * ( 1.27; 2.13 ). It is uncertain where this letter was written: Manuscript variants suggest different locations, including Rome and Ephesus; although Paul's imprisonment is mentioned, no place is given ( 4.3, 10 ). Colossae was probably about 100 miles southeast of Ephesus in the upper Lycus River valley of southwestern Asia Minor (in Phrygia or modern-day Turkey), but its exact location is unknown because the city relocated after an earthquake (60–64 CE).

The authorship is also uncertain, although Paul is given as its author. There is no written evidence that Paul ever visited Colossae, and the church was likely established by Epaphras ( 1.7 ), a resident from that city ( 4.12 ). Moreover, despite similarities to several Pauline letters (Galatians, Romans, Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Philemon), aspects of its style and theology suggest it is post-Pauline. There are many long sentences, like 1.3–8 , which the NRSV breaks into five distinct sentences. It also contains many redundant expressions: 1.11–12 is a string of synonyms (“strengthened with all power,” “endurance and patience,” and “share in the inheritance”). Theologically, the letter presents hope as an object in heaven ( 1.5 ), not vigorous, assured expectation as in the undisputed Pauline letters (see 1 Thess 1.3 ). It never mentions the parousia, * the second coming of Christ.

The letter seems to have been written to fight a heresy that was gaining favor in Asia Minor. The letter says nothing positive about this philosophy, and the heretical teachings can only be known indirectly (mostly from 2.8–23 ). Even then, the exact meaning of “worship of angels” ( 2.18 ) is unclear: possibly angel worship as in some mystery religions * or possibly the angels' worship of God as in Jewish mysticism. It may also be that the letter does not attack a “heresy” at all, but simply threats from the general culture. In any case, it argues against two types of claims: cosmological and ritualistic. The cosmological contended that the vast powers that control the universe must be adored. The ritualistic required regulations about food and drink ( 2.16, 21 ) and special festivals and days ( 2.16 ). Against both the letter asserts that all that believers need is found in Christ.

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