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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

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Colossians

Carolyn Osiek

Before Beginning…

It is customary to refer to the author of Colossians as Paul, even though many interpreters question whether Paul himself wrote this brief letter. Many characteristics of the letter seem to suggest Paul's presence behind it. The lively style and personal greetings are typical of Paul. Most of the personal names mentioned here also appear in Philemon, a letter that has always been attributed to Paul himself. Yet there are strange speculative expressions, new terminology, and a new understanding of the church that many scholars think indicates a different author here, writing in Paul's name with the hope of using Paul's authority. A compromise position is that Paul entrusted the message to a secretary who composed it in his own terms and with his own style.

Paul himself did not establish the church at Colossae. Possibly Epaphras, a disciple of Paul, was the founding missionary there. The context is that erroneous teachers implied that Christ's work of redemption was incomplete—that certain other religious practices were required to supplement Christ's saving death and resurrection. These suggested practices were drawn from Jewish as well as non‐Jewish or pagan religions. They amounted to ascetical and superstitious additions to the message Paul and Epaphras had taught. As in Galatians, but less emotionally, Paul adamantly insists in Colossians that adding to the gospel message is really subtracting from grace. Only as a member of Christ's body and under his headship can we fill up “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” ( 1, 24 ), that is, continuing Christ's redemptive suffering in the world.

At issue in the discussion at Colossae is the primary role of Christ in the salvation of the world. The power and authority of Christ and his relation to the rest of creation are challenged. False teachings at Colossae suggested that other spiritual beings were rivals to Christ's role, and that certain ascetical practices were a means of becoming more spiritual, while also helping to appease these spiritual beings. Using categories and labels present in these false teachings, Paul insists on the primacy of Christ and the sufficiency of his saving action on our behalf. Ethical imperatives follow from this fundamental faith rather than from the necessity of placating angelic spirits or following some ascetical ideals.

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