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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Authenticity.

1.

There is no consensus regarding the authorship of Colossians. The case against authenticity has been most comprehensively argued recently by Schenk (1987) and Furnish (1992 ), but the reasons they assemble—style, conception of Paul's role, Christology, eschatology, and literary dependence—are not compelling.

2.

Style was once thought to be the definitive argument against Pauline origin (Bujard 1973 ), but when analysed in a more sophisticated way it appears that Colossians is perfectly at home among the accepted letters (Neumann 1990: 213). Moreover, the stylistic variations between all the Pauline letters are far from insignificant (Kenny 1986: 80), and the influence of co-authors and secretaries can no longer be ignored (Murphy-O'Connor 1995a : 34). There is no standard of Pauline style to which doubtful letters can be compared.

3.

Paul, we are told, is presented as the peerless, transcendent apostle. This is not in fact the case. The language of Colossians is certainly universalist, e.g. ‘the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister’ ( 1:23; cf. 1:6, 28 ), but the lack of the article before ‘minister’ shows that Paul does not consider himself the unique agent, and the hyperbole is precisely paralleled by 1 Thess 1:8 , both as regards tense and extension. Paul had to stress his universal, but not exclusive, responsibility in writing to a church that he did not found directly ( 2:1 ). It is also asserted that Colossians gives Paul's sufferings a vicarious value, whereas in the authentic letters they are viewed kerygmatically. This argument has no foundation. It is due to the mistranslation of a key verse; see COL 1:24 . The identification of the gospel as ‘the mystery’ ( 1:26–7; 2:2; 4:3 ) is a Pauline paradox, since the whole point is that it is no longer a secret. It does not, therefore, convey a different perspective on revelation.

4.

The Christology of Colossians can be seen as fundamentally different from that of the authentic letters only if it is assumed that Paul was in full agreement with everything that appears in Colossians. In fact the situation is parallel to that of 1 Corinthians where Paul quotes Corinthian statements with which he is in flat disagreement. The cosmic dimension, which is most visible in 1:15–20 , does not represent Paul's thought. It is quoted from a Colossian hymn, which Paul edits severely to incorporate his own vision of Christ (see COL 1:15–20 ). His adversaries ‘had done their best to give Christ a prominent place in the realm of cosmic speculation. What they had not done, and the editor now proceeds to do, is to recognize his earthly activity’ (Barrett 1994: 146). Contrast 1:19 with 2:10 , and note the stress on the crucifixion ( 1:20; 2:14 ). The vision of the church as ‘the body of Christ’ ( 118a ; 2:19 ) is simply a more graphic statement of the union of believers with Christ and each other (Gal 2:20; 3:27–8 ). The distinction between the individual Jesus Christ (‘the head’) and his ‘body’ was imposed on Paul by the circumstances at Colossae. It does not appear in 1 Cor 12:12–27 or Rom 12:4–5 because the position of Christ was not an issue in those churches.

5.

It is claimed that the realized eschatology of Colossians is incompatible with the future eschatology of the authentic letters. On only two occasions, however, is the resurrection of believers presented as a past fact ( 2:12; 3:1 ), and in context this is nothing more than a vivid expression of their passage from ‘death’ to ‘life’ ( 2:13; cf. Rom 6:11 ). Standard Pauline future eschatology appears in 1:22–3, 28; 3:4, 6, 24–5 .

6.

The charge that Colossians is the work of a secondary imitator, because it conflates phrases from Romans, 1–2 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 Thessalonians, exaggerates the import of verbal reminiscences, while at the same time failing to provide a justification for the proposed redactional technique in only parts of Colossians.

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