Colossians

Resources:

Barth, Markus and Helmut Blanke.  Colossians.  Part of the Anchor Bible commentary series edited by W.F. Albright and David Noel Freedman.  Translation by Astrid B. Beck.  (Doubleday, N.Y., 1994).

Lincoln, Andrew T.  Letter to the Colossians.  Part of the New Interpreters Bible Commentary Volume XI Leander Keck convener.  (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2000).

MacDonald, Margaret Y.  Colossians and Ephesians.  Part of the Sacra Pagina bible commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington. S.J..  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2000).

Martin, Ralph P.  Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.  Part of the Interpretation bible commentary series edited by James L. Mays.  (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1991).

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OVERVIEW

Colossae was in Turkey, not quite in the central part but not on the coast either.  It was near Laodicea and about 90 to 100 miles due east of Ephesus.  Relatively prosperous as a community until an earthquake struck the region in 61/62 C.E.  At this point Laodicea and Colossae become at best minor outposts though they seem to have continued to exist.  B & B p. 10: “Apart from some ruins not yet excavated and the inscriptions and coins already secure, only the epistle to the Colossians has spared it from oblivion.”

Paul did not found the church at Colossae – someone referenced in two other letters but otherwise unknown, named Epaphras, did.    We don’t know when this may have happened.  Paul likely never visited Colossae in person but writes about what he has heard of them.

The primary purpose of the document is to refute those people who are attempting to lure the  Colossians into some other ways of thinking.

Colossians and Ephesians are related but exactly how?  Which is dependent on the other or is there a third letter both were drawn from?  Scholars debate various approaches but for our purposes it doesn’t matter.

B & B hold (p. 125), after examining many possibilities, that Paul authored the letter via a scribe and that perhaps it was revised somewhat at Paul’s direction before it was sent.  MacDonald (p. 6)  suggests that Paul did not write it but approved it.

Paul was in prison when he wrote this.  It is one of the “captivity letters”.

OPENING, THANKSGIVING, INTERCESSION, & HYMN  1:1 to 1:23

Reflecting on the thanksgiving section B & B p. 150: “When “the mouth overflows with the contents of the heart,” we should not expect a strictly logical development of thought, but rather an “associative” and “abundant” style.”

In the middle of Paul’s prayer :  Martin p. 103: “The main components of Paul’s prayer idiom are listed as “knowledge,” “wisdom,” and “understanding”.  It is a likely conjecture that these are the exact terms drawn from the teachers who had invaded the Colossian assembly.  Paul is evidently aware of the “beguiling speech” (2:4).  His strategy to warn against it is interesting.  He apparently has taken over the very terms used and disinfected them by his own additional qualification, drawn from his Old Testament Jewish tradition.”

Firstborn communicates a sense of rank, preference or ”chosen-ness” in the hymn.  It is not asserting that the second person of the Trinity was “born” or “created” (other than in emptying Himself to be born of Mary).  John uses “word” through which God created the universe.

It is dangerous to create propositional doctrines from poetry or hymns!

At the end of the hymn is a reference to the “blood of the cross”.  B & B, p. 217: “The central significance of blood in the OT sacrificial cult leads us to ask whether we have a reference to OT sacrificial imagery in Col 1:20, and whether the designation  “blood of the cross” was formulated in association with similar utterances from the cultic language.  Should the death of Jesus on the cross be perceived as a sacrifice?  In favor of such an interpretation would be the fact that mention is made of blood even though crucifixion itself is not an especially bloody form of execution.  On the other hand, “blood” is universally used to denote a violent death whether blood actually flowed or not.”

B & B, p. 241: “The point of the hymn is precisely to praise the incomparable importance and might of Christ, which are evident precisely in the work of redemption.”

PAUL, SERVANT TO THE COLOSSIANS  1:24 to 2:5

Paul did not personally know the Colossians or Laodiceans but nevertheless is in constant prayer for them and suffers (for the gospel) for them.

MacDonald p. 79: “Filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions would be a means of expressing the suffering that is deemed a necessary step in the completion of what is required for the growth of the church and completion of Paul’s mission.”  It does NOT suggest that the suffering of Jesus on the cross was in any way insufficient for salvation.

THE THREAT TO THE COMMUNITY  2:6 to 2:23

Jesus has to be the center and the proclamation – not the Law or elements of it like circumcision, not angels, not human beings, not a philosophy.

Martin p. 115: the putting off and putting on is an image of the disrobing of the past life and clothes for baptism, baptism (done naked in the early church), and the putting on of a new person (Christ) and new clothes.

Paul would probably have preferred no talk of circumcision at all, but these opponents  are pressing it upon his churches.  He tries another tactic then – to co-opt their talk by suggesting that the Colossians ARE already circumcised – via Jesus.  In another letter he talked about a circumcision of the heart.

B & B, p. 386: “In conclusion, we can say that Paul is turning against persons in Col who are to be found outside the Colossian community, who perceive themselves as Christians, and who have an exclusive elitist self-concept to which they give expression through food and feast-day ordinances and which they attempt to make obligatory for the church in general.  They have borrowed these laws from the OT (the Bible of the early Christians) in order to thus lend authority to their views.”

In the second to last unit here – Paul reminds Colossians that it is not the individual experience that is desired or to be sought but that of the whole community, as church, that mediates Jesus.

Do not handle (sacred things).  Do not taste (forbidden foods).  Do not touch (women?)  OR, alternatively, Paul intends all three to refer to food.  The Colossians would have immediately connected these words to the teaching of the missionaries, which Paul has heard enough of to reference this way.  MacDonald suggests that the opposition has rituals as well as ideas that Paul is firmly rejecting.

EXHORTATIONS  3:1 to 4:6

There is an ancient rabbinic custom of equating various of the laws with parts of the body.  They believed there were 248 positive commandments (believe in God, proclaim the unity of God …)  and 248 parts of the human body.  Close to this is the Matthew text about cutting off the hand and plucking out the eye.

An Internet search turned up this: There are 613 commandments. The positive commandments (do), numbering 248, are equivalent to the number of organs in the human body. The 365 negative commandments (do not do) are equivalent to the number of blood vessels in the human body. The 613 mitzvot relate to 613 specific physical areas in the body, a Hakham (Rabbi) can analyze whether a limb is affected by an adversely conducted mitzva.

Martin p. 127: the instructions to wives, children, slaves all emphasize submission – an attitude that ALL Christians are to adopt with regard to Christ.

MacDonald p. 167: “In calling subordinate members to take their place in a household ruled by the paterfamilias the author of Colossians is ensuring that the ethical ideals in the church match those of the outside world.  Believers who are repeatedly told that they are not  “of this world” in previous passages are nevertheless rooted firmly “in this world” for daily living, by these ethical teachings.  This “inner asceticism” is in direct contrast to the asceticism recommended b the false teachers, which include visible, physical signs of world-rejection.”

She goes on to say: “Rather than representing simply general and conventional ethical exhortations that are only tangentially related to the main interests of Colossians, I believe that the household code is fundamental to the response to the problem of false teaching.  The author of Colossians calls members together as the spiritual body of Christ; they are to live in a  manner that allows this body to become secretly integrated within household quarters – even houses where nonbelievers live.  The spiritual body is also a place where such attention-drawing acts of asceticism as sexual renunciation and fasting have no place.   Rituals associated with such practices are unnecessary.”

CONCLUSION  4:7 to 4:18

What do we here in all of this for our own lives?   What does the Spirit say to US today?

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