Colossians: Overview and main themes

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Get us rolling with this thought for devotional and to frame our night, from NT Wright:
“It is not a miscellaneous collection of ‘helpful thoughts’. It is a particular letter written to a particular congregation at one point in its (very early) history. To believe, in fact, that Colossians is inspired Scripture is to believe that God intended to say just these things to this church—and in so doing to address, somehow, the church as a whole.” - NT Wright
1 Wright, N. T. (1986). Colossians and Philemon: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 12, p. 21). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


Letters in Context
NT authors are expounding on gospel. consistent with what goes before the,.
Form of first Century Letters
These had a form and you will see a flow to all of the letters.
Situational Context
Books as a whole
Mirror Reading
Jewish, Greco-Roman Background
Roman Empire
Honor Shame
Patronage and Reciprocity
Hierarchy and Patriarchy
Any questions?

What did you find when you read the book?

What themes?
Take a stab at possible themes!
(Night class!!!! repeat what is said in the room)
Ok tonight we will talk about authorship, The Colossians Heresy, And Theological themes found in the book of Colossians.


Douglas J. Moo, Colossians and Philemon
Nijay Gupta, Colossians
Michael Bird, Colossians and Philemon: A New Covenant Commentary
N.T. Wright, TNTC Colossians and Philemon

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Allow me to wet your appetite a little.
From Gupta,
He wrote in his Ethics that the Christianity he witnessed in his country featured a kind of dualism that separated the sacred and the secular, the church and the world. For Bonhoeffer, there was afresh need for Christian “worldliness.” This “worldliness” discouraged Christians from waiting for the hope of heaven and instead focused their efforts on the “will of God” from heaven that seeks to encounter this needy earth. Visser’t Hooft, Bonhoeffer’s associate, remembered that Bonhoeffer would often quote Colossians 1:16( all things being for Christ). Hooft wrote, “In this way Christians could get rid of that dangerous pietism or otherworldliness which really left the world to the forces of darkness. And they had a strong starting point for their task in the world.”
Bonhoeffer is going to bring the book of Colossians before the Lutheran apathetic German church and say hey....your religious platitudes are no good for the world that is suffering. There are important themes in the book that Bonhoeffer applied to his situation like an eschatology that caused us to live differently now.


The first thing we would do to begin in discussion in biblical studies about a book of the bible is to spend just a moment discussing the author. This one on the surface looks like an open and shut case but I want to introduce to some of you (maybe some of you have done some more studying) to the debate around authorship.
Now on the surface it looks like an open and shut case:
Colossians 1:1 NIV
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
This is not anonymous, Paul names himself, he must be Paul right?
Well not so fast. There are some key issues that have led to the authorship to be debated.
Split on authorship and really beginning in the 19th century and taking different waves of energy there is indecision on this matter.
Pauline Authorship Problems
there are words in Colossians that are never used in any of the other letters. When that is really not the case of other undisputed letters.
Also language that you would expect is missing....Spirit
historical implausibility
Scholars think the things that are being talked about in Colossians belong in a different time period than Paul’s life.
theological divergence and development
different way of talking about the body of Christ than in Corinthians, for example
pseudepigraphical clues
Rise in scholarship that show this to be more common
But taken all of that....I believe there is a good consensus that say, there just is not a burden of proof to not take away the early belief of the church that Paul wrote this and that it says he did in the first line of the letter.
Remember that many of his letters are written in collaboration and that is probably the case here.
One more quote from Michael Bird:
He may have had varying degrees of input into his various letters ranging from writing them himself (Philemon), writing them with a coauthor (Colossians), dictating them (Romans), or authorizing their composition based on an earlier piece of correspondence (Ephesians). Given those qualifications, I have no hesitation in affirming Colossians as authentically Pauline and written in association with others such as Tychicus, Epaphras, Onesimus, Luke, and especially Timothy.
 Bird, M. F. (2009). Colossians and Philemon (p. 9). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.
He is in prison, see 4:18, dependent on food and coming and going.
Colossians 4:18 NIV
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
Many reasons to consider this much later in ministry. Probably in Rome. Dont really have the time to dig into that debate.
Next we dig into the “Colossian Heresy”

“Colossian Heresy”

Reading the letter as a whole and situational context helps us consider the main problem going on in Colossae. Two main verses jump out to me:
Colossians 2:4 NIV
I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
“Plausible arguments” is another translation of this. The inference that this is happening. In the same context....
Colossians 2:8–9 NIV
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
Again, the inference that some specific teachers or philosophers are up to something here.
Gupta points out that these teachers are not just giving philosophical ideas but also supporting particular traditions. Colossians 2:16-23 presents the following:
2:16-17: strict regulations for food/drink and festivals
2:18-19: ascetic practices and transcendent mystical worship
2:20-23: sensory restrictions and ascetic practices in religious devotion
We will talk about this more in subsequent sections but for now these is some philosophy and practice that is being put forward as better or helpful and people are hearing it and responding.
Gupta offers the following as some inferences:

Inferences from Situational Context Skills

A certain teaching, based on traditions that Paul does not support, has appeared in Colossae.
The teaching is marked by philosophical arguments.
The philosophy offers heavenly wisdom, knowledge, spiritual maturity, and protection from evil spirits.
The method of success focuses, at least in part, on ascetic practices that treat the physical body negatively and abstemiously, and requires strict adherence of particular dietary practices and festival observances.
This philosophy devalues the importance of Christ (either directly or by implication) in the pursuit of maturity and protection.
This philosophy has had enough of an impact on the Colossian community to cause Paul concern for their stability
MLA (Modern Language Assoc.) Gupta, Nijay K. Colossians. Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2013.
APA (American Psychological Assoc.) Gupta, N. K. (2013). Colossians. Smyth & Helwys Publishing.
Given all of this Gupta takes some creative license and considers what would be the bad teacher’s point of view or communication to the Colossians.

False Philosopher’s Commercial

Just imagine for a minute if they had 30 seconds to convince them of something what would they say? Gupta incorporates the actual language from the letter that Paul seems to be addressing.
Dear Colossians, we know you are experiencing hardships: no doubt you are aware that there are evil spirits and powers that have authority over our mortal world. These powers prey on the weakness of human bodies and flesh. Thus our world is fraught with cosmic chaos. We can offer, though, knowledge, wisdom, and teachings (traditions) that can protect you from these malevolent forces. By controlling, combating, and disciplining your own frail body, you can resist these powers. Circumcision and strict ritual Torah obedience are particularly effective in counteracting these hostile spirits. Once you have submitted yourself to such disciplines of the body, you will gain access to the celestial world—receiving divine wisdom, visions, and provisions to fight against the weakness of the flesh that the evil powers use against you. We can offer you the proper route to spiritual fullness and perfection.
An extreme version of mirror reading. Doing all of this is not as important but wanted you to see it.
MLA (Modern Language Assoc.) Gupta, Nijay K. Colossians. Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2013.
APA (American Psychological Assoc.) Gupta, N. K. (2013). Colossians. Smyth & Helwys Publishing.

Theological Themes

Douglas J. Moo, Commentary for these. Each commentary has some variation here. I felt these were best summation of them.

1. Christology

The key theme throughout Colossians is the centrality and supremacy of Jesus.
One of the most important pieces of this is a beautiful hymn 1:15-20. We will talk more about this part next week.
“Because Christ stands in a unique relationship to God, he, and only he, is able to bring all things in creation back under God’s sovereignty and thereby provide believers with the resources that they need to live and flourish in a world dominated by hostile powers.” -Douglas Moo
 Moo, D. J. (2008). The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (p. 61). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Colossians 1:15 NIV
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Colossians 1:19 NIV
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
Colossians 2:9 NIV
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
God in the flesh, there is nothing greater. Because of his relationship to the Father, there is no greater pursuit or knowledge or wisdom or asceticism that does not include him. Supremacy
Colossians 3:11 NIV
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Colossians 3:15–16 NIV
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
“Virtually every “theoretical” statement about Christ in the Christ “hymn” is picked up and applied to this concern later on in the letter. Indulging in a bit of “mirror-reading,” we may deduce from this that the false teachers were not so much contesting traditional Christian teaching about Christ as they were implicitly questioning Christ’s adequacy to supply all their spiritual needs. In any case, the Christology of Colossians is eminently practical, providing the basis on which Paul can claim that genuine spiritual experience can be found only in Christ.” - Douglas Moo
 Moo, D. J. (2008). The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (p. 63). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

2. Cosmology and the powers

Moo says Christology is the center of the letter and the other themes are like spokes of a wheel. “All the other themes of the letter radiate from it.”
In both parts of the hymn that stresses Christ’s role with respect to the cosmos, a particular focus on spiritual beings is present. The “all things” created in Christ include “things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” (v. 16); the “all things” reconciled to God through Christ’s death include “things on earth” and “things in heaven.” This same concern with spiritual beings surfaces elsewhere in the letter: Christ is “the head over every power and authority” (2:10), and God in Christ (or through the cross) has “disarmed the powers and authorities” (2:15).
 Moo, D. J. (2008). The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (p. 64). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Talk about the work of evil in the world. Principalities.
Let me give you an example: (Facebook)

3. The Church

The connection between supremacy in creation and the church as the place where that supremacy comes to expression is typical of the letter as whole. Colossians, David Hay argues, uses a “totalizing rhetoric” that affirms “both the universality of Christ’s lordship and the particularity of the Christian community as that portion of humanity that confesses his secret supremacy.”
 Moo, D. J. (2008). The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (p. 66). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
It is the universal church that points to the supremacy of Christ

4. The Gospel

Protecting the true gospel that was brought to them from Epaphras
Moo writes:
For the false teachers were apparently suggesting that Christians needed to go “beyond” the gospel that Epaphras had taught the Colossians in order to experience spiritual “fullness.” And so it is often the case with false teachers, who err not always in subtracting from the gospel but in seeking to add to it. The gospel can be perverted through addition just as easily as through subtraction.
 Moo, D. J. (2008). The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (p. 67). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Modern day Subtracting: Love of Christ. Love your neighbor. But we are missing accountability, and holiness, and judgement that speaks of the brokenness that must go.
Modern day Addition: Fundamentalism

5. Eschatology

Already and not yet eschatology from Paul, but in Colossians he emphasizes realized eschatology
We have “already” been brought into God’s kingdom (1:13); the gospel has “already” been proclaimed to “every creature under heaven” (1:23); we have “already” been made alive with Christ (2:13) and been raised with him into heaven (3:1); and God has “already” disarmed the powers and authorities (2:15).
 Moo, D. J. (2008). The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (p. 69). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

6. The Christian Life

Colossians 2:6–7 NIV
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.


Read 1:1-2:3 before next time. Try and follow the conversation. If you were to read it with your grandkids, or a 5th grader this would you sum it up? Try bullet points or a short blurb.
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