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The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)

"Chapter 10. Letter to the Colossians"


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Authenticity: The ancient testimonies that Paul wrote this Epistle are very strong: the Marcionite Canon;1 St. Irenaeus;2 The Muratorian Fragment;3 Clement of Alexandria;4 Origen;5 Tertullian;6 Valentinus.7 In addition, it is probably mentioned in: St. Ignatius, To Ephesus 10.2;8 St. Polycarp 10.1;9 Epistle to Diognetus 10.7;10 St. Justin Dialogue 84.11

No one questioned Pauline authorship until E.T. Mayerhoff did so in his commentary on Colossians published in Berlin in 1838.

The arguments are far from solid:

Vocabulary and Style: There are 34 words used in Colossians that are found nowhere else in the New Testament. There are 28 words that do not come in the undisputed Pauline letters. There are 10 words in common only with the Epistle to the Ephesians, and 15 words that are found in Colossians and Ephesians, but nowhere else in the New Testament.

Reply: No one who has studied the works of the pagan historian Tacitus in the original Latin will be much impressed by any argument from vocabulary and style. If one reads the historical writings of Tacitus in Latin (it will not show in translation) the style is unusually distinctive and pungent. But we have also under the name of Tacitus a Dialogue on Orators, where the style is day and night different. It is the same as the style of Quintilian, a slightly earlier writer on oratory. We know Quintilian also wrote on this same topic, but his work is lost. So the temptation comes to say that we have the work of Quintilian, and that of Tacitus is lost. However, other evidence has convinced nearly all scholars that the Dialogue is indeed the work of Tacitus.

The differences mentioned above in regard to Paul are much less. Further, many of the new words come in passages where there is special reason for them, since Paul is using the terms of some very special kinds of opponents in reply to them. These opponents are very strange indeed, as we shall see later.

Theological considerations:

a)Justification, faith, save, law: Paul in Colossians does not speak much of these things he formerly spoke of so often. Reply: Paul has a different problem here. Formerly he was arguing against the Judaizers and needed these concepts so much.

b)Christology: Paul does not here say Christ is the Son in whom we have redemption, and we are buried with Him in baptism, and He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Reply: Here Paul has a different purpose. He does say that we have even been raised with Christ and sit in heavenly places with him, which is part of the syn Christo theme. Some commentators, with astonishing dullness, think Paul means these things have literally taken place now. They do not see that they are all part of the theme of syn Christo: doing everything with Christ, part of which theme was found earlier,12 and is extended here: We have a hard life with Christ, we suffer and die with Him, we are buried with Him, we rise with Him, we live our life as if we were in heavenly places even now. Since we have been raised with Christ, we must think of the things that are above. Further, Paul does speak of redemption, in the language of debt: Christ took the bill that was against us, nailed it to the cross: Colossians 2:14-15. Further, in 1:13-14 Paul speaks of the redemption they have through Christ, and the remission of sins.

c)Eschatology: In the earlier letters, Paul expects the end to come soon: 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff.; 1 Corinthians 7:26. Reply: In our comments on these passages we saw that they do not at all need to imply Paul expected the end soon. In Second Thessalonians 2 he makes clear that he does not expect it _ some unfortunate commentators deny authenticity of Second Thessalonians, even though the external witnesses to it are as good as they are for First Thessalonians.

d)Ecclesiology: It is more developed now. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and in Romans 12:4-8 Paul speaks of Christians as members of Christ. He does not explicitly say Christ is the head. Here in Colossians and also in Ephesians he does say that, and fills in quite a bit: a)Christ is the Head:Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 2:18-19. b)In Him is all the fullness of divinity (a new term, pleroma appears): Colossians 2:9 and 1:19. c)The Church receives from Him and becomes His fullness: Ephesians 1:22-23. d)All this is aimed at the complete development of the pleroma: Ephesians 4:13. e)Christ becomes the head or center of all: Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20. Reply: Any person who lives very long should develop intellectually. Paul did that. So his ecclesiology is more developed now. Further, the claims of opponents called for more development by Paul. And to say we are members of Christ surely implies that He is the Head.

Strangely, one prominent commentary, in giving the differences between Paul's Christology in Colossians and in undisputed Epistles says that in Colossians the role of believers is to hold fast to the head (2:19) and to teach and admonish one another. There is no description of special offices within the Church. To assume that there are no officers because not mentioned is very odd indeed. It is also odd to so limit the role of believers just because Paul does not fill it in more at this point. It was not needed for his purpose.

Opponents: It is difficult to be sure precisely what type of opponents Paul is working against here. Some, but not all features would fit the Judaizers especially if they include the apocalyptic type of speculator. Other things fit well with Gnostics. We add a few comments on Gnosticism: There are many forms, but common features are that they start with a great appreciation of the majesty of God, whom they often call The Depth, The Silence. This is of course good, a feature lacking in the devotion of too many today. But then they hold that matter is evil, and that God emanates aeons. The aeons come in male and female pairs called syzygies. The first pair produces the second, then it produces the third, and so on. As they go farther out, they become less and less perfect. And so, of course, one pair goes astray, and is excluded from the pleroma (the full assembly of the aeons) and is cast into the lower world. There it produces a new series of aeons, which share in the evil of the parent rejected aeon, and finally they create man and the material world. This creator is often called the Demiurge, the God of the Jews, and is evil.

The Gnostics commonly held a physical predestination. There were three kinds of people: the spiritual ones, who are automatically saved, no matter how they live, the material ones, who are automatically damned, no matter how they live, and the natural men, who may be saved or lost, but that depends not on how they live, but on their knowledge. Hence the term Gnosticism, from Greek gnosis, knowledge. It is interesting, though not conclusive, to notice how often, more than usual, Paul uses words pertaining to knowledge in this letter. We will underline them to help the reader.

Many of the special terms Paul uses could well be taken from such Gnostics, to answer them in their own language.

Some object that Gnosticism was not around in Paul's day. But at least an incipient form was at hand, and probably more.

Perhaps it is best to suppose that the Colossians had fallen into a mixture of Jewish ideas mingled with Gnostic speculation, and elements of mystery religions (for instance, the words on angels in 2:18) along with some strict ascetic practices.

Conclusion on Authorship: Since the arguments offered against Pauline authorship are not at all strong, we conclude they are not nearly enough to overrule the numerous ancient testimonies that Colossians is really by St. Paul.

Date and Place of Composition: Even believing Colossians is by Paul, we still do not know for certain the date and place. It seems later in Paul's life, in view of the more developed thought on the Mystical Body. Paul is in prison, but he was in several prisons. Ephesus is a good possibility, for Paul was in prison there, and it is not far from Colossae, to which Paul sends greetings. Some have suggested Caesarea, the place of his two year imprisonment before being sent to Rome. But there are no solid arguments to help that view. Others think it was in Rome, in the period 61-63, the time of Paul's house arrest.

Summary of Colossians 1:1-23

Paul, an Apostle of Christ through the will of God, and Timothy his brother, send greetings to the holy ones at Colossae, and wish them grace and peace from God the Father. Paul and Timothy give thanks to God and the Father of Jesus always in their prayers, for they have heard of the love the Colossians have for all the holy ones, because of their hope of heaven, the hope they learned by the truth of the Gospel that came to them, a Gospel which is bearing fruit and growing in all the world, as it also is at Colossae, since the day the Colossians heard of it, which they learned from Epaphras Paul's beloved fellow slave, who is a faithful minister of Christ for them, who has told Paul of their love.

As a result, since hearing of this, Paul and Timothy do not cease praying for the Colossians, asking that they may be filled with the knowledge of God's will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that they may live in a way worthy of the Lord, so as to please Him completely and bear fruit in every good work, and grow in the knowledge of God, since they have been strengthened with all power according to the power of His glory so as to have all patience and long-suffering, with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who made them fit to share the lot of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and established us in the kingdom of His Son, His beloved, in whom we have redemption and remission of sins.

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation. In Him all things were created _ things in the heavens, upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, including thrones, dominations, principalities and powers _ all were created through Him and for Him. For Christ is before all, and all things continue in being through Him. He is the Head of the Church, which is His body. He is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead. As a result He holds first place among all, for the Father is pleased that all fullness should dwell permanently in Him, and to reconcile everything through Him to Himself. For He made peace through the blood of His cross, so as to reconcile through Him the things upon the earth, and the things in the heavens.

They were once foreign to Him, enemies because of their evil deeds. But now Christ has reconciled them by the body of His flesh, through His death, so as to present them as Holy ones, blameless and without reproach before Him _ provided they remain grounded in the faith, and firm, and are not moved from the hope of the Gospel they heard, which was preached to every creature under the sky, of which Paul is a minister.

Comments on 1:1-23

Paul himself was not the first to bring the faith to Colossae, it was brought by Epaphras. Paul rejoices to hear of their faith, and has been praying earnestly for them.

He wants them to be filled with all wisdom and knowledge and spiritual understanding. This would fit with the theory that Paul is working against Gnostics, but the Jewish speculators and syncretists could speak also of wisdom and knowledge.

Verses 15-20 definitely seem to be some sort of hymn. Did Paul compose it himself? or was it taken from a liturgy? or did Paul even adapt a pre-Christian gnostic hymn? If Paul took over an existing hymn did he modify it? We cannot be sure of any of these things, even though some commentators think they can even identify the changes Paul made in an existing hymn, by noting some words which he otherwise does or does not favor. But this is too flimsy and subjective.

What is clear is that Paul is striving greatly to proclaim the complete sufficiency and exaltation of Christ since the opponents seem to have wanted some sort of honor to be given _ not sure if it was worship in the strict sense _ to other beings.

In contrast, Paul says Christ is the image of the Father. Adam was made in the image and likeness of God. Christ is the New Adam. As the Logos, the Divine Word, He is the most perfect and complete image of the Father. Christ is also first born of all creation. The first born in the Hebrew family had a special dignity and special rights. The title also belonged to Israel (Exodus 4:22) and to the King. So it means that Christ as the Divine Word has a priority of existence, transcendence of nature, and especially of power and absolute inheritance over all creatures.

All things were ``created in Him.'' The sense of the in is much discussed. Some have suggested He contains the mental images of things to come, which logically should be there before God can say: Let it be. (This would be exemplary cause, probably under Platonic influence). But it is not so likely. What is entirely clear is that Christ is the center, in some way, of all creation. And further, all things were created ``through Him.'' As God, He was the Creator, as the God-man, He could be spoken of as the One through Whom the Father works. Further, all things were created for Him, as the center of unity and reconciliation, the peak of creation.

Paul mentions then thrones, dominations, principalities, powers _ elsewhere he adds still other titles. From this some have tried to gather nine choirs of angels. However, Paul does not systematize this thought, and after a bit, in 2:15 it will be clear that the principalities are evil spirits. Paul may be striking at the errors about aeons, whom the opponents said we should honor along with Christ. Paul insists Christ is the center, the one through whom all were made, for whom all were made. So He is all sufficient. We need not pay any attention to these spirit powers. In honoring Christ, we have done all that is needed.

Christ is before all things. That could refer to time, or to rank. He is first in relation to all. All things have their continuation of existence in Him.

He is the head of His body, which is the Church. This is the Mystical Body doctrine, more developed than it was in 1 Cor and Romans, as we noted in the introduction to this Epistle.

Christ is the beginning, the first to be born from the dead. Before, He was called the first born of all creation, of the living. So he has first place in every respect over all. The Father wills that all fullness should dwell in Him permanently, not just for a time. So Christ is the fullness of God, and we need not attend to any spirit powers. The mention of fullness also brings to mind the gnostic term pleroma, the whole assembly of aeons. So Christ is greater than all aeons together, and we need not pay any attention to them.

Further, the Father has willed that all things be reconciled to Himself though Christ, who made peace through the blood of His cross. This applies to all, whether on the earth or in the heavens.

When they were pagans, the Colossians were not part of Christ, were enemies in that they sinned. But Christ has brought about reconciliation to the Father by His death, so He wills to present them as holy ones, blameless, and without reproach before Him. But then Paul adds a qualification ``if indeed'' they remain with the faith, and do not go into the errors of the opponents.

Summary of Colossians 1:24-29

Paul says he rejoices in his sufferings for them, and he is filling up the things that are lacking of the tribulations [thlipseon] of Christ, for His body, which is the Church. He became a minister of that Church by the arrangement of God, given to him, for them, to make the word of God fully known.

There is a mystery that was once hidden from past times and generations. Now it is made known to His holy ones to whom God willed to make it known. The mystery concerns the riches of the glory of this mystery among the gentiles, the mystery of Christ among them, that is, the hope of glory that the gentiles now have.

Paul announces Christ, admonishing every man, teaching every man in all wisdom so he can present every man perfect in Christ. Paul works hard for this, struggling in the divine power that is at work in him.

Comments on 1:24-29

The very first verse of this section, verse 24, is of major importance. Commentators are very divided over it. The inclination today is to say that it merely means Paul has to suffer much in the course of going about to preach in many places. Of course he did have to suffer. But is that all?

When Paul speaks of something lacking in the tribulations of Christ [thlipsis] he cannot mean that Jesus the individual did not suffer enough. Further, the word thlipsis is never used by Paul for the sufferings of Christ, always of the sufferings of Christians. So it is clear, Paul is speaking of his own sufferings.

Jesus Himself infinitely did this work of atonement. His members, to be like Him, must join in.

St. Paul makes this abundantly clear with his syn Christo theme that we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him.13 That likeness of course must include likeness in atonement.

If one member fails to do his share, then, thanks to the solidarity of the Mystical Body, another member can make up for that one. Paul feels that is part of his work for the members of Christ, for the Church, especially because of his preeminent position as an Apostle.

If only we put this verse 24 into the background of the thought world of the time, it is clear that it has a very rich content, one very important for general theology and for spirituality.

First of all, the concept that one could make up for another _ vicarious atonement _ was surely around in Judaism. It was strong in Isaiah 53, where the Suffering Servant justifies many. It appears in Second Maccabees 7:37 where the sufferer hands over his life, calling on God to quickly be merciful to his people. In Fourth Maccabees Eleazar says (6:28-29): ``Make my blood their purification and take my life as a ransom for theirs.''14 In the Manual of Discipline for Qumran 5:6, the rule is that they must make atonement for all who voluntarily give themselves to holiness. In 8:3 there are to be twelve men and three priests ``to expiate iniquity by doing what is right.''

The same thought seems reflected in Mark 10:45 (same as Matthew 20:28): ``The Son of Man has come to give His life as a ransom for many.'' The same thought also appears in the many places where St. Paul speaks of Christ as buying us back, or of the ``price'' of redemption (in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23).

Commentators commonly declare themselves at a loss to explain the price concept. The price should be paid to the captor, who would be Satan. But that idea is repugnant. And the Father was not the captor. Yet there must be truth in all these lines.

If we put all this into the context of the widespread Scriptural concept that sin is a debt, we can solve the problem. The Our Father has us say: ``Forgive us our debts.'' Intertestamental literature of the Jews often uses Hebrew or Aramaic hobah, meaning debt, to stand for sin. The concept is abundant in Rabbinic literature. Especially important is Tosefta Kiddushin 1.14, where Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar says:15 ``He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world.'' Finally, Pope Paul VI, in Indulgentiarum doctrina, of January 9, 1967, sanctioned the whole concept that the objective moral order is put out of balance by sin, and must be rebalanced. Mere humans begin to do this by accepting suffering or by giving up a pleasure they could have lawfully had. They only begin, for the imbalance for even one mortal sin is infinite. The infinite work is done by Christ. Yet, as we said, to receive what He earned for us, we must be not only members of Christ but must be like Him, especially in this work of rebalancing.

So this is what Paul does: he makes up for those who do not do their part in atonement, which is rebalancing the objective order.

He says God made him a minister of the Church, to make the word of God fully known. He says there was a mystery hidden in the past, now made known. Paul is not very clear about what it is here. He becomes clearer in Ephesians 3:6. It is the fact that the gentiles are now called to be members of the People of God. This was foretold in the Old Testament, but not clearly. The Jews thought it meant the gentiles would embrace Judaism. In a sense this is true, as we see from the comparison of the two olive trees in Romans 11:17-21. The tame olive tree is the original People of God, the wild olive tree stands for the gentiles. Many branches fell off the tame tree, by rejecting Christ. In their place gentiles were engrafted. So the New Covenant is new in a way, in its fulfillment in Christ and His redemption. But in a way it is a continuation of the Old Covenant, for Christ fulfilled all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. Thus Christians are made one in the same tame olive tree with the Jews who accepted Christ.

Paul does not mean that no gentiles could be saved before the coming of Christ. He made clear in Romans 2:14-16 that they could. He also did the same in Romans 3:29. But then they were saved in a way that offered them less security, and in general, the gentiles did not know of the glory God has planned for them and for all who accept Christ.

When Paul says in verse 26 that the mystery was hidden from the ages, he uses the Greek aion, which can mean time periods, but can also mean aeons, the heavenly powers of which the Gnostics spoke.

Summary of Colossians, Chapter 2

Paul wants them to know how hard he has been working [in prayers and sacrifices] for them and for those in Laodicea, and for those who have never seen him, so their hearts may be consoled, joined in love, made rich in the assurance that comes from their knowledge, the knowledge of the mystery of God in Christ. In Him there are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Paul says this to try to protect them against deceptive arguments. For even though he is physically absent, he is with them in spirit, and rejoices at seeing their good order and firm faith in Christ.

So they should walk in Christ, just as they have received, and be rooted in Him and built in Him, and strengthened in the faith that was taught them, abounding in giving thanks.

He urges them to watch so no one may take them captive through reasonings and empty deception, according to human, not divine tradition, according to the cosmic powers, and not according to Christ. In Him, Christ, all the fullness of the divinity lives permanently in a bodily way. And they have been made full in Him, having everything they need. He is above every principality and power. In Him they have been circumcised with a circumcision not done by hands, which takes off part of the flesh, but they have been circumcised in Christ by being buried together with Him in Baptism, Him in whom they were raised from the dead through faith in the working of the God who raised Him from the dead.

For when they were dead spiritually because of transgressions, and in the uncircumcision of the flesh, He made them alive together with Christ, and forgave all their transgressions. He took away the bill that was against them, with its claims against them, and took it and nailed it to the cross.

He despoiled the principalities and the powers. He made a spectacle of them, leading them as captives in triumph in Him.

So no one should condemn them for not observing rules about food or drink, or feast days, or new moons or sabbaths, which were a foreshadowing of things to come in Christ. But now the reality promised by them is at hand in Christ.

So they should not let anyone rob them of their prize so that they would humiliate themselves and worship angels, being moved by a vision and vainly puffed up in a fleshy mind, instead of holding on to the Head, which is Christ. From Him the whole [mystical] body is nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, and it grows with a divine growth.

Since they have died with Christ, so as to be away from the cosmic powers: why should they still let rules be imposed on them as though they still belonged to the world? rules that say: ``Do not touch, or taste, or handle,'' referring to things that perish as they are used, according to human rules and teachings. These things have the appearance of wisdom in would-be religion and self-abasement and unsparingness to the body. But they are not of any value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.

Comments on Chapter 2

Paul opens by saying he is ``struggling'' for them, presumably in prayer and sacrifice. He mentioned Laodicea, which was north of Colossae, on the Lycus river.

He turns to warning them of false teachers. As we said in the introduction, we are not sure precisely what kind _ perhaps more than one kind. He warns against a false ``philosophy'' or reasoning and deception, which uses human tradition, not the divine tradition of the Church. They preach cosmic powers, Greek stoicheia. We commented on that word at Galatians 4:3, and saw it might mean there either early religion, insufficient and imperfect as it was, or else cosmic powers. Here Paul seems to have in mind spirit powers. It need not mean Paul believes in such beings as his opponents speak of: he is using the language of his opponents. Yet he does believe in angels and devils, of course. The opponents must have been saying one should honor them as well as Christ. Paul says in Christ lives the fullness of divinity permanently, not just for a time. Christ is above every principality and power _ some of the names for these spirit powers. He says the Colossians have had a spiritual, not a physical circumcision. This makes us think that the opponents urged some, perhaps not all, Jewish practices, perhaps were entirely Jewish. Or they could have proposed a mixture of ideas. Christians have all the fullness they need in Him, Christ.

He brings back the syn Christo theme, the idea that we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him _ we spoke of this in comments on 1:24 above. We note Paul speaks here as if they have already had the resurrection. This is not a physical resurrection,16 but a spiritual one, so that Christians should live already with the same outlook of mind they will have when they do physically emerge from their graves on the last day. How different will the world appear then!

When they were spiritually dead, Christ brought them to life by forgiveness of their transgressions.

He took the cheirographon that was against them with its claims. Some think this means He took away the Old Law. But Jesus said He came not to destroy but to fulfill. It is true, Paul has said they are free from the law, but that expression is easily misunderstood, as we gather from such texts as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 where Paul says if one violates the law, he will not inherit the kingdom. But cheirographon is better rendered as a bill to be paid. This fits well with the debt concept of sin we spoke of above in comments on 1:24. He paid that bill by His cross.

The context shows it means a bill for a debt, for in the previous verse Paul says that when you were dead in your sins, God made you alive together with Christ, ``forgiving you all your sins.'' (Ephesians 2:15 at first sight might seem to be the same thought ``annulling the law of commands with its ordinances.'' But there the context is not that of forgiving sin, as here in Colossians, but of breaking down the boundary between Jew and gentile).

He also despoiled the principalities and powers. At this point we see clearly for the first time Paul views them as evil spirits. Christ made a spectacle of them by leading them as captives in his triumphal procession _ he is using the familiar image of a triumphal procession in the Roman forum, in which captives were led along with the victorious troops and commanders.

Next he tells them not to let these opponents impose rules on them about kinds of food or drink or certain feasts or new moons or sabbaths. These again seem to be Jewish ideas. Paul says they were there temporarily to foreshadow the true reality which came with Christ.

But he adds they should not lower themselves by worshipping angels, impressed by a vision of angels. In the mystery religions they would sometimes put on things like this. (The words could also mean taking his stand on visible things, in contrast to spiritual realities of our faith). Instead of lowering themselves to worship beings lower than Christ, if indeed they exist at all, they must stay with Him. It is from Him the Head that His whole mystical body grows with a divine growth.

Since they have died with Christ they are free of the cosmic powers, and should ignore the rules the opponents try to put onto them. It seems he quotes something like those rules: ``Do not touch, taste, or handle.'' Yet the rules refer to things that are material, and so are used up. The opponents claim there is wisdom in this, but it is only a would-be religion. It includes self-abasement and unsparingness to the body _ it seems, ascetic practices. Paul says they are not of any value. They are either a way of indulging man's pride, or of no value in taming the flesh _ the Greek here can stand either translation.

Paul of course does not object to Christian feasts, or to mortification such as fasting, which we know he himself practiced, e.g., in 2 Corinthians 11:27 and 1 Corinthians 9:26-27. Paul does not object to these things in themselves, but only to doing them out of impositions by a false religion.

Summary of Colossians, Chapter 3

Since they have been raised with Christ, they should seek the things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. They should think of things above, not of things on the earth. For they have died, and their life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, their life, returns in glory then they too will be revealed in glory with Him.

So now before that day, they should mortify their bodies on the earth, mortify sexual looseness, uncleanness, lust, evil desires, greed (which is serving idols). God's anger comes on disobedient sons because of these things.

The Colossians once lived that way, but now should put all such things aside: anger, quick temper, malice, blasphemy, shameful talk. They should not lie against one another. Instead they should put off the old way of life with its deeds, and put on the new way of life, the way renewed in knowledge according to the image of the Creator. In this way of life there is no difference of Greek and Jew, of circumcision and uncircumcision, no difference of barbarians, Scythians, slaves, free men _ Christ is all in all.

So as chosen ones of God, holy and beloved, they should put on an attitude of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, bearing with one another, forgiving one another if someone has offended. The Lord forgave them, so they should forgive.

On top of all these they should have love, for love is the bond of perfection. Then, Paul prays, may the peace of Christ reign in their hearts, that peace into which they were called in one body. They should be thankful. He asks that the word of Christ may dwell richly in them, in all wisdom, so that they may teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, singing in love in their hearts to God. Whatever they do in word or deed, they should do all in the name of Jesus the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Wives should subject themselves to their husbands, as is right in the Lord. Husbands should love their wives, and not be harsh to them. Children should obey their parents in all things: this pleases the Lord. Fathers should not drive their children to the point of indignation, so as not to break their spirit.

Slaves should obey their human masters in all things, not only when they are watching, as if just trying to please men, but fearing the Lord in simplicity of heart. Whatever they do, they should do it from the heart, as for the Lord, and not for men. For they know they will receive the recompense of inheritance from the Lord. They should serve the Lord Christ. For whoever does wrong, will get the due recompense for it. God does not respect persons.

Comments on Chapter 3

Paul extends his familiar syn Christo theme: the Christian suffers with Christ, dies with Him, is buried with Him, is raised with Him, ascends with Him. These things are done ritually in baptism, but in likeness to Christ in all of life. Especially Christians should have even now the attitude or outlook they will have on emerging from the grave on the last day. How different earthly things will seem then! So many things once prized will be seen as trifles; things earthlings scorn will be seen as supremely valuable.

If they live in this spirit, then when Christ physically returns at the end, they will be like Him in their risen bodies. To prepare for that, Paul calls for mortifying their bodies _ going contrary to earthly desires. If one uses creatures as a means to God, then it is good, and he/she can enjoy them in so doing. To use them as ends in themselves is what is wrong, is attachment.

The old way of life Paul describes as the old man, the new, as the new man.

If they follow this way of life, then it makes no difference whether they be Jews or Greeks or any other things. This is the same thought as we saw in Galatians 3:28. We noticed then the context in which Paul was speaking, that of seeking justification by faith. Here the context is living a Christlike life. It is not legitimate to extend the saying to say that there is no difference in anything else _ by which some seek to justify ordination of women.

He asks them to forgive one another. The word used is charizein, which means to make a present of something. The offended one is really owed something, could call for payment of the debt, but he can make a present of it, not demand it. God has acted this way towards us, we should do the same.

His words about psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs probably refer to charismatic phenomena, which were routine in Paul's day.17

Starting at verse 18 we find what is sometimes called the Haustafel, the idealized picture of a family. The words about obedience by the wife have caused much discussion. Pius XI, in his Encyclical Casti Conubii, on marriage, explains what the Church teaches: ``This order includes both the primacy of the husband in relation to the wife and children, and the ready and willing obedience, as the Apostle commands [here the Pope cites Ephesians 5:22-23, which is parallel to our Colossians text]. This obedience does not deny or take away the freedom which fully belongs to the woman, both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble position as wife and mother and companion. Nor does it direct her to obey every request of her husband, if it is not in harmony with right reason, or with the dignity due to a wife, nor, finally does it imply the wife should be on a level with those who are legally minors.''

In many things there is full equality: in regard to seeking eternal life and justification by faith, as we saw in Galatians 3:28, in rights to the use of marriage, as we saw in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4. The text we are seeing refers to things that pertain to the management of the family. For a committee of two could not avoid much deadlock. But the striving should be for loving consensus.

There is a closely parallel passage in Ephesians 5:21-33. S.F. Miletic18 offers an attractive proposal: ``The wife's subordination means her acceptance of the husband's Christ-like love and gift of self. The husband must love his wife completely, even to the point of his death. Both roles are christological, both roles demand total self-renunciation. . . .''

Paul wisely tells Fathers not to be so hard on children as to break their spirit _ a real possibility.

He calls on slaves to obey their human masters even when they are not watching _ to serve Christ, and they will be rewarded by Christ. Here we need to recall the comments on 1 Cor 7:17-24 on slavery in general.

The phrase ``the recompense of inheritance'' is remarkable. In commenting on Romans 2:6 we saw that when God gives things under the covenant, there are two levels. On the basic level, no creature can generate a claim on God, so all is mere generosity, unmerited _ parallel to justification by faith, without earning it. On the secondary level, given the fact that God freely entered into a covenant, then if the humans do what He calls for, He owes it to Himself to repay. This one phrase, recompense of inheritance, covers both parts, for when we inherit from parents, we do not say we have earned it. This refers to the basic level. As to the secondary level, Paul speaks of recompense, repayment, under covenant.

Summary of Chapter 4

Slave owners must provide what is just and right for the slaves. They have a Master in heaven.

Paul urges them to be constant in prayer and to be watchful in it with thanksgiving. He asks for prayers for himself so God may give him an opportunity to speak and make clear the mystery of Christ, because of which he is a prisoner. He asks them to live wisely in their dealings with those outside the Church, and to redeem the time. Their speech should always be with love, and tactful, so that they will know how to answer each individual.

Tychichus will tell them about him _ he is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow slave in the Lord. Paul sent him to them so he could learn about them and console their hearts. He sends with him Onesimus his faithful and beloved brother who comes from Colossae. They will report on Paul's situation.

Greetings from Aristarchus and Mark the cousin of Barnabas _ concerning whom they have instructions. They should receive him if he comes, as also Jesus, called Justus. These are the only fellow workers Paul has from the Jews for the kingdom of God. They have been a consolation to him.

Epaphras who comes from Colossae, greets them. He is a slave of Christ, always praying hard for them so they may be perfect and full in everything God wills. Paul testifies that Epaphras has much concern for those at Colossae and those in Laodicea and those in Hierapolis.

Luke the dear physician sends greetings, and also Demas. Paul wishes to greet the Christians in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that meets in his house.

When this letter has been read at Colossae, Paul wants it to be read at Laodicea, and asks them to read the one he sent to Laodicea. May they say to Archippus: Look at the ministry you have received in the Lord. Fulfill it.

Greetings with Paul's own hand. May they remember his chains. Grace be with them.

Comments on Chapter 4

The first line here clearly should have been in chapter 3, with his words about slaves.

Then Paul gives some general exhortations. He asks for prayers so he may have an opportunity. In Philippians 1:12-14 we see that Paul found opportunity to work for Christ even when he was in prison. He urges them to work with love and tact in dealing with non-Christians. They should make use of the opportunities they have (``redeeming the time'' probably has this sense).

Tychicus the bearer of this letter is mentioned barely in Acts 20:4 as from the province of Asia, and is also mentioned at the end of Ephesians. Onesimus is probably the slave of Philemon. Aristarchus was mentioned in Acts 19:29 as a traveling companion of Paul, with him at Ephesus. Mark is probably the Evangelist. We do not know anything about Jesus Justus.

Epaphras is the one who first brought the faith to Colossae. Luke the physician is the Evangelist. Demas is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:10 where Paul says he was in love with the world, left Paul, and went to Thessalonika.

We do not know much about Archippus _ perhaps he was in charge at Colossae in the absence of Epaphras. He seems to be of some importance. He is mentioned also in Philemon 2.


1 Middle to late 2nd century: cf. Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.19.
2 3.14.1.
3 Late 2nd century.
4 Stromata 1.11.
5 Against Celsus 5.8.
6 On Prescription.
7 In St. Irenaeus 1.4.
8 Cf. Col 1.23.
9 Cf. Col 1.23.
10 Cf. Col 4.1.
11 Cf. Col 1.15.
12 Cf. Romans 6:1-6; 8:9 & 17; Eph 2:5-6.
13 Cf. Rom 8:9 & 17; 6:3-6; Col 3:1-3; Eph 2:5-6.
14 Cf. also ibid. 9:24; 17:21-22.
15 Citing Rabbi Meir, early 2nd century.
16 Cf. the comments on errors proposed for 2 Corinthians 5.
17 Cf. comments on chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians.
18 One Flesh: Ephesians 5:22-23, 5:31, Marriage and the New Creation, Rome: Biblical Institute 1988, p. 111.

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