God and Christ Jesus in the letter to the Colossians, and their respective roles

What view does the letter to the Colossians present of Christ Jesus?  Is He called God?  Are we saved by Christ Jesus, or by God?  Who created all things and who reconciled all things; God or Christ Jesus?

Purpose

This article is a study of the letter to the Colossians.  The purpose is to understand who Christ Jesus is.  However, that question is addressed more specifically by the next article.  This article lays the foundation for that article.

The letter to the Colossians has been selected for this study because it contains perhaps the highest view of Christ Jesus of all of the New Testament letters, apparently because Christ’s supremacy was challenged (2:4) by the “deception” (2:8) in ancient Colossae.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

God

The title “God” appears 21 times in the letter, but never refers to Jesus.  To the contrary, Christ Jesus is presented as distinct from God, for instance:

Image of the invisible God1:15He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.

Christ, in this verse, is explained by less literal translations as “exactly like God, who cannot be seen” (Contemporary English Version), or as “the visible likeness of the invisible God” (Good News Translation).

2:12God” raised Jesus from the dead.
3:1Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
1:1Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.

The letter therefore maintains a clear distinction between God and Christ.

Father and Son

The letter five times refers to the “Father”:

Our Father who is in heavenThe first reference is to “God our Father” (1:2).  This refers to believers.  They are sons of God (e.g. Rom. 8:14).  Christ Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 6:9).  He is our Father because He loves us and cares for us.

Next we find two references to God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3; cf. 1:12-13).  The word “son” in Colossians is only found in 1:13, where Jesus is described as “His beloved Son”.  This is not discussed in Colossians, but Jesus is the Son of God in a different way; He is “the only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14).  This mystery is discussed further in Only Begotten Son of God.

Next we find “Father” in 1:19: “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”  As already stated, Colossians maintains a clear distinction between God and Christ Jesus.  “Father” is another name for God.  What 1:19 therefore says is that it was God’s will for “all the fullness” to dwells in Jesus.  This amazing statement is also discussed in God is the Head of Christ.

Lastly we find a reference to “God the Father” in 3:17.  He is the Father of both His begotten Son and His created sons.

Christ Jesus

The title Christ is used 26 times.  The name Jesus is used 6 times, but never alone, always as Jesus Christ or as Christ Jesus.  Jesus was a common name at the time.  The addition of “Christ” was therefore necessary to Identify Him.  Paul, in this letter, actually mentions somebody else by the name Jesus (4:11).

The title “the Lord” appears 11 times; most often simply as “the Lord”, but also as “Christ Jesus the Lord” (1:6), “the Lord Jesus” (1:17) and “the Lord Christ” (4:24).  This title is therefore not used for God; only for Jesus.

The Father is the Active Force in Salvation.

We often hear people say that we are saved by Jesus, but this letter presents God the Father as the Active Force in salvation:

Grace is from “God (1:6).

God selects His messengers.  Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (1:1).  He was made a minister of the church according to the stewardship from God bestowed on him (1:25).

God saves us.The Father rescued us from the domain of darkness (1:13) and qualified us to share in the inheritance (1:12).  God canceled out the Certificate of Debtcertificate of debt, having nailed it to the cross. (2:14; cf. 2:12-13).  God raised up the believers from death when He raised up Jesus from death (2:12-13; 3:1).  We must thank “God the Father” through Christ (3:16-17; cf. 1:3, 12).

God gives growth to the church (2:19).  He chose the believers (3:12) and will open up a door for the word (4:2).  It was God’s will to make known to His saints what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles (1:27-28).

Through the Cross God brought peace to the universe.  Not only did God reconcile us to Himself through Christ’s death, He also reconciled the things in heaven to Himself through Christ’s death (1:19-20).  He made peace with all things through the blood of His cross, whether things on earth or things in heaven (1:20, 22).  God, through the cross, “disarmed the rulers and authorities … having triumphed over them through Him” (2:15).   Hebrews 2:14 contains a similar statement: “that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” “The rulers and authorities” therefore refer to “the devil” and his supporters.  See Rulers and Authorities or Disarmed the rulers and authorities.  As Revelation 12 explains, His death made an end to the war in heaven.  See the discussion of Colossians 1:20-22 or the article War in Heaven.

God is the Active Force in Wrath.

God is the Source of wrath:

the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience” (3:6).

God is the Active Force in Creation.

By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (1:16 NASB).

The NASB says that “by Him all things were created”, but later adds “all things have been created through Him.”  This means that God is the Creator, but God created through His Son.  This is made clear by various translations:

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (NIV).

Through him God created everything in heaven and on earth” (Good News Translation).

For a further discussion, see God created all things through His Son.

Christ is ascribed a passive role. 

Gethsemane

The letter refers to “Christ’s afflictions” (1:24), which reminds of Gethsemane, where “His sweat became like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44), indicating His severe internal suffering.  All evil forces focused their attention on Him in an effort to make Him commit even a single sin.  But apart from these “afflictions”, this letter does not mention anything which Jesus do or did.  The Father did everything.  This is consistent with what Jesus said, as recorded in John:

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19).

I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge … I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).

The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 14:10).

Redemption through unity with His Son

Colossians presents God as the Active Force, but He does everything through His Son.  We already saw that He created all things through His Son (1:16).  Now we will also see that He saves through His Son, and that we therefore thank God through His Son (3:17).

Reconciled through Christ

It was the Father’s good pleasure … through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:19-20).

God allowed Jesus to be killed to reconcile us back to Him (God).  The Cross did not reconcile God to us: We had to change; not God.

Redeemed by being united with His Son.

Colossians presents believers as redeemed through unity with Christ.  This unity is explained in a number of ways:

A Human Body

 “His beloved Son … is also head of the body, the church” (1:13, 18, cf. v24).

“The head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God” (2:17-19; cf. 3:15).

He is the head.  The believers are the other body parts.  All are “held together by the joints and ligaments”.

A Kingdom

The Father … transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (1:12-13).

When we are “rescued” (1:12), we become the subjects of a spiritual kingdom of which His Beloved Son is King.

In Him

The redemption of believers through unity with Jesus is also presented with phrases such as “in Him” or “with Him”:

In Whom (His beloved Son) … we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13, 14).
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands” (2:11).
In Him you have been made complete” (2:10; cf. 1:28, 2; 2:6-7).

Death and Resurrection

The letter describes believers as united with Christ in His death and resurrection:

You have died with Christ” (2:20).
He made you alive together with Him” (2:13).
You have been raised up with Christ” (3:1).

Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (2:12).

Believers did not literally die with Christ; nor have they been literally made alive with Christ.  But they are rescued through His death and through His resurrection.  It is not Christ’s death that was important; it was His life.  His entire life was a test, and the last days and hours of His life was the highest test possible.  He lived a sinless life, even to death, and His resurrection was confirmation there-of.  His “afflictions” (1:24) were also physical, but mostly spiritual.  Jesus said “do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt. 26:53)  But He “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (2:15) by combating them on His own.  Even God withdrew His presence from Jesus, leaving the disoriented Jesus to cry, “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me” (Mt. 27:46), but even at that time of utter darkness, He did not sin or use His power for His own benefit.

Conclusion

God reconciled all things—things on earth and things in heaven—to Himself through the death of His Son.  Therefore, Paul presents believers as united with Christ.  They are united with Him in His death, they are united with Him in His resurrection, and “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28 – from Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill).  This seems to be more than a symbol: it is a mysterious reality.

Overview of this article

Jews questioning Jesus
Jews questioning Jesus

Colossians never refers to Jesus Christ as God, but maintains a clear distinction between God and Christ.  It describes God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and Jesus as His Beloved Son.  Jesus is never simply called Jesus.  He is called Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus or the Lord.

The letter describes God the Father as the Active Force in salvation and in creation.  God selects His messengers, rescues people and gives growth to the church.  In contrasts Christ is ascribed a passive role.  Apart from His afflictions this letter does not mention anything which Jesus do or did.

Although the letter presents God as the Active Force, He does everything through His Son.  Through His Son He created all things.  Through the Cross the Father reconciled all things to Himself.  In Jesus Christ believers are symbolically circumcised, do they have the forgiveness of sins and have they been made complete.  They have died with Christ and have been made alive together with Him.

Next Article

Is Jesus God? – A study of the letter to the Colossians

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Colossian 2:16; Annual Sabbaths or Weekly?

The “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the annual Sabbaths, but to the weekly Sabbath, because the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths”:

► Implies an annual, monthly and weekly sequence;
► Includes all of Israel’s holy days, also the weekly Sabbath.
► Already includes the annual Sabbaths in the “festivals”.

Different Laws

The weekly and annual Sabbaths are required by different Laws:

Weekly Sabbath

The weekly Sabbath is required by the Ten Commandments, which God wrote with own His finger on both sides of two stone tablets (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10; Ex. 32:15-16; Deut. 4:13).  These stone tablets were put inside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5), signifying that the Ten Commandments were at the center of the covenant.

Annual Sabbaths

The instructions for annual Sabbaths were contained in a book which was written up by Moses (Ex. 17:14; 24:4; Deut. 31:24, 26).  This book became known as the “Law of Moses” (Joshua 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kings 14:6; 2Chron. 34:14; etc.) or the “book of Moses” (2Chron. 35:12; Ezra 6:18; etc.).  It was kept “beside the Ark of the Covenant” (Deut. 31:26).  To quote typical verses:

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses” (Jos. 8:31).

Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you” (Deut. 31:26).

The annual Sabbaths were part of the seven annual feasts, and fell, like our annual holidays, on any day of the week.

Origin

Another important distinction between the weekly and annual Sabbaths is their origin:

The Seventh Day was blessed and sanctified at creation (Gen. 2:1-3).  Christ therefore could say that the Sabbath was made for man (all people) (Mark 2:27).  Many people are unable to believe the creation account, but at least must agree that Moses and Christ believed that the seventh day was sanctified at creation.

The annual Sabbaths were given to the Jews specifically, thousands of years later.

Which Sabbath is intended in Colossians 2:16?

It is sometimes said that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 does not refer to the weekly seventh day Sabbath, but to the annual Sabbaths.

Hebrews 10

This view is argued as follows:

The Sabbath in Col. 2:16 is “a shadow of things to come” (2:17).  A shadow, in this sense, is an image of a major future event.

Hebrews 10:1-10 also mentions a “shadow” and “things to come”.  In Hebrews 10 the “shadow” is the Jewish sacrificial system and the “things to come” are “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebr. 10:10).

The CrossIt is then assumed that the “things to come” in Colossians 2:17 also refer to is “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.

Since “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” is God’s solution to the sin problem, any shadow of His death must have been instituted after the entrance of sin into this world.  Since the Sabbaths in 2:16 are then a shadow of His death, they cannot refer to the weekly Sabbath because the weekly Sabbath was sanctified before sin (Exodus 20:8, 11).  It can only be the annual Sabbaths (Lev. 23).

The flaw in this argument is the assumption that the “things to come” refer to “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ”.  Colossians 2:16-17, which was written nearly 30 years after Christ’s death, says that the special days and Sabbaths “are (now, today) a shadow of things to come (in the future)”.  This means that the special days in 2:16-17, including the Sabbaths, do not point to Christ’s death, but to His second coming and the renewal of all things.  It is argued below that the festivals and annual Sabbaths do also point to the renewal of all things, but the same applies to the weekly Sabbath.  Hebrews 4 describes the weekly Sabbath as a shadow of the eternal rest in the new heavens and new earth.  The Sabbaths in Colossians 2:16 may therefore include the weekly Sabbath.

Sabbaths (Plural)

A second argument sometimes used, to show that the “Sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 refers to the annual Sabbaths, is that the Greek term for Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 is plural in form (sabbaton) and that it is better to apply it to the annual Sabbaths, of which there were many in a year.  But this argument does not hold because sabbaton is quite frequently translated “Sabbath” (singular) because the context indicates that it must be singular, for instance:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 12:1; see also verses 2, 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12).

But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath (Sabbaton)” (Mat 24:20).

Matthew 28:1, “Now after the Sabbath (Sabbaton)

They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach” (Mar 1:21).

Luke 4:16, “He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath

Acts 16:13, “And on the Sabbath day

It is the Weekly Sabbath.

Further proof that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath includes the following:

Firstly, the sequencefestivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” is found several times in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 2:4; 31:3; Neh. 10:33; Eze. 45:17; Hosea 2:11) and also several times in literature outside the Bible (Jub. 1:14; Jos. Ber. 3:11; Justin, Dialogue 8:4.).  At times the order is reversed, but “new moon” is always in the middle.  Since the festivals were annual and the new moons were monthly, the sequence implies that the Sabbaths were weekly.

Secondly, the phrase “festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths” was used as a composite technical term to refer to all of Israel’s holy days, which means that this phrase must include the Sabbath.   See the separate discussion of “Feasts … New Moons … Sabbaths” for more detail.

This is confirmed by Numbers 23, which lists Israel’s holy days, including the weekly Sabbath.  The implication is that the weekly Sabbath was regarded as part of the system of holy days.

Thirdly, all the verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” actually are a summary of the daily, weekly, monthly and annual sacrifices prescribed in Numbers 28.  Many of these verses that refer to the sequence “festivals … new moons … Sabbaths” refer explicitly to sacrifices, for instance:

to offer all burnt offerings to the LORD, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals” (1Chr. 23:31).

The Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 at least includes the weekly Sabbaths because Colossians 2:16 is based on Numbers 28, and Numbers 28 include sacrifices for the weekly Sabbath:

  • Daily:a continual burnt offering every day” (v3-8)
  • Weekly:on the sabbath day … every sabbath” (28:9-10)
  • Monthly:at the beginning of each of your month” (new moons) (28:11-15), and
  • Annual: the feast days (28:16-40); “the LORD’S Passover” (v16), “feast, unleavened bread” (v17) and “the day of the first fruits” (v26).

Fourthly, the annual Sabbaths are already included in the “festivals” in the sequence “festivals … new moon … Sabbath day” (2:16).  If “a Sabbath day” meant the annual Sabbaths there would be a needless repetition.

The evidence is therefore that the Sabbath in 2:16-17 refers to the weekly Sabbath.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Meros in Colossians 2:16 – Let no man therefore judge you

Colossians 2:16The KJV translates Colossians 2:16 to say let no man therefore judge you “in respect of” the Sabbath, but the word translated “in respect of” actually means “part of”.  To say that the Colossians were criticized for an aspect of the Sabbath cannot mean that they were criticized for keeping or not keeping these holy days.  It can only mean that they were criticized for HOW they observe the Sabbath.  This implies that the Colossians did observe these holy days.

The Greek words of Colossians 2:16, and their English equivalents, according to an interlinear translation, are as follows:

Not – oun therefore – tis anyone – hymas you – krinetō let judge – en in – brōsei food – kai or – en in – posei drink – ē or – en in – merei part of heortēs to a feast – ē or – neomēnias a new moon – ē or sabbatōn a Sabbath

This article focuses on the Greek words ‘en merei’.  The KJV  translates this phrase as “in respect to”:

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days (2:16).

‘En merei’ is derived from the noun meros.  Meros literally means:

  • a part something or
  • a piece something or
  • a portion something or
  • one aspect of something, as opposed to a whole.

Nowhere else in the New Testament is meros translated as “in respect to”.  Below all 39 instances of the word meros in the New Testament is analyzed:

In the vast majority of instances it indicates a part of something, namely:

    • part of a geographical area,
    • part of a group of people,
    • part of a body,
    • part of some assets,
    • part of a fish,
    • part of a garment,

  • part of a body of knowledge,
  • part of a period of time,
  • part of a city and
  • part of human

In a small number of instances it indicates that a person shares in something, namely sharing in God’s kingdom, sharing in an event and sharing in an eternal inheritance.  But to say that somebody shares in something still has the meaning of a part of a bigger whole.

Since meros consistently refers to a part of something, 2:16 should be translated as “Let no man therefore judge you  in meat, or in drink, or in part of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”.  Please consider the important difference between “in respect to” and “in part of”:

In respect to” may imply that the Colossian Christians were judged for keeping or not keeping these holy days OR for how they kept these holy days.

The phrase “in a part of” cannot mean that the Colossians were judged for keeping or not keeping these holy days.  “In a part of” can only mean that the Colossian Christians were judged for an aspect of the holy days, not for the holy days as such.  This implies that the Colossians did observe these holy days, and that Paul is saying that they should not be judged for any part there-of.

The KJV translation is generally extremely reliable, and it is with unease that I go against the KJV of Colossians 2:16.  But it must be pointed out that all translations are interpretations, and that the standard interpretation of theologians is that the Colossian heresy was syncretic in nature; combining Jewish and pagan ideas.  They therefore translate meros as “in respect to” because they believe that 2:16 warns against Sabbath observance.

The proposal here is that we read these verses in their context.  As discussed in the article on 2:16, the church, less than 30 years after Christ’s death, when the letter to the Colossians was written, still observed the Sabbath and the Jewish Festivals, for the church at first was entirely Jewish, and even today we observe some of the Jewish Festivals, such as Passover (Easter) and Pentecost.  The Jews observed these days in anticipation of what these feasts pointed to.  Christians keep these feasts to remember what happened 2000 years ago.

In the Jewish tradition the specials days were days of gladness, eating and drinking (See, for instance, Nehemiah 8:9-11).  But the Colossian deceivers were ascetic and adhered to principles of “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (2:23), with rules such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”.  They were therefore critical of the feasting practices of the Christians in their community.  (See Pagan nature of the Colossian Deception).  They judged the Christians, not for observing these special days, but for HOW the special days were kept.

Analysis of the use of the word Meros in the New Testament

The following are all the instance of the Greek word meros in the New Testament; 39 verses in total.  Only in Colossians 2:16 it is translated as “in respect to”.  In most instances it is translated to refer to a part of some larger entity, such as:

  • Part of a geographical area, for instance “regions of” or “district” of a larger area (Mat 2:22; 15:21; 16:13; Mark 8:10; Acts 2:10; 20:2), “the upper country” (Acts 19:1), and “the lower parts of the earth” (Eph 4:9).
  • Part of a group of people, such as “one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees” (Act 23:6) “the Pharisaic party” (Acts 23:9)(Mat 24:51; Luke 12:46; Rom 11:25; 1Co 12:27) “a place with the unbelievers” (Luk 12:46), “a place with the hypocrites” (Mat. 24:51).  Rom 11:25 indicates that “a partial hardening has happened to Israel” this is understood as that a part of Israel is hardened.
  • Part of a body (Luke 11:36)
  • Part of assets, such as “the share of the estate” (Luke 15:12), “a portion of it (money)” (Acts 5:2); Act 19:26-27)
  • Part of a fish, such as “a piece of a broiled fish” (Luke 24:42)
  • A part of a garment, such as “His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier” (John 19:23)
  • Part of a boat, namely “the right-hand side of the boat” (John 21:6)
  • Part of a body of knowledge, such as “For we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1Co 13:9) and “I know in part, but then I will know fully” (1Co 13:12), “in part I believe it” (1Co 11:18), “I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again” (Rom. 15:15), “you also partially did understand” (2Co 1:14), “of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebr. 9:5 – stated differently: we cannot speak of the parts of these things), “But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case” (2Co 9:3)
  • Part of a period of time, such as “enjoyed your company for a while” (Rom 15:24) “each in turn” (1Co 14:27)
  • A part of a city, namely “The great city was split into three parts” (Rev 16:19)
  • A part of human existence.  Acts 19:26-27 refers to idol-worship or the making of idols as “this trade of (part of) ours”

In all of these instances meros is used for a part of something. In the following instances it refers to a small share of something much larger, namely for a person to:

  • Share in an event, such as “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection” (Rev 20:6)
  •  Share in an eternal inheritance, such as “their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” (Rev 21:8), or “God will take away his part from the tree of life” (Rev 22:19).
  • Share in God’s kingdom, such as “you have no part with Me (Christ)” (John 13:8) “you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1Co 12:27), “from whom …. according to the proper working of each individual part (the whole body)” (Eph 4:16).

To say that somebody shares in God’s kingdom still refers to a small part of something much larger.

The remaining two instances are more difficult to classify.  In one instance it means “in some degree”, namely “he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree … to all of you” (2Co 2:5), which is still part of the full possible extent.  In the last remaining instance it is used to compare a smaller glory to a larger glory:

For indeed what had glory (the ministry of condemnation), in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it (the glory ministry of righteousness). (2Co 3:9-10)

It should therefore be clear that:

  • 2:16 is the only place in the New Testament where mero is translated as “in respect to”.
  • Meros is refers to a part of something.

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

 

Colossians 1:1-13: Verse by verse discussion

The Colossian deception taught that Christians are incomplete without the higher level knowledge and wisdom available from supernatural sources. Paul responds by saying that Christians are already complete in Christ.

Summary

Paul in chainsPaul wrote the letter to the faithful believers, with Timothy’s assistance, from prison in Rome around AD 60-63.  This was about 30 years after Christ’s death.  Paul was sent by Christ by the will of God our Father.  He therefore had the authority to write this letter.

Paul himself never worked in Colossae. While Paul was in a Roman prison, the gospel traveled through the earth and has reached Colossae via Epaphras; one of Paul’s faithful co-workers and a native of the city.

The gospel is the message of God’s merciful kindness; His free gift, particularly through the Person and teachings of Christ, as recorded in the four gospels.  The gospel includes the promise of the eternal inheritance which believers will receive from God when Christ is revealed.  Paul added clarity with respect to the relevance of the Jews and their Law, but Christ and His teachings are the core of the Christian message.

Epaphras, when he visited Paul in prison in Rome, informed Paul of the Colossians’ faith, but also of the Colossian deception that was threatening his church.  The letter does not describe the Colossian deception fully.  We only have Paul’s rebuttal of the deception.  From that we have to infer what the Colossian deception was.

Paul in prayerPaul was a man of prayer.  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God.  He assures the Colossians that he is continually praying for them, asking that they may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians, from which we conclude that the Colossian deception claimed to have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  This commentary assumes that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, are in response to the Colossian deception, and therefore indicate the nature there-of.

Verses 1 to 3 and verses 12 and 13 focus on God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the Father who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints, through Jesus Christ. It is the Father who rescued us from the domain of darkness (supernatural beings hostile to God) and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  Christ is the Means, but it is the Father that accomplishes all these things.

The Colossians deception judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and that they will only become spiritually complete if they submit their teachings, such as “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  Paul responds with a three-fold message:

  1. In Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (2:9).
  2. Therefore Christians, since they are “in Christ” are already complete (2:10-15).
  3. Therefore they do not have to submit to the demands of the Colossian deception (2:16-23) to become complete.

These are the three main points of the entire letter.  They are particularly clear from chapter two, but chapter one contains aspects there-of.  In 1:12-13 we see that the believers are already qualified, already rescued and already transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  This is the second of the three points above.

Verse by Verse Discussion

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother

Paul: According to the custom of the day of writing letters, the author’s name is given first. Paul wrote the letter probably from Rome at around AD 63, which was about 30 years after Christ’s death.

An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God: Paul was qualified to write this letter of instruction to the Colossians because he was an apostle.  Literally apostolos means ‘one sent’.  At its deepest level it denotes an authorized spokesman for God; one commissioned and empowered to act as His representative.  Paul is an “apostle of Jesus Christ”, which means he is sent by Christ, but it is “by the will of God”.

And Timothy our brother: Timothy was an honored companion of Paul, but he was not an apostle because he did not receive a direct instruction from Christ.

1:2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: grace to you and peace from God our Father.

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ:Saints and faithful brethren” are the same people; not two different classes of Christians.  Every true Christian is a saint. It is possible that Paul adds “and faithful brethren” to contrast the saints with those who embraced the false teaching that concerned Paul so much in this letter.

Who are at Colossae: The city of Colossae is not mentioned in the Book of Acts. All our Biblical information about the church there comes from this letter and a few allusions in the letter to Philemon.  Historically, Colossae was a prosperous city, yet by Paul’s time the glory it had as a city was on the decline.  The city of Colossae was probably the smallest and least important city that Paul ever wrote to.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father: Grace is God’s unconditioned goodwill and mercy.

1:3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

We give thanks to God: We receive grace and peace from “God our Father” (1:2), and in return we thank “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).  That is the true circle of life: He gives us everything we need and we love and praise Him.

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: The focus in verses 1 to 3 is on the Father, not on Christ.  For instance, Paul was an apostle “by the will of God” (1:1) who is identified as the “Father” in verses 2 and 3.  As in the prayer which we received from our Lord, God is “our Father” (1:2), which means that He cares for us deeply and continually protects us.  The Father is the active Force behind Paul’s work (1:1) and behind Christ’s sacrifice (1:12; 2:13, 15).  God is also “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  As Jesus said, “‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17).  See the article Jesus is the Son of God, but is He in all respects equal to God? 

Praying always for you: Although he probably had never met them, the Christians of Colossae were on Paul’s prayer list. He prayed for them not only often, but always.

1:4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints:

Genuine faith in Jesus will always have a true love for God’s people as a companion.

1:5 Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

The hope laid up for you in heaven:Christ in you” is “the hope of glory” (1:27), namely the hope for “the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:3-4).  These were not merely theological ideas for Paul; but dominated his thinking as a Christian.  It is also our privilege to have this hope.

In verses 4 and 5 we notice the familiar triad of faith, hope, and love:  “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel: The four gospels were written decades after the Cross as tools to teach the believers what Christ taught.  The gospel of John was one of the last books of the Bible to be written; about 50 years after the Cross.  To teach Jesus means to teach what He taught, as recorded in the gospels.  Some people today hold the letters of the New Testament up high, but the basic teaching in the first century was what Jesus preached.  Paul added clarity with respect to aspects such as the relevance of the Law of Moses and the relationship between Jew and Gentile, but his teachings are not core; what Christ taught is the core of the Christian message.

Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians to oppose a specific distortion of the truth (2:4, 8, 16, 18).  Perhaps for that reason we find early on in this letter an emphasis on “truth” (1:5, 6).  Because we do not live in that time and place, we do not know what the Colossian deception specifically was.  Paul, in his letter, only gives us one side of the story; we only have his rebuttal of the deceptions.  From this we have to infer what the Colossian deception was.

1:6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it: and understood the grace of God in truth:

The Gospel is represented as a traveler, whose object it is to visit the whole earth.  So rapid is this traveler in his course, that he had already gone nearly through the whole of the countries under the Roman dominion, and will travel on until he has proclaimed his message to every people, and kindred, and nation, and tongue (Rev. 14:6).  The phrase “in all the world” was a legitimate hyperbole, for the gospel was spreading all over the Roman Empire.

Grace is God’s merciful kindness; His free gift.  Everything we receive from Him is His free gift.  The kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  We are saved by His merciful kindness; we can never earn it as a wage.

1:7 Just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf:

Learned it from Epaphras: Paul himself had not worked in the area of Colossae (1:4, 7-9; 2:1).  Apparently, Epaphras, one of his helpers, and a native of the city (4:12), established a group of believers there (1:7; 4:12, 13).

Who is a faithful servant (KJV – minister): The word “minister doesn’t mean that Epaphras was superior to the other Christians in Colossae. The word minister means servant.  Paul probably wrote the letter because of a visit of Epaphras from Colossae.

1:8 and he also informed us of your love in the spirit:

It seems as if, while Paul was in prison in Rome, Epaphras visited him, and informed him of the spiritual growth of the Colossian church (see also 2:5), but also of the “deception” (2:8) troubling his church.

1:9 for this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you:  and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding:

Paul in prayerNot ceased to pray for you: Paul was a man of prayer (1:3, 9).  Through prayer he was in constant contact with God (1:9).  “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

Knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding: Knowledge, wisdom and understanding is a key theme in the letter to the Colossians.  It is important to note that Paul wrote that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ (2:3) “so that no one will delude you” (2:4).  This is understood to mean that some people in Colossae were trying to delude the believers, claiming that they have special knowledge, wisdom and understanding.  The interpretation in this commentary is based on the assumption that the points which Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, indicate the nature of the Colossian deception (2:8).

1:10 So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord: to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

Paul also prayed that they would walk (live) according to the knowledge which they received.  Our life is based on our knowledge of God and our understanding of His will.

1:11 Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously:

His strength is there to help us meet all of life’s challenges, and to endure and overcome problems with patience and joy.  God is the source of all power.  Whatever power we have, or hope to have, we only have because He gave it to us.

1:12 Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light:

The Father is mentioned as the active Force of redemption. He initiated the plan of the ages.  It is the Father who qualifies us, through Jesus Christ.  The ESV and other translations render 2:18 as “Let no one disqualify you”.  It is there quite possible that Paul, in 1:12, is contradicting the Colossian deception.

1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son

He rescued us from the domain of darkness: The domain of darkness is Satan’s domain.  Jesus referred to “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53) that led to His arrest, suffering and death.  The power of darkness are the supernatural beings marshaled against God and His followers for combat in the spiritual realm.  “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).  These “rulers and authorities are a particular emphasis in the letter to the Colossians (1:15; 2:15, 18), implying that the Colossian deception involved such supernatural beings.

Note the contrast between the light in verse 12 and the darkness in verse 13.  Light allows us to see; to receive “knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9).

And transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son: According to Barclay, the word translated “transferred” had a special significance in the ancient world. When one empire conquered another, the custom was to transfer the entire population of the defeated empire to the conqueror’s land. It is in this sense that Paul says we have been transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

His” in these verses (1:9, 11, 13) consistently refers to “the Father” (1:3):

Verse 9, for instance, refers to “knowledge of His will”, which is explained by verse 1 as “the will of God”, who is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).

His glorious might” (1:11) refers back to “God” in 1:10, who is identified in verse 3 as “the Father”.

Verses 12 and 13 therefore continue the focus of verses 2 and 3 on the Father. Some Christians think of Christ as their Savior, but these verses inform us, as already indicated by 1:2-3, that the Father is the Active Force that “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).  The kingdom belongs to “His beloved Son” (1:13), but it is the Father that “rescued us from the domain of darkness”.  In Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:14), but it is the Father that “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints” (1:12).

Note Christians are already rescued and already transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.  This is another emphasis in the letter to the Colossians.  It is again emphasized in 2:10, where Paul states that Christians are complete in Christ.  The Colossian deception judged the Christians “in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16) and told them that they are incomplete, and that they will only become spiritually complete when they submit to “decrees, such as, Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (2:20-21).  In response Paul wrote that they are already qualified (1:12), already rescued and already transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).

TO: Colossians Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents