the First Week of Advent
Click here to join the effort!
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
by Editor - Joseph Exell
§ 1. COLOSSAE AND ITS PEOPLE
COLOSSAE (or Colassae) was an inland city of Western Asia Minor. It was situated on the river Lycus (modern Tchoruk-su), a southern affluent of the famous Maeander, lying under the frowning heights of Mount Cadmus, which bounded the Lycus valley on the south; and on the high road from Miletus and Ephesus to the central highlands of the peninsula, at a point distant about a hundred and twenty miles from the coast. Ethnically, it belonged to southwestern Phrygia, with the borders of Lydia and Carla closely approaching it on the west and south; but politically, the district was included in the Roman proconsular province of Asia, whose capital was Ephesus.
Under the Persian kings, Colossae had been "a populous city, prosperous and great" (Xenophon, 'Anabasis,' 1:2. 6; Herodotus, 7:30); but in later times it was eclipsed by its more fortunate neighbours, Laodicea and Hierapolis, which lay on opposite sides of the Lycus valley, ten or twelve miles below Colossae, and distant some six miles from each other. Laodicea, whose name commemorated the rule of the Greco-Syrian dynasty in Asia Minor, was the chief city of the immediate district, the Cibyratic conventus (διοιìκησις, diocese) or "jurisdiction," one of the departments or counties into which the Roman province of Asia was divided for administrative purposes. Hierapolis, on the other hand, was a health resort, celebrated for the medicinal qualities of its waters, which were extremely abundant; "full of natural baths" (Strabo, 13:4. 14). The great prosperity of this region was chiefly due to its wool. The neighbouring uplands afforded excellent pasture for sheep, and the streams of the Lycus valley were peculiarly favourable to the dyer's art. Both these cities were actively engaged in the trade in wool and dyed stuffs, of which Colossae had formerly been a chief centre, giving its name (colossinus) to a valued purple dye. Colossae, however, had already dwindled into a third-rate town (Strabo, 12:8. 13; died A.D. 24), whether from natural causes, or, as M. Renan conjectures, from the conservative and Oriental habits of its people, who were slow to adapt themselves to new conditions. After this time it disappears from history, whilst the other cities held a conspicuous place both in secular and Christian annals. Even its ruins have been discovered but lately, and with difficulty. The Byzantine town of Chonae (modern Chonas), which took its place, is situated three miles to the south of the river, at the mouth of the pass leading through the Cadmus range.
The early decay and subsequent obliteration of Colossae are probably due to the combined action of the earthquakes with which this valley has been frequently visited, and of the immense calcareous deposits formed by the streams on the northern side of the Lycus — a phenomenon especially marked at Colossae (Pliny, 'Natural History,' 31:2, 20) — which, in the course of ages, have considerably modified the features of the locality. Colossal, if situated in the plain, immediately on the river-side, as now appears, would be liable to suffer greater injury from these causes than the sister cities. There was a destructive earthquake in this region about the very time that St. Paul wrote, according to the testimony of Tacitus and Eusebius. Tacitus, indeed, gives its date as A.D. 60 or 61, and mentions only Laodicea as involved in the calamity. But Eusebius, who says that Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae were overthrown, fixes the date of the occurrence some four years lurer; and in this instance he is probably more correct. Very possibly Colossae, already decaying and enfeebled, succumbed to this disaster.
The population of this district was of a heterogeneous character. Its substratum was Phrygian, marked by that tendency to mystical illusion and orgiastic excitement which made Phrygia the home of the frantic worship of Dionysus and of Cybele, and which gave birth to the Montanistic heresy with its strange ecstasies and its ascetic rigour. In the cities, as throughout Asia Minor, the Greek language and Greek manners prevailed, and the immigrant Greek population had long ago blended with the native inhabitants and leavened them with their own superior culture. A large body of Jewish settlers had been deported to this region from Mesopotamia by Antiochus the Great, and the Jewish community in Laodicea and the neighbourhood appears to have been both numerous and wealthy. If we may judge from the Talmud, it was not renowned for strict orthodoxy: "The wines and the baths of Phrygia have separated the ten tribes from Israel". M. Renan believes that there existed "about the Cadmus (sc. Eastern: a Semitic word) an ancient Semitic settlement," and that traces of its influence exist in the remains of Colossae; and the tutelary Zeus of Laodicea bore the epithet of Aseis, a name which seems to be of Eastern (probably Syrian) origin. These are circumstances of some importance in view of the Oriental affinities of the Colossian error.
§ 2. ST. PAUL'S CONNECTION WITH COLOSSAE.
The Churches of the Lycus were not founded by St. Paul himself. Twice he had traversed Phrygia — in his second missionary tour from the Lycaonian cities through Galatia to Troas (Acts 16:4-8), and in his third from Galatia to Ephesus (Acts 18:23; Acts 19:1). But his direct route, on both journeys, would take him through northern Phrygia, to the northeast of the Lycus valley. The language of Colossians 1:7 and 2:1 seems to us positively to exclude the supposition that this district had been evangelized by the apostle in person. But during his long residence at Ephesus we are told that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). Epaphras, a Colossian by birth (Colossians 4:12), had been the principal means of spreading the knowledge of Christ in Colossae and the neighbouring cities, and had superintended the Colossian Church since its foundation (Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12, Colossians 4:13). He had laboured from the beginning under St. Paul's direction (Colossians 1:7, "for us:" see Exposition), and with remarkable zeal and success. The apostle has nothing but praise for his labours; nothing but approval for the doctrine that Epaphras had taught, and the discipline that had been established in the Church at Colossae (Colossians 1:5-7, Colossians 1:23; Colossians 2:5-7; Colossians 4:12, Colossians 4:13). He had evidently been acquainted by report with the Churches of the Lycus for some time (Colossians 1:3, Colossians 1:5, Colossians 1:9; Colossians 2:1), and had been previously in communication with Colossae (Colossians 4:10). Now Epaphras has come to visit the apostle in his captivity, bringing a good report of the general condition of the Colossian Church, of its stability and growth in grace, and assuring the apostle of its loyal affection for him (Colossians 1:8); but at the same time filling St. Paul's mind with a deep anxiety (Colossians 2:1-4), which he shared himself (Colossians 4:12), by his tidings of the new and perilous doctrine that was gaining a footing in it.
The apostle's friend Philemon resided at Colossae (comp. Colossians 4:9 with the Epistle to Philemon), where his house had become an, important centre of Christian influence (Philemon 1:2, Philemon 1:5-7). He was another of St. Paul's "sons in the gospel" (ver. 19), having come under the apostle's influence, we may presume, when on some visit with his family to Ephesus, the metropolitan city of the province. His son Archippus was at present exercising some special "ministry" in the Laodicean Church, as we gather from the connection of vers. 16 and 17 in ch. 4. (comp. Philemon 1:2). The apostle had, by a singular providence, recently met with Onesimus, Philemon's runaway slave, and had been the means of converting him to the faith of Christ (Philemon 1:10, Philemon 1:11). He has persuaded him to return to his master, and is sending him back, "no longer as a slave, but a brother beloved" (Philemon 1:16), in company with Tychicus, the bearer of the Colossian and Ephesian letters (Colossians 4:7-9; Ephesians 6:21, Ephesians 6:22), with a private note to Philemon, entreating pardon for Onesimus, and announcing his own hope of being free before long to visit Colossae himself (Philemon 1:12-17, Philemon 1:22).
§ 3. DATE OF THE EPISTLE.
When he wrote this letter, the apostle was a prisoner (Colossians 4:3, Colossians 4:18: comp. Ephesians 3:1, Ephesians 3:13; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 6:19, Ephesians 6:20; Philippians 1:12-20; Philemon 1:9, Philemon 1:10, Philemon 1:13), suffering for the cause of Gentile Christianity (Colossians 1:24-27: comp. Ephesians 3:1-6, Ephesians 3:13). We cannot doubt, therefore, that it was written during the long imprisonment — first in Caesarea, then in Rome — which ensued on the attack made on his life in Jerusalem, due to the animosity of the "Jews from Asia" (Acts 21:27), whose hatred was roused by the success of his ministry among the Gentiles.
The Epistle to the Philippians, we know, was written from Rome (Philippians 1:13; Philippians 4:22); and it has been generally assumed, according to the subscription of the Received Text, that the other three letters of this period date likewise from the same city. Meyer, Reuss, and others have, however, contended for Caesarea as their birthplace, but on insufficient grounds. Rome was the most likely place in the world for the runaway Onesimus to seek to hide in. There, too, St. Paul was allowed, as a prisoner, considerable freedom; and communication with distant Churches was probably easier and less jealously guarded than at Caesarea (Acts 28:30, Acts 28:31: Acts 24:23 R.V., 26; and see note on Colossians 1:6, "in all the world"). And, what is still more decisive, the apostle's own thoughts and the guiding hand of Providence had hitherto been pointing continually to Rome as the immediate goal of his mission (Acts 19:21; Acts 23:11; Romans 15:23-29). Till he had "seen Rome," he would scarcely think of returning to Asia (Philemon 1:22). And while at Caesarea he had no prospect of release, we know that in Rome he cherished the hope of seeing his Macedonian friends again (Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:23, Philippians 2:24); and from Macedonia it is but another step to Asia Minor. Luke and Aristarchus, who were with the apostle when he wrote these letters (Colossians 4:10, Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24), were the companions of his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:2). Dating the Epistle from St. Paul's imprisonment at Rome, during the years 61 to 63 A.D. — and a later rather than an earlier point in this period is more probable — we allow to the Church at Colossae a growth of five or six years, a time not too long to account for the progress and development of Christian life in its members which the tenor of the letter implies (Colossians 1:4-6, Colossians 1:9, Colossians 1:23; Colossians 2:5-7).
It is quite evident that the Epistle to Philemon and that to the Ephesians were written contemporaneously with this. The relation between Ephesians and Colossians is closer than that which exists between any other of St. Paul's writings. They are twins, the offspring of one birth in the writer's mind. Their connection we shall discuss more fully afterwards. The Epistle to the Philippians stands distinctly apart from these Epistles, both in its contents and style, though, at the same time, it has unmistakable affinities with them. It matters little whether we suppose it to have preceded or followed them in its composition. Bishop Lightfoot ably contends, on internal grounds, for its precedence; but the language of Philippians 2:6-11 seems to indicate that the apostle's teaching had already reached the Christological stage of its progress signalized by the Colossian Epistle. Indeed, this passage is the climax of St. Paul's Christology.
§ 4. THE COLOSSIAN HERESY.
There was no intrinsic importance attaching to Colossae itself or arising out of its relation to the future progress of the gospel, as in the case of Corinth or Rome; nor had the Colossian Church any such peculiar claims on the apostle as he recognizes in writing to the Philippians or the Galatians. It is the more evident that the emergency which called forth this Epistle, and the questions that had arisen at Colossae, were in his view of the most grave and ominous character. For in this remote country town had appeared the first symptoms of a heretical movement, so well known under its later name of Gnosticism, whose outbreak in this region St. Paul had already predicted (Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30), and which was pregnant with deadly mischief to the Church of Christ.
The exact nature and origin of what is called "the Colossian heresy" it is difficult to ascertain; and widely divergent views are still prevalent respecting it. Our subsequent examination of the Epistle will show
(1) that this doctrine pretended to a philosophical character (Colossians 2:8: comp. vers. 3, 4);
(2) that its advocates were, in some sense, Judaists (Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:14, Colossians 2:16, Colossians 2:17);
(3) that they practised the worship of angels, whose powers they exaggerated (Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:15, Colossians 2:18, Colossians 2:19; Colossians 1:16);
(4) that they inculcated ascetic rules, going beyond the Mosaic Law, and inspired by antipathy to the bodily life (Colossians 2:20-23);
(5) that their whole system tended to limit the greatness and the authority of Christ and the sufficiency of his redemption (Colossians 2:8-10, Colossians 2:17, Colossians 2:19; Colossians 1:14-20); and
(6) that they still assumed the character of Christian teachers, and professed to be inviting Christians to a higher and more secure spiritual life (Colossians 1:23, Colossians 1:28; Colossians 2:3-10, Colossians 2:16-18, Colossians 2:23; Colossians 3:1, Colossians 3:14, Colossians 3:15). The Colossian errorists, then, were philosophical, Judaizing, visionary, ascetic Christians.
Now, it is necessary to ask whether there was anything in the conditions of the time, and in the tendencies of religious thought in the first century, to account for so remarkable a combination as this. The question, as it seems to us, admits of a tolerably sufficient answer. For the last two hundred years Alexandria, the most important city of the Dispersion, had been the centre of an intellectual movement within Judaism itself which, while carefully maintaining the outward framework of the Mosaic economy, had profoundly modified its inner character, under the combined influence of Greek philosophy and of Oriental mysticism. The result of this process is presented to us in the extensive works of Philo, a contemporary of Jesus and of Paul, whose testimony in regard to the direction of Hellenistic thought at this period is the more valuable as it is evident that he was not a writer of independent or original genius, but rather the eloquent exponent of the long-established and influential school to which he belonged. Among the first principles of his teaching are those which have always been the commonplaces of Eastern theosophy, whether Indian, Persian, or Egyptian — the doctrines of the intrinsic evil of matter and of the absolute separation between the Godhead and the created world. His Judaism supplied the angels, powers, words (and especially the word), who were the necessary intermediaries between God and the creature; and furnished also, with certain modifications and refinements, the ceremonial and ritual cultus by which, under angelic direction, the spiritual element in man was to raise itself above the gross obstructions of the material, and to regain that rational vision of God from which it had fallen. Greek philosophy supplied the terminology and the method of Philo's system, which resolved religion into a mystical and contemplative knowledge of God belonging to the higher reason, and identified the spiritual man with the philosopher. This teaching took the form, for the most part, of elaborate expositions of the Books of the Law, allegory being the all powerful instrument by which every historical incident and legal injunction was spiritualized and made to prove or to illustrate the tenets of the Alexandrine philosophy. Prevalent and traditional as this system was with the Egyptian Jews in the home of the Septuagint, its principles were widely diffused amongst Hellenistic Jews and Greek proselytes in other quarters. Especially in Western Asia Minor, which was in active intercourse with Alexandria and presented similar mental and social conditions, we may presume that Philonian Gnosticism was a doctrine already current in educated Jewish circles.
The Essenism of Palestine, so well known through Josephus ('Jewish War,' 2:8) and sympathetically described by Philo ('Quod Omnis probus Liber,' §§ 12, 13), is a striking proof of the extent to which foreign theosophie and ascetic elements had penetrated Judaism. In spite of the "hedge set about the Law" by the watchful rabbis, a subtle mysticism had found its way into the heart of Palestine, filtering through either from Alexandria and the West or from Persia and the East. It may be doubted, however, whether the local and isolated Essenic fraternities had any direct connection with the rise of the Colossian heresy. It was the conversion of the Essenes after the fall of Jerusalem that originated in Ebionism, a properly Essenic Christianity. Although the Essenes, like the Pharisees, are called "philosophers" by Josephus writing for Greek readers, it does not appear that they claimed any such title for themselves, or that theft, system was of a rationalistic character (see Philo, as referred to above). Bat St. Paul puts the philosophical pretensions of the Colossian errorist in the forefront of his denunciations (Colossians 2:4, Colossians 2:8). On "the Essenes," see Lightfoot's dissertation
It is important to note that in the Greek world there had been going on for some time an extensive revival of the Orphic and Pythagorean mystic doctrines, which might be described as a pagan Essenism. The marvellous career of Apollonius of Tyana — philosopher, ascetic, mystic, and miracle worker — shows how well prepared was the soil of Asia Minor in the first century for the growth of all kinds of magical and Gnosticizing theosophy, no matter how crude in construction or monstrous in pretensions.
The time was ripe, surely, for the birth of Gnosticism such as we find it, in its infant form, in this Epistle. Under all the circumstances, it would have been surprising if a theosophy of this type had not, during the apostle's lifetime, made its appearance within the Christian Church at some point or other in that strange border land between East and West, where his mission had been attended with such wonderful success.
We have evidence of a connection between Pauline Christianity and Alexandrine Judaism in the person of Apollos (Acts 18:24-1). The cultured Greek eloquence which, combined with his scriptural learning, made this teacher so acceptable at Ephesus and Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:4-6), he owed, doubtless, to the more liberal and eclectic training of the Jewish schools of Alexandria. And the Epistle to the Hebrews, whoever was its author, shows that there were many points of contact between Christian theology and the religious philosophy of Philo, and that the gospel, as Paul taught it, was quite capable of absorbing and assimilating the best fruits of Alexandrine learning. Now, let us suppose that some philosophic and eloquent Jew, imbued like Apollos with the Alexandrine culture, and a man of an ascetic and ambitious disposition, had come under the influence of Christian teaching in Asia Minor; but that, unlike Apollos, subordinating the gospel to his philosophy, he had conceived the idea of amalgamating the new faith with his Alexandrine intellectual system, modified to some extent under local influences; also that he pretended, as might be expected with such antecedents, in carrying out this plan, to be extending and completing St. Paul's own doctrine, and offering a more advanced wisdom, the true "mystery of God," to the more cultivated and spiritual members of the Church. Attempts of this kind must have taken place again and again in individual instances, in that syncretistic age. The cases of Simon Magus, and of Cerinthus at a later time, are not dissimilar. But this supposition, we submit, is all that is needed to explain the rise of "The Colossian heresy." The problem is scarcely, as Dr. S. Davidson puts it, to account for the existence of "a Gnostic sect" in St. Paul's time. The appearance of individual teachers and of sporadic tendencies always precedes the formation of a distinct sect. So far as the indications of the Epistle itself are concerned, the heresy may have been confined to a single person, in this decaying and unimportant town of Colossae. But the heresiarch was evidently a teacher of eloquence and influence (Colossians 2:4, Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:23); and his doctrine, though it had not become prevalent even at Colossae (Colossians 2:5), possessed a singular fascination. The apostle had good reason to "doubt whereunto this would grow." Where the material lies ready for a conflagration, the first spark may be fatal. St. Paul had marked with a prescient eye the working of men's minds around him during his long sojourn at Ephesus, and he had warned the Church there of an impending struggle (Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30). Through his intimacy with Apollos he had, presumably, become well acquainted, even if he were not so before, with the principles of Alexandrine Judaism. He had had occasion to censure at Corinth the Greek tendency to overvalue eloquence, and to welcome philosophic and rationalizing views of Christian truth (1 Corinthians 1:17-16; 1 Corinthians 15:12). In writing to Rome he had also had to deal with a class of "weak brethren," who had adopted mistaken ascetic rules (Romans 14:0.). The apostle cannot, therefore, have been altogether taken by surprise when Epaphras arrived, in preplexity and alarm, to seek his help against the strange form of doctrine that had appeared in Colossae.
It is only by a forced and fanciful exegesis that Baur and his followers have found traces in the Epistle of a reference to the developed Gnosticism of the second century. Had the Epistle originated then, such traces must have been much more distinct than even these critics pretend. Neither this nor the Ephesian letter knows anything of the teens, the personified Wisdom and Knowledge, the Demiurge, the syzygies and emanations of the Valentinians and Marcionites. And the ascetic notions of the later Ebionites were common to them with the Essenes and with Philo in the first century. The Colossian heresy represents the earliest and crudest stage of the movement which culminated in the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century, with its endless ramifications and its imposing array of technical terms. The Epistle to the Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles, the Apocalypse, and the Epistles of St. John, indicate in natural order the rise and progress during' the apostolic age of the incipient heretical tendencies which are the necessary presupposition of the widely spread and highly organized Gnostic system delineated by the apologists of the following centuries. Pfleiderer defines with delicate precision the nature of the Colossian heresy when he calls it "an advance to a speculative and ascetic refinement of Judaism, which was amalgamated with Christianity, and represented as the complete fulfilment of it." But he asserts too much when he says, "It is certain that a false doctrine of this kind could not have existed in the time of the apostle".
§ 5. CHARACTER OF THE EPISTLE.
The novel character of the Colossian heresy accounts in great part for the number of new and peculiar words, occurring especially in the polemic part of the Epistle. The obscure and seemingly embarrassed style of some passages in the second chapter, with the absence of Old Testament citations, and the rarity of St. Paul's favourite logical formulae and conjunctive particles, may be due to the same cause. However thoroughly master of his position, we can hardly expect the apostle to move on this new ground with quite the same ease and freedom with which he combats his Pharisaic opponents in the Galatian and Roman Epistles, with the weapons sharpened in the schools of rabbinical dialectic. He was himself by training a rabbi, and not a philosopher. Moreover, the system he is dealing with was but loosely coherent, being speculative rather than argumentative in method, and not based, like the legalistic Judaism of Galatia, on scriptural authority. And the false teachers (or teacher) of Colossae did not, we should gather, assail the apostle's personal authority; but may have rather claimed, in competition with Epaphras, to be the true exponents and completers of Pauline doctrine. Hence the apostle asserts and denounces, and no longer argues and appeals as in the Epistle to the Galatians. The Divine glory and sufficiency of Christ he sees to be at stake; and he applies the whole force of his mind and the weight of his recognized apostleship to the vindication of that principle in its commanding grandeur and simplicity and in its instant appeal to the loyalty of the Christian heart. From this lofty height he rejects and casts down, now on this side and now on that, the speculations and pretensions which so insidiously trenched upon the sovereign completeness of Christ, and endangered the citadel of the Church's faith.
The doctrines of salvation retreat comparatively into the background here; but they are by no means absent, and are expressed in a thoroughly Pauline manner, and sometimes in language that puts them in a new and striking light (Colossians 1:12-14, Colossians 1:21-23; Colossians 2:11-14; Colossians 3:12-15). But the doctrine of the person of Christ is "all and in all" in this Epistle. Every part of the letter directly or indirectly pays its tribute to this theme, and "acknowledges" him "to be the Lord." This sublime and all-pervading thought gives a unity to the Epistle which defies every attempt at disintegration, and suffuses it with a sustained loftiness and devotional intensity of feeling peculiar in its kind to St. Paul. "Non est cujusvis hominis Paulinum pectus effingere" (Erasmus).
But the apostle's Christology here is no more than the complete and deliberate statement of what is virtually contained, by way of implication and incidental reference, in the earlier Epistles. It is the necessary dialectic development of the Christology of Romans and Corinthians brought into conflict with Gnosticizing theosophy. "The most advanced formulae that we shall find in the Epistle to the Colossians," M. Renan justly says, "exist already in germ in the older Epistles"; see Romans 1:4; Romans 9:5; Romans 14:9; 1 Corinthians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 3:22,1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 2 Corinthians 5:19; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:4. That sovereignty of Christ which the apostle had previously asserted as extending over the individual life and the relations of mankind to God, he now victoriously carries forward into the transcendental sphere, into the world of angels and the constitution of the created universe, the ground from which it was being assailed by the new philosophic teachers. He is thus led to give his teaching respecting the person of Christ its ideal completion. He sets forth the unity of the earthly and the heavenly, the moral and the natural, the Church and the universe, in "Jesus Christ and him crucified." "All things," he declares, "consist in Christ: through him were all things reconciled unto him" (compare introductory note to Sect. II. in the Exposition).
From the nature of its subject it arises that, while the Epistle to the Romans, for example, is predominantly psychological and historical in its treatment, this Epistle is metaphysical and transcendental. The logic of the former is mainly inductive, of the latter deductive.
It is due, partly perhaps to the requirements of the more advanced Christian life of the Church, but chiefly to the ascetic and moralizing character of early Gnosticism, that the moral teaching of Colossians and Ephesians is more full and systematic than that of St. Paul's earlier Epistles. The sacredness of family obligations and their relation to Christian doctrine now come into prominence in the apostle's teaching, in opposition to the universal tendency of mysticism and asceticism to disparage and undermine the natural order of life. In these respects the letters to the Asiatic Churches constitute a middle term between the four great, specifically evangelical Epistles, and the Pastoral Epistles with their concern about "good works." Necessarily, as time went on and the Churches grew out of their infancy, and as new dangers assailed them, St. Paul became more of a "pastor and teacher," and less predominantly an "evangelist."
In this Epistle, as still more markedly in Ephesians, and to a less degree in Philippians, we find a cumulative fulness and roundness of expression, a fondness for compound terms and phrases, and a habit of extending sentences indefinitely by participial and relative clauses, that do not appear, at any rate to the same extent, in the apostle's former writings. And we miss something of the glow and vehemence, "the powerful step and dancing spring" (Ewald) of his earlier style. But we must remember that the writer is now "such a one as Paul the aged" (Philemon 1:9), worn and broken by hardship and imprisonment. These letters belong to the mellow afternoon rather than to the heyday of the apostle's vigour. The difference is not greater than often appears in the same writer at different periods and under a change of circumstances. There is nothing stereotyped about St. Paul.
§ 6. COLOSSIANS AND EPHESIANS.
With the doctrine of the person of Christ, that of the Church advances to its completion. For it is "his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). The Church is the recipient of his fulness, its organic expression and embodiment. The more complete and all-embracing that "fulness of God" in Christ is seen to be, the grander becomes our conception of the Church and her destiny, and of the subordination under which, in God's counsels, all other objects and interests are placed to her perfection; the more sacred and essential her unity becomes, in our view, as the counterpart of the oneness in which "all things" are "summed up in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10). These thoughts, however, the apostle contents himself with indicating here (Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19; Colossians 3:11, Colossians 3:15); he reserves their full expansion and application for the Ephesian letter. From this point of view, the general relation of the two Epistles becomes sufficiently clear.
But while these Epistles are so intimately connected in thought and in expression, and in a number of passages are not only parallel but almost identical in content, when more closely examined they betray a striking difference of tone and style. Not a few critics have, on this account, assumed a different authorship. But the difference is, in reality, one of mood and attitude in the same mind — a contrast between two opposite states of mind, such as frequently alternate in intense and mobile natures like St. Paul's. Our Epistle is the expression of a mind anxious and perturbed, struggling with great spiritual difficulties of a profound and perplexing character, and in regard to which the writer is at a greater disadvantage, as they have come upon a Church at a distance and comparatively unknown to him (Colossians 1:28-3). The Ephesian letter breathes the spirit of rest that follows conflict; it is the most tranquil and meditative, the most calmly expansive and John like of St. Paul's Epistles; and only here and there (Ephesians 4:14; Ephesians 6:10-20) does it remind us of the struggle in which his mind has been engaged, and which he sees to be awaiting the Church in the future. The first is like the mountain stream cleaving its way with swift passage, by deep ravines and sudden, broken turnings, through some barrier thrown across its path. The second is the calm and far-spreading lake in which its chafed waters find rest, mirroring in their clear depths the eternal heavens above.
§ 7. COLOSSIANS AND OTHER NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS.
This Epistle is closely allied to that to the Hebrews. Both have the Person and offices of Christ, with his relation to the angels, for their leading theme. The latter treatise furnishes, in several passages, the earliest and best commentary on the Christology and angelology of our Epistle (see notes on Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:9, Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:15). This, however, is the Epistle of the lordship of Christ; that, of his priesthood. This is concerned mainly with the present, with the relations of Christ as Redeemer King to the existing Church, and to the natural universe; that is a review of the past, and beholds in Christ the fulfilment of the spiritual needs and anticipations of the ancient covenant. In Colossians 3:17, indeed, the apostle gives a passing glance in the direction followed by the other Epistle, and furnishes a pregnant hint of which a great part of its argument may be viewed as the development.
The doctrine of the Person of Christ also brings this (and the Ephesians) letter into closer and more sympathetic connection than any other of St. Paul's Epistles with the writings of St. John. Addressing himself to "the seven Churches which are in Asia" (including Laodicea), St. John cannot forget that they know "Jesus Christ" as "the Firstborn of the dead," who "loosed us from our sins," and as "the Beginning of the creation of God" (Revelation 1:5, R.V.; 3:14: comp. Colossians 1:14-18). "The Word of God" of the Apocalypse, to the majesty of whose Person all nature pays its tribute, who "sits with the Father on his throne," and as "Prince of the kings of the earth," "comes forth conquering and to conquer," is "Christ Jesus the Lord," whom the Asiatic Churches had "received" through St. Paul, is the "Image of God," who intended to be "in all things pre-eminent" (Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:13-18; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 6:2; Revelation 19:11-16: comp. Colossians 1:15-18; Colossians 2:7, Colossians 2:10; Colossians 3:1). No passage of St. Paul's approaches so nearly the teaching of St. John's great Epistle as Colossians 1:12, Colossians 1:13, where "the inheritance in the light," "the dominion of the darkness," and the "translation" by "the Father" into "the kingdom of the Son of his love," appear in a combination intrinsically Pauline, and yet that sounds like an utterance of St. John's before the time. Finally, it was reserved for "the beloved disciple" to pronounce that title of Christ which seems trembling on our apostle's lips in Colossians 1:15-18; and yet which he forbears to use (Was it because of the abuse of the term Loges in the Philonian philosophy, which confounded the words with the angels of God in a very mystifying fashion?). St. John has brought all the earlier Christological teaching to a focus, and given it a completed form in his doctrine of the Incarnate Word, which is the Alpha and Omega of his Gospel, and indeed of the New Testament itself.
The First Epistle of Peter appears to echo, again and again, the language and ideas of this Epistle. It contains reminiscences, still more unmistakable, of the Ephesian and Roman Epistles, and of St. Paul's earlier writings generally; but not, as we think, of the Pastoral Epistles, nor of Philippians. This dependence of 1 Peter on the Pauline Epistles presents a curious and interesting problem. The key to its solution may probably be found, in part, in the reference of Colossians 4:10 (see note in loc.) to Mark, who was present with St. Paul when he wrote to the Asiatic Churches, and was at that time contemplating a journey to the East; and who is found again at Babylon with St. Peter, when, at a date probably but little later, he is inditing his general Epistle addressed to the same quarter.
The links which connect this Epistle with the other letters of St. Paul are too numerous and varied to be here set forth in detail. They pervade the entire texture of the Epistle, and extend not only to the general correspondence of thought and manner, which is apparent on the surface, But also to those finer idiosyncrasies of sentiment and nuances of style which infallibly betray the author, whatever variety of subject matter, and of logical method and phraseology, his writings may present. This Epistle is linked to the rest by a network of coincidences of this nature, which embraces every one of the canonical Pauline Epistles, saving only that to the Hebrews. It has been one object of this Exposition to exhibit these correspondences as fully as possible. The student who will take any single section of this Epistle, and work out its lines of connection with the other Epistles, will gain an impression of its genuineness, and of the sure and solid way in which it is braced into the fabric of Pauline teaching and theology, such as can scarcely otherwise be obtained.
§ 8. AUTHENTICITY OF THE EPISTLE.
It is the less necessary to defend the authenticity of this Epistle, assailed first by Mayerhoff and then more dangerously by Baur, since Holtzmann and Pfieiderer, the ablest representatives of the school of Baur who have dealt with the subject, acknowledge that "there is so much that is genuinely Pauline in it, that it is almost impossible to regard the whole of the Epistle as a later production." Its partial authenticity being allowed, the course of the Exposition will show that the Epistle is thoroughly consecutive, and is entirely a unity from beginning to end. Critics so free from orthodox predilections and of such different schools as De Wette, Renan, and Ewald, acknowledge that it bears the stamp of Paul throughout. Holtzmann has attempted, in his 'Kritik der Epheser-u. Kolosserbriefe', to recover the original Pauline nucleus by a learned and ingenious process of critical dissection. His analysis is rejected by Pfleiderer, who holds the interpolation theory, but gives no definite expression or thorough grounding to it. Klopper, in his full and impartial Commentary, has examined and effectually disposed of Holtzmann's reconstruction (ss. 25-42). The chief objections made against the Pauline authorship on internal grounds have been met by anticipation in the preceding sections.
"The external testimony to oar Epistle is so ancient and unbroken and general, that from this side no well-founded doubt can be raised" (Meyer). It appears in the Muratorian Canon, the earliest detailed list of the New Testament writings, drawn up about the end of the second century. The Church Fathers of the second and third centuries, Irenaeus, Tertullian, the Alexandrian Clement, and Origen, quote it repeatedly and amply, in the form in which we possess it, without hesitation or variation, as a work of the Apostle Paul and an authoritative Church document. From Tertullian and Irenaeus we learn that it was acknowledged by Marcion and by the Valentinian school of Gnostics in the first half of the second century. And, before the age when formal quotation of the New Testament Scriptures began, in the Epistles of the earlier Clement, of Barnabas, and of Ignatius, belonging to sub-apostolic times, and in the writings of Justin Martyr and of Theophilus ('Ad Autolycum') amongst their successors, there are expressions which appear to show an acquaintance with the Epistle.
§ 9. RECENT COMMENTARIES.
Amongst available commentaries on this most difficult Epistle, Bishop Lightfoot's masterly work is pre-eminent in all that belongs to its historical and doctrinal elucidation. Every page of the present Exposition testifies to the writer's obligations to this work. Meyer displays here even more than his wonted thoroughness and acumen. It is needless to say that Ellicott and Alford should be diligently consulted. The latter, in his handling of this Epistle, shows remarkable independence and soundness of judgment. Hofmann is always keen and suggestive. Klopper's latest work is valuable for its ample and luminous discussion of the leading exegetical questions, and of recent critical theories of the Epistle. The writer is glad to find himself supported by Klopper on several points on which he has been compelled to dissent from other authorities, and regrets that this work was not earlier to hand. Valuable aid will be found in Eadie's and L1. Davies' expositions, and in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' and the 'New Testament Commentary for English Readers.'
§ 10. ANALYSIS OF THE EPISTLE.
The main division of the Epistle evidently falls at the end of the second chapter. Its first half is chiefly doctrinal and polemical; the second, hortatory and practical. It is divided in the following Exposition into ten sections : —
1. The introduction, with its salutation, opening thanksgiving, and prayer (Colossians 1:1-14).
2. The fundamental doctrinal statement of the Epistle, concerning the redeeming Son and his kingdom (Colossians 1:15-23).
3 and 4. A parenthesis by way of personal explanation, respecting the apostle himself and his mission (Colossians 1:24-29), and his present concern for the Colossians and their neighbours (Colossians 2:1-7).
5 and 6. The polemic against the false teaching at Colossae, directed
(1) against its general principles, as limiting the sufficiency of Christ and the Christian's completeness in him (Colossians 2:8-15);
(2) against the particular claims of the false teacher, and the Jewish observances, the angel worship, and the ascetic rules he inculcated (Colossians 2:16-23).
7. The apostle now proceeds from negative warnings and denunciations to positive injunctions, setting forth with considerable fulness the true Christian life in its practice, as contrasted with the false asceticism and visionary illusions of theosophy (Colossians 3:1-17).
8. He enforces particularly the duties of family life, and, with the case of Onesimus in view, dwells at length on the obligations of servants and masters (Colossians 3:18-1).
9. Brief exhortations of a general character are added, respecting prayer and social converse (Colossians 4:2-6).
10. The Epistle concludes with personal messages and greetings (Colossians 4:7-17); and is sealed by the writer's authenticating signature and final benediction (Colossians 4:18).