Colossians: A Little Background

(I’m thankful for kind readers who catch an error and point it out. Previously I said the earthquake that destroyed Colossae was @ a.d. 46. Without realizing it, I was counting from the date of his birth, not the date on which he assumed the crown of Rome, which was @ a.d. 54. So I’ve changed the date of the earthquake to the more correct a.d.63. A tip of the hat to RJ Dawson.)

Colossae was a mercantile city situated not too far from Galatia, Ephesus, and Philippi. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the ninth year of Nero’s reign, (about 63 a.d.) and was rebuilt. The modern town of Chonas is at the ruins of old Colosse.

It is widely accepted that Paul did not start the church in Colosse. That credit goes to Epaphras, a fellow worker with Paul (Col. 1:2,7; 4:12). It is also believed that Col. 2:1 indicates Paul had not been there previous to writing the letter. It is commonly accepted that Colossians was one of the prison epistles, written around a.d. 61, when Paul was confined and unable to travel from church to church.

The epistle can be simply divided into two parts: Doctrinal, and application to daily living.

Religious syncretism, which has existed practically from the beginning of human history, is the practice of incorporating various themes and practices all together into one belief system. This happened before the Flood in Genesis, when idolatry had taken hold and Noah and his family were the only ones found in God’s sight to be faithful to His direction. It is still happening today. Believers tend to resist completely forsaking their early beliefs and practices, and weave them into Christianity. Doing so creates a great deal of confusion, because in the process of this interweaving, God is lost among the pantheon of gods created by those who worship them.
Syncretism is Satan’s ceaseless effort to humanize God and deify man. In today’s world, this practice is embodied in secular humanism.

The particular problem in Colosse was the inclusion of Judaic ceremony, and Gnosticism, which was a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was a representative of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric (known and understood by only a few special people ) knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit. (You may need to read that paragraph a couple of times to get the entire picture. I’ve reworked it several times to make is as clear as I could, but Gnosticism is difficult to put into simple language.) As you can see, the Colossian church seems to have wanted to hang on to Judaistic ceremony and include the mystical beliefs of Gnosticism into the Christianity they were being taught.

The Gnostic concept of emanations also removed purposeful activity from God’s purview. Here’s a brief definition: “The concept of emanation is that all derived or secondary things proceed or flow from the more primary. It is distinguished from the doctrine of creation by its elimination of a definite will in the first cause, from which all things are made to emanate according to natural laws and without conscious volition.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

It seems to me that the Gnostics spent a lot of time and mental energy in their efforts to dilute the power and sovereignty of God and turn Him into nothing more that a distant, non-involved supreme divine being.

There was a lot going on, and apparently Epaphras and the other leaders felt incapable of dealing with all of it, and went to Rome to consult Paul (1:7-8). Paul’s letter of reply was sent with Tychicus and Onisemus (4: 7-9). The first half of Paul’s letter took down the heresies that were being taught and practiced. The second half encouraged new believers to embrace Christianity fully, forsaking legalism and the worship of man’s own imaginings.

It seems clear that Paul was imprisoned in Rome when he either wrote or dictated this letter (Acts 28:30-31; Col. 4:3, 10, 18).

If you are interested, as I am, in a more detailed history, you can find it here. I do not necessarily agree with everything the writer states, but the article stands up historically with everything else I’ve researched and reduced to this brief introduction.

Tomorrow we’ll start studying the epistle itself.

3 thoughts on “Colossians: A Little Background

  1. Thank Linda. I prayed as you requested and asked that the Lord’s will be done regarding what book you would choose for your next commentary. I was hoping you would choose one of Paul’s letters. Colossians is a great choice.

    Regarding Nero, he was emperor from 54-68. The great earthquake in the region is said to have occurred in 60 according to most sources so that would be roughly the sixth year of Nero. I did extensive research on this timeline a few years ago and have Paul in Rome during his imprisonment there from 61-63. He wrote Colossians in early to mid 61 not long after arriving in Rome. This would mean the earthquake had already occurred.

    Looking forward to your latest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My information obviously is not the same as yours :). It’s hard to know, sometimes, what is the correct information. I’ll have to see what else I can find, as my source was fairly old. Newer research may have uncovered something entirely different.

      I appreciate that you did pray about this with me. I’d been thinking Philippians or Colossians, and will probably do Philippians in the near future. I’ve never done an in-depth study of Colossians, though, so that’s the direction chose, and I think it was the leading of the Holy Spirit that took me there. I’ve already learned several things that I didn’t understand before, and that’s one of the things I love about doing this blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RJ, I went back and looked at my info again. I was counting from the year of Nero’s birth, not the year in which he assumed being the Caesar. My mistake entirely, and not. unusual for me to make an error that has anything to do with numbers. Thanks for pointing it out to me. I appreciate it. The correction has been made in the text of the post.

        Liked by 1 person

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