Date: c. A.D. 60 or 61
Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison in Rome.It is part of a group of letters called “the prison letter” (Philippians, Ephesians, and Philemon). There is no evidence that Paul had ever been to Colosse, but he obviously knew people there. Probably they were converted in Ephesus, a nearby city, when Paul was ministering there on his third missionary journey. He had been there for about two and a half years, and Luke records that all the residents of Asia (Asia Minor, which includes Colosse) heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10). The letter itself is not as personal as some of Paul’s other letters, and understandably so. He does mention a special messenger, Epaphras, who is the link between him and the church there (1:7), as well as a series of other people whom he knew (4:10-17).
As is true with many of Paul’s letters, Colossians may be divided into two major sections, the first doctrinal and the second practical. It is significant that Paul’s letters are often arranged this way, with doctrine coming first. Correct teaching must always be the foundation for correct action. Doctrine or teaching alone would lead to narrowness and self-righteousness. Practice or action alone would lead to conflict and error. Together, with correct doctrine as the foundation, it is possible to lead a life that is pleasing to God, ourselves, and others.
Theological Themes in the Epistle of Colossians
The main emphasis in the doctrinal section of this letter is on what theologians call Christology, or the doctrine of Christ. Paul wanted to emphasize the unique nature of Jesus. Jesus was the image, or express reflection, of the invisible God. He was involved in the creation of the world and of all things in it. He is also party to sustaining it in existence. Nothing exists apart from Christ. He is also the head or ruler of the church. Paul was stressing that the eternal, divine qualities of God, which might have been hidden forever from us, have been made known in Jesus, who became one of us. But two things need to be said about his coming to earth.
First, it was not in the way that most pious Jews expected. He came to conquer evil in all its forms, but he came as a servant of God who was willing to die. It was, in fact, the death of Jesus that was the undoing of evil (2:13-15). To those who are capable of believing it, the truth is there. If we would forget ourselves and live for God and others, we would find true life. Jesus pointed the way by dying for our sins and rising again.
Second, Jesus’ self-sacrifice was not simply for us to look at and think about. It was designed by God to make us better people. As believers in Christ, we have everything we need to live our lives. He freed us from all evil forces, he is seated at God’s right hand for us, and we are to set our minds on things above, not on things below (3:1-4).
The practical material follows this doctrinal material and in some cases is mixed in with it. It deals with how we are to live our Christian lives; how to have personal peace; comments about parents, wives, husbands, and children; matters of prayer, personal purity, and Christian freedom.
Outline for the Epistle of Colossians
- Opening salutation and prayer Colossians 1:1-12
- Christological teaching Colossians 1:13-2:15
- Practical implications of Christology Colossians 2:16-4:6
- Closing remarks and greetings Colossians 4:7-18