Colossians begins in typical letter form with the identification of the sender and recipient, and a greeting. This element in Paul's letters / homilies can be somewhat detailed, as is evident in Romans 1:1-6, but in Colossians it is brief, and so gives us no clues as to the intent of the letter.
i] Context: Colossians follows a typical Pauline format:
A greeting to the readers, 1:1-2;
A prayer for the readers, 1:9-14;
A hymn of praise to Christ, 1:15-20;
The Colossians move from alienation to reconciliation, 1:21-23;
Paul's part in all this, 2:1-5.
The argument proper, 2:6-4:6
When it comes to sanctification,
the cross of Christ is complete in itself.
the cross of Christ is complete in itself.
Paul's argument against the false teachers, 2:8-3:4
Exhortations for Christian living
Greetings and final instructions
The letter / homily begins by identifying the author and recipients, to whom Paul gives a greeting, 1:1-2
ii] Background: Colossae was a town situated on the main road from Ephesus to the East, perched at the head of the Lycus valley. The Christian community in Colossae was not founded by Paul. None-the-less, he seems to have some apostolic rights over the church, something more than just being apostle to the Gentiles. Our best guess is that the church was founded by Epaphras, one of Paul's delegates, during Paul's extended ministry in Ephesus, around AD 53-55.
Paul's letter to the church is a matter of conjecture as to date, authorship and intent. Some of these matters are covered in the introductory notes, but can be found in more detail in any commentary on Colossians. If we accept the letter is from Paul, and one of the prison epistles (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon), then it was written by Paul from prison in Rome around AD 60-63.
While in prison, Paul was visited by Epaphras, representing the churches in the Lycus valley (Col.4:13), a visit which would have given Epaphras the opportunity to tell Paul of the problems caused by some heretics in the church at Colossae. There is no indication that Epaphras has been overwhelmed by the false-teachers, but the problems in the church is certainly enough to prompt a letter from Paul. It is quite possible that the letter was carried to the church by Onesimus, a runaway slave whom Paul had led to the Lord and whom he was now sending back to his believing master, Philemon, in the company of Tychicus. It is more than likely that Philemon was a member of the church at Colossae, so Onesimus and Tychicus would have to pass through Ephesus on the way to Colossae and so provide an opportunity for a more general, but similar letter to the Ephesians. This explains the similar turns of phrase, even similar theological statements, found in both letters, even though they are written with different intent. When comparing the two letters, Colossians evidences more agitation, and understandably so!
The Colossian heresy: There is no settled agreement as to its nature, but these notes proceed on the assumption that Paul is dealing with the same heresy in Colossians which he touched on in Philippians, and addressed in detail in Romans and Galatians, so Moo, Dunn, ...
In Galatians, Paul refers to the "works of the law", which, for members of the circumcision party, the judaizers, are the deeds done in obedience to the Torah (covenant compliance) for the purpose of restraining sin in order to progress holiness (sanctify) for the full appropriation of God's promised blessings. So, the heresy Paul confronts in Colossians is most likely nomism - sanctification by obedience. Paul argues that the law does not serve as a means of restraining sin for divine blessing. It does indeed serve to guide the life of a believer who is righteous by faith, but its prime function is to expose sin and so lead the sinner to seek out a righteousness that is a gift of grace apart from law-obedience, a righteousness found in identification with Christ, the one and only righteous man. In Christ, the one righteous man, the law is fulfilled, completed, having been "completely discarded ... by the cross", 2:14-15.
Moffatt, summarizing 2:8-23, makes the point that Christ's "death and resurrection were a decisive and final victory over all opposing forces; and if, when incorporated in him, you share that death and resurrection, you are not to submit to any arbitrary assertion that salvation is not complete without the addition of certain materialistic observances." The Judaizers obviously believed that salvation was by grace through faith, but when it came to the attaining of holiness / sanctification for the full appropriation of God's promised blessings (full salvation), this was achieved by a strict attention of the Law in all its detailed majesty - such restrains sin and progresses holiness. It seems likely that their heresy is not about adding an extra bit to the cross for salvation, but about adding an extra bit to salvation for divinity / holiness / fullness.
iii] Structure: Paul's greeting to the Colossian believers:
Paul begins his letter to the Colossians using a three-part structure typical of first century correspondence: A from whom, to whom, plus a greeting.
Text - 1:1
Address and greeting: i] Correspondent, v1. "This is a letter from Paul, who became an apostle of Christ Jesus because God willed it so, and from our colleague Timothy", Barclay.
apostoloV (oV) "an apostle" - [paul] an apostle. Nominative, standing in apposition to "Paul". Paul is surely using the word here in its technical sense, of a person with a special appointment to that of a witness to Christ, so the twelve, and Paul, appointed after the fact as apostle to the Gentiles. By making this statement Paul is establishing his authority.
Cristou (oV) gen. "of Christ" - of christ [jesus]. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "belonging to", or attributive / idiomatic, "who was sent by / works for", or ablative, source / origin, "from".
dia + gen. "by" - through [the will]. Here expressing agency, intermediate. God's will (the intention of God) was the means by which Paul was appointed as apostle to the Gentiles.
qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - of god. The genitive is adjectival, possessive / verbal, subjective.
oJ adelfoV (oV) "our brother" - [and timothy] the brother. The article taken as a personal pronoun, "my / our brother", ie., brother in Christ, a fellow believer / Christian.
Every blessing from God the Father is extended to the believers in Colossae.
toiV .... aJgioiV dat. adj. "to God's holy people" - to the holy ones [in colossae]. The adjective serves as a substantive, dative of recipient; "This letter is penned to the saints in Colossae." Paul is using the word "holy" in the sense of "set apart for / dedicated to God", so God's special people = "Christians".
pistoiV (iV ewV) dat. "the faithful" - [and] faithful [brothers]. Standing in apposition to "the holy ones / God's holy people." The prepositional phrase "in Christ" indicates that "faithful", in the sense of reliable, is probably not intended; "to the consecrated and loyal members of the Christian fellowship in Colossae", Barclay. It is more likely that "faithful" is being used in the sense of those having faith in Christ, ie., believers; "to the brothers who have come to repose their faith in Christ", Cassirer.
en + dat. "in" - in [christ]. Local, expressing incorporative union; "in union with Christ."
cariV ... kai eirhnh "grace and peace" - grace and peace. Nominative absolute. The normal Greek greeting of caire, "greetings", shifted to the substantial Christian concept of "grace", God's unmerited favor, and this with the Jewish greeting, "peace"; God's peace, of course.
uJmin dat. pro. "to you" - to you. Dative of indirect object / interest, advantage. The optative verb "be upon you", or as in 1 Peter 1:2, plhqunqein, "may grace and peace be multiplied to you", is assumed.
apo + gen. "from" - from [god, father of us]. Expressing source / origin. The genitive hJmwn, "of us / our", is adjectival, relational.