Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | August 24, 2006

Colossians – Part 1

Have you ever been misunderstood or taken out of context?  How did the feel? 

Colossians – Part 1: Context 

  1. Have you ever read a poem or the lyrics of a song?  Have you ever read a school history book?  Have you ever read a contract or an instruction manual?
  2. What’s the difference between these types of literature? 
  3. Each type of genre (literature type) needs is read and interpreted in a different way.  For example, a history book is indicating in narrative form what happened in the past.  Thus, this is not to be read as an instruction manual or contract.  An instruction manual or contract is telling us what to do or what our obligations are.
  4. Similarly the Bible contains different types of genres, which in order to be taken literally must be read in light of its genre.  The major categories are narratives (telling us the past), psalms and wisdom (poetry), apocalyptic or prophetic and didactic (instructional).
  5. Just because the Bible says that Solomon had hundreds of wives doesn’t mean its okay for us to do the same thing.
  6. In order to understand the Bible properly we must take it in context to discern what it is truly saying.  For example, we should not just blindly open a page of the Bible point to a verse, read it and do what it says.  That would be taking it out of context.
  7. Some important ways of understanding the context of a Biblical passage is to understand the following key elements:  Genre, Author and original intent, Historical Context, and understanding verses in light of surrounding verses, paragraphs, chapters, the entire book and the entire Bible as a whole.
  8. How do you read the Bible?  Would this disrupt your current understanding?
  9. Who wrote Colossians?  And from where?
  10. What did this person used to do?  Why did he change?
  11. What is Gnosticism?

The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians:  Historical Context: Colossae was a minor city in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  In earlier days it used to be a much more significant city, however in the New Testament times had since lost its former greatness.  The city did possess a small Hellenistic Jewish population who were among other settlers to the region.  These settler’s, however were known for their syncretism (blending of Judaism and paganism) amongst the local pagan religions.  Although we are told in Acts 18 that he went throughout the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, Paul never visited Colossae on his missionary journeys.  This Church was founded by Epaphras, who was probably converted by Paul on his third missionary journey at Ephesus.  Paul wrote this Epistle during his first Roman imprisonment.  During this imprisonment he wrote the Prison Letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon).  A heresy promoted by false teachers emerged within the congregation.  This prompted a visit to Paul by Epaphras to provide a report on the current situation and seek Apostolic direction.  We do not exactly know the precise details of the heresy; we may only deduce certain elements identified by Paul in the text.  It was a cross between and early form of Gnosticism, which incorporated elements of Jewish legalism and Oriental Mysticism/dualism including the following elements: 

Ceremonialism:  A strict adherence to limited diet of acceptable food and drink, observance of special days and festivals (2:16-17), and required external signs such as circumcision (2:11 & 3:11) to demonstrate inclusion in the group.

Aseticism:  Regulations against handling, eating and touching certain things (2:21-23), in order to gain favor with God.  This self-abasement only provides an appearance of humility, which is motivated out of a false sense of hope.  It also is a characteristic of some later forms of Gnosticism, which view physical things as inherently evil and the spiritual realm as the ultimate good. 

Angel worship: A practice that was promoted by the false teachers (2:18).  Any veneration of these or other creatures would take away from the prominence of Christ in the life of the believer.  Furthermore, it is a direct violation of the first two commandments detracting from the orthodox worship found in Trinitarian Monotheism.

Depreciation of Christ:  This is obvious due to the formidable response stressed in Paul’s defense of the supremacy of Christ (1:15-20; 2:2; 3:9).  Also, any time requirements were needed to gain standing before God it leads to a diminished distortion of the meaning of the cross.

Secret knowledge:  Another element inherent in the Gnostic heresy, which reduces the importance of Scripture (God’s true revelation) in an endless pursuit of secret or hidden knowledge obtained directly through the individual (2:2-3).     

In Paul’s Letters to the Churches, they are usually written in response to incorrect teaching or belief.  The initial part of the Letter addresses doctrine and corrects the false teaching.  This is followed by instructions on how we should live in light of our understanding of the truth.  Colossians follows this general pattern as we see in the following outline (From NKJV Study Bible): 

Information about the recipients: 

*      They showed love for the saints (1:4)

*      The Gospel message was brought by Epaphras (1:5-7).

*      They showed love in the Spirit (1:8).

*      They had received Christ (2:6).

*      They had been baptized (2:12).

*      They were having certain disputes about foods, drinks and observing days (2:16-21).

*      Paul had sent Tychicus & Onesimus to them for encouragement and to bring information (4:7-8).

*      They knew Mark (Gospel of Mark) who was contemplating a visit to them (4:10)

*      They knew Luke (Gospel of Luke).

*      They were awaiting a letter from Laodicea that Paul wrote.  (Probably the Epistle to the Ephesians, which was a circular letter to the Church’s in Asia Minor).

Key words and repeated phrases: The Preeminence/Supremacy of Christ:

*      In creation (1:15-18)

*      In Redemption (1:19-23)

*      In the Church (1:24-29). 

The Deity of Christ:

*      He is the image of the invisible God (1:15). *      For by Him all things were created (1:16).

*      He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (1:17). 

*      It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (1:19).

*      In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (2:9).  *      He is the head over all rule and authority (2:10).  

Literary Context:  Theme of Colossians (from NKJV study Bible) – “Demonstrates the preeminence of Christ in creation, redemption, and the relationships of life. The Christian is complete in Christ and needs nothing else.”  

Let’s read all four chapters of Colossians.  Next, week will continue the study with a more detailed look at this Epistle.

Response to Gnsotic heretical view:  The Christian faith although sharing some form of the views of the Gnostic movement, is fundamentally opposed to what it stands for.  There are two critical doctrines that make Gnosticism incompatible with Christianity, Creation and the Incarnation.  The Christian faith teaches that God created all things that exist.  These physical or material things were created good and not inherently evil in and of themselves, as Gnosticism teaches.  It is only through the corruption of the fall that natural things can be twisted for evil use.   Sin causes us to distort or misuse what God has created good.  Or as the Westminster Catechism question 14 puts it “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”  When we do not conform to the intended use of created things, we do evil.  However, notice where the evil lies, within the heart of fallen man, not in the created thing.  If this truth struck a fatal blow to the Gnostic heresy, the nail in the coffin is the doctrine of the Incarnation.  That is the Second Person of the Triune God took on flesh and dwelt on the earth in physical earthly form.  Our Lord was born of a human woman, which is totally contrary to what Gnosticism teaches.  They saw God as a totally spiritual being and could not come into contact with fleshly things.  However, Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human yet without sin.  Therefore, possessing human flesh, remaining without sin He proved that matter cannot be inherently evil.  The physical reality is not inherently evil, otherwise it would imply that the God who created it was not totally pure and holy.  The Gnostic movement could not reconcile this truth, thus could not co-exist with the orthodox Christian faith.  Not only did God create everything good and became a man, He also provides other physical signs for our edification such as the sacraments, marriage and Scripture.  The Bible also teaches that the “faith has been once for all delivered to the saints” not in a secret fashion, but in a Book that includes the full revelation recorded by God.  This is not proprietary information that can only be attained by an elite group with access to the mind of God it is fully made known to all.  Furthermore, it contains all of the information that we will ever need for our salvation it is complete and sufficient, which brings us to the next response very much related



  1. Thank you for this scripture breakdown. I would love to learn hermeneutics.

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