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The Epistle to the Colossians

It is clear from the closing greetings that this letter was written from prison.

Much of the argument in this letter presupposes an understanding of baptism. We can use it to see Paul's understanding of baptism from the arguments he uses.

See comments on Romans 12.



After the customary salutations (adapted from pagan forms), Paul goes on to put the letter into its historical context, the Gospel message that apparently reached Colossae via Epaphras.


Epaphras is perhaps the only person at Colossae who has heard Christian doctrine from a reliable source. Paul wants to affirm his teaching, to discourage the Colossians from listening to others who are leading them astray.


These words, especially verse 11, suggest that the Colossians feared or experienced persecution.


Image: cf. John 14:9. See animals.


"Visible and invisible" inlcudes both tangible and abstract.


Paul emphasizes the centrality and sufficiency of Jesus in order to counter whatever false doctrine may be circulating at Colossae, whether from those who press the Christians to embrace Jewish practices such as circumcision, or the gnostics who claim to have additional secret knowledge.


These verses describe our past, present and future.


Paul reckoned that not even he could look on his salvation as something already guaranteed—​see Appendix 2 Judgement.


At last the preamble ends and the specific instructions start. It is said that this letter was prompted by false teaching that belittled Christ's rôle in salvation, saying that more was required, such as circumcision. Signs of this can be seen throughout the book. He does not counter human argument with human argument, but goes back to the cross.


Having compared baptism with burial here, Paul says in 2:20 the result and in 3:5 what has to be put to death in us. Baptism signifies willingness to die to sin and trust that we will be raised to a new life (Ephesians 2:1). The results are described in Ephesians 4:22f.


See comment on verse 12.


See comment on Mark 7:18–19.


is remarkably like 1 Peter 3. These must be points on which the church had reached conscious agreement. The context here is the outworking of freedom from rules (2:20); therefore we must not interpret this passage as rules for Christian life.


cf. 1 John 3:2.


Verses 5–19 can be misinterpreted if they are read without looking at their context which is 3:1–4:1.[1 p.70]

There have been calls for the AV word "concupiscence" to be replaced with the more familiar "lust".[3 p.124]


Having compared baptism with burial in Colossians 2:12, Paul now says what has to be put to death in us. The results are described in Ephesians 4:22 f.


See comment on Exodus 27:1. See also Romans 13:12–14, Ephesians 6.


The abolished divisions include nationality, religion, race and status. Galatians 3:28 adds gender to the list.


There are six principles here. The scope is clarified in Galatians 6:10.


Kindness: which has lots of aspects such as compassion within it.


Forgiveness: we are to give people fresh chances to succeed—​no grudges allowed.


Love: wanting the best for the other person, and for the church.


Faith: we are to focus on what is good in the other person, and to trust God who gives us the victory that we cannot achieve ourselves.


Wisdom: we are to apply the Bible and common sense to life, knowing when it will help to tell someone if something is wrong, and when to keep quiet.


Humility: we are to work as God's servants, focussing on what he wants, and doing it for his glory not ours. Doing something "in the name of Jesus" means doing it as befits somebody who bears the name of Jesus Christ, that is, a Christian. We use such a phrase when we act as someone's agent (doing what they would do and with their authority) or when we book a table at a restaurant in somebody's name (doing it for their benefit).


Verses 1–17 have been making general statements about the Christian life, and now a few detailed examples are given to show how these principles could work out in practice. Galatians 3:28 indicates that verses 18 and 19 should not be construed as promoting male dominance over females.


cf. Ephesians 5:22. Women are to avoid abusing men by scheming and manipulation...


...while men are to avoid abusing women by brute force. cf. Ephesians 5:25.


cf. Ephesians 6:1.


cf. Ephesians 6:4.


cf. Ephesians 6:5.


Paul urges his readers to follow his own example as described in chapter 1.


See Appendix 2 Door. Paul was in prison.


"seasoned with salt" is a phrase taken from Leviticus 2:13. The RSV reading makes it a reference to the Covenant between God and his people.


Epaphras was the one who explained the Good News to the Colossians, according to chapter 1 v 7.


John Drane (quoting Marcion in the second century) says that it is quite possible that the Epistle to the Ephesians was originally sent to the Laodiceans as the start of a wide circulation. The earliest manuscripts of it do not mention the Ephesians as the original recipients.[2]


  1. Kuhrt, Revd Gordon An Introduction to Christian Ministry London: Church House, 2000
  2. Drane, John Introduction to the New Testament Oxford: Lion, 1986 & 1999
  3. Campbell, Gordon Bible: the Story of the King James Version (Oxford: OUP, 2010)

© David Billin 2002–2021