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New Testament Survey

Colossians



LOOKING AHEAD TO . . .

Colossians

Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)

Consider:

            Did the work of God end with creation?

                        How do you know this?

            What is the primary theme of this letter?

Colossians

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The third of the Prison Epistles is another argument against false teachers and false doctrine. Modern criticism has debated Paul’s authorship of this letter, mostly on the basis that the letter appears to be fighting cults found historically in the second century A.D. The early voice of the church fathers is solely in favor of Pauline authorship.

Nature of the Heresy

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It is important to understand the nature of what Paul fought against. This helps to place the epistle in the Apostle’s portfolio of writing and to demonstrate that the attacks against the Gospel are as old as the Gospel itself.

The heresy demoted the Deity of Jesus. This leads Paul early in the letter to expound on the glory and Person of Christ. Coupled with this demotion are several ritualistic concepts designed to help practice the “true religion.” These include:

This new religion which offered advanced knowledge and a better way appears to be a combination of paganism, Judaism, mysticism, and Christianity, what is called a Syncretistic Religion. It probably contains the elements of Gnosticism, but it is not the Gnostic religion which developed later. This is where the modern critical scholars have erred.

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There exist a variety of empty religions at the time of Christ and following His death. We previously discussed the elements of Gnosticism when we looked at the Gospel of John and will see again in 1 John. The beginnings of these elements show up in various letters. In most of the cases, the early battles were with Judaizers, those who wanted to impose the burdens of the Jewish religion upon the Christians. This group borrowed from other existing religions to form the rudiments of a new religion. This has always been the pattern. When Jeroboam pulled the ten northern tribes of the Jewish nation away from the two southern tribes, one of his first actions was to institute a religion in the north which resembled that practiced by the Jews before the split in the Nation (1 Kings 12:25-33). So it has continued ever since.

 

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There were three main “left overs” which formed the basis of most of the early cults.

The Nicolaitans by tradition were formed by Nicolaus of Antioch (Acts 6:5). Their goal was to create a compromise whereby the Christians could take part in the various pagan ceremonies and religious activities. This group is attacked by Peter (2 Pet 2:15), Jude (11), and John (Rev 2:6, 15). The main thrust of this mixing was sexual in nature. This group may have been one of the major wings of the Gnostic sects by the end of the second century.

 

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The Stoics are a school of philosophy apparently first formed in the era of 325-260 B.C. in Athens. This group evolved over time, adding many of the teachings of Plato to their beliefs by the time Paul encounters them (Acts 17:8). Their goal to find meaning to life was to align the will with the “inherent reason” of the universe. This they referred to as the logos. Logos simply means word and is the same term used by John to describe Christ in John 1:1-3. This led many critics to belief John was pushing this mix of religion. However, it is clear that John’s use of the term is considerably different than that intended by the Stoics. The Stoics find Reason to equal God. John clearly does not.

 

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The other group mentioned in Acts 17:8 is the Epicureans. This group was found by Epicurus and arose a little later than the Stoics. The uncertainty of life drove this group to attempt to find satisfaction and happiness through serene detachment with the world. The group found its happiness in limiting desire and taking joy and solace in friendship. This combination eventually led to a perversion of the original teachings of the group where the joys of friendship developed into the pursuit of extravagant pleasures – wine, women, and song! As such, this group did not incorporate itself into Christianity as readily as did the Stoics. But, on the other hand, think of relatively modern day cults such as the group in Waco, Texas, which found its pleasures in a limited group sharing in a communal sense more than just food, yet, trying to apply the Bible to its situation.

 

While these are not the only religions of ancient Palestine, the combinations of these create the foundation for most of the early cults fought by the church. As Solomon wrote, “there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecc 1:9). The New Age cults of today are nothing more than old cults recast in new clothes. When we study carefully the problems faced by the early church, we find the solutions to the problems faced by the modern church!

Theme and Purpose

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For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
Colossians 2:

Clearly, the purpose of this letter is to combat the heresies which were present in the church. It appears Paul never made a personal visit to this church or city (2:1). The city is about 90 miles form Ephesus and the church at Colosse was probably found during Paul’s time in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). As a city, Colosse is the least significant of those written by the Apostle. Ephahras may have been the missionary who actually instructed those in Colosse (Col. 1:7). Note that Philemon and Onesimus were leaders in Colosse (4:9). The false teachings invading the church now threatened its existence and Paul sought to stop this cancerous spread. He does this by directing asserting the Deity and supremacy of Christ (1:15-3:4).

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And, as with all of his letters, the Apostle strives to encourage his readers and develop some personal application from the doctrinal portions (3:5-4:6)

This letter is also Christological in nature, emphasizing the Personal Work of Christ (2:10). The argument of the letter, both for our personal life and in dealing with the cults, is that Jesus is all we need. A review of the outline of the letter shows its key elements.

Chapter 1 emphasizes the Person and Work of Christ, especially - 1:15-20.

Chapter 2 argues for the proposition that Christ plus nothing is all we need because of His pre-eminence. This is the argument Paul uses to fight the various heresies he sees present in Colosse:

A Comparison of the Christology of Ephesians and Colossians:

EPHESIANS 

Emphasizes the Body (Church)

The spirit is pastoral

The emphasis is on oneness in  Christ

  

COLOSSIANS

Emphasizes the Head (Christ)

The spirit is polemical

The emphasis is on completeness in Christ

 

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Polemical is an argument or controversial discussion. Polemics is the art or practice of disputation or controversy. In this sense, most of the letters of the New Testament are polemical in nature, since they argue for the Gospel. Apologetics, by comparison, is the presentation of the defense and proofs of your position. Arguing in a court room is apologetics, while being on the debate team is polemics.

 

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What traits can you identify in the cults of today that match those Paul describes in Colossians?

Are the solutions suggested by Paul be useful in fighting today’s cults?

  Why? Why not?

 

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