1 1Paul, an apostle [apostolos] of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy [Timotheos] our brother [adelphos], 2to the saints [agiois] and faithful [pistois] brothers [adelphois] in Christ at Colossae [Kolossais]

This Christian community in the province of Asia had come into existence during that period of prodigious missionary and evangelistic activity associated with the apostle's Ephesian ministry (c. AD 52 to 55). So effective were the daily evangelistic 'dialogues' held in the hall of Tyrannus, where Paul's bold speaking compelled men's attention during the long siesta period (Ac 19:8-10). Converts were trained and equipped to be his associates, among them possibly a man named Epaphras, who had come from Colossae in the Lycus valley. He was an evangelist to his own people and planted churches in Laodicea and Hierapolis as well as Colossae. The place name itself means 'great' or 'large'. Colossae was a confluence for traffic from east and west and was an important city in the Roman Empire. From the inscriptions found on ancient coins in it is evident that the gods of Coloassae were Isis, Serapis, Herios, Artemis, Demeter and Men.

: Grace [charis] to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3We give thanks [eucharisteō] to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4having heard of your faith [pistin] in Christ Jesus, and of the love [agapēn] which you have toward all the saints [agious], 5because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the word [logō] of the truth of the Good News [euangeliou], 6which has come to you; even as it is in all the world [kosmō] and is bearing fruit and growing, as it does in you also, since the day you heard and knew the grace [charin] of God in truth; 7even as you learned of Epaphras [Epaphra] our beloved fellow servant [agapētou syndoulou], who is a faithful [pistos] servant [diakonos] of Christ on our behalf, 8who also declared to us your love [agapēn] in the Spirit. 9For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don't cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled [plēroō] with the knowledge [epignōsin] of his will in all spiritual wisdom [sophia] and understanding [synesei], 10that you may walk [peripateō] worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge [epignōsin] of God; 11strengthened with all power [en pasē dynamei dynamoō], according to the might of his glory, for all endurance [hypomonēn] and perseverance [makrothymian] with joy [charis]; 12giving thanks [eucharisteō] to the Father, who made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance [klērou] of the saints [agiōn] in light; 13who delivered [rhyō] us out of the power [exousias] of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom [basileian] of the Son of his love [agapēs]; 14in whom we have our redemption [apolytrōsin], the forgiveness [aphesin] of our sins; 15who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [prototokos] of all creation. 16For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions [kyriotētes] or principalities [archai] or powers [exousiai]; all things have been created through him, and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. 18He is the head of the body [kephalē tou sōmatos], the assembly [ekklēsias], who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19For all the fullness [plērōma]

As a concept 'fullness' played a large part in second-century Gnosticism, and even at this early stage was becoming a major theme of the visiting teachers. It can mean a 'supplement', something added to supply a deficiency, or it can mean a 'complement', that is the full number that makes up a whole, for example a ship's company. The distinction between the two meanings may help clarify the difference between the apostolic teaching and the new teaching. For Paul there was nothing whatever of the Godhead that was not in Christ; the full complement of divine attributes is to be found in him. But for the new teachers, union with Christ did not of itself bring anyone into such fullness of divine life; there was still room (and need) for a supplementary work of God. This could be thought of by saying that God had still more of himself to give than Christ, or that Christ was not received in all his fullness at conversion. However this was thought of, for Paul it represented a serious misunderstanding.

was pleased to dwell [katoikeō] in him; 20and through him to reconcile [apokatallassō] all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens [tois ouranois], having made peace [eirēnopoieō] through the blood of his cross [staurou]. 21You, being in past times alienated [apallotrioō] and enemies in your mind in your evil works, 22yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh [somati tēs sarkos] through death, to present [parastēmi]

Used in legal language, meaning to bring someone before the court.

you holy [agious] and without blemish and blameless before him, 23if it is so that you continue [epimenō] in the faith [pistei], grounded and steadfast, and not moved [metakineō]

A unique NT word meaning that they are not to be dissuaded.

away from the hope of the Good News [euangeliou] which you heard, which is being proclaimed [kēryssō] in all creation under heaven; of which I, Paul, was made a servant [diakonos]. 24Now I rejoice [chairō] in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh [sarki] for his body's sake, which is the assembly [ekklēsia]; 25of which I was made a servant [diakonos], according to the stewardship [oikonomian] of God which was given me toward you, to fulfill the word [logon] of God, 26the mystery [mystērion]

The 'mystery' religions at Colossae all offered in their different ways rites of initiation that would bring seekers into the privileged circle of those few who had found the 'secret' of life and existence. Paul's word 'mystery' comes from the same root as the verb 'to initiate', and stands for the whole complex of initiation, cult, and secret doctrine on which the numerous private religious brotherhoods of the time were based.

which has been hidden for ages and generations. But now it has been revealed to his saints [agiois], 27to whom God was pleased to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery [mystēriou] among the Gentiles [ethnesin], which is Christ in you, the hope of glory; 28whom we proclaim [katangellō], admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [teleion]

In the Hellenistic world 'perfection' referred to those who were filled with experiences of power and wisdom.

in Christ Jesus; 29for which I also labour [kopiaō]

A particularly strong word, also used by Paul to describe his back-breaking manual work, tentmaking, cf. 1 Thes 2:9; 1 Cor 4:12.

, striving according to his working [energeian], which works in me mightily [energoumenēn].

2 1For I desire to have you know how greatly I struggle [agōna]

Lit. 'how great conflict I have for you'.

for you, and for those at Laodicea [Laodikeia], and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh [en sarki]; 2that their hearts may be comforted [parakaleō], they being knit together in love [agapē], and gaining all riches of the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery [mystēriou] of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3in whom are all the treasures of wisdom [sophias] and knowledge [gnōseōs] hidden. 4Now this I say that no one may delude [paralogizomai]

Occurs in one other place in the NT, Ja 1:22, where it is used to refer to our capacity to deceive ourselves.

you with persuasiveness of speech [pithanologia]. 5For though I am absent in the flesh [sarki], yet am I with you in the spirit, rejoicing [chairō] and seeing your order [taxin], and the steadfastness [stereōma]

This word and taxin are imagery of an army describing the Christians standing firm with unbroken ranks especially as their faith comes under fire.

of your faith [pisteōs] in Christ. 6As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk [peripateō] in him, 7rooted [rhizoō]

'Having been rooted'. Used for sinking the foundations of buildings.

and built up [epoikodomeō]

'Being built up'.

in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving [eucharistia]. 8Be careful that you don't let anyone rob [sylagōgeō]

This unusual word speaks of the slave-raider carrying off his victim, body and soul.

you through his philosophy [philosophias] and vain deceit, after the tradition of men [paradosin tōn anthrōpōn], after the elements of the world [stoicheia tou kosmou]

'Elements', meaning the letters of the alphabet written in order.

, and not after Christ. 9For in him all the fullness of the Godhead [theotētos] dwells [katoikeō] bodily [sōmatikōs], 10and in him you are made full, who is the head [kephalē] of all principality and power; 11in whom you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh [somatos tēs sarkos], in the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working [energeias] of God, who raised him from the dead. 13You were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh [sarkos]. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven [charizomai] us all our trespasses, 14wiping out [exaleiphō]

'Blotted out'. This might have been a reference to a wax surface on many ancient bonds.

the handwriting in ordinances [cheirographon tois dogmasin]

'Handwriting in the decrees', a 'bond' or 'certificate of indebtedness' is to be understood as a promissory note, perhaps shown in the sense of obligation through the many fresh resolutions, vows and promises made, if only to oneself, to satisfy the conscience.

which was against us; and he has taken it out of the way, nailing [prosēloō]

Cf. Roman titulus such as Pilate wrote (Jn 19:19-22). To place a written accusation above a condemned criminal meant that a man's crimes, placarded for everyone to see and read, might serve as a justification for his punishment and a deterrent to others.

it to the cross [staurō]; 15having stripped [apekdyomai]

Either evil spirit powers are stripped of their weapons or, more literally, 'He stripped himself of ..' as a person strips his clothes from himself, cf. 3:9.

the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over [thriambeuō]

The picture is of a Roman triumphal procession, vividly demonstrating to the people that their returning generals had been winning genuine victories. No-one could be ignorant of what had happened as hundreds of weary prisoners of war were paraded, straggling behind the conquering army. Shamed, and exposed to public gaze, everyone can see that there is nothing to fear from these once proud soldiers.

them in it. 16Let no one therefore judge [krinō] you in eating, or in drinking, or with respect to a feast day or a new moon [neomēnias; Heb. Rosh-Chodesh] or a Sabbath day [sabbatōn; Heb. Shabbat]

These sacred seasons were reminiscent of OT language, cf. 1 Ch 23:31 and designate calendar feasts marked out as annual, monthly and weekly celebrations. Paul's opponents might have infused these events with pagan content having stretched traditional and scriptural terms.

, 17which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body [sōma] is Christ's. 18Let no one rob you of your prize [katabrabeuō] by a voluntary humility [tapeinophrosynē]

This word has a nuance of mortification and self-denial and could possibly mean 'fasting'. It may be that such exercises as fasting prepared the 'false prophet' for the unusual experience of worship that he treasured.

and worshipping of the angels [thrēskeia tōn angelōn]

Angel worship was anathema to Judaism. It is not until the fourth century that the Council of Laodicea forbade such prayer. Earlier, at the end of the second century, Ireneaus in Against Heresies testified that the church performed nothing 'by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art'. The phrase could be understood therefore in the sense of 'worship offered by angels', so that the insistence would have been on 'angel-like' worship. There might have been an enthusiasm for the way in which angels conduct their heavenly worship, and the claim might have been that it was wonderfully possible to be caught up in these glorious songs through sharing the language of the angels, cf. 3:16. Whether the Colossians were being urged to venerate angels or to follow their example in the language or conduct of worship, Paul is clearly warning against the influence of those who had infiltrated their ranks.

, dwelling in [embateuō] the things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly [sarkos] mind, 19and not holding firmly to the Head [kephalēn], from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and ligaments, grows with God's growth. 20If you died with Christ from the elements of the world [stoicheiōn tou kosmou], why, as though living in the world [zōntes en kosmō], do you subject yourselves to ordinances [dogmatizomai], 21"Don't handle, nor taste, nor touch" 22(all of which perish with use), according to the precepts and doctrines of men? 23Which things indeed appear like wisdom [sophia] in self-imposed worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but aren't of any value against the indulgence [plēsmonēn]

Satisfaction or 'satiation', in keeping with stress on fullness.

of the flesh [sarkos].

3 1If then you were raised together with [synegeirō] Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth [epi tēs gēs]. 3For you died, and your life [zōē] is hidden [kryptō] with Christ in God. 4When Christ, our life [zōē], is revealed [phaneroō], then you will also be revealed [phaneroō] with him in glory [doxē]. 5Put to death [nekroō] therefore your members which are on the earth [epi tēs gēs]: sexual immorality [porneian], uncleanness, depraved passion [pathos], evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; 6for which things' sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience [apeitheias]. 7You also once walked [peripateō] in those, when you lived [zaō] in them; 8but now you also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander [blasphēmian], and shameful speaking out of your mouth. 9Don't lie to one another, seeing that you have put off [apekduomai] the old man [palaion anthrōpon] with his doings, 10and have put on [enduomai] the new [neon] man, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of his Creator [ktizō], 11where there can't be Greek [Hellēn]

Paul is well aware of the unbridgeable gulfs in his world between slave and master, uncouth Scythian from northern Greece and sophisticated freeman of Athens.

and Jew [Ioudaios], circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian [barbaros], Scythian [Skythēs], bondservant [doulos], freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. 12Put on [enduomai] therefore, as God's chosen ones [eklektoi], holy [agioi] and beloved [ēgapēmenoi], a heart of compassion [splagchna oiktirmōn]

Lit. 'bowels of compassions'.

, kindness [chrēstotēta], lowliness, humility [praotēta], and perseverance [makrothymian]; 13bearing with [anechomai] one another, and forgiving [charizomai] each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave [charizomai] you, so you also do. 14Above all these things, walk in love [agapēn]

Lit. 'And to all these (add) love'.

, which is the bond of perfection [teleiotētos]. 15And let the peace of God rule [brabeuō] in your hearts, to which also you were called [kaleō] in one body; and be thankful [eucharisteō]. 16Let the word [logos] of Christ dwell [enoikeō] in you richly; in all wisdom [sophia] teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace [chariti] in your heart to the Lord. 17Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks [eucharisteō] to God the Father, through him. 18Wives, be in subjection [hypotassō] to your husbands, as is fitting [anēken]

Contemporary Hellenistic culture already offered fixed forms of ethical instruction. The neighbours of a Christian couple might well have had their own firm ideas as to what was fitting. Apostolic teaching may not have rejected these but Christianized them.

in the Lord. 19Husbands, love [agapaō] your wives, and don't be bitter [pikrainō]

Lit. 'embittered'.

against them. 20Children, obey your parents in all things, for this pleases the Lord. 21Fathers, don't provoke your children, so that they won't be discouraged. 22Servants [douloi]


Even the poorest citizen might own a slave. With the expansion of the empire, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, had been uprooted from their homelands and brought to the centre of the empire. A citizen proudly boasted of the values that distinguished them from slaves - free speech, private property, rights before the law. In fact the Romans viewed the entire course of their history as an evolution away from slavery, towards a freedom based on the dynamics of perpetual competition. The Romans knew that had they remained the slaves of a monarch, or a clique of aristocrats, they would never have succeeded in conquering the world.

At the great free port of Delos it was said that up to ten thousand slaves might be exchanged in a single day. The proceeds of this staggering volume of trade fatted pirate caption and Roman plutocrat alike. Shipping from all over the Mediterranean arrived loaded with grain to feed Rome's monstrous appetite and slaves to fuel her enterprises, but also rarities garnered from her far-off domains: sculptures and spices, paintings and strange plants. So human beings were not the least significant portion of the wealth to have been plundered by the Republic during its wars of conquest. But the single market established by Roman supremacy had enabled captives to be moved around the Mediterranean as easily as any other form of merchandise, and the result had been a vast boom in the slave trade, a transplanting of populations without precedent in history. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, had been uprooted from their homelands and brought to the centre of the empire, there to toil for their new masters. Even the poorest citizen might own a slave. In rich households the labour glut obliged slave-owners to think up ever more exotic jobs for their purchases to specialise in, whether dusting portrait busts, writing invitations or attending to purple clothes. But the work of most slaves was infinitely more crushing. This was particularly the case in the countryside, where conditions were at their worst. Gangs were bought wholesale, branded and shackled, then set to labour from dawn until dusk. At night they would be locked up in huge, crowded barracks. Not a shred of privacy or dignity was permitted them. They were fed the barest minimum required to keep them alive. Exhaustion was remedied by the whip, while insubordination would be handled by private contractors who specialised in the torture - and sometimes execution - of uppity slaves. The crippled or prematurely aged could expect to be cast aside, like diseased cattle or shattered wine jars. It hardly mattered to their masters whether they survived or starved. After all, as Roman agriculturalists liked to remind their readers, there was no point in wasting money on useless tools.

This exploitation was what underpinned everything that was noblest about the Republic - its culture of citizenship, its passion for freedom, its dread of disgrace and shame. It was not merely that the leisure which enabled a citizen to devote himself to the Republic was dependent upon the forced labour of others. Slaves also satisfied a subtler, more baneful need. 'Gain cannot be made without loss to someone else' (Publilius Syrus, 337): so every Roman took for granted. All status was relative. What value would freedom have in a world where everyone was free? Even the poorest citizen could know himself to be immeasurably the superior of even the best-treated slave. Death was preferable to a life without liberty: so the entire history of the Republic had gloriously served to prove. If a man permitted himself to be enslaved, then he thoroughly deserved his fate. Such was the harsh logic that prevented anyone from even questioning the cruelties the slaves suffered, let alone the legitimacy of slavery itself.

The most far-sighted critic of the Republic's hunger for human livestock was not a Roman but a Greek - the philosopher Posidonius. He had witnessed Syrians toiling in Spanish mines, and Gauls in chain-gangs on Sicilian estates. In the East great cities were ransacked for treasure - but in the West it was the earth. The result was mining on a scale not to be witnessed again until the Industrial Revolution. Nowhere was the devastation more spectacular than in Spain, particularly in central and south-western Spain. The ore being smelted was silver: it has been estimated that for every ton of silver extracted over ten thousand tons of rock had to be quarried. It has also been estimated that by the early first century BC, the Roman mint was using fifty tones of silver each year. News of this reached the other extreme of the Empire, in Judaea (cf. 1 Maccabees, 8.3.). And the mines that Rome had annexed from Carthage had been exploited with gusto. A single network of tunnels might spread for more than a hundred square miles, and provide upwards of forty thousand slaves with a living death. Over the pockmarked landscape there would invariably hang a pall of smog, belched out from the smelting furnaces through giant chimneys, and so heavy with chemicals that it burned the naked skin and turned it white. Birds would die if they flew through the fumes.

To be a citizen was to know that one was free - such certainty suffused every citizen's sense of himself. Better to die than live a slave: this was the lesson that a Roman drew in with his breath. A Roman would submit to an Emperor, be grateful to him, even admire him - but one could never repress the resulting sense of shame.

, obey in all things those who are your masters according to the flesh [sarka], not just when they are looking [opthalmodouleiais]

Lit. 'with eye-services'.

, as men pleasers [hōs anthrōpareskoi]

'As men-pleasers'.

, but in singleness of heart, fearing [phobeō] God. 23And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance [klēronomia]; for you serve [douleuō] the Lord Christ. 25But he who does wrong will receive again for the wrong that he has done, and there is no partiality [prosōpolēpsia]

Lit. 'there is no respect of persons'.


4 1Masters, give to your servants [doulois] that which is just and equal, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. 2Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching therein with thanksgiving [eucharisteō]; 3praying together for us also, that God may open to us a door for the word [logou], to speak [laleō] the mystery [mystērion] of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; 4that I may reveal it as I ought to speak. 5Walk [peripateō] in wisdom [sophia] toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6Let your speech [logos] always be with grace [chariti], seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. 7All my affairs will be made known to you by Tychicus [Tychikos], the beloved brother [agapētos adelphos], faithful servant [pistos diakonos], and fellow bondservant [syndoulos] in the Lord. 8I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort [parakaleō] your hearts, 9together with Onesimus [Onēsimō], the faithful [pistō] and beloved brother [agapētō adelphō], who is one of you. They will make known to you everything that is going on here. 10Aristarchus [Aristarchos], my fellow prisoner, greets [aspazomai] you, and Mark [Markos], the cousin of Barnabas [Barnaba Heb. Bar-Nabba] (concerning whom you received commandments, "if he comes to you, receive him"), 11and Jesus [Iēsous]who is called Justus [Ioustos], who are of the circumcision. These are my only fellow workers for the Kingdom of God [basileian tou theou], men who have been a comfort to me. 12Epaphras [Epaphras], who is one of you, a servant [doulos] of Christ, salutes [aspazomai] you, always striving for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13For I testify [martyreō] about him, that he has great zeal for you, and for those in Laodicea [Laodikeia], and for those in Hierapolis [Hierapolei]. 14Luke [Loukas], the beloved [agapētos] physician, and Demas [Dēmas] greet [aspazomai] you. 15Greet [aspazomai] the brothers who are in Laodicea [Laodikeia adelphous], and Nymphas [Nymphan], and the assembly that is in his house [oikon autēs ekklēsian]. 16When this letter has been read among you, cause it to be read also in the assembly of the Laodiceans [Laodikeōn ekklēsia]; and that you also read the letter [epistolē] from Laodicea [Laodikeias]. 17Tell Archippus [Archippō], "Take heed to the ministry [diakonian] which you have received in the Lord, that you fulfill it." 18The salutation [aspasmos] of me, Paul, with my own hand: remember [mnēmoneuō] my bonds. Grace [charis] be with you. Amen [amēn].

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