Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Notes On The Authorship Of Colossians

Colossians, the Epistle to the, was written by the Apostle St. Paul during his first captivity at Rome (Acts xxviii. 16), and apparently in that portion of it (Col. iv. 3, 4) when the Apostle's imprisonment had not assumed the more severe character which seems to be reflected in the Epistle to the Philippians (ch. i. 20, 21, 30, ii. 27), and which not improbably succeeded the death of Burrus in a.d. 62, and the decline of the influence of Seneca. This important and profound epistle was addressed to the Christians of the once large and influential, but now smaller and declining, city of Colossae, and was delivered to them by Tychicus, whom the Apostle had sent both to them (ch. iv. 7, 8) and to the church of Ephesus (ch. vi. 21), to inquire into their state and to administer exhortation and comfort. The epistle seems to have been called forth by the information St. Paul had received from Epaphras (ch. iv. 12; Philem. 23) and from Onesimus, both of whom appear to have been natives of Colossae, and the former of whom was, if not the special founder, yet certainly one of the very earliest preachers of the gospel in that city. The main object of the epistle is not merely, as in the case of the Epistle to the Philippians, to exhort and to confirm, nor as in that to the Ephesians, to set forth the great features of the church of the chosen in Christ, but is especially designed to warn the Colossians against a spirit of semi-Judaistic and semi-Oriental philosophy which was corrupting the simplicity of their belief, and was noticeably tending to obscure the eternal glory and dignity of Christ. With regard to its genuineness and authenticity, it is satisfactory to be able to say with distinctness that there are no grounds for doubt. The external testimonies are explicit, and the internal arguments, founded on the style, balance of sentences, positions of adverbs, uses of the relative pronoun, participial anacolutha, unusually strong and well defined. A few special points demand from us a brief notice. — 1. The opinion that this epistle and those to the Ephesians and to Philemon were written during the Apostle's imprisonment at Caesarea (Acts xxi. 27-xxvi. 32), i.e. between Pentecost a.d. 58 and the autumn of a.d. 60, has been recently advocated by several writers of ability, and stated with such cogency and clearness by Meyer, as to deserve some consideration. But to go no further than the present epistle, the notices of the Apostle's imprisonment in ch. iv. 3, 4, 11, certainly seem historically inconsistent with the nature of the imprisonment at Caesarea. The permission of Felix (Acts xxiv. 23) can scarcely be strained into any degree of liberty to teach or preach the Gospel — 2. The nature of the erroneous teaching condemned in this epistle has been very differently estimated. Three opinions only seem to de serve any serious consideration; (a) that these erroneous teachers were adherents of Neo-Platonism, or of some forms of Occidental philosophy (6) that they leaned to Essene doctrine and practices; (c) that they advocated that ad mixture of Christianity, Judaism, and Oriental philosophy which afterwards became consolidated into Gnosticism. Of these (a) has but little in its favor, except the somewhat vague term "philosophy" (ch. ii. 8), which, however, it seems arbitrary to restrict to Grecian philosophy; (6) is much more plausible as far as the usages alluded to, but seems inconsistent both with the exclusive nature and circumscribed localities of Essene teaching; (c) on the contrary is in accordance with the Gentile nature of the church of Colossae; (ch. i. 21), with its very locality — speculative and superstitions Phrygia — and with that tendency to associate Judaical observances (ch. ii. 10) with more purely theosophistic speculations (ch. ii. 18), which became afterwards so conspicuous in developed Gnosticism. — 3. The striking similarity between many portions of this epistle and of that to the Ephesians has given rise to much speculation, both as to the reason of this studied similarity, and as to the priority of order in respect to composition. The similarity may reasonably be accounted for, (1) by the proximity in time at which the two epistles were written ; (2) by the high probability that in two cities of Asia, within a moderate distance from one another, there would be many doctrinal prejudices, and many social relations, that would call forth and need precisely the same language of warning and exhortation. The priority in composition must remain a matter for a reason able difference of opinion. To us the shorter and perhaps more vividly expressed Epistle to the Colossians seems to have been first written, and to have suggested the more comprehensive, more systematic, but less individualizing, epistle to the church of Ephesus.

William Smith, A Dictionary Of the Bible Comprising Its Antiquities, Biography, Geography, and Natural History, p. 168


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  2. The commentator is not hereby rejecting the authenticity of Colossians, but rejects the idea of the epistle being written during Paul's imprisonment at Caesaria between 58 and 60 AD. Paul wrote this epistle from Rome around 62 AD when he had a greater liberty to preach the gospel. This is reported on at the end of Acts.