Friday, 27 June 2014

Paul’s [and Timothy's] Letter to the Colossians (Part 2)

Provenance and Date of Writing1
     Colossians was written while Paul was incarcerated (Col. 4:3-18), probably during the two years he was confined to house arrest in Rome between 60 and 62 (Acts 28:16-31). An earthquake reportedly destroyed the tri-cities of the Lycus River valley (including Colosse) in the year 60,2 and it has been suggested that the apostle may have been unaware of this tragedy when he sent the letter, or that the letter was drafted before the earthquake. However, considering the close affinity among the prison epistles (see Paul's "Prison Epistles"), it seems more likely that the letter was written near the end of Paul’s two-year Roman imprisonment (early 62), allowing the Colosse residents time to have recovered. Since Onesimus was to accompany both letters to the Colossians and Philemon (Col. 4:9; Philm. 12), and Tychichus was to accompany both letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians (Col. 4:7-8; Eph. 6:21-22), a comparable timeframe is assumed.
The Colossian Heresy
     Besides the question of authorship, probably the main issue concerning Colossians is the nature of the false teaching it addresses. The heresy appears to have been a combination of Jewish and Greek philosophical elements. Jewish components included tradition (2:8), circumcision (2:11; 3:11), observance of the Sabbath and religious festivals (2:16), and food restrictions (2:16, 21). Greek components were empty and deceptive philosophy (2:8), basic elements [stoicheia] of the world (2:8, 20), wisdom and knowledge (2:3), cosmic powers (2:15), and asceticism (2:23). The worship of angels (2:18) was a unique factor.
     Paul’s special focus on the supremacy of Christ (1:15-19) suggests that the false teaching may have been undermining the essential view of the Lord’s exalted essence and role. Although scholars have debated the precise nature of this heresy for many years,3 it is probably best to regard it as a special blend of various religious elements that particularly affected the unique situation at Colosse.
     The purpose of Colossians appears have been to counter heretical teaching and reaffirm the proper view of Christ (1:15-19; 2:4-23), as well as to provide ethical instruction for those living the new life in Christ in a pagan world (2:6-7; 3:1–4:6). “If therefore you were co-raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is sitting to the right of God; mind the things above, not the things on the earth. For you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).4
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 While it has been suggested that Colossians could have been written from Ephesus as early as 55-56, those who deny Pauline authorship place the letter in the 70s or as late as the 80s or 90s (see R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the NT 615-16; L. M. White, From Jesus to Christianity 261-65).
     2 Although various dates for this earthquake have been proposed by commentators, the year 60 appears to be the most probable. The Armenian city of Tigranocerta surrendered to the Romans in 59, and the following year a Parthian army, under the command of Tiridates, was defeated by Roman forces led by General Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. General Corbulo was then appointed governor of Syria. The previous governor, Gaius Ummidius Durmius Quadratus, had governed Syria until his death in 60 (see W. Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 3:630-31). The same year, according to Tacitus, Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake (Annals 14.26-27), and apparently the other cities of the Lycus River valley (Hierapolis and Colosse) were also devastated (Eusebius, Chronicle 2; cf. Jerome, Chronicle 265.20; also Pliny, Natural History 5).
     3 Jewish mysticism, Essene Judaism, Christian Judaizers, Hellenistic philosophies, mystery religions, Jewish-Christian syncretism, proto-gnosticism, full-blown Gnosticism???
     4 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.

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