Introduction to Colossians
Colossians, one of the shortest of Paul’s letters, is also one of the most exciting. Written while he was in Ephesus the letter is linked with Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians as prison epistles (4:3). Paul has not been to the church in Colossae (2:1) but knows Epaphras (1:7) and Philemon and Onesimus (4:9). The city of Colossae was once a major city but had been upstaged in recent years by Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Writing to a young church discovering what it was like to believe in Jesus Christ and to follow him, Paul shares their sense of wonder as he encourages them to explore the treasures of the gospel and to order their lives accordingly. The book instructs the young church on Christian maturity. There is, in fact, so much evocative language—talk about the gospel, about Jesus Christ, about holiness, about the church—that it is easy to lose track of the overall thread of the letter and merely to pick out a few details. But if the details are worth having, the letter as a whole is even more so. It is not a miscellaneous collection of ‘helpful thoughts. It is a particular letter written to a particular congregation at one point in its (very early) history. To believe, in fact, that Colossians is inspired Scripture is to believe that God intended to say just these things to this church—and in so doing to address, somehow, the church as a whole.
I have suggested that in Colossians Paul is drawing upon his overall theological understanding to help his readers find that genuine human and spiritual maturity which God wills for his people. God has done what the law, and ‘Wisdom’, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, to achieve reconciliation, he dealt with sin on the cross, so that the life which the law had sought to give, the true life of God’s people, might be brought to expression in those who, through faith and baptism, belong to Jesus Christ. The church need look—must look—nowhere else for forgiveness for the past, for maturity in the present, or for future hope. Faced with a young church in a small town in up-country Asia Minor, Paul has written a letter in which he has distilled his understanding of some of the greatest themes in theology.
Within the life of the church, then, the letter to the Colossians will always have an important part to play. We, too, need to become mature as Christians and as human beings. We need to grow in our knowledge of who God is, of what he has done for us in Jesus Christ, and of how we can express our gratitude in worship and life. We, too, need the warning that true maturity, whether Christian or human, is not to be had by any other road.
Wright, N. T. Colossians and Philemon: an introduction and commentary / N. T. Wright. — (Tyndale New Testament commentaries; v. 12)
As you might notice in the above readings, there is a debate about when and where the book of Colossians is written. We know Paul is in prison with the statements that he is in chains 4:3 and referencing of ‘fellow prisoner’ 4:10. The letter is linked to the prison letters of Ephesians (Eph 6:10) and Philemon & Onesimus reference (Col 4:9) and it is confirmed all were written together.
The main debate is where is Paul in prison because Paul was in prison three times that we know of and references other imprisonments that he gives no details about in 2 Corinthians. We can confirm that Paul was in prison in Ephesus (2 Cor 1:8 & 1 Cor 15:32) Caesarea (Acts 24:27) and Rome (Acts 28). So, some scholars say that Paul wrote the letter of Colossians (and the prison epistles) in 60’s AD, later in Paul’s life in his imprisonment in Rome, some say earlier in his ministry while imprisoned in Ephesus. Agreeing with Tom Wright (this is Katie after all!) we are going to lean towards the understanding that Paul wrote the letter while in prison in Ephesus as the Tyndale New Testament commentary presents to a young church in around 52-56AD, see reference Acts 19:8-10.