In This Article Colossians

  • Introduction
  • Short Introductions
  • General Overviews
  • Technical Commentaries
  • Mid-Level Commentaries
  • Accessible Commentaries
  • Authorship
  • Opponents
  • Outline and Rhetoric
  • Theology
  • Christological Liturgical Piece (1:15–20)
  • Fill up the Afflictions of Christ (1:24)
  • Elements of the World (2:8)
  • The Cheirograph (2:14–15)
  • Worship of Angels (2:18)
  • Other Studies

Biblical Studies Colossians
by
Jerry L. Sumney
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0010

Introduction

Colossians is often seen as a letter on the edge of the transition from Pauline to post-Pauline thought, being identified as either the last authentic letter or the first written in Paul’s name after his death. The debate about authorship continues, with over half the field finding it to be pseudonymous. Colossians’ Christology is among the most exalted in the New Testament. The preformed liturgical piece of 1:15–20 has received more attention from interpreters than any other text or topic in Colossians. This liturgy identifies Christ as God’s agent in creation and as the one who subdues all hostile powers and reconciles all things to God. This understanding of Christ is the central affirmation that supports the argument of Colossians against a teaching that contends that those who do not have visionary experiences are not forgiven of their sins. Colossians uses its Christology to assure its readers of their salvation. The identity of the opponents is also a topic of continuing debate. Questions include whether the opposed teaching comes from inside the church or from outside, whether it is related to Judaism or a different religion or philosophy, and whether it encourages the worship of angelic beings. The answers given to such questions shape the way interpreters perceive the letter’s argument and theology. Colossians presents Paul as the one who cares for the readers enough to suffer for them and as the faithful proclaimer of the true gospel to which the readers must adhere to receive and retain their salvation. This description of Paul intends to convince the readers to listen to Paul’s voice in this letter rather than the other teachers. The ethical instructions in this letter serve an important role in its theological argument. Thus they demonstrate that such instructions are not simply added with little thought about the occasion or argument of the letter. Since Colossians contains the first appearance of the household code form, this literary form and its implications for the development of ethics in the early church remains a topic of discussion in relation to this letter.

Short Introductions

    Critical introductions discuss issues of authorship, date, literary integrity, occasion and purpose, text critical matters, and themes. The balance among these topics will depend on which are controversial for a particular text. In the case of Colossians, questions of authorship and of its occasion, specifically the identity of its opponents, receive significant attention. Furnish 1992 provides an accessible argument against the letter’s authenticity. His view represents a slight majority among critical New Testament scholars. Stuckenbruck 2003 offers a more detailed review of positions on various issues, arriving at mainstream conclusions. Brown 1997 represents a comprehensive introduction to all of these issues that will serve as a good starting point for further research. Dunn 2000 represents a position that has gained some adherents in recent years; Dunn argues that Colossians may have been written by an associate of Paul while Paul was alive. Paul then approved its content before it was sent. This position recognizes the significant differences between Colossians and the undisputed letters as it tries to maintain a historical connection with Paul.

  • Brown, Raymond. An Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

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    A more detailed introduction suitable for seminary and graduate students. Includes discussion of the issues with arguments for varying positions, an outlined overview of the letter’s content, and a bibliography.

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    • Dunn, James D. G. “Colossians, Letter to.” In New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 1. Edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, 702–706. Nashville: Abingdon, 2000.

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      Focuses on critical issues, particularly authorship and the identity of the opponents. Identifies the opponents as members of the Jewish synagogue. Finds the letter to be at least signed by Paul.

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      • Furnish, Victor P. “Colossians, Epistle to the.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 1. Edited by David N. Freedman, 1090–1096. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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        An accessible introduction that gives attention the theological themes and content of the letter, as well as critical issues. Furnish finds the letter to be pseudonymous because its theology differs from the undisputed Paulines.

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        • Stuckenbruck, Loren T. “Colossians and Philemon.” In The Cambridge Companion to Paul. Edited by James D. G. Dunn, 116–132. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

          DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521781558E-mail Citation »

          Appropriate for upper-level undergraduates. Offers arguments for various positions on critical issues with particular attention to authorship, identity of the opponents, the “hymn,” and the household code. Notably finds this probably pseudonymous letter to include built-in relativization of the commands to submission in the household code.

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          General Overviews

            The wide range of unresolved issues in Colossians has produced various broadly based studies. Müller 2009 brings together a collection of essays on various topics that are important in a critical introduction to Colossians. Barclay 1997 takes up the household code and other topics in an accessible way. Cannon 1983 narrows his focus to the letter’s use of preformed materials, arguing that the letter is written by Paul. Standhartinger 1999, on the other hand, focuses on comparing various elements of the theology of Colossians with the undisputed letters. She uses the differences she finds as evidence that Paul was not the letter’s author. Goodacre’s bibliography (see New Testament Gateway) is a different type of resource. It provides links to books and articles that are available electronically and without charge.

          • Barclay, John M. G. Colossians and Philemon. T&T Clark Study Guides. New York: T&T Clark, 1997.

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            In an accessible and introductory way, takes up the issues of the authorship, occasion (opponents), the household code, and theology of Colossians. Discussion of these issues is informed by the most recent scholarship at the time of its writing.

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            • Cannon, George E. The Use of Traditional Materials in Colossians. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983.

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              The most comprehensive study of the use of preformed material in Colossians. He examines the use of confessional, hymnic, and paraenetic material (both vice and virtue lists and the household code). Uses his conclusions to argue for the authenticity of Colossians.

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              • Goodacre, Mark. New Testament Gateway.

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                This website provides links to online resources in Colossians and Ephesians. Currently, most of its links are to more conservative materials because those are the ones available. But the list is not limited to resources that come from that perspective.

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                • Müller, P., ed. Kolosser-Studien. Biblisch-Theologische Studien 103. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener, 2009.

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                  This collection of essays from nine different authors focus on issues of a critical introduction to Colossians.

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                  • Standhartinger, Angela. Studien zur Entstehungsgeschichte und Intention des Kolosserbriefs. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 94. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1999.

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                    Argues that the differences in the theology of the undisputed Pauline letters and Colossians are sufficient to demonstrate that Colossians is not authentic. Its author was familiar with the Pauline tradition and writes to support the community as it deals with the death of Paul before the Parousia.

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                    Technical Commentaries

                      Commentaries in this category work directly from the Greek text and expect readers to be able to follow that discussion and to be knowledgeable of issues and the vocabulary of New Testament studies. Lohse 1971 is a style of commentary that interacts extensively and explicitly with various positions on many issues of history, with less attention to theology except for setting it in differing ancient contexts (e.g., Judaism or Gnosticism). Hübner 1997 is an explicit interaction with other interpreters that is less direct. O’Brien 1982 intends to make this level of scholarship more accessible and he gives significant attention to more theological matters. Dunn 1996 gives attention to theological issues from a different angle as he writes from the outlook of the New Perspective. Barth and Blanke 1994 make the results of technical scholarship available to a larger audience because of the format of the Anchor Bible series. Moo 2008 represents a conservative evangelical treatment of the letter and wants to engage a broader audience in conversation about the theological issues raised in Colossians. Wilson 2005 continues the tradition of the International Critical Commentary, giving extensive attention to grammatical matters, the Greco-Roman background, and early Christian writing about Colossians. King 1998 is a different sort of work. Its primary function is to provide information and options to help interpreters and translators in their work.

                    • Barth, Markus, and Helmut Blanke. Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Translated by Astrid B. Beck. The Anchor Bible 34B. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

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                      Dividing the technical “Notes” from the “Comment,” as the format of the Anchor Bible always does, allowing nonspecialists to access the results of the more technical argumentation.

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                      • Dunn, James D. G. The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

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                        An exposition of the Greek text from the position of the New Perspective. Dunn argues that Paul was involved in the writing of the letter in some way.

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                        • Hübner, Hans. An Philemon, An die Kolosser, An die Epheser. Handbuch zum Neuen Testament 12. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1997.

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                          Seeing Colossians as pseudonymous, argues that it and Ephesians were written in such a way that each draws elements from the other rather than the usual view that Ephesians draws on the earlier Colossians.

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                          • King, Martha. An Exegetical Summary of Colossians. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1998.

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                            While not technically a commentary, this work approaches the Greek text giving attention to Greek vocabulary and translation issues. It also treats grammatical and structural matters. King provides lists of exegetical possibilities to help translators and interpreters make their decisions about the text’s meaning.

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                            • Lohse, Eduard. A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971.

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                              While somewhat dated, being a translation of the 1968 German edition, it emphasizes interaction with fellow German interpreters in its extensive footnotes and is especially attendant to Greco-Roman backgrounds.

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                              • Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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                                This very conservative commentary attends carefully to exegetical detail and engages important interpretive issues. It intends to both engage these issues and the text at the highest level while also being accessible to serious readers beyond fellow scholars.

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                                • O’Brien, Peter T. Colossians, Philemon. Word Biblical Commentary 44. Waco, TX: Word, 1982.

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                                  More accessible than most commentaries on the Greek text. Gives extensive attention to theological matters, including their import for believers in the present.

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                                  • Wilson, R. McL. Colossians and Philemon. International Critical Commentary. London: Τ&Τ Clark, 2005.

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                                    A thorough commentary on the Greek text, examining the lexical, historical, and contextual issues. Wilson returns to the view that the opponents of Colossians are a type of incipient Gnosticism, a view most have abandoned.

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                                    Mid-Level Commentaries

                                      Commentaries at this level do not assume readers are able to work from the Greek text. They do assume readers are generally familiar with biblical studies and its attendant disciplines. More than most commentaries, Aletti 1993 bases his reading on the rhetorical structure he discerns. Lindemann 1983 reads Colossians within the flow of theological changes in the Pauline School following the death of Paul. Pokorný 1991 gives more attention to the theology of the letter than to other critical issues. MacDonald 2000 is distinctive in the way the author draws on the methods of the social sciences to understand both the situation the letter addresses and its theology. Talbert 2007 helps students gain an understanding of the scholarly debates while attending to the structures of the letters arguments and its contemporary theological importance. Witherington 2007 employs the social-rhetorical method to try to clarify the letter’s meaning and to establish Pauline authorship. Sumney 2008 combines setting the historical context with attention to rhetorical structure as the means to understand the letter’s theology.

                                    • Aletti, Jean-Noël. Saint Paul Épitre aux Colossiens; Introduction, Traduction et Commentaire. Etudes Bibliques 20. Paris: Éditions J. Gabalda, 1993.

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                                      Outlines the letter according to the categories of ancient rhetoric. Aletti uses this structure to help explicate the movement of the letter’s argument.

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                                      • Lindemann, Andreas. Der Kolosserbrief. Zürcher Bibelkommentarie, NT 10. Zurich, Switzerland: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1983.

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                                        Brief exposition of the letter as a window into the development of the theology of the Pauline school.

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                                        • MacDonald, Margaret Y. Colossians and Ephesians. Sacra Pagina 17. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.

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                                          Sets Colossians in its historical setting by drawing on insights from the social sciences, as well as other tools of critical investigation. MacDonald also gives careful attention to theological issues.

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                                          • Pokorný, Petr. Colossians: A Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991.

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                                            While drawing on current historical-critical scholarship, this translation of the author’s 1987 commentary focuses on the theology, particularly the Christology, of the letter.

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                                            • Sumney, Jerry L. Colossians; A Commentary. New Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.

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                                              Interprets the letter through its historical context and rhetorical structure. Gives significant attention to theological issues of the letter. Finds the household code to be a “hidden transcript.”

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                                              • Talbert, Charles H. Ephesians and Colossians. Paideia. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

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                                                Talbert provides a good review of scholarly positions and sets the letter in the context of the literature of the period. He gives special attention to the flow of the argument and to the theological issues raised by the text, including their import for today’s church.

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                                                • Witherington III, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.

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                                                  Using a method he has used in several commentaries, Witherington employs insights from rhetorical studies to understand these letters. He finds them all to be Pauline, accounting for differences with the undisputed letters by asserting that Paul is using “Asiatic rhetoric” in these. He also comments on the letters’ contemporary significance for believers.

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                                                  Accessible Commentaries

                                                    Commentaries in this category are intended for a broad audience. They will help readers prepare to engage the mid-level commentaries. They provide the conclusions of their authors without the argument or evidence that more detailed commentaries provide. Caird 1976 introduces readers to the theological ideas and issues that the text raises. Thurston 1995 and Donelson 1996 give some attention to critical issues but remain focused on the theological message of the text. Hay 2000 provides a more detailed commentary than the three already mentioned. Thus he can include more evidence for the views he takes on various critical and theological issues. Lincoln 2000 is the most challenging commentary in this category. At times the author may expect some knowledge of biblical studies that the others do not. Still it is accessible and includes discussion of present-day application for each section of Colossians. Thompson 2005 not only provides an interpretation of Colossians but also sets her theological conclusions in the context of current discussions in systematic theology. Similarly, but in less detail, Bird 2009 interprets the text and applies it to church life today. Walsh and Keesmaat 2004 offers a distinctive and very accessible commentary. They read the letter through the lens of postcolonial interpretation, set much of their work in dialogue form, and apply their exegetical results to current political and social issues.

                                                  • Bird, M. F. Colossians and Philemon. A New Covenant Commentary. New Covenant Commentary 12. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009.

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                                                    This series works largely from an evangelical perspective. It gives interpretations of sections of text that set them in their original contexts and relates them to contemporary church life.

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                                                    • Caird, G. B. Paul’s Letters from Prison: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, in the Revised Standard Version. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

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                                                      Very accessible, brief but insightful theological commentary.

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                                                      • Donelson, Lewis R. Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996.

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                                                        Intended for general readers, this short and introductory treatment touches on critical issues and focuses on theological matters, including what they may say to believers today.

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                                                        • Hay, David M. Colossians. Nashville: Abingdon, 2000.

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                                                          While advanced readers will see the interaction with current scholarship, this conversation does not interfere with this commentary’s accessibility. Hay is attendant to theological issues, wrestling with some difficult questions in helpful ways.

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                                                          • Lincoln, Andrew T. “The Letter to the Colossians.” In The Second Letter to the Corinthians, The Letter to the Galatians, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Letter to the Philippians, The Letter to the Colossians, The First and Second Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus, The Letter to Philemon. Vol. 11 of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, 553–669. Nashville: Abingdon, 2000.

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                                                            In accord with the format of the series, offers a historical critical reading followed by an application of the passage for the church today. Lincoln provides a more detailed reading of Colossians than other volumes in this category.

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                                                            • Thompson, Marianne Meye. Colossians and Philemon. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.

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                                                              For a wide audience within the field of theological studies, it offers a historical critical reading followed by discussion of how to use the results of exegesis to inform systematic theology.

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                                                              • Thurston, Bonnie B. Reading Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Reading the New Testament. New York: Crossroad, 1995.

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                                                                A very accessible commentary that focuses attention on theological issues, while providing brief discussions of critical, historical, and literary issues.

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                                                                • Walsh, Brian J., and Sylvia C. Keesmaat. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004.

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                                                                  Using a dialogue format, it moves from interpreting Colossians with a postcolonial hermeneutic to applying its results to current society.

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                                                                  Authorship

                                                                    Critical scholars have raised questions about the authorship of Colossians for over 150 years. Doubts about its authenticity are complicated by its close relationship with Ephesians. In the face of a growing number of interpreters who found the letter to be pseudonymous, Percy 1946 took up many issues used to deny that Paul was the author and argued for authenticity. The central issue in determining the authorship of Colossians must be whether its theology is consistent with the undisputed letters or can represent some development within Paul, rather than in his successors. While some have found it compatible (see Dunn 1996 cited under Technical Commentaries), Schenk 1983 argued that the ethics that is built on the Christology of the letter is impossible for Paul. Kiley 1986 points to the absence of a reference to financial matters as a significant indication that it is not authentic. Bujard 1973 took a different tack, examining the use of language and style of the letter to compare it to the undisputed Paulines. He concludes that Paul did not write Colossians. Leppä 2003 takes yet a different approach. She devised a method for analyzing literary dependence that produces evidence that Colossians is dependent on the undisputed letters. Approximately 60 percent of critical scholars seem to see Colossians as pseudonymous. Those who find it authentic see it written at the very end of Paul’s life, perhaps even after Paul was able to write it (see Dunn 1996 cited under Technical Commentaries). Most who find it to be pseudonymous think that Ephesians is later than Colossians and dependent on it. Hübner 1997 (cited under Technical Commentaries), however, argues for a mutual dependence. Similarly, Best 1997 suggests that the authors of these letters were in conversation within the Pauline school. Thus, there is no literary dependence in either direction. Frank 2009, however, argues that part of the purpose of Colossians is to shape how those who come after him read Paul’s letters.

                                                                  • Best, Ernst. “Who Used Whom? The Relationship of Ephesians and Colossians.” New Testament Studies 43 (1997): 72–96.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/S0028688500022505E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Focusing on literary similarities with Ephesians, notes that there seem to be times when Colossians depends on Ephesians. Best concludes that these letters had different authors who were both members of the same Pauline school, had discussed Pauline theology, and wrote at about the same time.

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                                                                    • Bujard, Walter. Stilanalytische Untersuchungen zum Kolosserbnef als Beitrag zur Methodik von Sprachvergleichen. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973.

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                                                                      This groundbreaking study examines the style of Colossians in detail, concluding that it is pseudonymous. He examines its use of Greek connectives (particles, conjunctions, etc.), the way the author structures treatment of the subject matter, and rhetorical style. In each case he compares Colossians with undisputed Pauline letters.

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                                                                      • Frank, Nicole. Der Kolosserbrief im Kontext des paulinischen Erbes. Eine intertextuelle Studie zur Auslegung und Fortschreibung der Paulustradition. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2.271. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

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                                                                        Assuming that Colossians is pseudonymous, Frank argues that its author uses fictionalized self-references and adopts Pauline language and motifs, along with known formulaic expressions to show readers how to interpret the authentic Pauline texts. He sees Colossians as an early example of the modifications to the Pauline message within Pauline Christianity.

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                                                                        • Kiley, Mark. Colossians as Pseudepigraphy. Biblical Seminar 4. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1986.

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                                                                          Kiley discusses the nature of pseudepigraphy in the 1st century and then identifies Colossians as such a work. He argues that the absence of a reference to financial matters (which are mentioned in all undisputed letters) in Colossians shows that it is not from Paul’s hand. It does, however, have characteristics of other pseudepigraphic works.

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                                                                          • Leppä, Outi. The Making of Colossians: A Study on the Formation and Purpose of a Deutero-Pauline Letter. Publication of the Finnish Exegetical Society 86. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003.

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                                                                            Sets out and employs a method for identifying literary dependence that identifies three types of parallels, with each allowing a different degree of certainty about whether an author was familiar with another text. She uses this method to argue that Colossians is pseudonymous.

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                                                                            • Percy, Ernst. Die Probleme der Kolosser—und Epheserbriefe. Lund, Sweden: Gleerup, 1946.

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                                                                              Through taking up a number of critical issues (including its language and literary style, its theology, and the identity of its opponents), argues for the authenticity of both Colossians and Ephesians.

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                                                                              • Schenk, Wolfgang. “Christus, das Geheimnis der Welt, als dogmatisches und ethisches Grundprinzip des Kolosserbriefes.” Evangelische Theologie 43 (1983): 138–155.

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                                                                                The foundational introduction, 1:15–20, uses the “formerly hidden—now revealed” pattern to identify Christ as the “mystery of the world.” Colossians’ conservative ethic is built on the foundation of the unquestioned created order, a view consistent with this Christology. Schenk finds Colossians to be pseudonymous because of the way it draws ethical implications from this Christological view.

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                                                                                Opponents

                                                                                  The question of the identity of the teaching Colossians opposes has been one of the continuing critical issues. This question continues to receive attention because the answer it receives influences both how we understand Colossians and how we understand the early church and its development. Francis and Meeks 1973 brought together the essays that had set out the basic alternatives for understanding this question for the 20th century. Most interpreters have seen these other teachers as promoting a form of syncretism or a form of mysticism that includes some observance of the law. The other issue that divides interpreters is whether the phrase “worship of angels” means worship offered to angels or worship that angels offer to God. Bandstra 1974 saw parallels with Qumran rather than with Gnosticism. Thus, their mystic experiences brought them directly into God’s presence with no mediation. Francis, in Francis and Meeks 1974, argued that the opposed teachers call on the Colossians to worship with angels. Similarly, Rowland 1983 argues that these teachers pattern their lives on the heavenly conduct they see in visions and demand that others do the same. Following this tradition, Sumney 1999 contends that the mildly ascetic rituals, with some derived from Judaism, are intended to produce visions of angels that the teachers say are necessary for salvation. Following the direction of Dibelius (see Francis and Meeks 1973), Arnold 1996 draws on archeological finds of Asia Minor to reconstruct a syncretism that mainly uses elements of local culture rather than Judaism. Some understand the opposition to be people outside the church who challenge the church to defend its teaching. DeMaris 1994 identifies these outsiders as Middle Platonist philosophers who were influenced by Judaism. Martin 1996 identifies them as Cynics, and Dunn 1995 sees them as non-Christian Jews. Despite the extensive debate about these teachers, Hooker 1973 maintains that the tone of the letter suggests that Colossians does not oppose a specific false teaching. Most, however, continue to think a specific problem is in view.

                                                                                • Arnold, Clinton E. The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996.

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                                                                                  Argues that interpreters must draw extensively on local cults to understand the Colossian opponents and presents extensive material from magical papyri, inscriptions, and amulets from the region of Colossae. Arnold finds that the opponents venerate angels to gain protection from the powers of the stoicheia who control much in daily life.

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                                                                                  • Bandstra, Andrew J. “Did the Colossian Errorists Need a Mediator?” Paper presented at the twenty-fifth annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, 27–29 December 1973, at Wheaton College. In New Dimensions in New Testament Study. Edited by Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney, 329–343. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974.

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                                                                                    Drawing on parallels from Qumran and other apocalyptic texts, identifies the opponents as Jewish mystical ascetics who claim not to need a mediator to gain knowledge of God. Thus, they do not worship angels or need Christ for access to God.

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                                                                                    • DeMaris, Richard E. The Colossian Controversy: Wisdom in Dispute at Colossae. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 96. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1994.

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                                                                                      Demaris argues that the opponents are Middle Platonist philosophers influenced by Judaism and are drawn to elements of Christianity, including the cosmic peace that Christ brings. They seek divine knowledge through many mediators of truth. He contends that they worship these angels who inspire knowledge, but that the stoicheia are the elements of the cosmos, not personal beings.

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                                                                                      • Dunn, James D. G. “The Colossian Philosophy: A Confident Jewish Apologia.” Biblica 76 (1995): 165–166.

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                                                                                        Dunn argues that the opponents are observant members of the local synagogue who are dismissive of Christian teaching. In particular, they reject the claim that church members (particularly Gentiles) participate in Israel’s heritage.

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                                                                                        • Francis, Fred O., and Wayne A. Meeks, eds. Conflict in Colossae: A Problem in the Interpretation of Early Christianity Illustrated by Selected Modern Studies. Sources for Biblical Studies 4. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1973.

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                                                                                          This volume contains the influential studies of opponents by Dibelius, Bornkamm, Lyonnet, and Francis, the first three translated into English, the original language of the fourth. These essays set out the basic alternatives offered for the identity of these opponents through 1962. Their arguments remain starting points for the discussion.

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                                                                                          • Hooker, Morna D. “Were There False Teachers in Colossians?” In Christ and Spirit in the New Testament: Studies in Honour of Charles Franscis Digby Moule. Edited by Barnabas Lindars and Stephen S. Smalley, 315–331. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

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                                                                                            Hooker argues that Colossians is too calm and general to indicate that it opposes a specific false teaching. Rather than rejecting opponents, it encourages readers to reject pagan and Jewish practices and shows how Christ has replaced Torah.

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                                                                                            • Martin, Troy. By Philosophy and Empty Deceit: Colossians as a Response to a Cynic Critique. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 118. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

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                                                                                              Martin uses various parallels and references to a philosophy, a teaching tradition, and asceticism to identify the opponents of Colossians as non-Christian Cynics who are in debate with the teaching of the church. Martin follows many elements of Sumney1999 but allows more use of parallels. This study contains an important grammatical study of 2:20–23.

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                                                                                              • Rowland, Christopher. “Apocalyptic Visions and the Exaltation of Christ in the Letter to the Colossians.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 19 (1983): 73–83.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1177/0142064X8300601905E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                The central problem with the opponents is that they pattern their religious existence on attaining visions and then on the angelic behavior that they observe in those visions. While they are influenced by Judaism, their teaching poses no threat to the supremacy of Christ and they do not seem to have an unacceptable Christology.

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                                                                                                • Sumney, Jerry L. “Servants of Satan,” “False Brothers,” and Other Opponents of Paul. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 188. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.

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                                                                                                  Follows a method for identifying opponents (first proposed in 1990) that distinguishes among types of statements (explicit statements, allusions, and affirmations) about them and the context of their occurrence (e.g., polemical or didactic). Sumney identifies them as teachers who impose mildly ascetic practices designed to help others attain visions they say are required for forgiveness and salvation. See pp. 188–213 on Colossians.

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                                                                                                  Outline and Rhetoric

                                                                                                    Since the beginning of Colossians differs from the usual construction of Pauline letters, interpreters debate where the thanksgiving ends. While some end the thanksgiving at verse 11 or 12a, others extend it through verse 14 (see Technical Commentaries, Mid-level Commentaries, and Accessible Commentaries). Lamarche 1975 argues that the preformed liturgical material of 1:15–20 belongs within the thanksgiving. Recent commentators (e.g., Dunn 1996 and Sumney 2008, see under Technical Commentaries and Mid-Level Commentaries respectively) see the thanksgiving extending through 1:23. The rise of rhetorical interpretation of New Testament texts has significantly influenced the ways some understand the logic and argumentation of Colossians. While most interpreters view Colossians as largely written to counter opponents, Olbricht 1996 argues that analysis of the letter’s rhetoric suggests that it offers instruction and encouragement (with warning) more than it launches a polemic. Sumney 2002 also examines the manner of argumentation in Colossians. While interpreters usually seek a kind of syllogistic or enthymemic logic, Sumney argues that the author’s basic argumentative strategy is to cite accepted tradition and then draws unrecognized implications from it. Sumney 2005 argues further that the presentation of Paul’s ethos is a central part of the letter’s argument.

                                                                                                  • Lamarche, Paul. “Structure de l’epitre aux Colossiens.” Biblica 56 (1975): 453–463.

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                                                                                                    The themes of the central portion of the letter (1:21–2:15) are set out in 1:21–23, following the thanksgiving that includes the hymn of 1:15–20. What follows in 2:16–4:1 is the application of the message in that central portion.

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                                                                                                    • Olbricht, Thomas H. “The Stoicheia and the Rhetoric of Colossians: Then and Now.” In Rhetoric, Scripture and Theology: Essays from the 1994 Pretoria Conference. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Thomas H. Olbricht. Journal for New Testament Studies Supplement 131. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.

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                                                                                                      Olbricht investigates the rhetorical strategies Colossians uses. Colossians is seen as more admonitory than polemical and its central rhetorical strategy is to set Christ above any competing powers, including the stoicheia who support the present reality. Olbricht sets his reading of the message of Colossians in the context of the end of apartheid in South Africa.

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                                                                                                      • Sumney, Jerry L. “The Argument of Colossians.” In Rhetorical Argumentation in Biblical Texts: Essays from the Lund 2000 Conference. Edited by Anders Eriksson, Thomas H. Olbricht, and Walter Überlacker, 339–352. Emory Studies in Early Christianity 8. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 2002.

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                                                                                                        Sumney points to the ways Colossians uses various rhetorical strategies. Colossians bases its argument on the elaboration of accepted traditions more than on syllogistic logic. As part of the definition of Christian existence, the ethical exhortations of Colossians are an important part of the letter’s argument, not an addition after the theological argument is complete.

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                                                                                                        • Sumney, Jerry L. “The Function of Ethos in Colossians.” In Rhetoric, Ethic, and Moral Persuasion: Essays from the 2002 Heidelberg Conference. Edited by Thomas H. Olbricht and Anders Eriksson, 301–315. Emory Studies in Early Christianity 11. New York: T&T Clark, 2005.

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                                                                                                          After surveying ancient discussions of ethos in argumentation, Sumney argues that ethos plays an important role in the argument of Colossians. Development and use of Paul’s ethos as one who suffers for the readers is most prominent, but the letter also develops a particular ethos of the readers and of the opposed teachers.

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                                                                                                          Theology

                                                                                                            The theology of Colossians has received less attention than the theology of the undisputed letters. The theology of the letters of disputed authorship has often not been considered as important, original, or authentic a representation of the core beliefs of the earliest church. Colossians has also been overshadowed by the rhetoric and imagery of Ephesians. Much of the attention given to the theology of Colossians is designed to compare it with either the undisputed Paulines or Ephesians. When attention has come to Colossians’ theology it has most often focused on particular sets of issues that relate to a few difficult verses or the hymnic material in 1:15–20. Wedderburn 1993 provides one of the view comprehensive studies of Colossians’ theology that appears outside of commentaries. Hoppe 1992 finds Christology as the heart of Colossians’ theology, identifying Christ as the one who rescues believers from hostile powers. Gräbe 2005 also sees liberation from these powers as central, but places more emphasis on the image of reconciliation and on making this distinctive from other religions, including specifically Judaism. Sappington 1991 stresses release from judgment as a central way that salvation and reconciliation are conceived. In distinction from these studies, van Kooten 2003 asserts that rather than forcing the powers into submission, the Christology of Colossians has them incorporated into the cosmic body of Christ. Rather than seeing the body of Christ as the cosmos, Dübbers 2005 identifies it as the sphere of salvation. Still 2004 argues that Colossians’ eschatology, while distinctive, retains enough commonality that it does not support seeing the letter as pseudonymous. Meeks 1977 avoids the comparative mode to examine the relationship between a central theological theme and the expected community ethic.

                                                                                                          • Dübbers, Michael. Christologie und Existenz im Kolosserbrief: Exegetischeund semantische Untersuchungen zur Intention des Kolosserbriefs. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2.191. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005.

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                                                                                                            Examining the relationship between Christology and soteriology, Dübbers focuses attention on the liturgical section of 1:15–20. He finds Christ as the foundation and sphere of salvation and as the reality that is to determine ethical life.

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                                                                                                            • Gräbe, Petrus J. “Salvation in Colossians and Ephesians.” In Salvation in the New Testament; Perspectives on Soteriology. Edited by Jan G. van der Watt, 287–304. Novum Testamentum Supplement 121. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2005.

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                                                                                                              While Hellenistic understandings of the cosmos envision the cosmic powers as hostile to humans, Colossians presents God as one who offers reconciliation. Gräbe sees this as a distinctive theme, even in comparison with Judaism. The focus of Colossians’ theology, then, is on salvation (experienced as liberation) and cosmology.

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                                                                                                              • Hoppe, Rudolf. “Theo-logie in den Deuteropaulinen (Kolosser- und Epheserbrief).” Presented at a meeting held 18–22 March 1991, in Lucerne, Switzerland. In Monotheismus und Christologie: Zur Gottesfrage im hellenistischen Judentum und im Urchristentum.Edited by J. Gnilka, 163–186. Quaestiones disputatae 138. Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 1992.

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                                                                                                                Christology receives the primary theological emphasis in Colossians overall and specifically in its rejection of the false teaching. Christ is seen as the one who rescues believers from hostile cosmic powers. The emphasis on realized eschatology, particularly present resurrection, identifies believers with Christ, who has overcome all cosmic powers.

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                                                                                                                • van Kooten, George H.. Cosmic Christology in Paul and the Pauline School: Colossians and Ephesians in the Context of Graeco-Roman Cosmology, with a New Synopsis of the Greek Texts. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2.171. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2003.

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                                                                                                                  Van Kooten argues that Colossians has a Christology in which Christ’s body constitutes the cosmos. This differs from Paul’s view that Christ is bringing the powers of the cosmos into subjection.

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                                                                                                                  • Meeks, Wayne A. “In One Body: The Unity of Humankind in Colossians and Ephesians.” In God’s Christ and His People: Studies in Honour of Nils Alstrup Dahl. Edited by Jacob Jervell and Wayne A. Meeks, 209–221. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1977.

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                                                                                                                    Within Pauline churches, baptism was a drama of the re-creation of humanity, which then has unity as a central feature. Application of the hymn in 1:21–23 shows that this re-creation has cosmic effects. In opposition to a growing spiritual elitism, Colossians argues that the reconciliation received at baptism must show itself in the life of the congregation.

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                                                                                                                    • Sappington, Thomas J. Revelation and Redemption at Colossae. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 53. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1991.

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                                                                                                                      With apocalyptic Judaism as the background of the theology of Colossians and its opponents, the threat of eschatological judgment is the central issue in this authentically Pauline letter. Paul’s primary response is to explicate the hymn of 1:15–20 to show that salvation and redemption are secure. Since the work of Christ included defeating the accusing cosmic powers, believers need not fear judgment.

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                                                                                                                      • Still, Todd D. “Eschatology in Colossians: How Realized is It?” New Testament Studies 50 (2004): 125–138.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/S0028688504000086E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Still argues that there is more futurist eschatology in Colossians than is usually recognized. Through comparison of selected themes, he finds differences between the eschatology of Colossians and that of the undisputed Paulines. Yet, there is a basic continuity between them.

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                                                                                                                        • Wedderburn, A. J. M. “The Theology of Colossians.” In The Theology of the Later Pauline Letters. Edited by Andrew T. Lincoln and A. J. M. Wedderburn. New Testament Theology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511520488E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Wedderburn identifies the author of Colossians as a person with the outlook of apocalyptic and mystical Judaism. Wedderburn points to the preformed hymn and its use as the most important theological issue because of the distinctive claims it makes about Christ. Though Colossians’ eschatology is more realized than Paul’s, this author relates theology and ethics as Paul does.

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                                                                                                                          Christological Liturgical Piece (1:15–20)

                                                                                                                            The liturgical material in 1:15–20 has received more attention than any other part of Colossians. Most identify it as the theological heart of the letter and often point to perceived echoes throughout the letter as evidence that it provides the foundation of the argument as the letter proceeds. Lohse 1968, for example, sees it as the basis for Colossians’ rejection of the opponents. Similarly, Otero Lázaro 1999 sees this section as pivotal in understanding the letter’s theology. Interpreters agree that the material as it stands in Colossians does not fit the required standards to be an ancient hymn because the meter is inconsistent. Thus, many have sought to identify the editorial insertions added by the author of Colossians or perhaps even the additions of an earlier Christian editor. Käsemann 1982 (originally published in 1949) and Robinson 1957 attempt to identify such additions and represent early attempts to identify the origin and theological outlook of the original hymn. Deichgräber 1967 follows most interpreters in finding two strophes, though some had proposed three. He rejects, however, Käsemann’s view that the hymn was originally Gnostic, agreeing with Robinson that it was influenced by Hellenistic Judaism. Beasley-Murray 1980 finds two strophes but adds that there was an interlude between them. This allows him to retain significantly more of the hymn as part of the original composition. Balchin 1985 and Wright 1990 argue that this material does not constitute a hymn, though it is written in an exalted style. Both also continue to see it as preformed liturgical material but not formally a hymn. Gordley 2007 argues that this material is prose and yet hymnic, drawing on both Jewish and Hellenistic ideas and forms. Most interpreters recognize that the verses that introduce this liturgical piece also contain some preformed traditional material. Lowe 1980 pushes beyond this consensus when he contends that all of verses 12–20 is a single baptismal liturgy.

                                                                                                                          • Balchin, John F. “Colossians 1:15–20: An Early Christian Hymn? The Arguments from Style.” Vox Evangelica 15 (1985): 65–94.

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                                                                                                                            Finding no clear meter without significant modification to the text, Balchin does not see 1:15–20 as a hymn, though it is preformed material. Provides a review of positions taken on the number of strophes in the hymn.

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                                                                                                                            • Beasley-Murray, Paul. “Colossians 1:15–20: An Early Christian Hymn Celebrating the Lordship of Christ.” In Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to Professor F. F. Bruce on His 70th Birthday. Edited by Donald A. Hagner and Murray J. Harris, 169–183. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980.

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                                                                                                                              Identifies a preformed hymn composed of two strophes with an interlude at verses 17–18a. In comparison with Robinson, the original intervening material allows Beasley-Murray to retain more of the Colossians text as a part of the original hymn.

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                                                                                                                              • Deichgräber, Reinhard. Gotteshymnus und Christushymnus in der frühen Christenheit; Untersuchungen zu Form, Sprache und Stil der frühchristlichen Hymnen. Studien zur Umwelt des Neuen Testaments 5. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967.

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                                                                                                                                His treatment of Colossians is only part of this influential study of early Christian hymnic material. Detecting a two-strophe hymn composed by someone other than Paul, he rejects the idea that it had a Gnostic or Semitic origin. He sees its Christology influenced by Hellenistic Judaism’s Wisdom tradition.

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                                                                                                                                • Gordley, Matthew E. The Colossian Hymn in Context. An Exegesis in Light of Jewish and Greco-Roman Hymnic and Epistolary Conventions. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2.228. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                  Gordley finds 1:15–20 to be a prose hymn that has been influenced by both Jewish and Hellenistic forces, so that it fits well in the cultural setting. Finding parallels in the philosophical tradition, he examines its place within Colossians. He sees it to have a significant place within the letter’s argument.

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                                                                                                                                  • Käsemann, Ernst. “A Primitive Christian Baptismal Liturgy.” In Essays on New Testament Themes. By Ernst Käsemann, 149–168. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982.

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                                                                                                                                    Originally published in 1949, this essay finds the text of Colossians to be the Christianization of a two-strophe, pre-Christian hymn that was originally Gnostic. Before its use in Colossians it had been transformed into a baptismal liturgy that expressed the faith of the church.

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                                                                                                                                    • Lohse, Eduard. “Pauline Theology in the Letter to the Colossians.” New Testament Studies 15 (1968): 211–220.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/S0028688500019044E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      The theology of Colossians is formed in response to the false teaching, which is a syncretistic teaching unrelated to Judaism. The hymn of 1:15–20 serves as the basis for rejecting the opponents. The theological differences found when compared to the undisputed letters shows that Colossians is pseudonymous.

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                                                                                                                                      • Lowe, Hartmut. “Bekenntnis, Apostelamt und Kirche im Kolosserbrief.” In Kirche: Festschrift für Günther Bornkamm zum 75 Geburstag. Edited by D. Lührmann and Georg Strecker, 299–314. Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1980.

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                                                                                                                                        Colossians 1:12–20 is a baptismal tradition known to the original readers. As it is echoed throughout the letter, it serves as the author’s starting point for rejecting the false teaching. Lowe rejects the idea that the discussion of Paul’s life indicates the existence of opposition to Paul’s apostleship.

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                                                                                                                                        • Otero Lázaro, T. Col 1,15–20 en el contexto de la carta. Tesi Gregoriana, Serie Teologia 48. Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                          Seeing the Christology of the hymnic material to cohere with the theology of the rest of the letter. Otero Lázaro sees it reflecting the central themes of the letter. This significantly shapes his understanding of reconciliation in the letter.

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                                                                                                                                          • Robinson, James M. “A Formal Analysis of Colossians 1 15–20.” Journal of Biblical Literature 76 (1957): 270–287.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/3261897E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            An important early form critical study in which Robinson finds two well-balanced strophes as the original hymn. The Pauline additions add all the imbalances in structure. Robinson sees the original theology of the hymn to be drawn from Hellenistic Judaism.

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                                                                                                                                            • Wright, N. T. “Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1.15–20.” New Testament Studies 36 (1990): 444–468.

                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1017/S002868850001585XE-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                              Finding a chiasmus in verses 17–18b, he argues that the pre-formed piece does not meet the formal criteria of a poem or hymn, even though it has an exalted style and poetic rhythm.

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                                                                                                                                              Fill up the Afflictions of Christ (1:24)

                                                                                                                                                One of the most difficult theological passages in Colossians is the place where it has Paul assert that, “I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (1:24). It raises questions about atonement theory and the work of Christ. In earlier times, interpreters were split along denominational lines, with some acknowledging that merits of others (particularly saints) may contribute to a person’s salvation and others rejecting this notion and asserting that the sacrifice of Christ is fully sufficient and could not be supplemented. This split between Catholic and Protestant interpreters is no longer prominent, but the difficulty of the verse remains. Yates 1970 surveys the four basic ways it has been understood, while Kremer 1956 provides a more comprehensive review of the history of interpretation. Bauckham 1975 represents the most popular current understanding of the phrase. He asserts that it refers to the idea of the messianic woes found in apocalyptic Judaism. In this view, there is a set amount of suffering that must occur before the end comes. If one person suffers an extra amount, it means that others will have to suffer less. Paul suffers more than his share so others will need to suffer less. Gibson 2004 points to the ways dying for others is framed in the Greco-Roman world more broadly as the context in which to understand such statements in Paul. Sumney 2006 combines this with discussions of the Greco-Roman dying a noble death for others to argue that Colossians presents Paul’s sufferings on behalf of others as an example to guide the readers’ behavior.

                                                                                                                                              • Bauckham, Richard. “Colossians 1:24 Again: The Apocalyptic Motif.” Evangelical Quarterly 47 (1975): 168–170.

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                                                                                                                                                Bauckham argues that the phrase fits best within the apocalyptic expectation that God’s people must endure a set quota of suffering before the end comes. Thus, Paul’s sufferings mean that others will have to suffer less for the quota to be filled and the end to come.

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                                                                                                                                                • Gibson, Jeffrey. “Paul’s ‘Dying Formula’: Prolegomena to an Understanding of its Import and Significance.” In Celebrating Romans: Template for Pauline Theology; Essays in Honor of Robert Jewett. Edited by Sheila E. McGinn, 20–41. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                  Gibson provides numerous ancient examples to demonstrate that the motif of dying for others was well known in the 1st century. He shows that this was used most extensively for those who die for their city or country and used by politicians in times of crisis. It was also used by philosophers to discuss true friendship.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Kremer, Jacob. Was an den Leiden Christi noch Mangelt: eine Interpretationsgeschichte und exegetische Untersuchung zu Kol 1,24b. Bonner Biblische Beitrage. Bonn, Germany: P. Hanstein, 1956.

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                                                                                                                                                    Remains the most extensive review of the history of the phrase’s interpretation. Kremer argues that the second prefix of antanaplēroō changes the term’s meaning to “replace.” Thus Colossians asserts that Paul’s sufferings in some way replace the sufferings of Christ.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Sumney, Jerry L. “‘I Fill Up What is Lacking in the Afflictions of Christ’: Paul’s Vicarious Suffering in Colossians.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68 (2006): 664–680.

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                                                                                                                                                      Drawing on Greco-Roman parallels, argues that suffering to set an example is seen as vicarious suffering in the 1st century and in Colossians. What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions that Paul fills is an immediate example for the Colossians to imitate.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Yates, Roy. “Note on Colossians 1:24.” Evangelical Quarterly 42 (1970): 88–92.

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                                                                                                                                                        Surveys and groups understandings of this phrase into four categories: Christ’s sufferings are supplemented by merits of others, there is a distinction between suffering as sacrifice for sin and suffering to set an example, it refers to the mystical link between Christ and Christians, and sufferings that fulfill the set and required amount of suffering during the messianic woes.

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                                                                                                                                                        Elements of the World (2:8)

                                                                                                                                                          Certainty about the meaning of the phrase “elements of the world” (stoicheia tou kosmou) has been elusive. Interpreters return to discussion of it because it affects the way we understand both the occasion of the letter and perhaps its theology. The question is complicated by the appearance of the same phrase in Galatians 4, where the context is quite different. Thornton 1989 tries to answer this problem by relating the stoicheia as the structure of the cosmos to Jewish new moon feasts. Yates 1980 surveys the interpretations scholars have suggested. While most interpreters have argued that the stoicheia are beings, Rusam 1992 is a recent demonstration that this meaning of the term is not found in the 1st century. Schweizer 1970 and Schweizer 1988 demonstrate that in the 1st century this language points to the four elements that make up the cosmos. While there may have been movement toward personifying them, that understanding is not found in extant literature. If it refers to beings of some sort, the reference in Galatians is the first instance of that meaning and Colossians the second. Still, a number of interpreters continue to assert that this understanding was current in the 1st century and thus identify the stoicheia as beings of some sort, perhaps the angels some argue that the opponents worship.

                                                                                                                                                        • Rusam, Dietrich. “Neue Belege zu den stoicheia tou kosmou (Gal 4, 3.9; Kol 2, 8. 20).” Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 83 (1992): 119–125.

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                                                                                                                                                          Rusam surveys the use of this phrase in Christian literature through the 4th century. He finds that the stoicheia are consistently identified as the four elements in this material.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Schweizer, Eduard. “‘Die Elemente der Welt’ Gal 4:3, 9; Kol 2:8, 20.” In Verborum Veritas. Edited by O. Böcher and K. Haacker, 245–259. Wuppertal, Germany: Theologischer Verlag Rolf Brockhaus, 1970.

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                                                                                                                                                            Schweizer argues that the ancient evidence shows that the stoicheia are the four elements of which all things are made.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Schweizer, Eduard. “Slaves of the Elements and Worshipers of Angels: Gal 4:3, 9 and Col 2:8, 18, 20.” Journal of Biblical Literature 107 (1988): 455–468.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/3267580E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Schweizer acknowledges that “elements” always refers to the four elements that compose the world in all extant literature until the 4th century CE. These elements sometimes kept souls in the earthly sphere unless the person practiced asceticism. The Colossians could be asking angelic beings to aid them in their soul’s ascent through these elements.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Thornton, T. C. G. “Jewish New Moon Festivals, Gal 4:3–11 and Col. 2:16.” Journal of Theological Studies ns 40 (1989): 97–100.

                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/jts/40.1.97E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                Thornton connects the stoicheia (elements) to calendrical observances of both Jews and pagans. Assuming that Jews in the church had given up Jewish calendrical festivals, he argues that if Gentile Christians begin to keep Jewish new moon observances, it is paramount to returning to the pagan understanding of the structure of the cosmos. He notes that 4th- century Christian commentators connected the stoicheia and the Jewish new moon observance.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Yates, Roy. “Christ and the Powers of Evil in Colossians.” In Studia Biblica 1978. Vol. 3, Papers on Paul and Other New Testament Authors. Edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, 461–468. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 3. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1980.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Reviews the main alternatives interpreters have offered for the meaning of “elements of the world.” He argues that stoicheia are personal cosmic powers.

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                                                                                                                                                                  The Cheirograph (2:14–15)

                                                                                                                                                                    Traditionally these verses that mention the cheirograph, or written record, “that was against us” have been interpreted as an instance where a New Testament writer asserts that the Jewish Law has no validity for Christians. But this assertion does not seem to relate to the primary theological emphases of Colossians, unless we see Torah observance as a central demand of the opponents. The influence of the New Perspective also led many to doubt this reading. Sappington 1991 found parallels of the language of these verses in judgment scenes in works of apocalyptic Judaism. Thus he argued that this written record is the book that contains the record of human deeds that was used at judgment. Luttenberger 2005 strengthened this line of interpretation by making connections with discussions of debt remission outside Judaism. Thus the imagery of debt remission fits well with that of forgiveness of sins. While this line of interpretation seems to be increasingly popular, Bevere 2009 employs a parallel in Ephesians to return to the traditional reading.

                                                                                                                                                                  • Bevere, Allan R. “The Cheirograph in Colossians 2:14 and the Ephesian Connection.” In Jesus and Paul, Global Perspectives in Honor of James D. G. Dunn for His 70th Birthday. Edited by B. J. Oropeza, C.K. RobertsonC. K. Robertson, and Douglas C. MohrmannDouglas C. Mohrmann, 199–206. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Returning to a position commonly held in earlier decades, Bevere argues that the “handwriting” is the Mosaic Law. He supports this by identifying the opponents as non-Christian Jews and through reference to Ephesians 2:15, which speaks of abolition of the Mosaic Law.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Luttenberger, Joram. “Der gekreuzigte Schuldschein: Ein Aspekt der Deutung des Todes Jesu im Kolosserbrief.” New Testament Studies 51 (2005): 80–95.

                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/S0028688505000044E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                      Interprets the handwriting in the context of ancient debt remission, seeing the debt discharged by the death of Christ. The author uses this imagery because it is more understandable for a Gentile audience.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Sappington, Thomas. Revelation and Redemption at Colossae. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 53. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Sets the “written document” in the context of apocalyptic Judaism, finding that it referred to the book that contained the record of a person’s deeds kept for judgment.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Worship of Angels (2:18)

                                                                                                                                                                          The question of how to interpret the phrase “worship of angels” has been a constant in the attempt to identify the teaching Colossians opposes. Most of the discussion of this phrase appears in commentaries (see the discussions of 2:18 in the resources in Technical Commentaries) and works devoted to the larger question of the identity of the opponents (see under Opponents). Yates 1985 provides a review of the discussion of this phrase. The majority have held that the opponents worship angels, understanding “of angels” as an objective genitive. Thus, the letter’s emphasis on Christology intends to show the superiority of Christ over these other beings. Francis 1962 renewed interest in the subjective genitive reading, which understanding the phrase to refer to worship that angels perform. Thus, the opposed teaching calls on others to experience visions so they can observe and then imitate angelic worship. This shifts some of the focus of the letter as a whole away from Christology solely and toward soteriology.

                                                                                                                                                                        • Francis, Fred O. “Humility and Angelic Worship in Col. 2:18.” Studia Theologica 16 (1962): 109–134.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Francis argues that “worship of angels” means worship performed by angels (and so is a subjective genitive) rather than worship directed to angels (the objective genitive). He cites examples of angelic liturgies and human participation in them in Jewish apocalyptic literature, including passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Yates, Roy. “The Worship of Angels.” Expository Times 97 (1985): 12–15.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Yates reviews the discussion of the translation of this phrase from the last quarter of the 19th century to the 1980s. He seems to be persuaded by the arguments for the subjective genitive and so suggests that Colossians is curbing enthusiasm rather than rejecting opponents.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Ethics

                                                                                                                                                                              While early critical scholarship tended to relegate the ethical instructions of Pauline letters to a secondary status, more recent interpreters recognize their place in the argument of the letters. Swart 1966 minimizes the place of future eschatology in Colossians’ ethics. Grässer 1967, however, sees an important relationship between the ethical instruction and the eschatology of Colossians. While Grässer argues that Colossians tries to restore the Pauline manner of ethical discourse, Meeks 1993 contends that it has abandoned the indicative/imperative approach in favor of shaping ethical reasoning through central myths. Meeks is distinctive in that he sees ethical instruction as a central purpose of the letter. Wilson 1997 also sees Colossians draw its methods of ethical instruction from the moral instruction of philosophers. Rather than looking to philosophical schools, Hartman 1987 points to connections between the ethical instructions in Colossians and the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Decalogue. He finds this evidence of a close relationship between churches that are predominantly Jewish and those that are predominantly Gentile. Bevere 2003 studies the ethical material through the lens of the New Perspective; he sees Colossians providing needed guidance where Torah observance is not an expectation. Barclay 2001 argues that Colossians’ Christology changes the meaning of all ethical instruction in Colossians, including the household code. He suggests that allowing Christology to shape our understanding of behavior is a proper hermeneutic for ethical reflection today.

                                                                                                                                                                            • Barclay, John M. G. “Ordinary But Different: Colossians and Hidden Moral Identity.” Australian Biblical Review 49 (2001): 34–52.

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                                                                                                                                                                              After arguing for the Christocentric nature of the whole of Colossians and reviewing various approaches to the household code, Barclay contends that this theological perspective has significantly shifted the ethic of the code. It accomplished this by redefining the meaning of required conduct so that it is service to God. Barclay finds in Colossians a useful hermeneutic for today.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Bevere, Allen R. Sharing in the Inheritance: Identity and the Moral Life in Colossians. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 226. New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Bevere studies the ethical material in Colossians from the outlook of the New Perspective. Faced with non-Christian Jewish opponents who reject the church’s claim to the heritage of Israel because its members are not Torah observant, Colossians’ ethical instructions present a response by setting out the proper Christian manner of life.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Grässer, Erich. “Kol 3,1–4 als Beispiel einer Interpretation secundum homines recipientes.” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 64 (1967): 139–168.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  The tensions between the realized and futurist eschatologies of Colossians are particularly prominent in 3:1–4 because the writer both accommodates and corrects the Hellenistic-mystical outlook of the opponents. The writer works to restore the Pauline dialectic of the indicative and imperative in the ethical discourse.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Hartman, Lars. “Code and Context: A Few Reflections on the Parenesis of Col 3:6–4:1.” In Tradition and Interpretation in the New Testament: Essays in Honor of E. Earle Ellis for His 60th Birthday. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne and Otto Betz, 237–247. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Hartman finds parallels and connections between the Decalogue and the ethical instruction in Colossians, including in its vice and virtue lists and its household code. He sees this as evidence of a close relationship between the predominantly Gentile churches and the outlook of predominantly Jewish churches.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Meeks, Wayne A. “‘To Walk Worthily of the Lord’: Moral Formation in the Pauline School Exemplified by the Letter to Colossians.” In Hermes and Athena: Biblical Exegesis and Philosophical Theology. Edited by Eleonore Stump and Thomas P. Flint, 37–58. University of Notre Dame Studies in the Philosophy of Religion 7. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Meeks sees the central purpose of Colossians to be shaping ethical reasoning and behavior, which are based on fundamental symbols of Christianity, particularly the death and resurrection of Christ. The Pauline indicative/imperative scheme does not work for Colossians. It is more interested in forming character and moral reasoning through reference to the community’s central myths.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Swart, Gerhard. “Eschatological Vision or Exhortation to Visible Christian Conduct? Notes on the Interpretation of Colossians 3:4.” Neotestamentica 33 (1966): 169–177.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Swart rejects the view that 3:4 refers to the Parousia. He argues that the passage calls for current manifestation of Christ through proper ethical living.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Wilson, Walter T. The Hope of Glory: Education and Exhortation in the Epistle to the Colossians. Novum Testamentum, Supplement 88. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Colossians adopts the methods of philosophic paraenetic discourse to help the readers identify proper behavior and understand the theological bases for that behavior. Wilson sees it wanting to help them set decisions about moral behavior and the reasoning used to make those decisions into the context of the Christian worldview.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Household Code

                                                                                                                                                                                            Interpreters have given extensive attention to the household code in Colossians in part because it is seen as the earliest example of this precise literary form. It has also played a leading role in discussions of the letter’s authorship. None of the undisputed letters has a household code, but Ephesians and later letters of the New Testament, both within and outside the Pauline corpus, do. Some see it as evidence of capitulation to cultural standards and expectation because they show the church backing away from the egalitarian statements they find in Paul. Others read the code as instruction about roles within the household that remain valid in all cultures and times. Thus, the code plays a role in discussions of the role of Scripture in Christian ethics. Crouch 1972 argued that the Colossian code was adapted from Hellenistic Judaism, which had previous developed household instructions that drew on Hellenistic and Stoic discussions of the household. Balch 1988 finds no clear evidence for the existence of this literary form prior to Colossians and so think it possible that this author and the author of 1 Peter invented the form. Hartman 1988 also suggests that the form may be a product of the church, even as it accepts some cultural structures. Following a similar line, Lincoln 1999 sees Colossians mold the code into a piece that calms fears about its theology causing social disruptions.

                                                                                                                                                                                          • Balch, David. “Household Codes.” In Greco-Roman Literature and the New Testament: Selected Forms and Genres. Edited by David E. Aune, 25–50. Sources for Biblical Study 21. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            This introductory essay reviews positions taken on the origin and source of the household codes. Beyond the consensus that the form of the New Testament codes draws on Hellenistic discussions of household management, finds it possible that the authors of Colossians and 1 Peter devised the form.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Crouch, James E. The Origin and Intention of the Colossian Haustafel. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1972.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Seeing Colossians as the earliest Christian household code, Crouch finds its origin in Hellenistic and Stoic household management discussions that were adapted by Hellenistic Judaism and Jewish Wisdom traditions. The form emerges in Colossians because of an overly enthusiastic application of the eradication of the differences in sexes and social classes.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Hartman, Lars. “Some Unorthodox Thoughts on the ‘Household-Code Form.’” In The Social World of Formative Christianity and Judaism: Essays in Tribute to Howard Clark Kee. Edited by Jacob Neusner, Ernest S. Frerichs, Peder Borgen, and Richard Horsley, 219–232. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                The scarcity of evidence for the literary form of the household code suggests that it may have been developed within the church. Interpreters must distinguish between traditional cultural content and the literary form. Thus, interpreters must not draw inferences about church life or teaching from the presence of the form.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Lincoln, Andrew T. “The Household Code and Wisdom Mode of Colossians.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 74 (1999): 93–112.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/0142064X9902107405E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Colossians opposes the wisdom offered by the opponents with its own wisdom instruction that includes using Jewish Wisdom traditions to shape Aristotelian and Hellenistic Jewish traditions about household management. The code also helps the church deflect worries about its members and ideas disrupting the social order.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  Interpretation of the Code

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Questions about how to interpret the code have taken two forms: questions about how it fits in the letters and the early church’s theology and about how it should function in present Christian ethics. Munro 1972 finds the instructions of the code so contradictory to the rest of Colossians that she identifies it as a later interpolation. McGuire 1990 sees the conflict, but thinks the author simply failed to recognize the contradiction between the code and his Christology. Jefford 1997, however, argues that imposing the traditional structure is a strategy the author uses to defeat the false teaching. Müller 1983 looks to the way the church is perceived by outsiders rather than at internal battles to explain the code. He asserts that it wants to show that the church is not a danger to the social order. Hering 2007 sees a bit different role for the code, seeing it fully integrated into the letter’s theology. Standhartinger 2000, Standhartinger 2003, and Maier 2005 view the tensions between the code and other assertions in Colossians through the lens of postcolonial analysis. They argue that it uses language and is structured in ways that intentionally subvert its explicit commands. In this way it rejects the standards and structures of the Roman household. MacDonald 2007 highlights the complexity of the situations in which many Christians (particularly slaves) found themselves and so points us to a reading that takes some insights from postcolonial analysis. Henderson 2006 also highlights the insertions that ground instructions in Christian theology. Henderson asserts that these Christianizations shift the meaning of the instructions. She goes on to argue that this method provides guidance for Christian ethics now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Henderson, Suzanne Watts. “Taking Liberties with the Text: The Colossians Household Code As Hermeneutical Paradigm.” Interpretation 60 (2006): 420–432.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1177/002096430606000405E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Henderson sets the code in its historical and literary context. She then argues that the way Colossians “Christianizes” the household structures, a process in which it alters the expected understanding, provides a hermeneutical paradigm for use of it today.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Hering, James P. The Colossian and Ephesian Haustafeln in Theological Context An Analysis of their Origins, Relationship, and Message. American University Studies 7. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      While acknowledging the form critical work on the household code, Hering argues that they are an integral part of the arguments of Colossians and Ephesians.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Jefford, Clayton N. “Household Codes and Conflict in the Early Church.” Studia Patristica 31 (1997): 121–127.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Jefford sees household codes emerge in contexts of theological conflict. Colossians fights false beliefs about the powers of the cosmos by imposing the paterfamilias system.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • MacDonald, Margaret Y. “Slavery, Sexuality and House Churches: A Reassessment of Colossians 3.18–4.1 in Light of New Research on the Roman Family.” New Testament Studies 53 (2007): 94–113.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S0028688507000069E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Examining Greco-Roman expectations and discussions of use of slaves for sex, MacDonald finds some non-Christian calls for moderation. She sees the Colossians code to be addressing a more complex situation than most interpreters recognize. She adopts an understanding of the code that falls between the readings of postcolonialists and the traditional view.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Maier, Harry O. “A Sly Civility: Colossians and Empire.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27 (2005): 323–349.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1177/0142064X05052509E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Maier uses postcolonial analysis to present Colossians as a challenge to Roman imperial ideology. The household code participates in this opposing ideology by rejecting the absolute power of the paterfamilias and advocating a countercultural community that promotes love, justice, and equality.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • McGuire, Ann. “Equality and Subordination in Christ: Displacing the Powers of the Household Code in Colossians.” In Religion and Economic Ethics. Edited by J. F. Glover, 65–86. Annual Publication of the College Theology Society 31. New York: University Press of America, 1990.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              McGuire argues that the Christology of Colossians undermines the household code, even though the author of Colossians does not recognize it. Christ’s defeat of the powers that support hierarchical structures undermines the ethic of the code.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Müller, Karlheinz. “Die Haustafel des Kolosserbriefes und das antike Frauenthema: Eine kritische Rückschau auf alte Ergebnisse.” In Frau im Urchristentum. Edited by G. Dautzenberger, H. Merklein, and K. Müller, 263–319. Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                Müller sees the code of Colossians to be built on an earlier unit. It intends to present a middle ground between more enthusiastic interpretations of equality and the traditional household. It takes this position to address accusations about Christians not conforming to expected social norms.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Munro, Winsome. “Col. III. 18–IV. 1 and Eph. V. 21–VI. 9: Evidences of a late Literary Stratum?” New Testament Studies 18 (1972): 434–447.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/S0028688500023742E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Munro identifies the households of Colossians and Ephesians as interpolations added after the collection of the Pauline corpus had begun. She sees the earlier addition of the code to Ephesians to influence the placement of it in Colossians. Colossians’ emphasis on slavery is the result of Colossians’ relationship with the letter of Philemon.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Standhartinger, Angela. “The Origin and Intention of the Household Code in the Letter to the Colossians.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79 (2000): 117–130.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Standhartinger asserts that this code subverts the patriarchal household with commands that are incongruous with the rest of Colossians, particularly the baptismal confession that eliminates hierarchy. Giving slaves an inheritance, promising impartial tribunals, and calling for equal treatment of slaves show that the intended message emerges only when it is read against the grain.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Standhartinger, Angela. “The Epistle to the Congregation in Colossae and the Invention of the ‘Household Code.’” In A Feminist Companion to the Deutero-Pauline Epistles. Edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marianne Blickenstaff, 88–121. New York: T & T Clark, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Standhartinger presents her understanding of the household code as a subversion of the patriarchal household in more accessible form. She imagines the author of Colossians to be a woman throughout the essay.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Other Studies

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        As noted in the Introduction, Colossians has received less attention than many of the undisputed Pauline letters. The attention that it has received has often been focused on a few specific issues (e.g., the liturgical material of 1:15–20 and the opponents). Other matters have been dealt with in relation to those issues or almost exclusively in commentaries. The studies in this section touch on issues that often receive significant attention in commentaries, but seldom have monographs or essays dedicated solely or primarily to them. Interpreters generally acknowledge that Colossians 2:23 is one of the most difficult verses in all the New Testament to understand and translate. Running contrary to most English translations, Hollenbach 1979 argues from usual Greek syntax for a translation that has the author assert that the regime of the opponents’ teaching leads to sin. Many interpreters emphasize the difference between the temporal language of Paul’s eschatology and the spatial language of Colossians, particularly in discussion of the letter’s authorship. Levison 1989 points to 2 Baruch as an example of a work that employs both types of terminology without feeling significant tension in them. This suggests, he contends, that this sort of apocalyptic worldview informs the eschatology of Colossians. Interpreters also acknowledge that baptism has a central place in the argument of Colossians. Kim 2004 examines the way that change of clothing imagery is associated with baptism in the Pauline letters. Colossians uses this metaphor in connection with baptism as a means to express the change of identity that comes to the believer at baptism. Trainor 2008 takes on the task of filling in information about Epaphras, the person who brought the gospel to Colossae.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Hollenbach, Bruce. “Colossians 2:23: Which Things Lead to the Fulfillment of the Flesh.” NTS 25 (1979): 254–261.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/S0028688500004331E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Hollenbach argues that the Greek particle men in the first phrase of verse 23 shows the main clause of the verse is its first two and last four words. He translates them, “which things lead to the fulfillment of the flesh.” This opposes understanding the last clause to mean that the regulations have no value in restraining the flesh.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Kim, Jung Hoon. The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the Pauline Corpus. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement 268. New York: T&T Clark, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Throughout the Pauline corpus, Paul’s uses of non-military clothing imagery focus on the decisive change in identity that comes at baptism. This is an eschatological change in identity that requires a change in the believer’s moral behavior. Colossians conforms to these Pauline uses of clothing imagery.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Levison, John R. “2 Apoc. Bar. 48:42–52:7 and the Apocalyptic Dimension of Colossians 3:1–6.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 93–108.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/3267472E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Levison uses 2 Baruch to interpret three features of Colossians: the relationship between spatial and temporal language, the meaning of “things above,” and the meaning of “members upon the earth.” He understands the perspective and language of Colossians to be like 2 Baruch. This apocalyptic worldview provides the most appropriate background for understanding the letter.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Trainor, Michael. Epaphras: Paul’s Educator at Colossae. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              This popular level and imaginative treatment of the figure of Epaphras uses social sciences methods to examine the place of his leader in the Pauline churches and to investigate the social network of the Pauline mission.

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