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Colossians lays out a vision of Christian living focused around the person of Christ (as laid out in the beautiful Christ-hymn of Colossians 1.15–20). In Colossians the vision of Christ Paul outlines in the first chapter is used as the underpinning for how those in Christ should now live. If they have died and risen with the Christ who created the world and is the head of the Church, their identity has now changed and they are expected to behave accordingly. Ephesians and Colossians are often recognised to be companion books as their message is very similar.

Reading time: 13 minutes
Short of time? Just read 1.1–2; 1.13–2.5; 2.20–3.17

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1.15–17)

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3.1–3)

16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3.16–17)

One of the passages that a number of people find challenging is 3.18–4.1, which talks about how husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves should relate to one another. The challenge is to work out how much of this applies to the original context (i.e. the church at Colossae) and how much to us today.
Notice that there is a very similar passage in the companion letter, Ephesians.
The letter is attributed to Paul and Timothy in 1.1 and is signed by Paul in 4.18.
Ever since the eighteenth century, New Testament scholars have questioned whether the different tone, style and vocabulary of Colossians might suggest it was written by a later member of the Pauline community using Paul’s theology as its basis.
There is no absolute agreement on this, however, so as you read it see whether you think it sounds and feels like the rest of Paul’s letters or not.

What do we know about him?

Paul is probably the best–known of all the early Christians. Before encountering Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he was a zealous Pharisee who sought to maintain the purity of Judaism. After his experience on the Damascus road, he turned his zeal to proclaiming Jesus Christ among the Gentiles. This brought him into conflict with some other early Christians, not least Peter, who thought that followers of Jesus should convert to Judaism. He travelled around the Roman Empire (though primarily in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey – and Greece) proclaiming the good news and founding communities of Christians as he went. He also wrote a large number of letters, 13 of which are preserved in the New Testament. Colossians is traditionally thought to be one of these.
Timothy was born in Lystra in Asia Minor of a Jewish mother and Greek father. Acts 16.1–3 recounts his meeting with Paul in Lystra and of Paul’s desire to take him with him on his journeys. Paul often sent Timothy to communities that he had founded to take letters to them and so that he could report to Paul about what was going on. Two letters in the New Testament (1 and 2 Timothy) are reputed to be letters of encouragement from Paul to Timothy in Ephesus. Christian tradition identifies Timothy as the first Bishop of Ephesus.

Colossians is said to have been written while Paul was in prison (4.3). If Paul was the author of the epistle, then this would date it to the late AD 50s or early 60s. Those who don't think Paul wrote it think it comes from a much later date, sometime between AD 75 and 95. This is because the themes of Colossians could be seen to reflect the needs and concerns of a later Christian community.

What were people feeling?

The question that lies behind Colossians appears to be how to live out what they believed about Christ in their everyday lives. As a result, Colossians has much to say to a modern audience.

An epistle, or letter – both Colossians and Ephesians are letters that offer a vision of how to live out the Christian faith. In both, the theology of the first half of the letter is applied in the second half to everyday living.
1.1–2 Opening greetings
1.3–12 Prayers for the Colossians
1.13–20 Christ, creator and redeemer
1.21–2.5 Paul’s proclamation of the eternal mysteries of God
2.6–19 A new identity in Christ
2.20–3.17 The consequences of dying and rising with Christ
3.18–4.1 Implications of this for living in community
4.2–18 Closing prayers and greetings

There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.


Laodicea, Hierapolis, Asia Minor, Colossae

The names of people and peoples

Epaphras, Archippus, Aristarchus, Barnabas, Demas, Epaphras, Luke, Mark, Onesimus, Timothy, Tychicus

Other words

Gentiles, Gospel, idols

The language used of Christ and what this means for those who have died and risen with him.
Colossians, like Ephesians, talks a lot about how the mysteries of God have been revealed in Jesus. Look out for the twin themes of mystery and revelation through the book.
Colossians begins and ends with prayer – notice what role prayer plays in what Paul has to say.
The vision of Colossians is that what you believe about Christ must affect not only what you do, but who you are. Reflect on this as you read and ask yourself how closely you associate the question of who Christ was with who you are.
  • Were there any parts of the book that you particularly liked or that inspired you?
  • Were there any parts of the book that you disliked or that troubled you?
  • What did you think the book was about?
  • What do you think it means, to 'set your minds on the things above'? What are the dangers of doing this too much? And what of doing it too little?
  • Many people find the instructions about the relationship between husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves difficult in the modern world. Talk about this passage (3.18–4.1). What is your view of what is said here? (If you’ve already talked about Ephesians you may not want to do discuss this again here!)
  • Colossians is a letter in which the argument builds from Paul’s vision of who Christ is in chapter 1, to what difference this makes to us in chapter 2 and then, in chapters 3 and 4, how we should live differently as a result. Discuss this – were you convinced by Paul’s argument?
  • Did you read anything in the book that touched you, expanded your faith or made you think more deeply about your life and how you live it?

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