Colossae – The Least Important Church?

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Commenting on the city of Colossae , J. B. Lightfoot said “Without doubt…the least important church to which any epistle of Paul is addressed” (Colossians and Philemon, 16). Colossae was, in pre-Christian times, a station on a highway through the Lycus and Meander valleys, a highway that connected Ephesus and Phrygia.  This route was a main road connecting the East with the West.  By the first century, the city of Colossae could only be described as a “small town” by Strabo, (Geography, 7.8.13.)   Little is known about the town in this period other than it was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60/61.  The cities of Laodicea and Heiropolis are quickly rebuilt; Laodicea can even be described as “rich” when the book of Revelation is written thirty years later.  Colossae probably never recovered from this disaster.

The Lycus Valley appeared to have had a sizable Jewish population, perhaps explaining the establishment of churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Heiropolis and the type of problem described by the book.  The Jewish Population is an inference drawn from Cicero’s description of the proconsul Flacus who seized the Temple tax in Laodicea in 62 B.C. (Flac. 28.68).  Cicero was the “defense attorney” for Flacus who was accused of illegally taking the Temple tax (Bruce, 4).

The church of Colossae was not founded by Paul, although there is no reference in the book of Acts to him visited the city before the church was founded.  It is known that on Paul’s first missionary journey he went as far as Pisidian Antioch, which is 200 kilometers from Colossae, and that a great number of men from other areas came to Christ at that time.  Sometimes it is assumed that since Colossae was connected to Pisidian Antioch it is likely that some converts there were from Colossae and they carried the Gospel back to their town, as well as to Laodicea and the rest of the Lycus valley.

Paul has only heard of their faith (1:4, 9) and has not yet met the church personally (2:1).  They do seem to know one of Paul’s co-workers, Epaphras (1:7) who was from the city of Colossae (2:7).  Both the Colossian letter and Philemon imply that Paul has older connections with the church at Colossae and Laodicea.  it is thought that on his third missionary journey he made a swing through the area, very generally reported in Acts 18-19.  It would be at this time that he made contact with the church and led Philemon and Epaphras to the Lord, as mentioned in the letters.

Bibliography:
C. Arnold, “Colossae” in ABD 1:1089-1090.
F. F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems  –  Part 1: Jews and Christians in the Lycus Valley,” BibSac 141 (1984).