Who is Epaphras? (Colossians 1:1-8)

“Without doubt…the least important church to which any epistle of Paul is addressed.” J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians, 16.

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 Hierapolis are quickly rebuilt; Laodicea can even be described as “rich” when the book of Revelation is written thirty years later. Colossae never recovered from this disaster. Unfortunately, the ancient site of Colossae has not yet been excavated so little is known about the city in the first century.

ColossiansThe church at Colossae was founded by Epaphras (Ἐπαφρᾶς, pronounced “e-paf-ras”), a disciple of Paul from Ephesus (cf. 1:7, 4:12). Paul calls Epaphras  a “faithful minister” (1:7). The name is short for Epaphroditus (Ἐπαφρόδιτος), a name common in the first century meaning “lovely, fascinating, charming” (LSJ). It is also the name of the servant who delivered a gift to Paul from Philippi) (Phil 2:25 and 4:13; Philemon 23). An inscription was found in Colossae mentioning a T. Asinius Epaphroditus, although it is unlikely this is the biblical Epaphras (F. M. Gillman, ABD 2:533).

Epaphras was from Colossae (4:12) and may be an evangelist in the Lycus valley. The cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis both had thriving churches in the first century (4:12, Rev 3:14-22).  Paul tells the church that Epaphras has reported their faith to Paul, and in 4:12 Paul describes himself as “wrestling in prayer” on behalf of the church while he is working hard in other churches.  The Colossian believers learned from Epaphras, who learned from Paul.

The verb μανθάνω is associated with “systematic instruction” rather than a brief outline (BDAG). Perhaps Paul used this verb in order to set the gospel preached by Epaphras apart from the Colossian heresy. Epaphras was disciple by Paul and trained to be an evangelist and church planter by the apostle Paul himself. The opponents do not appear to be associated with anyone in the apostolic circle and their teaching is not approved by Paul. In fact, the bulk of the letter engages the ideas of the opponents in order to show their teaching falls short of the Gospel.

Paul may associate himself with Epaphras in this letter because his opponents in Colossae are question his credentials–who is Epaphras to be teaching the congregation spiritual things?  The church may be influenced by other teachers for guidance rather than a young evangelist like Epaphras. Paul gives Epaphras has his personal approval in the opening of this letter, what Epaphras teaches is exactly what Paul taught.

Paul’s prayer serves to underscore the authority of a local pastor-evangelist who faced questions from by his church. Paul lets the church know from the first paragraph that he will be siding with Epaphras in any theological debates in the church!

12 thoughts on “Who is Epaphras? (Colossians 1:1-8)

  1. I can see why people would question Epaphras, this person they had never heard of before, and his authority to preach the gospel. Just because he was taught by Paul, that gives him the right to preach the gospel to the Colossians? Yes it did. Epaphras was actually the individual who seemed to introduce the Colossians to both Christ and Paul (TTP 222). Epaphras was a ‘dear fellow servant’ and a faithful minister of Christ’. This was depicted in Colossians, written by Paul, so why wouldn’t her talk highly of the individual that he taught? One reason they should trust Epaphras was because he was one of them in the sense that he was from Colossae. There is also thoughts the Epaphras was with Paul at the time of writing this letter (TTP 222). Epaphras was talking highly of the Colossians to Paul as well. “…who also told us of your love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:8). He only wanted the best for the Colossians, just as Paul did. “For this reason, since the day WE heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you” (Colossians 1:9).

  2. Paul was vouching for Epaphras because of these questions regarding his legitimacy. According to Longenecker, Epaphras may be the reason that the Colossians heard the gospel (222). It appears that these other people were coming in and presenting differing views from Paul and Epaphras. The idea of questioning the material presented does not seem to be unheard of in the New Testament church. In acts the Bereans were considered noble because they not only heard the message of Paul, but studied the scriptures that Paul presented in order to determine whether or not Paul’s message was true (Acts 17:11). Perhaps the problem here is that the church is questioning Epaphras in light of new teachings from others. They are not questioning whether or not his words line up with the scriptures but instead considering others opinions. Paul needs to vouch for him in order to authenticate the message much in the same way a Christian may ask their pastor for an opinion regarding an author or another preacher. We must understand that they did not have the canon of scripture that we have today to test the various ideas. Paul would have been the one who could have authenticated a teaching as genuine. At the end of the book of Colossians Paul also authenticates the messages of Tychicus and Onesimus who he is sending to them (Col 4:7-9). Perhaps this was the letter of recommendation necessary for the acceptance of Epaphras’s message.

  3. Where did Paul and Ephesus meet up from the beginning?
    Ephesus name looks suspiciously as a name from Ephesians but you said that Ephesians from Colossians.

    Where was Ephesus born?

  4. Oops, correction on my part, please forgive me.
    Epaphras, is he from Ephesus, and where was his birthplace?
    Thank you for answering my question..

    B blessed

  5. It is sad to me that no one has taken on the opportunity to excavate Colossae yet because I think we would gain that much more knowledge about what life was like in Colossae in the first century. I always like to learn the meaning behind peoples’ names, especially throughout the time of the Bible; their names held so much more meaning than they do now. Based on Epaphras’ name, I wonder if he was a charming and fascinating man? One could only assume he was, and maybe this is why Paul held Epaphras in such high esteem. I could definitely see why the Colossian believers were skeptical of what Epaphras was teaching them, even though he claimed to have bene trained by Paul. The way I think of it, it would be like hearing John MacArthur is coming to speak at your church, but a young man he was mentoring showed up instead; while I am sure the young man would have a lot of great things to say, its not John MacArthur but he claims to have been trained under him. I would definitely be skeptical about what the man has to say being that it is not John MacArthur. While we don’t know how old Epaphras was, he was most definitely in the same boat as Timothy was in people questioning him because of his youth (1 Tim. 4:12). It is kind of like going to the doctor; you really would prefer a doctor not fresh out of medical school because they won’t have the experience that a long-time doctor would. So often we are questioned or looked down upon because of our youth because we don’t have as much life experience and most often do not have as much knowledge/wisdom as a more matured (both physically and spiritually) Christian.

  6. When looking at Colossians, it is important to try and gain some context in order to better understand it. Just after the greeting in the letter, Paul writes that the Colossians learned the Gospel from Epaphras. Paul also defends Epaphras, saying he is a faithful servant on behalf of Christ. Paul clearly supports Epaphras and believes that what he teaches is right and true. Paul knows that he can defend and support what Epaphras preaches to the Colossians, which in turn implies that Paul has a personal relationship with Epaphras. The blog explains that relationship is one of discipleship. Epaphras has been Paul’s disciple, he learned what he knows from Paul, and he preaches what Paul taught. Because of this relationship with Epaphras, Paul knows that he can trust what Epaphras teaches. In looking at who Epaphras was and what his credibility was, it is also important to note that he served other churches. He also ministered to Laodicea and Hierapolis. These churches were all in the same area, but Epaphras’ travel to serve them implies that he had some teaching to carry to them as well. The blog suggests that Paul’s opponents in Colossae may be challenging and questioning Epaphras’ right to teach and preach to the people. Paul defends Epaphras because he knows Epaphras preaches truth because Epaphras was his disciple. The blog nor the textbook make no mention of this, however, I am wondering if there may be some reason why they would challenge Epaphras. Was Epaphras young like Timothy was? Is that why they questioned him? Was he like Paul, doubted for sincerely preaching the Gospel because of his formerly strong stance against it? Was there some other sin or wrong to his name that may have caused the people to begin to question him? Paul’s opponents may have been challenging him simply because he preached the same gospel Paul preached and they were in opposition to the message he preached, or there may have been some blot on his record they wished to challenge. Whatever the reason, Paul still knew he could support Epaphras, and he did so.

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