Who is Epaphras?

Paul wrote the letter of Colossians to a church founded by one of his co-workers, Epaphras.

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.

EpaphrasThe 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 him  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 him 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!


Bibliography: Florence Morgan Gillman, “Epaphras (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 533.

21 thoughts on “Who is Epaphras?

  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.

  7. Epaphras was discipled by Paul and Epaphras was who taught the people of Colossae. Paul noticed there were some problems in Colossae with what they were teaching. What is most notable about Epaphras was that he was taught by Paul but when he was ministering to the people of Colossae there must have been either a misunderstanding or misteaching. When Paul visited Colossae, he wrote the letter of Colossians because there were false teachings and so he was ministering to believers who had the desire to know more about Jesus but had the wrong foundation. It is not clear whether or not Epaphras was the main reason for the false teachings or if the people just didn’t want to get rid of their cultural beliefs of what separated them from fully following Christ. I personally believe that if one person is ministering to a group of people, they are going to need a lot of knowledge for the hard questions that will arise. With Paul’s mission work he was constantly moving around, and I truly believe that the people needed more time with him in order to get a fuller understanding on who Jesus truly was and what it meant to follow him. Epaphras may or may not have been teaching falsely, but what is clear is that the people of Colossae were living a life not fully following God yet before Paul came.

  8. Epaphras was a believer and minister, as was Paul. He was a faithful minister and servant of Jesus. He was a Gentile from Colossae. He is working with Paul as a missionary and has followed God’s direction. Epaphras is well-known to the church at Colossae, and he has invested himself in them. Epaphras was the one who brought the gospel to the Colossians and may have even been the one who began the church there. He traveled to Rome to meet with Paul so that he would be able to share about the Colossians. 
    When Paul was in Rome, he wrote to the Collosians, informing them that Epaphras genuinely cared about their development as spiritual adults. Epaphras wished for the Colossians to have greater spiritual maturity; therefore, he prayed for them often. Paul believed that Epahras was doing a great job serving the church at Colossae. Not only is he hardworking at his job, but he also has confidence in God. For his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, he is struggling in prayer. He prays that they continue to be strong in their faith and that their faith is growing stronger every day.
    Epaphras genuinely followed Jesus and lived a strong spiritual life. Even though he realized that sharing the gospel might put him in danger, he continued to serve Jesus seriously. 

  9. Epaphras’s description as a “faithful minister” and the association of his name with “lovely” and “charming” attributes are remarkable. His relationship to the church in Colossae and the surrounding region, where Laodicea and Hierapolis also had significant Christian communities, demonstrates the early Christian spread in the Lycus valley. The use of the word v to describe Epaphras’ careful education lays the groundwork for understanding the Colossian Christians’ learning process. The emphasis Paul places on this type of training distinguishes Epaphras’ teaching from the incorrect beliefs that the church was encountering. Paul’s support for Epaphras, as well as his prayer on behalf of the church, add to the authority and credibility of this local pastor-evangelist. The suggestion in the blog post that Paul may link himself with Epaphras in the letter to rebut objections about Epaphras’ credentials is possible. Paul clears up any questions about Epaphras’ ministry by affirming him and emphasizing their similarities in teaching. This insight into the dynamics of the early Christian community of Colossae deepens our knowledge of the letter’s background and serves as a reminder of the importance of local leaders in the early church

  10. During different time periods, there are certain names that are more common. For example, Olivia or Emma is very popular for my age group. Therefore, it makes sense that during the New Testament era, Epaphras was a common name and we cannot assume that all references about Epaphras are about the same man. What we do know about this mystery man is that he is in Colossae and is a teacher of sorts. Just like in today’s day in age, there are preachers of all types of messages and gospels. Jesus warned us to be careful of the wolf in the sheep clothing (Matthew 7:15). Sine the Colossians were struggling with false teachers, Paul wants to build up the credentials of Epaphras who was trying to preach the message of Christ. Since Epaphras was taught by Paul, the gospel Epaphras brings to the Colossians is biblically sound, and Paul wants to Colossians to be assured of this. Although it is good to be wary of false teachers, there are times when men like Epaphras are in our life, trying to do God’s work but we are closed off to their message. Therefore, we should test everything we hear and be wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16-18).

  11. I do like how the people of Colossae question who Epaphras is. They are making a fair point in wanting to make sure that whoever is teaching them is a reliable source. Paul then stands up for Epaphras letting the people know that he is trustworthy and that Paul will also be standing by whatever Epaphras debates in the church. One reason that Paul is so willing to stand next to Epaphras’ teachings is because it is believed that Paul was the one who introduced him to the gospel (TTP, 222). Paul had that personal relationship with Epaphras to be able to trust that what he was teaching was true and that the people of Colossae should trust him as well. As stated above we can see that Paul calls him a “faithful minister” showing us that he was a trustworthy teacher. Paul even talks about how Epaphras is in prayer for the people and that he is willing to stay firm in his love for God (Col. 4:12). Paul also refers to Epaphras as a “fellow servant” and tells the people he is a faithful minister to God (Col. 1:7). Paul trusted Epaphras to be able to do the work that Paul would have done, Paul needed help and so he had Epaphras be part of the help of sharing the gospel.

  12. It is cool to see Paul’s diligence in ministry as he discipled Epaphras so that ministry could thrive in Colossae. The Christians in Colossae were unsure of Epaphras as he was young, and as you mentioned, so it makes sense for Paul to reference the opponents in contrast to grow their confidence in the young Epaphras. It is cool to see that Paul trained Epaphras through discipleship and later stated that he trusted the discernment of Epaphras enough to stand with whatever he said during church debates. This shows legitimacy in Epaphras as a leader and is a great image of discipleship. To be trusted by Paul is something of great value. I particularly like the image of the support the church received by the communication of Paul and Epaphras. Churches should have this network of ministry as to strengthen the ties between Christians near and far, as well as to provide support when support is needed. I have been to a failing church that refused to associate with outside churches due to it being “too great of a responsibility,” in other words, keeping up communication and syncing ministries was too much work. I have also been to a church that shared the burden of finances for another church during Covid 19. To return support, the church that struggled with finances passed on their lead pastor for my church during a time where we needed this role filled. I think of Paul’s example and his network of churches, connections, and discipleship that greatly benefitted his ministry and further expanded the love of Christ. Not only did Paul actively support, but for Colossae, he provided a leader who could do the work he was not able to. This supportive ministry network is something that all churches should aspire to imitate.

  13. It is true that the reason Paul writes the letter to Colossae is because the teachings there do not line up with the Gospel. There were two distinctions between the Colossian Church and the heresy that seems to be in the forefront here, and this is where Epaphras comes in. Col. 1:7 specifically shows that the Colossian Church can trust Epaphras, and that he will not teach them wrong, as he was specifically taught by Paul and then sent to teach at Colossae. Thus, Epaphras was vetted by Paul himself so that the Colossian Church knew that what they were hearing was indeed from a vetted source so to speak. Epaphras was important in the Colossian Church, and thus, with Paul specifically teaching him, he was able to tell others that Paul was indeed to be trusted.
    There may have been some disunity within the Colossian Church in regard to both the false teachers, and the actual church that was teaching what was good and true. We do not know this for a fact, so I am guessing here. But, no matter what, Paul sending Epaphras clearly showed that Paul knew what he was doing, and helped show the Colossian Church how exactly they should worship.

  14. It’s crucial in today’s diverse world of beliefs and interpretations.Likewise, Paul’s prayers for the Colossian church underscore the continued significance of intercessory prayer for the spiritual growth of any congregation. This timeless practice remains a cornerstone of our faith, connecting us to the early church’s commitment to spiritual well-being.

  15. The fact the a person, Epaphras who popped up out of nowhere is important is odd at first glance.But the fact that Paul trusted him does say something about his character, in fact Paul gave Epaphras his approval which gives Epaphras the creditblity that he needed to prove to the Colossian Church that he know what he was talking about. Besides this there is little known about the man, the only thing we know is the his name could mean “lovely, fascinating, charming” but we get that from the name Epaphroditus which is believed to the origin of the name of our guy, Epaphras.The name is shared by a young slave from Philippi. The important thing is that Epaphras was a man that Paul viewed to be a co worker and a equal, calling him a faithful minister.

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