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Colossians 1:22 begins with “but now” (νυνὶ δὲ). These are two very important words in the Greek, indicating an important contrast. The contrast is between time when we were enemies of God and the present time when we have experienced reconciliation with God. Reconciliation means the relationship is fixed, walls that existed between the two parties are torn down, and that they can now go about the business of building that relationship.

God has reconciled us through the death of Jesus. The basic idea behind reconciliation (καταλλαγή, καταλλάσσω) is the restoration of friendship between two estranged parties. This assumes an offense has separated two parties (political, social, familial, or moral, TLNT 2:263). In non-biblical Greek the word is virtually never used in religious sense primarily because the relationship between the gods and men is not personal. For most of the Greco-Roman world, worship appeased the gods, so a form of ἱλαστήριον (propitiation) would be used.

Josephus reflects the same usage of reconciliation. He uses the related term διαλλάσσομαι for a political agreement between Archelaus and Alexander (the son of Aristobulus) and Herod the Great. After a political arrangement is made, including due honors and gifts, the estranged parties entered into a formal friendship and they “spent their time feasting and agreeable entertainments” (War 1.513, 514).  In this example, Herod is in a far superior political position, but he honors Archelaus with great gifts in order to preserve the dignity of all parties.

Unlike secular Greek, Josephus uses καταλλάσσω in a religious sense.  In the context of the story of the twelve spies, Moses sought to reconcile God and the people (Ant. 3:315, using the noun.)  Similarly, when Saul offended God by sparing the Amalekites (Ant. 6:143), Samuel prays that God “be reconciled” to Saul (using a passive infinitive).

Returning to the earlier analogy of estrangement, the opposite of an estranged relationship is an reconciliation.  Rather than a divorce, the married couple overcomes their differences and has decided to remain married, they have reconciled their differences. God saw that we would not turn to him, so he had to provide the method of reconciliation himself.   Because the cause of the estrangement was our sin, and the fact that we could not pay for it ourselves.

God therefore provided a way for the debt of sin to be paid. He sent his own son to be killed as an atoning sacrifice so the problem of sin could be permanently solved, once for all.

Paul therefore describes a new state of being for the one who is in Christ. If this is the case and those who were once enemies have now been reconciled through the Cross, what are some implications for how we live out this in Christ life? Paul answers this in the second half of Colossians.

Paul beings by pointing out humans are alienated from God, or perhaps “estranged.” In English, estranged can simply mean separation, “a man and his estranged wife…” This doesn’t mean that the one of the marriage partners are wrong.  It means that the couple has had marital problems and they are no longer living together. That is the relationship that we have with God before we are saved. We are “separated,” we have left God are living a life which is anti-God in every way we can.

EnslavedPaul uses this same word in Ephesians 2:12 and 4:18 to describe our state before Christ.  Gentiles are not just ignorant of God, they are darkened and hardened (Romans 1:18-32). The grammar is carefully chosen to highlight the rebelliousness of humans – “still more forcibly the persistence of the state of things” (BDF 352, a perfect passive participle).  At one time, we were persistently and wholeheartedly “As such they did not serve God; rather, they were enmeshed in idolatry and slavery to sin.” (O’Brian, Colossians, 66).

Put simply, before Christ, humans are “enemies of God.” This is a state of hostile towards an enemy. Think of the (many) countries who consider America an enemy: They are committed to harassing us at every turn, and they want to harm us as best they can. That is the way that we were before we were saved, we hated God, and didn’t want to have anything to do with Him. We were estranged, and we hated the one we were alienated from. We had walked out of the relationship ourselves, and we were the ones who turned our backs on God.

Before humans encounter Christ, they are in this state of hatred.  But God did not hate us, in fact, he still loved us with an intense self-sacrificing love that was very patient. it was God who did something to reconcile that relationship, and God alone.

Both of these conditions is a result of our “evil behavior.”  Obviously this could refer to paganism, the lifestyle out of which the Colossians were saved.  “These phrases denote the actions of the unbelieving world, which belong to the ways of darkness rather than the ways of light, and which ultimately lead to death.” (O’Brien, Colossians, 67).

Is this true of all unsaved people?  Were we really “enemies of God” before Christ? We are enemies of God because we are a part of the human race, although not all of us are playing the role of “enemy insurgent.” Just as when Iraq was at war with America, all Iraqis are technically the enemy; not all Iraqis are actively attacking American interests.  Some are more active enemies than others, but all are enemies by definition.

Does this accurately describe the human condition?

Colossians 1:15-20 appear to have been an early Christian hymn.  There is evidence this was poetry, perhaps pre-dating Paul and well known to the congregation.  Paul uses material like this in other contexts (Phil 2:5-9, for example).  It is likely Paul is drawing on a well-known “statement of faith” passed along to the church as part of their education in who Jesus was and is, then drawing some implications from this hymn which are specific to the problem at hand – a group within the church which has some misunderstandings about who Jesus is.

ColossiansWhy use a hymn to relate theology?  One possibility is that it is a call back to the foundational understanding of Jesus they received through Epaphras (and hence through Paul).  A second possibility is this hymn may have been used and adapted by the false teachers in the Colossian community.  We know that in the first century Jews were beginning to speculate seriously about wisdom and were developing the idea of an incarnate Wisdom through whom all things were created. It is possible the false teachers were poking around in the nature of wisdom. Paul says by means of this hymn that if they want real wisdom, they ought to look to Jesus not their own philosophy.

Paul begins by identifying Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (1:15).  The word εἰκών is usually translated “image” as in the image an emperor’s head on a coin (BAGD).  It is an exact duplicate that is integrally a part of the original. By saying that Christ is in the image of God, he affirms that he is an accurate picture of what God is, and in fact, he is God.  L&N 58.35, “that which has the same form as something else.” This is the word chosen by the LXX to translate the Hebrew µl,x{{, in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:3, and 9:6. In Genesis, it is humans who are the image of the invisible God, in the sense that we are God’s representatives in this world; the Law makes it clear no other image of God is to be made.

The word ἀόρατος, “invisible,” is used only five times in the New Testament. In every case it refers to some quality of God, although here in Col 1:16 it refers to the (unseen) spirit world.   The use of this word for the spirit world is somewhat common. “Rulers both visible and invisible” appears in Ignatius’s To the Smyrnaeans 6.1, for example.

God as “invisible” is both a Jewish and a Greek idea.  In the Hebrew Bible God is never to be represented as an idol or an image, and although there is a great deal of representation of the gods in Greco-Roman paganism, Plato and other philosophers (Stoics, for example), believed in a real god who was invisible, immovable, and totally transcendent.

“To call Christ the image of God is to say that in Him the being and nature of God have been perfectly manifested—that in Him the invisible has become visible.” (F. F. Bruce “Colossian Problems: Part 2: The ‘Christ Hymn’ of Colossians 1:15–20” BSac 141 (1984): 101). Romans 1:20 refers to God’s “invisible qualities.” This is said not to separate Christ and God into two separate categories, but to show that they are part and parcel of the same being, which we refer to as the Godhead, one invisible, the other visible.

Paul seems to be claiming a great deal about Jesus in this verse. What is the theological at stake in this line? Or perhaps to think in about it in another way, what is the Colossian church questioning about Jesus that prompts Paul to respond with this rather audacious claim about Jesus?

 

 

One of the main issues we need to sort out for understanding the letter to the Colossians is the nature of the false teaching which was causing problems in the church.  Paul clearing thinks that it is important enough to write a letter to a church which he did not found in order to correct the problem.  Paul says that members of the church are being help captive to this inadequate theology, which he calls a philosophy and an empty deceit (Col 2:8).

Burn the HereticJames D. G. Dunn suggested that the problem in Colossae was the same as in Galatians and other early Pauline epistles – Jews were arguing that the gentile Christians were not really “saved” since they did not keep the ceremonial law of the Jews, especially Sabbaths and food laws.  This is the “normal” Jewish critique of Gentile Christianity.  While this adequately accounts for the Jewish aspect of the Colossian heresy, there is nothing in Galatians which leads to the conclusion that worship of angels or visions were part of the Judaizer’s agenda.

Fred Francis has argued that the Colossian church was influenced by the merkabah mysticism of early Judaism.  This mystical form of Judaism stressed visions of heaven and the throne room of God.  This sort of vision is found in the Enoch literature and likely does date to the pre-Christian era.  A potential problem for this view is that most of the merkabah-type literature we know about is found in Judea, not Asia Minor.

At his presidential address at the 2011 ETS conference, Clint Arnold suggested that the false teaching in Colossae was related to the type of Jewish exorcisms we find in the sons of Sceva (Acts 19).  In that passage these Jewish exorcists attempt to cast out a demon in the name of Jesus, but are soundly beaten by the demon possessed man.  Arnold discussed parallels in the Testament of Solomon, which is more or less a manual on how to diagnose a demon possession.  If the demon’s name could be discovered, then the appropriate angel may be invoked to bind that demon and free the person from oppression.

I thought that Arnold did a good job supporting his claims, and it is a connection which ought to be obvious for anyone who reads the Testament of Solomon.  He illustrated his point with several images of magical amulets found in Asia Minor which invoke angelic names as magic charms and occasionally depict Solomon as conquering demonic powers.   While Arnold did not take it this far, it is possible that a Jewish mystic / exorcist came to faith in Jesus as savior, but failed to move away from his esoteric practices to deal with demon possession or other illness.  Like the Corinthians, some  individuals in the Corinthian church were continuing to believe and practice in ways which were not compatible with their new faith.  Instead if visits to the Temples, as in Corinth, these believers were clinging to their esoteric knowledge which they believed controlled demons and illness.  For Paul, this is an inadequate view since Jesus created these spiritual powers (Col 1:15-20) and has alread rendered them powerless.

Thinking of the Colossian heresy in these terms provides another level of application which may be overlooked.  For new believers in the non-western world, it is difficult to leave certain culturally accepted folk beliefs because they seem to “work.”  But there are ways in which believers in the west fail to “take every thought captive” to Jesus (2 Cor 10:5)

Bibliography:

J. D. G. Dunn, “The Colossian Philosophy:  A Confident Jewish Apologia,”  Biblica 76 (1995): 153-81.
Fred Francis, “Humility and Angel Worship in Col 2:18”, in Conflict at Colossae, 163-95.

Today began with a long drive north out of Antalya, following the general route of the via Sebaste. I was struck by several things on the four hour drive to Laodicea. First, most people reading Acts do not realize how high the Tarsus Mountains are. Paul traveled more than 3000 feet above sea level on a Roman Road to reach Pisidian Antioch. Second, our guide Mark Wilson did a masterful job explaining the network of roads in the area and relating this to the beginnings of the second missionary journey in Acts 16.

There are two prohibitions in that chapter (to not preach in Asia and to not enter Bithynia). By observing the Roman province names and the location of the roads, The prohibitions make sense. Paul was in Asia already, so he was not to preach there, but the road went north toward Bithynia, so he was command to even to enter there. A third observation is simply that this part of the country is sparsely populated both then and now.

IMG_0981Before arriving at Laodicea we made a brief stop at Colossae. There is virtually nothing to see there except the unexcavated mound. The city was small and unimportant in Paul’s day, and it is still a sadly overlooked site by the archaeological community. Despite several efforts in recent years, there is not much to see there.

Laodicea on the other hand has received a great deal of attention lately. Year round excavations by the local university and the support of the Denizli community has revived interest in this large Roman site. Although the two theaters have no been restored, some work has been done once smaller, morning theater. The skene has been exposed and a great deal of work is being done there. A very large fifth century church has been excavated and restored, but was closed when we visited. I suspect this was to force me to buy the book.

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Another recent discovery is a marble pillar with a menorah, shofar and perhaps and etrog, with a prominent cross cut into the top of the menorah. Mark Wilson suggested is was an indication the pillar was used in a synagogue, and the cross was added later (perhaps as a sign of supercessionism after Christianity became dominant in the city). I wondered if this was the intent, since it would be just as easy to obliterate the menorah. Based on Josephus, there is little doubt of a Jewish presence in Laodicea in the first century Josephus (Ant 14.241–3). Nevertheless the menorah seems to be evidence of a Jewish community in Laodicea well into the Christian Era.

From Laodicea we drove the short distance to Hierapolis. Hierapolis is a very large Roman city, although the association with the white cliffs of Pamukkale, a Turkish word meaning something like “Cotton Castle.” There was an early Christian community in Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) but there is no evidence Paul ever visited the city.

We took a shuttle up to the martyrion of Philip, an octagonal church built on the site of the martyrdom of Philip (although which Philip is unclear). The walls of the church have been nicely reconstructed and the arches between the sections of the octagon are restored. Next to the martyrion is the recently discovered tomb of Philip and accompanying chapel.

The shuttle the took us down to the large theater. This theater has been restored, although visitors are only allowed to walk on the upper section. The skene has been partially rebuilt and there are two statues in the niches. Originally the theater seated up to 15,000 people. From the theater we walked down the hill past the Temple of Apollo and tried to get a peek into the recently discovered Plutonian. If you visited Hierapolis more than a few years ago, you would have been shown a different location since this new (and certain) location is a recent discovery. Unfortunately the area was fenced off, so I was unable to see if the gates of hell will not prevail.

The Hot Springs at Pamukkale

After a short time on the white cliffs of Pamukkale we walked out the northern gates and through the necropolis where over a thousand tombs are located, with about three hundred inscriptions. I took photographs of many, but so many of the tombs were well off the main path and we had to be out of the park by 6:00 PM. It was also bitterly cold and windy (which is good for a walk in a necropolis I suppose!)

We ended the day at the Hotel Colossae, one of the thermal hotels just a few minutes from Hierapolis. The rooms are comfortable, although this is the first hotel in which we have encountered huge tourist groups. Unfortunately the internet was down in the hotel, so I was not able to post this until our next night in Izmir.

“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 probably never recovered from this disaster.

ColossiansThe church at Colossae was founded by Epaphras, a disciple of Paul from Ephesus (cf. 1:7, 4:12).  Epaphras is called a “faithful minister” (verse 7).  The name is short for Epaphroditus, a name common in the first century (c.f., Phil 2:25, 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, 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.

This prayer also serves to underscore the authority of a local pastor-evangelist who was questioned 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!

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).

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