18 February 2010

Colossians: the city, its inhabitants, its church

by Dan Phillips

I enjoyed sharing with you some reflections from one of my favorite books — Colossians — and decided I'd follow in Frank's footsteps, and start a series of occasional posts, drawing from the notes of my detailed study in the letter.

What Was Colosse? Colosse was located in the Roman province of Asia, built on the southern bank of the Lycus River, which is a tributary of the Maeander River (Hiebert's Introduction).The Greek historian Herodotus called it a “great city” in the fifth century, and Xenophon called it a “populous city, wealthy and large” a century later (O’Brien). By Paul’s time, however, it had been surpassed by neigh¬boring Laodicea (10 mi. W, founded and named in wife’s honor by Antiochus II [261-246 BC]) and Hierapolis (12 mi. NW); still had a thriving wool industry, however, and a color of wool named after it.

Importance of location. At this point the Lycus Valley is 10 mi. X 2 mi., “walled in by great precipices (Hiebert). It is “a strategic spot on the important highway from Ephesus to” the Euphrates Valley (ibid.) For this reason, it would host travellers going back and forth from the distant spots of Rome and the Euphrates Valley. I'll refer back to this when I talk about the "Colossian heresy," DV, as I will also refer to...

Populus. Colosse would have had plenty of native Phrygians and Greek settlers (O’Brien). Josephus said that Antiochus III (“the Great”; 223-187 BC [new ISBE]) moved 2000 Jewish families into Lydia and Phrygia. Note: these Jews were not brought in from Palestine, but from Babylonia and Mesopotamia (O’Brien, p. xxvii). In ca. 62 BC it is calculated that there were about 11,000 free Jew¬ish males in nearby Laodicea (O’Brien, p. xxvii). So the populus was a mixture of
  • Native Phrygians
  • Greek settlers
  • Jews via Babylon and Mesopotamia
The church in Colosse. Who founded it? It was not Paul (cf. 2:1); rather, Epaphras, himself a native Colossian (cf. 4:12), was the founder (cf. 1:5-7).

What was Paul's involvement, then? See the account of his ministry in Acts 19:8-10. During this extended ministry, the word of the Lord spread abroad, drawing many to saving faith. I would surmise that Epaphras was one of Paul’s converts during this time. The apostle instructed Epaphras of Christ and the Good News, then Epaphras returned to his hometown area, evangelized, and started at least one church in Colosse. Ephaphras still carried the apostle's commendation as a faithful preacher of the Gospel (1:7), and a servant of Christ Jesus (4:12)

But then after the planting of the church, Epaphras ran into some trouble, which I plan to study with you in a future post. He went to Paul in Rome for some help — which he got, in the form of this power-packed little jewel of a letter.

To be continued, Lord willing....

SERIES NOTE: unless specified, all translations from Colossians are my own ad hoc renderings of the Greek text, as are translations from other books when designated DPUV [Dan Phillips' Unauthorized Version]. Unspecified translations from other books are ESV.

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Simon said...

"and Xenophon called it a 'populous city, wealthy and large' a century later"

I've just finished reading the Anabasis: pretty much every place the army visited was populous, wealth and large.It's what makes him so easy to read!

DJP said...

LOL; you think he worked for the travel bureau?

Simon said...

Sort of, it seems one of the aims of the anabasis was as a kind of travel writing: and Alexander is supposed to have been encouraged to go on his campaigns by the successes of the Greek army.

BTW it was your greek blog that encouraged me to get back into reading greek, and this was the first non-NT text I've read in full, so thanks.

Rhesa said...

The thing that this kind of info does for us, today, in the U.S., is realize that this type of city is not so different than ours. A melting pot. Many different cultures that have been shoved together because of the political/economic environment. Not a bad thing for spreading the good news. I have spoken with people who think the "little churches" Paul wrote to were nothing like what we have to deal with today. So, some don't make the bridge between the recipients of the letter and their own culture.

DJP said...

Good point, Ye. I'm actually going to make the case that Colossians is a pretty good test-case for us today.

Simon — thanks for sharing that. I know a lot wish I'd keep that Greek blog going, and I wish I could... maybe there'll be a little spillover from this series of things that don't quite "fit" here. I have loved reading Colossians in Greek probably since about 1974.

DJP said...

...and when I say "a lot" of people, I mean, of course, about 7.

David Regier said...

Thanks for this, Dan. It's my favorite book, and having good background on it helps in fruitful meditation on His word.

DJP said...

Fun times ahead, DV, David. In days to come, I'll be explaining how everyone but me is wrong about the Colossian heresy.


trogdor said...

Is it because everyone else is stuck in a Greco/Roman neo-Platonic worldview and can't interpret Colossians Semitically as intended? If so, I've got a book recommendation for you.

Although since Colossians teaches strongly against pointless asceticism, worship of sub-divine heavenly beings, subjugating divine revelation to manmade rules and doctrines, and the elevation of human traditions, I'm sort of hoping you'll claim Colosse was visited by ProtoPope.

DJP said...


Et tu, Trogdor?

trogdor said...

Which part?

Stefan Ewing said...

Like David, Colossians my favourite book of the Bible, too!

It's a beautiful, masterful letter full of rich theology and practical application—practical theology!—while also having some of the high lyricism of Ephesians and Philippians.

When I reread the book recently, I wrote the following in my Bible, regarding 2:6-15:

"This passage has everything: obedience; christology; baptism; atonement!"

And then you get to 2:14, and there's PSA in all its beautiful, unadorned glory.

Stefan Ewing said...

And of course, the exaltation of Christ in 1:15-20.

...And then 3:16, which answers squarely RPW.

Stefan Ewing said...

I could go on and on. You've just totally reinvigorated me!

Stefan Ewing said...

Okay, one more comment.

I once had to pray with a lady on the bus, who was going through an intense spiritual crisis.

I found out later that she was reading Colossians 1:15 ff. when she asked for someone to pray with her. That's what turned me on to the letter in the first place.

I had to comment again, because the verification word is "commit." Too good to pass up!

SolaMommy said...

Sweet! My pastor has started an exposition of Colossians. Can't wait to see which ways you agree and disagree. So far you're on the same track :-)

DJP said...


"But Dan, my pastor says...."

"But pastor, Dan Phillips (?!) says...."

SolaMommy said...

I won't rat either of you out ;-)

Stefan Ewing said...

But Dan, you're only one degree separated (in a quasi-accountable way) from John MacArthur!

And probably only three or four from Kevin Bacon!

LanternBright said...

Dan, are you familiar with Douglas Moo's recent Pillar commentary on Colossians/Philemon? I read it a year or two ago and thought it fantastic. Really helped me get into those letters.

SolaMommy said...

TBE: I apologize, but I have to confess...Douglas Moo? As the mother of a preschooler, this made me chuckle :-)

Stefan Ewing said...

Is he a cow-vinist?

Verification word: "colisms."

DJP said...

Moo is not a Cowvinist.

He's a Moooootheran.

DJP said...

TBE, no, I don't have it but I'd like to. O'Brien was great, and there are a number of other good ones as well. But I don't doubt Moo's good.

Wonder whether he's wrong about the "false teachers" too.


David Regier said...





Does he quote from the Holstein Christian Standard version?

I'm done now.


Stefan Ewing said...


Pastural elder.


Stefan Ewing said...

Where's Matt, our resident Mennonite, when we need him?

But seriously, thank you, Dan: I'm really looking forward to this series, and getting back into this gem of a letter.

James Scott Bell said...

According to the Jesus Seminar, Colossians was not actually written by Paul, but by another man of the same name.

DJP said...

The other day somebody stole everything in my apartment and replaced it with an exact replica... When my roommate came home I said, "Roommate, someone stole everything in our apartment and replaced it with an exact replica." He looked at me and said, "Do I know you?"
-- Steven Wright

donsands said...

Nice map. I like looking at maps. I wish more teachers would use maps.

Thanks for the nice study and lesson.

Do you intend to expound upon the hall of Tyrannas?

cuz I can? said...

Why do so many skip over the condemnation of fornication in Colossians??

Wanton fornication is at the heart of decline of our society. Abortion pales in comparison as all her "birth" control, though having potential contraceptive actions, relies on abortifacient actions.


DJP said...

What does that have to do with the post, in any way, apart from the word "Colossians"?