Summary: Introduction to Colossians
Who is the author of the epistle to the Colossians? Tradition and scriptural evidence teaches that the apostle Paul is the author. Paul was a former Pharisee that persecuted and treated the early church as a false–teaching Jewish cult. However, while on his way to imprison Christians in a city called Damascus, Christ appeared to him in a shining light (Acts 9). In this vision of Christ, Paul was called to be an apostle and to carry the gospel to the Gentile nations. Paul suffered a great deal for this calling from both Jews and Gentiles (Col. 1:24). At the time Paul wrote Colossians, around AD 60–62, he was a prisoner in Rome (Acts 28). It was during this time that he wrote several other letters: Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. These are often called the “Prison Epistles.”
The scriptural evidence that supports Paul’s authorship is the fact that Paul’s name is mentioned three times in the letter (1:1, 23; 4:18). Unlike letters written today which give the authors name at the end of the letter, ancient letters gave the name in the introduction. Colossians begins with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother” (1:1). Timothy was not the co–author of the epistle. His name is included because he was with Paul at its writing. Timothy was Paul’s faithful disciple and “son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). It should be noted that Paul gives his title as an “apostle of Christ” to show his official authority as a representative of Christ in order to address the issues happening in the church. In other letters, like Philippians or 1 and 2 Thessalonians, he simply addresses himself as Paul and sometimes adds the humble title of “servant of Christ,” which seems to reflect the gentler tone of these letters. The apostles were a select group of people who had seen Christ after his resurrection, were commissioned, and sent forth to build the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20).
Other scriptural evidence that Paul is the author is seen in the similarities with his other letters, such as the books of Philemon and Ephesians. In Philemon, Paul mentions eight of the same people mentioned in the Colossians letter: Timothy, Aristarchus, Archippus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke, Onesimus, and Demas. In addition, Philemon was also written during Paul’s imprisonment. Many believe Paul’s fellow–servant Tychicus carried both letters to Colosse at the same time (Col. 4:7–9). This gives persuasive evidence that Colossians was written by the apostle Paul.
Also, it should be noted that the book of Colossians and the book of Ephesians are very similar. They both have a bifid format, discussing doctrine for the first couple of chapters and then becoming practical. They both discuss the church as the body of Christ and Christ as the head (Eph. 1:23; 5:23; Col. 2:18–19). They share how the church has been raised with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). They emphasize the church’s union with Christ (Eph. 1:3; Col 1:2). They discuss the church as a mystery (Eph. 3:3, 4, 9; Col. 2:2; 4:3). They include lengthy sections on the believer’s old man and new man (Eph. 4:21–24; Col. 3:9–10), and also on family relationships and the relationship between slaves and masters (Eph. 5:21–6:9; Col. 3:18–25). In fact, it has been said that fifty–four of the 155 verses in Ephesians are similar to verses found in Colossians. These similarities also support Pauline authorship.
As mentioned previously, Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colosse during his Roman imprisonment around AD 60–62. We don’t know exactly how this church was formed, but we do know that Paul had never been to it (2:1). Most scholars believe that this church was founded during Paul’s three–year ministry in Ephesus, which was about one–hundred miles west of Colosse. While in Ephesus, Scripture says that all who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10). This would have included people who lived in Colosse. Two of these members were probably Epaphras (Col. 4:12) and Philemon (Philem. 1:19). It seems that Epaphras heard the gospel in Ephesus and went back to Colosse to share the gospel, eventually founding the church.
Paul obviously kept in contact with Epaphras, and when this church was under attack by a cult, Epaphras went to Rome to tell his mentor about the situation (Col. 1:5–7). The epistle to the Colossians is Paul’s response. This letter was probably carried by Tychicus, one of Paul’s fellow ministers, from Rome to Colosse (Col. 4:7–8). It was also to be shared with the church in Laodicea (v. 16). As mentioned previously, many commentators believe Tychicus carried both Colossians and Philemon to Colosse. Accompanying Tychicus was Onesimus, the runaway slave mentioned in the book of Philemon (Col. 4:9; Philem. 1:10). Paul gave instructions for the Colossians to share their letter with Laodicea and for the Laodiceans to share their letter with the Colossians. Colossians 4:16 says this: “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”