Background of Colossians
Text: Colossians 1:1-2
- What section of the Bible does Colossians fit?
- Read the book of Colossians in one sitting, as if you just received this letter from your uncle.
- What kind of book is Colossians?
- Read the book of Colossians a second time while jotting down answers to the following questions:
- What words, phrases, or ideas do you see repeatedly being mentioned?
- Who are the people mentioned in the book?
- What events are mentioned that would help date this book?
- What locations are mentioned?
- Jot down any passages that were particularly hard to understand, so we can come back to them later.
Background of the Letter
While Paul was in Israel to deliver relief money to the needy saints in the region, the Jews accused him of bringing Gentiles into the Temple, which caused a near riot (Acts 21-22). The Romans took Paul to Caesarea to be tried, but he was held for two years – probably because Felix was looking for a bribe (Acts 22-23). When a new governor was appointed, the Jews tried to stage an assassination. To avoid the trap, Paul appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 24-25). After reaching Rome, he remained a prisoner for another two years while awaiting trial (Acts 28:30-31).
During his time in prison, Paul wrote four letters: Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were written about the same time and were delivered by the same messengers: Tychicus and Onesimus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7-9; Philemon 10-12). The themes of these letters overlap and the people mentioned in them are similar.
Dating the Letter
The letter is believed to have been written somewhere between A.D. 60 and 62. A.D. 62 is the most commonly given date and it is based on the time Paul was in prison in Rome.
The letter is addressed as being from Paul and Timothy (Colossians 1:1) and Paul mentions his name a few times (Colossians 1:23; 4:18). That Paul wrote Colossians was not disputed until the 1800s when it became a fad to treat the whole Bible skeptically. The arguments against Paul being the author are extremely weak, such as claiming that Colossians contains 48 words that don’t appear in his other writings. However, word choices and writing styles vary when topics for the letters change.
The City of Colossae
Colossae was a minor city in the province of Phrygia about 120 miles east of Ephesus. It is located in a fertile valley shared with Laodicea and Hierapolis. At one time it was the center for trade in the region’s glossy black wool, but in Paul’s day, the city was in decline. It had suffered two major earthquakes, one in A.D. 17 and another in A.D. 60. The city was rebuilt each time, but it lost favor to the neighboring city of Laodicea. In the photo below, the hill in the center is the location of Colossae during Roman times.
Paul had not been to Colossae, even though he taught for three years in Ephesus (Colossians 2:1). Likely the church in Colossae was started by Epaphras (Colossians 1:4-8). Epaphras was with Paul in prison, which is why Paul chose to write to these brethren (Colossians 4:12-13; Philemon 23).