Colossians: Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary [Illustrated] 1573126675, 9781573126670

695 217 2MB

English Pages 250 Year 2013

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Colossians: Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary [Illustrated]
 1573126675, 9781573126670

Table of contents :
Contents
Introduction to Colossians
Outline of Colossians
Christ the Ruler
Fullness in Christ Alone: The Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy Vain, Christ the Fullness
New Life in Christ: The Quality of New Life in Christ
New Life in Christ: Household Relationships Reoriented Under the Lordship of Christ
Joyful Cruciformity: Patterns and Models
Selective Bibliography
Index of Modern Authors
Index of Scriptures
Index of Sidebars and Illustrations
Index of Topics

Citation preview

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page i

Colossians

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page ii

Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Colossians Publication Staff President & CEO Cecil P. Staton Publisher & Executive Vice President Keith Gammons Book Editor Leslie Andres Graphic Designers Daniel Emerson Dave Jones Assistant Editors Rachel Stancil Greco Kelley F. Land

Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc. 6316 Peake Road Macon, Georgia 31210-3960 1-800-747-3016 © 2013 by Smyth & Helwys Publishing All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials. ANSI Z39.48–1984 (alk. paper) Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Gupta, Nijay K. Colossians / by Nijay K. Gupta. pages cm. -- (Smyth & Helwys Bible commentary) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-57312-667-0 (alk. paper) 1. Bible. N.T. Colossians--Commentaries. I. Title. BS2715.53.G87 2013 227'.707--dc23 2013004398

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page iii

SMYTH & HELWYS BIBLE COMMENTARY

Colossians Nijay K. Gupta

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page iv

PROJECT EDITOR R. SCOTT NASH Mercer University Macon, Georgia

OLD TESTAMENT GENERAL EDITOR SAMUEL E. BALENTINE Union Presbyterian Seminary Richmond, Virginia

NEW TESTAMENT GENERAL EDITOR R. ALAN CULPEPPER McAfee School of Theology Mercer University Atlanta, Georgia

AREA OLD TESTAMENT EDITORS MARK E. BIDDLE Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Virginia KANDY QUEEN-SUTHERLAND Stetson University Deland, Florida PAUL REDDITT Georgetown College Georgetown, Kentucky Baptist Seminary of Kentucky Lexington, Kentucky

AREA NEW TESTAMENT EDITORS R. SCOTT NASH Mercer University Macon, Georgia RICHARD B. VINSON Salem College Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page v

advance praise From this perceptive commentary’s very first sentence, Nijay Gupta—a significant newer voice in Pauline studies—takes us into the heart of Colossians as few recent interpreters have done. Readers will be inspired by his passion, enlightened by his balanced scholarship, and enriched by his profound theological engagement with the text. This well-written and truly enjoyable volume is a superb addition to an excellent, userfriendly series. It will stimulate students, pastors, theologians, and scholars for many years to come. —Michael J. Gorman Raymond E. Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology St. Mary’s Seminary & University

I’ve not seen a better commentary for use in the pulpit or the classroom than Gupta’s commentary on Colossians. His evenhanded discussion of various critical issues related to Colossians demonstrates up-to-date, top-notch scholarship and the whole commentary is written in very readable—even lively and enjoyable!—language. His “Connections” sections flow seamlessly out of the exegesis in ways that connect the text to the best of the Church’s past and allow it to speak in a hermeneutically sophisticated way to the Church’s present. It’ll definitely be required reading when I teach Colossians. —Andy Johnson Professor of New Testament Nazarene Theological Seminary

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page vi

In this commentary Nijay Gupta asks valuable questions, provides careful and balanced answers, and offers relevant insights for readers on a variety of levels. The commentary is well-organized and easy to read; those using it for preaching will find an abundance of useful information here. —Craig Keener Professor of the New Testament Asbury Theological Seminary

It is my pleasure to commend Nijay Gupta’s commentary to ministers, students, laypersons, and scholars alike. Gupta’s commentary on Colossians is both sensible and insightful, engaging and interesting. Every page offers readers sage exegetical, theological, and pastoral guidance. For those who already value the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentaries, here is yet another valuable volume. For those in search of a mid-length, technically informed, well-written, richly illustrated, faithfriendly commentary on Colossians, look no further! Gupta’s fine work inspires confidence in a considerable number of younger biblical scholars of his talent and ilk who are writing and publishing today. —Todd D. Still William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures George W. Truett Theological Seminar Baylor University

In the thicket of commentaries written on Pauline letters, including on Colossians, one needs a reliable and trustworthy guide to get through the thicket safely. Nijay Gupta is such a reliable and trustworthy guide, and this new commentary in this series will be profitable for both clergy and laity seeking to understand, teach, or preach this letter. I am happy to commend this commentary to a wide audience. —Ben Witherington, III Amos Professor for Doctoral Studies Asbury Theological Seminary

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page vii

Contents xiii

AUTHOR’S PREFACE

xv

SERIES PREFACE HOW TO USE THIS COMMENTARY

xix

INTRODUCTION TO COLOSSIANS

1 33

OUTLINE OF COLOSSIANS

Christ the Ruler

Col 1:1–2:3

35

Col 2:4-23

87

New Life in Christ: The Quality of New Life in Christ Col 3:1-17

123

New Life in Christ: Household Relationships Reoriented under the Lordship of Christ

Col 3:18–4:1

161

Joyful Cruciformity: Patterns and Models

Col 4:2-18

183

Fullness in Christ Alone: The Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy Vain, Christ the Fullness

SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY

207

INDEX OF MODERN AUTHORS

211

INDEX OF SCRIPTURES

215

INDEX OF SIDEBARS AND ILLUSTRATIONS

221

INDEX OF TOPICS

223

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page viii

Dedication

For Libby

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page ix

ABBREVIATIONS USED IN THIS COMMENTARY Books of the Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament are generally abbreviated in the Sidebars, parenthetical references, and notes according to the following system. The Old Testament Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1–2 Samuel 1–2 Kings 1–2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Esther Job Psalm (Psalms) Proverbs Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth Song of Solomon or Song of Songs or Canticles Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah

Gen Exod Lev Num Deut Josh Judg Ruth 1–2 Sam 1–2 Kgs 1–2 Chr Ezra Neh Esth Job Ps (Pss) Prov Eccl Qoh Song Song Cant Isa Jer Lam Ezek Dan Hos Joel Amos Obad Jonah Mic

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page x

x

Abbreviations Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Nah Hab Zeph Hag Zech Mal

The Apocrypha 1–2 Esdras Tobit Judith Additions to Esther Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach Baruch Epistle (or Letter) of Jeremiah Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Daniel and Susanna Daniel, Bel, and the Dragon Prayer of Manasseh 1–4 Maccabees

1–2 Esdr Tob Jdt Add Esth Wis Sir Bar Ep Jer Pr Azar Sus Bel Pr Man 1–4 Macc

The New Testament Matthew Mark Luke John Acts Romans 1–2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1–2 Thessalonians 1–2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1–2 Peter 1–2–3 John Jude Revelation

Matt Mark Luke John Acts Rom 1–2 Cor Gal Eph Phil Col 1–2 Thess 1–2 Tim Titus Phlm Heb Jas 1–2 Pet 1–2–3 John Jude Rev

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xi

Abbreviations Other commonly used abbreviations include: AD

BC

C. c. cf. ch. chs. d. ed. eds. e.g. et al. f./ff. gen. ed. Gk. Heb. ibid. i.e. LCL lit. n.d. rev. and exp. ed. sg. trans. vol(s). v. vv.

Anno Domini (“in the year of the Lord”) (also commonly referred to as CE = the Common Era) Before Christ (also commonly referred to as BCE = Before the Common Era) century circa (around “that time”) confer (compare) chapter chapters died edition or edited by or editor editors exempli gratia (for example) et alii (and others) and the following one(s) general editor Greek Hebrew ibidem (in the same place) id est (that is) Loeb Classical Library literally no date revised and expanded edition singular translated by or translator(s) volume(s) verse verses

Selected additional written works cited by abbreviations include the following. A complete listing of abbreviations can be referenced in The SBL Handbook of Style (Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 1999): AB ABD ACCS ANF ANTC BA BAR CBQ HTR

Anchor Bible Anchor Bible Dictionary Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Ante-Nicene Fathers Abingdon New Testament Commentaries Biblical Archaeologist Biblical Archaeology Review Catholic Biblical Quarterly Harvard Theological Review

xi

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xii

xii

Abbreviations HUCA ICC IDB JBL JSJ JSNT JSOT KJV L&N LXX MDB MM MT NASB NEB NICNT NIV NovT NRSV NTS OGIS OTL PRSt RevExp RSV SBLSP SP TDNT TEV WBC

Hebrew Union College Annual International Critical Commentary Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible Journal of Biblical Literature Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Periods Journal for the Study of the New Testament Journal for the Study of the Old Testament King James Version Louw & Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament) Septuagint = Greek Translation of Hebrew Bible Mercer Dictionary of the Bible Moulton & Milligan (The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament) Masoretic Text New American Standard Bible New English Bible New International Commentary on the New Testament New International Version Novum Testamentum New Revised Standard Version New Testament Studies Orientis graeci inscriptiones selectae Old Testament Library Perspectives in Religious Studies Review and Expositor Revised Standard Version Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers Sacra pagina Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Today’s English Version Word Biblical Commentary

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xiii

Author’s Preface In seminary and during my PhD program, I spent many hours poring over commentaries as I worked through a variety of exegetical and theological issues in my research. Now that I am preparing lectures, I am still dependent on commentaries as I reflect on textual conundrums. These resources have been invaluable to my education and growth as a Christian and a scholar. (I believe it was C. K. Barrett who said that biblical commentaries are the “infantry soldiers” of our profession.) Therefore, I consider it a deep honor and privilege to join the ranks of those who author such works. I wish to extend the deepest gratitude to the editorial board of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series for inviting me to contribute to this prestigious collection. In particular, I would like to thank Scott Nash and Keith Gammons for the initial invitation, as well as fellow series author Todd Still for supporting and encouraging me throughout the process. For the bulk of the research for the commentary, I was a visiting professor of Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University. During my two years in Seattle, I taught an adult class at First Free Methodist Church on Colossians that enabled me to think carefully about the enduring theological and ethical messages of the letter. I also taught a graduate seminar with two outstanding students who made insightful presentations on the Colossian household code (3:18–4:1)—thank you, Jaymes Lackey and Annie Vander Pol! I am certain that many of the conversations that took place in that course, often over coffee and treats at Tully’s, produced insights that are reflected in the final pages of the book. In the initial phases of writing the commentary, I was very concerned that I should have both pastors and academics examine the chapters of my work and offer feedback. I want to thank Kimberly Orr, Eric Roseberry, and Craig Adams for their perspectives from the pastorate. Also, I am indebted to John Frederick, Seth Ehorn, and Adam Copenhaver for going through early chapters of the commentary and flagging up infelicitous statements, untenable arguments, and notable lacunae. We are blessed to live in an age where we can share information and give feedback so quickly. I know these six people only via e-mail correspondence, but their contributions have been priceless.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xiv

xiv

Author’s Preface

A special word of thanks goes to Dr. Michael Gorman, one of the finest Pauline theologians of our time and someone who has mentored me informally for the past several years. Much of the ethical perspective of this commentary (particularly the epistemologicalmoral framework of “cruciformity”) owes an incalculable debt to Mike’s many books and articles on this subject. Finally, I wish to thank my wife, Amy, for her support and wisdom regarding my research. We met and married while students in seminary, and she understands and appreciates the value of good commentaries, especially as resources for ministers. I would like to dedicate this commentary to my youngest daughter, Elizabeth (“Libby”) Aulick Gupta. Four months before I completed the draft of this book, Libby was diagnosed with leukemia. At the unfathomable age of fifteen months old, Libby began chemotherapy. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I would spend the day researching and writing on Colossians. In the evening, I would go home and help Amy with administering medications for Libby’s chemotherapy regimen. Reading, re-reading, and rereading again the four chapters of Colossians became a special comfort to me knowing that Christ-the-Creator-and-Sustainer knows and loves this dear child. He made peace on the cross to propel the world towards its restoration and renewal—a world where, someday, cancer and pain will be a mere memory. I hope this commentary will bring some amount of wisdom, comfort, challenge, and encouragement to its readers, however small it may be. I hope Libby can be numbered among those readers in time. Nijay K. Gupta

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xv

SERIES PREFACE The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary is a visually stimulating and user-friendly series that is as close to multimedia in print as possible. Written by accomplished scholars with all students of Scripture in mind, the primary goal of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary is to make available serious, credible biblical scholarship in an accessible and less intimidating format. Far too many Bible commentaries fall short of bridging the gap between the insights of biblical scholars and the needs of students of God’s written word. In an unprecedented way, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary brings insightful commentary to bear on the lives of contemporary Christians. Using a multimedia format, the volumes employ a stunning array of art, photographs, maps, and drawings to illustrate the truths of the Bible for a visual generation of believers. The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary is built upon the idea that meaningful Bible study can occur when the insights of contemporary biblical scholars blend with sensitivity to the needs of lifelong students of Scripture. Some persons within local faith communities, however, struggle with potentially informative biblical scholarship for several reasons. Oftentimes, such scholarship is cast in technical language easily grasped by other scholars, but not by the general reader. For example, lengthy, technical discussions on every detail of a particular scriptural text can hinder the quest for a clear grasp of the whole. Also, the format for presenting scholarly insights has often been confusing to the general reader, rendering the work less than helpful. Unfortunately, responses to the hurdles of reading extensive commentaries have led some publishers to produce works for a general readership that merely skim the surface of the rich resources of biblical scholarship. This commentary series incorporates works of fine art in an accurate and scholarly manner, yet the format remains “user-friendly.” An important facet is the presentation and explanation of images of art, which interpret the biblical material or illustrate how the biblical material has been understood and interpreted in the past. A visual generation of believers deserves a commentary series that contains not only the all-important textual commentary on Scripture, but images, photographs, maps, works of fine art, and drawings that bring the text to life.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xvi

xvi

Series Preface

The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary makes serious, credible biblical scholarship more accessible to a wider audience. Writers and editors alike present information in ways that encourage readers to gain a better understanding of the Bible. The editorial board has worked to develop a format that is useful and usable, informative and pleasing to the eye. Our writers are reputable scholars who participate in the community of faith and sense a calling to communicate the results of their scholarship to their faith community. The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary addresses Christians and the larger church. While both respect for and sensitivity to the needs and contributions of other faith communities are reflected in the work of the series authors, the authors speak primarily to Christians. Thus the reader can note a confessional tone throughout the volumes. No particular “confession of faith” guides the authors, and diverse perspectives are observed in the various volumes. Each writer, though, brings to the biblical text the best scholarly tools available and expresses the results of their studies in commentary and visuals that assist readers seeking a word from the Lord for the church. To accomplish this goal, writers in this series have drawn from numerous streams in the rich tradition of biblical interpretation. The basic focus is the biblical text itself, and considerable attention is given to the wording and structure of texts. Each particular text, however, is also considered in the light of the entire canon of Christian Scriptures. Beyond this, attention is given to the cultural context of the biblical writings. Information from archaeology, ancient history, geography, comparative literature, history of religions, politics, sociology, and even economics is used to illuminate the culture of the people who produced the Bible. In addition, the writers have drawn from the history of interpretation, not only as it is found in traditional commentary on the Bible but also in literature, theater, church history, and the visual arts. Finally, the Commentary on Scripture is joined with Connections to the world of the contemporary church. Here again, the writers draw on scholarship in many fields as well as relevant issues in the popular culture. This wealth of information might easily overwhelm a reader if not presented in a “user-friendly” format. Thus the heavier discussions of detail and the treatments of other helpful topics are presented in special-interest boxes, or Sidebars, clearly connected to the passages under discussion so as not to interrupt the flow of the basic interpretation. The result is a commentary on Scripture that

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xvii

Series Preface

focuses on the theological significance of a text while also offering the reader a rich array of additional information related to the text and its interpretation. An accompanying CD-ROM offers powerful searching and research tools. The commentary text, Sidebars, and visuals are all reproduced on a CD that is fully indexed and searchable. Pairing a text version with a digital resource is a distinctive feature of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Combining credible biblical scholarship, user-friendly study features, and sensitivity to the needs of a visually oriented generation of believers creates a unique and unprecedented type of commentary series. With insight from many of today’s finest biblical scholars and a stunning visual format, it is our hope that the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary will be a welcome addition to the personal libraries of all students of Scripture. The Editors

xvii

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xviii

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xix

HOW TO USE THIS COMMENTARY The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary is written by accomplished biblical scholars with a wide array of readers in mind. Whether engaged in the study of Scripture in a church setting or in a college or seminary classroom, all students of the Bible will find a number of useful features throughout the commentary that are helpful for interpreting the Bible. Basic Design of the Volumes

Each volume features an Introduction to a particular book of the Bible, providing a brief guide to information that is necessary for reading and interpreting the text: the historical setting, literary design, and theological significance. Each Introduction also includes a comprehensive outline of the particular book under study. Each chapter of the commentary investigates the text according to logical divisions in a particular book of the Bible. Sometimes these divisions follow the traditional chapter segmentation, while at other times the textual units consist of sections of chapters or portions of more than one chapter. The divisions reflect the literary structure of a book and offer a guide for selecting passages that are useful in preaching and teaching. An accompanying CD-ROM offers powerful searching and research tools. The commentary text, Sidebars, and visuals are all reproduced on a CD that is fully indexed and searchable. Pairing a text version with a digital resource also allows unprecedented flexibility and freedom for the reader. Carry the text version to locations you most enjoy doing research while knowing that the CD offers a portable alternative for travel from the office, church, classroom, and your home. Commentary and Connections

As each chapter explores a textual unit, the discussion centers around two basic sections: Commentary and Connections. The analysis of a passage, including the details of its language, the history reflected in the text, and the literary forms found in the text, are the main focus

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xx

xx

How to Use This Commentary

of the Commentary section. The primary concern of the Commentary section is to explore the theological issues presented by the Scripture passage. Connections presents potential applications of the insights provided in the Commentary section. The Connections portion of each chapter considers what issues are relevant for teaching and suggests useful methods and resources. Connections also identifies themes suitable for sermon planning and suggests helpful approaches for preaching on the Scripture text. All English translations of biblcal texts reflet the NSRV unless otherwise stated. Sidebars

The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary provides a unique hyperlink format that quickly guides the reader to additional insights. Since other more technical or supplementary information is vital for understanding a text and its implications, the volumes feature distinctive Sidebars, or special-interest boxes, that provide a wealth of information on such matters as: • Historical information (such as chronological charts, lists of kings or rulers, maps, descriptions of monetary systems, descriptions of special groups, descriptions of archaeological sites or geographical settings). • Graphic outlines of literary structure (including such items as poetry, chiasm, repetition, epistolary form). • Definition or brief discussions of technical or theological terms and issues. • Insightful quotations that are not integrated into the running text but are relevant to the passage under discussion. • Notes on the history of interpretation (Augustine on the Good Samaritan, Luther on James, Stendahl on Romans, etc.). • Line drawings, photographs, and other illustrations relevant for understanding the historical context or interpretive significance of the text. • Presentation and discussion of works of fine art that have interpreted a Scripture passage.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xxi

How to Use This Commentary

Each Sidebar is printed in color and is referenced at the appropriate place in the Commentary or Connections section with a color-coded title that directs the reader to the relevant Sidebar. In addition, helpful icons appear in the Sidebars, which provide the reader with visual cues to the type of material that is explained in each Sidebar. Throughout the commentary, these four distinct hyperlinks provide useful links in an easily recognizable design.

Alpha & Omega Language

This icon identifies the information as a language-based tool that offers further exploration of the Scripture selection. This could include syntactical information, word studies, popular or additional uses of the word(s) in question, additional contexts in which the term appears, and the history of the term’s translation. All nonEnglish terms are transliterated into the appropriate English characters.

Culture/Context

This icon introduces further comment on contextual or cultural details that shed light on the Scripture selection. Describing the place and time to which a Scripture passage refers is often vital to the task of biblical interpretation. Sidebar items introduced with this icon could include geographical, historical, political, social, topographical, or economic information. Here, the reader may find an excerpt of an ancient text or inscription that sheds light on the text. Or one may find a description of some element of ancient religion such as Baalism in Canaan or the Hero cult in the Mystery Religions of the Greco-Roman world.

Interpretation

Sidebars that appear under this icon serve a general interpretive function in terms of both historical and contemporary renderings. Under this heading, the reader might find a selection from classic or contemporary literature that illuminates the Scripture text or a significant quotation from a famous sermon that addresses the passage. Insights are drawn from various sources, including literature, worship, theater, church history, and sociology.

xxi

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page xxii

xxii

How to Use This Commentary

Additional Resources Study

Here, the reader finds a convenient list of useful resources for further investigation of the selected Scripture text, including books, journals, websites, special collections, organizations, and societies. Specialized discussions of works not often associated with biblical studies may also appear here. Additional Features

Each volume also includes a basic Bibliography on the biblical book under study. Other bibliographies on selected issues are often included that point the reader to other helpful resources. Notes at the end of each chapter provide full documentation of sources used and contain additional discussions of related matters. Abbreviations used in each volume are explained in a list of abbreviations found after the Table of Contents. Readers of the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary can regularly visit the Internet support site for news, information, updates, and enhancements to the series at www.helwys.com/commentary. Several thorough indexes enable the reader to locate information quickly. These indexes include: • An Index of Sidebars groups content from the special-interest boxes by category (maps, fine art, photographs, drawings, etc.). • An Index of Scriptures lists citations to particular biblical texts. • An Index of Topics lists alphabetically the major subjects, names, topics, and locations referenced or discussed in the volume. • An Index of Modern Authors organizes contemporary authors whose works are cited in the volume.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 1

Introduction to Colossians Paul’s letter to the Colossians has often been understood as a tribute to the cosmic, triumphal Christ (see esp. 1:15-20). As far as the purpose of the letter is concerned, this emphasis is a half-truth, and when focused on exclusively, it is no truth at all. To be sure, Colossians is certainly the most “Christ-focused” letter in the New Testament (in the same way Romans is Dietrich Bonhoeffer Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) was a the most “God-focused”), and it does German pastor and theologian who paroffer true hope in Christ (1:5, 23, 27), ticipated in a resistance movement against but the heights of its salvific promise Nazism. He wrote influential books such as The never transcend the tall shadow of the Cost of Discipleship and Ethics. At age 37, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo, and in cross. That is, the humble, crucified 1945 he was hanged at Flossenbürg after his role Christ is just as central to Colossians as in the conspiracy came to light. the reigning, ascended Christ. Bonhoeffer was passionate about the formaIn my mind, there is one theologian tive role Holy Scripture plays in the Christian life. The Cost of Discipleship focuses on the Sermon whose work captures the energy and on the Mount as the core resource for underheart of the cruciform theology of standing discipleship. He also wrote significant Colossians: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the works on Genesis (Creation and Fall) as well as pastor-theologian who dared to fight for the Psalms (The Prayerbook of the Bible). the Jews and plot against Hitler. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer] While the early twentiethcentury Lutheran is most well known for his love of the Sermon on the Mount (as exemplified in his famous tome The Cost of Discipleship), he had a deep fondness for Colossians as well. When he preached on Colossians 3 at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Bonhoeffer scolded the German Christians at large, in light of their lack of concern and action to defend innocent human life, for their distortion of Paul’s command to “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1). Reflecting on the deep relevance of this text, Bonhoeffer admonished the Dietrich Bonhoeffer in London, 1939. Photo by Rotraut Forberg. German Christians in this way: (Credit: Art Resource, NY)

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 2

2

Introduction to Colossians This is where a tremendous decision takes place: whether we Christians have enough strength to witness before the world that we are not dreamers with our heads in the clouds . . . that our faith really is not opium that keeps us content within an unjust world. Instead, and precisely because our minds are set on things above, we are that much more stubborn and purposeful in protesting here on earth . . . .1

He wrote in his Ethics that the Christianity he witnessed in his country featured a kind of dualism that separated the sacred and the secular, the church and the world.2 For Bonhoeffer, there was a fresh need for Christian “worldliness.” This “worldliness” discouraged Christians from waiting for the hope of heaven and instead focused their efforts on the “will of God” from heaven that seeks to encounter this needy earth.3 Visser’t Hooft, Bonhoeffer’s associate, remembered that Bonhoeffer would often quote Colossians 1:16 (all things being for Christ). Hooft wrote, “In this way Christians could get rid of that dangerous pietism or otherworldliness which really left the world to the forces of darkness. And they had a strong starting point for their task in the world.”4 What we learn from Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Colossians is that true “Christian” spirituality does not drive someone to certain practices and mantras in hope of transcendence but to the very heart of the world that God so longs to redeem. God has paved the way through the power of Christ crucified (see Col 2:14). We will soon learn (see pp. 15–19) that the peddlers of a problematic religious philosophy in Colossae relied on certain rituals to energize divine transcendence and wisdom—to be in the stratosphere where the Most High God is. Bonhoeffer, again, felt that this flight from the dirt of the earth is ironically both anti-God and anti-human. To be a Christian meant to be a genuine human being: “It is not some religious act which makes the Christian what he or she is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.”5 This concept of God expressed by Bonhoeffer could be termed cruciformity—living in a godly way by imitating the way of the cross.6 Again, knowing that many interpreters of Colossians have concentrated on the exalted Christ, this commentary will study the letter in view of the “crucified-and-exalted Christ.” From first chapter to last, Paul’s interest is “grounding” those seeking mystical visions and divine wisdom in the truth of Christ. He argues that God desires that the only “lifting up” of believers be in conformity

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 3

Introduction to Colossians

3

to the one who was “lifted up” by sinful mortals, the one who humbly ascended to his cross and shed his blood to reveal the true image of God. Authorship

Did Paul actually write Colossians? Based on the first verse (1:1), it might seem like a foregone conclusion. Beginning in the nineteenth century, however, scholars began to doubt that this document was written by the same person who authored letters like Galatians, Romans, and 1 Corinthians.7 Pseudepigraphal Correspondence between Paul and Scholars refer to this as pseudonymity, Seneca where a person writes a document but attributes the authorship to someone else—usually a prominent religious figure. In the current state of the matter, scholars are about evenly divided in their conclusions on whether Paul is the true author of Colossians. My own inclination is that there is simply not enough information and evidence to reject the authorial statement within Colossians. The textual concerns and conundrums raised by skeptics are worth exploring, however, and require those who hold to authenticity to do so with an open mind. For those who doubt the authenticity of Colossians, four problems tend to be Joos (Justus) van Ghent (c. 1435–c. 1480) and Pedro Berruguete. Seneca, raised: language, historical implausibility, Roman Philosopher. Oil on wood. Louvre, Paris, France. (Credit: © RMNtheological divergence and development, Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY) and pseudepigraphal clues or “giveaways.” Language If you compared two letters of the same general nature by the same person, you would probably expect them to be similar in language and style. For example, when you study Galatians and Romans, you notice significant overlap in terminology: law, righteousness, faith, grace, etc. When

The “Correspondence between Paul and Seneca” is composed of 14 letters purportedly written by the apostle and the Roman philosopher. For many centuries they were assumed to be authentic, but now the work is widely assumed to have been produced in the 4th C. AD. Other examples of extant pseudepigraphal Pauline letters include 3 Corinthians and Laodiceans. For more information on these, see W. Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha (trans. R. McL. Wilson; vol. 2, “Writings Related to the Apostles, Apocalypses and Related Subjects”; 5th rev. ed.; Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 1992).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 4

4

Introduction to Colossians

Scholarly Divisions of the Pauline Corpus Genuine or Undisputed Letters (scholarly consensus of authorial authenticity): Romans, 1–2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon Letters of Dubious Authenticity (some concern over authenticity but large support for authorial genuineness): Colossians, 2 Thessalonians Disputed Letters (authenticity debated): Ephesians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus Sometimes the language of “deutero-Pauline” (deutero = “secondary”) is used for the “disputed letters.” On the one hand, there is an advantage to this language over that of “pseudonymous,” because “pseudo” means “false” and it could give a negative impression of the letters as furtive or pernicious. On the other hand, to call them “deutero-Pauline” is to place a final judgment on them as if the case for authenticity were closed. It is more appropriate, if such divisions are necessary, to maintain categories that represent the state of the debate: scholars on both sides of the argument on the authenticity of Ephesians, for example, could share the language of “disputed” but not the language of “pseudonymous” (or “deutero-Pauline”).

you compare Colossians to the letters most scholars consider to be genuinely written by Paul, however, there are a number of hapax legomena— words that appear in Colossians but cannot be found at all in the undisputed (“authentic”) letters of Paul. [Scholarly Divisions of the Pauline Corpus] [Hapax Legomena (“Words Occurring Uniquely”) in Colossians]

Another problem involves missing words. For example, Paul tends to refer to the Spirit rather frequently in undisputed letters like Romans and 1 Corinthians, but the Greek word for Spirit, pneuma, only appears twice in Colossians (1:8; 2:5). Again, some scholars wonder how this can be the same writer.

Historical Implausibility Perhaps more pressing, when comparing Colossians to the undisputed letters, is the impression given to many scholars that the kinds of things said in the former, and the overall historical context, appear anachronistic. That is, this letter seems to some interpreters to fit better into a later period rather than during Paul’s own lifetime. One key example involves the so-called household code found in 3:18–4:1, which outlines how various members within the household should behave (i.e., husbands and Hapax Legomena (“Words Occurring Uniquely”) in Colossians wives, parents and children, “Hapax legomena” (“hapax” for short) is a Greek phrase translitmasters and slaves). Some erated into English and means “said once,” in reference to interpreters consider this to be words occurring uniquely in a given text. Colossians contains 34 hapax legomena, referring to words that only occur in this letter and nowhere more indicative of “Pauline else in the New Testament (or sometimes in view of the Pauline corpus). Christianity” in the second One example is the verb embateuø (“I enter into”), which occurs in 2:18. century, with a more “develAnother example would be sylagøgeø (“I carry off as spoil”) in 2:8. While oped” view of Christian all the letters of Paul inevitably contain hapax (e.g., Galatians contains 30 hapax), when they appear in high number in a text, scholars have cause relationships, rather than what to investigate whether such unique vocabulary (working from the reserwould be taught by the Apostle voir of vocabulary terms used elsewhere by the same author) can be Paul himself, who supported plausibly attributed to special contextual matters, or if perhaps we are celibacy and expected an immireading the work of a different person altogether. nent return of the Lord.8 Another example of the appeal to concern over “historical implausibility” would be the way certain terms are used in

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 5

Introduction to Colossians

Colossians, such as language regarding “the faith” (1:23; 2:7), which could point to a time in Pauline Christianity when the Greek word pistis (“faith”) had already become a technical term for “the Christian faith” (as a coherent set of religious beliefs and practices) as opposed to a broader term used for trust in Christ. Theological Divergence and Development We must also reckon with what many scholars consider to be theological developments beyond what we see in the undisputed letters. These are occasions in Colossians where the theological ideas or expressions appear to derive from typical Pauline thought, but they move in another direction. For instance, both Colossians and 1 Corinthians refer to the church as “the body” (Col 1:18, 24; 1 Cor 12:12-31). In 1 Corinthians, however, individual believers are seen to be members of one body, and that one body symbolizes union with Christ. In Colossians the image is a bit different. The church is the body, but the head is Christ. Some scholars have pressed the question, would Paul himself use this metaphor so differently in two of his letters? We could also examine Colossians’ Christology, where Christ is attributed a major role in the creation of the world (1:15-20)— something scholars do not consider to be as highly developed in the undisputed letters. Or there is the matter of the eschatology of Colossians. In many of Paul’s letters, he imagines salvation as a soon coming but still future event (1 Thess 1:9-10), whereas in Colossians believers are described as already “raised with him through faith” (2:12). Pseudepigraphy Why would someone want to write a letter under someone else’s name, and how acceptable was this practice? These are central questions in the debate over the authorship of Colossians, and the answers are not simple. Apparently there are a number of reasons someone would write in another person’s name, and with various motives, noble or sinister.9 Viewed more positively, some pseudepigraphers (“false-name writers”) may simply have wanted to write in the name of a beloved mentor as a tribute or perhaps to apply his classic teaching to a new context and generation. On the other hand, we know that some may have had greedy motives or written with intent to truly deceive readers for the sake, perhaps, of borrowing the authority of a respected leader.

5

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 6

6

Introduction to Colossians

In the case of Colossians, interpreters who argue that it is pseudonymous tend to view it as written by a disciple (perhaps of a later era) who nobly wished to bring the apostle’s general teaching to bear on a particular matter for his constituency. Also, certain features of Colossians could be seen to employ rhetorical techniques one might use in such a situation. For example, the way Paul is described as one who suffers for the Colossians and makes up for what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (1:24-25) could be read as something an admirer of Paul might write to honor the great apostle. Additionally, the way men like Epaphras and Tychicus are described (beloved, faithful, serving) has been viewed by some scholars as an attempt to bolster the reputations of these church leaders in the wake of Paul’s death with a view toward the passing of the baton of authority.10 Evaluation Most scholars who doubt that the Apostle Paul wrote Colossians do so not flippantly but based on a cumulative concern over a wide range of issues, including many of the ones mentioned above.11 Some issues are more pressing and problematic than others, though in the end each person weighs them all a bit differently. Here we will evaluate each type of concern. When it comes to the language of Colossians, the fact of the matter is that the vocabulary of a discourse is bound to change based on the nature of the subject. If an American president gives a speech one day from the White House about domestic economic problems, and gives another speech the next day in New York City talking about the drug problem in America, the language will naturally flow from the topic. Certain “catchphrases” may be consistent: “I am confident that . . .” or “We will surely overcome . . .” or “The statistics are sobering . . . .” But, of course, the terminology will vary in accordance with the crisis at hand, in terms of the former speech expecting words like “fiscal” and “budget” and the latter words like “addiction” and “rehabilitation.” Most Pauline scholars are willing to take “context” into consideration and accept some variation in style and vocabulary when it comes to Colossians; however, this particular letter seems to diverge more from the undisputed letters than we see within the undisputed letters themselves. Scholars who hold it to be truly Pauline would say that the situation is distinct enough to warrant such

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 7

Introduction to Colossians

diverse language and that the resemblances it bears with the undisputed letters are too often underappreciated.12 As for historical and theological matters, while some features of Colossians seem “developed,” that is no real reason to doubt that the letter comes from Paul himself. On the question, “Did Paul’s Theology Develop?” E. P. Sanders writes, Of course Paul’s thought developed. How could it not? He was an intelligent and reactive human, who worked in an unprecedented environment. The latter days had arrived, and it was time for Jews to persuade Gentiles to turn to the God of Israel in order to share in the blessings of the messianic age. During his travels on behalf of this new vocation, Paul met and conversed with a variety of other humans, and he faced a series of new challenges. Only a dullard would repeat time after time what he had previously thought or refuse to think back through some of his opinions as issues and objections arose during his ministry. Adaptation must have been his watchword . . . . As problems shifted, and as his understanding of them advanced, he made adjustments.13

When it comes to Colossians and its “developments” in particular, commentating co-authors Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke conclude that we see the “mind of the apostle, who faced to the best of his gifts and capabilities the problems of the people whom he had to address.”14 Finally, we have the matter of pseudepigraphy. We really cannot know, if we deem Colossians to be pseudonymously written, the motives behind it—whether good or bad. One serious challenge, though, is that the letter contains a good amount of detail regarding the preferences and personal situation of the Apostle Paul. In particular, Colossians 4:7-18 offers a series of specific instructions and personal greetings—all of which would be odd and completely superfluous if fabricated by even the most wellintentioned pseudepigrapher writing in a later age. One could not help thinking that these added details (sometimes called “verisimilitudes”) were meant to deceive readers into thinking this document came from the real Paul in his real lifetime (taking into account, e.g., the frequent mention of his imprisonment, 1:1; 4:3, 10, 18). Once we have a pseudepigrapher fabricating greetings and personal requests, it becomes difficult to think of this person having virtuous intentions and offering such a sustained concern for ethical

7

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 8

8

Introduction to Colossians

living. How can we talk about pseudepigraphy being a universally acceptable practice when it involves such active deception? Author or Authors? To make the matter more complicated, it is not necessarily the case, contra what many readers of Colossians have imagined, that the author sat down on a certain day, wrote out a letter, and sent it off to be read a day or two later by the recipient. Paul likely consulted with others regarding the material of the letter over time. He refers rather frequently to sending a letter along with another person, such as Timothy (Phil 1:1) or Silvanus (1 Thess 1:1). Are these men actually responsible for information in some Tertius, the Letter Secretary of Romans of Paul’s letters? How much? Did they “write”? Could they have contributed to the language and style of letter, accounting for some of the differences scholars have noticed in contrast to the undisputed letters? In addition, we know that Paul sometimes wrote letters through the aid of a “letter secretary” (also called an “amanuensis”). According to the research of E. R. Richards, ancient letter secretaries could offer their services on a number of levels, from recorder to editor to co-author to composer.15 To put this whole complex matter of authorship in perspective, we might benefit from the research of Charles Talbert, who studied the Roman statesman Cicero’s collection of Letters to Jacob A. Backer (1608–1651). Saint Paul Writing. Musee des Atticus. Talbert discovered that Cicero used the Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France. (Credit: Scala/White Images/Art Resource, NY) language of authorship in five ways: (1) authorship as writing in one’s own hand (Att. 2.23.1); Romans 16:22 reads, “I, Tertius, the writer of this (2) authorship as writing by dictation (4.16.1); letter, greet you in the Lord.” What kind of role did Tertius have in the writing of Romans? In this (3) authorship as collaboration in writing (11.5); case, it seems rather unlikely that Tertius wrote (4) authorship as authorizing someone else to the letter on behalf of Paul (especially given the write (3.1.5); and (5) authorship “as if ” by the numerous personal statements about Paul’s putative author (6.6).16 experiences and emotions), but his duties may have ranged from basic dictation to collaboration What we learn is that, if a letter like Colossians and stylistic shaping. While sometimes mardiffers from the undisputed letters in language, velously inspiring, the common artistic images style, or theological nuance, there could be a showing Paul penning his letters in pensive isolanumber of ways of conceiving the reasons for the tion (as pictured here) do not represent a realistic historical portrayal.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 9

Introduction to Colossians

differences other than option 5—that someone else wrote the letter. Timothy as Proxy Two scholars, Eduard Schweizer and James D. G. Dunn, have articulated a plausible view that helps to account for the complexity of Colossians without recourse to an either/or position for or against genuine Pauline authorship. They propose the possibility that Timothy wrote Colossians (which could account for variances in style, language, and theology to some degree), but probably with Paul’s own blessing and with good knowledge of his teaching (which overcomes some of the problematic ethical issues related to “borrowing” the apostle’s authority and writing in the name of someone else). Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Barth and Blanke, arguing that pseudonymity is not the strongest option in the case of Colossians, confess that they operate under the principle in dubio pro reo, “when in doubt, [side] in favor of the accused.” Americans would say, “Innocent until proven guilty.” This is a wise and chary approach, as theories supporting pseudonymity are simply that—theories. Scholars who deny genuine Pauline authorship must reject the putative authorial address (Col 1:1) and guess who is behind the letter, why they wrote, in what hypothetical period, and extrapolate the purposes of the vivid historical details like the mentioning of Paul’s chains and the cryptic message to Archippus about finishing his work (4:17-18). Too often, rhetorical theories are read back into Colossians without any concrete grounding and, thus, function tautologically. Given the overwhelming support from Patristic testimony that Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul (or that he stands in some way as the source behind the letter), and that no one problem of language, history, or theology is serious enough to undermine the putative authorial designation, we will proceed in this commentary by presuming Pauline authorship. One advantage is that historical comments made by the Colossian author can be taken at face value. If, in the end, this is too naïve because the letter was actually written by someone else, I do not think the twentyfirst-century interpreter could be faulted for reading it as from Paul without stronger evidence to the contrary.

9

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 10

10

Introduction to Colossians

Again, in the end, it is not so much that the argument in favor of Pauline authorship is unquestionable or that every curious expression or phenomenon in Colossians can be explained away. Rather, it is a matter of the hermeneutics of historical inquiry. How confident can we be that the putative authorship must be rejected? When we look at history as it really is, the adage is true: the truth is often stranger than fiction. When hearing a surprising historical anecdote, we say things like “you couldn’t make this kind of stuff up” because we recognize our inability to reason our way through the flow of historical events. History, after all, is not predictable like math or physics. For example, in 1915 Charlie Chaplin entered a “Charlie Chaplin lookalike” contest—and lost! He didn’t even place (while a young Bob Hope made second runner-up)! While it is merely an anecdote, it is still instructive when it comes to “identifying” the genuine historical person. Either the judges, in Chaplin’s case, did not know well enough what Chaplin looked like to be good evaluators of the “real thing,” or Chaplin did not happen to look like his “normal self ” when he appeared for the contest. In either case, this should be a sobering reminder that ruling out genuine Pauline authorship of Colossians is methodologically dangerous. If the authorial attribution in Colossians 1:1 is “questionable,” that should not mean that its contents are questionable (though many scholars treat it as such), but that the matter of its authorship stands contested in the academic guild. Conclusion on Authorship Without unassailable reasons for rejecting the idea that Paul is the source of this letter, again, we will proceed with the notion that Colossians was written by Paul, apostle and prisoner of Christ Jesus (1:1; 4:18). It is quite possible that Paul wrote with the aid of Timothy, but we will trace the theology and “flow of thought” ultimately back to Paul himself. Paul the Prisoner

Colossians 4:3 indicates that, at the time of writing this letter, Paul was in prison.17 [Prison Epistles] Again, in 4:18, he asks the Colossian believers to “remember my imprisonment,” undoubtedly a plea for them to pray for him in view of his restricted situation, though it may be more than that.18

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 11

Introduction to Colossians

11

While it is obvious that Paul was a prisoner, Prison Epistles It is generally recognized that, among the details are more difficult to determine. the Pauline letters of the New Where was he being held? What were the condiTestament, two subgroups can be identified: tions of his imprisonment? Was he literally “in the Pastoral Epistles and the Prison Epistles. chains”? The latter group refers to those letters that give evidence of being written while Paul was In 2 Corinthians, Paul briefly makes reference in prison—Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, to several “imprisonments” (6:5; 11:23), though and Philemon. 2 Timothy happens to fit both the general consensus among scholars is that he subgroups (note the remarks about being wrote 2 Corinthians before facing the situation imprisoned in 2 Tim 1:8, 16; 2:9), but because it is part of the Pastoral Epistles, it does not he was in when he wrote Colossians. tend to be studied under the rubric of Prison Nevertheless, the mention of multiple incarceraEpistles. tions implies that being imprisoned was a relatively frequent occurrence for him—an occupational hazard, we might say! The book of Acts recounts periods of captivity in Ephesus (Acts 16:23-34), Caesarea (24:27), and Rome (28:30-31). We cannot be sure that Paul wrote Colossians while imprisoned in any of these three locations, but it has been the tradition of the Mamertine Prison in Rome early church to place Paul in Rome at this time. Peter O’Brien notes that the manuscripts K and L contain a subscript to Colossians 1:1, “written from Rome by Tychicus and Onesimus,” and that Eusebius also gives credence to this assumption (see History, 2.22.1).19 Supporting this theory is Luke’s attestation that he had permission to have his own private lodging under surveillance (Acts 28:16), Mamertine or Tullian prison on the Forum in Rome. Rome, Italy. (Credit: Erich Lessing/Art which would have made it Resource, NY) possible for Paul to have visiEarly Christian legend, especially after the 5th C., named the Mamertine tors such as those mentioned 20 Prison in Rome as the site where Paul and also Peter were held as prisin Colossians 4:7-17. Also, oners. The prison is located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, just beyond the freedoms permitted under the northwest end of the Forum. See B. Witherington III, The New house arrest would make Testament Story (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2004) 146. Witherington dates the house arrest (and the production of the Prison Epistles) to AD letter-writing (or planning) 60–62 and the Mamertine imprisonment to somewhere around AD 65–68 more feasible. Furthermore, (where Paul probably wrote the Pastoral Epistles).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 12

12

Introduction to Colossians

the mentioning of being chained does cohere with Luke’s account of Paul’s experience in Rome (Acts 28:20). If Paul was, in fact, in Rome under house arrest when writing Colossians, we could presume that he had a measure of privilege and freedom, but also that he had to depend on friends for daily provisions such as food. The fact that he asked for prayer in this situation does attest to the burden that it had on his life, certainly bringing mental anxiety, if not physical pain as well. One factor to consider is the matter of honor and shame in the ancient world. For Paul to be “in chains” and facing an uncertain future would have drawn suspicion that he was untrustworthy and a man of little honor. It is difficult to overestimate the weight given to honor status and the social problem of the shame of condemnation in Paul’s world. Stephen Fowl is certainly right to urge readers of the Pauline Prison Epistles to take seriously the encoded language of his bondage. It offers an important context for Paul to do theology and speak of freedom and power in Christ in a situation of physical vulnerability and weakness. Fowl writes, Although Paul does not tell us much about his imprisonment, he is adamant about one thing. In a world in which being in chains was dangerous and degrading, in which one became utterly dependent and easily victimized, in which control over one’s future was taken out of one’s own hands, the progress of the gospel cannot be impeded by Paul’s imprisonment. Moreover, being in chains is not incompatible with being in Christ.21

Colossae: City, Religion, Church Context

In Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), the city Colossae resided in the region of Phrygia in the valley of the Lycus river. At one time, it was known as a large and prosperous city (Herodotus, Hist. 7.30.1; Xenophon, Anab. 1.2.6), but it was eventually overshadowed in prominence by other nearby towns. In its heyday, though, it was hailed for its flourishing textile industry and distinctively purplecolored wool (see Strabo, Geogr. 12.8.16; Pliny, Nat. 11.51). Around AD 60, an earthquake devastated the city and was a major factor in the cultural decline of the area. Today it has yet to be excavated, and thus little is known about the ancient city aside from the above-mentioned information. [Plans for the Excavation of Colossae]

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 13

Introduction to Colossians

13

Looking broadly, though, at Maps of Asia Minor and the Lycus Valley Phrygia, we can make some inferences, particularly about the religious atmosphere of Colossae and the surrounding area. Based on numismatic evidence, even coins minted in Colossae, Clinton Arnold reasons that cults were active for a number of deities including Ephesian Artemis, Laodicean Zeus, the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis, and Greek gods such as Athena and Demeter.22 Arnold also argues that the discovery of curse tablets throughout Asia Minor suggests a widespread interest in spiritual entities, magic, and practices associated with the “dark arts.”23 Another regional point of interest is the presence of a Jewish population in Colossae. This is a significant question when it comes to the matter of whether or not (or how many) Jews, proselytes, or god-fearers became part of the Colossian community that followed Jesus as Messiah. While we have no direct evidence of a Jewish synagogue that dates to the first century AD, it would be almost a given that there would be some

Plans for the Excavation of Colossae According to Michael Trainor, the institution of his employment, Flinders University (Australia), established a plan about a decade ago to unite the archaeologists and historians in the university in the effort to excavate Colossae. Flinders University has plans underway to work with Turkish officials and colleagues (especially at Pamukkale University). Currently, Turkish archaeologists are busy excavating Laodicea, with the result that the work on Colossae has been delayed. In the meantime, Trainor and his colleagues are presently studying other kinds of materials that shed light on ancient Colossae, such as diaries of early travelers to Colossae, coinage, and inscriptions. In 2007, a conference took place concerning ancient Colossae, bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines. The papers from this conference, which summarize the present state of scholarship on the city, were published in late 2011 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht under the title Colossae in Space and Time: Linking to the Ancient City. For more information, see M. Trainor, “Colossae: The State of Forthcoming Excavations,” Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters 1/1 (2011): 133–35.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 14

14

Introduction to Colossians

Jewish presence (see Acts 15:21). Christian Stettler reasons that, if we take into account comments by Josephus and Cicero regarding the approximate numbers of Jews in the region, there may have been tens of thousands of Jews in the general area of Colossae at the time.24 Drawing from similar primary evidence, James D. G. Dunn suggests that Colossae may have had two or three thousand Jewish residents.25 This is also helpful in terms of setting forth a plausible hypothesis regarding the background, context, and nature of the Colossian philosophy (see below). When it comes to the church life in Colossae, we are dealing with rather scant evidence coming from Paul’s letter to the Colossians itself (and we may also cautiously include information from Philemon, depending on exactly where Philemon’s house church was located). We do see that the The House Churches of Early Christianity community of believers in Colossae was From Paul’s letters we learn that believers frelinked with those in the nearby cities of quently met as a worshiping and upbuilding community in private houses (e.g., Rom 16:5; 1 Cor Hierapolis and Laodicea (see Col 4:13). 16:19). Wealthy believers with larger homes would Indeed, Paul expects his letter to be read in accommodate larger gatherings. It would appear that the the church in Laodicea and for that group owner of the home played a special role as a benefactor to send their letter to the Colossians. or “patron” of a group. Because of the “home” setting, it would have been quite natural to share a common meal We can assume that the house church of together (see 1 Cor 11:17-34). It is unclear, however, Nympha was likely in one of these cities how the matter of gender and authority was navigated in (Col 4:15). [The House Churches of Early this special setting. On the one hand, it would have been Christianity] Also, Paul mentions Archippus natural to presume the authority of men since the household typically deferred to the paterfamilias (see Col in Colossians as someone whom the 3:18–4:1). However, Paul makes mention of female readers could exhort to “complete the task patrons in his letters such as Nympha (Col 4:15), Chloe that you have received in the Lord” (Col (1 Cor 1:11), and Phoebe (Rom 16:2). 4:17). In Philemon, he is mentioned as a leader of a house church (along with Apphia and Philemon) in one of these three close-knit cities. The mention of Onesimus in Colossians 4:9 as “one of you” also confirms this tri-city association. What we can gather from a study of Colossians and Philemon about the churches of Colossae-Laodicea-Hierapolis is that there were at least two house churches (of Nympha and Philemon) and that Philemon’s included Onesimus and Archippus. It is probable that Epaphras also hailed from this region (Col 4:12). The Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy at Colossae

Paul’s letters are often referred to as “occasional,” meaning, in the words of J. C. Beker, “personal . . . documents aimed at particular

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 15

Introduction to Colossians

situations in particular times and places.”26 Beker is known for calling the Pauline letter a “word on target”—a message aimed at dealing with something in particular.27 In some cases the message was intended to combat moral problems within the church, the parade example being 1 Corinthians. 28 On other occasions, the problem had to do with false teaching and its repercussions for the church. Here Galatians comes to mind where Paul attempts to counteract the “bewitching” effects of certain troublemakers.29 In Colossians, it is apparent we are dealing primarily with the latter kind of problem, but certainly with moral implications.30 Interpreters have long struggled, though, with the exact nature and background of the problem. Before surveying the state of the debate, we will examine the evidence within Colossians that establishes the framework of the problematic teaching and practices. Then we will interact with modern theories regarding the religious context. An Inductive Analysis In Colossians 2, two statements are the most transparent regarding specific problems in Colossae. In 2:4, Paul expresses his hope that no one would deceive them with “plausible arguments.” In 2:8-9, he urges them, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is head of every ruler and authority.” The language of “no one” (m∑deis; 2:4; m∑ tis; 2:8)31 in these verses strongly implies specific persons teaching specific things. These teachers were not only giving philosophical ideas and passing down human traditions but also supporting particular practices. Colossians 2:16-23 presents the following: 2:16-17: strict regulations for food/drink and festivals 2:18-19: ascetic practices and transcendent/mystical worship 2:20-23: sensory restrictions and ascetic practices in religious devotion In 2:23, Paul mentions that these religious practices and disciplines only offer the thin veneer of wisdom (sophia). This leads one to believe that what was promised in this philosophy was true,

15

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 16

16

Introduction to Colossians

transcendent wisdom that could only come through bodily restraining practices. And, apparently, such a pursuit undervalued (probably implicitly) the supremacy of wisdom in Christ and the kind that comes from Christ. If wisdom could be sought and found through transcendence and asceticism, it need not come exclusively or directly from Christ, so the implications of this philosophy seem to be. Such a perspective on the false teaching in Colossae would account for the frequent mention of wisdom and knowledge in Paul’s letter. In the thanksgiving section, Paul prays for their filling with “the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” and for their growth in the “knowledge of God” (1:10). Later he refers to the apostolic teaching with “all wisdom” for the sake of perfection (1:28), and the revelation of Christ as the unveiling of God’s mystery (2:2; 4:3-4). Because of Paul’s discussion of the “power of darkness” (1:13), the spiritual powers (1:16; 2:15), and the stoicheia (2:8, 20), it is possible that the Colossians were fearful of demonic and cosmic powers, and certain teachers promised freedom, transcendence, wisdom, and a kind of perfection through their lessons and practices. That these teachers may have already begun to convince the Colossians to follow their ways could be inferred from a number of Paul’s statements about patient endurance (1:11), ongoing confidence in the faith and traditions from Paul “without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel” (1:23), the emphasis on Paul’s teaching leading to maturity (1:28), the expectation that their faith will be strong (2:5), and the highlighting of Epaphras’s apparently serious prayer that they “stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills” (4:12). From the basic inductive overview offered above, we might conclude the following: 1. A certain teaching, based on traditions that Paul does not support, has appeared in Colossae. 2. The teaching is marked by philosophical arguments. 3. The philosophy offers heavenly wisdom, knowledge, spiritual maturity, and protection from evil spirits. 4. The method of success focuses, at least in part, on ascetic practices that treat the physical body negatively and abstemiously,

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 17

Introduction to Colossians

and requires strict adherence of particular dietary practices and festival observances. 5. This philosophy devalues the importance of Christ (either directly or by implication) in the pursuit of maturity and protection. 6. This philosophy has had enough of an impact on the Colossian community to cause Paul concern for their stability. Add to this list the possibility that Paul’s repeated language of “fullness” and “filling” (pl∑røma and pl∑roø) may be connected to the Colossian concern for spiritual perfection (see 3 and 5 above). Paul is insistent that (1) the Colossians have everything they need in Christ without remainder (2:10) and (2) that Christ is sufficient to offer this fullness as he has within himself the “fullness” of God (1:19; 2:9). Paul can exhort the Colossians to allow the “peace of Christ” to rule in their hearts because “Christ is all.” It is worthwhile now to engage with theories regarding how such elements mentioned above (1–6) could find a setting in the religious environment of Colossae. Essentially, two main approaches are most persuasive. We will label these the “syncretistic Jewish” approach and the “variegated Jewish” approach. What the two views have in common is that they both accept that the philosophy has Jewish elements. Where they diverge is regarding whether the philosophy stands fully within one type of Judaism or whether it combines Jewish religious elements with non-Jewish elements. Syncretistic Jewish Approach. According to this theory, the features of the philosophy can best be explained by the combination of Jewish religious thinking and practices and those of other local religions. This position has been most cogently presented by Clinton Arnold, who has brought into the discussion the prominence of magic and the interest in spiritual powers in Phrygia in general.32 Variegated Jewish Approach. In this approach, no non-Jewish religious idea or component is deemed necessary or self-evident in the problematic philosophy described in Colossians. It presumes that interest in mysteries, ascetic practices, wisdom and perfection, and heavenly ascents were not uncommon in certain strands of Judaism and relies on evidence that Jewish communities in Asia Minor sought to preserve their exclusive religious identity and that many such groups would have been seriously hesitant about pagan religious beliefs and practices.33

17

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 18

18

Introduction to Colossians

How does one decide between these two approaches? John M. G. Barclay is wise, I think, to point out that these two theories are equally plausible precisely because the internal pieces of evidence regarding the philosophy in Colossians “lack any religious or cultural framework.”34 He concludes, “We may simply have to accept that that is an unsolved, and insoluble, mystery, and redirect our attention to the content of the letter’s response; while that too concerns a ‘mystery’ (2.2), at least we have in this case direct access to a body of evidence, the letter itself.”35 We will heed Barclay’s caution. We will go one step further than Barclay, however, and attempt a simple reconstruction of the kind of message (whether written or verbal) that the Colossians may have received from these philosophers. What you will find below is an imaginary (and imaginative!) letter, as if the philosophers had written to the Colossians. Certainly this hypothetical correspondence is reading into the situation; however, the commentary will draw from the views we have mentioned above (points 1–6), and thus it may be helpful to see a coherent reconstruction, even if it may be a bit too artificial. (The words in bold represent particular terms distinctive to Colossians.) Dear Colossians, we know you are experiencing hardships: no doubt you are aware that there are evil spirits and powers that have authority over our mortal world. These powers prey on the weakness of human bodies and flesh. Thus our world is fraught with cosmic chaos. We can offer, though, knowledge, wisdom, and teachings (traditions) that can protect you from these malevolent forces. By controlling, combating, and disciplining your own frail body, you can resist these powers. Circumcision and strict ritual Torah obedience are particularly effective in counteracting these hostile spirits. Once you have submitted yourself to such disciplines of the body, you will gain access to the celestial world—receiving divine wisdom, visions, and provisions to fight against the weakness of the flesh that the evil powers use against you. We can offer you the proper route to spiritual fullness and perfection.

You will notice that Christ is not mentioned in the above letter at all. That is because it is unclear whether Paul’s supporting of the supremacy and authority of Christ in his letter was opposing direct teaching against the power and rule of Christ, or whether Christ was simply ignored or set aside. My own impression is that if the philosophers came out against Christ explicitly, Paul’s rhetoric

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 19

Introduction to Colossians

would probably have been more condemnatory, much like in Galatians where he calls their message a different gospel (Gal 1:6-7). Rather, I am inclined to think that the philosophers simply ignored the full impact of Christ precisely because Jesus had a body of weak flesh, like the rest of humanity, and such physicality had its limitations in view of the hegemony of invisible powers. Christ came down into flesh, but they wanted to transcend the flesh. While most scholars are right that Paul’s solution to the problem in Colossae is the fullness of Christ, my addition would be that the philosophers’ concern was with the embodied-and-enfleshed Christ, and Paul’s response was the fullness and supremacy of the embodied-and-enfleshed Christ.36 Many scholars refer to the problematic teaching in Colossae as the “Colossian heresy” or the “Colossian teaching.” In the commentary, we will refer to this as the “transcendent-ascetic philosophy.” It is transcendent insofar as it seeks heavenly wisdom and spiritual perfection that transcends the supposed limitations of the body. It is ascetic because it seeks the subjugation of the weak body in order to be free from the domination of troublesome spirits and powers. The Relationship between Colossians and Ephesians

It has long been recognized that Colossians and Ephesians have a striking number of similarities, not just thematically but also in the kind of word, phrase, and even clausal repetition that demands an explanation (see Col 1:1-2 —> Eph 1:1-2; Col 1:3-11 —> Eph 1:3-18; Col 1:24–2:5 —> Eph 3:1-13; Col 3:5–4:1 —> Eph 4:17–6:9; Col 4:2-4 —> Eph 6:18-20; Col 4:7-9 —> Eph 6:21-22).37 Unfortunately, we are simply not in possession of enough evidence to make the claim that one text was based on the other (whether Colossians on Ephesians or vice versa). It is the consensus of scholarship that Colossians appears to be an earlier text. If so, it is plausible that Paul wrote or commissioned Colossians, and either wrote Ephesians having some of the same material freshly in mind or authorized someone else to write Ephesians, and his disciple or coworker made use of Colossians to produce Ephesians. Because Ephesians appears to be the later text, we will not identify the similar or parallel passages in the commentary unless it offers some form of clarity in the interpretation of a word, phrase, or idea in Colossians.38

19

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 20

20

Introduction to Colossians A Guide to Reading Colossians

The history of the interpretation of Paul’s letters rather plainly attests to the complexity and challenges of making sense of his messages and theology. The Gnostic interpreters of Paul “read” him in a certain way different from, for example, Irenaeus. 39 Classically, Paul has been understood as the fearless apostle of Christ who spread the gospel and wrote theologically rich discourses. Others, however, have read Paul’s letters only to find a male chauvinist, prude, anti-Semite, slave proponent, or problematically incoherent figure.40 How is it possible that Paul could be read in so many ways? Whatever we may say, it should be evident that some readings do not seem to take Paul’s context seriously. While Pauline scholars will never agree on every facet of how to read his letters, a number of basic guidelines are widely recognized and commended. We will outline six that are employed in this commentary. 1. Read Colossians as an Occasional Letter. It should go without saying that Colossians is a letter and should be read as such, but many interpreters of the past have treated it as a theophilosophical essay without a particular context. To read it as a letter to a church (or group of churches) is to recognize that it is written within a particular situation and meant to address specific matters (i.e., for an “occasion”). While we will affirm that broader messages can be gleaned for theology, ethics, and ministry, these messages derive from a synthesis of Paul’s words to Colossae. Another aspect of reading Colossians as a letter is the importance of reading the frame of the letter.41 While the body of Paul’s letter reads more like an instructional “essay,” the beginning and end have distinct epistolary features that seem to book-end the body with a “frame” that sets the primary messages within the context of particular purposes and principal concerns. Indeed, scholars have argued that the statements made early on in the address, salutation, and thanksgiving present important signposts for central themes. Likewise, the ending of the letter offers an important backwards glance at some of the key material. 2. Presuppose the Jewish Narrative Substructure in Paul’s Thought. While Colossians is clearly a letter and not a story, “Paul’s thought is rooted in a narrative order” such that the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 21

Introduction to Colossians

logic of his theological arguments are determined in part by this narrative.42 What is the story? Most broadly conceived, it is the story of salvation, but that can easily be broken down further from a Jewish perspective. The story begins with creation (especially Adam and Eve), then the fall, and finally the story of Israel. Paul would, undoubtedly, add to that the story of Jesus, which would proceed into the story of the church (including Paul’s own experience) guided by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes allusions to the story are subtle, as in Colossians 3:9, which appears to be a reference to the “old man” of Adam. Other times the associations are more overt, as in the references to creation (1:15-16). Thus, having the story in mind while reading Colossians may aid in the comprehension of the epistle, since Paul tries to make sense of the experiences of his converts as well as himself in light of this narrative structure.43 3. Recognize and Explore Scriptural Language and Allusions. In the same way that Paul had a narrative substructure that supported his theology, he regularly turned to the Jewish Scriptures for wisdom in his letters. In texts like 1 Corinthians and Romans, he tends to quote Scripture at length. In other letters, like Philippians and Colossians, while he does not cite whole verses of the Old Testament verbatim, he does seem to be alluding to Scripture and working with key concepts, themes, images, and terminology. When dealing with Old Testament language and allusions in Paul’s letters (when there is not significant verbal reproduction on Paul’s part), one must be careful because the intertextual material is rather scant. Richard Hays has devised a useful set of principles and parameters that help to establish probability when it comes to detecting the Old Testament source texts of Pauline allusions and echoes.44 For someone like Paul, who was steeped in Jewish Scripture, language from the Old Testament inevitably seeped into his writing and thought in ways big and small, such that missing these elements of influence would turn his literary artistry from “Technicolor” to “black and white,” so to speak.45 4. Carefully Examine Paul’s Metaphors and Symbols. While we are used to classifying Paul as a theologian and letter writer, he was also very much a poet. Even in Colossians, it is well recognized that 1:15-20 contains poetic qualities. This should come as no sur-

21

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 22

22

Introduction to Colossians

prise, as Paul exhorted the Colossians to sing psalms, hymns, and songs to God (3:16). The stock and trade of poets, of course, is metaphor. Paul’s letters are stuffed full of metaphors from many areas of life such as agriculture, cult, family, athletics, theater, and biology. Given this pervasive literary tendency, it would be irresponsible of the reader to glide over these tropes without careful study. In fact, the church has long recognized the importance of symbol and metaphor for theological construction, as even the Apostles’ Creed itself begins, “I believe in God the Father . . . .”46 Greek Rhetorical Types and Paul’s Letters In the Greco-Roman world, three types of rhetorical objectives for speeches were commonly taught: forensic, deliberative, and epideictic. Scholars have debated over the matter of whether or not Paul followed the patterns of this three-fold division when writing his letters. On the one hand, it is almost universally recognized that his writing style demonstrates rhetorical skill. Thus, it is possible to try to determine whether any given letter “fits” one of the rhetorical types. Galatians could be classified as “forensic” insofar as it deals with the defense or criticism of a past action. It is possible to see a primarily “deliberative” thrust to Philippians, as the shape of Paul’s argument involves encouraging them to make a certain decision about future matters. Ephesians has often been dubbed “epideictic” because of its poetic qualities, since this form of rhetoric tends to involve present “praise or blame” and generally aims to support a particular value. While study of Greco-Roman rhetorical techniques is generally considered to be profitable when it comes to the interpretation of Paul’s letters, caution is appropriate lest the Pauline epistles be pressed into literary or rhetorical molds too forcefully. For positive assessment of the benefit of formal application of Greco-Roman rhetorical categories to Paul’s letters, see G. A. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation through Rhetorical Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984); B. Witherington III, New Testament Rhetoric: An Introductory Guide to the Art of Persuasion in the New Testament (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008). For a more critical assessment, see S. E. Porter, “The Theoretical Justification for Application of Rhetorical Categories to Pauline Epistolary Literature,” in Rhetoric and the New Testament (ed. S. E. Porter and T. H. Olbricht; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993) 100–22.

5. Read the Letter Rhetorically. In the past, scholars have debated over whether or not Paul had classical (Greek) rhetorical categories in mind as he wrote his letters. [Greek Rhetorical Types and Paul’s Letters] While it seems clear enough that Paul was a skilled writer who at least knew how to use some rhetorical techniques of his day, it is difficult to sustain the argument that he followed any kind of rhetorical formula for his letters. Thinking about “rhetoric” more broadly as the art of persuasion, however, the reader will certainly benefit from reading Paul’s letters as driven by a wider argument that develops throughout the text from beginning to end. Interpreters of Paul have a natural, though deeply problematic, tendency to try to systematize Paul’s thought by grabbing a word or sentence here and there from his letters. Colossians, as a letter from and for a particular context, demands to be read as a whole. 6. Read with an Emic Perspective. An “emic” perspective is one from the insider or native’s perspective of reality. It was not long ago that certain influential anthropologists read Leviticus, for example, from the perspective of outsiders to ancient Mediterranean culture and simply concluded that the Israelites were superstitious and “primitive.”

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 23

Introduction to Colossians

That was an “etic” perspective. To read with the author (or inside of the author’s culture) means that we refrain from prematurely judging his or her perspective as invalid. An emic perspective tends to be a sympathetic viewpoint as one tries to understand why the author or native would think, speak, and act in the ways that he or she does. Whether the text has to do with purity and holiness, the spiritual realm, or matters pertaining to social order and ethics, it is responsible for a good reader, on at least one reading of the text, to attempt an emic perspective. While some readers will naturally or inevitably challenge Paul’s thinking, to attempt to read with an emic perspective is to give to Paul the courtesy you would want yourself as someone else approaches your own work.47 Theological Themes of Colossians

Christology and the Transcendence and Nearness of God In 1 Timothy 2:5, Christ is called a “mediator” (mesit∑s) that stands between God and mortals. Sometimes Christ is represented in Colossians in such a way as to focus on his supremacy and exaltation—he represents God as the preeminent one and, thus, deserves the title “Cosmic Christ.”48 He is the preexistent agent of creation, the authority and head over the most lofty powers (see 1:15-20)— aptly titled “lord” (1:2). Paul could put it no more clearly than when he proclaims, “Christ is all and in all!” (3:11). There is, however, another side to Colossians that is too often underestimated. While Paul does not try to diminish the awesome stature of Jesus Christ, he is at least equally interested in demonstrating that Christ is God’s mediator who is near us and with us in our lowliness. Christ is “in you” (1:27), he tells them. He is close enough to circumcise you with a special “new creation” circumcision. While he is the exalted Christ, Paul also refers to his death (2:20) and particularly to his crucifixion (1:20; 2:14). If we wish to retain the language of the “Cosmic Christ” in view of Colossians’ Christology, perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of the “Cosmic Human Christ” or, better yet, the “Cosmic Crucified Christ” so as to retain the power of the revelation of God in Christ. To neglect or underplay Christ’s humiliating frailty is to question the power of God unveiled at the cross. Words cannot express the special role and status of Christ better than Paul’s own articulation, but one way to describe the Colossian

23

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 24

24

Introduction to Colossians

Christology is using the language of “amphicosmic Christology”— Christ somehow, paradoxically but appropriately, stands overlapping the realms of God and mortals, not in between each but somehow touching both.49 Fullness, Knowledge, and the Mystery of Christ The language of wisdom, knowledge, and revelation pervades Colossians. Paul prays that these believers be filled with divine knowledge and spiritual understanding (1:9) so as to grow in knowledge of God (1:10). The apostles aim to teach with all wisdom (1:28). Christ himself is represented as the source of all wisdom and knowledge (2:3). What is more, Christ, a once-hidden mystery, has been revealed to the holy ones (1:26; 4:3). Those who are united with Christ are given new life by virtue of true knowledge of him (3:10). Given the church’s attraction to a transcendent-ascetic philosophy, Paul is undoubtedly trying to redirect a (potential) obsession over “heavenly” wisdom and secret knowledge toward Christ. Paul returns again and again to his bottom line: Christ is everything. True fulfillment is found only in Christ. True wisdom comes from Christ and is demonstrated by him. There is no secret more valuable than the one unveiled when Christ appeared. It is important to note that Paul does not downplay the importance of true knowledge. He presumes that right thinking and divine wisdom are absolutely important. The difference between his approach and that of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy is that Paul’s revolves around Christ and only him. He is the beginning of wisdom and the end. Paul recognizes that the fullness of life is brought about (at least to some degree) by divine wisdom. Behavior is directed by the life of the mind. The problem with the transcendent-ascetic philosophy is that the pursuit of heavenly secrets distracts the worshipper from the most potent source of wisdom—Christ himself. Also, one does not need to be lifted up into heaven to commune with Christ. Believers have already been raised with him (2:12). Setting the mind on what is above (3:1-2) is Paul’s way of challenging his converts not to try to see what is happening in heaven, but to train the mind to live according to the divine agenda of the kingdom of the beloved Son instead of the kingdom of mortals. The wisdom of the heavenly man (Christ) is that he came down from heaven to rescue enslaved mortals. To be god-like, following

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 25

Introduction to Colossians

Christ, is to live according to new creation and to be reset by the pattern of the new Adam (3:10). To be like the heavenly man, then, is not to try to exalt oneself (and in the process step on others) toward perfection but to embody him by living according to his pattern, one that preeminently exemplifies love. The Body of Flesh and the Body of Christ Colossians has a remarkably high number of references to the “body” (søma; 1:18, 22, 24; 2:11, 17, 19, 23; 3:15). In all likelihood, this is in response to the transcendent-ascetic philosophy that treated the body of flesh as something to suppress and mistreat due to its material nature (2:23a). The obsession with denying the flesh (in view of rising above it to celestial realms) could easily lead to isolation (the neglect of others) and self-exaltation. Paul is able to challenge this philosophy by noting that, while it claims to be a successful approach to spiritual maturity, it has failed in a critical area: conquering evil desire. Any serious ancient philosophy had an interest in directing the person toward virtue. 50 Paul exposes the transcendent-ascetic philosophy as a fraud in this regard. While this transcendent-ascetic philosophy obsessed over the physical body, Paul presses the Colossians to focus on the “body of Christ.” This argument has two points. First, true spirituality is not about the individual in isolation but about the community and its proper health and vitality. The church “body” is composed of “members” that live in organic oneness under the “head” of Christ. For this body to live, it must work as one and it must be in cooperation with the “head” (2:19). The second point Paul makes is that the best model of true spirituality is Christ himself and what he did with his body. The transcendent-ascetic philosophy encourages suffering of the body for spiritual gain. Looking at Christ, Paul also sees physical weakness, but it is not for self-exaltation but for the deliverance and benefit of others. Thus, the giving up of the “fleshly body [of Christ] through death” established reconciliation and restoration in the world (1:22). Paul models this himself when he confesses that his own bodily suffering in the flesh was for the sake of the communal body of Christ, the church (1:24). To understand what “perfection” is, according to Colossians (1:28), one must take seriously the wisdom of God in Christ who suffered, was shamed, and faced death on a cross out of love and care for others.

25

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 26

26

Introduction to Colossians

The Burden of Fear, the Power of Hope and Thanksgiving Colossians makes reference to the presence of cosmic powers (thrones, dominions, rulers, powers; 1:16) and also “elemental spirits of the world” (2:8; 2:20; NET). In the Greco-Roman world, fear over the oppression of heavenly powers was rather common, and Paul seems to presume this concern among the Colossians (see 1:23; 2:20). Paul sees these powers as somehow connected to the Torah and human traditions. Colossians depicts the Torah as exacting a crushing debt (2:14). Fear comes when we feel a threat to our lives and what we value. Fear has a place in the world because of the devastation Anonymous. 16th C. Martin Luther at the age of 29, in 1512. caused by sin, which has corrupted cosmic Woodcut. (Credit: Snark/Art Resource, NY) powers, the “good world” of creation, and has co-opted Torah itself.51 Martin Luther articulated a powerful theology of the cross of Christ and underscored, in particular, No doubt the Colossians felt a sense of confuthe epistemological significance of the offense of sion and uncertainty with the “apostle to the the cross. Somehow, the God that we all know Gentiles” shackled by the Roman authorities and to be Almighty and omnipotent chose to set the possibly facing execution. Despite such daunting fullness of God into the human body of Jesus who was shamefully hung on a Roman cross. For circumstances, Paul turns his readers’ hearts and Luther, this was a form of divine revelation, but it minds to the “hope of the gospel.” This hope is is Deus absconditus sub contrario—“God hidden in a God who raised the dead body of a crucified under the form of the opposite.” The lowly man criminal who was rejected and condemned by of the cross paradoxically reveals the power of the Most High God. This truth, central to the the powers of the world. Paul never promises the Christian faith, lies behind the Pauline emphasis Colossians financial blessing or physical protecon “Christ crucified”—a stumbling block to Jews tion, but he directs them to the new status and and foolishness to Greeks, but a reality that identity they have in Christ. By joining the happens to be the demonstration of the very power and wisdom of God (see 1 Cor 1:23-24). family of God through Christ the Son, they have For more on this theme in Luther’s thought, see been snatched out of the “dominion of darkness” A. E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross: and have been relocated into the safe care of his Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough (2d kingdom (1:13). Thus, they have become “sons” ed.; West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). and, by right, heirs of a divine inheritance (1:12). Their life is “secure,” resting in hope. While the divine inheritance is safely protected on their behalf, something is still required of them in the meantime: faith and thanksgiving. As for the former, faith does not mean checking a mental box marked “Jesus is savior” or “I believe in God.” Rather, Deus Absconditus Sub Contrario

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 27

Introduction to Colossians

it is the kind of trust that shapes a whole new reality that helps them to interpret and respond appropriately to what is going on all around them. The language of 1:23 points to a kind of concrete, rock-solid disposition that always counts on the gospel setting the course of life rightly. When the storms of life sweep in, the role of the believer is to “hold your ground.” A practical correlative of this life of “faith” in Christ (and the gospel) is a heart of thanksgiving. This happens to be a key concept in Colossians (1:12; 2:7; 3:17; 4:2). This is no trite sentiment coming from a man in prison! By faith and hope, Paul tells us elsewhere that he has learned to be content in any circumstance because of the power of God in Christ (Phil 4:11-14). The decision to be a thankful person (and particularly thankful to God ) is an act of faith, a work of the will that, again, dares to establish a counterreality over and against the bleak and dark world. While Paul directs the thanksgiving to hope, it is not only thinking about the future. To be thankful in hope is to dream (with God) of a day when things will be made right in the world—“that time is coming,” argues Paul! The promises God has made, founded on new creation in the Christ event, anticipate a world without sin, fear, war, danger, degradation, and hatred. Living “in Christ” from top to bottom and beginning to end proleptically brings part of that stability of the future into the present, a foretaste of the divine inheritance. For Paul, this is grounds for bursting forth with thanksgiving (2:7). While, for Paul, thanksgiving can manifest itself in words, as we bless God in prayer (4:2), Paul also expects a heart of thanksgiving to materialize in action. N. T. Wright aptly names this “thanksliving,” as we “behave as the free subjects of the true king.”52 This involves true worship, singing songs of gratitude (3:16). But it is also about how believers act in the family of God (3:18–4:1) and the gracious presence and witness the church carries to the wider world (4:6).53 Discerning the Ethics of Colossians

Until rather recently in New Testament scholarship, Paul was viewed as essentially a “theologian” interested in salvation. His letters, according to some of these scholars, could be divided into a “theology” section and an “ethics” section. While it is true that Paul

27

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 28

28

Introduction to Colossians

Pauline Paraenesis Scholars sometimes refer to direct ethical instruction in Paul’s letters as “paraenesis.” Calvin Roetzel outlines three types of paraenetic material that Paul uses. First, there are strings of maxims clustered together (e.g., Rom 12:9-13). Second, there are lists of virtues and vices (Gal 5:19-23). Finally, we sometimes find “a prolonged exhortation or homily on a particular topic” (1 Thess 4:13-18).

tends to offer a series of moral directives toward the close of his letters, that does not mean that the totality of his “ethics” is exclusively located there. [Pauline Paraenesis] In the last few decades, it has become increasingly clear that, just as our worldview shapes how we live in the world, so “theology” has a direct effect on “ethics.” Another way of putting it is that “identity” establishes “ethos.” [Ethos] We all know that what we believe See C. J. Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: Conversations in about ourselves (personal worth, origin and family, Context (5th ed.; Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009) 66–68. social location, etc.) is central to how we make decisions. In Paul’s letters, part of the purpose of Ethos using so many metaphors is to speak about identity in Clifford Geertz defines such fresh and transforming ways that he enables a “con“ethos” as: “A people’s . . . version of the imagination.”54 This, in turn, concretizes tone, character, and quality of life, its moral and aesthetic style and ethos. All of Paul’s “theological” statements anticipate a mood; it is the underlying attitude reorientation of the will, and even his imperatives and towards themselves and their world directives presuppose certain theological realities. In that that life reflects.” sense, “theology” and “ethics” are always in organic unity C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, as the mind processes the always-changing understanding 1973) 421. of the world and fine-tunes the nature of action and the working out of the will accordingly. In that sense, there should be a concentrated effort to read Colossians (and all of Paul’s letters) with a view toward discipleship and the transformed life, not only in the “hortatory” sections but from beginning to end.55 [The Ethics of “Grace and Peace” (1:2)] The Ethics of “Grace and Peace” (1:2) To model how “ethics” (or “ethos”) flows naturally from seemingly incidental theological statements, we could take the simple example of Paul’s salutation: “grace to you and peace from God our Father” (1:2). Often, readers rush through such seemingly perfunctory statements, as if Paul meant nothing more than a “hope you are well.” These two terms in particular, however, are important to his overall theology. “Grace” (charis) is the fundamental language of God’s favor and care. “Peace” (eir∑n∑) represents the new state of well-being as a result of grace. While Paul often repeats this salutation (e.g., Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Phil 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1), that should not diminish its importance but underscore its significance all the more. The “theology” of this salutation presents a God who loves and generously reaches out to his fallen creatures through “grace.” Secondly, the “peace” wish observes both that the grace of God has a powerful and effective result and also that, in a world still working out the battle against sin and death, “peace” must be embraced and repeatedly affirmed. This has many natural “ethical” implications—we (like Paul) have a ministry of offering to others “grace and peace.” Second, we must be willing to accept the ministry of “grace and peace” from others. The church is not a building where individuals gather to encounter God separately. It is the house of the Lord that brings the “body of Christ” together for mutual edification and for the members to join together in worship and service. When we “hear” Paul’s salutation of “grace to you and peace,” it is a calling not only to believe in this grace and peace but also to act in faith knowing the love of the generous God and the power of peace to heal the broken world.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 29

Introduction to Colossians

Notes 1. See D. Bonhoeffer, Ecumenical, Academic, and Pastoral Work (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 2012) 446. 2. See D. Bonhoeffer, Ethics (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 2005) 57. 3. See Sabine Dramm and Margaret Kohl, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Resistance (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 2009) 84–85. 4. W. A. Visser’t Hooft, Memoirs (London: SCM Press, 1973) 153. 5. D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 2009) 222–23. 6. See M. J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2001). 7. E. Mayerhoff, Der Brief an die Colosser mit vornehmlicher Berückstichtigung der drei Pastoralbriefe (Berlin: Schultze, 1838). 8. See M. MacDonald, The Pauline Churches: A Socio-Historical Study of Institutionalization in the Pauline and Deutero-Pauline Writings (SNTSMS 60; Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 9. See B. Metzger, “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha,” JBL 91 (1972): 3–24. 10. This reading of Colossians appears to be endorsed by Jerry Sumney; see Colossians: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008). 11. See, for example, A. T. Lincoln, “The Letter to the Colossians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000) 11:553–669: “on balance . . . the cumulative argument that Paul was not the author and that Colossians was written by a follower after the apostle’s death appears to have the greater probability” (580). 12. This is argued unapologetically in P. T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC 44; Waco TX: Word, 1982) xlii–xliv. 13. E. P. Sanders, “Did Paul’s Theology Develop?” in The Word Leaps the Gap (ed. J. R. Wagner et al.; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2008) 334–35. 14. M. Barth and H. Blanke, Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AYB 34B; New York: Doubleday, 1994) 125. 15. See E. R. Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (WUNT 2/42; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991) 23–53. 16. C. Talbert, Ephesians and Colossians (Paideia; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2007) 8. 17. Literally, he uses the verb deomai to communicate that he has been bound, i.e., “imprisoned” (see NASB). 18. See pp. 196–97. 19. O’Brien, Colossians, l. 20. See M. L. Skinner, Locating Paul: Places of Custody as Narrative Settings in Acts 21–28 (Leiden: Brill, 2003) 164. 21. S. Fowl, Philippians (THNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005) 10. 22. See C. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Commentary: Romans to Philemon (vol. 3; Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2002) 75.

29

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 30

30

Introduction to Colossians 23. Ibid.; also see J. G. Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). 24. C. Stettler, “The Opponents at Colossae,” in Paul and His Opponents (ed. S. Porter; PAST 2; Leiden: Brill, 2005) 194–96. 25. James D. G. Dunn, “Colossae,” NIDB 1.702. 26. J. C. Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 1980) 23. 27. Ibid., 352. See, generally, also M. J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2004) 76–77. 28. Ben Witherington’s title for his Corinthian commentary is, thus, apt: Conflict and Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1995). 29. See J. D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (NTT; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 8ff. 30. While most scholars agree that Colossians is opposing false teaching, one prominent detractor is Morna Hooker, who does not find such theories convincing. One main concern she has is that Paul appears so calm and positive in tone. She urges that Paul could issue more general warnings and concerns toward believers in a pagan environment as they would have naturally been drawn to submission of spiritual powers out of fear. Perhaps one of the strongest planks in her argument is the relevance of the letter to the Colossians for the Laodiceans (Col 4:16). The details of the situation seem too specific, however, to suggest that Paul is dealing with something widespread. Three elements from Colossians 2, in particular, stand out prominently. First, it is called a “philosophy” (2:8), a label Paul does not normally use for false teaching elsewhere. Second, the pointed statement, “Do not let anyone disqualify you,” has such a specific character to lead one to believe that, indeed, someone has tried (2:18). Third, the direct influence of the commands “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” appear, again, very concrete as if directly related to this context. See Hooker, “Were There False Teachers in Colossae?” in Christ and Spirit in the New Testament (ed. B. Lindars and S. S. Smalley; Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973) 315–31. 31. The same kind of language is used again in 2:16-17 and 2:18-19. 32. See above, “Colossae: City, Religion, Church Context,” p. 12. 33. James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to Colossians and Philemon (NIGTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996) 29–35. 34. J. M. G. Barclay, Colossians and Philemon (NTG; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997) 54. 35. Ibid. 36. For more on the importance of body (søma) in Colossians, see “The Body of Flesh and the Body of Christ,” p. 25. 37. C. Talbert, Ephesians and Colossians (Paideia; Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2007) 4. 38. For further discussion of this subject, see E. Best, “Who Used Whom? The Relationship Between Ephesians and Colossians,” NTS 43 (1997): 72–96. 39. For perspectives on Paul in the early church, see M. F. Bird and J. R. Dodson, eds., Paul and the Second Century (LNTS; London: T & T Clark, 2011).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 31

Introduction to Colossians 40. See B. J. Dodd, The Problem with Paul (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996). 41. L. Ann Jervis applies this approach to Romans in The Purpose of Romans: A Comparative Letter Structure Investigation (JSNTSup 55; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991). 42. See R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ (2d ed.; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2002) 9. 43. A helpful resource for exploring this subject is Ben Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994). 44. See R. B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1989). 45. For an advanced study of the use of Scripture in Colossians, see C. Beetham, Echoes of Scripture in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians (BIS 96; Leiden: Brill, 2008). 46. For an excellent study of Paul’s theological use of metaphor (focused on his undisputed letters), see R. F. Collins, The Power of Images in Paul (Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2008). 47. For more on reading Paul from social-scientific perspective, see J. H. Neyrey and Bruce Malina, Paul, in Other Words: A Cultural Reading of His Letters (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 1990). 48. Colleen Conway, for example, writes, “In Colossians and Ephesians, the exalted Christ is found writ large across the page.” See Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) 83. 49. The word “amphicosmic” means “both worlds” (from the Greek words amphi [both] + kosmos [world]). 50. See p. 114ff, “Opiate for the Masses or Real Transformation?”; cf. J. W. Thompson, Moral Formation According to Paul (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2011). 51. See S. Wells, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith (Grand Rapids MI: Brazos, 2011). 52. N. T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1994) 21. 53. An excellent model of this approach is found in D. Jacobsen and R. Sawatsky, Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2006). 54. This phrase is borrowed from R. B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005). 55. For a more detailed discussion of the relationship between theology and ethics in Paul’s letters, see S. C. Barton, “The Epistles and Christian Ethics,” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics (ed. R. Gill; Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001) 63–73; V. P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 1968); N. K. Gupta, “The Theo-Logic of Paul’s Ethics in Recent Research: Crosscurrents and Future Directions in Scholarship in the Last Forty Years,” Currents in Biblical Research 7/3 (2009): 336–61.

31

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 32

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 33

Outline of Colossians Christ the Ruler, 1:1–2:3 Introduction, 1:1-2 Senders Recipients “Grace and Peace” Thanksgiving and Prayer, 1:3-14 Paul’s Thanks to God for Their Faith and Love, 1:3-5a The Colossians’ Effective and Encouraging Reception of the Gospel, 1:5b-8 Paul’s Prayer for Godly Wisdom, Obedience, and Joyful Perseverance, 1:9-14 The Priority and Supremacy of Christ, 1:15-20 Above All Powers, 1:15-17 Leader of the Resurrection Church, 1:18 Divine and Cosmic Peacemaker, 1:19-20 A Call to Move Forward Faithfully in the Hope of the Cosmic Gospel, 1:21-23 Paul, Herald of the Mysteries of Christ and Cruciform Example, 1:24–2:3 Fullness in Christ Alone: The Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy Vain, Christ the Fullness, 2:4-23 The Disastrous Potential of the Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy, 2:4-5 Christ at the Center, 2:6-10 Christ the Redeemer, 2:11-15 The Philosophy Rejected in View of Christ, 2:16-19 Rejecting Human Methods of Spiritual Empowerment, 2:20-23 New Life in Christ: The Quality of New Life in Christ, 3:1-17 Pursuing True Heavenly Life in Christ, 3:1-4 Destroying and Setting Aside Earthly Ways, 3:4-11 Cardinal Virtues of New Life in Christ: Love, Peace, and Thanksgiving, 3:12-17

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 34

34

Outline of Colossians

New Life in Christ: Household Relationships Reoriented under the Lordship of Christ, 3:18–4:1 Wives and Husbands, 3:18-19 Children and Fathers, 3:20-21 Slaves and Masters, 3:22–4:1 Joyful Cruciformity: Patterns and Models, 4:2-18 Praying and Witnessing with Joy, 4:2-6 Final Words, 4:7-17 Sending of Tychicus and Onesimus, 4:7-9 Greetings from Aristarchus, Jesus/Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas, 4:10-14 Paul’s Greetings to Laodiceans and Nympha, 4:15 Exchanging and Reading of Letters with Laodicean Church, 4:16 Exhortation to Archippus, 4:17 Pauline Autograph and Farewell, 4:18 Autographic Authentication, 4:18a Exhortation to Remember Paul’s Chains, 4:18b Benediction of Grace, 4:18c

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 35

Christ the Ruler Colossians 1:1–2:3 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him . . . To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol? . . . Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable . . . . [T]hose who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:9-10, 18-19a, 28, 31) This is the great Isaianic word of hope to a people despondently wearied by exile. Where is the presence of God? When will our God finally make good on his promises of peace and restoration? When and how will he show the world (and Israel) who he is? In a way, Colossians 1:1–2:3 is a testimony to the fulfillment of that glorious “good-tidings” prophecy: “here is your God!” For Paul, of course, the world-shattering presence of God, the return of the King, happened in Jesus the Messiah. And nothing will ever be the same. In a sense, then, this first chapter (and a bit extra) of Colossians is the actualization of a herald (Paul) announcing the difference Jesus has made with the might and rulership of the Creator God. Thanks to the supreme work of God’s true image, the Messiah,

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 36

36

Colossians 1:1–2:3

the “gospel” is bearing abundant fruit and growing, reconciliation has taken place, “unruly” rulers have been demoted, the fullness of God has settled once again on earth, and the great mystery of God’s redemptive plan has at last been unveiled. Paul beams with pride as servant of this gospel (1:23) and encourages the Colossians to be thankful and continue to cling to the God of hope. Timothy

COMMENTARY Introduction, 1:1-2

Timothy with his mother and grandmother. St. Mildred’s Church, Tenterden, Kent, Great Britain. (Credit: HIP/Art Resource, NY)

Timothy is mentioned in the prescripts of Philippians (1:1) and Philemon (1). During Paul’s second missionary journey, Paul called on Timothy to accompany him, noting Timothy’s blameless reputation. It is unclear exactly what role Timothy may have played in the writing of these letters, if any at all (see Introduction). It may be as much as having written the entire letter of Colossians himself with Paul’s approval or in his honor, or simply serving as part of Paul’s apostolic “team” that sent greetings and encouragement. In any case, we get a clear sense that Paul was no “lone ranger” apostle. He worked collaboratively and perhaps even wrote cooperatively as well. For further reading, see B. J. Malina, Timothy: Paul’s Closest Associate (Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2008).

Paul himself refers to Colossians as a letter (epistol∑ ) in 4:16, and it bears several marks of standard ancient letters. When set alongside the average personal letter in the Greco-Roman world, however, Paul’s own writings are rather distinctive in a number of ways. First, on average, ancient letters were less than one hundred words long. Paul tended to write about twenty times that length!1 When it comes to the letter opening, where normally there would be a stated “sender” and “addressee(s),” Paul took the opportunity to protract this portion, giving clues to how he wanted himself and his readers to be understood in divine perspective. Most often, the prescript would simply present the names of the parties: “Heraklas to Horos and Tachonis, greetings.”2 Letters to friends and family members tended to have more endearing qualifiers: “Claudius Agathas Daimon to most beloved Sarapios, greetings.”3 Paul goes even further than this to draw out the unique identities of God’s children, including both senders and recipients. Paul refers to himself as “apostle” and also names his coworker Timothy. By offering the title “apostle,” he does here what is quite natural in his letters (see 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1), especially since here he is writing to a church that does not know him personally (cf. Rom 1:1). An apostle is one who is “sent out” to spread the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 37

Colossians 1:1–2:3

good news of Jesus Christ, and this is the dominant identity marker Paul claims. One might call him a missionary or evangelist in this regard, but it is important to keep in mind that his apostleship was not simply about winning religious “converts”; he also desired to spread a life-changing message of grace and salvation in Christ that transforms people and communities. That is why he wrote edifying letters, like Colossians, urging and encouraging believing communities to grow up in Christ and into full maturity (see Col 1:28). In the first chapter, Paul refers to his own special predicament (as prisoner) and his role in the divine plan (1:24-27), but it will become clear that he is not merely establishing his credibility or authority, as some have presumed,4 but also setting forth a model of one who leads the way in serving and suffering on behalf of the body, the church (see 1:23). The Colossians are called “holy and faithful brothers in Christ” (1:2). The language of holiness (hagios) in Paul’s letters often signals a particular quality of character that he expects from his believing communities.5 It is not meant, though, primarily as a moral designation, as if these believers were perfect or nearly so. Nor is it strictly a comment on their religious fervor or piety. The Hellenistic Jewish use of the term involves two aspects: status and function. As for the former, those who are “in Christ” have been consecrated and set apart from the rest of the world (see 1 Cor 6:9-11). This might be called the negative aspect of holiness (i.e., taken away from somewhere common or profane). It is more than this, though. Believers, according to Paul, have also been consecrated for a special purpose, to be used by God in service. That is the positive dimension of holiness, being set aside to serve and be made of good use by God. David Peterson gets the idea of holiness exactly right by describing the holy one as newly “possessed by God.”6 That Paul refers to the Colossians as “faithful” (or “firmly committed”7) already anticipates the affirmation of their trust in Christ of which he makes mention in 1:4 alongside their love for the all the holy ones. [Faithful or Believing?] In 2:5, again, he praises them for the “firmness” of their faith. [Trouble in Colossae? How Bad?] While Paul describes them as holy and faithful, he uses the metaphor of kinship as one of the strongest descriptors of their new identity in Christ. Timothy is “the brother,” presumably of Paul but probably also of the Colossians. This sets up the authors and

37

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 38

38

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Faithful or Believing? Scholars debate whether Paul takes the adjective pistos in 1:2 to mean “faithful” brothers or “believing” brothers, as the adjective could mean either one. In 2 Cor 6:15, the word pistos is taken to mean “believer” (understanding the adjective substantively as a noun; see NIV, NRS, ESV; cf. Gal 3:9). Indeed, Peter O’Brien takes the reference to pistos in Col 1:2 precisely in this sense where it refers to “being Christians” (p. 4). Reading pistos as “faithful” in Colossians 1:2, however, would make more sense for a number of reasons. First, it is Paul’s tendency to use pistos with the meaning “faithful” (as in loyal and steadfast). In 1 Cor 1:9, Paul refers to God as pistos, “faithful,” as one who will make good on his promise to protect and sustain his people to the very end (see also 1 Cor 4:2, 17; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; 1 Thess 5:24). More important than the broader usage of pistos by Paul is the way it is used in Colossians itself. In 1:7, the adjective is used alongside diakonos (“servant”) to describe Epaphras. Epaphras is mentioned as someone who bears the qualities that Paul endorses (such as a dear fellow slave, agap∑tou syndoulou). The same language is used of Tychicus (pistos diakonos) and Onesimus (pistø kai agap∑tø adelphø) (4:7, 9). Paul seems to be promoting these particular coworkers and friends because they have demonstrated the kind of commitment to the gospel that he hopes for the Colossians. That faithfulness is a present concern is clear enough in 1:23, where he expects them to be “securely established and steadfast in the faith.” For P. T. O’Brien’s discussion, see Colossians, Philemon (44; Waco TX: Word, 1982) 3–4.

readers as siblings (hence the “faithful brothers and sisters” in 1:2). They are one family “in Christ” with God as their Father (1:2). The ideas of the paternity of God and siblingship in Christ are reinforced throughout Colossians, especially in view of a family inheritance (1:12; 3:24).8 Why would Paul make so much of this metaphor? It is possible that, if fear of the dominating power of evil spirits terrified the Colossians, Paul was establishing a divine household where there was real security from such threats.9 This new familial context is a See M. M. Thompson, Colossians and Philemon (THNC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005). reality because these Colossian mortals are insolubly connected to God “in 10 Christ.” When Paul refers later to “the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son” in which believers live, undoubtedly this refers to that sphere of existence where Christ rules unopposed (1:13). “In Christ,” believers have freedom from the power of darkness and the debt of sin (1:12-14). Trouble in Colossae? How Bad? When we encounter the language of “faithfulness” and the mention of ongoing perseverance and patience (see 1:23), it makes one wonder whether there were serious problems in the church. Marianne Meye Thompson writes, “‘Faithful’ may indicate that some in the church have been unfaithful, failing to walk firmly and resolutely in ‘the faith.’ This would foreshadow the epistle’s emphasis on the need for the Colossians to continue in and be strengthened in the faith which they had been taught” (14). Undoubtedly Paul shares some concern with the life of the Colossian church, but given the expressions of confidence he has, and the appeal to their love and service, it does not seem to be the kind of dire circumstance he addressed in 1 Corinthians or Galatians. He may be intervening here at an early stage of the “problem” and desires to keep them on track rather than get them back on track.

Thanksgiving and Prayer, 1:3-14

Again, working from but expanding on the typical pattern and features of ancient Greek letters, especially letters of friendship,

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 39

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Paul prays to God for the Colossians and desires their wisdom and maturity. [A Sample Greek Epistolary Prayer]

39

A Sample Greek Epistolary Prayer “I here make an act of worship for you in the presence of the lords Dioskouroi and the presence of the lord Sarapis, and I pray for your safekeeping during your entire life and for the health of your children and all your household . . .”

Paul’s thanksgiving/prayer sections are not only longer than typical letters but also tend to See S. Stowers, Letter Writing in the Greco-Roman World (LEG 5; set forth the major themes he wishes to address Philadelphia PA: Westminster Press, 1986) 28. and preview in the letter as a whole.11 First, Paul praises the God who enabled them to express their Outline of 1:3-14 Paul’s Thanks to God for their faith in Christ and love for fellow believers (1:3-8), and Faith and Love, 1:3-5a then he prays for their ongoing maturity, with hope for The Colossians’ Effective and their wisdom in God, steadfast obedience, and joyful perEncouraging Reception of the Gospel, severance in the faith (1:9-14). [Outline of 1:3-14] 1:5b-8 Paul’s Prayer for Godly Wisdom, As is his normal practice in his letters, Paul divulges Obedience, and Joyful Perseverance, that he thanks God in his prayers because of the 1:9-14 Colossians. The particular reason for his joy centers on the Pauline spiritual triad of faith, hope, and love (see 1 Cor 13:13; 1 Thess 5:8; Phm 5), which the Colossian church apparently shows in good measure (cf. 1 Thess 1:3). First, he acknowledges their “faith” (pistis) in Christ Jesus. What does Paul mean by “faith”? It is unlikely that he is referring to particular doctrinal beliefs about Jesus per se. Based on the other uses of the term pistis in Colossians (1:23; 2:5, 7, 12), Paul appears to mean something like “obeying trust” or, as James D. G. Dunn puts it, “the living expression of a life dependent on God and on Christ.”12 Paul views the mind (which believes) and the body (which expresses trust through physical obedience) in close relationship. What you believe matters, according to Paul, because it guides the attitudes and frames of thought that, in turn, determine decisions and habits of life. When discerning what Paul means here by faith, it is instructive to look at its use in Colossians 2:5, where he expresses his joy over the strength of their faith (pistis) and their “good discipline” (NASB; in Greek, taxis). If Paul wants to see a change of habit and lifestyle for the Colossians, he must reckon with their worldview. While he is generous with praise, the rest of the letter bears out a concern that their “faith” should remain firm and secure. One might think of “faith,” then, as the theological thought-patterns that control the trajectory of volition and behavior. In that sense, “faith” and “good discipline” are two sides of the same coin of life. The rest of 1:4 confirms this belief-action relationship, as their praiseworthy faith in Christ is responsible for their love for all the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 40

40

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Paul’s Definition of Love It would be a serious understatement to say that “love” was central to Paul’s vision of Christian discipleship and how to imitate Christ himself, as he makes reference to this kind of language more than 100 times in his letters. He had a number of terms at his disposal in his “lexicon of love,” so to speak (such as phileø and philadelphia), but his clear preference was for the cognate terms agap∑ (noun) and agapaø (verb), appropriately translated “love” and “I love.” Much could be said about how Paul views love, but we will limit ourselves to six key ideas.

holy ones. [Paul’s Definition of Love] Who are the “holy ones” in this context? For whom are the Colossians showing love? Such language was sometimes used in reference to angels (see LXX Job 15:15; cf. Jude 1. God models love. For Paul, God is a deity marked by love (2 Cor 13:1, 14), 14), but here it more likely ultimately exemplified in the giving up of God’s beloved Son Jesus (Rom 5:5; refers to the whole people Gal 2:20; 1 Thess 4:9). of God.13 In Exodus 19:6, 2. Loving God must precede loving others. One cannot begin to understand we learn that, following how to love neighbors, friends, and enemies without loving God first (Rom 8:28; 1 Cor 16:22). To worship God the Father and God the Son is to love them the freedom from slavery and be transformed by being united in this love through the Holy Spirit (Col in Egypt, Israel was com1:8). missioned by God to be a 3. Love is a disposition. For Paul, love is neither to be understood as a “holy nation” (LXX: ethnos fleeting emotion nor as a single act. It is best understood as a disposition, a whole mode of being (Rom 14:15; 1 Cor 13:8). It should be the by-product of hagion). So the psalmist the living out of faith (Gal 5:6; Col 1:4). Given the present evil age that stands could call upon the against the God of love, embodying love is a laborious endeavor (1 Thess 1:3). Israelite people as God’s Indeed, Paul commands the Corinthians to chase love (1 Cor 14:1)! “holy ones” (Ps 34:9 [LXX 4. Love serves the other. True love is marked by unyielding devotion to the other (Rom 12:10). Being loved by God, Paul argues, is so freeing that the 33:10]). believer can choose to become a slave to his or her neighbor (Gal 5:13). This The purpose behind kind of other-regard is magisterially portrayed in the well-known “love” passage Paul’s use of this title of 1 Cor 13:1-13. The purpose of love is to build up and support the other involves his attempt to (1 Cor 8:1; 13:4). It stands completely at odds with self-service, pride, and vanity. establish the Colossians’ 5. The community must love together. Aristotle urged that the best form of unique identity as those friendship is the one that is based not on utility (“what do I get from the especially loved, saved, and person?”) or pleasure (“how attracted am I to the person?”) but on virtue (“do protected by God. If Paul’s we share the same vision of the virtuous and good life?”). Paul felt quite similar when it came to love. Paul encourages the Philippian believers to be likethanksgiving/prayer secminded, of one spirit, “having the same love” (Phil 2:2; cf. Col 2:2). tions do, in fact, 6. Love must grow. Paul understands that there is no end to the human foreshadow the argument potential to love through God. Indeed, it can be fostered and nurtured in such a in the rest of the letter, he way that it overflows (1 Thess 3:12; 4:10). Perhaps the most powerful image used of love is, in fact, found in Colossians where Paul envisions Christ may be proleptically “rebuilding” humanity in and through his new act of creation. This new calling the Colossians to humanity is enrobed in the “new life” fibers of the godly virtues known from refrain from fearing danJewish law and Jesus’ own example (Col 3:12-13). The “overcoat,” so to gerous spiritual powers speak, which covers and draws together everything is love (agap∑), “the perfect bond of unity” (3:14). because their life is securely hidden with Christ (3:3) as they have been “transferred into the divine realm.”14 They have been “set apart” (as holy people) and are safely beyond the clutches of the powers that dominate the world.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 41

Colossians 1:1–2:3

If Colossians is viewed in apocalyptic terms, with cosmic anxiety looming large, the use of the language of “holy ones” in the book of Daniel may be instructive. In Daniel 7, we encounter a vision of a host of terrifying enemies and the greater power of the “one like a son of man” who was given eternal rule and absolute control. He would not overcome or rule by himself. Daniel was informed that “the holy ones (hagioi) of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever” (Dan 7:18; cf. 7:22, 25, 27; 8:24). In this light, to call the Colossians “holy ones” (Col 1:1), and draw them into a wider community of “holy ones” (1:4), was a way of bonding them to the whole people of God, giving them leadership by the “son of man,” and anticipating victory by the power of God. For Paul, their communal love was a foretaste of that victory. In chapter 3, when he encourages the Colossians to set their sights on what is above (3:1), he eventually points to the ultimate and perfecting heavenly virtue of love (3:14). Paul mentions his third element of the ethical triad as the broader reason for their faith and love: hope (Col 1:5). This hope is stored away in heaven for them, so there is a strong eschatological, anticipatory dimension to their life with God. One is reminded of the experience of the Thessalonians and how they “turned from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (1 Thess 1:9-10, emphasis added). What exactly is this “hope” to which he refers in Colossians 1:5? Paul refers to the hope of “righteousness/justification” in his letters, which apparently anticipates a final acquittal on the day of judgment (Gal 5:5; cf. Titus 3:7). In Colossians, though, the kind of “hope” Paul is talking about appears to parallel what we find in 1 Peter 1:3: “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Colossians makes this same connection between hope and inheritance (1:12; 3:24). If the gospel they heard from Epaphras resembled Paul’s, the Colossians put their hope in a God who promised, one day, a fully ratified adoption and the consummated redemption of the sin-worn body (Rom 8:22-25). This hope gave

41

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 42

42

Colossians 1:1–2:3

“Word of Truth” What does Paul mean by “word of truth” (tø logø t∑s al∑theias) in 1:5? He almost certainly does not mean that the gospel message is a kind of factual, doctrinal truth (though Paul would not have been opposed to this idea). In our modern English vocabulary, we define “truth” as the opposite of “falsehood” from the standpoint of existence or reality. Blue is a color—true or false? Paul’s point here is not so much to argue that the gospel represents the “right” religion. In the context of questions about security and safety, he is appealing to “trueness” in a different sense. If we call someone a “true” friend, it doesn’t mean that they are more “real” than other friends. We mean “true” in the sense of “loyal.” Similarly, we might refer to a method as “tried and true”—it is “true” because when it is “tried” it never fails. This seems to be close to the way Paul uses the Greek word al∑theia here. In the Septuagint, Ps 119:160 claims for Torah that its words (logos) are “truth” (al∑theia) (LXX 118:160a). The second part of the verse complements the first by claiming that the Lord’s “righteous judgments” endure forever. The focus here, again, is not on the factual “trueness” of Torah (though, again, this would have never been in doubt by a serious Israelite), but on the reliability, the sureness, the eternal effectiveness of it. For Paul, in Col 1:5, the “word of truth” is the powerful message of Christ that is so grounded in the faithfulness of God that it can’t help having a deep impact on whatever it touches. In view of any kind of apprehension that Paul may have thought troubled the Colossians, appeal to the “word of truth” was undoubtedly intended to foster assurance.

the Colossians present faith in Christ and other-centered love for God’s people, for which Paul rejoices. In 1:5-6, Paul reminds the Colossians that their hope springs from the “word of truth” in the gospel preached to them. [“Word of Truth”] He is emphatic that the gospel is “bearing fruit and growing” throughout the world. Why is Paul insistent about this matter of the pervasive productivity of the gospel? When we observe that his language of “bearing fruit and growing” is strikingly similar to the Edenic command to the first humans to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22, 28; cf. 8:18; 9:1, 8; 26:22; 35:11), it is a reasonable conclusion that he is communicating that the Colossians live in a time of new creation where such abundance demonstrates the victory of God over the sin and evil that is indicative of the present evil age (see Gal 1:4).15 Again, Paul may be putting to rest any concerns that evil can have the last word in God’s new day of resurrection. Isaiah 61:1-11 sets up unhindered natural production as a poignant metaphor for the fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem his world overpopulated by mutinous spirits and sinful creatures: “For as the earth causes its flower to grow and as the garden brings forth its seeds, in this way the LORD will cause righteousness to rise up in worshipful praise before all the nations” (LXX Isa 61:11, AT). In a similar vein, Paul reinforces for an already faithful community that sin and death, and any of their minions, have already lost the battle (Col 2:15). Paul’s own imprisonment may have been a cause for concern for a variety of churches. To the Philippians, who were probably troubled over Paul’s fate and perhaps even the validity of his gospel, he gave assurance that “what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil 1:12-13). As for the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 43

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Colossians, they themselves are part of the harvest of the gospel, and in Colossians 1:10 he makes explicit what the “fruit” actually is: virtuous lives that generate good works according to the standard of the Lord and the knowledge of God. Thus, Paul’s insistence on the productivity of the gospel may be aimed at counteracting any concern that God’s redemptive mission can be impeded. Apparently, according to 1:7, they heard the gospel from Epaphras, who was Colossian himself (see 4:12). Michael Trainor suggests that he was a “Hellenized Israelite who joined some Jesusmovement.”16 In Philemon 23 he is called Paul’s “fellow-prisoner” (synaixmaløtos), but it is unclear what is meant by this title. 17 It could mean that he shared Paul’s difficult situation by spending time with him and caring for him wherever he was in prison.18 Another option would be that Epaphras voluntarily kept Paul company inside his prison cell or during house arrest, literally sharing his confinement.19 Most likely, though, this label is metaphorical, since synaixmaløtos refers to a “prisoner of war,” which would neither be technically true of Paul nor likely true for Epaphras. If taken metaphorically, the idea behind this label would be that Epaphras struggles and suffers (in a wider, cosmic conflict) for the sake of the gospel, and he is brave and steadfast despite the humiliation that comes from persecution. If the Colossians were beginning to struggle with doubts about the importance of the body and flesh and had started to prize spiritual transcendence (in view of an attractive transcendent-ascetic philosophy), Paul could propose Epaphras as the truly wise and mature believer who has taken the cruciform path of fighting the good fight of faith with Paul for the sake of blessing his brother in Christ. Paul, then, seems to be commending Epaphras, who is in the thick of the fight, wrestling (4:12) for the Colossians’ sake. This is a key message in view of others who may have been engaging in “friendly fire” (3:9, 13) on some occasions, and at other times standing idly by in fear of the enemy. Paul furthermore refers to Epaphras as a “faithful minister” working on their behalf. Contrary to the transcendent-ascetic teaching in Colossae that focused on individual spirituality, Epaphras modeled cooperation, agency, and humility, as he was their “servant” who looked after Paul’s needs. [Diakonos (Servant)] We learn from 1:8 that Epaphras communicated to Paul the Colossians’ love in the Spirit (pneuma). The phrase “in the Spirit” probably refers to the communal love-producing power of the Holy

43

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 44

44

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Diakonos (Servant) The noun diakonos originally referred to table servants (see John 2:5, 9). That did not restrict its more general use, especially in Hellenistic Jewish literature and in the New Testament, in reference to the low status of a servant and the function of the servant—one who carries out actions at the master’s will. In terms of the former, Jesus denounces the pride of the scribes and Pharisees by urging that “The greatest (ho…meizøn) among you will be your servant (diakonos)” (Matt 23:11). As for the latter, Philo could tell the story of the patriarch Joseph and describe his station in Egypt as the providential role of helper (hyp∑ret∑s) and servant (diakonos) of the “graces and gifts” of God bestowed upon the human race (see De Josepho 241). It is important to note that, in most of Paul’s usage of the term, diakonos was not a technical word for a ministerial position (even though our ecclesial term “deacon” is derived from it). Christ is called a diakonos (Rom 15:8) because he served the circumcised. The apostles at large are diakonoi (1 Cor 3:5; cf. 2 Cor 3:6), because of this service as instruments through which God’s ministry took place. By the time of the writing of the Pastoral Epistles, we do see diakonos in reference to a particular role in the church, though it is unclear what this entailed other than a form of servant leadership (see 1 Tim 3:8-13).

Spirit, which has bonded them together (see Rom 15:30; Gal 5:22).20 [The Holy Spirit in Colossians] In Philippians 2:1, Paul speaks of believers’ “fellowship in the Spirit,” which highlights their common life “in Christ” and the bond they share as recipients of God’s grace. To remind the Colossians, in 1:8, of their praiseworthy, God-given love as one body, he is again looking ahead to further comments about the importance of the communal “body of Christ” (1:18, 24; 3:15). After expounding on the reasons for his thanksgiving to God in 1:4-8, Paul returns to the nature of his prayers for them, regarding not only what has happened in the past but also what he prays will come to them in the future by God’s help: knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (1:9). Such a prayer is not uncommonly found in Paul’s letters,

The Holy Spirit in Colossians Scholars have long pondered the remarkably few references to the (Holy) Spirit in Colossians. There are, at most, two references to Spirit/spirit (pneuma) in Colossians (1:8; probably also 2:5), compared to five in Philippians (1:27; 2:1; 3:3; 4:23) and more than a dozen in Galatians (passim, chs. 3–6)—all letters of relatively similar length. The matter is so prominent that it is one factor that has convinced some scholars to reject the Pauline authorship of Colossians (e.g., A. Lincoln). Why would Paul be so insistent on making mention of the Spirit in one place, and then the figure is virtually absent in another? Those scholars who do take Colossians to be written by Paul (like myself) expect that a contextual reason probably plays a role in this lacuna. We see, for example, that Paul makes a strong appeal to the experience of the Holy Spirit in Galatians (see Gal 3:2) and 1 Corinthians (see 2:4), but one could easily see the potential for misunderstanding if Paul were too emphatic about Spirit-related phenomena in Colossae in view of the influence of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy. Still, it is not Paul’s normal tactic to underplay such a key matter as the work of the Holy Spirit just for the sake of avoiding misunderstanding—he wrote more than one letter to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians precisely to clarify misunderstandings! F. F. Bruce offers a lucid perspective on why Colossians lacks more specific references to the Holy Spirit. Bruce argues that Paul is primarily interested in Christ, especially his identity, ontology, status, and power. Thus, for this particular letter, “The role assigned to the Spirit in other letters is in Colossians assigned to the risen Christ.” This general idea is confirmed by the fact that Paul could refer to the Spirit as “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9; cf. 1 Pet 1:11) or “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:19). Bruce is careful not to undermine the identity of the Holy Spirit in view of the centralized Christology of Colossians, so he makes an important clarification: “Theoretically and in principle, the indwelling Christ and the indwelling Spirit are distinguishable, but practically and in experience they cannot be separated.” See further, F. F. Bruce, Epistles to Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1984) 6.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 45

Colossians 1:1–2:3

45

Getting Wisdom Right such as Philippians 1:9: “And this is my In an essay on “Wisdom According to Paul,” Richard prayer, that your love may overflow B. Hays, specifically looking at 1 Corinthians, outmore and more with knowledge and full lines five points regarding getting wisdom right in Paul’s insight to help you determine what is theology. First, Hays draws attention to 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 to expose the content of wisdom as the cross, best, so that in the day of Christ you which is utter foolishness to the world. The cross is God’s may be pure and blameless.” Here in wisdom hidden to a world that lusts for power and promiColossians, though, the matters of nence. The cross whispers the heart of God, which beats for wisdom and knowledge are of critical love, justice, and communal welfare. Second, Hays observes that (according to 1 Cor 2:6-16) importance and perhaps even debate, as Paul seems to be using the language of “wisdom” and the transcendent-ascetic philosophy has “knowledge” ironically or sarcastically, taking what some of become of interest to the church and has his converts want (i.e., secret wisdom for selfish gain) and made a particular claim on wisdom. turning it upside down. True wisdom is hidden in the way of Christ. Paul condemns this philosophy for Next, Hays reminds us that the categories Paul uses for having “an appearance of wisdom” but wisdom are not philosophical but apocalyptic. It is not about in the end being ineffective regarding the accumulation of knowledge but about transformation by the problem of “self-indulgence” (2:23). the revelation of God through the eschatological Christ event. Paul considers this issue seriously imporFourth, the gift of wisdom is not for elite Christians in con21 tant. [Getting Wisdom Right] trast to average Christians. The distinction between those The kind of “true” wisdom and who have wisdom and those who do not is the difference insight for which he prays is squarely between those who belong to the old age and those who live in the newness of life. focused on Christ (“the Lord,” 1:10) Finally, Hays urges that, based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, and leads to a high standard of behavior Paul sees wisdom leading to the kind of spiritual maturity with the outcome of works of virtue. that “acts in love rather than in jealousy or quarrelling” (120). Paul’s interest is in a kind of spiritual All of these factors are clearly relevant to the study of Colossians; for more information, see R. B. Hays, “Wisdom perfection (teleios, 1:28) that reflects According to Paul,” in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? being “in Christ,” one that is the matuWisdom in the Bible, The Church, and the Contemporary rity of a cruciform life where true World (ed. S. C. Barton; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999) “transcendence” means a willingness to 111–24. be “lifted up” on a cross for others (John 12:32). It is interesting and instructive that the words Paul uses for knowledge (epignøsis) and understanding (synesis) in 1:9 appear again in 2:2, where he mentions his desire for the believers in Colossae and Laodicea to be tethered in genuine love based on a full understanding (synesis) and the unveiled knowledge (epignøsis) of God’s mystery that is Christ himself. No transcendent or mystical experience could match what Christ offers—the whole storehouse of wisdom (sophia) and knowledge (gnøsis) (2:3)! Paul’s primary point is that real spiritual wisdom must, by nature, lead to right living.22 Divine truth has, as its natural corollary, virtue in community life and orderly rule under God. Much evidence in the letter suggests that the Colossian pursuit of wisdom

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 46

46

Colossians 1:1–2:3

began to show signs of the disintegration of social welfare and a sense of person superiority (see 3:5-14). This may all have been in the name of seeking secret wisdom that would lead to protection from pernicious powers, but the ill effect of this transcendentascetic approach on the community, according to Paul, would simply play into the hands of these spiritual forces. In Colossians 1:11, Paul prays in particular for their strength and confidence in the glorious power of God. This admonition would be rather appropriate if the Colossians lived in fear of the hegemony of spiritual powers. It is no surprise, then, that Paul calls for thanksgiving (1:12; cf. 1:3), because Christ already pronounced victory over all “rulers and authorities,” proclaiming unconditional rulership over them (2:14). Indeed, Colossians resounds with the drumbeat of thanksgiving in every single chapter (1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2), because Christ has conquered his enemies in his death and freed his loyal subjects (2:20), who share in the inheritance of the “holy people in the light.” By linking the Colossians together with the larger population of “holy ones” (again, the set-part people of God in Christ; cf. 1:4) in 1:12, Paul underscores the Colossians’ secure status and position vis-à-vis evil. These believers are not alone in their struggles in the world, but endure and fight on the side of the “holy people” of God, the ones whom Christ has repossessed for his kingdom. The tone of security and protection that corresponds to this holiness language is further developed in 1:13-14. Their inheritance (kl∑ros) confirms and reiterates the earlier language of entering a new family and the benefits therein (see comment on 1:1-2).23 In the Roman world, adoption into a new household meant that the new family member would be entitled to the inheritance and that previous debts associated with his old name would be dissolved.24 Paul’s appeal to the acquisition of a divine inheritance (of final salvation) would, then, also mean the suspension of any remaining balance to their spiritual debtors (see 2:14). The language of “endurance” (hypomon∑) and “patience” (makrothymia) in 1:11 is worthy of further consideration before looking ahead. These are rather general terms used by Paul in reference to a disposition of level-headedness, integrity, and peace in the face of suffering, frustration, or misfortune (see Rom 2:7; 5:3-4; 2 Cor 1:6; 2 Thess 1:4).25 If part of this has to do with patience regarding intra-church conflict, Paul’s message here might sound

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 47

Colossians 1:1–2:3

much like Romans 15:5, where he calls the “God of steadfastness and encouragement” to help the Roman “strong” to engender a spirit of unity with the “weak” according to Christ. Paul believes in a God who gives peace (Rom 15:33; 16:20; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 5:23) and harmony (see 1 Cor 14:33) to the church. Whatever fears and anxieties there may have been regarding the status and power of evil spirits over the Colossians, they would be put to rest once and for all by a few key statements in Paul’s letter, beginning with 1:13-14: they need not fear such principalities because they have been snatched out of the dark realm and ushered into the royal household of God’s beloved Son. [Paul’s Use of Darkness Imagery] This metaphor imagines the Colossians formerly trapped in a dark and alien land, under foreign authority (exousia). God had set forth on a rescue operation to free this people and transfer them to a safe place, the kingdom of his own beloved Son, a cosmic “safe-house,” as it were. This symbolism has all the marks of exodus typology. Israel was enslaved in the dark land of Egypt— oppressed, suffering, feeling hopeless and dejected. This people group experienced God’s own freeing power and was led into a new land and adopted by God as “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). The story of Israel in the Old Testament, however, bears out a sad tale of covenantal infidelity and the “son” of Israel dishonoring the father: “A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honor due me?” (Mal 1:6). Compare this with Jesus in Colossians, the beloved Son of God (Col 1:13), and we see Paul interacting with the Jewish scriptural tradition by identifying Jesus as the one who perfectly fulfilled Israel’s intended sonship. By calling Jesus the “son of his love” (tou huiou t∑s agap∑s), Paul was also weaving into this exodus typology Davidic Christology.26 After all, the name “David” means “beloved [of YHWH],”27 and in the Davidic covenant his family was promised a unique sonship (cf. 2 Sam 7:14), the Lord’s enduring love (cf. 2 Sam 7:15), and eternal kingship/kingdom (cf. 2 Sam 7:16). Linking exodus typology and Davidic kingship would not be too convoluted or complex for Paul, but a natural association. First, Israel was redeemed from slavery in Egypt and adopted as “firstborn son” and then given a land of inheritance. Her constant waywardness, idolatry, and covenantal infidelity, however, led to alienation from God and the problem of disunity among the tribes of Israel (so the sad tale of the book of Judges). Israel cried out for a king like the other

47

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 48

48

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Paul’s Use of Darkness Imagery In Col 1:13, Paul refers to deliverance from the “domain [or authority] of darkness” and to a new home in the beloved Son’s kingdom. This is not the only occasion where he uses light and darkness imagery. It appears again, for example, in 2 Cor 4:5: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Clearly Paul draws from his Jewish heritage and the use of darkness symbolism in the Old Testament. It is also possible that he drew from his own experience where God revealed himself to Paul through a Christophany (see Gal 1:12, 16). We will address both of these influences. First, when it comes to the Old Testament, the imagery of darkness is found in a variety of texts and contexts. Three contexts seem most critical, however: (a) the darkness of pre-creation, (b) the darkness of judgment, and (c) the darkness of the world-at-large in need of Israel’s guiding light. Pertaining to Gen 1:2-3, Gordon Wenham explains that “If light symbolizes God, darkness evokes everything that is anti-God” (16). Second, the language of darkness is often applied to divine acts of judgment, such as the blinding of men of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:11). The prophet Elisha similarly prayed for the Lord to strike his Syrian enemies with blindness, a request the Lord fulfilled (see 2 Kgs 6:15-19). While bringing “darkness” to the eyes carries a practical function of protecting the innocent, there are a number of undertones involved in this symbolism that should be recognized. A text like Isa 6:9-10 addresses the fact that physical blindness is related conceptually to stubbornness, idolatry, and ignorance. Thus, it also appears in connection to death (Ps 88:6; cf. Tobit 4:10). While it may sometimes relate to divine judgment, it also appears that, because of the reign of sin after Gen 3, in the age of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, the world has been plunged into a kind of darkness of foolishness and futility. Deliverance by God, then, is regularly depicted as illumination. The regular pattern of this divine “enlightenment” of salvation involves, first, the restoration of Israel; then, Israel stands as a brightly burning lamp that guides the world out of the shadows. The book of Isaiah makes regular use of this photosymbolism: I the LORD have called you [sing.] in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da) (1573–1610). The Conversion of Saint Paul. Coll. Odescalchi Balbi di Piovera, Rome, Italy. (Credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY)

dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isa 42:6-7) Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. (Isa 60:1-6)

The Old Testament depicts the wider world in darkness with a desperate need for God’s sanctifying light. The language of new life and resurrection (“arise”) depicts a kind of new creation where the Lord calls for light. While God is the ultimate source of light, he has planned to use his holy people as bearers of radiating glory. Paul’s own conception of salvation as a transfer from the realm of darkness to the kingdom of the Son probably carries out this Old Testament prophetic hope in a particularly Christocentric way. If Israel, the Lord’s “firstborn son,” was called to be a holy kingdom that displayed the divine glory (see Exod 19:6), so Jesus is the firstborn and most

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 49

Colossians 1:1–2:3 beloved Son of God (Col 1:12, 15) who is the bearer of light and salvation. It may be the case that the language of darkness and light evoked thoughts of Paul’s own experience of encountering the risen Christ. Luke recounts Paul’s unique transformation from Pharisaic persecutor to God’s special instrument of heralding the good news to the Gentiles. In Acts 25:12-18, in particular, the Lukan Paul refers to witnessing a “light from heaven, brighter than the sun” that immediately sent him tumbling to the ground (25:13). It is no coincidence the Lord Jesus commissioned him, then and there, to go out into the world “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the

49

power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (25:18). Remarkably, this one verse by Luke contains a number of similarities with the language of Col 1:13-14: “darkness” (Acts 1:18//Col 1:13); “power” (Acts 1:18//Col 1:13), and “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 1:18//Col 1:14). No doubt his Christophany affected his life in a number of ways, including his realization of an act of new creation in Christ, the granting of God’s illuminating wisdom, and the “light” of God’s salvation through the gospel. G. J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC1; Waco TX: Word, 1987).

nations who would lead them but would also fight battles for them (1 Sam 8:20). Though their request was a rejection of the kingship of God (1 Sam 8:7), God gave them such a king (David) but desired to work closely with and through this ruler. All of this comes together in Colossians 1:1-14 in greater fulfillment of Old Testament types and pattern. Exodus typology underscores relationship and place : no longer slaves, but freedom as sons and daughters out of Egypt and new life in a new space. Davidic typology also emphasizes relationship and place : believers carry the status of children of God by covenantal adoption and experience new life in the kingdom of the Messiah, the beloved Son of God. In the early words of Paul’s prayer and praise to God, then, there is much to be thankful for, despite what appear to be present anxieties, namely (and perhaps as a succinct summary) “redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” [“Forgiveness of Sins” and the Advent Hymns] The idea of “redemption” (apolytrøsis) is one of release and freedom. Indeed, “forgiveness” (aph∑sis) also carries this idea of the “sending away” of debt. While in the exodus, the redemption was specifically in view of slavery at the hand of the Egyptian pharaoh, in Colossians it is release from “sins” (hamartia). The long history of Israel bore out, also, slavery to sin, especially evident in the form of covenantal infidelity. This led to Israel’s own exile in Babylon, where comparison could be made with the experience in Egypt, but this time they knew that their own sinfulness was the root cause of a new pitiable situation. The Lord promised, however, to free the people even in this hopeless state, giving them both physical and spiritual restoration and redemption, just as God did earlier by plucking them out of mighty Pharaoh’s hands. Isaiah, in

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 50

50

Colossians 1:1–2:3

“Forgiveness of Sins” and the Advent Hymns It is the tendency of modern western Christians to interpret the biblical concept of “forgiveness of sins” individualistically. Given the strong exodus imagery used by Paul in Colossians, it would make sense to interpret his language of “forgiveness of sins” from the perspective of the life and history of Israel. When viewed this way, the “problem” of sin is not entirely an individual one, but a corporate one as well. Israel was in literal slavery in Egypt and was exiled later into Babylon because of the national idolatry and covenantal infidelity. Their “hope” was for a kind of deliverance, a type of “forgiveness” that was deep, wide, and restorative for the whole people. They longed not for a “ticket” into heaven but for the breaking of the bondage of sin that plagued the whole nation. The irony of the modern western tendency to overly spiritualize and individualize the idea of “forgiveness of sins” is that there are strong correctives to this within the western Advent hymnic traditions! Two of these, in particular, offer helpful perspectives on how the coming of Christ (the “Messiah”) relates specifically to Israel’s cries for the hope of freedom from sin, death, and evil.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a medieval festal hymn, written anonymously in Latin (translated by John Neale). Anticipating the Messianic deliverance from Israel’s perspective, note the first call to “Emmanuel [God-withus]”: “ransom captive Israel.” Israel “mourns in lonely exile here, / Until the Son of God appear.” Christ is also called “Dayspring” because he will “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, / And death’s dark shadows [he will] put to flight.” Note that Paul also connects redemption to freedom from darkness (1:13). Second, there is the well-known hymn by Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (1744). Again, the initial language is evocative of Israel’s plight and hope: “Born to set thy people free, / From our fears and sins release us, / Let us find our rest in thee.” The third stanza returns to this “rescue” motif: “Born thy people to deliver . . . .” While the Advent hymns do sometimes relate “salvation” to “heaven,” there is a strong claim in the hymns noted above that the bondage of “sin(s)” is not merely a kind of legal debt in need of payment, but a darkness, an imprisonment, and an exile from which the people of God need deliverance.

particular, draws deeply from exodus imagery to express the hope of redemption: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isa 40:1-2). Paul wished to point out that the “forgiveness of sins” offered to all who are redeemed by the beloved Son of God is comprehensive. He does not conceive of this as merely “spiritual,” a waving of God’s magic wand that gives believers the “right” to go to heaven. That kind of pie-in-the sky spiritualization of forgiveness would, in fact, be completely at odds with what he desired to communicate to the Colossians. His point, as will be further laid out in 1:15-20, is that the “releasing” and “redeeming” work of God in Christ has freed them from any hostile or threatening power—especially the ones that affect their daily lives here and now. He draws out the universal (earth-and-heaven) implications of redemption and forgiveness/release. If Christ created all, redeemed fully, triumphed over all (even the power of death), and rules over all, there is no reason to turn to a transcendent-ascetic method of attaining prophylactic spiritual wisdom or knowledge; what is needed is to cling to Christ.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 51

Colossians 1:1–2:3

It is fundamental to understand that Paul, as a “theologian,” is not merely trying to correct the Colossians’ thinking or theology to make them more “orthodox” as if that were his primary interest in his letters. His letters are, undoubtedly, deeply theological, and he is insistent about getting the theology right. He explicated “theology,” however, with a view toward transforming their whole way of life, including how they lived together in the communal “body of Christ.” Paul reminded the Colossians of the freedom that comes from the life-changing “forgiveness of sins” in Christ so that he might encourage and enable them to seek the unity and peace of the church community. As they have been freed in divine forgiveness because of Christ, so they are empowered to forgive one another. It is surely no coincidence that Paul establishes the priority of God’s redemption and forgiveness in 1:14 and then urges the Colossians to foster a spirit of patient forbearing and forgiveness within their communities in 3:13. The Priority and Supremacy of Christ, 1:15-20

Colossians 1:15-20 has long stood as a central passage in the New Testament in discussions of Christology. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a New Testament passage where Jesus is placed in a higher position as supreme being and immaculate agent of redemption. This is expressed by Paul so eloquently that scholars frequently treat this as a “pre-formed tradition” that the apostle has inserted into his letter.28 Certainly this passage has a glorious tone and is comparable in style with other kinds of doctrinal passages throughout the New Testament (e.g., Phil 2:5-11; 1 Tim 3:16), but it is important to affirm, of primary significance, that it plays a key role in Colossians itself. Paul did not desire to direct attention to the preeminence of Christ per se, but he established this supremacy to teach the Colossians that Christ is ever and always the solution to their fears and perplexities. [The Purpose of Colossians 1:15-20] In Colossians, Paul is tenaciously emphatic that, whatever the problem, Christ is the solution. In 1:15-20, in particular, Paul sustains this idea at length. First, Paul argues for a supreme Christology. One might also call this an all-ness Christology. Christ is first in rank above all (1:15), he created all (1:16), he is before all (1:17), he is sovereign over the whole church (1:18a), he is victor

51

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 52

52

Colossians 1:1–2:3

over death itself (the enemy above all ) (1:18a), and he is reconciler of all (1:20). Why does Paul emphasize this superlative Christology in Colossians? In the course of the letter, Paul responds to a church that, though they have had a strong track record of faithfulness to Christ, have been interested in a problematic teaching (a transcendent-ascetic philosophy) that offers a mystical solution to the problem of dangerous spirits and pernicious cosmic powersSee T. Okure, “‘In Him All Things Hold Together’: A at-large in the world. Supposedly a transcendent Missiological Reading of Colossians 1:15-20,” International experience, offered by this new teaching, was proReview of Mission 91 (2002): 62–72, at 66. moted as a form of protection.29 In 1:13-14, Paul refers to the Colossian church as a body relocated from the authoritative domain of darkness to Christ’s kingdom. Chapter 1, verses 15-20, is a bit of a digression, albeit an important one, in Paul’s wider purpose of reflecting on the new status (“redeemed”) and location (“the Son’s kingdom”) of the Colossians. Transitioning to 1:15-20 from 1:3-14, it is as if Paul were saying, “Do you know how thankful you can be because of all the things God had done for you, in the powerful gospel, in the rescue from darkness and sin, all thanks to God’s own beloved Son? Speaking of him, let me remind you of how central he is to God’s whole plan and rule . . . .” The Purpose of Colossians 1:15-20 “The section addresses the two central questions: i) Who is this beloved son in whom we find redemption, the forgiveness of sins and how did the redemption come about? ii) What does it signify for believers concretely to be transferred from the sphere of darkness to Jesus’ kingdom (or sphere of influence)? Paul answers these questions by treating the identity of Jesus, God’s beloved Son, in relation to God, creation, and church.”

[Christ, Greater than the Torah?]

The second key element of this poem is Paul’s ensomatic Christology. One might call this “incarnational Christology,” but given the significance of the word søma (“body”) in Colossians, the term “ensomatic (in a human body)” seems rather appropriate. It would appear that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy denigrated the physical body, perhaps with a perspective that the body was a particular object of attack from evil powers. Thus, ascetic practices were recommended as a way of transcending the physical body. The transcendent-ascetic philosophy probably did not condemn Christ outright for having a body (or else Paul’s letter may have carried a sharper tone!), but may have simply downgraded or ignored the effectiveness of Christ (precisely because Christ came into bodily form and thus was liable to being harassed by evil forces). It is implicit within Paul’s argument in 1:15-20 that the body of Christ in no way limited him but, in fact, was instrumental to the divine plan of redemption. Christ not only came to protect

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 53

Colossians 1:1–2:3 Christ, Greater than the Torah? The question regarding how Col 1:15-20 fits into the purpose of the letter has challenged scholars for generations. Certainly it is clear enough that Paul is trying to exalt the name and power of Jesus Christ. It is also likely that the supreme role given to Christ here by Paul is meant to “trump” the authority of spiritual powers, whether good ones or evil ones. Does 1:15-20 offer more than that? Given that there appears to be a concern on Paul’s part that the Jewish law, Torah, is being treated in some way as a prophylactic against spiritual oppression (see pp. 14–19, “The Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy at Colossae”), it is possible to conceive of 1:15-20 as a “trumping” of the power of Torah as well. Two elements of 1:15-20 could support this hypothesis. In the first place, Paul refers to Christ as “the image of God,” attesting to the fact that who Christ was and is represents perfectly the identity of God. Certain strands of Jewish theology made similar claims about the role of Torah. For example, Jacob Neusner, in a study of Rabbinic Judaism, mentions this overarching perspective: “The perfect Torah . . . is the medium through which the one, unique God makes himself known” (ix). Neusner makes mention of Genesis Rabbah 1:1.2, which provides Rabbinic commentary on the story of creation. The Rabbinic writer argues that “the Holy One, blessed be he, consulted Torah when he created the world.”

53

This brings us to a second, related matter. Torah was held in such high esteem that some Jewish writers believed it to be one of the first things created by God (as Genesis Rabbah 1:1.2 presumes). Paul presents Christ as superior to Torah on both accounts. As “image of the invisible God,” he carries a more direct relationship to God himself. Furthermore, not only does he predate creation, but nothing could be created without his supreme agency (1:16). There was a Jewish perspective that the “Wisdom” of God was an agent of God’s creative activity (cf. Jer 10:12; 1QH 9:8, 14, 19; Wis 7:21; 8:4-6; 9:1-2, 9), but no Jew would dare to argue on behalf of Torah what Paul does for Christ: “all things were created through him and for him” (1:16b). It would have been recognized that Torah was provided as a service to God’s human creatures. Paul insists, however, that humans were created for Christ (presumably to bring him glory). A final point may help to underscore how Paul would have seen Christ as superior to the Torah. In 1:20, Paul affirms that Christ perfectly fulfilled his divine role of establishing cosmic reconciliation—the restoration of all things (1:20). The Torah, on the other hand, facilitated separation and imposed alienating judgment (Col 2:14). The “record of debt” issued by the Torah somehow empowered the hostile powers that plagued the world, whereas the cross of Christ overturned their rule once and for all. See J. Neusner, The Perfect Torah (Leiden: Brill, 2003).

the mortal (who has a body) but, by sacrificing his own body in death (1:22), was also able to redeem the human body from enslavement (cf. Phil 3:21). It is important, then, in this regard, not to see Paul countering a low Christology with his own high Christology.30 It is more accurate to see him as arguing for an exalted, cosmic Christ who rules unchallenged as well as a humble Christ whose body was broken and whose blood was spilt. Keeping both of these dimensions of the identity of Christ together enabled Paul to bridge the distance between mortal and immortal, human and divine, perishable body and life-giving spirit. Placing Christ in a superhuman category only would undoubtedly feed the transcendent inclinations of the Colossian philosophy. The key for Paul was the balancing of Christ’s power and his (self-imposed, voluntary) weakness.31 In that sense, Colossians 1:15-20 is the mirror image of Philippians 2:5-11. [Outline of 1:15-20]

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 54

54

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Despite the fact that most translations designate 1:15 as the beginning of a new sentence, in Greek it commences with a relative pronoun (hos) that connects it back to the beloved Son of his kingdom (1:13-14). Here he is identified as the “image of the invisible God.” That God is invisible is a foregone conclusion in the Old Testament (Deut 4:15) as well as early Jewish and Christian theology (T. Ab. 16.3; Apoc. Mos. 35.3; see Rom 1:20; John 1:18; Heb 11:27). How, then, can the invisible God have a visible image? After all, God’s people were forbidden from making images of their deity because such so-called “gods” were too limited and corruptible (see Deut 4:16; Rom 1:23). It is helpful to note that there are three Giuseppe Franchi (1565–1628). Portrait of Saint John Chrysostom, bishop. Oil on canvas. Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy. (Credit: © particularized uses of the term eikøn Dea/Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Art Resource, NY) (image) in the LXX and second temple Jewish literature, beyond the general “. . . when that body [of Christ] was nailed to the cross, the dead arose. There death received his wound, being meaning of “image.” First, it was used for met with a death stroke from a dead body . . .” the false “image” of idols (e.g., 2 Chr 33:7; Hos 13:2; Isa 40:19-20). Second, it was John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians 6; see J. Elowsky, ed., John 11–21 (ACCS; Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007) 299. used for the making of humans in the “image” of God (so Gen 1:26-27; 9:6; cf. Apoc. Sedr. 13.3). This second use might helpfully be explained in light of the third use of eikøn in the LXX, for children (especially sons) being in the “image” of their own father—“When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father Outline of 1:15-20 of a son in his likeness, according to his image (LXX: The flow of this passage proceeds eikøn), and named him Seth” (Gen 5:3). The idea of in this way: first, Christ is hailed as “son-as-the-image-of-the-father” makes sense of referone above all powers (1:15-17); then, he is ences to Adam as the son of God (Luke 3:3832). For proclaimed leader of the resurrection church (1:18); finally, he is praised as Paul to call Jesus the image of God, then, was both to divine and cosmic peacemaker (1:19-20). offer another way of referring to him as beloved Son (1:13) and to allude to his role as new Adam (see 1 Cor 15:45; cf. Rom 5:12-21).33 You might even call Jesus the new-and-improved Adam, the “image of God” restored, the “image” undefiled by sin and, thus, not beleaguered by evil powers. Victory of Christ’s Body

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 55

Colossians 1:1–2:3

55

The purpose of the incarnation was to give a course-correction to humanity through a new, uncorrupted “image of God” so that those who are “in Christ” might be “renewed in knowledge according to the image (eikøn) of its creator” (Col 3:10, see pp. 131–42, “Destroying and Setting Aside Earthly Ways”). The familial use of eikøn is further defined in 1:15b as Jesus is called “firstborn” (prøtotokos) over all creation. By firstborn, Paul does not mean that Jesus was merely a human being born into the world. [“Begotten, Not Made . . .”] Paul uses “Begotten, Not Made . . .” the word “firstborn” (prøtotokos) in refThe Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed contains a erence to rank and status in the family. number of lines that clarify the identity of Jesus The firstborn male in a Jewish family Christ. He is confessed to be “begotten, not made” (genitum, received a privileged status, especially as non factum//genn∑thenta, ou poi∑thenta). This language would serve to counter Arian arguments that Jesus, being a creaprimary heir of the family estate (see ture, was less than fully divine. Arius argued that, even if the Gen 25:29-34). For example, when the Son somehow stands greater than other creatures, he is part patriarch Jacob gave his farewell testiof the “created” world nonetheless. Certainly a text like Col mony to his sons he called forth 1:15b could be interpreted in such a way. As evidenced in the creedal language, however, the Nicene fathers drew a sharp Reuben first as his prøtotokos, “my distinction between “begotten” (or born) and “made.” might and the first fruits of my vigor, Athanasius wrote, excelling in rank and excelling in Created things have come into being by God’s pleasure and by power” (Gen 49:3). [Firstborn and Beloved] his will, but the Son is not a creation of his will, nor has he The term could also be used metaphorcome into being subsequently, as the creation did. Rather, he is ically, as in Israel as the adopted by nature the offspring of the Father’s substance. He is the proper Word of the Father, and we cannot, therefore, suppose prøtotokos of God (Exod 4:22; Jer any will existing before him, since he is the Father’s living 31:9). Through a covenant, God made counsel and power, fashioning what the Father had decided David his special son, his firstborn on . . . .” (Defense Against the Arians 3.63) (prøtotokos), “higher than the kings of Three arguments are regularly repeated by the Nicene the earth” (Ps 89:27 [LXX Ps 88:28]). fathers in this regard. First, the begetting of the Son was not a For Paul to name Jesus “firstborn latterly act of creation, but an “eternal begetting” (i.e., outside over all creation” was to reinforce, the realm of time and thus not part of creation). Second, the Son could not be one part of creation because he himself was again, his unique sonship. Adam was the divine agent of creation. Third, one must accept the the “firstborn” of old creation, and he unique circumstance of the begetting of the only Son because fell down low. Jesus is “firstborn” over it is a holy mystery. all creation. With this rank, Paul is able See J. A. McGuckin, ed., We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (ACD 2; Downers to demonstrate his superiority over any Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009) 60–67. created being, even menacing spiritual powers. He has this rank because, as 1:16 makes explicit, he created it all. [Firstborn and Image of God] The totality of Christ’s work in creation is without doubt in Paul’s view. His power spans the two main cosmological realms in

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 56

56

Colossians 1:1–2:3

early Jewish and Christian theology: heaven and earth. In general, we could say that the heavens hosted angelic and spiritual beings and the earth was the place of material beings (see Ps 115:16). However, Christ, the agent who came into body and flesh, created beings in both realms. Creatures could be divided not only by their natural “homes” but also by their visibility. It was popularly believed at the time that some spirits could not be seen (see Apoc. Sedr. 5.1; T. Levi 4.1; Jos. Asen.12.2; cf. Ign. Smyrn. 6.1). Christ is exalted as creator even above such ostensibly powerful creatures. Again, proponents of the transcendentascetic philosophy may have sat loosely with the notion Firstborn and Image of God “Prøtotokos . . . emphasizes of real salvation and freedom coming from an embodied Christ’s relationship to . . . person like Jesus. Yet perhaps the later letter from creation, just as eikøn (image) Ignatius to Polycarp captures the essence of how Paul emphasizes the relationship to the may have viewed a proper response to this concern: creator.” See B. Witherington III, Paul’s Narrative “[Look] for the one who is timeless, invisible, and for our Thought-World (Louisville KY: WJK, 1994) 108. sakes became visible; intangible and free from suffering, but for our sakes became vulnerable, enduring trials in every kind of way” (3.2, AT). Such vulnerability, though, does not short-circuit his ascendancy. In 1:16b, Paul lists a number of “authorities” that were created: thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers. It is probably not the case, especially in light of the poetic nature of this passage, that Paul is furnishing an exhaustive list of angelic classes. Most likely, this is a pleonastic flourish, and it is as if Paul could end the list with “etc.”34 The more pressing matter is the determination of the kind of being listed here. Are they spiritual/heavenly beings (like angelic or demonic spirits) or earthly ones, such as human regents and governors?35 Two kinds of literary clues are helpful in this matter and point toward heavenly powers. First, immediately preceding this list we have the mention of things “visible and invisible”—the fact that “invisible” stands just before the list suggests that the authorities are spiritual powers. Second, and more important, Paul refers later on to the stoicheia of the world (2:8, 20), probably a reference to elemental spirits (see pp. 89–98, “Christ at the Center,” and Firstborn and Beloved That Jesus is called “firstborn” is probably a reference to his unique rank and status, but it may also be another way of underscoring that he is the “beloved Son,” as described in Col 1:13: “the kingdom of the son of his love” (t∑n basileian tou huiou t∑s agap∑s autou). In the Psalms of Solomon, the thirteenth song offers a word of comfort to the afflicted and a defense of the goodness and power of the God of Israel. The psalmist issues the reminder that, despite the presence of crises, the Lord is near and his intent is good: “For he corrects the righteous as a beloved son (huion agap∑seøs), and his discipline is as for a firstborn (prøtotokos)”(13.9). It is possible that, when Paul uses the language of firstborn in 1:15b, he is utilizing another “term of endearment” for the son of a loving father.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 57

Colossians 1:1–2:3

pp. 102–103, “Rejecting Human Methods of Spiritual Empowerment”). From this perspective, again, Paul is arguing that no invisible power could challenge the supremacy of Christ’s authority. Verse 17 affirms the point that Jesus Christ is first and also supreme as he is “before all” (17a; pro autøn; cf. Jas 5:12; 1 Pet 4:8). Not only that, but Christ sustains the existence of the world. Paul uses the verb synist∑mi in reference to Christ “holding together” all things. When it comes to creation language, the verb could be used by Jews to connote a sense of orderliness and harmony (see 1 En. 101.6; T. Abr. 9.6). The sentiment in 1:17b is also not unlike what we find in the Fourth Gospel when, after being criticized for healing on the Sabbath and encouraging the lame man to pick his mat up and walk, Jesus proclaims, “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (John 5:17). As Richard Bauckham has argued, to associate Jesus with the work of and ongoing care for creation places him in unique relationship with God the Father who is Most High.36 Christ is sovereign not only over all creation generally but also over the church (Col 1:18), which Paul regularly refers to as the body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:17; 12:12-31; cf. Eph 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30). Normally, Paul does not designate a particular “head” (kephal∑ ) to this communal body. Here, though, it is necessary to do so to make clear that the church is not a loose association of individuals acting autonomously in pursuit of personal spirituality or mysticism. Rather, they are one body with one head. The word “head” signals not merely one part of the body but the place from which the body gets direction and power, the place where the body is “nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews” and “grows with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:19).37 Paul was giving a warning to the Colossians to be careful lest this enticing transcendent-ascetic philosophy sever their communal body from their christological “head.” [Of Bodies, Heads, Kings, and the One Lord]

With 1:18b, Paul’s anthem in praise of Christ is transposed into a new key, with a focus on new creation. Christ the Son is the beginning (arch∑ ), the firstborn (prøtotokos) from among the dead. First, to call Jesus the arch∑ is a double entendre, with the primary meaning in reference to his priority of place—the first or beginning, much like prøtotokos. However, arch∑ also means “ruler,” and

57

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 58

58

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Paul used the same term two verses earlier in reference to created “rulers” (archai ). Even if certain powers can be called “rulers,” Paul seems to be implying that they have a deeply diminished authority in view of the highest arch∑. Any such potentates are sub-rulers in view of Christ the supreme arch∑. The second use of prøtotokos (“firstborn”) in this passage (see 1:15b) takes an eschatological perspective. Christ is firstborn from the dead (ek tøn nekrøn). He is, literally, firstborn “from the dead bodies (or corpses).” Observe the waters, when they flow together, dragging Due to the power of sin and death in God’s stones, trees, earth, and sand. But if they are divided into many streams, the earth conceals them, and they world, according to Paul, old creation is as vanish away. So if you will be divided, so you also will good as dead. Christ, however, died in the vanish. Do not be divided into two heads, for everything which the Lord made has one head. He gave two weakness of the old creation (2 Cor 13:4) shoulders, hands, feet, but all the remaining parts listen and rose up with new life that is death to one head. (T. Zeb. 9.1-4) defying (1 Cor 15:42). Christ is not only higher than any evil powers but is also soverFor the “Jacob” of this speech, to follow the right “king” (basileus; T. Zeb. 9.5) is to follow the Lord eign over death itself, the last and most himself. Paul would have been in agreement, if the terrible enemy of God (1 Cor 15:26). We royal “head” to follow is Jesus the Messiah. For more learn from Romans, “Christ, being raised on T. Zeb. 8-9, see H. W. Hollander and M. de Jonge, from the dead, will never die again; death no The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1985) 270–71. longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9). With the resurrection from the dead, then, he established, once and for all, his uncontested rank (Col 1:18c).38 The Colossians are also described as those who, once dead in sins, were made alive by God, triumphing over death’s power themselves through Christ’s death and new life in resurrection (Col 2:13). [Victory Over Death] Paul does not explicate here exactly how we are to conceive of the relationship of Jesus Christ and God (other than as Father and Son), but he does reiterate that God was pleased for the fullness of God, pl∑røma, to live within Jesus (Col 1:19). Indeed, later it will be explained that what filled Jesus was the pl∑røma of “deity” (theot∑tos), and it made its home specifically within his bodily form (sømatikøs). [God’s Fullness in Jesus] Based on the nature of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy, there may have been a concern that the embodied Jesus could not really do battle with (invisible?) spiritual powers, and wisdom and antiOf Bodies, Heads, Kings, and the One Lord The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha contain a book collection called the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, which presents the departing words of Jacob to his sons. In the Testament of Zebulun, Jacob gives counsel to his sons, encouraging them to be unified. He notes a prophecy in Scripture that predicts the fracturing of the people of God, some of whom remain steadfast in the Lord, while others quickly turn to another king and thus the power of Beliar (i.e., Satan). Jacob calls his sons to show love, not malice. Next, he offers two metaphors, one of rivers and the other of the body and head.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 59

Colossians 1:1–2:3 Victory Over Death The Christian tradition has drawn great inspiration from the idea that the resurrection of Christ not only proved Jesus’ unique status but also signaled a triumphal victory over death. This idea is obviously paradoxical as Jesus experienced death himself. Nevertheless, this mystery has only encouraged Christians to claim triumph by claiming and imitating the death of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “A community-of-the-cross exists only through the Easter message. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ his death is revealed as the death of death itself, and with this the boundary marked by death is abolished . . .” (152). Modern musical artist John Mark McMillan produced a song titled “Death in His Grave,” articulating profoundly this theme. The chorus has these four lines: “On Friday a thief, on Sunday a King, laid down in grief, but awoke with the keys, To Hell on that day, first born of the slain, the Man

59

Jesus Christ laid death in his grave.” Jesus, the only innocent man in the world, was condemned by sin and death and plunged into darkness. Yet, by virtue of the resurrection power of God, he conquered death itself. McMillan explains this further in the second verse: “So three days in darkness slept, the Morning Sun of righteousness, But rose to shame the throes of death and overturn his rule, now daughters and the sons of men would pay not their dues again, the debt of blood they owed was rent when the day rolled anew.” The theological trajectory of these latter lines fits well the direction Paul was heading in Colossians. If Christ is the firstborn from the dead, and “death” is the greatest enemy, then there is no debt left for Christ’s adopted brothers and sisters to pay to death. See, D. Bonhoeffer, Communio Sanctorum: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (DBWE; trans. R. Krauss and N. Lukens; Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 2009) 151; J. M. McMillan, “Death in His Grave,” 2008, Integrity Worship Music.

body practices were required to engage these problems. Paul argues, though, that the one God could situate his God’s Fullness in Jesus “. . . [J]ust as there is pl∑røma in the embodied Jesus and, thus, Jesus has the nothing in heaven or earth power and presence of God without remainder.39 that is outside the divine presence This has two important corollaries (the second of and power, so also there is nothing which appears in 1:20). First, a transfer of power takes outside the scope of Christ’s presence and power, because Christ now place in the incarnation whereby God gave over God’s sums up all that God is in interaction fullness to Christ; that pattern is repeated with Christ, with the cosmos.” then, who mediates the filling (pl∑roø) of believers (such See Andrew Lincoln, “Colossians,” NIB, 599. as the Colossians; see 2:10). Second, by means of the human Jesus (who had the divine Does Cosmic Reconciliation Imply Universalism? pl∑røma), God was able to reconcile all Paul writes with remarkable confidence about Christ’s peace-making death securing the reconciliation of “all things to God’s self (1:20). [Does Cosmic Reconciliation Imply Universalism?]

The language of reconciliation (apokatallassø) has to do with the turning of hostile parties into friends or partners.40 This is probably given a cultic undertone with the notion of making peace (eir∑n∑poieø) through blood (haima) (see Rom 3:25), though military imagery (of peace-making) may be present as well. With good purpose, though, Paul calls attention

things” (1:20). Some scholars have argued that this points to universal salvation. Given the conditional tone of 1:23, however, there appears to be more to Paul’s idea of cosmic reconciliation. Ben Witherington posits that a universalistic reading “overlooks the differences between hostile forces that are placated and forced to recognize their Lord unwillingly and believers who are at peace with and reconciled to God” (136). He continues, “The universe will one day be at peace, but some will have that peace in them and some will simply be put to rest.” See Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2007) 136. On the subject of universal salvation in Paul, see R. Parry and C. H. Partridge, Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2003).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 60

60

Colossians 1:1–2:3

to two important symbols associated with reconciliation and peace: blood and cross. Blood was often viewed as a symbol of human weakness, insofar as seeing blood meant seeing The Roman Cross the life of someone (or something) spilled out While, thanks to “Christendom,” the cross is generally treated today as a warm and posi(see Lev 17:14; 2 Macc 14:46; Acts 22:20). tive symbol, one to be worn around the neck, its The cross was the great symbol of degradation original purpose was to signify shame and worthlessand shame in the Roman world. No doubt ness, like the famous “scarlet letter.” It was not many Romans would have found it intolerinvented by the Romans but became their most feared form of execution, reserved for slaves, traiable, absurd even, to find honor and victory in tors, and enemies of whom Rome wanted to make a crucified leader. How could someone whose an example. Josephus calls it the “most miserable body was thoroughly disgraced and whose blood [or pitiable] of deaths” (J.W. 7.203). The Roman was completely drained extend the promise and statesman Cicero knows of the cross as the “tree of shame” (Rab. Perd. 4.13). In his Against Verres, he is power of freedom and new life? Paul, however, even at a loss for words to describe how horrible and wanted the train of God’s plan of victory over repugnant such a punishment was (2.5.61-68). No sin to run straight through the thin veil of wonder Jews also associated it with covenant punsuperficial worldly values, and he used ishments from Deut 21:23 (see 2QTemple 64.6-13; cf. 1 Cor 1:23). For more information, see M. Hengel, the sharp end of the cross to rend it cleanly. Crucifixion (Philadelphia, Fortress, 1977). [The Roman Cross] If we follow the logic of Paul’s ensomatic Christology, he was reinforcing the idea that Jesus’ body was not a hindrance in his cosmic and divine agency. In fact, it was central to it, because making true peace in the world could not happen without God’s embodied Son shedding blood, and particularly through the shame of the cross. It took a human body, a member of the old age under sin and death, to confront death once and for all, but with a twist: this body would have the fullness of God, the mortal “as-good-as-dead” body of old Adam imbued with the resurrection life and pl∑roma of the Creator God. A Call to Move Forward Faithfully in the Hope of the Cosmic Gospel, 1:21-23

Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506). Thief on the Cross, below Two Soldiers Playing Dice. c. 1460–1480. Pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk. Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany. (Credit: Art Resource, NY)

In 1:15-20, Paul focused on the cosmic, reconciling work of Christ that made peace in all of creation. In the next section (particularly 1:21-22), we find Paul’s discussion of the personal effects of the Christ event on the Colossians’ past, present, and future. In the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 61

Colossians 1:1–2:3

61

past, they were rescued from their dead ways in sin (1:21) and brought to new life. Their future (1:22) would involve an eschatological “presentation” before God, much like a sacrifice being inspected for blemishes. Their present occupation must not be heavenly visionary experiences but a steady course of following Christ in faith and patience in anticipation of the hope of future glory in him (1:23a). In 1:21, Paul divides the Colossians’ life into two parts: BC (Before Knowing Christ) and AD (After Sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection). Here he must remind them of their former situation and lifestyle to encourage them to see if they are really making any “spiritual” progress through the transcendent-ascetic philosophy. The “before-and-after” tactic is one that Paul uses elsewhere (see Phlm 11; cf. Eph 2:1-7; 5:8). It appears in a rather extended way in Titus: “For we ourselves were foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savoir appeared, he saved us . . .” (3:3-5a). Paul refers to the former position and condition of the Colossians in particular as estranged (ap∑llotriømenous) and enemies in thought (echthrous t∑ dianoia). The former term literally means to be set at a distance (see LXX Josh 22:25). It can also refer to a stranger, one unfamiliar (see LXX Ps 68:9). Israel had a sense, in general, that the world at large was hostile toward the one God, Israel’s Estrangement from God Yahweh (see Ps 2). When one looks at Israel’s The LXX of Ezek 14:4-7 offers a helpful perspective on the problem of Israel’s own story, however, through their sin they too estrangement from God because of idolatry, came to be estranged to God, especially as a which includes their troubled thinking: “I the LORD result of worshiping idols. [Israel’s Estrangement from will answer him according to the things in which God] While the Colossian believers were mostly his thinking (dianoia) is constrained that I may turn aside the house of Israel in their hearts that Gentiles, Paul was probably alluding to the have become estranged (ap∑llotriømenas) from estrangement of both Jews and Gentiles for a me in their reasoning.” particular reason. It is possible that, since Paul was challenging an over-reliance on Israel’s regulations of the Torah in view of spiritual protection and progress in the letter (see Col 2:21), he wanted to underscore that the Torah did not prevent Israel from constantly falling into idolatry and wandering away from true righteousness. The Colossians, in their distance from God (cf. Eph 2:12), were not merely distant but also enemies (echthros) of God. Paul con-

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 62

62

Colossians 1:1–2:3

ceives of the problem of the sinful nature as turning everyone against God (Rom 5:10). It is as if the infection of sin had brainwashed humans such that their patterns of thought (Col 1:21; dianoia) turned hostile toward God. We learn from the Old Testament that Israel’s own thinking was so distorted that they stood in hope of the divine covenantal promise that their own dianoia would have God’s Torah written on it (LXX Jer 31:33). In the New Testament, this word dianoia is used in the Great Commandment to love God with mind/thinking as well as body (Matt 22:37). For Paul, the “former ways” were problematic not only because of the habits of mind but also because they led to “evil deeds” (tois ergois tois pon∑rois). Paul, again (see “Thanksgiving and Prayer,” esp. pp. 38–39), underscores the relationship between thoughts and deeds. Consider, for example, Romans 1:18-32, the narrative of the corruption caused by pride and idolatry, whereby, when humans “did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to do evil deeds in the eyes of the Lord our God.” This is precisely why Paul encourages the renewal of mind and the pursuit of true wisdom (in Christ), so to lead the body into godly submission (Rom 12:1-2). Why such a focus on the former way of “evil deeds” set aside in Christ, and the exhortation to vigilant discipline in faith? There may be some weight behind the suggestion that those who were enticed to follow a transcendent-ascetic philosophy out of the fear of evil powers, in their individualistic and mystical pursuits of wisdom and divine protection, began to turn against and do harm to the communal “body” of the church. Indeed, there seems to be, conceptually, a close relationship between this passage and the hortatory language in 3:5-9. They can no longer live their lives in the self-centered ways they once followed (3:7). The transcendentascetic philosophy promised spiritual progress but only caused them to regress in Paul’s mind because their unconscious submission to worldly vices put them back into the shadow of the old man (see 3:9-10). Appeal to the past (1:21) offers a look at the deleterious way of life marked by evil thoughts that lead to evil ways. The present (Col 1:22a) situation, of which Paul reminds them, is that they have been rescued from the darkness of distorted thinking and acting thanks to the death of Christ. Rhetorically, Paul’s strategy is similar in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, where, in view of

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 63

Colossians 1:1–2:3

the recklessly selfish lifestyle of the Corinthians, Paul reminds them of the disjunction between past and present in Christ: “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? . . . And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:9, 11). In Colossians 1:22, Paul underscores their reconciliation, the same term used in 1:20 for the cosmic restoration (apokatallassø). Again, the idea of reconciliation is one where hostility and enmity is turned into peace and friendship, loyalty and partnership. This happened for the Colossians through the body (søma) of the flesh (sarx) of Christ (cf. Eph 2:14; Heb 10:20). It is rather rare for Paul to refer directly to the physical body of Christ (Rom 5:10; 7:4). Why would he do it here? In view of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy, the Colossians may have been tempted to mistreat and suppress what is physical in view of transcending body and flesh to experience true spiritual worship (see 2:23). Paul argues that flesh and body should not be done away with, but reclaimed in the service of God for the benefit of others (see Rom 8:3), and Christ climactically demonstrated this through his suffering and death (see 1 Pet 2:24). Andrew Lincoln writes, “The combination [of body and flesh] stresses the physicality of Christ’s death and, by making clear that the physical body of Christ was the means of reconciliation, may well have been meant to contrast this view of redemption with that of the philosophy and its denigrating of the physical body.”41 The exercise of true wisdom in the physical body leads to peace and unity in the communal “body” of the church. Did the transcendent-ascetic philosophy foster this or hinder it? 42 In 1:22b, Paul directs their attention to the future—a presentation (paristanø) of the Colossian church before God with the expectation that they will be holy, pure, and blameless. [The Eschatological Offering] Their future (Col 1:22b) is the eventual judgment by God whereby they must demonstrate a changed life. Perhaps the Colossians feared what evil spirits could do to them.43 Paul wished to direct their attention to the true judge who would closely inspect their works “done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). To be properly prepared for this eschatological assize, Paul urges the Colossians to hold steady in the faith preached to them (Col 1:23). Paul piles up words of security, confidence, and singlemindedness to encourage them to wait patiently for the hope of

63

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 64

64

Colossians 1:1–2:3

The Eschatological Offering Two of the three terms used here for the presented people (agios, amømos) are adjectives commonly associated in the OT with the expected conditions of sacrifices (see LXX Exod 29:1; Lev 5:15; Num 29:36; Ezek 42:13; cf. Rom 12:1). Animals had to be spotless, without blemish. This would suggest that Paul envisions the day of judgment to be analogous to the presentation of a suitable offering to the Lord. For example, Paul urges the Roman believers to offer (parist∑mi) their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord as their form of worship (Rom 12:1). In Phil 1:10, Paul prays for the maturity of the Philippian church that “in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless . . .” (cf. Phil 2:15). How could Paul emphasize both grace by faith and also warn his converts to be blameless on the day of judgment? This question is perennially complex and debated among scholars, but we may find a clue if we relate the language of presentation and purity to the imagery of sacrifice. Israel too knew God’s mercy and favor and yet was obligated to give sacrifices. Within a covenantal framework, God was

“on their side,” so to speak, cheering for the Israelites and ready to forgive and encourage. This did not, however, mean a free ticket to sin and backslide. God placed high expectations on Israel growing up in their vocation as God’s representatives in the world. God expected blameless sacrifices because it represented Israel’s total obedience and faithfulness to the covenant. So, too, the same kind of expectations were placed on God’s people in Christ. In the new covenant, there was the “forgiveness of sins,” but the purpose of this clean slate was to bring once alienated and hostile mortals into the plan of God for the restoration of creation. They could offer to God nothing less than full obedience to be “fit” for this “task.” For more on the issue of judgment in Paul see Kent Yinger, Paul, Judaism, and Judgment according to Deeds (SNTSMS 105; Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999). For a missional reading of Israel and the church’s vocation, see M. Goheen, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2011).

heavenly glorification (see 1 Cor 15:51-54, 58).

[Steadfast Faith

(Edraios) according to Ignatius]

He reminds them again of the gospel that has been proclaimed in all of creation (see Col 1:6; Mark 16:15) to move them away from the self-centered spirituality of seeking heavenly visions, esoteric wisdom, and transcendent worship. Paul refers to the Steadfast Faith (Edraios) outward-moving kerygma going into the world under according to Ignatius The early Christian letter from heaven (hypo ton ouranon). [The Centrifugal Power of the Gospel] Ignatius to Polycarp offers a While a transcendent-ascetic philosophy seeks what it nice illustration of the use of the term considers to be in heaven for personal gain, the true edraios in the context of steadfast power of the gospel is demonstrated in the incarnation, faith: “Stand firm (edraios), as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a where the power of heaven is brought down to earthly noble athlete to be wounded, and yet creation to transform it—so Jesus’ prayer, “Thy will be to conquer” (3:1b). done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). In 1:23b, Paul unabashedly stands by the superiority of the humble gospel. Just as he called Epaphras diakonos (See [Diakonos (Servant)]) in 1:7 and uses the same term for Tychichus later on (4:7; cf. Eph 6:21; cf. of Phoebe, Rom 16:1), so he applies the title to himself (cf. 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 6:4). He is not a power-wielding “boss” over the Gentile community of believers in Jesus; he is a humble servant. In this, he follows the pattern of Jesus himself:

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 65

Colossians 1:1–2:3 The Centrifugal Power of the Gospel In 2 Macc 2.18, we read of a Jewish eschatological expectation of the reconciliation of the world: “We have hope in God that he will soon have mercy on us and will gather us from everywhere under heaven (hypo ton ouranon) into his holy place [i.e., the temple] . . . .” A similar kind of centripetal “in-gathering” of God’s people appears throughout the Old Testament. In Isa 43:5-6, the Lord promises to call together God’s people from east and west. God will command the north and the south to give them up: “bring my sons from the distant land, and my daughters from the furthest places on earth” (LXX 43:6, my translation). This idea is repeated again in Jeremiah: “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations! And proclaim to the distant islands; say, the one who scattered Israel will regather him and protect him just as the caretaker who feeds his flock” (LXX Jer 31:10, my translation). The same centripetal imagery is found in Ezekiel (11:17) and Micah (2:12). The specific site for this “reunion” is Jerusalem, because the far-flung people are envisioned as returning from exile to the “mountain of the LORD” where the temple stands (Isa 2:3; see Isa 18:7; 35:10; 51:11). This relates to Paul’s language in Col 1:23 in two key ways. First, the proclamation (k∑ryssø) of the gospel going out to all creation under heaven seems to be a fulfillment of the vision of the prophetic hope of the restoration by God. Just as a number of texts in Isaiah, for example, anticipate this in-gathering of God’s exiled people, so the “good news” of this event involves a herald shouting out from the mountain height, Look! Your God has done it (see Isa 40:9)! Paul seems to be encouraging the fear-rattled Colossians

65

by establishing the initiation of God’s salvific advent in the past—the evangelist (i.e., “good news” messenger) can shout out to all creation because the great king has come (Zech 9:9). A second key point, perhaps meant to challenge an obsession with ritual observance of the Torah, is that Paul seems to be focusing on the centrifugal aspects of the gospel’s power rather than the centripetal movement of God’s people toward one physical place. The Jewish Torah is linked with obedience under the Mosaic covenant and concentrated on worship in the land of Israel and with respect to the Israelite temple. Paul came to realize, however, that God was not wanting merely to shelter the people in the “safety” of a physical Zion but to reclaim the whole world as God’s kingdom. Paul knew well enough that, if Christ embodied the presence of God, then his body was the animated temple of God. After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, Paul understood the “temple presence of God” to be any place where the Spirit of Christ resides—that means each individual body of the believer as well as the church at large (see 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). The “good news” message Paul was preaching was not meant only for Israel and ultimately did not serve the purpose of bringing God’s people to one localized place. God’s plan was to spread the presence of the Lord everywhere on the earth, being renewed by the Spirit of God and the people of God (i.e., the church). See N. K. Gupta, Worship that Makes Sense to Paul: A New Approach to the Theology and Ethics of Paul’s Cultic Metaphors (BZNW; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010) 55–86.

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your diakonos” (Mark 10:43; cf. 9:35). Paul, Herald of the Mysteries of Christ and Cruciform Example, 1:24–2:3

Before directly referring to the problem of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy, Paul first narrates the Colossians’ personal story of redemption in Christ (1:21-23), and then his own calling within the household of God to unveil the mystery of Christ. This discourse is rich with irony insofar as, while the enticing philosophy promoted mystical-heavenly visions to learn the mysteries of divine wisdom, the secret was here on earth all along, where the Spirit of

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 66

66

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Christ dwells with the community of believers to empower their common life and their cruciform obedience. The tone of joy in the midst of suffering in 1:27 is reminiscent of Paul’s letter to the Philippians (Phil 1:18; 2:17; 3:1; 4:4; cf. 1 Pet 4:13), but, in particular (and curiously), he is glad that he can make up for a lack that remains in the “sufferings of Christ” (tøn thlipsøn). Does this refer to Christ’s own afflictions (subjective genitive) or the afflictions of believers on account of Christ (causal genitive)? The more natural reading syntactically is the former (see LXX Gen 42:21; Pss 24:17; 33:20; 4 Macc 14.9; Persecution of the Early Followers of 18.15), but we also know that Paul frequently referred Jesus Heb 10:33 divulges the atmosto the tribulations of believers (Rom 5:3; 12:12; 2 Cor phere of persecution against the 4:17; 6:4; Phil 1:17; 1 Thess 1:6). [Persecution of the Early early Christians, and one community’s Followers of Jesus] Thus, it is difficult to choose one of noble endurance: “you endured a hard these readings. The “afflictions of Christ” may refer to struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and perChrist’s own persecution, but insofar as a believing secution, and sometimes being partners community was “in Christ,” united with this crucified with those so treated.” Lord, they continued to live within the ambit of his afflictions—through outright persecution, verbal harassment, and social opprobrium. What could be lacking (hyster∑ma) in all of this? Some scholars propose that Paul’s statement refers to an expectation of “Messianic woes” whereby the church must endure a filling to full of a measure of persecution before the eschatological consummation.44 It is true that Paul saw suffering as a sine qua non for believers in Jesus (see Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 3:12; cf. 1 Pet 4:1b). Given the context of Colossians, however, Paul could be intentionally making an ironic statement by claiming that the afflictions of Christ do lack something. Let us presume that the proponents of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy sought after emancipation and escape from the body and flesh, in pursuit of heavenly wisdom. In that case, Paul may be “playing along” slyly by “agreeing” that there is more to be completed or filled up (antanapl∑roø) with a view toward perfection. The Greek text of the wisdom of Ben Sira may be helpful here. Ben Sira was obsessed with wisdom, particularly the Jewish Lady Wisdom, and saw her as the key to human fulfillment. Lady Wisdom calls out, “Come to me, you who desire me, and fill up (empipl∑mi) on my produce” (Sir 24:19). Later, Ben Sira comments that Torah “fills to overflowing (pimpl∑mi) with wisdom” (24:25), and it “overflows (anapl∑roø), like the Euphrates, with under-

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 67

Colossians 1:1–2:3

67

standing” (24:26). If the transcendent-ascetic philosophers shared this attitude about wisdom, they may have proposed to the Colossians that, in order to have the fullness of divine wisdom, they needed to transcend the earth and flesh, and become unencumbered by worldly challenges like suffering and physical afflictions. No doubt some might have even questioned the perfect (or perfecting) guide of Christ, who underwent physical suffering himself. Paul turns this attitude on its head in two ways. First, while agreeing that there is something lacking with respect to Christ’s afflictions, he goes on to say that his contribution to the solution is to suffer “in my flesh” (en t∑ sarki mou), seeing the “need” as his own bodily and fleshly participation. This statement would have been shocking for those proponents of a transcendent-ascetic philosophy, literally adding insult to injury! Is not the John Calvin on Colossians 1:24 flesh the problem to begin with? By no means (so “[Paul] . . . is in this thing a partner with Christ and nothing happier can be desired Paul would say)! The “need” is for imitation of 45 than this partnership. He also brings forward a the weakness of Christ. Second, and closely consolation common to all the pious, that in all related to the first point, he fills up to completribulations, especially in so far as they suffer anytion what is needed for fullness for the sake of the thing for the sake of the gospel, they are partakers of the cross of Christ, that they may Colossians (hyper hymøn).46 True spiritual perfecenjoy fellowship with him in a blessed resurrection involves seeking the highest good for tion. . . . As, therefore, Christ has suffered once in the community, not the self alone. If the problem his own person, so he suffers daily in his is an “individualistic transcendent-ascetic members, and in this way there are filled up those sufferings which the Father hath appointed philosophy,” Paul lectures them about an “incarfor his body by decree.” national ecclesio-centric philosophy.” Their See J. Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle obsession with (and against) the physical body to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (trans. R. J. Pringle; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851) 164. (2:23) has turned their attention away from (and therefore against) the church Oikonomia and Oikonomos body. [John Calvin on Colossians 1:24] In the Greco-Roman world, an oikonomos was a manager that served on the regal, municipal, or In 1:25 he repeats his role as private (household) level. Such stewards were marked by diakonos but underscores the fact that being under the regulation of a higher authority but entrusted his work falls under the wider category with managerial care of certain affairs. There is little doubt that of household stewardship (oikonomia). Paul was playing off of the language of household and family that appears throughout Colossians (1:1-2, 3, 12-13; cf. 3:17; [Oikonomia and Oikonomos] The central part 4:7, 9) and that comes to a head in the “household code” of of Paul’s God-given commission is the 3:18–4:1. This underscores, again, that the church is a new proclamation of the gospel where the family under the Fatherhood of God, and while Paul could refer fulfillment of the “word of God” to his apostolic commission or administration (oikonomia), he was always under the authority of the pater familias and (pl∑røsai ton logon tou theou) reclaims entrusted with care over the wider “family” of Gentile the world in the name of the Lord. [Fulfilling the Gospel Word]

believers. See J. K. Goodrich, Paul as an Administrator of God in 1 Corinthians (SNTSMS 152; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 68

68

Colossians 1:1–2:3

When Paul describes the content of the “word of God” in Colossians 1:26 as a “mystery” (mysterion), formerly concealed (apokekrummenon) but now unveiled (ephanerøth∑ ), he is likely borrowing language from the transcendent-ascetic philosophy for rhetorical reasons. [Jewish Mysticism] However, he fills it with new content. There is a divine secret that was See E. Käsemann, Commentary on Romans (trans. G. Bromiley; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1980) 394. hidden and recently revealed, but it is not a private and privileged piece of knowledge for the spiritual elite. The secret is Jewish Mysticism One can identity, especially in the “Christ in you” (1:27), and Paul happily publicizes it second temple period of Judaism, as apostolic herald. His whole purpose is to make the rise in interest in mysticism, which known the long-hidden mystery so that everyone included the desire to uncover hidden truths may benefit from it. He had no interest in hoarding about God, heaven, and wisdom through prophecy and special revelation. Divine the secret and its benefits for himself or some elite “revealing” was necessary to mediate such community of sages. truths. From Jewish apocalyptic texts, porNormally, Paul refers to believers, and the church tions of the Dead Sea scrolls, rabbinic in general, as living “in Christ” (1:2, 4, 28; 2:5). literature, and Hekhalot (“heavenly places”) writings, we can trace a deep concern for Here Paul refers to Christ in them (en hymin, transcendent knowledge and power in view plural).47 There is no need to ascend to heaven, Paul of present perplexities and spiritual torpor. argues, to receive the revelation of secret wisdom See A. Segal, “Mysticism,” The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (ed. John Collins from God (see T. Levi 2.5-8). The most beneficial and Daniel Harlow; Grand Rapids MI: and glorious once-hidden mystery has already been Eerdmans, 2010) 982–86; also C. Rowland, unveiled in Christ.48 In much the same way he ed., The Mystery of God: Early Jewish expressed in Romans 5:1-2, the presence of Christ Mysticism and the New Testament (Boston: Brill, 2009). through the Spirit (see Rom 8:9) brings with it the “hope of glory” (Rom 5:2b); that is, present trials are nothing to avoid or to be ashamed of because God has set the most sure path to glory on the dusty road to the cross. In 1:28-29, Paul continues to describe his own ministry as a model for the Colossians, and, again, it appears to be an attempt to counter the approach to spirituality and spiritual perfection endorsed by the transcendent-ascetic philosophy. Consider Paul’s use of the word teleios (1:28), which can mean “perfection” or “maturity” (see L&N 88.36; 79.129; 68.23; 88.100). It was not uncommon in the ancient world for religious devotees to seek spiritual perfection, especially through particular rituals.49 Paul wishes for his converts to attain to a place of teleios, but his expectation is Fulfilling the Gospel Word A statement comparable to Col 1:25 regarding Paul “fulfilling” his commission is found in Rom 15:19, where New Testament scholar Ernst Käsemann gives this interpretation: “As the world is permeated by the Gospel, the Gospel itself comes to fulfillment. It is of the essence of the Gospel that it is not just proclaimed but that it fashions an earthly sphere of validity for the lordship of Christ.” So, in Col 1:25, the word of God is diffused into the world through Paul’s prophetic and apostolic voice.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 69

Colossians 1:1–2:3

69

driven by two elements. First, it is a kind of maturity focused on the community, not simply the individual. Indeed, his own ministry to the community is one of proclamation (katangelø),50 admonishment (noutheteø), and teaching (didaskø). Second, through this three-fold ministry, Paul encourages a word-centered community where believers are in relationship with one another in such a way that they can be instructed with a view toward the ethos of the church and rebuked when their behavior is out of line (see 3:16). This is undoubtedly in contrast to the vision- or object-centered spirituality that is private and self-aggrandizing.51 For Paul, teleios is not a prize for the few elite but for every person (panta anthrøpon; 3x). The eschatological presentation of the church before God in sacrifice has the expectation of mature communal formation. True and divine wisdom is found not by dancing on heavenly clouds with the angels but by being on the ground in bodily, earthtransforming worship in the pattern of Christ. Thus, in 1:29, Paul underscores the toll this mission toward communal maturity has taken on himself. The language of “toil” (kopiø) reinforces the point that Paul works hard, but it also further plays up his humanity since this term is often used for intensive labor that leads to weariness (see 1 Cor 4:12), as in the famous saying of Jesus according to Matthew, “Come to me all you that are weary (kopiø)” (11:28; cf. Luke 5:5; Philo Migr. 145). In one sense, bringing attention to his wearisome work might positively encourage the Colossians to recognize the great spiritual battle they are waging. The companion verb in 1:29 is agønizø, which can mean the expenditure of energy (see L&N Early Jewish and Christian Perspectives on 39.29) but also carries the connotations of Perseverance battle. Such language was not uncommon in “Strive even to death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you” (Sirach early Jewish and Christian literature. [Early Jewish 4.28) and Christian Perspectives on Perseverance] Paul would no doubt be calling the Colossians to waste no “. . . let us struggle with all earnestness, knowing time with visions but rather to get busy with the that the contest is in our case close at hand, and that many undertake long voyages to strive for a ministry of the church. There may be more to corruptible reward; yet all are not crowned, but what Paul is saying here, though. In Philippians, those only that have labored hard and striven Paul was intent on redirecting that church’s pergloriously” (2 Clement 7.1) ception of progress and power. He used his own situation of imprisonment to argue that, despite appearances, God was using him to further the progress of the gospel. The world saw shame and failure, but in the upside-down gospel kingdom,

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 70

70

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Christ’s victory march was moving forward through the suffering apostle (see Phil 1:12-13).52 Here too (in Col 1:29), the tone of weariness and toil may at first blush give the sense of futility, but Paul regards his labor to be “according to [Christ’s] power that powerfully works in me.” As a chained prisoner, he is ostensibly rendered impotent and ineffective from the world’s perspective. Paul claims, however, that Christ works in a way hidden to the world that invests in muscle, money, and status. The power of Christ is altogether different, and far more potent and durable. Paul elaborates further in 2:1-3.53 He makes clear that he does not want to hide his own suffering or to slip away from it; he wants to pronounce it (see 2 Cor 12:9-10). He refers to his own agøn, a term that basically has the same range of meaning as the English word “conflict.” The term can be a general “struggle,” like a difficult decision. Or it can mean something specific like a military battle (as in “The Conflict in Afghanistan”). Paul tends to use it in regard to the opposition stemming from persecution (1 Thess 2:2; Phil 1:30; cf. 1 Tim 6:12). Even though the Colossians had never seen Paul’s face, he boldly sets himself forth as their model of spirituality. He suffers (1:24) and toils (1:29) and battles (2:1) for the sake of the Colossians and Laodiceans and many others (hosos). [Laodicea] This is Paul’s Laodicea Paul makes mention of the church in Laodicea four times in Colossians (2:1; 4:13, 15, 16). From 4:15-16, we learn that the Colossian church was in close contact with the Laodicean church, even asking them to pass Paul’s letter along to Laodicea. From 4:16 we also know that Paul sent a letter to the Laodiceans that he wanted the Colossians to read. Some scholars have hypothesized that the canonical letter we call “Ephesians” might actually be the letter written to the Laodiceans, though this is highly speculative. The city of Laodicea, situated less than a dozen miles from Colossae, was known in Paul’s time for its booming wool and textile industry. Also, Strabo mentions a famous medical school in the city (Geogr. 12.8.20). Furthermore, Cicero refers to the city as a banking center where he had occasion to do business himself (see Fam. 3.5.4). The overall impression is that this was a wealthy city in the first century. In fact, the Laodiceans were so well-to-do that, when Roman main road at Laodicea. Laodicea, Turkey. (Credit: Marie they experienced an earthquake in AD 60, they were able to pay for the Mauzy/Art Resource, NY) repairs without imperial assistance (see Tacitus, Ann. 14.27). The impression we get from ancient sources is that Laodicea had a booming economy, which may help us to understand better why the church in this city was rebuked in the book of Revelation. In the introductory “Letters to the Seven Churches,” the author exposes the lukewarm spiritual temperature of this church (3:14-16). They are accused of claiming wealth and selfsufficiency, not cognizant of their spiritual poverty (3:17). They are called to repent and see with new eyes (3:18-19).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 71

Colossians 1:1–2:3

71

spirituality of other-regard, a living testament to the theology of Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Finally, in 2:2-3, Paul explicates the end purpose of his strenuous work—the close bond of love and the full assurance that the only secret worth uncovering is Christ himself, the storehouse of wisdom and knowledge. Why such a focus on love and unity? Were there social and ethical problems in the churches of Colossae and Laodicea? Reconstructing the historical background here is sticky business to say the least,54 but when we look at 3:5-11, Paul gives a strong prohibition against socially destructive behavior such as greed, anger, malice, slander, and lying (esp. 3:5-9). What he writes in 2:2 may preemptively propose the Spirituality, Pride, and Ethics “more excellent way” of love. Could there be a connection between the ascetic [Spirituality, Pride, and Ethics]

pursuit of spiritual transcendence and the social vices

shunned in Colossians? While there is the possibility that they Almost certainly, the repeated lanare unrelated, or that Paul’s paraenesis is simply conventional guage of understanding (synesis), (which I doubt), a theory that brings the two together would knowledge (epignøsis, gnøsis), mystery have the advantage of simplicity (and the opportunity to survive Occam’s razor). Using Paul’s own transcendent experience as a (mysterion), treasure (th∑sauros), and case study, we learn from 2 Corinthians that he admits to having wisdom (sophia) in 2:2-3 reflects a ethereal “visions and revelations” (12:1). He felt as if he were in Christo-centric reconfiguration of paradise (paradeisos) and heard ineffable and sacred heavenly what the transcendent-ascetic philosspeech (12:4). The nature of his rhetorical approach in the latter part of ophy vainly promised. If the 2 Corinthians reveals that such an experience could and would philosophy pushed beyond the be grounds for pride and boasting in many circles (12:5). So human Christ to more heavenly great would be the temptation for self-aggrandizement (and avenues of gaining divine wisdom, probably the demotion of the non-ecstatic) that Paul was given the infamous “thorn in the flesh” to undermine arrogance and Paul continued to reiterate the point self-promotion (12:7). Could it be that the pursuit of heavenly that any spiritual journey must focus visions and secret wisdom had a socially deleterious effect, squarely on Christ. He is not the pushing the “have-nots” away and establishing a kind of spiritual portal to wisdom; he is “Wisdom” elitism that exalted private privilege? Such behavior and attitudes in view of transcendent proclivities could easily lead to all kinds itself. He is not the gateway to the of anger, jealousy, and greed. kingdom of heaven; he is the very presence of God’s royal rule. One does not go beyond Christ to something more. There is nothing more, because he is all (3:11). This statement about Christ must be read through what Paul already pointed to in 1:24 and what he would address again in 2:11-14. The true and complete wisdom found in Christ is Christ (or Messiah) crucified. He suffered (1:24) and was buried (2:12). To be truly alive in spirit means mortifying not the flesh as if it were evil but the desires of the flesh by using the body to love and protect

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 72

72

Colossians 1:1–2:3

and serve others (see 3:5). When Paul lifts up Christ as the true wisdom of God, he does so in a way similar to that in his Corinthians letters—a cruciform wisdom that is hidden to the world and treated by unbelievers as foolish (1 Cor 1:18-31).

CONNECTIONS The Family of God through Christ, 1:1-3

In the modern western church setting, the experience of the worshiper tends to be rather private. In many churches you can slip in and slip out, catching the music and sermon, but still avoiding awkward small talk with the “audience.” Paul, however, from the very start of the letter, casts a vision of the believing community that is remarkably intimate, cohesive, and edifying—he does this using the language of kinship. Brother Timothy. Father God. Faithful brothers and sisters (see 1:1-2). This is not just sophistic rhetoric that gets the Colossians on board with Paul’s agenda. It flows directly from his own recognition that, while God the Father had always wanted to be close with humanity as his own children (and as with Adam and Eve once upon a time), the intrusion of sin broke this family apart. Sin is the great homewrecker! Through Christ, though, the breach has been healed. He became human so that he could reclaim the original vision of familial union with the Father, and by his faithful “sonship” he would pave the way for new adoption. So, as Paul writes in Romans, he “would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29 NET). To call him the “beloved Son” (Col 1:13) is not just to say something about Jesus; it is also to say something about those who have been relocated into his kingdom family. They are brothers and sisters by adoption, heirs to the great inheritance, and united as one family under God. [Family Solidarity in the New Testament World] What would happen if the church embraced this vision of holy kinship? Certainly we would feel more comfortable coming to the Father as we cry “Abba” (Rom 8:15). We would also have a fresh perspective on what the “church” is and why we “go to church.” In a sense, if the church is a family, on Sunday mornings we gather for a “family reunion” where we honor the Great Father, beloved Son, and Holy Spirit (that bonds us together as one). No wonder

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 73

Colossians 1:1–2:3

believers can receive, with absolute confidence, this benediction from the Book of Common Prayer. May God the Father, who by Baptism adopts us as his children, grant you grace. Amen. May God the Son, who sanctified a home at Nazareth, fill you with love. Amen. May God the Holy Spirit, who has made the Church one family, keep you in peace. Amen.55

Prayer, Wisdom, and Transformation, 1:3-8

73

Family Solidarity in the New Testament World It is not uncommon for a believing community in America today to call itself a “church family.” However, even if the modern western church sometimes employs the kinship metaphor, it also matters how real families function in order to understand the direction and power of the metaphor itself. When the cultural perspective toward family is examined, both for Paul’s world and today, there are a number of distinct differences. Joseph Hellerman, in his book When the Church Was Family, makes three key arguments with respect to the nature of ancient families and their structure and attitude. First, he argues that “the group took priority over the individual” when it came to values and support. Second, “a person’s most important group was his [or her] blood family.” Third, “the closest family bond was not the bond of marriage. It was the bond between siblings.” Hellerman marshals strong evidence for his claims, but we can offer here one poignant example. In the Hellenistic Jewish text Jubilees, the story is recounted of the patriarch Isaac’s speech to his rivaling sons. Isaac urges them,

Among yourselves, my sons, be loving of your brothers as a man It may be easy to overlook the loves himself, with each man seeking for his brother what is good importance of Paul’s prayer in 1:3-8 for him . . . and each one will love his brother with compassion and righteousness and no one will desire evil for his brother from now because it is such a standard feature and forever all the days of your lives so that you will prosper in all of his letters, but it is precisely for your deeds and not be destroyed. (36.3-4) this reason that it must be taken seriHellerman summarizes his study in this way: “Jesus and His ously. Paul was clearly a “man of followers took their culture’s strong-group approach to family life, prayer” and an inspiration for those appropriated it as the preeminent social model for their local who seek to pray unceasingly (see Christian communities, and lived with one another like 1 Thess 5:17; Rom 1:9). He encour- Mediterranean brothers and sisters. And the early Christians ages the Colossians themselves to turned the world upside down” (229). J. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville TN: Broadman & “be devoted to prayer” (4:2). No See Holman, 2009). doubt he understood what Stanley Grenz has argued for, that prayer is a necessary activity under God’s royal rule. In that sense, it is eschatological. In prayer, the believer beseeches the God of the future with the desire that the marks of God’s rule may be present in the current situation, which is filled with want, need, and insufficiency. Petitionary prayer, in other words, requests the coming of the future into the present.56 How ironic, then, that Paul sits in prison, fast bound in political limbo and awaiting an uncertain fate, yet he possesses the unfettered freedom of prayer. Such a bold act as petitioning the invisible King requires imagination and a refusal to let worldly limitations get in the way of divine plans. Paul did not pray because that was

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 74

74

Colossians 1:1–2:3

all he could do—he prayed because it was one of the most powerful things he could do. Eugene Peterson writes, “[Prayer] is not mystical escape, it is historical engagement. Prayer participates in God’s action. God gathers our cries and our praises, our petitions and intercessions, and uses them.”57 While prayer engages the power of the kingdom of God, it is important to recognize that Paul does not necessarily encourage prayer for his physical freedom, nor does he mention praying for the Colossians’ freedom from stresses or pressures. Rather, he prays for their wisdom and understanding (see 1:9). Paul took seriously that God’s royal rule must be embraced, proclaimed, and supported by transformed men and women of faith. By praying for their wisdom, he was stepping dangerously close to the territory of the transcendent-ascetic philosophers who were also interested in divine wisdom. Paul makes clear, however, that it is not wisdom for the sake of divine ecstasy and comfort or personal profit, but with a view toward a disciplined and transformed life (1:10). Paul knew that mind and body were closely connected and the former guided the latter like a rudder (see Col 1:21). When the mind is fixed on Christ, his people, and his model of obedience to the Father (especially energized in prayer), the body will work out a “worthy life” that bears fruit.58 Another key element that should not be overlooked is that Paul was interested in the life of the whole community in his prayers. We might have forgiven him if he dwelt on himself (and especially his pitiable incarceration), but his dispatch of letters from prison demonstrate a man so in tune with God’s kingdom that the community was always put first. Even when he encouraged the Colossians to “remember my chains” (4:18), this was not so much a plea for freedom as a longing for communion and fellowship, and an inspiration to persevere in God’s mission. How are our own prayers connected to the kingdom of God? Do we myopically dwell on our own wants and desires? Or do we direct our words and thoughts to the divine will and the kind of transformation necessary to carry the gospel light into the dark world? Too much prayer is petty and focused on short-term and shortsighted gains and goals. Indeed, one must see the church itself as the “pray-er” and not the individual alone (hence we pray “Our Father”). Hans Urs von Balthasar expresses this grander vision of prayer, one that Paul would endorse I think, aptly when he urges

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 75

Colossians 1:1–2:3

that the “kingdom of heaven” is ready to pour forth onto this land, “overripe and overdue . . . bursting with power.” If only we were not so used to it, it would strike us with great force, like an apocalyptic tempest . . . . The Church bows down to this immense, imperious will on the part of heaven’s reality seeking its implementation on earth; the Church offers itself to be the meetingpoint of heaven and earth . . . . Here (in the Church triumphant, and first of all in those of its members who have already been raised from the dead) earth becomes heaven; here heaven becomes earth. The contemplative [pray-er] stands on this very spot.59

You can readily see the resonances with Paul’s thought and even with Colossians as the hiddenness with Christ in heaven means empowerment to pray precisely in the bold ways that Paul does. Happiness, Thanksgiving, and Joy, 1:9-12

Markus Bockmuehl, in his commentary on Philippians, refers to that prison epistle bearing a “double character” as it expresses both the inevitability of suffering as well as the hope of true joy and contentment in Christ. One could say that Colossians presents a similar paradox as it is (presumably) the same imprisoned apostle, but championing an attitude of thanksgiving (1:12; 2:7; 3:17; 4:2). How could he exemplify, let alone encourage, such a positive spirit of worship, joy, peace, and gratitude in spite of life’s challenges in general and his dismal circumstances in particular? Ellen Charry, in her monograph God and the Art of Happiness, notes that, for many Christians, happiness is viewed in terms of the nature of life circumstances, and when hardship and grief enter into the equation, the believer is thrown off balance and the opportunity for true happiness gets pushed off into the distant future—in the “bliss” of heaven.60 Alternatively, Charry argues that true happiness is possible in the present when the “salvation” offered by Christ is not merely about what happens after death but involves “growing into the wisdom of divine love and enjoying oneself in the process.”61 Much of this has to do with establishing one’s identity in the kingdom of God. “In normal circumstances,” Charry writes, “growth in the art of happiness requires stewarding one’s talents and strengths adeptly, growing into what [Joseph]

75

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 76

76

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Butler would call a ‘cool’ and ‘settled’ citizenship in the reign of God.”62 What Charry argues concerning the disciplined virtue of seeking Christian happiness applies quite directly to Christian thanksgiving as well. A spirit of thanksgiving is not something to wait for as the winds of circumstances shift. Nor is it something one must muster up for a show. Rather, while it does require a certain kind of discipline of the mind, it tends to flow naturally from the right perspective about the work done by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Colin Gunton draws attention to this natural relationship that should exist between proper “remembering” of God’s saving action and the reflexive reaction: “The human response to God’s grace is a response of thanksgiving and praise . . . . It is in this act of thanksgiving and praise, or more properly, it is in this life of thanksgiving and praise, that the community of Christians may become witnesses to the atonement and reconciliation won for the world through Christ.”63 One implication of what Gunton writes here is that working toward a disposition of thanksgiving for what God has done is one aspect of the wider Christian testimony to the power of the gospel to effect real change in real lives. The Heidelberg Catechism expresses this serious task of giving thanks appropriately in this confession: “In gratitude to God, empowChrist Blessing Bread and Wine ered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks, and to live holy and joyful lives.” Paul is thankful to God and encourages a spirit of thankfulness among the wider Christian community not because he feels good but because he dares to remember the work of God in Christ. The church today, when it celebrates the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”), embodies thanksgiving. This key sacramental act of the church focuses on uniting the body of Christ and remembering the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, but it is telling that it is traced back to Jesus’ own giving of Carlo Dolci (1616–1686). Christ Blessing Bread and Wine. c. 1670. Oil thanks to God (see Matt 26:27//Mark on canvas. Gemaeldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 14:23//Luke 22:19). When we are bold Dres. (Credit: Art Resource, NY)

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 77

Colossians 1:1–2:3

77

enough to be a thanksgiving church, we confess our faith and allegiance not only to a saving God but also to a mediating Christ who taught us how to live with joy and happiness. Forgiveness and Redemption, 1:12-14

Most people associate the Christian gospel with the idea of the “forgiveness of sins,” a notion that is not actually stated often in the New Testament but is present in Colossians 1:13-14 quite explicitly (see also 2:13; 3:13). Typically, though, the modern-day usage of this concept popularly entails the release from guilt of sin. Particularly in Colossians, however, Paul is more concerned with the power and hegemony of sin, as if it were either a thicket into which one has become entangled or a horrific Sin as Imprisonment overlord that has held humanity captive. [Sin as Charles Wesley’s beloved hymn “And Can It Be” characterizes sin, at least in one Imprisonment] When this is in view, “forgiveness” place, as a prison where captives are shackled. (particularly in Colossians) is not viewed as a The condemned are “fast bound in sin and verdict of “not guilty” (though such forensic nature’s night.” The salvific and redeeming power imagery applies elsewhere; e.g., Rom 8:1) as of God’s mercy is concentrated like a laser beam, and the singer proclaims, “Thine eyes diffused a much as a recovery of self, completely “freed up” quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with for the purposes of God. In 2 Corinthians 5:15, light; My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, Paul argues that those that have died with went forth, and followed Thee.” Christ are dead to sin. To be raised up with See J. P. Greenman and G. R. Sumner, Unwearied Praises: Exploring Christian Faith through Classic Hymns (Toronto ON: Christ, however, does not mean a free pass to Clements Publishing, 2004) 93–104. live for oneself. There is no more “I alone” or “I for myself.” There is only “Christ within me” (Gal 2:20). So in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul explains that the resurrected Christ-followers can “no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” This is good exodus theology, for Yahweh did not emancipate Israel to live autonomously but to be newly claimed as slaves of his own. How glad they were (in their best moments) to serve this new, infinitely greater Lord! Freedom and slavery? This sounds confusing and complex! It is! But perhaps Martin Luther says it best: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”64 The way that Paul envisions forgiveness and redemption is freedom from the dark masters of sinfulness, pride, idolatry, greed, and lust that poison the soul and distort the will. The “transfer” enacted by God, the immigration to the “kingdom of the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 78

78

Colossians 1:1–2:3

Messiah,” means the restoration of purpose, empowerment, and proper “imaging of God” for the claimed person. The “option” to preach a gospel of complete “freedom” (and autonomy), where discipleship is only an upgrade for the serious, misses the point. It is like freeing someone from prison but giving them no map and no resources for reintegrating into society. Humans were created to be “free,” but never apart from their purposes in God. What is called for is the proclamation that, through forgiveness and redemption, God offers the unhindered capacity to embrace one’s calling and the opportunity to flourish and live powerful and effective lives under the Kingship of Jesus. That is what Paul means by the “good news” of the gospel and the gift of freedom for which he encourages us to give thanks. The Humanity of God and the Body of Christ, 1:15-20

The “Christ Hymn” (Col 1:15-20), as noted above, expresses the identity of the person of Christ in uniquely exalted terms: Creator, Ruler, Sustainer. There is no doubt that the supremacy of Christ is in Paul’s mind as he glorifies the reconciling God. Given the context of the letter as a whole, however, with its concern that there should not be a transcendent-ascetic approach to spirituality and religion per se, it would be a shame to miss the clear emphasis in 1:15-20 that that great Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer (the Lord Jesus) became visible (1:15a), was born as a human (1:15b), died and came back to life (1:18, 20), and all the while was brimming with Godness in his body (1:19; cf. 2:9). It is helpful to note the way that Karl Barth came to appreciate what he calls the “humanity of God.” In a short essay with this same title, Barth mentioned that, in counter-reaction to Liberal Protestantism, he had focused on the idea of God as holy and completely other, what he referred to as “God’s absolutely unique existence, might, and initiative, above all, in His relation to man.”65 He saw theologians all too happy to remake God in their (human) image and turn Christianity into a religion of the progress of humanity, “a current alternating between a man and his own heights and depths.”66 The message the church needed was one where God was recognized with an “infinite qualitative distinction” from the human. Barth came to realize that this turning to the idea of God as “wholly other” brought a necessary correction to the domestication

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 79

Colossians 1:1–2:3

of God, but eventually led to the temptation to denigrate what is material and earthly and, by implication, what is human itself. Setting up too strong a distinction between God’s Godness and humanity’s humanness easily turned into “the abolition of the creatureliness of the creature.”67 Thus, Barth sought to control an overcorrecting theological disposition by commenting on the importance of the humanity of God, by which he meant “God’s relation to and turning towards man.”68 If God is known at all in the world, God is known by us (humans) as the “God of man[kind].” God, by God’s own free grace and will, chose to be known in the “togetherness” of humanity, which comes to a climax in the person of Jesus. “Jesus Christ is in His one Person, as true God, man’s loyal partner, and as true man, God’s.”69 There are critical implications involved in this recognition of the partnership of God and God’s investment in humanity. First, we must acknowledge that while God has uttered a resounding “no” to human transgression, God shouts a clear “yes” to the human as human.70 The second key implication is articulated well by Henri Nouwen in his reflections on the Mediator Christ having a human body. The greatest mystery of the Christian faith is that God came to us in the body, suffered with us in the body, rose in the body, and gave us his body as food. No religion takes the body as seriously as the Christian religion. The body is not seen as the enemy or as a prison of the Spirit, but celebrated as the Spirit’s temple. Through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, the human body has become part of the life of God. It is in union with the body of Christ that I come to know the full significance of my own body . . . . It is a home where God wants to manifest the fullness of the divine glory . . . . I wonder how I can bring this good news to the many people for whom their body is little more than an unlimited source of pleasure or an unceasing source of pain. The feast of the Body of Christ is given to us to fully recognize the mystery of the body and to help us find ways to live reverently and joyfully in the body in expectation of the risen life with God.71

When we worship Christ, we celebrate him not only as “sinless” and divine Lord but also as God-with-us-and-for-us, as God-

79

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 80

80

Colossians 1:1–2:3

in-the-body. This is a welcome reminder of his imminence and relationality, his compassion and love, but also his desire to reclaim what it means to be human, as Nouwen and Barth both recognize and encourage. Suffering, Cruciformity, and Community, 1:21–2:3

If Jesus was man of the cross, Paul was preacher of the cross. When he claims joy in suffering, such is not the raving of a sadomasochistic lunatic. It is the boasting of one who imitates the way of Jesus, the crucified Nazarene. Paul is pleased to suffer not because it feels good or looks good or earns him favor or credit in the world but because he can actively engage in the primary form of covenantal growth mapped out by Jesus himself. Michael J. Gorman aptly uses the term “cruciformity” for what Paul expresses in 1:24–2:3. Gorman defines cruciformity as . . . conformity to the cross, to Christ crucified. Cruciformity is the ethical dimension of the theology of the cross found throughout the NT and the Christian tradition. Paradoxically, because the living Christ remains the crucified one, cruciformity is Spirit-enabled conformity to the indwelling crucified and resurrected Christ. It is the ministry of the living Christ, who re-shapes all relationships and responsibilities to express the self-giving, life-giving love of God that was displayed on the cross. Although cruciformity often includes suffering, at its heart [it]—like the cross—is about faithfulness and love.”72

Essentially, the symbol of the cross of Christ represents, for Paul, a destabilization of the worldly value system and the framework for a new mode of living. Paul proclaims a death through the cross, a death to self (Gal 2:20) and to the world (Gal 6:14). The cross-way, “cruciformity,” is about living a new kind of life. The crucial thing to observe, though, is that it is not just suffering “for Christ,” but in imitation of Christ’s suffering for other people—as Paul demonstrates personally. In Colossians 1:24, he shows that he suffered for the Colossians and generally for the body of Christ as the church. He accepted the shame and discomfort of an ongoing “toil and struggle” (1:29) to teach and love and bring life where the world rains down death. In that sense, another word for cruciformity is

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 81

Colossians 1:1–2:3

“Christ-love”—the kind of dying obedience exemplified by Christ that is love for God and, thus, love for other. What does cruciformity look like today? One extreme example is, of course, martyrdom—dying physically for the faith. John Stott, however, adumbrates a broader cross-identity that underlies the concept of Christ-like suffering. He urges that, while it may not lead physically to death, it is a death nonetheless. It may be . . . a death to comfort and ease, and a separation from home and relatives; or a death to personal ambition as they [Christians, but especially missionaries] renounce the temptation to climb the professional ladder, being content to remain in a humble servant ministry instead; or a death to cultural imperialism . . . . In these and other ways we may be called to “die” as the means to a life of fruitfulness.73

Notes 1. See E. R. Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 163. 2. See S. Stowers, Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Philadelphia PA: Westminster, 1986) 73. 3. Ibid., 61. 4. See P. T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC; Waco TX: Word, 1982) 2. 5. There is some debate over whether the word hagios is best understood as an adjective (“holy . . . brothers”) or as a substantive (“saints”). Most scholars prefer the latter option, as this is Paul’s normal default in his greetings (see M. J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon [EGGNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1991] 8). There may be a way, though, to see it beyond an either/or debate. N. T. Wright sees the language of holiness (hagios) and faith (pistos) so closely connected that he glosses this as “holy, i.e., faithful brethren.” See The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon (TNTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1988) 47; see also T. B. Slater, “Translating Hagios in Col 1,2 and Eph 1,1,” Biblica 87/1 (2006): 52–54. 6. Hence the title of his book, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001). See also S. C. Barton, “Dislocating and Relocating Holiness: A New Testament Study,” in Holiness Past and Present (ed. S. C. Barton; London: T & T Clark, 2003) 193–213. 7. Wright, Colossians, 47. 8. Reider Aasgaard does a fine job, in his monograph on siblingship language in Paul, of explaining and underscoring the potency and centrality of this metaphor for Paul, while at the same time cautioning interpreters not to systematize this imagery; see My Beloved Brothers and Sisters! Siblingship in Paul (JSNTSup 265; London: T & T Clark, 2004).

81

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 82

82

Colossians 1:1–2:3 9. See further comments on household and inheritance in the discussion of 1:12 below (p. 38, “Thanksgiving and Prayer”). 10. O’Brien notes the theme of “incorporation” in this regard as believers “have been brought together into a living fellowship” with each other and God through and in Christ; Colossians, 4; see also Wright, Colossians, 47. 11. See, for example, how 1 Cor 1:4-9 performs this function according to M. M. Mitchell, Paul and Rhetoric of Reconciliation (Louisville KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1991) 194–97; see also P. T. O’Brien, Introductory Thanksgivings in the Letters of Paul (NovTSup 49; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977) 69. 12. James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (NIGTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996) 417. 13. See F. F. Bruce, Epistles to Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1984) 49–50. 14. M. M. Thompson, Colossians and Philemon (THNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005) 14. 15. O’Brien notes a possible connection to the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:1-9//Mark 4:1-9//Luke 8:4-8) (Colossians, 23). Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke draw attention to the early Jewish use of the metaphor of organic growth in connection to wisdom (see Sir 24:12-17) (Colossians [AB 34B; New York: Doubleday, 1994] 159). 16. M. Trainor, Epaphras: Paul’s Educator in Colossae (Collegeville MN: Liturgical, 2008) 8. 17. Other people to whom Paul refers in this way include Aristarchus (Col 4:10), Onesimus (Phm 10), and (another?) Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-27). Also, note the language used for Junia and Andronicus (Rom 16:7). 18. It is commonly understood that basic provisions provided in Roman prisons were meager, and any hope of survival under such conditions required additional aid from family or friends. See B. Rapske, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1994) 209–10. 19. See Dunn, Colossians, 275–76; Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2002) 171. 20. Much like his earlier comment in 1:4, the emphasis on the renown of their love underscores that the concerns Paul had with their faith in Christ and their church stability were more preventative than reparative. He may have endeavored to step in based on early signs of trouble. 21. F. F. Bruce argues that Paul wishes to redefine the concepts of wisdom and knowledge that have been abused by the troublesome teachers that have put forth a “theosophical gnøsis”; see Colossians, 46; see also O’Brien, Colossians, 21. 22. So Ben Witherington comments, “For Paul, theology and ethics are always integrally linked and should not be radically separated”; see The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2007) 124. 23. There is an interesting parallel in the Dead Sea scrolls to the language of inheritance, holiness, and security in Colossians; see 1QS 11.7-8. 24. See J. C. Walters, “Paul, Adoption, and Inheritance,” in Paul in the GraecoRoman World (ed. P. Sampley; Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International, 2003) 57.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 83

Colossians 1:1–2:3 25. L&N place both these Greek words under the broader semantic category of “Attitudes and Emotions” that relate to “Patience, Endurance, Perseverance” (L&N 25.167, 25.175); see also O’Brien, Colossians, 24; Harris, Colossians, 30. 26. See G. D. Fee, Pauline Christology (Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 2007) 296–98. 27. S. McKenzie, “David,” NIDB 2.27. 28. A good case for this has been made by Andrew Lincoln, who notes that Colossians 3:16 refers to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” which increases the likelihood that Paul was quoting just such a thing in 1:15-20; see “The Letter to the Colossians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000) 11:601–605. 29. Looking at Gnostic thinking more broadly, F. F. Bruce refers to the pursuit of mystical wisdom and higher knowledge as “soteric” as well as “esoteric” (Colossians, 21). 30. By “low” and “high,” I am suggesting a meaning of these words that refers to the level of divineness. “Low” would mean treating Christ as mostly human, and “high” would be bolstering his divinity and superhuman nature. See R. Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology (Mahwah NJ: Paulist, 1994) 4. 31. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor hypothesizes that, perhaps, Paul took a hymn that may have originally represented the problematic philosophy and “turned [it] against the false teachers” by making some modifications—whether by revealing even angels as being in need of redemption or by focusing on the importance of Christ’s own body and blood. Regardless of whether or not one can pick out perfectly what parts are “modifications” or “redactions,” the general argument that the hymn was meant to provoke is highly persuasive. See “Colossians,” Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 1193–94. 32. While Luke 3:38 technically only says that Adam was “of God,” the word “son” (huios) carries over from 3:23, making it virtually the same as saying “son of God.” 33. See C. Spicq, “eikøn,” TLNT 1.416–18; also Wright, Colossians, 70. David Johnson expresses the “grand story” implications well: “Adam [as image of God] was to rule the creation, to have dominion over it. But because of his sin a reversal in Adam’s intended relationship to creation took place. Colossians implies that in Christ the reversal is reversed” (see “The Image of God in Colossians,” Didaskalia 3/2 [April 1992]: 9–15, at 10–11. 34. Barth and Blanke make a basic case for viewing the list as representative of “attributes of God”: thrones (reign of Yahweh), “dominions” (Lordship of Yahweh), “principalities” (rulership of Yahweh), and “powers” (grand authority of Yahweh). Such a list, then, has a comparative significance that is underscored by the use of arch∑ in 1:18 for Christ (see Colossians, 201). 35. Most scholars view them as “heavenly” beings (e.g., O’Brien, Colossians, 47; Dunn, Colossians, 92; Witherington, Colossians, 134), rather than earthly ones, but it must be kept in mind that in Paul’s time, “spiritual and earthly rulers were not sharply distinguished” (Wright, Colossians, 72). 36. See R. Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2008) 235–36. 37. See E. Best, One Body in Christ (London: SPCK, 1955) 129–30.

83

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 84

84

Colossians 1:1–2:3 38. So, O’Brien writes, “The resurrection age has burst forth and as the first who has risen from among those who have fallen asleep he is the first-fruits who guarantees the future resurrection of others” (Colossians, 51). 39. See E. Schweizer, Colossians and Philemon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971) 78–79. 40. See C. Breytenbach, Grace, Reconciliation, Concord (NovTSup 135; Boston: Brill, 2010) 171–86. 41. Lincoln, “The Letter to the Colossians,” 606. 42. My own inclination is to see Paul having a concern that the philosophy naturally led to a kind of self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing pursuit of wisdom in a way that led to problems in the community. 43. Clint Arnold argues, partly on the basis of the discovery of ancient “protective charms,” that there was “fear and dread of the spirit realm felt by the general populace.” Arnold notes, in particular, that Asia Minor was a central place for the worship of Hekate, goddess of darkness, terror, demons, magic, and the dead. It was not uncommon for people to fear her greatly and, at the same time, appeal to her for protection from evil. See Powers of Darkness (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992) 24. 44. See R. Bauckham, “Colossians 1:24 Again: The Apocalyptic Motif,” EvQ 47 (1975): 168–70; also Witherington, Colossians, 144. 45. See A. Perriman, “The Pattern of Christ’s Sufferings: Colossians 1:24 and Philippians 3:10-11,” TynB 42 (1991): 62–79. 46. David Garland proposes that the lack is “Christ’s bodily presence”; see Colossians and Philemon (NIVAC; Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1998) 122. 47. For a detailed study of this concept, see W. Barcley, Christ in You: A Study of Paul’s Theology and Ethics (Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1999). 48. To say it is Christ en hymin could also mean “Christ among you,” referring to the incarnation. While mortals vainly seek the wisdom of heaven, the Word of God came down to be among mortals (John 1:14). 49. See L. T. Johnson, Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1998) 69–104. 50. While katangelø is Paul’s oft-used word for the preaching of the gospel (1 Cor 2:1; 9:14; Phil 1:16-18), perhaps Paul is using it here in contrast to the transcendentascetic obsession with angelic worship (angelos; 2:13). While some may want visions of or like the heavenly messengers, Paul desires to message the mystery of Christ and exhort the community to live in Christ and uplift one another. 51. See Col 2:18 in particular; that superlative ecstatic and visionary experiences “puff up” the person is presumed and discussed on a personal level by Paul himself in 2 Cor 12:1-11. 52. See N. K. Gupta, “I Will Not Be Put to Shame: Paul, the Philippians, and the Honourable Plea for Death,” Neotestamentica 42/2 (2008): 253–67. 53. While the versified text of Colossians changes to another “chapter,” I would agree with most scholars that Paul’s train of thought rather clearly carries forward past the artificial chapter break. 54. See N. K. Gupta, “Mirror-Reading Moral Issues in Paul’s Letters,” JSNT 34/4 (2012): 361–81. One issue that is involved is rarity—the fact that Paul later mentions

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 85

Colossians 1:1–2:3 lying is unusual in his paraenesis. This suggests, though does not necessitate, that there was some particularity to the moral teaching, namely, that Paul was directly concerned that the Colossians struggled particularly with these vices. 55. The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Inc., 2001) 445. 56. S. Grenz, Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005) 49. 57. E. Peterson, Reversed Thunder (New York: HarperCollins, 1988) 95. 58. See D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 1992) 95–110. 59. Prayer (San Francisco CA: Ignatius, 1986) 107. 60. See God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2010). 61. Ibid., x. 62. Ibid., 275. 63. The Theology of Reconciliation (London: T & T Clark, 2003) 105. 64. In J. F. Thornton and S. B. Varenne, eds., Faith and Freedom (New York: Random House, 2002) 3. 65. The Humanity of God (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 1960) 40. 66. Ibid., 40. 67. Ibid., 42. 68. Ibid., 37. 69. Ibid., 45. 70. Ibid., 60. 71. In The Essential Henri Nouwen, ed. R. A. Jonas (Boston MA: Random House, 2009) 21–22. 72. M. J. Gorman, “Cruciformity,” Dictionary of Scripture & Ethics (ed. J. B. Green; Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2011) 197–98. 73. J. R. W. Stott, The Radical Disciple (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010) 123.

85

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 86

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 87

Fullness in Christ Alone: The Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy Vain, Christ the Fullness Colossians 2:4-23 In Colossians 1:1–2:3, Paul put off directly addressing the problem at hand. He began his letter with a tone of joy and thanksgiving for all that God had done and for the love and faith of the Colossians themselves. Climactically, in 1:15-20, he broke out in exuberant praise of the regal Christ who brought redemption and forgiveness and who stands as the highest authority in heaven and on earth. Having set forth the foundation for confidence, faith, and hope in Christ, Paul tackles the problems in Colossae head Outline of 2:4-23 on in 2:4-23, exposing the folly and The Disastrous Potential of the empty promises sworn by the transcenTranscendent-Ascetic Philosophy, 2:4-5 Christ at the Center, 2:6-10 dent-ascetic philosophy and confessing Christ the Redeemer, 2:11-15 that real fulfillment and spiritual matuThe Philosophy Rejected in View of Christ, 2:16-19 rity can only be found in Christ, the Rejecting Human Methods of Spiritual true wisdom of God. [Outline of 2:4-23] Empowerment, 2:20-23

COMMENTARY The Disastrous Potential of the Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy, 2:4-5

The last statement Paul made prior to his opening salvo on the transcendent-ascetic philosophy, in 2:2b-3, exalted Christ as the one “in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” As we note the change in tone with 2:4-23, it becomes clear that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy was “selling” an alternative form of attaining divine wisdom. The peddlers of the philosophy are never identified. But we learn two things from 2:4. Paul refers both to the deceptive intentions involved (paralogizomai) and to the specious reasoning used to support it (pithanologia). [Paralogizomai and Pithanologia]

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 88

88

Colossians 2:4-23

Paralogizomai and Pithanologia The Greek word paralogizomai carries the meaning of deception and manipulation (see L&N 88.153; also MM 3192). In the LXX, the verb is used of Laban duping Jacob (Gen 29:25) and also of the cunning plot of the Gibeonites to safeguard their lives in view of the Israelite conquest (Josh 9:22). This terminology goes hand in hand with pithanologia, which refers to “plausible, but false, speech resulting from the use of well-constructed, probable arguments” (L&N 33.31). Conceptually, Paul is arguing here something similar to what he writes in 1 Cor 2:4: “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” So prominent was the empty speech of the cunning sophist that Jewish writers like Philo and Josephus make reference to this problem (see Philo, Ebr. 29; Conf. 129;

Congr. 18). In his account of the history of the Jews, Josephus makes this statement: “I have said so much out of a desire that my readers may know that we speak nothing but the truth (al∑theia), and do not compose a history out of some plausible account (pithanos), which deceive men and please them at the same time . . .” (Ant. 8:56). We may detect a bit of wordplay here in Paul’s use of paralogizomai and pithanologia. What these two Greek words have in common is the root of log* from which we get the word logos (word, message). Paul repeatedly lifts up the true “word” in Colossians: “word of truth” (1:5); “word of God” (1:25); “word of Christ” (3:16); the “word” preached (4:3)—all of these using logos. In contrast, the transcendent-ascetic philosophy is a false and empty message, superficially enticing but lacking true substance.

While Paul is physically absent (Col 2:5a; cf. 1 Cor 5:3; Phil 1:27-28), he cares for the Colossians’ well-being; he is present with them in the Holy Spirit and feels connected to them as fellow members of the body of Christ. So James Dunn comments, “The only means of communion Human Spirit or Holy Spirit? with the Colossians was in the It is difficult to realm of the Spirit.”1 There may know how to be another reason he mentions translate tø pneumati this “flesh/spirit” dichotomy. It is because it could mean either “in (human) possible that he is cunningly critispirit” or “in the [Holy] cizing the transcendent-ascetic Spirit.” If it is the philosophy’s promotion of “outformer, it is an anthroof-body” visions and experiences pological use of the Greek word pneuma, (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-3).2 [Human Spirit or referring to the intanHoly Spirit?] While they wish to trangible part of the person scend mere flesh and reach the we call the “human stratosphere in search of heavenly spirit.” This would be the equivalent of mysteries, Paul’s preoccupation is saying, “you are in my communion with other believers heart.” Alternatively, (on earth) with a view toward Paul could be using the their communal solidarity and divine use of pneuma, Anonymous. Pentecost, 1517. Santuario di S. Maria Maggiore, Pontebbia (Udine). (Credit: Alinari/SEAT/Art making a wider point steadfast faith. Paul “transcends” Resource, NY) that, though he is in his flesh by sending letters that prison, far away from Colossae, the Holy Spirit bonds them together promote maturity and reaffirm and their fates are intertwined in the family of God, as it were. While hope through the Spirit of God it is difficult to know for sure, the latter (divine) reading appears more likely. working on earth in the church.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 89

Colossians 2:4-23

Ultimately, as their apostle, he desires to see and rejoices in the “good order (taxis) and the firmness (stereøma) of your faith in Christ” (ESV). It is probably because the Colossian community is a bit unstable that Paul is writing in the first place, though matters are not severe at this juncture. The language of stability here is meant to expose the flimsiness of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy and the surety of a good foundation on Christ alone. Christ at the Center, 2:6-10

Verses 6-7 make explicit what it means in their situation to have a solid and secure faith in Christ. Paul acknowledges that the Colossians accepted (paralambanø ) Christ, and he calls them to “walk in him.” The verb here, peripateø, carries the Jewish idiomatic meaning of living life in a certain way (see L&N 41.11; cf. Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 5:7). Already the term was used in 1:10, where Paul’s prayer for their wisdom was expected to lead to a “walk” of life worthy of and fully pleasing to the Lord. It is as if Paul was fearful that some Colossian believers, having already come to new life in Christ, virtually set Christ aside to find completion or fullness through another means. He warns them here of the disaster of abandoning their original path (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-2). This is analogous to the rhetorical argument he makes in Galatians: “Having started (enarchomai ) with the Spirit, are you now ending (epiteleioø ) with the flesh?” (Gal 3:3b).3 Later in Colossians he will claim Christ as their very own life (Col 3:4). Failure to walk and to live “in” Christ is to revert back to walking and living in the “old man” and to remain stuck in transgression and bondage to both sin and spiritual oppression (see 3:9-11). Paul further adumbrates, in 2:7, what “walking in Christ” means using metaphors of organic growth (“rooted”) and construction (“built up” and “established”). These three verbs combined reinforce Paul’s point that their lives must have a solid foundation; their faith must be connected to something heavy, deep, and secure. If the transcendent-ascetic philosophy turns their attention upward (toward the firmament of the heavens), he wants them to think about what grounds them. For Paul, to have “faith” (pistis) does not mean to believe in something without good reason or evidence. The word implies, especially in the way it is used in Colossians, depth and a strong bond of trust (see L&N 31.85).

89

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 90

90

Colossians 2:4-23

Paul makes an appeal to the apostolic teaching (2:7), further condemning the transcendent-ascetic philosophy as deception masquerading as truth (cf. 2 Thess 2:13-15). He is not simply interested in orthodoxy, but he is well aware that when believers do not cling to Christ alone, hope is lost and fears can overwhelm. Alternatively, when faith is anchored in the Lord Jesus Christ, it cannot be rocked by any threat and settles into perfect peace and thanksgiving. All along, Paul has been meeting the growing fear in the Colossian community with his letter of thanksgiving, using the noun eucharistia already in 1:3 and 1:12, here in 2:7, and again later in 3:15, 17, and 4:2. This is where the rubber meets the road for the apostle. Either you can tiptoe around in life, scared of what might be out there and straining toward empty Andrea di Bonaiuto (fl. 1346–1379). Tree of Life. Accademia, Florence, dreams and promises of security, or you can Italy. (Credit: Alinari/Art Resource, NY) march with Christ, singing melodiously with the church, confident in the hope of glory. Returning again to the dangers and problems with the aberrant teaching, Paul concentrates in 2:8-10 on the slavery and oppression that result from adopting this philosophy. In v. 8, he cautions them against being taken captive (sylaløgeø) by it (see L&N 37.10: “to carry off as booty or as captive in war”). With a twinge of irony he warns them against becoming a prisoner, while he himself sits in shackles! By walking according to Christ, he lives in true freedom; alternatively, the Colossians are in danger of being led down a dead-end path through “philosophy” and “empty deceit.” The Greek term philosophia is not a pejorative word per se, although it is clearly given such a valence in this context. In general, it carries the sense of “way or mode of life” (see Josephus, Ant. 18.11, 23). When used in Hellenistic Jewish literature, though, it seems to have a moralistic edge. A number of texts presume that a good and true philosophy has the ability to restrain sin and control wanton passions and desires. According to the Letter of Aristeas, a Jewish sage responds to Ptolemy II’s question, “What is philosophia?” with this answer: “To Christ, the Tree of Life

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 91

Colossians 2:4-23

91

deliberate well in reference to any question that emerges . . . and never to be carried away by impulses, but to ponder over the injuries that result from the passions, and to act rightly as the circumstances demand, practicing Philo of Alexandria moderation” (trans. C. Evans). Similarly, in 4 Maccabees, Eleazer explains to Antiochus that the Jewish philosophia “teaches us self-control, so that we master all pleasures and desires . . .” (5.22). Add to this Philo’s perspective: “. . . philosophy teaches temperance with regard to the belly, and temperance with regard to the parts below the belly, and also temperance and restraint of the tongue” (Congr. 80). Presumably, the transcendent-ascetic teaching could be called a “philosophy” because it promised as much as the ones mentioned above especially with its emphasis on Jewish asceticism, but Paul could call it “empty deceit” (ken∑s apat∑s) André Thévet (1502–1509). (1584). (Credit: André Thévet, via Wikimedia precisely because its ways “are of no value Commons) in checking self-indulgence” (Col 2:23).4 Philo (20 BC–AD 50) was a Jewish philosopher and biblical Paul believed that the power of sin was interpreter who lived in Alexandria (Egypt) and was particusimply too strong to tame by means of larly interested in the intersection between the religion of mere earthly teaching.5 It is no more the Israelites and Greco-Roman philosophy. than the tradition of mortals (paradosin tøn anthrøpøn; cf. Gal 1:14; Mark 7:8; Josephus, Ant. 13.297). More than that, this philosophy puts the adherent at the mercy of the stoicheia tou kosmou (a phrase notoriously difficult to translate). [Ta Stoicheia Tou Kosmou] The word kosmos, of course, means “world,” but it is the preceding term that has caused translators and interpreters much confusion. Most translations rightly interpret this phrase to mean “elemental spirits of the world/universe” (NRSV, NIV, NET). According to Paul, one can either live kata ta stoicheia tou kosmou (with respect to the stoicheia tou kosmou) or kata Christon (with respect to Christ). The first, no doubt, involves living in fear of these powers and experiencing failure in mastery over desire. The second presumes a holy reverence of Christ and leads to thanks-

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 92

92

Colossians 2:4-23

giving, security, and hope—the “fullness” for which the Colossians are so desperately seeking. Perhaps some of the Colossians wanted an immediate fullness from God, a direct link to the celestial world and its wisdom that they presumed no mere man (not even Option 1 seems rather unlikely, since such building Christ) could offer. What Paul makes clear materials are not of interest in this letter. The third in Colossians 2:9-10, though, is that Christ, choice seems more plausible than the second since (a) the juxtaposition of the stoicheia and Christ would be though he became human, is the perfect contrasting both animate authorities, and (b) the mediator and the only route to an otherwise context already supposes the problem of heinous unreachable God. rulers and authorities (2:10), principalities, and powers Repeating much of his point in Colossians (2:15; cf. 1:13, 16). There is some precedent, as well, for a “spiritual powers” reading of the stoicheia in the 1:19, Paul claims in 2:9 that the fullness Testament of Solomon A 8.2. M. de Boer, furthermore, (pl∑røma) of the divine being (theot∑s) rests urges that conceptually, Wisdom 13:1-5 offers much in Christ who has a body (sømatikøs). His the same without using the exact terminology. See intention, no doubt, is to argue that Christ’s also Diogn. 8.2. having a body does not disqualify him from See M. J. Harris Colossians and Philemon (EGGNT; Grand Rapids MI; possessing the wholeness of theot∑s. Nashville TN: B & H, 2010) 84–85; also James D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians (BNTC; Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 1993) 213; G. Schneider may be right to understand N. K. Gupta, “New Commentaries on Colossians: Survey of theot∑s here as referring not to some kind of Approaches, Analysis of Trends, and the State of Research,” Themelios 35/1 (2010): 7–14; M. de Boer, Galatians (NTL; Louisville KY: WJK, divine “essence” but in particular to “the 2011) 252–56. rank of deity” (see EDNT 2.143). Because the Colossian philosophy advocated harsh treatment of the body (see 2:23), hence our labeling of it as “ascetic,” the implication would be that the physical body was denigrated and viewed as a thing to be superseded and denied. It was an obstacle to overcome and transcend. Paul’s statements about Christ in 1:19 and 2:9 fly directly in the face of this philosophy. The body is not something to be transcended and its weakness ignored. Rather, it is to be redeemed (see Rom 8:23). In Philippians 3:21, Paul has complete confidence that the Lord Jesus Christ “will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself ” (NET). Thus, Christ’s body is not a detriment to his divine status but is the necessary context in which he brings the power and presence of God to the mortal realm to reclaim the embodied image of God that he envisioned for the human agents created in his likeness. So, in 2:10, Paul urges that the Colossians need not turn here or there Ta Stoicheia Tou Kosmou Murray Harris notes the three main options for interpreting this phrase: 1. The basic physical building blocks of the world (earth, water, wind, etc.) (Jub 2.8; 4 Macc 12.13). 2. The elementary teachings of the world (NASB). 3. The elemental spirits of the world (NRSV, NIV, NET).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 93

Colossians 2:4-23

93

to find fulfillment. Just as Christ is filled to the brim with God (2:9), so believers have already been brought to a status of “fullness” in Christ (2:10a)—to be “in Christ” (i.e., “in union with the Messiah”) is to be immediately and completely ushered into the presence of God. No ruler (arch∑ ) or authority (exousia) need stand in the way, because Christ himself is even head (kephal∑ ) over them. Christ the Redeemer, 2:11-15

In the service of underscoring the superiority of finding fullness in Christ alone, Paul uses two key metaphors in 2:11-12. The first symbol is circumcision (peritemnø, peritom∑), which further suggests that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy was based on Jewish thought and teachings, though possibly blended with elements from other religions and philosophies.6 If the transcendent-ascetic philosophy presented literal circumcision as a ritual of protection and perfection,7 Paul deflates any such presumption that does not focus on Christ. [Circumcision in Judaism] Those who are Circumcision in Judaism “in him,” have a special kind of circumcision, perThe Jewish rite of circumcision was an important element of the formed “without human hands (acheiropoi∑tos).” Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants. In the [Made without Hands: Circumcision and Idolatry] The idea of a first place, it functioned as a ritual of initiametaphorical circumcision is certainly introduced in tion for the people of God. Specifically the Old Testament, as in Jeremiah 4:4 (LXX): related to Abraham and God’s promise of seed, it was a reminder of the faithfulness “Circumcise yourselves to your God, and circumcise and power of God. Second, it took on the hardness of heart . . . .” In Romans 2:28-29, metaphorical weight, and Israel could use Paul refers to a kind of “true circumcision” that is the language of “circumcision” of the heart not outward but inward (cf. Phil 3:3). or lips (see Exod 6:12; Lev 26:41). In these contexts, something that was “uncircumIn the context of Colossians 2:11, though, we are cised” was imperfect or distorted. To left with the question, what exactly is being “cut” in “circumcise” became synonymous with “to this Christ-circumcision? Paul makes no mention make perfect” or “to bring wholeness.” That here of the heart as he does in Romans 2:29. Rather, Paul uses the language of circumcision metaphorically would not have been that the “circumcision” is the removal of “the body of unusual. To associate it with a crucified flesh” (tou sømatos t∑s sarkos). Paul comes dangerMessiah, however, would have been ously close to reinforcing the very viewpoint that he provocative and scandalous. wants to reject, for the transcendent-ascetic philosSee P. R. Williamson, “Circumcision,” DOTP 122–25. ophy also desires to do away with the fleshly body. One can only imagine that, in this context, Paul is playing on the word “flesh” (sarx), hoping to leverage more than he is losing by phrasing it in this way. The Greek word sarx has a range of meaning, with the possibility of carrying the basic notion of “skin” or “body” in its simplest use.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 94

94

Colossians 2:4-23

Paul, however, has a tendency to use sarx to refer to the sin-corrupted human disposition, as in Romans 8:13: “If you live according to sarx, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body (søma), you will live.” This statement is rather close to what Paul is getting at in Colossians 2:11— while the transcendent-ascetic philosophy supports the suppression of the physical sarx in view of checking sinful passions, Paul encourages the Colossians to live in light of the fact that the disposition of the sarkic nature (because of sin) is the real culprit, the body is not in and of itself “evil,” and Christ has already done the hard work of stripping off the hegemonic power of sinful sarx at the cross.8 One need only live in the Spirit, cling to Christ, and turn aside from the path of sin. [Flesh] The second metaphor Paul uses in this section, after circumcision, is baptism (2:12). The language here closely resembles Romans 6:4, especially in the use of synthaptø (I bury), baptismos (baptism), and raising from the dead (egeirø, nekros). Colossians 2:12 carries an additional emphasis on being raised up together (synegeirø) with Christ. Both passages, though, focus on the new life in Christ, by the power of God, that frees the believer from the gravitational pull of sin (cf. Col 2:13; Rom 6:6). In the final reference to “faith” in Colossians (2:12b: “you were also raised with him through faith”), Paul’s use of pistis is noteworthy. Burial in baptism is not viewed as a ritual of initiation per se, but as a form of dying. Paul is calling for a type of co-crucifixion with Christ that requires trust in God. While religious enthusiasts devise ways to work their way up to heaven and glean celestial

Made without Hands: Circumcision and Idolatry Those translations that render acheiropoi∑tos (“made without hands”) as “spiritual” unfortunately obfuscate for the modern reader the broader usage of the language of “made without hands” in the New Testament and the use of cheiropoi∑tos (“made with hands”) and its cognates in the LXX. The LXX has a tendency to use cheiropoi∑tos as a circumlocution for “idol”—that thing which is, ironically, made by human hands (see Lev 26:1, 30; Wis 14:8; Isaiah passim; Dan 5:4). In the NT, Stephen confessed what every Jew would hypothetically have affirmed: “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands (cheiropoi∑tos)” (Acts 7:48). By using this term, then, in Col 2:11, Paul is alluding to the over-reliance on physical circumcision as a kind of reverence for what is merely “handmade”—tantamount to idolatry. One wonders whether a similar point could be made for the “hand-written” (cheirographon) record in Col 2:14 that the cross nullifies with its demands. It could be argued that Paul is referring to the Torah, which belongs to the old age and which has been set aside in its covenantal effectiveness, much like physical circumcision. For Paul, while both Jewish circumcision and the Torah were good and right forms of covenantal fidelity once Hera Campana. Marble, Roman copy of a upon a time, they amount Hellenistic original, 2d C. AD (?). Camapana to nothing more than hand- Collection; purchase, 1863. Louvre, Paris, France. (Credit: Marie-Lan made philosophy (perhaps Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons) even idolatry) without a central focus on Christ.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 95

Colossians 2:4-23

95

Flesh To avoid assuming any anti-body bias in Paul’s criticism of sarx, it is helpful to outline the range of how Paul uses this word. It could be as simple as referring to skin on bones (1 Cor 15:39), and this meaning has no negative connotation whatsoever. Indeed, in Col 1:22, he can refer to the flesh of Christ. Sometimes, however, Paul uses the language of flesh (sarx) to refer to the problematic power of sin and death to corrupt the embodied or enfleshed person. I. H. Marshall explains further how this is worked out by Paul: “Clearly the thought is not simply that of being in a body made of flesh but of being in a world composed of people who think and act in ways that leave God out” (395). Marshall underscores, in particular, the corruption of bodily desire due to sin having its way in the world. Sometimes it seems that Paul’s language of “flesh” slips into treating it as a hostile power in and of itself that tries

to conquer humans. “The impression is that human nature has been invaded by an alien power, namely, sin, and a spirit of rebelliousness against God and self-gratification” (402). It appears that this is the problem for Paul, that the sarx has invaded the good human bodies that God created. Paul is not condemning fleshly bodies en toto, lest he give in to the transcendent-ascetic philosophy altogether. He is coopting their own language and turning it against them. While they seek to undermine the flesh (lit., skin and bones) as evil per se, Paul argues that it is their fleshly sinful nature that is getting the best of them (see 2:23). Instead of warring against their bodies (especially through ascetic denial and restriction), they need to embrace their own bodies in the Spirit to repossess their corporeality and thus follow the path of Christ himself. See I. H. Marshall, “Living in the ‘flesh,’” BibSac 159 (2002): 387–403.

insights, the cross calls the follower of Christ downward into the grave, to be done with sin. Who can stand this seemingly backwards approach? Who can stomach this message? This requires pistis with a view toward the God who vindicated God’s self, proving the means Baptism of Christ right by raising Jesus up from the domain of the dead. From the topic of resurrection from the dead, Paul turns in Colossians 2:13-15 to a discussion of the Colossian believers’ new life and the implications of that death-to-life journey regarding both the cancelled debt of sin and the disarming of dreadful spiritual powers. [Flow of Thought: 2:13-14a]

Verse 13 begins emphatically (hymas), pointing out the errors (paraptøma) of the Colossians’ ways and the lack of control they had over the flesh and its sin-stained nature—“the uncircumcision of the flesh” (see [Flesh]). Just as Christ was given life by God out of the grave, so too those Colossians were made alive together (syzøopoieø) with him, and

Baptism of Christ. Early Christian fresco, 3rd C CE. Catacomb of S. Callisto, Rome, Italy. (Credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY)

When Paul refers to being “buried with him in baptism: (2:12), he is obviously referring to the death of Christ. However, Paul almost certainly would have known that Jesus himself was baptized (Matt 3:13-17). Jesus’ own baptism by John seemed to be an early confession that he would identify with the guilt and condemnation of his people, Israel, and rise again (as one does out of the water of baptism) so they could live in his own life.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 96

96

Colossians 2:4-23

their slate of sin was wiped clean (cf. Col 2:13 to 1:13-14). Paul expresses this absolution using a fiscal metaphor: the cancellation (exaleiphø) of a “certificate of indebtedness” (NET; in Greek: cheirographon). A cheirographon could be understood simply as a handwritten document charging someone with a debt of payment (see MM 4653). No doubt it carries in this context the notion of sin as debt, and the certificate itself symbolizes impending judgment. When it is paired with the language of “decrees” (dogma) that stand against the sinner, however, it may point to the condemnation carried out by the Jewish law (Torah) on those that have failed to fully obey its commands and thus fall under a covenantal curse.9 Essentially, Paul may be repeating here, using a fiscal analogy, what he says more plainly in Galatians 3:10: “For all who rely on the works of Torah are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of Torah’” (AT, based on NRSV).10 The curse and condemnation of the Torah, when viewed in this way, was eliminated when Christ died on the cross (Col 2:14b). No doubt the idea seems to be that the satisfactory and sinless death of Jesus on the cross covered the sins of the unrighteous Colossians, though the particular language of atonement is absent here. The explicit mention of the cross of Jesus is striking. While Paul’s theology is staurocentric (cross-focused) in many ways, he rarely refers to the cross (stauros) itself (see 1 Cor 1:17-18; Gal 5:11; 6:12, 14; Phil 2:8; 3:18; cf. Col 1:20). He more commonly refers to the death of Jesus (Rom 5:6, 8; 6:10; 8:34; 14:9; 1 Cor 8:11; 15:3; 2 Cor 5:14; 1 Thess 4:14; 5:10). When the wider usage of stauros in Paul’s letters is examined, he tends to assign symbolic meaning to the cross. It is not just the physical place where Jesus died to overcome sin. The “cross of Christ” has its own world-transforming power and message (1 Cor 1:17-18). The Roman regents used the cross to abandon, weaken, shame, and destroy, and yet God chose the cross to reveal true wisdom and power through God’s Son.11 By making an appeal to the power of the cross, then, Paul is underscoring the solution not only to the legal or forensic problem of transgression but also to the moral problem of how the will and the human outlook have been damaged and corrupted by sin and are in need of a reconfiguration in view of the cross. If celestial

Flow of Thought: 2:13-14a 1. Former Condition: Death because of wrongdoings/flesh uncircumcised (13a) 2. Action of God: God brought you to life with God (emphasis on together) (13b) 3. Means: forgiveness of sins (the problem is neither death nor the “powers,” but sin) (13c) 4. Result of Action: freedom from spiritual oppression (14a)

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 97

Colossians 2:4-23

97

flights and visions encourage pride The Water of Life and self-aggrandizement (as with the transcendent-ascetic philosophy), Paul sees the only source of glory and place of boasting in “the cross of our lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14) that has left its own mark on the apostle’s life (see Gal 6:17). One key result of the cancellation of the sin-debt is the “disarming” of the “rulers and authorities” (NRSV; see Col 1:16; 2:10; cf. 1 Cor 15:24) that have struck fear into the hearts of many, including the Colossians (2:15a). The verb apekdyomai literally means “I strip off ” and can pertain to clothing (note Anonymous. The Water of Life (probably 19th C.). Mosaic. Presented by the imagery of Col 3:9), but in this case Henry Wagner through The Art Fund, 1919. National Gallery, London, Great Britain. (Credit: © National Gallery, London/Art Resource, NY) it probably refers to the weapons of their warfare.12 The malevolent powers have This mosaic known as The Water of Life depicts revitalizing not only been divested of their rank water flowing from the cross of Christ, providing drink for and status but have also been paraded earthly creatures as a sign of new life and salvation. around as humiliated prisoners in a triumphal procession (edeigmatisen en parr∑sia thriambeusas autous) at the cross. [Thriambeuø, the Roman Triumphal Procession, and a Pauline Paradox] The use of deigmatizø (“I show public disgrace”) reinforces the value-reassigning effects of the cross (see [The Roman Cross]). Rather than these evil powers shaming mere mortals who remain paralyzed and helpless before them, believers in Jesus who have identified with the cross follow Christ’s lead as he parades the evil powers in triumph and throws their faces in the dirt. In view of what Paul has to say next (in 2:15-23), his point here is directed toward eschatology and ethics. First, from an eschatological perspective, fear should have no place in the Colossian church because Christ has overcome any threatening enemy or outstanding penalty or debt by his saving death. Second, a transcendent-ascetic solution is not only outdated but also ineffective (Col 2:23). Only new life in Christ can solve the problem of the sinful nature and unrighteous living. The debt of sin stands as long as sinfulness is indicative of the person. But thanks to Christ, “sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under the Torah, but under grace” (AT Rom 6:14, based on NET).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 98

98

Colossians 2:4-23

Thriambeuø, the Roman Triumphal Procession, and a Pauline Paradox Paul pulls no punches in his rhetoric. The verb thriambeuø is used here to conjure the image of a Roman march of triumph. In the first century, the occasions became famous when the emperor (or general of the armies) would parade into Rome through the Porta Triumphalis following a victory. We learn from Roman records that more than 300 such parades of warfare were celebrated between the founding of Rome (753 BC) and the reign of Vespasian (AD 69–79). Behind the celebrated war hero would follow his troops who fought valiantly and faithfully on behalf of Rome. Sometimes a string of slaves, captured as the spoils of battle, Arch of Constantine, Rome, Italy. (Credit: Adrian Pingstone, 2007, via Wikipedia Commons) would be paraded around for public opprobrium. Scholars are largely in agreement that Paul uses the imagery of the Roman triumphal procession in 2 Corinthians regarding the apostles as he announces, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him” (2 Cor 2:14). This could easily point to the apostles as reigning soldiers celebrating with the intrepid Christ. However, he wrote previously to the Corinthians how God made the apostles “a spectacle to the world” in their sentence of death (1 Cor 4:9)—here it appears that the metaphor of the Roman triumph portrays them as the captives humiliated in the procession. Which is it? This is where epistemology is critical to Paul’s theology. From the earthly, fleshly, mortal perspective, the apostles are condemned. But with the eyes of faith, focused on the greater reality of God that the world is too myopic to see, the suffering apostles are true conquerors over sin and evil (see Rom 8:37). This paradoxical use of “triumph” imagery is used again in Col 2:15, where the one who has disarmed and made public shame of the highest powers recognized by mortals happens to be a man who was quite mercilessly crucified by the Roman authorities!

The Philosophy Rejected in View of Christ, 2:16-19

Much like he did in 2:4, Paul tackles the deleterious Colossian philosophy directly in 2:16-23. He first enjoins them to be free from the critical concerns this way of life places on matters of food and drink (brøsis; posis), and also ritual observances: feasts, new moon ceremonies, and Sabbath days. Given the kinds of problems Paul faced in Galatia as well as Rome, this appears to have something to do with Jewish observances. [Festivals, New Moon Ceremonies, Sabbath Keeping]

Paul’s treatment of “food and festival” as essentially adiaphora (matters of indifference) should not be interpreted as a criticism of ritual in general, as if Paul were a son of the Enlightenment and leveraged thoughts against deeds. He promoted tradition (Col 2:7), baptism (1 Cor 1:16), and the observance of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23) in his ministry, so he was clearly not antiritualistic.13 His wider point here in Colossians 2:16 is that particular foods, fasting in and of itself, or mindless adherence to festival celebration offer no spiritual prophylactic or benefit. Such

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 99

Colossians 2:4-23

things are important only because God is important. Particularly for Jews, sacrifice (for example) was not viewed as a form of divine appeasement or manipulation. It was a Torah-regulated act of penitence and obedience in view of the maintenance or restoration of a covenantal relationship. In that sense, Paul previews here in negative form what he will write in a positive way in 3:17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (on “food and drink,” see 1 Cor 10:31). With this in mind, Paul can refer to rituals of “food and festival” as a mere shadow (skia) of what is coming. To call these things a “shadow” was not to degrade them per se but to treat them as copies, like hanging a “print” of a famous painting. The print is appreciated insofar as it represents and points to the real thing, but the real thing is what the print is all about. So “food and festival” should guide one to the “substance of Christ” (to søma tou Christou), because without him such observances are meaningless. [The Body of Christ (To Søma Tou Christou)?]

99

Festivals, New Moon Ceremonies, Sabbath Keeping Col 2:16 mentions three types of events: the feast/festival (heort∑), a “new moon ceremony” (neom∑nia), and the Sabbath (sabbaton). Precisely because “Sabbath” is mentioned in this text, scholars feel confident that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy had a strong (if not exclusive) Jewish background. Feasts would include any of those special occasions where Jews gathered to celebrate, remember, and worship together as a matter of religious tradition. The observance of the weekly Sabbath was, of course, a major identity marker for Jews, as was circumcision. What about the “new moon ceremony”? Many ancient peoples, including the Israelites, followed a calendrical cycle based on the moon. When the moon was new again, the Israelites held a festival that involved sacrifices (see Num 29:6). In the Old Testament, we see these same three types of occasions clustered together (1 Chr 23:31), and in the prophets we detect a concern over treating such holy days as mere ritual without right heart and serious concern for the needs of the community (Isa 1:13). There is a tension within the prophetic literature regarding the eschatological perpetuity of these days. Looking at texts like Isa 66:23 and Ezek 46:10-24, it would appear that there is every reason to see these holy days observed eternally. On the other hand, the Lord threatens to end such observances in view of Israel’s blending of worship of Yahweh and of Baal at these times. It is worth noting, in view of the mention of these Jewish holy occasions in Col 2:16, that such traditions were never condemned as activities in the Old Testament, but only when they were being abused or the purpose of them (i.e., worship and submission to God) was not taken seriously (see Jesus’ own commentary on this matter in Mark 2:18-28; see the Connections discussion on pp. 111, “Sacraments, Holy Days, and Rituals: Good or Bad?”).

Colossians 2:18 provides an important window into the transcendent-ascetic philosophy (and the door is flung wide open later in vv. 21-23). Putting themselves in a self-imposed place of authority, the proponents of this philosophy act like a referee in a sporting event, as judge over the Colossians, threatening to disqualify (katabrabeuø) them if they do not play by the proposed ascetic rules in order to win the spiritual game. What exactly did they want? They desired after (thelø) 14 two things. Lowliness (tapeinophrosyn∑ ) is the first item. In fact, tapeinophrosyn∑ is a Christian virtue, according to Paul (Col 3:12;

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 100

100

Colossians 2:4-23

The Body of Christ (To Søma Tou Christou)? It was not atypical for philosophers and orators of Paul’s time to use skia and søma in reference to “shadow” and “substance.” For example, Josephus recounts the incendiary speech given by Antipater against Archelaus to Caesar. Antipater argued that Archelaus, without waiting for the official granting of royal status by Caesar, took control of his kingdom. He had already made major rulings and requisitioned the army. Antipater, condemning Archelaus before Caesar himself, said, “Now, after all this, he desires the shadow (skia) of that royal authority, whose substance (søma) he had already seized for himself, and so has made Caesar lord, not of things, but of words” (J.W. 2.26-28). Philo also had a fondness for this kind of language (e.g., Migr. 12; Deus 177). The meaning of Col 2:17, then, is rather self-evident, especially in light of the focus on Christ in 2:19. However, given the repeated use of søma in Colossians in reference to the social “body of Christ” (1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15) as well as the personal, physical “body of Christ” (1:22), there may be multiple layers of meaning embedded, or perhaps extra “nuances.” In that sense, one might read 2:17 as Paul’s way of saying, “these things are a shadow of what is to come, but—the body of Christ!” It would almost be viewed as a syntactically awkward interjection, not unlike what he does in 2 Cor 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ—new creation!” (Hays, 11:344).

The three possible meanings of søma in 2:17 are Søma — > substance (contrasted with skia as shadow) Søma — > personal, human body of Christ (focused on Christology and soteriology) Søma — > communal body of Christ as the church (focused on ecclesiology and communal ethics) In view of this potential triple-layering, Paul’s appeal to the søma tou Christou is a wake-up call to the Colossians to take the physical body of Jesus more seriously (which, as a tangible manifestation of the invisible God, is more precious than physical rituals alone) as well as the social “body,” the community of believers, that has suffered in view of the pride, greed, and selfabsorbed attitudes fostered by the transcendent-ascetic philosophy. While, in general, one must be cautioned against looking for double layers of meaning, let alone triple layers, it is difficult to resist the temptation here in view of the regular use of wordplay in Colossians and, in particular, the potency of the term “body” (søma) for Paul here and elsewhere. See R. B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000).

cf. Phil 2:3). In view of its use by Paul in Colossians 2:23 (tapeinophrosyn∑ kai apheidia sømatos), for the troublesome philosophers it probably carried the idea of “lowliness” with a view toward physical austerity, that is, the severely restrictive treatment of the body. It would be appropriate, however to translate it as “false humility” since the proponents of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy end up being “puffed up” (physioø) in their pride due to the fleshly state of the mind. What does it mean that they desire the “thr∑skeia tøn angeløn” (“worship of angels”)? At present, scholars debate whether this refers to the desire of humans to worship angels (the objective genitive reading of angelos) or the desire to worship in the way angels worship God (the subjective genitive reading of angelos). What is usually missing in these discussions is careful attention given to the meaning of thr∑skia, a word Paul never uses elsewhere that is quite different in meaning than the words he used for “worship”: latriea (Rom 9:4; cf. latreuø Rom 1:9, 25; Phil 3:3) and proskyn∑sis (see Sir 50.21; 3 Macc 3.7; cf. proskyneø 1 Cor 14:25). The Greek word thr∑skia means, more properly, “pattern of religion.”15 While one

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 101

Colossians 2:4-23

ology

on

e e the mani-

self-

t t is difof term

shville

101

might see “worship” as an apropos synonym, the importance is that this word regards a particular way of being religious rather than focusing on a spirit of devotion and submission (see Acts 26:5; Jas 1:26-27). I would suggest that what the transcendent-ascetic philosophy promotes is the “religious way of the angels” (so a subjective genitive). And how did the angels practice religion? It is highly likely that Paul has in mind their austere nature of worship. We know that Jews believed that angels did not marry (nor, obviously, did they procreate; Mark 12:25). Philo notes that, when the “angels” of Genesis 18 visited Abraham, while they accepted his hospitable offering of food and drink, they did not actually consume these but “gave the appearance of both eating and Merkabah Mysticism drinking” (Abr. 118).16 While commentators debate about the nature of this transcendent-ascetic phiNo doubt the transcendent-ascetic philosophy losophy (especially whether it comes from a would have admired this ascetic form of Hellenistic or Jewish background), some scholars worship, unhindered by the needs of the body. are convinced that what this problematic teaching Thus, they longed for the “religion of the emphasizes “fits” into the category of piety called Merkabah mysticism. Ian Smith defines this as “a angels.” Paul responds to this perspective: whatJewish/Hellenistic movement centred around the ever so-called “humility” is gained by following this recounting of human ascents to heaven where body-denying form of worship is eliminated by the angelic activity was witnessed” (39). Merkabah is boast of visions, as the philosopher revels in his own the Hebrew word for “chariot,” and it stands for the special mobile throne of God depicted in some private spirituality and mystical ascension. [Merkabah Mysticism]

Having outlined the vanity of chasing after angelic worship and heavenly visions, Paul exhorts true believers in 2:19 to hold tightly (krateø) to the head (which is Christ himself; 1:18), because God does not want individual adherents of religion but one organic whole body, guided and nourished by the capital leader in view of the care of God (cf. Eph 4:16). This is another way of saying, as he does later, “Christ is your life” (3:4). Spiritual progress cannot happen apart from the leadership and centrality of Christ, and it cannot happen for an independent “member” severed from the whole body of Christ.

Old Testament texts (e.g., 2 Kgs 2:11; Isa 66:15; Jer 4:13; Ezek 1). In early Jewish literature, we can see some interest in the use of the term Merkabah in reference to the transcendence of the worshiper into the heavenly realms to be in God’s holy presence and also to acquire secret, divine knowledge. There is a clear ascetic attitude involved in preparation for such an experience. According to one Merkabah text, Ma’asek Merkabah, the worshiper should fast for 40 days. While it remains impossible to connect the Colossian philosophy to Merkabah mysticism unequivocally, such a background does seem to make sense of a number of features of this religious approach as Paul describes it. See, further, I. K. Smith, Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae (LNTS 326; London: Continuum 2006) 39–73; also J. J. Kanagaraj, “Mysticism” in the Gospel of John (JSNTSup 158; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998) 64–86.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 102

102

Colossians 2:4-23 Rejecting Human Methods of Spiritual Empowerment, 2:20-23

Despite the attempts by the troublesome philosophers to promote a protective spiritual regimen for the Colossians in view of hostile powers, Paul draws the eschatological dividing line that places the Colossians in the category of emancipation as a result of their participation in Christ’s death (Col 2:20): “If you already died with Christ, and no longer live under the reign of the stoicheia tou kosmou, why do you continue to obey their demands as if you still remain in the world over which they claim to have sway?” (my paraphrase).17 The protective regulations promoted by the philosophy appear in 2:21—“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” These kinds of restrictive prohibitions were indicative of purity regulations in many ancient religions, but given what we learn from 2:16 (especially “Sabbaths”) and the language of circumcision in 2:11 and 2:13, these commandments are probably drawn from the Torah. In particular, there may have been the expectation that obedience to its purity restrictions would stave off spiritual attack.18 However, it was as if, then, mortals were at the mercy of the demands of the Torah, faced with strict obedience or being bullied by the reigning evil powers. What Paul writes next, in 2:22, literally reads this way: “these things are all for destruction when used up, according to commands and teachings of mortals (anthrøpøn).” What do “destruction” (phthora) and “used up” (apochr∑sis) refer to here? It is unlikely that Paul is referring to the food or objects from 2:21, because the presumption is already there that such things are avoided (see, problematically, the NIV, NLT, NRSV/RSV, NAS). Paul seems to be directing phthora and apochr∑sis toward the prohibitive teachings of 2:21 themselves—such decrees have limited eschatological authority, and especially so when they have been imbued with the promise and power of spiritual protection. Thus, they become the traditions of mere mortals. How can such teachings really offer supra-mortal power? Paul concedes in 2:23 that this philosophy, with its Torah-based decrees, carries a “claim of wisdom” (“logon . . . sophias”), but in the end it is nothing but talk since it cannot produce the promised results, especially in the arena of checking “gratification of the fleshly nature (pl∑somon∑n t∑s sarkos).” A self-imposed form of religion (ethelothr∑skia) may be attractive, but it ends up being a self-seeking form of religion apart from Christ. Lowliness

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 103

Colossians 2:4-23

(tapeinophrosyn∑) is an admirable virtue, but it quickly turns into a source of pride when one tries to humble the body in hopes of attaining heavenly visions about which to boast. The mind must be submitted to the lordship of the same Christ who left his seat in heaven to “humble” himself and come down to serve mortals (see Phil 2:5-11; esp. use of tapeinoø in 2:8). As for “harsh treatment of the body (apheidia sømatos),” Paul does, in fact, make an appeal to his own experience of disciplining his body elsewhere: “. . . I punish (hypøpiazø) my body (søma) and make it a slave (doulagøgø), so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27; slight modification of NRSV). His mindset, though, is not on personal privilege, pride, or gain, but suffering in the body for the sake of others.19 His body is crushed and stricken, as if dead. But it is so that life may be revealed in the body and for the life of others (see 2 Cor 4:7-12). If his body has marks, it is not from self-flagellation but from bearing the marks of preaching Christ boldly and serving Christ’s body faithfully (Gal 6:17). Paul’s wider point, here at the end of chapter 2 and looking ahead to the way of life expected “in Christ,” is that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy has the veneer of wisdom and truth, using concepts like “lowliness” and “religious ways,” but it fails to achieve one of the central things that all good “philosophies” promise: the ability to subdue passions of the flesh. Without founding one’s way of life on Christ, in his bondage-breaking work on the cross and the pattern of true other-regard and communal concern he demonstrated, there is no way to move closer to true perfection. [Plutarch’s Criticism of Superstition and Religious Asceticism]

CONNECTIONS No Method but Union with Christ, 2:4-7

In Colossians 2:4-7, Paul makes it clear that the believer never gets to higher spiritual stages beyond a clinging to Christ. One does not merely begin with Christ and then move on to methods of spiritual formation that do not include him. Life begins with Christ, and life carries on in union with Christ. He is the root, but he is also what continues to give the life a solid form.

103

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 104

104

Colossians 2:4-23

There is the danger in the modern church of getting bored with Jesus. People are always looking for a “method” or “approach” to reach the next echelon in success—whether in dieting, muscle building, speed reading, or even religion. In that attempt to scale the wall of religion, we too often use human means to try to get close to God. But the beautiful truth about Christ is that he came down to us. That is good news because it shows how much God (in Christ) was and is invested in “worldly” things. “Religion” proves itself to be nothing more than “religion” when it enumerates human traditions that help one to escape the darkness of the world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a prison cell (like Paul!), shared similar concerns with the futility of otherworldly pursuits of religion that forget Christ. He wrote,

Plutarch’s Criticism of Superstition and Religious Asceticism “But the ridiculous actions and emotions of superstition, its words and gestures, magic charms, spells, rushing about and beating of drums, impure and outlandish penances and mortifications at the shrines make one wish there were no gods!” (Mor. 171B, Superst.)

Being a Christian does not mean being religious in a certain way, making oneself into something or other (a sinner, penitent, or saint), according to some method or other. Instead it means being human, not a certain type of human being, but the human being Christ creates in us. It is not a religious act that makes someone a Christian, but rather sharing in God’s suffering in the worldly life.20

What Bonhoeffer recognized, perhaps even with the imprisoned apostle’s help, was that God chose his fullness to dwell bodily in Christ (Col 2:9). That is a sign that trying to be religious and to transcend the world (or body) and its problems is moving in the wrong direction. When Paul talks about being cut with a “withouthands” circumcision, he means believers are cut open by and with Christ—similar to what Paul means by being crucified with Christ. The call to follow Christ is a call not to ascend into heaven but to be united with Christ in his death and to stand with him in his life. This new life, though, is meant for something. It is meant for taking up the cross of Christ and serving a suffering world. Resurrection life in Christ empowers mission, or else it becomes a source of vanity. This point is made by Paul later on when he, somewhat ironically, encourages the Colossians to seek what is from heaven (Col 3:1-2). Paul is not trying to encourage transcendence, but quite the opposite. The heavenly perspective of Christ (the one who came

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 105

Colossians 2:4-23

105

down) teaches believers to act like the true Messiah who came to the center of our dark world to suffer with and for it. Bonhoeffer certainly caught this vision when he wrote, in the same prison letter, about the wisdom of Christian “worldliness.” The human being is called upon to share in God’s suffering at the hands of a godless world. Thus we must really live in that godless world and not try to cover up or transfigure its godlessness somehow with religion. Our lives must be “worldly,” so that we can share precisely so in God’s sufferings; our lives are allowed to be “worldly,” that is, we are delivered from false religious obligations and inhibitions.21

Paul and Bonhoeffer underscore that there is no magic formula for being a Christian except true union with Christ, a sharing in his life and death. This is the beginning, the middle, and the end of Christian spirituality. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer Arrested and Executed]

Forgiveness and Law, 2:8-14

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Arrested and Executed Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see [Dietrich Bonhoeffer]) was arrested on April 5, 1943, when suspicions arose regarding his involvement with a military intelligence mission called “Operation 7” that saved the lives of 14 Jews by smuggling them into Switzerland. He was dispatched to a military prison in Berlin and lived there for 18 months. He wrote a series of letters that were collected by his friend Eberhard Bethge and can be found in Letters and Papers from Prison. On October 8, 1944, Bonhoeffer was transferred to the Gestapo prison at PrinzAlbrecht-Strasse (Berlin). In the early months of 1945, Bonhoeffer was moved from site to site, finally landing at Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was hanged on April 9, 1945, for his participation in a resistance movement against Hitler.

In these verses, Paul refers to the cross of Christ having the power to erase the record of debt with its legal demands (2:14). From our discussion above, the point was made that this probably refers to the “debt” calculated by the Old Testament law, the Torah. By covenant, Israel was bound to obey this law. That raises two important questions. First, how did the cross absolve the covenantal guilt? Second, what was Paul’s broader attitude toward the Torah—was he eager to get rid of it, to set it aside? As for the first question, we could appeal to the concept of sacrifice and the idea that Christ died for the sins of the unrighteous, offering his own obedient life as an atonement (1 Cor 15:3). While we do not see the language of sacrifice overtly here in Colossians 2:14, we do see that the “crime” (so to speak) dealt with on Jesus’ cross was not his but the Colossians’. The debt, thus, was paid by Christ through the cross. To see this only in forensic terms (as if it were merely a matter of cosmic paperwork) does not do justice to the broader context and message of Colossians. When Colossians refers to transgressions or

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 106

106

Colossians 2:4-23

sin/s (1:14), the matter is not merely one of “guilt” but also of all the baggage that goes with sin. It appears that Paul connects, for example, human sin to enslavement to the elemental spirits. How might this work? Let’s say a teenager is interested in trying cocaine. By her own choice she steals money from her parents and buys some from a drug dealer. As she becomes addicted, however, now she is at the mercy of drug dealers who take advantage of her vulnerable situation and set up a “tab” for her. Even if she could manage to earn enough money to pay the first debt (to the parents) and be reconciled to them, she still has the problem of the dealers’ debt. She needs outside help to pry her out of their grip. So it seems Paul conceives of the problem of sin. It has a forensic element where a debt is owed to God. However, humans have become subject, because of sin, to the stoicheia as well. This requires a multi-faceted, comprehensive rescue plan on God’s part to free weak and fallen creatures. This raises the second question: Did Paul see the Torah as evil and problematic? Some Pauline texts seem to reflect a negative attitude toward the Torah (e.g., Galatians), while others offer a more positive perspective (e.g., Romans). How is this so? It is clear enough from texts like Romans 7:12 that Paul viewed the Torah as essentially good. But its good God-given purposes were undermined and weakened because of the sinful nature (Rom 8:3). Instead of simply pointing out sin as sin, it somehow fueled sinful desires (Rom 7:5). That does not mean it served no good purposes. It did, in fact, convey the goodness, glory, holiness, and wisdom of God (see Rom 3:2). It was always meant, though, to be a temporary “fix” in view of the permanent solution of Christ (again Rom 8:3).22 Paul could be positive, in a letter like Romans, when he was trying to show his unity with Jews regarding the way God has always provided for and led the people. In a number of letters, however, he had to be more stern because some believers did not realize that when Christ came, some key roles and purposes of the Torah were set aside (such as the boundary-marking ritual of circumcision). To cling to things like circumcision was to reassert the Torah’s expectations that had been put to rest—not as something bad that needed abolishing but something temporarily useful that eventually needed replacing by what is permanent. Circumcision was a God-given, identity-marking ritual of commitment to the covenant, but Christ came to make a new covenant with his blood.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 107

Colossians 2:4-23

To force new believers to be circumcised with a Jewish covenantal regulation was, in Richard Hays’s words, “a reversion to a status quo ante, an attempt to reenter a symbolic world that has been obliterated by the cross.”23 Paul could be appreciative of the Torah insofar as it played an essential role in the life and formation of Israel in a certain period of history, but he was critical when some Jews tried to give it a kind of permanent and static role it was never meant to have when “faith” arrived (Gal 3:25).24 What does that mean for today? What relationship do Christians have to the Old Testament Torah? The New Testament seems to look at it in two ways. In one sense, someone like Paul could pronounce that believers in Jesus are no longer under law (Torah) but under grace (Rom 6:14). Under the old covenant before the coming of Christ, once-essential rituals like circumcision were important. Under the new covenant, however, such Torah-directed regulations are adiaphora, and what truly matters is faith, love, and living in light of new creation (Gal 5:6; 6:15). The setting aside of the regulatory elements of the Mosaic Law is one side of the matter. The other side involves the clear message that the Old Testament is and will always be an essential part of the revelation of God and, thus, holy Scripture that is “useful” (see 2 Tim 3:16). In Matthew, Jesus frankly confesses that he did not come to abolish (or “destroy” [KJV]) the law, but to fulfill it. Here fulfillment does not seem to mean setting it aside, or else it could easily be confused with “abolish.” Rather, even Jesus’ own practice (according to Matthew) was to affirm the commandments of the Torah (e.g., Matt 23:36-37). In a useful study by Brian Rosner, the argument is persuasively made that the Apostle Paul drew regularly from his scriptural traditions and heritage to make ethical arguments, for example in 1 Corinthians.25 This means that the early Christians did not feel bound to the Mosaic Law by covenant but relied on the Old Testament scriptural testimony as a more general guide for life, looking back on the moral lessons of the history of Israel (see, e.g., 1 Cor 10:1-22) and entering into a heritage of worship with a past and a future.26 Also, they invested time in learning from the Old Testament because it revealed the nature and character of God, as well as God’s hopes and expectations for the people. Brevard Childs put it this way: “To know God is to know his will . . . . Knowledge of his person and will are identical, and both are grounded in self-revelation.”27

107

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 108

108

Colossians 2:4-23

While the early Christians did not turn to the Old Testament as a constitutive national law, they read or heard it often in order to know their God better and catch glimpses of God’s ways so that they could learn to follow the Lord in their (new) covenantal context. Thus, the early Christians paid attention to stories as moral lessons. Second, they studied the Torah to understand God’s character so as to follow God and become like God. A third point we can add to that is that the early Christians could better understand themselves by understanding the creation story and the “fall” of the first family, Adam and Eve (e.g., Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22, 45; 2 Cor 11:3). Finally, the early Christians (and Jesus) paid attention not only to Adam and Eve but also to a host of Israelite figures, events (like the exodus), rituals, objects, and places that typologically helped them make sense of the appearance of Christ and the events taking place in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4).28 It would be considered rather remarkable and astonishing to early Christians like the Apostle Paul that modern western Christians tend to shy away from teaching, studying, and preaching from the Old Testament. Because of the influence of a reading of Paul that associates the Old Testament with legalism and meritorious works, there is a sense that the Old Testament is irrelevant—a Plan “A” that failed and gave way to a better Plan “B” (i.e., Israel versus Jesus/church, or law versus grace). However, we must carefully set apart the covenantally binding aspects of Torah with its demands that have been nailed to the cross from the ongoing revelatory wisdom of the very scriptural texts that inspired and trained people like Jesus and Paul in the ways of obedience to and worship of Yahweh.29 Elemental Spirits and Fear, 2:15-19

Our interpretation of the stoicheia tou kosmou points in the direction of viewing these as “beings”—“elemental spirits of the world.” Colossians addresses a concern probably pervasive in the GrecoRoman world that evil spirits were forces to fear.30 Today, when we read the Bible after the Enlightenment, there is a tendency to dismiss the cosmology depicted in Scripture, as if the language of “spirits” is nothing more than a cipher for human power structures. Rudolf Bultmann made a major impact in the wider project of

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 109

Colossians 2:4-23

“demythologizing” Paul’s apocalyptic, cosmic language. For Bultmann, the point of Paul’s language of powers and spirits is primarily to say something existentially about the human person. In response to this, J. C. Beker argued against Bultmann that when you try to bend the spiritual and cosmic language to make it into something else, you rob Paul’s gospel of the world-shattering power it contains: “The language of apocalyptic myth is more than an existential projection of man’s plight because it concerns the reality of the cosmic victory of the creator over his created world.”31 What Beker was getting at is that taking the cosmic powers seriously allows us to see just how comprehensive and remarkable was the victory of God in Christ. When we try to sweep away these mighty forces, we choose to ignore a major implication of the effect of the gospel. When it comes to matters relating to spirits, demons, and cosmic forces, the popular response within my own cultural context (North America) is that the existence of such invisible entities is nonsensical because it is not observable. Living in the global community that we do today, however, we cannot help recognizing the many stories that come from other parts of the world where spiritual and supernatural forces seem to be more “clear and present.”32 Nigerian scholar Edwin Ahirika explained how, though the African worldview resembles Paul’s closely, American missionaries influenced by the Western Enlightenment taught them that their own views about evil spirits and supernatural powers were nothing more than “cultural clichés.” Ahirika found it incredible that so-called “biblical” missionaries would be so quick to deconstruct the perspective of both Paul and Africans in general on these matters. Given the relevance of Paul’s teaching, especially in Ephesians and Colossians, on the question of facing spiritual opposition with confidence and hope in Christ, Ahirika boldly states, “Any theologian on African soil, who differs from Paul’s world view which is similar to that of Africans, is leaving African Christians in doubt and half baked in faith.”33 While we can easily concede the point that a global perspective opens up the possibility of recognizing the existence and power of spiritual forces in the world, we are still left with the question of how such powers affect our lives. N. T. Wright sharply turns the tables on Westerners who scoff at the language of “powers” as if such thinking did not affect them as well.

109

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 110

110

Colossians 2:4-23 Who runs our world? The politicians? Forget it. They profess themselves helpless; they are the victims of “forces” beyond their control. The try to take credit when things go well, but when things go badly the truth comes out. It’s all a matter of economic forces. Forces? I see no forces. But they must be pretty powerful . . . . That’s the language we use. We can’t touch and see these forces . . . . Force; power; climate; entities bigger than the sum total of the human beings involved . . . . The only significant difference between us and our pagan ancestors appears to be that they recognized the situation and gave the forces vivid names, while we hide behind the grey obscurity of vague words . . . .34

It is important to note that Wright is not encouraging believers to directly attribute difficult circumstances only to evil spirits or powers. [C. S. Lewis on a Healthy Belief in Spirits] The reality seems to be that, whether conscious of it or not, human agents can be influenced by or in league with otherworldly powers that seek to do damage to this world and its people. Paul, while taking this situation seriously, does not call believers to sit back and do nothing (“let go and let God”), nor does he encourage the explicit demonizing of human institutions or physical violence against them (such C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (rev. ed.; as bombing abortion clinics). Rather, in 2 Corinthians, for New York: Collier, 1982) 3. example, Paul explains that believers, while being mortal and living in a human world, do not fight in “fleshly” ways (10:4). He is not saying this because believers are weak, but because “fleshly” weapons (knives and swords in his time, guns and bombs in our time) are not strong enough! If believers really want to destroy the important enemy fortresses, Paul argues, we need to use the tools God fortifies—especially the wisdom of the gospel that shatters weak human shields of ignorance (10:4-18). It simply will not do to fight bigger powers with bigger human weapons. When Paul uses another military metaphor in 1 Thessalonians 5, he refers to the breastplate of “faith and love” and the “helmet” of hope. The most potent weapons against demonic forces are not holy water, mantic prayers, or simply pretending the forces do not exist. According to Paul, evil is conquered when the people of God hope in the truly apocalyptic work of Christ in such a way that they shine forth love to each other and the world at large (1 Thess 5:8-9). C. S. Lewis on a Healthy Belief in Spirits “There are two equal and opposing errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 111

Colossians 2:4-23 Sacraments, Holy Days, and Rituals: Good or Bad?, 2:21-22

When looking at Paul’s critiques of the program of the transcendentascetic philosophy in Colossians 2, it might seem that he is castigating legalism and rituals as a whole. He tells the Colossians that they should not be condemned for their (non-) observance of holy days and festivals (2:16). He calls such regulations a “shadow” (2:17) compared to Christ. He scoffs at the prohibitions of the philosophy regarding handling and tasting (2:21). Finally, he claims that these regulations will fall away as nothing more than human commands (2:22)! This raises the important question—is Paul against rituals? There has been a long tradition in Christian scholarship of seeing Paul as the Christian evangelist who countered the ritualistic, legalistic religion of the Judaism of his time. Daniel Boyarin sums up this perspective aptly: According to this [pre-World War II Pauline] interpretation, Paul became violently disillusioned with “Judaism” because of its commitment to “works-righteousness.” These accounts of Paul (which also presented themselves as true statements about Judaism!), presented the Law as leading both to a sense of inadequacy, because of its alleged requirement that it be kept in its entirety for salvation, and also to self-righteousness and boasting before Man and God. Furthermore, such a religion was arid and devoid of spiritual feeling. In its commitment to outer ritual (and ethical) action and not inner spiritual feeling, it produced a dry, spiritually deadly legalistic mentality. It was against this decadent and empty religion that Paul revolted. From the very beginning of any kind of scholarly dialogue, Jewish scholars had protested that this view of Judaism simply was not a fair representation of their religion . . . . Judaism had always been inhabited by a profound spirituality experienced both through performance of the commandments and also in such experiences as prayer.35

Most Pauline scholars today would concede that the older view of an arid, legalistic Judaism is a gross generalization. The question remains, however, was Paul against ritual? M∑ genoito (may it not be), as Paul would say! While he certainly did have some serious concerns with the behavior and attitudes recommended by the transcendent-ascetic philosophy, we dare not throw out “ritual” altogether. Put another way, Paul viewed rituals much like we

111

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 112

112

Colossians 2:4-23

might think about a knife. The knife of the criminal is dangerous, but the knife of the surgeon is healing. Knives can be used wrongly, but at the end of the day we still need knives! In a book on the traditional Christian discipline of fasting, Scot McKnight offers a mature discussion of the Enlightenment concern for the life of the mind as ultimate value. In the wake of Reformational concerns with legalistic forms of religion and a “sola fide” reading of Paul, McKnight baldly states, “Christianity has perennially had a problem with the human body.”36 The body has been cut off from the idea of “spirituality.” Body and soul are often viewed separately and even as enemies. McKnight refers to the “neo-Gnostics” of our day, those believers who see the body only as a shell for the soul. The body is either to be ignored or rejected. McKnight has found, though, that there is a renewed interest in “embodied spirituality” in recent years. This can be seen in the reemergence of pew kneelers, candle lighting, and raising hands in church during worship. The removal of the body from the equation of worship and faith has left a gaping hole that is finally leading to a hunger for reconstitution. Susan White, in her research on the intersection of the study of Christian spirituality and ritual studies, notes that there may be a kind of “knowledge” that is not complete until it involves the body: “Is there a ‘body-knowledge’? Many contemporary scholars of ritual . . . have been trying to understand how the lived experience of the body can absorb and encode a logic that is beyond the level of consciousness or articulation.”37 Similarly, Scot McKnight refers to tangible, ritual acts of worship (like fasting) as “body-talk”—having a fully formed style and mode of spirituality that involves both body and mind/soul. Some scholars have tied ritual action not just to simple, short forms of bodily reaction but also to shaping a particular worldview. Religious rituals have a tendency to repeat a story. That story is part of a symbolic universe. It is not just one man or woman performing a brief action that is forgotten a moment later (though that sometimes happens!). It is a group of people who live out the same story that endeavor to sustain that worldview through shared experience. David G. Horrell urges that the shared story is “enacted in ritual” and is “an identity- and community-forming narrative which shapes both the world-view (the “is”) and the ethos (the “ought”) of its adherents.”38

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 113

Colossians 2:4-23

Mark Galli, thinking along similar lines as Horrell, argues that worldview is essential to understanding how rituals work and what gives them meaning and power. So many churches try to scrub worship services of anything ancient or religious so as to seem more “relevant” to young people. Galli finds the search for “relevance” that leads to a denigration of tradition and ritual to be a dead end. In an article where he affirms the relevance and importance of Christian liturgy, he explains how particular rituals “take people out of their worlds and usher them into a strange, new world—to show them that, despite appearances, the last thing in the world they need is more of the world out of which they’ve come. The world the liturgy reveals does not seem relevant at first glance, but it turns out that the world it reveals is more real than the one we inhabit day by day.”39 Rituals do not pollute true faith but actually reinforce it and invigorate it when done with meaning, understanding, and in a strong community of mutual support. That still leaves the question, what about Paul? How did he feel about ritual? Wayne Meeks, in his watershed study on the social world of Paul and the organization of his early churches, has a chapter on Paul and ritual. Meeks comments on the two major rituals that he taught his believing communities: baptism (“ritual of initiation”) and the Lord’s Supper (“ritual of solidarity”). These two rituals had an important place in Paul’s theology and instruction, but Meeks identifies a number of other rituals supported by the apostle, including the obvious act of “coming together” (regular meetings). He argues, in addition, that the evidence of Paul’s letters suggests that even for the earliest believing communities, there was a consistent cluster of practices associated with these meetings, including teaching, admonition, prayer, thanksgiving, prophesying, the holy kiss, and perhaps also the inclusion of “ecstatic” demonstrations.40 To read Colossians 2:16-23, then, as Paul’s repudiation of the spiritual significance of ritual behavior would be a seriously problematic conclusion based on how much he supports and regulates rituals elsewhere. Indeed, while he had many critical concerns with the Jewish rite of circumcision, he could refer to both circumcision and uncircumcision as nothing! What we should learn from this is that Paul was not upset with works or rituals per se, but with the assumption that certain rituals came with certain privileges. What

113

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 114

114

Colossians 2:4-23

is the meaning behind the ritual? Does it affirm the proper worldview? Does it point to Christ? If Paul saw a church service where believers sat quietly and heard music, observed a preacher give a sermon, and went home without much interaction or participation, I think he would be shocked and appalled. If churches consciously avoided rituals even in part because of what they perceived Paul to be communicating or implying, Paul would be deeply offended, I have no doubt! Each of us tells a story with our bodies as well as our mouths. It is worth investing time thinking about what “body talk” we are communicating and how to get our minds and bodies on the same page. The ancient church had a deep interest in using rituals to proclaim and reinforce the gospel. We might learn something useful from them. Opiate for the Masses or Real Transformation?, 2:23

Have you ever thought about the question, what is Christianity? It is a “religion,” of course, but what do we mean when we say that? I think that many people would associate religion with a set of ideas about God. Certainly Christianity has its own unique approach to the subject of God. But is there more to it? Is Christianity more than just a particular collection of doctrinal points to believe? This relates to the question of why Paul refers to the problematic teaching in Colossae as a “philosophy (philosophia)” (2:8).41 How is a philosophy different from a religion? Was Paul criticizing the teaching by calling it a “philosophy”? Or was philosophia a neutral term? Was Paul proposing his own philosophia? My own understanding of this issue is that Paul was not using the term philosophia pejoratively per se, but he was setting the terms of the discussion in a particular way by using philosophia (which may have been the troublemakers’ self-description) so as to expose the transcendent-ascetic philosophy as a fraud. In the ancient GrecoRoman world, a philosophy was not just “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, and the basis and limits of human understanding” (OED). Certainly good philosophies had their own views on these matters, but philosophy was not just a topic of conversation about “what is” and “what is not.” The above definition from the Oxford English Dictionary is actually a meaning based on a modern use of the word. Another meaning offered by the OED is a more traditional one, where “phi-

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 115

Colossians 2:4-23

115

losophy” refers to “the branch of knowledge that deals with the principles of human behavior; the study of morality; ethics . . . virtuous living.” From this perspective, which could stand as one good meaning of the Greek word philosophia, it refers to a way of life, not just a set of ideas. [Philosophy as a Way of Life] In that sense, no wonder the subject of philosophy was a topic of interest to more than just scholars in the Greco-Roman world! Everyone was looking for a philosophia, and there were many of them being pitched and peddled. Was Christianity viewed as a philosophia as well? Certainly by the middle of the second century the early Christians did see it as a philosophia. Bishop Melito (Sardis, Asia Minor) and Justin Martyr both used this language to describe Christianity. This would almost certainly have been true for the earliest Philosophy as a Way of Life Christians as well, since we know that Jews The philosophical schools of the early around Paul’s time used philosophia in self-repreRoman Empire “spoke about fear and sentative ways (see 4 Macc 5.22; Aristob. 3.1; friendship, about courage and peace of mind, about anxiety, love, freedom, about old age and Ps.-Hec. 2.1; Josephus, Ant. 18.11). They did so death, about wealth and fame.” not only to fight for a voice in philosophical disR. L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New cussions but also because this term philosophia Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1984) 81. was fitting for religious life since the life of the gods deeply affected the daily life of mortals. To them, “religion” was not a set of beliefs about God and eternal life; it was a way of life. In particular, for any good philosophy, the central question was raised: does this way of life help to fight against the passions of the flesh? Thus, according to the Jew Eleazar in his speech to Antiochus, “You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational, but it teaches us self-control, so that we master all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage, so that we endure any suffering willingly” (4 Macc 5.22). And, again, the Jewish perspective within the Letter to Aristeas is that philosophy means “to deliberate well in reference to any question that emerges . . . and never to be carried away by impulses, but to ponder over the injuries that result from the passions . . .” (256). Given that religious “philosophies” expected one’s own lifestyle to somehow deal with the problem of lust and uncontrolled passions, we see Paul’s mockery of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy rather clearly in Colossians 2:23: “These [strict and prohibitive regulations] indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 116

116

Colossians 2:4-23

they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” Essentially, Paul gives them a failing grade as philosophies! This raises the broader question for the church today. Is Christianity merely a religious label for a cluster of doctrines that are to be believed in order to gain “salvation” (which typically refers to deliverance from eternal damnation)? Or does it have a real stake to claim as a moral philosophy right here and right now? Would Paul have been willing to take the temperature of his own Christcentered “philosophy” and expect this lifestyle to be able to counteract the evil desires of the fleshly nature? The evidence from his letters suggests precisely that! He exhorts the Roman believers in this way: [Y]ou know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom 13:11-14, emphasis added)

He makes a similar appeal at the end of Galatians: Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. . . . [T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:16-17, 24)

So when did Christianity lose this philosophical emphasis on moral formation? This is a complex and difficult question to answer, but ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has written a helpful essay on the birth of the discipline of Christian ethics. Pertaining to our question, he writes, “For ancients, pagan and Christian, to be schooled in philosophy or theology meant to submit one’s life to a master in order to gain the virtues necessary to be a philosopher or a Christian. Ethics, in such a context, was not some ‘aspect’ of life, but rather inclusive of all that constituted a person’s life.”42

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 117

Colossians 2:4-23

While Hauerwas notes a few points where Christian behavior became a specific and discrete topic of interest, he notes that Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica contained a section on moral matters that “was abstracted from its context in the Summa and used as if it stood on its own.” Hauerwas also observes how the Reformation debates over “faith” and “works” forced “ethics” to choose one side, and it became associated with “works” and thus problematic as a means of salvation. Theologian Hans Boersma likewise has expressed concern with the bifurcation of “theology” (Christian belief ) and “ethics” (Christian life). Looking at definitions of “theology” as a subject, he finds it problematic to treat it as a discipline like any other field of knowledge (jurisprudence, medicine, mathematics). Boersma supports another kind of definition of “the disciple of theology” that views it as “instruction having for its aim to form the pupil to proper conduct and action; the training of scholars or subordinates to proper and orderly action by instructing and exercising them in the same; mental and moral training.”43 Seen from this perspective, argues Boersma, “theology as academic instruction leads to theology as moral practice; truth serves goodness; teaching gives life; knowledge implies initiation. Theology fulfills its task as an academic discipline faithfully only if it leads to initiation and thus to Christian virtue.”44 What Boersma urges for is not very different from what Paul implies about faith in Jesus in Colossians—if it doesn’t affect how you live and doesn’t “redeem” you morally as well as forensically, it is not really worth investing in. Ultimately, for Paul, Christians must be able to stake the claim that life “in Christ” is really transformative. Christianity is not just opiate for the masses—a crutch for the weak. No doubt Christianity stands for the weak! But Paul boldly called the transcendent-ascetic philosophy a crutch, and he proclaimed new life in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ precisely to be a whole new life—a life dead to sin. The dividing line is drawn: “in Christ” you are no longer trapped in a life of evil deeds (1:21). The circumcision of Christ has excised the corrupting flesh of the sinful nature (2:11). You can confidently set aside passions and greed because you have let go of the “old man” Adam (3:5). Paul does not buy into a “woe-is-me” form of faith that marvels in God’s grace while wallowing in the inevitability of sinful weak-

117

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 118

118

Colossians 2:4-23

ness. He would have no fitting response to the transcendent-ascetic philosophy if this were true. Rather, “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14).

Notes 1. James D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon (NIGTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996) 134. 2. In 2 Cor 12:2-3, when Paul refers to the possibility of having an “out-of-body” experience, he uses the word søma, whereas in Colossians we find sarx. Even in Colossians, however, we cannot neatly separate these two words, since he appears to use them with an overlap of meaning even in Col 1:22: en tø sømati t∑s sarkos autou, “in the body of his flesh.” 3. In Colossians, it is not the Spirit that is the focus, but Christ himself. The two statements are essentially the same, however, as the Spirit is none other than the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9). 4. Barth and Blanke find the translation “philosophy” for philosophia to be misleading because what Paul refers to is not coterminous with what we call a “philosophy” today. Thus, Barth and Blanke prefer to translate philosophia here as a “religion” that Paul is opposing, especially because it is so bound up with dedication to cultic laws. Barth and Blanke’s concerns notwithstanding, I think it best to keep in mind the ancient meaning of “philosophy” and retain the word rather than substitute the word “religion” for the simple reason that the ancient conception of philosophia had a strong moral component and expectation (i.e., controlling the passions) that is central to Paul’s concerns and the nature of his debate with the troublemakers. See M. Barth amd H. Blanke, Colossians (AB34B; New York: Doubleday, 1994) 308–309; also 21–23. 5. L&N, thus, defines Paul’s use of philosophia in this way: “human understanding or wisdom and, by implication, in contrast with divinely revealed knowledge” (32.38). 6. See introduction, “Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy at Colossae,” beginning on p. 15. 7. For how this might have been conceived within certain schools of thought in early Judaism, see E. J. Christiansen, The Covenant in Judaism and Paul (AGAJU 27; New York: Brill, 1995) 98–101. Using the example of Jubilees, Christiansen notes that this text expresses circumcision as a symbol of God’s presence and power. This is so important for the author of Jubilees that it must be the case that angels themselves are born circumcised, as true perfection must be marked by circumcision (Jub 15.27). 8. While it is unclear to which “body of flesh” Paul is referring (whether Christ’s own or that of the Colossians), scholars like O’Brien who are more persuaded it is Christ’s seem to have the stronger argument. The vulgar language of stripping off flesh fits rather well with the repulsive torture and shame associated with execution by crucifixion. In that case, this metaphorical language was chosen by Paul “to underscore the point that Christ’s death was a violent and gruesome one, and to say no more than this.” See P. T. O’Brien, Colossians (WBC; Waco TX: Word, 1982) 117.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 119

Colossians 2:4-23 9. For a helpful discussion of this “role” of the Torah in Paul’s thought, see R. B. Hays, “Three Dramatic Roles: The Law in Romans 3-4,” in Paul and the Mosaic Law (ed. J. D. G. Dunn; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2001) 151–64. 10. Allan Bevere makes a sound case for this cheirographon being a reference to the Torah and finds support in a similar conceptual analogy in Eph 2:15. See his essay, “The Cheirograph in Colossians 2:14 and the Ephesian Connection,” in Jesus and Paul: Global Perspectives in Honor of James D.G. Dunn (ed. B. J. Oropeza, C. K. Robertson, and D. C. Mohrmann; London: T & T Clark, 2009) 199–206. 11. See A. Brown, The Cross and Human Transformation: Paul’s Apocalyptic Word in 1 Corinthians (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, Press, 1995); R. Pickett, The Cross in Corinth: The Social Significance of the Death of Jesus (JSNTSup 143; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997); W. Shi, Paul’s Message of the Cross as Body Language (WUNT II 254; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). 12. See L&N 49.18: “it may refer to the stripping away of weapons and hence the removal of authority and power.” 13. See W. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (2d ed.; New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2003) 140–63. 14. While the meaning of the verb thelø has a broad range (to intend, have an opinion, desire, enjoy; see L&N 3100), in 2:23 we find the use of the term ethelothr∑skia, an interesting combination of (e)thel* and thr∑skia (see 2:18), meaning “a set of religious beliefs and practices resulting from one’s own desires and initiative,” so “self-imposed religion” (L&N 53.12); BDAG —“do-it-yourself religion” (2222). 15. So, L&N, “appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers” (53.1). This is properly reinforced by Luke Timothy Johnson’s gloss of thr∑skia as “distinct ways of being religious.” This is different than the general nature of “devotion” that comes to mind when we hear the word “worship.” See L. T. Johnson, Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1999) 44–49. 16. See, for further discussion of the perspective of angels as “humble,” the discussion in C. Rowland, “The Letter to the Colossians: Christ the Bodily Form of God,” in The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (ed. C. Rowland and C. R. A. Morray-Jones; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 156–66. 17. On the stoicheia tou kosmou, see [Ta Stoicheia Tou Kosmou]. 18. Moreover, Paul may be alluding here to the ascetic philosophy’s excessive posture of self-denial. For example, in the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve are prohibited from eating of the forbidden tree, Eve adds the extra command (not explicitly given by God according to the Genesis text) that they were not even to touch it (LXX: haptø, as in Col 2:21). 19. David Garland makes this point about 1 Cor 9:27: “Discipline for discipline’s sake . . . does not drive him. He buffets his body and makes it his slave to heighten his capacity to deny himself to serve others”; see 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2003) 443. 20. D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison (London: SCM, 1972) 480. 21. Ibid., 480. 22. See N. K. Gupta, “The Torah Like a Spare Tire,” Bible Study Magazine (2010).

119

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 120

120

Colossians 2:4-23 23. See R. B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000) 11:181–348, at 345; see also Hays’s “Three Dramatic Roles: The Law in Romans 3-4,” 151–64. 24. To say that Paul did not require obedience to the Torah for believers in Christ is not the same thing as saying that he was against rule-obedience, discipline, or ritual. See below on “Sacraments, Holy Days, and Ritual” for more discussion. 25. B. S. Rosner, Paul, Scripture, and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5–7 (Leiden: Brill, 1994); another helpful discussion of this matter is found in P. Oakes, “Law and Theology in Galatians,” in Torah in the New Testament (ed. P. Oakes and M. Tait; London: T & T Clark, 2009) 143–53. 26. See my own argument for how Paul had Ps 78 in mind as he gave counsel in 2 Thess 3:5; see “An Apocalyptic Reading of Psalm 78 in 2 Thessalonians 3,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31/2 (2008): 179–94. 27. B. S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 1986) 51. 28. R. T. France defines typology thus: “the recognition of a correspondence between New and Old Testament events, based on a conviction of the unchanging character of the principles of God’s working, and a consequent understanding and description of the New Testament event in terms of the Old Testament model. The idea of fulfillment inherent in New Testament typology derives not from a belief that the events so understood were explicitly predicted, but from the conviction that in the coming and work of Jesus the principles of God’s working, already imperfectly embodied in the Old Testament, were more perfectly re-embodied, and thus brought to completion” (Jesus and the Old Testament [Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1998] 40). 29. For a mature and cogent argument for the ongoing relevance of the Old Testament testimony for the church, see E. Achtemeier, Preaching from the Old Testament (Louisville KY: WJK, 1989). Note, especially, the second chapter, “Why the Old Testament Is Necessary for the Church” (pp. 21–26). 30. For a window into ancient attitudes toward magic, superstition, and sorcery in the Greco-Roman world, see M. Dickie, Magic and Magicians (London: Routledge, 2001). 31. J. C. Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1980) 141. 32. Two recent books that listen closely to testimony regarding spiritual forces from the majority world are D. deSilva, Global Readings: A Sri Lankan Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011); C. S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2011). 33. E. Ahirika, “Contextualization of Ephesians 6:12: Liberation of African Christians from the Fear of Principalities: Spiritual Forces of Evil in the Heavenly Realms,” Sevartham 25 (2000): 59–76, at 74. 34. N. T. Wright, Following Jesus (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1994) 15–16. 35. D. Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley and Los Angeles CA: University of California Press, 1994) 41. 36. S. McKnight, Fasting: The Ancient Practices (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009) 1.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 121

Colossians 2:4-23 37. S. White, “Ritual Studies,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality (ed. A. Holder; West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) 387–400, at 396. 38. D. G. Horrell, Solidarity and Difference: A Contemporary Reading of Paul’s Ethics (London: Continuum, 2005) 97–98. 39. Mark Galli, “A Deeper Relevance: Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Strange Thing Called Liturgy,” Christianity Today 52/5 (May 2008). Online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/may/36.38.html. 40. See Meeks, The First Urban Christians, 140–63. 41. See pp. 90–91 for further discussion of philosophia. 42. S. Hauerwas, “How ‘Christian Ethics’ Came to Be,” in The Hauerwas Reader (ed. J. Berkman and M. Cartwright; Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2001) 37–38. 43. H. Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2011) 173. 44. Ibid.

121

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 122

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 123

New Life in Christ: The Quality of New Life in Christ Colossians 3:1-17 Colossians 2:4-23 included a denouncement of the transcendentascetic philosophy and the delineation of its potentially devastating social effects. The beginning of chapter 3 clearly marks a transition from a discussion of the problematic philosophy to the life of the Colossians in view of Christ.What does it mean practically for Christ to be the center of their new life, especially as a community? How is life given a new quality and orientation when believers have set aside their old ways of life? Paul is particularly interested in driving home the “real-life” implications of being “in Christ” (Col 1:2, 4, 28). It is somewhat axiomatic for Pauline scholars to claim that the apostle’s tendency is to first discuss “theology” in a letter and then move on to “ethics” or “advice.” Some would even say that is what we find in Colossians—Paul teaches doctrine in chapters 1 and 2 and moves on to exhortation or ethics in chapter 3. While we can see a particular transition in the flow of his argument, James Dunn makes this critical caveat: Paul never spoke other than as a pastor. His theology was a living theology, a practical theology through and through. The application is inherent in the exposition itself . . . . [W]e can hardly avoid noting that all of Paul’s letters were motivated by ethical concerns. And some were almost entirely taken up with the issue of how his converts should conduct themselves (1 Corinthians being the most obvious example).1

What Dunn is getting at is that, if we are interested in Paul’s moral advice, it simply won’t do to hunt for particular “sections” of Paul’s letters. The so-called “theology” bits are more than simply the foundations on which the so-called “ethical” bits are set. He does not write to teach two separate subjects—Christian doctrine and Christian morality. Any and every Pauline letter is crafted in such a way as to construct a vision of the Christian identity, and it is from

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 124

124

Colossians 3:1-17

Studying Paul’s Ethics The study of Paul’s ethics and moral reasoning is a rather new field of study, having just drawn the interest of scholars in the last sixty years or so. There are many reasons for this unfortunate neglect in New Testament scholarship, but one factor is certainly the tenaciously prevalent assumptions among Christians that Paul prized “faith” and criticized “works.” It is finally becoming clear in the study of Paul that the apostle certainly did not deny the value or importance of works and, in fact, had high moral expectations for the churches for which he was responsible. This is made rather clear in Romans, where he admits to writing “boldly” to them because he has a mission to ensure that they are living in a holy and righteous manner (Rom 15:15-16). Indeed, in Colossians Paul commands the readers to purge their lives of unholy vices, and he even mentions God’s forthcoming wrathful judgment on the wicked as a warning (Col 3:2-7). Now, this does not mean that Paul taught that the Colossians would be saved by “works.” It does appear to mean, however, that how a Christian lives is actually very important to God, and true “faith” can and must involve repentance and transformation of the person morally. For further study of Paul’s ethics, see V. P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (Louisville KY: WJK, 2009); N. K. Gupta, “The Theo-Logic of Paul’s Ethics in Recent Research: Crosscurrents and Future Directions in Scholarship in the Last Forty Years,” CBR 7 (2009): 336–61; R. B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (San Francisco CA: Harper, 1996).

this identity that new life habits flow. Certainly Paul gave direct commands (e.g., Col 3:13), but he knew quite well that for behavior to change, the thoughtworld must be addressed. Old ways of thinking must be purged and a new imagination must be born that orients the person “in Christ” toward a walk worthy of the Lord (Col 1:10). [Studying Paul’s Ethics]

The above caveat regarding the construction of Paul’s letters notwithstanding, in the third chapter of Colossians the apostle does appear to be concentrating in a sustained way on the implications of new life in Christ. Here Paul picks up again and significantly expands on the themes about which he wrote in 2:6-7: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” What does it look like to “live life” in Christ? While he employs construction metaphors in 2:6-7 (“built up,” “established”), 3:1-17 carries more of a somatic flavor, referring to new life of the body and also the intentional putting to death of the old ways of life in the body. Thus, Paul also appears to be protracting his discussion of life and death that appeared in 2:12-13: “. . . you were buried with him in baptism, [and] you were raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses . . . .” Paul is arguing that, while the “death” they have experienced “in Christ” is not biological, it is very real. It means something. It has effects. It demands transformation. The death and burial of the believer pronounces a kind of termination to something from before. The new life bursts forth from the grave of condemned tres-

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 125

Colossians 3:1-17

passes, and this bursting forth must be directed and nurtured. Paul’s counsel in 3:1-17 is canonically reminiscent of Jesus’ statement in Luke 9:62: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” If we borrow Jesus’ analogy, Paul is saying that the Colossians had been constantly looking back and all around in dread and anxiety due to the fear of spiritual victimization. In Colossians 2:4-23, Paul dealt with each angle of potential distress, and in 3:1-17 he sets out to direct their eyes forward toward Christ alone. This passage could be broken down thematically in the following way: Pursuing True Heavenly Life in Christ, 3:1-4 Destroying and Setting Aside Earthly Ways, 3:5-11 Cardinal Virtues of New Life in Christ: Love, Peace, and Thanksgiving, 3:12-17

COMMENTARY Pursuing True Heavenly Life in Christ, 3:1-4

Paul begins the third chapter of his letter with an appeal to the status of the Colossian believers—there are serious implications if they have been raised with Christ. Paul’s emphasis here is not simply on being raised but particularly on being raised with Christ (not just after him or by him). By “receiving him” (2:6), they have somehow shared in his death and burial, and they benefit from his new life. By being “relocated” in Christ, the Colossians are hidden and protected from evil, and they are also invested with the power of Christ’s resurrection life. Paul is underscoring the factuality of this theological reality. [The Posture of Christ in Heaven: Seated or Standing?] And Christ did not rise from the realm of the dead simply to live a revived normal human life on earth. As Paul explains in 3:2, he rose to sit at the right hand of God, presumably in heaven. It is interesting to note, though, that Paul does not mention heaven at all in chapter 3, though he does so frequently in chapter 1 (1:5, 16, 20, 23). Rather, in chapter 3 he appeals to basic spatial orientation regarding what is “above” (anø) and what is “on the earth” (epi t∑s g∑s) (see 1:2). He uses this kind of vertical circumlocution for

125

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 126

126

Colossians 3:1-17

The Posture of Christ in Heaven: Seated or Standing? As Colossians attests, the New Testament writers often assume that Christ is seated in heaven at the right hand of God (Matt 26:64; Mark 14:62; 16:19; Luke 22:69; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Luke comments, however, that Stephen, filled with the Spirit, looked up into heaven as he breathed his last few breaths and saw “the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55; cf. 7:56). So is Jesus sitting or standing in heaven? In a way, it is a bit of a trivial question, since Luke would not have considered himself making a firm statement about Jesus’ celestial posture. It is interesting,though, to ponder the rhetorical and theological value of what it means for Christ to sit or stand. Probably those texts that refer to Christ as seated draw from the language in Ps 110 (“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool”; 110:1), which refers to the unchallenged victory of God’s anointed one whom God establishes. Craig Evans raises the possibility that there is something politically subversive about this language as well, noting that in AD 55 an imperial coin was struck in Rome that depicted “divine” Claudius seated at the right hand of Augustus. How scandalous it would be for Christians to use this same kind of royal imagery for the crucified Jewish Christ! We could add to this the repeated note in Hebrews that Christ’s sitting down is a testament to his completed work “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (10:12). What would it mean, alternatively, for Stephen to see a standing Christ? Luke Timothy Johnson cautiously speculates that it could reflect his ongoing heavenly work of intercession and advocacy or judgment, or perhaps since Stephen is on his way to heaven it is a posture of acceptance or hospitality (cf. Luke 21:36). If it is advocacy, this could be parallel to Paul’s statement in Romans 8:34 that Christ is “at the right hand of God” and “intercedes for us.”

Jean Bellegambe (c.1470–c.1534). Trinity. Central panel of the Anchin polytych. Musee de la Chartreuse, Douai, France. (Credit: Scala/White Images/Art Resource, NY)

See C. A. Evans, “Images of Christ in the Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels,” in Images of Christ: Ancient and Modern (ed. S.E. Porter et al.; RILP 2; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997) 34–72, at 46; L. T. Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles (SP 5; Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 1992) 139.

heaven on other occasions, as in the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26; cf. 4 Baruch 5.35) and the “above” calling of God (Phil 3:14). Based on this new status of being raised with the Lord Christ of heaven, Paul commands the Colossians to, literally, “seek after the things above.” Given that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy obsessed precisely over chasing after heavenly things, one might find Paul’s advice convoluted at best and self-defeating at worst. What exactly does he gain by writing in this way? Andrew Lincoln explains Paul’s rhetorical purposes: It might appear precarious to tell his readers to concentrate on the things above, when it was the excessive concern of the proponents of the philosophy with such matters that prompted the letter in the first place. He by no means completely disparages his readers’ concern with the heavenly realm. Instead, he attempts to redirect it. In the process it emerges that two antithetical positions about participation in the heavenly realms are in confrontation. The philosophy’s advo-

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 127

Colossians 3:1-17 cates take the earthly situation as their starting point, from which by their own efforts and techniques they will move beyond the body, gain visionary experience, and ascend into the heavenly spheres. The writer [of Colossians] moves in the reverse direction, seeing the starting point and source of the believer’s life in the resurrected Christ in heaven. From where it works itself out in earthly life and from where it will eventually be publicly revealed.2

F. F. Bruce adds that Paul is trying to trump the philosophy by pushing the Colossians to move higher than the principalities and powers that dominate the earth. They must go all the way up to Christ: “Don’t look at life and the universe from the standpoint of these lower planes; look at them from Christ’s exalted standpoint. Judge everything by the standards of that new creation to which you now belong, not by those of the old order to which you have said a final farewell.”3 In 3:1b, Paul uses the verb z∑teø, which basically means “seek,” as when someone searches to find a particular person or object (see, e.g., 2 Tim 1:17). When it is applied in the context of “seeking” things that are above, it carries more the sense of having a particular desire (cf. 1 Cor 1:22; Rev 9:6). We can find a helpful correlative use of this verb in Philippians 2:21, where Paul laments that far too many would-be servants of the gospel “seek after (z∑teø) their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (NASB). What is bound up with this verb, especially in places like Philippians 2:21 and Colossians 3:1b, is reference to the focus of one’s attention and interests. The fact that Paul is so insistent that the Colossians must actively pursue what is above means that there is a key dimension of the new life in Christ that is not automatic—the human will must passionately chase after it. Paul is urging them to shift their perspective, to transform their imagination. Two entailments are important here, one ideological and the other eschatological. First, the above/below dichotomy probably has to do with the two spheres of power and authority—the heavens comprise the domain of God, and the earth is the “arena of this present evil age.”4 To pursue what is above is to “orient one’s life and devotion to God rather than to the self or the world,” as Marianne Meye Thompson explains.5 There is also an eschatological component to this dichotomy, as Paul encourages his converts to live out a hidden reality from the future that they will not fully understand until the

127

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 128

128

Colossians 3:1-17

Living from the Future: Paul’s Eschatology When scholars refer to Paul’s “eschatology,” this certainly involves the “end of the world” and especially pertains to final judgment at the return of the Lord. Paul’s “eschatology,” however, entails something (from both his standpoint and ours today) that already happened—the first coming of Christ, and especially his death and resurrection, initiated a new phase of history (so 1 Cor 10:11). While believers still await a finalization of the new age of redemption, some of those “final redemption” benefits can somehow be experienced here and now by those who are “in Christ.” While, to use the parlance of Colossians, an “inheritance” is awaiting the saints, they can begin to “spend” it now, drawing from that future and heavenly resource in the present in a way not possible for those outside of Christ. N. T. Wright offers an apt analogy for this kind of eschatological benefit of living the “new life” of God’s future in the present. He describes the believer, from Paul’s perspective, as . . . like someone taking off just as dawn is breaking and flying rapidly westward, catching up with the end of the night and arriving in the new country in time to experience dawn all over again. His body and mind know it’s already daytime, while the world around him is still waiting for the dawn to break. That is the picture of the Christian, living in the new day of God’s kingdom—a kingdom launched by Jesus—while the rest of the world is still turning over in bed. Paul’s vision of Christian virtue, centered here as elsewhere on faith, hope, and love, is all about developing the habits of the daytime heart in a world still full of darkness.

kingdom comes with its complete glory.6 [Living from the Future: Paul’s Eschatology]

In a slightly different way, Paul repeats in 3:2 the substance of the previous verse: “Set your minds on things above, not the things of earth” (AT). The verb phroneø is a Pauline favorite (Rom 8:5; Phil 2:5; 3:18-19). It is a much richer term than is captured by glosses like “think about” (NET) or even “set your mind(s) on” (NASB, NIV, NRSV). Based on his own lexical research, Stephen Fowl reasons that phroneø is used by Paul in reference to a “comprehensive pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting.”7 Along similar lines, Michael J. Gorman interprets phroneø as “not a purely mental event but a perceptual skill, a way of seeing that results in a corresponding way of living.”8 And that is precisely the kind of meaning Paul intends in Colossians 3:2— shape your own manner of seeing reality based on what is above [where Christ is], not the baser, earthly perspective. [Paul and the Testament of Job on a Heavenly Mindset]

The way that Paul refers to “earthly things” is somewhat reminiscent of the argument he makes in 2 Corinthians 5:16b See After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (New York: HarperCollins, 2010) 137. about Christ himself: “even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view [lit., “according to the flesh”], we know him no longer in that way.” Paul’s phrase “according to the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 5:16b appears to approximate what he means by “earthly” in Colossians 3:2. When people look only with earthly eyes, even at Christ, they will inevitably misunderstand him. When they perceive with the lens of new creation (see 2 Cor 5:17), the heavenly perspective, their vision is illuminated and they can truly “see” Christ and the world as God intends. The word “For” (gar) that begins Colossians 3:3 signals that Paul is going to give a warrant for his advice, and he does so by stating that the Colossian believers have died and their lives have been

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 129

Colossians 3:1-17 Paul and the Testament of Job on a Heavenly Mindset The Testament of Job is an early Jewish text in the “testamentary” genre, focusing on the life of the Old Testament character Job. The book begins with an aged Job calling his children to hear his last words. The lengthy speech Job gives recounts his struggle with Satan (chs. 2–27) as well as his debates with his friends and Elihu (chs. 28–44). The final chapters (45–53) recount the distribution of his inheritance among his sons. However, his daughters issue a complaint that they have received no inheritance. Job offers to them his most precious possession: special cords that have the power to heal as well as transform the one who wears them. Beginning in chapter 48, the first daughter, Hemera, wraps herself in the cord. “And she received another heart, no longer thinking (phroneø) the thoughts of the earth (ta t∑s g∑s). She spoke in an angelic dialect, sending up a hymn to God, according to the hymnody of angels. And the hymns she uttered she permitted the Spirit to be inscribed on her garment” (48.2-3) Similarly, when the second daughter, Kassia, girded herself with a cord, her “heart altered as no longer

129

regarding worldly things (ta kosmika)” (49.1). Amatheiaskeras, the third daughter, had a similar result with Job’s special cord: she could speak in the “dialect of those who dwell in heights . . . the cherubim” (50.1-2). Given Paul’s concern that believers think about heavenly things and not earthly ones, one can see obvious similarities in language, and perhaps the mystical perspective articulated in the Testament of Job resembles the hopes and aspirations of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy. Paul probably intended to mimic the kind of language used by apocalyptic mystics interested in heavenly wisdom, but he desired to undercut their perspective by redefining what “earthly” and “heavenly” mean. These are not viewed by Paul in Col 3:1-4 as transferring one from the material realm to the spiritual realm above. It is about appropriating Jesus Christ’s heavenly wisdom to bless those on earth, not transcend the earth. What is problematic about the earth is not its physicality but the kind of “base” perspective that leads to sinful behavior—especially when elitists boast and brag about visions and end up privileging the “haves” and despising the “have-nots.”

hidden with Christ in God. One may get a sense for his concerns behind this statement by turning back to Colossians 2:20, where he had already mentioned that they died with Christ, particularly to “the elemental spirits of the world”—the stoicheia, those pernicious, trouble-making cosmic powers that formerly struck fear in their hearts. By repeating the truth of the Colossians’ death to these socalled authorities, he is, in a sense, trying to lay that problem to rest and redirect their concern toward clinging to Christ and growing into his image. Though the analogy is far from perfect, one might think about the example of being in the American government’s “witness protection program.” When a witness to a crime comes forward and agrees to testify against the accused, he or she may be in serious jeopardy, regarding potential confrontation, intimidation, and even retaliation. The government occasionally places witnesses under “protection” by hiding them. They do this physically sometimes, by moving them to a different location, but it is also a matter of changing their identity—witnesses are given a new name and all of the legal documents that go with that new identity. For their own safety, they are “hidden” and “secure” within that new identity. So, mutatis mutandis, Paul reminds the Colossians that their old life

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 130

130

Colossians 3:1-17

under the thumb of the stoicheia is over—they are dead. They have a new life and identity “in Christ,” hidden and secure. Along these lines, Clinton Arnold points to a similar concept in Psalm 27:5, “For the LORD will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.”9 There may be a second purpose behind Paul’s use of the language of hiddenness (besides the purpose of Theodoret of Cyrus: Hidden communicating safety). It may infer that their real identity Resurrection and power will inevitably go unnoticed and will be hidden “. . . with his rising all were raised. But we do from the world. The “truth” of their faith will appear to not see the outcome in reality; the be foolish to outsiders. As N. T. Wright puts it, “The old mystery of our resurrection is age . . . is not yet wound up, and until [the Colossian hidden in him.” (Commentary on believers] die their new life will be a secret truth, ‘hidden’ the Letters of St. Paul) from view.”10 [Theodoret of Cyrus: Hidden Resurrection] Having explained the hidden reality of the present, Paul encourages them in Colossians 3:4 with the hope of the Parousia, the glorious return of Christ. Other New Testament texts make reference to this event (see, e.g., Matt 24:29), Paul’s Theology of Interchange 1 Peter using the same language of It is commonly assumed by many Christians “appearing” (phaneroø): “And when the Chief that Paul’s concept of salvation is primarily focused on substitutionary atonement. That is, Shepherd appears (phaneøthentos), you will someone is saved because Christ has taken their obtain the unfading crown of glory” (5:4). place of guilt to set them free. Certainly Paul appeals There is a motif here of hiddenness (3:3) of to the idea of atonement on occasion, but there is the believer’s true identity and hope, and a another dimension of Paul’s theology of salvation that should not be missed. With “substitution,” the final vindication and unveiling that will bring sinner and Christ replace each other. Hooker notes, light to the sometimes shameful darkness of however, that there are a good many passages in suffering, oppression, slander, and disrepute Paul’s letters where the idea is not so much that believers must deal with in the world. “exchange” (one taking the place of the other) as “interchange” (both somehow intermingle and In 3:4, Paul refers to Christ as the believer’s combine). Some scholars call this “participation” or own “life” (zo∑ ), the Greek word occurring “union with Christ,” but Hooker’s language of “interover one hundred times in the New Testament change” has a certain conceptual appeal given her and frequently found in the Pauline letters. explanation of its meaning in Paul’s mind: “Christ became what we are, in order that, in him, we might Based on the perspectives of texts like Romans become what he is.” 5:10, Paul is communicating that those who This kind of idea would make good sense of Paul’s have died with Christ and have been raised up argument that Christ “is your life” (Col 3:4). It is not with him are incorporated into Christ’s own merely that Christ is the most important thing in the world (though he found that a foregone conclusion), life (see also 2 Cor 4:10-11). [Paul’s Theology of but that insofar as believers are “in Christ” (1:2), they are united with him and are destined to become like him. See M. Hooker, From Adam to Christ (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 42.

Interchange]

Paul appears to be restating in Colossians 3:3-4 (in view of the problems with the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 131

Colossians 3:1-17

stoichea) what he already communicated in Romans 8:1-2 (in view of the problems of sin and death): “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

131

Augustine on Hope “But what did he go on to say? ‘When Christ appears, your life, then you also will appear with him in glory.’ So now is the time for groaning, then it will be for rejoicing; now for desiring, then for embracing. What we desire now is not present; but let us not falter in desire; let long, continuous desire be our daily exercise, because the one who made the promise doesn’t cheat us.” Sermons 350A.4 (ACCNT, 47).

[Augustine on Hope]

Destroying and Setting Aside Earthly Ways, 3:5-11

Having explained the nature of their new identity, how they need not chase after the heavenly life that they already possess in Christ (3:1-4), Paul addresses the problems that stem from permitting the base habits of the world to dictate their behavior (3:5-11). He begins in 3:5 with a blunt command for them to “Put to death . . . whatever in you is earthly.” The verb nekroø (“Put to death”) is rare in the New Testament (Rom 4:19; Heb 11:12) and means something like “to turn into a corpse” (noun form: nekros). For example, Moulton and Milligan note a Greek inscription that reads, “O man, pass not by my body, [which has] now [become] a corpse [nekroø]” (MM 3499). This verb appears, then, to carry the idea of “wasting away” (Rom 4:19; cf. Josephus, Ant. 6.306). Given its rarity, why would Paul use this word instead of thanatoø, a more common Greek word that means “put to death” (see Rom 8:13)? It is possible that, again, Paul is intending to mock the practices and interests of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy. When people carry out ascetic practices, they tend to weaken their physical bodies. Consider the example of Daniel, who asked Nebuchadnezzar’s palace master to allow him to eat only vegetables and drink only water so as not to defile himself with the royal food and drink. The palace master showed immediate concern that he might be punished if the king should see Daniel in “poorer condition than the other young men” (Dan 1:1-10). Also, the psalmist could lament over his bodily weakness due to fasting (Ps 109:24). That such visible gauntness might even be a symbol of pride is evident enough is Jesus’ command in Matthew’s Gospel that “when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face” (6:17)—don’t look for praise and pats on the back from mortals who recognize the weakness of your body.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 132

132

Colossians 3:1-17

Thus, Paul may have chosen the verb nekroø as an allusion to the right kind of “wasting away” rather than the wrong kind of “wasting away,” especially if the transcendent-ascetic philosophy encouraged the deprivation, harm, and physical weakness of the body so as to empower and free the spirit and mind (cf. Col Vice Lists in Hellenistic Jewish Literature 2:23). Paul calls for death, but it is death to Vice and virtue lists were common in the whatever is earthly—not physical things such as (pagan) Greco-Roman world (especially in the body, but earthly vices. He lists six sins, Stoic thought) as well as in Hellenistic Jewish literature. Philo frequently refers to four main which resemble a “vice list.” [Vice Lists in Hellenistic passions—lust, sorrow, greed, and fear (see Praem. 419). The Wisdom of Solomon contains vice lists of considerable length, not unlike Pauline lists, and it includes “blood and murder, theft and fraud, depravity, faithlessness, disorder, perjury, suppressing the good, ingratitude, soulish defilement, sexual confusion, marital disorder, adultery and licentiousness” (see 14.25-26, AT). In the Dead Sea scrolls, we also find ethical catalogues, particularly in the Rule of the Community where greed, wickedness, lies, pride, deceit, cruelty, folly, lust, and stiffness of the neck are condemned (see 1QS 4.9-11; cf. CD 4.17-19). While such literature shared concerns that were often prevalent in the Greco-Roman world at large, much discussion of ethics in Hellenistic Jewish literature revolves around proper interpretation of the Old Testament and especially the thrust and meaning of the Ten Commandments (see also Apoc. Ab. 24; 3 Bar. 4:17; 8:5; 13:4; 1 En. 10:20; 91:6-7; 2 En. 9:1; 10:4-6; 34:1-2; 66:6; Jub. 7:2021; 21:2; 23:14).

Jewish Literature]

Two vice lists appear in 3:5-11, one in 3:5 and another in 3:8. Both of them have to do with sins that harm the community, but each string of vices has a theme. The former (3:5) appears to focus on sins of exploitation—using the body of another person to quench one’s obsession with self-gratification. The latter (3:8) involve sins of abuse, intending to break down and destroy another. In 3:5, the meanings of the first four terms or phrases (porneia, akatharsia, pathos, epithymia, kak∑ ) need not be too neatly distinguished, as they all appear to focus on the problem of uncontrollable yearnings and passions, particularly involving sex (cf. Gal 5:19; 2 Cor 12:21). The NET Bible offers a fair English rendering as “sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire . . . .” The last item in the list is a “catch-all”: “greed” (pleonexia). Interestingly, Paul refers to this as “idolatry.” Jews of Paul’s time regularly lumped together the pagan vices of sexual immorality, greed, and idolatry. [Jewish Concern Over Sexual Immorality, Greed, and Idolatry”] Paul’s concern is that greed and lust show a human who is out of control, lacking volitional fortitude. Being dominated by desire is an obvious clue that the wrong “master” is in charge. David Garland explains it this way: Greed refers to the haughty and ruthless belief that everything, including other persons, exists for one’s own personal amusement and purposes. Essentially it turns our own desires into idols. It is the overweening desire to possess more and more things and to run roughshod over other persons to get them. It stands opposed to the

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 133

Colossians 3:1-17 willingness to give to others regardless of the cost to self. Greed can crave after persons and is never satiated by its conquests but always lusts for more.11

133

Jewish Concern Over Sexual Immorality, Greed, and Idolatry Obviously the Ten Commandments have something to say against all three of these vices (Exod 20:1-21), but even in Paul’s own time this was a subject of much discussion. In the Testament of Judah, Jacob warns his son that “the love of money leads to idolatry, because when in error because of money, men name as gods things which are not” (19:1; cf. 18:2). Alexandrian Jewish writer Philo, in a reflection on Lev 19:4 and the prohibition of making molten gods, explains that this is forbidden because “it is not right to pay such honors to wealth as one would pay to the gods; for those celebrated materials of wealth, silver and gold, are made to be used, which, however, the multitude follows, looking upon them as the only causes of wealth which is proverbially called blind, and the especial sources of happiness” (Spec. 1.25). In the Wisdom of Solomon, we read that “the idea of making idols was the beginning of sexual immorality” (Wis 14:12). In the Testament of Reuben, Jacob explains that “the sin of fornication is destruction of the soul, separating it from God and bringing it near to idols, because the mind and understanding get deceived” (4:6).

Paul does not give this advice glibly, but with all seriousness because “On account of these [kinds of sins] the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” The phrase “on those who are disobedient” does not appear in some Greek manuscripts of Colossians 3:6, and thus it is unclear whether or not it was originally included in the letter. The NET and NRSV opt to leave it in, while the ESV, NIV, and RSV omit it. Those who omit the phrase tend to believe that because the same phrase appears in Ephesians 5:6, it was added into Colossians 3:6 by copyists who had the Ephesian text in mind. Whether it is included or not, the concept is not lost that Paul is not so much mentioning the anger or wrath of God in view of individual sins, but that these are habits of the disobedient, those who have a disposition bent toward rebellion against God’s will. One cannot think of a more forceful way for Paul to have communicated his main point than to refer to the impending judgment of God over the wicked, as in 1 Corinthians 4:5, where, when the Lord returns, he “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.” As for the Colossians, Paul warns them that, in their obsession with the glories and power of the kingdom of God (as revealed in heavenly visions), they have neglected the communal ethos of the kingdom of God. God will not tolerate kingdom citizens exploiting one another. Taking a glance back at the Colossians’ past in 3:8, Paul highlights the hinge between their former life and their new life. Given what it means to be relocated “in Christ,” they cannot revert back into old ways, the habits of life before dying and rising with Christ. It is the ultimate non sequitur. This is reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, where Paul reminds these believers who they used to be:

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 134

134

Colossians 3:1-17

fornicators, idolaters, thieves, drunkards, etc. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (6:11). At this point, Paul offers the second list of vices: “But now, put off all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth.” In 3:5 he introduced the rare verb nekroø, but here he employs the much more commonly used verb apotith∑mi in a disjunctive way. Some translations take this verb generically to mean “get rid of ” (NRSV, NIV). It is possible, however, even likely, that Paul is thinking metaphorically of taking off these vices like one lays aside clothing that has been removed (LXX Lev 16:23; Acts 7:58). The ideas of “taking off ” and “putting on” appear in 3:8-9, and 3:12 begins “Put on,” using endyø (a word that typically refers to dressing in clothes). Isaiah 52:1 may supply a similar metaphorical use of clothing imagery: “Awake, awake, Zion; put on your strength, O Zion, and put on your glory, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for the uncircumcised and unclean will pass through your midst no more” (LXX, AT). Does the clothing imagery Paul uses focus on a particular type of clothing? Traditionally, interpreters argued that Paul had in mind the early Christian baptismal practices of divesting old clothes before undergoing baptism and donning new ones after the act.12 Much of our knowledge of this comes from texts like Hippolytus’s Apostolic Tradition. Hippolytus explains that, when the water was ready for a candidate, he or she would remove any clothing, receive anointing with oil, and enter into the water naked. Then, after being baptized three times in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he or she would arise and be anointed again. After drying, the candidate would wear new clothes (see 21.1-20).13 Andrew Lincoln takes issue with connecting Paul’s language to this baptismal practice because Hippolytus’s text comes much later than Colossians. This does not mean that the garment language has nothing to do with baptism. Lincoln prefers to view such imagery as associated more broadly with Paul’s theology of baptism (i.e., being purified with Christ in death and new life), not ecclesial ritual. 14 So, in Romans 6:4, Paul explains to believers in Rome that “we died and were buried with him by baptism in death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life.” [Clothing Imagery in Joseph and Aseneth]

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 135

Colossians 3:1-17

135

The sins that the Colossians are to lay Clothing Imagery in Joseph and Aseneth In the Jewish fictional narrative, Joseph and aside are, as mentioned above, sins of abuse, Aseneth, the pagan Aseneth converts to particularly associated with hatred and Judaism, and a change of clothes symbolizes this anger: “anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive process. She is originally dressed in regal colors, dazlanguage from your mouth.” It is important zling jewelry, and her bracelets bear the names and to observe that the head word “anger” (org∑ ) images of her Egyptian gods. When she repents from appears earlier vis-à-vis the “anger” (or her idolatry, she puts aside her former clothes and dons a “black and somber tunic” of mourning (10.8). “wrath”) of God in 3:6. This is no mere After a period of penitence, an angel calls her to coincidence. Often enough, human anger remove the black tunic and to wear a “new linen robe” stems from a sense of jealousy and the (14.12). The angel explains, “Behold, from today, you impression that someone else has done an will be renewed and formed anew and made alive again, and you will eat the blessed bread of life, and injustice to us. What is peculiar is that anger drink a blessed cup of immortality, and anoint yourself is a “sin” in 3:8, but it is tacitly acceptable in with the blessed anointment of incorruptibility” (15.5). 3:6. The difference, though, is that Paul See further J. H. Kim, The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the approves of God’s (righteous) anger, not the Pauline Corpus (JSNTSup 268; London: T & T Clark, 2004) 58–69. (hasty and self-centered) anger of mortals. Traditionally, Jewish wisdom condemned the folly of human anger (Prov 12:16; 16:32). It is a symbol of a world in rebellion against God. So Jewish sage Ben Sira wrote, “Anger and wrath, these . . . are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them” (Sir 27:30). There was a good impression among Jews, though, that anger could be a good thing because (at its best) it demonstrated a concern for justice. Philo defends Yahweh’s right to be angry because God is unaffected by mortal temptations to let “passions” cloud the pursuit of justice through judgment (Deus 52). The Old Testament prophets, indeed, accepted the two ideas that (1) the Lord is “avenging and wrathful” (LXX Nah 1:2) and (2) the Lord is “slow to anger” (LXX Nah 1:3). In Romans, Paul urges his readers to “never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath (org∑ ) of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom 12:19). So also, in Colossians 3:8, any kind of human expressions of wrath or anger bent on revenge or physical or emotional damage are out of bounds. No doubt Paul would approve of James 1:19b-20: “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” The last two items of the vice list demonstrate that Paul is not only concerned with the internal emotional state of the believer, but especially with how his or her attitude is expressed outwardly in ways that affect the community. The word blasph∑mia tends to

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 136

136

Colossians 3:1-17

refer to any kind of speech that insults God (e.g., Matt 26:65; Luke 5:21; John 10:33; 1 Macc 2:6). In the context of the other vices in the list, however, even this term seems to relate to other humans, not God. Thus, L&N offers the possible meaning for blasph∑mia as “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation” (1232). The last phrase has to do with “abusive language from the mouth” (aischrologian ek tou stomatos hymøn). Moralists like Plutarch and Epictetus gave clear advice for how to speak politely and respectfully to one another (Plutarch, Lib. ed. 14; Epictetus, Ench. 33.16). Paul writes of the sins of the mouth, a moral concern that corresponds to James’s reflection on the dangers of the tongue (Jas 3:1-12)—it is a fire that can burn down a forest. It cannot be tamed. It is venomous. Beware of the tongue! So Paul counsels, beware of the mouth! In 3:5-8, then, Paul comments on what it means to live a new life in Christ, to lay aside the destructive habits of the old way of life. N. T. Wright summarizes the thrust of 3:5-8 in this way: The behavior outlined . . . is characteristic of distorted humanity. Being itself out of shape, it tends to twist everything else—people, by manipulation or anger; facts, by lying—to make them fit in with its own distortions. The humanity which has been straightened out according to the perfect model, that of Christ (1:15-20; 2:6), has no excuse for this behaviour. The standard now is the life of heaven (3:1-4).15

Paul takes a breath and begins a new thought on things old and new in Colossians 3:9-11. He approaches this distinction between past and present/future from another angle, a different point of view. He begins with the counsel, “Do not lie to one another . . . .” While Paul no doubt inherited a serious concern over Ben Sira on Lying deception from his Jewish heritage (see Lev 5:21-22; 19:11; “Refuse to utter any lie, for cf. Jas 3:14), he does not give a similar kind of command in it is a habit that results in no good” (Sirach 7:13) any of his other letters. [Ben Sira on Lying] While he regularly defends his own honesty (Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 11:31; Gal 1:20), it is more unusual for him to refer to this vice of lying specifically. It is surprising to this commentator, then, that other interpreters have not explored the potential socio-rhetorical purposes behind this prohibition. Did the Colossians have problems in this particular area? Was Paul being corrective or preventative?16 On

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 137

Colossians 3:1-17

137

the one hand, we must be careful not to read too much into this statement. It is conceivable that Paul may simply be concerned with the genuine cooperation of the Colossian believing community and that it has a healthy spirit of goodwill. On the other hand, the sheer peculiarity of this command, and the fact that Paul gives it a special place in 3:9 set apart from the advice in 4:2-6, makes one wonder if at least some members of that community needed to hear this bit of instruction from Paul. Especially hot on the heels of the vice list that included hatred and anger (3:8), it would be easy to see how acts of deception could be intertwined with problems regarding “slander” and “abusive language” (NET). [Lying Problems in Colossae?]

In 3:9b, much like his form of argumentation in 3:2-3, Paul bases his ethical commands on the new life that the Colossians have in Christ: “. . . since you have put off the old man with its practices” (NET). The idea of “stripping off ” (ekdyø) carries a stronger image of removing clothing than appeared in the previous verse (“lay aside”; 3:8). This time, the concern is not particularly with vices but with, literally, “the old person” (ho palaios anthrøpos) Lying Problems in Colossae? The challenge regarding piecing together the situation behind a Pauline letter is a complex undertaking. Reading the text, you can get a basic sense of what has previously transpired, whether rivalry and divisions in Corinth, false teaching in Galatia, or problems between a slave and his master in Philemon. One must be careful, though, not to take every little statement as “evidence” for a “problem” in the background. With the case of Colossians, such a caveat is altogether appropriate. We must not take theories as laws and read too much into various statements. It is profitable, however, to try to imagine what at least could be going on in the background, if only to try to bring coherence to some of the moral concerns Paul raises. In the end, a guess may help to bring coherence to a text, even if it remains a hypothesis (as it should when evidence is as limited as is the case with Colossians). Having made this caveat, let us consider the possible problem of “lying” in Colossae. There are three statements in Colossians that could be understood together and may suggest that Paul was addressing a particular moral problem. First, he raises the matter of anger (3:8), then lying (3:9), and finally the appropriate ways believers should deal with grievances (3:13). These are all matters that naturally could occur in any community, but Paul does not normally give counsel on

all three of these matters. Moreover, statement about unity (3:11) and the concern for order in the household code (3:18–4:1) could easily lead one to believe that all these matters are related. Is it possible that that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy somehow brought increased enmity between groups that naturally occur in society: divisions based on ethnicity, family roles, social classes, etc.? This could lead to slander and one group despising another and finding fault, especially if one group boasted about heavenly visions. Complaints would naturally arise. What about lying? This may have come in two forms. On the one hand, people might have lied to get others in trouble (gossip and slander). On the other hand, if one person apologizes to another, the second might “pretend” to accept the apology to avoid further conflict, all the while continuing to seethe with envy or hatred. Under such circumstances, one could see the importance of Paul’s counsel: show a willingness to “keep at it” with others and “let go” of your animosity (3:13). His ultimate solution, however, is to express true love—the bond that is unmatched in its capacity to hold everything together harmoniously (3:14). See a methodological discussion in N. K. Gupta, “Mirror-Reading Moral Issues in Paul,” JSNT 34 (2012): 361–81.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 138

138

Colossians 3:1-17

and his practices (praxis). Some translations render ho palaios anthrøpos as “old self ” (NASB, ESV, NIV, NRSV), but this is slightly misleading. It is most prudent to render it more plainly— “the old man” (KJV, NET) or “old person.” To translate it as “old self ” could give the phrase a kind of modern existential quality that Paul would not have intended. When Paul refers to “the old man,” he is connecting the “self ” to someone else—old Adam.17 Putting off the “old man” is putting off the human way of life that conforms to old Adam. Of course Adam is not explicitly named in the text of Colossians at all, let alone in 3:1-17. But we find a close parallel to 3:9-10 in Romans 6:6: “We know that our old man (ho palaios h∑møn anthrøpos) was crucified with him [Christ] so that the body of sin would no longer domAdam and Christ in Paul inate us, so that we would no Two texts in Paul’s letters focus specifically on comparing Adam and Christ: Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15:21-22, 45. longer be enslaved to sin” (NET; Scholars have debated whether Adam is in Paul’s mind in the cf. Eph 4:22). Philippian Christ Hymn (2:5-11) as a counter-type to the humble and That Paul had Adam in mind in fully obedient Christ. Romans 6:6 is clear enough since Making a connection between Christ and Adam is of more than passing interest for Paul. In 1 Cor 15:45 he refers to Adam as “the he had just compared Adam and first man” (ho prøtos anthrøpos) and Christ as “the last Adam” (ho Christ in Romans 5:12-21, where eschatos adam). He does not compare the two as complete equals. sin and death came into the world The first man was merely a “living being,” a creature. The last Adam through “one man” and led all is a “life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45). The first man was from earth, the second from heaven (1 Cor 15:47). The people into slavery to sin. But key reason, though, that the two can be another “man” came along and compared and contrasted is because they gave God’s grace such that he are molds that set forth a pattern. Adam could “reverse the curse,” so to was “of dust,” so those that are from him are also “of dust.” So also, Christ is the speak. According to Romans 5:19, man from heaven, so those who identify the disobedience of Adam carried with him are heavenly (15:48). over into the lives of all his offOne of the key indicators of how imporspring, but through Jesus Christ’s tant this comparison is comes in 1 Cor 15:22: “For just as in Adam all die, so also obedience to God, “the many will in Christ all will be made alive.” Notice the be made righteous.” [Adam and Christ

reference to humans being “in Adam.” This is the only time Paul uses this language, but it contrasts with “in Christ,” a phrase that is a Pauline hallmark. Paul’s whole theological framework revolves around believers being freed from the hegemony of slavery under sin and death as they live “in Adam,” meaning something like “in the age of Adam.” Now they belong to Christ and aim to “bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:49).

in Paul]

Cranach, Lucas the Elder. Adam. 1533. Oil on limewood. Museum der Bildenden Kuenste, Leipzig, Germany. (Credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)

While Paul already recognized that the Colossian believers died with Christ and were raised with him by the power of God (Col 2:12; 3:1), that is obviously not the end of the story. For believers in the present age, there is a kind

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 139

Colossians 3:1-17

139

of latent attraction to the old ways of life “in Adam.” Paul gives the sort of advice that calls to my mind Hebrews 12:1: “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Paul is specifically concerned with the “practices” (praxis) that are associated with the “old man” (cf. Rom 8:13). Earlier he mentioned the impending righteous anger of God that will judge the wicked deeds of mortals (3:5-6). The same kind of idea comes into play in a text like Matthew 16:27, where it is foretold by Jesus that “the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone according to what he has done (praxis).” At first glance, this might appear like Paul (and Jesus) are advocating a kind of merit-based acquittal at the final judgment, but it should be kept in mind that Paul’s counsel is directed specifically toward the reality that the “old man” whose practices (praxis) are wicked is the way of old Adam and that since the Colossians are already “in Christ,” they have only need to live into the reality of this new man (3:10). Continuing his clothing metaphor, then, in 3:10, he reminds them that they have been clothed (endyø) with “the new one” (to neos)—presumably referring to Christ. In fact, Aseneth Made New in Romans 13:14 Paul explicitly tells his reader to In Joseph and Aseneth, the patriarch “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no proviJoseph prays over the pagan Aseneth sion for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” at the time of her conversion to Judaism. In this prayer, it is remarkable how Joseph uses Obviously, as a metaphor, it can only be taken so the language of new life symbolically. far—what does it mean to “put on Christ”? It appears to mean that the believer must be closely identified O Lord, the God of my father Israel, the Most High, the Mighty One, who made alive all with Christ, to become like him, to conform to his things, and called (them) from darkness into image. The emphasis for Paul is on “new vs. old.” light, and from error into truth, and from death Things have changed; they are different than into life. You yourself, O Lord, bring to life and bless this virgin. And renew her by your spirit, before. [Aseneth Made New] The believer who has put [and reshape her by your secret hand], and to rest the ways of old Adam is made new and “is quicken her with your life. And may she eat being renewed in knowledge according to the the bread of [your] life. And may she drink the cup of your blessing, she whom you chose image of its creator.” before she was born. And may she enter into The life of the believer is viewed from two peryour rest, which you have prepared for your elect. (8.10-11) spectives: one that is punctiliar and the other progressive. Paul understands that those who Later on Josephus makes this pronouncebelong to Christ have died and risen—they are ment to her: “From today you will be made something different (punctiliar). The process of new, and [refashioned, and] given new life; and you will eat the bread of life and drink the becoming like Christ, however, especially in charcup of immortality . . .” (15.4).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 140

140

Colossians 3:1-17

acter, is ongoing (progressive). Those who are “in Christ” are reversing the effects of sin, the trappings of the old man, and, as anakainoø suggests, are being made new. This verb carries the notion of reverting back to an originally intended perfect state—re-pristination. Note the use of the same verb in 2 Corinthians 4:16, where Paul contrasts the gradual decay of the physical body with the restoration of the hidden reality of life in Christ: “even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed (anakainoø) day by day.” [The Defilement and Renewal of the Sun in 3 Baruch] If the pattern of behavior of old Adam forced humanity to conform to his disfigured way of life, Christ is the new model that causes his people to gravitate toward his own purity and perfection. No doubt Paul’s reference to the “image of its creator” (kat’ eikona tou ktisantos auton) is meant to remind his readers of the use of the same term in 1:15, where the perfect “image” of God is Christ.18 Elsewhere Paul makes the same broader point that it is God’s will that humans, made in the image of God, were meant to reflect God’s character and nature. Thanks to Christ, this transformation is possible (see 1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29). It is distinctive that Paul refers to the “the creating one” (ktizø) in Colossians 3:10, a term he rarely employs (see Rom 1:25; cf. 1:16). The cognate noun of this verb is ktisis, which Paul uses twice in Colossians 1 (see 1:15, 23). What might Paul be intending to communicate by using this creational language again in 3:10? Paul may be trying to underscore two things. First of all, the Creator God, the One who made the world and all its inhabitants, is the only Creator—thus God is the sole authority in heaven and on earth. There is no one else and nothing else to turn to when looking for true wisdom, true security, or true hope. Thus, as Creator, God knows creation best and guides it toward wholeness. Second, by using a verb (ktizø) instead of a noun (like ktist∑s; see Sir 24:8), Paul might have also intended to communicate that the Creator God is not done working. The one responsible for forming out of dust is still laboring to see creatures toward completion. This means that the creatures themselves must cooperate with God’s agenda of refinement and renewal.

The Defilement and Renewal of the Sun in 3 Baruch In 3 Baruch, an angel proclaims that at the end of the day, four other angels carry the sun to heaven and “renew” it. Over the course of the day, “its rays have been defiled upon earth” (8.4). When Baruch asks the angel why it becomes impure while shining on the earth, the angel explains that the unrighteousness of humanity (fornication, theft, idolatry, drunkenness, murder, divination) pollutes the sun: “On account of these things is it defiled, and therefore is it renewed” (8.5). While Paul may not have agreed about this particular perspective on the sun’s defilement, this dialogue supplies an example of how one might view the language of “renewal”—becoming pure, pristine, and made like new.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 141

Colossians 3:1-17

Given the context of the letter and its thematic emphases, the mention of the renewal happening “for knowledge” (eis epignøsin) is meant to be attention getting. Precisely what the transcendentascetic philosophy promised was wisdom and knowledge as its true goal. So, too, Paul claims true “knowledge” as his goal, but it is a completely different brand of knowledge. The knowledge peddled by the transcendent-ascetic philosophy fuels pride, puffs up the ego, and creates elitism and hierarchies of privilege. The kind of renewal, refreshment, and remodeling that Paul desires leads to powerful knowledge; indeed, such knowledge empowers one to tear down barriers and stand united with fellow humans. So, in 3:11, Paul envisions a context where “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all” (cf. Gal 3:28). Beginning at the end, we can see the basis for Paul’s egalitarian, status-bursting claim: if the “new human” is united with Christ, if he is united with the proper image of God, if Christ (the resurrected Lord, agent of creation) is all that matters, and he is in all, then believers dare not divide and assess based on any artificial rubric. In 1:27, Paul already noted that the secret of the gospel that has been made public is Christ sharing himself with any willing human and, thus, everyone has the opportunity to be glorified with Christ. If all can receive the glory of Christ, then no one can claim special status. As in Galatians 3:28, so also in Colossians 3:11, Paul awards no unique privilege to Gentiles or Jews. This category would involve viewing ethnic divisions from a Jewish perspective. It is not that Paul no longer recognizes the difference between Jews and Gentiles at all. In particular, his concern here is with privilege and power. Nearly the same two groups are mind in the second pair, this time seen from a religious perspective: “no circumcised or uncircumcised.” Next Paul mentions the barbaros, “barbarians” (cf. Rom 1:14). If Jews divided the world into two categories (Jews and Gentiles), Greeks did so as well (Greeks and Barbarians).19 To refer to someone as a barbaros was not necessarily an insult, but it generally denoted a foreigner who spoke a different language (see Acts 28:2; 1 Cor 14:11). To call someone a “Scythian” was more of a slight. The Scythian people lived on the northern coast of the Black Sea, but their name was associated with men of “crudity, excess, and ferocity.”20 Paul probably mentions “Scythians” in Colossians 3:11

141

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 142

142

Colossians 3:1-17

Slaves in the Roman World “Legally, the slave was res, a thing, property, an object. Roman law acknowledges slaves as people and distinguishes human property from other kinds of property, although at times the distinction is difficult to see. The slave, like a piece of land, an animal, or an inanimate object, could be sold, lent, mortgaged, given away, or bequeathed in a will. As property, slaves lacked all that defined free-born Roman citizens. . . . Although Roman slave owners incorporated slaves into their households in various ways, the slave, whether a captive seized in war or a person born into slavery in Rome (verna), was seen as an outsider.” See S. R. Joshel, Slavery in the Roman World (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010) 38.

Roman mosaic from Dougga, Tunisia (2d C. CE). The two slaves carrying wine jars wear typical slave clothing; the slave boy to the left carries water and towels, and the one on the right a bough and a basket of flowers. (Credit: Pascal Radigue via Wikimedia Commons)

because he wishes to use an extreme example of a “savage” to show the depths of the effect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The list ends with “slave and free,” which (literally) brings his message home to Colossae. Given that the household code is only a paragraph or two away from 3:11, and that Paul sent the slave Onesimus with Tychicus when he dispatched the letter (4:9), one wonders whether this is a special matter of emphasis. Whatever the case, what Paul was communicating would have been spectacularly unorthodox vis-à-vis Roman social standards.21 Cardinal Virtues of New Life in Christ: Love, Peace, and Thanksgiving, 3:12-17

In 3:9-11, Paul gave careful attention to what it means to live in light of the Christ event, to leave the old way of life, the way of Adam, behind, and to conform to the true image of God, Christ Jesus the Lord. Most of the advice Paul offered in 3:9-11 is negative: get rid of lust, anger, deceit, pride in status. Essentially, 3:9-11 is deconstructive. Paul disassembles assumptions, attitudes, and habits that used to guide life before Christ. In 3:12-17, he aims to build up the Colossians, to capture a new vision of life. The new life is directed by virtues of the kingdom of God governed by its rightful king—Jesus. Paul mentions many virtues, but he has not changed his mind since writing 1 Corinthians: love is the most excellent way (1 Cor 1:1-13). Nothing can top love, according to Colossians (Col 3:14). Two things follow directly from true love. Peace (3:15) fills the heart and leads to unity and cooperation with others. Thanksgiving (3:15, 17), already a prominent motif in the letter (1:3, 12; 2:7; cf. 4:2), overflows to God in praise on account of Christ’s own sacrificial love. When one contrasts 3:9-11 with

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 143

Colossians 3:1-17

143

Clothing Metaphor in Context 3:12-17, Paul’s message is clear: lust abuses and While Paul uses clothing metaphors elseexploits, but holiness and compassion protect where in his letters (e.g., Rom 13:14), he and preserve the other. Anger harms and divides, may have extended their use in Colossians as a but gentleness and humility invite and honor way of contextualizing them in Colossae. In Hatice Erdemir’s study of the woolen industry of the other. Slander and lies use the tongue to the Lycus valley in the ancient world, she condamage and destroy, but words of forgiveness cludes that animal raising “and its associated byand melodious songs of worship to God products and sector industries” secured the ecostrengthen and encourage the community. nomic development of the region (including Colossae). In particular, cities like Laodicea, In 3:12, Paul extends, one more time, the Colossae, and Hierapolis specialized in processing clothing imagery used in 3:9-11: “As God’s wool and making a variety of clothes. chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves See H. Erdemir, “Woolen Textiles: An International Trade Good in the Lycus Valley in Antiquity,” in Colossae in Space and Time: (endyø) with compassion, kindness, humility, Linking to an Ancient City (ed. A. H. Cadwallader and M. Trainor; meekness, and patience.” [Clothing Metaphor in Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011) 104–29. Context] The foundation for this set of virtues is the status and identity that God has bestowed on the Colossian community through Christ. They are chosen by God, holy and beloved. These three terms are important words used in the Old Testament to describe the privileged status of Israel, God’s treasured people. [Election and Salvation in Paul]

And you will be for me a royal priesthood and a holy nation (Exod 19:6) O seed of Abraham, his servants, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones (LXX Ps 104:6, AT) Israel is a child and, as for me, I loved him (agapaø) and I summoned my son out of Egypt (LXX Hos 11:1, AT)

Election and Salvation in Paul When Paul refers to believers as “chosen” or “elect,” this is not addressing directly the question of whether or not God predestines believers to salvation. The best clue for making sense of Paul’s election language is the way such language is used in the Old Testament and texts from early Judaism. Ben Witherington III explains, “A careful reading of [Jewish “election” references] will show that most do not entail the notion that elect individuals have some sort of advance guarantee of salvation. The concept of ‘the elect’ applies to the group, and individuals within the group can, and indeed often are said to, commit apostasy. This is not because they were not chosen to be Jews, or ‘true’ Jews, in the first place. It is because they became unfaithful and chose to wander away.” See B. Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2007) 232.

The virtues that Paul lists all relate in one way or another to his counsel in the next verse (3:13) that each one should learn to bear up with one another and be gracious when a grievance arises. Paul’s thinking in 3:12 goes in two directions. First, in order to foster such a generous spirit, one needs compassion (splangchna oiktirmou, “a heart of compassion”; chr∑stot∑ta, “benevolence”). Paul would have seen God as a model of compassion (Rom 12:1; 2 Cor 1:3; cf. Hos 2:19-21; Zech 1:16; Bar 2:27; Sir 2:11). [The Compassionate Mother in 4 Maccabees] It is also likely that he knew of the compassionate nature of Jesus (see Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32)—

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 144

144

Colossians 3:1-17

at the very least he knew Christ’s mercy and love in his own experience (cf. Gal 2:20-21)! If the first cluster of virtues is proactive—acting with compassion and benevolence—the second cluster represents the appropriate response to problematic social situations: humility (tapeinophrosyn∑ ), gentleness (praut∑tos), and patience (makrothymia) (cf. Phil 2:3-4, 5-11). These virtues are not meant to express self-hatred. Paul disregards any kind of attempt to harm the self or treat the body as evil (2:18, 23). Rather, it is the necessary disposition in a community where there will inevitably be disagreements and mistakes. In 3:13, Paul asks the Colossians to be patient with one another and extend grace and forgiveness when one finds fault. No doubt this can be difficult to do, but he provides them with the perfect model: “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” remarkably similar to Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” As if to give the clothing imagery one more “wearing,” in 3:14 he tells them to put on, above all the other clothes, love which is “the perfect bond” (NET; syndesmos t∑s teleiot∑tos). What exactly is bound? Does it bind together the virtues Paul mentions, or does it bind together the people within the community? Probably Paul has in mind the latter. The various virtues of compassion and humility he mentions all contribute to building up the community, but love is the greatest virtue. No wonder it was a point of focus for Jesus’ ministry (Matt 22:37-40) and is, of course, Paul’s capital virtue in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. In 3:15, he turns his attention to the notion that when God’s people live God’s way, they will have the “peace of Christ” that rules in their hearts, just as they were called into one body. The verb brabeuø, normally translated as “reign,” probably resembles more closely our terminology of “judge” or “govern.” [Philo’s Use of Brabeuø] It carries the sense of control, orderliness, and justice (see Josephus, B.J. 7.271; Philo, leg. 1.87; cf. MM 791). This Philo’s Use of Brabeuø should preclude any interpretation of “peace of Christ” that “. . . to [the High Priest] is purely internal and individualistic, as if this were a feeling alone it is established that of pious comfort from heaven. Paul is most concerned with he adjudicate (brabeuø) matters the concord and welfare of the community under Christ’s for those who are living and those The Compassionate Mother in 4 Maccabees “Consider how multi-faceted the affectionate love of a mother towards her children, drawing her whole self towards compassion that comes from deep within (t∑n tøn splangchanøn synpatheian)”(14.13).

who are dead.” (Spec. 3.133)

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 145

Colossians 3:1-17

145

Word of Christ lordship, thus his affirmation that they were Should this “word of Christ” be undercalled into “one body.” stood as a subjective genitive (the The language of a unified body no doubt word/message spoken by Christ) or objective genireflects back on Colossians 2:19, where Paul tive (the word/message about Christ)? Scholars are divided on this matter. If it refers to the imagined the church as a body that should be message by Christ, this may indicate that the connected to Christ the head. From that head Colossians have been instructed regarding the comes the unity of the body, the source from teachings of Christ. In that case, Paul counsels which the body is nourished and held together them to obey this teaching. If it is the word about Christ, it would place special emphasis on the and learns to grow. gospel message based on the saving work of A plea for them to be thankful (3:15b) sets Christ, which should be a “ruling model” in their Paul off on an exhortation (3:16) for them to let midst. Scholars are divided on the matter. Perhaps the “word of Christ” live among them lavishly, too sharp of a division should not be made between the words of Jesus and the message where they may “teach and admonish each about Jesus. If he lived consistently with how he other with all wisdom; and with gratitude in taught, the effect would be much the same. There your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual is also the possibility that the “word” (logos) songs with to God.” [Word of Christ] should be more directly associated with Christ. Perhaps Paul is communicating that, somehow, Here Paul calls for a reorientation in view of Christ is present in “the word” spoken in the the kind of life in community that he discussed church community when it hears the gospel, negatively in 3:5-11. The mention of the “word responds in faith, and loves through the Spirit. of Christ” may have been meant to evoke the In Colossians, Paul continues to emphasize the importance of “word,” how the speech of our verbal concerns in 3:8 where the mouth can be mouths matters and can be used to destroy or a source of abuse and destruction, or in 3:9 strengthen. The “word of Christ” should continuwhere lies obviously spread by false speech. The ally guide the mouths of believers, giving them vision for his “good-worded” Christ-centered sweet tongues and holy breath. community involves three elements. First, it is For the subjective view, see F. F. Bruce, Epistles to the Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, marked by teaching (didaskø) and admonishing 1984)157; for the objective perspective see O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC; Waco TX: Word, 1982) 206. (noutheteø) with wisdom. [Noutheteø] The socalled “wisdom” of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy (see 2:23) divides the community because it establishes an elitist hierarchy of the “haves” and “have-nots.” Hunger for spirit visions could easily lead to isolaNoutheteø tion (hence “transcendence”) and This verb is commonly translated “to admonish” (NIV, withdrawal from the life of the comNRSV) or “to exhort” (NET) in Col 3:16 (cf. 1 Thess munity in pursuit of otherworldly 5:12; Rom 15:14). In 1 Thess 5:14 the NIV renders it “warn.” knowledge. For Paul, this is antiThis could make noutheteø appear to carry a judgmental tone. While this Greek verb does fall into the category of teaching wisdom. True wisdom strengthens the correctively, often enough the intent is not rejection but life of the community. By the humility encouragement. For example, in the Psalms of Solomon, the and other-orientation of each member, author explains that the Lord “corrects (noutheteø) the rightthe context becomes one in which eous as a beloved son and his strict form of discipline (paideia) as for his firstborn” (13.9; cf. Josephus, Ant. 4.260; 8.217; there can be teaching and even correc16.126; B.J. 1.481).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 146

146

Colossians 3:1-17

tion without spite or rejection. No doubt Paul tailors his language in 3:16 to remind them that the apostles like himself proclaim Christ, “warning (noutheteø) and teaching (didaskø) everyone in all wisdom, so that we proclaim everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). Everyone benefits from Paul’s wisdom, and the goal is Pliny on Early Christian Worship maturity, or literally “perfection” (teleios), accessible to “They [the Christians] customanyone and everyone “in Christ.” arily gathered before dawn on a Paul also mentions, in 3:16, singing psalms, hymns, fixed day to sing in alternation a hymn to Christ as if to a god, and they bound and spiritual songs. Singing was a part of worship practhemselves by an oath, not in a criminal ticed by the early church (Acts 16:25; 1 Cor 14:15), by conspiracy, but to refrain from robbery, Jesus and his disciples (Mark 14:26), and influenced by theft, or adultery, from breaking their Israelite worship (e.g., Pss 18; 40:3; 66). [Pliny on Early word, from reneging on a deposit. After this they usually dispersed, reassemChristian Worship] While all kinds of songs could be sung bling later in order to take food of a for a variety of occasions and moods, the general common and harmless kind.” impression is that music and song typically expressed A Letter from Pliny the Younger to Trajan, 10.96. praise and joy (Jas 5:13; Sir 51:10). Also, songs were often meant to be instructive (1 Chr 16:9, Parsing out Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs 23; Pss 9:11; 89:1; 96:2). [Parsing out Psalms, Interpreters have long wondered whether Paul was referring to three distinctly different musical forms of praise, or if he was simply using three terms rather indiscriminately. Most scholars take the more cautious route of not trying to parse out the difference between a psalm (psalmos), a hymn (hymnos), and a song (ød∑). Almost certainly, early Christian worship was influenced by the Old Testament psalms. It is unlikely, however, that the early Christians only sang these psalms. If one were inclined to believe that Paul had some particular type of music form in mind for each of these three terms, Murray Harris offers, perhaps, the most logical guess: “[psalmos] may refer to OT psalms or songs, [hymnos] to NT hymns about Christ or Christian canticles, and [ød∑] to spontaneous hymnody; in this case Paul might be listing three types of Christian hymnody—songs from Scripture, songs about Christ, and ‘songs from the Spirit’ (TNIV).”

Hymns, and Spiritual Songs]

Why does Paul mention singing songs at this point in the letter to the Colossians? And what does it have to do with (1) the word of Christ and (2) teaching and warning each other (3:16a and b)? It is possible that those that promoted the transcendent-ascetic philosophy claimed to have visionary, mystical experiences that may have involved angelic chanting, song, or speech. For example, in the Testament of Job the elderly Job passes on a cord to his daughter Hemera that possesses magical properties. When she puts it on, she gains the ability to speak in an angelic dialect See M. J, Harris, Colossians and Philemon (EGGNT; Grand Rapids MI: that belongs to the “hymnody of the Eerdmans, 1991) 146. angels” (48.3). The next daughter, Kassia, has a similar experience (49.3); so also for Amatheia-keras, whose mouth could chant verses “in the dialect of those who dwell in heights” (50.1). In a text called the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, the seer ventures into heaven where he is endowed with the raiment of angels and suddenly is able to speak their language (see ch. 8).22

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 147

Colossians 3:1-17

147

There is a reasonable possibility that this is something Paul has witnessed or experienced himself. In 2 Corinthians 12, he boasts about a certain “person in Christ” (probably himself ) who ascends to the third heaven. He is caught up into Paradise and hears things that no mortal can repeat (12:4). This very well could be angelic speech or song. And what about Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians to tongues of angels (13:1)? Returning to Colossians 3:16, Paul might be mentioning hymns and “spiritual songs” as an important part of congregational life precisely because it may have been a point of obsession of the peddlers of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy that they enter into Paradise through visions and learn the coveted angelic hymnody. As with many of their other aspirations and practices, this kind of obsession leads to self-centeredness, vanity, boasting, and pride. Instead, Paul encourages the Colossians to have real wisdom and truly spiritual (as in Spirit-led) songs that are not points of elitist boasting but a Christ-centered context in which the community celebrates God and is taught and admonished. What Paul writes in 3:16 is intentionally reminiscent of his earlier word about the apostolic proclamation in 1:28: they preach the cruciform message of Jesus Christ for the maturity of every single human being, teaching and exhorting toward this end. So the life of the church ought to be centered on Christ alone, in worship and the pursuit of wisdom. One cannot help recognizing, again, the emphasis on thanksgiving in 3:15-17. Be thankful (3:15b). Sing not with anxious hopes of higher spirituality but with contentIn the Name of the Lord ment and thanksgiving in the heart (3:16). And, “The works of Christians are not circumscribed by name, time, nor place. finally in this section, give thanks to God the Whatever Christians do is good; whenever done it Father through Christ as you do all things in his is timely; wherever wrought it is appropriately. So name (3:17). [In the Name of the Lord] Paul made a Paul names no work. He makes no distinction, but similar statement in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, concludes all works good, whether it be eating or drinking, speaking or keeping silence, waking or whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, sleeping, going or staying, being idle or otherwise. do everything for the glory of God.” The focus All acts are eminently worthy because they are of Colossians 3:17 is, as appropriate for the done in the name of the Lord Jesus. Such is theme of the whole letter, the lordship of Jesus, Paul’s teaching here. And our works are wrought in the name of the Lord Jesus when we by faith the one who is all and in all, the great agent of hold fast the fact that Christ is in us and we in creation, the leader of the resurrection church, him in the sense that we no longer labor but he and the one who defeated the great enemy of lives and works in us.” death for the sake of his people. Even while his Martin Luther, Epistle Sermons, vol. 2, J. N. Lenker, trans. (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/28464/28464-h/28464-h.htm).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 148

148

Colossians 3:1-17

chains weigh him down, Paul’s heart is lifted up by the grace and goodness of God through Christ.

CONNECTIONS The Upside-down Kingdom according to G. K. Chesterton, 3:1-2

As noted in the comments above on Colossians 3:1-2, Paul takes a bit of a risk by telling the Colossians to focus on what is above (in heaven) and not what is on earth. My argument is that he is purposely trying to reverse the argument of the troublesome transcendent-ascetic philosophy. What is “up” is not esoteric wisdom but the higher virtues of the kingdom of God and the noble humility of Christ. What is “earthly” is not the mortal flesh but the baser desires that inflate the ego. This rendition by Paul of an “upside-down kingdom,” so to speak, reminds me of the poignant poem by G. K. Chesterton titled “Gloria in Profundis” (“Glory [to God] in the Lowest”). In this poem Chesterton sets up a vertical dichotomy. Mortals presume that life is about gaining power and renown by ascending. The incarnation instructs us, however, that true glory is revealed in Christ’s own descent and “lowness.” The first lines read: There has fallen on earth for a token A God too great for the sky

What a paradox this is. An infinitely massive God who cannot even be contained in the heavens decides to come to this little place called earth. Later Chesterton’s choral voice scoffs at the proud: Who rears up his head for a crown, Who holds up his will for a warrant, Who strives with the starry torrent When all that is good goes down?

Just before the last stanza of the poem, Chesterton compares Christ to the evil fallen angels. They wanted so badly to overthrow their master that they fell all the harder. In their insolence, confused with hunger for power, they have spent their energy only

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 149

Colossians 3:1-17

digging themselves deeper into rebellion and depravity. Alternatively, God the Son has led the way by humbling himself instead of exalting himself. But unmeasured of plummet and rod Too deep for their sign to scan, Outrushing the fall of man Is the height of the fall of God.23

Paul’s point in Colossians 3:1-2 is quite consistent with Chesterton’s. All that is good goes down. Notice the appearance of “humility” in the virtue list in Colossians 3:12. One cannot seek private, mystical visions to boast about while also trying to care deeply for fellow believers. A life choice must be made. There is a great blessing and benefit from being hidden with Christ, but there is also responsibility for believers to become like Christ, especially in his lowness for the sake of others. There is a double meaning to Chesterton’s poetic title: Gloria in Profundis. It is obviously a reversal of the familiar Gloria in Excelsis—“Glory in the highest.” True believers give glory to a Christ who descended. But Gloria in Profundis could also be translated “Glory [to God] in the Depths.” That is, there is a bottomless richness to God’s glory because of the work of Christ in the incarnation and crucifixion. Perhaps a nice title for Colossians might be Gloria in Excelsis et Profundis—glory to God in the highest and in the lowest! Paul’s Eschatology and Theology of Judgment, 3:4-6

All of you that were never born again; All of you that have not been made new creatures; All of you that have not experienced new light and life Are in the hands of an angry God.

These are central lines in the famous “hell-fire” sermon of revivalist Jonathan Edwards titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”24 Edwards continues, God holds you over the pit of hell. He abhors you; His anger is provoked; and His wrath burns against you like fire. He looks at you as worthy of nothing but to be cast into the lake of fire. His eyes are too pure to have you in His sight. You are ten thousand times more

149

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 150

150

Colossians 3:1-17 detestable to Him then the most hated venomous snake is in ours. You have offended Him infinitely more than any criminal has offended a judge, and yet it is nothing but His hand that keeps you from falling.

You don’t tend to hear sermons like that in America or Europe these days. Preachers who rail against parishioners and expose their culpability do not tend to fare well in my neck of the woods. Nevertheless, many theologians and biblical scholars would say that Western churches have erred now on the side of never (or almost never) teaching and preaching about final judgment. And yet it was a key subject for the early church and a frequently mentioned event in the New Testament. Take, for example, Paul’s letter to the Romans: the wrath of God is revealed against ungodliness (1:18), and there is delayed and stored up wrath from God awaiting the day of judgment (2:5, 8). In Colossians, Paul warns those believers that their own sanctification and moral transformation is central to God’s plan and that they must cast off the “marks” of their old life (impurity, evil desire, greed) and clearly disassociate themselves from the category of “the disobedient” that are headed straight for the impending condemnation. How can the apostle of grace even mention the idea of a judgment fueled by the wrath of God? The first matter to discuss here is the meaning of the word “wrath” (thymos). We tend to associate this word with the idea of unbridled, violent punishment. Sometimes this can be precisely what an author has in mind. For example, in Josephus’s account of the Roman commander Titus’s treatment of Jewish prisoners during his siege of Jerusalem, the historian noted how the Gentile soldiers “out of wrath (thymos) and hatred (misos) they bore for the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest; when their number was so great, that room was lacking for the crosses, and crosses lacking for the bodies” (Wars 5.451). With reference to the “wrath” of God, it is obviously God’s own anger that is dangerous and exacting. It is not driven, however, by hatred or hunger for power. In Psalm 56, for example, David sings to his God in hopes of justice and protection from his persecutors, the Philistines. He calls upon God to “repay them for their crime” (56:7); he wishes for God’s wrath (LXX: thymos) to cast them down.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 151

Colossians 3:1-17

The Lord’s wrath comes not from an angry or hostile personality but from the indignation of a righteous ruler who cannot stand idly by when injustice happens. In Jeremiah, the Lord sends this message to the house of the king of Judah: “Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed, or else my wrath will go forth like fire, and burn, with no one to quench it, because of your evil doings” (Jer 21:12). To remember a God whose judging wrath is coming is not, at least for Paul, a threat to inspire conversion. It is a reminder that God doesn’t just want two categories of people: the saved and the unsaved. The Lord recognizes these two categories: those who choose to become like God and those who resist conforming to God’s image. The latter way of expressing the categories of judgment shows that what God ultimately wants is the redemption and renewal of creation, insofar as it happens with those who cooperate. Another key matter regarding Paul’s view of judgment is the question of the basis for this judgment. If believers are saved by God’s grace alone, why is there a final judgment? What is being judged?25 There are a variety of opinions on what may have been in Paul’s mind in this regard. Stephen Travis, for example, would represent the view that focuses on faith in Jesus. The factor that will determine men’s destiny at the final judgment will be whether or not they are in a loving, responsible relationship to Jesus Christ. This does not contradict the frequent New Testament insistence on “judgment according to works,” since in [Paul] works are regarded as evidence of the reality (or otherwise) of the relationship.26

On the other side of the spectrum we might put someone like J. C. Beker, who bases the verdict of final judgment for Paul on the true commitment of the believer, like a soldier to his general or country. The time between the cross/resurrection and the end is a time for commitment, mission, endurance, and obedience. Those who are disobedient to the gospel will be judged and destroyed in the last judgment, for they continue to behave as though the powers defeated by Jesus Christ are still in charge. Thus Paul balances the notion of a universal salvation with an emphasis on the responsibility and obedience of those who have heard the gospel.27

151

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 152

152

Colossians 3:1-17

Both of these views have their strengths. The former emphasizes the continuity and consistency of Paul’s emphasis on the centrality of union with Christ and faith through his redemptive work. The latter view underscores the tone of vigilance in Paul’s “judgment” texts where it appears obedience is critical to God’s plan and punishable in view of God’s expectations. There is some concern that a view that focuses too much on “works” becomes semi-pelagian or synergistic. Certainly Paul did not believe that salvation came from the accumulation of individual deeds. Given this obvious tension between grace-based justification and a judgment-according-to-works in Paul’s letters, however, we are forced to search for coherence. I believe part of the confusion among Western interpreters happens because of the tendency to translate pistis into English as “faith.” Thus, there is that propensity to make justification about “belief,” while Paul talks about judgment according to “works.” But because pistis can also mean “faithfulness,” there can be more of a natural relationship between “faith” and “obedience” even in this central Pauline term. Judgment tests pistis, not merely religious “beliefs.” The final point I wish to make is that one must keep in mind God’s wider plan regarding salvation, redemption, and the world. Judgment is not only about whether or not the human was “right with God.” It is also about whether or not the human being lived up to his or her Spirit-enabled ability to be a real human in the world under the lordship of Christ. What the human is being held accountable to, then, is not just “faith” or “goodness,” but the outworking of the activity of God in him or her for the sake of the fulfillment of God’s plan to reclaim, restore, and redeem the whole world.28 Is “WWJD” a Good Question?, 3:9-10

In Colossians 3:9-10, Paul refers to the trajectory of the believer’s life as a course set for conformity to the image of Christ, who himself is the image of God. Hence the virtue of “Christlikeness.”29 This transformation from old self to new self “in Christ” leads to a whole new lifestyle, devoid of anger, greed, lust, and idolatry, as the believer becomes more like the perfect eikøn. Paul uses the language of “imitation” on occasion (see 1 Cor 11:1;

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 153

Colossians 3:1-17

cf. 1 Thess 1:6). Believers are meant to assimilate to Christ’s lifestyle and character. In 1896, novelist Charles Sheldon popularized the phrase “What Would Jesus Do” through his story about how a community was transformed when one person after another learned what it meant to follow “in his steps,” the pattern of living laid out by Christ. Is this a good question for Christians today? What would Jesus do? How would Jesus deal with my daily temptations? What would Jesus do about my financial issues? Marital problems? Pent-up hostility toward those who have hurt me? Theologian John Stackhouse has criticized those who encourage the “WWJD” way of thinking. He reasons that taking such a question at face value turns Jesus only or primarily into a moral model—taking cues from his earthly ministry, thinking about the habits of the righteous Galilean. Instead, argues Stackhouse, we must recognize that we know Jesus after his earthly life, “after the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension; after Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit; after the gospels and the Book of Acts, which record the launching of the church’s distinctive era and mission.”30 He proposes, instead, the question, “What would Jesus want me or us to do, here and now?” or “Who are we, for Jesus Christ, today?” 31 Stackhouse makes important points about redemptive living flowing from the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, the “newness of life” in him (Rom 6:4), but I think there is still room to speak about imitating Jesus. And the Gospels, while not the only source, are at least one good resource for understanding his own way of life. Of course there must be an understanding that to walk “in his steps” is not to turn the clock back to acting as if we live in the ancient culture of the Mediterranean. We should not merely “mimic” the actions of Jesus. Imitation can be more dynamic and improvisational.32 The Problem of “Cheap Reconciliation,” 3:11-14

The wider message in Colossians 3:11-14 involves Paul’s call for unity, supported by kindness, humility, and patience. Whenever relational breaches emerge, they must be carefully attended to with tenderness and fastidiousness. If you forget the protocol for reconciliation, Paul tells them, all you need is love (3:14). When Paul

153

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 154

154

Colossians 3:1-17

endorses love as the master ethic (cf. 1 Cor 13:13), he does not mean a sappy, fleeting emotion. Richard Hays, in his magisterial Moral Vision of the New Testament, makes precisely this kind of caveat in reference to teaching about love vis-à-vis Scripture. The term has become debased in popular discourse; it has lost its power of discrimination, having become a cover for all manner of vapid self-indulgence. . . . One often hears voices in the church urging that the radical demands of Christian discipleship should not be pressed upon church members because the “loving” thing to do is to include everyone without imposing harsh demands—for example, disciplines of economic sharing or sexual fidelity. Indeed, love is sometimes invoked even to sanction sexual relations outside marriage or the use of violence. Surely in such cases the term has been emptied of its meaning. . . . [A]uthentic love calls us to repentance, discipline, sacrifice, and transformation. We can recover the power of love only by insisting that love’s meaning is to be discovered in the New Testament’s story of Jesus—therefore, in the cross.33

Perhaps, in light of Hays’s warning, the best way to reframe what the Apostle Paul is referring to in Colossians 3:14 is not just love (which is a rather elastic word), but costly love—borrowing Bonhoeffer’s approach to the same problem with the word “grace.” Costly love is a love that has real risk and consequence. It is a kenotic love, one that drains your own self to give new life to someone else (cf. 2 Cor 4:12). True love is sacrificial, hence Hays’s focus on the cross. In the context of Colossians, true love requires real investment. Forgiving in a deeply loving way is letting go of debt or complaint (Col 3:13a) so that you may be free to embrace without obstacle or hindrance. This requires a serious and long-term investment in reconciliation. In his essay on “Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Justice,” Miroslav Volf criticizes a feeble, half-hearted, pseudo-approach to unity that can be appropriately labeled “cheap reconciliation.”34 Volf explains that this term emerged through the Kairos document written by theologians who criticized South African leaders before the elimination of apartheid. “Cheap reconciliation” was the phrase used for thin, superficial, ineffective rhetoric and propaganda that talks about “peace” but does not attempt to work toward a more just situation. It is all of the rhetoric with none of the effort. As

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 155

Colossians 3:1-17

Volf explains, “To pursue cheap reconciliation means to give up on the struggle for freedom, to renounce the pursuit of justice, to put up with oppression.”35 He refers to this cheap reconciliation as one stripped of moral value and that happens to undermine justice instead of supporting it. Alternatively, real reconciliation hopes for a unity, hard-won through sweat and tears (but no blood!), and deeply concerned for justice. What that means for personal relationships is that Christian reconciliation and unity should not happen by ignoring offenses or injustices. Volf refers to this as the “never mind” approach, where one shrugs his or her shoulders and tries to pretend the whole matter never happened. That is not Pauline and is not Christian. What Volf recommends is not a “forgetting” approach but one where the starting point is “the primacy of the will to embrace the other, even the offender.”36 For Volf, this is a will to “give ourselves to others and to welcome them, to readjust our identities to make space for them,” which is “prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.” Volf makes it clear that this initial stage is not the actual embrace but simply the “will” or desire for embrace, the disposition of generosity and hope. The actual embrace “cannot take place until justice is attended to.”37 The big picture, however, is that one is conscious of an end result that is a strong relationship forged through compassion and justice. This requires investment, true reconciliation, and costly love. The Rhythm of Worship, 3:16

I find Paul’s reference in Colossians 3:16 to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” at the same time peculiar and exciting. It is peculiar because we do not tend to think of “theologians” prescribing artistic expression as a cure for church problems. And yet the exciting part is that Paul did precisely that! This should remind us that worship and theology cannot and should not be neatly separated as two distinct things. But what is the benefit of worship? Obviously the primary purpose is to give glory to God and to align the heart of the mortal with the will of God. In addition to that, though, we can observe a number of other “entailments” of worship through song and

155

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 156

156

Colossians 3:1-17

sound. First of all, it is a communal activity (as demonstrated in Scripture). Psalm 95 furnishes a nice example: O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (95:1-2) O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice. (95:6-7)

Two other features of worship are observable in this psalm and also relate to Paul’s mention of singing in Colossians 3:16. Communal worship often serves as an expression of joy and thanksgiving (Ps 95:2), hence the Apostle Paul’s mention of heartfelt gratitude to God. Worship has a tendency to be didactic—to teach the people of God the truth about the righteous nature and works of the Lord and about the upright way that God’s children should walk. For instance, Psalms 127 and 128 are labeled “didactic” or wisdom psalms, but they also are part of the “songs of ascents.” Again, turning to Paul’s teaching in Colossians, he directly connects his encouragement of singing with his exhortation to teaching and admonishing one another. It is prudent, then, to consider for your own worshiping community how the time of singing operates for you. Is it participatory? Is it celebratory (not necessarily always, but often)? Is it didactic— does it pass along the Christian tradition? Theologian Jeremy Begbie adds an important dimension to the reflection of church worship when he makes the point that, for the people of God represented in Scripture, worship was not a spectator sport (which you merely heard or observed) but a “social action.” The idea of listening to music purely for its own sake—primarily for aesthetic interest or as some kind of object of contemplation (as in a concert hall)—would be unknown in this culture . . . . Music was much more about receiving and developing an inherited tradition of shared material than an individual putting his or her unique, creative stamp on the world.38

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 157

Colossians 3:1-17

Begbie also reminds us that worship is not something you repeat or even something you listen to; it is something you make. It is a gift to the Lord that is created and thus will often be marked by creativity. Worship, then, should have a dialectical quality, a forwardand-backwards rhythm. The community looks back to inherited tradition and recognizes the eternal Godhead at work through history, but it also looks to the present and future in anticipation of how God will continue to glorify God’s name and act faithfully towards the covenantal vows and promises. Also, in worship, the people of God joyfully celebrate, accept, and renew their own participation in the mission of God and their commitment to strengthening the communal body of Christ. What better form of gratitude to God than encouraging righteousness and Christlikeness among God’s people? These songs can be labeled “spiritual” because appropriate recognition should be issued to the Spirit of God who empowers and promotes this growth and unity.

Notes 1. James D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996) 626–27. 2. A. T. Lincoln, “The Letter to the Colossians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000) 11:553–669, at 638. 3. F. F. Bruce, Epistles to the Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1984) 134. 4. Lincoln, “Colossians,” 638. 5. M. M. Thompson, Colossians, Philemon (THNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005) 71. 6. See C. Talbert, Ephesians and Colossians (Paideia; Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2007) 226–27. 7. S. Fowl, Philippians (THNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005) 6. 8. M. J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2001) 44. 9. See C. Arnold, F. S. Thielman, and S. M. Baugh, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (ZIBBC; Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2007) 95. 10. N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon (TNTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1986) 132. 11. D. Garland, Colossians, Philemon (NIVAC; Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2009) 204. 12. Ralph Martin, in 1974, stated rather confidently that “All commentators agree that there is a baptismal motif in these verbs [3:8-11], taken from the activity of dis-

157

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 158

158

Colossians 3:1-17 robing and re-clothing for the act of baptism when the new Christian entered the water.” See Colossians and Philemon (NCBC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1974) 106. 13. For further discussion of this ritual in the early church, see J. H. Kim, The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the Pauline Corpus (JSNTSup 268; London: T & T Clark, 2004) 96–101. 14. See Lincoln, “Colossians,” NIB 643. 15. Wright, Colossians, 138. 16. Along these lines, David Garland wonders “if some form of lying was not at the root of Onesimus’ problem, causing him to run away” (Colossians, 205, n. 16). 17. See F. F. Bruce, Colossians, 147. 18. See C. Kavin Rowe, “New Testament Iconography?” in Picturing the New Testament: Studies in Ancient Visual Images (ed. A. Weissenrieder et al.; WUNT II/193; Mohr Siebeck, 2005) 289–312, at 305. 19. See Lincoln, “Colossians,” NIB 644. 20. J. D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (NIGTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996) 225–26. 21. It is important to note that, while slavery was common in the Roman world, it was not without critics. Aristotle mentions the views of the sophists that considered slavery unnatural and, thus, inappropriate (see Politics 12.3). In terms of Jewish perspectives, Philo notes the attitude of the Essenes, who intentionally established a slave-free community and thought of slavery as a practice motivated by greed (see Prob. 79). 22. In John C. Poirier’s study of the concept of “angelical languages” in early Judaism, alongside Testament of Job and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, he also discusses similar findings in the Ascension of Isaiah and the Apocalypse of Abraham. See The Tongues of Angels (WUNT II/287; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010) 47–108. 23. See A. Mackey, ed., Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton (San Francisco CA: Ignatius Press, 1994) 137–38. 24. See http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html. 25. Broadly, on this matter, see K. Yinger, Paul, Judaism, and Judgment According to Deeds (SNTSMS 105; Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 26. S. Travis, Christian Hope and the Future (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980) 121. 27. J. C. Beker, The Triumph of God: The Essence of Paul’s Thought (trans. L. T. Stuckenbruck; Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 1990) 26. 28. For the emphasis on Spirit-enabled obedience and judgment, see J. D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2008) 83–85. 29. Based on texts like Phil 3:9-10, Bruce Longenecker refers to “Christ-likeness” as “the essential characteristic of Christian living”; see “Galatians,” in The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul (ed. J. D. G. Dunn; Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 64–74, at 70. 30. Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) 190. 31. Ibid., 165.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 159

Colossians 3:1-17 32. See Stephen Fowl’s use of the language of “non-identical repetition,” which connects the imitator to the exemplar, but “Practical reasoning requires the discerning of similarities and differences between the exemplar and the particular contexts in which one tries to live in a manner appropriate to that exemplar” (Philippians, 168). 33. R. B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (San Francisco CA: Harper, 1996) 202. 34. M. Volf, “Forgiveness, Reconciliation, & Justice,” in Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy & Conflict Transformation (ed. R.G. Helmick and R. L. Peterson; Philadelphia PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2001) 27–49. 35. Ibid., 35. 36. Ibid., 42. 37. Ibid., 42. 38. J. Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2007) 61.

159

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 160

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 161

New Life in Christ: Household Relationships Reoriented Under the Lordship of Christ Colossians 3:18–4:1 As noted above, Paul focuses on the implications of new life in Christ beginning in chapter 3. The first seventeen verses deal more broadly with what it means to be “raised with Christ” and to “seek the things that are above” (3:1). That first section ends with emphasis falling on a communal life of generosity, love, and thanksgiving, as all activities and conversations are carried out under the lordship of Jesus Christ (3:17). Paul transitions from his general The Household and the TranscendentAscetic Philosophy statement in 3:17 to the subject of Col 3:18–4:1 fits somewhat awkwardly how the household should operate into its context, and scholars have some(3:18–4:1). While this is clearly a selftimes argued that it bears no relationship to other contained unit, its relationship to the matters in Colossians. However, if the transcendent-ascetic philosophy, attacked by Paul previous subject matter is apparent: especially in chapters 1 and 2, urges believers to love, thanksgiving, and peace should live in the clouds of heaven, Paul pulls them back transform the relationships of everyday down to the warp and woof of everyday life in his life, especially those in the home. household discussion. As Marianne Meye [The Household and the Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy]

There are a number of New Testament and early Christian texts similar in structure and content to the one we find in 3:18–4:1, and scholars refer to these as “household codes” (see Eph 5:21-6:9; 1 Pet 2:11-3:12; cf. 1 Tim 2:8-15; Titus 2:1-10; cf. Did. 4:9-11; Barn. 19:5-7; 1 Clem. 21:6-9; Ign., Pol. 4:1-5:2; Pol., Phil. 4:2-3). Obviously Paul was not writing this Colossian household code in a vacuum, and neither were other early Christian

Thompson succinctly puts it, “It is not in being removed from the perplexing and even unpalatable circumstances of life but in persevering with grace and hope that one best models Christian conduct that is lived ‘in a way worthy of the Lord, pleasing to him in every way’ (1:10), but simultaneously recognizes the fundamental ‘hiddenness’ of Christian identity and anticipates the renewal of humankind in the image of its Creator.” See M. M. Thompson, Colossians and Philemon (THNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005) 92; cf. Ian K. Smith, Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae (LNTS 326; London: T & T Clark, 2006) 202–203; A. T. Lincoln, “The Letter to the Colossians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000) 11:553–669, at 659; R. Scott Nash, “The Role of the Haustafeln in Colossians and Ephesians,” Ph.D. diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1982, p. 176.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 162

162

Colossians 3:18–4:1

Denarius of Augustus

authors. David Balch has argued convincingly that the matter of “household management” was a serious and much-discussed topic in Hellenistic literature.1 This was more than simply a topic of intellectual interest; it lay at the very foundation of society in the Greco-Roman world. Thus, This Roman coin reads “Caesar Augustus Divi F[ilius] Pater Patriae,” which means David Balch and Carolyn Osiek “Caesar Augustus, Son of God, Father of the Fatherland.” (Credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ argue, “The household was the File%3AAugustus_Tiberius_aureus.png) miniature reflection, the microcosm, of the state, which was the larger version, the macrocosm, of the household. What threatened one threatened the other, for they were both conceptually organized along the same lines.” 2 Philo and the Household So important was this concept that Augustus was conferred The Jewish exegete and philosopher Philo of with the title Pater Patriae, “father of the fatherland,” in Alexandria represents this same 2 BC. [Philo and the Household] perspective on macro- and microThe origin of this Greco-Roman concern over household cosms of state and household in management can be traced back to Aristotle. In his Politics his interpretation of the life of the Jewish patriarch Joseph. Philo he wrote, reasons that Joseph had to serve in Potiphar’s household as a manager prior to his administration of the whole Egyptian nation as a necessary preparation: “For a household is a city on a small and contracted scale, and the management of a household is a contracted kind of polity; so that a city may be called a large house, and the government of a city a widely spread [household] economy” (Joseph 38; trans. Yonge).

The investigation of everything should begin with [the household’s] smallest parts, and the primary and smallest parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children; we ought therefore to examine the proper constitution and character of these three relationships, I mean that of mastership, that of marriage . . . , and thirdly the progenitive relationships. (I, 1253b, 1-14)

Aristotle did not arbitrarily refer to these sets of authorities and subordinates but felt that they were differentiated by nature.

. . . there are by nature various classes of rulers and ruled. For the free rules the slaves, and male the female, and the man the child in a different way. And all possess the various parts of the soul, but possess them in different ways; for the slave has not got the deliberative part at all, and the female has it, but without full authority, while the child has it, but in an undeveloped form. (I, 1260a, 8-14)

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 163

Colossians 3:18–4:1

Is Paul simply encouraging the Colossians to conform to this model? After all, he does address the same tri-fold categories as Aristotle. Also, he substantially reinforces the same stratification of authority. A passage like Colossians 3:18–4:1 has discouraged some interpreters from believing that this is the same Paul who wrote about the “oneness” of men and women as well as slaves and free in Galatians (3:28). Below we will argue that Paul does appear to be reinforcing “traditional” roles in the household, but, within those predetermined categories, he seeks to infuse them with Christian values, sensibilities, and attitudes. Put another way, many have focused on how Paul’s household code bears similarities to those of pagan philosophers. What should not be ignored, however, are the clear differences, ones that are meant to transform relationships in deeply affecting ways. In Galatians 3:28, we observe Paul’s “perfectethic”—a vision of the way he ultimately wished for churches and Christian households to operate. Colossians 3:18–4:1 is not a contradiction of this but what we might call a “contextual-ethic”— a contextualized teaching on relationships in a particular time and place. The obvious question is—why? Why would Paul reinforce and maintain a stratified power system in the household if he ultimately desired an egalitarian household? Scholars tend to point to four answers. The first reason is apologetics—Paul wished to maintain a proper witness in society, to demonstrate that Christians were not antisocietal social mavericks. Perhaps he was trying to avoid a label put on Christian communities in his time that we place on “cults” in our time—those mysterious, odd, and sometimes downright dangerous groups that have abandoned the wider world. James Dunn articulates this well: The Haustafeln [household codes] of the ancient world were attempts to codify the rules which had been found most effective in promoting social welfare and stability. The fact that the Christians used similar household codes would thus indicate to their neighbours that they too shared the same concerns for society and its good order. It would attest clearly to any suspicious outsiders, or even government spies, that Christian discipleship was not disruptive but rather supportive of society’s basic structure.3

163

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 164

164

Colossians 3:18–4:1

One could relate this to accusations that Romans had against Jews, sometimes condemning them for appearing seditious and antiRoman. For example, Tacitus had the impression that Jews despised the gods, disowned their country, and treated their own family as of “little account” (Hist. 5.5). His opinion of Christians was not much better (see Ann. 15.44). This brings us to a second reason Paul may have modestly worked with the default household structure: survival.4 Paul knew well that slave conspiracies and revolts met gruesome fates, such as mass crucifixions. Tacitus recounts an occasion, under Nero, when the senatorial policy was reinstated that all the slaves of a household would be killed if a single slave murdered his master (Ann. 13.32.1). A third factor pertains to the legal matters involved in a household. The pater familias of a household by law possessed patria potestas, legal responsibility for the management of his estate and all those within its ambit. He had to provide food and care for all, slave or free, and was expected to give “monetary allowances” to his clients and workers.5 There would have been a state-required responsibility, then, for the father of the household to be the main authority, like the manager of a business. The state would not change this system just because a family decided to operate in a more egalitarian way, so it would be easy to see how Christian families were best served by adapting to the legally The Lordship of Christ in 3:18–4:1 supported household system rather than seeking to Wives, submit yourselves to your change or subvert it. husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (NIV 3:18) Finally, there is the matter of relatability. Obviously churches met in households, and when Children, obey your parents in everything, unbelievers were invited to a house church for a for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord worship meeting, the guest would naturally observe (3:20) the management of the household. First Corinthians Slaves, obey your earthly masters in every12:22-23 reminds us that Paul cared about what visthing . . . in the Lord (3:22) itors to a church meeting thought about what was going on. Also, even later in Colossians, Paul warns Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your them to act wisely toward outsiders (4:5). masters, knowing that from the Lord you Nevertheless, thematically, one should not miss the will receive the inheritance as your reward; central contribution that Paul makes to the houseyou serve the Lord Christ (3:23-24) hold-management topos—the rule or lordship of Christ. [The Lordship of Christ in 3:18–4:1] All relationships in the Christian household are ultimately “managed” by the lord Jesus

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 165

Colossians 3:18–4:1

165

Transforming from Within Christ, and everything happens “in Ben Witherington explains Paul’s intentions and purChrist.” J. P. Hering refers to two axes poses in the household codes in this way: “As is typical that are affected by this rule— of Paul, the apostle begins with the audience where they are, “divine-human” and “intra-human.” and where they are—the de facto situation in the Greco-Roman world—is in a patriarchal society with a patriarchal household He points back to Colossians 1:4, structure. What is striking about the way Paul deals with this where Paul commends the Colossians structure is not how he promotes it, but how he seeks to modify for their faith in Christ Jesus (divineit, to make it more in accord with Christian values.” human axis) and their love for the Witherington argues that Paul encouraged such Christian values as love and fairness in the household. He was seeking to saints (intra-human axis). This unitransform the household from the inside out, “injecting the versal dominion of Christ, Hering leaven of the gospel into the context of the Christian household, urges, bears both grace and responsiseeking to modify age-old practices and to mold them into a bility. The grace and mercy of Christ more Christ-like shape.” See B. Witherington III, “Was Paul a Pro-Slavery Chauvinist? Making Sense of are evident in his redeeming love and Paul’s Seemingly Mixed Moral Messages,” BRev 20/2 (2004): 8, 44. self-sacrifice (see 1:15-20). He also places demands on all believers to live in their circumstances with personal integrity and single-minded concern for the community.6 [Transforming from Within]

COMMENTARY Wives and Husbands, 3:18-19

As mentioned above, Paul addresses household relationships in the three “groups” that are common to the household-management topos especially exemplified by Aristotle’s political discourse: wives and husbands (3:18-19), children and fathers (3:20-21), and slaves and masters (3:22–4:1). Paul begins with “wives” (hai gynaikes), who are called to submit (hypotassesthe) to their husbands. The language of submission implies a difference in terms of authority. Literally, the verb hypotassø means “to set in order under.” In the LXX, it is used in reference to subjection to the king (1 Chr 29:24), and also in the context of military authority (2 Macc 8:22). In Romans, Paul exhorts the believers to submit themselves to the governing authorities (13:1). Obviously, then, Paul is establishing a certain “order” within the households in Colossae where wives are to “organize” themselves under their husbands. This was a normal concept in the ancient world. As Dunn reminds us, “there were no traditions of liberal democracy in the world of the Roman Empire.”7

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 166

166

Colossians 3:18–4:1

Josephus and Philo on Wives’ Inferiority and Servitude The woman, says the law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed, for the authority has been given by God to the man. (Josephus, Ag. Ap. 2.201, LCL) Wives must be in servitude (douleuø) to their husbands, a servitude not imposed by violent illtreatment, but promoting obedience in all things. (Philo, Hypothetica 7.3, LCL)

Paul avoids absolutist language in his code, neither referring to the inferiority of women nor to their responsibility to serve husbands like slaves (as douleuø implies for Philo).

Paul does not, however, rigidly parrot the same ideas present in pagan discussions of household management. Several unique elements here are critical. First, he addresses the subordinate party (in each case, including children and slaves) as a contributing member of the household. He does not simply tell husbands to overpower and dominate wives, but he tells both parties to “do their part,” so to speak, in the proper ordering of the household. Second, he uses the language of submission (hypotassø) for wives, and not obedience (hypakouø ). [Josephus and Philo on Wives’ Inferiority and Servitude]

Third, Paul uses the middle “voice” of the verb, implying that the action is one carried out by the person on himself or herself. As David Garland appropriately points out, the middle voice demonstrates that “the wife’s submission [is] her willing choice, not some universal law that ordains masculine dominance.”8 Finally, the kind of submission that the wife should have is the kind that is “fitting in the Lord.” Why would a first-century wife not submit to her husband? There could be any number of reasons a wife might push back against the authority of her husband, but I think it is safe to assume that Paul has in mind especially reasons pertaining to the transcendentascetic philosophy. Perhaps some women thought they could live and act independently and even defiantly in the household because they were privy to special visions and ecstatic experiences. Paul would not consider this “fitting,” as it brings rivalry and tumult to the household, not harmony and order. It puffs up the self and does not build up the other. When it comes to husbands (hoi andres), in 3:19a, his command is for them to love (agapate) their wives. No doubt the best of the Greco-Roman moralistic tradition would have encouraged husbands to practice the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, but Paul raises Christian husbands to his ultimate standard of agap∑—love. In 3:14, he already referred to agap∑ as the highest virtue that guides patience, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, and humility (3:12-13). It was not unheard of for philosophers to promote love [PseudoPhocylides on Love, Gentleness, and Care], but it should be clear that Paul’s model of love is the example of Christ, the same Christ who,

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 167

Colossians 3:18–4:1

167

though he is lord of all, humbled himself to Pseudo-Phocylides on Love, Gentleness, and a shameful death on the cross for the sake of Care Love your own wife, for what is sweeter and bringing reconciliation to sinful humans better than whenever a wife is kindly disposed (Col 1:15-20; cf. Phil 2:5-11). While Paul toward (her) husband and a husband toward (his) wife. does not undermine the traditional authori- (195) tative position of the husband over the wife, he “softens” the tendency in that culture for Do not be harsh with your children, but be gentle. And if a child offends against you, let the mother cut her men to manage the household with a heavy son down to size. (205) hand; as he remarks in 3:19b, “do not be embittered against them” (NET). No doubt Provide your slave with the tribute he owes his the kind of “love” Paul expects from hus- stomach. Apportion to a slave what is appointed so that he will be as you wish. (223) bands is exemplified in the well-known 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a passage: “Love is Do not brand (your) slave, thus insulting him. (225) patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not Ps. Phoc., see 175–227, “Marriage, Chastity, and Family Life.” insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Based on the radical other-ness of this exposition of love, scholars like I. H. Marshall call this kind of male-centered leadership “lovepatriarchy,” a responsibility of the husband to embody these virtues of love. Marshall argues that Paul may have been reinforcing the patriarchal system of the Greco-Roman world (and traditional Judaism) to maintain a well-ordered household, but the “love” element would so transform the relationship that it could hardly be recognizable as a top-down authority.9 “It is actually very difficult to see where a loving contemporary hierarchical husband would in practice insist on his own way over against the will of his wife. I suspect that in fact many husbands who are hierarchicalists in theory are virtually egalitarian in practice.”10 Before moving on to commands concerning children and parents, it is interesting to reflect on a point that Gordon Fee raises regarding the household situations in the Lycus valley. At the end of Colossians, Paul requests that his letter be read by the Laodiceans, including the household of Nympha (Col 4:15). The naming of a house church under the patronage of a woman was uncommon (cf. 1 Cor 1:16; 16:15; 2 Tim 4:19). Nevertheless, it is almost certainly implied that Nympha was the house church patroness and leader. Fee presumes that this means that the church was under her leadership, but she was probably single or a widow.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 168

168

Colossians 3:18–4:1

How would she hear Colossians 3:18–4:1? “[T]here would have been no husband to submit to, and she would have assumed the man’s role in the other relationships.”11 What Fee means is that she would have been the mater familias, and when she heard the code, she probably would have had to adjust it such that she was taking on the male’s normal responsibilities for household affairs. Part of Fee’s point, I believe, is that there obviously would have been circumstances in households where adjustments were necessary. This should caution interpreters against presuming a kind of “universal household ethic” imposed by this passage. Children and Fathers, 3:20-21

After addressing husbands and wives, Paul turns to children and fathers in 3:20-21. Children (ta tekna) are exhorted to obey (hypakouete) their parents (tois goneusin) in all matters (3:20a). Beverly Gaventa observes, “The references to actual flesh-and-blood children who inhabit the Pauline communities are rare indeed. There is no clear reference to children themselves as believers although there are passages that suggest the presence of children in the communities.”12 While there are references to households, we are not permitted a glimpse into what Paul thinks about children and childhood. Even in the Colossian household code, however, he appears to be reinforcing generally what is taught in Torah as well as the best of Greco-Roman attitudes toward parenting. As for Paul’s Jewish upbringing, we can turn to the Decalogue, where honor for mother and father was demanded (Exod 20:12; cf. Deut 5:16), a teaching Jesus clearly supported (Matt 19:19). In Proverbs we read, “Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (NIV 23:22). Jewish sage Ben Sira calls his readers to honor mother and father, respecting the ones who brought you into the world: “Remember that it was of your parents you were born: how can you repay what they have given to you?” (Sir 7:27-28). The Greeks and Romans shared similar household values. Suzanne Dixon explains the benefits a child brings to the household: “maintaining the [family] name, the religious rites, the general concept of continuity, family property, etc. . . .”13 She explains that parents sometimes appreciated even the frivolity of childhood (“a delight in childish characteristics such as playfulness and childish speech patterns”), but parents generally praised chil-

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 169

Colossians 3:18–4:1

dren who showed discipline, intelligence, and maturity.14 The assumption that children would be obedient to parents not only facilitated the household order and management but was also bound up with family honor: “Roman sons and daughters literally bore the family name and could bring glory or discredit on it by their behavior.”15 Presumably modern Western readers imagine that Paul’s advice to “children in the household” is directed toward young children. That is because in places like twenty-first-century America, children “go off to college” as teenagers and do not tend to return to live in the household of their parents. In the ancient Roman world (and many societies even today), however, children stayed within their parents’ household much later, and sometimes there was no expectation or desire for independence or separation from parents, regardless of age or stage of life. This makes more sense of Paul addressing children in a letter read aloud in a church meeting. These “children” may actually be adults who fall under the authority of their fathers as managers of the household. If we are trying to contextualize the Colossian household code, then, we might hear Paul saying that, regardless of what kind of visions or spiritual experiences one might have, that does not qualify him or her to disregard the authority of the pater familias. Order and harmony must be a priority in the household. The second part of 3:20(b) explains that such obedience is appropriate, “for this is pleasing in the Lord.” This adds another dimension beyond the teachings of, for example, Ben Sira above. Being obedient to parents is not just a noble repayment of their love and care; it is something in which God delights. The fact that Paul adds this piece of rationale means he is treating the children as thinking, active participants in the church and home, helping the household to function smoothly. While children are told to obey, Paul also addresses the father— “do not provoke (erithizete) your children, or they may lose heart” (3:21). The fact of the matter is that we are not in a position to know much about parental habits and attitudes in the Roman world. As Dixon explains, “apart from odd pieces of recorded folklore, this has not survived as well as the prescriptive literature of philosophers and moralists.”16 Nevertheless, we do a have a sense that threats of violence were not rarely issued against children, but much of this appears to involve discipline in education and, thus,

169

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 170

170

Colossians 3:18–4:1

Fatherly Consent of Punishment Christian Laes recounts the words of a papyrus where a father consents to the beating of his son by the schoolmaster: “Go ahead, beat him, for he has not received a beating since leaving his father. I’m sure he would like a few blows. His bottom is used to it, and he needs his daily dose” (Sammelbuch griechischer Urkunden aus Ägypten 5, 7655).

at the hands of teachers and schoolmasters. [Fatherly Consent of Punishment] In fact, so common was this pedagogical disciplinary threat that Menander’s saying was well known and oftrepeated: “He who has never received a beating is uneducated.”17 The use of physical force was supported by Roman law, but with the proviso that such See C. Laes, Children in the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 141. beating should not cause irreparable damage (see Suetonius, Otho 2, 1). One way to reflect on this matter is to compare how the pater familias might punish his son versus his slave. While both children and slaves might receive the same kind of punishment (such as being beaten with rods), “pietas was regarded as a moral constraint on paternal punishment of children.”18 Also, it appears that the purposes of punishments were different for children and slaves. Cicero remarks that children were chastised in order to learn obedience, but slaves were punished as a form of control (Resp. 3.25.37).19 It is in this context that we should hear Paul’s concern that fathers not aggravate (erithizø)—a verb that means “to stir up.” The pater familias should not provoke his children through mistreatment. Under persistent provocation, children will lose heart (hina m∑ athymøsin). The LXX uses this verb to represent the downcast and dispirited disposition of Hannah as she prayed year by year for a child to no avail (see 1 Sam 1:7). Athymeø is used when someone is worn down and driven to despondency (see Philo, Gaius 184). Slaves and Masters, 3:22–4:1

In the third section of the household code, Paul addresses slaves and masters. Slavery was prevalent in Roman households, and scholars estimate that, in the time of Paul, slaves made up 10 percent of the overall population, with the number increased to 20 to 30 percent in and around Rome.20 It is important to note that slavery in the Roman world was not like slavery in America in the nineteenth century. People were not forced into slavery solely based on their ethnic origin. One became a slave through three possible means. First, one could be born into slavery. Second, it would happen if one were captured in war. Finally, someone might be forced into slavery as the result of a legal penalty.21 Their services or

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 171

Colossians 3:18–4:1

171

duties could be classified in these ways: household slaves, imperial and public slaves, slaves in urban crafts and services, agricultural slaves, and mining slaves.22 Slaves were considered property at the control and mercy of their masters. Nevertheless, there was considerable variance regarding the lifestyle, treatment, privileges, responsibility, and relative power given to a slave. Slaves could own other slaves. They could also be emancipated by their master: “Slaves were generally freed because of services they had rendered to their masters, or because of an associated feeling that a slave was too talented to be enslaved.”23 While they remained as slaves, though, they were at their masters’ mercy, and all too often they were treated cruelly and punished prematurely and severely. Jennifer Glancy repeats the indicative statement made by Richard Saller: “The lot of bad slaves was to be beaten and that of good slaves was to internalize the constant threat of a beating.”24 While any one instance of such wanton brutality on the part of a master could be written off as a lack of self-control and decency, there was an institutional purpose Pollio, His Slave, and the Lampreys for such treatment of salves. There were so many Publius Vedius Pollio, an official under slaves in Roman society that the Romans felt Augustus, once had the pleasure of they needed to be controlled, lest a revolt create entertaining the emperor as a dinner guest. When Pollio’s slave accidentally dropped a crystal chaos and anarchy. [Pollio, His Slave, and the Lampreys] goblet, Pollio was so incensed that he ordered the All sorts of methods were used to demean and slave to be thrown into a pool of flesh-eating lamcontrol slaves, including branding. Gregory preys. The slave was only spared thanks to Aldrete refers to the practice of some masters Augustus’s clemency and despite Pollio’s intransigency. Indeed, in sympathy for the mistreated who “outfitted their slaves with iron collars from slave, Augustus ordered that all of Pollio’s crystal which were hung tags inscribed with messages dishes and cups be dashed and that the lamprey such as ‘If you find this slave, he has run away. pool be drained. Please return him to his owner at the following See Seneca, On Anger 3.40. address.’”25 The Apostle Paul certainly would not have approved of torture or abuse toward slaves (see Phil 4:5). But neither would he have condoned violent slave rebellions. History tells us that slaves sometimes ran away (see above), but they also banded together and revolted, as in the famous case of Spartacus. Dillon and Garland note that other, less extreme forms of slave resistance included “laziness, sabotage and willful damage.”26 Paul promoted peace and harmony within the household. [Did Paul Condone Slavery?] In 3:22a he tells slaves in the church to obey (hypakouete) in every respect their earthly masters (kata sarka kuriois).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 172

172

Colossians 3:18–4:1

The phrase kata sarka, literally “according to the flesh (e.g., what is human, earthly),” is a Pauline trademark (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18; Gal 4:23, 29). In this language, he appears to be referring to certain levels, planes, or dimensions. Flesh (sarx) can simply mean “physical” (1 Cor 10:18), but Paul also likes to juxtapose what is kata sarx with what is kata pneuma (according to the Spirit). This dichotomy tends to have a moral edge to it. The “flesh” is limited and leads people to live in selfish and petty ways (Rom 8:12-13). Perhaps Paul was referring to some earthly masters as those who govern their houses kata sarka— in a worldly way (see 2 Cor 11:18). Slaves should live, however, “fearing the [true] Lord [Jesus Christ]” (3:22c). See R. P. Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (Interpretation; In calling for slave obedience, he refers to Louisville KY: WJK, 1991) 138. two potential cop-outs. Slaves should not Ambrosiaster on Servant only be interested in “eye-service” (ophthalmodoulia), a Obedience neologism that appears to mean service given to a master “We are all obliged to fulfill only as a show. As Lincoln suggests, if a slave is only interour responsibilities in ested in working hard when the master is looking, he or she whatever situation or position we currently find ourselves in, so as to may be cutting corners and neglecting responsibilities in encourage the minds of unbethe absence of the master.27 Such work turns slaves into lievers to worship God when they “people-pleasers” (anthrøpareskoi) where the sole purpose is see that that is just and humble. to safeguard the master’s satisfaction of the work based on Masters will see that their servants have improved and are more relimere appearance—there is no serious interest in perable in their services they render, forming one’s work to the best of one’s abilities as an honest and servants will experience the and obedient servant. [Ambrosiaster on Servant Obedience] For kindness of their masters.” Paul, though, motive matters and the heart guides the will See G. L. Bray, ed. Ambrosiaster: Commentaries on Galatians-Romans (ACT; and body, so obedience must happen “with a sincere heart” Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2009) 60. (NET; en aplot∑ti kardias). In 3:23, Paul clarifies simply and plainly what he expects of all believers, no less slaves by legal status: “Whatever you do, work at it wholeheartedly (ek psych∑s), as for the Lord and not mortals” (AT). Paul does not just give this command as a moral motivation speech; he also adds an eschatological encouragement and incenDid Paul Condone Slavery? In Colossians, Paul nowhere condemns the institution of slavery. Does he support and encourage it? Looking at texts like Col 3:11, he clearly has an egalitarian viewpoint toward the social status of slaves, but his primary concern is with the quality of relationships, not with the particular change in circumstance of a person (see 1 Cor 7:17-24). What that means is that Paul struggled with a tension between his vision of freedom and equality in light of new creation in Christ, and also the reality of life in a rigid social hierarchy in the Roman world around him. Probably for the same reasons he called wives to submit to their husbands and children to parents, he also tells slaves to obey their masters to promote order in the household. Ralph Martin makes the further point that “Paul does not advocate a social philosophy that countenances revolution and violence. In the exigencies of the social structures of the Roman Empire of Paul’s day, slavery could be overthrown only by violent means; and the apostle will be no party to class hatred or violent methods (cf. Rom. 12:17-21).”

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 173

Colossians 3:18–4:1

tive: “since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (3:24a). In 1:12 he had already referred to the believer’s preapproved qualification for the inheritance from God the Father given to believers. As Margaret MacDonald explains, in Paul’s day slaves typically were not allowed to inherit property. What we find in Colossians 3:24a, then, is a “reversal of cultural expectations,” as Paul transforms their status in the eyes of the Lord.28 As Peter Garnsey aptly puts it, for Romans, “The great divider between slave and son is the capacity of the son to inherit.”29 Paul is saying that the patient endurance of the genuinely obedient slave will be rewarded by the Lord. The idea that this will happen in the future is a tacit confirmation that things are not the way they were meant to be. Paul gives the kind of advice he does because members of the household are often reacting to what they feel are injustices and inequities. The wrath of God is coming (3:6) precisely to make right what has gone wrong, to make the invisible visible, to expose evil works for what they are (and punish them), and to publicize the unassuming virtues of hard and honest work (for reward and recognition). Paul adds, “You are working as a slave for the Lord Christ” (3:24b). This probably means two things to slaves. First of all, it reinforces that their real master is the one Lord Jesus Christ and not the earthly master who may not treat his household slaves and workers fairly. Second, it may also be a reminder that the Lord Christ knows what it is like to be treated like a slave (Phil 2:7) and to be cruelly beaten and condemned (1 Cor 2:8). After all, crucifixion itself was a punishment typically reserved for slaves, the lowest in society regarding status and human worth.30 Paul’s point would be that slaves who knew their true Master to be the Lord Christ would have a compassionate kyrios who, far from being a spoiled, vindictive despot, could identify with the pain, sorrow, and shame of life at the bottom of society. When it comes time for judgment, God will not look at the brandings of a slave, the information on his iron collar, or his or her empty pocket. Neither will God recognize the social status of a free man and master. Rather, “the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality” (3:25). This is reminiscent of 3:6, where Paul warns of the coming wrath (org∑ ) of God against those who are disobedient.

173

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 174

174

Colossians 3:18–4:1

The statement in 3:25 that God shows no partiality (prosøpol∑mpsia), that God does not play favorites, is a key theme in Romans as well. In Romans 2:11, Paul reminds his readers that neither Jews nor Gentiles are treated as more special than the other. In Colossians, the same goes for masters and slaves. This would have been a rather radical view because people like Aristotle put so much emphasis on the slaving being inferior by nature. In Colossians 3:11, Paul already explained that in the new act of God’s creative redemption, “slave” and “free” are not value-laden categories. If Christ is in any person, he or she cannot be inferior to anyone else. Thus, not only should each one be treated as equal, but also masters will not be extended special treatment simply because of their privilege in society. No wrongs (adikøn) will be swept under the carpet on account of status or power. All acts of injustice will be exposed and dealt with. Practically speaking, a slave need not take matters into his or her own hands, because such should be left up to the Master of the masters. [The Consequences of Roman Slave Resistance] Finally, in 4:1, Paul turns to address masters (kyrioi). He calls them to extend to their slaves both just treatment (dikaios) and equal treatment (isot∑tos). He gives a particular rationale for this fair-minded attitude: “for you know that you also have a Master (kyrios) in heaven.” The underlying principle here is similar to Jesus’ Parable of the Unforgiving Slave (Matt 18:23-35)—how can you expect compassion and pity from your master when you refuse to show mercy to your own slave (Matt 18:27, 32-35)? That is to put it negatively. To conceive of it more positively, human masters must remember such grace and love extended to them through Christ the Lord and show the same kind of benevolence and goodwill toward those under their charge, including slaves. In Philippians 4:5, Paul tells them that their gentleness should be known by everyone, and in Colossians 4:1 it is specifically directed toward the least loved and valued members of Roman society—slaves. It was

The Consequences of Roman Slave Resistance Paul was obviously teaching believers Christ-like virtues (see Col 3:12), but his encouragement that slaves treat their masters well may also have been practical and apologetic. There are stories of slave rebellions that did not tend to end well. The Roman state was not merciful toward defiant slaves. Tacitus tells the story of a debate in the Senate regarding the murder of prominent senator and urban prefect Pedanius Secundus. He was killed by one of his household slaves. This slave may have murdered him because the master refused to free the slave, or perhaps they shared the same lover. By law, all the remaining slaves of the household were to be executed. Indeed, many citizens called for just such a punishment so as to maintain civility and order and to reinforce the household system of authority. The senate approved this penalty, and 400 slaves under this one household were put to death. No doubt Paul tried to discern when to fight the system and when to “fly under the radar,” so to speak. Rather than expose the church to accusations of sedition and mutiny, he encouraged the same virtues of Jesus himself who, according to 1 Pet 2:23, “did not return abuse” when reviled, but “entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” See Tacitus, Ann. 14.42-3.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 175

Colossians 3:18–4:1 Seneca’s Discourse on Slavery Seneca the Younger wrote a series of letters to Roman procurator of Sicily Lucilius. In letter 47, Seneca discusses the travesties of slave abuse. He shows abhorrence that they are not treated as real human beings and mentions the horror of the master getting fat on his fine dining while slaves stand in ready service, silent and hungry around him all night (47.2-3). He pities the slave boys who are forced to pleasure masters sexually: “he is kept beardless by having his hair smoothed away or plucked out by the roots, and he must remain awake throughout the night, dividing his time between his master’s drunkenness and his lust” (47.7). Seneca appeals to the universal brotherhood of humanity in his statements. A slave shares with masters the same stock, the same sky above, and, like anyone else, “breathes, lives, and dies” (47.10). One of Seneca’s key arguments for showing kindness to slaves is not unlike Paul’s point. Seneca encourages masters even to treat slaves as they would want to be treated by

175

their own superiors. What if you have no master? “You are till young,” Seneca retorts, “perhaps you will have one.” He gives the examples of Hecuba, Croesus, Plato, and Diogenes entering into captivity or indentured service (47.12). His final point is that men should not be judged on the basis of their slave status: “Accident assigns duties” (47.15). Rather, one should value someone based on his character. After all, everyone is a slave in some way, whether to lust or greed or fear—or perhaps “an old hag” (47.17). The question is not whether a man is a slave or free; it is whether his soul is free. If you honor the good character of a slave, he will respect you. Seneca explicitly does not mean that slaves should not be slaves. Rather, he wishes to restore the kind of master-slave relationship that existed in earlier generations—in the good old days. How should a master treat his slave? “Associate with your slave on kindly, even on affable, terms; let him talk with you, plan with you, live with you” (47.13). See Seneca, Epistles 1-65, LCL, trans. R. M. Gummere.

easy for masters to treat slaves as subhuman. While Ben Sira commends the hardworking slave and discourages masters from abusing the diligent and skilled (Sir 7:20-21), he still finds torture to be an effective method of discipline for lazy or unruly slaves (33:25-27). Also, the motivation for Ben Sira’s kindness is largely pragmatic: “If you have but one slave, treat him like yourself . . . treat him like a brother, for you will need him as you need your life” (33:25). Certainly there were some public voices issuing concerns about the miserable plight of the abused slave and advocating for fairness and justice. [Seneca’s Discourse on Slavery] Paul, however, completely destabilized the “natural” order with his claim of equality (3:11) and his support of slaves like Onesimus. N. T. Wright summarizes well how Paul addressed the plight of slaves in his own day: Paul does not protest against the institution of slavery. That would be about as useful, for him, as a modern preacher fulminating against the internal combustion engine. His approach is subtler. He found a fixed point on which to stand, from which to move the world: slaves too are human beings with rights. To talk of “justice” and “fairness” (properly the word means “equality”) in relation to slaves would sound extraordinary to most slave-owners of the ancient world.31

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 176

176

Colossians 3:18–4:1

CONNECTIONS The Hermeneutics of Application: The Case Study of Women in Marriage, 3:18-19

The NT household codes offer some of the most challenging texts to relate to Christian faith and community life today. More than most other texts, the hermeneutical issues involved are extremely complex. Is Paul making a case for all women of all time to submit to their husbands? What is the Biblical view of gender and the appropriate relationships between men and women? How does this relate to Paul’s statements towards slaves? Before addressing specifically how to apply the Colossian household code for the church today, we must reflect on how to approach the hermeneutical dimension of “hearing” this text today. There appear to be three noteworthy hermeneutical perspectives on applying this kind of scriptural text. We might refer to them as (a) direct/universal, (b) redemptive-progressive, and (c) eschatologicalimprovisational. The first model is, perhaps, the traditional one—the one presumed throughout most of the interpretations during the last 2,000 years. This interpretive framework treats the commands in 3:18–4:1 as direct (application) and universal (in relevance to all times and all people). Thus, when it comes to marital relationships, the patriarchal perspective is standard. This approach is represented by Richard Melick, Jr., who makes the following statement about husband and wife in Colossians 3:18-19: Paul’s message was that whenever these relationships exist, the people in them are expected to act as Paul commanded through the Spirit of God. When servants are servants (and masters are masters), these guidelines pertain. When children are children (and parents are parents), these guidelines remain. Likewise, when a woman is a wife (and a man is a husband), this is the order God expects.32

Melick defends this by pointing to other Pauline texts that call for the submission of wives or the unique authority of husbands (e.g., he notes 1 Cor 11:2-16). Thus, Melick believes that the command for wives to submit is directly relevant to today and universal because such relationships do in fact exist in our time. While Melick tries to handle this matter with cultural sensitivity, there is

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 177

Colossians 3:18–4:1

one major problem with trying to make the household code universal—what about slavery? In fact, he inevitably admits that “when servants are servants (and masters are masters), these guidelines pertain.” Many interpreters would find this approach a bit too static—does Scripture at all call for the abolition of slavery? How does this work hermeneutically? On the opposite end of the spectrum of the direct/universal approach is one where the commands of Scripture are seen as contextual and often limited, but the modern church can learn from an eschatological power behind the perspective that is shared by Paul. This approach is eschatological insofar as it sees something radical happening in Scripture, even though the focus is not on a “direct” sort of application to prohibitions and commands that were aimed at people and situations of the ancient world. Rather, one must look at the demand of the eschatological reality of the death and resurrection of Christ through the Spirit as a calling to obey Christ in our own time. One might call this “improvisational” because it means that the modern church is guided by the light of Scripture, but we do not mimic what the ancient church did (which was specific to its own time and culture). This approach is modeled by Suzanne Watts Henderson, especially in her article, “Taking Liberties with the Text: the Colossian Household Code as Hermeneutical Paradigm.”33 Rather than read Colossians 3:18–4:1 as a direct and universal “code” for marital relationships, she takes a cue from Richard Hays, who views Paul himself as one who read his Bible in light of “a certain imaginative vision of the relation between Scripture and God’s eschatological activity in the present time.” So Henderson develops this further in terms of modern scriptural application by asking how we might capture today the “imaginative vision” of Colossians 3:18–4:1. For Henderson, it is not with wives submitted to husbands but with a broader appeal to obedience to God. She believes that taking the text seriously as Scripture means attentiveness to “the text’s impulse to redefine prevailing social attitudes in light of the Christian faith by framing all domestic concerns within the lordship of Christ. Those who dismiss this passage as selling out to a hierarchical worldview—and abandoning the Christian movement’s earlier egalitarian thrust—have failed to take seriously the radical nature of the ‘new life in Christ’ the writer intends to inculcate.”34 Henderson believes that the code (as part

177

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 178

178

Colossians 3:18–4:1

of Scripture) has a message for today, but not about wives submitting to husbands. It is about how relationships in the household, still a microcosm of society, need to be re-envisioned in light of “new life in Christ.” So, in summary, Melick treats the household code as Scripture where the specific commands should be obeyed by all Christians everywhere and in all cultures. Henderson considers Colossians 3:18–4:1 “Scripture” but does not apply this Scripture directly as commands to obey. Rather, she looks at the “vision” of the text more broadly in terms of obeying Christ in all relationships. Between these two extremes is what I call the “redemptiveprogressive” approach to Scripture. This view notes that, generally speaking, there are many commands in Scripture that are normative for all peoples in all times, but sometimes this is not the case, especially when we see a movement within the wider narrative of Scripture that points toward some kind of divine ideal. This model is worked out in detail by William Webb in his book Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. Webb argues that, in cases like the roles of slaves and women in society, while we do not see the people of God living out an “ultimate ethic” (the ideal way of living that God finally desires), we can see the trajectory toward equality through canonical development in Scripture. We also can sense the “redemptive spirit” of a biblical social ethic by comparing how the church is called to behave in view of the surrounding culture. [F. F. Bruce on Paul and Women] F. F. Bruce on Paul and Women Scot McKnight recounts his own journey toward understanding what Scripture has to say about women in leadership in his book The Blue Parakeet. During his doctoral studies in the UK, McKnight jumped at the opportunity to have tea with evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce. During their visit together, McKnight asked Bruce, “What do you think of women’s ordination?” Bruce replied, “I don’t think the New Testament talks about ordination.” McKnight inquired again, “What about the silencing passages of Paul on women?” Bruce responded, “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah.” See S. McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2008) 206–207. Valentin de Boulogne (?) (1591–1632). Saint Paul Writing His Epistles. Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston TX. (Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Probably_ Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_ His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg)

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 179

Colossians 3:18–4:1

Webb notes that we have, within the biblical text, teaching and guidance from the Lord that is “written within a cultural framework with limited moves towards an ultimate ethic.” 35 I believe that Webb’s sophisticated hermeneutical model presented in his book is cogent and sensible; thus I will go into further detail about how he develops his argument that there is development toward an ethic of gender equality in Scripture. A key for Webb’s model is the appearance of any “seed statements,” expressions within Scripture that “suggest and encourage further movement on a particular subject.”36 He considers Galatians 3:28 such a text. While the question to what degree Paul’s statement to the Galatians should affect social relationships (versus being merely a statement about equality in salvation) is a matter of debate, but I believe that Webb draws the right implications from the fact that male/female is set alongside Jew/Gentile and, as for the latter pairing, Paul certainly pushed for social equality. Another key consideration for Webb is “Breakouts”—moments in Scripture where we see a deviation from a cultural norm by a (positive) person or character. We find many examples where women show competence in authoritative roles, including Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, and Junia. A final key matter that Webb deals with regards whether or not woman’s subordination has to do with a hierarchal relationship by virtue of creation or the fall/curse. If man’s authoritative leadership derives from God’s own mandate and establishment, then there is no reason to believe that there is any development in Scripture toward a kind of equality that would undermine that. On the other hand, if men and women were created to share leadership equally in partnership, then any attempts to subdue or subordinate the other would be a sinful maneuver, and one could make an argument for movement toward equality throughout Scripture. Again, I believe Webb (and others) have argued persuasively that there are multiple ways to read and interpret the creation narratives, and he is able to counter patriarchal interpretations convincingly. One key point that Webb makes in his final reflections in his book deals with the inherent challenge of how far to read the trajectory past Scripture. When it comes to relationships between women and men, does the redemptive arc push all the way to pure equality, or is the final ethic still a kind of patriarchy? While Webb himself leans more toward pure equality, he leaves open the possi-

179

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 180

180

Colossians 3:18–4:1

bility of the latter option. He is quick to stress, though, that such a type of patriarchy should not be demanding or harsh, but moderate and benevolent. Thus, he refers to this as “ultra-soft patriarchy,” a husband-weighted authority that “minimizes the liabilities of patriarchy as much as possible while keeping a measure of greater deference and honor.”37 As you might guess, I am not at all convinced that the demand from Scripture is that women in all times and places should submit to their husbands’ higher authority. It is extremely difficult to maintain a sensible rationale for this theologically. Either women are treated as intellectually inferior to men in decision-making,38 or else there is just no rationale and it is simply “the way things are.” When there is no rationale (or a weak one), however, exceptions could proliferate: what if the husband is mentally handicapped? What if he is simply far less educated? In such situations, I believe a clear basis is necessary. Texts like Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 lead me to believe that no rationale exists, so the demand for subordination of wives is not absolute. Thus, we might wonder, what does this text (3:18–4:1) mean to me now? Given the emphasis on behavior oriented toward “the Lord [Jesus],” the lasting message of the household code is that the home should be a place where Christ reigns centrally and clearly. Too many pastors, church leaders, and ostensible disciples lead two lives—their public lives as ministers, missionaries, elders, and deacons, and their private lives where selfish attitudes and decisions too easily rule. The message is simple to repeat but difficult to obey—Christ must be the lord of the household, the one to whom each household member (whatever role given) is accountable. He sees all hidden behaviors, whether the endless good deeds that the spouse or children don’t notice or the concealed misbehaviors, such as hiding purchases of which the other household members would not approve. There is also an apologetic element here. How will unbelievers find Christianity attractive if a key context of our life, our household, is a sham? If we don’t invest in our marriages or good parenting, what are we communicating about our concern for the well-being of our families? When pastors work sixty-hour weeks and rarely see spouse and children, what priorities are being set? When Christ comes to the center of the household, things change. Each member wants to please the Lord with his or her behavior, so all relationships are strengthened.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 181

Colossians 3:18–4:1

Notes 1. See D. Balch’s now classic study, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter (Chico CA: Scholars Press, 1981). 2. C. Osiek and D. Balch, Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches (Louisville KY: WJK, 1997) 84. 3. James D. G. Dunn, “The Household Rules in the New Testament,” in The Family in Theological Perspective (ed. S. C. Barton; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996) 43–63, at 67. 4. See Dunn, “Household Rules,” 61. 5. See L. Michael White, “Paul and Pater Familias,” in Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook (ed. P. Sampley; Harrisburg PA: TPI, 2003) 457–87, at 458. 6. See J. P. Hering, The Colossian and Ephesian Haustafeln in Theological Context: An Analysis of Their Origins, Relationship, and Message (AUSS 7; New York: Lang, 2007) 63–64. 7. Dunn, “Household Rules,” 61. 8. D. E. Garland, Colossians, Philemon (NIVAC; Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2009) 244. 9. I. H. Marshall, “Mutual Love and Submission in a Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-23,” in Discovering Biblical Equality (ed. R. W. Pierce and R. M. Groothius; Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2004) 186–204. 10. Marshall, “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage,” 194. 11. See G. D. Fee, “Hermeneutics and the Gender Debate,” in Discovering Biblical Equality (ed. R. W. Pierce and R. M. Groothius; Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2004) 375. 12. B. R. Gaventa, “Finding a Place for Children in the Letters of Paul,” in The Child in the Bible (ed. M. J. Bunge; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2008) 233–77, at 234. 13. S. Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992) 102. 14. Ibid., 107. 15. Ibid., 110. 16. Ibid., 116. 17. See C. Laes, Children in the Roman Empire (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 141. 18. R. P. Saller, Patriarchy, Property, and Death in the Roman Family (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 147. 19. See G. G. Fagan, “Punishment,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece & Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 1.69. 20. See S. R. Joshel, Slavery in the Roman World (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010) 8. 21. See R. Alston, Aspects of Roman History, AD 14–117 (New York: Routledge, 1998) 155. 22. See P. Hunt, “Slavery,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece & Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 323. 23. M. Dillon and L. Garland, Ancient Rome (New York: Routledge, 2005) 329.

181

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 182

182

Colossians 3:18–4:1 24. See J. Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 116. 25. G. S. Aldrete, Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2004) 67. 26. Dillon and Garland, Ancient Rome, 322. 27. See A. T. Lincoln, Ephesians (WBC 42; Dallas TX: Word, 1990) 421. 28. M. MacDonald, Colossians and Ephesians (SP; Collegeville MN: Liturgical, 2000) 158; cf. N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon (TNTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1986) 150. 29. P. Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 182. So also C. Laes, “[Slaves] had no rights whatsoever: they could not inherit, own possessions, marry or officially recognize their offspring” (Children in the Roman Empire, 155). 30. See M. Hengel, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross (Philadelphia MN: Fortress, 1977) 52. 31. Wright, Colossians, 150–51. 32. Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (NAC, vol. 32; Nashville TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001) 310. 33. S. W. Henderson, “Taking Liberties with the Text: The Colossians Household Code as Hermeneutical Paradigm,” Interpretation 60/4 (2006): 420–32. 34. Ibid., 422. 35. W. J. Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2001) 30. 36. Ibid., 83. 37. Ibid., 242. 38. Alan Padgett notes that this was the default theological position until rather recently in history. Most scholars and pastors today, though, avoid such conclusions; see As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2011). Someone like Mark Driscoll, however, would be an example of a person who defends the view that women should not be in church leadership because they are “more gullible and easier to deceive than men.” See Driscoll’s Church Leadership: Explaining the Roles of Jesus, Elders, Deacons, and Members at Mars Hill (Seattle WA: Mars Hill Church, 2004).

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 183

Joyful Cruciformity: Patterns and Models Colossians 4:2-18 Moving on from the household instructions (3:18–4:1) to his final statements (4:2-18), Paul offers no transition. One might have expected a conjunction at this point such as de (see 1 Thess 5:12). The subject change is so jarring, in fact, that some scholars have wondered if we might see a sign here that 3:18–4:1 was a later addition—especially since, if it were Melanchthon and Colossians 3:18–4:1 taken out, the text might flow more It is very interesting to note that, in the 1 commentary on Colossians by the smoothly from a rhetorical perspective. sixteenth-century German Reformer Philip However, we have no manuscripts of Melanchthon, the section 3:18–4:1 is not disthe Greek text of Colossians that would cussed at all, and it is the only section in support such a hypothesis. [Melanchthon Colossians that is ignored. It is too much to make and Colossians 3:18–4:1]

this evidence for 3:18–4:1 being an interpolation since we have commentaries much earlier and in great number that do comment on 3:18–4:1, but Melanchthon’s neglect of this passage is fascinating and inexplicable.

Indeed, Charles Talbert, reading 3:18–4:1 together with 4:2-6, proposes that the latter passage may, in fact, help us better understand the former: “The See P. Melanchthon, Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (trans. D. C. Parker; Sheffield: Ahmond Press, 1989). placement of this final exhortation [in 4:5], with its concern for proper relations with outsiders . . . raises the possibility that the code may have been designed to function, as it did in 1 Peter, to lower the hostility of outsiders against the church and possibly win some unbelievers to the faith.”2 Talbert obviously sees the hortatory advice given in 4:2-6 to relate directly to the wider purposes of this letter. Scholars have long debated the literary function of this passage, however. So choppy and random does Paul’s string of commands appear that Calvin Roetzel calls this type of phenomenon “shotgun paraenesis.”3 Similarly, D. G. Bradley presumes that when Paul issues this kind of final series of exhortations, he is not so much addressing problems directly and exclusively related to the core subject matter of the letter itself as offering a “bag of answers to meet recurring problems and questions common to the members of different early Christian communities.”4

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 184

184

Colossians 4:2-18

Between Talbert’s more contextualized approach and Bradley’s “stock-advice” one, we might place the perspective of Ben Witherington. Witherington sees the exhortations as rather general but still pertinent to the letter’s primary concern: “The focus . . . is on getting the Colossians back on track with normal acts of devotion (as opposed to the ascetic suggestions of the errorists) and appropriate wisdom regarding behavior in relationship to outsiders.”5 After the instructions in 4:2-6, Paul offers a series of updates and final instructions, what we sometimes call “business matters” (4:7-18). While it is a bit difficult to determine how this section functions as the word of God to the people of God (since you feel as though you really are listening in on someone else’s Outline of Colossians 4:2-18 private conversation!), close inspection will reveal Praying and Witnessing with Joy, 4:2-6 that much of theological value can be learned inferFinal Words: Sending of Tychicus and entially from Paul’s concluding statements. [Outline of Onesimus, 4:7-9, 10-14, 15 Final Words: Exchanging and Reading of Letters, 4:16 Final Words: Exhortation to Archippus, 4:17 Pauline Autograph and Farewell, 4:18

Colossians 4:2-18]

Three key themes reflected in 4:2-18 and fleshed out in the comments below are worthy of mention here. First, Paul promotes an attitude of Christian vigilance (cf. 4:2, 5), the idea that true believers should live “in the moment,” so to speak, because they live on the brink of a major transition in time. There is much work to be done before what Paul calls “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess 5:2). It will occur suddenly, and God’s true servants will prove themselves in that hour to be the “sons of light” who have been sober and alert until the Master’s return (1 Thess 5:6). In Colossians 4:2-18, Paul, then, may be undermining the “step-right-up-and-get-your-vision-now” approach of the transcendent-ascetic philosophy, because it tended to distract believers from being alert and concentrating on their mission and role in the world on the threshold of judgment. Second, Paul underscores the power of logos—the spoken word. In Colossians as a whole, the Greek word logos appears seven times (cf. Gal 2x; 1 Thess 3x; Phil 4x). Two of those occurrences are in this section: Colossians 4:3 and 4:6. In the first instance, Paul mentions the “word” of the gospel that he endeavors to preach where there may be an opportunity (4:3). In the second occurrence, Paul refers to the graceful logos of the Colossians’ conversation or speech with outsiders. While these logoi (words) are by different speakers, it serves to remind the Colossians of the dynamic character of

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 185

Colossians 4:2-18

speech itself (4:6). Just as the word of the Lord can be refreshing and salubrious to a parched community without the gospel, so too can the insipid verbal testimony (or logos) of an immature believer leave a bad taste in the mouth of an “outsider” observing the church and her faith with curiosity and interest. Finally, especially in 4:7-18, we learn how incredibly interdependent the early churches were in view of the number of greetings and points of connection between Paul, his fellow apostles, and the churches at Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea. Paul’s “salutations” (4:15) are not mere epistolary-genre requirements. He is effusive with praise and gratitude as he refers to various constituencies as beloved, faithful, cooperative, encouraging, hardworking, and compassionate. Paul models what it means to put the wider communities first before personal comfort or privilege. If one of his main points in this letter is that the transcendent-ascetic philosophy is self-centered and exclusively introspective, he rightly ends the letter by calling the people of God together for edification and encouragement.

COMMENTARY Praying and Witnessing with Joy, 4:2-6

Paul commences the first part of this section (4:2-6) tersely with a command to persevere in prayer (4:2a). The main Greek verb in this clause is proskartereø, which means “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty” (L&N 68.68). The basic idea is one of commitment and discipline, especially when it comes to a habit (cf. Rom 12:12; Acts 2:42). They are to be devoted to prayer (proseuch∑), probably with petitionary prayer in Paul’s mind.6 Paul does not detail the kinds of petitions, but, looking at Romans, for example, he encourages prayers from believers that they may “join in my struggle by praying to God for me” (15:30). In Colossians 4:12, Epaphras is an exemplary pray-er as one who strenuously “wrestles” on their behalf (4:12). So, too, the Colossians should treat prayer for themselves, one another, and the gospel mission as “serious business.” Two additional qualifiers follow this request—their commitment to prayer should reflect “alertness” (gr∑goreø) and “thanksgiving”

185

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:06 PM Page 186

186

Colossians 4:2-18

(eucharistia). As for the former, the idea is one of readiness, with acute sensitivity and awareness. The verb gr∑goreø is used in 1 Maccabees 12:27 when “Jonathan commanded his troops to be alert and to keep their arms at hand so as to be ready all night for battle . . . .” For Paul, the need for “alertness” is eschatologically driven in light of the day of the Lord (1 Thess 5:2-10). Paul follows the early Christian tradition of representing the need of readiness in terms of the metaphor of sleepiness and wakefulness (Rom 13:11-12). Because daylight is breaking, we must already live into the day and set aside what is associated with night. Paul may even be relying on a Jesus tradition that eventually is recorded in Mark 13:32-37 regarding the coming of the Son of Man. That is, in the same way the disciples are told to “keep watch” (13:35-37), so Paul desires the Colossians to be at the ready. Commenting on Jesus’ parable about a master who charges his slaves to work and keep watch of the estate while he is gone, Larry Hurtado teases out the theological significance of eschatological watchfulness: When the disciples are told to keep watch [Mark 13:35-37], what is meant is that they are to be on duty, doing their jobs, not that they are to watch for portents indicating when the end will come . . . . The contrast is sleeping [Mark 13:36], which would be failure to do one’s duty and failure to take seriously the warning of the master’s return. Servants are not to scan the horizon for the master and then rush about in a panic when they see him coming; rather, they are to carry out their normal duties. Thus, Jesus’ words in verses 32-37 mean that his followers are to go on with their mission, preaching and living for the gospel, ready for the return of their master at any time, so that he will find them “on the job.”7

Similarly, in Colossians 4:2, Paul presses the need for Christian vigilance, a kind of fastidious attention to the “signs of the times” and awareness of the urgency of paving the way for God’s logos to be let loose on the world. So prayer should be done with all seriousness and fervency. But in one breath he invokes serious and sober-minded prayer, and in the very next breath he promotes a prayer life of thanksgiving (a leitmotif of the letter to the Colossians; see 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2). The kind of mystical prayer endorsed by the transcendent-ascetic philosophy could lead to ecstasy, but it also tended to come from a place of fear—terror that evil forces are always pressing in and taunting and manipulating.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 187

Colossians 4:2-18

187

John Calvin on Asking for Prayer But for the one who prays in Christ and through In his commentary on Colossians, John Christ, hope and joy and thanksgiving should Calvin takes time to disassociate Paul’s come more naturally. When Paul tells the request for prayer from the idea of asking the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but dead for support in prayer, the latter concept one that he attributes to the “Papists.” in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known It is . . . a childish argument on the part of the to God” (4:6), he confidently anticipates that Papists, who infer from this, that the dead must be implored to pray for us. For what is there here the one who does this can expect the true “peace that bears any resemblance to this? Paul comof God” in Christ Jesus (4:7). mends himself to the prayers of his brethren, with In 4:3, he transitions from the subject of whom he knows and he has mutual fellowship according to the commandment of God: who will prayer in general to a request for prayers condeny that this reason does not hold in the case of cerning the apostolic mission in which he takes the dead? Leaving, therefore, such trifles, let us part. [John Calvin on Asking for Prayer] In particular, return to Paul. Paul desires that “God may open a door for us See J. Calvin, Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and for the Word, so that I may communicate the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library) 198. mystery of Christ, because of whom I am bound.” [The Mystery of Christ] The Mystery of Christ In Greek, the word “Christ” It is important to take note of how Paul conceives of is in the genitive case the spreading of the gospel, namely that it involves four (Christou), and the relationship parties. First, we have the “word,” and while it could be between “mystery” (mysterion) and treated inanimately as the gospel-speech alone, the idea of “Christ” is left somewhat ambiguous. This may be an instance of a “genitive it passing through a door gives it a personal quality. of reference,” where we would gloss Given that Christ is associated with “the word” in the this phrase, “the mystery concerning previous chapter (3:16), we might say that the first party Christ.” Given the way mystery lanis Christ himself, present in the logos of the gospel that guage is used of Christ in 1:27, however, it is best to interpret the Paul and his fellow apostles proclaim. Second, we have syntactical use of the genitive in 4:3 God the Father who has the power and the desire to work as a “genitive of simple apposition” sovereignly in such a way as to “open a door” for the where the head noun and the genigospel word. Third, we have Paul himself who is the tive noun or equated: “the mystery which is Christ himself.” agent that God uses to speak the word and reveal the mystery. Finally, the Colossians are called on to support this through prayer. There is some debate among scholars as to whether or not Paul expected his converts and believing communities to actively engage in evangelizing their neighbors, but what is clear is that he certainly believed that they played an important role in the gospel mission through encouragement, financial support, and, of course, prayer. On this last point, James Dunn’s comments are apropos: “Paul has no embarrassment in understanding prayer as asking for things and on behalf of people. Such prayer expressed not a selfishness or

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 188

188

Colossians 4:2-18

acquisitiveness, but a recognition of dependence on God for the opportunities to serve him and the enabling to do so.”8 In Colossians 4:3, Paul additionally makes mention of the fact that he wants to be a clear and bold witness in spite of being in prison (lit., “bound [in chains]”). No doubt Paul adds this aside (“for which I am in prison”) to be a good model to the Colossians, urging them to see signs of weakness as no serious challenge to personal honor or the power of the gospel. In effect, Paul is saying, yes, I am “rotting in prison,” but I have not lost my passion for sharing the gospel—now I want to tell the secret of the lordship of Christ all the more eagerly! Verse 4 carries on from Paul’s thought in the previous verse, but it is somewhat unclear how it is connected. The Greek text could be woodenly translated as “in order that I might unveil it just as it is necessary for me to speak.” Most translators and interpreters connect this to Paul’s desire for prayer: pray that I may preach in the right way. This is certainly possible, but it should be noted that the clause that immediately precedes the Greek hina (“in order that”) of v. 4 refers to Paul’s imprisonment. Thus, I find it more plausible (and it would avoid some redundancy) to interpret Paul’s flow of thought in this way: “on account of it [the gospel proclamation] I am in prison, so that I may reveal it just as I should.” Preaching from prison, from a position of vulnerability and weakness, does not detract and obscure the power of the gospel but actually demonstrates it more clearly. Remember, this is the same apostle who learned how to boast in weakness and suffering (2 Cor 12:9-10). In 3:5-6, Paul transitions to offering counsel regarding wise conduct toward “outsiders,” presumably meaning unbelievers who interact with members of the church (1 Cor 5:12). He encourages “making the most of the time,” which hints at his eschatological outlook—as he remarks to the Corinthians, “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29 RSV; see also Eph 5:15-16: “because the days are evil”). In Colossians 3:5, Paul literally calls them to “redeem time,” an idiom that refers to squeezing the importance out of every moment whatever it takes (see L&N 37.131). There is no time for careless words and wasted conversations. Their logos with others matters. Conversation should always be winsome (en chariti) and richly rewarding (“seasoned with salt”). The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher and exegete, Philo, offers a window into what Paul might mean by graceful speech. In Philo’s

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 189

Colossians 4:2-18

tractate, Quod omnis probus liber sit (“every honorable person is truly free”), he explains how looks can be deceiving. Just because someone is bought for a price doesn’t make him a slave per se. For example, Philo imagines a situation where a father pays a kidnapping ransom for a beloved son, a situation where the son would never be considered a slave simply because he was “redeemed” at a cost. Philo furthermore argues that true freedom is not determined by social commerce. In fact, there are cases where a man who is sold into slavery might even turn the tables and convert his own master into a slave. He does not do this literally, but in effect. That is, by virtue of the slave’s beauty and wise speech, he so entices the master that the slave virtually rules over him. In line 38, Philo combines the same two words (logos + charis) that Paul does in Colossians 3:5. At all events, I have often seen some young persons of great beauty, and of great wit in conversation, getting the complete mastery over those who had purchased them, by two great incentives, the exquisiteness of their beauty and the elegance of their language (t∑ peri logous chariti ); for these are engines able to overthrow any soul which wants stability and a solid foundation, being the most powerful of all the contrivances which were invented for the overthrow of cities. (38)

While Paul and Philo probably differed on what kinds of ideas and topics made for good conversation, the use of the language of “grace” in speech generally points to “prudence, graciousness, and wit.”9 N. T. Wright draws out what Paul is saying explicitly: “Paul knows that a tedious monologue is worse than useless in evangelism. Christians are to work at making their witness interesting, lively and colourful.”10 [Seasoned with Salt] Paul could sense that the transcendent ascetic philosophy was so focused on individual wisdom, power, and privilege that it had a natural effect of rupturing communities where graciousness could neither be sown nor grow. Paul was trying to turn the Colossians’ attention outward, opening their eyes to a big world “out there” that needed words of grace spoken with graciousness. Final Words, 4:7-17

In 4:7-9, Paul refers to the sending of Tychicus and Onesimus. Tychicus was the courier who delivered the Colossian letter.

189

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 190

190

Colossians 4:2-18

Seasoned with Salt In Col 4:6, Paul encourages the Colossians to season their speech with salt. What does this mean? Ben Sira refers to salt as one of the necessities of human life (alongside water, fire, iron, flour, milk, honey, and oil; see Sir 39:26). We know that salt was used as a food preservative (Ep Jer 28). Even more, a text like the Apocalypse of Sedrach demonstrates that salt was necessary for the flavoring and enjoyment of a good dinner. Trying to make the case that life cannot be genuinely satisfying without love, the Apocalypse argues by the analogy that no respectable person would serve a meal without salt (see Apoc Sedr. 1.4).

While there appeared to be a conventional association between “salt” and “enjoyment,” it could be that Paul included the mention of “salt-speech” having in mind the Jesus logion regarding “saltiness” represented now in a text like Matt 5:13 (cf. Luke 14:34-35): “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” Similarly, in Mark’s Gospel Jesus makes this pronouncement: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).

F. F. Bruce supposes that Tychicus, a native of Asia Minor, paid a visit to Paul and carried the letter for Paul on return.11 Paul uses three descriptions of honor and praise for Tychicus— “beloved brother,” “faithful minister,” and “fellow servant in the Lord.” The language of “beloved brother” evokes a sense of intimacy and warm association (see 2 Pet 3:15). For example, when Paul writes to Philemon, he urges Philemon to receive the slave Onesimus back, not as a slave per se but as a “beloved brother” (v. 16). Second, Paul calls Tychicus a “faithful minister (pistos diakonos).” The term diakonos is the Greek word from which we get the idea and language of “deacon,” but Paul uses it here in a general sense. The term “minister” is, perhaps, an inadequate English translation since such a term tends only to be used in modern day in reference to official ministry leaders. Neither is the translation “servant” quite right (see NASB). A. Weiser clarifies the difference in meaning of the terms doulos and diakonos. The former term, usually translated “slave,” focuses on “a relationship of dependence and the subordination of the [doulos] to the [kyrios, master].” For diakonos, the important thing to know is not who the master is but that the person is carrying out some act of service.12 Perhaps, then, “faithful worker” or “faithful helper” is closer to the meaning Paul intends. Finally, Tychicus is called a “fellow slave (syndoulos) in the Lord.” The same language of slavery (doulos) is used of Epaphras in 1:7 and again in 4:12. The idea expressed in 4:7 is that Tychicus is every bit as committed to submitting to the lordship of Christ as Paul. There is hardly a higher commendation someone could receive from Paul than this!

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 191

Colossians 4:2-18

Tychicus’s mission from Paul was not only to deliver the letter but also to provide an update on the situation so that the Colossians might be “encouraged” (4:8). As mentioned earlier in Colossians 2:2, Paul desires that the people of God might better understand the gospel of Christ and stand together as a unified body—receiving “good news” about the apostle to the Gentiles would certainly help progress them toward these ends. Brief mention is made of the visit of Onesimus, who would also serve the role of reporter. He is “one of them,” a native of Colossae, and similar terms of endearment and commendation are attributed to him. Why does Paul underscore the faithfulness and reliability of these men in this letter to the Colossians? I find it too great a leap of imagination that this serves as a clue that a false writer was writing these recommendations to “bolster the status of Tychicus and Onesimus (or perhaps those who have followed them) within the community” some time after the Apostle Paul’s death,” as Jerry Sumney has suggested.13 Even in the undisputed letters of Paul, we see evidence that he has this same habit of honoring faithful coworkers, especially those who carry the letter (see 1 Cor 4:17; cf. Rom 16:1-2). It is more likely that Paul is establishing models of what “true spiritual people” look like, especially in contrast to the profile of a “spiritual person” established by the transcendent-ascetic philosophy. The mystical philosophy promotes spirituality that drives the worshiper toward being private, self-centered, privileged, and boastful. To this, Paul would respond, m∑ genoito—“Absolutely not!” The truly spiritual person is like Tychicus or Onesimus: (1) a close companion or friend (close enough to get involved in your life in deep ways), (2) committed to serving faithfully in God’s mission, (3) concerned with fostering encouragement and unity, (4) and bound always and only to the service of one Lord—Jesus Christ. By pointing to two men from Asia Minor, one even from Colossae, he was implying that the whole Colossian church could be like-minded. Next, Paul extends a series of greetings from various leaders apparently known to the Colossians (4:10-14). Such persons include Aristarchus, Mark (cousin of Barnabas), Jesus (called Justus), Epaphras (probably the founder of the church at Colossae), Luke, and Demas. As is the case with Tychicus and Onesimus, Paul

191

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 192

192

Colossians 4:2-18

includes salutations from these men for the additional purpose of profiling how faithful believers look and act. Aristarchus is called Paul’s “fellow prisoner.” Whether or not he actually spent time in prison with Paul is unknown, but at least we can infer that Paul praises Aristarchus as one who shows great sacrifice for the gospel and accepts worldly shame and weakness in the strength of the Lord. Along the same lines, Epaphras is called a “slave of Christ (doulos Christou).” In particular, his care for the Colossians is so deep that he constantly struggles (agønizø) for their sake in his prayers, hoping for their maturity and confidence (4:12). It would seem that both Epaphras and those who espouse the transcendent-ascetic philosophy emphasize prayer, but the way Epaphras approaches it, turning to God is about uplifting others, not himself. The goal is the integrity and security of the church, not any one special individual. In 4:11, Paul notes that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus/Justus are the only three coworkers of his who are Jewish converts. Why offer this information? It is possible that he was trying to clarify that, while the gospel does not discriminate based on ethnicity or circumcision status (3:11), that does not mean that Paul feels no sense of identification and association with fellow Jews. While he has clearly committed himself to a ministry and lifestyle of open fellowship with Gentiles, he still identifies himself with his kinsmen (see Rom 9:2-3). In a sense, then, he reminds the Colossians that openness and “inclusiveness” does not eradicate any kind of group association. In the penultimate section of the final statements Paul makes in 4:2-18, he gives last words regarding greetings, the exchange of letters with the Laodiceans, and the cryptic command to Archippus (4:15-17). In 4:15, he requests that the Colossians pass on greetings to the believers in Laodicea and to Nympha’s house church. [Nympha and Her Church] He also desires that these churches exchange letters. This should, at least, remind us that although Paul’s letters are “occasional” and directed toward matters relevant to a single community, he clearly also wrote in such a way that other communities could benefit from this correspondence. [Letter-Sharing and Letter-Collecting] What is this other letter that Paul refers to regarding the Laodiceans? We do not have a canonical letter from Paul to the Laodicean church. Some scholars argue that Paul is referring to what we now call Ephesians. That is, the New Testament canonical

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 193

Colossians 4:2-18

Pauline letter to the Ephesians is actually a letter Paul wrote to the Laodiceans. In some extant manuscripts of Ephesians, there is reason to believe that the words “in Ephesus” were a later addition and that, perhaps, Ephesus was not the original destination. There is too little evidence, however, to treat this theory regarding a Laodiceans/Ephesians association as anything more than speculation. [The Letter to the Laodiceans]

193

Nympha and Her Church The fact that a church is associated with Nympha and her house probably means that she was the patron of that church. That her name alone is mentioned may mean that she was single. Nevertheless, as Carolyn Osiek and Margaret MacDonald have pointed out, “it is surprising to find the explicit reference to her leadership of a house church in a document that marks the beginning of a trend in early church literature of the latter half of the first century CE: the tendency to instruct subordinate members of the household to be subject to the paterfamilias (the husband, father, and master of slaves) and to instruct him to be benevolent in ruling his household as is appropriate for life in the Lord.” Osiek and MacDonald raise important questions regarding how Nympha herself would have received Paul’s letter as it was read aloud to the church, especially the household code (3:18–4:1). Would she find the call for submission relevant to her life? Did it have implications for her leadership role? There are no easy answers to these questions, but Osiek and MacDonald wisely urge modern interpreters to examine gender issues and church leadership in Paul’s time and in early Christianity carefully. One observation they make is that orders regarding hierarchy such as what we find in Col 3:18–4:1 may be more prescriptive than descriptive. Also, we may need to differentiate between the status and roles of unmarried women versus married women.

The statement Paul makes to Archippus in 4:17 is one of the most cryptic verses in all of the Pauline letters. Who is Archippus? What is the task Paul wishes for this man to complete? And what would discourage or prevent him from doing so? The only reliable clue we have to answering any of these questions is the reference to Archippus in the second verse of Paul’s letter to Philemon: “To Philemon . . . to Apphia . . . to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.” C. Osiek, M. Y. MacDonald, and H. Tulloch, A Woman’s Place: House Aside from the descriptor “fellow soldier,” See Churches in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 2005) 18. the sole information we gain is the mention of him as a recipient of the letter, which suggests that he was a person of some kind of status in Philemon’s house church. We may never know what kind of work Archippus was meant to be engaged in, but perhaps we can see a wider concern of Paul. Paul does not address Archippus privately (in a separate, perLetter-Sharing and Letter-Collecting “We should hesitate to generalize [on the matter of churches sonal letter) but prompts the sharing letters of Paul] too quickly from the case in point, since church itself to motivate him. the cities of Colossae and Laodicea were so close. Nevertheless, it is This is a reminder from Paul significant that a letter written for a particular church should be that believers need to take regarded as of sufficiently wider relevance as to be read elsewhere. That suggests an awareness on the part of the author(s) that Paul’s responsibility for each other. teaching, even in specific letters, was of not merely occasional or If Archippus was directed by passing significance. In other words, we see here already the beginthe Lord (in whatever way nings of that sense of the letters’ importance that thereafter developed that was) to carry out a parover the decades into an acknowledgement of their canonical status.” ticular ministry, the church James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to Colossians and Philemon (NIGTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996) 286.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 194

194

Colossians 4:2-18

The Letter to the Laodiceans There is, in fact, an ancient document in existence called the “Letter to the Laodiceans,” but it is believed to be apocryphal and was probably written around the fourth century AD. The short document under this title appears to be a pastiche of phrases and ideas from genuine Pauline letters like Philippians. Church fathers such as Theodore of Mopsuestia and Jerome had knowledge of this letter. But by the late medieval period, it was declared a forgery.

had a stake to claim in seeing that “member of the body,” so to speak, fully functional. Again, then, Paul eschews individualistic faith that revolves around only “me and my god.” The mission of the gospel is simply too big and too important for believers not to get involved when someone is intimidated, reluctant, negligent or just plain stubborn!

Pauline Autograph and Farewell, 4:18

In the final verse of the chapter (and letter), Paul takes up the scribal pen himself to “authenticate” the letter and give a personal touch, as it were. While not a universal practice of Paul’s, notice how similar the statement in Colossians is to the one he makes in 1 Corinthians 16:21 (cf. Gal 6:11; also 2 Thess 3:17): Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul (ho aspasmos t∑ em∑ cheiri Paulou) (1 Cor 16:21; CEB) Here is my greeting in my own handwriting—Paul (ho aspasmos t∑ em∑ cheiri Paulou) (Col 4:18; NLT)

That Paul, though being literate, still chose to use a letter secretary is virtually uncontestable.14 In Romans 16:22, the secretary introduces himself in the letter as Tertius, “the writer” (ho grapsas t∑n epistol∑n). Paul’s choice to utilize the service of such a scribal assistant should remind modern readers of the naturally collaborative project of writing letters in the Greco-Roman world. Putting professional correspondence in perspective in Paul’s day and age, E. R. Richards writes this: Ancient writing was a craft that required skill. Secretaries had to cut their own paper into sheets, measure and score the lines, mix their own ink, cut their own reed pens and write on the rough fibrous paper (papyrus) of antiquity. Furthermore, ancients valued beautiful handwriting—more what we would call “calligraphy.” While an ancient might be able to scratch out the lines, he would not want to send such an ugly letter.15

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 195

Colossians 4:2-18

This helps us make sense of the use of a secretary, but why does Paul step in to offer his own stroke of salutation? Chris Keith argues, “When Paul signs his own name . . . he demonstrates both his identity as an educated individual who ‘knows letters’ (and Greek ones at that) and that he is a person of true prestige—able to write, but able to avoid it as well and have an amanuensis write the bulk of the epistle.”16 It is possible that Keith is correct—that Paul was following a certain convention that the elite and honorable in society were “above” writing their own letters. I am not sure this theory holds as strongly in view of the prison letters, where this supposed “high class” citizen turns immediately to acknowledge the reality of his destitute and lowly position. It would seem that what he was acquiring with his left hand would only be quickly discarded by the (chained) right hand! It is important to notice that, just after he interjects with mention of his own handwriting, Paul goes on to make some kind of critically important “famous last words.” This appears to be true in a number of his letters. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord . . . .” (1 Cor 16:21-22) See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (Gal 6:11-12)17

While scholars are unclear whether Paul’s letter to Philemon is written by an amanuensis or by Paul solely, the appearance of the personal note (v. 19) does fit the above pattern. After Paul mentions his own personal handwriting, he exhorts Philemon in no uncertain terms: “I will repay [whatever debt I may owe you]. I say nothing about you owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (vv. 19b-21). It appears, from this pattern, then, that when Paul steps in to give his own personal remark with his own hand, he tends to write something afterward that is important and serious. This is all the more true in the case of Colossians 4:18.

195

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 196

196

Colossians 4:2-18

When Paul goes on to say, “Remember my chains,” he is doing much more than encouraging prayers in view of his bondage. His remark is probably more akin to the famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” This statement is not nurturing a reflective moment of appreciation and respect for what happened at the Alamo (though it certainly may have included prosper respect). Rather, it is a call to action and response. Similarly, Paul urges his readers to “remember” his chains—not just to pray for his situation and that he may be released or meet a good fate, but to recognize the glory and power of God at work in the life of the imprisoned apostle and thus actualize a particular worldview and mindset that “sees” strength in weakness, joy in suffering, and light even in the darkest spaces. St. John Chrysostom’s sermons on Colossians are illuminating on this point. He reads Colossians 4:18 in view of a theological framework where persecution and suffering are marks of true discipleship. Paul does not lament being in chains, prizing the “freedom” that the Colossians experience. Though Paul did not particularly like the chains (we can assume confidently!), he did understand that his own experiences of shame and suffering were necessary parts of God’s wider plan to share the gospel with the world. So, Chrysostom writes, “Repine we not then at our tribulations for Christ’s sake, but let us also remember Paul’s bonds, and be this our enticement.” Chrysostom (rightly!) took Paul’s “remember my chains” as a reinforcement of an alternative epistemology, a set of values, divinely revealed and yet unrecognized by popular culture, to which true disciples must cling. Covetest thou any of the things that are your neighbor’s? Remember Paul’s bonds, and you will see how unreasonable it is, that while he was in perils, you should be in delights. Again, is your heart set upon self-indulgence? Picture to your mind Paul’s prison-house; you are his disciple, his fellow-soldier. How is it reasonable, that your fellowsoldier should be in bonds, and thou in luxury? Are you in affliction? Do you deem yourself forsaken? Hear Paul’s bonds, and you will see, that to be in affliction is no proof of being forsaken . . . . Have you ordered your slave to be put in bonds, and were you angry, and exasperated? Remember Paul’s bonds, and you will straightway stay your anger; remember that we are of the bound, not the binders, of the bruised of heart, not the bruisers. (Homily 12 on Colossians)

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 197

Colossians 4:2-18

197

CONNECTIONS Should Christians Promote “Carpe Diem”?, 4:2

At the beginning of the last section of the letter, Paul sets the tone for his plea for prayer with this call: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving” (4:2). This language and idea of “keeping alert” is eschatological in nature. There is something unique, something anomalous, something special about “now.” It is as if believers live in a perpetual twilight. It is dark enough that one might wish to sleep; indeed, the blackness makes one soporific. And yet dedication and sobriety are the watchwords of the overlapping of the times. Dawn is coming and Christ will be present at the twinkling of an eye. Therefore, believers must The Crane and Christian Vigilance be awake. [The Crane and Christian Vigilance] “The crane became a symbol of renewal It is possible that Paul learned this “alertness” and resurrection in early Christian iconogconcept when he was taught about Jesus. In raphy because its migratory flight announced the coming of spring. The crane is also a model of view of the unexpected and sudden moment of Christian vigilance. The crane keeps itself awake the return of the Son of Man, Jesus explains by standing on one foot and holding a stone in the that because no one knows the day or hour (not other. If it nods off, the stone falls and awakens it. even the “Son”), everyone must “keep alert” The crane’s vigilance was extolled by Hohberg in 1675 in his book of emblems: ‘By night the crane a (Mark 13:33). What misfortune it would be if pebble gripped doth hold, / Lest sleep surprise his the master were to find his servants sleeping, so watch and close his eyes, / So, lest this world all must be ready and alert (13:34-37). should lull with pomp and gold, / The Cross In other Pauline texts, we see reemployment reminds us where our duty lies.’” of this same cluster of themes: alertness, awareSee A. W. Steffler, Symbols of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2002) 57. ness, light/darkness, sleepiness/wakefulness. But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thess 5:4-8) [Y]ou know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 198

198

Colossians 4:2-18 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom 13:11-14)

And Paul was not alone in picking up on this theme. We also find it in 1 Peter: “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Pet 1:13). The idea behind this kind of Christian eschatological vigilance is that there is something unique about today. It is not like it used to be. Christ has come. But that is not all. Christ will come again, suddenly and unexpectedly. What does it mean for Christians today to claim this same sense of wakefulness, alertness, and sobriety? Paul himself focuses on prayer. There is a tone of urgency because he wants to align the Colossians with God’s agenda and not obsession over their own spirituality. Being a “ready” Christian, then, must involve a constant revisiting of priorities. Paul calls the Colossians to examine their values and goals and to spend regular time reaffirming and investing in “bigger matters,” problems of wider and eternal significance. I am reminded of Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool in the Gospel of Luke (12:13-21). This wealthy man invests in building up bigger storehouses for all his worldly goods. He says to himself, “You have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” God responds to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:19-20). So Jesus rebukes the ways of the wealthy who dwell on purely material goods. The true people of God invest their whole selves in his kingdom, the priorities of his kingship (Luke 12:31). Do not be dressed in fancy robes that will be your comfort and your neighbor’s ground for envy, Jesus said. Rather, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Luke 12:35). Another priority in this period of eschatological Christian vigilance is the need to make the most of conversation. Paul conceives of this primarily in terms of how to speak attractively and wisely when engaging unbelievers. Just because Paul looks forward to the end of the world does not mean that he advocates isolation or doomsday preaching. Being “ready” for the return of Christ is not a “pack your bags” mentality. Rather, it is about treating every conversation as important because we live in volatile days that could end. Squeeze every ounce out of every conversation. Don’t waste

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 199

Colossians 4:2-18

199

Sleep in Christian Art

Altarpiece of the church of Saint Mary, dated in 1574. Plateresque style. Detail. Relief depicting Jesus praying in the Garden of Olives, along with his disciples asleep. Alarcon. Province of Cuenca. Castile-La Mancha, Spain. (Credit: Album/Art Resource, NY)

In numerous depictions of scenes from the Passion narratives, Christian artists have reflected Piero della Francesca (1410/20–92). The Resurrection of Christ. 1463–1465. Fresco. on the themes of sleepiness and wakefulness. Museo Civico Sansepolcro. (Credit: Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY) Two stories, in particular, are regularly portrayed. One is the time of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where, while Jesus is investing deeply in the things of God as he is on the brink of his arrest, the disciples cannot seem to stay awake. They have given in to the night. The second scene often portrayed in art is that of the resurrection of Jesus, which is contrasted with the deep sleep of the Roman guards. Again, those who live according to the flesh are blinded by sleep and do not know what is going on around them. Jesus, however, is alive and awake and stands triumphant in victory.

time. Don’t assume, “Oh, there will be many more opportunities to encourage or confront or share.” Being prepared means having answers ready and having priorities straight. Now I would hasten to add that speaking graciously and with “salt” means that unbelievers are not viewed as only lost souls. Paul no doubt conceives of real friendships being established and nurtured. Time is short, however, because the end moment is unknown. The famous nineteenth-century British Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon reflects on this theme of wakefulness and making the most of the time of conversation in a bit of a unique way, especially in view of 1 Thessalonians 5:6 (“So then we should not sleep as the rest do”). He points to the importance of Christian fellowship, particularly the encouragement that comes from edifying conversation (rather than frivolous small talk). Spurgeon illustrates by recounting the conversation between the characters “Christian” and

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 200

200

Colossians 4:2-18

“Hopeful” in Pilgrim’s Progress. As they journey to the Eternal City, they sing this song: When saints do sleepy grow, let them come here, And hear How these two pilgrims talk together; Yes, let them learn of them, in any wise, Thus to keep open their drowsy slumbering eyes. Saints’ fellowship, it be managed well, Keeps them awake, and that in spite of hell.

Spurgeon concludes his devotional reflection with a simple exhortation: “Friends, live near the cross and you will not sleep.”18 On Savory Speech and Hospitable Conversations, 4:5-6

Christians have long pondered and struggled with questions about “Christ and culture”—how should believers think about and interact with the wider unbelieving world? Some churches ignore the outside world. Others so blur the differences that it is hard to recognize anything distinctive about Christians at all. Surely the best option is something between these two poles. But what? Paul addresses believers who interact (or should interact) with outsiders in Colossians 4:5-6: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” Paul presumes that the Colossians will rub shoulders with “outsiders”—the church is not a private and exclusivist club. Christianity is not a “walls-up” sect that prohibits trespassers. Paul encourages a wise and reflective approach to relationships with unbelievers. Unfortunately, we know far too many people who have not taken Paul’s advice seriously. Well known are the Bible thumpers who preach against the so-called unregenerate. When I was in college, there was an iterant preacher who would roll into town once a year. He would set up a soapbox outside of the student union (perhaps it was a crate), and he would literally yell at passersby. If there were students who were wearing fraternity or sorority caps or sweatshirts, he would simply point at them and call out, “Fornicator!” I don’t think this qualifies as “gracious” speech. This preacher was probably well meaning. I believe he really wanted college students to turn away from their sins and turn to Jesus. But I wonder, after a week’s worth of ranting and

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 201

Colossians 4:2-18

screaming on his soapbox, what he sensed that he accomplished for the kingdom of God. Richard Mouw offers helpful reflections on this kind of question and context in his book, He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace. Mouw would certainly not find the street preacher’s ministry appealing or effective, but at the same time he recognizes that it is no better position to give up on outreach and evangelism altogether (as many churches often do by embarrassment or neglect). Mouw raises this helpful question: How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines of belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time maintaining an openness to—even an active participation for— all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of those boundaries?19

Without going into all the details of Mouw’s wider concerns in the book, I would like to point out that what sparks Mouw’s imagination is the idea that believers can look at “outsiders” in more than one way. Certainly they can perceive outsiders as “the lost,” those in need of the gospel. They should. However, perhaps they can also see them, from other angles, as friends and allies. As for the latter, it is a recognition that part of the Christian mission is to work for the common good in society, and unbelievers can be partners in this mission along the way. Second, outsiders are more than just allies and targets of evangelism. They can also be friends. Mouw makes note of the curious connection between Puritan George Whitefield and the often irreverent Ben Franklin, unlikely companions. Mouw wonders, if Whitefield found it challenging to convert Franklin, why bother wasting so many hours with him? He concludes, “we have to assume . . . that the main reason why the Calvinist evangelist chose to spend time with the religious skeptic was that he simply enjoyed his company.”20 What Mouw affirms here, that relationships are important, does not undermine the necessity of evangelism itself. Some Christians, however, think that there is only one way to “proclaim the gospel”—point-blank confrontation that treats believer as “right” and unbeliever as “wrong.” Now, rationally speaking, this is not absurd, but it establishes the terms of the conversation or relationship in only one way. Perhaps evangelism is more of an art than a

201

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 202

202

Colossians 4:2-18

science. Perhaps there is a relational dimension that must (or often should) accompany the rational aspect. We might be helped by Frances Adeney’s study of what she considers five “biblical models of evangelism.” Drawing from various parts of the New Testament, her five models come from five key texts. 1. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) 2. Jesus as Model (John 17:18, 22-23) 3. Daily Living (Phil 2:12-15) 4. Speaking of Hope (1 Peter 3:15-16) 5. Relieving Oppression (Luke 4:18-19) The first two models are a bit unique. The Great Commission model is the call of the church worldwide to have an evangelistic and disciple-making concern. Evangelism is done especially through preaching and through missionary efforts. The “Jesus” model is the call on particular individuals to devote their whole life and vocation to being the presence of Christ in one area (like Mother Teresa). The fifth model focuses on the social concerns of the “good news” as Christians serve the community to aid the weak. The “Daily Living” model (3) concentrates on the everyday lives of Christians as they show love and care for people around them. I am most interested in Adeney’s fourth model, “Speaking of Hope.” Here the idea resonates with what we see in Colossians 4:5-6: “This mild mandate [of 1 Peter 3:15-16] encourages us to be alert to opportunities to tell others how God operates positively in our lives, to speak of ways that the redemption we know in Christ actually works itself out.”21 This reminds me of some friends of mine who served for a number of years as Christian missionaries in the Islamic nation of Oman where it was illegal for Christians to evangelize. My friends had a strong ministry among the ex-pats in Oman, and they were careful around Omanis themselves. It was within their rights, however, in conversations with Omani friends and acquaintances, to refer to their own religious life in positive ways. I think that “Speaking of Hope” was their best approach under the circumstances and perhaps one of the most effective worldwide in any case. Much of its effectiveness has to do with the fact it is relational (based on real relationships) and encouraging. Adeney explains it this way:

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 203

Colossians 4:2-18 The emphasis here is on compassion and humility, speaking only when the moment is right, and relying on God to use your words of hope in the lives of others. This way of approaching evangelism can empower those whose gifts center on empathy and support. It does not require assertive proclamation but focuses on listening and care.22

One can readily see the winsomeness of this caring and hospitable approach. Perhaps this is just what Paul means in his use of the word “grace.” Christians’ speech with outsiders should be gracious. And why not? Was Christ not gracious to you when you received forgiveness? Was he not caring and hospitable, welcoming you into his family? In an aptly titled book, Gracious Christianity, Douglas Jacobsen and Rodney Sawatsky make a similar point about the ways of Christians in the world. “Graciousness is a nonnegotiable dimension of Christian faith. It goes to the very core of the gospel,” they argue. “It is what makes the gospel good news.”23 And what does this kind of graciousness look like? It is not about poetic and pleasant rhetoric. It is about kindness, compassion, and friendship. “Grace and graciousness point toward community and sociability and toward nurturing relationships among people. Gracious Christians recognize that others can be conduits of God’s love to them just as they can be messengers of God’s love to others.”24 With this kind of perspective in mind as we engage “outsiders,” remember that Paul is not referring to “cold calls” or “doorto-door” evangelism (though in certain contexts that is not totally ineffective). He refers to preparation for giving an answer—when someone asks. This presumes some kind of relationship, though not necessarily an intimate one. Remember also that just prior to this passage we have the household code, where order within the household is encouraged probably because outsiders might be at worship meetings. The world is longing for the grace of God (whether they recognize this need or not), and the gracious and loving God is ready to give, but God uses the church as a primary instrument of the delivery of this good news.

203

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 204

204

Colossians 4:2-18

Notes 1. See W. Munroe, “Col. III.18-IV.1 and Eph. V.21-VI.9: Evidence of a Late Literary Stratum?” NTS 18 (1972): 434–47. See, concerning the Ephesian Household Code, particularly S. Tanzer, “Ephesians,” in Searching the Scriptures (ed. E. Schüssler Fiorenza; New York: Crossroad, 1994) 325–47. 2. Charles H. Talbert, Ephesians and Colossians (Paideia; Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2007) 235. 3. C. Roetzel, “1 Thess. 5.12-28: A Case Study,” in Society of Biblical Literature Annual Papers (ed. L. McGaughy; Chico: Scholars, 1972) 375. 4. D. G. Bradley, “The Topos as a Form in the Pauline Paraenesis,” JBL 72 (1953): 246. 5. Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2007) 198. 6. Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC 44; Waco TX: Word, 1982) 237. 7. Larry W. Hurtado, Mark (NIBC; Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 1989) 224. 8. James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to Colossians and Philemon (NIGTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996) 263. 9. David M. Hay, Colossians (ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2000) 154–55. 10. N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon (TNTC; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1986) 153. 11. F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1984) 176. E. Randolph Richards provides helpful contextual information regarding the role of a letter carrier in the first century vis-à-vis updating the recipients on the condition of the sender. See Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 201. 12. See EDNT 1.302. 13. J. Sumney, Colossians: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville KY: WJK, 2008) 266. 14. See Chris Keith, “‘In My Own Hand’: Grapho-Literacy and the Apostle Paul,” Biblica 89 (2008): 39–58. 15. D. B. Capes, R. Reeves, and E. R. Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007) 69. 16. Keith, “In My Own Hand,” 57. 17. 2 Thessalonians 3:17 (and following) does not fit this pattern, but it is anomalous for a number of reasons, including the expanded statement about the true authenticity of the personal signature. It is possible that the “important” statement that accompanies the personal note in this letter is precisely that it is authenticated by Paul (see 2 Thess 2:2). 18. See C. H. Spurgeon, The Devotional Classics of C. H. Spurgeon (2 vols.; Sovereign Grace, 1990) devotional for March 5 on 1 Thess 5:6. 19. R.J. Mouw, He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2001) 32–33.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 205

Colossians 4:2-18 20. Ibid., 34. 21. F. S. Adeney, Graceful Evangelism: Christian Witness in a Complex World (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2010) 23–24. 22. Ibid., 24. 23. D. Jacobsen and R. J. Sawatsky, Gracious Christianity (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2006) 17. 24. Ibid., 19.

205

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 206

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 207

Selective Bibliography Ambrosiaster. Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon. Edited by Gerald Bay and T. C. Oden. ACT. Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2009. Arnold, C. E. The Colossian Syncretism. WUNT 2/77. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr/Paul Siebeck, 1995. ———. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Commentary: Romans to Philemon. Volume 3. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2002. Barclay, J. M. G. Colossians and Philemon. NTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. Barcley, W. Christ in You: A Study of Paul’s Theology and Ethics. Lanham MD: University Press of America, 1999. Barth, M., and H. Blanke. Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AYB 34B. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Barton, S. C. “Dislocating and Relocating Holiness: A New Testament Study.” In Holiness Past and Present. Edited by S. C. Barton; London: T & T Clark, 2003. Pages 193–213. Bauckham, R. “Colossians 1:24 Again: The Apocalyptic Motif.” EvQ 47 (1975): 168–70. ———. Jesus and the God of Israel. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Beetham, C. R. Echoes of Scripture in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians. BIS 96. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Beker, J. C. Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought. Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 1980. Best, E. “Who Used Whom? The Relationship Between Ephesians and Colossians.” NTS 43 (1997): 72–96. Bevere, A. R. “The Cheirograph in Colossians 2:14 and the Ephesian Connection.” In Jesus and Paul: Global Perspectives in Honor of James D.G. Dunn, edited by B. J. Oropeza, C. K. Robertson, and D. C. Mohrmann. London: T & T Clark, 2009. Pages 199–206. ———. Sharing in the Inheritance: Identity and the Moral Life in Colossians. JSNTSupp 226. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003. Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. NICNT. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1984. Cadwallader, A. H. and M. Trainor, editors. Colossae in Space and Time: Linking to an Ancient City. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011. Caird, G. B. Paul’s Letters from Prison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976. Crouch, J. E. The Origin and Intention of the Colossian Haustafel. FRLANT 109. Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1972. Dunn, J. D. G. “Colossians, Letter to.” In New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by K. D. Sakenfeld. Volume 1. Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2006. Pages 702–706.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 208

208

Bibliography ———. The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. NIGTC. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996. ———. “The Household Rules in the New Testament.” In The Family in Theological Perspective, edited by S. C. Barton. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996. Pages 43–63. ———. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1998. Fee, G. D. Pauline Christology. Peabody MA: Hendrickson, 2007. Garland, D. E. Colossians, Philemon. NIVAC. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1998. Gorday, P., editor. Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. ACCNT 9. Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2000. Gorman, M. J. Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2001. Gupta, N. K. “Mirror-Reading Moral Issues in Paul’s Letters.” JSNT 34/4 (2012): 361–81. ———. “What Is in a Name? The Hermeneutics of Authorship Analysis Concerning Colossians.” Currents in Biblical Research 11.2 (2013): 196–217. Harris, M. J. Colossians and Philemon. EGGNT. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1991. Hay, D. M. Colossians. ANTC. Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000. Hays, R. B. The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005. ———. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. San Francisco CA: Harper, 1996. Hengel, M. Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977. Héring, J. P. The Colossian and Ephesian Haustafeln in Theological Context: An Analysis of their Origins, Relationship, and Message. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. Johnson, D. “The Image of God in Colossians.” Didaskalia 3/2 (April 1992): 9–15. Johnson, L. T. Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity. Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 1998. Keener, C. S. “Heavenly Mindedness and Earthly Good: Contemplating Matters Above in Colossians 3.1-2.” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 6 (2009): 175–90. Kim, J. H. The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the Pauline Corpus. JSNTSup 268. London: T & T Clark, 2004. Lincoln, A. T. “The Letter to the Colossians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible 11. Nashville TN: Abingdon, 2000. Pages 553–669. ———, and A. J. M. Wedderburn. The Theology of the Later Pauline Letters. Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. MacDonald, M. Y. Colossians and Ephesians. SP. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008. ———. The Pauline Churches: A Socio-Historical Study of Institutionalization in the Pauline and Deutero-Pauline Writings. SNTSMS 60. Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Maier, H. O. “A Sly Civility: Colossians and Empire.” JSNT 27/3 (2005): 323–49.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 209

Bibliography Marshall, I. H. “Mutual Love and Submission in a Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-23.” In Discovering Biblical Equality, edited by R. W. Pierce and R. M. Groothius. Downers Grove IL: IVP, 2004. Pages 186–204. Martin R. P. Colossians and Philemon. NCB. 1982. Metzger, B. “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha.” JBL 91 (1972): 3–24. Moo, D. J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. PNTC. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Moule, C. F. D. “New Life in Colossians 3:1-17.” Review & Expositor 70/4 (1973): 481–93. Murphy-O’Connor, J. “Colossians.” Oxford Bible Commentary, edited by J. Barton and J. Muddiman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Pages 1191–99. O’Brien, P. T. Colossians, Philemon. WBC. Waco TX: Word, 1982. Okure, T. “‘In Him All Things Hold Together’: A Missiological Reading of Colossians 1:15-20.” International Review of Mission 91/360 (2002): 62–72. Osiek, C., and D. Balch. Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches. Louisville KY: WJK, 1997. Perriman, A. “The Pattern of Christ’s Sufferings: Colossians 1:24 and Philippians 3:10-11.” TynB 42 (1991): 62–79. Richards, E. R. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. ———. The Secretary in the Letters of Paul. WUNT 2/42. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991. Rowland, C. “The Letter to the Colossians: Christ the Bodily Form of God.” In The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament, edited by C. Rowland and C. R. A. Morray-Jones. Leiden: Brill, 2009. Pages 156–66. Sappington, T. J. Revelation and Redemption at Colossae. JSNTSup 53. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991. Schweizer, E. Colossians and Philemon. Philadelphia PA: Fortress, 1971. Smith, I. K. Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae. LNTS 326. London: T & T Clark, 2006. Stettler, C. “The Opponents at Colossae.” In Paul and His Opponents, edited by S. Porter. PAST 2. Leiden: Brill, 2005. Pages 194–96. Still, T. D. “Colossians.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Revised Edition, volume 12, edited by T. Longman and D. E. Garland. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2006. Sumney, J. Colossians: A Commentary. NTL. Louisville KY: WJK, 2008. Talbert, C. Ephesians and Colossians. Paidiea. Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2007. Thompson, J. W. Moral Formation According to Paul. Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2011. Thompson, M. M. Colossians & Philemon. THNT. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2005. Trainor, M. Epaphras: Paul’s Educator in Colossae. Collegeville MN: Liturgical, 2008. Vaage, L. E. and V. L. Wimbush, editors. Asceticism and the New Testament. New York: Routledge, 1999.

209

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 210

210

Bibliography Walters, J. C. “Paul, Adoption, and Inheritance.” In Paul in the Graeco-Roman World, edited by P. Sampley. Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International, 2003. Pages 42–76. White, L. M. “Paul and Pater Familias.” In Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, edited by P. Sampley. Harrisburg PA: TPI, 2003. Pages 457–87. White, S. “Ritual Studies.” In The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality, edited by A. Holder. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 387–400, at 396. Wilson, R. McL. Colossians and Philemon. ICC. London: T & T Clark, 2005. Witherington, B. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A SocioRhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2007. ———. Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph. Louisville KY: WJK, 1994. Wright, N. T. Colossians and Philemon. TNTC. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1989. ———. “Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1:15-20.” NTS 36 (1990): 444–68. Yinger, K. Paul, Judaism, and Judgment According to Deeds. SNTSMS 105. Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 211

index of modern authors

A

C

Aasgaard, R. 81

Cadwallader, A. H. 143, 207

Adeney, F. 202, 205

Caird, G. B. 207

Ahirika, E. 109, 120

Capes, D. B. 204

Aldrete, G. 171, 182

Charry, E. 75–76

Alston, R. 181

Childs, B. S. 107, 120

Arnold, C. E. 13, 17, 29, 84, 130, 157, 207

Collins, R. F. 31, 68 Conway, C. 31

B

Crouch, J. E. 207

Balch, D. 162, 181, 209 Balthasar, H. U. von 74

D

Barclay, J. M. G. 18, 30, 207

Dillon, M. 171, 181–82

Barcley, W. 84, 207

Dixon, S. 168–69, 181

Barth, K. 78-80

Dodd, B. J. 31

Barth, M. 7, 9, 29, 82, 83, 118, 207

Dramm, S. 29

Barton, S. C. 31, 45, 81, 181, 207–209

Dunn, J. D. G. 9, 14, 30, 39, 82–83, 88, 92, 118–19, 123, 157–58, 163, 165, 181, 187, 193, 204, 207

Bauckham, R. 57, 82–84, 207 Beetham, C. R. 31, 207 Begbie, J. 156–57, 159

F

Beker, J. C. 14, 30, 109, 120, 151, 158, 207

Fee, G. D. 83, 167–68, 181, 208

Best, E. 30, 83, 207

Fowl, S. 12, 29, 128, 157, 159

Bevere, A. R. 119, 207

Furnish, V. P. 31, 124

Bird, M. F. 30 Bockmuehl, M. 75

G

Boersma, H. 117, 121

Galli, M. 113, 121

Bonhoeffer, D. 1–2, 29, 59, 104–105, 119, 154

Garland, D. E. 84, 119, 132, 157–58, 166, 171, 181–82, 208–209

Boyarin, D. 111, 120 Bradley, D. G. 183–84, 204 Breytenbach, C. 84 Brown, R. v, 60, 83, 119 Bruce, F. F. 31, 44, 82–83, 127, 145, 157–58, 178, 190, 204, 207 Bultmann, R. 108–109

Garnsey, P. 173, 182 Gaventa, B. 168, 181 Glancy, J. 171, 182 Gorday, P. 208 Gorman, M. J. v, xiv, 29–30, 80, 85, 128, 157, 208 Grenz, S. 73, 85 Gupta, N. K. 31, 65, 84, 92, 119, 124, 137, 208

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 212

212

Index of Modern Authors

H

Mitchell, M. M. 82

Harris, M. J. 81, 83, 92, 146, 208

Moo, D. J. 209

Hauerwas, S. 116–17, 121

Moule, C. F. D. 209

Hay, D. M. 204, 208

Mouw, R. 201, 204

Hays, R. B. 21, 31, 45, 100, 107, 119–20, 124, 154, 159, 177, 208

Munroe, W. 204

Henderson, S. W. 177–78, 182 Hengel, M. 60, 182, 208

Murphy-O’Connor, J. 83, 209

N

Hering, J. P. 165, 181

Neyrey, J. H. 31

Hooker, M. 30, 130

Nouwen, H. 79–80, 85

Horrell, D. G. 112–13, 121 Hunt, P. 123, 181 Hurtado, L. 186, 204

O O’Brien, P. T. 11, 29, 38, 81–84, 118, 145, 204, 209 Okure, T. 52, 209

J Jacobsen, D. 31, 203, 205 Jervis, L. A. 31

Osiek, C. 162, 181, 193, 209

P

Johnson, D. 83, 208

Padgett, A. 182

Johnson, L. T. 84, 119, 126, 208

Perriman, A. 84, 209

Joshel, S. R. 142, 181

Peterson, E. 37, 74, 85, 159 Poirier, J. 158

K Keener, C. S. vi, 120, 208

R

Keith, C. 195, 204

Rapske, B. 82

Kim, J. H. 135, 158, 208

Richards, E. R. 8, 29, 81, 194, 204, 209

Kohl, M. 29

Roetzel, C. 28, 183, 204 Rosner, B. S. 107, 120

L Laes, C. 170, 181–82 Lincoln, A. T. 29, 44, 59, 63, 83–84, 126, 134, 157–58, 161, 172, 182, 208 Longenecker, B. 158

Rowe, K. 158 Rowland, C. 68, 119, 209

S Saller, R. 171, 181 Sanders, E. P. 7, 29

M

Sappington, T. J. 209

MacDonald, M. Y. 29, 173, 182, 193, 208

Sawatsky, R. 31, 203, 205

Maier, H. O. 208

Schneemelcher, W. 3

Malina, B. 31, 36

Schneider, G. 92

Marshall, I. H. 95, 167, 181, 208

Schweizer, E. 9, 84, 209

Martin, R. P. 26, 77, 147, 157, 172, 209

Skinner, M. L. 29

Mayerhoff, E. 29

Slater, T. B. 81

McKenzie, S. 83

Smith, I. K. 101, 161, 209

McKnight, S. 112, 120, 178

Spicq, C. 83

Meeks, W. 113, 119, 121

Stackhouse, J. 153

Melick Jr., R. 176, 178, 182

Stettler, C. 14, 30, 209

Metzger, B. 29, 209

Still, T. D. xiii, 209

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 213

Index of Modern Authors Stott, J. R. W. 81, 85 Stowers, S. 39, 81 Sumney, J. 29, 191, 204, 209

T Talbert, C. ii, 8, 29–30, 157, 183–84, 204, 209 Thompson, J. W. 31, 209 Thompson, M. M. 38, 82, 127, 157, 161 Trainor, M. 13, 43, 82, 143, 207, 209 Travis, S. 151, 158

V Vaage, L. E. 209 Visser’t Hooft, W. 2, 29 Volf, M. 154–55, 159

W Walters, J. C. 82, 209 Webb, W. 178–79, 182 Weiser, A. 190 Wells, S. 31 White, L. M. 181, 210 White, S. 112, 121 Wilson, R. 3, 210 Witherington. B. vi, 11, 22, 30–31, 56, 59, 82–84, 143, 165, 184, 204, 210 Wright, N. T. 27, 31, 81–83, 109–110, 120, 128, 130, 136, 157–58, 175, 182, 189, 204, 210

Y Yinger, K. 64, 158, 210

213

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 214

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 215

index of scriptures

NUMBERS

GENESIS

2 CHRONICLES

PROVERBS

33:7

12:16

135

16:32

135

23:22

168

48

29:6

99

1:22, 28

42

29:36

64

1:26-27

54

3

48

DEUTERONOMY

5:3

54

4:15

54

8:18

42

4:16

54

PSALMS

9:1, 8

42

5:16

168

2 61

9:6

541

21:23

60

9:11

1:2-3

54

JOB 15:15

40 ISAIAH 1:13

99

2:3

65

146

6:9-10

48

18

146

18:7

65

9:11

48

25:29-34

55

JOSHUA

24:17

66

35:10

65

26:22

42

9:22

88

27:5

130

40:1-2

50

29:25

88

22:25

61

33:20

66

35:11

42

34:9

40

42:21

66

1 SAMUEL

40:3

146

40:9-10, 18-19a, 28, 31

35

49:3

55

8:7

49

56:7

150

40:9

65

8:20

49

66

146

40:19-20

54

68:9

61

42:6-7

48

88:6

48

43:5-6

65

51:11

65

60:1-6

48

61:1-11

42

66:15

101

66:23

99

EXODUS 4:22

47, 55

2 SAMUEL

6:12

93

7:14

47

89:1

146

19:6

143

7:15

47

89:27

55

20:1-21

133

7:16

47

95:1-2

156

20:12

168

95:2

156

29:1

64

95:6-7

156

LEVITICUS

2 KINGS 2:11

101

96:2

146

6:15-19

48

104:6

143

109:24

131

5:15

64

5:21-22

136

1 CHRONICLES

110

126

19:11

136

16:9, 23

146

115:16

56

16:23

134

23:31

99

119:160

42

17:14

60

29:24

165

127

156

26:1, 30

94

128

156

26:41

93

JEREMIAH 4:4

93

4:13

101

10:12

53

21:12

151

31:9

55

31:10

65

31:33

62

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 216

216

Index of Scriptures 69

18:23-35

101

7:13

136

18:27, 32-35 174

1:18

54

11:17

65

7:20-21

175

19:19

168

2:5, 9

44

14:4-7

61

7:27-28

168

22:37-40

144

5:17

57

42:13

64

24:8

140

22:37

62

10:33

136

99

24:19

66

23:11

44

12:32

45

24:25

66

23:36-37

107

17:18, 22-23 202

24:26

67

24:29

130

46:10-24 DANIEL

174

JOHN

4:28

1

EZEKIEL

1:1-10

131

27:30

135

26:27

76

ACTS

5:4

94

33:25-27

175

26:64

126

1:18

49

7

41

39:26

190

26:65

136

2:42

185

7:18

41

50:21

100

28:18-20

202

7:48

94

7:22, 25, 27

41

51:10

146

7:55

126

7:56

126

8:24

MARK

41 BARUCH 2:27

HOSEA

143

2:18-28

99

7:58

134

7:8

91

15:21

14

2:19-21

143

9:35

65

16:23-24

11

11:1

143

1 MACCABEES

9:50

190

16:25

146

13:2

54

2:6

136

10:43

65

22:20

60

12:27

186

12:25

101

24:27

11

13:32-37

186

25:12-18

49

2 MACCABEES

13:33

197

25:13

49

2:18

65

13:34-37

197

25:18

49

8:22

165

13:36

186

26:5

101

14:46

60

14:23

76

28:2

141

14:26

146

28:16

11

3 MACCABEES

14:62

126

28:20

12

3:7

16:15

64

28:30-31

11

16:19

126

MICAH 2:12

65

NAHUM 1:2

135

1:3

135

ZECHARIAH 1:16

143

9:9

65

MALACHI 1:6

47

100

ROMANS

4 MACCABEES 5:22

115

LUKE

1:1

36

12:13

92

3:38

54

1:3

172

14:9

66

4:18-19

202

1:7

28

18:15

66

5:5

69

1:9

73

5:21

136

1:9, 25

100

WISDOM 7:21

53

MATTHEW

9:62

125

1:14

141

8:4-6

53

3:13-17

95

12:13-21

198

1:16

140

9:1-2, 9

53

5:13

190

12:19-20

198

1:18-32

62

13:1-5

92

6:10

64

12:31

198

1:20

54

14:8

94

6:17

131

12:35

198

1:23

54

14:12

133

9:36

143

14:34-35

190

1:25

140

11:28

69

21:36

126

2:7

46 174

SIRACH (ECCLESIASTICUS)

14:14

143

22:19

76

2:11

15:32

143

22:69

126

2:28-29

93

2:11

16:27

139

2:29

93

143

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 217

Index of Scriptures

217

3:2

106

12:1

64, 143

3:16

65

15:24

97

3:25

59

12:4-5

57

4:2, 17

38

15:26

58

4:1

172

12:9-13

28

4:5

133

15:39

95

4:19

131

12:12

66, 185

4:9

98

15:42

58

5:1-2

68

12:17-21

172

4:12

69

15:45

54, 138

5:2b

68

12:19

135

4:17

191

15:47

138

5:3-4

46

13:1

165

5:3

88

15:48

138

5:3

66

13:11-14

116, 198

5:12

188

15:49

138, 140

5:5

40

13:11-12

186

6:9-11

96

13:14

139, 143

37, 62, 133

15:51-54, 58 64

5:6, 8

16:15

167

5:10

62, 63

14:9

96

6:9, 11

63

16:19

14

65

5:12-21

54, 138

14:15

40

6:19

16:21-22

195

5:14

108

15:5

47

7:17-24

172

16:21

194

144

7:29

188

16:22

40

15:14

145

8:1

40

15:15-16

124

8:11

96

2 CORINTHIANS

15:19

68

9:27

103

1:1

36

15:30

44, 185

10:1-22

107

1:2

28

15:33

47

10:11

128

1:3

143

16:1-2

191

10:13

38

1:6

46

16:1

64

10:17

57

1:17

172

16:2

14

10:18

172

1:18

38

16:5

14

10:31

99, 147

2:14

98

16:20

47

11:1

152

3:6

44

8, 194

11:2-16

176

3:18

140

11:17-34

14

4:5

48

1 CORINTHIANS

11:23

98

4:7-12

103

1:1-13

142

12:12-31

5, 57

4:10-11

130

1:1

36

12:22-23

164

4:12

154

1:3

28

13:1-13

40, 144

4:16

140

1:9

38

13:1

147

4:17

66

1:11

14

13:4-8a

167

5

77

1:16

98, 167

13:4

40

5:7

89

1:17-18

96

13:8

40

5:10

63

72

13:13

39, 154

5:14

96

1:22-24

45

14:1

40

5:15

77

1:22

127

14:11

141

5:16

172

1:23-24

26

14:15

146

5:16b

128

1:23

60

14:25

100

5:17

100

1:26

172

14:33

47

6:4

64, 66

2:4

44, 88

15:1-2

89

6:5

11

2:6-16

45

15:3

96, 105

6:15

38

173

15:21-22, 45 138

10:2-3

172

3:1-4

45

15:22

138

10:4-18

110

3:5

44, 64

15:22, 45

108

10:4

110

5:19 6:4

138 89, 94, 134, 138, 153

6:6

94

6:9

58

6:10

96

6:14

97, 107, 118

7:4

63

7:5

106

7:12

106

8:1-2

131

8:1

77

8:3

63, 106

8:4-5, 12-13 172 8:5

128

8:12-13

172

8:13

131, 139

8:15

72

8:17

66

8:22-25

41

8:23

92

8:28

40

8:29

72, 140

8:34

126

8:34

96

8:37

98

8:9

44, 68

9:1

136

9:3, 5

172

9:4

100

12:1-2

62

15:7

16:22

1:18-31

2:8

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 218

218

Index of Scriptures

11:3

108

6:12, 14

96

2:8

96

1 TIMOTHY

11:18

172

6:14

80, 97

2:12-15

202

2:5

23

11:23

11

6:15

107

2:15

64

2:8-15

161

11:31

136

6:17

97, 103

2:21

127

3:8-13

44

12

147

3:1

66

3:16

51

3:3

44, 93, 100

6:12

70

12:1

71

EPHESIANS

12:2-3

88

1:1-2

19

12:4

71

1:3-18

19

3:14

126

2 TIMOTHY

128

12:5

71

2:1-7

61

3:18-19

1:8, 16

11

12:7

71

2:12

61

3:18

96

1:17

127

12:9-10

70, 188

2:14

63

3:21

53, 92

2:9

11

66

12:21

132

3:1-13

19

4:4

3:12

66

13:1, 14

40

3:6

57

4:5

171, 174

3:16

107

57

4:9

47

4:19

167

4:16

101

4:11-14

27

4:17–6:9

19

4:23

44

13:4

58

GALATIANS

4:4, 12, 16

TITUS 2:1-10

161

3:7

41

1:1

36

4:22

138

1:3

28

5:6

133

1 THESSALONIANS

1:4

42

5:8

61

1:1

8, 28

1:6-7

19

5:15-16

188

1:3

39, 40

PHILEMON

1:12, 16

48

5:21–6:9

161

1:6

66, 153

1

36, 190

5, 41

1:14

91

5:23, 30

57

1:9-10

5

39

1:20

136

6:18-20

19

2:2

70

11

61

2:20-21

144

6:21-22

19

3:12

40

23

43

64

4:9

40

4:10

40

HEBREWS

40, 77, 80

6:21

3:2

44

PHILIPPIANS

4:13-18

28

1:3

126

3:3b

89

1:1

8, 36

4:14

96

8:1

126

3:9

38

1:2

28

5:2-10

186

10:12

126

3:10

96

1:10

64

5:2

184

10:20

63

3:25

107

1:12-13

42, 70

5:4-8

197

10:33

66

3:28

141, 163, 180

1:17

66

5:6

184, 199

11:12

131

1:18

66

5:8-9

110

11:27

54

1:19

44

5:8

39

12:1

139

44

5:12

145, 183

12:2

126

1:27-28

88

5:14

145

1:30

70

5:17

73

JAMES

2:1

44

5:23

47

1:19b-20

135

2:2

40

5:24

38

1:26-27

101

2:3

100

3:1-12

136

3:14

136

5:13

146

2:20

4:4

108

4:23, 29

172

4:26

126

5:5

41

5:6

40, 107

5:11

96

5:13

40

5:16-17, 24

116

5:19

132

5:22

44

6:11-12

195

6:11

194

1:27

2:3-4

144

2 THESSALONIANS

2:5-11

51, 53, 103, 167

1:4

46

2:13-15

90

2:5

128

3:17

194

2:7

173

1 PETER 1:3

41

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 219

Index of Scriptures 1:11

44

1:13

198

2:11–3:12

161

2:23

174

2:24

63

3:15-16

202

4:1b

66

4:8

57

4:13

66

2 PETER 3:15

190

JUDE 14

40

REVELATION 9:6

127

219

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 220

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 221

index of sidebars and Illustrations

Sidebars Adam and Christ in Paul

138

Ambrosiaster on Servant Obedience

172

Aseneth Made New

139

Augustine on Hope

131

“Begotten, Not Made . . .” Ben Sira on Lying

55 136

Body of Christ, The (To Søma Tou Christou)?

100

C. S. Lewis on a Healthy Belief in Spirits

110

Centrifugal Power of the Gospel, The

65

Christ, Greater than the Torah?

53

Circumcision in Judaism

93

Clothing Imagery in Joseph and Aseneth

135

Clothing Metaphor in Context

143

Compassionate Mother in 4 Maccabees, The

144

Consequences of Roman Slave Resistance, The 174 Crane and Christian Vigilance, The Defilement and Renewal of the Sun in 3 Baruch, The Diakonos (Servant) Did Paul Condone Slavery? Dietrich Bonhoeffer Dietrich Bonhoeffer Arrested and Executed

197 140 44 172 1 105

Does Cosmic Reconciliation Imply Universalism? Early Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Perseverance

59

House Churches of Early Christianity, The

14

69

Household and the Transcendent-Ascetic Philosophy, The

160

Election and Salvation in Paul 143

Human Spirit or Holy Spirit?

Eschatological Offering, The

In the Name of the Lord

64

Ethics of “Grace and Peace,” (1:2), The 28

Israel’s Estrangement from God

Ethos

Jewish Concern Over Sexual Immorality, Greed, and Idolatry

F. F. Bruce on Paul and Women Faithful or Believing? Family Solidarity in the New Testament World Fatherly Consent of Punishment

28 178 38

Jewish Mysticism

73

John Calvin on Asking for Prayer

170

John Calvin on Colossians 1:24 Josephus and Philo on Wives’ Inferiority and Servitude

88 147 61

133 68 187 67

Festivals, New Moon Ceremonies, Sabbath Keeping

99

Laodicea

Firstborn and Beloved

56

Letter to the Laodiceans, The

194

Firstborn and Image of God

56

Flesh

95

Letter-Sharing and LetterCollecting

193

Flow of Thought: 2:13-14a

96

“Forgiveness of Sins” and the Advent Hymns

Living from the Future: Paul’s Eschatology 128

50

Fulfilling the Gospel Word

68

Lordship of Christ in 3:18–4:1, The

164

Getting Wisdom Right

45

Lying Problems in Colossae?

137

God’s Fullness in Jesus

59

Made without Hands: Circumcision and Idolatry

94

22

Melanchthon and Colossians 3:18–4:1

183

Merkabah Mysticism

101

Greek Rhetorical Types and Paul’s Letters Hapax Legomena (“Words Occurring Uniquely”) in Colossians Holy Spirit in Colossians, The

4 44

166 70

Mystery of Christ, The

187

Noutheteø

145

Nympha and Her Church

193

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 222

222

Index of Sidebars and Illustrations

Of Bodies, Heads, Kings, and the One Lord

58

Steadfast Faith (Edraios) according to Ignatius

Oikonomia and Oikonomos

67

Studying Paul’s Ethics

Outline of 1:15-20

54

Ta Stoicheia Tou Kosmou

Outline of 1:3-14

39

Theodoret of Cyrus: Hidden Resurrection

Outline of 2:4-23 Outline of Colossians 4:2-18 Paralogizomai and Pithanologia Parsing out Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs Paul and the Testament of Job on a Heavenly Mindset Paul’s Definition of Love

87 184 88

Thriambeuø, the Roman Triumphal Procession, and a Pauline Paradox Transforming from Within

64

Roman main road at Laodicea (photo)

70

124

Roman mosaic from Dougga

142

92

Saint Paul Writing (Jacob A. Backer)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles (Valentine de Boulogne [?], oil on canvas) 178

98

Seneca, Roman Philosopher (Joos van Ghent, oil on wood) 3

165

146

Trouble in Colossae? How Bad? 38

129

Vice Lists in Hellenistic Jewish Literature 132

40

Victory Over Death

59

Paul’s Theology of Interchange 130

Word of Christ

145

Paul’s Use of Darkness Imagery 48

“Word of Truth”

42

Pauline Paraenesis

28

Persecution of the Early Followers of Jesus

66

Philo and the Household

162

Philo’s Use of Brabeuø

144

Philosophy as a Way of Life

115

Plans for the Excavation of Colossae Pliny on Early Christian Worship Plutarch’s Criticism of Superstition and Religious Asceticism Pollio, His Slave, and the Lampreys Posture of Christ in Heaven: Seated or Standing?, The Prison Epistles

13 146

Purpose of Colossians 1:15-20, The

52

Roman Cross, The

60

Sample Greek Epistolary Prayer, A

39

Scholarly Divisions of the Pauline Corpus

4

Seasoned with Salt

190

Seneca’s Discourse on Slavery

175

Sin as Imprisonment Slaves in the Roman World Spirituality, Pride, and Ethics

77 142 71

36

126

Altarpiece of the church of Saint Mary (detail)

Water of Life, The (Anonymous, mosaic)

97

199

Arch of Constantine (photo)

98

Baptism of Christ (early Christian fresco)

95

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (Rotraut Forberg, photo)

171

167

Timothy with his mother and grandmother (stained glass)

Trinity (Jean Bellegambe, central panel of the Anchin polytych)

Conversion of Saint Paul, The (Caravaggio)

Pseudo-Phocylides on Love, Gentleness, and Care

60

Tree of Life (Andrea di Bonaiuto, painting) 90

Illustrations

Christ Blessing Bread and Wine (Carlo Dolci, oil on canvas)

11

Thief on the Cross, below Two Soldiers Playing Dice (Andrea Mantegna, pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk)

Adam (Lucas the Elder, oil on limewood) 138

104

126

8

130

Denarius of Augustus

1 76 48 162

Hera Campana (marble)

94

Mamertine Prison in Rome (photo)

11

Maps of Asia Minor and the Lycus Valley

13

Martin Luther at the age of 29 (woodcut)

26

Pentecost (Anonymous)

88

Philo of Alexandria (André Thévet)

91

Portrait of Saint John Chrysostom (Giuseppe Franchi, oil on canvas) 54 Resurrection of Christ, The (Piero della Francesca, fresco)

199

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 223

index of topics

A Adam 21, 25, 48, 54–55, 60, 72, 83, 108, 117, 119, 130, 138–40, 142 angel(s) 40, 69, 83, 100–101, 118–19, 129, 135, 139–40, 146–48, 158 apocalyptic 41, 45, 68, 75, 84, 109–110, 119–20, 129, 207 Archippus 9, 14, 34, 184, 192–93 Aristarchus 34, 82, 191–92 Ascetic(ism) 14–17, 19, 24–25, 33, 43–45, 50, 52–53, 56–58, 61–68, 71, 74, 78, 87–95, 97, 99–101, 103–104, 111, 114–15, 117–19, 126, 129, 131–32, 137, 141, 145–48, 161, 184–86, 189, 191–92, 209

B baptism 73, 94–95, 98, 113, 124, 134, 158 body 5, 16, 18–20, 25–26, 28, 30, 37, 39, 41, 43–44, 51–54, 56–60, 62–63, 65–67, 71, 74, 76, 78–80, 83, 88, 92–95, 99–101, 103–104, 112, 114–15, 118–19, 124, 127–28, 131–32, 138, 140, 144–45, 157, 172, 191, 194 bonds 72, 88, 196 brother(s) 37–38, 43, 59, 72–73, 81, 175, 190, 195

C chains 9, 11–12, 34, 74, 77, 148, 188, 196

child(ren) 4, 34, 36, 39, 49, 54, 72–73, 129, 143, 144, 156, 162, 164–70, 172, 176, 180–82, 197 Christ 1–2, 5–6, 10, 12, 15–20, 23–28, 30–35, 37–72, 74–84, 87–111, 114, 116–20, 123–31, 133–34, 136–49, 151–53, 157–58, 161, 164–66, 172–74, 177–78, 180, 182, 187–88, 190–92, 195–200, 202–203, 207, 209 church 1–2, 5–6, 11–12, 14–15, 20–22, 24–25, 27–28, 30, 33–34, 36–39, 45–47, 51–52, 54, 57, 59, 62–70, 72–78, 80, 82, 85, 88, 90, 97, 100, 104, 108, 112, 114, 116, 120, 145–47, 150, 153–56, 158, 164, 167, 169, 171, 174, 176–78, 180, 182–83, 185, 188, 191–94, 199–200, 202–203 circumcise(d) 23, 44, 93, 107, 118, 141, 195 circumcision 18, 23, 93–94, 99, 102, 104, 106–107, 113, 117–18, 192 Colossae 2, 12–17, 19–20, 30, 37–38, 43–45, 53, 70–71, 82, 87–88, 101, 114, 118, 137, 142–43, 161, 165, 185, 191, 193, 207, 209 creation 1, 5, 21, 23, 25–27, 40, 42, 48–49, 52–53, 55–58, 60, 64–65, 83, 100, 107–108, 127–28, 140–41, 147, 151, 172, 179

cruciform 1, 33, 43, 45, 65–66, 72, 147 cruciformity 2, 29, 34, 80–81, 85, 157, 183, 208

D dead 26, 41, 54, 57–61, 68, 75, 77, 82, 84, 90, 94–95, 103, 113, 117, 124–25, 130, 132, 134, 144, 187 death 6, 23, 25, 28–29, 42, 46, 48, 50, 52–54, 58–63, 65, 69, 75–76, 79–81, 84, 94–98, 102, 104–105, 115, 118–19, 124–25, 128–29, 131–32, 134, 138–39, 147, 153, 167, 177, 181, 191 dying 81, 94, 133

E elemental 15, 26, 56, 91–92, 106, 108, 129 Epaphras 6, 14, 16, 34, 38, 41, 43, 64, 82, 185, 190–92, 209 Ephesians 4, 11, 19, 22, 29–31, 44, 59, 70, 82, 109, 120, 133, 143, 145, 157, 161, 172, 181–82, 192–93, 204, 207–210 eschatology 5, 97, 128, 149 ethical 7, 9, 28, 41, 71, 80, 107, 111, 123, 132, 137 ethic(s) 1–2, 20, 23, 27–29, 31, 65, 71, 82, 84–85, 97, 100, 115–17, 120–24, 132, 154, 159, 163, 178–79, 207–208 eye 172, 197

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 224

224

Index of Topics

F faith 2–3, 5, 16, 26–28, 31–33, 37–43, 49, 61–64, 74, 77, 79, 81–82, 85–90, 94, 98, 107, 109–110, 112–13, 117, 124, 128, 130, 145, 147, 151–52, 165, 176–77, 183, 185, 194, 197, 203 festival(s) 15, 17, 98–99, 111 flesh 18–19, 25, 30, 43, 56, 63, 66–67, 71, 88–89, 93–96, 103, 115–18, 124, 128, 139, 148, 168, 171–72, 195, 198–99 food 12, 15, 79, 98–99, 101–102, 131, 146, 164, 190 forgive 50–51, 64, 144 forgiveness 49–52, 64, 77–78, 87, 96, 105, 143–44, 154, 159, 166, 203 full 19, 22, 37, 45, 64, 66, 71, 79, 128, 162 fullness 15, 17–19, 24, 26, 33, 36, 58–60, 67, 79, 87, 89, 92–93, 104, 108

G Gentile(s) 7, 26, 49, 61, 64, 67, 119, 141, 150, 174, 179, 191–92 glory 48, 53, 61, 68, 79, 90, 97, 106, 126, 128, 130–31, 134, 139, 141, 144, 147–49, 155, 169, 196 Gnostic(s) 20, 83, 112 God 1–3, 7, 13, 16–17, 22–28, 30, 33, 35–65, 67–69, 71–88, 92–96, 98–101, 104–111, 114–15, 117–20, 124–29, 133–36, 138–52, 155–58, 162, 166, 169, 172–74, 176–79, 184–88, 191–92, 194, 196, 198–99, 201–203, 207–209 gods 13, 54, 104, 115, 133, 135, 164 gospel 12, 16, 19–20, 26–27, 33, 36, 38–39, 41–43, 49, 52, 57, 60, 64–65, 67–69, 74, 76–78, 82, 84, 101, 109–110, 114, 127, 131, 141–42, 145, 151, 165, 184–88, 190–92, 194, 196, 198, 201, 203

grace 3, 28, 33–34, 37, 44, 64, 73, 76, 79, 84, 97, 107–108, 117–18, 138, 144, 148, 150–52, 154, 161, 165, 174, 189, 198, 201, 203–204 Greco-Roman 22, 26, 31, 36, 39, 67, 81, 91, 115, 119–20, 132, 162, 165–68, 181, 194, 208, 210 Greek 4–5, 13, 22, 31, 38–39, 42, 54, 66, 83, 88, 90, 93, 96, 100, 115, 130–31, 133, 141, 145, 183–85, 187–88, 190, 195

H Haustafel(n) 161, 163, 181, 207, 208 head 5, 15, 23, 25, 57–58, 67, 87, 93, 101, 131, 135, 145, 148, 187 heaven(s) 2, 24, 41, 49–50, 56, 59, 64–65, 68, 71, 75, 84, 87, 89, 94, 101, 103–104, 125–27, 136, 138, 140, 144, 146–48, 161, 174 heavenly 16–17, 19, 24–26, 33, 41, 56, 61, 64–66, 68–69, 71, 83–84, 88, 101, 103–104, 120–21, 125–29, 131, 133, 137–38, 161, 208–209 hidden(ness) 24, 26, 40, 45, 68, 70, 72, 75, 87, 125, 127, 129–30, 133, 140, 149, 161, 180 Hierapolis 14, 143, 185 holiness 23, 37, 46, 81–82, 106, 143, 207 holy 1, 21, 24, 37, 40–41, 43–44, 46, 48, 53, 55, 63, 65, 72–73, 76, 78, 81, 88, 91, 99, 101, 107, 110–111, 113, 120, 124, 134, 143, 145, 153 Holy Spirit 21, 40, 44, 72–73, 76, 88, 134, 153 hope 1–2, 10, 15–16, 26–28, 33, 35–36, 39, 41–42, 48, 50, 60–63, 65, 68, 75, 82, 87–88, 90, 92, 109–110, 128, 130–31, 140, 155, 158, 161, 187, 197–98, 202–203 house(s) 6, 11–12, 14, 28, 43, 47, 61, 85, 94, 151, 162, 164, 167, 172, 181, 192–93, 196, 209

household(s) 4, 14, 34, 38–39, 46–47, 65, 67, 82, 137, 142, 161–74, 176–78, 180–83, 193, 203–204, 208, 209 household code 67, 137, 142, 161, 163, 168–70, 176–78, 180, 182, 193, 203–204 human(s) 1–2, 7, 15, 18, 23, 26, 33, 40, 42, 44, 52–54, 55–57, 59–60, 62, 66, 71–72, 76, 78–80, 83, 87–88, 92–96, 100–102, 104–106, 108–12, 114–15, 118–19, 125, 127–28, 132, 135, 136, 138, 140–42, 147, 152, 165, 167, 172–75, 190 humanity 19, 40, 55, 69, 72, 77–79, 85, 136, 140, 155, 175 humility 43, 100–101, 115, 143–45, 148–49, 153, 166, 203 husband(s) 4, 34, 162, 164–68, 172, 176–78, 180, 193 hymn(s) 22, 49–50, 77–78, 83, 129, 138, 145–47, 155

I idol(s) 35, 41, 54, 61, 94, 132–33 image(s) 3, 5, 8, 31, 35, 40, 53–56, 78, 83, 92, 98, 126, 129, 135, 137–42, 151–52, 158, 161, 178, 208 invisible 19, 54, 56–58, 73, 100, 109, 173

J Jesus 10, 13, 19, 21, 23, 26, 31, 34–35, 37, 39–41, 44, 47–60, 63–64, 66, 69, 72–73, 76, 78–80, 83, 90, 92, 95–97, 99–100, 104–105, 107–108, 116–17, 119–20, 124–29, 131, 134, 138–39, 142–47, 151, 153–54, 161, 164–65, 168, 172–74, 180, 182, 186–87, 190–92, 197–200, 202, 207 Jesus Christ 23, 31, 37, 41, 44, 48, 53, 55, 57–59, 63, 79, 90, 92, 97, 116–17, 127, 134, 138–39, 142, 147, 151, 153, 161, 172–73, 191, 198

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 225

Index of Topics Jew(s) 1, 7, 13–14, 26, 53, 57, 60–61, 88, 94, 99, 101, 105–107, 115, 120, 132, 135, 141, 143, 150, 164, 174, 179, 192

living 2, 8, 25, 27, 31, 39–41, 45, 55, 64, 68, 71, 80, 82, 89, 91, 95, 97, 107, 109–110, 115, 123–24, 128, 138, 144, 153, 158, 178, 186, 202

Jewish 13–14, 17, 20–21, 37, 40, 44, 47–48, 53–56, 65–66, 68–69, 73, 82, 88–91, 93–94, 96, 98–99, 101, 107, 111, 113, 115, 119, 126, 129, 132–33, 135–36, 141, 143, 150, 158, 161–62, 168, 188, 192, 209

Logos 42, 88, 145, 184–89

Judaism 17, 64, 68, 93, 111, 118, 135, 139, 143, 158, 167, 208, 210 judgment 4, 41, 48, 53, 63–64, 96, 124, 126, 128, 133, 135, 139, 149–52, 155, 158, 173, 184, 210 justification 22, 41, 152

K king 27, 35, 47, 49, 58–59, 65, 73, 131, 142, 151, 165 kingdom 24, 26, 38, 41, 46–49, 52, 54, 56, 63, 65, 69, 71–72, 74–75, 77, 85, 100, 125, 128, 133, 142, 148, 198, 201 knowledge 9, 16, 18, 24, 43–45, 48, 50, 55, 68, 71, 82–83, 87, 101, 107, 112, 114–15, 117–18, 134, 139, 141, 145, 194

L Laodicea 13–14, 45, 70–71, 143, 185, 192–93 Laodicean(s) 3, 13, 30, 34, 70, 167, 192–94 law 3, 40, 53, 96, 105, 107–108, 111, 118–20, 131, 142, 164, 166, 170, 174 life 1–2, 12, 14, 22, 24, 26–28, 30, 33–34, 37–41, 44–45, 48–51, 53, 58, 60–63, 66, 73–76, 78–81, 89–90, 94–98, 101, 103–105, 107, 112, 115–17, 120, 123–25, 127–31, 133–40, 142, 145, 147–50, 152–54, 161–62, 167–69, 172–73, 175–78, 180, 182, 186, 190–91, 193, 196, 198, 202, 207, 209

Lord 4, 8, 14, 23, 28, 30, 35, 39, 42–43, 45, 47–49, 55–59, 61–67, 69, 76–79, 89–90, 92, 97–100, 108, 113, 116–17, 124, 126, 128, 130, 133–35, 139, 141–42, 144–45, 147, 151, 156–57, 161, 164, 166–67, 169, 172–74, 179–80, 184–86, 190–93, 195, 198 love 1, 25, 28, 31–33, 37–45, 47, 56, 58, 62, 71, 73, 75, 80–82, 87, 107, 110, 115, 125, 128, 133, 137, 142, 144, 153–55, 161, 165–67, 169, 174, 181, 190, 195, 197, 202–203, 208 Luke 11–12, 34, 49, 54, 69, 76, 82–83, 119, 125–26, 136, 190–91, 198, 202

M man 12, 21, 24–27, 31, 41, 57, 59, 62, 73–74, 78–80, 89, 92, 98, 109, 111–12, 117, 131, 137–40, 149, 162, 166, 168, 173, 175–76, 179, 186, 189, 193, 197–98 master(s) 4, 34, 44, 47, 77, 91, 115–16, 131–32, 137, 148, 154, 162, 164–65, 170–77, 184, 186, 189–90, 193, 197 mature 16, 43, 69, 112, 120, 146 maturity 16–17, 25, 37, 39, 45, 64, 68–69, 88, 146–47, 169, 192 metaphor(s) 5, 21–22, 28, 31, 37–38, 42, 47, 55, 58, 65, 73, 81–82, 89, 93, 94, 96, 98, 110, 124, 139, 143, 186 moral 15, 28, 31, 37, 84–85, 96, 107–108, 116–18, 123–24, 136–37, 150, 153–55, 159, 165, 170, 172, 207–209 mortal 18, 53, 60, 92, 98, 102, 110, 135, 147–48, 155 music 59, 72, 114, 146, 156, 159

225

mystery 16, 18, 24, 36, 45, 55, 59, 65, 68, 71, 79, 84, 119, 130, 187, 209 Mystical 2, 15, 45, 52, 62, 65, 74, 83, 101, 129, 146, 149, 161, 186, 191, 209

N Nympha 14, 34, 167, 192–93

O Onesimus 11, 14, 34, 38, 82, 142, 158, 175, 184, 189–91

P parents 4, 106, 164, 167–69, 172, 176 Paul 1–78, 80–158, 161, 163–79, 181, 183–200, 203–204, 207–210 Pauline 3–6, 9–12, 15, 20–22, 26, 28–29, 34, 39, 44, 83, 97–98, 106, 111, 123, 128, 130, 132, 135, 137–38, 152, 155, 158, 168, 172, 176, 184, 193–94, 197, 204, 208 peace 17, 28, 33, 35, 46–47, 51, 59–60, 63, 73, 75, 90, 115, 125, 142, 144, 154, 161, 171, 187, 190 perfect 37, 40, 53, 67, 90, 92–93, 129, 136, 140, 144, 152 perfection 16–19, 25, 45, 66, 68, 93, 103, 118, 140, 146 Philemon 4, 11, 14, 29–30, 36, 38, 43–44, 59, 81–82, 84, 92, 118, 137, 143, 145–46, 157–58, 161, 172, 181–82, 190, 193, 195, 204, 207–210 philosopher, 3, 91, 101, 116, 162, 188 philosophy(-ies) 2, 14–19, 24–25, 30, 33, 43–45, 52–53, 56–58, 61–68, 71, 83–84, 87–95, 97–103, 111, 114–19, 123, 126–27, 129, 131–32, 137, 141, 145–48, 161, 166, 172, 184–86, 189, 191–92

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 226

226

Index of Topics

power(s) 2, 12, 16–19, 18, 23, 26–28, 30, 31, 33, 38, 40, 41, 43–47, 49–50, 52–60, 64–65, 62, 68–70, 73–77, 83–84, 88, 91–98, 102, 105, 108–110, 113, 118–19, 124–25, 127, 129–30, 133, 138, 141, 148, 150, 151, 153–54, 163, 171, 174, 177, 184, 187–89, 196 pray 10, 39, 73–75, 185, 187–88, 196 prayed 48, 74, 170 prayer 12, 16, 27, 33, 38–40, 44–45, 49, 62, 64, 73–74, 82, 85, 89, 111, 113, 139, 185–88, 192, 197–99 prison 10–12, 27, 29, 43, 48, 73–75, 77–79, 88, 104–105, 119, 188, 192, 195–96, 207 prisoner 10–11, 37, 43, 70, 90, 192 pseudonymity 3, 9 pseudonymous 4, 6 pure 45, 63–64, 140, 149, 179 purity 23, 64, 102, 140

S Sabbath(s) 57, 98–99, 102 Scripture(s) 1, 21, 31, 58, 85, 107–108, 120, 146, 154, 156, 177–80, 204, 207–208 Servant(s) 36, 38, 43–44, 47, 64, 77, 81, 127, 143, 172, 176–77, 184, 186, 190, 197 sexual 132–33, 154 sin(s) 26–28, 38, 41–42, 48–52, 54, 58–62, 64, 72, 77, 83, 89–91, 94–98, 105–106, 117–18, 126, 131–33, 135–36, 138–40, 200 slave(s) 4, 20, 34, 38, 40, 49, 60–61, 77, 98, 103, 119, 137, 141–42, 158, 162–66, 167, 170–76, 182, 186, 189–90, 192, 193 spirit 4, 21, 30, 40, 43–44, 47, 51, 53, 63, 65, 68, 71–73, 75–76, 79–80, 84, 88–89, 94–95, 101, 116, 118, 126, 129, 131–32, 134, 137–39, 143, 145–47, 152–53, 157–58, 172, 176–78

put on 116, 134, 139, 144, 163, 197–98

suffer(s) 6, 43, 67, 70, 80, 105

putting on 134

suffering 2, 25, 37, 46–47, 56, 63, 66–67, 70, 75, 80–81, 98, 103–105, 115, 130, 188, 196

R reconcile 59 reconciliation 25, 36, 53, 59–60, 63, 65, 76, 82, 84–85, 153–55, 159, 167 redeem 2, 42, 53, 117, 152, 188 redeemed 47, 50, 52, 92, 189 redemption 41, 49–52, 63, 65, 77–78, 83, 87, 128, 151–52, 202, 209 religion 12, 30, 42, 78–79, 91, 100–102, 104–105, 111–12, 114–15, 118–19, 159 Roman 3, 8, 22, 26, 31, 36, 39, 46–47, 60, 64, 67, 70, 81–82, 91, 94, 96–98, 115–16, 119–20, 132, 142, 150, 158, 162, 165–72, 174–75, 181–82, 194, 199, 208–210 Rome 11–12, 48, 60, 95, 98, 126, 134, 142, 170, 181–82

suffered 25, 67, 71, 79–80, 100

transcendent–ascetic philosophy/philosophers 14, 19, 24–25, 33, 43–45, 52–53, 57–58, 61–68, 74, 87–90, 93, 95, 97, 99–101, 103, 111, 114–15, 117–18, 126, 129, 131–32, 137, 141, 145, 147–48, 184–86, 191–92 true 1–3, 10, 15, 24–25, 27, 33, 35, 40–43, 45, 60–64, 66–67, 69, 71–72, 75, 79, 87–88, 90, 93, 96, 98, 101, 103, 105, 111, 113, 115, 118, 124–25, 130, 137, 140–43, 145, 148–49, 151, 154–55, 172–73, 184, 187, 189, 191, 195–96, 198, 201, 204 truth 1–2, 10, 26, 42, 45, 69, 88, 90, 103–104, 110, 117, 129–30, 139, 156, 159, 167 Tychicus 6, 11, 34, 38, 142, 184, 189–91

V visible 54, 56, 78, 131, 173 vision(s) 2, 18, 40–41, 64–65, 69, 71, 72, 74, 84, 88, 97, 101, 103, 105, 123–24, 128, 129, 133, 137, 142, 145, 147, 149, 154, 159, 163, 166, 169, 172, 177–78, 184, 208

W T Ta Stoicheia Tou Kosmou 91–92, 119 thank(s) 33, 35, 39, 52, 60, 62, 76, 78, 91, 97–99, 140, 147, 171 thanksgiving 16, 20, 26–27, 33, 38–40, 44, 46, 62, 75–77, 82, 87, 90, 113, 124–25, 142, 147, 156, 161, 185–87, 197 Timothy 4, 8–11, 23, 36–37, 72, 119, 126, 208 torah 18, 26, 42, 52–53, 61–62, 65–66, 94, 96–97, 99, 102, 105–108, 119–20, 168, 178 transcendence 2, 16, 23, 43, 45, 71, 101, 104, 145

wisdom 2, 15–19, 21, 24–26, 33, 39, 44–46, 49–50, 53, 58, 62–69, 71–75, 82–84, 87–89, 92, 96, 102–103, 105–106, 108, 110, 115, 118, 129, 132–33, 135, 140–41, 145–48, 156, 159, 184, 189 wise 9, 18, 43, 188–89, 200 wife(-ves) 4, 34, 162, 164–68, 172, 176–78, 180–81 word 4–5, 15, 19, 22, 29, 31, 35, 38, 42, 44, 49, 52, 55–57, 62, 65, 67–70, 80–81, 83–84, 88–91, 93, 95, 99–101, 114–15, 118–19, 128, 130–31, 134–35, 145–47, 150, 154, 175, 182, 184–85, 187, 190, 203–204, 209

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 227

Index of Topics work(s) 1, 3–4, 9, 13, 23, 25, 27, 29, 35, 43, 44, 45, 49–50, 55, 57, 60, 63, 67, 69–70, 71, 74, 76, 94, 96, 103, 106, 108, 110, 111, 113, 116–17, 120, 124, 126, 127, 145, 147, 149, 151–52, 154, 156, 157, 158, 172–73, 177, 180, 184, 186–87, 189, 193, 196, 197, 201, 202 world(s) 2, 5, 12, 18, 22, 25–28, 30–31, 35–37, 39–40, 42, 45–46, 48–49, 52–53, 55–61, 64–65, 67–70, 72–74, 76, 79–80, 82, 91–92, 95–96, 98, 102, 104–105, 107–15, 119–20, 124, 127–32, 135, 138, 140–43, 152, 156, 158–59, 162–63, 165, 167–70, 172, 175, 177, 181–82, 184, 186, 189, 194, 196–98, 200, 203–205, 208–210 worship 15, 27–28, 39–40, 59, 63–65, 69, 75, 79, 84, 99–101, 107–108, 112–13, 119, 143, 146–47, 155–57, 164, 172, 203

227

Colossians_int_tp 3/7/13 3:07 PM Page 228