Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary


Book Overview - Colossians

by Henry Alford





1. THAT this Epistle is a genuine work of St. Paul, was never doubted in ancient times: nor did any modern critic question the fact, until Schrader(50), in his commentary, pronounced some passages suspicious, and led the way in which Baur(51) and Meyerhoff(52) followed. In his later work, Baur entirely rejects it(53). The grounds on which these writers rest, are partly the same as those already met in the Prolegomena to the Ephesians. The Epistle is charged with containing phrases and ideas derived from the later heretical philosophers,—an assertion, the untenableness of which I have there shewn as regards that Epistle, and almost the same words would suffice for this. Even De Wette disclaims and refutes their views, maintaining its genuineness: though, as Dr. Davidson remarks, “it is strange that, in replying to them so well, he was not led to question his own rejection of the authenticity of the Ephesian Epistle.”

2. The arguments drawn from considerations peculiar to this Epistle, its diction and style, will be found answered under § iv.

3. Among many external testimonies to its genuineness and authenticity are the following:

( α) Justin Martyr, contra Tryph. 85, p. 182, calls our Lord πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (Colossians 1:15), and similarly § 84, p. 181; 100, p. 195.

( β) Theophilus of Antioch, ad Autolycum, ii. 22, p. 365, has: τοῦτον τὸν λόγον ἐγέννησε προφορικόν, πρωτότοκον πάσης κτίσεως.

These may perhaps hardly be conceded as direct quotations. But the following are beyond doubt:

( γ) Irenæus, iii. 14. 1, p. 201:

“Iterum in ea epistola quæ est ad Colossenses, ait: ‘Salutat vos Lucas medicus dilectus.’ ” (ch. Colossians 4:14.)

( δ) Clement of Alexandria, Strom. i. 1 (15), p. 325 P.:

κἀν τῇ πρὸς κολοσσαεῖς ἐπιστολῇ, “ νουθετοῦντες,” γράφει, “ πάντα ἄνθρωπον καὶ διδάσκοντες κ. τ. λ.” (ch. Colossians 1:28.)

In Strom. iv. 7 (56), p. 588, he cites ch. Colossians 3:12; Colossians 3:14 :—in Strom. Colossians 3:10 (61, ff.), p. 682 f.,—ch. Colossians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:28, ch. Colossians 2:2 ff., ch. Colossians 4:2-3 ff. In id. vi. 8 (62), p. 771, he says that παῦλος ἐν ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς calls τὴν ἑλληνικὴν φιλοσοφίανστοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου’ (Colossians 2:8).

( ε) Tertullian, de præscr. hæret. c. 7, vol. ii. p. 20:

“A quibus nos Apostolus refrænans nominatim philosophiam testatur caveri oportere, scribens ad Colossenses: videte, ne quis sit circumveniens vos &c.” (ch. Colossians 2:8.)

And de Resurr. carnis, c. 23, vol. ii. p. 825 f.:

“Docet quidem Apostolus Colossensibus scribens …” and then he cites ch. Colossians 2:12 ff., and Colossians 2:20,—Colossians 3:1; Colossians 3:3.

( ζ) Origen, contra Cels. Colossians 3:8, vol. i. p. 583:

παρὰ δὲ τῷ παύλῳ, … τοιαῦτʼ ἐν τῇ πρὸς κολασσαεῖς λέλεκται· μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς καταβραβευέτω θέλων κ. τ. λ. (ch. Colossians 2:18-19.)

4. I am not aware that the integrity of the Epistle has ever been called in question. Even those who are so fond of splitting and portioning out other Epistles, do not seem to have tried to subject this to that process.



1. COLOSSÆ, or (for of our two oldest MSS.,—(54) writes one ( α) in the title and subscription, and the other ( ο) in ch. Colossians 1:2; and (55) has α with ο written above by 1. m. in the title and subscription, and ο in ch. Colossians 1:2) COLASSÆ, formerly a large city of Phrygia ( ἀπίκετο (Xerxes) ἐς κολοσσάς, πόλιν μεγάλην φρυγίας, Herod. vii. 30: ἐξελαύνει (Cyrus) διὰ φρυγίαςεἰς κολοσσάς, πόλιν οἰκουμένην, εὐδαίμονα καὶ μεγάλην, Xen. Anab. i. 2. 6) on the river Lycus, a branch of the Mæander ( ἐν τῇ λύκος ποταμὸς ἐς χάσμα γῆς ἐσβαλὼν ἀφανίζεται(56), ἔπειτα διὰ σταδίων ὡς μάλιστά κη πέντε ἀναφαινόμενος, ἐκδιδοῖ καὶ οὗτος ἐς τὸν ΄αίανδρον. Herod. ibid.). In Strabo’s time it had lost much of its importance, for he describes Apamea and Laodicea as the principal cities in Phrygia, and then says, περίκειται δὲ ταύταις καὶ πολίσματα, among which he numbers Colossæ. For a minute and interesting description of the remains and neighbourhood, see Smith’s Dict. of Ancient Geography, sub voce. From what is there said it would appear, that Chonæ (Khonos), which has, since the assertion of Nicetas, the Byzantine historian who was born there(57), been taken for Colossæ, is in reality about three miles S. from the ruins of the city.

2. The Church at Colossæ consisted principally of Gentiles, ch. Colossians 2:13. To whom it owed its origin, is uncertain. From our interpretation of ch. Colossians 2:1 (see note there), which we have held to be logically and contextually necessary, the Colossians are included among those who had not seen St. Paul in the flesh. In ch. Colossians 1:7-8, Epaphras is described as πιστὸς ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν διάκονος τοῦ χριστοῦ, and as ὁ καὶ δηλώσας ἡμῖν τὴν ὑμῶν ἀγάπην ἐν πνεύματι: and in speaking of their first hearing and accurate knowledge of the grace of God in truth, the Apostle adds καθὼς ἐμάθετε ἀπὸ ἐπαφρᾶ τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ συνδούλου ἡμῶν. As this is not(58) καθὼς καὶ ἐμάθετε, we may safely conclude that the ἐμάθετε refers to that first hearing, and by consequence that Epaphras was the founder of the Colossian Church. The time of this founding must have been subsequent to Acts 18:23, where St. Paul went καθεξῆς through Galatia and Phrygia, στηρίζων πάντας τοὺς μαθητάς: in which journey he could not have omitted the Colossians, had there been a Church there.

3. In opposition to the above conclusion, there has been a strong current of opinion that the Church at Colossæ was founded by St. Paul. Theodoret seems to be the first who took this view (Introd. to his Commentary). His argument is founded mainly on what I believe to be a misapprehension of ch. Colossians 2:1(59), and also on a partial quotation of Acts 18:23, from which he infers that the Apostle must have visited Colossæ in that journey, adducing the words διῆλθε τὴν φρυγίαν καὶ τὴν γαλατικὴν χώραν, but without the additional clause στηρίζων πάντας τοὺς μαθητάς.

4. The same position was taken up and very elaborately defended by Lardner, ch. xiv. vol. ii. p. 472. His arguments are chiefly these:

1) The improbability that the Apostle should have been twice in Phrygia and not have visited its principal cities.

2) The Apostle’s assurance of the fruitful state of the Colossian Church, ch. Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:23; Colossians 2:6-7.

3) The kind of mention which is made of Epaphras, shewing him not to have been their first instructor: laying stress on the καθὼς καί in ch. Colossians 1:7 (rec. reading, but see above, par. 2), and imagining that the recommendations of him at ch. Colossians 1:7-8, Colossians 4:12-13, were sent to prevent his being in ill odour with them for having brought a report of their state to St. Paul,—and that they are inconsistent with the idea of his having founded their Church.

4) He contends that the Apostle does in effect say that he had himself dispensed the Gospel to them, ch. Colossians 1:21-25.

5) He dwells on the difference (as noted by Chrysostom in his Pref. to Romans, but not with this view) between St. Paul’s way of addressing the Romans and Colossians on the same subject, Romans 14:1-2, Colossians 2:20-23; and infers that as the Romans were not his own converts, the Colossians must have been.

6) From ch. Colossians 2:6-7, and similar passages as presupposing his own foundership of their Church.

7) “If Epaphras was sent to Rome by the Colossians to enquire after Paul’s welfare, as may be concluded from ch. Colossians 4:7-8, that token of respect for the Apostle is a good argument of personal acquaintance. And it is allowed, that he had brought St. Paul a particular account of the state of affairs in this Church. Which is another argument that they were his converts.”

8) Ch. Colossians 1:8, “who declared unto us your love in the Spirit,” is “another good proof of personal acquaintance.”

9) Ch. Colossians 3:16, as shewing that the Colossians were endowed with spiritual gifts, which they could have received only from an Apostle.

10) From ch. Colossians 2:1-2, interpreting it as Theodoret above.

11) From the ἄπειμι of ch. Colossians 2:5, as implying previous presence.

12) From ch. Colossians 4:7-9, as “full proof that Paul was acquainted with them, and they with him.”

13) From the salutations in ch. Colossians 4:10-11; Colossians 4:14, and the appearance of Timotheus in the address of the Epistle, as implying that the Colossians were acquainted with St. Paul’s fellow-labourers, and consequently with himself.

14) From the counter salutations in ch. Colossians 4:15.

15) From ch. Colossians 4:3-4; Colossians 4:18, as “demands which may be made of strangers, but are most properly made of friends and acquaintance.”

16) From the Apostle’s intimacy with Philemon, an inhabitant of Colossæ, and his family; and the fact of his having converted him. “Again, v. 22, St. Paul desires Philemon to prepare him a lodging. Whence I conclude that Paul had been at Colossæ before.”

5. To all the above arguments it may at once be replied, that based as they are upon mere verisimilitude, they must give way before the fact of the Apostle never having once directly alluded to his being their father in the faith, as he does so pointedly in 1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 3:10; in Galatians 1:11; Galatians 4:13; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:17; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:1, &c. Only in the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians, besides here, do we find such notice wanting: in that to the Romans, from the fact being otherwise: in that to the Ephesians, it may be from the general nature of the Epistle, but it may also be because he was not entirely or exclusively their founder: see Acts 18:19-28.

6. Nor would such arguments from verisimilitude stand against the logical requirements of ch. Colossians 2:1. In fact, all the inferences on which they are founded will, as may be seen, full as well bear turning the other way, and ranging naturally and consistently enough under the other hypothesis. The student will find them all treated in detail in Dr. Davidson’s Introduction, vol. ii. pp. 402–406.

7. It may be interesting to enquire, if the Church at Colossæ owed its origin not to St. Paul, but to Epaphras, why it was so, and at what period we may conceive it to have been founded. Both these questions, I conceive, will be answered by examining that which is related in Acts 19, of the Apostle’s long sojourn at Ephesus. During that time, we are told, Acts 19:10,— τοῦτο δὲ ἐγένετο ἐπὶ ἔτη δύο, ὥστε πάντας τοὺς κατοικοῦντας τὴν ἀσίαν ἀκοῦσαι τὸν λόγον τοῦ κυρίου, ἰουδαίους τε καὶ ἑλληνας:—and this is confirmed by Demetrius, in his complaint Acts 19:26,— θεωρεῖτε καὶ ἀκούετε ὅτι οὐ μόνον ἐφέσου, ἀλλὰ σχεδὸν πάσης τῆς ασιας ὁ παῦλος οὗτος πείσας μετέστησεν ἱκανὸν ὄχλον. So that we may well conceive, that during this time Epaphras, a native of Colossæ, and Philemon and his family, also natives of Colossæ, and others, may have fallen in with the Apostle at Ephesus, and become the seeds of the Colossian Church. Thus they would be dependent on and attached to the Apostle, many of them personally acquainted with him and with his colleagues in the ministry. This may also have been the case with them at Laodicea and them at Hierapolis, and thus Pauline Churches sprung up here and there in Asia, while the Apostle confined himself to his central post at Ephesus, where, owing to the concourse to the temple, and the communication with Europe, he found so much and worthy occupation.

8. I believe that this hypothesis will account for the otherwise strange phænomena of our Epistle, on which Lardner and others have laid stress, as implying that St. Paul had been among them: for their personal regard for him, and his expressions of love to them: for his using, respecting Epaphras, language hardly seeming to fit the proximate founder of their Church:—for the salutations and counter salutations.

9. The enquiry into the occasion and object of this Epistle will be very nearly connected with that respecting the state of the Colossian Church, as disclosed in it.

10. It will be evident to the most cursory reader that there had sprung up in that Church a system of erroneous teaching, whose tendency it was to disturb the spiritual freedom and peace of the Colossians by ascetic regulations: to divide their worship by inculcating reverence to angels, and thus to detract from the supreme honour of Christ.

11. We are not left to infer respecting the class of religionists to which these teachers belonged: for the mention of νουμηνία and σάββατα in ch. Colossians 2:16, at once characterizes them as Judaizers, and leads us to the then prevalent forms of Jewish philosophy, to trace them. Not that these teachers were merely Jews; they were Christians: but their fault was, the attempt to mix with the free and spiritual Gospel of Christ the theosophy and angelology of the Jews of their time, in which they had probably been brought up. Of such theosophy and angelology we find ample traces in the writings of Philo, and in the notices of the Jewish sect of the Essenes given us by Josephus.(60)

12. It does not seem necessary to mark out very strictly the position of these persons as included within the limits of this or that sect known among the Jews: they were infected with the ascetic and theosophic notions of the Jews of their day, who were abundant in Phrygia(61): and they were attempting to mix up these notions with the external holding of Christianity.

13. There must have been also mingled in with this erroneous Judaistic teaching, a portion of the superstitious tendencies of the Phrygian character, and, as belonging to the Jewish philosophy, much of that incipient Gnosticism which afterwards ripened out into so many strange forms of heresy.

14. It may be noticed that the Apostle does not any where in this Epistle charge the false teachers with immorality of life, as he does the very similar ones in the Pastoral Epistles most frequently. The inference from this is plain. The false teaching was yet in its bud. Later down, the bitter fruit began to be borne; and the mischief required severer treatment. Here, the false teacher is εἰκῆ φυσιούμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ νοὸς τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ (ch. Colossians 2:18): in 1 Timothy 4:2, he is κεκαυτηριασμένος τὴν ἰδίαν συνείδησιν: 1 Timothy 6:5, διεφθαρμένος τὸν νοῦν, ἀπεστερημένος τῆς ἀληθείας, νομίζων πορισμὸν εἶναι τὴν εὐσέβειαν. Between these two phases of heresy, a considerable time must have elapsed, and a considerable development of practical tendencies must have taken place.

15. Those who would see this subject pursued further, may consult Meyer and De Wette’s Einleitungen: Davidson’s Introduction, vol. ii. pp. 407–424, where the various theories respecting the Colossian false teachers are mentioned and discussed: and Professor Eadie’s Literature of the Epistle, in the Introduction to his Commentary.

16. The occasion then of our Epistle being the existence and influence of these false teachers in the Colossian Church, the object of the Apostle was, to set before them their real standing in Christ: the majesty of His Person, and the completeness of His Redemption: and to exhort them to conformity with their risen Lord: following this out into all the subordinate duties and occasions of common life.



1. I have already shewn in the Prolegg. to the Ephesians that that Epistle, together with this, and that to Philemon, were written and sent at the same time: and have endeavoured to establish, as against those who would date the three from the imprisonment at Cæsarea, that it is much more natural to follow the common view, and refer them to that imprisonment at Rome, which is related in Acts 28 ultt.

2. We found reason there to fix the date of the three Epistles in A.D. 61 or 62, during that freer portion of the imprisonment which preceded the death of Burrus: such freedom being implied in the notices found both in Ephesians 6:19-20, and Colossians 4:3-4, and in the whole tone and spirit of the three Epistles as distinguished from that to the Philippians.



1. In both language and style, the Epistle to the Colossians is peculiar. But the peculiarities are not greater than might well arise from the fact, that the subject on which the Apostle was mainly writing was one requiring new thoughts and words. Had not the Epistle to the Romans ever been written, that to the Galatians would have presented as peculiar words and phrases as this Epistle now does.

2. It may be well to subjoin a list of the ἅπαξ λεγόμενα in our Epistle:

ἀρέσκεια, ch. Colossians 1:10.

δυναμόω, ib. Colossians 1:11.

ὁρατός, ib. Colossians 1:16.

πρωτεύω, ib. Colossians 1:18.

εἰρηνοποιέω, ib. Colossians 1:20.

μετακινέω, ib. Colossians 1:23.

ἀνταναπληρόω, ib. Colossians 1:24.

πιθανολογία, ch. Colossians 2:4.

στερέωμα, ib. Colossians 2:5.

συλαγωγέω, ib. Colossians 2:8.

φιλοσοφία, ib. Colossians 2:8.

θεότης, ib. Colossians 2:9.

σωματικῶς, ib. Colossians 2:9.

ἀπέκδυσις, ib. Colossians 2:11.

χειρόγραφον, ib. Colossians 2:14.

προσηλόω, ib. Colossians 2:14.

ἀπεκδύω, ch. Colossians 2:15; ch. Colossians 3:9.

δειγματίζω, ib Colossians 3:15 (?) (see Matthew 1:19).

νουμηνία, ib. Colossians 3:16.

καταβραβεύω, ib. Colossians 3:18.

ἐμβατεύω, ib. Colossians 3:18.

δογματίζω, ib. Colossians 3:20.

ἀπόχρησις, ib. Colossians 3:22.

λόγον ἔχειν, ib. Colossians 3:23.

ἐθελοθρήσκεια, ib. Colossians 3:23.

ἀφειδία, ib. Colossians 3:23.

πλησμονή, ib. Colossians 3:23.

αἰσχρολογία, ch. Colossians 3:8.

μομφή, ib. Colossians 3:13.

βραβεύω, ib. Colossians 3:15.

εὐχάριστος, ib. Colossians 3:15.

ἀθυμέω, ib. Colossians 3:21.

ἀνταπόδοσις, ib. Colossians 3:24.

ἀνεψιός, ch. Colossians 4:10.

παρηγορία, ib. Colossians 4:11.

3. A very slight analysis of the above will shew us to what they are chiefly owing. In ch. 1 we have seven: in ch. 2, nineteen or twenty: in ch. 3, seven: in ch. 4, two. It is evident then that the nature of the subject in ch. 2 has introduced the greater number. At the same time it cannot be denied that St. Paul does here express some things differently from his usual practice: for instance, ἀρέσκεια, δυναμόω, πρωτεύω, εἰρηνοποιέω, μετακινέω, πιθανολογία, ἐμβατεύω, μομφή, βραβεύω, all are peculiarities, owing not to the necessities of the subject, but to style: to the peculiar frame and feeling with which the writer was expressing himself, which led to his using these unusual expressions rather than other and more customary ones. And we may fairly say, that there is visible throughout the controversial part of our Epistle, a loftiness and artificial elaboration of style, which would induce precisely the use of such expressions. It is not uncommon with St. Paul, when strongly moved or sharply designating opponents, or rising into majestic subjects and thoughts, to rise also into unusual, or long and compounded words: see for examples, Romans 1:24-32; Romans 8:35-39; Romans 9:1-5; Romans 11:33-36; Romans 16:25-27, &c., and many instances in the Pastoral Epistles. It is this σεμνότης of controversial tone, even more than the necessity of the subject handled, which causes our Epistle so much to abound with peculiar words and phrases.

4. And this will be seen even more strongly, when we turn to the Epistle to the Ephesians, sent at the same time with the present letter. In writing both, the Apostle’s mind was in the same general frame—full of the glories of the Person of Christ, and the consequent glorious privileges of His Church, which is built on Him, and vitally knit to Him. This mighty subject, as he looked with indignation on the beggarly system of meats and drinks and hallowed days and angelic mediations to which his Colossians were being drawn down, rose before him in all its length and breadth and height; but as writing to them, he was confined to one portion of it, and to setting forth that one portion pointedly and controversially. He could not, consistently with the effect which he would produce on them, dive into the depths of the divine counsels in Christ with regard to them. At every turn, we may well conceive, he would fain have gone out into those wonderful prayers and revelations which would have been so abundant if he had had free scope: but at every turn, οὐκ εἴασεν αὐτὸν τὸ πνεῦμα ἰησοῦ: the Spirit bound him to a lower region, and would not let him lose sight of the βλέπετε μή τις, which forms the ground-tone of this Colossian Epistle. Only in the setting forth of the majesty of Christ’s Person, so essential to his present aim, does he know no limits to the sublimity of his flight. When he approaches those who are Christ’s, the urgency of their conservation, and the duty of marking the contrast to their deceivers, cramps and confines him for the time.

5. But the Spirit which thus bound him to his special work while writing to the Colossians, would not let His divine promptings be in vain. While he is labouring with the great subject, and unable to the Colossians to express all he would, his thoughts are turned to another Church, lying also in the line which Tychicus and Onesimus would take: a Church which he had himself built up stone by stone; to which his affection went largely forth: where if the same baneful influences were making themselves felt, it was but slightly, or not so as to call for special and exclusive treatment. He might pour forth to his Ephesians all the fulness of the Spirit’s revelations and promptings, on the great subject of the Spouse and Body of Christ. To them, without being bound to narrow his energies evermore into one line of controversial direction, he might lay forth, as he should be empowered, their foundation in the counsel of the Father, their course in the satisfaction of the Son, their perfection in the work of the Spirit.

6. And thus,—as a mere human writer, toiling earnestly and conscientiously towards his point, pares rigidly off the thoughts and words, however deep and beautiful, which spring out of and group around his subject, putting them by and storing them up for more leisure another day: and then on reviewing them, and again awakening the spirit which prompted them, playfully unfolds their germs, and amplifies their suggestions largely, till a work grows beneath his hands more stately and more beautiful than ever that other was, and carrying deeper conviction than it ever wrought:—so, in the higher realms of the fulness of Inspiration, may we conceive it to have been with our Apostle. His Epistle to the Colossians is his caution, his argument, his protest: is, so to speak, his working-day toil, his direct pastoral labour: and the other is the flower and bloom of his moments, during those same days, of devotion and rest, when he wrought not so much in the Spirit, as the Spirit wrought in him. So that while we have in the Colossians, system defined, language elaborated, antithesis, and logical power, on the surface—we have in the Ephesians the free outflowing of the earnest spirit,—to the mere surface-reader, without system, but to him that delves down into it, in system far deeper, and more recondite, and more exquisite: the greatest and most heavenly work of one, whose very imagination was peopled with the things in the heavens, and even his fancy rapt into the visions of God.

7. Thus both Epistles sprung out of one Inspiration, one frame of mind: that to the Colossians first, as the task to be done, the protest delivered, the caution given: that to the Ephesians, begotten by the other, but surpassing it: carried on perhaps in some parts simultaneously, or immediately consequent. So that we have in both, many of the same thoughts uttered in the same words(62); many terms and phrases peculiar to the two Epistles; many instances of the same term or phrase, still sounding in the writer’s car, but used in the two in a different connexion. All these are taken by the impugners of the Ephesian Epistle as tokens of its spuriousness: I should rather regard them as psychological phænomena strictly and beautifully corresponding to the circumstances under which we have reason to believe the two Epistles to have been written: and as fresh elucidations of the mental and spiritual character of the great Apostle.