To study Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae is to look at the life and times of a Christian group in present day Turkey! Colossae is the crossroads for travellers coming from nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis (2:1, 4:13) or, even from Ephesus. Once famous for its wool, by the time of Paul, Colossae was in decline. Now it was Laodicea (16kms) as a Roman judicial centre and Hierapolis (20kms) with its healing springs that were the important towns.
The church was not established by a visit from Paul (2:1). However, in Ephesus, Paul was having an extraordinary ministry in a local town hall (A.D. 52-55) and the adjacent region of Asia (including Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colossae) was affected (Acts 19:8-10). It is not surprising, given that Colossae is so far from Jerusalem, that there are so many allusions to the pagan past of the receivers of the letter, as the majority of the congregation were from non-Jewish (Gentile) background.
THE “COLOSSIAN HERESY”
With many of the early churches (and even today!) it didn’t take long before some questionable teaching and practices emerged, including the church in Colossae. In this letter Paul is warning the Christians about false doctrine (2:4). There was the risk that the people would be led into the slavery of error (2:8).
What was the heresy? Paul does not specifically refer to any of its elements. Probably the issues were dealt with by word of mouth when Epaphras visited Paul (1:8) and Tychicus and Onesimus returned to Colossae with the letter (4:7-9). It appears that the ‘heresy’ in Colossae came from a Jewish background where circumcision (2:11), diet and holy days (2:16) were considered to be necessary ‘add ons’ to the new faith. Paul is concerned that the relatively new Christians are in danger (2:4).
The answer is to get back to basics and grow on from there (2:7). The behaviour of the false teachers should be a warning that all is not right (2:18-19). Paul reminds his readers (then and now) of what constitutes the community of, ‘God’s holy people’.
Today we consider the defining essentials of the community as outlined in Colossians 1:1-14
– PETER BLENCOWE