Introductory Notes by Arno C.Gaebelein

First Edition, 1929 Revised Edition, 1997

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from the King James version of the Bible.

Introductory Notes taken from Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible © 1970,1985 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.

Introductory Notes

By Arno C. Gaebelein

The City of Colossae

Colossae, a city of Phrygia (a district in Asia Minor), was pleasantly located in the valley of the Lycus, a branch of the Meander. Two other cities are also mentioned in this Epistle: Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). Laodicea was only nine miles, and Hierapolis thirteen miles from Colossae. Laodicea was a very rich and influential city, while Hierapolis was famous for its hot springs. Colossae was the smallest of the three cities. Christian believers lived in all three. Later the Lord selected the church of the Laodiceans and addressed to it the final portion of the message to the seven churches (Revelation 3).

The region of Phrygia was well settled by Jews, some of whom were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). A Jewish sect that held evil doctrines flourished in the whole region; this sect was known as the Essenes, and the Spirit of God warned against their false teachings in this Epistle. Phrygia was also known as the seat of other heresies, especially an oriental-philosophical mysticism.

The Church in Colossae

It seems that the church in Colossae was pre-eminently a Gentile church (Colossians 2:13). How did it come into existence? Paul evidently did not visit the city, though he passed through Phrygia (Acts 16:6), for he wrote to the Colossians, “I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh” (2:1). It also seems clear that the church in Colossae came into existence after Paul had passed through that region the second time (Acts 18:23), for if a church had existed then in that city, he probably would have visited it.

Acts 19:10 and 19:26 provide a hint as to how the gospel was made known to the Colossians. (Note that in these verses “Asia” does not mean the continent, but a province of Asia Minor, of which Phrygia was a part.) The whole region heard the gospel during Paul’s stay in the prominent city of Ephesus, for visitors from Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis came to listen to the messages of Paul, then carried the gospel backto their homes, and formed churches. Philemon and Epaphras of Colossae must in this way have heard the gospel from the apostle and become the instruments through whom the church in their home city was founded. That Epaphras was the more prominent one becomes certain from Colossians 1:7 and 4:12-13.

The Object of the Epistle

Paul in Rome had received, probably through Epaphras, the information that the Colossian Christians were facing great dangers to their faith. A number of false doctrines emanating from philosophical speculations, oriental mysticism, asceticism, and Judaism were being advocated among them. This beginning of gnosticism, which later wrought great havoc in the church, was troubling the Colossians, who seem to have been the type of intellectuals to whom such teachings appealed in a special way.

Gnosticism attempted to explain creation, the origin of evil, God, and so forth apart from the revelation God had given in His Word. They denied that God had created the world and claimed that an inferior being had called it into existence. This system taught that matter is evil and the only way to escape from evil is to repudiate matter completely. The worst feature of these gnostic teachings was a denial of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His work of redemption. Such theosophical speculation was anti-Christian throughout. While this evil system had not yet fully developed in the Colossian church, the foundation for it had been laid; and the Holy Spirit, anticipating its coming, answered the false teachings in this letter.

Other false teachers were also misleading the Colossians. The mention of “new moon” and “sabbath” in Colossians 2:16 at once characterizes these religionists as Judaizers. These Jews were Christians (by profession), but they attempted to mix the gospel of Christ with the theosophy and angelology of their times. They became infected with principles that drew them away from the simple doctrine of Christ. Their false system of philosophy and ascetic mysticism, which attempted to intrude into unseen things, limited the superiority and greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ and more so the sufficiency of His work of redemption.

All these evil teachings occasioned the writing of this Epistle, but the object in writing was more than to counteract the false doctrines. The Holy Spirit unfolded the truth of the gospel and showed the majesty and glory of Christ, who is pre-eminent in all things, Head of creation, and Head of the church. The Holy Spirit also unfolded the completeness of Christ’s redemption and the believer’s living union with Him. Like all the Pauline Epistles containing the revelation of God to man, the Colossian Epistle with its vital and glorious truths is meat in due season for God’s people, especially in these days when we are confronted by the same errors in modern movements that are energized by the power of Satan to destroy the very foundations of the faith.

The Counterpart of Ephesians

Colossians was written by Paul about the year A.D. 62 from the Roman prison and was carried by the same messenger who also received the Ephesian Epistle from the hands of the apostle. Tychicus was this messenger (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7-9). There is a striking resemblance between these two Epistles, which have been called twins.

Dean Alford spoke of them as follows: “In writing both, the Apostle’s mind was in the same frame—full of the glories 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.”

The books of Ephesians and Colossians embody the highest revelations God has given to man. Colossians is the counterpart of the Ephesian Epistle; each may be viewed as a supplement to the other. In Ephesians the revelation concerns mostly the body of Christ (the church), the fullness of that body, its rich privileges and heavenly destiny; in Colossians the Head of that body in His fullness and glory is revealed. In Ephesians we find repeatedly the position of the believer described as “in Christ Jesus” (1:1); in Colossians we read of Christ in the believer, “Christ in you” (1:27). Ephesians reveals the calling of God and exhorts believers to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith [they] are called” (4:1); Colossians, making known the Lord and His glory, exhorts believers “to walk worthy of the Lord” (1:10).

Controversy concerning evil doctrines and errors is absent in Ephesians; it is prominent in Colossians. In Ephesians the Holy Spirit and His work in the believer is fully brought out; there we read of the quickening, sealing, and filling of the Spirit and are warned against quenching and grieving the Spirit. In Colossians nothing is said about the Holy Spirit; the doctrine concerning the Spirit is absent. At the same time the redemption truths of Ephesians (as well as of Romans and Galatians) are all touched upon in Colossians.

The Key to the Epistle

Colossians 2:9-10 is the center of the Epistle: “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.” These verses—the very heart of the Epistle, the key that unlocks its heavenly treasures—indicate the scope of the letter. The apostle did not begin by warning the Colossians of danger and by exposing the fatal errors that were creeping in among them. He wrote first of Christ and His glory. The Spirit of God wanted the Colossians to get the right estimate of the person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, of His dignity and pre-eminence in all things, of the great work of reconciliation—the peace that was made in the blood of the cross, and the present and future results of this work.

Then Paul showed that the believer is “in Christ,” that He in whom all the fullness of the godhead dwells, is the fullness of the believer. Each is complete in Him. Therefore ordinances, philosophy, traditions of men, intruding into mysterious things, and angel worship cannot add anything to the believer’s knowledge or perfection. His perfection is Christ. Yet a believer who is “risen with Christ” and one with Him, must lay hold in a practical way of this fullness and walk in the power of it during his life down here (Colossians3:l; 2:6).

May God the Holy Spirit, the author of this Epistle, fill, through His message, our eyes and hearts with Him who is our Lord and the Head of His body.

Outline Of The Book Of Colossians

    I. Part One—Doctrinal (1:1-3:4)

      A. Christ the Head of the Body (1:1-29)

        1. Salutation and Introduction (1:1-8)

        2. Paul’s Prayer and Thanksgiving (1:9-14)

        3. Twofold Headship (1:15-19)

        4. Twofold Reconciliation (1:20-22)

        5. Twofold Ministry (1:23-29)

      B. Christ the True Wisdom (2:1-23)

        1. The Mystery of God (2:1-7)

        2. The Antidote for Agnostic Philosophy (2:8-10)

        3. The Antidote for Jewish Legalism (2:11-17)

        4. The Antidote for Gnostic Mysticism (2:18-19)

        5. The Antidote for Carnal Asceticism (2:20-23)

      C. Christ the Believer’s Life (3:1-4)

    II. Part Two Practical (3:5-4:18)

      A. Holiness by Conformity to Christ (3:5-17)

        1. Putting Off the Old (3:5-11)

        2. Putting On the New (3:12-17)

      B. Earthly Relationships Sanctified (3:18—4:1)

      C. Exhortations and Salutations (4:2-18)