The Epistle to the Colossians is one of three or four letters which were written by Paul around the same time and sent to various Christians in the Roman province of Asia by the hand of his friends Tychicus and Onesimus. The others were the Epistles to the Ephesians and to Philemon, together (it may be) with the enigmatic “epistle from Laodicea” mentioned in Colossians 4:16. At the time when he wrote these letters Paul was a prisoner. While arguments have been advanced for the view that they were written from Caesarea or Ephesus, it is more probable that they were written from Rome during the two years which (according to Acts 28:30) Paul spent in custody there.

Some years previously, from his headquarters in Ephesus, Paul and his colleagues had evangelized the province of Asia (Acts 19:10). The valley of the River Lycus, in which Colossae lay, was one of the districts evangelized at that time—not, it appears, by Paul in person, but by his trusty lieutenant Epaphras. Now Epaphras had paid Paul a visit in Rome and told him of the state of the churches in the Lycus valley. Much of his news was encouraging, but there was one very disquieting feature: at Colossae there was a strong inclination on the part of the Christians to accept an attractive line of teaching which (although they did not suspect it) was calculated to subvert the pure gospel which they had believed and bring them into spiritual bondage.

The Colossian Heresy

It was mainly to refute this teaching that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Colossians. We have no formal exposition of the false teaching—commontly called “the Colossian heresy”—but we can to some extent reconstruct it from Paul’s allusions to it.

Basically the heresy was Jewish; this seems clear from the place ...

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