The first trip I had out of the United States happened 1 year ago. As a part of my final pre-seminary requirements at Lancaster Bible College, I chose to travel to Israel or Turkey & Greece and the latter was being offered last year. This trip was a terrific way to end my time as a student at LBC (and best of all, I got to travel with my then fiancée, Saundra!).
After a long international flight (close to 14 hours!), we landed in Istanbül, Turkey and made our way to our hotel. We spent a couple of days visiting historical landmarks of the Christian tradition in Christianity as we adjusted to the 7 hour time zone difference.
Colossae was our first New Testament site to visit and it was … empty. We expected to see ruins, archeologists carefully working, and
the occasional tourists walking around. But all we saw was a hill with a van on it where a shepherd lived. This served as a reminder that there is another whole world, history, and culture we haven’t explored yet.
Fast forward to this year as I began my first semester of seminary. I took a New Testament Exegesis class that worked through Colossians. When I wrote my final paper on Colossians 2:20-3:4, I couldn’t help but remember the visit to this first site. As I wrote, I took in the soaring mountains, felt the hot sun beating on me, and viewed the vast valley.
Colossians and Colossae holds a special place for me because they were both my first exposure to New Testament archeology and rigorous academic study. And it’s fitting to add 1 more first: my first series on Exilic Theology. Together, over the next few weeks, we will be working through Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colossae.
In this post, we will learn about the main characters in Colossians and set the stage for the rest of Paul’s letter.
Let’s read the passage together.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy the brother. To the saints in Colossae and faithful brothers in Christ. Grace to you and peace from God our Father. — Colossians 1:1-2, my translation
Paul, an Apostle
The first main character we learn about is Paul.
Paul is a familiar figure to anyone who has read the New Testament (he is also known as Saul). He was born in Tarsus in a Jewish family. It appears from Acts 22:3, he received a quality Jewish education, being taught from the Torah. As a result, Paul desired to protect the Jewish heritage and belief system. In fact, he possessed so much zeal that he persecuted the early church because of their heresy (believing that Jesus is the Son of God).
However, God desired to not leave Paul in this angry state. As Paul traveled to Damascus to persecute the church, Jesus revealed himself to Paul (Acts 9:1-18). Jesus blinded Paul as a result of this encounter. To remedy this blindness, Paul had to visit Ananias. Even though Ananias didn’t want to see Paul (who would want to willingly visit the chief persecutory of the early church?) he did anyways because Christ commanded him to. Ananias prayed over Paul that he may be healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. From that moment forward, Paul remained the chief supporter of the early church.
Paul changed from the chief persecutor to the chief missionary. He conducted multiple missionary journeys, preached the gospel to many people, and planted the seeds of so many churches. He is responsible for writing 13 letters of the New Testament from an intense desire to build up God’s people.
It is easy determine who the author of this letter is because the author is stated at the beginning: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:1). Paul typically starts most of the New Testament letters this way. In fact, Paul mentioned several times in this letter alone (Colossians 1:1, 23; 4:18) that he is the author. Due to his poor eye site (Galatians 4:15, 6:11; Acts 23:1-7, 28:1-3), he would not write his own letters and would use an amanuensis—a secretary who wrote down what the author was saying—so that his writing would be legible. So it’s especially important to note when Paul would sign his letter:
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. — Colossians 4:18, ESV
Timothy, the Brother
The second main character we discover is Timothy.
We know relatively little about Timothy compared to Paul. We do know this is the Timothy that Paul wrote 2 letters to that we have in our New Testament—1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. We learn from Acts that he had a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16:1). Technically, he would have been considered a Jew. Although it appears that his family was not practicing Judaism since he was not circumcised. Later Paul circumcised Timothy so that he could have an effective ministry to the Jews (Acts 16:3).
Although we don’t know when Timothy was saved, it’s likely that during Paul’s first missionary journey. When Paul arrived at Ephesus, Timothy was saved when he heard the gospel message preached. Since Timothy was saved under Paul’s preaching and had a desire to lead the church, Paul and Timothy had a special bond. Paul took it upon himself to see that Timothy grew as a Christian and church leader.
When it comes to Colossians, it’s highly unlikely that Timothy contributed significantly to this letter as the writing style and content is consistent throughout the 4 chapters. He is likely mentioned here as a co-affirmer of what Paul wrote to the church in Colossae. While Paul used an amanuensis, he would not mention this person at the beginning of his letters; he would mention them in the end. So it is doubtful that Timothy was his secretary.
Saints & Faithful Brothers in Colossae
The final main character in Colossians are the saints and faithful brothers in Colossae.
In many respect, Colossae was a typical city even by today’s standard. It had predicatable seasons, entertainment, markets, and farmlands. Colossae was located “south of the Meander River in Phrygia … a prominent crossroad city in the Lycus Valley.” Before Paul wrote this letter, “it was known for its wool and textiles.”  However, by the time Paul wrote his letter, the city was declining. This decline means, assuming Pauline authorship, Paul wrote this letter around 65 AD. Although Colossae was a melting pot of different religions from the surrounding area because it was a Gentile city, Christianity was prevalent there. Unfortunately, outside of this, we don’t know much about the life of the city because Colossae has not been excavated yet. The only evidence of the city sits below a shepherd who lives out of a van (pictured above).
Even though Paul had a special concern for this church (evidenced in his letter writing to them), he was not the church planter responsible for them. Instead, a man named Epaphras was the church planter (Colossians 1:7, 4:12). He was probably saved, like Timothy, during Paul’s first missionary journey in Ephesus. This means Paul was not directly responsible for the life and health of the church in Colossae. However, upon hearing their troubles from Epaphras, he wrote this general letter to them. This also helps explain why Colossians seems more general in nature rather than to the point like his other letters.
Even though Paul addressed this letter to “the saints and faithful brothers in Colossae,” this may not have been who he was talking to. Indirectly, he may have been addressing the false teachers who were leading the Christian Colossians astray. Its difficult to pin down any 1 particular group or error that the Christians were being led astray with because, as mentioned before, Colossae was a melting pot of people and their religions.
Whatever the error was, Paul saw a robust Christology—understanding of Christ—as the answer to it. And this will be the focus of his writing and our study over the next several weeks.
Grace & Peace
Before Paul dives into the content of his letter, he ascribes grace and peace to them.
These words can be difficult to pin down. We often know what they look like, but we have a difficult time defining them. Grace, in this instance, denotes that the saints in Colossae have divine favor on them. Peace implies “a state of well-being,.”
Since this grace and peace comes from God the Father, Paul uses this deep greeting as a reminder from the start of his letter of the salvation the saints in Colossae have experienced. No matter what challenges they are facing, God shows favor to them because they are a part of his people.
Living as Exiles
Although I introduced a lot of introductory and background material in this post, this step was vital as we work through Colossians together. We need to understand the context of the letter before we can faithfully understand what God communicated.
That being said, I want to draw out 1 piece of application from these 2 brief verses and that is the reminder of grace and peace.
In these challenging times—threats to physical and mental health, severe economic downturn, systematic racism—it is easy to become anxious. The news is continually at a finger tips through news apps and social media. We are 1 ding away from being informed about the latest tragedy.
In the midst of these tumultuous times, these words—grace and peace from God our Father—reminds us that we have the God who can sustain our anxieties during this time and can work redemption in whatever tragedy we face. Just like the Colossians needed a reminder of their salvation, we, too, need to hear the gospel preached to us regularly as a reminder of our salvation and who our God is.
As mentioned above, I just finished my first semester at Covenant Theological Seminary. In my New Testament Exegesis class, we worked through Colossians. Here are a couple commentaries we used throughout the course you may find beneficial as we walk through Colossians together:
- McKnight, The Letter to the Colossians (New International Commentary on the New Testament)—This commentary is perhaps the easiest to read. Although it can be technical at times, McKnight does an excellent job commenting on the Scriptures and providing valuable insight. This is recommended for anyone who is willing to dig into the Scripture deeply, especially pastors preaching through Colossians.
- Moo, Colossians and Philemon (Pillar New Testament Commentary). This commentary is a little bit more technical, but still accessible. Moo provides excellent insight that complements McKnight’s commentary. This is an excellent resource for undergraduates, pastors, or those looking for a challenge.
- Pao, Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). This commentary is easy to read … in English! This is a part of Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary series, so it is the most technical of all as it interacts with the Greek text and exegetical concepts in a meaningful way. While first year Greek students could make their way through this (slowly), this resource is more suited for those who are in or have completed their second year of Greek.
 Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, Colossians. Anchor Bible Volume 34B. 19
 Scot McKnight, The letter to the Colossians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. 18-19
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 34.
 Douglas Moo, The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon. Pillar new Testament Commentary. 49.