While the authorship of Paul’s epistle has been challenged for centuries, it is still regarded as an original and inspired work In his address; he lashes against the Colossians, who had incorporated pagan elements into their beliefs. The apostle hears the congregation is being led by those men and decides to act, refuting them to prevent further damage to the new church. To Paul, many of these believers were vulnerable to the false teachings. Thus, the verses of the Colossians illustrate this battle, commanding them to live a life worthy of God. The path of righteousness through Christ is not static, says Paul; instead, it changes, makes us grow every day by improving our belief.
In the excerpt we shall interpret, Paul shows us how the Christian doctrine can dispel the shadows and the dominion of the darkness from the believers, pulling them from the dark and bringing them into the Kingdom. Paul wanted the Colossians to pursue a life filled with the light of God. A magnificent power that fulfills the needs of the believers. Hence, the main terms in this exegesis are knowledge, filled, spiritual, understanding, and wisdom, terms that come from both pagan and Christian vocabularies; words that Paul aims to reinterpret from a Christian optic, showing the unbelievers how the words of God carry the same power than those of the false teachers
From that perspective, Col. 1:9-10 is particularly important in this exegetical study because the fact that Paul prayed for this Christians to be filled with God Spirit shows how it is the Spirit the one who provides knowledge and fulfillment in people’s lives. The passivity of this being filled by God is particularly paramount in the lives of the new Christians. Paul is addressing this issue because they need knowledge of God’s will. Thus, in the Epistle, Paul shows the Colossians, many of whom are new believers that might fall into the hands of false preachers, how Christ is alive and against the syncretic practices of the Hellenistic philosophers.
From an exegetical perspective, doing a background study is fundamental to understand the situation and setting of both the author and the intended reader. While the Bible is still alive and significant from a theological and moral standpoint, we are not the intended readers of the revelation. Thus, to discover the message the author meant to convey, it is important to understand the situation behind the text to interpret it. Thus, to understand the author’s intended meaning, the student of the Bible must recapture, as far as possible, the elements that constituted his intentions.
In this study, we see how Apostle Paul, the author, writes from Rome to the gentile community of Colossae, an important city in Asia Minor, 120 miles from Ephesus, one of the most important trade knots in the Mediterranean. As the major city, Colossae is also part of the land trade route, which subjects it to a myriad of religious influences from all the Empire. Nevertheless, in Paul’s time, Colossae had lost part of its former splendor as the city of Laodicea absorbed most of its business. Yet, Epaphras, an Ephesian Paul converted, carried the gospel to Colossae, making it another important center for the nascent Christianity. From that perspective, it is possible picturing the Colossians as a prosperous community that, albeit less economically important, was one of the first bulwarks of Christianity in Asia Minor.
By the same token, it is crucial to understand the situation of Apostle Paul. He begins his address to the Colossians by identifying himself as “an apostle of Christ.” Also, he says “I Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains.” The mention of chains is interesting, since it sheds light on Paul’s particular situation, indicating he is incarcerated at the time he wrote the Epistle. This detail is of crucial importance, as it helps us dating Paul’s imprisonment with Luke’s account in Acts 28. The fact Paul was able to write during detention was a signal of the amount of freedom he enjoyed, even while jailed. He could interact with visitors and write letters, something that would not have happened after the Neronian Persecution in 64 A.D. Similarly, the way he identifies himself in the Epistle closely resembles the way he wrote other letters –Ephesians, for instance, begins with a similar salutation–, and the way Paul discusses issues, the content, and the Christology are likely to come from him.
During his imprisonment, that most likely occurred before that date, Paul had the opportunity to write letters to the churches he had begun, and even to those he did not —like the Colossian church, a place he had never been to— In verse 2:1, Paul explains that fact, but he speaks to the community with the authority of both an apostle and a servant of Christ. From that perspective, Paul has a dual purpose in his address: to express his joy at the budding community and fight the teachings that were beginning to permeate the Colossian Church. Thus, after Epaphras brought him news about the situation in the city, Paul decided to use his gravitas and turn the table in favor of the new Christians remembering them their commitment. Nevertheless, as the Bible shows in Colossians 1:9, the Apostle is not forcing them to listen to his letter; instead, Paul wants them to be filled with the knowledge of the will of the Lord. That and not false teachers is what will bring spiritual happiness to the Colossians.
Nevertheless, the Apostle never mentions the elements of the Colossian heresy; he does not explicitly speak about the nature of the false teachings. The most mentions we get from the nature of the heresy are in 2:20-23. If we give these passages a closer look, we can see some pearls of wisdom that point us details on the heresy. For instance, it is possible seeing a refutation of Paul to the philosophy and the intellectual human traditions in 2:8; to the regulations, human commandments and teachings in 2:22; and asceticism in 2:23. These teachings have often been considered of Jewish, Gnostic, or Hellenistic nature, but there has not been a definitive consensus on their origin. However, Gnosticism, being a popular branch of the Neoplatonic mysticism that was broadly popular in Asia Minor is likely to be the major culprit.
It is important to understand how immersed were the inhabitants of the Roman Empire in the myriad of philosophical traditions that existed within the confines of the Empire. To many, Christianism was one of those philosophies and many considered Christianism alongside mystical traditions. On the other hand, to Christians, their religion did not allow such syncretism. To fight those beliefs, Paul uses the image of Christ, explaining His nature, showing him not as a man but as a divine being, so the Colossians knew He was divine and that his teachings carried true meaning. Christ was not another philosopher; he is God.
Thus, the central defense of Paul against the Colossian heresy is elevating Christ, signaling him as divine. This elevation of Christ helped the Colossians remembering, or realizing that Christ and his sacrifice were not worldly and would bring them no gain in this life, strengthening their faith against human intrusions that would only tarnish the purity of the Gospel.