< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Background to the book of Colossians

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Background to the book of Colossians

This letter was written by Paul to combat a heresy being taught at Colossae. According to a new teaching, Christianity was imperfect. The heretics proposed to “improve it” by introducing a new philosophy, angel worship and mysterious rites – many of which were borrowed from paganism. All of this wasn’t epidemic yet, but Paul wanted to nip it in the bud.

His main purpose here is to show believers they have everything they need in Christ and that because Christ is the exact likeness of God, when we learn what He is like, we see what we need to become.

It is generally believed that Paul was in Rome in prison awaiting trial when he wrote this. And remember, Roman imprisonment was house arrest, not a jail cell. He was free to write and he had visitors. The prison letters written during this time were: Colossians, Philippians, Philemon and Ephesians. And the time was probably around A.D. 60.

This was not one of the churches Paul founded or even visited. The church was probably founded by Epaphras who, though a Colossian, was converted by Paul in Ephesus. Paul was in Ephesus for three years and we see in Acts 19:10 that the whole region heard the word of the Lord during that time.

According to Philemon 23 Epaphras was in prison with Paul at the time of this letter.

Colossae was about 100 miles east of Ephesus in the Lycus River Valley of Central Asia Minor. It was a somewhat prosperous city at one time and a wool working and cloth dyeing center. Today, there is not a stone to show where Colossae stood. Its site is guessed at by 2 other cities Laodicaea and Hierapolis that were in the same valley.

A lot of Jews had settled in this area. Many years before, Antiochus the Great had transported 2000 Jewish families from Babylon and Mesopotamia to this region. They had settled here and prospered and more of their families from Palestine joined them, They think the Jewish population at this time was about 50,000 because in A.D. 62 the Roman governor at the time wanted to stop all the money leaving the region for the Jerusalem temple tax and the amount of gold he seized would represent temple tax for no fewer than 11,000 men. Remember women and children didn’t have to pay the tax.

We’ll see in this letter that no greater claims about Christ’s supremacy and total adequacy were made in the Bible and Paul goes out of his way to stress the part Jesus played in creation. But, at the same time, Paul stresses the real humanity of Jesus Christ. For all His deity He really was human flesh and blood.

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