Prepared by Steve Hannah
November 11, 2005
Paul receives word from Epaphras that heresy is being taught in the church at Collosse. Paul writes a letter to the Collossians to assert his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, and to root out the heretical teachings.
Paul is in prison in Rome (approx 62-63 AD)1. He is accompanied by Timothy (1:1), Tychicus (4:7), Onesimus (4:9), Aristarchus (a fellow prisoner) (4:10), Mark (4:10), Epaphras (4:12), Luke (4:14), Demas (4:14). This is near the end of Paul's life as he is said to have been beheaded by Nero2 in 64AD.
Illustration 1Paul was writing from his cell in Rome (upper left) to the church in Collossae (right).
Collossae is located in the Lycus valley of Asia Minor. Of the three cities in this valley (also including Laodicea and Hierapolis) Collossae is the smallest and least important. Because these cities are so close together, letters can be exchanged between them quite easily (4:16). The gospel was introduced to the people of Collossae by Epaphras (1:7) who likely heard it from Paul during his third missionary journey in Ephesus around 54 AD (Acts 19:10).
Church services are held at the house of Philemon (Phm 1:2) so it is likely that the Collossian congregation is quite small and young in faith at this time.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ is the author of the letter to the Collossians. He describes himself as a servant of the gospel (1:25) by God's commission. After his conversion and vision on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3) he worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia (starting in approximately 48 AD with his first Missionary Journey to Turkey3).
While imprisoned in Rome (around 60-63AD), Paul is visited by Epaphras who informs him of the Collossians love in the Spirit (1:8). It is likely that Paul already knew of the Collossian church because he is accompanied by Onesimus (4:9) who is a Collossian himself.
Paul learns that some are trying to mislead the Collossians with heretical teachings (2:8, 2:16, 2:18, 2:20), so he decides to write a letter to the Church in Collossae to encourage them and warn them of the perils of these false teachings.
Epaphras is the Collossian who first heard the Gospel and shared it with the people of Collossae. He likely learned it from Paul during Paul's missions trip to Ephesus (54 AD) (Acts 19:10). He travels to Rome to see Paul about the happenings in Collossae. He presents a favourable account of the Church to Paul (1:8) but seeks Pauls help in resisting some heretical teachings (2:8, 2:16, 2:18, 2:20) that are happening. After the letter is dispatched with Tychicus and Onesimus (4:7-9), Epaphras remains with Paul in Rome as his “fellow prisoner” (Phm 1:23).
Timothy is Paul's assistant. He has accompanied Paul on many of his missionary journeys and he is with Paul in Rome while he writes the letter to the Collossians (1:1). He was likely converted during Paul's first visit to Lystra (Acts 16:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 3:11).
Tychicus is Paul's faithful messenger who is tasked with delivering the letter to the Collossians (4:7). He also delivers the message to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21) which was written around the same time. It is likely that these two letters were delivered on the same journey by Tychicus. In both cases (Ephesians and Collossians) Tychicus is described by Paul as a dear brother and faithful servant so it is clear that Paul holds him in high esteem. Indeed Tychicus acts as more than a mere messenger as he is expected to convey the activities of Paul to the people of Ephesus and Collossae (Ephesians 6:22, Collossians 4:7).
Onesimus is a slave who fled to Rome after robbing his master Philemon (Phm 1:16, 1:19). While in Rome, he becomes Paul's son (Phm 1:10) and fellow servant of the gospel. Onesimus is sent by Paul to deliver these letters (Ephesians, Collossians, and Philemon) along with Tychicus (4:9). When he arrives in Collossae he is to return to his master Philemon, although Paul urges Philemon to welcome him back as a brother rather than a slave (Phm 1:16).
In addition to the main characters in this episode, Paul's companions Aristarchus (a fellow prisoner), Mark, Luke, and Demas are accompany Paul in Rome.
1H. M Carson, The Epistles of Paul to the Collossians and Philemon, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978, pg 13