Epistle of Paul to the Colossians

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New Testament
Acts of the Apostles
Paul's letters
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The Epistle to the Colossians ( Latin Pauli epistula ad Colossenses ) is a book of the New Testament of the Christian Bible . It has been divided into four chapters since the Middle Ages .

Author, style of language, dating

In Col 1,1 EU Paul introduces himself as the author together with his colleague Timothy . The claim is underlined by the handwritten greeting ( Col 4,18  ELB ): “The greeting with my, Paul's, hand. Remember my bonds! Grace be with you! ” Eduard Schweizer saw Timothy as the secretary of the imprisoned apostle (“ secretary hypothesis ”), with which he explained the stylistic peculiarities. According to some researchers, a secretary other than Timotheus would be more likely to be responsible for the particular style of the letter: It is more likely that Paul and Timothy will let the secretary Epaphras (Lähnemann, Reicke, Berger) speak where he, as a local theologian, is better able to answer problems and was able to answer questions in Kolossai and the neighboring communities. In any case, Paul knew neither the addressees nor their situation (Col 2: 1), but his informant Epaphras did (Col 1: 5–8; 4, 12–13). So Paul may have tried through the letter writer Epaphras to "become like a Colossians to the Colossians" in order to convince them (cf. his principle 1 Cor 9: 20-22). That this could be the case can be seen from this: The allegedly “unpaulin” writing style can only be found in the theological-teaching part of the letter, Col 1–2. But exactly after the confrontation with the heretics Kolossais (only Epaphras well-known), the style suddenly changes. This is known since Percys (1901–1968), investigation in 1946, but is hardly taken into account. In Col 3–4 the style is very similar to that of the undisputed Epistles of Paul. Paul himself can impart general church ethics to unknown addressees. In the end he even signs the letter personally (Col 4.18). Examples of the style changes in Chap. 3–4 (after evaluating the data at Bujard):

  • In Col 3–4 there is a sharp increase in the use of Pauline conjunctions from previously only 27 × in 1016 words in Col 1–2 (2.7% of the word stock) to 34 × in 566 words in Col 3–4 (6% !). The second half of the letter clearly goes in the direction of Paul, who uses between more than 8 to more than 10% conjunctions in undisputed letters.
  • At the same time there is a strong decrease in the special word density / Hapaxlegomena in Col 3–4 by over 40% less compared to Col 1–2. The first part of the letter Col 1–2 has 24 special words that only appear once in Col but never in Paul and in the entire NT, but Col 3–4 only has 8 such special words.
  • The previously longer sentences in Col 1–2 (26 words per sentence in average) become shorter in Col 3–4 than the sentences in 1 Thess or in Rom 1–8 (Col 3–4 = 21 words in average; 1 Thess and Romans 1–8 = over 22 and more words in average).
  • In Col 3–4 there are no more genitive chains at all .

As a secretary influencing the style, Epaphras should be seen from Chap. 3 less have written freely. In Col. Paul emerges only briefly and much less authoritatively from Col 1.24 to Col 2.5 out of the we-style chosen by him and Timothy from Col 1.3 and selectively appears in the first-person style, to include Colossians 2: 6–7 to emphasize again the teaching that the Colossians did not (!) Learn from him, but - as we already know from Col. 1.6ff - from Epaphras. In Col 1–2 Paul steps back more than clearly behind the church planter (Col 1, 5–8) and theologian Epaphras (cf. Col 4, 12–13!), Whom he valued. As high as Epaphras, he only praises z. T. word for word Timothy in Phil 1,1; 2.19ff. Paul supports Epaphras as the apostle responsible for all Gentile Christians and speaks, if so, only through him. This is immediately noticeable from the praise of Epaphras in Col 1.5ff (see also researchers such as Marxen and Kiley, who emphasize the great role of Epaphras in Col). Otherwise Paul introduces himself at the beginning of his letters and puts himself in a good relationship with the addressees. The fact that he neglects this in the Col speaks strongly against the majority opinion of the representatives of the falsehood that the apostle is presented in the Col as an exaggerated authority than otherwise in indisputably genuine letters. However, it was his principle not to teach where others had already taught before him (cf. Rom 15: 19ff!). In Kol, he clearly lets Epaphras take precedence and often disappears entirely in an anonymous we style, except for 1.24–2.5 (and 4.3ff). In research it is repeatedly wrongly argued that Kol is fake because he never addresses the addressees as brothers. but here only one mistake is passed on over and over again. The Kol addresses the Colossians as “brothers” only once at the beginning (Col 1: 2), but he does. Paul only avoids expecting the unknown addressee to be too familiar. Cf. differently, for example, Paul in Phil, in which he, as the church planter, gave the "brothers" (cf. 1:12.14 and then especially from the demarcation from the heretics: Phil 3:13:13; 4:16:21) almost only in z. Sometimes he writes much more authoritarian first-person style, a teaching style that Paul does not choose in Kol. Nowhere does he explicitly become the employer or teacher of Christians in Colossai. Authoritarian words like Phil 3:17; 4: 9 Paul completely avoids strangers in Col. Paul did not appear as modest as he did in Col in relation to churches that he himself had founded, especially not in quarrels with dissenters or in combating heretics. Cf. 1 Cor 3–4; 2 Cor 10-13; Phil 3.1-4.9. Paul also asks questions in Kol, which is still frequently disputed in introductory science of the mainstream and then also rated as "unpaulin". He asks the addressees only less often than in Rom or 1 Cor, namely only in Col 2: 20-21 (“If you have died with Christ to the elements of the world, what are you subject to statutes as if you were still living in the world? : Do not touch, do not taste, do not touch !, - what is intended for destruction through use, according to the commandments and teachings of the people? "). However, in indisputably genuine letters Paul sometimes asks only a few questions, in Phlm none at all, in Phil only once in Phil 1:18 and in 1 Thess only twice (1 Thess 2:19; 3,9-10).

The letter shows both similarities and peculiarities compared to the letters clearly ascribed to Paul . Contestants of his authorship refer in particular to 37 so-called Hapaxlegomena , i.e. terms that appear only once in the New Testament (even if in part in the text material given to the author). However, this argument is rejected by some as not mandatory. They also emphasize that many Hapaxlegomena can also be found in the generally accepted letter to the Romans. Formulations that are otherwise typical for Paul are missing, while genitive connections atypical for him accumulate, but only in Col 1–2 (as, however, similarly often in Rom 1–11); in addition, attention was drawn to associative thought leadership. Older, not yet computer-aided style studies by Walter Bujard and Eduard Lohse lead many, especially German-speaking exegetes to this day, to believe that the Kol could not have come from Paul. Newer, computer-aided comparisons of styles, which, however, are neglected by German experts, tend to favor Pauline authorship (Kenny, Neumann, Bahr). Style peculiarities can anyway be explained by the cooperation of Timothy and / or Epaphras or the composition by him. Because in the structure and theology there are extensive similarities, which at least suggest a good knowledge of Pauline theology or a close student of Paul. Compare, for example, the substitute death of Christ on the cross for the sins of men in Col 1.15-23 and 2.14f, which is important for Paul in Rom and Gal, which is closed once and for all and can no longer be supplemented is distinguished from the apostolic “afflictions” of the missionary Paul, in which Christ suffered for the success of the mission (cf. Gal 6:17). The suffering of Christ on the cross also happened once and for all in the colony. The suffering of Christ continues in the suffering, hostile Christians because Christ lives in them (Gal 2:20) and they are also in Col his body in the world. The representatives of the Pauline authorship relate the peculiarities of Kol to a front position against a heresy in the community in Colossae; this constellation required a different formulation of his theology ( Werner Georg Kümmel ). "Probably the most convincing proof of authenticity is the close connection to the Philemon letter, the authenticity of which no one questions" (William MacDonald).

Nevertheless, in more recent continental European research, the Letter to the Colossians was often viewed as a pseudepigraphic script with Timothy or another student of Paul as the author. The letter is then counted among the Deuteropaulin letters, but with great closeness to Paul, written around AD 70. Many hold fast to Paul's authorship and date to AD 53–56 or around AD 58–60 . Chr.


The recipient is the church in Kolossai , which Paul does not know personally (2.1 EU ). Kolossai was a small town 170 km east of Ephesus with a significant Jewish minority.
Kolossai was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60/61. Tacitus only mentions the neighboring Laodikeia :

“In the same year an important city in Asia Minor, Laodicea, was destroyed by an earthquake. But she only helped herself up again through her own strength without any help on our part. "

This creates a difficulty for those who doubt the Pauline authorship and date the letter after AD 60. Did this "placelessness" (in view of the no longer existing recipient city) extend the scope of the Epistle to the Colossians to include Paul's missionary area in Asia Minor? The author refers his recipients to the community in Laodicea and orders a mutual exchange of letters ( Col 4.16  EU ). The letter to Laodicea , however, has not survived. But maybe the earthquake didn't mean the complete end of this city - says Ulrich Luz :

"But the city has not ceased to exist, even if it is no longer literarily attested in later times and even if only relatively few coins and inscriptions have been found from the time after 61."


The early Christian congregations in Asia Minor were probably threatened by esoteric false doctrines, against which Paul now warns the Christians in Colossae (2.4–9 EU ). These false teachers probably proclaimed the worship of angelic powers (2.18 EU ) and reduced the importance of Jesus as a savior (2.19 EU ) through their teaching . The author counters the ascetic demands for purity of the heretics with full participation in the “fullness of Godhead” in Jesus Christ through baptism.

Significant theological positions


The Christology of the Epistle to the Colossians stands out from the rest of the epistles because of its cosmological interpretation. The salvation work of Christ has significance here for the entire cosmos . In Col 1.15–20 EU the author quotes a hymn of  Christ , which forms the basis of his understanding of Christ and is divided into two stanzas . The first stanza (verses 15-16) is about creation. Then follows an intermediate section (verses 17-18a), which carries the main message of the hymn, namely that Christ is “above all” and “everything exists through him”. This is followed by the third stanza (verses 18b – 20), which is about salvation.

“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones and dominions, powers and authorities; everything was created through him and for him. 17 He is before all creation; in him everything endures. 18 He is the head of the body, but the body is the church. He is the origin, the firstborn of the dead; so he has priority in everything. 19 For God wanted to dwell in him with all his fullness, to reconcile everything through him. 20 He wanted to lead everything in heaven and on earth to Christ, who made peace on the cross through his blood. "

Accordingly, the letter determines the relationship not only between Christ and the Church, but also the whole cosmos as that of a head to the body (Vielhauer). As the mediator of creation, he is the head of all powers ( Col 2.10  EU ), triumphs over the cosmic powers ( Col 2.15  EU ), assigns their importance to the powers and gives the community a share in this rule of his by giving them a share reconciled with God ( Col. 1.22  EU ), eradicates their mortgage note ( Col. 2.14  EU ) and lets the heathen world proclaim his rule ( Col 1.27  EU ). Christ as mediator of creation and as world redeemer is a secondary motif in the Pauline letters , but appears here as an elaborate christological basis.

Eschatology and baptismal understanding

The Epistle to the Colossians offers a cosmologically oriented contemporary schatology . Christians have already died and risen with Christ through baptism ; other powers can no longer rule over them ( Col 2: 12–13  EU ). Christians are therefore called to align themselves not with the area negatively qualified by the powers that be (“downwards”), but “upwards” towards Christ. The otherwise typical “eschatological reservation” of “already - not yet” ( Rom . 6 : 3f.  EU ), which is typical for Paul, is here dissolved in favor of the believers' full participation in the death and resurrection of Christ.


Together with 1 Cor 12  EU and Rom 12  EU , the Church in Colossians is the body of Christ (Greek σῶμα Χριστοῦ); however, Christ himself is not the body, but the head of the body, just as he is also the head of the cosmos. The church is the “universal salvation space made possible and administered by Jesus Christ” (Schnelle with Col 1:18, 24; 2.17.19; 3.5), whose members in a mystical way lead to the resurrection, but - so the author says of himself - are also included in the still unfinished suffering of Christ ( Col 1,24  EU ). This idea, which contradicts Pauline theology of the cross, is often taken as an indication against Pauline authorship.


  • Beginning of letter
    • Prescript ( Col 1,1–2  EU )
    • Thanksgiving and intercession ( Col 1,3-14  EU )
  • Corpus
    • The hymn of Christ ( Col 1.15-20  EU )
    • Application to the church ( Col 1,21–23  EU )
    • The office of the apostle ( Col 1,24–2,5  EU )
    • Confrontation with false teachers ( Col 2,6-23  EU )
    • The heavenly existence of the church and its pending revelation ( Col. 3, 1-4  EU )
    • Vices and virtues catalogs and church life according to Christ ( Col 3,5–17  EU )
    • The right life of Christians: exhortations to shape relationships between men and women, parents and children, slaves and masters (3.18-23 EU )
    • General reminders (4.2–6 EU )
  • Closing letter
    • Apostolic Parousia ( Col 4,7-9  EU )
    • Greetings ( Col 4.10–17  EU )
    • Handwritten letter closing ( Col 4.18  EU )

See also



  • Klaus Berger : Commentary on the New Testament . Gütersloh 2011.
  • Lukas Bormann : Paul's Letter to the Colossians (Theological Commentary on the New Testament 10 / I), Leipzig 2012.
  • Carl Nicolaus Kähler : Interpretation of the Epistle Pauli to the Colossians in 36 considerations. Published by the Christian associations in northern Germany. Klöppel, Eisleben u. GE Schulze, Leipzig 1853 OCLC 690777000 OCLC 246353355 ( online ).
  • Ernst Lohmeyer : The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (critical-exegetical commentary on the New Testament, 9th section / 2). Göttingen 12 1961, pp. 1-170.
  • Eduard Lohse: The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (critical-exegetical commentary on the New Testament). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2nd edition 1977, ISBN 3-525-51636-3 .

General literature on Colossians:

  • GJ Bahr, Paul and Letterwriting in the Fifth Century, in: CBQ 1966, 465-477.
  • GK Barr, Scalometry and the Pauline Epistles (JSNT SS 261), London. New York 2004.
  • W. Bujard, Analysis of Style on the Epistle of Colossians as a contribution to the methodology of language comparisons (Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht / StUNT 11), Göttingen 1973.
  • DA Carson, JM Moo and L. Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Apollos / Inter-Varsity Press), Leicester 1992, 359-385.
  • K. Haacker, Reception history and literary criticism. Inquiries to the communio opinio on the Corpus Paulinum, ThZ, 65/2009, pp. 224-225.
  • DA Hagner, The New Testament, a historical and theological Introduction (Bacer Academic), Grand Rapids, Michigan 2012.
  • A. Kenny, A Stylometric Study of the New Testament, Oxford 1986.
  • M. Kiley, Colossians as Pseudepigraphy (The biblical Seminar / JSOT Press), Sheffield 1986, 101-102.
  • WG Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, Heidelberg ²³1983.
  • J. Lähnemann, The Letter to the Colossians. Composition, situation and argumentation, (Gütersloh publishing house Gerd Mohn / StNT 3), Gütersloh 1971.
  • Willi Marxen, Introduction to the New Testament (Gütersloh publishing house Gerd Mohn), Gütersloh ³1964.
  • KJ Neumann, The Authenticity of Pauline Epistles in the Light of Stylostastistical Analysis, (SBLDS) Atlanta; Georgia 1990.
  • E. Percy, The Problems of the Epistles of Colossians and Ephesians, Acta Reg. Societatis Hmaniorum Litterarum Lundensis 39, Lund 1946.
  • That. On the problems of Colossians and Ephesians, ZNW 43 (1950/1951), 178–194.
  • B. Reicke, Re-examining Paul's Letters. The History of the Pauline Correspondence (Trinity Press International), Harrisburg 2001.
  • ER Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul, (WUNT II / 42) Tübingen 1991, 81ff; 175ff.
  • Udo Schnelle : Introduction to the New Testament (UTB 1830). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht , Göttingen 2 1996, pp. 328-348.
  • Philipp Vielhauer : History of early Christian literature. Introduction to the New Testament, the Apocrypha, and the Apostolic Vars. 2nd edition, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1978, pp. 191–203.


  1. Ernst Percy : Problems of the Epistles of Colossians and Ephesians. CWK Gleerup, Lund 1946
  2. For example Berkhof: Introduction , p. 115: "the argument derived from the ἅπαξ λεγόμενα is irrelevant and would apply with equal force in the case of the Epistle to the Romans."
  3. Commentary on the New Testament , p. 983.
  4. Schnelle: Introduction to the NT , p. 336: “Of the Deuteropaulins, Col is closest to the Apostle”.
  5. Josef Ernst in the presentation of the conservative position (the majority thinks of Ephesus as the place of composition), in: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 19, 1990, pp. 370–376, 373 there.
  6. Klaus Berger : Commentary on the New Testament. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2011, pp. 736f.
  7. ^ William MacDonald: Commentary on the New Testament . Bielefeld 1997 (2nd edition), pp. 983-984
  8. Louis Berkhof: Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids 2004, pp. 114-115.
  9. Werner Georg Kümmel: Introduction to the New Testament . Heidelberg 20 1980, p. 206: "either 56-58 or 58-60".
  10. ^ Eodem anno ex inlustribus Asiae urbibus Laodicea tremore terrae prolapsa nullo a nobis remedio propriis operibus revaluit (Annales XIV 27; translation by August Horneffer, KTA 238, Stuttgart 1964, p. 465).
  11. Ulrich Luz: The Letter to the Colossians , NTD 8/1, Göttingen 1998, p. 184.
  12. Philipp Vielhauer : History of early Christian literature. Introduction to the New Testament, the Apocrypha, and the Apostolic Fathers. 2nd edition, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1978, ISBN 3-11-007763-9 , p. 198
  13. Udo Schnelle: Introduction to the New Testament , Göttingen 2 1996, p. 333

Web links

Wiktionary: Epistle to Colossians  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations