Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


19. Colossians

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of Colossians, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, the book presents itself as a letter written from Paul in prison to believers in Colossae, who were presumably evangelized by Paul’s associate Epaphras. The letter has close connections to Philemon (as well as to Ephesians), and it might be assumed that Paul sent those two (or three) letters at the same time. Some scholars, however, think that Colossians is pseudepigraphical. In any case, it contends against a philosophy that seems to involve asceticism and an unhealthy interest in spiritual beings or experiences.

The letter of Colossians is notable in that it presents a cosmic image of Christ as Lord and Creator of the universe. This theme is especially developed in a poetic passage called “the Christ hymn.” Colossians also evinces what theologians call “realized eschatology,” maintaining that blessings usually associated with the end times are already available to believers through faith. Furthermore, Colossians contends that the secret to attaining knowledge and true spiritual maturity involves simply remaining in the community of faith and allowing God to give growth naturally.

Study Questions

  1. Discuss the ways in which Colossians can be compared to (a) Ephesians; (b) Philemon; and (c) Paul’s undisputed letters. What possible scenarios do scholars envision regarding the letter’s composition on the basis of these comparisons?

  2. What was “the Colossian heresy”? What tenets or features of this philosophy appear to be reflected in the warnings and affirmations that this letter offers its readers?

  3. How are ideas expressed in Paul’s undisputed letters understood to be “developed” or taken to another level (by Paul or someone else) in Colossians? Give at least three examples.

  4. Describe the distinctive image of Christ presented in Colossians 1:15–20 and indicate what the liturgical character of this material suggests regarding Christian doctrine at the time.

  5. What is “realized eschatology” and why is Colossians often cited as an example of this theological perspective? Illustrate the point with reference to the claim that Christ has disarmed spiritual powers and made a public display of his triumph over them.

  6. How does Colossians employ baptismal imagery in its discussion of spiritual growth? What does this letter suggest is the surest way for believers to grow to full maturity?

Realized Eschatology