In beginning this new chapter, it is important that we first discuss the legitimacy of another letter ascribed to Paul, Ephesians.
The letters to the Colossians, to the Ephesians, and to Philemon form a special group of their own to modern theologians. Colossians holds the main position within this group. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume11: Page 133)
Philemon and Colossians are considered to be Paul's, but Ephesians is not. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 133)
The letter entitled Ephesians although dependent on Colossians, more definitively outlines the ideas of Christ and of the divine dispensation of salvation which have been introduced in Colossians. Only two generations had passed and subsequent 'scholars' within the church were already expounding on Paul's 'invented' theology, and it was growing more complex and formal as it aged, almost as though it were taking on a life of its own.
Peake's Commentary, is kinder in its wording, but offers the same conclusion, although the question is by no means settled. "In modern times its origin and purpose have been keenly debated, and the question remains open." (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 980: 857a)
Peake's commentary makes no final appeal to either side, but believes that the arguments are too equally balanced to make a final decision. On the other hand, The Interpreter's Bible, makes a complete investigation of the subject and report that their conclusion denies that the letter is the work of Paul. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 10: Page 600)
Therefore, this thesis shall depend upon Colossians to outline Paul's growing theology rather than depending upon a spurious writing that may well extend the ideas of the man beyond his own intent. Surely, for the developing church it was a manifesto of great importance, but this treatise is not interested in the ornate and pompous 'mass' to which it finally grew.
At the time of this epistle, the ancient world was filled with many mystery religions, not the least of which was, Mythranism. Christianity was one of the newer cults, not an established flourishing practice, but one whose doctrine had yet to be formulated into a firm credo. The purpose of Paul's letter was to guard against at least one of these beliefs. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 134)
Little is known concerning the 'philosophy' that threatened the congregation at Colossae and Paul only refers to it in vague terms. It certainly could not have been criticized as a 'heresy', for Christianity had as yet no formal standards of orthodoxy.
The great Gnostic schools of the second century were called heretical, but only by standards of orthodoxy which were established for the single purpose of discrediting them. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 137)
It is interesting to note that the victor of a battle is the one who gets to write the history of the event. And in a case where Paul came victorious, his ideas would be considered valid. They would become the 'standards of orthodoxy.'
Paul despised the seeking of knowledge and intellect in the common man. He also spoke down to wisdom. These had nothing to do with his salvation and were no more than a cause for men 'to boast'. The Gnostic school taught that matter; the physical world, is evil, and that emancipation; redemption, comes from an esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth. Of course Paul and those who followed his lead were opposed to these things.
They required the use of reason and logic, and an innate understanding of God's will. According to Paul, he was the only one who was given the gift of the knowledge of God's mind. He said so.
"For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ." (I Corinthians 2:15-16; RSV)
"...Instructed by the mind of Christ," Paul inherited the ability, so he claimed, to know that some of the things the Law condemned were not sinful, and some of the things it said were right, were not. At least that was his opinion of himself and the Law. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 10: Page 505)
But he did agree that the world was evil, that is, the world outside the 'body of Christ'. And Jesus urged us not to, "... lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume..." (Matthew 6:19; RSV)
And in fact, that which is in opposition to the accepted religion in one age, often changes with time to become an accepted part of that dogma. The Gospel of John, is an excellent example, for by strict definition, it is a Gnostic writing. It deals with the 'logos', a Greek word from which we get 'logic.'
To go on, further information indicates that Paul had never been to the city of Colossae, and had no personal hand in forming the congregation. It is believed that his associate, Epaphras, first preached in this area, and it is to him that Paul owed the reports that gave him his information about the conflict.
It is also suspected that Paul may well have been under 'house arrest' at the time this letter was written. Although tradition shows two rather extended prison terms, it was actually a single incident in which he was permitted much freedom, such as allowed him to voyage to Rome.
Paul was never released by the Roman authorities once they had taken him into custody at Jerusalem. In fact, Paul was not under arrest but was in protective custody, and could have been released at any time he so desired. (Acts 21:31-36)..." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 134)
"And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. (Revised Standard Version; Acts 26:32)
Before going into this body of writing, one important fact must be understood. Whatever form the established 'codex' of the church was to take in the future, until Paul, there was only the Judaic-Christian practice of the Apostles. It was known as the, Jerusalem Church, i.e., 'primitive church.' It was established through life experience, their personal knowledge of the teachings and actions of the living Jesus. It was some many years before the first gospel, that of John Mark, was submitted to written form.
Prior to that date, no written episode of the 'church' existed with the exception of Paul's letters. His 'corpus' contains no evidence of Jesus' life, family, or physical activity. What references he makes to Jesus' life, is made up as part of his personal theology and has nothing to do with the historic Jesus. If it contains any of his teachings, they remain well hidden. Other than what he might have gained in two weeks with Jesus' disciples, and from hearsay, Paul had extremely few details concerning the facts of Jesus' existence on this earth.
The great body of teaching that Paul puts forth is, most obviously, derived from his own creative processes rather than from any valid pre-existing doctrine. It is not drawn from actual events or sacramental exercises ordained by Jesus himself, or of any custom initiated by the Apostles. The fact that Paul's letters have influenced the very wording of the Gospels, assures us of this.
Bound together with his studies in the Pharisaic school, and the inspiration of aspects of Greek philosophy which saturated his thinking, Paul created and evangelized his own gospel. Of this he boasted constantly, and with such authority that he was able to sway countless 'congregations' to his doctrine of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Even here, colorings of certain cults that flourished in the middle east, had some influence on his thinking, i.e., Mythranism. This is evident in our own technological age where Christmas is not celebrated at the time of Jesus' actual birth, but is celebrated at the start of the Winter Solstice, a pagan festival.
Easter is celebrated, not according to the 'crucifixion' or the 'resurrection', but according to the phases of the moon and a pagan spring celebration which occurred on, "...the first Sunday after the full moon on or next after March 21 or one week later if the full moon falls on Sunday." (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary; G.C.. Merriam Company: 1977)
If you will then, Paul's Christianity is a formulation of religious credo which he, and he alone, has composed through his own beliefs and personal prejudices. They have no foundation in fact as espoused through the gospels, the customs of the Apostles, or Jesus' living word. From this point, we may go on to study the letter.
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God." (Colossians 1:1; RSV)
Once again, Paul uses his set greeting to impress those at Colossae. The interpreter's agree with us, and add to that point.
The greeting is Paul's, announcing his authoritative office and advising them of their own commitment to Christ, "...which imposes on them the duty of heeding the words of Christ's apostle." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 146-147)
In this case, Christ's apostle is, Paul.
It is not surprising that this same paragraph continues with the statement that Paul is 'magnifying' his office. In doing this he is addressing a congregation which he has never personally seen and attempts to bind them to the strength of his authority, which Paul claims, has been bestowed upon him by God. As well known as Paul must have been at this point in time, especially with Epaphras representing him, it seems unnecessary for Paul to have used such 'muscle'. Unhappily, it was a vital part of his character.
Much of what Paul first articulated in his messages was also gibberish, word-games. Here once again, he must first confuse simple minds before investing the audience with 'his' gospel.
"...giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." (Colossians 1:12; RSV)
'Saints,' was a general title which Paul bestowed on all Christians, members of the various congregations. The embellishment here, is just that, window dressing. It is unfortunate that many exegesis go to extreme lengths to explain Paul's various theological views, having the benefit of our modern practices with which to augment Paul's words. It is unfortunate, since it takes away from the essence of his strategy.
Immediately following this 'unexplained' idiom, Paul strikes the congregation with his simple, basic message.
"...his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14; RSV)
"He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, for in him all things were created... all things were created through him and for him." (Colossians 1:15-16; RSV)
Pre-existence, God incarnate, the power of creation, the 'Godhead' which Jesus himself warned us to avoid at all cost. For by it even the elect would be taken in, and they were. There is nothing in the gospels, or the belief of the Apostles, not one word from the mouth of Jesus to attest that any of this is true, except for Jesus very direct statement that this was not true. (Mark 13:6)
This is perfect as an example of Paul's Hellenistic mind. It reeks with Greek philosophic thought as it was prevalent in the writing of Philo, which would have been available in Paul's lifetime, and probably debated. If all this is reminiscent of John's 'logos,' it first appeared in form in the writings of Plato. It should also be understood that Philo, a Hellenist-Rabbi and historian, used the 'logos' over five hundred times in his collected works. These writings arrive almost two hundred years before the fourth gospel.
But has it not been remarked that, 'man's wisdom is God's foolishness'?
Paul goes on to establish the method of salvation through Jesus by, "...the blood of his cross... in his body of flesh by his death..." (Colossians 1:20; 22; RSV)
Paul then admonishes the congregation to adhere to the gospel that they have heard from Epaphras, Paul's gospel, and he makes no bones about making certain they understand that it is 'his' gospel.
"...provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." (Colossians 1:23; RSV)
Paul states that the gospel which they have heard from Epaphras is the one and only gospel. Paul himself proclaims it." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 176)
How Paul can begin to state that the gospel has been preached, "...to every creature under heaven..." is beyond the understanding of this student. The world was no small place even in Paul's day, so we must ask if this is more of Paul's ego being exhibited. Most assuredly, what we have next can be described as pure, unadulterated braggadocio.
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you..." (Colossians 1:24-25; RSV)
Not only has Christ become imperfect in Paul's mind, "I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions," but now he is no longer just an apostle, now he possesses a 'divine office.' And that which has been, "...the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints..." (Colossians 1:26; RSV), has now been revealed by no one less than Paul himself. And its revelation is directed toward the 'saints', which is an invention of his new covenant vocabulary.
One might conjecture that at this point in time, Paul's mind may well have passed from reality into another 'realm.' It is hard to conceive of any person, even Paul, taking on a role of 'divine' intercessor and a proprietor of Jesus' incomplete mission.
The interpreter's cannot explain Christ's 'deficiency', nor do they make the attempt, as well as toying about with Paul's self-proclaimed 'divine office.' What ever play of words is used by mere mortals, it is argued, not on the basis of Paul's day and its understandings of cult mysteries, but on the fully developed dogma of today's Christian religion. That is unfortunate, and a major error in scholarship.
Mystery, "a secret" in the most general sense; "...but in the vocabulary of religion it stands for the whole complex of initiation, cult, and secret doctrine on which the numerous private religious brotherhoods of the time were based." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 180)
To think that Paul was not influenced, even in part, by the theological turmoil going on around him, is foolishness. Proof in part is the fact that he would express himself to the congregation in terms that they would find familiar. He openly associates his preaching with the genre of the day.
Once again, caution about being led astray by, "...beguiling speech", (Colossians 2:4; RSV), "...philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8; RSV)
The incarnate issue is stated plainly in Paul's statement, "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily..." Jesus has become God. (Colossians 2:9; RSV), In addition to this Paul insists that, "...you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands... and you were buried with him in baptism... you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead... having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross." (Colossians 2:11-14; RSV)
We, of course, have the advantage of hindsight. The congregations who had never seen Paul, or heard Paul in the flesh, could never have imagined the nature of the individual they were dealing with. The next statement then would seem innocent enough to the Colossians, but to suspicious minds, in accord with Paul's, it is an exclamation of hypocrisy.
"Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind..." (Colossians 2:18; RSV)
Paul has already made his view clear on angels 'bearing gospels,' but the balance of this statement paints an unmistakable picture of the man himself. Paul's continued wailing about his 'thorn in the flesh' and his long term suffering, the beginning of his entire vocation based on an ever-changing vision, the arrogant view of his authority, and an expansive 'divine' commission. It is difficult to imagine that Paul wrote this himself.
Again Paul uses God's word, Isaiah 29:13 (LXX), though the original is, "...applied in a quite different sense." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 207)
Paul's attack on God's Law also reaches new heights when he exclaims, "Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"... according to human precepts and doctrines?" (Colossians 2:20-22; RSV)
Now God's ordinances are no longer 'holy' i.e., 'divine,' but they have become human precepts and doctrines. Are not the Scriptures the inspired word of God? But today's church has agreed that man's tradition shall be considered as holy as God's word, the scriptures. Paul has hold and he will not let go even in death.
The Interpreter's Bible, must remain without an opinion here, but they are willing to refer that it is Paul's line of thought that the law is, "...of human framing, entirely lacking divine sanction." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 11: Page 207)
Paul has been very clever. Instead of quoting God's Word verbatim, he places it into a context that makes God's doctrines appear to be the regulations of a cult religion, therefore, edicts easily disobeyed. Even good Jews might find this a deception to which they could easily fall prey.
Paul goes on to instruct the congregation in the manner in which they must now live, divulging themselves of all worldly things. In the list he projects there can be no fault found, save the fact that we are all, each one of us, a human endeavor. To throw off the very nature of our existence in its totality would be an impossible and very painful task.
Within the church, the prime example is the self-flagellation and sexless endeavors among the priesthood of the Church. Paul's ordinances, as did his precepts, produced wide spread variants of normal behavior which became a seed of evil and corruption within that body.
"Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all." (Colossians 3:10-11; RSV)
To his credit, this time Paul did not repeat his previous mistake and include, women. It is very possible that in a previous congregation it had caused some controversy, just as much as his preaching a message of freedom had appealed to a large number of personal servants; i.e., slaves. This indeed had caused problems as is evidenced by his letter to Philemon.
Paul states that at this time he is in prison, but the picture of his being in a cell, bounded by bars and guards, is a false image. He was free to write, move about, even travel, to have visitors who brought gifts, including money, and delivered messages to and from various congregations. In evidence is the fact that Tychicus and Onesimus are being sent to advise them of his affairs and to, "...encourage your hearts." (Colossians 4:7-9; RSV)
He also has with him, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Luke, Demas, and Epaphras. (Colossians 4:10-14; RSV), Paul was by no means alone or unoccupied, for while under protective custody, he remained in control of the ever expanding Church.
One can easily see the direction in which Paul was taking his new organization. The basis for a universal religion had been established through Paul's ministry, but one cannot believe that he could have imagined the lengths to which it would finally extend. Though we have no knowledge of the ceremonial practices of the primitive church, within a very short period of time a series of dogmatic rites had been instituted within the congregations.
The church, as expressed in Paul's time, was not an institution which you joined and then came or went at your discretion, to attend or not, as you pleased. It had become an establishment ruled with an iron fist, which was to become a veritable prison in the middle ages which one fled from at the risk of life itself.
With a ritual worship being established within the Pauline Church, and an ever more rigorous doctrine being enforced, his dogma was soon to overcome the efforts of the Apostles. More vital to our understanding, Jesus' teachings were slowly being subverted to Paul's gospel, and God's Word to tradition.