Colossians Chapter 1:3-20 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday April 17, 2011 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes include:

1. Peter O’Brien, Colossians- Philemon, Word Bible Commentary

2. David Garland, Colossians- Philemon, NIV Application Commentary

3. Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

4. Philip Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary

5. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary to the Greek New Testament

6. NET Bible, First Edition (Online)

7. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament

Paul’s letters follow the standard form of ancient letters, going something like this:
1. Salutation

2. Thanksgiving

3. Body of letter

4. Final greetings, recommendation of letter bearer(s)

5. Signature (Garland)

Our lesson verses start at Col 1:3, which is the beginning of the thanksgiving portion, which actually runs to 1:23, past our lesson verses. Paul uses a rhetorical form called an inclusio, which states something at the beginning, then repeats it at the end. Here Paul introduces the ideas of faith, hope, and hearing, which he then returns to at the end in 1:23. The thanksgiving divides into two parts:

1. 1:3-8 focusing on the effect of the gospel on Colosse and the world

2. 1:9-23 focusing on Paul’s intercession for the Colossians and a celebration of salvation in Christ. (Garland)

Col 1:3
The favored Greek text here literally says, “God, father of our lord” here, but most modern translations have “God, the father of our lord”, which is also the reading of a major variant here. The manuscripts behind the Textus Receptus used to translate the KJV and NKJV adds kai “and”, making God both the “God and father of our lord”. The shortest text is mirrored in Col 3:23, while “God and father” seems likely to have come about in harmonization with Eph 5:20. (Comfort)

Paul writes “we always” because:

1) He is speaking for himself and Timothy, and maybe others

2) He may be referencing a communal prayer time.(O’Brien)

He has no trouble switching to “I” in 1:23 when speaking personally.

Paul’s thanksgiving formula follows the ancient style, thanking the god(s), usually for some deliverance for the writer or reader, and assuring the reader that he/she/they are prayed for regularly.(O’Brien)

“Always”, Greek pantote, can go with either “we give thanks” or “praying”. The Greek is indeterminate as to where best to place it. To say one is always praying for someone is traditional in ancient letters. It means not that you are always in prayer but rather you remember the person(s) whenever you actually do pray.(Robertson, O’Brien)

Paul could well have maintained the traditional Jewish habit of praying morning, noon, and evening(Dan 6:1; Acts 3:1; 10:3)(Garland)

Col 1:4
Paul gives thanks for the Colossians and three developments in their spiritual life:

1. Their faith in Christ Jesus (1.4)

2. Their love for fellow believers(1.4)

3. Their love in the Spirit (1.9)

Here is the familiar trilogy of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor 13:3; 2 Thess 1:3; 5:8), but here hope is given first place, as being the ground for the other two. The trilogy itself may not be Paul’s invention, as it also appears in non-Pauline writing (Heb6:10-12; 10:22-24; 1 Pet 1:3-8,21-22; Barn 1:4;11:8; Ign Pol 3:2-3)). Some have even suggested it originated with Christ. (O’Brien)

Paul learned about the Colossians from Epaphras, a student of his who was originally from Colosse (Col 4:12) and ministered there (Col 1:7; Acts 19:10).(Keener)

Col 1:5
Jewish texts speak of rewards already reserved for the righteous, so many early Christians (drawn from the non-Jewish Godfearers) would have been exposed to this idea.(Keener)

Hope can be both the feeling/act and content of the hope. Paul defines this hope as salvation(1 Thess 5:8); resurrection (1 Cor 15:52-55); eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7) and the glory of God (Rom 5:2)(O’Brien)

This hope is already prepared for them in Heaven, an expression guaranteeing its certainty and its eternal existence, being in Heaven where nothing fades or withers away.(O’Brien)

Paul describes this hope as “the word of truth, which is the gospel”, presumably in contrast to what his opponents have been saying in Colosse. (o’Brien)

Col 1:6
1:6 The KJV here is missing “and growing”, found in the best texts and even the majority text. What likely happened was a scribal error where the scribe looked away from karpophoroumenon “bearing fruit” and upon returning to his text skipped over to auzanomenon “growing”, leaving “and growing” out. (Comfort)

God’s message bearing fruit is an image perhaps from Jesus’ teaching (Lk 8:11) and certainly found in the OT. (Hos 10:1; 14:7-8)(Keener)

If Paul’s language here seems exaggerated, it is useful to consider:

1. He was likely thinking of the central cities of the empire, from which the gospel was spreading out into the farther regions.

2. He makes a similar statement in Rom 10:18, quoting Ps 19:4(O’Brien)

“To bear fruit and grow” is often used in the OT, but of plants and animals, including Israel. It is only in Mark 4’s Parable of the Sower that it is used metaphorically, as here.(o’Brien)

En Aletheia, Greek “in truth”, has two possible interpretations, as in our lesson book’s translations. The KJV’s “in truth” speaks of the Colossians coming to know the true gospel, not some distorted form. HCSB’s “in the truth” seems to reflect the idea that the gospel is THE truth. (o’Brien)

Col 1:7-8
There are three Epaphras mentions in the NT: Here, Philemon 23, and Php 2:25 (Epaphroditus, of which Epaphras is a contraction). The Philemon fellow may be the same as here, but Philippi and Colosse are too far apart for those two to likely be the same. (Keener)

HCSB calls Epaphras “a faithful servant”, while KJV calls him “a faithful minister”. The Greek is not, as HCSB might mislead you to believe doulos/slave, but diakonos/minister or deacon. Diakonos is a word Paul uses of his fellows in missionary work (1 Th 3:2; Eph 6:21). (O’Brien)

There is a difficult textual question here, not reflected in our translations, over whether Epaphras is a minister on “our” (Greek emon) behalf, or “your” (Greek umon) behalf. It’s hard to say which to use, because the experts don’t even agree. The NET notes favor “our” due to better ancient manuscript support, but Metzger’s commentary says the committee which produced the standard Greek NT felt internal evidence (inner logic, so to speak) suggested “your” was the original and other uses of “our” before and after this point made copyists change “your” to “our” to match. Using Comfort as a sort of tie breaker (not strictly legit, but….) I would tend to go with “our”, and for the same reason: external evidence is more solid than internal evidence.(NET, Metzger, Comfort)

Col 1:9
On unceasing prayer see Ex 28:30; 1 Sam 12:23.

“Wisdom” and “knowledge” here are used more in the moral sense by Paul. (Keener)

Col 1:10-11
Greek temples expected their priests to behave properly for priest, “worthy of the god”. In Jewish terms, worthy could equal “appropriate to” (2 Macc 6:23-24, 27)or “deserving of reward”(2 Macc 15:21). The righteous who persevered for God would be “worthy of God” (Wis Sol 3:5)(Keener)

Col 1:12
1:12 The KJV says “made us meet” while the HCSB and most other recent translations say “enabled you”. In Greek the difference is a single letter, umas “you” or emas “us”. Scholars suspect scribes changed “you” to “us” to match “us” in Col 1:13. (Comfort, Metzger)

Col 1:12-13
In the OT, “saints” or “holy” meant Israel. Their inheritance was the Promised Land but later became more, the World to Come. With Christ’s coming these things became Christians’ future hope.

“Light” and “Dark” were regularly used as metaphors for good and bad (Ps 27:1; Is 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; 58:8-10; 59:9, 60:1)

The image of transferal here is sometimes related to the ancient kingdoms’ habit of moving conquered people to new lands, but more likely Paul is thinking of people gaining Roman citizenship or the release of the Israelites from Egypt into God’s rule, or even of Gentiles converting to Judaism. (Keener)

Col 1:14
Redemption was the freeing of a slave by paying a price for the slave. (Keener)

KJV has “redemption through his blood”, while HCSB simply has “redemption”, like almost all modern translations. The manuscripts behind the KJV’s Greek text were likely altered by scribes who matched this verse to the parallel text in Eph 1:7. The NET says the evidence for excluding “through his blood” here is as strong as that for including it in Eph 1:7, while Comfort notes the earliest evidence for “through his blood” is from the ninth century.(Comfort, NET)

Col 1:15
Paul describes Christ in terms usually used by Judaism for divine Wisdom.

“Firstborn” might refer either to the cultural preeminence and authority Judaism gave to eldest sons. Typically Jewish texts described Israel as God’s firstborn.(Keener)

Col 1:16
“invisible” creations refer to angels, which among the ancient were considered to have subordinate roles in running the world.

Many Greco-Roman philosophers held that the world and everything in it came from, were maintained by, and in the end would return to the Logos. Jews by the Second Temple period came to hold that God’s Word or Wisdom was the means by which and for which the world had been created.(Keener)

Col 1:17
Many Greco-Roman philosophers thought all things were held together by Zeus or the Logos/Divine Reason; this is how they stressed the unity of the universe. In Judaism, Wisdom came to be the first creation through which God created the world.(Keener)

Col 1:18
“Head” could mean “authority”, “most honored”, or “source”.(Keener)

“Body” refers to the church as members, different from each other and from leaders, but each having a special function within the unity that is the body. (Rom 12:3-5; 1 Cor 12:12-26)(Keener)

“Beginning” was sometimes applied to God in Judaism, but more often to Wisdom or the Logos, considered the agent of creation of all things.(Keener)

The resurrection of the dead was expected at the end of days, but Jesus’ resurrection as a sign of the resurrection’s sure future happening. (Keener)

Col 1:19
“Fullness” may refer either to:
1. God’s Wisdom or glory filling the world
2. the fullness of God’s presence or attributes (Keener)

Col 1:20

KJV: second “by him”
HCSB: no second “by him”

A difficult decision to make because both forms of the text have early Alexandrian manuscript support, it’s more probable the longer text with the second “by him” is original, since it seems obscure and redundant, and thus would move scribes to delete it. It is also entirely possible that the second “by him”, Greek di autou, was skipped over in some manuscripts, since in the Greek there is another “autou” immediately before “di autou”. “I say” in the KJV is a translators’ addition not found in the Greek, indicated normally by italics not found in our Sunday School literature.


One thought on “Colossians Chapter 1:3-20 Sunday School Notes

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