Bible Gateway Recommendations
Our Price: $9.99
Save: $6.01 (38%)
View more titles
Our Price: $10.99
Save: $5.01 (31%)
At the head of Paul's letter is his Roman name, Paul, perhaps used here as an expression of solidarity with his unknown Gentile readers. More important, Paul describes himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. Houlden calls this title a "badge of office" (1970:145); the writing of the letter to the Colossians is an exercise of his office and carries the weight of its authority. Literally, the word apostle derives from a verb that means "to send on a mission"; it refers to a public official with the authority to represent and act on behalf of the one who has sent him. Schweizer suggests a more Jewish background to the word (1982:29): like the Old Testament prophets, Paul has been sent on God's mission to proclaim the "word of the Lord" (cf. Is 61:1; Luke 4:16-19; Acts 9:14-15; Gal 1:11-16; 1 Cor 1:17).
In other letters where Paul calls immediate attention to his apostolic office (cf. Gal 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1), his authority is being challenged from within the congregation. Firm reference to his apostolic authority at the outset seems warranted. While Lohse suggests that at Colosse the "unique position of the apostle is undisputed, so that Paul is presented as an apostle only in the opening verse" (1971:6), Paul returns to speak of the responsibilities of his Gentile mission in 1:24—2:5 to clarify his "official" relationship with his readers. The interpreter does well to compare Paul's use of autobiographical material in Colossians with the apologetical role that autobiography plays in his other letters (such as Galatians and 2 Corinthians) where he recounts his missionary work in response to opponents. While he has not yet met with his Colossian readers, no doubt there is opposition to his ministry and teaching among them.
Recall that Paul's Gentile mission was quite controversial in earliest Christianity, when many believers understood themselves as belonging to a messianic movement within Judaism. Boundaries between the church and synagogue were still quite fuzzy; Paul's preaching of a "law-free" gospel (as in Galatians) and his conversion of Gentiles without compliance to the most basic proselyte requirements of Greek-speaking Judaism (as in Romans) were increasingly difficult for religious Jews, and even for many Jewish Christians, to accept (see Acts 11:1-18; 15:1-5; 21:15-26). Moreover, although Paul had witnessed the resurrection of Christ on the Damascus Road, some early Christian leaders still doubted his apostolic credentials. After all, he had persecuted Christ's disciples and had not been with Christ from the beginning (see Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor 15:8-11).
This ambivalence toward Paul's apostolic credentials within the early church is reflected in Acts, where Paul's ministry is commissioned by the Lord (Acts 9:15-6) but his apostleship results from a congregation's ordination (Acts 13:3; cf. 1 Thess 2:6-7). Even the church's mission to the Gentiles was initiated by Peter, the leader of the Twelve who immediately succeeded Jesus; he, not Paul, was appointed by God to bring salvation to the Gentile soldier Cornelius. Paul himself adds other reasons, including the itinerant nature of his evangelistic ministry, which was widely scorned in the ancient world (cf. 1 Thess 2:1-16).
Against this background of controversy, then, the pointed manner of Paul's introduction is made necessary by readers who know him only by "muddy" reputation. Paul reminds them that his personal authority (and by implication the trustworthiness of his advice) is not granted by another person nor by some more prominent congregation but by Christ Jesus, the Lord of the church. Moreover, Christ's decision to do so was by the will of God. Since the will of God is the redemption of all creation, Paul does not use this idiom to "strong-arm" his readers into an undesirable submission. Rather, he understands that his ministry to the Colossians—given by Christ, who gave himself for their redemption (1:14)—conforms with the will of the One who wills their rescue from the reign of darkness (1:13). Some have even linked this reference to the will of God with Paul's commission on the Damascus Road (cf. Acts 22:14), an event that harks back to God's calling of the biblical prophets as carriers of God's word. In this sense Paul's apostleship is prophetic, since he is called by God to bring the word of salvation to a people who have need of it.
Besides Paul, there is Timothy, his coworker and Christian brother. The appearance of Timothy's name in the greeting may serve a couple of purposes. Unlike Paul, Timothy may be known to the readers, so Paul may have mentioned his name to persuade them of Timothy's support for the content and purpose of this letter (cf. Martin 1981:44; Lohse 1971:7). While Paul does not indicate that the Colossians actually know Timothy personally (but see Schweizer 1982:29-30), he is apparently well-known as an important leader of the church's Gentile mission in this part of Asia (cf. Acts 16:1-5). Thus, Paul's reference to the Colossian congregation as faithful brothers in verse 2 expresses a desire that the close relationship he enjoys with Timothy is also shared with his readers.
Because of the constraints of prison life, Paul may have used Timothy as the letter's scribe and messenger (see Phil 2:19). Evidence for this suggestion comes from the letter itself. In the closing benediction, Paul writes the letter's final blessing "in my own hand" (4:18). The implication is that the rest of his letter is written by Timothy's "hand," following a common practice in the ancient world. In fact, the role of a servant-scribe in the early church was based on the scribal role in the synagogue. The Jewish scribe was not so much a stenographer who merely wrote down what was dictated as he was an editor who composed writings based on what the teacher said. Paul's Jewishness, coupled with his perception that he was engaged in a collaborative ministry, would have allowed Timothy to serve him as a scribe in this sense. Timothy's part in composing Colossians may partially explain the extant differences in writing style and vocabulary between this and Paul's other letters (see introduction, under "Author").