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3. Date and Place of Composition.
At Rome, 62-63 A.D. (pp. 151-5).
4. Character and Contents.
It has been remarked that this epistle lacks the vivacity and fluency which characterise the apostle's style when he is addressing readers personally known to him.
To the ordinary reader it is probably the most difficult of Paul's epistles, owing to the fact that it was designed to be a corrective of certain errors of a recondite nature with which we have little or nothing to do at the present day. For these errors the Jewish element of the population, which prevailed so largely in that part of the world, was largely responsible. It was not the Pharisees, however, whose endeavours, at an earlier period, to foist the ceremonial law of the Jews on the Christian Church had been so strenuously and successfully resisted by the apostle of the Gentiles, but the Essenes, another sect of the Jews, that were now the corrupters of the faith. Their pretentions were of a more abstruse and philosophic character, savouring of combined mysticism and asceticism; and along with their teaching was mingled the theosophy of Asia Minor,
may know my affairs, how I do, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things : whom I have sent unto you for this very purpose, that ye may know our state, and that he may comfort your hearts."
1 Two thousand Jewish families were brought by Antiochus the Great from Babylonia and Macedonia, and settled in Lydia and Phrygia. We have evidence of their numbers and wealth at a later period in the large quantity of gold that was confiscated by the Roman governor on its way to Jerusalem in payment of the poll-tax.
We also find Phrygia mentioned (Acts ii. 10) as one of the countries from which devout men were present at Jerusalem on the great day of Pentecost. Their influence in the Colos
sian Church may be traced in ii. 11: “in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ"; ii. 14: “having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us : and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross "; ii. 16: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day.” The worship of angels (p. 170, note 2) was also the perversion of a Jewish doctrine; Acts vii. 53: “Ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not." Gal. iii. 19: The law “was ordained through angels by the hands of a mediator.”
resulting in the strange form of heresy which we find the apostle combating in this epistle.
The heresy was partly speculative, partly practical, but at the root of the whole there lay an abhorrence of matter as the abode of evil, and a consequent depreciation of everything connected with man's physical existence. This led, on its speculative side, to an elaborate system of mediation between the Supreme Being and the world of matter, by means of a spiritual hierarchy consisting of a graduated series of emanations from the deity, the lowest of which was supposed to have been far enough removed from the Supreme Being to be capable of bringing into existence the base material world. In opposition to this theory the apostle insists upon the absolute and universal mediatorship of Christ—in the outward universe created through Him as well as in the Church of which He is the Head, and warns his converts against being led astray by a false philosophy, associated with the worship of angels, which some of their teachers were trying to introduce into the Church.2
1 i. 15-20: “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church : who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead ; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.' 15: Having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross; having put off from himself the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." Cf. Rom. viii. 38, 39: “For I am persuaded, that neither
death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
2 ii. 8: “Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." ii. 18, 19: “Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels, dwelling in the things which he hath seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God." In this connection it is interesting to find that angel-worship was condemned at a council held at the neighbouring city of Laodicea in the fourth century, and that there is a Greek story to the effect that the archangel Michael once saved Colossæ from destruction by opening a chasm for the escape of waters with which it was inundated. The worship of angels,
On its practical side the error took the form of a rigorous asceticism, intended to free man's spirit from the degrading influence of the world and the flesh. 1 To counteract this tendency, the apostle proclaims the inspiring and life-giving power of fellowship with Jesus Christ, by whose death upon the cross reconciliation has been effected between heaven and earth, and in whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”2 The spirit of Christ ought to raise Christians above the mere elements or “rudiments” of the world, imparting to them new motives and a higher consciousness; and the apostle calls upon his readers to consecrate to God, in fellowship with the risen Saviour, all departments of their life, whether as individual Christians or in their mutual relations as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants.
While the speculative and practical aspects of the subject are not kept entirely distinct, the former is chiefly dealt with in the first chapter, after the opening salutation, thanksgiving, and prayer; while the second chapter is more polemical in tone, and forms an introduction to the practical exhortations which occupy the third and part of the fourth or last chapter. The remainder of the epistle is
especially of Michael, was common in Asia Minor. (See Prof. Ramsay's The Church in the Roman Empire, Chap. xix.) In the epistle “to the angel of the church in Laodicea," in the Book of Revelation, we can trace features of resemblance to this epistle both on its speculative and its practical side. Cf. Col. i. 15-20 and Rev. iii. 14: “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God” ; Col. iii. 1-4 and Rev. iii. 21 : He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.”.
1 ii. 16-23 (quoted in note 4, p. 167)..
2 The words here translated the fulness” (tò il pwma) which also occurs at i. 19, and three times in the cognate epistle to the Ephesians (i. 23; iii
. 19; iv. 13), became a favourite word with the Gnostics of the second century to denote the totality of the divine attributes manifested more or less in the various emana
tions of the Deity. Other Gnostic terms
3 ii. 8, 20 (quoted p. 168).
made up of salutations and personal explanations and directions.
In several passages a reference may be traced to the intellectual pride and exclusiveness which were associated with the errors of the Colossian Church. Among its Jewish members, the pride of intellect was taking the place of the old pride of nationality. In opposition to this tendency the apostle declares that "in Christ”-not in any philosophy which man could devise—“are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." 2 that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” sents the Gospel as a “mystery” that has been “manifested” to the whole Church - his duty as an apostle being to proclaim Christ, "admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that (he) may present every man perfect in Christ." 4 He thus declares the Church to be a spiritual democracy in which there is no room for any privileged class or inner circle of disciples —even the Scythians, the least refined of nations, being raised to the same level, in a spiritual sense, as the Jews themselves, or the most cultivated of the Gentiles."
“THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO PHILEMON."
1. Authorship. This epistle is thoroughly Pauline; and its contents are of too private and (from a doctrinal and ecclesiastical point of view) too insignificant a nature, to have ever been admitted into the Canon if it had not been a genuine writing of Paul's.6
1 iv. 7-18.
2 ji. 3.
3 i. 9.
“ Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ' is all, and in all."
6 " It was preserved in the family to which it was addressed, and read first, no doubt, as a precious apostolic message of love and blessing, in the church which assembled in Philemon's house. Then copies of it became multiplied, and from Colossæ it spread through the church universal. It is quoted as early as the second century,
Its close connection with Colossians has already been referred to 1 The circumstances under which it reached Philemon, and even the latter's place of residence, would be shrouded in mystery if it were not for Colossians. Yet no hint is given there of the episode in Paul's life which gave rise to this epistle — the only thing relating to it being an allusion to Onesimus as “the faithful and beloved brother who is one of you. So independent are the two epistles in their contents.
2. The Reader.
“To Philemon our beloved, and fellow-worker." 3
To ascertain Philemon's residence we have, as already remarked, to consult the epistle to the Colossians. Philemon himself is not mentioned there; but Archippus whom Paul associates with Philemon and Apphia (probably Philemon's wife) in the opening greeting of this epistle,4 is mentioned in Colossians in such a way as to imply that he was an office-bearer of the Church either at Colossæ or in the neighbourhood. From the context it has been suggested that Laodicea, which was about twelve miles from Colossæ, was the scene of Archippus' labours. The association of his name with that of Philemon, in the epistle addressed to the latter, would lead us to suppose that he was Philemon's son, or possibly his minister. The connection of Phileinon with Colossæ is further evident from the fact that his slave Onesimus is spoken of in the epistle to the Colossians as “one of you," and is announced
3 Ver. I.
and has ever, except with some few who question everything, remained an undoubted portion of the writings of St. Paul” (Alford, How to Study the New Testament). Even Marcion, with all his excisive tendencies, admitted its genuine
It was first called in question in the fourth century, on the ground that its matter and contents were beneath the dignity of apostolic authorship!
5 Col. iv. 15-17: "Salute the brethren that are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church that is in their house. And when this epistle hath been read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that
i Pp. 165-6. 2 Col. iv. 9.
ye also read the epistle from Laodis cea. And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it."