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and refers to two women of influence in the Church whom he is anxious to see restored to terms of friendship. For this purpose he invokes the aid of Epaphroditus (“ true yoke-fellow ") and other leading members of the Church. He adds several exhortations of a general nature that are among the most beautiful precepts in the New Testament (iv. 4-9). In conclusion, before sending the final salutations, he thanks the Philippians warmly for the renewal of their bounty towards him, which he welcomes not so much on his own account as for the evidence it affords of their devotion to the Gospel. For their kindness to him God will yet reward them with the higher treasures that are hid in Christ Jesus (iv. 10-23).1
It is worthy of note that the “bishops and deacons specially addressed in the opening of the epistle (i. 1) represent the only two classes of local Church office-bearers that are mentioned in the New Testament. The former (bishops or overseers, R.V. margin) are virtually identical with the "elders or presbyters mentioned elsewhere in connection with Churches mainly composed of Jewish converts. To these bishops or elders were entrusted governing and teaching functions in the Church, while the deacons appear to have been specially charged with the care of the poor. The three Episcopal orders of bishop, priest, and deacon cannot be distinctly traced before the beginning of the second century.
1 “Of the church which stood foremost among all the apostolic communities in faith and love, it may literally be said that not one stone stands upon another. Its whole career is a signal monument of the inscrutable counsels of God. Born into the world with the brightest promise, the church of Philippi has lived without a history and perished without a memorial. The city itself has long been a wilderness” (Lightfoot).
1. Authorship.--The Pauline authorship of this epistle, as well as of that to the Ephesians (which it closely resembles), has of recent years been called in question, not for any want of external evidence, but because of its peculiar phraseology as compared with the earlier epistles of Paul. This objection, however, is one of little force. It is no uncommon thing for a writer's vocabulary to undergo a considerable change in the course of a very short period, when he is placed amid new surroundings and under the influence of new associations. Anything strange about the apostle's language in this epistle is sufficiently explained by the circumstances under which he wrote, and was evidently occasioned by the new errors which he was called to encounter.
It is alleged, however, that we have in this epistle, not only novelty in language, but also in doctrine, especially with regard to the nature and office of Christ. But the truth is we have in the Christology of this epistle only the full development of ideas which had germinated in
1 A close examination of the works of Xenophon, for example, has brought to light a remarkable variation of language in the books he wrote after he began to move about from place to place like St. Paul.
the apostle's mind years before (1 Thess. i. 1; 1 Cor. viii. 6, xi. 3 ; 2 Cor. iv. 4), and are to be found in other books
2 of the New Testament (1 John i. 3 ; Heb. i. 2). In the notable passage in Philippians (ii. 5-11) regarding the original glory and the ultimate exaltation of the Saviour, as lofty a claim is made on His behalf to the reverence and adoration of the Church as is anywhere to be found in this epistle.
It is worthy of note, too, that this epistle has a special mark of genuineness in the singular connection which subsists between it and the Epistle to Philemon iv. 7-18, Philemon 2, 10-12, 23, 24).1
2. The Readers.—“To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossa." The Church at Colossæ seems to have been the least important of the Churches to which Paul is known to have written. The city itself had at one time been populous and important, but its prosperity was very much reduced before the days of the apostle. It lay on the river Lycus, a tributary of the Mæander in the Phrygian part of Asia Minor, not many miles distant from its more prosperous neighbours, Laodicea and Hierapolis (iv. 13), in "a sombre and melancholy region " covered with the traces of volcanic action. In common with these cities, Colossæ had doubtless been indebted for its knowledge of Christianity to the evangelistic labours of Paul at Ephesus, the metropolis of the district, from which his influence had spread far and
1 This connection is such, that if the letter to Philemon be genuine (as generally admitted), Colossians must likewise be so ; otherwise it must be a forgery founded on Philemon. But this is seen to be very unlikely when it is remembered that—(1) in the Epistle to Philemon there is no mention whatever of Colossæ, or of any place in its neighbourhood, nor yet of the messenger Tychicus ; (2) there are variations in the salutations sent in the two epistles, such as we can scarcely imagine to have been resorted to in the interests of forgery ; and (3) in Colossians there is no reference whatever to Philemon himself or to the peculiar circumstances of Onesimus as a runaway slave.
wide, "almost throughout all Asia" (Acts xix. 10, 26; 1 Cor. xvi. 19). Although we may infer from his language in the epistle (ii. 1) that Paul had not personally laboured among the Colossians, it would seem that their chief evangelist, Epaphras, had been one of his disciples (i. 7, R.V.).
This Epaphras had paid a visit to Rome during Paul's imprisonment there. Whether he had come for the express purpose of consulting the apostle regarding the state of the Colossians is not clear; but at all events he made Paul acquainted with the dangers that were besetting the Church notwithstanding many tokens of grace (i. 3-8; ii. 8-20; iv. 12, 13). The interest in Colossa which was thus awakened in the mind of the apostle by his conversation with Epaphras was further stimulated by his intercourse with Onesimus, a runaway slave from the same city, who was in some way or other brought under his influence at Rome, and proved an invaluable friend (iv. 9, cf. Philemon). He could not permanently retain Onesimus in his service, as he was the lawful property of another, so he took the opportunity afforded by the mission of Tychicus (a trusty delegate) to Asia (iv. 7-9; Acts xx. 4; 2 Tim. iv. 12) to send Onesimus along with him, giving the latter a conciliatory letter to his master Philemon (pp. 121-125), and at the same time he addresses a longer communication to the members of the Colossian Church, with special reference to the evils to which they were exposed. This he entrusts to the care of Tychicus, by whom he also despatches another epistle intended for a still wider circle of readers (Eph. vi. 21, 22).
3. Date and Place of Composition.—At Rome, 62-63 A.D. (pp. 108-110).
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 was so prevalent 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 pretensions 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, 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
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 Colossian Church may be traced in ii. 11, 14, 16, 18, etc.