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Colossians

At a Glance
Letter
Genre:
(3/5) ***
Reliability of Dating:
(2/5) **
Length of Text:
Greek
Original Language:
Ancient Translations:
Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 50-80 A.D.

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Information on Colossians

Several scholars dispute the authenticity of Colossians. According to Raymond Brown (An Introduction, p. 610), "At the present moment about 60 percent of critical scholarship holds that Paul did not write the letter."

Norman Perrin adduces several considerations against authenticity (The New Testament: An Introduction, pp. 121-123): language and style, the absence of Pauline concepts, and the presence of concepts not found in the earlier letters. However, since there are several stylistic idiosyncrasies of Paul in the letter, Perrin must admit that the "the argument from language and style seesaws back and forth." The argument from silence on certain theological concepts is rather weak unless it is explained why Paul would be supposed to mention them. Perrin seeks to show that there are some concepts of christology and of the church in Colossians that might be better understood as deutero-Pauline. However, Werner Georg Kummel attempts to demonstrate that these concepts are within the boundaries of authentic Pauline thought (Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 342-345).

Kummel adduces several considerations in favor of authenticity (op. cit., p. 345):

If the substantive differences of Col can be understood on the basis of the concrete polemical argument of the letter, then there are substantive matters which support the assumption of Pauline authorship as well. (a) The assumed relationship of the writer to the readers corresponds in several points to Phlm: in both letters there are greetings from Epaphras, Aristarchus, Mark, Luke, Demas (Col 4:10 ff; Phlm 23 f); both letters mention the sending of Onesimus (Col 4:9; Phlm 12) and have special words for Archippus (Col 4:17; Phlm 2). These agreements do not occur in the same relationships and formulations, however, so that the thesis is unconvincing that the indubitably Pauline Phlm has been imitated by a non-Pauline writer only in these personal remarks. (b) The household admonitions in Col 3:18-4:1 show a remarkably small christianizing, especially in compraison with Eph 5:22-6:9, which is much less easily understood for a non-Pauline writer than for Paul himself. (c) In contrast to Eph, the use of the formulas en cristo and en kurio in Col correspond completely to Paul's usage. (d) J. Knox has pointed out that the letter, which was intended for Laodicea (4:16a) was probably addressed to the smaller city Colossae because Onesimus was from Colossae and Paul sought contact with the community in which Onesimus' master lived, since it was he to whom Phlm brought so grave a request. Besides, the unusually comprehensive rule for slaves is best understood (3:22-25) if the business with the slave Onesimus were to be settled at the same time. Even though all these arguments may not be of equal weight, together they strengthen the supposition that Col originated with Paul.

Moreover, it could be argued that the use of Colossians by the author of Ephesians supports the authenticity of Colossians. This is because, if Ephesians is judged to be written c. 100 and is dependent upon Colossians, then Colossians must have been written a while before and must have been considered an authentic letter in order to be used for imitation by the author of Ephesians.

On the other hand, the arguments for inauthenticity should not be underestimated. Udo Schnelle argues strongly for inauthenticity (The History and Theology, pp. 282-288). Raymond Brown provides an overview of five arguments for spuriousness: vocabulary, style, theology, the dispute with false teachers, and the characters and situation (An Introduction, pp. 610-615). Of these arguments, the strongest ones are those that maintain that Colossians shows a more developed theology in its christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

My position is, thus, that the authenticity of Colossians is a matter over which reasonable people may disagree. As to its dating, we may follow this dictum for Colossians: if authentic, place it as late as possible, but if inauthentic, place it as early as possible. It was probably written towards the middle of the period c. 50-80.

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Kirby, Peter. "Colossians." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/colossians.html>.