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Continuation of Introductory Notes to Colossians


IN Col 4:16, of this epistle, the apostle gives this direction: "And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea." The former part of this verse is clear; and the direction was given, doubtless, because the churches of Colosse and Laodicea were in the vicinity of each other, and the instructions were adapted to both churches. Doubtless the same form of philosophy prevailed, and the churches were exposed to the same errors. But it is not so clear what is meant by the "epistle from Laodicea." The most natural and obvious interpretation would be, that Paul had sent a letter also to that church, and that he wished them to procure it and read it. But no such epistle is now extant, and, consequently, much difficulty has been felt in determining what the apostle referred to. A brief examination of the opinions entertained on the subject seems necessary in this place. They are the following:—-

1. It has been supposed that the reference is to a letter sent from the Laodiceans to Paul, proposing to him some questions which they desired him to answer, and that he now wishes the Colossians to procure that letter, in order that they might more fully understand the drift of the epistle which he now sent to them. This opinion was held by Theodoret, and has been defended by Storr, Rosenmuller, and others. But the objections to it are obvious and conclusive.

(1.) It is not the fair meaning of the language used by Paul. If he had referred to a letter to him, he would have said so; whereas the obvious meaning of the language used is, that the Colossians were to procure a letter in the possession of the Laodiceans in exchange for the one which they now received from Paul. The churches were to make an exchange of letters, and one church was to read that which had been addressed to the other.

(2.) If the letter had been addressed to Paul, it was doubtless in his possession; and if he wished the church at Colosse to read it, nothing would be more natural or obvious than to send it, by Tychicus, along with the letter which he now sent. Why should he give directions to send to Laodicea to procure a copy of it?

(3.) If a letter had been sent to him by the Laodiceans, proposing certain questions why did he send the answer to the church at Colosse, and not to the church at Laodicea? The church at Laodicea would certainly have been the one that was entitled to the reply. There would have been a manifest impropriety in sending an epistle to one church, made up of answers to questions proposed by another, and then at the end requesting them to procure those questions, that they might understand the epistle.

(4.) It may be added, that it is not necessary to suppose that there was any such epistle, in order to understand this epistle to the Colossians. This is not more difficult of interpretation than the other epistles of Paul, and does not furnish, in its structure, any particular evidence that it was sent in answer to inquiries which had been proposed to the author.

2. It has been supposed by some that the epistle referred to was one written to Timothy, by the apostle himself, at Laodicea. This opinion was defended by Theophylact. The only show of authority for it is the subscription at the end of the First Epistle to Timothy—"The first to Timothy was written from Laodicea, which is the chiefest city of Phrygia Pacatiana." But that this is erroneous can be easily shown.

(1.) The subscription to the epistle to Timothy is of no authority.

(2.) If this epistle had been referred to, Paul would not have designated it in this manner. It would have been rather by mentioning the person to whom it was addressed, than the place where it was written.

(3.) There is nothing in the epistle to Timothy which would throw any important light on this to the Colossians, or which would be particularly important to them as a church. It was addressed to one individual, and it contains counsels adapted to a minister of the gospel rather than to a church.

3. Many have supposed that the "epistle from Laodicea," referred to, was one which Paul had written to the Laodiceans, partly for their use, but which was of the nature of a circular epistle, and that we still have it under another name. Those who hold this opinion suppose that the epistle to the Ephesians is the one referred to, and that it was, in fact, sent also to the church at Laodicea. See this question treated at length in the Introduction to the epistle to the Ephesians, % 5. The reasons for supposing that the epistle now known as the "Epistle to the Ephesians" was neither a circular letter, nor addressed to the church at Laodicea, are there given. But if the common reading of the text in Eph 1:1, "the saints which are at Ephesus," be correct, then it is clear that that epistle was really sent to the church in that place. The only question then is, whether it is of so general a character that it might as well be sent to other churches as to that, and whether Paul actually sent it as a circular, with a direction to different churches? Against this supposition there are strong improbabilities.

(1.) It is contrary to the usual practice of Paul. He addressed letters to particular churches and individuals; and, unless this case be one, there is no evidence that he ever adopted the practice of sending the same letter to different individuals or churches.

(2.) There would have been some impropriety in it, if not dishonesty. An avowed circular letter, addressed to churches in general, or to any number whose names are enumerated, would be perfectly honest. But how would this be, if the same letter was addressed to one church, and then, with a new direction, addressed to another, with no intimation of its circular character? Would there not be a species of concealment in this which we should not expect of Paul?

(3.) How happens it, if this had occurred, that all remembrance of it was forgotten?. When those epistles were collected, would not the attention be called to the fact, and some record of it be found in some ancient writer?. Would it fail to be adverted to, that the same epistle had been found to have been addressed to different churches, with a mere change in the name?

4. There is but one other opinion which can exist on this question; and that is, that the apostle refers to some letter which had been sent to the Laodiceans, which we have not now in the New Testament. If this be so, then the reference could only be to some epistle which may be extant elsewhere, or which is now lost. There is an epistle extant which is known by the name of "St. Paul's Epistle to the Laodiceans;" but it has no well-founded claims to being a genuine epistle of Paul, and is universally regarded as a forgery. "It is," says Michaelis, "a mere rhapsody, collected from St. Paul's other epistles, and which no critic can receive as a genuine work of the apostle. It contains nothing which it was necessary for the Colossians to know, nothing which is not ten times better and more fully explained in the epistle which St. Paul sent to the Colossians; in short, nothing which could be suitable to St. Paul's design." Intro. to the New Test. iv. 127. The Greek of this epistle may be found at length in Michaelis; and, as it may be a matter of curiosity, and will show that this cannot be the epistle referred to by Paul in Col 4:16, I will subjoin here a translation. It is as follows: "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ, to the brethren in Laodicea. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God in Christ always in my prayers, that you are mindful of and are persevering in good works, waiting for the promise in the day of judgment. And let not the vain speeches of some who would conceal the truth disturb you, to turn you away from the truth of the gospel which has been preached unto you. Now God grant that all they who are of me may be borne forward to the perfection of the truth of the gospel, to perform those excellent good works which become the salvation of eternal life. And now are my bonds manifest, in which bonds I am in Christ, and at the present time; but I rejoice, for I know that this shall be for the furtherance of my salvation, which is through your prayer and the supply of the Holy Ghost, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is joy. But our Lord himself shall grant you his mercy with us, that possessing love you may be of the same mind, and think the same thing. On this account, brethren, as ye have heard of the appearing of the Lord, so think and do in the fear of God, and it shall be eternal life to you for it is God who worketh in you. Do all things without murmurings and disputings. And for the remainder, brethren, rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ, and see that ye keep yourselves from all base gain of covetousness. Let all your requests be made known with boldness unto God, and be firm in the mind of Christ. And finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, these things do. And what you have heard and received, keep in your hearts, and it shall give you peace. Salute all the brethren with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Cause that this epistle be read in the church of the Colossians, and do you also read the epistle from Colosse." Nothing can be plainer than that this is not such an epistle as the apostle Paul would have written, it is therefore a mere forgery. The conclusion to which we are conducted is, that the reference in Col 4:16 is to some epistle of Paul to the church at Laodicea which is not now extant, and that the probability is, that, having accomplished the object for which it was sent, it has been suffered to be lost. Thus, it is to be numbered with the writings of Gad, and Iddo the Seer, and Nathan, and the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and the book of Jehu, (2 Ch 9:29; 20:34; 1 Ki 16:1; ) works which, having accomplished the object for which they were composed, have been suffered to become extinct. Nor is there anything improbable or absurd in the supposition that an inspired book may have been lost. There is no special sacredness in a mere writing, or in the fact that inspired truth was recorded, that makes it indispensable that it should be preserved. The oral discourses of the Saviour were as certainly inspired as the writings of Paul; and yet but a small part of what he said has been preserved, Joh 21:25. Why should there be any improbability in supposing that an inspired book may also have been lost? And, if it has, how does that fact weaken the evidence of the importance or the value of what we now possess? How does the fact that a large part of the sermons of the Saviour have perished, by not being recorded, diminish the value, or lessen the evidence of the Divine authority, of the Sermon on the Mount?





The chapter embraces the following topics :—

(1.) The usual salutation to the church, Col 1:1,2.

(2.) Thanks to God for what he had done for the Colossians and for the fruits of the gospel among them, Col 1:3-8.

(3.) Prayer that they might persevere in the name course, and might walk worthy of their calling, Col 1:9-11.

(4.) An exhortation to render thanks to God for what he had done for them in redemption, Col 1:12-14.

(5.) A statement of the exalted dignity of the Redeemer, Col 1:15-18.

(6.) A statement of what he had done in the work of redemption, in making peace by the blood of his cross, and reconciling the world to God, Col 1:19,20.

(7.) Through this gospel, Paul says, they had been reconciled to God, and were now brought into a state in which they might be presented as holy and unblamable in his sight, Col 1:21-23.

(8.) Of this gospel, Paul says he was a minister; in preaching it he had been called to endure trials, but those trims he endured with joy; and in preaching this gospel he used the utmost diligence, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that he might present every one perfect in Christ Jesus, Col 1:24-29.

Verse 1. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ. See Barnes "Rom 1:1".


By the will of God. See Barnes "1 Co 1:1".


And Timotheus our brother. On the question why Paul associated others with him in his epistles, See Barnes "1 Co 1:1".

There was a particular reason why Timothy should be associated with him in writing this epistle. He was a native of the region where the church was situated, Ac 16:1-3, and had been with Paul when he preached there, and was doubtless well known to the church there, Ac 16:6. It is evident, however, from the manner in which Paul mentions him here, that he did not regard him as "an apostle," and did not wish the church at Colosse to consider him as such. It is not "Paul and Timothy, apostles of Jesus Christ," but "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother." Paul is careful never to apply the term apostle to Timothy. Php 1:1, "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ." Comp. 1 Th 1:1; 2 Th 1:1. If he had regarded Timothy as an apostle, or as having apostolic authority, it is not easy to conceive why he should not have referred to him as such in these letters to the churches. Could he have failed to see that the manner in which he referred to him was adapted to produce a very important difference in the estimate in which he and Timothy would be held by the Colossians?

{a} "an apostle" Eph 1:1.

——————————————————————————————————— Verse 2. Grace be unto you. See Barnes "Ro 1:7"


{b} "saints and faithful" Ps 16:3 {c} "Grace be unto you" Ga 1:3

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