Bible Study Guide: Colossians

What makes Colossians unique?

The apostle Paul writes in his letters about the great change that is soon to come when Christ returns to overcome the powers of evil and to rule over all the world. But Colossians describes what Jesus Christ has already done. When Christ died on the cross, all the forces opposed to God were already defeated (2:15,20). This letter also includes a beautiful hymn that explains who Christ is (1:15-20). He is God's Son (1:15) and the head of "his body, which is the church" (1:18). The author goes on to say he is the key to God's mystery (2:2).

Why was Colossians written?

The author of Colossians wanted to encourage the Christians in Colossae to keep following Christ Jesus (2:6) and not to be fooled by false teachings or tricked into following any of the many religious ideas and practices that were being taught in Asia Minor at that time (2:8,16-23). The author also wanted to convince the Colossians to "live a life that honors the Lord" (1:10). This meant that they were to leave behind the bad things that were part of their old life (3:1-9) and live as God's special people who are kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, and loving (3:12-14). The author's advice also included some rules about how family members were to treat each other.

What's the story behind the scene?

Colossae was a small inland city in Asia Minor, east of the major port city of Ephesus and close to the cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. All four of these cities are mentioned in this letter. The writer of Colossians had never actually been to Colossae, but he was pleased to learn that the Christians there were strong in their faith (1:3-7; 2:6,7). Instead, the Colossians had heard the good news about Jesus from Epaphras, one of Paul's co-workers, who had once lived in Colossae (1:7; 4:12,13).

Some scholars believe this letter may have been written by one of Paul's followers in the decades after Paul's death in A.D. 64 or 65, rather than by Paul himself. It was not unusual in the ancient world for a follower to honor his or her teacher by writing something in the teacher's name.

How is Colossians constructed?

Colossians is a letter that includes opening and concluding greetings that are similar to the ones found in several of Paul's letters. The opening greeting (1:1,2) is nearly identical to the opening of Ephisians ( Eph 1:1,2). The letter can be outlined in this way:

Greetings, prayers, and a hymn to Christ (1:1-23)

Paul greets God's people in Colossae and gives thanks to God for all the good things he keeps hearing about the Colossian Christians. He prays that they will honor the Lord, and stay deeply rooted in their faith in Christ. Verses 15-20 are probably an early Christian hymn that describes who Jesus is and what he has done.

Paul teaches the truth about Christ (1:24-2:23)

Paul reminds the Colossians not to be fooled or misled by false teachers who were apparently trying to get them to follow certain rituals and observe certain feasts, or to worship the stars or angels. Paul claims that these false teachings no longer have control over the followers of Jesus who have "died with Christ."

Living the new life in Christ (3:1-4:6)

Paul encourages the Colossians to recognize what it means to be a person raised to new life with Christ. This new life will affect the way they live together as God's people. This section also includes advice for family living and for the relationship between slaves and their masters.

Final greetings and advice (4:7-18)

Paul explains how he will send his co-workers to share news about what has been happening to him. He also sends greetings from other followers who are with him and who the Colossian Christians know.