Good morning! Today we read the letter to the believers in Colossae, traditionally called Colossians. This book, though shorter, has much in common with the book of Ephesians. Both have disputed authorship (Paul or perhaps another early disciple writing in his name), apparently arise from Paul’s time in prison, and move stylistically from doctrine to implications for daily life. Colossians rather uniquely emphasizes the status of Christ as fully equal to God, which some scholars use as justification for a later composition date since understandings of Christ (“Christologies”) gradually evolved from emphasizing humanity to emphasizing divinity.
Christ’s elevated status and function appear after the greetings in chapter 1, where “Paul” identifies Christ as foremost of God’s works, present in creation before anything else, possessing “the fullness of God”, and how God reconciles everything to Godself. Christ’s death “makes peace” with God on behalf of humanity and the rest of creation. (I’ve written elsewhere the problems I have with this theology, largely because it suggests divine hostility to that which God has made, insatiable through no other means than blood sacrifice.) The further trials and sufferings of disciples are after the same form as Christ, lovingly given from loyalty to the church and God’s creation.
Evidently the people of Colossae lived with division over which paths of life to follow: nature worship, philosophy, and asceticism being some of the chief options. The writer suggests that obedience to Christ as first and foremost means that these other competing “paths” do not hold sway for Christians. They are means to an end of faithful living, but none of them are necessary. Choosing not to follow them or the “false teachers” who profess them is a wiser, simpler way, focusing instead on the one who is “the head”, Jesus himself. Believers who identify with Christ alone are called to manifest that in their behavior, shunning sinful, abusive behavior and adopting more righteous “clothing” of compassion, kindness, humility, and other such virtues. This writer uses the dichotomy between earthly and heavenly things when describing what is bad and what is good, respectively. We’ve considered previously how this leads to world-denying spirituality that neglects the theology of God’s good creation. Here we also see its consequences for human community (or lack thereof), since Colossians endorses patriarchy, child-subordination and slavery at the end of chapter 3 (even if statements of the “proper order” come with commands to the more powerful to show mercy). I rather fear that Colossians ends up being “so heavenly minded that it’s of no earthly good”, at least not with our egalitarian understanding of human relationships and need for greater creation care. You may disagree though; I’d love to hear what you find inspiring herein. Happy reading!
Read Colossians. (Note that the link here is only to Colossians 1. For copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read further chapters.)
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is First Thessalonians. Thanks for reading!