Epistle to the Colossians
The Epistle to the Colossians, often written as simply, Colossians, is the twelfth book of the New Testament. It is a letter written by a person identifying himself as the Apostle Paul (though many scholars see this as fraud) to an early Christian church in Colossae (located in what is now western Turkey). The letter begins with a personal correspondence, but then goes into religious doctrine and duties.
This letter is in the public domain. I have several translations of this book from various bibles, and have read the NIV translation.
Authorship and Dating
Although the letter begins with the author identifying himself as the Paul the Apostle, and Christian churches have unquestioningly accepted it for almost 2,000 years, modern scholars are increasingly doubting that Paul wrote the letter. They give several reasons:
- The word usage doesn't match other letters widely accepted as Paul's work.
- The letter's structure doesn't match other letters widely accepted as Paul's work.
- The theology presented in the letter doesn't match other letters widely accepted as Paul's work.
However, unlike other epistles which are often considered outright frauds, scholars are more likely willing to accept that Colossians was written by others within the church Paul helped build. Those who believe the work to be genuine dismiss these differences as mere changes in Paul's writing style and beliefs over time.
For those who believe the letter was written by Paul, they have no choice by to assign a date no later than 67 CE (around when Paul would have died). However, those scholars basing their estimate solely on the historical method suggest a date of late first century, probably no later than 90 CE.
There are no known original manuscripts. The oldest fragment is from Papyrus 46 dated to around 200-225 CE.
The letter promotes the idea that Christ was a mortal avatar of the author's god, that the covenant this god had with the Jews (including dietary restrictions, observance of the Sabbath, and circumcision) is over, that Christians become "born again" upon converting into the religion, and that Christians should all be of the same mindset and only believe what they're told by their church rather than outsiders. The author also commands sexism, slavery, and unconditional obedience.
There are about a dozen textual variants among the sources. None of them have much impact on Christian theology, but still serve as a reminder that pious tampering was common and human reproduction is faulty.
- Like with many of the epistles, this one begins with a bunch of pious self-congratulation.
- The author tells followers of the church to believe him and not be deceived by fine-sounding arguments (2:4), which is the kind of thing a cult leader would say. Rational people go with the best arguments so as to not be duped by blind faith.
- The author advises against human and worldly philosophies, saying people should follow the philosophy of Christ (2:8). However, this raises the question, "how can we know the philosophy of Christ?" to which the author's response is essentially, "whatever I tell you."
- While it's nice to discourage bad behavior, the author doesn't do a very good job of identifying what is bad. For example, in 3:5-8 he says the cease being evil, impure, and sexually immoral. However, these are just synonyms of "bad." Telling someone to not be evil is meaningless without first explaining how to identify evil.
- The author, like in other Epistles attributed to Paul, says that he is in chains (4:3). So how is he able to write and send a bunch of letters?
- The author tells wives that they must submit to their husbands (3:18), and children must obey their parents (3:19) because it makes the Christian god happy. The sexism is disgusting, and the demand for obedience is dangerous.
- The author tells slaves to obey their earthly masters, seek their favor, and work just as hard for their masters as they work for Christ. He goes one to say that a good slave will be rewarded by the Christian god, but a bad slave will be punished by the Christian god because he doesn't show favoritism (well, except for making some people slaves and other masters, right?) (3:22-25). This is absolutely revolting.