« ForrigeFortsæt »
THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS.
URING St. Paul's long stay at Ephesus,
related in Acts xix., we are told that 'all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.' Even remembering that 'Asia' is here used as signifying, of course not the great continent now known by that name, nor even the lesser 'Asia Minor,' but only the Roman province thus designated,-these words must evidently be taken as a vague expression, implying that very many places besides Ephesus were, by means of persons who carried the good tidings thence, made acquainted with the word of the Lord Jesus. this prepares us for what we read in ch. ii. of the Epistle to the Colossians, that the inhabitants of Colossæ and Laodicea had never seen the Apostle's face in the flesh. He had become the founder of these churches without having visited the cities
themselves. To both of these he wrote Epistles. We hear of the Epistle to the Laodiceans in Col. iv. 16, and there only; for it has not come down to us, having been lost. Some silly people are very much shocked at the idea of an inspired apostolic letter having been lost to the Church, and therefore try to quibble away the words of Col. iv. 16, and to understand by the Epistle from Laodicea that written to Philemon, or some other of those which we possess. But these people seem never to have reflected, that in all probability St. Paul wrote multitudes of epistles besides those which have come down to us. Do they think that the Epistle to Philemon is the only private letter which the Apostle ever wrote? or that he did not write all he did write with the same apostolic authority? Do they imagine that his spoken words were less precious than his written ones? and yet the greater part of those has perished.
But the letter to the Colossians has been preserved. To it let us now give our attention.
Colossæ, or Colassæ, as it is written in our earliest manuscripts, was a city on the famous river Mæander, and on the high road from Ephesus to the East. Epaphras, one of its inhabitants,
appears to have fallen in with St. Paul at Ephesus, there to have been converted by him, and thence to have returned as a missionary to his native city. With him afterwards were joined, also having been converted by the Apostle at Ephesus, Philemon, his wife Apphia, and (probably) his son Archippus. Their house served for the assembling place (or one of the assembling places) of the church and they themselves were employed in the sacred ministry.
Of what numbers the church at Colossæ consisted, we are not told. The town itself was one of considerable importance: but had during the reign of Tiberius been desolated by an earthquake, and had never recovered its former prosperity. So that perhaps the number of believers was but small. Still, the prospect of the introduction of error into any portion of the church was reason enough why the Apostle should pour forth his vehement and affectionate spirit in counteracting it. And error of a very serious kind by degrees made its way into the little community at Colossæ. The neighbourhood, and indeed the inhabitants of the whole territory of Phrygia, in which it was situated, were prone to mysticism and
fanatical superstitions. Phrygia was the seat of one of the principal forms of mystic heathen worship, that of the goddess Cybele: and ritual observance and ascetic practices seem to have found an especial welcome in the Phrygian atmosphere. The heresy afterwards known as Gnosticism, the teachers of which professed a higher gnosis, or knowledge, than others, was beginning to spread in various parts of the Eastern Church. We find it at Colossæ in strange commixture with a leaning to Jewish observances. With these, and the superstitions with which they had become corrupted, the Colossian Gnostics also combined a vainly curious search into the degrees and orders of angelic beings, and a worship of the great hierarchs of the heavenly kingdom. Such a tendency survives even now in the modern superstitions of the Greek Church in the neighbourhood. A great inundation, it is said, once threatened Colossæ, and was dispersed by the descent of the archangel Michael, who opened a chasm into which the waters flowed. (See Conyb. and Howson, 'Life of St. Paul,' ii. p. 411.) Angel-worship was condemned in a council held at the neighbouring Laodicea in the fourth century.
This curious mixture of opinions in the Colossian Church is accounted for partly by the fact told us by Josephus the Jewish historian,—that Alexander the Great sent, in consequence of the disaffection of Lydia and Phrygia, 2,000 Mesopotamian and Babylonian Jews to garrison the towns.
To such a church St. Paul wrote his Epistle : but whence? and when?
Between six and seven years had elapsed since its founding by Epaphras. During this time the Apostle had passed through all that eventful period of his life related in the last nine chapters of the Acts of the Apostles: had escaped the tumult at Ephesus; had crossed into Greece, and wintered at Corinth; had gone up to Jerusalem with forebodings which caused him to take a solemn farewell of the elders of Ephesus at Miletus; had narrowly escaped with his life from his enemies in the Holy City; had lain two years in prison at Cæsarea; had accomplished that long and perilous voyage to Rome. There he was now a prisoner, dwelling with the soldier that kept him in his own hired house, receiving all that came to him without let or hindrance, and labouring for the Gospel of Christ by his tongue and by his pen.