A Structural Synthesis of Colossians -- By: Jim Townsend

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 16:1 (Summer 2007)
Article: A Structural Synthesis of Colossians
Author: Jim Townsend


A Structural Synthesis of Colossians

Jim Townsend

Jim Townsend is a 1964 alumnus of Emmaus Bible College and part-time instructor at Judson College in Elgin, IL.

The Situation

When there are bugs, you buy bug spray. When there is infection, you head to the doctor. When a cult infection hit the young local church at Colosse, a local leader named Epaphras (EPP-uh-fruss) may have ventured and voyaged as many as one thousand miles (!) from central Turkey (Asia Minor) to Rome.1 He needed a cram course in cult-fighting, since an insidious infection was worming its way into the local Colossian assembly. How to combat a cult—that’s one reason we have the letter to the Colossians today.

A companion reason for the book of Colossians is embodied in the character named Onesimus [oh-NESS-ih-muss]. The one-chapter letter to Philemon limelights Onesimus the slave, who had undergone a spiritual makeover and was returning (was it with “fear and trembling”?) to his Christian slave master. The statement in Colossians 4:9 that Onesimus is “one of you” (Colossian Christians) pinpoints why the letters of Colossians and Philemon were probably hand-delivered at the same time.

Oddly enough, and humanly speaking, we may never have had many New Testament writings if it had not been for internal problems and external (infernal) heresies in churches. Galatians is aimed toward combating the heresy of the Judaizers. Colossians and 1 John (and to a lesser degree other New Testament books) are projected against a cult that would later come to full flower under the name of Gnosticism [NAHS-tih-cihz-uhm].

Just as a family member overhearing a telephone conversation can frequently figure out the nature of what is being said or tell who the caller is by listening to one side of the conversation, so we modern readers can to some

extent reconstruct something of the complexion of the cult plaguing the Colossian church by reading the reactionary letter of Paul aimed at assaulting this very adversary.

Embedded like fossil fragments in the letter to the Colossians are bits and pieces that provide clues about the cult in question. By comparing these puzzle pieces scattered within the book with the larger framework of the puzzle’s “box top” found later in the cult of Gnosticism, we may reasonably conclude that they share many of the same features. Paul writes, “lest anyone should deceive you” (Col. 2:4) “through philosophy and empty deceit...

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