Monday, February 27, 2017

Study of Colossians 036


This is one of Paul’s longer conclusions in the epistles. It is personal and denotes a number of friendships and co-labors with Paul. The conclusions structure is a building of assertions and climaxing with certain exhortations. These elements are common at the end of Paul’s epistles (1 Cor. 16:19-24; Romans 16:1-23; Ephesians 6:21-24). The conclusion entails four elements:

The coming messengers (4:7-9).

There are two persons being sent to them as Paul’s representatives: Tychicus and Onesimus.  Tychicus was an Asian believer, and referred to 5 times in the New Testament (here, Acts 20:4; Eph. 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:12; eventually was in Rome with Paul. He also acted as a courier of epistles to the churches, as he does for the Colossians. He was a trusted worker with Paul. He is described as a (1) fellow-servant, (2) a beloved brother, (3) and a faithful servant. These features indicate he was a man of integrity and reliable in carrying out his duty. These features are to be a keynote for every believer, no manner how he serves the Lord. We are to walk in the sphere of Christ, fellow members of the church, the body of Christ, and in mutual fellowship with Christ and each other.

His purpose was to inform the believers of Paul’s affairs and situation (4:8). He was commissioned for this purpose, thus, his coming is official. The purpose was twofold: (1) to give information about Paul and the circumstances. (2) To encourage their hearts. Encourage is a key concept of fellowship. It is encouraging to know God is working in spite of outward circumstances. 

Joining him in this purpose is Onesimus, one of their own (v9). In this we learn:

·         He is faithful and beloved among Paul and his companions. At his conversion, he went on to live up to his name--useful.

·          He helps and supports the members of the ministry team. In contrast, he is not called a minister. One does not have to be a professional minister to be a successful servant and team member of the ministry (contra Moo and Dunn).

·         He is a resident of Colossae. The phrase “one of you” goes beyond residence, and indicate he is a believer like they are. It gives the foundation for their mutual fellowship, not based on class, but their relationship to Christ and their union together in Christ.. In the church the body of Christ there is no slave or free (3:11).

·         He is a visible example of equality in the church, in spite of differences among its members.

By this action, Paul is revealing his love and concern for the members of the body of Christ. These two servants are illustrations of serving the Lord in humility. Servants are freed from the past and given liberty to serve the Lord. The past is forgiven, as seen from the fact that the offence of Philemon is never given. Nor is he to seek the church to confess his past sin. His faithlessness of the past was done, over, and transformed into faithfulness.

Greetings bestowed 4:10-17

Greetings are now sent to the Colossians. It is interesting that the ones named are Jews and Gentile. There are three Jewish believers named first in the greetings (4:10-11). They are:

  • Aristarchus (4:10). He is identified as a fellow-prisoner. The word is sunaichmalotos, and literally refers to a prisoner of war. This is not clear from the text. Most take it in a metaphorical sense of a prisoner. He was incarcerated with Paul in prison. He was also a captive of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14). He is first mentioned with Gaius who were seized during the riot in Ephesians (Acts 19:29). He was from Thessalonica (20:4; 27:2). He was a prisoner who accompanied Paul to Rome. Tradition tells us he was martyred by Nero.[1]
  • Mark, “the cousin of Barnabas” (4:10). He was a longtime Jewish Christian worker (cf. Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13), although the relation was bumpy at times including a split (Acts 15: 37-39). Reconciliation must have taken place, In the end, Mark was profitable to Paul for the ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). He instructs the Colossians to welcome him if he comes to them. John Mark became the author of the gospel bearing his name, probably from Rome. We know he had a close relation with Peter as well (1 Pet, 5:13). Today we would call his ministry multicultural.
  • Jesus who is called Justus” (4:11). This is the only mention of Jesus Justus in Scripture. Like Paul, he had a Jewish name and a Roman name. We know very little about him but what is revealed here in Colossians. First, he is Jewish, being from the circumcision. Second, their labor “for the kingdom of God. There is some debate on how to understand the phrase. Most seem to take it as referring to the furtherance of the kingdom.[2] The Greek proposition (eis) is used with the accusative case, and denotes motion to or toward an object as future for the purpose of reaching it.[3]  It is speaking of the goal of their service. It is unto the end of the kingdom. This is normal for Paul which looks upon the kingdom in a two-way prospect—present/not yet. We must observe that the kingdom, in generic terms, is present in the church, the body of Christ (cf. 1:13).[4] The church are members of the heavenly kingdom as Israel are in the earthly kingdom. It is one kingdom of God with divisions. Third, he, along with the others, were an encouragement to Paul. These men, although of the circumcision had a ministry with and to Paul. The word encouragement has the idea of exhortation, consolation, and solace. It is in the passive voice indicating that they had ministered to Paul. Ministry is always mutual, even between the Jews and the Gentiles, as it is between members of the body of Christ.
Now Paul sends greetings on behalf of gentile believers. Like there were 3 Jews who Paul singled out, now he does so with 3 gentiles. They were:

  • Epaphras (4:12). He is a key figure in the church at Colossae. He is a leader in that church. This may be the reason the most space is given to him among the others. He is one of them or more literal: “one out of you.” It has the idea of coming from Colossae. His position is being a “slave of Christ Jesus.” The word slave or servant is with the genitive case indicating ownership and possession by Christ. He belonged completely to Christ (as does every true believer). Paul sends greetings on his behalf. He was active in service, especially prayer. He may have been absent from them; but he had not forgot them. He “labored fervently” (KJV) or “earnestly.” Paul uses the athletic term here (agonidsomai), where we get the English word agonize. It denotes physical energy being exercised. The metaphor is that of athletic struggling in a contest. The word carries the idea of intensity and persistence. It is also in the present tense implying that it is a continuous habit. Lightfoot translates it “wrestling.”[5] He was a prayer warrior that agonized in his prayers for this church. These prayers were intercessory. The purpose of this wrestling in prayer is that they “may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12). To stand denotes standing for the truth of the Word. It denotes standing firm or fixed. It speaks of doctrinal stability. He wants them “fully assured.” The Greek word (plerophoreo) when used of a person has the meaning of being fully convinced (cf. Rom. 4:21; 14:5). The object of this assurance is in the will of God. Paul confirms the deep concern he had for believers Thus, in conclusion we see Epaphras as a good student of the Apostle Paul in the following ways:

    • He is an example of obedience to Paul’s exhortation in Col. 4:2.
    • Like Paul, he strives as a cost of the ministry (Col. 1:29; 2:1).
    • Like Paul, he is convinced of the truth of the Word and will of God.

  • Luke (4:14). Paul brings out two facts about Luke. First, he is listed as a Gentile, not a Jew. While some doubt we can know the ethnic origin from this passage.[6] The ethnic of Luke seems somewhat certain by what we know of him. It is the natural inference of the text that he was a gentile. This would make Luke the only Gentile writer of a Gospel in the New Testament. The context seems to sustain this. The first three are named as being of the circumcision [Jews] (4:11), while the second group are gentiles. Luke is squarely included in the second group between the other gentiles. The main objection to this is that Luke had an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament. Pointing to a Jewish background. However, that does not dismiss the idea that he was a gentile. As a gentile “God-fearer” he would have been taught the truth of the Old Testament.[7] With a “God-fearing” background, he would still have the knowledge of the Old Testament to be the author of Luke-Acts (especially if they were written to a gentile: Theophilus). As the author of Acts, he shows he is a full participant in Paul’s gentile ministry (Acts 16:8-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). The context gives us enough information to infer Luke was gentile by birth. Second, he was a physician. He may well be considered Paul’s private doctor presuming to minister to Paul’s health concerns. At the end, only Luke was with him (2 Tim. 4:9).
  • Demas (4:14). Only his presence is recorded. Silence concerning him is most noted here. Some say it indicates an uneasiness of Paul toward Demas. Demas’ faith may already be in question. However, the text gives us no hint of such. It is true that in a few years Demas had forsaken his duties as a believer and became a lover of the world (2 Tim. 4:9-10). However, at this point he is still a fellow-worker in the ministry of Paul (cf. Philemon 24).
Final instructions to the church are now given (4:15-17). There are three clear-cut instruction to the Colossians:

Greet those in your sister church at Laodicea and Nympha, in whose house they met (4:15). The church had no fancy building, it was a true fellowship gathering in a home for worship and praise. This was a mark of a first century church. They had no permanent church building. Lightfoot observes, “There is no clear example of a separate building set apart for Christian worship within the limits of the Roman empire before the third century, thought apartments in private houses might be especially devoted to this purpose.”[8]
 Read this letter to those in Laodicea (4:16). Mark the instruction here is (1) to read the present letter to them. (2) Read the letter that is coming to them. The reading is to be public reading in the churches. The problem here is that we do not have an epistle to the Laodiceans. Suggestion have been made, but not solved. However, the text does not state it was a letter addressed specifically to them. It does state that Paul is the writer and that it is in possession of the church of Laodicea.  The best guess is that it refers to the epistle we know as the Ephesians. It has long been held that the original text did not have the address “to the Ephesians,” but was added later and is not in the early Greek text. A point much debated. As such it is a general letter, written to be given and read among several churches. They point to the fact that it is the least personal of Paul’s epistles. Although this view is not held by many holding rather that the phrase “to the Ephesians” are included into the text.[9] Identification of this letter in Laodicea is a mystery, which cannot dogmatically be declared. The instruction is clear and beyond question, they are to read both letters.  
To Archippus, heed the ministry (4:17). He is also mentioned in Philemon 2. It is speculated that he was the son of Philemon and Apphia. It would be natural for Paul to mention the son. It is clear he has a ministry. Paul encourages him to fulfill it. Interesting his name means “house ruler.”

In conclusion, he gives a personal note (4:18). Paul notes that he is writing this in his own hand. It is his salutation to them. He makes a simple request for them to remember his imprisonment. And sends his blessings of grace. We are saved by grace alone and walk by the principle of grace. Grace is the essence of Christian living!

[1]  S.F. Hunter, “Aristarchus,” ISBE, 1:290. 
[3] THE COMPANION BIBLE, Appendix 104, 149.
[4]  Earnest Campbell, COLOSSIANS & PHILEMON, 190.
[5]  Lightfoot, COLOSSIANS, 237.
[7]  W.W. Gasque, “Luke,” ISBE, 3:179.
[8]  Lightfoot, COLOSSIANS, 242.
[9]  See, Harold W. Hoehner, EPESIANS: AN EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY, [Grand Rapids MI, Baker, 2002] Excursus 1, 144-148.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Book Review: Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature


This is a continuation of Handbook for Old Testament Exegesis; thus, it centers on the apocalyptic of the Old Testament.  As such it focusses upon Daniel and Joel. I am disappointed that he says little about other apocalyptic sections of the Old Testament (Ezekiel, Zachariah). The book is divided into the following sections:

·         What is Apocalyptic Literature? This is the best chapter of the whole book. It deals with definition and with both its distinctiveness and its problems with defining the word. The word has been a problem to accurately define, but he does a good job (page 33). He holds that apocalypse is a literary genre; is rich in angelology; and has to do with the eschaton.

·         Major themes in Apocalyptic Literature. Since it is both is represented in the Old Testament, intertestamental Jewish literature, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He spends time with all three. The O.T. is seen to have sowed the seeds of the genre, especially Daniel, but found in other prophets as well. It is extended to new heights in the intertestamental Jewish literature. This is somewhat helpful in understand the character of this genre, but with mixed results. He characterizes the genre in broad terms, too broad at times. I agree that the fundamental feature of Apocalyptic nature is written expression and revelatory in content.  The chapter in my opinion sees little difference between Biblical Apocalyptic literature and secular. This to me is a major flaw in the work. I see three conflicts between the two—pseudonymous authorship (not true of most of the Biblical apocalyptic literature); pessimism,  optimism; and the presence of ethnical demands. These conflicts are overlooked. 

·         Guide for Interpretation (chapters 3-4). These are two helpful chapters no matter how you view the genre. In chapter 3 it centers upon preparing for interpretation. It mostly defines figures of speech which the genre is heavily burdened with. He gives a wide variety of tools to use. It relies mostly on the original Hebrew text and recourses of Hebrew language. Chapter 4 gives guidelines for interpretation. He gives six clear and general guidelines. There are two I consider the most valuable: The grammatical-historical approach, and the limits of figurative language.  He clearly points out a warning against reckless speculations that come by over attention to detail.

·         Proclaiming Apocalyptic Literature. In other words, this chapter is on preaching from this type of literature. He strongly advocates its preaching. He gives good sound features of doing so, using a good example from Daniel 7.

·         The last chapter is on sample texts.

·         An appendix of the history of this type of literature.

This volume is worth having and gives a sound survey of the subject, in spite of what I see as weaknesses. It will be helpful, but to do a more detailed study, one will need to supplement it with more advance works. However, this will help in understanding the basics of the subject and its history.


I received this book free from the publisher to review. It did not have to be a positive review.The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.