We have very good reason to believe Colossians is a genuine letter and not pseudigraphical. These are the following reasons:
1. Failure of Liberal Theologians to Put Colossians Theology into Question
One tactic liberal theologians have tried to use in order to assert the pseudigraphical nature of Colossians is to say that its theology differs from the “genuine” epistles. We will discuss and disprove all of their theological arguments.
- One criticism is that Paul calls Jesus: (Col 1:18) “the head of the body, the church.” They complain that this uses imagery not found in legitimate Pauline epistles.
Really? In Romans, Paul says that the saints (followers of the Gospel) are the Church’s body. I am surprised that scholars are so bothered that Paul would alter the metaphor and add Jesus to it, making the Jesus the head (a term he invokes in 1 Cor 11:3)! After all, the metaphor Paul uses makes sense in the context.
So Christ’s head-of-church metaphor is different than the other body part metaphors in genuine letters, it by no means contradicts them (especially 1 Cori 11:3). It is not a contradiction and it is not problematic. Thus, it is a poor criticism.
- Paul makes clear that Christ was pre-existent and created the world Col 1:16, a supposedly “non-Pauline” idea.
This claim simply cannot be substantiated. Paul several times in the genuine letters brings up similar “non-Pauline” notions in isolated instances. Paul speaks of the pre-existence of Christ and His creative power as the Word of God in 1 Cor 8:6 (“there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him”). Eph 1:4 and Heb 1:2, considered spurious by liberals, speak of the same. However, the one passage in 1 Cor demolishes their argument here.
- Scholars also question the idea Paul writes in Col 2:13: “He forgave us all our sins,” because Paul elsewhere preaches freedom from the law, not forgiveness of sins.
This too is a bad criticism, because scholars are being overly critical of one line. Read in the correct context, it sounds genuinely Pauline: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).
The underlined is in line with the “freedom from sin” idea. Implicit in forgiveness of sin is the idea that the sin condemns everyone to death. This, as seen in Romans, is a very Pauline concept. The use of “sin” as the plural “sins” is also found in genuine letters (1 Cor 15:3, 1 Cor 15:17, 2 Cor 5:19, Gal 1:4, etcetera).
- Scholars seem to jump on anything Paul says that can be misogynist. Hence, Col 3:18 (“Wives, submit to your husbands”) reveals that the letter is not authentic.
However, let’s read the passage in its full context:
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
How is this much different from 1 Cor 7:3-4, 34, 39? Or 1 Cor 11:3, 8-10? Furthermore, by first century standards, there is a gender equality implied by that quotation. No one is a dictator and can rule over the other ruthlessly. Both genders have roles to play. Of course, scholars will claim that 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 is a later interpolation. However, the lack of textual evidence to support this makes that less than likely and merely a baseless presumption.
- Lastly, scholars take issue with Colossians 2:13: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
Scholars believe that the idea that the resurrection happens after repentance is not Pauline. They would be right. Paul frequently refers to an end of times when only then the resurrection will occur (example: 1 Thes 4:13-18.)
However, I believe scholars are misunderstanding Paul’s point. The Christian repentant according to Paul “live in Christ,” and more importantly are not “dead in sin.” This is a present reality.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom 8:1-2).
Being alive in Christ is a present reality. Paul is able to both speak of this and the future resurrection in the same breath:
If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Rom 8:10-11).
Not surprisingly, within Colossians Paul is able to wrap his mind around both concepts just as easily. In Col 3:4, he also speaks of the future bodily resurrection: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
2. Failure of Liberal Theologians to Put Colossians’ Written Nature Into Question
Liberal scholars claim that “textual evidence” reveals Colossians was not written by Paul. Their evidence is sorely lacking.
- One claim is that the Greek is too long and flowy instead of short and concise.
However, this could be due to an unnamed scribe or the way Timothy was writing. Furthermore, Colossians is a short letter so while other longer letters have both concise and long winded parts (such as 1 Corinthians), Colossians is a short letter. That means, the lack of space decreases the possible diversity is Paul’s writing, so all you see are the long sentences (while if Paul wrote a longer letter, shorter sentences would find their way in perhaps).
3. Incorrect Historical Assumptions from Liberal Theologians
- Liberal theologians have asserted that Colossians has evidence of post-Pauline Church teachings, such as the submission of wives and slaves.
This is an odd criticism. Colossians in many ways reflects a very early church, while its teachings on submission are easily found in 1 Cor 11 and Rom 13.
For one, the letter does not concern itself with Church hierarchy like Phi 1:1. Instead, it is much more in line with 1 Cor, which describes worship as orderly but unprogrammed singing and people teaching each other by the spirit (1 Cor 12, 14). This is evident in the Colossae church:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Col 3:16).
The letter is also very concerned with Judiazers, a sect that was an enemy of Paul’s in almost every letter liberals consider “genuine.”. Contrariwise, in the Pastoral Epistles, the Judiazers are non-existent. This reflects a time and place where a lot of the fights in the Church in the 40s and 50s were still going on (perhaps even still until the early 60s).
4. Liberal theologians like to just say flippantly, “Well, it looks like a fraud!”
Well, to me it looks legit. For one, for a fraudulent letter it has an awful lot of specific details that only a legit writer would be concerned with. It takes special pleading to say the fraudulent writer would put that much effort into inserting so many pointless fake details.
For example, in Col 2:1 Paul speaks of his struggles on behalf of both Colossae and Laodicea. Why bring another city into the mix if you are forging something?
Another example is how Collosians 4:7-18 is chock full of random details. The letter was sent by Tychicus, who is mentioned in Ephesians, Acts, and all three of the pastoral Epistles.
Now, the liberals don’t really view the above works very highly, but let’s speak to their level: “If you really think Colossians is forged, Tychicus either got around a lot or Colossians copies Acts and mentions no other details that reveal a late date, or the most likely, Acts copied Colossians/Acts was written by someone who knew of accurate historical details reflected in Colossians.”
Their own method of textual criticism should incline them to view Colossians as written early in date for later works, lending legitimacy to the work.
Yet another interesting and legit sounding detail is Col 4:9, which mentions that Onesimus, the slave from Philemon, is coming with Tychius. This is a strange detail, because from reading Philemon, one is led to believe that Onesimus went directly back to his master.
Did the “real” writer of Colossians think it was funny to add such a detail? Did Onesimus earn freedom from his master and return to Paul? Did Paul write Philemon about the same time as Colossians, because he is imprisoned and has contact with Onesimus? This would make sense, because Onesimus could have been making a 2 stop journey, and Tychius could have as well, taking a separate letter to Laodicea (Col 4:15, which in itself is a strange detail.)
To make it even more complicated, Paul states in 4:16 that there is a different letter he sent to Laodicea that he would wants those at Colosse to read. Why mention yet another letter? Why has the fraudulent author failed to make a fake Laodicea letter too?
Back to Onesimus. In Philemon, Paul writes “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers” (Philemon 1:23-24). In Colossians, Paul calls Aristarchus a fellow prisoner and says the Epaphras is praying for them. Did he withhold information of Epaphras’ imprisonment so as not to worry the Colossians or did he not say it because it was already yesterday’s news? Wouldn’t a forger just slavishly borrow the information in Philemon and insert it into Colossians?
Paul also mentions a guy named “Jesus Justus” in Colossians. The fact he calls him by his last name shows that Paul did not want people to get confused between Jesuses. Again, for a fake detail, this would be very original and shows the writer is willing to devise names that could be confused and hence need to be elaborated upon.
Colossians’ author also calls Luke a doctor. He mentions that Barnabas’ cousin Mark might stop by, and that the Colossians have instructions on how to treat him. Paul even adds a personal message to a guy named Archippus.
Some scholars have concluded, which I agree, that Philemon’s church was the Church at Colossae. Onesimus was making an one-stop trip with 2 letters. This explains Paul’s identical (but different) greetings and the fact that Archippus, is the only guy specially picked out in both letters to be residing at the said church. He was no doubt important to Paul. Thus, the letters were written during Paul’s same imprisonment.
The letters lack a copycat feel of a forger, have different but non-contradictory details, and the details are typical of someone who is trying to orchestrate the exchange of several different letters between several different people while trying to avoid punishment for Onesimus. It is far too intricate to be the work of a creative author.
5. Paul’s enemies are gnostics, a second century heretical group.
To the contrary, Paul attacks Judaizers in Col 2:11-17, a group he critcizes in almost all his letters (especially Galatians). In 5 of 7 Paul’s “genuine” letters Paul seems to be under constant attack from Jewish Christians: Romans (disagreement with dietary law Rom 14:14), 1 Cor and 2 Cor (general disagreement with the applicability of the law in several sections, Gal (circumcision and dietary rules), and Phillipians (circumcision).
1 Thessalonians lacks such concern. However, Paul was there only briefly (1 Thes 2:1-2 and 17) and Timothy (who founded the Church) just returned to give good news of the Church’s success (1 Thes 3:6). This leads me to believe that this is an early letter, composed just after Timothy’s founding of it. Thus, word of the Judaizer’s false gospel did not reach them yet and Paul would have no reason to denounce them. Scholars generally agree that 1 Thes.
Philemon is Paul begging a rich Christian to be merciful to a returning slave. The purpose of the letter does not cover Church business generally, so attacks against Judaizers are not to be expected.
Colossians thus shares much more in common historically with “genuine” Pauline epistles than epistles such as the Pastorals, or those from other Biblical writers.