The Book of Colossians
INTRODUCTION - Everett F. Harrison
"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful"  (Colossians 4:2)

J. Deering,
Introduction to the New Testament
Everett F. Harrison, Senior Professor of New Testament
Fuller Theological Seminary
Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Grand Rapids, MI - 1971

Perhaps the best starting point is the statement of the writer that certain people who had formerly been associated with the Christian community or communities being addressed have not gone out from the believers and by that withdrawal have made it clear that they were not really a part of the Christian church (2:19). In fact, the previous verse speaks of many Antichrist, as though to label these false teachers. They are still a problem, for their teaching has evidently been widely sown and needs to be repudiated and exposed. An ingredient of this false teaching is the denial that Jesus is the Christ (2:22; cf. 5:1). Another, apparently, is the denial that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (4:2-3). Taken together, these passages hint that the source of trouble, if unitary in character, was Gnostic with a Jewish flavor. Men of this stripe would be concerned with the issue of Jesus' Messiahship and would also be expected to deny the incarnation. Gnosticism, with its insistence on the evil character of matter, could not tolerate the teaching that the Son of God had come in flesh to dwell among men. That combination of Judaic and Gnostic elements could be made is apparent from the Colossian epistle.

  1. God was not the creator of this world.
  2. Jesus the man was born of Joseph and Mary, and upon him at the baptism came the divine Christ in the form of a dove.
  3. During his ministry Christ revealed the Father and departed prior to the crucifixion, leaving the man Jesus to suffer death.
  4. The insistence of circumcision and the keeping of the Sabbath.
  5. Claims to special illumination and higher knowledge by which one rose into true fellowship with God by mystical contemplation. (This could work to the depreciation of faith as elementary and inadequate, and may account for the frequent insistence in 1 John that Christians, supposedly limited by mere faith, actually have all the knowledge of God and of spiritual things that is available to men (2:20-21).

God is light - the Gnostics teach, but John added that then one must walk in fellowship with that light. It will not do to profess a sinlessness based on the rapport of the spirit with god to neglect of what is actually done in the body (1:8, 10). To talk about love for God based on a lofty mystical speculation and at the same time to fail miserably in love for the brethren (4:20; cf. 3:7-8) is contrary to reason and revelation alike. Not all of the book should be understood in this light alone.

The book should be regarded as the writer's attempt to encourage his readers in the pursuit of a life of fellowship with God in the family of God. There is a strong strain of the imitation of Christ, or better, the reproduction of the life of Christ, running through the epistle (4:17b). It finds its focal point at 5:18, where the Christian is described as one born (gvgennamenos) of God, and the same term (gennaqeis) is used of the Lord Jesus. since both are born of God they share a common life (5:11-12) and they should walk in the same way (2:6), obey the same commandment of love (2:8), accept the same treatment from the world (3:1), and enjoy the same freedom from sin (3:5, 9). In this last point the analogy runs into difficulty, but the solution offered lies in the secret of abiding in him in whom sin has absolutely no place (3:6).

Pastoral in nature.

Students of 1 John are agreed that it defies systematic analysis, so one is reduced to listing the topics that are discussed.

  1. The introduction presents knowledge of the word of life incarnate as the necessary basis for fellowship with God 1:1-4.
  2. There are conditions to be met if that fellowship is to be maintained (1:5-2:2)
  3. The proof of knowing and loving God is obedience to his commandments (2:3-11)
  4. In the possession of certain spiritual assets (2:12-14), the readers ought to love the Father rather than the world (2:15-17).
  5. Antichrist influences menace the church (2:18-25, but there is an antidote for false teaching -- the divine anointing that gives spiritual insight (2:26-27).
  6. Abiding in god brings righteousness and readiness for the coming of the Lord (2:28-29).
  7. The coming itself will mean likeness to Christ.
  8. Meanwhile, the expectation of the coming has a purifying power (3:1-3).
  9. The life of abiding yields freedom from sin's dominion (3:4-10).
  10. Brethren have an obligation to love one another (3:11-18).
  11. Abiding brings confidence in prayer (3:19-24).
  12. The incarnation is the touchstone of truth and error (4:1-6).
  13. Love toward the brethren is grounded in God's love for them (4:7-12).
  14. Perfected love eliminates fear and prepares one for the day of judgment (4:13-21).
  15. Faith has power to overcome the world (5:1-5).
  16. God has given sufficient testimony concerning his son to warrant faith (5:6-12).
  17. The conclusion deals with the certitudes of faith -- in terms of prayer, restoration of brethren, knowledge, and the possession of a new life in Christ (5:13-21).

John's declaration that Jesus Christ came not only by water (his baptism) but by blood (his cross) is likely a thrust at the heretic's failure to accept Christ's sacrifice (5:6).