Chronological Review and Background of Colossians

  • Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-7): c. 33 a.d. (possibly as early as 30 a.d.)
  • Paul in Damascus (Acts 9:8-25), Arabia (Gal 1:17), Jerusalem (Gal 1:18-19, Acts 9:26-29): c. 33-36 a.d. (or possibly 30-33 a.d.), and Tarsus (Acts 9:30, Gal 1:21): c. 36-43 a.d. (or possibly 33-43 a.d.)
  • Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:19-24): c. 41 a.d.
  • Paul to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26): c. 43 a.d.
  • Agabus from Jerusalem to Antioch predicts famine (Acts 11:27-28): c. 44 a.d.
  • False brethren spy out liberty of Gentile believers in Antioch; Gentile controversy brews (Gal 2:4): c. 44-47 a.d.
  • Paul to Jerusalem for relief of saints where he confers with Peter, James and John about the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:29-30, Gal 2:1-10): c. 47 a.d.
  • First missionary journey (Acts 13-14): c. 48-49 a.d.
  • Peter to Antioch (Gal 2:11-16), letter to Galatians, Jerusalem Council (Acts 15): c. 49 a.d.
  • Second missionary journey (Acts 15:35-18:22), letters to Thessalonians written: c. 50-52 a.d.
  • Third missionary journey (Acts 18:23-21:16), Gospel of Luke written and distributed, letters to Corinthians and Romans written: c. 53-57 a.d.
  • Paul’ arrest in Jerusalem and Caesarean imprisonment (Acts 21:27-24:27): c. 57-59 a.d.
  • Paul’s voyage to Rome and shipwreck: c. winter of 59-60 a.d.
  • Paul’s Roman imprisonment (Acts 25-28), letters to Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians written, Acts written: c. 60-62 a.d.
  • Paul’s release from first Roman imprisonment, ministry in Crete (Titus 1:5), Ephesus and Macedonia (1 Tim 1:3), and possibly Spain; 1 Timothy and Titus written: c. 62-66? a.d.
  • Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, 2 Timothy written, death: c. 64-68? a.d.

Recall Paul’s 3 missionary journeys: while ministering in Antioch around 48 a.d. Paul and Barnabas were set apart by the Holy Spirit and sent out as missionaries, to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles.  On his first journey Paul traveled to Cyprus, and then to the region of Galatia where he established churches from among the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (Acts 13-14).  Over a year later they returned to Antioch with news of their fruitful ministry among the Gentiles, which news was greeted with dismay by some who believed the Gentiles had first to become Jews before they could become Christians.  The influence of these Judaizers extended all the way to the Galatian churches Paul had just established so that they were misled to believe that they had also to keep the works of the Law in order to be saved.  Thus Paul was forced to write a letter of correction to them which we know as the book of Galatians.  Shortly thereafter (c. late 49 a.d.) Paul traveled to Jerusalem for the first Church council called to address the brewing controversy of the acceptance of Gentiles into the church, where it was officially agreed upon that like themselves, God had accepted the Gentiles on the basis of their faith, not because of their adherence to the Law (Acts 15).

After returning to Antioch Paul and Silas, who had been sent along by the brethren in Judea to deliver the results of the Jerusalem council, set out on Paul’s second missionary journey c. 50 a.d.  After revisiting the Galatian churches from his first journey where he also added Timothy to his missionary band, Paul continued on to Troas where he was directed by the Spirit to bring the gospel to Macedonia (Acts 16).  Crossing into Europe Paul established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea before traveling south into Greece and establishing the church in Corinth (Acts 17-18) where he ministered for over a year.  It was from Corinth on this second missionary journey that he wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians (approx 51 a.d.).  Sailing from Corinth c. 52 a.d. Paul visited Jerusalem before returning to Antioch (Acts 18:22).

The next year (c. spring 53 a.d.) Paul set out on his third missionary journey revisiting the Galatian churches before coming to Ephesus where he ministered for three years (Acts 19).  Towards the end of this stay he heard of the problems plaguing the Corinthian church and wrote 1 Corinthians before departing for Corinth by way of Macedonia.  In Macedonia he met Titus who had come from Corinth with good news about their response to his first letter and from there he wrote 2 Corinthians both in response to the comfort he had received from Titus and in hopes that some who were still opposing the apostle might yet repent before he arrived.  Shortly thereafter Paul left Macedonia and traveled to Corinth where he spent the winter of c. 56-57 a.d. (Acts 20:1-3, 1 Cor 16:6).  Having now established the gospel in the eastern regions of the empire Paul began looking westward and from Corinth wrote the letter to the Romans in hopes that the church there might become a home base for a western gospel campaign by the apostle.  Because that important church in the capital of the empire had no apostolic witness, it also provided him the opportunity to articulate for them (and us!) his understanding of the gospel and its relationship to the law that had been honed by his years of ministry in the east and opposition from the Jews.

Returning from his third missionary journey in the spring of probably 57 a.d. Paul traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost and deliver the collection for the Jewish saints he had taken up from among the Gentile churches.  His hope was to make these Gentile believers more acceptable both to the believing and unbelieving Jews with a tangible demonstration of their sincere faith.  However, because of Jewish hostility instigated against him by the Jews from Asia (where, recall, he had ministered for 3 years; see Acts 24:18) he was taken into custody by the Romans and tried both before the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman governor Felix (Acts 21-24).  For two years he was held in Caesarea before being tried again before the new governor Festus, who as a favor to his new Jewish subjects wanted him to return to Jerusalem to stand trial yet again against their charges.  However, fearing an ambush (see Acts 25:2-3) and not wishing to become the victim of the new governor’s expedience, Paul appealed to Caesar c. 59 a.d., which after yet another defense before King Agrippa and a harrowing sea voyage led him to Rome, where he arrived early in c. 60 a.d. (Acts 25-28).

Luke records that Paul spent “two full years in his own rented quarters” in Rome (Acts 28:30), and it was during this time that he wrote the four prison epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians.  The first three were all written about the same time (60 or 61 a.d.) and delivered by Tychicus who was accompanied by Onesimus, a runaway slave who had come to know the Lord from Paul’s ministry in Rome and was returning to his master Philemon in Asia (see Eph 6:21-22, Col 4:7-9, Philem 1:10).  Philippians was written towards the end of his imprisonment when he was anticipating his release (c. 62 a.d., see Phil 1:19,25, 2:24).  Luke’s Acts of the Apostles would also have been written about this time, as it ends before Paul was released from prison.  (The gospel of Luke would, of course, have been completed prior to this time, probably prior to 56 a.d. when 2 Corinthians was written; see 2 Cor 8:18, recall this was written from Macedonia, and confer the “we” sections of Acts 16:9-17 which end in 16:40 and resume in Acts 20:5-6; it is likely Luke stayed in Philippi making and distributing copies of his Gospel during this time between Paul’s 2nd and 3rd journeys so that his fame in the gospel spread through all the churches.)

The similar contents and personages mentioned in Ephesians and Colossians have resulted in them being called twin epistles.  In fact, it is quite possible and even likely that the letter Paul mentions in Col 4:16 as coming from the Laodiceans is the letter we  know as Ephesians.  However, while the emphasis in Ephesians was upon the Church as the body of Christ and especially its inclusion of the Gentiles as “fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise” along with the Jews (Eph 3:6), the emphasis in Colossians is upon Christ as the head of the body and His sufficiency for our complete salvation.  Paul had never visited the church in Colossae (Col 2:1), but it was established by Epaphras (Col 1:7) who was now with Paul in Rome (Col 4:12).  The church there was faced with the false teachings of some who by use of “persuasive argument” and the “tradition of men” (2:4,8) were declaring that Christ’s death and resurrection were not enough to effect their salvation, but that in addition they also had need to submit themselves to certain decrees.  Paul responds that these “have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom…but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).  Like Ephesians, Paul’s letter to the Colossians divides neatly in half with the first two chapters a doctrinal exposition of truth relevant to their situation and the last two chapters a practical application of that truth.

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