Friday, April 14, 2017

Notes on Letter to the Colossians

Notes on Colossians

I. Possibly originated from Rome circa 60-61 CE (Efird).

II. Did the Apostle Paul write Colossians?

Reasons that some do not consider the letter to be Pauline: a) the vocabulary supposedly differs from "genuine" Pauline epistles; b) letter potentially alludes to the Gnostic heresy; c) the letter seems to contain an advanced Christology. The second and third points are alleged to suggest that Paul likely did not write the letter. Raymond Brown claims that 60 percent of "critical scholarship" thinks Colossians is not genuinely Pauline. See http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/colossians.html

Counterpoints: While the style and vocabulary differences might be noticeable, one primarily encounters such differences in the part of Colossians that revolves around a discussion and refutation of potential heresy in Colossae (e.g., Col. 2:1-8). The so-called "cosmic Christ" is also introduced to confront the Colossian opponents.

Compare Petr Pokorny, Colossians, page 3. He thinks Colossians is probably a deutero-Pauline Epistle.

For a brief review of issues surrounding authorship of Colossians, see http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t280/e88?_hi=0&_pos=1936

III. The identity of the heretics is uncertain. Efird lists some possibilities on page 136 of New Testament. Cf. Colossians 2:8, 16-17; 2:23.

If Gnosticism was the heresy that Paul confronted, it's good to recall that the Gnostics usually took two divergent paths: some were libertines, whereas others tended to be ascetics. All reportedly believed that spirit is good, but flesh (matter) is bad. This view clashed with Jewish and Christian writings.

IV. The word pleroma has an important function in Colossians. Notice how Col. 1:19; 2:9 uses the term.

V. Main Points from Selected Chapters of Colossians

Col. 1:15-17: Christ is God's agent in creation, his firstborn, and the image of the invisible God.

Col. 1:19: God saw good for all fullness to dwell in his Son. However, the word "God" is not in the Greek: neither is "Father."

Possible hymn in Col. 1:15-20. See https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/bsac-nt/bruce-colossianheresy-pt2-bs.htm

Col. 2:3, 9-10: all that the Colossians need is found in Christ, not in some incipient Gnostic heresy.

Col. 3:1-10 is a description of the Christian life (how it should be lived) and the primacy of Christ.

Col. 3:18ff discusses the famed Haustafeln (household tablets or tables, i.e., household codes).

Col. 4:1-6, 16, Paul makes his concluding remarks.

Sources: Pokorny, Eadie

25 comments:

Duncan said...

The fact is, that when all the editorial work has been done, and when all
the residual material has been rearranged, the ‘hymn’ which remains follows no known
metre. We have no actual parallel anywhere in ancient literature, Christian, Jewish or
pagan, which justifies our using the description of ‘hymn’ for the passage as it stands, or for
any of its scholarly redactions. We are actually ignorant of the ground-rules of early
Christian liturgy. We cannot even demonstrate that there was any fixity of form as early as
this letter. It is no argument to work from the way in which liturgy subsequently developed
and then to read back the results into a period about which we know relatively nothing in this
respect. It is probably no accident that interest in liturgical remains embedded in the New
Testament runs parallel to a renewed interest in liturgy generally. It is not disputed that this is
a legitimate area of scholarly interest and debate, but with regard to the practices and products
of New Testament times the whole approach is hypothetical and based on little hard evidence.
As J. C. O’Neill has pointed out, hypotheses are multiplied in order to save the original
theory, but in this way scholars are in danger of ‘pretending that additional theories make the
first hypothesis more likely rather than less likely’. This may be harsh judgement, but it
must be admitted that the progress of research in the area of strophic arrangement in this
passage hardly inspires confidence.

https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/vox/vol15/hymn_balchin.pdf

Possible, but is it probable?

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan,

I'm certainly not dogmatic about Col. 1:15-20 being a hymn. The suggestion is possible, but probable is another story. My notes are primarily based on James Efird's introductory work to the NT, from when I used to teach an NT class. He thinks Col. 1:15-20 is possibly a hymn, but he suggested it's less likely that the verses constitute a hymn as opposed to Phil. 2:5-11.

As for the poetic features of Col. 1:15-20, Bruce reviews the strophic aspects in the link I provided within the blog entry. More recent commentaries have noted the apparent chiastic structure within the unit, for instance, in vs. 1:16.

Edgar Foster said...

JC Hood writes:

There is considerable debate about whether Paul has borrowed or authored an early Christian ‘hymn’. ———, "Colossian Problems, Pt 2 : The "Christ Hymn" Of Colossians 1:15-20," Bibliotheca sacra 141, no. 562 (1984). 99, has it as ‘rhythmical prose...with strophic arrangement’. There is no way of determining which parts of the hymn were used by or agreed to by the recipients (contra Harold Van Broekhoven, "The Social Profiles in the Colossian Debate," Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 66 (1997). 89, who argues that the Colossians accepted the cosmic role of Christ but not his historical role, and hence Paul adds to the hymn to supplement their Christology). As Larry R. Helyer, "Cosmic Christology and Col 1:15-20," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 2 (1994). 237 argues, there are no exegetical grounds for relegating the cosmic Christ to the periphery of Paul's thought. John Behr, "Colossians 1:13-20 : A Chiastic Reading," St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 40, no. 4 (1996). 248, finds that there is a chiastic structure in vv. 13–20, thus demonstrating that the so-called hymn is at least well integrated with the letter. On the proposed chiasm itself, it does not do justice to the linear progression of the text.

Duncan said...

http://insaph.kcl.ac.uk/ala2004/narrative/sec-VI.html

Duncan said...

https://gervatoshav.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/greek-inscriptions-from-israel-3.html

Duncan said...

Hebrews 11:10

Duncan said...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Colossians-Encouragement-Biblical-Literature-Christianity/dp/1589834844

Duncan said...

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0142064X11411832?journalCode=jnta

Duncan said...

https://chiasmusresources.org/index.php

Duncan said...

In detail:-

https://chiasmusresources.org/new-testament#14

Duncan said...

1:16-20 chiastic pairing with 2:10-15 ?

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, thanks for the resources on chiasmus and Colossians. A number of studies have probed this aspect of the letter. One journal article that I read last year, which might be linked here, extensively showed chiastic links throughout Colossians. This way of reading the letter is quite plausible IMO, although the same cannot be said for all conclusions drawn from these studies.

Edgar Foster said...

Here is another article I had in mind. See https://fosterheologicalreflections.blogspot.com/2016/10/a-discourse-analysis-of-colossians-216.html

Duncan said...

https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2010/11/structure-in-colossians

Plausible?

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, the leithart link has probably changed. I was taken to a Vogue article instead.

Edgar Foster said...

This link worked for me: https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2010/11/structure-in-colossians

Same as yours--weird. Anyway, I would like to give more thought and research before saying Leithart's suggestion is plausible, but what he writes is similar to other proposals. Writers now tend to see chiasmus/chiastic structuring in Colossians and other epistles. But I emphasize that one can accept the likelihood of chiasm in Colossians without buying into all the Trinitarian presuppositions or conclusions.

Duncan said...

If one sees the focus as the resurrection rather than the actual stake (cross). A new creation or re-creation. The founding of a new authority structure. IMO there seems no need to interpret a hymn especially when there are no solid grounds for doing so.

Edgar Foster said...

As I have said before, I am not dogmatic about Col. 1:15-20 or Phil. 2:5-11 being hymns--maybe/maybe not, but the question is not important to me personally. Are there poetic features in the letter? I believe there are, but that is a separate question from the hymnic features of Col. 1:15-20.

Whether solid grounds exist or not for the hymn interpretation will vary depending on who is reading the letter.

Duncan said...

"Depending on who is reading the letter"?

Edgar Foster said...

I.e., depending on the scholar who is analyzing/reading the letter.

Edgar Foster said...

Cannot remember if this paper has been referenced before, but the author tries to make a case for Col. 1:15-20: http://ir.stthomas.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=sod_mat

Duncan said...

Reading through this paper contradicts nothing of my first post. Supposition on supposition gets one no further forward. His comments regarding the authenticity of the letter seem to omit another possible conclusion of the amalgamation of genuine and psudopigrapha. Not that it is my conclusion. If we just work with what we have the structure is there to be seen by all. It seems to me that referring back to intertestimental is very selective in its application. What about the basic overall context of the stand alone document. I know thing can have complications but many of these types of papers are overly so, to the detriment of the basic text.

Duncan said...

Psalms 88:28 LXX is very important at this point.

Also a new paper by joosten on what our expectations might be regarding the quality of biblical Greek.

https://www.academia.edu/32597107/Varieties_of_Greek_in_the_Septuagint_and_the_New_Testament.

So when shifting from the original noun to the relative pronoun, are we litteral to hang on every word or order?

Edgar Foster said...

I have read part of Joosten's paper, so cannot remark fully, but reading is a complex affair. Each passage must be read according to context and genre. As I said earlier, the passage might or might not be a hymn: I don't know. However, the poetic structure of the text seems pretty obvious, whether the passage has 2 or 3 strophes.

Edgar Foster said...

Here is another contribution to the subject of Col 1:15-20 being poetic:

http://www.kerux.com/doc/0103A3.asp