Where false philosophies threatened the faithfulness of Christians

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace. You learned this from Epaphras, our dearly loved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.
Colossians 1:1-7

Historical Spotlights

Located on the Lycus River, a tributary of the Maeander River, Colossae was the powerhouse of the three cities in the Lycus River Valley during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. Part of the region of Phrygia, Colossae was located at the foot of Mt. Cadmus where cold, running springs converged with the Lycus River near the city. Colossae is always associated with the other two cities comprising the triad of the Lycus River Valley, Laodicea and Hierapolis. 

Its location on the trade route from the Aegean to the Euphrates River made Colossae prosperous in its prime. Also known for its contributions to the textile industry, the city famously produced purple fabric and quality materials. Xerxes the Great, king of Persia, visited Colossae in 481 B.C.E. during its height of importance, and Persian Prince Cyrus the Younger marched through the city in 401 B.C.E.

During Hellenistic and Roman periods, however, Colossae lagged in its culture and economy, and its two neighbors exceeded the city in influence and industry. The historian Strabo lists Colossae among the smaller villages, not as a large city like Laodicea and Hierapolis. An earthquake in A.D. 60 severely damaged Colossae, and it did not recover like its neighbors who faced the same catastrophe. Because of the city’s downturn, and the economic growth and stability of Laodicea and Hierapolis, many inhabitants left Colossae for its thriving neighbors in the valley. By the ninth century Colossae was completely abandoned.

Today the ancient site, an unexcavated mound of green grass, is rarely visited. Were it not for its significance in early Christian history, Colossae would be another forgotten city upon whose ruins shepherds graze their sheep. While of little consequence in antiquity, the city’s significance in biblical history is great indeed.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Colossians 1:15-23

Colossae in Christian History

Paul’s school of Tyrannus in Ephesus probably sent Epaphras to plant churches in the Lycus River Valley (Acts 19:8-10; Colossians 1:7; 4:12), resulting in the establishment of a Christian community in Colossae. From Paul’s letter to Philemon, we can conclude that Onesimus (the slave of Philemon) and Philemon himself were from Colossae, and Epaphras likely was too, since Paul refers to him as “one of you” (Colossians 4:12).


Paul wrote his letters to the Colossians and Philemon in 60-62 A.D. while in prison in Rome, thus known, along with Ephesians, as the “prison letters.” It appears that Paul never visited the city but received reports from both Epaphras and Timothy about struggles there. He also clearly knew Onesimus, calling him “my son” (Philemon 10). In his heartfelt plea to Philemon (addressed as well to “the church that meets in [his] home”), Paul implores him to treat Onesimus, his runaway slave, as a Christian brother when he returns with Tychicus to bring Paul’s letters to the believers. Paul pleads with him to the point of offering to pay whatever is owed Philemon by Onesimus (Philemon 18). This letter offers a great treatise against slavery and for forgiveness and unity among brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Paul’s much longer letter to the “saints in Colossae” (Colossians 1:1), he addresses the deity of Jesus Christ, challenging the false “philosophies” spreading there. Lax in their religion, the Colossians worshipped angels instead of, and alongside, Christ; and they instituted the angel Michael as their patron saint. Demonstrating his knowledge of the city’s practices, Paul boldly rebukes these and other attacks on Christ’s deity (Colossians 2:18). He highlights the qualities of Christ that expose these teachings as lies (Colossians 1:15-22; 2:3, 8-10, 15, 17; and 3:1).

John’s message to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) contrasts the lukewarm state (vv. 15-16) of Laodicea with the nearby hot springs of Hierapolis and the cool, mountain springs of Colossae. Perhaps this allusion was not merely geographical, and believers in Hierapolis and Colossae were more spiritually stable and healthy than those in Laodicea. Peter addresses “those chosen, living as exiles dispersed abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1), so it seems likely the believers in Colossae were included among them. But we know very little about this Christian community beyond Paul’s letter. Believers in Colossae probably left the city to join churches nearby and likely were taught by the bishops of Hierapolis, Papias and Apollinaris.

‍But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, [Paul] withdrew from them, taking the disciples, and conducted discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:9-10

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