Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Lesson 17

Colossians and Philemon (Part 2)

Paul addresses how to live in different roles: husbands and wives, masters and slaves, elders and others in the church.

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Lesson 17
Watching Now
Colossians and Philemon (Part 2)


A. Character Links between the Prison Epistles

1. Philemon/Colossians

a. Epaphras

b. Onesimus

c. Mark

d. Aristarchus

e. Demas

f. Luke

2. Colossians/Ephesians


3. Philippians

B. Colossians and Philemon

1. Notes on Philemon

a. "Fellowship of your faith" in v. 6

b. Compare non-violent protest movements

c. Vv. 13-16, 17, 21 crucial for Paul's intent

d. Justice for others vs. demanding my rights

e. Letter a key model of tact, persuasion throughout

2. Background to Colossians

a. Authorship debate

i. Too different from Paul's other letters?

ii. Too similar to Ephesians?

b. The problem of the heresy

i. Is it all Jewish (e.g. Dunn)

ii. Pythagoreanism (e.g. Schweizer)?

iii. Phrygian folk religion (e.g. Arnold)?

c. The Colossian heresy: Christians not fully saved

i. Christ not fully God – must add works – various rituals for spiritual maturity

ii. Christ not fully human – only spirit not body – inner spirituality divorced from outward actions

d. Colossians outline

i. Introduction: Greeting, thanksgiving and prayer (1:1-14)

ii. Theological exposition (1:15-2:23)

iii. Ethical implications (3:1-4:6)

iv. Conclusion: Final greetings (4:7-18)

C. The "Domestic Code": (Haustafel) in the Epistles

1. Colossians/Ephesians (must be consistent with Colossians 3:11)

a. Husbands – Wives

b. Parents – Children

c. Masters – Slaves

2. 1 Peter

a. Government – Citizens

b. Husbands – Wives

c. Masters – Slaves

d. Elders – Rest of Church

D. "How Would You Respond to…"

1. Colossians 1:15 and "firstborn" as first created being?

2. Colossians 1:20 as teaching universalism

3. Colossians 1:23 used to support "eternal insecurity"

4. Colossians 1:24 used to support incomplete atonement

5. Colossians 2:8 for Christians not to study philosophy

6. Colossians 2:11-12 baptism equivalent to circumcision, thus appropriate for babies

7. Colossians 3:1-3 cultivating inner spirituality, Christian mysticism is highest priority

8. Sabbatarianism

9. Fasting as necessary part of Christian spirituality

Class Resources
  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.


  • Correlation of the accounts in Galatians and Acts on Paul's trip to Jerusalem. 

  • Galatians as a model of apologetics supporting Christianity.

  • Comparing faith and works in Judaism and Christianity. 

  • Paul faced persecution when he preached in Thessalonica. The return of Christ is a central theme in the letters to the Thessalonians.

  • One aspect of the subject of biblical eschatology is the timing and nature of the tribulation. 

  • Paul addresses the extremes of asceticism and hedonism, as well as concerns regarding marriage, spiritiual gifts and the resurrection.

  • Divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by both theology and lifestyle.

  • Whether or not believers should eat food that had been offered to idols was an issue in the Corinthian church. The importance and role of spiritual gifts was a major topic of discussion.

  • Paul updates the people in the church in Corinth about his travels. He also follows up on relationships and defends his apostolic ministry.

  • Paul responds to specific situations in the Corinthian church including emphasizing a correct perspective on giving and encouragement to see God's redemptive purpose in our suffering.

  • Knowing the key places as backgrounds for Romans, the timeline and the outline of the book are helpful to understanding the context and message.

  • Paul wrote Romans as a systematic exposition of the gospel.


  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the deity of Christ. Philemon was written to a gentlema Paul knows to encourage him to welcome back Onesimus, his runaway slave, who became a disciple of Christ and was returning.

  • Paul addresses how to live in different roles: husbands and wives, masters and slaves, elders and others in the church.

  • Paul describes the blessings of salvation and encourages believers to live in unity that transcends cultural and racial barriers. 

  • Paul describes to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, who they are in Christ, and the ethical implications for how they should live their daily lives.

  • Paul contrasts the condescention and the exaltation of Christ, and addresses specific situations in the Philippian church.

  • Paul writes to encourage and instruct Timothy and Titus, both of whom are young pastors. It is important for Titus to identify and train elders and deal effectively with factious people. 

  • Paul instructs Timothy about how to pastor a church and turn it away from heresy.

  • Both 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians contain key passages addressing the roles of men and women in the local church. Some of them address conduct when gathering for corporate worship.

  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gives some direction for gender roles in a worship service.

  • Key themes and catchwords in James include trials, wisdom, temptation, speech, doubt and perseverance.

  • James discusses the roles of faith and works in a believers life and the importance of prayer.

  • A prominent theme in Hebrews chapters 1-5 is the superiority of Christ to the angels and to Moses.

  • Hebrews 6:4-8 is a key warning passage. Christ's priesthood is superior to both the Levitical priesthood and also to Melchizedek. Chapter 11 remembers the heroes of the faith.

  • A major theme of 1 Peter is perseverance despite persecution.

  • The outline of 1 Peter has similarities to other letters of the first century that emphasize a high view of Christology.

  • Jude and 2 Peter both emphasize refuting false teachers.

  • In his epistles, John emphasizes themes that refute gnostic doctrines. He outlines the tests of life as keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man.

  • As you study and preach from the epistles of John, note the passages that Dr. Blomberg describes as, “gems from John.”

  • Revelation was written by the apostle John in the late first century using apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary genres. A possible structure by time line would be the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-5) and the future (chapters 6-22). 

  • In addition to the framework of eschatology, Revelation chapters 1-6 develops themes of Christology including a description of Jesus as the lion who is a lamb, as well as the spiritual condition of some of the churches in the first century. 

  • In both of the possible scenarios for the tribulation, believers are exempt from God’s wrath but they are not exempt from Satan’s attacks.

  • Revelation chapters 12-22 cover themes of salvation and judgment of nations, Armageddon, the millennium and the new heavens and new earth.

Using the English New Testament, this course surveys the New Testament epistles and the apocalypse. Issues of introduction and content receive emphasis as well as a continual focus on the theology of evangelism and on the contemporary relevance of the variety of issues these documents raise for contemporary life.


Dr. Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Colossians and Philemon
Lesson Transcript


This is the 17th lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey. 


(Any slides, photos or outlines that the lecturer refers to should be down loaded if they are not available, you may be able to find something similar through the Google© search engine.)


More broadly still, the outline of this short letter nears that of Romans even though shorter. It includes the conventional greetings, thanks giving and prayer that leads a bit more imperceptibly to the body of the letter and the theological exposition probably because of the insertion of a pre-Pauline creed or confession, much like we discussed in 1st Corinthians 15 with Colossians 1:15 – 20. The theological exposition clearly shifts to ethical exhortation with 3:1, the second half of the standard Hellenistic body and others who are travelling to Colossae from Paul, greetings to various people are made and a typical conclusion to round out the last twelve verses of chapter 4. If we then unpack the body in greater detail, we come to the Christ hymn as it often has been called as the opening of the information section of the letter, richly compacted with a key Christological confession of Christ as Lord of the Cosmas and therefore of the church. These are some of the most exhaled Christology in the New Testament. They are advanced descriptions of deity and sovereignty and Lordship which were not merely some late 2nd or 3rd generation Hellenistic corruption of the simple original Gospel of Jesus, the nice Jewish rabbi. 


Chapter 1:21 – 2:23 can then be seen as Christ’s work for the church as in 2nd Corinthians 5 and Romans 5. It involved reconciliation with God, 1:21 – 23, but here, Paul wants to deal primarily with reconciliation between Jew and gentile, so much more crucial for his audiences, particular the ones in the diaspora; and then, the segment that introduces the problem of the false teachers along with Paul’s response as drawing the limits for reconciliation. This is no inclusive or pluralist or postmodern non-sense that ignores that mutually conflicting claims of most religious worldviews in the history of humanity and naively thinks that in some ways be seen as teaching the same thing and be equally acceptable. There can be no reconciliation in Paul’s mind with false teachings of the kind represented by the Colossian heresy.   


Unpacking the ethical material a bit more and reiterating what we introduced briefly, we see how what begins like a segment commanding believers to appeal to and concentrate on heavenly things rather than earthly things, is not defined in terms of any exotic spirituality but the humdrum routine and often more demanding responsibilities of holly living in the mitts of ordinary life. A possibly preformed section tucked into this half of the body as well, but rather being decreed, chapter 3:18 - 4:1 introduces the literary form of a house cell or domestic code, common in ancient Jewish, Greek and Roman writers and in later Christian authors as well, in which individuals or groups of individuals in relationship of authority and subordination to one another, particular in an extended household or in groups, clubs or institutions, modeled on the household needed to know how to live out their respected roles; and then finally, always crucial but never glamorous, ethical injunctions about the nature of proper prayer and Christian speech. 


Unpacking the concept of the domestic code just a bit more, it’s interesting to observe the identical three groups discussed in Colossians:  husbands and wives, parents and children, master and slaves will reoccur in Ephesians as well. And again, two of those three will reoccur in 1st Peter but instead of parents and children, Peter will talk about governing authorities and their subjects and then in a separate part of his book, separating from his treatment of the other three, hence the dashed line, elders and the rest of the congregation are subordinate to the elders of a given local church.  So we will have more to say on this literary form in our lectures on both Ephesians and 1st Peter. For now, however, it is important to point out that however we interpret Paul’s commands and we must admit these are not popular messages in an age of equal rights for all people. But whatever we do with Paul’s domestic code or even if we assume a pseudonymous writer authored collisions; whoever inserted and thus agreed with the household code is clearly also the individual who wrote 3:11 which reads very much like Galatians 3:28. Here there is no gentile or Jews, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, barbarians or suppliants but Christ is all and in all. Except instead of referring to male and female as in Galatians, Paul is talking here about barbarians and suppliants and repeats the contrast between gentile and Jew by phrasing it in terms of those who have or lack circumcision. 


Further support for our hypothesis in discussing Galatians, programmatic text like 3:28 or here in Colossians 3:11 do not by themselves settle the issue of whether there remains a distinctive role for gentile and Jew individually or any other pair of categories in such declarations and in such household codes. It’s also worth stressing that what we take for granted most of the time in non-controversial texts must be remembered here as well, remembering that any biblical writer must be judged by the writings and cultural standards of his day, not by those of some other day. As to the letter from Philemon, we could have wished that Paul would have left out or modified these household codes so that slaves and masters did not appear at all. Wives had no call to submission and to be consistent, we would also have to include children who were never told to obey their parents, which would not be a wise move and also call into question our desire to rewrite the inspired text as we felt best. But if one compares Paul’s words against this ancient context, they sound downright liberating. 


Compare the extreme and very telling words of the Wisdom of Sirach, an ancient Jewish apocryphal document, which in chapter 30:1 and following, reads, he who loves his son will whip him often in order that he may rejoice in the way he turns out. He who disciplines his son will profit by him and booster him among acquaintances. He who spoils his son will bind up his wounds and his feelings will be troubled with every cry. A horse that is untamed turns out to be stubborn and a son that is unrestrained will turn out to be willful. Pamper a child and he will frighten you, play with him and he will give you grift. Don’t laugh with him unless you have sorry with him and in the end you will gnash your teeth, give him no authority in his youth and do not ignore his errors, bow down his neck in his youth and bit his sides while he is youth, least he become stubborn and disobey you so you will have sorry of soul from him. Unless the women feel that they have fared better, in Sirach 42:9, a daughter keeps her father secretly wakeful and worry over her robs him of sleep. Once she is young less she does not marry or if married less she be hated while a virgin, less she be defiled and become pregnant in her father’s house or having a husband less she prove unfaithful or though married less she be barren. Keep strict watch over a head strong daughter less she make you a laughing stock to your enemies, a byword in the city and notorious among the people and put you to shame before the great multiple. Do not look upon anyone for beauty and do not sit in the mist of women for from the garment comes the moth and from a woman comes woman’s wickedness, better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good and it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace. 


Don’t ever call Paul repressive or chauvinist in light of that kind of background in the Wisdom of Sirach.  You now realize how mild his restrictions are and how counter cultural his commands to the authority figures were, to love and not mistreat those under them. 


In closing, not least for the sake of varying the format of these lectures, but also because the student by now will have had numerous examples and exposures to wrong as well as right interpretations of Scripture. Let’s take a little time to reflect on a number of misinterpretations, commonly ascribed to various texts in Colossians. The student may wish to pause the sound file at the end of each question before listening to the lecturer’s response, particularly if these media files (lectures) are being listened to before the lecture’s printed material have been read, but perhaps even if you are listening to this after reading the text, just to see you can recall what the text suggests or perhaps to see you agree with it. Not one of these is unanimously agreed upon by scholars and some of them are quite debated. We begin with Colossians 1:15, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.’ So what do we do with the Arians of old and JW’s today who appeal to the language to the Son being the firstborn over all creation, and therefore ascribe to Jesus as the first of God’s created beings rather than being co-equal in deity with God from all eternity past. Of course, this cannot be the answer; the correct interpretation is Paul’s subsequent insistence in 1:19 that God was pleased to have all his fullness to dwell in him. Made even clearer in 2:9 for in Christ, all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form. Here, it is important to realize that the Greek word for first born, pototokas, can mean first in rank or privilege or prominence and not merely, first in sequence or birth or creation. 


Secondly, still in the Colossian hymn, shouldn’t a straight forward reading of verse 20 lead to the doctrine known as universalism that sooner or later, God will save everyone? Perhaps even all the fallen angels or even the devil, himself? Since we read that in and through Christ, God is reconciling to himself all things or all beings, could be another translation. Whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross? We’ll see the same issue and textual solution when we come to the Philippian hymn in Philippians 2:11, but even in this context, it significant to notice that a purpose clause of verse 18 carrying over to the purpose of reconciling in verse 20, does not necessary guarantee the outcome. There still has to be a human response and moreover, and so the context of verse 18 – 20 clearly is talking about the church, the community of God’s redeemed people, just as verse 21 and following talk about the transformation from alienation from reconciliation taking place and will continue to take place only as people have faith (verse 23), and what about 1:23 with its notorious ‘if’? We are reconciled and will be presented to God unblemished if we continue in our faith, established and not moving from the Gospel. Does this suggest that some can and perhaps even will give up the true Christian faith and then therefore be lost. Does this support Armenianism as opposed to Calvinism with respect to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints or more commonly understood as ‘eternal security’ for the Calvinist and perhaps ‘tongue in cheek’ eternal insecurity for the Armenian. Here, an important grammatical observation proves key to our answer; this represents what in Greek is called a first class rather than a third class condition; the two kinds of conditional clauses which require in English in many instances the identical word, ‘if’ in English translation. But the first class condition was an ‘if clause’ in which no doubt introduced. It was not being called into question in any way. If the writer wanted to say, ‘if’, he would have used the third class condition. 


A fourth enigma; we have already alluded to in some of the phraseology of 1:24; what if we now use it in its original context and read that Paul rejoices in his suffering for them and continues, ‘and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.’ Does this teach incomplete atonement? This is precisely what afflicted the Colossian heresy or is Paul reusing some of their language but applying it in a different way and if so, in what way? The answer to the first question would clearly be no but the second, a possibly Yes. The afflictions and suffering that Paul experiences that he believed are incomplete, reflect language reminiscent of other Jewish sources, pre and post Christian, sometimes referring explicitly to what came to be known as the Messianic woes, in which there would be a time of great suffering among God’s people, linked to the concept of a great tribulation before the Messiah would come, but that there was a fixed period and finite or limited amount of suffering such that more than any individual, group or community or period of time of God’s people endured, the rest of them would have to endure before those afflictions would be completed and the woes of the Messiah were finished, ushering in the presence of the Messiah. 


A fifth question, perhaps the easiest of the lot and yet one which reflects attitudes and warning that almost every theological student has had to put up with from some well-meaning fellow believers.  Does Colossians 2:8 teach us that we should not as Christians study philosophy because it is hollow and deceptive and can take us captive? Again, no, as these are adjectives that qualify a specific kind of philosophy that one should be on guard for as the verse continues, that which depends on human tradition, that is to say, merely unregenerate convictions and individuals and even the elemental spiritual forces (Greek – Stoicheion), a term that the textbook introduces in Galatians that recurs here that seems to have involved the first philosophical principles and even demonic forces. But even then this is not a prohibition again studying such things. How can one learn to avoid that which is harmful without learning how to identify it? But rather see to it that on one takes you captive through such things and maybe, the most controversial of these things reflecting the baptistic convictions of this lecture. 


Isn’t Colossians 2:11- 12 as it has from time to time, particularly in Presbyterian and reformed circles and other legacies of Calvinist thought but to a lesser extent, Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox thinking as well? Aren’t verses 11 – 12 a clear justification for infant baptism because baptism is described as a Christian equivalent to the Jewish circumcision on the 8th day of an infant? There is no question that these were initiation rites we have already discussed in context of Galatians 3 which doesn’t mean that they were identical in every respect. Baptism was for both genders, circumcision was for the male, a major difference. But note more carefully, what is more clear in the Greek syntax but still reasonably transparent in most fairly literal English translations. In him, that is Christ, you were also circumcised with the circumcision not performed by human hands. As baptism was performed by human hands; the circumcision that Paul is taking about in this context is not Jewish bodily circumcision but the Christian circumcision that the next half of the verse goes on to explain, took place when your sinful nature was put off when you were circumcised by Christ when you were saved. When your old nature was put off, not absolutely but decisively, then and only then is baptism introduced in this two verse sentence. Having been buried with him in baptism shows the same close link or autonomy that we saw in Romans 6:1-4, in which you were also raised with him, but here, even more clearly than in Romans, it is not the ritual that saves because we were raised through our faith in working with God who raised him from the dead. 


What about chapter 3:1 – 3, where some Christians are particularly caught up in spiritual renewal movements, may come to a point that they argue the cultivation of one’s inner spirituality or what some would call Christian mysticism as opposed to non-Christians form of communing directly with God, is the highest priority for any Christian from which everything else flows. Look at what Paul does immediately after 3:1 – 2 and 4 his concern is that when believers renounce sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, putting on in verse 12, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, etc. Let’s be honest, that’s the harder aspect of the Christian life and also the most crucial. 


And then finally, two items which I have not brought up, the answers appear plain and even more straight forward than others. How would you reply to those who argue as people have argued throughout church history in regards to taking one day a week off for rest, even though the day of the Sabbath has changed, yet we have been commanded to keep it. We are to rest one day a week. There are many texts relating to the Sabbath and the laws surrounding it. Colossians 2:16 & 17 is included in these texts being described as a shallow of the things to come. The reality is now found in Christ and therefore do not let anyone judge you over such matters. They are now areas of moral indifference.  Paul would have included 1st Corinthians 8 – 10 and Romans 14 – 15 in terms of principles applying to weaker and stronger brothers and Christian liberty and voluntary restraint. And what about the view found in some parts of the world in some Christian traditions that downplay ritual as key required forms of obedience when particularly important decisions in church need to be made such as the ritual of fasting. Is fasting a key to a more effective Christian life which most westerners are missing out on? Well, interestingly there are only two references, two occasions in the New Testament to fasting as something positive for Christians after the resurrection of Jesus which come in the Book of Acts in the context of making choices about the leadership of God’s people. There is nothing wrong with fasting and it may well be very desirable in some settings. If it does lead to and free up time for prayer and contemplation in seeking God’s will. But given the very small role that it plays in the New Testament, it seems difficult to justify as mandatory. It is never prescribed for any situation, merely described and in respect to Colossians, chapter 2:21 – 23 suggests that in many cases, it can create a false humility, a false appearance of spiritual maturity or worship. When in fact, ways to indulge the body after the fast seems to cancel out whatever benefits the fast itself may have intended to bring.