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So Paul Didn’t Write Colossians?

November 6, 2012

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (Col 1:1)

It seems to me that the letter to the Colossians is commonly overlooked.

a) Despite being raised in a Christian home, it was the least familiar to me of Paul’s letters before I began studying it recently

b) In my studies I discovered a relative lack of commentaries and scholarly attention, at least compared to Paul’s other letters

c) I’ve also found that not many preachers seem to teach from it.

So why this neglect?

I can think of a few potential reasons:

  • The (overstated) similarities with the more popular Ephesians. I was once surprised to hear a pastor dismissively state that Colossians is, ‘virtually the same as Ephesians’.
  • The identity of the false teaching in Colossians is very hard to ascertain, despite advances in modern scholarship. This brings a unique challenge to interpreting the book.
  • Many scholars don’t believe Paul wrote the letter. Maybe it’s just too controversial?

This last reason deserves more unpacking. There is actually quite a serious debate over whether Paul in fact wrote the letter. According to Doug Moo, “60 percent of current scholars think that Paul did not write Colossians”[1]. This probably comes as a surprise to most evangelical Christians since it is abundantly clear that the author claims to be Paul, and evangelicals rightly believe there are no imposter letters in the canon of Scripture.

In this post I will address the issues brought against Pauline (Paul’s) authorship of Colossians, and in a future post  hope to give some reasons for why we can still tuck our children into bed and sleep safely, confident that Paul did in fact write the letter. Of course I can only skim the surface with these posts and would encourage unsatisfied readers to deeper study.

The Case Against Pauline Authorship

The arguments brought against Paul being the author of Colossians are based on comparing it with Paul’s other letters. The argument basically boils down to two main issues:

  • Colossians contains unique language not used by Paul elsewhere
  • Colossians contains unique theology that appears incongruous with Paul

Language: Colossians contains a higher count of words that aren’t found in Paul’s other letters than is normal, and also contains a slightly different ‘style’.

Theology: Certain aspects of Paul’s theology (justification by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, the local church, etc.) are virtually absent from Colossians, and other theological ideas (the universal church, spiritual forces, realized eschatology) that supposedly aren’t found in Paul’s other letters are present.

Does this variation in language and theology make it impossible for Paul to be the author?

 

Read the second part of this post.


[1] Doug Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Quoting R. E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament.

[2] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, p. 33

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