Commentaries and NT introductions all like to state that Paul has never been to Colossae. It is generally founded in this passage:

Colossians 2:1   For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,

I struggle to adopt such a strong assertion on the basis of this passage

Just because a church has people Paul has not met, how can we know that he has never visited this church? How can we assert this last statement is not a catch all statement, i.e. he is praying for those at Colossae and "those who are at Laodicea" and "all those who have not personally seen my face"

  • 2
    I thought it was usually based on Colossians 1:7 - that the Colossians learned the gospel from Epaphras -- i.e., not Paul who didn't build on "another's foundation" (Romans 15:20). Put that together with the considerations cited in the question, and it is the obvious conclusion to draw.
    – Dɑvïd
    Oct 18 '15 at 13:23
  • I see our point, but again it assumes a homogenous set. In the same way I question if we can assume that the entire set of people have never met Paul, I am not sure if we can assume that the entire set of people had become a Christian under Epaphras.
    – Jay
    Aug 8 '20 at 1:36

What sets the Epistle to the Colossians apart is a sense of personal distance, with not so much as a suggestion anywhere in the epistle that Paul was writing to people he knew personally, at least not until the final verse, 4:18, and then only to say that the Colossians knew of him:

Colossians 4:18: The salutation by the hand of me Paul. Remember my bonds. Grace be with you. Amen.

In Colossians 1:7-9, the author refers to Epaphras as telling Paul about the love of the Colossians, as if Paul would not otherwise have known of this, thereby implying that Paul had not been to Colossae:

Colossians 1:7-9: As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit. For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

With this in mind, the best interpretation of verse 2:1 is that Paul is once again being portrayed in Colossians as not having been to Colossae at the time of writing.

Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer agrees, saying it is plain from our passage that Paul had not been in Colossae and Laodicea, although he acknowledges others who disagree. The Expositor's Greek Testament says that almost all commentators say that the Apostle was personally unknown to both of these Churches. Among contemporary, twenty-first century commentators, Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, Marianne Meye Thompson say(Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology, page 417) that although Paul had never been to Colossae, he might have been to Laodicia. There is not a total consensus, so that one could hold the view that Paul might have been to Colossae, and indeed some commentators do hold that view.

  • My sense concurs with yours on this one. I'm not sure, though, one can judge "consensus" on the basis of two 19th C. commentators! What about Barth, Blanke & Beck, or Dunn, or Wilson (to suggest just three!). But perhaps you have some in mind in your last sentence? There's also the matter of Pauline authorship of Colossians (a vexed question amongst scholarly commentators), but that complicates things further!
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 30 '16 at 8:30
  • Hi @Davïd Yes, to prove the extent of any consensus by listing all commentators would make my answer too long and boring, so I cited a couple of representative theological commentators, both of whom, in turn, pointed to the existence of an alternative view among commentators. As to the matter of Pauline authorship, I thought I could answer the question without broaching this, as the question is really about interpreting the text rather than whether Paul wrote the text. Jul 30 '16 at 21:31
  • @Davïd I took your point and added a 21st century citation. I don't have the books you mentioned and found that only 'Wilson' allowed browsing. Wilson takes the scholarly view, which would be helpful if I wanted to demonstrate that Paul did not write Colossians, as a way of answering the question, but not very helpful if I am taking a text-literal approach (as I did in this answer). I hole my choice of more contemporary commentators was helpful. Jul 31 '16 at 21:23
  • I think that's a help, Dick. (And as rich as online resources are, there's still a role for libraries, IMO!). That's a solid resource you've drawn from, I believe.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 31 '16 at 21:38

Seems strange that none of you mention the issue of Onesimus - (as indeed it seems very few commentators do). Surely the purpose of writing both epistles was to ensure that the churches and the rich individuals recognised that the message of Christ taught by Epaphras - namely forgiveness and equal status in Christ (in stark opposition to the culture of the Roman and Asian culture) was indeed the message of Paul the Apostle. Would Paul have needed to do that had he himself taught it in the Lycus valley?

  • Welcome to BH. Please see the Tour and the Help (below, bottom right) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. I don't see that Onesimus is relevant to the question as Onesimus was converted when he met Paul in Rome. Onesimus was not converted whilst in Collose. But then, your answer is so brief that I may have misunderstood your point.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 6 '20 at 16:13
  • Thanks for your reply. Are you asserting that because there are rich people not understanding Paul's message, that Paul must have never been to Colossae? Doesn't this require an assumption that if Paul had been to Collosae that all rich people heard him and all rich people understood him, and no one else had been working to undermine Paul? That seems like a lot of of assumptions.
    – Jay
    Aug 8 '20 at 1:39

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