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this Epistle, yet Christianity had evidently been taught, and a church planted there. Rosenmüller is of opinion, that the Gospel was introduced into that city by Epaphras.' It is not improbable that Epaphras, who is mentioned in i. 1. iv. 12, 13., was one of the earliest teachers; but it does not necessarily follow that he was the person who first planted Christianity there. Indeed, it is not likely that the Colossians would send away the founder of their church while it was yet in an infant state. As it appears from Acts xix. 10. that, during Saint Paul's residence at Ephesus, many persons, both Jews and Greeks, came from various parts of Asia to hear the Gospel, Michaelis supposes that several Colossians, particularly Philemon, were of this number. He also thinks that Timothy might have taught them the Christian faith ; as he subjoins his name to his own (i. 1.), and throughout the first chapter speaks in their joint names, except where the subject relates to his own imprisonment, and where Timothy of course could not be included.
II. But though it is impossible now to ascertain the founder of the church at Colossæ, the Epistle itself furnishes us with a guide to its date. In Col. iv. 3. the apostle alludes to his imprisonment, from which circumstance, as well as from its close affinity to the Episile addressed to the Ephesians, it is evident that it was written nearly at the same time. Accordingly most commentators and critics refer it to the year 62. Its genuineness was never disputed.
III. At the time of writing this Epistle, Saint Paul was “ an ambassador in bonds,” for maintaining the freedom of the Gentile converts from all subjection to the law of Moses.
Its immediate occasion was, some difficulties that had arisen among them; in consequence of which they sent Epaphras to Rome, to acquaint the apostle with the state of their affairs; to which we may add the letter (Col. iv. 16.) sent to him by the Laodiceans, who seem to have written to him concerning the errors of the false teachers, and to have asked his advice. Saint Paul therefore replies in the present Epistle, which he sent to the Colossians as being the larger church, and also because the false teachers had probably caused greater disturbances among the Colossians; but desired that they would send the same Epistle to the Laodiceans, and ask them for a copy of their letter to Saint Paul, in order that they might the better understand his answers
Who the false teachers were, is a point not satisfactorily determined. Michaelis is of opinion that this Epistle was directed against the tenets and practices of the Essenes, of which sect an account has been given in the preceding volume. But it is more probable that they were partly superstitious judaising teachers, who diligently inculcated not only the Mosaic law, but also the absurd notions of the rabbins, and partial converts from Gentilism who blended Platonic notions with the doctrines of the Gospel. It is well known that the Platonists entertained singular ideas concerning demons, whom they represented as carrying men's prayers to God, from whom they brought back the blessings supplicated; and the doctrines
of the Jews concerning angels was nearly the same as that of the Platonics concerning demons. It appears from Col. ii. 16– 23. that the false teachers inculcated the worship of angels, abstinence from animal food, the observance of the Jewish festivals, new moons and Sabbaths, the mortification of the body by long-continued fastings, and in short, the observance of the Mosaic ritual law, as absolutely necessary to salvation.
IV. The scope of the Epistle to the Colossians is to show that all hope of man's redemption is founded on Christ our Redeemer, in whom alone all complete fulness, perfections, and sufficiency, are centered: to caution the Colossians against the insinuations of judaising teachers, and also against philosophical speculations and deceits, and human traditions, as inconsistent with Christ and his fulness for our salvation; and to excite the Colossians, by the most persuasive arguments, to a temper and conduct worthy of their sacred character. The Epistle therefore consists of two principal parts besides the introduction and conclusion.
I. After a short inscription or introduction (i. 1, 2.) Saint Paul begins with expressing great joy for the favourable character which he had heard of them, and assures them that he daily prayed for their further improvement. (3–14.) He then makes a short digression, in order to describe the dignity of Jesus Christ, who, he declares, created all things, whether thrones or dominions, principalities or powers, that he alone was the head of the church, and had reconciled men to the Father. (15—20.) The inference from this description is evident, that Jesus was superior to angels; that they were created beings, and ought not to be worshipped. In verse 21. Saint Paul returns from this digression to the sentiments with which he had introduced it in the thirteenth and fourteenth verscs; and again expresses his joy, that the Colossians remained faithful to the Gospel, which was to be preached to the Gentiles, withont the restraints of the ceremonial law. From this view of the excellency of Christ's person, and the riches of his grace, the apostle takes occasion to express the cheerfulness with which he suffered in the cause of the Gospel, and his earnest solicitude to fulfil his ministry among them in the most successful manner ; assuring them of his concern for them and for the other Christians in the neighbourhood, that they might be established in their adherence to the Christian faith. (i. 21—29. ii. 1—7.)
II. Having given these general exhortations, he proceeds directly to caution them against the vain and deceitful philosophy of the new teachers, and their superstitious adherence to the law; shows the superiority of Christ to angels, and warns Christians against worshipping them. He censures the observation of Jewish sabbaths and festivals, and cautions the Colossians against those corrupt additions which some were attempting to introduce, especially by rigours and superstitions of their own devising. (ii. 8—23.) To these doctrinal instructions succeed precepts concerning the practical duties of life, especially the relative duties of husbands and wives, parents and children, servants and masters. (iii. iv. 1-6.) The epistle concludes with matters chiefly of a private nature, except the directions for reading it in the church of Laodicea, as well as in that of Colossæ. Whoever, says Michaelis, would understand the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, must read them together. The one is in most places a commentary on the other; the meaning of single passages in one Epistle, which, if considered alone, might be variously interpreted, being determined by the parallel passages in the other Epistle. Yet, though there is a great similarity, the Epistle to the Colossians contains many things which are not to be found in that to the Ephesians ; especially in regard to the worship of angels, and many single points, which appear to be Essene, and might prevail at Colosse.
On the undesigned coincidences between this Epistle and the Acts of the Apostles, see Dr. Paley's Horæ Paulinæ, pp. 278-292.
ON THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS. 1. Account of the Christian church there. - II. Genuineness of this
Epistle. -- III. Its occasion and scope. — IV. Synopsis of its
contents. 1. CHRISTIANITY was first planted at Thessalonica by Saint Paul, A. D. 50, who formed a church, composed both of Jews and Gentiles, but the latter were most numerous. (Acts svï. 24.) The unbelieving Jews, however, having stirred up a persecution against him and his company, they were forced to flee to Beræa, and thence to Athens (xvii. 5-15.), from which city he proceeded to Corinth. Being thus prevented from visiting the Thessalonians again as he had intended (1 Thess. ii. 17, 18.), he sent Silas and Timothy to visit them in his stead (iii. 6.), and, on their return to him at Corinth (Acts xvii. 14, 15. xviii. 5.), he wrote the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, A. D. 52, from Corinth, and not from Athens, as the spurious subscription to this Epistle imports.?
II. The first Epistle to the Thessalonians is generally admitted to have been one of the earliest written (if indeed it be not the very first) of all Saint Paul's letters, and we find that he was anxious that it should be read to all the Christian churches in Macedonia. In chap. v. 7., he gives the following command: I adjure you by the Lord that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. This direction is very properly inserted in his first Epistle. Its genuineness has never been disputed. Polycarp3 has probably referred to it, and it is certainly quoted and recognised as Saint Paul's production (together with the second Epistle) by Irenæus, Clement of Alex
1 Michaelis, vol. iv. pp. 121–124. In instituting a collation of these two epistles the student will find a very valuable help in M. Van Bemmelen's Dissertatio Exegetico-Critica, de epistolas Pauli ad Ephesios et Colossenses inter se collatis. 8vo. Lugd. Bat. 1803.
2 Grotius has contended that the first Epistle to the Thessalonians is in reality the second, but he has not supported that conjecture by any historical evidence.
3 Lardner, 8vo. vol. ii. p. 96. ; 4to. vol. i. p. 330.
Ato vali 368
andria,' Tertullian, Caius,3 Origen, and all subsequent ecelesiastical writers.
III. The immediate occasion of Saint Paul's writing this Epistle was, the favourable report which Timothy had brought him of the steadfastness of the Thessalonians in the faith of the Gospel. He therefore wrote to convince them of its truth, and to confirm them in that faith, lest they should be turned aside from it by the persecutions of the unbelieving Jews, and also to excite them to a holy conversation, becoming the dignity of their high and holy calling. With this view, after a short introduction (i. 1.), in which he unites the names of Timothy and Silvanus, his two assistants in planting and watering the church at Thessalonica, with his own name, Saint Paul expresses his thanks to God for their faith, love, and patient expectation of Christ's coming (2—4.); and then proceeds to show the divine origin of the Christian revelation by the four following arguments.
1. That many and great miracles were performed by the preachers of the Gospel, professedly for the purpose of demonstrating that they were commissioned by God to preach it to the world. (i. 5-10.) In this part of his discussion Saint Paul highly commends their faith and constancy.
2. That the character, behaviour, and views of the first preachers of the Gospel are an evidence of its truth. The apostles and their assistants, by preaching the Gospel, every where brought upon themselves all manner of present evils, without obtaining the least temporal advantage, in possession or in prospect ; that, in preaching this new doctrine, they did not in any respect accommodate it to the prevailing inclinations of their hearers, nor encourage them in their vicious practices: that they used none of the base arts peculiar to impostors, in order to obtain belief; but that their manner of preaching was in all respects suitable to the character of missionaries from God; so that on account of their personal character, they were entitled to the highest credit as divine teachers. (ii. iii.)
3. That the first preachers of the Gospel delivered to their disciples, from the very beginning, precepts of the greatest strictness and holiness; so that by the sanctity of its precepts, the Gospel is shown to be a scheme of religion, every way worthy of the true God, and highly beneficial to mankind. (iv. 1-12.) The practical directions introduced in this part of the Epistle were admirably suited to the state of the Thessalonian church. The first was, that they should live chastely, and carefully abstain from that impurity to which the Gentiles were much addicted; for Christianity requires the utmost purity of life. The Christians at Thessalonica loved each other and all the Christians in that place so affectionately, that the apostle recommended it to them, only to abound therein more and more ; and, by their exemplary conduct, to live in peace and credit with all men.
The heathens had such imperfect notions and wavering expectations of a future state, that they used to howl at their funerals, and
1 Ibid. 8vo. vol. ii. p. 223.; 4to. vol. i. p. 401.
excessively lament over their dead, as if they were utterly lost, and never to live in another state. Saint Paul therefore advises the Christians not to sorrow, like those who had no hope of a resurrection to a happy immortality. Thence he takes occasion to prove,
4. That Jesus Christ, the author of our religion, was declared to be the Son of God and the judge of the world by his resurrection from the dead; and that by the same miracle, his own promise, and the predictions of his apostles concerning his return from Heaven to reward the righteous and punish the wicked especially those who obey not the Gospel - are rendered absolutely certain. (iv. 13—18. v. 1-11.)
The Epistle concludes with various practical advices and instructions. (v. 12–28.)
IV. The following tabular synopsis will perhaps show the bearings of the preceding arguments more clearly : Part I. The introduction. (i. 1-4.) Part II. The treatise or argumentative part of the Epistle. (i. 5–
10.ü.-v. 1--11.) Sect. 1. The first argument in proof of the divine original of the
Gospel, founded upon the miracles by which it was confirmed.
(i. 5—10.) Sect. 2. The second argument, taken from the character, beha
viour, and views of its first preachers. (ii. 1-13.) (1.) Answer to the objection against the truth of the Christian miracles, taken
from the unbelief of the Jews in Judæa, and their persecuting Jesus and his disciples. (ii. 14–20.) (2.) Answer to the objection urged against the preachers of the Gospel, for not delivering themselves from persecution by their miraculous powers. (ii. 1–4.) 3) Answer to the objection against Saint Paul in particular, that his quitting
Thessalonica was a proof that he did not love the Thessalonians. (1. 5–13.) Sect. 3. The third argument in proof of the divine original of the
Gospel, taken from the holy nature of its precepts. (iv. 1-12.) Sect. 4. The fourth argument, taken from the resurrection of Jesus
Christ, the author of the Gospel, by which God declared him to be his Son, the governor and judge of the world. (iv. 13—18. v. I
-11.) Part III. The conclusion, containing various practical admonitions
and instructions. (v. 12--28.)
In thus exhibiting the proofs of the divine original of the Gospel, Dr. Macknight remarks, that Saint Paul with great propriety insisted on the character, behaviour, and views of the first Christian teachers; because an argument of that kind could not fail to have great weight with the Greeks, as it made them sensible that the ministers of the Gospel were the very reverse of their philosophers, the only teachers to whom that intelligent and inquisitive people had hitherto listened. At the same time, besides proving the divine original of the Gospel, the apostle, by wholesome reproofs, with great address and affection, corrected certain vices and irregularities which the Thessalonians had not yet amended.
On the undesigned coincidences between this Epistle and the Acts of the Apostles, see Dr. Paley's Horæ Paulinæ, pp. 293–311.
.. Pref. to 1 Thess. sect. 3. We have adopted this learned commentator's view of this Epistle, as presenting its scope to the best possible advantage.