Invaluable teachings for the modern Christian
The Book of Colossians provides some of the most important practical teachings for Christian living in all the New Testament.

This valuable book comes to life even more if we have a good understanding of the history and geography of Colossae (see location map to the left) and its surrounding area.

General facts about Colossians

  • The "Book of Colossians," or "Colossians," is actually a letter of spiritual instruction written by the Apostle Paul to Christians who lived in the city of Colossae. Colossae was part of the vast Roman Empire, which was divided into regions called "provinces." Colossae was located in the Roman province of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.

  • Scholars believe Colossians was written by Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome (AD 59-61). So it was likely written ~60-61, along with three other "Prison epistles" (Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippians).

  • Colossae (and its sister cities Hierapolis and Laodicea) were the target of a devastating earthquake around AD 60, probably just after Paul wrote his letters to the Christians of that area. According to historians, all three cities were destroyed. Barring miraculous intervention, this historic event probably claimed some of the lives of our Christian ancestors. Realizing these words were written to Christians who may have been on the brink of disaster highlights the need that we should always be prepared to meet God.

  • Paul had not visited the Colossians in person yet, and did not establish the congregation. By contrast, Paul had established the churches he wrote to at Corinth, Galatia (somewhat—this was the only region he wrote to versus city), Ephesus, Philippi, and Thessalonica. His remaining letters were addressed to individuals he knew (Timothy, Titus). Philemon apparently lived in or near Colossae, and it seems (though is not provable) that his house may have been where the church at Colossae met (versus a separate area congregation).

  • For more general information on Colossae: Link 1 link 2 link 3 link 4

  • Google map of Colossae

  • Video(s) of Colossae: Link

Other interesting facts about Colossians

  • Laodicea was ~10 miles ~WNW of Colossae. Hierapolis was believed to be ~13 miles ~NNE of Laodicea. These three cities formed a crude triangle, the so-called "tri-city" area.
    See map 1 and map 2 for a good idea of how they were situated. All three cities are mentioned by Paul in Colossians, and all three apparently possessed at least one church (4:13,15).

  • A local preacher, Epaphras, was the first to tell the Colossians about Christ (1:6-7; 4:13). It is believed Epaphras heard the truth from Paul during Paul's 3 year ministry in Ephesus (~100 miles to the west). Epaphras visited Paul in Rome, and may have transported the letter to Colossae, as well as the nearby church in Laodicea.

  • In Jesus' message to the Laodicean church (Rev 3:14-22), he speaks of the lukewarmness of Laodicea, that they were "neither cold nor hot" (vv. 15-16). This was apparently an allusion contrasting the cold springs that bubbled out of the ground in nearby Colossae, and the hot springs at nearby Hierapolis (which still attract visitors today). These hot springs were believed to have healing properties, and people bathed in their rich mineral waters believing they could cure various ailments (similar beliefs existed elsewhere—see the "angel stirring the pool" account in John 5:1-8).

  • Several churches may have actually existed in the tri-city area: the church at Colossae addressed in Colossians, Philemon's home (if his home constituted a second church in Colossae), Laodicea (if Nympha's home constituted a second church in Laodicea), and possibly Hierapolis (4:12-16).

  • Paul more than likely wrote a letter also to the nearby church at Laodicea (4:16). We do not have that letter, although Jesus later addressed the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3. It was one of only two churches about which He had nothing good to say.

  • Paul wrote a short letter to Philemon (the "Book of Philemon"), a Christian who apparently lived in or near Colossae. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus, who evidently had run away to Rome where he was apparently brought to Christ by Paul (Phm 10). Most scholars believe the church that met in Philemon's house was the same church the book of Colossians was written to, though it is not conclusive.

  • Paul was actually planning to visit Colossae (and stay at Philemon's house) after his release from prison (Phm 1:22). In his letter to Philemon, Paul was confident that his release would be soon (Phm 22).

  • Although most scholars seem to believe Colossians was written during Paul's Roman imprisonment (AD 59-61), some think Paul wrote Colossians from Ephesus or Caesarea.
    More evidence seems to support the Roman theory: "Both because of Paul's known imprisonment in Rome, and because of the tradition of a Roman imprisonment for these letters, the burden of proof must rest with a non-Roman origin..." and, "Luke is with Paul during his imprisonment (Col 4:14; Phile 24). Luke's presence with Paul is supported by Acts while Paul was in Rome."

More geographical facts of the tri-city area

  • Colossae was part of a tri-city area nestled in a scenic, mountainous region that was a tourist attraction in Biblical times just as it is today. The three cities making up the "tri-city" were: Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea. These three Turkish cities are now modern day Honaz (near former Colossae—modern day population ~25,000), Denizli (~900,000 pop.), and Eski Hissar (unknown population).

  • "Colossae was one of three Christian cities in the unusually fertile but earthquake-prone Lycus valley...Colossae was the first of the three to achieve city status." Link

  • The Lycus Valley (along the Lycus river) was a natural travel route evidently used by many travelling through the region. The Lycus joined the Meander river which empties to the Aegean sea near ancient Miletus (Google map), where Paul set sail back to Jerusalem on his third journey. This was a natural port, since the river emptied there and land travel naturally led there.

  • For map(s) of Turkey's rivers: Link

  • For more on Colossae's geography: Link

  • Colossae's climate was evidently relatively mild but very hot occasionally. For more on Colossae's modern-day climate: Link

  • Videos: Hierapolis, the three cities (mainly Laodicea), and Pamukkale (near Hierapolis—pronounced "Pa-MOO-kaah-lay").

  • Excellent info on Hierapolis: Link 1 link 2

  • Google map of Colossae

  • Google map of Laodicea

  • Google map of Hierapolis

The economy
  • "The area around these cities was very wealthy. The land was fertile and the pastures produced great flocks of sheep. The area was a great center for the wool industry and the associated trade of the dyeing of woolen garments. The wealthy city of Laodicea was the financial headquarters for the whole area and the political center for the district. Thousands of people visited Hierapolis to bathe in the spas and drink the water due to the claims that the water had medicinal benefits. Even though Colosse was at one time as important as both Laodicea and Hierapolis, by the time Paul wrote to Colosse it was a small, fairly insignificant town." (Link)

  • "There were many Jews living there, and a chief article of commerce, for which the place was renowned, was the collossinus, a peculiar wool, probably of a purple color." (Link)

  • Honaz—the nearest modern city to ancient Colossae—has an economy centered on growing cherries. 80% of the crop is exported from Turkey. Tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables are grown too, including a local variety of oleaster.

  • The Romans were skilled in water delivery. The longest aqueduct served Rome and delivered water 59 miles. 11 aqueducts served Rome and were designed to deliver to 1 million people a minimum of one cubic meter of water per person per day. Ancient Rome during Paul's time actually enjoyed indoor plumbing, including a sewer system to carry away waste. Some of these ancient structures are still in use today in various capacities. Ancient Laodicea was also a primary hub for the Roman aqueduct system, probably attracting engineers and laborers, undoubtedly aiding the economy.

Historical facts of the tri-city area
  • Christian tradition and legend has it that Philip (one of the 12 disciples of Jesus) was martyred in Hierapolis by crucifixion. Much of the legend surrounding Philip is believed untrustworthy. One such example is the overly imaginative "Acts of Philip." Some actually claim it was written by the Apostle Philip, but not only is there no proof of his authorship, its reading makes it clear this was not the case. Due to the relatively early date of its writing (~mid to late fourth-century), at the very least it provides a glimpse into the culture and philosophies of the day, which greatly impacted the church at Colossae (more on philosophies later).
    Link 1 link 2

  • Regarding how the city of Colossae began, little seems to be known by historians. It apparently "...flourished as a trading town until eclipsed by neighboring Laodicea." (Link)

  • Nearby Laodicea was founded by the Seleucid king Antiochus II and named for his wife Laodice about 260 B.C. (see Link 1 and link 2 for details).

  • Hierapolis was a Roman-built city adjacent to Pamukkale, and had many visitors, including many who were ill seeking remedies. It was built there because of the hot springs of Hierapolis. This video also excellently shows the ruins of Laodicea and Hierapolis.

  • Excellent historical information on the tri-city area

The tragic earthquake that destroyed the tri-cities

As mentioned previously, the tri-cities were destroyed by an earthquake around AD 60, probably just after Paul wrote his letters to the Christians of that area.

Extensive information about the AD 60 earthquake

Religious and philosophical influences of the tri-city area

The Colossians were evidently the target of several religious and philosophical influences that could have potentially misled them from the pure doctrine of Christ.

In fact, perhaps no other letter of the New Testament gives warning of a greater variety of deceptive and dangerous concepts than Paul's letter to the Colossians.

For example, in Colossians, Paul could well have been referring to such false belief systems as:
  • Greek philosophies (non-pagan related—2:8),
  • Gnosticism (2:9),
  • Judaism (2:13-19),
  • Paganism (2:23; 3:5—see related video for a glimpse of pagan temples in the tri-city area),
  • Early evolutionary thinking (1:15-17), and,
  • "Hybrid thinking" (mixtures of the above—2:18).
While most of today's Christian world would probably not take these "various perversions of Christianity" seriously, Paul considered them extremely serious indeed, describing them as deceptive and dangerous influences. He warned them not to be seduced by the popular mindsets of their day, mindsets that opposed the truth of Christ:
I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
(Colossians 2:4)
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
(Colossians 2:8)
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.
(Colossians 2:18)
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
(Colossians 2:23)
But now he has reconciled you [to God]—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
(Colossians 1:23)
Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to walk in him, firmly rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith—just as you were taught—and overflowing with thankfulness.
(Colossians 2:6-7)
Obviously, not perverting Christian doctrine—with seemingly harmless philosophies and "interesting" albeit false religious viewpoints—is critically important to God.

Read more detail about the religious and philosophical influences the Colossians were exposed to.

Translation of the book of Colossians
  • The reason we have copies of Colossians today is that first century Christians copied writings they considered sacred, and Paul's letter to the Colossians was one of those sacred writings.

  • There are thousands of manuscripts that textual scientists have at their disposal to ensure that the reconstructed original of Colossians (written in Greek) is an exact representation of Paul's original writing. These thousands of manuscripts have been "reconstructed" into Greek New Testaments.

  • Two monumental Greek NTs are the Greek New Testament (GNT) and the Textus Receptus. The vast majority of modern English Bible translations have been taken from one of these two Greek texts, or derivatives of these texts. In other words, when we hold the Bible in our hands, we can be confident we are reading the original words of Paul translated into our English language.

General outline of Colossians

  1. Greetings and prayer for the Colossians—1:1-14.

  2. Christ is supreme, and Head of the Body (church)—1:15-23.

  3. Paul's God-ordained commission to preach the gospel of Christ—1:24-29.

  4. Warnings about various false religions and teachings, including false Christian religions, various philosophies of men, Gnostic concepts, Judaism, and paganism—2:ALL.

  5. Rules for holy living—3:1-4:6.

  6. Final greetings—4:7-E.

A quick word on pronouncing Greek names...

A quick point on proper pronunciation of Greek names...

Greek names typically pronounce "CH" with a "K" sound. For example: Christ (pronounced Kryst) and the Greek rulers named "Antiochus" (pronounced "AntioKus").

Similarly, Archippus (4:17) is also pronounced with the "K" sound.

"Archippus, from the Greek name (pronounced) ark-hip-os, meaning in charge of horses, was one of the many little-known Christian servants..." (Link)

Additional recommended reading:
Were there two churches at Colossae—or only one?
Is your Bible accurate—Three common misunderstandings.

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