The Origin of the Church in Colossae (Arnold)

Have you ever wondered how the church in first century Colossae was planted? Do you know much about the background of the Christians to whom Paul was writing in his letter we call “Colossians”? Interestingly, the NT doesn’t say anywhere that Paul went to the city of Colossae. Perhaps he did, perhaps he didn’t. So how did the church get there? Clinton Arnold has some plausible background answers to these questions:

In the mid–50s, the apostle Paul spent considerable time in the city of Ephesus. Luke informs us that during this time all “Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). This was the most likely time that a man named Epaphras journeyed from Colosse to Ephesus, heard Paul’s preaching about the Messiah Jesus, became a Christian, and was instructed in the way of the Lord by Paul. This new believer then returned to his home city and zealously spread the news about Christ. If he was a Jew, which seems probable, he would have gone immediately into the synagogue(s) and proclaimed Christ. Here a number of Jews and many Gentile “God-fearers” and proselytes (Gentiles who had undergone the rite of circumcision) would have turned to the Lord. The proclamation of the gospel would then have extended to the Gentile population of the city, with perhaps many turning to the Lord right out of the various cults. Also at this time the gospel probably spread to the nearby city of Laodicea.

It is uncertain whether Paul ever visited the city himself. If he did, such a visit would have occurred during his lengthy stay at Ephesus. The apostle takes no credit for the establishment of the church in Colosse. Note [Colossians] 1:7, where he writes that they learned the gospel from Epaphras.

Among those who came to know Christ in the city is a man named Philemon. To him Paul writes a brief letter to intercede on behalf of his runaway slave Onesimus, who has encountered Paul in Rome and has come to know Christ (see 4:9; see commentary on Philemon).

These Christians gathered in homes for worship, teaching, and fellowship. There are at least two house churches that we know of—one in the home of a lady named Nympha (4:15), who lives in Laodicea, and the other in the home of Philemon (Philem. 2). There are probably a number of house fellowships in both of these cities. Nearly all believers throughout the Mediterranean world met in homes during the first century of the church’s existence.

Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans to Philemon., vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 374–375.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015