Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The duty of masters to their servants, Col 4:1. Continuance in prayer recommended, to which watchfulness and thanksgiving should be joined, Col 4:2. And to pray particularly for the success of the Gospel, Col 4:3, Col 4:4. Directions concerning walking wisely, redeeming of time, and godly conversation, Col 4:5, Col 4:6. He refers them to Tychicus and Onesimus, whom he sends to them for particulars relative to his present circumstances, Col 4:7-9. Mentions the salutations of several then at Rome, of whom he gives some interesting particulars, Col 4:10-14. Sends his own salutations to the brethren in Laodicea, and to Nymphas and the Church at his house, Col 4:15. Directs this epistle to be read in the Church of the Laodiceans, and that to them to be read at Colosse, Col 4:16. Directions to Archippus relative to his ministry, Col 4:17. Concludes with salutations to the people at Colosse, to whom he sends his apostolical benediction, Col 4:18.
Masters, give unto your servants - This verse should have been added to the preceding, to which it properly belongs; and this chapter should have begun with Col 4:2.
That which is just and equal - As they are bondmen or slaves of whom the apostle speaks, we may at once see with what propriety this exhortation is given. The condition of slaves among the Greeks and Romans was wretched in the extreme; they could appeal to no law; and they could neither expect justice nor equity. The apostle, therefore, informs the proprietors of these slaves that they should act towards them both according to justice and equity; for God, their Master, required this of them, and would at last call them to account for their conduct in this respect. Justice and equity required that they should have proper food, proper raiment, due rest, and no more than moderate work. This is a lesson that all masters throughout the universe should carefully learn. Do not treat your servants as if God had made them of an inferior blood to yours.
Continue in prayer - This was the apostle's general advice to all; without this, neither wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, nor masters, could fulfill the duties which God, in their respective stations, required of them.
All might, power, and life come from God; his creatures are continually dependent upon him for all these: to earnest, persevering prayer, he has promised every supply; but he who prays not has no promise. How few wives feel it their duty to pray to God to give them grace to behave as wives! How few husbands pray for the grace suited to their situation, that they may be able to fulfill its duties! The like may be said of children, parents, servants, and masters. As every situation in life has its peculiar duties, trials, etc.; so to every situation there is peculiar grace appointed. No man can fulfill the duties of any station without the grace suited to that station. The grace suited to him, as a member of society in general, will not be sufficient for him as a husband, father, or master. Many proper marriages become unhappy in the end, because the parties have not earnestly besought God for the grace necessary for them as husbands and wives. This is the origin of family broils in general; and a proper attention to the apostle's advice would prevent them all.
Watch in the same - Be always on your guard; and when you have got the requisite grace by praying, take care of it, and bring it into its proper action by watchfulness; by which you will know when, and where, and how to apply it.
With thanksgiving - Being always grateful to God, who has called you into such a state of salvation, and affords you such abundant means and opportunities to glorify him.
Praying also for us - Let the success and spread of the Gospel be ever dear to you; and neglect not to pray fervently to God that it may have free course, run, and be glorified.
A door of utterance - Θυραν του λογου· The word θυρα, which commonly signifies a door, or such like entrance into a house or passage through a wall, is often used metaphorically for an entrance to any business, occasion or opportunity to commence or perform any particular work. So in Act 14:27 : The Door of faith is opened to the Gentiles; i.e. there is now an opportunity of preaching the Gospel to the nations of the earth. Co1 16:9 : A great and effectual Door is opened unto me; i.e. I have now a glorious opportunity of preaching the truth to the people of Ephesus. Co2 2:12 : When I came to Troas - a Door was opened unto me; I had a fine opportunity of preaching Christ crucified at that place. So, here, the θυρατου λογου, which we translate door of utterance, signifies an occasion, opportunity, or entrance, for the doctrine of the Gospel. The same metaphor is used by the best Latin writers. Cicero, xiii. Ep. 10: Amiciliae fores aperiuntur; the Doors of friendship are opened - there is now an opportunity of reconciliation. And Ovid, Amor. lib. iii., Eleg. xii. ver. 12: -
Janua per nostras est adaperta manus.
"The gate is opened by our hands."
Of this use of the word among the Greek writers Schleusner gives several examples. See also Rev 3:8, where the word is used in the same sense. To multiply examples would be needless; the apostle excites them to pray, not that a door of utterance, i.e. a readiness and fluency of speech, may be given to him and his fellow laborers, but that they may have an opportunity of preaching the doctrine of Christ; and so the term λογος is to be understood here, as well as in many other places of the New Testament, in most of which we have either lost or obscured its meaning by translating it word instead of doctrine.
The mystery of Christ - The Gospel, which had been hidden from all former times, and which revealed that purpose long hidden in the Divine councils, that the Gentiles should be called to enjoy the same privileges with the Jews.
For which I am also in bonds - He was suffering under Jewish malice, and for preaching this very mystery; for they could not bear to hear announced, as from heaven, that the Gentiles, whom they considered eternally shut out from any participation of the Divine favor, should be made fellow heirs with them of the grace of life; much less could they bear to hear that they were about to be reprobated, and the Gentiles elected in their place. It was for asserting these things that they persecuted Paul at Jerusalem, so that to save his life he was obliged to appeal to Caesar; and being taken to Rome, he was detained a prisoner till his case was fully heard; and he was a prisoner at Rome on this very account when he wrote this Epistle to the Colossians. See the note on Col 1:24.
That I may make it manifest - It was a mystery, and he wished to make it manifest - to lay it open, and make all men see it.
Walk in wisdom - Act wisely and prudently in reference to them who are without - who yet continue unbelieving Gentiles or persecuting Jews.
The Church of Christ was considered an enclosure; a field, or vineyard, well hedged or walled. Those who were not members of it, were considered without; i.e. not under that especial protection and defense which the true followers of Christ had. This has been since called "The pale of the Church," from palus, a stake; or, as Dr. Johnson defines it, "A narrow piece of wood, joined above and below to a rail, to enclose grounds." As to be a Christian was essential to the salvation of the soul, so to be in the Church of Christ was essential to the being a Christian; therefore it was concluded that "there was no salvation out of the pale of the Church." Now this is true in all places where the doctrines of Christianity are preached; but when one description of people professing Christianity, with their own peculiar mode of worship and creed, arrogate to themselves, exclusive of all others, the title of The Church; and then, on the ground of a maxim which is true in itself, but falsely understood and applied by them, assert that, as they are The Church, and there is no Church besides, then you must be one of them, believe as they believe, and worship as they worship, or you will be infallibly damned; I say, when this is asserted, every man who feels he has an immortal spirit is called on to examine the pretensions of such spiritual monopolists. Now, as the Church of Christ is formed on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone, the doctrines of this Christian Church must be sought for in the sacred Scriptures. As to fathers, councils, and human authorities of all kinds, they are, in this question, lighter than vanity; the book of God alone must decide. The Church, which has been so hasty to condemn all others, and, by its own soi disant or self-constituted authority, to make itself the determiner of the fates of men, dealing out the mansions of glory to its partisans, and the abodes of endless misery to all those who are out of its antichristian and inhuman pale; this Church, I say, has been brought to this standard, and proved by the Scriptures to be fallen from the faith of God's elect, and to be most awfully and dangerously corrupt; and to be within its pale, of all others professing Christianity, would be the most likely means of endangering the final salvation of the soul. Yet even in it many sincere and upright persons may be found, who, in spirit and practice, belong to the true Church of Christ. Such persons are to be found of all religious persuasions, and in all sorts of Christian societies.
Redeeming the time - See on Eph 5:16 (note).
Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt - Let it be such as has a tendency to oppose and preserve from the corruption of sin. The rabbins say: "He who, in prayer, omits any word, should begin again at the beginning; for he who does not is like boiled pottage, in which there is no salt." Berachoth, fol. 34, 1. Let all your conversation be such as may tend to exemplify and recommend Christianity; let it not only be holy, but wise, gracious, and intelligent. A harsh method of proposing or defending the doctrines of Christianity only serves to repel men from those doctrines, and from the way of salvation. Salt, from its use in preserving food from corruption, and rendering it both savoury and wholesome, has always been made the emblem of wisdom. The word has been also used to express in composition or conversation what is terse, comprehensive, useful, elegant, and impressive. The term Attic salt has been used to express some of the principal beauties of the Greek tongue; of such beauties the Gospel of Christ has an endless store. See on Mat 5:13 (note), and Mar 9:50 (note).
How ye ought to answer every man - That your discourse may be so judiciously managed, that ye may discern how to treat the prejudices and meet the objections both of Jews and Gentiles.
All my state shall Tychicus - See the note on Eph 6:21. Tychicus well knew the apostle's zeal and perseverance in preaching the Gospel, his sufferings on that account, his success in converting both Jews and Gentiles, and the converts which were made in Caesar's household; he could give these to the Colossians in ample detail, and some of them it would not have been prudent to commit to writing.
That he might know your estate - Instead of ἱνα γνῳ τα περι ὑμων, that He may know Your affairs, ABD*FG, many others, with the Ethiopic, Itala, Theodoret, and Damascenus, read ἱνα γνωτε τα περι ἡμων, that Ye may know Our affairs; which is probably the true reading. Tychicus was sent to them, not to know their affairs, but with Onesimus, to carry this epistle and make the apostle's state known to them, and comfort their hearts by the good news which he brought. The next verse confirms this meaning.
With Onesimus - who is one of you - Onesimus was a native of some part of Phrygia, if not of Colosse itself; and being lately converted to the Christian faith by the instrumentality of the apostle, he would be able, on this account, to give them satisfactory information concerning the apostle's state, which would be doubly acceptable to them as he was their countryman. See the Epistle to Philemon.
All things which are done here - FG, the Vulgate, Itala, Jerome, and Bede, add here πραττομενα, what is done, which we have supplied in Italics in our translation. These brethren could give an account of the transactions at Rome, relative to the apostle and Christianity, which it might not be prudent for him to commit to writing. See on Col 4:7 (note). The reign of Nero was not only cruel, but suspicious, jealous, and dangerous.
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner - Concerning Aristarchus, see Act 19:29; Act 20:4; Act 27:2; and see the note on Act 27:2. Aristarchus and Epaphras are mentioned as saluters in this epistle, and in that to Philemon written at the same time; but here he is said to be a prisoner, and Epaphras not. In that to Philemon, Epaphras is called a prisoner, and Aristarchus not. One of them is wrong, though it is uncertain which; unless both were prisoners. See Wall's Crit. Notes. As Aristarchus had been a zealous and affectionate adherent to St. Paul, and followed him in all his journeys, ministering to him in prison, and assisting him in preaching the Gospel in Rome, he might have been imprisoned on this account. We need not suppose that both he and Epaphras were imprisoned at the same time; about the same time they might be imprisoned, but it might be so ordered by the providence of God that when Aristarchus was imprisoned Epaphras was at liberty, and while Epaphras was in prison Aristarchus was at liberty. This is a very possible and easily to be conceived case.
Marcus - See the account of this person, Act 15:39. Though there had been some difference between the apostle and this Mark, yet from this, and Ti2 4:11, we find that they were fully reconciled, and that Mark was very useful to St. Paul in the work of the ministry.
Touching whom ye received commandments - What these were we cannot tell; it was some private communication which had been previously sent to the Colossian Church.
Jesus, which is called Justus - Jesus, Joshua, or Jehoshua, was his name among his countrymen the Jews; Justus was the name which he bore among the Greeks and Romans.
These only - That is, only Aristarchus, Marcus, and Jesus Justus, who were formerly Jews or proselytes; for οἱ οντες εκ περιτομης, they were of the circumcision, and assisted the apostle in preaching the Gospel. There were others who did preach Christianity, but they did it from envy and strife, in order to add affliction to the apostle's bonds. It is evident, therefore, that St. Peter was not now at Rome, else he certainly would have been mentioned in this list; for we cannot suppose that he was in the list of those who preached Christ in an exceptionable way, and from impure and unholy motives: indeed, there is no evidence that St. Peter ever saw Rome. And as it cannot be proved that he ever was bishop or pope of that city, the keystone of the triumphal arch of the pope of Rome is pulled out; this building, therefore, of his supremacy, cannot stand.
Epaphras, who is one of you - A native of some part of Phrygia, and probably of Colosse itself.
A servant of Christ - A minister of the Gospel.
Labouring fervently for you - Αγωνιζομενος· Agonizing; very properly expressed by our translators, labouring fervently.
That ye may stand perfect and complete - Ἱνα στητε τελειοι και πεπληρμενοι. That ye may stand firm, perfectly instructed, and fully persuaded of the truth of those doctrines which have been taught you as the revealed will of God: this I believe to be the meaning of the apostle.
Instead of πεπληρωμενοι, complete or filled up, almost all the MSS. of the Alexandrian rescension, which are considered the most authentic and correct, have πεπληροφορημενοι, that ye may be fully persuaded. The word πληροφορια signifies such a complete persuasion of the certainty of a thing, as leaves the mind which has it neither room nor inclination to doubt; and πληροφορεω, the verb, has the same meaning, viz., to be thus persuaded, or to persuade thus, by demonstrative argumentation and exhibition of unquestionable facts.
This is such a persuasion as the Spirit of God, by means of the Gospel, gives to every sincere and faithful man; and from which arises the solid happiness of the genuine Christian. They who argue against it, prove, at least, that they have not got it.
He hath a great zeal for you - Instead of ζηλον πολυν, much zeal, ABCD**, several others, with versions and fathers, read πολυν πονον, much labor; they are here nearly of the same meaning, though the latter appears to be the better and genuine reading.
Laodicea, and - Hierapolis - These were both cities of Phrygia, between which Colosse, or the city of Colassa, was situated. See Col 2:1. The latter was called Hierapolis, or the holy city, from the multitude of its temples. Apollo, Diana, Esculapius, and Hygeia, were all worshipped here, as appears by the coins of this city still extant.
Luke, the beloved physician - This is generally supposed to be the same with Luke the evangelist. See the preface to the notes on this gospel. Some, however, suppose them to be different persons; because, where it is evident that Luke the evangelist is meant, he never has more than his simple name Luke; and because the apostle is supposed to intend a different person here, he adds, ὁ ιατρος ὁ αγαπητος, the beloved physician. The word ιατρος signifies a healer, and must not be restricted to physician, in the sense in which we use that word; he was surgeon, physician, and dispenser of medicines, etc., for all these were frequently combined in the same person.
Salute - Nymphas, and the Church - in his house - This person, and his whole family, which probably was very numerous, appear to have received the Gospel; and it seems that, for their benefit and that of his neighbors, he had opened his house for the worship of God. In those primitive times there were no consecrated places, for it was supposed that the simple setting apart of any place for the worship of God was a sufficient consecration. See of those domestic churches, Rom 16:5 (note); Co1 16:19 (note)
Cause that it be read also in the Church of the Laodiceans - That is: Let a copy be taken, and sent to them, that it may be read there also. This appears to have been a regular custom in the apostolic Church.
That ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea - Some suppose that this was an epistle sent from Laodicea to the apostle, which he now sent by Aristarchus to the Colossians, that they might peruse it; that thereby they might see the propriety of sending a copy of his epistle to them, to the Laodicean Church. Many eminent critics are of this opinion, which appears to me to be both forced and far fetched. Others think that the Epistle to the Ephesians is the epistle in question, and that it was originally directed to them, and not to the Ephesians. See the notes on Eph 1:1, etc. But others, equally learned, think that there was an epistle, different from that to the Ephesians, sent by St. Paul to the Laodiceans, which is now lost. There was an epistle under this direction in the times of Theodoret and Jerome, for both of them mention it; but the latter mentions it as apocryphal, Legunt quidam et ad Laodicenses Epistolam, sed ab omnibus exploditur; "Some read an Epistle to the Laodiceans, but it is exploded by all." The seventh Ecumenic council, held in 787, states that the ancients allowed that there was an epistle with this direction, but that all the orthodox rejected it as supposititious.
An epistle ad Laodicenses is still extant in the Latin language, a very ancient copy of which is in the library Sancti Albani Andegavensis, St. Alban's of Anjou. Hutter has translated it into Greek, but his translation is of no authority. Calmet has published this epistle, with various readings from the above MS. I shall subjoin it at the end of this epistle, and give my opinion relative to its use and authenticity. A copy of this epistle stands in this place as a portion of Divine revelation in one of my own MSS. of the Vulgate.
Say to Archippus - Who this person was we cannot tell; there have been various conjectures concerning him; some think he was bishop, or overseer of the Church at Colosse, in the absence of Epaphras. Whatever he was, it has been supposed that he had been remiss in discharging the duties of his office; and hence this direction of the apostle, which appears here in the light of a reprehension. But if the same person be meant as in the Epistle to Philemon, Plm 1:2, whom St. Paul calls his fellow laborer and fellow soldier, it cannot be supposed that any reproof is here intended; for, as the Epistle to the Colossians, and that to Philemon, were evidently written about the end of the year 62, Archippus could not be a fellow laborer and fellow soldier of the apostle at Rome, and yet a delinquent at Colosse at the same time. It is more likely, therefore, that the words of the apostle convey no censure, but are rather intended to stir him up to farther diligence, and to encourage him in the work, seeing he had so much false doctrine and so many false teachers to contend with.
The salutation by the hand of me Paul - The preceding part of the epistle was written by a scribe, from the mouth of the apostle: this, and what follows, was written by the hand of St. Paul himself. A similar distinction we find, Co1 16:21, and in Th2 3:17; and this, it seems, was the means by which the apostle authenticated every epistle which he sent to the different Churches. The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle, so I write.
Remember my bonds - See what proof ye have of the truth of the Gospel; I am in bonds on this account; I suffer patiently, yea, exult in the Lord Jesus, so perfectly am I upheld by the grace of the Gospel. Remember my bonds, and take courage. How eloquent were these concluding words! That such a man should be in bonds for the Gospel, was the fullest proof of the truth of the Gospel. A cunningly devised fable could not have imposed on Saul of Tarsus; he was fully satisfied of the truth of the doctrines of Christianity; he proclaimed them as truths from heaven; and for their sake cheerfully suffered the loss of all things. The bonds of such a man are a plenary proof of the truth of the doctrines for which he was bound.
Grace be with you - May you still possess the favor and blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ: the apostle ends, as he began, this epistle. Without the grace of Christ they could not have become a Church; without this grace they could not continue to be one.
Amen - This is omitted by the most ancient and correct MSS.
The subscriptions, as usual, are various and uncertain: -
The common Greek text has, To the Colossians, written from Rome by Tychicus and Onesimus.
The Epistle to the Colossians; written at Rome, and sent by the hand of Tychicus. Syriac.
To the Colossians. Ethiopic.
In the Vulgate there is no subscription.
The end of the epistle; and it was written from Rome, and sent by the hand of Tychicus and Onesimus. Praise be to God for ever and ever; and may his mercy be upon us. Amen. Arabic.
Written from Athens by Tychicus, and Onesimus, and Mark, his disciples. Coptic.
The MSS. are not less various than the versions:
To the Colossians. - That to the Colossians is completed; that to the Philippians begins. - That to the Colossians is finished; the First Epistle to the Thessalonians begins. - To the Colossians, from Rome. - Written to the Colossians from Rome. - Written from Rome by Tychicus, and Timotheus, and Onesimus. - Written by Paul and Timothy, and sent by Tychicus, and Onesimus.
That the epistle was written from Rome there is little cause to doubt: that Timothy might be the scribe is very probable, because it appears he was at Rome with the apostle in the same year in which this epistle was written. See Phi 2:19. And that it was sent by Tychicus and Onesimus, seems evident from the 8th and 9th verses of this chapter.
The common subscription has the consent of the greater number of the most recent and comparatively recent MSS., but this is not, in general, a proof of authenticity.