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Colossians: Real Paul or Fake Paul

August 4, 2010

(Last week, when I took my first pass at writing my sermon, I wrote a bit about last Sunday’s reading from the Letter to the Colossians. Ultimately, I cut that bit out of the final sermon, but I thought it might be worth posting here. So here it is.)

The Letter to the Colossians is one of the letters attributed to Paul which many scholars believe was not, in fact, written by Paul. Many scholars believe it was written after Paul’s death by someone else, but in Paul’s name so as to clear up any confusion Paul’s followers may have had regarding what Paul thought about Roman social norms—particularly the subservient role of women in Roman society.

In the letters of Paul that scholars agree were indeed written by Paul–known as the “undisputed” letters of Paul–there are some tantalizing hints that Paul was supportive of female equality relative to men. For instance, in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

In today’s reading from Colossians, we hear an echo of that line from Galatians. But did you notice what was different? In Colossians, the letter writer—whomever he was—writes: “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.” What did the Colossians writer leave out which Paul included in his letter to the Galatians?

That’s right! Paul wrote, “there is no longer male and female”in Galatians but the Colossians writer omitted that. Apparently, Jesus has leveled the playing field for Greeks and Jews, barbarians and Scythians–but for men and women, not so much. Furthermore, later on in the Letter to the Colossians, the Paul stand-in adds that emphatic and controversial line, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” “Wives be subject to your husbands…” That line is sometimes translated, “Wives, submit to your husands…” And that line and, indeed, that sentiment never appear in the undisputed letters of Paul.

Well, anyway, all of that is kind of a long-winded way of saying that I question the authority of Colossians. And I have a hard time taking seriously the simplistic moralism of today’s passage from Colossians—“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly”? Really? “The wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient”? Really? What about that famous and undisputed line of Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say: rejoice!” What about Jesus constantly preaching forgiveness to all? What about Jesus’ concern for the earthly needs of the sick, the hungry and the needy.

 Nope. Sorry, Colossians, I don’t buy it.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brother Ben permalink
    August 4, 2010 6:29 pm

    Maybe it was written by the same guy who wrote Hebrews?

    That is not a serious conjecture, but the point is that we do not only believe passages written by Paul to be scripture. So many other authors contributed to the Bible, and to some degree we may need to trust what the Lord has allowed to persist in what we call His Word. The Lord is, after all, powerful enough to have removed such apocryphal books from Scripture.

    • marthagoodwill permalink*
      August 5, 2010 5:13 pm

      If your point is that it doesn’t really matter who wrote Colossians, then I agree with you. Just as it doesn’t really matter whether or not Jesus actually said all that is attributed to him.

      However, if you are saying that because it is in the Bible it was put there intentionally by God, then I hope you are also still observing all 613 Jewish commandments and that you have no plans for divorce (Mark 10:2-12.)

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