Evidence that Paul Did Not Write Colossians

Image result for image of colossians

Excerpts from an article by NT scholar, Bart Ehrman, on his blog:

As with every instance of forgery, the case of Colossians is cumulative, involving multiple factors. None has proved more decisive over the past thirty years than the question of writing style. The case was made most effectively in 1973 by Walter Bujard, in a study both exhaustive and exhausting, widely thought to be unanswerable.

Bujard compares the writing style of Colossians to the other Pauline letters, focusing especially on those of comparable length (Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians), and looking at an inordinately wide range of stylistic features: the use of conjunctions (of all kinds); infinitives; participles, relative clauses; repetitions of words and word groups; use of antithetical statements; parallel constructions; the use of preposition ἐν; the piling up of genitives; and on and on. In case after case, Colossians stands apart from Paul’s letters.

…Bujard goes on like this for a very long time, page after page, statistic after statistic.  What is striking is that all these features point the same way.  When one adds to these the other commonly noted (though related) features of the style of Colossians — the long complex sentences, the piling up of genitives, the sequences of similar sounding words, and so on – the conclusion can scarcely be denied.  This book is not written in Paul’s style.

…Arguments based on style are strongly supported by considerations of content.  In several striking and significant ways the teaching of Colossians differs from the undisputed letters.  Most commonly noted is the eschatological view, to which we will return later in our discussion.   In 1:13 the author insists that God (already) “has delivered us from the authority of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son.”  Already?  An aorist tense?  Is this Paul?  More striking still is 2:12-13, and 3:1, which insist that believers have already experienced a kind of spiritual resurrection after having died with Christ: “you were also raised (aorist) in him through faith” … God “made you alive with him” … “if then you have been raised up with Christ” – statements in clear tension with Paul’s emphatic statements elsewhere, such as Romans 6:1-6, where it is quite clear that, whereas those who have been baptized “have died” with Christ, they decidedly have not been “raised up” with him yet.   This is an important point in Paul’s theology, not a subsidiary matter.  The resurrection is something future, something that is yet to happen.  So too Philippians 3:11 – “if somehow I might obtain to the resurrection from the dead.”  And yet more emphatically in 1 Corinthians 15: “in Christ all shall be made alive … we shall all be changed … the dead will be raised.”   One can easily argue that this is one of the – if not the single – key to understanding Paul’s opposition to the Corinthian enthusiasts.  They believed they were leading some kind of spiritual, resurrected existence, and Paul insisted that it had not yet happened.  They may have died with Christ, but they had not yet been raised with him.  That will come only at the end.

And what does the author of Colossians think?  Believers have not only died with Christ but they have also been raised with him.  They are already leading a kind of glorious existence in the present.  This is the view Paul argues against in Corinth.  Maybe he changed his mind.  But given the stylistic differences – and the other matters of content to be discussed – it seems unlikely.  Colossians is written by someone who has taken a twist on a Pauline theme, moving it precisely in the direction Paul refused to go.

…This author speaks famously of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” for the sake of the church (1:24), a shocking image for Paul:  were Christ’s sufferings in some way inadequate and needed to be completed?  At the same time the author offers an exalted Christology (1:15-20), far beyond anything in the undisputed letters, even the Philippians hymn:  Christ is the “image of the invisible God,” the “first born of creation,” “in him all things were created … and in him all things hold together,” “in him all the fullness was well pleased to dwell.”   This is far closer to the Johannine prologue than Paul.   As a result, in comparison with Paul, the author of Colossians seems to have a much higher view of Christ (1:15-20) and a much lower view of the efficacy of his death (1:24).

…The Haustafel of [Colossians] 3:18-4:1 has long been thought of as non-Pauline, and for reasons related to the realized eschatology already noted.   In particular, this domestication of Paul in his embrace of family ideals stands at odds with Paul’s firmly stated preference, for himself and others, for celibacy.  Nowhere in Paul’s letters do we find such a celebration of standard Greco-Roman ethics; on the contrary, Paul insisted on the superiority of the ascetic life free from marriage (1 Corinthians 7).  This, indeed, was the appropriate response to a world that was in the processs of “passing away.”  Here in Colossians, on the other hand, the world is not passing away (there is no imminent crisis); it is here for the long haul, and so are the Christians who make up Christ’s body in it.  As a result, they need to adopt behavior appropriate for the long term.  Relations to those living outside the community are especially important, not to inform them of the “impending crisis” but to maintain a proper upstanding relationship.   In short, this is written by someone who knows the church has been here and will be here for the long term.  There is no imminent expectation of the coming end.  On the basis of all these considerations, it is clear that with Colossians we are not dealing with a letter of Paul, but a letter of someone wanting his readers to think he is Paul.






End of post.


7 thoughts on “Evidence that Paul Did Not Write Colossians

  1. The difficulty in getting believers to understand that these documents are blatant forgeries is the fact that apologists and their ilk have had a couple of thousand years head start!

    It’s a slow process, but I don’t think it will take the same length of time to set things right and demonstrate all of it is nothing but a crock.


    1. Ark, it is just not as simple as this. My understanding is that even among critical scholars there is not a consensus. Both you and Gary have a strong bias, sadly, a real antipathy against the Christian faith. This impacts your thinking in these matters as much as anything else. For, myself, I don’t think any of these writers are completely unbiased. We can only do our best to examine all sides of an argument and make up our own minds.


      1. Gary and I do not pander to superstitious nonsense.
        As I stated, it is a slow process getting people to understand how disingenuous much of the bible is and also how dishonest many of those are who punt it as ‘Truth’ (sic).

        In terms of people recognizing these facts, you Becky, are still a very long way out in the wilderness of indoctrination.


      2. Per Gary, and Ark, the critical semi-consensus (80-90 percent, from what I know, but NOT unanimous) is that it’s not Pauline. Were the only criteria literary, the amount of “hapaxes” is not greater than in some other Pauline letters, and otherwise, a decent argument could be made for Pauline authorship.

        Beyond issues Gary mentions, one related, and one other.

        The related one is the apparent “gnosticizing,” seen most in 2:20, the “stoicheioon,” which is often translated as “fundamental principles” or similar. Not saying that the author, whomever, was a full-blown Gnostic, but elements are there. And a bit, elsewhere.

        On Gary’s point, the realized eschatology? There is a degree of it, but not like in Luke. If it’s not authentic, I would date it no later than the 80s.

        Not mentioned by Gary is its relationship to the circular letter which eventually had “to the Ephesians” added. The dependence of one on the other, and which on which, is still not really settled.

        The 1:24? Contra Gary, I don’t think that undercuts Pauline authorship. After all, in 1 Corinthians, he called on his readers to imitate him.


        1. “The related one is the apparent “gnosticizing,” seen most in 2:20, the “stoicheioon,” which is often translated as “fundamental principles” or similar. Not saying that the author, whomever, was a full-blown Gnostic, but elements are there. And a bit, elsewhere.”

          “but elements are there”

          any scholarly article discussing these elements?


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