Interpretation of The Pauline Letters

Interpretation of The Pauline Letters

“Colossians 1:24–29”

The city of Colossae resided in the Lycus Valley, approximately 100 miles east of Ephesus. The city was strategically important during the Persian War of the fifth century. B.C. However, new trade routes were developed after the war and this left Colossae to become a country village. The inhabitants of Colossae were mainly Greek and native Phrygians but there were many Jews present in the population. Colossae was not the most important church that the epistle of St Paul is addressed. Churches had developed in Colossae, but Paul had yet to visit the Lycus Valley when he wrote this epistle. Paul more likely had learned of the churches growing in the Valley from Epaphras and others (Constable, 2007).1

At the time of the writing of the Epistles there was some form of heresy threatening the churches in Colossae. The description of this heresy stems from allusions within the epistle. The conclusion of most biblical scholars is that the false teachers referred to in the epistle were committing heresy by not giving Christ proper interpretation or emphasis. The belief was that these heretics were distorting and diminishing the doctrines of Christ.2 For example in contrast to Christ, the heretical teachers were teaching that worshipping angels could change natural outcomes. This false teaching had a philosophic appeal by placing emphasis on deeper knowledge and understanding of the cosmic order. False teaching also included Judaist ritualism and traditionalism present. As well as an emphasis on ascetic self-denial, the false teaching contained the concept that complete knowledge of the truth could understand and experience spiritual maturity (Constable, 2007). The beliefs in these teachings would develop into Gnosticism, which in its early form the Jewish elements were emphasized but would later translate to the Greek Gnosticism (Ellis, 1962). The development of Greek Gnosticism would create a new form of interpretation of the bible and would be considered heretical to the teachings of Christ.3

The primary perception of Gnosticism is that the Gnostics maintain secret knowledge of God and the universe which was divined through a passive understanding of spiritual concepts. For instance, the early understanding of these beliefs would alter the view of Christ as a Savior and instead view him as a liberator or revealer of knowledge.4 These beliefs would provoke the response of Paul and place them at odds with the church. By the end of the fifth century the Gnostics would be outlawed and hunted for their heresy (Constable, 2007).

Colossians 1:24–29 has many interpretations but with regard to the rising threat in Colossae the passage offers two compelling translations. These translations by fault of interpretation create a broad base for understanding Paul’s message. Some interpretations concentrate on the idea of servitude and other interpretations focus on idea of Christ dwelling within the individual. The meaning of Paul’s message has become the subject of debate from many bible scholars but it is obvious that with either interpretation Paul is contradicting the preaching of the false teachers of Colossae.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. New American Standard Bible the translation Colossians (1: 24–29).

Paul discusses in these passages the labor and striving is in the stewardship of God and that by teaching the word of Christ “…that we may present every man complete in Christ (Zondervan, 2000).” Paul calls this the mystery and explains this to mean that those who strive to be like Christ allow Christ to work through them. This interpretation is widely accepted and coincides with the idea of Christ dwelling within the person. But in this contextual framework the idea of servitude is emphasized and is often viewed not just in accepting and living by Christ but also in preaching the word of Christ to others. “…admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom… (Zondervan , 2000)”

The other widely accepted interpretation of this passage is present in the New King James version is the idea that Christ dwells within people.

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily (King James, 1982).

The King James Version seems to have more clarity with regard to this idea “…Christ in you… (King James, 1982)” This concept and the idea of servitude are both of extreme importance in the letter to the Colossians. Paul is almost speaking directly to the growing heresy in the church that would become Gnosticism. The belief that Jesus is divine and he works with people to find God is in complete contradiction to Gnosticism which would argue that finding God is in understanding of spiritual concepts. Although the King James and the New American versions are similar in this idea there are subtle contextual differences resulting from their translations. The first translation offers a more expository view of understanding that Christ dwells within each person and that service to Christ is ultimately the path to God. But the King James version offers a stronger demand for this thinking, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man… (King James, 1982)”

These differences are the result of translating from what is known as Alexandrian text-type which is the form of the Greek New Testament that dominates the earliest surviving documents of the bible.5 In contrast the New American Standard Bible was translated from several sources including the Hebrew Bible, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls and from the Greek New Testament. This translation provides slight differences in connotative meanings which have resulted in the many different variations of biblical interpretation.

However, the major concept that Paul relates through the Colossians 1:24–29 remains fairly consistent. The idea that God should be serviced through belief in the word of Christ and his teachings and that Christ dwells in all whom believe in him, manifests itself in the passages. This idea lends itself to describing the quality of God being one of not just Fatherly but of also being an overseer to life. In this capacity God provides for people by giving them access to a living model, Christ, in which they can achieve eternal salvation.


Constable, T. (2022). Notes on Colossians. Join the Journey, Retrieved from 

Black, D.A. (2006) New Testament Textual Criticism. Ada, MI: Baker Books

Dunn, J. (1996). The epistles to the colossians and to philemon: a commentary on the greek text (new international greek testament commentary series). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Ellis, E.E. (1962). The Epistle to the colossians. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 71(12), 1333-1334.

Harris, S. (1985). Understanding the bible. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield.

King James. (1982). Passage results: colossians 1:24–29 (new king james version). Retrieved from 

Zondervan. (2000). Life application study bible: new american standard bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


1- Christian preacher whom spread the Gospel to his fellow Colossian citizens (Col. 1:7; 4:12). While Paul was held prisoner in Rome.

2 — “Members of the congregation at Colossae had incorporated pagan elements into their practice, including worship of elemental spirits. Paul declared Christ’s supremacy over the entire created universe and exhorted Christians to lead godly lives. Like most of Paul’s epistles, this consists of two parts: first a doctrinal section, then a second regarding conduct. In both sections, Paul opposes false teachers who have been spreading error in the congregation (Harris, 1985).”

3 — In many Gnostic systems, the idea of God is translated into the superior God, who is also known by such names as the One, the Monad, Aion teleos. The Gnostic Society Library. Retrieved 07/30/2022.

4 — Jesus is viewed by Gnostics as a great revealer of truth but not as an agent of salvation. The Gnostic Society Library. Retrieved 07/30/2022.

5 — From — (Black, 2006) “The Alexandrian text-type is the form of the Greek New Testament that predominates in the earliest surviving documents, as well as the text type used in Egyptian Coptic manuscripts. In later manuscripts (from the 9th century onwards), the Byzantine text-type became far more common and remains as the standard text in the Greek Orthodox church and also underlies most Protestant translations of the Reformation era. Most modern New Testament translations, however, now use an Eclectic Greek text that is closest to the Alexandrian text-type.”


Photo by Aaron Burden

Article Updated: 07/30/2022


Triola Vincent. Mon, Mar 15, 2021. Interpretation of The Pauline Letters Retrieved from

Need similar articles?

Back to: Ten Years of Academic Writing