Paul’s Letters

There is treasure hidden in Paul’s thirteen letters, but the path to find it is not obvious. Here is a tip: in the Bible, Paul’s letters are not sequenced in chronological order.

The Bible rarely gives us specific dates about events it addresses, which can be frustrating for modern readers. As an example, this is a very brief timeline of the first four decades of Christianity that is probably correct to within a few years:

27 AD to 30 AD           Ministry of Jesus

30 AD to 39 AD           Death, resurrection of Jesus; Christianity spreads among the Jews

40 AD to 48 AD           Christianity spreads increasingly to non-Jews

48 AD to 57 AD           Paul’s three missionary journeys

58 AD to 70 AD           Paul’s imprisonment; Paul’s death; Temple destroyed

Paul wrote his letters within the two decades of 48 AD to 68 AD. His thirteen generally accepted letters are arranged in the New Testament in two blocks: the nine written to churches, then the four written to individuals. The nine written to churches are generally placed in order by length. (This also assumes Hebrews was not written by Paul.)


This episode presumes Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemonat the same time, and sent them by Tychicus and Onesimus. Colossiansmay have been written to all of the churches in the Lycus Valley, not just one particular church among them. Based on Colossians 4:2, Paul probably wrote and sent a letter to the church at Laodicea at the same time, but no copy of that letter is known to exist.

Paul lived in Ephesus for three years during the Third Missionary Journey, so he personally knew most people in the church of that large city. It is possible the church at Colossae was started during that period by one of the people working with Paul. The Bible doesn’t say whether Paul had been to Colossae or if he personally knew its leaders.

Based on Philemon 1:1-2, Philemon was a leader in the church at Colossae. Onesimus was a runaway slave owned by Philemon, and Paul was sending him back to Philemon. You can rightly guess Paul’s instructions about slaves and masters in both Ephesiansand Colossianswere pointed straight at Philemon while also intended for all other Christians. For this reason, it is profitable to read those passages and Philemonat the same time to get better context.

Colossians 2:8 and 2:16-28 are indications the church at Colossae was being influenced by false teachers. In response to this, and in an effort to make sure the Colossians knew the true Gospel, Paul spends much of the first part of the letter explaining the Gospel and the supremacy of Christ while refuting false teachings. One of the most powerful of Paul’s statements is found in Colossians 1:15, which says Jesus is the exact image or representation of God, the firstborn over all creation.  This verse would be instrumental throughout the coming centuries as theologians tried to understand the true nature of Christ.

As you read Chapters 3 and 4, remember the Christians in Colossae needed to learn the fundamentals of living with Christian morals. They grew up in as society where people worshiped false gods, and participated in drunkenness and sexual immorality as normal behavior. They needed to learn to behave properly as individuals and as family members.

Primary Scriptures:
Colossians 1-4
Story Summary:
Paul’s letter to the churches in Colossae
Roman Empire; Asia; Colossae
AD 30 Jesus crucified and resurrected; Pentecost; Holy Spirit arrives AD 48 Paul’s “famine visit” to Jerusalem; First Missionary Journey starts AD 50 Council at Jerusalem; Start of Second Missionary Journey. AD 53 Start of Third Missionary Journey AD 61 Paul writes Colossians while imprisoned