The Letters to the Colossians & the Ephesians
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Introduction | Outlines | Themes | Questions | Bibliography

Ephesus: Library of CelsusIntroduction:

Outlines of the Letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians:


Letter Opening (1:1-8)

  1. Sender & Recipients (1:1-2a)
  2. Formulaic Greeting (1:2b)
  3. Thanksgiving: Faith, hope, love of the community (1:3-8)

Letter Body (1:9—4:6)

  1. Prayer for the well-being of the community (1:9-14)
  2. The exalted Christ as source of our heavenly salvation (1:15—2:23)
    1. Hymn to Christ as image of God and Savior (1:15-20)
    2. Apostle's ministry reveals God's salvation (1:21—2:7)
    3. Against those who preach a false salvation based on "angelic worship" (2:8-23)
  3. Living the Christian life (3:1—4:6)
    1. Holiness manifests the "new creation" which Christians have become in baptism (3:1-17)
    2. "Household code": Behavior of wives and husbands, children and fathers, slaves and masters (3:18—-4:1)
    3. Continue in prayer and wise conduct toward outsiders (4:2-6)

Letter Conclusion (4:7-18)

  1. Tychicus & Onesimus will report about Paul's welfare (4:7-9)
  2. Individual greetings from Paul's associates (4:10-14)
  3. Greetings to the Laodiceans & instructions for exchanging letters (4:15-17)
  4. Final appeal and Blessing (4:18)

Letter Opening (1:1-14)

  1. Sender & Recipients (1:1)
  2. Formulaic Greeting (1:2)
  3. Blessing Prayer: heavenly mysteries in Christ (1:3-14)

Letter Body (1:15—6:20)

  1. Prayer for the faith, love and hope of those whom God has made part of the body of the heavenly Christ (1:15-23)
  2. Through the apostles God has made the Gentiles alive in Christ (2:1—3:21)
    1. Contrast between their old "death" in sin and life in Christ (2:1-10)
    2. Reconciliation of the Gentiles to God in the one body of Christ (2:11-22)
    3. Paul's suffering and ministry to bring the Gentiles into the body of Christ (3:1-13)
    4. Prayer for faith and love among Paul's converts (3:14-21)
  3. Christian life in the world (4:1—6:20)
    1. Unity of the body of Christ which is built up by different ministries (4:1-16)
    2. Old life in darkness" contrasted with new life as "children of light" (4:17—5:21)
    3. Household code: Marriage in Christ; children and parents; slaves and masters (5:22—6:9)
    4. Gird yourselves for spiritual warfare (6:10-20)

Letter Conclusion (6:21-24)

  1. Paul is sending Tychicus, a faithful minister (6:21-22)
  2. Generic greetings to the whole community (6:23)
  3. Final Blessing (6:24)

Major Themes:

Theological Differences between Colossians/Ephesians and Paul’s Early Letters:

Category of Theology: Paul's Early Letters Colossians / Ephesians

(about Jesus)

earthly, human, suffering  [like Mark]
(1Cor 2:2; Gal 3:1; 6:14; cf. Phil 2:5-11)

cosmic, divine, exalted  [like John]
(Col 1:15-20; 2:9-10;  Eph 1:3-4, 21-22)

(on the Church)

many local churches, each forms the “body of Christ”
(Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12-27)

one world-wide body, with Christ as head of the body
(Col 1:18, 24;  Eph 1:22-23; 3:8-10; 5:23-32)

Moral Theology:
(on Sin & Forgiveness)

freedom from sin (sing.)
(Rom 5:1-21; 6:1-23; 8:1-4; Gal 5:1, 13)

forgiveness of sins (pl.) through Christ
(Col 1:14; 2:13; 3:13;  Eph 1:7; 2:1-3)

(on the End Times)
& Soteriology:
(on Salvation)

temporal focus, “imminent” expectation:
Christ will return soon,
we will be raised on the day of the Lord
(1 Cor 4:5; 15:20-24; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 5:1-6)

spatial focus, “realized” interpretation:
Christ now reigns above,
we share resurrection life already now
(Col 1:11-14; 2:12-13; 3:1-3;  Eph 1:20; 2:4-6)


Literary Dependence:
Is Ephesians a later expansion of Colossians? Note the similarity in the themes and structure of both letters:

Ephesians  Colossians  Topic
1:1-2 1:1-2 Introduction
1:7 1:14, 20 Redemption, forgiveness
1:10 1:20 All-inclusive Christ
1:15-17 1:3-4, 9-10 Intercession for the readers
1:18 1:27 Riches of glorious inheritance
1:21-22 1:16-18 Christ's domain
2:5 2:13 You he made alive
2:12-13 1:21-22 Aliens brought near
2:15 2:14 Abolishing the commandments 
3:1 1:24 Paul, the prisoner
3:2-3 1:25-26 Divine mystery made known to Paul
3:7 1:23, 25 Paul, minister of the universal gospel
3:8-9 1:27 Paul to make known the mystery to all
4:1 1:10 Lead a life worthy of your calling
4:2 3:12-13 With all lowliness, meekness, patience forebearing one another
4:15-16 2:19 Christ unites members of the Church
4:22-32 3:5-10, 12 Put off old nature and put on new nature
5:3-6 3:5-9 No immorality among you
5:15 4:5 Walk wisely and make the most of time
5:19-20 3:16-17 Sing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, giving thanks to God
5:21-6:9 3:18-4:1 Household Duties: husbands, wives, children, parents, slaves, masters
6:18-20 4:2-3 Paul the prisoner exhorts persistence in prayer
6:21-22 4:7-8 Tychicus sent to inform church about Paul and to encourage them

The Househ
old Codes:

This section has been moved to its own page. Please click here for analysis of the Household Codes.

Questions for Review and Discussion:

  1. Why do many scholars believe that the Letter to the Colossians was not written by Paul himself, but by one of his disciples after his death? Are there any reasons to believe that Paul did write it near the end of his life? Which arguments do you find the most convincing?
  2. Why do most scholars believe that the Letter to the Ephesians was almost certainly not written by Paul himself, but by one of his disciples late in the first century?
  3. How is the concept of the "Church" in Colossians and Ephesians significantly different from what Paul calls the "church" or "churches" in the undisputed letters?

For Further Reading and Study 

Electronic New Testament Educational Resources

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