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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Date of Composition.

1.

Of the six who send greetings to Colossae, five also salute Philemon (see COL 4:10–14 ). The names of Timothy ( 1:1; Philem 1 ) and Onesimus ( 4:9; Philem 10 ) appear in both letters, as does that of Archippus as one of the recipients ( 4:17; Philem 2 ). Opponents of the authenticity of Colossians claim that its author borrowed the personalia from Philemon in order to give Pauline colouring to Colossians, but cite no evidence to show that this was a normal tactic to get a forgery accepted—it was not considered necessary by the author of Ephesians—and fail to explain the changes in order and qualifications. Hence, Colossians must be dated to the same imprisonment as Philemon 4:10, 18; Philem 1, 9, 23 .

2.

This incarceration took place at Ephesus (1 Cor 15:32; 2 Cor 1:8 ) in the years 53–4, rather than at Rome in the early 60s (contra Dunn 1996: 41). When in Rome all Paul's attention was focused on Spain (Rom 15:24, 28 ), but Philem 22 and Phil 1:26; 2:24 reveal plans to visit Colossae and Philippi. The action of Onesimus is explicable only if Paul was in the vicinity of Colossae (Lampe 1985 ). The speed of the contacts between Paul and Philippi (Phil 2:25–30 ) exclude Rome as the place of imprisonment.

3.

Assumptions regarding Paul's theological development cannot be given any weight in this discussion (against Bruce 1977: 411–12). Even if we could be absolutely sure of the precise chronological order of the letters, it would mean little. The letters are not homogeneous segments of an ongoing research project, each one building on its predecessor, but reactions to specific problems, in which what Paul says is conditioned by the needs of the recipients, and by his own estimate of what will be an effective response.

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