Sunday School Bible Survey:      COLOSSIANS

Theme: Pre-eminence of Christ

Key verse: "that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Col. 1:18b).

From the Scofield Study Bible:

Writer: The Apostle Paul (1:1)

Date: Colossians was sent by the same messenger who bore Ephesians and Philemon, and was probably written at the same time.

Theme: Epaphras, who laboured in the Word in the assembly at Colosse, was Paul's fellow-prisoner at Rome. Doubtless from him Paul learned the state of that church. As to fundamentals that state was excellent (1:3-8), but in a subtle way two forms of error were at work: The first was legality in its Alexandrian form of asceticism, "touch not, taste not," with a trace of the Judaic observance of "days"; the object of which was the mortification of the body (cf. Romans 8:13). The second form of error was false mysticism, "intruding into those things which he hath not seen" — the result of philosophic speculation. Because these are ever present perils, Colossians was written, not for that day only, but for the warning of the church in all days.

The Epistle is in seven divisions:

  1. Introduction (1:1-8)
  2. The apostolic prayer (1:9-14)
  3. The exaltation of Christ, Creator, Redeemer, Indweller (1:15-29)
  4. The Godhead incarnate in Christ, in whom the believer is complete (2:1-23).
  5. The believer's union with Christ in resurrection life and glory (3:1-4)
  6. Christian living, the fruit of union with Christ (3:5—4:6)
  7. Christian fellowship (4:7-18)


  1. Colosse was a small town near Laodicea in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).
  2. Several years after writing this letter, Colosse was destroyed by an earthquake. Paul had never been to Colosse when he wrote this epistle (Colossians 2:1).
  3. He was in Ephesus (Colosse was about 75 to 100 miles east of Ephesus) for about two years where he had his most fruitful ministry (Acts 19:8-19).
  4. Philemon lived in Colosse, and a church was established in his house (Philemon 2).
  5. Epaphras was probably the pastor of the Colossian church (Colossians 1:7, 8; 4:12, 13).
  6. Paul intended to visit there when he was released from prison (Philemon 22).
  7. We probably never would have heard of the town of Colosse had it not been for Paul's epistle to the Colossians.
  8. There are several doctrinal errors addressed in this epistle, but the two notable errors were Phariseeism (salvation by works or "legalism"), and Gnosticism, a strange but popular mysticism which had a false concept of the Lord Jesus Christ.


  1. Gnosticism was a mixture of mysticism, pantheism, and other pagan philosophies, such as asceticism (influenced by Greek Stoicism) and licentiousness (from Greek Epicureanism).
  2. It seems strange that Gnosticism could embrace these two extremes. They taught that the body was evil, and the only way to overcome sensuality was to indulge bodily cravings to the full, even to excess and satiety.
  3. Colossians 2:16, 23 and 3:5-9 refute Gnosticism.
  4. The goal of the Gnostics was knowledge. Therefore, Gnostics assumed an air of superiority, "an exclusive spirit" (J. Vernon McGee).
  5. The Gnostics taught that God did not create the universe directly, but that He created an angel, who in turn created another angel, until one finally created the entire physical universe. To the Gnostics, Christ was a created being. This is similar to the Jehovah's Witness error that Jehovah God created Jesus, who in turn created the rest of creation.
  6. Colossians 1:16 says, "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him."
  7. The Jehovah's Witness cult's "New World Translation" inserted the word "other" into Colossians 1:16 so it reads, "because by means of him all (other) things were created..."

OUTLINE (adapted from J. Vernon McGee):

  1. DOCTRINAL (Chapters 1, 2)
    In Christ, the fullness of God, we are made full.
  1. Introduction (1:1-8)
  2. Paul's prayer (1:9-14)
  3. Person of Christ (1:15-19)
  4. Objective work of Christ for sinners (1:20-23)
  5. Subjective work of Christ for saints (1:24-29)
  6. Christ, the answer to philosophy (2:1-15)
  7. Christ, the answer to ritual (2:16-23)

  1. PRACTICAL (Chapters 3, 4)
    Christ, the fullness of God, poured out in life through believers.
  1. Thoughts and affections of believers are heavenly (3:1-4)
  2. Living of believers is holy (3:5 — 4:6)
  3. Fellowship of believers is hearty (4:7-18)

These are simple Sunday School survey notes. They are not for sale. The author used many outlines from popular Bible teachers such as C.I. Scofield and J. Vernon McGee, and he has tried to give credit when using their material.

—  Pastor James J. Barker  —