If Ephesians Used Colossians…

I’m doing some digging about in Colossians these days, so you’ll probably find an unusual concentration of Colossians related throughts on the blog for the next few weeks.

One perennial question about Colossians is who wrote it. The letter speaks of church as a more universal entity than the localized communities we see in, say, the Corinthian correspondence. The letter seems to have a more realized eschatology (you are now raised with Christ) in contrast to the reserve evidenced in, say, Romans (we will also live with him).

And, Colossians seems to be a source for the writing of Ephesians, which shares much of the same material, theological bents, and interests. Ephesians is less widely accepted as Pauline than Colossians.

In reflecting on this use of Colossians by Ephesians, James Dunn suggests that the literary dependence is a slight mark on the “non-Pauline” side of the ledger for weighing who wrote Colossians. His argument: Colossians was a model for Ephesians of what a post-Pauline letter should look like.

But I’ve wondered if the use of Colossians by Ephesians doesn’t enter a mark on the other side of this great balancing act. If one was to choose a letter on which to model one’s one post-Pauline correspondence, wouldn’t one choose a letter that he thought to be from Paul’s own hand? If I wanted to further the thought of Paul by writing a Pauline letter, I would seek out the work of the master himself rather than the work of an apprentice.

There are lots of arguments for and against the authorship of various letters. But what do you think about this one? If someone copied Colossians as a model, to write a post-Pauline letter, does that indicate that the writer of Ephesians sees Colossians as Paul’s? or as a first, really strong effort to republish Paul’s thoughts under Paul’s own name?

7 thoughts on “If Ephesians Used Colossians…”

  1. Luke Johnson suggests that Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians were part of a three letter packet sent together through Tychicus.

  2. I find most arguments against Pauline authorship can cut both ways, e.g. it is not like Rom/Cor, therefor Paul didn’t write it/therefor it is unlikely to be an attempt at imitation. It all depends on whether you accept the hypothesis of the incompetent forger or not.

  3. Maybe same author, but not Paul. If your going to bring up Pauline authorship, I’d love to hear your views on Inspiration with Pseudopigraphy (?). For me, I have no problem with non-Pauline authorship, so just curious.

  4. “If someone copied Colossians as a model, to write a post-Pauline letter, does that indicate that the writer of Ephesians sees Colossians as Paul’s?”

    Fair enough, but this need not be more of a “mark for” Pauline authorship of Colossians than early Christian authors using John as a writing they represent as written by John and that being a “mark for” John the disciple as its actual author. As you know well, what an author claims/thinks about another writing is not necessarily evidence that what that author claims/thinks is historically accurate. This is especially the case given the almost ubiquitous practice among literate early Christians to claim a notionally “apostolic” pedigree and authorship for their positions and writings. We tend to calibrate our assessments of the veracity of such “apostolic” claims in connection with such demonstrable interests, strategies, and practices for claiming authorization.

    Keep in mind another consideration among scholars: Colossians contains a so-called “household code,” something absent from the generally accepted 7 authentic Pauline letters (and 2 Thess, which, as you know, I tend to think Paul wrote) but present in Colossians, Ephesians, etc. Some scholars, as Daniel knows, approach this issue from the vantage point of Paul’s letters generally reflecting less concern to address “domestic” institutions and affairs (given that, among other things, Paul expected Christ’s return quite soon). This contrasts with the comparatively greater concern by the authors of Colossians, Ephesians, and especially the Pastorals to reinforce domestic institutions/dynamics characteristic of social locations in which certain kinds of men in relatively dominant social positions had the prestige and power. These writings energetically bind up the essence of Christ devotion with their urged domestic dynamics.

    A more interesting discussion for me resides in the theological interpretation realm. Even though we do not think Paul wrote the Pastorals, and we doubt he wrote Colossians and Ephesians, our canon includes them precisely as Pauline writings. How should this factor into our theological appropriation of Paul? From a theological and canonical standpoint, we seem to have writings illustrating the shape of a canonical, and thus for most of us some kind of theologically legitimate, appropriation of Paul’s authority. Shouldn’t this also somehow factor into our contemporary discussions of what it looks like to appropriate Paul today? If so, how?

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