a. Saints in Christ
b. Brethren in Christ
c. Saints and faithful brethren in Colossae
d. A heavenly blessing has earthly consequences
1. Pauline greetings
2. Non-Pauline greetings
If only the same accepted letter heading and layout was expected of a writer in the first century as it is of someone today, we would have been able to easily see the date of writing, the address of the writer and, even, the name of the organisation from whom the individual was writing.
Such is the way of our own culture and, had it been mimicked in the first century, the discussions of the introduction would have been rendered largely futile and irrelevant - except to those who wouldn’t have accepted the plain and obvious statements recorded for them. That there are a myriad of scholars and lay persons alike who come to the Scriptures and then take great delight in announcing that they know better than the people who had a certain experience or who witnessed a historical event is evident all around us.
So, even though we have a clear statement at the beginning as to the co-authors and the destination of the letter, it’s a good wager that, sooner or later, one will encounter someone who believes neither of them.
In beginning a short discussion of the salutation of this letter, we should note Colbruce who writes that
‘The prescript of an ancient letter regularly consisted of three elements: the name of the sender or senders, the name of the addressee or addressees and a message of greeting’
and it’s this breakdown of the salutation that we’ll look at in three parts on this web page under the headers ‘Sender’, ‘Recipient’ and ‘Greeting’. These aren’t only observable in the recognised letters of the NT from the letters Romans through to Revelation for, in Acts 23:26, we read the record of a ‘secular’ letter which began
‘Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting’
echoing very carefully this threefold structure. The early Church’s declaration of the obligation of the Gentiles in respect of the Mosaic Law is also recorded for us in Acts 15:23 and similarly displays the structure, reading
‘The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting’
which is similar in its simplicity to James’ salutation to his own letter (James 1:1). As he was one of the main figures responsible for the realisation in the Church of the will of God in the matter of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:13ff) it may be construed that he was also mainly responsible for the content and writing of the letter - so that the two greetings closely resemble each other in their simplicity.
These salutations in Acts are both uncomplicated and straightforward and it isn’t until we turn to the writings of Paul the apostle that it becomes somewhat of an artform, for it not only provides the necessary elements but it’s transformed into a declaration of the Gospel in each of its three parts.
Universally through the accepted letters of Paul, all the elements will be demonstrably observable but, when the letters are viewed as a whole - that is, the works which run from Romans to the end of the NT - just two bear no salutation at all. Hebrews, which begins immediately with the writer’s teaching (and which has been a contributory factor, no doubt, to many being hesitant to assign authorship to the apostle Paul) and I John which, although not giving the reader any of the three elements, does open with a short passage which serves as a fitting lead in to the writer’s message.
The only other ‘unusual’ opening is in the Book of Revelation which has the salutation appear in Rev 1:4-6. The reason for this, however, appears to be that an introductory preamble was added very early on in the letter’s circulation by an unknown believer.
Apart from these three ‘anomalies’, each letter has the salutation in the place where one would expect it to occur and with the same general formula.
Paul certainly seems to have got carried away in a number of salutations, going off at a tangent to speak of all manner of thoughts and teachings before ever getting round to the main body of his message. This expansion occurs after all three of the constituent parts in different opening remarks (each of the elements of sender, recipient and greeting) but it’s probably best exemplified in his letter to the Romans in which he seems to get so caught up with his own calling (Rom 1:1) that he gets side-tracked into a general declaration of the Gospel and of the Messenger (Rom 1:2-6).
Just how fast this was able to be written is difficult to know. Just yesterday I watched about fifteen minutes of a three-part documentary on the life of Jesus and, integral to the film, was a sole scribe sitting at a desk trying to form words on the papyrus laid out before him. You could see where the ink blotched, when the recorder struggled to make the pen commit any ink at all to parchment and when he had to resupply his nib with ink, carefully removing the excess before beginning once more where he left off.
Ball-points and paper were certainly not the order of the day - along with the expected speed of writing. Just how quickly Paul (though see below for the evidence that Paul dictated his letters) was able to write his thoughts down before his mind drifted onto fresh ideas that he wanted to include was possibly slow by our own standards and there appears to be some evidence that he left finishing off saying something to begin on another topic, intending to come back to conclude the first idea but never getting there.
In Rom 16:22, we have the direct evidence that Paul may have used an amanuensis on more than one occasion, for the verse (my italics) reads
‘I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord’
as if Paul’s hesitated in his dictation and so the recorder takes the opportunity to write a short word of greeting before Paul returns to his farewell speech - perhaps, even, someone came in that Paul needed to speak with. That this was a common occurrence seems plausible from II Thess 3:17 where we read
‘I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write’
a statement which seems to demand someone other than Paul committing to parchment what’s preceded it but that, conscious that they knew the way he wrote, he wanted to show them the authenticity of the one who’d declared himself to be writing to them. Gal 6:11, which reads
‘See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand’
may also be proof of this assertion. If Paul rarely wrote his own letters, therefore, this adds increased awareness that the process was slower than one would have imagined - even that the writer needed to interrupt the dictation to query what it was that the dictator meant or to clarify points being made that he didn’t want to miss. Interruptions may also have been part and parcel of belonging to the apostolic band and it may be right to think of the letters as having been written at more than one sitting.
Besides, as Paul was imprisoned on various occasions of letters being written, it may have been impractical for him to have personally written a letter.
The declaration of the sender’s name in Paul’s letters also give us the impression that these weren’t written alone - even though we normally ascribe them solely to him. I don’t know why we’ve tended to ignore the testimony of the salutation in our interpretation of the letters compiled into the NT but it seems obvious that Paul didn’t always claim that what was being sent to a person or place was necessarily solely from his own mind. Colbrien, however, comments definitively that the additional names
‘...are not joint authors of the letters’
but his explanation of why they appear, somewhat undermines his dogmatic statement for he writes (my italics) that
‘Their names probably appear alongside Paul’s so as to indicate to the congregation that they too preach and teach the one true gospel...’
There’s no evidence, as far as I can see, to follow this line of reasoning and the likelihood seems to be that they took some part - even if it was only a minor one - in the composition of the letter.
Therefore, Paul associates the writing of I Corinthians with Sosthenes (I Cor 1:1-3), the only place where his co-authorship is declared, and both letters to the Thessalonians (I Thess 1:1, II Thess 1:1) as being from
‘Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy’
Timothy occurs on more than these two occasions for four other letters are attributable to the partnership of both Paul and Timothy (II Cor 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 1:1, Philemon 1) which includes the letter currently under discussion. That Paul wasn’t in the habit of simply including anyone who was present with him as co-author can be seen from Timothy’s mention both in Rom 16:21 and I Cor 16:10 but where his name is lacking in the opening salutation.
It seems best, therefore, to accept that the name of the senders was also a clear statement of the men who were contributors to the content and composition of the letter. The one possible exception, though, must surely be Gal 1:1-2 where Paul names himself but then includes
‘...all the brethren who are with me’
Although it’s possible that those present were about to lend a hand in the composition, it would appear the more likely that he’s noting the presence of many others with him - as if there’s a vast multitude who are behind every word that’s written and who the Galatians can recognise as being supporters of their walk in the Way (or, perhaps better, supporters of the way they should be following Jesus).
Paul also likes to describe himself in his opening words though this isn’t universal (I Thess 1:1, II Thess 1:1). He speaks of himself as an apostle (Rom 1:1, I Cor 1:1, II Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1, Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, I Tim 1:1, II Tim 1:1, Titus 1:1) but, when he includes another alongside himself, he never uses the description in reference to them, a clear indication that Paul saw the function of an apostle to be something to which one is directly called by God Himself (and to which he’s careful to refer - Rom 1:1, I Cor 1:1, II Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1, Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, I Tim 1:1, II Tim 1:1) rather than as a ministry to which a man might strive to achieve (Acts 13:2) - we’ll look at this self-proclamation of Paul a little later as we turn to the opening words of the letter to the Colossian church.
Paul’s also fond of declaring himself as a servant (Rom 1:1, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:1) and it’s the only description he uses at the beginning of his letters to describe both himself and a co-author (Phil 1:1). It occurs alongside the title ‘apostle’ in two of the salutations (Rom 1:1, Phil 1:1).
If referring to someone else, Paul normally refers to them simply as ‘our brother’ (I Cor 1:1, II Cor 1:1, Col 1:1, Philemon 1) and to many others as ‘brethren’ (Gal 1:2). He also, on one occasion, refers to himself as ‘a prisoner’ (Philemon 1) which may have been ploy of his to gain sympathy from the recipient of his letter for what he was about to ask him to do.
Although I don’t intend dealing with the non-Pauline letters in any depth, we should note that the titles used can be significantly different. Peter is careful to announce himself as an apostle in both his letters (I Peter 1:1, II Peter 1:1) but he doesn’t hold up his calling as demonstrably as Paul - even though he notes that he’s an apostle of Jesus, the importance of a specific calling is only inferred rather than clearly declared.
The servant theme is also present (James 1:1, II Peter 1:1, Jude 1) and Jude is careful to establish his blood relationship to James in an attempt, it would appear, to define precisely who he is (Jude 1). It’s John’s introductions which are fairly unusual for he announces himself in both of his short notes simply as ‘the elder’ (II John 1, III John 1) and, if Revelation is accepted as also being by the apostle, he notes himself as ‘John’ (Rev 1:4).
One can’t help but think that in all these three letters, the arrival of a scroll or small piece of parchment was to be identified as coming from a known believer because it had been personally hand-written and that the style of writing was easily recognisable. Paul’s opening remarks were much lengthier to identify himself - but with a personally written end note to identify that he was responsible for what had preceded it.
Having taken this short overview of the opening words of the Pauline salutations, we must turn to the words which Paul uses in his letter to the Colossians.
The opening words of the letter to the Colossians are simple and straightforward at first glance and, as we saw above, are one of the few times when co-authorship seems to be demanded by the context. However, common to this - and to many other of the Pauline letters - is the self-declaration by Paul of his apostleship and it’s this which we’ll consider here.
It’s important that we begin to fix in our own minds the meaning behind the words used, for their inherent meaning here is necessary to understand fully both Paul’s meaning and those of others who employ the same Greek terms.
Although the verb isn’t used in the opening verse, it’s the word closely associated with the noun. The NT writers were faced with the choice of using either this word (Strongs Greek number 649) or another which was equally apt to convey the meaning of being sent (Strongs Greek number 3992) but usually they chose the former (though there’s a fair amount of interchangeability) because, according to Kittels, it
‘...stresses the fact of sending, by its relating of sender and sent and its consequent implication of a commission...’
noted by Vines in the words of Thayer as suggesting
‘...official or authoritative sending’
When used in connection with one of the servants of God, therefore, it means not that an individual or group of people have taken upon themselves to go out and do something because it seemed like a good idea but that they have a Divinely stated command to do so that carries with it the authority of the One who’s personally given it to them.
The noun (Strongs Greek number 652), however, originally appears to have been a nautical term which, according to Kittels, denoted
‘...a naval force with no sense of initiative or authorisation’
while contemporary writers are noted by the same as failing to use the word in the same manner as the NT writers do. It appears, therefore, that the noun ‘apostle’ was coloured by the use of verb and that the early Church took on board the sense of both commission and authority when they normally used the words.
Therefore, the two words were used by the NT writers to denote a person within the universal Church that functioned in particular ways - not legalistically, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with the full authority of God Himself. Even without these definitions of the two words used, the meaning is still apparent when we turn to the NT texts themselves.
We notice, then, that, when the disciples were first sent out to proclaim the Gospel to Israel (Mtw 10:5), Jesus ‘gave them authority’ (Mtw 10:1 Pp Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1-2) an indication that, if the apostle is sent out, the sender of the apostle is also being received (Mtw 10:40). This is of fundamental importance when we begin to try and come to terms with such people who bear the name in the present day church for, in my experience, the men and women who announce themselves as God’s apostles seem to demand unswerving allegiance and obedience but tend to forget that the signs that God’s authority rests upon them should be demonstrated both in and through them.
Some groups have titled the leader of their local fellowships as ‘apostles’ which makes for a very difficult situation to those below them who struggle to identify the authority of God upon them. In my experience, however, the term ‘apostle’ is only used to make people subject to others and there’s not a distinct and specific time when these men and women can say specifically that God spoke to them with their commission.
This is certainly important, for Paul could only say of himself in his salutations that he was a ‘sent out one’ (that is, an apostle) because the Holy Spirit had specifically commanded it (Acts 13:2,4 - Colbruce sees the mention of Paul being an apostle as a result of the meeting with Jesus on the Damascus road in Acts 9:1-9, but the acknowledgement of Paul being one of the apostles seems only to have come later and after the Holy Spirit’s direct command to have both Paul and Barnabas set apart for a special commission).
It also begs the question as to why present day ‘apostles’ can be found heading up local churches in contrast to the first century apostle who went about anywhere he felt he should, proclaiming the Gospel and generally making such a nuisance of himself that he found himself imprisoned on numerous occasions.
This ‘sending out’ is an integral part of the calling of a man or woman to be an apostle and shouldn’t detract from it. If God really no longer needs believers to go out into all the world, then the title ‘apostle’ is obviously redundant but, if there’s still a need, the characteristics of such a person should be in keeping with their first century counterpart.
Although the OT prophets were, in some sense, ‘sent out’ from God with His authority and words, to His people who resided in a specific location, the definition and function of a NT apostle is somewhat different in character and travel seems to be always indicated or inferred.
We must note, however, that the Greek word for ‘apostle’ may not be a technical word wherever and whenever it occurs but may retain the simple meaning of ‘a person who’s sent’. Therefore, the RSV translates the word as ‘messenger’ in both II Cor 8:23 and Phil 2:25 where the latter verse may well have been intended to mean ‘apostle’ in the ministry definition of the word but, as the name ‘Epaphroditus’ occurs only here and in Phil 4:18, we have no way of knowing whether this was Paul’s intention.
However, the labelling of all Paul’s ‘brethren’ in the former Scripture as being ‘apostles’ is probably a wrong interpretation but, even worse, is the assumption by some that it refers to leaders within the local church. This may also be the way the word is used in, for instance, Acts 14:4 where it seems to be a label put upon each person within the travelling band but, later, in Acts 14:14, it’s used to refer just to two of their number, Barnabas and Paul. If I Thess 2:5-6 is meant to be a statement which includes all three authors of the letter, then we’re once again observing the usage of the word for those who were part of the travelling band of believers rather than as a word which had an exclusive application.
The RSV also translates the word simply as ‘he who is sent’ in John 13:16 to show the meaning of Jesus’ words more clearly but, if everyone knew what the word ‘apostle’ meant, the title could have been substituted and would have probably held it’s usual meaning.
The plural ‘apostles’ may also be used as a specific label upon the inner twelve disciples who were specifically chosen by God to be with Jesus, but the context normally points towards this interpretation and needs little additional comment (Mtw 10:2, Mark 6:30, Luke 6:13, 9:10, 17:5, 22:14, 24:10 and many such occurrences in the Book of Acts).
Being sent out is the obvious literal fulfilment of an apostle, therefore, and, in that capacity, they become the bearer of a message and are the recipient of a commission from the One who’s sent them. In the case of Jesus’ apostles, it can be summarised as the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom in both word and deed.
The Gospel, then, is intricately bound up with an apostle’s commission, as Paul notes in II Tim 1:11-12 where he announces that
‘For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do...’
where it seems inconceivable to Paul that suffering could be anything other than part of the proclamation of the message of the Kingdom. Luxury apartments in the south of France certainly don’t ever seem to have crossed the apostle’s mind when it came to earthly consequences of his ministry and, for this reason, perhaps we should start looking for present day apostles amongst those who don’t own cars, who seldom can afford to go abroad for holidays or who find themselves consistently imprisoned for public order offences.
The sending out of the twelve was also accompanied by the command to preach (Mtw 10:7) and Paul notes in I Tim 2:7 that, for the sake of the Gospel, he was
‘...appointed a preacher and apostle...’
(see also Mark 6:12, Luke 9:2, Eph 2:20, 3:5, Rev 21:14) where the declaration of the message of the Gospel is an integral part of the commission. And not just the declaration in word but anointed with the authority of God, also. This means that an apostle must be one who moves in direct revelation from God (Eph 3:5) and, even though some would see the age of fresh revelation ended, if an apostle were ever raised up by God in our present generation, it would be immediately apparent that he was a direct mouthpiece of God, declaring to men and women the will of God. This is certainly not a ministry to be made light of and their fundamental importance to the Church cannot be underemphasised if it’s to successfully advance and grow.
And yet, to have all the words perfect isn’t sufficient without a demonstration of the authority of God in the lives of those to whom the message is being proclaimed. II Cor 12:12 is a little misleading for it reads in the RSV
‘The signs of a true apostle were performed among you in all patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works’
and the reader may take the former mention of ‘signs’ to be explained in the second half of the verse. It seems more likely that the two are quite distinct (even though it’s possible that they represent one and the same). Even so, that miraculous events were to accompany the apostle is clearly stated here as being part and parcel of the outworking of the apostle’s commission. The evidence of both those sent out by Jesus with a commission to the Israelites and the descriptions of the events that accompanied those in the life of the early Church are equally certain that, far from being ‘nice extras’, they were what pointed towards both the authenticity of the message and confirmed that the person in question was moving with the authority of the One who’d sent them (Mtw 10:8, Mark 6:13, Luke 9:2, Acts 2:43, 5:12).
It doesn’t follow that a person who’s used by God to perform a sign or wonder is an apostle but it’s definite that an apostle must demonstrate signs and wonders as part of their commission. After all, both ‘word’ and ‘deed’ are, in effect, only outworkings of being sent out with the authority of the One who sends.
Although we’ve assumed the next point from the outset, we should note it specifically before we move on - that is, an apostle is one who’s appointed by the will of God. An apostle cannot be appointed by man, only recognised (and, today, there’s a very fine dividing line between the two which are often confused) for it’s God who appoints His apostles, His ‘sent out ones’, for the sake of His body, the Church (Eph 4:11-12).
Paul takes great care to proclaim this in the salutations to his letters as we saw above where he seldom announces himself simply as ‘an apostle’ without mentioning something of his calling (I Cor 1:1, II Cor 1:1, Eph 1:1, Col 1:1 and II Tim 1:1 all record Paul as specifically announcing that his apostleship is by ‘the will of God’). Gal 1:1 is a good example of this where he records that he’s an apostle
‘...not from men [that is, he’s not been appointed by men] nor through man [that is, he’s not been trained by men], but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead’
(see also Rom 1:1, I Cor 1:1, II Cor 1:1, Eph 1:1, Col 1:1, I Tim 1:1, II Tim 1:1). Paul’s concern here is to make known his authority as being from God for the things he’s about to write - and especially for the correction of the fellowship’s errors. He’s not frightened to magnify his ministry as being directly from God Himself when it’s obviously necessary to add weight to his teaching, but neither does he think he can simply state it and that men and women must be forced to accept it.
He demonstrates his authority by both word and deed while amongst the believers - as we saw earlier - so that his opening remarks are simply reflections of what’s already known about him. It’s similar to myself beginning a letter to a fellowship and saying
‘Lee, a teacher appointed by God...’
and someone objecting
‘Hang on! What evidence do we have for that?’
If they’ve never heard or read me, they may be willing to accept the testimony of another (either positively or negatively!) but, if they can turn to the web page and read what I’ve committed there for the Church, they can decide for themselves whether I have a commission from God or not (and what they decide doesn’t concern me too greatly!).
Of course, if they then accept the commission I’ve been given, they’re forced into accepting the teaching I bring (so long as it’s in line with Scripture - Gal 1:8). That was the point of Paul’s letters, of course - if the man was acknowledged as having a commission and calling from God, it meant that the authority with which he operated was also from God and that the words being written to them had that authority upon them.
When Paul writes to the Philippian and Thessalonian churches, he drops the title ‘apostle’ - along with his personal letter to Philemon - which gives the recipient the impression that the writer isn’t one who was desiring to proclaim his authority over them but one who was willing to write with the concern of a fellow believer. Philemon, especially, is a letter which bears a request, not a command.
The salutation quoted above to the Galatians, however, is very strong - and no wonder. The letter is a stern rebuke for all those who’ve returned to a legalistic service of God, forsaking the way of Jesus Christ and so cutting themselves away from the grace of God.
The problem with the present day acclamation of men as ‘apostles’ is that, very often, the words that come out from the man aren’t what God has commissioned to be said at all. At one place we were in, a self-proclaimed ‘apostle’ taught believers on the well-known theology that, if anyone had wronged someone who was now dead, all they had to do was ask Jesus to straighten the situation out and He’d call the person over and have a word in their ear, telling them
‘Remember that incident when such-and-such a person wronged you? Well, they’ve just asked Me to put things right with you’
whereupon forgiveness would be immediately bestowed upon the still living believer through the direct intervention of the interceding Christ. Is it any wonder, then, that the subject of ‘apostles’ has received a great deal of bad press in the last few decades? For, if someone is willing to self-proclaim their calling, they must demonstrate the authority they have by performing ‘the signs of a true apostle’ both by word (that is, with the authority, anointing and words of God - not refuting Scripture but proclaiming it) and in deed through the demonstration of the Sovereignty of Jesus Christ into men and women’s lives.
Additionally, an apostle is one who’s sent by Jesus Christ Himself - the One who’s the perfect type or illustration of what an apostle should be (Heb 3:1). He lived in the full authority of the Father (John 17:2, 5:19-21, I Cor 15:27), having been sent by Him into the world (John 4:34, 5:23-24, 5:30). His message was the good news of the Kingdom of Haven (Mtw 4:17, chapters 5-7) and confirmed with signs and wonders (Matthew chapters 8-9). So, acceptance of Jesus was acceptance of the Father who’d sent Him (John 12:44-45).
Over the years, I’ve read other criteria by which men and women can be assessed as to whether or not they’re apostles of Jesus Christ but many of them have been extensions of Scriptures which don’t necessarily mean what they’re declared to.
In summary, by Paul’s usage of the word ‘apostle’, he’s laying his authority before the fellowship in Colossae, reminding them of the calling he has upon his life directly from Jesus Christ and not received or inspired by any man.
It must be remembered that part of Colossians appears to be an attempt at correcting what’s defective in the fellowship (Col 2:16-23, for example, though commentators’ attempts to adequately picture the plight of the church is only speculation) so that Paul’s authoritative right to do so may have been questioned by those who didn’t regard him as speaking or writing with God’s authority.
Before he develops his argument, therefore, he lays his authority on the line for all to see - He’s an apostle by the will of God, authorised to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom in both word and deed. Whereas Epaphras may be regarded with contempt by some (Col 1:7, 4:12-13 - though the letter doesn’t say such a thing), Paul cannot - indeed, he dare not.
Finally, Timothy is also included in the opening salutation after Paul with the very simple descriptor
Colbrien sees this word as meaning something akin to ‘co-worker’ but it seems best to leave the word stand as it is with no interpretation. Citing Martin, he goes on to note that
‘...the mention of Timothy alongside Paul would be a useful buttress to his own teaching position and a denial that the letter was simply an expression of his own ideas’
That is, that Timothy had no hand in the composition of the letter but is only included by Paul so as to lend more weight to the teaching that he’s sending to them. Unfortunately, I’d have to disagree for there can be no greater authority than that which Paul claims for himself in the opening verse by declaring himself to be
‘...an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...’
Unless co-authorship is being declared by Paul, the presence of his name makes little sense, especially when we have no definitive proof that the minister had ever been to the church at Colossae and was well-known. Surely it would have been better for Paul to have included Epaphras in his salutation (Col 1:7-8, 4:12-13) which would have elevated his authority to a position which most commentators assert was undermined by the recipients of the letter?
Timothy may well have been ‘known’ by the Colossians, but the opening words bear no concept of a divine authority being upon him and there seems to be very little reason for his inclusion unless he had some sort of contribution to make to the composition.
As previously noted, Paul and Timothy are mentioned as co-authors in three other places (II Cor 1:1, Phil 1:1, Philemon 1) and, with Silvanus, in another two (I Thess 1:1, II Thess 1:1)
While studying the salutation, it began to puzzle me as to why any of Paul’s letters needed a declaration of who the letter was meant for as it’s obvious from the NT that the apostle sent the letters by messengers to the relevant churches who also related news which was otherwise not included and who ministered to the fellowships to which they were sent (for example, Eph 6:21-22 and Col 4:7-9). Fortunately, there was no postal service for the common masses for, if there had been, we may never have had so many letters in the NT - a great many would, no doubt, have gone astray or been delivered to the wrong people (only kidding - but, today, we got nextdoor’s mail and I have no idea who got ours).
Perhaps we should think of the messengers being sent out with a bundle of letters in a satchel and that, to determine who each letter was for, they opened the parchment and read the first few lines. It’s unlikely that there was any such thing as an envelope, of course, and the apostles may not have written on the outside of the papyrus the name of the intended recipient.
Whatever the exact reasons behind giving a specific destination or intended recipient for the letter, it seems to have been common practice in the first century, though both the letters of Hebrews and I John lack any of the three elements of the normal salutation.
References to an individual group of believers in a specific location are common place amongst the letters attributed to Paul (Rom 1:7, I Cor 1:2, II Cor 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 1:2, I Thess 1:1, II Thess 1:1) but we shouldn’t think of the reference being to some sort of ‘super church’ that met only in one specific location. Evidence in Colossians and Philemon is such that small, personal meetings were very much the norm for he speaks about the church in Nympha’s house (Col 4:15) and the one which was in Philemon or Archippus’ house (Philemon 1-2) - both of which were in Colossae.
This said, the non-Pauline letters never refer to a church in one specific city and they can refer to either a single region or multiple area to which the letter was to be taken (I Peter 1:1, James 1:1, Rev 1:4), to individuals (II John 1, II John 1) or to unspecified groups of people that, presumably, only the deliverer would have known who they were for (II Peter 1:1, Jude 1)
The first of these is echoed in Paul’s salutation to the Galatians (Gal 1:2 - II Cor 1:1 also appears to have been meant for all the believers who were resident in Achaia) and may have acted as a type of ‘circular’ letter, copied, perhaps, by the first recipients and passed on to groups of believers who were geographically the closest to them. We tend to think that everyone would have wanted to have kept a letter from the ‘great’ apostle Paul but the nature of the letter to the churches of Galatia may not have found favour amongst all of its recipients and there may have been groups who consigned the message to the fire or rubbish bin. It’s difficult to believe that the messenger sent out would have been armed with only one copy and that he would have had to have relied upon a favourable response in the first fellowship that Paul’s letter might not be lost - I would personally have imagined that a number of ‘originals’ would have been sent out by different hands to different churches that, somehow, at least one copy might reach many of those in the region.
The Book (or, better, the letter) of Revelation seems also to have demanded at least seven originals to be distributed to each of the churches who had personal messages from Jesus and it’s hard to imagine that James’ letter (James 1:1)
‘To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion [that is, the Diaspora - the Jewish settlements throughout the world]...’
would have been sent out as one original (the same as I Peter 1:1).
Letters to individuals are echoed in Paul on four occasions (I Tim 1:2, II Tim 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1-2), each of the titles bearing witness to their personal nature. One of the great facts of the collection of NT letters is that we aren’t reading ‘theological treatises’ but personal remarks and comments from one believer to another and, though it’s right to retrieve fundamental truth from them, the warmness of the writings mustn’t be overlooked.
Paul also has one letter which has no mention of a recipient, the letter titled as ‘Ephesians’ which is often understood to have been, like others, a letter sent to all the churches in the catchment area of Ephesus. Whether that’s true or not is impossible to say with any certainty in the present day but, as I noted at the very beginning of this section, it’s a wonder that so many of the letters have specific locations mentioned in their salutations when the messenger who was to deliver them knew exactly to whom they were to be given.
Although we, quite rightly, assert that many of Paul’s letters were written to the churches in either specific locations or areas, we’d be doing a great injustice if we left our statement there because he often uses language that singles out each individual within the church so that they could consider the letter as being a personal address. Therefore, instead of announcing his recipients as
‘the church in Rome’
he dictates (Rom 1:7)
‘To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called saints’
a similar method being employed in three other of Paul’s letters (Eph 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 1:2). Yet, even when he addresses his letter to ‘the church’, he chooses to go on in some places to use individual language that breaks down the fellowship into its constituent parts (I Cor 1:2, II Cor 1:1) while the non-Pauline letters never once use the word ‘church’ in their salutation, though they do employ language which can only refer to groups of men and women.
The word ‘saints’ is a favourite one of Paul’s (Rom 1:7, I Cor 1:2, II Cor 1:1, Eph 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 1:2) and one which we’ll consider as we turn to his salutation in Colossae and, even though the RSV (along with many other translations) obscure Paul’s meaning by adding ‘to be’ after the word ‘called’ (Rom 1:7, I Cor 1:2) which makes it sound as if they’re striving to become something), Eph 1:1, Phil 1:1 and Col 1:2 make it obvious that Paul’s belief is that a follower of Jesus Christ is already a ‘saint’, opposing the present day canonising of historical figures.
There’s also a warmth in Paul’s personal messages, calling both Timothy and Titus his children (I Tim 1:2, II Tim 1:2, Titus 1:4 - he should really have called each ‘one of my children’ but his address conveys the special nature of his relationship with them) and, in the letter to Philemon, ‘fellow worker’ (Philemon 1) and ‘fellow soldier’ (Philemon 2) associate the recipient with Paul and draw out qualities that echo himself - even though neither Philemon nor Archippus might have considered themselves as doing even half what Paul was, the apostle raises them up to be equal with him. ‘Beloved’ is also used by Paul twice (Philemon 1, II Tim 1:2)
Paul constrains himself fairly well in this second part of his opening salutation throughout his letters but I Cor 1:2 represents his most expansive address where he raises up the recipients and makes them realise that they’re sharing a common faith and calling along with all believers throughout the established world. Though the church may have felt itself isolated, the effect is one of unity with the one Body and, as the letter will unfold, their responsibility to bring themselves into line with the purity of service will be made known (see I Cor 7:17 and 14:33 where the apostle appeals to what is happening in ‘all the churches’ to urge them to purity of conduct).
As already noted, Paul’s words denoting who the letter is intended for aren’t generalised into the group of believers who are resident in and around Colossae but to the individuals - the saints and faithful brethren - which makes his instruction and teaching more personal. It could be argued from such a phrase that two sets of believers are being mentioned here but it’s the more likely that Paul is explaining himself by the use of his second descriptor.
The literal running of the verse in the Greek appears significant here for it would read (my italics)
‘To the in Colossae saints and faithful brothers in Christ’
where the believers’ two positions of being ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Colossae’ surround the main phrase of the sentence which describes them as ‘saints and faithful brothers’. It seems to draw one’s attention to both positions so that the believers are, at the same time both in Christ and in Colossae. Both these positional aspects must be considered for a completeness, a wholeness of a follower’s walk with God for they’re both saints with regard to heaven (in Christ) and on earth (in Colossae), the same being true for the phrase ‘faithful brothers’.
a. Saints in Christ
The Greek word employed here which is translated ‘saint’ (Strongs Greek number 40) is the noun (though some translations treat it as an adjective along with ‘faithful’ of ‘brothers’ which follows - notably the NIV) of the word group translated by such words as ‘holy’, ‘holiness’ and the like. In other places where the word’s used in the AV, the most common translation is ‘holy’ (occurring 161 times out of a total 229) but ‘saints’ is reserved for the plural form (in 61 occurrences) where, if literally translated, it would be rendered by the word ‘holies’ or ‘holy ones’.
This word, according to Vines
‘...fundamentally signifies “separated” (among the Greeks, dedicated to the gods) and hence, in Scripture in its moral and spiritual significance, separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God, sacred’
The subject of ‘holiness’ and what it means to be ‘holy’ is a large one and something that we won’t go into here. Especially difficult is to tie down the word ‘holy’ from OT times to mean anything specific that can be proven etymologically. Perhaps we’ll never know for certain how the word came about and what the inherent meaning is supposed to be, but the concept of ‘separation’ appears to be the easiest to associate with it and to see in some of its occurrences.
Having said that, we should be careful in finding much consolation in being called ‘the separated ones’ (that is, the saints) because the Pharisees also seem to have taken on themselves such a distinction by translation of their name! It may be a great privilege to be called ‘God’s separated ones’ but it carries with it a great sense of responsibility that must be fulfilled.
Paul calls believers ‘saints’, the ‘holy’ in Jesus Christ, separated to God because of what Jesus has done on the cross and not because of who they are in themselves or of what they’ve made themselves become outside of the work of Jesus. In that sense, believers can be pronounced immediately upon conversion both as ‘holy’ and as ‘saints’ (in the Biblical sense of the words - I Peter 2:9) not because of what they’ve done but because of what’s been done on their behalf (II Tim 1:9).
Sin (Eph 1:7, Col 2:13-14), the sinful nature (Rom 6:6,11, Col 2:11), the works and influence of satan (I John 3:8, Col 2:15) - all that separated men and women from the presence and purpose of God - have been dealt with on the cross so that they’re brought into a living union with God (I Cor 6:17) and, consequently, a separation from those things with which they were once united.
For additional teaching on the believer’s separation both ‘from’ and ‘to’, see my notes on the OT Nazirite.
b. Brethren in Christ
Because of the work of Jesus on the cross, all who are ‘in Christ’ are also one. Paul comments in Gal 3:28 to believers who were making distinctions between one another that
‘There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial distinctions], there is neither slave nor free [social distinctions], there is neither male nor female [sexual distinctions]; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’
Taking these three areas of union in order, we can see, firstly, that the unity of the brethren breaks down the barrier of racial distinction (Eph 2:11-19, Col 3:11). Jesus removed the restriction that existed between Jew and Gentile on the cross for the Law, which had isolated the Jew as the chosen people by natural descent, was fulfilled and abolished. Every other barrier that existed and which continues to exist between one man and another - whether it be on the grounds of colour, race, geography, culture - are all found to have no significance in Christ for all individuals have an equal standing before Him.
The italicised words are worth noting for there’ll always be distinctions between men and women where Jesus doesn’t get His will done. To the Church’s shame, it must be said that there have been distinctions made between some believers and others when it comes to their standing before God the Father. Though distinctions as to a person’s ministry are vitally necessary in individual fellowships, to think that one believer is any more important or significant than another is a clear misunderstanding of the work of the cross.
Secondly, the unity of believers must undermine social distinctions (Eph 6:8, Col 3:11). As Paul writes to Philemon (Philemon 15-16 - my italics) concerning his runaway slave, Onesimus, God’s hand seems to have been in the event so that
‘...you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother...’
Naturally, Onesimus is still a slave of Philemon but, in Jesus, he’s now become a brother and of equal standing before God. There’s also the paradox of I Cor 7:22 that
‘...he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ’
God knows of no social divisions that cause one to be regarded as better than another because, in Jesus, all are seated in positions of authority in heavenly places with Him (Eph 2:6). Though there will always be classes within society, the believer must realise that such groups are no better or worse off than anyone else. And, once a person from a specific group comes to know Jesus, they aren’t to be selected over and above others on the basis of their social standing.
Personally, I’d rather have a man or woman who was faithful to the things of God looking after His concerns than one who was faithful to the upkeep of his own social status (I Tim 6:10).
Thirdly, the unity of believers must also be displayed in the lack of sexual distinctions - that is, on earth there will be both ‘male’ and ‘female’ but their standing in Jesus isn’t on the basis of their sex. Each man or woman are at the same time sons of God (Rom 8:14, Gal 4:6-7, Heb 12:7, I John 3:1-2) and the bride of Christ (Rev 19:7-8, Eph 5:21-33).
c. Saints and faithful brethren in Colossae
As we’ve seen above, all believers are one in Christ - all are brethren.
And they’re all ‘saints’ in Christ, separated to God and separated from the world.
Both of these two statements are the result of what Jesus has done and not what the person has achieved. But if the Way is only concerned with being ‘in Christ’, then it has no relevance when it comes to the believers who are ‘in Colossae’. Both these phrases are equally applicable to the main phrase as we saw at the beginning of this section.
Therefore, in their normal lives, the followers of Jesus Christ must live out the reality of what they are for all to see and not exist in a state that denies their position in Him. The same God who’s caused them to become holy because of Christ, commands them (I Peter 1:15-16) to
(Phil 1:27) to
‘...let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ...’
and (Eph 4:1) to
‘...lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called...’
(see also Eph 2:10, I Thess 2:11-12 and contrast Col 3:5 with Col 3:12).
The believers were certainly ‘in Colossae’ in body but ‘in Christ’ in Spirit, bringing all that they experienced from Heaven into a living reality onto earth. In other words, as God rules in Heaven, so His rule is brought to earth in Colossae through the saints and faithful brethren. As Jesus Himself taught His disciples to pray (Mtw 6:10 - my italics)
‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth [in Colossae] as it is in Heaven [in Christ - Col 3:1]’
Colcar sees the contrast in Paul and Timothy’s words with some clarity, even if some of his descriptions are somewhat assumed. He also sees their position ‘in Colossae’ as being thwarted with problems, contrasting their earthly position with their unique heavenly one ‘in Christ’. He writes that the believers are
‘...in Colossae, a small insignificant town overshadowed by its rich neighbours Laodicea and Hierapolis [Strabo’s witness, however, would pull away from the mention of the latter in this context - see my introduction]. Hence they are prone to provincialism, pettiness and lack of vision of a small community. Further, they are in Colossae with all its paganism and idolatry. For them as a minority group, there will constantly be the temptation to give way to social pressure and so to compromise their witness. But they must recall that they are saints. This title speaks of their status rather than of the actual degree of holiness attained’
However, although there may be this idea of a higher calling, as we’ll continue to see in the next section, these twin positions make for the fulfilment of God’s will for them to be channels through which God will get His will done in their immediate vicinity.
d. A heavenly blessing has earthly consequences
True religion is neither totally ethereal (that is, heavenly - the monastic life, church meetings, worship) nor totally secular (that is, earthly - social action, ministry, evangelism) but a union of both. What we receive from heaven will have consequences on earth in our everyday lives and, through us, into the lives of others.
The spiritual union that we have with God is the route by which God effects His will on earth - being in tune with heaven will create an earthly symphony.
This is displayed primarily in Church life. Good ‘Penetcostals’ preach ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Eph 5:18-19) pointing out that the Greek means more like ‘be continuously filled’ where Ephfoul comments that
‘The practical implication is that the christian is to leave his life open to be filled constantly and repeatedly by the divine Spirit’
Good ‘House churches’ preach ‘each one of us has something to share’ (coupled with I Cor 14:26). Both are correct but only if they’re balanced with one another - we should be continuously filled so that we can minister to others, an action of heaven which brings about an action on earth. When only one is taught, either the believer can find no outlet for those things which are being given to him directly by God or they share those things which are unanointed, dry and which bring death to those who receive them.
Paul, writing in I Cor 12:7, 14:12, observes that
‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good...since then you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the Church’
The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to men and women so that they may be given to build others up. The gift is received from the Spirit but it’s intended to have earthly consequences (that is, the edification of the Church). Having received, the Church gives and so builds itself up into the fulness of Jesus Christ.
But the principal of heavenly resources having earthly consequences can also be seen when we turn to the principal of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, when those who haven’t experienced the rule of Christ discover it’s reign coming to them by the direct intervention of God through his ‘saints and faithful brethren’ (Col 1:2).
Once the Holy Spirit has been received (John 7:39), He’s to overflow from within and out to others (John 7:38). The ‘living water’ that Jesus speaks about here isn’t water with fish in it (or microscopic bacteria and algae) but is both an OT Mosaic and Mishnaic concept that denotes water that’s continually moving (see my notes on ‘The Festival of Tabernacles’ under the heading ‘Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah’ for a full treatment of this subject) and which could cleanse three states of uncleanness. Using the words of Mikwaoth 1:8 in the Mishnah as our three headers, we see that this ‘new’ and spiritual Living water was intended to sort out all the problems associated with humanity.
i. ‘...the immersion of them that have a flux/discharge...’
People who release uncleanness/death from themselves
In Leviticus chapter 15 we find the legislation that details the requirements of the Law when a man or woman has a discharge from their body. The discharge is unclean (Lev 15:2) and the one who has had the discharge makes other things unclean by his contact with them (Lev 15:4-12). It was only by the application of Living water that the person could be rendered ‘clean’.
Here is a type of person who needs to be cleansed and areas that they have come in to contact with that equally need cleansing.
The spring of Living water that bubbles up from believers will both cleanse those areas that have been contaminated with death and render clean the one who has had the discharge - Lev 15:13 tells us (my italics) that
‘...he shall bathe his body in running water and shall be clean’
This possibility to ‘cleanse’ situations from uncleanness make a situation for God to move in. If men and women have been stained by the spiritual ‘dirt’ that overflows from their lives and which contaminates the world around them, then the outflowing of the Holy Spirit from a believer’s life is able to wipe that uncleanness away that God might move in the area and establish His will, bringing about a dynamic change in the individual (where that individual wants to be changed, of course).
2. ‘...the sprinkling of lepers...’
People who live in uncleanness/death
The leper had to be obedient to the demands of the Law and depart from the congregation of Israel, living away from the presence of God who resided in their midst (Lev 13:46). He was dead to the presence of God, to the fellowship of God’s people and was unable to enjoy His inheritance that had been given to Him by God.
His entire life was considered to be one of ‘living death’ (notice that the Law made no provision for the leper to be cleansed in his state of death - all it could do was condemn him to an existence away from the life of God).
The (ex-)leper’s cleansing was progressive:
a. Fellowship with God’s people was restored (Lev 14:8)
b. The inheritance was restored after a further seven days (Lev 14:8-9), and,
c. Fellowship with God was restored on the following day (Lev 14:10-11)
but it began by killing one of the two birds over Living water and sprinkling the ‘mix’ on him.
But the Living water that Jesus was going to give His believers would be able to cleanse the leper while he was still living in death/uncleanness as Jesus demonstrated on a number of occasions (for example, Mtw 8:1-4).
Not only is Jesus able to physically cleanse a leper, but the Living water that flows out from his believers is able to change the lives of those people who constantly live in death and who find themselves exiled away from what God has for them.
Instead of individuals finding that there’s ‘no way back’ from the situation they live in and the person that they’ve become, the life of God flowing from believers provides opportunity (if there’s a change of will) for there to be a radical transformation.
3. ‘...mixing with the ashes of the sin offering’
People who have come into contact with death/uncleanness
Ceremonial uncleanness attached itself to objects and to men and women by contact/association with death (Num 19:15-16). Living water was mixed with the ashes of the burnt offering and the resulting ‘mix’ was applied to the individual who was made clean (Lev 19:19).
In a similar way, the areas around believers that have come into contact with death will be cleaned up as they allow God’s Spirit to flow out from themselves and into those places. Again, far from the uncleanness causing restrictions to be placed upon what God will do in situations (that is, God withdraws from sin), the Living water makes a ‘highway’ for God to move wherever a believer finds himself and in however dark and forboding a situation appears to be.
Notice here that uncleanness attaches itself to all men and women by contact/association if the Living water of God isn’t flowing out from them for we live in a ‘dead’ world that seeks to contaminate us by our contact with it.
Contamination by the world has often been a fear of the Church only because it hasn’t realised (or isn’t living in the reality of) the life-imparting stream that is its birthright. If the Living water of God is flowing from a believer’s heart out in to the world, no contamination by the world can take place because the darkness and death is being consumed by the light and life of God.
Only when a believer chooses to go his own way and restricts the flow of the presence of God through themselves, can contamination take place.
The Holy Spirit is given to believers, then, not to stagnate but to flow constantly through them to effect cleansing in situations. We were meant to bring cleanness to uncleanness, life from death, when the Holy Spirit overflows out from us. The heavenly gift, therefore, has earthly consequences not just in the life of the Church but into the life of those who are separated away from God.
Acts 3:6 is also a good example of this principle. When confronted by a request for alms (and you know the saying? He asked for alms and got legs), Peter said
‘I give you what I have, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’
What Peter had received from God, he gave to the crippled man (I Cor 4:7) - he related God’s gift into a situation on earth.
God’s Kingdom comes when God’s will is accomplished on earth - Heaven’s rule is brought to bear on situations. In our own strength, this is impossible but, as we receive from Heaven, we give on earth and see it come about.
Paul’s opening words, therefore, emphasise such a set up by reminding his recipients of the twin aspects of their calling - both ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Colossae’.
I find the ‘ancient’ way of beginning a letter to be much more stimulating than the modern one. While it’s quite true to say that circulars are easily identifiable from the corporate logo that’s emblazoned all over them so that they can be quickly discarded (and can someone tell me why it is that I always win a £10,000 bonus if I reply within seven days or, when it’s a choice between two one litre cars and a 3 litre liquid fuel injected BMW, I’m always in the running for the latter?), it’s nice to read an opening line or two that doesn’t begin
‘I’m writing to you in connection with your recent correspondence dated...’
when you just know that what follows is merely a block reply that they copy out to everyone who writes in and which probably has no significance to the particular point you raised, or
‘We’re writing to you with a unique special offer as a valued customer...’
when the last order you placed with them was over three years ago. I also don’t like those emails you get that begin with the words
‘This is not a spam’
when you know full well it is - as you’ve never heard of the company or individual and it’s obvious that they’ve trawled your email address from those which appear on the newsgroups. There’s also no valid email address contained within their message so you can’t send a very sizeable email back to jam their server (not that I would, of course, it’s just...well...okay, I admit it that the thought has crossed my mind once or twice).
You can call me cynical if you like, but I’d far rather receive a letter which started off by announcing the sender, myself as the addressee and then went on to establish some blessing from God upon me - the way that the letters of Paul do. I’d certainly be much more inclined to read on about their prize draw of a lifetime or their appeal for discarded socks for refugees.
The third element of an ancient letter, then, was the greeting - turned, as I said at the beginning of this web page, into more of an artform by the apostle Paul than a dry and lifeless necessity and filled with declarations of God’s great blessing of mankind in Jesus Christ rather than a simple ‘Hi!’ or, as the two letters in Acts use, ‘Greeting’ (Acts 15:23, 23:26).
1. Pauline greetings
It would be wrong to think of Paul having just the one main greeting that he dispensed whenever he sat down to compose or to dictate a letter for it would seem best to understand the repetitive nature of many of his words as his unique way of introducing the work and purpose of the cross into his letters from the very outset.
Six times Paul opens with an identical phrase in Greek (Rom 1:7, I Cor 1:3, II Cor 1:2, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2, Philemon 3) which is translated by the RSV as
‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’
Although it would be wrong to think of this as Paul’s ‘standard’, it’s easier to take this as such in our consideration of the other greetings that he uses. Therefore, in Gal 1:3, we can say that the ‘our’ is transposed from defining ‘Father’ to a place describing Jesus - whether this was Paul’s intention or whether, as we’ve previously discussed, an amanuensis copied it down incorrectly is impossible to determine (to those of you who think that I’m saying that the letter went out to the region with errors in it, you would do well to consider the testimony of Romans 9:28 - besides, the variation is equally true).
There may have been a deliberate intention on Paul’s part to remove any reference to God being their Father because of the problems which the churches in Galatia were experiencing, his words of Gal 4:19 in which he exclaims
‘My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!’
are some of the strongest that could ever have been spoken by one believer to another, for he virtually calls their salvation into question because of their adherence to legal observance rather than as reliant upon grace. In his greeting, then, he could well be emphasising the need for the saving work of Jesus to once more be applied to their lives rather than to assert their positional relationship with the Father which is solely on the basis of the free work of Jesus in the cross.
That said, it may just have been a variation that went passed his lips and he thought nothing more about it. The greeting in Galatians, however, is the only place in all his letters where he seems not to be able to control himself when he comes to the mention of Jesus for he continues to describe Jesus (Gal 1:4-5) as the One
‘...who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen’
Other variations on the common greeting appear in II Thess 1:2 which has no Greek word which could be translated as ‘our’, Col 1:2 where the Greek is identical upto and including the mention of God the Father, after which it stops abruptly (I’ll briefly mention the manuscripts which continue with the name of Jesus when we get to a discussion of that verse below) and I Thess 1:1 where it stops after the mention of the word for ‘peace’. The reasons for these variations are impossible to determine with any great certainly and may be attributable to nothing more than being interrupted in dictation or to wanting to get on with the main body of his letter.
The three other greetings represent variations on the original theme. Titus 1:4 alters the wording of the final phrase, being identical up to that point, and so is translated at its conclusion by the RSV with
‘...and Christ Jesus our Saviour’
Both I Tim 1:2 and II Tim 1:2 are identical with one another and represent the greatest variation, inserting the Greek word for ‘mercy’ and reforming the mention of Jesus so that the RSV renders it correctly as
‘Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord’
What I, personally, find remarkable about these last two greetings is that, although they were possibly written years apart, they’re identical - as if Paul had agreed with Timothy that his greeting would be a certain format to prevent anyone from trying to mimic his style and mislead him. This may not be the reason for the identical greeting, I admit, but that it should be identical I find surprising.
When we look at all the messages of greetings in Paul’s letters, we can see that both ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ are present (concepts which we’ll look at below when we deal with the Colossians’ greeting) and that mention of God the Father (12 out of 13) and Jesus Christ (11 out of 13) are normally present.
2. Non-Pauline greetings
As one would expect, different authors use different greetings but, having said that, there’s still a great amount of similarity between both the Pauline and non-Pauline. As we’ve previously noted, Hebrews and 1 John contain no element of the threefold salutation (of course, if they had been intended as simply a ‘tract’ then there would have been no good reason for such a salutation to have been included) but, to them, we have to add III John which dispenses with the greeting totally even though it has the first two elements.
James’ letter, however, is the most divergent - and the most simplistic. He writes the single word (James 1:1) translated
This word (Strongs Greek number 5463) seems to come from a root meaning ‘rejoice’ and, in this context, it may carry with it some of that as an exhortation to the people to whom it’s addressed. But it seems to be more like a polite word which was customary to be included in even the most official of letters as Acts 23:26 shows. James has previously been noted as being one of the major contributors of the decision by the church in Jerusalem concerning the relationship of the Gentiles under the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:13ff) and the resulting letter may well have been predominantly written by him (Acts 15:23-29).
It wouldn’t be surprising if it was, for the salutation is equally as brief as the opening words of his own letter and, in it, the single word ‘greeting’ is also used.
In the remaining five letters not yet mentioned, grace (I Peter 1:2, II Peter 1:2, II John 3, Rev 1:4), mercy (II John 3, Jude 2) and peace (I Peter 1:2, II Peter 1:2, II John 3, Jude 2, Rev 1:4) all figure predominantly which probably indicate that these concepts were among the most important in the early Church. Mention of God/God the Father is also significant (II Peter 1:2, II John 3, Rev 1:6) along with Jesus (II Peter 1:2, II John 3, Rev 1:5) as one would have expected.
The greeting in Revelation is the most extensive (Rev 1:4-6) but possibly the most important additional word which is added to three of these greetings (I Peter 1:2, II Peter 1:2, Jude 2) is that which is translated
by the RSV (Strongs Greek number 4129). Whether a correct interpretation of this word is more akin to the English ‘increase’ or to ‘multiplication’ which implies significant or unusual growth is difficult to determine. The RSV isn’t systematic in its translation of the word which doesn’t help, translating it twice as ‘increased’ (Acts 6:1, 6:7) but nine times as ‘multiplied’ (Mtw 24:12, Acts 7:17, 9:31, 12:24, II Cor 9:10, Heb 6:14 [where it occurs twice but is translated only once], I Peter 1:2, II Peter 1:2, Jude 2).
Just to confuse matters, some of the commentators (I shan’t cite them here for want of cluttering up the reference page with a list of works that are mentioned only in passing) in the three letters in which the word appears as part of the salutation, understand the meaning to be either ‘in abundance’, ‘abundantly’ or ‘filled to capacity’ which implies not a mathematical increase but a sufficiency.
All that seems to be able to be said at this point is that both writers appear to be desiring that the recipients of their letter be given a magnificent provision of grace, peace, mercy and love that they might not be lacking in any of the fundamental essentials of the cross.
The first thing we need to decide upon is the correct rendering of the greeting for some manuscripts contain a longer version which includes the words
‘...and the Lord Jesus Christ’
onto the end of the generally accepted
‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father’
of the RSV. This has the effect of bringing it into line with the greeting which occurs in six of Paul’s other letters (Rom 1:7, I Cor 1:3, II Cor 1:2, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2, Philemon 3). Although it’s impossible to say with any certainty which was the original version, Colcar’s reasoning that
‘It can easily be understood how this phrase was added in many manuscripts because of the scribes’ desire to make the greeting conform to the usual pattern’
is as good as any and his additional note that the even shorter greeting of I Thess 1:1 seems to have been similarly treated this way by copyists would support his assertions. Of course, we could equally say - with as much justification - that both letters suffered from a scribes’ haste in copying the manuscript and that the lengthier rendering is original.
Perhaps better is Colbrien’s observation that
‘The very uniqueness of the reading speaks in its favour...’
a phrase which appears identically in Colbruce as a footnote - perhaps they were both copying the sentence from the same scribe?! All ‘theories’ are just that, however, and it will never be able to be proven one way or the other just what Paul’s original words were - or whether they were committed to writing correctly by the amanuensis possibly responsible for this letter (see above). I shall, however, be taking the version which the RSV translates as being the original but, in my opinion, it takes nothing away from the main meaning of the letter.
As I’ve previously noted, when we look at all the greetings in Paul’s letters, we can see that both ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ are always present - 13 out of 13 - and, of the non-Pauline letters which contain greetings, ‘grace’ occurs in 4 out of 6 and ‘peace’ in 5 out of 6 making the reader realise that these two concepts were of fundamental importance to the early Church.
We need to adequately define both concepts, therefore, to try and come to terms with the intention of Paul in using these throughout his letters. Both these words are ‘cross-words’ which speak to the reader of the accomplishment of Jesus Christ and, as we’ll see below, the peace that’s here mentioned is that which is effected in Jesus because of the grace of God which was operating through Jesus, making them integral parts of one and the same work.
Strongs Greek number 5485
It’s probably going about it the wrong way to provide a definition of the concept of ‘Grace’ before we look at the Scriptures to read the word in context but, simply, the word when used in the NT usually has the meaning of ‘unmerited favour’ (though this meaning is somewhat removed from its meaning in OT times and in other places in the NT where the context shows that it holds a different meaning), seen as used this way and not relating to the cross in Acts 7:10 (my italics - see also Luke 1:30, 2:52, Acts 2:47, 7:46, 25:3) where it’s observed that God rescued Joseph
‘...out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him governor over Egypt and over all his household’
The thought here isn’t about a man earning position and power through a succession of achievements in a distinguished career, but of the elevation of someone to a place of power and authority when the route there occurred in one defining moment.
In the context of the believer in the NT, grace is the unmerited favour that each man or woman enjoys by receiving the provision of the work of Jesus Christ, even though it’s plain from other Scriptures that God’s gracious to all men (Mtw 5:45). But the word’s specifically used to speak of the undeserved and unearned riches bestowed upon those who respond to the work of the cross - or, better, upon those who once lived as enemies of God but who find provision for turning away from those ways of living to serve their former enemy.
This isn’t the result of a sudden discovery of hidden power or self-will within the man or woman concerned but comes as a free gift through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Therefore, the forgiveness of sins, the crucifixion of the old nature, the defeat of the devil and the gift of the Holy Spirit - with all He brings - all originate with God Himself and are bestowed upon man through the unmerited favour of God lavishing them upon them (Eph 1:7).
Perhaps an even simpler way of remembering the significance of the subject of grace is to learn the phrase
‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense’
where each of the first letters spells out the word. God’s grace goes beyond the work of the cross in salvation and redemption to encompass each and every provision with which God supplies mankind. However, Cormor is correct in defining the concept of ‘Grace’ (commenting on I Cor 1:3) as speaking
‘...of God’s free gift to us and more especially of His free gift in Christ’
and it’s this which seems to lie at the heart of the opening salutation where the word’s used. It’s employed, then, as a contrast to the way of salvation before God which would insist on the observance of the Law and the performance of works to gain acceptance. So Paul writes in Eph 2:8-9 that
‘...by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast’
and, in Gal 5:4, he observes that a person’s cut off from the provision of Christ if they insist on being justified by the law because they’ve
‘...fallen away from grace’
A man may feel contented to think of himself as having striven to achieve eternal life but, in such a case, it’s evident that they haven’t learnt even the first thing about the purpose of God in Jesus Christ and, in reality, they’re holding up the cross to contempt as being either insufficient or unnecessary to save them (see also Rom 4:16, 6:14-15, John 1:17).
Having seen this contrast, we can also note that the NT lifts up the cross as God’s supreme act of grace where, in Jesus Christ, there was performed a work that’s now freely accessible to all. So Paul writes in Eph 1:7-8 that
‘In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us’
and Eph 2:4-5 (my italics - see also Acts 15:11, Eph 1:7) which states that
‘...God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)’
Indeed, so important is the concept of grace that the word can be used for the Gospel itself - as in Col 1:6 where Paul notes that the Gospel is bearing fruit throughout the world just as it is among themselves
‘...from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth’
and, in Acts 20:24, Paul speaks to the elders of the church at Ephesus that he desired that he might
‘...testify to the gospel of the grace of God’
The free nature of this provision is also something which the NT writers like to declare in the context of declaring it as a work of God’s grace. In Rom 3:23-4, Paul notes (my italics) that
‘...since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus’
and, in Rom 5:15 (my italics - see also Rom 5:17,20-21) that
‘...the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many’
Therefore Paul’s use of the word ‘grace’ in his opening salutation is meant to remind his recipients of the basis of the covenant to which they were converted, through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross which is received freely and without payment.
Even though God’s unmerited favour is freely poured out upon men and women, it doesn’t follow that it’s a reason not to respond to it positively in a manner in which God will be satisfied. Jude 1:4 observes that, even within the body of believers there are (my italics)
‘...ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ’
who presume upon grace to allow them to live as they please when it should be noted that God’s kindness is meant to lead them to a place of repentance (Rom 2:4). So also Paul seems to have found the charge levelled at his own preaching (if we might read between the lines) so that he answers negatively to the rhetorical question (Rom 6:1)
‘...Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?’
and (Rom 16:15)
‘...Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?’
Grace - God’s unmerited favour directed towards mankind - is given, then, that they might turn back to Him, not that they might consider themselves free to do as they choose and, in the end, to remain acceptable to God through the work of Christ.
In many of the apostle’s letters, both grace and peace are immediately observed as originating in
‘...God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’
(though the letter to Colossians contains only the first phrase) so that the reader is immediately drawn to the basis of his life and of the foundation upon which it’s now being built. It’s impossible to get away from the implications of the word bringing to remembrance the cross for this characteristic of God is the basis for it happening and the way that a man’s able to receive it.
And it serves as a prayer for the recipients that these might continue to be poured out upon them. As we saw earlier, the word from which we get ‘be multiplied’ is used in the non-Pauline letters and has the effect of turning the greeting into the desire of the writer for the recipients in question. Here, too, even though the word doesn’t occur, there’s not just a looking back to the initial work in their lives and neither to the present reality of grace which they’re experiencing, but a sincere prayer that both grace and peace might continue to be poured out upon them from the Source of everything good.
Although it’s obvious that God’s grace is primarily observed at work by an individual when they step into God’s Kingdom through the cross, it’s forever operating in believers’ lives as God seeks to bestow upon His children the unmerited favour of the continued outworking of the free gift on the basis of Jesus’ completed work.
It’s plainly observable that ‘grace’ is spoken of in a present context even though the rooting of it in the cross seems to be never far from the writer’s mind (for example, Acts 14:26, 15:40, Rom 12:6, 15:15, I Cor 15:10, II Cor 13:14, Phil 1:7, Titus 3:15, Heb 4:16). And the NT also causes the reader to infer that, although each man and woman receives grace for salvation, there are different measures of that grace given to individuals (Rom 12:3, Eph 4:7) and that it’s right to think of grace as being increased while, at the same time, not denying it’s free nature (II Peter 3:18). Nevertheless, the current experience of the grace of God is still on the basis of a free gift and not as a reward for a work accomplished.
What it means for the believer is that we should never consistently pray with the words
‘Give me what I deserve’
supposing that we’ve earned the Lord’s favour by our own works of righteousness. There’s a sense in which God will be pleased with us when we walk in the path that He’s prepared for us and when we seek to please Him in everything, but the attitude of heart which consistently sees reward given by God that’s based on effort is one that has yet to realise the grace of God directed towards them. Even after the cross, the basis of our relationship with God is solely by grace alone and our response is one that doesn’t seek to capture a reward but responds to the unmerited favour that’s been poured out upon us.
Besides, if we would ask the Father for what we deserve, we might just get it!
Now there’s a frightening thought...
Strongs Greek number 1515
At the outset of this article, I must say that the subject of ‘peace’ is an incredibly diverse one which I haven’t studied in any great detail. It appears to me that many of the texts where the word occurs in both the OT and NT cannot be defined by the context alone and the meaning relies more upon the person who reads it than an inherent or contextual interpretation.
Having said that, the meaning of the word ‘peace’ used in Paul’s greeting can at least be hinted at by recourse to some of the other places where it’s employed in the NT but, even so, what I bring to the reader’s attention here relies on a minority of supporting verses.
The word ‘peace’ throughout the Bible is used to convey a wide variety of meanings and intentions and the reader is forced to attempt an interpretation of each occurrence in its relevant context. In their short article on the subject of ‘peace’, Zondervan notes that its range includes
‘...the cessation of hostilities between nations, the absence of civil or ecclesiastical disorder and the freedom from dissension between individuals through positive situations in which an individual has prospered materially or is healthy or possess a tranquil freedom from mental or spiritual perturbation to conditions where there is a minimum of noise or activity’
When we approach such a short passage as Col 1:2, therefore, where there’s little context, it’s impossible to be absolutely certain as to what Paul’s intention must have been in his use of the word, except to see something which closely follows on from the use of the previous word ‘grace’. Writing on Phil 1:2 where the word appears once more in Paul’s salutation, Philmar comments that
‘Peace is the fruit of such gracious activity in the experience of sinners and its main characteristic is reconciliation to God through Christ...’
This concept is certainly in keeping with the concept of ‘grace’ which precedes it (as we saw above) and seems to be the primary function of the use of the word in the salutation of the NT letters. Even in Acts 10:36, Peter comments about
‘...the word which He sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ...’
and, in the letters, we see justification by faith (Rom 5:1) as having the end result of
‘...peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’
Indeed, the cross is seen not only as the place where man and God find reconciliation but it’s proclaimed as the point in world history when everything that was in rebellion to the will of God is now brought back into a relationship of peace with its Creator (Col 1:20). Peace is also observed as having been made between Jew and Gentile by removing the barrier of the Mosaic Law which stood between them (Eph 2:14-15,17).
Peace - just like grace before it - finds its perfect fulfilment in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, whereby the barrier that existed between man and God has been removed. Man is able once again to live at peace with God, in a relationship of love because of the work of Jesus.
As we saw in the previous section, the word is so full of meaning and representative of the Gospel that it can be used to describe it rather than simply saying that the message contains an aspect of peace (Acts 10:36, Eph 6:15).
Yet - also like grace - the concept of peace goes much further and it’s seen to be not just something which belongs to the past (that is, that it has only to do with a once-for-all-time work in conversion) but a provision of God for the present (though the complexity of its meaning in the Scriptures will not be dealt with here). In the OT, the Hebrew word can be used to denote a ‘wholeness’ or a ‘spiritual prosperity’ so that, far from denoting the absence of war, it came to mean a blessed and fruitful life. Therefore Kittels is quick to observe that, in the Greek world, though the word may mean the opposite of war or disturbance, it rarely - if ever - is used of
‘...a relationship or attitude’
but that, in the OT
‘Its basic sense is not the narrower one of “peace” but the wider one of “well-being”’
So, in Gen 43:27, the RSV translates the Hebrew word (my italics)
‘...he inquired about their welfare...’
to interpret Joseph’s actions towards the brothers who stood before him. The word, therefore, can represent the state of the whole person. It’s only when there’s ‘peace’ between both God and man (that is, the ‘wholeness’ of the union which exists because of the work of the cross) that God grants the spiritual prosperity of the individual in all its fulness. Therefore, II Thess 3:16 (my italics) records the prayer of the apostle
‘...may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in all ways...’
and the word may also be used as a greeting which is a prayer of impartation (Luke 10:5, John 20:19,21,26, I Peter 5:14).
Paul’s blessing of ‘grace and peace’, then, can best be understood by the phrase
‘unmerited favour and spiritual prosperity’
He’s praying that God will grant the Colossians both aspects of His provision that they might be fully equipped for every situation they find themselves in and every problem that confronts them - that is, ‘grace and peace’ which comes to them from the Father through the completed work of Jesus Christ.
But there’s also the reminder here that the basis of both unmerited favour and spiritual union with God is founded in the work of Christ - and that, not of their own doing, but as the free gift of the Father.
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