Col 4:7-17 represents a common enough policy in the letters of Paul to add personal comments which varied in their application and in the reason behind their inclusion (Rom 15:22-16:23, I Cor 16:1-20, Eph 6:21-22, Phil 4:10-22, Col 4:7-17, I Tim 4:19-21, Titus 3:12-13) before, eventually, adding one final personal comment (Col 4:18) which appears to have been personally hand-written and which served as proof to those who knew Paul that the letter was genuine (Gal 6:11, II Thess 3:17) - we’ll look at these ‘final words’ when we get to the web page dealing with Col 4:18.
The structure of these ‘end of letter’ personnel lists has no set layout but seems to fall in to a few specific types of details which sometimes recur. So, Paul often sends personal greetings or messages to those believers who he knows are in the places to whom his letter is being sent (Rom 16:1-16, Col 4:15-17, I Tim 4:19). That Paul knew some of the people present with Timothy (I Tim 4:19) is hardly surprising but both the former cities of Rome and Colossae, Paul had never visited (Rom 15:22-24, Col 2:1) and it seems right to understand the believers in the first century Church as being made up not so much of a rigidly settled group of people in specific locations who had little or no interaction with others - rather, the believers seem to have moved about consistently frequently for them to appear in places where it couldn’t have been said that the apostle had met them there.
Whether this was part of the typical lifestyle of first century culture in which the Way was being spread is difficult to know, but there were certainly occupations which didn’t need to be established in one location for great lengths of time (Acts 18:13 Cp I Cor 4:12) - it may also have been more to do with the believers’ commitment to extend the boundaries of the Gospel so that their income - so long as it was sufficient - was subjected to the proclamation of the Gospel.
Paul also adds greetings from those who were with him at the time of writing who seem to have wanted to have been remembered to the fellowships (Rom 16:21-23, I Cor 16:19-20, Phil 4:21, Col 4:10-14, I Tim 4:21, Philemon 23-24). One can imagine a number of ways in which these were committed to parchment. The less likely would be for those included as sending their greetings to have asked Paul to include a note at the end of his letter when they knew he was intending to write - more likely is that, as the letter was being dictated, they shouted out their greetings as he approached the conclusion of the letter.
I always smile (well, usually) when I read Rom 16:22 because it strikes me that the amanuensis (the person who was committing to writing what Paul was dictating) looked up as Paul paused either for breath or to think what to say next and asked
‘Can I add my own greeting here?’
to which Paul answered
so he wrote
‘I, Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord’
and then continued as the apostle added another greeting from those who were with him. It always serves to demonstrate the warmth of the letters rather than for them to be considered as nothing more than doctrinal exercises to straighten out some wrong teaching or simply to underpin their relationship with Christ in some cold and detached manner.
Paul also includes personal information such as his intentions about where he was going to travel to next, instructions concerning his fellow workers if or when they arrived in their city or even, in one place, an acknowledgement of the gift that had been sent to him and his thanks for it (Rom 15:22-29, I Cor 16:1-20, Eph 6:21-22, Phil 4:10-20, Col 4:7-9, I Tim 4:20-21, Titus 3:12-13). Paul wasn’t a great one for going in to detail about the events that he was experiencing and often left the retelling of them to the messengers that he sent to deliver his letters - it obviously saved him a great amount of time though he does hint at generalisations on occasions.
Although personnel lists and greetings can be fairly lengthy (Rom 16:1-24), the outro to the letter to Colossae is particularly significant because of it’s length when compared to the rest of the letter - 17 verses of a 95 verse letter (almost 18% or one fifth) - and adds a greater personal touch than others of a similar length which bear few or no verses at all.
I’ve commented on the character of Tychicus and what the passages in Colossae - and other NT passages - can tell us, primarily in the introduction to the letter but have also added a few further observations about his inclusion in apostolic bands of travellers on a couple of other web pages (here and here). There’s little more that can be said about Tychicus at this point but I’ll attempt to bring together what’s previously been said under this header and add some further observations.
The name of Tychicus, then, appears five times in the NT (Acts 20:4, Eph 6:21, Col 4:7, II Tim 4:12 and Titus 3:12) and, unlike other names which recur, there appears to be little doubt that the individuals mentioned in all these passages are one and the same person, even though Colbrien cites a source to note that first century inscriptions discovered show that the name was very common.
His first mention (chronologically speaking) in Acts 20:4 may be all the more significant because it places him with Paul and the rest of the apostolic band as he travelled back from Greece, through Macedonia. Being from Asia (or, perhaps more specifically, from Asia Minor where Ephesus and Colossae were located) we may assume that he ‘joined’ the travelling band of believers as they departed from Ephesus (Acts 20:1) and stayed with him throughout the events that transpired in Macedonia, Greece and, once more, as they journeyed back through Macedonia on their way to Syria and, presumably, with the ultimate intention of visiting Jerusalem.
It will be reading too much into Acts 19:29 to insist that only Aristarchus and Gaius were travelling with him at the point in time at which they arrived at Ephesus and so prove Tychicus’ acceptance as a fellow traveller only as they left the city, but the logic of seeing him as taking his journey with the apostolic band as they left Ephesus - or, at least, as they visited one of the other cities of Asia Minor - seems fairly good.
This doesn’t help with a clear identification of where the letter to Colossae must have been written, however, because the period in question spanned a number of years as I’ve previously noted in my introduction and we could place the time and city of writing in a number of situations - some of which aren’t even mentioned in the text.
The letter to Colossae was definitely written at a time when Paul was imprisoned (Col 4:10,18) but the text is somewhat silent as to imprisonment throughout this lengthy period of Paul’s travels round to Greece through Macedonia and back, ‘hopping’ into city after city by boat and by foot over land before setting sail finally for Tyre (Acts 21:3).
Tychicus appears to have been used by Paul primarily as a postman and messenger of those things which had happened to him and which he felt he needn’t commit to writing. In Eph 6:21 and Col 4:7-8, we read of him as being the one who was bearing the letter that was being sent and also that he would relate to the recipients of the letters all those things which had befallen Paul.
II Tim 4:12 may also be indicative of the bearing of a letter but the simplicity of Paul’s note that
‘Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus’
may be more along the lines of that which he writes in Titus 3:12 where Tychicus’ or Artemas’ arrival (it would seem that Paul had not yet made up his mind who he was going to send - with or without the letter being written) was to be the catalyst to release Titus to return to Paul at Nicopolis in Greece. The arrival of the believer seems to imply that they were to take up where Titus was to leave off and continue ministering the Gospel while he travelled to Paul. There’s a hint of this also in Col 4:8 where the apostle defines Tychicus’ function also as to
‘...encourage your hearts...’
and, in Col 4:7, that he’s a
‘...faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord’
something which is indicative of more than the utterance of some pleasant words. It would be incorrect, therefore, for us to think of Tychicus simply as a bearer of letters or as a reliable informant as to the events that had surrounded Paul’s continuing proclamation of the Gospel.
But the mention of Tychicus in the letter to Timothy should also point us to the likelihood that they were particularly ‘close’ as co-workers for Paul needn’t have included the detail if he hadn’t have thought that Timothy would have been interested to know.
We might also be correct in seeing Tychicus’ trip along with Onesimus, the runaway slave (Col 4:9), as being an indication that it was both to the congregation at Colossae and to an individual, Philemon, that the slave might not be given the unenviable task of presenting the letter personally but that Tychicus might stand as a mediator between the two and even, to some extent, as Paul’s representative to report back to him what transpired.
I’ve already noted the similarities in Colossians and Philemon which have led me to conclude that they were delivered - and, therefore, written - at the same time, so that Onesimus being sent with Tychicus had an ulterior motive which wasn’t being declared to the Colossian believers.
Whether the letter to Ephesus (if, indeed, it was written to them) was completed and delivered at the same time is difficult to say, but many commentators insist on such an association. Certainly, Ephesians bears a great many similarities to Colossae - especially in the latter chapters - to give substance to such theories and the mention of Tychicus as being the bearer of the letter (Eph 6:21) in almost an identical manner as it occurs in Col 4:7 also points towards such a possibility (though the absence of Timothy in Ephesians coupled with Paul’s statement in II Tim 4:12 would point away from such an scenario - the lack of a mention of Onesimus could possibly have been expected because Paul mentions him in Col 4:9 primarily because he’s ‘one of yourselves’).
As I’ve also noted, however, Ephesians could just as well have been the ‘missing’ letter to Laodicea (Col 4:16) because nowhere in the letter do we ever read of the city to whom it’s being addressed. The plausibility of such an identification, however, makes it seem unlikely. But that the ‘letter to Laodicea’ was delivered at the same as the one to Colossae seems fairly certain from Paul’s note.
The name ‘Onesimus’, borne by the ‘runaway slave’, which reminds the present day believer of a significant story of the NT that’s often cited as a prime example of compassion and forgiveness, only occurs twice throughout the NT (Col 4:9, Philemon 10) and, in both places, we can be sure that it refers to one and the same individual - even though Colbrien, again, testifies to the fact that the name was a fairly common one attributed to slaves in the first century. I’ve also suggested in the above section that Onesimus seems to have been sent to accompany Tychicus on his journey to Colossae with Paul’s letter.
He was certainly a slave and a resident of Colossae (Col 4:9), though whether he was born or raised here isn’t certain. What we do know, however, is that Onesimus would probably have been returning in fear and trepidation because he was taking quite some risk - though a necessary one at that - in coming to his city where there was some unresolved ‘business’ that needed doing with his master.
Onesimus is given the same ‘function’ by Paul as Tychicus when he summates that
‘They will tell you of everything that has taken place here’
Paul also calls him
‘...the faithful and beloved brother...’
but stops short of attributing him with the function of Tychicus as a
‘...faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord’
which seems to point towards the understanding that, while Onesimus was accepted as being a valuable worker alongside the apostle, he was regarded as having a different function than Tychicus. In Philemon, he speaks of him as being ‘useful’ (Philemon 11 - this is the meaning of the name ‘Onesimus’, hence Paul’s play on different Greek words) and of his desire (Philemon 13) that he might
‘...serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the Gospel’
which tends to envisage his ministry to be in a more supportive role than Tychicus would have expected to be used in. Onesimus is sent not only as a travelling companion but because there’s an issue which needs dealing with where his running away from his master Philemon is now going to try to be resolved by the direct intervention of Paul through his writing of his letter to the master, Philemon, and the personal appearance of the slave before him.
Although the situation surrounding Onesimus is one of the most personal examples of the intercession of the apostle in a earthly problem which was given a spiritual dimension by the new relationship with Jesus that both Philemon and Onesimus had discovered, there’s little that can be soundly established.
For example, we have no way of being sure that the flight of Onesimus occurred before he came to be converted to Jesus Christ. However, Paul’s note that he’d become Onesimus’ spiritual/natural father while imprisoned (Philemon 10) might, perhaps, point this way in like manner that his statement of Philemon 19 that he would repay the debt if anything was owed leads him on to an aside in which he observes that the master owed Paul
‘...even your own self’
an indication that, perhaps, Philemon was a direct convert of Paul while he’d been visiting Ephesus, perhaps on some matter of trade - or even looking for his runaway slave. The scenario seems to have been that Onesimus had fled his master’s service and that, only afterwards, had he come to know Jesus Christ, encountering Paul at some juncture (perhaps even meeting with him at the time when he was saved - the apostle could very easily have been the instrument through whom he’d believed) and committing himself to serve the apostle for the advancement of the Gospel.
Onesimus’ despatch to Colossae, therefore, served two purposes - not only was he being commissioned to testify to the events surrounding Paul’s imprisonment but he was to attempt to be reconciled to his master, through the direct intervention of the apostle where he elevates the slave into a relationship with Jesus that’s of equal standing with his master when he notes (Philemon 15-16) that he’s
‘...no longer...a slave but more than a slave...a beloved brother...’
Church history records the success of the encounter between the master and slave and, although it’s also the source for the assertion that just about every enemy of Jesus became a believer at a later date (a ‘fact’ which would push us against accepting its testimony here also), the fact that the letter to Philemon has survived down to the present time is probably proof enough that the letter was a success in achieving reconciliation.
What became of Onesimus after his return trip to Philemon in Colossae, however, is impossible to say and there are no further NT references which would indicate the outcome.
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