Search Tools

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,

New Defender's Study Bible Notes

Introduction to Mark John Mark, son of Mary (Acts 12:12), has been universally recognized from the beginning as the author of the second gospel. He was a relative of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), and very likely a close associate of Peter (I Peter 5:13). He accompanied Paul and Barnabas for a time on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:5,13), with his departure later causing a break between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40). Somehow he later became reconciled to Paul and became a profitable co-worker (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24: II Timothy 4:11). Since his mother was apparently the owner of the “upper room” where Jesus met with His disciples for the last supper, it is probable that Mark knew Jesus and may well have been one of his disciples, though not one of the twelve specially chosen. He also may well have gotten much of the information for his gospel from Peter. Many have considered the Gospel of Mark, which is the shortest of the four, to have been written first. He certainly wrote before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, for that event was still future when he wrote (note Mark 13:1-2). There is an ancient tradition that he wrote mainly for the information of Roman believers. He did indeed place strong emphasis on the actions of Jesus, using the word “immediately” or some similar word at least forty times, and this would appeal to the action-oriented Romans.

Introduction to Luke Luke is called “the beloved physician” by Paul (Colossians 4:14) and is mentioned by Paul two other times by name. He is identified as one of Paul’s fellow laborers in Philemon 24 and was the only one remaining with Paul just before his martyrdom (II Timothy 4:11). Although Luke never mentions himself by name, either in his gospel or in the book of Acts, it was universally recognized by the early church that he was the human author of both of these books. He is believed to have been the only Gentile writer of a book of the Bible, since he was not included among those “who are of the circumcision” in Paul’s greetings to the Gentile Christians at Colosse (Colossians 4:9-11,14). Others, however, think he may have been a Jew of the dispersion. Luke was with Paul on some of his missionary journeys, as indicated by the various “we” passages in the book of Acts (Acts 16:10; 20:5,6; etc.). He seems to have been with Paul continually on his third missionary journey, except for the two years of his imprisonment at Caesarea. It may have been during those two years, while Luke was in Palestine and separated from Paul, that he was able to do the research and writing for his gospel. It must have been completed at least some time before Paul’s execution, for he terminated Acts while Paul was still being treated well under Roman house arrest (Acts 28:30-31). Acts, of course, was written after Luke’s gospel. Consequently, Luke, as well as Matthew and Mark, was written sometime around A.D. 60 (Paul’s martyrdom is believed to have taken place around A.D. 68). Luke addressed both his gospel and Acts to a Greek man named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), evidently a man of some culture and influence, but otherwise unknown. This fact lends weight to the traditional belief that Luke was written mainly with his Greek brethren in mind, emphasizing the perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus. His analysis seems somewhat more topical than Matthew’s more sequentially ordered narrative. Luke writes in a very articulate literary style, and archaeological research has confirmed that he was a careful historian. His medical background frequently comes through also. He includes many events and teachings not found in the other synoptics, and these seem to reflect his social consciousness as well as concern for individuals. Most of all, however, he focuses on the Son of man and His great mission “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

1:3 me also. Although he never mentions himself by name, the church fathers and uniform tradition agree that Luke, Paul’s “beloved physician,” was the author of both this gospel and the book of Acts (see Colossians 4:14; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24).

28:16 to dwell by himself. Luke could not stay with Paul any longer, but undoubtedly was allowed to visit him, as were many others (Acts 28:30). Luke is mentioned in Paul’s epistles to Philemon and to the Colossians, which were written during this period. Even though Nero was emperor at this time, he had not yet shown his true character. Paul was still treated with courtesy and allowed many privileges.

4:8 not impute sin. By the marvelous provision of imputation, our sins were debited to the account of Jesus, the Son of man, whereas His perfect righteousness was credited to our account. “For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). See also James 2:23; Philemon 17-18.

Introduction to Ephesians Ephesus was the capital and chief city of the Roman province of Asia, located on the west coast of Asia Minor, almost due east of Athens. So far as the record goes, Paul spent almost three years in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-21; 19), longer than any other place after he started his missionary ministries. A strong church was established there, and Timothy was eventually sent there by Paul as its pastor (I Timothy 1:3). According to the early church fathers, the Apostle John served as senior pastor of the Ephesian church in his later years, while he wrote his five New Testament books. Ephesus was evidently noted as the leading church among “the seven churches which are in Asia” (Revelation 1:11). With such a long time spent by Paul establishing the church at Ephesus, it is noteworthy that, unlike his other epistles, the book of Ephesians contains no references to any individuals there, nor any references to specific problems or situations in the Ephesian church. The Ephesian epistle thus seems clearly designed for use in any church at all, and the probability is that Paul meant it as a circular letter, to be shared with all the churches in Asia. It may even be the same as the letter to Laodicea mentioned in Colossians 4:16. It was probably written while Paul was in house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30). This is implied by the fact that he made several allusions to his imprisonment in this Ephesian epistle (Ephesians 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). It is generally believed that Colossians and Philemon were also written during the same period, and that all three were carried from Paul to the recipients by Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7). See also the Introductions to Colossians and Philemon. Colossians has many features common to Ephesians, and many believe that Paul wrote them both at the same time—Colossians, first, to a specific church, followed by the longer and more fully developed treatment in Ephesians, with the latter intended for circulation to all the other churches (besides Colosse) in the province of Asia. It was addressed specifically, however, “to the saints which are at Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1), since the Ephesians seaport was where Tychicus would first land as he came from Rome and also since Ephesus was the capital and most influential city in Asia and had the most active church. Some ancient manuscripts do omit the words “which are at Ephesus” from the salutation, but by far most of the manuscripts do contain them. Paul did add “and to the faithful in Christ Jesus,” thus implying that it was intended to be read by others than only the Ephesian saints. The ruins at Ephesus are still very impressive. Among its greatest structures was “the temple of the great goddess Diana” (Acts 19:27), which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The remains of this temple have been excavated, as have those of the “theater” where the great riot against Paul took place (Acts 19:29-41). Ephesians is one of the very few Pauline epistles whose authorship is questioned today by some. The book, of course, claims to be written by Paul (Ephesians 1:1; 3:1), and contains so many internal references to Paul’s experiences that it could hardly have been written by anyone else. No one ever questioned this fact until certain nineteenth century liberals decided to argue that some of its vocabulary and concepts were unique, not found in Paul’s other epistles. The vocabulary depends on the theme, of course, and this was one of Paul’s later epistles, so it is hardly surprising that he would—especially in a letter meant for wider circulation—develop some themes in depth that were only sketchily introduced in his earlier letters to specific churches. In any case, there is no objective evidence whatever that Paul was not the author of the epistle to the Ephesians. Ephesians does, indeed, contain an exalted description of the divine Creator and His sovereign control over the world, as well as a strong affirmation of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Its great doctrinal expositions of the first half of the book are supplemented by doctrinally based exhortations to godliness in the second half. It also contains a wonderful delineation of the unity of all believers in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile.

Introduction to Philippians Like Ephesians and Colossians, Philippians was one of Paul’s “prison epistles” (note Philippians 1:7,13-14,16), though it was probably written some time later than the others. Tychicus carried the Colossian, Ephesian and Philemon epistles to Asia, whereas Philippians was taken to Philippi by Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). The prison from which Paul wrote these epistles has been taken by some as being at Ephesus, on the strength of such Scriptures as I Corinthians 15:32 and II Corinthians 1:8-10, even though the accounts of Paul’s several visits to Ephesus and the two years and more which he spent there (e.g., Acts 19:10) make no mention of any imprisonment at Ephesus. It seems more likely that Paul wrote Philippians during his house arrest at Rome (Acts 28:30). Note the references, for example, to “the palace” and “Caesar’s household” (Philippians 1:13; 4:22). As is well known, Philippi was the site of Paul’s first missionary activity in Europe. He entered Macedonia through this city, which was an official Roman colony, prosperous because of its location on a key overland trade route between Rome and Asia. The church he established there began with Lydia and certain other women, and shortly afterwards included the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16). It soon became the church that gave the Apostle Paul more personal satisfaction than any of the others, and his epistle reflects his deep love for them. Note, for example, Philippians 1:3-8; 4:1,15-19, as well as his testimony concerning them in II Corinthians 8:1-5. The letter to the Philippians does not reveal any serious problems in the church, in contrast to the problems that had developed in Corinth and Galatia, although there was a certain amount of disharmony that Paul sought to correct before it could develop into something serious (e.g., Philippians 2:2-3; 4:1-3). He also warned them of any potential false teachers from outside, and tried to encourage them in relation to the persecutions which were confronting them (e.g., Philippians 3:2; 1:29). There are many classic passages in this short epistle, especially the marvelous section on the incarnation and future exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). One great theme is that of joy, even in suffering. The words “joy” and “rejoicing” occur some seventeen times in its four chapters. Apparently, few if any have ever questioned the authenticity of Philippians, Paul being universally accepted by liberals and conservatives alike as its author. It is probably the most personal of all his church epistles. He does not mention his office as an apostle in his salutation, as he had done in all his other church epistles except those to Thessalonica. It is only in Philippians that he greets “the bishops and deacons” of the church (Philippians 1:1). The entire letter reflects close friendship and affection for the church, some ten years after its founding. Finally, it is interesting to note that the “marketplace” (or agora) where Paul and Silas were judged by the Philippian “magistrates” (Acts 16:19-20), has been excavated by archaeologists. Also the small stream where Paul first met Lydia and her friends has been identified.

Introduction to Colossians Colosse had been a significant city in the past, but had deteriorated in importance by New Testament times. Nearby cities such as Hierapolis and Laodicea (Colossians 4:13), especially the latter, had become more significant, though all three had churches planted in them, probably about the time of Paul’s stay in Ephesus. According to the record, Paul himself never visited any of them (though he may have traveled through Laodicea on his way to or from Ephesus (as an important trade highway existed there). It seems probable that Epaphras, one of Paul’s disciples, may have founded these churches while Paul was staying in Ephesus (Acts 19:10; Colossians 1:7; 4:12-13). The epistle to the Colossians was apparently written at the same time as that to Philemon, both being carried by Tychicus from Rome in connection with the return of Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus (see Colossians 4:7-9,17; Philemon 2,10). As noted in the Introduction to Ephesians, it is very likely that Tychicus also brought Paul’s letter to the Ephesians on this trip. Paul was in house arrest at Rome (Acts 28:30) when all three of these epistles were written. In many respects, Colossians is similar to Ephesians in content and emphasis, although Ephesians is longer and more fully developed in both its doctrinal and practical aspects. However, Colossians seems to have been written primarily to correct an incipient heresy that seemed to be developing in the church at Colosse and possibly spreading to other churches. This heresy was a tendency to compromise with the pagan pantheistic evolutionism of the Greek philosophers, possibly with an admixture of Judaizing legalism. Many varieties of evolutionary philosophy thrived in the Graeco/Roman world of the day (Epicureanism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, etc.), but the essential basis of all of them was denial of the true transcendent Creator God of the universe. Hence in the Colossian epistle Paul was led to formulate the greatest Christological passage in the entire Bible (Colossians 1:16-20), setting forth Jesus Christ as Creator, Sustainer and Reconciler of all things in heaven and earth. He then went on to insist that all wisdom and knowledge were centered in Christ (Colossians 2:3) and to warn against all human philosophy (Colossians 2:8). As far as the authenticity of Colossians is concerned, practically no one, ancient or modern, has questioned its Pauline authorship. Paul identifies himself as author (Colossians 1:1; 4:18) in both the opening and closing verses. Even though he had never visited either the Colossian or Laodicean churches in person (Colossians 2:1), he knew many of the members, as well as those of his own followers who had visited there (e.g., Aristarchus, Epaphras, Luke, Demas). The mention of so many people by name in Colossians 4:7-17 helps still further to confirm the authenticity of Colossians. The book of Colossians is relatively brief, with only four chapters, but it is very important, with its uniquely powerful and vital presentation of the person and work of Jesus Christ—a message probably more urgently needed in our day than even in Paul’s day.

1:2 Colosse. Colosse was a small city of Asia Minor not too far from Laodicea (see Colossians 4:16). Paul had never visited there, and so addressed them a little more formally than he did the church at Ephesus, even though the doctrinal content of the two epistles is often similar. He apparently wrote while he was in prison at Rome (note Colossians 4:18) and sent the letter to them by Tychicus (Colossians 4:7), by whom he also sent the Ephesian letter, presumably at the same time (note Ephesians 6:21-22), as well as that to Philemon.

1:7 Epaphras. Epaphras evidently had been the man who first preached the gospel and established the church there. At the time of writing, he was with Paul (Colossians 4:12), having brought word to him of the state of the Colossian church with its need for doctrinal guidance from Paul. He is also mentioned in Philemon 23, where it is indicated that Epaphras may also have been imprisoned with Paul for a time.

About the New Defender's Study Bible