A Comparison of Ephesians and Colossians
Parallels · Differences · Conclusion
The epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians are very similar in content. At the same time, however, there are many differences between the two. This paper will focus on these parallels and distinguishing marks on both a macro and micro-level.
The two epistles seem to have been written and delivered at the same time to the same general area and by the same individual. Paul describes himself as being in prison in both epistles (Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Col 4:3). Ephesus and Colossae were fairly close in proximity, which would make it easy for both of them to be delivered on the same trip. Both epistles designate Tychicus as the bearer of the epistle to the designated churches, who would 'tell of Paul's state of affairs upon arrival' (Eph 6:21-22; Col 4:7). If Paul's imprisonment is the one referred to in Acts 28, then Tychicus would have delivered the epistles from Rome. If Paul did write these letters at the same time, it might explain why they are so similar in content.
In both epistles, the audience was commended for their faith and love (Eph 1:15; Col 1:4, 8). The Colossians seem to have also been commended for their hope, whereas the Ephesians were not (Col 1:5). Instead, they were exhorted to lay hold of hope (Eph 1:18; 2:12; 4:4).
Paul prayed for or wished that the two churches would grow in the knowledge of the Lord, and receive spiritual wisdom and understanding (Eph 1:17; Col 1:9-10). He also desired that they know the will of the Lord (Eph 5:17; Col 1:9).
Paul mentioned the redemption Christ provided, emphasizing that it was wrought for them through Jesus' blood (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14). Both epistles designate the power of redemption for the forgiveness of sins.
Christ is pictured as the Head of the church, which is His body (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18, 24). The body consists of many members all under the authority of Jesus Christ. These members actually function like a human body in that each member is needed for the body to operate properly (Eph 4:15-16; Col 2:19). The body receives its instruction from the Head, but carries out that instruction through the joint-workings of every part, as they contribute what they are meant to contribute to the edifying of the whole.
Not only is Jesus the head of the church, but He is also above all principalities, dominions, authorities, powers, might, and thrones (Eph 1:21; Col 1:16-17). While both epistles emphasized His preeminence over these things, Colossians tells the reason why Jesus is above the principalities, powers, etc. Jesus is above them because He is their Creator and Sustainer. He is Lord over everything.
Another of Paul's themes is the deliverance from darkness into the kingdom of God (Eph 2:2, 4-6; Col 1:13). Whereas the Gentiles were once controlled by the powerful prince of the air, they are now in the kingdom of Christ and free from trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). Ephesians and Colossians join together in explaining the process by which God took the wicked, alienated Gentiles from being God's enemies to being God's children (Eph 2:1-10; Col 1:21-22). Whereas they once were alienated, disobedient, and evil, they are now brought close to God and holy.
Paul also briefly mentioned the Law of Moses, explaining that the Law had been terminated (Eph 2:14-15; Col 2:14-16). Paul brought this point up in Ephesians to demonstrate that all barriers had been eliminated between Jews and Gentiles in the church, and in Colossians to eliminate the judgmentalism that was fostered by some towards those who were not keeping the Law.
A big emphasis in both epistles is the call to holiness, commanding the saints to cast off the works of darkness (Eph 4:17-5:13; Col 3:1-17). Among the common sins listed are fornication, evil speaking, wrath, and impurity. Paul contrasted their old life with their new using the old man/new man analogy. They were exhorted to put off the old man and put on the new man, being renewed in their mind in true righteousness and holiness according to Christ, and being strengthened by God's Spirit in their inner man (Eph 3:16; 4:23-24; Col 3:9-10).
Part of this holiness involved the forgiving of others, following the example of Christ's forgiveness toward them (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). This type of forgiveness would flow from their love for one another (Eph 5:2; Col 3:14).
Paul spent some length of time speaking on submission (Eph 5:21-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1). The relationship between husband and wife, father and child, and master and slave were expounded upon. The latter of the two in each relational group was to submit to the other. Ephesians devotes much more attention to the subject than does Colossians.
In Ephesians Paul commanded submission, but also "balanced out" this idea by showing the responsibility the authority has to the submitter. Paul commanded the wife to be in submission to her husband, but emphasized the love the husband should have for his wife, comparing it to the self-less love Christ has for the church. The children are commanded to submit to the fathers, but the fathers are warned about not provoking them to wrath. The slaves are commanded to submit to their masters, but the masters are warned to treat them kindly.
Colossians states the same general concept, but in much more straight forward than Ephesians. Colossians lacks the church analogy for the husband and wife, but adds that the husband not to be bitter against his wife.
As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, Tychicus was the bearer of both epistles (Eph 6:21; Col 4:7). Along with delivering the letters, he was to inform the churches of Paul's present state and affairs.
Finally, at the conclusion of both epistles Paul requested prayer that he might be able to preach the gospel of Christ (Eph 6:19; Col 4:3). In Ephesians he petitioned them to pray for boldness, while in Colossians he prayed for the door to open up to preach the gospel at all.
Although there are many similarities in content between the two epistles, there are also differences. On a macro level I believe a vast difference consists of the purpose behind the writing of each epistle. Ephesians is more theological in nature, while Colossians is more situationally oriented. Though the teachings found in Ephesians were surely occasioned by something in the church it was addressed to, it seems to be more neutral and theologically-prone. Paul's main emphasis in Ephesians is the mystery of the church age where God has chosen for there to be Jew and Gentile in one body and on the same level before God. There are definitely clues in the epistle that Jew/Gentile contention was a problem, but it wasn't Paul's focus. He was giving a theological treatise on the mystery of the church and its implications for the lives of those in the church.
Colossians, however, was written to deal with many problems in Colossae. Of the many include the worshipping of angels, asceticism, the keeping of parts of the Law of Moses, and ungodly living.
Whereas Ephesians emphasizes the unity of the body of Christ, Colossians emphasizes the supremacy of Christ over all things and the supremacy of the Christian life.
The two epistles of Ephesians and Colossians are unique in both their similarity and diversity. Each speaks of similar things, but each for a different purpose. The same truths were used for two very different purposes.
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