A Theological Commentary on Colossians

A while ago I wrote about how excited I was to at some point get my hands on the Brazos Theological Commentary on Colossians. Now I finally have made my way through it – and I’m still excited about the book!

The Brazos Theological Commentary series exists for the sake of interpreting scripture in light of the Church’s creeds. The books in the series do not shy away from moving back and forth between exegesis and theological interpretation. In fact many of the books in this series are designed to demonstrate the intellectual viability of the ongoing project many have termed “theological interpretation.”

As a part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, Seitz commentary on Colossians shows the reader not only what it looks like to do theological interpretation, he also shows the reader how to read scripture in light of the entire canon. Most commentaries shy away from reading scripture in this way.

Features of the Commentary

The First unique aspect of this commentary is Seitz’ refusal to read Colossians apart from the rest of scripture. This commentary really is an exercise in canonical interpretation, i.e. “interpretation of one of Paul’s letters in the context of them all, of the New Testament more generally, and of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.” (27) This sort of reading certainly has its benefits – it is holistic, it refuses to get stuck in matters of historical background, it respects the text for what it says in its final form, and encourages a reader-response sort of reading. However it also has its drawbacks, specially that this sort of reading can wash out the distinctive message of the book one is focused upon, in this case Colossians.

Another interesting feature of this commentary is Seitz’ view on the Colossian heresy. Seitz decides to push the historical matter into the background of his commentary. That is, he refuses to focus upon it. He does this for several reasons, according to Seitz: 1)The heresy is not the point of the book (more on this below), 2) Paul does not know the details of the heresy, 3) Paul is being intentionally vague about the issue and recommendations for how to address the issue. I definitely have to disagree with Seitz on this point, Paul might have other purposes in writing the letter, but the nature of the heresy really is important, and we shouldn’t simply relegate it to being a non-issue.

A third interesting feature of this commentary is how Seitz allows the Old Testament to inform his interpretation of Colossians, specifically, he allows Genesis to do a lot of the heavy lifting in his interpretation. At the same time he notes that Colossians does not directly quote any OT scripture. The reasons Paul does not do this is because the Colossian church is primarily gentile, and they would have been unaware of much of the OT. Thus Paul is attempting to draw them into a OT worldview before he begins to instruct them on the OT text.

A fourth unique feature of Seitz’ commentary is his belief that Paul is responsible for collecting his own letters, organizing them, editing them, and distributing them because he knew that they were akin to scripture. Seitz believes that Romans serves as an introductory letter, forming the basis for our interpretation of the rest of Paul’s letters. Seitz makes these claims in light of the affinities he sees between Paul’s corpus and the minor prophets.

Finally, the most significant feature of this commentary is Seitz view on the purpose of Colossians. As I mentioned above, he strays away from traditional interpretations which see the occasion of the letter lying in the problem of the Colossian heresy. Most commentaries spend a substantial amount of time trying to figure out the nature of this heresy, but Seitz almost entirely avoids doing this. He avoids it because he believes that Colossians is transitional letter which explains Paul’s transition between an apostle who travels and preaches to an apostle who fulfills his apostolic calling in letter writing. As Seitz says on pg. 37, “Paul has become aware that his letter writing is a form of apostolic ministry with its own integrity and afterlife, especially in the form of letters in emerging collective association.” Because of his awareness of his changing role, Paul writes a more general letter. Seitz notes the seemingly intentional vagueness/imprecision/generality Paul uses when addressing the nature of the heresy. Seitz believes that Paul speaks in generalities because he now knows that this letter will make its away to other churches around the world (thus enabling him to fulfill his apostolic calling to the gentiles.) Thus Paul addresses general problems that many gentile churches will face in the future. However, despite the fact that the letter is meant to have a broader audience, Seitz does not ignore the fact that this letter is written specifically to the Colossian church. So Seitz tries to balance the global nature of the letter and the local nature of the letter. What shall we make of this? I really don’t know…. Seitz’ points about the vagueness & generality of Paul’s comments makes a lot of sense, however it seems to be quite a stretch to infer from Paul’s imprecise language that Paul has such global intentions. It might be better just to say that Paul was vaguely aware of the problems they were facing, so he speaks in generalities, much like a guest preacher might do at a church he is visiting (Seitz does use this example). We should probably leave it at that rather than infer from this that Paul has a global purpose in mind for this letter. The text simply does not lead us to believe that.

Nevertheless, I recommend this commentary. It is interesting, makes some unique claims, and helps the reader focus on what the text is actually trying to say. Instead of getting bogged down behind the text, this commentary encourages us to stay in the text. This is a welcomed feature, which is unusually absent in most academically rigorous commentaries.

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