Colossians is an interesting letter which O’Conner mentions in his book Paul: A Critical Life. The following is a paraphrase of the issues concerning the Colossians. At some point Paul encounters Epaphras who journeys back to Colossae to introduce the teaching of Jesus. It is uncertain whether Paul ever was able to visit the Colossians but while in jail in Ephesus he manages to write a letter to them. Apparently the problem that Epaphras reported to Paul concerning the Colossians involved them having an overly cosmic understanding of Christ. O’Conner provides the following quote from C.K. Barret regarding this issue;
O’Conner then gives his own interpretation.
It seems rather that the Colossians...had done their best to give Christ a prominent place in the realm of cosmic speculation. What they had not done, and the editor now proceeds to do is to recognize his earthly activity.
In other words, the concern of Colossians is not to lift its readers into the cosmic sphere, but to ensure that they do not lose contact with the mundane. The Saviour must stand on terra firma.
O’Conner goes on to state that part of Paul’s strategy in writing to the Colossians is to edit some of the didactic hymns which where used in Colossae. For example, Colossians 1:15-20 consists of the following strophes.
I V. 15a Who is the image of the invisible God,
V. 15b The firstborn of every creature:
V. 16a For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers:
V. 16f All things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church
II V. 18b Who is the beginning,
V 18C The firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
V. 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell;
V.20a And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
Basically O’Conner writes that Paul took a hymn that the Colossians were using, revised it, and then wrote Colossians 1:15-20. I know it seems counter-intuitive that Colossians was written in part against an overly high christology. However some of the revisions that Paul made in the hymn, such as adding “making peace by the blood of the cross” was meant to emphasize the earthly sacrifice that Jesus made.
To try to steer the topic back to the thread, Julian understood how divisive some of these theological issues were (and still are) and attempted to utilize it to his advantage.