How to Read Colossians

The Book of Colossians


 Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Colossians explains the transformative power of the gospel. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the structure of Colossians, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use these questions as a guide as you watch this video.  



Now that you have an overview of Colossians in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Colossians. Read Colossians 1:11–23. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Colossians 1:11–23.   

Colossians 1:11-23 (ESV)

11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Preeminence of Christ

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.17And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.18And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,22he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Colossians 1:11–23? (Consider the major characters, locations, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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 Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Jesus is the image of the invisible God. (Interpretation) Jesus is fully God and fully man. He shows us God in human form—in a way we can understand. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Colossians 1:11–23? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Colossians? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Before Christ, God often appeared to humans in frightening ways—in a blaze of fire, a gleaming throne room vision, the brilliant view of his back. But when Jesus came, God revealed Himself in a way we could wrap our minds around. We now have Jesus' example to deepen our understanding about God.

Contextualize: What themes does Colossians 1:11–23 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Colossians? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the Old Testament?
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 Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: I can live with confidence that I follow a God who can relate to me on every level. I serve a personal God who is no stranger to the problems of humanity. He walked this earth and knows the pain of temptation, persecution, and loss. Whenever trials come, I can take comfort in Jesus and look to Him as the perfect example of how I should live.

Apply: How does the truth from Colossians 1:11–23 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Colossians to your life this week?
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 The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Colossians, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Colossians this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 


To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.