The letter to the Colossians ends with news about folks and what they are doing and greetings. Normally this boilerplate passage does not hold a lot of obvious value for Bible study, but this list of names maps to the 13 tribes, unlocking some meaning that's otherwise not accessible. In particular, many of these names occur elsewhere in the Bible, in stories that may turn out to have tribal significance after learning this map at the end of Colossians.
|Issachar||Luke, the beloved physician|
|Benjamin||Nymphas and company|
Notes on mapping
On my first attempt at this list I gave Manasseh two names, since the guy Jesus is also called Justus. I then gave the last tribe, Dan, Paul, because Paul signs his letter after naming all these people. I've since changed that original mapping by giving Manasseh one name and dropping Paul from the list.
There are a couple reasons why that first mapping was wrong. First, Paul does not go with the tribe of Dan. This contradicts what we're clearly told in scripture about Paul being from the tribe of Benjamin. Secondly, the list that appears to matter in this passage are the names Paul is talking about, excluding himself. When we simply count the list of names he mentions, we have 13 names (albeit, some of those names refer to groups).
Sharing the Jesus/Justus guy across two tribes, Manasseh and Simeon, causes the following names to shift forward one tribe, thus changing the original map. This makes sense in terms of losing Paul off the end of the list, because he doesn't belong with Dan, as we've discussed, but it also fixes quite a few intermediary names. Levi has the minister Epaphras. Issachar has Luke, to match the book by the same name that goes with Issachar. Joseph is now with the reference to brothers. Benjamin has the house. The map is just much better even though some tribes need further study.
Judah as Tychicus needs more tought. Check Ephesians.
Reuben as Onesimus. Check Philemon.
Gad as Aristarchus works really well. We know three key things about Aristarchus. First, he was a traveling companion of Pauls. Second, he was drug on stage when the Ephesians were going crazy over their idol, Artemis. Third, he was on the ship with Paul when he sailed for Rome and they had the whole ship wreck and were stranded on an island and so forth. Why do these stories matter? Because once we have a map between Gad and Aristarchus, you mentally insert Gad when you read Aristarchus and the stories start to make more sense.
Gad has theme of hearing the call and going. He's willing to leave home and be adventurous. Sometimes, though he leaves home for the wrong reason, like to chase after gold and silver and treasures. Gad is warned in the third commandment not to make idols (presumably of gold and silver). Gad became Spain and their exploits around the world, by ship, and search for treasure, is well known and recently popularized in the Disney Pirates of the Carribean movies. That's Gad, or Aristarchus.
Asher as Mark is a great match, a clue we're onto something in this list. Mark is the guy who joined Paul and Barnabas on a mission, but left early to return home for reasons not stated (Acts 13). In what looks like a heated discussion about the whole thing later, Paul did not want to take Mark on a subsequent trip because he considered Mark's return home to be turning back on a mission he should have completed (Acts 15).
Here, at the end of Colossians, we learn that Mark is actually a cousin of Barnabas. That may explain why Barnabas was willing to stand up for him, even if it meant splitting with Paul.
To see Paul extending an offer for assistance from Mark at the end of Colossians is encouraging. Paul has figured out how Mark can fit.
This Mark we are told was also known as John (Acts 15). I think he's the apostle John Z. One reason is the way the list of 12 Apostles map to the tribes. John Z. aligns with Asher just as this John/Mark aligns with Asher here in Colossians. That does not mean they have to be the same guy to have the same name and characteristics, but it's more logical to think they are than not. The logic goes like this. There's a limited web of people named in the Bible whose names either matter or not. If they don't matter they wouldn't have been included in the Bible, but they were, so they do matter. If they do matter, than the only way is because that web, that network of family, friends and acquaintances can be known by the reader. For that web to be known you have to start with the principle that guys by the same name are the same person unless you can prove otherwise. Scripture appears to be written this way and gives the necessary clues to show when someone by the same name isn't the same person (Multiple Jacob's for example. One was killed in Acts 12 and one was still around in Acts 15, so obviously not the same person). Not multiple John's, though, other than John the baptizer and this John/Mark.
Given that John/Mark had a tendency to turn back, or not finish, note what Paul says about him here. He says "If he comes, receive him." Paul's been through the letdown of not being able to depend on him once before, and even though he knows where Mark fits in, he's leaving it in the conditional as to whether he will actually show. He's also saying, if he does make it, don't reject him. Why would anyone reject the guy? Because they probably all knew that he let Paul down, that he turned back, before. Now Paul has to tell them to allow him to be apart of the group, if he shows.
Why did John/Mark turn back anyhow? One theory of mine. He was mourning the loss of his brother Jacob, killed by Herod, and he should have never left on the mission to begin with. The holy spirit had said to set apart Paul and Barnabas for the mission he had called them to (Acts 13). No mention of John/Mark.
Sorry about the lecture here. It's just important to know that there's plenty behind this alignment.
Naphtali as Barnabas is another home run. Naphtali has a theme of certifying or sealing things. His holiday, for example, is First Fruits. That's when you take a sample from your crop and analyze it for moisture content, protein content, etc. The report from that process is a type of certification or expectation for the whole field. His commandment is to not misuse the name of Yahvah. Don't miscertify what he's like or said by how you speak about him. Same idea.
Barnabas fits this pattern when he brings Paul to the apostles in Jerusalem in Acts 9. The apostles didn't trust Paul, but Barnabas knew what was happening with him. So he brought Paul to them and argued the case for why they should accept him, ie, he saw Jesus and started preaching about him, etc. Barnabas certified Paul.
Manasseh as a guy named Jesus, who also goes by Justus, needs more thought. This one guy, with two names, lands across Manasseh and Simeon.
See Manasseh note above.
Epaphras as Levi makes plenty of sense given what's know about him. The first chapter of Colossians says Epaphras is the minister/preacher to Colosse. We learn from this passage at the end of Colossians that he's a man of prayer and burdened for at least 3 distinct groups of believers in different locations. He's levitical through and through, following the distributed ministry model for Levites seen throughout the Bible.
Issachar lines up with Luke. I don't know why, right now, Issachar would fit with the individual named Luke. However, the tribes align with the books of the Bible, and Issachar gets the book of Luke in that list. So this may be a more meaningful alignment in the end.
Zebulun as Demas needs more thought. Word search on Demas and check end of Second Timothy.
Joseph as the Laodicean brothers makes sense. Joseph, as a tribe name, actually includes two brothers, two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. So these brothers align really well with this slot in the list. Further study on the Laodicean connection could yield more insight about this mapping. I trust none of this in vain once the whole picture comes together some day.
Benjamin as Nymphas, family, and the congregation that meets in their house is great. I don't know anything about Nymphas as an individual, but Benjamin is the tribe that has always held Jerusalem, the place with the house where everyone meets three times a year. So the description of what Nymphas and his family is doing makes plenty of sense for Benjamin.
Dan as Archippus is another great match. All we know about Archippus is that Paul sees him as in ministry, because Paul told him to fulfill his ministry, and he hosted a home fellowship, because Paul says this in the address of the letter of Philemon. Unlike the other 12 tribes, Dan does not have an annual holiday, nor does he have a month in the year. Instead, Dan has the 13th month in Sabbath and Jubilee years in place of not having a month other years, and he has the weekly sabbath in place of not having an annual holiday of his own. Paul even gives a nod to Dan's funny timing when he writes in Colossians, a book that maps to Dan, not to worry about holidays and funny timing and such (see Colossians 2:16). So, Dan is the guy who hosts fellowship each Sabbath, since that's what the Sabbath is for. This is what Archippus was doing, needed to keep doing, and why his alignment with Dan makes sense.