The name Archippus appears twice in the New Testament, both times in letters written by the apostle Paul. Although not much is said about Archippus, examining the context provides some clues about who he was and what role he played in the early church.
Archippus is an intriguing but mysterious figure in the New Testament. He is never described as one of the apostles or early church leaders, yet Paul addresses him personally in two of his epistles. Studying these brief references can help us piece together an outline of who Archippus was:
- Archippus is directly addressed by Paul in Philemon 1:2 and Colossians 4:17, indicating he was known to Paul.
- The context suggests he held a leadership position in the church at Colossae.
- Paul’s exhortation to Archippus in Colossians implies he needed to fulfill some unspecified ministry.
- Some scholars propose he may have been Philemon’s son, but this is not certain.
Though we can’t state definitively all the details about Archippus, the impression is of an important church leader at Colossae who needed encouragement from Paul to complete the work God had assigned him.
Archippus in Philemon 1:2
The first and clearest mention of Archippus is in Paul’s letter to Philemon. In the opening address of this letter, Paul writes:
To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house (Philemon 1:1-2 NKJV)
Philemon appears to have been a wealthy Christian living in Colossae who hosted a house church. Apphia may have been Philemon’s wife. Archippus is described as a “fellow soldier” along with Philemon.
Calling him a soldier suggests Archippus was engaged in Christian ministry and spreading the gospel, fighting alongside Paul in a metaphorical sense.
The fact that Paul includes Archippus in the greeting implies he was known to Philemon and part of his inner circle. Paul may have been staying in Archippus’s home during his time in Colossae.
Some scholars propose Archippus could have been Philemon’s son, based on his apparent connection to the family. But this is not stated directly, so cannot be verified.
Archippus in Colossians 4:17
The second reference to Archippus comes at the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17 NKJV)
Here Paul is delivering a message directly to Archippus, which indicates Archippus was present with the church in Colossae. We’re not given details about the ministry Archippus had received, but Paul urges him to complete whatever work the Lord had assigned him.
This exhortation implies that Archippus needed either encouragement or correction in carrying out his responsibilities.
Based on the context of Colossians 4, many Bible scholars conclude that Archippus held a leadership position within the church at Colossae.
Earlier in the chapter, Paul refers to fellow workers like Epaphras, Luke and Demas who had labored with him in ministry (Col 4:12-14). The fact that Archippus is singled out with a personal message suggests he also had an important role in the church.
Clues about Archippus from Colossae
To better understand Archippus, we can look at what we know about the church at Colossae during the era when Paul wrote to them. Based on Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the church faced the threat of false teachers introducing dangerous heresies.
Some Bible scholars infer that Archippus may have been struggling with false teachings creeping into the church. Paul’s exhortation could have been a subtle way to urge Archippus to stand firm against these heresies and fulfill his pastoral duties.
Colossae was located around 100 miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). The church was likely established by Epaphras, who Paul mentions as bringing news of the Colossians’ faith (Col 1:7).
According to the book of Acts, all the residents of Asia Minor heard the gospel during Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). So it’s likely the church at Colossae was founded during that time.
Paul wrote his epistle to the Colossians during his house imprisonment in Rome around 60-62 AD.
If Archippus was appointed leader of the church at Colossae, it probably occurred sometime between Paul’s stay in Ephesus and his Roman imprisonment under Nero. The church may have already been struggling with false teachings by the time Paul wrote to them.
Possible Connection to Onesimus
Some commentators also see a connection between Archippus and Onesimus, who is the runaway slave addressed along with Philemon. Colossae was Onesimus’s hometown (Col 4:9), so he likely knew Archippus. Some propose that Onesimus may have sought refuge in Archippus’s house before traveling to find Paul in Rome.
Paul’s commendation of Onesimus as a “faithful and beloved brother” (Col 4:9) implies Onesimus became a believer through Paul’s ministry in Rome.
Perhaps Onesimus returned to Colossae with Tychicus, who delivered Paul’s letters to Philemon and the Colossians (Col 4:7-9). If so, Onesimus could have delivered Paul’s personal message to Archippus when he arrived home.
However, all of these connections are speculative. The Scripture does not provide enough information to determine the nature of the relationship between Archippus and Onesimus with any certainty. We only know they both had contact with Paul and the church at Colossae.
Was Archippus Well-Known Among Early Christians?
Though Paul addresses Archippus directly in Scripture, he does not appear as a major figure elsewhere in early church history. The important leaders of the apostolic age like Peter, James and John far overshadow an obscure name like Archippus. There are no early Christian writings that add details to his biography or describe his later life.
The 4th century church historian Eusebius apparently knew no more about Archippus than what could be gleaned from Scripture. However, he does preserve an interesting legend regarding a possible family relationship:
They say that this Archippus was the son of Philemon, who was addressed in the epistle to Philemon, and that he was at that time bishop of the church at Colophon.
So according to this Christian tradition, Philemon may have been the father of Archippus. The city of Colophon was around 12 miles from Colossae, so it is plausible Archippus could have ended up bishop there.
But again, there are no facts to conclusively establish if he was Philemon’s son or a bishop later in life. These traditions are fascinating but uncertain.
Why Did God Mention Archippus in Scripture?
Considering that the New Testament contains only a couple passing references to Archippus, we may wonder why God chose to preserve his name for future generations of Christians. There are a few reasons the brief mentions of Archippus can still edify believers today:
- It reminds us that “small” acts of service matter. Archippus was not an apostle or famous evangelist. He was most likely a local church leader in a city we would consider obscure today. Yet Paul took time to mention him specifically in God’s inspired Word. This should encourage every Christian to be faithful in small things. Even if our names are never recorded, serving God faithfully matters.
- It shows leaders may need encouragement. The fact that Paul found it necessary to exhort Archippus implies that even leaders serving nobly can struggle at times. Ministry is difficult, and we all need our brothers and sisters to stir us up. This should increase our compassion and patience for Christian leaders among us.
- It proves that the early church relied on “ordinary” believers. The New Testament letters often list greetings to lesser known believers like Archippus. These were ordinary Christians who hosted churches and supported gospel ministry. We err if we think only apostles and famous pastors did God’s work. The entire body of Christ is needed.
While we may not learn everything we wish we knew about Archippus, these brief glimpses still provide small lessons for Christians today. Faithfulness in even a minor role has eternal value to God.
In summary, Archippus was an early Christian believer who held a leadership position in the church at Colossae during the 1st century AD. He is directly addressed by Paul in his epistles to Philemon and the Colossians.
Though the details of his life and ministry are scarce, Paul’s exhortation in Colossians suggests Archippus needed encouragement to fulfill his pastoral duties. He was likely appointed to leadership in Colossae during Paul’s Ephesus ministry around 53-55 AD.
The apostle Paul cared enough about Archippus to include greetings to him by name in two inspired letters of Scripture. Though we may never discover more facts about him, Archippus still serves as an example of the countless “ordinary” Christians through the centuries who faithfully supported the mission of the church.
The Bible assures us that God sees and values each person who diligently serves in his kingdom, whether prominent leaders or faithful members behind the scenes.
The cryptic biblical references to Archippus provide modern readers a glimpse into the everyday reality of early church life.
The kingdom of God is built up not just through apostles and famous evangelists, but also by lesser known believers like Archippus who fulfill the ministries assigned to them. May his example spur us to be found faithful with whatever work God has called each of us to, whether great or small.