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Chapter Commentary

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother,2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ that are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.3 We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,4 having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints,5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,6 which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth;7 even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,8 who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,10 to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;11 strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy;12 giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light;13 who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love;14 in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins:15 who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;16 for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him;17 and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.19 For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell;20 and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.21 And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works,22 yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before him:23 if so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and stedfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven; whereof I Paul was made a minister.24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his bodys sake, which is the church;25 whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God,26 even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints,27 to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:28 whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ;29 whereunto I labor also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
Chapter Introduction

Evidences from the patristic era support Pauline authorship of Colossians (cf. Johnson, “Studies," 241). The Muratorian Fragment (line 52), the list of authoritative writings in Codex Claramontanus (line 61), the Canon of the Council of Laodicea, the Canon of Athanasius, the Canon of Gregorius of Nazianzus and Amphilochius, and the Canon of Augustinus list the letter to the Colossians as one of the writings of Paul that were considered authoritative. However, many modern scholars question the authorship of Paul based on internal factors. (Note that questioning Pauline authorship of Colossians is not tantamount to questioning the authority of the writing).

Three basic reasons were often cited by those who question Pauline authorship (cf. Johnson, “Studies," 242-43; see also Barth, Colossians, 114-26):

(1) The vocabulary and style in Colossians are different compared to the so-called “undisputed letters" of Paul, namely, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon. This reason is weak because if having unique vocabularies is a criterion for deciding whether the letter was written by the author of these “undisputed letters," and the 87 unique vocabularies in Colossians should lead us to conclude that it was written by a different person, what do make of the 79 unique vocabularies of Philippians (numbers based on Brown, Introduction, 610-11)? Moreover, there is no way to be certain how wide or how limited was the vocabulary of a sagacious man like Paul. This means that it is impossible to say what words he could have or could not have used. Moreover, Paul many of Paul’s letters were written with the help of another person (Rom 16:22; 2 Thess 3:17; cf. 1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18). Although it is difficult to ascertain how much freedom Paul’s “secretaries" had in the process of composing the letter, this may explain if the variety of styles in the various letters. Hence, this reason is insufficient.

(2) It was estimated that three-fifths (60%) of Colossians resemble portions of Ephesians (Goodspeed, Meaning, 8). These similarities were construed as evidence of literary dependence and various theories about this had been proposed (cf. Sanders, “Literary Dependence," 28-29). This is perhaps the weakest argument against Pauline authorship because of the circular reasoning involved in the process. The simplest way to construe the resemblances between these two letters is take the opening greetings of these letters at their face value.

(3) The “Colossian heresy" did not exist until the 2nd century. This is based on the assumption that the letter to the Colossians was written as a polemic against Gnosticism. Although Paul was undoubtedly addressing certain incorrect teachings, one may note the elements of this “heresy" resembles some elements in Judaism (e.g., Col 2:16). This is not to suggest that the “heresy" is purely Jewish in origin; some elements (e.g., Col 2:8-10) may be related to proto-Gnosticism (DeSilva, Introduction, 693-94).

The question of authorship may not be easy to settle (Okure, “In Him," 65). The vocabularies and style of Colossians, its resemblance to Ephesians, and the “heresy" addressed in the letter are important issues to discuss; and despite many attempts to reconstruct the historical background of the non-Pauline author of Colossians (e.g., Nielsen, “Status of Paul," 121; Kiley, Pseudepigraphy, 37-73), there is still no basis strong enough to argue against Pauline authorship of Colossians. It is important, however, to stress that whether Colossians was written by Paul, it remains authoritative.

The Letter to the Colossians, together with the Letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and Philemon, are often referred to as Paul’s “Prison Letters." Paul mentioned of his imprisonment three times in Col 4. First, as part of his exhortation to pray, he requested the Colossians to pray to ask God to “open doors," that is, “open doors of opportunity" for them to be able to continue preaching the word (Col 4:3). This ministry of preaching, according to Paul, was the reason why he was imprisoned. Nonetheless, he would not allow his imprisonment to stop him from continuing with this work (cf. Acts 28:30-31). Second, he referred to Aristarchus as “my fellow prisoner" (ho sunaichmalotos mou) in his final greetings (Col 4:10). The word sunaichmalotos or “fellow prisoner," which Paul also used to refer to Epaphras (Phlm 23), Andronicus, and Junias (Rom 16:7), is related to the word aichmaloteuo or “take captive" a prisoner of war (e.g., Let. Aris. 23; T. Zeb. 9:6). Third, Paul requested the Colossians to remember his imprisonment (Col 4:18). The purpose of this imperative is not clear. Is it a reminder to the Colossians to continue praying for new opportunities for him to preach the gospel? Is it a continuation of Paul’s reminder to Archippus to fulfill the task he received from the Lord (4:17), but this time, turning to the Colossians (note: “remember" or mnēmoneuete is 2nd person plural) to remind them of the same? Col 4:18 does not contain enough information to help as make a decisive choice. Nonetheless, Paul’s imprisonment is clear.

 The book of Acts records accounts of Paul’s imprisonment in Philippi (16:22-40), Jerusalem (21:31-23-23), Caesarea (23:23-26:32), and Rome (28:16-31). Most interpreters see either Rome or Caesarea as the place where the letter was written. The provenance may not be settled decisively, nonetheless, whether Colossians was written in Caesarea or Rome, this should not greatly affect our interpretation of the letter.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Brief Quotations

“Paul’s prayer is his way of building on the fundamentals of belief already taught to the Colossians, so that faith will be extended to practice, to right actions." (Theodore of Mopsuestia)

Background

Colossae was a flourishing city (Herodotus, Hist. 7.30) known for its wool industry (Strabo, Geogr. 12.8.16). It served as a station on a highway through the Meander and Lycus valleys that connects the cities of Phrygia and Ephesus (Reicke, “Historical Setting," 429). Augustus developed Pisidian Antioch and improved the highway connecting Pisidian Antioch, Apamea, Colossae, Laodicea, and the Meander valley (Reicke, “Historical Setting," 432). This allowed travelers to have easier movement from one place to another. The city was destroyed in A.D. 61 (Tacitus, Ann. 14.27.1; Pliny, Hist. 5.105). The letter must have been written prior to this event.

There is no account in Acts of Paul’s missionary activity in Colossae, although some suggests that Paul may have visited the city during his third missionary journey (e.g., Reicke, “Historical Setting," 432). There are clues that the Colossians were familiar with Barnabas (note that Mark was called “cousin of Barnabas" [Col 4:10]), and presumably, with his missionary activities.

History of Interpretation

One of the primary concerns of the patristic exegetes is the exposition of dogmatic themes (e.g., nature of the Godhead, Christ’s status) from the Scriptures. Colossians 1:15-20 is uniquely important because this is one the passages commonly used in connection with the divinity of Jesus (Gorday, Colossians, xxvii). Arius, for instance, used this passage to deny the divinity of Jesus because he is the “firstborn of all creation," a phrase interpreted as “the first one to be created" (Helyer, “Arius Revisited," 59). Although the boundaries of orthodoxy were pretty much defined during the patristic era, discussions on Christology based on Col 1 continue to the present.

With the development of form criticism in the earlier part of the twentieth century, theological discussions became secondary to the formal analysis of the so-called “Christological hymn." Three works have been particularly important for stirring the focus of the discussion to this direction (Robinson, “Formal Analysis," 270): Albr Dieterich and Richard Wünsch, Eine Mithrasliturgie erläutert (Leipzig: Teubner, 1903); J. Rendel Harris, Odes of Solomon (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1916); Eduard Norden, Agnostos Theos: Untersuchungen zur Formgeschichte religiöser Rede (Leipzig: Teubner, 1913). For additional discussions on the history of interpretation, see Robinson, “Formal Analysis," 270-71; Gabathuler, Jesus Christus, 11-124; Vawter, “Colossian Hymn," 67.

Although there are still disagreements over whether the material is pre-Pauline or Pauline, an early Christian hymn or a baptismal creed, yet the poetic structure of Col 1:15-20 is recognized by most modern scholars. Moreover, many scholars are beginning to recognize that the passage is important, not just in the discussions of Christology, but also in the discussions of ecclesiology (Helyer, “Cosmic Christology," 235-36), and even eschatology.

Verse by Verse Exegesis

1:1

Paul, as he did in his other letters, identified himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. An “apostle" basically means “one sent" or a “messenger." In the NT, the term apostle is used also to refer to Jesus (Heb 3:1), Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:14), and the brothers who were sent to Corinth together with Titus (2 Cor 8:23). When used to refer to the Twelve, the term implies authority. In Luke 6:13, the Twelve disciples were designated the name “apostles," a title not given to the seventy(-two?) disciples who were sent out for the same task (cf. Luke 10:1-20; cf. 9:1-11). As apostles, their authority was considered equal to that of the prophets; this is implied in the expression “apostles and prophets" (Luke 11:49). They received instructions from the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:2), continued Christ’s miraculous work (Acts 2:43), and assumed authority in the early church (Acts 4:35; 15:6, 22-23). Aside from the single reference in Acts 14:14, Paul was never referred to as an apostle outside his letters; this is clearly Paul’s self-understanding; his self-designation based on his own encounter with the Exalted Christ who commissioned him to be his witness (Acts 9:15; 22:21; 23:11; 26:16-18). Paul’s apostleship carries not only the idea of authority but also the idea of subservience; this is seen in his self-reference as a “bondservant/apostle" (e.g., Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; Tit 1:1). This idea of subservience in relation to being an apostle is perhaps best summarized in Jesus’ statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent (in Greek: apostolos) greater than the one who sent him" (John 13:16, NASB; italics mine).

Contrary to the claim that the author of Colossians consistently used “Christ Jesus" instead of “Jesus Christ" which is the typical form in Paul’s “undisputed letters" (this is a stylistic difference that is used to suggest non-Pauline authorship [e.g., Dunn, Colossians, 46]), the phrase “Christ Jesus" (Col 1:1, 4; 2:6; 4:12 [?]) and “Jesus Christ" (Col 1:3) are used interchangeably in Colossians as in Paul’s undisputed letters (e.g., “Christ Jesus" [Rom 3:24; 15:16, 17; 1 Cor 1:1, 2, 4; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 2:16; Phil 1:1, 6, 8, 26; 1 Thess 5:18; Phlm 1, 9, 23], “Jesus Christ" [Rom 3:22; 15:6; 1 Cor 1:3, 7, 8, 9, 10; 2 Cor 1:2, 3; Gal 2:16; Phil 1:2, 11, 19; 1 Thess 5:23, 28; Phlm 9, 25]). The only letter where Paul is consistent is 2 Thessalonians where he used “Jesus Christ" all throughout the letter (2 Thess 1:1, 2, 12; 2:1, 14, 16; 3:6, 12, 18).

Timothy was identified as a co-sender of the letter. Paul identified co-sender(s) in 8 out of his 13 letters (cf. 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:2; Phil 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1; Phlm 1). Paul sometimes referred to Timothy as his “son" (1 Tim 1:8; 2 Tim 2:1). Here he referred to Timothy as “brother," perhaps to stress not only the brotherhood of the believers (note his address to the Colossians as “faithful brothers" [Col 1:2; cf. Phlm 2]), but also the fatherhood of God (Col 1:3). This reflects the new model of family and kinship advocated by Jesus (Mark 3:31-35), namely, “family" as a group composed of believers. Title “brother" (and “sister") is commonly used in religious associations within the Hellenistic world in reference to other members (e.g., Qumran [1QS 6:10, 22; CD 6:20; 7:1-2; 1QSa 1:18; 1QM 13:1; 15:4, 7]; Josephus, J.W. 2.8.2 §122; [see Dunn, Colossians, 47]).

1:2

The Colossians were addressed as “saints and faithful brothers." As saints, they were partakers of the Father’s inheritance (Col 1:12) and recipients of God’s “mystery" (Col 1:26). They were not only “sanctified" (the “already"), but they were also looking forward (the “not yet") to the day they would be presented to God “holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Col 1:22). Understanding the phrase “in Christ" (en Christo) is not without difficult because of its brevity and the range of possible ways the preposition en can be used. Nonetheless, the believers’ relationship with the Christ is clear, whether we talk about an “intimate and existential relationship" as the phrase “with Christ" (cf. Rom 6:3-11; also 2:12-13, 20; 3:3-4) or an “integration of personal (and social) identity with this Christ" (cf. Gal 2:20), having been incorporated into “his body" (Dunn, Colossians 50).

The greeting is perhaps a good example of the fusion of two cultures, namely, the wider Hellenistic culture of the 1st century and Paul’s Jewish upbringing. “Grace" (or “favor") is a familiar greeting in the Greek speaking world and “peace" is a typical Jewish greeting (cf. Judg 6:23; 19:20; 1 Chr 12:18; Ezra 4:17; 5:7; Dan 10:19; Luke 10:5; 24:36; John 20:19, 21, 26).

1:3

With Galatians as an exception, all letters of Paul include a thanksgiving section immediately after the introductory greetings. From the vantage point of rhetorical critics, the thanksgiving section in Colossians is not just Paul’s expression of thanksgiving because of what God had done for and amidst the Colossian Christians, it can be considered an exordium (or an “introduction") or a section in the writing wherein the topic(s) to be discussed are presented (Van der Watt, “Col 1:3-12," 42; cf. Witherington, Captivity Epistles, 57-64).

As Aristotle defines an exordium or introduction to speeches, “The exordium is the beginning of a speech, as the prologue in poetry and the prelude in flute-playing; for all these are beginnings, and as it were a paving the way for what follows" (Rhet. 3.14.1). The purpose of the exordia or introductions is to “provide a sample of the subject, in order that the hearers may know beforehand what it is about, and that the mind may not be kept in suspense, for that which is undefined leads astray; so then he who puts the beginning, so to say, into the hearer's hand enables him, if he holds fast to it, to follow the story" (Rhet. 3.14.6).

Six things are worth noting about Paul’s introduction to his letter. First, he attempted to get the attention of his readers/listeners by telling them that he heard something about them (Col 1:4). Getting the audiences’ attention is one of the important elements that Aristotle highlighted (cf. Rhet. 3.14.7). Second, Paul broadened the perspective of the Colossians by showing them that the growth of the Gospel among them is also a “worldwide" phenomenon (Col 1:6). The language may seem to be exaggerated, but this explains how Paul could be suffering on their behalf even though he was not physically present with them. Third, Paul’s commendation of Epaphras underscores the importance of the latter’s work. This emphasizes that Epaphras’ work is in no way inferior to the work of the apostle, and by doing so, Paul was able to promote goodwill with the Colossians, which is the basic purpose of an exordium. Fourth, Paul claimed that he was only informed of the Colossians’ “love in the Spirit" (Col 1:8). This “minimal" information presumes that Paul already knew other things about them (e.g., their hope, the grace of God), a subtle way to emphasize that they share the same basic knowledge in order to build his audiences’ positive attitude toward him. Fifth, Paul’s prayer for the intensification of the effects of the Gospel stresses that what Paul was about to discuss directly concern them (Col 1:6). Sixth, Paul provides a summary of what he would discuss in the rest of the letter (e.g., salvation initiated by God, truth to be integrated in the lives of the believers, a need to focus on heavenly realities, living up to their new status in Christ) (Van der Watt, “Col 1:3-12," 37-40).

In this exordium, Paul expresses his thanks to God, who he identified as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." This statement, as simple as it may seem, is not without an exegetical difficulty. Two things are worth observing here. First, this opening expression is often found in the other Pauline letters (e.g., 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3) with instances when it is more personal where Paul referred to God as “my/our Father" or “my/our God" (e.g., Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 1:4; Phil 1:3; Phlm 4). Whether this is a stereotyped expression commonly used by the early church in worship, there is no way to be certain (cf. O’Brien, Colossians, 10). What is clear is that Paul moves from a presentation of God in 1:2 as “our Father" to his presentation of God as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" in 1:3. Perhaps this suggests that the way God is Father to “us" (whether Jews or Gentiles) is different from the way God is Father to Jesus. This distinction is clearly seen as Paul presents Jesus as God’s “beloved Son" who would reign on his behalf (1:13), while the believers are united under one God and Father as they receive his “inheritance" (1:12). Moreover, by presenting God as the “God/Father of Jesus" and Jesus as “Lord Jesus Christ," this allows Paul to present a high Christology within the constraints of Jewish monotheism (Dunn, Colossians, 56). Second, some manuscripts read to theo patri while some have the definite article before patri and others also include a kai before the article. From a textual critical viewpoint, both the external evidences (the manuscripts that support a particular reading) and the internal evidences (in this case, the reading that best explains the origin of the other readings [see Metzger, Textual Commentary, 552]), even the principle of lectio difficilior (difficult reading) support the anarthrous (without article) patri. The anarthrous patri stresses “that the God to whom the thanksgiving was offered is the one whom Jesus reveals to us in his character as Father" (O’Brien, Colossians, 10). It is important to note, however, that whether the correct reading is without the article and the kai, God’s relationship with Jesus as the Father is clear.

Another question worth considering has to do with the verb that is being modified by the adverb pantote (“always"). If it is eucharistoumen, then 1:3 can be translated as “we always thank God whenever we pray for you" (cf. NIV, NRSV), but if it is proseuchomenoi, then 1:3 can be translated “we thank God by always praying for you" (cf. NASB). It is noteworthy that both possibilities fit well within its context (Barth, Colossians, 152). Whether pantote modifies eucharistoumen or proseuchomenoi, it is clear that the Colossians, as believers of God, gave Paul reasons to be thankful to God, and Paul, as a minister of God, remembered God’s people by praying for him. The blessing, therefore, is two-way; the Colossians encouraged Paul by their lives; Paul blesses them by his prayers for them.

1:4

Paul usually combines the elements of faith, hope, and love whenever he describes the interconnection between the believers’ relationship with God (faith), their relationship with others (love), and their expectation of God’s future plan for them. These three—faith, hope, and love—is often referred to as the “Pauline triad" (cf. 1 Cor 13:13; Gal 5:5-6; Eph 1:15, 18, 19; Col 2:2, 5, 7; 1 Thess 1:3; 5:8). The words “faith" (pistis), “love" (agape), and “hope" (elpis) are nouns. In other words, from a grammatical standpoint, they are not words denoting actions (verbs). Nonetheless, from a biblical standpoint, they are words that required and are seen through one’s actions. This is perhaps best summarized in Paul’s words, “constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father" (1 Thess 1:3, emphasis mine). The Colossians’ faith, hope, and love are evident that Paul “heard" about it (Col 1:3); this implies that there are people who reported this to Paul (cf. 1 Thess 1:8-10; esp. v. 9). It seems unnecessary to surmise that just because someone reported to Paul about the Colossians, Paul did not know them personally (cf. Dunn, Colossians, 56). Paul also heard reports about the Thessalonians, but Acts 17:1-14 clearly tells us that Paul had preached in Thessalonica and members of the Jewish synagogue of the city believed.

The Greek word pistis can be translated as “faith" or “faithfulness"; and this usually depends on who exercises pistis. In the NT, the latter is used in connection with God (e.g., tēn pistin tou theou or “the faithfulness of God" [Rom 3:3]) and the former is more commonly used to refer to humans who exercise trust/belief in God or in Jesus (e.g., Eph 1:15), although we find instances wherein pistis is used in relation to human faithfulness (e.g., Gal 5:22). It is clear that in Col 1:4, Paul refers to the Colossians’ pistis because of the genitive pronoun humon or “your." In this letter, Paul expresses concern about the “firmness/steadfastness" of the faith of the believers in Colossae (Col 2:5-7), which for Paul, should have its root in Christ. Faith includes believing that although one is not physically circumcised, one can receive a “circumcision made without hands" (Col 2:11), and that although one is not physically buried with Christ, one can be buried with him in baptism and be raised up with him (Col 2:12). The means by which this faith is established is through the instructions they receive (Col 1:5). It seems that this process of growth, which Paul will further expound in the verses that follow, can be summarized as follows:

Receive teachings about Christ

Respond in faith in Christ

Established in faith in Christ

In Colossians, the object of human love is another person. Paul addresses his co-workers as ho agapētos or “the beloved" brother (e.g., Epaphras [Col 1:7], Tychicus [Col 4:7], Onesimus [Col 4:9], and Luke [Col 4:14]), while acknowledging that believers are God’s beloved people (Col 3:12) in the same way that Jesus is his beloved Son (Col 1:13). In relation to the family, love is an essential element in marriage as husbands are commanded to love their wives (Col 3:19), and presumably, vice versa. In relation to the church, love is an essential element to maintain unity within the community (Col 2:2; 3:14; cf. 1:8). In the case of the Colossians, this love is not confined within their community only; it may have extended to other Christian communities within their network of churches (Dunn, Colossians, 58). 

1:5

The believers’ faith and love, according to Paul, is grounded on their hope of God’s future plan for them. In Pauline writings, hope is future oriented focusing on that which is unseen; the object of this hope includes salvation (1 Thess 5:8), righteousness (Gal 5:5), resurrection (1 Cor 15:52-55), eternal life (Tit 1:2; 3:7), and God’s glory (Rom 5:2) (O’Brien, Colossians, 11). Paul does not make clear what is “laid up in heaven" for them (Col 1:12), although it is possible that Paul is referring to the believers’ share of the “inheritance" (see comments for Col 1:12 below). The Colossians were informed about that for which they could hope even as they initially heard the gospel (Col 1:5). By calling the gospel “the word of truth," Paul implies that a distinction can be made between the gospel that the Colossians received and the other teachings Paul would address later in his letter (O’Brien, Colossians, 12). Considering the second and third elements of the triad, the process of growth which Paul describes can be summarized as follows:

Receive teachings about Christ which includes the hope of God’s future plans for the believers

Respond in faith in Christ; practice love within the believing community

Established in faith in Christ; continue in hope and love

1:6

The break between Col 1:5 and 6 does not seem to be the best place to do so. The last two words in Col 1:5 and the first four words in 1:6 form the phrase tou euangeliou tou parontes eis humas (“the gospel which has come to you"). Paul explains that “the word of truth" (Col 1:5) is the gospel they have earlier received from Epaphras (Col 1:8). The intrinsic potency of the “word of truth" or “the gospel" is described in Col 1:6-8. Although Paul does not denigrate the importance of human agency in the process of spreading the word, he stresses the power of “the gospel"/“the word of truth" to bear fruit and increase by itself. A comparable idea can be observed in 1 Cor 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." The power of the gospel is underscored further in the periphrastic expression estin karpophoroumenon kai auxanomenon (“[it] is bearing fruit and increasing") in which “the word of truth"/“the gospel" is the implied subject.

Three statements in Col 1:6-7 are introduced by the conjunction kathos (“just as"). First, “just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing" (Col 1:6a). The expression en panti to kosmo (“in all the world") is clearly hyperbolic. There is no question, however, that the gospel had been spreading rapidly during the first several decades after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Paul uses agricultural/horticultural metaphor to point to the spiritual growth of the believers—“bearing fruit and increasing" (Col 1:6a). The image of “life" that is being produced may also suggest the life-giving power of the gospel in a spiritually dead world (Barth, Colossians, 159). The combined expression is often used in the OT to refer to human reproduction (Gen 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1, 7) and to population increase (Jer 3:16; 23:3) (O’Brien, Colossians, 13). The word auxano or “increase" is used in the same way in Acts 7:17. The NT provides numerous examples showing the wide semantic range of auxano. The word used to refer to growth of products from soil (Matt 6:28; 13:32; Mark 4:8; Luke 12:27; 13:19). Paul used the word metaphorically to refer to “life" produced by God’s word (1 Cor 3:6-7; 2 Cor 9:10). Luke used the image to refer to the spread of God’s word that increasing number of people hear it preached (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20). The word may be used to refer to physical growth of a person (Luke 1:80; 2:40), used metaphorically to refer to the growth of the “spiritual life" (1 Pet 2:2) and church body (Eph 2:21; 4:15; Col 2:19), even for the growth of something abstract such as “grace and knowledge of Jesus" (2 Pet 3:18). Likewise, karpophoreo or “bear fruit" can be used to refer to soil produce (e.g., Matt 13:23; Mark 4:20, 28; Luke 8:15) or metaphorically to deeds that result either to spiritual life or death (Rom 7:4-5). Col 1:10 makes it clearer that karpophoreo is being used metaphorically here. Since Chrysostom, karpophoreo is construed in connection with good deeds and is distinguished from auxano which is interpreted in connection with the number of converts (O’Brien, Colossians, 13); both words, however, may refer to a growth in a person’s character (Dunn, Colossians, 62).

Second, “even as (kathos) it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth" (1:6b). This statement continues the thought which began in 1:6a, namely, just as the word of truth was bearing fruit and increasing among the believers in other places, the same was happening among the Colossian Christians. The dynamic characteristic of the gospel is once again accentuated as Paul describes the work it produced among the Colossians from day one. There are two essential prerequisites in order for one to “bear fruit and increase," namely, hearing (akouo) and understanding (epiginosko) (cf. John 8:43). Similar idea is emphasized in the NT (e.g., “hear" [akouo] and “understand" [suniēmi] in the parable of the sower [Matt 13:13, 14, 15, 19, 23; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10]; see also Matt 15:10; Acts 28:26, 27; Rom 15:21). Paul’s thanksgiving to God in Col 1:3 only implies that the Colossians’ opportunity to hear and their ability to understand the gospel is only a result of God’s work among them. This work enables them to hear and understand “the grace of God in truth." The phrase en alētheia (“in truth") is sometimes taken adverbially so that the Colossians heard “the grace of God in its reality" (Moule, H. C. G., Colossians, 32) or “the grace of God as it truly is" (Moule, C. F. D., Colossians, 51) or “the grace of God" (= the gospel) in its genuine simplicity, without adulteration" (Lightfoot, Colossians, 136). Some connect it to the previous reference to the gospel (Lohse, Colossians, 20). Hence, the gospel of God is the truth in contrast with the teachings of other religions in Colossae. Whether one construe the phrase “in truth" adverbially or otherwise, the genuineness of the gospel is made clear.

Third, “just as you learned it from Epaphras" (Col 1:7a; cf. 2:7, “just as you were instructed"). This clause explains the earlier statement en alētheia (Lightfoot, Colossians, 136). The reason they were able to receive the word in its simplicity is because the messenger who brought the word was a faithful servant of Christ. Epaphras is never mentioned in the NT except in Colossians and Philemon. These two letters provide some clues about the identity of Epaphras: (1) our beloved co-slave (Col 1:6); (2) faithful servant of Christ on our behalf (Col 1:6); (3) one among you (Col 4:12); (4) “laboring in prayer" for the Colossian believers (Col 4:12); (5) messenger who informed Paul of the Colossians’ “love in the Spirit" (Col 1:8); (6) a fellow prisoner with Paul (Phlm 23). Epaphras was one of the members of the church of Colossae (Col 4:12) who may have joined Paul’s missionary team and apparently went to prison together with Paul (Phlm 23). Some suggest that he ministered in Colossae while Paul was ministering in Ephesus (Witherington, Colossians, 123) where he also first met Paul (Dunn, Colossians, 63). He may have served in the church of Colossae for a brief period, whether before joining Paul, and he ministered to Paul “on behalf of" the Colossians (Col 1:6). Epaphras may have been instrumental in forming the Christian community in Colossae (Hendricks, “All in All," 23). Much of what we know about Epaphras is based on conjectures, and there is so much that that remains unknown, but based on Paul’s commendation, Epaphras’ work among the Colossians is without a doubt invaluable.

The Colossians were considered praiseworthy because of their “love in the Spirit" (Col 1:8). As mentioned earlier (see comments for 1:4 above), love is an essential element for promoting unity within the body of believers, and this is best summarized in Paul’s statement, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity" (Col 3:14; cf. 2:2). In the same manner, in Paul’s other letters, he stresses the role of the Spirit in ensuring the unity within the believing community (e.g., 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:18; 4:3-4; cf. Phil 1:27; 2:2). It appears, therefore, that Paul’s language “love in the Spirit" is very likely an emphatic way of saying that the Colossians’ life and actions contributed to the preservation of unity within their community.

1:7

See at 1:6

1:8

See at 1:6

1:9

Col 1:9 begins with the expression dia touto, an expression which is commonly translated “for this reason" or “because of this." This expression connects two statements together so that one statement (presented as a fact) becomes the basis for another one or for certain actions. In this case, Epaphras informed Paul about the Colossians’ “love in the Spirit" (1:8); on the basis of this fact about the Colossians, Paul constantly prayed for them. Two participles complement the main verb pauometha or “we cease" (which is negated by ou, hence, “we do not cease"), namely, proseuchomenoi (“pray") and aitoumenoi (“ask"). In the NT, the latter may be translated “demand" or “request" or “petition" addressed by one human to another (e.g., Matt 5:42; 27:20; Mark 6:25; 15:8, 43; Luke 1:63; 6:30; 12:48; 23:23, 25, 52; John 4:9, 10; Acts 3:2, 14; 7:46; 9:2, 12:20; 13:21, 28; 16:29; 25:3, 15; 1 Cor 1:22; Eph 3:13; 1 Pet 3:15), or for petitions as prayers to God (e.g., Matt 6:8; 7:5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11; 18:19; 21:22; Mark 6:22, 23, 24; 11:24; Luke 11:9, 10, 11, 12, 13; John 11:22; 14:13, 14; 15:7, 16; 16:23, 24, 26; Eph 3:20; Jas 1:5, 6; 4:2, 3; 1 John 3:22; 5:14, 15, 16). Although the combination of proseuchomai and aiteo is not very common, it is also not unique to Paul (cf. Mark 11:24). The expression “pray and ask" seems analogous to the expression “answered and said" which is a common Hebrew idiom (Gen 27:39; 40:18; Num 32:31; Deut 21:7; 26:5; Josh 1:6; 24:16; Judg 20:4; 1 Sam 1:17; 17:17; 2 Sam 14:18; 26:14; 1 Kgs 1:36; 2:22; 2 Kgs 3:11; 4:13; 2 Chr 10:6, 9; Ezra 5:11; Jer 44:20; Dan 5:17; Joel 2:19; Zech 1:10; 4:5; etc.) found often in the NT (Matt 4:4; 11:4; Mark 7:28; 8:29; Luke 1:19, 35; John 1:48, 50; Acts 4:19; 8:24; Rev 7:13; etc.; cf. “asked saying" [Mark 6:25]). The expression “answer and say" stresses that the response/reply is expressed through words; likewise, the expression “pray and ask" may be a way to stress that the petition is expressed through prayer.

The anticipated result of Paul’s prayer is for the Colossians to be “filled with knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and insight." The passive verb plērothēte (“filled") may be construed as a divine passive. Since the petition is addressed to God, it is clear who would do the act of filling the Colossians with the knowledge of God’s will. The idea of fullness (abundance or richness) is a common feature of Paul’s prayers (cf. 1 Cor 1:5; Phil 1:9; 4:19; 1 Thess 3:12; 2 Thess 1:3) and is a recurrent theme in this letter (Col 1:19, 24, 25; 2:2, 3, 9, 10; 4:12, 17). Whether the false teachers in Colossae were boasting that they could provide the fullness of truth, there is no way to find out. Nonetheless, it is clear from Paul’s statement that this “full knowledge" can be made available to the Colossians through prayer (cf. O’Brien, Colossians, 20-21).

Paul’s expressed hope is for the Colossians to know “the will of God." In the NT, God’s will pertains to actions or events that are consistent with plans and purposes of God (Matt 18:14; Acts 22:14; Rom 1:10; 8:27; 15:32; 2 Cor 8:5; Col 4:12; 1 Thess 5:18; 1 Pet 4:19; 5:2; 1 John 5:14; Rev 4:11; cf. John 5:30; 6:38, 39, 40; 7:17); this includes the ministry of Paul (1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1; cf. Acts 21:14) and that of Christ (Matt 26:42; Luke 22:42; Gal 1:4; Heb 10:7, 9, 10). The fulfillment of his will is a means by which God’s kingship is manifested (Matt 6:10; 7:21); and the opposite of this is the will of the devil to which some are drawn (2 Tim 2:26). The will of God is knowable (Rom 2:18; 12:2; Eph 5:17) and those who know his will are expected to obey it and live by it (Matt 7:21; 12:50; Mark 3:35; John 4:34; Eph 6:6; 1 Thess 4:3; Heb 10:36; 13:21; 1 Pet 2:15; 4:2; 1 John 2:17; cf. Acts 13:22).

The expression sophia kai sunesei (“wisdom and insight") is a frequently found together (e.g., Exod 31:3; Deut 4:6; 1 Chr 22:12; 2 Chr 1:10; Isa 11:2; 29:14; Dan 2:20; Bar 3:23; 1 Cor 1:19; 1 Clem 32:4). Lightfoot points out that sophia or “wisdom," in the Greek world, refers to “mental excellence in its highest and fullest sense"; sunesis or “insight" can also be contrasted with phronēsis or “prudence" (cf. Eph 1:8), the former is critical and the latter is practical (Colossians, 138). Whether one agrees with Lightfoot’s distinction, it is clear that the mental faculty of a person is an essential part of living out the “will of God." Hence, the sophia and sunesis that one needs is the “spiritual" type, namely, a product of having God’s word “dwell in a person richly" (cf. Col 3:16).

1:10

In the previous verse, Paul informs the Colossians that he prayed that God would fill them with “the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and insight." Col 1:10-12 explains the purpose or the goal of this prayer, namely, their knowledge may transform their thoughts and actions. The metaphorical use of the verb “walk" to refer to living in a certain manner or doing certain actions or practicing certain habits is a common Jewish expression (e.g., Exod 18:20; Deut 5:33; 6:7; 8:6; 10:12; 11:22; 13:5; 19:9; 26:17; 28:9; 30:16; Josh 22:5; Judg 2:17; 2:22; 1 Sam 8:3, 5; 1 Kgs 2:3, 4; 3:14; 8:25, 36; 8:58; 11:33, 38; 15:26, 34; 16:2, 19, 26; 22:43, 52; 2 Kgs 8:18, 27; 13:6, 11; 16:3; 21:21, 22; 22:2; 2 Chr 6:16, 27, 31; 20:32; 21:6, 12, 13; 22:3; 28:2; 34:2; Pss 1:1; 81:13; 86:13; 101:2, 6; 119:1, 3, 35; 128:1; 143:3; 143:8; Prov 1:15; 2:13, 20; 8:20; 10:9; 14:2; Isa 2:3; 6:16; 8:11; 18:15; 30:21; 31:9; 35:8; 42:24; 57:2; 65:2; Jer 6:16; 7:23; 10:23; 18:15; 42:3; Ezek 16:47; 23:31; Dan 4:37; Hos 14:9; Mic 4:2; Zech 3:7). This expression is not common in Greek thought (Dunn, Colossians, 71). The same language is used by NT writers (e.g., 1 Cor 7:17; Eph 4:1; Col 1:10; 1 Thess 2:12; cf. 1 John 2:6). The common use of this expression in the Bible suggests two things: (1) in life, one has to make a choice which path to take, whether it is the path of righteousness or unrighteousness; and (2) one need not maunder because there is a destination at which one should arrive. The rabbinic method of interpretation halakah (from root word halak or “walk") carries the idea that the Scriptures contain teachings by which one should live; hence, one should not only have a knowledge of the Scripture, but the wisdom and insight to practice them.

The goal of Paul’s prayer for the Colossians (that they would receive the knowledge of God’s will) is so that they will be able to “walk worthy of the Lord" (Col 1:10). Similar expressions are found mostly in Pauline letters (Rom 16:2; Eph 4:1; Phil 1:27; 1 Thess 2:12; cf. 3 John 6). Paul’s expression axios genitive (“[manner] worthy of…") may be understood in light of Rom 16:2 wherein he exhorts the believers to receive Phoebe “in a manner worthy of the saints." This statement suggests that they should welcome Phoebe with kind of reception that every saint deserves, in this case, hospitality as one would welcome a sister. Paul’s admonition that the Colossians should “walk" (obey God’s teaching/live a life) in a “[manner] worthy of the Lord," that is, with the kind of obedience that the Lord deserves. The journey metaphor continues as Paul defines the direction/destination towards which one must walk, namely, eis pasan areskeian (“towards everything that is pleasing" to the Lord). The practical implications are also made clear in the statements that follow.

First, they are to “bear fruit and increase in all good work" (Col 1:10b). The languages in Col 1:4-6 are repeated in Col 1:9-11 (Lohse, Colossians, 24). The repetition of language is common in Asiatic rhetoric and is used as a tool for reinforcing, emphasizing, and bringing an idea to its climax (Witherington, Colossians, 123-24). Once again, Paul informed the Colossians how he desired to see them “bear fruit" and “increase." This time, however, Paul clarified what he meant by “bear fruit" and “increase," namely, doing good deeds (see comments for 1:6-8 above). By “bearing fruit and increasing," one may attain “the knowledge God." This expression, which is typical in Jewish writings, includes an experience of God’s dealings and an acknowledgement of God’s actions (Dunn, Colossians, 72-73). Moreover, knowledge and practice are inseparable and cannot be compartmentalized (cf. Col 3:9-11). An increasing knowledge of God requires the fruit of good deeds, and a progress in the knowledge of God results from the abounding of good deeds.

Secondly, in order to “walk worthy of the Lord," they should be “empowered with all power" (Col 1:11a). This type of grammatical construction (dunamei dunamoumenoi) is sometimes called a pleonastic construction (use of cognate nouns and verbs together); this construction is used to emphasize the idea that the exhortation is anchored in the power of God (Pokorný, Colossians, 48). The only other instance wherein the verb form dunamoo is used in the NT is Heb 11:34 in the context of warfare. Paul may be using the word with a similar connotation to suggest how the believer is rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of light (Col 1:12-13). Two statements are introduced using the prepositional phrase en pas (“in all things," “in everything"). The first is introduced by the phrase en panti ergo (“in every work"); likewise, the second statement is introduced by the phrase en pasē dunamei (“in all power"). If this can be construed as a form of parallelism comparable to those in Hebrew poetries, then the second statement can be taken as a further explanation of the first. This implies that although the believers are expected to “walk" (that is, to take some actions), the fruit of goods deeds and the knowledge of God cannot be produced through human efforts, but through the power of God at work within the believers. God’s power is necessary as they develop the virtues of hupomonē or “steadfastness"/“endurance" and makrothumia or “patience"/“longsuffering" (Col 1:11b). The former is often used in relation with the virtue necessary as one waits for that which is expected (e.g., fruits [Luke 8:15], eternal life in the future [Luke 21:19; Rom 2:7; 8:25]; cf. 1 Thess 1:3; Heb 12:1-2); it is also necessary to survive the sufferings of the present time (e.g., 2 Cor 1:6; 2 Thess 1:4; Rev 2:2, 3, 19; 13:10; 14:12). The latter is the virtue of tolerance, whether extended by God to humans (e.g., Rom 2:4; 1 Tim 1:16; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:15; cf. Rom 9:22) or by humans to other humans (e.g., Eph 5:22; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 3:10; 4:2; cf. Gal 5:22). Although a distinction can be made between these two words, in this context, endurance and patience are needed as one waits for their future inheritance (Col 1:12).

In connection with Paul’s exhortation to endure and be patient, he also stresses the need for believers to be grateful. Patience and endurance should be coupled with gratitude, not only because gratitude boosts a person’s capacity to endure hardship, but also because there is a genuine reason to be thankful, namely, the hope of an inheritance (Col 1:12). Comparable themes are repeated in Col 2:7 and can be summarized as follows:

      bear fruit in good deeds (1:10b)

            firmly rooted and built up (2:7a)

increase in knowledge of God (1:10c)

               established in faith (2:7b)

           thank the Father (1:12)

                 with thanksgiving (2:7c)

Once again, Paul uses redundant languages (pleonasm) to stress the need to be grateful, meta charas eucharistountes or “with thanksgiving give thanks." Two expressions are used in NT to convey the same thing: eucharisteo or “thank" (Matt 15:36; Mark 8:6; 14:23; Luke 17:16; 18:11; 22:17, 19; John 6:11, 23; 11:41; Acts 27:35; 28:15; Rom 1:8, 21; 14:6; 16:4; 1 Cor 1:4, 14; 10:30; 11:24; 14:17, 18; 2 Cor 1:11; Eph 1:16; 5:20; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3, 12; 3:17; 1 Thess 1:2; 2:13; 5:18; 2 Thess 1:3; 2:13; Phlm 4; Rev 11:17) and  eucharistēsas edoken or “give thanks" (Matt 26:27). Either way, the object of thanksgiving is always God. Using a nominative participle to describe God, Paul refers to the Father as to hikanosanti or “the one who makes sufficient." This implies that even though the believers do not deserve to receive the inheritance, the Father “makes sufficient" that which is insufficient, he makes adequate the inadequate, he makes the unqualified and undeserving qualified and deserving to receive the inheritance (cf. 2 Cor 3:5-6).

In the NT, klēros may refer to the portion one receives, whether by casting lot (e.g., Matt 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24; Acts 1:26; cf. Lev 16:8; Josh 18:6, 8, 10; Ps 22:18 [21:19, LXX]) or otherwise (e.g., Acts 1:17; 8:21; 1 Pet 5:3). In the LXX, it often refers to the inheritance of land (e.g., Num 16:14; 18:24; 27:7; Josh 12:7; 14:3; 17:6, 14; 19:49); but with the rise of Jewish apocalypticism, Jewish writers begin to see beyond the physical land to an inheritance that the righteous will receive at the end of the age (e.g., Dan 12:13). Hence, we see an eschatological flavor in the NT writers’ idea of “inheritance" (e.g., Col 1:12; Acts 26:18). This inheritance is described as “in the light," which clearly contrasts with the “realm of darkness" (Barth, Colossians, 187). Col 1:12 shares similar languages and themes with Acts 26:18: (1) God’s kingdom and dominion of Satan; (2) light and darkness; (3) the heirs and the non-heirs; (4) the sanctified and the unsanctified; (5) the forgiven and the unforgiven.    

1:11

See at 1:10

1:12

See at 1:10

1:13

The relative pronoun hos at the beginning of Col 1:12 points back to the Father (Col 1:11) to whom the believers should give thanks and whose work Paul elaborates in the following two verses, thus giving the believers more reasons to be thankful: (1) rescued from authority of darkness, and (2) transferred to kingdom of his beloved Son. The language correspondence between Col 1:12-14 with Qumran Essenism had been observed by some scholars (e.g., Deichgräber, Gotteshymnus, 79-81; Benoit, “Qumran," 1-30). Some, however, insist that these correspondences are verbal and merely coincidental, and that the motif of transferring from one kingdom to another is best construed in light the Exodus (Shogren, “Presently," 175-76).

The language tēs exousias or “the authority" can be used synonymously with tēs basileia or “the kingdom," as in this context (cf. Luke 22:53; Acts 26:18; Eph 6:12). The language of rescue also implies that prior to being rescued, the Colossians were under the dominion of darkness. Moreover, redemption is associated with the forgiveness of sins (cf. Eph 1:7). Grammatically, the phrase tēn aphesin can be considered in apposition with the phrase tēn apolutrosin (cf. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 100). Thus, redemption is the forgiveness of sins; this implies it is no longer necessary for one to suffer the natural consequences of sins (an idea he repeats in the following chapter; cf. Col 2:13-17), and in this sense, one is saved. This also suggests that one’s redemption can rest on nothing else except on what Christ had already accomplished (Pokorný, Colossians, 54).

1:14

See at 1:13

1:15

The poetic structure of Col 1:15-20 has been observed by many interpreters (for a more lengthy discussion on the history of formal studies, see Lamp, “Wisdom, 45-47). Suggestions concerning the origin and form of this “poem" are plenty. Some consider it a baptismal hymn as part of early Christian liturgy and the purpose of which is not just to present who Christ is but also as a pledge of allegiance to Christ so that they would not revert back to old religious authorities (Okure, “In Him," 64; Käsemann, 166). This poetic structure is seen particularly in the repetition of words and phrases (Bruce, “Christ Hymn," 100). The structural arrangements of the first and second halves are also comparable. The basic structure of the two sections may be summarized as follows:

1:15 Who is (hos estin)…                              the firstborn (prototokos) of all creation…

1:16                                                                                    For by him (hoti en auto)…

         all things (ta panta) had been created

                   in heaven and on earth (en tois ouranois kai epi tēs gēs)

                              whether (eite) thrones

                              or (eite) dominion

                              or (eite) rulers

                              or (eite) authorities

         all things (ta panta) had been created

                                                                                            through him (di’ autou)

                                                                                            for him (eis auton)

1:17 he is (autos estin)…

1:18 he is (autos estin)…

        Who is (hos estin)…                             the firstborn (prototokos) from the dead

1:19                                                                                     For by him (hoti en auto?)… 

        all (pan) the fullness dwell

1:20                                                                                     through him (di’ autou)

                    reconcile                 all things (ta panta)     for him (eis auton)

                    he made peace

                               whether (eite) on earth (ta epi tēs gēs)

                               or (eite) in heaven (ta en tois ouranois)

This is one of the reasons many scholars assume that these six verses contain hymnic materials (Baugh, “Poetic Form," 227). There is no agreement, however, whether the materials are pre-Pauline (not a composition of Paul) or Pauline (Paul’s composition). Some suggest that the uniqueness of this material is evidence that it was not originally composed by Paul (Vawter, “Colossian Hymn," 69); others insist that its uniqueness does not necessarily suggest that it is pre-Pauline (Dunne, “Regal Status, 3 n. 1), because this could be a spontaneous composition by Paul (Fowl, Story, 31-35; Wright, “Poetry," 464); still others find it unnecessary to decide whether Paul was composing the hymn de novo or was using earlier materials (Bruce, “Christ Hymn," 100). Those who do not hold to Pauline authorship suggest that it was composed by the author of Colossians (Pizzuto, Cosmic Leap, 11; Van Kooten, Cosmic Christology, 115-21). Some suggest that the importance of discussing this issue is to determine whether “the theology of the cross" is a “Pauline importation into what was originally a hymn articulating the hellenistic concern for cosmic unity and reconciliation" (Helyer, “Pre-Pauline," 168). 

There are various reasons for considering Col 1:15-20 as a distinct unit:

1.     As mentioned above, the poetic structure of this section suggests the material is hymnic; thus, different from the other sections of the letter.

2.     Col 1:1-14 contains personal references directed to the readers. The same can be said of Col 1:21 onwards. This section does not contain any personal references to the readers. Nonetheless, this is not enough to argue that the material is non-Pauline (Helyer, “Pre-Pauline," 170). Moreover, this section need not be considered a digression (Piper, “Eternal Work," 287).

3.     There are five (5) hapax legomena (words used only once) in this section (horata, thronoi, kyriotētes, proteuon, eirēnopoiēsas) plus ten (10) terms not found in the undisputed letters of Paul (Helyer, “Pre-Pauline," 170; cf. Charles Masson, L’Epître de Saint Paul aux Colossiens [CNT; Neuchâtel-Paris: Delachaux et Niestlé, 1950], 106 n. 2). One needs to consider, however, that these words only reflect theme being discussed. Moreover, there is also a high percentage of hapax legomena found in other Pauline letters (C. F. D. Moule, Colossians, 61-62)

The central figure of this hymn is Christ. Paul discusses three aspects of Christology, namely: (1) imagen that focuses on Christ’s relation to God, (2) primogénito or his relation to God’s creatures, and (3) cabeza or his relation to the church (Villar, “Cristo," 666). This hymn presents Paul’s understanding of God’s story as a metanarrative of which the Colossians are a part (cf. Sensing, “Preaching," 210). The didactic purpose of the material is clear, namely, to remind the Colossians that they have already been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (1:12-14), and therefore they should pursue holiness (Schweizer, “Colossians 1:15-20," 100).

The relationship between this christological hymn and the Jewish wisdom tradition had also been considered.  For many, Paul’s use of “wisdom categories" (not literary dependence on wisdom writings) allowed him to uphold Christ’s divinity within the confines of Jewish monotheistic thought (Witherington, Jesus the Sage, 289; Dunn, Christology in the Making, 167; Wright, Colossians, 69). From a rhetorical perspective, some consider this poem as a form of “precreation rhetorolect (rhetorical dialect)" to persuade the audience to focus on Christ by stressing his “protological intelligence and activity" (Jeal, “Precreation," 287). Although one may acknowledge the similarities between Christ and Wisdom, it is worth noting that there are many differences between them as well (Helyer, “Pre-Pauline," 174-75). Wisdom was created, Christ was not; Wisdom was personified, Christ was a real person. Moreover, Christ is called the prototokos while Wisdom is called the protogonos (Philo, Ebr. 30-31); in short, all things came to being through Lady Wisdom as the mother alongside God the Father (Dunne, “Regal Status," 5-6). It is important to note as well that there is no unambiguous passage that points to Wisdom as mediator of creation (Fee, Pauline Christology, 318).

Some consider the hymn as a midrash of Gen 1 (e.g., Burney, “Christ," 160-77). This is because the word rēšʾît or “beginning" (Gen 1:1) is associated with Wisdom (Prov 8:22) to which Paul alludes (Col 1:15). This view has gained support in the recent years (Lamp, “Wisdom," 46-47). One has to note, however, that the theological richness of the hymn, dealing not only with Christ’s role in creation, but also his leadership in the church, suggests that Paul had something more than Gen 1 in view here. It is possible to consider Col 1:15-20 as a presentation of Christ as king. Paul used several terms that may suggest the idea Jesus’ kingship (Dunne, “Regal Status," 8-16):

1.     eikon or image. Wisdom tradition contains no parallel to this idea. This concept recalls Adam as the image of God whose task is to have dominion over God’s creation (Gen 1:26-28).

2.     prototokos of firstborn. This is reminiscent of Ps 89:27 wherein David was referred to as God’s firstborn; and as God’s firstborn, he is also “the highest of kings of the earth."

3.     kephalē or head. This term suggests his supremacy over God’s creation.

4.     archē or ruler. In the LXX, this term is used to refer to persons in authority or leadership (e.g., Gen 40:13, 20-21; 41:13; Deut 17:20; Neh 9:17; Dan 2:37; 7:27; Amos 6:7; 1 Macc 10:52; 2 Macc 4:10, 50; 13:3). Moreover, in Isa 9:5-6, it is used to refer to the dominion and authority of the future Messiah.

5.     proteuon or supremacy. This term conveys superiority in rank comparable to that of kings and rulers.

By presenting Jesus as the “image of the invisible God," Paul points to the contrast between Jesus and the Father. This contrast, however, does not underscore their dissimilarity as much as it accentuates their complementarity. The Father is “invisible," therefore unknowable unless revealed through some mediator; the Son is the image and the visible representation of the one who would otherwise have remained unknown. Jesus’ statement captures the essence of this truth: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:7). The theological implication of Jesus being the eikon of God is not his divinity, but his dominion over God’s creation (Johnson, “Image," 10). Nonetheless, his divinity is implied by his participation in creation. Humans, by virtue of being created in the image of God, have the capacity to desire God, as Gregory of Nyssa pointed out (Mateo-Seco, “Imágenes," 677); thus the idea of Jesus as the image of God also highlight his unique relationship with the Father.

Christ is also presented as the prototokos or firstborn of creation. This word may mean primogeniture (e.g., Gen 25:25; Exod 22:28; Num 18:15; Heb 11:18; cf. Exod 11:5). Figuratively, it refers to Israel as a special nation separate from the rest (Exod 4:22), chronological priority implying certain authority over the rest of the children (Gen 49:3), of the Messiah as supreme over all the kings of the earth (Ps 89:27) (Scharlemann, “Scope," 294-95). The early church fathers sometimes referred to heretics as the “firstborn of Satan" (Pol. Phil 7.9; Irenaeus, Haer. 3.3.4). If one considers 1:15 alone, Paul’s use of the phrase “firstborn of all creation" may seem ambiguous and the phrase may even suggest that he was the first to be created. The ambiguity, however, dissipates as one moves to 1:16.    

1:16

The conjunction hoti introduces the explanation for 1:15b; Christ is the “firstborn of all creation because (hoti) all things had been created by him" (1:16a). He is the “firstborn of all creation" because of his participation in all creation as their creator. Although one may argue that 1:16a in itself does not necessarily suggest that Christ was not created (someone higher than him could have created him in order for him to create something else), but even more so, the statement “firstborn of all creation" need not suggest that he was just a created being. However, the Jews’ monotheistic beliefs and their beliefs about the creation make it less likely that Paul saw Christ as a created being who was created for the purpose of creating something else. Moreover, the messianic interpretation of Ps 72:17 in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanh. 98a) shows that the idea of the Messiah’s preexistence is not foreign to Jewish thought (Bruce, “Christ Hymn," 112 n. 6). In the case of Col 1:16, Christ’s preexistence is highlighted through his active role in the act of creation.

Paul describes “all creation" using two sets of meristic phrases: “in heaven and on earth" and “invisible and visible." Merism is a figure of speech that uses two contrasting words such as “high and low" or “young and old" or “inside and out" to refer to the totality of the object being discussed. Paul often uses this type of rhetorical expression (e.g., 1 Cor 8:5; 12:13; 2 Cor 1:6; 5:9, 10, 13; 12:2, 3; Eph 6:8; Phil 1:8, 20, 27; Col 1:20; 1 Thess 5:10; 2 Thess 2:15). In this case, the expressions “in heaven and on earth" and “invisible and visible" is just a poetic way of elaborating “all creation." Furthermore, using eite…eite… (whether…or…) construction, he enumerates the created things, both the visible and the invisible, those in heaven or those on earth. With the exception of 1 Pet 2:13-14, all other occurrences of such construction in the NT are found in Paul’s letters, both “undisputed" and “Deutro-Pauline" (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 3:22; 10:31; 12:13; 14:7; 2 Cor 5:9-10; 12:2-3; Eph 6:8; Phil 1:18, 20, 27; Col 1:20; 1 Thess 5:10; 2 Thess 2:15). Some proposed that these languages are based on the those used by the heretics in Colossae (Robinson, “Formal Analysis," 282-84), although there is not much evidence to support such view. Thus it is necessary to look at these languages in detail.

1.     thronoi or thrones. This literally refers to the chair of kings (e.g., Herodotus 1.14). It may also refer to the seat of authority including that of God (e.g., Matt 5:34; 23:2; Acts 7:49; Heb 1:8; 4:16; 8:1; 12:2; Rev 1:4; 3:21; 4:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10; 5:1, 6, 7, 11 ,13; 6:16; 7:9, 10, 11, 15, 17; 8:3; 12:5; 14:3; 16:17; 19:4, 5; 20:11, 12; 21:3, 5; 22:1, 3), Jesus (e.g., Matt 25:31), Satan (e.g., Rev 2:13), “the beast" (e.g., Rev 13:2; 16:10), human kings (e.g., David [Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30], other rulers [Luke 1:52]), the apostles (e.g., Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30), the twenty-four elders (e.g., Rev 4:4; 11:16), and the beheaded martyrs (e.g., Rev 20:4). Used figuratively, it refers to the sovereignty of Jesus (e.g., 1 Clem 65:2; Mart. Pol. 21). In the Testament of Levi, “thrones" refer to angelic beings who offered praises to God eternally (T. Lev. 3:8); it is noteworthy that there is a stark contrast between the sacrifice the archangels offered,  a “rational and bloodless oblation" (T. Lev. 3:7), with that of Christ who shed his blood of his cross (Col 1:20).

2.     kuriotētes or dominions. This word is used rarely in the NT but typically in reference to angelic beings (2 Pet 2:10; Jude 8; cf. Eph 1:21). The same usage is found in 2 En. 20:1 to refer to a special class of angels.

3.     archai or rulers. This term may also refer to human rulers (e.g., Gen 40:13, 21; 41:13; 4 Macc 4:10, 50; Luke 20:20; Justin, Dial. 120). Some passages in the NT are suggestive that demonic powers may be in view (e.g., Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12).

4.     exousiai or authorities. Someone who bears authority are also called “authority," whether in the physical realm (Luke 12:11; Rom 13:1-3) or in the spirit world (e.g., T. Lev. 3:8; T. Sol. 20:15; cf. 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; Col 2:10; Eph 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:15; 2:15; 1 Pet 3:22). The Testament of Solomon used several words to refer to angelic beings (archai, exousia, dunameis [T. Sol. 20:15; cf. Eph 6:12]). “Authorities" can also refer to political powers (Kiley, Pseudepigraphy, 106).

It is worth noting that these terms are languages of power and superiority, and that they were used often to rulers both in the physical and spiritual realms. The invisibility of the thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities clearly hints that the spiritual realm is in view here (cf. Lightfoot, Colossians, 153). One may not immediately exclude the physical realm, however (Wink, “Globalization," 25; cf. O’Brien, “Principalities," 117-18). The list may also be understood in relation to the human sphere because (1) recognition of Caesar as god since a confession that Jesus is Lord implies that Caesar is not (Teows, “Politics," 5), and (2) angelic powers are believed to act through civic authorities and political structures (Lynch, “Wink," 252 nn. 5-9). Contrary to Wink’s proposal, Lynch insists that either these powers refer to earthly or heavenly powers only for two reasons: (1) Wink was unable to demonstrate that these powers can simultaneously be earthly and heavenly; and (2) if they are simultaneous, then that means even the demonic powers can be redeemed (Col 1:20; cf. Matt 25:41 and Rev 20:10; Rev 21:23-26) (Lynch, “Wink," 259). In response to the first argument, one may observe that the Book of Revelation hints that these powers can be simultaneously earthly and heavenly (e.g., Rev 13:1-18; 17:9-14), so there is no reason that this cannot be possible in Colossians. Moreover, there seems to be no other way of understanding the phrases “visible and invisible" and “in heaven and on earth" except to include both earthly and heavenly realities. In response to the second argument, the redemption that Paul speaks of in Col 1:20 does not have to include even the heavenly powers, because in the next chapter, these are the powers that Jesus would disarm, not for the purpose of saving them, but for the purpose of defeating them (Col 2:15). This excludes the evil powers and renders them irredeemable. 

1:17

This middle section of the hymn introduces Christ using the nominative pronoun autos twice, while the previous and later sections use the relative pronoun hos (1:15, 18b).

1:15                                   hos estin… (who is…)

1:17                      autos estin… (he is…)

1:18a                    autos estin… (he is…)

1:18b                                 hos estin… (who is…)

The phrase pro panton (and its equivalent) is used in the NT to refer to temporal priority (pro pantos touton panton [Luke 21:12]), preeminence of Jesus since eternity past (pro pantos tou aionos [Jude 25]), priority/importance of an action/event (pro panton or “above all things" [Jas 5:12; 1 Pet 4:8]) The preposition pro (“before") can be interpreted both as a temporal indicator and a primacy of status (O’Brien, Colossians, 47). In other words, Paul’s statement may suggest both preexistence and preeminence.

The term sunestēken, although not used frequently in the NT, seems to have a wide range of meaning. Literally, it may mean to stand beside someone (e.g., Luke 9:22), something placed beside or juxtaposed to something else (e.g., Rom 3:5). Figuratively, it may mean “to stand beside someone" by commending them (e.g., Rom 16:21; 2 Cor 3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 6:4; 10:12, 18; 12:11). The term may also mean to “demonstrate" (e.g., Rom 5:8; 2 Cor 7:11; Gal 2:18) or to “establish" (e.g., 2 Pet 3:5). This language is also used by Platonic and Stoic philosophers (e.g., Plato, Resp. 530a; Ps. Aristotle, Mund. 6) who believe that the material body “coheres" (sunestēken) by the providence of the Supreme Being (Bruce, “Christ Hymn," 104; cf. O’Brien, Colossians, 47). Moreover, Stoics view the kosmos (“world") as a body animated by the divine word and the kosmokrator (a term used to refer to the gnostic redeemer) was presented as the head of the body (Bruce, “Christ Hymn," 105). Similar idea can be found in Jewish writings as well (e.g., the Word of God as sustainer of all things [Sir 43:26]; cf. Philo, Her. 23, 188; Fug. 112; Mos. 2.133; QE 2.118). Likewise, in Wis. 1:6-7, God, the Spirit, and Wisdom are “merged into each other" as that which “holds all things together" (Dunn, Colossians, 93).

Although Christ is undoubtedly the central figure of the hymn, from a theological perspective, the hymn contains not just christological material, but ecclesiological as well (Helyer, “Cosmic Christology," 235-36; cf. Behr, “Chiastic Reading," 248). Paul speaks of the uniqueness of Christ, not just in relation with God and the creation, but also in relation with the church (Okure, “In Him," 66-67). The ekklēsia is consistently used to refer to the believing community in the NT. The image of the church as a body is often found in Paul’s work (e.g., 1 Cor 12; Eph 1:22-23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; cf. Col 1:24). Moreover, the NT often uses languages of the body, temple, and community as metaphors for one another:

1.     The metaphor of the body referring to physical community (e.g., Rom 7:4; 12:4, 5; 1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 1:22-23; 2:16; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30); cf. 1 Cor 6:15 (our physical bodies as members of a larger “body"/community of believers); 1 Cor 10:17 (united members of one body).

2.     The metaphor of the temple referring to physical body (e.g., John 2:19-21 [cf. Matt 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:58; 15:29]; 1 Cor 6:19).

The metaphor of the temple referring to physical community (e.g., 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21).

1:18

Here begins the second stanza and introduced, like the first, using the relative pronoun hos (cf. 1:15). The structure of which resembles the first (see also comment for 1:15 above).

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The range of meaning of the word archē allows us to construe this statement as a reference to Jesus, not only as “ruler," but also as the “beginning, origin, first cause" (Dunn, Colossians, 97; cf. O’Brien, Colossians, 50), and in connection with his resurrection, the first to be raised so as to never die again. Both the OT and NT provide accounts of people raised from the dead (cf. 1 Kgs 17:17-24; 2 Kgs 4:17-37; Matt 9:18-26; Mark 5:35-43; Luke 7:11-17; 8:41-56; John 11:1-46; Acts 9:32-43; 20:7-12; cf. Matt 10:8; 11:5; Luke 7:22; 20:37), so technically, Jesus was not really the first to be raised. However, Jesus was the first to experience the kind of resurrection wherein the one who was raised remains alive. The words archē and prototokos are used together to describe the founder and leader of a people (cf. Deut 21:17); this implies that through Christ’s resurrection, a new humanity was created (O’Brien, Colossians, 50-51). The purpose of his resurrection is for him to become preeminent (Dunn, Colossians, 98).

See also at 1:17

1:19

Col 1:19 explains why Jesus became preeminent, namely, God was pleased to let the fullness dwell in him. The subject for the verb eudokēsen or “he was pleased" is not explicit. The verb is sometimes used with God as the subject (Matt 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; 12:32; 1 Cor 1:21; 10:5; Gal 1:15; Heb 10:6, 8, 38; 2 Pet 1:17), and at times for human subjects (e.g., Macedonians and Achaians [Rom 15:26, 27]; Paul [2 Cor 5:8; 12:10; 1 Thess 2:8; 3:1]; wicked people [2 Thess 2:12]). Without an expressed subject, certain words such as thelēma and eudokia/eudokein are used absolutely of God’s purpose (cf. Luke 2:14; Phil 2:13; 1 Clem 40:3), hence, God is most likely the implied subject of eudokēsen (Lightfoot, Colossians, 158). Moreover, the context hints this as well. The Father made the believers adequate so that they can be part of his inheritance and rescued them from the domain of darkness in order to transfer them to the kingdom of his Son (Col 1:12-13), who is the focus of the christological hymn. In other words, the hymn is an elaborate description of the Son who is introduced in the subordinate clause in 1:13. What this means is that although the focus of discussion turned to the Son (1:12-20), the discussion concerning the Father and his work continues.

Paul also mentions that it pleased the Father that the plēroma or “fullness" dwell in Christ. In the NT, plēroma may refer to a patch (Matt 9:16; Mark 4:38), container that is full (e.g., baskets [Mark 6:43; 8:20]), completion/fulfillment of an event/thing (e.g., Rom 11:12; cf. Rom 15:29 [?]), complete number/total amount (e.g., Rom 11:25; Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10), satisfying or fulfillment of the requirements such as the Law (e.g., Rom 13:10; cf. Apoc. Sedr. 1:14), the sum of all items inside a container (e.g., 1 Cor 10:26; cf. Ps 89:11 [88:11, LXX]). In the LXX, it refers to the sum of all items contained in a container (e.g., Pss 23:1; 49:12; 88:11; 95:11; 97:7; Jer 8:16; 29:2; Ezek 19:7; 30:12). In response to those who suggest that the language of fullness is derived from Gnosticism, some suggest that this is not plausible because plēroma only became a technical term during the 2nd century. Moreover, the language of “fullness" in relation to God is not a foreign concept in the LXX. In Hellenistic Judaism, God’s filling of all creation is a declaration of his all-encompassing dominion (Henderson, “God’s Fullness," 170). The psalms talk about his “fullness" filling the earth (Pss 23:1; 49:12; 88:12). The idea of God’s immanence similar to that of the Stoics is also found in Wis 8:1; Sir 16:29; 43:24 (Langkammer, “Einwohnung," 259). The term undoubtedly carries a special sense in Gnostic terminology, but it does not follow that the same is true here (Bruce, “Christ Hymn," 108). Thus, some scholars prefer to see Paul’s use of the term “fullness" in relation to its use in the LXX rather than in Stoic, Hermetic, Valentinian/Ptolemean works (Tripp, “Christology," 78-79).

The thought of the verb eudokēsen is completed by two complementary infinitives: katoikēsai (or “to dwell") and apokatallaxai (or “to reconcile"). First, it pleased the Father that the plēroma dwell (katoikēsai) in Christ. Taken alone, the statement may be suggest that the Father decided that the fullness dwell in Christ. Understand in light of 2:9, 1:19 may suggest that God himself decided to dwell in Christ (1:19). Some suggest that the language of indwelling connotes instrumentality (C. F. Moule, Colossians, 70-71) and that it was necessary for God’s fullness to dwell in Christ in order for him to act as a mediator so that the reconciliation could be made complete (Lightfoot, Colossians, 158-59). This divine fullness is evident in Christ’s earthly ministry (Dunn, Colossians, 102; Lázaro, “En el context," 94-95).

Second, it pleased God to reconcile all things to himself through Christ. The word apokatallaxai is used only in Eph 2:16 and Col 1:20, 22; its cognate katallaxai, however, is used more often to refer to the reconciliation between God and humans (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18, 19, 20) and between humans and fellow humans (1 Cor 7:11). The idea of reconciliation is seldom used to refer to restoration of human relationship, but idea is definitely present (Turner, “Human Reconciliation," 38). As for the former, reconciliation is more than just a restoration of broken relationship; it is putting in order that which was made disorderly and piecing together those which are falling apart (see comment for 1:25 below). In other words, it is the reversal of the multiple alienations caused by the Fall which includes reintegrating humans as image bearers of the Creator (Turner, “Human Reconciliation," 45; cf. Moo, “Nature," 137).

There are five major views as to what “all things" refer (see Peterson, “Reconciliation," 38-40):

1.     Christ alone (Mussner, Christus). This view focuses on Christ as the Mediator of reconciliation and ignores the object to be reconciled.

2.     Humans alone (Kehl, Der Christushymnus, 163-65). Only humans exchange the glory of God for images of mortal man (Rom 1:23), therefore, reconciliation only includes humans.

3.     Angels (Schlier, Principalities, 14-15). The act of reconciliation is for the pacification of angels and to put them under Christ.

4.     Human beings and angels (Michl, “Die Versöhnung, 442-62; Wambacq, “Per eum reconciliare," 35-42). This view focuses on the object to be reconciled.

5.     Humans, angels, whole creation (Lohse, Colossians, 59-61; O’Brien, Colossians, 55-57; Christensen, “Colossians," 318). This view also focuses on the object to be reconciled but more comprehensive than the 4th option.

The first option is clearly not viable because Paul clearly states the object to be reconciled. Although the 2nd and 3rd may contain some truth, but these options are too narrow; and option #4 is not inclusive enough. That leaves us with one option left. This view, however, does not necessarily imply universalism; note that Paul talks about the transfer from kingdom of darkness to light (1:13) and about the wrath of God (3:5-7) (Peterson, “Reconciliation," 44-45). In short, reconciliation is more than just restoring broken relationships between God and his creation; it is about setting things in order, and this order means that there is the recognition that God is supreme over all his creation.

Paul’s language of “reconciliation" and “making peace" echoes Roman political ideology. Paul’s vision of a cosmic renewal and harmony “implicitly challenges an imperial ideology centred in military domination and the honouring of ruling elites" (Maier, “Sly Civility," 326). The theme of “peace" can be connected with the hymn in two ways (Barth, Colossians, 216)

1.     The universal and sole sovereignty of God over all his creation through his Son. The idea of shalom in the OT is not just the absence of war, but includes the well-being of human subjects. This shalom is made possible through the work of his Son.

2.     The reign of the Davidic king would be characterized by “peace" (cf. Isa 9:5-6; Mic 5:1-4). This peace was achieved through the sacrifice of the Son.

The concept of reconciliation is one of the images of salvation; a need for reconciliation implies the relationship was broken, and this is further explained in Col 1:21 showing how humans were alienated from him. Humans are also considered enemies of God (cf. Rom 5:10), and so God’s act of reconciling humans include his willingness to not consider their sins which requires judgment (1 Cor 5:19). Paul explains that this reconciliation is accomplished because God “made peace" (eirēnopoiēsas). God being the subject of this verb suggests that reconciliation was God’s initiative and it would not have been possible unless God takes the first step. In the LXX, eirēnopoieo is used to render yěkasih ḥamas or “conceal violence" (Prov 10:10). It is possible to take eirēnopoiēsas to mean God prevented harm to befall sinful humans, particularly the harm caused by divine judgments.

1:20

See at 1:19

1:21

There is a good reason to assume that the so-called christological hymn does not only offer Paul’s christological understanding but also the ecclesiological implications of these ideas. Paul stresses Jesus’ lordship over all his creation; but at the same time, he underscores Christ’s headship over his church. This is made possible because of Christ’s reconciliatory work.

The last instance wherein Paul directs his words to the Colossians is in 1:14 where he mentions that through Christ, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." From a christocentric discussion (1:15-20), Paul switched gear by beginning his statement with kai humas or “and you" (1:21). Nonetheless, the focus of Paul’s discussion remained on Jesus and his work, of which “you" (the Colossians) are the beneficiaries. In discussing matters concerning the Colossians in 1:21, Paul uses participial clauses subordinate to the main verb (apokatēllaxen or “reconcile"), an act which Christ completed.

The grammatical construction pote…nuni de… (“formerly…but now…") only highlights the contrast between the Colossians’ status before and after they had been reconciled to God through Christ. The contrast also suggests that the participles in 1:21 carry a concessive idea; hence, the NASB renders 1:21, “And although you were formerly…" The contrasts between the former and present position continue what Paul began in 1:12-14; and although the antitheses are not always stated, they are clearly implied. This can be summarized as follows:

FORMERLY

NOW

(no share of inheritance)

share of inheritance (1:12)

domains of darkness (1:13)

kingdom of beloved Son (1:13)

(unredeemed)

have redemption (1:14)

(unforgiven)

received forgiveness (1:14)

alienated (1:21)

reconciled (1:22)

hostile in mind (1:21)

(friendship with God)

engaging in evil deeds (1:21)

made holy, blameless, without reproach (1:22)

The word apēllotriomenous or “alienated" is rarely used in the NT (Col 1:21; cf. Eph 2:12; 4:18). In this context, it is paired/contrasted with apokatēllaxein or “reconciled" (Col 1:22), in the same way Paul did in his letter to the Ephesians (2:12; cf. 2:16) suggesting that there will be a “restitution to a state from which they had fallen, or which was potentially theirs, or for which they are destined" (Lightfoot, Colossians, 160). Moreover, the Colossians were previously “hostile in mind" (cf. Rom 8:7). The sense of active rebellion, not just a passive indifference, seems to be implied here. The NT, moreover, commonly speaks of the sinners being reconciled to God, and not God being reconciled to the sinner (Lightfoot, Colossians, 161). The importance of having thoughts inclined towards God is also common in the NT (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 1:51; 10:27; Heb 8:10; 10:16; 1 Pet 1:13). One’s thought is also inseparable from one’s action (cf. Eph 2:3; 4:18), and as Paul stresses here, the mind that is hostile towards God produces evil deeds (Col 1:21).

In contrast to their former state, the Colossians are now reconciled. This divine act of reconciliation has two phases: the means, namely, Christ’s death; and the objective, that is, to present Colossians holy (Dunn, Colossians, 109). The phrase to somati tēs sarkos or “the body of flesh" reflects Paul’s use of a Hebrew expression, the exact equivalent of which is found in Qumran writings (1QpHab 9:2), which simply refers to the physical body (O’Brien, Colossians, 68; Lohse, Colossians, 64). Some suggest that Paul’s insistence of Jesus’ physical death was a necessary corrective for the docetic understanding of Christ’s death (O’Brien, Colossians, 68).

Paul asserts that he was looking forward for the day when he could present the Colossians to God hagious or “holy"; this is a description originally used to refer to Israel is now used for the Colossians (cf. Exod 19:6; Lev 19:2; Jer 2:13). This reflects Paul’s ecclesiological understanding; the boundary that defines the people of God is no longer ethnic or racial, but by one’s allegiance to the Son whose death made this reconciliation possible (Col 1:22). Furthermore, he hoped to present them to God amomous or “blameless." In the LXX, the term amomous is often used to refer to spotless animal fit for offering to the Lord (e.g., Exod 29:1, 38; Lev 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6, 9; 4:3, 14, 23, 28, 32; 5:15, 18, 25; 9:2, 3; 12:6; 14:10; 22:21; 23:12, 18, 19; Num 6:14; 7:28; 15:24; 19:2; 29:8, 13, 19; 28:3, 9, 11, 27; 29:6, 17, 20, 23, 26, 29, 32, 36; Ezek 13:23; 43:22, 25; 45:18, 23; 46:4, 6, 13; cf. Num 28:31; 1 Macc 4:42). In the wisdom tradition of the LXX, some of the things that are or can be “without blemish" include God’s law (e.g., Ps 18:8), human actions (e.g., Pss 17:33; 100:6; 118:1; Prov 11:20; Ezek 28:15) or speeches (Prov 21:11), God’s ways (e.g., Pss 17:31; 100:2; cf. 2 Sam 22:31), and humans, whether in character (e.g., Pss 14:2; 17:24; 18:14; 36:18; 63:8; 118:80; Prov 11:5; 20:7; cf. 2 Sam 22:2, 3, 24; Sir 31:8; 40:19; Wis 2:22) or in physique (e.g., Dan 1:4). Paul also anticipates the day when the Colossians could be presented to God aneklētous or “above reproach," that is, there is no ground for complaints (cf. 3 Macc 5:31; 1 Cor 1:8; 1 Tim 3:10; Tit 1:6-7).

1:22

See at 1:21

1:23

Through Christ’s death, reconciliation between God and humans was made possible. The idea of membership within God’s covenant people is found in OT. Stern warnings are set forth against those who would not obey God’s Law that they will be cut off from God’s people (Gen 17:14; Exod 30:33, 38; 31:14; Lev 7:20-27; 17:4, 9, 10; 18:29; 19:8; 20:3, 5, 6, 17-18; 23:29; Num 9:13; 15:30; Ezek 14:8). The condition is set forth clearly, “if you remain in the faith"; and this is set in relation to the believers’ presentation as “holy, blameless, without reproach," not to their reconciliation with God which is made complete already through the death of Christ (Peterson, “Perseverance," 95-99). The believers were warned that they can be moved away, not from their salvation, but from their hope (Bing, “Warning," 76). The warning certainly allows, but does not demand, the possibility that the conditions cannot be fulfilled (Marshall, Kept, 243 n. 64). Nonetheless, the need for perseverance is clearly stressed.

1:24

The final section of Col 1 contains themes connected by a series of relative pronouns:

1:24         …his body…

                …which (ho) is the church…

1:25-26    …of which (hēs) I became a servant of the mystery now manifested to the saints…

1:27          …to whom (hois) God willed to reveal the mystery…

                 …which (ho) is Christ...

1:28          …(about) whom (hon) we proclaim…to present every human complete in Christ…

1:29          …to this (eis ho) end I labor…

After exhorting the Colossians to persevere, Paul turns his focus on his ministry, and particularly the sufferings that accompany it. Despite of his sufferings, he claims that it is a reason for him to rejoice (Col 1:24). The word chairo or “rejoice" is often used in a personal greeting, whether done cordially (Matt 26:49; 28:9; Luke 1:28; Acts 15:23; 23:26; Jas 1:1; 2 John 10-11) or mockingly (Matt 27:29; Mark 15:18; John 19:3). It also means to rejoice while anticipating salvation (Matt 2:10; 18:13; Luke 1:14; 6:23; 10:20; 15:5, 32; John 3:29; 4:36; 8:56; 14:28; 16:22; Acts 8:39; Rev 19:7), over the good thing God has been doing (Luke 13:17; 19:6, 37; John 11:15; 20:20; Acts 11:23; 13:48; 15:31; Rom 16:19; 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 2:3; 7:7, 9, 13, 16; 13:9, 11; Phil 3:1; 4:4, 10; Col 2:5; 1 Thess 3:9; 5:6; 2 John 4; 3 John 3) or even over evil (Mark 14:11; Luke 22:5; John 16:20; cf. Rom 12:15; 1 Cor 13:6). God’s messenger are often found rejoicing despite the sufferings they have to go through (Matt 5:12; Acts 5:41; Rom 12:12; 2 Cor 6:10; Phil 1:18; 2:17-18; 1 Pet 4:13; Rev 11:10). There is no record in Acts of Paul’s sufferings on behalf of the Colossians; although Paul undoubtedly experienced various forms of sufferings. He uses the word pathēma (“passion") which may refer to fleshly passions (Rom 7:5; Gal 5:24), hardships as part of living in the world (Rom 8:18), the sufferings Christ suffered (Heb 2:9, 10; 1 Pet 1:11), and the sufferings for being associated with Christ (2 Cor 1:5, 6, 7; Phil 3:10; 2 Tim 3:11; Heb 10:32; 1 Pet 5:9).

Paul’s statement in Col 1:24 seems to suggest that Christ’s death is insufficient and therefore it was necessary for Paul to suffer as well. Since Christ’s death is mentioned earlier in relation to the reconciliation of humans to God, this may imply that the missionary’s suffering completed this process, and thus, raising some doctrinal issues. The contrasting opinions of modern interpreters and the apparent silence of the patristic exegetes are evidences of the difficulty in interpreting this passage (Reumann, “What is Lacking," 454-55 nn. 4-5). The word antanaplēroo is used only once in the NT, although its cognates anaplēroo (1 Cor 14:16; 16:17; Gal 6:2) and prosanaplēroo (2 Cor 9:12; 11:9; cf. Wis 19:4; 5:1) are used more often. Paul claims that his sufferings as a missionary antanaplēroo or “complete on behalf of another" what is lacking in Christ’s suffering. The idea of supplying something in connection with a deficiency is already present in anaplēroo, and this deprives the preposition anti- of its effect. If Paul’s suffering is the subject of the verb, the idea that it supplements the deficiency in that of Christ will work. However, personal agents are involved, thus anti- can be understood as antithesis of these personal agents. Hence, some understood Paul’s boast to imply that “Christ the sinless Master should have left something for Paul the unworthy servant to suffer" (Lightfoot, Colossians, 165; italics original).

It is worth noting that the term husterēma or “lacking/deficient" is never used in the NT in relation to Christ and his work (Sumney, “Afflictions," 664). Various suggestions were proffered to explain this difficult passage (Sumney, “Afflictions," 665; Spivey, “Suffering Church," 44; O’Brien, Colossians, 77-78; Pokorný, Colossians, 96-99):

1.     Christ’s suffering is deficient (Windisch, Paulus and Christus, 234-50). This view has been abandoned by many for good reasons. Even within the letter to the Colossians, Paul made clear that Christ’s death is the only means by which human sins can be forgiven (Col 2:13, 14; cf. 1:12-14, 19-22).

2.     The phrase tou Christou is interpreted as an objective genitive. This makes Paul’s suffering is “for the sake of Christ"; while others take tou Christou as a genitive of quality. This makes Paul’s suffering resemble that of Christ (Photius, Theodoret, Pelagius). These approaches, however, do not explain what is “lacking" in the sufferings of Christ.

3.     Some view Paul’s suffering as part of his mystical union with Christ (cf. Gal 2:20), whether the suffering can be experienced by other believers or by Paul (for list of proponents, see O’Brien, Colossians, 78; cf. Schweizer, Colossians, 101-102; MacDonald, Colossians, 78-79).

4.     Christ’s sufferings may be supplemented from the treasury of merit earned by saints and martyrs. This view, however, cannot be supported from the Scriptures.

5.     There is a distinction between sufferings as a sacrifice for sins and sufferings for edification. The former describes the sufferings of Christ, and the latter that of Paul (Lightfoot, Colossians, 164-66; Lohmeyer, Kolosser, 76-80; Hübner, Kolosser, 68-69).

6.     The sufferings of Paul are part of the messianic woes that must be fulfilled before the parousia (C. F. D. Moule, Colossians, 76; Lohse, Colossians, 78-80; O’Brien, Colossians, 78-80; Lindemann, Kolosserbrief, 33-34; Dunn, Colossians, 114-17). Paul’s expression thlipseis tou Christou (“afflictions of Christ") is synonymous to he odin tou Christou or “the woes of Christ" (cf. Matt 24:8; Mark 13:8); this idea is part of Jewish apocalyptic belief. God allows a measure of affliction for his people to suffer with limitations (cf. 1 En. 47:1-4; 2 Bar 30:2). The use of the definite article ta with husterēmata (“the lacking one") suggests that this is something well known, like the tribulation which the believers had to suffer in the last days.

7.     Paul’s discussion about his suffering has rhetorical purpose. His sufferings accompany his apostolic role (Perriman, “Pattern," 68). Sufferings can be an indicator that the writer has the benefit of the audience in mind and thus mentioning about one’s suffering is useful in constructing a persuasive ethos (cf. Rhet. Her. 1.8; Quintilian, Inst. 12.2.29-30; Cicero, De or. 2.335).

Christ’s work and Paul’s ministry share the same element of suffering. The nature of their work, however, is different. Christ’s bodily suffering made reconciliation possible (Col 1:20); and Paul’s bodily suffering made the propagation of this message possible (Col 1:24-26). Christ did what Paul is unqualified to do; and Paul did what Christ can no longer do. This ministry, in Paul’s language, “fulfills"/“makes complete" (plērosai) the proclamation of the word (Col 1:25). Considering all these, it seems possible to see Paul’s suffering as that which fills up “what is lacking in Christ’s suffering," namely, the suffering associated with the proclamation of the message of reconciliation, and not the suffering associated with the process of reconciliation.

The church is first introduced as Christ’s body in Col 1:17. Paul stretches the metaphor further by saying that the believing community is body with Christ as the head. The solidarity between the Messiah and his people is accentuated because they were shown to be part of one entity. Once again, the church was presented as Christ’s body for whose sake the Messiah suffered (Col 1:24). Jesus’ suffering is necessary in order that the “body" may be rejoined to the “head" through reconciliation. This message had to be proclaimed by God’s messengers, who, for the purpose of declaring the message also had to undergo afflictions. Paul’s assertion is clear: he suffered for the sake of the Colossians in his own body. His sufferings can also be understood in light of the “oscillation between individual and corporate personality in Hebrew thought" (Bruce, Colossians, 82-83; Spivey, “Suffering Church," 53). Paul’s suffering, in short, although vicarious, it is not expiatory (Sumney, “Afflictions," 665. It includes not just individual sufferings, but corporate sufferings as well (Spivey, “Suffering Church," 53). Paul’s affliction is ministry related; this is implied in his statement that his suffering in his physical body was on behalf of Christ’s spiritual body, namely, the church, for whose sake he became a minister (Col 1:25). The nature of suffering is unclear; perhaps he was referring to his imprisonment for preaching of the Gospel. The Colossians were not directly responsible for his sufferings, but they were the “beneficiaries" together with the believers of other churches to whom Paul ministered (Col 2:1).

1:25

Col 1:25 begins with a relative pronoun hēs (“of which" or “for which") refers back to hē ekklēsia or “the church" (Col 1:24). This is the second in the series of relative pronouns in Col 1:24-29. Paul earlier presents himself as God’s messenger who underwent suffering for the sake of the church; now he elaborates the reasons for such suffering.

Paul claims that God made him to become a diakonos for the believers’ benefit. In the NT, a diakonos is someone who assumes a low status (e.g., cf. Matt 20:26; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43), a person who carries out the instruction of a higher authority (e.g., Matt 22:13; John 2:5, 9; John 12:26; Rom 13:4; 1 Tim 4:6), someone who holds an office in the church (e.g., Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8, 12), an instrument to propagate an idea or belief, whether it be God’s truth (e.g., Rom 15:8; 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Eph 3:7; 6:21; Col 4:7) or Satan’s lie (e.g., 2 Cor 11:15). It can refer to household helper (John 2:5, 9), or even political figures (e.g., Rom 13:8).

Paul became a diakonos because of the stewardship God had given to him. As mentioned earlier, reconciliation is God’s way of putting in order that which became disorderly. Part of this process is God’s oikonomia or “stewardship" wherein he provides a way for reconciliation to take place (Christ’s death) and a way for the message of reconciliation to be announced (Paul’s ministry).

Paul describes the word of God as a mystery. The phrase to mustērion (“the mystery") in Col 1:26 can be taken as an apposition to ton logon (“the word") in Col 1:25. The concept of concealed knowledge was not only present among Hellenistic mystery religions; Jewish apocalypticists also had this concept of concealed knowledge that God, “the revealer of mysteries" (Dan 2:18-19, 27-30; 1 En. 103:2; 106:19; 2 En. 24:3; 4 Ezra 10:38; 14:5; Rev 10:7; cf. 1QS 3:23; 4:18; 1QPHab 7:5; 1Q27; 1QH 1:21; 2:13; 4:27-29) would make known. This mystery does not refer to secret rituals similar to those of Hellenistic cults, but to the divine purpose that is revealed only through God’s agents (Dunn, Colossians, 120), and this revelation was believed to occur in the end times (O’Brien, Colossians, 84). This implies unless God took the initiative to reveal his truth through the agents of his choice, there is no way for humans to know it. This mystery, according to Paul, was apokekrummenon (or “concealed"). God may be seen as the active agent who did the concealing (note the passive participle apokekrummenon may be considered divine passive), although there is nothing in the context that demands such interpretation. Moreover, this idea is not suggested elsewhere in the NT. It is clear, however, that this mystery was revealed to the saints (1:26; cf. 1:12).

1:26

See at 1:25

1:27

The third in the series of relative pronouns, the dative plural hois (“to/through whom") connects the description of the saints to whom the mystery was manifest (Col 1:26). There are two ways of interpreting this dative pronoun: (1) the saints are the people to whom God willed to make this mystery known, therefore, they are the recipients of God’s revelation; and (2) the saints are the people through whom God willed to make known his mystery, therefore, the nations are the recipients of God’s revelation and the saints are God’s agent in doing so.

The phrase en tois ethnesin (“among the Gentiles") in Col 1:27 poses some difficulty if one chooses the first option (cf. O’Brien, Colossians, 85). It seems best to take the dative pronoun hois as a dative of agency, so that just as the saints received the message from Paul, they in turn proclaimed this same mystery among the Gentiles. The statement of this mystery (introduced by the fourth relative pronoun in the series) which they are to proclaim is this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory." The solidarity between the Messiah and his people goes beyond their being part of one entity with Christ as the head and the believers as the body; their believers’ union with Christ includes having his life in them (O’Brien, Colossians, 87). This life creates a positive hope as they look forward to the day they will be revealed as children of the Father who promised them an inheritance (Col 1:12; cf. 3:4; Rom 8:19).

1:28

The fifth relative pronoun introduces Christ as the content of Paul’s proclamation: hon (“whom") we proclaim (Col 1:28). Two participial clauses elaborates Paul’s work of proclamation: (1) nouthetountes or “admonishing"; and (2) didaskountes or “teaching." Both can be taken as participle of means. In short, Paul proclaimed Christ by means of admonishing and teaching “every human." The former is used in Jewish literature in relation with God’s discipline (Job 40:4; Wis 11:10; 12:2, 26; Ps. Sol. 13:9), while the latter refers to the impartation of knowledge and skill by a teacher (Rom 2:21; 12:7; 1 Cor 11:14; Gal 1:12) (Dunn, Colossians, 124).

The goal of Paul is to present every man “perfect in Christ." This statement reiterates what Paul already declared earlier in Col 1:22. If this is the case, the context requires the “perfection" that Paul envisions in 1:28 has to do with one’s moral character, being “holy, blameless, and above reproach" (Col 1:22). This perfection, according to Paul, can be found only in Christ. Since the idea of a “perfect man" is also a common theme in Greek philosophies, Paul’s statement may be construed as a gentle reminder to the believers that one needs to look to Christ alone for a “‘fuller’ experience and wisdom," and not on something else (Dunn, Colossians, 126).

The sixth relative pronoun (eis) ho or “(towards) which" introduces the statement regarding Paul’s active participation in achieving this goal of presenting every man perfect in Christ (Col 1:29), namely, by laboring with using God’s power at work in him.

1:29

See at 1:28

Comparison / Typology
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Theology
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Application
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Introduction to Colossians

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Commentary List

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  • Gorday, Peter; ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
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  • McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1981. [Vol. 5: First Corinthians to Revelation]
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  • Olshausen, Hermann. Biblical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1851. [Public Domain; Google Books]
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  • Poole, Matthew. Annotations Upon the Holy Bible. 3 vols. New York: Robert Carter, 1853. [Vol. 3: Matthew to Revelation.] [Google Books]
  • Rollock, Robert. Lectures Upon the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians. London: Felix Kyngston, 1603. [Public Domain]
  • Trapp, John. A Commentary or Exposition Upon All the Epistles, and the Revelation of John the Divine. London: Printed by A. M. for John Bellamy, 1647. [Public Domain]
  • Wright, N. T. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Volume 12; Colossians and Philemon. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008 [1986].

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