Wednesday, August 19, 2015

COLOSSIANS—The Preeminence of Christ

The letter to the Colossians is one of Paul's so-called 'prison epistles,' written during his Roman imprisonment around 62AD.

The standard view of the purpose of the letter has been that gnosticism was making inroads into the church in this region; but with the discovery of gnostic writings (see above link on gnosticism) many scholars have debated that point.

With that debate has come many various ideas as to what the problem might have been that Paul was addressing. Some aspects of the gnostic heresy do tend to show up as addressed by Paul in this letter.

One of those would appear to be the concept of the 'demiurge,' which he addresses in the section we are looking at today—the superiority of Christ.

Regardless of the problem, though, interpreting this letter's rich theological teaching is not hindered.

Beginning in verse 15 of the first chapter division, and carrying through verse 19, Paul presents an exaltation of the Lord Jesus that is the basis of our belief in the divinity of Christ. You can read that passage here: Col. 1:15-19.

Jesus is
  • the image of the invisible God
  • the firstborn of every creature
    • in heaven
    • on earth
  • before all things
  • the head of the body, the church
  • the beginning
  • the firstborn from the dead
For it pleased the Father that in him (Jesus) should all fulness dwell. (v. 19)

The word 'image' is so translated all 23 times in the KJV; it is not rendered in any other manner from the Greek of the NT.

We are not to think that Jesus looked "exactly like God" while here on earth. The idea of the word is the same as when we say, "She is the image of her mother." In other words, she looks enough like her mother that I am reminded of her, though I am looking at the daughter.

Consider Jesus' answer to Philip in John 14:9—
Jesus said to him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet have you not known me, Philip? he that has seen me has seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?

Or, the statement in Hebrews 1:3—
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (the word for 'image' is a different one than the one mentioned above).
The thought being presented here is that if you want an idea of the invisible God, then consider Jesus. However, you must step out of your carnal mind, which is looking for facial recognition, and put on your spiritual mind to see the attributes of God that were manifest in the person of the Christ.

Thankfully, there were no portrait artists nor photographers among the throngs following the man Jesus around the shores of Galilee.

"The firstborn of all creation" is a statement that has given rise to much misunderstanding. It is also one of the reasons that early commentators felt this was a polemic against gnosticism, which was believed to teach a series of 'emanations' (creations) from God to the material world. (see 'demiurge' above)

A limited and literal understanding of "firstborn" would seem to indicate that there would be others who followed after that first birth.

However, the word "firstborn" does not always mean the first one chronologically.
Consider, for instance, Romans 8:29, Jeremiah 31:9, Exodus 4:22, or Psalm 89:27. Each of these references obviously refers to preeminence rather than a definitive protological occurrence.

Not only is Christ unrivaled by any of the natural creation, He also far surpasses any creation in the spiritual/heavenly realm. The orders of beings are listed so that there can be no doubt as to His superiority over any of the ranks of angelic host (cf Heb. 1:4).

Then there follows one of the great mysteries of the faith—Jesus, who appeared on earth in space and time, had always been in existence prior to His appearance and prior to Adam's appearance in the garden and prior to the angels' appearance in heaven.

In this case, the word translated "before" means first in time, and is a different word from the one considered previously.

His being the head of the church is also a place of unrivaled superiority. Any other part of the body may be removed and life may still flow, but without the head there is no life. (This is not a discussion about the Church being the Body of Christ, nor is it a scientific treatise on the aspects of the human body. Obviously, the organs are not a part of the analogy.)

He is "the firstborn from the dead" in that he is the first to have been resurrected from death never to die again.

No matter where you would want to go with your argument as to superiority, chief, first, or whatever, Jesus is higher than that. If your solution does not take you to Christ, then you have not arrived at the "first cause."

"For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell" (Col. 1:19).
"For in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).


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