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                                      Doctrinal Issues in Colossians

                                                 Part 2 (of 4 parts):



                          The Doctrine of Christ

                                   in Colossians




                          H. Wayne House

                                 Vice-president for Academic Affairs

                              Western Baptist College, Salem, Oregon


          The first article in this series suggested that the heresy in the

church at Colosse was syncretistic, a hybrid born out of religious ele-

ments in that area. It was a mixture of Hellenistic cults and Jewish

mysticism. This amalgam of religious views had infected the church

to which Epaphras had faithfully brought and taught the gospel.

To correct the heresy Paul emphasized the true doctrine of Christ.

Orthodox Christianity depends on accurate Christology. Two pas-

sages in Colossians in which Paul placed great emphasis on the Per-

son and work of Christ are 1:15-20 and 2:9-15. These passages speak

directly to the false teachings in the Colossian church, while af-

firming the marvels of who Christ is and what He has done.



                              The Christ-Hymn


          Colossians 1:15-20 has become known as the Christ-hymn. It is

called a hymn because of its rhythmic prose and strophic arrange-

ment.1 The first strophe exalts Christ's supremacy in creation (vv.

15-17), and the second testifies to His preeminent role in redemption

(vv. 18-20).2


1 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians,

New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1984), 55-56.

2 Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New

Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 42.





          Christ is the ei]kw<n of God (v. 15).  Ei]kw<n ("image") means more

than mere likeness or similarity; it includes the ideas of representa-

tion and manifestation.3 This echoes Christ's own words found in

John 14:9, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." In Matthew

22:20, ei]kw<n refers to a ruler's image on the face of a coin.4 Christ is

described as the "radiance of [God's] glory and the exact representa-

tion of His nature" (Heb. 1:3), the image [ei]kw<n] of God (2 Cor. 4:4),

and the One who existed in the very form of God (Phil. 2:6). As the

"image" of God, Christ is the "great and final theophany."5 As the

personal revelation of the living God, Christ is "the 'projection' of

God on the canvas of our humanity and the embodiment of the divine

in the world of men."6

          Christ is the prwto<tokoj, of all creation (v. 15). The phrase

"the first-born of all creation" (prwto<tokoj pa<shj kti<sewj) does

not mean that Christ is a created being, the first part of all that was

created by God in the beginning. This view of the Arians and more

recently of the Jehovah's Witnesses is clearly heretical when the

title is seen in its context, particularly in the light of verse 16.

"First-born" suggests supremacy, not temporality.7 Israel was des-

ignated as God's firstborn (Exod. 4:22), and yet many other nations

existed before Israel became a nation. Israel was chosen by God to be

supreme over all nations as His specially chosen people. As seen in

Psalm 89:27 ("I will also make him My first-born, the highest of the

kings of the earth"), Christ as the First-born is the Heir and Ruler

over all.8 Hebrews 1:6 also refers to Christ as the prwto<tokoj.

          Colossians 1:16 unfolds the meaning of Christ's role in creation:

"For in Him all things were created that are in heaven and on earth,

visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or principali-

ties or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him"

(author's translation).


3 Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 567.

4 Robert G. Gromacki, Stand Perfect in Wisdom: An Exposition of Colossians and

Philemon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 61.

5 S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "Christ Preeminent," Bibliotheca Sacra 119 (January–March

1962): 13.

6 Ralph P. Martin, Colossians and Philemon, New Century Bible Commentary

Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 57.

7 Gromacki, Stand Perfect in Wisdom: An Exposition of Colossians and Philemon,


8 William Hendriksen, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, New Testament

Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1964), 72.



          All things were created e]n au]t&? (v. 16). The prepositional

phrase "in Him" (e]n au]t&?) may be either a locative-of-sphere

phrase (dative of location) or an instrumental phrase (dative of

agency). If the former is intended, the phrase emphasizes that cre-

ation is "centered" in Christ. In the latter meaning Christ is the di-

rect Agent of creation ("all things were created by Him"). Several

factors suggest that the first view is preferable. First, Paul regu-

larly used the words "in Christ" (76 times) or "in Him" (20 times) to

indicate that Christ is the embodiment of reality, whether of cre-

ation or the redemption of mankind. Second, the latter portion of

Colossians 1:16 refers to Christ as the agency, though indirect, of all

creation ("all things were created through Him"). It would seem re-

dundant to have the idea of agency stated twice in the same verse.

Third, when the instrumental case indicates agency it normally does

not have the preposition e]n. This preposition more naturally

(though not invariably) is locative in meaning.9 Personal agency is

more often expressed with u[po< and the genitive.10 The phrase "in

Him" carries more emphasis than "through Him." In His role as

Creator, Christ was the "location" from whom all came into being

and in whom all creation is contained. This idea is also suggested in

verse 18, "He is the beginning."

          Christ's creative work was all encompassing, for it includes all

created things "in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible."

These inclusive qualifiers are significant in light of the problems

facing the Colossian church. The entire physical creation, which

was distasteful to the incipient Gnostics and ascetics, nevertheless

had its origin in Christ. The Incarnation, in which God was manifest

in the flesh, was abhorrent enough. But the concept of Christ's hav-

ing been so closely involved with the physical world as its very Cre-

ator was especially repulsive to the heretics. On the other hand

Paul affirmed in Colossians that the creation is good, not evil (cf.

Gen. 1:31). In contrast to the practice of giving homage to mediato-

rial heavenly beings, which prevailed in Hellenistic cults and Jew-

ish mysticism, Paul boldly affirmed that everything "invisible"—

including angels—is part of the creation that is in Christ, that is, is

contained in Him and by Him. This clearly removes them from any

position worthy of worship. If the Colossians believed in the so-

called "heavenly ascent" (as in Merkabah mysticism),11 then


9 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Histori-

cal Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 534, 590.

10 C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (London: Cambridge Uni-

versity Press, 1953), 76.

11 See H. Wayne House, "Heresies in the Colossian Church," part 1 of "Doctrinal

Issues in Colossians," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (January—March 1992): 45-59.


                    The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians                          183


Christ's having created the angels clearly makes angel worship il-

legitimate and heretical (Col. 2:18).

          The supremacy of Christ in both arenas of reality—the heav-

enly/invisible and the earthly/visible—stands in direct contrast to

false teachings in Colosse that detracted from the glory that belongs

to Christ alone. "Thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities" (1:16)

are all part of creation. Included in these forces were the evil powers

who sought dominion over humanity and were conquered at the Cross

(2:14-15). The terms may also include all angelic creatures. In Jew-

ish literature (2 Enoch 20:1) "thrones and dominions" refer to angelic

powers.12 Whether good or evil spirits, all were subject to Christ,

the Firstborn. Angelic beings cannot add to His creative work, nor

can evil spirits separate Christ from His creation.13

          Colossians 1:16 ends with the affirmation that "all things have

been created by Him and for Him." The perfect tense e@ktistai

("have been created") conveys the idea of the permanent "created-

ness" of creation. All created things remain in created existence

through Christ (as the Agent of creation, di ] au]tou?) and for Christ.14

As Eadie writes, "the phrase 'for him' seems to mean every aspect of

His being, and every purpose of His heart. He is, as Clement of

Alexandria says,  te<loj’ as well as ‘a]rxh<’"15 The phrase ei]j au]to>n

("for Him," or more literally "to Him") also points to Christ as the

goal of creation. Moving toward this goal the world will someday

fully recognize the preeminence and sovereignty of Christ (1 Cor.

15:25; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 19:16).16

          Christ presently upholds the universe (v. 17). In verse 17 Paul

wrote, "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold to-

gether." The present tense, e]stin ("He is"), rather than "He was,"

speaks of Christ's unchanging being.17 In addition the statement

that Christ is "before [pro<] all things" clearly conveys the fact of

His preexistence.18 This reference to His preexistence relates natu-

rally to the previous reference to Christ as the Firstborn of all cre-

ation.19 Christ Himself spoke of His preexistence in connection with


12 Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, Hermenia (Philadelphia: Fortress,

1971), 51.

13 Hendriksen, Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, 74.

14 Harris, Colossians and Philemon, 45.

15 John Eadie, Colossians (London: Richard Griffin, 1856), 56.

16 Homer A. Kent, Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians and Philemon (Grand

Rapids: Baker, 1978), 48.

17 Eadie, Colossians, 58.

18 Rienecker and Rogers, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 568.

19 Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, 52.


184               Bibliotheca Sacra / April–June 1992


His claims of deity, as in John 8:58, "Before Abraham was, I AM."

And, as He prayed in His high priestly prayer, He was with the Fa-

ther "before the world was" (John 17:5).

          Besides existing before creation, Christ upholds (sune<sthken) it.

He is the cause of creation, and He also is the bond that holds it to-

gether. As the author of Hebrews wrote, He is upholding all things

by His power (Heb. 1:3). For Christians this is an encouragement,

since "He is not their Cause only, in an initial sense; He is for ever

their Bond, their Order, their Law, the ultimate secret which makes

the whole universe, seen and unseen, a cosmos, not a chaos."20

          Some suggest this verse refers to immaterial, not physical cre-

ation. This view is usually held by those who deny the deity of

Christ. If the clause refers to some new spiritual creation, then

Colossians 1:18-20 would be redundant, since it speaks directly of the

spiritual realm in the context of the church and Christ's victory over,

death at the cross. Since He upholds "all things" in heaven and

earth, the physical universe is certainly included.21



          Following his discussion of Christ's divine nature and its signifi-

cance, the apostle wrote of Christ's role in the spiritual realm, espe-

cially His relationship to His body, the church. Paul spoke of

Christ as the Head of the church, the Beginning, and the Firstborn

from the dead.

          Christ is the kefalh< of the church (v. 18). Existing as the Head

(e]stin h[ kefalh>), Christ alone is the Leader of the church. In the

last decade the meaning of the term kefalh< has received much atten-

tion in theological discussion. Evangelical feminists have adopted

an understanding of the term that differs from the ordinary, historic

view. The meaning of "head" as authority or leader challenges

their attempt to establish egalitarian thought in the church and

home and to bring about the obliteration of gender-specific roles.

They have adopted a meaning for kefalh< which, Bedale argued,

means "source or origin."22 However, their position would destroy

God's design in which He created men and women to complement

each other. The evangelical feminists also attack (often unknow-

ingly) the biblical teaching on the lordship of Christ which is found


20 Handley C. G. Moule, Colossians and Philemon Studies (London: Pickering &

Inglis, n.d.), 78.

21 Eadie, Colossians, 62.

22 Stephen Bedale, "The Meaning of kefalh< in the Pauline Epistles," Journal of The-

ological Studies, 5 n.s. (1954): 211-15.


                    The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians                185


in the word kefalh<. Grudem has responded with a thorough and

definitive analysis23 and a view that is attested by all standard

Greek lexica,24 including the semantic studies of Nida and Loew.25

The evidence, as Grudem demonstrates, overwhelmingly indicates

that kefalh< in the New Testament means "leader or one in author-

ity," not "source." Accordingly Christ is the authoritative Leader of

the churches (Col. 1:18). True, He originated the church, but that

idea does not seem to fit the context. His body, the church, is help-

less without His authoritative direction. His leadership is not bur-

densome or arbitrary; it is liberating and with purpose (1 Cor. 11:3).26

          Christ is the a]rxh< (v. 18). As "the beginning" (h[ a]rxh<) Christ

was the origin of creation. Also by His death on the cross He estab-

lished a new beginning, the beginning of redemption for mankind.

His death and resurrection signaled the dawning of an age in which

individuals could enjoy a closer, more personal relationship to Him

than ever before.27  Some teach the heresy that this title of Christ

means He had a temporal beginning. But if that were so, He would

also have an end, for Revelation 21:6 refers to Him as "the beginning

and the end." If Christ were only a created being, how could He be

both first and last?28

          Christ is the prwto<tokoj from the dead (v. 18). As "the first-

born [prwto<tokoj] from the dead," Jesus Christ possesses authority

and dominion over yet another aspect of this world. As "the first-

born of all creation" (v. 15), He is supreme over the created world

and as "the first-born from the dead," He is supreme over death.

Having conquered death by His resurrection, He now holds "the keys

of death" (Rev. 1:18). Paul pointed out the purpose of all this—that


23 Wayne Grudem, 'The Meaning of kefalh<: A Response to Recent Studies," in Recov-

ering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism

(Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1991), 425-68. Also see Grudem's article, "Does Kephal e

(Head) Mean 'Source' or 'Authority Over' in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Ex-

amples," Trinity Journal 6 NS (1985): 38-59. Fitzmyer further substantiated Grudem's

study (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "Another Look at KEFALH in I Corinthians 11:3," New

Testament Studies 35 [October 1989]: 503-11).

24 Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York:

American Book, 1889), 345; Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New

Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1895), 354; Walter Bauer, William F.

Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and

Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed., rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W.

Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 431.

25 Eugene Nida and Johannes P. Loew, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament:

Based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1 (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), 739.

26 H. Wayne House, The Role of Women in Ministry Today (Nashville: Thomas

Nelson, 1990), 158.

27 Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 71.

28 Gromacki, Stand Perfect in Wisdom, 68.


186               Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1992


Christ would have first place in everything" (Col. 1:18). In the

church, in creation, in salvation, and even in death, Christ holds the

title and privileges of the Firstborn. He is preeminent over all.

          All plh<rwma of salvation dwells in Christ (v. 19). Paul wrote,

"For in Him all the fulness [pa?n to> plh<rwma] of God was pleased to

dwell" (RSV). One view on the meaning of this verse is that it af-

firms the deity of Christ, with the understanding that pa?n to> pl-

h<rwma refers to Christ as the One who represents all that God is.29 A

second view is that plh<rwma speaks of intermediary beings between

God and man. The second-century school of Valentinius used the

word plh<rwma to describe such divine entities or emanations.30 In

this view Christ encompasses and/or replaces all these emanations.

Though Gnosticism had not yet become part of the Colossian heresy,

this idea of emanations could have germinated in Colosse before

Gnosticism took root as a full-orbed system.

          A third view is that plh<rwma refers not to essence but to redemp-

tive power. Following verse 18, which affirms Christ's victory over

death, verse 19 may suggest that salvific power is what dwells in

Christ. This seems most plausible, because it inherently includes the

idea of the deity of Christ, and yet, flowing from the thought in

verse 18, it points to Christ as Redeemer. God the Father was

pleased to have all redemptive power dwelling in Christ.

          Christ is the agent for and goal for reconciliation (v. 20). The

last verse of this second strophe ends on a redemptive note also, thus

providing additional evidence for the view suggested for verse 19.

"And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made

peace through the blood of His cross."

           ]Apokatalla<cai ("to reconcile") means to exchange hostility for

friendship.31 The prefix drro conveys the idea of complete reconcili-

ation.32 God's reconciling of man to Himself is necessary because of

the enmity of sinners toward God in their natural mind (Rom. 5:8-11).

In what sense, however, does Christ reconcile "all things" (ta>

pa<nta) to Himself? If all things are reconciled by the blood of the

Cross, does this teach universal salvation? Either the Bible is in er-

ror in numerous places or universal salvation is not what is intended

in Colossians 1:20. The reconciliation in this verse points instead to


29 C. F. D. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon,

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

1980), 70.

30 Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 73.

31 Rienecker and Rogers, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 568.

32 S. Lewis Johnson, "From Enmity to Amity," Bibliotheca Sacra 119 (April-June

1962): 143.


                    The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians                187


the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the millenium when

every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is

Lord to the glory of the Father (Phil. 2:10; cf. Rom. 14:11). Through

Christ all intelligent beings—both obedient and disobedient, and

both human (those "on earth") and angelic (those "in heaven")--

will acknowledge the sovereignty of God.33

          Also a distinction must be made between reconciliation and sal-

vation. Reconciliation removes the barrier between God and man and

opens the potential for a new type of relationship between the two,34

All redeemed and unredeemed will acknowledge His sovereignty,

and in that sense there will be reconciliation. But this does not mean

the unredeemed will be given salvation. The price paid to make pos-

sible this peace is "the blood of His cross" (Col. 1:20). Jesus' vicari-

ous death is the means of this peace.

          The Christ-hymn of Colossians 1:15-20 is a powerful statement

about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ's supremacy is seen

at every turn. The first portion focuses on His preeminent role in cre-

ation, while the second emphasizes His work as Redeemer. To any

Christian, in Colosse then or elsewhere today, who may have been

or is confused about Christ's role in the world, these six verses testify

to Christ's absolute authority, which is not to be shared with any

person, angel, or demon.


          Christ as the Answer to All the Colossians' Concerns


In Colossians 2:9-15 Paul specifically answered the heresy pres-

ent in the Colossian church. Christ is presented as the antidote to

the philosophy and empty deceit denounced in 2:8. Three truths are

included: All the fulness of deity dwells in Christ, believers are

complete in Christ, and He is the authority over all angelic beings.



          Colossians 2:9 includes the most concise statement in the Scrip-

tures about the hypostatic union of the God-man: "For in Him all the

fulness [plh<rwma] of Deity dwells in bodily form." In the discussion

of 1:19 it was suggested that "fulness" there referred to all redemp-

tive power being in Christ. Here in 2:9 "fulness" clearly and strongly

affirms His deity. Possessing full "deity" (qeo<thtoj, a strong term),

the Son has complete equality of essence with the Father and the

Holy Spirit. This qeo<thtoj dwells (katoikei?) permanently in Christ.


33 Gleason L. Archer, The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zon-

dervan, 1982), 409.

34 Kent, Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians and Philemon, 51.


188               Bibliotheca Sacra / April–June 1992


Katoikei?, an intensive form of oi@kei, is a timeless present tense, indi-

cating continual dwelling.35

          In Christ deity dwells continually "in bodily form" (swmatikw?j).

This adverb must have caused consternation to those ascetics in

Colosse who had relegated the body to a lower realm, surely not to

be tampered with by anything spiritual, much less by the one true

God. Five views on the meaning of swmatikw?j have been suggested:

(1) organized body, organic unity, suggesting that the fulness of the

Godhead is centralized in Christ, not scattered; (2) essence, a view

held by Calvin and some Greek church fathers; (3) actuality,

grounded in concrete reality (Augustine's view); (4) fulness expressed

corporately in His body, the church; and (5) the Incarnation, in

which Christ assumed bodily form.

          As Moule concludes, views three and five are most likely in-

tended here by swmatikw?j.36 Johnson holds basically the same view,

that Christ's human form is definitely in mind here, but adds that

Christ's humanity after the ascension is now glorified.37

          In the Incarnation, Jesus was fully God ("the fulness of Deity")

and fully human. Neither His deity nor His humanity was at the

expense of the other. His humanity was required in order for His

work on the Cross to be sufficient for the atonement of humanity's

sins. The vicariousness of the atonement was made possible because

He fully identified with His creation. If this aspect of Christ's Per-

son differed in essence from that of mankind, then His ability as the

believers' High Priest to "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb.

4:15) carries much less force and comfort.



          After affirming the Person of Christ (2:9), Paul then addressed

the Christian's relationship to Christ by using an interesting play on

words. Christ possesses "fulness of Deity," and Christians have

their fulness of life in Him ("in Him you have been made complete").

They are identified with Him who is "the head over all rule and

authority." The perfect periphrastic phrase e]ste> . . . pep-

lhrwme<noi ("been made complete," literally "are made full") accents

the believers' completeness in their union with Christ.38 In light of

the Colossian errorists' view that identification with Christ is not

sufficient for the Christian life, Paul's words have a special impact.


35 Harris, Colossians and Philemon, 90.

36 C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, 92-93.

37 S. Lewis Johnson, "Beware of Philosophy," Bibliotheca Sacra 119 (October—De-

cember 1962): 310.

38 Rienecker and Rogers, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 573.


                    The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians                189


          In verses 11-12 Paul described God's purpose and plan for believ-

ers, those who are identified with His fulness. "In Him you were

also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the re-

moval of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having

been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up

with him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from

the dead."

          In two analogies Paul showed the extent and nature of the be-

liever's identification with Christ. The first is circumcision (v. 11),

which held great meaning to those familiar with the Mosaic Law,

for it was a seal of membership among the covenant people of the

Old Testament.39 To have been "circumcised with a circumcision

made without hands" points to the conversion experience of the

Colossians.40 It also symbolized the stripping off, "in the removal

of" (a]pekdu<sei), or more literally, "putting off of" the old self ("the

body of the flesh") and the cleansing of oneself for a new relation-

ship. This idea is also expressed in Romans 6:6, which mentions the

crucifying of the old (unregenerate) self, with the result that believ-

ers partake of the nature of Christ.41

          The second analogy Paul used is baptism. Being baptized with

Christ is similar to the symbolism of circumcision. Having put off

the old self, they were then identified with Christ in a new life.

Water baptism was a public display of the change that had taken

place in the inner man. Immersion depicts the believer's having died

with Christ, and emerging from the water pictures being "raised up

with Christ" in salvation to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).42

          In Colossians 2:13-15 Paul wrote of the "transgressions" accrued

by mankind and stated that Christ's death on the cross "cancelled

the written bond, with its regulations, that was against us and that

stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross" (v. 14,

NIV). The "written bond with its regulations" that is, its legal de-

mands, refers to the Mosaic Law, which exposed sin, thereby crying

out for recompense or satisfaction. As Johnson noted, the word xeiro<-

graqon ("written bond)" was used "in papyrus documents for a certifi-

cate of indebtedness, something like our IOU."43 Since no one could


39 H. M. S. Carson, Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 66.

40 S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "The Complete Sufficiency of Union with Christ," Biblio-

theca Sacra 120 (January—March 1963): 15.

41 Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 104.

42 Ibid., 105.

43 Johnson, "The Complete Sufficiency of Union with Christ," 15.


190               Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1992


fulfill the Law, this "bond" was the sinner's enemy.44 It may be, as

some have suggested, however, that xeiro<graqon refers not to the

Law but to God's indictments against sinners in the heavenly court.

This view originated from an anonymous Jewish apocalyptic writer

in the first century B.C., who wrote of an accusing angel writing down

the offenses of sinners so that they need to have their transgressions

blotted out (e]calei<yaj).45 Christ's death at the cross was necessary

to satisfy these indictments. The permanence of the believer's new

relationship between God and man through the Cross is indicated by

h#rken ("has taken [it] out of the way"). Being in the perfect tense, it

emphasizes the abiding result of His having put away this bond; it

is still put away, never to separate man and God again.46



          The tendency of the early Christians in Colosse to be enamored

with angels is understandable in view of the important place of an-

gels in the Old Testament and Judaism, especially mystic Judaism.

Moreover, such beings were popular in Greek religion. Two verses in

Colossians speak of Christ's relationship to these spiritual beings,

namely 1:16, already discussed, and 2:15. In the first of these verses

Paul wrote that Christ created all things, including the angelic

hosts ("whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities"). In

2:15, however, Paul wrote that Christ triumphed over these created

hosts at the cross: "When He had disarmed the rulers and authori-

ties, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over

them through Him."

          Comparing translations of the terms a]rxa<j and e]zousi<aj shows

the various ways these are understood: "principalities and powers"

(NKJV), "sovereignties and powers" (Jerusalem Bible), "angelic rulers

and powers" (Moffatt), "Satan's power" (Living Bible), "rulers and

authorities" (NASB), and "powers and authorities" (NIV). The Latin

church fathers said these were evil powers which "could exercise

their tyranny over man" and his body, which therefore was to be put

off. This possibility seems remote in light of the context. Are these

rulers and authorities human agents or supernatural forces, and if

they are the latter do they refer only to evil angels or as in 1:16 to

all angels, both good and evil? Ephesians 6:12 states that believers


44 Carson, Colossians and Philemon, 69.

45 Peter T. O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco,

TX: Word, 1982), 124.

46 Curtis Vaughan, "Colossians," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 11:201.


                    The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians                191


battle not with flesh and blood, but with a]rxa<j and e]cousi<aj

("rulers" and "powers"). This contrast between the physical and the

spiritual suggests that a]rxa<j and e]zousi<aj are angels, not humans.

Paul's reference to "worship of angels" (2:18) and the nature of the

heresy in Colosse also point to their being angels.

          Are the angels that were "disarmed" (literally, "stripped

off"47) good or evil or both? A common view is that they are evil an-

gels. "Christ divested Himself at the cross of the evil powers which

had struggled with Him so strongly throughout His ministry in at-

tempts to force Him to abandon the pathway of the cross."48 Others

suggest that Christ was stripping good angels of their position as

mediators of the Law (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). This interpre-

tation fits with the Jewish preoccupation with angelic mediation

and reverence, which distracted believers from Christ, the true ob-

ject of the Christian's worship. Paul's emphasis in Colossians 2:8-10

on Christ's deity bolsters this view. However, in Colossians 2:15

perhaps both good and evil angels are included in the "rulers and au-

thorities," since the point of verses 9-15 is the supremacy of Christ

and His work of redemption and the fact that nothing earthly or

heavenly was unaffected by His work on the cross. If evil angels

(demons) are included in verse 15, then Christ's control over all His

foes is a comfort to God's people in spiritual warfare against demonic

forces. In addition to giving this comfort, verse 15 probably also

points up the centrality of Christ, who is the only way to God.


     Comparison of Pauline Christology in Colossians with the

                       Johannine View of Christ as Creator


          Paul's statements about Christ as Creator are strikingly similar

to some of the Apostle John's writings. In John 1:1, 14 Christ is the

lo<goj, a term well known to Greek philosophers of the day. The

lo<goj of the secular Greek world meant world principle, ultimate re-

ality, the source of all wisdom.49 So as John began his letter, he used

a term familiar to his readers, but he related it to Christ. In John's

prologue he affirmed Christ's preexistence and deity, as did Paul in

Colossians. Christ's work as Creator is similar in John and Colos-

sians. "All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him noth-

ing came into being that has come into being" (John 1:3). "For by Him

all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible


47 O'Brien, Colossians and Philemon, 127.

48 Johnson, "The Complete Sufficiency of Union with Christ," 20.

49 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 115.


192               Bibliotheca Sacra / April—June 1992


and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authori-

ties—all things have been created by Him and for Him" (Col. 1:16).

          John and Paul were communicating to their respective audiences

that Jesus Christ is God, equal in essence to the Father, and is the

Creator, and therefore is worthy of worship and admiration. This

was a concept difficult for polytheistic Greeks to accept, and it also

shook the foundations of monotheistic Judaism. For a person to claim

equality with the Yahweh of the Old Testament was considered

blasphemy, which called for punishment by death. In the end, the

Jews' refusal to acknowledge Christ as the Messiah, equal with God

the Father, led to Jesus' death on the cross.

          Even the Lord's disciples had a difficult time grasping the con-

cept of who Christ is. As His earthly ministry was coming to an end,

Philip asked Him for a glimpse of the Father (John 14:3). He

wanted to see God. Jesus answered, "Have I been so long with you,

and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me

has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (v. 9).

Similarly the Colossian Christians read that Jesus is the ei]kw<n of

the invisible God (Col. 1:15). Both John 14:9 and Colossians 1:15 fo-

cus on Jesus Christ as truly God, coexisting with the Father from eter-

nity past. Anything that would dilute this doctrine detracts from

and misrepresents Christ's Person and work.




:    y

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