Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (April 1992) 180-92.
Copyright © 1992 by
Doctrinal Issues in Colossians
Part 2 (of 4 parts):
The Doctrine of Christ
H. Wayne House
Vice-president for Academic Affairs
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.
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
1 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians,
International Commentary on the New Testament (
Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 42.
The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians 181
CHRIST IN CREATION (COL. 1:15-17)
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.
suggests supremacy, not temporality.7
ignated as God's firstborn (Exod. 4:22), and yet many other nations
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"
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
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.
182 Bibliotheca Sacra / April–June 1992
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 (
versity Press, 1953), 76.
11 See H. Wayne House,
"Heresies in the
Issues in Colossians," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (January—March 1992): 45-59.
The Doctrine of Christ in Colossians 183
having created the angels clearly makes angel worship
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
("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
and Philemon, Hermenia (
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.
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
CHRIST IN REDEMPTION (COL. 1:18-20)
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 (
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
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
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.
Based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1 (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), 739.
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
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
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,
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
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.
ALL THE PLHRWMA OF DEITY DWELLS IN CI IRIST (2:9)
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 (
dervan, 1982), 409.
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.
THE CHRISTIAN IS COMPLETE IN CHRIST (2:10-14)
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
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
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
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
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
CHRIST IS THE AUTHORITY OVER ALL ANGELIC BEINGS (2:15)
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
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
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.
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