The first Creation
   1. The perfect similarity
   2. The first-born
   3. King of Creation
   4. Sustainer of the universe
The second Creation
   1. Christ, the Head
      a. Source and authority
      b. Head for the sake of the Church
      c. Growth in the Body
   2. The new Creator
   3. The incarnation
   4. The reconciliation of Creation
The old Creation and the new

It would be nice to be able to write some perceptive thoughts about why this six verse ‘Christology’ appears at this juncture in Paul and Timothy’s letter to the Colossians and to hint at how it might have originated as an older hymn or creed which the authors were using to declare the Truth about Jesus to their readers.

Unfortunately, having read some of the introductory passages which the commentators have written on the subject, I despair as to whether anything is actually perceivable from the text except by a subjective assessment of what might have been the case almost two thousand years ago.

While Colcar seems to ignore any meaningful discussion totally unless included in the comments he makes on individual verses, Colbruce writes only, perhaps, a page and a half (assessed by deducting the vast length of footnotes from the three pages of type) to cover one of the most significant statements about Jesus found anywhere in the NT. I can appreciate both commentators’ opting for caution here, for the volume of text which both Colwright and Colbrien commit to paper may well be worth reading but only serves the reader in baffling him if any definitive view was ever possible.

Colwright spends six pages of the commentary laying down a few short suggestions as to the overall plausibility of some of the accepted and disputed structures before briefly attempting a foundational statement of why Paul might have drawn out the truths there expounded from Judaism’s monotheism but how he also reworked them to fit them into Christianity’s service.

Colbrien, on the other hand, is the longest at eleven pages and he chooses - quite perceptively, I believe - to list, paragraph by paragraph, different theories as to the literary style of the Greek, the background out of which it would have sprung and the authorship of the ‘hymn’ or ‘creed’ which is generally accepted as being the background from which Paul and Timothy developed their message. Each of these seem possible, however, and, if only one theory stood up with any strong arguments in its favour, we might have long since opted for it at the expense of all the others and become united in our consideration of the background of the passage. Unfortunately, this is something in which scholars and believers alike have never shared harmonised opinions.

Personally, I don’t believe there’s too much that we can accurately obtain from the passage that will stand the test of time and which can be seen to be objective. The best approach appears to me to be to get on with the passage as it’s come down to us and accept it as being a further illumination that was delivered to the body of believers in Colossae for whatever reason that’s now lost to us for, even here, we might suggest that it was written to correct false doctrine, to remind the believers the importance of the One they were serving and who they were being led astray to forsake or, simply, that the authors were inspired in their writing and chose to declare the truth here recorded because they got caught up with a revelation of God that they found hard to suppress!

There’s certainly no good basis for attempting a rewriting of what must have been the original Greek as it would have appeared in the original ‘creed’ that would have run smoothly and have made it easy to remember - for not only might Paul and Timothy have added sections (which we may accurately be able to identify and so eliminate) but they may have eliminated other lines which cannot now be reconstructed. All such attempts at an ‘original’, therefore, must be considered futile.

Besides these considerations, I’m certainly not qualified to go into the Greek construction of the text and comment at how it’s been put together in a ‘chiasmus’ that can be written in a poetic style. This is all beyond me even though many readers and commentators can find great delight in examining the finer points.

For me, it’s enough that Paul and Timothy, having spoken about the present experience of the Colossian believers as a fulfilment of the Exodus of the OT (Col 1:12b-14) seem transported into an aside through their mention of the ‘beloved Son’ (Col 1:13) just as they seem to have been previously compelled to speak of the Father’s gracious work of salvation as they mentioned their prayer that the believers might give thanks to God the Father (Col 1:12a).

Indeed, this seems to be the bottom line for the reason of why the sentence in the Greek runs continuously from Col 1:9 through to the end of Col 1:23. It seems to me that Paul and Timothy become so caught up with the greatness of God, with His work and His Son that they find themselves catapulted into going off at a tangent to relate to the Colossians the first thing that comes into their head while, all the time, keeping their eyes fixed on the Author of everything that they’ve both received and experienced.

Whether Col 1:15-20 really was a hymn or creed that was in existence before Paul and Timothy used it as part of the content of their letter is wholly irrelevant, therefore. What is important is to understand what it is they’re saying to the church and the significance of the Truth for us as modern day followers of Jesus Christ.

That the all-sufficiency of Jesus is proclaimed here is certain - the sad matter of those who profess faith in Him in our current fellowships is not just that some deny the truth of these statements but that, even worse, we may pay lip service to the verses and yet not live in their reality. Probably fundamental to our entire theological structure is whether we believe that Jesus was instrumental in a literal Creation in which He spoke into existence all those things that can now be seen - the theory of evolution has so infiltrated the Church in this present age that, even from the opening few words, a different ‘interpretation’ of what it must mean to be the first-born of Creation cannot help but be based upon an accepted scientific theory which contradicts Genesis chapters 1 and 2.

We can also speak of Jesus as being (Col 1:18)

‘the Head of the body, the Church...’

and then refuse to follow His lead or to obey His clearly revealed will to ourselves as individuals and even, corporately, as a local fellowship in any given area. Theology is all well and good - and vitally necessary if we’re to know Him in truth - but when it stays as head knowledge and doesn’t get translated into a lifestyle and right conduct, it’s of no use to the possessor. Indeed, it becomes misleading for we vainly imagine that we have something that we’re sadly lacking.

So, of prime importance is a careful understanding of Paul and Timothy’s meaning and an application to an individual’s life that they might live in the reality of that which is contained therein. Scholars who see something amiss in the Colossian fellowship that this letter was sent to correct also tend to hold up these six verses and assert that the high position that the writers lift Jesus into by their words was specifically designed to counter the vain religion that they were being tempted to give themselves over to, that their new ‘leadings’ took them away from under the one, true God who was all things to all men and into spiritual backwaters that dealt with incidentals.

Whether this is true or not, it seems plausible but, like all the other theories associated with it, totally impossible to be certain about!

Poetic styles and subjective considerations about origins and reasons for writing are all well and good - but the bottom line is whether we live the simple and plain truth of the passage in our everyday lives. If the reader is interested to avail themselves of some background as to what the ‘scholars’ believe, it seems to me that Colbrien’s notes would be a good introduction from where he or she may go on to cover the individual theories in more depth by recourse to the more technical works listed there.

Having said all this about background, we can therefore move on to note at the outset that Col 1:15-20 seems to be clearly divided into two sections, the first of which (Col 1:15-17) deals with the presence of Jesus at the dawn of Creation and His continuing relationship to it while the second (Col 1:18-20) moves on to the second Creation - the re-creation or restoration of Creation - that His coming to earth achieved.

There are also direct parallels between certain verses in the first and the second - parallels that show how the nature of who He is in the original Creation is mirrored in the outworking in the new. And here lies the major reason why many scholars consider what Paul and Timothy wrote as having been originally composed beforehand - simply because it seems too implausible to think of them as having put together a short passage as they dictated which held together as closely as this does.

We’ll look at these at the end of the notes on the individual verses and also parallel them with what’s found in the letter to the Hebrews but, for now, we might summarise the two sections in the form of two lines of description:

Col 1:15-17 - Jesus in His deity - the first Creation - Christ, God by nature, King by having created

Col 1:18-20 - Jesus in His humanity - the new Creation - Christ, God incarnate, King by the cross, resurrection and ascension

The first Creation
Col 1:15-17

In this first of the two sections, we must try and restrict ourselves to a consideration of Jesus from the perspective of the first Creation and of His relationship to both it and the Father.

That the doctrine of a literal Creation has suffered much under the hands of science in the past two hundred years has been apparent in the infiltration of the theory of evolution - altered to make it more palatable to the believer in the two common forms called ‘the gap theory’ and ‘the day-age theory’ (see my notes on ‘Creation’ for an explanation of these) - and many of those who profess faith in Jesus Christ seem to find no contradiction between their own secular held views and the statements of Paul and others like him.

Indeed, they seem to find no problem in believing the infallibility of the Bible, either, but just how that’s managed is beyond my grasp.

Creation, then, is fundamental to a correct understanding of the relationship of Jesus Christ with both those things which have been created and with the Father who brought all things into being through Him. The Christology presented to the reader here must stand or fall with it and no amount of attempts at a reconciliation of the two can be seen to be an unqualified success.

Creation is as fundamental a doctrine for the believer today as it’s always been, seeing as it’s the basis upon which the new birth is perfectly explained which sits as a fulfilment of the promise given to man through the Fall.

1. The perfect similarity
Col 1:15a

Sometimes our problem as we approach the Scriptures is that we have preconceived ideas and theologies that we impose upon the text in question and so, miraculously, glean from certain verses what we already thought was there without attempting a fresh and independent assessment of what it might actually mean.

One such passage is this short half-verse which we take as meaning that Jesus is the perfect representation of God in human form. As we’ll go on to see, this is correct but only obtainable by recourse to other Scriptures which make it all the more plain and obvious for, if we were to have one statement about Jesus being God’s ‘image’, we would have to confess that it could be taken a number of ways because of the various ways the Greek word is used.

This word (Strongs Greek number 1504) can mean no more than ‘likeness’ where we might say that there are certain similarities between two objects that cause us to consider them - in some minor or major way - as being related. Therefore, we might say that a pig is like a sheep because it has four legs, a nose, ears and eyes, that it’s a mammal and that it’s a food source for many other mammals. What we couldn’t say is that the sheep is a perfect representation of the pig and no one would take our statement concerning similarities to mean that.

It’s used to mean less than ‘a perfect representation’ in the NT as well. So, for example, Jesus speaks to the Herodians and Pharisees in Mtw 22:20 and asks them concerning the coin which they’ve brought before Him

‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’

where the head which features on one side is a likeness but not a perfect one, a representation of who Caesar is but not meant to be so lifelike that one thinks that it’s none other than the man himself. Vines calls it an example of a usage where

‘...a representation is derived from the prototype’

and he cites other Scriptures which demonstrate the point. Clearly the word is being used in a way that doesn’t insist on a perfect representation being meant. I Cor 11:7 is also a verse which we should consider for Paul notes that

‘...a man ought not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God...’

It’s certainly true that man was created to bear the likeness of God (Gen 1:26) and to be His image, His likeness, throughout the created order wherever he was to go, but equality with God is not an issue here and the Scripture shouldn’t be pressed to make it sound as if the apostle is insisting that a man is the perfect representation of God on earth. Therefore, when Vines defines the Greek word as involving

‘...the two ideas of representation and manifestation’

and then goes on to interpret Col 1:15 as meaning that the phrase ‘the image of the invisible God’

‘ the additional thought suggested by the word “invisible” that Christ is the visible representation and manifestation of God to created beings...essentially and absolutely the perfect expression and representation of...God the Father...’

he’s doing more than the Scripture strictly calls for. Indeed, he quotes Lightfoot at the very beginning of his article, noting that the concept of perfection isn’t inherent within the word

‘...but must be sought from the context’

Kittels begins by noting that the word can be employed to speak variously of an image either

‘ an artistic a mental image...[or] as a likeness or manifestation’

but then comments that, in the Colossian passage (italics added and a translation added for the Greek word used)

‘...the stress is on the equality of the Image [Jesus] with the Original [the Father]. Christ is in the form of God and equal to God (Cp Phil 2:6)’

though there are three authors for the article on this Greek word and I can’t help but think that, after reading each of them, their individual ideas as to what Col 1:15 means in reality are slightly different to one another! Colcar also states unequivocally that

‘The Son is the only perfect representation of the perfect revelation to men of the invisible God’

Before we get too carried away with these foundational truths, we need to stop and ask ourselves whether such statements are really honest to the context - as Vines has already pointed out - and that they can be clearly discerned from the passage. Personally, I don’t believe they can be, even though what the commentators lay down as being Paul and Timothy’s intention by making such a statement is certainly accurate from other NT passages.

But, to get to where the authors are coming from, we need to first begin by looking at some statements in the OT which speak about God’s invisibility. In fact, not only in the Hebrew Scriptures but also in the NT, it’s plainly taught that the eternal God, the Creator, cannot be seen face to face by mankind (Ex 33:20, John 1:18, 6:46, I Tim 6:16) though, on the other hand, it’s plain from a number of passages that God chose to reveal Himself to men in human form in the OT (Ex 24:9-11, Joshua 5:13-15, Is 6:5, Ezek 1:26) thus preparing the way for the NT concept of Jesus Christ being the perfect representation and manifestation of God in the flesh.

Therefore John records Jesus’ own words (John 14:9) that

‘...He who has seen Me has seen the Father...’

and the writer of Heb 1:3 can speak of Jesus as bearing

‘...the very stamp of his nature...’

being not merely like God but a true and perfect revelation of Him to mankind. Even a few verses further on in the letter to the Colossians (Col 1:19 - and which provides the parallel truth which sees Him as the perfection of God on earth through the Incarnation), the authors will announce plainly that

‘ Him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell’

and confirm it later by announcing to their readers (Col 2:9) that

‘ Him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily’

It’s plain, therefore, from other NT Scriptures that what commentators take as being Paul and Timothy’s meaning at this point is not something which is out of character with what we find elsewhere in both the Old and New Testaments but is in harmony with the specific statements that we have concerning Jesus Christ. While Colcar sounds out a similar warning that

‘It is true that the phrase “the image of God” does not essentially involve the idea of perfection...’

he’s quick to point out that it’s difficult to take it to mean anything else because

‘ must be interpreted against the background of the whole context in which the unique revelation of God given by the Son is clearly and fully declared’

The human race was created in God’s image, in His likeness (Gen 1:26), originally created to be a reflection of God’s nature and character though, through sin, this is marred. But Jesus, after whose likeness man was created, is the perfect representation of humanity so that in Him we see all that mankind was intended to be before the Fall in Adam and the entry of sin into the human race. It’s not surprising, then, that believers are intended to grow and develop into His likeness (Rom 8:29, Eph 4:24) and so restore the nature of God back into the earth through themselves by the presence of Jesus. Colbruce comments that

‘It is because man in the created order bears the image of His Creator that the Son of God could become incarnate as man and in His humanity display the glory of the invisible God’

In other words, it’s only because God based man’s character on His own (that is, upon Jesus) that He can become human and be a perfect representation of both God and man at the same time and in the same Person. Jesus is all that man is intended to be because He is the reality of the image which was created in mankind at the beginning of the world and at the beginning of the new birth.

We probably make too much out of the use of the Greek word translated ‘invisible’ here for we normally see in its usage the implication in the word ‘image’ as meaning that the incarnation is in view. That is, the image being spoken of is the revelation of His nature that the Son brought to mankind while on earth.

However, the mention of invisibility seems only to establish the identity of the God about whom Paul is talking to be the Jewish God of the OT who’s reflected in those things which were created by Him (Rom 1:20) but who also declared Himself to be unseeable (see the Scriptures cited above).

God’s invisibility, therefore, is mentioned to make way for the statement of Col 1:19 that the fulness of God was pleased to take up residence in the incarnate Son of God so that what was invisible has now been made both observable and knowable. Although there are implications in the statement concerning the incarnation, what’s in view initially is Jesus’ relationship to both the eternal Father, the Creation and to the subsequent created order.

Colwright sees history both finished in Jesus and newly begun when he writes that

‘...the true humanity of Jesus is the climax of the history of Creation and at the same time the starting point of the new creation’

so that Jesus is a perfect representation of the initial order and, at the same time, the perfect representation of all that believers are now called to become - and all this because God’s intended image for mankind cannot change unless His own character had somehow changed.

Jesus, therefore, is meant to be both the perfect representation and manifestation of God into the world - and, at the same time, the perfection of what it meant to be a man according to God’s original will. Jesus, then, is the God-man who summates everything perfect about both aspects in the one Person.

But here, at the opening of the short six verse Christology, the idea is to begin with a statement about Jesus as He is at the beginning of the Creation and not to project that forward into the NT until the parallel statement of Col 1:19. Even though this is what both myself and other commentators have fallen into the trap of doing and, indeed, seem compelled to have to do in order to explain the implications of the verse. Paul and Timothy aren’t thinking of Jesus as the first created Being from whom everything was designed but the One who was the Origin of everything as God is.

They thus place Jesus as co-equal with the Father, as having a perfect similarity to Him and, because He’s in the beginning, lay the foundation for their further statements concerning His relationship to the first Creation.

2. The first-born
Col 1:15b-16a

Although many have taken the phrase

‘...the first-born of all Creation’

as something which stands alone and needs an individual comment, we should, rather, include the following phrase

‘...for in Him all things were created...’

which causes our interpretations to become more balanced and in-keeping with what Paul and Timothy seem to be implying by their first statement. We shall look at this latter statement under the next heading but a brief explanation will be given here and how it relates into the proclamation of Jesus as being the first-born.

Both the Hebrew word (Strongs Hebrew number 1060) and the Greek (Strongs Greek number 4416) are wholly unremarkable though, perhaps, we should note that the latter, according to Kittels, is a rare word outside the NT and is unknown in any texts prior to its use in the LXX. The regular and obvious meaning of both of these is ‘the one born first’ as one would have expected but it’s the implications of what the first-born stood for and what he was expected to receive that bleed over to many of the uses both in the OT and the new.

As early as Gen 10:15, the first-born is singled out for mention in the genealogical line of Canaan where it notes that he

‘...became the father of Sidon his first-born...’

in a straightforward and non-technical use. This is how it continues to be used in the book of Genesis with little or no explanation (Gen 22:21, 25:13) until we reach the story of Esau and Jacob and their individual attempts to gain the blessing of their father Isaac (Gen 27:35-37). Once Esau sees that he’s been tricked, he responds by saying

‘[Jacob] took away my birthright and, behold, now he has taken away my blessing’

Esau was the first-born son (Gen 25:25) and to him belonged both the birthright and the blessing. This birthright was what went with being the first to emerge from the womb and Jacob’s plotting to receive the blessing was founded in his careful strategy of removing the birthright from his brother earlier on through an incident when Esau so despised his right of priority that he willingly sold it for a plate of food (Gen 25:29-34).

As one would have expected, this idea of ‘priority’ is inherent in the word - after all, to be the first-born is tantamount to saying that you’re the first. What it came to mean amongst the patriarchs, however, was that the one who was born first was expected to receive a special provision that would set him apart from any of his other brothers.

A similar set up occurred when Joseph brought his two sons to receive the blessing from their grandfather, Jacob (Genesis chapter 48). Ephraim, although the second born (Gen 41:51-52), received the blessing of the first-born much to his father’s displeasure and confusion (Gen 48:17-19). The right hand was a symbol of strength and power and the fact that Ephraim chose to place this hand upon his head showed the belief of Jacob, the grandfather, that

‘...[Ephraim] shall be greater than [Manasseh] and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations’

Not only could the first-born lose his position of pre-eminence above his brothers through no apparent fault of his own, but he could forfeit that right by his behaviour as in the case of Reuben who slept with his father’s concubine (Gen 35:22, I Chr 5:1 - the birthright was given over to the sons of Joseph) and so was removed from that position of importance by his father when he came to the blessing of the brothers upon his deathbed (Gen 49:3-4).

This ability to remove the position of importance from the first-born seems to have been a regular occurrence and, though there were good reasons for transferring it to another brother in the situations we’ve seen above, it may have become more of an arbitrary appointment by the time of the giving of the Mosaic Law for legislation was inaugurated which forbade it.

We find this in Deut 21:15-17 where it’s commanded that whichever son was the first-born had to receive the double portion when the inheritance was being distributed amongst the family, even if the man had two wives and he despised the first woman who had given him the first-born. This doesn’t, of course, forbid the transfer of birthrights under every circumstance and the Law is fairly specific as to the scenario that’s being legislated against, but it does show that the right of the first-born male was taken with seriousness and that he was expected to have been born into a position of privilege and rank over and above that of his other brothers.

There still seems to have been occasions when the son who wasn’t the first-born was chosen to be the chief over his brothers though what the reasons were are not always obvious (I Chr 26:10)

This idea of privilege and superiority is transferred into its figurative use when used of both individuals and groups of people. In Ex 4:22-23, Moses is commanded to say to Pharaoh

‘...Israel is My first-born son and I say to you “Let My son go that he may serve Me”; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son’

The idea of the children of Israel being God’s first-born son is tied up with them being the first (and only) nation that He entered into a covenant with, initially through their fathers, to elevate them above all those other peoples who lived distinct from them. It spoke to them of their position of both privilege and rank for they were the people who were specially chosen by God to represent Him throughout the earth (see also Jer 31:9 where Ephraim is singled out for mention as God’s first-born where the idea seems to be that the tribe was a people through whom God had decided to raise up leadership for the sake of His people Israel).

The judgment which fell on the Egyptians, therefore, that all their first-born would die - when the first-born was regarded with special favour and considered to be of more importance than any of the sons which were born after them - was a work of God that struck at the very heart of Egyptian society by removing their ‘strength’ and ‘rank’ from out of their midst. To be able to remove each and every first-born showed that the power of the nation was being undermined and judged not only in symbolic terms but through the ancient belief that the first to come from the womb was pre-eminent (Ex 12:12,29).

Through this act of judgment, then, God set apart all the nation’s first-born sons to be a people who were to stand in a special relationship to Him (Ex 13:2, 22:29) and who were probably being designated as the chosen priesthood for God’s service had it not been for the incident concerning the golden calf which tore that right away from them and onto the tribe of Levi (Num 3:12-13, 3:40-41, Ex 32:25-29).

This elevation of the first-born into a position of privilege and rank above their brothers continues to occur in the OT. II Chr 21:3 is a clear example of a situation where the sovereignty of the first-born was based upon birthright rather than necessarily any ability to rule which the individual might possess, the Scripture recording (my italics) that

‘Their father [Jehoshaphat] gave them great gifts of silver, gold and valuable possessions, together with fortified cities in Judah; but he gave the kingdom to Jehoram, because he was the first-born

a decision which proved to be not only of great disgrace for the nation when he pulled them away from devotion to YHWH (II Chr 21:5-20) but almost the end of the Davidic line through the eventual ascendancy of Athaliah, the wife of Jehoram (II Chr 22:1ff). Being the granddaughter of Omri (II Chr 22:2) meant that she was Jezebel’s daughter, the wife of Ahab (I Kings 16:29,31). Even though Jehoshaphat was a righteous king before God who did much to bring back the nation to a devotion to YHWH, by his adherence to the written Law and even by faithfully giving his first-born son pre-eminence, he effectively destroyed what good he’d done throughout his reign.

There are only a handful of figurative uses in the OT which use the first-born as a symbol of something other than a literal meaning. We’ve already noted Ex 4:22-23 above where the nation of Israel was spoken of as God’s first-born and, to this, we should also note Ps 89:27 where, referring to the coming Davidic king promised to David as the One who would soon rule over everything, Ethan the author notes God’s words as announcing that

‘...I will make Him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth’

Even though the One who was to come in fulfilment might not be the One who would naturally be chosen to sit as Sovereign over the earth, nevertheless God would cause that individual to be raised up into a position of elevated rank and position over all people. Jesus was the first-born Son of Mary (Luke 2:7) but the idea behind the Scripture is not that Jesus is accepted as Sovereign over all by a natural qualification but that God goes out of His way to appoint Him as such.

The only other figurative use in the OT that I could find was in Job 18:13 where Bildad answers Job by speaking of the lot of the wicked and observing that

‘...his skin is consumed, the first-born of death consumes his limbs’

where this use of ‘first-born’ seems to need an interpretation that implies strength (see also Ps 78:51 and 105:36 where this appears to be implied) - that death is pictured as having a power over the sons of men and that it’s the most concerted effort which would be employed against the wicked to consume from off the face of the earth.

The phrase ‘first-born’, therefore, could be used to denote a position of privilege and, although it’s used literally of the first son born within a family in the vast majority of cases, it wasn’t unknown for it to be used of an individual or object that wasn’t the first-born to denote that special position which they had or were to achieve. Kittels observes that

‘In the family, the first-born take precedence; this is the basis of the later transferred use’

and Colwright defines the concept used in Col 1:15 as indicating

‘...priority in both time and rank’

and it’s this concept which seems to bleed over into the NT use of the word. The problem which has confronted the commentator as they approach Col 1:15 has been that it sounds like Paul and Timothy are inferring that Jesus is a created being, subservient to God the Father and not equal with God as other parts of the NT clearly claim. It’s not that such a wrong teaching can’t be gleaned from the verse as Colwright observes, but that it doesn’t mean this is clear even from John 8:58 (and John 1:1) where Jesus is recorded as claiming divinity in His pronouncement of the divine name as fitting to be used of Himself. Zondervan comments on the verse by stating that it’s

‘...a statement misunderstood by Arians of the fourth century and modern day Jehovah Witnesses who make [Jesus] a created being and not God. The proper meaning is that Christ, truly God, stands in a relationship of priority and sovereignty over all Creation’

As I stated at the very beginning of this section, the statement about Jesus being the first-born must be understood in the light of the first part of Col 1:16 which follows and which begins with the word ‘because’ or ‘for’. Jesus, the first-born, is explained in that everything (where the Greek is an absolute statement meaning ‘the totality’ - see the next section) came into existence in Him - not merely through Him or for Him (Col 1:16c) but in Him.

That is, the concept being announced is that nothing was created outside Jesus Christ’s supremacy - all things, the totality of Creation (and, hence Jesus’ pre-existence is assumed) were created in subjection to Him. The totality of Creation couldn’t have been created in Him if He was a created being: only God who pre-exists all things can truly be said to have the totality in Him. Therefore, far from suggesting Christ as having been created (as a quick reading might suggest), it proclaims His divinity, pre-existence and sovereignty.

If we take the statement ‘first-born’ as being equivalent to saying that Jesus is first in rank over all that goes after Him, it makes good sense of the statement that Jesus is the first-born among many brethren (Rom 8:29) which sees Him as the ‘prototype’ that mankind is to aspire to and the head over all those who are following after doing the Father’s will - it’s Jesus that men and women have been predestined to become like simply because He’s the perfect image of mankind having been the One from whom mankind was originally brought into being (see the previous section). Here it can also mean ‘the first’ in a sense which would be incorrect to use in Col 1:15 but which is perfectly in-keeping with it’s strictly literal sense in the OT.

Statements dealing with Jesus being the first-born from the dead (Col 1:18, Rev 1:5) also speak of His importance as being the One who sits at the head of the final resurrection of all the dead because of His priority in being raised to a position of unequalled authority and dominion. Jesus not only has priority in rank and time before the initial Creation but, in Col 1:18, Paul and Timothy will teach His priority again in the new creation of God that has come through the work of the cross and the victory of the resurrection.

3. King of Creation
Col 1:16

In the previous verse, we noted how the first half of Col 1:16 is the best commentary on Col 1:15 and the statement that Jesus is the first-born of all Creation. Here, though, we’ll look at it in the context of the entire verse at the head of which it stands even though the verse with the Greek word which could be translated ‘because’ and which is put there deliberately to give an explanation of what’s preceded it ties it in to a previous thought.

Jesus, then, is considered as first in time and rank over all Creation because

‘ Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him’

The phrase ‘all things’ occurs four times in Col 1:15-20 and means literally ‘the all’ or ‘the totality’ referring to the Creation. Its significance for the reader is that nothing can be left outside this phrase when applied to a situation, especially when the definite article is used in the Greek to precede it - it’s used without the article in Col 1:17 in the phrase ‘before all things’ and in Col 1:18 in ‘in all things’ which makes the word used a total of six times - or eight if the adjective is also counted, occurring in Col 1:15 in ‘all Creation’ and Col 1:19 in ‘all the fulness’). Colwright notes that

‘All the Greek has an article indicating that Paul sees this created world as a single whole (that is, ‘the totality’)’

and Vines that, when the Greek word is used with the article

‘ means the whole of one object’

Being used of the Creation throughout this passage, Paul and Timothy are careful to show how the entire Creation is in relationship to Jesus as the Creator. Jesus cannot be part of its totality if He brought it into being - if it was made both through Him and for Him - so the authors proclaim His divinity and pre-existence.

Having stated initially that all things were created in Jesus (the Greek preposition can also mean ‘by’ as the NIV translates it, but this obliterates the clear statements in this verse that in, through and to Jesus all things have been created - see below), the authors proceed to outline what they mean by some clear examples which elevate Jesus into a position of unequalled authority from which it’s impossible to miss the implications.

He begins, though, by commenting on ‘heaven and earth’ as being in Him, making the way to define power and authority structures by the twofold ‘visible’ (that is, earthly kingdoms and empires) and ‘invisible’ (that is, the angelic principalities and powers). The fourfold description of

‘...thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities...’

is intended to outline all positions of delegated authority created by Jesus as a whole rather than as defining specific and individual types which limit His rule. These ‘heads’, part of the totality of Creation, were all created by Christ as Creator and, therefore, in subjection to Him (whether they acknowledge it or not) and this is the burden of the verse rather than for the commentator to feel it necessary to individually define each of the four areas of sovereignty mentioned.

It doesn’t matter that either small or great authorities on the earth refuse to confess Jesus as Lord, they only have the power they do because, in the context of the entire Creation, they’ve been permitted to exercise it - everything which exists does so within the overall framework which was brought into being in Jesus and, therefore, nothing is left outside His control (Heb 2:8). Later, in Col 2:15, Paul will show that all these which have refused to submit to God’s will have been defeated through His victory on the cross - the Creator who ruled by right became the One who defeated all the power of the enemy to earn the right to rule on humanity’s behalf and as humanity.

This idea of all Creation being created in Jesus is a difficult concept for a man to accept but, if we were to put it into literal physical language, we could parallel it by saying that anything which took place within the boundaries of my own house, naturally belongs under my ownership and authority because I own the space within which it exists (even though, for some unknown reason, the burglar in the UK now has more rights over the master of the house than he deserves by having put himself under another’s rule and against that person’s will).

In the same way, anything created in Jesus must also belong to Him and there can be no ultimate escape from the position of being there. All things were created in Him so that all things owe their allegiance to Him and should obey Him.

Paul also notes in Athens before those gathered to hear him speak about the Way, a word acknowledged by him as a fitting description of the unseen God (Acts 17:28) that

‘...“In him we live and move and have our being” as even some of your poets have said...’

That men and women live in God’s presence because He’s everywhere is being proclaimed here in Acts but it’s also implied in Col 1:16 where the created order being in Jesus equates Him with God and announces to the Colossians His omnipresence.

Not only is the universe’s creation within Jesus make for His position of supremacy over it, but it also hints at His abiding presence within.

We’ve already seen how the opening of the verse states that all things were made ‘in Him’ and that this is the reason why Jesus is considered to be the first-born - that is, the first in rank and privilege - over the entire Creation. At the end of the verse, Paul also concludes by noting that

‘...all things [the totality] were created through Him and [to] Him’

where my last square parentheses notes the literal reading which the RSV decides to translate ‘for’, so hiding the meaning. Rom 11:36 is the best complete statement regarding the Creation where Paul writes that

‘...from Him and through Him and to Him are all things’

Moffat’s translation of the Bible sums it up perfectly at this point and is a commentary in itself when it renders it

‘All comes from Him, all lives by Him, all ends in Him’

Here we have Jesus as central to everything and anything that comes about. Jesus is the origin from which everything springs, the route by which everything comes to pass and the conclusion towards which all Creation is being directed - the last two of which are identical phrases to those which occur in Col 1:16.

It has to be noted that the verse in Romans is more specifically referring to God the Father but, because Jesus is paralleled in Colossians with a similar function, we’re compelled to think of Jesus as being the One who’s the fulfilment also of all three.

The second of the three (‘through Him’) is commented on by Colbruce that

‘...He is denoted as the agent by whom God brought the universe into being’

and, though some commentators interpret the phrase to denote Jesus as the ‘Sustainer’ rather than the ‘means’ of bringing the created order into being, the truth appears to be that Creation did not come into being solely by Christ but through Him (and confirmed in the NT in I Cor 8:6, Heb 1:2, 2:20, John 1:3 and 1:10), denoting the action of God the Father through the work of the Son, not operating independently but in unison (John 5:19).

But all things, according to the third of the phrases (‘to Him’ - echoed in Heb 2:10 also), have been created also for His own specific purpose. This is the obvious meaning of the RSV’s translation ‘for’ but we should note that it more rightly means ‘to Him’ and, therefore, the thought is that whatever is now in existence was and is being sustained that it might find its conclusion eventually in Jesus Christ.

Although the Creation may be rebelling against the King’s rule, it will eventually find itself concluded in Him because it’s been created to point towards and to move towards Jesus as the goal of everything. Therefore Eph 1:10 talks about the plan of God

‘ unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth’

and continues by noting that God ‘gives power to’ all things that His will might be brought about (Eph 1:11). Colwright sees in the three phrases of Col 1:16 a declaration concerning Jesus about His past, present and future work when he speaks about it moving

‘...from the past (Christ as agent of Creation) to the present (Christ as the One to whom the world owes allegiance) and to the future (Christ whose sovereignty will become universal)...’

but, although this must be accepted as one aspect of the truth which can be gleaned from the threefold pronouncement in this verse, the fundamental meaning seems to be slightly different.

Paul’s thought in this one verse, then, from serving as an explanation of why Jesus is the first in rank and privilege over all Creation, turns to a proclamation of the essential nature of Jesus to everything. In Him everything came into existence, through His agency it was created and to Him everything created is ultimately leading. If this is the God that the Colossians are serving then there can be nothing or no one who can be of more importance than Jesus Christ.

4. Sustainer of the universe
Col 1:17

There are two thoughts in this verse - firstly, that of His priority and then, second, of His sustenance of those things which have been brought into being.

The first of these - which the RSV translates

‘He is before all things’

needs very little comment and seems to be more of a summation of what’s preceded it than anything new and fresh which is being brought to the Colossians’ attention. If these verses did start life as some sort of rhythmic creed which was easily rememberable then the interpolation of a minor phrase such as this one may have given it an ease of remembrance that it’s exclusion would have prevented.

Nevertheless, as we saw above, these considerations are no more than speculative - but it does seem strange that from a purely theological point of view, Paul and Timothy feel it necessary to state what could have been surmised from the previous two verses - that Jesus is prior to everything that has been brought into being.

However, this may not be the meaning of the Greek word employed and which the RSV translates ‘before all’ for, in both James 5:12 and I Peter 4:8, the translators choose rather to render the Greek as ‘above all’ where the idea of time isn’t in mind but of rank and supremacy, that something is to be done first because it’s considered to be of more importance than anything else. Colwright observes that the meaning of the word (my italics)

‘ ambiguous and probably refers again to the primacy of both time and rank’

Colbruce also noting that the phrase

‘...not only declares His temporal priority to the universe but also suggests His superiority over it...’

The reader is best not pressed into a choice between whether the word means first in rank or time for it’s quite likely that the ambiguity was quite deliberate on the part of the authors that both truths - which can be gleaned from what’s preceded - can be proclaimed in the one, short phrase.

The absolute statement that Jesus is before ‘the totality’ (see comments above) doesn’t occur here (there’s no article which precedes it) so we also shouldn’t press the phrase to prove Jesus’ uncreated nature - there’s plenty of foundational truth in the previous two verses which uphold this but the first half of Col 1:17 isn’t one of those.

Secondly - and more importantly for it brings to the readers’ attention some new truth which hasn’t yet been written - is the second phrase in which the authors announce that

‘ [Jesus] all things [the totality - see on Col 1:16] hold together’

where the thought moves on from what happened in the past and what’s being outworked as a fulfilment and goal of that initial Creation to a present and continuing work of Jesus in upholding the universe. The essential meaning of the Greek word translated ‘hold together’ (Strongs Greek number 4921) is something about which it’s difficult to be absolutely sure as there are different shades of meaning within its usage. However, the RSV’s translation is as good as any and the thought of Jesus as the Sustainer of all created matter (that is, the glue which holds it together) isn’t without parallel elsewhere. Colcar comments that

‘The philosopher may seek for a principle of coherence, a unity amid all the diversity of the world of sense; but in the Son the believer finds the true principle of coherence. It is His power alone which holds the Creation together’

This may not seem to be too much of a step forward from the OT stance on the matter where it can be easily seen that God is the Provider for all Creation in His universe (for example, Psalm 104 especially verses 27-30 and paralleled in Jesus’ statement in Mtw 5:45), but Paul and Timothy are taking a giant leap away from centring provision in the invisible God and saying that, without Jesus Christ, nothing is capable of survival - not just that God provides for all life but that in Jesus all things are actually being held together.

That is, not only is Jesus being equated with a function of God but His importance to the created order is elevated beyond what’s laid out in the OT. If man is left without air to breathe or food to eat, he will eventually die but, if he’s left by Christ for one moment, he’ll cease to exist altogether and there’s no chance of recovery as there would be from a temporary lack of air or shortage of food.

Jesus is not only the Originator of all life and of the created order but He must continually sustain it for it to exist. Therefore Colwright observes that the tense of the verb in this half-verse indicates (my italics) that

‘...everything has held together in Him and continues to do so

The thought is paralleled in Heb 1:3 (my italics) where Jesus is spoken of as bearing

‘...the very stamp of [God’s] nature, upholding the universe by His word of power...’

the picture being of One who must continually support Creation (by His word) if it’s to continue to exist. The Greek word translated ‘upholding’ (Strongs Greek number 5342) is more literally translated ‘carry’ which gives some indication of the total dependence upon Him that the universe has, reflected a little in the Amplified’s rendering and expansion of the phrase as

‘...upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe...’

The Apocrypha also echoes the NTs proclamation (though it refers it to God alone and not to the Messiah) in Sirach 43:26 where the author announces that

‘ His word all things hold together’

showing that the concept of God’s sustaining hand was certainly known in first century Israel. What Paul and Timothy do, however, is to take it one step further and to apply it to Jesus.

Crudely put, if God ever stopped speaking for one moment, the entirety of the created order would vanish for all time and God would, once more, be the only Being in existence.

Again, not only has Jesus created all things (Heb 1:2) but He must also bear it up continually or it would disintegrate totally. Deism - the liberal theology that God created the universe and then stood back to let it pursue its own course according to the principles sown into its framework (for example, time and gravity) only rarely - if at all - intervening into time and space is quite obviously hogwash (spiritual term - see glossary). The teaching here is that Jesus Christ is constantly active in His Creation.

J B Phillips’ translation of Col 1:17 (actually, it’s more of a paraphrase) is also worthy of note for he renders it

‘[Jesus] is both the First Principle and the Upholding Principle of the whole scheme of creation’

That is, He is the beginning and its continuance. This takes the Greek to mean ‘before all things’ as translated by the RSV and not ‘above all’ as I noted above, but it does bring out both the foundation upon which everything has come into existence and the continuing sustaining hand of Jesus for it to continue to both function and exist.

As we’ve seen throughout these three verses (Col 1:15-17), Paul and Timothy couldn’t elevate Jesus into a much more exalted and important position than they have done by their words. Whether what they’ve written is a reaction against the ‘heresies’ which have crept into the fellowship and which they’re writing to correct has already been noted in my introduction as being impossible to determine, but what we can say here with great certainty is that the Church - if they didn’t already realise it before - knows that the One who they’ve come to serve isn’t a minor deity amongst the pantheon of gods of the Mediterranean world, but the one true God from whom even the gods that others worship must derive an existence.

From this centring of Jesus as Originator, Sovereign and Sustainer of the Universe, the authors now turn their attention to His relationship to the new creation in which they find themselves (Col 1:18-20).

The second creation
Col 1:18-20

Paul and Timothy now turn their attention suddenly to the new creation - or the re-creation - in Jesus Christ and attempt to show how the same One who was central to the beginning of everything is now the same as He who’s brought the new into being. Indeed, unless one was looking out for a change of subject, one wouldn’t have noticed it by the way the authors add a simple ‘and’ to continue the thought of their teaching.

If we were convinced that this passage (Col 1:15-20) was drawn from an ancient hymn of celebration which the early Church sang, we might call Col 1:18-29 ‘verse 2’ (and there’s some reason for wondering why it’s never yet been put to music with a chorus after each of the two verses which reflects Jesus’ supremacy and pre-eminence - I must ring up Graham Kendrick...) where the statements of ‘verse 1’ find their ultimate fulfilment.

So, for instance, the one who’s the perfect representation of God (Col 1:15) is now the man who perfectly displays the character of God (Col 1:19) and the One who brought everything into being (Col 1:16) is also the One who’s taken it upon Himself to redeem what’s rebelled against Him (Col 1:20). There are truths here which need to be carefully thought about and, as I’ve griped about above, if a believer is taken up with the scientific theory of evolution and those of the ‘Big Bang’, one can hardly imagine whether this passage has the full relevance that it should.

Only if Jesus is the Creator can He also be the re-Creator - only if everything came into existence with the sole purpose of pointing towards and ultimately being concluded by Jesus Christ does the restoration make sense.

1. Christ, the Head
Col 1:18a

The first statement, although reading as straightforward to most people, is actually difficult to comment on with any great certainty due to, at best, the ambiguity of the Greek word from which we get ‘head’ and, at worst, the modern day interpretation which has been impinged upon its meaning and which is unlikely to have been intended by the two authors.

The idea of the Church being Jesus’ body is certain from other NT passages and can be fully accepted here even without the definition that Jesus is its Head. A few verses later on from our current verse in Col 1:24, it’s noted plainly that the Church can be considered to be Christ’s body as it is in other places (Rom 12:5, I Cor 12:12) and even used figuratively to bring home truth to those to whom the letters are being sent when the headship of Jesus over His body is not in mind - for example, in His discussions about the body of believers functioning together as a natural body would, Paul speaks of the head even when there’s no indication that Jesus is being referred to (I Cor 12:21).

It’s very easy for the reader to accept the equations

Body=the Church


Head=Jesus Christ

and apply them to all the occurrences of the words to get some very fanciful and misleading truth from them. Both ‘head’ and ‘body’ can be used not only literally but also in a number of other contexts and with various meanings and applications so that the reader must take care how the passages are best understood.

There’s no doubt, however, that when the body is being spoken of here it’s as a reference to the Church (it says it plainly enough) and that the relationship of Jesus to it is like one would imagine the head to be in the natural set up. The problem with this statement, however, is that it isn’t obvious what ‘head’ must mean because of the way that the word was usually employed in the Greek world of its day and the way that it’s used in other places in the NT where the meaning ‘chief’ or ‘king’ doesn’t appear to be in mind.

a. Source and authority

There are two main ways to interpret the use of the Greek word translated ‘head’ here and the first comes from an understanding of how it’s used in I Cor 11:3 where it seems incorrectly taken as ‘authority’ or ‘master’ when Paul writes

‘...I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband and the head of Christ is God’

There’s no obvious context by which to interpret the passage so we’re left to try and interpret it in the best way that’s in-keeping with other parts of Scripture. Although fairly lengthy, Corfee needs to be read here for he sets the context of the word into the first century and before by noting that

‘...the metaphorical use of kephale [the transliteration of the Greek word for “head”] to mean “chief” or “the person of highest rank” is rare in Greek literature - so much so that even though the Hebrew word [transliterated] ro’s often carried this sense, the Greek translators of the LXX, who ordinarily used kephale to translate ro’s when the physical “head” was intended, almost never did so when “ruler” was intended, thus indicating that this metaphorical sense is an exceptional usage and not part of the ordinary range of meanings for the Greek word’

He then goes on to define the meaning of the word in I Cor 11:3 as meaning ‘source’ or ‘source of life’ (which we’ll go on to consider in that passage in a moment for it leaves some unanswered questions unless we do). Cormor on this verse also cites Bedale who states that

‘...the functions of the central nervous system were not known to the ancients who held that we think with the midriff, the phren [transliterated Greek word]...The head was thus not the controlling factor’

There’s no doubt in my own mind that the interpretation of the word as meaning ‘source’ in I Cor 11:3 is the correct one even though there needs to be some clarification of the three elements of Paul’s statement. Firstly, when he writes that

‘The source of a woman is the man [where ‘man’ is to be preferred to the RSV’s ‘husband’ - marriage relationships aren’t in view here at all]...’

we’re pointed back to Gen 2:21-23 where the first man becomes the one from whom woman is created, something which is an appeal to the natural order of the universe. The second phrase that

‘...the source of a man is Christ...’

refers us once again back to the Creation account in Gen 1:27 - but also to Col 1:15 where man’s image (the OT specifically comments that the image was created in male and female) is the image of Jesus Christ created within humanity. Though man is created from no earthly life form as the woman was, the idea of Jesus being the source of the image of humanity is in mind. Thirdly, Paul comments that

‘...the source of Christ is God’

which is the more puzzling of statements. Though the other two statements speak specifically of a ‘making’ or ‘creating’, there can be no hint of this concept at all in the phrase. What’s envisaged is that the incarnate Christ received all things from God the Father and didn’t operate out of His own deity and omnipotence on earth. Therefore, God was the source of all that He said and did by the power of the Holy Spirit (for example, John 8:28).

NIDNTT also bears witness to the relevancy of the Greek word being used as denoting not only the source of something but of life itself. They comment that it can stand

‘...for the life of an individual. As early as Homer it was used in a similar way to [soul]. Thus curses which name the head are directed against the whole person and his life’

If the meaning of ‘source’ or ‘source of life’ is the sense in Col 1:18 (and we should consider my notes following carefully before arriving at a conclusion), the meaning conveyed is that all that the Church needs is found and supplied in Christ - He is the spring from which every provision flows for every situation in which the body finds itself, whether corporately or individually.

This meaning, then, makes good sense but we must also consider the more usual interpretation of this passage where ‘head’ would mean ‘person in authority’ and ask ourselves whether this was what Paul and Timothy intended. Cormor comments concerning the word ‘head’ in I Cor 11:3 (my italics) that

‘We use the term often for a person in authority but this usage was unknown in antiquity (except for a few passages in the LXX)...’

and goes on to put aside its interpretation in this passage as being one of authority. But the reader should note the italicised words carefully as they should also have done with the earlier quote from Corfee for the ‘except’ is a big word here and shows that the concept of ‘head’ as meaning ‘authority’ was known and employed by the ancients. NIDNTT also comments on the use of the Greek word to mean

‘What is decisive, superior. In Greek anthropology the head takes precedence over all other members; it is, or in it lies, the authoritative principle’

but are careful to note that it’s never employed to denote the head of a community.

It wouldn’t be inconsistent for Paul or Timothy to have used the word with the meaning of ‘authority’ and the more so if we consider that they possibly both used a Greek translation of the OT to read and cite to those amongst whom they came and where a few uses of the word bearing this meaning can be clearly retrieved.

Even if they relied mainly on the Hebrew or Aramaic OT, the usages of the word for ‘head’ as meaning ‘the one with authority’ or ‘having authority over’ (for example, I Sam 15:!7, Dan 2:38, Is 9:14-15, Is 7:8-9) could very well have been interpreted into their Greek speech as the word being employed here in Col 1:18.

Besides this, there are a number of places in the NT where ‘authority’ makes better sense for ‘head’ than does ‘source’. For example, in Eph 1:22-23, Paul writes (my italics) that

‘...He has put all things under [Jesus’] feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all’

where the Greek word from which we get the italicised word ‘over’ (Strongs Greek number 5228) is more likely to mean just this than something which would support a meaning of ‘source of life’. Eph 5:22-23 is also a case in point for, beginning by noting clearly that a hierarchical structure is being mentioned between husbands and wives (not unmarried men and women), he then writes

‘For [because] the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Saviour’

In this context, Paul seems to define the word ‘head’ to mean ‘ruler’ by his previous statement.

It also seems strange that ‘head’ and ‘body’ would be contrasted and then the word ‘head’ should be taken as meaning ‘source’ when that isn’t what the head is to the natural body and what it was never thought of as being in the ancient world. Even though Corfee states that this relationship within the natural body was unknown, it still seems the most plausible explanation for some of the passages where both words are being used.

If this is the sense of the word here in Col 1:18, Jesus is being proclaimed as the Head who issues commands to the body, who controls the overall movement of the Church because He’s in that position of authority where the Father has placed Him, at His right hand.

Both meanings, therefore, could well have been intended to have been understood in Paul’s declaration that Jesus is the Head in Col 1:18 and Eph 5:23. Both make good sense and parallel his teaching on the first Creation in the preceding verses - He’s not only the source of all life (Col 1:16-17) but also the King over the universe (Col 1:16).

Which one we’re to opt for here is superfluous to gaining the truth from the Scripture for both can be proven from other places in the NT. Colbruce (so, too, Colcar) has probably chosen the best option by amalgamating both concepts into his summation of the verse when he writes that

‘So far as the organic relationship is concerned, Christ and His people are viewed together as a living entity: Christ the Head, supplying life and exercising control and direction; His people are His body, individually His limbs and organs, under His control, obeying His direction, performing His work’

To accept one meaning over and above the other would be to rob the verse of its depth of meaning. Therefore, both interpretations should be accepted as individual components of the one great truth that Jesus is the Head of the Church.

b. Head for the sake of the Church

I noted above that there’s good reason for interpreting the word ‘head’ to mean ‘authority’ even though many commentators observe that the Greek word employed is rarely used outside the NT with this metaphorical usage (actually, Colbrien speaks about it being frequently used with this meaning but he appears to be in the minority). We also noted that Eph 1:22-23 is a place where it’s obvious that just such a meaning must have been intended through its context of sitting at the conclusion of an array of ‘facts’ about the authority which He has over the entire created order. Paul writes (Eph 1:20-23) that

‘...[the Father] raised Him from the dead and made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and He has put all things under His feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all’

This summation is more important than one may at first read it to be for Eph 1:23 is best understood to mean (my italics) that Jesus has been made

‘...the Head over all things for the benefit of the Church...’

We aren’t looking at the sovereignty of Jesus Christ through His right of ownership because all the created order were made by Him and through Him but that, as a man, Jesus has been elevated to a position of unequalled power and authority. I’ve already dealt with this facet of the cross on my web page on Creation and its Restoration (Part 2 Section 3) and noted there that what mankind lost through sin, the man Jesus Christ has regained by a life of perfect obedience.

From the moment of the resurrection onwards, therefore, there was a man who’d been totally obedient to the demands of God the Father and so was elevated into the position originally created for him as ruler over the universe (Gen 1:28). But, more than this, it’s for the Church’s sake that all things are under Christ’s authority, the Head, so that the body, joined together with Him in a living relationship, can benefit from the authority that’s delegated from the Head to the earthly group of believers.

As Christ issues commands to His body and obedience follows, the Church is assured that in whatever capacity He desires them to act, they will be operating with His total authority over all things to accomplish the will of God on earth. As they seek to bring about the purposes of God, they have, as Ephfoul observes

‘...authority and power to overcome all opposition because her Leader and Head is Lord of all’

And all for the Church’s benefit, too. Even though God might have stood back and folded His hands when the accomplishment of the cross found its perfect fulfilment, He’s clearly seen to be taking an active part in the process of salvation and of the re-subjugation of the created order under His own control in the person of the man, Jesus Christ.

As we’ll see in the next section, the dynamic relationship which is observed as being present between believers and Jesus is a definitive proof that God is still on the move within society and, if active, then His followers are also on the move, using all that’s been won for them to further expand the forcefully advancing Kingdom back into the created order.

c. Growth in the Body

In our discussions of the meaning of the Greek word for ‘head’, we summarised the two possibilities as being either a reference to the ‘source’ of life which Jesus is to the Church or to the ‘authority’ which He is over it.

What I only hinted at there, however, was that it’s quite possible that we may be shooting wide of the mark even by insisting upon an interpretation which ties down the meaning to some metaphorical interpretation that can be gleaned from elsewhere. Colbruce, after a lengthy discussion, concludes by noting that it’s the organic and functional relationship between the physical head and body that’s being used not only here but in those areas where this relationship is also mentioned in the NT and that we should think

‘...of [the Church] as vitalised by His abiding presence with it and His risen life in it; one thinks of it as energised by His power; one may even...think of it as the instrument through which He carries on His work on earth’

This seems to be the best interpretation in other places in the NT where the head/body terminology is used of the relationship of Christ to His Church. For instance, later in the same letter Paul will speak about those who put true believers down (Col 2:18) and by their insistence on the worship of secondary beings demonstrate themselves (Col 2:19) as

‘...not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God’

Eph 4:15-16 is also a case in point where the apostle adds words of explanation to the set up of the fivefold ministry within the Church, noting that they’re given for the establishing of the believers that they might not be mislead into wrong beliefs. Instead, Paul sees the Church is to

‘...grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love’

The idea of the head/body analogy, then, is not necessarily to bring out some great truth about Jesus being the source of all necessary provision in their life before God but to show how intimately related both Jesus and the believers are as a living entity. Indeed, while ever the fivefold ministry gifts of people are needed by believers (as they still are even today), the Church can be seen to be functioning incorrectly because they’re unable to provide what it needs from within its own ranks - it’s also why an individual fellowship that only seeks out ‘new ministry’ to lean on consistently is going nowhere in Jesus for there should come a time when, rather than bring outsiders in, they have the spiritual resources to begin to send believers out into the world.

Although the analogy of this set up as being a true reflection of the nature of the natural head and body seems somewhat strained to our modern day thinking, the point is that the Head has supplied the structure of the Church, bound it together as His body, but growth is essential if the body is to function as a living unit, in harmony with the head, building itself up. The provision for the growth can only come from the Head but it needs to be readily accepted by the body that it might expand and develop.

This is a perfectly legitimate way to understand Paul and Timothy’s words in Col 1:18 (though, in the context of Col 1:15-20, one would expect them to have kept with their thoughts and so mean either ‘source’ or ‘authority’ by the word ‘head’) simply because there’s no easily discernible context which interprets the verse for us.

All that we can say with any certainty about the first half of Col 1:18, therefore, is that the statement by Paul and Timothy here is so full of meaning as to warrant careful consideration and meditation of the verse to fathom its depths, without allowing ourselves to drift into matters which contradict sound theology.

2. The new Creator
Col 1:18b

Although some commentators view the first half of Col 1:18 as the continuing outworking of Paul and Timothy’s teaching on Jesus in His relationship to the first Creation (by asserting that the explanatory word ‘Church’ isn’t part of the original ‘hymn’ or ‘creed’ that the authors are quoting from), it’s best to accept it as the opening shots of the ‘second verse’ which goes on to look at how He’s become everything to the new creation that He was to the first - that, as Colbrien writes

‘In both new creation and old, the first place belongs to Him alone...’

The continuation of thought, then, proceeds with the statement that

‘...He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent’

where, although the RSV’s rendering seems to make the meaning of the text quite clear, there’s much more to the words employed in the Greek than at first meets the eye.

The main opening word (Strongs Greek number 746) translated ‘beginning’ has numerous possible meanings, Colwright noting that the RSV’s translation

‘ too thin to do justice to [the word] which means “first principle”, “source”, “creative initiative” and again indicates priority in both time and rank (it is actually the singular noun from which is derived [the word for] rulers as in Col 1:16 and 2:15)’

and his summary is a fair list of the range of meaning from which others could be reasoned to have selected their preferred meaning and to apply it to the text. Perhaps I’m being a little cynical here for most of those who comment on the passage will have their own perception of what Paul must be trying to say (including myself) but that they disagree widely on the point surely shows the reader that there’s nothing which can definitively be stated.

The word could just mean ‘first in time’ as the RSV’s ‘beginning’ conveys. Yet, even here, it means slightly more, Kittels writing that

‘In time it denotes the point of a new beginning in a temporal sequence’

and, applied to the new covenant which both Paul and Timothy have turned their attention to, it would mean that everything which is now in existence in a restored relationship with the Father can trace its origins back to the first Man, Jesus, and what He had and did. No fullness of the new covenant existed before Jesus so that every man or woman can point to Him as the root, only after which the plant could have developed.

But it could also mean that Jesus is the spring from which the new covenant came. NIDNTT calls it a controversial point but they see the possibility that the word in this context could mean ‘first cause’, that He is the original Creator of whatever is in existence - though, in this case, the reference seems clearly to be related to the new covenant. This then, would see Jesus as the One by whom the Church came into existence rather than to see Him simply as the ‘first’ in a long line of succession. Therefore Colbrien prefers to understand the use of the word here as meaning that Jesus is

‘...the founder of a new humanity’

Colcar, however, goes one step further in his interpretation and speaks of Jesus as being

‘...the very fount of the Church’s life’

where he envisages Jesus not just being the One from whom everything has come but the One from whom everything is coming, the well-spring of all-sufficient provision for the sake of the Church.

And again, NIDNTT offers the alternative suggestion that the word could take on the meaning of ‘first fruits’ which, if applied in its OT setting, means the offering which guarantees or anticipates the coming in of the final harvest. That is, Jesus’ life and death was the assurance that many would follow in His footsteps throughout history by serving the Father as He chose.

But, yet again, we could consider the word as having implications regarding Jesus’ rank and authority over the new created order in the sense that He’s the One who sits as the King of the process by which men and women are brought back into a covenant relationship with God.

The dilemma for the commentator here is not that each of the four interpretations, drawn from the word’s usage in other places both within and without the NT, have higher or lower probabilities - or even that three of the meanings are things which aren’t proven by reference to other places in the Scriptures - but that each of them makes perfect sense.

Perhaps the only pointer as to a correct interpretation that can be given is the phrase which immediately follows it in which Paul adds that Jesus is

‘...the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent’

We’ve already looked at the Greek word at the start of this web page from which ‘first-born’ comes and noted its variety of meaning and, annoyingly, saw that it holds the same sort of diverse meaning as does the one which is translated ‘beginning’! Elsewhere, Paul comments (I Cor 15:20,23) that Jesus is

‘the first fruits from the dead’

where Christ’s priority in time concerning the new creation, the initial act of God that guarantees the future resurrection for all believers, is in mind (as Colwright asserts). Here, though, there’s not the idea of an event which looks forward but of an initial point from which what is now in existence has sprung. As such, we could justify an interpretation of either ‘first in time’, ‘first in rank’ (as Colcar) or ‘the source’ where this latter interpretation needs to be explained as meaning that Jesus’ resurrection was the starting point from which the new creation has sprung.

The Greek word from which we get ‘pre-eminent’ (Strongs Greek number 4409) needs also to be considered, Kittels defining it simply with the words

‘to be first (in rank)’

going on to comment on Col 1:18 that

‘As first-born of all Creation, Head of the Church and first-born from the dead, Christ is [pre-eminent] in everything’

and showing that they view it more as a conclusion to the totality of what’s gone before than simply a comment which sits as an explanation of the first two statements. As I noted in the previous section, perhaps it’s best to accept all the possible interpretations that are confirmed by passages elsewhere in Scripture and so not limit the meanings which can be drawn from this verse - after all, if Jesus is being shown throughout Col 1:15-20 to be the Supreme Head over all, why couldn’t it be possible that He could be everything that’s implied?

Therefore, Jesus is the originator of man’s salvation, the One who has brought it into existence by His work on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, the Source from which men receive and the Creator who’s initiated the new creation that didn’t exist before He came.

What seems to be the most basic of meanings and the bottom line for why Paul mentions Jesus as the ‘beginning’ at this point is that he’s already shown in Col 1:15-17 how He’s the beginning (in all the senses possible in the word that is being used in Col 1:18) of the first Creation, having brought all created things into existence and so is going on to show how He’s also become the beginning of the new, having brought into existence the possibility of the new birth for every individual by His resurrection from the dead (Rom 6:4-11, Acts 26:23). The triumph over death has made Jesus Christ become the Originator of Life in individuals, the re-creation.

In Rev 22:13 (see my notes on Smyrna for a much more detailed discussion of this verse), Jesus is recorded as being the

‘...Alpha and the Omega, the first [Strongs Greek number 4413 from which 4409 comes] and the last, the beginning [Strongs Greek number 746] and the end’

By Jesus’ own statement here He’s the first (the phrase ‘the first and the last’, however, speaks more about Sovereignty and humility than it does about being the first and last in the order of things - see my notes linked above for a fuller discussion), meaning that before Him is nothing, the first letter of the Greek alphabet being used at the head of the verse to denote His pre-eminence (John 1:1-2). The use of the last Greek letter also speaks of Jesus’ ‘post-existence’ that, even if a point in the future might be imagined in which only God exists once more, Jesus will still exist at its end, existing after everything has been brought to a conclusion.

The idea of the ‘beginning’ here is probably that He’s the One who brings all things into existence, the source of all life, while His labelling as the ‘end’ points towards the truth that He stands as the conclusion of everything that has an existence, that He brings all things to completion. This last thought has already been witnessed in Paul and Timothy’s statements concerning the first Creation at the end of Col 1:16 where we saw that the correct translation of the RSV’s phrase ‘for Him’ was ‘to Him’ - but the application here in Col 1:18 is to the new creation.

Therefore Paul is able to write in Phil 1:6 that he’s sure that

‘...He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’

referring to the path of salvation being a creation of God in the believer and a completion also by His hand. Of course, Jesus has already paid the full price for all that the follower needs but it’s the work of salvation, the application of the cross, that’s being envisaged. As Heb 12:2 also notes

‘...Jesus [is] the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith...’

Although the burden of Col 1:18 has to do with the beginning and source which not only comes from Jesus but is Jesus Himself, the conclusion to which all things are hastening - including the power and provision into every situation in order that the purpose of His will might be brought about (Eph 1:11 - not RSV) - will also flow out of the consequence of Col 1:16.

To conclude, we might sum up Col 1:18 as a declaration that Jesus is the Creator of the new creation (where my first attempt at a conclusion found me describing Him as ‘the new Creator’ which seemed to be overly ambiguous and misleading!) - that He’s brought about all that the Church is now experiencing and is the ‘primary source’ of everything in which they’re living.

We shouldn’t lessen the force or implication of these words. Colcar comments accurately that

‘This pre-eminence is to be as wide in scope as it is possible to be. He is to be supreme in all respects and at every point’

for it’s too easy for us to limit this passage to merely minor statements that don’t really touch our own individual way of living on earth. That Jesus is pre-eminent in everything must start the alarm bells ringing in our own hearts if we genuinely accept the full scope of the passage.

That the Church wanders into the world for its resources and turns its back on Jesus Christ all too often shouldn’t justify our own choice to follow a different path but we should contemplate these words recorded for us that all sources are from Jesus and, by a consideration of a couple of other Scriptures, that all conclusions must also find their completion in Him.

If this is so, then everything in-between should also rightfully come from His hand.

3. The incarnation
Col 1:19

The first thing to determine before attempting an interpretation of this verse is what the best translation is - even this, however, turns into a rendering that’s dependent upon what one’s expecting to find here. The problem is that there’s no subject for the verb so that, more literally, we could translate

‘Because, in Him, [something or someone] was pleased that all the fulness was to dwell’

and two alternative translations are normally proposed to solve the problem.

The first transposes the noun ‘the fulness’ to be the subject so that the RSV renders it

‘For, in Him, all the fulness [of God] was pleased to dwell’

where the translators add the words ‘of God’ to attempt an explanation of what ‘the fulness’ must mean. This brings the verse into harmony with what Paul will write some verses later in Col 2:9 where it’s recorded that

‘ Him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily’

the only real differences being, firstly, the use of the verb ‘to bring pleasure’ and the tenses of the verbs for, here in Col 1:19, the idea is of something which has happened in the past whereas, in Col 2:9, the teaching is of Jesus’ continuing presence in the glory of Heaven where He’s exalted at the right hand of the Father.

The other alternative adds a subject from ‘out of the blue’ and leaves it to be read as

‘ Him, [God] was pleased to have all the fulness dwell in Him’

Commentators note that adding a subject this way when it applies to God, as Colbrien writes

‘ quite proper since the words eudokia and eudokeo [the latter of which is used here]...are sometimes used absolutely to denote the good pleasure of God (Luke 2:14, Phil 2:13)’

There’s still the need to adequately interpret ‘the fulness’, however, which seems best accepted as holding an identical meaning to that which occurs in Col 2:9.

Either translation makes good sense and it’s hard to choose between either as being the best, simply because both cause problems to be raised which have to be explained away. For the sake of this commentary, however, I shall accept the RSV’s rendering which uses the noun ‘the fulness’ as the subject of the verb.

Perhaps it’s because the decision about the correct translation of the sentence is the first thing necessary to be decided upon as one approaches this text that most of the commentators neglect the important word at the very beginning of the verse that I’ve rendered at the very beginning of this section as ‘Because’. We encountered this word before at the start of Col 1:16 where we were able to interpret the phrase ‘the first-born’ in the context of the explanation given in the first half of this verse.

Here we should be careful to do the same - even though the meaning doesn’t appear to be clear. Paul and Timothy have just been speaking about Jesus’ pre-eminence - that is, His position of supremacy with regard to both time and rank - and now give the reason for this pre-eminence as being that the fulness of God was pleased to take up residence in Him.

That is, the sense seems to be that Jesus has been made to be ‘before all things’ (Col :17) in the new creation primarily because the nature of God means that He’s naturally pre-eminent and so it had to be reflected in the outworking of His presence on earth.

There’s not too much else which needs to be added to the passage’s interpretation seeing as it stands on it’s own without too much explanation. The key to understanding this passage, however, that speaks of Christ’s incarnation is found in Heb 10:5 where it’s stated that

‘...when [Jesus] came into the world...’

referring to the incarnation and not the birth, He said

‘...a body hast Thou prepared for Me’

not referring to a mature human body into which He was to enter but the single cell, the human embryo, provided by the humanity of Mary in the womb (Luke 1:31, Mtw 1:18) - the source of Jesus the man’s deity is the Deity; the source of Jesus the Creator-God’s humanity is Mary.

So here also in Col 1:19. From that initial conception, ‘all the fulness’ of the pre-existent Creator-God ‘was pleased to take up residence’ in human form from the single cell through to adult human existence. Jesus, wholly God, was clothed with humanity in the womb so that, at the same time, He was wholly man (John 1:1, 1:14).

Of course, as I’ve previously noted, Jesus could only become man if He was the image upon which humanity was first created - otherwise He would have had to have conformed His own character and essential being to a form which didn’t also perfectly reflect the nature of God.

Only in Jesus, then, can both humanity and deity find a perfect harmony because it was in God’s image - which is none other than Jesus Himself (Col 1:15) - that man was created. This is the solution to the long held mystery of the incarnation which can’t conceive of God becoming a man.

Although that is a true statement, one also has to think of Him as having pre-existed before time and space came into existence (Col 1:17), reflecting the perfect image of God which was also the perfect image of the man who was formed at the dawn of Creation (Gen 1:26).

It wasn’t so much that He became man (which can imply a change of nature) but that He became the human expression of God on the earth and could therefore be the perfect representation of both humanity and deity at one and the same time. This couldn’t have happened unless Jesus was the image in which mankind was created, for He would have had to have changed His essential nature to take upon Himself the nature of man.

Jesus didn’t, therefore, change nature but location - which is why the Greek word translated ‘to dwell’ is used in this verse (Strongs Greek number 2730). Vines comments on the word that it means

‘ settle down in a dwelling, to dwell fixedly in a place’

and both Colcar and Colbruce define it specifically as meaning that someone or something takes up residence in another place. There may be a concept of permanent residency here as Paul and Timothy use the word but it’s no more than a possibility for permanency isn’t always a consequence in the usage of the word - for example in Acts 2:5 where the pilgrims are spoken of as coming to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost and which denotes a ‘sojourn’ which would have been only temporary.

But Jesus’ residency could well be considered to be permanent when the NT as a whole is taken into consideration but, for our purposes here, we should simply note that the idea of ‘moving location’ rather than of forming something which didn’t exist beforehand is in mind and it fits in perfectly with the concept of Jesus changing location from Heaven to earth without changing His nature.

As I’ve said above - and I’ll repeat it once more before you get sick and tired of reading me writing it - it was because Jesus already was the perfect image of mankind, the nature in which man was created, that He could perfectly and seamlessly become the One who was, at the same time, a perfect representation of God and man - all that the Father expresses but through the agency of flesh and bone.

Although it would be wrong to deny such language that speaks of Jesus becoming what we are (remember the old maxim that ‘He became what we are so that we could become what He is’), if we understand the above correctly, we can say more accurately that He didn’t become what we are but was already what we should have been.

Jesus is the image into which we’re growing (Rom 8:29) - that is, the image that we were originally created in (Gen 1:26, Col 1:15) - God restoring us back into what we should be and not taking us forward into something we were never intended for.

Jesus assumed His own essential being in the incarnation, the image of God which was also the true and unspoilt image in which mankind had been made. Therefore, He’s at the same time perfectly God and man because there’s no contradiction between the two where sin isn’t present.

4. The reconciliation of Creation
Col 1:20

We now reach the conclusion of this short passage which brings the cross firmly into view. We might have been forgiven for thinking that it was simply the presence of God in Jesus Christ which had been solely on Paul and Timothy’s heart and mind but this appears to have only been the case so that, firstly, the incarnation could be spoken of followed by the conclusion to which everything had been leading - namely the peace which the blood of Jesus on the cross has effected.

It was ‘through Him’ that this was brought about that all things might be reconciled ‘in Him’ - whether those things which needed reconciliation in Heaven or on earth (paralleling their previous statement in Col 1:16 to include the entire created order) so that a peace might be achieved. This seems to be the bottom line - that the war which had been ensuing between the Creation and the Creator might now be settled once and for all that a lasting peace (not in the sense of a truce but as a victory) might be established.

The idea of reconciliation is a particularly Pauline one and the three related words used to speak of it are only ever found in his letters. So, the noun appears four times (Strongs Greek number 2643 - Rom 5:11, 11:15, II Cor 5:18,19), the verb six times (Strongs Greek number 2644 - Rom 5:10 twice, I Cor 7:11, II Cor 5:18,19,20) and the intensified verb form three times (Strongs Greek number 604 - Eph 2:16, Col 1:20,22).

Although the third of these is often taken to cause little change in the meaning, it may be better to understand the reason for Paul’s usage as to emphasise the totality of the reconciliation which has been achieved - that is, although the first two might be considered by the casual reader as implying a limited reconciliation, this latter word would be more likely to have been understood to convey a ‘full reconciliation’.

The root from which the first two words are formed primarily denotes change where Kittels notes that it’s this thought which predominates its usage so that, when the noun was used of reconciliation, Barclay can define it as

‘...a change of enmity into friendship’

Zondervan also notes the effect of the action by commenting that the word

‘...speaks in general of the restoration of a proper relationship between two parties. It refers broadly to overcoming an enmity without specifying how this enmity is removed’

while NIDNTT quotes C K Barrett as pointing out that, in the place of enmity, peace and goodwill are necessarily substituted rather than a truce being formed in which tolerance is the underlying principle.

The NT is careful to point out the source of a man’s reconciliation as being through Jesus (Rom 5:11, II Cor 5:19) but declared to the world now by His followers (II Cor 5:18-20). Even mentioning Jesus as the means of reconciliation, however, propels the writers back to single out the work of the cross as the place where reconciliation is effected, speaking variously of His death (Rom 5:10, Col 1:22), the cross (Eph 2:16, Col 1:20) and the blood (Col 1:20) so that there can be no mistaking that single point in Jesus’ life that’s being held up as the source of peace (see my notes on the subject of ‘Redemption’ in part 3 section c ‘The Redeemer and the ransom’ for details of how blood, death and life are all synonymous terms speaking about the work of the cross).

Also significant is Paul’s care not to ever speak of mankind as reconciling himself to God by some action or other (though it can be used this way of a wife attempting to reconcile herself to an estranged husband - I Cor 7:11) but it’s always God who takes the initiative to do what man is unable to, even though Kittels holds up II Cor 5:20 as an example of this where there’s an appeal which urges Paul’s readers to be reconciled to God. But it doesn’t hint at a method of self-reconciliation which is centred in an initial and original work and action of man.

Paul will shortly go on to outline the reconciliation that the Colossians have received because of Christ’s work on the cross (Col 1:21-22 - where the same Greek word group is used) but here the teaching is the generalisation that ‘the totality’ (see on Col 1:16 for an explanation of why this phrase is a good translation of the Greek which the RSV renders ‘all things’) of Creation is reconciled to Christ by the blood of His cross.

Creation was brought into being in Christ and, therefore, in harmony with Him (Col 1:16) but, if reconciliation needed to be achieved, it’s apparent that the original Creation had become at enmity with the purposes of God.

The Bible teaches clearly that this is a result of man’s sin which had the effect of subjecting Creation to a bondage to decay by the specific command of the Word which came from God (Rom 8:20-21, Gen 3:17-18 - Creation is now in rebellion, demonstrated by its production of thorns and thistles in cultivated ground that are useless to the ones for whom the ground was created).

Creation, given to man to rule over (Gen 1:26,28-29) can only function properly when sinless man, in subjection to the Father, is exercising his rightful authority over it. Rommor notes in his commentary on Rom 8:20 that

‘Of itself and without any thought of Divine purpose, the whole Creation is futile. Paul is saying that sin, which affected the divine purpose in man, affected also the entire non-human Creation. Lacking the purpose for which it was designed, it has no purpose’

For now, Creation is disintegrating, empty with regard to result and purpose but, because of the redemption from sin secured by Jesus Christ through the shedding of His blood, there will come a day when it will be set free from its bondage to fulfil its original purpose in God’s plan (Rom 8:21).

Therefore, far from eternally decreeing the Creation to futility, God also (Rom 8:20)

‘...subjected it in hope...’

that is, the hope of the fulfilment of God’s purpose of a redeemed humanity reigning as originally intended. As Rommor comments

‘Paul looks forward to a time when the total effect of sin will be done away and the Creation will stand forth in all its glory as God intends it to be’

Therefore Col 1:20 speaks of the cross that has made the future reality of Rom 8:21 possible and certain. The conclusion towards which Paul and Timothy have been leading their readers is to the fact that Christ both creates and recreates, that He is both the One in and through whom all things are created and through whom all things are also reconciled.

Notice here that the ‘Creation’ of Rom 8:18-25 doesn’t refer to a believers’ reconciliation as they’re distinguished from it in Rom 8:23 - it can’t refer, either, to the evil principalities and powers for Col 2:15 speaks of a triumph over them, not a reconciliation with them.

Many have proposed, however, that a reconciliation has taken place between those rebelious angelic powers and God and that, even now, they’re capable of coming back under God’s sovereign control in Christ to obey and serve Him. This would be the literal expectation of the reader as they approach this passage for there’s little else that ‘all things’ can mean except the totality of the Creation. However, as we’ve just noted, the Bible speaks about the principalities and powers’ defeat in the cross rather than of their reconciliation and it seems best to take the created order as being reconciled at the expense of those who have set themselves up over God’s handiwork.

So, too, in Col 1:20, the ‘all things’ refers to the non-human, physical world - but it also goes further than Romans 8:18-25 as it must include the reconciliation of humanity and the cleansing of Heaven because of mankind’s sin - notice the words of Col 1:20 which speaks about all things being cleansed ‘on earth or in Heaven’ which implies this.

But we might envisage this totality of reconciliation as needing to be defined as it applies to individual areas of the initial Creation. So, for man, reconciliation takes place on the basis of the cross upon a correct response. For the spiritual powers or fallen angels, the reconciliation is no more than the defeat of their rebellion (where Colbrien cites Bruce when he notes it to be indicative of the submission ‘...against their wills to a power which they cannot resist’). And, for Creation, there’s a perfect reconciliation through redeemed humanity because its decay had come about as the result of man’s original sin which is now dealt with and removed.

Or, summarised simply, all the old Creation that’s reconciled and renewed by the cross is what becomes the new creation or re-creation in Christ. And, because the initial rebellion is thought of in terms of war, it’s fitting that ‘peace’ is seen to come about as the end product of the work of God which is, as I’ve previously said, more the result of a victory being won than a truce being negotiated.

That this occurs by ‘the blood of His cross’ is certain but it isn’t until Col 2:8-15 that the details of the outworking of Jesus’ death are explained in more detail. For now, the reader has to be content with a generalisation which sums everything up in a few short words.

One of the parallels or themes of the passage of Col 1:15-20 is brought to a conclusion in these last two verses where what was true of the original created order is now seen outworked in the new re-creation brought about by Jesus Christ.

We saw in Col 1:16 that the totality of Creation was brought about in Him, through Him and to Him where the last such phrase was rendered by the RSV as ‘for Him’ thus obscuring the meaning from that which was plain and obvious.

Here in Col 1:19-20, we get the same three statements but, in the new creation, their application become slightly different. In the first, everything was created in Jesus whereas here it’s the fulness of God Himself who’s spoken of as taking up residence in His earthly appearing. Nevertheless, there’s less of a difference than might be initially imagined for He’s also the source of everything that needs to be imparted to the Church (Col 1:18 - one of the meanings behind the word ‘head’) so that the re-creation or restoration is seen as emanating from none other than Jesus Christ.

It could be said with some justification, therefore, that, as the first Creation only had a true existence in Him, so too the new can only exist both in Him and by its receipt of that which comes from His own resources.

The second harmonises almost perfectly. In the original Creation, all things were formed through Jesus and, in the new, the reconciliation imparted is again through His work. Not only is Jesus the initiator of all created matter but He also is the One who makes the way for it to be reconciled after man’s rebellion.

The third speaks of everything having been brought about to be concluded in the Son. Rom 11:36 was the pivotal verse when it comes to the intention of the original Creation (as we saw when we looked at Col 1:16) for Paul talks about everything having been brought into existence from Him (as the source), through Him (as the means) and to Him (as the conclusion of everything).

Just as the original order was to find its perfect culmination in the Son, so now the new creation has been redirected to be brought back to a conclusion in the One for whom and by whom it was created. All that the reconciliation does, therefore, is to ultimately reunite all things back under the Sovereignty of God the Father and Son that rebellion might be transformed into obedience and decay into a dynamic regeneration.

Indeed, as I’ve said before above, this entire passage cannot be correctly understood without a proper acceptance of a literal six day Creation as described in the opening couple of chapters of Genesis. God’s reconciliation of the universe through, for and in the Son can only be fully appreciated if the reason for the original creative act can be seen not to have been side-tracked but to have been upheld and fulfilled in the new order.

Looking forward

Even though we tend to conclude Paul and Timothy’s argument - begun at Col 1:15 - with Col 1:20, it’s obvious that it only brings to a conclusion the declaratory words which they have concerning Jesus Christ for, immediately following, they turn their attention to speak of the reconciliation of the Colossian believers - one part or consequence of Jesus’ complete work that has brought peace through the blood of the cross (Col 1:22).

Even so, Col 1:15-20 stands as one of the great foundational passages about Jesus in His relationship to both the first Creation and the re-creation which inaugurated the new birth.

The old Creation and the new

The chart below is provided to try and give a quick point of reference to the reader who wants to be able to see the parallels between the old and new creations. However, some of the reasons for the declared parallels can only be fully understood by reading the notes on the relevant verses to understand why an interpretation has been taken as inferring what it’s here declared to be.

I’ve also added a column which parallels statements in the Book of Hebrews with those found in Col 1:15-20. Though some may imagine that this ‘proves’ that the authorship of this Book must necessarily be that of the apostle Paul, it rather shows that Paul and Timothy’s Christology in relation to the first and second creations was widely accepted in the early first century Church.

The Old Creation Parallel in Hebrews The New Creation
Col 1:15a - He is the image of the invisible God  1:3 - 'He bears...the very stamp of His nature...'  Col 1:19 - ' Him all the fulness was pleased to dwell'
Col 1:15b - He is first in time and rank over Creation 1:6 - 'Let all God's angels worship Him' Col 1:18b - 'He is the beginning...first-born...pre-eminent'
Col 1:16a - Creation was made subject to Him 1:2 - '...the heir of all things' Col 1:18b - ' everything He might be pre-eminent'
Col 1:16b - Creation was made through Him 1:2 - '...through whom He also created the world'
see also 2:10
Col 1:20a - '...through Him to reconcile to Himself all things...'
Col 1:16c - Creation was made to Him 2:10 - '...for whom and by whom all things exist...' Col 1:20a - ' reconcile to Himself all things...'
Col 1:17a - He is above everything with regard rank and supremacy 1:2 - '...the heir of all things...'
2:8 - '...He left nothing outside His control...'
Col 1:18a - 'He is the [authority] of the Body, the Church'
Col 1:17b - He sustains Creation continually 1:3 - '...upholding the universe by His word of power' Col 1:18a - 'He is the [source] of the Body, the Church'

Paul and Timothy have been endeavouring to show the all-sufficiency and total supremacy of the One in whom the Colossians have come to put their trust, in contrast to some of the minor beliefs that they turn their attention towards later on in the letter (Col 2:16-23). Some would see in these words the reason for the writing - that a heresy had gotten hold of the young fellowship that they found it necessary to oppose not only by declaring its falsity but by noting the greatness of the One in whom they were professing faith.

We might do just as well today, of course, as I’ve previously said. Jesus is portrayed as all that’s necessary to the disciple even though many still look into the world or into other spiritual and pseudo-spiritual sources which pronounce wisdom for their adherents. But, to the true follower, Jesus Christ is not only the beginning and the end, He’s the source of everything that’s important for them to have in-between.

To worship Christ is to worship the Creator, the God and Lord of the universe, whereas all other objects of devotion and service are subservient to Him making them both futile and vain.

Christ is at the same time the Origin of the first Creation and the Creator of the new - the One who spoke and created life has also spoken and created life in each and every believer through His work on the cross.

There can be no one higher or more worthy of total worship.