Orthodoxy and bondage
The elemental spirits of the universe
Jesus Christ is all
Col 2:8 is almost a repeat of Col 2:4. Perhaps it’s best to say that, what Paul writes there as a preliminary conclusion, he now further develops into a slightly lengthier warning that has more details and which provides the reader with a conclusion in Col 2:9-10 that explains why such error shouldn’t be accepted.
Commentators launch into descriptions of what the error must have been which was seeking infiltration into the believer’s ranks, some even going so far as to refer to the error which had already gained adherents and this in spite of Col 2:5 stating plainly that the fellowship was in good order and following after Jesus in a manner which was recognisable as being a product of their initial conversion to Him (the later statement in Col 2:20 which the RSV makes out to be a rebuke is actually a ‘warning of danger’ as Colwright observes, so that nowhere do we find anything in the letter which would contradict the apostle’s previous observation about their good order and faithfulness to Christ - Col 2:5). Colbruce defines the error (he has a fairly lengthy discussion of the possibilities) as appearing to be
‘...basically Jewish but to have included features of pagan affinity’
and so says almost nothing, especially as he then goes on to note that those things
‘...which have pagan affinities are not necessarily of pagan origin’
and, further, that
‘Their teaching was...a blend of the highest elements of religion known to Judaism and paganism...’
The reader is left wondering whether such vagueness constitutes an attempt at sounding educated or a subtle way of saying he hasn’t got a clue like the rest of us. Actually, Colbruce proceeds to name the false teaching as being something akin with the mystery religions in which he asserts that the man or woman needed to either worship the elements of the universe or entrust his own welfare into the hands of a god who was stronger than the forces of nature, the Colossians seeming to be cornered into doing the former.
We mustn’t go as far as ‘naming names’ (some have even gone so far as asserting that Paul’s words of warning are directed at one specific false teacher who was known to him) and should limit ourselves to a few, short generalisations which give some substance to the apostle’s warnings. Firstly, Colcar notes that
‘The present tense suggests a constant watchfulness on their part...’
so that what’s being brought to their attention is something which Paul was aware would continue even after he’d written to them and made them aware of the problem. Colcar also notes that
‘The way in which the warning is couched...suggests that Paul is not warning against a hypothetical possibility but against an actually impending danger’
and, if this is possible, it might be a reasonable assumption to expect that such a problem had been brought to his attention by Epaphras (Col 1:7-8). It might also be unreasonable, however, for the apostle had lived in Ephesus for at least a couple of years (Acts 19:10), not more than a hundred miles to the west, and it’s recorded that, during that time, ‘all the residents of Asia’ heard the Gospel - whether that might have been by a direct proclamation from Paul or by him equipping believers (directly or indirectly for such a purpose) to go out into all the regions which lay round about.
That Paul understood the area, then, can’t be denied - that he would have been aware of the underlying problems which would pull new converts away from a commitment to Christ also seems to be certain. All the apostle may be doing, then, is safeguarding the fellowship against those dangers which he knew would be seeking to get hold of their lives.
The big danger for us as present day believers is to try and tie down the nature of the attack to a heretical or wayward sect that we can quickly identify as being in error and so the relevancy of the danger as it might apply to ourselves is undermined and removed. As the reader will come to see as they go through the first section ‘Orthodoxy and bondage’, in the first century world there were many sects and groups who were orthodox and who held to the ‘fundamental beliefs’ of the main religion.
Where they went wrong wasn’t in the basics but in the incidentals where man’s interpretation and logic began to pull them away from being a pure people dependent upon God to ones who developed their own tenets of how they might please God - something which isn’t a million miles away from what we do in the Church at the present time.
I’ve taken the decision not to deal with each phrase of Col 2:8 in succession but tried to apply the whole verse as a single unit. I have, however, found it necessary to deal with a couple of the phrases in that discussion and have also committed a consideration of one particular phrase to it’s own section so as not to clutter up the notes.
Col 2:8 may be summarised as the contrast between that which is ‘according to Christ’ and everything else - for this is how the apostle ends his warning. In whatever manner we might like to think of ‘philosophy’, ‘empty deceit’, ‘human tradition’ or ‘the elemental spirits of the universe’ and however our own understanding of the phrases might cause us to interpret their relevance, the bottom line is that they can be seen to be totally against Jesus Christ.
As we’ll see, though, what’s opposed to Christ as Paul perceives it is often the very same substance of those things which we readily accept into both our own individual lives and our experiences as a corporate body of believers.
Orthodoxy and bondage
I’m indebted to Fitzmeyer’s book on the DSS for the foundation of this section. The author has done the lay reader a big favour by answering the sorts of questions that not only get asked by a great many people but the ones which should have been asked, too. His attempt to place the authors of the scrolls back into their own contemporary society rather than to separate them as being alienated from mainstream Judaism hasn’t been the case all too often as the Qumran settlement is considered and made to give context to the scroll discoveries.
As Golb pointed out in his informative book, the best explanation for the presence of the scrolls near the shores of the Dead Sea is that the fleeing Jews from the city of Jerusalem to the west, deposited them here as they made haste to leave the city when the Romans were gathering in preparation to march against it.
Golb has successfully, I believe, thrown enough doubt upon the Qumran settlement being positively identified with some sort of ascetic complex to question if any relationship is warranted between the caves and the buildings and, even if the reader insists upon them being two aspects of the one Essenic community (if, indeed, the writings belonged to the Essenes which we have little proof for and if, again, the total of the scrolls were the product of one religious sect within first century Judaism), the reintroduction of the scribal works into their contemporary society is one of the most important attempts which can be made.
When this isn’t done, the scrolls take on an air of mysticism in which the producers seem to be a weird sect that was so separated from mainstream Judaism as to be arguably a totally different breed of Jew who were out on a limb in opposition to the basic tenets of belief in YHWH (if, indeed, there were basic ‘tenets’ like our own ‘credal statements’ which I can’t remember seeing much evidence for).
So, in response to Fitzmeyer’s question 43 (I have left all his equations that the Qumran community were associated with the scrolls in tact - the reader should note that this standpoint is only one of a number of different theories as to their origin) in which he asks
‘How do the authors of the Qumran scrolls conceive of God?’
‘The authors who have written the Qumran scrolls are Jews to the hilt; so they express their reverence and respect for “the God of Israel” (1QS 3:24)...they regarded Yahweh as the exalted transcendent Creator of all...like other Jews, [they] considered themselves to be God’s chosen people (1QM 10:9-10)...it repeated the dictum of Deut 14:2 “You are a people holy to your God” as the guide of its conduct (11QTemple 48:7,10). The opening sentence of its rule book states its purpose “To seek God with (one’s) heart and all (one’s) soul, to do what is good and right before Him, as He commanded through Moses and all His servants the prophets, to love all that He has chosen and to hate all that He has rejected” (1QS 1:1-4)’
To a Jew of the first century, then, one couldn’t help but accept the authors of the scrolls as being not at all away from what would have been considered ‘orthodox’ in their main foundational beliefs. Fitzmeyer’s previous question (42) is of equal importance to determine the relationship of these people to their contemporary society. He asks
‘Were the members of the Qumran community Torah-observant Jews?’
and emphatically announces
‘They were indeed. The Qumran scrolls speak of the members of the community as...“doers of the Law” ie those who observe the Mosaic Law (1QpHab 7:11, 8:1, 12:5)’
and goes on to quote 1QS 5:7-9 in which it’s written that
‘Whoever comes to the council of the community...shall undertake with a binding oath to turn with all his heart and all his soul to the Law of Moses, according to all that he has commanded...’
All the OT books have also been found represented in the caves in and around Qumran (with the exception of Esther - probably because, like other Jews, it wasn’t considered to be a canonical book due to the name of God being omitted from the text. Not once is the God of Israel so much as mentioned but, of course, that isn’t a justification to say that God’s hand can’t be seen moving circumstances together for the sake of His people) showing that they were much valued for instruction and discipline in the way of salvation that they embraced.
It’s probably not going too far to say that, along with Judaism, the Shema (Deut 6:4) would have been highly regarded as being the foundational revelation that God is One, indivisible and without equal (Fitzmeyer says as much under his Question 68).
Yet, despite all this, the Essenes (if indeed the writers of the scrolls were of this sect) were somewhat off the rails when some of their assertions are compared both with the testimony of the OT and the foundational truths of Christianity. Had you taken the time to look at their doctrines, you would have been satisfied that they represented orthodox Judaism; that they were striving to follow after God and the way of holiness. As Fitzmeyer concludes (Question 54)
‘By and large, the theological tenets of the Qumran community would have agreed with those of the rest of Judaism, especially as they were based on the Hebrew Scriptures’
Imagine receiving a prospectus from a college such as this and of reading through their ‘statement of purpose’, their ‘statement of fundamental beliefs’ or their ‘creed’. It would have looked as if they were Scriptural, orthodox and on fire for the things of God - a clear indication to us in the present day that such man-made statements are more likely to deceive us into accepting a group of believers as sound than it does anything to prove their obedience to the will of God.
If you’d visited their site for a tour of the campus before you enrolled (assuming that the Qumran buildings were a part of the Essenic community which has not yet been satisfactorily proven - and, more than likely, been made unlikely) - and if it had been possible - you would have found members engaged in daily meditation and the study of Scripture, in praise and prayer, in laying down their possessions for the benefit of one another. In short, it would have seemed that God had chosen them as a channel to bring about His will on earth ‘as it is in Heaven’.
Yet, despite all this great show of service, the writers of the scrolls were still off the rails.
Paul’s warning to the Colossians (Col 2:8) is very illuminating (though I don’t for a moment suggest that it primarily refers to the Essenes - I’m only using this sect as an example). The apostle writes (my italics)
‘See to it that no one leads you into captivity by empty and deceitful reasoning according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ’
The Greek word translated ‘makes a prey of you’ by the RSV (Strongs Greek number 2071) is better rendered in terms of bondage and captivity as I have done by the first phrase which is italicised. Colbruce writes that ‘...they are in danger of being carried off into captivity and must be put on the alert lest they become the prey of those who wish to take away their freedom’ while Colbrien defines the word as meaning to carry ‘...someone away from the truth into the slavery of error’.
The word translated ‘philosophy’ by the RSV (Strongs Greek number 5385) is taken to be a generalisation rather than a comment on the Hellenistic philosophy schools that were in existence at the time of writing. Paul is thus referring to the reasoning and logic of man’s mind, the eloquence of his arguments in the face of the simplicity of the message of the Gospel of Christ. Against the Greek, then, I’ve run ‘philosophy and empty deceit’ into ‘empty and deceitful reasoning’. As the saying goes, they were in danger of being ‘blinded by science’ through persuasive arguments that were, in effect, devoid of any solid basis and sound content.
I’ve dealt with ‘human tradition’ on an earlier web page where the Greek word used from which we get ‘received’ is the same one as would have been employed in the handing down of man-made rules and regulations which were considered to be of equal - and often of greater - authority as the sacred writings of a group of believers.
I’ve dealt with the phrase ‘the elemental spirits of the universe’ in the next section.]
The Essenes had all their basic doctrines in place and, to the outside world, may well have looked like a group of zealous believers striving for perfection in the things of God. But, their way was marred by their ‘human tradition’, by their following not only after the ‘Teacher of righteousness’ who appears to have founded the movement (c.150BC) but also by following the leaders currently over them who, it was claimed, had been given the illumination for a correct understanding of all things.
The Qumran community thus believed not in Scripture per se, but in their own interpretation of it as laid down by the Teacher of righteousness as it says in 1QpHab 7:4-5 that to this person
‘...God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets’
Subsequently, interpretation was to come through their new leaders as it’s written in 1QS 3:13-14 that
‘The Master [‘maskil’] shall instruct all the sons of light and shall teach them the nature of the children of men according to the kind of spirit which they possess...’
and, in 1QS 9:(21?) that the Master
‘...shall conceal the teaching of the Law from men of falsehood but shall impart true knowledge and righteous judgment to those who have chosen the Way [that is, those of the community]’
In this way, they became insular, looking not to God but to man’s interpretation of the will of God for their lives. This then brought them in to a religious bondage, a legalistic captivity that wouldn’t let them go for, if they were to forsake the community, they would be forsaking their only chance of ever attaining real salvation.
Paul has to warn the Colossian believers against a very real danger that was knocking at the door of their lives and seeking to gain adherents to its way of bondage. It came promising them freedom and a deeper or more precise knowledge of God, but it was empty and deceitful for it failed in its mark as it rebelled against the simplicity of Christ.
We can’t be certain just what the perceived error was (and, as I’ve already stated previously, the Colossian church was commended for being in a healthy state - Col 2:5 - so that an infiltration of their ranks could only have been threatened rather than established) but in the following verses (Col 2:9-15), it would seem right to conclude that Paul was showing the supremacy of Christ and His all-sufficiency over the different aspects that the false religion was promoting - this, of course, being something that he’s already been doing throughout the earlier part of the letter.
We should notice that this bondage wouldn’t have taken the form of an open rebellion against the fundamental beliefs of the christian message but would have sought to bring in practices with reasoning that led astray from a simple relationship with Jesus Christ. There may be a hint of those implications which we saw when we looked at the idea of receiving Christ as the new tradition on the previous web page where Colcar summarises it well when he observes that
‘To revert...to a man-made religious system after knowing the liberating power of Christ would be nothing else but a return to bondage’
It’s for precisely the same reason that many sects and denominations today have been led into a self-inflicted captivity because they’ve wandered into all types of vain avenues instead of living ‘according to Christ’. They still have a creed that’s both Scriptural and truthful, they still pray to and praise God, they’re still ‘striving after the Lord’ with every appearance of a great zeal for His will, they still believe that Christ has called them out of darkness to be a people set apart for His own will and purpose throughout the earth.
Yet, for all this, they’ve gone astray because they’re not living ‘according to Christ’ (Col 1:8 - the concluding phrase) - that is, according to His Person and the work of the cross. Let’s not undermine the strength of Paul’s warnings here for it’s too easy to look around at others and think that it must apply to some other group of people and even find justification for such associations. Rather, teachings can all too easily come into the Church which undermine the need to rely totally and solely on Jesus Christ and which pull away from the Gospel message and, as we saw on the previous web page cited above, a teaching can begin to be observed rather than the Person of Christ followed.
In the believer’s life, this is the most subtle form of danger for, still thinking that service is being rendered to God the Father, the disciple can wander into paths that have nothing to do with a commitment to obey Jesus Christ.
But neither should we be surprised if sects spring up from time to time bearing the same apparently-genuine hallmark of the Church of Christ and yet be so far from Him that they’re in a bondage that they fail to see. We must also be careful in case we find ourselves becoming captive to a philosophy of life that adds to the simplicity of Christ, without denying the fundamental doctrines of the Church, imparting a yoke about our necks that will suck the very life out of us.
The elemental spirits of the universe
The Greek phrase behind the RSV’s translation ‘the elemental spirits of the universe’ occurs only three times in the NT. Once here in Col 2:8, again in Col 2:20 and, lastly, in Gal 4:3. It’s a phrase that’s sparked off much debate as to its precise meaning and the arguments on all sides have been both persuasive and justifiable to the social background and the individual meaning of the transliterated word ‘stoicheia’ in the Greek literature outside the NT.
However, commenting on the entire four-word phrase (which is probably the best way to seek an explanation rather than to divide the phrase up into its constituent parts), Kittels writes that
‘Outside the NT, the term would denote the four elements or the basic materials of the world of which the cosmos and humanity within it is composed’
The underlying meaning, therefore, must be something that’s considered to be universally primary, a building block from which conclusions are arrived at and products made. From this concept, we get the basic meaning of the phrase as being something like
‘the basic principles [elements] of the world [universe]’
- that is, those things that the world holds as being the building blocks of its existence whether in religion or secular life. In the context of Col 2:8, Paul’s saying that just as human tradition is a source of empty and deceptive reasoning that would lead the believers into captivity away from the freedom that’s in Christ, so too the underlying principles of the world’s existence produce futile arguments and concepts that, although appearing to have a semblance of wisdom, are merely traps that take captive those who ally themselves with their way of life.
Both human tradition and the basic principles of the world’s existence are what produce this empty and deceitful reasoning (the ‘philosophy and empty deceit’ of the RSV) that’s being offered to the Colossians as compatible with their relationship with Christ. Galfung, partly quoting from Esser, writes that
‘...the elements of the world can “cover all the things in which man places his trust apart from the living God revealed in Christ”...’
so that it’s a direct attack (even though brought in without it’s full implications being fully known) upon the all-sufficiency and all-supremacy of Jesus Christ. As soon as the Church begins to look to Jesus Christ and something else, their eyes can be seen to have been deflected from a pure and sincere devotion and commitment to the One who expects to be all that’s needed to His Church.
We saw in Col 2:6 that Paul’s concerned to bring home the realisation to the recipients of his letter that their entire way of living must be based upon their relationship with Christ. The reception of a living being is the cornerstone of a believer’s experience as opposed to the reception of a doctrinal statement, creed or theology which Paul terms ‘human tradition’ in Col 2:8.
The necessity for the Church is that it must get back to that reality of a relationship with Christ if they’re ever to be released from the captivity that ‘empty and deceptive reasoning’ imparts to its adherents.
In the present day, we have many concepts in the churches that eat away at the supremacy of Christ and, even some of those things which are generally accepted as being ‘of God’ bear only a small measure of success because the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ is denied. I don’t intend to go into a lengthy diatribe of a great variety of such philosophies but I’ll mention here our own local methods at evangelisation in which the fellowships have often found themselves bound.
As soon as we tie the preaching of the Gospel into a structured order of events such as those inherent in the concept of ‘friendship evangelisation’, we begin to strip away the importance of Jesus in the conviction of sin, the drawing of the Father to Jesus and the power of God to transform the unsaved into a new creature in Christ.
Methodology can be beneficial on occasions but, very often, it does little more than strip our dependency from off the Person of Jesus Christ and onto the order of service that moves towards the hitting of the intended goal.
Jesus Christ is all
I have a secret hate, I don’t deny it - perhaps I need counselling. Whenever a chorus or hymn has the line in it which goes something like
‘I give you my all’
I can’t take it seriously. Not because it’s not a relevant concept for the believer to express before Jesus - if they’re sincere - but because all I can imagine myself singing is
‘I give you my awl’
which I have in my toolbox at home. I have this picture in my own mind of me opening the lid, removing the implement and handing it over to Jesus for his use. That might be as far as our commitment goes, of course, for the declaration that we’re giving ‘all’ to Him isn’t one of those things that I can readily imagine that we can sing with a great amount of either sincerity or honesty - if we really thought about it.
After all, I’m sure that with carefree abandon we can shout loudly that we give Jesus everything but how does that work out in our own lives when we spend and use our resources on ourselves without waiting for instructions as to how He may have wanted it dealing with?
I guess that I’ll always find singing such choruses really difficult - you may not. Perhaps it’s just me who looks at my own life and thinks
‘Sheesh! Am I really being honest to what I’m confessing with my lips here?’
Perhaps you’ve already discovered the secret of doing everything by the will of God and using every possession you have for the advancement of His Kingdom.
Anyway, I digress. These two verses have nothing whatsoever to do with giving Jesus everything but I got carried away by the title I chose before I did the notes. You can tell this isn’t a regular commentary, can’t you? Good job it’s free, too, or else you’d be asking for your money back from your local bookshop...
...the verse, however, does have everything to do with Jesus not only being all but giving all to the believers. And it’s this which had gone seemingly unnoticed in the lives of the Colossians to the point that they needed reminding as the threat of false teaching was perceived. Believers can get too hung up on thinking that they need to hand over all they are into God’s hands without first being fully established in the facts of their salvation that Jesus Christ has given all He is and that their commitment is simply a response.
The first thing to do here is to discard those parts of these two verses that have already had an exposition put forward. Paul and Timothy have already provided for the Colossians a Christology in Col 1:15-20 which is used here as a conclusion as to why the believers should make sure that they safeguard themselves against the dangers of Col 2:8.
The reader should consult the web page here at the appropriate points mentioned in the following notes to read the background on the verses. Firstly, Col 2:9 is almost exactly paralleled in Col 1:19 which speaks about the Incarnation and the totality of the presence of God taking up residence in Jesus Christ on earth (see ‘The Incarnation’). There’s a subtle difference, however, in the tenses of the verbs but we’ll look at this below at the appropriate point.
The second half of Col 2:10 which deals with Jesus being the head of all rule and authority is paralleled under the various headings ‘The first-born’ (Col 1:15), ‘The King of Creation’ (Col 1:16) and ‘Christ the Head’/’Source and Authority’ (Col 1:18).
To be fair, this last phrase doesn’t appear to have been the main thrust of Paul’s reasoning for, having mentioned ‘Him’ - that is, Jesus Christ - he then seems to be compelled to add a note of explanation or exposition in much the same way as he’s previously spoken about the Father and then strayed to speak of His work (Col 1:12) - and then spoken of Christ, only to develop the Christology (Col 1:13).
We must note that Col 2:9 begins with a ‘Because’ and so provides an explanation as to why the believers should be careful not to be led astray in the manner of Col 2:8. The reason, says Paul, is because the fulness or totality of God dwells in Jesus Christ.
Again, we’re talking about all-sufficiency as we did in Col 2:3 for, if the sum total of all that God is dwells in Him, the false teachings which may be presented to them in the form of empty and deceitful reasonings are shown to be something less than they have (commentators are incredibly creative at this point and come up with a rich plethora of explanations as to what the false teaching was).
And, more than this, because they’ve come to the fulness of life in Jesus Christ (Col 2:10), there can, logically, be nothing that should be added to them which would be beneficial or worth their while to acquire.
The bottom line of all false doctrine and erroneous experiences are that they seek to impart something to the recipient that’s superfluous to the totality of all that’s already been possessed.
I remember a preacher relating an incident a great many years ago in which he heard a knock at the door and got up to answer it. Standing before him were two men from one of the ‘sects’ often associated with door-to-door calling (and the name of the particular sect I can’t now remember - though I could hazard a guess if prompted).
I remember the preacher saying that he listened to them for a short while as they gave their introductory preamble and then stopped them speaking with a wave of the hand and a polite interruption by asking them to compare what they had with their god with what he had with His.
He then reeled off a list of benefits and advantages, a series of blessings and provisions that he’d not only personally experienced but which were ‘in Christ’ should he need them. Whether the two men thought he was seriously unhinged or not, I don’t know - but they soon departed away from the house knowing that they were getting nowhere with the occupier.
This story provides a good example of what the believer should both do and realise when confronted with something that’s ‘in the place of’ or ‘alongside’ the Person of Jesus Christ. Namely, if the totality of provision resides in Jesus alone because God’s presence resides fully within Him, then what can possibly be of benefit to them if it pulls away at a pure and sincere commitment to Him? Colwright’s succinct statement that
‘His people need no-one but Him’
says it all with an economy of words. Paul’s logic is faultless, of course, and it’s worthy of note that he’s willing to use such reasoning to bring home to his readers the point he’s trying to make. Very often we’ve insisted that we believe a point ‘because we should’ rather than to try and understand the reason behind the truth. Paul isn’t frightened to allow the believer to think - and it’s a mark of a true believer that they should and so be founded upon solid rock rather than mere statements that aren’t fully understood.
Neither is it true that the new believer only tastes and receives a small portion of what’s in Him. Rather, each disciple (Col 2:10) has
‘...come to fulness of life in Him’
and is able to draw upon all that He is and has, to meet every need and satisfy every crisis. As John 1:16 observes
‘...from His fulness have we all received...’
and, if we’ve tasted of that, what else can there be that would warrant a forsaking of it? The Living Bible is worth reading at this point because of it’s simplicity in rendering Col 1:10 as
‘...you have everything when you have Christ...’
which says it all. If the believer has everything then there’s no good reason why they should seek anything additional to ‘add on’ to their experience.
Even if the false teachings, for example, were pointing towards a process which would cause the adherents to achieve perfection or acceptance before any one of a number of deities, how could they swap immediate acceptance and cleansing before the God of gods for a process which wasn’t instantaneous and which was aimed at demi-gods? The Colossians’ problem, then, isn’t that they haven’t received the fulness of the presence of Christ but that Paul realises the danger that they might not yet perceive of the implications of what they did when they first gave themselves to Him.
Colcar’s list of instances in which the believer is ‘complete’ without being ‘perfect’ should be read here (Col 2:10), for he encapsulates something of the all-sufficiency of Jesus when applied to the life of the disciple. Part of the problem why followers seem to stray into erroneous spiritual pathways after they’ve initially accepted Jesus as their Saviour and Master is, possibly, because their view of Him isn’t big enough. If we really did see Him as far above all rule and authority and having all things at His disposal and under His control, where would be the logical necessity of ever going aside into all manner of incidentals which are shallow and vain?
We should also note that, had Col 2:9 been intended to refer to only the earth walk of Jesus and to have been considered to have been concluded upon His death, resurrection or Ascension, we would have expected the apostle to have written something like
‘...in Him the whole fulness of deity dwelt bodily’
which is the tense in which Col 1:19 represents the fact because it there is referring to the one time event of the incarnation. But, as it is, the continuing nature of the indwelling presence of God demands an interpretation that Paul saw the incarnation simply as a beginning which was continuing into the present. So Colcar comments that
‘...the indwelling is a fact of the present time’
That is, that the bodily existence of Jesus wasn’t for a short period after which it was to be discarded as a necessity but that God in humanity still lives in Jesus - that we should continue to think of Him as ‘perfect humanity’.
Therefore, it isn’t that Jesus as God sits upon the throne of Creation exercising Lordship over the universe but that there’s a man - in whom the fulness of God dwells - who reigns in Heaven over everything - and as man was originally created to rule (Gen 1:28 - and see my notes here under the heading ‘Man - Created to rule’).
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