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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Colossians 1

 

 

Verse 1
PAUL'S LETTER TO THE COLOSSIANS

COL. 1

This is one of the most important chapters in the Holy Writ, because of the Christology which reaches a climax of surpassing importance in Colossians 1:28.

It begins with the usual Pauline greetings (Colossians 1:1-2) and occasions of thanksgiving for the Colossians (Colossians 1:3-8); next comes a profound paragraph on the preeminence of the Son of God (Colossians 1:9-23), and then the superb mention of the mystery and the secret of human perfection to be achieved "in Christ" (Colossians 1:24-29).

Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother. (Colossians 1:1)

Paul, an apostle ... It is not necessary to refer to Paul as "Saint Paul," for such a title actually downgrades him. All Christians are "saints," but not all are apostles. "Apostle" was the high title given by Christ himself to his chosen representatives, and it carries with it the idea of plenary authority. A second reason for using the title "Apostle Paul" is that it is the title used by himself, and therefore the one preferred by himself. Still a third reason is that it emphasizes the truth that Paul was Christ's representative, not the representative of the church. He was not an apostle appointed by ecclesiastical authority, but a plenary representative of Christ, chosen and appointed by divine authority. Thus, the medieval conceit that the Holy Scriptures belonged to the church and were in some sense the property of it and therefore subject to their exclusive interpretation is defeated and destroyed by the apostolic title itself. Of course, it was medievalism that downgraded Paul from "apostle" to "saint," thus putting him on a parity with any deceased Christian. It is high time to restore the Biblical emphasis and speak of "Paul the apostle of Christ."

Timothy our brother ... The Greek has "Timothy the brother," and by this word Paul dissociated Timothy from any responsibility or authority for the letter to the Colossians, Paul being the exclusive author of it in the sense of its teachings pertaining to him alone.

As Barry noted, "In a special epistle like this, Timothy would be joined with Paul, as usual; but in a general epistle to the churches of Asia, the apostle alone would rightly speak."[1] Despite this view, it is incorrect to think of Timothy's name, in any sense, being joined with that of Paul, except as a courtesy in places where Timothy was known.

Another error is that of denying "apostle" as any kind of title. Guthrie said, "Apostle is no formal title, but a claim to divine authority."[2] On the contrary, "Apostle" is indeed a title, bestowed by the Saviour himself (Luke 6:13). Although of Greek origin, the word "apostle" was most certainly known by our Lord, and its use in Luke's gospel is not anachronistic. See my Commentary on Luke, Luke 6:13, for more on this.

[1] Alfred Barry, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. III, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 96.

[2] Donald Guthrie, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1141.

Verse 2
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ that are at Colossae. Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

The saints and faithful brethren ... Hendriksen pointed out that "The definite article the is omitted before brethren,"[3] indicating that not two classes, but only one class is addressed. As Wesley put it, "Saints refers to their union with God ... brethren refers to their union with fellow-Christians."[4]

In Christ ... at Colossae ... Hayes commented thus:

They were in Christ as surely as they were in Colossae. They had their residence in Colossae and walked about in Colossae; but they had received Jesus in their hearts as Lord, and they also walked in him as they went about their business day by day.[5]

As Barclay said, "Wherever a Christian is, he is in Christ."[6] That is why outward circumstances cannot destroy a Christian. No matter what happens in his environment, to his property, or even to his body, he, through it all, remains safe in Christ Jesus.

Although specifically addressed to the Christians in Colossae, this letter was also intended for the nearby congregations at Laodicea (Colossians 4:16), and in fact for the Christians of all times and places.

[3] William Hendriksen, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 44.

[4] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Napierville, Illinois: Alec. R. Allenson, Inc., 1950), in loco.

[5] D. A. Hayes, Paul and His Epistles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1959, Reprint from Copyright Edition, 1915), p. 369.

[6] William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 104.

Verse 3
We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have toward all the saints.

Some commentators have supposed that Paul copied his habit of beginning his letters with prayers of thanksgiving from the stylized letters of that period, each containing an expression of thanks to some pagan deity; but strong agreement is felt with Ashby who declared that Paul's prayers were "no merely conventional opening." The omission of such prayers in Galatians and 2Corinthians indicates that they were included only when the progress of the converts was a real cause for thanksgiving."[7]

Faith ... hope ... love ... make up Paul's famed triad, found in these two verses and the verse following, and reminding one of 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 13:3, etc.

Hendriksen observed that Paul's letter to Titus also omitted the prayer of thanksgiving; thus it is correct to say that "In all of Paul's epistles, with the exception of Galatians and Titus, the opening salutation is followed, either immediately or very shortly, by a thanksgiving and/or doxology."[8]

Having heard of your faith ... This is interpreted to mean that Paul did not have first-hand knowledge of the Colossians, but such an interpretation is probably incorrect. As Macknight said, "It was Paul's custom when absent from the churches which he had planted to make inquiry as to their state."[9] Thus it is very possible that Paul here referred to their continuing in the faith and not to their being converted. Colossae was a Phrygian city; and the New Testament emphatically declares that Paul "went throughout Phrygia" (Acts 16:6).

Your faith in Christ Jesus ... It is refreshing to find a scholar such as Ashby firmly declaring what is undoubtedly true in this passage, as well as in a great many other New Testament Scriptures, namely, that:

Christ is the sphere in which this faith works rather than its object; in other words "faith" derives its significance from their position "in Christ."[10]

"Faith" that saves the Christian is not a subjective trust/faith in his heart, but a faith properly exercised by one who is "in Christ." "Faith in Christ," properly understood, usually means the Christian's fidelity to God as he continues to walk "in Christ." Paul's strong word for this was "obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26).

DID PAUL CONVERT THE COLOSSIANS?

Although disputed by some, this question was answered affirmatively by Macknight. Here is a summary of his argument:[11]; Colossians 1:4 does not mean that Paul did not convert the Colossians; because Paul used this same language when addressing both churches and individuals for whom the apostle was undoubtedly the instrument of their conversion (Philemon 1:1:5,19; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; Ephesians 1:15). Just as emphatically, Colossians 1:7 and Colossians 2:1 cannot mean that Paul did not convert them. See notes on those verses.

Positively: (1) Paul stated that on "your account," that is, the account of the Colossians, he had been made a minister; and this implies that when Paul was in Phrygia he preached to them.

(2) Paul's recommendation of Epaphras to them has the ring of coming from one who, in some sense, was responsible both for them and Epaphras.

(3) Paul wrote the salutation with his own hand, as he did to other churches where he was acquainted and they knew his handwriting.

(4) "Even as ye have been taught" (Colossians 2:6) declares that Paul had the most intimate knowledge of their teaching, and this argues that he himself had done it.

Whether or not one agrees with this reasoning, it seems to be convincing enough.

[7] Ernest G. Ashby, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 483.

[8] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 46.

[9] James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles with Commentary, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 479.

[10] Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 483.

[11] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 480-482.

Verse 5
Because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel.

Because of the hope ... This clause makes "hope" the pinnacle and summit of the famed triad of faith, hope and love, just as love is designated in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Of course, such a cavalier treatment of "faith" is deplored by the scholars. As Hendriksen put it:

Some have experienced difficulty with the fact that Paul here in Colossians 1:4,5 in which he follows sequence B, seems to be saying that the faith of the Colossians and their love are based on hope. Note the words "by reason of the hope."[12]

It is clear enough that Paul did not here merely "seem to be saying," but that he emphatically affirmed that the Christian's faith and love are derived from and founded upon the hope of the gospel. The New Testament unequivocally states that we are "saved by hope" (Romans 8:24, margin); and here the reason for such a truth appears. Both faith and love are "by reason of hope." See more on this in my Commentary on Romans, Romans 8:24.

In the heavens ... "This appears to be a superlative expression here, including all regions and spheres of the unseen world."[13] The plural "heavens" is a Hebrew conception, probably founded upon such passages as Deuteronomy, 1 Kings 8:27; the rabbis spoke of two heavens; Paul of three (2 Corinthians 12:2).

The truth of the gospel ... "This expression (as in Galatians 2:14) is emphatic ... it refers to a revelation of eternal truth, itself as changeless as the truth revealed."[14] The holy gospel was at that point in time winning its supremacy over all civilized thought and it was particularly needful to warn the Colossians against the sudden growth of wild speculations, as contrasted with the unchanging, eternal truths of the gospel.

[12] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 49.

[13] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol. IV (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1964), p. 251.

[14] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 96.

Verse 6
Which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day ye heard and knew the grace of God in truth.

In all the world ... "is not to be understood as hyperbole."[15] Hendriksen supplied the following quotations:

Justin Martyr: There is no people, Greek or barbarians, or of any other race ... however ignorant ... whether they dwell in tents or wander about in covered wagons, among whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered in the name of the crucified Jesus to the Father and Creator of all things.

Tertullian: We are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate, forum. We have left you only your temples.[16]

There are likewise numerous hints in the New Testament of the widespread acceptance of Christianity. "All those of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10); "The word of the Lord grew and increased mightily" (Acts 19:20); "In every place your faith in God has gone forth" (1 Thessalonians 1:8); "The gospel has become clear throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest" (Philippians 1:12f).

[15] Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 484.

[16] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 51.

Verse 7
Even as ye learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.

It was Macknight's opinion that the word "also" in Colossians 1:8 properly modifies "from Epaphras" and that this verse becomes a denial of what it is usually quoted as affirming, that Paul did not convert the Colossians. He said:

The Colossians had learned the true doctrine of the gospel, not from the apostle alone, but they had learned it from Epaphras also.[17]

The sequential arrangement of clauses and phrases has a tremendous bearing upon their meaning; and as long as the learned dispute about the proper arrangement in a given verse, all options as to the meaning of it should remain open.

ENDNOTE:

[17] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 480.

Verse 8
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

"This is the only explicit reference to the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Colossians."[18] Paul declared that "love" was the first fruit of the Holy Spirit; and thus this verse is a testimony to the Spirit's work in the hearts of the Colossians (Galatians 5:22).

ENDNOTE:

[18] Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 484.

Verse 9
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray and make request for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

In this and verses following the limitless aspirations of Paul's prayers for fellow-Christians is observable. Note the unlimited nature of this request:

He asks that they may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom ... unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God![19]

It should be particularly observed that the knowledge here prayed for is the knowledge of God's will, as Barry expressed it, "Not speculation as the the nature of God, or emanations from Deity, or even as to reasons of God's mysterious counsels."[20] Above everything else people need to know what the will of God is, and having learned it, to do it to the best of their ability.

[19] D. A. Hayes, op. cit., p. 358.

[20] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 98.

Verse 10

To walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.

See under Colossians 1:9 for comments on the unlimited nature of this great Pauline prayer.

In every good work ... Nothing could be plainer in the word of God than the fact of good works being required of those who hope to enter heaven. Furthermore, it is absolutely incorrect to seek the elimination of this requirement by declaring that "Paul attaches high value to good works viewed as the fruit, not the root, of grace."[21] Paul himself emphatically made good works a prior condition of eternal redemption, even for those already saved by the blood of Christ, a truth which is clearly visible in this verse. Paul said:

We must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

God will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life; but to them that are factious and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek: for there is no respect of persons with God (Romans 2:6-11).

Reference is here made to the discussion of the above scriptures in the notes in this series of commentaries. See my Commentary on 1,2Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 5:10, and my Commentary on Romans, Romans 2:6.

Paul did not teach that people, in any sense, earn salvation, or that perfection in keeping all God's commandments must be attained; but despite this, those who work evil will be lost, regardless of how much they profess to "believe" in the Lord.

[21] William Hendriksen, op. cid, p. 58.

Verse 11
Strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy.

All power ... all patience ... See under Colossians 1:9 for comment on the unlimited nature of the apostle's prayers for Christians.

According to the might of his glory ... Hendriksen has a vivid comment on this thus:

When a multimillionaire gives "of' his wealth to some good cause he may be giving very little; but when he donates "in accordance with" his riches, the amount will be substantial.

Thus the strengthening of the Christian "according to" the might of God's glory is beyond all calculation.

Verse 12
Giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

Who made us meet ... This is rendered "qualified us" in RSV, which is a definite improvement over the rendition in the English Revised Version (1885).

HOW GOD QUALIFIES PEOPLE TO BE SAVED

I. People must hear the truth to be saved; and it is God who sends out preachers to all the world that people may hear it. See Romans 10:14ff.

II. People's hearts must be open to receive the truth; and that all-important event is produced by the word of God which opens people's hearts. "Lydia ... heard us, whose heart the Lord opened to give heed to the things which were spoken" (Acts 16:14ff).

III. Belief enters into qualification for salvation; and, as Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).

IV. Repentance also figures in salvation (see Luke 13:3,5); but it is God who "grants" repentance. "To the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18).

V. Confession of Christ is one of the prior conditions of salvation (Matthew 10:32,33); but it is God who reveals the great truth which people confess. Thus when Peter confessed Christ (Matthew 16:16), Jesus responded by telling him and all the apostles that "flesh and blood had not revealed it to him" but that "the Father in heaven" had done so! Thus it is God who does the qualifying when one confesses the Saviour.

VI. One is baptized "into Christ"; and after Pentecost, salvation is not promised in the New Testament to any unbaptized person whomsoever. Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). But, when one is baptized, is he thus attempting to earn his salvation, or does his obedience of this command deny that salvation is of grace? Indeed no! Here again, it is God who does the baptizing! Note this:

Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples) (John 4:1,2).

It is still like that today. When one accepts the gospel and is baptized by one of the Lord's disciples, it is still Jesus (God) who is making and baptizing the convert.

Thus God qualifies people to be partakers of the inheritance of eternal life by preaching to them, causing them to hear, opening their hearts, thus causing them to believe, revealing Christ through the sacred word, granting them (along with all other Gentiles) repentance unto life, and by baptizing them into Christ! Now, what about that person who simply will not allow God to do all this for him? The simple and obvious answer is that God will disqualify him!

"It is God who makes worthy those who in themselves art not worthy, and thus enables them to have a share in the inheritance."[22] God would indeed make all people worthy, if people would permit it; but God having given people the freedom of choice and the freedom of their will, the result is that some men "will not believe"; others "will not repent or confess"; and others will not "arise and be baptized."

Inheritance of the saints in light ... Most commentators find in this an allusion to the allotment of the share of the land of Canaan to each of the tribes of Israel in the Old Testament. Thus Hendriksen:

The Lord provided for Israel an earthly inheritance, which was distributed to the various tribes and smaller units of national life by lot (Genesis 31:14; Numbers 18:20; Joshua 13:16; 14:2; 16:1, etc.); so he had provided for the Colossians an allotment or share in the better inheritance.[23]

[22] Ibid., p. 60.

[23] Ibid.

Verse 13
Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.

Out of the power of darkness ... This is the power of Satan, the kingdom of evil, or the realm of the lost. Throughout the New Testament, the unsaved portion of humanity are represented as subjects of an evil ruler, a heartless tyrant who keeps them captive; and the idea of release from captivity is inherent in the words Paul chose here. "The word `translated' is a word properly applied to the transplanting of races.[24] "Josephus uses it of the deportation of the Israelites by the Assyrian king."[25] By the use of the same word here, Paul declared the defeat of the evil kingdom, the vanquishing of its ruler Satan, the release of his captives and the transplanting of them into a wholly new and marvelously better environment. "Out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of his love!"

Note the past tense of the verb "translated." This affirms the existence of God's kingdom at the time Paul wrote; indeed, the Colossians had already been translated into it. Throughout the New Testament, after the day of Pentecost, references to the kingdom of God are consistently in the past tense; whereas, before Pentecost, they are consistently in the future tense, thus indicating Pentecost as the occasion of the establishment of God's kingdom upon the earth. For excursus on this, see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 12 under "The Church and the Kingdom Began at the Same Time."

[24] Alfred Barry, op. cit., p. 99.

[25] G. G. Findlay, Colossians in The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 6.

Verse 14
In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

In whom ... This is the characteristic Pauline expression focusing all blessing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Out of Christ there is nothing; in him is eternal life. Out of Christ there is condemnation; in him is redemption. Out of Christ there is guilt; in him is forgiveness, pardon and salvation. The holy Scriptures repeatedly declare that "we are baptized into Christ" (Romans 6:3); and this truth is repeated here because so many seem unaware of it.

Findlay quoted Lightfoot as seeing in this passage Paul's refutation of a Gnostic claim that "redemption" consisted of being initiated into Gnostic "mysteries"; but, as stated in the introduction, this is highly speculative. Findlay went on to point out that one of the most prolific writers of that age, Philo, "who speaks the language of the Jewish philosophic mysticism of the first century, has no such usage"[26] of the word redemption.

ENDNOTE:

[26] Ibid., p. 7..

Verse 15
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Image of the invisible God ... The first impression of reading this verse is that the terms "image" and "firstborn" accord Jesus Christ a status below that of absolute deity; but the very next verse emphatically forbids any such inadequate interpretation of this verse.

Image of the invisible God ... John B. Nielson is absolutely correct in the declaration that in these words, "Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is none other than God Himself."[27] He even went further and said that "'firstborn' is equivalent to `only begotten,' and is a Jewish technical term meaning `uncreated'[28] Why, then did Paul use these particular words here?

Image ... God created Adam in his own image (Genesis 1:27); but Adam promptly sinned and fell from that image; but, by these words here, Paul compels us to see in Jesus a second Adam who was indeed God's image. Christ was man as God created him to be in the person of Adam. Christ was (and IS) also God, but the emphasis here is upon his perfect manhood. Again, there is in this passage a strong suggestion linking Paul with the authorship of Hebrews where Hebrews 1:3 corresponds exactly to what is said here. Paul applied the same title to Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:4. Barclay also stressed the connection this passage has with the creation narrative. By using the word "image," which is the same as that in Genesis, Paul in effect says,

Look at Jesus. He shows you not only what God is; he also shows you what man was meant to be. Here is manhood as God designed it. Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God and the perfect manifestation of man.[29]

Firstborn of all creation ... Of course, this verse was the major platform of Arianism, the great heresy that denied the deity of Christ. From this they alleged that Jesus Christ was only a creature, understanding "firstborn" in the sense of being first in a temporal sequence; but there is overwhelming evidence that Paul did not so use that word in this passage. As Guthrie said, "Firstborn must be understood in the sense of supreme rather than in the temporal sense of born before."[30] Barclay affirmed that the time sense in this world is hardly in the Greek word at all, and that here, "It is not used in a time sense at all, but in the sense of special honor. Firstborn is a title of the Messiah."[31] Dummelow pointed out that, just as so frequently in the English, words have different meanings, firstborn has two, that of time sequence and that of supremacy over.[32] Obviously it is the latter meaning which Paul meant here. As a matter of fact, the other meaning was by far the most unusual. David Lipscomb interpreted the word to mean in this place "Over all creation, Christ occupies the relation of supremacy such as is accorded the firstborn; and such is preeminently due to the `firstborn of all creation'."[33] Thus, the two words, image and firstborn, stand for Christ's perfect manhood and perfect deity.

This verse (Colossians 1:15) is the beginning of one of the most important paragraphs in the New Testament; and, as Hendriksen said, "Before attempting a study of the separate parts, the passage should be seen in its entirety."[34] We are further indebted to Hendriksen for the following parallel arrangement which enables the reader, at a glance to see the correspondence between the two major sections:

THE SUPREMACY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

THE SUPREMACY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
A. IN CREATIONB. IN REDEMPTION
15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, That in all things he might have the pre-eminence,
16 For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, Whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities, All things through him and with a view to him have been created; 19 For in him he (God) was pleased to have all the fullness dwell. The visible and the invisible,
17 And he is before all things and all things hold together in him. 20 And through him to reconcile all things to himself, Having made peace through the blood of his cross, Through him, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens.

Now, admittedly, this is a very carefully thought-out paragraph, or sentence of 137 words, and the organization of it is obvious; but for another Pauline paragraph manifesting these same qualities see Paul's long salutation in Romans and the analysis and discussion of it in my Commentary on Romans, Romans 1:8ff. We reject out of hand the allegation that this marvelous paragraph is some kind of hymn or liturgical chant used in worship services of the early church. Such a view is not supported by any evidence whatever except in the imagination of scholars; and it is based upon several very tenuous and unsure premises: (1) that Paul would need to reach into the current hymnology of his day for accurate expression of the nature and essence of the being of Christ Jesus; (2) that the great Christology of this passage had "developed" in the early church. On the contrary, far from having developed any such exalted conception of Christ, those early churches were in danger of being carried away into the worship of angels, etc. If the brethren at Colossae were singing these words already when Paul wrote, there would have been no temptation to gnosticism, and no need for Paul to have written them. Of course, what some have in mind, through making a hymn out of this passage, is to make it easier for them to deny that Paul wrote it, or that it is indeed authoritative Scripture.

This remarkable paragraph has every mark of Pauline authorship, being a similar careful work, comparable to Romans 1:1-7. As G. Campbell Morgan expressed it:

It is here that Paul set forth the glories of the person of the Redeemer in a passage that is unique for its revealing beauty. He summarized the whole truth concerning the glories of the person of Christ in his declaration that "It was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell."[35]

Before leaving Colossians 1:15, one other expression should be noted:

Who is ... not "who was" etc. Three times in these verses (Colossians 1:15,17,18), this imperative IS used with reference to Christ, strongly suggesting the great "I AM's" of the Gospels and of Exodus 3:6,14. See the comment in my Commentary on Mark 6:50.

[27] G. Campbell Morgan, An Exposition of the Holy Bible (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1959), p. 379.

[28] Ibid.

[29] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 118.

[30] Donald Guthrie, op. cit., p. 1144.

[31] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 118.

[32] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 981.

[33] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 259.

[34] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 70.

[35] G. Campbell Morgan, An Exposition of the Holy Bible (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1959), p. 496.

Verse 16
For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him and unto him.

If indeed, as generally supposed, the Colossians were being drawn away into various philosophies and speculations involving the worship of angels, spirits, demons, and the supposition that certain emanations from God were responsible for the creation itself, this verse was the divine thunderbolt that cleared the atmosphere and let the light of God shine in. Hayes' quotation of Farrar regarding what Paul did in this passage is as follows?[36]

To / Paul opposed:

A cumbersome ritualism -- A spiritual service

Inflating speculations -- A sublime reality

Hampering ordinances -- A manly self-discipline

Esoteric exclusiveness -- A universal gospel

Theological cliques -- An equal brotherhood

Barren systems -- A new life

All their problems -- Christ as the answer

This verse affirms the deity of Christ as effectively as any in the New Testament. As the Creator of all things, how could he be anything less?

By this the apostle declares that the invisible beings of the world above us, however lofty their names or mighty their powers, are Christ's creatures as much as the lowliest objects within our sight.[37]

Lightfoot was of the opinion that Paul here made no affirmation regarding the actual existence of such beings as angels; but, whether that is correct or not, Christ taught of their existence; and the Christians who lived contemporaneously with the apostles believed that every Christian had a guardian angel. See my discussion of Angels in my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 1:14. Charles Hodge declared flatly that "Angels are a distinct creation being neither God, human nor animal";[38] and with this view full agreement is felt. Paul's failure to make this clear in this verse was probably due to the fact that the Colossians believed in a great many other supernatural beings (other than angels) and that their belief in such beings was totally false.

As Lipscomb said, "This certainly means that Christ created the whole universe,"[39] leaving absolutely no room whatever for the worship or adoration of any lesser beings whatever; and, as Hendriksen put it, "That was Paul's main theme over against the teachers of error who were disturbing the church at Colossae."[40]

A. S. Peake stressed the thought that the words Paul used here "denote angels ... These angels, Paul insists, so far from being superior or equal to Christ, were as inferior to him as the creature is to the Creator."[41] Agreement is felt with this, to the effect that Paul was speaking about angels as actually existing, and that the reference is not to earthly dignitaries, which would be irrelevant to the polemical purpose of this passage.

[36] D. A. Hayes, op. cit., p. 358.

[37] G. G. Findlay, op. cit., p. 9.

[38] Charles B. Hodge, Angels (Nashville: The Christian Teacher, Inc., 1977), p. 4.

[39] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 259.

[40] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 72.

[41] A. S. Peake, Expositor's Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 504.

Verse 17
And he is before all things, and in him all things consist.

Again, here is an astounding coincidence of thought with that of the author of Hebrews. See my Commentary under Hebrews 1:3. Not only did Jesus Christ create the universe, he sustains, upholds, and supports it!

And he is before all things ... See under Colossians 1:15. Findlay was also impressed with the implications "he is" as used here. He said:

In the mouth of a Hebraist like Paul, the coincidence of the doubly emphatic "he is" with the etymological sense of Jehovah, as interpreted in Exodus 3:6, can scarcely be accidental.[42]

There is a glimpse here of the same thought of Hebrews 13:8, regarding him who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

ENDNOTE:

[42] G. G. Findlay, op. cit., p. 10.

Verse 18
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

Here begins the second phase of this grand statement of the preeminence of Christ, the first pertaining to all creation, and this pertaining to the new spiritual creation, that is, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He is ... Note the same imperative use of this expression as in Colossians 1:15,17.

Head of the body, the church ... Some expositors like to take the view that Paul's idea of the corporate Christ, the spiritual body of believers with Christ as its head, was a late blooming idea with the apostle; but such is totally incorrect. As Hendriksen said:

It cannot be truthfully maintained that the proposition, "Christ is the head of the church," was absolutely foreign to Paul's thinking prior to the time of the Prison Epistles.[43]

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that there is "one body" (1 Corinthians 12:20), and is not a body supposed to have a head? Furthermore, when Paul wrote that the head of "every man" is Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3), is this not absolutely equivalent to saying that Christ is the head of the church? As a matter of fact, the expression "in Christ" used so extensively in Paul's writings is the embodiment of that entire corpus of truth which surfaces in this verse regarding "the body of Christ." We dare to offer the challenge that in every one of the 169 times where Paul used "in Christ" or the equivalent "in him," "in whom," etc., it is proper to read it "in the spiritual body of Christ," that being the only way that any man on earth was ever in Christ at all. Thus the conceit of the spiritual body with Christ as its head being in any sense a late or "developed idea" for Paul is totally refuted by the magnificent Pauline expression "in Christ."

The beginning ... Christ as the "beginning" actually begins. He brings into being a new creation, the church, his body. "His body, the church, begins in him, dating and deriving from him its all in all."[44]

Firstborn from the dead ... "The word firstborn brings over with it into the verse the glory which surrounds it in Colossians 1:15," as Findlay said, "The divine Firstborn, who is before and over all things, wins his title a second time for his earthly brethren's sake (Hebrews 2:10-15)."[45]

[43] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 76.

[44] G. G. Findlay, op. cit., p. 11.

[45] Ibid.

Verse 19
For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell.

"This verse should be understood in the light of Colossians 2:9. It is the fullness of Deity, the `fullness of the godhead bodily' that is pleased to dwell in the Son."[46]

Ashby also agreed with this analysis of the verse, adding that by thus stressing Christ's deity, Paul effectively undermined the whole argument of the Gnostics. He said, "It is peculiarly fitting that Paul should thus describe the Saviour. It is God's pleasure that all fullness, the full essence of deity, should re'side in Christ."[47]

[46] John B. Nielson, op. cit., p. 382.

[47] Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 485.

Verse 20
And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross: through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.

Hendriksen suggested the probable meaning of this verse to be:

Sin ruined the universe. It destroyed the harmony between one creature and another, also between all creatures and their God. Through the blood of the cross, however, sin in principle has been conquered ... the law satisfied ... the curse borne ... harmony restored ... peace made.[48]

Agreement is felt with this paraphrase, except in the matter of its application to the lower creation. While admitting that something like this may indeed be true, this student of the scriptures has never been able to find such premises firmly established in the sacred word. See in my Commentary on Romans, Romans 8:19ff.

Things upon the earth ... This we interpret to mean human beings, leaving the animal creation out of sight altogether.

Things in the heavens ... The only things in heaven which may be said to be out of harmony with God are "Satan's angels"; and yet they have already been cast down and reserved in chains of darkness. Any further speculation on this would appear to be futile.

Heavens ... See under Colossians 1:5 for the use of the plural "heavens."

ENDNOTE:

[48] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 82.

Verse 21
And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works.

In one of the most perceptive statements read in many a day, Hendriksen observed that:

This state of estrangement, moreover, was not due to ignorance or innocence. There are no innocent heathen! On the contrary, they were estranged and hostile in disposition. It was their own fault that they had been and had remained for so long a time "far off," for they had actually hated God!"[49]

This is the truth that was hidden from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosophical father of the Romantic movement in literature and thought. It was he, according to Will and Ariel Durant, "who had more effect upon posterity than any other writer or thinker of the eighteenth century."[50] And it was he who filled the people's minds with the garbage relative to "natural man," "the noble savage," and the totally uninhibited human animal. Here in the sparkling words of an apostle is revealed the truth about natural man" or the "noble pagan." Paul described him as the end-result of devolution downward from a prior state of having known God and then having fallen away from it.

ENDNOTE:

[49] Ibid., p. 83.

Verse 22
Yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable before him.

The thought of this is similar to that of Colossians 1:28, which see; but here the emphasis is upon the body of his flesh, that is, Jesus' physical body and the death upon Calvary. In Colossians 1:28, the emphasis is upon the spiritual body, the corporate Jesus, which is the church. Both are absolutely necessary, because the spiritual body could never have existed without the actual death of Christ on the cross.

The second half of this verse refers to judgment and the appearance at that time of all the redeemed before the Lord.

Verse 23
If so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and stedfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven; whereof I Paul was made a minister.

If so be that ye continue ... This is another of innumerable denials in the New Testament of the monstrous proposition euphemistically described as the "final perseverance of the saints." Salvation is conditional, both for the alien sinner and for the sanctified Christian. God has written that chilling word "IF" over against every name inscribed in the Lamb's Book of Life. If people truly hope to receive eternal life, let them behold the condition stated here: "If so be that ye continue in the faith." In short, that means if they do not quit the church! "Faith" in this passage is not subjective, but objective, meaning "the Christian religion."

Which was preached in all creation ... The same thought is expressed in Colossians 1:6. See notes under that reference. "Creation," as used here, is suggestive of Mark 16:15 and Romans 8:22, which see with the comments. Paul loved to speak of Christians as "the new creation"; and thus, by contrast, "creation," as used here, meant the unregenerated part of humanity.

On this verse, David Lipscomb wrote:

It seems strange that the gospel had been preached among all the nations; but, if we consider the earnest character of the Christians, who gloried in persecutions and death for Christ's sake, it will not seem so strange. The greatest hindrance to the gospel in our day is the lukewarm and indifferent character of professed Christians?[51]

Paul ... a minister ... Hendriksen defined a minister thus:

A minister of the gospel is one who knows the gospel, has been saved by the Christ of the gospel, and with joy of heart proclaims the gospel to others. Thus he serves the cause of the gospel?[52]

[50] Will and Ariel Durant, Rousseau and Revolution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), p. 3.

[51] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 265.

[52] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 85.

Verse 24
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.

In this verse Paul, dwelling upon the metaphor of the "body of Christ," thinks of it as being actually Christ, and therefore, like Christ, called to suffer tribulations, hardship and persecutions, thus viewing it as a necessity that just as Christ suffered, so also should Christians (see Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:11,12). Ellis reasoned from this that "Union with Christ involves ipso facto union with Christ's sufferings," but also pointed out that "The sole redemptive sufficiency is in Christ and his atonement."[53] God's imperial "must" is written upon the sufferings of Christians: "Through many tribulations, we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:21).

ENDNOTE:

[53] E. Earle Ellis, Wycliffe New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 789.

Verse 25
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfill the word of God.

Macknight understood this verse as saying that Paul had been made a minister on behalf of the Colossians, which presupposes that Paul had surely preached to them.

Minister ... See under Colossians 1:23.

Verse 26
Even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints.

The mystery ... This word occurs 21 times in Paul's letters, three times in the Gospels and four times in Revelation?[54] A mystery in the New Testament frame of reference is not something hidden, but something which was once hidden but now revealed. The conviction of this writer is also to the effect that there are elements of amazement and awe in the Scriptural mystery which can never be removed, and that, in some unknown sense, the mystery of God is not even finished yet (see Revelation 10:7). For those interested in an extended discussion of "The Mystery of Redemption," see the entire book under that title.[55]

[54] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 88 footnote.

[55] James Burton Coffman, The Mystery of Redemption (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1976).

Verse 27
To whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of the glory.

We heartily agree with Ashby that "There is no need to suppose that Paul borrows this term from the Greek-mystery religions, but rather from the Old Testament (Daniel 2:18)."[56] Also Christ used it himself (see Matthew 13:11).

Christ in you ... This is the essence of the "mystery" as Paul expounded it here; but a comparison with other Pauline writings on the subject reveals the mystery to be somewhat complex. There are eight expressions in the New Testament, all eight of which refer to a single state, namely, the saved state; and these are: (1) Christ is in you; (2) you are in Christ; (3) God is in you; (4) you are in God; (5) the Holy Spirit is in you; (6) you are in the Holy Spirit; (7) the mind of Christ is in you; (8) the word of Christ is in you. For Scriptural references and discussion of all these see Galatians 5:23, this volume. It is mandatory, of course, to see all of these various designations as reference to one condition only, that of the redeemed in Christ. The fact that all such references are indeed synonymous is evident from Paul's usage in this and the following verse. Here he spoke of "Christ in you"; in the very next verse, and speaking of the same thing, he referred to it as presenting every man "in Christ," thus quite obviously using "in Christ" and "Christ in you" interchangeably.

ENDNOTE:

[56] Ernest G. Ashby, op. cit., p. 486.

Verse 28
Whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ.

The great goal of Christianity shines in this, namely, that of presenting every man "perfect in Christ." This writer has no patience with the translations and "authorities" that scale down the meaning of "perfect" in this passage, equating it with "completeness" or "maturity." Christ used this word of God himself (Matthew 5:48), and one would hardly speak of God's being mature! NO! This verse is the quintessence of the entire system of Christianity. See my article on "The Perfection of Christians" under Ephesians 1:4.

Verse 29
Whereunto I labor also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

The statement here is that Paul was striving and laboring with all of his strength to unite people in Christ, that being the only possible means of their salvation, and also that the working of Christ himself was present in Paul mightily during those labors. In this significant verse, Paul acknowledged that the overwhelming success of his remarkable life was due not to himself alone, but to the mighty power of Christ Jesus.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Colossians 1:20". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=col&chapter=1&verse=20". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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