A Couple of Comments on Colossian 1:15ff

Posted by David Barron March - 3 - 2011 - Thursday

The Socinian view of Colossians 1:15ff holds, with some variation, Christ to have had “all things” created in him and through him with strict reference to the new creation.   Though Paul says “all things” and leaves no ambiguity from his absolute reference to those “in the heavens and on earth,” this is denied.  A significant objection is based upon v. 20, where God has “through him reconciled all things to himself.”   This reconciliation is thought to bring “all things” in good standing before God, meaning it could not be “all things” but only the new creation.  F.F. Bruce’s explaination addresses this concern (F.F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems Part 4: Christ as Conqueror and Reconciler”, Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1, 1984, 292-3) :

But the reconciliation in view in Colossians 1:20, at the end of the Christ hymn, cannot be equated simply with the reconciliation of the world in 2 Corinthians 5:19 or Romans 11:15, nor yet with the liberating of creation in Romans 8:21. Too much should not be made of the fact that the reconciliation of Colossians 1:20 is expressed by means of the double compound [apokatalasso]. The same compound is used of the reconciliation of believers to God in Colossians 1:22 and of the reconciliation of believing Jews and Gentiles in one body in Ephesians 2:16.

The statement at the end of the Christ hymn is that God, who was pleased in all His fullness to dwell in Christ, was pleased also “through Him to reconcile all things to Himself whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). The “all things” which are thus to be reconciled embrace things on earth and things in heaven, just as the “all things” which were created through Christ embrace “things in heaven and on earth” (Col. 1:16). The parallelism between these two references to “all things” leaves no doubt that the same totality is intended in reconciliation as in creation. The “all things” which are to be reconciled to God through Christ include “things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers,” all of which are said to “have been created through Him” in the first place (Col. 1:16). But if we have regard to the portrayal of principalities and powers later in this letter (and in Ephesians too, for that matter), it is not easy to think of them as “reconciled” in the same sense as believers.

In fact the verb in the Christ hymn has a rather different sense from what Paul normally gives it. If the Christ hymn is an independent composition which Paul incorporates into his argument, then the situation is intelligible. Paul leaves the word as it is; there was no need to change it, for it spoke of the peace effected by Christ through the shedding of His blood on the cross. Indeed he goes on immediately to speak of the reconciliation of believers through that same death — a reconciliation necessary because they had formerly been “alienated and hostile in mind,” practicing evil works (Col. 1:21). The principalities and powers have also been hostile, malignantly so, but there is no hint that in their case reconciliation replaces hostility with friendship. As was stated in the second article in the series, reconciliation applied to them means more of what is understood as pacification, the imposing of peace, something brought about by conquest. There is thus a close association between the portrayal of Christ as Reconciler in the Christ hymn and the portrayal of Christ as Conqueror elsewhere in the letter. Perhaps Paul left the verb “to reconcile” unaltered in the Christ hymn (Col. 1:20) because he was about to make it plain in the following exposition that the reconciliation of the hostile powers involved their defeat.

Paul sees “rulers and authorities” negatively in 2:15.  If these indeed are understood negatively, how could these refer to the new creation in 1:16?

A significant question might be asked of Trinitarians:  In what way did Jesus require reconciliation?  If “all things” refers, without contextual exception, to everything created, Christ’s own human body is necessarily among those things requiring reconciliation.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.