On the cosmological and christological objective of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
The corpus of Pauline writing in the New Testament is rightly described as kerygmatic in its authorial intent. This is not to exclude the pragmatic business which often moved the apostle’s pen, but latent within St. Paul’s correspondence to the early Christian churches is a pastoral proclivity for tending to the salient needs of each congregation through the unveiling of the Godhead’s providential arrangement of events in salvation history. Paul’s earnest desire was not only resolution for the obvious points of contention, but also incorporation into the broader christological narrative, one which allays trivial strifes by bringing God’s Son to the fore.
The letter to the Colossians remains, perhaps, the optimal example of Christ’s supremacy in Paul’s oeuvre. Permeating the missive is the quintessence of “high christology,” placing on Christ’s person the weighty mantle of God’s fullness. (Col 1:19; 2:9) But, as Paul proceeds to expound, the shoulders of the risen Jesus are more than broad enough to not only bear the preponderance of the cross as the eschatological fulfillment of God’s redemption of man but also withstand the brunt of man’s philosophical assaults. To that end, B. Witherington describes the christological hymn in the opening chapter of Colossians as the “full flower of christological wisdom.”1 The subsequent discourse of the letter emanates from this anthemic chorus of the “image of the invisible God,” in order to exhibit the church’s true treasure, namely, the anointed King of all things descending to the putrid estate of his creation in order to bleed for it and bathe it in his redemptive blood. (Col 1:13–15, 22)
The “Christ Hymn” which comprises the opening remarks of the letter (Col 1:15–20) constitutes the crux of the apostolic enthusiasm with which the epistle is composed. “This hymnic paragraph,” writes P. T. O’Brien, “is not a christological digression or excursus but is clearly central to the context in which it stands.”2 Whether or not the impetus for this lofty conversation on Christ Jesus’s divine identity and nature stems from a germane presence of gnosticism or asceticism or some amalgamation of heretical tendencies within the church, Paul nevertheless avers the Colossians’ source of “wisdom and spiritual understanding” as issuing from Christ himself, in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col 1:9; 2:3) Jesus, then, is the medium through which men discern the “knowledge of God’s mystery.” (Col 2:2) “In Colossians, Christ is not only the Wisdom of God clothed in flesh, the Holy Redeemer of God come from heaven to right Adam’s wrong and fulfill Isaianic expectations of a Suffering Servant,” writes Josh Eaglen, “but he is also the one through whom the world was created and for whom the world was created.”3
Christ Jesus, therefore, is himself the palpability of the Wisdom of God. He is divinity clothed in the frailty of human flesh. The phantom deity in the form of a person. He is the touchable God, the One who reigns preeminent over all the created order while simultaneously submitting himself to become part and parcel within that creation in order to make peace “through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:15–17, 20) He is the One in whom sinners are hid. (Col 3:3–4) Such is the divine mystery of which Paul speaks so frequently within his letters. (1 Cor 2:1, 7; 4:1; Eph 1:9; 3:3–4, 9; 6:19; Col 1:26–27; 2:2; 4:3; 1 Tm 3:9, 16) “In Him, and in Him alone,” Alexander Maclaren comments, “the far off, awful, doubtful God becomes a God very near, of Whom we are sure, and sure that He loves and is ready to help and cleanse and save.”4 “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ,” St. Paul says, “and you have been filled by him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” (Col 2:9–10) Indeed, encapsulated in Jesus’s person is the mysterious convergence of the Godhead’s cosmological and christological objective of reconciliation and redemption.
B. Witherington III, “Christology,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 105.
P. T. O’Brien, “Letter to the Colossians,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 152.
Jason Eaglen, “The Presence of ‘High’ Christology in the Letters of Paul the Apostle” (M.A. thesis, The University of Georgia, 2004), 65.
Alexander Maclaren, The Epistles of St. Paul to Colossians and Philemon (New York: Armstrong & Son, 1901), 75.