2. The person and work of Christ, 1:3-23

i] The supremacy of Christ in creation and redemption


The passage before us presents as hymn-like prose, a most remarkable piece of writing. It presents Christ as the Lord of the universe, standing over all other powers. He is the "first-born of all creation", "before all things", "the beginning", "pre-eminent" and "the fullness of God." Hebrews 1:2, 3, comes close to the language used here by Paul, but other than this passage, Paul's words here are unique in the New Testament. Beginning with Christ's role in creation, Paul moves to Christ's role in redemption and in so doing displays before us the one who is the Lord of the universe, head of the church.


i] Context: See 1:1-2.


ii] Background: See 1:1-2.


iii] Structure: This passage, outlining Jesus' credentials, presents as follows:

his preeminence over the created order, v15-17;

his authority over the church, v18;

his prime function of reconciling all creation to himself, v19-20.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul's beautiful hymn in honor of Christ, v15-20, presents Jesus as the exalted Lord of the universe, Lord over all powers, supernatural or otherwise; he is creator, head of the church, and agent of reconciliation. Having outlined cosmic reconciliation, Paul then has something to say about how this reconciliation applies to the Colossians. They were once "alienated from God", but now "reconciled", v21-23.


In this passage Paul seeks to establish the credentials of Jesus, so confirming the security of a believer's standing in the presence of the living God and therefore the worthless nature of the heresy promoted by the false teachers in the Colossian church. If we can accept who Jesus is, then we may resist the temptation of adopting an effort-based Christianity.


Source: It is often argued that the passage is actually an early Christian hymn inserted by Paul in this letter. There is nothing wrong with using a hymn source and such may be the case, but on the other hand, Paul is certainly able to turn his hand to high prose. Note how the scan doesn't work with v15 and v18b.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the pew-level sermon notes The Person and Work of Christ

Text - 1:15

Christ, Lord of the universe and head of the church, v15-20. i] Christ's role in creation, v15-18a. The nature and being of God are perfectly revealed in Christ. He is the image of God, v15a; he is preeminent over all creation, Lord over it, heir of it all; he is a cosmic Christ, v15b.

eikwn (wn onoV) "the image" - image, likeness. Predicate nominative. Image as in display, a painting, and thus expressing the idea of Christ as the revelation of God.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "of the [invisible] God" - The genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective, although adjectival, possessive seems a better classification.

tou aoratou gen. adj. "invisible" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "God".

prwtotokoV adj. "firstborn" - preeminent. Nominative in apposition to the noun "image". Usually in the sense that "by virtue of his resurrection, he (Christ) is the first-born from the dead and therefore the inaugurator of a new family of those who are raised in him", Wilson. Here obviously not the first element of creation. Moule (similar to Lightfoot) proposes two alternatives and suggests that both ideas are present: i] Temporal, of Christ's priority to the created world; ii] Rule, of Christ's supreme rule over all the world / creation.

pashV ktisewV gen. "over all creation" - of all creation. The genitive is adjectival, of subordination, as NIV. Expressing Christ's preeminence over all creation. He existed before creation and is supreme over creation.


God has created all dimensions; he created the total expanse of heaven and earth. He also created all beings; he created mankind along with the angelic powers of good and evil. With this in mind, Paul explains Christ's involvement in creation; he states that "all things were created by him." Some commentators suggest that "in him" is a better translation, ie., Christ is the sphere within which the creation takes place, such that God does not create independently of Christ. The creation is also "through him", ie., Christ is the agent through whom the creation comes into being. And finally, the creation is "for him", ie., Christ is the goal toward which it is shaped. Christ is the ruler of creation and the ultimate goal toward which the whole of creation moves.

oJti "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining that Christ's unique position, with regard the creation, rests on his role / is because he is the agent / instrument of its creation.

en autw/ "by him / in him" - The natural reading of the preposition en is local / sphere, ie., Christ is the sphere within which creation is realized, so TNIV. We might therefore say that God does not create independently of Christ. The NIV reading takes en as a dative of agency such that Christ is the agent of creation; it was created "by" him. True, but is that the sense here? Possibly an instrumental sense is intended, "through him", Louse, ie., God worked through Christ in order to create the universe, cf. dia + gen. below.

ektisqh (ktizw) aor. pas. "were created" - May be taken as a divine passive identifying God as the creator.

ta panta "all things" - everything has come into existence, including heavenly unseen things, by the creative handicraft of God in Christ.

en + dat. "things in [heaven]" - in [heaven]. Local, expressing space.

epi + gen. "on [earth]" - Here with a spacial sense; "upon, on".

eite .... eite .... eite .... eite "whether ... or .... or .... or" - either .... or. A correlative conditional construction.

qronoi (oV) "thrones" - thrones, seats. This list of "powers" probably refers to authorities within the spiritual domain, but may include earthly authorities.

dia + gen. "by [him]" - through. Instrumental / agent. Christ is God's instrument / agent by which he has created, he is the divine instrument. Again, the NIV misses the point. "Through", NRSV.

eiV + acc. "for him" - to, toward. Here expressing purpose / end-view; "with a view to, for." The whole creative process had, as its intended goal, God's eternal purposes realized in Christ. Not only is Christ the origin of creation, he is the end and goal.


Paul restates the idea of Christ's permanence, his precedence over all things, and then adds a new thought. Christ has cosmic significance in that he maintains all things, sustaining and unifying the creation.

pro + gen. "before" - before. The sense my be temporal, that is, Christ existed (in time terms) before the creation of all things, which of course is true, but it may also be read as precedence; "Christ is supreme over the world."

en + dat. "in [him]" - cf. v16.

sunesthken (sunisthmi) perf. "[all things] hold together" - [all things] have been held together. Christ functions as the sustainer of the universe; "everything else holds together in him", Barclay.


Christ "is the head of his body, the church." Christ is the "head" of the church in the sense of supplying its life and exercising control and direction. The "body" is Christ's body, in the sense of his people (believers) being in an intimate association with him, under his control and serving him. This then is "the church": a local gathering of believers with Christ, who in that gathering image the heavenly gathering already assembled in the presence of the ascended Christ.

hJ kefalh (h) "the head" - Predicate nominative. Paul has established Christ's relationship with the creation in general, and now specifically with the church. Here and in Ephesians, Paul has advanced the body illustration used in Romans and Corinthians where the interrelationship of the members of the body is paramount. Here the member "head" illustrates headship, control over, authority over, ....... the members of the Christian fellowship.

tou swmatoV (a toV) gen. "of the body" - The genitive is adjectival, of subordination; "He is the head set over what is his body: the Church", Cassirer. Illustrative of the corporate nature of the Christian fellowship "in" (in an intimate association with) Christ. This sense, developed by Paul from the corporate nature of the people of Israel, was powerfully reinforced to him in Christ's word's, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

thV ekklhsiaV (a) gen. "the church" - Standing in apposition to "body", genitive by agreement. Our understanding of this word is influenced by common usage, so presumptions abound. The word simply means: assembly, gathering. The church is the assembly formed by the meeting together with Christ of believers, both here on earth and in eternity.


ii] Christ's role in redemption, v18b-20. In the final verses of the passage we learn of Christ's role in redemption. Christ is himself the beginning and the first member of the new creation, "his body."

o{V estin "he is" - who is. Note that a similar relative clause is found at the beginning of v15, which grammatical construction gives structure to this passage.

arch (h) "the beginning" - beginning. Predicate nominative. The definite article is read since "beginning" here is an absolute. The meaning may be temporal in the sense that Christ is the first of those risen from the dead. If this is so, the following clause, "the firstborn from among the dead, is in apposition, restating "beginning", or even explaining its intended meaning. It is also possible that "beginning" should be read as "first in priority of all believers", or even "founder".

prwtotokoV adj. "firstborn" - The adjective serves as a substantive, standing in apposition to "beginning", nominative in agreement. Christ is the first to rise from the dead and the first to be clothed in the new resurrection body; He is the first of the new creation. Yet as above, it is possible that priority is intended. Christ is the "founder" of God's resurrected community.

ek "from [the dead]" - Expressing source/origin / separation; "out of, from / away from"

iJna + subj. "so that" - that. Forming a final clause expressing purpose, or consecutive expressing result. The divine intention is "in order that ......."

en + dat. "in [everything]" - Local, expressing sphere; "in the sphere of everything", ie. all created things. Possibly adverbial, modal, so "in every way."

genhtai (ginomai) aor. subj. "he might have" - might be. God's intention is that Christ "be" preeminent.

prwteuwn (prwteuw) pres. part. "the supremacy" - holding the first place. The participle serves as a substantive, "in order that, in everything, he might become the one holding the first place"; "preeminent".


Christ is the agent of reconciliation, v19-20. "For God is pleased to have all his fullness to dwell in him", ie. God is happy for his divine essence to reside in Christ. The "fullness" here is "the totality of divine essence and power resident in Christ. He is the one, all-sufficient intermediary between God and the world of humanity, and all the attributes of God are disclosed in him," Bruce. As well as having created "all things" and presently sustaining them, and as well as ruling the church, "his body", Christ is also the agent of reconciliation. This work of reconciliation is cosmic in application, cf. Eph.1:10. It is not just the reconciliation of a broken humanity, a making peace between God and mankind, but also a reconciliation of "things in heaven." The great theologian Origen suggested that these "things" may be fallen angels. Certainly, it does seem that Christ's work of reconciliation, as well as reconciling a humanity subjected to futility, also extends to the reconciliation of hostile spiritual powers in heavenly places.

oJti "for" - because. Possibly causal, explaining why Christ has been given preeminence, namely, "because in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell", ESV, although Campbell argues that here it is consecutive, expressing result.

eudokhsen (eudokew) aor. "[God] was pleased" - As with most translations, the NIV assumes that "God" is the subject of the verb "was pleased." Note how the NRSV has taken "the fullness" as the subject; "for in him all the fullness [of God] was pleased to dwell." With this reading it is assumed that "fullness" means the full presence of God / God in all his fullness / the fullness of God. "For by God's own decision ....", Barclay.

to plhrwma (a atoV) "the fullness" - full number, full measure, fullness, completeness, totality*. The word is used in the Old Testament in the sense of "full measure" and God is described as the one who fills everything. So, the totality of God's character resides with Christ, indwells him in "full measure." "In all his completeness", Barclay.

katoikhsai (katoikew) aor. inf. "dwell" - to take up residence and dwell permanently. The infinitive functions as the object of the verb "was pleased", "pleased that it might dwell", so it may be classed as epexegetic / explanatory, or even as a dependent statement of desiring, expressing what the divine fullness "chose / willed / determined". The divine presence resides with Christ permanently.

en autw/ "in him" - See v16. The fullness dwells "in Christ."


di (dia) + gen. "through [him]" - As noted above, the preposition is probably instrumental, not so much of agency, but of means in that God "was pleased" / wanted to reconcile all things to himself, and this he achieved through Christ.

apokatallaxai (apokatallasw) aor. inf. "to reconcile" - to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken*. The prefix apo is probably added by Paul for emphasis sake. The infinitive is as above, complementary; the divine fullness "chose / willed / determined" to dwell and to reconcile, cf. v19. Although God created "all things", the unity and peace of the creation are now in disarray, such that the "all things" need to be reconciled to their creator. This God has done (aorist = punctiliar action) through Christ, "through him."

auton pro. "[to] himself]" - [to] him. Reflective use of the personal pronoun.

ta panta "all things" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to reconcile." What are the all things? Given that the business of reconciling is personal it would seem that a reconciliation of the wider creation is not intended, cf. Rom.8:19-21. Obviously, seekers on earth are included in this reconciliation, but what of "the things in the heavens"? Lohse argues that the words encompass the universe as a whole; "the universe has been reconciled in that heaven and earth have been brought back into their divinely created and determined order." It is likely that the sense here is of the pacifying, and ultimately the reconciling of all created beings in heaven as well as earth - cosmic reconciliation is intended. The rebellion began in the heavenlies and will end there. If this is the case, then Christ's work of reconciliation through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, has implications, not just for lost humanity, but a lost cosmos. It is possible, that we, the new creation, may play a part in the pacification and reconciliation of the cosmos, although such a notion causes time-lag problems. When discussing this subject with a colleague once, he made the point that if there is sorting out to be done in the heavenlies he would appreciate it if it was sorted out before he got there. The thought of having to go through the vagaries of life again, but on a grander scale, was not something to look forward to. Eschatological schemes abound, and so I am reminded of a African student who once cut through this maze with the words "don't worry, in the last day there will just be you and Jesus." What more do we need to say?

eite .... eite "whether [things on earth] or [things in heaven]" - either .... or. A correlative conditional construction.

eirhnopoihsaV (eirhnopoiew) aor. part. "by making peace" - having made peace. The participle is adverbial, probably instrumental, as NIV, or possibly temporal, "peace having been established by virtue of Christ's blood shed on the cross", Cassirer.

dia + gen. "through" - through, by means of. Instrumental, expressing means; "by means of Christ's perfect and complete sacrifice on the cross on behalf of sinful humanity."

tou staurou (oV) gen. "[his blood] shed on the cross" - [the blood] of the cross. The genitive is adjectival, attributive / idiomatic, limiting "blood"; the blood which Christ shed on the cross at the time of his crucifixion. "It says much for the faith of these first Christians that they should see in Christ's death and resurrection quite literally the key to resolving the disharmonies of nature and the inhumanities of mankind, that the character of God's creation and God's concern for the universe in its fullest expression could be so caught and encapsulated for them in the cross of Christ", Dunn,


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