Re: Colossians 1:23

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Feb 21 1997 - 07:39:22 EST

At 8:31 PM -0600 2/20/97, Mark Armstrong wrote:
>I am presently taking a Bible Study group through the Book of Colossians.
>Last week someone in the group raised the issue of what 1:23b means. The
>NIV says, "This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed
>to every creature under heaven....".
>Turning to the Greek text, we see TOU KHRUXQENTOS EN PASH KTISEI TN UPO TON
>The problem appears to be one of factuality, for I don't think it can mean
>that the Gospel has been preached to every individual on earth at the time
>Paul wrote this letter. Had Paul actually proclaimed the gospel to "every
>creature under heaven", what can this mean? How do we translate PASH KTISEI
> - as referring to humans alone, or does it include heavenly hosts and the
>like? Is PASH used in a restrictive sense?
>If anyone has any insights into the text that may shed some light on this
>issue I would be most grateful.

(1) In the first place it strikes me that NIV's "to every creature" is a
paraphrase rather than a translation of EN PASHi KTISEI, as the dative here
is not the "true" dative commonly indicating a personal indirect object nor
is it the not uncommon usage of the instrumental dative with EN to indicate
means by which something is accomplished. Rather it is surely the "good
old-fashioned" locative dative and should, normally, I would think, be
translated as "in all creation."

(2) One factor that could enter in here is that the time referred to by the
aorist passive participle KHRUCQENTOS need not refer to the past, although
onemight imagine alternatives such as KHRUCQHSOMENOU or KHRUSSOMENOU which
would more clearly imply non-completion. Actual completion might be more
precisely indicated by KEKHRUGMENOU. In sum, KHRUCQENTOS might conceivably
understood as having no clear determinate temporal reference (isn't that,
in fact--the question is, of course, facetious--what "aorist" means?) and
be translated as an attributive adjective "the gospel preached" without
temporal focus, or as the verb of a relative clause that doesn't emphasize
time but effect, "the gospel that gets preached in all creation."

(3) IF, however, the question of actual fulfilment of this assertion at the
time of its writing is understood, one would really have to wonder about
what era the author understood himself to be living in. A very interesting
parallel construction that jars a careful reader to sit up and take note is
Mark's declaration that when John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness
EXOMOLOGOUMENOI TAS hAMARTIAS AUTWN. Are we then really to understand Mark
to be saying that the entire population of the territory designated as
Judaea and EVERY SINGLE dweller in Jerusalem went to John and was actually
baptized? I find it difficult to accept this as a historical fact that Mark
is intent upon communicating to his readers. I think something else may in
fact be intended by Mark; that's another question. But when I've looked at
translations I rather think the translators side-step the sharpness of
Mark's expression, and I note also that the parallel passages in Mt and Lk
soften the sharpness of Mark's expression too so as to indicate that great
numbers, but not the entire population, went to John.

(4) Still another passage that is troubling in this manner is Acts 2:5 HSAN
TON OURANON. Does this mean "of every nationality" in which there are
actually Diaspora Jews participant? Or is this a deliberately tendentious
univesal inclusive statement intended by the writer to express a symbolic
rather than a literal historical meaning? I really do think Luke means to
underscore the univesal human dimension, but he could do that only in a
symbolic sense, and I am inclined to think that's what he's actually doing

So the question may be raised at more than one place in the NT as to
whether the text is actually asserting as historical fact that an
all-inclusive universal fulfilment took place.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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