Re: Colossians 1:23

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Feb 21 1997 - 09:56:15 EST

At 7:52 AM -0600 2/21/97, James H. Vellenga wrote:
>> From: "Carl W. Conrad" <>
>> 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."
>I'm going to disagree with Carl here. Given that KHRUChQENTOS is passive,
>we ought very strongly to consider the possibility that EN PASHi KTISEI
>is an instrumental dative.
>In addition, we also ought to consider the possibility the PASHi here
>means not "every" but "every kind of". In fact, I generally find it a
>useful rule of thumb to use "every kind of" or "all kinds of" when the
>noun modified by PAS lacks the definite article, and to use "every" or
>"all" when the definite article is present (exception noted below).
>From these, I get something like
> ... the good news that you heard, the one proclaimed by means of
> every kind of creature (or creation) that [is] under the sky ...
>Phrased this way, we get echoes of "The heavens declare the glory of God"
>or (Rom. 1.20) "His invisible [qualities] are clearly seen from a
>creation of a world system, being understood [in?] the things made."

This bothers me in at least two respects--and I'm talking about
interpretation of the Greek primarily here, rather than about the content.

(1) EN PASHi KTISEI as an instrumental dative with KHRUCQENTOS strikes me
as very strange Greek indeed. It seems to me that when we see instrumental
dative with EN in the NT (and I don't have a concordance at hand, I
regret), it tends to refer to the impersonal means by which something is
accomplished. What comes most readily to mind is phrases such as BAPTISQEIS
EN hUDATI or EN PNEUMATI where we will want to say "baptized with/by means
of water" or "with/by means of Holy Spirit". And I don't think it will do
to understand Holy Spirit as a person in our sense in these expressions
because it really seems to be referring to an agency or instrument by means
which something is being performed rather than to a personal agent. With a
passive the normal way of expressing personal agent is hUPO + genitive.

(2) It seems to me that there is an immense semantic chasm between Paul's
assertion in Romans 1 that creation by itself reveals to every human being
the fact of its having been created by a supremely powerful and beneficent
creator and the assertion here that the GOSPEL OF CHRIST is being
proclaimed by every single thing created. With all due respect, I think
evangelists might perhaps not be quite so busy if people could readily read
the Christ-event and its implications for personal salvation by looking at
the trees, the sky, the grass, etc.

I still don't see how EN PASHi KTISEI can reasonably construe in any other
way than as a locative dative referring to WHERE the gospel has been or is
or will be proclaimed.

I note that Wallace has a nice discussion of "EN + Dative for Personal
Agency" (pp. 373-4) wherein he notes that some have argued for it in the NT
but that he sees no clear example of it.

I haven't cited the rest of Jim Vellenga's response to my notes on Mark 1
and Acts 2 where a universally-inclusve form of PAS seems to be an
exaggeration. I personally think that the usage is deliberate in both
instances, but I also think that the intention in each of these instances
is to make a rhetorical/symbolic point: Mark regarding the eschatological
coming of the prophet and the Messiah as a confrontation engaging all of
Israel, and Luke regarding the Pentecost event as a reversal of the Babel
event that brought about the dispersal of humanity into all the EQNH.

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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:07 EDT