From: Rolf Furuli (email@example.com)
Date: Tue Nov 10 1998 - 00:46:36 EST
When we read Colossians 1, our view of Jesus will influence our judgement.
We cannot escape this, what we can do is to admit it and try to be as
objective as possible. A little exercise of sorting may help us, that is,
we can try to differentiate between what is based on language, theology,
semantics and pragmatics.
The crucial point in a discussion of the chapter is Jesus' relation to
creation, and there are two basic views: (1) Jesus is God, the creator, a
person in the Trinity, thus being completely separated from creation, and
(2) Jesus is God's first and unique creature, whom God used as an
intermediate agent in creation. B-Greek is not the place for a theological
discussion of beliefs, but certainly is a place to discuss the lexical,
grammatical and syntactical possibilities of a text.
>Now if we ask whether Jesus is part of creation or separate in his deity, I
>think we are asking a question that goes beyond the intent of this passage.
>It says that Jesus is the EIKWN of the invisible God, preeminent over all
>creation, that all things hold together in him, that all things were
>created through him and for him. This kind of passage, a hymn of praise to
>Jesus, occurs in quite a few places in the New Testament, but there are not
>similar hymns of praise to humans or to angels or to any other except God
>in the New Testament. However, nowhere in this passage is there a
>conclusive statement that Jesus is part of creation or that Jesus is not
>part of creation.
>Is there disagreement about any of what I said in the above paragraph?
There is a theological consensus about what you say in the paragraph above,
but two important expressions should be used as hypotheses or posed as
questions rather than be used as premises, namely that Jesus is "preeminent
over all creation" and that the verses represent " a hymn of praise to
Jesus". Everybody will not agree in this.
>Several people have argued that PRWTOTOKOS PASHS KTISEWS forces the
>conclusion that Jesus is part of creation. Some have argued that the use of
>the genitive forces that conclusion. I don't think so - compare the
>following two phrases:
>PRWTOTOKOS PASHS KTISEWS
>BASILEUS PASHS THS GHS - Ps. 47:7
>Is God part of the earth? I don't think so. Lots of similar examples are
>easily found. So the genitive itself does not force the conclusion that
>Jesus is part of creation.
I agree with you that the phrase PRWTOTOKOS PASHS KTISEWS can have more
than one meaning. However, this does not mean that several possibilities
are equally possible. There can be little doubt that, if not an important
theological question were involved, the genitive would be taken as
partitive, because 'firstborn' is a 'partitive' word. R.G .Bratcher,
E.A.Nida, 1977, "A Translators Handbook on Paul's Letters to the Colossians
and to Philemon" says: "Translated literally (as RSV), it implies that
Christ is included in the created universe, which is inconsistent with the
context of the whole passage."
This is the issue! Lexically speaking, I am aware of just one meaning of
PRWTOTOKOS, namely "the one who is born first". Grammatically speaking,
such a meaning would suggest that the genitive construction be taken as
partitive, but the almost universal opinion among commentators is that this
is forbidden by the context. To use the "context" to justify the use of a
pragmatic implicature as an explanation of verse 15 rather than a "literal"
explanation, the following requirement must be met: The context must show
that Jesus is the creator who is separated from creation and not the
intermediate agent of the creator. You have accepted that Jesus is the
intermediate agent by writing:
>I think that it's clear that it says all things were created *through*
>Jesus, not *by* Jesus. This same distinction is made in John 1:5 (DIA) and
This is important, so I would like to add a few comments
The position of Jesus in relation to creation is seen in 1:16. Here we find
the preposition EN ("in", "by means of"). In the last part of verse 16 we
find the preposition DIA which governs AUTOU in the genitive case. This is
the typical marking of an intermediate agent, so this must be the way Jesus
should be viewed.
Does the context confirm that God is the direct agent of the passive verbs
which speak about creation, and that Jesus is the intermediate agent? It
certainly does! In 1:12 "the Father" is mentioned, and he is active
through verse 20. This is seen in v 19 where God is the implied subject for
the verb, and it is particularly evident in v 20, because here both the
direct agent (God) and the intermediate agent (Jesus) are mentioned. It is
said that the reconciliation is "through" (DIA) Jesus and "to" (EIS) God.
The same thought is expressed in v 22. The implied agent (grammatical
subject) of the active verb "reconciled" is "God". The intermediate agent
is Jesus, for it is said that reconciliation occured "by means of" (EN) his
fleshly body and "through" (DIA) his death.
The conclusion to this matter may be expressed in the words of E. Lohse
,1971, "A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon" p
50, note 125. : "It should be noted that EN (in), DIA (through), and EIS
(for) are used, but not EK (from). "From whom are all things" (EX hOU TA
PANTA) is said of God in 1 Cor 8:6. He is and remains the creator, but the
pre-existent Christ is the mediator of creation."
What is the relationship between Jesus and creation? Regarding TA PANTA you
>I think that TA PANTA is part of the phrase TA PANTA EN TOIS OURANOIS KAI
>EPI THS GHS, which is then further specified as including all things
>visible or invisible,
>whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. This doesn't talk
>about other created things like flowers and butterflies because the passage
>is primarily about the authority and power of Jesus, and his preeminence
>with respect to anything else that might claim to be an authority or power.
>Now it goes without saying that TA PANTA EN TOIS OURANOIS KAI EPI THS GHS
>in this passage does not include the Father, nor does it include Jesus, and
>any attempt to include either in the scope of this phrase would violate the
>context of the passage.
If we want to use the context to show that Jesus is separated from and
preeminent above creation, we must demonstrate that TA PANTA is identical
with or have the same meaning as PASHS KTISEWS. You write:
>The link between PASHS KTISEWS and TA PANTA is made by the word hOTI:
>PRWTOTOKOS PASHS KTISEWS, **hOTI** EN AUTW EKTISQH TA PANTA EN TOIS
>OURANOIS KAI EPI THS GHS....
>The reason that he is the PRWTOTOKOS over all creation is that all things
>were created by means of him. I read this as an instrumental EN.
Your interpretation is possible but not necessary; the following
alternative interpretation can be offered: Because Jesus was the firstborn
son (the onlybegotten who was created first), God used him as the
intermediate agent in the creation of everything beside his firstborn son.
There is nothing in the context excluding this view.
Corroborating this interpretation is the fact that TA PANTA in only two
instances are used in the all-inclusive sense. The words occur 35 times in
NT and of these 29 occur in the portion generally accepted as the Pauline
corpus. Looking at the different passages, we see that the words do not
have fixed contents, and to understand them we must in each case find their
reference. In Ephesians 3:9 and Revelation 4:11 the reference is to all
that God has created, exactly the same reference as for PASHS KTIESEWS in
Colossians 1:15. However, the reference may also be more restricted. In 1
Corinthians 12:19 TA PANTA refer to all the members of the human body, and
by impliction to all the members of the Christian congregation. In other
instances the contents is abstract and it is more difficult to know exactly
what is involved. Some examples include that which can be studied (1
Corinthians 2:15), all the operations of The holy spirit (1 Corinthians
12:6), all things in which a Christian may progress (Ephesians 4:15), all
things Christ represents (Colossians 3:11).
The words TA PANTA may also be used for negative things. In Philippians 3:8
the reference is to all the things offered by the world in contrast with
Christian values, in Colossians 3:8 the reference is to all the bad things
formerly practised by the Colossians, and in Galatians 3:22 the reference
is all things in which sin operates.
Returning to the use of TA PANTA in Colossians 1, it is definitely not used
in the all-inclusive sense in verse 20. While TA PANTA in verses 16 and 17
evidently includes the angels of heaven, the same words in verse 20 do not
include them, but must be restricted to those creatures who are sinners,
and who are in need of reconciliation with God . Thus we cannot by the help
of lexical evidence say that TA PANTA in verses 16 and 17 have the same
meaning as PASHS KTISEWS in verse 15.
The conclusion, therefore, must be that there is absolutely nothing in the
context that forbids the view that Jesus is included in creation (PASHS
KTISEWS). And the context cannot be used as a justification for the choice
of a non-literal interpretation of verse 15.
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo
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