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The Supremacy of Christ

15 [a] He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn[b] over all creation,[c]
16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created in him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions,[d] whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him.
17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together[e] in him.
18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn[f] from the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things.[g]
19 For God[h] was pleased to have all his[i] fullness dwell[j] in the Son[k]
20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—through him,[l] whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Paul’s Goal in Ministry

21 And you were at one time strangers and enemies in your[m] minds[n] as expressed through[o] your evil deeds, 22 but now he has reconciled you[p] by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him— 23 if indeed you remain in the faith, established and firm,[q] without shifting[r] from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has also been preached in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become its servant.

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  1. Colossians 1:15 sn This passage has been typeset as poetry because many scholars regard this passage as poetic or hymnic. These terms are used broadly to refer to the genre of writing, not to the content. There are two broad criteria for determining if a passage is poetic or hymnic: “(a) stylistic: a certain rhythmical lilt when the passages are read aloud, the presence of parallelismus membrorum (i.e., an arrangement into couplets), the semblance of some metre, and the presence of rhetorical devices such as alliteration, chiasmus, and antithesis; and (b) linguistic: an unusual vocabulary, particularly the presence of theological terms, which is different from the surrounding context” (P. T. O’Brien, Philippians [NIGTC], 188-89). Classifying a passage as hymnic or poetic is important because understanding this genre can provide keys to interpretation. However, not all scholars agree that the above criteria are present in this passage, so the decision to typeset it as poetry should be viewed as a tentative decision about its genre.
  2. Colossians 1:15 tn The Greek term πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) could refer either to first in order of time, such as a first born child, or it could refer to one who is preeminent in rank. M. J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon (EGGNT), 43, expresses the meaning of the word well: “The ‘firstborn’ was either the eldest child in a family or a person of preeminent rank. The use of this term to describe the Davidic king in Ps 88:28 LXX (=Ps 89:27 EVV), ‘I will also appoint him my firstborn (πρωτότοκον), the most exalted of the kings of the earth,’ indicates that it can denote supremacy in rank as well as priority in time. But whether the πρωτό- element in the word denotes time, rank, or both, the significance of the -τοκος element as indicating birth or origin (from τίκτω, give birth to) has been virtually lost except in ref. to lit. birth.” In Col 1:15 the emphasis is on the priority of Jesus’ rank as over and above creation (cf. 1:16 and the “for” clause referring to Jesus as Creator).
  3. Colossians 1:15 tn The genitive construction πάσης κτίσεως (pasēs ktiseōs) is a genitive of subordination and is therefore translated as “over all creation.” See ExSyn 103-4.
  4. Colossians 1:16 tn BDAG 579 s.v. κυριότης 3 suggests “bearers of the ruling powers, dominions” here.
  5. Colossians 1:17 tn BDAG 973 s.v. συνίστημι B.3 suggests “continue, endure, exist, hold together” here.
  6. Colossians 1:18 tn See the note on the term “firstborn” in 1:15. Here the reference to Jesus as the “firstborn from the dead” seems to be arguing for a chronological priority, i.e., Jesus was the first to rise from the dead.
  7. Colossians 1:18 tn Grk “in order that he may become in all things, himself, first.”
  8. Colossians 1:19 tn The noun “God” does not appear in the Greek text, but the similar phrase “all the fullness of deity” in 2:9 lends credence to God as the subject of εὐδόκησεν (eudokēsen).
  9. Colossians 1:19 tn The Greek article τό (to), insofar as it relates to God, may be translated as a possessive pronoun, i.e., “his.” BDAG 404 s.v. εὐδοκέω 1 translates the phrase as “all the fullness willed to dwell in him” thus leaving the referent as impersonal. Insofar as Paul is alluding to the so-called emanations from God this is acceptable. But the fact that “the fullness” dwells in a person (i.e., “in him”) seems to argue for the translation “his fullness” where “his” refers to God.
  10. Colossians 1:19 tn The aorist verb κατοικῆσαι (katoikēsai) could be taken as an ingressive, in which case it refers to the incarnation and may be translated as “begin to dwell, to take up residence.” It is perhaps better, though, to take it as a constative aorist and simply a reference to the fact that the fullness of God dwells in Jesus Christ. This is a permanent dwelling, though, not a temporary one, as the present tense in 2:9 makes clear.
  11. Colossians 1:19 tn Grk “him”; the referent (the Son; see v. 13) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  12. Colossians 1:20 tc The presence or absence of the second occurrence of the phrase δι᾿ αὐτοῦ (diautou, “through him”) is a difficult textual problem to solve. External evidence is fairly evenly divided. Many ancient and excellent witnesses lack the phrase (B D* F G I 0278 81 1175 1739 1881 2464 al latt sa), but equally significant witnesses have it (P46 א A C D1 Ψ 048vid 33 M al sy bo). Both readings have strong Alexandrian support, which makes the problem difficult to decide on external evidence alone. The phrase, however, has stronger evidence geographically. Internal evidence points to the inclusion of the phrase as autographic. The word immediately preceding the phrase is the masculine pronoun αὐτοῦ (autou); thus the possibility of omission through homoioteleuton in various witnesses is likely. Scribes might have deleted the phrase because of perceived redundancy or awkwardness in the sense: The shorter reading is smoother and more elegant, so scribes would be prone to correct the text in that direction. As far as style is concerned, repetition of key words and phrases for emphasis is not foreign to the corpus Paulinum (see, e.g., Rom 8:23, Eph 1:13, 2 Cor 12:7). In sum, it is easier to account for the shorter reading arising from the longer reading than vice versa, so the longer reading is more likely original, though a decision is not easy. The NA28 prints the prepositional phrase in brackets indicating some doubts as to its authenticity.
  13. Colossians 1:21 tn The article τῇ () has been translated as a possessive pronoun (ExSyn 215).
  14. Colossians 1:21 tn Although διανοία (dianoia) is singular in Greek, the previous plural noun ἐχθρούς (echthrous) indicates that all those from Colossae are in view here.
  15. Colossians 1:21 tn The dative ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς πονηροῖς (en tois ergois tois ponērois) is taken as means, indicating the avenue through which hostility in the mind is revealed and made known.
  16. Colossians 1:22 tc Some of the better representatives of the Alexandrian and Western groups have a passive verb here instead of the active ἀποκατήλλαξεν (apokatēllaxen, “he has reconciled”): ἀποκατηλλάγητε (apokatēllagēte) in P46 B, ἀποκατήλλακται [sic] (apokatēllaktai) in 33, and ἀποκαταλλαγέντες (apokatallagentes) in D* F G. Yet the active verb is strongly supported by א A C D2 Ψ 048 075 0278 1175 1505 1739 1881 2464 M al lat sy. Internally, the passive creates an anacoluthon in that it looks back to the accusative ὑμᾶς (humas, “you”) of v. 21 and leaves the following παραστῆσαι (parastēsai) dangling (“you were reconciled…to present you”). The passive reading is certainly the harder reading. As such, it may well explain the rise of the others. At the same time, it is possible that the passive was produced by scribes who wanted some symmetry between the ποτε (pote, “at one time”) of v. 21 and the νυνὶ δέ (nuni de, “but now”) of v. 22: Since a passive periphrastic participle is used in v. 21, there may have been a temptation to produce a corresponding passive form in v. 22, so that the ὑμᾶς of v. 21 functioned as subject by way of constructio ad sensum. Since παραστῆσαι occurs ten words later, it may not have been considered in this scribal modification. Further, the Western reading (ἀποκαταλλαγέντες) hardly seems to have arisen from ἀποκατηλλάγητε (contra TCGNT 555). As difficult as this decision is, the preferred reading is the active form because it is superior externally and seems to explain the rise of all forms of the passive The direct object is omitted in the Greek text, but it is clear from context that “you” (ὑμᾶς, humas) is implied.
  17. Colossians 1:23 tn BDAG 276 s.v. ἑδραῖος suggests “firm, steadfast.”
  18. Colossians 1:23 tn BDAG 639 s.v. μετακινέω suggests “without shifting from the hope” here.