Colossians 1:17
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) He is before all things.—The words “He is” are both emphatic. He, and He only, is; all else is created. It is impossible not to refer to the “I am” of Eternal existence, as claimed by our Lord for Himself. “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58; comp. also John 1:15). Hence the word “before” should be taken, not of supreme dignity, but of pre-existence.

By him all things consist.—That is, hold together in unity, obeying the primæval law of their being. In this clause is attributed to our Lord, not only the creative act, but also the constant sustaining power, “in which all lives and moves and has its being,” and which, even less than the creative agency, can be supposed to be a derivative and finite power, such as that of the Demiurgus of Gnostic speculation.

1:15-23 Christ in his human nature, is the visible discovery of the invisible God, and he that hath seen Him hath seen the Father. Let us adore these mysteries in humble faith, and behold the glory of the Lord in Christ Jesus. He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by which the eternity of God is represented to us. All things being created by Him, were created for him; being made by his power, they were made according to his pleasure, and for his praise and glory. He not only created them all at first, but it is by the word of his power that they are upheld. Christ as Mediator is the Head of the body, the church; all grace and strength are from him; and the church is his body. All fulness dwells in him; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. God showed his justice in requiring full satisfaction. This mode of redeeming mankind by the death of Christ was most suitable. Here is presented to our view the method of being reconciled. And that, notwithstanding the hatred of sin on God's part, it pleased God to reconcile fallen man to himself. If convinced that we were enemies in our minds by wicked works, and that we are now reconciled to God by the sacrifice and death of Christ in our nature, we shall not attempt to explain away, nor yet think fully to comprehend these mysteries; but we shall see the glory of this plan of redemption, and rejoice in the hope set before us. If this be so, that God's love is so great to us, what shall we do now for God? Be frequent in prayer, and abound in holy duties; and live no more to yourselves, but to Christ. Christ died for us. But wherefore? That we should still live in sin? No; but that we should die to sin, and live henceforth not to ourselves, but to Him.And he is before all things - As he must be, if he created all things. Those who regard this as referring to a moral creation, interpret it as meaning that he has the pre-eminence over all things; not as referring to his pre-existence. But the fair and proper meaning of the word "before" (πρὸ pro) is, that he was before all things in the order of existence; compare Matthew 8:29; John 11:55; John 13:1; Acts 5:36; Acts 21:38; 2 Corinthians 12:2. It is equivalent to saying that he was eternal - for he that had an existence before any thing was created, must be eternal. Thus, it is equivalent to the phrase, "In the beginning;" Genesis 1:1; compare the notes at John 1:1.

And by him all things subsist - Or are sustained; see the notes at Hebrews 1:3. The meaning is, that they are kept in the present state; their existence, order, and arrangement are continued by his power. If unsupported by him, they would fall into disorder, or sink back to nothing. If this be the proper interpretation, then it is the ascription to Christ of infinite power - for nothing less could be sufficient to uphold the universe; and of infinite wisdom - for this is needed to preserve the harmonious action of the suns and systems of which it is composed. None could do this but one who is divine; and hence we see the reason why he is represented as the image of the invisible God. He is the great and glorious and everactive agent by whom the perfections of God are made known.

17. (Joh 8:58.) Translate as Greek, "And He Himself (the great He) is (implying divine essential being) before all things," in time, as well as in dignity. Since He is before all things, He is before even time, that is, from eternity. Compare "the first-born of every creature" (Col 1:15).

by him—Greek, "IN Him" (as the conditional element of existence, Col 1:16) [Alford].

consist—"subsist." Not only are called into being from nothing, but are maintained in their present state. The Son of God is the Conserver, as well as the Creator of all things [Pearson]. Bengel less probably explains, "All things in Him come together into one system: the universe found its completion in Him" (Isa 41:4; Re 22:13). Compare as to God, Ro 11:36: similar language; therefore Christ must be God.

And he is before all things: to obviate all exceptions to what he had said before, the apostle doth expressly assert (what was implied before) Christ’s pre-existence to all the things that were created, and therefore that he himself was not made, but eternally begotten, and so did exist, and was actually before all creatures in causality, dignity, and time; which proves his eternity, (consonant to other scriptures, Proverbs 8:22 Isaiah 44:6 Micah 5:2 John 1:1 17:5 Revelation 1:8,11,17 Re 22:13), because before all things there was nothing but proper eternity, Psalm 90:2.

And by him all things consist: then follows this further argument of Christ’s excellency and perfection, that he is not only the Creator or Founder, but likewise the Supporter or Upholder, of all things whatsoever are created, yea, even of the most excellent and useful of them, who in him do live and move, Acts 17:28 Hebrews 1:3: he being the conservant as well as procreant cause of the heavens and earth, with all things therein, because in respect of God it is the same action which is continued in conservation and providence whielt was in creation, not breaking off the same influence which was exerted in producing them out of nothing into being, Isaiah 46:4 John 5:19.

And he is before all things,.... Not only in dignity, being preferable to angels and men in his nature, names, offices, and works, and worthy of more honour than all creatures; but he is before them in existence, as he must needs be, since they are all made by him; he was not only before John the Baptist, his forerunner, before Abraham who saw his day and was glad, before the first man was made, but before the angels were in being, or the heavens and the earth, or any creature were formed; and therefore must be God, who is from everlasting to everlasting:

and by him all things consist; he upholds all things by the word of his power; the heavens have their stability and continuance from him; the pillars of the earth are bore up by him, otherwise that and the inhabitants of it would be dissolved; the angels in heaven are confirmed in their estate by him, and have their standing and security in him; the elector God are in his hands, and are his peculiar care and charge, and therefore shall never perish; yea, all mankind live and move, and have their being in him; the whole frame of nature would burst asunder and break in pieces, was it not held together by him; every created being has its support from him, and its consistence in him; and all the affairs of Providence relating to all creatures are governed, directed, and managed by him, in conjunction with the Father and the blessed Spirit.

And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Colossians 1:17. Καὶ αὐτός] which is to be separated from the preceding by a comma only (see on Colossians 1:16), places, in contradistinction to the created objects in Colossians 1:16 (τὰ πάντα), the subject, the creating self:and He Himself, on His part, has an earlier existence than all things, and the collective whole subsists in Him.” Never is αὐτός in the nominative[39] the mere unemphatic “he” of the previous subject (de Wette), either in Greek authors or in the N. T., not even in passages such as Buttmann (Neut. Gr. p. 94 [E. T. 107]) brings forward; see Fritzsche, ad Matth. p. 47; Winer, p. 141 f. [E. T. 187]; Kühner, II. 1, p. 563.

πρὸ πάντων] like ΠΡΩΤΌΤΟΚΟς, referring to time, not to rank (as the Socinians, Nösselt, Heinrichs, Schleiermacher, Baumgarten-Crusius, and others hold); Paul thus repeatedly and emphatically lays stress on the pre-existence of Christ. Instead of ἐστί, he might have written ἦν (John 1:1); but he makes use of the former, because he has in view and sets forth the permanence of Christ’s existence, and does not wish to narrate about Him historically, which is done only in the auxiliary clauses with ὅτι, Colossians 1:16; Colossians 1:19. On the present, comp. John 8:58. His existence is more ancient than that of all things (ΠΆΝΤΩΝ, not masculine, as the Vulgate and Luther translate).

ἘΝ ΑὐΤῷ] as in Colossians 1:16, referring to the causal dependence of the subsistence of all existing things on Christ.

συνέστηκε] denotes the subsistence of the whole, the state of lasting interdependence and order,—an idea which is not equivalent to that of creation, but presupposes it. Reiske, Ind. Dem. ed. Schaef. p. 481: “Corpus unum, integrum, perfectum, secum consentiens esse et permanere.” Comp. 2 Peter 3:5; Plat. Rep. p. 530 A: ξυνεστάναι τῷ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ δημιουργῷ αὐτόν τε καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ, Tim. 61 A: γῆνξυνεστηκυῖαν, Legg. vii. p. 817 B: ἡ πολιτεία ξυνέστηκε μίμησις τοῦ καλλίστουβίου. Herod. vii. 225; Philo, quis rer. div. haer. p. 489: ὁ ἔναιμος ὄγκος, ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ διαλυτὸς ὢν καὶ νεκρὸς, συνέστηκε κ. ζωπυρεῖται προνοίᾳ Θεοῦ κ.τ.λ. It expresses that there is in Christ not merely the creative cause, but also the cause which brings about organic stability and continuance in unity (preserving and governing) for the whole of existing things. Comp. Hebrews 1:3. Of attempts at explanation under the moral interpretation, we may note that of Schleiermacher: the consolidating of earthly relations and institutions; and that of Baumgarten-Crusius: “in this new world He is Lord in recognition and in sway

[39] Bengel correctly observes on ver. 16: “Ipse hic saepe positum magnam significat majestatem et omnem excludit creaturam.”

REMARK.

The intentional prominence given to the fact of the creation of all things through Christ, and in particular of the creation of the angels in their various classes, justifies the supposition that the false teachers disparaged Christ in this respect, and that they possessed at least elements of the Gnostic-demiurgic doctrine which was afterwards systematically elaborated. There is no evidence, however, of their particular views, and the further forms assumed by the Gnostic elements, as they showed themselves according to the Fathers in Simon Magus (Iren. Haer. i. 20 “Eunoiam … generare angelos et potestates, a quibus et mundum hunc factum dixit;” comp. Epiph. Haer. xxi. 4), Cerinthus, etc., and especially among the Valentinians, while certainly to be recognised as fundamentally akin to the Colossian doctrinal errors (comp. Heinrici, Valentinian. Gnosis, 1871), are not to be identified with them; nor are those elements to be made use of as a proof of the post-apostolic origin of the epistle, as still is done by Hilgenfeld (see his Zeitschr. 1870, p. 246 f.), and more cautiously by Holtzmann. Of Ebionitism only Essene elements are to be found in Colossae, mingled with other Gnostic doctrines, which were not held by the later Ebionites. In particular, the πρὸ πάντων εἶναι, on which Paul lays so much stress, must have been doubted in Colossae, although a portion of the Ebionites expressly and emphatically taught it (λέγουσιν ἄνωθεν μὲν ὄντα πρὸ πάντων δὲ κτισθέντα, Epiph. Haer. XXX. 3). Moreover, the opinion that Paul derived the appellations of the classes of angels in Colossians 1:16 from the language of the heretics themselves (Böhmer, comp. Olshausen) is to be rejected, because in other passages also, where there is no contrast to the Gnostic doctrine of Aeons, he makes use in substance of these names (Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24; comp. Ephesians 1:20 ff; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:11 ff.). They are rather to be regarded as well-known and generally-current appellations, which were derived from the terminology of later Judaism, and which heretics made use of in common with the orthodox. The anti-Gnostic element is contained, not in the technical expressions, but in the doctrinal contents of the passage; and it was strong enough to induce Marcion, who took offence at it, to omit Colossians 1:15-17 (Tertullian, c. Marcion, v. 19). See, besides, Räbiger, Christol. Paul. p. 51 f.; Lechler, apost. Zeit. p. 55 f.; Klöpper, l.c.

Colossians 1:17. αὐτός ἐστιν. αὐτ. is emphatic, He and no other. Lightfoot (followed by Westcott and Hort and Ellicott) accents ἔστιν, “He exists,” on account of the present, and compares ἐγὼ εἰμί (John 8:58). But there ἐγὼ εἰμί stands alone, whereas here αὐτ. ἐστ. is completed by πρὸ πάντων. Besides, there is no object in the assertion of the existence of the Son here. The sense of ἐστὶν depends to some extent on that of πρὸ πάντων. If, as is usual, πρὸ is taken here as temporal, αὐτός will be the pre-incarnate Son. If, however, with Haupt, it be taken to assert superiority in rank, αὐτός will be the exalted Christ, and the present will be quite regular. It is urged that for this some other preposition, such as ἐπὶ or ὑπέρ, would have been expected. Gess says that in each of the eleven other passages in which it occurs in Paul it is temporal, and in the other N.T. passages (37) it is used of place or, as generally, of time, except in Jam 5:12, 1 Peter 4:8, where it is used of rank. It is used, however, in classical Greek in this latter sense. Perhaps it is safest to allow the general Pauline usage to determine the sense here. In this case πρὸ is temporal and ἐστιν a timeless present. πάντων is, of course, neuter, like τὰ πάντα, not masculine.—συνέστηκεν: “hold together”. The Son is the centre of unity for the universe. He keeps all its parts in their proper place and due relations and combines them into an ordered whole. Apart from Him it would go to pieces. Philo ascribes a similar function to the Logos. Haupt thinks that this thought that Christ is the principle of coherence for the universe is not in the passage, which means no more than that He sustains it (cf. Hebrews 1:3, φέρων τὰ πάντα).

The interpretation of Colossians 1:15-17 given by Oltramare should not be passed over. He eliminates the idea of pre-existence from the passage, and says that the reference is throughout to Christ as Redeemer. God had in creation to provide by a plan of Redemption for the entrance of evil into the universe, and only on that condition could it take place. So since Christ is the Redeemer, creation is based upon Him, He is the means to it, and the end which it contemplates. He objects to the common view on the following grounds: (1) Elsewhere Paul speaks of God, not Christ, as the Creator and goal of the universe; (2) Paul starts from the Christ in whom we have redemption as πρωτότ. π. κτίσεως, and in Colossians 1:18, which refers to the same Person as Colossians 1:17, He is spoken of as the Head of the Church, therefore the context is against any reference to a pre-incarnate Christ; (3) He carefully avoids saying that the Son has created all things, though he has to change the subject of the sentence. In reply to (1) it may be said that the Son acts as Agent of the Father, and so creation may be referred to either, and that while Paul contemplates the final surrender by the Son of the kingdom to the Father, he also contemplates a prior subjection of everything to the Son. Oltramare himself, for another purpose, points to apparent inconsistency in John (John 1:2 compared with Revelation 3:14; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 10:6) and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:2 compared with Hebrews 2:10, Hebrews 11:3). If these writers did not find the two views incompatible, why should Paul have done so? In reply to (2) it may be urged that Paul’s hold on the personal identity of the Son in the states through which He passed was strong enough to enable Him to glide from one to the other without any sense of incongruity. As to (3), the change in the form of sentence is probably to prepare for διʼ αὐτοῦ κ. εἰς αὐτὸν. There is a similar change at Colossians 1:19, where ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ corresponds to ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ (Colossians 1:16). His own view is open to fatal objections. It is not clear that the creation of the angels who did not fall would be conditional on provision being made for Redemption, nor yet how this would prove the superiority of the Redeemer to these angels. The insuperable difficulty, however, is that the thought is so far-fetched and not naturally suggested by the words. ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα can hardly be consistent with the creation of the universe long before the Son came into existence. Nor can διʼ αὐτοῦ mean merely that the Son was an indispensable condition for the creation of the universe, it implies active agency. Nor is any adequate explanation of τ. πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν given. Besides, Php 2:5-8 sufficiently proves that Paul believed in the pre-existence of Christ, and that makes it less than ever justifiable to take the passage in other than its plain sense.—Gess, it may be added, explains that the firstborn is the one who opens for those who follow the path of life, and by his consecration to God must purchase for them the Divine good pleasure. Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:12 sq. and Numbers 3:12 sq. are quoted to prove this, but neither says anything of the purchase of Divine favour for those born after. Exodus 4:22 and Psalm 89:27 are explained to mean, accordingly, that Israel and David, not the nations and their kings, are objects of God’s good pleasure and mediators of it to the world. πρωτότ. π. κτ. is therefore explained as the opener of the path of life and mediator of God’s love to every creature. But this is to overlook the fact that in Psalms 89. the firstborn is further defined as the highest of the kings of the earth.

17. he] Emphatic in the Greek; He, and no other who could even seem to rival or obscure His sublime eminence.

is before all things] ante omnes, Latin Versions. The Greek genitive form is ambiguous; it might be either masculine or neuter. But the mention in the last clause, in the unambiguous nominative, of “all things,” decides for a similar reference here.

Lightfoot prints his rendering here, “and He is before all things,” comparing John 8:58, and Exodus 3:14, and adding, “The imperfect [‘was’] might have sufficed, … but the present [‘is’] declares that this pre-existence is absolute existence.” He quotes Basil of Cæsarea (adv. Eunom., iv.) as emphasizing the special force of “is” (as against e.g. “was” or “became”) in this very passage: “(the Apostle) indicates thus that He ever is while the creation came to be.”

Before:”—i.e., as the whole context shews, in respect of priority of existence; the priority of eternity.

by him] Lit. and better, in Him; see above on Colossians 1:16.

consist] I.e., literally, stand together, hold together. The Latin-English “consist” (Latin versions, constant) exactly renders the Greek. “He is the principle of cohesion in the Universe. He impresses upon creation that unity and solidarity which makes it a cosmos instead of a chaos” (Lightfoot). And Lightfoot quotes Philo to shew that the “Logos” of Alexandrian Judaism was similarly regarded as the “Bond” of the universe.

“Christ was the conditional element of their creation, the causal element of their persistence … The declaration, as Waterland observes, is in fact tantamount to ‘in Him they live, and move, and have their being’ ” (Ellicott).

Natural philosophy, after all observation and classification of phenomena and their processes, asks necessarily but in vain (so long as it asks only “Nature”), what is their ultimate secret, what is, for instance, the last reason of universal gravitation. Revelation discloses that reason in the Person and Will of the Son of God.

Thus far the Apostle has unfolded the glory of Christ as the Cause and Bond of all being in the sphere of “Nature,” material and otherwise. Now he turns to the sphere of Grace.

Colossians 1:17. ἜΣΤΙ, He is) He does not say, He was made; nor, He was, of which the latter might, however, have been used in a dignified sense, comp. John 1:1; but He is, in the present; comp. John 8:58.—πρὸ πάντων, before all things) even before time, i.e. from eternity.—καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῳ συνέστηκε) and all things in Him came together into one system [Engl. Vers. By Him all things consist, i.e. are maintained.] The universe found its completion in Him. LXX. τὰ συστἡματα τῶν ὑδάτων, Genesis 1:10. He is the first and the last, Revelation 22:13. [Isaiah 41:4, in regard to the origin: I the Lord am first, and I am with the last.—V. g.]

Verse 17.

(d) All things through Him and unto Him have been created;

(e) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

II. Ver. 18.

(e) And He is the Head of the body, the Church;

(a) Who is (the) Beginning, Firstborn out of the dead, that in all things He might become pre-eminent: Colossians 1:17He is (αὐτὸς ἔστιν)

Both words are emphatic. Ἔστιν is, is used as in John 8:58 (see note), to express Christ's absolute existence. "He emphasizes the personality, is the preexistence" (Lightfoot). For similar emphasis on the pronoun, see Ephesians 2:14; Ephesians 4:10, Ephesians 4:11; 1 John 2:2; Revelation 19:15.

Before all things

In time.

By Him (ἐν αὐτῷ)

In Him as Colossians 1:16. So Rev.

Consist (συνέστηκεν)

Cohere, in mutual dependence. Compare Acts 27:28; Hebrews 1:3. For other meanings of the verb, see on Romans 3:5. Christ not only creates, but maintains in continuous stability and productiveness. "He, the All-powerful, All-holy Word of the Father, spreads His power over all things everywhere, enlightening things seen and unseen, holding and binding all together in Himself. Nothing is left empty of His presence, but to all things and through all, severally and collectively, He is the giver and sustainer of life.... He, the Wisdom of God, holds the universe in tune together. He it is who, binding all with each, and ordering all things by His will and pleasure, produces the perfect unity of nature and the harmonious reign of law. While He abides unmoved forever with the Father, He yet moves all things by His own appointment according to the Father's will" (Athanasius).

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