Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(18-20) In these verses St. Paul returns from dwelling on the eternal nature of the Son of God to describe Him in His mediatorial office as Son of Man, becoming the “Head” of all humanity, as called into “His Body, the Church.” In this he touches on a doctrine more fully developed in the Epistle to the Ephesians. (See Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 2:19; Ephesians 2:21; Ephesians 4:15-16.) But still, as has been already noted, there is in this Epistle more stress on the supreme dignity of the Head, as in the other more on the unity, and blessing, and glory of the Body. It should be observed that in this, His mediatorial office, there is throughout a mysterious analogy to His eternal sonship. In both He is “the Head,” first, of universal creation, next, of the new creation in His Church; He is “the beginning,” in the one case in eternity, in the other in time; He is “the firstborn,” now in Eternal Sonship, now in the Resurrection making Him the new life of mankind.

(18) He is the head.—“He” is again emphatic. “He who is the image of God, He also is the Head.” (On the title itself, see Ephesians 1:22.)

The beginning.—Chrysostom reads here a kindred word, the first-fruits. The reading is no doubt a gloss, but an instructive one. It shows that the reference is to Christ, as being in His humanity “the first principle” of the new life to us—the “first-fruits” from the dead (1Corinthians 15:20; 1Corinthians 15:23), and “the bringer of life and immortality to light” (2Timothy 1:10).

The firstborn from the dead.—The same title is given to Him in Revelation 1:5. In his sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:33), St. Paul quotes the passage, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” as fulfilled in that “He raised up Jesus again.” (Comp. Hebrews 5:5.) In Romans 1:3, he speaks of Christ as “declared” (or, defined) “to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The Resurrection is (so to speak) His second birth, the beginning of that exaltation, which is contrasted with His first birth on earth in great humility, and of His entrance on the glory of His mediatorial kingdom. (See Ephesians 1:20-23, where the starting-point of all His exaltation is again placed in the Resurrection.)

That in all things he might . . .—Literally, That in all things He might become pre-eminent. The words “He might become,” are opposed to the “He is” above. They refer to the exaltation of His humanity, so gloriously described in Philippians 2:9-11. Thus absolutely in His divine nature, relatively to the mediatorial kingdom in His humanity, He is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 1:11; Revelation 1:17-18).

Colossians 1:18-19. And he is the head of the body, the church — The apostle having displayed the greatness of the Son, as Creator of all things, visible and invisible, in the heavens and upon the earth, proceeds, in this clause, to display his glory as head of the church, which is called the body, and his body, to intimate, that as the human body is influenced, directed, and governed by the head, so the church universal, including the whole body of believers, is influenced, directed, and governed by Christ its head. Who is — The repetition of the expression (see Colossians 1:15) points out the entrance on a new paragraph; the beginning Αρχη, the principle, or cause of all things; absolutely the Eternal. The Greek philosophers expressed the first cause, or efficient principle of things, by this word αρχη, beginning. In this sense Christ called himself (Revelation 3:14) αρχη της κτισεως του Θεου, the first cause of the creation of God. But though it be a high honour to the church that he is its head who is the first cause of all things, yet, as the apostle in this verse is speaking of Christ as the head of the church, it is probable that he is here called the first cause, or beginning, in respect of it, which began immediately after the fall, in the view of Christ’s coming into the world to perform that one great act of obedience, by which the evil consequences of Adam’s one act of disobedience were to be remedied. The firstborn, or first-begotten, from the dead — From whose resurrection flows all the life, spiritual and eternal, of all his brethren. Christ is called the firstborn, from, or of, (as εκ may be here rendered,) the dead, both because he was the first who ever rose to an immortal life, and because he is the Lord of all the dead, (as well as the living, Romans 14:9,) and will raise them at the last day. That in all things — Whether of nature or grace; he might have the pre-eminence — Suitable to the infinitely superior dignity of his nature above all created beings. For it pleased the Father — “The words, the Father, are not in the original; but they are very properly supplied by our translators. For, as the expression is elliptical, it must be completed, either as our translators have done, or as others propose, by adding the word him: It hath pleased him; namely, Christ. But, not to mention the confusion which this method of supplying the ellipsis occasions in the apostle’s discourse, it represents the Son as taking the fulness of perfection and government to himself, independently of the will of the Father; contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture, in which the Son is said, in the affair of our salvation, to act in subordination to the will of his Father.” — Macknight. That in him should all fulness dwell — All fulness of truth and grace, of wisdom, power, and love, and all divine perfections; or, as the expression may chiefly mean, all fulness of gifts and graces, to supply the wants of his church. That this fulness should reside in him constantly, and be always ready to supply the wants of those that in faith and prayer apply to him.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 the head of the body, the church - Notes Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:23, note.

Who is the beginning - In all things - alike in the work of creation and in the church. He is the fountain of authority and power, and commences everything that is designed to uphold the order of the universe, and to save the world.

The first-born from the dead - At the head of those who rise from their graves. This does not mean literally that he was the first who rose from the dead for he himself raised up Lazarus and others, and the bodies of saints arose at his crucifixion; but it means that he had the pre-eminence among them all; he was the most illustrious of those who will be raised from the dead, and is the head over them all. Especially, he had this pre-eminence in the resurrection in this respect, that he was the first who rose from death to immortality. Others who were raised undoubtedly died again. Christ rose to die no more; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:20.

That in all things - Margin, "among all." The Greek will bear either construction, and either will accord with the scope of the apostle's remarks. If the former, it means that he is at the head of all things - the universe; if the latter, that he is chief among those who rose from the dead. Each of these is true, but the scope of the passage seems rather to require us to understand this of everything, and to mean that all the arrangements respecting him were such as to give him supremacy over the universe.

He might have the pre-eminence - Greek, "might be first" - πρωτεύων prōteuōn. That is, might be first in rank, dignity, honor, power. He has the pre-eminence:

(1) as over the universe which he has formed - as its Creator and Proprietor;

(2) as chief among those who shall rise from the dead - since he first rose to die no more, and their resurrection depends on him;

(3) as head of the church - all synods, councils, and governments being subject to him, and he alone having a right to give law to his people; and,

(4) in the affections of his friends - being in their affections and confidence superior to all others.

18. Revelation of Christ to the Church and the new creation, as the Originator of both.

he—emphatical. Not angels in opposition to the false teachers' doctrine concerning angel-worship, and the power of Oeons or (imaginary) spirit emanations from God (Col 2:10, 18).

head of the body, the church—The Church is His body by virtue of His entering into communion corporeally with human nature [Neander], (Eph 1:22). The same One who is the Head of all things and beings by creation, is also, by virtue of being "the first-born from the dead," and so "the first-fruits" of the new creation among men, the Head of the Church.

who is—that is, in that He is the Beginning [Alford]. Rather, this is the beginning of a new paragraph. As the former paragraph, which related to His originating the physical creation, began with "Who is" (Col 1:15); so this, which treats of His originating the new creation, begins with "who is"; a parenthesis preceding, which closes the former paragraph, that parenthesis (see on [2403]Col 1:16), including from "all things were created by Him," to "Head of the body, the Church." The head of kings and high priests was anointed, as the seat of the faculties, the fountain of dignity, and original of all the members (according to Hebrew etymology). So Jesus by His unction was designated as the Head of the body, the Church.

the beginning—namely, of the new creation, as of the old (Pr 8:22; Joh 1:1; compare Re 1:8): the beginning of the Church of the first-born (Heb 12:23), as being Himself the "first-born from the dead" (Ac 26:23; 1Co 15:20, 23). Christ's primogeniture is threefold: (1) From eternity the "first-begotten" of the Father (Col 1:15); (2) As the first-born of His mother (Mt 1:25); (3) As the Head of the Church, mystically begotten of the Father, as it were to a new life, on the day of His resurrection, which is His "regeneration," even as His people's coming resurrection will be their "regeneration" (that is, the resurrection which was begun in the soul, extended to the body and to the whole creation, Ro 8:21, 22) (Mt 19:28; Ac 13:33; Re 1:5). Sonship and resurrection are similarly connected (Lu 20:36; Ro 1:4; 8:23; 1Jo 3:2). Christ by rising from the dead is the efficient cause (1Co 15:22), as having obtained the power, and the exemplary cause, as being the pattern (Mic 2:13; Ro 6:5; Php 3:21), of our resurrection: the resurrection of "the Head" involves consequentially that of the members.

that in all things—He resumes the "all things" (Col 1:20).

he might have the pre-eminence—Greek, "He Himself may (thus) become the One holding the first place," or, "take the precedency." Both ideas are included, priority in time and priority in dignity: now in the regenerated world, as before in the world of creation (Col 1:15). "Begotten before every creature, or "first-born of every creature" (Ps 89:27; Joh 3:13).

And he is the head of the body, the church: having spoken of Christ in reference to the creatures in general, or old creation, showing how he is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor thereof, the apostle doth here speak of him with a special reference to his church, or the new creation, whereof he shows here, (as elsewhere: See Poole on "Ephesians 1:22,23", with Ephesians 4:15, and Ephesians 5:23), that he is the Head and Governor, his chosen and called being the proper subjects of his special kingdom, the choice body, unto which he doth more peculiarly relate, Colossians 1:24, for the guiding and governing of it, he being that to it which the head is to the natural body, and more especially in the two former respects:

1. Of their union to God, which was chiefly designed and expressed in those words, who is the beginning, i.e. the first foundation or principle of their union to God, whereupon the first corner-stone of the church’s happiness is laid, he being the beginning of the second creation, as of the first, Revelation 3:14. And:

2. Of their restoration from sin and death, being brought into that first-designed happiness, which is the great intention of that union, as appears from the following expression, the firstborn from the dead, in a special distinction from the dead, here too of the creature, Colossians 1:15.

The apostle doth not tautologize, but what he spoke of Christ there with respect to the creature, he doth here speak of him with respect to his church, as 1 Corinthians 15:20,23 Re 1:5. By the particle from is implied not only that he was before the dead, but that he was numbered amongst the dead in respect of that nature wherein he was once dead; from which he was demonstrated to be first-born; his resurrection with a glorious body {Philippians 3:21} being a kind of new birth, whereby upon the reunion of his holy soul and body he was born from the womb of the grave, the Head in regard of the members: resurrection is called a regeneration, Matthew 19:28; and as there is a gracious resurrection of the soul upon effectual calling in conversion, so there is a glorious regeneration of the body in the resurrection, Luke 20:36, in contradistinction to Luke 20:34. Christ is the first-born of these, in reference to God, Acts 26:23 1 Corinthians 15:20,23; as the first-fruits, or first ear of this blessed harvest, that was carried up into the sanctuary, and offered in due season to the eternal Father, until the rest do become ripe: and in reference to the dead, i.e. in the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:18 1 Thessalonians 4:14 Revelation 14:13; from whom he first rose in regard of time fully and perfectly; and of whom, in regard of dignity and dominion, Psalm 89:27 Galatians 4:1, he is chief, and Lord, (hath the pre-eminence, as it follows), and is first in regard of causality of those dead in him, standing in relation to him their Head, Romans 11:15, with 1 Corinthians 15:20, who shall be perfectly raised by virtue of his resurrection. And however it be said, both in the Old and New Testament, some were before raised; yet he was the cause of his own resurrection, as none others were, or can be. He properly rose, and that by his own power, Psalm 110:7 John 10:17,18; others were and will be raised by his. In regard of the sort and kind of resurrection, he it was first which was not imperfect, as others, or Lazarus, who was raised but to return to his former state of mortality; but perfect, Christ rose to die no more, Romans 6:9 Hebrews 9:28. He was the first that rose as a public person, Head of his Church, the Second Adam, representing all his members, 1 Corinthians 15:21,22, who are raised together with him spiritually, virtually, and representatively, Ephesians 2:6 1 Peter 3:21: those actually raised before in another sort were like singular ears of corn, by occasion more timely gathered for a special instance of Divine power, but Christ was the first that ever rose in the nature and quality of the first-fruits duly gathered, to sanctify and consecrate the whole harvest of the dead in him, who shall one day be raised to a conformity unto him, Philippians 3:21. The Socinians, from this metaphorical expression of Christ’s being the first-born from the dead, and fetching in that passage where it is said: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee, Acts 13:33, do oppose Christ’s natural and eternal Sonship, but very inconsequently and absurdly; for:

1. Christ was properly the Son of God before his resurrection from the dead, he did not then receive that relation by it, as other texts clearly prove, Psalm 2:7 Proverbs 30:4 Micah 5:2 John 1:1 17:5.

2. If his resurrection had been a begetting of him, then would he have begotten himself, so been Father and Son to himself, because he raised himself.

As to that other text they allege, things are sometimes said to be done then, when only manifested and doclared to be done: then was Christ the first of all the dead that was born, and raised again in incorruption, declared to be the Son of God with power, Romans 1:4, according to the prophecy: q.d. This day I have manifested thee by raising of thyself to be my natural Son, whom I begat from everlasting. Be sure he hath the primacy and pre-eminence, as it follows. That in all things he might have the pre-eminence; which some expound as the end and intention of Christ the agent, that he might obtain the primacy, Romans 14:9 2 Corinthians 5:15, or hold the first place in all things; whether more generally, according with the common scope of the apostle in the precedent verses, compared with Colossians 2:10 John 5:25,29 Eph 1:22; or more specially, amongst his brethren and all the members of his mystical body, Romans 8:29, with 2 Corinthians 5:17,18; but this is not material, because all things are brought under his empire. Others, because the primacy doth belong to him by undoubted right, and that he, being Head of his church, did ultimalely design to save it, and so to glorify his Father, do expound it rather as the event, consequent, and conclusion from the antecedent, which is the end of the work, so as that, or in such a sort as, he actually is declared to be the first, or he holds the primacy in the old and new creation. According to the agreement with his Father, he is such a one as not only hath all manner of privileges, that any in this or the other world do, or may be supposed to, excel in; but also with a pre-eminence, a primacy in all, above what any one hath in any thing he may glory of. And he is the head of the body, the church,.... By "the church" is meant, not any particular congregated church, as the church at Colosse, or Corinth, or any other; but the whole election of grace, the general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven in the Lamb's book of life; the church which Christ has given himself for, and has purchased with his blood, and builds on himself the rock, and will, at last, present to himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; this is compared to an human body, and therefore called "the body"; which is but one, consisting of many members in union with each other, set in their proper places in just symmetry and proportion to each other, and subservient to one another, and are neither more nor fewer; see 1 Corinthians 12:12, &c. and of this body, the church, Christ is "the head"; he was the representative head of this body of elect men from all eternity, and in time; he is a political head of them, or in such sense an head unto them, as a king is to his subjects; he reigns in them by his Spirit and grace, and rules them by wholesome laws of his own enacting, and which he inscribes on their hearts, and he protects and defends them by his power; he is an economical head, or in such sense an head of them, as the husband is the head of the wife, and parents and masters are the heads of their families, he standing in all these relations to them; and he is to them what a natural head is to an human body; of all which See Gill on 1 Corinthians 11:3. The Messiah is called one head, in Hosea 1:11; which Jarchi explains by David their king, and Kimchi on the place says, this is the King Messiah:

who is the beginning; which either denotes the eternity of Christ, who was not only in the beginning, and was set up from the beginning, from everlasting, but is also the beginning and the end; and who is, indeed, without beginning of days, or end of life: or his dominion; he is the principality, as the word may be rendered; he is the principality of principalities, the head of all principality and power, the angels; he is the Prince of the kings of the earth; he is King of saints; the kingdom of nature and providence is his, and the government of his people in a special manner is on his shoulders: or this may design his being the first cause of all things; he is the beginning of the creation of God; the efficient cause of all created beings; he is the beginning of the church, of which he is the head; as Eve was from Adam, so is the church from Christ; it is a body of his preparing, and a temple of his building, and where he sits as a priest on his throne, and has the government of it: the second number, wisdom, in the cabalistic tree of the Jews, is called "the beginning" (n), as is the Logos, or Word, by Philo the Jew (o):

the firstborn from the dead; the first that rose from the dead by his own power, and to an immortal life; for, though others were raised before him, and by him, yet not to a state of immortality; the path of life, to an immortal life, was first shown to him as man; and who also is the firstfruits of them that sleep, and so the pledge and earnest of the future resurrection of the saints; and is both the efficient and exemplary cause of it; the resurrection of the dead will be by him as God, and according to his own, as man:

that in all things he might have the pre-eminence; or might be the first and chief over all persons, angels, and men; having a superior nature, name, and place, than the former, and being the firstborn among many brethren designed by the latter: and in all things he is the first, and has the precedence and primacy; in sonship, no one is a Son in the sense he is; in election, he was chosen first, and his people in him; in the covenant, he is the surety, Mediator, and messenger of it, he is that itself; in his human nature, he is fairer than the children of men; in redemption, he was alone, and wrought it out himself; in life, he exceeded all others in purity, in doctrine, and miracles; and in dying he conquered death, and rose first from it; in short, he died, revived, and rose again, that he might be Lord both of dead and living; and he ought to have the pre-eminence and first place in the affections of our hearts, in the contemplations of our minds, in the desires of our souls, and in the highest praises of our lips,

(n) Cabala denudata, par. 2. p. 7. & Lex. Cabal. p. 679, 681. (o) Philo de Conf. ling. p. 341.

{8} And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the {l} firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

(8) Having gloriously declared the excellent dignity of the person of Christ, he describes his office and function, that is, that he is the same to the Church as the head is to the body, that is to say, the prince and governor of it, and the very beginning of true life. And as he rose first from death, he is the author of eternal life, so that he is above all, in whom alone there is most plentiful abundance of all good things, which is poured out upon the Church.

(l) Who so rose again that he should die no more, and who raises others from death to life by his power.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Colossians 1:18. Second part (see on Colossians 1:15) of the exhibition of the exaltedness of Christ. To that which Christ is as πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (Colossians 1:16-17) is now added what He is as πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, namely, the Head of the Church, and thus His πρωτεύειν has its consummation (ἐν πᾶσιν). The latter, namely, ἵνα γένηταιπρωτεύων, embraces also a retrospect to that πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, and includes it in ἐν πᾶσιν, without its being necessary, however, to attach Colossians 1:18 to the carrying out of the relation to the world expressed in πρωτότοκ. π. κτίσ. (Hofmann, comp. Rich. Schmidt). The perspective proceeds from the dignity of the original state of our Lord to that of His state as Saviour, from His cosmical to His soteriological glory, and so at length exhibits Him to view as the ἐν πᾶσι πρωτεύων.

That Colossians 1:18, with its confirmation in Colossians 1:19 f., has an apologetic reference to the Gnostic false teaching, must be assumed from its connection with what goes before. The passage is to be looked upon as antagonistic to the worship of angels (Colossians 2:18), which disparaged Christ in His dignity as Head of the Church, but not (in opposition to Bähr and Huther) as antagonistic to a theological dogma, such as is found in the Cabbala, according to which the body of the Messiah (the Adam Kadmon) is the aggregate of the emanations. For the emphasis of the passage and its essential point of doctrine lie in the fact that Christ is the Head of the church, and not in the fact that He is the head of the church; it is not the doctrine of another σῶμα, but that of any other πρωτεύων, which is excluded.

καὶ αὐτός] stands again, as κ. αὐτός in Colossians 1:17, in significant reference to τὰ πάντα: et ipse, in quo omnia consistunt, est caput, etc., so that the passage continues to divide itself as into the links of a chain.

τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησ.] to be taken together; the second genitive is that of apposition (Winer, p. 494 [E. T. 666]), which gives to the word governing it concrete definiteness; comp. Müller in the Luther. Zeitschr. 1871, p. 611 ff. On the familiar Pauline mode of considering the church of believers, livingly and actively ruled by Christ as the head (Ephesians 3:10; Php 3:6; Acts 9:31), as His body, [40] comp. 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12 ff., 1 Corinthians 10:27; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:30; Romans 12:5.

ὅς ἐστιν κ.τ.λ.] epexegetical relative clause (as in Colossians 1:15), the contents of which are related by way of confirmation to the preceding statement (Matthiae, p. 1061 f.; Kühner, ad Xen. Mem. i. 2. 64; Stallbaum, ad Phil. p. 195 f.), like our: he, who, etc., which might be expressed, but not necessarily, by ὅστις (or ὍΣΓΕ). Comp. on Ephesians 1:14. If Christ had not risen, He would not be Head of the church (Acts 2:24-36; 1 Corinthians 15; Romans 1:4, et al.).

ἀρχή] beginning; which, however, is not to be explained either as “initium secundae et novae creationis” (Calvin), progenitor of the regenerate (Bisping), or “author of the church” (Baumgarten-Crusius), or even “ruler of the world” (Storr, Flatt); but agreeably to the context in such a way, as to make it have with the appositional πρωτότοκος its definition in ἘΚ ΤῶΝ ΝΕΚΡῶΝ, just as if the words ran: ἈΡΧῊ ΤῶΝ ΝΕΚΡῶΝ, ΠΡΩΤΌΤΟΚΟς ἘΞ ΑὐΤῶΝ, although Paul did not express himself thus, because at once upon his using the predicate ἀρχή in and by itself the exegetical ΠΡΩΤΌΤΟΚΟς suggested itself to him. Accordingly Christ is called ἈΡΧῊ (ΤῶΝ ΝΕΚΡῶΝ), inasmuch as He is among all the dead the first arisen to everlasting life. It is arbitrary to discover in ἀρχή an allusion to the offering of first-fruits sanctifying the whole mass (Chrysostom, Beza, Ewald, and others); especially as the term ἀπαρχή, which is elsewhere used for the first portion of a sacrifice (Romans 11:16), is not here employed, although it has crept in from 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:23, in a few minusculi and Fathers, as in Clement also, Cor. I. 24, Christ is termed ἀπαρχὴ τῆς ἀναστάσεως. To assume a reminiscence of 1 Corinthians 15 (Holtzmann) is wholly unwarranted, especially as ἈΠΑΡΧΉ is not used. On ἈΡΧΉ, used of persons, denoting the one who begins the series, as the first in order of time, comp. Genesis 49:3, where ἀρχὴ τέκνων μου is equivalent to ΠΡΩΤΌΤΟΚΟς ΜΟΥ, as also Deuteronomy 21:17. In what respect any one is ἀρχή of those concerned, must be yielded by the context, just as in this case it is yielded by the more precisely defining ΠΡΩΤΌΤΟΚΟς ἘΚ Τ. ΝΕΚΡῶΝ; hence it has been in substance correctly explained, following the Fathers: ἀρχή, φησίν, ἐστι τῆς ἀναστάσεως, ποὸ πάντων ἀναστάς,[41] Theophylact. Only τῆς ἀναστάσεως is not to be mentally supplied, nor is it to be conjectured (de Wette) that Paul had intended to write ἀρχὴ τ. ἀναστάσεως, but, on account of the word πρωτότοκος presenting itself to him from Colossians 1:15, did not complete what he had begun. It follows, moreover, from the use of the word πρωτότοκος, that ἀρχή is to be taken in the temporal sense, consequently as equivalent to primus, not in the sense of dignity (Wetstein), and not as principle (Bähr, Steiger, Huther, Dalmer, following earlier expositors).

πρωτότοκος ἐκ τ. νεκρ.] ἐκ τ. νεκρ. is conceived in the same way as in ἀναστῆναι ἐκ τ. νεκρ. (Ephesians 5:14), so that it is the dead in Hades among whom the Risen One was, but from whom He goes forth (separates Himself from them, hence also ἀπὸ τ. νεκρ., Matthew 14:2; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 28:7), and returning into the body, with the latter rises from the tomb. Comp. πρῶτος ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Acts 26:23, also 1 Corinthians 15:22 f. This living exit from the grave is figuratively represented as birth; comp. Revelation 1:5, where the partitive genitive τῶν νεκρ. (not ἐκ. τ. ν.) yields a form of conceiving the matter not materially different. Calvin takes πρωτότοκος ἐκ. τ. ν. as specifying the ground for ἀρχή: “principium (absolutely), quia primogenitus est ex mortuis; nam in resurrectione est rerum omnium instauratio.” Against this it may be urged, that ἀρχή has no more precise definition; Paul must have written either ἀρχὴ τῆς καινῆς κτίσεως, or at least ἧς instead of ὅς. Calvin was likewise erroneously of opinion (comp. Erasmus, Calovius) that Christ is called Primogenitus ex mortuis, not merely because He was the first to rise, but also “quia restituit aliis vitam.” This idea is not conveyed either by the word or by the context, however true may be the thing itself; but a belief in the subsequent general resurrection of the dead is the presupposition of the expression πρωτότοκος (αἰνίττεται δὲ ὁ λόγος καὶ τὴν πάντων ἡμῶν ἀνάστασιν, Theodoret). This expression is purposely chosen in significant reference to Colossians 1:15, as is intimated by Paul himself in the following ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν κ.τ.λ. But it is thus all the more certain, that πρωτότοκος ἐκ τ. νεκρ. is to be taken independently, and not adjectivally together with ἀρχή (Heinrichs, Schleiermacher, Ewald), which would only amount to a tautological verboseness (first-born beginning); and, on the other hand, that ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν may not be separated from πρωτότοκος in such a way as to emphasize the place, issuing forth from which Christ is what He is, namely, ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος; the former, “as the personal beginning of what commences with Him;” the latter, “in the same relation to those who belong to the world therewith coming into life as He held to the creation” (Hofmann). In this way the specific more precise definition, which is by means of ἐκ τ. νεκρῶν in significant reference to Colossians 1:15 attached to the predicates of Christ, ἀρχή and πρωτότοκος, would be groundlessly withdrawn from them, and these predicates would be left in an indefiniteness, in which they would simply be open vessels for receiving a gratuitously imported supplement.

ἵνα γένηται κ.τ.λ.] not to be restricted to the affirmation ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν (Hofmann),[42] but to be referred to the whole sentence that Christ is ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τ. νεκρ., expressing the divine teleology of this position of Christ as the Risen One: in order that He may become, etc.; not: in order “that He may be held as” (Baumgarten-Crusius), nor yet “that He may be” (Vulgate, and so most expositors), as γίγνεσθαι and εἶναι are never synonymous. The ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύει is looked upon by Paul as something which is still in course of development (comp. Steiger and Huther), and is only to be completed in the future, namely, when the Risen One shall have conquered all the power of the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25 f.) and have erected the kingdom of the Messiah—but of this result His resurrection itself was the necessary historical basis, and hence the future universal πρωτεύειν is the divinely intended aim of His being risen.

ἐν πᾶσιν] in all points, without excepting any relation, not, therefore, merely in the relation of creation (Colossians 1:15-17). Comp. Php 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:11; 1 Timothy 4:15Colossians 1:18. The false teachers not only wrongly represented the relation of the angel powers to the universe, but they assigned them a false position in the work of redemption and a false relation to the Church. Hence Paul passes from the pre-eminence of the Son in the universe to speak of Him as Head of the Body. He is thus supreme alike in the universe and the Church.—ἡ κεφαλὴ τ. σώματος (cf. Colossians 2:19, Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 5:23). For Christ as Head simply, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3. For the Church as the body of Christ, Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 4:2, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Romans 12:5. For Christians as the members of Christ’s body, Ephesians 5:30, 1 Corinthians 12:27. For Christians as “severally members one of another,” Romans 12:5. By this metaphor of “the head of the body” is meant that Christ is the Lord and Ruler of His Church, its directing brain, probably also that its life depends on continued union with Him. The Church is a body in the sense that it is a living organism, composed of members vitally united to each other, each member with his own place and function, each essential to the body’s perfect health, each dependent on the rest of the body for its life and well-being, while the whole organism and all the individual members derive all their life from the Head and act under His guidance. And as the body needs the Head, to be the source of its life and the controller of its activities, and to unify the members into an organic whole, so the Head needs the body to be His instrument in carrying out His designs. It is only in Colossians and Ephesians that Christ appears as Head of the Church, but the emphasis in Colossians is on the Headship, in Ephesians on the Church.—τῆς ἐκκλησίας: often taken as in apposition to σώματος. For this we should have expected τ. σώμ. αὐτοῦ τ. ἐκκλ. (cf. Colossians 1:24). It may also be taken as epexegetical of σώματος (so Weiss and Haupt, who quotes 1 Corinthians 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:5, Romans 4:11; Romans 8:21; Romans 15:16 as parallels, all of which, however, are not clear). ἐκκλ. is here the universal Church.—ὅς ἐστιν: inasmuch as He is. Paul is giving a reason for the position of the Son as ἡ κεφ. τ. σώματος.—ἀρχή is not to be taken in the sense of ἀπαρχή, nor is it certain that it has, as Lightfoot and others think, the sense of originating power. It is defined by πρωτότ. ἐκ τ. νεκρῶν, and this seems to throw the stress rather on the idea of supremacy than that of priority. There is perhaps a tacit reference to ἀρχαὶ (Colossians 1:16).—πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν: “firstborn from among the dead”. In Revelation 1:5 we have ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν, which expresses a different idea. If the temporal reference in πρ. is the more prominent, the meaning will be that He is the first to pass out of the dominion of death. But if sovereignty is the leading idea, the meaning is that from among the dead He has passed to His throne, where He reigns as the living Lord, who has overcome death, and who, before He surrenders the kingdom to the Father, will abolish it.—ἵναπρωτεύων: the purpose for which He is ἀρχή, πρωτότ. ἐκ τ. νεκρῶν. He is supreme in the universe. He has to become supreme in relation to the Church. αὐτὸς is emphatic; ἐν πᾶσιν neuter not masculine, on account of the context.18–20. The thought continued. Greatness of the Redeemer as Head of the Church, Bearer of the Divine Plenitude, and Atoning Sacrifice

18. And he is] The same words as just above, and a solemn echo of them. He, the same Person, is also, necessarily, all that is now to be stated. The Head of Nature is the Head of Grace; the Person one, the operations analogous though differing.

the head] A word combining the thought of supremacy with that of the origination and conveyance of life and energy. The Son of God presides over His Church, but more—He is to it the constant Cause and mighty Source of spiritual vitality. “Because He lives, it lives also.” Its organization is rooted in Him, grows from Him, and refers to Him. Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23; and below, Colossians 2:10; Colossians 2:19. The idea, it will be seen, appears in this precise form (the Headship of the Body) only in Eph. and Col.; but cp. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:21.

the body] Cp. Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 2:16; Ephesians 4:4; Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:30; below, Colossians 1:24, Colossians 2:19, Colossians 3:15. This side of the imagery is strictly correlative to that of “the Head.” It presents the believing Company as an Organism subject to the Lord, dependent vitally on Him for its being, cohesion, and energy, and forming an animated vehicle for the accomplishment of His will. And it indicates of course the mutual relations of “the members” (see on this esp. 1 Corinthians 12) in their widely differing functions of life and service.

“To know, to do, the Head’s commands,

For this the Body lives and grows:

All speed of feet, all skill of hands,

Is for Him spent, and from Him flows.”

the church] The Greek admits the rendering, “of the body of the Church;” i.e., of the Church defined, or described, as a body; viewed as being a body. The difference between this rendering and that of A.V. and R.V. is however almost imperceptible; and Colossians 1:24 below, and Ephesians 1:23, incline the rendering in their direction.

The word “Church” here appears in its highest reference, denoting the society of human beings “called out” (as the word ecclêsia implies) from the fallen world into vital union with the glorified Christ as Head. It occurs again Colossians 1:24, and nine times in Eph. (Ephesians 1:23,Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 3:21, Ephesians 5:23-25; Ephesians 5:27; Ephesians 5:29; Ephesians 5:32), always with the same reference. See also Hebrews 12:23; and cp. Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 15:9.—As presented here, the idea rises above the level of “visibility;” it transcends human registration and external organization, and has to do supremely with direct spiritual relations between the Lord and the believing Company. It is in fact “the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife,” of Revelation 21, only not yet manifested in bridal splendour. It is the “called, justified, and glorified” of Romans 8; “the Church of the firstborn” of Hebrews 12; “the royal priesthood, the people of possession,” of 1 Peter. All other Christian meanings of the word Church are derived and modified from this, but this must not be modified by them. See Hooker, Eccl. Polity, iii. 1, quoted below, Appendix H.

who is] Seeing He is (Ellicott).

the beginning] The Origin, the Principle and Secret, of the life of the living Body. Cp. Revelation 3:14, where the probable reference is not (as here) to the spiritual creation specially but to created existence generally. Perhaps also (as Wordsworth suggests) the word (Archê) points also to the Son’s governing primacy, supreme above all possible angelic “Governments.” But this would be a secondary reference.

the firstborn from the dead] Not merely “of the dead,” but “from them;” passing in a supreme and unique sense “from death unto life;” rising in “the power of an indissoluble life” (Hebrews 7:16), a life-originating life (cp. 1 John 5:11-12).—The word “Firstborn” here echoes Colossians 1:15, where the Son appears as (by right of nature, “First-born,”) antecedent and supreme with regard to the whole natural creation. Here He is such, by a similar right, as to the whole spiritual creation. But now comes in the great paradox that He is this, in the sphere of grace, through the process of death, not through Incarnation alone apart from death. As slain and risen He enters, by right and in fact, on His position as living Head of Grace for His Church; “declared to be the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4), in order to our adoption and regeneration. Not as if He could be thus “born” a new Personality; but as being thus constituted actually the Second Adam of the new Race He is not only the “First-fruits” but the “First-Born” in His resurrection.—For the term in this connexion cp. Revelation 1:5.

in all things] Of grace as of nature, of new life as of old.

he] Emphatic in the Greek; He, the same, and without partner or rival.

have the preeminence] Lit., and better, might become (the) First, might take the first place (so Ellicott).—The thought here of “becoming,” as distinguished from “being,” must not be lost; what He “is” eternally to finite existence at large He “becomes” actually to His new Creation in His finished and victorious Sacrifice and risen Life. Nor must the echo from clause to clause (in the Greek) of the word “first” be lost.

“With this clause the predications respecting Christ seem to reach their acme” (Ellicott); an acme of calm but rapturous ascription and confession concerning the all-beloved Son of the Father, Secret of Creation, Life and Lord of His happy Church.—No passage in the N.T. more fully, perhaps none so fully, witnesses to the Divine “Nature, Power, and Eternity” of the Saviour of mankind.

I. HOOKER ON THE CHURCH. (Colossians 1:18.)

“That Church of Christ which we properly term His body mystical, can be but one; neither can that one be sensibly discerned by any man, inasmuch as the parts thereof are some in heaven already with Christ, and the rest that are on earth (albeit their natural persons be visible) we do not discern under this property whereby they are truly and infallibly of that body. Only our minds by intellectual conceit are able to apprehend that such a real body there is, a body collective, because it containeth a huge multitude; a body mystical, because the mystery of their conjunction is removed altogether from sense. Whatsoever we read in Scripture concerning the endless love and the saving mercy which God sheweth towards His Church, the only proper subject thereof is this Church. Concerning this flock it is that our Lord and Saviour hath promised: ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hands.’ They who are of this society have such marks and notes of distinction from all others as are not object unto our sense; only unto God, who seeth their hearts and understandeth all their secret thoughts and cogitations, unto Him they are clear and manifest. All men knew Nathanael to be an Israelite. But our Saviour, piercing deeper, giveth further testimony of him than men could have done with such certainty as He did, ‘Behold indeed an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ If we profess, as Peter did, that we love the Lord, and profess it in the hearing of men … charitable men are likely to think we do so, as long as they see no proof to the contrary. But that our love is sound and sincere … who can pronounce, saving only the Searcher of all men’s hearts, who alone intuitively doth know in this kind who are His? And as those everlasting promises of love, mercy, and blessedness, belong to the mystical Church, even so on the other side when we read of any duty which the Church of God is bound unto, the Church whom this doth concern is a sensible known company. And this visible Church in like sort is but one.… Which company being divided into two moieties, the one before, the other since the coming of Christ, that part which since the coming of Christ partly hath embraced and partly shall hereafter embrace the Christian religion, we term as by a more proper name the Church of Christ.… The unity of which visible body and Church of Christ consisteth of that uniformity which all several persons thereunto belonging have, by reason of that one Lord, whose servants they all profess themselves; that one faith, which they all acknowledge; that one baptism, wherewith they are all initiated.… Entered we are not into the visible before our admittance by the door of baptism.… Christians by external profession they are all, whose mark of recognisance hath in it those things (one Lord, one faith, one baptism) which we have mentioned, yea, although they be impious idolaters, wicked heretics, persons excommunicable, yea and cast out for notorious improbity.… Is it then possible that the selfsame men should belong both to the synagogue of Satan and to the Church of Jesus Christ? Unto that Church which is His mystical body, not possible; because that body consisteth of none but only … true servants and saints of God. Howbeit of the visible body and Church of Jesus Christ, those may be, and oftentimes are, in respect of the main parts of their outward profession.… For lack of diligent observing the difference, first between the Church of God mystical and visible, then between the visible sound and corrupted, sometimes more, sometimes less; the oversights are neither few nor light that have been committed.”

Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, iii. 1.Colossians 1:18. Καὶ, and) He now comes down from the whole to the principal part, the Church, comp. Ephesians 1:22, note.—ὅς ἔστι, who is) The Anaphora [repetition of the same words in beginnings], comp. Colossians 1:15, shows that there is here the beginning of a new paragraph, and its own ὅτι, because, is added to each member.—ἀρχὴ, beginning) This word corresponds to the Hebrew word ראש, especially concerning Christ, Hosea 2:2, and ראשית, concerning a first-begotten in particular, Deuteronomy 21:17, but chiefly of Christ, Proverbs 8:22. ἀπαρχὴ, first fruits, is the term used, 1 Corinthians 15:23, the word being rather restricted to the resurrection of the dead: ἀρχὴ, beginning, more expressly denotes distinguished excellence; comp. Colossians 2:10; Psalm 89:27. ἀρχὴ in the singular is antithetic to ἀρχαὶ, principalities, in the plural, Colossians 1:16.—πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, the first-begotten from the dead) Christ, even before His resurrection from the dead, nay, before the creation of the world, was the first-begotten, Colossians 1:15; but He is said to be first-begotten from the dead, because, for this reason, inasmuch as He was the Son of God, He could not but rise again, and because, in consequence of His resurrection, He is acknowledged [recognised] to be the Son of God; comp. Acts 13:33, note; and especially since there flows from His resurrection the life of many brethren.—πᾶσιν, in all things) In the neuter gender, Colossians 1:17.—αὐτὸς, He) by Himself, without deputies or substitute.—πρωτεύων, holding the first place) for example, in His resurrection, ascension, etc., John 3:13. Victorinus translates it, primarius, “the pre-eminent One.”Verse 18. - The words, And he is the Head of the body, the Church (Colossians 2:10, 19; Ephesians 1:22, 23; Ephesians 3:8-10; Ephesians 4:15, 16; Hebrews 1:3; John 15:1-6), identify the mediatorial Lord of creation (vers. 15-17) with the redeeming Head of the Church, and claim the prerogatives belonging to him in the former capacity as the basis of his position and offices in the latter (comp. Ephesians 1:22). The Pauline doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ is developed in Colossians and Ephesians, especially in the later Epistle, where it receives its fruitful application. Here the doctrine of the Person of Christ and the doctrine of the Church find their meeting-point as mutually implying each other, and together opposed to the double effect of early Gnosticism, which tended first to lower the dignity of Christ, and then to impair the unity of his Church (see Colossians 2:19, note). In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Romans 12:4, 5 the figure of the body and members is merely a passing illustration of the mutual relation of believers in the Church; now the body of Christ becomes the formal title of the Church, expressing the fundamental and fixed conception of its nature as related to him, who is the centre of its unity, the source of all vital energy and directing control within it (comp. the vine and branches, John 15.). In vers. 16, 17 the writer passed from the thought of the origin to that of the constitution of the cosmos; now he proceeds in the reverse order. (He is the head) who is (the) Beginning (Revelation 3:14; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13; Acts 3:15; Acts 5:31; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 12:2). Αρχή is without article, used as a proper noun. It is arbitrary to identify it with ἀπαρχὴ ("firstfruits") of 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23; Romans 11:16. As explained by the following words, it denotes, as in philosophical Greek, a first principle, originating cause, fens et origo (see Lightfoot's note and references). To borrow "of the dead" from the following parallel clause weakens the force of both. His body, the Church, begins in him, dating and deriving from him its "all in all" (Colossians 3:11, 4; 1 John 5:12; Revelation 21:5; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This is quite consistent with the "all things are of God" of 2 Corinthians 5:18; for the apostle is thinking here of the relative, historical beginning of "the kingdom of the Son" (ver. 13), there of the absolute beginning of the Divine work of redemption (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 3:23; and note on "unto him," ver. 16). St. John, writing to the neighbouring Laodicea, echoes, apparently, this language of our apostle (Revelation 3:14) As Firstborn out of the dead (Colossians 2:12, 13; Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 1:19, 20; Romans 1:4; Romans 6:1-14; 1 Corinthians 15:13-18; 2 Corinthians 13:4; Acts 13:30-39; 1 Peter 1:3, 21; Revelation 1:5, 18; Revelation 2:8; John 11:25), this Beginning actually begins; Christ becomes the source, of a new humanity, a new creation (2 Corinthians 4:14 and Romans 8:21). The apostle derives the whole life and power of Christianity, whether as seen in Christ or proved by his people, from his resurrection (see parallels). The name Firstborn brings over with it into this verse the glory which surrounds it in ver. 15. The Divine Firstborn, who is before and over all things, wins his title a second time for his earthly brethren's sake (Hebrews 2:10-15). As he appears "out of the dead," born anew from the dark womb of the grave, the nether abyss (Romans 10:7; Ephesians 4:9; Philippians 2:8), the Father declares to him, "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5); the Church exclaims," My Lord and my God" (John 20:28); "all authority in heaven and on earth" becomes his (Matthew 28:18; John 17:2); he is made "Firstborn over many brethren," who call him Lord (Romans 8:29; Romans 14:9; Revelation 5:12); and proceeds to "subdue all things unto himself" (Philippians 2:9, 10; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 10:13; Revelation 19:11-16). "Firstborn out of the dead" in the source of his new birthright of lordship in the Church, he is" Firstborn of the dead" (Revelation 1:5, R.V.: comp. ver. 15) in his abiding relation to dying humanity. And he won this title so as to carry out an antecedent purpose in his mind (comp. Romans 14:9; "In the mind of the father," say Meyer and others - a thought true in itself, but interpolated here), viz. that he might become in all things pre-eminent (ver. 13; Colossians 2:6; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Luke 19:12-27; Luke 22:29, 30; John 18:36; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 19:16; Psalm 2:7, 8). The purpose of creation as "unto Christ" (ver. 17) had been frustrated, so far as related to man, by the entrance of sin and death, and his rightful pre-eminence denied him (John 1:10). He must, therefore, recover it, must become pre-eminent; and this he does by his death and resurrection (John 12:31, 32; Hebrews 2:14, 15; Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:6-11; Isaiah 53:12). "To this end Jesus died and lived again" (Romans 14:9: comp. 2 Corinthians 5:15; Revelation 1:18). And He

Emphatic. The same who is before all things and in whom all things consist.

The head of the body, the Church

The Church is described as a body, Romans 12:4 sq.; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; 1 Corinthians 10:17, by way of illustrating the functions of the members. Here the image is used to emphasize the position and power of Christ as the head. Compare Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 4:4, Ephesians 4:12, Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:16; Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:30.

Who is the beginning (ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχὴ)

Who is, equivalent to seeing He is. Beginning, with reference to the Church; not the beginning of the Church, but of the new life which subsists in the body - the Church.

The first-born from the dead (πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν)

Defining how Christ is the beginning of the new spiritual life: by His resurrection. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:23, and Prince of life, Acts 3:15 (note) See on Revelation 1:5, where the phrase is slightly different, "first-born of the dead." He comes forth from among the dead as the first-born issues from the womb. Compare Acts 2:4, "having loosed the pains of death," where the Greek is ὠδῖνας birth-throes. There is a parallelism between first-born of the creation and first-born from the dead as regards the relation of headship in which Christ stands to creation and to the Church alike; but the parallelism is not complete. "He is the first-born from the dead as having been Himself one of the dead. He is not the first-born of all creation as being himself created" (Dwight).

In all things

The universe and the Church.

Might have the preeminence (γένηται πρωτεύων)

Lit., might become being first. Πρωτεύω to be first only here in the New Testament. Γένηται become states a relation into which Christ came in the course of time: ἐστιν is (the first-born of all creation) states a relation of Christ's absolute being. He became head of the Church through His incarnation and passion, as He is head of the universe in virtue of His absolute and eternal being. Compare Philippians 2:6, "being (ὑπάρχων) in the form of God - was made (γενόμενος) obedient unto death." This sense is lost in the rendering might have the preeminence.

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