Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS Commentary by A. R. Faussett
The GENUINENESS of this Epistle is attested by Justin Martyr [Dialogue with Trypho, p. 311, B.], who quotes "the first-born of every creature," in reference to Christ, from Col 1:15. Theophilus of Antioch [To Autolychus, 2, p. 100]. Irenæus [Against Heresies, 3.14.1], quotes expressly from this "Epistle to the Colossians" (Col 4:14). Clement of Alexandria [Miscellanies, 1. p. 325], quotes Col 1:28; also elsewhere he quotes Col 1:9-11, 28; 2:2, &c.; Col 2:8; 3:12, 14; 4:2, 3, &c. Tertullian [The Prescription against Heretics, 7], quotes Col 2:8; [On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 23], and quotes Col 2:12, 20; 3:1, 2. Origen [Against Celsus, 5.8], quotes Col 2:18, 19.
Colosse (or, as it is spelt in the best manuscripts, "Colassæ") was a city of Phrygia, on the river Lycus, a branch of the Meander. The Church there was mainly composed of Gentiles (compare Col 2:13). Alford infers from Col 2:1 (see on Col 2:1), that Paul had not seen its members, and therefore could not have been its founder, as Theodoret thought. Col 1:7, 8 suggests the probability that Epaphras was the first founder of the Church there. The date of its foundation must have been subsequent to Paul's visitation, "strengthening in order" all the churches of Galatia and Phrygia (Ac 18:24); for otherwise we must have visited the Colossians, which Col 2:1 implies he had not. Had Paul been their father in the faith, he would doubtless have alluded to the fact, as in 1Co 3:6, 10; 4:15; 1Th 1:5; 2:1. It is only in the Epistles, Romans and Ephesians, and this Epistle, such allusions are wanting; in that to the Romans, because, as in this Church of Colosse, he had not been the instrument of their conversion; in that to the Ephesians, owing to the general nature of the Epistle. Probably during the "two years" of Paul's stay at Ephesus, when "all which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus" (Ac 19:10, 26), Epaphras, Philemon, Archippus, Apphia and the other natives of Colosse, becoming converted at Ephesus, were subsequently the first sowers of the Gospel seed in their own city. This will account for their personal acquaintance with, and attachment to, Paul and his fellow ministers, and for his loving language as to them, and their counter salutations to him. So also with respect to "them at Laodicea," (Col 2:1).
The OBJECT of the Epistle is to counteract Jewish false teaching, by setting before the Colossians their true standing in Christ alone (exclusive of all other heavenly beings), the majesty of His person, and the completeness of the redemption wrought by Him; hence they ought to be conformed to their risen Lord, and to exhibit that conformity in all the relations of ordinary life Col 2:16, "new moon, sabbath days," shows that the false teaching opposed in this Epistle is that of Judaizing Christians. These mixed up with pure Christianity Oriental theosophy and angel-worship, and the asceticism of certain sections of the Jews, especially the Essenes. Compare Josephus [Wars of the Jews, 2.8,13]. These theosophists promised to their followers a deeper insight into the world of spirits, and a nearer approach to heavenly purity and intelligence, than the simple Gospel affords. Conybeare and Howson think that some Alexandrian Jew had appeared at Colosse, imbued with the Greek philosophy of Philo's school, combining with it the Rabbinical theosophy and angelology which afterwards was embodied in the Cabbala. Compare Josephus [Antiquities, 12.3,4], from which we know that Alexander the Great had garrisoned the towns of Lydia and Phrygia with two thousand Mesopotamian and Babylonian Jews in the time of a threatened revolt. The Phrygians themselves had a mystic tendency in their worship of Cybele, which inclined them to receive the more readily the incipient Gnosticism of Judaizers, which afterward developed itself into the strangest heresies. In the Pastoral Epistles, the evil is spoken of as having reached a more deadly phase (1Ti 4:1-3; 6:5), whereas he brings no charge of immorality in this Epistle: a proof of its being much earlier in date.
The PLACE from which it was written seems to have been Rome, during his first imprisonment there (Ac 28:17-31). In my Introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians, it was shown that the three Epistles, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, were sent at the same time, namely, during the freer portion of his imprisonment, before the death of Burrus. Col 4:3, 4; Eph 6:19, 20, imply greater freedom than he had while writing to the Philippians, after the promotion of Tigellinus to be Prætorian Prefect. See Introduction to Philippians.
This Epistle, though carried by the same bearer, Tychicus, who bore that to the Ephesians, was written previously to that Epistle; for many phrases similar in both appear in the more expanded form in the Epistle to the Ephesians (compare also Note, see on Eph 6:21). The Epistle to the Laodiceans (Col 4:16) was written before that to the Colossians, but probably was sent by him to Laodicea at the same time with that to the Church at Colosse.
The STYLE is peculiar: many Greek phrases occur here, found nowhere else. Compare Col 2:8, "spoil you"; "making a show of them openly" (Col 2:15); "beguile of your reward," and "intruding" (Col 2:18); "will-worship"; "satisfying" (Col 2:23); "filthy communication" (Col 3:8); "rule" (Col 3:15); "comfort" (Col 4:11). The loftiness and artificial elaboration of style correspond to the majestic nature of his theme, the majesty of Christ's person and office, in contrast to the beggarly system of the Judaizers, the discussion of which was forced on him by the controversy. Hence arises his use of unusual phraseology. On the other hand, in the Epistle of the Ephesians, subsequently written, in which he was not so hampered by the exigencies of controversy, he dilates on the same glorious truths, so congenial to him, more at large, freely and uncontroversially, in the fuller outpouring of his spirit, with less of the elaborate and antithetical language of system, such as was needed in cautioning the Colossians against the particular errors threatening them. Hence arises the striking similarity of many of the phrases in the two Epistles written about the same time, and generally in the same vein of spiritual thought; while the peculiar phrases of the Epistle to the Colossians are such as are natural, considering the controversial purpose of that Epistle.
Col 1:1-29. Address: Introduction: Confirming Epaphras' Teaching: The Glories of Christ: Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Colossians: His Own Ministry of the Mystery.
1. by the will of God—Greek, "through," &c. (compare Note, see on 1Co 1:1).
Timothy—(Compare Notes, see on 2Co 1:1 and Php 1:1). He was with Paul at the time of writing in Rome. He had been companion of Paul in his first tour through Phrygia, in which Colosse was. Hence the Colossians seem to have associated him with Paul in their affections, and the apostle joins him with himself in the address. Neither, probably, had seen the Colossian Church (compare Col 2:1); but had seen, during their tour through Phrygia, individual Colossians, as Epaphras, Philemon, Archippus, and Apphia (Phm 2), who when converted brought the Gospel to their native city.
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Colosse—written in the oldest manuscripts, "Colasse." As "saints" implies union with God, so "the faithful brethren" union with Christian men [Bengel].
and the Lord Jesus Christ—supported by some oldest manuscripts omitted by others of equal antiquity.
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
3. Thanksgiving for the "faith, hope, and love" of the Colossians. So in the twin Epistle sent at the same time and by the same bearer, Tychicus (Eph 1:15, 16).
We—I and Timothy.
and the Father—So some of the oldest manuscripts read. But others better omit the "and," which probably crept in from Eph 1:3.
praying always for you—with thanksgiving (Php 4:6). See Col 1:4.
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,
4. Since we heard—literally, "Having heard." The language implies that he had only heard of, and not seen, them (Col 2:1). Compare Ro 1:8, where like language is used of a Church which he had not at the time visited.
love … to all—the absent, as well as those present [Bengel].
For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;
5. For—to be joined with the words immediately preceding: "The love which ye have to all the saints because of (literally, 'on account of') the hope," &c. The hope of eternal life will never be in us an inactive principle but will always produce "love." This passage is abused by Romanists, as if the hope of salvation depended upon works. A false argument. It does not follow that our hope is founded on our works because we are strongly stimulated to live well; since nothing is more effectual for this purpose than the sense of God's free grace [Calvin].
laid up—a treasure laid up so as to be out of danger of being lost (2Ti 4:8). Faith, love, and hope (Col 1:4, 5), comprise the sum of Christianity. Compare Col 1:23, "the hope of the Gospel."
in heaven—Greek, "in the heavens."
whereof ye heard before—namely, at the time when it was preached to you.
in the word, &c.—That "hope" formed part of "the word of the truth of the Gospel" (compare Eph 1:13), that is, part of the Gospel truth preached unto you.
Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:
6. Which is come unto you—Greek, "Which is present among you," that is, which has come to, and remains with, you. He speaks of the word as a living person present among them.
as it is in all the world—virtually, as it was by this time preached in the leading parts of the then known world; potentially, as Christ's command was that the Gospel should be preached to all nations, and not be limited, as the law was, to the Jews (Mt 13:38; 24:14; 28:19). However, the true reading, and that of the oldest manuscripts, is that which omits the following "and," thus (the "it is" of English Version is not in the original Greek): "As in all the world it is bringing forth fruit and growing (so the oldest manuscripts read; English Version omits 'and growing,' without good authority), even as it doth in you also." Then what is asserted is not that the Gospel has been preached in all the world, but that it is bearing fruits of righteousness, and (like a tree growing at the same time that it is bearing fruit) growing in numbers of its converts in, or throughout, all the world.
heard of it—rather, "heard it."
and knew—rather, "came to know"; became fully experimentally acquainted with.
the grace of God in truth—that is, in its truth, and with true knowledge [Alford].
As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
7. As ye also learned—"Also" is omitted in the oldest manuscripts. The insertion implied that those inserting it thought that Paul had preached the Gospel to the Colossians as well as Epaphras, Whereas the omission in the oldest manuscripts implies that Epaphras alone was the founder of the Church at Colosse.
fellow servant—namely, of Christ. In Phm 23 he calls him "my fellow prisoner." It is possible that Epaphras may have been apprehended for his zealous labors in Asia Minor; but more probable that Paul gave him the title; as his faithful companion in his imprisonment (compare Note, see on Col 4:10, as to Meyer's conjecture).
who is for you, &c.—Translate, "who is faithful in your behalf as a minister of Christ"; hinting that he is one not to be set aside for the new and erroneous teachers (Col 2:1-23). Most of the oldest manuscripts read, "for (or 'in behalf of') US." Vulgate, however, with one of the oldest manuscripts, supports English Version.
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.
8. your love—(Col 1:4); "to all the saints."
in the Spirit—the sphere or element IN which alone true love is found; as distinguished from the state of those "in the flesh" (Ro 8:9). Yet even they needed to be stirred up to greater love (Col 3:12-14). Love is the first and chief fruit of the Spirit (Ga 5:22).
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
9. we also—on our part.
heard it—(Col 1:4).
pray—Here he states what in particular he prays for; as in Col 1:3 he stated generally the fact of his praying for them.
to desire—"to make request."
might be filled—rather, "may be filled"; a verb, often found in this Epistle (Col 4:12, 17).
knowledge—Greek, "full and accurate knowledge." Akin to the Greek for "knew" (see on Col 1:6).
of his will—as to how ye ought to walk (Eph 5:17); as well as chiefly that "mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself; that in the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ" (Eph 1:9, 10); God's "will," whereby He eternally purposed to reconcile to Himself, and save men by Christ, not by angels, as the false teachers in some degree taught (Col 2:18) [Estius]. There seems to have been a want of knowledge among the Colossians; notwithstanding their general excellencies; hence he so often dwells on this subject (Col 1:28; Col 2:2, 3; 3:10, 13; 4:5, 6). On the contrary he less extols wisdom to the Corinthians, who were puffed up with the conceit of knowledge.
wisdom—often mentioned in this Epistle, as opposed to the (false) "philosophy" and "show of wisdom" (Col 2:8, 23; compare Eph 1:8).
understanding—sagacity to discern what on each occasion is suited to the place and the time; its seat is "the understanding" or intellect; wisdom is more general and has its seat in the whole compass of the faculties of the soul [Bengel]. "Wouldst thou know that the matters in the word of Christ are real things? Then never read them for mere knowledge sake" [Quoted by Gaussen.] Knowledge is desirable only when seasoned by "spiritual understanding."
That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
10. Greek, "So as to walk"; so that ye may walk. True knowledge of God's will is inseparable from walking conformably to it.
worthy of the Lord—(Eph 4:1).
unto—so as in every way to be well-pleasing to God.
pleasing—literally, "desire of pleasing."
being fruitful—Greek, "bearing fruit." This is the first manifestation of their "walking worthy of the Lord." The second is, "increasing (growing) in the knowledge of God (or as the oldest manuscripts read, 'growing BY the full knowledge of God')"; thus, as the Gospel word (Col 1:6) was said to "bring forth fruit," and to "grow" in all the world, even as it did in the Colossians, ever since the day they knew the grace of God, so here it is Paul's prayer that they might continue to "bring forth fruit," and "grow" more and more by the full knowledge of God, the more that "knowledge" (Col 1:9) was imparted to them. The full knowledge of God is the real instrument of enlargement in soul and life of the believer [Alford]. The third manifestation of their walk is (Col 1:11), "Being strengthened with all might," &c. The fourth is (Col 1:12), "Giving thanks unto the Father," &c.
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
11. Greek, "Being made mighty with (literally, 'in') all might."
according to his glorious power—rather, "according to the power (the characteristic of 'His glory,' here appropriate to Paul's argument, Eph 1:19; 6:10; as its exuberant 'riches,' in Eph 3:16) of His glory." His power is inseparable from His glory (Ro 6:4).
unto all patience—so as to attain to all patient endurance; persevering, enduring continuance in the faith, in spite of trials of persecutors, and seductions of false teachers.
long-suffering—towards those whom one could repel. "Patience," or "endurance," is exercised in respect to those whom one cannot repel [Chrysostom].
with joyfulness—joyful endurance (Ac 16:25; Ro 5:3, 11).
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
12. You "giving thanks unto the Father." See on Col 1:10; this clause is connected with "that ye may be filled" (Col 1:9), and "that ye may walk" (Col 1:10). The connection is not, "We do not cease to pray for you (Col 1:9) giving thanks."
unto the Father—of Jesus Christ, and so our Father by adoption (Ga 3:26; 4:4-6).
which hath made us meet—Greek, "who made us meet." Not "is making us meet" by progressive growth in holiness; but once for all made us meet. It is not primarily the Spirit's work that is meant here, as the text is often used; but the Father's work in putting us by adoption, once for all, in a new standing, namely, that of children. The believers meant here were in different stages of progressive sanctification; but in respect to the meetness specified here, they all alike had it from the Father, in Christ His Son, being "complete in Him" (Col 2:10). Compare Joh 17:17; Jude 1, "sanctified by God the Father"; 1Co 1:30. Still, secondarily, this once-for-all meetness contains in it the germ of sanctification, afterwards developed progressively in the life by the Father's Spirit in the believer. The Christian life of heavenliness is the first stage of heaven itself. There must, and will be, a personal meetness for heaven, where there is a judicial meetness.
to be partakers, &c.—Greek, "for the (or 'our') portion of the inheritance (Ac 20:32; 26:18; Eph 1:11) of the saints in light." "Light" begins in the believer here, descending from "the Father of lights" by Jesus, "the true light," and is perfected in the kingdom of light, which includes knowledge, purity, love, and joy. It is contrasted here with the "darkness" of the unconverted state (Col 1:13; compare 1Pe 2:9).
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
13. from—Greek, "out of the power," out of the sphere in which his power is exercised.
darkness—blindness, hatred, misery [Bengel].
translated—Those thus translated as to state, are also transformed as to character. Satan has an organized dominion with various orders of powers of evil (Eph 2:2; 6:12). But the term "kingdom" is rarely applied to his usurped rule (Mt 12:26); it is generally restricted to the kingdom of God.
his dear Son—rather as Greek, "the Son of His love": the Son on whom His love rests (Joh 17:26; Eph 1:6): contrasted with the "darkness" where all is hatred and hateful.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
14. (Eph 1:7.)
redemption—rather as Greek, "our redemption."
through his blood—omitted in the oldest manuscripts; probably inserted from Eph 1:7.
sins—Translate as Greek, "our sins." The more general term: for which Eph 1:7, Greek, has, "our transgressions," the more special term.
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
15. They who have experienced in themselves "redemption" (Col 1:14), know Christ in the glorious character here described, as above the highest angels to whom the false teachers (Col 2:18) taught worship was to be paid. Paul describes Him: (1) in relation to God and creation (Col 1:15-17); (2) in relation to the Church (Col 1:18-20). As the former regards Him as the Creator (Col 1:15, 16) and the Sustainer (Col 1:17) of the natural world; so the latter, as the source and stay of the new moral creation.
image—exact likeness and perfect Representative. Adam was made "in the image of God" (Ge 1:27). But Christ, the second Adam, perfectly reflected visibly "the invisible God" (1Ti 1:17), whose glories the first Adam only in part represented. "Image" (eicon) involves "likeness" (homoiosis); but "likeness" does not involve "image." "Image" always supposes a prototype, which it not merely resembles, but from which it is drawn: the exact counterpart, as the reflection of the sun in the water: the child the living image of the parent. "Likeness" implies mere resemblance, not the exact counterpart and derivation as "image" expresses; hence it is nowhere applied to the Son, while "image" is here, compare 1Co 11:7 [Trench]. (Joh 1:18; 14:9; 2Co 4:4; 1Ti 3:16; Heb 1:3). Even before His incarnation He was the image of the invisible God, as the Word (Joh 1:1-3) by whom God created the worlds, and by whom God appeared to the patriarchs. Thus His essential character as always "the image of God," (1) before the incarnation, (2) in the days of His flesh, and (3) now in His glorified state, is, I think, contemplated here by the verb "is."
first-born of every creature—(Heb 1:6), "the first-begotten": "begotten of His Father before all worlds" [Nicene Creed]. Priority and superlative dignity is implied (Ps 89:27). English Version might seem to favor Arianism, as if Christ were a creature. Translate, "Begotten (literally, 'born') before every creature," as the context shows, which gives the reason why He is so designated. "For," &c. (Col 1:16, 17) [Trench]. This expression is understood by Origen (so far is the Greek from favoring Socinian or Arian views) as declaring the Godhead of Christ, and is used by Him as a phrase to mark that Godhead, in contrast with His manhood [Book 2, sec. Against Celsus]. The Greek does not strictly admit Alford's translation, "the first-born of all creation."
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
16. For—Greek, "Because." This gives the proof that He is not included in the things created, but is the "first-begotten" before "every creature" (Col 1:15), begotten as "the Son of God's love" (Col 1:13), antecedently to all other emanations: "for" all these other emanations came from Him, and whatever was created, was created by Him.
by him—rather as Greek, "in Him": as the conditional element, pre-existent and all-including: the creation of all things BY Him is expressed afterwards, and is a different fact from the present one, though implied in it [Alford]. God revealed Himself in the Son, the Word of the Father, before all created existence (Col 1:15). That Divine Word carries IN Himself the archetypes of all existences, so that "IN Him all things that are in heaven and earth have been created." The "in Him" indicates that the Word is the ideal ground of all existence; the "by Him," below, that He is the instrument of actually realizing the divine idea [Neander]. His essential nature as the Word of the Father is not a mere appendage of His incarnation, but is the ground of it. The original relation of the Eternal Word to men "made in His image" (Ge 1:27), is the source of the new relation to them by redemption, formed in His incarnation, whereby He restores them to His lost image. "In Him" implies something prior to "by" and "for Him" presently after: the three prepositions mark in succession the beginning, the progress, and the end [Bengel].
all things—Greek, "the universe of things." That the new creation is not meant in this verse (as Socinians interpret), is plain; for angels, who are included in the catalogue, were not new created by Christ; and he does not speak of the new creation till Col 1:18. The creation "of the things that are in the heavens" (so Greek) includes the creation of the heavens themselves: the former are rather named, since the inhabitants are more noble than their dwellings. Heaven and earth and all that is m them (1Ch 29:11; Ne 9:6; Re 10:6).
invisible—the world of spirits.
thrones, or dominions—lordships: the thrones are the greater of the two.
principalities, or powers—rather, "rules, or authorities": the former are stronger than the latter (compare Note, see on Eph 1:21). The latter pair refer to offices in respect to God's creatures: "thrones and dominions" express exalted relation to God, they being the chariots on which He rides displaying His glory (Ps 68:17). The existence of various orders of angels is established by this passage.
all things—Greek, "the whole universe of things."
were—rather, to distinguish the Greek aorist, which precedes from the perfect tense here, "have been created." In the former case the creation was viewed as a past act at a point of time, or as done once for all; here it is viewed, not merely as one historic act of creation in the past, but as the permanent result now and eternally continuing.
by him—as the instrumental Agent (Joh 1:3).
for him—as the grand End of creation; containing in Himself the reason why creation is at all, and why it is as it is [Alford]. He is the final cause as well as the efficient cause. Lachmann's punctuation of Col 1:15-18 is best, whereby "the first-born of every creature" (Col 1:15) answers to "the first-born from the dead" (Col 1:18), the whole forming one sentence with the words ("All things were created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist, and He is the Head of the body, the Church") intervening as a parenthesis. Thus Paul puts first, the origination by Him of the natural creation; secondly, of the new creation. The parenthesis falls into four clauses, two and two: the former two support the first assertion, "the first-born of every creature"; the latter two prepare us for "the first-born from the dead"'; the former two correspond to the latter two in their form—"All things by Him … and He is," and "By Him all things … and He is."
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
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 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.
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 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).
For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
19. Greek, "(God) was well pleased," &c.
in him—that is, in the Son (Mt 3:17).
all fulness—rather as Greek, "all the fulness," namely, of God, whatever divine excellence is in God the Father (Col 2:9; Eph 3:19; compare Joh 1:16; 3:34). The Gnostics used the term "fulness," for the assemblage of emanations, or angelic powers, coming from God. The Spirit presciently by Paul warns the Church, that the true "fulness" dwells in Christ alone. This assigns the reason why Christ takes precedence of every creature (Col 1:15). For two reasons Christ is Lord of the Church: (1) Because the fulness of the divine attributes (Col 1:19) dwells in Him, and so He has the power to govern the universe; (2) Because (Col 1:20) what He has done for the Church gives Him the right to preside over it.
should … dwell—as in a temple (Joh 2:21). This indwelling of the Godhead in Christ is the foundation of the reconciliation by Him [Bengel]. Hence the "and" (Col 1:20) connects as cause and effect the two things, the Godhead in Christ, and the reconciliation by Christ.
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
20. The Greek order is, "And through Him (Christ) to reconcile again completely (see on Eph 2:16) all things (Greek, 'the whole universe of things') unto Himself (unto God the Father, 2Co 5:19), having made peace (God the Father having made peace) through the blood of His (Christ's) cross," that is, shed by Christ on the cross: the price and pledge of our reconciliation with God. The Scripture phrase, "God reconciles man to Himself," implies that He takes away by the blood of Jesus the barrier which God's justice interposes against man's being in union with God (compare Note, see on Ro 5:10; 2Co 5:18). So the Septuagint, 1Sa 29:4, "Wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master," that is, reconcile his master unto him by appeasing his wrath. So Mt 5:23, 24.
by him—"through Him" (the instrumental agent in the new creation, as in the original creation): emphatically repeated, to bring the person of Christ, as the Head of both creations alike, into prominence.
things in earth … in heaven—Good angels, in one sense, do not need reconciliation to God; fallen angels are excluded from it (Jude 6). But probably redemption has effects on the world of spirits unknown to us. Of course, His reconciling us, and His reconciling them, must be by a different process, as He took not on Him the nature of angels, so as to offer a propitiation for them. But the effect of redemption on them, as He is their Head as well as ours, is that they are thereby brought nearer God, and so gain an increase of blessedness [Alford], and larger views of the love and wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). All creation subsists in Christ, all creation is therefore affected by His propitiation: sinful creation is strictly "reconciled" from its enmity; sinless creation, comparatively distant from His unapproachable purity (Job 4:18; 15:15; 25:5), is lifted into nearer participation of Him, and in this wider sense is reconciled. Doubtless, too, man's fall, following on Satan's fall, is a segment of a larger circle of evil, so that the remedy of the former affects the standing of angels, from among whom Satan and his host fell. Angels thereby having seen the magnitude of sin, and the infinite cost of redemption, and the exclusion of the fallen angels from it, and the inability of any creature to stand morally in his own strength, are now put beyond the reach of falling. Thus Bacon's definition of Christ's Headship holds good: "The Head of redemption to man; the Head of preservation to angels." Some conjecture that Satan, when unfallen, ruled this earth and the pre-Adamic animal kingdom: hence his malice against man who succeeded to the lordship of this earth and its animals, and hence, too, his assumption of the form of a serpent, the subtlest of the animal tribes. Lu 19:38 states expressly "peace in heaven" as the result of finished redemption, as "peace on earth" was the result of its beginning at Jesus' birth (Lu 2:14). Bengel explains the reconciliation to be that of not only God, but also angels, estranged from men because of man's enmity against God. Eph 1:10 accords with this: This is true, but only part of the truth: so Alford's view also is but part of the truth. An actual reconciliation or restoration of peace in heaven, as well as on earth, is expressed by Paul. As long as that blood of reconciliation was not actually shed, which is opposed (Zec 3:8, 9) to the accusations of Satan, but was only in promise, Satan could plead his right against men before God day and night (Job 1:6; Re 12:10); hence he was in heaven till the ban on man was broken (compare Lu 10:18). So here; the world of earth and heaven owe to Christ alone the restoration of harmony after the conflict and the subjugation of all things under one Head (compare Heb 11:23). Sin introduced discord not only on earth, but also in heaven, by the fall of demons; it brought into the abodes of holy angels, though not positive, yet privative loss, a retardation of their highest and most perfect development, harmonious gradation, and perfect consummation. Angels were no more able than men by themselves to overcome the peace disturbers, and cast out the devils; it is only "by," or "through Him," and "the blood of His cross," that peace was restored even in heaven; it is only after Christ has obtained the victory fully and legally, that Michael (Re 12:7-10) and his angels can cast out of heaven Satan and his demons (compare Col 2:15). Thus the point of Paul's argument against angel-worship is, that angels themselves, like men, wholly depend on Christ, the sole and true object of worship [Auberlen].
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
21. The Colossians are included in this general reconciliation (compare Eph 2:1, 12).
alienated—from God and salvation: objectively banished from God, through the barrier which God's justice interposed against your sin: subjectively estranged through the alienation of your own wills from God. The former is the prominent thought (compare Ro 5:10), as the second follows, "enemies in your mind." "Actual alienation makes habitual 'enemies'" [Bengel].
in your mind—Greek, "in your understanding" or "thought" (Eph 2:3; 4:18).
by wicked works—rather as Greek, "in your wicked works" (wicked works were the element in which your enmity subsisted).
yet now—Notwithstanding the former alienation, now that Christ has come, God hath completely reconciled, or restored to His friendship again (so the Greek, compare Note, see on Col 1:20).
In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
22. In the body of his flesh—the element in which His reconciling sufferings had place. Compare Col 1:24, "afflictions of Christ in my flesh" (1Pe 2:24). Angels who have not a "body of flesh" are not in any way our reconciling mediators, as your false teachers assert, but He, the Lord of angels, who has taken our flesh, that in it He might atone for our fallen manhood.
through death—rather as Greek, "through His death" (which could only take place in a body like ours, of flesh, Heb 2:14). This implies He took on Him our true and entire manhood. Flesh is the sphere in which His human sufferings could have place (compare Col 1:24; Eph 2:15).
to present you—(Eph 5:27). The end of His reconciling atonement by death.
holy—positively; and in relation to God.
unblamable … unreprovable—negatively. "Without blemish" (as the former Greek word is translated as to Jesus, our Head, 1Pe 1:19) in one's self. Irreproachable (the Greek for the second word, one who gives no occasion for his being brought to a law court) is in relation to the world without. Sanctification, as the fruit, is here treated of; justification, by Christ's reconciliation, as the tree, having preceded (Eph 1:4; 5:26, 27; Tit 2:14). At the same time, our sanctification is regarded here as perfect in Christ, into whom we are grafted at regeneration or conversion, and who is "made of God unto us (perfect) sanctification" (1Co 1:30; 1Pe 1:2; Jude 1): not merely progressive sanctification, which is the gradual development of the sanctification which Christ is made to the believer from the first.
in his sight—in God's sight, at Christ's appearing.
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;
23. If—"Assuming that," &c.: not otherwise shall ye be so presented at His appearing (Col 1:22).
grounded—Greek, "founded," "fixed on the foundation" (compare Note, see on Eph 3:17; Lu 6:48, 49).
settled—"steadfast." "Grounded" respects the foundation on which believers rest; "settled," their own steadfastness (1Pe 5:10). 1Co 15:58 has the same Greek.
not moved away—by the false teachers.
the hope of the gospel—(Eph 1:18).
which ye have heard … which was preached to every creature … whereof I … am … a minister—Three arguments against their being "moved away from the Gospel": (1) Their having heard it; (2) The universality of the preaching of it; (3) Paul's ministry in it. For "to (Greek, 'in') every creature," the oldest manuscripts read, "in all creation." Compare "in all the world," Col 1:6; "all things … in earth," Col 1:20 (Mr 16:15): thus he implies that the Gospel from which he urges them not to be moved, has this mark of truth, namely, the universality of its announcement, which accords with the command and prophecy of Christ Himself (Mt 24:14). By "was preached," he means not merely "is being preached," but has been actually, as an accomplished fact, preached. Pliny, not many years subsequently, in his famous letter to the Emperor Trajan [Epistles, Book X., Epistle 97], writes, "Many of every age, rank, and sex, are being brought to trial. For the contagion of that superstition [Christianity] has spread over not only cities, but villages and the country."
whereof I Paul am—rather as Greek, "was made a minister." Respect for me, the minister of this world-wide Gospel, should lead you not to be moved from it. Moreover (he implies), the Gospel which ye heard from Epaphras, your "minister" (Col 1:7), is the same of which "I was made a minister" (Col 1:25; Eph 3:7): if you be moved from it, ye will desert the teaching of the recognized ministers of the Gospel for unauthorized false teachers.
Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:
24. Who—The oldest manuscripts omit "who"; then translate, "Now I rejoice." Some very old manuscripts, and the best of the Latin versions, and Vulgate, read as English Version. To enhance the glory of Christ as paramount to all, he mentions his own sufferings for the Church of Christ. "Now" stands in contrast to "I was made," in the past time (Col 1:23).
for you—"on your behalf," that ye may be confirmed in resting solely on Christ (to the exclusion of angel-worship) by the glorification of Christ in my sufferings (Eph 3:1).
fill up that which is behind—literally, "the deficiencies"—all that are lacking of the afflictions of Christ (compare Note, see on 2Co 1:5). Christ is "afflicted in all His people's afflictions" (Isa 63:9). "The Church is His body in which He is, dwells, lives, and therefore also suffers" [Vitringa]. Christ was destined to endure certain afflictions in this figurative body, as well as in His literal; these were "that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ," which Paul "filled up." His own meritorious sufferings in expiation for sin were once for all completely filled up on the Cross. But His Church (His second Self) has her whole measure of afflictions fixed. The more Paul, a member, endured, the less remain for the rest of the Church to endure; the communion of saints thus giving them an interest in his sufferings. It is in reference to the Church's afflictions, which are "Christ's afflictions, that Paul here saith, "I fill up the deficiencies," or "what remain behind of the afflictions of Christ." She is afflicted to promote her growth in holiness, and her completeness in Christ. Not one suffering is lost (Ps 56:8). All her members have thus a mutual interest in one another's sufferings (1Co 12:26). But Rome's inference hence, is utterly false that the Church has a stock treasury of the merits and satisfactions of Christ and His apostles, out of which she may dispense indulgences; the context has no reference to sufferings in expiation of sin and productive of merit. Believers should regard their sufferings less in relation to themselves as individuals, and more as parts of a grand whole, carrying out God's perfect plan.
Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
25. am—Greek, "I was made a minister": resuming Col 1:23, "whereof I Paul was made a minister."
dispensation—the stewardship committed to me to dispense in the house of God, the Church, to the whole family of believers, the goods of my Master (Lu 12:42; 1Co 4:1, 2; 9:17; Eph 3:2).
which is given—Greek, "which was given."
for you—with a view to you, Gentiles (Col 1:27; Ro 15:16).
to fulfil—to bring it fully to all: the end of his stewardship: "fully preached" (Ro 15:19). "The fulness of Christ (Col 1:19), and of the times (Eph 1:10) required him so to do" [Bengel].
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:
26. the mystery—(See on Eph 1:9, 10; Eph 3:5-9). The mystery, once hidden, now revealed, is redemption for the whole Gentile world, as well as for the Jews, "Christ in you (Gentiles) the hope of glory" (Col 1:27).
from ages—"from," according to Alford, refers to time, not "hidden from": from the time of the ages; still what is meant is that the mystery was hidden from the beings living in those "ages." The "ages" are the vast successive periods marked by successive orders of beings and stages of creation. Greek, "Æons," a word used by the Gnostics for angelic beings emanating from God. The Spirit by Paul presciently, in opposition to Gnostic error already beginning (Col 2:18), teaches, that the mystery of redemption was hidden in God's purposes in Christ, alike from the angelic beings (compare Eph 3:10) of the pre-Adamic "ages," and from the subsequent human "generations." Translate as Greek, "the ages … the generations."
made manifest to his saints—to His apostles and prophets primarily (Eph 3:5), and through them to all His saints.
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
27. would—rather as Greek, "willed," or "was pleased to make known." He resolves all into God's good pleasure and will, that man should not glory save in God's grace.
what—How full and inexhaustible!
the riches of the glory of this mystery—He accumulates phrase on phrase to enhance the greatness of the blessing in Christ bestowed by God on the Gentiles. Compare Col 2:3, "all the treasures" of wisdom; Eph 3:8, "the unsearchable riches of Christ"; Eph 1:7, "riches of His grace." "The glory of this mystery" must be the glory which this once hidden, and now revealed, truth makes you Gentiles partakers of, partly now, but mainly when Christ shall come (Col 3:4; Ro 5:2; 8:17, 18; Eph 1:18). This sense is proved by the following: "Christ in you the hope of the (so Greek) glory." The lower was the degradation of you Gentiles, the higher is the richness of the glory to which the mystery revealed now raises you. You were "without Christ, and having no hope" (Eph 2:12). Now you have "Christ in you the hope of the glory" just mentioned. Alford translates, "Christ among you," to answer to "this mystery among the Gentiles." But the whole clause, "Christ IN you (Eph 3:17) the hope of glory," answers to "this mystery," and not to the whole sentence, "this mystery among the Gentiles." What is made known "among you Gentiles" is, "Christ in you (now by faith as your hidden life, Col 3:3; Ga 2:20) the hope of glory" (your manifested life). The contrast (antithesis) between "Christ in you" now as your hidden life, and "the hope of glory" hereafter to be manifested, requires this translation.
Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
28. preach—rather as Greek, "announce" or "proclaim."
warning … teaching—"Warning" is connected with repentance, refers to one's conduct, and is addressed primarily to the heart. "Teaching" is connected with faith, refers to doctrines, and is addressed primarily to the intellect. These are the two heads of evangelical teaching.
every … every man—without distinction of Jew or Gentile, great or small (Ro 10:12, 13).
in all wisdom—with all the wisdom in our method of teaching that we possess: so Alford. But Col 1:9; Col 3:16, favor Estius' view, which refers it to the wisdom communicated to those being taught: keeping back nothing, but instructing all in the perfect knowledge of the mysteries of faith which is the true wisdom (compare 1Co 2:6, 7; 12:8; Eph 1:17).
present—(See on Col 1:22); at Christ's coming.
every man—Paul is zealous lest the false teachers should seduce one single soul of Christ's people at Colosse. So each individual among them should be zealous for himself and his neighbor. Even one soul is of incalculable value.
perfect in Christ—who is the element in living union with whom alone each believer can find perfection: perfectly instructed (Eph 4:13) in doctrine, and full grown or matured in faith and practice. "Jesus" is omitted in all the oldest manuscripts.
Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
29. Whereunto—namely, "to present every man perfect in Christ."
I also labour—rather, "I labor also." I not only "proclaim" (English Version, "preach") Christ, but I labor also.
striving—in "conflict" (Col 2:1) of spirit (compare Ro 8:26). The same Greek word is used of Epaphras (Col 4:12), "laboring fervently for you in prayers": literally, "agonizing," "striving as in the agony of a contest." So Jesus in Gethsemane when praying (Lu 22:44): so "strive" (the same Greek word, "agonize"), Lu 13:24. So Jacob "wrestled" in prayer (Ge 32:24-29). Compare "contention," Greek, "agony," or "striving earnestness," 1Th 2:2.
according to his working—Paul avows that he has power to "strive" in spirit for his converts, so far only as Christ works in him and by him (Eph 3:20; Php 4:13).
mightily—literally, "in power."