Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The Preeminence of Christ in Colossians
Gradually working my way through a commentary on Colossians. I much enjoyed writing this section of the supremacy or preeminence of Christ:
Paul provides two reasons why God has purposed to launch this new creation through his Son and what singularly suited him to this redemptive role. First, God’s plan was that in all things that Jesus would have preeminence or we could say ‘supremacy’ (NIB, NIV, NJB) or ‘first place’ (NRSV, NASB, NET). Here we are talking about far more than being a very important person. We are talking about authority, honour, and power rolled into one. The most analogous background I can think of was the Roman Emperor Augustus who claimed to exceed everyone in auctoritas, that is, a combination of power and prestige. The Augustan age created a pyramid of power and hierarchy that put him inviolabily at the top. Indicative of this is that Augustus held the proconsulship of Rome well beyond the normal limitations of service, he was invested with the power of the tribunate with power of veto over the senate, he was the princeps or chief citizen of the government, he had direct military command of over three-quarters of the Roman legions, the power of invention in imperial provinces, he was given titles like pontifex maximus or ‘high priest’ of the Empire and Imperator Caesar divi filius that is ‘emperor and son of a god’. The implied rhetoric in this poem is that Jesus as the preeminent one, Jesus is the real auctoritas over and against the pretentious claims of Caesar to be sovereign and divine. This becomes all the more powerful if we remember that Paul is perhaps imprisoned in Rome under the meglomaniac emperor Nero when writing this. Caesar is at best a twisted parody of the real Lord of the world and at worst a malevolent tyrrant who creates ‘peace’ through the application of violence. A second thought is proffered by Paul and that is Jesus’ unique qualification to be the agent of reconciliation. Paul say that in him [God] was pleased to have all his fullness dwell. The subject for the verb pleased (eudokeō) is missing, but the implied subject is God. God was pleased to have all his fullness inhabit the Messiah. The word for fullness (plērōma) was a near technical term in Valentian gnosticism for the totality of intermediaries or emmendations radiating from the supreme God. There may be an implied critique here of something from hellenistic philosophy that eventually became part of a gnostic cosmological framework and might even be part of the Colossian philosophy, but the main point is surely christological, the fullness of God - that is God’s word, wisdom, glory, spirit, and power - dwell in the Messiah.