A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Echoes of the Exodus in the Book of Colossians #2 (Sharing in the Inheritance)

The clearest reminder of the Exodus and the uniqueness of the people of God is to be found early in Colossians in 1:12-14. In 1:12 Paul and Timothy give thanks to God the Father "who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light." The authors addressing the Gentile Christians in this very Jewish way, reaffirm what the Colossians must have been told when the gospel was first preached to them: they have a share in the inheritance of God's people. The Greek words for "share" and "inheritance" in verse 12 are often found together in the Septuagint (see Deuteronomy 10:9; 12:12; 14:27, 29; 18:1; Joshua 19:9; Jeremiah 13:25). Because of their faith in Christ they "share in the inheritance of God's gracious gift of the land of Canaan to Israel" (E. Schweizer, Colossians, 50).

The authors appropriate this image and use it in reference to the church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles now share in the inheritance given to Israel by God's grace. They are to be numbered among those who are called "saints." Some commentators have suggested that the phrase "of the saints in the light" refers to angels, as the authors are arguing in opposition to a cult of angels in the Colossian church (e.g. R. Martin, Colossians, 54). But it is not necessary to believe that the Colossian Christians were involved in angel worship. Moreover, the Greek term for "holy" in Pauline literature normally refers to the followers of Jesus. This is certainly the meaning of the word in Colossian 1:1. Unless there is specific evidence that the authors are shifting the meaning of the same word, it is best to understand "saints" in 1:12 as a reference to Christians, who in worship share a foretaste of heaven.

The affirmation of 1:12 implies that the inheritance of the people of God given by grace is no longer the privilege of one race, but now has expanded to include those not of Jewish background. To quote N.T. Wright, "The promise of the land is widened into the promise of a whole new creation" (Colossians, 61.)

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