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)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Echoes of the Exodus in the Book of Colossians #3 (My Beloved Son)

The Exodus theme in Colossians is intensified in 1:13 with the phrase, "into the Kingdom of his beloved Son, which is reminiscent of Israel as God's son called out of slavery in Egypt (Hosea 11:1). Such imagery in this prayer is entirely appropriate as Paul and Timothy then move into a hymn about the Lordship of Christ (1:15-20). It is in Christ that God's people are liberated and freed from the powers that enslaved them. They now share in the bounty brought by the new covenant.

This language in 1:12-14 sets the stage for the Christ-hymn as it casts Jesus in these roles. The word "firstborn," for example, is used in the Septuagint (LXX) to denote a special relationship between a father and his son. In Exodus 4:22 Israel is referred to as "my firstborn son," signifying God's special relationship with the Hebrews (reminiscent of Jesus' baptism, cf. Matthew 2:15). In addition, the patriarchs, the Torah, and the messianic king are referred to in this way, denoting a special relationship to God. Psalm 88:27 (LXX) states about this messianic king: "I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth." Firstborn emphasizes uniqueness. The firstborn is to be distinguished from the rest of creation. The firstborn of all creation (1:15), Christ is unique and to be demarcated from creation. As the agent of creation Christ is superior. By virtue of his agency in creation (another theme found in Jewish literature, cf. Psalm 104:24), Christ has dominion over all things.

Significantly related to this is the phrase in 1:18-- "the firstborn from the dead." In the LXX, Genesis 49:3 uses the terms "beginning" (or "origin") and "head" to describe the firstborn as superior and as the founder of a specific people (see also Deuteronomy 21:17). Thus "beginning" and "head" in Colossians 1:18 refer to Christ, not only in a cosmological sense, but in an ecclesiological sense as well. To speak of Christ as wisdom is to speak of his role in creation and redemption, Christ not only helps bring creation into being but he sustains it as well. The head provides the body with direction that creates unity. The body (ecclesia) is dependent on the head for its very life. Christian cosmology finds its coherence, indeed its unity in Christian ecclesiology. The Lord of the entire universe has chosen the church as the unique domain of his redemptive grace. The church is to be the microcosm of the macrocosm of creation. Creation and redemption go together.

Christ is the "firstborn from the dead." He is the founder of his people on account of the resurrection. "In Colossians 1:15-20, the celebration of creation reaches its peak in the creation of a new people by means of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead" (Stephen Fowl, The Story of Christ, p. 114). Thus the resurrection of Jesus Christ (cosmology) becomes the foundation for the paraenesis of Colossians, addressed to that new people (ecclesiology). Indeed, it is in the paraenesis that the Israel motif is employed once again (3:12) in order to connect the Colossians' identity (who they are) to their daily walk.

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen, Allan. Good thoughts. We need to steep ourselves in this truth that is ours in Jesus. Thanks.