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 17, 2009

Echoes of the Exodus in the Book of Colossians #4 (Conclusion)

There is little doubt that Colossians 1:12-14 would have elicited in its readers thoughts of the Exodus. Thus Christ's work of reconciliation in the hymn (Colossians 1:15-20) and reflected in Torah (see Sirach 1:1-10; 24:3-12) has now made her home in Christ. As wisdom reflects the image of God's goodness (Wisdom 7:26), so Christ reflects the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).

In the Colossian Christ-hymn the Jewish notions of wisdom, Torah, and Israel are linked together in order to argue that Christ is all-sufficient for the Colossians. The major argument put forth in Colossians is that Christ is sufficient for Christian faith and practice. The Colossians need not look elsewhere.

The Christ-hymn of 1:15-20 is best understood in light of the Jewish background where Christ is presented in images that clearly would have made sense to Jews in the first century and would be in harmony with Jewish literature. These themes reappear in the main body of the letter. Indeed, it is the significance that would have been made of such themes as wisdom that is important. The use Paul and Timothy made of such Jewish notions already signals the Jewish nature of the dilemma. Several references in Colossians point out the Gentiles' place in the inheritance of the people of God through Christ and this is the mystery hidden that Paul and Timothy now proclaim.

Given the argument that Christ is sufficient, given the Jewish nature of what is contested by the authors, and given the argument that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, circumcision and uncircumcision, there is enough evidence to suggest that the Colossians were tempted to observe, at the very least, some of the more important regulations of the Torah. Paul and Timothy resort to crucial Jewish ideas, and more importantly, ideals intrinsic to Jewish identity, in order to refute the arguments being levelled against the Gentile Christians in Colossae from the synagogue. Wisdom, Torah, and Exodus are themes intrinsic to Israel's self-understanding, and they are used to remind the Colossians that as they started their journey as God's people in Christ, they can and must continue their journey as God's people in Christ. As people in Christ they can "bear fruit (a Jewish notion) in every good work" (Colossians 1:10; cf. Jeremiah 1:9-10; 18:7-9; 24:6; 31:28; 42:10). Nothing else needs to be accomplished.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The thing I think that hinders "rest" is "performing" under another's scutiny. How is "fruit" judged, obviously by another. And another judges your "works" as being "in Christ" or not. I find that this is like socialism, where an elite determine and decide for the individual how they are to live and what they are to do, etc. This is nothing short of systemic control of another's life. I guess this is what happend to Jesus with the Jewish elders, huh?

I think it becomes impossible to judge another's heart, as we will always have our own prejuidices about what constitues right action based on our own personal value system...

Ted M. Gossard said...

I actually sent a comment for this post, I think yesterday, but it somehow was lost.

But this reminds me of your book Ben Witherington cites, I believe in his commentary on Ephesians and Colossians. Good stuff.