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04. The Trinitarian Deification of Christ

Chapter 4:
The Trinitarian Deification of Christ

The low view of man in Gentile Christian thought contributed powerfully to the determination to raise Jesus to the level of God, indeed, even to equality with Yahweh! Jesus, the object of Christian faith, could not just be an ordinary man or even an extraordinary man, he had to be more than man, he had to be God! So the church established this by decree at Nicaea; whether or not the Scriptures provided any justification of this was, evidently, a second­ary question for them. No Scripture was cited at Nicaea in support of their decree. They considered themselves as having the right to determine the faith of the church, without showing any evident concern about the Scriptures.

However, some efforts were made to read the trinitarian faith into some NT passages either by way of interpretation and even, in a number of places, by apparently tampering with the NT text. One of the key passages used by trinitarianism, Philippians 2.6-11, we have already considered in some detail. We have studied it in the proper context of Christ as being the image of God. We shall now go on to examine some other important NT texts used as proof-texts by trinit­arians, though not necessarily in the order in which these texts appear in the NT. The idea of Christ as the image of God is so central to the NT understanding about Christ that it is again a key to another important passage used in trinitarianism, that is, Colossians 1, where Christ as God’s image occurs again in Col.1.15. In order to see the context, we quote the relevant passage:

Colossians 1

 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

 13 He (the Father, v.12) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

 14 in whom (the Son) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 15 He (the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

 16 For by (or in) him (God, the Father) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the begin­ning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The great problem for understanding this text is the fact that after “the Father” is mentioned in v.12 and “the Son” in v.13 there follows a profusion of the pronouns “he” and “him” which do not specify whether the reference is to the Father or to Christ. This will have to be determined by the context, which in most cases makes it clear who is being referred to—that is, if one is a monotheist brought up on the Hebrew Scriptures. But the situation is different when one is brought up on trinitarianism. This is notably the case with verse 16 where the “by (or, in) him” is taken by trinitarians to refer to Christ as creator of all things. But this is to ignore the following facts:

(1) This interpretation runs counter to the OT where God, the Father, is without question the creator;

(2) The previous verse (v.15) speaks of Christ as “the image of God”, and nowhere in Scripture can it be shown that God’s image created all things;

(3) The same is true of “firstborn of all creation”: nowhere is it stated that the firstborn brought creation into existence;

(4) Apostle Paul uses much the same terms or expression in Romans 11.36 as those in Colossians 1.16 and there is no question whatever that he was referring to Yahweh God as is clear from the previous verses (Ro.11.34f). Ro.11.36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

(5) So also Hebrews 2.10: “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation (Christ) perfect through suffering.” (NIV)

(6) That it is Yahweh God, the Father, who created all things is the teaching not only of the OT but also of the New: Revelation 10.6 “and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay”. Yahweh God is the central figure in the Book of Revelation; Jesus is consistently referred to as “the Lamb”.

(7) The attempt to interpret Col.1.16 as “by him” in relation to John 1.3 is based on the trinitarian assumption that the Word is a separate individual from Yahweh, and the further assumption that this indiv­idual is the preexistent Christ. That is to make a lot of assumptions which, as we have seen earlier in this work, are unfounded.

If, however, we discard the trinitarian interpretation of Christ as the one by whom all things were created, and understand the Greek as saying “in him” all things were created, then the picture changes completely, and the foregoing objections do not apply to this under­standing. This is because “in him” is a concept that is central to Paul’s teaching on salvation, and also to the cosmic effect (“all things”) of God’s salvation “in Christ”. Consider, for example, the following verse:

Ephesians 2.10: “For we are his (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

What does “which God prepared beforehand” mean? This is to be understood in relation to the opening verses of Ephesians, and in particular 1.4: “For he chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his (God’s) sight.” (NIV) What this verse means will be considered more fully below.

The cosmic extent of salvation in Christ is powerfully described in Colossians 1.19,20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself (God) all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his (Christ’s) blood, shed on the cross” (NIV; see also Eph.1.10). Here we see the term “through him” again, as in verse 16, in the context of salvation.

Redemption and reconciliation with God is the central idea of Colossians 1.13-22: “13 He (the Father, v.12) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom (the Son) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins… 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things… 22 He has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death.”

A glance at the commentaries

Checking the commentaries available to me, I see that the major scholars are learned and wise enough to avoid trying to argue for the deity of Christ from this passage, even though many do argue for his preexistence.

A.S. Peake, for example, in The Expositor’s Greek Testament (which is, of course, trinitarian in its orientation) makes important observations on this passage, such as the following on v.16: “ἐν αὐτῷ [en autō]: this does not mean ‘by him’”. Yet many English translations insist on putting “by him” in the text while relegating “in him” to the margin.

Concerning “in him”, after considering ideas such as that “the Son was from eternity the archetype of the universe” which Peake rejects as hermeneutically inappropriate, he mentions that several major commentators understand “in him” “to mean simply that the act of creation depended causally on the Son. This is perhaps the safest explanation”. By “safest” Peake was referring to the avoid­ance of the pitfalls of exegetical error and misinterpretation.

As to what the statement “the act of creation depended causally on the Son” means, this is spelled out more fully in the following: “The Son is the Agent in creation (cf. 1Cor.8.6); this definitely states the preexistence of the Son and assumes the supremacy of the Father, whose Agent the Son is.” Here Peake argues for the preexistence of the Son while acknowledging the supremacy of the Father. But pre­existence is not equivalent to deity; angels are also considered to be preexistent beings, i.e. they existed before the creation in Genesis 1. Moreover, the supremacy of the Father is not compatible with the trinitarian dogma of the equality of the Son in every respect with the Father. Further, the supremacy of the Father must, of course, mean the subordination of the Son to the Father. Why does Peake concede all this? Is it not because that is all he thinks he can “safely” extract from the passage without himself falling into one of the pitfalls of error or misinterpretation?

Peake, however, also acknowledges that “The interpretation of vv.15-17 given by Oltramare should not be passed over. He [Oltramare] eliminates the idea of pre-existence from the passage, and says that the reference is throughout to Christ as Redeemer. God had in creation to provide for a plan of Redemption for the entrance into the universe, and only on that condition could it take place. So since Christ is the Redeemer, creation is based on him. He is the means to it, and the end which it contemplates.”

It is certain that in Colossians 1.12-22 creation and redemption cannot be considered separately, as is often done. Redemption was not a mere afterthought on God’s part as though man’s sin in the Garden took Him by surprise and He had to hastily devise a plan of redemption. God’s plan for man’s salvation was already in place “before the foundation of the world”. This is stated with perfect clarity in Ephesians 1.4, “For he chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world”.

This being the case, creation was carried out through the six days of Genesis 1 with redemption in view all along. This means that “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev.13.8) was central to God’s plan for creation just as he is central to God’s plan of salvation. If, in God’s eternal plans, there could be no redemption without him, then without him there would also be no creation. It is “in him (Christ)” (Col.1.16), in relation to him, that all things were created. It follows that all the statements made in this Colossian passage must be understood in relation to its central concept of redemption.

“From the foundation of the world”

The phrase “from the foundation of the world” occurs 7 times in the NT, and “before the foundation of the world” 3 times. What concerns us here is the phrase “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev.13.8): is this to be understood to mean that Christ was actually crucified in heaven before the creation? I suppose that no one would be foolish enough to suppose that this is how the phrase is to be understood.[19]

What then does the phrase mean? Surely, its only possible mean­ing is that the Lamb was slain in God’s eternal plan before He brought creation into being. But if we insist on being literalistic then it can be pointed out that as the phrase stands, it does say that the Lamb was actually slain before the foundation of the world! If the only correct way to understand such an important redemp­tive state­ment about “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” is not in some literalistic way but in the light of God’s eternal cosmic plan of redemption, would not the same be true of correctly understanding a passage on redemption such as that in Colossians 1.15-17?

A crucial historical event—the crucifixion of Christ (Col.1.20, 22)—is spoken of as though it had already occurred in eternity. Is this (i.e. Rev.13.8) the only statement of this kind in the NT? No, as we have seen, we too were “chosen before the foundation of the world” (Eph.1.4) long before we ever came into existence physical­ly as human beings, before we heard someone proclaim the gospel, and before we turned our backs upon sin and the world and made the commitment of faith! The church, of which Christ is the head, existed in God’s eternal plan long before it came into being, and could thus be spoken of as “chosen” when it did not as yet exist on earth.[20]

Further observations on Colossians 1.12-20

If we look carefully at Colossians 1.12-20 we will see something significant: All the active verbs are used in relation to the Father (Yahweh) while the role of the Son is consistently passive, e.g. the repeated “in him”. (The Greek probably shows this even more sharply than the English.) This active role of the Father in our redemption, and the Son’s relatively passive role vis-à-vis the Father’s, is precisely what we saw Jesus himself teaching in John’s Gospel. This important fact stands out so clearly in the Colossians passage that it is hardly necessary to elaborate upon it in detail here.

The point which emerges most clearly from this fact is that it is God the Father (Yahweh) who is our Redeemer/Savior in and through Christ. It was He who “was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19 and Col.1.22). Christ is our Savior in that all God’s saving work took place in him and through him. To speak of Christ as though he is primarily, if not solely, our Savior is to totally fail to understand the NT revelation, including Jesus’ own teaching. This is why the Apostle Paul commences this Colossian passage with the words, “giving thanks to the Father…” (v.12)—without even mentioning the Son as an object of thanksgiving (to our surprise). This is because, as the passage goes on to elucidate, the prime mover in the work of our salvation was the Father, who was working “in Christ”—a favorite term of Paul’s.

The LORD (Yahweh) as the Redeemer or Rescuer/Savior of His people appears frequently in the Old Testament. Yahweh as Redeemer (Heb.: Goel) of Israel is spoken of 16 times in Isaiah, and is a central concept in that book. One verse which is a striking parallel to Colossians 1, in that it too combines redemption and creation, is Isaiah 44.24, “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, and spreading out the earth all alone’” (NASB; other translations do not differ much in their word­ing).

Let us also carefully notice the last sentence which declares that in the work of creation Yahweh stretched out the heavens by Himself, and spread out the earth “all alone”. This statement proclaims un­equivocally that Yahweh had no “partner” when He created the heavens and the earth. Yet in our exegesis of some New Testament verses we do not hesitate to disregard this declaration in favor of a trinitarian interpretation.

Wisdom and Logos

But will it not be asked again: Does not Proverbs 8 say that wisdom co-worked with Yahweh in the work of creation? Does Proverbs contradict Isaiah, such that Scripture contradicts itself? Here we see the danger of ignoring the fact that Proverbs speaks metaphorically of wisdom as a (female) person. Proverbs, which is a book about the importance of wisdom, emphasizes wisdom’s importance by pointing out that God Himself employed wisdom when He created the universe.

But trinitarians are so anxious to “prove” their doctrine from Scripture that they do not hesitate to ignore both the fact that it is (or should be) obvious to everyone that this is metaphorical hypostatiz­ation of wisdom and the fact that wisdom is feminine, even though this is not evident in the English word “wisdom”, though it can still be seen in the feminine pronoun (“she”) used in the translations in refer­ence to it. Once we adhere to the fact that what we have in Proverbs is metaphor, then no Scriptural contra­diction with Isaiah exists.

Here we simply cannot have it both ways: Either we acknow­ledge wisdom in Proverbs for what it really is, namely, a “personification”, or we deny the truth of the statement in Isaiah that Yahweh created the heaven and earth without the assistance of any other person. Contradictory statements cannot both be true.

But if wisdom is not a person, then there is certainly no problem whatever to say that Yahweh employed wisdom in accom­plishing His creative work, anymore than saying that a man building a house employed his knowledge in building it. If the man says that he employed his knowledge to guide him through every step of the building process, no one in his right mind will assume that he is speaking literally of a person called Knowledge who guided him in his work, even though it does sound as though knowledge is personified in the way it is said.

This kind of metaphor is common in everyday speech, and often seems unavoidable. If someone says, “Pain in my back is killing me”, no one assumes that he means that there is some kind of being or person called Pain residing in his back who is trying to kill him!

Yet it seems that in the name of trying to support a particular dogma just about any kind of interpretation goes—even if it means insisting that the metaphorical is to be taken literally, such that Wisdom in Proverbs is interpreted as being another name for the “person” of the Word/Logos. I have never in the past considered how a personified interpretation of the Word in John 1 can be reconciled with the monotheism of the OT, or with such a state­ment as we have seen in Isaiah 44.24 that, on the personal level, Yahweh created all things “by Himself”, He “alone”—notice this twofold affirmation.

For, no one who has seriously studied the OT can claim that it teaches that Yahweh is a multi-personal divine “substance” (to use trinitarian language), much less could he prove such a claim. This being the case, it should be evident that there is no way to reconcile the OT revelation of Yahweh with the trinitarian insist­ence upon the Word being a divine being equal with the Father (Yahweh) within a divine “substance” called “God”—as though there is something called “God” besides and yet including Yahweh!

It seems that trinitarianism has taught us the art of mental contortion, to the extent that we supposed that we (as exegetes) had successfully (at least to our own satisfaction) twisted contra­dictions into paradoxes, and then contented ourselves that these “paradoxes” represented the truth. Even simpler, we simply ignored the contradictions, usually by overlooking the immediate and/or general contexts.

But it must be clearly stated that all this was not done because of any deliberate intention to deceive, not at all, but only because we had already been deceived, and therefore tried by all means to see trin­itarianism in the texts before us, even when it was often difficult to reconcile what we honestly thought we saw with other texts which seemed to say something different. How difficult it is to escape the tentacles of error! But for the grace of God it must surely be impossible.

A closer look at salvation as the central message of Colossians 1.12-20

In verse 13 the verb rhuomai (ῥύομαι) in the phrase “For he (the Father, v.12) has rescued (ῥύομαι) us” means “to rescue from danger, save, rescue, deliver, preserve, someone” (BDAG). In the OT it occurs most frequently in the Psalms (62 times in LXX) and Isaiah (26 times in LXX), almost always of Yahweh as the One who rescues, which is also the case in Col.1.13. Its most familiar use is in Matthew 6.13 in the plea to the Father, “deliver us from evil”, so well known to us from the Lord’s Prayer. Thus, whether in Colossians 1, the OT, or the Lord’s Prayer, it is the Father (Yahweh) who is the Savior/Redeemer to whom we call for deliverance.

Interestingly, there is another connection to the Lord’s Prayer in Colossians 1.14, “the forgiveness of sins” which corresponds to the prayer, “forgive us our sins” (Mat.6.12; Lk.11.4). “The forgive­ness of sins” in Colossians expands upon the meaning of the im­mediately preceding word “redemption” (apolutrōsis, ἀπολύτρωσις), which is defined as “release from a captive condition, release, redemption, deliverance” (BDAG). God has released us from the debt and the bondage of sin through the blood of Christ. How God did this “in Christ” is more fully developed in v.20.

Notice how all the key NT words and concepts relating to salvation appear together in this passage: rescued, redemption, forgiveness (vv.13,14), reconciled (vv.20,22), making peace through his blood shed on the cross (v.20), and “present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (v.22).

Now let us notice, too, that there are five verses (vv.15-19), all relating to creation, “sandwiched” between the verses relating to salv­ation. In other words, the section begins with God’s work of salvation, goes on to his work of creation, and continues with His salvific work, thus clearly indicating that it is all inseparably connected; it is all part of the one “package”. In God’s eternal plan and purposes, Christ is central to both inextricably related parts. But we must never lose sight of the fact that God (Yahweh) is the Prime Mover in both parts, working out His purposes in and through Christ: “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ” (v.19). This is reaf­firmed in 2.9.

Failure to clearly perceive the fact that, both in Colossians 1 and in the whole of the NT, God is always the Prime Mover, will result in falling into the notion that the NT is “Christocentric”, and thence into trinitarianism. As a trinitarian I always emphasized this Christocen­tricity, always supposing that this was the NT emphasis. As we can now see, this emphasis is not true to the NT.

Since the five verses relating to creation is “sandwiched” be­tween the verses on salvation, it is surely reasonable to ask whether those verses should be understood in relation to God’s work of redemption in Christ.

“The image of the invisible God”

The first of those five verses (v.15) says, “He is the image of the invisible God”. 2Corinthians 4.4 also affirms that Christ is the image of God. These statements are identical to 1Corinthians 11.7 where it is said of man that “he is the image and glory of God”. God is invisible to the human eye, but man is His image. So Christ, like every man, is the image of God. Therefore, in affirming that Christ is God’s image, it is being affirmed that he is man; for unless he is man, he cannot be the savior of mankind. But how can one derive any argument for his preexistence from his being the image of God? If being God’s image involves preexist­ence, then man is also preexistent!

The problem of trinitarian Christology is tied to the problem of its anthropology. The significance of the assertion in 1Cor.11.7 that man is “the glory of God” has never been understood. To be “the glory of God” means that to see man is to see God, for in Scripture to see His glory is to see Him (esp. Isa.6; Ezek.1, but also in the case of Manoah, etc).

But evidently, when we see man now, we usually have difficulty (with some exceptions) seeing God’s glory. Why? Because, as is expounded in Romans, mankind is under bondage to sin, and until the process of redemption is complete, the glory of God will not be clearly seen in him. But on that day when we will be “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col.1.22) then, indeed, we will truly be “the glory of God”. Thus when Paul speaks of man as God’s glory (1Cor.11.7), it seems that he is speaking of man in God’s plan and purpose as God intends man to be, not as he is at the present moment.

But this is entirely different for Christ, because “though he was tempted in all points as we are, he was without sin”. Being without sin he is always truly “holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him (God)”. That is why he is the glory of God, and that is why in seeing him we see God in His glory. It is precisely in this fact that trinitar­ianism has confused its christology with NT anthropology; now we can see that this is because it has failed to understand the vital NT truth that man is the glory of God.

The Scriptural revelation also shows that man can never be God’s glory independent of Him. It was precisely when man exercised his independence and sought to be “like God”, thereby gaining some kind of independence from Him, that he ceased to manifest His glory. Man is, and enjoys, God’s glory only through oneness or union with Him, and this can only be realized through the fullness of His indwelling presence, as is perfectly demonstrated in Christ’s case: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col.1.19). And this was a reality in Christ only because of his total and glad submission to the Father (Yahweh).

This also impacts upon our understanding of NT soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. For, if Christ is not wholly and truly man, then we have no salvation, for it was by one man’s sin that death came into the world and it was by one man’s obedience that we are made righteous (Ro.5.15-19). Since there is hope of salvation for us only if Christ is man, why is trinitarianism always arguing for Christ’s deity when this has no relevance whatever for the salva­tion of mankind? Nowhere in the New Testament is faith in Christ’s deity required for salvation. Yet the trinitarian church dares, in defiance of God’s Word, to declare anyone a heretic who refuses to accept their christology.

You will recall that as a trinitarian I rationalized the soterio­logical connection between manhood and deity by arguing that if Jesus were only a man, his death could not avail for all mankind, but as God he is infinite, and an infinity can cover any number, no matter how great the number. This argument is not illogical; at least it has a mathematical basis. But the problem is that it is simply an unscript­ural argument, for in Scripture the soteriological logic is not a mathematical one, but functions on a different principle.

For example, when the Israelites sinned grievously in the wild­erness and were perishing because of being bitten by poisonous snakes, God instructed Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole; who­ever looked up to that bronze snake suspended on the pole would live (Num.21.7-9). There was only one bronze snake, yet no matter how many people looked at it, they were saved from death. Clearly, mathematics was not a factor. Obedience to the call to look at the serpent, on the one hand, and the pardoning grace of God, on the other, were the only operating principles. It was to this critical life and death incident in the wilderness that Christ compared his own saving ministry, and specifically to his being “lifted up” on the cross: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3.14,15).

Likewise, the obedience of Christ has cancelled out the disobed­ience of Adam for all those who are in Christ. Indeed, it does more than that, in fact “much more” as is reiterated in Ro.5.9,10, 15,17. Here again it has nothing to do with the logic of mathem­atics, but has everything to do with the grace and wisdom of God.

Another picture of salvation that derives from the wilderness journey of the Israelites is that of the manna, which Yahweh provided for them daily from heaven. Jesus refers to this remarkable heavenly provision in John 6 where he reveals that he is the true bread from heaven. Jesus is the heavenly bread which Yahweh provides for the salvation of mankind who, when they eat it, will not perish. If Yahweh could provide for the multitudes of Israelites in the wilderness numbering some 2 million people, would it have been any more difficult for the Creator to provide for 2 billion or 2 trillion people? Such numbers may be stunning to us, but hardly to Him who created Adam and Eve (and likewise all of us) with trillions of cells in each of their bodies! Yahweh can give life to any number of people through Jesus the “bread of life”. [21]

In 1Corinthians 10.3,4, Paul in midrashic (“midrash” was a technique used by Rabbis in interpreting Scripture) fashion writes, “all (those in the wilderness) ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” The manna is des­cribed as “spiritual food” because it was not from some earthly source, but was specially provided by Yahweh. The same is true of the water; it is called “spiritual drink” because it was not from some fountain within the desert rock but was specially provided by Yahweh in His creative power. Paul, here writing in midrashic style (as scholars generally agree), points out that that rock from which they drank was a portrayal or “type” of Christ, who would later be the fountain of the water of life for the world (Cf. John 4.13,14). And just as that water was sufficient for the multitudes in the wilderness, it is sufficient for any number of people because Yahweh, who is infinite, is its source.

We now see that Christ does not need to be infinite to be able to save the world, for salvation has its infinite source in Yahweh Himself. Water symbolizes life, and Jesus is the “rock” or fountain through which it flows. The ultimate giver of that water, and of “every good and perfect gift”, is Yahweh Himself (James 1.17).

Where Jesus is portrayed as the sacrifice for sin, as “the Lamb of God”, or simply “the Lamb” in the Revelation, it must be borne in mind that he is the “Lamb of God” precisely because he is the Lamb that Yahweh provided for man’s sin: “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8.32); and could Yahweh’s provision for sin ever be inadequate?

“The firstborn of all creation” (Col.1.15)

Both in Col.1.18 and Rev.1.5 Christ is spoken of as “the first-born from the dead”, being the first one raised up from the dead by the power of the Father; and because the Father will raise up many more after him and through him, “he is the beginning, the first-born of the dead” (Col.1.18). In the church, Christ is “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8.29).

This is how the whole of Col. 1.18 reads, “he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” One thing will become ever clearer to us as we better understand God’s glorious purposes for man as taught in the NT, and also here in Colossians 1, namely, that Christ who is head of the church is also, for that very reason, head of all creation, or to use the language of 1.15, “the first-born of all creation”.

God’s eternal purposes for man, with Christ as the head of a redeemed humanity, is not described in detail, but causes wonder­ment even from the few glimpses revealed in Scripture. For example, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk.2.27). What are the implications of this statement? If even the holy Sabbath was made for man, then what was not made for man? “He that spared not His own Son but gave him up for us all, how shall he not with him give us all things?” (Ro.8.32) This rhetorical question indicates not only God’s willingness but also His intention to give us all things! Thus Hebrews 1.2 speaks of Christ as the one whom God has “appointed heir of all things”, and this is what Romans 8.17 says, “if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ”. This is to say that we are co-heirs with him who is heir of all things! Paul uses the phrase “owner of everything” in Galatians 4.1 in the context of our being heirs (see the whole section from 3.29-4.7).

In this connection, consider this astonishing statement: “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1Cor.3.21-23).

Consider carefully what is included in the “all things” that are yours: It includes even the Apostles (Cephas is, of course, the Apostle Peter); “the world” translates kosmos, which in the context of this verse includes everything from life to death, from the present to the future, having the meaning which it most often has in the NT, “the sum total of everything here and now, the world, the (orderly) universe” (BDAG). This comprehensive “all” leaves nothing out, except for Christ and God, who are ours nonetheless, though in a different sense, for they are our Lord and our God respectively. But notice, too, that “Christ is God’s” in much the same way as “You are Christ’s” (1Cor.3.23). The question of Christ’s equality with God is never raised in the NT: Christ is God’s—even as we are Christ’s, and all things are ours. (Cf., similarly, the order in 1Cor.11.3.)

Can we grasp the implication of all this? Can we begin to perceive the meaning of what is being revealed? Is it not summed up in the last sentence of Col.1.16? “All things were created...for him”—for him, not as a “private” individual, but as head and representative of redeemed humanity. That is to say that God created all things for man with Christ as head. That is why Paul can say, “All things are yours” (1Cor.3.21)! Can we really grasp this astonishing, mind-boggling, revelation: Yahweh did not create all things just for Himself, but for us?! Being the self-centered creatures that we are, can we even begin to comprehend a God who brought all creation into being not for Himself, but for His creatures, specifically, us! What is revealed is a God who is totally selfless in what He does, and this gives a totally new meaning and depth to the statement that “God is love” (1Jo.4.8,16).

In this connection, consider also 1Ti.6.17, “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Do we suppose that God created the myriad variety of flowers which bedeck the earth, all resplendent in multitudes of colors, shapes, and frag­rances, for His personal enjoyment? Such is their splendor that Jesus remarked that king Solomon in all his splendor could not outshine one of these (Mt.6.28,29). Have we considered the enormous variety of trees which can provide delicious fruit, delightful blossoms, wood for all sorts of uses and, not least, oxygen essential for man? It should be evident that God did not create trees solely for His own pleasure or for Christ’s use alone.

And shall we go on to speak of all the multifarious diversity of vegetables providing essential nutrition for mankind? Did we suppose that these were created for His own nourishment? Or of the river, lakes, and oceans which God stocked with a huge variety of fish? We need not go on, the point should be clear enough: God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1Ti.6.17). This also provides sufficient evidence for what we saw is the NT revelation, namely, that God created all things for man, not just for “the man Christ Jesus”, who God made head of the church—but what is a head without a body? And in this case, too, “it is not good for man (Christ) to be alone” (Gen.2.18)! Did not Paul affirm that this account in Genesis spoke proleptically or typologically of Christ and the church (Eph.5.32)?

Though some areas of the world periodically suffer famine mainly due to man’s wars, mismanagement, corruption, etc, the earth currently provides food for 6 billion people![22] God lovingly provides all things for mankind even though man is generally ungrateful. God is, moreover, a God whose reality can be experienced in this life when we seek Him with open and humble hearts, a God who has come to us in Christ.

In stark contrast to this amazing revelation that God in His love created every good thing for mankind, what kind of a picture of Christ emerges from such an English translation as translates that sentence in Col.1.16 as, “All things were created by him and for him” (NIV, etc). What else could this mean but that Christ created all things for him­self? What a totally different picture from the picture of the selfless God seen in the previous paragraphs!

God’s eternal plans for man

God’s plans for man goes even further than we can imagine, “as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1Cor.2.9). One of these things Paul puts in the form of a question, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1Cor.6.3). Angels are spiritual beings, “mighty ones who do God’s word” (Ps.103.20). How can anyone judge angels unless he is given authority over them? What then can this mean but that redeemed man will be granted authority even over the highest spiritual beings in creation under God! And since angels do not have their abode on earth but in heaven, what does this mean but that redeemed man will be granted authority both in heaven and on earth! To Jesus this authority has already been granted in order to bring to completion God’s work of salvation (Mat.28.18ff).

If any problems arise in understanding Colossians 1 in the light of Christ’s being truly man, it arises from a failure to see the amaz­ingly exalted role which God envisioned and planned for man already “before the foundation of the world” (Eph.1.4; etc). It is in relation to man, always with Christ as his head and representative and therefore “in him” (that is, in relation to Christ), that God brought the whole creation into being. Once we are freed from the thoroughly negative view of man as utterly degenerate which dominates Christian theo­logy, and once we can recover from our amazement at the mind-boggling grandeur of what God wills for man (and which He is in the process of fulfilling), we will see no difficulty at all in understanding what is revealed in this astonishing passage of Scripture.

“He is before all things” (Col.1.17)

As “the firstborn of creation” (Col.1.15), as well as “the first­born from the dead” (Col.1.18), it can truly be said that “He is before all things” (Col.1.17); and it is God’s purpose for him “that in everything he might have the preemi­nence” (v.18). “Before all things” is used to argue for Christ’s preexistence in trinitarianism, but this is of little help for trinitarian dogma because preexistence pro­vides no proof of deity, not even of preeminence. Few, for example, would deny that Satan (“the serpent”, Gen.3.1ff; Rev.12.9) already existed before the creation in Genesis 1, when everything was created “very good”. Yet he already appears in Genesis 3 to tempt Adam and Eve to sin. Nor would anyone care to suggest that Satan enjoyed preeminence by reason of his preexistence. The preeminence ascribed to Christ is something conferred upon him by the Father. In Scripture, preemi­nence is usually, but not necessarily, a consequence of senior­ity. For example, although Joseph was the 11th of the 12 sons of Jacob, and therefore the second youngest among his brothers, God exalted him to preeminence not only over them but also over the great land of Egypt (Gen.30-50). Jesus said that “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Mat.19.30).

Is there not also interplay between first and last in the descript­ions of Christ as “the firstborn of creation” and “the firstborn from the dead”? “Firstborn” is explained as “pertaining to having special status associated with a firstborn” (BDAG), which this lexicon explains more fully as “The special status enjoyed by a firstborn son as heir apparent in Israel”. The lexicon also under­stands the phrase “the firstborn of creation” as pertaining essentially to salvation rather than to the material creation, though, as we have seen, the two are integrally intertwined: “of Christ, as the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified, as its exalted Lord is glorified πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς [firstborn among many brethren] Ro 8:29” (BDAG). The lexicon adds: “This expression is admirably suited to describe Jesus as the one coming forth from God to found the new community of believers”. Thus “the firstborn of creation” speaks of Christ as the first, the preeminent one, in God’s new humanity, the new creation (2Co.5.17).

“The firstborn from the dead”, on the other hand, reminds us that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil.2.8), without which there would have been no possibility of becoming “the firstborn from the dead”. In other words, it was only by becoming last, humbling himself to the lowest form of death—that on a cross—that he was raised up by Yahweh God to be the first, not only of the dead but also of all creation (Phil.2.9-11). It may also be for this reason that Jesus is “the first and the last” (Rev.1.17; 2.8).

“In him all things hold together” (Col.1.17)

What does this statement mean? Since “the man Christ Jesus” is the center, the very hub, of God’s purposes for both creation and redemption, then does it not necessarily follow that he gives coherence to all things, or that all things find their coherence “in him”? That is, all things have their purpose and mean­ing because of him and in relation to him; they “fit together to form a harmonious and credible whole” (as Encarta Dictionary nicely defines “coherence”)—but always and only in relation to him.

Thus one can say that God brings everything together, or unites everything, in Christ, which indeed is central to His redemptive purposes for His whole creation: “to unite all things”—which is a good definition of the word translated as “hold together” (sunistēmi, συνίστημι) in some translations. Thus BDAG also gives the definition of sunistēmi as, “to bring together by gathering, unite, collect”. Consider the following remarkable passage in Ephesians 1:

 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgive­ness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ

 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Let us observe that (1) here, too, creation and redemption are inextricably linked, and (2) all this is “in him” or “in Christ” (occur­ring 3 times in these 4 verses).

Thus, in Christ everything in creation is united into a coherent whole. BDAG also gives this definition of sunistēmi (συνίστημι ): “to come to be in a condition of coherence, continue, endure, exist, hold together, pres. mid. and perf. act.” which is certainly compatible with the previous definition. This definition is stated to be applicable to words in the present middle and perfect active forms of the verb. It is the latter form which appears in Colossians 1.17. Notice, too, that only the definition “hold together” is given in the translation cited above (in the heading). But BDAG shows that the “condition of coherence” extends also to the ideas of continuity, endurance, and even existence. Such is the power, nature, and scope, of the redemptive unity “in Christ”!

2Corinthians 8.9

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Our trinitarian interpretation of this verse was contingent upon our interpretation of Phil.2.6ff: Jesus was rich in heaven but chose earthly poverty so that we might be­come rich. If this, however, is the incorrect interpretation of the Philippian passage, then it cannot be used here. Moreover, there is nothing in the Corinthian letters that justifies such an under­standing of this verse.

First of all, we need to ask what kind of riches and poverty is under consideration here. “That you might become rich” is hardly a reference to material riches as is clear already from the first two verses of this chapter:

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2Cor.8.1,2).

The Macedonian churches were the recipients of God’s grace, and the evidence of this grace was their generosity in spite of the sufferings they were enduring and “their extreme poverty”. The grace of God had not made them materially rich but had made them joyful and generous in the midst of their trials and their poverty; therein lies the greatness of God’s grace. Likewise, the riches which the Corinthians would receive is evidently the same spiritual riches of God’s grace in Christ as the Macedonians received; this was something of much greater (i.e. eternal) value to Paul than material riches. Paul hardly had in mind that Christ became poor to make us materially rich.

When Paul spoke of Christ as “rich” would he then have meant that he was materially rich? Even heavenly riches are surely not material riches. What is meant by riches is already well defined in 2Corinthians.8.2: it is “the abundance of joy” and the “wealth of generosity” which neither the “severe test of affliction” nor “extreme poverty” could affect in any way. This is true riches indeed, especially when some of us have personally witnessed the misery of millionaires and, on the other hand, the joy of the penniless who walk with God and daily experience His provisions, His love and His care.

What then does it mean that “for your sake he became poor”? Paul, as an “imitator” of Christ (1Cor.11.1), illustrates this in his own life: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” (Phil.3.8). Now left with nothing, he still had one last thing to offer: his life—“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil.2.17). He used this imagery of being “poured out as an offering” once again when the time came for him to lay down his life: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2Tim.4.6). To be “poured out” is truly to be “emptied” (cf. kenoō, Phil.2.7), and here we see it in two stages: first the intention, an expression of the heart and will, as expressed in Phil.2.17 (also Ac.20.24), and then at its actualization at “the time of departure” as in 2Tim.4.6. It seems that this is also how the “emptying” in Christ’s case in Phil.2.7 is best understood because Paul’s life is patterned upon Christ’s; he has Christ’s “mind” (Phil.2.5), his way of thinking.

All this makes it clear that Christ’s becoming “poor” has refer­ence above all to his “death on a cross” (Phil.2.8). On the cross he endured “for your sake” (2Cor.8.9), a poverty which no one else could endure because, as Paul had said earlier, God “for our sake made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the right­eousness of God” (2Cor.5.21). For us to become “the righteousness of God” is to become eternally rich indeed, for that means reconciliation with God and eternal life as its result (2Cor.5.17-20). But to obtain such “riches” for us, Christ apparently also experienced the deepest level of poverty not just in physical suffering and death but in the inner experience of deprivation of the Father’s presence as expressed in the poignant words of Ps.22.1, ‘And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ (Mt.27.46; Mk.15.34). He who enjoyed the incomparable spiritual riches of a life of intimacy with the Father as described in John’s Gospel, now “for your sake” endured the unspeakable pain of separation because of becoming the sin-bearer, sin having the effect of separating man from God: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59.2; NIV).

It was evidently this fearful prospect of separation from God which explains his sweat and tears in the Garden of Gethsemane; but it was also because of this “godly fear” that he was heard: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (Hebrews 5:7, RSV). For Jesus who had known as no one else had ever known the “rich” life of communion with the Father, such as could be described as being “one” with Him, no privations of poverty could compare with being deprived of His presence even for a moment, and such a moment must have seemed like all eternity. Some people have endured for a time this kind of privation which was described by John of the Cross as “the dark night of the soul”, but certainly no one could have experienced it at the depth that Jesus did, and all this “for your sake”—as Paul would have the Corinthians (and others) remember.

1Timothy 3.16

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1Timothy 3.16)

Regarding 1Timothy 3.16, we know, of course, that it is usually made to refer to Christ by trinitarians, even though Christ is not mentioned in the immediate context in relation to this verse. Typically, for exam­ple, The Expositor’s Greek Testament bases the assumed reference to Christ on the pure conjecture that with regard to 3.16f “it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what follows is a quotation by St. Paul from a primitive creed… about Jesus Christ”. This kind of purely conject­ural conclusion should be avoided, especially when there is not a shred of evidence given for this alleged “primitive creed”. There are in fact a number of manuscripts in which the reading “God was mani­fested in the flesh” is found, but these recensions could be the work of trinitar­ians trying to “prove” the deity of Christ. But the possibility remains that the statement “God was manifest in the flesh” echoes John 1.14 where it says that “the Word (‘Memra’, metonym of Yahweh) became flesh”.

1John 5.7,8

“For there are three that testify: thek Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement”. (1John 5.7,8, NIV)

The NIV version is given here because it shows the later trinitarian insertions, as explained in the following NIV footnote: “7,8 Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century)”.

On this passage the comments of Prof. Küng will suffice, “In 1John there was once a sentence (comma johanneum) connected with the saying about the Spirit, the water and the blood, which went on to speak of the Father, the Word and the Spirit, which, it said, are ‘one’. However, historical-critical research has unmasked this sentence as a forgery which came into being in North Africa or Spain in the third or fourth century.” (H. Küng, Christianity, p.95)

In the footnote on this passage, Küng provides an explanation of the meaning of the verse: “The original text 1John 5.7f. speaks of spirit, of water (=baptism) and of blood (=eucharist) which ‘agree’ or ‘are one’ (both sacraments witness to the power of the one spirit).”

1John 5.20

1John 5:20 “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

Jesus came to give us understanding. What is this understanding? It is to know “Him (God) who is true” and to be “in Him (God) who is true”. How can we be “in Him”? It is through being “in His Son Jesus Christ” (also 1Jo.2.24). In the words which follow immed­iately, “He is the true God” must surely refer to the twice mentioned “Him” and also to the “His” in the words “His Son” mentioned in the preceding sentence. That “the true God” refers to Yahweh God not Christ is placed beyond any doubt by the fact that God is described as “Him who is true” in the preceding sentence of the same verse.

Typically, disregarding the syntax of the verse, many trinitarians still insist that “the true God” refers to Jesus Christ. By so doing they disregard also what Jesus himself said: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Notice how precisely these words correspond to 1John 5.20 in that they speak likewise of “the true God” and of “eternal life.”

continued...



[19] RSV and some other English versions translate Rev.13.8 as, “every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” This would mean that the names of believers were written into the book of life before they came into exist­ence in this world. This would be saying something similar to Ephesians 1.4. But how did these versions come up with this translation? It was by inserting the equivalent of a comma into the Greek text after the word “slain”; such a reading seems gratuitous.

[20] Can we establish the preexistence of the Lamb on the basis of Rev.13.8? If we can, then we can also establish our own preexistence on the basis of Ephesians 1.4 (and Rev.13.8, if we accept the RSV translation).

[21] Wikipedia, under “Cell (biology)”, says that the human body has an estimated 100 trillion cells.

[22] 6.6 billion in early 2007, Wikipedia, “World Population”.

 

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