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Chapter 4. The Second Pillar of Trinitarianism: Colossians 1:15-19

Chapter 4

The Second Pillar of Trinitarianism: Colossians 1:15-19

Some years ago, while training students preparing for the full-time church ministry, I would call Colos­sians 1:15-19 the second pillar of trinitarian­ism because it is one of the main Bible pass­ages used by trinitarians to prove the deity of Jesus, notably verse 16 which is interpreted as saying that Jesus is the creator of all things and is therefore God. But this interpret­ation is not supported by the biblical evidence, as we shall see.

We will look at verse 16, then verse 17, then verses 15 and 18 toget­her (because of their common use of “first­born”), then verse 19. Here is the pass­age which constitutes the second pillar of trinitarianism (note v.16, in bold):

Colossians 1:15-19 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first­born of all creation. 16 For by him 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. (ESV)

Which is correct, “in him” or “by him”?

For trinitarians, the key verse in this passage is verse 16 which in some Bibles has, “For by him all things were created,” but in some other Bibles has, “For in him all things were created”. These two renderings are identical except for the differ­ence of one word—“by” versus “in”—a tiny difference which carries immense impli­cat­ions for trinit­arianism. Which translation is correct?

The first word in verse 16 is hoti, a Greek word that means “for” or “since” or “because”. It is a con­nect­ing word that links this verse to the pre­ceding verse (v.15) which speaks of Jesus as the “firstborn of all creation”.

But the key term for trinitarians in verse 16 is en autō, literally “in him” (“for in him all things were created,” refer­ring to Christ). This is cor­rectly and literally translated as “in him” by NIV, NJB, RSV, NRSV, REB, and in­cor­rectly as “by him” in ESV, NASB, HCSB.

Two points to mention here. Firstly, NIV 1984 had the incor­rect trans­lation “by him” but in the 2011 edition, this has been cor­rected to “in him”.

Secondly, although ESV, NASB, HCSB render en autō in v.16 as “by him” in order to make Paul say that all things were created by Christ, yet just three verses later (v.19), these same Bibles translate en autō correctly as “in him”. Even more telling, these three Bibles translate en autō as “in him” or similar in 99% or 100% of all instances of en autō in Paul’s letters—with the glaring exception of Col.1:16 where they have “by him” even though “in him” would have made better semantic sense. The arbi­trariness in the way these Bibles ren­der Col.1:16 exposes the doctrinal leanings of the trans­lators.

In fact the Greek preposition “en” (en autō, “in him”) is not an ob­scure or mysterious word but is a word similar in meaning to the English prepo­sition “in”. They are simi­lar not only in spelling and fundamental mean­ing but also in their many nuanced shades of meaning. This can be confirmed by a meticulous com­parison of the definit­ions of “en” listed in the BDAG Greek-English lexicon and the defini­tions of “in” listed in Oxford Dictionary of English (the massive 2010 3rd edition). To those who are unfami­liar with BDAG, its def­in­itions may seem differ­ent from Oxford’s, but that is only because BDAG gives the definitions using technical terms and unfamiliar abbreviations. But when we look past the technical jargon, we will see much com­mon ground between Greek “en” and English “in”. In fact the Greek “en” doesn’t seem to be much more nuanced or varied than the English “in,” and some of the definitions in Oxford are just as abstruse as any in BDAG (e.g., Oxford’s 4th defin­ition of “in” is quite abstract: “indi­cating the quality or aspect with respect to which a judg­ment is made”). Native speak­ers of English are usually unaware that the English preposition “in” is com­plex and nuanced when it is analyzed and formally defined.

We notice the similarity in spelling between Greek “en” and English “in”. Oxford gives the following etymology: Greek “en” to Latin “in” to Old Eng­lish “in” to modern English “in,” with influences from German and Dutch. The ancient word “en” is one of the most enduring and ubiquit­ous words in the Indo-European family of lan­guages, and is pre­served today in Italian “in”, Catalan “en”, Czech “en”, Dutch “in”, Ger­man “in”, Portugu­ese “em”, Romanian “în”, Slovak “in”, Spanish “en”—all with the same basic meaning. Some of these modern languages even preserve the ancient spell­ing “en,” which predates the Greek. [1] Although etymology is not always reliable in det­ermin­ing the meaning of a word (e.g., English deception means some­thing differ­ent from French déception, “disappointment”), the fact remains that “en” has survived a few millennia with little change in funda­men­tal mean­ing.

Even if we didn’t know these details, the fact that Greek “en” has sur­vived in English “in” with little change in fundamental meaning can be seen in the amazing fact that al­though the New Testament was written 2,000 years ago in a different language from English, the phrase en autō is trans­lated by English Bibles as “in him” with near 100% consist­ency. The fact is that the English “in him” carries not just the basic meaning of the Greek en autō but also many of its nuances.

Many trinitarians reject the trinitarian reading of Col.1:16

In fact many trinitarian authorities firmly reject the trinitarian ren­der­ing “by him” for Colossians 1:16, preferring the literal “in him”:

  • Vincent’s Word Studies, on Colossians 1:16, says that the correct translation is “in him” rather than “by him,” and that “in him” is “not instru­mental but local”
  • A.T. Robert­son, Robertson’s Word Pictures, takes Colossians 1:16 as saying “in him” rather than “by him”
  • Nicoll’s Expositor’s Greek Testament has “in him”
  • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (a commentary), on Colossians 1:16, says that “in him” is the literal rendering, and is “far better” than “by him”
  • Pulpit Commentary reads Colossians 1:16 as, “For in him were created all things” and says that “en” in Paul always means “in” and never “by”
  • Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures reads Colossians 1:16 as saying, “because in him all things were created”
  • Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary reads Colossians 1:16 as “in him were all things created,” saying that this is “the logically correct confirmat­ion” of “the firstborn of all creation”
  • Henry Alford’s Greek Testament (5th ed.) rejects “by him” in favor of “in him”.

BDAG doubts the instrumental meaning (“by him”) for Colossians 1:16, a verse that BDAG puts under the 4th defin­ition with the head­ing, “marker of close associa­tion within a limit, in” (italics BDAG’s). BDAG’s definition is tech­nical and is put in a footnote here [2] and may be skipped.

Daniel Wallace’s Greek Gram­mar Beyond the Basics (pp.373-374) says that en+dative rare­ly, if ever, expresses agency. Here are excerpts from this grammar but some readers may wish to skip them (boldface added):

Some have suggested that either the naked dative or ἐν + the dative can express personal agency in the NT. How­ever, once a clear defin­ition is given for personal agency, this will be seen to be a rare or nonexistent category

[Blass-Debrunner-Funk] accurately assess the NT situa­tion of the naked dative used for personal agency: “Dative of agency is perhaps represented by only one genuine example in the NT and this with the perfect: Luke 23:15.” In summary, we can say that there are very few clear examples of the dative of agency in the NT

The slightly different phenomenon of ἐν + the dative is also consid­ered by many to express agency on a rare occasion. Yet no unam­big­uous exam­ples are forthcoming. Thus what can be said about the dative of agency can also be said of ἐν + the dative to express agent: it is rare, at best.

See also Wallace’s “Dative of Agency” (pp.163-166).

 

To be true to the grammatical facts and to be consistent within Coloss­ians chapter 1, we ought to read v.16 to mean that all things were created “in” Christ, not “by” Christ. This is the literal and straight­for­ward read­ing. By con­trast, the trinitarian reading “by him” seeks to promote Christ’s pre­exist­ence and his involve­ment in the Genesis creation. But this reading is rejected by many trinitarian commentaries and by Bibles such as NJB, RSV, NRSV, REB, NIV 2011, despite their trinita­rian leanings to one degree or another.

The trinitarian reading “by him” overlooks two vital things. Firstly, in the pre­ceding verse 15 (which is tied strongly to v.16 by hoti), Jesus is called “the firstborn of all creation,” a title that would make little sense if Jesus is also the creator of all things (this logical absurdity is noted by Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary in a comment on Col.1:16).

Secondly, “by him” overlooks the vital fact that “in him” or “in Christ” is a central concept in Paul’s letters. Not only is “in Christ” a common con­struct­ion in Paul’s letters, it is uniquely Pauline in a specific sense not found in the other NT writings: “in Christ” is the sphere in which God carries out His work of salvation, reconciling the world to Himself (2Cor.5:19). Ultim­ately it is God, not Christ, who is the main focus of the term “in Christ”.

When Colossians 1:16 is read in its Pauline context, it be­gins to make sense: Christ stands in the preeminent position of being “the firstborn of all creat­ion” (v.15) because it was “in him” that God created everything, that is, with Christ in view. Christ is the reason God created all things! This reveals the heights of God’s glorious purposes in creating all things. Anyone who has eyes to see this revelation will marvel at it. Some English Bibles miss this beautiful truth when they make Colossians 1:16 say that all things were created “by him”—by Christ.

Summary: The five reasons for rejecting “by him”

In summary, en autō in Col.1:16 ought to be rendered “in him” rather than “by him” for five reasons: Firstly, “in him” is the literal and straightfor­ward trans­lation of en autō. Sec­ondly, since “in him” makes semantic sense in the context, there is no reason to change it to “by him”. Thirdly, the ren­dering “by him all things were created” makes no sense in the light of the preceding state­ment that Christ is the “first­born of all creation”; this would be saying that the one who created all things is also the firstborn of his own creation! Fourthly, the Bibles that render en autō in Col.1:16 as “by him” would elsewhere in Paul’s writings render en autō as “in him” with 99% or 100% consist­ency. Fifthly, “in him” affirms the “in Christ” principle that is funda­mental to Paul’s teaching (we will return to “in Christ” later).

Christ as the reason for God’s creation

We fol­low up on our statement that Christ is the reason for God’s creat­ion. The NT contains a few pass­ages which link Christ to the creation. But since the OT and the NT un­equi­vocally state that God alone is the creator of all things (“Yahweh alone stretched out the heavens,” Isa.44:24), what are these pass­ages saying about Christ? Some trinitarians point to Hebrews 1:2 to say that Christ is the creator of all things because of the words “through whom”:

… but in these last days he (God) has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom (dia+genitive) also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:2, ESV)

We note a few things. Firstly, the word “heir” implies that Jesus is the recip­ient, not the creator, of all things. Secondly, the fact that he was “appointed” the heir of all things means that all things were given to him by God’s auth­ority, not Christ’s authority. Thirdly, this verse doesn’t say that it was the Son who created the world, but that it was God who created the world (or “uni­verse,” NIV) through the Son.

The issue is not whether God created the world (He did create the world), but whether “through whom” would mean that God created the world not by Himself but through an agent, Jesus Christ. If so, this would collide with the consist­ent Bible teaching that Yahweh created all things by Himself.

Gramma­tically, the state­ment is ambig­uous because “through whom also he created the world” can also mean “because of whom he also created the world” (that is, God created the world with Christ in view).

Preposition dia can also mean “because of”

The preposition dia usually means “through” but it can sometimes mean “because of” in the sense of “on account of,” as defined in three refer­ences.

The first reference is BDAG. In explaining dia+genitive in Heb.1:2, BDAG (dia, A5) specifically says, “At times dia w. gen. seems to have causal mng … because of … Rom.8.3; 2Cor.9.13”. Here BDAG gives two examples of dia+genitive which carry the meaning “because of”: Romans 8:3 (the law was weakened “because of” the flesh) and 2Cor.9:13 (“because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God,” NASB).

The second reference is Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics which on p.369 assigns to dia+accusative the meaning “because of, on account of, for the sake of”. No other meaning is given.

The third reference is Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon which on p.134 says that dia+accusative means “by reason of, because of” (also Greenlee, Concise Exegetical Grammar of New Testament Greek, p.31).

Whereas BDAG allows the meaning “because of” for the dia+genitive construction, Wallace and Thay­er assign this meaning to the dia+accusative construct­ion. It indicates that the meaning “because of” is intrinsic enough to, and strong enough in, dia for it to span two cases, the genitive and the accusative (the only two cases that dia can take), though unequally, for the meaning comes out more strongly in the ac­cusative than in the genitive.

Hence Hebrews 1:2 can be rendered “through whom also he created the world” or, if context allows, “because of whom also he created the world”. Both are lexical­ly and grammati­cally valid, so we need to look at the context to estab­lish the intended meaning of the verse. The latter reading (that God created all things “because of” Christ) finds support in the im­mediate con­text which says that Christ is the “heir” of all things (i.e., the recipient, not the creator, of all things). By contrast, the other reading (that God created all things “through” Christ) contradicts a later verse, Hebrews 2:10, which makes no men­tion of a secondary agent in creat­ion, but on the contrary makes a clear dis­tinction between God the Creator and Jesus such that Jesus is not the one who created all things:

Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting that he (God), for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder (Jesus) of their salva­tion perfect through suffering.

The dia+genitive construction that we see in both Hebrews 1:2 and 2:10 is also found in 1 Corinthians 8:6, twice in fact (see the two asterisks):

Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through* whom are all things and through* whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)

All things come from God the Father and we exist for Him. Everything owes its existence to God, the one “from whom are all things”. So what does this mean in regard to Christ? What can it mean but that God created all things, includ­ing us, because of Jesus Christ and for his sake? As we have seen, dia+ genitive can at times mean “because of” (BDAG, dia, A5).

Similarly, the Babylonian Talmud says, “The world was created … for the sake of the Messiah.” [3] This statement aligns with the biblical truth that man is the reason for the Genesis creat­ion. Yahweh God created the sun and the moon not because He needed them for illumina­tion but because man needed them.

In Colossians 1:16, the verse that we are discussing, we see three Greek prepositional constructions, namely, dia+genitive and two more:

Colossians 1:16 For by him (literally “in him,” en+dative) 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 (dia+genitive) and for him (eis+accusative). (ESV)

It is in him and for him—not by him—that all things were created. On this verse, Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon (ἐν) says, “in him [Christ] resides the cause why all things were origi­nally created”. In other words, Christ is the reason for God’s creation.

In Christ

In our trinitarian days, we took en autō in Colossians 1:16 to mean “by him” when it should have been “in him,” taking it as instru­ment­al to imply that all things were created by Christ. Since “in Christ” is a key con­cept in Paul, let us see how he uses the en+dative construction in reference to Christ.

The term en Christō (in Christ) occurs 73 times in Paul. The similar term en autō (in him) occurs 24 times in Paul, of which 19 refer to Christ (8 times in Colossians, including 1:16). In Paul’s letters, en tō Iēsou (in Jesus) occurs only in Eph.4:21. Every verse was individually checked and verified.

Adding the 73 instances of “in Christ,” plus the 19 in­stances of “in him” referring to Christ, plus the sole instance of “in Jesus,” we have a total of 93 instances of “in Christ” (or variations) in Paul’s writings so far. See Appendix 10 for every in­stance of “in Christ” or its variations in all of Paul’s writings.

Here is a crucial fact: In none of these 93 instances is it linguistically ne­cessary to translate the term as “by Christ” or “by him”! In Colossians 1:16, many Bibles correctly have “in him” but others have “by him” for doctrinal rea­sons. NASB and ESV have “by him” in Colossians 1:16, but “in him” everywhere else in Paul’s letters!

Colossians chapter 1, the second pillar of trinitarianism, has six in­stances of en referring to Christ: three instances of en Christō (in Christ, vv.2,4,28) and three instances of en autō (in him, vv.16,17,19). The latter term occurs several times in the next chapter, Colossians 2, in verses 6,7,9,10,15. All in all, we have a large number of verses in the immediate context for the pur­pose of compar­ison and examination. Hence the meaning of “in Christ” can be deter­mined to a con­siderable degree of certainty.

To see how ESV renders “in Christ” according to its trin­ita­rian lean­ings, the following is a list of all the occur­rences of en Christō (in Christ) and en autō (in him, all referring to Christ) in Coloss­ians 1 and 2; all these have the en+dative con­struct­ion. In each instance, ESV gives the correct and literal ren­der­ing “in Christ” or “in him” with the glaring exception of Col.1:16 (see the boldfaced) which ESV ren­ders as “by him” but which could have been ren­dered “in him,” especially in view of v.15 and Paul’s “in Christ” teaching:

Col.1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ

Col.1:4 we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus

Col.1:16 For by him all things were created

Col.1:17 in him all things hold together

Col.1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell

Col.1:28 that we may present everyone mature in Christ

Col.2:6 as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him

Col.2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith

Col.2:9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily

Col.2:10 and you have been filled in him

Col.2:15 by triumphing over them in him

Appendix 10 lists all the in­stances in Paul’s letters of “in Christ” and its var­iations conforming to the en+dative construction. In no instance is it ever nec­essary, gram­matically or lexically or semantic­ally, to render it as “by Christ” or similar. NASB 1977 and a few other Bibles never use the preposit­ion “by” to translate the en+dative construction refer­ring to Christ—except in Colos­sians 1:16.

Colossians 1:16: The new creation, not the old Genesis creation

In studying Colossians 1:16, it is crucial to keep in mind the vital distinction between the old creation and the new creat­ion. In the old Genesis creation, Yahweh is the sole crea­tor without any co-crea­tor (Isa.44:24, “I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the hea­vens, who spread out the earth by myself”).

Colossians 1:16, on the other hand, is about the new creation, not the old creation, for two import­ant reasons.

Firstly, the preceding verse (v.15, joined to v.16 by hoti) says that Christ is the “firstborn of all creat­ion”. The word “firstborn” means the eld­est son in a family among other siblings. This is made explicit in Rom.8:29 which says we have been “predestined to be con­formed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (ESV). This refers to the new creation because we become Jesus’ brothers by being “born again” or “born from above,” with Jesus as the firstborn. Jesus speaks of his disciples as his “brothers” (Mt.25:40; 28:10; Jn.20:17), for he is not ashamed to call us his brothers (Heb.2:11). Hence the creation in Colossians 1:16 is the new creat­ion in Christ, not the Genesis creation.

Secondly, Colossians 1:16 speaks of creation not in terms of the sun and the moon and stars, but things “in heaven and on earth, visible and in­vis­i­ble, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or author­ities.” The word “invisible” refers to eter­nal spirit­ual things as opposed to transient physi­cal things (e.g., 2Cor.4:18, “the things that are seen are tran­sient, but the things that are un­seen are eternal”; also Rom.8:24; 2Cor.5:7; Heb.11:1,13). Hence the creat­ion in Colossians 1:16 is the new creation rather than the old creation.

Both the old and new creations are created by Yahweh God, but the new is created in Christ and through Christ—not by Christ. That is why Colos­sians 1:16 has “in him” and “through him” and “for him”—not “by him”. The new creation is in Christ be­cause Yahweh, before the found­ation of the world, had Christ in view for the new creation. The new creation is “through Christ” because it was brought into being through the suffering and shed blood of Jesus.

“In Christ” in Paul’s letters

In Paul’s letters, “in Christ” has the special meaning of the sphere in which God does His work of salva­tion and of recon­ciling the world to Himself in Christ (2Cor.5:19). That the “in Christ” principle is speci­ally Paul­ine is seen in the fact that it oc­curs most often in Paul’s letters (en Christō occurs 73 times in his letters).

Since “in Christ” is the sphere in which God does His work of salvat­ion, it also has to do with our union with Christ: If we are “in Christ” then Christ is in us (“Christ who lives in me,” Gal.2:20), as seen also in Jesus’ words, “you in me, I in you” (Jn.14.20). To be “in Christ” we must first be “baptized into his death” (Rom.6:3); then we are “united” with him (v.5) and live by the power of his resurrection life. These are not just metaphor­ical concepts but a spiritual reality in the present age.

The “in Christ” principle is also expressed pronominally as “in him” (en autō), which is the form used in Col.1:16 (“in him all things were created”). It appears again a few verses later: “For in him all the full­ness of God was pleased to dwell” (v.19). Here, as in 2Cor.5:19, the purpose for God’s full­ness to dwell in Christ is to establish reconcil­iation, as confirmed by the next verse: “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by mak­ing peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col.1:20, NIV). Here we see the term “through him” that we saw in verse 16.

The multiple interconnections involving “in him” and “through him” in Colossians 1:15-19 make this a closely knit and strong­ly cohe­rent passage which reveals Christ’s exalted role in God’s eternal plan for His creation. It is in Christ that we see God’s purpose in creating all things, and through Christ that God’s eternal pur­poses will be accom­plished. All this is for Christ, as tersely summed up in, “Christ is all and in all” (Col.3:11). And just as all things are created for Christ (Col.1:16), so all things belong to us in Christ (1Cor.3:22; cf. 2Cor.4:15).

But trinitarians are so keen to make Christ the creator of all things that they make Col.1:16 say that all things were created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ! In that case, there would be nothing left for the other two persons of the Trinity to do in the work of creation! For trinita­rians, Christ is for all intents and purposes the only God who really matters.

It is difficult, even imposs­ible, to make sense of the trinita­rian rendering of verses 15 and 16: Christ is “the firstborn of all creation, for by him all things were created”. How is the creator of all things also the firstborn of his own creat­ion?

The trinitarian quandary stands in contrast to the elegant cohe­rence of Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” The pro­noun “him” refers not to Jesus but to Yahweh, who is mentioned two verses earlier (v.34) in a quotation of the Old Test­ament. A compar­ison of Rom.11:36 and Col.1:16 shows that they cannot both be right if we translate the latter in the trinita­rian way (“by him all things were created”). The trinitarian reading would give one of two possibi­lities: either that two Creators created everything (which is biblical­ly imposs­ible) or that Jesus is the only creator to the exclu­sion of Yahweh (a blas­phemous con­clus­ion). Anyone who thinks that trinit­arian­ism is just a matter of doc­trinal preferences would be wise to think on the eternal conse­quences of this system of belief.

The rendering of Colossians 1:16 in the Complete Jewish Bible, a mess­ianic Jewish translation, makes more sense than the trinitarian one: “be­cause in connection with him were created all things—in heaven and on earth, visi­ble and invisible, whether thrones, lord­ships, rulers or authorities—they have all been created through him and for him.”

In fact it is against trini­tarian belief to say that all things were created “through him and for him,” for trinita­rian­s insist that Jesus is the creator of all things. That is why they change “in him” to “by him” in Colossians 1:16.

All this shows how dangerous it is to read the Scriptures through the lens of our dogma. But the guilt of the Bible translators is greater be­cause the average reader of the Bible is unable to ana­lyze the original languages and is dependent on the translat­ions. For this reason the trans­lators will bear the guilt for misleading the readers.

As if this were not enough, these translations go on to say that Jesus not only created all things and did so by himself, but that he did it all for himself. How do we reconcile this self-centered Jesus with the self-giving Jesus whom we see in the Scriptures? In the end, every­thing is moti­vated by Jesus’ desire to do all things for him­self! What the translations have done is to change some­thing beautiful into some­thing repul­sive!

But the Bible has a different picture. Right from the begin­ning, God’s eternal plan to bring creation into being was carried out in con­nection to Christ (“in Christ”), but also “through Christ”: through his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his exalta­tion. Some­thing wonderful is revealed here, namely, that God created all things with Christ in view—“for him”. Christ is the goal of—and the reason for—Yahweh’s creation! This is the aston­ishing message that trin­itarian­ism has lost sight of.

The plan of creation originated with Yahweh, and is carried forward by His wisdom and power, so that all the glory will be given to Him when the magni­ficent fulfillment of His plans is seen by all. Hence the doxol­ogy in Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

God’s work in Christ has another aspect: God’s people established in Christ by God’s work. “For we are his work­man­ship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before­hand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph.2:10, ESV) This truth is well expressed by Lars Hartman:

“Christ” also denotes a divine sphere, or a divine realm of power, which God has established through him and his work … The same Christ is also the origin of a new humanity, in which religious, social and other barriers are eliminated: “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (1Cor 12.13; Gal 3.28). (Into the Name of the Lord Jesus: Baptism in the Early Church, p.80)

The next few pages are important, but readers who find them too detailed may skip them on a first reading, and proceed to the section called “Colossians 1:17 — He is before all things”.

“In the Lord Jesus”

We now consider a few more prepositional constructions in Paul’s writings. We have looked at en Christō (in Christ) and its semantic equi­valent en autō (in him) when it refers to Christ. In both cases, “Christ” and “him” are in the dative, since the pre­posi­tion en takes the dat­ive.

The construction “in the Lord” (en kuriō) occurs 48 times in the New Testament (e.g. “in the Lord Jesus,” Rom.14:14; 1Th.4:1; 2Th.3:12). All are found in Paul with the except­ion of Rev.14:13 (“blessed are the dead who die in the Lord”) where it carries the same meaning as in Paul; this leaves 47 in­stances in Paul. It again conforms to the en+dative construction, giving us so far a total of 140 occurrences in Paul of this type of con­struction which refer to Christ (140 = 47 + the 93 instances mentioned so far).

“In God”

For completeness we mention “in God” which in the Greek is either en theō (Rom.2:17) or en tō theō (Rom.5:11); again both conform to the en+dative con­struction. “In God” is seen in 1Thess.1:1 (repeated in 2Thess.1:1): “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalo­nians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here “God” and “Lord Jesus Christ” are in the dative because they share the same preposition “en”. The Thessalon­ians are in God and in Christ in some interrelated way. To be in God is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ is to be in God. This is powerfully expressed in the following Pauline concepts: “God in Christ” (2Cor.5:19; Rom.6:11; 8:39; Eph.4:32; Phil.3:14); “Christ in God” (Col. 3:3); “of God and of Christ” (2Tim.4:1; Eph.5:5); cf. Jn.17:21.

“Through Christ”

Another prepositional construction is “through Christ” (dia Christou) and the related “through him” (di’ autou) when it refers to Christ. Here “Christ” and “him” are both in the genitive, giving us the dia+genitive con­struction.

“Through Christ” brings out Christ as an instrument in God’s eternal plans, notably in the new creation and the work of salva­tion. Check­ing the many verses where this term is used, it is clear that Christ is the one through whom and in whom God accom­plishes man’s salva­tion.

To our surprise, in no instance does “through Christ” or “through him” refer to the Genesis creation; all instances refer, directly or indirectly, to the new creat­ion which God brought into being through Christ. The following list in­cludes all the NT instances of “through Christ” (dia Christou) and “through him” (di’ autou, referring to Christ), plus a few related dia+geni­tive forms such as “through our Lord Jesus Christ” or “through a man”. All are from ESV except where indicated other­wise:

John 1:17 grace and truth came through Jesus Christ

John 3:17 that the world might be saved through him

Acts 13:38 through this man the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed

Rom.1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship

Rom.1:8 I thank my God through Jesus Christ

Rom.2:16 God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ (NIV)

Rom.5:1 we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Rom.5:9 saved from God’s wrath through him (NIV)

Rom.5:11 We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Rom.5:17 reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ

Rom.7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ

1Cor.8:6 one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist

1Cor.15:21 resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (NIV)

1Cor.15:57 victory through our Lord Jesus Christ

2Cor.1:5 through Christ we share abundantly

2Cor.1:20 it is through him that we utter our Amen

2Cor.5:18 God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself

Eph.2:18 through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father

Col.1:16 all things were created through him and for him

Col.1:20 through him (Jesus) to reconcile to himself (God) all things

Col.3:17 giving thanks to God the Father through him

“Through him” is also used of God:

Rom.11:36 from him and through him and to him are all things

1Cor.1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ

Gal.4:7 if a son, then an heir through God

Heb.2:10 through whom everything exists

In fact, all the prepositions used of Jesus are also used of God (e.g. “through” is used of both Jesus and God the Father in Gal.1:1). But the re­verse is not necessarily true, that is, not all the preposi­tions used of God are used of Jesus, notably ek (from, out of) which is used of God (“from God” or “out of God”) but never of Jesus in relation to the creation of all things (ta panta). Here are some examples of ek, all referring to God (all from ESV):

Rom.11:36 from him and through him and to him are all things

1Cor.8:6 from whom are all things (cf. 1:30)

1Cor.11:12 all things are from God

2Cor.5:18 all this is from God

Though God does all things and creates all things without de­pend­ing on anyone, He still chooses to do these things “through Christ,” notably in the work of salvation (“the Father who dwells in me does his works,” Jn.14:10). But ultimately all things proceed from Yahweh God: “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph.4:6), confirming again the solid biblical truth that God the Father (Yahweh) alone created all things (Isa.44:24).

Thayer’s lexicon, on dia, says that God is the first cause:

Where it is evident from the religious con­ceptions of the Bible that God is the author or first cause: Jn.11:4; Acts 5:12; Eph.3:10; 4:16; Col.2:19; 2Tim.1:6; Heb.10:10; 2Pet.3:6.

To this list one might add Heb.3:4 (“the builder of all things is God”) and Eph.3:9 (“God who created all things”).

“All things” (ta panta)

In our survey so far, we have encountered a few verses which speak of “all things” (ta panta) either in relation to God (e.g., all things were created by God) or in relation to Christ (e.g., all things exist for Christ). Here are some im­portant instances of ta panta (all from ESV unless noted other­wise):

Col.1:16 For in him all things were created: things in hea­ven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (NIV 2011)

Rom.11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

1Cor.8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

1Cor.11:12 And all things are from God (ek tou theou, “from God,” occurs 5 times in Paul)

Eph.3:9 to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things

1Tim.6:13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus

Heb.2:10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffer­ing.

Heb.3:4 For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.

In these verses, it is God rather than Christ who is the creator of all things. The phrase ta panta (“all things”) occurs 35 times in the NT, mostly in Paul (30 times). The phrase ta de panta (“but all things”) occurs 4 times. The form pantōn (all things) is used fre­quently by Paul (e.g., Col.1:17).

“For Christ” and “into Christ”

Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon defines eis (into) as follows: “εἰς, a preposit­ion governing the accusative, and denoting entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, toward, for, among.

Two eis+accusative constructions are relevant to our discuss­ion. The first is eis Christon (into Christ or for Christ) which occurs 12 times in the New Testa­ment, mostly in Paul (10 times). It is used in a variety of contexts but the meaning of eis remains the same, point­ing to Christ as the goal, object, or pur­pose. Here are a few examples (quoted from ESV) of eis+accusative referring to Jesus Christ as the object of faith:

Acts 24:24 heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus

Galatians 2:16 through faith in Jesus Christ

John 12:11 many of the Jews were going away and believ­ing in Jesus

The similar construction eis auton (into him) occurs 38 times in the NT, usu­ally referring to Jesus as the object of something, e.g., the object of insult during his trial (Mt.27:30) or the one on whom (or into whom) Yahweh’s Spirit descends (Mk.1:10). It is used 16 times in John’s writings of Jesus as the object of faith. It occurs 8 times in Paul (4 times of Christ, 3 times of God), sometimes with the meaning “for Christ” as in Colossians 1:16 (“all things were created through him and for him”).

Here “for him” indicates that Christ is the goal of—and the rea­son for— God’s creation of all things. This is a most signifi­cant revela­tion in Scrip­ture, yet is made unremarkable in trinitarian­ism because it would mean that “God the Father” (the first person) created the universe for “God the Son” (the second per­son), being nothing more than a case of God creating some­thing for God.

But in biblical mono­theism, God created all things for a man—the true man Christ Jesus—and then for believers in Christ. This is an astonish­ing revela­tion of God’s love for man. Hence Scripture admonishes all believ­ers “to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with every­thing for our enjoyment” (1Tim.6:17). Paul does not envisage the Christ­ian life as one of constant depriva­tion and hard­ship though these may come to us as a result of hostility and persecution as has happened so often in the history of the church.

God’s creation is for Christ with Christ as the goal, the pur­pose, and the destina­tion of the new creation. Christ, as the conclusion of God’s creation, is the “first and the last” (Rev.1:17), a title that is also applied to Yahweh (Isa.41:4; 44:6; 48:12). Ulti­mately it is Yahweh who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev.21:6). But Christ who is “the image of the invisi­ble God” (Col.1:15) is also “the first and the last” (Rev.1:17; 2:8) as well as the “author and perfect­er of our faith” (Heb.12:2).[4]

Colossians 1:17 — He is before all things

We now proceed to Colossians 1:17 which says of Christ: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together”. Trinita­rians take “before” as a time reference, and “all things” as the Genesis or physical creat­ion, thereby arguing for Christ’s preexist­ence. But what Paul has in view is not the phy­sical or material creation but the new creation; hence he speaks of spirit­ual powers repre­sented by “thrones or dominions or princi­palities or powers” (v.16), both visible and invisible.

In Greek as in English, “before” (pro) can mean priority in spat­ial locat­ion, priority in time, or priority in rank (BDAG, pro). In Colossians 1:17, “before all things” translates pro pantōn. Although BDAG puts this verse under its second defini­tion of pro (“earlier than, before”), it could just as well be translated “above all things” (priority in rank) which would be under BDAG’s third heading (“marker of preced­ence in import­ance or rank”). In fact, under this third head­ing, BDAG cites James 5:12 and 1Peter 4:8, both in which pro pantōn occurs exactly as in Colossians 1:17.

If we take “he is before all things” to mean prior­ity in time (the trinitar­ian view), it would refer to pre­exist­ence. But if it is under­stood in terms of rank and precedence (“he is above all things”), it would refer to Christ’s exaltat­ion. It is the latter and not the former that harmonizes with the whole con­text of Col.1:17, which is about his glorification. Hence it is clear that pro pantōn is to be understood as speaking of Christ’s preeminence over all creat­ion. This is confirmed in the next verse, “that in every­thing he might be pre­eminent” (v.18). Hence context alone rules out one inter­pretation (priority in time) in favor of the other (preeminence over all things).

In English but not in Greek, “before” is usually taken as a time refer­ence, and this is evidently how the translators in­tend the reader to under­stand it. But a look at Greek-English lexi­cons will show that priority in time is not the first meaning of pro in Greek. BDAG’s first definition of pro is, “marker of a position in front of an object, before, in front of, at”. It is posit­ion, not time, that comes first to the Greek mind when he sees the word pro. The same priority is seen also in Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon under pro, whose first defin­ition has to do with space, not with time.

In addition to these two possible meanings of pro in Col.1:17 (pro as a time reference versus pro as rank and preemi­nence), there is a third meaning that expresses how God’s plan which is un­folding in the present age had been in His view before the creation of the world. Even before Jesus was born into the world—and all the more before he was exalted to God’s right hand and to preeminence above all creation—he had already existed in God’s mind: “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1Pet.1:20, NIV).

Yahweh in His foreknowledge extended that act of election to believ­ers—those in Christ—before the creation of the world: “Thus he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and faultless before him in love” (Eph.1:4, NJB). Christ had to be chosen first before God could choose us “in Christ.”

This third meaning of pro is independent of the first two, or it could in­corporate the two to express what is in God’s supernal mind. Whereas secular Greek-English lexicons might not be expected to have this third definition of pro, lexicons of New Testament Greek could reasonably be expected to provide a biblical definition for pro in relation to God, and, in this case, to God’s choosing of Christ before the creation of the world.

In him all things hold together

The second half of Col.1:17 says, “in him all things hold toge­ther” (this time most Bibles have “in him” rather than “by him”). “Hold together” translates one Greek word, sunistēmi, which basically means staying to­gether or being closely united. This echoes Eph.1:10 which says that God has a “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth”. The words “heaven” and “earth” indicate that God has in view nothing less than the cosmic scope of His redemp­tive work in Christ. The same cos­mic outlook is mentioned again two verses after Col.1:17:

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him (Christ) to reconcile to himself (God) all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col.1:19-20, ESV)

Sin is discord, disharmony and hostility, whereas peace is the remov­al of hostility and the establishing of unity between mutual­ly hostile parties, creat­ing one new, coherent, and harmonious entity. That even the things in hea­ven are recon­ciled “by the blood of his cross” (v.19) is a striking revelation. It tells us that sin and discord ex­tend to heaven itself (cf. “war in heaven,” Rev.12:7) and that the magni­tude of what was achieved at the cross through Jesus’ blood amounts to so great a spirit­ual power as to reconcile even spirit­ual beings with Yahweh. This is an extraordinary revelation.

Colossians 1:15 and 1:18: Firstborn of all creation, firstborn from the dead

In Colossian 1:15-19, “firstborn” (prōto­tokos) is twice used of Jesus:

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first­born of all creation.

1:18 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 (or “hold the first place”).

American Heritage Dictionary defines “firstborn” as: “adj. First in order of birth; born first. n. The child in a family who is born first.” In the LXX and the NT, “firstborn” (prōtotokos) often means the one who is born first in a family:

Genesis 35:23 The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. (NIV)

Luke 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger (ESV)

The same word prōtotokos is used of Christ in Romans 8:29:

For those whom he (i.e., God) foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans, 8:29 ESV)

Concerning this verse, BDAG under prōtotokos says,

… of Christ, as the first firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified, as its exalted Lord is glorified prōtotokos en pollois adel­phois Ro 8:29. Also simply prōtotokos Hb 1:6 (Greek transliterated)

BDAG is to be commended for being among the few works to recog­nize that Christ is “the firstborn of a new human­ity”. Many other lexicons (such as Thayer, prōtotokos 2b) simply assume that the word “creation” in “first­born of all creation” refers to the material Genesis creat­ion. The possibility of the new creation doesn’t seem to cross their minds even though it is seen in other verses in which “firstborn” appears, e.g. “that he might be the first­born among many brothers” (Rom.8:29). In the NT, “brothers” is a common term for believers, and it is said of them that Jesus “is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb.2:11). That “brothers” refers to the new creation and not the Genesis creation lies in the fact that not all the people of the world are the brothers of Jesus, but only those who are born again or from above. This is brought out picturesquely in Hebrews 12:23: “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”.

Trinitarians deny that Jesus is the firstborn in the sense of being the first to be born among many brothers who are also born (Rom.8:29), and they do this by separating the honor given to the firstborn from the fact of being born first. In other words, Jesus is accorded the honor given to the first­born, but it is denied that he is the first in a succession of many brothers to be born. This is the kind of thing that trinitarians do when they want to deny that Jesus is part of God’s creation as the firstborn of that creation, yet insist that Jesus is firstborn only in the sense of the honor bestowed on him. That is because trinita­rianism main­tains that Jesus is not part of the creation but is pre­existent to it.

If the only aspect of “firstborn” that Paul wants to apply to Christ is pre­eminent honor, why wouldn’t he simply use the word “honor” or one of its synonyms that would be less problematic to trinitarians? But as soon as Paul uses the word “firstborn,” it can­not be denied that it could mean that Christ is the first in a series of those who are born or created. The fact that Jesus is the “first­born among many brothers” (Rom.8:29) draws the unwel­come con­nect­ion (unwelcome, that is, to trinitarians) between the birth of Jesus and the birth of his brothers.

It is gratuitous to alter “firstborn of all creation” to “first­born before all creation” since there is no biblical basis for in­serting the word “before” (or “prior to,” Thayer ibid., p.555, prōtotokos) into the text. A shocking dis­tort­ion of Colossians 1:15 is seen in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words (“First-Begotten, First­born”): “the clause means both that He was the ‘First­born’ before all creation and that He Himself pro­duced creation.”

The fact remains that in Col.1:15, Paul does not say “first­born be­fore all creation” but simply “firstborn of all creation”. The trinitarian reading “first­born before all creation” has the grave effect of separa­ting the word “first­born” from “all creation” which were origin­ally joined by the genitive “of” (“first­born of all creation”). Even a partitive genitive [5] offers no basis for changing “of” into “before”. If Paul had intended to say “before creat­ion,” he could have done so in Greek with­out the help of trinitarians! Yet this way of dis­torting Script­ure is common practice in trinitarian­ism. In this instance, the aim is to avoid the conclusion that Christ is a part of “all creation,” that is, to deny that he was created by Yahweh.

When belie­vers are one day perfectly conformed to Christ the first­born (Rom.8:29), will they not also bear Christ’s image in the way that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15)? Thus everyone in the “as­sembly of the firstborn” will bear the image of the firstborn (1Cor.15:49).

That is why Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil.1:21), and “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:20). Though Paul is not perfect in the absolute sense, he is still able to tell the Gala­tians that they have re­ceived him as Christ (Gal.4:14). If Paul at this imper­fect stage already bears Christ’s image and manifests his fragrance (2Cor.2:14,16), how much more in “the age to come” (Eph.1:21; Heb.6:5)! Every believer will ultimate­ly bear Yahweh’s image through Christ, and rad­iate God’s glory in the world.

Jesus is “the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev.3:14), a statement that aligns with Colossians 1:18, “He is the begin­ning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent”. Thayer’s lexicon (archē, 2) defines “begin­ning” in Col.1:18 as “the person or thing that com­mences, the first person or thing in a series, the leader”.

The three key words we have brought up (archē begin­ning, aparchē first­fruits, prōtotokos firstborn) point to Jesus Christ as the “second man” and the “last Adam” (1Cor.15:47, 45), and the head of God’s new creation (Col. 1:18). Jesus is the final and great­est and ulti­mate Man in Yahweh’s eter­nal plan for man­kind. Colossians 1:18 com­bines in one state­ment the declarat­ions that Jesus is the begin­ning, the first­born from the dead, and the head of the new creat­ion: “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.” There is nothing here that can be used in support of trinita­rianism. In fact ISBE explains Jesus Christ as the “first­born” without refer­ring to any trinitarian concept:

In three passages (Rom 8:29; Col 1:15; Heb 1:6), Jesus Christ is the first­born—among many brethren (Rom 8:29); of every creature (Col 1:16). This application of the term to Jesus Christ may be traced back to Ps 89:27 where the Davidic ruler, or perhaps the nation, is alluded to as the firstborn of Yahweh. (ISBE, Firstborn)

That the New Testament speaks of Jesus as the firstborn—the eldest son in a family—was a problem to me when I was a trinitarian, for no one can be the eld­est without being part of a family. Yet the plain fact is that Rom.8:29 speaks of Jesus as “the firstborn among many brothers”.

Jesus is also “the firstborn from the dead” (Col.1:18), the first to be raised from the dead by God: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Cor.15:20 NIV, cf. v.23, “Christ, the first­fruits”). Only if Christ had truly died could he be the “firstfruits” or the “firstborn from the dead” (also Rev.1:5).

As trinitarians we found Colossians 1:15 problematic: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creat­ion.” For how can Jesus be the first­born of all creation un­less he is part of the creation? To our trini­tar­ian minds, Jesus cannot be part of the creation. We insisted that Jesus, being God, was not part of “all creation” but was uncreated and preexistent to it.

One trinitarian makes the rather astonishing statement that “the context (of Col.1:15) does not admit the idea that He is a part of the created uni­verse” (T. Rees, ISBE, “First-Begotten”). The writer is saying that Paul’s statement on the “firstborn of all creation” in v.15 seems to be dissonant with its con­text, as though Paul is in conflict with himself!

Colossians 1:15 most definitely says that Christ is part of the created uni­verse. Christ is the firstborn and the most highly exalted of all creat­ion (cf. Psalm 89:27, “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth”; also Rev.1:5). In any case, how can Jesus not be part of the created universe when Scripture says that he was the “firstborn son” of Mary (Luke 2:7)? He was born into the world as all human beings are; and hav­ing been born into the world, he is, like all men, part of “all creation”.

Conforming to the image of Jesus the firstborn

We note three things about “firstborn” as applied to Jesus. First, “first­born” has to do with a son. Second­, it implies there are others born after him, with Jesus being the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom.8:29). Third, Jesus is the first of many brothers not just in priority but also in that he is the image which those after him will bear. The same verse, Romans 8:29, says that these will “be con­formed to the image of his Son”. [6]

In the new creation, Jesus is the firstborn on whom the Father be­stows the highest honor. God’s plan includes bring­ing into being “the child­ren of God” through regeneration. One could say that the new creat­ion is “mater­ial­ized” in the children of God through Christ and in Christ. This new community of God’s child­ren is what Paul calls “the body of Christ,” that is, the church (ekklēsia, those called out by God). What is meant in the word “church” is not to be ap­plied indiscriminately to some of the churches as they exist in the world today, most of which worship a differ­ent Jesus.

God’s eternal plan for Christ encompasses not only the children of God (Mt.25:34; Eph.1:4; Rev.13:8), the true believers, but the whole uni­verse. This is the cosmic aspect of Christ in God’s eternal plan that is given only brief mention in the New Testament.

Colossians 1:19: All the fullness of God dwells in Jesus

Colossians 1:19 says of Jesus, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”. This is supplemented by another verse in Coloss­ians which speaks of God’s bodily presence in Christ: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col.2:9, NIV).

BDAG, theotēs, refer­ring to the latter verse, says that “the deity” is “the state of being god, divine character/nature, deity, divinity, used as abstract noun for theos (God)”.[7] Hence “all the full­ness” of God means that every aspect of the person of Yahweh (cf. “abstract noun,” BDAG) and not just some aspect of His being (such as His Spirit, His power, His wisdom, His word, etc.), but His whole Being or Person, lives bodily in Jesus.[8] All the fullness of God—all the fullness of the Deity—dwells in Christ bod­ily.

It will come as a surprise to trinitarians that God’s people are collectively also filled with God’s entire full­ness: “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19). The “you” is plural (since “filled” is plural in the Greek), express­ing the corporate nature of God’s people who, as God’s temple and God’s dwelling place, are filled with all His fullness:

In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph.2:21-22, NET)

Just as Yahweh, the only true God, does not fit into the Trin­ity, so Paul’s statements in Col.1:19 and 2:9 about God’s full­ness dwelling in Christ make no sense in trinita­rian­ism. For if Christ were God, then these two statements (“in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” and “in Christ the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily”) would mean that “God the Son” is filled with all three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit (for if any is missing, it would not be the fullness of God).

Are we saying that God is filled with God? That God the Son is filled with himself? Or that the hu­man nature of the God-man Jesus is filled with God? The latter propo­sition is unten­able because the human nature is only an aspect of a human being, and does not represent the whole man. What sense does it make to say that “all the fullness of God” fills Jesus’ human nature?

But if Paul is saying that it is the man Christ Jesus in whom the fullness of deity dwells, then Colossians 1:19 would make perfect sense.

But if Paul is speaking of “God the Son” of trinitarian­ism, then Col.1:19 would be nonsensical because it would be saying that the whole fullness of the Deity (the Trinity) dwells bodily in “God the Son,” that is, the fullness of God dwells in God! It is a tauto­logy that makes no sense, for if God’s full­ness does not dwell in God, how is He God in the first place? Paul’s state­ment makes sense only if there is a person other than God in whom God’s full­ness dwells. The magni­ficence of Col.1:19 and 2:9 lies in the fact that His full­ness dwells in a human being, the man Christ Jesus. This is unique in the history of creation.

The two aorists in Colossians 1:19, eudokēsen and katoikē­sai (in “pleased to dwell”) refer to a specific point in time (the aorist is some­times called “the punctiliar”). If we accept the trinitarian view, then at what point in time was God the Son filled with God’s fullness, and was he God before this hap­pened? Trinitarians have no satis­factory ans­wer to this question because in their view, Jesus has always been God from eternity past, and therefore has always had the fullness of deity.[9]

But if Col.1:19 is applied to the biblical Jesus, a man, it would make perfect sense to say that at some partic­ular point in time, he was filled with God’s fullness, especially in the light of John’s Prologue, notably John 1:14.

Since Jesus is filled with God’s fullness, we can now better understand John 1:16, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” that is, from Yahweh’s fullness in Christ we have all received the abundance of saving grace by which we are “born from above” (Jn.3:3,7). The church, the body of Christ, is also filled with God’s fullness. In every instance, it is always man in whom God’s fullness finds ex­pression (“that you may be filled with all the fullness of God,” Eph.3:19).



[1] For a general outline of the evolution of “en,” see the article “Indo-European Roots” in American Heritage Dictionary (5th full edition, not the college edition).

[2] BDAG: ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα (prob. to be understood as local, not instru­mental, since ἐν αὐ. would otherwise be identical w. διʼ αὐ. in the same vs.) every­thing was created in associa­tion with him [Col] 1:16 (cp. M. Ant. 4, 23 ἐν σοὶ πάντα; Herm. Wr. 5, 10; AFeuillet, NTS 12, ’65, 1–9).

[3] The Soncino Talmud, ed. Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein, Soncino Press, London, Folio 98a (98b in some editions of Soncino’s English translation).

[4] Later we will see that the truly eternal title “who is and who was and who is to come” in Revelation 1:8 and other verses is reserved for God, not Jesus.

[5] A partitive genitive is a genitive in which “the substantive in the geni­tive de­notes the whole of which the head noun is a part” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p.84). This can be explained with the construct “A of B”. In a parti­tive geni­tive, A is a part of B the whole. This “part of whole” construct is seen in “half of my possess­ions” (Lk.19:8) and “the poor of the saints” (Rom.15:26).

[6] J.D.G. Dunn says: “The Jesus who is Lord and the image of God is also the last Adam and pattern to whom believers are being con­formed, the eldest brother in the family of the new creat­ion.” (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, p.148)

[7] By “abstract noun,” BDAG means that “the deity” refers to God Him­self, but using indirect or abstract or qualitative or conceptual terminology.

[8] In Col.2:9, the verb “lives” is the present active of katoikeō (“to inhabit, live”). The word “bodily” translates sōmatikōs, defined as “bodily-wise” and “corporeally” and “in concrete actuality” (Vocabu­lary of the Greek NT, Moulton and Milligan).

[9] The trinitarian problem is compounded by the fact that “although [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb.5:8). How is it that the preexistent and divine God the Son had never learned obedi­ence to God the Father in all eternity past until he came down to earth?

 

 

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