Colossians Chapter One

Chapter 1:1-2

Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ καὶ Τιμόθεος ἀδελφὸς [2] τοῖς ἐν κολοσσαῖς ἀγίοις καὶ πιστοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ, χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἁπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν.

1:1-2      In the salutation to a letter the writer(s) is designated by the nominative case (Παῦλος…καὶ Τιμόθεος), with the first person named probably the more prominent. Paul is identified by the appositional noun ἀπόστολος. The genitive Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ (perhaps a subjective genitive, i.e., Jesus is the agent behind the sending) indicates whose emissary or representative Paul is, i.e., Messiah Jesus. What does the word order Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ signify? Further the prepositional phrase διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ indicates that the Messiah’s action is in full accord with and mandated by “God’s will.” So Paul is the Messiah’s delegate, expressing God’s program in the world. Timothy is simply identified as ὁ ἀδελφός. Probably we should regard the article as in essence meaning “my brother.” This is a good example of the use of kinship language to represent new relationships within the Messiah’s kingdom community.

The recipients of the letter are designated by the dative case – τοῖς…ἁγίοις καὶ πιστοῖς ἀδελφοῖς (“to the holy…and faithful brothers”). The initial but unrepeated article links the two adjectives to the single noun. Two ἐν phrases complete their description. They are “in Colosse” (ἐν Κολοσσαῖς) and they are ἐν Χριστῷ. What is the semantic difference between these two uses of this preposition? I think both have a locative sense but one is literal and the other metaphorical. So these Christians are located geographically in the city of Colosse and they are spiritually “brothers” with Paul and Timothy because their lives are situated in and identified with the Messiah.  ἐν Χριστῷ probably defines the kinship context referred to by the prior noun ἀδελφοῖς. The repetition of the noun ἀδελφός is probably intentional (note the use of this kinship term in 4:7, 9, 15).

The last clause expresses Paul’s prayer-wish for these believers. It is a nominal clause with χάρις…καὶ εἰρήνη serving as subject, ὑμῖν indicating to whom these two elements belong, and ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν identifying the source of this “grace…and peace.” The implied verb might be considered an optative mood form. Why is God’s fatherhood so important to Paul? It is the foundation of the “brotherhood.”


Chapter 1:3-8

Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ πατρὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι, [4] ακούσαντες τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχετε εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους [5] διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα τὴν ἀποκειμένην ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, ἣν προηκούσατε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τῆς ἀληθείας τοῦ εὐαγγελίου

1:3-8      Paul, using the first person plural (which includes Timothy), writes an extended sentence as he articulates thanksgiving to God for these Colossian Christians and offers a prayer on their behalf, even though he has never visited this city or knows many of them personally. The primary clause is εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ, with a present indicative active verb and God designated as the recipient of Paul’s thankfulness. He identifies this God as πατρὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοὺ Χριστοῦ. In what sense God is “father” of “our Lord Jesus Messiah” will be explained later in this chapter, i.e. the term πρωτότοκος. That a god could father a human being who is also divine raises all sorts of questions, which Paul presumably is doing by making this connection. Remember that he has claimed God as “our father” in v. 2.The verb is also modified by a present, adverbial participle προσευχόμενοι, which defines how Paul is continuing to express his thanks to God (“by praying”), and the adverb πάντοτε and adverbial phrase περὶ ὑμῶν further define the nature of this praying – it is continuing and its focus is this cluster of Christians in Colosse. Note the alliteration with the letter pi (π). Adverbial participles that follow the main verb tend to elaborate the action expressed in the main verb, i.e., prayer is the means by which thanks are offered to God.

Paul continues with another participle ἀκούσαντες, aorist active and adverbial, modifying the verb εὐχαριστοῦμεν with probably a causal sense, i.e., “because we heard….” The objects of the participle are the two nouns τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν…καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην. The repeated articles distinguish these nouns from one another. “Faith” speaks of their relationship with the Messiah and “love” defines their relationship with Paul and other believers. Their faith is “located in” the Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (note how this repeats what Paul affirmed in the initial salutation, v.2). Their love and its target group are defined by a relative clause (ἣν ἔχετε εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους), incorporating a present active tense-form. Paul again (cf. v.2) defines believers as “the holy ones.” Paul then adds a third virtue διὰ τὴν ἐλπίδα which explains why they demonstrate love and possess faith. Paul defines this hope by the present adjectival participle τὴν ἀποκειμένην (“which is stored up, put away, reserved”), which is modified itself by the dative of reference ὑμῖν “for you”) and the adverbial phrase of location ἐν τοὶς οὐρανοῖς (cf. 3:1). The heavens would be the place where God rules. He then adds more definition to this hope in the relative clause ἣν προηκούσατε (“which you heard previously”), with an aorist active indicative tense-form. The prepositional phrase ἐν τῷ λογῷ describes how they heard about this hope. It is “the word of truth” which then is defined appositionally by τοῦ εὐαγγελίου. He affirms that the gospel to which they have responded is true and so their hope in God’s future action to fulfill his promises is sure. In this section Paul identifies the presence of three key spiritual characteristics – faith, hope and love – among the Colossian believers.


[6] τοῦ παρόντος εἰς ὑμᾶς καθὼς καὶ ἐν παντὶ τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν καρποφορούμενον καὶ αὐξανόμενον καθὼς καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν, ἀφἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσατε καὶ ἐπέγνωτε τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ

In v. 6 he continues to comment on this gospel, using an adjectival present participle in the genitive case (τοῦ παρόντος) which could mean “has come to you (εἰς ὑμᾶς)” or “is present to you.” This gospel demonstrates its presence καθὼς καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν (“according as also among you”), adverbial clause of comparison related to the first adverbial clause of comparison, καθὼς καὶ ἐν παντὶ τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν καρποφορούμενον καὶ αὐξανόμενον (“according as even in all the world it is producing fruit and growing”). Is Paul aware of Jesus’ parable of the soils (Mark 4:1-20) where similar vocabulary is used to describe true Kingdom agents? The two participles with the verb ἐστίν probably form periphrastic structures, with emphasis upon the continued virility of the gospel in its ability to produce faith, love and hope in believers throughout the world. Note that both participles are in middle voice, perhaps indicating the involvement of the referent (the word of truth, the gospel) in the fruit bearing and growth.  Paul acknowledges their legitimacy to claim the name Christian because of the character they demonstrate. What amazes Paul is that their growth has continued unabated from the day of their conversion (ἀφ’ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσατε). Not only did they hear, but they discerned (ἐπέγνωτε) that this gospel conveyed τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ. Note this second linkage of the concept of truth with the gospel. What is the function of the phrase ἐν ἀληθείᾳ? Is it adverbial, modifying the verb with the sense “you recognized the grace of God truly?” Or is the sense more of “reality,” the real grace of God in which he extended the opportunity to non-Jews to enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant through the new covenant in the Messiah’s blood?

[7] καθὼς ἐμάθετε ἀπὸ Ἐπαφρᾶ τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ συνδούλου ἡμῶν, ὅς ἐστιν πιστὸς ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν διάκονος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, [8] καὶ δηλώσας ἡμῖν τὴν ὑμῶν ἀγάπην ἐν πνεύματι

Vv. 7-8 describe how Epaphras communicated this gospel to the Colossians. Paul uses another adverbial comparative clause (καθὼς ἐμάθετε ἀπὸ Ἐπαφρᾶ) to describe how this occurred. Paul tells us three things about this person. He is τοῦ ἀγαπητοῦ συνδούλου ἡμῶν (“our beloved fellow-slave”). Presumably this enslavement is to the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, Epaphras in Paul’s estimation (expressed in the relative clause marked by ὅς) is “a faithful assistant/agent of the Messiah on your behalf.” Paul’s language here should not be taken as describing an official role, i.e., deacon, but rather it is a generic term describing someone who acts as the assistant of another person, either to aid that person directly, or indirectly by helping others, often with the communication of a message. Thirdly, using an adjectival participle (ὁ καὶ δηλώσας), Paul says that Epaphras is the person who has made clear to him the progress in the gospel of these believers. The verb δηλοῦν means “to make known, reveal.” What he shared was their τὴν …ἀγάπην ἐν πνεύματι (cf. v.4). Is ἐν πνεύματι equivalent to ἐν Χριστῷ? In other words is this phrase to be translated “in Spirit” as in the NIV and ESV? Why?


Chapter 1:9-20

v.9          διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἀφἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσαμεν, οὐ παυόμεθα ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι καὶ αἰτούμενοι, ἵνα πληρωθῆτε τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ,

Paul constructs an elaborate, periodic sentence that comprises this entire section (vv. 9-20) beginning with the main clause in v.9 and linked by participial clauses, relative clauses and other forms of dependent clauses. The initial διὰ τοῦτο, in the absence of other connective, signals a causal relationship between what follows and what precedes, indicating continuity and development.[1] The following καί modifies ἡμεῖς, giving it emphasis, i.e., “even/also we.” The prayer of thanksgiving in vv. 3-8 describes what God has done among the Colossian Christians as the gospel was received; vv. 9-20 is prayer that petitions God for future benefits that will continue to nurture their faith and service. Because God has already initiated his work among them, it is logical on this basis for Paul to add this second prayer.

The relative clause indicates when Paul began to offer this prayer — ἀφ’ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσαμεν (note the same relative clause in v .6, using the second pers. plural form of the verb,  that describes the time frame for the Colossians’ reception of the gospel). The postponement of the head noun in the prepositional phrase (ἠμέρας) following the relative pronoun (ἧς) is an example of the antecedent incorporated into the relative clause (cf. 1 Peter 1:10; Acts 26:7). Note the contrast between the aorist ἠκούσαμεν in the relative clause and the present middle παυόμεθα in the main clause. The adverbial coordinated participles προσευχόμενοι καὶ αἰτούμενοι, following the main verbs, define what activity (“praying and petitioning”) Paul and his collaborators are engaging “without stopping.”  The participles are present middle forms, which may indicate that the action is concurrent with the main verb. The middle voice indicates that the referents are engaged in a serious way in this action.

The ἵνα clause may function to introduce an indirect command, reflecting the fact that prayer language often finds expression as imperatives (note the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6). In this dependent clause Paul expresses the primary content of the prayer: “be filled with the specific knowledge of his will with all Spirit-based wisdom and understanding.” The main verb in this clause is aorist passive subjunctive (πληρωθῆτε) which can be followed by various constructions. The person affected is usually in the accusative with the power or quality expressed in the genitive or accusative case. Consider Phil. 1:11 (πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης) for a parallel to the passive construction in Col. 1:9. The more common genitive construction with this verb is found in Rom. 15:14 (πεπληρωμένοι πάσης τῆς γνώσεως). The noun ἐπίγνωσις is found in Col. 1:10; 2:2; 3:10 and the cognate verb ἐπιγινώσκω in 1:6. γνῶσις occurs once in Col. 2:3, γινώσκω in Col. 4:8 and γνωρίζω in Col. 1:27; 4:7, 9.

The singular distinctive of Jewish people was the claim to have special knowledge of God’s will through the direct revelation given through Moses in the covenant (cf. Rom. 2:18; 12:1-2; Wisd. 15:2-3). Who is the referent of the possessive pronoun αὐτοῦ? Is it God (cf. 1:1)? Consider the parallel expression in v. 10 (τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ). The Christian claim that in the Messiah Jesus they had knowledge of God’s will that superseded, but was in continuity with the Mosaic revelation, became a fundamental point of contention. Who possessed the specific knowledge of God’s will? In pagan culture gaining knowledge of the will of the gods was a primary preoccupation and they used magic, astrology, oracles, hepatoscopy, and many other means to try and discern this.

It is uncertain exactly what element in the clause the phrase ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ is modifying. It could be the verb or the noun ἐπίγνωσις. If it defines the verb, then it probably defines instrumentality – “through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (NIV). If it defines ἐπίγνωσις, then it could imply a sense of association – “accompanied by thorough wisdom and discernment in spiritual things” (Weymouth); or express an epexegetical definition—“which consists in…”(Good News Bible).[2]  According to Aristotle the three most important virtues were σοφία (wisdom), σύνεσις (understanding), and φρόνησις (prudence).[3] Within the Jewish context such wisdom and understanding comes through the Law (Deut. 4:6; Wisd. 9:9-10). How should we understand πνευματικῇ? Does it modify both nouns or does it modify just σύνεσις? Does it mean “related to the spiritual realm” or “generated by the Spirit,” or is to be related to “human spirit” as Peterson suggests in the paraphrase of The Message?


  1. 10. περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν, ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμνεοι τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ,

The aorist active infinitive περιπατῆσαι defines the purpose or result of the “filling,” i.e., it has an ethical intentionality. “To walk” is used in Judaism (“halakhah”) to describe how people chose to live (cf. Phil. 1:27; 1 Thess. 2:12; Eph. 4:1). In this case the ethical measuring rod is ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου, i.e., the way Jesus lived (presuming that κυρίου refers to Jesus) and the ethical standards that he requires of his followers. ἀξίως is an adverb completed by the genitive of reference. This in turn should result εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν – complete approval.[4] This is the only usage of the noun in the New Testament, but Paul used the cognate verb fourteen times, sometimes with the sense of “pleasing humans,” i.e., acting with obsequiousness (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4); more often in the sense of pleasing another person by thinking of their needs (Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:32-34), but occasionally in the sense of gaining God’s approval (cf. Rom 8:8; 1 Thess. 4:1), as here.

The two compound adverbial present participles καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι (cf. v.6) are nominative plural and probably relate to the subject-verb form πληρωθῆτε. Perhaps the sense is of concurrent activities, i.e., “as you bear fruit and grow/increase.” The agricultural motif is clear. The two adverbial phrases ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ and τῇ ἐπῖγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ may modify the closest participle in a chiastic structure[5] or they may together modify both participles. If the second option is chosen the first phrase would define the sphere in which fruit and growth occurred and the second may define the means by which the fruit and growth occurred, i.e., “bearing fruit and growing in every good work by means of this special knowledge of God.”  The position of the adjective in the first phrase is emphatic, presumably in a second attributive position. The article with ἐπίγνωσις may be anaphoric, going back to the earlier mention of this same noun in v. 9 and bear a demonstrative force, i.e. “this special knowledge of God.”


  1. 11. ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει δυναμούμενοι κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ εἰς πᾶσαν ὑπομονὴν καὶ μακροθυμίαν μετἀ χαρᾶς.

The sentence continues with another adverbial present participle δυναμούμενοι fronted with another adverbial ἐν phrase indicating instrumentality. The participle may be circumstantial, but defining the means by which these believers are empowered εἰς ὑπομονὴν καὶ μακροθυμίαν. “Empowered by all power” is a rhetorically emphatic expression, which in turn is heightened by the adverbial phrase of comparison κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ (“in accord with the might of his glory”). In the Roman world κράτος was wielded by those in authority, i.e., the emperor and the gods. In this case, however, this might is linked with the revelation of God’s radiant power expressed in such events as the resurrection of the Messiah or the Exodus from Egypt. God provides such expressions of his power in this current age and they in turn display his radiant splendor and reputation. All of this enables believers to demonstrate “total endurance and long-suffering,” which in turn adds to God’s radiant splendor. The power and might of God does not withdraw believers from the challenges of suffering and opposition in this world, but rather enables them to endure with loyalty to God and thus display the greatness of God. This is language used to describe the Jewish martyrs in 4th Maccabees, a document roughly contemporary with Paul’s writings. These are active, not passive virtues.

                It is disputed whether μετὰ χαρᾶς modifies the preceding participial phrase or the following one. Moule in his commentary on the Greek text of Colossians argues that it goes with what precedes because the idea of joy in endurance is a fairly common motif in Christian paraenesis. Conversely, James Dunn in his NIGNTC on Colossians takes it with the following participle. Pokorný comments[6] “Only when endurance and patience/longsuffering are combined with joy are they expressions of the power of God… cf. Gal. 5:22…Rom. 12:12…1 Thess. 3-6….They become signs of the presence of God.”


  1. 12. εὑχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρὶ τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί·

εὐχαριστοῦντες (cf. v.3) is the fourth adverbial present participle in this series. Technically, it could break the sequence and refer back the verb παυόμεθα in the main clause in v.9. It seems that some scribes in the tradition read it that way and so we find ἡμᾶς (qualifying us) instead of ὑμᾶς (qualifying you), although even in the second instance it still could be read with the main verb. However, most commentators consider it one of the sequence of four participles related to πληρωθῆτε, otherwise it seems that Paul and Timothy are repeating what they said in v.3. The sense of the participle (“as you give thanks”) is probably circumstantial, defining an action concurrent with the primary verb. The recipient of their thanks is expressed in the following dative τῷ πατρὶ. Except as a vocative, it is not a very common way of referring to God apart from the Johannine corpus (cf. Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:18; 3:14). The choice of πατήρ may be influenced by the reference in v.13 to τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ and πρωτότοκος in vv. 15, 18. The dative object in turn is defined by the adjectival aorist active participle τῷ ἱκανώσαντι, indicating an action that seems prior to that of the preceding participle.

                The sense of the unusual verb ἱκανοῦν is “to make competent, to make qualified, to satisfy.” It is only used in the New Testament here and in 2 Cor. 3:5-6. As far as I can tell, only in Paul’s usage is God the subject. Perhaps it is related to the interpretation of the divine name El Shaddai by some Greek translators of the Old Testament as ἱκανός, i.e., the sufficient one.  The Colossian believers are thankful because “the Father” has qualified them εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί. The preposition εἰς indicates the goal or outcome of the qualification. The nouns μερίς and κλήρος in the Greek Old Testament describe Israel’s claim to Palestine – the portion, the lot/inheritance. Paul speaks eschatologically here to express their participation in “the inheritance of the holy ones.” Are the “holy ones” Christians or angels? Elsewhere in Colossians this term refers to believers. In Ephesians 2:12ff, Paul describes how non-Jews have become fellow-citizens with Israel in the kingdom of God. Here he makes a similar claim.  The location of this inheritance ἐν τῷ φωτί contrasts with their previous existence under the authority of the darkness (v. 13). God is often identified with light. God has completely transformed their status. ἐν plus the dative here is locative (cf. 1 Peter 2:2:9).


  1. 13. ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ,

The relative clause continues to define τῷ πατρί, which is the antecedent of ὃς, nominative singular masculine, relative pronoun, functioning as subject of the relative clause. This clause contains a compound verb construction ἐρρύσατοκαὶ μετέστησεν, both serviced by the single object ἡμᾶς. These two aorist verbs describe God’s prior actions that have placed these Colossian believers, along with Paul and Timothy, into a new situation. ῥύομαι means “I save” and occurs in 1 Thess.1:9-10 in a similar sense. It is also used in Greek Exodus to describe God’s actions in the Exodus. What a person is saved from is expressed in the ἐκ phrase, i.e., “out of the power of the darkness.” Consider Paul’s language in Acts 26:18 which describes what Jesus saved him to do. Paul will use the plural ἐξουσίαι in reference to demonic authorities in 2:15.

                The verb μεθίστημι means to transfer someone or something from one place to another. Josephus used it to describe the transportation of an entire people to settle in a new territory (Antiquities  9:235 (Assyrians transport (μετέστησεν) the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria)). The cluster of terms in vv. 12-14 that were used in the Greek Old Testament to describe various aspects of Israel’s experience with God should be noted. Why did Paul do this?

The place where God transfers his people is εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ. The references in Paul’s letters to the Kingdom of Christ are very infrequent (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-8). The use of the aorist tense with these verbs indicates a completed action, not something that will occur in the future. Perhaps Paul intends to describe the reign of Christ between resurrection and second coming. Whether the ἀγάπη references the demonstration of God’s love through Christ to us or the love that God has for his Son (cf. God’s addresses to Jesus at his baptism and transfiguration) can be debated. It may have covenant connotations because God establishes his covenant on the basis of his ἀγάπη. Perhaps the double reference to Jesus as πρωτότοκος in the following section would lead us to adopt the second perspective.


  1. 14. ἐν ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·

This is another relative clause, but this time the antecedent of the relative pronoun probably is τοῦ υἱοῦ. This prepares for the focus on Christ in the following verses. The phrase ἐν has the same force as ἐν Χριστῷ (cf. v.2) and picks up the idea that believers were transferred into his kingdom and now exist in the sphere of Christ’s authority. ἔχομεν is present indicative active and points incomplete action. The object of the verb is τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, which describes the ransom paid to secure the release of a prisoner of war or captive from slavery. Israel’s release from Egypt or exile usually was described by the simple verb λυτροῦν (Deut. 7:8; Isa. 43:1, 14; cf. Ex. 21:8 – ransom a slave). What is noteworthy is the appositional noun phrase τὴν ἀφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν, further defining the nature of the ransom or the result of that ransom. ἄφεσις means “pardon for failure” or “removing an offense from memory.” The year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25 is a time of “release” (v.10), i.e., when current arrangements are no longer valid. Concepts of release and ransom are linked in Lev. 25:53-54. In the case of believers, the release is from the indebtedness to sin and Satan. Note how these three verbs in these two clauses are placed in the most prominent position in their clause, which is the default position for Greek verbs.


  1. 15 – 20 ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, [16] ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα διαὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται· [17] καὶ αὐτὸς ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν, [18] καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὃς ἐστιν ἀρχή. πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων, [19] ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι [20] καὶ διαὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτὸν εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [διαὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οῦρανοῖς.

These verses describe the person and work of Jesus Christ in relation to creation (κτίσις) and the congregation (ἐκκλησία           ) – creation and redemption. They are syntactically dependent upon v. 14 because v. 15 continues as a relative clause to which a clause of explanation is attached in v. 16, which flows through to the end of v. 18a. v. 18b begins another relative clause that continues to the end of v. 20. v. 15 and v. 18b parallel one another (ὃς ἐστινπρωτότοκος). So vv. 9-20 form a single, complex sentence. These amazing words apply to someone who had experienced crucifixion scarcely thirty years earlier. How do we explain this? Much of this language occurs in Greek translations of portions of the OT Wisdom literature, as well as Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon. Whether Paul is adapting prior material or composing it fresh remains debated. One other motif to note is the repeated use of τὰ πάντα – all things – in relation to the Messiah’s person and work, emphasizing the comprehensiveness of the Messiah’s influence.

  1. 15. The initial relative clause is followed by an appositional expression (πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως) which modifies the nominative relative pronoun, whose antecedent is Jesus, God’s son. Within the relative clause ἐστιν is the main verb, identifying the subject with the predicate, characterizing him as εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου. The “unseen God” becomes visible in the form of Jesus Messiah. ἀόρατος (invisible) applies to God in Rom. 1:20, 1 Tim. 1:17, and Heb. 11:27, but not elsewhere in biblical Greek, although the idea is expressed. God then has to make himself known and he does this through a visible “image,” i.e. his son.[7] In some Jewish literature Wisdom is described as the image of God (Wis. 7:26; Philo De Somnis 1.239). Sometimes Wisdom is identified with Torah, but here Paul identifies God with Jesus. He is the perfect counterpart of God.

                Πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως has to be seen in the context of the following descriptions as marking Jesus as exclusive in his being, rather than inclusive with other created elements as Arius and later heresies interpreted it. We probably need to interpret πρωτότοκος in the sense of “supreme” or in the sense of prior, i.e., first in time, or perhaps both senses are intended to be integrated.[8] The force of the word “falls on the side of transcendence.” He has preeminence over πάσης κτίσεως and so nothing in the created order is like him.

  1. 16 The initial ὅτι clause is explanatory (because), indicating why Jesus has the status of πρωτότοκος, i.e., ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα. The one who creates must be greater than what is created. The aorist passive verb raises the question of agency that in some sense is defined by ἐν αὐτῷ which could be either instrumental or locative or perhaps both (“by means of him and within him”). There follows a long list of entities that are part of this created order, including political and spiritual authorities (all things in heaven/earth, visible/invisible, and then the two sets of coordinated authorities). The series of nouns connected by εἴτε are in the nominative case, indicating they are appositional to τὰ πάντα. Compare the similar list in Ephesians 1:21 Paul then repeated his initial idea in the clause τὰ πάντα δι αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται. It has no connecting particle and so has an independent, emphatic ring to it — almost a declaration. ἔκτισται is 3rd person perfect passive indicative (κτίζω). What is the aspect of this perfect verb? Perhaps it expresses a state or condition, i.e., “stand created.” Neuter plural subjects are linked with singular verbs, as in 16a. The prepositional phrases διαὐτοῦ and εἰς αὐτὸν describe means and motive.
  2. 17 This verse probably continues the ὅτι clause introduced in v. 16a “because all things were created by in him…and he himself is before all things and all things in him hold together and he is the head….” The parallel καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν in vv. 17 & 18 should be noted. Αὐτός has an emphatic function here, even as it is the third person personal pronoun. There are two forms of ἐστιν: the accented form (ἔστιν) means “exist” and the unaccented form (ἐστιν) functions as a connective (“is”). It is possible that we should point the subject-verb in v. 17 as αὐτὸς ἕστιν = he himself exists and in v. 18 as αὐτός ἐστιν = he himself is.[9] The meaning of πρὸ πάντων as a chronological and status indicator might support the sense of “existence” in v. 17. The occurrence of the predicate nominative in v. 18 indicates that the second option is used in that verse “he himself is head….”

                Συνέστηκεν is 3rd person perfect indicative active from συνίστημι with the sense of bring together in an ordered manner. The perfect tense probably here has the aspectual sense of a state of being, i.e., “all things hang together/cohere in him or subsist in him.” It parallels the perfect verb form ἔκτισται in v. 16. ἐν αὐτῷ indicates a locative sense, i.e., within the sphere of his authority, power, will?

v.18        The phrase κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος (cf. Eph. 1:22,23) speaks of a different kind of priority or authority. As creator Jesus is the thoughtful originator and director. As sustainer he continues to guide and nourish his creation.[10] The head of a human body fills a similar function in its role as director and sustainer of the body. The repetition of the article follows the normal convention that a genitive modifier of an articulated noun is itself normally articulated. It is probably a genitive of relation, i.e., the head that belongs to the body. τοῦ σώματος in turn is modified by the appositional noun τῆς ἐκκλησίας, i.e., the assembly. It is used here as a technical noun referring to those humans who have identified with Jesus Messiah. In Greek generally it refers to any assembly of people for some purpose. So this assembly is the Messiah’s assembly, since he is the head of it. Paul defines Jesus both as creator/sustainer of the universe and the redemptive director of the assembly of God’s people. In the Old Testament the term head means chief, ruler, leader. Elsewhere the body belongs to the Messiah (τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ). In creation and re-creation Jesus Messiah has supremacy.

                The description of Jesus is further refined in v. 18 by the relative clause ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, “who is the first cause, origin, beginning.” Does this define the referential idea of κεφαλή or prepare for the second use of πρωτότοκος, now related to the idea of resurrection? Jesus often is referred to as the pioneer who leads the way from death to life for his followers. πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν explains why Jesus is ἀρχή or gives a second reason why he is κεφαλή, or is used in a partitive sense. The preposition ἐκ may refer to a location where Jesus was, but now no longer is.

                The ἵνα could express result or purpose. The verbal structure γένηταιπρωτεύων is might form a periphrastic, but when other terms intervene, it is more probably the participle is adjectival (a predicate nominative adjective). The first is an aorist middle subjunctive and the second is a present active participle. Γίνομαι must suggest that this is what Jesus has become in relation to the church. The subject is another emphatic αὐτός (he alone). The construction again expresses Jesus’ supremacy ἐν πᾶσιν (in all things or in all respects). The constant contrast between αὐτός and πάντα throughout this hymn should not be ignored.

  1. 19 The ὅτι clause (probably causal) offers more explanation as why Jesus has the supremacy. One of the key questions regarding this clause is whether πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα is the subject of the main verb εὐδόκησεν or the subject of the aorist active infinitive κατοικῆσαι. Either works syntactically. In the second instance God would be the subject of the main verb. James Dunn (NICGNT) proposes, as some translations express, to meld the impersonal sense of πλήρωμα with the person of God. While πλήρωμα most likely was intended to be the subject of the main verb, in the Greek OT and the NT, subjects of εὐδοκεῖν are persons.[11] So Dunn suggests an expanded translation such as we find in the NRSV “all the fullness of God.” This would resonate with the parallel in 2:9 (πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς). In Hellenistic Judaism (Wisdom of Solomon 1:6-7) we read statements such as πνεῦμα κυρίου πεπλήρωκεν τὴν οἰκουμένην (“the Spirit of YHWH has filled the world”). Similar statements are express in Philo and in Stoic writings. What Paul seems to be doing is staking Christ’s claim to the fundamental personality that explains and directs all things, committed to sustaining creation and growing and protecting his “body.”

                The verb κατοικεῖν and its cognates in the Greek OT describe the residence of God in Sinai, the Tabernacle, Temple, or Jerusalem (2 Chron. 6:1,2,18; Psalm 67(68):16 ( εὐδόκησεν θεὸς κατοικεῖν ἐν αὐτῷ); 134(135):21; Isa. 8:18; cf. κατοικητήριον  Ex. 15:17; 3 Ki.8:13,39,43,49; 2 Chron. 6:30,33,39; Psalm 32(33):14; 75(76):2). For God to make a person his “residence” is especially daring and speaks to the uniqueness of Jesus and “the wholeness of divine immanence dwelling” in him.[12] Paul does not speculate about the chronology of this activity, whether this was the reality from Jesus’ birth or began in an enhanced manner following his baptism. How does the Spirit relate to this question?

  1. 20. There is a compound set of infinitives defining εὐδόκησεν, i.e., κατοικῆσαι καὶἀποκαταλλάξαι. Both infinitives are aorists and aspectually express the actions from a perfective or completed perspective, encompassing the whole action as described lexically by the verb. In the case of ἀποκαταλλάξαι the lexical meaning is “reconcile, bring into harmony parties previously estranged.” Paul does not here define the reason for the estrangement, but it was mentioned in v.14. Note that “all the fullness of God was pleased” to negotiate and implement this reconciliation διαὐτοῦ, i.e., Jesus Messiah. The object of reconciliation is τὰ πάντα, i.e., the universe. The cosmic dimensions are significant, because presumably they include all of the beings and things Jesus created. The action required to achieve this will be described in 2:11-15.

                The compound form of this verb does not occur elsewhere prior to its occurrence here and in Eph. 2:16, suggesting it was a Pauline creation. The compound verb καταλλάσσω also occurs in Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 7:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-20. Between the creation and the incarnation/resurrection something happened that required God to act in Jesus Messiah for the reconciliation of his creation. Presumably, this was “the Fall.” The person to whom creation is reconciled is identified in the prepositional phrase εἰς αὐτόν (if πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα is the subject of εὐδόκησεν, then this accusative masculine pronoun would be construed as an ad sensum form of gender concord) and the pronoun’s referent presumably is God, and the actions of Jesus enable God to accomplish this feat of reconciliation.

                The nominative masculine singular aorist active participle εἰρηνοποιήσας creates a bit of a puzzle. If πλήρωμα is the subject of εὐδόκησεν, we would expect a nominative neuter singular ending on this participle. If the participle in some sense modifies the infinitive ἀποκαταλλάξαι , then the participle should take the accusative form (same as nominative in the case of neuter nouns) because the subjects of infinitives normally are in the accusative case. This might bear on the question of what is the subject of εὐδόκησεν and tip the scales in favour of an implied θεός. This would also mean that this participle is related primarily to the action of the main verb εὐδόκησεν and implies that God’s pleasure in causing “all divine fullness” to reside in the Messiah and through the Messiah to reconcile all things to himself” results in “making peace through the blood of the Messiah’s cross” (cf. Isa. 53:10). This peace-making, however, includes all aspects of the incarnation that culminated in the cross and resurrection. Peace-making encompasses the whole, although coming to climactic focus in the Messiah’s sacrificial death, and all the more astonishing because “all divine fullness” is resident in him even during the events of the cross.

                Δία τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ defines the focal point, the means by which the enmity was abolished. It refers to violent execution – “through the blood of his cross” or as NIV has “through his blood, shed on the cross” (cf. the wording in Mk. 14:24 τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης “my blood of the covenant”; or the construction in v.22 ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ which ESV renders as “in his body of flesh,” but in v.20 ESV reads “through the blood of his cross”). The position of αὐτοῦ links it with σταυροῦ. The contrast between the supremacy of the creator and director of the assembly and his violent execution should not be lost. Even more astonishing is the affirmation that all of this “pleased” God.

                There is considerable debate as to whether διαὐτοῦ was part of the original text or a scribal gloss based upon the prior verse. The textual evidence is split and the intrinsic arguments can go either way. The more difficult reading is its inclusion. If it was part of Paul’s original letter, then it emphasizes that God’s peace-making efforts are concentrated in the person of the Messiah, i.e., through him.

                The entities included in this reconciliation are part of this space-time, earthly reality or part of the spiritual, heavenly realities (cf. Phil. 2:10-12). The presence of the article preceding the prepositional phrases (τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς) syntactically makes the phrases function as nominals. ἐπί + genitive means location upon, i.e., upon the earth. ἐν + dative indicates location. Whether we should consider οὑρανοῖς a true plural is questionable, because it often occurs in the plural when referencing heaven. According to BDAG the singular refers to heaven in contrast with earth, but the plural often means a specific abode. In Ephesians it is constantly plural. In Colossians it is plural in 1:5, 16, 20 and singular in 1:23; 4:1. Presumably the plural form, as v. 16 suggests, refers to that sphere in which the invisible spiritual powers reside.        


1:21-23                 καὶ ὑμᾶς ποτε ὄντας ἀπηλλοτριωμένους καὶ ἐχθροὺς τῇ διανοίᾳ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς πονηροῖς, [22] νυνὶ δὲ ἀποκατήλλαξεν ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ διὰ τοῦ θανάτου παραστῆσαι ὑμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους καὶ ἀνεγκλήτους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ, [23] εἴ γε ἐπιμένετε τῇ πίστει τεθεμελιωμένοι καὶ ἑδραῖοι καὶ μὴ μετακινούμενοι ἀπὸ τῆς ἐλπίδος τοῦ εὐαγγελίου οὗ ἠκούσατε, τοῦ κηρυχθέντος ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν, οὗ ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ Παῦλος διάκονος

Structurally these verses form a single sentence, with the main verb, ἀποκατήλλαξεν appearing in v. 22. This indicates that for Paul the key idea being addressed in these verses continues to be the concept of “reconciliation,” but with a specific focus upon the involvement of the Colossian believers in God’s program of reconciliation. The initial καί in v. 21 shows continuity, but may also suggest an ascensive relationship with what precedes, i.e., building further understanding. The contrast is defined primarily in terms of time (ποτε…νυνί) and relationship (ἁπηλλοτριωμένους καὶ ἐχθροὺς…ἀποκατήλλαξεν),[13] emphasized by the use of δὲ. The fronting of the object of the participle and the main verb (ὑμᾶς) contrasts with the more general “all things in heaven and on earth” expressed in v. 20. The hostility involved in this estrangement finds expression in the adjective ἐχθροὺς, which may function as a predicate adjective or as a substantive (i.e., “enemies”). Paul used a periphrastic structure (ὄντας ἀπηλλοτριωμένους), participle of εἰμι and perfect passive participle to highlight their former state which had extended over a period of time. The relationship between ἐχθροὺς and τῇ διανοίᾳ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς πονηροῖς requires careful evaluation. Is the prepositional phrase modifier expression the cause of the cognitive hostility or the way in which this hostility finds expression? It is noteworthy that Jesus in his expression of the first commandment in Mark 12:30 adds ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου as one of the human faculties that should express an individual’s love for God (cf. Ephesians 2:3; 4:18).

  1. 22 The iota attached to νῦν creates a more emphatic formation.[14] The form of the verb ἀποκατήλλαξεν is disputed in the textual tradition. The current tense form is aorist, indicating a perfective aspect. If the 3rd person singular active form is accepted as original, then we have to discern who the intended subject might be. In v. 20 God the father is the presumed subject of this verb. We should probably assume this is the case in v. 22 as well, but this requires us then to take the following possessive pronoun αὐτοῦ as a reference to the Messiah. As noted previously Paul is moving from the cosmic dimension of reconciliation to its application to people in the city of Colosse. Note that with both uses of this verb Paul is very careful to express the mechanism by which God extends the offer of reconciliation. In v. 20 it is δι’ αὐτοῦ…διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ and in v. 22 it is ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ διὰ τοῦ θανάτου. These extended modifiers emphasize, I would suggest, the extraordinary nature of the means and locus for this reconciliation, i.e., the death of God’s Messiah upon the Roman instrument of criminal execution. The genitive τῆς σαρκὸς qualifies σῶμα probably in terms of its character, i.e., a body that is flesh, which in turn is defined as a mortal structure (διὰ τοῦ θανάτου).

The aorist infinitive παραστῆσαι (cf. Colossians 1:28) may express purpose or result related to the provision of reconciliation. Paul used this verb extensively in Romans 6:13-19 as he discussed the idea of offering the members of our body in service to God or to sin. He used it again in Romans 12:1 and 14:10 in contexts that related to sacrifice or judicial process. In

1 Corinthians 8:8 the context again is that of sacrifice. Consider also 2 Corinthians 11:2 (cf.

2 Timothy 2:15; 4:17). In Colossians 1:22 Paul may  be using this in a sacrificial sense or in a judicial sense – or perhaps both. Because of what the Messiah accomplished through his sacrificial death and because the Colossian believers have heard and responded repentantly to the gospel, the Messiah is able to “present” them  as ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους καὶ ἀνεγκλήτους. There is discussion as to whether the first of these adjectives (note the alliteration and the triple repetition) includes the following two and is defined by them or whether there are three categories – one related to participation in sacred ritual, one related to approved sacrifice, and one related to judicial process and the failure of any accusation. Each of these has reference to how God now views theses Colossian believers because of their relationship to the Messiah and shows the consequences of divine reconciliation. The prepositional phrase κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ indicates that God, probably, is the one to whom the Messiah presents these believers for his affirmation of acceptance.

  1. 23 Paul continues his sentence with an adverbial, conditional clause formed with εἰ γε + present indicative, a first class condition. This means that from Paul’s perspective he is supposing this condition to be true. The particle γε would correspond to our English particle “indeed,” adding a bit of emphasis. The main verb of this conditional clause means “to persist, endure, stick with.” Whether we should interpret the accompanying dative τῇ πίστει in a locative sense (in the context of faith) or referentially (with reference to faith) or instrumentally (by means of faith) can be debated (cf. usage in Romans 6:1; 11:22-23; Phil. 1:24). If locative or referential, “the faith” might be personal faith or the proclaimed faith, i.e., the gospel. If the sense is instrumental, then personal faith might be the operative note.

The verb is modified by two adverbial participles and an adjective. The first participle τεθεμελιωμένοι is a perfect passive participle, indicating an imperfective state (having been and therefore currently in the state of being founded/established). The same form is used in Ephesians 3:17. The adjective ἐδραῖοι defines something that is firmly and solidly in place (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58). The third element uses a negative construction to repeat the same idea – μὴ μετακινούμενοι – a present passive participle, nominative masc. plural. The action of the participle is deemed concurrent with the main verb. The following phrase ἀπὸ τῆς ἐλπίδος defines what they should not be moved away from, i.e., the hope of the gospel. The noun εὐαγγελίου is modified by the relative clause οὗ ἠκούσατε (cf. Colossians 1:5-6 with similar emphasis upon the gospel truth the Colossians heard). The aorist tense form indicates a perfective idea, i.e., that the hearing occurred.

Paul continues to define τοῦ εὐαγγελίου with the articulated participle τοῦ κηρυχθέντος, an adjectival participle, aorist passive formation. This gospel which the Colossians heard is the same that “has been proclaimed” ἐν πάσῃ κτίσει τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν. The embedded phrase ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανόν with the accusative usage indicates place and so I would suggest the focus is upon the entire creation under heaven as the scope for the gospel proclamation. God has declared this gospel with universal intent. Some consider κτίσει as reference to a creature, rather than creation, but I think the geographic description suggests creation as Paul’s intent. A third descriptor of εὐαγγελίου completes the sentence – another relative clause οὗ ἐγενόμην…. The aorist tense form again is perfective indicating an action that has occurred. The subject is doubly emphasized by the personal pronoun ἐγώ and the appositional Παῦλος. The initial genitive relative pronoun indicates what Paul is serving or assisting as διάκονος. He will use this noun again in v. 25 in a similarly structured relative clause related to the ἐκκλησία.


1:24-29                 νῦν χαίρω ἐν τοῖς παθήμασιν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν καὶ ἀνταναπληρῶ τὰ ὑστερήματα τῶν θλίψεων τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου ὑπὲρ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ, ἐστιν ἐκκλησία, [25] ἧς ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ διάκονος κατὰ τὴν οἰκονομίαν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσαν μοι εἰς ὑμᾶς πληρῶσαι τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, [26] τὸ μυστῆριον τὸ ἀποκεκρυμμένον ἀπὸ τῶν αἰώνων καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν γενεῶν νῦν δὲ ἐφανερώθη τοῖς ἁγίοις αὐτοῦ [27] οἷς ἠθέλησεν θεὸς γνωρίσαι τί τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς δόξης τοῦ μυστηρίου τούτου ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, ἐστιν Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμὶν, ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης· [28] ὃν ἡμεῖς καταγγέλλομεν νουθετοῦντες πάντα  ἄνθρωπον καὶ διδάσκοντες πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ, ἵνα παραστήσωμεν πάντα ἄνθρωπον τέλειον ἐν Χριστῷ· [29] εἰς καὶ κοπιῶ ἀγωνιζόμενος κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ τὴν ἐνεργουμένην ἐν ἐμοὶ ἐν δυνάμει.  

Yes, another lengthy, complex sentence. The main clause is a compound clause (χαίρω…καὶ ἀνταναπληρῶ…), occurring in v. 24. Both verbs are in the present indicative tense form defining imperfective action. Paul shifts attention to his own mission and its definition. Just as he had described the Colossian Christians’ current situation (v. 22 νυνὶ δὲ) so now he shares current news with the νῦν in v. 24. Both verbs are defined by an adverbial phrase and a direct object that describe difficult circumstances (ἐν τοῖς παθήμασιν; τὰ ὑστερήματα τῶν θλίψεων τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου). What distinction in sufferings and difficulties might Paul be making by using this different terminology? The first seems to identify specific things Paul has experienced ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν – specifically related to the Colossian believers. The second seems more generic and applies to the church — ὑπὲρ τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ, ὅ ἐστιν ἡ ἐκκλησία. Is there a sense in which believers today are still completing what is lacking in the Messiah’s difficulties? What might this be? Note the distinction between σάρξ and σῶμα.  Paul identifies the ἐκκλησία as the Messiah’s σῶμα (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27 ὑμεῖς δὲ ἐστε σῶμα Χριστοῦ καὶ μέλη ἐκ μέρους. Καὶ οὓς μὲν ἔθετο ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ). How should we translate this term ἐκκλησία today in Western culture?

  1. 25 This sentence continues with a relative clause defining ἐκκλησία in relationship to Paul. The genitive feminine singular relative pronoun identifies the group to which the διάκονος is related. Paul identifies himself with this role (ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ) indicating that he entered into this status at some point in the past, but his status was different prior to this. This change in status was κατὰ τὴν οἰκονομίαν τοῦ θεοῦ. Paul used the noun οἰκονομία 6 times (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2,9; Col. 1:25 and 1 Tim. 1:4). It generally describes the activity of “management” (cf. Luke 16:2-5), usually performed by an οἰκονόμος, and more specifically the planning and implementation of specific arrangements. In 1 Cor. 9:17 Paul says οἰκονομίαν πεπίστευμαι, with God being the assumed agent. In Col. 1:25 the “management position” was given (τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι) to Paul εἰς ὑμᾶς. It is uncertain whether εἰς ὑμᾶς belongs with what precedes or what follows. The parallel in Eph. 3:2 might encourage us to link it with the preceding participle, in which case Paul is affirming God’s intent that his service for the “Messiah’s assembly” includes the Colossian believers and that is why he is writing to them. The purpose of this administrative appointment is πληρῶσαι τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ, i.e. “to fulfill/bring to completion the word of God” (cf. Rom. 15:19?).
  2. 26 τὸ μυστήριον[15] is probably appositional to τὀν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ and as in other Pauline contexts refers to the development and revelation of God’s gospel plan in Christ, characterizing it as a pre-planned, secretive action which only recently has God unveiled in its complete form. This term has apocalyptic connotations, first seen in the context of Greek Daniel. The perfect participle τὸ ἀποκεκρυμμένον, adjectival in force, probably defines the status of this “mystery” as something “hidden,” presumably, as the passive voice indicates, by God. The action of concealment happened in the past and resulted in this status of “hiddenness” in the present context. The two ἀπό prepositional phrases may define from whom this plan was hidden or be a temporal indicator (as in NIV “for ages and generations”). The emphatic νῦν δέ contrasts what God recently has done. ἐφανερώθη is an aorist passive, presumably again with God as agent, indicating that God has gone public with his plan. The dative τοῖς ἁγίοις αὐτοῦ defines for whose benefit this recent action has occurred.
  3. 27 Paul then moves in v. 27 with another relative clause to define these ἅγιοι, “holy ones,” believers. The dative relative pronoun οἷς indicates the beneficiaries of the action expressed in the relative clause, but the antecedent is ἁγίοις. God is the subject of the clause and the verb ἠθέλησεν implies his intention and is completed by the complementary aorist infinitive γνωρίσαι, “to make known.” This is language of revelation. The substance of this revelation is then expressed in the indirect question marked by the initial τί. There is no expressed verb in this indirect question, but presumably a form of εἰμι is implied, making τὸ πλοῦτος a predicate nominative. It is linked to a chain of genitives and it is unclear whether δόξα or πλοῦτος has the prominence, i.e., glorious riches or rich glory. Presumably this combination is designed to underscore the significance of τοῦ μυστηρίου τούτου ἐν τοὶς ἔθνεσιν. Note the less frequent placement of the demonstrative after the noun it is modifying. That God would include the nations in this plan demonstrates its “glorious richness.”

The last segment of v. 27 identifies the Messiah, i.e., Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, as the content of this “mystery.” Again note the connection of the Messiah with non-Jews that Paul identifies as the critical new component here. This in turn is modified appositionally by ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης, your certain expectation of participation in glory (cf. 1:12-13).

  1. 28 This is another relative clause which this time defines Χριστός, as the initial relative pronoun ὃν indicates. Paul emphasizes that he is included in the subject ἡμεῖς, the group which engages in the proclamation of this mystery (καταγγέλλομεν present indicative active – an incomplete activity). Two adverbial participles express “attendant circumstances,” both present active participles whose activities are concurrent with the action of the main verb. Both follow the main verb elaborating some aspects of the main verb’s activity. The verb νουθετεῖν has the idea of telling the truth with intention of encouraging change. Paul repeats the object πάντα ἄνθρωπον three times in this verse, perhaps to emphasize that both Jew and non-Jew are the audience he addresses and he makes no distinction in his proclamation to these diverse groups. The adverbial prepositional phrase ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ indicates perhaps the manner in which he proceeds with this teaching/proclaiming/truth-telling. Does he mean he does this “wisely” or does he mean that he incorporates all of God’s wisdom into this activity? The verse concludes with a purpose clause (ἵνα + aorist subjunctive) incorporating the verb παραστήσωμεν (cf. v. 22). This could have sacrificial overtones (cf. Rom. 12:1-2) or it may arise from the practice of presenting a person to an official, i.e., juridical, political, religious. In Paul’s case it may also have an eschatological dimension. The bona fides of the person are described by the expression τέλειον ἐν Χριστῷ. This person has every necessary qualification to be accepted and thus is complete, perfect, mature because of his or her incorporation into and identification with the Messiah.
  2. 29 Finally, Paul concludes this sentence with another relative clause which defines the purpose for which Paul makes the proclamation or presents these people [to God] as believers. The phrase εἰς ὃ, using the neuter singular relative pronoun, expresses this general antecedent. The καὶ is emphatic, modifying the verb κοπιῶ, which suggests toil, hard work as a present activity. The adverbial participle of attendant circumstance reinforces the “struggling” that accompanies this hard work (ἀγωνιζόμενος), a present middle participle indicating the deep involvement of the subject in this activity and the implications it may have for him. The subject’s ability to persist in this difficult toil is based upon κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν αὐτοῦ, i.e., God’s effective activity. Note the repeated ἐν- sounds in this clause – four times, reinforced by –αν and –ην. The adjectival passive participle τὴν ἐνεργουμένην emphasizes this divine activity as currently operative and presumably expressing divine agency. I think given how Paul frames his ministry in v. 25 as due to God’s intervention, that God is the preferred referent. The locus of this activity is ἐν ἐμοὶ and it is characterized as ἐν δυνάμει, perhaps expressing the manner in which or means by which it is accomplished in Paul, i.e., with ability, strong might.



[1] Steve Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 48-51.

[2] The Message has “asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.” Peterson seems to follow an epexegetical sense as he combines this phrase with the preceding phrase, reordering various elements.

[3] Nichomachean Ethics 1.13.

[4] Apart from Mark 6:22 = Matt. 14:6 and Acts 6:5, all occurrences of the verb occur in Pauline materials.

[5] The variant textual reading ἐν τῇ ἐπιγνώσει would support a chiastic reading.

[6] Petr Pokorný, Colossians. A Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 49-50.

[7] Εἰκών also describes the human being in Gen. 1:26. Other references in Paul would be 1 Cor. 11:7; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10. Jesus is the perfect likeness of God. Note the contrast with a material idol.

[8] In Greek Exodus this term πρωτότοκος is applied by God to Israel.

[9] Cf. Acts 17:28.

[10] In some Greek texts Zeus is head of the cosmos. Plato describes the universe as τὸ τοῦ πάντος σῶμα (Timaeus 31b, 32a) and τὸ τοῦ κόσμου σῶμα (32c).

[11] Mark 1:11-12.

[12] James Dunn, Colossians, NICGNT, 101.

[13] Note the similar sounds that the participle and the verb share.

[14] This use of the iota is termed “deictic iota” (cf. H.W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 659 (section 2925)). It is “stronger than νῦν: even now, at this moment.”

[15] Also in Rom. 11:25; 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:1, 7; 4:1; 13:2; 14:2; 15:51; Eph. 1:9-10; 3:3-6, 9; 5:32; 6:19; Col. 1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:9, 16.