**The following is part of one of my first exegetical papers I did upon entering seminary. I am taking a look at Paul’s christology, as unfolded in the epistle to the Colossians (this portion is exegesis on Colossians 2:9). I have not redacted any part of this paper (so excuse some of the ‘English’ and grammar), except for transliterating the Koine Greek into English.**
By way of introduction to this pericope, it will be advantageous to look at the ideas that were pervasive in and around the church of Colossae. As noted above, some form of Gnosticism was most likely influencing some of the understanding of the Colossians perception of who Jesus is. Therefore, this apparent problem gives rise to the polemic seen here in this pericope. And thus we are allowed to have further insight into Paul’s christology.
In a nutshell, some characteristic beliefs of Gnosticism (proto) are as follows, given brief summary by scholar G. R. Beasley-Murray:
. . . For the basis of all forms of Gnosticism was a dualism of matter and spirit; the former was viewed as inherently evil, and the latter alone as good. Working from this fundamental principle the Gnostics were compelled to remove God from the material creation, and so to postulate the existence of a graduated hierarchy of spiritual powers in order to bridge the gap between God and the world (hence the constant danger of Christian Gnostics of [sic] viewing Christ as merely one of the hierarchy). [G. R. Beasley-Murray, “The Second Chapter of Colossians,” Review and Expositor Vol. 70 (4) (1973): 470]
This understanding is insightful into what may have been a basis of understanding for the Colossian church.
But there is a danger to label unnecessarily the “heresy” at Colossae as Gnosticism (proper). Note what commentator C. S. Rodd states on this score:
‘Gnosticism’ is such a slippery term that it is wise to avoid using it except for the fully developed and well documented later Gnostic systems, which the Colossian heresy certainly was not. To speak of ‘incipient gnosticism’ is unhelpful unless it is shown in what ways the false teaching contained elements of the later teachings. What we appear to have is an amalgam of Jewish and Hellenistic ideas, in which angels and other spiritual beings played an important part, with the consequence that the status and uniqueness of Jesus was seriousl impaired and stringent ritual demands were laid upon the adherent. . . . [C. S. Rodd, “Salvation Proclaimed XI. Colossians 2:8-15,” Expository Times Vol. 94 (2) (1982): 36]
It appears that Rodd has quite an aversion to using the word “Gnosticism” to describe the “heresy” of the Colossians. And yet he seems to note some of the very similarities (i.e. angels and spiritual beings) of Gnosticism, which he is trying to disparage, at least in the usage of the ‘word’ Gnosticism.
It seems as long as we understand that the “heresy” cannot be identified as Gnosticism, proper; that it is not problematic to proceed, with caution, that the “heresy” in the Colossian church as most likely very similar to ‘Gnosticism’. Therefore, we will move forward with this ‘heresy’ or ‘philosophy’ (v 8 ) as background to the polemic that Paul is offering; as to the “true” identity of Christ.
Verse 9 is the lynch-pin and summation of 1:19 (which I did previous exegesis on within the body of this paper). Not only is the “fullness” of Christ tied to the reality of Him being creator; but Paul blatantly here ties His “fullness” to “The Deity.” This is in definite contradistinction to the beliefs the Colossians were flirting with. Note Moule’s comment on this verse:
. . . all the fullness of the Deity (theotes), the whole glorious total of what God is, the supreme Nature in its infinite entirety. . . . [H. C. G. Moule, Colossian Studies Lessons In Faith And Holiness From St Paul’s Epistles To The Colossians And Philemon (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1898), 144]
Moule does not mince words here. He is straight to the reality of what the text is saying. He notes that what Paul is saying, is that Christ has all of the “Deity” in pleroma (fullness).
Interesting that this is almost a repeat of 1:19, but with the term theotetos added in. There is significance to the addition of this word, note what Barth and Blanke state on this score:
In the sense that “fullness” (pleroma) in 1:19 already appears unusual as a designation for God, it is equally notable that in 2:9 the impersonal word theotes, which occours only here in the NT, is used, and not simply theos (God) as in Eph 3:19. The explanation is widely acknowledged that the “true divine presence” of Christ in the sense of the old ecclesiastical creed is proclaimed here: theotes designates the substance of the divine, the being of God, and is to be distinguished from theiotes, which signifies the attribute of the divine. [Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, “The Anchor Bible—Colossians,” trans. Astrid B. Beck (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 312]
Again Christ’s deity and exaltation is further substantiated, by the use of this word (theotes) [see J. B. Lightfoot, “Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon,” for further discussion on the eclessiastical usage of the word theotes] . Paul is making it totally clear to the Colossians, that the “heresy” they may have been flirting with does not do justice as to the real nature of Jesus Christ.
Paul ultimately wants the Colossians to know that, “. . . access to all that God is and does is available only through Christ, a function ancient Judaism often attributed to divine Wisdom” [Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary—New Testament]. This access is clearly made as Christ manifests the fullness of God in and through His body—as seen in the usage of the word somatikos. Furthermore, this access now has allowed the Colossians to partake of the fullness that has been manifested in Christ; because this fullness has now been made manifest in the bodily reality of Jesus Christ. Note Moule’s great comment on this reality:
It is in Him not only as He is the SON, but as He is the Son INCARNATE. It is not limited and confined by the fact that “He became flesh and tabernacled in us.” But it is brought unspeakable near to us by that fact, made as it were gloriously tangible and accessible to us His human brethren, to who this wonderful bearer of the divine fullness is now joined as man. Yes, He is joined to us, and we owe to Him; He is in us, and we in Him. And thus this fullness is for us, His members. [Moule, 144]
In other words, Colossians, do not buy into a lie, but recognize that Jesus is God, and there is complete and total access to Him, as He has identified with humanity in His enfleshed form.
Verse 10 moves from Christ, and now focuses on the believer’s ability to partake in the fullness of Christ. They do not have to get some special knowledge from a “philosophy” so that they might reach up to God. All they have to do is now accept the reality of who Jesus truly is and thus partake of His fullness. Note Beasley-Murray, and his comment:
. . . Accordingly, it is in Christ that the Christian finds “fullness” of life, for in union with him he participates in the fullness of grace which dwells in Christ, and that cannot be supplemented by any religious system or actions or powers: Christ is all, and over all. . . . [Beasley-Murray, 473]
The point is being reiterated here, the Colossians do not have to do anything else to experience the fullness of God, but to recognize Jesus for who He truly is. And again the preeminence (see Col. 1:15-20) of Christ is being highlighted; He is supreme over all of creation, visible and invisible.