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Colossians 1:9-14: Paul’s Prayer for Your Church

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The Epistle to the Colossians is a fascinating and highly debated book. Like all of Scripture, every verse may be deeply mined, constantly yielding new theological and pastoral ore. Immediately following the greetings to his letter, in 1:9-14 Paul prays for the Colossian church. His prayer expresses his desires for their faith and Christian walk. He then leads into one of the most famous, sublime, and Christologically rich passages in the New Testament. Understanding this prayer aids our understanding of both the letter to the Colossians and also reveals the true spiritual needs of any Christian community.

 

Paul writes Colossians to redirect a floundering church, pressured by a culture of religious compromise and legalism, back to the exclusivity of Christ and to exhort them a “worthy life” (1:10), free from encumbering sin (3:5), and clothed in Christian maturity (3:12). Because it follows the greeting and precedes the theological foundation for godly life, Chap 1:9-14 expresses the whole letter’s intention well.

 

Scholars hotly debate the historical context of the book on two major fronts. Tradition and most pre-19th century scholars accepted Paul as the author.[1] Then, higher criticism unearthed several un-Pauline characteristics which seem to indicate a pseudo-Pauline author.[2] The vocabulary is odd, with less classically Jewish or Pauline vocabulary and more typical Greek terms. The content also seems proto-gnostic, which would indicate both a later authorship date and a non-Pauline author.[3] These issues were dealt with in later study as scholars learned that amanuenses were common to all epistolary writing and that they often shaded the content and form of the letter.[4] Also, early Gnostic teachings have been dated to the 1st century, so it is possible that Paul was indeed encountering them as he wrote. Finally, the most compelling case for Paul’s authorship is the book’s close connection with Philemon.[5] Thus, with internal and external issues sufficiently addressed, we may safely conclude Paul wrote the letter.[6] He probably wrote it, along with the other prison epistles, around 61 AD, likely from Rome.[7]

 

The greater issue in the book, one which affects the exegesis of every verse, is the context in which Paul writes. Was Paul writing to an environment of Hellenized, pseudo-platonism, pagan/mystery cults, a subtle Judaizing context, or a mix of all of these?[8] Scholars make persuasive cases for all of these. The style and content clearly deviate from the classic Judaizing polemics like Galatians, so something more than Judaism seems likely. References to philosophy, elemental spirits, mystery, knowledge, fullness, and the Christ hymn indicate that Paul is targeting pagan cults or Greek philosophy.[9] But then he also references light and darkness, circumcision, and uses other Jewish language.[10] NT Wright gives the best solution:

 

“I believe that these features are best explained on the assumption that Paul is warning the reader not to be taken in by the claims of Judaism, which would try (as in Acts 15:5) to persuade pagan converts to Christianity that their potential position is incomplete…The master-stroke in Paul’s argument is thus that he warns ex-pagans against Judaism by portraying Judaism itself as if it were just another pagan religion.”[11]

 

Thus, Paul likely wrote to a syncretism of paganism, Greek philosophy, and Judaism, yet he approached it from his Jewish background.[12] Michael Birds notes several content overlaps between Colossians and Galatians, such as law observance, freedom from man, freedom from circumcision, and deliverance from evil powers, agreeing that the “Colossian threat” was some form of Judaizing syncretism.[13] This conclusion synthesizes all the possible threats adumbrated in the text and historical theology, yet remains true to Paul’s background.

 

Colossians fits into the redemptive-historical narrative as one of the final letters of the canon. It meditates on the work and person of Christ for the approaching closed-canon era in the context of the growing worldwide church and expanding Christian worldview and ethics. Paul is writing to a young church that is learning how their faith interacts with their culture. The Holy Spirit intends the book to be a timeless call to theological and ethical purity within the church, constantly pressured to compromise.

 

Defining boundaries of the 1:9-14 is surprisingly challenging.[14] One of the most remarkable parts of the passage is the seamless transition from the prayer to the hymn. This transition is hard to define in English. Otto Piper writes the “prayer in 1:9-14 and the Christological hymn in 1:15-20 condition each other. The hymn makes plain that Paul’s requests are not excessive and unreasonable. The granting of the petitions is assured by the power of Christ, which is from eternity and extends over all the creatures.”[15] In the end, the hymnic quality of vv. 15-20, along with the clear prayer start in v. 9 make vv. 9-14 acceptable delineations, but it is important to emphasize this is not a hard break, but a fluid transition thematically, literarily, and theologically.

 

The passage has only minor textual issues, and the few that do exist do not significantly affect the theology or meaning. The greatest issue is in v. 12. The second person ὑμᾶς may be a first-person ἡμᾶς.[16] There are few other textual issues, but none are urgent textually or theologically.

 

Paul tells his Colossian flock that he prays for them. His prayer has one end: that they “may be filled [with] the knowledge of his [God’s] will”[17] (v. 9). This goal will result in faithful walking out of their Christian life, manifested in four characteristics.[18] Paul tells a church he has probably not met, but has heard much of (ἀφʼ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσαμεν) that he has prayed this for them ceaselessly. The meaning is not incessant prayer, but constant prayer; Paul maintained a consistent and regular prayer routine on their behalf.[19] A crucial ἵνα-clause gives the purpose of the prayer: “that you may be filled” (ἵνα πληρωθῆτε). Significantly, the subjunctive verb is passive, so they are not the agents of filling, but rather the objects. Filling must be an act of God. The verb πληροω is a common and significant verb throughout the book,[20] and is key for Paul’s polemic against the threat. Rather than being filled with the knowledge of the threatening worldview, they are to be filled with God, specifically the “knowledge of his will” (τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ). Paul’s word for knowledge, ἐπίγνωις, might indicate a subtle insult of the knowledge of threatening religions. The prefix επι- suggests that divine knowledge, or literally “over-knowledge,” is superior to worldly knowledge.[21]

 

This knowledge is full of “all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ).[22] The “ἐν” is epexegetical, communicating that the knowledge consists of, “is characteristic of,” spiritual wisdom and understanding.[23] There is some debate whether πνευματικῇ modifies both dative adjectives or just “understanding.” In the Jewish world, wisdom was intrinsically “spiritual.”[24] More than facts about life, wisdom was right application to life, informed by Scripture, and provided only by the Holy Spirit.[25] Pao writes that both “all” and “spiritual” modify both wisdom and understanding, and that “πνευματικῇ” may have a general possessive sense that this wisdom belongs to the realm of the Spirit.[26]

 

With this, Paul desires that they may “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου). “Walk” is a purpose infinitive.[27] Less literal translations (NIV, NLT) translate this as “live a life worthily.” This is acceptable because περιπατεω can carry an ethical meaning where the Christian “walks out” or aligns their moral life with the God’s will.[28] Carson points out the “astonishingly high standard” Paul calls them to. Believers’ lifestyles must be acceptable before a perfectly holy God, which must take a lifetime.[29]

 

Paul gives four characteristics of what this worthy life looks likes: “bearing fruit” (v. 10), “increasing in knowledge” (v. 10), “strengthened for endurance” (v. 11), and “With joy, giving thanks” (v. 12). First, they are to bear fruit in every good work (ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες). The word order emphasizes the good work. “Work” is singular, but παντὶ includes a whole life of individual good works. Next, they are to increase in the knowledge of God (αὐξανόμενοι τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ). Carson notes a circular pattern here:  “What Paul means is that knowledge of God’s will, knowledge that consists of all spiritual wisdom and understanding, turns to obedience, on conformity to the will of God.”[30] Thus, knowledge of God (from the Spirit in v. 9) leads to obedience, which leads to increased knowledge. Τοῦ θεοῦ is an objective genitive, where God’s person and character are the objects of the increased knowledge. Third, Paul prays for “all power being empowered according to his glorious might” (ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει δυναμούμενοι κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ). Paul uses two words for power. For the power he prays they receive, he uses δυνάμει, which indicates the “potentiality to exert force in performing some function,” while κράτος is “the power to rule or control.”[31] This is significant, for the Christian’s power is unlike the might of God. The Christian’s power is the ability to walk worthily, while God’s might is his sovereign ability to instill Christian power. The phrase κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ has several possible translations. Because κατὰ is followed by an accusative, it is “according to.” The power sources from and aligns with God.[32] The genitives present two possible glosses: “the power of his glory” (τῆς δόξης would be an epexegetical, αὐτοῦ a normal possessive) or “his glorious might” (τῆς δόξης would be attributive).[33] Scholars debate which is most likely. Eph 1:17 is a parallel structure, and is a clear attributive genitive.[34] Theologically, Scripture does not describe God’s glory as the source of power per se, but that his power is glorious. Thus God’s might is glorious, far greater than the power the mystery cults can offer. All of this is consistent with Paul’s constant effort to pray for and communicate that Christianity offers a more fulfilling (πληροω) walk (περιπατεω) than the other spiritual options around the Colossian church. The final participle is “with joy, giving thanks” (μετὰ χαρᾶς, εὐχαριστοῦντες). What μετὰ χαρᾶς modifies is hotly debated.[35] Much rides on the answer. If it modifies ὑπομονὴν καὶ μακροθυμίαν, then it explains that these virtues should be marked by joy. If it modifies the participle, then thanksgiving should be joyful. The second is preferable for a few reasons. First, the three previous participles each have a modifying prepositional phrase; μετὰ χαρᾶς modifies εὐχαριστοῦντες. Second, this was common introduction to Jewish confessions.[36] Third, the “μετὰ χαρᾶς plus participle” form parallels Phil 1:4.[37] Thus, Paul prays for God to fill them for worthy walking in four distinct, spiritual characteristics.

 

Concluding his prayer, Paul describes the father to whom he prays, to whom they give thanks, and the father of Christ in vv. 15-20. He is the one “who qualified you to the portion of the lot” (τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου). He uses an attributive participle of ἱκαναω of the father, as the “one who has qualified,” noting the finality of the qualification by the aorist tense. His use of μερις and κληρος gives strong evidence of the Jewish nature of the situation. Both words allude to Israel’s Exodus narrative and entrance into Canaan when each tribe was given a portion or “μερις” of the Promised/(inheritance) Land (κληρος). This language, along with words like “deliverance” and “redemption” in v. 14, strongly alludes to OT exodus imagery.[38] There are two ways to read the genitive τοῦ κλήρου: 1) epexegetically, or “the share that is the inheritance” or 2) partitive, “share in the inheritance.” The partitive is preferable because the inheritance, especially with Promised Land meaning, was divided into parts for the 12 tribes.[39] Thus, Paul tells the Colossian church that God equates her with the Israelites with a special inheritance awaiting them, further exhorting them to faithfulness. Second, the “Father rescued us out of the power of darkness and transferred [us] into the kingdom of the son of his love” (ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ). The ὃς must refer to the father because it is in the masc. sing. nom., and the Father was the last agent named in v. 12.[40] The two verbs (ρυομαι, μεθίστημι) are aorist, again communicating that God’s work is final. The church is rescued, is transferred. God was the subject, so their salvation is by his grace alone.[41] This salvation is a transfer to the kingdom of the son of his love. It is through this son that Christians have redemption from sin.[42] He uses a double object-complement accusative to describe the work of Christ (τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν) as both redemption and forgiveness.[43] Vs 13-14 found the characteristics of the Christian walk, and proclaim that salvation is “God’s act and gift, as the foundation and beginning of the Christian walk.”[44] God is the cause of faithful walking, and only by the Father’s power and Christ’s work is the Christian life possible.

 

Thus Paul concludes his prayer for the Colossian church. He desires they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will so they may walk worthily, abounding in all of the characteristic works, emotions, and power of the Christian who has be redeemed from darkness and saved from sin. His greatest desire is spiritual maturity and obedience flowing from awareness of God’s grace.[45] All of this is in stark contrast to the world’s religious systems, probably a form of Judaism mixed with philosophy and paganism. Christians today, of course, feel the same temptations to look to the infinite worldviews for life and meaning. This prayer sets a direction for trans-temporal, Omni-cultural Christian life, marked by fullness of God’s will, and the four participial characteristic virtues. The Christian has constant need for certain spiritual gifts that require unceasing intercession. [46] While Paul may not intend to, he models how Christians should pray for each other.

 


Appendix 1: Annotated Translation

 

9 Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἀφʼ ἧς ἡμέρας ἠκούσαμεν, οὐ παυόμεθα ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν προσευχόμενοι καὶ αἰτούμενοι ἵνα πληρωθῆτε τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ καὶ συνέσει πνευματικῇ, 10  περιπατῆσαι ἀξίως τοῦ κυρίου εἰς πᾶσαν ἀρεσκείαν ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ ἀγαθῷ καρποφοροῦντες καὶ αὐξανόμενοι τῇ ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ, 11 ἐν πάσῃ δυνάμει δυναμούμενοι κατὰ τὸ κράτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ εἰς πᾶσαν ὑπομονὴν καὶ μακροθυμίαν. Μετὰ χαρᾶς, 12 εὐχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρὶ τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί, 13 ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ, 14 ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·

 

 

9 Because[47] [of] this, we also[48], from which day we heard, we do not cease ourselves[49] praying on behalf[50] of you all and asking[51] so that[52] you may be filled[53] [with] the knowledge[54] of his[55] will[56] in all spiritual[57] wisdom and understanding, 10 to walk[58] in a manner worthy of[59] the Lord in all desire to please, in every good work bearing fruit and increasing[60] [in] the knowledge of God, 11 in all power being empowered[61] according[62] to his glorious might[63] in all perseverance and patience with joy[64] 12 giving thanks to the father who qualified[65] you[66] for the portion[67] of the lot[68] of the saints[69] in the light. 13 He[70] rescued[71] us out of the power of darkness and transferred [us] into the kingdom of the son of his love,[72] 14 in whom[73] we have redemption, the forgiveness[74] of sins.

 

 


Appendix 2: Text Boundaries Considered

As noted in the body, the division of Col 1:9-14 is more difficult to pin down than would initially seem. The most obvious and common boundary treats vv. 9-14 as a single transition from the greeting (3-8) to the Christ hymn (15-20).[75] The hymnic style of the Greek in vv. 15-20 is the strongest evidence for a break at v. 14. But other possibilities exist. Another possible option would be to break between vv. 12 and 13. Most scholars believe μετὰ χαρᾶς modifies εὐχαριστοῦντες.[76] Ellis notes that μετὰ χαρᾶς is a common Jewish opening for confessions, along with a change from second person plural to first person plural, concluding, “Col 1:13b-14 marks a transition from the work of the Father (1:12-14) to the cosmic and redemptive work of the Son, Christus Creator and Christus Salvator (1:15-20)” [77] thus giving weight to a break at 12. John Behr makes a persuasive case that vv. 13-14 are actually part of the vv. 15-20 hymn, noting a remarkable chiastic structure in vv. 13-20.[78] Both verses refer to the reconciliation and redemption from sin. Further, v. 13 aligns with v. 15 in that the both the Father and Son are referred to with the same formula of “ὃς plus their respective role” in the economic Trinity.[79] All of this indicates that a vv.  9-14 break is acceptable, but only on the most pragmatic terms. Preaching and reading the text should emphasize that Paul moves as seamlessly as he can from prayer to redemption to meditation on Christ.

 


 

[1] E. Earle Ellis, “Colossians 1:12-20: Christus Creator, Christus Salvator” in Interpreting the New Testament Text, Eds. Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 416. Marcion attributes Paul as the author in his 140 AD letter.

[2] Early 19th Century scholars like F.C. Baur and others in the higher criticism and Hegelian reconstruction traditions rejected a Pauline authorship on these internal grounds (Ellis, 416).

[3] John Barclay concludes that “we are faced with an interesting conundrum” in authorship, but that “it turns out, for example that the differences are not large between Paul himself writing this letter, Paul authorizing an associate to write it, and the letter being composed by a knowledgeable imitator or pupil of Paul.” Or, the search for true authorship is a red herring around a personality cult, and ultimately does not matter. Of course, it does matter if Paul wrote the book for its apostolic authority. John M.G. Barclay, Colossians and Philemon (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 36.

[4] Ellis, 417.

[5] Murray J. Harris, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Pub. Grp, 2010), 3.

[6] Ellis, 418.

[7] Harris, 4. Acts 28:20-31 supports this.

[8] Barclay lists 5 possible targets with their respective proponents: 1) Jewish-Christian Gnosticism (Lightfoot and Bornkamm), 2) Christianized mystery cult (Dibelius), 3) Mystical Jewish Ascent (Francis), 4) Hellenistic Philosophy (Schweizer, DeMaris, Martin), 5) Syncretistic Folk Religion (Arnold). (Barlclay, 42-47.)

[9] James D.G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Pub. Grp, 1996), 27.

[10] James Dunn is persuaded that a Jewish threat is the target. “Perhaps most striking of all is the very Jewish character of the language…The most obvious reason is that the Colossians were confronted by local Jews who were confident of the superiority of their own religious practice and who denigrated the claims of these Gentiles to shame in their own Jewish heritage” (Ibid, 68).

[11] N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1986), 24.

[12] Paul certainly had a baseline understanding of the paganism and Greek philosophy as Acts 14 and Acts 17 demonstrate.

[13] Michael F. Bird, Colossians and Philemon, New Covenant Commentary Series (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009) 19.

[14] For a fuller treatment of this, see Appendix 2.

[15] Otto Piper, “Savior’s External Work: An Exegesis of Colossians 1:9-29” Interpretation 3 no 3 (JI 1949), 290.

[16] Cf. Appendix 1, footnote 66.

[17] God’s will is implied from v. 3, the object of Paul’s praise and request. Quotations of the text are from the translation in Appendix 1.

[18] Harris, 25. These four characteristics are described in four participial phrases.

[19] D.A. Carson, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014), 77.

[20] Col. 1:9, 1:25, 2:10, 4:12, 17

[21] Lange writes that ἐπίγνωις  is more than γνωις, it is a “gift and grace of the Holy Spirit.” He also notes that this word occurs more often in this letter than any of Paul’s other letters. The world offers knowledge; Christianity promises over-knowledge. J.P. Lange, P. Schaff, , & C.M. Mead, C. M, A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Exodus (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 17.

In contrast with this, Harris writes that ἐπίγνωις  is not a polemical word, but means “complete understanding” or knowledge directed toward a particular object, which would describe the will of God. (Harris, 27). I am persuaded by Lange’s overall polemic nature of this book, along with Paul’s whole canonical bellicose style when it comes to the knowledge of God revealed by Scripture.

[22] Paul uses some form of πας five times throughout vv. 9-14. The meaning is clear. Paul is polemical. He tells the Colossians that Christianity alone is sufficient, that it supplies all of their needs. All wisdom, all desire to please, every good work, all power, and all confidence and patience are theirs through the power of God.

[23] Carson, 82.

[24] Eduard Lohse, A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. Ed. Helmut Koester. Trans. William R. Poehlmann and Robert J. Karris (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971). 25. “Wisdom” and “Understanding” were key terms in Qumran Judaism, and only gifts from the Spirit.

[25] Carson, 82.

[26] David W. Pao, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Colossians and Philemon. Ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 69. Again, this may be a polemic against the mystery cults in the Colossae context. Christian wisdom is just as, even more “spiritual” than the mystery cults.

[27] Wallace says purpose infinitives are marked by simple or “naked” infinitives, and that we may insert “in order to.” Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 591.

[28] Harris, 27. “This inf. is a constative aorist that views the Christian’s whole life and conduct as a unit, without reference to individual or repeated acts.”

[29] Carson, 84.

[30] Carson 87.

[31] Pao, 72.

[32] BDAG, 406.

[33] Wallace, 95, 89.

[34] Pao, 77.

[35] The answer is vague because the whole pericope could be a single sentence. Nestle-Aland28 has “with joy” with the particle, though Lange, et al, include it with the “patience and confidence” because the essential Christian nature of these virtues depends on joy accompanying them (Lange et al. 19.) The ESV includes “with joy.”

[36]Ellis, 419.

[37] Harris, 30.

[38]John Behr, “Colossians 1:13-20: A Chiastic Reading” St. Vladimirs Theological Quarterly 40, no 4 (1996), 249. 247-264. Pao wonders if Paul may even be referring to Exod 6:6 in LXX, which has similar wording and meaning (17).

[39] Wallace, 84.

[40] Incidentally, there is a link between this work of the father and the person and work of Christ in this pronoun. The Father is introduced as ὃς and then his actions listed (rescue, transfer, etc). V. 15 has ὃς again, only this time in clear reference to the son (the kingdom of his beloved son, v, 13). This ὃς/son is the image of God. By two concentric uses of ὃς, Paul clearly links the father and son, undergirding the divinity of the Son.

[41] Lange, 19.

[42] I take the ἐν in “ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν” to be a causal/instrumental use, thus “through/by whom we have” (BDAG, 260).

[43] Wallace, 182.

[44] Lange 20.

[45] Carson, 80.

[46] Carson, 78.

[47] The correct gloss of δια must be “because” because τούτο is in the accusative case. In this sense, the relational love of Paul, Timothy, and Epaphras described in 1:3-8 is the reason for their prayer. (BDAG, 181).

[48] καὶ + pronoun (inc. esp. ἡμεῖς) means “also” or “likewise” (BDAG, 393).

[49] Though less functional, this reflects the middle voice of the verb. Bauer et al, describe this middle use when followed by a pres. mid. ptc. (BDAG, 638).

[50] Followed by a genitive, “on behalf of”/”for the sake of” is the best gloss, especially after words of request or prayer. (BDAG, 838).

[51] “Asking” may be a hendiadys with praying, adding emphasis that Paul does intercede on their behalf earnestly and frequently  (Harris 26).

[52] I take this to be a purpose-result ἵνα subjunctive clause. Wallace notes that the Semitic mind blurred the difference between the result and purpose. The passive voice implies that God does intend to fill them (the result), while the purpose of Paul’s prayer is filling (Wallace, 473). It could be a simple purpose clause, but the element of divine will indicates more. Neither could it be epexegetical (does not clarify a noun/adj) nor complementary (no infinitive).

[53] In this sense, they will be filled “impersonal objects with real but intangible things or qualities” (BDAG, 670).

[54] Literally, “over-knowledge.” Paul seems to use this intentionally against γνωσιν, saying that the knowledge of the Christian knowledge is superior to that of the knowledge cults and philosophies he is warning them about in the letter.

[55] The pronoun “his” serves for God the Father. First, the Father is recipient of Paul’s praise and prayer for the Colossian’s faith. V. 3 makes this plain.  Second, the will of God is often expressed in reference to the Father throughout Scripture (John 6:39-9, Mt 26:42).

[56] Accusative of reference (Lange, 17).

[57] The grammar is not clear whether “spiritual” modifies both wisdom and understanding or just understanding. Throughout the letter, Paul contrasts wisdom and understanding of the world, which are real temptations for the Colossian church, and Spirit-filled knowledge. His whole point is that they cannot “be filled” by human means alone (Lange, 17). This indicates that “spiritual” should modify both.

[58] The NIV and NLT translate more functionally, saying “that you may live a life.” “Walk” in Pauline literature has a distinctively moral connotation (cf Eph 5:15, Gal 5:16).

[59] ἀξίως + genitive of persons can translate “in a manner worthy of” (BDAG 78). The ESV translates thus.

[60] These two participles mimic the fruit bearing and increasing dynamic of the word of truth in v. 6. Paul might be saying that just as the gospel increases, so they increase. But the reference is unclear because the participles in v. 10 are different tense and number than those in v 6. Also, in v. 10, bearing fruit refers to good work, while increasing refers to knowledge. Still the repetition is noteworthy.

[61] This is an awkward phrasing in English, but in Greek, this repetition may have had a rhetorically cumulative effect, building momentum that God’s power is the sole source of Christian virtues.

[62] Because κατὰ is followed by an accusative, it must “be according to” (BDAG 406).

[63] Commentaries differ on the genitives here. Most commentaries assume this as a genitive of description, or “his glorious might.” Lange et al, translate it “power of his glory” (18). I take τῆς δόξης as a qualitative or attributive genitive (Wallace 89). This reading agrees with a clear attributive genitive in Eph 1:17. Either way, God is mighty in glory, glorious in might, and more importantly, the only source of Christian power.

[64] Without original punctuation, what “with joy” is modifying is unclear. NA28 notes the ambiguity in the apparatus. Two options present themselves. Lange et al, note that “with joy” must characterize “perseverance and patience” to maintain the true Christian nature of the virtues. The ESV translates this way. Second, it may characterize εὐχαριστοῦντες; Ellis notes that Jewish confessions (which vv. 13-14 may be) often start this way (Ellis 419) (cf Phil 1:4). I have translated it as the NA28 punctuates, that we should joyfully give thanks to the Father. Either way, a major mark of the Christian life, whether in patience or in praise, should be joy.

[65] Attributive participle. Highlights that the father plays an active role in the economic salvation, for it is he who makes the Christian community competent for heaven.

[66] Some manuscripts contain ἡμᾶς instead, which could make sense with the switch to first person plural in the next sentence.  For this reading, uncials A, C, D, F, G, K, L, P (dated 5th-10th centuries) and large number of minuscules attest for ἡμᾶς. But two weighty 4th century manuscripts (א and B) contain ύμας, along with some minuscules, giving it considerable external evidence. Internally, the second plural makes sense in the context of a prayer for the Colossian church, that they specifically would receive what Paul prays for. Metzger notes that the committee prefers ὑμᾶς with a B rating for this reason, along with internal evidence that ἡμᾶς is an assimilation into v. 13.

[67] What is common or shared between two or more parties (BDAG, 505). Frequently uses to describe the “shares” of OT Promised Land each tribe received.

[68] This is a complex term, mostly meaning the division and assignment of a whole into parts among a group. In the LXX, this word alludes to the Promised Land, or an inheritance received by the grace and provision of God alone. This makes sense in this context of talking about the anticipated Kingdom of the Son, paradise. (James Swanson. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 3.758.).

[69] τῶν ἁγίων is a substantive adjective, so a literal translation would be “the holy (ones).” Idiomatically, English glosses are “saints,” as the ESV translates. But the NIV uses “holy people,” while the NLT uses a simpler “his people.”

[70] The personal pronoun “ὃς” is clearly the father from the context in v. 12. (Interestingly, v. 15 has ὃς again, only in clear reference to Christ. Grammatically, this structure helps establish the theological link between the Father and Son.)

[71] Both verbs of the Father (rescued and transferred) are aorist, indicated the final nature of the Father’s work. God’s love is final, and nothing may alter it.

[72] Grammatically, this phrase may also be, “his beloved son.” If thus, it is a descriptive genitive and love would be a quality or description of God’s son, that he is loved. I have translated it as a subjective genitive. God, as the subject, extends love to the Son as the object of his love. This gloss sets “forth the Son with the greatest emphasis as the Object of His love, upon whom His entire love flows, and through Him therefore upon us” (Lange, et al, 20). This translation fits best with the later literary context of the great Christological description to follow in 1:15-20 as the source of creation, object of divine glory.

[73] The pronoun is masculine, singular. Context tells us it is masculine rather than neuter, because it clearly refers to Christ, the “beloved son” mentioned at the end of v. 13.

[74] This is a double object-complement accusative which describes two facets of Christ’s work, one as redemption, another as forgiveness (Wallace 182).

[75] Pao notes that commonly, the Greek in vv. 9-14 lends to a single run-on sentence (64). D.A. Carson treats the whole 1:9-14 as a single section in his commentary on the prayer, implicitly endorsing the traditional break.

[76] For a fuller discussion, cf footnote 35 and Appendix 1.

[77] Ellis, 419.

[78] Behr, 248.

[79] From v. 13, ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας ([the Father] rescued us out of darkness) corresponds with v. 15: ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου ([The Son/Christ] is the image of the invisible God).

 


Works Cited

Barclay, John M.G. Colossians and Philemon. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Behr, John. “Colossians 1:13-20: A Chiastic Reading” St. Vladimirs Theological Quarterly 40,  no 4 (1996), 247-264.

Bird, Michael. Colossians and Philemon New Covenant Commentary Series. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009.

Carson, D.A. Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014.

Dunn, James D.G. The Epistle to the Colossians and to Philemon. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Pub. Grp, 1996.

Ellis, E. Earle. “Colossians 1:12-20: Christus Creator, Christus Salvator” in Interpreting the New Testament Text. Eds. Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning, 415-428. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006.

Harris, Murray J. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Pub. Grp, 2010.

Lange, J.P., P. Schaff, & C.M. Mead, C. M, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Exodus. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Lohse, Eduard. A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon. Ed. Helmut Koester. Trans. William R. Poehlmann and Robert J. Karris. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Pao, David W. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Colossians and Philemon. Ed. Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Piper, Otto. “Savior’s External Work: An Exegesis of Colossians 1:9-29” Interpretation 3 no 3 (JI 1949), 286-298.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Wright, N.T. Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1986.

AUTHOR - Jonathan Clark

Jonathan is a campus pastor at New Mexico State University.