This continues my translation with comment of the Letter to Colossians, begun in bible blog 2256
COLOSSIANS 1: 15ff
He is the visible likeness of the invisible God,
The first-born of all creation:
For in him all things were created
In the heavens and on the earth
Both the visible and the invisible beings –
– Thrones, Lordships, Authorities, Powers-
-All were created through him and for him.
He is before all things and in him all things cohere.
He is the head of the body, namely, the Assembly;
He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead
So that in all things he might have priority.
For God was pleased for all the Abundance to dwell in him
And through him to draw all things back to himself in friendship
Whether on the earth or in the heavens
Making peace by the blood of his execution stake.
Matthias Grunewald, a terrible realism
Scholars have recognised this passage as a hymn, perhaps one existing prior to this letter, or one composed by author as part of this letter. For that reason I have set it out in lines for which there is no justification in any manuscript. It is clearly a doctrinal celebration of Jesus Messiah as son of God, existing before his earthly life and after his earthly death. The author wants to emphasise his role in God’s continuing creation of the universe: Jesus is integral to God’s creation and not a desperate kind of Plan B. We are to imagine that God always knew that his/ her humans would wander off, and always had a means of bringing them back.
In Proverbs 8: 22-31 the figure of Wisdom is depicted as sharing the creative actions of God. Here Divine Wisdom has become a historical person, Jesus Messiah, whose origin is divine. As the perfect child of God he is the purpose of creation, the one towards whom all created things tend.
He is celebrated especially as the head of his body, the Assembly of Jesus, which is the start of God’s regathering of all people and all things into a perfected creation. The language here will not allow us to exclude any living creature, or indeed the material things which we regard as inanimate, from that perfection.
This perfection however does exclude death and sin, both of which are forms of exclusion from the living God. Jesus is the first-born of a new immortal humanity, and as such holds in himself what this author calls the Abundance, meaning all the goodness of God and all the goodness of creation. Jesus is the means by which God draws his creation back into friendship with him. The Greek, “katallasso” usually translated “to reconcile” started out as a commercial word for bringing together and equalising two piles of cash of different denominations. That’s a lovely down-to-earth metaphor for people resolving their differences, or as here, for God resolving his/her differences with human beings and inviting the renewal of their friendship. This invitation however is specifically made through “the blood of his execution stake.” There is no further explanation of this astonishing event at this point, other than the insistence that it is God’s way of making peace, and that the “blood” is therefore to be seen as sacrificial or covenantal.