Bible blog 2260

This continues my translation with comment of the Letter to Colossians


For I want you to know what a struggle I am having on your behalf, on behalf of the Laodiceans and of others who have not seen me face to face. My aim is that they may be encouraged, with hearts bound together in love, towards the wealth of confident understanding in which they may grasp the mystery of God’s Messiah. In him are hidden all the storehouses of wisdom and knowledge. I am telling you this to prevent anyone deceiving you with specious arguments. For even if I am absent from you in flesh and blood, I am with you in spirit, happy to see your good discipline, and your steadfast trust in Messiah.

So, since you have taken the Messiah, Jesus the Master, to yourselves, walk in him. Grounded and built up in him, established in trust as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude, see to it that nobody captivates you with an empty, deceptive philosophy, based on human traditions and the elemental spirits of the cosmos, and not on Messiah; because in him the complete abundance of godhead dwells bodily. And you have been made complete in him who is head over all rule and authority.

Moreover you were circumcised in him, not with a circumcision done by hand, stripping away a lump of flesh, but with the circumcision of the Messiah: buried together with him in Baptism, you have also been raised up with him, through your trust in the energy of God, who raised him from the dead. And although you were dead in your sins and in your foreskinned flesh, he made you alive together with him and forgave all your sins. He has blotted out the certificate of debts decreed against us, and got rid of it by nailing it to the execution stake. He has robbed the spiritual rulers and authorities of their booty, disgracing them in public by leading them as prisoners in his triumphal procession.

The tail end of a Roman Triumph. Notice the “Gentes bello captae” people captured in war.

Here we have a closely argued summary of the ministry of Messiah Jesus. “Paul” undergoes the afflictions of Messiah in order to persuade men and women of the effects of his death and resurrection in their lives. He encourages his readers into a disciplined faith which will reject all substitutes for the Pauline gospel. They have given Messiah Jesus room in their lives; they must also walk “in him” rejecting specious philosophies, and holding to the one in whom God’s abundant life is present. The language is daring: all of God is present in all of Jesus Messiah; there is nothing lacking in this revelation, and nothing can be added to Jesus which is of God. There are problems with this complete rejection of worldly philosophies. Even if all of God is in Jesus, believers may not have perceived it all, and they might sometimes be prompted to greater understanding by some secular philosophy. And if God is in Jesus he may have chosen to reveal some aspect of his/ her character in other people or in creation.

The author then embarks on a brief exposition of the transformation brought about by Jesus in the lives of believers. This means that they are made complete in him. This suggests that they are remade in the image of God, completing the purpose of their creation. This is accomplished by the messianic equivalent of the circumcision imposed on gentile converts to Judaism. In this case there is also a physical sign, that of Baptism, by which the believer dies with Jesus to a life controlled by earthly powers and rises to a life controlled by God. Baptism means the unity of the human believer with the crucified and risen Lord. In this unity, which flows from trust, the believer is assured of the forgiveness of her sins.

Then follows an extraordinary, picturesque, set of images of how this forgiveness and transformation is achieved by Jesus. A legal notice of our sins stands against us. (We know the truth of this image all too well). Jesus takes this notice and nails it to the stake on which he is crucified! The law has put him there with an accusation above him; now the believer joins him under his own accusation. These accusations are laid against Jesus and the believer by the “rulers and authorities of the world,” which include the Jewish Law and the Roman Empire, but also the spiritual powers that inspire them. Jesus, in his sacrificial dying, refuses to yield to them as their booty, and in his resurrection reveals how powerless they are. As in a Roman triumph, he displays their impotence. These few sentences are a brief and perhaps inadequate representation of this author’s unique insight into the divine rescue worked by God through Jesus.

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