Notes on Colossians 1:18-20
By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Christ is the supreme authority in the church. Christ is the source of our life and the basis of the connection between believers in the Church.
καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων, ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι καὶ δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [δι᾿ αὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.
"He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross." (NRSV)
All theological statements win their Christian character only through their connection with Jesus.
— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man (2nd Edition) p. 11.
As Christians we know God only as he has been revealed in and through Jesus. All other talk of God can have, at most, provisional significance. In this sense it may be very meaningful and necessary, even a presupposition for the message of Christ. But the way in which God is revealed through Jesus suspends even its own presupposition, so that one can only speak of God himself in that at the same time one talks about Jesus. Therefore, theology and Christology, the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Jesus as the Christ, are bound together.
— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man (2nd Edition) p. 19, 20.
The Church is a witness to Christ. The Church points beyond itself to the One who is its origin and reason for existence.
1.) Christ is the Head of the Body (ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας): that is, the true Head of the Church. The image is interesting. The head the source of unity and cooperation for the whole body. The usage of the term suggests to me that the head, for Paul, was understood also to be the source of life. The Church is the present-day Body of Christ: the living physical expression Christ in the world. We continue the ministry and witness of Christ through our lives and our activities in service to God and to all people. But, we can only function as the Body if Christ truly functions among us as the Head. Through the Head, everything is coordinated and unified.
All our faith and all our experience relate back to the Head. In Colossians 2:19 Paul refers to "...the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God." (See also: Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:15.) The concept that lies behind this seems (to me) similar to the image of the Vine and the branches in John 15: "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me." (John 15:4 NRSV).
The ideas here are not control or domination. The idea is that Jesus is the source of our spiritual life, the vital center that brings everything together.
2.) Christ is the beginning (ἀρχή) of the Church. Christ is the originator and the originating power of the Church. Christ is the source from which the Church came into being. And, renewal for the Church always involves getting back to the source.
3.) Christ is the firstborn from among the dead (πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν). This, of course, is a reference to Christ's resurrection: the event that inaugurated the Christian faith. The resurrection of Christ is the historical beginning point of all Christian claims. There is no Christology without the resurrection: for it is this event that gave impetus to all reflection upon Jesus as the Christ and the revelation of God. The resurrection does not have a logical precedence, so much as an historical precedence. The event of the resurrection led to realization of who Jesus was as the Presence of God in our world.
4.) Christ has supremacy in all things (γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων). Christ has first place in everything in the Christian community of faith. Christ "was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead...." (Romans 1:4 NRSV). Through His resurrection we see that Christ has conquered death and all the enemies of life. Jesus Christ is Lord.
So, how well the Church doing? Are we really keeping the main thing the main thing? Are we bringing honor to Christ's name or disrepute? These are the continuing questions we must always face.
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