Christ, The Totality of God

I was reflecting this morning about Paul’s Christology (which is a massive debate in Pauline studies at the moment), and I recalled a brief exposition I gave about Colossians 1-2 and two with my wife at a Bible study.

She preached on the so-called “Christ-hymn” in Colossians 1:15-20, and afterward we discussed with the church the nature of Christ’s divinity according to Colossians.

In verse 19, we have this: ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι— “For in him the fullness [of God] was delighted to dwell.” (NRQT).

In a similar passage in 2:9 we have similar language being applied to Christ.

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ κατοικεῖ πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς—“For in him dwells all of the totality of Deity bodily.” (NRQT).

In both texts we have the language of “fullness” and “dwelling,” including the hapax legomena θεότητος (a feminine noun). The noun πλήρωμα occurs in the same form in both instances, and it is lexically defined as “fullness, sum total, and completion.” It is used over a dozen times throughout the New Testament—most often in Paul’s writings. This word is applied both to God the Father (Eph. 3:19) and to the Messiah (Eph. 4:13), and it suggests that Paul is not concerned with applying the term equally to both persons.

The use of σωματικῶς in 2:9 is a frame or description of the articular τῆς θεότητος, intending to describe the indescribable. In some sense, perhaps this is an echo of Col. 1:15:

ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου—“Who [that is, Christ] is the image of the unseen God.” (NRQT).

Christ, then is both the sum total or totality of deity in bodily form, represented and enshrined as flesh—as σωματικῶς—for all to see. The beauty of σωματικῶς is that you can see it, and Christ was indeed imaged and seen. He is the εἰκὼν of God (c.f. 2 Cor. 4:4), embodying God to us and for us.

So what does this mean?

This means that Christ was a human person, subjected to the same foibles, pains, and oppression that all people face. It means that Christ willfully entered this sphere of Death’s dominion, illuminated by God’s deity, representing God to us.

Christ, then, is the enfleshment of God before us. If you want to know what the unseen God is like, what he does, and what he thinks, look to Christ—the one who is the εἰκὼν, the representative, the totality of God in bodily form. Without Christ, we have no way to conceive of God.

Hence, the miracle and necessity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He became σωματικῶς to show us τῆς θεότητος in order for us to participate as an εἰκὼν of God. The tangibility of Christ means that the material world is good, and that God is concerned to redeem it—not leave it to die.