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.


The Image of Dust: A Brief Reflection on 1 Cor. 15

Thinking about death is always an exercise in futility, pondering the inevitable and the unstoppable. It always makes for a good time at the dinner table.


In 1 Corinthians 15:46-49 Paul, after using a seed analogy throughout the first few verses in this pericope, focuses on the contrastive aspect of Christ and Adam. Adam, here, is likely typological in some sense, functioning as an antitype of Christ.

Adam’s origins, however, are under dispute and the debate about the existence of a ‘historical’ Adam are raging—at least in certain parts of the evangelical fold. However, Paul uses εἰκών (“image”) seems to specify a type of ‘material similarity’—which is specifically, in the genitive tense, χοϊκοῦ. An εἰκών represents something unseen (c.f. Col. 1:15-20) and is also a disjunction between the conceptual and the purely material. Christ, in a sense, is the revelation of God. As it says, he is God's fullness (Col. 2:9).

However, human beings are defined as χοϊκοῦ (“dust, earth”), as bearing that specific image in our present state. Human life, presently defined, is marked by pain, dust, and toil. It was then, and any glance on the evening news reveals that this painful aorist aspect is still ongoing.

In short, we are dust.

As a physicalist (or monist, I suppose) this is nothing new. Being in Adam's image means that we lack anything remotely like God: immortality.

Bearing the image of Adam, we share in mortality, in sin, and ultimately are subject to Death. That is what happens to material things, they breathe, bleed, and die. Then there is nothing.

Paul’s own historical context was not immune to this, and any pleasure was fleeting and likely immoral by Paul’s own moral standards. Ancient economics dictated that people were left to fend for themselves, to die in the streets, alone and barren.

Paul’s subsequent language regarding “immortality” (ἀθανασίαν) is a remarkable claim, especially to the poor and destitute. The totality of the populace likely lived in strict poverty, and any sort of religious cult likely included a high entrance fee.

God, it seems, is willing to offer ἀθανασίαν to the poor and the oppressed. The interplay between verbs (ἐφορέσαμεν; φορέσομεν) in v.49 is clear: a present and ongoing reality versus a future hope is something that we bear, and will bear through participation in Christ.

To God, we are not merely dust.

In the eschaton, we will be defined as being “fully human.”

That is Paul’s greatest hope, and one that I deeply share. Resurrection of the body is the direct counter to the totality of the human experience, and means that one is not alone in the universe, and one is not discarded by God.

Sounds good to me.