"In him dwells the fullness of the Godhead" (Col 2:9-15).

Juan Luis Caballero-January 17, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
The Bible.

The mediation of Christ is one of the central points of the Christology of the Letter to the Colossians. Starting from the concrete situation of the Christian community of Colossae, Paul universalizes his message and offers a profound reflection on the primacy of Christ in creation and redemption. The text from which we point out some key points is Colossians 2:9-15, especially verses 13-15: "And you, who were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive again with him, having forgiven all your trespasses, having cancelled the manuscript, with its decrees, which was adverse to us, and has abolished it, having nailed it to the cross; having disarmed the principalities and powers, he has safely given them in show, celebrating with a triumphal procession his victory over them, in him.".

Context of the passage

The general content of Colossians is the work of Christ for the holiness of believers and faithfulness to the gospel received and announced by Paul. These themes are developed in Col 1:24-4:1. The heart of the exposition (Col 2:6-23) consists of a series of exhortations and warnings that frame the Christological reasons: Christ and the believers with him (Col 2:9-15). This unit is divided into two argumentative stages:

a) First, motivations based on the present situation (verses 9-10): in Christ dwells all the fullness of the divinity "bodily" (Christ/God relationship); in him you have been fully filled (Christ/believers relationship); Christ, head of all principality and power (Christ/powers).

b) Second, motivations based on past events (verses 11-15). On the one hand, the transformation accomplished in the believers: separation of the flesh and sin (circumcision, with a baptismal connotation, v. 11) and union with Christ (death/resurrection, with baptismal connotation, v. 12). On the other hand, the work of God/Christ in their favor through the cross (verses 13-14) and the action on the powers (v. 15).

The decisive point is the fullness received in Christ by believers: they are filled in him, they are risen with him. In Christ, believers have already received everything and have no need of practices that suppose that the salvific gifts received in Christ are incomplete or have yet to be obtained.

The present situation and past events

Verses 9-10 stress that the fullness of divinity is found in Christ, in him alone and in no other, in a real, truly, really, really, fully way, and that Christians have access to that fullness, without recourse to spiritual powers and the practices they require, by incorporation "in Christ". It is also emphasized that Christ is the head of all principality and power. The relation of Christ to Christians is that of head of a body; the relation of Christ to the powers is that of head as superiority and domination. The powers, submitted to Christ, can neither question nor threaten the fullness that believers receive from Christ alone. These, having received everything from him, are not subject to the powers, both angelic and earthly.

With these verses, the argument moves from the present situation of the believers (the definitive union to Christ) to what has produced it.

Starting from the rite of circumcision as a way of getting rid of a piece of flesh, Paul speaks of the superiority of the "circumcision of Christ," which is spiritual and transforms the whole man, freeing him from all that is "carnal" (an allusion to the new condition of the Christian, now in the order of Christ) through baptism, thus making possible access to the divine fullness through definitive union with the dead and glorified Christ, without the need for any special practice or rite added to it. This separation or disrobing of the carnal goes hand in hand with a union as death and resurrection, understood as the new and transformed life of the baptized (personal union with Christ), but still pending definitive glorification. This resurrection has been made possible by openness (faith) to the power of God.

Verses 13-15 now shift the emphasis to the mediation of Christ by not making explicit the subject of the verbs used. Our death had its cause in not adhering to the divine will, which is the same as "uncircumcision of the heart" as refusal to renounce the "flesh"; life (association to the fullness of Christ) has come thanks to Christ and the forgiveness of sins.

The meaning of verses 14-15 could be summarized as follows: Christ, head, has worked pacification between God and men, reducing to impotence every power that opposed him and disarming every power that, even when subdued, had a punitive and coercive role. In the text, therefore, the expression "principalities and powers" refers to both types of powers, both evil and good. The expression "to give in spectacle" refers, equally to both: with a negative connotation (victory and surrender to mockery) and with a neutral or positive connotation (manifestation of their fidelity), depending on the person concerned. The triumphal celebration also affects both. The document referred to in v. 14 is the book in which the angels recorded the sins of men, deserving for them a punishment for whose application and execution the angels had to watch over. The death of Christ on the cross has made this document disappear, sins having been forgiven by grace.

The authorJuan Luis Caballero

Professor of New Testament, University of Navarra.

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