Cosmic Christology And Col 1:15-20 -- By: Larry L. Helyer

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 37:2 (Jun 1994)
Article: Cosmic Christology And Col 1:15-20
Author: Larry L. Helyer

Cosmic Christology And Col 1:15-20

Larry L. Helyer*

* Larry Helyer is professor of Biblical studies at Taylor University, Upland, IN 46989.

Modern studies of Col 1:15–20 have not paid enough attention to a discussion of the cosmic Christology found in the passage. Much ink has been spilled on questions of genre, strophic arrangement, background and redaction of the so-called Christ-hymn, with relatively little regard given to the actual theological affirmations about the relationship between Christ and the cosmos.

Before addressing the hermeneutics of cosmic Christology in Col 1:15–20 I need to set out my understanding of the critical issues surrounding the passage. Since I have written at some length on these matters in several previous articles1 I will not argue their validity here but simply state them as presuppositions for the following discussion. Briefly stated, Col 1:15–20 is a Pauline composition that, while perhaps hymnic in content, is not properly a hymn but rather a poem that confesses and celebrates the role of the exalted Christ in both creation and redemption. Although the confession develops ideas and concepts that stem from the earliest Palestinian Church, their formulation here derives from the theological thought of Paul.

I. The Issue Stated

The questions before us are these: What did Paul intend to communicate to the Colossians concerning the relationship of Christ to the cosmos? How are we to understand this so-called cosmic Christology? We may begin with a prima facie reading of the text. There can be little argument that such a reading yields a portrait of Jesus Christ as the preexistent agent of creation, the regent of creation, and the reconciler of creation—creation being understood as the universe, including spiritual beings and powers.2 Needless

to say, this had been the traditional Christology of the Christian Church until the post-Enlightenment and modern eras. Today this conception of Christ has undergone significant modification within the liberal wing of the Church. The impact of a scientific worldview has resulted in nuanced presentations of cosmic Christology or the outright rejection of the category as a meaningful one for the modern age. My purpose is to examine the text once again and inquire whether we, in the evangelical tradition, have heard Paul accurately in his portrayal of Christ in this passage.

II. Modern Approaches To Cosmic Christology

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