Colossian Problems Part 2: The “Christ Hymn” of Colossians 1:15-20 -- By: F. F. Bruce
BSac 141:562 (Apr 84) p. 99
The “Christ Hymn” of Colossians 1:15-20
[F. F. Bruce, Emeritus Professor, University of Manchester, Manchester, England]
[Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 1-4,1983.]
Perhaps in Paul’s mind there was not the same measure of urgency in the theological situation of the Colossian church as there had been some years before in that of the Galatian churches. At any rate, in Colossians he does not launch an attack on the false teaching immediately after the prescript, as he does in Galatians. The fact that the church of Colossae had not been directly planted by him, as the churches of Galatia had been, and that he was personally unacquainted with most of its members may also have something to do with his procedure. However that may be, before he undertakes a refutation of the false teaching which was being urged on the Colossian Christians, he presents them with a positive statement of the truth which was being challenged by the false teaching.
Hengel has recently drawn attention to the important part that hymns or Spirit-inspired songs played in formulating the doctrine of Christ in the primitive church, even before the start of the Pauline mission.1 The doctrine of Christ was the principal truth threatened by the false teaching at Colossae, and this is the doctrine Paul presents to his readers before dealing specifically with the false teaching. His presentation of the doctrine of Christ takes the form of the “Christ hymn” in Colossians 1:15–20.
Do these six verses really contain a hymn? Certainly one cannot recognize here the established forms of either Hebrew or Greek poetry. What is here is rhythmical prose, but it is rhythmical prose with a strophic arrangement such as is found in
BSac 141:562 (Apr 84) p. 100
much early Christian hymnody. As with the “Christ hymn” in Philippians 2:6–11, it is not of the first importance to decide whether Paul is composing the words de novo or reproducing an inspired composition already known to him (and possibly to his readers) and stamping it with his apostolic authority.
The strophic arrangement is indicated by the repetition of key words or phrases. There appear to be two strophes—verses 15–16 and verses 18b–20 —with verses
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