Wisdom In Col 1:15-20: Contribution And Significance -- By: Jeffrey S. Lamp

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:1 (Mar 1998)
Article: Wisdom In Col 1:15-20: Contribution And Significance
Author: Jeffrey S. Lamp


Wisdom In Col 1:15-20:
Contribution And Significance

Jeffrey S. Lamp*

* Jeffrey Lamp is adjunct professor of New Testament studies at Oral Roberts University, 7777 South Lewis Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74171

Colossians 1:15–20 has been the occasion of voluminous literature and scholarly attention. Questions surrounding the formal structure, composition, and sources of the Christological affirmations of the passage are continually rehashed, with each offering frequently differing from those preceding it on virtually each of the noted heads. Nevertheless we will examine the passage once again.

The purpose of this study will be to examine the viability of wisdom as a backdrop, or a hermeneutical lens of sorts, for the form, content, and categories of thought employed in Col 1:15–20. This is not to argue for direct literary reliance of the author(s) of the epistle/pericope, or even for conscious literary influence, but rather to suggest that wisdom categories and genres so prevalent in first-century Judaism contributed to the religious framework of Paul so that these data would naturally be present in his concept bank at the time of composition. Put more succinctly, this discussion will attempt to show that wisdom contributes to the fabric of thought out of which the presentation flows.

This discussion will not be an exegetical treatment of the passage, though that would be a valuable approach to take. Rather, in focus here will be the broader issues of theological emphasis with an eye toward the significance of this formulation to Paul’s point in the passage. Due to the proliferation of literature on our text, only a representative sampling of positions can be given in the space of this discussion. Attention will be directed to three issues: formal structure, the source of the passage, and the categories of thought utilized in the pericope.

I. Formal Structure

1. Hymn/liturgical unit. The majority opinion among scholars is that the passage is hymnic or liturgical in form. In terms of its hymnic structure, however, the basis of agreement crumbles. Stemming from the work of E. Norden,1 scholarship has focused attention upon analysis of the poetic structure of Col 1:15–20. But it was from C. Masson’s reconstruction of the

hymn that more recent study has gained its impetus. Masson argues that the hymn, more Semitic than Greek in its parallelism, consists of five strophes of four lines each (v. 18a being an interpolation in...

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