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Colossians 1:15-17

Context
The Supremacy of Christ

1:15 1 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn 2  over all creation, 3 

1:16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, 4  whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him.

1:17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together 5  in him.

1 sn This passage has been typeset as poetry because many scholars regard this passage as poetic or hymnic. These terms are used broadly to refer to the genre of writing, not to the content. There are two broad criteria for determining if a passage is poetic or hymnic: “(a) stylistic: a certain rhythmical lilt when the passages are read aloud, the presence of parallelismus membrorum (i.e., an arrangement into couplets), the semblance of some metre, and the presence of rhetorical devices such as alliteration, chiasmus, and antithesis; and (b) linguistic: an unusual vocabulary, particularly the presence of theological terms, which is different from the surrounding context” (P. T. O’Brien, Philippians [NIGTC], 188-89). Classifying a passage as hymnic or poetic is important because understanding this genre can provide keys to interpretation. However, not all scholars agree that the above criteria are present in this passage, so the decision to typeset it as poetry should be viewed as a tentative decision about its genre.

2 tn The Greek term πρωτότοκος (prwtotokos) could refer either to first in order of time, such as a first born child, or it could refer to one who is preeminent in rank. M. J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon (EGGNT), 43, expresses the meaning of the word well: “The ‘firstborn’ was either the eldest child in a family or a person of preeminent rank. The use of this term to describe the Davidic king in Ps 88:28 LXX (=Ps 89:27 EVV), ‘I will also appoint him my firstborn (πρωτότοκον), the most exalted of the kings of the earth,’ indicates that it can denote supremacy in rank as well as priority in time. But whether the πρωτό- element in the word denotes time, rank, or both, the significance of the -τοκος element as indicating birth or origin (from τίκτω, give birth to) has been virtually lost except in ref. to lit. birth.” In Col 1:15 the emphasis is on the priority of Jesus’ rank as over and above creation (cf. 1:16 and the “for” clause referring to Jesus as Creator).

3 tn The genitive construction πάσης κτίσεως (pash" ktisew") is a genitive of subordination and is therefore translated as “over all creation.” See ExSyn 103-4.

4 tn BDAG 579 s.v. κυριότης 3 suggests “bearers of the ruling powers, dominions” here.

5 tn BDAG 973 s.v. συνίστημι B.3 suggests “continue, endure, exist, hold together” here.



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