Friday, April 21, 2006

Creation in Colossians - A Summary of my Thesis

For those who have wondered where in the world I have been, where in the blogging world I have been, this entry answers that question with a summary of my months-long Masters thesis now days away from being finalized. On Tuesday I defend my thesis, followed by its binding for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's library. WARNING: this is an academic thesis, so it sounds like one. However, there is much practical pay-off for it, some of which is hinted at here.

This study focuses on the creation motifs present in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, an aspect of the letter which has frequently been overlooked. Scholarly discussion regarding the letter has typically hovered around the issues of authorship, poetic structure, and the so-called Colossian philosophy. While these matters are relevant and are briefly addressed in chapter one, discourse has obscured the equally pertinent, if not more significant presence of Paul’s creation theology.

Paul’s creation theology emerges from and expands upon the Jewish creation story. Therefore, chapter two unpacks a narrative approach to interpreting Colossians, recognizing the five primary stories which constitute the larger Story of Scripture: God, Creation, Israel, Jesus, Paul/Christians. With this narrative framework in place, we proceed to identify and exegete echoes of the creation story throughout the letter in chapters three, four, and five. Given the ubiquity of creation in Colossians, we restrict our focus to three main areas: 1) Paul’s use of heaven and earth language, 2) Paul’s creation mandate prayer, and 3) the Christ poem of 1.15-20.

In chapter three, Paul’s heaven and earth language offers an introduction and overview to the creational contours of the letter, conceiving of creation both cosmologically and eschatologically. Thus, Paul’s view of creation is characterized in already-not-yet terms, with the eschatological blessings of heaven breaking into the present earth. This juxtaposition of creation and new creation creates the context for Colossian identity articulated in Paul’s prayer of 1.3-14. The prayer depicts the Colossians in Adamic terms, as a people who are to increase in the knowledge of God and multiply in fruitful works. As they grow in good theology and good works, the Colossians are commanded to engage their culture in Christ-honoring witness and work (Col 3-4), multiplying their fruitfulness and expanding their dominion in all creation. Paul further describes the Colossians as heirs of the inheritance of Israel—all creation. Thus, the Colossians’ redemptive participation in the creation mandate, through fruitful multiplication and expanding dominion is an expression of the in-breaking new creation to create a new Israel. This convergence of the stories of creation and Israel in the story of the Colossians is subsequently explained through the story of Christ.

In chapters four and five the Christ poem forms our exegetical focus. As with the letter as a whole, treatments of the poem frequently overlook the influence the creation story. Instead, most scholars look to the Wisdom tradition as the background for the poem, advocating a Wisdom Christology. However, closer analysis reveals an Adam Christology which not only comports with Paul’s argument, but also hones in on the central theme of the poem—Christ is Lord of all creation. Throughout the poem, Paul selects Christological titles which allude to the creation story and describe Christ as the Agent and Regent of creation and new creation. The result is twofold: Christ is shown as supreme above all things and his creation is honored.

Returning to the Colossian philosophy, whose symptoms include strict dietary codes, ascetic treatment of the body, fear of powers and authorities, and the pursuit of visionary experiences to draw near to God, the purpose for Paul’s robust Christological mediation of creation becomes clear. Paul’s theology of creation serves as a corrective to the Colossians’ Christ-belittling, creation-degrading behaviors, erecting in their place the sovereign and all-sufficient Agent and Regent of creation, Christ the Lord.


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