Note: One can see in the false teaching confronting the Colossians the seeds of Gnosticism that were already being sown and beginning to germinate in Paul’s day. Gnosticism was a widespread philosophy held in various forms by a host of cultic groups in the second century. The common belief of Gnosticism was that God is good, matter is evil and salvation is through gnosis (the Greek word for knowledge), with different sects determined by the secret knowledge each believed was necessary for salvation. (See Col 1:9,10, 2:2, 3:10 where Paul uses the Greek word epi+gnosis, meaning the real or true knowledge of the gospel as opposed to the supposed knowledge which many purported to possess.) While these ideas didn’t come to full bloom until the second century, they were already present in the Paul’s day influencing people’s concept of the nature of Jesus Christ: Since God is good and matter is evil, either Jesus as a man wasn’t fully God (such as the Ebionites, a Jewish-Christian sect came to believe) or Christ as from God wasn’t fully man (such as the Docetists came to believe). In addition to the legalism of the Judaizers that plagued the early church, those confronting the Colossians also appear to have been influenced by the former notion as they were also teaching a diminutive view of Christ as God. Paul refutes this view head-on in these verses.
Col 1:15 What does it mean that Christ is the image of the invisible God? How does the person of Jesus differ from any images man might make of God and that were forbidden to the Jews (see Deut 4:15-16)? In what way do people still today, even those who call themselves Christians, seek to represent God to the world with images? Note: the Greek word for image is eikon, from which we get our word icon; consider the icons of the Orthodox church, the statues of the Roman church, and the pictures and even motion pictures depicting Christ. Is it possible for any of these objects to represent the image of God to the world? What does represent His image to the world? See Col 3:10, Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18. Note: Paul’s description of Christ as the firstborn of all creation in this verse has been used by various heretical groups throughout history (such as the Jehovah Witnesses) to argue that Jesus is not of the same substance as the Father but also of the creation. Is this Paul’s meaning? What is his meaning? See Col 1:16 and note that firstborn is a technical term referring to one’s position (priority or preeminence, especially in terms of inheritance) in relation to others. Among sons this position is generally conferred upon the oldest—and hence the name—but not always, as in the case of Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Judah over Reuben and Simeon and Levi, David over his brothers, etc…. Thus also Israel is called God’s firstborn son (Ex 4:22) as is Ephraim (Jer 31:9, though Manasseh was older, Gen 48:14-19). See also Col 1:18, Rom 8:29 and Heb 12:23.
Col 1:16-17 In these verses how does Paul describe Christ’s relation to creation? Note: Paul uses four different Greek prepositions, usually translated as in, through, for and before; see NASB text notes. According to the philosophy that gave rise to Gnosticism and appears to have been confronting the Colossians, since matter is evil, and if Christ is a man sent from God, then He must have descended from God through a long chain of what would later be called Aeons, each of which was a little less God and a little more man than the previous (sort of the opposite of evolution). How do Paul’s words in these verses reject such a notion? Like many today, the religious intellectuals influencing the Colossians were willing to ascribe to Christ Jesus a certain greatness among men; but how does such greatness fall short of His true nature? What does it mean that in Him all things “hold together” (NASB) or “consist” (KJV)? Is it surprising that scientists who define science to the exclusion of God have been unable to discover the unifying force of nature?
Col 1:18-20 Besides holding first place in relation to the material creation, in what other realm does Christ hold first place? See Col 1:18. What does Paul mean that Jesus is the beginning? See John 1:1, 8:58, Prov 8:22-31. Do you think it significant that as in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, here too “beginning” is anarthrous (without the definite article)? Considering that others were raised from the dead before Jesus (such as Lazarus, and the many dead saints at Jesus’ death) what does Paul mean that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead? See Acts 26:23, 1 Cor 15:20-23. What two things does he mention in Col 1:19 and 20 as being the Father’s good pleasure? What does he mean by the fullness? The fullness of what? See Col 2:9. What is the significance that not just some part but all the fullness of God is found in Christ? See Col 1:15a, John 14:9. What is the connection between the fullness of deity dwelling in Christ and God reconciling all things to Himself? Could anything less have effected our atonement? How would these truths have addressed the false teachings confronting the Colossians? What exactly about Christ’s ministry made peace and reconciled us to God? See Acts 20:28, Rom 3:25, 5:9, Eph 1:17, 2:13. Why is that? See Heb 9:22. In what sense are “all things”, even the “things in heaven” reconciled to God through Christ’s atoning blood? See Rom 8:19-22.