Theological Themes in Colossians
The prayer of intercession in Colossians 1:9-12 calls forth words significant to various cults and religious practices of the time and within the context of life in Colossae. Paul takes this language and uses these words to proclaim the lordship of Christ, who alone is the source of “the knowledge of God,” the true source of “spiritual wisdom and understanding,” the one in whom is “the strength that comes from his [God’s] glorious power,” (1:9-11), and the one in whom the Colossians “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (1:12).
The letter contains language that reflects philosophical and religious thought of its day, especially ideas about acquiring special knowledge that can serve for salvation. Paul takes the language of the time and transforms its understanding so that it serves the proclamation that Christ is the source of all knowledge, spiritual wisdom, and understanding (1:9-10). Christ is the one in whom God’s mystery has been revealed (1:26, 27; 2:2; 4:3) and the one in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9).
Typical of Paul’s letters, Colossians expresses thanksgiving for the relationship in Christ that Paul and Timothy share with the readers (1:3-8). The relationship for which Paul gives thanks is based in the familiar triad of faith, love, and hope: “for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (1:4-5). This is the gospel that is “bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God” (1:6).
A group of words that center around references to “rulers” and “powers” (or “authorities”) and “elemental spirits [or elements] of the universe” (1:16; 2:8, 10, 15, 20) is important in the letter. A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church More adopts language of universal powers and spirits, transforming prior references and understandings by now using them to proclaim that Christ is Lord of all rulers, powers, authorities, and elemental spirits of the universe. There is nothing outside of Christ’s sovereignty and lordship in the universe.