Wholly God Part II (1:19, 2:9)
I generally loathe tautologies. Needless redundancies drive me nuts. Saying the same thing twice when once will do generally ruins my day. Well, I hope you get my point!
But there are biblical tautologies that need to be noted. They are often theologically profound and deserving of careful attention. One such tautology is found in Colossians 1:19 where Paul says that in Christ "all the fullness" of God was pleased to dwell. But what other kind of "fullness" is there: "partial" fullness, "half" fullness? If any part or aspect of the divine "fullness" were absent from Christ it would be absurd to say that "fullness" was in any sense present in him. Clearly, Paul is going out of his way to make a point. But what point?
As I noted in the previous meditation, this passage is an explicit and unashamed declaration of the deity of Jesus Christ. This appears in several ways.
First, the word "fullness" has provoked a lot of discussion (which I will mercifully spare you). I agree with Peter O'Brien who argues that the word points to the fact that "all the attributes and activities of God – his spirit, word, wisdom and glory – are perfectly displayed in Christ" (53). In Colossians 2:9 Paul makes it clear: it is all the fullness of "deity" that dwells in Christ, which is to say the divine nature, the essence and attributes and infinite qualities that make God God.
What glorious redundancy! What marvelous tautology! It means that deity dwells in him extensively: he is not partially God, he is wholly God! Everything you wanted to know about God but were afraid to ask is found and embodied and expressed in Jesus.
Not only is deity found extensively in Jesus, it is found exclusively in Jesus. He alone is God, which means that no one else is. Not Buddha, nor Mohammed, nor any other religious leader or philosopher or sage. In his comments on Col. 2:9, James Dunn argues that "the importance of the language is to indicate that the completeness of God's self-revelation was focused in Christ, that the wholeness of God's interaction with the universe is summed up in Christ" (101).
Second, someone may well ask, "when was God pleased for the divine fullness to dwell in Christ?" This question comes from the verb tense Paul employs. This is what Greek scholars call an ingressive aorist, which suggests that the fullness of God "took up residence" in the person of Christ. Did this happen at his baptism in the river Jordan? No, for that would imply an adoptionist Christology according to which Jesus, a mere man, was adopted or selected by God to act in the role of Son or to perform the duties of Messiah. In other words, it would mean that before his baptism Jesus wasn't God and that after it he was only "god" by virtue of his having been chosen by the Father.
Given Paul's unequivocal affirmation of the eternal deity of God the Son (see Philippians 2:6, for example), he surely has in mind the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary, his mother. As we will see when we come to Colossians 2:9, this "fullness" not only "indwelt" (in the past) but now (in the present) and evermore (in the future) "indwells" Jesus Christ.
Third, don't miss the little word "for" with which v. 19 begins. It is "for" or "because" Jesus Christ is fully and wholly and exclusively God (in bodily form, 2:9) that he is Lord over creation and Head of the Church (Col. 1:18). If he were not truly and wholly God he would not be either of the two.
Don't think for a moment that the blasphemous arguments of Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code" are unimportant. If Brown is right and Paul is wrong, we lose our Savior and our Lord and our living Head. The Fathers of the early church fought and sacrificed their lives for the truth of Christ's deity not because it served political or personal agendas but because of statements like this in Colossians 1:19 and 2:9.
Fourth, and finally, in light of what we have seen in Colossians 1:19, consider Paul's words in Ephesians 3:19. There he prays that we would come to know the love of Christ so that WE "may be filled with all the fullness of God"!
It's important to note that the NASB is a bit more literal than the ESV at this point. It renders Paul's prayer this way: "to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God" (NASB). Similarly, the NIV has "that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." In other words, the "fullness of God" is "the standard or level to which they [and we] are to be filled” (O’Brien, 265).
But WITH WHAT are we to be filled? Is it the “power” of God or the "Spirit", as Ephesians 3:16 might suggest, or "Christ" who in v. 17 is said to indwell us already, or perhaps his "love" (as suggested by v. 19)?
Since we are to be filled BY GOD, up to the fullness OF GOD, it would seem the ESV is correct after all that it is WITH GOD himself that we are to be filled, not in the sense that we become God but that we are energized and empowered as his radiant presence permeates our being. Whereas the church as Christ’s body "already" shares in, embodies, and expresses his fullness (Ephesians 1:23), we have "not yet" experienced the plenitude of God in the way that is available for us. That is why Paul now prays as he does.
If that doesn't raise your expectations of what is available and possible for us in this life, nothing will.
So, how do you pray? Do you long for and labor by means of intercession that the "fullness" of God himself, as was and is and ever will be present in Christ, may fill you now so that by his grace and empowering presence you may accomplish what mere human flesh never could? I hope so.
Grateful that he is wholly God,