Colossians: Chiastic Structure of 1:3- 2:5

Paul arranges the introduction to his epistle to the Colossians chiastically:

A: Thanksgiving for good report – Paul absent yet represented through Epaphras (1:3-8)

B: Prayer for Colossian’s growth in Christ (1:9-14)

C: Creation and new creation in Christ (1:15-20)

C’: New Creation in Colassae (1:21-23)

B’: Paul ministering for Colossian’s maturity in Christ (1:24- 2:3)

A’: Warning against deception – Paul absent in body yet present in spirit (2:4-5)

Bookending the section is the fact that, though Paul is not physically present with them and has not met them, he longs to be with them, and his co-laborer, Epaphras, is representing him. He begins (A) by giving thanks for the good report from Epaphras, and ends (A’) warning about dangers that could lead them away from their good beginning. He does not want his absence from them to discourage the young church or to take away from his apostolic authority.

Paul prays (B) that they will grow in their knowledge of God, and then shows (B’) how his ministry is for the goal of their maturity in Christ. The Colossian’s growth into full maturity forms the driving goal of the epistle (see also 2:8-10.)

And, central to the section is Paul’s Christ hymn (C) exalting Jesus as captain of creation and new creation, and (C’) Jesus’ new creation in Colossae. This is the basis and center for Paul’s argument throughout the letter: The world has died and been reborn in Christ, and the Colossians likewise have been made new in him. Paul’s goal of their maturity finds its basis here explicitly in 1:22 when he states that they were reconciled in order that Christ might present them “holy and blameless and above reproach,” if they persevere.


Things More Wonderful

Then Iluvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Iluvatar, those things which ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

New Egypt

Matthew concludes his genealogy numbering the generations from Abraham to David, David to the deportation, and the deportation to Christ. But, of course, this seems to leave out an important detail: the people of the exile returned to the land. Why doesn’t Matthew include the return here?

Matthew is telling us what many Jews of the day knew to be true: although they had returned from their physical exile, they were in a very real sense still in a spiritual, theological exile. And Matthew’s point is that that exile is the one that really matters, the exile that Jesus is born into, and the one that he is sent to redeem his people from. In fact, it’s what the first Exodus was always about.

This makes sense of Matthew’s quotation and placement of Hosea 11:1. The Egypt out of which God’s Son is being called is, physically, Israel. The roles have reversed: Israel is the new Egypt, Herod is the new Pharaoh. And this is what Egypt, Pharaoh, and the Exodus always pointed toward, the New and Greater Exodus.

Christmas Eve Homily: Joy of the Incarnation

For the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Providence Church.

When we think of Christmas, one of the first words that usually comes to mind is “joy.” We hear it in our carols, we read it on Christmas cards, and we hear it in the angel’s proclamation to the shepherd’s. For many people today, however, joy is one of the last things they feel during this time. Stress of planning gatherings, family strife, and unmet expectations rob us of our joy.

The Nativity of our Lord, however, is one of the greatest causes of joy. The news of the Incarnation is “good news of a great joy that will be for all people.” (Lk. 2.10) Christmas comes during to darkest time of the year with the joyful news that the Light has come.

The Nativity Icon

Christmas brings us joy because it is the news that God is with us. Isaiah prophesied that the virgin-born Messiah would be Immanuel, “God with us.” (Matt. 1.23; Is. 7.14) In the Incarnation,God tabernacled, or dwelt, among us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1.14)

In the Old Covenant, God’s presence was always veiled. But now, in Christ, John says “…we have seen his glory…” In the person of Jesus, God took on flesh and revealed himself to us and took residence with us, humbling himself (Phil. 2.) And, in entering our world, he entered into our suffering and pain. He was fully God and fully man. As Kevin Bauder recently said,

He was also born with a completely human body—specifically, a male body—that had all the appendages intact and functional. He experienced human growth as a human child in a human family, gained human insight through human learning, expressed Himself in human language, endured human hunger, thirst, weariness, and pain, felt human love, joy, compassion, fear, sorrow, and anger, experienced human betrayal, died a human death, and ultimately gained a human resurrection.

Jesus entered into humanity, in all our pain and sorrow, in order to redeem us from sin and death. The incarnation was necessary for our redemption.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2.14-18)

The Son of God took on human flesh because a human sacrifice was necessary for human sin. But only One who is eternal could fully bear the weight of God’s wrath against our sin. Jesus, the God-Man, is both the sacrifice and the priest, offering himself before the Father on our behalf. (And, as the author of Hebrews points out, he continues to intercede for us and help us in our temptation, because he faced the same temptations as a man.)

Jesus not only dwelt among us, but He did so in order that we might dwell in the Godhead. The Incarnation unites the divine and human in Christ, and (in union with Christ) in us as well. In Christ, we are brought into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity (1 John 1.) We are brought into fellowship with God, and with one another. And this fellowship is a fellowship of complete joy. God in Christ came to dwell with us, and he brings us into the eternal indwelling of the Father and Son in the Spirit; and we, now, are called to indwell one another. Here what Peter Leithart says about this ‘mutual indwelling’:

For Jesus, incorporation into the communion of the Father and Son by the Spirit overflows into the life of the community. The church is not only the tabernacle of God in the Spirit, but each member makes room for every other. Christmas is good news, but like all good news from God it comes with a demand: God dwells with you; dwell with one another. God made room in humanity for Himself to make room in Himself for humanity; therefore, stretch our to make room for others in yourself. God tabernacled among you; stretch your tent curtains so others can pitch near you.

So, this Christmas, make room in your heart and life for Jesus; take joy in the eternal communion of the Triune God. And follow Jesus’ example in entering into the lives of one another, bringing the good news of joy in Christ.

Creation and Analogy

Peter Leithart writes about creation and analogy on the Trinity House website:

God created everything to communicate of Himself. That is the nature and purpose of everything created. If that is what created things are, and if God is the Creator who knows and governs His universe, then created things are designed to speak of Him.


[…] When we begin from the Bible’s own assumptions about creation, and the implicit view of language that follows from creation, we expect to discover analogies between uncreated and created relations. Of course, they are not the same, and we need to specify the disanalogies along the way. But if we follow the lead of a Bible that speaks of God anthropomorphically, we should should not let the disanalogies frighten us into silence. Because human relations – king and people, father and child, husband and wife, brother and brother, friend and friend – do not reveal the Trinity exhaustively. But they are designed to reveal the communion of the Triune Persons, and to reveal them truthfully.

Read the rest here.

Baptism and Union with Christ

In Pauline thought, baptism is closely linked with union with Christ. We are baptized into union with the Lord. We are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6.3; Col. 2.12). As we are baptized into union with Christ, we are adopted as “sons of God through faith,” and we become “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according the the promise.” (Gal. 3.26-29)

In fact, the way Paul speaks of baptism does not leave much room for suggesting that baptism is a “mere symbol” of union with Christ; rather, baptism actually effects that which it symbolizes. In Paul, the sign and the thing signified are not to be pulled apart. So, how do we make sense of this? How does baptism bring us into union with the risen Christ?

Paul’s answer is that baptism into Christ is baptism into the whole Christ, both head and body, what St. Augustine called the Totus Christus. Baptism is the doorway into the Church, the body of Christ:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12.12-13)

To be in the Church, the body of Christ, is to be in Christ. Thus baptism into the Church is baptism into union with Christ.

Notes on TNE, pt. 2: Language of Visual Appearance

 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

In chapter one of Through New Eyes, James Jordan discusses how we are to interpret the world design as presented in the Bible. When readers today approach the Bible, we do say in a very modern and scientific way. We are trained to look at the world through the eyes of science; so when we talk about animals, we think of different species; when we talk about the stars, we think of what they are made of. But the Bible talks about animals that are clean and unclean, creeping animals and sea creatures. When the Bible talks about stars, we find that they are made to mark seasons and festivals, and to represent rulers and powers. Where we are used to thinking in a scientific worldview, the Bible speaks of the world in a different way all together. Jordan calls it the language of visual appearance.

We especially find the language of visual appearance used in Genesis 1. The Bible shows us that God has vested his creation with symbolism. Jordan lists two things this language accomplishes:

  • First, “…it gives a true description of the world as it is.” (pg. 12) That is to say, while the language is poetic and symbolic, it is not merely poetic and symbolic.
  • Second, “…the language of visual appearance in Genesis 1 serves to establish a visual grid, a worldview.” (pg. 12)Genesis 1 sets up the symbolic grid that carries through the rest of Holy Scripture.

Later, Jordan gives six imporules for interpretation:

  1. “…Biblical symbolism and imagery is not a code.”
  2. “…Biblical symbols do not exist in isolation.”
  3. “…we must always have clear-cut Biblical indication for any symbol or image we think we have found.”
  4. “…the heritage of the Church in systematic theology and in the history of exegesis is always a check on wild speculation.”
  5. “…Biblical symbolism must be interpreted in terms of Biblical presuppositions and philosophy.”
  6. “…the student of Biblical imagery must be alert to the work of other scholars.”

This is not to say that Genesis is not a literal, historical account. If the creation account were not literal, in fact, this symbolism would be relativized and weakened. Genesis is symbolic, typological, and poetic, but not merely so. It is also poetic. It’s the modern scientific mind that feels the need to separate the symbolic and the historical.

The purpose of the word is to reveal God. Man, the animals, the heavens and earth, the seas and mountains, are all pointers that reveal God and his truth. To understand this, we have to learn the language of visual appearance.