Colossians 1:15-20 – The Supremacy of Christ

Galatia struggled with Gentiles who wanted to keep the Law and Corinth struggled with Gentiles who did not sufficient “depaganize” and allow Christ to transform their moral behavior.  In Colossae, it appears that the problem was a Jewish mystic, possibly exorcist who advocated “secret knowledge” which only the spiritual, insiders could obtain.  Possibly this esoteric, secret knowledge was the true nature of Jesus Christ, or perhaps how to use Jesus’ name as a powerful tool for dealing with other spiritual beings.  This is a very pragmatic Christianity which attempts to hide knowledge of the real facts until the believer is sufficiently “prepare” to receive it.  While I am not sure that the Colossian heresy was a “mystery cult” in the true sense of the word, there seem to have been some initiation for the believer before he was “let in” on the true state of things.

For Paul, Christianity is not at all an exclusive religion which hides doctrine from the outsiders.  In fact, everyone is welcome and the whole gospel is preached from the very beginning.  There are some deeper, more difficult doctrines, but there is nothing which is a secret.  This is one of the real differences between Christianity and many of the other “mystery cults”popular in the first century (and today!)  It really is easy to understand the basics of Christian claims and beliefs, whether you like them or not.

Paul therefore goes to the root of the problem and lays out in the introduction to the letter exactly who Jesus is.  All the “secrets” are laid out before the reader and there is no question who Jesus is by the end of 1:20.

  • Christ as the image of the invisible God.  By saying that Christ is in the image of God, he affirms that he is an accurate picture of what God is, and in fact, he is God.   Bruce once said “To call Christ the image of God is to say that in Him the being and nature of God have been perfectly manifested—that in Him the invisible has become visible.”
  • Christ as the firstborn of creation.  This title for has been a very troublesome exegetical point since it appears that Jesus is a created thing, the first thing that God created.  But if this phrase is read against the background of the Hebrew Bible, the word “first born” is actually an expression of position – the son chosen to the the heir as opposed to the naturally born first son.  A bit later Paul calls Jesus the“firstborn from among the dead,” an obvious non-literal use of the word “firstborn.”

The point that Paul is getting at is that Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things.  All honor and worship is due Christ, not anything created.  The command is therefore to worship Christ as God, something that would be idolatrous if Christ is a created thing himself. The centrality of Jesus is therefore the starting point for theology in Colossians, but also for ethical and moral teaching and proper worship.

Bibliography: F. F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems: Part 2: The “Christ Hymn” of Colossians 1:15–20″ BibSac 141 (1984): 99-111

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25 thoughts on “Colossians 1:15-20 – The Supremacy of Christ

  1. P. Long said, “The point that Paul is getting at is that Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things.” In reading the chapter 2 it appears that the people of the Colossian church have gotten a little legalistic. Like I said in my first post, by the people doing what they thought was spiritual they were really drawing themselves further from the real truth. P. Long added, “All honor and worship is due Christ, not anything created.” Christ is the thing that we should strive to worship. Polhill discusses a number of cultish like groups such as the Hellenistic Mysteries, Gnostics, and the Essenes, that may have had influence on the church. However, I don’t think this matters. We will probably never know for sure the problems that plagued the church in Colosse. But the important thing is, whatever their beliefs were, they weren’t correct according to Paul. Polhill says, “Some people had an inadequate view of Christ. They felt the need to add to their worship and to their practice in order to ensure their full salvation” (338). Colossians 1:21-22 brings the news they need to hear. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through the death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” They need to know that Jesus is the one and only way to salvation. I think Paul did this beautifully in writing as Polhill said, “the most exalting presentation of Christ to be found in any of his epistles” (338).

  2. P. Long, you pointed out that “the point that Paul is getting at is that Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things” (Long), that brought to mind the Israelites, and how creation over Creator seems to be the theme running throughout the whole bible. The Israelites sought after golden idols and kinds, and the Christians in Colosse seem struggling with understanding Christ as being equal and fully God – practically making him into an idol in their beliefs that he is creation. Polhill said that, the Colossians “felt that the mystical experience was in some sense necessary for a complete experience of salvation,” (Polhill 338). It appears to me that the Christians at Colosse were trying to implement almost a new set of laws during this time – they were adding to Christ’s salvation something that was not meant to be. Paul charged the Colossians against this addition saying, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8). I think this is very relevant today in a form of legalism. The church is creating their own heresy in the creating of rules and regulations, adding them to the salvation plan. Today we need to be careful of this, not just in our churches, but in our own walk with Christ that we do not allow ourselves to be “taken captive” (Col 2:8) by such things.

  3. Like Greg and Micah brought out from Polhill, “Some people at Colosse had an inadequate view of Christ. They felt the nee to add to their worship and to their practice in order to ensure their full salvation.” (Polhill, 338) Sometimes it is hard for me to understand how it would be possible to live during the time of Paul and not accept the overwhelming truth of God…it was so close to you and the miracles so fresh and pure. Obviously, though, this is a struggle that began right from the start.
    Reading over this post made me think of the verse in Romans1 that says, “because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:25, ESV) Though it is easy to scrutinize the Colossian church and to give our two cents worth of opinion on what needed to be fixed to make them a more holy church, we need not forget that we are guilty of the same things. We give our time and money and energy all of the time to things that are not Kingdom focused or glorifying to God! Everything that Paul wrote in hopes of correcting and encouraging the Colossian church can and should be brought in to effect in our lives. Polhill says, “The Colossians needed a greater grasp on their Savior, a tighter hold on their head.”(338) and I would dare say that *we* need a greater grasp on our Savior just as much as they did.

  4. This passage can be taken as very good evidence of the deity of Christ, and thus, for the Trinity. Colossians 1:17 says that “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Also later in 2:9 “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Paul is emphatically arguing that Jesus is indeed, simply, God. Jesus claimed to be God all throughout His time on earth, and while this might be confusing (how can Jesus be both God and man at the same time?) Paul is trying to make it clear. As P. Long says, “There are some deeper, more difficult doctrines, but there is nothing which is a secret.”

    I do not think the Colossians quite understood this. If they were so easily being mislead by the “mystic” who claimed that there was more to the Christian faith than was being taught by Paul, then I can understand why Paul goes to such lengths to explain exactly who Christ is and why he came. Paul also says in Colossians 2:4 “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.” He wanted the church in Colossae (as well as the on in Laodicea) to be able to stand firm in the truth of Christ, and to turn away from the pagan ways of any false teachers.

  5. When I first read this blog I thought it was really interesting that people used to fall under the oppression of “mystery cults.” I wondered what drew them in and why they were so fascinated by joining something they knew little about, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we have many “mystery cults” of our own in America. The one I think of the most is Scientology. How much does one actually know about Scientology? I looked up the Church of Scientology’s website and found many blanket statements. They say a lot of things that sound good but are really so vague. For example, “The ultimate goal of Scientology is true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all” ( That sounds pretty good, but does not almost every religion claim these things? Scientology seems to me to be drawing people in with these statements that sounds so great, when the people do not even know what it is actually about. Everything they really believe is a secret. That is why I find so much freedom in Christ; everything is out in the open. Nothing is hidden from anyone who wants to know Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Is that not true freedom?

  6. Hmmmm… good conclusion… I have found that there are some people (even at GBC) who state that we don’t have to accept that Christ was and is God… just that we need to accept that Christ died and rose again… this idea is drawn from Romans 10:9-10 when Paul lays out the “basics” of faith. As simplistic as this seems, it is not exhaustive. If we deny the deity of Christ or if Jesus wasn’t God, we become idolaters, worshiping something other than God, and we would be in BIG trouble. We need to be careful when we deconstruct the text as we can stumble into heresy knowingly or unknowingly. The deity of Christ is just as pivotal as is the death and resurrection. It is when we move from a Christocentric theology to a egocentric theology that heresy arises.

  7. I am writing my paper on who shall enter the kingdom of heaven, and one of the subjects I was touching on was if there were boundaries set in place by Paul. Whether we should pay attention to them or not, and if they are actually correct rules in the Pauline Epistles. I think that we Christians need to focus on living for Christ and accepting Christ as God our savior. Jason I have come across similar issues not only here at GBC but also at home with some of my friends who are “Christians”… they think Christ is a part of Christianity, but they do not believe Christ or Jesus is God… It is hard to argue with them sometimes because I get so hot headed and have issues coming up with correct verses that they cannot contradict, because those with Bible knowledge can use and abuse the scriptures for their own views. And its frustrating. How should I go about finding different scripture that people wont tell me I take out of context?

  8. This was an interesting post. I guess I have never questioned whether or not Christ was God. He was not created so He was more than an idol. I think that is a key part of it. We often idolize things that are created and forget about the creator. The trinity is one and Christ is part of the trinity. Like, Elizabeth, I too find it hard to understand why the people around them could not fully grasp who Christ was. The miracles would have been amazing (in my opinion.) What more would they want and what else would they have to question, but I guess we as humans cannot not always fathom the awe of Him.

  9. This post speaking on mystic cults made me think of other religious beliefs, claiming to be Christians that have strayed from the scriptures and the true message of the Gospel. I have read a few of the Gnostic gospels out of sheer curiosity on my own time. They describe the kind of thing stated here. Specifically I am thinking of the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas. In the Gospel of Judas specifically, Judas is Christ’s chosen disciple, who he reveals all his innermost secrets to. It’s a very interesting read to say the least. But the problem with both of these gospels is that someone who claims these doctrines to be true, is arguing against scripture. Upon reading these gospels, you start to realize the vast difference of them and the message of the true Gospel, and scripture. They don’t simply claim Christ to have Judas or Thomas as chosen disciples, but there are much different theological viewpoints throughout. If you are interested in that kind of reading, it certainly is thought provoking. I found it to be a good base to go back to scripture and defend my belief against that of these other gospels.

  10. I feel like I am going off topic from all that everyone else is saying here, but when reading this post I really could not get over the statement Phil Long made “Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things. All honor and worship is due Christ, not anything created”. I recently began attending a support group of girls online. It bothers me that some of them call themselves Christian and say they believe in God and everything yet they pray to ‘mother earth’ and have this ‘hippy’ view of life. It is as if they worship these things more than they do God. I and a few other girls in this group consistently try to bring their attention back to the one who actually created all of it, but in response, they seem to always say that Christianity is just way too confusing for them to solely rely on it. For me, it has never been that confusing. Just like Phil Long says, “Christianity is not at all an exclusive religion which hides doctrine from the outsiders. In fact, everyone is welcome and the whole gospel is preached from the very beginning”. It is clearly stated throughout all of scripture that God created all things (and might I add that Jesus is part of God as is the Holy Spirit and therefore because all three are also in reality one, Jesus can be said here as well to be the one who created all things). Colossians 1:16 is a perfect example of this statement but it can also be found in Nehemiah 9:6, John 1:3, 1:10, Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 1:10, 20-21, and Hebrews 1:2, to name but just a few. I personally believe that if there is anything other than Christ that is worshiped, it is pure blaspheme. One cannot correctly call themselves a true Christian when they go off and idolize other things. It’s like telling God, hey there, so I know you created this sun to keep me warm and so I can see, but I am going to go ahead and praise it for being so awesome and…Well what ever to you because the sun is way cooler than you who created it… it sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? “Their view of the Savior was too small, or they would not have been letting people make them fret that they needed to do more or to have new experiences in order to fortify their salvation.” (Polhill 342). just like those of the Colossian church, we can have such a small view of who Christ is and what He can do and instead of trusting in Him and knowing that He is all powerful and all-knowing and has created all things and that alone should let us know He understands us and our needs, desires, and wants, we turn to other things and worship them thinking that in some way we are doing good for ourselves.

  11. There is a lot of interesting dialogue going on here. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-16 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. In my own heart I never really doubted whether or not Jesus is God. He is an essential part of the trinity. The doctrine of the trinity is that the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit are all equally God. The church today has a lot of idolatry rising among it. We worship the things that God created but sometimes forget to worship the creator himself. I think the people back in the New Testament and even in today’s society do not fully grasp who Jesus was and is. I agree with clark, if they grapsed who Jesus was they would not want anything more and would not question Him one bit.

  12. Although it is difficult for us to imagine Christ not being God, I can see how first-century Jewish and Gentile Christians struggled to grasp this truth. When we look at the early scriptures proclaiming “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God the Lord is One” (Deut 6:4) for example, we begin to understand the centrality of their faith in one God. To be brought a new Gospel message in which there was a Christ who was also God must have been difficult to embrace. Although miracles were done in his name, mystic religions and spiritual powers were also doing magic things in the name of demonic powers, bar-jesus in Acts 16 for example. The reality that Christ is God, laid out in Colossians 1 would have attractive based on its all-revealing nature, but also an idea that would have been difficult for some to wager everything on.

  13. I think that there is great value in thinking of Christ as having the position of the first born. Christ will inherit the earth we are to be co-heirs with Christ. Whenever people think of Christ being at the right hand of God (at his throne) they often think that God the Father is on the throne and Jesus is his “right hand man,” but it is interesteing to note that thrones of that culture in the first century where more like loveseats. This does not place Christ on a slighly lower level than God the Father, but at the same level. They are seated on the throne, together, making decisions and ruling.

    We need to be honoring of creation, but we are doing so because of who the creator is.

  14. Christianity is not a mystery cult as some tried to make it, rather a possible Jewish exorcist. Interesting that the mix of posts this week deal with Jewish exorcist. Anyways some would have had it their way and had themselves and only a few others know the “important” or “insider” knowledge. ESPN has their insider magazine online where you have to pay in order to view their information. Maybe this was the same way in the mystery cults. You may have had to pay a certain amount of money or go through some sort of initiation to get in. P. Long you wrote “All the ‘secrets’ are laid out before the reader and there is no question who Jesus is by the end of 1:20 (P Long)”. This is clear if you read the first 20 verses. Many things are indeed revealed where in the mystery cults it would not have been so.

    Paul made it very clear that the Colossian church should not let anyone lead them astray even the Jewish Mystic. “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words (Colossians 2:4)”. Christianity is not a mystery cult to Paul, it is the only way and it is not to have anything hidden from any believer new, or old.

    • I suppose the analogy to ESPN is OK, but I do not know very many people who consider their subscription to ESPN Insider elite knowledge. It is more like Scientology, where the elite only learn the “real” secrets at the highest levels. Mystery cults had elaborate initiations as well, most were designed to give the initiate the sense they were having a vision from the god. (Nothing like that on ESPN!)

  15. “The centrality of Jesus is therefore the starting point for theology in Colossians, but also for ethical and moral teaching and proper worship.” (Long). So far in the comments I think we’ve done a good job of touching upon the fact that recognizing Jesus as God has great theological implications, but I’d like to go a different direction with this and touch upon the ethical and moral implications as well as proper worship. To me, this is all summed up in Colossians 1:6-7, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Right here, is a practical way to live out ones faith in Christ. Polhill describes it as “bearing fruit throughout the world” (340). When one lives in the knowledge and the hope of having received Christ as Lord, their actions will show it. Add to that the strengthening of faith that comes from living in him and through it all showing thankfulness, you have a lifestyle of worship. Paul continues in his practical application in Chapter 3 with specific moral and ethical guidelines that show the fruit of having a mind set on “things above” (Col 3: 2). Verses 5-15 and jam packed with solid instructions on how not, and how to live as God’s chosen people (v.12) and members of one body (v.15)

  16. **DISCLAIMER** don’t crucify me if you don’t agree with what I am about to say. I may not even agree with what I’m about to say. I’m probably just saying it to get you to think!

    So, now that that is out of the way, you say that “The point that Paul is getting at is that Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things. All honor and worship is due Christ, not anything created” and I would agree with this as I’m sure most others would. Because of the craziness of God being Christ and vice versa (plus a lil Holy Spirit) it shows that Christ is God, therefore everything God made Christ made everything. And considering that God made everything, Christ then made everything. So don’t worship things but worship Christ. Okay, simple enough. What does it mean to worship something though? I was always taught that anything you spend more time on than God you are worshiping. Is this true? I honestly don’t know. What do you think?

    **DISCLAIMER** don’t crucify me if you don’t agree with what I just said. I may not even agree with what I just said. I’m probably just saying it to get you to think!

  17. It’s very important that new Christians understand that Christ is not a created being and therefore is a person of the trinity. Seeing Christ as a creating being would then become idolatry. This cheapens the Gospel and would confuse the meaning of the Trinity. If a man that was not divinity lived up to the standard that God set for us then we would not need a Savior. The Bible would not make sense and the pinnicle of the story of the world would no longer exist. “Some people at Colosse had an inadequate view of Christ” (Polhill, 338). This inadequate view of Christ brings upon the Colossians 1:15-23. Paul found this description of Christ necessary and important for reworking what each believer thought of Jesus Christ. This correction was important for eradicating possible false teaching.

  18. I agree with what Clark said, “I too find it hard to understand why the people around them could not fully grasp who Christ was. The miracles would have been amazing (in my opinion.)” I like to think that if I was alive in those times, I would have believed Jesus was God when I saw his miracles. But this makes me think. What else had to be going on to give the people doubts? It reminds me of Pharaoh’s magicians in the story of the Exodus. They could not replicate the latter plagues, but they were able to replicate some of the first signs Moses performed. If I saw Jesus cure a blind man I feel like I would need to see no more. However, I obviously was not alive back then, so I will never fully understand the pull of the opposers to Christ.

  19. There are so many things to distract us from our pursuit of God. So many things that the world says is important but truly are not. Things such as sports, politics, TV ect. All of these things distract us from paying attention to God and can keep us from being used to further the kingdom. All these things are created by man, not by God. It is important for mature Christians to show new beleivers an exmple of how to live Godly lives. This was one of the issues in colosians I am sure. No one is being an example. That is why Paul must step in and be the example through his words to the beleivers there.

  20. My dad at one time was into new age kind of thinking – a sort of “mystery” way. I was too little to realize it, but I see there is definitely an attraction people have to this idea that there’s a wisdom beyond what you know, and only the initiated can know it. This idea springs forth a feeling inside of superiority and belonging, of desiring the insider secrets and being part of the “in-crowd,” as it were. I’m sure some of the Colossians felt this way.

    I really liked the way Polhill talked about the preeminence of Christ mentioned in this passage of Colossians, where Paul talks about the world and everything being made by Christ and for Christ. Polhill says (pg. 341), “In other words, Christ is not only the origin of creation. He is its goal as well–it is moving toward him.” But then he also mentions everything being held together and sustained by Christ so that “Christ is thus at the center of creation in all respects–its originator, its sustainer, its goal.” Our lives, too, should be lived out thinking in this way; we are not here for ourselves, but Christ made us and sustains us for His purposes, that we may fulfill His ends.

  21. To supplement this post Polhill writes on page 335, “Paul’s main purpose in writing Colossians was to put the Colossians on guard against those who propounded a false teaching.”

    I happened to have a friend who started out being a Jehovah’s witness, and then eventually studied eastern religion. One night we talked about theology and he told me that he knew deeper spiritual truths. He claimed to be able to call out spirits, walk on water, heal people of illness, and perform miraculous things. As a young follower of the Lord this ‘secret’ wisdom seemed very alluring to me; however, my worldview didn’t allow me to give into much of his mysticism. I loved him in whatever he believed, yet I didn’t allow his distinction to disengage my understanding of the supremacy of Christ. Colossians is one of my favorite books for this very reason.

    I do remember that as Jehovah witness my friend would use the passage about Christ being the first-born as a means to disqualify the Trinity, because Christ was made first. He used another passage in Psalms that talks about Wisdom being the first of God’s Creation. Psalms or Proverbs. Anyhow I battled with the idea of Christ being created, yet you cannot take away from the countless Scriptures that proclaim Christ as God.

    I also think of the times in the Word where Christ is worshiped and Christ doesn’t correct them from doing so.

  22. I see where you are going with this Chris, and you bring up a good question. “What does it mean to worship something though? and, I was always taught that anything you spend more time on than God you are worshiping. Is this true?” What I am sensing that you are getting at, for example: if you spend more time thinking about money, rather than God, are you worshiping money? I think you need to ask your self, how are you spending your time on the certain subject. Are you thinking about how you are getting the money together for next months bill, or are you actually just rolling your “dough” all happy that you have all this cash. The question is, how am I looking, or spending my time on the subject at hand. Are you going about this glorifying God. Such as with Soccer, David Simmer, uses his talent to glorify God, yet, he does not worship it. So you need to look at how you are thinking about said subject, if all of what I just said makes sense.

  23. Christ as the image of the Invisible God is key to understanding “the point that Paul is getting at is that Christ has made things, so it is pointless to give honor and worship to those things. All honor and worship is due Christ, not anything created.” This seems to be extremely similar to the Creation poem in Genesis 1 in which the poem makes it clear that all creation, everything is made by God. The creation poem can be seen as a strong argument for the people of Israel to not worship anything other than God because God created all things. With Christ being the image of the Invisible God, the implications of Genesis 1 would be applied the Christ. This argument for God being the Creator but people choosing to worship the creation is also seen in Romans 1:20-25.

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