Colossians 2:9 “Christ... In whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead
The Lord Jesus has now been exalted to Heaven, and shares God’s nature. This verse refers to how Jesus is now, after His resurrection, and not how He was during His mortal life on earth.
Reading the rest of Colossians chapter 2, we see that Paul is writing to counter various heresies that were being introduced to the ecclesia in Colosse- especially those which required a return to the Law of Moses. Yet Paul reasons that now God supremely “dwells” or ‘tents’ in Jesus- not in the Jewish tabernacle or temple (Jn. 1:14; 2:19). He emphasizes the supremacy of Jesus; His greatness. Because the Jewish false teachers were trying to persuade the Christian converts to join Judaism and devalue Jesus. Paul isn’t saying that Jesus is God Himself. Rather is he saying that the fullness of God’s personality and glory is manifested in the person of Jesus.
“All the fullness”
The Greek word for "fullness" is pleroma - the same word is also found in Col. 1:19, regarding how all God’s “fullness” dwelt in Jesus. Although the Lord Jesus had human nature, He never sinned; and thus was full of the God’s personality and character. To know Jesus was to know God- for He was and is God’s Son, and indeed the perfect replica of Him in human form.
The fullness which is Christ’s- and His “fullness” is God’s fullness- is shared with us: “Of His fullness have all we received” (Jn. 1:16). In this sense the church, as the body of Christ, is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23; 4:13). Through knowing Christ, the believers are therefore “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). So the fact that Jesus had “all the fullness of God” doesn’t make Him "God" Himself in person; because we will not become God Himself in person because we are filled with God’s fullness; any more than a son is his father. In the same way as Christ’s body after His resurrection was filled with the Spirit and nature of God- so will ours be (1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:20,21).
The Colossian Heresy
It’s clear that Paul was writing his letter to the Colossians in order to combat some specific heresies which were developing there. We can try to reason back from what Paul wrote, to get some idea of the false teachings that were being circulated. The words “fullness” and “bodily” are terms which were common amongst the Gnostics. The Gnostic heresy was developing at the time Paul wrote to the Colossians. The Gnostics spoke about how they had a “fullness of knowledge” which Christians only had part of. The 2010 Wikipedia article about Gnosticism defined it as: “Gnostic systems are typically marked out by... The notion of a remote, supreme source - this figure is known under a variety of names, including 'Pleroma' (fullness, totality)... The heavenly pleroma is [understood as] the centre of divine life, a region of light "above" our world... Jesus is interpreted as an intermediary aeon who was sent from the pleroma... The term is thus a central element of Gnostic cosmology”.
Paul was deconstructing and correcting these ideas. The fullness of God Himself was manifested in one specific person- the risen Lord Jesus. This “fullness” wasn’t some “region of light”- it was an actual person, i.e. the Lord Jesus. It’s been shown that Colosse was a centre of Gnosticism, and that many Jews living there had mixed their ideas with it (1). William Barclay makes the point that “There was not infrequently a strange alliance between Gnosticism and Judaism; and it is just such an alliance that we find in Colosse, where... there were many Jews” (2).
The Gnostics believed that all matter was hopelessly evil, including the human body. Paul is arguing against this by pointing out that the Lord Jesus even now has a body, which is full of God’s fullness in a bodily way. William Barclay explains further: “If matter was altogether evil and if Jesus was the Son of God, then Jesus could not have had a flesh and blood body so the Gnostic argued. He must have been a kind of spiritual phantom. So the Gnostic romances say that when Jesus walked, he left no footprints on the ground. This, of course, completely removed Jesus from humanity and made it impossible for him to be the Saviour of men. It was to meet this Gnostic doctrine that Paul insisted on the flesh and blood body of Jesus and insisted that Jesus saved men in the body of his flesh” (3).
(1) Edwin Yamauchi, “Sectarian Parallels: Qumran and Colosse,” Bibliotheca Sacra 121:482 (April 1964): 141-152, online at http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bsac/gnosis_yamauchi.pdf
(2) William Barclay, The Daily Bible Study Series: Colossians (Westminster John Knox Press: 1976).
(3) Barclay, op cit.
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