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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE COLOSSIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 16
Verse 16. For by him were all things created. This is one of the reasons why he is called "the image of God," and the "firstborn." He makes God known to us by his creative power, and by the same power in creation shows that he is exalted over all things as the Son of God. The phrase which is here used by the apostle is universal. He does not declare that he created all things in the spiritual kingdom of God, or that he arranged the events of the gospel dispensation, as Socinians suppose, (see Crellius;) but that everything was created by him. A similar form of expression occurs in Joh 1:3. See Barnes "Joh 1:3".
There could not possibly be a more explicit declaration, that the universe was created by Christ, than this. As if the simple declaration in the most comprehensive terms were not enough, the apostle goes into a specification of things existing in heaven and earth, and so varies the statement, as if to prevent the possibility of mistake.
That are in heaven. The division of the universe into "heaven and earth" is natural and obvious, for it is the one that is apparent. See Ge 1:1. Heaven, then, according to this division, will embrace all the universe, except the earth; and will include the heavenly bodies and their inhabitants, the distant worlds, as well as heaven, more strictly so called, where God resides. The declaration then is, that all things that were in the worlds above us were the work of his creative power.
And that are in earth. All the animals, plants, minerals, waters, hidden fires, etc. Everything which the earth contains.
Visible and invisible. We see but a small part of the universe. The angels we cannot see. The inhabitants of distant worlds we cannot see. Nay, there are multitudes of worlds which, even with the best instruments, we cannot see. Yet all these things are said to have been created by Christ.
The word "thrones" does not occur in the parallel place in Ephesians; but there can be no doubt that the reference is to an order of angelic beings, as those to whom dominion and power were entrusted. The other orders enumerated here are also mentioned in Eph 1:21.
All things were created by him. The repetition, and the varied statement here, are designed to express the truth with emphasis, and so that there could not be the possibility of mistake or misapprehension. See Barnes "Joh 1:1"; See Barnes "Joh 1:2"; See Barnes "Joh 1:3".
The importance of the doctrine, and the fact that it was probably denied by false teachers, or that they held philosophical opinions that tended to its practical denial, are the reasons why the apostle dwells so particularly on this point.
And for him. For his glory; for such purposes as he designed. There was a reference to himself in the work of creation, just as when a man builds a house it is with reference to some important purposes which he contemplates, pertaining to himself. The universe was built by the Creator to be his own property; to be the theatre on which he would accomplish his purposes, and display his perfections. Particularly the earth was made by the Son of God to be the place where he would become incarnate, and exhibit the wonders of redeeming love. There could not be a more positive declaration than this, that the universe was created by Christ; and, if so, he is Divine. The work of creation is the exertion of the highest power of which we can form a conception, and is often appealed to in the Scriptures by God to prove that he is Divine, in contradistinction from idols. If, therefore, this passage be understood literally, it settles the question about the divinity of Christ. Accordingly, Unitarians have endeavoured to show that the creation here referred to is a moral creation; that it refers to the arrangement of affairs in the Christian church, or to the kingdom of God on earth, and not to the creation of the material universe. This interpretation has been adopted even by Grotius, who supposes that it refers to the arrangement by which all things are fitted up in the new creation, and by which angels and men are reconciled. By the "things in heaven and in earth" some Unitarian expositors have understood the Jews and the Gentiles, who are reconciled by the gospel; others, by the "things in heaven" understand the angels, and by the "things on earth" men, who are brought into harmony by the gospel plan of salvation. But the objections to this interpretation are insuperable.
(1.) The word created is not used in this sense properly, and cannot be. That it may mean to arrange, to order, is true; but it is not used in the sense of reconciling, or of bringing discordant things into harmony. To the great mass of men, who have no theory to support, it would be understood in its natural and obvious sense, as denoting the literal creation.
(2.) The assertion is, that the "creative" power of Christ was exerted on "all things." It is not in reference to angels only, or to men, or to Jews, or to Gentiles; it is in relation to "everything in heaven and in earth;" that is, to the whole universe. Why should so universal a declaration be supposed to denote merely the intelligent creation?
(3.) With what propriety, or in what tolerable sense, can the expression, "things in heaven and things in earth," be applied to the Jews and Gentiles? In what sense can it be said that they are "visible and invisible?" And, if the language could be thus used, how can the fact that Christ is the means of reconciling them be a reason why he should be called "the image of the invisible God?"
(4.) If it be understood of a moral creation, of a renovation of things, of a change of nature, how can this be applied to the angels? Has Christ created them anew? Has he changed their nature and character? Good angels cannot need a spiritual renovation; and Christ did not come to convert fallen angels, and to bring them into harmony with the rest of the universe.
(6.) The phrase here employed, of "creating all things in heaven and in earth," is never used elsewhere to denote a moral or spiritual creation. It appropriately expresses the creation of the universe. It is language strikingly similar to that used by Moses, Ge 1:1; and it would be so understood by the great mass of mankind. If this be so, then Christ is Divine, and we can see in this great work a good reason why he is called "the image of the invisible God," and why he is at the head of the universe—the firstborn of the creation. It is because, through him, God is made known to us in the work of creation; and because, being the great Agent in that work, there is a propriety that he should occupy this position at the head of all things.
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