One of the interesting things about reading the last half of the NT is seeing how each author seems to “open up” OT language about God in order to include Christ. Since this is Creation Week at FPR, I thought I’d contribute a little something on the way the NT talks about Christ and creation.
Some years ago, James D. G. Dunn pointed out the relationship between the Shema in Deut 4:6:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”
and this formulation of 1 Cor 8:6:
8:6 Yet for us there is
one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and
one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Paul has, in effect, split the Shema, attributing the lordship of the one God to Jesus. The title “lord” becomes in Paul’s hands less a way of identifying Jesus with God than a means of distinguishing Jesus from God. This is reinforced in passages such as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in which God is precisely the God of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
But what we are really after is that trio of prepositions: from, for, and through Those, in sentences with the expression “all things” are a sure sign of “creation talk” in the Pauline world.
What we see is that in addition to splitting the titles in 1 Cor 8:6, Paul has also split God’s role as creator. All things take their origin from God, and God remains the goal of existence. Following Anthony C. Thiselton, Jesus is the means by which both existence and it’s culmination are brought to pass – the mediator of both creation and redemption.
This thought is even more clearly expressed in Col 1:15-20. Although there is a great deal of debate about some of the details of this passage, there is pretty good agreement that it is not flat prose. Following, more or less, a structural proposal by N. T. Wright and taking the antecedent of the relative pronoun to be “his [God’s] beloved Son”:
who is the image of the invisible God
firstborn of all creation
because in him all things were created
in the heavens and upon the earth
the seen and the unseen
whether thrones or lords
whether rulers or powers
all things through him and for him were created
and he is before all things
and in him all things cohere
and he is the head
of the body of the church
who is the beginning
the firstborn of the dead
so that he, himself, might be in all things preeminent
for in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell
and through him to reconcile all things for him
making peace through the blood of his cross
whether those upon the earth
or those in the heavens
The designation of Christ as the image of God means that Christ is the perfect manifestation of God. In other words, it is Christ who provides trustworthy information about God. We find the same ideas in Jn 1:18 and Heb 1:3.
The term firstborn can imply either the first in a temporal ordering, such as the first child in a family, or it can imply superiority. In this case, the latter is more likely because of what follows. Christ is superior to the rest of creation.
The following because gives the grounds for the assertions. And once again, we see a whole raft of prepositions with the expression “all things” – more of that “creation talk” coming right up.
Christ is the manifestation of God and superior to all creation because everything was created in him, through him, and for him. That is, God created everything in the sphere of, through the agency of, and for the purpose of the Christ. There is no creature whose creation Christ did not mediate.
(N.B. Suggesting that the world was created “for Christ,” that is, that the world’s eschatological purpose is christocentric, exceeds anything in the undisputed Pauline literature. 1 Cor 8:6 retained that idea for God.)
The next three statements expand on, and drive the message home. Christ has priority over creation and all things cohere, that is, find their meaning or hold together in him. Christ’s relationship to the church makes the whole thing personal to the Colossians: this mediator of creation is the authoritative head of the community to which the Colossians belong.
And now, to briefly finish out the rest of the passage:
In the second stanza, the juxtaposition of the expression “the beginning” and “the firstborn of the dead” imply that Christ’s resurrection was in one sense the first of many, but in another sense, the one which paved the way for all the others. In this way, Christ’s priority in creation is set over against his priority in redemption.
The reason that Christ is “the beginning” and “the firstborn of the dead” is that “all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him,” and to reconcile all things through him and for him. The expression “all the fullness” is best understood as a circumlocution for God. Thus, Christ is distinguished from God as image, but not inferior precisely because “all the fullness” was pleased to dwell in him.
One thing that should not be passed without comment is the idea here expressed that through Christ God reconciled all creation.. The reconciliation of all creation is less common than the reconciliation of man. Similar thoughts, however, are found in Romans 8:16-24.
So…in both 1 Cor 8:6 and Col 1:15-20 we find the idea that Christ holds the central place in God’s plans reaffirmed. The twin stories of creation and redemption together make up the divine economy of salvation and Christ is here the single mediator of both. What was God’s story in the OT remains God’s story in the NT, but it has been opened up to reveal the role of God’s Son in this narrative of salvation.