Thursday, November 27, 2014

All The Saints (part 8)

The use of “strangers” and “enemies” seems to be directed towards Gentiles, as they were looked upon as being strangers to the covenant.  “Strangers” could easily be heard as “foreigners” or “aliens.”  Here it is quite useful to call upon the letter to the Ephesians, as it can provide a helpful expansion (not a proof-texting), verbalizing what may have been already (likely) understood by the Jesus-as-God-and-Lord-worshiping Colossian congregation that was probably composed of Jews, Judaizing Gentiles, and Gentiles. 

In the second chapter of Ephesians, following a few verses that could easily fit alongside and even substitute for the creedal expression of verses fifteen through twenty of Colossians one, Paul writes “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh---who are called ‘uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘circumcision’ that is performed on the body by human hands---that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Colossians 2:11-12).  One would be hard-pressed to hear talk of “strangers and enemies” in Colossians in a way any different from the more explicit presentation here in the Ephesian letter.  The situation of Gentiles and their inclusion is very much at hand. 

Continuing in Ephesians then, which provides a more well-rounded understanding of the movement in Colossians (and if one considers the extreme likelihood that Ephesians was originally a circular letter, designed to be heard by a number of churches, possibly even those of Colossae, then understanding is even more greatly enhanced), Paul writes “But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13).  It is possible to transport the “far away” and “brought near” into a Colossian context, with knowledge of the Gentile association of those words, so as to increase sensitivity to the subject matter at issue. 

Employing the same type of inclusive language in Ephesians, Paul continues, writing “For He is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when He nullified in His flesh the law of commandments in decrees.  He did this to create in Himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed” (2:14-16).  Paul insists that there is no longer any division between Jew and Gentile.  They are not to be held apart.  There is to be nothing that divides them. 

More than anything, this allows for glimpsing the mindset of Paul, even if such things that are explicitly mentioned in Ephesians go unsaid to the church at Colossae.  It should be impossible to separate this type of thinking from an assessment of Colossians, as the Jew/Gentile, appropriate covenant marker conflict (the law of commandments in decrees), colors in the landscape in which the church of Christ in Colossae and the letter directed to them is set. 

Visiting again the “strangers and enemies” reference in Colossians, and understanding that it is said in Ephesians in the context of bridging the divide between Jews and Gentiles, one could easily find Paul employing words such as “And He came and preached peace to you who were far off,” Gentiles, “and peace to those who were near,” Jews, “so that through Him we both,” that being Jews and Gentiles equally, “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:17-18). 

Rounding out his words to those that were considered to be strangers and enemies in need of reconciliation and redemptive inclusion into the assembly of God’s covenant people that sprang into existence with Abraham, Paul writes “So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.  In Him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (2:19-22).  This fits quite nicely with the Temple language that is subtly employed in verse twenty-two of Colossians one.  

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