This article was based on a chapter from my 2012 MTh thesis “Christus Imperator: The Colossian Hymn as Contextualised Christology”, which was revised and published in the Tyndale Bulletin volume 69.2 (2018), 205-224.
Colossians 1:15a is typically understood to designate Jesus as the way in which the otherwise unknowable God can be known by human beings. Support for this conclusion is drawn from Hellenistic Judaism, Greek philosophy, and theology inferred from the ‘image of God’ concept in Gen. 1:26f. However, a more satisfactory reading of this verse sees in it a presentation of Jesus as Yahweh’s representative ruler of the earth, and furthermore one who is superior to the world rulers of the day: the Julio-Claudian Roman emperors. There are several supports for this reading: 1) the explicit development of the ‘image of God’ concept in Genesis, 2) parallel uses of the ‘image of God’ concept in ancient near eastern and Greco-Roman sources 3) the precise words used in Col 1:15a, and 4) the subsequent phrase in Col. 1:15b “firstborn of all creation.” By describing Jesus in such a way, he is presented as the true world ruler in contrast to the emperors, who were also viewed as world rulers by the merit of their special relationship with the gods.
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“‘King of Kings’ in Other Words” can be read at www.tyndalebulletin.org.