Wednesday, 28 May 2008

How does a preterist understand Colossians 1:24?

Up until yesterday, I have accepted PT O'Brien's reading of Col. 1:24 as the least unsatisfactory one, and it has been my working theses for the verse.

O'Brien suggests that what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions denotes the apocalyptic expectation of a certain amount of suffering Christ's body will experience before his climactic return. I've always felt uneasy with that, but thought it's better than anything else I could come up with.

Unfortunately, all O'Brien's refs for this expectation are to verses that I no longer think are about his final return in judgement, but are about his parousia-judgement on Jerusalem in AD 70 (eg, Mark 13).

So, am I now to think:

1. O'Brien is half-right but the coming in view is AD70, not the big-E end?

2. O'Brien is completely right, and there are other Scriptural refs which make the point, which aren't about AD70?

3. O'Brien isn't right and I still don't understand Col. 1:24?

Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments box)


James Oakley said...

I liked it when I read it. But then I tried to explain his take to a few other people, and gradually began to think: This is too complicated to be right. Were the Colossians supposed to make sense of this?

Which makes me now go for:

1. Jesus' atoning sufferings are complete.

2. The salvation of the world needs both (i) a once-for-all sacrifice for sin, and (ii) the message that this is accomplished to spread throughout the world. (Romans 10)

3. Christ can only do (i). He leaves (ii) to his apostles and those who come after them.

4. One mark of (ii) taking place genuinely will be suffering. (2 Corinthians). A post-mill position, properly articulated, does not deny that.

5. So the sufferings associated with spreading the word are lacking. Paul completes Christ's atoning sufferings by suffering as his ambassador.

Problems with that? Please comment below mine to put me straight.

Pete said...

I'm not sure I fully understand what O'Brien's reading is and I haven't read his commentary.

Interestingly enough, Saul's conversion in Acts 9 includes

a. The notion that when the body is persecuted, Christ is being persecuted (9:4).

b. An account of Christ giving Saul a specific amount of suffering in the fulfillment of his apostolic calling (9:15-16).

So, a. would support James Oakley's suggestion.

But (and not, theologically speaking, in conflict with James' suggestion) could b. suggest that the sufferings are from Christ (genitive of source?)? Paul is filling up the sufferings Christ allotted him in his apostolic call?

Interestingly enough, the pattern is possibly repeated in the next verse where Paul is given a stewardship from God (a genitive of source again) 'for you.' The syntax is not exactly parallel for the whole clause admittedly, but it's possible that 'stewardship of God for you' and 'sufferings of Christ for his body's sake' are mutually informing.

The fact that Paul's personal apostolic authority and mission is in view in the context might strengthen such a reading? But then, would the Colossians have been expected to know all that about Paul?

Neil Jeffers said...

Thank you chaps.

Pete, I like the genitive of source (poo-pooed by O'Brien, but your syntactical parallel makes it stronger).

dave bish said...

I remember John Piper teaching on this, I think at All Souls, saying that it's like Epaphroditus making up what is lacking in the Philippians service of him.

i.e. nothing except the representation of their service... and likewise the representation of Christ's suffering to them.

Seems plausible to me.

Virgil said...

Neil, I am not sure I understand your question fully nor am I familiar with O'Brien's interpretation, but to me it appears that Paul identifies himself with the sufferings of Christ in flesh, in anticipation of the parousia.

There may be some eschatological aspects to the text in that in v. 22 Christ is presenting us before God "holy and blameless." This is in line to the parallelism we see in Hebrews 9 where Christ enters a "more perfect tabernacle not made with human hands" (a direct jab at the Jewish temple worship) as the true high priest, on our behalf.

What is worth mentioning is the typological relevance of the events surrounding the ascension of Jesus (i.e. entering heavens into a cloud) and the return in judgment in AD 70 (coming out of/onto clouds). This is much in line with the high-priest entering the holy place under the cover of the incense smoke, "lest he will die" (Leviticus 16:13)

So there is some eschatological language here, especially in v. 23 which confirms the preaching of the gospel to all.