Divine Wisdom and the “Colossian Hymn”

Colossians 1:15–20 describes the exalted Christ in words that probably derive from an early Christian hymn or confession:

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible,

    whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers

    —all things have been created through him and for him.

17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

    so that he might come to have first place in everything.

19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,

    whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

These verses also provide us with a clue as to how such an understanding of Christ might have developed in the early church. Many of the ideas attributed to Christ in Colossians 1:15–20 were also attached to the personified figure of Wisdom in certain Jewish writings that were familiar to Paul and other Jewish Christians at the time. Look at these statements from the book of Proverbs and two writings from the Old Testament Apocrypha, Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon:

This is poetic language, and we do not know how literally readers would have taken it (Did they believe Wisdom was an actual divine being?). Still, the words of what is sometimes called the “Colossian Hymn” (Col. 1:15–20) apply to Christ what these sacred Jewish texts said about Wisdom. This is a good indication of one prominent resource that early Christians used in coming to understand who Jesus Christ was in relation to God and in relation to the world.