The Redeemer’s Hymn – 1:15-20
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Many scholars believe that these verses constitute, at least in part, an ancient Christological hymn. Whether or not Paul is the author of the hymn is uncertain, though there does appear to be a poetic pattern and rhythm in the original Greek. While there is not consensus on how the hymn is divided (if at all), in general it is broken up this way:
- Section One: Verses 15-16
- Section Two: Verses 17-18a
- Section Three: Verses 18b-20
There seem to be two larger sections, each containing the word “firstborn” in the opening line. These larger sections are broken up by one smaller section. This shorter strophe (a chorus, perhaps?) contains sweeping theological statements that link the two larger sections together. While the structure of the hymn may be confusing, the theological themes it contains are quite clear. “[The First] section presents Christ’s relation to the created world. Paul answered basic questions about the origin and purposes of creation. The [second] section presents Jesus’ relationship to the redemption of what he created. Paul reminded the readers of the redemptive purposes of God in and through Christ.”[i]
The theology of the hymn is expansive, presenting themes found throughout the rest of the letter. It is fundamentally about the power and sovereignty of Jesus Christ. It presents him first as Creator, and secondly as Re-Creator. As N.T. Wright says, the hymn presents “the parallel between creation and new creation; hence the emphasis that is placed on the fact that each was accomplished by means of the same agent. The Lord through whom you are redeemed…is none other than the one through whom you (and all the world) were created.”[ii] The hymn is rich and dense with Christology, cosmic in scope, sweeping in nature. The word “all” appears seven times, and the phrase “all things” appears five times. The repetition of this vocabulary tells us that there is nothing that lies outside of the supremacy of Christ. Would that every song in our Sunday morning worship hour was bursting with such high theology!