This is poetry; this is poetry about the “image”. And Walsh and Keesmaat, in their Colossians Remixed, argue this is subversive poetry, poetry about an image that undermines empire and Rome and Caesar.
Col. 1:15 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.
If you look for empire, you find empire; if you explain everything in light of empire, you convince yourself empire is everywhere. These deconstructive remarks emerge in my case from my reading of this commentary because I’d like to see some reading of Colossians and less talk about empire so that our minds are conditioned by empire to see empire. I see in Colossians very little attention on Rome and lots on Jerusalem. When I see the word “Christ” before Jesus I don’t think of Caesar, I think of the “Messiah” of the Hebrew Bible. And, no matter how chic it might be today, when I see “Lord” I think of “Kyrios” of the Septuagint, which translates “Adonai.” I don’t think of Caesar. Sorry. Furthermore, I appeal to numbers: how many Christians were there in Colosse and Laodicea? A few small group? Probably. Maybe Colossians were thinking of Rome since they had endured Rome; but how about Paul? His sights were on Jersalem. He was drenched with Israel’s story and he wanted Israel’s story to be “remixed” for his day — and that meant converting both Jews and Gentiles to his Messianic story of Israel.
I have big doubts about empire being the ideology assaulted by Colossians. Instead, I read of a Paul who is trying to build churches who will respond to and live under the Lord Jesus Christ in the Church. The Church is the new story of Israel. I keep looking for Rome and I don’t see it. But, I’ll keep looking.
This section in their commentary concerns 1:15-20 printed above. “In a world populated by images of Caesar…” (83). That’s their point. Problem for me is that I see Eikon of God when applied to Christ not so much as a counter-image to Caesar as the “anthropology” of Israel: humans made in God’s Eikon who are designed by God to be restored into that Eikon (2 Cor 3:18; 4:4).
In our passage the Eikon, who is Christ, is Creator over all (this could be Empire ideology) and the head of the Church (which I doubt is Empire ideology). His supremacy is Israel’s story, not Rome’s story — why? Because his headship, his rule, is by way of resurrection in order to incorporate others into that headship. It was through him that reconciliation was to be accomplished.
Show me one direct word about Rome and about assaulting Roman ideology with an anti-empire ideology in this book. Not words that can be “explained” that way but words that “directly” state that. We can do all the word connotations and associations we want, but such are often driven by what we are looking for. First, I must be convinced of empire and Rome are directly in Paul’s sights.
I’ve taken a hard stand for those who are writing to me and talking to me abot their struggles with this commentary.