I begin our study today of Walsh and Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed, by quoting this:
“As soon as he [Paul] made references to ‘image of God,’ ‘firstborn’ and ‘first place,’ everyone with ears to hear would know that he was contrasting Jesus with Caesar” (89). We need to subject this to the test, but first two smaller comments: (1) “everyone with ears” is esoteric and the authors are rhetorically suggesting anyone in the know would catch this and if you don’t you sense you just aren’t with it. Ease up is what I’d say. I’m not so sure it is that obvious. (2) The same applies to “everyone… would know” — well, it so happens that there are lots of commentaries that know nothing of this. Maybe they are right. Do these terms ineluctably, inevitably, and certainly lead us to anti-empire rhetoric?
I pull off my shelf a neutral witness, Professor James D.G. Dunn’s new commentary on Colossians and Philemon.
1. “Image” springs from “divine Wisdom” as the ‘image of God’ (88). God speaks to this world, bridges the gap as it were, through wisdom. Paul identifies this Jewish tradition about divine Wisdom with Jesus Christ.
2. “Firstborn”, Dunn argues, also springs from Jewish wisdom. The most likely precedent, he says, is Prov 8:22 and Philo (90).
3. “First place” — Dunn once again draws our attention to Sirach 1:4 and to the Wisdom tradition.
Maybe W-K are right, but they are flat-out wrong to presume that what they think the text is saying is what “everyone” who has ears to hear would have heard. In fact, few have heard what they hear and that is why their commentary is provocative. Maybe they should say “Few have seen this and so here is what evidence we need to consider would suggest.” I’m still listening. Empire or not?