“to Himself” in Colossians 1:20

One of the joys of knowing Greek is being able to prepare sermons and classes from the original text of the New Testament. It uncovers another layer of insight and depth that the English simply doesn’t afford, or perhaps even obfuscates. I ran across one of these gems this past week as I was preparing for my sermon on Colossians 1:18b-20. The first phrase of 1:20 is: καὶ δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, which receives the following translation: and by (or through) Him to reconcile all things to Himself (NKJV, CSB, NASB, ESV, NIV, NET, with slight variations in word order).

What caught my attention was the phrase εἰς αὐτόν (eis auton — to Himself). Now, in a vacuum, the versions would make good sense; after all, Jesus’ work of reconciliation would naturally be to something or someone. Yet, what immediately came to mind was all the prepositional phrases followed by the third person singular pronoun in Colossians 1:15-20. Three times is the phrase ἐν αὐτῷ (en autô) used (1:16, 17, 19) — Creation was sourced in Him, it is sustained in Him, and the fullness of deity dwells in Him. We also see the phrase δι᾽ αὐτοῦ (di autou) twice (1:16, 20) — Creation was performed through/by Him, and the work of reconciliation is through/by Him.

So that leaves us with this third prepositional phrase: εἰς αὐτὸν (eis auton). It appears in vv. 16 and 20. In v. 16, all the versions are relatively uniform: All things were created through Him and for Him (εἰς αὐτὸν) (see NKJV, CSB, NASB, ESV, NIV, NET, NLT).

Note the difference in the translation of εἰς αὐτὸν between v. 16 and v. 20. Whereas the former universally receives for Him, the latter is rendered to Himself. In my estimation, the for Him gives the sense that creation was for His benefit, or for the purpose of glorifying Him (in Greek grammar, this is called the dative of advantage). It makes far more sense to me to replicate that translation and meaning of εἰς αὐτὸν in v. 20, as well: and by Him to reconcile all things for Himself. In other words, not only is our creation for the glory of Jesus, but our reconciliation, our becoming a new creation, is also for the glory of Jesus.

None of the commentaries I’ve consulted (Clark, Bruce, Moo, Hughes), or grammars (Wallace, BDF), devote hardly any time to the meaning of the phrase, let alone the translation. Not even BDAG gives this occurrence a listing (as is common for high-frequency words). I will say that in his book Prepositions and Theology, Murray J. Harris does highlight these two verses, and comes to a similar, though not identical, conclusion (he goes with a telic use of εἰς). So what basis do I have to suggest we go against all the major versions?

  1. The repetition of the exact same prepositional phrase in a passage where there are not only many significant prepositional phrases critical to the main argument of the passage, but copious parallels.* More than that, the phrases in which εἰς αὐτὸν occurs are strikingly similar, with their inclusion of δι᾽ αὐτοῦ, εἰς αὐτὸν, τὰ πάντα (all things), and their respective verbs (whether to create or to reconcile). Therefore, the translation and emphasis of εἰς αὐτὸν should be identical in both v. 16 and v. 20.
  2. It fits the main argument of the passage: Jesus is the preeminent One. He is the supreme One. He is the One in first place. He is the source, the agent, and the purpose. Indeed, it falls in line with the goal of salvation we see three times in Ephesians 1, that being that our salvation is brought about to the praise of his glory (1:6, 12, 14)!

Why is this important? Indeed, no doctrines are changed by this one translation of εἰς αὐτὸν. But if my line of thinking is correct, it is but one more verse among myriad that speak to the primary purpose for our deliverance and salvation as being the glory and exaltation of Jesus. Yes, we reap a good number of beautiful and wonderful benefits out of eternal life. But our lives, and all of history and creation, are for the purpose of bringing due honor to Jesus. And we need every reminder we can gather to keep this at the forefront of our minds! May the thoughts we think, the words we speak (and sing!), and may the tasks we endeavor, all be for Him.



* The passage is divided into two main sections — vv. 15-16 and vv. 18b-20, with an interlude of vv. 17-18a in the middle. I would argue there is a chiastic structure at work. In the A and A’ sections, both begin with He is followed by two characteristics or titles, with an occurrence of the notion of firstborn (πρωτότοκος) in each section. While A focuses on the physical creation, A’ focuses on reconciliation, or the spiritual new creation. Both make mention of things in heaven and things on earth. In B, Jesus is the source of cohesion of all physical things, in B’, He is the source of cohesion of all spiritual things, namely, the Church. The C line, the focal point of the passage, is in v. 17b: in Him all things consist, or in Him all things hold together.


Book Review: R. C. Sproul, “Willing To Believe”

51MNTUo+0eLIf the Lord tarries, I am convinced that R.C. Sproul will ultimately be considered one of the greatest thinkers and teachers in church history, alongside some of the men whose views he compiles in this book, “Willing To Believe.” Subtitled “Understanding the Role of the Human Will in Salvation,” Sproul focuses in on nine men and their theology concerning the ability of humanity (or lack thereof) to participate in salvation, whether they are synergistic (Pelagius, Cassian [as a Semi-Pelagian], Arminius, Finney) or monergistic (Augustine, Luther, Calvin [with Turretin], Edwards, Chafer).

Sproul eloquently puts forth in the introduction a general synopsis of what is at stake in this discussion (for which a lengthier treatment can be found in his book “Chosen By God”). Even though he disagrees with the synergistic views, he presents them fairly and, as much as possible, in their own words. I found the chapter on Arminius particularly enlightening; I never realized there was as much overlap as there was between him and the monergists (at least linguistically!).

One of the more sobering aspects of this book is how much today’s Church resembles the Semi-Pelagian, if not full-out Pelagian, view. Indeed, at the end of the chapter on Arminius, Sproul mentions Clark Pinnock, one of the leading proponents of Open Theism today. The errors of Open Theism are prevalent, not only in academic circles, but also from behind many pulpits, even if it is not known by that name.

I do have two issues with this work, though. The first thing is an act of omission: I wish Sproul would have included a treatment on Gordon H. Clark’s view of the will. While Clark would have been a twentieth-century addition (along with Lewis Sperry Chafer), Clark’s strong monergistic views, coupled with his views on determinism and God’s will, would have been a welcome addition in this reviewer’s mind. And it’s not as if Clark as not on Sproul’s radar — the former is mentioned on p. 143!

The other issue I have is his treatment of Chafer, with Sproul’s mischaracterization and misrepresentation of “dispensationalist” soteriology. He notes that many dispensationalists charged Gerstner with misunderstanding historic dispensationalism in his work “Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth” (p. 190), a fate that Sproul himself now suffers. He summarizes his own findings on p. 191: “The universe of my experience provides an inadequate basis from which to draw final conclusions about dispensationalism today, but it does point out that no small amount of confusion exists regarding these issues.”

The confusion is clearly in Sproul’s own mind. Setting aside the matter of ordo salutis for the moment, and the relationship between faith and regeneration, Sproul readily admits that Chafer’s soteriology sounds quite Augustinian (pp. 192-193). He then goes on to attack the “dispensationalist” notion that faith precedes regeneration. What Sproul fails to do is define the terms that are used between the two camps; the result of which would be the understanding that, while the monergistic concepts they believe are the same, the terminology they employ differs. It would take one paragraph to explain the “Reformed” definition of regeneration, compared and contrasted with that of the “dispensationalist.” The end result is an uncharitable and intellectually dishonest criticism of the hermeneutical school. Indeed, he was fairer in his treatment to the synergistic views, not seeking to dismantle and parse every word! No wonder many in Reformed circles have such an errant view of what dispensationalists actually believe!

That being said, I highly recommend this volume. I recommend it to the lay believer who seeks to gain a greater understanding of the history of this doctrine. I would recommend it on the undergraduate or seminary level if a soteriology course would allow the time for the study. Throughout the bulk of the book, Sproul does well to survey the various views and contributions, leaving the reader much to consider.

I received this book for free from Baker Books to review.

Gordon Clark and the “Proofs” for God’s Existence

In chapter one of his book A Christian View of Men and Things, Gordon Clark brings up the discussion of the traditional “proofs” for God’s existence (e.g., cosmological, teleological, ontological, etc). He writes:

To one who has just begun to philosophize and who wishes to defend theism, it might seem most natural to prove the existence of God right at the first… But are the arguments valid? Some people maintain that they are; but even if they are, the more they are studied, the harder it becomes to state them in an unobjectionable form… [If] there is a valid inference from the world to God [vis-à-vis the cosmological argument], the god so proved can be assigned only those qualities sufficient to produce the observed effects. Such an argument might prove the existence of a very powerful god, but it could not prove the existence of an omnipotent God. (Introduction)

I remember well sitting in my first undergraduate course in doctrine and having to memorize the historical proofs for God set forth by Aquinas and others; yet even then, they did not sit right with me. At best, they could set forth a case for a creator, designer, or other, but they failed because they cannot prove Yahweh, the One True God presented in Scripture. They fall short in this regard. Clark quotes Hume to this end:

A body of ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as a proof that the counterbalancing weight exceeds ten ounces, but can never afford a reason that it exceeds a hundred. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section XI)

To be certain, evidence of the One True God’s existence is found in nature. The Apostle Paul tells the reader of Romans as much: [God’s] invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made (1:20). This is what we refer to as general revelation: the non-verbal disclosing of God’s existence and perfections to all people by means of nature.

This is problematic for two reasons. First, that same passage in Romans also says that man in his natural state suppresses the truth: For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them (vv. 18-19).

Second, we cannot know more than what the created world tells us. Existence and identification are two separate entities, and the identification of the One True God can only be found in Scripture. Try as we might to identify God through these proofs, the ultimate authority — the Word of God — is ultimately the only authority. At some point, the unbeliever will need to choose to either believe Scripture or not.

Often the reason for these proofs is said to be for the sake of the unbelieving atheist, but the atheist is right in rejecting these “ways” to proving God’s existence. Even if they proved the existence of God, belief in the propositions found in Scripture are still necessary for eternal life. The redemptive work of the second Person of the Trinity is only revealed to us in Scripture, and must be accepted on the basis of its testimony alone. Either way, knowledge of Scripture is paramount, and we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to illumine Scripture to us.

Clark concludes his discussion of these proofs with the following:

[C]riticism is also directed against the validity of any inference from effect to cause — a matter that was granted for the sake of argument — will be even less easy to place confidence in the proofs of God’s existence. The more the arguments are studied, the less valid they seem. Because of this, the argument for a theistic worldview cannot begin with the traditional proofs of God’s existence. These proofs are seen to raise many questions; and if they should be valid they could not be shown to be valid without a great amount of prior discussion of metaphysics, epistemology, and other elements of a well-rounded system. (Introduction)

The final sentence is most crucial in any dialogue. A great deal of talking past one another happens because our epistemologies — our understanding of knowledge and how we obtain it — differ. To the believer, Scripture should permeate our worldview. We should be reasoning from the Scriptures, for those words alone bring life. Scripture should be the basis and foundation of all that we do, and we would do well to let God do the talking through His Word.

The Foundations of a Sermon

Not too long ago, my family was invited over for dinner by one of my friends from my seminary days.  Receiving an invitation from anyone rarely happens, so we were excited to make it work, and to have grown up conversations about ministry and the Word of God.  Both Julie and her husband, Steve, are on the teaching team at their church, so naturally the conversation shifted at some point to sermon preparation and delivery (buy her book, by the way — it is phenomenal!).  I had made a remark along the lines of finding sermon preparation easy, as “all” it involves is finding the point of the passage and making it the point of the sermon!

The conversation had me thinking, and so I wanted to lay out the three foundations (or sina qua non, if you will) of sermon writing.  While I do not have the opportunity to preach and teach nearly as much as I’d like, these are the three aspects I strive to incorporate every chance I am given.

Convey the Content in Context

In the strictest sense, nothing is more foundational to a sermon than the biblical text — book, chapter, and verse.  Without a exegetical exposition of God’s Word, the preacher becomes little more than a motivational speaker doling out their own advice and maxims.  Scripture is sufficient for all things (2 Tim 3:16-17  All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. — more on that later), and we would do well to let the Bible tell us in which direction a sermon should go.

While nuanced definitions abound, a sermon is expositional when it considers a unit of Scripture (e.g., a verse, a paragraph, a chapter, etc) in its context, and offers an explanation thereof.  It is exegetical when the historical and grammatical context of the unit is considered, and is allowed to speak for itself, without our prejudices or preconceived ideas forcing us to a foregone conclusion.

We find these methods found in Scripture itself:

Ezra 7:10  Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Neh 8:7-8  [The] Levites explained the law to the people as they stood in their places.  They read out of the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.

Note especially the role of the Levitical priests in the Nehemiah passage — they read the Law, then made sure that the congregation could understand what was being read.  This is still the role of the modern preacher.  We need to make sure that the content of the passage is being conveyed, and that it is being viewed through the lens of the context in which it is found, whether that is the paragraph, or even extending to the literary style of the book or culture of the time.

The point of the passage should be the point of the sermon.  Why did the Spirit direct the authors to write any given command, narrative, or teaching?  If we cannot give a one sentence summary of the passage, and therefore our sermon (since the two are one and the same), we need to revisit the text and refine our goal in communicating truth.

Converge upon the Cross

While each unit of Scripture has its particular truth and message that the Spirit intends it to convey, there are themes that are present throughout the entirety of Scripture.  One theme that should find its way into every sermon is that God will fix the sin problem — the good news, the Gospel.  In other words, that the Father sent the Son into the world to pay the penalty of death for the sins of humanity, and that by believing (the Greek means to consider something to be true) in that work, each individual can once again be reconciled to the Father.

This second foundation is also demonstrated in Scripture, most notably in Acts.  Peter does this expertly from the Old Testament in Acts 2 and Acts 3, and Stephen in Acts 7.  Also note Paul in Acts 17:2-3:

As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”

Or Apollos in 18:28:

For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.

Not only does converging upon the cross make good expositional sense, but it also makes great practical evangelistic sense, as well.  We should not take the opportunity lightly when God brings people within earshot, and to be used by Him in that way.  Depending upon the size and location of the church, it is not unlikely that there will be men and women there that either have never heard the good news, or have never responded to it by belief.  I have heard several sermons in which words like sinsacrifice, grace, and belief have been completely absent!

Even as believers, it serves us well to be reminded of who we were, who we now are, and who we will one day be!  To be reminded of that grace and love is no small matter!

Connect to the Congregation

And that brings us to the third foundation of a sermon: connecting to the congregation.  Many view this as the primary — if not sole — purpose of preaching; yet, if it is not first grounded in an understanding of the original intent and meaning of the passage, we have once again descended into a form indistinguishable from secular motivational speaking. By ignoring the passage, we are elevating our words above God’s Words, as if we have something to add that hasn’t already been said.

Depending upon the text at hand, Scripture can have one (or more) of many different outcomes.  For example, it can convict us of unrighteous attitudes and actions, it can console us in times of injustice and hopelessness, it can encourage us unto a path of sanctification, or certainly not the least of which, it can lead us to the grace in which all of it is steeped.

Paul writes in 2 Tim 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

[Sidenote: As often as these verses are quoted to support the inerrant, divine nature of Scripture, it seems to be just as often overlooked that the Scripture Paul writes about here is, contextually, the Old Testament!  While the New Testament is surely to be included at this point, how prevalent is the aversion to the Old Testament for its lack of practicality?]

God’s Word is intended to be applicable.  We are hard-pressed to read it and not walk away affected by it through the enablement of the Spirit.  The author of Hebrews writes in 4:12:

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword.

Or consider what God says in Isaiah 55:10-11:

For just as rain and snow fall from heaven and do not return there without saturating the earth and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do.”

If we are preaching the content in context, connecting it to the congregation shouldn’t take a Herculean effort.  God’s Word is powerful on its own accord to accomplish His purposes.  Our job as preachers is to minimize our words and to maximize God’s.

Our job, by the illumination of the Spirit through prayer and study, is to be faithful in preaching the Word of God.  Admittedly, the style in which this is done may differ.  No two preachers are alike, whether it’s in their delivery, or in the individual speaker’s mechanics (e.g., the tone, cadence, nonverbal cues); yet our goal should be one and the same: to the glory of God through faithfulness to the Word of God.