Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 14, 2007

Word of Christ: Gospel or Scripture?

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“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thanksgiving in your hearts to God.”

Colossians 3:16, ESV

On June 24, 2007, I preached my first sermon at Kim’s home church, Mt. Hermon Baptist Church (This was not my first sermon ever, just simply my first sermon to have preached at Mt Hermon). The title of my message was simply, The Centrality of Christ in the Church. I preached only from Colossians 3:16. It was a message that had been forming and stirring in my soul for quite some time. I had prayed many months ago when I committed myself to studying this verse, and in particular, the phrase “word of Christ” that the Lord would soon give me an opportunity to preach or teach what I had learned. So, naturally, when I was asked to speak at Mt. Hermon, I knew immediately that this was an answered prayer and proceeded to form my notes and study material into a sermon. Needless to say, it was one of the most enjoyable and emotional sermons that I have ever delivered.

Initially, Col 3:16 impacted me in a fresh new way as I extracted it from my devotional time and entered it into my Scripture memory list with the intention of having it in mind to constantly challenge and exhort me in letting the word of Christ dwell in me richly, that is, with the interpretation that “word of Christ” was synonymous for word of God. Then, as has happened many times in my journey as a Bible student who is not without flaws, a verse that I have read a thousand times and memorized numerous other times, spoke new volumes to me in an edifying and convicting manner. Suddenly, I asked myself if word of Christ even meant word of God at all, and if not, then what did it mean? Subsequent to my personal study to which I postponed the usage of any outside sources in aiding my interpretation, I have read many commentaries and parts of books concerning this verse which is to say that most, if not all, agree with my conclusions. So, here is what I discovered and what I challenge you to consider if you have not already covered this ground in your walk with the Lord.

I say “Word of Christ: Gospel or Scripture” because really these are the only two options. Personally, I have heard Col 3:16 quoted in just about every ministerial venue ranging from Seminary chapel to youth camp in an offhand fashion or roundabout way as “Let the word of God dwell in you richly.” However, though I do not want to pose the idea that we are to altogether separate the voice of Christ from the voice of God for when Christ is speaking, God is speaking and his message is that of the Triune God, I do want to argue for something a little bit more distinguishable between the two with a narrower interpretation. Yes, the unity of the Godhead permits these phrases to be interchangeable in nature; however, I do not desire to go so far as to say that the Apostle Paul is using “Word of Christ” in an interchangeable way with the “word of God” in mind. It appears that he is using this phrase as a signifier of something other than necessarily the Scriptures.

“Word of Christ” appears only twice in the NT. Once in Col 3:16 and once more in Romans 10:17 (So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ). What is significant for our discussion is that both Romans 10 and Col 3, not to mention all four chapters of Colossians, are heavily drenched in the gospel message as well as in the person and work of Christ.

In Rom 10:17, faith comes by hearing the “word of Christ” which is inextricably linked to the entire previous discourse concerning one’s Christological confession (v. 9), Christological belief (v. 11), Christological salvation in terms of the universality of Christ as Savior and Lord of all (v. 12), and the saving power and authority of the name of Christ (v. 13). Moreover, Paul further expounds upon this specific message of the gospel which is rooted in Christ by demonstrating the implications of this message in stating that it is this particular content by which mankind may come to salvation. Thus, when the apostle comes to v. 17, he states that faith comes by hearing the gospel, namely the gospel of which Christ is the author (speaker) as well as the content. For you Greek fellas out there, I came to terms along the same lines as Dunn and O’Brien in their respective commentaries on Romans and Colossians that “word of Christ” in both instances may function as a subjective and objective genitive. This I know is a rare and unpopular syntactical conclusion though it seems to fit best in the context of the both passages of which Paul is the author in both cases. I believe that it is Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics that names this syntactical function a “plenary genitive.”

In Col 3:16, likewise Paul has devoted an entire book to the theme of Christology. Thus, this verse must not be taken lightly in that Paul intended to use “word of Christ” instead of “word of God” for particular reasons. What I think is very interesting about this whole dilemma and discussion is that in both Rom 10:17 and Col 3:16 “Christou” (Greek for Christ) is a textual variant, but with an [A] rating. Metzger in his A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament informs us that in Rom 10:17 later amendations tried to insert “God” in the place of “Christ” which was due to careless copiers (those who must of thought it was ok to interchange these phrases). Also, in Col 3:16, later texts included “word of God” as well as “word of the Lord”. So, here also, we see attempts to gloss over Paul’s intentional choosing of “word of Christ” at a much earlier date than our modern day ministers, theologians, and laymen.

Though I could go on much longer, I will not. This is a blog, not a book. But, the evidence is substantial in support of understanding “word of Christ” in a way that could otherwise be interpretively understood as “Let the gospel dwell in you richly…” This gospel, however, must be Paul’s gospel message which is primarily about the person and work of Christ, especially here in the letter of Colossians. Although this interpretation ought not to take away from hastening the word of God, that is, the Scriptures to dwell in us richly, we should not neglect the need not only to familiarize ourselves with the content and message of the gospel, but also in emulating and embodying the gospel in the sense that we live out its peculiarities and defining characteristics such as repentance, faith, forgiveness, and so forth. And in the same fashion, we ought to be day by day being conformed more and more into the image of the Son, Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29). Thus, we shoud seek to bear out the gospel in our lives abundantly by bearing the fruit of its content and the image of the Son. May we understand that it “was delivered to us of first importance that Christ died for ours sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4).” And, let it be said of us that we always “preach Christ crucified” and that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” and that “the life [we] now live in the flesh [we] live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave himself for [us] (Gal 2:20).

Love the Gospel! Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly!

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