Col. 2:9 and Eph. 3:19

by Matt Slick

  • "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9, NASB).
  • "and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19, NASB).

Colossians 2:9 is often used by Trinitarians to support the doctrine that Jesus is God in flesh.  It clearly states that in Jesus, deity dwells.   What is interesting about this verse is that it contains a word used only once in the entire Bible: "deity."  Deity means, "The essential nature or condition of being a god; divinity."  This verse states that in Jesus dwells all the fullness of God or all the fullness of the condition of being divine.

However, critics of the doctrine of Jesus' deity will go to Eph. 3:19 which says something similar but not identical to Col. 2:9.   It says". . . that you [the Christians] may be filled up to all the fullness of God."  These verses are similar, and opponents of the Trinity will attempt to use Ephesians to deny that Colossians 2:9 states that Jesus is God.  They rightly observe that Eph. 3:19 says that Christians are filled with the fullness of God.  They then reason that if we are filled with the fullness of God and we are not divine, then when Col. 2:9 says that in Jesus dwells all the fullness of deity, then neither is He divine.

One of the mistakes in the assumption that Eph. 3:19 interprets or clarifies Col. 2:9 is the failure to read the verses in context.   After all, the verses are in different books.  Without looking at the context of both, it isn't proper to simply quote the two in juxtaposition and make a pronouncement that Col. 2:9 does not mean Jesus is God because of a slightly similar usage of words in Eph. 3:19.   Therefore, let's look at the context of each.

  • Colossians 2
    • v. 2 true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself
    • v. 4, that no one deceive you with persuasive arguments
    • v. 6, walk in Christ
    • v. 7, rooted and built up in Jesus
    • v. 8, see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy.
    • v. 9, for in Jesus dwells all the fullness of deity in bodily form.
  • Ephesians 3
    • v. 1, Paul a prisoner of Christ.
    • v. 3, By revelation, Paul received knowledge of 'the mystery.'
    • v. 6, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body
    • v. 10, in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known
    • v. 14, Paul prays for the Ephesians
    • v. 16, that God would strengthen them with power through the Holy Spirit.
    • v. 17, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, being grounded in love
    • v. 18, that they may comprehend with all the saints
    • v. 19, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

As you can see, the context of Col. 2 is a warning against deception and a proclamation that in Jesus dwells all the fullness of deity.  It is in Christ, in whom dwells deity, that we have protection from deception.   He is our safety.   In Eph. 3, the context is that the Gentiles are included in the saving plan of God, that Paul wishes that the Ephesians would be strengthened with power, that Christ would dwell in their hearts, and that they would be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Obviously, the contexts are different; and because they are, the phrases must be interpreted in light of them.  In Col. 2:9, Jesus is the guard against deception.   In Eph. 3:19, being filled with the fullness of God is contextually speaking of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (v. 16) and the indwelling of Christ (v. 17).   It is in this context of indwelling that the statement is made about Christians being filled with the fullness of God.   It is not saying that they are divine.   Rather, it is saying that they are indwelt by God as is consistent with other scriptures.

  • John 14:23, "Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him."
  • Rom. 8:9-11, "However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.   But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.  10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.  11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you."

Col. 2 is a different context and is dealing with a different issue than Eph 3.  Though Col. 2:9 and Eph. 3:19 use similar phrases, they are not identical.  Furthermore, Col. 2:9 contains the word "deity," "theotas," which only occurs in the entire Bible once in reference to Jesus.  In Col. 2:9 it states that in Jesus dwells the fullness of deity in bodily form.  In Eph. 3:19 it says that Christians may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Likewise, the phrase "fullness of God" only occurs once in the entire Bible, right here in Eph. 3:19; and it is dealing with believers being indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit (v.16).  So, Eph. 3:19 cannot be used to state that Col. 2:9 does not teach Jesus is God in flesh.

Furthermore, I cannot help remembering the words found in John 1:1 and verse 14 when thinking of Col. 2:9

  • John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
  • John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

A final note.   In John 14:23 and Rom. 8:9, we see the indwelling of God as a Trinity.   The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all said to dwell in the believer.  This is the mystery and the wonder of God as a Trinity.

Col. 2:9 shows us that in Jesus dwells God--bodily.  Eph. 3:19 shows us that Christians are indwelt by God through the Holy Spirit.   They are different.

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." (John 8:58).

 

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