Colossians 3:16-17 – “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”

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POSTED 08 FEBRUARY, 2018

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume II

“Let the word of Messiah richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

Paul instructs the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Colossians 3:16, NRSV).[1] The “word of Messiah” is likely a reference to either the gospel, or Yeshua’s teachings, considered by the TNIV to be “the message of Christ.”

There could very easily be a connection intended between Colossians 3:16 and the hymn that Paul used previously in Colossians 1:15-20, detailing what Yeshua has accomplished. Paul says, “Let the message of Christ continue to live in you in all its wealth of wisdom” (Colossians 3:16, Williams New Testament), the clause en pasē sophia or “in all wisdom” being a deliberate subversion of the false teachers’ philosophy. This wisdom is only brought by the word of the Messiah, or the gospel. Furthermore, this message involves didaskontes kai nouthetountes or “teaching and admonishing” (NASU). Teaching regards positive instruction, whereas admonishing often involves negative warnings.[2]

As “the word of Messiah” dwells in the hearts of God’s people, it will be evident by their character of worship. We see a wide array of worship techniques referred to by Paul in Colossians 3:16, including: psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Too many people today, perhaps because of extreme influences from the charismatic movement, often think that non-spontaneous worship is not spiritual (or even worse, non-spontaneous preaching), yet it is clear simply from Colossians 3:16, that formal styles of worship are to play a primary role to more spontaneous styles.

Today’s Messianic Believers need to be quite consciously aware of how the First Century Messianic movement directly inherited a rich liturgical tradition from the Jewish Synagogue. In Romans 9:4, Paul observed that to his Jewish people “belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service,” with latreia being of notable importance. The early Believers certainly employed many of the Psalms from the Tanach in their worship to God, but they were equally quite adept at producing their own songs and hymns. Many of the early hymns of the First Century Believers expressed key doctrinal confessions about Yeshua, such as Colossians 1:15-20, and also Philippians 2:6-11 and 1 Timothy 3:16.

Worshipping the Lord is notably something that is not to end in corporate meeting times, but extends to how a person functions throughout the normal work week. Paul tells the Colossians, “and all, whatever ye may do in word or in work, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus—giving thanks to the God and Father, through him” (Colossians 3:17, YLT). All things considered pertain directly en logō ē en ergō, “in word or in work” (YLT/LITV). It could be argued that “in word” is a connection back to “the word of Messiah” (Colossians 3:16), although much more likely “in word or in work” regards “whatever you do or say” (NLT).

There are some important Jewish parallels to be considered with Colossians 3:17, indicating that Paul is only appropriating concepts in which he had been originally trained, and is now placing a life in Yeshua the Messiah as the prime focus. Sirach 47:8, describing King David, says, “In all that he did he gave thanks to the Holy One, the Most High, with ascriptions of glory; he sang praise with all his heart, and he loved his Maker.” An admonition seen in the Mishnah explains, “may everything you do be for the sake of Heaven” (m.Avot 2:12).[3]

How can Believers adequately perform what they say or what they do? They must invoke the approval of God. Specifically, Paul tells the Colossians that this is to be en onomati Kuriou Iēsou, “in the name of the Lord Yeshua” (Colossians 3:17). We should be steadfastly reminded how the term “name” (Heb. shem; Grk. onoma) throughout the Scriptures often relates to one’s authority or repute,[4] and not principally the pronunciation or spelling of something. What is significant to note in Colossians 3:17, is that the Colossians’ devotion is to be focused around the Lord Yeshua. How one serves God, the Father, is accomplished through Yeshua, His Son, with the Son integrated directly into the Divine Identity. For the Apostle Paul, a life of faith is considered to be a life of worship, something emphasized both in Colossians 3:17 and in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

To do something through the name of the Lord is spoken affluently throughout the Tanach. In Genesis 12:8, it is recorded that Abraham “built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.” In Micah 4:5, it is asserted that Israel is a people who “walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever,” meaning that they are devoted to Him and to His ways. In his book Jesus and the God of Israel, Richard Bauckham considers passages like Colossians 3:17 to play a role in “Paul’s christological interpretation of scriptural passages about YHWH, taking the name YHWH (kurios in LXX) to refer to Jesus Christ.”[5] These are places where Yeshua the Messiah directly takes the identity of His Father, YHWH or the LORD, and is served, worshipped, or obeyed as the LORD (often, but not always, connected to some Tanach intertextuality).[6] This goes well beyond the title Kurios simply alluding to Yeshua as some kind of “Master” or authority figure, but how He is integrated into the Being of the Lord God of Israel, in an effort to recognize the LORD as the One True God and no other. The reference we see to “in the name of the Lord…” in Colossians 3:17, referring to Yeshua, is thus to be understood as being no different to b’shem-ADONAI in the Tanach. Moo concurs,

“[This] is, then, another (less direct) sign of the high Christology of this letter (and of the New Testament in general) that the ‘LORD’ is now identified with Jesus Christ. The phrase ‘in the name of the Lord’ takes on a wide variety of nuances, but often the focus is on the nature or character of the Lord. To do all things ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus,’ then, does not simply mean to utter Jesus’ name but to act always in concert with the nature and character of our Lord.”[7]

Dunn, who broadly holds to a low Christology, even has to note the closeness of the Lord Yeshua to YHWH. He validly observes how this means, “Not that Jesus is thought to have taken over, far less usurped, the role of Yahweh…rather…God has shared his sovereign role with Christ.”[8] I do not think anyone holding to a high Christology of Yeshua being the Lord God actually believes that Yeshua takes over, or even usurps, His Father’s role. Rather, we see devotion for life by people—again, something Paul considers to be “worship”—focused around Yeshua, and through Yeshua it is directed to God the Father. Something done in the name of the Lord Yeshua is done as though it is b’shem-ADONAI. It is difficult to overlook how Yeshua is identified as a part of the Godhead here, with Yeshua being recognized as “Lord” and the Father as “God.”


NOTES

[1] This entry has been adapted from the author’s commentary Colossians and Philemon for the Practical Messianic.

[2] Moo, Colossians-Philemon, 289.

[3] Neusner, Mishnah, 677.

[4] Consult Walter C. Kaiser, “shem,” in TWOT, 2:934-935; and H. Bietenhard, “ónoma,” in TDNT, pp 694-700.

[5] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 186.

[6] Cf. Bauckham’s detailed list in Ibid., pp 186-188.

[7] Moo, Colossians-Philemon, 291.

[8] Dunn, Colossians-Philemon, 240.