So I was reading my EfM material this past week and I came across something rather startling. They point out a Christian hymn embedded within Colossians (1:15-20). So if Paul’s letters are our oldest surviving New Testament works, then would it not follow that a hymn embedded within Paul’s letter is the oldest hymn? If this is true then why isn’t this section better known? I don’t get it. This is the first time I’ve heard of these lines as being a hymn.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers —
all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself was before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
he is the beginning,
the firstborn of the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of the cross.
They note that this is a triptych form. The separation between the stanza doesn’t show up in the html. The first two stanzas contrast firstborn of creation with firstborn of the dead and it is pulled together in the third stanza. They suggest that ‘through the blood of the cross’ may have been added to the end to make it more explanatory. The EfM materials discussed that “If Christ is God’s agent in redemption, Christ is also God’s agent in creation.” Found first here – if this hymn is from Paul’s time or earlier – and last in the introduction to John’s Gospel?
So is Paul incorporating an early Christian hymn or has a hymn been later inserted? EfM notes that the letter suggests that Paul was not personally known among the Colossians, so I wonder if he inserted a hymn that might be familiar to them to help ease his way into the letter? Perhaps its a hymn that Epaphras who had preached in to the Colossae and was in prison with Paul had sung it in their cell. Presumably Epaphras is who prompted Paul to write.