A Look at Colossians 1:16-17
Dr. Bruce K. Alcorn
God began His written message, the Bible, by
stating an extremely profound and essential truth.
the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
That fact and its
importance are eloquently stated by Larry DeBruyn.
At a point before time, nothing existed. By creating something out of
nothing, the transcendent God Elohim began time, matter and space. Out
of nothing He brought the material universe into existence (i.e., creatio ex
nihilo). This simple yet profound statement regarding the subject of
origins is foundational to everything else in the Bible.
Not only is it important for us to understand the truth about Creation,
that is, the origin of time, matter and
space, it is just as important to understand the truth about what has
happened since that beginning. What has been God’s role once He, Out of nothing… brought the material universe into existence? How has His
creation continued to exist or, why has it not reverted back to the state of nothing?
To answer those questions we only need to search the rest of Scripture,
such as Colossians. That New Testament book is Paul’s
letter to the church in Colossae, written while he was in a Roman prison. In
the initial part of the first chapter he commends them for their faith in
Christ and love for fellow believers and that he prayed for them ceaselessly so
that they would, “…walk in a manner
worthy of the Lord….” He then proceeded to write about the Christ who, “…delivered us from the domain of
darkness…,” provided redemption and forgave sins, that He is God and was
the, “…first-born of all creation.” That
was followed by a rich statement about Christ’s power.
by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things
have been created by Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all
things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17, NASB)
The KJV uses “…by Him all things consist;”
here and, both the ESV & NIV read the same as the NASB.
The Greek word that is translated all things hold together or consist
to join together parts in a
whole, to constitute, create, bring into existence, to exist.
Another similar use of that word is found in
it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was
formed out of water and by water. (2 Peter 3:5)
The KJV uses were
of old and, both the ESV & NIV use existed here.
Matthew Henry restates Colossians 1:17 this
The whole creation is kept
together by the power of the son of God, and made to consist in its proper form.
Commentary states it this way:
The next set of
christological formulations (v. 17) repeats in chronological fashion the
critical relationship between Lord Christ and all things. The previous
confession stated that the destiny of all things is predicated by being
in Christ. Similarly, if Christ was before all things, and if all things
have their beginning by him and their purpose for him, and if in
him all things hold together in a coherent and logical way, then the wise
thing to do is to line up under the lordship of Christ in order to enter into
After writing, “For by Him all things were
created,” in vs. 16, Paul goes on to explain what “all things” includes with four
phrases covering four different aspects: (1) “both in the heavens and on earth,”
(2) “visible and invisible,” (3) “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or
authorities,” and in vs. 17, (4) “He is before all things.” That includes
everything in our space-time continuum and, before time even began. Christ
created it all!
Not only did He create it, He has kept it
and continues to keep it in place and working… in Him all things hold together, or as Mathew Henry said, as noted
above, “The whole creation is kept together,” or as noted above in the IVP
Commentary, “in him all things hold together in a coherent and logical
The main focus of this essay is to bring
some attention to the importance of what it means to us today that He is
(still) holding all things together, by focusing on just one aspect of all
things, that is, the physical parts of what He has created. While it
could perhaps be argued that the spiritual parts of creation are more important
than the physical, both are products of His work.
God did not do His work of creation and then
just let it go off on its own. He is still keeping it together and running as
He designed it. Not only did He create the heavens and the earth, He has kept
it in operation. Not only did He create man in His own image, He interacted
with him after that and kept him alive. (Genesis 1:26-30; 3:9-13).
Peter stated that continuing attention to
His creation by writing,
since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the
beginning of creation.” (2
When Paul was reasoning with philosophers in
Athens he touched on this point when he said,
in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we also are His offspring.’ (Acts 17:28)
How that is accomplished is explained by the
writer of Hebrews,
And He is the radiance of His glory and the
exact representation of His nature, and upholds
all things by the
word of His power. (Hebrews 1:3a)
Long before Paul addressed those Greek
philosophers, the issues of life and its existence were of concern to man as
illustrated by Job whose writings are considered the oldest in the Bible. Job
both asked and answered the question about the control of all life.
In whose hand is the life
of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?
Does not the ear test
words, as the palate tastes its food?
Wisdom is with aged men, with long life is understanding.
With Him are wisdom and
might; to Him belong counsel and understanding.
Behold, He tears down, and
it cannot be rebuilt; He imprisons a man, and there can be no release.
Behold, He restrains the
waters, and they dry up; and He sends them out, and they inundate the earth.
With Him are strength and
sound wisdom. (Job 12:10-16)
When seeking answers to such questions we
should first remind ourselves of what Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth
about the wisdom of men, something that is just as appropriate for today.
For the word of the cross is
foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the
power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." Where is the wise man?
Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish
the wisdom of the world? Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and
the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren,
that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many
noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,
and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are
strong, so that, just as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast in the
your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:5)
One way to stress the importance of God’s
continuing work with His creation is to try to answer the following question:
would happen to His creation if God withdrew His power from it?
To answer that question an attempt will now be
made to identify some of the consequences to life on earth as we know it if the
Creator were to withdraw His power, that is, if He did not continue to hold
all things together.
Note: This study will be restricted to physical consequences. No attempt will
be made to deal with non-physical issues, such as, psychological or behavioral,
political, social, emotional, or spiritual. Daniel implied that such issues do
in fact exist when he wrote,
it is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and established
kings. (Daniel 2:21)
physical examples that follow are not intended to be exhaustive, but only to
provide a sample out of all possibilities.
In the very first verse of the Bible God
tells us that He, “…created the heavens
and the earth.” The remaining verses of that first chapter of Genesis present
some of the details of Creation, that is, what He made. In terms of
astronomical dimensions earth is a very small part of all He made. However, it
is where He placed man, it is where He caused His written word to be produced,
and where he sent his Son to die for the salvation of sinners. Therefore, an
obvious place to start looking for of evidence of what would happen if God did
all things together is the place where we humans live. We will first
give our attention to some physical aspects of earth and their impact upon the
inhabitants of earth, that is, plants and animals. While the impact upon human
life will also be touched upon in this section, the following section, Human
Life, will address that in greater detail.
Earth is tilted on its axis from
perpendicular by about 23.5° and this tilting is the primary reason we have the
four seasons each the year—spring, summer, fall and winter. The fact that the
earth revolves around the sun also plays a role in giving us our seasons. Since
the axis is tilted, different parts of the globe are oriented towards the sun
at different times of the year. Summer is warmer than winter in each hemisphere
because the rays of the sun hit the earth more directly and there are more
daylight hours during summer than during winter. If the earth was not tilted at
all, seasons would not change and each area of the earth would have the same
season all year.
The lack of seasonal change would have a
severe and adverse impact upon plants, animals and man. For most plants,
sunlight in the correct amount is necessary for growth; too much or too little
and they will die. Without seasonal change some areas that now grow plants
would no longer be able to do so and some types of plants would not grow due to
too much light and heat. Such a situation would also negatively affect the
animals and man who depend upon plants to sustain life.
Sunlight and/or the absence of it also
impacts weather (rain, snow, wind, temperature, air pressure) which in turn has
an effect upon plants, animals and man. One very simple illustration of the
impact of sunlight intensity is the need for yearly freezing temperatures in
some areas to control insect infestations.
If God’s power did not hold the earth’s tilt exactly as
it is, life on earth would be quite different or even non-existent.
The earth rotates on its
axis approximately once every twenty-four hours and that gives us our days and
nights. At the equator that is a speed of close to 1,040 miles per hour in a
counterclockwise direction (when looking down from over the North Pole). This
rotation also has an effect upon our weather systems as shown by the fact that
in the Northern Hemisphere low pressure systems rotate counterclockwise while
high pressure systems rotate clockwise. In the Southern Hemisphere the opposite
is true. In addition, while the origin of earth’s magnetic field is not well
understood, it is accepted that the earth’s rotation does contribute to its
magnetic field along with the rotation of its internal core which does not
quite match the overall earth rotation and, that in turn helps protect us from
harmful radiation from the sun.
If the earth did not rotate
we would not have day and night as we now know it. With no rotation and
continued revolution around the sun daylight and darkness would last six months
esch. If the rotation speed was greater or less than it actually is the length
of our days and nights would be very different. In either case the dire results
should be quite obvious.
If God’s power did not keep the earth’s rotation on its
axis exactly as it is, life on earth would be quite different or even
The earth revolves around the sun once every
365.24 days in an elliptical orbit and this movement adds to the effect of the
Earth’s tilt to give us our seasons.
If the earth did not orbit around the sun
where would it go, into outer space? How then would we get the sun’s energy
that is so essential to life on earth?
If God’s power did not keep the earth revolving around
the sun in the exact path as it is now, life on earth would be quite different
or even non-existent.
Gravitation, or gravity, is a force that attracts
physical bodies with a strength that is in proportion to their mass. Gravitation
is the reason we have weight. It causes things to fall to the ground when dropped and without gravity we
would float off into the atmosphere along with other things like, animals,
rivers and lakes. It is also the reason liquids, including rivers, run down
instead of up. Gravitation is the force that keeps the earth in its orbit
around the sun and, for keeping the moon in its orbit around the earth. Gravity
also is the force that keeps earth’s atmosphere in place and that in turn has an
effect on how human bodies function as will be mentioned later in the section
titled, Human Life. Specific examples
will be given of what can happen to the human body when it is free from
If God’s power no
longer maintained the forces of gravitation as they currently exist, life would
be quite different or would cease to exist.
Our planet is surrounded by a layer of gases,
held in place by the force of gravity, called earth’s atmosphere, and it has
everything needed to support life on earth. It is composed of: nitrogen (78%),
oxygen (21%), argon (1%), and smaller amounts of carbon dioxide, neon, helium,
methane, krypton, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, xenon, ozone, iodine, carbon
monoxide, and ammonia. The lower altitudes also include various quantities of
The weight of the air surrounding earth
exerts a pressure upon the earth’s surface and is called atmospheric or
barometric pressure. At sea
level that force or pressure averages around 14.4 lbs. per square inch. While
temperature and moisture do affect the pressure, as the distance above sea
level increases the pressure decreases. In fact, for every 1,000 feet of
altitude the pressure decreases approximately 4%. The following table
illustrates several examples of how atmospheric pressure decreases with an
increase in altitude.
Feet Above Sea
Pounds Per Sq.
Note: The summit of Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet above sea
It is easy to see from that table that as
altitude increases the pressure decreases but, at the same time the dangers to
man increase. Those dangers are not only due less oxygen but, the lack of
atmospheric pressure itself causes other problems. For example, there is a
medical condition sometimes called acute mountain sickness that can affect high
altitude travelers (typically above 8,000 ft.), and, it is due to a combination
of both lower air pressure and lower oxygen levels. The symptoms can range from
mild to life threatening, and can affect the nervous system, lungs, muscles,
and heart. (A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia) While people can become acclimated
to living at high altitudes, such as those on the Andean and Tibetan plateaus
which rise above 13,000 ft., there are limits. Because of this, the typical
cabin pressure in an airliner flying at 39,000 ft. is made equal to that at
6,900 ft. The amount of moisture in the air is also partially affected by
atmospheric pressure, that is, as the pressure declines so does the moisture
content. A simple earthly example of that is the process known as vacuuming
drying. Materials, such as lumber, can have its moisture content reduced by
placing it in a sealed container and reducing the air pressure (increasing the
internal vacuum). Such a process a shorter drying time and protects the
material from the dangers of high heat. Additional details of how extremely low
atmospheric pressure can affect humans will be given in a later section titled,” Human Life.”
Atmospheric pressure also affects animals. For
example, fish have a gas filled organ called a swim bladder which helps them
with buoyancy compensation. Even the normal changes in atmospheric pressure at
the earth’s surface can affect the catch rate of fish, let alone what would
happen at extremely low pressure levels.
Plants also depend upon having an
appropriate atmospheric pressure for normal growth because the speed at which
plants grow is affected by atmospheric pressure conditions. If the pressure
goes too low, a plant cannot survive due to the lack of gas exchange that can
Weather is also affected by altitude (lower
air pressure) because air temperature decreases as altitude increases.
Ultimately it is God’s power that maintains our
atmosphere at the level that sustains life on earth as we know it.
All matter consists of particles called
atoms and, the atom is a basic chemical building block of matter. Atoms are
comprised of three main parts; protons, electrons and, neutrons. Protons and
neutrons are found together in what is called the nucleus of the atom and the
electrons circle or orbit around the nucleus somewhat like planets orbiting
around their sun. Protons have a positive electrical charge, electrons have a
negative electrical charge, while neutrons have no electrical charge. The
particles within each atom are held together by powerful forces.
all things together!
When atoms bond together, they can make
larger building blocks of matter called molecules. When electrons are made to
move from one atom to another an electrical current is created. Electricity
is the flow of electrons.
Since the earth is made of matter and matter
consists of atoms and atoms have electrons, the earth has an electrical system.
While the average person tends to think of electricity simply as something that
goes through wires and makes our lights and television come work, or it is why
lightening kills, electricity plays a much bigger role in earth. In addition to
the fact that the atom, which contains electrons, is a basic chemical building
block of matter, electricity is involved when plants move, such as, in the
Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants, electricity is involved when
animals see and hear, electricity is involved in weather systems, watches are
kept on time by the electrical properties of minerals such as quartz, etc.
If God removed His power that holds atoms together, if
He removed electricity energy, all life and matter would cease to exist.
The main effect of the moon upon the earth
is ocean tides, although if we had no moon nights would be darker and that
would have an effect upon animals, especially nocturnal ones. There also are
many life forms that depend upon the changing of tides.
fact that He holds together the position
of the moon and that He maintains its gravity, is essential to life on earth!
In addition to all of those matters is the issue of the
necessity of God’s control of the rest of our universe and beyond, such as, the
path of asteroids and other heavenly bodies!
Electromagnetic radiation is a term used to
describe the different kinds of energies radiated into space by stars such as
the Sun. The electromagnetic spectrum
is the range of all frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. At the lower end
of the spectrum are radio waves and at the highest end are gamma rays. The kind
of electromagnetic energy we use most often to live is visible light. Yes,
light is a form of such energy. Examples of other kinds of this energy we use
include radio waves, radar waves (microwaves) and X-rays, to name a few. At the
same time such radiation can be dangerous to life, even deadly if not properly
controlled. In fact, earth’s atmosphere that was discussed earlier, plays an
important role in protecting us from the dangers of electromagnetic radiation.
If God’s power, that both created and sustains
electromagnetic radiation, was withdrawn life would cease.
David stated an awesome truth when he penned
the following words that are very appropriate to mention at this point.
will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful
are Thy works.(Psalm 139:14)
Truly our bodies are wonderful works! Take a
look at some very interesting facts and be thankful that, like the earth, God
together our bodies.
The wonderfully made human body, made by
God, has a physical composition of many, many parts. At one level we could say
it is a collection of cells, which are sometimes referred to as the body’s
basic unit of life. How many cells does the human body have? There is no
consensus about the number of cells in the human body other than that most
scientific sources claim they number in the trillions.
Cells consist of particles called atoms and
as was mentioned earlier, atoms are a basic chemical building block of all matter,
including human cells.
When something happens within an automobile
engine that is counter to its design, such as if a piston ring breaks, problems
arise. Those problems could be minor or they could even be fatal. When
something goes wrong within a human cell that is counter to its design,
problems also arise. As with the engine those problems could be minor or they
could be fatal. One example of something going wrong at the cellular level is
cancer. Here is an explanation of cancer from the National Cancer Institute:
The body is made up of many
types of cells. These cells grow and divide in a controlled way to produce more
cells as they are needed to keep the body healthy. When cells become old or
damaged, they die and are replaced with new cells. However, sometimes this
orderly process goes wrong. The genetic material (DNA) of a cell can become
damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and
division. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells
form when the body does not need them. The extra cells may form a mass of
tissue called a tumor.
It does not take much of an imagination to
understand that major problems would arise if God no longer held
together those forces He used when He made our atoms, our molecules and
our cells. If the electrons stopped orbiting around their nuclei we would be in
deep trouble just like we would be if the earth stopped orbiting around the
Sun. In fact…
If God suspended the
forces he used in Creation, the entire universe would disintegrate.
Earlier, the importance to earth of
gravitation was discussed. Now, take a look at some facts about its importance
to our bodies. Man’s travels in space, including to the moon, took the astronauts
away from the full force of earth’s gravitation into what is sometimes called
microgravity. Those activities have already revealed that less gravity does
impact our human bodies. Following is a specific example.
In December 2011, U.S.
astronaut Don Pettit launched from Kazakhstan in a Russian Soyuz space capsule
and arrived at the International Space Station, where he spent the next 191
days. While there, Pettit orbite4d the Earth 3,088 times and witnessed the
arrival of the SpaceX Dragon, the
first commercial craft to dock at the ISS. He also experienced significant
physiological changes. Extended periods of low gravity lead to bone density
loss and heart shrinkage. When Pettit returned to Earth in July, his body could
not endure even minor physical exertion in normal gravity, so the ground crew
carried him to a nearby medical tent for routine post-spaceflight examinations.
Research has shown that astronauts’ muscle tone improves after a few weeks, but
their bone density may never return to pre-spaceflight levels.
While some of the effects of weightlessness
have already been identified, enough is known to suggest that we do not yet
know enough. NASA and its fourteen international partners will be doing more
research on the effects of long-term spaceflight on the human body in the
International Space Station.
- Our bodies are designed to
take care of the earth’s gravitational effects upon the fluids within us. When
that force is present to a much lesser degree it can result in stuffy noses,
headaches and, puffy faces.
- Bone calcium and
phosphorous are excessively excreted in body waste during weightlessness which
can result in bone loss, urinary stones and bone fracture.
- When a spacecraft is in
orbit the muscles of astronauts weaken.
- At least sixty percent of
astronauts experienced symptoms of motion sickness after being weightless.
- Red blood cells transform
into a different shape during long-term space missions.
- While in space bodies are
subject to more space radiation because they are less protected from such by
earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field.
The importance to earth of its atmospheric
pressure was also discussed earlier. Now let’s look at the importance to human
Astronauts work in
dangerous environments and face many possible dangers, one of which is a
punctured space suit. Not only would the loss of oxygen be deadly but the loss
of atmospheric pressure would cause the body’s water to vaporize and to try to
escape, the lugs would collapse and circulation would shut down.
The Lockheed U-2
spyplanes, first flown in 1955, continues to be flown today by the U.S. Air
Force. It is a reconnaissance aircraft that can operate at 70,000 feet and
became publicly famous in connection with the Gary Powers incident in 1960 when
a U-2 was shot down while over Soviet territory. While it continues to prove
extremely useful in gathering information around the world, flying so high has
a cost—altitude-induced decompression sickness. Decompression sickness is a
problem long ago connected to divers who arise from depths too rapidly and is
a, “condition arising from
dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body” due to
depressurization. “Since bubbles can form in or migrate to any part of the
body, DCS can produce many symptoms, and its effects may vary from joint pain
and rashes to paralysis and death.”
Pilots can experience the same physical reactions by flying up into the
thin air at high altitudes. U-2 pilots are especially at risk, not just because
of their extreme altitude but also because their cockpits are only partially
pressurized. The pressure in a U-2 cockpit at typical mission altitude is
equivalent to the atmosphere at 29,000 feet—as high as the summit of Mt.
Everest.” Before 2002 no cases of altitude-induced decompression sickness
severe enough to hinder U-2 operations were reported. However, that has changed
due to the pilots flying more often, longer flights, and a change in work
activities while flying. The loss of sufficient atmospheric pressure by U-2
pilots has resulted in symptoms such as: itchy skin dots caused by capillaries
breaking under the strain of nitrogen bubbles, severe knee pain, headaches,
nausea, extreme fatigue, hallucination, long lasting or permanent brain damage,
and blacking out while flying.
The situations cited in this essay are just
a small sample of how important is the truth described in by Paul in Colossians
by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things
have been created by Him and for Him.
And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
That is something special and we need to
thank Him for not only making it that way but, also for ‘holding it all together.’
 The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, Spiros
Zodhiates, AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, 1994.
 Matthew Henry’s Commentary, In One Volume,
Leslie Church, Ed., Zondervan, 1961.
 IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Grant
R. Osborne, Ed., Inter Varsity Press,
Downloaded from www.biblegateway.com.
 Popular Science, November 2012, p. 10.
 Popular Science, November 2012, p. 55.
 Air & Space, April/May 2012, “Killer
at 70,000 Feet,” p. 42-47.