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9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
This verse is one of the "proof texts" for the Oneness position. Oneness Pentecostals believe this verse teaches that Jesus was God the Father.
In every language, we recognize metaphors, other figures of speech, allegories, parables, etc., provided they are obvious to the hearer. (We are not at liberty to allegorize any passage on a whim, there must be substantial reason for taking something in a non literal way).
The "In Him" Metaphor
In John 15, Jesus gave the parable of the vine and branches. He told His disciples, "I am the vine, and you are the branches." Then He proceeded to tell them to "abide in me and I in you." He continued by saying that a branch cannot survive unless it abides in the vine. Of course we recognize this as a parable. We do not expect that Jesus is physically going to come into someone's body, nor do we expect that we are physically going to get into Jesus' body. He is speaking of a spiritual connection and communion, where the life of God flows through us just as the life giving sap flows through the vine to the branches.
This metaphor of being "in Christ" (signifying a spiritual union) was picked up by Paul and used repeatedly. Hence, Paul writes, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature." It is quite clear that he does not mean that a man is physically in Jesus in heaven, but was using the same metaphor that Jesus introduced in His "True Vine" parable. People knew what Paul meant, because this concept was thoroughly understood in the early Church, since they were familiar with Jesus' parable, and His use of this kind of metaphor.
This same concept of spiritual union is very clearly illustrated by Jesus in His prayer to the Father.
Note the metaphoric use of the same words "in me" - the Father being "in" Jesus, as well as Jesus being "in" the Father. Also, Jesus prayed that believers would be "in" Him and "in" the Father (vs. 21), as well as Jesus being "in" believers (vs. 23). Jesus' prayer is that His disciples and future Christians would be "one" in the same way that Jesus is "one" with the Father. He prayed that believers would be "in us" (Jesus and the Father) in the same sense that the Father is "in Jesus" and Jesus is "in the Father." And that we would be "one" in the same sense that He and the Father are "one." The bottom line here is this: If you understand what Jesus was praying for believers, then you will necessarily understand in what way the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father! And you will also understand in what way Jesus and the Father are "one." Does one Christian physically indwell another Christian? Can all believers become one person? Can we be joined to God and become deity, a part of the Godhead? Do Christians corporately indwell Jesus? Does Jesus physically indwell the Father? The answer to all these is obviously, no! These are metaphorical expressions meant to convey the same basic idea that Jesus spoke of in His parable of the vine and branches. We as Christians should have a spiritual union with one another, with Jesus, and with the Father. He wants us all to be "one" with each other and with God. But, this kind of "oneness" is NOT one person living in another, nor is it the merging of a plurality of persons into one person. It is not the giving up of one's individual personality and consciousness. Rather it is a oneness of spirit. We can sense this "oneness of spirit" often times with other believers. That is what Jesus is speaking about by the Father's being "in Him," His being in the Father, and believers being "in us."
Gnosticism & the Colossian
Essentially, Gnostics taught that the supreme God was pure energy, that he emitted pure thought, life, love, light, knowledge, (basically all the good stuff) and dwelled in a sphere of this abstract energy. This was called "the Pleroma," the Greek word for "fulness." The "fulness" was both the radiated essence of God as well as his domain. However, they believed that the creation of the world was done by a lesser god, called the "Demiurge." This defective god (whom the Jews called "YHVH" or "Jehovah") had created the material world to enslave the souls of men in material bodies. Hence, living in the flesh was a curse from which we all needed to be freed. Freedom from this curse of the material world was obtained through "revelation knowledge" (gnosis) in stages of enlightenment. The Gnostics appealed to Genesis, where the serpent (a good god) attempted to infuse Eve with "gnosis" (knowledge of good and evil), but the evil Creator (Jehovah) forbid His creatures from obtaining such "gnosis" in order to keep them enslaved. The Gnostics also believed that the supreme God begat a series of lesser gods, whom they called "Aeons." The names for these gods were basic Greek words for abstract ideas, like, Life (Zoe), Love (Agape), Only Begotten (Monogenes), Wisdom (Sophia), Word (Logos), Principality (Arche) etc.. It was through these lesser gods that the "gnosis" (knowledge) necessary for human transformation to escape the material world could be attained by men. These were like begotten angelic beings which formed a hierarchy in the heavens, through which one must pass in stages until he reached the "Pleroma." Sound familiar? This is "New Age" in the old age! Each soul contains a little spark of the Pleroma within him (actually at the base of his spine). In order to be freed from endless cycles of reincarnation, in each life one needed to gain more and more "gnosis" by the aid of these spiritual beings named above (Aeons) until he was enlightened with sufficient knowledge that he was able to break free of the material world and wing his way into the "Pleroma" (Fulness) of God. The goal of the Gnostics was to eventually reach the state of "Fulness." But, it was a laborious process that could take many lifetimes and cycles of reincarnation.
Gnosticism is what Paul was confronting in Colosse (along with the Judaizers). His Epistle contains a warning against Gnosticism, and a message that all of the "fulness" (pleroma) that the Gnostics seek is found in Christ alone.
Lets look at a few other verses before we examine Colossians 2. All of the following verses were written to people who lived in this culture, where Gnosticism was considered the religion of the enlightened ones. It was a philosophical system of the imaginations of men, but had a strong appeal to intellectuals of the day.
From the above verses we can see that Christians are to be filled with "all the fulness of God." This is a nearly identical statement to what we find in Col. 2:9. Not only does Paul say that in Christ dwells all the fulness of God, but the Church as the corporate body of Christ contains the "fulness of him that filleth all in all."
What we have here is John and Paul telling believers that we don't need Gnosticism. We don't need to attain to the "Pleroma." We have it NOW by being "in Christ" (as the branches are in the vine). We don't need to go through endless cycles of reincarnation, or meditate and absorb spiritual energy or "gnosis" (knowledge) from some spiritual beings in the heavens. It is all found in Jesus Christ. We are complete IN HIM. Now, lets look at Colossians 1, then Col. 2.
Paul is wrecking the Gnostic system here. He is saying that Jesus Christ brought the "pleroma" (fulness) to US. We don't need to ascend through all of this mumbo jumbo to reach God. He wrecks the gnostic myth, that an evil, lesser god, created the material world. Showing that the same one who brings to us the "pleroma" is the one who created the material world. God saw fit that the "pleroma" would dwell in Christ, so that we as human beings can partake in the "pleroma." Notice his warning about being seduced away from the simplicity of the Gospel into Gnosticism (vs. 23).
The "philosophy and vain deceit" that Paul wrote about was the philosophical system of the Gnostics, who followed an imaginary path to the "Fulness," but which actually lead to destruction. After all, attaining the "pleroma" (fulness) is not found in such imaginations of men, but in Christ alone. All of the "fulness" we need is found in Him. Paul is not saying that the entirety of God is physically in Christ. He is saying that by our being "in Christ" we have full access to the "pleroma" (fulness of God). Verse 9 is saying, if you want the "pleroma," you must get it by being "in Him." "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." Verse 10 says, we are "complete IN HIM." The "fulness" is in Him and we are complete in Him. That is, by being "in Christ" (in the sense Jesus meant in the True Vine parable), we are in the Pleroma! We have all of the Godhead we need! God is not far away, with many lifetimes and countless lesser gods to go through to reach Him. He is here with us in the person of Christ. And our being "in HIM" makes us complete without all of the rest that Gnosticism demands. Therefore, it is obvious that Paul does not mean that Jesus is the Father.