I have been asked to state the proper translation of this verse. Is headship given to the Lord, or is He given as Head? Is the Church which is His Body the fullness which fills up all things, or is His Body His fulness or complement, the fulness of Him who fills up all things?
Firstly, the Greek word kephalE means head, not headship. Christ is not here given anything. The Greek does not say "and gives to Him" for that would require a dative case. It says, "and gives HIM" (emphatic). Christ is given "Head over all things, to the Church, (that Church) which is His Body." That is the force of the Greek word hEtis (that which, or which indeed). This implies that there might be other Churches or ecclesias.
Some humble souls have been misled by the original Concordant Version, which read as follows: "and gives Him the head-ship over all to the ecclesia which is His body, the complement which is completing the entire universe." After about thirty years this was partly corrected and partly worsened in the year 1944, to read as follows: "and gives Him, (as) Head over all, to the ecclesia which is His body, the complement (by) which (the) all in all (is) being completed."
As the word "complement" is nominative, followed by, "which" in the genitive, and "completing" also in the genitive, it must follow that we read "the complement of-Him-who (tou, genitive) is completing (plEroumenou, genitive) the all in all."
As for the Passive rendering of 1944, "(by) which (the) all in all (is) being completed," one cannot remain passive to this unnecessary manipulation of Paul's words. There is no need to take the Middle participle here (plEroumenou) as a Passive in sense. Why not give it the customary Middle force, as did Rotherham, "which, indeed, is his body—the fulness of him who the all things in all is for himself filling up"?
Whether we ought to read, "and gives HIM (that great one who is) Head over all, to the ecclesia," or, "and gives HIM, as Head over all to the ecclesia," is a mootable refinement.
Paul does not say that Christ's Body is the complement or fulness which completes the universe, but that the Body is the complement of the Mighty one who completes all things in all.
Dewes (1882) has a free rendering, "which indeed is His body, filled to the full with Him Who in all respects filleth the whole universe to the full."
This seems to have been partly followed by Moffatt (1913), "and set him as head over everything for the church which is his Body, filled by him who fills the universe entirely." Hayman paraphrases thus, "the full recipient of His all pervading fulness."
Cunnington furnishes an unusual thought, "the fullness of him who all in all is receiving his fullness." The last four words express the Middle Voice force of "getting or doing something for oneself." Cunnington has here a footnote, "cf. Phil. 2:7; process of cancelling the Emptying." Here we have a most beautiful thought. When Christ Jesus (note the term) emptied Himself, He must have emptied Himself of His fulness. But after resurrection He got back His fulness—"in Him delights the entire fulness to dwell" (Col. 1:19); "in Him is dwelling the entire fulness of the Deity bodily" (Col. 2:9).
But the glorious thing for us is not alone that He got back the fulness He formerly possessed. Even that pristine fulness would be incomplete without His Body, the Church. We are, as it were, the fulness of His fulness.
In his Exposition of Ephesians (1907) J. Armitage Robinson, D.D., states that verse 23 is perhaps the most remarkable expression in the whole epistle. He says the Church is described as "the fulness of Him who all in all is being fulfilled." Paul would appear to mean "that in some mysterious sense the Church is that without which the Christ is not complete, but with which He is or will be complete. That is to say, he looks upon the Christ as in a sense waiting for completeness, and destined in the purpose of God to find completeness in the Church. This is a somewhat startling thought."
He then proceeds, "Now, is it not true that in a certain sense the body is the pleroma or fulness of the head? Is the head complete without the body? Can we even think of a head as performing its functions without the body?"
Then he shews that as Christ is no longer on earth, "The Church is that through which Christ lives on and works on here below on earth."
But the relation of the Church to Christ is something even closer than that of a body to its head. That He stands as Head to the Body is never all the truth. The Head and Body together form the Christ. "Without the Church the Christ is incomplete: and as the Church grows towards completion, the Christ grows towards completion."
Dr. Robinson then carries us to Col. 1:24 and shews that "If the Church and the Christ are one, the suffering of the Church and the suffering of the Christ are also one." The Christ goes on suffering in the sufferings of the Church. Paul was filling up something of what was still to be filled up, if the sufferings are to be complete. "Thus then the Church, the completion of the Christ, is destined to complete His sufferings; and St. Paul rejoices that as a member of the Church he is allowed by God to do a large share of this in his own person on the Church's behalf. The thought is astonishing . . ."
The Lord must have suffered unconscionably while He was on earth. I cannot conceive how a Sinless Person could have survived His constant ordeal. But He suffers still, while He is rejected and ignored by the world. We too, suffer for and with Him, because the world has no place for us. So we must fill up the sufferings of the Christ. Paul reckoned the sufferings of the present season unworthy, or of no account, when faced with the glory about to be revealed unto us (Rom. 8:18).
The human body requires every single member or part. God did not err when He placed in the body the tonsils and the vermiform appendix. Every organ has its proper use. So in the Body of Christ. Every single one of us is necessary, and everyone of us is needed to make up the grand fulness of the Christ. This ought to give the humblest believer great confidence and satisfaction.
Paul contemplates the Christ as in some sense still incomplete, yet as moving towards completeness. The secret, of God's wish is to have an administration (that is, a carrying into effect) of the fulness or completeness of the seasons, to head up or sum up everything in the Christ, everything in the heavens as well as everything on the earth (Eph. 1:10). Only when that is accomplished will the Christ attain His completeness. As Dr. Robinson says, "All conceivable fulness, a completeness which sums up the universe, is predicated of the Christ as the issue of the Divine purpose."
The Lord did not come to break down or dissolve the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them (Matt. 5:17), to fill the Law and the Prophets with their full meaning. During the Thousand Years the Law will decidedly have its full meaning. A holy and righteous and good Law was not framed merely in order to be broken.
Dr. Robinson gives a new thought from Col. 2:9, "for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Deity in a bodily way, and ye are filled (or, fulfilled) in Him." This is usually taken to refer to the Godhead residing in the Lord's body in all its completeness. But Dr. Robinson says this would be to neglect Paul's special use of the terms "fulness" and "body" in his epistles. The empty deceit of the philosophical despoiler can only give tradition and world-elements in place of the heavenly Christ. For in Christ dwells all the fulness of the Deity, expressing itself through a body: a body, in which you are incorporated, so that In Him the fulness is yours. The next words in Col. 2:10 might be taken as confirming this thought, literally, "And you are, in Him, ones-having-been-filled-full."
Dr. Robinson continues, "Thus St. Paul looks forward to the ultimate issue of the Divine purpose for the universe. The present stage is a stage of imperfection: the final stage will be perfection. All is now incomplete: in the issue all will be complete. And this completeness, this fulfilment, this attainment of purpose and realisation of ideal, is found and is to be found (for to St. Paul the present contains implicitly the future) in Christ—in Christ 'by way of a body'; that is to say, in Christ as a whole, in which the head and the body are inseparably one. Even beyond this the Apostle dares to look. This fulfilled and completed universe is in truth the return of all things to their creative source, through Christ to God, 'of whom and through whom and unto whom are all things,'—'that God may be all in all.'"
This takes us to Col. 1:19. Some versions say it pleased the Father that all the fulness should dwell in Christ, and they insert the two words, "the Father." But the Greek shews nothing of this, "seeing that in Him it delights the entire fulness to dwell, and through Him (It delights the entire fulness?) to reconcile the universe unto Him." Quite a number of translations read after this fashion, including the Diaglott, Hayman, Cunnington, Goodspeed, Rotherham. Moffatt even goes further, "For it was in him that the divine Fulness willed to settle without limit, and by him it willed to reconcile in his own person all on earth and in heaven alike. . . ."
From Heb. 9:26 we learn that with a view to conclusion of the ages, for repudiation (or displacement) of Sin (in its entirety; literally "the sin"), through His sacrifice, Christ has been manifested and remains manifested. But how can Sin be displaced? Sin is a defect, a want, a lack, a coming short or a going beyond. It is an unhealthy condition due to lack of the necessary spiritual vitamins.
What is the remedy for such a deficiency? The answer lies in the fulness or completeness of Christ.
The plenitude of The Christ (that is, the Head and the Body) will reconcile all, those in the heavens and those on the earth, to God.
Outwardly, there seems to be now much disharmony and a great many sects in the Body of Christ. But let us walk by faith, and realise clearly that even now is God building a most beautiful temple or cathedral of living members or stones, in view of the work we have to accomplish in the future.
Perhaps we are discouraged because we seem to accomplish so little in the world. Israel's falling aside brought a world's riches and their discomfiture brought Gentiles' riches, even though the world does not wish such riches yet. But what tremendous riches the world will get when Israel gets filled full (Romans 11:12). Israel, too, will attain his Pleroma or fulness.
Some readers have written me expressing their feeling of insignificance. These are just the people whom God will be able to use best when the great work comes. Because it is much more easy for God to discipline and train such believers now, than to discipline those, who like Diotrephes, since the times of Paul, have shewn too much fondness for pushing themselves into the forefront and lording it over their following.
We believe God has chosen us out of the world, because we know that we possess His Spirit. We ought therefore to believe that the Lord knows them that are His (2. Tim. 2:19). Is it possible, then, that He is not training us even now, carefully and sedulously, in view of our future service in connection with the reconciliation of the universe?
Let me put matters in another form. If the Lord Jesus could accomplish so much after He had emptied Himself (of God's form, Phil. 2:6-7), in saving His own people from their sins and making them new creatures, what will He not be able to accomplish in His glorious fulness, along with His Body? Who is going to deny to God the right to fulfil His promise, "Behold, NEW am I making everything!"? (Rev. 21:5).
A.T. Last updated 14.1.2006