Matthew Poole’s commentary on Colossians 1:20

 

Matthew Poole (1624-1679) on Colossians 1:20

 

Matthew Poole died after finishing his commentary on Isaiah but others, utilizing and relying heavily upon his Synopsis Criticorum, completed Jeremiah through Revelation. Poole’s Synopsis, as described in a footnote to the Banner of Truth addition of his commentary, is

 

a massive work in five folio volumes written in Latin and designed to bring into one view whatever had been written by critics of all ages and nations on the books of Holy Scripture.[1]

 

Poole’s Synopsis is being translated in our day.[2] What is important about this fact concerning those who completed Poole’s Commentary is that they drew from his Synopsis, which itself was a history of interpretation on the text of Scripture. It is at least a plausible assumption, then, that the comments on Colossians 1:20 in Poole’s Commentary have their roots in the long history of reflection on this text. In other words, the interpretation of Colossians 1:20 in Poole’s Commentary most likely reflects insights made by many before the seventeenth century. Assuming this to be the case, the comments would be very reflective of the catholic interpretation of this text.

In Poole’s Commentary on Colossians 1:20, while discussing “To reconcile all things unto himself,” the following words are found. This is a lengthy quote but very illuminating and, as we will see, provides further background to the discussions that pre-date the publication of the 2LCF.

 

The great inquiry is about the extent of this reconciliation, because the apostle mentions all things (rather than all persons) ; and then, having emphatically repeated by him, viz. Christ as God-man, and none other, Acts iv. 12, he adds a distribution of all things, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. To answer which all things may be understood, either, 1. Restrictively to the subject, the universal church of which Christ is Head ; so he doth not mean all things whatsoever, unlimitedly, but with respect to the subject matter, as , v. 21, all things which being alienated from God are reconciled to him ; i. e. whatsoever things are reconciled, are by him reconciled, all relating to the subject matter of reconciliation . . . all the real subjects of his kingdom, whether gathered and gone to heaven before in hope of the Messiah to come, or now and hereafter shall be gathered . . . yet this doth not altogether satisfy some, by reason of the sublimity of the apostle’s word in the distribution ; and ordinarily in Scripture, by things in heaven are meant the angels, whose natural seat it is, spirits of just men made perfect being advanced thither only by God’s gracious vouchsafement. Or, 2. Largely, as comprehending the good angels, especially if upon the foundation of reconciliation considered strictly, we take reconciliation here more generally, (as the apostle doth in his Epistle to the Ephesians, expatiating more upon this matter there than he doth here, writing more concisely and contractedly,) for recapitulation, (or analogical reconciliation [emphasis added],) bringing all under one head, the recomposing or reuniting of creatures terrestrial or celestial, upon the atonement for sinners by Christ ; so that all his subjects, those that divide the state of his kingdom, are at an agreement amongst themselves and with each other ; God did so by Christ conjoin miserable men with himself, that now also the holy angels are conjoined, they come under the same Head, Christ, chap. ii. 10 ; Eph. i .22, whom they worship as at his first, so second coming, Luke ii. 13, 14 ; Heb. i. 6. As men cleave to him by faith, so the angels by vision (1 Tim. iii. 16) look upon him their Head ; yet is he not their Redeemer, ver. 14 ; Eph. i. 3 ; not partaking of their nature, they are not his members as believers are (as God is the Head of Christ, yet is not he a member of God, 1 Cor. xi. 3) ; Christ beareth a more special relation to them, than he doth unto these principalities and powers, Eph. v. 23, 30, 31 ; however, they, being under a hypothetical possibility of falling, should seem to have need of a preventive kind of reconciliation, upon that account, if their standing is otherwise secured to them, they abiding in their purity could not be friends to impure creatures, Gen. iii. 24 ; but upon the satisfaction of their Lord, their distaste and dissatisfaction is removed, they being reduced into a corporation, under Christ, with those whom he hath reconciled, Eph. i. 10. As they, to the glory of the supreme Majesty, rejoiced when Christ came to seek these lost ones, so they are ministers to them that he hath made willing, Heb. i. 14 ; they delight in the ministry of reconciliation, Eph. iii. 10 ; 1 Pet. i. 12, attend the service with their brethren, (in doing their office,) Rev. xix. 10 ; xxii. 9, further the works, Acts viii. 26, rejoice when it takes effect, Luke xv. 10, and carry those that are perfected to the place of their own residence, Luke xvi. 22, to their own innumerable assembly in the heavenly Jerusalem, Heb. xii. 22 ; waiting on Christ, (according to the typical representatives, Exod. xxv. 19 ; xxvi. 1 ; 1 Kings vi. 23, 29,) with those that are with him, and made like to him at his throne, Matt. xxii. 30 ; Mark xii. 25, where he sits as the Son of man, and the holy angels (as he saith) are continually ascending and descending upon him, John i. 51 ; he fills them, as the rest of his subjects, all in all, Eph. i. 21, 23 ; they have grace by way of participation, having it from him their Head, who hath it of himself, John v. 26. So that upon the matter, this reconciliation of things in heaven, seems most to accord with Eph. i. 9, 10, and is not much unlike that in Eph. ii. 13, 16 ; that which is separately said there by his blood, ver. 13, and by the cross, ver. 16, is here conjoined by the blood of his cross. There is making peace in one simple word ; here, (in the Greek,) in a compound one. There, that he might reconcile both unto God ; here, that he might reconcile all things unto himself, i. e. God. There he speaks only of men on earth being reconciled amongst themselves, because they had also been reconciled to God ; if we take in angels also under those all, we have an allowance from the forecited Eph. i. 10 ; yea, and in favour of the larger acceptation of reconciliation here, it may be considered that the whole creation, which was put into disorder and subjected unto vanity, is in earnest expectation of the fruits of this gracious reconciliation, in being brought to a perfect harmony, to the glory of him who is all in all, Rom. viii. 19—23, with 1 Cor. xv. 58.[3]

 

Let me share five observations. First, this extensive quote puts us further into the exegetical conversation taking place in the general time-frame of the publication of the 2LCF. Second, this quote, as with previous ones, reveals to us that the interpretation of Colossians 1:20 briefly asserted by Coxe in his Vindiciae Veritatas (Vindication of Truth) is not a novelty. Third, because the author of the quote above (i.e., Thomas Adams) most likely utilized Pool’s Synopsis Criticorum, there is good reason to believe that the gist of the interpretation can be found in the long history of interpretation on this text. Fourth, it is clear from the quote above that Colossians 1:20 was interpreted with the assistance of Ephesians 1:10 and 20-23. This shows an exegetical method that is not afraid to utilize various texts in the interpretive process. This also opens up for us a wide Christological vista with massive implications.

 

 

[1] Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3 vols. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 1:iii, n. 1.

[2] You can learn more about this translation project here: http://matthewpoole.net/.

[3] Poole, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1:710-11.