Preached to All Creation?

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A great deal is often made by some about Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:23b, which says, “This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it” (HCSB).

Among Preterists (also spelled Praeterist) this is used to support the contention that Christ has already returned because it is tied to Jesus’ proclamation in Matthew 24:14, “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come” (HCSB).

Since Preterism teaches that Christ already came in AD 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed and that this coming was the final consummation and the fulfillment of all prophecy (understand that some partial Preterists still hold certain prophecies as awaiting final fulfillment). This is often countered by arguing that Christ’s return in judgment upon Jerusalem (which was a return of a kind) couldn’t have been the final coming because the gospel had not been proclaimed very far, and that even today it has not be preached to all nations, as there are many yet to be reached. In answer to this, Preterists do a good job of pointing out that the biblical understanding of the nations, and of the world itself was much smaller and that when the biblical authors speak of the whole world they actually speak of the nations and peoples around the Mediterranean, and Black Sea. They will then use Paul’s words here in Colossians as confirmation that Matthew 24:14 had been fulfilled and the return of Christ could commence by AD 70.

Some have attacked this view of world and humanity saying that since the passages in question are prophetic, they should be taken as meaning our view of the world today—the generation in which these prophecies will be fulfilled. This reasoning is circular, at best. However, there is a better understanding of Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:23.

In that passage Paul is speaking to the church of their redemption by God, through Christ, even though they “were once alienated, even enemies of God in their minds” (my translation of Colossians 1:21). He encourages them to hold to their faith and then defines which faith they are to hold to—not a new or unusual faith, but the same one that has been preached everywhere, which is the same one Paul serves.

This is not meant to say everyone everywhere has actually heard the gospel. But why would he say it this way if that is not what he meant? Actually, Paul is using common Semitic practice—extreme speech to put special emphasis on a point. It is common in Semitic writings to use such extreme ways of speaking. We see another example of it in the words of Jesus when he said anyone coming to him must “hate their own father and mother” in Luke 14:26. Matthew says it differently: “If anyone loves his father and mother more than me is not worthy of me” (10:37). This latter is the meaning of Jesus’ words. Keep in mind that Matthew does a great deal of explaining the Jewish concepts in his gospel. Here he takes a statement and expresses it in the way Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood it. Jesus was not actually calling on us to hate, despise, our parents. We are commanded to love and care for our parents. Paul even says that if we fail to do this we have denied the faith and are worse than infidels (1 Timothy 5:8). But Jesus tells us to love him even more.

So Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:23 is not meant as a statement of eschatological completeness but of encouragement that the gospel they were to cling to and remain in was the same one they would recognize as having been served by Paul and taught to all the people’s around them.

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