Bible, Church, Theology

The Pleroma of the Son

Introduction

Sin unleashed nothingness into the world. The Edenic world was brim-filled and overflowing with the goodness, righteousness, and joy of God actuated by creation’s mediator, God’s only Son. The creation account speaks of “filling” the earth and its “abundance.” God-ness drenched everything (though, of course, not in a pantheistic sense). Sin introduced cosmic rebellion. One rarely recognized blight of this rebellion is nihilism: life is meaningless because the universe is meaningless. “The demonic is essentially meaninglessness,”[1] and when Satan offered Eve the knowledge of good and evil, he was promising the contra-creational ability to create her own meaning. To create one’s own meaning presupposes an absence of meaning. “Eve, you can get behind God’s universe of meaning to a void in which you can create your own conceptual universe.” To be as god is to drain (in one’s own mind) God’s meaning-full universe to fill it with your own.

A fascinating NT word is pleroma, usually translated “fullness.” Its meaning is actually hard to reduce to one word. It denotes abundance, leaving no unoccupied space (as in a ship). There is no available room to compete with that which fills it. Pleroma is a pivotal biblical word that describes the person and work of the Son.

The Pleroma of the Trinity

The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 2:9, “For in Him [Jesus Christ] dwells all the pleroma of the Godhead bodily.” This is an extraordinary claim. The entire fullness (pleroma) of Father, Son, and Spirit indwells the incarnate Son. This is not some sort of Christic Unitarianism, that God is only one person whose name is Jesus. God is one being in three persons. No, it means all that the Father and Spirit are is revealed in Jesus Christ. When you see his agony on the Cross, his fulmination against the Pharisees, his forgiveness of an adulterous woman, his joy, his weariness, his anger — you’re seeing also the Father and the Spirit. Jesus Christ is full of the Trinity.

Some Christians seem to have the idea that there is one God, and that Father, Son and Spirit are the three “parts” or expression of that one God. But that’s heresy. One reason we know this from the Bible is that all three fully dwell in the very body of the Son. Everything we need to know about God we could know by knowing Jesus Christ, which also means people could know much more about God after his Son’s incarnation. The Father and Spirit are equally persons, and equally God, but Jesus also bears them in his very body, since he is “the express image of His [God’s] person” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is stamped everywhere as God, even — perhaps especially — in his humanity. Jesus images God to man and to the rest of creation.

This means that being right with Jesus is being right with God — and that being wrong with Jesus is being wrong with God. Muslims and Hindus and orthodox ( = heterodox) Jews don’t love and serve the true God because the true God is in Jesus alone. It means we can’t “get behind” Jesus to get to the true God. “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ”:[2] “He who has seen Me [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). It means that to seek after God with all our heart is to seek after Jesus.

Jesus is the pleroma of God.

The Pleroma of the Church

But not just the pleroma of God. The church is the community of the redeemed, called out of the sinful world to be God’s peculiar treasure. But the church is more. As the body of Christ, it is the earthly receptacle of his pleroma, his fulness:

And He [the Father] put all things under His [Jesus’] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the pleroma of Him who fills (pleroo) all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23)

Christ saturates his church, both in its Sunday liturgical cultic[3] expression as well as its weekday non-liturgical kingdom expression.[4] By all outward appearance, the church is often feeble, sinful, failing. In its Lord’s Day celebration, it looks much like any other gathering of people dedicated to some specific purpose. In its weekday kingdom life, it might look like just another “special interest group.” But appearances deceive. The church is not a merely human community. It’s equally a divine community. The church is the fulness of Jesus Christ. The post-ascension church, by the Spirit, is the presence of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:17a).

What in this world is God doing? He’s extending his kingdom in his Son Jesus Christ. But the church is the pleroma of the Son. Our Lord doesn’t fill just our individual bodies. He fills a community, his church. And he fills his church in a way he doesn’t fill us as individuals. So, if you want to be filled by Jesus Christ, you can’t experience this filling all by yourself. You need the corporate fulness of the people of God. The church is full of Jesus. 

The Pleroma of the Cosmos

But Jesus’ fulness isn’t limited to the church.  Paul declares in Colossians 1:15–19 that the pleroma of the universe, all things created, both in the church and beyond the church, is Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ pervades the universe. This didn’t start at his incarnation. It started at creation. This is why Paul writes in the same place that all things consist, or “hang together,” in him. The stars, the sun, the planets, gravity, the tides, cause and effect, morality  — all cosmic regularity is maintained by Jesus Christ. We sometimes talk about the sovereignty of God in his eternal decrees, but it’s even more relevant to talk about the pleroma of Jesus that is God’s sovereignty. Jesus is perpetually accomplishing God’s plan for the world.

For this reason, although we should be both heartbroken and angered by today’s sociopolitical chaos — Washington’s partisan bomb-lobbing, the LGBTQ++ genital mutilation agenda, and increasing talk of cultural civil war, we need not be anxious over any of it. This created order is sustained by Jesus Christ. Just as the earthly Jesus permitted storms on the lake in which his boat was rowing but rebuked the waves, so he won’t allow Satanic opposition to tip over into the destruction of creation.

This is God’s good world, which is to say, it’s Christ’s good world. He’s its pleroma. There’s no vacuum or recess or “white space.” He fills every inch of it.


[1] Allan D. Galloway, The Cosmic Christ (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), 243.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, “The Atonement. The Singularity of Christ and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order,” Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 230.

[3] Organized, formal, public, corporate worship.

[4] Hendrik Hart, “The Institutional Church In Biblical Perspective,” International Reformed Bulletin, 49/50 [1972], 15–21.

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