These are the notes for my debate with Matt Slick on the topic of limited atonement.
Refuting Matt Slick’s misuse and misinterpretation of Colossians 2:14
Col. 2:14, “[Jesus] having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
“having canceled” is the Greek Exaleipsas, and it is an aorist participle in Greek. It means that it is a continuous action in the past
“to cause something to cease by obliterating any evidence—‘to eliminate, to do away with, to wipe out.’
KJV – blotting out; NKJV – “having wiped out”; ASV, YLT – “having blotted out”; ESV – “canceling”; NIV – “having cancelled”
What is canceled? Two options, the Moral Law and the Sin Debt. Let’s examine these.
The moral law
Only those who have died are freed from the Law. The law here is conceived of as a bill of debt.
Rom. 7:4, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ…”
Romans 4:15, “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.”
If there is no law because it has been canceled, then there can be no violation, no sin and people can’t go to hell.
Only those who have died in Christ, have died to the law and if we have died to the Law there is no law, no judgment that can condemn us. This applies only to Christians. But it is said that we died with Christ 2000 years ago.
The sin debt
If our sin debt is what is paid for on the cross and Col. 2:14 says that it is canceled, then it is either canceled for every person who ever lived or it is only canceled for the elect.
Coma Man Illustration
A man is on his way to the bank to pay his mortgage. On the way he gets in a car accident and ends up in the hospital for a month in a coma. A philanthropist hears about the man’s condition and decides to pay off the entire mortgage of this man. He goes to the bank, makes the arrangements, write a check, and the mortgages now paid. So we ask these questions, “Is the mortgage paid?” Yes. “Is the man’s debt canceled?” Yes. “Can the man be held responsible for the debt that has been canceled?” No.
The man wakes up from his, and has a miraculous recovery. He gets in his car and hurries to the bank to pay his mortgage because he believes he’s late. He hands the check to the teller the teller tells in the debt has been paid. There is no way the bank can receive payment for debt is canceled.
Likewise, Jesus canceled our sin debt at the cross Colossians 2:14. Therefore a person cannot be held responsible for a sin debt that does not exist. If God were to punish a person for that sin debt that is canceled, then it would be that God was unrighteous. (Limited Atonement | CARM.org)
Dr. David L. Allen responds to this gross perversion of Colossians 2:14:
Some who wish to limit the atonement to the sins of only those who will ultimately believe interpret this verse wrongly. They argue in this fashion: Jesus canceled the sin debt for everyone who has ever lived. If He canceled the sin debt for everyone who ever lived, then how can unbelievers be eternally judged for their sin-debt that has been canceled, and how can God be just if He judges people whose sin-debt has already been paid? The text says the sin-debt was canceled at the cross. If Jesus canceled the sin-debt for every then universalism results because all sins are canceled. Therefore, according to this line of argument, Col 2:14 necessitates limited atonement.
This argument fails at a number of points. First, notice that the text does not explicitly affirm limited atonement. The argument made is a deduction based on certain premises. But some of these premises are false, as we shall see. Second, Paul is addressing believers. Paul is not addressing the status of people outside of Christ. The argument collapses virtual union with Christ on the part of all those who will believe in the future and actual union with Christ, which only occurs at the moment of salvation. In the context, clearly Paul is talking about believers. He tells them about the legal basis of their forgiveness, but he is not telling them that “having wiped out” the certificate of debt is equivalent to forgiveness, any more than John the Baptist’s saying that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” (which simply means carrying sin away, like the scapegoat of the Old Testament) ipso facto means forgiveness of sin. Again, redemption accomplished must be distinguished from redemption applied, as the NT does.
Third, the argument entails justification at the cross, an antinomian or hyper-Calvinist error. At the cross, Christ did indeed satisfy the legal debts all people have. But nowhere in Scripture are we told that at the point of the atonement we are ipso facto forgiven of our sins when Christ suffered the penalty we deserve.
Fourth, the argument overlooks the problem of how all those who ultimately believe that their sin-debt was canceled at the cross, can, while still in their unbelieving state, be under condemnation and threatened with eternal damnation, as Paul says they are in Eph 2:1-3? The argument entails that none of the unbelieving elect (those who will believe on Christ at some point) are in a damnable state, at least since the time of the cross, which is simply false.
Fifth, the argument trades on a false commercial theory of the atonement. The language of sin as “debt” is wrongly interpreted along the lines of literal commercial debt, such that when the debt is paid, the obligation is discharged. This is not how atonement operates, as we will now demonstrate. The death of Christ does not buy things, as in commodities. No one is “paid” anything as a result of the death of Christ on the cross. Nowhere in Scripture are such things as “faith” said to be purchased by the death of Christ. People are the objects of redemption in Scripture. There is no transaction. The purchase is not literal in a commercial or pecuniary sense. Pecuniary language for the redemption of Christ must be understood metaphorically.
Sixth, the whole argument begs the question of the legitimacy of the double payment argument used to support limited atonement (see “Extent of the Atonement”). (Allen, The Atonement: A Biblical, Theological, and Historical Study of the Cross of Christ [B&H Academic, Nashville, TN 2019], pp. 106-108; bold emphasis mine)
Moreover, the immediate context confirms Allen’s refutation since it is speaking of the benefits experienced by the Colossians believers whom Paul is writing to, as a result of their already having believed and being baptized into Christ:
“Therefore as YOU have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in YOUR faith, just as YOU were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes YOU captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him YOU have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him YOU were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which YOU were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When YOU were dead in YOUR transgressions and the uncircumcision of YOUR flesh, He made YOU alive together with Him, having forgiven US all OUR transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against US, which was hostile to US; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore no one is to act as YOUR judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding YOU of YOUR prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If YOU have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if YOU were living in the world, do YOU submit YOURSELF to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’” Colossians 2:6-21
As the context shows, and as Dr. Allen rightly pointed out, the blessed Apostle is informing the believers at Colossa of what Christ has done FOR THEM due to THEIR FAITH AND BAPTISM!
In other words, Paul is assuring the believers that because they have been united to Christ by their faith and baptism, all of the charges written against them have been removed and canceled, and therefore they have nothing to fear.
As such, the text is not even addressing the extent of the atonement or that faith, repentance and baptism are not necessary or required for Christ’s work on the cross to be appropriated or credited to an individual’s account. That is simply abusing the verse to force it to say what it never was intended to say.
How Slick’s Eisegesis Results in Universalism
Applying Slick’s eisegesis to other texts clearly results in universalism. Note, for example, what the following passage states:
“We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit… For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things (ta panta) were created, both in the heavens (en tois ouranois) and on earth (epi tes ges), visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things (ta panta) have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things (panton), and in Him all things (ta panta) hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything (pasin). For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things (ta panta) to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth (epi tes ges) or things in heaven (en tois ouranois). And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Colossians 1:3-8, 13-23
Paul expressly states that Christ reconciled the whole entire creation that he brought into existence by making peace through the blood of his cross. The Lord accomplished this work all by himself apart from anyone having to believe or repent.
Compare this with what the Apostle wrote elsewhere:
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the WHOLE creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:14-27
The inspired Apostle expressly teaches that the whole creation is destined to be delivered from its corruption.
Hence, if Slick is to apply his interpretation of Colossians 2:14 consistently he has no choice but to embrace universalism. I.e., since Christ has reconciled the whole creation that he has created by making peace by the blood of his cross, apart from personal faith or repentance, this means all of creation shall be saved at the end.
BIBLICAL COMMENTARIES ON COLOSSIANS 1:20
Lest Slick tries to deny the plain reading and import of Colossians 1:20, I have chosen to cite a few commentaries that expressly state that the words “all things,” “on earth, ” “in heaven” etc., refer back to vv. 16-17, which clearly refer to every created thing in heaven and on earth.
Finally, Paul’s idiom is inclusive: all things are reconciled to God through Christ. In a passage that explores the importance of Christ in terms of God’s creation, I am led to understand God’s reconciliation of all things as encompassing the nonhuman and inanimate worlds, so that “even the stones will cry out” in praise of God (Lk 19:40; see also Rev 21:19–21). While I think it unwise to speculate how God might restore each part of the natural world or whether there are animals in heaven, I also think it unwise to limit God’s reconciliation to the human order of creation, for that denies grace its unconditional and universal character. (Robert W. Wall, Colossians & Philemon: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 1993)
The named object of God’s reconciling work in Christ, “all things,” indicates the cosmic scope of that work. The WHOLE CREATED ORDER is affected, including all the beings listed in v. 16. Nothing is left out of Christ’s reconciling activity. This is another sign that the poet does not advocate a fully realized eschatology, because it is clear to the readers that the powers of evil are still active in the world as forces that oppose the will of God. Yet the final destiny of all is reconciliation; God’s creating will not be thwarted.
This is the language of praise and poetry, not systematic theology. This passage does not advocate a universalism that entails the salvation of all. Other passages in Colossians (e.g., 2:22) assume that some things perish, so the author cannot be advocating a blanket universalism. The affirmation of 1:20, however, does emphasize the power and range of God’s reconciling will. Through Christ, reconciliation is accomplished, but it must be accepted to be realized in each person and being. If this is not the case, the warning to the readers in 1:22-23–to remain faithful to the gospel they have already received–loses its force (see below). (Jerry L. Sumney, The New Testament Library: Colossians A Commentary [Westmintser John Knox Press, 2008], p. 76; bold and capital emphasis mine)
20 As we have seen, the sentence begun in v. 19 continues into this verse. “God in all his fullness was pleased to dwell in Christ” and through him to reconcile to himself all things. The TNIV’s word order in this verse reflects the Greek, with “through him” (dia autō) standing in the emphatic first position and echoing the similar placement of “in him” in v. 19 (TNIV in this case moves the prepositional phrase to the end). The Greek behind “to himself” is eis auton; and this sequence “in him”—“through him”—“for him” may echo the similar sequence of v. 16: “in him all things were created … all things have been created through him and for him.” This parallel also throws into relief a key question about the pronoun himself. TNIV, along with most of the English versions, uses a reflexive pronoun, interpreting the one to whom all things are reconciled as “God” (the subject of the sentence, or at least of the infinitive “to reconcile”).201 But the Greek word is a simple personal pronoun, and the same pronoun refers to Christ in v. 19, later in v. 20 (his blood), and, indeed, throughout vv. 15–19. It is quite possible, then, to interpret the passage to mean that “God has reconciled all things to Christ.” It is objected that elsewhere in the New Testament theological “reconciliation” is always directed toward God, whose wrath against sin is the background for the concept.205 But the language is used in an unusual way in this passage in any case; and we should probably respect Paul’s apparent choice of pronoun here. Moreover, a christological focus here would mirror the resolutely christological focus of the “hymn” as a whole.
In speaking of the reconciliation of all things to Christ, the “hymn” presupposes that the Lordship of Christ over all things (vv. 15–18) has somehow been disrupted. Though created through him and for him, “all things” no longer bear the relationship to their creator that they were intended to have. They are therefore in need of reconciliation. But what is the nature of this reconciliation? The verb used here, apokatallassō, occurs only twice elsewhere in the New Testament (v. 22; Eph. 2:16); but its base form, katallassō, is found also in Romans 5:10 (twice); 1 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19, 20; while the cognate noun occurs in Romans 5:11; 11:15; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19. In each of these verses (with the exception of 1 Cor. 7:11, where the language refers to marriage partners), “reconcile”/“reconciliation” refers to the restoration of fellowship between God and sinners. It is understandable, then, that some would argue that the reconciliation in this verse is restricted to human beings who respond to the invitation to be reconciled. But the context makes this kind of limitation on the scope of reconciliation very problematic. The “all things” of v. 20 occurs five other times in the context, and in each case the referent is the created universe. And, of course, in this context, Paul goes on to specify that the scope of “all things” includes things on earth or things in heaven. The neuter form (Gk. ta … ta) and the parallelism with v. 16 MAKE CLEAR THAT ALL THINGS ARE INCLUDED.
Since at least the time of Origen, then, some interpreters have used this verse to argue for universal salvation: in the end, God will not (and often, it is suggested, cannot) allow anything to fall outside the scope of his saving love in Christ. Universal salvation is a doctrine very congenial to our age, and it is not therefore surprising that this verse, along with several others in Paul, is regularly cited to argue for this belief. This is not the place to refute this doctrine, which, we briefly note, cannot be reconciled with clear New Testament teaching about the reality and eternality of Hell.210 But particularly relevant to the meaning of v. 20 is Paul’s teaching in 2:15 that God, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, … made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” The spiritual beings to which Paul refers explicitly in v. 20 are not saved by Christ but vanquished by him (see 2:15).
Another option arises especially if we think that Paul is quoting a hymn that reflects Hellenistic (-Jewish) ideas. An apparently widespread assumption in the world of Paul’s day was that the elements of the universe were in conflict with one another, owing partly to the influence of baneful spiritual powers. Verse 20 might then claim that God in Christ has brought an end to this cosmic conflict. Advocates of this interpretation often think that Paul has added through his blood, shed on the cross213 in order to “Christianize” the idea. However, as we have noted above, the supposition that these words have been added to the hymn is fraught with difficulty. Moreover, there is little in the context of Colossians to support the idea of a conflict among created beings; the basic fault line, in keeping with the New Testament elsewhere, runs between God and his creation.
But it is also likely that the concept is both broader and more biblically oriented. Key to understanding “reconcile all things” is the elaboration of this idea in the participial clause, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. This language picks up the widespread Old Testament prediction that in the last day God would establish universal shalōm, “peace,” or “well-being.” The Old Testament prophets focus, naturally enough, on the way this “peace” would bring security and blessing to Israel as the people live in the land God gave them; but they also suggest that the wider creation in general suffers from the effects of human beings’ fall into sin and is in need of restoration. Paul picks up this point very clearly in Romans 8:19–22. In a manner typical of New Testament fulfillment, then, Paul proclaims that this peace has now been established in Christ. By responding to the gospel, the Colossians have experienced this reconciliation (vv. 21–22). They are therefore enabled, as God’s new covenant people, to live in a still dangerous and hostile world in peace. They need not fear the spiritual powers that were believed to be so determinative of one’s destiny.
Colossians 1:20 teaches, then, not “cosmic salvation” or even “cosmic redemption,” but “cosmic restoration” or “renewal.” Through the work of Christ on the cross, God has brought his entire rebellious creation back under the rule of his sovereign power. Of course, this “peace” is not yet fully established. The “already/not yet” pattern of New Testament eschatology must be applied to Colossians 1:20. While secured in principle by Christ’s crucifixion and available in preliminary form to believers, universal peace is not yet established. It is because of this work of universal pacification that God will one day indeed be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28) and that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). While modern theologians have therefore often greatly exaggerated the implications of v. 20 in the service of an unbiblical universalism, this passage does, indeed, assert a thoroughly biblical universalism: that God’s work in Christ has in view a reclamation of the entire universe, tainted as it is by human sin (cf. Rom. 8:19–22). That fallen human beings are the prime objects of this reconciliation is clear from the New Testament generally and from the sequel to this text (vv. 21–23). But it would be A SERIOUS MISTAKE (not always avoided) to limit this “reconciling” work to human beings. The “peace” that God seeks is a peace that not only applies to humans in their relationship to God but also to humans in their relationship with one another (hence the mandate for social justice) and to humans in their relationship with the natural world (hence the mandate for a biblically oriented environmentalism). (Douglas J. Moo, The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon: [William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, MI 2008], pp. 133–137)
The scope of reconciliation includes the material creation, the animal world, humanity, and spiritual beings. It may be tempting to think of reconciliation as affecting humanity only; the text goes far beyond that: He reconciled “all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” No doubt this more succinct expression intends to call to mind the more extended statement of 1:16. There Paul included supernatural, spiritual beings specifically as the things in heaven. In using the term “reconciliation,” Paul assumed that something had gone wrong. All of creation was touched by sin. The world was out of order and needed a correction. This was provided in Christ.
As a helpful digression, some discussion of the biblical view of this disorder will clarify Paul’s thought. There are three specific concerns: the spirit world, the human world, and the material world. Each has been alienated and stands in need of correction. The spirit world suffered a fall when many of the angels rebelled. The human fall is recorded in Gen 3 and its theological implications explored in Rom 5:12–21. The material world was affected as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve, as recorded in Gen 3:17ff. The various situations explain the spiritual battles between demons and God/angels, the moral dilemma faced in the human condition, and the natural disasters and difficulties in the material world. Thus, sin affected every area of creation, and the work of God in redemption extends likewise to every area of creation. That is the subject of this portion of the hymn. Nothing lies outside the realm of Christ’s reconciling work.106
The goal of reconciliation is important to consider. Paul spoke of being reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20), but here he spoke of reconciliation to Christ. This emphasizes some significant points of Pauline theology. Since Christ reconciled things to himself, this statement clearly assumes the deity of Jesus. The sin that affected ALL CREATION was primarily against God. The reconciliation must also be toward God. Paul spoke in broader terms here, however, by saying that the reconciliation is to Christ. Thus the way to reconciliation with God is to be reconciled to Christ. He is the intermediary between God and all things…
In Col 1:20 the common understanding of reconciliation must be broadened. At the most basic level, reconciliation means the restoring of a broken relationship. Typically in Scripture it involves persons because the Bible was written to transform human life. Reconciliation usually involves two prerequisites: Both parties must have a willingness to be reconciled, and there must be an occasion that brings them together. God has demonstrated his willingness and provided the occasion by taking the initiative to send Jesus as reconciler. The willingness is produced by the work of the Holy Spirit. A felt need, often prompted by circumstances of life, provides the occasion. Thus reconciliation is normally voluntary and volitional…
As regards the human world, there is the possibility of a voluntary reconciliation; but for those who are not reconciled to Christ there is the sentence of death (2 Cor 2:14–16). Thus reconciliation may be effected by voluntary submission to Jesus, which brings the blessings of salvation, or by involuntary submission, being conquered by the power of his might. Reconciliation must be defined in this context, therefore, as all things being put into proper relation to Christ. Those who respond to his voice will be brought into a relationship of grace and blessing. Those who oppose and reject him will receive eternal punishment involving removal from God’s blessings and the active outpouring of his judgment. In the end, everyone and everything will be reconciled in this sense. Everyone and everything will be subordinated to Christ.111…
The peace achieved through the death of Jesus is an objective peace. It is the peace of relationships, not feelings. Although the human heart cries for feelings of peace, the deep need is for a relationship of peace. When relationships are correct, feelings follow. Here, as generally for Paul, the peace brings order and harmony into what is otherwise chaotic and distorted. The reconciliation of all things, as interpreted here, suggests that the peace is the restoring of harmony to all things, the many dimensions of existence (“things on earth or things in heaven”). Paul identified restored order often as a result of the work of Christ. It applied to individuals in Rom 5:1, where the peace with God is the immediate result of justification. It applied corporately in relationships in Eph 2:11ff., where peace between races is a result of the work of Christ. Here, Paul expressed the cosmic aspects of the harmony effected by the cross.
Significantly, an act in time and space had repercussions beyond both time and space. Jesus’ death at a specific point in time and in the physical dimension of life affected beings outside of time who live in the spiritual dimensions of existence. Thus there is a unity of the two worlds, physical and spiritual. They are reconciled in an act of time, and peace is forever established. From a theological perspective, therefore, there is a unity between the two. Unity is effected by divine creation, observed in God’s intervention into the world through miracles and the incarnation, and solidified in redemption. Creation is the handiwork of God, and the Christian should understand the unity of all things in Christ. Elsewhere Paul reflected on this theme in 1 Cor 15:25–28 and Phil 2:9–11. These cosmic dimensions are as much a part of the gospel as are the personal…
Before departing this passage, an identification of the major theological themes will summarize the section well. First, God’s will is known because of and through the work of Christ on the cross. Second, God has caused Christ to rule. He has enthroned him. He rules supreme over creation and redemption, over the world and the church. Third, all of existence is united in Christ. There is unity and order in creation and redemption. Paul laid the foundations of a Christian view of ecology. Fourth, Jesus is the central figure in creation and redemption. Fifth, ultimately, redemption means that Jesus will present a restored and ordered creation to God the Father. The function of the second person of the Godhead is to administrate the affairs of earth and to subdue those who resist. Finally, Jesus is the God-man and the mediator between man and God. There is no need for another (this argument is clear in 2:8ff.). (The New American Commentary – An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture [Broadman Press, Nashville, TN 1991], Richard R. Melick, Jr., Volume 32, Philippians–Colossians–Philemon; bold and capital emphasis mine)
This passage raises sharply the question: how can Paul, who said earlier that ‘all things’ were reconciled to God through the cross (1:19–20; see the commentary there), declare here that on the cross the powers have been defeated? The missing clue, unstated but understood, is the doctrine of the fall. When God looked at his creation, made in and for Christ (1:15–17), he knew it to be very good. As it stood it did not need ‘reconciling’. The intervention of sin produced a triple estrangement—between God and humanity, humanity and the world (including estrangements between individuals and races), and (consequently) God and the world (see Rom. 8:19ff.). God’s response to this situation was one of sovereign love. Wanting the very best for his world, he determined to rid it entirely of the evil which has corrupted it at its very heart. The cross is therefore, at the same time, both the affirmation of God’s hatred of sin and its foul consequences (especially the defacing of his image in his human creatures) and the affirmation of his steadfast determination to save humanity and the world. The ambiguity between the ‘defeat’ of 2:15 and the ‘reconciliation’ of 1:19 is therefore analogous to the similar double truth of God’s attitude towards sinful human beings. As sinners, they need to die to sin; as human beings made in God’s image, they need to have their true humanity reaffirmed and recreated in the resurrection. This is what Paul will work out in 2:20–3:4.
Though the ‘rulers and authorities’, then, had come to embody the rebellion of the world, they are not evil in themselves. God has made his world in such a way that corporate human life at any level will structure itself and order its affairs in particular ways. Different parts of the natural order, however, (e.g. the sun or moon) can be, and often have been, idolized, so that human beings offer to them that worship which belongs to God alone (see Rom. 1:25), and thus wrongly give them power in the world. The same can be true of the ‘power structures’ of the different nations (e.g. the goddess Roma in the ancient world, or, more recently, Britannia) or the ‘laws’ governing social or economic life (e.g. the profit motive). Such things, like the sun and moon, are in themselves part of the good creation. Even a secular or pagan state can be regarded as bringing God’s intended order into the world of human affairs (Rom. 13:1ff.). If worshipped, however, they attain to the rank, and power, of idols.
In what way, then, are they ‘reconciled’ (1:18)? This is certainly not something that has been put into automatic effect at the time of the crucifixion. It remains a programme to be fulfilled: ‘that in everything he might become pre-eminent’ (1:18; see 1 Cor. 15:20–28). It is to be effected through the work, and proclamation, of the church (Eph. 3:10). The reconciling mission of the church in the world therefore includes the task of proclaiming to the present ‘power structures’ that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, and summoning them to climb down from his throne and take up their proper responsibilities in looking after his world. Having been defeated as rebels, they now can be reconciled as subjects. They do not own the world. They do not hold the keys of death and hell. They (the Law included), being essentially of ‘this age’, do not hold final authority over those who belong already to the ‘age to come’. (Ibid.)
I have more information in the next part: LIMITED ATONEMENT DEBATE PT. 2.