And you, who at one point were, in terms relating to the mind, alienated [from God’s people] and enemies [of God] by evil works, but now he has reconciled you in the body of his flesh through the death to present you holy and blameless before him, if indeed you remain in the faith, firmly rooted and steadfast and do not shift away from the hope of the gospel of which you have heard, which was proclaimed to all creation which is under the sky (heaven), of which I myself, Paul, became a representative (servant). Colossians 1:21-23 (my translation)
This particular passage of Scripture always struck me as an interesting insight into Paul’s understanding of conversion (you used to be bad, but now you’re not) but other than that, not particularly important. But as I’ve studied Colossians I’ve changed my mind. This passage is actually where Paul outlines, albeit in reverse, the direction he intends the rest of the letter to go.This is called the partitio where the propositio (thesis statement) is divided into useful pieces. I used to think that was a bit daffy until I broke things down the way Ben Witherington prescribes in his commentary (read the verses as though the left side of the slash represents the piece of the partitio and the right side represents the exposition of the partitio in the letter):
When the thesis an orator is going to argue is complex, having several parts, the propositio is divided up into several parts. It is interesting that Paul enumerates the parts in reverse order from how he will treat them in the discourse:
the recognition of Paul’s role in proclaiming the gospel 1:23c/1:24–2:5
the need for the addressees to continue in the faith 1:23a–b/2:6–3:4
the work of Christ to produce holiness in the believers’ lives
Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians : a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 137.
My old idea was that the partitio was contained Colossians 2:6-10. But looking at things now, I think that passage is perhaps thematically central to the overall argument of the letter, but it nevertheless remains a part of, not a description of Paul’s argument. The Colossian believers need to remain in the faith (1:23) precisely by means of and because of what 2:6-10 says.