There are three Old Testament allusions in Colossians of which many Christians are likely unaware.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

The first Old Testament allusion is in Colossians 1:6 and 1:10. Verse 6 says, “The gospel, which has come unto you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing.” Similarly, verse 10 says believers are “to please [God] in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Both of these verses are allusions to Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”1

At the least, Paul’s use of language from Genesis 1:28 about the beginning of the old creation is intended to indicate that a new creation has been inaugurated with believers because of their identification with Christ. Furthermore, Adam and Eve’s “being fruitful and multiplying and filling” the earth with literal children who would join Adam in reflecting God’s image and in exercising kingly dominion over the earth may also be in mind. In Christ, the last Adam, believers have begun to regain the image of God in spiritually “bearing fruit and increasing,” since Adam’s own “bearing fruit and increasing” would have had spiritual dimensions in that he was to bear children who were in God’s image and were to reflect God’s own spiritual attributes.2 Thus, in Christ we begin to fulfill the mandate of Genesis 1:28 as we “bear fruit in good works” and as we “increase in the knowledge of God” in His word of truth in the Bible.

Be Filled with Knowledge and Skill

A second Old Testament allusion occurs in Colossians 1:9, which is a reference to Exodus 31:3 and 35:31–32 (note the allusion italics): “We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” The Exodus passages say that God filled Israelites (Bezalel, Oholiab, and others) with His Spirit to have skill in building the tabernacle (see Ex. 31:1–11). The focus of the allusion in Colossians. 1:9 is that Paul is petitioning that God would fill believers with the Spirit in order that they would build their spiritual lives skillfully, as verse 10 makes clear (“to walk, . . . bearing fruit in every good work”). But since “every good work” in Colossians 1:10 is still part of the Exodus 31:3 and 35:31–32 allusion referring to temple construction, the saints’ “bearing fruit in every good work” is part of the process of them contributing to building up the body of Christ (as evident also from 1:6), which is the new spiritual temple (which 1:19 makes evident).3 As we are “filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” through Scripture, we are being equipped to contribute to the building of the spiritual temple of God in Christ.

As we are “filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” through Scripture, we are being equipped to contribute to the building of the spiritual temple of God in Christ.
Let the Word of Christ Dwell in You

The third allusion is in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The close combination of “psalm” (psalmos), “hymn” (hymnos), and “song” (ōdē) within the space of one verse occurs two times in the book of Psalms: in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) in Psalms 66:1 and 75:1. In both psalms, the three words are placed directly next to one another without a conjunction (“and”) and without the article “the” before any of the words, as in Colossians 3:16. However, “song” is placed first and two of the words are in different Greek case forms, and these same two words are in the singular instead of the plurals found in Colossians. For example, Psalm 66:1 has “hymns, a psalm, an ode” (hymnois psalmos ōdēs). It is possible to punctuate Psalm 66:1 of the Septuagint in the following way: “Among hymns. A Psalm. Of an Ode” (as the New English Translation of the Septuagint [NETS] puts it). However, NETS gives a marginal reading closer in line with that of Colossians: “a psalm (instrumental music) accompanied by a song of praise (vocal music)” (emphasis original; “praise” is a rendering of ōdē). The most formally equivalent reading would be “among hymns, a psalm of a song.” NETS renders Psalm 75:1 as: “Among hymns. A Psalm. Pertaining to Asaph. An Ode.” The three words in Colossians may be plural since the allusion is to both psalms as representing the whole corpus of psalms. Strikingly, both psalms also mention end-time redemption of gentiles. Psalm 66 underscores this in six of its eight verses (e.g., v. 3 NETS [67:2 in English Bibles], “that we may know your way upon the earth, among all nations your salvation”), and Psalm 75 mentions it in verse 10 (in NETS; 76:9 in English; “to save all the meek of the earth”). Consequently, the threefold hymnic wording of the two psalms appears to be ringing in the background of Colossians 3:16 not only because the combination occurs only in the Old Testament in those two psalms but also partly because of the connection to gentile salvation, a theme not far away in Colossians (e.g., 3:11). In this respect, saved gentiles are certainly included among the ones who are to follow the instruction of Colossians 3:16.

Since all three words refer to Old Testament psalms, there is no need to try to find a distinct meaning among them (for example, some commentators have tried to conclude that “hymns” and “songs” refer to new compositions by early Christian hymn writers). Indeed, Paul says “letting the word of Christ dwell within you” takes place by means of or, better, in the manner of “teaching and admonishing” in Old Testament psalms. The psalms are now viewed to be the very word of Christ and should now be understood fully through the lens of Christ.

There are more allusions in Colossians, which could also be discussed,4 but these are among the most prominent. Some think that there are not many Old Testament allusions in Colossians, but there are more than meets the eye at first glance.


  1. Paul likely is translating directly from the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:28.
  2. See G.K. Beale, Colossians and Philemon, BECNT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2019), 48–50, for more in-depth discussion.
  3. Beale, 55, for more discussion, including that 1 Kings 7:14 and Isaiah 11:2 are likely included secondarily in the allusion together with Exodus 31 and 35.
  4. For example, an allusion to the OT temple in Colossians 1:19 (see Beale, 107–10, 125–28).

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