It is well known that the Ephesian and Colossian epistles are, in large measure, mirror images. Their overall layout is very similar: after a greeting, thanksgiving and prayer, Paul gives a doctrinal section where he discusses the gospel coming to the Gentiles.
After that, both letters teach us about Christ and the Church as the Head and His Body. But Ephesians emphasizes the Body and its relationship to the Head, while Colossians stresses the Head and His ministry to the Body. Ephesians underlines the unity of the Body; Colossians portrays the preeminence of the Head.
Following that, Paul in Ephesians teaches us our responsibility regarding our unity in the Body; in Colossians, he explains what our unity with the Head means practically.
Both epistles then give exhortations to relationships within the households of believers, followed by a call to be careful and prayerful, before Paul gives his concluding remarks. In all, there are perhaps a dozen parallel passages in the two books.
One of the most helpful is cross-referencing Ephesians 5:19 with Colossians 3:16 where the verses provide a kind of equation. The variables are “Be filled with the Spirit” = “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
However, the most breathtaking complements, surely, are Colossians 2:9-10 and Ephesians 1:22-23. Here are these tremendous statements:
“For in Him dwelleth all the fulness (pleroma) of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, which is the head…” (Col. 2:9-10).
“[God] hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness (pleroma) of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).
How do we understand such breathtaking truth? Paul says in Ephesians 5, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” That we are complete in the One who is the fulness of the Godhead is a fact that fills our sky. But how can it be that we are the fulness of the One who is the fulness of God? Surely this lies beyond our horizon.
The Colossian epistle is considerably shorter than the letter to the Ephesians, so in Ephesians Paul has time to develop not only the Church as the Body (a picture shared with Colossians) but also the Church as a building and as a bride. It is this third illustration that I think may help us begin to grasp Ephesians 1:22-23.
When Adam was the only human being in existence, his body was complete in itself. But Adam had no earthly companion with whom he could fellowship. So three great steps were taken to rectify this predicament, to give him a help suitable for him.
First, in Genesis 2:21, we see the bride being born through the “deep sleep” of Adam, corresponding to the death of Christ. It was a volitional act of temporary separation to make the bride possible.
Second, though perfectly distinct from Adam, Eve was a part of Adam, formed out of him from “the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man” (Gen. 2:22). Eve, like the Church, was the bride of his wounded side. Adam called her Woman (meaning “out of Man”) because out of his fulness his bride had been made for him.
Third, the Lord God “…made (or builded) He a woman.” The woman was bone of Adam’s bones, flesh of his flesh, yet God saw Eve as a distinct creation: “in the image of God created He them” (Gen. 1:27).
Even so, there was an organic union; they were seen as sharing a common life. As F. A. Perigo writes: “And as they were looked at as one–‘He called their name Adam’–the people of God are never looked at apart from Christ; they have no life in themselves. Christ is our life” (Bridal Aspects of the Church, p. 10).
How does this Edenic scene help us with Ephesians 1:22-23? Simply in this way: Until Adam’s sleep, he was complete in himself. But in order to have a companion, he gave up his rib. From that point on, there was a sense in which he was not complete unless Eve was with him–because she had his rib! Bone of his bone, she had his life in her.
The “last Adam” is infinitely superior to the first (see 1 Cor. 15:45-49). However, there surely is still a similarity between the “living soul” of Adam and the “life-giving spirit” of Christ.
One verse that links the old and new order of things is found in Genesis 2:24 and repeated by our Lord in Matthew 19:5. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” Of course the Lord Jesus never left His Father as to relationship and communion. He Himself was, and is, ever “the Son of man which is in heaven” (Jn. 3:13), as He stated while talking to Nicodemus. Yet “for this cause,” the Son left His Father’s house and laid His glory in the dust that He might give to us of His life. “Of His fulness we have received” and so are complete in Him.
But there is a sense (and only a sense) in which the Man in glory is alone today–though surrounded by angelic servants and sitting at the Father’s right hand. He still awaits His Bride. And it is not good that the Man should be alone.
In this sense it appears that the Church is “the fulness of Him.” He gave His life to us; we have life from the Life. We are now the Body of Christ. We are “one flesh” with Him in that “both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one…” (Heb. 2:11).
The Adam-Eve relationship is applied to us in the New Testament in various practical ways. As noted, it instructs us as to the sanctity of marriage, showing how intimate, interdependent, and permanent the marriage union was designed to be.
Paul also uses this first marriage to teach the man-woman order in the church (1 Cor. 11:3-12). Yet more spectacular than the truth itself are the mental gymnastics some commentators take in telling us this passage is only applicable to the cultural scene in first century Corinth. They mention temple prostitutes who shaved their heads. Where is that verse? It must be there because everyone quotes it–but I can’t find it! Instead I find a divine order established in the first creation but overturned by rebellion. That same order is to be re-established in the new creation, yet the same rebellion lurks in the hearts of people today who will “wrest the scripture” rather than cling to it.
How good it would be if, in this egocentric age, we would apply this principle at the highest level: “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9). The Church finds its life in the Man at God’s right hand who stooped to the earth to have her. She was made for the Man: for His pleasure we “are, and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
Again F. A. Perigo insightfully writes: “Why is Ephesians the topstone of Paul’s letters? The appreciation of Christ forms a basis in the soul for all divine truth. We find that while Judas valued Him at 30 pieces of silver, the Ephesians in Acts 19:19 give as their appreciation 50,000 pieces of silver! To such a company of saints, Paul declared the whole counsel of God.”