What is it about?

New Testament scholarship has often assumed Stoicism as a source for the "head" motif in Colossians 1:18a, where Christ is said to be the "head of the body, which is the church." This is because: (1) Colossians 1:15–20 emphasizes the cosmic significance of Christ, and (2) the Stoics held the cosmos to be a divine body. Thus, so the argument goes, the author drew on Stoic philosophy or adapted a Stoic text in order to underline Christ's cosmic significance.

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Why is it important?

This is the first instance in the New Testament where Christ is said to be the "head" of the ecclesial "body." Unsurprisingly, scholars wish to know from where this motif might have been derived. This article contends that whereas Stoicism might have influenced Colossians in other regards, there is no indication in ancient sources that Stoic philosophers considered the cosmic body to have had a human form. Accordingly, the Stoic cosmic "body" did not have a "head."


I hope that this article can be an example for students of theology and religious studies that a close reading of ancient sources can aid us in questioning 'axioms' in biblical research.

Travis Niles

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Does the Stoic Body Have a Head?, Novum Testamentum, June 2021, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15685365-12341696.
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