In the first chapter of Colossians Paul makes the following statement about Jesus. “And he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). It has been alleged that firstborn means that Jesus was the first creation of God. Does this mean that Jesus Christ was a created being?
The Greek word prototokos, which is translated as firstborn, can refer to different things. It could refer either to something or someone that is first in order of time, such as a firstborn child, or it could refer to someone who is preeminent in rank. Or it could refer to someone who was both firstborn and preeminent in rank. It all depends upon the context.
Take the example of David. The psalmist gives a description of David as being the firstborn. The Lord said of him. “I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”(Psalm 89:27). In this example the term firstborn obviously speaks of preeminence in rank. David was preeminent among the kings of Israel. However, he was not the oldest, or firstborn, in his family. David was in fact the youngest. Therefore in this context, the idea of firstborn among the kings has the idea of preeminence and does not have the idea of time.
In the passage in Colossians the idea of Jesus as firstborn means that He is preeminent over creation, not that He is a created being. This can be seen from the verses that follow. “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17). Jesus is clearly called the Creator of all things. Consequently He could not have been the first thing created.
Jesus is also called the firstborn from the dead. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5). Jesus was the first person in time to come back from the dead never to die again. In addition, He is preeminent over the dead and death itself. Jesus said that He has the keys, or the authority, to death and Hades. “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18).
There is one final thing. Colossians 1:15 could be better translated in the following manner. “And he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). This translation emphasizes that Jesus is preeminent “over” His creation. This is to be preferred to the translation of “the firstborn of all creation” which gives the impression that Jesus is a created being.
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