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Don Stewart :: In What Sense Is Jesus the Firstborn of All Creation?

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In What Sense Is Jesus the Firstborn of All Creation? (Colossians 1:15)

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Question 5

One popular argument against the deity of Jesus Christ from those who claim to believe the teachings of Scripture is the statement that Jesus was the “firstborn” of all creation. In the first chapter of Colossians Paul makes the following statement about Jesus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation... (Colossians 1:15 HCSB)

It has been alleged that firstborn means that Jesus was the first creation of God. In addition, we find that the term “firstborn” is never applied to God the Father or to the Holy Spirit. Does this mean that Jesus Christ was a created being?

The Word Can Mean a Number of Different Things

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.

The Bible uses the term in a number of different ways. They are as follows.

1. David, the Youngest Son, Was Called the Firstborn

The psalmist gives a description of David, the first rightful king of Israel, as being the firstborn. The Lord said of him,

“And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:27 NIV)

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 son of Jesse; the firstborn in his family. David was in fact the youngest son.

Neither was he the first king in the history of Israel. Saul was king before him. Therefore in this context, the idea of firstborn among the kings has the idea of preeminence. It does not have the idea of time.

2. The Word Firstborn Can Refer to Status

In the Book of Hebrews, it says Esau sold his firstborn status or his birthright. We read the following words:

Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau. He traded his birthright as the oldest son for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:16 NLT)

This refers to his rights and privileges of being the first-born. The fact that he could sell it shows that it refers to his status, not his order of birth.

The Eldest Son Received Double Inheritance

In that culture, the emphasis was on the eldest son. He received a double portion of the inheritance. We read about this in the Book of Deuteronomy:

He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him. (Deuteronomy 21:17 NIV)

The firstborn son had privileges over other family members.

We read about this in the Book of Genesis in the case of Isaac and his son Esau. The Bible explains what occurred in this manner:

When Isaac was old and almost blind, he called for Esau, his older son, and said, “My son?” “Yes, Father?” Esau replied. “I am an old man now,” Isaac said, “and I expect every day to be my last. Take your bow and a quiver full of arrows out into the open country, and hunt some wild game for me. Prepare it just the way I like it so it’s savory and good, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son, before I die.” (Genesis 27:1-4 NLT)

Isaac meant to bless his firstborn son with certain privileges that his other son, Jacob, would not have.

Jacob, however, fooled the blind Isaac into making him think that he was actually Esau. Thus, the blessing of the firstborn was given to him, not Esau. We again read about the preferential treatment that the firstborn would receive:

But Isaac said, “Your brother was here, and he tricked me. He has carried away your blessing.” Esau said bitterly, “No wonder his name is Jacob, for he has deceived me twice, first taking my birthright and now stealing my blessing. Oh, haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?” Isaac said to Esau, “I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is there left to give?” (Genesis 27:35-37 NLT)

It is clear that there was preferential treatment for the firstborn.

In fact, figuratively, the word denotes priority or supremacy. We find an example of this in the Book of Exodus. It reads,

“Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son...’” (Exodus 4:22 NIV)

Obviously it is speaking figuratively here. Israel was not the physical offspring of God. Neither was it the first nation which was formed. Rather the emphasis is on the priority which God gave to this nation.

We also read in Jeremiah about Israel having this preeminent position. It says,

“They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.” (Jeremiah 31:9 NIV)

Again the emphasis is on the priority given to this nation. They were God’s chosen people. However, they were not the first nation which existed “in time.”

In the Book of Psalms, which we referred to earlier, we find the term “firstborn” used as follows:

“And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:27 NIV)

This is what is known as synthetic parallelism in Hebrew. It is where the second line explains the first. David is the first-born, ruler over all the earth. Therefore, the firstborn means he rules over the kings of the earth. The idea is his preeminence; not that he was the first king on the scene.

It Has the Idea of Preeminence in the Book of Colossians

In the passage in Colossians, the same idea is present. Jesus as firstborn means that He is preeminent over all of creation. It does not mean that He is a created being. This can be seen from the verses that follow.

...for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16, 17 NRSV)

Jesus is clearly called the Creator of all things. Consequently He could not have been the first thing created.

Jesus Is the Firstborn from the Dead

Jesus is also called the “firstborn” from the dead. We read about this in the Book of Revelation. It says the following:

...and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood... (Revelation 1:5 NRSV)

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; to death and the grave:

“I am the living one who died. Look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Revelation 1:18 NLT)

Therefore, we again find the word firstborn used in the sense of Jesus’ preeminence.

Jesus Is Heir to All Things in Creation

There is another aspect to the term firstborn that can be applied to Jesus Christ; He is the “heir” of all things. In human terms, the firstborn was the heir to all that the Father owned. When the Father died the heir received the entire inheritance.

Of course, God the Father will never die. However, Jesus, as the heir, has the right to all things that belong to the Father.

Paul wrote to the Romans emphasizing that believers are co-heirs with Jesus in our inheritance.

He explained it in this manner:

The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)—if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16, 17 NET)

Therefore, as the heir all things are rightly His. Furthermore, since we belong to Jesus then all things are rightly ours! Truly, this is a wonderful inheritance for the believer.

Jesus Is the Firstborn over All Creation

There is one final thing. There is strong evidence that Colossians 1:15 could be better translated in the following manner:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation... (Colossians 1:15 NET)

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. The New Living Translation has the right idea:

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation. (Colossians 1:15 NLT)

Consequently, the tem firstborn does not mean that Jesus Christ was the first “creation” of God. Indeed, as God, Jesus is the Creator of all things.

Summary – Question 4
In What Sense Is Jesus the Firstborn of All Creation? (Colossians 1:15)

Jesus Christ is called the firstborn of all creation. Some take this to mean that Jesus was a created being rather than the Creator Himself.

However the use of this word in this context does not have the idea that Christ was created. The idea is that Jesus has preeminence over all creation. The word translated, “firstborn” can refer to preeminence in rank or status or preeminence in time. The context will determine its usage.

In the Book of Psalms we read that David is called the “firstborn” among the kings of Israel. Yet he was the youngest son of his father Jesse so it is not speaking of his age relative to his brothers. Neither was he the first king of Israel in time. King Saul ruled before him. In this context, firstborn can only refer to rank, not age or time.

The word firstborn can also have the idea of “heir.” Jesus Christ is the rightful heir of creation. In other words, all things belong to Him. This also has to do with His position or rank, not with any idea of the time of His creation.

Jesus Christ is called the firstborn in the sense that He is “over” all of creation. This is made clear by the verses that follow this statement in the first chapter of Colossians. They make it clear that He is the Creator.

Therefore a better translation would be that Jesus is the firstborn, “over all of creation.”

Consequently there is no idea here of Jesus Christ being someone who was created by God the Father. On the contrary, Jesus was the Creator of all things.

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In What Sense Is Jesus the Beginning of God's Creation? Next Section →
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