Does firstborn in Colossians 1:15 mean Jesus was created? Part Two By Jack Kettler
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:5 ESV)
Religious groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in particular, have claimed that Paul’s portrayal of Christ as the firstborn of creation means that Jesus is a created being. In this brief study, the goal will be to gain an understanding of the biblical word “firstborn.” It will be necessary to delve into the previously named religious group that has an agenda.
For example, in the Jehovah Witness online study Bible, one finds:
“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. 17 Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist, 18 and he is the head of the body, the congregation.” (Colossians 1:15-18 NWT) (Highlighting bold and yellow emphases mine)
In the printed version of the New World Translation* on the Colossians text from the 1961 reprint, the word “other” is in brackets, indicating that the word other has been inserted. Not so, as seen from the online study version, in which there are no brackets. The online version inserting the word is deceptive since the word “other” is not in the Greek text.
The insertion of “other” is a trick to get the reader to think of Christ as a thing, a created thing. Similar to this is the Witnesses’ gross mistranslation of John 1:1-3, where they insert the word “a” in John 1:1 to make it read “a god.” Then in John 1:3, when it says, “All things were made by him…” you have been tricked into thinking the Christ is not God, but “a god” or a thing. Once an error like this has been accepted, the next falsehood of Christ being the first created or firstborn; two purportedly synonymous words seemingly makes sense.
* The whole purpose of the New World Translation is an attempt to disprove the deity of Christ. Therefore, it is not a translation at all but a perversion of Scripture.
The Greek language and firstborn meaning first created does not hold up:
The Greek word for “first created” is πρωτόπλαστος (protóplastos). This word is different from “firstborn,” which is, πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos).
Using the HELPS Word-studies with Strong’s numbers:
4416 prōtótokos (from 4413 /prṓtos, “first, pre-eminent” and 5088 /tíktō, “bring forth”) – properly, first in time (Mt 1:25; Lk 2:7); hence, pre-eminent (Col 1:15; Rev 1:5).
4416 /prōtótokos (“firstly”) specifically refers to Christ as the first to experience glorification, i.e., at His resurrection (see Heb 12:23; Rev 1:5). For this (and countless other reasons), Jesus is “preeminent” (4416 /prōtótokos) – the unequivocal Sovereign over all creation (Col 1:16).
A fine entry from Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers on Colossians 1:15 does an excellent job explaining the apostle’s use of “firstborn:”
“(15) The image of the invisible God.—This all important clause needs the most careful examination. We note accordingly (1) that the word “image” (like the word “form,” Philippians 2:6-7) is used in the New Testament for real and essential embodiment, as distinguished from mere likeness. Thus in Hebrews 10:1 we read, “The law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things;” we note also in Romans 1:23 the distinction between the mere outward “likeness” and the “image” which it represented; we find in 1Corinthians 15:49 that the “image of the earthy” and “the image of the heavenly” Adam denote actual identity of nature with both; and in 2Corinthians 3:18 the actual work of the Spirit in the heart is described as “changing us from glory to glory” into “the image” of the glorified Christ. (2) Next we observe that although, speaking popularly, St. Paul in 1Corinthians 11:7 calls man “the image and glory of God,” yet the allusion is to Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28, where man is said, with stricter accuracy, to be made “after the image of God” (as in Ephesians 4:24, “created after God”), and this more accurate expression is used in Colossians 3:10 of this Epistle, “renewed after the image of Him that created him.” Who then, or what, is the “image of God,” after which man is created? St. Paul here emphatically (as in 2Corinthians 4:4 parenthetically) answers “Christ,” as the Son of God, “first-born before all creation.” The same truth is conveyed in a different form, clearer (if possible) even than this, in Hebrews 1:3, where “the Son” is said to be not only “the brightness of the glory of the Father,” but “the express image of His Person.” For the word “express image” is character in the original, used here (as when we speak of the alphabetical “characters”) to signify the visible drawn image, and the word “Person” is substance or essence. (3) It is not to be forgotten that at this time in the Platonising Judaism of Philo, “the Word” was called the eternal “image of God.” (See passages quoted in Dr. Light-foot’s note on this passage.) This expression was not peculiar to him; it was but a working out of that personification of the “wisdom of God,” of which we have a magnificent example in Proverbs 8:22-30, and of which we trace the effect in the Alexandrine Book of “Wisdom” (Wisdom Of Solomon 7:25-26). “Wisdom is the breath of the power of God, and a pure stream from the glory of the Most High—the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness.” It seems to have represented in the Jewish schools the idea complementary to the ordinary idea of the Messiah in the Jewish world. Just as St. John took up the vague idea of “the Word,” and gave it a clear divine personality in Christ, so St. Paul seems to act here in relation to the other phrase, used as a description of the Word. In Christ, he fixes in solid reality the floating vision of the “image of God.” (4) There is an emphasis on the words “of the invisible God.” Now, since the whole context shows that the reference is to the eternal pre-existence of Christ, ancient interpreters (of whom Chrysostom may be taken as the type) argued that the image of the invisible must be also invisible. But this seems opposed to the whole idea of the word “image,” and to its use in the New Testament and elsewhere. The true key to this passage is in our Lord’s own words in John 1:8, “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son” (here is the remarkable reading, “the only begotten God”), “who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath revealed Him.” In anticipation of the future revelation of Godhead, Christ, even as pre-existent, is called “The image of the invisible God.”
The firstborn of every creature (of all creation).—(1) as to the sense of this clause. The grammatical construction here will bear either the rendering of our version, or the rendering “begotten before all creation,” whence comes the “begotten before all worlds “of the Nicene Creed. But the whole context shows that the latter is unquestionably the true rendering. For, as has been remarked from ancient times, He is said to be “begotten” and not “created;” next, he is emphatically spoken of below as He “by whom all things were created,” who is “before all things,” and in whom all things consist.” (2) As to the order of idea. In Himself He is “the image of God” from all eternity. From this essential conception, by a natural contrast, the thought immediately passes on to distinction from, and priority to, all created being. Exactly in this same order of idea, we have in Hebrews 1:2-3, “By whom also He made the worlds . . . upholding all things by the word of His power;” and in John 1:3, “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made which was made. Here St. Paul indicates this idea in the words “firstborn before all creation,” and works it out in the verses following. (3) As to the name “firstborn” itself. It is used of the Messiah as an almost technical name (derived from Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:28), as is shown in Hebrews 1:6, “when He bringeth the first begotten into the world.” In tracing the Messianic line of promise we notice that; while the Messiah is always true man, “the seed of Abraham,” “the son of David,” yet on him are accumulated attributes too high for any created being (as in Isaiah 9:6). He is declared to be an “Emmanuel” God with us; and His kingdom a visible manifestation of God. Hence the idea contained in the word “firstborn” is not only sovereignty “above all the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:28; comp. Daniel 8:13-14), but also likeness to God and priority to all created being. (4) As to the union of the two clauses. In the first we have the declaration of His eternal unity with God—all that was completely embodied in the declaration of the “Word who is God,” up to which all the higher Jewish speculations had led; in the second we trace the distinctness of His Person, as the “begotten of the Father,” the true Messiah of Jewish hopes, and the subordination of the co-eternal Son to the Father. The union of the two marks the assertion of Christian mystery, as against rationalising systems, of the type of Arianism on one side, of Sabellianism on the other.” (1)
Another entry is from Vincent's Word Studies that is also helpful in understanding the use of “firstborn:”
“The image (εἰκών)
See on Revelation 13:14. For the Logos (Word) underlying the passage, see on John 1:1. Image is more than likeness, which may be superficial and incidental. It implies a prototype, and embodies the essential verity of its prototype. Compare in the form of God, Philippians 2:6 (note), and the effulgence of the Father's glory, Hebrews 1:3. Also 1 John 1:1.
Of the invisible God (τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου)
Lit., of the God, the invisible. Thus is brought out the idea of manifestation, which lies in image. See on Revelation 13:14.
The first born of every creature (πρωτότοκος πασῆς κτίσεως)
Rev., the first-born of all creation. For first-born, see on Revelation 1:5; for creation, see on 2 Corinthians 5:17. As image points to revelation, so first-born points to eternal preexistence. Even the Rev. is a little ambiguous, for we must carefully avoid any suggestion that Christ was the first of created things, which is contradicted by the following words: in Him were all things created. The true sense is, born before the creation. Compare before all things, Colossians 1:17. This fact of priority implies sovereignty. He is exalted above all thrones, etc., and all things are unto (εἰς) Him, as they are elsewhere declared to be unto God. Compare Psalm 89:27; Hebrews 1:2.” (2)
As seen from the lexical and commentary entries, “first created,” and “firstborn” have two different meanings entirely. The Jehovah’s Witnesses mistranslation and perversion of the Colossians and John passages are damnable heresies.
Additional Scriptures on Christ” preeminence:
“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11 NASB)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:1-3 NASB)
“He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31 NASB)
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36 NASB)
“For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:9 NASB )
“He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18 NASB)
“For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.” (Hebrews 3:3 NASB)
As seen, the word “firstborn” speaks of Christ’s preeminence, and not anything to do with creation.
Preeminence is the quality of being superior. It is a status or distinction from anything considered the finest like a king. Christ is above all.
One final passage, the Psalmist, while immediately speaking of David, looks forward prophetically to Christ and His divine preeminence.
“Also I will make him [or appoint him אֶתְּנֵ֑הוּ] my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:27)
For those who want to make an issue with the word “make” and suggest that it means to create, this can be said:
“You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24 ESV)
“Disregard them! They are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14 BSB)
“appoint him as
Verb - Qal - Imperfect - first person common singular | third person masculine singular
Strong's Hebrew 5414: 1) to give, put, set 1a) (Qal) 1a1) to give, bestow, grant, permit, ascribe, employ, devote, consecrate, dedicate, pay wages, sell, exchange, lend, commit, entrust, give over, deliver up, yield produce, occasion, produce, requite to, report, mention, utter, stretch out, extend 1a2) to put, set, put on, put upon, set, appoint, assign, designate 1a3) to make, constitute 1b) (Niphal) 1b1) to be given, be bestowed, be provided, be entrusted to, be granted to, be permitted, be issued, be published, be uttered, be assigned 1b2) to be set, be put, be made, be inflicted 1c) (Hophal) 1c1) to be given, be bestowed, be given up, be delivered up 1c2) to be put upon.”
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Colossians, Vol. 20, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 8-9.
2. Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies In The New Testament, (Mclean, Virginia, Macdonald Publishing Company), p. 468.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
· The Preeminence of Christ in Preaching, Part 1 - Colossians 1:28-29
Audio/MP3 by Steven J Lawson
· The Preeminence of Christ in Preaching, Part 2 - Colossians 1:28-29
Audio/MP3 by Steven J Lawson
· The Preeminence of Christ in Preaching, Part 3 - Colossians 1:28-29
Audio/MP3 by Steven J Lawson