January 16, 2018

Straight Cuts: Christ as Firstborn (Colossians 1:15)

Tom Wheeler

FrontLine • March/April 2002.

One of the most important doctrines of our Christian faith is the deity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus must be God to save us (Isa. 45:21, 22). Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, deny this Biblical truth. One passage that they twist in an attempt to deny Christ’s deity is Colossians 1:15. In this verse Christ is called “the firstborn of every creature.” It is claimed that this expression indicates that Christ is a creature and not fully God. However, the context clearly refutes this assertion.

Christ’s Deity in Colossians

We must not construe the expression “firstborn of every creature” in a way that contradicts the repeated clear teaching elsewhere in the same book. Paul clearly asserts the deity of Christ in the book of Colossians. In the same chapter (Col.1), Paul uses descriptions to indicate that Christ has the same divine nature as the Father. God is uniquely the Father of Christ (verse 2), and Christ is uniquely His Son (verse 13) and the actual “image of the invisible God” (verse 15a). Elsewhere in the New Testament, references to Christ as the Son of God means that He is God, equal to God the Father (John 5:17, 18; 10:30–36). In chapters 1 and 2, Paul explicitly teaches that Christ is fully God, stating that “it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell” (1:19), and “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (2:9).

Also, Paul clearly ascribes unique divine power and activity to Christ by ascribing the creation and maintenance of the universe to Him. Paul declares, “For by Him were all things created” (1:16a), and “by Him all things consist” (1:17b). Since all things were created by Christ, He could not be a creature. He could not create himself. He could not be the highest heavenly angelic creation as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, because He created “all things . . .that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, . . . principalities or powers” (1:16). Angels are heavenly beings, invisible, and spiritual powers, all of which are ascribed to creation by Christ.

The Meaning of Firstborn

The Greek word for firstborn in Colossians 1:15 is prototokos. Had Paul wanted to express the idea that Christ was the first created being, he could have used another Greek word, protoktistos, which means “first created” (see John Ankerberg, Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions, p. 167). For several reasons, “firstborn” (prototokos) in context primarily refers to priority and preeminence.

As the firstborn of creation, He exists prior to all creation and is preeminent in rank over all creation (Col. 1:15–18; see Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament with Greek Parallel, pp. 934, 935). He is called “firstborn” because the Father desires that the Son have preeminence over all creation (Col. 1:18c). Firstborn indicates rank as the chief heir (compare Deut. 21:17; Ps. 89:27; Jer. 31:9; and Gen. 48:14–20). The Father has appointed His unique Son, Jesus Christ, as heir of all things (Heb. 1:2) and calls this heir of all things “firstborn” (prototokos; Heb. 1:6) and “God” (Heb. 1:8).

Finally, it is important to note in context that “firstborn” is used in reference to resurrection from the dead, not to a beginning with a physical birth or physical creation. Christ eternally preexisted (Isa. 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:1–3; 8:58). Christ is called “the firstborn (prototokos) from the dead” (Col. 1:18). The same Greek word is used in Revelation 1:5 to describe Christ as “the first begotten from the dead.” Christ is the first person raised from the dead with an immortal glorified body, so that He can be described as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20). Because Christ obeyed the Father by coming to the earth and dying for our sins and rising again, the Father has exalted Christ to the preeminent place as heir and Lord of all things (Heb. 1:2, 6, 8; Phil. 2:9–11; Rom. 14:9–11). As “firstborn” (prototokos) Christ has the preeminent place of exaltation in the Church (compare Rom. 8:29; Heb. 12:23; Col. 1:18).

Therefore, we conclude that “firstborn” in Col. 1:15 means that Christ is the unique and only begotten (not created) Son of God and Creator of all things, the heir of all things, the preeminent Lord of all things, and the first one raised from the dead in an immortal glorified body. He is truly God, not a creature. The ancient Athanasian Creed states, “So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. . . . The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 2:67). As God, Christ is worthy of all of our worship and obedience. We must defend this truth from those who would attempt to lift the diadem of deity from Christ’s head.

At the time of original publication, Dr. Tom Wheeler was the Academic Dean and a Bible and theology teacher at Heart of America Seminary and Bible College.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2002. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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