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I was studying passages on the Bible about Jesus and its origin. One verse is, to me, somewhat hard to understand (Colossians 1:15, in King James version):

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

There are several chapters on the Bible that tell us that Jesus was not created, but preexisted as God (John 1, for instance). However, this specific verse is used by some people to say that Jesus was created by God. Another verse that goes in the same direction is Revelations 3:14 (also King James):

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

I honestly get confused when I try to summarize an objective answer about what those verses mean. Could you guys help me with that?

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The phrase in question is prōtotokos pasēs ktiseōs. But does this mean "firstborn of every creature" (distributive, as in the KJV), or "firstborn of all creation" (collective, as in ASV, RSV, NASB, NEB, NIV)? The collective seems to be preferred by what immediately follows: "all things" were created by him, through him, and for him (v. 16), and he is before "all things," and "all things" are held together in him (v. 17).

There is also the question of what genitive is in view in pasēs ktiseōs. Is it partitive so that prōtotokos is included in the class of creatures, or objective in which there is an implied action in the noun prōtotokos that is exerted upon creation? The Arians chose the partitive genitive wherein Christ is just a created being - granted the first created being - but a created being nonetheless. However, several factors militate against this view. First, as mentioned above, the clause of v. 16 and the pro panta, "before all," of v. 17 declare that Christ is preexistent. Next, there are two terms in the immediate context that lend weight to the idea of deity: eikōn, "image" of the invisible God in v. 15 and plērōma, "fullness" of God in v. 19. Another consideration is that prōtotokos is a compound word wherein "tokos" carries the definition of being born. However, to emphasize this in the way of the Arians is to emphasize what the NT does not. Only Luke 2:7 potentially uses the term in this way. "Firstborn," even in the LXX, often has to do with position and status, not birth (see Exodus 4:22 where Israel is conceptually the prōtotokos, "firstborn").

This leads to the conclusion that the objective genitive is to be preferred. According to the context, Christ is preexistent. With the term prōtotokos, Christ is preeminent. Is there a verbal idea implied consistent with an objective genitive? As preexistent and preeminent over all creation, Christ functions as the mediator of creation, or another idea would be that Christ is sovereign over all creation.

Putting the argument together: "firstborn of all creation" (collective) is to be preferred over "firstborn of every creature" (distributive) on the basis of the surrounding context, and "all creation" is an objective genitive rather than partitive genitive on the basis of the terms "firstborn," "before all," "image," and "fullness," as well as the emphasis of the term "firstborn" being on status. The age-old difficulty we face is how to bring this out in a readable translation. Perhaps the NLT does this well:

"Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation."

  • I understand there is a Greek word meaning "First Created" which is ‘protoktistos’ and is not used of Jesus. Is this the case, or is my information wrong? – Lesley Jun 14 '18 at 14:20
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In regard to his use of "firstborn", Paul fills in the detail a few verses down:

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
-- Colossians 1:18 KJV

So, Jesus is the first of all creation born from the dead into the kingdom of God. And what's more, he raised himself to life again:

17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
-- John 10:17-18 KJV

This he did to demonstrate his power over death, so those who believe in him could be confident that what he did for himself he could do for anyone who believed and wanted to be raised from death to join him:

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
-- Romans 8:28-29 KJV

Of course, this is just what he said he would do when he was walking and talking among men during the time of his sojourn in this realm:

25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
-- John 11:25 KJV

In regard to the verse in Revelation, one would have to ask: "What did God create, if not a realm from which he might grow fruit unto eternity?", and: "What did God plant, that he might expect to reap from his investment in that realm?" Well, Jesus is the first fruit of that planting, and his seed will continue to bear much fruit, even as he did:

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
-- Isaiah 53:10 KJV

When this realm has served it purpose, i.e. when Jesus has brought in the last soul who wants to be born into the kingdom of God, then this realm will have served its purpose, and he will step away from it. This realm will then be left to those who don't want to let it go, who, in the absence of any to save them from their unrestrained lust, will speedily bring about the hellish state of being depicted in the Revelation, where the smoke of torment ascendeth up forever and ever, and there is no rest day or night, and their worm dieth not forever and ever.

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JESUS: The firstborn [prōtotokos] of all creation.

What is the Bibles view of [prōtotokos]

Paul wrote to the congregation of Colossae,

Colossians 1:15-18 (NRSV)

The Supremacy of Christ

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in[a]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. 17 He himself is before all things, and in[b] him all things hold together.

Paul continues in verse 18 to explain what he means by the phrase “the firstborn over all creation”.

18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning,[arkhe] the firstborn [prototokos] from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

In this verse we note that both words “arkhe” and “prototokos” indicating that he is the first of a new group “the head the body of the church” so that he may have first place in everything, the first fruits, 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, verse 23 states, “Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”(NRSV)

How does the Bible use the word [prototokos] firstborn.

The Greek Septuagint translation at Genesis 49:3 reads as follows; (Online)

3 “Ruben, thou art my first-born, [prototokos] thou my strength, and the first of my children, hard to be endured, hard and self-willed. “

Genesis 43:43 (NRSV)

“When they were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth, the men looked at one another in amazement.”

Deuteronomy 25:6 (NRSV)

“And the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”

The Right of the Firstborn

Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (NRSV)

15 “If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved bear him sons, and if the unloved wife has the firstborn son, 16 when that man gives what he has to his sons as an inheritance, he is not to show favoritism to the son of the loved wife as his firstborn over the firstborn of the unloved wife. 17 He must acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved wife, by giving him two shares[a][b] of his estate, for he is the firstfruits of his virility; he has the rights of the firstborn.

2 Chronicles 21:3 (NRSV)

3" Their father gave them many gifts, of silver, gold, and valuable possessions, together with fortified cities in Judah; but he gave the kingdom to Jehoram, because he was the firstborn."

We note from the above verses that the firstborn has privileges; he received twice as much than his brothers of the father’s property succeeded the headship of the family, if the son of a king, he will inherit the kingdom and if the father is a priest, he will inherit the priesthood.

Jesus given the privileges of the firstborn,

Jesus said,

Matthew 28:18 (NRSV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Paul wrote concerning the privileges of the firstborn;

Ephesians 1:20-23 (NRSV)

20 "God[a] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

Jesus made King and High Priest in the manner of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 7:1-3 (NRSV)

7 "This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”; 2 and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever."

CONCLUSION:

Jesus Christ, as “the firstborn of all creation,” and faithful to God his Father to the end, has been appointed “heir of all things.” (Colossians 1:15 )

And inherits the throne of his ancestor David:

Luke 1:32 (NRSV)

32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”

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Christ has multiple origins and therefore is described in multiple ways in various places and it behooves the expositor to consider the context in which a particular description appears. For example Jesus is spoken of as the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world":

Young's Literal Translation Revelation 13:8 And bow before it shall all who are dwelling upon the land, whose names have not been written in the scroll of the life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;

In that passage Jesus is "notionally" slain long before he is metaphysically slain. Micah even says that notionally his "sorties" (ventures) are "from everlasting":

King James Bible Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

As the embodiment of God's wisdom he is said to have been the first of God's creations and thus is an absolute sense is the first born of all of God's creations:

New Living Translation Proverbs 8:22 "The LORD formed me from the beginning, before he created anything else.

Adam and Eve were created, not born. Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve.

Jesus is said to be "the firstborn from the dead" indicating that he is the first of a completely new "regime" aka the "new humanity":

New International Version 2 Corinthians 5: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation [regime] has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

This is the context of the Colossians passage of the original question:

BLB Col 3: 9Do not lie to one another, having put off the old man with his practices, 10and having put on the new, the one being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one having created him, 11where there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, and free; but Christ is all and in all.

Colossians 1 is all about the new regime, NOT about the Adamic race or Genesis 1:

NIV Colossians 1: 12and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy

Does any of that sound like the creation of Genesis 1 or the old humanity?:

  • the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light
  • rescued from the domain of darkness
  • brought into the kingdom of the son God loves
  • the firstborn over all creation
  • thrones, powers, rulers, authorities created through him and for him
  • head of the body, the church
  • beginning and firstborn from among the dead

Not really; it is all about the new regime.

So in 1 Colossians 1:15, per the original question, Paul refers to Jesus as the firstborn from the dead and of the new regime.

Notice that Hebrews also says that Jesus obtained the new and better title of "son" and "heir". "Heir" is the privilege (and responsibility) of the firstborn:

NIV Hebrews 1: 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name [title ("son")] he has inherited is superior to theirs.

5For to which of the angels did God ever say,

You are my Son; today I have become your Father” ? Or again,

I will be his Father, and he will be my Son” ? 6And again, when God brings [reintroduces] his [resurrected] firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

This is what Colossians 1:15 is referring to.

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