6

Colossians 1:17:

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [ESV]
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. [KJV]
17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [NASB]
17 and himself is before all, and the all things in him have consisted. [YLT]

What does it mean that Jesus is before all things? That Jesus already existed before creation? Is there room for a different interpretation?

3
  • " That Jesus already existed before creation?" The Gospels refute this without question.
    – steveowen
    Nov 16 at 21:15
  • 1
    @steveowen - you should elaborate on that in an answer! Nov 16 at 21:25
  • Any other interpretation would be derived from the intended one as seen from the intra-verse context. He, who was before all created things, now holds them together. Nov 16 at 23:17
5
+50

The phrase, "He is before all things" (αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων) has been interpreted in two broad ways:

  • Christ exceeds all things in moral and authoritarian dignity
  • Christ temporally preceded all things (ie, in time, or, chronologically)

The Greek preposition "pro" (before) could sustain either meaning. To decide between these two we must examine the context of Paul's sequence of declarations about the glory of Christ in Col 1:15-20:

  • A: Image of the invisible God
  • B: . firstborn over all creation = (in dignity = most important, AND time)
  • C: . . creator of all things (therefore, He must precede all things)
  • D: . . . before all things (??)
  • D: . . . in Him all things consist/hold together (He is sustainer of all things)
  • C: . . head of church and the beginning
  • B: . firstborn of dead, ie, He has preeminence
  • A: All fulness of God dwells in Christ

Note that the sequence consists of two halves - the first half focuses on Christ's temporal precedence over all things and the second half emphasizes Christ's pre-eminence (in dignity) over all things.

The two center elements appear to combine both - Christ was temporally before and is greater in dignity than all things.

Ellicott agrees:

(17) He is before all things.—The words “He is” are both emphatic. He, and He only, is; all else is created. It is impossible not to refer to the “I am” of Eternal existence, as claimed by our Lord for Himself. “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58; comp. also John 1:15). Hence the word “before” should be taken, not of supreme dignity, but of pre-existence.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary observes:

  1. (Joh 8:58.) Translate as Greek, "And He Himself (the great He) is (implying divine essential being) before all things," in time, as well as in dignity. Since He is before all things, He is before even time, that is, from eternity. Compare "the first-born of every creature" (Col 1:15).

Matthew Poole has:

And he is before all things: ... and was actually before all creatures in causality, dignity, and time; which proves his eternity, (consonant to other scriptures, Proverbs 8:22 Isaiah 44:6 Micah 5:2 John 1:1 17:5 Revelation 1:8,11,17 Re 22:13), because before all things there was nothing but proper eternity, Psalm 90:2.

There is a similar meaning in John 1:15 (with a different preposition) as noted by Benson:

He that cometh after me is preferred before me — Namely, by God. “Erasmus supposes, that John here refers to the honours which he knew had been paid to Jesus in his infancy, by the angel who announced his birth to the shepherds; by the shepherds themselves; by the eastern sages; by Simeon and Anna; honours which could not be paralleled by any thing which had happened to him. But the words seem to have a more extensive meaning, comprehending the superior dignity of Christ’s nature, office, commission, and exaltation, as Mediator. See Matthew 3:11, the passage here referred to. For he was before me — It is fit that Jesus should be raised above me, because he is a person superior in nature to me. For though he was born after me, he existed before me.” “This must undoubtedly refer to the state of glory in which Christ existed before his incarnation, of which the Baptist speaks so plainly, John 3:31.”

2
  • 1
    @NigelJ - many thanks for fixing the typo.
    – Dottard
    Apr 26 at 20:29
  • . . . . . .Also up-voted.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 27 at 7:50
4

What does it mean that Jesus is before all things (Colossians 1:17)?

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [ESV]

1/ Rewarded with the gift of immortality

The first one described in the Bible as rewarded with the gift of immortality is Jesus Christ. That he did not possess immortality before his resurrection by God is seen from the inspired apostle’s words at Romans 6:9 NASB " knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. " (Compare Revelation 1:17-18.)

Revelation 1:17-18 NET

When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but[b] he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades![d]

2/ Jesus is the beginning of the creation of God

Revelation 3:14 ASV

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God:

3/ The first to be raised from the dead as a spirit to endless and immortal life in heaven.

1 Peter 3:18 NASB

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all time, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;

Revelation 1:5 ASV

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 released us from our sins by His blood.

4/ Exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

Philippians 2:9-11 NET

As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue confes that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

5/ Exalted , second only to God,everything put in subjection to him by God.

1 Corinthians 15:27 NET

27 For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him.

6/ First to be raised from the dead by God.

Acts 3:15 NASB

15 but put to death the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, [b]a fact to which we are witnesses.

7/ By being faithful to the end includung his sacrifice , God annointed him as King and Priest in Heaven

Hebrews 5:1 NASB

5 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of people in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins;

Hebrews 7:26 NASB

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens;

Hebrews 1:8-9 ASV

8 But of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever;
And the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee With the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

6
  • 1
    Interesting verses, but I find strange that not a single time you analyzed the immediate context of the verse in question, like Dottard's answer does. Apr 26 at 19:43
  • 2
    @spirit - generally, because not one verse stands alone. To exegete a verse in solitary is folly unless one is examining a specific word. 'Before' is not such a word, but is only explained in concert with other texts. The absolute nonsense of Jesus being creator is based on poorly understood 'proof-texts'. On that fallacy, rests the entire dogma.
    – steveowen
    Apr 26 at 22:14
  • 3
    Spirit Realm Investigator: When we find ourselves facing an ambiguous passage, frustrated in an attempt to make a decision one way or another about what it means, it is always a good idea to look for similar passages in order to make a comparison and so help to clarify the meaning of the verse. Any verse analyzed should be in harmony with the scriptures. Apr 27 at 9:12
  • Very good answer! +1
    – carsonfel
    Apr 27 at 9:45
  • 2
    @OzzieOzzie I noticed in your post you referenced Revelation 3:14. Am I right in assuming you referenced the verse to show Jesus is a created being? The word "beginning" in the Greek is "arche." It would be Strong's #G746. It means "beginning, origin, the person or thing that commences something. In fact, we get our English word "architect" from that word. He plans and designs etc. The same word is used at Revelation 21:6 where John is referring to Jesus Christ. "I am the Alpha & Omega, the "arche/beginning" and end." You would not use the word "arche/beginning" meaning Jesus is created!
    – Mr. Bond
    Nov 18 at 2:21
4

Colossians 1:17 is referencing, or rather stating exactly what we see in John ....

JOHN 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

Now, here is where the link is...

JOHN 1:14 And the Word became flesh

What does it mean that Jesus is before all things?” - it means he is the Word - personified.

4
  • 2
    I wish others could see this truth as self-evident as well.
    – Xeno
    Apr 26 at 19:06
  • I am perplexed. And curious. Why the downvotes?
    – Dave
    Apr 27 at 18:43
  • 1
    I suggest that this reality, that of Christ becoming the Son of God historically as the Man Jesus, is the root of the problem. Many feel that Christ simply did not exist prior to His physical incarnation in the flesh. I, too, am puzzled by this because Col. 1:15-16 states: "[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him." Go figure.
    – Xeno
    Apr 27 at 20:35
  • @Xeno It doesn't say 'by' him, for good reason. I +1 b/c it sticks to the scripture. 'By him' is a traditional alteration to uphold the dogma of a pre-existent Jesus no verse speaks of.
    – steveowen
    Nov 17 at 9:55
2

The verse shows that Jesus is an agent of the Creator and that Jesus is not the Creator. Jesus himself plainly and unequivocally ascribed creation to God, not to himself. Mark 13 :19, Matthew 19 :4 and Mark 10 :6. The bible shows that Jesus is the beginning of the creation of God. Revelation 3:14. In contrast, God has no beginning, Psalm 90:2.

The word "beginning" expresses a starting point in time. The bible shows that Jesus is a created being, Colossians 1:15. John 3:16 and Revelation 3:14. The word begotten is not in harmony with the word eternal.

1
  • 1
    “My Father works until now and I work”, as John writes; it is an ontological impossibility for Father to create or sustain created order of things without His Logos, ergo, Logos is necessarily co-uncreated, i.e. co-unbegun with the Father. If Logos is created then Father would have needed another Logos to create this Logos and if you claim that this another Logos is also created you will obtain either negative infinity or will have to arrive at uncreated Logos. Radiation is the sun’s agent of enlightenment, true, but impossible to imagine sun acting without radiation. Same here. Nov 17 at 4:50
2

Colossians 1:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Three entities are mentioned here: God, Son, and all creation. The Son is distinct from all creation in that He is the firstborn apart from all creation.

16 For 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.

Paul defines "things" as created things distinct from the Son who is not a thing according to this definition. This terminology continues:

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And 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.

Not only the Son is the firstborn of all the old creation, but now He is also the firstborn among the dead in the new order of creation.

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Again the terminology applies. To reinforce the point: the Son is distinct from all things.

What does it mean that Jesus is before all things?

The Son was the unique firstborn before anything was created.

That Jesus already existed before creation?

It's difficult to read it logically otherwise since the temporal dimension is a created thing.

Is there room for a different interpretation?

Human languages are intrinsically ambiguous. There is always room for a different interpretation even though to do so, in this case, will weaken one's overall logical coherence.

2

First things first, and that is the context of the verses before vs17. Vs15 begins the main theme of the letter: the preeminence or supremacy of Christ. The Apostle Paul first describes Christ as "the image of the invisible God."

The Bible is clear in stating in several locations that the essence or substance of God is invisible to human beings. (Romans 1:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:27). It also states that no man can ever see God, an obvious reference to the Father, but Christ has made the Father known (John 1:18; John 14:9.)

Hebrews 1:3 reflects the same idea through another Greek term that was translated "exact representation." "Manifestation" is the second idea reflected in the term "image" (John 1:18;9).

Paul further described Christ as "the firstborn of every creature." "Firstborn" (prototokos) does NOT imply that Jesus is part of creation, but rather indicates His priority and sovereignty OVER creation.

Vs16, For (or because of what was just said in the previous verses) by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created by Him and for Him."

Now the verse in question, vs17. "And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." Paul summarizes the previous affirmations of the supremacy of Jesus in creation. Not only did Jesus always exist (John 1:1; 8:58), but He holds all creation together.

And speaking of John 1:1, notice verses 2,3, which comes before Colossians 1:17. Vs2, "He was in the beginning with God, Vs3, "All things came into being BY HIM, and apart from Him, (or without Him) nothing came into being that has come into being."

In short, the context of the verses all fit "snuggly" together without any contradictions.

2

Before looking at verse 17, it is essential to establish from the previous verses just who this "He" is. A few assumptions are being made, both with the question and with some of the answers (which I will not take to task; I'm simply going to answer the question).

It is assumed in the question that Jesus is the "He" who is before all things. Certainly, the name of Jesus is mentioned three times, from verse 2 of chapter 1, till verse 4. But by the time we get to verse 17, the name of Jesus has not been mentioned for 12 whole verses. So, is Paul referring to Jesus by the time he gets to verse 17?

Notice how, in the first 16 verses, the Father has also been identified. Then comes mention of the Son - the Son of Father God (verse 13). And, for the following three verses leading into verse 17, it is the Son who is identified as the one through whom believers have redemption, it is the Son who is the image of the invisible God, it is the Son by whom and for whom all things were created, and in verse 17 it is the Son who continues to be the one who is before all things.

No other character has been introduced since the introduction of the Son of the Father in verse 13. So, from verse 13 till verse 19 (which includes verse 17 in unbroken statement) there is only one "He" - The Son of God.

The question should therefore rightly ask, "What does it mean that the Son of God is before all things (Col.1:17)?"

This is important, because obtaining the right answers is largely a matter of asking the right questions. The Son of God is the eternal Son (in mainstream, orthodoxly Christian theology). This self-same Son of God became flesh via Mary's womb, and walked amongst humans as the man, Jesus. But it is the Son of God who is before all things. This is not to be pedantic. It's highly significant.

Those who deny that the man, Jesus, had any existence prior to being conceived in Mary's womb, will attach a different interpretation to those verses than do those holding to mainstream, orthodoxly Christian theology. Once departure is made from that, then various interpretations can be claimed and promoted.

Only once it becomes clear that it is the eternal Son of God who is before all things, can we then go on to examine what being "before" all things means. And, due to knowing just who this one is, the whole passage gives the answer as to the significance of this one's priority and status, both in the sight of the Father, and in the sight of the Church, which is his body mentioned in verse 18. Yet just as different interpretations will come from those who insist this one only began to exist in Mary's womb, so different interpretations will come from those who are not actually members of Christ's spiritual 'body', his Church.

Those holding to the Son of God being before all things (both in position and in time) simply take the verses about him as stated, for they do not require interpretation. They are self-evident. Those who disagree with that mainstream, orthodoxly Christian view, do have to interpret the passage in question, first having to make their case for it being the man, Jesus, spoken of in verse 17 (which enables a quick swerve to avoid the implications of eternal existence in the Godhead, as the Son, with the Father, in the one unity of Spirit.)

The simple answer to your question is to now re-read the whole chapter, starting at verse 1, so that when you come to verses 13 through to 21, you will understand the "He" to be the eternal Son of God. Then it all makes sense.

1
  • What does "mainstream, orthodoxly (sic) Christian theology" have to do with it? Very sound biblical hermeneutics is to base a supposition on a theory not of the bible.
    – steveowen
    Nov 19 at 0:46
1

The syntax and grammar of this sentence unambiguously shows that the Lord Jesus Christ is not to be enlisted with "all things", the latter denoting the entire creation; like in a sentence "operation of all computers in the room are sustained by electricity" - here electricity is clearly not in the list of computers.

Now, actually, "keeping", "sustaining", "holding together" is another name for the same activity of creation, for, as Descartes rightfully proves in his third metaphysical meditation, "exactly the same power and action are required to preserve a thing at each moment through which it endures as would be required to create it anew if it had never existed. Hence, preservation and creation differ only in the way we think of them".

This wonderful truth holds metaphysically and is confirmed by the revealed truth of the Holy Writing, for the latter says that the world is created by the Father through the Son and only so (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2), ergo, in the light of Descartes' insight, sustaining of the created order the Father can affect only in the same way, through His eternal the Son, whom after His incarnation we call also Jesus Christ.

2
  • I think this is a good answer also. +1.
    – Dottard
    Nov 17 at 4:22
  • @Dottard Thanks for estimating and giving this positive opinion (I know not why, but I hate the word “feedback”:) ) Nov 17 at 4:39
-1

What does it mean that Jesus is before all things (Colossians 1:17)?

The bible is unambiguous - the origin of Jesus is stated plainly. 4 different gospel accounts, that together, provide a sound understanding in need of no interpretation.

…it seemed fitting to me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in an orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught Luke 1:3

the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus Luke 1:30

He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. v32

The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, Matt 1:1.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah was as follows: when his mother Mary… v18

We have the beginning of ‘Jesus’, the Christ. A descendant of David and Abraham. No one is talking about Jesus being God, no one speaks of his pre-existence as some eternal being – an ‘exact truth’, we’re told or ‘perfectly’, ‘diligently’, ‘accurately’ as other translations render it. A baby boy born of Mary, named Jesus, the son of God. Simple! Amazing and profound, but simple - not complex or mysterious.

From this humble beginning we have the rest of the NT which expands on the life of this Jesus, who grew to be a man, lived an extraordinary life without sin and died as prophecy foretold, was raised back to life - not a mortal life but an eternal, spirit life, by God and exalted to the right hand of his God and Father!

If we place a 'Jesus' before this time mentioned in the Gospels, we must, with hearsay and assumption, contradict the Gospels.

What does before mean?

[we encounter this nonsense from NLT and others, "He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together" - no wonder people are confused!]

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. BLB

  • Does it say Jesus existed 'before all things'? No, neither does any other verse.
  • Does it say Jesus created everything? No, neither does any other verse. "in Him were created all things in the heavens and upon the earth" v16 does not say 'BY him', and it does say things IN heaven and ON earth! Only sheer desperation would ignore this plain speaking and make it say otherwise - rendering Jesus as Creator again! "In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth".
  • Does John 1:1-3 say Jesus? No, it speaks of the logos only.
  • Does any verse mention an 'incarnation'? No, nothing about God becoming a man which forces a pre-existence for who Jesus came from. An eternal God the Son perhaps? Not a peep about him anywhere. A person called Logos? - no, 1John 1 puts that theory to rest too!

Using a proof-text methodology which attempts to rewrite the scriptures to accommodate a new Jesus must also ignore the simple message of the Gospels and the writings of the actual church fathers Paul, Peter, Timothy etc, and assumes writers 100's of years later knew better. Inserting 'existed' is no clumsy translation issue but a blatant attempt to mislead, deceive and confuse.

On the sound (but apparently, unpopular) premise that the Gospel writers knew exactly what they were talking about when introducing Jesus, what does "before" mean?

Before is explained the same through the NT. Jesus is preeminent, always planned by God to be the first of everything relative to the spiritual Kingdom.

  • the first to be given true life - never to die again. 1Pet 3:18, Rom 6:9
  • the first born again from the dead. v18
  • the first to enter heaven and sit with God. John 3:13

foreknown before the foundation of the world, but having been revealed in the last times for the sake of you 1Pet 1:20

just as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world for us to be holy and blameless before him, in love Eph 1:4

according to the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, ... according to His own purpose and grace, which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2Tim 1:8

Jesus was part of God's plan from the beginning but only 'in these last days' (Heb 1), has he been the actual manifestation of God's plan - the 'logos made flesh' ~2000 years ago.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Cor 15:22

Adam was never the full intention of God when He created man. Adam was a beginning, but not an end.

...Adam, who is a type of him (Jesus) who was to come. Rom 5:14

When God created Adam, He was making man in His image - this process would not be complete until all men could choose Jesus as the way to the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of this world with its evil ruler is not what God intended life to be like for eternity.

Jesus is the centrepiece, the cornerstone of God's plan before the world even began - and man was destined to be completed in Jesus the Christ - no other way was possible. Of course Jesus is 'before'. Before in God's planning, intent, and in importance. Certainly more important than Abraham - Jesus was before him too, but by no means in time - according to the Gospels and Paul, Gal 3:16!

In Jesus, all creation realises its destiny - holiness, righteousness, immortality, etc. Without Jesus providing the way, there is no point at all for any human life, he most certainly, "holds all things together".

+++++++++++++++++++++

Further to the above, but not required for the point of showing the importance and crucial role of heeding the Gospel message about Jesus' origin.

The Apostolic writers also refer to this same 'Gospel' beginning and affirm its validity.

Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His son, born of a woman, born under the Law. (Romans 1:3 a descendant of David)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel... 2Tim 2:8

The OT outlines with prophecy the one to come - a God/man? No, a descendant of David and Abraham - a human one would logically deduce. Pauls endorses this with Gal 3:16

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; he is righteous and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zech 9:9

“For the time is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. (Ps 110, Ps 22, Is 53 also)

Even in Jesus' own words, he offered,

But now you seek to kill me, a man who has spoken to you the truth that I heard from God. John 8:40

  • A man,
  • A man who could die,
  • A man who could be tempted,
  • Made like us in every respect Heb 2:17,
  • A man who was "mastered by death" Rom 6:9.

A God/man Jesus does not work with these basic truths so a fanciful two-natured Jesus is now required.

The biblical basis for Jesus beginning to actually exist at his conception and birth is simply what the bible expresses quite insistently. Another beginning for Jesus can only disagree with the biblical one? The absolute silence of "Jesus" before the Gospel accounts deny a rational theory of pre-existence.

Those that immediately jump on John 1 seem to have trouble reading the 'word' (logos) that John was inspired to write, and read-in Jesus instead. It makes no sense to insert Jesus where he does not belong. John writes the "logos became flesh", which happened ~2000 years ago so Jesus cannot have been, 'in the beginning'.

God always had a plan in place, the son He would arrange when the time was right. God was sending a Saviour before the world began. Did he already exist? Not according to the bible, no. The plan is revealed as prophecy all of which came true as Jesus lived it out - often drawing attention to these prophecies as he fulfilled them before an unbelieving, sceptical crowd of his own people.

"There is always room for a different interpretation", writes another answer. Yes, this is true - but only when we totally disregard other scripture and allow tradition to rule over the truth. We can make Jesus pre-exist only if we ignore the Gospels.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.