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
Many understand 'before' through a traditional lens without stopping to consider the implications of an unbiblical construct.
- 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', but it does say things IN heaven and ON earth! The traditional view misses this important revelation - rendering Jesus as Creator! "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 (spiritual) 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, 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 1:8-10
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 began 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".
We can make Jesus pre-exist only if we ignore the Gospels which plainly state when, how and by what means Jesus began.
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.