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From Colossians 1:15-18 we read (BLB)

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and unto Him.

17And He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, firstborn out from the dead, so that he might be holding pre-eminence in all things...

Please note that the translation given (BLB, much better than most) is, "in Him were created all things in the heavens and upon the earth".

There is a Q about the firstborn from the dead - this seeks to determine if the term 'firstborn' - used twice in close proximity, but in quite different contexts are connected - as asked.

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    (+1) Really interesting question. Glad you removed the last sentence which sort of laid out one of your own presuppositions - hopefully anybody answering would exegete the text for themselves and can be confident that you won't penalise them for coming to different conclusions.
    – Steve Taylor
    Aug 5 at 7:38
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    Does this answer your question? What does it mean for Christ to be 'firstborn from the dead'?
    – Dottard
    Aug 5 at 11:42
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    This is clearly not a duplicate - the other Q looks at only half of this one and is only partly related to the line of this Q.
    – steveowen
    Aug 5 at 22:39
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The firstborn of all creation,

According to the KJV Paul wrote to Colossae:

Colossians 1:15-18 KJV

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Since Jesus as the firstborn of all creation is a created person, he cannot be Almighty God. The Scriptures repeatedly portray him as in a position subordinate to God. For example, concerning the resurrected Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 11:3m NASB

3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and [a]the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. When giving the inspired “Revelation” to the apostle John, Jesus said concerning himself.

Revelation 3:12 KJV

12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

Did you note that Jesus , four times in this verse alone refers to his Father, as “my God”?

Also : Proverbs 8:22-27 NASB

Personified wisdom figuratively represents God’s Son, Jesus Christ, in his prehuman existence.*

22 “The Lord [a]created me at the beginning of His way,Before His works [b]of old. 23 From eternity I was [c]established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. 24 When there were no ocean depths, I was born, When there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills, I was born; 26 While He had not yet made the earth and the [d]fields, Nor the first dust of the world.27 When He established the heavens, I was there; When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,

Conclusion -Firstborn of all creation:

Jesus’ being the firstborn of all creation involves the law of primogeniture, the right of the one born or produced first. From earliest times the real firstborn son enjoyed special privileges that included succeeding to the headship of the household and inheriting a double portion of the father’s property. (Deut. 21:15-17) Kingship and priesthood, too, were inherited by the firstborn son of a king or high priest in ancient Israel.—See 2 Chronicles 21:3.

Firstborn out from the dead

Jesus Christ was the first one to be resurrected from the dead to live as a resurrected person forever. So he is correctly called “the firstborn from the dead” and “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.” (Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 15:20)

What did the apostle mean by calling Jesus Christ “the first-born of all creation”? Paul’s further words enlarge on the matter: “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. Col. 1:18, NASB.

Conclusion -Firstborn out from the dead

Here we find that the Greek words for both “first-born” (protótokos) and “beginning” (arkhé) describe Jesus as the first one of a group of class, “the body, the church,” and therefore he has preeminence in this respect. He also has preeminence in being the first one resurrected to endless life from among all the human dead 1 Cor. 15:22, 23. Also, 1 Cor. 15:20 KJV reads " But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."

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  • We know when Jesus was born - 4BC.
    – steveowen
    Aug 21 at 23:00
  • user48152 There were two eclipses 4BC and 1BC. Evidence from Jesus' cousin John the Baptizer who began his career as a prophet in the 15th year of Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar. (Luke 3:1, 2) Secular history confirms that Tiberius was named emperor on September 15, 14 C.E., so his 15th year would run from the latter part of 28 C.E. to the latter part of 29 C.E. John began his ministry during that time, and Jesus evidently started his ministry six months later. (Luke 1:24-31) This, combined with other evidence, would place the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the fall of 29 C.E.* Aug 22 at 6:06
  • While you didn't say it explicitly, I got the gist that Jesus' birth happened millennia ago. "figuratively represents God’s Son, Jesus Christ, in his prehuman existence"
    – steveowen
    Aug 22 at 6:12
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Firstborn of the dead must be understood with the death and resurrection of Jesus in mind:

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18 ESV)

"Firstborn" in this passage cannot convey the understanding we typically give the term when it is applied to a person. πρωτότοκος, "firstborn" is used to described Reuben, Jacob's firstborn (cf. Genesis 35:23). Obviously, Reuben did not have a physical existence until he was born. "Firstborn" as such carries a sense of describing a point in time at which existence started.

That cannot be how the term is being applied to Jesus, who was in existence before He died. "Firstborn of the dead" is describing that which begins after He is raised from the dead.

πρωτότοκος is a compound word, from πρῶτος and the alternate of τίκτω. τίκτω is first used in the LXX in Genesis 3:16.

And to the woman he said, “I will increasingly increase your pains and your groaning; with pains you will bring forth children, And your recourse will be to your husband, and he will dominate you,” (LXX-Genesis 3:16)
καὶ τῇ γυναικὶ εἶπεν πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου ἐν λύπαις τέξῃ τέκνα καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει

In a narrow sense, the woman could be considered the "firstborn" of all mankind, since she will be the one who "brings forth" the living:

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Genesis 3:20)

The analogous situation after Jesus is raised from the dead, is His place in making children of God:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

Where the first woman was called "Eve" as she would be the mother who brought forth all the living, Jesus is the firstborn of the dead as He is the one who gives authority to all who would become children of God. Then Colossians 1:18 may be paraphrased as:

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, who will bring forth those whom He gave the right to become children of God, that in everything he might be preeminent.

However, unlike the first woman, He is not limited to children, but He is in everything preeminent. That is, not only will He bring forth children of God, but everything which follows His resurrection:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
(Revelation 21)

He is not limited to bringing forth that which is new. He will also do away with that which must be removed:

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter)

Therefore, "firstborn of the dead" is used to assert His position in creation is no different than before His death and resurrection:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.(Colossians 1)

Essentially His death did not alter His ability to "bring forth," either children of God, or anything, visible or invisible, which was made. Paul begins by stating His work of creation was not limited to the visible world, but also that which cannot be seen. While it is possible to misconstrue this first use of "firstborn," the second use demands a consistent approach. Therefore, His work after His death is not limited to the visible world, but includes children of God and that is new and will one day been seen by all.

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The word πρωτότοκος (prototokos), according to BDAG has the following meanings:

  1. (literally) pertaining to birth order, firstborn, eg, Matt 1:25, Luke 1:27, Heb 11:28.
  2. pertaining to having special status associated with a firstborn, firstborn, eg, Rom 8:29, Heb 1:6, Rev 2:8, Col 1:15, 18, Rev 1:5, Heb 12:23.

Specifically, In Col 1:15 we have the phrase, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως = "firstborn of all creation", with the idiomatic meaning of "the most important over all creation". This is simply a Hebraism for the sovereign of everything created. This is consistent with Jesus being "Lord of All" (Acts 10:36, Rom 10:12) and "Lord of Lords" (Rev 17:14, 19:16)

In Col 1:18, we have the phrase, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν = "firstborn from the dead" (see also Rev 1:5), with the idiomatic meaning that Jesus is the most important person who was ever resurrected (He certainly was not the first!!) because (see 1 Cor 15:15-21) Jesus' resurrection enables all other resurrections. This is why Jesus' resurrection from the dead is so important.

This is, again, consistent with the meaning of BDAG #2, Jesus is the most important person in all the universe.

APPENDIX - "Firstborn"

The word πρωτότοκος (prototokos) occurs 8 times in the NT; all except for one (Heb 11:28) refer to Jesus as follows:

  • Matt 1:25, Luke 2:7 - Jesus is Mary's firstborn (literally)
  • Rom 8:29 - Jesus: "... his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." This is not literal but "firstborn describes the privileges/status of one who is the most pre-eminent or most important. [Jesus was not the first person to be born.]
  • Col 1:15 - Jesus is the firstborn over all creation; meaning the most important over all creation
  • Col 1:18 - Jesus is the firstborn of the dead = the most important person who was ever resurrected
  • Heb 1:6 - Jesus is God's firstborn
  • Heb 12:23 - Christians belong to the congregation of the firstborn (ie, Christ)
  • Rev 1:5 - Jesus is the firstborn of the dead (same as Col 1:18).

Thus, the meaning of πρωτότοκος (prototokos) as per BDAG (#2) is, "pertaining to having special status associated with a firstborn" - this is the figurative meaning of the literal firstborn.

Ellicott usefully observes about Col 1:18 -

The firstborn from the dead.—The same title is given to Him in Revelation 1:5. In his sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:33), St. Paul quotes the passage, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” as fulfilled in that “He raised up Jesus again.” (Comp. Hebrews 5:5.) In Romans 1:3, he speaks of Christ as “declared” (or, defined) “to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The Resurrection is (so to speak) His second birth, the beginning of that exaltation, which is contrasted with His first birth on earth in great humility, and of His entrance on the glory of His mediatorial kingdom. (See Ephesians 1:20-23, where the starting-point of all His exaltation is again placed in the Resurrection.)

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To put it simply - If the one who later became Jesus Christ is not preeminent over all creation, he could never have been resurrected as the preeminent one over all resurrection.

To put that in more detail - 'Firstborn' in this passage does not mean the same as when we apply πρωτότοκος to a person. The Son of God is the one being called the firstborn over all creation, and the firstborn from the dead. This is shown by the strange wording in the gospels about Mary's firstborn. There is unique application because she did not beget Jesus at the point of birth, the cord being cut, and an independent life coming into the world, as happens with us.

The Prototokos was brought forth of Mary. He was "the Son of her" - not 'her Son'. He was the Son of God, from before creation started. As Romans 1:3 says (according to the literal rendering of the Textus Receptus, Stephens 1550) "God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is come of seed of David according to flesh." If God's Son is come, then he comes as Son, before he actually appeared 'according to flesh'.

Now, here's an intriguing point. In the New Testament, which shows that Jesus Christ came as the Son, he is not declared to be that until resurrection. Acts 13:33 where Paul cites Psalm 2:7. Here this begetting is spoken of as a matter of resurrection, not incarnation.

It was at Christ's unique resurrection that the first return of all God's investment into creation could be seen; here was the 'firstfruit' of that creation - The Prototokos. And his name was called Jesus "for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-25).

Nine times is the word used in the Greek scriptures. The word does not mean 'first-begotten' nor does it merely convey the idea of a first bearing. Nor should it be confused, in translation or in concept, with the word Monogenes. In the nine times it is used Prototokos expresses the first fruit, the first return but in different contexts.

So, now when we read Colossians 1:15-18 with all of that in mind, we can see the staggering link: because the eternal Son is unique over all creation, he is unique over all resurrection. In him, uniquely is life and resurrection. And that's because he is the eternal Son of God.

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  • What are the nine scriptures where firstborn doesn't mean to be chronologically first?
    – Austin
    Sep 28 at 15:16
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    @Austin No, I did not say 9 times when it does not mean to be chronologically first. Sometimes it does mean that (though other times it speaks of a second-born child as being the first-born). I said that the word does "not merely convey the idea of a first bearing." That can be the meaning when speaking of a human child, physically born first but the Greek word is far more complex than our simple English word.
    – Anne
    Sep 28 at 15:42
  • When is a second-born child ever declared the firstborn? I am unaware of this scripture.
    – Austin
    Sep 29 at 4:29
  • @Austin. Hebrews 11:17 Abraham's second-born son, Isaac is called his only-begotten son. Abraham's first-born son was Ishmael. But because Isaac was the child of God's promise, and not of man's will (John 1:12-13), Isaac is the pre-eminent one, having priority over all Abraham's other children.
    – Anne
    Sep 30 at 10:51
  • Thank you, @Anne. Hebrews 11:17 is a fine example of our need to modify our understanding of "monogenēs" from "only begotten" to "uniquely born" or something like that... but it does nothing like demonstrate that a second-born son may be declared the firstborn. I'm racking my brain to find any such example.
    – Austin
    Oct 1 at 4:15
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How are the two references to 'firstborn' connected?

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and unto Him. Colossians 1:15-18

17And He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, firstborn out from the dead, so that he might be holding pre-eminence in all things...

Firstly, let's establish what the 'firstborn over all creation' refers to, and equally importantly, what it does not, and cannot, mean.

From the text we see two significant pointers that must not be glossed over.

  • firstborn over all creation
  • all things in the heavens and upon the earth

It is mostly presented as 'over creation'. It's not saying he is the firstborn of a Genesis creation. And then we get the very specific, "IN heavens and ON earth". This is repeated later to reinforce the context of these words.

by him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether the things ON the earth or the things IN the heavens. v20

We know from a careful reading of John 1 and 1John that Jesus is not the logos 'in the beginning', so any attempt to make Jesus either the Creator or the first created is without merit. We can see from Paul's extensive writings,

For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom 8:29

Who are the 'many brothers'? Or 'brethren' as also translated... this refers to those who are his - the new church, those redeemed in him before God. This is of course the context of Colossians - the church, the new age of the holy spirit within God's people en masse. Jesus is the pioneer of those alive from the dead. Certainly we mustn't confuse what 'dead' means, but we'll get to that shortly.

Further to when Jesus is firstborn.

God. . . in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things. . . he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. . . 5For to which of the angels did He ever say, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE FATHERED YOU”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE WILL BE A SON TO ME”? 6And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM. (NASB CAPS)

The context again, is key. These last days are when the firstborn is announced.

(in case anyone is wondering, "through whom He also made the world (or universe) v2 is a very odd English rendering of "αἰῶνας· aiōnas" and should be 'ages'. Certainly, this new age of the spirit and the church is all about Jesus and he being the 'chief cornerstone' and 'forerunner' Heb 6:20

Jesus, the forerunner for us, has entered, having become a high priest to the age.

Having ruled out what 'firstborn' does not refer to, we can now note the relationship between the two references. The 'firstborn over creation' is the exact same context as 'firstborn from the dead'. Both terms refer to the same event - Jesus' resurrection into ascended, exalted, spirit, immortal life.

We know that he was not immortal before death, but was after. 1Pet 3:18, Rom 6:9. We also know that God's plan of salvation is about a spirit life. This temporary physical life is but a step toward the true life God has planned where there is no sin forevermore.

storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1Tim 6:19, 12

Jesus achieved everything his Father asked of him as he encountered evil every step toward the cross and his triumphant, 'it is finished', cry! He is not the first to live again, as there were several people who were raised from death, to eventually die again. Jesus is the first to be granted immortality from the physical, fleshly realm. (another answer suggests Moses and Elijah were raised to spirit life, but this is completely baseless as Jesus affirms it was a vision only, Matt 17)

Paul starts out with, 'He is the image of the invisible God'. This mankind was also destined to finally realise - but only in Christ Jesus. Which is why he writes, 'all things have been created through him and unto Him'. All things have their intended fulness realised in him and only in him. Jesus being the firstborn into new life and firstborn from the death and mortality of physical life, he is the true image bearer that we may appropriate because of his success on the cross and by God's grace, we believers are found in him and declared righteous.

All men are dead to sin and have no prospect of rising past that death penalty on their own. God has provided a perfect offering and sacrifice according to His law that graciously covers all men. In Jesus we may live again, as he does, and gain immortality as he did - he is certainly firstborn from the dead - not because of his sin, but ours. We follow this forerunner as his brethren and brothers into true life. There are numerous references to the 'dead' being all men - even when they are alive they are still 'dead' due to their sin - both personal and inherited.

Rom 6:10 For that which he died, he died to sin once for all; but that which he lives, he lives to God. 11So also you, consider yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but living to God in Christ Jesus

For sin will not rule over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. v14

Conclusion:

  • The two mentions of firstborn refer to the same reality of Jesus' new immortal life of spirit.
  • All who live are really dead - just as dead as the actual dead. But in Christ, we live in promise at this time and await our change to fully conform to his image of God.
  • the matter of being firstborn is related to this age of church and spirit only and has no relevance to any previous age. The references to cornerstone and forerunner are further evidence of this contemporary application.
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He is the first born of the first creation as well as the firstborn of the second creation from the dead.

Here is something else about the first born that was commonly held in the past.

I copied this from living with faith.org

This is another example of what it means to be firstborn.

In ancient Israel, as in much of the ancient Near East, the firstborn son inherited his father’s responsibilities as head of the family (Genesis 27), so we read in the Old Testament that he normally received a special – double – inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17).  We see this fact in the stories of the patriarchs, where we also see that being the “firstborn” was a privilege that could sometimes actually be bestowed on a younger son who was not the literal firstborn at all. When we read the stories of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, we see that “firstborn” privilege was frequently not  based on literal birth order, but on selection.

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and unto Him.

who is the beginning, firstborn out from the dead, so that he might be holding pre-eminence in all things...

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