Colossians 1:18 DRB;

18 And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy:

The Dead from whom the Christ was born are to be carried as Symbolic or Literal?, i.e: was the Christ morally among the dead, or this is an allusion to His bodily Resurrection?


  • The Body=The Church=Symbolic

  • He is not the first resurrected from the dead. (Literally).

  • 2
    He was the first resurrected from the dead with an incorruptible body. Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, etc. all died again physically. Romans 6:9 Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 0:46
  • 1
    @MikeBorden could you, please, post your point of view in an answer?
    – salah
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 1:04
  • Can you clarify what you mean by "symbolically" being the firstborn of the dead? Do you mean that Jesus was spiritually dead before and that he was the first person to be "born again", i.e. spiritually alive? So, are you asking if the "dead" refers to spiritually dead people?
    – Rajesh
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 1:23
  • @Rajesh yes, that's what I mean, at least from my understanding of the scriptures.
    – salah
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 1:29
  • 4
    Well then no. Jesus was always morally perfect, he was never dead in his trespasses and sins like we imperfect, sinful humans are. So the "firstborn of the dead" can only mean that he is the first one to have risen from the dead in his immortal, imperishable, incorruptible, spiritual body. The context of Colossians 1:18 hammers down the preeminence/primacy of Jesus. To be the first one resurrected immortal and incorruptible with a glorious body certainly gives you preeminence, of which Jesus was, and thus the "firstborn" or "preeminent one" from the dead(literal dead).
    – Rajesh
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 1:43

4 Answers 4


To answer your question, it is both literal and symbolic. The phrase, "firstborn" can mean literally the "first one to be alive from the process of birthing." Of course, "death" is an abstract entity, so it's impossible for it to actually give birth. Thus, "firstborn" has to be used symbolically in this context to mean "preeminent one" or "foremost one." The "dead" part, however, is not symbolic, but literal. How do I know? Well, because the scriptures never indicate that Jesus spiritually died; he couldn't have, because he remained sinless to the end. However, the scriptures do indicate that he physically died... and by indicate, I mean they unequivocally say he died[e.g. John 19:18, Mark 15:39, Romans 6:8, Romans 6:10, Romans 14:9, Acts 2:23, Acts 5:30, 2 Corinthians 5:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:14].

Also, the context of Colossians 1:18 clearly hammers down the preeminence of Christ.

[Colossians 1:15-20] "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. 18 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."

It's clear that by "firstborn from the dead" Paul means the "preeminent one" from the dead(those who are literally dead, not spiritually). Why? Because although Jesus died a literal death(as everyone else), he was also the first and foremost of many to be resurrected from death with an immortal, imperishable, spiritual body[e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:35-40, 1 Corinthians 15:42-45, 1 Corinthians 15:49, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Peter 3:18, ]. And because Jesus is the "preeminent one" born from the dead, our resurrection is directly tied to his.

[1 Peter 1:3-5] "3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

[Romans 6:5] "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."

And finally, the expression, "firstborn from the dead", occurs only once more at Revelation 1:5;

"...and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood..."

This passage is very similar to Colossians 1:15-20. Colossians 1:16 mentions "thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities" being created by Jesus; and here it mentions how Jesus is the "ruler of the kings of the Earth." It also calls Jesus the "firstborn from the dead" as Colossians 1:18 does. And finally, it mentions his blood, how he has "released us from the sins by his blood." At Colossians 1:20, it says that "through him to reconcile to himself all things... making peace by the blood of his cross." So, in both of the only two passages where "firstborn from the dead" is found, there is a mention of the blood of Jesus; this is indisputable a reference to the physical death of Jesus on the cross, of how his perfect blood was shed, and how that bought us back from sin and death.

Nothing in the context of Colossians 1:18 suggests that "firstborn from the dead" is a reference to his spiritual death(notwithstanding the fact that he never had one in the first place), and everything suggests that it is a reference to his actual death, i.e. the theme of the preeminence of Jesus and the mention of the blood of the cross. Both these things are also true of the only other place(in the entire Bible) where the exact phrase "firstborn from the dead" is found(at Revelation 1:5), where it also mentions his rulership over all the kings of the Earth, as well as how he released us from our sins from his shed blood.

I hope this helps! Have a great day. :)


Colossians 1:18; "the firstborn from the dead" literal or symbolic?

It is literal, but what does it mean, ""the firstborn from the dead" ?

Colossians 1:18 DRB;

18 And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy:

Although there were other humans resurrected mentioned in the scriptures, all those that were resurrected like Lazarus eventually died. Jesus' resurrection was unique, He was resurrected as a spirit being to endless and incorruptible life in heaven by God.

1 Peter 3:18 NASB

18 For Christ also [a]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;

Bestowed to a position higher than that he had prior to coming to earth.

Philippians 2:9-11 NASB

9 For this reason also God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Granted immortality and incorruptibility

Romans 6:9 NASB

9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, [a]is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

Revelation 1:17-18 NASB

17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I [a]was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

First Born from the Dead = Raised as a spirit, and granted immortality,and incorruptibility that is beyond destruction. Kingdom heirs will also be granted immortality in the likeness of Jesus.

Romans 6:5 NASB

5 For if we have become [a]united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,

1 Peter 1:3-4 NASB

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,

  • Three days after the crucifixion and his resurrection, Jesus appeared in the flesh to his disciples. Mary could cling to him, Thomas could put his fingers into his wounds, and he ate fish with his disciples. The Judean religious leaders couldn't explain what happened to his body, so they bribed the tomb guards to lie about their falling asleep while on duty.
    – Dieter
    Commented Jun 17 at 15:12

According to the scriptures Jesus was literally born out from among the dead. Consider the word of the Lord through the apostle Paul found in Acts 13:30,32-33

30 But God raised him from the dead... 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,
“‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.’

-Acts 13:30,32-33

So Paul is teaching that God fulfilled the second Psalm such that the day Jesus was resurrected was the day he was born... again. Thus Jesus was born out from the realm of the dead. The first to ever do it. All other resurrections were simply a raising again. This was a literal rebirth.

And so those that belong to Christ look forward to following Jesus into the rebirth of the resurrection:

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
23 But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits; then at His coming, those who belong to Him.
-1 Cor 15:20-23

Thus, in this way, is Christ the firstborn out from the dead having been raised up out from the dead.


Absolutely literal! How else then would this next verse make any sense at all?

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Rom 8:29

All die a physical death and all will be entitled to experience a rebirth of spiritual proportions, just as Jesus did. Just as all die, all are already spiritually dead - requiring a new life be granted via a resurrection - to mortal life or immortal life, depending on where they are in God's plan of salvation.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit 1Pet 3:18

When we remove the fiddling with the text based on a two-natured Jesus, we are left with the man, born of Mary (as the Gospels describe) with no pre-existence at all. He did actually die, as we are told he would and did, and required to be raised from the dead by his God and Father to a new life of immortality as we, his brethren, will also!

Additional content to address Q reframe.

Why is there a practically endless record about Jesus' death? Well, because he died for our sins and his pure, undefiled blood covers all humanity. What was the purpose of his death?

  • It was NOT because of his sin, but ours. Jesus’ was the first resurrected to spirit life. No one else has this imperishable nature yet.

How then is he reborn, firstborn in this context?

  • simply because he transitioned from physical to spiritual life.
  • from mortality to immortality
  • from corruptibility to INcorruptibility

This last point is a critical aspect because he can longer fall to temptation or sin. It's pointless going to all this salvation stuff if we can still sin on the other side. There would be no point at all! The ‘second death’ is for unrepentant sinners, the rest have immortality as the eternally righteous.

Jesus is the forerunner of all these matters because we will follow him in precisely the same manner. Rom 8:29 again.

None of this is symbolic or for show. Jesus, the man, with only one human nature, as the bible expresses Heb 2:17, lived and died and lived again - all by the power of God in him.

This is what 1John 3:9 covers and is explained here.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 4:53
  • 1
    I agree that Jesus became human just as we all are, and that he knew no sin, but the notion that Jesus did not pre-existent his human incarnation is plain wrong. Jesus was the Angel of the LORD before his human incarnation.
    – Joshua B
    Commented Jun 17 at 6:23
  • In John 8:57-58 ESV, we read, "So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham? Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
    – Dieter
    Commented Jun 17 at 15:17

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