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Colossians 1:18 ESV

"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". My emphasis.

A. In this verse is Jesus the firstborn from the dead that His preeminence, already established, might be shown/ expressed/demonstrated?

Colossians 1:18 Berean Study Bible

"And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence".

B. Or is Jesus the firstborn from the dead that He may have/acquire/achieve preeminence?

What is the meaning of this subjunctive "genetai"?

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This is one of those passages that I find easier to express in a language that uses subjunctive verbs more regularly & consistently than does English (English has subjunctive, but it is neither particularly common nor very rigidly enforced).

In Spanish, the relevant portion of the passage reads:

para que en todo tenga la preeminencia (Reina Valera)

Literally: "for that in all He may have the preeminence".

"Para que" indicates a dependency, much as the Greek conjunction ἵνα does -- what came before made or will make possible what came next. The "uncertainty" conveyed by the subjunctive need not indicate that the consequent hasn't happened, merely that the consequent was dependent upon something else.

The Greek verb γένηται ("genetai", "might be") is subjunctive; it is also in the aorist tense--it speaks of the past (either it happened in the past or it began in the past).

So if we wanted to be wordy we could render this passage: "Jesus is [list of attributes/roles, including] He is is the first born of the dead, so that He could be preeminent in every way".

Said another way, if Jesus had not been the first to rise from the dead, resurrection would be a matter in which He was not pre-eminent.

The overall message is consistent with Paul's theology elsewhere. In the context of the resurrection (a gift that has been given by Jesus, even if not everyone has received it yet):

26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. (1 Cor. 15:26-27)

Conquering death is part of Jesus overcoming all things; this would be closer to option B in the OP. But this is not to say Jesus was not pre-eminent before the resurrection--He was pre-eminent in nearly ever way, but prior to the resurrection He was not yet pre-eminent in rising from the dead.

For thousands of years prophets looked upon that as a certain promise yet to be fulfilled; now we look back upon it as a promise that certainly has been fulfilled.

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Both options, A & B are correct. This is part of the "now but not yet" aspect of eternal salvation. Let me illustrate.

  • John 5:24 - Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment. Indeed, he has crossed over from death to life.

Contrast this with:

  • Mark 10:30 - will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, along with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.
  • Luke 18:30 - who shall not receive manifold more in this time--and in the age that is coming, eternal life."

Thus, eternal life can be possessed in the present life, even when we die. However, the actuality of eternal life, including the release from pain and suffering, will only occur in the the age to come.

The same is true for Jesus' reign as king of everything. Jesus victory at Golgotha means that from that moment, Satan was defeated. However it is only when Satan and sin are finally banished that Jesus will be be the actual undisputed king as per Rev 11:15-18.

Col 1:18 shows this well by saying:

And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence.

The verb here is γίνομαι = to come into being, become is in Col 1:18 in the aorist, subjunctive middle voice. This means several things:

  • the middle voice means that Jesus does the action Himself
  • the subjunctive voice means that the action will be happen when Jesus does this to Himself; that is, He had done it but is waiting to be declared at the right time when do further dispute exists.

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