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The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over 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. 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. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and 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.
— Colossians 1:15 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that the meaning of Christ's pre-existence is imposed on the text, as these verses are not about Christ mediating the Genesis creation in ‘the beginning’. Rather, Colossians goes on to present Jesus as the beginning of those raised from the dead. Christ is related to the new creation. There is therefore no inference to the pre-existence of Christ in those texts.

What are arguments against the position that the text isn't a reference to the Genesis creation but merely presents Jesus as the beginning of those raised from the dead?

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  • 1
    Thank you. I seek some quotes from NT academic scholars (preferably not christians at all,neither trinitarian nor unitarian) to eliminate the chance of bias.
    – ben Adam
    Jul 4, 2022 at 6:11
  • 2
    ok, then maybe the trin. tag is misleading
    – Steve
    Jul 4, 2022 at 6:17
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? In Colossians 1:15, what does “firstborn of every creature” mean?
    – Michael16
    Jul 4, 2022 at 6:25
  • 1
    @ Michael16. no it doesn't . as it has no counter argument against the idea that the text isn't a reference to the Genesis creation .
    – ben Adam
    Jul 4, 2022 at 6:31
  • 6
    We do not debate or discuss the opinion of 'scholars' on this site. We examine the text of scripture by hermeneutic means. Please see the Tour and Help (below, bottom left) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 4, 2022 at 8:38

5 Answers 5

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The text itself answers the question, although there is a question (or two) about which text is used. Fortunately, the translation that adds the word "other" to the passage five times (without textual warrant) has not been invoked, for that does, indeed, show bias. By so doing, it tries to inject the doctrine that Christ was a created creature himself. I note that you do not state what text or translation you are working from, which is usually a necessary point in a biblical hermeneutics question. But, at least, you have not worked from the biased one I've just mentioned!

So, how does the text itself answer the question? It openly delineates two matters: first, the unique status of the Son (Jesus Christ) to God the Father, in his being, and in his role in creation. Then (in verse 18) it introduces the second matter - that of the resurrection of the dead. In chapter 2 Paul again details unique aspects of Christ as he relates to the Father, then in verse 12 he mentions the resurrection once more. This indicates that there is a logical order here:

Divine relationship

Creation

Re-creation (i.e. resurrection)

Get the first one wrong, and understanding of the next two related matters will be affected (badly). Get the first one right, but misunderstand creation as it relates to re-creation and, again, the result in understanding will not be right.

To answer your first question: the text certainly does refer to creation (which you speak of as 'the Genesis creation').

However, when your second question asks if Jesus is "merely" being presented "as the beginning of those raised from the dead", two problems arise. First, Jesus was NOT the first person ever to be raised from the dead. He is presented in the scriptures you quote as "the firstborn from the dead" using the Greek word prototokos. This means priority, and speaks of position (which Paul was careful to first detail so that there would be no ambiguity as to the unique status of the Son with regard to the Father: the first point). Paul did not use the Greek word protoktistos, which means 'first created'. In no sense has the Son ever been created, or re-created. Christ's being raised from the dead was just as unique as his relationship with the Father. There had been no resurrection like it before.

Therefore, the answer to your second point in your question is that Christ is stupendously presented as the first ever to be raised in that unique way, marking the start of resurrection where there will be no further death for those who have been redeemed by Christ's blood, reconciled through the forgiveness of sins (1 vss. 14 & 20-22). This is all part of "the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory; whom we preach..." (verses 26-28).

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    Up-voted+1. Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth was not the first of the Adamic humanity to be raised from the dead, he was the first of a new humanity to be so raised. And, agreed, prototokos is other than protoktistos. Supremely so.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 4, 2022 at 12:01
  • There are some incorrect/unbiblical assumptions in this answer. You assert that Jesus/Son, was involved in the Genesis creation. Based on what biblical evidence? He was not born yet according to Gospel evidence. Do you hold creedal theology over the bible?
    – Steve
    Jul 23, 2022 at 3:46
  • @steveowen From your answer here, it is clear why you disagree with mine. I suspect, however, that you are already familiar with the many biblical texts those who believe in the uncreated, eternal Son of God use to show the Word of God (who later became flesh) as Creator. I will not enter into debate about this. You have given your answer. I have given mine, and that is where I shall leave it, thank-you.
    – Anne
    Jul 23, 2022 at 7:41
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Answer

In fact, Colossians 1:15-18 refers to:

  1. Creation of the heavenly beings (before Genesis creation);

  2. The Genesis creation; and

  3. The new glorified spiritual creation from death.

Explanation

  1. “Things in heaven”, “invisible”, “whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities”.

This cannot be talking about stars or galaxies because there are no “rulers” or “thrones” or “authorities” out there in the physical universe.

If Col 1:15-18 talks only about the resurrected new creation, then which “invisible things in thrones or powers or authorities in heaven” was ever resurrected from death?

None.

So this shows that the passage talks about the pre-Genesis creation of the invisible angelic beings of authority, power and thrones, “the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies” (Eph 3:10); “the angels, and authorities, and powers” in heaven (1 Pet 3:22).

  1. “The visible things” “in the heaven and the things on the earth”.

This is talking about the Genesis creation. The things on the earth include human beings with their thrones, lordships, rulers and authorities among them.

  1. “The Firstborn out of the dead”.

This points to the new spiritual creation.

The term “Firstborn” does not preclude a prior existence. The spiritual “Firstborn” existed before the resurrection as Jesus, the Man. Then logically, the Man Jesus existed prior to His physical Incarnation as the spiritual “Word of God”; as the Yahweh of the OT.

No wonder, John says in 1:3:

“All things came into being through Him, and without Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being.”

Whatever was created – “came into being” – was created by Jesus Christ. This is inescapable and emphatic in the Scripture.

"Not even one thing" will include Jesus also. So, if Jesus was a created Being - "came into Being" - He had to be created by Himself! This also is inescapable and emphatic.

God the Father never “came into being”. So, He was uncreated by the Son.

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First should be provided the arguments of those mislead woe "some scholars" and "theologians" who indulge in adulterating through their tongue and mumble such irrelevancies, and then it will be possible to dismantle their impostor thoughts featuring as "arguments". So, by what of their negligible thoughtlets and argumentlets do they pontificate that Paul here speaks not about the role of Christ, the Son of God in creation of the universe with all its visible and invisible aspects?

In fact, what argument can they pit against Paul's clear statement: "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. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" - not a word about resurrection here, but creation and pre-existence, as well as preservation - for to preserve creation into existence exactly the same power and action is necessary as in the action of the creation - for He was before all things, that is to say before the entire created order of reality.

Those "scholars" and "theologians" do not deserve those names, for they naughtily bring in their wrongheaded bias and have no qualms in putting this filthy thing into clean spring of correct Christology as expressed in the Gospels.

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The answer sort of depends on how you view Paul. The term "πρωτότοκος" (pro-TOH-toh-kos) in some philosophy was used in a technical way, and if Paul was aware of that usage then the answer to the first part of the question is "Yes" and to the second is "No".

As a philosophical technical term, πρωτότοκος had the meaning "Opener of the way" or "Way-opener". I'm certain Paul had this in mind because verses 16 and 17, which follow the verse the question addresses, derive straight from this concept. Here's the pertinent passage -- formatted as a poem since many scholars agree that this was a hymn:

15 He is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn of all creation.

16 For everything was created by him,

in heaven and on earth,

the visible and the invisible,

whether thrones or dominions

or rulers or authorities —

all things have been created through him and for him.

17 He is before all things,

and by him all things hold together.

18 He is also the head of the body, the church;

he is the beginning,

the firstborn from the dead,

so that he might come to have

first place in everything.

I love this passage because it is packed full of meaning, and it all revolves around Jesus as the Way-opener, specifically the Way-opener of all Creation. So let's explore what that means, starting with the word πρωτότοκος itself and just what "Opener of the way" means.

Think of a barrier, like a wall or mountain range or a dark forest. The first one through a barrier could be called the "Way-opener" because he made the way through that others can follow. Of course philosophers weren't generally talking about such mundane barriers, so there are some interesting aspects to the philosophical use.

The first of these is that when the Way-opener makes a way through a barrier, his "shape" is imparted to the way through, and thus everything else that comes through is shaped by coming through the way. Not like a cookie cutter; what comes through the barrier isn't copies, but each thing that passes through takes on something of the shape of the Way-opener.

Of course philosophers weren't interested in physical barriers, so the idea of "shape" is a bit metaphysical and mystical; the basic idea is that whatever follows the Way-opener through the way he opened takes on characteristics of the Way-opener.

So what is the "barrier" that Jesus made a way through? It's creation -- he is "the firstborn of all Creation". And that means that Jesus made creation possible, and that everything that has been created in some way shows something about Jesus. Paul goes ahead and explains that, writing "for everything was created by Him", and he follows that statement with a list that covers everything: whatever is in heaven or on the Earth, whether it can be seen or not, including all the different spiritual authorities that exist. Then he brackets that list by repeating that everything was made by Him.

But it's important to look carefully at the words here. Our translations say "all things were created", but the Greek verb, ἐκτίσθη (ek-TIS-thay), is singular, which means that the subject must be singular. Yet the subject is "τὰ πάντα" (ta PAN-tah), which is plural. So is Paul's grammar bad? No -- τὰ πάντα is another technical term that effectively means "the all" and includes everything in existence. Thus "the all" was created by Jesus. To be precise, though, this time Paul says "through Him", so we have "the all" created by Jesus and through Jesus.

Having made very clear that if anything exists, Jesus made it, Paul adds two thoughts:

He is before all things,

and by him all things hold together.

"Before" is Greek "πρὸ" (proh), which can mean "ahead of" in two ways: ahead as in being the leading runner in a race, or ahead as before in time. This emphasizes that Jesus was present before anything else was.

Then "by Him 'the all' holds together"; so Jesus isn't just the creator of all things, He is also the one who keeps the whole realm of existence in place, working properly from the tiniest particle (physicists will say that's quarks) to the grandest structure, moment by moment -- just like the old sing says, "He's got the whole world in His hands".

That answers the first part of the question: if everything was created by Jesus and through Jesus and for Jesus and He holds it all together, that's referring to the Creation as told in Genesis. It's worth nothing that in the opening words in Genesis the phrase "the heavens and the earth" was an ancient way of saying "everything there is".

Now we skip a bit to the verse that is the source of the second part of the question:

He is also the head of the body, the church;

he is the beginning,

the firstborn from the dead

An obvious question to ask here is "The beginning of what?" We look at the context: the statement that Jesus is the beginning is bracketed by a statement about the church and the one saying he is "firstborn from the dead". This is a contrast: the church is a place of life, and "the dead" are the opposite. The term "the dead" is plural so we could translate it as "the dead ones", i.e. the people who are dead.

So we have a contrast between life and death, and since the church is a realm of life then the "dead ones" indicates the realm of death, which the Old Testament calls "sheol". It's the place everyone goes when they die.

Paul is making sure that we understand that he isn't merely telling us about Jesus and the realms of heaven and earth, he's telling us also about the realm of death, the "dead ones". Since Jesus was and is a man, when He died He went to Sheol like any other dead human. But unlike any other human, Jesus got out of that realm; death and Sheol couldn't hold Him.

And in getting out of the realm of the dead, Jesus was a new kind of Way-opener: He opened a way from the realm of death to the realm of life, and all who have been shaped by Him not just as material beings but as members of His body, the church, will follow that Way.

So "Firstborn from the dead" is a distinct matter from "Firstborn of all Creation".

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The Gospels are very clear when and where and how Jesus originated. He cannot have been there in the beginning unless some serious reading-in is done with the scriptures and a dismissal of other scripture that shows Jesus to be exclusively human.

In the complete absence of any mention of an "Eternal Son, eternally begotten, or other such ideas, Jesus must be accepted as revealed. A man like us in every respect (Heb 2) who was tempted, died and was raised back to life by his Father and God, brought into the heavenly realm and now sits by the side of God (John 20:17, Acts 7:55, Mark 16:9).

From Col 1:15-

  • The Son is the image of the invisible God - this doesn't make him God. An image of something is a representation only. We are also an image of God in Christ Rom 8:29. (Mark 12:16 the coin is an image, just as Jesus is)
  • the firstborn over all creation. The only way this aligns perfectly with the Gospels is for this to apply to the same instance of "firstborn from among the dead" which happened at his resurrection to spirit, immortal life that he never had before. 1Pet 3:18, Rom 6:9
  • For IN him all things were created. Not by, IN. Clearly the context, as you have noted, is of the new age beginning with the giving of the holy spirit to enable the new church - the spiritual body of Christ.
  • things in heaven and on earth, Note that 'things IN heaven and ON earth' are not referring to a Genesis creation either. God made THE heavens and the earth, but all things come to their full potential only in Jesus.

Yes, a pre-existing Jesus is not a biblical idea - there is only suppositional and inferred support that creates conflicts with a lot of scripture.

While there are many scholars who imagine and declare a lot of things, they must be held to account if the bible is regarded as the primary source of truth. Jesus is only pre-existing in the mind and plan of God - what God plans always comes to pass. Not because time has allowed it to be, but because time has eventually revealed what was declared because God said it was or would be.

Does Colossians 1:15, refer to the Genesis creation? No. It may only be understood that way if taken out of context and read in isolation.

Is Jesus 'merely' presented as the firstborn from the dead? It's hardly 'merely'! Jesus as the glorious obedient and faithful son of God fulfilled every requirement as the 'last Adam' and qualified to become heir to all God's creation Heb 1.

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

To say that Jesus is NOT the first-'born from the dead' is to misunderstand 'dead' and 'born'. Dead refers not to the lack of physical life, but the complete lack of life potential. That's why Jesus refers to physical death as 'sleep'. All CAN be raised to new life if they have lived in this age.

Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up. John 11:11

Paul too,

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed ...and the dead will be raised incorruptible 1Cor 15:50-53.

'Dead' also refers to the general state of man who must die due to sin's penalty. These are the dead, from which Christ rose on all men's behalf thereby enabling a life after death for all who will accept his offer made possible by his sacrifice - in this age or the next.

Jesus is indeed the firstborn from the dead - the dead due to sin, from which no man can arise to take up the eternal life God intends all receive - IF they accept the terms offered!

One can be 'raised from death/sleep' only by God and His exalted son. The resurrection reveals that all will rise to a judgement (except those in Christ who will be raised to life eternal, as Jesus was) and they will still be physical - able to die in the second death Rev20. When a believer is risen to spirit life, they are 'born from above' and granted eternal life. That's why Paul teaches that flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom 1Cor 15:50.

...that having been born of the Spirit is spirit John 3:5

Jesus is the first to be 'born from above' - being given spirit life - as the Father has, He gave to Jesus. Jesus IS spirit now, but he was not when he died (else how could he die?). John 5:26 Only God has immortality - Jesus did not. Now, after being raised by God and exalted to God's side, Jesus too has immortality.

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