“The firstborn of every creature: for by (Jesus) 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: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead...” (Col. 1:15-18). This is typical of those passages which can give the impression that Jesus actually created the earth.
1. If this were true, then so many other passages are contradicted which
teach that Jesus did not exist before his birth. The record in Genesis
clearly teaches that God was the creator. Either Jesus or God were the
creator; if we say that Jesus was the creator while Genesis says that God
was, we are saying that Jesus was directly equal to God. In this case it is
impossible to explain the many verses which show the differences between God
and Jesus (see Bible Basics Study 8.2 for examples of these).
2. Jesus was the “firstborn”, which implies a beginning. There is no proof that Jesus was God’s “firstborn” before the creation of the literal earth. Passages like 2 Sam.7:14 and Ps. 89:27 predicted that a literal descendant of David would become God’s firstborn. He was clearly not in existence at the time those passages were written, and therefore not at the time of the Genesis creation either. Jesus became “the Son of God with power” by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). God “has raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, You are My Son, this day have I begotten you” (Acts 13:32,33). Thus Jesus became God’s firstborn by his resurrection. Note too that a son standing at his father’s right hand is associated with being the firstborn (Gen. 48:13-16), and Christ was exalted to God’s right hand after his resurrection (Acts 2:32 R.V.mg.; Heb. 1:3).
3. It is in this sense that Jesus is described as the firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:18), a phrase which is parallel to “the firstborn of every creature” or creation (Col. 1:15 R.V.). He therefore speaks of himself as “the first begotten of the dead...the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 1:5; 3:14). Jesus was the first of a new creation of immortal men and women, whose resurrection and full birth as the immortal sons of God has been made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus (Eph. 2:10; 4:23,24; 2 Cor. 5:17). “In Christ shall all (true believers) be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:22,23). This is just the same idea as in Col. 1. Jesus was the first person to rise from the dead and be given immortality, he was the first of the new creation, and the true believers will follow his pattern at his return.
4. The creation spoken about in Col. 1 therefore refers to the new creation, rather than that of Genesis. Through the work of Jesus “were all things created...thrones...dominions” etc. Paul does not say that Jesus created all things and then give examples of rivers, mountains, birds etc. The elements of this new creation refer to those rewards which we will have in God’s Kingdom. “Thrones...dominions” etc. refer to how the raised believers will be “kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). These things were made possible by the work of Jesus. “In him were all things created in the heavens” (Col. 1:16 R.V.). In Eph. 2:6 we read of the believers who are in Christ as sitting in “heavenly places”. If any man is in Christ by baptism, he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). By being in Christ we are saved by His death (Col. 1:22). The literal planet could not be created by being in Christ. Thus these verses are teaching that the exalted spiritual position which we can now have, as well as that which we will experience in the future, has all been made possible by Christ. The “heavens and earth” contain “all things that needed reconciliation by the blood of (Christ’s) cross” (Col. 1:16,20), showing that the “all things...in heaven” refer to the believers who now sit in “heavenly places...in Christ Jesus”, rather than to all physical things around us.
5. If Jesus were the creator, it is strange how He should say: “…from the beginning of the creation God made them…” (Mk. 10:6). This surely sounds as if He understood God to be the creator, not He Himself. And if He literally created everything in Heaven, this would include God.
6. That "by him" is a poor translation is readily testified by reliable scholars. Take J.H. Moulton: "for because of him [Jesus]..." (1); or the Expositor's Greek Commentary: "en auto: This does not mean "by Him"" (2).
7. Many of Paul's more difficult passages are understandable once it is appreciated that he is alluding to existing Jewish and Gentile literature which was familiar to his readers. He does this in order to deconstruct it and give the Lord Jesus His rightful place of exaltation. There are a number of connections between Col. 1:15-20 and Jewish Wisdom theology concerning Adam and the mystical "heavenly man". The terms "image of God" and "firstborn" refer to Adam; it's as if Paul is showing that Jesus should be afforded the place of all exaltation, and not the mystical "Adam" or "Heavenly Adam" which Judaism then believed in (3). Another possibility, not necessarily mutually exclusive, is that Paul is alluding to and even quoting a "pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer hymn" (4)- and seeking to demonstrate that Jesus is the true redeemer. We may apply the words of a well known song or character to someone we know, in order to show the similarities and bring out the contrasts; but the correspondence isn't 100%. And so with the manner in which Paul quotes Gentile or Jewish literature and terminology about Jesus- not every word must be literalistically pressed into relevance to Him. It's like the idea of types- Joseph was a type of Christ, but not everything about Joseph was true of Christ. We need to be aware that Paul didn't sit down to right theology sitting in an ivory tower university, or because he just felt like delving into these matters for the pure intellectual buzz of it. His letters are all missionary documents, born out of real life situations in his work of preaching and then pastorally caring for his immature converts. He was dealing with attacks upon his tender babes in Christ by Jewish and Gentile false teachers; there was no written New Testament, and the Christian message was in competition with the 'scriptures' of the surrounding religions. So it's hardly surprising that Paul so often alludes to their terminology and literature in order to deconstruct it.
8. It should be noted, as a general point, that God the Father alone, exclusively, is described as the creator in many passages (e.g. Is. 44:24; Is. 45:12; Is. 48:13; Is. 66:2). These passages simply leave no room for the Son to have also created the literal planet.
9. It could also be argued that the hymn to Jesus here in Colossians 1 is
speaking of how God views Jesus. “He is “firstborn of all creation”-
not in time, but in the Father’s mind” (5). To God, Jesus was the beginning,
in everything He was en pasin autos proteuon- in all things He held
first place (Col. 1:18). But where and how? In the Father’s mind. It was God
who created the world. But for God, in the context of creation, Jesus His
Son was pre-eminent.
James Dunn comments on Col. 1:20: “Christ is being identified here not
with a pre-existent being but with the creative power and action of
God…There is no indication that Jesus thought or spoke of himself as having
pre-existed with God prior to his birth" (6).
(1) J.H. Moulton, Grammar Of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963) Vol. 3 p. 253.
(2) W.R. Nicoll, ed., Expositor's Greek Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967) p. 504.
(3) This case is made at length in H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) pp. 78-86.
(4) See E. Käsemann, "A Primitive Christian Baptismal Liturgy" in Essays On New Testament Themes (London: S.C.M. Press, 1964) pp. 149-168.
(5)Thomas Weinandy, In the Likeness of Sinful Flesh (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1993) p. 138.
(6) James Dunn, Christology In The Making (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980) p. 254.
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