Jesus Christ, the Firstborn

As I’ve been working through all the comments that got stuck in moderation while the blog was silent, I’ve encountered more than one that referred to Colossians 1, where we see Jesus as ‘the firstborn.’  This passage is often misunderstood, so I thought I’d just write here on the front page of the blog with a fairly brief explanation.

Colossians 1

14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
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:

Those who deny that Jesus is truly God will often refer to this verse, specifically verse 15.  They will claim that Jesus is the first created being, and thus ‘the firstborn’ of all creatures.

To understand this properly, we must look at how ‘firstborn’ was used in ancient literature, and especially in Scripture.  In many cases, ‘firstborn’ is used exactly how you’d expect.  It refers to the first child of someone — which fits with the claims of those who deny the deity of Christ.

But for it to prove what they want it to prove, it has to always mean that — and it doesn’t.

Exodus 4

22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
23 And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.

Here, God calls Israel His firstborn.  Yet, they were not the first nation nor the largest or most powerful — in fact, they were slaves when this was spoken.

Psalm 89

27 Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.

Here, God says David is His firstborn.  Obviously, David was not the first man, and in fact we’re told exactly who his father was multiple times — Jesse, the son of Obed, the grandson of Boaz and Ruth.

What are these verses telling us?  Very simply, ‘firstborn’ doesn’t necessarily mean the first one born.  It was an expression that meant ‘pre-eminent’ or ‘supreme’.  Israel was made by God to be distinct from all the other nations and higher than all of them.  David was higher than the kings of the earth.  Interestingly, it doesn’t even say David was one of the kings, he was higher than them.  So ‘firstborn’ can not only mean pre-eminent, but also ‘set apart.’

What is meant of Jesus?  The rest of Scripture would certainly fit with ‘set apart’ and ‘supreme’.  But what about ‘of every creature’ — Jesus is ‘firstborn of every creature.’  What does the ‘of’ mean?

It certainly doesn’t mean ‘of’ in the sense of Jesus being the firstborn child of every creature.  No one claims that.  So what does it mean?

In fact, the word ‘of’ isn’t in the Greek.  It is there to reflect the genitive/ablative case.  There are many ways in which this Greek grammatical case can be used — and one of them is the genitive of subordination, also seen in Revelation 19, where Jesus is called ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’  No one should see that as saying that Jesus is a part of the kings and lords over which He will triumph and rule.  He is completely distinct from them.  He is not like them at all (as even those such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses would acknowledge).  Yet, He is over the rulers of this earth, the King of kings, as they are in subordination to Him.

So also He is the Firstborn ‘of every creature.’  He is over every creature, and thus the genitive of subordination is used.  The use of the title ‘Firstborn’ just emphasises that this is a subordination usage.  This passage says nothing about Jesus being part of creation, one of the created beings.  Rather, it is emphasising His superiority over them — which should have been obvious from the rest of the passage, anyway.  The whole passage is about the supremacy of the eternal God the Son.


About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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