Q & A: What Does Colossians 1:15-18 Mean?

 

Trinitarian theology views Colossians 1:15-18 as the creation of the universe by Jesus Christ as the second person of God in the trinity.  Of course they are at a loss to explain what happened to the Holy Spirit and the Father, who are glaringly absent from the creation process in this NT passage.

 

Oneness Pentecostals believe Colossians 1:15-18 refers to Jesus as, “God,” creating the universe, and their position is as ludicrous as Trinitarians, because it demands that the “God” part of Jesus is preincarnate; this is only different from Trinitarianism in that the three persons of God theory is denied, but Oneness folks still believe Jesus to be “fully God and fully man” at the same time, a concept that violates logic and scripture.

 

Because Trinitarian translators worked on the translation of the text, their obvious doctrinal bias overrides any other possibilities, and they unwittingly distort the intended meaning of the text, especially their rendering of prepositions.  I will discuss this more at the end of the study.

 

Comparing parallel NT passages with words and phrases from the context itself yields the best results when studying Colossians 1:15-18.  The context always comes first and Colossians 1:3 proves Jesus is not God, and therefore not the Creator of the world. 

 

·         Colossians 1: 3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you. NKJV

 

Paul gives thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus; how can Jesus have a “God” and still be the Creator?  The context of Colossians chapter one is discussing the gospel hope (verse 3) and the spiritual fruit that was borne thru the ministry of Epaphras (verses 4-8).  On the basis of his good report, the apostles and churches were praying for the Colossian church to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (verse 9).

 

Paul also wanted to see this church walking worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work (verse 10), strengthened for all patience and longsuffering with joy (verse 11) and giving thanks to the Father (Who alone is God) who qualified them to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (verse 12).  This preface prepares the reader for what role Jesus plays in God’s economy.

 

·         Colossians 1: 13-14 He (God) has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. NKJV

 

Note in verses 13-14; God the Father is the One that delivers the church and conveys believers into the, “kingdom,” of the Son of HIS LOVE.  God the Father worked in (thru) Jesus sacrificial death and provided, “redemption” thru it.

Therefore, based on the previous context, any reference to the “creation” in, by, or thru Jesus Christ is aimed at the spiritual redemption, which God (the Father) provides to the individual believer.

 

·         Colossians 1: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. NKJV

 

To be “firstborn” you cannot be God because God is never born (Numbers 23:19).  If taken at face value, this verse means Jesus is the heir to his Father’s creation, which is the new creation, aka the church. The Greek word for firstborn in Colossians 1:15 is prootótokos (NT: 4416); it can mean the firstborn of one’s natural birth mother or figuratively, it can mean preeminent, as first in rank of order.  Either meaning is applicable, but the latter should be used, because Jesus was appointed BY GOD to be the heir of the ruling position in the church, aka the head. The same Greek word prootótokos is used of the birth of the infant child Jesus in Matthew 1:25

 

·         Matthew 1:24-25 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn prootótokos Son.  And he called His name JESUS.  NKJV

 

·         Luke 2:4-7 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn prootótokos Son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. NKJV

 

Since this same Greek word prootótokos is used of the birth of the infant, Trinitarian theology would have you believe an infant child, wrapped in what amounts to diapers created the universe! Ironically the same Greek word is also used just a few verses later in Colossians 1:18, “And He (Jesus) is the head (leader) of the body, the church, who is the beginning (of the church), the firstborn (prootótokos) from the dead, that in all things (in the church) He (Jesus) may have the preeminence.  NKJV (insertions mine).

 

Again, to be fair and consistent, Jesus as the firstborn from “the dead” cannot create the world, because to be “dead” one has to also be called, “mortal.”  God is IMMORTAL (1 Timothy 1:17) and Jesus is MORTAL.  

 

·         Luke 23:46-48 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit." And having said this, he (Jesus) breathed His last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, "Certainly this man was innocent." NAS         

 

To be firstborn from among the dead is obviously figurative language and must therefore apply to Jesus’ preeminent position.  The Greek word for what is translated as  “preeminence” in Colossians 1:18 is prooteúoon and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance definition for this word is as follows:

 

·         Preeminence = NT: 4409 proteuo ; from NT:4413; to be first (in rank or influence) (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)

 

Now that I have adequately proved the word firstborn does not in any way refer to Jesus as deity, I will address Colossians 1:16, which Trinitarian theology uses to describe Jesus, creating everything in heaven and earth. 

 

·         Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

 

It has already been clearly proven from the context and parallel NT passages that Jesus is not God, and therefore he cannot be the Creator of all things.  However, the verse needs an explanation, and again, looking to the Greek text is useful.

 

Colossians 1:18 describes Jesus’ role in the new creation or the church.  The proof for this interpretation is found in yet another NT passage that uses prootótokos.  In Romans 8:28-29 God the Father works in His people by providing Jesus as the blueprint, so that Christians can look to Jesus’ life and teachings and be, “…conformed to the image of His Son, that he (Jesus) might be the firstborn (prootótokos) among many brethren.”  NKJV

 

Jesus is the first in rank in God’s creation because of his obedience (as a man).  He is the preeminent one among many brethren because he is also a man, albeit now Jesus is glorified.  The same Greek words for “heaven” and “earth” that are used in Colossians 1:16 are again used in Hebrews 12:22-29.  In addition this passage in Hebrews also uses the Greek word prootótokos, and gives a detailed description of the role of God (the Father) who speaks from “heaven” and the role of Jesus, who is used BY GOD to create all things new in the heavens and the earth as the Jesus is the “mediator” of a new covenant.

 

·         Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven (ouranoís) and that are on earth (geés), visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

 

·         Hebrews 12:22-29 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn prootótokos who are registered in heaven (ouranoís), to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.  See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth (geés), much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him (God) who speaks from heaven (ouranoís),,26 whose voice then shook the earth (geés); but now He has promised, saying, "Yet once more I shake not only the earth (geés), but also heaven (ouranoís),." 27 Now this, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.  NKJV

 

Lest there be any doubt remaining in the reader, one need look no further than 1 Timothy 2:5 which clearly separates the role of man as mediator from that of Deity:

 

·         1 Timothy 2:3-6 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time. NAS

 

Peter’s epistle further defines how the church is the creation spoken about in Colossians 1:16 by making use of the same Greek word ouranoís for heaven and Peter makes a clear distinction between Deity and humanity by saying, “THE GOD and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” is He who has “begotten” us as He did when He raised Jesus (the man) from the dead.

 

·         1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven (ouranoís) for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.   NKJV

 

Earlier I mentioned that translators often do a poor job rendering Greek prepositions to favor their doctrinal bias; such is the case throughout Colossians 1:15-18, but particular so in verses 16 & 17.  Below the Concordant Literal New Testament version does a much better job.

 

·         Colossians 1:16-17 For IN him is all created, that in the heavens and that on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships, or sovereignties or authorities, all is created for him, and he is before all things, and all has its cohesion in him.

 

To conclude, the words, “For IN him,” best describe Jesus’ relationship to the text.  Jesus did not create all things, but all things pertaining to God’s spiritual kingdom in earth and in heaven are done so IN Jesus Christ; that is, with him as the agency or mediator.

 

 

 

 


 

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