The Bible’s View
Jesus Christ as “the First-Born of All Creation”
TO THE congregation at Colossae, Asia Minor, the apostle Paul wrote concerning Jesus Christ, according to the Common Biblea: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”—Col. 1:15-17.
What did the apostle mean by calling Jesus Christ “the first-born of all creation”? Paul’s further words enlarge on the matter: “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.”—Col. 1:18, CB.
Here we find that the Greek words for both “first-born” (protótokos) and “beginning” (arkhé) describe Jesus as the first one of a group of class, “the body, the church,” and therefore he has preeminence in this respect. He also has preeminence in being the first one resurrected to endless life from among all the human dead.—1 Cor. 15:22, 23.
The same Greek words occur in the Greek Septuagint translation at Genesis 49:3: “Ruben, thou art my first-born [protótokos], thou my strength, and the first [arkhé, “beginning”] of my children.” (Compare Deuteronomy 21:17, Septuagint.) From such Biblical statements it is reasonable to conclude that the Son of God is the firstborn of all creation in the sense of being the first of God’s creatures. In fact, Jesus refers to himself as “the beginning [arkhé] of God’s creation.” (Rev. 3:14, CB) The New World Translation renders the phrase in this verse: “the beginning of the creation by God.”
There are many who object to the idea of Jesus as being a created person. They argue that since “in him all things were created” (CB)—during his prehuman existence in heaven—Jesus himself could not be a creature. Such individuals believe that Jesus is himself Almighty God, the second person of a “trinity” of three coequal, coeternal persons in one “godhead.”
Individuals of that persuasion interpret the Greek expression (at Revelation 3:14) for “the beginning of God’s creation” as meaning “the origin (or ‘primary source’) of the creation of God.” One who prefers this idea is the noted Greek scholar Henry Alford. Nevertheless, in his work The Greek Testament, Alford concedes: “The mere word arkhé would admit the meaning that Christ is the first created being: see Gen. xlix. 3; Deut. xxi. 17; and Prov. viii. 22. And so the Arians here take it, and some who have followed them: e.g. Castalio, ‘chef d’œuvre:’ ‘omnium Dei operum excellentissimum atque primum:’ [meaning “the first and most excellent of all God’s works”] and so Ewald and Züllig.”
According to The Expositor’s Greek Testament, to understand Revelation 3:14 as meaning that Jesus is “the active source” of creation, rather than the first created person, one must interpret arkhé “as in Greek philosophy and [non-Biblical] Jewish wisdom-literature,=aitía or origin.” The inspired Bible writers, however, never borrowed ideas from Greek philosophy.
But how could Jesus be a creature if “in him all things were created”? At times the Bible uses the word “all” in a way that allows for exceptions. For example, we read at 1 Corinthians 15:27 (CB): “But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection under him [Jesus Christ],’ it is plain that he [God] is excepted who put all things under him.” As a further illustration the Bible states that “through one man,” Adam, “death spread to all men.” (Rom. 5:12, CB) Though Adam was not part of the “all men” to whom death “spread” (since previous to Adam there was no human who could have spread death to him), he was nonetheless a man. Similarly, though Jesus was not part of the “all things” that came into existence through him, he was, nevertheless, a created person, the very first creature of God. The Greek word panta in certain contexts means “all other,” as in 1 Corinthians 15:24 and 6:18. (See An American Translation, Moffatt, Common Bible.) Hence, the New World Translation reads: “by means of him all other things were created . . . he is before all other things.”—Col. 1:16, 17.
Jesus’ being the firstborn of all creation involves the law of primogeniture, the right of the one born or produced first. From earliest times the real firstborn son enjoyed special privileges that included succeeding to headship of the household and inheriting a double portion of the father’s property. (Deut. 21:15-17) Kingship and priesthood, too, were inherited by the firstborn son of a king or high priest in ancient Israel.—See 2 Chronicles 21:3.
Since Jesus as the firstborn of all creation is a created person, he cannot be Almighty God. The Scriptures repeatedly portray him as in a position subordinate to God. For example, concerning the resurrected Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul wrote: “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:3, CB) When giving the inspired “Revelation” to the apostle John, Jesus said concerning himself: “He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Rev. 3:12, CB) Did you note that four times in this verse alone Jesus refers to his Father, Jehovah, as “my God”?—Compare Philippians 2:5, 6, CB.
In no way is this meant to deny the exalted position that Jesus occupies next to God. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt. 28:18, CB) It was appropriate for God to ‘give’ to his Son such authority, since the Son was the firstborn of all creatures. Right in line with primogenitureship, the apostle Paul could write concerning Jesus: “[God] raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church.”—Eph. 1:20-23, CB.
a The Common Bible is approved by both Catholic and Protestant authorities.