The Firstborn of Every Creature
The Firstborn of Every Creature
Kathy L. McFarland
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 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: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:12-17 KJV)
Arians argue that “the firstborn of every creature” recorded in Colossians 1:15b denotes Christ as a brother to every creature that was rightful heir according to primogeniture rules that give the right of succession and inheritance to the eldest son. They conclude that the rights given to Christ by the LORD God are not based upon his righteous nature; rather, it is merely birth-ordered rights to the Father’s estate, according to Gregory of Nyssa. Modern-day (semi) Arians in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Unitarians, and Church of God (7th day) – Salem Conference (Sabbatarian Adventists) oppose the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox all Reformation church views about the Trinity and Christ’s divine nature, based partly upon an alternate interpretation of the “firstborn” reference in Colossians 1:15.
Mormons mistakenly believe that Christ is the literal firstborn child of the union between the Heavenly Father and his goddess wife. Jehovah’s witnesses misunderstand that Christ is the first created being which all other creations originate according to their New World Translation. This paper will reflect a deeper examination of Colossians 1:15, especially concerning Christ’s nature as both “the firstborn if every creature” and the “only begotten” Son of the LORD God. Further research of this important paradox in context with proper exegesis should equip Christians with the ability to respond with understandable explanation when confronted with variant beliefs that are against the Truth in the Word of God concerning this dual Divine/Human nature of Christ.
Arius, Christian Priest in Baucalis in Alexandria, Egypt (256-336), thought Christ was preexistent before His Father made the world. He emphasized “There was when he was not,” and “Before he was begotten, or created, or determined or established, he did not exist.” Arius refused to recognize the Son of God as equal to the LORD God, and claimed He owed his existence solely to His Father’s Will.
Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and defender of Scriptural faith against Arius, along with the Bishops who assembled at the Council of Nicaea condemned with one voice the heresy of Arian. Arianism was declared to be Gentile superstition that cannot be called Christian because of their misrepresentation of Scripture. Accordingly, the Arians and the Gentiles falsely worship Christ as a creature.
Arius charged that the Son of God was a creature, while the Father was Creator. That claim possibly disrupted the Church more than almost any other heresy. G. W. Bromiley claims that the Arius trinitarian controversy of the fourth century was one “which for complexity, intrigue, and bitterness has seldom, if ever, been exceeded in the history of the church.” Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses embrace this heresy by repeating the claims of Christ as creature based partly upon Colossians 1:15.
The title of Christ as “the firstborn of every creature” (KJV) designates both “priority and sovereignty over creation” according to Dr. Robert Gromacki, premillennial, dispensational Baptist Scholar, and Kenneth Wuest, Evangelical Biblical Greek New Testament scholar. The Son of God was begotten before the creation of the world through the Word of God spoken, and He is the ruler over creation (Colossians 1:16, 17; John 1:1-3). Jesus Christ’s voluntary subordination to the LORD God and the resulting incarnation did not remove the innate authority; but, the status as “firstborn of every creature” was developed upon His assumption of human being existence.
The Greek word πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) speaks of the inheritance rights of the firstborn, as well as captures the supreme idea of “existing before.” Some falsely attribute this Greek word as proof that Christ was a creature Himself; Gromacki argues that the passage does not say He “became a creature, or that he was the first creature made;” that concept would require the use of the Greek word protoktistos. Wuest says that “every creature” is more properly translated to “all creation” which emphasizes the primacy over creation. The next two verses in Colossians 1:16-17 confirms Paul’s assertion of Christ’s existence and creator of all things before creation. The Lord Jesus Christ is supreme over all creation as its Lord as the invisible creator became visible in His incarnation as a human being.
The translation of πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) πάσχα (pascha) κτίσις (ktisis) is represented with the words “firstborn of EVERY creature” in the King James Bible. But, Professor Helyer, Biblical Literature at Taylor University, argues that the actual reference speaks of primacy over all created things in a collective sense rather than an emphasis upon each created individual. Major English Bibles (ASV, RSV, NASB, NEB, JB) choose to represent the interpretation with the collective sense “the firstborn of ALL creation.” The Hebrew adjective pas, used with an anarthrous noun in the singular is often translated as “every” or “each” as is represented by the KJV translation. However, Hebraic influence makes exceptions to this rule. Helyer supports the “all creation” interpretation because the “cosmic scope” of the passage is readily apparent when examined in context. Further, when a concept comparison is made to Hebrews 1:1-3, Helyer justifies translating it as “heir of all things” that is predicated upon the preexistence of Christ and His primacy of status over all creation. 
The LORD God “beget” the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not create Him. Thus, this point can be used to teach against the interpretations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons regarding the nature of Christ as the “firstborn.” However, the defense is made even sounder when an understanding of the process of “begotten” is known.
The Word of God beget the Son of God
The Divine Son of God, one part of the Triune God, was not the product of sperm and egg joining together in a human process of reproduction. Neither was He made with the Hand of God, formed from stars or dust in a creation act.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
THE WORD WAS GOD. The Word was always with God, from the beginning of creation. The Word of God is a relevant expression of both God’s essence, equal to the expression of His Son, who was begotten by the very breath of the LORD God’s spoken Word. It was the LORD God’s innermost desire, nature, personality, and will contained within Him, that was divinely released when He spoke His Word. Upon the speaking of his Word, the magnificent expression of Christ through that process was begotten, the only one of His kind, ever.
The Paradox Between the “Only Begotten” and the “Firstborn”
It is quite a feat to be the absolute “only begotten” Son of God that shared that process of creation with no one, and yet, declared the first of many born into God’s created world. An examination of some of the significant contrasts of this paradox between early Christian theologians that allow the issues of differences to be fully defined:
Origen of Alexandria (185-253) Influential theologian, explains the difference between “begotten” and “Firstborn” as the difference between Divine Son of God and servant to mankind.
Constantius (250-306), founder of Constantine, says the paradox that conflicts between the “only begotten” and the “Firstborn” description of Christ is the difference between spiritual divinity vs. natural flesh. When the LORD God refers to His “only begotten” He speaks of Christ’s divinity; as the “Firstborn” Son of God and the LORD God’s grace in His incarnated human being. Accordingly, “Christ is begotten in His divinity, firstborn in his humanity.”
Athanasius (295-373), apologist and defender of Christians against Arians, thinks that “Firstborn” speaks of Christ as far back as His creation acts as His identity of the Word of God. “Firstborn” designates Christ as Son of God, more than creation and not a creature, as well as declaring His Resurrection from the dead and afterwards, the resurrection of His followers to eternal life.
Ambrose of Milan (333-397), teacher of Augustine, says that Christ is the image of the invisible God, and “first-begotten”, not “first-created” to explain the paradox between “begotten” and “Firstborn.” Christ is “begotten in virtue of His nature, and “Firstborn” in virtue of His eternity.
John Chrysostom (344/354–407), Bishop of Constantinople, argues that the word “Firstborn denotes nothing about dignity and honor, and is focused upon time only, and separates Christ from the angels as the newly established messenger of God.
Augustine of Hippo (354–430) explains in his commentary of Romans 55 that Christ has no brothers as the only begotten Son of God, but, in his shared humanity through incarnation as “Firstborn,” he has many brothers that are the elect of the LORD God.
There were just a few early Christian scholars and theologians that interpreted πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) as the reflection of Christ’s “priority and sovereignty over creation” as a main focus by critically defining the Greek word. Athanasius was closest to the newer, 20th century definitions, of “firstborn.” Most early scholars chose the idea of the differences between spiritual life and natural life, “only begotten” vs. “firstborn.” But, Gromacki and Wuest were convinced that a deeper interpretation and understanding of the Greek word πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) led to a more concise idea possibly matching closer to the intentions of the author.
The Son of God did not come into existence through creation birth. He was the only begotten Son of the LORD God, and through Him, all things were created. He is sovereign over all things created. He cannot be the creature that He has created. Thus, the text of Colossians 1:15 required a deeper exegesis than merely relying upon literal words.
The Lord Jesus Christ was the firstborn of the LORD God’s unfolding and finalized plans to bring His people back to Him. Christ was the firstborn for the reconciliation of sin and wicked works, so God’s own could be presented to Him reconciled by holiness, unblameable, and unreproveable (Colossians 1:21, 22)
The Lord Jesus Christ, as the “firstborn of every creature,” is made preeminent amongst mankind as God declares Him the creator and sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:16-17). The Greek word πρωτότοκος (prōtotokos) designates both priority and sovereignty over creation and confirms this preeminence.
The Son of God is the Lord Jesus Christ, and was absolutely pre-existent before creation. He is not a created being. Yet, on another, more literal comparison, the spiritual identity of Christ as the “only begotten” Son of God shows His divinity, while the natural identity status as “firstborn” leads readers to contemplate His humanity.
It is imperative that all people in America have the right to believe what they want, and to practice their spiritual religious choices in their chosen way. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have the same rights to religion as do mainstream Christians. There should be no confrontation towards them about their different beliefs.
However, this paper is written to help answer and teach Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses how a misinterpretation to Colossians 1:15 can lead to serious and faulty interpretations in the development of their belief, should they approach a Professional Theologist with questions. This paper also offers a deeper teaching that allows Christian students to fully know what they believe and why they believe it. Also, the inerrant Word of God properly interpreted and applied lays a strong foundation of faith and revelation that deepens understanding as Christian maturity develops; in final analysis, understanding the difference between firstborn and begotten is significant in drawing closer to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Father.
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