Copyright © 2001 by Natalie Pappas
He is the exact image of the unseen God, the Firstborn of all creation,
The verses from 15-20 form a hymn of sorts. R.T. France writes of them, "One of the arguments
for Christ's deity being affirmed here is that this is a hymn. Hymn were [traditionally]
sung to deities, not mere mortals."
The passage does not deal with the eternal relation of the Son to the Father,
but with the Son's relationship to the universe and to the church. (Nicholl)
It "is parallel to the LOGOS passage in John 1:1-18 and to Hebrews 1:1-4 as well as
Philippians 2:5-11 in which these three writers give the high conception of the
person of Christ." (RWP) These verses "are entirely about Christ who has already
been called 'the Son of the Father's love...." (Lenski)
A perverted view of Christ was present at the Colossian church -- thus they were in need of the true doctrine of Christ. Doctrine
means 'teachings". They needed to be taught Christ accurately, His person, His relation to creation, and to
He is the exact image
The word used here for "exact image" is eikon is an obsolete form
meaning 'a material image'. (Perschbacher).
The Bible Knowledge Commentary says it is the "very substance or essential embodiment
of something or someone."
unseen The Greek word aoratos is made
up of two
words meaning "not" and "seen". Some translate this word as 'invisible'.
"God is invisible which does not merely mean that He cannot be seen by our bodily eye,
but that He is unknowable. In the exalted Christ the unknowable God becomes known."
"The Word, whether pre-incarnate or incarnate is the relation of the unseen Father,
compare John 1:18." (Lightfoot) "The one who sees Jesus has seen God, compare
John 14:9." (RWP)
Firstborn of all creation.
Years ago, when I was a brand new Christian, some JWs
came to my door and presented this verse to me in their argument that Jesus was not
God, but 'a created being'. It took me by surprise because I was familiar with the
book of Colossians, but that particular meaning had never occurred to me.
I remember telling the women that I would have
to look into it, and I remember wishing I knew Greek because they seemed to really be
positive that the Greek really said Jesus was a created being.
Of course, it didn't take knowing Greek to figure out
that firstborn did not mean "born first". All it took was a quick peek at a
Strong's Concordance. Unfortunately, those ladies never came back to talk to me again.
The term "firstborn" is a legal term, not a biological
term. In Scripture, Isaac was the 'firstborn' though he was not born first. Jacob also was not
born first, but he is called the 'firstborn'. In prophecy, the Messiah is said to be
the 'firstborn' (see Exodus 4:22; Psalm 89:28)...though out of all of His earthly brothers
and sisters, Jesus was born first.
If Paul had used the word "protoktistos" instead
of "prototokos" then the case for Jesus being a created creature could be
presented. Protoktistos means 'first-created' while prototokos means 'firstborn'.
The word used here, in fact, is 'prototokos', 'firstborn'.
In Psalm 89:27, the word 'firstborn' is used to designate a place of superiority,
of supremacy, of uniqueness. There God says that He will make David His firstborn,
higher than the Kings of the earth. David was actually
the last-born son of Jesse according to the flesh.
But God determined to give him a place of unique supremacy, primacy, and
For other instances of secondary uses of 'firstborn' in the Old Testament where the idea
of 'priority of birth' is overshadowed by and lost in the idea of 'pre-eminence,'
see Job 28:13 'the firstborn of death,' Is. 14:30 'the firstborn of the poor.'" (Lightfoot)
of all creation,
"Paul is here refuting the Gnostics who pictured Christ as one of the aeons by placing Him before 'all creation",
angels and men. (RWP) Modern day Arians (such as JWs) insert the word 'other' to make the
fragment read "of all [other] creation". Instead of 'completing the meaning' as was asserted to me
at my door, the addition perverts the meaning. Paul had the choice of two words meaning
'other'. He could have used 'allos' meaning, other of the same kind" or he could have used
'heteros' meaning 'other of a different kind'. He used neither. The reason he used neither
is because Jesus is not a created creature. It's really very simple if you just let
the text say what it clearly says.
"Paul really was concerned to show
not only that Christ was superior to the angels, but that He and not the angels was Lord
of the material creation." (Nicoll)
Paul was not dealing with the issue of Christ's
relationship to the Father, Paul was "dealing with one of the philosophies of that day....
it held that God created a creature just beneath Him; then that creature created a
creature just beneath him; then that creature created a creature just beneath him.
You can just keep going down that ladder until finally you come to a creature that created this universe... Gnostism taught that Jesus was one of those creatures,
an emanation from God. Now Paul is answering that." (McGee)
What this verse is saying is that no other compares to
Jesus in their humanity. Therefore, Jesus has all the legal rights of a firstborn.
Christ literally outranks all creation in His humanity. Later, Paul will speak
of Jesus Christ and how 'all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form'. (Col 2:9, NIV)