THE GOD OF JESUS: PART SIXTEEN
Colossians, Chapter One
Certain comments made by Apostle Paul in chapter one of his letter to the Colossian Church is often seen as evidence Jesus is God as the Father is God.
Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Colossian Church by introducing himself as an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Paul identifies God as the God and Father of Jesus (Colossians 1:3). In verses twelve and thirteen, Paul exhorts the Colossians to give thanks to the Father who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light by having rescued them from the dominion of darkness and bringing them into the kingdom of the Son he loves. As is true throughout Paul’s writings, Paul identifies God the Father as the God of Jesus. Paul goes on to show how Jesus reflects God.
Colossians 1:15: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
The Greek word translated image in this passage is eikon. It means image, likeness and representation. It is argued that because Jesus is seen as being in the image of God He must be God. Is being in the image of something or someone equal to being that something or someone? In all three gospels is the account of Christ asking whose image (same Greek word) is on the coin that was handed to Him. It was the image of Emperor Caesar. The coin represented Caesar as the imperial ruler of Rome. The coin wasn’t Caesar but represented Caesar. Jesus being in the image of God doesn’t mean Jesus was God. Scripture reveals Jesus was the perfect representative of the character of the one and only God and not that Jesus is the one and only God.
It should also be noted that Paul tells the Roman Christians to be conformed to the image (eikon) of Jesus (Romans 8:29). If Jesus is God, then being conformed to the image of Jesus is to be conformed to the image of God and if being in the image of God is being God then we are as much God as Jesus is God. This, however, is not the case for us or is it the case for Jesus.
The NIV shows Paul writing that Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation.” The NET Bible translates this passage in the same manner and notes that the genitive construction of this passage is a genitive of subordination and therefore should be translated as “over all creation.” The theology being advanced in these translations is that Jesus is before creation of all things and He has supremacy over all creation and all creation is subordinate to Him. Is this what Paul is saying in this passage?
Most other English versions translate Colossians 1:15 as “first born of all creation.” The Greek language does not have a preposition “of.” In this passage, the phrase “of all creation” is in a genitive form where the word “of” is implied. Greek scholar Jason Beduhn flatly states that “over” in no way can be derived from the Greek in this phrase and that the NIV translators make their translation on the basis of doctrine rather than language (Beduhn: Truth In Translation, page 81).
Paul writes Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. Scholarship shows that the Greek word translated “firstborn” can refer to a first born child, or it can refer to one who is preeminent in rank. What creation is Jesus the first born of and preeminent in rank over? Is it the physical universe or is it the new creation of spiritual transformation that Jesus began by God raising Him from the dead?
Colossians 1:18: And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
We have seen that because Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, we can also be born from the dead and made a new creation in Christ. It should be evident that the creation Jesus is seen as firstborn of is the new creation involving our reconciliation to the Father through Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the Revelation Jesus speaks of Himself as being the beginning of the creation of God.
Revelation 3:14: And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; these things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; (KJV and most other translations).
The Greek for “beginning” in both Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 3:14 is arkee. Greek lexicons show this word means beginning, origin and in some cases ruler. Where this word appears in the NT in conjunction with a genitive expression, which is the way it appears in this passage in Revelation, arkee always denotes a beginning or first part of something. In view of what we have seen in the writings of Paul relative to the resurrection of Jesus being associated with our becoming a new creation, it appears Jesus is referring to Himself in the Revelation as the beginning or first part of the new creation God was facilitating for mankind through Christ.
The NIV translated Revelation 3:14 as “the ruler of God's creation.” The NET Bible translates it as “the originator of God’s creation.” “Beginning,” however, is the natural expression in view of the Greek genitive grammatical construction found in this passage. The KJV, NKJV, RSV, NAS and most other translations have translated this passage as “the beginning of the creation of God.”
In Apostle John’s first letter, he speaks of Jesus having been born of God and being the one who keeps others born of God from succumbing to sin.
I John 5:18: We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.
While the meaning of the phrase “the one born of God” has produced much scholarly debate, it is generally recognized that John is referring to Christ. The NIV has a footnote to this passage that reads, “The one who was born of God. Jesus, the Son of God.” The translators recognize it is Jesus who is being referred to as the one born of God who keeps those born of God safe. The RSV actually capitalizes “He,” thus showing it as a reference to Jesus. When this passage is seen in the overall Scriptural context of Jesus beginning the process of our spiritual rebirth by He being the first to be granted immortality through His resurrection from the dead, it is not difficult to understand what John is saying.
It is apparent this passage is dealing with spiritual rebirth of the Christian. Jesus became sin for us on the cross and died as a sinner in our stead. Through resurrection Jesus was born to eternal life. We are in the process of being born to eternal life. By Jesus being born to eternal life, He is seen as able to keep those being born safe from the evil one and become a new creation in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Galatians 6:15: Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
In view of the association seen in Scripture between Jesus being the first to be born from the dead and the new creation that proceeds from that event, we need to see Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:16-17 within this context.
Colossians 1:16-17: For by (Greek ev) him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by (ev) him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The NIV, NET and KJV render the beginning of this passage as “For by him all things were created.” The Greek word translated “by” is ev. This Greek preposition appears 2,781 times in the NT and is variously translated as in, on, at, with, by and among. Context must determine how it is translated. The context of Colossians chapter one is Christ being the first to be born from the dead and having supremacy in all things. Jesus is repeatedly seen in Scripture as the starting point for establishment of a new creation. In the passage under consideration, Paul is not writing about Jesus being the creator of the physical universe or physical life. This passage is addressing the new creation in Christ that we are invited to participate in. Therefore, this passage should read, “For in him all things were created.” This is the translation in the Revised Standard Version, American Standard Version, the New Jerusalem Bible, Concordant Literal New Testament and other translations. Let’s look at what Peter wrote:
1 Peter 1:3: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...
Peter instructs that praise should be directed to the God and Father of Jesus. It is because of the mercy of the God and Father of Jesus we can be born again because the God and Father of Jesus resurrected Him from the dead making Jesus the first fruits of those who slept and the first to be born from the dead to eternal life. Because of this we have opportunity for a new birth as well. This is the central message of the Gospel. This is central to the teaching of Paul, Peter, John and other NT writers. It is in this context we must read Colossians 1:16-17 and realize Paul is not speaking of an incarnated God/man who created the physical universe but is speaking of a human agent of God who died and was resurrected by God to allow for a new creation. This understanding harmonizes with the many Scriptures we have already discussed that identify Jesus, not as God the Son but as the Son of God who through resurrection from the dead became the first born of many brothers (Roman 8:29).
As I have maintained throughout this book, we must look at Scriptures that pertain to the nature of the Father, Son and Spirit within the context of the whole of Scripture. The “all things” created in Jesus (Colossians 1:16-17) is everything connected with the new creation God was and is facilitating through the Christ event. It is in and through Jesus that God is reconciling the world to Himself and making it possible for humanity to be born to eternal life just as Jesus was born to eternal life.