What does the word firstborn in Colossians 1:15 mean?

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By BibleAsk Team


Firstborn – Colossians 1:15

There has been much debate as to the meaning of first born (prōtotokos) in Colossians 1:15. The early Church Fathers applied the phrase to Christ as the eternal Son of God. The Arians used this verse to show that Christ Himself was a created being. But such an interpretation contradicts all what was revealed in the Scriptures (John 1). Therefore, this passage should be understood in a way that brings it perfectly in line with the general teaching of Scripture. For this complies with sound principles of scriptural exegesis.

To fully understand the significance of the term “firstborn” as used in Colossians 1, it’s essential to explore its etymology, its cultural and historical context within the Bible, and its theological implications. This examination will shed light on the profound theological truth conveyed by this term regarding the preeminence and divinity of Jesus Christ as the Creator and Sovereign over all creation.

Etymology

The term “firstborn” in Greek is “πρωτότοκος” (prōtotokos), derived from “πρῶτος” (prōtos), meaning “first,” and “τίκτω” (tiktō), meaning “to bear” or “to bring forth.” In its literal sense, “firstborn” refers to the first child born to parents or the eldest among siblings. However, its significance extends beyond mere birth order, carrying connotations of priority, preeminence, and special status.

Cultural and Biblical Context

  1. Jewish Context: In ancient Jewish culture, the concept of firstborn held great significance. The firstborn son enjoyed privileges of inheritance and authority within the family, symbolizing his preeminence and representing the family lineage.
  2. Biblical Usage: Throughout the Bible, the term “firstborn” is employed in various contexts, both literal and metaphorical. In the Old Testament, it often refers to the first male child born to a mother (Genesis 49:3; Exodus 13:2). Additionally, it carries symbolic weight, signifying special status or preeminence, such as with the nation of Israel (Exodus 4:22) and King David (Psalm 89:27).
  3. Christological Importance: In the New Testament, the term “firstborn” takes on profound theological significance, especially in reference to Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:15 is a key passage highlighting Christ’s preeminence and role as Creator, emphasizing His supremacy over all creation.

Interpretation

Colossians 1:15 (NKJV) states: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”

  1. Image of the Invisible God: The verse begins by affirming Jesus Christ as the “image of the invisible God,” emphasizing his role as the visible representation and embodiment of the unseen God. This declaration underscores Christ’s divine nature and his unique relationship with the Father.
  2. Firstborn Over All Creation: The phrase “firstborn over all creation” signifies Christ’s supremacy and sovereignty over the entire created order. While the term “firstborn” can connote chronological priority, its primary emphasis here is on Christ’s preeminence and authority rather than his temporal birth. Christ is presented as the Creator (Colossians 1:16), and as preceding creation (John 1:1–3, 14).
  3. First in Rank: Prōtotokos should be understood as a figurative expression describing Jesus Christ as first in rank, as originating from the dignity and office held by the firstborn in a human family, or the firstborn in a royal family. Thus, the intended meaning is that Christ’s position is unique, authoritative, and absolute.

Christological Implications

  1. Preeminence and Authority: By identifying Jesus as the “firstborn over all creation,” Colossians 1 asserts his supreme rank and authority over every aspect of the cosmos. This designation elevates Christ above all other beings, both celestial and terrestrial, establishing him as the unrivaled Sovereign and Lord.
  2. Creatorship: The phrase “firstborn over all creation” also carries profound implications regarding Christ’s role in creation. It signifies not only his priority in rank but also his active involvement in bringing the universe into existence. Thus, Christ is not merely a part of creation; rather, he is the divine Creator who holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17).
  3. Divine Nature: The title “firstborn over all creation” underscores Christ’s divine nature and ontological status. As the preeminent One, he shares in the divine essence of the Father and possesses all the attributes of deity. This assertion reinforces the biblical teaching of Christ’s full divinity and his equality with God the Father (Philippians 2:6).

Conclusion

In Colossians 1:15, the term “firstborn” carries profound theological significance, highlighting Jesus Christ’s preeminence, authority, and divine nature. While rooted in its cultural and biblical context, the term transcends mere birth order, emphasizing Christ’s supremacy as the Creator and Sovereign over all creation. As the “image of the invisible God” and the “firstborn over all creation,” Jesus Christ stands as the central figure in the cosmic order, deserving of worship, allegiance, and adoration. This verse encapsulates the profound truth of Christ’s eternal majesty and his pivotal role in the redemption and reconciliation of all things to God.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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