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

Posted on

“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Colossians 1:15).

Firstborn is “prōtotokos” in Greek. In Matt. 1:25 and Luke 2:7, prōtotokos is used of Christ as the firstborn of Mary. In Heb. 11:28 the word is used of the firstborn of Egypt who perished in the plagues. In Heb. 12:23 the word describes the members of the “church of the firstborn.” In the remaining references (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5) the word firstborn prōtotokos is applied to Christ.

There has been much dialogue as to the meaning of prōtotokos in Col. 1:15. The early Church Fathers applied the expression 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 wholly in harmony with the general teaching of Scripture. For this complies with sound principles of scriptural exegesis.

In Heb. 1:6 prōtotokos clearly refers to the incarnation, and some have tried to make the same application in Col. 1:15. Others believe that, in Colossians, Paul is referring to the resurrection (Acts 13:33). However, neither interpretation fits the context, for Christ is here presented as the Creator (Col. 1:16), and as preceding creation (John 1:1–3, 14).

So, the best explanation, therefore, is to regard prōtotokos as a figurative expression describing Jesus Christ as first in rank, the figure being drawn from the dignity and office held by the firstborn in a human family, or the firstborn in a royal family. Christ’s position is unique, authoritative, and absolute.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team


A closing message from BibleAsk:

Thank you for visiting BibleAsk – an online ministry dedicated to providing Bible based answers to your questions. If you enjoyed and agree with this answer, please like and share! If you don’t agree, please leave a comment below, and we’ll be sure to respond! If you have another question you would like to ask, please click here and someone from our team will personally answer it (don’t worry, your email address will never be shared). Check out our Bible Answers page to see just Bible verses answering thousands of questions. If you feel impressed to support this ministry, kindly visit our donate page to send a tax-deductible love gift to BibleAsk. Any donation size helps .