AN INTERPRETATION OF CHRIST
Dr. J. E. Rosscup
I. The Problem
Interpreters differ greatly. As in II. below, some in church history have
viewed Christ as first to be created, thus a created being, one having high privilege
before God but not God. Most take the phrase to mean that Christ is “firstborn” in
the sense of prior in time before creation, distinct from it, and also “firstborn” in the
sense of having supreme dignity or rank over all creation. What, then, is the
II. Two Views
A. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold the first view above. Christ is a high, first angel
God (Jehovah) created, then later Christ who is not God created all other things.
Jesus is the eldest among Jehovah’s family of sons. The advocates are as follows:New World Translation which Jehovah’s Witnesses accept; Aid to Bible
Understanding, Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society,1971, p. 918; Reasoning From the Scriptures, (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989, p. 408); Steven T. Byington, The Bible InLiving English, (Brooklyn, 1972), on 1:15 and 2:9, etc.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view is along the lines of Arius’ error in the fourth century. Arius was a preacher in Alexandria, Egypt. He said that Jesus Christ was
a created product of God, higher than other created beings. This was a grave error, not smoothed by Arius’ belief that such a view would relieve Christianity of the accusation of being polytheistic (three persons as God). The church rejected
the view of Arius in A. D. 325.
B. Normal Interpretation, second view in I. above (Edmond Gruss, Apostles
of Denial, 120-21, and on deity of Christ 105-35; Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from
the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 129-31; J. B. Lightfoot, Saint
Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, on 1:15-17; also cf. Peter T.
O’Brien on Colossians, and F. F. Bruce on Colossians, as well as a host of
interpreters on the passage and similar ones such as 1:19 and 2:9; Walter
Martin, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Minneapolis, Bethany House, 1957, 38.)
III. Interpretive Supports for View B (Christ is God)
A. Near Context
1. “Image” (eikon) in v. 15 (cf. also Heb. 1:3) refers to the exact
representation, or impress of an image, as on a coin or in a mirror (cf. Curtis
Vaughan, Colossians and Philemon (Bible Study Guide), 38. J. B. Phillips in his NT
translation says that Jesus is the “visible expression.” Similarly in Hebrews 1:3,
Jesus as the “image” [same word as Col. 1:15) is the “exact representation” of
God. As in John 1:18, Jesus has made God known (lit., “exegeted” Him); the word
for exegesis, leading Scripture forth, declaring what is really in the text, is the idea
of this Greek word).
2. All things are claimed to be created by Him. It says this, not “all other
things” (as if He Himself were created earlier, distinctly). He is carefully kept
separate, and not a part of the totality of created things. The point made is that He
is Creator, not created. In Hebrews 1:6, as well, Christ is kept distinct from
all creation. In 3:3, Christ of v. 2 was faithful to Him (God) who appointed
Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. “For this one” (v. 3), Christ, “has
been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the
house has more honor than the house. For [v. 4] every house is built by someone,
but He who built all things is God.” Christ is evidently God who built the house.
Then in v. 6 Christ is “a Son over His own house,” the house referring to believers
in the household of faith as the verse goes on to clarify.
3. He is said to be “before” all creation. No creation is contemplated in
which He, Himself, would be one created.
4. He is never said here (or anywhere in Scripture) to have been created.
5. The passage says, “In Him all things consist” (v. 17). In the sufficiency
and ability and wisdom (all the capacity) that is in Him, and by Him as Creator, all
things have their being and establishment. His supremacy over them is in view.
6. “He is the head of the body,” the church (v. 18). Again the focus is on
His supremacy, rank, dignity over this group. For the passage goes on, “that in all
things He might have the preeminence.”
7. He is “the firstborn (prototokos, as in v. 15) from the dead (v. 18). This
concentrates on Christ’s being first in sequence as the One who came forth to
immortality, i.e. never to die again, unto life that is a final and unchangeable state.
It also focuses on His being supreme over all who come forth from the dead. Some
others died before Jesus Christ did, and rose from their death, as the boy God used
Elijah to bring back from death (I Kin. 19), Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, and the
son of the widow at Nain. These, however, did not rise to immortality; they died
later to end their earthly careers. Jesus was the “firstfruits” of resurrection (I Cor.
15:23 ) unto immortality, and after Him all who are His people who have died will
become an entire harvest of resurrected ones.
8. “That in all things He might have the preeminence” (v. 18) emphasizes
the supremacy, dignity or rank above all, not His being first in sequence.
9. Christ is “the beginning” (1:18) as in Rev. 1:5 and 3:14. The idea of the
Greek word arche is the moving cause, the one responsible for things beginning,
headship, as forms of the word refer to princes, dignitaries.
B. Wider Context in Colossians
1. 1:19. After the many phrases about Christ’s preeminence, or
supremacy in vv. 15-18, v. 19 says, “For