(Col. 1:15, 18) Was Christ a “firstborn” in the sense of being a created being?

CLAIM: Paul writes that Christ was the “firstborn of all creation.” In the fourth century, Arius used this text to argue that Jesus was a created being. Still today, cultists argue that this means Christ was a created being—a demigod, angel, or some other created being. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Paul explicitly tells us that Christ was fully God in the same letter (Col. 2:9). In context, he even calls Christ the Creator of “all things” (Col. 1:16), which harkens back to Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”). Isaiah 44:24 explicitly states that Yahweh did not delegate anyone else to create the universe (“I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone”). Since God created the universe “all alone,” this implies that Jesus is equal with God himself.

The term “firstborn” (prōtotokos) is a term that occurs 130 times in the Old Testament (LXX) and it “normally with the primary meaning of primogeniture.”[1] That is, it doesn’t mean “first created,” but rather, it “conveys the idea of priority in both time and rank.”[2] For instance, David was the last to be born among his brothers; however, he was called the “first born” in Psalm 89:27, because he was the most important. Exodus 4:22 speaks of Israel as the “firstborn.” Of course, this does not in any way imply that God gave birth to Israel or that Israel was the first nation on Earth. Instead, it implies that Israel was the most important to God. In fact, this is the sense in which Paul uses this expression. In context, Paul writes, “He Himself will come to have first place” (Col. 1:18).

In later rabbinical writings, we see the same concept used of God himself. Bruce writes, “A rabbinical parallel is the designation qaḏmônô šel ʿôlām (‘first of the world’) used of God by the mid-second-century Rabbi Eleazar ben Rabbi Simeon (Genesis

[1] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 216.

[2] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 75.