Jesus: the Firstborn? (Colossians 1:15)

Colossians 1:15 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Since Colossians 1:15 was a part of my daily reading for today, I thought I’d put out a brief answer to a question I once had raised to me. A Jehovah’s Witness at my door once tried to tell me that this verse indicated that Jesus is not the eternal God, but rather a creation of that God. Were Jesus eternal, the JW argued, he would not be called God’s firstborn.

In case you’ve ever had this argument raised, let me offer you one simple response. In the Bible, the term firstborn can indicate two things. On the one hand, it can indicate the first child that was physically born into a family. If this is the sense of Colossians 1:15, the JW is right and we are in real trouble. However, there is another sense that the term firstborn is used. Also in the Bible, the term is used to indicate rank. The firstborn in a family was given the highest rank among all the siblings. If this is the sense that it is used, than Jesus, though fully man, is not required to be a creation of God. Instead, Jesus is simply said to outrank all humanity, even though he shares in their humanity as fully God and Fully man.

Psalm 89:27

And I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.

This verse helps us to see that God, in making promises about David and David’s descendant, the Messiah, will “make him” the firstborn. This is to say that God will take a person and give them a rank of firstborn even though they may not physically fulfill the requirements to be thought of as firstborn. So, we know that God already uses such terminology before the time of Jesus. And, it is highly likely that Paul is using this terminology to refer to Jesus in Colossians 1:15.

So, does Colossians 1:15 indicate that Jesus is a creation of God? Absolutely not. Instead, this verse only indicates that Jesus stands in the position of highest ranking person. And since we know Jesus to be the God who became flesh (John 1:1, 14), it makes perfect sense that he would be thought of as firstborn even though he is eternal, uncreated, totally God.