Jesus is the firstborn of all creation – Colossians 1:15

Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).  The purpose of this article is to determine what this means.

1. Summary of this article

1.1 Jesus is part of Creation.

That Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” means that He is part of creation. 

Since “by Him all things were created,” it is possible to argue that Jesus is not a created being, but that does not necessarily follow.  Absolute phrases, such as “all things,” are sometimes qualified by their contexts:  Technically, Jesus is included in “all things,” but He did not create Himself. Similarly, in verse 17, Jesus is before “all things,” but Jesus was not before Himself.  In this context, Jesus is excluded from “all things.” Consequently, to say that Jesus created “all things” does not prove that Jesus is not part of “creation.”

It is proposed here that Jesus is part of creation, but not a created being; for He was “born;” not created.  Born and created are sometimes used as synonyms, but John emphasized that Jesus was begotten by the Father, while all other things were created.  He is the “only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:7).  What this means is beyond human understanding, for it is hidden in the infinity of God. 

1.2 Firstborn means Jesus was the first to exist.

Firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 means that Jesus was the first in time to exist.  This conclusion is justified as follows:

Firstborn” literally means the one born first. 

Firstborn” is also occasionally used figuratively in the Old Testament, meaning ‘first in importance’, but the dominant meaning is the one literally born first.

In the New Testament “firstborn” always means literally first in time.

Twice “firstborn” is used literally for people born first (Luke 2:7; Heb. 11:28).

Twice Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), which means that He was the first in time to be resurrected to eternal life.

God brought “the firstborn (Jesus) into the world” (Heb. 1:6; cf. 1:1), which refers to Jesus becoming a human being.  In this verse “firstborn” describes Jesus prior to His incarnation, and therefore implies that He was first in time. 

God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3) to set the creation free “into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v21).  In this way Jesus became “the firstborn among many brethren” (v29). He literally was the first Son of God.

Jesus is the Old Testament Wisdom.

God brought Wisdom forth in the beginning. Wisdom worked with God in establishing all things (Pro. 8:22-31). The closest and most commonly accepted background for Colossians 1:15-16a is this Old Testament Wisdom. This implies that “the firstborn of all creation” refers to Jesus being “brought forth” “in the beginning.” In other words, Jesus is “firstborn” because He was first in time. 

The immediate context defines “firstborn” as first in time.

The phrase “the firstborn of all creation” must be interpreted in the immediate context:

He is … the firstborn of all creation,
for by Him all things were created…
He is before all things.” (1:15-17 NASB).

From this the following conclusions are possible:

Firstly, the word “for” means that Jesus is the firstborn because by Him all things were created. In other words, He is “firstborn” because He is before all things; literally first in time. 

Secondly, verses 15 to 17 form a unit, expressing a single thought.  Then the phrase “He is … the firstborn of all creation” can be understood as equivalent to “He is before all things;” literally first to exist.

Thirdly, “all things” include time itself.  This means that there was no time or object or thing before God “brought forth” His Son, and created “all things” through His Son.

The beginning of the creation

Revelation 3:14 contains a very similar statement:

The firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15);
The beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14);

The similarity implies that the “firstborn” is equivalent to the “beginning,” which again implies that Jesus was the first to exist. 

1.3 All things have been created “in” Jesus.

The second word of Colossians 1:16 is the Greek word “en.”  This means “in Him all things were created.” It is difficult to explain how the universe can be created “in” (within) the Only Begotten Son of God.  But it is equally difficult to understand how “in Him all things hold together” (v17):  These things are beyond human understanding.

What we learn from the fact that “in Him all things were created” is that an unexplainable, but close relationship exists between the Only Begotten Son and the creation.  God “brought forth” (Proverbs 8:24, 25) the Son to bring forth the universe. 

The message of the Colossian false teachers was that Jesus is great, but He is only one of many great ones.  To conclude, as the Jehovah Witness do, that Jesus is “a god,” is consistent with the Colossian heresy.  Jesus is not one of many; He is the Only Begotten Son of God.  God has begotten Him to bring the creation into existence through and in Him.

 – END OF SUMMARY – 

2. Prōtotokos

Prototokos

Firstborn” is translated from the Greek word prōtotokos (protos = first; tokos = born).  Literally, it means the one born first.  For example, Mary “brought forth her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7), namely Jesus.

The firstborn son, in the Jewish tradition, also received certain rights and privileges:

“In Jewish society, the rights and responsibilities of being a firstborn son resulted in considerable prestige and status. The firstborn son, for example, received twice as much in inheritance as any other offspring.” [J.P. Louw and E.A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, Second Edition, 2 Volumes (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), 1:10:43.]

Due to the prestige and status of the firstborn son, the term “firstborn” over time also came to be used figuratively as a designation of preeminence—one that stands out above his peers—for example:

      • Manasseh was born to Joseph first, but Ephraim, his younger brother, was “firstborn” due to his position as given by their father Jacob (Gen. 48:13–20, Jer. 31:9). 
      • Exodus 4:22 similarly speaks of Israel as God’s firstborn. Israel (Jacob) and Ephraim in these verses represent the nation of Israel.  The meaning would be that Israel has an exalted position among the nations.  It is as if the nations were all children and Israel was the firstborn among them: The one most highly esteemed in the eyes of God.
      • David was the youngest son of Jesse, but God promised, “I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:27).  Here “firstborn” is explained by the phrase “the highest of the kings of the earth.”
      • In Job 18:13 we read of a disease that is “the first-born of death.”
      • Isaiah 14:30 refers to “the first-born of the poor,” meaning the poorest of the poor.

3. Part of Creation

firstborn

As already stated, prōtotokos may mean first in time or first in importance, but in both cases, the firstborn is part of the group, for instance:

 

 

      • The firstborn son is literally the first son, but part of the group of children.
      • Jesus is literally “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). He is part of the group that is literally resurrected from death.
      • Jesus is literally “firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29), which means that He is one of the brethren.
      • David is figuratively God’s “firstborn,” but remains one of “the kings of the earth.”

Therefore, since Jesus is “firstborn of all creation,” He is part of creation.

Some argue that “firstborn” must not be understood literally as first in time, but figuratively; as first in importance.  But even then the “firstborn” remains part of creation.

Since “by Him all things were created,” some argue that Jesus is not part of creation, and that Jesus Himself was therefore not created.  Another statement that makes such a distinction between Jesus and all created things is Revelation 5:13, where “every created thing” worship “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb (Jesus).”

But in these verses, “all things” are qualified by the context. Technically, Jesus is part of “all things,” but He did not create Himself. In verse 17 Jesus is before “all things,” but Jesus was not before Himself.  He Himself is therefore excluded from “all things.”  Other examples of this principle are:

      • The phrase “all things,” without qualification, includes God, but obviously, God is here excluded from “all things.”
      • 1 Corinthians 15:27 reads, “All things are put in subjection,” but then continues, “it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him”.
      • The Septuagint version of Genesis 3:20 says that Eve is “the mother of all living.” But Eve was not the mother of Adam and herself.  The context of this statement excludes them from “all living.”

So, when we read that “by Him all things were created” (Col. 1:16), that logically excludes God and Jesus.  In other words, this phrase says nothing about them. It cannot be used to prove that Jesus is not part of creation.

Since verse 15 explicitly states that Jesus is part of creation, some argue that He is a created being; the first being ever created.  That proposal is not accepted here, for He was “born;” not created. This is reflected by the term “born” in “first-born”.  The article Only Begotten argues that His Son was not created, but eternally begotten by the Father.  He is the “only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:7).  “Begotten” must be understood differently from “created.”  He was not born like a human child is born, but God brought forth His Son.  What this means is difficult to imagine, for it is hidden in the infinity of God.  For further discussion, see Only Begotten.

4. Jesus was the first to exist.

The word “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 may be understood, either:

      • Literally, namely that Jesus was the first to exist, or
      • Figuratively, namely that Jesus is the most important.

Most non-literal translations render the phrase “firstborn of all creation” as meaning that He is superior over all creation, for instance:

      • Firstborn over all creation” (NIV);
      • Preeminent over all creation” (New Heart English Bible).

It is proposed here that “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 means that Jesus was the first in time to exist.  This conclusion is justified as follows:

4.1 “Firstborn” in the Old Testament

Firstborn” is occasionally used figuratively in the Old Testament, meaning first in importance, but the dominant use is literally as the one born first.

4.2 “Firstborn” in the New Testament.

According to Biblehub the word prototokos (firstborn – Strong’s #4416) occurs 8 times in the New Testament.  One of those is Colossians 1:15; “the firstborn of all creation.”  This section analyzes the other 7 instances to establish the meaning of “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15. 

Twice Literal

Twice “firstborn” is used literally for people born first:

1 Mary “brought forth her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7) Jesus.
2 Moses “kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them” (Heb. 11:28).  This refers back to the exodus from Egypt.

Firstborn from the dead

Resurrection of the Dead

Parallel to Jesus being the “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15), He is also twice called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5).  He is “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

The implication is that believers will be resurrected because He was resurrected first.  Jesus triumphantly said, “I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18). 

Some people were raised from death before Jesus was, but to our knowledge they all died again.  Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” in the resurrection to eternal life: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body” (1 Cor. 15:42).

Firstborn from the dead” must therefore be understood as first in time.  He is “the firstborn from the dead” because He was the first to be raised to eternal life.  There is also a causal relationship: Just as He was brought forth and all others created through Him, Jesus was resurrected and others are resurrected through Him (1Th. 4:16).  

Hebrews

The word firstborn is also twice used by the unknown writer of Hebrews.  God brought “the firstborn (Jesus) into the world” (Heb. 1:6; cf. 1:1), which refers to Jesus becoming a human being.  “Firstborn” here refers to Jesus’ existence prior to His incarnation, and therefore probably refers to the fact that He is first is time.   The second time “firstborn” is used in Hebrew is:

You have come to Mount Zion and to … the heavenly Jerusalem, and … to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:22-23).

Since the phrase “church of the firstborn” appears in the same letter, and since “firstborn” is never used for Christians in the New Testament, “firstborn” in this phrase is understood to have the same meaning as in 1:6, namely as a reference to Jesus, and therefore of Jesus as first in time.

8:29 Firstborn among many brethren

Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).

Verse 3 of the same chapter refers to God “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.”  This means that He was God’ “own Son” before He became a human being.  He sent His Son so that “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v21).  Verses 14 to 23 refer to Christians as “sons of God” or “children of God” about six times.  The “brethren” in verse 29 therefore consist of:

(A) Jesus, who was God’s “own Son” already before He became a human being, and 
(B) Christians, who became the “sons of God” through Jesus. 

This suggests that Jesus was “firstborn” in the sense of first in time.

Only Begotten Son

We have now discussed all 7 occurrences of “firstborn” in the New Testament—apart from Colossians 1:15—and we have discovered that in every instance it means first in time; not first in importance.  “Firstborn” is occasionally used figuratively in the Old Testament as meaning ‘most important’, but never in the New Testament. It uses this word only in the literal sense of being first in time.

We also notice that “firstborn” is twice used for people, but six times for Jesus.  It is surprising how often this term is applied to Jesus.   “Firstborn,” used for Jesus, may be a synonym for the phrase which John elsewhere uses for Jesus, namely the “only begotten from the Father.”  He is not only born first; He is the only One born of God.

4.3 Proverbs 8

Another way to think about Colossians 1:15 is to find its background in the Old Testament:

“The closest and most commonly accepted background for the description in Colossians 1:15-16a is the OT picture of personified female Wisdom, the image of God’s goodness (Wisdom 7:26) who worked with God in establishing all other things (Pro. 3:19), that Wisdom was created by God in the beginning (Pro. 8:22; Sirach 24:9).” [Raymond E. Brown, “An Introduction to the New Testament,” The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 803-804. 27 Burney, 173. 28 Ibid., 173-174.]

Proverbs 8 speaks about Wisdom that was “brought forth” (vv. 24-25) “from everlasting … from the beginning” (v22).  The Greek translation of the Old Testament, that was used by the apostles, and from which they most often quoted (the LXX or Septuagint), translates “brought forth” in these verses as “born.” 

If Paul thought of Jesus as the Wisdom of Proverbs 8, and if “the firstborn of all creation” is Paul’s interpretation of Proverbs 8, then Paul, when he referred to Jesus as “firstborn,” spoke of Jesus’ preexistence (His existence before He became a human being).  This supports the conclusion above that “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 identifies Jesus as first in time.

4.4 The Immediate Context

The phrase “the firstborn of all creation” must be understood in the immediate context, summarized as follows:

He is … the firstborn of all creation,
for by Him all things were created…
He is before all things.” (1:15-17 NASB)

Firstly, “by Him all things were created” refers to the creation event; the beginning of time. The first word in verse 16 is “because” or “for.”  This word means that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” because “by Him all things were created,” including time.  In other words, He is “firstborn” because He is before all things; literally first in time.

Secondly, verses 15 to 17 form a unit, expressing a single thought.  Then the phrase “He is … the firstborn of all creation” can be understood as equivalent to “He is before all things;” literally first to exist.

Thirdly, since “all things” include time itself, there was no time or object or thing before God “brought forth” His Son, and created “all things” through His Son.

4.5 The beginning of the creation of God (Rev. 3:14)

Revelation 3:14 contains a very similar statement:

The firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15);
The beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14);

The similarity implies that the “firstborn” is equivalent to the “beginning,” which again implies that Jesus was the first to exist.  There are, however, some dispute about the translation of the word arché as “the beginning.

One view interprets arché as that Jesus is the “Origin or Source” of creation (e.g. the Berean Study Bible.  However, the phrase “the beginning of creation of God” makes a distinction between God and Jesus. (It means that the creation belongs to God and Jesus is the Beginning of the creation.) God is therefore the Originator and Source of the creation; not Jesus.  This is also clear from the definition of God as the One “out of whom are all things” (1Cor. 8:6, literal).  

Another view, provided by the NIV, finds Jesus to be “the ruler of God’s creation.”  But, just taking the first 8 translations of this verse on Biblehub, it shows that the NIV translation is fairly unique:

New International Version – the ruler of God’s creation;
New Living Translation – the beginning of God’s new creation;
English Standard Version – the beginning of God’s creation;
Berean Study Bible – the Originator of God’s creation;
Berean Literal Bible – the Beginning of God’s creation;
New American Standard Bible – the Beginning of the creation of God;
King James Bible – beginning of the creation of God;
Christian Standard Bible – the originator of God’s creation:

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives 5 meanings of arché:

(1) the beginning of all things or of something specific,
(2) the first in a series of persons or things,
(3) the active cause of something,
(4) the extremity of a thing, or
(5) that which holds the first place, such as a ruler

For the following reasons, it is proposed here that arché in Revelation 3:14 is correctly translated as “the beginning,” namely as a reference to time, meaning that Jesus was the first in time:

      • Out of the 56 occurrences in the New Testament, the NASB translates arché 38 times (68%) as “beginning” and 7 times (13%) as rulers or rule or principalities, as originator of an action.  The dominant meaning of arché is “the beginning.”
      • The New Testament never uses arché for the singular ruler.  Another word (archon) is used for “ruler.” For instance, Jesus is the “ruler (archon) of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5).
      • The expression “the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14) is probably an allusion to Proverb s 8:22: “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way.”  If this is true, then arché in the phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14) means first in time; not ruler or origin or source.

4.6 Summary

In this section the following reasons were provided to support the conclusion that “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 means that Jesus was the first to exist:

4.1 In the Old Testament the dominant meaning of “firstborn” is literally as the one born first.
4.2 In the New Testament “firstborn” always means first in time.
4.3 Jesus is Wisdom, whom God “brought forth” “in the beginning,” and
who worked with God to create all things.
4.4 The immediate context identifies the “Firstborn of all creation” as “before all things” because “by Him all things were created.”
4.5The firstborn of all creation” is very similar to “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14), which implies that “firstborn” is equivalent to “beginning.”

In conclusion, the Son is “firstbornin terms of time. The meaning of ‘preeminent over’ cannot be found in the phrase “the firstborn from the dead.”

All things have been created “in” Jesus.

The second word of Colossians 1:16 is the Greek word “en.”  The NASB translates en here as “by”, but perhaps this is not the best translation:

█ The primary meaning of en is “in.”
█ “En” appears twice more in verses 16 and 17 (“in the heavens” and “in Him”), and in both instances the NASB translates it as “in.” 

So “in Him all things were created” could have been an alternative translation.  This is how the NIV, ESV and many other translations read.

By him” can be misunderstood as meaning that Jesus is the source of creation.  Rather, Jesus is the means by which God creates, as indicated later in that same verse: “All things have been created through Him.” See God created all things through His Son.

It is difficult to explain how the universe can be created “in” (within) the Only Begotten Son of God: 

█ Some propose that the Only Begotten Son is the pattern after which the universe has been created.
█ Others propose that the creation came forth from Him.  In other words, God begat (symbolically) the Only Begotten Son, and the universe came forth from within the Son.

But it is equally difficult to understand how “in Him all things hold together” (v17):  These things humans are not able to understand, for God is beyond understanding.  We cannot explain why God exists.  We cannot explain how the universe can be infinite.  Nor are we able to understand how He created.  Therefore, let us be content to interpret the Bible literally on this point, and confess our ignorance.

What we learn from the phrase “in Him all things were created” is that an unexplainable, but close relationship exists between the Only Begotten Son and the creation.  God “brought forth” (Proverbs 8:24, 25) the Son to bring forth the universe.   

The phrase analyzed by this article is found in the letter to the Colossians. The apostle Paul penned this letter to refute what is generically known as the Colossian heresy.  In general, the false teachers in Colossae argued that Jesus is great, but He is only one of many great ones.  This is perhaps similar to the Jehovah Witness understanding of Jesus as “a god.”  To conclude, as the Jehovah Witness do, that Jesus is “a god,” is to be consistent with the Colossian heresy.  As argued above, Jesus is not one of many; He is the Only Begotten Son of God.  God has begotten Him to bring the creation into existence through Him.  He is that which exists.  All else came forth from Him.

Articles in the Christology series: Is Jesus God?

For an overview of the articles, the reader may next read the summary, which is the 13th article, also called Jesus is not God, but He is God.

  1.    The three views of the Son 
  2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God. 
  3.    Jesus in Colossians
  4.    Jesus in Philippians: Did He empty Himself of equality with God? 
  5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
  6.    Jesus is not God.  
  7.    God is the Head of Christ
  8.    Jesus is called God. 
  9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God. 
 10.  God created all things through His Son. 
 11.  Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?  
       Worship verses in the New Testament   
 12.  Jesus has equality with God. 
 13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles 
 14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?

 

Who is Jesus? Jesus is not God, but He is God.

There are at least two sides to this argument.  On the one hand, this article shows that:

Jesus always existed.
God created all things through Jesus.
Jesus, as the Only Begotten Son, is God’s true family.
Jesus is equal with God.
We must worship Jesus.
The Bible refers to Jesus as “God.”

On the other hand, the New Testament consistently distinguishes between God and Jesus.  The Bible also indicates that Jesus is subordinate to God.  In other words, the New Testament reserves the title “God” for the Father.  This article seeks a solution that will satisfy these seemingly contradictory statements.

The current article is a summary of the articles on this website about the nature of Christ.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

THE THREE VIEWS

Some propose that Jesus is a created being; the first created being, who created all other things, yet still a created being.  Others propose that He always existed; co-equal with the Father.  A third view is that He was neither created nor always co-equal with the Father, but that He was eternally generated by God the Father; that He came forth from the being of God; begotten, not made.  This is what the Fathers of the Christian church proposed in the Nicene Creed.  The purpose of this article is to evaluate these alternative views.  For further discussion, see The three views of the Son.

This subject requires humility, for humans are not able to understand God.  We need to accept this inability with joy, for then we will also appreciate a little of His greatness.

GOD CREATED ALL THINGS; THROUGH JESUS.

God created all things: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1; cf. Isaiah 44:24; cf. 42:5; 45:18; Mt 19:4-6).  But God created all things through Jesus:

God spoke to Jesus, in His pre-human existence, saying “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

In the beginning was the Word … All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3; cf. Col. 1:16-17 and Heb. 1:2).  “The Word” is Jesus (see John 1:14).

Paul concluded as follows of the different roles of God and Jesus in creation: “There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6).

God is the Source of all creative power and wisdom, but He creates all things through “His Son.”  He also sustains all things through His Son (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).  For further discussion, see God created all things through His Son.

JESUS IS NOT A CREATED BEING.

Jesus is “the first-born of all creation” (Col. 1:15-16).  Revelation 3:14 similarly describes Him as “the Beginning of the creation of God.”  For some this is evidence that Jesus is a created being; God’s first creation.

FIRST IN IMPORTANCE

The phrase “first-born,” in the Jewish system, came to mean “the most important.”  David, for example, the youngest son of Jesse, was named “firstborn” (Psalm 89:20–27).  This interpretation is supported by Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5, where Jesus is also the “firstborn from the dead.”  He was not the first person to be raised from death, but He was the most important person ever to be resurrected from death.  It is therefore often proposed that Jesus is “the first-born of all creation” because He is the most important being in the universe.

FIRST IN TIME

Colossians reads, “He is … the firstborn of all creation, for by Him all things were created” (Col. 1:15-16).  The word “for” implies that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” because by Him God created all things.  Verse 17 concludes that “He is before all things.”  It is therefore proposed here that, in Colossians 1, “firstborn” is a reference to time; not to importance.  In other words, “firstborn of all creation” has the same meaning as “He is before all things.”  What the writer meant, is that Jesus was the first to exist.

But this does not mean that He is a created being:

Firstly, since God created “all things” through Him (Col. 1:16-17).

Secondly, He is not the first created, but is the “firstborn.”  Since He was “begotten,” He was not created.  “Born” here is symbolic language.  What it means for Jesus to have been born of God we should not speculate.  But certainly, it should not be literally interpreted.  As stated above, the Fathers of the Christian church proposed that He was eternally generated by God the Father; that He came forth from the being of God; begotten, not made.

Thirdly, “every created thing” give glory “to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 5:13).

See the article Jesus in Colossians for a further discussion.

Conclusion: God created all things through Jesus, but Jesus Himself was not created.

JESUS ALWAYS EXISTED. 

He was before John the Baptist, “before Abraham,” “before the world was” and “before all things.”  He is “from the days of eternity;” from “the beginning.”  (John 1:1, 29; 8:58; 17:5; Col. 1:17; Micah 5:2)   Since God created all things through Jesus, and because time is integral to this universe, Jesus even created time itself.  In other words, there never was a time when the Son did not exist.  For further discussion, see Jesus always existed.

JESUS APPEARS IN THE FORM OF GOD.

Before He became a human being, Jesus existed in “the form of God” (Phil 2:5-6).  The article – Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament? – argues that all visible, bodily appearances of God, recorded in the Old Testament, were appearances of Jesus.  This would, for instance, include the appearance of YHVH in human form to Abraham (Gen. 18:1).  It might also include Isaiah’s vision: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple” (Is 6:1).  For further discussion, see Jesus in Philippians.

JESUS IS THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.

That article proposes that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.  Consistent with this proposal, Jesus claimed God’s Old Testament Names for Himself:

God identified Himself as, “I AM has sent me to you … This is My Name for ever” (Ex. 3:15-18).  Jesus claimed this name.  He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:24, 58).  When the soldiers came to capture Him, Jesus said to them, “I am,” and the soldiers “drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6 – “He” was added by the translators.)

The seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:10).  But Jesus claimed to be “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).

The apostles also claimed for Jesus names that are used in the Old Testament for God:

The LORD” (YHVH) said “there is no savior besides Me” (Isaiah 43:11).  But Jesus is the “source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9), being “able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25).

Both “the LORD” (YHVH) and Jesus are “the first and … the last,” “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Isaiah 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:8, 17-18; 21:6 22:13).

Both the One “whom no man has seen or can see” and Jesus are called “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:14-16; Rev. 17:14 & 19:16).

Conclusion: Jesus appeared as God to the Old Testament people.

JESUS HAS EQUALITY WITH GOD.

Jesus had “equality with God” before He became human (Phil. 2:5-6).  If He had equality with God prior to His birth, He today again has equality with God.  We see other profound statements of equality in the New Testament:

Every knee will bow to Both: God said, “to Me every knee will bow” (Isaiah 45:23), but Paul wrote that to “Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil. 2: 10-11).

They receive equal honor: “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).

Only the Father knows the Son: “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son” (Mt. 11:27).

The Father shows the Son all things: “The Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing” (John 5:19-20).

ALWAYS TOGETHER

The equality of Jesus to God is also seen in the fact that God and Jesus are always together:

Together in the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word … was with God” (John 1:1).

Together in believers: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him (John 14:23).

Created together: God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26; John 1:3).

Own all things together:All things that the Father has are Mine” (John 16:15; cf. 17:10).

Glorified together: Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).

Work together: Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17).

Judge together: “My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me” (John.8:16).

Protect believers together: “My sheep hear My voice … and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

GOD’S ATTRIBUTES

The equality of Jesus to God is lastly evidenced by the fact that Jesus has God’s attributes:

Wisdom and knowledge: Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  In Jesus Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).

Omnipresence: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20; cf. Acts 18:9-10)

Deity: “All the fullness of Deity dwells in Christ in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).

Conclusion: Jesus is equal to God.  Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  For a further discussion, see Jesus in Philippians and I and the Father are One.

JESUS BECAME A HUMAN BEING.

God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son.  Jesus came forth from the Father.  He “descended from heaven,” “from God;” “from the Father.” (John 3:13; 6:33-38, 62; 8:23;16:28).  He “emptied Himself” of the “form of God” and of “equality with God.”  He took on “the form of a bond-servant … being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).  He descended from heaven and became a mere human baby, without any knowledge or wisdom.

JESUS IS DISTINCT FROM GOD.

So far it has been argued that:

      • God created all things through Jesus,
      • Jesus Himself was not created,
      • There never was a time when Jesus did not exist,
      • Jesus appears in the form of God, and that
      • Jesus has equality with God.

But the New Testament also consistently and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus.  For instance:

Paul introduced His letters with statements such as, “Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:3; Eph. 1:2).

In both the Old and New Testament we find statements that there is but one God, for instance, “there is no God besides Me” (Is 44:6).  But then we read categorical statements that Jesus is distinct from that one true God, for instance, “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

The book of Revelation several times distinguishes between Christ and God.  For example, “these have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4).

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

God is invisible, for instance, “no one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12).  But Jesus is visible, and therefore distinct from God.

Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

In Gethsemane Jesus “fell on His face and prayed, saying, ’My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Mt. 26:39).  This indicates that the Father and the Son have separate and distinct wills.

As stated above, Jesus has “equality with God” and was in “the form of God” before He became a human being.  This also means that He is distinct from God.

Conclusion: These are only a few of the many statements in the New Testament that make a distinction between God and Jesus.  For a further discussion, see Jesus is distinct from God.

JESUS IS SUBORDINATE TO GOD.

As stated, In the view of many, Jesus always was co-equal with the Father.  But the mere fact that He is the Son already implies that He is subordinate to the Father.  Other such indications of this include the following:

      • Jesus said, “the Father is greater than I.
      • Jesus refers to God as “My God,” for instance “I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God” (John 20:17).  And He prayed to God, for instance, “He offered up both prayers … to the One able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7; cf. Mt. 26:39).
      • God sent the Son into the world (e.g. John 3:16).
      • Jesus did not know all things (Mt. 24:36).
      • Everything which His Son has, He received from His Father.  The Holy Spirit, the ability to raise the dead, the authority to judge, “what to say and what to speak,” His works and disciples, “all authority in heaven and on earth” and even the fullness of Deity He received from the Father. (Mt. 28:18; Luke 10:22; John 1:32-34; 5:22, 36, 26-29; John 6:44;12:49; 17:1-2; Col. 1:19; 2:9).

That Jesus is subordinate to God emphasizes the fact that Jesus is distinct from God.  In other words, the New Testament reserves the title “God” for the Father exclusively.

JESUS IS ALWAYS SUBORDINATE TO GOD.

Defenders of Christ’s deity often argue that He was subordinate to God only when He became a human being; when He emptied Himself of the form of God and of equality with God.  However, the following indicates that He was subordinate to God before He became a human being:

God sent His only begotten Son into this world (John 3:18) and gave Him what to say and what to do (John 12:49).

The following indicates that Jesus is also still subordinate to God after His ascension

He is seated today “at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  Jesus “was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).  This is the position of power over the entire universe, subject only to God, but confirms that Jesus is still both distinct from God and subordinate to God.

According to the Bible, there is only one God; “Hear, O Israel, God is One.”  Paul, writing after Jesus’ ascension, defined Jesus as distinct from the “one God”:

There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6).

Paul categorically stated that “God is the head of Christ.

The general understanding in the Church, that Jesus is co-equal to the Father, therefore cannot be correct.  For a further discussion, see Jesus is subordinate to God.

“GOD” REFERS TO THE FATHER ONLY.

Since the New Testament makes a distinction between God and Jesus, we conclude that “God” is used for the Father exclusively.

The angel Gabriel said to Mary:

You will conceive … and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He … will be called the Son of the Most High … The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:30-35)

Gabriel, therefore, referred to Jesus both as “the Son of God” and “the Son of the Most High.”  Gabriel, therefore, identified the “Most High” as “God.”  When the Bible makes statements such as that God is invisible (Col. 1:15), or that Jesus sits at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19), or “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5) then the Bible uses the title “God” exclusively for the Most High.

Since Jesus is “the Son of the Most High,” Jesus often referred to the Most High as “Father.”  The “Father” is therefore called “God.”  This is confirmed by the following:

Jesus said: “I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God” (John 20:17).

Jesus said that He has come “from God” (John 8:42), but at another time He said that He has come “from the Father” (John 16:28).

Paul similarly wrote, “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17).  Or, “there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 8:6; cf. 1 Cor. 15:24).

WORSHIP JESUS

Only God may be worshiped.  For instance, Jesus quoted the Ten Commandments, “you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Luke 4:8).  And when John worshiped the angel, the angel prevented him from doing so, instructing him to “worship God” (Rev. 19:10).  Defenders of Christ’s deity then point out that Jesus is worshiped in the New Testament.

In the King James translation of the New Testament, there are 13 verses in which Jesus is worshiped.  The Greek word translated “worship” in the New Testament is proskuneó.  But “worship” is not always a good translation for proskuneó: “Worship” implies that God or a god is worshiped, while proskuneó often simply means to show respect to another created being:

This can be seen in how proskuneó is used in the New Testament.  For instance, “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him” (Mt. 20:20; KJV).

This is also confirmed by the dictionary definitions of the Greek word proskuneó, for instance, “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior.”

Therefore, the fact that people and angels proskuneó Jesus does not prove that He is God.  But there is real proof in the New Testament that Jesus is worshiped.  A good example is Revelation 5.  Another example is, “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).  Jesus must be worshiped.  Jesus has equality with God in our esteem and affections.

WHY DO WE WORSHIP JESUS?

But Jesus is not worshiped because He is God, but because:

(1) It was God who gave Jesus “the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW” (Phil. 2:9-11).
It was God who instructed the angels to worship Jesus (Heb. 1:6).

(2) To worship Jesus is to worship God: “at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW … to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  See Jesus in Philippians for an explanation of this text.

Jesus is therefore not worshiped independently of or co-equal to God.  When we worship Jesus, we worship to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Our worship flows through Jesus to God.

This is an important principle, namely that God always works with the creation through Jesus.  God creates through Jesus, God redeems through Jesus, and God is worshiped through Jesus.  For a further discussion, see Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?

ONLY BEGOTTEN SON

Another argument used by defenders of Christ’s deity is that Jesus is God’s Only Begotten Son (John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), and just like the son of a human father is also a human, the Son of God must also be God.

It is true that Jesus, as God’s Only Begotten Son, is God’s true family.  “Only begotten” translates the Greek word monogenēs.  Monogenēs combines two words, namely monos (alone) and génos (family, offspring).  “Only begotten” is symbolic language, but it means that He is God’s true family.  Believers are adopted as sons of God, but Jesus is God’s real family.

However, “Only Begotten Son” is symbolic language.  It reflects in human language something which is beyond human comprehension.  It must not be understood literally, as if Jesus is of the same substance as God.  We cannot use this symbolic phrase to counter the clear and consistent evidence of the New Testament that Jesus is distinct from God.  For a further discussion, see Only Begotten Son of God.

JESUS IS CALLED GOD.

This is a summary of the article Jesus is called God.

The Question

It was shown above that Jesus has always existed, that God created all things through Jesus, that Jesus has equality with God, that Jesus is God’s only true family and that we must worship Jesus to the glory of God.  But it was also found that “God” is a name for the Father exclusively.  Then Jesus is not God.  But in the New Testament Jesus is called God.  Does that mean that Jesus is God?

Old Testament

In the Hebrew Old Testament, the God of Israel has a unique name that is not used for any other being.  That name is YHVH, pronounced as Jehovah or Yahweh.  “God” (elohim), in contrast, is used both for the true God and for false gods.  Therefore, the Old Testament uses various techniques to be specific when the true God is intended.  Often the title “God” is combined with YHVH, for instance, “the LORD God” or “the LORD his God.” In other instances, YHVH is used in the immediate context.  In other words, the term “God” is not a unique identifier or a name for the God of the Bible.

New Testament

The Hebrew name YHVH is found all over the Old Testament but does not appear at all in the New Testament.  Instead, the NT uses the term “God” (theos) as a name for the One True God, with no further identification.  However, theos is a common noun that is also applied to false gods and to some created beings.  The term “God” is therefore used in two ways.  In most instances, it is a name for the true God.  But occasionally it is used as a common noun for false gods and even people.

Jesus is called God

The New Testament uses theos (God) more than 1000 times.  In seven instances theos refers explicitly to Jesus.   This does not prove that Jesus is the same as or equal to the Only True and invisible God, because in the vast majority of instances the NT makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  Stated differently, the New Testament reserves “God” as a name for the Father exclusively.  Furthermore, “god” is also used for false gods and for exalted created beings.

John 1:1

This principle may be illustrated by means of John 1:1:

This verse starts by saying, “the Word was with God.”  “God” in this phrase is used as a name for the Father, similar to the name YHVH, to uniquely identify the Father.  This implies that Jesus is distinct from God and therefore not God.

The verse continues to say “and the Word was God.”  Here John uses to the common meaning of the word “god” to describe Jesus as our God.  Other people have other gods, but Jesus is our God.

This does not mean that Jesus is God, for the title “God” is reserved for the Father, “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16).

Jesus is our God because He was in the beginning with God and God created all things through Him.  Everything may perish, but Jesus will always remain the same.  He is “over all” and He is our “Savior” who “gave Himself for us to redeem us.”

Bad Question – Since the word theos is used in two ways the question, whether Jesus is God, is a bad question.  The New Testament uses “God” as a name for the uncaused Cause of all things, who cannot be seen.  Then Jesus is not God.  But theos is also used for the one that a person worships and obeys.  Then Jesus is the Christian God.   “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.”