This article discusses the view of Jesus in the letter to the Colossians; is Jesus God? Is He equal to the Father? Or is He a created being?
Colossians is particularly relevant for this purpose because it has perhaps the highest view of Christ of all New Testament letters. Colossians 1:15-19, in particular, is Paul’s fullest explanation of the Person of Christ. This is the second article on Jesus in Colossians. The main conclusions in the first article were that in Colossians:
Jesus Christ is never called God. On the contrary, Christ Jesus is distinct from God (e.g. Col 1:1, 15; 2:12; 3:1).
“Father” is another title for God (e.g. Col 1:1-3, 17) and the title “the Lord” refers only to Jesus (e.g. Col 1:6, 17); never to God.
God the Father is our Savior (e.g., Col 1:12-13; 2:13-14).
God also reconciled the things in heaven to Himself through Christ (e.g., Col 1:19-20; 2:15; cf. Heb 2:14).
Christ has a passive role.
God is the active Force in creation (Col 1:16) and everything else. Colossians does not mention anything which Jesus did.
However, God does everything through His Son (Col 1:14, 16, 20). Therefore, we also thank and praise God “through” His Son (Col 3:17; cf. Phil 2:10-11; John 5:23).
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.
God created all things “through” Him.
To say that all things were created “by Him” sounds as if Christ played an active role in creation. However, the Greek word is “en” and generally means “in.” Of the 2801 times that the word “en” appears in the New Testament, it is translated as “in” 1902 times (Strong’s Greek: 1722 ἐν (en)). To translate “en” as “in” would be consistent with the word “through” later in the same verse in the phrase, “all things have been created through Him.” To say that all things were created “in” or “through” Christ assigns a passive role to the Son: It is God who createdf.
In Him, all things hold together.
Colossians 1:17 reads:
“In Him all things hold together” (NASB).
“In union with him all things have their proper place” (Good News)
“He holds all creation together” (New Living).
This is a most profound concept. Hebrews 1:3 similarly says, “He … upholds all things by the word of His power.” Since God created all things “through” Jesus, it is proposed that God upholds all creation “through” Him. As stated in the previous article, in Colossians, the Father is the active Force in creation and salvation, while Jesus is described as having a passive role.
Jesus rules over the entire universe.
He is “seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). As discussed in the previous article, this statement means that He is distinct from God and subordinate to God. But it also means that He occupies the highest position in all the universe; second only to God. Other statements indicating His extremely high position are:
“God created the whole universe … for him.”
(Col 1:16 – Good News Translation).
“He … will … have first place in everything” (Col 1:18).
“He is the head over all rule and authority” (Col 2:10)
He always existed.
“He is before all things” (Col 1:17).
“He himself existed before anything else did”
(Same verse – International Standard Version)
Therefore, there never was a time that He did not exist. Since all things were created “through” Him (Col 1:16), God even created time through His Son.
He is the image of the invisible God.
Colossians 1:15 reads as follows:
“He is the image of the invisible God” (NASB).
“Christ is exactly like God, who cannot be seen”
(Contemporary English Version).
“Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God”
(Good News Translation).
This statement confirms the distinction between God and Christ: While God is invisible, Jesus can be seen. Nevertheless, in Him, we can see what God is like. When Philip asked, “Lord, show us the Father,” He answered:
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The Fullness of Deity dwells in Him.
There are two verses in Colossians that refer to “the fullness” that dwells in His Son:
“It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (Col 1:19).
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity
dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9).
Both verses refer to “the fullness” but, while Colossians 1:19 refers to “all the fullness,” in Colossians 2:9, it is “the fullness of Deity.” Nevertheless, it is assumed that these verses refer to the same “fullness.”
“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (NIV).
“In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (NASB).
“In Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body”
(New Living Translation; Col 2:9).
“God lives fully in Christ”
(Contemporary English Version; Col 2:9).
Many people want this verse to say that Christ is God. However:
(1) Jesus is distinct from God.
Since Colossians consistently teaches that Jesus is distinct from and subordinate to God, it would be wrong to interpret this verse in this way.
(2) God is the uncaused Cause.
While the Trinity doctrine teaches that the Son is co-equal to the Father, from Colossians 1:19 we learn that the Father caused “all the fullness to dwell in Him.” In other words, Christ received “all the fullness,” which means that He is not God, for God is the uncaused Cause of all things. For example, the Good News Translation of Colossians 2:9 reads as follows:
“The full content of divine nature lives in Christ,
in his humanity.”
This goes too far and is not illogical. The nature of God includes that He exists without cause and that He Himself is the cause of everything else that exists. Since it was God who caused “all the fullness to dwell in Him (Christ)” (Col 1:19), the Son as a caused being; not the ultimate uncaused Cause of all things. A being cannot become the uncaused Cause of all things. A being is either caused or uncaused.
Since Christ received “all the fullness,” He is subordinate to the One who gave Him that fullness. His subordination to God is also seen in many other statements, such as:
He is “seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).
He is the visible likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15).
The fact that He is the “Son” (Col 1:13) already implies that He is subordinate to the Father.
The Father is the Active Force both in creation and salvation, while His Son is the Means through which the Father works. See Jesus in Colossians; Introduction.
(3) Why did Paul not write that Jesus is God?
If Jesus was God, why did Paul not say so? Why make statements, such as that Christ is the image of God and that the fullness of deity lives in Christ, that indicate that Jesus is as close as possible to God as a being in this universe can be without being God Himself?
Fullness of God in a body
It is a pity that I have to combat the false interpretations of these verses because the statement that, “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (NIV; Col 2:9), is really profound.
God has no body because He is that which exists outside our realm of space, time and matter. Christ has a body, for He “is the (visible) image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). According to Colossians 2:9, “the fullness of the Deity lives” in Christ’s visible body (Col 2:9). Everything that God is, that can live in a being of this universe, lives in Christ. Therefore, He has “equality with God“ (Phil 2:6) and we give “thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17).
The Firstborn of all creation
The word translated as “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 (prōtotokos) initially literally meant the one born first. But over time, it became a designation of preeminence (e.g., Gen 49:3–4; Exo 4:22). For example, David, the youngest son of Jesse, was called “firstborn” (Psalm 89:20–27). As another example, Manasseh was born first, but Ephraim, his younger brother, was “firstborn” due to the positions their grandfather Jacob gave the boys (Gen 48:13–20, Jer 31:9).
Reading the word “firstborn” in its context, Paul wrote:
“His beloved Son … is … the firstborn of all creation,
for by (or “in”) Him all things were created” (Col 1:13-16).
The word “for” means that Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” BECAUSE God created all things through Him. This can be understood in at least two ways:
- Because God created all things through Him,
He was the first to exist (literal meaning). OR
- Because God created all things through Him,
Christ is preeminent over “all creation” (symbolic use).
- Because God created all things through Him,
Both statements are true and both interpretations find support in the immediate context. For example:
(1) Three verses later, Jesus is also “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18; cf. Rev 1:5). In this verse, because Jesus was not the first to be raised from death, that Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” probably means that He is preeminent among those who will be resurrected from death.
(Some argue that Jesus was the first to be literally raised to eternal life because other people who were raised from death, such as Lazarus, died again. But I think Jesus was not also not even the first to be resurrected to eternal life (cf. Jude 1:9; Luke 9:30; Luke 27:52).)
This implies that “the firstborn of all creation” similarly means that He is the preeminent Person in the universe. Most non-literal translations render the phrase in that way:
“The firstborn over all creation” (NIV);
“Superior to all created things”
(Good News Translation).
“Preeminent over all creation”
(New Heart English Bible).
(2) Both the facts that “by Him all things were created” (Col 1:16) and “He is before all things” (Col 1:17) imply references to time. This may imply that “the firstborn of all creation” also refers to time. In that case, it would mean that Jesus literally was the first to exist.
In my view, Christ is both the most important Person in the universe and the first to exist.
Has Jesus been created?
It is possible to argue that, since Christ is “the firstborn of all creation,” that the term “of all creation” means that Jesus is part of creation and therefore a created being. However:
(1) Since all things have been created through Him and for Him (Col 1:16), it implies that He Himself was not created.
(2) As explained above, in this context, the word “firstborn” can quite naturally mean preeminence. Then “the firstborn of all creation” means ‘pre-eminent over all created things’, as in the statement that Christ is “the head over all rule and authority” (Col 2:10) – rather than that He is part of creation.
(3) Jesus is “the firstborn” and the Only Begotten Son of God (Col 1:18; 3:16, 18). Since He was “begotten” (born), He was not created. He was not born like a human child is born. How God brought forth His Son we do not know, for it is hidden in the infinity of God. But it does seem to be something different from created. For a further discussion, see – Only Begotten.
Is Jesus God?
Actually, the question, whether Jesus is God, is a bad question, for there is no word in the original text of the Bible that has exactly the meaning of the modern word “God.” Therefore, before we answer this question, we need to define the title “God:”
Is God the Most High?
The angel said to Mary that Jesus will be called the Son of “the Most High” (Luke 1:35). When the Bible makes statements such as that God is invisible (1 Tim 1:17), or that Jesus sits at the right hand of God (Col 3:1), or that He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), or “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5), then the title “God” refers to the Most High. Using this definition of the title “God,” Jesus is not God.
But Colossians and the Bible also teach that God created all things through Jesus (Col 1:15), that Jesus Christ upholds all things by the word of His power (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3), that the fullness of deity dwells in Him (Col 2:9), that He is the visible likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15), that He rules over all the entire universe, subject only to God (Col 3:1), that it is God’s will that we worship Him (Phil 2:10-11), and that He existed before all things, which means that He always existed, for even time was created through Him.
The Greek word translated as “God” or “god” (theos) was the common word for the Greek gods. They were merely immortal human beings with supernatural powers. Jesus, as described above, most certainly would qualify as theos, as the word was defined in the ancient Greek world.
It may also be possible to define the modern title “God” in such a way that it includes such a being such as Jesus. But then the problem would be that we will have two Gods. This is exactly the reason why the church, over the centuries, developed the Trinity doctrine in which the Father and the Son are two Persons in one Being.
Furthermore, contrary to what is generally taught in churches, as seen in the statements quoted above, Colossians and the entire Bible consistently describe Jesus as distinction from and subordinate to the only true theos, implying that Jesus is not God. See the article – Jesus is not the same Person as God.
We should, therefore, use the Bible’s definition of the title “God,” which would exclude Jesus.
Jesus rules over the entire Universe. He is seated at the right hand of God. God created the whole universe for him. He is the Head over all rule and authority.
He existed before anything else did. There never was a time that He did not exist. Since all things were created through Him, even time commenced through Him.
He is the visible likeness of the invisible God. In Him, we can see what God is like. He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
In Him, the Fullness of Deity dwells. Some translations take this to mean that Jesus is God. This is contrary to the message of Colossians. Colossians consistently maintains a distinction between God and Jesus and implies that Jesus is subordinate to God.
In Him, all things hold together. Hebrews 1:3 similarly says, “He … upholds all things by the word of His power”.
He is the firstborn of all creation. Some argue that this means that He is part of creation, and therefore a created being. This interpretation is not supported here, because Jesus created all things, and could not have created Himself. Secondly, He was “born;” not created. The word “firstborn” in Col 1:15 probably means pre-eminence, saying that Jesus is superior to all created things.
Is Jesus God? The New Testament generally reserves the title “God” for the Most High, which excludes Jesus. But if the use the title “God” to identify the One we must worship, that includes Jesus.
Available Articles – Christology
SPECIFIC BIBLE BOOKS
SPECIFIC BIBLE PASSAGES
ORIGIN OF THE SON
JESUS IS CALLED GOD.
- Overview – Overview of the verses that refer to Jesus as theos.
- Theos – The meaning of theos – the word translated “God.”
- John 1:18 – The original text of this verse is in dispute.
- John 20:28 – Did Thomas say that Jesus is God?
- John’s gospel – Discussion of theos in this gospel.
- Romans 9:5 – The translation depends on punctuation.
- Hebrews 1:8 – The next verse says that God is His theos.
If you are interested in Christology, I recommend Dale Tuggy’s podcasts, even though he understands Christ vastly different from me.
Other Articles Series
OTHER KEY ARTICLES
For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.