In Colossians, is Jesus God or a created being?

ColossiansThis 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 contains 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.

Worship JesusHowever, 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.

Summary of this article

From Colossians, this article shows that:

God created all things “through” Christ (Col 1:16).

In Him, all things hold together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3).

There never was a time that He did not exist (Col 1:17). Even time itself was created through Him (Col 1:16).

Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, rules over the entire universe, subject to God only (Col 3:1; cf. 1:16, 18; 2:10). God created the whole universe for him (Col 1:16).

He is the visible likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15). In Him, we can see what God is like.

This article also discusses two other very important verses:

The Fullness of Deity dwells in Him (Col 2:9).

For in Him all the fullness of Deity
dwells in bodily form
” (Col 2:9).

Many people want this verse to say that Christ is fully God. However:

(1) Since the letter to the Colossians consistently teaches that Jesus is distinct from and subordinate to God, it would be wrong to interpret this verse in that way.

(2) According to Colossians 1:19, Christ RECEIVED “all the fullness” from God, which means that He is not God, for God is the uncaused Cause of all things.

(3) Human beings may also “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

(4) If Jesus was God, why did Paul not say so? Why make statements that indicate that Jesus is as close as possible to God as a being in this universe can be without being God Himself?

God does not have a body because He is that which exists outside our realm of space, time, and matter. Christ has a body (cf. Col 1:15). According to Colossians 2:9, “the fullness of the Deity lives” in Christ’s 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).

The Firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15)

Initially, the word translated as “firstborn” literally meant the one born first. But over time, it became a designation of preeminence (e.g., Psa 89:20–27; Jer 31:9).

The sentence, that contains the word “firstborn,” may be summarized as follows:

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 may be understood as that:

(1) Because God created all things through Him,
He was the first being to exist in “all creation.” OR

(2) Because God created all things through Him,
Christ is preeminent over “all creation.

In my view, both statements are true. Perhaps the more controversial aspect of the phrase “the firstborn of all creation” is “of all creation,” for it seems to indicate that Jesus is part of creation and therefore a created being. However, Christ is “the firstborn” and the Only Begotten Son of God (Col 1:18; 3:16, 18). If He was born, He was not created.

Is Jesus God?

To answer this question, we first have to define the title “God:”

The Greek word translated as “God” in the Bible is theos. This was the common word for the Greek gods, who were merely immortal humans with superpowers. Using that definition for “God,” Christ is most certainly “God,” for Colossians and the Bible have an extremely high view of Christ.

To distinguish the god of the Bible from the pagan gods, the Bible sometimes refers to the “only God” (John 5:44; 1 Tim 1:17; Jude 1:25) or the “only true God” (John 17:3) or “the Most High” (Luke 1:35). Jesus is always presented as distinct from and subordinate to the “only true God.” (See the article – Jesus is not the same Person as God.) Therefore, if we reserve the title “God” for “the Most High,” then Jesus is not God.

– END OF SUMMARY –


God created all things “through” Him.

For by (en = in) Him (Christ) all things were created,
both in (en = in) the heavens and on earth …
all things have been created
through Him and for Him
.” (Col 1:16)

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 created.

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.

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.

Jesus rules over the entire universe.

The Father's Right HandHe 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 is the visible likeness 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.

The Essence of Jesus Christ

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.

ColossiansThe word translated “diety” is theotés, which is derived from the word theos (god). Compare different translations of Colossians 2:9:

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 teach 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.

Human beings may also “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

(4) 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?

The 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 does not have a physical 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 livesin 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

FirstbornThe 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).

The sentence in which the word “firstborn” appears in Colossians 1:15 may be summarized as follows:

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:

(1) Interpreting “firstborn” literally, it would mean that, because God created all things through Him, He was the first being to exist in all creation.

(2) Interpreting “firstborn” literally, it would mean that, because God created all things through Him, Christ is preeminent over “all creation.

Both statements are true and both interpretations find support in the immediate context. For example:

(1) Three verses later, Jesus is also described as “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 over those resurrected from death.

(Some argue that other people, who were raised from death, such as Lazarus, died again, but Jesus was the first to be literally raised to ETERNAL LIFE. But I think Jesus was also not even the first to be resurrected to eternal life (cf. Jude 1:9; Luke 9:30; Luke 27:52).)

If “the firstborn from the dead” means that Christ is preeminent over those resurrected from death, then “the firstborn of all creation” may similarly mean 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 the Beginning. This may imply that “the firstborn of all creation” also refers to the Beginning. 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?

Perhaps the more controversial aspect of the phrase “the firstborn of all creation” is “of all creation,” for it seems to indicate that Jesus is part of creation and therefore a created being. However:

(1) Since God created “all things” through Him and for Him (Col 1:16), and since God could not create the Son through the Son. the Son is not part of the “all things” which God created through Him.  

(2) As explained above, in this context, the word “firstborn” quite possibly indicates preeminence. Then “the firstborn of all creation” means ‘pre-eminent over all created things’, similar to 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). If He was “begotten” (or born), He was not created. He was not born like a human child. How God brought forth His Son we do not understand, for it is hidden in the infinity of God. But it does seem to be something different from being created. For a further discussion, see – Only Begotten.

Is Jesus God?

Jesus Christ

Actually, this is not a good question, for there is no word in the original text of the Bible that has exactly the same meaning as the modern word “God.” Therefore, to answer this question, we first have to define the title “God:”

The definition of the Greek word theos

The Greek word translated as “God” in the Bible is theos. This was the common word for the Greek gods, who were mere humans with superpowers. Using that definition for “God,” Christ is most certainly “God,” for Colossians and the Bible have an extremely high view of Christ. For example:

    • God created all things through Jesus (Col 1:15).
    • Jesus Christ upholds all things by the word of His power (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3).
    • The fullness of deity dwells in Him (Col 2:9).
    • He is the visible likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15).
    • He rules over all the entire universe, subject only to God (Col 3:1).
    • It is God’s will that we worship Him (Phil 2:10-11).
    • He existed before all things, which means that He always existed, for even time was created through Him.

However, if we define the modern word “God” as equivalent to the Greek word theos, the problem would be that we will have two Gods. This is exactly for this reason that the church, over the centuries, developed the Trinity doctrine in which the Father and the Son are two Persons in one Being.

The definition of the modern word “God”

To distinguish the god of the Bible from the pagan gods, the Bible sometimes refers to the “only God” (John 5:44; 1 Tim 1:17; Jude 1:25) or the “only true God” (John 17:3) or “the Most High” (e.g., Acts 7:48).

For example, 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; the One who exists without cause.

Jesus is always presented as distinct from and subordinate to the “only true God.” (See the article – Jesus is not the same Person as God.) Therefore, if we reserve the title “God” for “the Most High,” then Jesus is not God.

We should, therefore, use the Bible’s definition of the title “God,” which would exclude Jesus.

Available Articles – Christology

Summary Articles

Specific Bible Books

Specific Bible Passages

The origin of the Son

Christ is subordinate to God.

Christ is equal with God.

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.

The translation of John 1:1

Other

If you are interested in Christology, I recommend Dale Tuggy’s podcasts, even though he understands Christ vastly different from me.

Other Available Articles

Colossians 1:15-19 – The image of the invisible God

Summary: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  Christ created the heavens and the earth and everything in them and He continues to hold all things together. Christ is the answer to the Colossian deception:

The deception claimed to have special knowledge, but “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” abide in Christ.

The deception claimed to have received special guidance from supernatural rulers or authorities, but Christ created all “rulers or authorities”.

Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
1:16 For by Him all things were created,
both in the heavens and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
1:17 He is before all things,
and in Him all things hold together.
1:18 He is also head of the body, the church;
and He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
1:19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure
for all the fullness to dwell in Him,

In the previous verses, the focus was on the Father, but verses 13 and 14 shifted the focus to Christ as God’s Means of redemption. The current verses continue to focus on Christ, explaining Who He is.

Image of the invisible God (Col 1:15)

God is invisible. Unless God reveals Himself in some way, our senses do not allow us to perceive Him. But Christ is the Father’s visible image (Col 1:15). Christ is God’s visible face and God’s audible voice: He is the Word of God (John 1:1).

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)

Firstborn of all creation For by Him all things were created (1:15-16)

It is impossible for man to understand God. God is infinite, and infinity is something that man cannot comprehend.  God has no beginning and no end.  God is not subject to time because He created time.  One cannot say that God existed before time because there is no such thing as time before time.  This physical universe is also infinite.  We can travel in any direction and will never find an end.  Scientists estimate the age of the universe as 15 thousand million years, but the Energy which was converted into this physical universe must have existed already (E=MC2). These are things we simply do not understand.  It would be inappropriate for us to speculate about these things. Let as rather focus on what we can understand, namely that “by him all things were created” (Col 1:15, 16), which requires that “He is before all things” (Col 1:17).  That is the meaning of the word “For” with which 1:16 starts.  Christ was that beginning (Col 1:18) of the universe:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2).

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev 22:13).

Some understand from the phrase “firstborn of all creation” that Christ is a created being.  It is preferred to say here that Christ was the first to appear in this physical universe.  He was that immense energy that shocked this entire universe into existence.  We cannot say that He existed before that time because there was no time before that moment.  Time only started at that moment. What we can say is that that Energy did exist at that moment. More than that is impossible for the human mind to comprehend.

An alternative is to understand the word “firstborn” not as the first in time, but the first in importance.  The Old Testament does use the word in that sense as well.  For instance, talking about David, it is said:

I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27).

All things have been created through Him (1:16)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1).

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

The word “us” is consistent with the idea that everything is created by the power of the Father but through Christ.  Man, as the highest creation on this planet, has been made in God’s likeness. That is a wonderful privilege; and what tragedy it is what we have become.

All things have been created … for Him (Col 1:16)

He will always be part and King of this physical universe.  The Father “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).  His “kingdom … will never be destroyed” (Dan 2:44).

Rulers or authorities” (Col 1:16)

Even “invisible” (1:16) rulers or authorities are a particular emphasis in the letter to the Colossians (Col 2:15), which implies that “rulers or authorities” are an important part of the deception in Colossae.

In Him, all things hold together (Col 1:17)

All things hold together
All things hold together

He is the Power that holds atoms together.  All things will disintegrate should He withdraw His protective power for a moment.

The wrath of God is not that He would punish sinners; He simply discontinues His loving protection.  Three times in Romans 1 it is said that the “wrath of God” on all “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18) is to give them over.  They are given over “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24), “to  degrading passions” (Rom 1:26), and “to a depraved mind” (Rom 1:28)

Firstborn from the dead (1:18)

Firstborn from the dead
Firstborn from the dead

He is the “firstborn” “of all creation” (Col 1:15) as well as the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).  He was not the first to be raised from death, but the first in importance. Other people were raised from death before Him, but their resurrection from death would have been in vain if He was not raised from death (Rom 3:25).  The church today emphasizes Christ’s death, but the Bible emphasizes His resurrection even more.

All the fullness to dwell in Him (Col 1:19)

Many other wonderful things are said here about Christ; things we only dimly understand, because God is infinite. Even after living hundreds of thousands of millions of years in His kingdom, there will always be an infinite difference between God and us. But what we can clearly understand is that God loves us; so much that He was willing to die for sinners. We must cling to the evidence of His love so that we may place our faith and trust fully in Him.

Deception (Col 2:8)

The emphasis placed on Christ in these verses is unique in Paul’s letters. Colossians contains Paul’s strongest emphasis on the person of the Redeemer. As already mentioned, the interpretation in this commentary is based on the assumption that the points that Paul emphasizes, compared to his other letters, are indications of the nature of the “deception” (Col 2:8) in Colossae.  Therefore, the emphasis on the person of Christ is taken to indicate that He is the answer to the .  The Colossian deception claimed to have special knowledge (Col 1:9-10; 2:3), but “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” abides in Christ (Col 2:3). The Colossian deception claimed to have received special guidance from supernatural rulers or authorities (Col 1:16), but Christ created all “rulers or authorities” (1:16).

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