Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Discussion on the Nature and Origin of the Son of God

Introduction

Parts one and two of this article consist of a fictional dialogue I wrote in order to help others better understand what I believe concerning Christ’s nature and origin, and why I believe it. Although much of the content of the dialogue is derived from my other blog articles on the subject of Christ’s origin, I’ve also made some revisions that I hope will serve to bring further clarity to what I believe, as well as strengthen the case for my overall position. In most cases, the revisions I’ve made have simply involved a refinement of certain points made elsewhere. However, I’ve also included a modified interpretation of Colossians 1:16, which I came to adopt not long after posting my original blog series on the subject.

According to my original understanding of Colossians 1:16 (which was influenced by the view of Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, as found in his commentary and elsewhere), the sense in which everything is said to be created in, through and for Christ is that it remains or stands created in, through and for Christ. This view – like the more common interpretation - assumes that the creating that is referred to in Colossians 1:16 involves the “old creation” (i.e., creation as it exists in its original state, before it’s “made new” in accord with the promise found in Revelation 21:5). However, I have since come to see this assumption as unwarranted, and now believe that what Paul had in mind in Col. 1:16 is Christ’s instrumental role in bringing about the new creation. According to this view, the “all” which is said to be created in, through and for Christ in Col. 1:16 consists of everything that has been “made new,” and which therefore constitutes the new creation. It is this revised understanding of Col. 1:16 that I will be defending in the present article (a brief defense of this view may also be found in issue 712 of Bible Student’s Notebook).

Among those who disagree with my overall position, some may see this change in my understanding of Col. 1:16 as being further confirmation that I’ve been “wrong all along” (at least, insofar as the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ goes). For those who fall into this category, any admission on my part of having misunderstood a particular verse or passage will only serve to more deeply entrench them in their own doctrinal convictions. In response to this sort of mindset, I can only reiterate what I’ve already acknowledged elsewhere, in my original blog articles on this subject: Despite my attempts to demonstrate that every supposed proof-text for the preexistence view is consistent with my own view, I could very well be mistaken about how I think one or more of these passages should be understood. However, even if my own understanding of a certain verse or passage is in some way deficient, it doesn’t mean that the verse or passage I’ve misunderstood necessarily supports the preexistence view, or that my overall position is necessarily wrong. To believe contrary to this would be like saying that (for example) the doctrine of eternal conscious torment or of the trinity must be true - or more likely correct - simply because someone who disagrees with this doctrine has, in some way, misunderstood one of the passages commonly believed to support it. But that, of course, would be a fallacy.

The fact is that we all have room to grow in our understanding of what scripture reveals. I don’t think any of us will ever get to a point in this life where we can just sit back and thank God for having given us a completely accurate and infallible understanding of everything written by the inspired authors of scripture. Regardless of how long one has been a believer, how zealous and outspoken one may be on certain doctrinal matters, or how earnestly one may seek to “expose, rebuke and entreat” those with whom one has doctrinal disagreements, none of us have it all figured out. Despite our best efforts, we all have our doctrinal “blind spots.” Many would say that the subject of Christ’s preexistence is one of my “blind spots,” while I would, of course, say just the exact opposite. Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong concerning this subject, however, my hope is that the following dialogue will, at the very least, serve to help others better understand why I believe what I do, even if they remain unconvinced that my position is scripturally sound.

Part One

Note: The character representing my own viewpoint in the discussion is “Eustace,” while the character representing the opposing viewpoint is “Mortimer.” Let’s say that both “Mortimer” and “Eustace” are believers and fellow members of the body of Christ. As far as when and where their discussion takes place, I’ll leave that to the imagination of the reader.

Mortimer: Nice to see you again, Eustace. I was just thinking about something I overheard you saying at the gathering last week. If I recall, you were talking about how you believed that Jesus Christ has always been fully human, and that he has never been anything other than human. Would that be a correct expression of your view?

Eustace: Yes, that’d be correct, Mortimer. I believe that, while our Lord walked this earth, he was just as fully human as were Adam and Eve on the day they were created by God. And even after being roused from among the dead with a glorified, incorruptible body, I believe that Christ remains fully human. He is still the “Man, Christ Jesus.”[1]

Mortimer: But don’t you believe that Jesus Christ is a unique being, Eustace?

Eustace: Absolutely, Mortimer. However, I don’t think that Christ’s uniqueness involves his being something other than a human being.

Mortimer: Well, I believe that part of Christ’s uniqueness means that he has a hybrid nature. That is, I believe Christ to be a perfect cross between God and man. He’s neither all man nor all God, but a perfect combination of the two.[2]

Eustace: Hmm…your view sounds pretty similar to the doctrine of the “hypostatic union” that is affirmed by Trinitarians. According to this view, Christ has two natures: one that is fully human, and another that fully divine. In the words of some Trinitarians, this makes Christ both “100% man and 100% God.”

Mortimer: Yes, I’m familiar with what the Trinitarians believe, Eustace. And while my view may be similar to theirs, it’s not the same. As I’ve stated – and in contrast with what Trinitarians affirm - I deny that Christ is either fully man or fully God. He’s in a different category of being altogether.

Eustace: But why don’t you believe Christ to be fully human?

Mortimer: Well, Christ’s mother was, of course, human. But unlike every other human being, Christ didn’t have a human father. His Father is, of course, God. And it follows from this fact that Christ is part man, part God. He’s a hybrid being.

Eustace: I’m not sure how that follows, Mortimer.

Mortimer: Well, how can Christ be fully human if only one of his parents was human, Eustace?

Eustace: Well, did Adam have any human parents?

Mortimer: Hmm…no, I suppose he didn’t.

Eustace: Correct. Adam had neither a human father nor a human mother. The only one responsible for bringing Adam into existence was, I believe, God himself. According to your reasoning, then, Adam – who was without any human parents - wasn’t a human at all! But that, of course, is absurd. Adam was supernaturally created by God and yet was still completely human in nature. Christ was also supernaturally created by God, but is also fully human in nature. Being supernaturally created by God does not make Christ “part God,” or “a perfect cross between God and man.” Christ’s humanity is, and always has been, as genuine – and as thorough - as it gets.

Mortimer: Hmm…I suppose that’s one way of looking at it, Eustace. In any case, what I’m most interested in now is your belief that Christ has never been anything other than a human. I assume this means that you believe Christ was the first human created by God, then - God’s “human prototype,” so to speak?

Eustace: Actually, I don’t believe Christ was the first human created by God, Mortimer. I believe that Adam was the first human created. Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:7-19 seem to make this pretty clear. And, of course, there’s the testimony of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47.

Mortimer: Agreed. Adam was undoubtedly the first human created. But then, how can you believe that Christ has always been human if it’s not the case that he was the first human to have been created by God? You do believe that Christ existed before Adam, don’t you?

Eustace: Well, actually, I don’t believe that Christ existed before Adam. In accord with the first prophecy concerning him – found in Genesis 3:15 - I believe that Christ’s identity has always been inseparable from his humanity. 

Mortimer: So you don’t hold to the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ, then?

Eustace: No, I’m not convinced that this doctrine is scripturally supported.

Mortimer: Well, I must say that I’m both surprised and disappointed, Eustace. The doctrine of Christ’s preexistence seems, to me, to be just as clearly affirmed by scripture as every other doctrine that you and I believe. And I can’t help but think that this doctrine elevates and honors Christ far more than any view which denies his preexistence.

Eustace: But couldn’t those who affirm the “full deity of Christ” say the same thing to us? I’ve been told that any view which denies that Christ is “fully God” - and which does not affirm that he is an uncreated being - is less honoring to Christ than one that affirms his “absolute deity.” In fact, I’ve been told by one Trinitarian that, when I finally stand before Christ, I’m going to fall to my knees and weep for having failed to believe the “glorious truth” that he is the same eternal, uncreated being as the Father! But as you and I both know, this simply isn’t the case. And I think you would agree that the view that most honors and glorifies Christ is whatever view is true, and which is actually supported by scripture.

Mortimer: Granted. Still, I’m honestly not sure how anyone could actually believe that Christ did not exist until around 2,000 years ago. How does your belief not turn Christ into a mere afterthought in God’s plan?

Eustace: My understanding of when Christ’s existence began in no way makes Christ an “afterthought” in God’s plan, Mortimer. Just because something occurs later than something else doesn’t make it less important or less central to God’s plan. Consider all of the countless deaths that occurred before Christ died. Would you say that, because Christ’s death was preceded by countless other deaths, his death was a mere “afterthought” to God?

Mortimer: Well, no, I wouldn’t. Our Lord’s death was so central to God’s plan that, in Revelation 13:8, we’re told he was “slain from the disruption of the world.”

Eustace: Correct. And I think the same can be said for Christ himself.

Mortimer: Fair enough, Eustace. But this doesn’t make your rejection of the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ any more reasonable or scriptural. So why have you seen it as necessary to reject this doctrine? What is it about the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence that you find so problematic?

Eustace: Well, let’s start with the simple fact that Jesus is the Son of God. As you well know, Mortimer, Jesus’ being the Son of God is central to his identity. Consider, for example, the declaration of the disciples after Christ walked on water: “Truly, you are God’s Son!”[[3]] Or Peter’s inspired confession in Matthew 16:16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And the most important testimony concerning Jesus’ identity was undoubtedly provided by God himself: “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I delight.”[[4]]

Mortimer: But what does Jesus’ being the Son of God have to do with the question of when he came into existence?

Eustace: I believe it has a lot to do with it, actually. Tell me, Mortimer: Why is Jesus able to be called the Son of God? By virtue of what is the appellation “Son of God” applicable to Jesus?

Mortimer: It is applicable to Jesus by virtue of the fact that God is his Father.

Eustace: Correct. Regardless of when God became the Father of his Son, it was by virtue of this event that Jesus may be called the “Son of God.” Thus, if Christ existed before the rest of creation – as you believe was the case – then he would’ve been the Son of God at this time.

Mortimer: Agreed. From the beginning of his existence, Christ has been the Son of God.

Eustace: So, in light of this agreed-upon fact, let’s now consider the following question: When, according to scripture, did God actually become the Father of Jesus? When does scripture reveal that Jesus, the Son of God, was actually begotten by God?

Mortimer: Well, I believe that scripture reveals that Christ existed before the rest of creation. So – to borrow an expression from Paul - my understanding is that Christ was begotten of God “before times eonian.”  

Eustace: But do you have any scriptural testimony to support your view that Christ was begotten of God “before times eonian?”

Mortimer: I admit that there is no explicit scriptural testimony revealing that Christ was begotten at this time, Eustace. The only verse that comes to mind regarding when God begat his Son is the one that says, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” If I’m not mistaken, Paul quoted this verse at some point.

Eustace: Yes, you’re thinking of Psalm 2:7. And you’re right: this Messianic prophecy was quoted by Paul in Acts 13:33. It’s also quoted two more times in the letter to the Hebrews. And based on what Paul said when he quoted this prophecy, it would seem that he understood the resurrection of Christ to have been its fulfillment.[[5]]

Mortimer: But surely you don’t believe that the Son of God was first begotten when he was resurrected, Eustace.

Eustace: No, not at all. However, the Greek term translated as “begotten” in Acts 13:33 is the word gennao. And this is the same word used elsewhere in scripture whenever the fathering of a child is in view. In other words, this word refers to the event by which a father brings a child into existence, and thereby becomes the father of that child (consider, for example, all the “begetting” that is referred to in Matthew 1:2-16).

Mortimer: Okay…but in what sense was Christ begotten by God at the time of his resurrection?

Eustace: Well, wouldn’t you agree that Christ ceased to exist when he died, Mortimer?

Mortimer: Of course. You know full well that I don’t believe in the “immortality of the soul,” Eustace. Death introduces humans into a state of non-existence and oblivion.

Eustace: Right. So we’re both agreed that Christ’s resurrection was the event through which God brought his Son back into existence, then. And since Jesus’ resurrection was the second time that God brought his Son into existence, we could also say that it was the second time that God became the Father of his Son.

Mortimer: Hmm…I hadn’t thought of it that way before. But yes, I suppose that would be the case.

Eustace: It is because Christ’s resurrection was the second time that God became the Father of his Son that Jesus can be said to have been begotten by God when he was resurrected. It is this fact that makes the prophetic words of Psalm 2:7 applicable to Christ’s resurrection.

Mortimer: So, if Jesus’ resurrection was the second time that God begat his Son, then the first time Christ was begotten must be when he was first brought into existence by God.

Eustace: Exactly. Consistency demands this conclusion, Mortimer. Now, in Hebrews 1:5 – which is another place in which we find Psalm 2:7 quoted - another Messianic prophecy is quoted as well: “I shall be to him for a Father and he shall be to me for a Son.” This is a quotation from 2 Samuel 7:14 and 1 Chronicles 17:13. Although this prophecy was partly fulfilled through God’s relationship with David’s son, Solomon, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that this prophecy found its complete and fullest fulfillment in God’s relationship with David’s later descendant, Jesus.[6] And given this fact, we can reasonably conclude that Christ wasn’t fathered by God before times eonian, because that which was foretold by this prophecy was still a future reality when the prophecy was made.

Mortimer: That makes sense. But if the original begetting of the Son of God didn’t take place before times eonian, then when do you believe it took place?

Eustace: I believe it took place precisely when scripture reveals that it took place, Mortimer. The first two chapters of Matthew and Luke contain what I believe to be the most detailed and comprehensive accounts of Christ’s origin found in scripture. And in Matthew 1:18-21 and Luke 1:31-35, we read that Jesus was generated by God’s spirit when Jesus’ mother, Miriam, became pregnant with him.

Mortimer: I’m familiar with these passages, Eustace. However, I believe that they’re revealing when the Son of God was incarnated as a human, and not when he began to exist.

Eustace: These passages don’t say anything at all about a preexistent, non-human person being “incarnated as a human,” Mortimer. When Joseph and Miriam first heard and believed the words declared to them by the angel Gabriel, I highly doubt that they believed that the promised Son of whom Gabriel spoke was already alive and in existence somewhere. No one who isn’t already presupposing that Christ pre-existed his conception would come to this conclusion when reading the above verses. The theory has to be read into the text.

Mortimer: Fair enough, Eustace. But I still fail to see how these verses support your view that Christ’s existence began when he was born in Bethlehem approximately 2,000 years ago.

Eustace: Well, first, I wouldn’t say that Christ’s existence began when he was born in Bethlehem. I believe that a human’s life begins at conception. Therefore, I believe that Christ’s life began when he was supernaturally conceived through the power of God (which, of course, occurred approximately nine months before Christ was born in Bethlehem). It’s a minor point, I know, but this is an important subject we’re talking about, and I want to try and be as accurate as possible.

Mortimer: Okay, point taken. But in the verses you’ve referenced, we’re told that Christ was “generated” by God at this time, not “begotten.” In light of this, why couldn’t we just say that the “generating” of Jesus was the point in time at which the pre-incarnate Son of God was transformed into a human being? Understood in this way, Christ was the Son of God in his pre-incarnate state, and continued being the Son of God when he was transformed into a human.

Eustace: There’s a big problem with your theory, Mortimer: the word translated “generated” in these verses – gennao - is the same word translated as “begotten” in the verses referenced earlier (such as Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5). And as I stated earlier, this word refers to the event by which a father brings his child into existence, and thereby becomes the father of that child. In fact, “to bring into existence” is precisely what the English word “generate” means [[7]], while the word “beget” can be defined as, “to cause to exist,” “to produce as an effect,” “to generate,” “to procreate” or “to father.” You do agree that, when a father begets his child, he becomes the father of his child, right? 

Mortimer: Yes, I agree with that.

Eustace: Then it follows that the generating of God’s Son referred to in Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:35 was the event by which God became the Father of his Son. To believe that God didn’t, in fact, become the Father of his Son at this time – or that Jesus isn’t the Son of God by virtue of this historical event - is to simply disregard the very idea that the word gennao expresses in these passages.

Mortimer: So you’re saying that the use of the word gennao in these verses is actually inconsistent with the idea that Christ pre-existed his conception as the Son of God?

Eustace: Yes. Again, this word refers to the event by which a father brings his child into existence, and thereby becomes the father of his child. Since God became the Father of his Son when Jesus was generated (or begotten), it follows logically that God’s Son was brought into existence at this time. So, if Christ was already the Son of God before his “incarnation” (as you believe), then God would’ve already been the Father of his Son. However, what we read in Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:35 reveals that God did not become the Father of his Son until Jesus’ mother became pregnant with him.

Mortimer: So, if you’re right, then it would mean that Christ’s sonship is inseparable from the fact that he was conceived in his mother’s womb through the power of God.

Eustace: Correct. Most people don’t seem to appreciate this fact, but I think this is precisely what we find affirmed in scripture. Consider the words of Gabriel in Luke 1:35: “Holy spirit shall be coming on you, and the power of the Most High shall be overshadowing you; wherefore also the holy One Who is being generated shall be called the Son of God. The word translated “wherefore” means “consequently,” or “for this reason.” Gabriel was, in other words, providing us with the very reason why Jesus may be called “the Son of God.” Think of all of the examples in scripture in which Christ is referred to as the Son of God, or as God’s Son. I mentioned just a few such examples earlier (including one in which God himself called Jesus his Son). According to Gabriel, Jesus’ being the Son of God is inseparable from the fact that he was generated by God at the time when his mother became pregnant with him. Since God became Jesus’ father when the words of Luke 1:35 were fulfilled, it follows that the existence of the Son of God began when he was conceived.

Mortimer: Well, how about this, Eustace: perhaps Christ did preexist his conception, but he simply wasn’t the Son of God during the time of his preexistence.

Eustace: Earlier, you expressed the belief that Christ has been the Son of God for as long as he’s existed (and on this we were in agreement). What you’re now suggesting is that this might not, in fact, be the case. But if Christ wasn’t the Son of God during the time of his preexistence, then it would mean that God wasn’t Christ’s Father during this time, either. Is this what you now believe, Mortimer?

Mortimer: Well, no, not necessarily. I was just throwing the idea out there.

Eustace: Well, in any case, the theory you’ve suggested is not tenable. Not only was the first man, Adam, referred to as the “son of God,” but we also know that the non-human, celestial beings that God created before he created mankind are called “sons of God” as well.[[8]] So if Christ had been created before these other “sons of God,” then he would’ve surely been the first Son of God in existence. In fact, if Christ was the first and only being directly created by God – as proponents of the preexistence view believe – then he would’ve had more reason to be called “the Son of God” than any other created being. Wouldn’t you agree?

Mortimer: Yes, I suppose I would. And I must admit that everything you’ve been saying makes a good deal of sense. Even so, I’m still finding it difficult to believe that the Son of God – the greatest created being in the universe - did not actually begin to exist until around 2,000 years ago.

Eustace: I think we’d both agree wholeheartedly that the Son of God is the greatest created being in the universe, Mortimer. Only Jesus’ God and Father – who is, of course, uncreated and eternal - can be considered greater. But consider something else that Gabriel told Miriam concerning her future child: “He shall be great, and Son of the Most High shall he be called.” Notice the future tense used here. While it’s true that the Son of God is great now, his greatness was not a past or present reality at the time when Gabriel spoke the words of Luke 1:32 to Miriam. It was still future. Could Gabriel have spoken these words if the Son of God already pre-existed? Would God’s Son not already have been the greatest created being in all of the universe? No one could appropriately say that Jesus “shall be great” now; he’s been great for nearly 2,000 years, and will remain great. But what Gabriel spoke was the truth at that time: “He shall be great.”

Part Two

Mortimer: Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about, Eustace. However, despite becoming somewhat more sympathetic toward your position than I was before we began our discussion, I feel that I must suspend judgment until we’ve discussed certain passages which I’ve long believed to be inconsistent with the view you’ve been defending.

Eustace: That’s understandable, Mortimer. Is there any verse in particular with which you’d like to begin?

Mortimer: Well, I’ve always considered Revelation 3:14 to be one of the clearest and most succinct verses to support the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence. In this verse, Christ referred to himself as “the Faithful and True Witness, and God’s creative Original.”

Eustace: As you may know, Mortimer, there is disagreement among scholars with regards to how, exactly, the last part of this verse should be translated.[[9]] For example, some believe that Christ was referring to himself as the “chief” or “ruler” of God’s creation. However, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the translation you’ve quoted is correct, and that Christ was referring to himself as ”God’s creative Original.” In order to understand this translation as lending support to the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ, one must assume that the only creation of which Christ could be “God’s creative Original” is the old creation.

Mortimer: Well what other creation could Christ have had in view, Eustace? What other creation is there except that which we’re told was created “in the beginning?”

Eustace: I’m sure you’re familiar with the promise found in Revelation 21:5. There, we read, “Lo! New am I making all!” The word translated “new” here is the same word used just a few verses earlier, where we read of the new heaven and new earth.” As you know, the creation of the new heavens and new earth follows the destruction of the present heaven and earth at the end of the next eon. What we read in Rev. 21:5 is, therefore, God’s promise to bring about a new creation. And I submit that it is with reference to the new creation that Christ should be understood as “God’s creative Original.” God began making everything new when he roused his Son from among the dead with a spiritual and incorruptible body. It was the vivification of the “last Adam” that initiated God’s new creation, making Christ both “the Firstborn of the dead”[[10]] and “God’s creative Original.”

Mortimer: Well, I suppose that’s one way of understanding Revelation 3:14. But what about Colossians 1:15-17? This passage begins with Paul referring to Christ as “the Image of the invisible God.” If Christ didn’t pre-exist as the Image of the invisible God, then who, exactly, did Adam and Eve hear and see walking about in the garden in the cool of the day? And from whose face did Adam and Eve hide at this time? We’re told it was “Yahweh God.” 

Eustace: It’s not at all necessary to understand the person referred to as “Yahweh God” in this passage as Jesus Christ in a pre-existent state, Mortimer. In fact, I suspect that it would not even cross one’s mind to think that Jesus Christ might have been walking about in the Garden of Eden at this time unless one already believed in the doctrine of his pre-existence.

Mortimer: But who else could it have been?

Eustace: I believe it was a member of that class of beings which, in Hebrews 1:4-14, are referred to as “the messengers.” On certain occasions, these beings were authorized to speak and act on God’s behalf as his representatives, or agents. Even A.E. Knoch – who, as you know, was a staunch proponent of the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence – acknowledged that God’s messengers used to perform this role.[11]

Mortimer: Well, do we have any clear examples of messengers acting and speaking to human beings on God’s behalf?

Eustace: We do. One example can be found in Exodus 19. In verse 20 we read that “Yahweh descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.” We then read that “Moses went up to Yahweh,” and that Yahweh began to speak to him. In chapter 20 we read that the person referred to as “Yahweh” went on to declare to Moses and the people the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments.[12] Other laws that were to be kept by Israel are said to have been declared by this supernatural being as well.[13]

Mortimer: Well, how do we know that the person referred to as Yahweh in these passages wasn’t Christ in a pre-existent state?

Eustace: Because we’re told by Stephen in Acts 7:38 that the person who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai was one of God’s messengers.[14] In fact, it’s clear from what’s said elsewhere that there was more than one messenger of God involved in the delivery of the law to Israel through Moses.[15] Since it was through the instrumentality of his messengers that God gave the law to Israel, this can only mean that the person referred to as “Yahweh” in verses such as Exodus 19:20 and Deuteronomy 4:12 was one of God’s messengers, acting and speaking on God’s behalf.[16] This provides us with an important principle: a messenger of God – when speaking and acting on God’s behalf - can be referred to as if he were Yahweh himself. And since Gen. 3:8-10 can be easily understood as an example of one of God’s messengers acting and speaking on God’s behalf, I think it’s safe to say that the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ fails to receive any support from this passage. Rather than being derived from passages such as this, the doctrine of Christ’s preexistence must instead be presupposed and then read into the passages.

Mortimer: Well, what about the next part of verse 15, where Christ is referred to as “the Firstborn of every creature?” I’ve always understood this to mean that Christ was the first being to have come through the womb of God.[[17]]

Eustace: Tell me, Mortimer: Do you believe that Christ was literally born before every other creature? And do you believe that Christ literally came through the “womb of God,” as you say?

Mortimer: Well, no, I don’t believe Christ literally exited a womb until he was born in Bethlehem. But what could the words “Firstborn of every creature” possibly mean, if not that Christ was created by God before every other creature?

Eustace: Well, first, we need to keep in mind that the one Paul referred to as “the Firstborn of every creature” in verse 15 was referred to as “the Son of [God’s] love” in verse 13. And – as I’ve argued earlier - God became the Father of “the Son of his love” when Christ was conceived by God approximately 2,000 years ago. This foundational truth should inform our understanding what Paul was saying in Colossians 1:15. Now, in regard to the term “firstborn,” there is both a literal and a metaphorical sense in which the term is used in scripture. Literally, the word refers to the first child or animal to “open the womb.”[[18]]

Mortimer: I’m with you as far as the literal meaning of “firstborn” goes. But if the word is not to be understood literally in Colossians 1:15, then what does it mean?

Eustace: As you may know, Mortimer, it was customary for the firstborn son to inherit his father’s place as head of the family, receiving the father’s blessing and a double share of all that is his.[[19]] You may also know that receiving the legal birthright of the “firstborn” did not mean that one was necessarily born first. A well-known example of someone failing to receive their legal birthright despite being born first is Esau. Jacob was born after Esau, but – to Esau’s lament - ended up receiving his brother’s “firstborn” birthright.

Mortimer: And this made Jacob – rather than Esau - the legal “firstborn.”

Eustace: Correct. And given the significance attached to the term “firstborn,” the term later acquired a metaphorical sense, and was used to refer to one who was given the preeminent status and special privileges of the firstborn. For example, the word appears in Jeremiah 31:9 in reference to Ephraim. This is significant, since Ephraim’s brother Manasseh was actually born before him. Consider also Exodus 4:22, where God referred to Israel as his “firstborn son.” And in Hebrews 12:23, we read of “the ecclesia of the firstborn” – an expression which, I’m assuming you would agree, doesn’t refer to a group of people consisting exclusively of literal firstborns!

Mortimer: Agreed. So it’s your view that Paul was using the term in this metaphorical sense, then?

Eustace: Yes. Although Christ was the literal firstborn son of his mother Miriam, I believe Paul was using the term to express the idea that, in relation to every other creature, Christ alone has the firstborn status. For example, recall that the legal firstborn was to receive a “double portion” of his father’s allotment. Well, in Hebrews 1:2 we read that God appointed his Son “enjoyer of the allotment of all.” 

Mortimer: What you’re saying does make sense, but isn’t it possible that Christ had his “firstborn” status before every other creature came into existence?

Eustace: I don’t think so. Are you familiar with the Messianic prophecy found in Psalm 89:26-28? In these verses we read: He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him for the eon, and my covenant will stand firm for him.” The term “firstborn” here clearly refers to a special status that would be conferred on to God’s Son. And the fulfillment of this prophecy was clearly future when this Psalm was written.

Mortimer: Agreed. The fact that God promised that he would make his Son “the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” implies that he wasn’t already the firstborn. So, would you say that Christ’s becoming the “firstborn of every creature” took place when this prophecy was fulfilled?

Eustace: Yes, that’s correct. 

Mortimer: But when do you believe it was fulfilled? When did God make his Son “the firstborn,” in accord with the Psalm 89 prophecy?

Eustace: I believe it was fulfilled when God gave Christ “all authority in heaven and on the earth,” and made him “Lord of all.” It was at this point that God made his Son “the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”

Mortimer: Well, even if Colossians 1:15 need not be understood as proving the preexistence of Christ, I’m not sure how the next verse can be understood in any other way. In verse 16 we read, “…for in Him is all created, that in the heavens and that on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or lordships, or sovereignties, or authorities, all is created through Him and for Him.”

Eustace: Notice that Paul didn’t specify when the creative event that is said to be in, through and for Christ began to take place. You’re assuming that what Paul was referring to in verse 16 must be the same creative event as that described in Genesis 1. However, neither the context nor the grammar used in verse 16 requires this interpretation. I submit that the creative event that Paul had in view in Colossians 1:16 did not begin until after Christ’s death and resurrection. Consider: By virtue of what is Christ able to be the one through whom God performs the creative work referred to in Colossians 1:16?

Mortimer: I suppose it is by virtue of the authority that God gave to him.

Eustace: Correct. And since the creative activity referred to in Colossians 1:16 involves everything “in the heavens and on the earth,” the authority that Christ must have been given in order to be the one through whom all is created in the heavens and on the earth must necessarily be all authority in heaven and on earth.

Mortimer: Agreed.

Eustace: So tell me, Mortimer: When did Christ receive all authority in heaven and on earth from God? Was it before his death and resurrection, or after?

Mortimer: Well, it would seem that it was after his death and resurrection that Christ received this great authority from his Father.

Eustace: Correct. It was only after Christ died in perfect obedience to God - and was subsequently roused in glory by his Father - that he received the great authority and exalted status we find referred to in Matthew 28:18, Philippians 2:8-11 and Hebrews 1:4. This being the case, it is simply not logical to believe that Christ was the one through whom God created everything before he was given all authority in heaven and on the earth. 

Mortimer: What you say makes sense, Eustace. However, I still fail to see how anything at all – let alone “all” – can be said to be created in, through and for Christ after his death and resurrection.

Eustace: Recall that, according to Revelation 21:5, all is eventually going to be made new. And, as you’d agree, the result of this “making new” of all will be a new creation. Thus, even according to your view, there is still creative work to be done by God through Christ.

Mortimer: Yes, I agree. But in Colossians 1:16, isn’t Paul is talking about what’s true now?

Eustace: He is. But Paul’s not saying that everything has already been created in, through and for Christ. Paul is simply revealing that Christ is the agent through whom God is now creating. He’s revealing what has been true – and what will continue to be true - ever since Christ, the Son of God’s love, was exalted by God and made “firstborn of every creature.” Ever since this time, anything that is created is created in, through and for Christ. And, eventually, all will be made new through Christ.[[20]] According to this understanding of Colossians 1:16, then, Paul was not referring to the “old creation” of Genesis 1 being brought into existence; rather, he was referring to everything that has been and will be created since the time of Christ’s exaltation. In other words, Paul was referring to all that presently constitutes - and will constitute - the new creation.

Mortimer: But again, isn’t the new creation that God will bring about through Christ a future reality rather than a present one?

Eustace: The new creation is both a future and a present reality. As I said earlier, God began making everything new when he roused his Son – the “last Adam” - from among the dead. We also know from verses such as Ephesians 2:10, 2:15 and 4:24 that Christ has been directly involved in the creation of new things since the time that he was given all authority in heaven and on earth. In fact, this truth is found in chapter three of the very epistle we’re considering. In Colossians 3:10, we read of a “new” humanity being created by Christ. Notice Paul’s use of the same word “creates” that is found in Colossians 1:16.

Mortimer: I hadn’t made that connection before. Still, Paul refers to “thrones, lordships, sovereignties, and authorities” as being created through Christ in Colossians 1:16. Doesn’t this refer to the creation of non-human celestial beings before humanity was created?

Eustace: Not at all, Mortimer. Keep in mind that Paul had previously referred to Christ’s kingdom in verse 13. This serves as a contextual clue as to what Paul had in mind when he referred to “thrones, lordships, sovereignties or authorities” in verse 16. Christ is, of course, the one whom God has put in charge of ruling the heavens and the earth during the eons to come. And the terms “thrones, lordships, sovereignties, and authorities” are titles that belong to beings who are in power, and who exercise governing authority over others. So tell me: to which beings are these high-ranking titles going to belong during the eons to come? Will they be human or non-human beings?

Mortimer: Human beings.

Eustace: Correct. Those who, by Christ’s authority, will be placed in the positions of power described in verse 16 will be human beings.

Mortimer: But aren’t humans part of the old creation?

Eustace: Remember, Mortimer: God is making everything new. That includes humanity! And those who will be the “thrones, lordships, sovereignties and authorities” in Christ’s future kingdom will be part of the new creation. We know this from 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul declared that “…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the primitive passed by. Lo! There has come new!” See also Galatians 6:15, where Paul again emphasizes the “new creation” status of those in the body of Christ. We who are in Christ are simply the “firstfruits” of the new creation.

Mortimer: Well, if Paul had the new creation in mind in Colossians 1:16, then what about his statement that Christ is “before all” in the next verse?

Eustace: I believe that what Paul went on to say in verse 19 should inform our understanding of verse 17. In verse 19, Paul wrote that Christ is “…Firstborn from among the dead, that in all He may be becoming first…” According to Strong’s, the word translated “first” here means “to be first (in rank or influence).”[[21]It was so that Christ could “in all be becoming first” that he was roused and vivified by God. Since this event took place, Christ has been - and remains - “first” and “before all.”

Mortimer: So, would you say that the expression “before all” in verse 17 is about Christ’s preeminence rather than his preexistence?

Eustace: Yes. Paul is talking about a status that has belonged to Christ since he was roused from among the dead and made God’s “firstborn.” Notice how the present tense is used in verse 17: Christ “is before all,” not “was before all.” Paul was not talking about something that was true of Christ at some point in eons past. Rather, what Paul had in view was something that was true of Christ at the time he was writing, and which remains true of him now. It was something that was true of the roused and vivified Son of God as the roused and vivified Son of God (and not as some pre-existent, “pre-Son of God” being). The Greek word translated “before” in verse 17 is the word pro, and can refer to time, place or position. However, the use of the present tense “is” suggests that Paul wasn’t talking about Christ’s being before in time. Had Paul intended pro to mean “before” in regards to time, then the past tense “was” would’ve more clearly expressed such an idea. We can therefore understand the word translated “before” in Colossians 1:17 to mean, “in a higher or more important position than.”[[22]]

Mortimer: But is there any scriptural evidence to support your understanding of the term pro, as used by Paul in his verse?

Eustace: There is. The exact same expression used by Paul in Colossians 1:17 was used two other times in scripture to convey just this idea. In both James 5:12 and 1 Peter 4:8, the expression “before all” was used to express the idea of something’s being of greater importance than something else, rather than of something’s being chronologically prior to something else. [[23]] In neither of these verses does the expression “before all” convey the idea of something’s being chronologically prior to something else. Instead, the idea is that of something’s having greater importance than something else (which is why most translations translate the words as “above all” or “above all things” in these verses). And I submit that the same idea was being expressed when Paul used the same expression in Colossians 1:17. That is, Paul was simply saying that Christ is in a higher and more important position than all. The idea being expressed is that of preeminence in rank, rather than pre-existence in time.



[1] See 1 Timothy 2:4-6.

[2] This view was expressed by Martin Zender in a message given on April 18th, 2018.

[3] See Matthew 14:33.

[4] See Matthew 3:17.

[5] Hebrews 5:5 may also imply a “resurrection” fulfillment of this prophecy. However, Christ’s resurrection need not be understood as the only fulfillment of Psalm 2:7. Rather, it can be understood as the prophecy’s complete and final fulfillment.

[6] On several occasions in scripture we find Jesus’ descent from David emphasized. In Matthew 1:1, for example, Jesus Christ is said to be “the Son of David.” And in 2 Timothy 2:8-9, Paul wrote that Jesus Christ “is of the seed of David, according to my evangel” (cf. Romans 1:3). Christ also referred to himself as the “root of David” in Revelation 5:5 and 22:16 (the root is, of course, younger than the seed from which it emerges; the seed exists first).

Given the fact of Christ’s descent from David (being the “Son of David,” the “root of David,” and “of the seed of David”), how, then, can Christ have existed before David? It’s true, of course, that Christ – being made Lord of all by God - became David’s Lord. However, it’s equally true that Christ descended from David, and thus came into existence after him. For other examples of where Christ is referred to as (or implied to be) the “seed” or offspring of someone who existed before him, see Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 11:1 (cf. Num. 24:14-17) and Galatians 3:16-19.

[8] Concerning Adam’s status as “son of God,” see Luke 3:38 (cf. v. 23). For examples of non-human, celestial beings being referred to as “sons of God” or “sons of the Most High,” see Genesis 6:1-2; Deut. 32:8; Job 1:6; 38:7; Psalm 82; 89:5-7.

[9] Even among the four most literal translations of scripture, there are significant differences in how the last words of Rev. 3:14 are translated:

·         Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible: “…the beginning of the creation of God.”

·         Young’s Literal Translation: “…the chief of the creation of God.”

·         The Concordant Literal New Testament: “…God’s creative Original.”

·         The Dabhar Translation: “…the Origin of the Outcalled of God.”

[10] See Revelation 1:5. Significantly, in both this verse and in Rev. 3:14 Christ is referred to as the “Faithful Witness.”

[11] Commenting on John 1:18, A.E. Knoch wrote, “The various theophanies of the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Isaiah saw (Isa. 6:1), were not actual discoveries of the Deity, but sights of messengers through whom God communicated with mankind in the past (Hb. 2:2).”
[12] Ex. 20:1-17

[13] See Exodus 21-23 as well as Deuteronomy 4:11-14. In the latter passage, Moses declared the following to Israel:

You approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, a mountain ablaze to the sky above it and yet dark with a thick cloud. Then Yahweh spoke to you from the middle of the fire; you heard speech but you could not see anything—only a voice was heard. And he revealed to you the covenant he has commanded you to keep, the ten commandments, writing them on two stone tablets. Moreover, at that same time Yahweh commanded me to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to keep in the land which you are about to enter and possess.

[14] The same can be said for the being who spoke to Moses from out of the burning bush; see Exodus 3:1-15 and compare with Acts 7:30.

[15] In Acts 7:53, Stephen told certain apostate Israelites that Israel had received the law “by decrees given by angels” (NET). Paul confirmed this truth in Galatians 3:15, where he wrote that the law was “prescribed through messengers” (CLNT). This truth is affirmed once again in Hebrews 2:2, where we read that “the word spoken through messengers came to be confirmed” (and from the immediate context it’s clear that this “word” was the law delivered to Israel).

[16] It should also be kept in mind that the author of Hebrews made a clear distinction between Christ and all of the “messengers.” For example, it’s assumed by the author that the various Messianic prophecies he quoted in chapter one did not have any of the messengers of God in view (for this was the author’s point in quoting them). We can therefore conclude that a pre-existent Jesus Christ was not one of the “messengers” through whom God delivered the law to Israel.

[17] This view was expressed by Martin Zender in a message given on April 18th, 2018.

[18] Exodus 11:5 is a good example of this usage.

[19] See, for example, Deut. 21:15-17.

[20] When Paul wrote, “in him is all created” in the first part of verse 16, he was using what’s called the “constative aorist passive indicative” of the term ktizō (to create). The aorist tense “presents an occurrence in summary, viewed as a whole from the outside, without regard for the internal make-up of the occurrence.” This tense basically describes an action as a bare fact. Thus, we need not understand Paul to be saying that all has already been created in, through and for Christ. Rather, Paul was simply affirming what had become true since the time of Christ’s glorification and exaltation: all is created in, through and for Christ.

[21] Similarly, Greek scholar Bill Mounce defines it as meaning as, “to be first, to hold the first rank, or highest dignity, have the preeminence, be chief” (https://billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/proteuo).

[22] This is also one of the ways in which the English word “before” can be used. See, for example, the third definition provided by Merriam-Webster, along with the example provided.

[23] The Greek expression translated as “before all” is “pro pantōn.” In James 5:12, James used the expression to emphasize what he considered to be the greater importance of not swearing, and letting your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” (and in this regard, he was simply taking seriously the words of his Lord; see Christ’s words in Matthew 5:34-37). And in 1 Peter 4:8, Peter used the expression to emphasize the greater importance of “having earnest love among yourselves.”