There are some texts of Scripture that are used by certain persons in an attempt to show that our Lord was a created being. Three of these passages will be considered at this time.
"Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (Col. 1:15).
"These things saith the Amen [Christ], . . . the beginning of the creation of God" (Rev. 3:14).
"That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead" (Acts 26:23).
The first of these, Colossians 1:15, was considered in the second article in this series, but we will consider it again from a slightly different angle.
There are two particular words in the above texts which should be noted, and a proper understanding of them will assist to a clearer view of what is intended by the writers of both Colossians and the Apocalypse. These words are "firstborn" and "beginning."
The words "firstborn of every creature," however, could bear the rendering, "begotten before all creation" and the context shows that it is this which is meant. The word begotten is used of Him as opposed to the word created. He is begotten and not created. He is the image, that is the true picture and manifestation, of the invisible God from all eternity. He is that image in which man was first created as a pattern of the true, and in which image man after his fall must be renewed. In that sense He is distinct from all mankind, all of whom have sinned. The words "Son" and "begotten" are the only terms which the limitations of human language and concept can find to express the unique relationship between these two persons of the Trinity. It is beyond human comprehension fully to express or fathom.
A careful study of the context of Colossians 1:15 will make this very clear and plain. It will be noted:
- He is the first-born from the dead (verse 18).
- He is the Creator of all things, and also of every creature (verse 16).
- He has pre-eminence in all things (verse 18).
- He is the fullness of the Godhead (verse 19 and 2:9).
- He is the image of the invisible God (verse 15).
- He is before all things (verse 17).
- He upholdeth all things (verse 17).
It will be seen then, that rather than being a creature who was created, He Himself is the one who created all creatures.
This thought is reflected in some of the English translations as follows:
Goodspeed—"Born before any creature."
Weymouth—"Firstborn of all creation." 20th Century—"Firstborn and Head of all creation."
Cunnington—"Firstborn before all creation."
Fenton—"The first-born of all creation."
The International Critical Commentary has an informative note on this text:
"The only tenable interpretation of the words before us is 'begotten before pasa krisis'. . . . The only ideas involved are priority in time and distinction."
Christ is "the firstborn of all creation," which is something quite different from saying that He was made or created. If Paul had wished to express the latter idea, he had available a Greek word to do so, the word protoktistos meaning "first created." Actually, however, Paul used the word prOtotokos, meaning "first-begotten," which signifies something quite different. Note the following quotation from Albert Barnes, which expresses the thought very well:
There can be no doubt that the apostle here has reference to the usual distinctions and honours conferred on the first-born, and means to say that, among all the creatures of God, Christ occupied a pre-eminence similar to that. He does not say that, in all respects, he resembled the first-born in a family; nor does he say that he himself was a creature for the point of his comparison does not turn on these things, and what he proceeds to affirm respecting him is inconsistent with the idea of his being a created being himself. He that "created all things that are in heaven and that are in earth," was not himself created. That the apostle did not mean to represent him as a creature, is also manifest from the reason which he assigns why he is called the first-born. "He is the image of God, and the first-born of every creature, forhoti,—by him were all things created." That is, he sustains the elevated rank of the first-born, or a high eminence over the creation, because by him "all things were created in heaven and in earth."
The meaning then is that Christ sustains the most exalted rank in the universe; he is pre-eminent above all others; he is at the head of all things. He is the Son of God. He is the heir of all things. All other creatures are also the "offspring of God;" but he is exalted as the Son of God above al1.2
The Greek text of Revelation 3:14 is he arche tes ktiseas tou theou. This means of God and not by God, which would require hupo. Actually the word arche translated "beginning" carried with it the Pauline idea expressed in Colossians 1:15, 16, and signifies that Christ is the origin, or primary source of God's creation. Compare John 1:1-3: "All came into existence by means of Him; and nothing came into existence apart from Him" (Fenton).
We should remember also that the Greek word arche rendered in this text "beginning" has the idea also of precedence in power, sovereignty, being vested with authority, et cetera. It is the element in "archangel" which certainly involves the idea of position and authority.
It is the word used in:
Jude 6 "first estate"
Luke 12:11 "magistrates"
Luke 20:20 "power"
Hebrews 5:12 "first principles"
Colossians 2:10 "principality"
In thinking of the expression "the beginning of the creation of God," we should bear in mind the word beginning in other places as it relates to Jesus our Lord.
"In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1).
"The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1:2).
"Who is the beginning, the firstborn" (Col. 1:18).
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning" (Rev. 21:6).The Father, speaking of Christ, says: "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth" (Heb. 1:10). So Christ our Saviour is the beginning, the Creator of all things. The sense then of Revelation 3:14, could very well be expressed as some translators have done.
R. S. V.: "The beginning of God's creation."
Fenton: "The beginner of God's creation."
Knox: "The source from which God's creation began."
Syriac: "The chief of the creation of God."
Weymouth: "The Beginning and Lord of God's Creation."
A. T. Robertson's comment on this is:
"Not the first of creatures as the Arians held and Unitarians do now, but the originating source of creation through whom God works."
On Acts 26:23—"That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead"—the reading of the KJV presents a problem. If we take the reading in its obvious sense, we would conclude that no one rose from the dead before our Lord Jesus Christ. But we are laced with the fact that several had already been raised from the dead, such as:
The Shunnamite's son 2 Kings 4:36.
The widow's son 1 Kings 17:23.
The widow's son at Nain Luke 7:11-15.
The daughter of Ja'rus Luke 8:51, 55.
Lazarus John 11:44.
On this A. T. Robertson remarks:
"Others had been raised from the dead, but Christ was the first (prOtos) who arose from the dead and no longer dies (Rom. 6:19) and proclaims light."'
Some of the translations make this plain:
Syriac—"Would become the first fruits of the resurrection from the dead." (This is in harmony with 1 Corinthians 15:20, "But now is Christ risen . . . and become the firstfruits of them that slept.")
Riverside: "That He, first, by rising from the dead, would proclaim light," etc. 20th Century: "And that he was to be the first, by rising from the dead, to bring news of light."
Weymouth (3d ed.): "By coming back from the dead was then to be the first to proclaim a message of light."
What a blessed truth, that Christ our Lord rose from the dead! He came forth a mighty conqueror and ascended in glory to the highest heaven. By His glorious resurrection He has forever assured our salvation and has made certain also the resurrection to immortal life of all His faithful children.