Did God create Jesus? Was there ever a time when Jesus did not exist?
These are important questions that relate to the deity of Jesus. Scripture affirms that God the Father is eternal, without beginning and end (Psalm 90:2). But if Jesus had a beginning, then he wouldn’t be eternal and he wouldn’t be God.
You might be thinking, “So what? Every Christian thinks that Jesus has always existed!” To the contrary, many American Evangelicals today believe that Jesus was created by God!
The Firstborn of All Creation
This debate goes all the way back to the third century with a man named Arius. Colossians 1:15 is one of the texts that his followers used to show that Jesus began to exist:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).
Those who continue to teach that Jesus was created, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, use this verse to support their view. Clearly “the firstborn of all creation” means that Jesus was created first, right?
Not so fast. The starting point of interpreting a passage of Scripture is to look at its context. In Colossians 1:15-23, Paul is elevating Christ above all things in creation. He notes that Jesus is the image of God (15), that Jesus created everything for himself (16), that Jesus holds all things together (17), that Jesus is the head of the church (18), that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead (18), and that Jesus is preeminent in all things (18).
An important phrase Paul uses in this passage is “all things” (Grk. ta panta). The passage says that “all things” were created through Jesus. According to Paul, there are only two categories of existence: Creator and creation. In Paul’s thinking, Jesus falls into the first category. If God the Father created Jesus, then he would fall into the second category. But this cannot be, since all creation was made by Jesus!
Additionally, Paul claims that Jesus is God. He says that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (19). And if that wasn’t strong enough, Paul says that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9). He is basically saying “Jesus is fully God” in the language of his day. After all, he doesn’t say “in him partial deity dwells bodily.”
The context of Colossians alone tells us that “firstborn” doesn’t mean Jesus was created. Paul believes everything that had a beginning was created by Jesus and that Jesus is fully God. God by definition has no beginning or end and thus cannot be created. So what does “firstborn” mean then?
The Use of Firstborn in Scripture
The word for “firstborn” (prototokos) occurs in seven other places in the New Testament (Luke 2:7; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 1:6, 11:28, 12:23; Revelation 1:5). Only in Luke’s birth narrative does this word refer to being physically born first. All other usages of “firstborn” have a greater meaning.
In these other passages, the term is used to speak of Christ’s preeminence. One example is Hebrews 1:6 which says, “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.'” Angels are called to worship Jesus, thus showing his preeminence. In Romans 8:29, Jesus is the firstborn among all believers in that he is above all of them. None of these passages have anything to do with Jesus’ origin.
Certain Old Testament passages show that the firstborn has more to do with status than it does with origin. God says of David, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27). The privilege of being the firstborn was also transferable in the Old Testament. In Genesis 41:51, Joseph’s firstborn is Manasseh. But in Jeremiah 31:9, God considers Ephraim to be His firstborn. Even though Ephraim was not born first, the status of the firstborn was given to him.
The Preeminence of the Firstborn
In closing, the word “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 doesn’t mean that Jesus had a beginning. In fact, the word indicates the exact opposite: Jesus is God and is over all things in creation. Paul’s view of Jesus in Colossians is consistent with the rest of Scripture. Jesus is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col. 1:18).