“A friend, who is a Jehovah’s Witness, says that Jesus Christ was the first creature made by God the Father. He cites Colossians 1:15, where Jesus is said to be the ‘firstborn of all creation’ as proof. Can you comment on this?”
The Watchtower dogma, that Jesus was the first being created by the Father and, therefore, he is not eternal in his nature, is a totally false teaching. The following points indisputably refute the “Witness” claim.
The Greek word for “firstborn” is
prototokos, a term with roots in the Old Testament. When the word is used literally, it can denote the first that comes from the womb, whether of man or beast (cf. Ex. 13:2).
Frequently, however, “firstborn” is an expression of rank, or preeminence, and the original linguistic components (“first” and “born”) “no longer play any role in the meaning (e.g., Ex. 4:22)” (Verbrugee, p. 1114).
A clear example of this is seen in Jeremiah 31:9, where “Ephraim” (a symbol for the kingdom of Israel) is called the Lord’s “firstborn,” although literally Manasseh, Ephraim’s older brother, was the “firstborn” (Gen. 48:14).
In this context “firstborn” is employed as a designation for primacy (cf. Gen. 48:19).
The renowned Hebraist, Adam Clarke, observed that the Israelite people even referred to Jehovah as
becoro sheloam, “the firstborn of all the world,” or of “all creation,” which expression signified the Lord’s role as the creator of all things (Vol. IV, p. 516).
In Psalm 89, God said regarding David (though ultimately the reference is to David’s illustrious offspring; see Kirkpatrick, p. 538), “Also I will make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (v. 27; cf. Rev. 1:5).
The fact that this kingly One is to be appointed (future tense) as a “firstborn” is conclusive evidence that a point of origin is not in view.
Firstborn: Not in Origin
The world’s ripest scholars of New Testament Greek are virtually unanimous in their opposition to the claims of the Watchtower Society. “Firstborn” (Col. 1:15) does not indicate the origin of the Second Person of the Godhead.
There is a precise Greek word to indicate the “first” of a particular created order; it is the term
proto-ktistos. This word is defined by classical scholars Liddell & Scott as meaning “founded or created first” (p. 1400).
This is not the term employed by Paul to depict Christ in the Colossian context, though the apostle had a term available should he have wanted to make that point. That he did not is significant.
Balz and Schneider observe that prototokos in Colossians 1:15 emphasizes a “superiority of essence,” and it does not suggest that Christ is “a part of the creation himself, but [he] stands rather in a unique relationship to God, the ‘invisible’” (Vol. 3, p. 190).
W. Michaelis, in the Kittel/Friedrich dictionary, notes that the “for” clause (that begins verse 16) provides the explanation for the term “firstborn,” namely that “all things owe their creation to Christ’s mediation.” He insists that the point “is not that Christ is the first creature”; rather, the thought being emphasized is “Christ’s supremacy over creation” (Bromiley, p. 968).
Moreover, since the apostle affirms that Jesus created all things, it would follow logically that if he himself were a created being, he must have made himself!
Recognizing this necessary though absurd conclusion, the Watchtower Society presumptively inserted the term “other” into the New World Translation at verse 16; “because by means of him all [other] things were created.” Their use of brackets reveals an awareness that there is no textual basis for the insertion.
Firstborn: Preeminent in His Resurrection
Finally, the use of “firstborn” in verse 18 sheds light on the foregoing text. The Savior is described as “the firstborn from the dead” (cf. Rev. 1:5).
Jesus was not the “firstborn from the dead” as a consequence of being the first one ever to be raised from the dead. There were resurrections from death both in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Kgs. 17:8-24), and during the personal ministry of the Lord (cf. Jn. 11:17ff).
Christ is “firstborn from the dead” in that he demonstrated his power over the grave. He was even instrumental in effecting his own resurrection (Jn. 2:19). Further, unlike others, who were resurrected, Jesus was raised to die “no more” (Rom. 6:9). He is the ever-living one who now has the “keys” over both death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).
There is simply no justification for the notion that the pre-incarnate Word (Jn. 1:1,14) was a created being. This is but one of the numerous errors that afflict the Watchtower movement.