He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 (NASB)
There is much that could be said about the title “firstborn”. It is a title of honor and refers to Christ being given all “the rights and privileges of a firstborn son, especially the son of a monarch who would inherit ruling sovereignty. This is how the expression is used of David: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth (Ps. 89:27).” (ESV Study Bible notes)
The phrase “firstborn” does not mean that Christ is a created being. We can establish that by reading the words that immediately follow in the text. Jesus is presented as the Creator of all things and He is before all things! This passage is in fact one of many that presents a clear affirmation of the Deity of Christ.
Here, and elsewhere, the “Bible” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (New World Translation published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) deliberately changes the scripture to obscure this truth. Rather than repeating the phrase “all things” over and over again, as Paul did, the Watchtower translation inserts another word, “other,” into the text, making it read, “because by means of him all [other] things were created… All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist.”
The reason for the translation change is easy to understand: Their theology says that God the Father created Jesus and then Jesus created all other things and therefore, since Watchtower theology insists Jesus is merely a created being, this passage must be rendered this way.
Is there a legitimate reason in the text itself for this insertion? No, not at all – it is merely the blatant attempt to hide the truth.
Note once again the words of Scripture:
“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. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
Jesus is the Creator of all things and holds all things together! That is what the text explicitly states.
But there is much more we can say here. Not only does Colossians 1:15-17 declare Jesus to be the Creator and sustainer of all things, but like so many things in Scripture, when we establish the context of a term or phrase, the truth about what is meant to be communicated becomes immediately apparent. As we continue on reading in the book of Colossians, we are told in the clearest possible terms of the full deity of Christ.
Paul was writing to combat the heresy of the Gnostics. The word Gnostic means “to know” and the boast was that these people were “in the know” having been enlightened with a special knowledge unavailable to the normal person.
The Gnostics developed a very elaborate system of gods called “aeons” and their “enlightened” chart showed how each one related to the next one in terms of authority and power. This made up chart was known as the pleroma. Elsewhere in the letter, Paul uses this very word employed by the Gnostics to speak of Christ when he writes “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). The word “fullness” here is the Greek word pleroma. In other words, Paul was saying, “if you want a chart… if you want a pleroma, here’s the only chart you need – Christ Himself!” In Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (ESV).
Knowing this then, it becomes clear that, to quote Dr. James White, “the position taken by those who deny the deity of Christ falls right into the trap of agreeing with the Gnostics against Paul! In other words, if we interpret this passage as saying Jesus is a part of the creation, and not the Creator Himself, we are left with a Jesus who looks very much like the Gnostic ‘aeon’ that Paul is arguing against! The argument presented by deniers of the deity of Christ in fact guts Paul’s entire argument against the Gnostics, leaving him arguing in circles! But when we allow the text to stand and speak for itself, Paul’s point is devastatingly clear: the Gnostic cannot just stick Jesus into his “system” somewhere. Jesus can’t be one of the ‘aeons’ between the one true, good God and the evil demiurge who ends up creating the world. No, Paul makes it impossible for the Gnostic to hold onto his false beliefs about the world and try to make room for an edited “Jesus” by firmly asserting that everything that exists, including the physical universe, came into existence through the creative activity of Jesus Christ.” (The Forgotten Trinity).
Understanding the context helps us avoid the misinterpretations rampant in non-Christian cults today. Some may consider these things too “complex” or “obscure” to be important. Yet, knowing these things, and being able to explain them to others, could well be used of the Lord to help deliver someone from deception.