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God and Christ: Examining the Evidence for a Biblical Doctrine

 

Wisdom, Jesus Christ and the New Testament

By David Barron

 

From the earliest days of Christianity a connection was made between personified Wisdom in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ.  With John's prologue identifying him as the Word, Jesus' own words and the descriptions of his preexistence by the Apostle Paul, Christianity has seen personified Wisdom to be the preexistent Messiah.


After the writing of the New Testament the early church of the first several centuries continued to identify Jesus as Wisdom.  Indeed, the “Christian tradition from St Justin onwards sees in the Wisdom of the O.T. the person of Christ himself.1  In addition to Justin2 early writers including Tertullian,3 Cyprian,4 Lactantius,5 and Origin6 identified Jesus as the Old Testament personified Wisdom.  Not only did these expressly call him Wisdom, they identified him as the subject of Old Testament Wisdom texts.  Indeed, many modern commentators continue to make this identification, such as J. Vernon McGee, who states, “This [Wisdom] is the Lord Jesus; this is wisdom personified... Wisdom is Jesus Christ.”7

 

 

Wisdom and Personification

 

When asked what wisdom is, most would likely identify it as an attribute of God that man can come to possess.  To say that Jesus is Wisdom is not to say that he is an attribute but that Wisdom is a person.  With Scripture referring both to the attribute of wisdom and to Wisdom as a person it is necessary to distinguish the two. 


To understand Jesus' identification as Wisdom it is necessary to be familiar with how a person can personify an attribute.  This personification occurs when a person is “the embodiment of” an attribute or quality so to be “the representation of an abstract quality.”8  Thus to say that when a person displays an attribute in all that one does, that one can be identified as the attribute, personifying it.  This was the case with some who mistakenly identified the man Simon as “the power of God” (Acts 8:9-10).  Jesus, who has “all the treasures of [the attribute] wisdom” within him (Col. 2:3), so fully possesses and displays this to be identified as Wisdom.


In ancient times personification was a common literary device.  Far more common than identifying a person with an attribute, impersonal things were spoken of personally.  An example of this is found in the early Jewish writing Joseph and Asenath,where repentance is personified:


“For Repentance is in the heavens, an exceedingly beautiful and good daughter… she herself entreats the Most High… she herself is the guardian… who loves… and is beseeching the Most High for you… she prepared a place of rest… she will renew all who repent, and wait on them herself” (15:7).


Personification was used of the impersonal in the most vivid of ways, and this ground many have come to view wisdom as only an attribute, having been personified only as a literary device.9  Because of the supporting examples this argument would prove quite convincing were it not for the express New Testament identification of Jesus as Wisdom, along with the numerous parallels that can only be fully accounted for by recognizing the two as one and the same.  

 

Jesus as Wisdom

 

The Gospels grant the earliest connections between Jesus and Wisdom, one occurring in Luke that is only observable by comparison to Matthew's record.  First looking to Luke's gospel Jesus speaks of “the Wisdom of God”: 


Luke 11:49 "For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute,


Jesus spoke of Wisdom and her words, where she was the one who 'sent prophets and apostles.'  Yet Matthew records Jesus speaking these words in the first person, recognizing that he was himself “the Wisdom of God” spoken of (Mat. 23:34).  So Ceclia Deutsch explains:


“The substitution of ‘I’ for ‘the Sophia [Wisdom] of God’ makes explicit the presentation of Jesus as personified Wisdom.”10


Earlier Luke also recorded a reference by Jesus to Wisdom: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35). The parallel to Jesus' language in 11:49 is noteworthy, but here it is by the context that Jesus is understood to be Wisdom.11  He had there been accused of being “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34), resulting in Jesus’ response.  Early commentator John Gill well explains the meaning:


“Christ, who is the wisdom of God, and who acted the wise part, in behaving in such a free manner with all sorts of men, and even with publicans and sinners, whereby he became useful to their souls, called them to repentance, converted and saved them…”12 


In this text accusation was made against Jesus based upon those with whom he was associating.  Yet, by his “children,” which are his accomplishments, he is justified.  By his time with such sinners many came into God’s service. 


Beyond the Gospel record the Apostle Paul provided the most explicit identification, calling Jesus “the wisdom of God” (1Co. 1:24).13  Also derived from Wisdom texts is Hebrews 1:3 where Christ is said to be 'the radiance of God's glory.'  This reference along with his identification as “the image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1:15 is drawn from an apocryphal text where Wisdom is said to be “a reflection [or “radiance”]  of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God's active power, and image of his goodness” (Wis. 7:26).


Earlier noted was 1 Corinthians 8:6 with Christ as the one through whom all things came, providing a parallel to Wisdom as the one God created “by” (Pro. 3:1914).  Indeed, references to Christ's involvement in creation throughout the New Testament can be traced back into Wisdom texts in both the Old Testament and other Jewish literature.


“Paul’s language [and so John's, who parallels Paul] comes from G[enesis] 1 and the OT Wisdom Literature where wisdom is called the ‘craftsman’ (Pr. 8:30). For Paul that ‘craftsman’ is not a figure of speech, but the personal, heavenly Christ who met him on the Damascus road.”15  


A number of other links between Wisdom and Jesus exist throughout the New Testament.  Throughout these texts the language of Wisdom, some of which could not apply to more than one individual, is taken and applied to Christ.  A number of these statements are temporal, related to when Wisdom came to be.  The language of this temporal order in both biblical and apocryphal texts is applied by some of the New Testament authors to Christ.  Examples of this will be discussed in greater detail when Colossians 1:15-18 and Revelation 3:14 are examined. 


When reading of Wisdom in Proverbs it is difficult not to see both a future and historical aspect of the text.  While Wisdom at times speaks of her16 past, there is also a prophetic element fulfilled in the Messiah's human life.  In Proverbs 8 and 9 this is highlighted. 


Wisdom, also identified as Understanding, ‘speaks’ (Pro. 8:1) and 'cries out at the gates' and at “the mouth of the city” (8:3).  She calls “to the sons of men” (8:4), speaking “truth” (8:7) and “righteousness” (8:8).  Wisdom's words are “plain to the understanding one; and right to those who find knowledge” (8:9).  Wisdom's instruction and knowledge should be taken over “silver” and “choice gold.”


These opening statements could not more closely parallel Jesus Christ in his ministry.  He spoke openly and publicly (John 18:20) and his words were “truth” (John 8:45).  They were made known to and understood by his disciples (Mat. 13:11-12), not by those who chose to be ignorant.  They were of greater value than anything else, for those who 'keep them will never see death' (John 8:51).


While Wisdom 'dwells with sense,' (Pro. 8:12) this is far from saying that sense or prudence is a person, itself never personified.  Wisdom is herself prudent by possessing the attribute.  By her “kings reign” and “rulers and nobles rule” (8:15-16), a thought well reflected in Colossians 1:16-17.  Those who love Wisdom are loved by her (8:17), reminding us of Jesus words: "He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him" (John 14:21).  She 'walks in the path of righteousness' and will 'cause those who love her to inherit wealth' (Pro. 8:20-21).  This language reflects Jesus' own righteousness along with his promise of the inheritance he would share with his disciples (Rom. 8:17).


With the discussion of Proverbs 8:22-30 to follow it is appropriate to consider the opening verses of the 9th chapter.  Here Wisdom is said to have “built her house” and “carved out her seven pillars” (9:1).  One can hardly miss the parallel between these words and Jesus: "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church" (Mat. 16:18).  There are “seven pillars” because of the number’s known symbolism, representing “completeness and perfection.”17  Thus his church would have a 'complete and perfect' support structure, a solid foundation from which to grow.

    
What comes in verse 2 further parallels Wisdom and Jesus.  She has “slaughtered her slaughter; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.”  This may well refer to Christ's own sacrifice and his institution of eating bread and wine as symbols of his flesh and blood (Luke 22:19-20).  Otherwise, the thought may be of the future kingdom, with a noteworthy similarity to Jesus’ words:

 

"Again he sent out other slaves saying, 'Tell those who have been invited, "Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast."’” (Mat. 22:4). 


In the final verse of Wisdom's personification “she has sent out her maidens; she cries on the highest places of the city;” (Pro. 9:3).  One can hardly miss the proclamation of the gospel with these words, where “her maidens” are Jesus' disciples (Mat. 28:19).18  Jesus openly proclaimed the gospel, he sent forth his disciples both during his earthly ministry and upon his ascension into heaven to do the same.   

 

A Created Being

 

Few passages have been more disputed throughout history than what is contained in Proverbs 8:22-30.  Serving as a center of disagreement during the christological disputes of the early church, these words have been the focus of great attention.  Perhaps because of this text's powerful testimony and difficulty for the Trinitarian position many today deny its application to Jesus in his preexistence, but even early Trinitarian writers such as Athanasius would not go that far.19 


Of those who confess this text’s proper application to Christ, many have argued a differing sense for certain words, bringing focus to the various ways they might individually be understood.  As will be demonstrated there are indeed various ways in which certain words may be understood, but with the variety of words and expressions used we are able to determine without ambiguity the intended meaning. 


Beginning in Proverbs 8:22 emphasis is placed upon how truly ancient Wisdom is.  She existed “when there were no depths” and when “when there were no springs heavy with water” (Pro. 8:24).  She was “before the mountains” and “the hills” (8:25).  She was even before “the earth” and she was there “when He prepared the heavens” (8:26-27).  It is from this repetition and emphasis upon her prior existence that many have argued for an eternal preexistence, but there is much more to the text than this.


With many translations following the King James tradition, Proverbs 8:22 tells of Wisdom having been “possessed” by God, a thought not in disagreement with the idea of eternal preexistence.  “Wisdom is eternal, she has always been with God,” we might be told, but the word here translated “possessed, qanah, is not fully represented by this rendering as C.F. Burney explains:


“In the first place, the fact needs emphasis that the verb kana always seems to possess the sense of ‘get, acquire’, never the sense of ‘possess, own’ simply, apart from the idea of possessing something which has been acquired in one way or another.”20 


So hn"q' refers not merely to possession but to acquiring, and it is used in this way throughout Scripture.  Two examples stand out with particular relevance to Proverbs 8, both recorded in Genesis.  In 14:22 we are told that God “[qanah] heaven and earth.”  However one chooses to here translate the word, the thought of acquisition cannot be missed.  God did not eternally hold heaven and earth, he “created” them (Gen. 1:1).  Upon giving birth to Cain Eve expressed what had occurred: “I have gotten (qanah) a man with the help of Jehovah” (Gen. 4:1).  The way she had “gotten” or 'acquired' Cain was through birth.  She “conceived and bore” him and in this way she came to 'possess him.'  Her means of acquisition was birth.


That hn"q' is used of acquisition through both creation and birth is significant when considering the full text of Proverbs 8.  Both the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint describe Wisdom as “begotten” or “born” only a few verses after v. 22 (v. 24-25 MT, 25 LXX), while the LXX translates qanah as ektisen ("created”) in verse 22.  Thoughts of both birth and creation are thus present in the passage. 


The LXX's translators plainly took liberty in translating qanah as “created,” the word not literally meaning as much.  Yet the Jewish Study Bible relates a point we have thus noted: “In fact, ‘kanah’ refers to acquisition by means including creation, as here.”21  The LXX’s translators recognized God's means of acquisition, as the case in Genesis 14:22, to have been creating.


It is further necessary to account for the use of birth in reference to Wisdom.  The Trinitarian position would argue that Christ is begotten of God but not created.  To say Jesus was “born” in his preexistent state is in perfect harmony with saying he was created as Kenneth Aitken relates:


“In the Old Testament, birth can happily be described as an act of creation (Ps. 139:13; cf. Deut. 32:6), and an act of creation just as happily as a birth (Ps. 90:2).”22 


With birth and creation both serving as means of acquisition along with birth serving as a means to 'describe' creation, the implications of Proverbs 8 are unmistakably apparent.  When accompanied by e;ktise,n in the LXX it is difficult if not impossible to allow for any other interpretation.  Not only is Wisdom the one “born” or “created” by God, she is the most ancient of all creation.23 


With these points one can understand the significant role of Wisdom passages in early christological development.  Early disputes concerning the nature and identity of Jesus Christ found these texts at the fore.  While some parties offered vast reinterpretations, the application to Jesus was never in dispute.  How, though, did the New Testament authors make use of Proverbs 8? 

 

Colossians 1:15-18

 

Drawing heavily from Proverb's Wisdom texts and intertestamental Jewish literature, the apostle Paul spoke of Jesus’ preexistence using the word “firstborn,” translated from the Greek prototokos).  Derived from protos, meaning first, and tokos, meaning born (with the verbal form tikto), the word occurs regularly in the Scriptures and various early Greek texts.


The Septuagint refers to the firstborn of various animals (Gen. 4:4; Ex. 34:19; Num. 18:17; Deut. 15:19) and of men (Ex. 22:29; Num. 3:40; Neh. 10:36).  The word carries the plain sense of one who is 'born first.'  This same thought is carried over into the New Testament where Jesus is identified as the firstborn of Mary, the first child that she bore (Mat. 1:25; Luke 2:7).  Outside of the Bible both Josephus and Clement tell of Abel giving “the firstborn of sheep” as a sacrifice (Ant. 1:53; 1Clem. 4:1).  Josephus speaks of the firstborn children that were killed in Egypt (Ant. 2:313), which is universally understood to be the children born first to their parents.  Philo also presented the term literally, identifying Cain as the “firstborn” of Adam and Eve, their first child (Che. 1:54). The Apocrypha uses the term literally, referring to a “firstborn son” as an “only child” (Pss. 18:4).


In addition to having temporal priority the firstborn son also came to possess certain rights and privileges as Louw and Nida explain:


“In Jewish society the rights and responsibilities of being a firstborn son resulted in considerable prestige and status. The firstborn son, for example, received twice as much in inheritance as any other offspring.”24


The right of the firstborn was almost always given to the eldest, but in certain cases it could be transferred.  When this happened to a person who was not the firstborn, he would come to be so figuratively, yet the one born first remained the literal firstborn but without the associated birthright.  An example of this is found in the case of Isaac's sons Esau and Jacob.  Esau was the firstborn, the child that was literally 'born first' (Gen. 25:25) and so Jacob's older brother.  Later in life Esau requested bread and stew from Jacob and he agreed to provide it, but only in exchange for Esau’s right as firstborn.  When Esau agreed, the rights and privileges that were bestowed upon Esau as the firstborn were transferred to Jacob (Gen. 25:30-34).  Even though this right was transferred to Jacob he was not considered Isaac’s literal firstborn as the child born first.  Esau acknowledged that he no longer possessed the right of the firstborn (Gen. 27:36; cf. Gen. 25:34), but he continued to recognize that although he had given up his birthright he was the true, literal firstborn (Gen. 27:32).


From this account in Genesis we learn that when one is figuratively the firstborn there remains one who is so literally.  The one who is so figuratively has for some reason been given the rights properly due to the one that holds the literal position.  The one who literally holds the firstborn position once possessed the rights associated with the position but for one reason or another they were taken or given up. 


Examples of the figurative firstborn are in Exodus 4:22 and Jeremiah 31:9, speaking of Israel and Ephraim as God’s firstborn, respectively.  These contexts dictate that the subjects represent the nation of Israel so that neither is addressing the men that lived individually.  Admittedly, there could be a semi-literal interpretation of these texts, for a level of figurativeness is necessary as the reference is not to men but a nation.  This would present Israel as the first nation to have received a divine decree by which it came to exist.  This understanding would mean that Israel was literally God’s firstborn nation.  Nevertheless, if it were understood figuratively, the meaning would be that Israel would have an exalted position among the nations as if they were all children and Israel was the firstborn among them.  So Israel received the double inheritance from God, making the people especially blessed. 


Another figurative text finds God promising to make David firstborn in Psalm 89:27.  Though this text has a clear Messianic undertone that is understood literally as we will shortly consider, in this original application the reference is likely to David’s covenant position with God.  The parallel to David as firstborn is presented in that he is “the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psa. 89:27 NASB), giving the sense that David has the double portion of authority as if “the kings of the earth” were children in a family and David was the eldest son. 


Two figurative texts are found in the Hebrew Scriptures that are not translated by prwto,tokoj in the Septuagint.  The first is Job 18:13 where we read of a disease that is “the first-born of death.”  The language is clearly poetic, for death itself is not conscious and it does not bear children.  The thought is that a disease is the greatest of those that cause death.  Similarly, in Isaiah 14:30 we read of “the first-born of the poor,” this passage containing clear poetic imagery (cf. Isa. 14:8, 31).  The thought is that of those that are poor the firstborn is the poorest. 


While a select few examples of prototokos are figurative, it is most often used literally.  Because of this, unless the context presents some overriding factor a literal application of the term should be anticipated.  We would not assume a figurative meaning in any given passage, but when the context clearly dictates a figurative meaning we should be open to the possibility.

 

The Firstborn of All Creation

 

The background and historical context of the Colossian hymn must be established to understand the expression “the firstborn of all creation.”  Derived from Wisdom texts such as Proverbs 8, any understanding of the Colossian hymn is rightly compared to what is said of Wisdom.  We would thus anticipate that the appropriate interpretation of this text would also prove compatible and even parallel with the Wisdom texts from which it is derived.25 


Whether or not one chooses to equate Jesus Christ with Wisdom is not significant to this portion of the discussion, though it has been argued that he is.  The point need not be that Jesus Christ is Wisdom but only that the language in this passage is based upon that used for Wisdom.  For example, Brown explains that “the closest and most commonly accepted background for the description in [Colossians 1:]15-16a is the OT picture of personified female Wisdom, the image of God’s goodness (Wisdom 7:26) who worked with God in establishing all other things (Pro. 3:19), that Wisdom was created by God in the beginning (Pro. 8:22; Sirach 24:9).”26 


Similarly, C.F. Burney notes:


“No one can contemplate the rendering which I have, as I hope, substantiated for… “The Lord begat me as the beginning of His way” (i.e. His creative activity) without perceiving that prototokos pases ktiseos “the first-begotten of all creation” can hardly be other than a direct reference to the O.T. passage [Proverbs 8:22].”27 


But how does one make this connection?  Burney continues: 


“This conclusion, which at first I supposed to have been unnoticed (it is not found, for example, in Lightfoot’s commentary), I have since discovered to have been anticipated by St Epiphanius (c. Haer. II lxxiii 7).  His words are ‘In place of arche, the Apostle used protos, in place of genna me (i.e. the LXX rendering of `yTil.l'(Ax ‘I was brought forth’ in v. 25) the term to,koj, for the whole statement  ektisen me archen hudon autou and Genna me the expression prototokos pases ktiseos, instead of emthemeliose me (v. 23) the statement en auto ektisthe ta panta…’“28 


The Septuagint version of Proverbs 8:22 uses avrch, (arche), translated either “first” or “beginning” with Wisdom being 'the avrch, of God’s ways.'  Here 'God's ways' refer to his creative activities (cf. Job 26:14; 40:19).  The thought of “first” parallels Colossians 1:15's use of proto-.  Similarly, Proverbs 8:24 finds Wisdom to have been “born,” translated from genna, while the same is of Christ with -tokos, meaning “born.”  


As demonstrated, Wisdom came into existence, “born” as 'the first of God's way.'  One might note that the text speaks of birth and not creation, yet we have already observed the idiomatic use of birth to describe God's creative work.  If the thought of Jesus as the firstborn is that he is the first created, many Trinitarians will ask why did Paul not simply use the Greek word protoktistos (“first-created”)?  Three reasons can be presented.


First, one cannot disregard the literary background of the Colossian hymn.  Found in Wisdom texts, where Wisdom is said to have been the “first” who was “born.”  Using prototokos, Paul maintained the allusion to both the Hebrew and the Greek text of the Old Testament.  Admittedly protoktistos would not have entirely destroyed the allusion in light of the LXX’s use of ektisen and the implicit nature of “created” in this particular use of qanah, but by using prototokos the allusion is more expressly pronounced in both the Greek and Hebrew versions.  Second, as was already observed, the firstborn child received certain rights and privileges unique to his position.  By identifying Christ as the firstborn rather than the first-created Paul is also associating him with the rights and privileges accompanying the position.  Finally, there is good reason to question if Paul would have even contemplated the use of protoktistos due to the lack of evidence for its use in Paul's day.  In fact, the word is unattested to until approximately 100 years after Paul wrote his epistle. 

 

A Member of Creation

 

The thought of Christ as a member of the created order is found in more than the use of prototokos.  This is of particular interest when one considers the use of this word throughout Scripture.  When appearing in the genitive case in the LXX and New Testament29 (so, “firstborn of...”) there are only two ways in which it is used.  


The first and most common construction can be generically defined as a genitive of source (cf. Ex. 11:5).  With this use the genitive expression defines what the firstborn originates from, generally referring to the parent of the person or animal in view.  This use is entirely incompatible with Colossians 1:15 for it would define creation as the source of Jesus Christ. 


The alternative partitive genitive defines the subject as the firstborn of the group in view (cf. Ex. 22:29).  So in a family of multiple children the one born first would be the firstborn.  There would be specific reference to “the firstborn of the children,” this individual being the eldest of all the children.30 
The difficulty this text presents to the Trinitarian position has forced them redefine firstborn in a manner that does not reflect its use.  Arguing for the meaning of “preeminent over,” numerous commentators and apologists have demanded as Weust that Colossians 1:15 refers to Christ's “priority to all creation and sovereignty over all creation.”31  Yet the very passages so often appealed to for supporting this view do not give way to their required meaning.


Certainly prototokos includes the thought of temporal priority, the one being “first.”  Yet this does not mean “before,” so to say that when one is the firstborn of a group he is before the group and not the first one of that group.  With temporal priority in view the term always speaks of the first member of the group, not one that came before it.  What though of the meanings “preeminent over” and “sovereign over?”  Can these meanings be justified within Scripture, either in the New Testament or LXX?  Do any of the figurative passages parallel what is found in Colossians 1:15? 


God spoke of both Israel and Ephraim as his firstborn, but in doing so he spoke of the nation and not individual people.  In Exodus 4:22 Moses addressed Pharaoh regarding his people with God identifying them as 'his firstborn.'  It is difficult to draw a parallel between the term's use for an entire nation and a single person.  If one attempts to force the Trinitarian view of “preeminent over” or “sovereign over” the result is that the people are actually shown to be over God.  It effectively becomes as if God called the people 'his sovereign,' which is an impossible view to sustain.  The most one can argue for is that the text indicates how highly esteemed Israel was in the eyes of God, though as already noted a literal sense may be found, especially in light of the parallel between Israel as God's firstborn and the reference to Pharaoh's firstborn.  So too in Jeremiah 31:9, with Ephraim as a reference to the nation and not an individual.  As with Exodus the sense cannot be of preeminence or sovereignty as they are God's firstborn and so not over him.


The best defense for the Trinitarian position has come from Psalm 89:27.  With David having been made firstborn some have suggested that this is a reference to David relative to his human father Jesse, but the context lacks any support for this.  In fact the text may be understood in two different ways.


Many Bible translations have taken the liberty of adding “my” prior to “firstborn,” indicating that David is God’s firstborn.32  With such an understanding the same issue that besets Exodus 4:22 and Jeremiah 31:9 with the meanings “preeminent over” and “sovereign over” would here apply.  With this understanding, the passage continues by defining David as “the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psa. 89:27b NASB), which would be the result of him being held as God’s firstborn.  Alternatively, the text may be understood to mean that David is firstborn in that he is “the highest of the kings of the earth.”   Akin to saying that David is prototokos ton basileon (“the firstborn of the kings”), this view is equally difficult, for David still is not “preeminent over” or “sovereign over” the kings of the earth, but he remains one of “the kings of the earth.”  Within this group he is the most preeminent as the one holding the highest authority.  Remaining one of “the kings of the earth” himself, David was not “over” them in the sense necessary for the Trinitarian interpretation of Colossians 1:15.


The firstborn son was “the highest” son, yet this did not mean that he was excluded from the remaining children. Even when this term is used figuratively the firstborn remains a member of the group in view. The most one could argue from the Psalm is that when firstborn was used of Jesus it identified him as the highest of the created order but still a part of it.  Indeed, Jesus is the highest of the created order, but this does not exclude temporal priority as the first member of the group to exist.

 

More difficult for the Trinitarian position is that David was said to have been “made firstborn,” an expression making any temporal priority difficult to substantiate.  In contrast there is no thought of Christ having been “made firstborn” in Colossians 1:15.  In fact, if Christ were not literally “the firstborn of all creation”33 then another was.  Christ would have then been ‘made firstborn’ for the rights and privileges associated with the position would have been taken from the one who held the position and given to him.  Not only does the Bible never articulate such an event but one must necessarily ask who that one was and why he is not exalted with the rights and privileges of that position. 


Some such as White have pointed to Romans 8:29 as a text supposedly supporting the Trinitarian view of Colossians 1:15: 


“In Romans 8:29, the Lord Christ is described as ‘the firstborn among many brethren.’  These brethren are the glorified Christians.  Here the Lord’s superiority and sovereignty over ‘the brethren’ is acknowledged, as well as His leadership in their salvation…”34 


White is correct that “these brethren are the glorified Christians,” yet it is difficult to explain his leap to conclude that “the Lord’s superiority and sovereignty over the brethren” is here defined by “firstborn.”  The highlight of Romans 8:29 is that Christians are “conformed to the image” of the glorified Jesus.  Jesus Christ, as an heir of God, was given glory.  This glory was extended to Christians (John 17:22).  As the first to be in possession of this he is the “firstborn.”  Others who come to possess this as sons of God by the model Christ established, he is “among many brethren” (cf. Gal. 4:1-7).  He is the most exalted as the firstborn should be, but temporal priority is the emphasis along with the rights so associated.


An argument long ago provided by J.B. Lightfoot cites a Jewish source where Rabbi Bechai identified God as “the firstborn of the world.”35  The implication Lightfoot sought was that if God is the “firstborn of” something he was not a part of what he was firstborn of, so temporal priority in “birth” is entirely absent.  Stafford summarizes the issue and provides a firm refutation:


“Moule notes that ‘R. Bechai appears to be R. Bahya ben Asher, a late writer (died 1340 [CE]), who is scarcely important for the original meaning of our passage.’ The reason for this is not only because Bechai’s work on the Pentateuch is nearly thirteen centuries removed from the first-century use and understanding of ‘firstborn,’ but Bechai’s methods of biblical interpretation are highly questionable, to say the least . . . Apparently it does not seem to matter to Lightfoot, or those who cite him on this point, that Bechai relied on Jewish mysticism and special revelation to help him interpret the Scriptures. Abbott is correct when he says, ‘Rabbi Bechai’s designation of God as ‘firstborn of the world’ is a fanciful interpretation of Ex. xiii. 2.’”36 


In view of the evidence it is little surprise the confession of one work: "Translated literally (as RSV), it implies that Christ is included in the created universe….”37  Indeed, we would agree.  Yet this work continues by saying that such would be “inconsistent with the context of the whole passage."38  Is this accurate?  What are the arguments involved and what does the context really indicate? 

 

“Because All Things were created in Him”

 

Historical and grammatical evidence demonstrates that Colossians 1:15 is best understood to show Christ as the first and foremost of God's creation.  What little sense it would have made for Paul to state something best understood to include Christ among the created order only to have him immediately deny that inclusion.  The Trinitarian argument begins with hoti, the first word in verse 16 best translated “because,” providing the basis for his first position among the created order.  The meaning of ta panta (“all things”) is necessarily considered along with the proper translation of en auto (“in him”). 


To suggest that the distinction between ta panta and Jesus in v. 16 excludes him from creation is not by itself unreasonable.  Had v. 16 existed in isolation this might well be preferable, but here we are considering the basis for Christ's identification as “the firstborn of all creation,” so any interpretation of verse 16 must correspond to this.


Paul's use of ta panta is with reference to all things collectively, including the universe, all that is contained within it and even the spirit realm.  The most literal translation of the two words is “the all” or just “all,” but in English we say “all things” as a smoother reading.  It is clear from 1 Corinthians 15:27 that this expression does not of itself exclude God, with Paul taking the time to cite him as the specific exception in this particular context.  Both in 1 Corinthians and Colossians Paul's specific thought did not include God within the “all” in view, even though the term allows for it. 


There exist numerous examples where one who might normally be included within “all” of a group is distinguished for reasons defined in the context.  This would include when we speak of God as the creator of “all.”  He did not create himself, not only because one cannot create one's self but also because God is not created.  Therefore we understand references to “all” in such a way to exclude Jehovah.  In a similar manner we would understand Jesus to be excluded from the “all” that was created through him.  While a Trinitarian or Sabellian might argue that this is because “all” that was created was created through him, this is far from a necessary reading.  Rather, we can just as well read that while God is excluded from “all” in reference to what he created due to him being uncreated, when the reference is to what was created “through” Jesus he is the exception to the “all” as he was naturally not created through himself.


The Septuagint version of Genesis 3:20 exemplifies this when Eve is said to be “the mother of all living.”  To understand this statement as absolute would require that Eve be the mother of Adam and even herself.  While they are members of the class of “all living,” this specific context excludes them.  Because of the obvious contextual exclusion the author saw no issue in penning these words as he did, though in English it might be better to say “all others living.” 


Josephus presented ta panta in a way understood as qualified by the context as well.  In his Antiquities of the Jews we are told of Antiochus, who is reported to have prohibited the Jews from following their own laws.  A Jew named Mattathias had significant influence over the people, so it was thought that if he could be turned to do what was instructed his “fellow citizens” would follow suite.  In Mattathias’ response to the effort to turning him he spoke of ta panta ethne, which translates literally to “all the nations,” saying that even if these turn he and his people would not.  When he spoke of “all the nations,” he was not referring to his own, but to all others than his own.  Hence, in translating this text William Whiston has rendered it “all the other nations” (Ant. 12:268-269).39  


Another example of qualification is in Luke 21:29.  Reading of “the fig tree and all the trees,” the text defines the fig tree as a tree and yet it is spoken of relative to “all the trees.”  While “all the trees” obviously does not exclude the fig tree, for this specific use they are distinguished.  Therefore, the text speaks of what is really “all the other trees.”  Luke 13:2 does the same when a select group of Galileans is distinguished from “all the Galileans.”40  While this group of Galileans would normally be included in the complete group of Galileans, it is for the purpose of what is being stated in this context that they are distinguished.


Colossians 1:15 is best read with Jesus understood to be a part of “all things,” but because of what is next described he is distinguished as well.  What is here done well parallels these other examples to the extent that the context provides qualification.  The specific context excludes Jesus from the “all” in view though outside of this specific context he serves as a member of it.  In context v. 16 refers to “all other things.” 


The objection to these points is well anticipated.  Ron Rhodes argues that the “Greek interlinear version of the Bible shows that the Greek word panta means 'all things' and not 'all other' things.”41  This argument fails when the evidence we have here considered is placed against it.  The New Testament authors along with early writers generally recognized that “all” could be and regularly was used in a way qualified by the context. 


Understanding who and what the “all things” are, we must examine how they were created “in him.”  Some such as the NASB render this as “by him,” but many can easily misunderstand this reading.  Rather than identifying Jesus as the source of creation, as some may be inclined to believe, this rendering is based upon understanding the Greek text as a dative of means.  Jesus is thought of as the means God used to create.  While possible this is unlikely, for the “through him” that follows becomes nothing more than a restatement of the same idea.  As Vincent notes the text is best understood locally: 


In is not instrumental but local; not denying the instrumentality, but putting the fact of creation with reference to its sphere and center.”42


The thought of creation occurring “in him” is perhaps unusual without a historical framework to work with.  The idea of this event occurring by God in another is not something generally contemplated.  For example, how could the earth or the universe be created within Jesus?  How could this be true of mankind or the angels?  Abbott suggests a historic interpretation addressing this concern:


“The Schoolmen, following, indeed, Origen and Athanasius, interpreted the words of the causa exemplaris, viz. that the idea omnium rerum was in Christ.  So that He was, as it were, the Archetypal Universe, the summary of finite being as it existed in the Eternal Mind.  This view has been adopted by Neander, Schleiermacher, Olshausen, and others. Olshausen says: ‘The Son of God is the intelligible world, the kosmos noetos, that is, things in their Idea.  In the creation they come forth from Him to an independent existence.’ . . . This would correspond to Philo’s view of the Logos..."43


Christ is the center of creation because in him it was all created ideally.  Philo expressed a similar view, arguing that God “first of all conceived [the world] in his mind, according to which form he made a world perceptible only by the intellect, and then completed one visible to the external senses, using the first one as a model.”44  To Philo the model was only in God's mind but to Paul it was in the preexistent Jesus Christ.  Peake further explains: 

 

“The schoolmen, followed by some modern theologians, explain that the Son is the archetype of the universe, the kosmos noetos, the eternal pattern after which the physical universe has been created.”45  

 

Abbott's comment reveals his favor of this understanding, yet both he and Peake are forced to reject it from the notion that these were not merely in him, but created in him.  If Christ is the model or pattern from which all else comes, the ideas created within him, he cannot himself be eternal.  He must be created as the “created” and not eternal pattern.46 


The preceding allows for understanding how Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation because in him all things were created.”47  They were created in him in their idea as part of his own creation, the firstborn himself serving as the archetypal model for all further creation.  They came to consist in him, not physically, but ideally.  This corresponds to 1:16 when it says that this same “all things” were created “through him.”  So we can say as Brown that Christ worked in “establishing of all other things.”48


As “all things” are contextually relative in verse 16, they are also in 17, itself a noted allusion to Proverbs 8:24-26.49  Jesus was “before all things,” again causing some to interpret his preexistence as eternal.  As a contextually relative statement one would expect him to be before the rest of those defined as “all things,” with him as the first to have been created.  In fact the same concept is expressed by the apocryphal book Sirach, from which this statement is likely derived, where Wisdom is said to have been “created before all things” (Sir. 1:4 RSV). 

 

Again Born First

 

Further paralleling Colossians 1:15 is Jesus' identification in verse 18 as “the firstborn from the dead,” providing a literal fulfillment of Psalm 89:27.  A footnote in the New American Bible explains: “There is a parallelism between firstborn of all creation (15) and firstborn from the dead (18).”50  The idea presented in verse 18 is repeated in Revelation 1:5.  Paul articulated this idea as well, identifying him as “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1Cor. 15:20). 


Paul and John understood that Christ was the first to be raised from the dead in the resurrection, as did Jesus himself where, in the context of his resurrection, he spoke of himself as “the first” (Rev. 1:17).51  Before Jesus no one had been raised in “the resurrection,” for no one had been given immortality or the associated spiritual body (1Cor. 15:44-45).  It is therefore significant that the notion of temporal priority exists in Colossians 1:18.  He is “the firstborn from the dead” as the first to be raised.  Through him all others will be resurrected (1Th. 4:16).  Further, he is the archetypal model of all others who will be resurrected (Rom. 8:29).   


In no way can the meaning of “preeminent over” be intended in verse 18.  The preposition evx (out of) is used with the genitive, giving the sense of Christ coming “out of the dead.”  This resurrection process is spoken of as birth just as creation, and again Christ is the “first” to have received it.  Just as Jesus was resurrected and through him all others will be resurrection, so too he was created with all others created through him. 

 

A Refutation of Heresy

 

The apostle Paul penned his letter to the Colossians with definite purpose.  It is widely recognized that he was refuting what is generically defined as the Colossian heresy.  While a great deal of work has been performed to determine the exact nature of the heresy there has yet to be a consensus.
Our purpose in addressing Paul’s refutation is not to determine the nature of it, for such is well beyond the scope of this writing. For example, White argues: 


“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 weakens Paul’s entire argument against the Gnostics, leaving him arguing in circles!”52


Arguments as the one presented by White assume either that we fully understand the nature of the heresy that Paul was refuting or that he did not fully understand what he was writing against unless we follow the position White advances.  Yet F.F. Bruce makes an important observation:


"Some scholars suggest that Paul's polemic was not always well informed, that he was prone to misunderstand the positions he attacked. The implication is that those modern scholars who charge him with misunderstanding are better informed than he was about this or that position which he attacks, whether it be the Corinthian disbelief in future resurrection or the Galatian reliance on works of a certain kind as the ground of their justification. On this it can simply be said that even those scholars are dependent on what Paul says about the controverted positions. So if he was misinformed, no more trustworthy source of information is available.”53  


Setting Bruce's comments aside, and for the sake of discussion taking White's position as correct, it is plain that there are vast differences between the Gnostic heresy and what Paul presented in Colossians 1:15-18.  For example, a principle of Gnostic teaching is that matter is evil.  Barclay explains:


“The Gnostics began with the basic assumption that matter was altogether evil and spirit altogether good…. Now God was spirit and if spirit was altogether good and matter essentially evil, it followed, as the Gnostic saw it, that the true God could not touch matter and, therefore, could not himself be the agent of creation.  So the Gnostics believed that God put forth a series of emanations, each a little further away from God until at last there was one so distant from God, that it could handle matter and create the world.”54 


How does Paul’s presentation differ from Gnosticism?  Barclay further relates:


“As the Gnostics saw it, the creator was not God but someone hostile to him; and the world was not God’s world but that of a power hostile to him. That is why Paul insists that God did create the world, and that his agent in creation was no ignorant and hostile emanation but Jesus Christ, his Son (Colossians 1:16).”55


It was not necessary for God to somehow be removed from his creation and in no way is material creation evil.  Rather, God created his son first and through that son he created all other things, including matter.  In other words, there is a single direct creation by God, not a series of aeons, and that one is the agent that this God used to create everything else, including matter.


A question of greater importance is perhaps of how Christ could ever have come to be viewed as a Gnostic aeon, the demiurge down the progression of aeons or one produced by the demiurge if in fact early Gnostic Christians had previously understood him to be a person of the Triune Almighty God?  Even if he had been identified as a high ranking aeon, how could this conclusion have been advanced if the church held to a Trinitarian theology?  Was the Gnostic view so radical as to be in complete contrast to the Christian faith?  If so, how were the Gnostic teachers able to mutate Christian theology so to fit it to their doctrine in a convincing manner?  It seems apparent that if the early church did advance a Trinitarian view of God there would have been no room for the necessary mutation of Christian thought to fit Gnostic teaching, especially so early in the church.  It is hard to imagine a Trinitarian church departing into such a radically heresy if Jesus was viewed as Almighty God.  Yet if the Colossians properly viewed Christ as the first one to have been created and as the agent through whom God worked to bring about the rest of creation those teaching, a Gnostic heresy would have had a clear opportunity to mutate this to fit their theological framework. 

 

Revelation 3:14

 

One can hardly discuss Proverbs 8:22 and Colossians 1:15 without considering Revelation 3:14.  With a reading of the King James VersionJesus is presented as the first creation, calling him “the beginning (avrch,) of the creation of God.”56  This understanding has been fiercely opposed by those who reject the notion of a created Messiah. 


The lack of a Trinitarian consensus on the meaning of this text demonstrates it’s difficulty.  One view, corresponding to an interpretative footnote in the NASB, suggests that by “the beginning” the meaning is that Jesus is the “Origin or Source”57 of creation.  The alternative provided by the NIV finds Jesus to be instead “the ruler of God's creation.”


While arche, does at times refer to the originator of an action this use is lacking not only in the book of Revelation but in all of the New Testament.  Even when God is identified as “the beginning” the context does not categorize him as the origin or source of anything, but he is the first to have existed as the eternal being.


Ruling out the meaning of “origin or source” is the Father's identification as this one apart from the Son.  Creation is expressly identified as God the Father's (tou theou), showing it to have originated with him. As it is his creation he is the 'originator' of it, coming from him as the “source.” God’s position as the “source” of creation is unequivocally defined him as the one “out of whom are all things” (1Cor. 8:6, literal).  .


Suggesting that Jesus is the origin or source of creation is to contradict passages defining his role in creation.  As discussed in chapter 3 he is repeatedly identified as the intermediate agent in creation, while “God the Father is thought of as the original cause.”58  Contrary to what Trinitarians might like to suggest, the rendering provided by the NASB would imply Sabellianism.


The NIV is correct insomuch as arche can be translated “ruler.”  This is difficult as the New Testament never uses the singular in such a way.  On three occasions the singular is rendered “rule,”59 though this would not here apply.  A search reveals the consistent use of another word, archon, for the singular “ruler” in all of the New Testament, including Revelation.  So in 1:5 Jesus is identified as the “ruler (archon.) of the kings of the earth.”


Significantly, many scholars have recognized that Revelation 3:14 is an allusion to Proverbs 8:22.  Bruce brings this to light, noting that the expression “the beginning of God’s creation” is probably “an allusion to wisdom's self-introduction as ‘the beginning of His way’ in Prov[erbs] 8:22.”60  In both texts arche, is used with the same first-in-time meaning.  Burney remarks:


"Another New Testament allusion to Prov[erbs] viii 22 in reference to Christ is found in Rev[elation] iii 14 he arche tes ktiseos tou theou, a title of the risen Christ which Dr Swete and Dr Charles have not a shadow of authority for limiting in meaning to 'the Source of God's creation'. There is every reason to suppose that avrch is here used with all the fullness of meaning which St Paul extracts from reshith-Beginning, Sum-total, Head, First-fruits."61 


Some have argued for Revelation 3:14 to be an allusion to Isaiah 65:16-17.62  While such may well be argued as present within the verse, this is seen only in a portion of the text and does not properly account for the phrase in question.63  On the other hand, the allusion to Proverbs 8:22 can hardly be missed, with no possible interpretation of this passage allowing for the sense of ruler, origin or source.


Examples of the first-in-time use of arche, within the LXX include Genesis 49:3 with “the first (or beginning) of [Jacob’s] children,” and Jeremiah 2:3 with "the beginning of his harvest" in reference to Israel as the first nation God had set aside for himself.  These along with many other texts such as Exodus 12:2 and 34:22 clearly parallel the first-in-time sense present in Revelation 3:14.


The evidence points to Jesus being "the beginning of God's creation," the first created being.  In fact the qualifier “of God” provided in the text might be suggested superfluous if not providing the necessary clarity to see that Christ was not defined as the source of creation. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature has argued that “the m[eanin]g. beginning=‘first created’ is linguistically probable.”64  When all of the evidence is considered regarding these passages the evidence is unmistakably clear.  Jesus Christ is the first and most highly exalted of God’s creation.

 


1           The Jerusalem Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966), 943.

2           Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” ANF, 1:227-8.

3           Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” ANF, 3:488.

4           Cyprian, “The Treatise of Cyprian,” ANF, 5:515-6.

5           Lactantius, “The Divine Institutes,” ANF, 6:105.

6           Origen, “De Principiis,” ANF, 4:246.

7           J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 Volumes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1988), 3:33.

8           The New International Webster’s Compact Dictionary of the English Language: International Encyclopedic Edition, Ed Sidney I. Landau, 1999 Edition, Trident Press International, 541.

9           Larry Hurtado argues for this, citing the above reference in support of his position (Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, Second Edition [New York: T&T Clark, 1998], 46-47).  It is possible that the personification Hurtado argues for was derived from a misunderstanding of Wisdom's personification.  

10          Celia Deutsch, “Wisdom in Matthew: Transformation of a Symbol,” NovT, XXXII, 1 (New York: 1990), 41.

11          A number of commentators see this use of Wisdom to somehow be seen in both Jesus and John, noting that they are both justified by their works.  While it is true that they are both justified, John is never identified as Wisdom and it does not seem consistent with the New Testament witness to do so.  Rather, because John came to prepare “the way of the Lord,” which is the work God sent for him to accomplish, if Jesus was justified John was implicitly as well.

12          John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, [WWW reference cited Oct. 15, 2005], http://www.studylight.org/com/geb/, Luke 7:35.

13          Some might observe that Christ is also said to be “the power of God,” appealing to Romans 1:20 where God’s power is said to be eternal.  The vast difference is that Romans is speaking of his power as an attribute, while Christ is his power as the personification of it.  This is perhaps an allusion to Christ as almost the personification of “the arm of Jehovah” (Isa. 53:1), where one’s arm is thought of as their strength or power.  

14          On this text Barnes notes: “This thought, developed in ch. viii., is the first link in the chain which connects this 'Wisdom' with the Divine Word, the Logos of St. John’s Gospel.” (BN, 5:19).

15          Peter T. O’Brien, "Colossians," New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Fourth Edition of The New Bible Commentary, Edited by D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Moyter, G.J. Wenham (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVaristy Press, 1994), Colossians 1:16.

16          Wisdom is spoken of in the feminine, which is not of particular issue for the gender of the Hebrew noun is feminine, much as with the Greek elsewhere applied to Christ (1Co. 1:24).  The feminine imagery is kept through the context likely intending to add to Wisdom's appeal.  “The use of the device is partly explained by the fact that the noun 'wisdom' is feminine, but its development reflects the genius of the author who plays off the notion of desirability, contrasting the sensory appeal of the seductress and the total satisfaction to be found in choosing to make one's commitment to wisdom instead.” (L. Richards, The Bible Reader's Companion [Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1991], 388.)  The text addressed the preexistent Christ who was technically not a man or a woman as he was not a human at all.

17          BN, 5:32.

18          Here again the feminine imagery is used so the reference to his disciples as “maidens” is not particularly difficult. 

19          Athanasius, "Against the Heathen," A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Edited by Philip Schaff, Volume 4 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.), 29.

20          C.F. Burney, “Christ as the ARXH of Creation,” JTS, Volume 27, 160.

21          The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, Edited by Adele Berlin, Michael Fishbane and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford University Press, 2004), 1461.

22          Kenneth T. Aitken, 2001, “Proverbs,” The Daily Study Bible Series (Louidville, KY.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986), 82.  So too the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament::"The Pulal is the passive of the Polel, 'to be born' (Job 15:7; Psa 51:5 [H 7]). This idiom may be used to refer to creation or origins on a cosmic scale (Prov 8:24-25).” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., Bruce K. Waltke [Chicago: Moody Press, 1980], 271.)

23          So in verse 23 while many translations say Wisdom was “from everlasting” she was not in fact eternal.  The language here is best understood as “from ancient times” or as J.N. Young rendered it, “from the age” (The English Young's Translation of the Holy Bible, 1862/1887/1898).

24          J.P. Louw  and E.A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, Second Edition, 2 Volumes (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), 1:10:43.

25          Some of the following information may come across as repetitive, but it is highlighted so that those new to these concepts will not be forced into repeatedly referring back to the preceding pages to more clearly see the connections between Proverbs 8 and Colossians 1. 

26          Raymond E. Brown, “An Introduction to the New Testament,” The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 803-804.

27          Burney, 173.

28          Ibid., 173-174.

29           I am unaware of any exceptions in any contemporary text.

30          Some have made the assertion that because the genitive “is not modified by a possessive noun or pronoun” the expression is unlikely to be a partitive genitive (Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007], 316).  This argument comes across as rather desperate when one considers that “all creation” is implicitly God’s, making such a “noun or pronoun” superfluous.  In contrast, Revelation 3:14 (discussed in detail below) supplies this to clarify the sense of arche as not to misconstrue the meaning to be “source.”  This same work notes that in Colossians 1:15 Jesus is said to be the firstborn while in the LXX the use is “always generic” (ibid), yet how this is relevant is never defined.  The authors seem to be looking to obfuscate by making arguments for the sake of arguing even if it is irrelevant to the issue.

31          Kenneth S. Weust, Weust’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, 4 Volumes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., rprn. 2004), 1:183. 

32          So KJV, NASB, NIV, NJB.

33          This use of firstborn is not completely literal for Christ was not born of a woman.  The point is only that “born” is not entirely meaningless but an idiomatic reference to creation.  By saying he was literally the firstborn I mean only to say that the meaning includes temporal priority. 

34          James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 112.

35          J.B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, Eighth Edition (London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1886), 145.

36          Greg Stafford, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics, Second Edition (Huntington Beach, CA: Elihu Book, 2000), 216-217.

37          R.G. Bratcher & E.A. Nida, A Translator's Handbook on Paul's Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1977), 22.

38          Ibid.

39          Flavius Josephus, “The Antiquities of the Jews,” 12:269, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition, Translated by William Whiston (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 325.

40          Literal translation.

41          Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah's Witnesses (Eugene, Or.: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), 77.

42          Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 4 Volumes (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), 3:468.

43          T.K. Abbott, “The Epistle to the Ephesians and to the Colossians,” The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Scribner, 1902), 214. 

44          Philo, "On the Creation," The Works of Philo: Complete and unabridged, New Updated Edition, Translated by C.D. Yonge (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 4.

45          A.S. Peake, “The Epistle to the Colossians,” EGT, 3:504.

46          Understanding this it is appropriate to address an objection put forth by a few of the more unscholarly Trinitarian apologists to explain away the partitive genitive of Colossians 1:15.  These have argued that Christ is only a member of creation as a human, and so it is only when he “became flesh” (John 1:14) that he became part of the created order.  This argument, however, disregards the context, where 16a provides the basis for his position, coming entirely from his existence before he became a man as the one in whom “all things were created.”  The holding of this position therefore has nothing to do with his existence as a human.

47          Literal translation.

48          Brown, 804.

49          Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament, Greek Text Novum Testamentum Gracece, Edited by B. and K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, C.M. Martini, B.M. Metzger, 27th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), 524.

50          The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible, Edited by Donald Senior (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1990), 2084.

51          For more on this text and the interpretation of it, see chapter 7.

52          White, 115. 

53          F.F. Bruce, “Colossian Problems Part 3: The Colossian Heresy,” BibSac (July-September 1984), 196.

54          William Barclay, “The letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians,” The Daily Study Bible Series, Revised Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000), 97.

55          Ibid., 114.

56          Admittedly the KJV translators may not have intended this meaning, but such is the result.

57          New American Standard Bible: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1997), 191.

58          H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1957), 162.

59          The exceptions being Luke 20:20, 1 Corinthians 15:24 and Ephesians 1:21.

60          F.F. Bruce, “The 'Christ Hymn’ of Colossians 1:15-20”, BibSac  (Jan. 1984), 107.

61          Burney, 177.

62          So Michael J. Svigel, “Christ as the Arche in Revelation 3:14,” BibSac (April-June 2004), 215-231.  Svigel attempts to get around the evidence by distinguishing between a “protemporal” and “propartial” use of avrch,, yet both have the same basic meaning with only differing application.  This proves exceptionally difficult for his argument as the shared meaning is statistically most probable.  It is only necessary to determine what use within the shared meaning best suites Revelation 3:14.  While a “protemporal” use is far more common, only “propartial” is applicable. 

63          That more than one Old Testament allusion is here found would account for the mix of active (“Amen”, “faithful and true Witnesses”) and passive (“beginning of God's creation”) titles.  While there is nothing that strictly prohibits this use (for example, many translate Hebrews 1:3 with “exact representation” [passive] and “radiance” [active]), that Jesus' words are alluding to at least two Old Testament passages would account for the combination. 

64          BDAG, 138. Emphasis added.

 

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