By Ronald R. Day
Those who deny that Jesus is a creature often promote some ingenious ways of getting around the most obvious meaning of what is stated related to such in Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:14.
The very fact that Jesus was "firstborn of every creature" (Colossians 1:15) speaks of a birth, as coming forth into life. No where in the scriptures is the word "firstborn" ever used to designate one who did not actually come forth into existence, although those who wish to believe that Jesus is his God would claim such, but only as it relates to Jesus, and that only because they do not wish to acknowledge that Jesus was actually the first one born (brought forth into being) of all creation. Thus, their excuse for not accepting that "firstborn" in Colossians 1:15 means the first one of those creatures to receive life is actually circular: "since we believe that Jesus was not a creature, then firstborn as applied to Jesus cannot mean that he was actually the first one brought forth by God, thus firstborn as applied to Jesus cannot mean that he was actually the first one brought forth by God," and thus they seek to find ways to thwart what the scripture actually tells us.
Nevertheless, the partitive genitive usage of Colossians 1:15 does show that Jesus is a member of the creation being spoken of, thus a "creature". This rule of Greek grammar on the partitive genitive proves this, because the construction, "firstborn of every creature [or all creation]", being partitive genitive, means that the genitive which contains as a part of its contents the thing or things mentioned in the noun that governs the genitive. The expression, "the firstborn of every creature," being in the Greek a partitive genitive, it includes as a part of itself the thing implied in the noun that governs it, that being "firstborn." Therefore, it proves that the firstborn one is a part of creation and, accordingly, was created and thus had a beginning.
The word "firstborn" is always used in either of two settings: as being the firstborn offspring of a father (as in Genesis 25:13), or as being part of the group being spoken of. Nevertheless even when used as the firstborn offspring of a father, it is still the group of children that the offspring of the father that the firstborn is a member of. For instance, In Exodus 11:5 we find: "the firstborn of Pharaoh" is one of the group that would make up Pharaoh's offspring. Still, since Colossians 1:15 is definitely not saying that Jesus is the offspring of creation, making the creation the father, the other alternative is that Jesus is definitely included as part of the creation of which he is firstborn. In no case does "firstborn" mean that the firstborn did not have a beginning, or that the firstborn is not included in the group of which he is firstborn.
The expression "firstborn of all creation" is further shown to include Jesus as a creature as can be seen from similar usage in Revelation 1: 5: "firstborn of the dead". Jesus was indeed dead, a member of the group of which he was the firstborn, and was the first to be fully made alive from the dead, never to die again. That Jesus was actually a member of those dead can be seen a few verses further, for Jesus says: "I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." (Revelation 1: 18) Later on, Jesus is referred to as the one "who was dead, and has come to life". (Revelation 2:8) Further, Paul tell us that "Christ died, rose, and lived again." (Romans 14:9) Jesus is not being spoken of as simply a ruler over the dead. Certainly, however, as being the first to actually be made alive from the dead, he possesses the right of firstborn in that sense also, thus we read: "Christ died, rose, and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living." (Romans 14:9) Thus Colossians 1:18 tells us: "He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." The usage of "firstborn", however, both in Revelation 1:5 as well as Colossians 1:15, does not mean that the one spoken of as firstborn is not a member of the group of which he the firstborn.
Thus, from Colossians 1:15, we have two lines of proof that Jesus was a creature, thus having a beginning.
Some seek to deny that that Colossians 1:15 is partitive genitive, and thus promote the idea that the genitive usage in Colossians means something else. They do this, however, only as related to "firstborn" in Colossians 1:15, thus singling out this verse because it is reference to Jesus. The only reason to single this verse out is because of their preconception that Jesus is not creature; thus, the circular reasoning.
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: -- New American Standard Version.
In this verse, Jesus refers to himself as the "beginning of the creation of God" [ARCHE TES KTISEOS TOU THEOU = the beginning of the creation of the God ], which, we believe is an allusion to Proverbs 8:22,23: "The LORD [Yahweh, Jehovah] created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old." (Revised Standard Version)
The Westcott and Hort Interlinear transliterates the phrase as "hee archee tees ktisews tou theou." The interlinear English rendering is: "the beginning of the creation of the God."
Many, not willing to admit that Jesus as had a "beginning", would change Revelation 3:14 to read "the Head of God's creation" (World English Bible translation) or "the Originator of God's creation." (The New King James Version)
Regarding the latter, while the prehuman Jesus, as the mighty Logos, was indeed the Agent of God in creation of the "all" referred to in John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16, in the manner of rendering the phrase as "the originator" would imply that the "originator" was not God, since the verse goes on to designate the creation as being that of God, and Jesus as the originator of God's creation. We would have no objection to such a view as a possibility, although we do not believe that this is the intent of using the expression "the originator of God's creation", rather than "the beginning of God's creation." Evidently, the intent of rendering this as "the originator" rather than "the beginning" is to deliberately deny that Jesus had a beginning.
Likewise, the designation as "the head of God's creation" would place Jesus outside of being God, but as the one appointed by God as "head of God's creation," although I am sure that the intent of those who would render the phrase as such is to deny that Jesus was saying that he had a beginning as part of God's creation, being the first one to so created.
Nevertheless, similar genitive case constructs in the Greek NT do not support the rendering "originator" or "head" rather than the beginning, thus Revelation 3:14 would be singled out for theological reasons for such a rendering, not because it is actually a result of anything in the Greek grammar itself. For instance, in Matthew 24:8, we find the phrase "archee wdinwn" (W&H). To render this as "the originator of pangs of birth" would actually not fit the context, nor do I know of any translation that renders the word as "originator" or "head" in Matthew 24:8. Likewise, in Philippians 4:15, we find the phrase "en archee tou euaggeliou." Again, I know of no translation that would think of saying "in the originator/head of the good news" in this verse. Another verse we might also note is Mark 1:1, where we find the phrase, "archee tou euaggeliou ieesou christou" (W&H), "the beginning of the Good News."
Similar constructs can also be found in the LXX at: Genesis 10:10; 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17; and Hosea 1:2. Concerning the phrase as found in Revelation 3:14, however, vincent states:
Obviously, neither in Mark 10:6 nor in Mark 13:19 would one want to claim that Jesus was speaking of the head or originator of creation. Again, this shows that those who advocate a such meanings in Revelation 3:14 do so, not because that such in inherent in the Greek, but because of their theological prejudice.
If we look at Revelation 1 and 2, we can see that a clear distinction is being made between Jesus and God. Revelation 1:1,2 begins by showing that distinction. Revelation 1:6 shows "God" as the Father of Jesus. The World English shows this, stating that Jesus "made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God and Father." In Revelation 2:7, Jesus speaks of "the paradise of my God." In Revelation 3:2,12, Jesus speaks of "my God". In all of these verses Jesus delineates himself from God. Was he stating in Revelation 3:14 that he was God the originator of God's creation, or that he was God the head of God's creation? If Jesus was God the creator, why would he be speaking in Revelation 3:14 of "God's creation"? Why did he not say, using the slanted translations that would evidently seek to deny that he had a beginning, "the head of my creation", or "the originator of my creation?"
The above was originally written in April 2008; it has been updated with some new thoughts, and republished December 1, 2014.