• info@valleyremnant.com
  • 412-969-5499

The Hymn of Christ -Colossians 1: 15-17

The Hymn of Christ -Colossians 1: 15-17

Introduction

For thousands of years, Christian believers’ hearts have been filled with joy and compassion as they sang Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The ability to recite the doctrinal truths of God in song form has been a standard way of transferring doctrine since before Moses’ time. This tradition has carried through the times of the New Testament and into our churches today. During the New Testament era, Christian churches were new yet the divinity of Christ saturated the hymns of the day. As the Apostle Paul was sitting in prison, he had time to deal with several issues arising in some of the newly established churches. One church that was being infiltrated with false doctrine was the church in Colossae. The Colossian church was being taught that they should worship angels.[1] This false teaching was addressed directly by Paul. In the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul focuses on the supremacy of Christ so that the members of the Colossian church may walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord. In Colossian 1: 15-17, Paul uses a first Century hymn to present a clear view of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His role as creator and sustainer of all.[2] The hymn is as follows:

15ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, 16ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται· 17καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν,[3] (Col. 1:15-17 BGT)

Below is a chart that gives a verse by verse literal translation of Colossians 1:15-17.

Verse Colossians 1:15-17

BGT Nestle-Aland 28th Edition Greek New Testament[4]

Translation
15 ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, Which is the images of the invisible God, firstborn all creation.
16 ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται· Because in the beginning he created all things in the heaven and on the earth, the visible and the invisible; if a throne, if dominion, if an authority: all things on account of himself and through himself he created.
17 καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν, And he is before everything and all things in himself consist.

Word to be Researched

The word πρωτότοκος “prototokos” translated to English means firstborn. The word πρωτότοκος is not a “hapax legomena” because it shows up more than one time in the New Testament and a total of 39 times throughout the Bible. The parsing of the word πρωτότοκος shows several things: (1) the part of speech is adjective, (2) it is in the nominative case, (3) it is in the masculine gender form, and (4) it is in the singular. The issue with the word πρωτότοκος is what is the interpretation of the translation? How does the application of being the firstborn concur with the eternality of Christ?

The word πρωτότοκος is a conjunction of πρωτό, which translates to “first” and τοκος, which translates to “offspring.” Paul had no intention to say that Jesus was the first creation. That is evident in the proceeding verse, Colossians 1:16, where Paul writes, “Because in the beginning he created all things in the heaven and on the earth.” (“ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς”)[5]­ If it was Paul’s intention to proclaim Jesus to be the first created being, he could have made that πρωτόgonoj (“created first”) or πρωτόlatoj (“formed first”).[6] How can Christ be the firstborn? If he was born, he would have to be a creation and could not be the creator of all things. But a proper understanding of the use of the word “πρωτότοκος” will lead to a right understanding of the text.

The Use of the Word

The Apostle Paul is combating false teaching and contributing direct training on proper Christology. The false teaching that was circulating was most likely a blend of Jewish and Hellenistic teachings.[7] Paul’s purpose for the usage of πρωτότοκος can be traced back to the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, בְּכוֹר , the word πρωτότοκος (firstborn), is used in a few different ways. It is used first in Genesis 25:13 when describing the names of the sons of Ishmael. All through the book of Genesis the word, πρωτότοκος is used to describe the literal firstborn sons of individuals. These firstborn sons had an entitlement to the blessings of their earthly fathers. The firstborn was entitled to get a double portion of the inheritance.

The word πρωτότοκος in the book of Exodus has a shift in its use. It goes from a literal firstborn child to the figurative firstborn. The Lord God tells Moses in Exodus 4:22, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son.”[8] The Lord is using the phrase figuratively when speaking to Moses. The nation of Israel was not God’s first group of people created. Because of God’s grace he has chosen them to be His people and receive His inheritance. There are various other passages in the Old Testament that list the literal and figurative interpretive methods.

The word πρωτότοκος can be found in the different cases – the accusative form πρωτότοκοn,, and genitive form πρωτότοκoj,. Paul himself uses the accusative word form πρωτότοκοn, in his letter to the Romans: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn “πρωτότοκοn” among many brothers.”[9] (Rom. 8:29) In this passage Paul is speaking on Christ being the firstborn of those who are predestined. This word πρωτότοκος is also used by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation 1:5 as it is describing Jesus as the first born from the dead. [10] There is one use of the word in the non-canonical book 4 Maccabees 15:18 and the same translation is giving.

Lexicon Analysis

The proper translation for the word πρωτότοκος is not the topic of debate among lexical references. The consensus show that the word in all its forms is directly translated to be the firstborn.[11] According to Timothy Finburgh, in his lexicon πρωτότοκος can mean “existing before; literally, as the oldest son in a family and figuratively and used of Jesus Christ, as the unique preexistent Son of the heavenly Father; as the one existing before all creation; as the first to be resurrected from the dead; as the head of a spiritual family of ‘many siblings’ of redeemed mankind as God’s honored family.”[12]

The significance of the lexical studies is solid proof that Christ is not a creation but the Creator. God becoming man in the form of Jesus does not attest that he was created, but that He humbled Himself and took the form of a servant. Christ still retained His status as the Preeminent One, the πρωτότοκος, the firstborn of all of creation, all things are His. Paul as the author uses his words carefully and the purpose had a previously understood concept.

Comparative Translations

Comparing some of the major English Bible translations – King James Version (KJV), English Standard Version (ESV), and American Standard Version (ASV) – the word πρωτότοκος gets a unanimous translation as firstborn. The preferred translation is the KJV, there is not a lexical reason for this conclusion it is only that the clarity of the read that makes the doxological phrasing of the Apostle Paul come to life.

Conclusion

The issue with the word πρωτότοκος is not, and has never been, what is the proper translation. It is, what is the interpretation of the translation? Through this exegetical study, it is proven that the word πρωτότοκος should not be taken literally to mean that the Second Person in the Trinity was created. The word πρωτότοκος has a figurative nature which is determined by the role of the firstborn child for the Nation of Israel. That is the answer to how does the application of being the firstborn concur with the eternality of Christ.

The Apostle Paul’s writing has been the subject of much debate since the 19th century, and it was not until then that anyone questioned the possibility that Paul was not the author of the letter to the Colossians.[13] Most scholars disregard this claim and have a solid ground to stand on in doing so. The only topic that is not conclusive is if Paul is the composer of this great doxological hymn that is in the letter or if it derived from a preexisting hymn. But, God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirt, preserved His Word. With all the textual variants found for the Greek New Testament writings, there is a constant use of the word πρωτότοκος. Jesus Christ is the Image of the Invisible God, and He alone deserves to exemplify the title Firstborn.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aland, Barbara, Kurt Aland, Iōan D. Karavidopoulos, Carlo Maria Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger, eds. The Greek New Testament. Compiled by Holger Strutwolf. 5th ed. Revised Edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, American Bible Society, United Bible Societies, 2014.

Barclay, William. The All-Sufficient Christ: Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. Edinburgh: St Andrew Press, 1978.

Burer, Michale H., and Jeffrey E. Miller. A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids,: Kregel Publications.

Cannon, George E. The Use of Traditional Materials in Colossians: Their Significance for the Problems of Authenticity and Purpose. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983.

Carson, Donald A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2005.

Harris, Murray J. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2010.

Sproul, R. C., ed. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015.

FOOTNOTES

[1] William Barclay, The All-Sufficient Christ: Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. (Edinburgh: St Andrew Press, 1978), 39.

[2] George E. Cannon, The Use of Traditional Materials in Colossians: Their Significance for the Problems of Authenticity and Purpose (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983), 27.

[3] Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, comp. Holger Strutwolf, 5th ed., Revised Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, American Bible Society, United Bible Societies, 2014), 665.

[4] Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, comp. Holger Strutwolf, 5th ed., Revised Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, American Bible Society, United Bible Societies, 2014), 665.

[5] Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, comp. Holger Strutwolf, 5th ed., Revised Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, American Bible Society, United Bible Societies, 2014), 665.

[6] Harris, Murray J. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon. (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2010), 41.

[7] Carson, Donald A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2nd ed. Grand (Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 524.

[8] Sproul, R. C. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard version. (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015).

[9] Sproul, R. C. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard version. (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015).

[10] Sproul, R. C. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard version. (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015).

[11] Michale H. Burer and Jeffrey E. Miller, A New Reader’s Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids,: Kregel Publications), 379.

[12] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2005).

[13] Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 517.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.