Since Jesus is described as “the first-born of all creation” in Colossians 1:15, then obviously “Jesus is the eldest in Jehovah’s family of sons” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 408). In addition, the following verses indicate that Jesus was the firstborn in the sense that He was the first one created, and then He created all other things.
Prior to this passage, each instance of “the firstborn of” refers to being part of a group. “’The firstborn of Israel’ is one of the sons of Israel; ‘the firstborn of Pharaoh’ is one of Pharaoh’s family; ‘the firstborn of beast’ are themselves animals” (Ibid.).
Finally, the New World Translation adds the term “[other]” to the text due to the context of the term firstborn as well as the way the Greek term for all things (pan′ta) is translated in other passages. “At Luke 13:2, RS [Revised Standard Version] renders this ‘all…other’; JB [Jerusalem Bible] reads ‘any other’; NE [New English Bible] says ‘anyone else.’ (See also Luke 21:29 in NE and Philippians 2:21 in JB.) …Thus he is shown to be a created being, part of the creation produced by God” (Ibid., and 409).
As already discussed in the John 1:1 FAQ, being begotten or born entails that one has the nature of its begetter. Yet JWs clearly deny that anyone else has God’s unique nature. He alone is Jehovah. Thus, JWs must claim that the term firstborn (Greek prototikto) in this Colossians passage is really a figurative use of what Paul really meant, viz., the first one created (Greek protoktizo). But this cannot be what Paul had in mind.
First, Genesis 1:1 is clear that Jesus was not the first creation of Jehovah. The heavens and earth were created by Him in the beginning.
Second, the Colossians passage is claiming the same thing that Jn. 1:1-3 and 14 say--the Son is Jehovah who created everything that was ever created. Paul is not starting out this epistle with the intention of devaluing the Son of God by making Him a creation who created everything else. Paul instead ultimately values the Son as having the fullness of Deity (2:9).
Third, in Hebrew culture, the firstborn is not always literally the first one born. For example, Ephraim and David were later called firstborns even though they were actually younger brothers (cf. Genesis 41:51-2 with Jeremiah 31:9, and Psalm 89:20 and 27). They were the ones who received their fathers’ inheritance. The firstborn had preeminence in the family.
Even if JWs are correct to claim that the term firstborn refers to being part of a group in terms of their nature, then out of all those that were created, there is something about Him that makes Him the Creator and Sustainer of all those things. This is perfectly reasonable to the Christian who holds to Jesus having two natures—divine and human. The latter was created, but the former was the Creator. This is why the Son is referred to, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The latter did not wire to themselves a created nature as the former did. “[T]he Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” as Jn. 1:14 says.
On the other hand, it seems more reasonable that all Paul is communicating in this Colossians passage is that the Son is preeminent of all creation, simply because He is the Creator of everything ever created from the beginning. Since the Lord of creation is unique in His nature, He can be uniquely related to every dependent thing. He is the Independent One by whom every dependent thing subsists.
Under this scenario, the Son is the firstborn rather than the Father and the Holy Spirit, since the Son has a unique role of submitting to the Father in creating all things. The Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, but they are all equally the Being of Jehovah, and each is emphasized as having a unique role.
With all this in mind, it should become clear why the JWs have distorted the Colossians passage, and why they do not have the support of any other translation (including the RS, JB, and NE). Simply because pan′ta may be translated as “all other” in other passages is no reason to force that translation upon this Colossians passage.
R. M. Sivulka
President, Courageous Christians United