If Christ is God, why does Paul calls him “the firstborn of all creation”? Does Paul mean that God created Christ? Is Christ a creature of God?
No. Christ certainly is the firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15) as well as the firstborn of the dead (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5) and the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29; Ps 89:27; Heb 1:6; 2:11). Yet this language when read in context does not deny Christ’s deity.
Instead, it affirms that Jesus is preeminent over all creation as well as the firstborn of the new creation, the first fruits of the new-creation harvest by his death and resurrection.
(1) The firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15)
The basic logic of the Gospel is that whatever Christ has done he has done it for us and for our salvation. He lived a perfect life, died an innocent death, and conquered death by rising from the grave. In so doing, he lived for us, died for us, and rose for us. We now by faith receive all that he has and is: his righteousness, atonement, and life.
By union with Christ, we have everything. “It is because of him,” reasons Paul, “that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).
While speaking of the resurrection, Paul insightfully uses an agricultural metaphor that furthers our understanding of Gospel logic. Jesus, explains Paul, is the firstfruits of the full resurrection harvest (1 Cor 15:20, 23). Since Jesus rose as the firstfruits, then all subsequent fruit (us) will rise too. The underlying logic is that by uniting to Christ through the Spirit, we become all that he is—we die and rise with him because of our spiritual union with Christ.
“Therefore,” as Paul writes, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). The entire economy of the old creation has been done away with: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:17).
We are (re)created in Christ Jesus because we have “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10; cf. Eph 4:24). And so we are one new human being in Christ Jesus being built up into the temple of God through the Spirit’s indwelling presence (e.g., Eph 2:18–22).
Now, with this theological framework in mind, we possess key theological ideas to help us grasp what Paul means in Colossians. In the context of Colossians 1:9–14, Paul describes Christ’s work of salvation and redemption. According to the apostle, Christ has transferred believers from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light—a new and complete transfer. And this new kingdom comes about through the redemption of Christ (Col 1:14). Consequently, Paul may call Jesus “the firstborn of creation,” that is, of the new creation.
If this view is correct, then Paul particularly finds proof of Christ’s ability to recreate us and so move us into the kingdom of light precisely because Christ created the universe (Col 1:16). If Christ created everything, then how much more can he recreate us into his image? And not only did Christ create all, he providently orders all things whatsoever (Col 1:17).
An alternative interpretation is that Colossians 1:15 does not mean the firstborn of the new creation but the preeminent one who creates. This view makes good sense of the creation language in Colossians 1:15–17. In this case, Colossians 1:18’s phrase “the firstborn of the dead” signals the new creation of Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20, 23). No matter which view one takes out of these two, Paul makes it clear that Christ is no mere creature. He is the Creator, and the one who recreates us.
And this becomes clearer when we consider the next verse in which Paul calls Christ the firstborn of the dead.
(2) The firstborn of the dead (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5)
Paul writes, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1:18). Paul here explains that Christ is the head of his body—the church. He is the head of the new man, the new creation, the new kingdom.
He is the beginning of creation and of the church. And he specifically is the “firstborn from the dead” because he rose from the dead as the firstfruits of the whole harvest (1 Cor 15:20, 23). In him, we too will rise since he is our head. As the head first emerges from the water before the body, so we too will follow Christ our head.
To be firstborn means to be the firstborn of the kingdom—or of the church which is the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we follow our head; we have become his body in a Spiritual manner. But the Spiritual body of Christ is no less real than his physical body—the difference lies only in the visibility of the union. Our union is invisible because the Spirit by definition is invisible, being a Spiritual being.
Though he descended to the dead, he rose as “the firstborn from it.” And we too through the Spirit will descend to death and, through Christ, conquer it. We are more than conquerors in him (Rom 8:37).
This title, “the firstborn from the dead” must have made an impact on the early church since John also calls Jesus “the firstborn of the dead” (Rev 1:5). And in ways similar to Paul, John connects this title (among others) to Jesus’ work of salvation and creation of the kingdom: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (Rev 1:5–6).”
In both cases, the firstborn of the dead qualifies Jesus to be the king of the kingdom, the head of the body, the most preeminent among any of his brethren who follow him.
(3) The firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29)
Since Jesus is the firstfruit, we are the whole harvest. We follow him and become like him by being in him. Christ “is not ashamed to call [us] brothers” (Heb 2:11) because God predestined Christ to “be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29). And it is for this reason, that “he is not ashamed to call [us] brothers” (Heb 2:11; cf. Heb 1:6).
Christ is the true Son, the true Image of God (Rom 8:29; Col 1:15). And because God is his Father, we too can call God Father because we become Christ’s brothers and sisters via adoption (Rom 8:15). The metaphysical grounding of our adoption is the indwelling of the Spirit that unties us to Christ: “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:15–17).
Our sonship follows Christ’s Sonship. Ethan once wrote of Christ: “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” (Ps 89:26–27). And so God did. God the Father of the Son appointed Christ “to be my firstborn.”
But the firstborn implies that many more will be born. And that is exactly what Ethan says when he speaks of “children” in Psalm 89:30.
Christ is, therefore, the firstborn of all creation so that he might become “the new human” being (Eph 2:15). As the head of this new human being, Christ leads his body into eternal life. As the body of Christ, we have all the benefits of Christ mediated to us through his Spirit. We are justified, sanctified, and will be glorified in him.
Therefore, Jesus is called the firstborn of creation and the dead to show that he is Creator and Recreator in his body which we join by faith and through the Spirit. Paul does not view the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col 1:16–17) himself to be a creature! That is an incoherent statement—one which Paul would not have made. Rather, Christ is Creator and Recreator, the firstborn in terms of preeminence and in terms of the new creation. He is the firstfruits of the full harvest.
As Isaiah foretells:
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress” (Isa 65:17–19).