Does the phrase “firstborn of all creation” in Colossians 1:15 mean the Jesus was the first one to be created?
That which is born cannot be created, as an understanding of the Greek word, and the context of Scripture, makes clear.
Prototokos… Col.1:15, where His eternal relationship with the Father is in view, and the clause means both that He was the Firstborn before all creation and that He Himself produced creation… Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.2, p.104.
Prototokos is a legal term not a biological one, meaning, “first in rank, status, pre-eminent, supreme, superior, and unique.” A person can be ‘first-born’ but not born first. Biblical examples of this fact are:
Isaac & Jacob (Genesis 25:23)
Israel (Exodus 4:22) which didn’t even exist as a nation until Abraham was called in Genesis 12. Other nations had existed prior to Israel
David (Psalm 89:27)who was the youngest in the family
Here we see the difference between someone who was the first to be born (‘birthed’) and somoeone who was firstborn (in rank). When Jesus is described as firstborn He is not actually ‘born’ first, any more than He is a literal Lamb, Shepherd or Door; but He has the attributes of those titles and in the same way He has the legal standing of the firstborn.
We must also consider that, if prototokos means “biological first-born”, how do we explain Job 18:13 (first-born of death) and Isaiah 14:30 (first-born of the poor)?
Other evidence to consider is that if Paul had really intended the reader to think of Jesus as some sort of biological creation, he would have used either; protoktisis first-created or protoplastos first-formed. Both refer to a biological/creative process and not a ‘God-begotten’ act.
This meaning of pre-eminence is also shown in Colossians 1:18 which, talks of Jesus being the firstborn from the dead. Was He the first one to rise from the dead? No. The rest of the verse shows what it means though – He would be pre-eminent over death because He would never die again.
The meaning of firstborn in Scripture is pre-eminence over. Thus, Colossian 1:15 does not mean that Jesus was first to be created but that He is pre-eminent over creation.