The Sovereign Son: Lord of Creation

Introduction: After Jesus calmed the stormy sea (in the Old Testament, the God of Israel is Lord of the roaring sea, cf. Ps. 33:7, 65:7, 77:16; Job 12:15) and rebuked His disciples for their fear and lack of faith, they were awestruck and said to one another, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:35-41). In response to this question, the writer to the Hebrews declares, “He is the radiance of His (God) glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). The Apostle Paul proclaims that “He is the image of God; He has primacy over all created things” (Col. 1:15). The Jehovah’s Witnesses in their New World Translation (NWT) renders the passage this way: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; because by means of him all (other) things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All (other) things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all (other) things and by means of him all (other) things were made to exist.” You will note the four occurrences of the word other (in brackets.) In the foreword of NWT the editors state, “enclose words inserted to complete or clarify the sense in the English text.” By inserting the word other, however, the translators have not merely “completed” or “clarified” the English translation, they have altered the meaning of the original. Why? A look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrines of the Bible and of God and Jesus soon reveals the answer. Over the next few weeks we will be examining a number of texts that are appealed to by Jehovah’s Witnesses to justify their beliefs. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the doctrine of the Trinity and the coequality of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, holding instead a modern form of the ancient heresy of Arianism[1]. Christ, they believe, was created by God as a spirit-creature named Michael. Then through Christ God made all other created things. Therefore, if Scripture is to fit preconceived doctrine, Col. 1:15-20 needs clarification, to wit, amending. Otherwise the Bible is here declaring that Christ is before all things and in fact was involved in the creation of all things. It would, in short, make him, as historic Christian orthodoxy teaches, coeternal with God.

Historical Situation at Colossae: We owe this great passage of Pauline Christology to the heresy of Gnostic Judaism, which had made inroads in the Church at Colossae. This heresy taught the existence of angelic intermediaries (as listed in 1:16) between the Creator and the material universe. Jesus was considered to be only one of these angelic intermediaries. It is against this background that Paul writes.

Note: This passage (1:15-20) is a “hymn,” but it does not carry the same meaning as a congregational song. Rather, it is a term that is really “creedal,” having dogmatic, confessional, liturgical and doxological import. The reason it is called “hymnic” is due to its stylistic (rhythm, parallelism, meter or chiasm) and linguistic (very selective vocabulary) structure.[2]

I.   The Sovereign Lord of Creation

A.   The Essential Basis of Christ’s Lordship (v. 15a)

The first thing Paul declares is that Christ is “the image of the invisible God.” What does this mean? Besides the very obvious notion of “likeness,” the Greek word EIKŌN (also used in 2 Cor. 4:4, 3:18; Rom. 8:29; and Col. 3:10) involves two other ideas:

1.  Representation (compare with the word CHARAKTĒR in Hebrews 1:3). It indicates not mere resemblance (like one egg to another) but implies an archetype of which it is a copy. It is derived from its prototype. The context unfolds how the word is to be understood.

2.   Manifestation. The Word as pre-incarnate or incarnate is the revelation of the unseen Father. Christ is the manifestation of the invisible God (Ex. 3:20; 1 Tim. 6:16 compare with John 1:18).

Note: If Jesus Christ is God, how can He be the image of God? The reference to God is God the Father. The Person of the Son bears the likeness of the Person of the Father (John 14:8,9).[3]

B.   The Economic Basis of Christ’s Lordship (v. 15b)

Christ Jesus is “the firstborn of every creature” (lit. “over all creation” as in the NIV). The Jehovah Witnesses argue that this means that Christ is the first creature. The word PRŌTOTOKOS does not mean, “first created.” The Greek word for that idea is PRŌTOKTISTOS (which is never used of Christ). PRŌTOTOKOS means “first-begotten” and is similar to “only begotten” (KJV), “only” (NIV), trans. from the Greek word MONOGENĒS of John 1:18.[4] This word, in John’s Gospel is Hebraic, ascribing priority of rank to the firstborn son, who enjoys a special place in the father’s love and who accordingly is the father’s primary heir (cf. Ps. 89:27ff; Ex. 4:22 and Heb. 1:2). Whereas “image” emphasizes Christ’s relation to God, the second title, “firstborn of all creation,” designates His sovereignty over creation. “Paul is effectively refuting any claim (like that of the Jehovah Witnesses) that Christ is an angelic creature emanating from God. Christ is God, and He is Lord of all creation.”[5] The insertion of the word only is not warranted by the Greek text. Metzger again responds, “It is not present in the original Greek and was obviously inserted to make the passage refer to Jesus as being on a par with other created things.” Metzger goes on to point out that Paul originally wrote Colossians in part to combat a notion of Christ similar to that held by the Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Some of the Colossians advocated the Gnostic notion that Jesus was the first of many other created intermediaries between God and men.[6] The Jehovah’s Witnesses have deliberately altered Col. 1:15-20 because, as the text naturally reads, it explicitly contradicts their doctrine that Christ is a creature. Metzger notes six other passages which the NWT also twist to a form more congenial to Witness doctrine: John 1:1, Phil. 2:6, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, Rev. 3:14, and Pro. 8:22. (We will examine these)

C.  The Explicit Proof of Christ’s Lordship (vv. 16,17)

Two great things are described as the foundation of Christ’s Lordship over creation.

1.   Christ is the Creator. This central activity of Christ in creation is also stated in John 1:3 and Heb. 1:2 and is complete denial of any Gnostic philosophy. The word trans. “were created,” EKTISTHĒ, is aorist and describes the definite historical act of creation.

2.   Christ is the Sustainer of the Universe. “All things hold together in Him.” Apart from Christ’s continuous sustaining activity (Note the word trans. “hold together,” SUNESTĒKEN, perfect tense), all things would literally come unglued!

 

Conclusion: Since Christ not only created all things but sustains creation, can you not trust Him? Every breath you draw, you do so because Christ gives it to you (cf. Dan. 5:23). The One who is the Sovereign Creator is also the One who became a man and gave Himself up as an atonement for sinners. He now is enthroned at His Father’s right hand. Confess Him as your Lord and Savior. The day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10,11).

References

[1] See the insert from last week “An Examination In Historical Theology: Various Errors Concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity.”

[2] cf. Robert Reymond, Jesus: Divine Messiah. The New Testament Witness (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990), p. 245.

[3] cf. John Davenant, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Colossians (Rpt. James Family, 1979), p. 175.

[4] cf. Bruce M. Metzger, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ”, Theology Today (Apr. 1953, Vol. X, No. 1).

[5] Peter T. O’Brian, Colossians, Philemon: Word Biblical Commentary (Word Books, 1982), p. 42.

[6] Metzger, op. cit. cf. also J.W. Sire, Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible (IVP, 1980), p. 36.

Additional Resources

Case for a Creator (DVD)

In this remarkable program, award-winning journalist Lee Strobel interviews scientists and Christians scholars about the existence of God. With his characteristic style Strobel explores this complex topic, uncovering science’s latest researches. This 60-minutes film features outstanding computer animation. It also includes 40 minutes of bonus features. The Case for a Creator will provide you with convincing answers to questions about our faith.

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