Re: PRWTOTOKOS (was col 1:15 greek help)

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sat Nov 07 1998 - 15:10:57 EST

At 11:55 AM 11/7/98 EST, wrote:

>The most natural way to view this is as a partitive genitive, and that is how
>it was understood by most if not all of the early Church Fathers, though they
>redefined KTISEWS as the "new creation" because of their theological
>However, there really is no definitive way to say what kind of genitive this
>is, as the answer to that question hinges on the meaning we give to certain
>words (like PRWTOTOKOS ["firstborn"--see below] and TA PANTA), how we
>understand the context, and, of course, how we view Christ himself.

I agree with this - the "genitive" part is objective, the "partitive" part
gives one possible way of interpreting that genitive, and it is the
interpretation of the passage as a whole that will help us choose how to
see the genitive, and also which shade of meaning to give words like

>Since the Bible does not say Christ is eternal, and regularly uses temporal
>terms for him (compare, even in this context, apart from "firstborn" [again,
>see below] the use of EIKWN in vs. 15 and the significance of EUDOKEW in vs.
>19 [compare 2:9]), there is no reason why we could not view this text as
>affirming Christ's preeminent position as the "firstborn" of the created
>order. It has nothing to do with being "spoon fed" or a priori
assumptions, as
>one list member unabashedly claimed, but with reading the text apart from
>later theological assumptions, distinctions and definitions.
It's really important that we focus on understanding what a passage says
here on B-Greek, and not on attacking the various groups that we come from.
The accusation of being "spoon fed" was really inappropriate here, and I'm
sorry that this statement was made.

>The predicate nominative is not KTISEWS, but PRWTOTOKOS. PASHS KTISEWS
>modifies PRWTOTOKOS, further defining it.

>Regarding PRWTOTOKOS, it was said that definitions for it include, "the
>standard sense, pertaining to a first-born child; pertaining to existence
>prior to
>something else, ‘existing first, existing before'; and finally, ‘superior in
>status.'" Appeal was made to the lexicon by Louw and Nida in support of these
>definitions. However, the lexicon gives no example, other than Col. 1:15, for
>its non-temporal definitions! Thus, they beg the question.

Because this passage was not written primarily to answer the question that
is being asked of it, i.e. whether Jesus is part of creation or not, we're
stuck trying to interpret shades of meaning to evoke an answer. That's
always just a little dangerous, and can lead to long debates without clear
answers. The main thrust of Colossians 1:15-20 is the preeminence of
Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all
creation, the one in whom all things were created, who is before all things
and in whom all things hold together. He is the head of the body (the
church), the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself
will have first place in everything.

I think the real question is whether PRWTOTOKOS here refers to the status
of being firstborn, i.e. preeminent, or to historical sequence, i.e. being
ADELFOIS, it's clear that Jesus is one of the many brethren of whom he is
the firstborn, and that he is preeminent among these brethren. In this
passage, chronological sequence is also strongly implied. So you are
essentially arguing that PRWTOTOKOS is used in the same way in Colossians
1:15, which seems reasonable.

However, in Colossians 1:16, when it says EN AUTW EKTISQH TA PANTA..., AUTW
seems to clearly point to Jesus as being the one in whom all things were
created, in heaven or on earth, things seen and things unseen... (I find it
a bit of a stretch to say that AUTW refers to God rather than to Jesus
since the predominant subject at the time this clause rolls around is
Jesus, who is also the subject last referred to.)

Now if you want a strictly logical answer to whether Jesus is part of
creation, verse 16 implies that he is not, unless he is an exception to the
rule that all of creation was made in him; verse 15 seems to imply that he
is. Neither really makes a clear statement about this question. One way to
resolve this is to say that PRWTOTOKOS is used to stress the preeminence of
Christ, which is, after all, the main topic of this whole passage. Another
way to resolve it is to say that in verse 16, Jesus is the one exception to
the statement that all things were created in him. Which you choose
probably depends on your theology.


Jonathan Robie

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