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

From: Edgar Foster (
Date: Sat Nov 07 1998 - 17:19:09 EST

---Jonathan Robie wrote:

>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 born first. In Romans 8:29, EIS TO EINAI AUTON
PRWTOTOKON EN POLLOIS 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.)<

One thing that cannot be overlooked here is the hOTI clause in 1:16.
hOTI explains WHY the LOGOS is called PRWTOTOKOS
PANTA. Now while Col. 1:16 may seem to imply that
Jesus is to be excluded from creation via his activites as Creator, it
is wise to pay attention to the Pauline employment of
prepositions in this verse. For one, EN AUTWi does not have to mean
that Christ created "all things." It can simply mean that
God used Christ to share in the creation of TA PANTA. EN can be used
in an instrumental sense (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). Secondly,
Paul utilizes the prepositions DI' and EIS. DI' is essentially
equivalent to EN in this context. It has an instrumental sense also.
EIS evidently has eschatological overtones and highlights the goal and
purpose of creation EN AUTWi. At any rate, none of these
prepositions say that Christ created TA PANTA. If Paul wanted to make
such a declaration, he would probably have used hUPO
instead of EN (DI').

>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.<

As stated above, I see no reason why Col. 1:16 has to be viewed as
excluding Jesus from the rest of creation. If Col. 1:15 is
to be construed as a partitive genitive, then he is unequivocally a
part of creation. PRWTOTOKOS is evidently to be taken as a
partitive genitive in Col. 1:18. Some object to paralleling this verse
with 1:15 because of the fact that 1:18 uses EK. This
doesn't mean that 1:18 cannot be understood as saying that Jesus is
the "firstborn OF (from) the dead, however" (See D-M

I agree when you say that Col. 1:15 stresses the preeminence of the
LOGOS. His preeminence though, is a result of his
temporal priority. Nevertheless, none of this high Christological
phraseology proves that Christ is Deity. In Philo, the LOGOS is
called both "firstborn" and DEUTEROS QEOS. According to this
Alexandrian philosopher, the LOGOS is the "mediator between the
eternal Godhead and the created, visible world." At the same time, the
LOGOS is also "God's 'image' (EIKWN). Philo is never
quite clear about what he perceives the LOGOS to be. In varying
pictorial descriptions, he calls the LOGOS, the sinless mediator,
the spiritual primal man, the spokesman, the archangel, and the second
DEUTEROS THEOS is neither created nor uncreated, yet Philo does not
plsce the EIKWN of God on the same plane as God. This
claim is proven by referencing Somn. I, 157, 228-230. In this portion
of his famous work, Philo terms the EIKWN of God,
KURIOS or archangel. This is significant because it is here that he
distinguishes the LOGOS from the One who brings forth the
LOGOS. The Father is hO QEOS. The LOGOS, Philo says, can only be
termed QEOS (See Martin Hengel's _The Son of God_). He
thus asserts the ontological inferiority of hO LOGOS.

All of this is to say that hO LOGOS being termed PRWTOTOKOS in Col.
1:15 does not have to imply that Jesus is ISA QEW.

Edgar Foster

Lenoir Rhyne College

Hickory, NC

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