"Firstborn" (prōtotokos) and the JWs
Colossians 1:15,: “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
Because Jesus is called “firstborn,” the JWs assert that Jesus was created—the “first of Jehovah’s works.” Since this is probably their most utilized passage against Christians, we need to know how to respond to it in order to proclaim the truth of Jesus to them. In simple refutation, note the following:
1. The term “firstborn” (prōtotokos) denotes supremacy, preeminence, or first in rank as the context of Colossians demands. For example, in Exodus 4:22, Israel is called “firstborn” and certainly they were not the first nation created, but as God’s people they had preeminence. In Psalm 89:27, David, because of his status (i.e., his preeminence), is called “firstborn” and he was technically “last born” (note: in the LXX, both passages have prōtotokos). Even the Watchtower acknowledges the correct meaning of the term by admitting:
David, who was the youngest son of Jesses [sic], was called by Jehovah the “first-born,” due to Jehovah’s elevation of David to the preeminent position in God's chosen nation (Aid to Bible Understanding, 1971, 584; emphasis added).
Further, note that in Genesis 41:51 Manasseh is called “firstborn” and Ephraim is called “second.” But in Jeremiah 31:9, Ephraim is called “firstborn” because it is was Ephraim who now had the preeminence or supremacy, and not Manasseh.
2. The context of the book of Colossians is a sharp refutation against the Gnostic heresy (Gnosticism). The Gnostics (viz. the Docetic Gnostics) denied all matter (creation). In contrast, Paul affirms that Jesus is the Creator of all things (cf. 1:16-17) in which He calls Christ “firstborn” of all creation. As Creator, Christ has supremacy (prōtotokos) over all creation.
3. If Paul wanted to convey that Jesus was “first-created,” he certainly could have used the word prōtoktistos literally meaning, “first-created” to do so (as in 2 Cor. 5:17). Hence, Jesus was not the first-creature, rather He was the Creator of ALL THINGS (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12), whereby in everything He has supremacy (cf. Col. 1:18). Points to remember:
Ø In the context of Colossians, “firstborn” (prōtotokos) means supremacy or preeminence—Christ as Creator is preeminent over creation (cf. Exod. 4:22 and Ps. 89:27).
Ø Even the Watchtower acknowledges the correct meaning of “firstborn” (“preeminent position”).
Ø If Paul wanted to express that Jesus was created, he could have used prōtoktistos (“first created”).
Additional lexical information:
The term translated “firstborn” denotes Jesus as “having special status
associated with a firstborn” (BDAG, Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon,
894). Biblical scholar Robert Reymond extracts the true significance
of the term:
Paul’s intention behind his description of Jesus as “the Firstborn of
all creation” is a universe away from the Arian interpretation of the
JWs that would insist that the word shows that the Son was the “first”
of all other created things; the entire context demands the term
is to be understood in the Hebraic sense as an ascription of priority of
rank to the firstborn son who enjoys a special place in the father’s
love. (Reymond, Systematic Theology, 251).