Understanding Prototokos in Colossians 1:15

For centuries the deity and humanity of Christ has been argued. Going all the way back to the late fourth century when the Nicene Creed was put together as an answer to Arius’ teaching. However, even before that, the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:15 was dealing with that same heresy in the local church. The word that has played the most havoc on this issue is firstborn or prototokos, which can refer to birth right, existing before or superior. Vaughn emphasizes,

“It may denote either priority in time (cf. Moff., Am. Trans.) or supremacy in rank (NIV). In the present passage perhaps we should see both meanings. Christ is before all creation in time; he is also over it in rank and dignity. The major stress, however, seems to be on the idea of supremacy.”[1]

The vast majority of commentators and authors agree with the view that its origins are not dealing with order of birth but with superiority. Lutzer says,

“Even if the word be translated firstborn, this would not imply that Christ was the first being to be created. Though Jacob was younger than his brother, Esau, Jacob was the firstborn. It is not a matter of time but status determines who the first born is. Christ is the preeminent One.” [2]

In light of all of this we can see Christ preeminence and also ask ourselves the question that if Christ is a creation, how then can he sustain all other created things (v16)? To top things off, Walvoord and Zuck show us, “The “Firstborn” received worship of all the angels (Heb. 1:6), but creatures should not be worshiped (Ex. 20:4-5). (5) The Greek word for “Firstborn” is prōtotokos. If Christ were the “first-created,” the Greek word would have been prōtoktisis.[3] In the end Christ is the one who receives the full inheritance of the Father because he was the firstborn. Those of us who believe in Christ will get to share in that with him but all power and glory will solely belong to him.


[1] Curtis. Vaughn, “Colossians.” In The Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol 11, by Frank E. Gaebelin. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981)182.

[2] Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998) 32.

[3] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-), Col 1:15.

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