In my recent post, Was it Necessary for Our Salvation that Jesus be God?, I mentioned that one of the issues that some people struggle with is regard to the deity of Christ is that the New Testament calls him the “Son of God” and Colossians 1:15 says that he is “the firstborn over all creation.”
If Jesus is God, why is he called the “Son of God”? And if Jesus was not created, as Christians claim, then why is he called “the firstborn over all creation?”
Let’s look at these two questions one at a time:
Why is Jesus Called the Son of God?
The long and short of it is that “Son of God” is a Messianic title, which means that Jesus is the long-awaited, promised king of Israel whom God had promised to send to save the people and set them free in an eternal and ultimate way.
The most important text for understanding this is Psalm 2, which is a “coronation psalm,” meaning it would be read at the coronation of a king.
It includes this line: I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. (Psalm 2:7) This line is quoted and applied to Jesus in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5 & 5:5.
Most important is to understand the context of this phrase “Son of God” in reference to the king. In the Ancient Near East (ANE) kings were considered to have a special relationship with God. In many cases, like in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the king was considered to be deity themselves. Such an idea would be an abomination to the Jews and in complete contradiction to everything their Scriptures said about God. However, they too believed, as we see in Psalm 2 and other “royal psalms” that the king had a special relationship with God.
Thus, the term “son of God” spoke of the king’s special relationship with God, but throughout the Old Testament there is the hope of a true and better king, the one who will establish the throne of David forever and rule over an everlasting kingdom which will have no end (see: the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7). Then though there were many kings of Israel, none of them were the ideal, TRUE KING that God had promised and Israel waited for.
To call Jesus THE Son of God is a reference to him being THE king whom God promised to send to set the people free and save them ultimately and eternally, i.e.: the Messiah.
For more on the meaning of the term “Son of God” check out: What Does it Mean that Jesus is the Son of God?, or the related topic: If Jesus is the Son of God, Why Did He Call Himself “the Son of Man”?
Why is Jesus called “the firstborn over all creation”?
Does Colossians 1:15 imply that Jesus was the first creature whom the uncreated God created? If Jesus is the uncreated God, then why is a term like “firstborn” used of him – I mean, it actually contains the word “born” in it, which implies coming-into-being, does it not?
The word firstborn (prototokos) is also applied to Jesus in Colossians 1:18, Romans 8:29, Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 1:5. In each and every case, when this word is used of Jesus, it refers to supremacy in rank.
All ancient culture had a practice called “primogeniture” – which meant that the firstborn son got all the wealth of the father and he got all the father’s status and power. From a legal standpoint, a firstborn son was equal with the father.
So when this title is used of Jesus, it in no way means that Jesus is less than God, or that he was created by God, rather it refers to supremacy of rank. To say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation means that he holds the position of primacy over all of creation, i.e.: no one and nothing holds a candle to him; he has all the status and power of the Father and is equal to the Father, although still distinct from the Father.
Interestingly, John Lightfoot cites Jewish rabbis who sometimes referred to God as “the firstborn of the world,” meaning that God was supreme over all of the world — that there is none higher than him.
How do we know this interpretation of Colossians 1:15 is the correct one? By looking at the verses which immediately follow, which declare Jesus to be the uncreated creator.
Colossians 1:16-17 say: For by him (Jesus) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The Bible begins by telling us that God created all things, and here it tells us that Jesus created all things. The clear message is that Jesus is God in the same way that the Father is God. He is beginning-less creator, equal to the Father in substance, status and power, and yet distinct from the Father.
Thus, rather than undercutting trinitarian theology, Colossians 1:15-17 undergirds the foundation of trinitarian belief.