Created by him and for him

The Old Testament is very clear that YHWH the holy God of Israel is unique and separate from his creation. There is a dividing line that separates God from everything else. God’s activity as Creator is one of the features that distinguishes him from his creation, which includes humans and angels (Gen 1:1; Psa 148:5; Isa 40:26; 42:5; 43:15; 45:7; Rom 1:25).

For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens — he is God — who formed the earth and made it, he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” (Isa 45:18)

In light of God’s unique divine identity as Creator, it seems astonishing that the New Testament claims that Christ was intimately involved in God’s creative acts. Astonishing, but only if Christ himself is thought of as merely a created being, rather than sharing in the very identity of God and performing the works of God (John 5:19–23). Scripture, however, portrays Christ as Creator.

He (the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him 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.” (Col 1:15–17)
“There is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Cor 8:6)
“(his Son) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power . . . But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever . . .” And, “you, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” (Heb 1:3, 8, 10)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-3, 14)

In the original Greek of these verses, the phrases describing the Son’s involvement in creation encompass every sense of association between Christ and creation; into/ toward/ with respect to him, through/ via/ by him, in him or by his agency. All things were created in him, by his agency, through him and creation focuses towards him. In effect, we see the Son associated with creation from every direction or perspective; he is its originator and reason for coming into being, and he is the end or purpose for which all was created, and he is the means whereby creation occurred, is sustained, and by which it will be renewed.

If every created thing owes its existence to the Son, then the Son himself cannot be a created being. The Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created . . .” or, “When God began to create.” The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) simply says en arche, “in beginning,” so when John’s Gospel commences with the same phrase en arche, he places the Word in the context of creation — the Word who was somehow both God and with God, and who later became flesh and dwelt among us. Hebrews 1:10 states that it was the Son, as Lord (YHWH) who laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of his hands. Paul, in Colossians 1:16 affirms that by the Son all things were created; all things were created through him and for him.

So, what does Paul mean in Colossians 1:15 that Christ is the firstborn of all creation? It could be implied that this means first-made, that Christ is a creature of the Father. This was the position taken by the Arians (and modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses), but this makes little sense given that creation, a work of God, is attributed to Christ. The word for firstborn is prototokos, and it is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the eldest son who held the family birthright (eg., Esau, Manasseh, Reuben), those who were slain by the destroying angel in Egypt and those who were consecrated to God (Ex 13:2). In contrast to a large number of Old Testament references, there are only eight in the New Testament, one of which refers back to the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn (Heb 11:28), one is plural in reference to the members of the church (Heb 12:23), while all the rest refer to Jesus. Jesus was the firstborn son of Mary (Luke 2:7). Jesus is the firstborn from the dead (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5). He is the “firstborn,” brought into the world, whom the angels are summoned to worship (Heb 1:6). He is the firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15) and he is the firstborn of many brothers, by virtue of our conforming to his image (Rom 8:29).

From the Old Testament, we understand prototokos in its most literal sense to pertain to birth order, but it also carries the meaning of the special status associated with a firstborn. The firstborn received a double portion of the father’s goods (Deut 21:17). David is appointed “firstborn” in Psa 89:27 i.e., “the highest of the kings of the earth,” even though he was neither the eldest of Jesse’s sons nor the first legitimate king of Israel. This is why God claims that Israel (Ex 4:22) the Levites (Num 8:18) and Ephraim (Jer 31:9) are his firstborn sons, without any contradiction. Thus to call Jesus the firstborn is a comment on his status, not his origin. This is abundantly clear in Colossians 1:15–20, which explains the supremacy of Jesus in detail through the following attributes:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him 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. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

So, far from implying that Christ is a created being, this passage reinforces his supremacy over and separateness from creation. This participation in God’s rule is further highlighted by the reference to “all things” or “heaven and earth.” God is distinguished from “all things” and rules over “all things” because he created them (Isa 44:24, 66:2; Rom 11:36). Creation and sovereign rule over “all things” (including angels) are also attributed to Christ (Matt 11:27, John 1:3, 3:35, 13:3; Eph 1:10, 22, 4:10; Col 1:16-20; Heb 1:2-14).

But surely, the Bible is clear that Jesus Christ had a beginning at his conception in the womb of Mary? How then could he have been involved in creation? Do the gospels contradict themselves when on the one hand Jesus claims to have been with the Father from all eternity (John 17:5, 24) and yet Matthew and Luke speak of his conception by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35)? No, because the conception of the man Jesus Christ is understood to be the point at which God sent his Son into the world to take on humanity as Son of Man as well as Son of God. God did not create his Son at this point, he sent his Son (John 3:16–17; 5:37–38; 8:42; 10:36; 17:8; Rom 8:3). Theologians call this the “incarnation,” from the Latin carne, flesh, as a descriptor of the pre-existent Son taking on flesh (indeed, a whole human being, body and soul). The man Christ Jesus existed for the first time when the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, so that the holy one born of her was God, with us (Matt 1:23; Luke 2:11; John 1:14; Gal 4:4; 1 John 1:1–2; 4:9). Christians understand that the Son has always been “the Son” in eternal relationship to “the Father,” and that these terms of themselves do not originate solely with the virginal conception. Jesus came to reveal the Fatherhood of God, something intrinsic to God himself, and something that had always been part of the relationships within the Godhead (John 5:37, 43; 6:46; 7:29; 8:19, 42; 17:5; Matt 11:27). Sin seemed set to ruin God’s creation, but Christ came into the world to restore creation (Rom 8:19–23; Rev 21:1–5). How great is the love of God for his wayward creatures, that the Father would send his beloved Son into this world, and that the Son would willingly go, to die for helpless sinners and bring them back into relationship with him! As the fourth century theologian Athanasius wrote,

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form… He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. …We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.
(Athanasius, Incarnation of the Word http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation.pdf)

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