Colossians 1 Part 4
New King James Version 15. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
The Resultant Version 15. Who is the visible representation of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creation:
Now we learn more truths about the Lord Jesus Christ. We are entering here a section that speaks of His sovereignty. First of all, He is the image of the invisible God. That is, He is the visible representation of the invisible God. He is God, Who cannot be seen, in a visible, tangible, understandable form. He is God extended to His people so that they can see Him and know Him.
In the context of sovereignty, this is a thing that is invisible, but there needs to be some tangible representative of it. For example, in the United States the sovereignty rests with the people, but that is tangibly represented in the President. In the government of God, His invisible sovereignty is personified in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the image of the invisible Sovereign, God.
Now we read that He is the firstborn of every creation. This is important. But some, in misunderstanding this, have made the foolish claim that Christ is a created being, but that He is the One Who was created first. Yet being created first would give one no special privileges. Little children get great delight in finding they are older than their friends, as at their age longer life means greater privileges. Yet by the time one becomes an adult, one surely realizes that greater age does not necessarily translate into greater position, skill, power, or ability. So this is not just some silly statement that Christ is the oldest created being. Rather, as we just said in discussing verse 13 regarding the son, the idea of the firstborn is the one who has the authority and rule over the rest of the family. If Christ is the firstborn of every creation, then He has the rule, the authority, and the dominion over all creation. This exalted position Christ has as firstborn is obvious in Psalm 89:27.
Psalm 89:27. Also I will make him My firstborn,
The highest of the kings of the earth.
From this passage, it is clear that the position of firstborn is much more significant than just meaning that one was born first. It means that one rules, and in this case it is the highest of all rule, since this one is God’s firstborn. The fact that Jesus Christ is firstborn means He is the owner of all, the possessor of all. Like the firstborn son in the Hebrew family, He has the responsibility for all. He rules all, and all things are at His disposal. This is the grand meaning of the Son of God as the firstborn.
So firstborn indicates highest authority, but then what is “creation” that He is the authority over? It would be easy to say that this means over all created things in the universe, for that is what we usually mean when we say “creation.” Some have even tried to claim that “creation” in the Bible always refers to creation out of nothing (or ex nihilo), so nothing but God’s original creation would qualify. Yet if we adopted this idea, we would not be thinking according to the context, nor according to the way this word is used in Scripture. The word “creation” here is the Greek word ktisis. It does mean “creation,” but consider its use in I Peter 2:13-14.
13. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14. or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
The word “ordinance” here is a translation of the Greek word ktisis. It speaks of “every creation of man,” and it is clear from the context that what it is referring to are human rulers, such as kings and governors. These are positions created by men. They take a man, much the same as any other man, and create a king or governor or other ruler out of him. This is what we do in the United States when we take a man who was not a President before and elect him as President. By doing this, we create a President. Rulers, then, are human creations, and it is rulers who are in mind here, as we will see in verse 16.
New King James Version 16. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
The Resultant Version 16. For in Him were all these creations created, those creations that are among the exalted ones, those creations that are on the earth, visible creations and invisible creations, whether these creations be thrones, or lordships, or sovereignties, or authorities: all these creations were created through Him, and for Him:
There is no doubt that the New King James Version tells us a glorious truth when it proclaims that “by Him all things were created.” In fact, this is the very truth proclaimed in John 1:3, that “all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Yet this is not the truth that is proclaimed in the Greek of Colossians 1:16. To understand what this means, we need to understand the phrase “all things.” In Greek, this is the phrase ta panta. Ta is just the definite article, which in English is “the.” Pas is the Greek word for “all.” The neuter form is pan. The accusative, singular masculine is panta. The nominative and accusative plural are also panta. This exact word form occurs two hundred and sixty-nine times in the New Testament. Thirty-seven times, it is preceded by the definite article ta. This would literally read, “the all.” Yet this has no meaning, and it is clear that this phrase is an idiom.
Dictionary.com gives its first definition of an idiom as “an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as kick the bucket or hang one’s head.” We who know English well have no problem with the fact that neither a kick nor a bucket have anything to do with “kicking the bucket,” nor that one does not actually do any hanging when one hangs one’s head. Yet to someone who is not very familiar with English, imagine how confusing these two idioms might be! So idioms provide a serious obstacle for the translator. If we want to discover the meaning of this idiom, we have to look past the strict translation of “the all” to discover how this idiom was actually used.
The translation that is commonly given is “all things.” This seems to be a guess more than anything else. A.E. Knoch in his Concordant Version has taken this one step further, and has usually translated this “the universe,” attempting thereby to lend further support to his belief in universal reconciliation. Yet I do not believe that this phrase means “all things,” nor does it mean “the universe.”
The phrase “all things” occurs six times in this passage. Four times it is translated from ta panta, and the other two times it translates just panta. It should be clear enough that “all” is just used as a word with its expected meaning, whereas “the all” must mean something different. I am convinced that it is an idiom. If we want to learn what this idiom means, we would do well to look through the thirty-seven occurrences of this phrase. If we would do this, one that would clearly stick out would be in Colossians 3:8.
8. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.
Here, the translators have not followed their usual procedure of translating ta panta by “all things.” The context obviously forced them not to do this, as it is clear that the Colossians were not being urged to put off “all things.” Even A.E. Knoch had to leave his pet translation and make it “all these” here. It is clear here that ta panta is a demonstrative phrase, referring to all of a set of things indicated in the context. In this case, the things referred to are anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language out of your mouth, all of which God wanted the Colossians to put off. Therefore, the translators have translated this phrase here, “all these.”
So the translators have been forced to translate ta panta by “all these” here instead of by “all things.” Yet what would happen if ta panta were to be translated “all these” (or “all this” as the context warranted it) in all its thirty-seven occurrences? If this was done, I believe that the truth would be brought forth in these passages, and the intention of the original authors would be honored. In other words, the idiomatic phrase “the all” was used in Greek to mean “all this” or “all these,” referring to certain, specific things mentioned in the context. It was not used to refer to all things generally, and certainly was not used to indicate the universe.
So this verse is saying that, “By Him all these were created.” What in the context is being talked about? We can see that the subject of this portion is Christ, yet a second major topic of creations was introduced in the previous verse. What is being said, then, is that by Him were all these creations created. I suggested that these creations being spoken of were rulers, and these rulers were all created by Christ.
Now next we read that this is true of those rulers that are in heaven and that are on earth. This seems straightforward, and yet I think a look at the Greek proves it is more complicated than this. The word “heaven” is plural “heavens.” The word “in” is the Greek en, which can also mean “among.” We have a tendency in English to think of heaven only as a place, and yet this is not accurate. “Heaven” means that which is lifted up or exalted, and it can also refer to exalted beings, such as when it refers to God. In this case, the reference is clearly not to God, but rather to lifted up, exalted, or heavenly beings. Yet exalted rulers don’t all have to be from heaven. King David certainly was an exalted ruler, yet he was not from heaven. It is probably best to translate it as The Resultant Version has as “among the exalted ones.” This leaves the idea of “heaven” out of it altogether, and throws the emphasis on their exaltation, not on where they are from.
Then we have creations that are on earth. This is anticipating God’s kingdom, when the Lord Jesus Christ will establish all rulers on earth, and they will belong to Him. Then, they will indeed be His creations.
The visible and the invisible creations are the abstract and the concrete creations. Things like governments and jurisdictions are abstract things. Kings and governors are concrete things, as are their agents. When God’s government comes, all these things, abstract and concrete, will have been created by God.
Now we have a list of the creations. This list really proves what creations we are talking about. It makes any other interpretation impossible. To explain what I mean, I will use an illustration first used by Otis Q. Sellers. His illustrations uses the word “automobile.” Suppose you were a foreign student of English, and had come upon the word “automobile,” and were trying to figure out what it means. You would discover that “auto” means “self,” and that “mobile” has to do with movement. So you would conclude that “automobile” has to do with a self-mover. This would be correct, for that is the meaning of the word. Yet this would not be all the truth, as things like airplanes, motorboats, and even riding lawn mowers are all self-movers, yet these are not included in the word “automobile.” Yet, if this one studying the word were to see a sentence that says, “Manufacturers of automobiles include Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Dodge, and Nissan,” this sentence would do much to inform you regarding the meaning of “automobile.” Since these companies do not manufacture airplanes or motorboats, but only cars, one would start to get the idea that the self-movers referred to as “automobiles” are cars, and not just any vehicle that moves itself.
It is the same way with the “creations” that are mentioned here. If we had no context for “creations,” we might imagine that all things that were created by God during the six days of creation are what is meant by “creations.” Yet when the context speaks of these creations as being thrones, lordships, sovereignties, and authorities, this makes such an interpretation impossible, greatly limits what “creations” can mean, and shows us just what this word is being used to represent in this context. The creations being referred to are not everything that was ever made by God. Instead, the creations spoken of are limited to various types of God-given rulerships and positions. Any other interpretation is not possible in light of the context.
Now in saying this, we are not denying at all, as some will be quick to accuse us, that God created all things in the beginning. Of course He did! But that does not mean that that is what this passage is talking about. Just because we do not see a certain truth in a passage that others have claimed to see it in does not mean that we are denying that truth in other passages where it is plainly set forth. Genesis 1 clearly sets forth the fact that God created all things in the beginning, and there are many passages in Scripture after this that refer to that fact. Yet this passage in Colossians is not one of them. This is not referring to God’s creation of the universe, but rather to God’s creation of rulerships and authorities.
Now let us consider what these rulerships and authorities are that are listed. First we have thrones. This is the Greek word thronoi. We are likely to think of a “throne” as an ornate chair on which a king sits, yet that is not the truth of the word. A real throne is the thing symbolized by the ornate chair, which is the authority the one who sits in the chair has. Therefore, the authority is the real throne, and the chair is just a symbol. It is childish to promote symbols above reality. The true throne is the king’s authority, not his chair.
The word “dominions” is kuriotetes, from the word kurios, which means “lord.” A kuriotes is the authority of a lord, so The Resultant Version has translated this “lordships.”
The word “principalities” is archai, which means “firsts” or “chiefs.” It can have to do with the origin of a thing. It is the word used in connection with the “chief priests.” In this case, it refers to the top authorities, from which the lower authorities and underlings get their direction. The Resultant Version has translated this “sovereignties.”
The word “powers” is exousiai. The word exousia has to do with a delegated authority. Unlike a “first one” or principality, a “power” would get its authority from one higher than it. It is power granted rather than power inherent. The Resultant Version has translated this “authorities.”
Now we again have the idiom ta panta, meaning “all these.” All these creations, these thrones and lordships and sovereignties and authorities, were created through the Son, and all of them were created for the Son. We know this is the way it was in the beginning when He created all these things. However, some of those holding these positions fell into sin, and from Ephesians 6:12 we know that there are forces of wickedness now among these God-created authorities. Yet this is not the way these forces were created, and it is not the way they were in the beginning.
New King James Version 17. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
The Resultant Version 17. And He takes precedence over all, and in Him all these creations have their standing.
Here we are told that Jesus Christ is before all. This is not ta panta, but just panta, and so should be translated just “all,” as The Resultant Version does it. This does not speak of time, as if it should surprise us that God existed before other things did. Rather, this refers to the preeminence of Jesus Christ. His throne is higher than any other throne. His lordship is over every other lordship. He is the first authority from which all other authorities come. He is exalted before all other authorities to whom God has delegated His controlling power. He is before all.
Then we again have the phrase ta panta, referring to “all these” authorities. In Him, that is, in Christ, all these creations have their status or their standing. Every true authority comes from Him, and every power or authority that does not acknowledge Him is a rebel or a usurper. When measured against Him, every other authority is shown in its true character, whether it is good or bad, right or wrong.