Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wrestling With the Watch Tower: Jesus, the Firstborn of All Creation

The Jehovah's Witness at the Christian's door, if pressed to defend the position that Jesus is not God but is instead His first creation, might start with Colossians 1:15 which reads, "[Jesus] is...the firstborn of all creation" (in certain translations including the NASB and Watch Tower-approved NWT). The argument is presented in the Watch Tower publication, "What Does the Bible Really Teach?" in the chapter, "Who is Jesus Christ?" in the section, "Where Did Jesus Come From?" (

Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son—and for good reason. He is called “the firstborn of all creation,” for he was God’s first creation. (Colossians 1:15)

The dictionary defines "firstborn" as, "first in the order of birth; eldest" or "a first result or product." The Watch Tower's argument, then, is that in saying that Jesus is "the firstborn of all creation" Paul is asserting that of everything God created, Jesus was the first. Obviously, if Jesus was created by God, He is not God Himself, and does not have an eternal nature but instead came into existence when the Father created him.

But is this in fact what this passage in Colossians teaches?

(Psalm 89:27)

Upon closer examination, one discovers that the idea of "firstborn" in Hebrew thought conveys preeminence more than it does birth order. In Psalm 89:27 the Lord says of David, "I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." How can David be called a "firstborn"? After all, he was the eighth and youngest of his father's sons (1 Samuel 16:10-11). Furthermore, he was born to Jesse, not to God Himself. Yet, here God says he will "make" David His "firstborn".

What does this mean, then? The words that follow give us the answer: "the highest of the kings of the earth." When God said He would make David His firstborn, it meant He would assign him preeminence, importance, greatness. We see this again in the blessing conferred upon Joseph's sons by his dying father:

When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim's head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. Joseph said to his father, "Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head." But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations." (Genesis 48:17-19)

In Hebrew thought, being born first meant one had a special, greater level of importance than that of one's siblings. The firstborn's birthright was greater than that of all his siblings. Thus, Joseph objected to his father's blessing because despite Manasseh's having been born first, Israel was assigning preeminence to Ephraim, Joseph's second-born, saying the second would be greater than the first.

(Colossians 1:18)

Returning to the passage in Colossians, do we see the idea in Hebrew thought of preeminence assigned to Jesus in Paul's calling Him "the firstborn of all creation"? Indeed we do. As God's making David His firstborn meant He would make him "the highest of the kings of the earth," in verse 13 it is said of believers that we have been transferred "to the kingdom of His beloved Son." Verse 15 begins with, "He is the image of the invisible God," and in verse 17 we read, "in Him all things hold together." In verse 18 Jesus is called the "head of the body, the church," and we're told "He Himself will come to have first place in everything."


Thus, Paul's point in calling Jesus "the firstborn of all creation" is not to communicate that He was the first created being, but rather that He is greater than all creation, preeminent, "the highest of the kings of the earth." Thus, a more intuitive rendering of this verse would be, "the firstborn over all creation," and indeed some translations render it in this way, such as the New International Version (NIV).


The Watch Tower publishes their translation of the Bible called the New World Translation (NWT), and it does something interesting with this passage in Colossians, rendering verses 16 and 17 as:

...because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist...

The NWT inserts the word "other" several times in these verses. The word is not present in the original text, and to the Watch Tower's credit it surrounds the word in brackets to make this clear. However, notice how this changes the meaning of Paul's words.

In the original text, Paul says that by Jesus "all things were created in the heavens and upon the earth." He says that "all things have been created through him and for him." We're told that by Him "all things were made to exist." Paul's point is clear: Jesus created everything that was made to exist, everything that had a beginning.

The Watch Tower, without any legitimate foundation for doing so, inserts the word "other" to lead readers to believe that Paul said Jesus created everything else. That by means of Jesus everything else was made to exist. But that Jesus Himself was also created.

This and many other examples throughout the NWT of incorrectly translated text demonstrate that this is not a legitimate translation of the Bible, and that the Watch Tower cannot be trusted.

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