Some have concluded that Jesus Christ was created, brought into existence by God at the beginning of the angelic creation, citing Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:14 as proof.
The wording of these verses in some older English translations may seem to support this theory, but a study of the original Greek offers insight into the true meanings of these passages.
In Colossians 1:15 the Greek word prototokos, translated "firstborn," is a title based on birth order. The BDAG Lexicon explains that it speaks "of Christ, as the firstborn of a new humanity which is to be glorified, as its exalted Lord is glorified."
Here's an excerpt from Barnes' Notes, a reputable Bible commentary, on the meaning of "the firstborn of every creature" in Colossians 1:15:
"Among all the creatures of God, or over all his creation, occupying the rank and pre-eminence of the first-born. The first-born, or the oldest son, among the Hebrews as elsewhere, had special privileges. He was entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. It has been, also, and especially in oriental countries, a common thing for the oldest son to succeed to the estate and the title of his father. In early times, the first-born son was the officiating priest in the family, in the absence or on the death of the father. There can be no doubt that the apostle here has reference to the usual distinctions and honors conferred on the first-born, and means to say that, among all the creatures of God, Christ occupied a pre-eminence similar to that. He does not say that, in all respects, he resembled the first-born in a family; nor does he say that he himself was a creature, for the point of his comparison does not turn on these things, and what he proceeds to affirm respecting him is inconsistent with the idea of his being a created being himself."
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia comments in its article "First-begotten" that "the firstborn of all creation…denotes His status and character and not His origin; the context does not admit the idea that He is a part of the created universe."
Also, a couple verses later in Colossians 1:18, Christ is described as "the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have preeminence." This further explains the meaning of firstborn in this context. He is firstborn from the dead, the first to arise in a spiritual resurrection.
The Greek word arche (often translated "beginning," as in Revelation 3:14) can be defined as "the first cause" (BDAG Lexicon). The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains concludes that the meaning of arche in Revelation 3:14 is that Christ is "the origin of what God has created." Several sources also point out that it can mean "ruler."
Yet advocates of the old Arian heresy that God created Christ interpret Revelation 3:14 as supporting their argument. On this point, Barnes' says, "Such an interpretation would be at variance with all those passages which speak of him [Christ] as uncreated and eternal; which ascribe divine attributes to him; which speak of him as himself the Creator of all things. Compare John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2, 6, 8, 10-12."
As to the proper understanding of "beginning" in this verse, Barnes' says it means that Christ "holds the primacy over all, and is at the head of the universe." Adam Clarke's Commentary agrees: "[The beginning of the creation of God] That is, the head and governor of all creatures; the king of the creation. See the note at Col. 1:15. By his titles, here, he prepares them for the humiliating and awful truths which he was about to declare, and the authority on which the declaration was founded."
There are two fundamental principles that should govern Bible study: Read a verse in its context and study the subject in the broader context of the entire Bible. Colossians 1:16 verifies that Paul's purpose was to address the fact that Christ heads all creation, not that God created Him. The broader context of the rest of the Bible shows that Christ existed eternally, and that He, like the Father, is God.
For more information, please read our booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story.