Colossians 1:15
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
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(15) The image of the invisible God.—This all important clause needs the most careful examination. We note accordingly (1) that the word “image” (like the word “form,” Philippians 2:6-7) is used in the New Testament for real and essential embodiment, as distinguished from mere likeness. Thus in Hebrews 10:1 we read, “The law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things;” we note also in Romans 1:23 the distinction between the mere outward “likeness” and the “image” which it represented; we find in 1Corinthians 15:49 that the “image of the earthy” and “the image of the heavenly” Adam denote actual identity of nature with both; and in 2Corinthians 3:18 the actual work of the Spirit in the heart is described as “changing us from glory to glory” into “the image” of the glorified Christ. (2) Next we observe that although, speaking popularly, St. Paul in 1Corinthians 11:7 calls man “the image and glory of God,” yet the allusion is to Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28, where man is said, with stricter accuracy, to be made “after the image of God” (as in Ephesians 4:24, “created after God”), and this more accurate expression is used in Colossians 3:10 of this Epistle, “renewed after the image of Him that created him.” Who then, or what, is the “image of God,” after which man is created? St. Paul here emphatically (as in 2Corinthians 4:4 parenthetically) answers “Christ,” as the Son of God, “first-born before all creation.” The same truth is conveyed in a different form, clearer (if possible) even than this, in Hebrews 1:3, where “the Son” is said to be not only “the brightness of the glory of the Father,” but “the express image of His Person.” For the word “express image” is character in the original, used here (as when we speak of the alphabetical “characters”) to signify the visible drawn image, and the word “Person” is substance or essence. (3) It is not to be forgotten that at this time in the Platonising Judaism of Philo, “the Word” was called the eternal “image of God.” (See passages quoted in Dr. Light-foot’s note on this passage.) This expression was not peculiar to him; it was but a working out of that personification of the “wisdom of God,” of which we have a magnificent example in Proverbs 8:22-30, and of which we trace the effect in the Alexandrine Book of “Wisdom” (Wisdom Of Solomon 7:25-26). “Wisdom is the breath of the power of God, and a pure stream from the glory of the Most High—the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of His goodness.” It seems to have represented in the Jewish schools the idea complementary to the ordinary idea of the Messiah in the Jewish world. Just as St. John took up the vague idea of “the Word,” and gave it a clear divine personality in Christ, so St. Paul seems to act here in relation to the other phrase, used as a description of the Word. In Christ he fixes in solid reality the floating vision of the “image of God.” (4) There is an emphasis on the words “of the invisible God.” Now, since the whole context shows that the reference is to the eternal pre-existence of Christ, ancient interpreters (of whom Chrysostom may be taken as the type) argued that the image of the invisible must be also invisible. But this seems opposed to the whole idea of the word “image,” and to its use in the New Testament and elsewhere. The true key to this passage is in our Lord’s own words in John 1:8, “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son” (here is the remarkable reading, “the only begotten God”), “who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath revealed Him.” In anticipation of the future revelation of Godhead, Christ, even as pre-existent, is called “The image of the invisible God.”

The firstborn of every creature (of all creation).—(1) As to the sense of this clause. The grammatical construction here will bear either the rendering of our version, or the rendering “begotten before all creation,” whence comes the “begotten before all worlds “of the Nicene creed. But the whole context shows that the latter is unquestionably the true rendering. For, as has been remarked from ancient times, He is said to be “begotten” and not “created;” next, he is emphatically spoken of below as He “by whom all things were created,” who is “before all things,” and in whom all things consist.” (2) As to the order of idea. In Himself He is “the image of God” from all eternity. From this essential conception, by a natural contrast, the thought immediately passes on to distinction from, and priority to, all created being. Exactly in this same order of idea, we have in Hebrews 1:2-3, “By whom also He made the worlds . . . upholding all things by the word of His power;” and in John 1:3, “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made which was made. Here St. Paul indicates this idea in the words “firstborn before all creation,” and works it out in the verses following. (3) As to the name “firstbornitself. It is used of the Messiah as an almost technical name (derived from Psalm 2:7; Psalm 89:28), as is shown in Hebrews 1:6, “when He bringeth the first begotten into the world.” In tracing the Messianic line of promise we notice that; while the Messiah is always true man, “the seed of Abraham,” “the son of David,” yet on him are accumulated attributes too high for any created being (as in Isaiah 9:6). He is declared to be an “Emmanuel” God with us; and His kingdom a visible manifestation of God. Hence the idea contained in the word “firstborn” is not only sovereignty “above all the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:28; comp. Daniel 8:13-14), but also likeness to God and priority to all created being. (4) As to the union of the two clauses. In the first we have the declaration of His eternal unity with God—all that was completely embodied in the declaration of the “Word who is God,” up to which all the higher Jewish speculations had led; in the second we trace the distinctness of His Person, as the “begotten of the Father,” the true Messiah of Jewish hopes, and the subordination of the co-eternal Son to the Father. The union of the two marks the assertion of Christian mystery, as against rationalising systems, of the type of Arianism on one side, of Sabellianism on the other.

Colossians 1:15. Who — That is, the Son of God, in whose blood we have redemption; is the image of the invisible God — By the description here given of the glory of Christ, and his pre-eminence over the highest angels, the apostle lays a foundation for the reproof of all worshippers of angels. The Socinians contend that Christ is here styled the image of the invisible God, merely because he made known to men the will of God; and that in this sense only Christ said to Philip, (John 14:9,) He that hath seen me hath seen the Father. But it should be considered, that in other passages in Scripture, the word image denotes likeness, if not sameness of nature and properties, as 1 Corinthians 15:49 : As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Certainly, as Dr. Whitby observes, the more natural import of the phrase is, that Christ is therefore called the image of God, because he made him, who is invisible in his essence, conspicuous to us by the divine works he wrought, they being such as plainly showed that in him dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily; for the invisible God can only be seen by the effects of his power, wisdom, and goodness, and of his other attributes. He who, by the works both of the old and new creation, hath given such clear demonstrations of the divine power, wisdom, and goodness, is, upon this account, as much the image of God as it is possible any person or thing should be; and to this sense the expression seems here necessarily restrained by the connective particle οτι, for. He is the image of God, for by him all things were created. Moreover, this passage in exactly parallel to that in the beginning of the epistle to the Hebrews, as will evidently appear on a comparison of the two. Here he is said to be the image of God; there, the brightness (απαυγασμα, effulgence) of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, or substance, as υποστασεως more properly signifies: here he is called the firstborn, or Lord, of every creature; there, the heir of all things: here it is said that all things were created by him; there, that he made the worlds: here, that by him all things do consist; and there, that he upholdeth all things by the word of his power. Now, that he is there styled the image of God’s glory, and the express image or character of his person, or substance, by reason of that divine power, wisdom, and majesty, which shone forth in his actions, some Socinians are forced to confess. It is not, therefore, to be doubted that he is here styled the image of God in the same sense. And it is highly probable that he is called the image of the invisible God, as appearing to the patriarchs, and representing to them the Father, who dwells in light inaccessible; (1 Timothy 6:16;) according to what is frequently observed by the ante-Nicene fathers, that God the Father being invisible, and one whom no man hath seen or can see, appeared to the patriarchs by his Son. Add to this, that the Son is likewise called the image of God, because he manifested the divine perfections in the flesh visibly, by that fulness of grace and truth which shone in him during his abode on earth. This St. John’s words evidently imply: No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. See the notes on John 1:14; John 1:18. In which sense Christ’s words to Philip also (John 14:9) are to be understood: He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, as our Lord manifestly shows, when he adds, I am in the Father, and the Father in me: the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. And 2 Corinthians 4:4, he is plainly styled the image of God, for the like reason, because (Colossians 1:6) the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is reflected from his face, or person, as προσωπω signifies. See the notes there.

The firstborn — Or first-begotten, (πρωτοτοκος,) of every creature — Or rather, of the whole creation, as πασα κτισις is translated Romans 8:22, existing before it, and the heir and Lord of it. “According to the Arians, the firstborn of the whole creation is the first-made creature. But the reason advanced to prove the Son the firstborn of the whole creation overturns that sense of this passage; for surely the Son’s creating all things doth not prove him to be the first-made creature; unless his power of creating all things originated from his being the first-made creature; which no one will affirm. As little does the Son’s creating all things prove that he created himself. Yet these absurdities will be established by the apostle’s reasoning, if the firstborn of the whole creation signifies the first-made creature. But it is proper to observe, that πρωτοτοκος, the firstborn, or first-begotten, in this passage, may signify the heir, or Lord: of the whole creation. For, anciently, the firstborn was entitled to possess his father’s estate, 2 Chronicles 21:3. The firstborn was likewise lord of his brethren, who were all his servants. This appears from what Isaac said to Esau, after he had bestowed the rights of primogeniture on Jacob, Genesis 27:37. Hence, among the Hebrews and other nations, firstborn, heir, and lord, were synonymous terms. See Galatians 4:1. According to this interpretation of the terms firstborn and heir, the apostle’s reasoning is perfectly just: for the creation of all things, (Colossians 1:16,) and the making of the world, (Hebrews 1:3,) through the Son, is a direct proof that he is the firstborn, heir, or Lord of the whole.” See Whitby and Macknight.

1:15-23 Christ in his human nature, is the visible discovery of the invisible God, and he that hath seen Him hath seen the Father. Let us adore these mysteries in humble faith, and behold the glory of the Lord in Christ Jesus. He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by which the eternity of God is represented to us. All things being created by Him, were created for him; being made by his power, they were made according to his pleasure, and for his praise and glory. He not only created them all at first, but it is by the word of his power that they are upheld. Christ as Mediator is the Head of the body, the church; all grace and strength are from him; and the church is his body. All fulness dwells in him; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. God showed his justice in requiring full satisfaction. This mode of redeeming mankind by the death of Christ was most suitable. Here is presented to our view the method of being reconciled. And that, notwithstanding the hatred of sin on God's part, it pleased God to reconcile fallen man to himself. If convinced that we were enemies in our minds by wicked works, and that we are now reconciled to God by the sacrifice and death of Christ in our nature, we shall not attempt to explain away, nor yet think fully to comprehend these mysteries; but we shall see the glory of this plan of redemption, and rejoice in the hope set before us. If this be so, that God's love is so great to us, what shall we do now for God? Be frequent in prayer, and abound in holy duties; and live no more to yourselves, but to Christ. Christ died for us. But wherefore? That we should still live in sin? No; but that we should die to sin, and live henceforth not to ourselves, but to Him.Who is the image of the invisible God - εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου eikōn tou Theou tou aoratou. The objects. here, as it is in the parallel place in Ephesians 1:20-23, is to give a just view of the exaltation of the Redeemer. It is probable that, in both cases, the design is to meet some erroneous opinion on this subject that prevailed in those churches, or among those that claimed to be teachers there. See the Introduction to this Epistle, and compare the notes at Ephesians 1:20-23. For the meaning of the phrase occurring here, "the image of the invisible God," see the Hebrews 1:3, note, and 2 Corinthians 4:4, note. The meaning is, that he represents to mankind the perfections of God, as an image, figure, or drawing does the object which it is made to resemble. See the word "image" - εἰκὼν eikōn - explained in the notes at Hebrews 10:1. It properly denotes that which is a copy or delineation of a thing; which accurately and fully represents it, in contradistinction from a rough sketch, or outline; compare Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Corinthians 15:49.

The meaning here is, that the being and perfections of God are accurately and fully represented by Christ. In what respects particularly he was thus a representative of God, the apostle proceeds to state in the following verses, to wit, in his creative power, in his eternal existence, in his heirship over the universe, in the fulness that dwelt in him. This cannot refer to him merely as incarnate, for some of the things affirmed of him pertained to him before his incarnation; and the idea is, that in all things Christ fairly represents to us the divine nature and perfections. God is manifest to us through him; 1 Timothy 3:16. We see God in him as we see an object in that which is in all respects an exact copy of it. God is invisible. No eye has seen him, or can see him; but in what Christ is, and has done in the works of creation and redemption, we have a fair and full representation of what God is; see the notes at John 1:18; John 14:9, note.

The first-born of every creature - Among all the creatures of God, or over all his creation, occupying the rank and pro-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.

He that "created all things that are in heaven and that are in earth," was not himself created. That the apostle did not mean to represent him as a creature, is also manifest from the reason which he assigns why he is called the first-born. "He is the image of God, and the first-born of every creature, for - ὅτι hoti - by him were all things created." That is, he sustains the elevated rank of the first-born, or a high eminence over the creation, because by him "all things were created in heaven and in earth." The language used here, also, does not fairly imply that he was a creature, or that he was in nature and rank one of those in relation to whom it is said he was the first-born. It is true that the word "first-born" - πρωτότοκος prōtotokos - properly means the first-born child of a father or mother, Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7; or the first-born of animals. But two things are also to be remarked in regard to the use of the word:

(1) It does not necessarily imply that anyone is born afterward in the family, for it would be used of the first-born, though an only child; and,

(2) it is used to denote one who is chief, or who is highly distinguished and pre-eminent. Thus, it is employed in Romans 8:29, "That he might be the first-born among many brethren." So, in Colossians 1:18, it is said that he was "the first-born from the dead;" not that he was literally the first that was raised from the dead, which was not the fact, but that he might be pre-eminent among those that are raised; compare Exodus 4:22. The meaning, then, is, that Christ sustains the most exalted rank in the universe; he is pre-eminent above all others; he is at the head of all things. The expression does not mean that he was "begotten before all creatures," as it is often explained, but refers to the simple fact that he sustains the highest rank over the creation. He is the Son of God. He is the heir of all things. All other creatures are also the "offspring of God;" but he is exalted as the Son of God above all.

(This clause has been variously explained. The most commonly received, and, as we think, best supported opinion, is that which renders πρωτοτοκος πασης κτισεως prōtotokos pasēs ktiseōs; "begotten before all creation." This most natural and obvious sense would have been more readily admitted, had it not been supposed hostile to certain views on the sonship of Christ. Some explain πρωτότοκος prōtotokos actively, and render "first begetter or producer of all things," which gives, at all events, a sense consistent with truth and with the context, which immediately assigns as the reason of Christ being styled πρωτότοκος prōtotokos, the clause beginning ὁτι εν αυτω εκτισθη hoti en autō ektisthē, "For by him were all things created." Others, with the author explain the word figuratively, of pre-eminence or lordship. To this view however, there are serious objections.

It seems not supported by sufficient evidence. No argument can be drawn from Colossians 1:18 until it is proved that "firstborn from the dead," does not mean the first that was raised to die no more, which Doddridge affirms to be "the easiest, surest, most natural sense, in which the best commentators are agreed." Nor is the argument from Romans 8:29 satisfactory. "Πρωτότοκος Prōtotokos," says Bloomfield, at the close of an admirable note on this verse, "is not well taken by Whitby and others, in a figurative sense, to denote 'Lord of all things, since the word is never so used, except in reference to primogeniture. And although, in Romans 8:29, we have τον ρωτοτοκος εν πολλοις αδελφοις ton prōtotokos en pollois adelphois, yet there his followers are represented not as his creatures, but as his brethren. On which, and other accounts, the interpretation, according to which we have here a strong testimony to the eternal filiation of our Saviour is greatly preferable; and it is clear that Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:18 are illustrative of the nature, as Colossians 1:16-17 are an evidence of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ.")

15. They who have experienced in themselves "redemption" (Col 1:14), know Christ in the glorious character here described, as above the highest angels to whom the false teachers (Col 2:18) taught worship was to be paid. Paul describes Him: (1) in relation to God and creation (Col 1:15-17); (2) in relation to the Church (Col 1:18-20). As the former regards Him as the Creator (Col 1:15, 16) and the Sustainer (Col 1:17) of the natural world; so the latter, as the source and stay of the new moral creation.

image—exact likeness and perfect Representative. Adam was made "in the image of God" (Ge 1:27). But Christ, the second Adam, perfectly reflected visibly "the invisible God" (1Ti 1:17), whose glories the first Adam only in part represented. "Image" (eicon) involves "likeness" (homoiosis); but "likeness" does not involve "image." "Image" always supposes a prototype, which it not merely resembles, but from which it is drawn: the exact counterpart, as the reflection of the sun in the water: the child the living image of the parent. "Likeness" implies mere resemblance, not the exact counterpart and derivation as "image" expresses; hence it is nowhere applied to the Son, while "image" is here, compare 1Co 11:7 [Trench]. (Joh 1:18; 14:9; 2Co 4:4; 1Ti 3:16; Heb 1:3). Even before His incarnation He was the image of the invisible God, as the Word (Joh 1:1-3) by whom God created the worlds, and by whom God appeared to the patriarchs. Thus His essential character as always "the image of God," (1) before the incarnation, (2) in the days of His flesh, and (3) now in His glorified state, is, I think, contemplated here by the verb "is."

first-born of every creature—(Heb 1:6), "the first-begotten": "begotten of His Father before all worlds" [Nicene Creed]. Priority and superlative dignity is implied (Ps 89:27). English Version might seem to favor Arianism, as if Christ were a creature. Translate, "Begotten (literally, 'born') before every creature," as the context shows, which gives the reason why He is so designated. "For," &c. (Col 1:16, 17) [Trench]. This expression is understood by Origen (so far is the Greek from favoring Socinian or Arian views) as declaring the Godhead of Christ, and is used by Him as a phrase to mark that Godhead, in contrast with His manhood [Book 2, sec. Against Celsus]. The Greek does not strictly admit Alford's translation, "the first-born of all creation."

Having touched on the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice, which implies his human nature, he doth here rise higher, to set forth the dignity of his person, (which made it satisfactory), both with respect to his Father and the creature. As to the former, he styles him his image, which is not to be understood of an artificial, accidental, or imperfect image, as that of the king on his coin, or as man was the feeble image of God, Genesis 9:6 1 Corinthians 11:7 Colossians 3:10; for the apostle’s arguing Christ’s dignity to redeem, would have no force in it, if Christ were no more than a mere man; but of a natural, substantial, and perfect image: as Seth was the natural image of his father Adam, of the same substance with him, Genesis 5:3; so Christ, the eternal Word, the only begotten Son of God by nature, John 1:1,18, (See Poole on "Philippians 2:6"), very God of very God, John 17:3,5, doth exactly resemble, perfectly and adequately represent, his Father, of whose person he is the express character, or perfect image, Hebrews 1:3. Yet more distinctly Christ is the image of God, either:

1. As he is the Second Person in the blessed Trinity, from an intrinsical relation to the Father, in regard of the same essence with him by eternal generation before the world was made. He being eternally in the Father, and the Father in him, John 14:10; so he is in respect of his Father his essential image, and in regard to us as invisible as the Father himself; no creature could be the eternal image of the Creator, as that Son of the only true God, the living God, was, and is, Matthew 16:16 John 6:69, in respect of his Father.

2. As he is God-man, in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily, Colossians 2:9, whereby he doth infinitely exceed and surpass angels and men at first, Hebrews 1:5,6 2:5. The apostle in this place doth not say simply Christ the image of God, but of the invisible God, ( considered personally), i.e. the Father; because the Father cannot be known to us but in his Son, as in an image, in which he would represent or manifest himself to be seen or known, John 1:14,18 Joh 14:8,9 2 Corinthians 4:4. And in this latter respect (which imports the manifestative, not essential image) is Christ the image of his invisible Father unto us; unto whom, in all his offices and works of mediation, the attributes, affections, and excellencies of God clearly shine forth, they being otherwise incomprehensible and invisible by a creature: but Christ is the complete image of them, in a transcendent way; for as they are in him, they are incommunicable to any mere creature, and therefore he is the image of the invisible God, in that he makes him visible unto us. God is a pure Spirit, without body, or bodily parts, but yet was clearly manifested in Christ tabernacling amongst us, John 1:14 1 Timothy 3:16: he represents him to us in his understanding and wisdom, Proverbs 8:14,15; almightiness and eternity, Isaiah 9:6 John 1:1 8:58, permanency and unchangeableness, Hebrews 1:11,12 13:8, omnipresence and omnisciency, John 2:24,25 13:18 Revelation 2:13. Not (as the Lutherans strangely imagine) that Christ is omnipotent with the omnipotency of the Divine nature, or omniscient with that omnisciency, as if the manhood did instrumentally use the attributes of the Godhead; but such perfections are really inherent in and appertaining to the manhood, by virtue of its union with the Divine nature in the Second Person of the Trinity, that though they are vastly short of the attributes which are essential to the Godhead, yet they are the completest image of them, and such as no mere creature is capable of. Hence it is said, we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of God, who did further represent and manifest his Father to us, in the works of creation and preservation which he did, John 1:3 5:19 Hebrews 1:10. Hence the apostle in this verse considers the dignity of Christ, with respect to the creature, adding to the forementioned intrinsic, an extrinsic royalty, the first-born of every creature, which a learned man would render, begotten before all the creation, or born before every creature, which is a Hebrew phrase. The Greek scholiast and several of the Greek fathers go this way; not as if the ineffable generation of Christ had any beginning, as some falsely conceited Christ to be made in time, just in the beginning before the world, by whom as an instrument all the rest were created; but the apostle doth not say he was first made, or first created; but, Colossians 1:17, was, or did exist, before all things besides; (as John Baptist said, he was before me, John 1:15); and therefore none of the rank of all them, but of another, viz. equal with his Father, whose image he was, above all that was made or created: he was not created at all, though first-born, or first-begotten, yet not first-created, (being distinguished here from created, as the cause from the effect), as it refers to him that begets, so it may to only begotten, Christ being so begotten as no other was or could be, Proverbs 8:22 Micah 5:2 Hebrews 1:5,6, even from eternity. The word first may either respect what follows, and so notes order in the things spoken of, he who is first being one of them, 1 Corinthians 15:47; or things going before, in which sense it denies all order or series of things in the same kind: as God is first before whom none, Isaiah 41:4 43:11 Revelation 21:6; so Christ may be said to be first-born because the only begotten Son of his Father, John 1:14: so the apostle may consider him here in order to establish the consideration of him as Mediator and Head of his church, Colossians 1:18; he speaking before, Colossians 1:16, of those things more generally whose creation are assigned to him, in contradistinction to those of the church or new creation, Colossians 1:18. Agreeably to our translation, first-born of every creature, ( note, here is a difference in the Greek, between first-born of and for, Colossians 1:18), we may consider:

1. Negatively. It is not to be understood properly for the first in order, so as to be one of them, in reference to whom he is said to be the first-born. But:

2. Positively, yet figuratively in a borrowed speech: so primacy and primogeniture may be attributed to him in regard of the creatures:

a) By a metonymy of the antecedent for the consequent; he who hath the privileges of enjoying and disposing of his father’s goods and inheritance, is accounted the first-born, Genesis 27:29 Galatians 4:1; so is Christ, being Owner, Lord, and Prince of every creature, as he is God-man, or ordained to human nature, he hath the preeminence of the whole creation, and is the chief, Psalm 2:7,8Hebrews 1:2,6. The heir amongst the Hebrews was reckoned the prince of the family, and so amongst the Romans the heir was taken for the lord: so God said he would make David his first-born, Psalm 89:27, compared with Job 18:13 Isaiah 14:30Jeremiah 31:9. This sovereign empire which Christ hath over all the creation, and the parts of it, is by his primogeniture, or that he is first-born, since there is left nothing that is not under him, Hebrews 2:8, (as Adam in this lower world, in regard of his dominion, the state of innocency, might be first-born of them created for him), for the apostle brings in the next verse as the fundamental reason of this assertion.

b) By a consideration of Christ in God’s eternal decree and purpose, as the common womb of him who is God-man, and all creatures; being fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, 1 Peter 1:20, he may be looked upon as the first-born amongst those who are predestinated to be conformed to his image, Romans 8:29, with Ephesians 1:4,5; for upon this account he is the first-born of the first-born creatures or church, (but this, as hinted before, is considered more specially, Colossians 1:18), Hebrews 12:23, therefore the first-born of all others: and this may be one respect in which he is before them, Colossians 1:17, with Proverbs 8:22; yea, all of them of the old, as well as the new creation. The Socinians are so daringly bold as to restrain this extensive expression of

every creature, or all the creation, to the new creation of men or the faithtful only, by perverting some texts of Scripture to strain them that way; when it is plain by what follows, the Spirit of God means all created beings, either in the first or second world, Christ being the principal cause both of the one and the other; the apostle, by the general term every creature simply, without any additament, doth import all created things, viz. the heavens and the earth, with all that is made in them: neither angels, nor inanimate and irrational creatures, are excluded; as in the apostle’s reason immediately following this expression.

Who is the image of the invisible God,.... Not of deity, though the fulness of it dwells in him; nor of himself, though he is the true God, and eternal life; nor of the Spirit, who also is God, and the Spirit of the Son; but the Father, called "God", not to the exclusion of the Son or Spirit, who are with him the one God: "and he is invisible"; not to the Son who lay in his bosom, and had perfect and infinite knowledge of him; nor, in some sense, to angels, who always behold his face, but to men: no man hath seen him corporeally with the eyes of his body, though intellectually with the eyes of the understanding, when enlightened; not in his essence and nature, which is infinite and incomprehensible, but in his works of creation, providence, and grace; nor immediately, but mediately, in and through Christ, in whom he gives the light of the knowledge of the glory of his person and perfections; and this not perfectly now, but in the other state, when the saints shall see him face to face. But chiefly the Father is said to be invisible, because he did not appear to Old Testament saints; as his voice was never heard, so his shape was never seen; he never assumed any visible form; but whenever any voice was heard, or shape seen, it was the second person that appeared, the Son of God, who is here said to be his "image", and that, as he is the Son of God; in which sense he is the natural, essential, and eternal image of his Father, an eternal one, perfect and complete, and in which he takes infinite complacency and delight: this designs more than a shadow and representation, or than bare similitude and likeness; it includes sameness of nature and perfections; ascertains the personality of the Son, his distinction from the Father, whose image he is; and yet implies no inferiority, as the following verses clearly show, since all that the Father hath are his. Philo, the Jew (f), often speaks of the or Word of God, as the image of God. Also, this may be understood of him as Mediator, in whom, as such, is a most glorious display of the love, grace, and mercy of God, of his holiness and righteousness, of his truth and faithfulness, and of his power and wisdom:

the firstborn of every creature; not the first of the creation, or the first creature God made; for all things in Colossians 1:16 are said to be created by him, and therefore he himself can never be a creature; nor is he the first in the new creation, for the apostle in the context is speaking of the old creation, and not the new: but the sense either is, that he was begotten of the Father in a manner inconceivable and inexpressible by men, before any creatures were in being; or that he is the "first Parent", or bringer forth of every creature into being, as the word will bear to be rendered, if instead of we read which is no more than changing the place of the accent, and may be very easily ventured upon, as is done by an ancient writer (g), who observes, that the word is used in this sense by Homer, and is the same as "first Parent", and "first Creator"; and the rather this may be done, seeing the accents were all added since the apostle's days, and especially seeing it makes his reasoning, in the following verses, appear with much more beauty, strength, and force: he is the first Parent of every creature, "for by him were all things created", &c. Colossians 1:16, or it may be understood of Christ, as the King, Lord, and Governor of all creatures; being God's firstborn, he is heir of all things, the right of government belongs to him; he is higher than the kings of the earth, or the angels in heaven, the highest rank of creatures, being the Creator and upholder of all, as the following words show; so the Jews make the word "firstborn" to be synonymous with the word "king", and explain it by , "a great one", and "a prince" (h); see Psalm 89:27.

(f) De Mund. Opific. p. 6. de Plant. Noe, p. 216, 217. de Coufus. Ling. p. 341. de Somniis, p. 600. de Monarch. p. 823. (g) Isidior. Pelusiot. l. 3. Ep. 31. (h) R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 50. 1.

{7} Who is the image of the invisible God, {i} the firstborn of every creature:

(7) A graphic description of the person of Christ, by which we understand, that in him alone God shows himself to be seen: who was begotten of the Father before anything was made, that is, from everlasting. And by him also all things that are made, were made without any exception, by whom also they continue to exist, and whose glory they serve.

(i) Begotten before anything was made: and therefore the everlasting Son of the everlasting Father.

Colossians 1:15. As to Colossians 1:15-20, see Schleiermacher in the Stud. u. Krit. 1832, p. 497 ff. (Werke z. Theol. II. p. 321 ff.), and, in opposition to his ethical interpretation (of Christ as the moral Reformer of the world), Holzhausen in the Tüb. Zeitschr. 1832, 4, p. 236 ff.; Osiander, ibid. 1833, 1, 2; Bähr, appendix to Komment. p. 321 ff.; Bleek on Hebrews 1:2. See generally also Hofmann, Schriftbew. I. p. 153 ff., II. 1, p. 357 ff.; Beyschlag in the Stud. u. Krit. 1860, p. 446 f.

After having stated, in Colossians 1:14, what we have in Christ (whose state of exaltation he has in view, see Colossians 1:13, τὴν βασιλείαν), Paul now, continuing his discourse by an epexegetical relative clause, depicts what Christ is, namely, as regards His divine dignity—having in view the influences of the false teachers, who with Gnostic tendencies depreciated this dignity. The plan of the discourse is not tripartite (originator of the physical creation, Colossians 1:15 f.; maintainer of everything created, Colossians 1:17; relation to the new moral creation, Colossians 1:18 ff.,—so Bähr, while others divide differently[23]), but bipartite, in such a way that Colossians 1:15-17 set forth the exalted metaphysical relation of Christ to God and the world, and then Colossians 1:18 ff., His historical relation of dignity to the church.[24] This division, which in itself is logically correct (whereas Colossians 1:17 is not suited, either as regards contents or form, to be a separate, co-ordinate part), is also externally indicated by the two confirmatory clauses ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ κ.τ.λ. in Colossians 1:16 and Colossians 1:19, by which the two preceding[25] affirmations in Colossians 1:15 and Colossians 1:18 are shown to be the proper parts of the discourse. Others (see especially Bengel, Schleiermacher, Hofmann, comp. also Gess, Pers. Chr. p. 77) have looked upon the twice-expressed ὅς ἐστιν in Colossians 1:15 and Colossians 1:18 as marking the beginning of the two parts. But this would not be justifiable as respects the second Ὅς ἘΣΤΙΝ; for the main idea, which governs the whole effusion, Colossians 1:15-20, is the glory of the dominion of the Son of God, in the description of which Paul evidently begins the second part with the words καὶ αὐτός, Colossians 1:18, passing over from the general to the special, namely, to His government over the church to which He has attained by His resurrection. On the details, see below.

ὅς ἐστιν κ.τ.λ.] It is to be observed that Paul has in view Christ as regards His present existence, consequently as regards the presence and continuance of His state of exaltation (comp. on. Colossians 1:13-14); hence he affirms, not what Christ was, but what He is. On this ἐστίν, comp. Colossians 1:17-18, and 2 Corinthians 4:4. Therefore not only the reference to Christ’s temporal manifestation (Calvin, Grotius, Heinrichs, Baumgarten-Crusius, and others), but also the limitation to Christ’s divine nature or the Logos (Calovius, Estius, Wolf, and many others, including Bähr, Steiger, Olshausen, Huther) is incorrect. The only correct reference is to His whole person, which, in the divine-human state of its present heavenly existence, is continually that which its divine nature—this nature considered in and by itself—was before the incarnation; so that, in virtue of the identity of His divine nature, the same predicates belong to the exalted Christ as to the Logos. See Php 2:6; John 17:5.

εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου] image of God the invisible. Comp. on 2 Corinthians 4:4. As, namely, Christ in His pre-existence[26] down to His incarnation already possessed the essential divine glory, so that He was as to nature ἴσα Θεῷ, and as to form of appearance ἘΝ ΜΟΡΦῇ ΘΕΟῦ ὙΠΆΡΧΩΝ (see on Php 2:6); so, after He had by means of the incarnation divested Himself, not indeed of His God-equal nature, but of His divine ΔΌΞΑ, and had humbled Himself, and had in obedience towards God died even the death of the cross, He has been exalted again by God to His original glory (Php 2:9; John 17:5), so that the divine ΔΌΞΑ now exists (comp. on Colossians 2:9) in His glorified corporeal manifestation (Php 3:21); and He—the exalted Christ—in this His glory, which is that of His Father, represents and brings to view by exact image God, who is in Himself invisible. He is ἈΠΑΎΓΑΣΜΑ Τῆς ΔΌΞΗς ΚΑῚ ΧΑΡΑΚΤῊΡ Τῆς ὙΠΟΣΤΆΣΕΩς ΘΕΙῦ (Hebrews 1:3),[27] and, in this majesty, in which He is the exactly similar visible revelation of God, He will present Himself to all the world at the Parousia (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31; Php 3:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 4:13; Titus 2:13, et al.). The predicate τοῦ ἀοράτου, placed as it is in its characteristically significant attributive position (Bornemann, Schol. in Luc. p. xxxvi.; Bernhardy, p. 322 f.) behind the emphatic τοῦ Θεοῦ, posits for the conception of the exact image visibility (Hebrews 12:14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Acts 22:11); but the assumption that Paul had thus in view the Alexandrian doctrine of the Logos, the doctrine of the hidden and manifest God (see Usteri, Lehrbegr. p. 308; comp. Bähr, Olshausen, Steiger, Huther), the less admits of proof, because he is not speaking here of the pre-existence, but of the exalted Christ, including, therefore, His human nature; hence, also, the comparison with the angel Metatron of Jewish theology (comp. Hengstenberg, Christol. III. 2, p. 67) is irrelevant. The Fathers, moreover, have, in opposition to the Arians, rightly laid stress upon the fact (see Suicer, Thes. I. p. 415) that, according to the entire context, εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ is meant in the eminent sense, namely of the adequate, and consequently consubstantial, image of God (μόνοςκαὶ ἀπαραλλάκτως εἰκών, Theophylact), and not as man (Genesis 1:26; comp. also 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 3:10) or the creation (Romans 1:20) is God’s image. In that case, however, the invisibility of the εἰκών is not at all to be considered as presupposed (Chrysostom, Calovius, and others); this, on the contrary, pertains to the Godhead in itself (1 Timothy 1:17; Colossians 1:15-21. THIS SON IN WHOM WE HAVE OUR DELIVERANCE IS THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD, THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE, THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH, INCLUDING THE ANGELIC POWERS, AND HE IS THE GOAL FOR WHICH THEY HAVE BEEN CREATED. AND AS HE IS THE FIRST IN THE UNIVERSE, SO ALSO HE IS HEAD OF THE CHURCH, WHO HAS PASSED TO HIS DOMINION FROM THE REALM OF THE DEAD, THAT HE MIGHT BECOME FIRST IN ALL THINGS. FOR THE FATHER WILLED THAT IN HIM ALL THE FULNESS OF DIVINE GRACE SHOULD DWELL, AND THUS THAT HE SHOULD RECONCILE TO HIM THROUGH HIS BLOOD ALL THINGS NOT ON EARTH ONLY BUT ALSO IN THE HEAVENS, IN WHICH RECONCILIATION THE COLOSSIANS HAVE THEIR PART.

15–17. the thought continued: greatness of the redeemer as head of creation

15. who is] Here opens, in closest connexion with the preceding matter, a confession of truth and faith about the Person of the Redeeming Son of God, the King of the redeemed. He appears in His relation to (a) the Eternal Father, (b) the created Universe, especially the Universe of spirits, (c) the Church of redeemed men. Every clause is pregnant of Divine truth, and the whole teaches with majestic emphasis the great lesson that the Person is all-important to the Work, the true Christ to the true salvation.

the image] So 2 Corinthians 4:4. The Greek word (eicôn) occurs often in Biblical Greek, most frequently (in O.T.) as a translation of the Hebrew tselem. Usage shews that on the whole it connotes not only similarity but also “representation (as a derived likeness) and manifestation” (Grimm’s N. T. Lexicon, ed. Thayer; and see Lightfoot’s note, or rather essay, here). An instructive passage for study of the word is Hebrews 10:1, where it is opposed to “shadow,” and plainly means “the things themselves, as seen.” Thus the Lord Christ, the mystery of His Person and Natures, is not only a Being resembling God, but God Manifest. Cp. John 14:9, and Hebrews 1:3.

“Christian antiquity has ever regarded the expression ‘image of God’ as denoting the eternal Son’s perfect equality with the Father in respect of His substance, power, and eternity … The Son is the Father’s Image in all things save only in being the Father” (Ellicott; with reff. inter alia to Hilary de Synodis, § 73; Athan. contra Arian. i. 20, 21).

the invisible God] For the same word see 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 11:27. And cp. Deuteronomy 4:12; John 1:18; John 5:37; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:20. This assertion of the Invisibility of the Father has regard to the manifesting function of the Image, the Son. See Lightfoot here. The Christian Fathers generally (not universally) took it otherwise, holding that the “Image” here refers wholly to the Son in His Godhead, which is as invisible as that of the Father, being indeed the same. But the word “Image” by usage tends to the thought of vision, in some sort; and the collocation of it here with “the Invisible” brings this out with a certain emphasis. Not that the reference of the “Image” here is directly or primarily to our Lord’s visible Body of the Incarnation, but to His being, in all ages and spheres of created existence, the Manifester of the Father to created intelligences. His being this was, so to speak, the basis and antecedent of His gracious coming in the flesh, to be “seen with the eyes” of men on earth (1 John 1:1). In the words of St Basil (Epist. xxxviii. 8, quoted by Lightfoot) the creature “views the Unbegotten Beauty in the Begotten.”

the firstborn of every creature] Better perhaps, Firstborn of all creation (Lightfoot and R.V.), or, with a very slight paraphrase, Firstborn over all creation; standing to it in the relation of priority of existence and supremacy of inherited right. So, to borrow a most inadequate analogy, the heir of an hereditary throne might be described as “firstborn to, or over, all the realm.” The word “creature” (from the (late) Latin creatura) here probably, as certainly in Romans 8, means “creation” as a whole; a meaning to which the Greek word inclines in usage, rather than to that of “a creature” (which latter Ellicott and Alford however adopt). See Lightfoot’s note.

Firstborn:”—cp. Psalm 89:27; and the Palestinian Jewish application, thence derived, of the title “Firstborn” to the Messiah. A similar word was used of the mysterious “Logos” among the Alexandrian Jews, as shewn in the writings of St Paul’s contemporary, Philo. Studied in its usage, and in these connexions, the word thus denotes (a) Priority of existence, so that the Son appears as antecedent to the created Universe, and therefore as belonging to the eternal Order of being (see the following context); (b) Lordship over “all creation,” by this right of eternal primogeniture. See Psalm 89:27, and cp. Hebrews 1:2.

Of all creation:”—so lit. The force of the Greek genitive, in connexion with the word “first” (as here “firstborn”), may be either partitive, so that the Son would be described as first of created things, or so to speak comparative (see a case exactly in point, John 1:15, Greek), so that He would be described as first, or antecedent, in regard of created things. And the whole following context, as well as the previous clause, decides for this latter explanation of the grammar.

On the theological importance of the passage see further Appendix C.

Colossians 1:15. Ὅς ἐστιν, who is) He describes the glory and excellence of Christ as even above the highest angels, and hereby scatters those seeds by which he will prove, next in order, the folly of the worshippers of angels. [He teaches believers to make application to Christ Himself, as their Saviour, and at the same time the head of all.—V. g.] Those, in short, obtain this full knowledge concerning Christ, who have experienced the mystery of redemption.—εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ, the image of God) 2 Corinthians 4:4, note.—τοῦ ἀοράτου, of the invisible) A most glorious epithet of God, 1 Timothy 1:17. The only begotten Son alone represents the invisible God, and is Himself His image, invisible, according to the Divine nature; visible, according to the human nature [John 14:9], visible even before the incarnation, inasmuch as the invisible things of God [Romans 1:20] began to be seen from the creation, which was accomplished through Him [by Him as the instrument]. To this refer Colossians 1:16, things visible and invisible.—πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, the first-begotten of every creature) He was begotten; and that, too, before the creation of all things. The πρὸ, which is contained in πρωτότοκος, governs the genitive κτίσεως. Time is an accident of the creature. Therefore the origin of the Son of God precedes all time.

Verse 15.

(a) Who is Image of God the invisible, Firstborn of all creation:Colossians 1:15The image (εἰκών)

See on Revelation 13:14. For the Logos (Word) underlying the passage, see on John 1:1. Image is more than likeness which may be superficial and incidental. It implies a prototype, and embodies the essential verity of its prototype. Compare in the form of God, Philippians 2:6 (note), and the effulgence of the Father's glory, Hebrews 1:3. Also 1 John 1:1.

Of the invisible God (τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου)

Lit., of the God, the invisible. Thus is brought out the idea of manifestation which lies in image. See on Revelation 13:14.

The first born of every creature (πρωτότοκος πασῆς κτίσεως)

Rev., the first-born of all creation. For first-born, see on Revelation 1:5; for creation, see on 2 Corinthians 5:17. As image points to revelation, so first-born points to eternal preexistence. Even the Rev. is a little ambiguous, for we must carefully avoid any suggestion that Christ was the first of created things, which is contradicted by the following words: in Him were all things created. The true sense is, born before the creation. Compare before all things, Colossians 1:17. This fact of priority implies sovereignty. He is exalted above all thrones, etc., and all things are unto (εἰς) Him, as they are elsewhere declared to be unto God. Compare Psalm 89:27; Hebrews 1:2.

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