In his letter to the Colossians, specifically in 1:15-20, the holy Apostle Paul cites what many believe to have been either a hymn or poem praising the risen Christ. The hymn/poem starts off by describing Jesus as God’s image and the One having supremacy over all creation:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (prototokos pases ktiseos).” Colossians 1:15 NIV
Many grammarians and commentators classify the Greek expression prototokos pases ktiseos (“firstborn over all creation”) as a genitive of subordination.
A genitive of subordination is a Greek construction where persons/things are depicted as coming under the realm/sphere of authority/headship/dominion of another, being subordinated/subjected to someone or something else.
The following biblical examples, taken from both the Greek versions of the [O]ld [T]estament (typically referred to as the Septuagint) and the [N]ew [T]estament, help to illustrate this point:
“For God is king of all the earth (basileus pases tes ges ho Theos): sing praises with understanding.” Psalm 46:8 LXX
“The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth (Kyriou pases tes ges).” Psalm 96:5 LXX
“Thus saith God the King of Israel (ho Theos ho Basileus tou Israel), and the God of hosts that delivered him; I am the first, and I am hereafter: beside me there is no God.” Isaiah 44:6 LXX
“And he said, These are the two anointed ones [that] stand by the Lord of the whole earth (Kyrio pases tes ges).” Zechariah 4:14 LXX
“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh (ho Theos pases sarkos): shall anything be hidden from me! Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel (ho Theos Israel); This city shall certainly be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it:” Jeremiah 39:26-28 LXX
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house (Kyrios tes oikias) will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.” Mark 13:35
“‘Let this Messiah, this king of Israel (ho Basileus Israel), come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” Mark 15:32
“and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth (ho archon ton Basileon tes ges). To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,” Revelation 1:5
“They are ‘the two olive trees’ and the two lampstands, and ‘they stand before the Lord of the earth (tou Kyriou tes ges).’… Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.” Revelation 11:4, 8
“and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations (ho Basileus ton ethnon).” Revelation 15:3
And here are a few examples that do not include God or Christ:
“But the Pharisees said, ‘It is by the prince of demons (to archonti ton daimonion) that he drives out demons.’” Matthew 9:34
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world (ho archon tou kosmou toutou) will be driven out.” John 12:31
“The god of this age (ho theos tou aionos toutou) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4
THE ETERNAL CREATOR AND SUSTAINER
The foregoing cases of the genitive of subordination help us appreciate why Jesus is said to be the Firstborn of/over all creation. I.e. Jesus stands over creation as its Head, as its sovereign Ruler, by virtue of his being the One by, through, and for whom all creation came into existence, which is precisely what the hymn/poem goes on to say!
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For BY HIM (en auto) 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 (di’ autou) and FOR HIM (eis auton). And He IS (estin) before all things, and IN HIM (en auto) all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” Colossians 1:15-18 New King James Version (NKJV)
Notice how the hymn/poem doesn’t merely state that Christ created all things for himself, and is the One that sustains all creation, but it also employs the present tense IS (estin), as opposed to was (en), to depict the Son as existing before all things.
This not only shows that the pre-incarnate Christ personally existed before the entire creation came into being, thereby proving that he is by his very nature uncreated and timeless, but it also indicates that Jesus transcends all creation.
There are other places in the NT where Jesus is said to be the divine Agent that created and upholds all creation:
“All things came into being through him (di’ autou), and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… He was in the world, and the world came into being through him (di’ autou); yet the world did not know him.” John 1:3-4, 10 NRSV
“[But] in the last of these days He has spoken to us in [the person of a] Son, Whom He appointed Heir and lawful Owner of all things, also by and through Whom (di’ hou) He created the worlds and the reaches of space and the ages of time [He made, produced, built, operated, and arranged them in order]. He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature, upholding and maintaining and guiding and propelling the universe by His mighty word of power. When He had by offering Himself accomplished our cleansing of sins and riddance of guilt, He sat down at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high,” Hebrews 1:2-3 AMPC
A LESSER, INFERIOR AGENT OF CREATION?
There are certain anti-Trinitarians who seek to rob the Son of his status of being the eternal Creator and Life-giver of all creation by arguing that the preposition that the NT writings to discuss Jesus’ agency in creation, e.g., dia, proves that the prehuman Christ played a secondary, lesser role. The Son, they claim, is the instrumental cause through whom God the Father created all things, who alone is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
Needless to say, there are several problems with this objection.
To begin with, the employment of differing prepositions to describe the different roles that the Father and the Son assumed in creation isn’t for the purpose of relegating Christ to an inferior, lesser status. On the contrary, the different prepositions are meant to highlight the fact that the Father is not the same Person as the Son, and that it wasn’t the Father alone who created and gives life to all things. Rather, the God who created and sustains creation is a multi-Personal Being eternally subsisting in the Father and the Son (as well as in the Holy Spirit).
This is clearly demonstrable from the following passage:
“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came (ex hou ta panta) and for whom we live (eis auton); and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came (di’ hou ta panta) and through whom we live (di’ autou).” 1 Corinthians 8:6
Here we are told that all things are from (ek) God the Father and through (di’) the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since the expression “all things” (ta panta) is inarguably a reference to the entire creation, this means that the prehuman Jesus was already in existence alongside the Father before creation came into being.
But for the Son to have been existing before all things means that the Son cannot be a creature but rather, like the Father, he is eternal and timeless by nature.
And yet since there is only one uncreated, timeless Being, namely Jehovah, this means that the Son must be Jehovah God Almighty who became flesh.
At the same time, the Son is not the Father and (as we just noted) the Father is not a part of creation.
This shows that the Father is also Jehovah God Almighty, which in turn proves that Jehovah God is not a singular Person, but an infinite multi-Personal Being!
This brings me to my next point. The exact same prepositions used to describe Christ’s role in creation are also employed in respect to the role God the Father assumed in creating and sustaining all things:
“For in him (en auto) we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” Acts 17:28
“For from him and through him (di’ autou) and for him (eis auton) are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” Romans 11:36
“one God and Father of all, who is over all and through (dia) all and in (en) all.” Ephesians 4:6
“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom (di’ hon) and through whom (di’ hou) everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.” Hebrews 2:10
In light of the above, would any anti-Trinitarian dare argue that the Father is somehow a lesser, secondary divine Agent of creation as opposed to being the eternal Creator?
NO OTHER CREATOR/SUSTAINER BESIDES JEHOVAH
The final proof that Jesus is not some lesser, secondary passive Agent of creation, is seen from the fact that the inspired Scriptures are quite emphatic that Jehovah alone created and sustains creation, having made it for his own glory and possession:
“He ALONE stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” Job 9:8
“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created FOR MY GLORY, whom I formed and made… The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed FOR MYSELF that they may proclaim my praise.” Isaiah 43:6-7, 20-21
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, And He who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the Lord, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens ALL ALONE, Who spreads abroad the earth BY MYSELF;’” Isaiah 44:24 NKJV
“It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts… For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’” Isaiah 45:12, 18
“Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together.” Isaiah 48:12-13
Notice the logical implications of these biblical statements:
Jehovah is the God who created and sustains all things all by himself, by his very own hands (e.g., by his own infinite power).
Jesus Christ is the One whom the Father appointed to create and sustain all things by his very hands, by his powerful word.
Jesus is, therefore, Jehovah God who became flesh.
This helps us appreciate why the following Psalm, which glorifies Jehovah God as the unchanging Creator and Sustainer of all creation,
“A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the LORD. Hear my prayer, LORD; let my cry for help come to you… But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations… In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Psalm 102:1, 12, 25-27
Is applied by the Father directly to Jesus in order to magnify the Son for creating and sustaining all things!
“But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God (ho Theos), will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.’… He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord [Son], YOU laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of YOUR hands. They will perish, but YOU remain; they will all wear out like a garment. YOU will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But YOU remain the same, and YOUR years will never end.’” Hebrews 1:8, 10-12
Now since the Father Almighty himself glorifies and praises his Firstborn for being that very immutable Jehovah God who brought the entire creation into existence by his own infinite power, and who even commands all his angels to worship the Son,
“And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” Hebrew 1:6
Who would, then, be so foolish as to refuse to do likewise knowing that God’s wrath and judgment will fall upon those who refuse to honor the Son just as they honor the Father?
“Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” John 5:22-23
After all, the Scriptures teach that the day will come when every created being in the entire creation will acknowledge and worship Jesus as Jehovah Almighty that became Man to the delight of God the Father:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’ Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard EVERY CREATURE in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and ALL THAT IS IN THEM, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne AND TO THE LAMB be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” Revelation 5:8-14
S/he who chooses to honor the Son now shall escape the wrath to come. But those who are unwilling to do it now will be made to do so on that day as a sign of their subjugation and humiliation:
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Daniel 12:2-3
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live… And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his [the Son’s] voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” John 5:24-25, 27-29
“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘“As surely as I live,” says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.”’ So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” Read full chapter Romans 14:9-12
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” 2 Corinthians 5:10-11
“for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’” Revelation 6:15-17
“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” Revelation 17:14
Here are some cases where the preposition dia is used of God and/or interchangeably with ek:
“Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God (dia Theou).” Galatians 4:7 NASB1995
“since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by (ek) faith and the uncircumcised through (dia) that same faith.” Romans 3:30
“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by (ek) faith;” Romans 9:30
“know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by (dia) faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by (ek) faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16
“Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by (ek) faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’… Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by (ek) faith.’… He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by (dia) faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit… So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by (ek) faith.” Galatians 3:8, 11, 14, 24
The foregoing examples conclusively demonstrate that the employment of dia to describe Christ’s role in creating all things in no way diminishes his status as the eternal, unchangeable Creator and Sustainer of all creation. Rather, as I already noted, the use of differing prepositions to describe the roles the Father and the Son assumed in creation is only meant to show that they are not the same divine Person.
Instead, the different prepositions are intended to highlight the fact that the one true, immutable, unchangeable Creator and Life-giver eternally exists as a multiplicity of divine Persons. The Holy Bible identifies these eternal divine Persons as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the blessed and glorious Trinity:
“By His Spirit He adorned the heavens; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.” Job 26:13 NKJV
“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4
“When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Psalm 104:29-30
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19
“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it… For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” John 5:21, 26
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” John 6:63
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Romans 8:9-11
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14
“who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” 1 Peter 1:2
Unless indicated otherwise, scriptural references are from the 2011 edition of the New International Version (NIV) of the Holy Bible.